Frank Soden
Archive number: 181
Preferred name: Ding Dong
Date interviewed: 22 May, 2003

Served with:

2/17th Battalion
9th Division

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Frank Soden 0181

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:36:00

Frank, I was wondering if we could just start with where you grew up?
I grew up in Strathfield, in Sydney. I spent the first 6 years at home, with my parents. And in that time there was problems in the marriage and they were divorced. And after, when I turned eight,
I was put in a child’s home, children’s home in Strathfield, and there were two sisters and a brother. One sister was older and one younger, and my brother was younger than me. The four of us were in this home, at Strathfield. And when you mixed children like that, when they turned nine they had to be segregated, so when I turned nine I was sent to a home at Ashfield.

01:01:00:00

And it was just boys there, and I spent from 1929 till 1932 in that home. In the meantime my mother had got things together a bit and she had the two girls home with her and she was renting a place in round near Strathfield. And she was doing odd jobs to make ends meet, so cleaning houses,

01:01:30:00

dental surgeries and people she knew that gave her the opportunities to get some money, and eventually she did bring my brother and myself, he came to join me at Ashfield eventually, and we had them all together as a family at Strathfield and we just carried on living there and through the….eventually I got a job as a process worker in an engineering firm. Things were pretty grim then, it was the Depression years,

01:02:00:00

and I was lucky to get the job and I was working there right from 1935, as the war seemed imminent. The firm I was in was getting good contracts for making all the war equipment. So the job was pretty secure. But what they use to do at this firm, when you turned 21 they’d sack you, and because

01:02:30:00

the money was a bit hard for them to pay you full wages. So they knew young fellows would be coming on all the time, but seeing the war was on they kept us on. But when the war was declared, the rule was that all men in their 21st year had to enrol for compulsory military service. And so I was in that category and I

01:03:00:00

went down and enrolled and in January of 1940 I was allocated to a searchlight unit out at Middle Head. But the first two weeks were spent at North Head in the artillery barracks and that was getting us used to squad drill and discipline. And then we moved over to our area in Middle Head and from there, we did three months, just about camping around Sydney

01:03:30:00

with the searchlights and getting the experience in that. And at night time the air force would come over with their Avro Ansons and we’d have to try and find them and it was really good experience. But the reason why I didn’t enrol in the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] was I thought, “I’d be better to have this three months in camp before I joined the AIF.” Cause my ambition was to be in the AIF. And so once the camp,

01:04:00:00

the three months finished, they were recruiting for the 7th Division, so I enrolled for that and eventually I was accepted, went through the medical and swearing in and sent to Ingleburn Camp. And this was the 2/17th Battalion and we did our initial training there and in about August, we did a march to Bathurst, the camp at Bathurst

01:04:30:00

was getting built. They decided it would be good training for us to do that, by route marching and having little stunts on the way. We were well looked after by the people in the towns that we went through. And we were billeted in some private homes and other times in halls and we eventually arrived in Bathurst and continued our training there. Then we got 10 days leave while we were up

01:05:00:00

there. That was the last leave I was going to have before I left Australia. I came back to camp and in October we packed camp and moved by train to Darling Harbour. And then we were ferried over to the [HMS] Queen Mary in was anchored in the Acheron Bite and then we eventually took off from Sydney with the Aquitania in company with us, and away we went outside and

01:05:30:00

on our way to wherever and we picked up the Mauritania out of Melbourne and we went down right south, south of Tasmania. It was a good trip over to Fremantle, then onto Bombay. We had to get out, pull into Bombay, because the Italians had come in the war by then. It was a risk of ships going up the African coast, being bombed,

01:06:00:00

so we pulled in Bombay. And being such a large ship the Queen Mary had to anchor off shore and we spent a day and a night there and they took us ashore and we were entrained up to Deolali Military Camp up in the…about 100 miles out of Bombay. Then we, while we were there they brought our supplies from the Queen Mary into

01:06:30:00

01:07:00:00

the boat that was going to take us over to the Middle East. And we spent 3 or 4 days up there in Deolali, the camp was and very interesting seeing the natives there. When we came back to Bombay, when the ship was ready, we were granted a day’s leave and in that time we had a, we met up with a…there was five of us….we met up a lady whose husband played in a band, the Governor’s Band

01:07:30:00

and that was the highlight of our trip really, because she had been the housekeeper of Government House previously. And she said, “Would you like to come look over Government House?,” and we said, “We would,” so we looked through the grounds and eventually her husband came with you know band practice and they took us for a jaunt around Bombay seeing the more pleasant sights and then we went back and had lunch with them and we even had a swim on the Governor’s Beach,

01:08:00:00

the private beach, so that was really a highlight, things that the average soldier wouldn’t have got. So we had something we could look back on. And we sailed from Bombay and arrived up in the Suez Canal and I got off at Kantara half way up the canal and trained, entrained into Palestine. Then we were stationed in a camp near Gaza called

01:08:30:00

Crono 89, each camp had its own name. We started out training there and after a few weeks, the assault on the Italians had commenced in Egypt and they needed some troops to shepherd the prisoners coming back to Port Said and shipping them to various places. So our

01:09:00:00

battalion was sent to Port Said and we camped across the river in a place called Port Fuad and we spent about 3 or 4 weeks and we spent Christmas there. And I remember Christmas Eve, we were doing garrison duty around the town and there was a local bar keep, he had a bar and café sort of thing, he had been in the AIF in the First [World] War and he had stayed in Egypt. So he thought he was going to give us a surprise

01:09:30:00

tea on Christmas Eve in the night and he put on baked beans on toast cause it was just a bit of a thing, that we hated those baked beans. Anyhow, we had a nice time there and eventually we had to go back to our camp at Crono 89 and eventually the 6th Division was doing well up in the desert and we

01:10:00:00

prepared to move up that way. And the Greek campaign was getting desperate, there was some thought of sending us over to support that action there. But he decided that it would be better for us to relieve the 6th Division, who’d gone on past Benghazi by then and they’d bring them back and send them over to Greece. So that was our first action then, was up in that area, we took over

01:10:30:00

up past Benghazi, there was no enemy in sight but they were, Rommel had just arrived in Tripoli and was gathering his forces together and then the Benghazi Derby started to, the armour, the British Armour was depleted by then and so we had to do slow withdrawals, back to and we got into the area of Tobruk and

01:11:00:00

they decided we would have to defend that place, because there was a good defence system around there, so we were put into the various positions and we were just before the Easter Battle came on, we were in there ready for that and then Rommel made his big attack, which came onto our battalion area but one of the main companies,

01:11:30:00

was Don Company that bore the brunt of it and the British artillery did a wonderful job there, firing over open sites, knock over quite a few German tanks and the plan for them stopped there and then, so they decided to bypass and keep us hemmed in, which they did. And we spent the rest of the year up until November in under siege situation.

01:12:00:00

A few battles raging now and doing a lot of patrol work out in no man’s land and we’d shift around into various positions, Rommel broke through in a couple of spots, there were some out there, very hot spots but we were able to contain him there and eventually we were relieved by the Polish brigade, came in and a English division came in and that was great

01:12:30:00

joy. We were taken out on destroyers from Tobruk one night and back to Alexandria and then we went back into Palestine to a different camp called, a place called Julis and the one, our camp was called Hill 69, well just after we got there I’d had an injury on my elbow, a cyst causing me a lot of pain and I had to be

01:13:00:00

sent to the local AGH [Australian General Hospital], 7th AGH at Kantara, I spent a fortnight there. And on return from hospital, you usually go to a training battalion, you don’t go back to your unit. So I went to the 20th Brigade infantry training battalion, where all reinforcements came in and the returning from hospital and we had a boring time there, just route marches and drilling and so while I was there, they

01:13:30:00

opened a mortar school and a transport, anyone who wanted to learn mechanics and that. So I decided I’d do the mortar school and after a months training there, I went back to the ITB [Infantry Training Battalion] and then our unit was moving up into Syria and so we rejoined the unit there and we went by train for a certain distance, then trucks

01:14:00:00

in through Syria right up on the Turkish Border, we were doing garrison work and from that time the mortar platoon was increasing their membership so they decided that I should go into mortar platoon in Headquarter Company, cause I was originally in C Company. So I was a little bit resentful of that because I wanted to stay with my mates, but once I joined the new group, and there were two

01:14:30:00

from each company selected to add to the mortar platoon, we had quite a group. We had quite a good friendship going and so I decided to stay with the mortars, to serve the rest of my time with the mortars platoon. Then while we were up in Syria we did various guard duties on the border towns, we even swam across the river into Turkey, to say we’d been in Turkey.

01:15:00:00

Then we came back down to Tripoli, in the Lebanon area, and did some more camping there and they opened a holiday resort at Beirut, you got a week’s leave, you’d go to Beirut, it was just like going to Bondi. It was a, just having a good time in the town; they even had lifesavers on the beach. We had, one of my mates was a lifesaver and in

01:15:30:00

civilian life, he had a nice job just being a lifesaver on the beach all through the camp, after you had 6 or 7 days there you went back to your unit but by that time that Western Desert was getting in a bad state. Rommel had recaptured Tobruk and we were ready to come home to follow the 6th and 7th Division. They decided we

01:16:00:00

would have to go up to support the campaign in the desert, so we went up there in about July and we went right through to the Battle of El Alamein and we went through that campaign then back to Palestine and then shortly after that we moved on to Port Said, oh not Port Said to Port Suez, and then we were put on the Aquitania then

01:16:30:00

brought home to Australia. Then we had leave. A strange part of that was when I arrived home, my brother was about to be married and he said, “I want you to be best man at the wedding,” so I thought, “That’d be nice,” so he took me over to see his future bride and while I was there I met my wife. She was his bride’s elder sister and I

01:17:00:00

had no intentions there, but when we got talking and while I was on leave at the time, I had a few visits to the home and I got attracted to her, instead of…. my plans were to go away with the boys and have a good time. I decided I’d stay around and romance developed and after 6 weeks we were married and then a week later I left to go up to Queensland for jungle training

01:17:30:00

and we did that in camps up in Queensland. And then we moved to over to Port Moresby, no Milne Bay and we did our training there for amphibious training and eventually we moved around to the Lae campaign. We did an amphibious landing there on Red Beach, which was unopposed but

01:18:00:00

just after we landed, our next lot coming in, the Japs sent some bombers over and bombed some of the ships, that were unloading troops. And we were lucky we were on land but we survived that and the campaign towards Lae just steadily moving along, crossing rivers and that. And the 7th Division were coming down the Markham Valley and they got into Lae before we did. But

01:18:30:00

then they decided Finschhafen was the next step, so we moved onto Finschhafen and that. We struck pretty severe opposition there and it was a little bit tense for awhile until we consolidated and secured the beach head and we did various things around the place, clear the area we were moving up towards Sattelberg, was a high spot, was the next

01:19:00:00

place to be captured and while I was on that journey I was wounded by a sniper, it got through my leg, and we were going back to battalion headquarters to get supplies, and so I stayed with the MO [Medical Officer] there and he sent me back to the CCS [Casualty Clearing Station] and on the way down in a jeep. There was the driver, and I was sitting beside the driver and there was a chap with a

01:19:30:00

bad back on a stretcher at the back and we drove down towards the CCS on the beach at Finschhafen, we had to go through a Field Ambulance of the way they kept the fellow with the sore back there because the journey was a bit rough for him and they took me on down. But in the meantime the Japs had cut the track behind us, so there was no person could get past from then on, so we’re lucky

01:20:00:00

to get out then, down to the CCS. And the next morning they operated on my leg. And while I was recovering afterwards the Japs had landed on the beach and they were attacking in the hospital area and there were bullets flying, mortar, someone gave me a rifle and I was trying to do my bit, hopefully. And then the word came, “All walking wounded had to get down to the beach and

01:20:30:00

stretcher cases had to be wheeled out and an LST [Landing Ship Tank] was coming to take us to a safer place.” In the meantime another brigade had been landed there and they mopped up the few Japs that were still left around. So it eased that situation. And we had to go around to another clearing station where the fellows had gone the night before, so it was overloaded, there we spent a couple

01:21:00:00

of days before we were shipped on a LST back to Buna where the 2/11th AGH had formed and they had nursing sisters. It was wonderful to have women you know to look after you in the right situation. So we spent a night there and then after examination by the doctors they sent me back by plane over to Port Moresby. And there I had 6 weeks in the 2/5th AGH

01:21:30:00

and then you go to a convalescence depot after you’ve been in hospital and I spent 6 weeks recuperating, getting fit to return to the unit, which I did eventually. They were on their way up the coast of New Guinea and I was only back two days and I got stricken with malaria. So next thing I was back, back in CCS and I never really rejoined the unit

01:22:00:00

after that time because I kept getting recurrences of this malaria and they couldn’t treat it properly because they didn’t get the right result from the test. So I was having ups and downs with that, so I, eventually my unit came back and they went back and came back home. And I eventually I came on a, I was in hospital still, I came back on a hospital, not hospital ship but a

01:22:30:00

transport with others that were still there and we came around through, I think we called in Port Moresby and picked up some more and came back to Townsville. And then train down to Sydney and then on leave again. And that’s when I had my honeymoon then, sort of business. But in the meantime I’d got very severe illness with the malaria and I was in Concord Hospital under the AGH

01:23:00:00

and I developed a bit of amnesia. The day I was being discharged to a convalescent camp I decided I wasn’t going there, I was going home and I sort of …what you call a bit “Troppo” [mentally affected by the war] with the effects of the, having malaria and I just went home and picked up my wife at the hospital where she was nursing and I was at home having a, you know just happily

01:23:30:00

going about my business and my brother rung the hospital and told them I was there and worried about my condition because I was acting a bit strange. They said, “Well, he disappeared from the hospital, so you better bring him back.” So I went back there and I spent about a week or so having treatment, gradually I picked up and I was back to normal again. They wanted me to go

01:24:00:00

to a convalescent depot but I wanted to get away on honeymoon, which I did. And it carried on from there and then after a few weeks I returned to the unit back in Queensland. Carried on training ready for the next campaign. And it was a long time up there; it was over a year up in there and eventually in 1945, my son was born and after

01:24:30:00

he was about 4 or 5 weeks old he developed a serious illness and they sent for me to come home on compassionate leave which I did, after I’d finished that leave the doctors decided I should be kept home a bit more and got extra leave from the unit and eventually after another bout of malaria, I was on my way back to the unit, which had already gone to Borneo campaign.

