Archive number: 1798
Preferred name: Ray
Date interviewed: 02 April, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Ray, if you could just give us a summary of your life right up till now?
Well I was born in Summer Hill in 1918 and then my family moved to Meadowbank where I was brought up, and I played soccer and cricket and tennis and did well at them,
and went to Meadowbank Public School, then went up to Carlingford Intermediate High School. Then I decided I didn’t want school any more, that I’d go to work and of course this was in the Depression days and so I went to work in David Jones in the furnishing department. I was there two years and then I went to a wholesale warehouse in York Street until the war started and then
I went into the army, and after that, I was in the army for five and a half years.
What were the major areas you served in with the army?
Well we went on the Queen Mary from Sydney in December 1940, and went over to the Maldives Islands and changed onto a smaller ship, and went to Colombo, and then went from there up the Suez Canal, right round
to Haifa in Palestine and we were in camp there. After that, I was in the army supply company at ammunition park and we used to carry the ammunition. We worked from Palestine and up to Syria and down to Egypt and back. Well then we went up to Syria for the Syrian campaign, and after that we came back to Palestine and
went down to Egypt, to El Alamein and we spent all that time in the El Alamein Battle, and that was the first time I think in our war that the infantry were carried into the front line by trucks, and that was us. We took them to the front line and then hung around and waited, pulled, brought back the prisoners. Well then after that finished we came home
on the Aquitania and went to Brisbane and I rang my fiancé from Brisbane and said, “Let’s get married,” so we did. She had seven days to prepare a wedding, which she did very well, and so after that I went back to Brisbane and we went up to New Guinea and I think we were ten months up there, and then we came back for a week and then we went up to Morotai.
Then the war finished.
And what did you do after the war?
Went back to the same job that I had before, to the same firm. Do you want to know the name of the firm? R. E Cunningham’s, who were carpet and furnishings, and my wife she worked there too. That’s where we met. Then I went, I left there and went to a firm called Sheridan Furnishings. I became the NSW manager there and then
I retired, and now I’m here.
Perfect. That’s fine. You’ve passed the first hurdle. Summer Hill you said you were born in, is that where you grew up as well?
No, we went straight to Meadowbank.
What was Meadowbank like as far back as you can remember?
Very sparse in those days, a sleepy little suburb. I went back a few weeks ago to have a
look at it and the whole area where we lived is full of units now. We lived right on the water there, and because we did a lot of swimming and prawning and things.
What’s involved in going prawning?
You couldn’t do it now of course, but in those days we used to walk down the back of our house with a net and a light and just walk out into the water and catch
the prawns. Then we’d bring them back and boil them up. We’d put them into fresh water first to get rid of all the mucus, and then we’d boil them up in hot water, salty water and then we ate them.
What else did you do for amusement in those early days?
Well I was very keen on sport, obviously soccer and cricket and tennis. Tennis was my main sport,
What sort of surface tennis court did you play on in those days?
A hard court. I played A Grade tennis until the war started, and that mucked it up.
What about your siblings?
Well we had a boy. When I came back from New Guinea and after that we had a son.
I meant your brothers and sisters. Did you have brothers and sisters?
Oh, yes, sorry. I had two brothers and a sister.
And did you get on with each other?
We got on well, yeah. I didn’t see a lot of the younger brother because of the war mostly.
What about the Depression? How did the Depression affect your family?
Well we weren’t too badly off, because my father was a commercial artist, and he had his own business
and he used to do a lot of work for the big retail stores, Wynn’s and Grace Bros, so we weren’t too badly off.
What did that work involve?
Advertising, like he used to draw shoes and jewellery and things and airbrush them, and then they’d be photographed and then they’d be put in the papers, newspapers. I didn’t know a lot about it, but
I never became involved in it because I wasn’t that keen, you know.
So this was when they were doing catalogues and things like that?
Yeah, all their catalogues, used to do all their catalogues.
So you don’t think the Depression bit your family too hard?
Well, we struggled. Like we used to go bare foot to school, primary school, but we always, we had a big property and we used to grow all our own vegetables.
I did the lawns while my brothers did the garden, all that kind of thing.
Were you able to sell any of the produce?
Yeah, we got our pocket money. We used to have a plum tree and we used to fill little baskets and take them all around to all the neighbours, and two shillings a box, a basket and that was our pocket money. We didn’t get anything from our parents of course, but that was how we existed really.
What did you spend the pocket money on?
Oh I would say normal children’s things: lollies and chocolates. We’d go up to pictures at West Ryde.
So how much would a trip to the pictures cost out of your two shillings a basket?
Well we used to sell quite a few baskets and we’d share the money between the two of us, my older brother and myself. Well, we wouldn’t have got much out of them I suppose.
What sort of movies did you like to go and see?
Westerns. Tom Mix in those days. You wouldn’t know about him. Herb Gibson, that was before Hopalong Cassidy’s day.
Were they movies, or were they serials or what?
No, movies. Yeah.
And whereabouts did you go to primary school?
Meadowbank Public School.
What was that like?
Oh, it was very good. I enjoyed it there.
Teachers were OK?
Yeah. The headmaster was a bit rough on us but. I think the first time I went to school I was running along the verandah and he came out, and said, “What are you doing?” and I won’t say what I knew he did.
Was the discipline tough at school?
Yeah. Got the cane if you did anything wrong. Of course you’re not allowed to do the cane now, but
it didn’t hurt or affect us, didn’t hurt us.
What sort of stuff would you get the cane for doing?
Running along in the playground, knocking other kids over and all this kind of thing.
So the headmaster was a bit of a scary figure?
Oh, he was yeah. I’ll always remember his name, Mr. Fraser. Yeah.
Ok, what about high school?
I went to Carlingford
Agricultural Intermediate High School, and we learnt all about growing vegetables and things as well as normal subjects but all my friends were leaving school and getting jobs, so I decided to do it too, and went into David Jones and got a job in the furnishing department.
Is Carlingford Agricultural High School now what’s James Ruse?
No. I don’t know whether it still exists.
James Ruse was further out.
What did you like about going to that sort of high school? Did you like the fieldwork?
Yes, and I liked the sport. We played soccer and cricket, and used to do a lot of running. We used to go to training in Eastwood from Meadowbank, to go to school and get a bus out. Well,
one afternoon to keep us fit we used to run from Carlingford to Eastwood, to see who could get there before the bus sort of thing. It made us fit, because it was over a mile.
And what sort of student were you?
What were your strengths and your weaknesses?
Oh, English, geography and history were my main subjects.
Maths was my worst.
Sport was your best.
Sport was my best.
What did you and your mates from high school get up to in your free time?
I’ll never forget one time, there used to be an orchard on the way home, apple orchard, and we decided we’d nick some apples on the way home, and one of the boys
was to look after the bags while the rest of us got the apples. The next minute there was a shot fired, I presume up in the air, and of course we all took off suddenly and left our bags there. Well next morning when we got to school, up before the headmaster. Six [strokes of the cane] each we got. That’s about the only thing I can remember that was any different.
And six each was a fairly common amount to get?
Yeah, put your hand out, whack.
So it was always on the hand?
Yes, always on the hand.
Not on the bum?
Any particular teachers that you remember at the school that were good or bad?
No, I don’t.
Who were your best mates?
Well, my next-door neighbour,
Jeff Gibson, he went into the navy when I joined the army. He was my best mate. Then I had my tennis mates of course, who’ve all moved away now, into the country sort of thing. They probably were.
What about girls? Did you have much contact with girls?
Not in those days, because we were too involved in our tennis and sport but
the first time I met my wife was where I worked at R. E. Cunningham.
You were in the Scouts I believe?
Yes, I was in the Scouts and the Cubs.
What sort of stuff did you do there?
Normal scouting and camping and all that kind. Tying knots and things like that.
Where did you go for camps?
Up to Pennant Hills, and they had a Scout camp up there, we went there.
Yeah, different. We did a lot of hiking. I can’t remember just where we went.
You obviously liked it if you went all the way through. Were any of your mates in it as well?
Yeah. In the Scouts and the Cubs? Yes. Nearly all my neighbours who were my age were there.
Why did you decide to leave school?
Well, as I said before, the Depression was on and I wanted to get some money, earn some money and a lot of my friends had gone into jobs, so that’s what I decided. My parents weren’t very happy about it of course, but I prevailed and I went.
What did your parents want you to do?
I don’t think they wanted
me to do anything, just stay at school. They never mentioned it. They were always interested in our sports and the Scouts. They were always on committees and things like that, but never wanted me to do anything in particular.
So what were you ambitions then?
You mean before the war?
Yeah, you left school and you were needing to get a job. What sort of ambition did have for
any particular trade, or area you wanted?
No, I was just happy to get a job, because jobs were scarce.
How did you go about getting a job at DJs [David Jones]?
I just fronted up to the department that hires and fires, and it just so happened that they had a job in the furnishings as a boy. I started there and worked my way up a bit and I used to go to the wholesale warehouses to get samples of
materials, and Cunningham’s offered me a job there, so I joined there.
What were your duties at DJs?
Well, serving customers and running messages, things like that.
What was the work culture like in a department store in those days?
Oh it was very good. All the salesmen were all pretty good fellows. I enjoyed working there.
Both my jobs I enjoyed working.
What sort of hours did you have to keep at the job?
We worked Friday night and we worked Saturday morning in those days as well as the regular hours. When I went to the warehouse we didn’t, actually we worked Saturday morning, but we didn’t work Friday nights.
What sort of products did they sell in the furnishings department then?
all types of curtain materials, loose cover materials, things like that. Normal furnishings.
Can you remember what you got paid?
I think my first pay was 7 and 6 a week. 7 shillings and 6 pence a week and out of that I had to buy my weekly train ticket, and I was still
able to save a few bob. Gave my mother some. It wasn't much in those days.
What did you have to wear?
I had to wear a suit.
So you would have had to invest in the suit as well?
Oh, yeah and I had a hat. I think my parents would have bought the suit and the hat for me.
Did you enjoy the job?
Yeah, very much.
What store did you work in, or was there only one store?
They had George St. and Market St. then.
Then someone headhunted you and took you off to a warehouse.
Why do you think they offered you another job there?
Because I’d had the furnishings experience, and they wanted someone there. They, R. E. Cunningham’s, the company I worked for, they were three first - no, they were three directors but two
World War I diggers. While this was the war, they made my pay up the whole time, but all the boys that worked there, we all got our pay made up, and I used to give my money to my wife, or my fiancé in those days, and that’s what built our first house.
Had any of your family served in World War I?
No, not at all.
What were you doing at the warehouse then? What were your
Serving clients and taking samples to various retailers to try to sell them materials and things. Just normal humdrum jobs.
And flirting with the girls apparently?
One girl, yeah.
How old were you when you first met your future wife?
She was fifteen and I would have been nineteen.
Then it was 1937 when I met Rhona.
What sort of courting activities would you get up to, where would you take her out and so on?
Friday night we used to go out to Bert’s milk bar, which is long gone. In the summer we’d have milkshakes, that was the highlight of the week and in the winter we’d have
tomato soup, because I didn’t see her weekends, because I played sport.
That was the regular Friday night?
Regular Friday night, but we never went alone, we always had some of the other girls and their boyfriends there too.
And what time did you have to have her home by?
By, I used to leave her at the bus stop, at the tram stop and she’d catch a tram to Haberfield and I’d catch a train back to Meadowbank.
I suppose if she was fifteen, she was too young to take to the pub?
Never went to the pub in those days, I never drank. The first time I had a drink was during the war, in the army. We didn’t drink in those days, or smoke, gamble or anything. You didn’t have the money to do it.
OK. Who were
your big sporting idols?
Well in cricket it was Allen Kippax and Archie Jackson, Don Bradman, Larwood, and Gregory our bowler. All the usual test players.
Did you go and see the cricket?
Yeah, oh no. Not very often, we couldn’t afford it. After the war I did.
So how did you keep up with what was going on in the cricket?
I suppose the paper, because we didn’t have a radio or anything in those days. It wasn’t til early, or late teens when we got a wireless and that was a big thing. That’s when all the serials came on at night. Days of…no it was wasn’t Days of our Lives, that’s the one that’s on now. I just can't think of the
Ok, so you were a bit of a Kippax fan?
Yeah, he was my favourite.
And when you played cricket were you a batsman or a bowler?
I used to do both. Both.
But tennis was your main sport?
Yeah, I liked my tennis. I played in the top grades and all that kind of thing.
Never got to go professional?
Well, they didn’t have them. Professionals only came later in life.
At what point did you start to realise that something was going wrong in Europe?
I was down at my girlfriend’s place on a Friday night, and I went home with her that night, and we heard Neville Chamberlain on the wireless saying that they had
declared war on Germany. That was the first inkling I had of it. I remember it was a very sombre occasion because you thought of the aftermath of it. That’s how I got to hear about it.
Before that had you realised that war was gathering in Europe?
No, I wasn't interested in that kind of thing then.
In the war and that.
And when you did hear about the outbreak of war in Europe, what were your thoughts about joining up?
Well, I didn’t have any thoughts, but I got a letter from the government saying that I was going to be called up, because I was twenty-one then. So I was called up in January ’40, I think it was January or February, to go into camp for three months and we went
up to Rutherford just out of Newcastle, and we did infantry training and then I came back and decided I would join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], so I went down to Martin Place on the 10th June 1940 and joined up.
The three months training before that, that was with the militia was it?
What sort of things did you do up at Rutherford? What sort of training?
Well we dug trenches, we did route marches,
we went on the rifle range, we didn’t have Bren gun training, we just fired rifles. I think we were allowed three shots then because ammunition was scarce. Normal army type.
How did you find it?
I liked it. I enjoyed it. Being in the Scouts it gave me an inkling, but when I came home from that three months camp,
I didn’t, say January, February, March, I hadn’t heard anything about my call up. So, a friend of an insurance chap who did the insurance for the company, I was at work one day and he said, “Are you still here?
I thought you were going to the army?” I said, “I was, I haven’t been called up yet.” He said, “Oh, I’ll fix that. I’ve got a friend” who was a major someone or other, “I’ll get onto him for you.” The next minute I’m in his unit, I’m called up. It was in the transport, it was called the 2/101 Ammunition Park, and went out to the showground and had our
needles and a sample of our water. I’ll never forget a chap in the queue behind me, he couldn’t make any water, so I did his too. My bottle and so I did two bottles. I got through so I presume he did.
What did your family think about you being called up?
I don’t think they
were very happy, but they went along with it, because they had to really. Yes, everything worked out well there.
What about your girlfriend, what did she think?
She wasn’t happy. Do you want me to call out and ask her?
When you were up at Rutherford you said you enjoyed the camping bushcraft sort of stuff, but what about the discipline side of it?
That was good. Very good. I learnt a lot
from that about discipline, and how to fire a rifle and how to clean it and all that sort of thing. We used to get leave, I think we came home once a month back to Sydney, and then back up again.
You didn’t mind the barracks life?
No, I like it. I think it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to join up after that camp finished.
What about all the other guys up there at Rutherford with you, did they take to it the same way?
