Larry Maddison
Archive number: 1802
Date interviewed: 14 April, 2004

Served with:

2/12th Field Regiment

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Larry Maddison 1802


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Tape 01


Give us a summary of your life.
I was born in Malvern in 1920. My parents, William and Elisabeth, Elsie. Dad was a First World War soldier and instilled upon me how


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.


Tell us about your mother and what she was like.
I can tell you about my mother.


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.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I had one sister who’s still alive, Joan. Another Joan. No brothers.
Your father


took part in World War 1?
Tell us about his experiences in that war.
I cant’ tell you very much. I know he was in France. He was in the artillery, the same as I was. As far as his war and where he served I can’t tell you that. I don’t really know.
Why is that?
He never talked very


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.
Is that because he didn’t want to talk about his experiences?
No, he didn’t mind talking about it. I always used to go to the march and watch him march. He marched every year.


Always went to the march with him. Didn’t march, just watched. There wasn’t much talked about it. I don’t know why. There was no deference on his part. I do know that when he came back to Australia after the war was over, he joined the Militia, as it was called then.


The unit that I joined before I went into the AIF, the medium artillery brigade was the unit he was with. He was a sergeant major there. That’s why I went down there.
What were the Anzac Day parades like?
Quite big. A lot of people then. Very different to what it is today.
How so?
Not as many people


marching, I suppose, because they’ve all died off. It’s a long time ago now.
What was that experience like?
That was something I’ve never forgotten. I always, excuse this, I get emotional when I start talking about these things. Sorry.
Don’t be sorry.


It left me quite I suppose the word patriotic I suppose.


Always wanted to be involved myself so that’s how it left me. Sorry about that.
Don’t be sorry. Just take your time.
Right. Now we’ll go again.


You always wanted to be a part of it. From what age?
I suppose as there weren’t any cadets at the school I went to, otherwise I would have been in them, I suppose from 17. I joined up on my 18th birthday. I didn’t go into the militia cadets. Dad said,


“Well you’ve joined when you’re 18,” so I went in and joined on my 18th birthday. Didn’t waste any time. So I’ve always had an interest in the army.
Because of your father?
I would say so, yes. He was the guiding influence.


Also, in my physical culture, he was a physical culturist. He inspired me in that too. He was mainly the guiding influence. He was a good soldier from what I gather from the blokes I spoke to.


But as far as what he did, I don’t know.
Did he talk about the realities of war?
No. At that age you don’t think anything’s gonna happen. It’s all a big adventure until you actually get there. No, he didn’t say what it was like and what it was gonna be like.


Nobody can tell you that. If they did tell you, you wouldn’t believe them. No.
As a young fellow, what did you think being in the army would be about?
I was always very keen to have my friends with me. If they joined it was the in thing to be with them. I wanted to be in it.


If they were gonna do something I wanted to be a part of it. I joined the 9th Division. Then I put my age up so I didn’t get my parents’ consent. If you see on my discharge, I’m supposed to be born in 1919, but I was actually born in 1920. So they’ve made a blue there.


Also, they didn’t believe that my name was Larry. They thought it was Laurence. So they put me down as Laurence Maddison, not Larry. But when I showed them my birth certificate, finally they agreed that I was Larry. They thought Larry was a nickname.
Growing up, what were your dreams and aspirations?


Certainly never thought about being a soldier. That wasn’t my ambition to me a soldier. I was that mad keen on physical culture I think I always wanted to be a physical culturist. But I never aspired to be in the army.
Was sport a big part of your life, growing up?


I always played sport, but I wasn’t very good.
What did you play?
Football and cricket at school. After the war I played amateur football. I wasn’t any good. Too slow.
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.
How would your parents enforce discipline on you?
With a good smack around the backside, and/or


go without your tea and you’re locked in your bedroom for a couple of hours or something. Those sorts of things.
Was it a happy childhood?
Very, very happy. Couldn’t have been better.
What made it such a happy time?
I think the times, we never had much money, but we didn’t need much money. We always had enough.


Always seemed to be something happy to do. Not that we’re not happy now, we are, but it was different then, I think. As you get older you always think it was better then than it is now, but I suppose it’s not really, that much.
What was it like living through the Depression?
I just was at the end of it. I was sent away by


my mother and father to a relative of ours who lived at Swan Hill. I spent a couple of years up there during the Depression because things were pretty tough. So it really washed over me. It didn’t affect me. I was just that age where I didn’t care if I had two pieces of bread on my plate or one. I was never hungry or anything like that. It didn’t worry me.
Did you see


it affecting people around?
No, I didn’t. I don’t think I understood. I was that age. I suppose those days I was a bit worried about what was happening to me, not what was happening to everybody else. I haven’t changed, according to my wife.
Did you enjoy school?
I did, yeah. I went to the local central school,


Caulfield Central. When I left there I went to Caulfield Technical School, which they call TAFE [Technical and Further Education college] now. It was in Caulfield on Daniel Road. I had a good time there. Played a bit of football there. I had ideas of being some sort of an analytical chemist.


That’s why I did a course like that. But that didn’t eventuate. I went into Myers from school.
What course were you doing?
They didn’t have courses as such, I just thought I would like to do it. I didn’t do a course and I didn’t go to university.
But chemistry was on your mind?
It was on my mind, that’s all. I think that’s as far as it got.


Firstly you joined the militia?
Tell us about joining that group and the joining up process.
It was the unit my father was with. So he took me down on my 18th birthday down to the drill hall in Argyle Street, Prahran.


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.
At that time war wasn’t declared, was it?
When did you first hear about what was happening, about what was happening in Europe and Hitler?
Strangely enough I know exactly when I heard about when war was declared. Because


through my physical training I was doing a Mr Victoria test [bodybuilding] and I was being judged at the Melbourne Town Hall on the night war was declared. Although, prior to that, we’d heard about the war, it didn’t seem to touch us, or it hadn’t seemed to touch me. The 6th Division was formed in 1939. I never joined that.


I had ideas, fostered by Dad, of going in as a physical training instructor in the army. That was probably my ambition although I’d been in the artillery in the militia. I tried to do that, but wasn’t successful, so I opted to join the army straight out and see what happened.


You were a body builder?
Yes, I was, but it was a much different sport to what it is now. We didn’t have the gymnasium equipment. We had barbells and dumbbells and medicine balls and that was about it.
How did you go in the competition?
I got into the


last ten. I was rated around about, top score is 107, and I got 96, I think, or 97. I was up there amongst. Didn’t do any good. Then the war broke out and I never did anything for another five years, so that finished me. I was an amateur wrestler too. I won the Victorian Amateurs as a beginner in 1938.


That was finished too due to the war.
Is there some connection between physical training and war and what you need? Did you feel a connection between the two?
No. Not really. You can be a soldier, you can weigh five foot nothing and weigh ten stone and you can be six


foot four and fifteen stone. It didn’t make any difference as long as you did what you were told and knew what you were doing and got in and did it, that’s all you had to do.
When you joined the militia before the war, were you expecting a war?
We weren’t expecting a war, but I suppose in the background there’s always a thought there could have been a war. And if there was


one we were gonna be prepared to deal with it. The militia were going to be used to defend Australia as it turned out. Seeing it was an expeditionary force, like the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Divisions being formed, I opted for that, where the action was, instead of waiting for it to happen


Were your parents worried?
I didn’t ask for permission, although they would have given it to me. So I said, when I went up to join, I was 20, which was the age when you didn’t have to have your parents’ consent. Instead of that I was only 19. No, they wouldn’t have stopped me. No. Cos I didn’t tell them.
Your father sounds like he would have been proud of you.
He would have.


He was, they were. Don’t worry about that, they were. I just thought, “Well, I’ll do it.”
How soon after war was declared did you join up?
War was declared in 1939. I joined in June the following year.


In the time between, when the war had started and you were in the militia, what was the militia doing?
As it was not a permanent army force, we weren’t on call all the time. We only did our weekend training and one night a week training. We weren’t really,


it’s a bit hard to describe how we thought about it then. We didn’t think, “Gee whiz, we’re gonna do this, train up hard, we’re gonna be fighting,” because it wasn’t like that. There were so many people and the militia force was so small and they wanted so many to back they had to incorporate the whole of the population. Civilians.


We never really thought about war actually. I suppose even when I joined the AIF, I never thought about what was going to happen. I just thought, “Whatever happens I’ll be there to do it.” That’s the way it was.
Did the training and activities of the militia change from before war was declared to after?
Not at all?
I didn’t


think so.
Did you expect them to change?
Being out here we’re pretty isolated. We didn’t have anybody involved until 6th Division went away in 1939. While we heard all what was happening over there, no, it didn’t affect us.


If it did, it didn’t affect me.
What were you training with in the militia?
Once again, the unit I was with was medium artillery and there wasn’t a medium artillery, it eventually became, not obsolete, but not as prominent as the other artillery units. We had 60


pounders and 4.5 howitzers. They’ve still got them and they still use them, but they’re modified. No, there wasn’t that much emphasis on war, really.
What influence did the Empire have on your life and the army?
Only that I was very patriotic. That’s all.


We had to do what we thought was right. We were told what we thought we should do and we did, in large numbers.
Patriotic to the Empire?
Yes, King and Country. That was the idea.
Was that a major


reason for you to get into the forces?
I think so. I wanted to be part of it. We were part of it and I wanted to be part of it. I thought we should be part of it.
Was the Empire big for your father as well?
I think so, yeah. He did all the right things. I presume


it was on his mind. Yes, I’d say so.
How did the Empire influence your daily life? Did you sing songs in school?
We saluted the flag of a morning. They raised that. No, not that I can remember to tell you the truth.


Once England was involved in the war, what were your thoughts here in Australia?
I think at that stage without all the electronic equipment and stuff we’ve got now and news, we didn’t quite know as much. We were fairly isolated then. We’re talking about 60-odd years ago.


We never got the impact. We got news stories, but “England Advanced On So And So” it wasn’t any beat up, you never saw it on telly [television]. No entirely different then. Of course we knew about it, it wasn’t portrayed as it is now.
Did it seem far away?
A long way away.


We never expected it to come here. No, we didn’t, or I didn’t. I suppose I can’t speak for the others.
Did you meet Joan before?
My wife, yes, I did. I knew Joan before the war. I knew Joan when I was in the militia.


We’ve been married now 61 years so she was through all that being away. I was away for nearly three and a half years at various times. So I got married between the time I came back from England, what am I talking about? The time I came back from the Middle East and


before I went to New Guinea. We had one night’s honeymoon. Three days’ leave to get married.
Before the war, was it the uniform that got her?
It was a pretty popular uniform, actually. Apparently we looked pretty good with our leggings and our riding breeches and our blue jackets. I think so.


I say so anyway. I can say what I like at the moment.
In the period between joining up and being in the militia, was it increasingly pushed on you that you wanted to get involved?
Yes, it was. I couldn’t wait to get in. I wanted to get in with,


see, my militia unit transferred, not en masse or I would have gone with them, to the AIF. They were involved with the AIF as a group. They did. I wanted to make sure that I got with them. So I told you about three month militia camps. Just prior to me joining the AIF, I’d just come out of a three month


militia camp. So I’d done three months training with the militia, joined the AIF.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 02


When you were in the militia, in the transition, was there any stigma attached to the militia as


in chocos [chocolate soldiers] before you got transferred?
Not really. We were aware of the difference between the AIF and the militia and that’s why I felt that I wanted to get out of it as quickly as I could., because there was a bit of a thought about being in the militia with the chocos.


AIF was the thing to be in: the people who were doing the action.
You joined up in June 1940?
Fill in the 6 months from the war started.
During that time I was trying to get into the AIF. Not consciously trying, but thinking about getting in and where the best place to go where I could use myself to the best advantage.


I wanted to be a physical training instructor so I had a couple of interviews over at the Caulfield Racecourse there with personnel about doing just that. It wasn’t really possible, because they weren’t recruiting blokes as just PT [physical training] instructors. You had to do the Army School of Physical Training


in New South Wales and you were recruited from there into your various units. So it was a bit difficult. So I opted to go in with my artillery unit.
Did your mates in the militia talk about joining the AIF?
No, although I did join with a militia mate who was my best friend.


What were the other motivations to join the AIF?
To get away. To see something different. Be part of what I thought was the action. Everybody who was anybody was going to join.


If you didn’t join, I thought you were a bit of a slacker, so I thought, “I’ve gotta be in it.” A mate thought the same and we joined together.
Were there recruitment posters at that time?
Not that influenced us. I think there might have been some around. “If you want to join the army.” No, no, it wasn’t a big production. “We Want You.” “You Must Join.” No, no.


I didn’t think so.
What about on the radio?
No. There might have been, but it didn’t influence me. I was always going to join whatever happened. I didn’t need to be pushed.
After seeing Britain defeated in six weeks, how long did you think the war would go for?


We never thought it’d go as long as it did. I don’t think we ever put a timeframe on it. Once we were over there and in action and being in action we wanted to get home, but we never thought about, “When’s it going to finish?” as such. No, we never put a timeframe on it.
Did you think it was going to be as long as it was?


If I’d been asked was it going to be as long as that, no. I was 27 months in the Middle East, which I never thought I’d be that long. If you look at the blokes who are away now, they’re never away that long.
Did you ever think the war would not end for many years?
No, we knew it was gonna end. We knew it had to build up to something. No. We never


thought that we’d be beaten either. We knew we were going to win. I don’t know how, but I thought we were.
Tell us about the training you had when you joined the 2/12th Field Regiment.
They trained on very, very limited equipment in Puckapunyal. When I say limited, we didn’t have guns to practice any gun drill on. So we used


the horse troughs to practice walking around, placing ourselves in position. Very limited equipment initially. Eventually we got a little bit of it. Not much.
How long did you train in Australia?
I joined in June 1940 and we left Australia


in November 1940, so from June to November training. 1940.
What was your role in the 2/12th Field Regiment?
I was in battery headquarters and I joined as a driver of artillery trucks.
Is that towing guns?
It could have. My


specific role wasn’t to tow a gun. I drove smaller utilities around. Ultimately in El Alamein, I was an ammunition sergeant, in charge of giving the ammunition up to the guns. I was a driver.
Tell us about the training you had


in Australia at Caulfield Racecourse and Puckapunyal.
Nothing at Caulfield Racecourse – that was only recruitment. You went in there, they sorted you out, they sent you up to the training camps at Puckapunyal, down at Ballarat, down near Geelong, at Pucka. I had three months in the militia training on artillery pieces, so I joined up


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.
Did they tell you where you’d be fighting?
No, we didn’t know where we were going. When we got on the ship in Adelaide we thought we were going to the Middle East. We were never told specifically, “You will be going to the Middle East, landing here.”