01:25:00:00

And at the time I got back to Brisbane they weren’t sending any reinforcements back because the campaign was just about finished, so I just stayed around in Queensland, in Brisbane for a while and frustrated. So I managed to get a doctor to send me back to Sydney and then on into Goulburn Hospital, in Goulburn and spend 4 or 5 weeks there before I was discharged. So that was more or less my

01:25:30:00

campaign. So I carried on my normal happy life at home then.
How long after the end of the war were you discharged?
I was actually discharged the day that Japan surrendered. About the 18th of August it was.
Was that coincidence?
Oh well, it was good in one, it was coincidence as far as the war was over and I

01:26:00:00

was discharged at the same time.
Sorry, were there many people discharged on that day because the war was over?
Oh no, it wasn’t because of that, it was just when the doctor decided I was to be discharged, be for, unfit for service, it just happened to be at that time. The day that I came back to Sydney to go through the various channels to discharge was the

01:26:30:00

day the Japs surrendered and they had the victory, VJ [Victory over Japan] day they called it then. And so that was a public holiday or something, and I had to wait another day before I got my formal discharge paper. But then I had to resume having a family then. My son was safe from this operation, it was a very severe operation, which is quite common today. It was just like appendicitis was once and then

01:27:00:00

it’s very simple later on, it was grim but I had to face my responsibilities then, cause coming from, not being in a family situation before and having a wife and child. I had to start thinking about the future, so I went back to the firm that I worked for to be re-employed

01:27:30:00

and they were a bit dubious about my ability to work, so they said, “They could only put me on as a process worker at first, to see if I had lost any of my skills.” I wasn’t even a tradesman when I left there, so but all those men that were working there when I was younger, before the war, they were all doing fitter’s work eventually and the union

01:28:00:00

stepped in with them and they were all granted certificates of service, which were the equivalent to the apprenticeship’s indentures, so the government decided that any men that returned to their normal occupation, they had to get any benefits that they would have had, if they hadn’t joined up, so I thought, “Well, I come under that category,” but they still wanted to see if I’d lost any skills. So the foreman told me to “Go down and see the apprenticeship commissioner,”

01:28:30:00

which I did and they decided that it would be a good idea, so they worked in with the firm. So one good thing about it was that I was made a backdated apprentice, I was in me third year as far as they were concerned but I was getting paid full money, the government made up the money to full money and I got better training than if I’d have stayed there because I was sent through all the various shops in the factory.

01:29:00:00

Bit of getting skill from the different things and it was a very good experience though and that was a great boon really to me and I eventually moved into another place of work and carried on and went and did me apprenticeship and my tech [Technical College] courses. And so, I finished up having a nice family and just enjoying life.

01:29:30:00

That’s a very well, covered exactly what I was after in terms of covering that structure.
Well I tried to keep it brief.
No, that worked really, really well, that’s great. Frank, I’d just like to go back to the beginning.

01:30:00:00

What age did your father leave?
It would have been, I’ve got a birth certificate, it was 1926, so I would have been seven then. And I think it was a full birth certificate, I’ve never seen one as good as that before, and I think my mother might have got that to have proof when she put me in the home.

01:30:30:00

I might have had to have that for that reason, so I can’t remember much of my life before that time. All I can remember in the early days is going to the infant school at Homebush. I remember going there, cause I was living at home then. And I remember once I got into third class I was in the home then, and I can remember third class because the teacher, I even remember her name, Miss Hancock and I was,

01:31:00:00

I’m left-handed and I got rapped over the knuckles for writing with my left hand, so I had to write right hand, so that would have been, that was 1928, so I would have been 9, 8 or 9 then, so I must have. I think I must have gone into that home about then,

01:31:30:00

1927, 1928. But I can’t recall much of any of my life at home with my mother and my father while he was there.
It must have been quite difficult to be separated and sent to the all boys home, was it?
It was, the beauty of that boys home was we were all boys together, and it helped me in me army career later, because we were all mates together, we were all in situations

01:32:00:00

from disturbed homes I suppose. We were in a home at Ashfield, it was in a lovely big home and at the side they had a big lot of ground and there’s a big paddock, which had a cricket pitch in it, concrete pitch and trees, all trees around. So after school we could climb trees and play on the oval or the ground. And we developed a companionship I think, it helped me in my army career

01:32:30:00

because we were playing games together and we used to march off to school in squads, there was 21 of us and the elder boys were the leaders and we used to march off to school; Ashfield school, we went first, and you had to come home for lunch, the march was a couple of miles to walk. And then we come home and have a hot lunch and we nearly always came back late, when we came into the classroom,

01:33:00:00

used to be disturbing coming in the room and have to sit down, the teachers understood but it wasn’t. The boys at school didn’t treat us lonely or anything, they knew we were home kids and they treated us well enough and we mingled in and later on we had to change schools for some reason and we went to Croydon Park School and it was about the same distance from Ashfield, I don’t know why they shifted us to that school, but

01:33:30:00

I did my sixth class there, so when that finished, I should go to tech after that. So seventh grade, they wouldn’t, that would mean that I would have to go back to Ashfield because they had a seventh and eighth grade there, but they wouldn’t let us do it, so I had to repeat sixth class at Croydon Park. Eventually, when I finished the second time my mother brought me home then, so I was able to go to

01:34:00:00

Ashfield Tech as I wasn’t a home kid then, I was in a normal family situation. So I did two years there and then for third year, they didn’t have a third year at Ashfield Tech then, we had to go to Ultimo Tech in Sydney. So I finished my third year in there. By that time things, my mother needed some support at home in one sense, so rather than go on for

01:34:30:00

a leaving certificate, I decided I’d go out and get a job, which I did. And that was to help out financially.
Do you recall of hearing about the First World War, as a kid growing up?
I had an uncle, I had two uncles in the First World War, one was killed in Beaucourt, and he didn’t, he was in Gallipoli, he ended up being a sergeant. Another uncle was an engineer, in engineers and his name was Frank

01:35:00:00

and I was named after him and he was my idol. He was an engineer, good sportsman, well I loved sport, he played first grade Rugby Union and pretty good swimmer and he got an MM [Military Medal] in a battle in France. He lived very close to where we were as a family early and he actually stayed with my mother before he was married.

01:35:30:00

He sort of lived in one of the rooms; when I was probably there, but I didn’t know, I can’t remember it. But he eventually married and I had a lot of contact with him and he loved war stories. So I used to love reading war books and hearing about the First World War.
Did he talk freely about his experiences?
No, he didn’t talk much about that at all, he didn’t talk really.

01:36:00:00

He got badly wounded once and went to England and had a few months in England for it and he came back to his unit. I had his diary that he made, and my son got it into a, printed up nice and neat and I love reading through that but he didn’t enlarge on his battle actions. But he especially mentioned when he was playing football and things like that, and cricket.
But the war stories you were reading,

01:36:30:00

were they generally about the First World War?
Yeah the First World War, I used to read anything that was written about then. Like boys magazines in those days were a lot to do with you know war and I used to love reading them. We’re always winning and things like that you know.
Do you remember what the general attitude towards the Germans was in that, in between, mid

01:37:00:00

war years?
I don’t remember there being any resentment personally, I don’t remember any. I know once Hitler started to take control the general feeling was the Nazis were a vicious people, but I don’t remember, even I didn’t have any hatred for them myself.

01:37:30:00

When the war was declared, the Second World War, I knew I was going to join up someway or another, and that’s why I decided to have that three months, early training first. And I wanted to be in an infantry unit, I wanted to be in something, get trained up tough, so I could stand up to it all. But I got put in the searchlight unit, which was a cop out in one sense to me. Because the fellow at the Drill Hall, the major, his

01:38:00:00

daughter was a friend of my sister and when he found out who I was I think he put me in a… he asked me “What I want to do?” and I told him “I want to get into the infantry” but he must have thought that was stupid and he put me in this searchlight unit, which would be more interesting. And cause I had a background in electrical work, cause our firm was making parts of these searchlight then, but I didn’t want to be in that,

01:38:30:00

I wanted to be where you had plenty of mates you know, infantry unit. I read war stories and it sounded the right thing even though it was stupid to want to be in that, I suppose.
Did you have a sense from other people that they thought the searchlight work was a bit soft?
Oh no, I don’t think it was. Actually while I was in the searchlight training the war in France was getting a bit tough and they sent a word

01:39:00:00

through to us that they were short of searchlight crews and I thought, and I was liking searchlights then because it was good getting around the country and I thought, “I’d put my name down, I’d be willing to do that.” But it didn’t eventuate, nothing happened about that. I don’t think we could afford to send anybody over like that, they just for searchlights. So I just waited until I finished me training and by that time they’d started

01:39:30:00

recruiting for the 7th Division. So I was in straight away then.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 02

02:00:30:00

Frank, I just wanted to take a little step backwards to where you were when you heard about the outbreak of war, who were you with and what was going on?
I was at home living with my mother and she married again and I had a stepfather, we were at Strathfield and I remember sitting at the radio, I think it was 7 o’clock, I think it was the Prime Minister,

02:01:00:00

I think announced it. We’re at war with; it might have been Chamberlain announcing it. I was sitting there listening to it. I knew then, I knew straight away I was going to be in somewhere or another.
How did you feel about that inevitability of you being involved?
I don’t know, it just seemed…. I just knew I was going, I didn’t feel any fears or anything but

02:01:30:00

with all the talking with my uncle knowing what, he was very critical of me getting in the infantry unit, he knew what they went through in the First World War. And he even saw the engineer, the engineer company that was being formed at the same time of my unit. He even knew one of the majors in that and arranged for me to transfer over, but by that time I’d found some good mates in the

02:02:00:00

2/17th and I didn’t want to shift from there.
If you looked up to him so much, why didn’t you take his advice about not getting involved in the infantry?
I just fancied, I don’t know, I just fancied infantry, because most of the stories I read were infantry units, but when you look back on it, especially the First War, the slaughter that they went through there was unbelievable really.
Do you think

02:02:30:00

although you read a lot about it, about the bloodshed and that sort of thing, was it a bit beyond your understanding?
I think it was because you couldn’t realise and we didn’t see photos, they didn’t have films like they would have today. We didn’t know. I did know that Empire Day at schools, that was in May, was a day that I used to, everyone I think, the boys at school used to love. There was really,

02:03:00:00

made you feel proud of the men you know, Empire Day meant something in those days, they don’t have it now. But I remember it at schools. Every Empire Day they’d have special services and we’d usually go down to a park and have cream buns and you know and things like that, it was, it really meant something to us, sort of give you that traditional feeling I think.
Did you feel that you were enlisting or signing up to fight

02:03:30:00

for Australia or for the Empire?
I don’t recall whether I … I didn’t have any thoughts for King and Country or it just seemed to be a natural thing to want to do. It might have been adventure too, sometimes you’d think of or read stories of France and over in England when they were on leave, I know my uncle spoke a bit about on leave in England when he was wounded. And families

02:04:00:00

and visiting families and they just loved them you know, and treat them well.
So you were very keen to get overseas as part of your service?
Yeah, well I thought, “There was no point in just,” that was the reason I joined up to go wherever they sent you, you know. “Not staying in Australia.”
You had no sense at that point that Australia might actually be threatened during the war?
Well, there was no fears of that because it was all over in Europe, but there was

02:04:30:00

worries about armed raiders, the Germans had armed raiders around pretty soon after the war, after the beginning of the war but that didn’t influence us in any way because we couldn’t imagine, we didn’t know anything about the Japs coming into the war later. But it was very frustrating when they did, we were stuck over in the Middle East.
Can I ask you if you feel the searchlight

02:05:00:00

work was a bit pointless then, if you didn’t think that you were going to… Australia was going to be under direct… did you feel like that there wasn’t much point to the work?
No, I actually enjoyed the searchlight training because we went around in camps. We might have a week in a certain place, Double Bay… We were in a park in Double Bay once, and it was lovely down there, we’d have a swim when we wanted to. And one was Strathfield up near my home, in a park up there, another one out at Castlecrag in

02:05:30:00

an area, it was a bit hilly and out of the way, I’ve never been in that area. It was good experience.
Did you really think that you might need to be called upon though, to spot planes over Sydney?
No, no there were no fears then, no worries, not even when the Japs came later there was (UNCLEAR). I don’t think, when you think of it you’d wonder whether it was any use having a searchlight unit I suppose, but it didn’t come into me mind,

02:06:00:00

because I knew what my ultimate was going to be.
So did you choose to join that CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] unit at that time or did you have to do it because you were 21?
No, if they hadn’t have brought that law in, that was a week, exactly a week after the war was declared, on the Saturday morning I remember reading the paper. It said, “All males that were in their 21st year,” other than that; otherwise I would have joined the AIF straight away. But when I read that

02:06:30:00

I thought, “I’m not used to the army life, if I get three months training in the camp and get drilled into it, I’ll be ready for the AIF.” Which was good in one sense, because the first lot that joined the AIF, there were a lot of wild fellows in that, you know, and they were probably a bit rough and tough for me.
So the experience of being with the CMF was a good introduction for you?
Oh, it was definitely,

02:07:00:00

we got drilled and we got disciplined, although I was used to discipline, in the homes I was in. I had no trouble with discipline, we were under strict rules all the time; you know kept doing the right thing all the time. So I didn’t find the army life too severe.
Do you remember any fellows struggling with that, the crossover into military life?
No, most of the ones, in my unit

02:07:30:00

were settled in well, there were some that didn’t and they sort of disappeared after a while, you know.
There were a few who didn’t want to be there obviously?
Some, I think the training was a bit severe, you know, just all route marches and drilling and being under discipline was a bit hard for some to take.
So you, at how far into that initial training did you start specialising in

02:08:00:00

the searchlights?
How far? Well, the first fortnight was as I said at the drill, Middle Heads under the artillery. Now the funny thing was it was artillery barracks and artillery training and when we marched into our engineers camp at the searchlights, we got a roasting from the CO [Commanding Officer] that our marching was funny, evidently artillery marched to a different beat to us, to the

02:08:30:00

engineers or something, and we couldn’t understand that. Anyhow very soon, we started to have our training as a different (UNCLEAR) there were two spotters in a section, you sit in a deckchair with binoculars and there was a sound locator thing, that had 2 or 3 operators on and there was the searchlight itself