I don’t think so, because the day the parade finished and they asked everybody to step out who wanted to join the AIF, and not one of them, and I didn’t either because I hadn’t made up my mind, and not one stepped out, so I lost track of them altogether. They probably all went in later.
Where did you go to join the AIF in June?
In Martin Place. Walked up to Martin Place and up some stairs to a recruitment place. They took our name and everything like that.
Were there lots of other guys there?
Oh, yes, there was.
What made you decide that AIF was the life for you?
Probably overseas, I’d say.
All the trips overseas and everywhere, and the discipline and all that.
Did you have any thoughts about king and country and empire?
Yes I did. My parents said to me, “Why do you want to join up?” and I said, “Because it’s our war.” Things like that, I was just patriotic I suppose.
Tell us again, you signed up on the
10th of June, how long did you have to wait before you were called up then?
Oh it was pretty soon after that when I signed up.
And you went out to the showground?
Yep, lived in the cow pens.
What was life like in the showground there?
Well we were only there for about a week, but it was all right. You could go home every night. It wasn’t
long and we went up to Greta and did the rest of our training up there.
Where was that sorry?
Whereabouts is that?
Out of Newcastle, just near Rutherford. They had camps prepared for us; we were in huts there.
And at this point you’d been put into the supply.
How did you feel about that?
Oh, I was happy, yeah, because I had my car licence, because my father got it for me. I drove.
So I was able to drive a vehicle and the first week in camp I think, the sergeant came around and said, “Fall out those who can drive a truck” and there were about six of us, or a vehicle, about six of us pulled out. He said, “Right, you’re on cook helps for tea.” So we thought we were going to drive a vehicle and we ended up peeling spuds.
What sort of training did
you undertake up there?
Driving vehicles, we still did infantry training, and rifle range work. We didn’t have any machine guns but we had an anti-tank gun, which, when you fired it, it threw you over on your back, it was so powerful.
Was that an anti-tank rifle?
Yeah and we did driving vehicles and maintenance on them.
We still went out into the country around Patterson on all the outer route marches, and had to do like infantry. We had to learn a lot how to fire weapons.
What was the food like?
Pretty good, yeah. No complaints.
And as a young sportsman was there any sporting outlet for you?
At Rutherford, ah, Greta we didn’t have any, but after Greta we went to Dubbo,
and we used to have a swimming carnival and we played soccer out there, and cricket and things like that.
You had a licence to drive a car, how did you find driving a truck?
Oh it was simple, once you, you had to learn how to do the double shuffle [declutch] on the motors, which, do you know about the double shuffle? The revs [revolutions] on them are very high, and you used to have to put your
foot on the, as you’re driving along you’d let the accelerator off, put your clutch in, put your gear in, let your clutch out, accelerate and put your gear in again. You had to go from gear to neutral to gear. It’s called a double shuffle, and of course you learn to do it at quite a speed. The faster you’re going to change the more you’re going to rev.
Was that to
balance the revs with the clutch?
How long did it take you to learn that?
Oh, pretty quick. It didn’t take long.
What sort of truck were they that you were driving?
They were Chevs [Chevrolet], 30 hundredweight Chevs we learnt there but later on in the war we learnt to drive the big ones, the three tonners, and that kind of thing, and trailers.
Were they heavy to drive?
Yes, they were heavy. They didn’t have power steering or anything like that, but you know I used to enjoy it. I got used to it.
When, at what date did you move out to Dubbo?
I’m not sure. I haven’t got a record of that.
Was it still in 1940?
Oh, yes, 1940.
What was out at Dubbo that you were doing?
Well similar work, we were getting ready to go overseas. Similar to what we were doing at Greta.
Where did you think you’d be going?
Well we thought of the Middle East. Rumour runs rife in the services and we thought the Middle East, and that’s where we went.
How did you feel about shipping out to the Middle East?
It was wonderful.
You were looking forward to it?
Yeah. Well we all were. I met some very good mates, some really good friends in the army.
You had a special lot of mates?
Yeah, well, see we had platoons, of seven in a platoon, and we’d live in a tent. So, you became very friendly and went on leave together and all that.
How many men were in a truck crew?
One. The driver.
There was no offsider?
No. Well if you went out on a job you had an offsider, because if you had to load ammunition, you had a spare driver then I suppose, in case something happens to the driver.
And so how did it come to be that you were shipped out?
You went from Dubbo where?
Oh, we came by train to Sydney and got on the Queen Mary.
Did you have any leave in Sydney?
No. We’d already had our leave. We got in the Queen Mary and sailed out on I think it was Boxing Day, 1940.
How did you spend your
Well, with family and my wife, or fiancé then. No we weren’t engaged then. Yes we were, we got engaged before the war, not before the war, before I sailed. Yeah.
Why did you decide to get engaged before you sailed?
So she wouldn’t go for someone else while I was away, I suppose, and she didn’t.
So you were quite excited about going overseas but did you have other emotions?
You just wanted to get over there?
Yep, get up and go sort of thing.
What was the voyage on the Queen Mary like, can you describe it for us?
Oh, wonderful. The [Queen] Mary hadn’t been stripped of all its glamour then, but we were down in the hold, where we slept, but we
spent just about all our time upstairs up on the decks, climbed all over the ship. I got some good photos there on the Mary. I had a little pocket camera that I took with me the whole of the war. You weren’t supposed to have them but I did, I got away with it.
What was your accommodation like on the ship?
Slept on a hammock down in the hold, which was very hot, that’s why we went mostly up on the deck.
How many of you were sleeping in the same area?
Well there was a whole division, I would think on the ship. It was about, I could be wrong there but, it was our whole unit and there were other units too. I couldn’t tell you.
What division were
you in at this stage?
We went over with the 7th Division.
There must have been some men that got better accommodation than hammocks in the hold.
The officers. They had cabins.
But you didn’t take any vehicles with you?
No, they got our vehicles over there.
What did you take with you, personally?
Well, we had a kit bag and our haversack,
with your clothing in it. Spare articles, spare uniforms and things like that but nothing else. Photographs, there were some photographs and our rifles of course.
What did you get fed on the ship?
Well, we ate pretty well, because it was normal ship food. Don’t
ask me what it was.
But you were quite happy with it?
Yes. We only went to the Maldives, or Trincomalee on the Mary, then we got off on to a smaller ship and went across to Colombo, and we had one night ashore there, and then we got back onto the ship and went right round through the Suez Canal, right up into the Mediterranean to Haifa.
What did you do in your night off in
Well it was actually a day. We sightseed [sic] everywhere and took some photos.
And the small ship from the Maldives to Colombo, how did that compare in comfort?
Very rough, from what I can remember but we coped.
Was it the same ship that went up?
Into the Suez Canal, yes.
What were your thoughts and feelings as you sailed up the coast
of Africa there and into the Canal?
Well we just thought it was wonderful to be doing it. Seeing all the different countries and things like that. And, we had our first air raid going up the Suez, because the Italians were very much involved then, and they didn’t hit us or anything, they missed us all together.
Were they attacking your ship?
They were attacking the convoy, but I don’t think they hit anything because we didn’t hear anything.
What were your feelings then, when you thought you were under attack?
“Jeez, we’re in an air raid!” I don’t know, it didn’t seem to worry us, because they didn’t come close enough.
What was passing through the canal like?
It was great.
Other ship would be coming back from wherever they’d been, and we’d pass them, and someone, we saw the statue on the corner of the edge of the canal, at Port Taufiq, we all knew what that was because we’d read about it, and then we went right through the canal, which was a very special event in those days.
Interviewee: Raymond Style Archive ID 1798 Tape 02
I’ve never been to the Suez Canal, can you describe for us the view from the ship?
Well from what I can remember from your left side it was nearly all desert I think. I think it was on the right side too, but don’t ask me the names of the, I don’t think it was Saudi Arabia or anything like that.
Where Basra was, that was on the right side. We went, we could see Basra in the distance, it was Basra but most of it was desert country with the occasional Arab village.
What did the Arab villages look like?
From the boat they didn’t look so hot, but it was hard to tell really.
Did you see people along the side of the canal?
Yes we saw Arabs waving to us. The Arabs to me, they were a strange lot. We used to call them wogs of course, which wasn’t very kind I suppose. They didn’t stand out other than being
this dissolved lot.
What were they wearing?
Well we call them frocks; they dressed in a long frock. Of course we were told, whether it was true or not, that they wore those outfits was because Christ was supposed to come from men, not from women and of course
it was a tale, whether it was true or not, that’s why they were supposed to in those days, worn those frocks. They’ve probably got different ideas today. But, yes, they had the, I wouldn’t call them frocks, I don’t know what they call them there.
What colour were they?
Well plain white I think, mostly. I’ve got photos there.
I’ll have a look at them later on. What about on their
heads, did they wear anything on their heads?
Well, they had the shawl over their heads.
Are you talking about the men or the women?
Both but the women they had the veil across there, and the men had it open.
What kind of activity was happening on the banks of the canal?
There didn’t seem to be any. They just seemed to be watching us, going up the river, up the canal.
How broad was the canal?
It was pretty wide. Yeah, two ships could pass each other. You go up the [Red] Sea first before you get to the canal, and that was pretty wide but the canal was, two ships could pass each other, one going one way.
What were your first impressions of Haifa?
Well it was very good. After getting off the boat after all that time, it was typical Palestine town, or city, I suppose it would have been.
You mentioned you went through the Maldives Islands on the way.
It was the Maldives on the way back.
On the way back?
OK, then we’ll come back to that because I was wondering what they were like.
When you joined the army, what did you imagine you might be doing?
Well, I didn’t have a preference for a unit, so I just took what came, and I became in the transport, in the supply sort of thing.
You mentioned that you took photos along the way,
what kind of camera did you have?
I had a little pocket camera, pocket-sized camera. They wouldn’t be in existence now, but I had it with me for the whole of the war and as I said, I’ve got photos of every place I went to.
Can you describe that camera for us?
Well, it would be about that wide, I don’t know whether that comes
out on your camera. That wide, and it could fit in my pocket.
How thick was it?
Yeah, about that.
About two or three inches.
You could put a normal film in it.
Where did you get the camera?
I bought it in Sydney before I went away.
Had you always been a keen photographer?
No. I’d never done it before. We couldn’t afford it in those days.
So once you got to Haifa, what happened next?
We went to a camp called Hill 69, which was already laid out for us and we camped there. I’m not sure, just, it wasn’t too far from Tel Aviv and it was, we could go from there
on leave. We didn’t, mostly it was training there, and we got our vehicles and we used to work different areas. When I say work, take supplies, or pick up supplies from the various areas and we’d go on leave from there to Jerusalem, and went over the Church of Holy Sepulchre
and the Wailing Wall, when they bang their hands on the Wailing Wall, and certain tourist items that were famous in history. That’s mostly what we did, and trained.
What did the training involve?
Driving, maintaining the vehicles,
did some infantry training, like handling weapons and things like that.
What were you taught in terms of maintaining your vehicle?
Oil, water, battery were the main things. We didn’t have to take the engine apart or anything like that, we just had to normal maintaining.
When you were being a tourist, did you buy any souvenirs?
Yes, I bought souvenirs. I bought some for my fiancé and my family, and things like that.
What did you buy?
I bought postcards of different areas and that would have been most of the things we bought, because we didn’t have much money to… We got five shillings a day.
We didn’t have much money to spend. It was mostly spent in our visiting, going sight seeing.
Back to your fiancé, when did you decide to get married? When did you ask her to marry you?
After I’d come back from the Middle East, I didn’t see her for two and a half years,
and we were up in Warwick, waiting to go to New Guinea, and I rang her up and I said, “Let’s get married.” I was able to get seven days leave and she was able to arrange all the wedding frock and everything, and the menu. So I went home, got married, had seven days and went back up again. Just like that.
How much contact did you have with her in the two and a half years when you were away?
Very little, only by letter. We didn’t get a letter every week at that. We’d get a packet, a whole packet together, probably once a month or something like that. That was early in the piece, but later in the war, we hardly got any. Didn’t turn up sort of thing.
Where did you go from Hill 69?
We went up, well, we worked from there from Palestine down to Egypt, and back, carrying supplies, and then from there we went up to Syria and we were in the Syrian campaign, and we carried the supplies up there. We didn’t, we weren’t in the front line but we carried supplies for the front line.
So you were driving long distances?
Can you describe what that was like? How did you reach Syria?
By vehicle. We drove over through the, I’ve got photos of that too in the album. We drove up to Beirut, that was in Lebanon, we went to Lebanon first and we worked from Lebanon right through Syria, carrying supplies. We went right up to the
Turkish border, and we went right out to the Euphrates River sometimes. The Euphrates River, just for a matter of interest, was the fastest running river in the world, and to get across it we used to have to drive, and put on a punt, and it would go so fast that we’d be half way down the river before we could get ashore.
And coming back, the same thing happened, we had to go right up further, and I can remember the Americans were sending supplies through Basra up to our armies, and that’s what we were doing. We were taking the vehicles across, loading them up and bringing them back with the supplies.
What were your impressions of Beirut?
Beautiful place, very nice. In Beirut we went up into the mountains, we were camping up in the mountains in the snow country, and we lived in snow for weeks up there. The roads were all icy, and we used to have to put chains on our wheels, otherwise we’d slide back and we had four-wheel drive, which means that the front wheels pull and the back wheels push.
So we didn’t slide anywhere with the chains on. No other vehicles could go on the roads because they’d get on the ice and just slide across.
What’s it like driving on the ice?
With our chains it was all right, we didn’t have any problems but some of our unit, our vehicles didn’t have chains so they couldn’t go on them, so they were idle but with those, in the snow country we lived in tents
and we used to sleep in our greatcoats, that was our big army coats and we had I think two blankets, and we were on palliasses on the floor. It was mighty cold. I don’t think we had a shower for a few days. We used to get some hot water, some cold water and boil it up and have a shower, a
bath out of the tub, which wasn't very pleasant, but if we happened to get a few days leave we’d go into the city and have a shower, a hot shower.
What were you transporting at this stage?
Food, all food supplies and ammunition supplies and things like that; anything that was needed by the army.
What was you responsibility in terms of
stock taking what you had with you and loading it?
No, we drove to a, like an ammunition dump, or a food dump, and they had to have African natives there and they would do all the loading up, but when we go to where we were going, we’d unload then.
How long were you in the snow country for?
Oh, it was a few months.
What were you doing there?
Can you describe what your working day was like?
Sometimes we did it at night and sometimes we did it during the day, but it was normal work, all the time, just loading and offloading materials.
Were you driving in and out of the mountains at this stage?
Where would you drive down to, to get more supplies?
Back to Beirut, the supplies depot was there and we’d take them everywhere.
Did you have much to do with the locals, the Lebanese in Beirut?
Oh, we’d only see them on the roads or sometimes they’d come to the camp for handouts sort of thing.
Women and men would come to the camps?
Mostly men. Children mostly.
The children speak any English?