They just let you assume you’d be going there. As it happened, we did go there.
Did you leave from Adelaide or Melbourne?
Adelaide. By ship we left.
You were entrained up to Adelaide?
Why Adelaide?
I don’t know.
Did you train in Adelaide?
No. We went down from Puckapunyal to Spencer Street Station,


brought us down from train from Puckapunyal to Spencer Street. We entrained there for Adelaide. Got to Adelaide and they put us on the ship for the Middle East.
Do you remember the name of the ship?
Stratheden. There was a convoy.
Tell us about the ship and the convoy.
We were very, very lucky because the ship hadn’t, this was


1940, the ship hadn’t properly been converted to a troopship, so we were in cabins. Our particular unit was allocated cabins, so there was two in a cabin. The band was still on the ship, they hadn’t been disbanded. They played every night. The ballroom was there. There were two swimming pools we could use on occasions. So we had a very good trip across.


You stopped at Perth?
Did you go straight to the Middle East?
Went to another funny place, can’t think of the name of it, Ceylon. Do you know Ceylon? There we met the gully gully men [street musicians, traders and confidence tricksters] and the kids diving into the harbour for money we threw off the deck of the ship. Then we went out to the


Galle Face Green, out to the hotel out there.
Tell us about your leave in Perth.
We had a very good leave in Perth, mainly because one of the ships in the convoy, a Polish ship, had broken down. Also, they were worried there was a German raider in the Red Sea and we were going to,


or Pacific Ocean, and we were going to run into it. So they waited there for a while. So we had leave in Perth, about ten days I suppose.
What was Perth like at that time?
Very nice. Very kind to us. We marched through Perth. We did a staged march through Perth. They gave us a good time. Looked after us very well. Very nice city.


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.
Did you keep in contact with this girl you said you’d marry when you were in the Middle East?
No. Maybe two letters or something.


From Perth?
Then we went straight to Ceylon. It was Ceylon then too, not Sri Lanka.
Tell us about the convoy on your way to Ceylon.


I’m trying to think of the names of the other ships. There was the Stratheden, which we were on, the Strathaird, which was the sister ship to the Stratheden. I think the Aquitania, I’m not sure, and a Polish ship. That was the one that broke down in Perth. I don’t know the name of it. We did a few manoeuvres on the way to Ceylon. We


went on to Colombo, into the harbour.
Describe the ship to us. How big was it.
40,000 ton I think it was. I’ve a photo of it there, which I’ll able to show you later.
Were the conditions good?
Yes, they were good considering it was a troopship. Very good. I took my unit troops for physical training


on the deck. We had a fairly relaxed time. It wasn’t completely converted to a troopship. Food was reasonable. Quite good.
What entertainment did you have onboard?
Only entertainment we made ourselves. Impromptu concerts and things like that. A few blokes. Nothing exciting.


I don’t think we even gambled on the way over like we did on the way back. We hadn’t got into that culture by that time.
How many troops were on the Stratheden?
It’s a bit hard to tell you the exact number. I don’t even know the other units. There were some air force


personnel going to England, it was our unit, some nurses, which they kept fairly separate from us. They mainly stuck with the officers. I would say there was maybe about 3,000 on the ship.


Was anyone thrown overboard?
No. We didn’t throw anybody overboard.
Did you hear any stories? That did apparently happen.
They said it. Officers or blokes that weren’t liked didn’t go too close to the rail. No, I never heard of anything that actually happened.


When you said, “They said” what do you mean?
It was hinted. If you didn’t like an officer you’d say, “Keep well away from that rail, if I get a chance over you go,” or something like that. No, it didn’t happen. We were very, very well off for officers. Most of them were 99-100% perfect. They were


great blokes.
Would it surprise you if it did happen?
Yeah, I think it would have surprised me. You’d have to be pretty desperate to do it. I think you’ve gotta realise they had a job to do. We were pretty rough and raw. They had to try and make soldiers of us and to do that they probably made themselves a bit unpopular. So I really never heard of it happening.


The AIF has a reputation of being a rough army.
It’s the reputation we had. I tend to think some units were rougher and tougher and didn’t have the discipline the others had.
What units were they?
I think the infantry were


classed as fairly rough and tough because they were the fighters. They were the ones that laid their life right on the line. The artillery, which I was in, we were a little bit back from the frontline. We never had any hand-to-hand fighting. I think the infantry were probably the toughest. We got that reputation and I think they were, although we had some pretty tough blokes in our unit


too. Very tough. We had a Brownlow Medallist [Best and Fairest for the season in the Australian Football League] in our unit. Ginny Ryan from Albury, he was in our unit, won a Brownlow Medal for Fitzroy. That’s all, I think,


as far as sportsmen went.
Tell us about your adventures in Ceylon.
I think mainly it was such a new experience, bear in mind I was 19 and wasn’t much variance in the age between all of us. Lots of us had never, I certainly had never, left Victoria, let alone


go to Ceylon. So to arrive in Ceylon, it was bloody amazing. We had a good time there. They looked after us fairly well. We stayed there for about, on the boat, for about five or six days. They gave us day leave. We met the locals, I told you about the


gully gully men, the magicians.
What would they do?
They were in the street. Have you seen them? They’ve still got them? Like a busker, but he was a magician. He’d have three or four chickens and a couple of fezzes, you know the hat, and he’d put one chicken under there, one under there and that would be blank. Then he’d tell you to


point out where the chickens were. You’d say, “There and there.” You saw him put the bloody things under there. Up, no chicken. We’re not talking about pennies or halfpennies, we’re talking about chickens. Nothing. He’d go swish, swish, swish, pull them out from under his arm or under… We were amazed. Absolutely amazed.


Why do they call them gully gully men?
I think it must be in relation to them being magicians. I don’t know what it means.
Did you pay him for this?
He passed the hat around and you gave him a few pence, yeah. But it wasn’t a big deal.
What fascinated you about Ceylon?
I’ll tell you what fascinated me about Ceylon. First of all the number of people in such a small


place. The fact that then there wasn’t very many cars, there was a lot of carts and they weren’t pulled by horses in some cases.
Rickshaws, yeah. That was a great caper, a race in the rickshaws. You’d get a couple of rickshaws and a couple of blokes in them, or more than a couple of blokes, and you’d say to the driver,


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.
I doubt most of the chaps would have been overseas before.
None of them. I don’t think any of them ever.
Did they all enjoy Ceylon?
Everybody did. It was really, at that stage, before we’d seen action, there was


sort of like nearly like a holiday at that stage because we didn’t realise what we were going to get into. We had no way of knowing what it was going to be like and the hardships we’d have to put up with, compared with what we were getting then. So no, everybody enjoyed it.
Did the Australian troops have problems with the local population in Ceylon?
Not really.


The only thing they might have got a few too many beers if they could get it. No, they were usually very good.
What would they do if they drank a few beers?
Try and get a rickshaw for nothing, not pay, that sort of thing, other than that it was all right.
Were there any brawls?
No, we didn’t brawl. Not that I was


aware of. No, they behaved fairly well, I would say. I don’t think there was any real concern there. There was no need to. They weren’t aggressive towards us. They were friendly, they were nice.
How did the soldiers interact with the local women?


As you know, they are not very cooperative in Ceylon. It’s a fairly, they’re not outgoing, the women, like some countries. No, they were very quiet, very nice. We were only there for a little while. If we’d been in the place for any length of time, the army would have established brothels for the blokes. No.
There were no places to visit


in Ceylon at that time?
Well, not that I knew of.
At that time would most soldiers look around for things like that when they stopped over?
It’s tended to develop like that, but at that stage, early in the, I don’t think so, no. We hadn’t long left Australia so we were pretty laid back


at that stage. Later on, it developed more. If you’ve been in the desert for eight months and haven’t seen anybody except your own troops and you get on leave, that’s when you start looking around a bit, but in Ceylon at that time, no.
Where was your next stop after Ceylon?


Egypt. Straight, bang.
Tell us about the voyage.
The weather was good. It was a fairly calm trip. It was quite good. No incidents at all. Just got into the Suez Canal, got off at El Kantara. We were entrained to


Palestine. That was amazing. Bear in mind we’d never been on a ship before, never been overseas before, we get into the canal going up the Suez Canal and you’ve got the earth on that side and on that side you could just about lean out and touch it. You thought the ship was going to touch the sides of the canal, it seemed that narrow, and it probably was.


We went by train to Palestine. We camped at Palestine.
You got off at El Kantara?
No, we got onto a train there. We didn’t have leave there. There’s nothing much at El Kantara.
Where were you camped in Palestine?
Our camp was called Costina, it’s north of Gaza,


between Gaza and Tel Aviv, right on the coast. Round about where the fighting is going on now, the demonstrations between the Arabs and the Israelis. I’m not familiar with the map of the current Palestine, Israel conflict. I don’t know


where they were. We were near Gaza. I went on leave to Gaza. I went on leave to Tel Aviv. I went on leave to Jerusalem. So we saw a big part of the Middle East while we were there.
Was this during training?
Yes. We trained fairly hard there; a lot of route marches.
What was the climate like in


It’s very similar to here, actually. They grow a lot of olives, oranges, a lot of citrus fruit, which we were readily available to borrow. I don’t think we ever paid for them a lot of us, they were mainly given to us. They were very good, the Arabs there. I got on well with the Arabs.


Even learned a little bit of their language.
Can you tell us any words?
I can count up to ten. “Way, etneen, thalati, arba, hamti, tata, saba,” I can’t nine and ten, I’ve lost those. Yeah. I’ve got some rude ones. I’d better not.


Somebody might know what they mean.
We’ve heard lots of people talk about it.
“Shufty kush.”
What does that mean?
“Ana maskeen ma, fis fulis,” “I am very poor man, no money.” “Fulis” is “money.” “Kush” is “cunt”. When we got there the little boys would be running along in their Arab dress


like a skirt. We’d say to the kids as they ran along by the truck, “You bint,” which is “woman” in Arabic. “You bint.” “No,” he’d yell out. He’d lift up his, “look, look, no bint. Chubi, chubi,” which is “prick.” Used to give them a rough time.


Rough time. But it was fun while it lasted. Bear in mind that at that time we hadn’t been in action. So we didn’t know what was in front of us, no.
What was the brothel system like in Palestine?
Well, there were quite a few in Tel Aviv,


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.
With Aussies?
Yeah. It wasn’t a good scene.


Did most men frequent these places?
Lots of them did, yeah. I’d say a fair percentage of them did.
If you were gonna put a percentage on it?
I’d say nearly 50% did.
So one in two.
One in two, yeah. That’s my opinion, yeah.
Some have said about 90%.


Well, maybe that could be right too, I’m just generalising. As I said, they didn’t really interest me. I was pretty keen to have a few beers and playing around, but certainly not going to brothels.
What were the brothels like in Tel Aviv? Have you been inside one?
That’s another thing, they weren’t in Tel


Aviv. They were in Jaffa, which is a part of Tel Aviv, where I think it was mainly an Arab area. That’s where they went. They were fairly crowded and, for want of a better word; sleazy I suppose.
What do you mean by that?


the girls weren’t very nice, not very nice looking. They were just there for the one thing. Bang, bang, bang, there’d a bloody queue of blokes going through. It wasn’t very interesting.
What was it like inside a brothel?
Usually upstairs,


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.
Some guys went straight to the brothel every time they came to town?
Every time.
Some of them were your mates?
Yeah, of course, all of them.
Why did they wanna go so often?
I don’t know. Just


seemed to be the thing. I don’t know. I can’t imagine.
For many of these chaps it’d be their first sexual experience?
The younger ones probably, yeah.
They couldn’t get enough?
See, between their long leave or their chance to go to a brothel leave, might be


six months. We went into Tobruk in June and we never got out till November. So during that time, there was absolutely nothing for those blokes that wanted to. So when they got the opportunity, swish, down they went.
I suppose you can’t blame them.
I never blamed any of them. If that’s what you wanna do, good on them.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 03


In Tel Aviv, was there a criminal element running the brothels?
No, definitely not. It was well controlled, if a brothel can be well controlled. It was.
Who was controlling it?
The army. The military police.


They set the things up beforehand?
If they did, we didn’t know about it. I don’t know how they organised it. There was no stand out of men around had to do this, only people were standing out were the military police, your own blokes. They knew what was going on.
At what


time did they lecture you about the diseases and what was going on?
Before we went on leave.
Take us through what they told you.
As far as I can recollect it wasn’t very well documented or certainly not promulgated to us at any great depth. “You mustn’t do


this,” and if you do “this” you knew what’ll happen. We assumed that’s what’ll happen. It did happen because lots of blokes got the jack or syphilis or mainly gonorrhoea.
A lot of your friends?
Blokes I knew, yeah.


Did they say there were places to go and places not to go?
No. You knew. It was common knowledge.
From mates?
Yeah. People talked about it.
What happened to mates who went to places they shouldn’t?
Probably nine times out of ten, nothing


happened, they’d be all right. Everything was OK. Occasionally, if they were stupid, didn’t have a condom or something or didn’t want to or didn’t do the necessary first aid or whatever you call it afterwards, they might have got the jack. I don’t know.
That was supplied by the military as well?


You go to a red-light joint. Some of the places you could, not everywhere.
Did you know of the system where the rooms were numbered?
Yeah, they could check up. As I said before, strange as it may seem, I didn’t really frequent any brothels. It just wasn’t my caper at that stage.


I was pretty young and I wasn’t interested. No, I can’t tell you that, but I believe it did happen. I don’t know.
Was Blamey running one of these places?
There was all sorts of rumours. No.
What were the rumours?
That he was involved. But, no, you wouldn’t know.


How big a part of leave was it?
For some blokes, it was everything. For other blokes, it was sightseeing and going to the canteen or going to a café or bar or something, having a few drinks. No, I wasn’t interested really. Lots of my mates and other blokes weren’t interested either. Not everybody lived there,


When someone got the jack, how was he treated?
Bad luck, Sally. You didn’t really shout out, “I’ve got the jack.” But you knew if a bloke went away and he went to a certain hospital, well he had the jack. It wasn’t a


big thing.
Was he treated differently?
Was it just local women in these places?
Once again, as far as I know, I wouldn’t know. I’d be telling a lie if I said I knew what the system was, because I knew very little about it.


My old mate, who unfortunately died about two years ago, he would have been the bloke to fill you in on these things. He knew all about it. No, I didn’t.
A lot of guys went there to look around?
I did personally. I went to Tel Aviv, had a real good look


around there. I went to Jerusalem. I went to Haifa. I went to Aleppo. Yes, many places. Damascus. All those. Yes, blokes went on leave to see places they’d never seen like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity. Wonderful places. Historic places, which


we looked at, and Gaza was a very interesting old place. Very interesting. I feel sorry there’s so much trouble there at the moment because it’s got a lot of history, The Arabs, for the most part, were very cooperative.
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.
What about Egypt?
We haven’t got to Egypt yet. Do you want me to go onto Egypt?
While you were in Tel Aviv, was there a big drinking culture?
Amongst the blokes? Yes. I had a few beers, no worries.