02:09:00:00

with, an operator worked that and he also worked the generator. And I was on the, when they test your eyesight, my eyesight was pretty good, so they made me a spotter first and that was pretty hard being a spotter because in the night time you know, with the binoculars it was hard to pick them up. The sound locator was an old fashioned type of idea, they improved that later.
Can you explain that

02:09:30:00

for me?
It was a, you had 3 or 4 little box things with that pointed out, you had to put earphones on and you’re listening and you could hear sort of noises, and one person worked it sideways and the other one up and down. There were 2 different fellows listening at the one time, and the third one had a sight, there was a sight on it, so he’d lock up that sight, wherever we had

02:10:00:00

said we were on something, he’d say, he’d direct the searchlight to go left or right or up or down. And the fellow on the … he’d have this big control, a wheel on the control and he’d swing the searchlight around.
So would they often, the sound operators would be often letting you know to look in that general direction or you would be spotting and say “Quick, check out this way,” both of you were looking?
Yeah, you’d see the light, where he was directing the light;

02:10:30:00

you’d flash around with your binoculars trying to pick up a plane, even if you did see it, you’d tell the operator. The spotter would be the best one to direct the searchlight operator then because you’re on the plane itself.
Was there any communication between you and anti aircraft guns or anything like that or was it just assumed that you locked on and they’d see to that?
No, no, there were no guns with us, the ones we did there were never any guns, well they

02:11:00:00

would have later on, would have been working in conjunction with them. But with us it was just planes coming over and people would come around watching us, annoy us. They were gigging us, you know they’d say “It’s over there, you’re in the wrong place,” you know.
Was that members of the public?
Yes, member of the public. I remember up at Strathfield Park, the first night we were there and they all came around, so excited you know. It was hard

02:11:30:00

for us because they were all yelling out, so there was a fellow in the CMF came over, he lived near there, so he said, “I’ll fix them tonight,” so he got in his uniform and he went parading up and down and ordering them out of the ….not too close to us, you know back a distance. We eventually got fairly, not real skilful but we’d get on a plane and then if there’s another searchlight somewhere else they’d flash over and try and keep it in,

02:12:00:00

you know 3 or 4 lights work together.
Could the Ansons be turning up at any point during the night?
Oh well, it wouldn’t be any time, it was at set times, say between 7 and 10 or something like that and we’d just do our drill in that time and then they’d close down.
And could you describe the searchlight itself and the generator it was running off? How powerful and how big was it?
Oh,

02:12:30:00

I’m not sure of the output of the generator; it’s that long ago now. It was fairly big; it was towed by a truck on a trailer. It was about 6 foot, 7 long, I think and about the same height I think, what I can remember about it, all panelled, steel, with panels around to open up to get the controls. And the searchlights, the ones

02:13:00:00

we had were 3 foot diameter, the main light had an arm with like a steering wheel on the end of it, so it would be about 6 or 8, 10 foot along the way and you could swing it, swing around and twist it but it was, but I didn’t have anything to do with that section, but the generator used to be parked quite a few yards away from where we were, because

02:13:30:00

the noise you wouldn’t hear, there was a lot of cable that had to go with it too, heavy cable.
What was the light mounted on then?
Oh, it was on a frame, with a small tractor wheels, like tractors wheels.
Would that be towed?
That was towed to, I just can’t remember the actual, how we moved onto a site, how that went because that would have been hard to

02:14:00:00

get it in some areas where we were I suppose. Yes, so it must have been towed because there was no crane to come lift it off a truck or anything.
It would be towed by a second truck?
Yeah with a,….. I just can’t remember, I can’t visualise it now because that was quite a long while ago now, it’s funny. I know that the generator was towed.
And essentially then you would be a mobile unit?
Mobile unit, yes.

02:14:30:00

We had tents; take all our gear with us in the trucks. We must have had two trucks because I’m sure the searchlight would be towed as well as the generator.
After that 3 months initial training, was that all your obligation was to the CMF as a 21 year old?
Yes that’s all.
So you could have gone back to civilian life?
Once that was over, all I had to do was go back to work, and if they wanted, it was like being in a CMF

02:15:00:00

unit then. If they might want you there, you might have to go back into camp just for a short run. There was no, I don’t remember if there was any night, like some CMF units, once a month they’d meet in the Drill Hall or something and then once a year they’d have a week or so in camp. I don’t know if that was going to apply there because I was in the AIF as soon as the first three months was over.
So you obviously applied or enlisted before your three months was over?
Oh yeah,

02:15:30:00

I think about the time the three months, they’d stop recruiting, cause 6th Division was formed and they sailed away in January in 1940 and they weren’t recruiting any more for AIF, so they just had the one division. So while I was in camp January, February and March, just about when we’d finished our training, they started recruiting for the 7th Division, so as soon as I was finished me camp, I went down and

02:16:00:00

enrolled at the Drill Hall in Homebush again and I went through all the… and that’s when I said, “I wanted to get into a machine gun unit,” to the officer that was interviewing me. And he said, “Oh well, the 2/17th Machines Gunners, will that do you?” He was under a bribe with different officers they wanted to get. Their 17th Battalion had officers formed and they’d go around the Drill Hall and say “Any unlikely customers put them in the 2/17th and others would be

02:16:30:00

2/13th,” would be doing the same. So when he said, “2/17th Machine Gunners, and I said, “That will do me.” And he wrote it on my papers, “2/17th.” But it wasn’t machine gunners, they had a machine gun platoon but it was just the infantry battalion, they wanted to fill them up quick. But I didn’t mind once I, and that was probably a week or fortnight later before I was called up to go to Victoria Barracks to be sworn in and

02:17:00:00

go through another medical, and then I got sworn it.
Did any of the mates you had been involved with in the CMF go down and sign up with you?
No, none of the ones in the searchlight unit, that I knew came with me. But when we went overseas, when I was in that Crono 89 Camp, we were in camp and one day a sergeant that was in my searchlight unit,

02:17:30:00

he must have joined up but I didn’t know because he was in an artillery unit then. And he came up to the camp and somehow or another, I don’t know, he knew I was there, well we met and he was the only one that I knew that was in that searchlight unit that was in the AIF. But since I’ve got in contact with this fellow that joined the unit, the searchlight unit later, he was talking over some of the

02:18:00:00

fellows in that unit, and I remember one of the officers, the name, so I mentioned him and he said he stayed in the searchlight unit but then he went to Port Moresby and those places, so they were more or less AIF then. But they stayed in the searchlight unit.
So, walk me through turning up at Victoria Barracks that day. You were by yourself, were you?
By myself and I had the uniform that we had in the searchlight unit, which was the First War uniform,

02:18:30:00

you know the old puttees rolled up your leg and a big long coat. It was a pretty out of date uniform but that’s what they issued us with and they said, “If you’ve got a uniform wear it, otherwise your civvies.” I went in with this uniform, so when I went to Ingleburn, I was in a sort of a uniform, because they were short of supplies, clothing and we did our

02:19:00:00

initial training. There’s fellows wearing civvy suits [civilian clothing] and coats, old casual gear, all going around route marches, we looked funny and we were issued with khaki drill, what they called “Giggle Suits,” that was a sort of a coat and khaki trousers, but not everyone got them too quickly because they were still short of supplies, so we looked a bit funny doing route marches with all the different equipment.
Were there quite a few guys

02:19:30:00

at Ingleburn who struggled with that adaptation to military life?
I think there were some that found it hard to like to be drilled, you know to do drill, and some of them were like hopeless at marching, the couldn’t march. They gradually, some of them could but I think some of them never ever mastered it really and they get off into units or things where they didn’t have to

02:20:00:00

do drill like say where they weren’t in a rifle battalion you know, a company, they get work sort of duties, around the kitchens and things like that. You know they’d fit in there all right.
What were your thoughts of the quality of instructions at that stage?
It was good because we had a lot of fellows that were in the CMF units that were sergeants

02:20:30:00

and officers and they were the nucleus of our NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and officers, so we were well equipped in that way because those that were in those units probably didn’t get in the first batch and a lot of them came in the second then, when the 2/7th Division was called for.
What about your actual equipment, rifles that sort of thing?
Rifles, I can remember the first day in camp, the quartermaster,

02:21:00:00

he had these great big crates, and they had the First War rifles, 303s and they were all packed in grease from the First War and we had to clean them, we had to get them out and clean them and wipe all of this grease off, it was terrible you know. They were old rifles but they were the standard equipment, we didn’t have any Bren guns, they were just in the making of them. We had Allan Lewis guns, they were the machine guns, and they were a very tricky, they use to have a lot

02:21:30:00

of stoppages, but when they were working they were a nice little weapon. We’d go on route marches and I was detailed in H Platoon had a 2 inch mortar attached to it, and my mate and I were made the 2 inch mortar men. We used to carry a pick handle around, that was our mortar, on our training we’d be carrying a pick handle and others

02:22:00:00

all different things. Most of us had rifles eventually. But we never saw a two inch mortar for a long time.
When did you cotton on to the fact that you weren’t going to be using machine guns? How did you feel about that?
Oh well, I just said to him the machine gun battalion was you know, it sounded interesting, but when you read some of the stories, and how many, their lifespan wasn’t too long. So

02:22:30:00

it was just the fact that I was in the 2/17th Battalion, once I got in it I didn’t think about the machine gun part any more, I was just happy to blend in with the rifle company.
Can you tell me about learning to use the rifle, and how you coped with that?
Oh well, the first experience I had was in the CMF unit in the searchlight unit. I had a 22 rifle at home, but I didn’t use it much, just when we go out in the bush.

02:23:00:00

But the 303 was such a big heavy gun and we were scared stiff to fire it, because you know you thought it’d kick back on your shoulder. But my first experience was, I got of the range and I couldn’t get anywhere near the target, I couldn’t work it out you know. I upped the sights a bit, so I was a dud on the rifle but they gave my rifle to the armourer and he found he had

02:23:30:00

to put the sights up to 1,400 yards to hit 200 yard target. So my bullets were probably going into ground in front of me. So that was, wasn’t my fault. But on the Lewis gun, we had the Lewis gun for machine gun practise, I found that pretty nice you know and I could get around the target all right.
Can you describe the Lewis gun to me?
Oh, it was a long, the round, was about 3 inch round thing over the barrel right along

02:24:00:00

and it had a round magazine on the top and it had a bipod legs in the front and you’d tuck the butt into your shoulder and you used the trigger. Now you had a number two alongside you and he, when you fired, when the magazine was finished he’d push a lever and take that off and snap another one on and then you’d keep firing. There’s different stoppages, they’d call number one stoppage and number two stoppage. So when you’re training they’d say, you wouldn’t have any live

02:24:30:00

ammunition in. They’d say “Number one stoppage” and you had to do the drill for that, like it might be take the magazine off and free something, “Number two,” you’d probably do something else and we’d have drill, see how quick. They’d say, “Right,” your standing up and they’d say, “Right mount the gun,” or something and you’d have dive into position and your number two would be beside you, and you’d have to snap a

02:25:00:00

magazine on and see how quickly you’d be ready to fire. It was really, real interesting doing that.
And tell me about this march to Bathurst? How far was that?
It was…. not sure, Bathurst, a hundred odd miles. The first day was the hardest. We left Ingleburn camp and it was 21 miles and while we were marching, the Wirraways, the air force were on their Wirraways training and they’d come and dive down on us and we’d have to disperse into the side

02:25:30:00

of the road giving us actual practise which we might face overseas. So that was a long day because we kept having these little stoppages. And we finished up at Wallacia that was 21 miles and were pretty tired then.
What sort of boots did you have or footwear?
The proper army boots, leather, heavy, good thick soles on them.
Did they take a while to get used to them?
Oh yeah, they did. See I had some that I had in the

02:26:00:00

searchlight mob by that time, I had the same boots. But they were heavy and your feet after route marching and you’d come home, back to camp and you’d soak your feet in condies crystals, toughen the skin up, you know. You’d get blisters pretty easy.
And so you were just camping under hootchies [makeshift tents] or something on the camp, on the march?
On the march, no, we never had to camp in tents.

02:26:30:00

An officer would go ahead of you, each battalion and line up billeting in the next town you were going to stop at. He’d go around and find out people that were willing to put one or two or six people up in their home. If they couldn’t do much about that they’d go to a drill hall or a local hall and they could put a whole company, or a whole platoon in one of them. But most, a couple of places I was in private homes,

02:27:00:00

you know they just treated you like their own sons and but on the way people were cheering us on and giving us fruit and different things, chocolates and stuff. But we’d march, a lot of times we’d be marching along and singing songs and that, old ditties and that. At Katoomba we did a march through the town, in a big parade. I actually was fortunate, my mate and I were billeted

02:27:30:00

to a Doctor Dark. He was a well-known Doctor in Katoomba, his wife was a writer, Eleanor Dark, she wrote some good literature. And went into this home, luxury home and we each had a bedroom and we came trampling in this house with our rifle and heavy boots and marched into a lovely luxurious bedroom, felt out of place you know.

02:28:00:00

They said, “They’d like us to stay for an evening meal” and my mate, he wanted to get out with the boys, go around the pubs and that and I said, “No, you’ve got to do the right thing, you know, they’re putting us up for the night.” So we had a lovely meal there and we had a maid serving us at the table, you know, all good stuff. My mate was a competent pianist,

02:28:30:00

people would put him through the conservatorium and he didn’t let it be known amongst the boys much and we were talking about classical music there and they had a piano, so we had him playing the piano there and he enjoyed that I think.
Your initial training, did that last just the three months? You didn’t leave for 6 months, did you?
Oh no, we went into camp

02:29:00:00

in the end of May and we had all of June and July and that was two months solid and then we did the march to Bathurst in August, that’s right, then we went to Bathurst and we left there in October, the 19th I think it was, so we had August, September and a bit of October.
Did your training differ remarkably in Bathurst as apposed to Ingleburn?

02:29:30:00

No, much the same, a lot of route marching and drill, you know squad drill, parades and stuff like that and then lectures on rifles and machines guns things like that, you know learning about our weapons, then we’d do little stunts, battalion stunts, you know suppose to be a raid on some place, around Bathurst we

02:30:00:00

did a few places around the farms. I remember one place, the farmers had pigs and I remember 3 or 4 of us went to pinch some pigs off this farmers farm. And we pinch the pig and we took it to the camp and we killed it and on the spit we cooked it all up and there was a big to do about that because the farmer complained. I think we got reprimanded over that

02:30:30:00

incident, but I remember chasing, trying to chase the pig, with a couple of blokes there pretty good, but it’s a bit scary when you’re trying to catch a running pig but little things like that were out of the ordinary, but it was good on the stunts.
So by October you were raring to go?
I think we were given 10 days’ leave and come back to camp and we practically packed up straight away then.

