important it was to be in the army. On my 18th birthday I joined the Militia [CMF – Citizens’ Military Force] in Argyle Street, Prahran. A medium artillery regiment. I served with them part time like the national service now. After that
when I started work I started work at Myer Emporium in the carpet department, I left the 6th of June 1940 to go overseas with the 9th Division. We did our training at Puckapunyal in Victoria and we went from Adelaide to the Middle East on the Stratheden.
It was a convoy of ships. We stopped at Perth where due to a breakdown in the convoy we had to stay for a week. We finally lobbed in Palestine. From there, after seven months’ training we were sent to Alexandria where we got on the
destroyer and went to Tobruk, which at that time was under siege. After nine months in Tobruk, another stint down in Palestine, and at the same time they used us as a garrison force in Syria, because they thought the Germans were gonna come down that way. We had no action there. From
there we got a rush call that the Germans had broken through and they were not far from Alexandria. So they sent us back up there again, this time by road, and we dug in around El Alamein. The Battle of El Alamein lasted for another eight months and we managed to hold the Germans,
push them back. Then they decided they needed us back home. We came back home. After a period of training at the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland in jungle warfare, something which was entirely different to what we’d been used to, we embarked for New Guinea. The 9th Division made a landing at Lae
at Red Beach, Lae, and pushed the Japs back. We finally captured Lae. Then it was decided they would send a brigade only, which is a third of a division, to make a landing at Finschhafen. So we made another landing at Finschhafen and did much the same thing. Pushed the Japs out. From there we came back to
Australia. By this time I was a little bit browned off with the army, didn’t want to go away again, plus the fact I’d married Joan. So I spoke to my CO [Commanding Officer] and as I was very interested in physical training he suggested I joined another physical training corps down at Frankston, which I did. The CO down there, who I approached and said I
wasn’t interested in going away again, did he have any postings in Australia? Being a very understanding sort of CO he said, “Well, I’ll look around.” I thought I might have been sent up to Duntroon Military College, the army training camp in Canberra, but I wasn’t. He called me and said, “If you like I’ve got a need for a physical training instructor to go to England.
One of the necessary qualifications is the physical training instructor had seen action. As you have seen action you can go.” So I said, “Righto, that’ll do me.” He said, “It’ll only be for about six months.” The unit I went with this time was the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] Reception Unit. It was sent over there to receive the Australian POWs [Prisoners of War] that had been captured
in the desert by the Italians and the Germans. By this stage it’s 1944 and they’d been in POW camp for four years. We’re talking about, from England to Australia at that time it was rather difficult for transport, so they had to be rehabilitated in England. They sent this team, the AIF Reception Unit, over to rehabilitate them.
The unit consisted of Australian Army doctors, Australian Army dentists, records, pay personnel and administrators. I was the physical training instructor. That was good. We looked after the blokes as they came back, got them ready to be sent home to Australia. Also, we were playing a fair bit of cricket.
We had an army side. As the Australian air force had been over in England for four years they were well established in their recreational pursuits, although there was a war on, there wasn’t very much. So the air force personnel over there and the army had a few games together. Then the powers that be, Dr Evatt was
the foreign affairs minister at the time I think, he suggested we form an AIF Services side they called it, which was similar to the one they had in the First World War. They asked if I’d like to stay on as masseur, which I did. The tour consisted of playing in England. Bear
in mind the war was still on – it didn’t finish for another eight or nine months – and the public was starved for any sport, so we were very well received. We played four test games against England there and it was such a success they said, “Why don’t you send out to India on the way home?” So we went to India and played four tests in India and then home to Australia.
Not finished with us then, they said, “That was such an outstanding success, your tour overseas, let the Australians see what you’ve done.” So we played Western Australia, South Australia and all the other states. Finished up in Tasmania and I got out of the army in 1946, much to my wife’s dismay, because by that time I’d been away 14 months again. That was the end of my army career.
As the Myer Emporium, as it was known then, had kept our jobs open, I went back and worked for Myers in the carpet again. I stayed there and in the carpet industry with several other import firms until I retired. I retired and that was it.
As my wife will know, a very, very good cook. A wonderful cook. No, I had a lovely and wonderful family life. Dad was an ex-army man. He was also in the British Army in India. He had a rather chequered life. He ran away to sea, what he was 14 years old, from Melbourne
and joined the army. So I had a good grounding in the army. You asked me about Mother, she was a very nice lady. Very kind. Quite different to my father, who was a little bit rough around the edges. Mum was a very gentle lady. We had a very, not poor family, but we
didn’t have very much money. We lived in Malvern for a while then we moved to Caulfield where I finally joined up from. I don’t think there’s a great deal more I can tell you about that.
much about it to me. I knew he was there, but I never learned much about it at all really. My father was in the Indian army.
He ran away to sea and around about 1915 he lobbed in India. He wasn’t in the army then, he was on a ship, but he wanted to join the army. So he jumped ship in India, joined the British Army in India and served over there until Australia got involved, this is about 1914.
He jumped another ship, stowed away in other words, to get back to Australia and join the Australian Army. So he had a pretty chequered career. But what he actually did, I don’t know.
What were the times like in the ‘20s and ‘30s growing up?
Entirely different to what they are now. Much slower pace. Much more discipline I think. People I think showed a bit more respect. Certainly the way you treated your mother and father. If Dad said something or your mother said something, it was done. You didn’t question it. You got a smack around the head or bottom to keep you on the right track. In those days policemen were
policemen. If they told you what to do, you did it. If they gave you a foot up the bum, well that’s what you wanted. Now it seems to be a little bit lax. People are frightened of what’s going to happen to them. Gonna be sued. A classic example was that demonstration by the students the other day. They were all pushing policemen around and carrying on. A good smack in the guts would have fixed a couple of them
up, but nobody would touch them, they were too frightened. Not frightened physically, but of the consequences of it. So discipline is the thing I think has changed. We had a very happy and free life those days. Not as many people about.
As it happened, the CO then had been a gunner when Dad was down there, so he knew him. So I went through fairly easy. We got a uniform, which was very good, because it was the old horse artillery then, so we had breeches and leggings and a hat with a plume on it, like the
Light Horse. Our dress uniform was blue trousers with a red stripe down it and a blue uniform with epaulettes on it. Good lot of blokes. We met once a week or twice a week. Sometimes there was a weekend camp. We had a couple of very good camps down at Mount Martha, which eventually
turned into the AIF camp down there. Towards the beginning of the war, 1938-39, the camps were extended. We did a three-month camp to prepare us.