No. We used to have a lot of fun with the kids there, trying to teach them English. I’ll never forget in Beirut, we went in, we had a day’s leave and we went into town, to the shops to get some souvenirs and we had little books of Arabic and
Lebanese language, and we’d get the books out and try to say to the girls behind the counter, “This is so and so,” and they let us finish, then they said in perfect English, “Now what would you like?” They used to have us on.
Now Lebanon was colonised by the French at some stage, was the architecture like there?
I think it was mostly Arabic architecture I think because the French didn’t take it over straightaway; they had it years later I think. I wouldn’t like to comment on that, I wasn’t sure.
What were the street scenes like? Did you see many women in the streets?
Not that many, because we didn’t
go on specific days or anything. There were probably more women on one day than another. No, we used to see them selling in the shops. See the Free French were there, and the Vichy French and it was the Vichy French that the Free French were on our side, fighting the Vichy. That’s when Cutler got his VC. In that
battle sort of thing.
What was the atmosphere like in Beirut?
Towards us? It was very good.
And what about between the Vichy French and the Free French?
We didn’t see any Vichy French because they were further inland. It was nearly all Free French that we would have seen
or the Lebanese people. But Lebanese Beirut was a lovely city, it was very well built and the people seemed to be nice. As far as the Arabs, I think the Arabs used to become friendly with whoever was in command. Like for instance, one time when we were going down to Egypt,
Rommel was coming closer and closer to Alexandria and all the Arabs were waiting there for the Germans to come and they were more friendly to them than they were to the Brits [British]. This is going forward a bit, when we went through to go to El Alamein,
all the Brits were coming back, because they’d been there and they’d lost Tobruk, and the Arabs were anti-British then, they were giving them a hard time, but as soon as we all came back their attitude changed and they were friends with all of us. I always think that they went with whoever was in charge sort of thing.
So after your time in the snow, where did you go next?
Back to Palestine, and we waited there or we went, carried supplies to and from Egypt and back, and then the 7th Division came home and we were transferred to the 9th Division. That’s why we had two and a half years over there, more than a lot of others. So we’re transferred to the 9th Division and they changed our name from the
2/101 Ammunition Park to the 2/101 General Transport Company.
How many men were in that company?
Oh, don’t ask me that, I have no idea.
Did you drive in convoy?
Yeah. When we went down to Egypt I was driving a motorbike, I became a Don R [Motorcycle Despatch Rider]
for the trip down because we had more troops than vegetables, not vegetables, than automobiles. So I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have a go at riding a motorbike,’ so I drove as a Don R from Palestine right down to Egypt, but as soon as I got there I gave it away and went back on a truck, because it was too hair-raising.
Why was that?
Well, in a long convoy, and one minute it’s going along at seventy miles an hour and the next minute it’s just crawling along, it was very hair-raising, and I wasn’t used to motorbikes, I’d never ridden one before. I rode a pushbike of course, so I gave it away.
What kind of motorbike were you riding?
A Matchless, an American motorbike.
Can you describe it for us?
Oh, I wouldn’t have a clue.
What were your duties as a Don R, a dispatch rider?
Just taking messages from…see the echelon would have been several convoys and I was taking messages from the officers to the front truck or something like that. That was in the convoy going to Egypt from El Alamein. We had infantry members in our vehicles, we
carried, I’m not sure if it was the 48th Battalion, or the 17th. I’m not sure now.
What were the officers like?
Very good, yes, I had no arguments with them. Oh, one of the things I forgot to say was we used to carry, a couple of times I had to carry the mail, like our Australian mail, from Palestine
down to Egypt. I used to have to go by myself, I’d take it to the postal place up here and they’d load it up, and I used to drive down here on my own to Egypt. I unloaded the mail and then I went to get a cup of tea, it was breakfast, see.
I pulled up outside a restaurant and went in, and when I came back my vehicle had gone. The English provos [Provosts – Military Police] had taken it. So I found out where they went and I went out to them and complained about the English taking an Australian vehicle, it wasn’t the thing. They said, “But it was unattended,” and I said, “Well I had to get a cup of tea.” Anyway, they gave me the vehicle back
and when I got back to camp I was docked seven day’s pay, because I left the vehicle unattended. That was one thing I remembered, but I mean you had to have a meal or something. That wasn’t taken into account, I left the vehicle unattended.
That seems a bit tough.
But got the vehicle back, that was the main thing.
What kind of messages would you be transporting from the officers to front of the convoy?
Oh, I don’t know. You couldn’t open them, you couldn’t
They were in envelopes?
What did the envelopes look like?
I have no idea now. Just ordinary envelopes I suppose. I don’t know, I can't remember. I didn’t actually examine them really. I would have been in for it if I did.
How long did it take to get from Palestine back to Egypt?
Oh, about a day.
A day, you stayed overnight and came back the next day. It didn’t take that long.
You said that when you got back to Egypt, you decided to go back to driving trucks, what did that involve when you were back in Egypt?
The same old type of work.
Where was the camp then?
In Egypt? It was Tell-el-Kabir, just out
of Cairo. We stayed there and then we went up to El Alamein. I might have my trips mixed up a bit, but you know, it was a long time ago, but El Alamein of course, we slept in holes in the ground, we had to dig our own little trench for one person. When we got there, we used to have air raids every night, the Germans
at five o’clock, they were very methodical. They would have a Stuka parade, that’s their little bombers, and they’d have sirens attached to them. They’d come across to drop their bombs and we could hear the sirens but once we heard the sirens we knew we didn’t have to worry because the bombs would go over there sort of thing. But, so we weathered that all right but soon as there’d be an air raid we’d just
duck in our hole and stay there till it’s finished. One night we didn’t hear the sirens and they started dropping bombs around our camp, so straight into the hole. I’ll never forget one of our corporals, he was caught above the ground and he dived under a truck, and he put his head in between the tyre and the
bumper bit, the mudguard. He couldn’t get it out and he was yelling blue murder [loudly], we thought he’d been hit, but he couldn’t get his head out, because he tried to keep it straight and pull it out. That’s just a funny little aside. Do you still want to hear about El Alamein? Oh right. So we carried, we used to go to the ammunition dumps and the Africans would load up the ammunition and we’d take it up to the front line.
But before we did that, the actual battle, Montgomery, General Montgomery was there and he came and lined us all up, and he had his Australian slouch hat on and his Bombay bloomers [long baggy shorts], which looked dreadful, you know.
What were they?
They were shorts but they were baggy. You could have fit two people into the one pair of pants, you know, and of course he was an Aussie then, well he was born in Tasmania anyway.
But he lined us all up and he told us exactly what was going to happen. So that was right. Well we had all the troops, the infantry on the back of our trucks, loading them waiting to take them to the front line to fight the Germans. They had two big searchlights, went up like that and as soon as they hit the apex, that’s when the barrage started. The big barrage, I believe they could hear it
fifty miles away back at Alexandria and then the barrage, as the barrage went forward we drove forward, with the infantry on it. As the barrage would lift a bit further we’d go a bit further, and as soon as we got to the frontline, we unloaded them but all the time we were being shelled and machine-gunned. The Germans were pretty cagey, they’d fire incendiary,
no not incendiary, ones that light up, you can see them, bullets and of course you can dodge those with your vehicles but then the next lot would be ordinary machine guns, and luckily my vehicle wasn’t hit at all but a shell went off and landed between my vehicle and the next one, and it blew my tin hat off. I had the officer next to me, I think he was about
nineteen or twenty, and I was twenty-two, and he said, “It’s all right, it’s all right, son.” I’ll never forget that, “You’ll be all right,” and I put my tin hat on and I thought, ‘Jeez, if he can do it, I can do it.’ But it didn’t hit, it went off, where the incendiary, but I don’t know. Neither of our trucks were hit, which was good. So anyway, we took them in and we hung around and brought back the prisoners, and they were nearly all Italians.
They wanted to be out of the war, they didn’t want to fight anymore. One of them gave me some film that he had, some undeveloped, and they’d give you anything to get out of the place. One gave me his dead man tickets [identification disks], they were the tickets with your name on them. I’m not sure whether I’ve still got them but we took the prisoners of war back to the prisoner of war camps, and
we went and loaded up ammunition and took it back in again.
Did you develop those films the Italian gave you?
Yeah, I’ve got them in an album.
I’ll have to have a look at those later.
Yeah, they’re there somewhere.
Going back a bit, can you describe digging these little trenches that you slept in on you own?
It was pretty hard because it was very sandy, hard sand, rocky surface, which would only be the length of, a little bit over the length of your body,
and deep enough that if a shell landed, that it would go over the top and you wouldn’t get hit. The same when bombs went off, you’re in your little trench and the, what do you call it, the blast would go over the top and you wouldn’t get hit.
What was in your trench with you when you slept?
You had a blanket, and you used your haversack as a pillow.
Any visits from scorpions?
Yeah, we had lots of scorpions. I got bitten by one once on the hand. It’s the worst sting I’ve ever had. It didn’t last long though.
What’s it like though? Can you describe it?
Very painful. I remember once we had to go and load some potatoes for one of the
cookhouses, and I was pulling off the sacks of potatoes and I got bitten by one then, and that was very painful.
What were the scorpions like? How big and what did they look like?
Well, about three times the size of a spider. You know the tarantula, which is one of the biggest spiders, well, much bigger than those. They used to sting but they didn’t last. It depends on where you’re living I suppose.
Where did you keep the truck when you were sleeping in the trench?
Right next to you?
Well, in the vicinity.
And where did you drive to get ammunition?
We had an ammunition depot around El Alamein, around that area. They had the ammunition depots and when
our troops advanced, they took Alamein and they were advancing further on, we came to a lot of the, we had to load a lot of the German supply dumps and we found thousands of little booby traps. They were little wire gadgets, and if you touched them in the wrong spot, they’d blow and take your hand off. The Germans had thousands of those.
And we used to have to, we’d just sort them all out and leave them. Then I suppose the ammunition experts would come along and take them apart or something, I don’t know but they had them, all the booby traps, like they might have had a fountain pen, and you might say, “Oh, there’s a fountain pen” and of course we’d been warned not to touch anything. We used to have to mark where they were and all this.
The Germans had thousands of them though. They were very dreadful machines, little gadgets.
Where were they, the booby traps?
In their dumps, supply dumps.
What did you think of the Germans at this stage?
Not very happy with them or the Italians, but the Italians, they had units that were conscripts and they had units that were permanent ones,
and the permanent ones they used to fight, but the conscripts didn’t want to fight. They were there under sufferance more or less and they gave in rather easily, where the permanents they fought like cats and dogs.
What was it like being shelled?
It wasn’t very nice but you learn to live with it. The only time we were shelled was when we were going forward. We weren’t shelled after that, but we were bombed a lot. But when we were taking the infantry, as I said, we were very fortunate; we never got hit with anything.
How did you learn to live with it?
You’re young, in your twenties, you learn it. I suppose there were a lot who couldn’t take it and had, you know, tantrums, all this kind of thing, tantrums but I don’t know, we coped with it. Just think about the infantry though, and what they put up with, they were shelled night and day and every day.
Did you see examples of people who
couldn’t handle it?
One, we had one chap, it was the one who got his head caught. He was sent home. He was the only one of all our units that we knew that couldn’t take it. We used to do a lot of night work, so you wouldn’t come under fire sort of thing, in the daytime we were camped right alongside
the Mediterranean and sometimes we had to go and have a swim. We used to get bombed then. The German planes would come over and drop the bomb, and of course the sensation in the water, was worse than it was on land, and of course we had to tear out and get on the beach, and as soon as the plane went, we went back in the surf again, because we were all surfies, the whole lot of us had been in the surf in Sydney, or wherever they came from.
I’m just trying to think of something else I thought of which has gone. That’s one of the things. Oh, I know, we were all sitting on our vehicles waiting to be called, waiting to do a job, and a German plane came over and had been on assault and
saw our vehicles and decided to shoot us up. Well once again I was lucky, the vehicle next to me, he got hit. One of the men got a bullet in his ankle and another one got one in his knee or something but the rest was untouched, see I bore a charmed life the whole time.
The man that was shot, did that happen right near you?
Next to us, yes. The truck would have been about twenty feet away. Might have
been a bit further than that.
How did that affect you?
Well it didn’t affect us because we didn’t get hit, but he was whipped off to hospital. Another time one of our officers and his driver were going forward to do something or other, and they ran over a land mine. Neither of them were hurt. The truck was smashed to bits, but they weren’t hurt. They got shot, but a lot of us were lucky during the war,
a lot weren’t.
Did you ever see things particularly in Alamein that have stuck with you, that you’ve found difficult to shake?
I think I’m having more problems now. I dream a lot now about the war, and I didn’t dream about the war for years and years but I’m dreaming a lot now about things that happened.
One time I was dreaming that someone was attacking me and I kicked my wife in the leg, and made a big gash in her leg. So now we put a pillow down between the two of us because I just dream about nothing, it just comes out. But, what was the question again?
Things that return to you from the war that you find difficult to shake?
Oh, well, that’s about the only thing.
What sort of things do you dream?
I always dream that there’s someone in the room that is going to attack me, or something. I don’t know what it is, it’s just a vision of someone there, but then the next night I won’t dream at all, and a few nights later I will again, you know. I think that it doesn’t concern me that much, because I know it’s not true, you know.
It’s interesting that you say that it’s coming more now.
More so now, and that’s what, fifty, sixty years later.
Do you remember when you started having those dreams?
Oh, a couple of years ago. I can't put a date to it.
When the man who was sent home, the one who had his head stuck, when he left, what was the feeling about him?
Oh, because we were all young, we thought he was chicken or something like that, you know, the normal feeling.
What was the pressure like to stick it out together?
No, there wasn’t any pressure. We weren’t under pressure. I mean, the infantry people I would say, yes, they would have been under a lot of pressure, but we weren’t. We were backup people that carried ammunition
for them but the only time we were concerned was when we had an air raid but it passed, so.
What kind of contact did you have with the infantrymen?
Well, we had a lot of contact with them when we took them in to the fighting. We didn’t have any contact after that.
Did you ever have to collect them afterwards, the wounded?
No, the ambulances did that.
End of tape
Interviewee: Raymond Style Archive ID 1798 Tape 03
I just want to go back to fill in some gaps about when you were in Palestine. I believe you had a bit of a laundry service going with the locals?
Oh, yes. In our camp there was an Arab laundry with two or three people in it, so when we had a few bob, we’d get our dry cleaning done and you’d give them the garments, like a shirt and shorts
and you never got a docket, but you always got the right one back. You never got a docket or anything, but they were wonderful. Most of us got it done, and as I said, none of us got a ticket but we always got the right article back. It was amazing; you can't imagine that out here.
And it was a fairly quick service?
A couple of days, yes.
Oh, I can’t remember now, it wouldn’t have been much.
Was there any other commerce going on between you and the locals?
Only if you visited souvenir shops somewhere, that’s about all. We didn’t have much to do with them at all, I suppose it was infra dig [beneath one’s dignity]. Sometimes there used to be a lot of orange orchards, near Jaffa,
I suppose that’s where the Jaffa orange came from, and we used to stop our vehicle and pop over the fence and load up on oranges, and of course the Arab fellow would come out and wave his hands, “You’re stealing my oranges.” But he couldn’t do anything about it of course.