How did the local bars take to this?
When you say ‘local bar’ you tend to think of what you and I know around here now. There was nothing like that. If there was going to be a lot of soldiers there, they’d have a canteen where you go and drink ‘Lady Blameys’, which


is a half beer bottle cut off. Have you heard about the Lady Blamey? It’s a beer bottle, big beer bottle, not the stubbies, full beer bottle, get a ring of steel wire, heat it up, put it over the neck of the bottle down about halfway and then pull it out and drop it in water and off it snaps and you’ve got a half a bottle of


beer. That was a Lady Blamey. You go and drink that, which you paid for.
Why was it called a ‘Lady Blamey’?
After him, I suppose. After Sir Thomas. Just a way of recognition I think.
Was there some connection between…?
No. Although they all reckoned he had an interest in the brewery, but whether he did I wouldn’t know.


He was a bit of an entrepreneur?
Well, that was the general idea. I think it might have been brought out when he came back. I don’t know.
At this time, what was the perception of Blamey?
Probably not very well. Not very high opinion of him, really. He didn’t come


across as being a great bloke. Maybe he was, but he never influenced us because we never saw him that much, no.
How did you know he didn’t come across as a good bloke?
The things that was, now they could have been only rumours, that he was supposed to have done, that he was


doing. He never actually took us into action. He was about in the desert, but no. He wasn’t, I suppose he had a job to do, but a bloke like Montgomery and Morshead in Tobruk were blokes that were held


in higher regard than Blamey, mainly because we didn’t have that much to do with him. We didn’t see that much of him so I suppose we formed our opinion, which could have been quite wrong. I don’t think he ever did anything to dispel that thought from us. He never came across. The way he came across was only


the limited news we got by the paper or word of mouth. That’s an opinion.
It sounds like the troops felt disconnected from him.
That’s probably the best word I could use, yeah, because he was up there, we were down here. Yes. That’s it probably. He wasn’t one of the men. Quite right. That mightn’t have been his


fault, I don’t know. Whether it was his nature not to. I don’t know.
Not being one of the men, did that have an influence on how people took his orders and so on?
What influence did it have on the troops?
I think a lack of respect more than anything. The orders


were carried out all right.
Did a myth grow around him?
I suppose so, yeah. I think the aloofness was, we didn’t know anything about him really, only what we heard and that wasn’t right or wrong. I don’t think he did anything to dispel


that. So that’s what happened.
Where did you move to from Tel Aviv?
From there we went to Tobruk. We went from there to Alexandria and had to go into Tobruk. Bear in mind, Tobruk was under siege by that time.
How long were you in Alexandria?
Just overnight.


Wait a minute, I think I’m right there. The memory goes a bit after all this length of time. It’d be just. You get things mixed up, because we were there a couple of times.
You went back there later on?
On the way to El Alamein.


Just down, caught the destroyer up to Tobruk.
On the way to Tobruk, what did you know of what was coming up?
We knew nothing. We didn’t know anything at all. We didn’t know what we were going to expect. We knew we were going into Tobruk eventually.


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.
Did you know of ships that hit mines?
Not at the time, but the harbour was full of these


ships that had been sunk. It wasn’t a very nice place because we didn’t have air superiority there. The Germans had air superiority. They could come over and just do what they wanted to do. Drop mines or bomb the joint, which they did frequently. So that’s why we went in without the moon, so there was as little light as possible.


How long did the trip take?
I would say it’d be about ten or twelve hours, I’m not sure of that, going up.
How uncomfortable was it compared to your previous voyage?
We’re sitting down on the deck. I don’t ever remember being given any food, so it couldn’t have been that long. When I say given any, we had a


tin of bully beef and a biscuit I suppose. They didn’t have the facilities on the destroyer for 6-700 blokes. So it was pretty rough.
When the guys came out prepared to abandon ship, what message did that send to all the troops?
I don’t know what it sent to the troops, I know what it sent to me, “Christ, what are we into now?”


It’s always stuck in my mind, that, but we got in there all right. There were no mines there. If there were, we never hit them.
Going on the boat, what did you know?
As far as I remember, we knew we were going into action. We knew we were going to Tobruk. We didn’t, I think we


knew we were going to Tobruk, I’m not sure. My memory’s gone at that point. It’ll be in that book if you want to refresh, but it doesn’t matter.
Did you know why you were going to Tobruk?
What were they telling you?
We knew it was in siege and we were going in there to defend it because we were told it had to be held. Yes, we knew that.


Did you know why it had to be held?
Yes, we wanted to stop the Germans from coming down and going round past us.
And the harbour?
And the harbour was important to them.
So you had some idea?
Yes, we did. When we got in there and settled down and we knew what was going on, we got a bit of news, we knew more about it.
How would you find out these things?


Who was telling you?
It wouldn’t be promulgated around to every tent or anything, but somebody in the office would have, or headquarters, would have had a message and they’d tell you, send it round to you, or you’d know, somebody’d tell you. Half the time it wasn’t true, so you had furphies [rumours, stories], there was always furphies going on.


“I heard this,” or, “Somebody told me that.”
There wasn’t an official channel of information?
Not directly to the troops. Nobody ever got up, as far as I was concerned, and said, “Tomorrow we’ll be doing this or that, which or why.” I don’t think it needed to be. Somebody knew what was going on.


We left it up to them. “Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die.”
Where did that saying come from?
I’m darned if I know. It’s a very old one.
That was used a lot in the war?
Not really, I don’t suppose. Might have been.
Who was in command of you directly?


The unit?
Of your section and so on.
To break it down. There’s an artillery regiment, the 2/12th Field Regiment. That consisted of three batteries, 23rd, 24th and 62nd Battery. Those batteries consisted of troops.


In 23rd Battery, it was Ack Troop, which is A, Beer Troop which is B Troop, and C Troop, which was Charlie Troop and Battery Headquarters, which I was in. The bloke that was in charge of battery headquarters changed various times. We had a CO of course. Our CO was


Major Geoff Houston, finally he became Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Houston, who was in the militia with me, as I told you about. He was a major then in the militia.
What was he like as a person?
A very, very kind, gentle person. Geoffrey Houston, a chemist by trade, a gentleman.


I had every respect for our officers for the most part. I could say 99 per cent of them were excellent blokes. They did what they had to do, kept us when they had to do. I, for one, respected them. A few blokes probably didn’t, still that’s their opinion.


Before you landed at Tobruk, what was your perception of what was going to happen?
I couldn’t have imagined what it was going to be like. I really thought that I’d see more initially and know more. Never at any time did you know a hell of a


lot what was going on. We weren’t infantry so we didn’t have to take that hill over there and go in there with a machinegun and all that crap. Being artillery we were further back and we had to support them. I, personally, we knew that we were advancing, but what our objectives were all the time, we didn’t know.


Some of the time we might have known what we were doing, but we just relied on the chain of command, which knew what was going on and knew our part in it.
Before you landed, what noise, what lights, what did you think was…?
Knowing the noise that our guns made I suppose I should have realised it was going to be bloody noisy.


The thing that really worried us most in that harbour area were the Stukas. They were German bomber planes, medium bombers, not heavy bombers. They’d come across in formation and then they’d dive down. As they went down, whether they had something in the wings


that the air going through it made a noise. They howled. Then they dropped their bombs. You could see the bombs coming down. They were frightening, really frightening. The noise they made was frightening. Crouching down in that bloody slit trench you felt pretty vulnerable.
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.
That would have been your first war experience.
It was my first sound.


You thought it was the Germans?
I thought they were shelling us. I didn’t know. I had no idea. Certainly didn’t have anybody to tell me.
Getting off the boat and on the trucks, how did you move the guns?
We never had any. In Tobruk we never had any guns there. They were in there and we used a lot of captured Italian guns and a lot of captured Italian trucks


because they left a hell of a lot of stuff behind, the Eyeties [Italians]. That’s all we had.
That was known when you were sent?
That’s why we were sent there. There were guns there that we could use. We just didn’t go; there were troops in there already. We went in there to reinforce them, to help them. The British were there. There were some Indian troops there as well.


The next day you were assigned to guns?
The next day we could see what was going on. Blokes that had been our advance party caught up with us and told us what was going on, where our gun positions were, what they wanted us to do. We caught up with our own troops, yes. Right then the next day we knew what was going on.


How was everything organised?
Bear in mind that there were troops there already and they knew what was going on. So our officers liaised with them and we got our lines of communication laid out and our observation posts set out where they wanted us, or where we could. Because


certain parts of the perimeter were under observation by the Germans. They couldn’t just go anywhere. You could go most places. We were back a little bit, but still it was pretty hairy. I was going to tell you something. Do you want to know now or do you want it for later?
What is it?
Just a story about Tobruk.


Is it later on in the timeline?
In this timeline, yeah.
Tell us.
The first couple of nights we settled down, got our positions and we managed to, another mate of mine, the Baron and I, dug our own doover [trench] in the sand and a few sandbags around, a bit of tin over to stop it. We were settled in there. We knew what we were doing.


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.
Did they cause a lot of damage?
Sometimes they did, yeah, but you knew not to pick up anything if you didn’t know what it really was.
How badly were


the soldiers under-supplied with guns and things like that?
In Tobruk very badly off.
Why was that?
Cos everything had to come in at night. You couldn’t get a big transport ship in there. Only small ships could get in there. We got supplies but it wasn’t very elaborate.


It was common for infantrymen not to have guns?
No, they were well supplied. This poor bloke, he’d just got off the boat and no doubt when he got up there he would have got one, or eventually got one, but for the immediate future I thought he’d be better off with mine.
Describe the scene of Tobruk when you initially saw it in daylight.


Desolate. Tobruk township and harbour area was shambles, completely bombed to billyo and shelled. A real mess. The harbour was full of bloody sunken ships. The wharf was awful. The landscape was flat, just sandy, hot,


awful place.
It sounds like a difficult place for a fight.
It was actually a very good place for a fight. There was nothing around you. You weren’t gonna destroy anything else other than the blokes that were trying to destroy you, or the things they were trying to destroy you with, like guns and all that. It was just desert, open space, bugger all. See


miles for nothing.
How were the defences set up?
There was a lot of defences set up by the Italians, concrete pill-boxes and that, which we had occupied and they weren’t bad. But we dug our own trenches. Not trenches as such, not static warfare.


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


the day.
What about the fleas on your body? How did you get rid of those?
They gave us some flea powder, which was very strong. It burnt you as well. You put up with them. You brushed them off. They were sand fleas; they weren’t really dog or animal fleas. They bit you, but you got used to them. I think we got pretty tough because we


didn’t worry too much.
Were they more annoying than anything?
Annoying, yeah. And flies, blood flies. There was very little sanitary conditions. Open pits to shit in.
Was that all you had?
Yeah. There wasn’t any bloody buildings, no.
No latrines?
Not as such, no. A hole.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 04


You spent time in Alexandria before Tobruk. What were your initial thoughts about Alexandria?
A very interesting place. A big sea port. Not as


busy, not as populous as the other places, but quite attractive except for the fresh water canals that run up between, I think it’s Alexandria and Cairo. That’s a pretty crummy thing. They use it for all sorts of things, sanitary and washing and, I don’t know whether they use it for drinking, probably they did, but it


wasn’t very hygienic.
What was the local population like?
Good. They were quite good to us. They were pretty used to us then. This is 1942-43. They had quite a few soldiers through there before then. Australians too.
Describe what the locals were like.


They were Arabs of course. No, I can’t really give you much of a description of them because I didn’t spent enough time there with them. We were more or less in transfer going somewhere else. I can’t tell you much about them.
What did they wear?
Arab gear. You know, long things.


I’m just going back and thinking. I’ve gotta get my thinking straight where I am. First time in Alex or after Tobruk, we come back there after Tobruk too.
The first time, why were you there?
We were on our way up, that’s what I said to you. You said did we come straight from Palestine and go straight on the destroyer. No, we didn’t. That’s where I was


What was happening in Alexandria?
They were pretty apprehensive that something might get worse; the Germans might come down, they might be overrun. That was what was worrying them, the fact that the Germans were overrunning them because they were quite prepared to put out flags of German origin if they wanted to. They’d switch a bit one way or the other. They didn’t care too much.


What did the Australian troops think about that?
That didn’t worry us.
Were the locals sympathetic?
They were sympathetic while we were there, but I tend to think that once we were gone they might have been quite prepared to accept anybody else who came there.
They weren’t…?
Antagonistic? No. They were all right to us.


In Alexandria, were you training?
Not full on training, but we were prepared to go into action. No, there wasn’t full on training, except route marches and that sort of thing.
They had a camp set up?


What was the camp like?
It was in tents. It was outside Alexandria in the desert area. Nothing exciting, no.
How did it feel coming from Australia, being in the desert?
It was a bit of a culture shock for want of a better word. We adapted to it


as we had to, but it was pretty uncomfortable, but you got used to it. By that time we were fairly hardened to tent life so we did all right.
What was the life like in the bars and clubs in Alexandria?
Much the same as the rest. Different to Tel Aviv, but it was


quite all right. It was a big city. Nothing particular that I can tell you about. I didn’t spend that much time there, really.
How was it different to Tel Aviv?
I think the people were different. Jews and Arabs, they’ve gotta be different. There wasn’t as go ahead, it was backwards. It was older than Tel Aviv. Different.


Tel Aviv was the new part and Jaffa was the old town. That’s mentioned in the Bible too, as most of those places there are.
Did it have an impact on you that these places were mentioned in the Bible?
We thought a bit about it. It was wonderful to think that people had been there for thousands of years, compared to Australia only


at that stage only about 100 years. That was a bit of a thought in the back of our heads. We had other things on our minds; we weren’t worried too much about that.
Did it seem a very religious place?
Yes, it did a bit, but not our religion. The Moslems. Not overly


religious I didn’t think, but then neither was I, so.
In Alexandria, how did the pubs and clubs differ to Tel Aviv?
Rephrase that pubs and clubs. They didn’t have pubs and clubs as such. They had probably bars and that sort of thing, cafes, but no pubs and clubs.


brothels as well there?
Yes. That’s something I cannot tell you about because I didn’t have any occasion to go there at all.
What were the guys around you saying about the brothels?
We didn’t spend that much time in Alexandria to compare it. Later on, we spent more time in Cairo, certainly spent more time in Tel Aviv.


Alexandria was really only in transit, going up to El Alamein or Tobruk. So we never spent much time in Alexandria. We were there, but never had a lasting impression.
How long were you there?
Maybe a fortnight outside in the camp at Ikingi Maryut out there. That’s all.
It’s not a place


that stuck in the memory?
Did other Australians get up to much trouble there?
I think there was a fair amount of trouble caused there at various times. But we weren’t involved and I wasn’t certainly.
What were some of the things you heard?
They used to wreck the joint and fight and get drunk and carry on.