They were good. Down along the beach. We didn’t have very much equipment. The guns that we had were 60 pounders, big ones, medium artillery, and 4.5 [inch] howitzers. They were drawn by those McCormick steering tractors like you see on the farm. Very, very slow because
it was a bloody big gun. Didn’t have proper motorised transport then.
first of all at Prahran Town Hall. They sent me for further what they call it, to Caulfield. Further information. So I went to Caulfield. It was a big long bench with about four sergeants sitting behind. “What’s your name?” “Larry William Maddison.” “I said your full name,” he said. I said,
“Larry William Maddison.” “That’s a nickname. Laurence William Maddison.” I said, “No, that’s not my name.” “Yes it is.” “Righto. Laurence William Maddison.” That was the start. We get along a bit further. I said, “I’ve just come out of the militia, three months artillery training. I’d like join up to the
medium brigade in Puckapunyal.” They said, “2/6th Infantry Battalion, Mount Eliza.” I said, “But I’ve just done artillery training.” “No, they want recruits down there. Go to the infantry.” I said, “What about my artillery training?” “Go down there.” So I finished up down there as a reinforcement to the 2/6th Infantry Battalion of 6th Division. So after
a lot of hassle and approaching the CO on several occasions, finally I got my father to ring a brigadier general friend of his from the First World War who was in Victoria Barracks. He got onto the CO and the next day my mate and I were up at Puckapunyal with the unit we wanted to be in. They wouldn’t listen to you. I don’t suppose they understood.
People were telling them stories all the time. They didn’t know whether I’d been in the militia or not. So that was it. The training mainly, before we went away, was discipline training. Getting used to doing what you were told when you were told and not questioning it. Marching, formation stuff, “Yes, sir; no, sir; three bags full, sir”,
which was good, which you had to have.
I met a very nice lady over there I was gonna marry, I think. I told her I was. It was good. I can’t remember her name, though. She drew a photo of me. It’s out in the other room.
She was very good. Yes, I know her name, Evelyn Wilson. That’s right. The other thing is too, about Perth, before I left to go overseas, my dear auntie Ethel gave me a five-crown piece. You wouldn’t have seen those. They minted quite a few before the war. It was a crown. It was worth about, in those days,
five shillings. You wouldn’t relate to it. It was quite big. She gave me this and she said, “Larry, put it in your tunic pocket, just over your heart. You never know, it might deflect a bullet one time.” I said, “All right, auntie.” She said, “You leave it there and don’t.” “It’ll be all right.” So I stuck it in my pocket and left it there, til I got to Perth. I had to take this lady back home this night. Missed the last tram of course so I had to catch a taxi.
We didn’t have much money. So I grabbed a taxi and I didn’t wanna get into Perth, she lived out of Perth, so I got in and I said, “How much?” He told me. I said, “Will you take this five-crown piece?” He said, “Sure, that’ll be all right.” I said, “But I want you to keep it until tomorrow morning and I’ll come back and redeem it because my auntie gave it to me to take away with me to keep in my pocket.” “That’ll be right. I’ll be here on this street
if you come back tomorrow morning.” He’s still got it. I never went back. Poor auntie, I never told her.
rickshaw driver, “We’re gonna have a race up the road” and you’d give them extra money to race. So we had some fun in those. Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, is a very pretty place. We went out to the Galle Face Hotel. The Galle Face Hotel used to, at that time, have
porters out the front. They were dressed in white and red fez. In their belts they had a big sword, a scimitar, a curved sword. They were highly amazing. I can see them now.
We went to Kandy. Went up to Nuwara Eliya. Just on day leave. Went on the local bus with all the people, so we crowded in. They had everything in the bloody bus: chooks and geese and bags and boxes. Everything. But it was interesting. Having never seen it before, ever, we were highly amused and excited. We didn’t think
we were going to war, that’s for sure.
controlled to a certain extent by the army. They weren’t employed by the army, but they kept the blokes pretty quiet. There was always MPs [Military Police] down there. Strange as this may seem, I wasn’t one to frequent brothels, truly. This is a fact. It wasn’t my scene for some reason or other. I couldn’t,
it wasn’t available to anyone coming out to have a good time to someone who wasn’t paying for it, I wasn’t interested. I don’t know why, but some blokes just, as soon as they got to town, straight to the brothel. They had a special venereal disease hospital there, the jack
hospital. Jack, which is a slang term for venereal disease, jack hospital. That was pretty rife there.
up the stairs, just a foyer with a woman or a bloke at the desk and four or five rooms, whatever. You go up and pay your money and they’d say, “Room six,” or, “Room four,” “Room one” or whatever. You just go into the room and that was it. Bang, Bob’s your uncle, how’s your father, and downstairs and
out. I remember – it wasn’t in Palestine, it was at a place called Aleppo right in the north of Palestine – there was a brothel upstairs. For some reason, there must have been a lot of troops there and there wasn’t many brothels, I don’t know. I was there. I didn’t
go in, as I said, but you had to go upstairs. So they had an MP up the top and one down the bottom and a queue of blokes out in the street. The bloke up the top would send a soldier down, or two soldiers down, when they’d finished, say to the bloke at the bottom, “Another two, Charlie.” “Two more.” Up would come another two more, up
the steps, finish, “Another two.” To me it turned you off.
What were the sights you remember most?
The most impact, as far as I can recall, I’m talking now about Palestine – Egypt and the Pyramids were different – but while we were in Palestine I’ll tell you. I had occasion to come into the harbour at Haifa. In the back of the harbour, overlooking the harbour, is Mount Carmel and that’s
in the Bible. I came into the harbour on ship one morning, a hospital ship, and the sun was just rising, shining on Mount Carmel. That was the sight that I remember most. Wonderful sight. Very nice harbour, Haifa Harbour. Other than that, in Palestine, Tel Aviv was a nice place, too: on the water, nice beach
promenade. What else? Other than that it was pretty ordinary.
You asked, when I told you about the trip across on the Stratheden how good it was, it wasn’t very bloody good on the destroyer. We went up on the HMAS Vampire, Australian destroyer. We were on deck. We didn’t go down below because there wasn’t enough room. They went into Tobruk at night when there was no moon. So you’ve
gotta put this into the right perspective. Here’s a bunch of blokes being trained as soldiers, hadn’t been into action and are 18, 19, 20 years old. Never seen anything and you’re going into Tobruk Harbour in the pitch bloody black. When I say black, it was black. To make matters worse, as we were approaching the harbour all the sailors from the ship went
down below and came up dressed in their trousers, a shirt, no boots or socks or anything. I said to one sailor, “What’s the key to this?” In his pocket he had a big safety pin. I said, “What’s going on?” He said, “They mine the harbour and we don’t know whether there’s any mines been dropped there or not. So it’s all pretty bloody dicey if you go overboard with your bloody boots and everything
on. So just keep prepared in case we do go overboard.” I said, “What’s this?” He said, “That’s my wallet and my identification in case.” I said, “Thanks very much.” I’m standing there, as everybody else was, in boots and gaiters and uniform, tin helmet, rifle, pack, and I thought, “Christ, if we go overboard, we’ll go straight down.” It was pitch bloody black, we didn’t know
where we were going, what we were doing. So it was pretty hairy, I’ll tell you. You were talking about noise before. The noise from the guns, we didn’t know which way they were going or where they were going, it wasn’t very nice. Not a very nice night going in there at all.