What sort of souvenirs were they flogging you?
Well, photos, there was photos that I’ve got
somewhere in there of different resorts, you know, the Wailing Wall and all that. Well I took my own photos of all that and there used to be a pound note, I’ve got a photo in there somewhere of it, where you could have your girlfriend’s photo on one side and yours on the other, and you give them a photo and they put you in it. Things like
that, all super stupid little things but, being young, you bought them and sent them home.
Do you think they made good money off you?
Oh, I’d say so, yeah.
What sort of leave did you get while you were in Palestine?
You’d get about two days at a time I think, that’s about all. One trip we went to the Dead Sea. I’m not sure whether that was
from Palestine or Lebanon, but we had a swim in the Dead Sea, and of course you can’t sink in it, it’s so salty, you just lay on the top but you had to say, “I’ve swum in the Dead Sea,” you see.
Was there anywhere to wash yourself off afterwards?
I don’t think so, I think we had to wait until we got back to camp.
Because I can remember swimming in the Dead Sea and not being able to rinse off afterwards, and it was pretty uncomfortable drying off in the sun
covered with salt.
In the sun. Was it still the same? Because you would have done it a long after me, was it still salty?
Yeah, it’s still pretty salty, yeah. If you’ve got a little cut on you or anything then it hurts.
Oh right, yes. That was a wonderful experience really in our day. Did you go over the Seven Sisters or whatever they call it, over the road to get down to it?
I think I was on the other side of it,
I think I was coming from the Jordan side, not the Lebanon side of it or the Israel side of it.
Oh, right, what the other side of the, oh.
I can't quite remember. What about going into the cities on leave?
Well we used to go into Jerusalem. We had two or three days there, and we’d go in and have a haircut and a good wash and a shower, because the showers in the camp were all cold.
But the weather was pretty hot so you didn’t mind the cold shower. To have a proper one, you’d go into a barber, and be welcomed with open arms. The haircut and shave. The barber I go to now, in the city, I’ve been going there for about thirty years, was a hair dresser as a boy in Beirut, I think he said he came from.
I have a great old chat about the old days. His father before him was a barber and his father before him was a barber, which was interesting.
What about going for a drink somewhere in Jerusalem?
Well see, we didn’t drink in those days. Oh, one job we had, I’m not sure whether this was in Palestine
or in Lebanon, where we had to carry supplies from the brewery to the camps where they had the canteens and of course you drive your truck in and while they were loading the vehicle with the grog, come in and have a drink, because we used to finish up pretty right but we always
managed to drive back without any problems. There weren’t any drink driving signs in those days.
Where was the beer going to?
The beer was called Al Maza, have you ever tried that, when you were there?
I don’t think so.
It mightn’t be produced now, I’m talking in ’41, you know. The canteen services, I just can't think what they used to be called and they would
supply the British canteen and our canteens, and they used to sell by the bottle I think. So the only time I ever used to get a drink was when it was for nothing.
And what about dancing or girls?
Oh no, none of that at all, never.
What about other blokes from the company?
Well if they did, I never heard. When we’d go on leave, we’d go
like say, the whole of our platoon, the seven of us or eight, or whatever it was. We’d just go and have a ride on the Arab donkeys, you would have done that too I suppose and climb over the pyramids in Egypt, as far as you could go up, you couldn’t go up too far and in Cairo, did you go to Cairo? Did you see,
oh, what was it called, the Museum of Hygiene or something and you went up to the Citadel on the top, you probably did that.
Were you warned about the local women?
Oh, yeah, very much so.
What did they say to you?
Don’t go near them I think, simple as that, because some of us were married, and I wasn’t then,
and the others had fiancés and girlfriends so naturally you didn’t worry. I didn’t, it wasn’t until Alamein that I started to drink.
When you moved up to Syria, you liked it up there?
Yes, yeah. We went right up to Latakia on the Turkish border, or close to it, and as I said, we went down the Euphrates River and
went to Aleppo, have you been up there, did you go to Aleppo, to the citadel there?
Yeah, that was interesting, wasn’t it? And different other spots.
When you were up in the snow, had you ever seen snow before?
Only at Wentworth Falls, we had relatives up there, and they would ring up and say, “Come up, there’s snow on the ground,” so we’d hop in the car with my father and he’d take us up.
But it was only just flakes on the ground but we were living in it up in the, did you get up to the Cedars in Lebanon?
That was very interesting, because the snow was thick on the ground. I think I mentioned that before.
Did the cold cause any maintenance problems with the vehicles?
We used to put hot water in them in the mornings because the windscreens would be
frozen over, so we used to get it from the cookhouse and wash them over, and we’d put chains on the wheels. As I said before, the four- wheel drives that we had, the front wheels would pull and the back wheels would push. With the four-wheel drive and with the chains on, we could go over any of the roads. Ordinary vehicle couldn’t, they tried to drive on it and they just slide off.
What about with you know, cooling lines freezing up in the engine?
No, we never had any of that trouble. They were pretty well maintained.
How would it work, I want you to describe the procedure of the day about how you get your orders and then where you would go with them and so forth, to do deliveries.
Well, we had our own headquarters, they would get all the
orders, and then they would allocate them to the four-wheeled drivers to do them. One time I had to take mail down to Palestine, down to Haifa. I had to do it in Egypt too, but I had to do it in Haifa, and of course in those days, drugs were rife, and a lot of the chaps
in the post office were handling them and of course, we had to check our bags of mail and make sure there was no drugs in it, because if you were caught you’d be shot or something. I never struck any at all.
So there were people in the services dealing with hashish and so on?
So we were told, yeah. We were always warned too, to check our mailbags.
How did you find your way around?
I don’t know, we just did. I think we must have been given maps, I think from memory, but from going from one place to another, we always stuck to the main road. I’ve got some good photos of the trip up through Syria, through Homs and Hama and other places.
Where the water wheels are?
That was in Hama? Yeah. We went through the big tunnel. You knowing a lot of these places makes it very interesting for me.
As a Sydney city boy, there must have been some amazing sights for you?
It was very interesting indeed. Most of our work was good work. Alamein was the worst, that’s the only
really bad one but driving around, you saw lots of things, like Baalbek, did you go to Baalbek? The ruins of Baalbek, which was in Syria, and things like that and I always went to Sunday School when I was a kid, had to go of course, and a lot of those names came back, like Aleppo and Baalbek,
and other places, the Wailing Wall, and banging my head on that. Another thing we used to do in Palestine, all the Jewish kibbutz, they were starting then, and we’d be back from delivering something, and there’d be all these boys and girls on the road hitchhiking a ride. So we’d load them up and
take them to their kibbutz. That was interesting too because there were dozens of them. I think most of them would have been from Europe, or England or something. I don’t think the Australians went there in those days.
Did you get on OK with the Jewish people there?
Oh, yeah. We got on well with the Arabs too, because as I said before, whoever was in power the Arabs would go along with.
You must have met a lot of them.
Yes, I have. What sort of ammunition were you carrying around?
Mostly 303s and grenades and big ones, shells and things.
What sort of paperwork was there in taking a load and delivering it?
None, we didn’t have any,
just drive in and drop it off. Who would have done that I don’t know. Don’t forget it was a war, and all the people wanted that you were delivering it to was the goods. They didn’t want to sign papers and things.
The only time we had to get a signature was when we delivered the mail.
In some armies, supply train troops have a reputation for pilfering supplies.
What did you see of that?
Yeah. Honestly, I didn’t see any. Not in our unit anyway. I think a lot of that happened at the supply depots, especially up in New Guinea.
How heavy is a case of the 303 ammunition?
Pretty heavy, I can tell you. Fortunately we didn’t load them on,
they did that at the depots, but we loaded them off. It was much easier loading them off than it was lifting them up, I was only a little bloke too, so I had a lot of trouble.
How long would it take you to unload a truck then?
Well, it depends what you had on. army shells would take two of you to lift one of the boxes, and you put it on the edge of the truck, and they would lift, other troops would
lift them off.
You mentioned there was Africans.
Yeah, there were African Negroes; I would presume South African they were. I only struck them in the desert, in Alamein, they were a unit, I don’t know what you’d call them. They would have been supply workers I suppose.
What did you hear of all the other action that was going on in North Africa while you were in Palestine and Syria?
We didn’t get a lot of news, we used to get a newspaper, an army newspaper that was put out and we used to, like if we go into town, we’d grab a Palestine Post or something, I’ve forgotten the names now, and they would give us a bit of news. Oh and that famous magazine,
that British magazine, or paper. It’s still in vogue that used to be the main paper.
Was it The Mail or The Mirror?
No, I’ve forgotten the name of it altogether to the newspaper. That was the main paper we’d get news from.
That’s how we first heard about them bombing Pearl Harbour. We didn’t get a lot of other news.
What effect did the news have that Japan was in the war and Australia was under threat; have on you guys?
Well, it didn’t have a lot of effect on us, especially when there was rumours around that we were on our way home.
I think we were more conscious then, especially on the trip home. We came home on the Aquitania and we were a bit concerned about Jap [Japanese] submarines and things like that but we weren’t attacked in any way, and there was quite a convoy of us.
In Syria and Palestine and Egypt, what were the traffic conditions
like on the roads?
They were pretty good; we had no problems at all.
Locals in the way?
No. The only traffic conditions we had was going in convoys because the front, I don’t know why this would happen, but the front vehicles would be doing, say thirty miles an hour, I don’t know I can’t remember, but if you were at the end of the convoy you’d be doing sixty to try and keep up. I don’t know how that happens, but every time
we went into convoy that would happen. I don’t know why.
So you would get spread out?
Yeah, oh, yeah, spread out. Well when we were in Egypt, you had to spread out in case you had an air raid but no, it wasn’t that far out.
Did anybody ever get lost off the back of the column?
No, not that I know of because when we went down to, when the Pommies [British] were coming back
from Alamein, of course they’d just lost Tobruk, and they were coming back and we first met them coming through Alexandria, and of course, they were saying, “Ah, you’ll be sorry,” and we were saying, “Ah, you’re scared, you got out.” It was just the usual army (tricks UNCLEAR) and the Arabs were all waving Nazi flags from the rooftops, because they thought Rommel was going to come, you know, because
they were pro-Germany anyway. They didn’t like the British.
Was there a bit of a sense of panic around that time?
Not with us there wasn’t, not with us, because we actually didn’t know what we were going into, really, until we got there, you see. So there was no panic.
The time that you rode that motorbike down, what was it like
being on the road on a motorbike?
That was a bit horrendous, because I was in a convoy, and as I was saying the front ones were going so fast and the back ones were going slow, so I had to go back and forwards, checking what they were doing and reporting to the fellow up the front or up the back, and all this kind of thing and I’d never ridden a motorbike before I took on this job, I only had a few days practice.
And it was a Matchless, an American one, and it was pretty fast, and of course I found myself having to pull up all the time in case I hit another vehicle in front, you know, but I managed.
It must have been dangerous weaving in and out of all those trucks at different speeds.
It was yes, but see a lot of the desert was very flat and you could get off the road a bit and go up along side but it wasn’t until we, where did we,
to a staging camp out of Cairo, it wasn’t Tell-el-Kabir, it was somewhere, I don’t know. I used to get the bike out after we’d knock off for the day and go all over the town, and practice the bike, and saw a lot of the good sights. Went up the mountain and had a look down and all of that, but then I gave it away.
Preferred your truck?
Oh yeah. It would carry all your gear, where on a motorbike you had to have it on someone else’s truck.
Were there ever accidents?
Oh yes, a few. I never had one luckily but there were accidents, you know, cars, trucks bumping into each other.
What were the trucks you were driving at this stage?
They were Chevrolets
and Fords, and the Ford of course was much more powerful than the Chev, and they were harder to do your double shuffle with but you coped, you know. Once your own vehicle wore out or something, you got another one, you got a Ford. When I say wore out, it had to go in for long maintenance. They were 30 hundredweight’s or 3 tonners, or
How tough were they for those conditions?
Very good. I remember once we had to take some supplies down near the Qattara Depression, and I got stuck in the sand, because with the push and pull, it worked on the ice and snow but it didn’t work so well on the sand. So you just stop where you are and
the other big maintenance truck would come along and haul you out and off you go again.
That was off road was it?
Off the road, yeah.
What were you running down to such a remote place?
Supplies for the infantry, we had infantry down there. I suppose foodstuffs and things like that.
What did you think of the physical beauty of the desert?
I didn’t like it at all, when you had sandstorms day in and day out. You had to live in it, eat in it, sleep in it, it wasn’t that good but you coped, you know.
How did the sand and dust affect the vehicles?
It would affect them. It would get into whatever it got into. You just had to clean them out. We were a bit lucky there: our camp was right alongside
the Mediterranean Sea and we were able to duck over for a swim to wash off. You never had a fresh water wash; you always had a surf wash. That’s what I mentioned before, we had an air raid when we were in there but we were lucky. The Germans didn’t like us but they were good to us.
How did you and where did you refuel the vehicles?
From your own little, each unit I presume, we did, had like petrol trucks and we refilled from those. I guess they’d go off and fill up again.
Was that done by hand or with a pump?
I think just a pump, I think. The pump was on the other truck,
yeah it was.
Were the trucks running on diesel or petrol?
What sort of range did they have?
Oh I think we used to fill up every day, but I’m not sure how many miles they did.
Were the trucks ever used for personal trips?
Oh no, you’d finish up in the boob [gaol].
What was discipline like in your unit?
It was very good. Yeah, we had good officers and NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and I’d say they were very good, yeah.
Did you have promotion ambitions of your own?
Well when I got up to Morotai, eventually one of our chaps was sent home on leave because his father couldn’t work his farm any more,
so he got special leave. He was group two clerk or something and they asked me would I take it on, so I did, an extra bob a day.
So you were a lance corporal?
A lance corporal, yeah.
The dizzy heights of rank.
Yeah, well you see I was getting my pay made up from my job, so if I had of got more from the army, I would have got less from there.
When you went up for the attack on El Alamein, how many infantry would have been in the back of your truck?
Oh, I suppose about fifteen or twenty. I’m not sure if it was the 48th Battalion or the 2/17th but it was the 9th Division, one of those, I’m not sure which one it was.
So you were carrying maybe half an infantry platoon?
Well, there are seven in a section, so it would probably be two sections, about fourteen, yeah.
And you said you had their officer there in the cab with you?
Yeah, he sat in the driver’s offside.
Can you describe the sight and the sound of that opening barrage?
It was fantastic really,
because Monty [General Montgomery] had all these guns all round the perimeter and they were big guns. I don’t know their calibre, but they all, as soon as the apex of the two searchlights came, there was this hell of a racket. It just started like that and it must have been about a hundred guns by the noise of it, and it was a creeping barrage.
I think I said before, as we just waited there in our vehicle, and I think it must have been about twenty foot apart in a line, and then others behind us and then as soon as the apex, the guns went off, the creeping barrage as it crept, we went forward and that’s when we came under fire, because I suppose the ones that had been
shelled in the first place then started to fire at us I suppose.