No real disruptions of the locals in any way, shape or form, I don’t think. As I said I wasn’t involved, or our unit weren’t involved.
What other nationalities were in Alexandria?
Would have been Poms and a few Indian troops I suppose. South Africans I think, I’m not sure of that. Certainly English were there. They had been there for a while.


Did you get a chance to mix with these people?
No, we didn’t. Certainly not the Poms. We weren’t very happy with them.
Why not?
They never came across as being particularly, they were friendly enough, but their discipline was different to ours. Their whole way was different to ours. We were too laid back for them.


Do you know if the brothel system was the same as in Tel Aviv?
I think it probably would have been, yes. I would say. Once a brothel always a brothel. Not much different apparently.
Did Blamey have a set-up there as well?
I don’t think so.


he didn’t seem to be mentioned quite as much at that time. I don’t know. More around Palestine. But he would probably have had a headquarters there of some sort. I don’t know.
How did the locals take to the Australians making trouble?
They were a bit upset, but they never showed it by actively


having a shot or rioting or anything, carrying on. They weren’t a very aggressive type of person, I wouldn’t think.
Do you know how the English behaved in the town?
I tend to think they behaved better than us. I don’t know, but I tend to think they did. I think it’s their nature. We’re a bit more of a larrikin tearaway


than they were.
What were backgrounds of the guys you were with generally?
Stanley Victor Gill, who I mentioned before, was a friend of mine. He was young. I don’t know what he did with a quid. It certainly wasn’t very much. My other friend, the Baron,


he was an interesting bloke. His name was Pfitzner, P-F-I-T-Z-N-E-R. He was of German extraction, so we called him the Baron. Baron von Pfitzner. He was quite a well-educated bloke. He was older than us. He finally lost his leg with us in New Guinea. We’ll come to that later I suppose if you want to talk about New Guinea. What else?


Alan Mills, another great mate of mine, he worked at Australian Glass Manufacturers, old ‘Run of the Mill’. Not a Rhodes Scholar among us I don’t think. There might have been. They kept it quiet.
Did you have country boys?
Yeah, had a few country boys. There’s a pretty fair mixture. The 2/12th Field Regiment was composed


mainly initially of Melbourne personnel, certainly Victorians, mainly local suburban. As time went on, we got reinforcements from everywhere. Our biggest intake was in Victoria.
What was the comparison between


country boy and city boy?
They weren’t quite as worldly, but then they had more skills like using an axe or pick and shovel and that sort of thing. They were more used to that sort of work than most of our blokes were. We soon bloody learned, though.
Did you have more in common than you thought with the country guys?


They were basically the same. They didn’t stick on their own. They were all right.
Were country boys more likely to get into trouble than…?
No. I think it was more the city blokes that caused a bit of a stir.
Were there confrontations with the English?
Yes. Quite,


not often, but there were, yeah.
What have you heard?
I was involved actually, I didn’t hear. We went to see Cairo. I’m jumping.
In Alexandria there wasn’t?
No nothing. Not compare the two, I can’t. I said it was just mainly passing through. Mainly a couple of days or something


at Alex. We spent more time in Cairo.
Now we’ll jump back to Tobruk. Did you know you were fighting Rommel?
Yes. We did. Not initially, but he came in just a little bit later, yeah.
What were the thoughts going around about


He was always regarded as being a good soldier. Actually, this is where my memory’s going a bit, but he wasn’t involved in Tobruk, the first time I’m talking about now. He was more involved in the second, at El Alamein. He wasn’t involved in Tobruk


as much. I’m sure I’m right in saying that. There’s nobody correcting me, so I suppose I am.
Who was in charge of your forces there?
In Tobruk? Morshead.
What was the thinking about him at that time?
He was a good bloke, a good soldier. Good commander, Lesley Morshead.


Why did people think that about him?
He had that way about him I think. He was down to earth and he was in there with us, in Tobruk with us. He was part of us. He wasn’t directing the operation from Cairo or Alexandria. He was there. He was a good bloke.
Did you see him around?


No, didn’t see him. But he was there.
Do you think a myth builds around these people?
Yes, it does, because you knew they were directing things from up there. Whether they were right or wrong you always blamed them.


What would be the reactions if Morshead’s name came up in conversation?
I can honestly say I don’t ever remember sitting around discussing Morshead. More likely to discuss whether we were gonna get a beer ration tomorrow night or something. If we did discuss him it was always fairly, the thoughts


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.


When you get to Tobruk, the Italians have really helped you setting the place up well for you.
They certainly did. It wasn’t any picnic, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you a little story. Do you want it now or later?


About Tobruk?
Yeah, give it to us now.
I was with this friend of mine, the Baron von Pfitzner. He and I dug our doover, a doover’s a shelter. It was pretty hard too, although it was desert, it seemed to be very rocky and hard. You couldn’t go down three or four or five feet easily and build a hole around it. So you go down


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.


Did stuff like that happen often there?
Occasionally, yeah. If it was bad they sent you back as soon as they could to Alexandria, to the proper hospital back there, the Australian General Hospital. Then you had to wait. If that happened in the morning they wouldn’t come in til that night. They weren’t long, they didn’t mess around, so they got you on and off and straight down to Alexandria.


That could be a ten-hour wait before. You were treated of course, but if you wanted more treatment, back to the hospital.
Initially, when something happened like that or worse, who was on the ground then?
We had our own MO, Medical Officer. He looked at it and sent you back. You wouldn’t go back yourself. He’d look at it probably and send you


How much could those MOs do in more serious circumstances?
The local MO in the field could stop the bleeding probably, and bandage it up and that’s about all he could do. He would be able to give you a painkilling injection I suppose, but nothing very much. Couldn’t do any treatment


of it. They’d send you back for further treatment. Depending how bad it was, they sent you further back.
Did you often see him in action helping people out?
No. Once again, being in an artillery unit and not being in hand to hand fighting and all that belonged to the infantry, we never saw that much. If it was bad enough


the poor bastard was dead anyway.
Even though you’re back ,you see a lot of what’s going on.
Christ, yeah. You know it’s there, but you’re not watching it.
Deliberately looking away?
Yes. You didn’t wanna see what was going on. Never know if it was gonna be you next and you weren’t too keen about knowing what was going on. Prefer not to know.


You’d have a grandstand seat over the front and what’s happening in front of you from your position?
No, because the ground’s flat there. Wherever you were you couldn’t see much unless you were elevated, but you didn’t wanna do that because then you could be seen by them. No. `


What were the Italian guns you were using there?
Artillery pieces we were using were 100 millimetres, 104s and two others. If you really want to know I can get it for you, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.
Whatever you remember is fine. Were there difficulties in adapting to their guns?


They had a different ranging system. The ammunition wasn’t very predictable. It was inclined to premature, go off early. They weren’t good at all. We lost a couple of blokes like that.
How so?
The shell burst maybe 20 yards in front of the gun. On


another occasion I think it actually blew up in the gun. Killed a couple of blokes and took a bloke’s arm off and that sort of stuff. And the guns weren’t reliable. Our artificers, or gun engineers, they could get them going, but they didn’t have any parts or anything for them, so they weren’t terribly well


maintained or kept up to scratch. So they weren’t very good at all. The ammunition wasn’t very good.
When they blew up prematurely, was the gun itself the problem?
Normally the shell.
Why would that happen?
We had no way of knowing when we were using it we had no way of,


whether it had just come straight off the wharf up there or whether it had been laying around. In some cases, it had been laying around on the ground maybe for two months or maybe three months before we got there. We wouldn’t know, so it might have been affected that way. We had no control over that. It wasn’t our ammunition you see. Our own stuff we knew what it was and where it came from. We also knew the safety features of that shell.


I don’t think they had the same safety measures in their shells.
Did you see these accidents occur?
I never saw, no. Thank God, I didn’t. I’d have been too close.
Did these guys die or lose limbs?
Yeah, a couple of blokes died and one bloke


lost his arm.
At this point, what was your role on the gun?
As I said I wasn’t on the guns as such. I had a role of being a driver, so I’d either drive an officer around, up to the OP, the Observation Post,


or might have to drive him back or between one position and another, that sort of thing, or cart ammunition up to the Observation Post or do something, or rations up there. The Observation Post being there to observe what the enemy were doing, on occasions they were fairly exposed, so you weren’t bloody well going up there all the time.
When you’re driving the ammunition,


is it hazardous considering what you said about them blowing up?
Well, yes. I suppose so.
You didn’t want to think about it at the time?
No, you didn’t.
Does the thought cross your mind?
Of course. It always does.


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.
You’re literally holding your life in your hands.
Well, and I didn’t have to. That was the whole bloody thing.
As a driver taking


officers to the Observation Post, did you get an insight to what they see and do?
I know what they did, but as far as seeing it, no you didn’t spend too much time looking around I’ll tell you. You wanted to be down below the skyline if you could. Being in a bloody truck. One of the observation posts in Tobruk was at the Fig Tree.


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.
What goes through your mind when you’re constantly under fire like that?
Unless you’re very unlucky, and it did happen and I saw it happen


to a mate of mine, a shell lands near enough for the shrapnel to blow the truck up or come into the shell and kill you, you’re pretty unlucky, but it’s still on and you don’t know where the next one’s going to land. You’re driving along and a shell lands 20 metres in front of you and there’s no problem. A hell of a lot of noise and a lot of dust, but you’re not hurt, keep going. You don’t know that the next one’s not going to land 10


metres closer and you’re gone. So that’s what went through your mind, the uncertainty of it. You didn’t know what would happen, that was all.
Do you have time to think when things like that happen?
You’re thinking all the time, “What’s gonna happen next?” It’s very hard to describe to anybody


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.
When you saw people with the shrapnel…
Well, I’ll tell you what happened. In Tobruk,


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.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 05


What specific types of Italian artillery did you have?
The various sizes of them? We had everything. They left everything behind, mostly, the Italians. There was machineguns and rifles.


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.
What sort of


guns were these?
105, 100 millimetres and 140s.
They must have been big guns.
Yeah. They weren’t very accurate, I don’t think. I haven’t got all this information at my fingertips because I didn’t know. I can get it if you want it.
Did you come across many


Italian POWs?
Thousands of them, yes. Not in Tobruk so much as El Alamein. We got a lot in Tobruk as well.
What was your view of the Italians?
Not very good. They were quite happy to be out of the war most of the time. They didn’t seem as if they wanted to be in it and they weren’t terribly


good soldiers. Unfortunately. I just don’t think they had their heart in it. That was their problem. They didn’t present any problem to us at all.
Did you consider the Italian equipment to be quite modern and effective?


It was as up to date as we could have had, but we know it wasn’t as good as ours. But the equipment for the most part was reasonable, I suppose. I would say, yeah.
This is Tobruk?
While you were at Tobruk,


did you see German tanks in action?
No. I saw them, we saw them approaching, but luckily they didn’t break through. We contained them by artillery fire. We weren’t menaced. Some of our troops were, but our


regiment wasn’t, thank goodness. They are frightening, tanks; the noise and the firepower. They’re moving. They’re frightening. Mainly the noise and to think that unless you get out of the way you’re gonna be crushed. You’re powerless to do anything, an ordinary soldier; unless


you had a real good anti-tank gun you didn’t stand much chance. They didn’t present a problem to me personally, thank God.
How far were these tanks from your position?
A kilometre away, I suppose. Moving.


Not attacking straight on. Not artillery positions. They would have with the infantry, but not us. They were the ones who did it tough. They did do it tough.
The infantry?
They were exposed more and they had,


well, all our conditions were bad, they didn’t have it worse than anybody else as far as conditions went, but the fact that they were closer to the enemy and under observation most the time, they were in real trouble. They did a wonderful job, the infantry.


You said Tobruk was boring, there was nothing to do.
There isn’t anything to do. For instance, then, if you were back at the lines, you go to the canteen, have a few drinks. You got a beer ration, got cigarette ration, regular, had water, probably showers. So in Tobruk you had nothing. There was no entertainment


or television, or no picture shows, entertainment. No footy matches between the blokes, nothing.
No women?
No women. Nothing.
There was no brothel in Tobruk?
Nothing. Wasn’t any women there, period, except a few nurses. No, it was a bloody dead hole.


Just a spot in the desert.
What rations and food did you get?
We didn’t get much food at all, variety of food. We had plenty of bully beef and biscuits. The local bread was baked in Tobruk. The flour had weevils in it. You get a loaf of


bread with bloody weevils in it – cooked, dead, dry weevils – so it wasn’t too good. Water we had a litre and a quarter a day. That was for everything. Drinking, washing, shaving, it wasn’t much.
In the desert it must be impossible to live off that sort of water.


Wasn’t impossible, but you weren’t too bloody healthy with it. It caught up with the blokes after a while.
You’d be dehydrated?
I suppose, yes. It wasn’t a problem then as much as seems to be now, but we would have been dehydrated, yes.
How long were


you stationed in Tobruk?
April to October. About 5 months. April, May, June, July, August, September, eight months.
How were you withdrawn from Tobruk?
Came out again by destroyer.
Do you remember the day you were leaving?
I do, actually.


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.
How long did the trip take to get out from Tobruk to Alexandria?
Probably about ten hours I’d say. Pretty quick. Not in the ship I was on, the destroyer


I was on, but there was a New Zealand destroyer and they had a lot of soldiers on board taking them out. They got a warning there was a U-Boat in the area, so they were zigzagging very, very quickly. They went right over and a lot of the blokes went off the side into the water. They couldn’t stop to go back and pick them


up. Not from our unit, but one of the infantry units. It’d be pretty tough to get out from Tobruk and getting washed overboard or falling off the side of the bloody boat. So that was that.
You must have been relieved.
Yeah, we were.


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.
Do you think that was too harsh on him?
Well, he’d had a record. No. He had a record of going AWL [Absent Without Leave], so


no, it wasn’t too bad. I thought getting shot at was bloody bad enough, by our own blokes, Christ.
That would have been an interesting experience.
It was interesting,


sure, surely was.
What were the Arabs like in Cairo and Alexandria?
I rather liked them. I never had any problem. I even was taken to one of their homes and had a meal with them. It was pretty bloody ordinary too. You sat on the floor,


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.


Did you see any of that tension?
We didn’t seem to think it was that bad. They seemed to be getting on, on the level we met them, quite reasonably. But I suppose it’s deteriorated since. The Israelis might have taken more of their land or whatever, I don’t know. When we were there, they seemed to get on fairly well together. It’s a pity it’s deteriorated.


Did Aussies have a bad reputation in Egypt for their behaviour?
They would have been known for their behaviour. They didn’t have a bad reputation, they were quite well liked, but they did have a reputation, yeah. Some of the times it was deserved I think.