02:31:00:00

We thought, “We were experienced enough and fit enough.” We were fit enough, but I don’t know if we were battle fit. We got on the boat and got acclimatised, it was a little bit nauseating first, but as we got on the…I’ve never been outside the heads before, I was able to keep me food down. Well, I got very squeamish a couple of times but when

02:31:30:00

we got across the bight we had a bit of a …..the Queen Mary was such a stable ship but in the bight there was a bit of a roll on and once she started to roll it took a couple of days for it to steady down again.
Why did you go south to Tasmania, do you know?
Oh I think it was Bass Strait, was a bit of a trap, for submarines could have been lurking in there. So they went right down in the cold area you know, it didn’t take them long and came

02:32:00:00

on to Fremantle. We couldn’t….at Fremantle we had to anchor off shore but the Aquitania went in close, and I think some of the fellows on that got a bit of leave, but we weren’t allowed off the ship.
Tell me about your first impressions of Colombo?
We didn’t go to Colombo.
Oh sorry, Bombay.
Bombay was a dirty place and the

02:32:30:00

area where the all the brothels and that were. Everyone heard about them but they were, you couldn’t believe the squalor of it and all that, it was stupid to even entertain any ideas to that. That’s what most, you want to see all those places but you couldn’t believe the squaller of it. But we were lucky meeting up with this family; they took us to some of the sights, good sights, interesting

02:33:00:00

in Bombay.
They were a local indigenous Indian family?
No, they were the people in the band, they were Scottish, Scottish Family the Mrs…. I know her name Mrs Newton, I remember her name and her husband I forget his first name, but he was in the band. Because the old Governor in Bombay, a British Governor, he had lots of duties and at night they would have a band playing for their lunch, their tea or their evening meal and that.

02:33:30:00

They’d have practise during the day and the grounds, I’ve got a lot of photos, the grounds there and but what we saw of the sights, you know some of the well known sights in Bombay. I forget the name, one of the main ones, but they were good to see by someone that knew where to go. And then the northwest frontier where the troops, British troops used to camp there. Each

02:34:00:00

tent had an Indian servant, even when we went there. We had an Indian that looked after our gear in the tent and we did route marches and drill around there just to keep fit.
How did the local Indian population seem to feel about the Aussies being there?
Oh they, I don’t remember them worrying about us at all. Cause we were in this camp where there were all Indians, I think it was just an adventure for us and I think they, well they

02:34:30:00

were used to being kept down by the British Army and they sort of had their duties. They worked for them and that, they worked the same for us.
What was the biggest difference you noticed, the biggest cultural difference to Australia?
Oh well, one of the funniest things was we saw all these people belting clothes. Our laundry, if we want our laundry done in this camp, we’d give it to them and they’d take it away and they had these

02:35:00:00

pools and they wash the clothes in the one and they were belting down on the rocks, you know smashing them into the rocks. I’ve seen them on… since doing that sort of thing but that was how they used to do it. It was very primitive but I didn’t study their habits that much you know, because we were only there for three days and in Bombay was mostly running around, looking at the sights.
And so you boarded the ship, and where

02:35:30:00

was it that you landed in the Gulf?
We went up to the Suez Canal and about just half way up there’s a place called El Kantara, which is a border and the trains come through to there, and then across the river you’re in Egypt. One side is Palestine and there trains from the other side, you can pick up trains straight across and go through Egypt

02:36:00:00

and that’s where we boarded the train to take us through to Palestine. We went through by train right to Gaza.
Did you at that point feel a strong sense of tradition, going to train to Palestine as those in World War I had?
Yes, it was just like going to where the old Light Horse had been and all that. We’d trained over the grounds where they had….there was even signs of their trenches. We used to dig around in them and find old bullets and little bits of

02:36:30:00

pannikins and things that got buried in the sand and that. It was just like reading about the Light Horse just there.
Was that bolstering to your spirits?
Well I suppose it was… I didn’t think much of it. When we trained over the …when we started doing stunts running over the same ground I suppose it was good thinking of our own men years ago were doing the same thing,

02:37:00:00

only they were riding horses.
So was it mid November or so when you landed in Palestine?
We landed there about 19th I think it was, about the 19th because the 11th was Armistice Day, we were in Bombay then so it was about the 19th of November, we landed at Kantara.
How aware were you about the other developments that were going on in the war, were you hearing news?
We used to get the bulletins through

02:37:30:00

all the time. I think I’m not sure the exact time the battle started when the 6th Division went to, up to Sidi Barrani around that place was the first battles they were in. It must have been about the same time as we got there because we were eagerly listening to the reports, to see how they were going. And as I said we went to Port Said as garrison work.

02:38:00:00

Doing garrison, guarding around the wharves and as…
Tell me about the sort of work that you were doing, how the patrols worked?
In Port Said we have, patrols would be marching around the wharves to stop looting and sentry duties around our camp.
Was the looting a significant problem?
Oh well, it actually, it could have been, cause

02:38:30:00

the natives you know, there were lots of stuff, war supplies on the wharf and other things. But one of the main things was as the Italian prisoners were coming through on trains, they were shipping them off onto boats pretty soon to bring them out to Australia for Prisoners of war. And troops movements, we’d have to see that they moved around freely on the station and different things like that.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 03

03:00:30:00

Ok, Frank we were just talking about doing the patrol and sentry work down at Port Said, and you said a few of the Aussies took advantage of the situation?
Yes, they’d make a patrol and they’d march up to the English troops which were on duty and they’d say “We’re the relief patrol, now you can go back to your wherever and we’ll take over the patrolling of the area.” So they’d take over and

03:01:00:00

there was lots of crates of beer coming over for the troops, so there would be 2 or 3 crates that disappear and been buried under the tents in the camping area. So there was a good supply of free beer and little lurky things like that, that Australian are noted for, but they actually happened about, the natives used to come around selling to us in the camps, the various little I think trinkets

03:01:30:00

and things they’d try and sell to you. And if we didn’t have money to pay for them, well tick it up till pay day. So on payday several times would come up and say “Do you know Darby Munroe or do you know Joe Blow or Ned Kelly? He owes me some money,” so that was another way of showing that the Australian troops were just as smart as the natives because they got up to tricks with us.
Can you tell me

03:02:00:00

a bit more about your experience of seeing the POWs [Prisoners of War] coming through Port Said? Where they’d come from, where they’re off to and what your impressions were of them?
It was a bit hustling, bustling really, they’d come off the train and we’d have to shepherd them over to another area or onto somewhere at the boat side. I can’t remember, I can only vaguely remember those parts of it. There was quite a few coming through and it

03:02:30:00

was good to see now that we had been going to, so well up in the desert campaign the 6th Division.
So they were Italian troops directly captured by the 6th Division?
Yeah, they were captured by them.
And being sent back to Australia?
And brought back to Australia, shepherded on troop ships for prison camps back in Australia.
What sort of reputation did the Italians have as soldiers?
Well, they weren’t…..only what we read.

03:03:00:00

They weren’t very impressive, their artillery was pretty good, accurate but the troops themselves seemed to fail you know under pressure pretty quickly.
So, were you hearing stories back from 6th Div [Division] about the quality of the opposition?
No, we didn’t hear anything direct from any individuals, it seemed to be pretty clear-cut

03:03:30:00

you know, that they were easy meat for our fellows once they got a break into them.
At that stage did you feel any differently about the Italians than the Germans?
No, I don’t think we, my own thoughts were just “Something that was happening and I didn’t have any hatred for them, it was just a matter, you knew that one day you might have to

03:04:00:00

defend your own self against them,” but those thoughts never came into your head while you weren’t in the actual position.
What was most of your time spent focused on while you while staying Crono 89?
Most of that was hard training, drilling and route marches, getting fit.
Were you doing much rifle practise?
We didn’t, there was a

03:04:30:00

rifle range in at a place called Jaffa, I think we only had one or two training on that, for rifle shooting just on the range. I think twice we went there for any drill, like in actual firing. That was the only time. I don’t remember much at Bathurst or Ingleburn doing much of that really, but I know we had

03:05:00:00

about two goes at Jaffa in the rifle practise.
Did you have faith in yourself as a shot?
Oh well, I could get a reasonable, you know on the 200 yard range stay, but not a brilliant, but I was competent enough at it. Confident too.
It wasn’t something that was concerning you too much, the lack of practice?
No it was, no. It never worried me firing the rifle after those first,

03:05:30:00

even the first time in the CMF. Once you knew that if you hold it tight into your shoulder, it was only the smack, the kickback, even worry you… they were a pretty nice rifle.
Was there any sense of frustration at Crono 89 about wanting to get into the action?
No I don’t, no we never felt, because we were still pretty raw, we were still training on and even when we were heading up to the desert, it

03:06:00:00

was just happy and jovial. We weren’t realising what we might be in store for later on, that’s my own thoughts. Just something we were doing and take each day as it comes.
How did you cope with the heat and the conditions of the desert?
Oh well, when we were actually in Tobruk itself we’d get around with just shorts on and a hat, strip off as much as you could. We burnt white really.

03:06:30:00

The dust storms were a bit troublesome at times; we stood up to the heat all right because you could always take your shirt off if you wanted to.
Could you talk me through hearing that you were going to move out and move up towards the actions? Did you know where the 6th Division was, where you were being sent?
They used to give us bulletins and show us, we knew the map of the countryside

03:07:00:00

where up in towards Benghazi. On our own journeys we went through, we came to Tobruk and a funny thing was when we parked in there going through we had a couple of days camp there and there was all equipment all over the place. The Italians had dugouts and things all around. We’d find these

03:07:30:00

crates of grenades, they had a funny sort of a hand grenade, it was a tiny little thing compared to ours. And I can remember we’d get these hand grenade and we’d have a box full of them in a hole and we’re throwing these hand grenades in trying to blow them up, blow the whole box full of them up. And we would just pull the pin out and throw it. There was like a leather strap that you pull out and when you throw it in the air, and when it lobs hopefully it make a big explosion but

03:08:00:00

it was just like cracker night really. They had lots of their rifles; we’d find their rifles, and a lot of ammunition, we’d be shooting at anything we could see around just ….
Did they have to be handed in to the authorities?
Well they eventually were rounded up I suppose but when we were on our way up the… were still a bit of….I think the fighting might have ceased up around Benghazi but they hadn’t had time to get anyone back to clean up

03:08:30:00

all the stuff that was there. So we had an open go, it was all around. We’d find their dugouts digging up and getting papers and stuff.
What was the quality of the Italian infrastructure like, the dugouts they created?
Well, they actually, the defence position around Tobruk was fantastic really. They hadn’t completed it but around the perimeter they had this tank ditch dug, where I used to dig, fairly deep.

03:09:00:00

And around each of the front post there was about a special dugout, it was concreted and there was a weapon pit up one end, which you could put an anti-tank gun on it, a fairly wide one. And there was two or three others where they could mount a machine gun on a pillar, and there were a couple of spots where troops could fire from and down underneath, there was places where you could store stuff and the main underground one was

03:09:30:00

a place where you could have about twenty blokes camped in it and there was about 5 foot of concrete over the top. So you felt pretty safe down in there. And they had them every 400 yards say around the front and in between that back was a second line with a similar sort of built thing. In our way, we decided we need to have extra ones between, so we had to dig holes and get in them ourselves you know, besides these

03:10:00:00

good ones. The Italians had a heavy mine field out in front of the tank ditch and barbwire and stuff, it was well mapped out, these concrete posts were good. But around the concrete posts, say about a forty foot circular thing they had a tank ditch dug around that and across, they’d be a wall around the edge,

03:10:30:00

like a moat and it would taper away and over the top of that they had these boards, so if any tanks were coming to attack you, they’d crash through the boards and the crew would be sitting ducks for the men in the posts. But the trouble with the boards, they were good for firewood, so we were, well most of our ones we used up. Most of the boards we, using them for different things, and that meant our position was like an

03:11:00:00

ideal spot for a dive bombers because you could see the circle thing, but they didn’t actually bomb us on the post itself, they bombed the town mostly.
I don’t want to get too far down the siege track just yet; I wanted to go back to your initial movement across the desert. Were you in long truck convoys?
Yeah, convoy of trucks yeah, and we went through some beautiful country, some of parts inland where the Italian farmers were farming the ground.

03:11:30:00

Did you go through Bardia at all?
We didn’t go into the town, we just went bypass Bardia straight up, you had to turn off into the town, we went straight through, straight through leads to Tobruk. Then from Tobruk, we had a couple of days there, then we went to Derna. It was a lovely town there, there were some nice homes and nice escarpment, beautiful track, hairpin bends that the Italians had built to get down to it.

03:12:00:00

Then we went inland a bit to Barce, there was a lovely township there and pretty country, a couple of other places and then we got Benghazi, we didn’t go into Benghazi we bypassed it but it looked like a nice town, like a lot of trees leading up into the town itself. We kept on going a bit south of that.
Can I ask you what the mood of the troops was like, you’ve obviously got a good sense of how far

03:12:30:00

back 6th Div had pushed the Italians?
Yeah, well we went along confidently, there was no opposition, now and again I think there was a plane strafe us, now and again, so we would have to jump out of the truck stop and there was a couple of causalities but that was all. And we got through Benghazi, we went to El- Agheila and Agedabia, two little townships and that’s as far as we went. And we dug in there.

03:13:00:00

That’s where we took over from the 6th Division.
What was that place called?
Agadabir and El-Agheila, that was the two townships, or what they had – a name on the map. And that was us where they finished up. As I said the British Army was stretched to the limit by that time over sandy ground and there didn’t seem to be any opposition from then on.

03:13:30:00

So we took over from the 6th Division and just one of our platoons was sent forward to our post on the coast, in the sand hills and we were just there to watch out for any enemy activity in the shipping and planes flying over. In the area behind us we were used to clear spots for our fighters.