Were minefields an issue?
Not with us. They’d been cleared out, engineers that had cleared those all out. There were probably some areas that hadn’t been cleared but not in our area.
How did you know which direction to drive in, that you were keeping on the right bearing?
Just went straight ahead. I don’t think they, we didn’t have any references or
anything like that. You just went straight ahead. I suppose they aimed us at the front line.
So how did you know when to stop?
Oh, the officer would tell us. Probably the headquarters would have given him the instructions, and we’d all stop together.
Can you remember roughly how long that drive was?
No. It must have been a fair while, because we must have been well out of range of, not of shells but of machine guns at the first, at the start. So, once the barrage started, all the Germans would have known that something was coming on, so.
Prior to that, had you known something was going on just from the ammunition you were bringing up to the front?
No, we had been pre-warned by Monty. I think I mentioned earlier that all our units were lined up and he came out in his Australian slouch hat and Bombay bloomers, and told us exactly what was going to happen. I don’t think that had ever been done before, that I know of. So we knew what was going to happen, so we were forewarned.
What did you think of Monty?
I thought he was terrific, because it was the first time anyone had ever told us what was going to happen. There was a good article in the 2/17th Battalion newsletter they put out, about Monty how he planned the attack. One of the women in our bowling club, her husband was in the 2/17th in Tobruk and she lets me read the
newsletter because I was in, well not in Tobruk, but in Alamein action. There’s a very good article in that.
So you felt inspired because he took the time to tell you what was going on?
What did you think of his Aussie slouch hat?
Well, he looked all right in the hat, but the Bombay bloomers you could have fit three others into it. A man about your size could have got it; he was only a skinny little like me.
So you thought he looked a little bit ridiculous?
When you were driving those infantry up to their start line there and those tracers are coming towards you and shells are going overhead, this is your first real taste of action?
Yeah, that’s right.
Can you describe what was going through young Raymond Styles’ head?
Yes, I was concerned of course. As I said before, when my tin hat blew off from the shell,
the young officer beside me, he couldn’t of been my age, telling me, “Mind yourself, son. It’s all right.” He was going in to get shot at and I was going to come back again, so I settled down then but see, I think the initial fight was against the Italians, because they were all the prisoners we brought out. Then the Germans, I think, realised that the Italians weren’t going to
do any good, so came and then the fighting really started because there was a place called Thompson’s Post, which they attacked, the Australians attacked, and I think we lost a lot of men in that because it was a very tough fight.
The fact that you were driving other men up there to do the real fighting and then you were driving back to the lines, how did that make you feel?
make me feel anything, I don’t think. No, I wasn’t concerned, we were doing our job and don’t forget that I was only twenty-one; it’s a different story now I’d say.
You never had a hankering to be in the infantry?
No, not after all that. I did infantry training of course, we all did.
Your truck you said wasn’t actually hit in that initial advance, was it?
So as that Alamein battle went on over the next few days, what jobs were you doing then?
We kept bringing up ammunition and going back and getting more and bring it up, and going back.
How far forward would you be taking it?
Oh, not actually right up to the front line but I think we would take it to the infantry supply,
they had vehicles too and they would offload it and take it. Incidentally, I had my wife’s, fiancés name on the front of my truck, I had Rhona written on it, and when I was in New Guinea I had a jeep, and I had written on that. So that shows.
Did other men personalise their vehicles?
Oh, yeah. A lot of us did. We didn’t have our unit numbers on them; we’d have fictitious, like
every truck had a number, and it was a fictitious number, it wasn’t our unit number so that the Germans couldn’t know who was what.
What were the typical ways that men personalised their trucks?
Mostly with their girlfriend’s or wife’s name on it. We weren’t told to take them off, so we left them on.
So you kept your own truck?
I lost it when I took on the motorbike for a while, but then I got another one back after.
What about the Italian POWs [Prisoners of War] that you were coming back, where were you taking them?
Oh we took them to a depot where I suppose they were interrogated and left them there. The only thing we had to do with them all,
they just about kissed us because they were so excited about getting out of the war. As I said, I think I’ve got a set of dead meat tickets from one of them somewhere, and I’ve got photos that you can have a look at later.
The fact that they were probably going off to a comfortable captivity and you were going off back into the war, how did that make you feel?
Oh, it didn’t worry me. I think a lot of them came to Australian, a lot of those Italians, I’m not sure, but
they went to Canada and America.
They got back here before you did?
Yeah. I think the most time we got excited was when we knew we were going to embark for somewhere but the story was that we were going to Borneo, not Borneo, like in India or somewhere like that.
Burma, yeah but then
Chifley or Curtin was it, had his say and brought us back to Australia.
After the battle of El Alamein, what were you involved with then?
Nothing, we went into a camp outside of Cairo, and just stayed there, humdrum routine work until we came home.
How was the morale after just waiting to come back?
Well everyone was excited because we didn’t
know where we were actually going, but we were hoping Australia.
And what had you heard about Kokoda and all those battles in New Guinea?
I don’t think Kokoda was on then. I think it came later, I think we were back home when Kokoda came on. Yeah, we came home via the Maldives Islands,
in the Aquitania and Mary was in it and there were a few other ships in that convoy and then we came home and went to Wallgrove. We got off the boat at Sydney Harbour at Woolloomooloo and went to Wallgrove. I think it was Wallgrove, and just had leave from there for seven days, and then went up to Queensland.
Had you stopped in Colombo again on your way home?
No, we went there on the way over.
Did you have any time off in the Maldives?
No, we stayed on the ship. I don’t think we went ashore or anything.
And how did the Aquitania compare to the Queen Mary?
Oh, different altogether, because when we were on the Mary it was still in its glory, on the Aquitania it was a real troop ship. But, no we weren’t that worried about it.
How did you pass your time on the voyage?
Playing pontoon and two-up and things like that and cards.
Were you a gambler, Ray?
No, not really. Couldn’t afford it, I was saving up to buy a house.
What about the other men?
Oh, a lot of them did. Yeah. A lot of them used to run the two-up; made their fortune. The one who ran it did. It was taboo of course, but the officers turned a blind eye to it.
What about the food on the stripped down Aquitania?
No, it was good, yeah. When you think about it, when we were in the Middle East we lived on bully beef and biscuits and whatever there was available, but on the ships you ate ship food, and especially later when we got on the American ship, God
it was like Christmas.
Interviewee: Raymond Style Archive ID 1798 Tape 04
Ray, when you were in the Middle East and after Japan had attacked Australia, what news did you have from home?
We didn’t get a lot of news, we just heard about Pearl Harbour that was about the only news we got. See, Sydney Harbour hadn’t been attacked then and the Kokoda
Trail wasn’t on then. See, we got back in 1942, that wasn’t long after. I can't remember when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, can you remember that?
The 8th December ’41.
’41, yeah. Well we got back in January ’42. Anniversary Day 26th, I remember that. So we didn’t hear a lot about it, I’m still trying to think of the name of
that paper we got in the Middle East. It’s a British paper and it’s still going. We got the news from that, reading it from that. We weren’t, when we got letters, because they’d been censored, our letters were censored too which we sent back, you couldn’t say where you were or what you’d done, it was all cut out. All of our letters that we did were given to our
officers and they censored them and if you said, “I’ve just been to El Alamein,” that part would be cut out.
When you were set to leave North Africa, what rumours were there flying around?
Well, Burma and Australia, they were the only two but it was only rumour, we didn’t
know. Rumours always flew fast and furious in the services, but you never knew exactly. You always heard, “I heard it from so and so that we’re going to here and there,” you see, but you didn’t know and as it turned out we came back home.
What was it like coming back through the heads at Sydney Harbour?
Fantastic. We came through at dawn,
in very early morning, and even then there was a lot of people around. All the little boats, they all got the news. Talking about that, when we left Sydney on the Queen Mary, Rhona’s father hired a little launch and he and his wife and Rhona and my mother were on this launch and they came out to the Queen Mary,
and I took a photo of them with my little camera from the top deck of the Mary looking down on them, and they’re waving a flag, and of course “Ray Style” was on the flag, and all the fellas over the side were saying, “Oh, he’s gone off with one of the nurses,” or he’s done this, or he’s done that, you know, but that was a wonderful thing. Rhona’s father had his own business but during the war he worked for the customs
and that’s when he heard about the Mary leaving evidently. So we hired the little boat, and he said, “I want to hire a boat,” and the chap says well, I can remember him telling me this after. They wanted to go and see the Mary off and the customs, the man with the boat said, “Oh, I don’t know about that but we’ll see.” or something like that, so we knew we were on the right track then.
Were you expecting them?
No, I didn’t have a clue.
When were you reunited with Rhona properly?
Two and a half years after. I didn’t see her for two and a half years and she stayed by me, what do you think of that?
I think it’s pretty good.
I do too.
So tell us about that leave you had in Sydney, what did you do?
Well, Rhona and I, she got a week off from work, and we got around a lot
and visited my parents, all that kind of thing. Visited friends. I remember we hired a little car and went up to Newcastle to see my relatives up there, and that’s about all. Just the normal things you do on leave.
How long were you in Sydney for?
Seven days. I rang her from Warwick, and I asked her, “Did you want to get married?” And she said, “Yes,”
and I said, “Well, I’ll get seven days off and you can organise the wedding,” and she did. She was a bride, the whole works. We had it at a place called…at Ashfield, I can’t think of it and we went up to Strathaven at Wyong for our honeymoon. And we were all, you had to go for your meals in mufti, your ordinary clothes, and there was
a very nice elderly gentleman and his wife, and Rhona and I at our table and they were very friendly and this kind of thing, and then we had to dress up for dinner in our uniforms. He was a brigadier, and of course I’m sitting here like this, and he’s saying, “It’s all right, son, you’re on your honeymoon, just take it easy.” Because I was very embarrassed, here’s me a little Private, talking, sitting having dinner with a brigadier. That was a
funny little incident.
What did you wear to you wedding?
My uniform. I’ve got a photo of it up there with my outfit on, I think, yeah.
I’ll have a look at it shortly. What was it like saying goodbye to Rhona after your honeymoon?
Pretty hard. I didn’t see her for twelve months again.
Where did you say your farewell?
At her place because we went
on the train and went up to Warwick.
Where did the train leave from?
From the camp I think. I just can't think of the name of the camp but we went right up the inland road to the Queensland border, and got off the train there and got onto the trucks, and went to our camp at Warwick.
What was the camp like at Warwick?
Oh it was all good, it was all set out, it had been used as a camp. Others had gone from it, so we had a good camp.
How long were you there for?
We were there for a few weeks, because after our honeymoon I had to go back to Warwick, and we were there for a few weeks, and then we went to
a place on the outskirts of Brisbane while we were getting ready to go to New Guinea. It was a camp, I’m losing names now, I’ve missed that one. One thing sticks out in my mind, the ship was waiting for us to load on, and the wharf labourers went on
strike for more money, so we had to load all our own gear and everything onto the ship ourselves. A good time for the wharfies to go on strike. They did that during the war to try and get more money. It didn’t matter about the war, or us, they did that. So then we loaded onto one of these American ships
and went up the Port Moresby.
Tell us about the ship?
Well, to us it was very good because we ate American food; we ate sausages and things like that. Proper food instead of ordinary camp food, and it was very well.
What did you think of the wharfies striking?
Well we were all up in arms
about it, naturally, but we couldn’t do anything but I think it was all in the headlines as far as I recall: the wharfies that held up the war effort a bit. I’ve never been happy with wharf labourers since.
Can you describe the American ship for us?
How big was it?
It was one of their, they made dozens of them during the war, they had a special name, but I can't think of it. They were very well equipped; they had armour on the front and everything like that. It would have been probably a whole brigade on it, of troops.
That’s from my memory, but we slept in bunks, some had, the officers always had proper rooms, their cabins. You know, it only took us a couple of days from memory to get to Moresby.
Did you see much of the [Great Barrier] Reef, on your way up?
Going into Moresby? Oh, no we were right outside.
What were your first impressions of Port Moresby?
Well it was still in its glory a bit, it hadn’t been shelled or bombed or anything, I don’t think. Yes they did, they had some shells later and we were camped at a place called Twelve Mile, out of Moresby, and we never actually got into Moresby, because it wasn’t much there really in those days. We worked with, we all had jeeps there, and
we worked from Moresby up to Rouna Falls to camps. We carried supplies then, not ammunition and I remember once I had to take three padres, no two padres, one was a Catholic padre and one was a Protestant, up to Rouna Falls, they wanted to see Rouna Falls. Of course,
to get up there I had to go through mud tracks and everything like that and I had to put tracks on the wheels. You know, we got stuck in the mud and I had to get these two padres out pushing to get me out of the mud. It was so funny, I think I’ve got a photo of them somewhere pushing the jeep out of the mud, but we got out and we got up to Rouna Falls. My wife Rhona wasn’t named after that but
it was ironical that I was, now that’s going up towards the Kokoda Trail, but I don’t know whether the Kokoda Trail was over then, I’m not sure.
What role did religion play in your life during the war?
The only time we used to have church parades on the ships, I can’t recall ever having a church parade
on land but incidentally, one of my friends was in the navy and he was in Greece and Crete and Malta and all of those, he was on the [HMAS] Perth and he was saying he used to have a church parade every night before they went into action, and of course Geoff was a bit of an atheist and he used to hate it but he said, “The Germans on their ships, they’d be having
church parades and they’d be praying to win the war too, and our priests or whatever are praying to win the war,” so he said, “Who’s go the strongest faith?” He was a character.
What impression did you have of the padres? What kind of people were they?
Just down to earth men, yeah. Just like you and me, except they were male.
What did they wear?
Shorts and shirts, and boots.
Did they have any particular ceremonial dress?
Oh, they just had little things on their collars.
What do you know about the role that they played in army life?
We had more to do with the Salvation Army. In Alamein again the Salvation Army were always near the front line with their real
coffee and things. The same in New Guinea, they were everywhere, in the units, they’d come along and give you cigarettes, because we used to get an issue of cigarettes over in the Middle East, that’s when I took up smoking. I felt I’ve been sorry for it ever since because I’ve got breathing problems but no we didn’t have much to do with the religious people.
That’s interesting about the Salvation Army. In the Middle East, how did they set up their posts?
Well, I think they had a tent, in a little cave with all their little urns and things. I can, it’s just so hazy now, I can just recall them. We didn’t use them very often because we were always busy you know. I would say the infantry
people would of, but, the ambulance people.
What nationality were they?
Australian. Well I guess some of them would be English, but a lot of them would be Australians.
And apart from cigarettes, what else did they give you?
Coffee and tea and a bun - or a biscuit, not a bun.
How close to the front line do you remember the Salvation Army being?
Well they probably
went as far as we did. I doubt if they would have gone up into the actual fighting. They wouldn’t have been allowed anyway.
You mentioned that the roads were quite wet in New Guinea. How did you deal with this problem?