What was the first thing that happened when you went off the boat?
It was in the middle of the bloody night. It was pitch black. I’ll tell you what happened to my particular group. We got on a truck. Didn’t know who was on the truck. The driver wasn’t one of our drivers, it was a bloke from there, from who was stationed in there or had been there. He took us up to where our position
was. We got out. Still dark. The officer said, “Righto, you men. Bed down over there.” Over there was bloody open desert. “Dig a bit of a trench,” he said, “And lay there.” Right. So this friend of mine, Stanley Victor Gill, he and I paired off,
dug a bit of a scrape in the desert and lay down. Still pitch black. Didn’t know what we were doing. I’ve said to my wife on numerous occasions, “I slept closer to him that night than I do to her now.” We really crouched down there together. Didn’t know what was going on. Then there was a hell of a bloody barrage of guns. Christ. I said to Gilly,
“Stanley, what’s happened?” He said, “I don’t know. What are we gonna do?” “We can’t do anything but stay where we are.” Crash bang, bloody gun flashes and noise. Nothing happened. It was all right. It frightened the shit out of us. Next morning we realised that we were dug down our little scrape in the ground about 100-150 yards in front of our own guns. So the noise we heard
was our own shells going over. No problem at all, just the noise and not knowing what’s going on. As you got used to it, as you were there a bit longer, you knew what was going on. You recognised your own guns and also you recognise them.
Our own troops were around us. The next night some infantrymen came through our lines. They were going off further. They’d just got off the boat, got off their truck and had to go through our lines, or our area, up to where they were going, further in front. I spoke to this infantryman. I said,
“Where are you off to?” He said, “Up the front.” Most of them had rifles. I said, “What’s the problem, pal? You haven’t got your rifle.” He said, “No, I dropped it over the side when I was getting off the boat.” I said, “What, that’s not too good. You haven’t got one?” He said, “No.” “So what are you gonna do?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “You’d better take mine. You probably need it more than I will.” He said, “Thanks very much.”
So I gave him the rifle. Off he went. I didn’t need it. He was going up the frontline; I was a little way back. It didn’t look like I was going to be using it; I never did as it happened. So that’s all right. The next night the planes came over and we heard some whirring sort of noise in the air. We got our order, “They’re dropping paratroopers.” We thought that could be on you, if they dropped paratroops
behind us. So it was, “Stand to.” So we’re standing to. I’ve got no rifle. My mate, the Baron, said, “You’re fucking rifle?” I said, “I gave it to that bloke.” He said, “That’s a great idea. What are you gonna do?” I said, “Give us that pick handle.” So I grabbed the pick handle. He said, “That’s not gonna be much good.” I said, “It will if they get close enough.” He said, “What if they don’t get close enough?”
Anyway, as it happened it was a false alarm. They weren’t paratroops. They were little anti-personnel mines, little square tin-like things about the size of a small jam tin. They had a little propeller in them that they slowly let them down to the ground and then they just laid there. If you moved them or stepped on them or kicked them,
they go off. So they were all over the bloody place. Some of them were in the form of a thermos flask or a light thermos flask. So blokes would pick, “Oh, what’s this?” And so that’s what it was.
There was a tank trap dug. So it wasn’t too bad, except we were underground. That’s where we got the term “Rats”. We lived like rats. The fleas. Sand fleas, thousands of them. There was a regular routine of a morning, you’d put
your blanket out in the sun and let the warmth of the sun move the fleas. You’d see them jumping up. Not one, two, three, but ten, twenty, thirty, forty of the bastards. The only good thing about it, if there was any good thing about Tobruk, it got cold of a night. So if you weren’t too bloody frightened and there wasn’t too much noise going on, you could get to sleep. It was cool at night, and bloody hot during
were fairly good. Nothing derogatory to him. He was doing a good job, doing the best job he could under very difficult conditions in Tobruk. He had very little bloody supplies. They were very limited. Even ammunition was hard to come by, although we used a lot of Italian stuff. We had Italian guns as I told you, and Italian
artillery shells. Even some of their supplies we had. They left a ton of stuff behind. They left these long cigars, which the blokes were very, very keen on getting. They were a funny sort of cigar. They were about six inches long, thick in the middle and thin at both ends.
So the blokes used to cut them in half and make two out of it. There was plenty of them. When we first got there we got news up they left a lot of water there too. That was very welcome. Water was in scarce supply up there. A water bottle a day. That’s about a litre and a quarter
a day, for everything, that’s to wash, to shave, I was gonna say shower, we didn’t shower, there were no showers. Wash, shave and drink. So it was pretty limited. It was bloody, very nasty, very bad tasting stuff. Had a lot of chlorine in it to keep the germs out of it I suppose.
as far as you could, which was about two feet. Then you built it up with sandbags or any stones or rocks that were around and about. So we’re building up this. You also build on a side away from the enemy on the side of a hill. So they were there and you built into here. The Baron and I were building this doover and we’re using some rocks to
lay around to build up a bit of a wall for protection. I dropped a great big rock on my finger and squashed it. It was a bit of a mess. So I said, “I’d better get back to the dressing station.” They’ve got a system of this. The first one is a field dressing station where they do stuff that comes straight out of, ordinary stuff
like stitching and crap like that. Then they send you back to a casualty clearing station. They’d look at you again and if there’s anything further, they send you back further to a hospital. So I go to the first one, the field dressing station, and looked at it and he said, “No, I can’t do anything with that so we’ll send you back.” So they sent me back to the
next one, casualty clearing station. He said, “No, you’d better go back to the base hospital.” So back I go there. They take me into this underground sort of thing. It was an entrance into the operating theatre. He had a look at it, the doctor, and he said, “We’d better stitch that up, I think.” So he said to his orderly,
by this time it was pretty bloody sore, he said to the orderly, I don’t know what the number was, but, “Have you got any ten needles?” He said, “No, I haven’t got any tens sir. I’ve got some 14s, but unfortunately they’re a little bit rusty. They got salt water on them coming over on the destroyer from Alexandria.” “14? They’re a bit big. They’ll do, don’t worry.” So he stitches up
the bloody finger with this. I don’t even remember getting an injection, I suppose I did, but it was bloody sore. Laying on the next table, it wasn’t a table it was a stretcher, was another bloke. He didn’t look too good, but he was quiet, not saying a bloody word. I thought, “Gees, all I’ve got is a bloody squashed finger. I can’t carry on too much.” So they stitch the finger up and I wasn’t too happy.
I said to the orderly, “That bloke’s pretty quiet there. What’s he got?” He says, “He’s been shot through the shoulder.” I said, “He’s not making much noise. Is he in trouble?” He said, “No, four morphine we stuffed, he can’t feel a thing, he’s all right.” I thought, “Right, so I’m worrying about him.” He wasn’t making much noise. No wonder, he couldn’t. I had nothing in this finger. It was all right. I got back. I went straight back.