03:14:00:00

Some of our fighters were still active, in case the enemy planes were coming over, we’d clear strips of ground, so they could land there instead of going back to their base and they were going to be like little landing strips with fuel available. But we weren’t doing that for long before Rommel started to make his move and we started to withdraw.
Can you just tell me about the

03:14:30:00

handover between 6th and 7th Div? What it was like to see the fellows?
Well, it was getting late in the afternoon, when I remember we came up to these 7th Battalion it was, we were relieving. And they had their little dugouts, dug holes where they dug in, ready in case there was any enemy approaching. So we just said, “Hello” and shook hands and they moved out and we moved in. It was the funniest experience

03:15:00:00

because at that night, it’s so dark in the night and I remember particularly myself, I wanted to relieve myself and I only moved a few feet from the dugout and I couldn’t find me way back because it was so dark and I’d only gone a few yards. You were so disorientated you know, in the darkness.
What was the mood of the 6th

03:15:30:00

Division troops?
They were, I think they knew they were going to be called back to go to Greece then. But I can’t remember their actual feelings. But they were quite confident, cause they’d done well all the way through; they had some tough battles I suppose. They seemed to be confident.
Did they have any good advice for you?
I can’t remember, I can’t remember seeing any advice they might have given us at all.
When did you

03:16:00:00

become aware of Rommel and the Afrika Corps milling in Africa?
When they started the withdrawal, we thought it was just a, they were just making it up. We’re just getting out because there was no more troops in front of us, and we didn’t know why we were getting withdrawn, we kept going back, we’d go back a couple of days and we’d just stop for a while. It took a

03:16:30:00

while before they …..we actually got some word back that our 13th Battalion, was our sister battalion, they got into a bit of a stoush and that’s when we first knew there was some progress by Rommel.
Did you, you were aware once you got to your position, that he was in Africa, that the Germans were coming down to reinforce the Italians?
Yep we were then, once that battle, I think they must have given us on the news,

03:17:00:00

routine news that Rommel was preparing to attack us.
Do you remember any apprehension or concern you might have had about the Germans backing up the Italians?
No, I can’t remember, I can’t remember anything. We know that they were better troops and we didn’t know it was the Afrika Corps was coming in that because there hadn’t been any Germans fighting up until then, they just come over. But I probably,

03:17:30:00

remembering what they did in France, we knew we were in for a hard time. But on all the withdrawals, we didn’t hear any shots fired and only heard stories coming back, until we got close to Tobruk one day and there was all of a sudden a couple of shots lobbed over near us, and they were German Tanks that fired a couple of shots. That’s the first time we realised, or my particular group, where we were,

03:18:00:00

that there was something going on.
How did the battalion feel about losing all this ground, without being aware, or not having a sense of why it was going on?
I don’t think we realised at the time because we had the feeling it wasn’t because we were being chased back, we were just withdrawing and it didn’t come to our attention really until we actually had these couple of shots fired

03:18:30:00

and we were just about in the perimeter of Tobruk then. And well, we were moving fairly fast and a couple of times we went through food dumps where, and ammunition dumps, where engineers were blowing them up. And one good thing about it, was these food dumps, a lot of supplies had come up from South African forces fighting in Eritrea, where the Italians were, they’d clean them up. And a lot of their supplies

03:19:00:00

were sent up to us, they had canned fruit and vegetables and good stuff and as we were going through these food dumps, we raided them because they were going to be blown up. So we got some good tucker for a few days. Then we kept on going, we knew then that something was going on.
When did you become aware that Tobruk was to be the place

03:19:30:00

where you were no longer going to retreat?
Oh well, we didn’t know, we were actually inside the perimeter when these few shots were fired and the next thing they been working out where each unit was going to go and then they packed us up in trucks and we went to the various posts, these Italian dugouts, which had been idle for so long and a lot of dust storms, and in most of the pits were sand. We were allocated to our post number,

03:20:00:00

we were in R21, I remember the number and if was full of sand and we cleaned it out and got it beautiful clean and just about ready and the 15th Battalion came up and said, “We’ve got to take over this post.” We cleaned it out for them, so we moved back, we moved onto number 19, which was 2 posts further back, and we had to clean that one out then. So we knew we were in defensive positions then.
Did each post

03:20:30:00

house the battalion or was it single units and that?
No, each post, there was, they put one platoon. No, you wouldn’t have a platoon, you’d have a section, or we might have had a platoon in the post cause there was every 500 yards, 400 yards. Company headquarters would be in one of the back ones, company headquarters and

03:21:00:00

the three platoons, probably one platoon in each post, I guess. That’s about 20 odd blokes I suppose. I suppose we had 20, because a platoon had about 30 odd men full strength. I’m pretty sure it was just a platoon, more than a section. Yeah I remember, there was 3 sections in a platoon and I think most of us were always together.
And you had

03:21:30:00

sorry, at R19 was the name of this post?
R19 was the post we were in and the actual, the battle, we got settled in that and the company headquarters would be back behind us and we started off patrols straight away, we had to go out on patrols. They had a shallow patrol, which would, you’d have to get through the barbwire and just patrol out across your front,

03:22:00:00

just a few hundred yards out to make sure there’s no enemy activity. And every now and again a patrol would go out a bit further, out a further distance. And that was our initial first training like that, to go on patrols, it was a bit, they called for volunteers to go on patrol you know, and you knew this was it and no one volunteered really, cause you didn’t want to sound if you were

03:22:30:00

cocky or anything. But I think we worked it out that the corporal or the sergeant could detail, just to make a roster up, “Right you’re on,” and the next one different ones go. So we got used to a routine then.
How far from the external defensive perimeter was R19? How far from the edge of no man’s land were you?
R19 was immediately in front, say

03:23:00:00

it wouldn’t be more a few, 20 yards or something would be the barbwire and there’d be a tank ditch a bit further in front of that and the, out in amongst that was mines fields that the Italians had put in. We had to be careful walking through there, but the engineers, I think by that time, because we’d been through Tobruk and back, I think the engineers had been clearing most of them out of the way. Well, then they had to put more in for us then,

03:23:30:00

our own mines.
How much extra defensive material did you have to put in? Did you lay mines with more barbwire?
I don’t remember putting any more barbwire because there was enough there, but our engineers would be putting, I don’t know whether they used the Italian mines or whether they put some of their own which they could understand. But we had some individual platoons put their own little booby traps; they’d have a hand

03:24:00:00

grenade fitted and have a wire from that, so if anyone tripped it, it would pull the pin out and off she’d go and little things. Because the Germans were very adept at that, they had these mines that used to jump up and scatter stuff around up at the right height, you know pretty treacherous things they were. Mostly we didn’t have much, we just had the barbwire and we’d have a track to walk through when we go on patrols – get out

03:24:30:00

and come back through the hole.
Was the patrolling generally conducted at the night?
Oh yeah it was mostly, once it became dark, because in the daytime you could see everywhere. In that area I think the Germans were quite a few thousand yards at that particularly spot, no man’s land was pretty flat and you wouldn’t be able to see them, just over, just visually. But

03:25:00:00

then they made their attack though post 33 which was a bit further to the left of us, when that was on we didn’t know what was happening, we knew there was a lot of shell fire and rifle and machine gun.
R19 was alongside the road to El Adem?
No it was a far way form El Adem, just imagine R 33 was one side of El Adem and

03:25:30:00

you went back by 2s in odd numbers. 33, the next one would be 31, 29, so we were a fair few – 19 to 30, we were about 8 or 9 posts away from there, that’s on the front. And then in between us back a bit was the reserve post, so there was plenty of, they were all full of troops, so there was plenty of support there you know,

03:26:00:00

a well defended area.
How constantly were you under artillery fire or under threat within your post?
With that new post at the time, they didn’t worry us at all there, because they were concentrating on the El Adem Road area. That was where our troops broke through and it was probably a logical spot, because if they got through they got the road to go down the El Adem Road to get into the township.

03:26:30:00

Whereas behind us was rough country, you know, it probably wouldn’t be as easy as going down the road.
Can you tell me then about going on patrols, can you tell me about your first patrol?
Oh well, I can remember we just, they were easy ones, the first ones. We’d just go out, we had to go out so many, if it was on the shallow patrol, they might say 700 yards, whoever was leader would have a compass

03:27:00:00

and they’d pace, they work by pace by walking, someone would be counting the paces, so they knew, and they might have to go out 700 yards and at a certain degree on the compass and then you might have to patrol so much to the left and the right. So whoever was leading, had to have all that in his head, you know. And we would just, following arrowhead formation, you know we’d go out, cause I was no good at directions.

03:27:30:00

If I was out there on me own, I wouldn’t know which way to go but when you came back to your camp, the North Star was always a guide. You knew if you were heading towards the North Star, which stood up in the sky, you knew you were going to the right direction. But most of our patrol leaders were pretty good on that when they had a compass.
You’d be going on patrols

03:28:00:00

every few days?
It was constant patrols every day, you’d go on these, once the Easter Battle was over and we settle down more to a defensive role, the enemy, they concentrated then mostly going down further to Egypt to try and get through. The… just had us hemmed in like and there wasn’t much activity that way and the first lot

03:28:30:00

we didn’t get much shellfire around us at all, but we’d go out on patrols, shallow ones then, if we wanted to go on deep patrols you’d go out 2 or 3 thousand yards, that’s just patrolling, just to safeguard everything. Now if someone had spotted a post of the enemy somewhere and they decided they wanted a fighting patrol, they’d plan to go out and attack that and that was another type of patrol,

03:29:00:00

and they could fight, the other were just patrolling for safe keeping. And that was going on all the time, not so, there wasn’t too many fighting patrols needed because we were just keeping ourselves safe.
Did you ever go on a fighting patrol?
Only once, we went out once, when they were getting near this Plonk, I don’t know if you ever read about the Plonk, there was a post we called “Plonk,” they had funny

03:29:30:00

names for them and I think there was some kind of buildings there once and we used to have a listening post there, you’d go out and camp there all night and listening for any tank movements and one time the Germans came at that and they were attacking it, was a bit of a …. and they wanted us out of there, so we sided over and they were sort of half in store there, so we had to go out

03:30:00:00

one night and attack it. But they came up with tanks and everything, so we ended up even though we were going to drive them out, they….we didn’t have tanks, we only had at this particular time, had some Bren carriers and so we had to just retreat out of it. So that was my only experience on a real fighting patrol. We went there and fired a few shots but there was

03:30:30:00

mostly tanks against us, so we withdrew.
Were the fighting patrols just in terms of morale or psychology, were they important in terms of the fact that you’re under siege but to go out and have the fighting patrol, was that uplifting?
It would have been uplifting, yeah. I remember one patrol I missed, I didn’t go on it. We lost our company commander and platoon commander, they both got killed, two officers. They

03:31:00:00

went out on this fighting patrol to attack a post. It was one before the Plonk one. They struck some bother and they had a couple of blokes wounded I think and they had to retreat, came back out of it and the officers hadn’t come back to a certain point where they had to meet. So the sergeant went back looking for them and all he found was a helmet, one of the officers had his

03:31:30:00

name in his helmet. They found out later that they had been both killed and the Germans had buried them or something. Otherwise, it was more defensive patrolling we were doing all the time.
I read that the Australians really owned that no man’s land area.
We patrolled around it. They didn’t worry about patrolling, they just sat back and we had to go there to make sure if there was any movement

03:32:00:00

towards us, that we were able to cope with it you know. But it was an eerie situation going out on a deep patrol and patrolling up and down for a while and you know your relying on the bloke leading you to know where he’s going. And it’s pretty hard to see you know, we wouldn’t be close to each other, you’d be a few yards apart, so you’d have to have a drag man, who’d be one up back, who’d come along behind and he’d be the drag man

03:32:30:00

sort of. So if anyone gets lost or something, he’d guide them back in I suppose. I remember a couple, well one time in particular we were near a post and they started firing at us, we weren’t on a fighting patrol and we had to get out quickly because they were firing machine guns and rifles and we were walking around in no man’s land. And the idea was to get away because we weren’t supposed to do any fighting at that time. They weren’t attacking us, they were just firing from their defensive position.

03:33:00:00

It was a bit of a…you know bit of an eerie feeling.
Can I just go back to the Easter Battle? Could you tell me about that? How long after that was it, after you re-entered Tobruk?
Actually, it was about a day or two, very soon about two days after we got in to position, we only had time to settle in and they attacked us, I think it was Good Friday, I think it was. That was the 11th I think,

03:33:30:00

the day before was when we moved in the 9th or 10th, so they didn’t waste any time. Cause they knew we just got in and wouldn’t have time to get organised. They had a good artillery, a couple of regiments of British artillery and our own Regiment of artillery was there and they… the tanks broke through and the artillery were firing over open sites, you know just like

03:34:00:00

tanks straight at them and they knocked them out you know each time they hit, they’d knock one out. I think there was about 18 or 19 tanks. We had our own tanks which were I think, at that time were a match for the Germans ones. But the later German tanks were pretty severe, the Tiger tanks.
How close to your position was this tank assault?
Well it was a fair…we didn’t even know, we only heard noises, so

03:34:30:00

I’d say about a mile it would be, about a mile away from us.
So what role did you play during that Battle of Easter?
We just patrol in front of our own company area. We just had to patrol there.
Were you involved in any direct engagement?
No, we weren’t involved in any of that, it was just the one company, Don Company, where they broke through their, they let them get through, the tanks. But the infantry

03:35:00:00

followed, we managed, our Don Company managed to hold them back and there was B Company, our reserve company. B Company was called in to counterattack, which they did, and they drove the Germans right out of it. Killed a lot and captured a lot of prisoners. Some of our own troops, as the German tanks were retreating they captured some of our Don Company blokes – had them on the

03:35:30:00

tanks, taking them back. Some were captured completely but others they escaped from the tanks. There were some, we lost some prisoners, some as prisoners of war.
Were you involved in taking any Italian prisoners or German prisoners?
No, no, we didn’t have anything to do with that, we kept in our own section and I don’t know what the Germans that were captured, I don’t know…. B Company were probably rounding them up and taking them back to

03:36:00:00

a position where they’d be taken further back.
Was there any point where your post or your section came directly under …?
Well no, not then, we often got shelled in different, you see we’d move, the companies would move around. The battalions would move around. Some would be in reserve and then they would come and take over the front line where we were. Next time we came in we would be in another section, so we all got

03:36:30:00

shepherded around the whole perimeter.
Where did you go from R19 then?
R19, we went from there, we probably went back, I’ve got it in me diaries, but we went in reserve positions back behind, next we were up around 33 later on, we were in that area, El Adem road, we went to both sides of El Adem road, other times we were right on the

03:37:00:00

Bardia side of Tobruk, that was….they had different numbers there, Z’s I think they were Z’s and further around to Derna side they were S’s, post S’s, called them S.
Did you travel down to the Harbour at any point?
Yeah we, one of our, one thing that happened, this was one of the lighter moments. We were good scroungers, us Aussies and I

03:37:30:00

was in with two other fellows, Bill Mackenzie and Johnny Lloyd, we were, we sort of got out a lot. When your quiet moments you could get round, get back and scrounge around and we found an old Italian truck, a tabletop truck and we then rounded up 44 gallon drums, heavy ones. We got 12 drums, we put them on this truck. And

03:38:00:00

down the back of Tobruk there was a Wadi Elorda they called it, it was kinda a staging camp and they had a convalescent camp set up down there, a hospital type of thing. And there was a well down the end of this and we’d take this truck down there and park next to the well and we’d have a bucket on a rope and a big funnel and we’d throw it down this well, about 10 feet

03:38:30:00

down into the water, pull it up and fill up these 44 gallon drums on this truck and at night when it was quiet, we’d take them back to the company area and we’d drop one drum off for each section, each platoon, each section, there’s three sections in each platoon. We’d drop the drum off and two at company headquarters and two for our own section, so that was water that we couldn’t drink but we could use it for washing and

03:39:00:00

washing clothes and our bodies. So the water supply was very grim in Tobruk but if you had a bit of scrounging ability, we kept our, I think we made about 20 odd trips down to this well over the period and we kept our own company well supplied with water for cleaning, so that was really appreciated by the boys and we’d scrounge petrol to run the truck. We used

03:39:30:00

to use it for carting our supplies around, sometimes too when we changed positions.
Did anyone else use the truck?
We kept it in our own section, you see I couldn’t drive and I was just the roustabout. Johnny Lloyd would drive or Bill McKenzie, now if they were unavailable to drive, we got a friend in another ….15th Platoon, Tommy Smith he could drive big trucks, so I used to take, “I know where to go.”