Well the main roads were OK and we didn’t have to worry, but when you went out into
the jungle a bit, it was just mud tracks. We used to put chains on our jeeps to get through them, and we got through them all right but I always remember just outside Port Moresby, going towards Jackson’s airport, there was a big sign across the road, “Through these portals pass the best mosquito baits in the world,”
and on the other side it had, “I told you so.” Yeah, that was just out of Moresby, because the mozzies [mosquitoes] were bad, you know, and we used to have to have Atebrin so we wouldn’t get the malaria and things like that. It was a little yellow tablet we took every day.
Did it send you yellow?
It went yellow if you had malaria, but I don’t think it did if you had the tablet.
It stopped you from getting malaria and dengue fever and all of that.
You mentioned that you were driving a jeep at this stage, how did it differ in capability to the truck?
Oh, well the size. It had a jeep and a trailer on it. In the trailer you’d load things, and we used to carry supplies all different kinds. We didn’t carry ammunition then because there was no fighting for the troops in Moresby.
I think a lot of the units had their own vehicles to do that, but I remember while we were at Moresby, one of our troop planes was sabotaged; there was a saboteur there. The plane was blown up on the airstrip and quite a few Australians were killed on that. That’s while we were in Moresby,
but I don’t know the circumstances of it. They always suspected it was a saboteur.
In what way were you aware that New Guinea was a different war from North Africa?
Well, from the casualties. We used to see the casualties coming back, they’d take them to the airports and bring them back by plane from those places,
and put them into the hospitals at Moresby. We had nothing to do with them but we could see them. A lot of them were wounded, a lot of them had malaria or dengue fever or things like that.
How does dengue fever affect a person?
I’m not sure, I don’t know. I never had it so, but we heard about it.
Did you ever see any dead people?
I saw lots of them
later, I’ll tell you about that when I get to Wau later on. I saw lots of them at Alamein too, lots of Germans. They were laying in trenches by their big guns which had been put out of action, and I saw a lot there.
How did that affect you?
What was the camp like that you first stayed in, in New Guinea?
It was quite good, it was well put out, we had good meals, like army food, and I mean we all had to chop wood. Every unit a week of chopping wood for the fires, the cooks to use, I remember that, but the food was quite good in Moresby.
What were your sleeping conditions like?
We had palliasses on the floor on tents and we had blankets. We had good equipment then. I remember one incident, the chap in the bed next to me, one of my friends, he opened up his pack to get something out and there was a copper snake or something coiled up in his bag. It had got in there for warmth, so naturally
he threw it. It just waddled off into the jungle. It was a harmless one but he wasn’t to know that, and I wasn’t either in the bed next to him.
What about mosquitos in the tents?
No, we used to spray for them; we used sprays. We didn’t do too badly in Moresby, different to the Middle East.
How did you deal with the change of climate?
Well that was pretty hard because every night we used to have downpours. It used to pour down that heavy and you’d be sopping wet but a quarter of an hour later you were bone dry. You’d dry out, the humidity would dry you out. Well, no it couldn’t have been humidity, probably just the dead heat. Never got a cold.
But we didn’t get malaria because of the tablets.
Did you suffer from skin infections with the heat?
No, I didn’t but lots of my friends did, between the toes they used to get it.
How long were you in this particular camp for?
I think it must have been about three months or more,
but from there we got on a ship from Moresby and went right around the bottom of New Guinea up to Lakekama River. We went off the boat in barges up the Lakekama River to a place called Bulldog and the Australian engineers were building a road from Bulldog to Wau, which is up in the centre. So that’s where we were going. They had all our jeeps waiting for us there.
So we got off the barges and into the jeeps and drove up the Bulldog road to Wau, and when we got to Wau there was an airstrip in Wau that went downhill like that and we were camped just alongside the airstrip in tents and that was the first decent vegetable meal we had there. There used to be an old hut there and there was an old choko vine,
and it had thousands of chokos on it, so we lived on chokos for a while. And then we used to work from there, first Sunshine where the goldmines were, from there right across to Labu, which is this side of Lae. Lae was on one side, then the bay, then Labu. We carried supplies all along that road. We used to get into the goldmines and do a bit of fossicking.
The settlers there that worked in the mines left the mines when the Japs came, the Japs attacked there before we came, and we had troops there. The settlers just left their mines and went off so we used to get ore out of the big rotation things and belt them up,
and they used to leave their crucible there too - is what they boiled the ore up in, they put it in a thing that boils them, I don’t know what it is they use, because they had all been left there, and we’d get little spots of gold and of course we put it in a vial and one of my tent mates was a good
artist, and he used to make gold rings out of them. He’d melt them all up and get the gold out and make the ring, and he’d polish them up, and get all the materials out of the goldmines and we’d sell them to the Yanks [Americans] for two shillings, a pound or two shillings. They’d buy them. When we’d go
into town, we’d sell them to the Yanks and got a few bob out of it.
What was the town like?
It wasn’t any town, it was just a few huts. No township there at all. We had to rely on airdrops for our food and stuff other than what we got off the vines. That’s when, you asked me about dead Japs, that’s where the, down the bottom of the airstrip in the bush,
dead Japs had been left there. Some of our troops had to bury them. Well, we saw them then. A dead Jap was a good Jap, you know.
Had their bodies been stripped or looted?
I don’t know, I can't remember that. They were just buried as they were, I suppose if they had any identification it would have been taken off and sent back to
headquarters I suppose.
What was the landscape like in Wau?
It was all mountains, green mountains. The planes when they landed at Wau airstrip would dive in and come up the hill like that, stop at the top and then they’d take off down the hill again. They had all those, I don’t know the name of the plane, but they were made of aluminium, and they were planes
used by the goldminers to ferry in supplies. We got a lot of our supplies that way. The air force did a fantastic job. See, they were flying over the mountains all the time. We didn’t see any fighting there because the infantry had kept the Japs out.
What did you know about the progress of the war?
We heard a lot there
because we used to get a magazine. I can't think of the name of the magazine now. Just bits and pieces, you know, snippets. That’s probably where we heard about the Kokoda Trail, I think it might have been in them. We weren’t involved in that but we used to take supplies up to the top of Rouna Falls and whether that was for the Kokoda Track I don’t know,
it probably was, because they were always short of supplies up there. I’m just not sure of my dates there. Then when the Japs were kicked out of Wau, ah Lae, that area, we came home then. We had ten months in New Guinea and then we were taken to Labu and were taken across in boats to
Lae and we caught a boat home from Lae or Moresby or one of those places to Brisbane for leave. We went back to Townsville, that’s right, we went by train from Townsville all the way to Sydney for seven days leave and then we enjoyed that.
What were the living conditions like for you in Wau?
All right because we were in tents, and it didn’t rain as much in Wau for some reason. No, we had a reasonable lifestyle there.
Who did you share your tent with?
In Wau, there was about six of us, I think, in the tent. It was the same in Moresby. Like a section of a platoon, six or seven.
What was the relationship like between members of the platoon?
We had a wonderful relationship; we never had any problems. It was all right through the army, in the Middle East. We all got on well together; it was a very good unit, and officers and men because most of us had started out together. We got a lot of reinforcements from Victoria, but we were a New South Wales unit, from Victoria and Queensland
when in Egypt and of course they came back home and on to New Guinea with us, so we had a very good relationship. I can't fault any of them. I mean different ones had their fights and fisticuffs after a silly argument or something but nothing serious.
What did you do to pass your spare time?
Mostly cards, played cards.
Solo or 500 or something. One little incident in Wau, I had to take, have you heard of ANGAU [Australia and New Guinea Administrative Unit]? In New Guinea they had ANGAU people, which was the local New Guinea unit, there were Australians working with the fuzzy-wuzzies [indigenous New Guinea people] and the fuzzy-wuzzies did all sorts of odd jobs. Well, I took this ANGAU and I had to cross a river
and to get across I had to take the fan belt off so it wouldn’t flood the engine. I took my watch off and put it down beside me. When I went to get it, it had gone, and one of the fuzzy-wuzzies had taken it you see. It was on the ground. Anyway about a month later, in the tent, I went across to my mate’s tent to see his watch, and my watch was there. One of the ANGAU
sergeants had seen the native with the watch and taken it off him and he sent it, he heard that my friend was pretty good with repair, so he sent it in to get it fixed up and there it was, I got it back and that was given to me by the firm when I left, so I was very impressed to get it back. I’ve still got it but it doesn’t work.
What did you know about the fuzzy-wuzzies?
Well the ones I met were very friendly. They used to like their kava or whatever it was they drank. I’ve only read about the others, how well they did on the Kokoda Trail and all those places. I hadn’t come into contact with any of them who did that job. Only, see we used to go up to the native
villages around Moresby, there was none around Lae, but in Moresby, and they were always friendly, they were accepted. Never had any problem with them.
What kind of jobs did they used to do around Wau?
They used to go out in the bush and things, they might have gone looking for dead bodies, or Japs or something. Funny thing, one of my neighbours
here was in Moresby with the ANGAU, I didn’t know him then of course but I think they did more in the Kokoda Trail, Lae, and all those places over that side. We didn’t strike a lot of them at all.
After you’d been in Wau where did you go?
We came home and then, after we had leave, we went back up into Queensland and then we got on a boat and went to Morotai.
How did you get home from New Guinea that first time?
On a ship. Oh, the Duntroon it was. I just remember we came home on the Duntroon, which was a troop ship. It was an old passenger cargo ship, oh, not cargo, passenger liner
before the war and they made it into a troop ship.
What did you do with your jeep and your other equipment when you came back?
We left it up there for someone else, whoever took our place to use. Left them there and the same when we came back from the Middle East, we left the trucks over there.
Who did you take your instructions from?
From our unit
corporal, from the corporal who would have got it from the sergeant who would have got it from the officer.
What did you think of your corporal?
Well we got on very well with him. I never had any problems with, I’ll call them the hierarchy, they weren’t but that.
What did you talk about at night?
We used to have little singsongs in our tents - that was in the Middle East too - different ones would sing a song.
Some were terrible and some were good. Played cards or, you see there’s no dancing or anything like that to go to. In New Guinea in Moresby, the officers used to go to dances with the nurses from the hospitals, they did but none of the troops did, they weren’t allowed to go, well they wouldn’t have been well received anyway and over in the Middle East if they had dances we
didn’t see them or go to them. Probably did have.
Did you talk about your civilian jobs?
Yeah, oh, yeah. We always talked about something. You talked about your girlfriends or your wives or your jobs. The jobs were few and far between, someone might have been a farmer, another one a lawyer and another one something else.
How did you cope without women in your life, for years?
It was a bit hard but being true blue, if that’s what you wanted to know, we managed all right. I suppose a lot of them went astray in the Middle East, but they wouldn’t have in New Guinea, there were only the native girls there and they never looked white to me.
Around Wau, were there any natives living?
No, we didn’t strike any. I mean there could have been, but we didn’t strike any, no.
Did you notice the physical beauty of the place where you were in New Guinea?
I wouldn’t call it physical beauty because it was so hilly and there were so many trees, thousands of trees, no I wouldn’t have said it was beautiful.
Where you were, was it rainforest?
Not in Wau, but whether it was rainforest or not, you still got the tropical downpours and when you think that the infantry had to live in it out in the field, just in a hole in the ground or on top of the ground.
What was the communication like between yourselves and the infantry?
Well, we wouldn’t of had any but our headquarters would have. They would of
got their instructions from their headquarters who were very much in cooperation with the infantry out in the front, so they would have told our unit what we had to do and what we didn’t have to do, but as far as our positions we just did what we were told when it was needed you know.
So what was your reception like the second time you returned to Sydney Harbour?
Pretty good I can tell you. From that our son was born, from that trip home.
How long were you home this time?
How did it affect your relationship with your wife? Her being concerned with your welfare and you spending so long apart?
Well see everybody
copes, she never commented on it. She always gave me a good welcome home. She worked in the office where I worked, and I think all the girls, she and all the other girls there, used to work in the Red Cross huts in Hyde Park. They used to make tea and coffee for the troops. The troops would be on leave so they’d go in there and have a tea and coffee. Well they worked in there.
That kept them busy, and they knitted and all that kind of thing and of course then she had the little boy to look after. She gave up work when he was born because she had him to look after. Of course when I got home from the war, he was about getting on for twelve months old
and he didn’t want me at first because his Papa, my mother’s father, was the big wheel, but we soon settled in.
You mentioned previously that the mail was not as easy to get when you were in New Guinea.
No, when we were in Alamein it wasn’t easy to get; in New Guinea it wasn’t too bad because we got them monthly or something like that.
Did you ever share the letters you received with your friends?
Oh you’d read out parts, but when we’d get a cake, we’d share that, because different ones got cakes, and they’d go right round the tent, and you’d be lucky enough to get one piece. You’d take your piece first and then give them their pieces. We were very fortunate there, we used to get fruit cakes when we were in the
Middle East too. It might have taken three months to get there, but they were still all right. My mother used to work in one of these places that used to knit socks for the troops.
Did she write to you a lot as well?
Yeah, occasionally got a letter.
What about your father?
He didn’t write, it was always women that wrote.
But, I saw them after the war of course.
Interviewee: Raymond Style Archive ID 1798 Tape 05
About trading your truck in for a jeep?
Oh it was quite a novelty really, because it was smaller and they were American jeeps and they were easier to handle, oh, yes there was no problem there.
But you mustn’t have been able to carry nearly as much?
No well we didn’t have to really because we had plenty of jeeps, and we had a trailer and we put everything to carry on that. We didn’t have to carry any ammunition, it was just
What was the road condition like?
Not too bad, yes. It was mainly dirt but it was graded. It wasn’t too bad.
And how did the rain affect that then?
Well the road went along the top of the hill, on a plateau sort of thing and the rain just ran off.
What were your impressions of the Americans
that you encountered there?
We didn’t encounter any at Wau. We saw a few at Moresby, but none in Wau at all, only Australians.
What about in Moresby, what did you see of the Americans there?
We only saw them going in jeeps and things like that really, we didn’t have anything to do with them at all. I don’t think they were there in numbers or anything like that.
How did you cope with the
climate conditions yourself?
Oh, it was pretty hard, but we coped. You had to because you had no choice you know. We kept getting sopping wet and in an hour you’d be dry again from the conditions.
Which did you prefer, the desert or the more jungle area there?
They were both pretty hard, but at least in the jungle
we didn’t have the rain all the time, the tropical rain. We did have some rain, but not as much as we had in New Guinea.
I just need to recap, how did you get from Moresby up to these other areas?
Well we got a boat from Moresby around the south of New Guinea up to the Lakekama River, which is probably about half way up New Guinea.
And then we got off the boat on to the barges and they took us right up the Lakekama River to Bulldog and going up the Lakekama River was quite a, well we had a stop overnight and we stopped at a mission station where there were nuns looking after the children, and we slept on top of
a little hutch we built up on stilts, because of the crocodiles in the river. We didn’t get any sleep because you could hear the crocs all night you know, performing, but they didn’t come at us because we were up in the air. We could see them in the river when we were in the barges but no problem from them. Then we went up to Bulldog where the engineers were and we transferred onto jeeps and drove up to
Wau through the jungle
Were the barges then the main supply line up the river?