There was one occasion the Germans sent a lot of shells over and they actually landed behind us and some of them didn’t go off. The explosion that they made and the noise through the air were different to any shells they’d fired at us.
So there was a few that didn’t go off. The officer came down and said, “I want a volunteer party to go out and pick up a couple of those dud shells and bring them back.” I think I must have been drunk or, I don’t know, I said, “I’ll go. That’s all right.” “You’d better take a couple of blokes with you.” So I said, “Righto.”
A couple of others said, “We’ll go with you.” So out we trot out behind our position to where these shells had landed and we could see one stick out of the ground that hadn’t gone off. This was half an hour after. So we said, “That one will do.” So we dug around it with a spade and got it and we were carrying this bloody thing back. That’s when I really thought to myself, “Christ. This might be on a delayed
fuse. It can go off any minute and I’ve volunteered to go on this. I’ve got a bloody great shell in my hand.” So I thought it was starting to get red hot then. I couldn’t get it back quick enough. You make a few mistakes on occasion.
Once again, it was fairly exposed, so to get up there with the rations you had to be very careful. They only went up about once a week. My friend, the Baron, he was up at the observation post. He’d driven the officers up there and stayed up there with them.
So he was a smoker. This other friend of mine, Stan Gill that I mentioned, and myself, we weren’t smokers. When they called for volunteers to take the rations up to the Fig Tree where the Baron was, we said, “We’ll go. We’ll take our smokes up and give them to him.” Stan said, “Righto.” So off we go with the rations in the truck. Going along in the desert they mightn’t see, the Jerries [Germans],
but the dust from the truck indicated there was something going on there, so they sent a few shells over just to find out or see if it could do some good. So sure enough, we’re chuffing up there with the rations and the smokes for the Baron. Bang, over came the shells. Nothing landed on us, but close enough to worry us, so we kept going. We got up there. Soon as we got near the OP they had a
long slit trench that you got in and crawled along on your hands and knees below the skyline to give them the rations. They shelled us all the way along this bloody slit trench. We came out, gave the rations to them, gave the smokes to the Baron, crawled back along the trench, into the truck, which we’d left out of sight down below a bit of a hill,
and back. They shelled us all the bloody way back. When I get back I said to my friend, Stan Gill, “If the Baron never has another smoke that’ll be the last time I’m volunteering for that job.” Didn’t go up there again. Bugger that for a change.
virtually unless you’ve got your life on the line. From half an hour to the next half hour, you don’t know whether you’re gonna get it or not. You’ve seen it happen to others and you think, “Well, what’s gonna happen to me? Am I gonna get one?” That’s what you’re thinking, yes, you are. But you don’t let it really worry you, not consciously worry you. I tend to think, and I’ve thought this over the years
since I’ve been back, that the strain finally catches up with you. So if you’ve been in that sort of situation off and on over two years or two and a half years, like we were in the desert, the accumulation of it gets to you. You’re not frightened, but you think about it. The longer you’re out of action, the worse it is to get back into it. If you’re in amongst the thick of it all the time,
you sort of get used to expect and wear it. If you go out and you’ve got nothing happening, everything’s quiet, nice, having a few beers, all of a sudden you get back into that other situation. That’s when you notice the difference. That’s what I found anyway.
this would be April 1941 and we’d had our final leave in Australia in November 1940, so it’s not a great space of time. Three or four of us had our final leave together, Joan included, I wasn’t married to her then. One of the blokes was a chap by the
name of Roth Lewin. He was a driver like I was. This other chap, the Baron, and I were in a tent in the hole this day. We look up on the skyline. We saw the truck going along, “There’s Roth Lewin going up to wherever he’s going.” “Oh yes, so he is.” All of a sudden they start to shell. Right. One landed right close and I said, “That’s got him.” It had.
The truck stopped, one bloke fell out and that was it. No Roth. What had happened, the shell had landed comparatively close and a great big piece of shrapnel had come through the side door and into his side here. They got him, pulled him out and took him back. I was in the burial party the next day
in the Tobruk Cemetery. Another thing I remember about that, they sewed him up in a blanket. He was on the stretcher. It must have been the next day. He must have been lying there for a while because when we tipped the stretcher up into the hole it wouldn’t come out. The blood had seeped through from his body into the blanket, onto the stretcher and stuck there, we had to
lift it out of that and put him into the hole. I remember that pretty vividly. I’d only been on final leave with him a couple of months before. So he got it very early, Roth Lewin.
We never used those, we never needed to. The artillery pieces, that’s what we did use. We had very, very few Australian or English artillery there. Mainly, when we first got there, Italian. The problem with it was that, apart from the ammunition being a little
bit dicey and prone to blow up unexpectedly, the calibration of them, we were in yards, feet and inches, the Imperial measurements used in Australia at that time and our yardages were all like that. All our guns were calibrated the sighting in metres, which
we had to convert back to our Imperial, which was difficult. It was done by one of our officers, a great, not our officers, our CO. He did it. He made a great job of it. Made it easier. We fired a lot of rounds, but whether they did any good or not, I don’t know. We hope so.
They told us we were going, got us down onto the wharf not too soon: Then we were worried that the bloody harbour was gonna be shelled or bombed, but we got on all right. As I was going up the gangplank, there was a Salvation Army bloke there that said, “Do you wanna send a message home?”
I said, “Yes.” So he got me a bit of paper. Using his back I wrote on it, “Out of Tobruk.”
Sent it to Joan. So yeah, I do remember going. They didn’t waste any time
once they got out into the ocean, the destroyers. They went straight down because we didn’t have much air cover, if any. The Germans were prone to bomb. We lost a destroyer going up there one time. There was a few U-Boats [Unterseeboots – German submarines] around too in the Mediterranean. So it wasn’t terribly
handy for a place to get out.
We went back to that Ikingi Maryut outside Alexandria first, before they took us onto Palestine. Once again, with this friend of mine the Baron, he and I and a couple of other blokes, he said to me, “What about going into Alexandria?” We weren’t that far. I said, “How
the bloody hell are we going to get in there?” He said, “We’ll pinch a truck off the lines.” So I said, “All right, OK. Might as well.” So we did because there were no ignition keys or anything. You just got in and drove it. So that night he and I and three or four others got the truck and set off into Alexandria. There was
a roadblock down the road to check leave passes. We never had one. So I’m in the back of the utility. We got to the checkpoint, I knocked on the top of the cabin and I said, “Baron, they’re gonna stop us up here for our leave passes. What do we do?” He put his foot to the floor and went straight through. That was all right. No worries. We got through, but they didn’t know who it was, so they opened fire on us with
rifles, so bloody ‘bang, bang’. I said to the Baron when we got past, “You stupid bloody bastard. Eight months in Tobruk, we get out going on leave and look like getting shot by our own blokes.” He said, “We didn’t get shot, did we?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, shut up.” So I said, “All right.” So we get into Tobruk, talking about brothels, the Baron was a great brothel man.