03:40:00:00

So I’d take him down to this water point. Sometimes we’d go down at night and park overnight down at the well, so the water coming in overnight would freshen up, be nice and fresh but other times we’d been down in the daytime.
Why couldn’t the well water be drunk?
It was brackish, sort of brackish water. I don’t know, coming from the sea I suppose, it wasn’t that it was saltish, but it was

03:40:30:00

brackish. They had two distillations; the Italians had built two distillation plants in that area, that’s how we found the well. We went scrounging around and we found this plant that they built, it had pumping stations in it and all and we even went down underground and all this beautiful stuff filtered, but we couldn’t touch the water in there, because you couldn’t get it back up. I think they used that to pump it around…

03:41:00:00

there was a pipeline that went through towards Derna or something, but that was cut off. The Germans cut that away on the other side so, when we went further and found this well, and while we were down there the convalescent camp had a kitchen there, so we’d always have a feed and a swim there, a nice little beach down there. So it was very pleasant those days.
Can you tell me was the water supply closely

03:41:30:00

guarded? Was there strong defence?
No, there wasn’t really, the Germans knew where this distillation plant was because a couple of times we went, they bombed it, they tried to bomb it. And one time, one night we were camped down at this well, they came over and dropped a few bombs and we had to you know camp under the truck, keep out of the….in case there was any shrapnel around but I think they were looking for that. They knew that was there, but I think most of our water was

03:42:00:00

brought up by the navy and ships, they’d bring up tanks of water and just…….
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

You were just telling me about the issues and concerns with water. Water was brought in by ship, was it fresh water?
The navy used to bring up a lot of fresh water plus all the supplies.
And how was the water regulated in terms of the amount you could….?
They’d come around, the quartermaster would send it around, I think we had drums, special watering containers and each company or each section

04:01:00:00

would get an issue for that sort of drinking and cooking.
What were the other, I guess major concerns in terms of your living conditions?
Well we got acclimatised to it, it was good in these concrete posts. You could have a bit of a bunk rigged up, down underneath, but when we had to dig in between, sometimes they’d want

04:01:30:00

an extra post, you’d have to dig holes in the ground. Not so much a defensive position, but just individual holes where you’d make sure you got plenty of scrap material around to put a roof over the top. Sandbags, because you needed that protection from shelling. And so you’d be living in the dirt more or less then, but where you could dig a decent hole, you could make yourself very comfortable in them. Though the ideal one was in these concrete posts

04:02:00:00

but you didn’t always get one of them.
What about the quality of the food you were getting?
Well the food was base hard tack, hard army stuff. Each section had his own cook. We had a fellow who was a shearer and he was pretty good on the cooking, so he used to make some pretty good things out of the stuff we were issued with. The army biscuits and the meat and vegetable rations and stuff they supplied us with. Early on there

04:02:30:00

was a bakery in the town and we used to get a loaf of fresh bread sent out now and again. And another thing we did with this truck, when we’d get off with this truck, we used to go into the town and see what we could find for scrounging but as soon as the air raids came, which were pretty frequent, we’d just pop out of the town quick, keep away.
Were the Stuka dive-bombers generally a concern

04:03:00:00

further down in the town or were they also a problem out at the …..?
They were mostly only in the towns and the anti aircraft, it was a good anti aircraft defence around there, around Tobruk, the township and the harbour. Never ever worried us in our positions but they did use the dive-bombers once or twice in the salient area where the Germans broke through and put a wedge in our line. They did use dive-bombers on some of those, we could see them, but they never,

04:03:30:00

mostly around us were the fighters that were supporting the dive bombers. They’d come along the front and strafe us, and we’d be all firing our rifles at them. Harmless sort of business. One plane, one fighter plane crashed in the minefield just past us. He was hit by the anti aircraft, I think. And he was flying along right across all of our positions and crashed into the minefield, and the

04:04:00:00

company that was in that area went and got the pilot, brought him back as a prisoner. He was a very arrogant type, he was too.
He survived?
Yeah, he survived, he crash landed in there, in the minefield. I don’t think a mine blew him up, he just crashed in amongst them and they had to get him out of the plane. He was injured, I think he had a broken arm or something. But one of the fellows that got him said, “He was very arrogant.” But they didn’t

04:04:30:00

worry us much, the planes but over Tobruk you know, they were heavily bombing at night and daytime. In the early days we had a good fighter, the Hurricane fighters, the Australian planes, fighters. Gradually, they got one by one shot down or lost and we finished up, they had one Hurricane left, they used to use it for reconnaissance now and again. But we had no air support really, after that.

04:05:00:00

Were the flies and fleas a problem for you?
I don’t remember in the Tobruk area, I can’t remember much. I know later on we had a lot of trouble with flies in the Alamein but it didn’t worry us too much.
What were the major health concerns? Were people falling ill?
I think the lack of Vitamin C, I know I was subject to getting little sores

04:05:30:00

come out me over the lack of vitamin C, I think we called them “Wog sores.” See, we were getting this water and we kept ourselves pretty clean and I think there was a lack of Vitamin C, mainly you had to be… watched for that. They issued us with tablets, I forget what they call them, a certain tablet we got issued with. If you took them regularly it was good for you.
There were no

04:06:00:00

significant illnesses or diseases that…?
No, no I think everyone was pretty hardy you know, pretty hardy. You know because in the daytime we could be resting.
Did you have any experience with the RAPs [Regimental Aid Posts]?
Not in Tobruk, I don’t think I ever had any injuries or anything to need to go to them. They had RAP areas in

04:06:30:00

little caves in hot spots. Like little hospitals areas where they could treat injured if anyone was wounded, before they could ship them out. They could treat them, I don’t know what was in the town, and I’ve never had to have any much experience with that personally.
Were you aware of General Morshead’s statement that “There would be no surrender and no retreat”?
Yeah, we were told that, we

04:07:00:00

were there and we were going to defend it to the last. As things were going each day you sort of took each day as it came. You didn’t get apprehensive and saying, “I don’t think we ever thought we were all going to captured” or anything like that. I don’t know how we thought we were going to get out of it. Because everyday, gradually, as the time went on, the Germans started to make a bit of a move towards Tobruk, and they started

04:07:30:00

….some of our outposts that we had, listening posts we’d have out no man’s land. When you’d go out and stay most of the night just listening, not on a patrol, just two men or something like that. You’d come back just on dawn and those places, gradually the Germans were moving in and putting defensive positions around themselves, they were actually hemming us in more. So we knew that they were getting ready for a big push. But there was also,

04:08:00:00

the British were building up down on the Egyptian border ready to attack Rommel forces that were building down there and it was just a matter of who did what first. And that was getting around the stage where they decided our division could be relieved. So we lost that Plonk and another place, Cooma, places we couldn’t defend them, like use them as an outpost any more. And we were under a lot of heavy shellfire

04:08:30:00

all the time. And then when we got orders to, we were going to be relieved completely.
Can you tell me what it’s like to be under heavy shellfire?
Well, it’s something you just, if you were in these concrete posts you didn’t mind if you get in under, under the support of the concrete. But still the shell had to come in on the hole with you to kill you. If you kept down,

04:09:00:00

there was shrapnel flying around but it was something that we got used to I suppose. It was on so much but just lucky enough we didn’t, didn’t actually cop one myself you know. It’s something that you just grow up with I’m sure you know, you’re sort of terrified or scared, one of them will get me one day but you’re still… as long as you didn’t get hit you just kept going

04:09:30:00

and the pressure was there.
Did you come across anyone who didn’t cope or whose nerves didn’t cope?
No, I can’t remember any of my own, we got in some tight spots but you sort of, I don’t know, you just carried on and the harder it was the more you knew what you had to do. You sort of went you know; even though there was some scary moments,

04:10:00:00

no one I knew sort of vacated the area or anything. We just stayed and did what we had to do.
Did you have any moments that felt like coming of age as a soldier? Or where you felt like you really were a soldier?
I think we just grew into it. We did our patrols and did our jobs, everyday. It didn’t feel as if you were anything outstanding or anything. Just took it a day as it came. It was just like living normally I suppose; it was our normal way of life at the time.
Could you tell me then about the news coming through

04:11:00:00

that the division was going to be withdrawn? Do you recall the circumstances under which that happened?
I think it was …they brought an English Regiment, an Essex Regiment took over from us, they were going to relieve us and we knew we were going to go out in easy stages, so it was a bit…. on the last

04:11:30:00

night we were there, when the Essex Regiment took over our section where we were, I was put on the last patrol, we had to go out on the patrol, shallow patrol while things were being changed over. And no one wanted to go on that last patrol, they thought, “This is the one, we are going to cop it,” because you’re going home or going back to Alexandria the next day, no one wanted to be on it. I happened to be one of the mugs that went on that one, but it was all right.

04:12:00:00

And we came back and we stayed the night with the Essex when we came back, early morning we stayed with the Essex Regiment and after a certain time we had to walk back to a truck to take us somewhere else. And we went down, camped down towards the township and had to wait til that night when the navy came in. And we were really happy about that then, that we were going to get a relief

04:12:30:00

from it.
Who came in to get you? Which Ships?
HMS Encounter was a British Destroyer was the one that I went on. And they used to come in amongst all the wrecks round the harbour and they’d have supplies and troops and that on to unload and they had to do it within a certain time. As soon as they got off we had to get on quick and we had to walk over planks, they were in amongst all this wreckage

04:13:00:00

and we just lay around the decks, and the sailors were so good, they’d bring us cocoa and stuff. And then the time came to back out and they backed out and outside the harbour. I’m not sure whether it was moonlight night or not but they used to try and do that out of the…. because there was a risk of dive-bombers coming after you. We never had any trouble once we got out and away,

04:13:30:00

full steam ahead for Alexandria. And everyone was so happy and joyful you know cause it was really a relief to know that you were going to go back to something that was more comfortable.
Describe Alexandria for me on that morning?
We got in there, I think it was late afternoon, when we got to Alexandria because I remember coming off and we had to go up and there was a hot meal ready for

04:14:00:00

us as we marched off. And then we got, I think we had trucks to take us to the railway station. Oh, I’m not sure if we did railway or trucks now, to be truthful, but we didn’t see much of the town because it was getting onto the night.
What about the Harbour area, can you describe that?
There were a few British Battleships in there; you know it was a good harbour.

04:14:30:00

Nothing’s really outstanding to me just coming in. I think there was a boom defence out, we had to come through I think to get into the harbour but I can’t visualise the exact scene right now.
Was the town full of troops at that time?
I don’t know, we didn’t see that much of it. I

04:15:00:00

don’t think there were a lot, they would have been navy, navy mostly in there I think. I don’t think there were any troops as far as defence or anything like that, there was just the public themselves and the navy was mostly there. But we didn’t see much of it because straight from the meal we had we were onto, I’m not sure if it was trucks back to Palestine or trucks to the train,

04:15:30:00

but I kept my diary on the exact thing about that.
So you travelled to Hill 69?
We came back to Palestine and Hill 69, it was Julis was the camp area, that was the main township, I suppose Julis and Hill 69 was our battalion camp. And that when I was injured, my elbow started to flare up, I went to the RAP at the camp

04:16:00:00

for about 3 days in a row trying to get relief and they decided I’d have to go to hospital and get it lanced, I had a fortnight or so. I had a bit of leave while I was there into Tel Aviv but I was too crook with this elbow to enjoy myself, so I stayed home all day in the hotel we were billeted at. I think I went to the pictures one night but I didn’t enjoy seeing much of the place.

04:16:30:00

Was your elbow one of the lack of vitamin C related sores?
I don’t think so, I remember going down one of these concrete dugouts in Tobruk and you came down stairs, it was concrete all around and I remember slipping and I banged my elbow on the wall, gave it a sharp bump, now I don’t know if it was a clot or what happened. It took a few weeks, it was a few weeks before we came out and it was just

04:17:00:00

a big cyst. And they couldn’t treat, they couldn’t do any good with antibiotics, I think I might have been having so they sent me to the hospital. And I was in there, It soon picked up once I had it fixed up, a fortnight in there and back to this training battalion then.
Why was it that you went to a training battalion rather than directly back to your…..?
That was the custom, if you went to hospital for a

04:17:30:00

time, especially if you had a bit of an operation or something you had to be made fit to return to your unit. So in my case that was the reason. And when reinforcements came over they went to this training battalion and kept their training up until the unit wanted some reinforcements and they’d send a batch up every now and again. We had several batches come up to Tobruk when we had some casualties and some would be changed over. So they,

04:18:00:00

this training battalion kept going, but it was boring for especially an ex-service, you know, one who’s been in a unit, just to do squad drill and route marching, but even so on the route marches we were usually led by corporals that were in the unit one time and they were sent back there for training the reos [reinforcements]. They were a bit cunning too. We’d march down the road and get behind some sand hills and just have a lie down for a while.