Yes to Bulldog they were because they were our engineers, and the strange thing, years after the war, a chap came to live in our street, in Mepunga St, and he was on that Bulldog route, he was one of the engineers that built the road. I didn’t know him then, but we had quite a chat of course.
So these barges were also bringing up other supplies?
Yes to the engineers. That’s the only, and I suppose, I don’t know how the mission station got their supplies, probably up the river the same way, but not with army things of course.
And the supplies that you were ferrying in your jeeps, where did they come from?
Well they were dropped, I presume they dropped
by air to where we were, and then we carried them further on. I can only presume that, I don’t know for sure.
So you were just picking them up from a dump?
You couldn’t see that they could come in any other way aside from air?
That’s the only way they could have come, because they couldn’t have come from Lae because it would have had to cross the river to come to us, and then have to go back again, so it must have come by air.
How long were you involved in that work, running up and down?
We were in New Guinea ten months all together so probably about three months.
Were you able to hear about how the rest of the war was going while you were up there?
No, we didn’t get any news there at all, only from our letters from home, but that they didn’t tell us anything about the war because they would be censored.
Did you feel isolated up there?
No because we ate pretty well and there had been a farm there before the war and there were horses there, and we used to capture a horse and we’d have little runs through the forest on the horses. We didn’t have any saddles or bridles but they were tame and they didn’t mind us hopping on and having a tear around.
That’s where I learnt to ride a horse, the hard way.
You didn’t look at the horses as a supply of fresh meat?
No. I wasn’t that hard up.
What sort of accommodation were you living in?
In tents, seven of us in a tent.
Was it hard to keep things dry?
It was in Moresby but not so hard in Wau because we didn’t have the
continual rain in Wau that we had in Moresby but our tents were pretty good tents, they were army tents, and pretty good.
What about hygiene, what was that like up there?
All right, yeah. That was reasonable. We used to, like there’d be waterfalls
coming down the hill and we’d go and stand underneath and have a good wash in fresh water and all that. No, hygiene was pretty good.
Was there much incidence of gastro[-enteritis] and so forth?
There was in Moresby but there wasn’t in Wau.
You didn’t seem to enjoy Moresby much.
Oh, well, we had to put up with what we did and had, but we were a pretty
resilient mob and managed everything. We didn’t have any complainers in our unit, which was great. You had a small one, when one fella would get upset about something but it didn’t worry the rest of us.
What was the smell of Port Moresby like?
That was all right. There didn’t seem to be any putridness or anything like that.
The blokes that you were working with and living in the same tent with, were these the same guys you’d been in the Middle East with?
In the Middle East, yeah. We probably had one or two reinforcements; we were very lucky there. We didn’t lose many.
Had you had many casualties in the Middle East? You mentioned one guy got shot through the ankle?
Yes, ankle and knee, and then we had an officer whose jeep ran over a mine, but I don’t think he was injured.
In our unit we had about four sections in a platoon and then you had about four companies. Well some of the others could have had people in the Alamein business but we wouldn’t have got to hear about it.
So you were a bit of a charmed platoon?
We were very fortunate, yeah.
Just for the record, who were your best mates in the army?
Well, you want names do you?
There was Ian Small who lives at Armidale, no not Armidale, I've just temporarily lost his name. Then there was three brothers Daryl Vise and Bill Vise and another Vise, there were three of them and then there was Perce Ferguson, that’s three, four, five and myself
six and there was one other I can't think of, but we all stuck together all through the war.
Three brothers in the same unit?
Yeah, the same unit.
I thought the army frowned on that sort of thing.
Well evidently they didn’t in this case because we had three, and they were only little fellas, you know. We got on, good sense of humour. I remember when we were back in Greta very early in the war, there used to be a winery
just across the railway line from our camp and the boys used to go across there and get stuck into the wine.
That’s very dangerous putting a winery next to an army camp.
They did very well, but I don’t think the boys did too well, they used to get as full as a boot and then they used to put on a concert of course, that’s the only funny thing that they had problems with and I have an idea
they’re all alive now, some of them are very sick because we used to keep up with them on Anzac Day. We used to go and then they moved where they had the reunion out in the suburbs, and of course you had to travel by car to get there, and of course once they brought the booze bus [police random breath testing vehicle] in, I had to give that away. So I go to our local club now and have a little march there.
How did the jeeps handle the conditions in the jungle?
Very well indeed, no problem, because they had pretty powerful motors in them. You had to do the double shuffle in them of course, but they worked well. I had Rhona’s name on the front of course.
What sort of maintenance routine did they have, the jeeps?
Well similar to that in the Middle East with the water, oil and petrol
change and if you had a big problem there would be a maintenance unit there which would look after that.
They must have taken some punishment though?
Oh they did, yeah, because the jungle terrain was up and down like that. Whoever built the road did a wonderful job, although I think it would have been a civilian road for the goldmines that were there.
were the jeeps on roads like that?
All right, yeah, they were well sprung. Anything the Americans did was good of course. They were American jeeps, I can't think what make they were, probably the Jeep was the name of them.
When did you hear that you were going to be coming back to Sydney for a bit of leave?
A week before.
How were you feeling about that?
Pretty well, pretty good. We heard that we had to pack up and take our jeeps to just across the river from Lae, so we knew there was something on and when we got the rumour, ‘Going home’, which we took in our stride.
When a rumour would come around that you were going home, how often would you hear that sort of thing?
Oh, many times.
There was always rumour going. Well, before when we went to the Middle East there was a rumour, “We’re on our way, we don’t know where we’re going,” you know, everything was rumour. Then you would be told not to spread rumours because the enemy might hear and all this.
So when somebody told you you were going home, you would have taken it with a grain of salt?
No, we were hoping, because we’d been there ten months, and ten months in New Guinea
is you know a fair while. No we accepted it very well. Well who wouldn’t?
What condition was your clothing and everything like after ten months of working in New Guinea?
Oh, we had to be changed, we had a good Q [Quartermaster] store, where they had all the clothes and things. We didn’t change them that often but, not like the infantry
that got saturated night and day. We were clothed pretty well.
So you came back to Sydney on the Duntroon, is that right?
We came back to Townsville and we came back on the train all the way down to Sydney. I suppose the Queenslanders got off in Brisbane and the Victorians got off in Sydney and changed.
It must have been quite a long train trip?
Oh, it was. At night we used to try and sleep in the luggage rack,
you know the old trains had a luggage rack up the top? We used to, if you were lucky enough to get one. Other than that you slept in the seat.
There must have been a lot of cards being played.
Yes, cards, and looking out at the scenery because there’s wonderful scenery up in Queensland as you probably realise. It was a long trip though. We came back, we went to Marrickville and there
equipped with anything we needed to go on leave. I needed a new hat, my hat was gone, so, finished. So we got things like that then we went out, I can't think of the name of the camp now. Out at Liverpool anyway. Went there and then went home from there.
How long were you in Sydney before you were able to get home and see?
Oh only a couple of days. We
had to get our pay from the pay office at the camp. We all had our pay books, you gave them your pay books and they work it all out and give you the money, what you wanted and you could leave some in if you didn’t want it all and away you went.
What sort of things did you treat yourself to that you’d been missing in New Guinea?
Well home-cooked meals, that was the main thing.
Being married then, I went and met with the wife’s people in Haberfield and only went home I think once or twice to my own parents, because seven days is not a long time but I think we had functions that had the beach, we had to go to the beach with her family and all that and then we went up to Queensland, I think we
went up in the normal train that time, I can't just remember that. I think the first time we went up before we went to New Guinea we went inland, up that way, but this time we went up the main road through Grafton.
Were you aware that you were going to be sent overseas again?
Yeah, we knew that but we didn’t know where. See Borneo had just started and so we
ended up in Morotai. We didn’t do any work at all in Morotai because we were equipped to go across to Borneo. I’ll never forget, we were at a concert, they used to have concerts, and Blamey was there and he got up on stage and told us that, “The war is over.” And of course they all booed him because no one liked General Blamey.
So we didn’t get to Borneo luckily, we came home instead.
What did you think of General Blamey?
I only knew of him what I read, so you’ve got to form your own opinion. I never met him personally. I used to see a lot of him in the Middle East. His wife was there with him, and she used to drive a staff car around in a war uniform. So there were lots of stories going round
but you don’t believe all you hear. So I didn’t take much notice of him at all.
Where did you embark for Morotai in Australia?
From Brisbane, yeah. It was on one of the American Liberty boats. Liberty boat, that’s what we went to Moresby in too, an American Liberty boat. When I was in Morotai, this
friend of mine that I was telling you about that was on the Perth during the war, he was transferred to the [HMAS] Manoora or Manunda, one of those became a troop ship. And he did a commando course up in Queensland and he was in the party that used to go in before the battle and delouse the mines from the beach, did a marvellous job and then the troops would go ashore. Well when his boat would come in to Morotai,
we were camped right next to the wharf – I’ve got another story there in a minute – he would come out and he’d have bully beef and biscuits with me, and then the next time the ship would come in, I’d go out to his ship and have roast pork, and Jeez the navy ate well, and all that kind of thing, but while we were camped next to the wharf, a Japanese hospital ship came in
that had been captured, and it was full of troops. They were using it as a troop ship, getting away with having a red cross flag on the side, but anyway they got caught and they were all taken as prisoners and taken ashore right next to where we were. I've an idea that I've got a photo but I’m not sure now. That was an interesting little one.
What did you think, seeing your first live Japanese?
Well we weren’t too pleased about it, but we weren’t allowed anywhere near
them because they were well guarded. Not that we wanted to, but in Morotai we didn’t do much at all. We used to play netball and table tennis, we scrounged a table tennis table from somewhere and see we’d been packed up for days to go to Borneo, but we didn’t get there.
What vehicles did you have?
mostly jeeps but they wouldn’t have gone with us, I think they were just for our use while we were in Morotai really.
What kind of accommodation were you staying in in Morotai?
In tents. Seven in a, well that was when the war was getting to an end and I was telling you about the chap that was wanting me to take over his job, he was going back to Australia, so I took on the lance corporal in the orderly room. There’s
only two of us in the tent, the sergeant and myself, so we did pretty well. We used to get a beer ration up there too. One bottle a week I think it was.
That doesn’t go far.
No, I wasn’t a drinker anyway. I’d sell it something with one of the other boys, or swap it for cigarettes or something, because we used to get a cigarette issue and all that.
What were you doing in the orderly room?
I was doing all the working out the pays and the supply rations. I had to fill in the forms and order supplies in, and general records. It was an easy job because I did a bit of it when I was working. Not pays and things, but buying and ordering and selling.
How long were you in Morotai for then?
About six months.
Doing nothing, really?
Doing nothing, yeah.
How did that affect the morale of the unit?
Oh we were all getting sick and things, but we mostly paired off into our sections and used to play netball, we had a net up, and played handball and all this. Table tennis, we used to have a table tennis competition. One of the chaps in our unit, I met him playing bowls one day and he said to me,
“I bet you a lottery ticket that we beat you,” and that’s what he used to do in the army. Every time we used to play a table tennis game, “I bet you a lottery ticket, I bet you a lottery ticket,” and he was still doing it now in Seaview St.
I wonder if he ever won the lottery?
I don’t think he had. I know I hadn’t.
I know you had netball and table tennis, but over six months that must wear pretty thin.
Oh it was but I had work to do in the office, so that kept me off the street as you say.
If you could call it that.
What other units were around you?
Well there was the hospital unit and the air force was there. I had a cousin who was a pilot there. I didn’t get to see him though. There was navy there at sea, like I suppose it would have just been a headquarters or something. Headquarters for our generals
and things like that.
Was there any other entertainment laid on?
Oh we had a concert, we had an occasional concert. The concert party from Australia used to come up there, but the night that Blamey declared the war was over, we had Gracie Fields there. You’ve heard of Gracie Fields? She was the English singer and she entertained us that night. We used to get some good entertainment.
What sort of acts
would you see there?
Oh only singing and things like that.
What about movies?
They did have movies but I don’t think I ever went to them, because they were all old movies that we’d probably seen, you know. But you say was it tedious? It was tedious because we all wanted to go to Borneo, we were primed for it, but we didn’t get there so we finished.
Why didn’t they need you in Borneo?
Well the war finished, and we were the supply unit, well I suppose there were other supply units there who we would have replaced and they would have come home or gone back to Morotai, and we would have taken their part, but it didn’t happen. I suppose I say luckily.
Was it then, that second part of the war, a bit of an anticlimax for you?
Yes you could say that.
In New Guinea we were heavily involved but at Morotai we didn’t do anything. We were browned off a bit. I was, being one of the first in the army, I was one of the first out. You got points for so many years in the service, so many months probably and I was one of the ones with the most points because I was in 1940. So I was one of the first out.
Had your son been born at that stage?
How was it not being able to be there when your baby was being born and brought up?
I only saw him once during the war, just when I came back from New Guinea. It was a bit hard, but you soon acclimatised to it, he realised who I was. Unfortunately we lost him later in life, like when he was thirty, he got killed in a car accident.
And his wife was in the same accident and she had a broken neck and lost her spleen, and she was pregnant. The baby was stillborn because all the drugs she’d taken but then we had our daughter, and she’s got a son, so we’re very happy.
When you heard the announcement that the war was over,
what emotions did you have?
As I said, everyone got up and cheered and booed Blamey. I think he was used to being booed, he was a chief of police in Victoria, and I believe he was very much involved in brothels and that kind of thing, so he didn’t have a good name and of course during the war in New Guinea he sided with MacArthur,
he was very subservient to MacArthur, against all of our own generals who had been all through the Middle East and were experts in warfare, and you know what happened to MacArthur.
What celebrations went on amongst the guys up at Morotai?
Well we had nothing to celebrate with really. We had our one bottle of beer a week and that wouldn’t have gone too far in a celebration. No,
we just went about our business I suppose.
How long were you up there before the points system managed to bring you home?
I had two and a half years overseas, on the table there is my war service record. One thousand two hundred and something days overseas I think.
I meant once you’d heard the armistice had been announced with Japan,
how many weeks or months were you sitting on Morotai waiting to get back home?
Oh probably only about a month. It went very quickly.
What ship did you come back home on?
I flew back. Flew back on a plane back to Brisbane, no to Darwin, and then got another plane from there to Brisbane and then got on the train home.
Was that the first time you had ever flown?
Yes, it would have been. No, no, during the
war when the boy was born, I was up in Brisbane and I hitched a ride from Amberley to Sydney on a Dutch bomber, just went out to the airport and said, “Anyone going to Sydney?” “Oh yeah, hop on, we’re short,” and came back on the train and they didn’t even know I’d gone. I was only there a day and then back the next day. I got seven days rifle duty for that,
because I had to report in because I thought they knew I’d gone, see, which is just a matter of form. I had to parade up and down doing rifle duty, and I think the sergeant in charge was cranky with me because he had to give up his time to do it.
But if you hadn’t have said anything they wouldn’t have known?
No, they probably wouldn’t have known. All my mates knew of course, they didn’t say anything.
They would have covered for you.
Probably would have yeah.