So we had a few beers. I said, “I’m going back to camp.” He said, “I’ll go and have a bit of good living so I think I’ll go to the brothels.” I said, “You lost me, pal. I’ll go back in the truck and go back.” So when I get back to where we’d left the truck, it was gone. It wasn’t there. Some bastard had taken it. That didn’t worry me too much. It wasn’t my truck, but I’d left my greatcoat
in the front with my army number and name in it. Somebody’d find it and say, “Maddison pinched this truck,” and I’d be in trouble. Couldn’t do anything about it, so I started to walk back to camp. I got a lift by an Arab, I think he was, I don’t know whether he was the night man [sanitary collector] or what he was, a pretty unsavoury sort of truck. I’m standing in the back.
As we got towards our camp, on the side of the road I see my truck. I knew it was mine by the number. So I got out, sure enough it was our truck, and my coat was still in it. So I drove it back, got it into the lines and back into my tent. Somebody from another unit had got our truck in Alex and wanted to get back to camp. They took
it to get back. So that was all right. I got it back in the lines and the Baron never came back that night. He stayed out. He got picked up. He did 28 days detention for that. Poor bastard.
dirt floor. They were very poor the ones that I struck in the camp. I think he was one of the cleaners. I learned a few words of Arabic and he finally got through to me, “Would you like to come back and have something to eat with us?” So I said, “All right.” So I went back to his little,
for want of a better word, hovel, I suppose, one-room joint. It was him and his wife and four kids. They all lived in the one room. All the beds were laid out on the floor up in the corner. We had the table right on the floor. You sat cross-legged on the floor and the piece de resistance of the food was a sheep’s head. He brought it in and put it right in the middle of the, with all flesh on it and a few vegetables around it.
He took the flat bread, brushed it off and just help yourself to the pot in the middle. He said to me, not quite like that, but I gathered he wanted me to eat the eye of the sheep. The eye was still in it. So he told me, “It’s good. You eat.” He went, chomped it down. Great.
“The other one, you.” No way. I rather liked the Arabs. I think in some ways it’s a great pity they and the Israelis can’t make some sort of effort to get together or live in harmony. But they can’t apparently. Not at this stage.
Can you tell us any interesting stories?
Yes, I can. One concerns myself. I told you I was, when I was eventually the physical training instructor for my unit amongst other things, so if there was any physical training required I got the job of doing it. We’re in Tripoli, just out of Zgharta
and all the other troops were around there as well. We were the whole 9th Division. They had the detention centre in the old French barracks in Tripoli. They used it as a detention centre of the troops that had really misbehaved. Each unit had to supply a sergeant and some ordinary troops for a week
at a time, or a fortnight at a time. I was picked on this occasion to go into the barracks and look after the prisoners in there. Take then out for route marches and that sort of thing. There was a bloke there, one of the prisoners, who was a smart arse, so I was telling him to do things, cos I was a sergeant. He said, “I don’t have to do what you tell me.”
I said, “Fair enough.” “You’re only hiding behind your stripes. You wouldn’t do anything about it or you can’t do anything about it.” I said, “I’ll see about that. Don’t worry. Parade will be over shortly so I’ll meet you down in the toilet if you like, out the back there, and we’ll settle this once and for all between you and I. See whether I’m hiding behind my stripes.” So I fancied myself a little bit, not very much.
So I get down there. This bloke is waiting down there for me. He’s got bloody boxing boots, shaping up, so into it, the two of us. He gave me a decent old hiding. I got a split above the eye. In came an officer, he heard the commotion. The fight was stopped. He didn’t say a thing. He just put the fight to a stop. But I had this
bloody great split over my eye, so I had to go down to the MO. He wasn’t there, the orderly was there. He said, “What have you been doing?” I said, “I fell over.” He said, “It doesn’t look like it to me.” I said, “I’ve got a split eye. The MO’s not here. What are you gonna do for it?” He said, “I can get the MO, but I’ll have to tell him what happened.” I said, “Don’t worry about that. Can you stitch it?” He said, “Oh yeah, I’ve done a few stitches in
my time.” I thought, “Shit.” I didn’t want the bloody MO to know I’d been fighting, so I sat back in the chair and he stitched my bloody eye up. Christ, it was worse than the fight. So I kept my trap shut after that. I found out later this bloke was a good fighter. He fought ten rounds at the stadium here in Melbourne, so I took on somebody a bit better than myself.
contradictory, I know, but he always seemed to have something up his sleeve the Baron. He was always looking for something a bit different, something a bit better, but he was a great gambler and a good card player, but never had any money. He’d win 20 bucks [dollars] on the cards and he’d put it on the turn of the
cards the next hand, so he had nothing. The same as his betting. When we were in camp up in the Atherton Tablelands, he ran a book [on racehorses, etc.], but he didn’t run it very successfully. If he did make any money on it, he’d put it back on something else and lose the lot. That’s the sort of bloke he was. He’s a funny bloke.
He always said, “I’d lose a bloody leg to get out of this army, Beefy.” He called me Beefy. I said, “You’re mad, Baron.” “No, I wanna get out.” Eventually he did lose his bloody leg and he got out. It’s a hard way to get out, though, poor bastard.
Still, it’s the way it goes, I suppose.
Tell us about your time in Syria.
Lebanon and Syria was the same. They were nice people. Beirut was Lebanon. I didn’t really meet any Syrians as such, they were all Lebanese as far as I was concerned. There was a local beer there and it was called Al Maza beer.
The brewery was just outside Beirut, the Al Maza Brewery. I had to go down, I wasn’t driving it, I was in the convoy. We went down to Beirut in this convoy. Coming back, see I was in Tripoli at that time, or Zgharta. We went from there to Beirut. It was only gonna be for a day. Don’t know
what we went down for. Went down in this convoy. On the way back, they stopped at the Al Maza Brewery, so that was quite handy. We didn’t stay for long. I got talking to the Arabs there. When I say talking to them, in my very limited knowledge of the Arabic language, I spoke to him for a bit.
So he was quite interested that I could speak a few words. He said ultimately, “Come down and I’ll show you the vats.” So we went down to where the beer’s brewed and walked along. He said, “Here, have a taste of this.” “Very nice.” “Have a taste of this.” I did that. I was down there for a bloody hour and a half. When I came up the bloody convoy’s gone. So I’m left there.
I’m in bloody Beirut and I’m supposed to get back to bloody Tripoli. So what do I do now? Plus the fact I was half full. So I got out in the road and hitched a hike and finally got back in time for rollcall, so I was all right. I don’t know how I did that. Al Maza Beer. Wasn’t very good beer compared to ours, but it was something to drink.