How long did you have leave from Tobruk to El Alamein?
No leave in Tobruk at all.
Between Tobruk and El Alamein?
Usually seven days at a time. You get seven days and then you wouldn’t get it again for another


month, six weeks something. It wasn’t terribly frequent but depending where you were it was more frequent.
You were stationed in Lebanon?
Yes. Just outside Tripoli in a place called Zgharta. Quite a nice area.


I had leave to Beirut from there, and into Tripoli. Wasn’t very much at Tripoli at that time. But Beirut was a lovely city. Been destroyed a bit now I believe. It was beautiful.
What were the people there like?
Nice. They were all right.
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.


Did you get in trouble?
I managed to elude it. No. I said I’d hit my eye on the door or something, or fell over.
That was in Beirut?
No, Tripoli. It’s a bit further up the coast.


It’s a seaport.
There must have been a lot of French civilians there.
Yeah, there were some. Not a lot. Our troops, when we were there, we went up to the mountains, Lebanon and to a ski school up there,


because we thought we might have to go up into the snow if the Germans advanced down through Turkey and down that way and came in the back way. So that was quite, I never got called up for that. They had a good time up there I think.
What was the brothel culture like in Beirut?


That was pretty good. Better than the others. A friend of mine fell in love with one of the prostitutes up there. I had to go down after they finished their work and give him a bunk over the back wall and see her on the other side. It seemed better there. Better class. I think probably it didn’t seem to be as many troops about, so


I think they weren’t as busy. Not overworked.
Was it a different type of woman there? I heard there were quite a few Hungarians.
I’d imagine there could have been. Once again, I only had, not second-hand I suppose, I had a bit of an idea, but I didn’t really know what went on much. It seemed to me to be better.
What about


your German mate?
The Baron? He lived down there. He was all right.
He was there regularly?
If he could get there, yeah. The Baron. He’s a funny man. He lost his leg, I told you. I picked the poor bastard up, actually.


I really miss blokes like that. He was older than me. He and I were together all the time, right from 1940 till he lost his leg in ’44 or ’43, so I spent a fair bit of my youth in his company.


When I say my youth, from 19 till 22. So I, for want of a better word, used him as a role model. Whether it was a good one or a bad one I don’t know. I often think about him. I think about him a lot, the old Baron.


How would you describe his personality?
Describe his personality? In a way he was a conman [confidence trickster], but he really wasn’t a conman. That’s a bit


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.
Why was he so keen to leave the army?
He was a good soldier, but he didn’t like discipline. He was always going AWL. If he needed to do a job, he’d do it. Like if he was up in the OP as a driver. He did everything that was needed. He wasn’t a shirker [didn’t avoid work]


or frightened or anything. He never really wanted to be a soldier.
Was he lazy?
I reckon you could say he was lazy, yeah. He ran a betting shop in Adelaide before the war. The only reason he joined the army, I think he had a few debts that were pressing in on him a bit. So he shot through from Adelaide and joined the army over here.


After the war, he lived here in Melbourne. I was living down here with Joan. I’d get a ring at eleven o'clock at night, “Beefy.” “Yes, Baron, what’s the matter?” He said, “You know that joint I’m in down at St Kilda?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’ve gotta get out in a hurry. Like right now.” I said, “What do you mean?” “I owe the rent and I haven’t got any money. Can’t you come down


and pick us up?” So down I’d go. He’d be waiting outside with his bloody bag around the back and laying on his bag. I’d pick him up and take him to some other sleazy joint he lived in. Poor old Baron.
What happened to him in the end?
He died. Natural causes brought on by booze, just drank himself to death. I saw him; he lived


up in New South Wales after the war.
Did he get married?
That was the tragedy too. He lost his leg with us in New Guinea. When he came home, he went to naturally to the Concord Repatriation Hospital in New


South Wales and he met a nurse and he married her. She was a very nice lady, Mary. They had a nice house at Dover Heights in Sydney and she got killed. He went up to pick her up after her work and she came across the road to meet him and got hit by a car and was killed in front of him. That didn’t help him


too much. When he came down here in Melbourne, he married a woman. She was a terrible woman. A real, bloody common…didn’t do him any good at all. That was the end of him.
No kids?
No. He just shifted with her from one bloody bed-sitting room to another around


South Melbourne. He married her too. She only married him to get his pension money.
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.
Did you hear rumours about Australian soldiers selling guns to Arabs?
No. Never. I don’t think they did. I’d like proof of it.


I’m sure they didn’t. There might have been, they wouldn’t have been soldiers, they would have been headquarters blokes.
What was the black market like there? Were Aussie soldiers involved?
No. Categorically no. There was no need for it.


There was no opportunity.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 06


About the padre.
Yes. I won’t tell you that story. They might think it’s true. It’s a story.
Is it true?
I don’t know whether it’s true.
That’s OK. You’re just saying it for the historical record.
This is only for the historical record. I don’t know whether it’s true and I doubt that it is. A padre unfortunately contracted a


venereal disease. It was the custom then to report to the MO so that they could check on the particular brothel that you got it from, where you got it. So when the padre went up to the MO, the Medical Officer that is, the MO said, “Where did you contract this disease?” The padre said, “I think I must have got it off a lavatory seat.” The MO’s reply was, “That’s a funny place to have


a fuck, wasn’t it?”
He must have been embarrassed.
I think he must have been, poor bloke.
Padres were getting involved in sexual activities as well?
Well, I suppose so. I’ve got no actual proof of it. I don’t know the bloke concerned, if it is true. Still,


funny things happen in war, don’t they? Very funny.
Did mates of yours contract VD ‘svenereal disease]?
Plenty of them. The Baron for instance, he had it. Yes.
What were the symptoms of gonorrhoea?
It was very,


very difficult to piss. It ulcerated your urethra that goes up inside your dick. Also you get pus coming out the end of your…
So it gets pretty nasty?
Well, pretty painful apparently.


The Baron got this as well?
He got it, yeah.
What about the symptoms of syphilis? What were the differences?
That was more severe yeah. I’ve got no idea what the symptoms of that were.
How long would it take to cure gonorrhoea?


That was a comparatively easy thing to cure. Until the advent of penicillin, we’re talking about 1940 it wasn’t developed properly then I don’t think, it was pretty difficult, or more difficult. It was prone to recur. So it was a problem or could


become a problem.
Did it surprise you that some contracted gonorrhoea several times?
No, it wouldn’t surprise me. The only thing I could say is that they were very careless. They didn’t take precautions of any sort because if they did the proper prophylactic treatment afterwards they could probably have


avoided it. But they didn’t, obviously.
Condoms were available then?
Christ, yeah.
No one liked to use them?
No. It was like having a shit with an overcoat on. Has that gone onto tape?


Tell us about your experience in El Alamein.
El Alamein. We were in Lebanon


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.
Were you thrown in when the British offensive started?
For the push?
Not the last push. No, we were there before. We were there in June.
When the Germans did their last push?


We stopped them at El Alamein then. We pushed them back.
Tell us about your first day there.
First day in El Alamein. We were fairly hardened by that time. Out experience in Tobruk had prepared us for what was going to go on. The first day wasn’t any different to me as far as any other day. Not like


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.”
If you had known that…
We still would have got in there I reckon. Not quite as readily, but yeah.


It was a terrific artillery bombardment?
Yeah, it was.
Was there a chance to escape by accelerating off in the truck?
We might have been going into it and we were probably making dust so they would have been able to follow us. Then by the same token they might have been shelling something else and we happened to be near there. We didn’t really know, but we weren’t gonna take any risks.


Another time we were going up there, you were talking about country blokes. This George Cole was only a little short bloke; very, very stocky. He used to lump wheat up in the Wimmera. He came from a place called Kiata. George Cole. Great little bloke.


What was I talking about? Why was I talking about George Cole?
El Alamein?
That’s right. So we had to go up to this position. George was a reinforcement along with quite a few others. In other words, he hadn’t been in Tobruk. He joined us after Tobruk. I had of course. So we’re going along to this gun position and they were shelling


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.
Mateship must be so important in those situations.
Hugely. It was terribly important.


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.


Were you involved in any combat? Firing artillery or anything like that in El Alamein, or were you mainly logistics?
I was not on a gun crew. The gun crew has a gun layer, the guy who lines the gun up, the bloke who pulled the thing and the number one who rammed the charge in and


a sergeant who got the, so there was no place, unless you were part of the gun crew. I wasn’t part of the gun crew, no. I was on the gun position on lots and lots and lots of occasions. I didn’t actually on a crew.


You must have seen a lot of heavy stuff there in El Alamein.
Yes, a lot. Although at that stage we weren’t subjected to so much aerial bombardment, like planes, because we had more or less more control of the air then, as distinct from Tobruk where we didn’t


have any control. So from that point of view it was better. It was a worse situation I think, that.
What was the difference between the German artillery in Tobruk and El Alamein from your experience?


Don’t know that they operated differently. There were certainly more of them and more accurate. More of them, I’d say. Appeared to be when I think back now about it. Unless


you get an occasion like this, where you’re talking to your mates and they know what you’re talking about, you don’t get much chance to talk about this sort of thing. You don’t stop and think. The only thing I think about the war was the blokes, the ones I’ve mentioned to you. I think constantly about the Baron.
Because he was such a game sort of bloke,


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.
Since the war?
Yeah. Oh, at any length. I’ve told Joan all my stories over the years, but wouldn’t tell many other people about them, certainly not at any great length like we have today. No.


Tell us how you received a mention in dispatches in El Alamein.
How did I receive it? No specific thing. A mention in dispatches is not like a military medal


or a military cross as an officer gets, where you go out and do something like with a machinegun and mow a lot of people down or drag somebody back under fire. It’s just being actually there at the time and doing a job and doing it when you’re wanted to and being on call. Nothing exactly brave about it, but just doing a job.


Was there any particular incident that you received…
Yeah, I tend to think the guns were being firing madly at El Alamein. There’s nothing specific in the citation. They don’t say, over a period of time, working it out, at that particular time the guns were firing constantly and ammunition had to be got up to them and they were being shelled at the same time. I think


I might have been responsible for keeping the supply of ammunition up to them, which was pretty important. They thought that was probably worthwhile. You never know that it’s happened. You don’t know at the time. You don’t come back and the officer says, “Oh Christ, I’ve put you in for an MID [Mention in Despatches].” You never know. I never knew


until I got back here.
What were the dangers involved in transporting ammunition to the frontline?
Like what I told you.
Was it just enemy artillery, or aeroplanes?
Yes. But we weren’t bombed that much, no. I wasn’t, personally, my truck or my ammunition truck wasn’t bombed.


If you’re up close enough there could have been machinegun fire. Just the mere fact of getting the bloody ammunition and bringing it up and the time involved in moving it around, yes. Nothing specific like you could see a bloke was gonna shoot you or anything like that.


German artillery?
That was a real problem?
Yes, it was a big problem.
Did you lose many mates?
We didn’t in my team, no. I didn’t lose any. While we had casualties, there wasn’t a horrific number of casualties in our unit. The infantry are the ones that get the casualties.


We got them and we had them, but not as much as the infantry boys.
Did they have a different mindset?
The infantry?
Yeah, to the artillery.
I would say they would, yeah.
In what way?
I suppose as they call us, we’re ‘six mile snipers’,


we’re back a few miles from the actual enemy, and we don’t really see them because they’re too far away in their trenches and slit trenches and whatever. The infantry are practically right on them. They might only be 100-150-200 yards away and even closer on occasions. So they had a much closer


contact with the actual enemy than we did. But then they couldn’t have gone on without us supplying ammunition in front of them as they came forward, to eliminate the enemy. They were in closer contact. They used more hand-to-hand work, bayonets and rifles, whereas we didn’t have that


About the crossroads at El Alamein. That was vulnerable to artillery?
Yeah. You had to go through


that crossing to get to where you wanted. You could see it being shelled. You knew you had to go up through that crossing. It was more of a T section than a crossing. The road down from the station joined the coast road like that.


We had to come up and turn around through the T intersection. So that’s where it was. You never lingered round up there. You didn’t race the engine belting through at 1,000 miles an hour, but you certainly didn’t linger. You never knew when it was gonna be shelled. It wasn’t too brilliant a spot to be.
Drivers would wait?


have a bit of a think about it, yes. If there’d been some shelling and it stopped for maybe a minute or something, then they hit off. But never knowing whether it was the right time or the wrong time.
Did any of them get killed?
Not to my knowledge, no, but they could have.
Could the Germans


see this position from far away?
They could have, probably, their observation posts. But they would have known of it by their battery and they would know to go back and from their observation planes that does the ammunition dump back there and to get anything we’d have to go back to get it. So they’d be


aware of it.
Did you have near misses yourself?
Only the one, no, well, certainly they were near enough. Another few yards it could have been trouble.


Nothing that I could really say specifically, “Christ, that was close.” There was lots of close times. You didn’t realise.
What was the difference in the artillery in El Alamein? Must have been terrific bombardments.
Oh yeah, our bombardments.
And German.
Yes. But ours at the end was an enormous performance.


You were there?
Tell us about that offensive.
You know we decided that the, I’ll get the word in a minute, the searchlights put two beams up in the air and, when they crossed, that


was when all the guns fired. That was when the first push started and the infantry moved under that barrage. The barrage moved forward, the shells landing, and the infantry came behind it. That went on. We shelled them first and then the infantry advanced so many minutes after the first shelling. Slowly. Than attacked the


Germans who’d been pounded for a quarter of an hour or so. The noise was incredible. The number of rounds fired I think was the greatest number of rounds fired since World War I in France, that time.


I could show you how many rounds were fired, but I haven’t got it in my mind at the moment. My memory’s not that good.
What is it like to be in such a huge level of noise from artillery?
It nearly reaches a stage where you can’t hear yourself think.


Just constant crash, crash, crash. The noise is like thunder I suppose is the easiest way to describe it. Just constantly, only louder and right close to you, alongside you. Incredible. It seems to go on for so long. Think it was never going to end.


Was it terrifying? It was mainly the British artillery.
And the Australian.
Allied is a better word. No, it wasn’t terrifying.
This is at nighttime?
Yeah. No, it wasn’t terrifying because it was our guns, our noise – not theirs coming at us.


If we’d been on the other end it would have been terrifying.
When did they start to respond?
I think for a while they were too stunned to do anything, but they did respond obviously.
In your sector?
No. On our guns probably, yeah, but I wasn’t on the gun at the time.


How did you get out of El Alamein back to Australia?
They took us back. We came back on the Ile de France. That was entirely different to our trip across.


It was a French ship, the Ile de France. It was cram-jammed full of troops coming back. We slept in hammocks above where we had our mess. Our tables were below us and our hammocks were strung up above. Trying to think where we left from. I can’t


Port Taufiq?
Port Taufiq, yeah. I think probably it was. I think so. We were pleased to be out of it.
Do you remember the day you were withdrawn from El Alamein?
Not really, no.


We didn’t come straight out of battle, into a ship and off. We came back to camp. Then we got on the ship later on.