They had a roll call each morning so they would have “present” you know. It’s the only time I was in trouble during the war, oh, and when I lost the truck in Egypt.
I guess five years odd service, two times in trouble for minor things is not that bad.
No, I didn’t lose anything except a days pay, or seven days pay or something.
When you arrived back in Sydney who was there to greet you?
I made my way out from the airport to my wife’s place. They didn’t know I was coming; there was no way of letting them know. Of course she was at work, and then we met and it was a joyful reunion.
Had you actually been discharged at that point?
No I was discharged a bit later.
But it must have been quite a
homecoming if your wife wasn’t even expecting you?
Yeah well no one was, because you couldn’t advise them in any way. I think the war restrictions still stood at that time.
We’ll just wait for that helicopter to buzz past. How would you compare your
time in New Guinea and Morotai with the time you spent in the Middle East?
Well, I would say that I preferred the Middle East because there was more to see and more to do, because we visited all the old towns, the Arab towns and a lot of historical places like Baalbek and the Wailing Wall and all that kind of thing and we didn’t have any trouble
with the Arabs because the Brits were there in charge of Palestine and those areas, so there was no trouble at all for us there. Where we were, we didn’t have any air raids in our particular place. We did in Egypt but not there. So I’d say the Middle East.
You’d say that was the better part of your service?
What about the army in
general, how do you think the army treated you?
I’d say pretty well. I had my chances at promotion but I didn’t take them because I was getting my pay made up. No, I was really pleased with the army because I don’t know, I liked discipline and I liked going on the marches and listening to the bagpipes and the kettledrums and all that and doing the rifle drill. No I thought the army treated
me pretty well.
You spent quite a number of days at sea in all this journeying.
Yeah we did. Going to the Middle East and coming home and going to New Guinea and coming home, and going to Morotai.
You’d almost qualify as a sailor.
I was a good sailor, I never had any problems.
You never had any seasickness or anything?
No. A lot of them
did, but I must have been a fit young fella.
You were obviously quite a keen photographer.
I was then, I’m not so much now.
Why did you make that effort?
I don’t know, I suppose I wanted to take photos and send them back to my wife, or my girlfriend then, and wife and so I’d have a record of them,
and I’ve got the record there. They’re a bit bedraggled now but they’re still seeable sort of thing.
Have any of your family ever been interested in looking at the photographs?
Oh yes they’ve all seen them but no one’s seen them for a long time now, because that was what fifty or sixty years ago but I get them out occasionally and have a look. I got them out today and had a good look at them again.
What contact have you had with your old cobbers?
Nothing since I gave Anzac Day away. I did a country trip with our Probus Club a couple of years ago, and I rang my mate in Grafton. Oh, Grafton is the place. In Grafton we had a good chat and that’s the only contact I’ve had, but
I go to our own reunion at our RSL [Returned and Services League] club in Concord.
When you came back from the war after all those years away, what difficulties did you face settling in?
That’s a good question because I didn’t have any at all. I was keen to get back to work. I think I only had a week off, and they were anxious to get me back too because they were short staffed.
I could say I went straight back, got my old job back and enjoyed what I was doing. Strange I suppose but that’s true.
And the company had kept the job for you?
Yeah, there were two old diggers and another one from the First World War, and they were still keen. I used to bring one of the bosses
back here. He used to smoke a pipe, now when I came back from the Middle East I had about seven tins of pipe tobacco, which I had bought for my canteen over there. I didn’t use it myself and when I gave it over to him, he thought it was Christmas.
Them being former diggers themselves, they must have proud of you.
They were yes, they treated us very well.
Were there other men in the company who had served?
Not from the First World War.
I mean, sorry in the Second World War?
Oh, there were about five of us and they made all their pay up.
And they all came back?
One, old Johns, he was a pilot in the air force, he was killed very early in the war. The rest did I think, as far as I know.
Did you just go straight back into your old position then?
Yes, well I was made the manager of the department because the other manager had left, he got too old or something. So that was a rise for me.
Was Rhona working back there again?
No, she didn’t go back to work after she had the baby.
The first Anzac Day in
’46 let’s say, did you go marching for that?
I certainly did. I did for a few years. Yes, I met all the old chaps there then and, as I said, once they moved for their dinner out further I gave it away because of the drive. You couldn’t drink and drive too, once they brought the driving in. Then I lost touch with them through that I suppose. I see
the secretary of our reunion, our unit reunion, I see him occasionally because he’s a bowler, and he’s the one I told you about who bets lottery tickets.
I know you’re still interested in Anzac Day, the reunions are not a big part of your life?
Not the reunions because we have quite a nice, we have a small march,
which suits me because I get short of breath very easy if I go up a hill or down. We have a service beforehand, we get one of the local high schools girls or boys to give an address on Anzac and then we go and have a breakfast which the sub-branch put on for us and they’ll get army unit there, and the navy and they have school kids by the mile, and cadets
and my grandson, he’s an officer in his cadets at Newington. He and his Mum, my daughter and her husband, they’ll come over and he’ll march with me and things like that. So, I was glad he went into the cadets because I think that every boy, girl too if you like, these days it’s got to be both, should have a bit of army training.
How does the popularity of Anzac Day make you feel, when you see all those school kids by the mile?
Well after the march, our march and breakfast, I come home to turn on the TV [television] and watch the big march and I see our unit marching down but I don’t know any of them, I can't recognise them because they’re all like me and got old I suppose, older. I don’t recognise them.
I recognise our flag because we’ve got a blue triangle on our flag, and I see two of them carry the flag but I don’t know any of them, probably because they changed as they got older.
Do you ever feel like going down for one last time?
No, the marching is too much for me. It’s a long march, they march from Phillip Street, down Bligh I think,
and right up to Park Street and then you know the Hyde Park area and the march has changed a lot. They’ve got a lot of units that I don’t think were in the war, like fire brigade march and whatever, a Polish Brigade. They were in the war but I don’t think they’re applicable to an Anzac Day.
So I haven’t been that keen on going there.
Interviewee: Raymond Style Archive ID 1798 Tape 06
I understand you have a brother who was in Vietnam, can you tell us about his service?
Yes he got affected by the Agent Orange [herbicide used in Vietnam]. When he came back, he had to have one of his lungs taken off. He’s like me he’s got diabetes. He’s a TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pensioner] now, you know what a TPI?
Well he can't work or anything like that, TPI, it’s very good to have as long as you’re all right, but it means if you buy a car you don’t have to pay any sales tax or anything like that, and you get a higher pension and all that. That’s what happened to him.
What was he doing in Vietnam?
He was in the mechanical engineers, like fixing tanks and
trucks and all this kind of thing. Maintenance, maintaining them.
When was it discovered that Agent Orange had affected his lungs?
When he came back, in his second stint. He’s not sure which stint he had when he got it, but it eventually affected him.
What sort of shape was he in when he came back for the last time?
He seemed all right; to me he seemed OK, but then we heard, see we didn’t see a lot of him.
We heard that he was in hospital and he’s had his problem. We see him now once every three months or something, we visit each other for lunch. Other than that, I don’t know much about his war service. You see I was nine years older and he had all his own friends.
Did he ever talk to you about the
reception he received?
No, see he was a permanent army man; he wasn’t called up for it like a lot of the others. He volunteered to go to Vietnam; he wasn’t conscripted there, so whether that made a difference, it could have.
What were your thoughts about Vietnam when it was happening?
Well, my son
was in the age group, and I was very pleased when he wasn’t called up, his number wasn’t called out. So I was pleased that he didn’t have to go. Not that he, he may have had to go through what I had to go through, I don’t know. I think Vietnam was a pretty tough war for our boys, I think, because they had more modern armoury and things like that. So I didn’t have a lot of thought except that I was pleased he didn’t have
Apart from yourself and your brother, was there a military tradition in your family?
No, none at all.
When you were driving the trucks and the jeep, what personal protection or ammunition did you carry on your body?
We had our rifle and spare bullets, and your tin helmet, and that’s all.
How many spare bullets, do you remember?
Oh just a brace, I’m not sure to be honest. Never counted them actually. See, we never got to use our rifles in the war because we were driving others to do the fighting and our rifle was there for self-defence.
Where in the truck cabin did you keep it?
Just at the back of the driver I think, from memory.
How comfortable were those cabins to be in?
All right, yeah. They were all right. They were two-seaters, one each side. One for the officer and one for the driver.
When you were driving an officer did you engage in much conversation?
Oh yes. They used to chat, not that I can recall anything in particular. Oh yes they were amiable
and they would listen to your story and you would listen to his story. Just remember they were the same age as I was, well just about. Some were younger, some were older.
Have you ever returned in later life to any of the places you visited during the war?
No. I’ve been to Japan and America and Europe. I never went back to the Middle East,
I would have liked to but my wife didn’t want to go, so I didn’t go, and I haven’t been back to Moresby or New Guinea. I have no wish to go back there.
Why is that?
Well I was there long enough and things weren’t that good up there, and I didn’t think I needed to. I would have like to have gone back to the Middle East, but it takes two to tango.
Why would you have liked to return to the Middle East?
to visit the places that, and show my wife where I’d been, and do that, that’s the only reason. No nostalgic reasons, although I would have liked to have gone back to Alamein but at Alamein it was just a railway station, and there was nothing else there. I've got a photo of it of course, naturally.
What reasons did your wife have for not wanting to visit the Middle East?
I don’t know.
She never said actually.
Tell us about your visit to Japan, how did you feel about the Japanese? When was it you visited?
Oh it was years after the war. It must have been about ten years ago. We did a trip to Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and home. I thought Japan was the best holiday I've ever had, and we’ve had a lot, because everything is so clean.
And we went to Hiroshima where they dropped the bomb and we all got out of the coach, there was a big long area, a field, and there was a wreck of buildings over there and here was a building with replicas of and photographs of the bombing and when we looked at the photos I think everyone just about went sick looking
at all the bodies that had been burnt with the fire, and they kept the other buildings as they are. They haven’t touched those, they left them as a memento and I remember my wife and I going through the museum business and getting back on the coach with the other people, and there wasn’t one word said. They were all in shock you know, because of what they put up with. So I feel sorry for the
women and kids who were killed in that, but I wasn’t sorry for the Japanese who were killed during the war, if you can work that out.
I think I can. A lot of people who we’ve interviewed who were involved in fighting the Japanese have expressed nothing much but contempt for the Japanese people.
A lot of those probably fought against them.
Actual combat, or been a prisoner of war, or something like that. We went as a holiday. Everything was so beautifully clean. We went to Tokyo and it was fantastic and the hotel we stayed at was fantastic. When we went into our room, there was a pair of slippers for each of you that you’re able to keep, a pair of pyjamas, a set of pyjamas behind the doors for you
to take. The service was fantastic. Little Japanese kids who had no part in the war, in their school uniforms, they all dress the same, would come up to you and practice their English on you. So we only saw the better side of Japan, we didn’t see any of the darker side. We went to Osaka and the Inland Sea and all that, and we were most impressed with Japan but
we didn’t see anyone that we could have known as being in the war. You see what I mean, yeah, but we were most impressed because they recovered from all those bombings in a most fantastic way. I still hated the Japanese who fought, did such atrocities in the prisoner of war camps and all that.
But the Germans did that too. One of my friends who put me onto this, was a prisoner of war, and he said that if they didn’t do something straight away they’d get belted with a rifle butt by the Germans and look what the Germans did to the Jews, millions, and then some ass out here reckons the Holocaust never happened. We all know it did, don’t we?
During your time when you were actually serving
in New Guinea, how aware were you of the treatment of Australians by the Japanese?
We weren’t aware. We knew that Australians had been captured in Malaya. We went to Malaya and the blinking guns were facing the wrong way, they were facing the ocean instead of another part, and of course when the Japs landed, they couldn’t fire at anything,
they landed in a different area. We knew during the war that, because I had two neighbours of mine, two brothers who were killed in Malaya, and I never knew how they were killed until one day I was over at Burwood, and in the Burwood Park there’s a monument of that famous road where the prisoners of war were killed.
Remember that road?
The Sandakan, right and on that monument were their two names, Gerard and John Nicholson and that was the first time I knew how they died and where.
What affect did finding that out have on you?
Oh, it affected me. I didn’t feel ill but I didn’t like the feeling. So I hated all that side of the Japanese.
But when we went to Japan, we only saw the good side. The school kids, they were lovely little kids, like our kids.
During your travels through Europe, did you make a point of visiting war memorials?
No we couldn’t because we were on a set trip. We did an Insight Tour, we all flew in to Scotland first and then across on a catamaran to
France and then we went all through France and North France, and then across to Italy, and through Austria and down to Nice and back, we stayed at Nice and then back up to Paris. So there were no memorials or anything like that in the tour. You had to go where. In Amsterdam, we were
having breakfast, and my wife had her purse between her legs here, and someone came and bent down to do up their shoelace, and off went the purse with all our passports in it. I’d taken them out of the money belt and put them in the purse the night before and said, “You hang on those and I’ll put them back in the morning.” Well we were running late for breakfast and I didn’t get around to it. When we did trips, I always photostatted the passports,
like the pages with the number and photograph and all that on it. Well, that got me all over Europe until we got to Rome. Then we went to, we had to go up to the Australian Legation thing or whatever it’s called to get new passports, and when I went to get it they said, “That will be 70,000 lira.” I nearly had a fit. $70.00 it worked out.
It can be a hassle overseas. What about your service in the army, do you think equipped you better
for your subsequent life?
I’m sure it did. It made me recognise, not seniority, what’s the word I’m trying to think of, that I would do what I was told. Oh yes, I think it did me a lot of good.
What contribution do you think you made to the war effort, as a driver?
I think I did my share in delivering to the troops, and also at Alamein. Yeah, I have no regrets about that, I was quite happy with what I did.
You helped to win the war, do you think Australia since has been able to win the peace?
We won the peace with our war, but I don’t think we’re winning the peace now.
I was happy for our troops to go to Iraq, but it’s getting out of hand there now isn’t it. We haven’t lost any Australians, touch wood [for luck], but I think it’s getting out of hand now. I don’t think we should bring them back until they’ve got peace in Iraq. That’s my thoughts on it. That’s it.
A lot of people disagree with me over that. I think my wife would too.
You’re entitled to your own opinion.
Yes of course.
Did you ever think about dying when you were serving?
Only in air raids.
What went through your mind then?
Getting secure, getting in your foxhole and on the ships you had no choice; you had to stay where you were on the ships, when you got bombed.
Going through to Alamein, like when we took the troops in, I had no choice there. It was how lucky you were, and how unlucky were, and you were lucky.
I've just got one more question for you. Australians in the future will be watching this tape, it might be in five years or one hundred and fifty. What message would you have for Australians about serving their country?
That is a good question. I feel that every boy should have military training to prepare himself for war in the future, and there will be more wars. There’s always been wars right through mankind. I mean the last, the First World War, we had the Italians on our side,
this war, our Second World War we had them against us. I think the First World War we had the Japanese on our side. This time they’re against us, so there will always be wars, and we should be prepared for it. That’s my thoughts.