What else? Nothing else I can tell you.
when the German push started from up past Benghazi. They took Tobruk again. The Germans took Tobruk this time. They had it. They got down within 60 miles of, I think it was, Alexandria. They looked like they were gonna come right through
to Cairo. It was very nasty. So we got a call. I’m talking now about the 9th Division. We were wanted urgently back in the desert again. So by truck from Lebanon we went down through Syria to Cairo, through Cairo up to Ikingi Maryut outside
Alexandria. Then from there into El Alamein itself, where the line was. That’s where we stopped him, at the El Alamein Station. As different from Tobruk, it was the same terrain. We were closer to the sea this time, but it was fluid. You could go back if you wanted to. We weren’t surrounded.
We had him in front of us on one side. You could get out, not like Tobruk where you couldn’t get out. It was more of a fluid war. We were advancing a fair bit and coming back. The Germans this time was very, very professional. There wasn’t any Italian troops, or not many Italian troops there.
Mainly Germans that were against us.
Tobruk where it was my first time. El Alamein worried me, but not to the same extent. We could move around more freely there too. Not like being hemmed in at Tobruk. Still, it was pretty intensive. Hell of a lot of shelling.
One time I told you on the ammunition, and that meant going back to the ammunition dump, which was further back out of the way, where all the ammunition was stored, picking up a load of ammunition for the guns and bringing
it into our position and then distributing it around to our four guns. We were going down the road, and it was a road, down from El Alamein Station down before you turned off into the desert to the gun positions. We were going down this road. I was driving a three-ton truck full of ammunition with a manhole in the roof.
The chap could get up and have a look, see what was going on apart from looking through the windscreen. So we’re going along this road and they start to shell in front of us. This bloody shell burst in front of us and we’re going towards it. It burst. Great lumps of shrapnel were coming down the road, bouncing along the bitumen road. My little mate George Cole stuck his head up through
the manhole and looked around and he shouted out, “Come on, hit me. You missed me that time you mad bastard. Have another go.” I said, “Christ, George, sit down.” It wouldn’t do him any good sitting down. He wasn’t any more likely to get standing up than he was sitting down. I’ll never forget that, seeing great lumps of shrapnel off the shell casing coming down the road towards us and he’s shouting out, “You missed me. Come on, come on.” The other time we were going up
there with a three- ton load of stuff. It was quite dark. We knew we were going to the night firing position. So they start to shell us. They drop one in front of us. I thought, “Shit, not too good.” Then one behind us. I thought, “Christ they’ve got the range.” One was short, one was long, the next one in between, that’ll
be just about right on us. So I said to the bloke that was with me, “Let’s get out of here. Let’s stop and wait till this shelling goes.” So we got out and there was a slit trench just near where we stopped. Pitch black, mind you. So in we jumped. We crouched down. I got my head right in his backside. He’s up the other end of the trench, crouched down. I could smell
bloody terrible shitty smell. I said, “George?” He said, “Yeah?” I said, “Did you shit yourself?” He said, “No. No. Are you sure you haven’t?” I said, “No, I haven’t.” He said, “Christ, have you farted?” We had to stay there, they were shelling like buggery. The smell was pretty bad. We got out, we didn’t worry.
Next day we went back past that and had a look to see what it was. We’d got into an old ditch used as a latrine. They used the trench. No wonder it stunk. I can remember saying, “Did you shit yourself?” “No, I haven’t.”
in front of us around about where our gun position was. It was a few hundred yards ahead of us. I said, “I think we’d better have a look around and see what’s going on up there.” It’s no good driving a three-ton load of ammunition into shelling. You never know if you get hit. You don’t know if you’ll take out three or four guns. I said, “Stop the car here. You wait here with the truck.
It’s a bit of a hill up there. I’ll go up there and have a look around and see what’s going on in the gun position.” So George said, “Righto” and stayed there. I’m walking up to this, and they’re shelling like buggery up the front. A couple came close and down I’d go onto the deck and wait for them to turn off, up I’d go again and down.
I felt, “There’s somebody behind me. There’s gotta be somebody behind me. It can’t be.” A bit further up, another couple of shells, down I’d go. So next time I got up I looked around and there’s George Cole about 20 yards behind me. I said, “I thought I told you to stay back in the truck.” He said, “I couldn’t let you go on your own. I thought I’d stick with you.” That’s the sort of bloke he was. He came along. Followed me behind.
He said, “If you’re gonna get it, I may as well get it.” That’s the sort of bloke he was, Georgie Cole. He was a country boy, a wheat lumper from Kiata.
I told you the ammunition was a fair way back. At El Alamein we were near the station. There was a bitumen road at one stage, it was pretty knocked about, but you had to go along this road, through the crossing where another road met and back. That intersection the Germans had it pegged and they’d shell it
every so often. You didn’t know how often. It wasn’t every five or ten minutes. To get the ammunition dump you had to go through that crossing. So I had another one of these reinforcement blokes with me, Bertie Mullins. It wasn’t terribly good to go back to get ammunition. So I said to Bertie, “We’ve gotta go back and get some ammunition. Do you mind driving?
You don’t have to, I’ll get somebody else if you don’t wanna go.” So he was only young, younger than I was. He said, “No, I’ll go with you.” So we went back, got the ammunition. Coming through that intersection they shelled the shit out of us. I looked across at Bertie Mullins. He was as white as a bloody sheet. He was absolutely scared witless.
Kept going though, never stopped. That’s the sort of bloke he was. Frightened as buggery, same as I was, but I did know a little bit more about it. It was probably the first time he’d been shelled. Good bloke. Both those blokes have died since. Natural causes.
a funny sort of bloke. Then yesterday I went to a funeral to that chap I told you about with another one of my mates from my unit who I joined up with in 1940 at the same time. He went right through with us and he’s still alive. I saw him yesterday. They’re the sort of blokes you think about.
What actually happened there, what you did there, you don’t sort of think about as much. I don’t anyway. You can tell people about it, I’m not talking about blokes like you, listening all the time and know what I’m talking about, but lots of people don’t know what you’re talking about and are not interested at any rate. So you can’t bore them by telling, “Oh, there we were, gunfire all around us and this and that.” So you don’t generally
speak about it very much. This would have been the most I’ve spoken about it since I can ever remember.
went to say goodbye and went back to Puckapunyal. Then we decided to get married. I wanted some leave from Puckapunyal to come back to Melbourne. I’d had my final leave, we were due to go to Queensland. So the CO said, “No.” I said, “I’m getting married, so I’m gonna go at any rate.” He said, “Well, under those circumstances you’d better have
leave. You can have three days.” So I got three days. There’s rather an interesting photo out on that cabinet there. I had three days. So we got married. That very good friend of mine, the guy I joined up with, he was my best man. He couldn’t get leave. So he had to go AWL to come down, because he was in the wedding
party. His brother, who was in our unit as well, he couldn’t get leave either. He was the groomsman. So he had to go AWL. They got into trouble when they got back. They blamed me for that, but not much trouble. Frank, my best man, was a bombardier I think then. He looked like he might have lost his stripes, but he didn’t, so it was all right.