What sustained you emotionally through your time in the Middle East?
Probably the fact that at that stage I was OK and we were gonna go home soon. You always knew that you were gonna go back home. You just had to keep going. That was all.


And we were young. So there was no driving force that kept you going. Just the fact that you had a job to do and you wanted to do it, that’s all.
Did you write to your wife?
She was your girlfriend at the time?
Girlfriend, yeah. I did, yeah.


Letters. They were pretty scarce. Didn’t’ get them all the time, every day. Couldn’t say, “Mail day’s on Wednesday,” or, “Mail day’s on Thursday,” or, “Two mail days a week.” You never knew when you were gonna get it, but it was always great to get it, wonderful to get it. Kept us going a bit to know what was going on at home. You were talking about the Yanks [Americans]. Towards the end of it, we weren’t too happy that they were out there.


What were the rumours?
They were rife, that they were there and they were billeted in all the capital cities. So all the blokes were worried about what was going on, about their girlfriends and all that sort of thing. They were anxious to get home. We didn’t stay long when we got home.
Were you anxious as well?
Not about what Joan was doing, no.


I wasn’t really, no.
Why weren’t you worried about the Americans?
I was married, you see.
She was your girlfriend still. You weren’t worried she’d be swept off by an American?
I knew that was on the cards, but I was pretty confident in myself that it wouldn’t happen. No, it wasn’t a real


concern, no.
Were you serious at that stage?
We were pretty serious. We weren’t engaged or anything, but I’d known her a long time. I knew her long before the war. Met her about 1938, a couple of years beforehand.
What were the Australian soldiers saying about the Yanks? Were they receiving letters from their girlfriends about the Yanks?
Some of


them must have been. I never got one. But some of them must have. A few of them wanted to get home and belt the shit out of them.
That happened as well.
That happened as well, yeah.
You were also involved with that, with the Americans, weren’t you?
Was I involved? The 9th Division, yeah.
You were in war with some of them?
Not the


Americans. I never punched up with them. Not Americans, personally. Had a few punch-ups, but not with the Americans.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 07


How much leave did you have in Australia?
Only about three weeks before we went up to train for New Guinea, yeah, about three weeks.


Probably not quite as long as that.
What was it like coming home?
Rather strange. Very strange. It was wonderful to get back home.
What was strange about it?
One thing, living inside instead of living in a tent. Getting your food on time, having plenty of water.


Those sorts of things were different. Not having to worry. The variety of food I think was the thing. Army food was good food, but it was fairly monotonous. It wasn’t highly spiced or a great deal of variety in it. So that was one of the things. And being with your friends and not having to be on parade and not wearing a uniform all the time,


and up at certain times and to bed at certain times. Discipline was relaxed.
Did it make you think normal people in society took everything for granted?
I’m sure lots of people did. Lots of people who weren’t involved didn’t know what the blokes who were coming home had gone through. What it was like.


Some of them, not all of them, people who had been associated with soldiers knew what it was like. Lots of the others just said, “Ah well, that’s the way it goes.”
I just don’t think they understood. But the majority of people appreciated what we did and what we had been doing. Yes. We were very, very well received.


Do you think that’s because the media didn’t say what was really happening?
No, I think they gave a very factual picture of what was going on. No, I don’t agree there. I thought the coverage, as far as I was concerned, of what we did wasn’t very comprehensive, but


what they did say was accurate and what was happening was accurate. If they said, “Units were wiped out,” well it was wiped out. They never hid it as far as I was concerned.
Do you think they portrayed what war was really like? The horrors of war?
I think they did as best they could. Unless there was a war correspondent who was writing and knew what was going on, but just getting news reports to him, he didn’t know, he wrote what


to the best of his ability. That was pretty accurate.
What was it like seeing your family again?
That was great. That was really great. And your friends too. My mother and my sister. It was very good. Brilliant.
Did they have a shindig [party] for you?
That’s another thing. I can’t quite remember what


we did. That’s another thing I’ve found that you’ve asked me and I’ve told you a fair bit about the Middle East and what have you, but when you ask me about when I left New Guinea, what ship and where we landed and came back to Australia, it seems to be blank. I’ve lost a little bit of New Guinea for some reason or other. Whether it was a build up of tension after all that time, I don’t know, but I know a fair bit about it, but


a lot of it I’ve forgotten.
How long were you away entirely in the Middle East?
Just the Middle East? 27 months in the Middle East. From the day I left till the day I got home.
When you come home, are you dead tired?


You relax in that three weeks and then off again. Straight up from there to far north Queensland.
That time must have felt like a long time, 27 months.
It did seem a long time. Looking back on it it’s a long time. When you compare it to what they do now, after six months the soldiers expect to come back home


or have leave or something. It was a long time, 27 months, a long time.
Did it seem a long time?
Not consciously seemed a long time, but I suppose on reflection it was a long time. I never seem to remember saying, “Christ, when are we gonna get out of this? What are we doing?” No, but it was a long time.
When you came back,


did you tell your family about your experiences?
Not in great detail. Unless you’ve experienced, you can’t really tell anybody what it was like unless somebody’s been there. I told my wife things that happened and what we did, but I tried to keep it to funny things about it. Didn’t wanna go into the grim details. It wasn’t worthwhile.


And it doesn’t prove anything. Just happened.
Just talk about the funny incidents?
Yeah, and let’s face it, it was mateship as you said. It was a wonderful time. Having gone through it and got out of it comparatively well, it was a wonderful experience. An experience you can never, ever have again whether you want it or not, I don’t know. I think it was a wonderful experience.


Getting out of it, the poor bastards who came back without a leg or any legs or arms or something like that probably think differently. But being there and doing it and coming out of it, it was a wonderful experience.
Was your father still alive when you came back?
What did you talk about with him?
I just told him about the things that happened. What we did.


He appreciated it. He knew what was going on.
Did he to some extent live vicariously through you?
He might have, yeah.
How tough was it to say, “Goodbye, I have to go off again”?
That was the toughest time. That was really tough. Wasn’t too happy about that.


Still, we did it. That was another great adventure. We went up to, when we first came back we were in Puckapunyal. We were in camp up there.
Were you married to Joan at that time?
Yes. I got married. I had my final leave and I


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.
Must have seemed rushed.
It was a bit rushed. I’ll tell you something funny too, talking about it. We got married. We were having our honeymoon one night, so we went to Frankston.


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.
When you were writing letters from the Middle East, were they censored?
Yes. Definitely censored.
Can you talk about the censorship?


The officers did it. If you wrote a letter, well you couldn’t get it posted unless it went through the regular channels, because you didn’t have any stamps or anything. So your letters were just taken down to the officer and he knew what was in your letters. He just cut out what wasn’t necessary. You didn’t write anything stupid. You tried not to. But if you want to say,


“I’m at El Alamein at the moment and I’ll be leaving there tomorrow,” well, you couldn’t say that. So those sorts of things were cut out. Was much cut out, Joan?
We’ve heard stories of


when the officers were censoring the letters would sit there and laugh reading the letters. Did you see that happen?
No, but I suppose some of the things would be fairly intimate things that you wrote to your wife that they must have read. That was a job they had to do. I don’t think they particularly liked it, but they did it.


Do you think it made soldiers think twice about what they wrote?
Maybe it did. It depends. Yes, I suppose, but there was nothing that much that you couldn’t write about.
Back at Puckapunyal, what were you doing there?
We were being prepared


to go to the islands. For that to happen, it was a different type of warfare, we had to go to north Queensland. So we went up to far north Queensland to the Atherton Tablelands. We went up there by train. Five days it took us from Melbourne to far north Queensland by train.
Did they teach you anything at Puckapunyal before you left?
Only normal drill. No. Jungle


warfare is entirely different to desert warfare.
So Puckapunyal was just a place to get you all together?
All together and make sure that those that weren’t well enough to go any further, or if you had something that you felt was necessary, you went.
This was the same division you were in
Yes, 9th Division. Same division.


Do you know how many people survived after North Africa and Middle East?
From my unit? Off the top of my head I don’t know accurately. I think over there we lost a couple of hundred maybe, in my particular unit. But the overall figures were much greater because the infantry lost whole battalions wiped out.


So I don’t know the figures.
Could you see it on the ground, the people missing?
Yes. Not so much in our unit. We didn’t lose that many. But the infantry would have seen it because whole battalions and platoons were nearly wiped out. Yeah.
These people were just replaced?


had to be.
Who were they replaced with? Militia?
No, reinforcements. No militia. AIF and militia were different. You either have a VX number or you had a V number.
When these reinforcements came in, being a sergeant, did you have to train these people up?


They had been trained a bit. They’d probably done a training course before, they didn’t come just straight off civilian street into a fighting unit, but you had to show them what was going on and explain to them what you expected of them.
You were part of all this training?
I helped, yeah. We all helped.


When you take these people on in Australia, do you look at them and say, “You don’t know what you’ve got yourselves into”?
Yeah. “You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry.” That went on. “You’ll be sorry, pal.” I don’t know whether any of them were. Maybe they were. If they were, they got out through some means or other.


You weeded them out. If they weren’t fit when they reached you, they were a bloody disruption. They got rid of them. They found that out.
Do you take a big brother role? What role did the old soldiers play for the new soldiers?


I suppose really you always thought they never knew as much as you did, and they didn’t. I think they probably, never having been in that situation, but I tend to think they thought we were a bloody smart arse. Probably to some extent we were because we had been there and they hadn’t and we were trying to tell


them what it’s all about. But no, they were pretty reasonable.
The old guys would teach and train?
They were integrated pretty quickly.
Rather than giving them a hard time?
Nobody got a hard time. You couldn’t give them a hard time because they were doing a job too. They were there to help you and you were there to help them. No, no.
When they said ‘jungle training’,


did you know New Guinea was the next battle?
Yeah, we knew that. We didn’t know whereabouts in New Guinea. We could have gone to Port Moresby, but we didn’t.
Did you know how close the Japanese were and what was going on?
We knew it was getting pretty desperate. We knew we had to knock them back up there. Although they got a bit of a belting,


they were still pretty active when we landed. Very active.
When you were in the Middle East, were you hearing that the Japanese were coming closer to Australia?
No we didn’t know just where they were. They weren’t either, when we first came home. We heard about it, but we weren’t


really that concerned about it. We were pleased that we were going home. If we had to have a go and Australia was being attacked, we were gonna meet them there to have a go at them.
You didn’t understand how desperate it was when you were in the Middle East?
No. I didn’t anyway.
Once you knew the


Japanese were close, being in the 9th Division, you must have wanted to get out there.
We were pretty anxious to have a go at them, yeah, and we never considered them to be real opponents, but they were. They turned out to be pretty desperate little bastards. Haven’t got a great time for them.
Why didn’t


you consider them real opponents?
They never seemed, this was only my opinion, to be a warlike sort of nation. They were short, fat, bandy-legged, that was our impression. But they were bloody fanatical fighters it turned out, in some cases. We weren’t that greatly concerned


about them.
Is that what the higher-ups were telling you about them?
No, it’s your own opinion. They weren’t denigrated by the headquarters, no.
They didn’t tell you that they couldn’t shoot straight?
No, they didn’t. We soon found out that they could.


Tell us about the trip up from Puckapunyal up to jungle training.
It was five days. You slept on the train and you didn’t have sleepers so it wasn’t very comfortable and we were pretty crowded. We stopped at a few places and people knew we were coming through so they usually tried to put on something for us to eat


or some sort of refreshment, a cup of tea or something, or sandwiches. There was a fair few of us, so they couldn’t do too much. If we stayed long enough, or we thought we were going to stay long enough, straight over to the nearest pub, which we quickly drank dry. Other than that it wasn’t a very nice trip.


It must be a bonding experience.
It is. It was a stage where if you didn’t have anything and somebody else had something, you got it. Likewise, if you had it and he didn’t have it, he got it. Most of us, not everybody, but your friends, that happened.
Where did you end up


in Queensland?
On the Atherton Tablelands. We were at a place called Kairi. It was near the township of Atherton. We never got any leave up there either, before we went away.
That’s where they


started teaching you jungle training?
Take us through the training they gave you for it.
The main thing was the terrain was so different. Where in the desert you could see for bloody miles, up there you couldn’t see more than three or four yards in front of your face. In the case of the guns, and another thing, there was no roads through the jungle, so


getting things from one place to another was pretty difficult, because it had to be carried, a lot of it on your shoulder on poles. There was the malaria problem too. They told us a lot about that. How you had to be careful. You had to have long sleeves of a night and you had to sleep


under a mosquito net. It was rife. I got malaria.
In New Guinea?
Yeah. I had a couple of stays in hospital. I had a spell down here in hospital when I came back.
What precautions did you take?
Atebrin tablets, which you had to take.
You took those and you still got it?


What was the difference between what you’d been through in the Middle East and your jungle training?
The difference was that in the Middle East you could dig holes under the ground and that sort of thing. In the jungle all


you could do was construct a shelter or something to keep the rain off. Whereas in the desert you didn’t have any rain, in the bloody jungle it was raining every day probably. The different temperature conditions was crook. It was so humid and hot and sticky as compared to the dry heat of the desert. It was entirely different and took a long time to get used to.


At Atherton, did the instructors seem to know what they were talking about?
We didn’t have any jungle instructors. We only had our own officers who were teaching us, who had probably done a jungle training course.


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.
Was that covered at Atherton?
No, it wasn’t. Couldn’t have been covered, no.
At this time you’re still a driver?
Still a driver, but there wasn’t anywhere near the driving side, so I didn’t do anything.
Officially you were a driver.
That was my official.
You were moving the guns and hacking.


Doing anything.
How long were you training at Atherton?
We trained there, my memory now’s the thing. The length of time would have been maybe two-three months. Wish I’d known you wanted this, I


could have had a look.
Then they sent you directly to…
Well, what we did up there, we did some amphibious training because we knew we were going to make a beach landing, which we did. We had no knowledge of that. We were gonna be taken by the Yanks. They had the transport, the ships. So we went down from Atherton Tablelands, we


came down through Cairns to a place called Trinity Beach, which is a very, very popular resort area up there now up near Port Douglas, not at Port Douglas, but near. We did our amphibious training off the beach there. The Yanks parked their barge out in the ocean and came in on the landing ships. We loaded on


and then they took us out, around again. Then we came out and landed on the beach. We did that.
How were the Yanks to train with?
They were good. They were all right.
Did they seem to know what they were doing?
They did know what they were doing as far as the naval craft were, yeah.
Take us through the amphibious landing that you


did. Was it on Milne Bay?
No, Lae. That was entirely different too. There was a landing ship, wasn’t a landing ship, landing craft called Landing Craft Troops.