04:18:30:00

Still that was boring. So when I heard about this mortar school I thought I’d rather have something like that to do to keep me, because I didn’t know what time we’d be going back to the unit, because they were at a standstill at the time.
Can you tell me about the mortar school?
The mortar school was very interesting. We had, they gave us lectures on the 3 inch mortars, it was a muzzle loading mortar, you just drop bombs down the thing and

04:19:00:00

there’s a striker in the bottom of the barrel, the cartridge would hit that and she would blow it up and out. And you sort of got used to the drill of mounting it. There was a base plate, a barrel and then a tripod which fitted over the barrel at the top and they, the legs hold it still in front and the drill was to see how quickly you could mount it if you had to be in a battle situation

04:19:30:00

and you had to mount the mortar. Each one had his own drill to do and you had to be….see how quickly you could get it in the firing position. It had sights on it and levels to get it all level and it was very interesting, quite good training and learning about the bombs and range finding. They had a range finder attached to the section and you could go out and learn how to use the range finder to judge

04:20:00:00

how far it was from this point to that point.
How many were in the mortar team?
The mortars, there was a section, I think they call it a detachment. A mortar detachment had 2 mortars and each one was a section or vice versa, say there’s a detachment, and there’s two section, that’s two mortars, and there’d be about 5 men on each

04:20:30:00

mortar. And there was, we had 8 mortars to the battalion then, that’s why they increased the numbers when I went back to them. They used to only have 4 mortars I think in the battalion but they had 8 then, that was 4 detachments and 8 sections.
Can you explain to me how the 5 men on each mortar would work as a team, to put it together and fire?
They’d be three men; number one, he’d put the base

04:21:00:00

plate in the ground. Number two would come around and stick the barrel into the base plate. Number three would have the bipod or the tripod and he’d, it was a bipod really, he’d slip that over the barrel, the big cup on the top, slip that over the barrel and thump the legs into the ground to stabilise it and there was a clamp on that, so it wouldn’t slip off. The number one would clamp, put the sights on the sights post and

04:21:30:00

he worked his controls to level it up, it had levels, spirit levels on it to level it dead right. And then it would depend on where you had to fire, there’d be… that’s three men occupied there. The corporal and the sergeant would be standing behind the gun and he’d be sighting where we had to fire to and then the others would be… there’d be a pile of bombs at the side of you,

04:22:00:00

and you’d have to take them out and you’d have to unscrew the nose cap off them, so that when they hit the ground they could explode and then you would hand that to the number, the next bloke and he would drop it down in the barrel. Number two would drop in down in the barrel, number one would be kneeling down beside and as soon as it fired he’d have to bring things back to level again because if that was the range and the

04:22:30:00

area, directing your firing. The word would come back if you need to up it, “Up it 20 yards and right 3 degrees” and something like that. The message would come back from the observation post and we’d just adjust the mortar the same to suit.
So was there an observation post or was that the corporal or sergeant that was calling?
If you were firing in a battle area there’d be someone out in the position. We might

04:23:00:00

be behind the hill, or where we couldn’t see where we were firing and they’d relay back with phones and just tell us “How we were going.” Or if the sergeant could see, he’d be standing up behind you, if he could see where it was landing he would direct you.
You mentioned that the corporal or sergeant would be sighting the target, obviously if they were within sight, they were sighting the target, what tools or

04:23:30:00

instruments would they use to do that?
They’d, just on eyesight but… What we would do if we were in a static position, fixed defensive position, we’d set our mortar up to cover the front where we were and we’d have sticks, stuck in the ground, pointing in different directions. And we’d know which, where we were going to fire and you’d aim it at that stick, that was to get the direction, but it depended on the distance, you’d wind the barrel up or down to get which distance you want.

04:24:00:00

You wouldn’t know that until someone who’s actually seen where the bomb’s landing, they could direct you, up it or drop it back a bit.
Was it the corporal or sergeant co-ordinated the four of you, or it became fairly routine?
Oh no, he’d just give the orders, we would automatically do our drill on the machine and the ones who were loading, sending the ammunition on. If there was a shoot on you’d know you’ve got to get the bombs coming up

04:24:30:00

until they say “Cease fire.”
And those four men would be responsible for carrying the various part of the mortar?
Oh no, there’d be, we’d have another couple of fellows in the section. We’d all, most of our ammunition, later on we had Bren carriers to carry our mortar. We’d have the Bren carriers to carry the mortars and ammunition as well and if we were in a defensive position we’d just stack it

04:25:00:00

up, we’d bury it in the ground just to the side of us. We’d dig our pit, we used to dig a pit about 7-foot square or something like that and put the mortar below ground and sandbags on the top to stop it caving in and all that stuff. And we, you’d get 3 or 4 fellows sitting in the hole, you know in the hole while you, when you were in position. But we’d have our own individual holes at the side if we had time to dig them, just

04:25:30:00

to sleep in the night or something like that and alongside we’d have a bit of a pit where we’d stack up the ammunition. Cause ammunitions used to come in panniers, there was 3, 3 bombs in a pannier and then tubes, cardboard tubes and a carrying handle to carry them. When if we were in a position, like in where we had to have carry, if we were moving forward you had to carry ammunition with us, we’d have a team of,

04:26:00:00

we’d have people that weren’t in the mortars to come and carry a few, couple of bombs each, couple of panniers, because we….it’s no use turning up there with no ammunition, so we’d have to have a few carriers, man-handling them.
On the 3 inch mortar were any of the particular components very heavy? Were the base plate or the ……?
The base plate I recall was 37 pounds.

04:26:30:00

The barrel was, I couldn’t remember the barrel, it was probably about the same and the tripod, was a sort of lot of legs things, that was a bit heavier I think, a bit awkward, a bit more awkward to carry. I think we had a strap that you could sort of hang over your shoulder a bit too.
So at mortar school, you learnt to do each of the jobs?
Yeah you do. Anyone could do any position but

04:27:00:00

if there’s anyone that’s exceptionally good at sighting, we were all about the same. Everyone would have a go at every position and I suppose that mostly the same one would be number one all the time.
So were you then posted back to your battalion, with people that you had been to mortar school with or did you just go back by yourself?
No, there was another chap was in my platoon, he was already at the

04:27:30:00

training camp, he was wounded at Tobruk and he was in the training battalion waiting to come back to the unit. When I nominated for the mortar school he decided he would do it too, so we were both trained. We were the only two of our battalion that did that school, so when we got back to the unit, when we returned to the unit they were already, they were on their way to Syria.

04:28:00:00

We joined them before they took off, so we went with them. And the officer of the mortar platoon, he knew we’d done the school and he thought, “Here’s a couple of more men, we want some, we’re going to increase our numbers.” So he was dead set on getting us transferred to mortars, but as I said I wanted to say with my company, my platoon mates, when I got back to them. Well he said, “You better come out and see how you go,” and they

04:28:30:00

took two fellows from each company, there was another 3 companies, so that was 2, 4, 6 more out too. We all joined this group together and we were stationed not with the mortars at the time, we went to battalion headquarters for a couple of days till they sent us out to individual sections we were going to be with. We got in a good group together and we liked each other’s company, so

04:29:00:00

I decided to stay with mortars. And we eventually got posted to a detachment and wherever they were we went. And those other chaps had to learn their drill, they didn’t go to the mortar school, they had to but they were pretty good soldiers and they’d soon pick it. It wasn’t hard to learn what to do.
Where did you catch up with the battalion in Syria, where were they?
We joined

04:29:30:00

the battalion at… I joined them before they left Hill 69, I think. When they left Hill 69 to go there I think I returned to the unit then and we went by train to Tripoli. That’s up in Lebanon, on the coast and then we got out of the train. I think the railway didn’t go any further. We got trucks then to take us into Syria, through Homs and Aleppo and Afrin and

04:30:00:00

that’s where we went to a place called Azaz a town right up near the Turkish Border, and that’s where and our company was stationed there.
What month were we in?
That would be January; it would have been about January I think, ‘42.
So the area was completely secure at that point?
Yes, the area was secured, the 7th Division had done all the fighting up through there and we...

04:30:30:00

What were your impressions of the countryside?
It was very rugged. Lebanon was beautiful with the trees, going up the coast there, the sea and the trees, a beautiful country and Beirut was a lovely town and… But Homs and Hamah, they were two historical cities in the old crusaders days, lots of big castles, and I had the fortune to have a leave, have a look through one of

04:31:00:00

these castles and it was terrific. The way they were built, but it was very rugged country and sparse other than the Lebanon area.
Did you have a strong sense of the religious and the historical importance of Palestine and Syria?
I would have like to have gone through Jerusalem to have a look at it, because I believe in Christ and that, so that would have been nice to

04:31:30:00

have a look at some of those things. But I never got a leave into Jerusalem. But in the Palestine, in the Syrian area it didn’t come to me much, I knew it was historical, I knew once I saw these castles but once we got up to Azaz, it was just back to normal, on duty again. It was good to…. in was French controlled

04:32:00:00

country kind of thing and we had a, the camp we were first there, a school teacher came and gave anyone who wanted French lessons, could have French lessons. So we went to a few nights of that, but it was a bit hard to pick it up.
Did you understand the politics of what had been going on in Syria in terms of the Free French and the Vichy?
No, I couldn’t follow that at all because they were all French but we couldn’t understand how, they didn’t, all weren’t

04:32:30:00

united. Couldn’t understand the Vichy French at all.
Were you mistrustful of the Free French even?
We never had anything to do….Oh the Free French, we didn’t have any actual contact with them, they were in the desert later on but we didn’t strike, we didn’t see any French troops while we were there. Although one time I remember we, in one town we had to parade before a French

04:33:00:00

Officer for some reason or another, do the salute. I don’t know why, I can’t remember doing it, but I wrote it in my diary. But we didn’t have much to do with any troops bar the British.
So what did your garrison duties entail? What was the main focus?
Up there, just guard, on our post, on the border towns, there’d be, we’d have a border post and up the other end would be the Turkish would have one,

04:33:30:00

to get into Turkey. We just had our, just like a bar across the road, and lift up. And that was, I think we had control; I don’t know whether the Syrian Government had anything to do with that or not now. But that’s all our duties were, mainly guarding, guarding tunnels. There’s a tunnel where the Turkish Express used to come through into Syria and the British engineers had it

04:34:00:00

all mined up ready to blow it, if the Germans did attack through Turkey. And we were there to protect them and see that they were able to blow when they had to. And we….now and again the Turkey Express would come through and they’d have to….inspectors would go onboard the train to see if there were any “Fifth Columnists” or any Germans trying to sneak in. So it was quite an interesting

04:34:30:00

time there, guarding different positions.
Was it fairly relaxed however?
Oh, it was very relaxed even though we were in a mortar detachment, there was no way we needed, well at the time needed the mortars in position. So we just did normal guard duties with the rifle companies. And I can remember in the areas we had, we used to play different sports you know, keep very relaxed, because there was nothing else to do.

04:35:00:00

Was boredom a problem?
It was a little bit, there wasn’t much to do and I suppose the food wasn’t the best. It was a bit exciting too if you travelled around a bit, like going into the tunnel. We’d go into the tunnel at night on guard and have a charcoal fire, great you know, in a bucket, sit in front of that, cause it’s cold, it’s in wintry months. And we’d talk to the engineers,

04:35:30:00

the British engineers. There was always something to talk about.
Was keeping your diary an important thing for you?
Well it was, although if you looked in my diary, day after day it would be up 6am, shave, breakfast 7:30, and reading and writing letters, and day after day was almost the same thing. But then again, later when we moved around, a bit of drill training to do.

04:36:00:00

Who were you writing to?
I used to write letters to my mother, a couple of workmates I kept in touch with, uncles, aunties, sisters. I don’t know whether I ever wrote to me brother, I probably did, through me mother you know. I had a couple of…. I had a penfriend, I got a tin of boot polish once and there was a girl’s name in it, wanted to write to a soldier. So I wrote her a letter,

04:36:30:00

to South Australia and she use to send me parcels, cakes and letters. And I’d sent to her you know, just penfriend, very interesting. My aunties and uncles, everyone, it would keep you very occupied. I get parcels sent; they’d send parcels every now and again. Nice fruitcakes sealed up in an airtight tin.
Were you getting fairly regular mail deliveries

04:37:00:00

into Tobruk still?
Yeah, we got them in there, the mail would come through. The navy would bring them up.
That must have been a fantastic relief or boost for morale?
Yeah, you could also let them know how you were too you know, even though the officers censored your letters, they didn’t, you couldn’t say anything too dramatic but, you know. I even sent souvenirs home from Tobruk. You could send a

04:37:30:00

parcel every now and again, I’d get…..I used to like to delouse grenades and different things you know and I’d send a parcel full of various things, artifacts and a local.. At Burwood, near Strathfield there, the local paper shop, he had a whole window of his decked out with things I had sent to my mother with little cards saying what they were and he had them in his shop window. So little souvenir things, you know.

04:38:00:00

Was there anything else about your time in Syria you wanted to cover before we moved onto to El Alamein?
Only thing…Syria, another good point, the army looked after us, they built this camp at Beirut, a sort of a rest camp it was, you could get 4 or 5 days leave too when your turn came and I happened to be there just before we had to

04:38:30:00

go down to Alamein again. You’d go there in the truck and you’d live in huts, and you’re free to do what you liked, you had a leave pass for the whole time, just relaxing, go around the town, and there was a beach, beach there you could swim on if you wanted to. And the food was really good; it was really a home from home. “Happy Valley,” I think they called it. It had a big sign up as you drove in. And a few of us were fortunate enough to have time there but

04:39:00:00

with El Alamein brewing they had to curtail that. But any case we were due to come home 5th and 6th and 7th Division because the Japs were threatening Australia and the New Zealand, units took over from us up in Syria and we just moved on. Actually, I left. We were in this holiday camp when the move came.