They got out of it. That photo shows the two of them, myself and the wedding party. It’s quite an interesting one.
We got married in Caulfield at Joan’s mother’s place, and we got married in the church up in Caulfield. Went to Frankston for our honeymoon. I’m in uniform naturally. We get on the station at Caulfield to go to Frankston, catch a train. The carriage we got in had about six or seven soldiers in it. I knew them. They said,
“Beefy. How are you?” I’m being very nice and polite to my new wife. Joan’s with me on board this suburban train. They had a few bottles in their bag. “Come and have a drink, Beef.” I said, “No, no.” You can imagine. “What’s the matter? Are you crook or something? Have a drink.” So I said, “No, I’ll be right.” The more I said I didn’t want one, bottles shoved, no glasses,
so I’m sitting in this train next to a day-old wife sucking beer out of a bottle. So it didn’t go over too well, did it? Quite an interesting time.
It was mainly learning to hack down the bloody scrub in front of you to form some sort of an area to operate your guns in, because you can’t fire guns out of trees that are in front of you because if a shell hit a tree, it’d set it off. So you had to have
a clear arc of fire. So that had to be cleared. To get the guns into position there was no roads, so it had to be manhandled. On occasions we had to drag them along the beach to get from one position to another. The weight of the gun and the soft sand, we’d have to double up.
Instead of one gun crew, we might have two gun crews on the one gun, and any spares that could get on the ropes to pull it along. Because the wheels were sinking, you had to put metal strips in front of them. So you put them about three or four six-foot metal strips that wide in front of them, pull the gun along and then replace the ones behind.
So it’s a pretty slow process.
It was a small flat-bottomed barge and the front came down and formed a platform. You walked or ran up that onto the barge. When you got onto the beach, they ran it right up on the beach and dropped it down and out you went into the jungle. The Lae beach was probably from here out to the
window there, about 100 yards maybe. It wouldn’t have been as much as that from the water’s edge to the jungle’s edge. That was another thing. You couldn’t see what you were approaching. I must admit that the navy gave them a fair bloody pounding, and whatever aircraft was available then, there was a fair bit about, they bombed the crap out of
the area that we were gonna land in. Still, there was plenty of them about. As we were going onto the beach, you could hear the bullets hitting off the front of the craft. You thought, “Jeez, that’s gonna be nice when they drop that down and there’s nothing there.” We got out, hit the sand and up the dunes to the jungle. We seemed to be covered then, so it wasn’t too bad, except that
before we got properly off the beach, you can imagine there’s a fair amount of confusion, they bombed us. The Jap planes came over and bombed us. They bombed us going in. We had some casualties. None from our unit in the landing. The infantry lost some, I think. We got out of it all right.
blokes that were around, any spare officers around. There was one occasion we’re dragging the gun somewhere along the beach or something and we’re stuck. We were half bogged. There were two blokes standing there and they had groundsheets on covering their shoulders. So we said, “Don’t stand there, give us a hand.”
They said, “All right.” So they did. During the course of helping us, their groundsheets slipped. One of them was Brigadier Windeyer, a brigadier, so he was pretty high ranking. I don’t know who the other bloke was, but pretty high up and we said, “Don’t stay there, bloody well help us.” So we didn’t know who they were till we discovered their identity. They
didn’t mind. So that happened. Everybody had to help.
Tell us about your role in the battle of Lae and your experiences.
My role was, once again, as I said before, about New Guinea, I’m much more vague than I was in the Middle East. I seem to have got a bit of a blank over it. I was there and I did odd jobs. I know that on one occasion, communication was another thing that was very difficult to lay the signal wire. While we had some wireless
communication, not a great deal, so a lot of it was done by signal wire and phone. Because of the conditions, a lot of the signal wire was lost. So you’d string it along and it’d get broken and drop down into the floor of the jungle and you couldn’t see it. So it had to replace. Instead of replacing a short bit you might have to replace a whole 100 yards, 100 metres.
To get the signal wire, they were using a lot of it, I had to, with a group of other blokes, carry out rolls and rolls up to the forward post. That was a very difficult job. The reels of cable were heavy and there was a lot of them because they needed a lot of them. So we strung them on poles, put them on our shoulders and went forward with that. Some
of the places were up like that. You had to get down. Very, very hard travelling. Plus the jungle was all around you. Sometimes you had to hack your way through it.
and very, very thin and miserable and emaciated. A few of them got left behind by their troops and we came across them. They still tried to have a go. They didn’t want to give up. They were very, very tenacious. I did strike one of them. There was one of them, I don’t know
how or where they got him, but he was one miserable little bastard. They wanted to kill themselves, commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner. So there’s a great, big ring of us around him. He’s huddled there. So we threw him a hand grenade, but we’d taken the pin out of it. So he grabbed the grenade, “Oooooh.” He whacked it under his arm and saying whatever it was, “I’m finished. I’m going to.”
But there was no pin in it. We all started to laugh at him. He was very upset. Don’t know what he was saying, but he wasn’t too happy. Shouldn’t have done it I suppose.
One little occasion I can tell you about. The officer came down to me and said, I was a sergeant at that time, “Sergeant, take your BHQ [Battery Headquarters] up
this track.” There was a creek a little bit further up. He said, “At that creek crossing, take your troops down to the right hand side and settle down there for the night.” I said, “Righto.” So when I got up there with the troops another battalion had got in there before me and it was occupied. Actually they were engineers. So I
took my group up to the left of the creek crossing and we settled in down there for the night. Next day we were sitting down having our breakfast and we built a bit of a shelter with shrubs, another bloke and I, Pop and I. We were just about to start our breakfast and we heard the
planes going overhead. We all got up and said, “Have a look at our planes. You beauty.” We were all up there having a look. Then down came the bloody bombs. They weren’t ours at all, they were Japs. They were bombing the creek crossing that morning. As soon as the first one landed we hit the deck. The bloke next to me, Joe Peoples, he got killed. He was laying there
and I’m laying there. Piece of shrapnel came in there, that side of him, right through, and there was a bulge here. He didn’t break his skin on that side. All the damage had been done in here. I’m laying there, I got nothing. That’s when that friend of mine, the Baron, in relation to where I was laying on the ground here, 50 feet in
front of me he’s laying on the ground and facing me was my friend the Baron. After they’d gone and everybody’s crying and there’d blokes wounded laying about, he was crying out. So I raced over to him and I looked at him. A piece of shrapnel had sliced through his foot, cut his boot and his foot and it was half hanging. So I put a bit of
a bandage around that. I knew there was no hope for his leg, but I didn’t tell him. I carted him off. Another bloke by the name of Joe Keneally, an officer, he was in his bit of a makeshift doover and we went in to see what was wrong, cos he hadn’t come out after they’d all gone. So we went in to see. He was
on his knees. He must have been trying to get up out of bed and a bomb had landed and a bit of shrapnel had gone through. It hit him at the back of the neck there and came out the other side. He was dead too. We lost about five from my unit that day. Five killed. Four or five killed, and the Baron lost his leg. Another bloke,
Claudie McKatchill, got a piece of shrapnel in there on his knee. The hole, when I went over to him, was that big. I had a field dressing, not a field dressing, a personal dressing, which is a small dressing they give you, wrapped up in waterproof stuff, so that if you do get hit you can make emergency repairs to yourself.