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.
That was the first fire you were under since


Middle East?
What was it like being back in action?
Not too good. being a different scene too, and not knowing what you were doing, or not being able to see, it didn’t make it too good or any better. We adapted though, I think.
What was your first reaction to real jungle


You never knew when you were gonna be under attack, because you couldn’t see it happening. As the guns were causing a bit of a problem to the Japs and they were very, very good infiltrators, you had to be on the watch. If you’re on guard of a night, there was always somebody on guard of a night. Once again,


it was pitch black. The slightest bit of noise, you nearly dropped dead with fright, because it’s so different to the desert where you had an open field to see what was going on. The jungle was nothing. Trees and scrubs around you. So it was quite hair-raising.
Were you properly


prepared for it?
As well as you can be, yes. I’m sure we were. There’s nothing really can prepare you for it. Nothing.
It sounds like you’re more in the frontlines than before.
It seemed to be a bit like that, yeah. There wasn’t any lines as such. There was areas, but we weren’t spread out,


we seemed to be more concentrated. We were going up the coast to Lae.
At this stage you had the guns with you?
How were the transported?
Dragged up or pulled up.
Sounds like hard work.
It was hard work. Bloody hard work. They developed a new gun up there.


Bear in mind, the guns we’re talking about had pneumatic tyres so they weren’t that difficult or as difficult to pull as you would imagine. They had a short 25-pounder, ones that the wheels and the barrel was shorter, the wheels came off


quite readily and the trail could be lowered more readily. That was used in the 7th Division and came in by air. They were dropped in. We went up by the beach and they came in from the air from the other side of Lae. So it was a pincer move. They got in there slightly before us. A matter of minutes I think.


Dragging the guns on the beach, are you constantly under fire?
No. They didn’t have much artillery fire at all. We were more worried about the planes and snipers. But not a great deal of artillery fire, no.
Still, under those…
Yeah, we didn’t know what was gonna, yes.
Did you lose many colleagues


on the beach landing?
No, we didn’t. We got a pretty…
Were you surprised by that?
I was a bit, yeah. But bear in mind that usually the infantry were there maybe the first wave, we might have been the second or third wave. The infantry were the first two waves.


They’d cleaned out a few of them beforehand, so once again we came in behind them. The infantry did the job.
Was it worse being under fire in jungle conditions than desert conditions?
No, I don’t think it was. The reason I say that was that in the desert you


were more open. In the jungle, if a shell landed, it had to land fairly close to you to do a lot of damage. Whereas in the desert it could land a fair way away and nothing could stop it hitting us. But up in the jungle there was trees and bushes and shrub, you felt a little bit more secure, if you could feel secure.


After the initial landing, where did you move the guns to?
We followed behind the infantry and supported them with supporting fire until Lae was taken. It was taken. Then we came back and they said they wanted to send, not the whole division, just the brigade,


and it happened to be the 20th Brigade. Our 2/12th Field Regiment was part of that brigade. It was only three infantry battalions and one artillery battalion. We went by barge up to Finschhafen ahead of the Japs, we hoped, and made a landing up there. Another landing.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 08


Tell us about the conditions you had to transport this artillery through.
Used to have to hack it through. There was no roads. We were in a place called Easy Street.


It was up a slope like that. The constant rain and movement of blokes up and down, the guns, signals wire, it got slippery. So going up you go up two steps and you slide back three. It was bloody horrendous that. Then we had to sleep


in the jungle. There was nowhere to, you couldn’t clear a proper spot to lay your blanket or groundsheet down. It was very different from (UNCLEAR), but we got by. As far as movement of stuff, it was very slow and very


tedious. Very time consuming.
Was it raining that day?
It rains every day.
While the invasion of Lae was taking place?
Yeah. Didn’t rain the whole 24 hours, but it rained some of the time, yeah. I don’t remember it raining when we went up


the beach, but it was raining.
How many men did you need to man one of these guns?
As many as you could get.
Even infantry?
No. They had their own job further forward. It’d be signallers, transport


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.
Did you salute them in the end?
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.
With a machete?
Did you have problems with Japanese stragglers?
Occasionally, but no,


we caught a few.
At Lae?
Yes, Lae.
What happened?
Not a lot of them, but their lines of communication supply was pretty stretched by the time they got to Lae because they’d come right down through the islands. They were very short of supplies and the poor bastards were pretty hungry


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.
He was a POW?
Eventually he was. We took him captive then and sent him back. They could interrogate him and find out any information they could from him.


Did you also shoot at one Japanese?
No, I didn’t. Not personally.
What was your view of the Japanese before you arrived there? Were you expecting to meet big Japanese soldiers?
No, never. Thought they were little ones.
Did you meet any big ones?
No, the only ones I saw were dead ones. We saw


plenty of those on the beach. They’d been washed up or been killed or what have you. They were, to us they weren’t a very impressive race. Their campsite that we overtook was bloody filthy. Their hygiene wasn’t terribly good.


We weren’t impressed with them. Maybe they weren’t their best troops, I don’t know what they were. We weren’t impressed.
What happened when you walked inland from Lae beach?
We didn’t really go inland very far at Lae because we went up the coast. So we were fairly close to the beach at any one


time. We were never a mile or two into the jungle, we went up along the coast because that was the whole strategy. We landed north of Lae, on the beach, and then came up along the fringe of the coast to Lae. The 7th Division, which came out of the aircraft, they came in the other way.


That was the idea. So we weren’t inland, at that stage, very far.
Did you give much fire support for the infantry?
Yes, a lot.
Tell us about that.
Only that we supported the infantry, but once again you couldn’t see where it landed or what was happening. You fired and heard the shots explode, but it’s only


the OP could tell you what was happening. You couldn’t really tell. We knew by reports from the infantry that nine times out of ten it was very, very successful and they were very, very happy to have us. They might go out on a patrol and find a couple of strongholds of Japs and they’d give us a map reading to it and we’d shell that before they got there.


So they were pretty pleased about that. But then, quite a few occasions, the Japs had tunnelled pretty big, strong fortifications, so we didn’t have much effect.
Were you involved in the battle of Shaggy Ridge?
No. Well, not physically, but our unit supported the infantry on Shaggy Ridge, yes.
You were supporting?


Tell us about that battle.
I’m not in a good position to tell you about that because I wasn’t close enough to the action, as I said. Unless you were close to the action you couldn’t see what was going on.
What could you see?
Only that we were firing in that direction and the shells bursting and hearing it. We knew it was a fairly


important battle.
Why was it important?
There was a stronghold of Japs there and we wanted to get that particular piece of the land at that stage. I don’t know personally why or what the reason for it was. That’s about all I can tell you about that.
Did you see the fighting?


No, you couldn’t see. No. Couldn’t see what was going on. Nothing at all. That was one of the problems.
What about Japanese


POWs in Lae?
Once again, there were certainly not a lot of them and we never took any. My unit didn’t, but they were taken. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of Japs taken prisoner. They didn’t wanna be taken prisoner.


They were either killed or committed suicide themselves rather than be taken.
Most Australians didn’t want to take them prisoner.
At any rate, no. There were certainly no mass surrender like there was in the desert on the part of the Italians or in some cases the Germans when they were surrounded. No, the Japs wouldn’t do that. They were different.


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.
How did you get the Baron out?
Stretcher-bearers came eventually and got him out. Another bloke we had there, Sad Eye


Saunders, he was down below, just at the crossing of the creek. They concentrated down in that area more than where we were. We got the edge of it. The concentration was down there and on the right hand side of the creek where I was supposed to take them, that is now the official war cemetery. Sixteen blokes were killed in that area, so if we’d gone there we would have all been


wiped out. There was only twelve of us there, I think. Sad Eye Saunders was hit in the guts. He came up and he’s hanging onto his guts. He was screaming. He died. He never got moved.
He died there?
He died there, yeah.
Must be hard to look at this.
Yeah and


he’d been right through in Tobruk and El Alamein with us too. He was a good mate of mine, Sad Eye. So that was one experience. I got out of it all right, though.
Is it that incident you keep referring to that you remember?
Not that so much. I remember more about the Middle East I think, the desert. As I’ve said,


I’m more vague about New Guinea, but I do remember that quite vividly. When we went back to where Pop McKenna and I had a bit of a doover, if we’d stayed there we would have been dead because our blankets were shredded with shrapnel. That was maybe only five-ten yards away from where we were.


Where we hit the deck. Where we’d gone down.
Was that the first full-on experience you’d come across?
One of the closest, yes.
Up to that time you hadn’t really had a serious incident like that?


Not as close as that. Close, but not as close as that because five blokes were killed around us.
Not long after this you were involved in the landing at Finschhafen?
Yeah. That’s right.
What happened that day?
There wasn’t as many of us on the beach because it was only a


brigade, not a division. Very similar. Hit the beach, up into the jungle, along the jungle and went down up the coast again to Finschhafen. We took Finschhafen, and then we drove them out and they went inland, the Japs.


That was where Shaggy Ridge came into it. We followed them up the coast, up around Sattelberg. When they got up past Wewak, we came back, got out of it. Came back home to Australia.
Finschhafen was a very nasty battle.
Yeah, it was.


A lot of guys got killed there.
A lot of guys got killed there.
Were you in the first or second wave?
Probably about the third or fourth wave we went in.
Can you remember seeing the first wave go in?
No. You know why, because we were behind that bloody…
Yeah, the front of it.


That goes down and out you go. So no, we couldn’t see anything coming into the beach at all. We weren’t gonna have a look up over the top. It’s gonna be close enough when we got there. So we didn’t know anything of what was going on until that front went down onto the beach and we went out as fast as we bloody well could.


What did you see when you got on the beach?
A bit of confusion. Troops and guns and people trying to get off the beach. Trying to make the beachhead with supplies and stuff. The fighting troops, the infantry went in and were doing what they had to do. Then the other, the guns,


we had to get our guns off and into position as soon as we possibly could. Also, make communication. You couldn’t see anything. So you had to send somebody into the jungle to get in touch with the infantry so we could assist them by gunfire. To do that, we had to have communication.


Were there a lot of dead bodies?
Not of our blokes, no.
Had they been cleaned up?
Maybe there were in a different section of the beach to where we were. No doubt there were some there, but I never saw any, no.
We saw a few of those about, yeah.


But to me it didn’t seem to be wholesale slaughter on the beach and I don’t think it was. A lot of us was hidden by the jungle.
Was there a problem with Japanese snipers?
There was always a problem with them.


Even at Lae?
Yeah. Wherever they were they tried to snipe if they could.
How did they do that?
They’d probably let you go past and then shoot as you went past, from a tree or behind something. Then go like buggery out of it.


Did they try and run away?
They’d get away from where they had fired from to another position and then have another go. They didn’t run away as such.
Have you encountered Japanese snipers?
No, not personally, but you’re always aware that they were about. You never knew when they were gonna be.


They had a habit of picking off the last bloke on the, because you went single file through the jungle, you couldn’t go three or four abreast because you could only go single file. So they had a habit of taking the last bloke. So if you were going through the jungle single file you didn’t want to be the last if you could help it.


I think the uncertainty of not knowing where they were or when they were going to be was a thing that was always in the back of your mind. You couldn’t be prepared for it. You never knew when they were gonna bob up, because they were pretty sly little bastards.
What do you mean, sly?
They were very good at infiltrating. They didn’t


want to attack you full-on all the time. If they could get at you sideways they would.
Have you got examples?
No, I haven’t personally. Being artillery, I wasn’t close enough to the action. The infantry blokes can give you a graphic description of that. Unfortunately, or


fortunately for me, I suppose.
Walk us through what happened at Finschhafen from when you landed on the beach.
It was a similar type of action to Lae.


We landed on the beach, straight into the jungle. Established communication with the infantry, got our guns into position and started supporting fire. As they moved forward we had to move our gun behind them to support them, basically exactly the same as Lae.


We never came under concentrated fire the same as we did in the desert.
What were the difficulties you had in the jungle?
Mainly the terrain, the constant wet, the threat of malaria; a terrific amount of malaria, blokes getting sick.


Probably more through sickness than actual casualties. That was the worst feature. There was another thing that was frightening up there was a thing called…
A disease?
Yeah, called swamp fever.
Scrub typhus?
That’s the one. Scrub typhus. That’s what


worried you because that was deadly. I never got that. That was a worry.
What about gimpy bush?
Never encountered it. It never worried us much.


Going through, you’ve heard of kunai grass, which is a very tall grass. Going through that one time, they sent over incendiary shells to set fire to the kunai grass. So going along there with a bloody fire on each side,


it’s no good going backwards behind you, so you had to go forwards as fast as you could. It was easier going through the kunai grass than the jungle because it was open, but it was still pretty hair-raising with the fire on each side of you. Bush fire literally.
Was it a major bush fire?
Not a major one, but it was a frightening one. It wasn’t a major one, because


the weather was too wet. Everything was too damp to start a bushfire as such. The grass was dry in certain parts. A scrub fire more than anything. Grass fire. That was about it, I think.


There was no leave from there; nowhere to go, nothing to do. No entertainment.
What about the natives?
They were good, the ones we saw. We used them as bearers. Fuzzy Wuzzies. They were good if you could get them. They were in demand a lot by and there wasn’t enough to go around.


They were good, though. I never saw that many of them really. That’s about it. Anything else?


Tell us about the interaction you had with native Papua New Guinea people.
No, I can’t because I never had any. None of us had any as far as I’m concerned. They might have further back, in base at Moresby or somewhere, but we didn’t. Never saw any of them. There was no need for them to be there.


They wouldn’t wanna be there at any rate.
What were the other types, outside malaria and scrub typhus, that you had to look out for?
Mosquitoes were the worst thing. They carried the malaria. You had to sleep under a


mosquito net. That was an imperative, otherwise they drive you mad, the bloody mosquitoes. They seem to be as big as blowflies too.
How big?
I reckon they were that bloody long; half an inch. I reckon they were, they mightn’t have been.


Might have been small ones, but they seemed bloody big enough.
You couldn’t have a mosquito net wherever you went.
No, but when we slept of a night. No.
Did you improvise?
We had long sleeves wherever possible. We had long pants on.
What about your feet and face and hands?
As I said, most of us got malaria, as I did.


That type of malaria lasts for seven years, keeps recurring for seven years, then it’s out of your system. So for seven years after I had my first attack, keep recurring. When I went to England I had malaria. When I came home I had malaria. Had to go out to Heidelberg Hospital.


What about snakes?
No, didn’t see any. They weren’t a problem. Not a problem. Leeches were a problem.
Where were they mostly?
In the jungle, in the forests.
Near rivers?


Yeah around those areas. They were the worst feature. They didn’t present a real horrendous problem. They were bloody nasty. You got them on your leg you had to brush them off. All the blokes that smoked put a cigarette on them and burnt them off. But I never smoked, so I didn’t have that opportunity.


Did you ever have to cross a river with the short 25-pounder?
Not rivers so much. You had to pull them through streams.
How did you overcome those obstacles?
If it wasn’t too deep


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.
Interviewee: Larry Maddison Archive ID 1802 Tape 09


How did you finish your time in New Guinea?
We finished the Finschhafen campaign. We’d taken Finschhafen and we chased the Japs up the coast towards Wewak. We got


up there, talking now about my unit, we didn’t get much further, only up as far as Wewak. Actually, we never got quite as far as Wewak. It was a place called Sio. Then they called us back. We were going back to Australia. This is where my memory’s gone. From there we came back to Australia somehow, I don’t know.


By ship of course.
You didn’t see action near Wewak?
No. Chased them up. We might have supported the infantry, but nothing.
You would have seen a lot of Japanese bodies.
Yeah, there were a few about then.
You must have come back by ship?
We came back by ship. I have since found out the name of the ship, but


I don’t know. I can’t remember the trip back either, really. I don’t remember what it was like or anything about it, really. Strange that. Just sort of a blank spot in my war experiences.
Did you always not remember it?
Never. Even when I first came, first three or four years, I used


to say to blokes, “How did we get back? What was the ship we came back on?” I didn’t realise, I didn’t know where we landed in Australia, whether it was Cairns, or whether we came down to Brisbane. I can’t tell you now. I could find out.
You couldn’t remember as soon as you got off?
No. I do know that we came back down to Melbourne by train, but then once again, I don’t remember much about that either.
Why do you think you can’t


This is only my personal, it’s never been confirmed, I tend to think that the tension was building up because I was getting pretty browned off. By this time I was married. So I got married when I came back from the Middle East before we went to New Guinea. I think I had a different sense of responsibility. Everything seemed to,


not that I was aware of it at the time, I wasn’t. Only now, thinking back, that’s what it must have been. I was, the pressure was too much. The war was still on, so this is when we get into the England part of the business.
Why were you browned off?


This is ’44 then and I’d been away pretty constantly since 1940, except for two breaks when I came home from the Middle East and went up to New Guinea and I just think it caught up with me. I don’t know why, but that’s the impression I got.


Did what you saw in New Guinea add?
I think it must have had a bearing on it, yes. I’ve never had this confirmed. Nobody’s ever said, “Of course, that’s the reason,” because I’ve never discussed it with anybody as to the reason for it. I just don’t know. I do know that we came down, but I don’t know where we came down from, but we came down by train to Melbourne.


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?
How did you get selected?
The formation of the unit to go to England was as I said to receive and condition


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.
You didn’t want to go overseas again, yet you went to England.
It was only, I thought, for six months, and England wasn’t in the fighting. It was more of a trip. As it happened,


they took us via America. So we went from here to America, to San Francisco, by ship, then right across America by train. A wonderful trip. To New York. We were in camp at New York for a while before we got the Queen Mary to England. Whilst it was still a troopship, it was a reasonable trip.


You’d had enough of fighting?
Basically, that was the whole story. I reckoned I’d had enough. I probably had. The war was still on in England. England was still being bombed and rockets were being landed in London. We were first of all in a place called High Wickham.
How long were you in camp in New York?
About ten


days, I suppose. We spent about ten days to a fortnight in San Francisco out on an island past Alcatraz Island, that’s in the San Francisco Harbour. A place called Treasure Island. It was an American army base. We were there.
How did you find the Americans and America?
Absolutely wonderful because there were so many Americans down


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.
How did you get to England?
By the Queen Mary. By ship from New York.
At that time was the U-Boat…?
Yes. They just went swish, straight across.


We did U-Boat sentry duty on the bridge of the Queen Mary going across. It was pretty scary because there were still U-Boats about. And blacked out.
You saw them as well?
We didn’t see any U-Boats. I don’t think we would have.


Knowing the U-Boats were around…
Knowing the number of troops on the ship, thought if we’d go down we’d have no hope. And we wouldn’t have. We got there all right. We went to Greenock in Scotland. Came down by train to England.
What was Scotland like when you landed?
Only just there and off.


I went back later.
And then London?
Yeah, we went down to, we were based in High Wickham first of all. In tents in High Wickham, which is in Buckinghamshire. That’s outside London. We were there for about two months then they transferred us down to Eastbourne on the coast near Brighton.


At that time most of the civilian population around the coast of England, particularly the south coast, had been evacuated from their houses inland. So all those houses were vacant because


they thought there was going to be an invasion because the English Channel was just across the road. France was just across the Channel. So they put us into these empty houses. We weren’t billeted because there was nobody there. We had to look after ourselves in these houses. I lived in a two-storey place with about six others


in Eastbourne.
Were these houses ghostly?
No, there was everything in there. There was all beds and stuff. We had our army blanket.
Did it seem they were just evacuated?
No, it wasn’t a mass evacuation. It was organised. They knew they had to go.


What was in these houses?
Tables and chairs, that’s all, I think. From what I can remember.
Books and personal items?
No personal, no. They’d had time to take what they wanted to take.
Did it seem surreal to live in someone’s house?
Not really, no. I suppose looking back it might have thought


about it, but no. For instance, our sergeants’ mess was in a great, big two-storey house, a mansion really. We used to come down there for our meals from our houses, which were surrounding the big mansion. So we had a pretty good life.
What work were you doing at that time?


When they got the POWs, they had to be all recorded where they’d been, so records blokes took all that down. They had to be paid, they all had back pay; they hadn’t been paid for four years. They all wanted leave, so they had to be medically examined and teeth and eyes, all that done. If any spare time they had, they were given over to me for physical training. I gave them PT and


exercises and marched them around and that sort of thing. Kept them fit, kept them occupied.
These were Australian POWs?
All Australian POWs.
Which camps were they from?
I don’t know where. They were mainly from Germany, a few from camps in Italy, mainly German camps. They had been evacuated as the troops moved forward


over there.
Tell us as much as you can about the condition they were in.
They were all a little bit stir happy, being confined for four years and not being able to, and I don’t think they were terribly well supplied with information as to what was going on seeing


they were POWs. Generally they were fairly well fed. But they were I think suffering from a complex about being taken prisoners. They had that complex about them. Once they got to England and were out of it, they were quite happy then, but they were fairly well looked after. They weren’t emaciated and hadn’t been fed or anything or belted like the Japs or anything like that.


They were quite good.
Expand on “stir happy”.
Being confined in a camp, when I say confined, with barbed wire around them. They had a bit of a complex about that, I think.
In what way did they have a complex?
I think they felt they’d been taken POWs


and their contribution to the war wasn’t very dramatic. That’s what I thought. Maybe it’s not. Maybe all didn’t feel that way, but I thought they felt a bit like that.
That’s a better word. Ashamed, yeah. I said complex, but ashamed probably.


Did you have a role in their psychological coming back?
No, I didn’t. We never certainly put them down or anything. We just told them what went on. They could discuss it with us, cos they knew that we’d been there.


They were all right.
What would they tell you about their experiences?
They weren’t terribly communicative to us. We never questioned very much about how they got on. We were there just to look after them, give them what they wanted, keep them happy and get them back home to Australia. We didn’t


go into their experiences too much. Nothing much we could do for them at that point in time.
Did some of them tell you stories of escapes?
A couple of the blokes I met had tried to escape and were sent back. No, there wasn’t any great escape culture about the blokes I met. I don’t doubt there were.


What training did you give them?
Only physical training.
Exercise, mainly to keep them active. Not to…
Running, weights, what were they doing?
We never had any weights. Mainly medicine ball, running,


callisthenics for want of a better word. Exercise was a little bit different those days than it is now. We didn’t have a gymnasium set up there or anything like that.
How hard was it to get them back into shape?
Not terribly hard if they wanted to, but all they really wanted to do was either go on leave


or get home as quick as they could. They weren’t dedicated physical culture experts, I’ll tell you that. They all thought it was a nuisance, a waste of time. I got roundly abused on numerous occasions.
What would they say?
“Christ, we’ve been behind bars for four years. We don’t want any of this bullshit.”


I had a comeback, “What do you think I’ve been doing? Sitting on my arse picking my nose? Do what you’re told and get on with it.” So they were pretty good, but they grumbled a bit. It was understandable.
Did you tell them you were at Tobruk and El Alamein?
I didn’t elaborate. They’d say, “Where the bloody hell have you been?” I’d say, “This is where I’ve been, pal.”
How would they respond to that?
They were all right. Once they knew


that I had done something or had been there, talk on their level.
POWs have great respect for guys like you.
They knew what was, yes.
You would have seen that respect after they found out.
I think so.


They weren’t prone to give people much respect. POWs, if you’ve had anything to do with them, have got a bit of a complex about it all, all the time, I think, the ones I’ve met.
What do you think about that?
It’s understandable, that’s all I can say. For a start, getting back they’re ashamed they were taken. Once reality set in


they’re stuck behind the bars for four years, it’s pretty bloody crook. You haven’t got much going for you. You’re not forward thinking too much.
Do you think they should think more of their contribution to the war?
I never gave it really a great deal of thought. I was just there to do a job the best I could and help them if I could. If what


I was doing was going to help them, and I knew it was, it’s hard to convince them probably that they weren’t wasting their time. They wanted to go back. They’d probably had enough of being confined and told what to do. We had a fair amount of larrikinism. We didn’t stand over them. You couldn’t do that, really.
How long were you doing these things with the POWs?


I was doing it probably about six months I’d say. During that time I did a physical training school with the British Army at Aldershot. There’s a pretty decent course too. I did two courses there, actually.
How did they differ to Australian courses?
They were very full on. Very, very keen on discipline. “Yes, sir;


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.
When did you get involved in the cricket?
While we were there the air force, the Australian air force had been in England for a


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.”
Who was in the team and what was it like meeting these guys?
It was great.


I was very lucky because the English team didn’t have a masseur. So I was asked if I would mind filling in for anybody there that wanted injuries treated. So I rubbed Wally Hammond down and Len Hutton down. I treated their injuries as well as our own. It was very good. A great lot of blokes.
Who was in the Australian side?
Australian side,


the ones you’d know: Lindsey Hassett, Keith Miller, Cecil Pepper, Ross Stanford, they were the main ones. R. S. Whittington, Keith Carmody, they were the ones that you’d know. The other wouldn’t be so well known. They were good cricketers.
What were they like as people?
Good. Great lot of


blokes. Hassett was a warrant officer. We kept our rank during this time. We never got in civilian gear; we were in uniform all the time. They paid us an allowance of about a pound a day, a guinea a day extra I suppose for


entertainment and that sort of thing. So it wasn’t a very well paid job. That was your army pay and that, a pound a day.
You were in uniform on the field?
No. In whites on the field.
Were there similarities between being in the army and this team environment?


No, for several reasons. It wasn’t regimented. There were no orders. Hassett never said, “Right, you do this.” Or somebody said, “You do that.” It was a sporting venture.
It must have been great with these crowds.
Wonderful. And we were well looked after. Bear in mind though there was not an abundance of food in England. They were still on rations. It was still wartime.


We were lucky because we had our, not so much with the cricket side but when we were with the AIF Reception Unit, our canteens were supplied with comfort fund stuff, so we had wine and tinned ham and all that sort of stuff,


which they hadn’t seen in England. So we were very popular.
Was the war winding down at that time?
Winding down, yeah, although there were still raids. Still raids over Germany. Not as many raids, but there were raids. The German rockets and flying bombs, the V1 and V2.


They came over quite frequently.
The English felt comfortable to have these events happen?
They did because we got a fair amount of air dominance then. They had good air defence. They knew when they were being attacked. If it did happen, it didn’t happen while I was with the team, but they would have dispersed.
Were some of these cricketers


taken away from jobs where they were needed?
No. You mean the English blokes?
And the Australians as well. If they were pilots they were no longer…
No. They were due for, they’d served their time and were due to come home or whatever.
It must have been a very spirit-lifting thing for the English


It was, yeah. I haven’t got the figures, but they were pretty impressive, actually, what they did for the crowds and for people.
Then you went to India?
We played in India. We played four test matches in India against India. It was only


India then, there was no Pakistan. It was before the division of India into two countries. That was absolutely wonderful because there was no limit on the food over there. They had no restrictions there. They weren’t in the war as such. They had a great war record because they sent a lot of troops everywhere. It was a great trip that.


What did you think of India?
A bloody amazing place. Thousands and thousands of people. Pretty dirty and scruffy, parts of it. Parts were beautiful. We saw all of it. We went to Bombay, Calcutta, Lahore, Delhi, Madras, Poona, so we saw the lot.
How did the locals react


to the matches?
They were cricket mad. Although it was just about the time of the separation of Pakistan and India. At Calcutta they were rioting and they came onto the field and stopped the match because


the bloke that was playing for us, a bloke by the name of Mushtaq Ali, he wasn’t captain of the side. A chap by the name of Vijay Merchant was captain. He was an Indian. This other bloke would have been a Pakistani as it happened, so they wanted him captain. So they rioted and came onto the field.


That was a bit hairy.
Did they know who Keith Miller was?
They knew who everybody was.
Where did you tour to next?
They took us back to a country, I can’t think of the name of it, a scungy [dirty, scruffy] little joint. I know where it was, Ceylon. We went to Ceylon and we played a combined Ceylon team.
What did you think of Ceylon?
I really liked Ceylon. It was quite a nice place.


We toured there. We played Colombo, and we went to Kandy, we went to Nuwara Eliya, a very nice place. Then back to Australia.
And the people there?
Very nice. No problems there at all.
What was the reception like when you came home?
Well, we played everywhere. We played in Perth, all the states. Got a great reception. We played against the best


cricketers, the best Australians that were available at the time. Some were still away, not many of them. We played against Don Bradman in Adelaide and Bill Brown, everybody. Ian Johnson, we played against him here in Melbourne.
How did the team go?
We didn’t do too badly. I can’t give you the exact figures, they’re


there. But we did quite well.
It must have been strange coming home from the war with a cricket team.
It was different, very different. When the tour was over, I was going to be discharged because it was 1946 by this time.


Still in uniform. We hadn’t been demobbed or anything. I was still getting my army pay. Had to go out to Royal Park, Camp Hill and be discharged after that elaborate tour.
Was it a shame being discharged?
No, I was pleased to get out then, despite the fact that I had a wonderful tour with the cricketers.


What was it like seeing the family again?
“I’m home.” Wonderful. Lots of blokes took a while to adjust to it. Being married and having a family and responsibilities, which I think saved me, but lots of blokes who didn’t have that responsibility went off the rails a bit and didn’t really handle it too well.
You were able to fit back in easily?
Not easily, but


I did.
Did you have nightmares after the war?
Not nightmares as such, but I think about it a lot. I went to all the reunions. I still go to the reunions. I’m going to one in a few weeks’ time on Anzac Day. I still keep in touch. We’ve got a very good unit association.
This is your time. You can say anything you want.


I’d like to say thankyou very much for the opportunity of doing this. It’s a bit daunting I must admit, but I think we got through it all right. I’m very proud of what I did. I’m very proud of the interesting army


life and sporting life I had. So I’m quite pleased.


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