I went over and put that in the hole, it went right in. So that was no bloody good. So I had to get a field dressing, which is twice as big, to put it over so it wouldn’t’ go into the hole and wrap it up. He didn’t lose his leg though, Claudie, he was all right.
we’d drag them through. If we were close enough to the mouth of the river, where it went into the sea, we’d take it out onto the beach and go around that way while the tide was out. That’s the only way we could do it. One of our officers, who was a very nice bloke, he had some hare-brained ideas, he said, “I think the easiest way to
move the guns over this particular path is to get a rope up that tree, take it across, tie it onto that tree over there and we’ll put a pulley on it and we’ll take the gun across like that, like a flying fox.” We said, “That’s a great idea. Have you got any idea how you’re gonna lift the gun up to put it on the pulley to get it across? When it gets to the other end, how you’re gonna stop it from hitting the
tree and smashing?” So we won’t do that. His next famous idea, this is a bloody ripper. We had a bit of a swamp to cross. So he said, “Definitely the best way to get it across that,” we had plenty of fuel about, “we’ll pour petrol all over the water,
set it alight and the heat of the flames will evaporate the water and it’ll be dry. We’ll get through like that.” That’s a great idea. “Are you sure? What about it getting out of control and being hot and not doing the job?” “Yes, I don’t think it’s quite as, yeah.” He was thinking, wasn’t he? Not very
logically I don’t think. I don’t think it’d work. So we had to rely on manpower.
I obviously went on leave. I didn’t wanna go overseas again, I’d had it. I knew that my unit was going to Borneo, into action again. And they did. I didn’t particularly want to go. So
being a physical training instructor and having done a couple of courses at the physical training school, I thought it’d be a good idea if I went back. So I saw my CO before I went back up to Atherton again. They went up to Queensland again before going to Borneo. So I went and saw my CO and said,
“Excuse me. Instead of going back up there, any chance of me doing a physical training course?” He said, “That’ll be all right, Maddison, if you can arrange it.” I’d previously gone to the physical training school and told them I wanted to come back. So they said, “You get permission from your CO and you can come back into another course.” So in stead of going back up to Queensland and then finally onto Borneo, I went into this
physical training school at Frankston. It was from there I went to England with that unit I was telling you about, the AIF Reception Unit. Do you want me to go onto that?
our Australian POWs who'd been taken at Crete and Greece and in the desert. They’d been in Germany and Italian POW camps for a matter of four years. So this unit was formed, the AIF Reception Unit, to rehabilitate them in England while they were waiting for transport home. Ships weren’t readily available just to bring troops home from England to
Australia, and that was a pretty decent exercise. So we had to wait till we had enough troops to fill a troopship to come home and to do that they had to be rehabilitated in England. Part of my job was physical training instructor. The CO at the PT
school said to me, “I know you don’t want to go overseas, but this is a very good trip. It’ll only be about six months at the most to England.” I said, “Great, that’ll be great.” He told me what it was. He said, “We want a physical training instructor, but we want somebody with experience in the war. We can’t very well send somebody over there to look after POWs that have
been in POW camp for four years and you’ve been sitting on your ass back here in Melbourne for four years while they were there.” I said, “Righto.” So I got the job.
in Australia. The Australian uniform, they saw us and, “Are you Australian?” The first question was, “Where are you from?” and I’d say, “Melbourne.” “Oh, my cousin’s down in Melbourne. Do you know him?” I’d have to go through that I hadn’t been home and no, I wouldn’t know him. The other thing too, talk about generosity, they were absolutely fantastic to us in America. To
such an extent, we got American money and I didn’t spend a dollar going from San Francisco to New York, I wore it out. You go into a bar with your slouch hat on, go to put your hand in your pocket, get your dollar out, put it on the bar and somebody’d say, “Are you Aussies?” “Yes we are.” “Don’t bother, I’ll buy that for you.” OK, so back it’d go again. Next time,
“You Aussies? Have a drink.” Back it went. So I wore that bloody dollar out going in and out of my pocket. I never spent it. They were fantastic, really good. Looked after us very well.
no, sir”, saluting and everything right. I remember it was terribly cold in England at that time, as it can get, and our greatcoats weren’t as good as theirs. They had the big double breasted, the English blokes. Ours were straight up and down ones. It was pretty cold. I’d had given to me, from a canteen parcel, a knitted khaki scarf, which
I wrapped around under my greatcoat. When I put the greatcoat on, it was underneath to keep me a bit warmer. I’m on parade in front of, it would have been 2-300 blokes in this camp at Aldershot, and I had this scarf around my neck, all buckled up nice and neatly. The sergeant major
came down. He had a swagger stick [officer’s short baton] under his arm. He walked along the ranks. He got to me and he looked at me, pulled his swagger stick out. There’s a tiny little bit of the scarf sticking up over the collar of the greatcoat. With his swagger stick, he said, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a scarf, sir.” He said, “Is it army issue?” I said, “No, sir.” He said, “Well, take one pace forward and take it off, now.” So I had to
go out in front of everybody, one pace forward, undo, take my scarf off, stuff it in my pocket and get back in the ranks. They were tough.
long time, flying out of England and did a great job. There were a lot of them there. Amongst the various camps and units, they had a pretty good cricket team going. Amongst our unit, the AIF Reception Unit we had some good cricketers too. We played a few games against the locals, quite a few games.
Some bright spark in higher up, I think it might have been Doc Evatt, thought, “Why don’t we combine the air force and the army cricket teams together and make an Australian Services Eleven, and we’ll play England and entertain the civilian population and it’ll be good for morale.” Apparently that was thought a great idea. So they picked a side out of the air force
and the army called the Australian Services Cricket Side. As I was a physical training instructor for the army and they didn’t have one in the air force, they said to me, “Would you like to come as our masseur and physical fitness advisor?” So I said, “That’ll be all right. How long is it gonna be?” “Not long.”
14 months later. So we played four test matches against England at Lords and Bramell Lane, Scarborough, all over. We did the Australian Tour around England. Against the University. We went to Scotland and played Scotland. That was so successful and it was only a shilling, I think, entrance
fee and they made a hell of a lot of money for the canteen funds. Packed out. And there were some good English Test players played against us: Len Hutton, Bill Edrich, Dennis Compton. I said Len Hutton didn’t I? A couple of other really
good players. First class English side. They were starved for cricket too and they were blokes who had all been in the services around various parts of the world. So that was so successful they said, “Before you go home, you’d better go to India and do a tour of India.”