04:39:30:00

The unit left up in North Syria and as they came, we were shipped from Beirut down to Haifa in Palestine, a truck down to there, and when the unit came through on its way up to Alamein we rejoined the unit at Haifa. So that’s how we got to Syria, finished our Syrian campaign.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 05

05:00:30:00

Before we move across to El Alamein, I just wanted to ask you about hearing about Japan’s entering into the war, and how that affected the battalion?
I can only vaguely remember, we were a bit anxious about our own country by then. You know we were stuck over there in Egypt.

05:01:00:00

But we just, I don’t suppose we could do anything about it really, we knew that we had to be where we were. But it was bit frustrating not to be close to home and know what was going on.
Did you feel that you wanted to go back?
I’m sure we all felt, because the rumour was that we were coming back earlier than we did, like

05:01:30:00

what we got was bad luck that we had to be held up. But when we heard the news that the 6th Division was coming back and the 7th Division following and we were going to be next we couldn’t wait for the time when we would be following on, cause we were just up in… Well, it was well after, the Japs had come into the war in 41, yes that’s right, we could have. There’s no

05:02:00:00

reason why we couldn’t come back quicker than we did because there wasn’t a threat up in the desert then at that time and we had the rumour that we were following the 7th Division, that’s right. And we were all prepared to come home. And when suddenly we were sent up to the desert, we were very frustrated about it. I remember, we couldn’t see why we weren’t to come home to our own country. But as it turned out it was probably

05:02:30:00

the best for the world that we did stay there, I think.
Tell me about travelling up to El Alamein and what you expected to face?
Well, we didn’t know what we were going to face there. We were the last brigade to move out, the 26th Brigade and the 24th Brigade moved up before us. And they were well, they were into it before we got there. We didn’t know what we would come up with but once we finally got

05:03:00:00

into position we were… it looked a bit grim the situation. We were taken out into the desert and you just couldn’t imagine the tanks and things that we’d seen, smashed. You couldn’t imagine what had been going on before we got there but luckily the British had slowed the advance because of the terrain. And the 26th Brigade did a wonderful job

05:03:30:00

in the few battles they had to fight in before we got there. And we quickly got acclimatised though in the situation and we got to a place called Tel El Eisa, where they pushed Rommel back to that point. But it just came to a defensive war then for a while, static position, because of the terrain. The German tanks were held up by the

05:04:00:00

sand. So we gradually go into an organised position and a lot of defensive work for a long time, getting settled then we. Being in the mortars, we weren’t active in the patrolling area then, we were just defence. So we had it easy I suppose for that respect but then

05:04:30:00

preparation came for the Alamein. I had severe training back behind the… we went into the reserve positions preparing for it. And the excitement of building up to that was the lectures we saw and all the artificial things they had, like mock trucks and tanks. And when they explained it to us. You couldn’t believe the effort they went into to keep it all secret.

05:05:00:00

The Alamein battle itself. We had pretty, a lot of brigade and battalion, divisional manoeuvres back behind the lines, accurate maps made out of the position the Germans were in. We were fully trained up to… everyone knew actually what he had to do.
What were the lectures you had to do?
The were telling lecturing about the country

05:05:30:00

we were attacking and explaining how things… They’d have mock areas and they’d say “This is what we’ll be doing, attacking in this way and that way.” Just military lectures, you know so that the officers mainly would understand because they’d be leading us. You know you got a good insight into the support we were going to have.
Was that the only time you did have something like that leading up to a battle?
Yeah, we did.

05:06:00:00

In Tobruk, we didn’t. We just came into that not knowing what we were going to be. That was just a natural file on; we just did what we had to do. But this, they had everything, like they had to coordinate with artillery and air force. You couldn’t believe the air support we had when the Alamein battle did start. But leading up to that there was a lot of tense moments with lots of shelling

05:06:30:00

and like the rifle companies were out on patrols and there were some pretty hots spots for a while you know.
Was it the British giving the lectures?
No, our own officers. Our own officers would be the battalion commanders and the brigade commanders would all have lectured, came down to our own individual ones, our own more

05:07:00:00

or less brigade command, the highest one we would have close to us. So we sort of knew it, everyone knew what they had to do, so it was all fully prepared. The day before we moved up close to the front but we had to get in the night before and not moving about much in the day because enemy reconnaissance planes were always over. And they had all

05:07:30:00

these dummy trucks and tanks supposed to be, you know, they wanted to look the same right up until the last minute. I think around the last minute they put real ones in the position, so that they look the same to photographers but they wouldn’t notice if there was anything different, but they were real tanks instead of dummies there. So we had the stuff up there.

05:08:00:00

But you know we had to keep very low that day, we couldn’t move around until just on dusk, we’d come out and stretch our legs and prepare for the last minute rush.
And you said there was a great deal of excitement?
Yeah, I think it was excitement in all the training that went on. We were getting so much support which we never been used to before. The air support was going to be fantastic, cause the way they explained

05:08:30:00

it. You could just imagine 18 bombers, they went in eighteens, 18 bombers flying over and all in a group and letting their bomb load go all at once. Just imagine the destruction on the ground if they all lobbed in the same area together. You know some terrific planning. It was good, I like hearing how they planned these things and

05:09:00:00

I thought it was, you know, well organised.
Was it highly unusual to have given you such an explanation, given you such an in depth explanation as a private?
Not really, whenever they lectured we all got instructed on how to attend all these, it was just the natural way. Normally when we would have a platoon discussion over something, this was what we had to all know

05:09:30:00

what was going on.
But to be aware of what all these different units and the different services, what their contributions were going to be to the battle, seems very (UNCLEAR)
Well, I thought we’d have to know all that sort of thing. It gives us more confidence to know what support we’ve got.
And from what did you understand your roll to be as you moved up towards the front? As a mortar man what did you have to do?
We knew we would, we’d have to support our rifle companies.

05:10:00:00

Well, they’d do the initial attack and once they reach their objective, and then we would have to dig in for counterattacks, that’s where we come into being. We’ve got to follow on with them and we’ve got to either be prepared to fire from above the ground or get our holes dug and get underground and be ready, which we did, we did really well. The first days we didn’t have time to dig,

05:10:30:00

we had to fire over above ground cause there were counterattacks going on. Pretty soon, rifle, the motorised infantry had to be dispersed before we had time to dig holes and get underground. Some of the ground was hard for digging to.
Tell me about the initial push, what did you see?
What we saw, we were lucky enough to be, we were camped in our Bren carriers

05:11:00:00

up with our sections right alongside the artillery and we actually could write on with chalk on the shells, write little notes to Hitler. And we even watched the countdown was coming til 10 o’clock that night, every gun there was 1,000 pieces of artillery I think and they all fired together. And someone was counting down 10, 9, 8, 7

05:11:30:00

and then “Bang” and away it went. The sky was lit up, it was something to see, you know. Some of our fellows even pulled the lanyards on the guns to fire off a shell if they wanted to. They work, you know, it was really thrilling. We weren’t even there in our battalion cause they had gone up of the start lines. The start lines were all measured out with tape and as we followed on, as we moved forward in our carriers just slowly,

05:12:00:00

you could see all the effort put in by the engineers. And the, with these things guiding us where to go on posts, little torches showing back our way following like, going down Pitt Street it was like. Engineers went forward with the troops, had the Bangalow torpedoes. That’s long water pipes with explosives in them, you have to slide them in under the wire, barbwire and

05:12:30:00

blow it to clear passages through for the tanks to come through. But this stage they decided the troops were going in first, that was one of the highlights of this attack, I think, was they used the troops to get in first and get into the, get through to the front line positions, clear the way for the engineers to clear the minefields, so the tanks could come through behind, which they

05:13:00:00

did. But they still had some big battle ahead of them. As we moved up to the company we’re supporting, well the platoons, we had to get our mortars in position ready and as I said we had motorised infantry counterattacking and this was daylight. And we had to fire over above ground and the enemy artillery was shelling our positions all through this, we lost both our sergeants, wounded,

05:13:30:00

got injuries, shrapnel through the legs. Both of them that day. They were evacuated and also we were down to the corporals – had to take over. So we lost two good men straight away but we were pretty competent in that area, so we managed to do what we had to do.
Did you have faith in those corporals?
Oh yeah, it was just like the ones we had,

05:14:00:00

they were just as competent. The two sergeants were very popular, we couldn’t imagine losing them both at the same time. But one didn’t survive eventually. One did and the other one got severely wounded enough to come evacuated home and he died later in after the war or just before it ended I think. But we just carried on. It was hectic moving from position

05:14:30:00

to position, you know. They changed the approach we’d, by doing, we’d relieve this unit and then we’d be going somewhere else and I think we went the whole six days or just about without having hardly any sleep because you’re moving backwards and forwards, and from attacks going on, you didn’t know who was winning what. The last stages we knew we were getting in front. We were in the last position, we’d dug in (UNCLEAR).

05:15:00:00

And the Maoris, New Zealanders were going to make this final push, and we had to withdraw from our front line positions because they were going to come through us and they were pretty keen troops and they been laced up with rum and that. So it wasn’t going to be safe for us to be in the way of them coming through, so we had to pull back from our positions, and wait till they went through.

05:15:30:00

And then we had to go back to our positions so as, if there was a counterattack we’d be ready.
Were they well respected?
Oh they were, they were good troops. They were very good troops, pretty tough, hardy blokes.
I wonder if there were any indigenous Australians troop serving?
We had an Aborigine with us, for in Tobruk area. I don’t remember him afterwards but he was a very popular and was the same as us, just

05:16:00:00

did his job right, very popular. But he was the only one that I knew.
Were the Maori troops together in any particular platoons or sections?
What I could see they were just the same, just the same as our troops but there was a whole Maori battalion.
Oh, that’s what I was getting at.
Yeah there was group of them. Cause they said, “The Maoris are coming, keep out of it, don’t get in their road.” I don’t remember seeing

05:16:30:00

them going through but they did.
Trish would know all about that one.
Yeah, that was the turning point, after that particular battle when the tanks went through and everything. That was our last effort; we just went back to our reserve, our front positions ready for a counterattack. From then on they just drove the enemy right back, right out of it. And we stayed there for a couple of days

05:17:00:00

just waiting and when it was all clear, we went down to the beach, parked close to the beach, just sort of settled down ready for the return back to Palestine.
Did you lose many of the people from your platoon, your section?
We lost the two sergeants, I don’t think we had any other casualties in my… I don’t think we had any other casualties, just the two sergeants.

05:17:30:00

Oh, we had our Bren carrier, each mortar had a Bren carrier to carry our like… Two mortars would be on each section would have a Bren carrier. Our driver, when they drove us out to park us in our position where we had to set up the mortar, they’d go back to battalion headquarters and wait for further instructions, they might have to bring us up ammunition. On this particular Sunday after, Alamein was the Friday night;

05:18:00:00

on the Sunday was the Black Sunday. When the Germans had these 88 mm anti-aircraft guns, which they used as ground artillery. They’d fire them and have the shell set like an aircraft and they burst above your head, air burst, they were deadly. They would fire them and they would burst over the top of and everything underneath it gets smashed. Well they hit our area where our carriers were and

05:18:30:00

our own driver, he got killed. He was under his carrier or behind it and airburst killed him. That was on casualty other than the sergeants. But they were such a fast, see you hear the gun, you’d hear the explosion then you hear the shell coming past you, it was already blown, it was that fast, terrible sound the 88.
Was there a moment within the battle when

05:19:00:00

that excitement and energy you’d spoken about, was there beforehand, was there a moment when that disappeared?
One time we had to, I remember this incident, we done a, had to do a move to relieve another battalion that was going to another spot and in the hassle of getting into position, the 15th Battalion, they were another sister battalion or ours, was going to make an attack on our right. And they

05:19:30:00

wanted the mortar ammunition carried up, so that they decided our company commander or battalion commander decided that some of us mortar men could help by carrying the ammunition and there was shells flying around both sides, backward and forwards, and all we wanted to do was get in our position and get in below ground. And then we had to carry these, each bloke had to carry

05:20:00:00

a couple of panniers of mortars. But once we got told to do that, I remember going through that and I thought, “I don’t know how I could do it,” I only wanted to get below ground out of the way and we had to carry these mortars, ammunition up with the 15th Battalion. We took it up so far, when they got into where they stack it all up and we had to return to our unit and as we were coming back we looked

05:20:30:00

like we were retreating you know and some of 15th Battalion blokes would come out and they thought we were shooting through but we were only going back, we didn’t have any weapons with us, just been carrying. So we had to tell them “We’d just been on a working party for them.” But there was a moment, but actually doing the actual job, didn’t hesitate you know, it was good to know we were helping someone.
Did you

05:21:00:00

encounter any acts of desertion while you were in Africa?
No, I don’t, not any one definite that I knew of. We might have had. I doubt that we did have any, but I never heard of any.
What about any acts of cowardice?
No, no I don’t think I remember, I never knew any close to me, all of us, I don’t know any of our own platoons and the rifle company,

05:21:30:00

none of them showed any signs. We were all nerves, shaken up at time, under heavy barrages and things like that you know. But the hot spot in Tobruk was in the Salient area where there was only a few yards between enemy and us and a bit of wire. Going out on the listening patrol of that was hectic. You’d be, we were living two men in a hole in the ground

05:22:00:00

together, just all you could sit up on the ground looking. You could see his face all the time, all day, you couldn’t put your head up in the daytime, or you’re gone. And you’re seeing this face and if you wanted to relieve yourself you had to do it in the hole and things like that, it was a very strenuous time. And you’d go out on this patrol, you’d get hold of a, there’s a wire leading to a phone, you’d have the phone with you. But that wire was in this little listening hole down near the wire.

05:22:30:00

You’d have to creep down to that in the night and just lay there with your mate, just listening if there’s any sign of enemy action you’d ring up the company headquarters or platoon headquarters and you’d stay there all night. The Germans had a habit of, if they were not attacking, they’d have their machines guns set on fixed lines and every now and again the operator would just press the trigger and send a few burst down the wire, one this way and one that way,

05:23:00:00

so you had to be careful when you put your head up. And lying under that for a few hours in the night was a little bit tormenting in a way. But still you did it.
I can understand how you would cope with those traumatic experiences if you had a job to do, but simply sitting in a hole how did you…?
That was hard then, when you came back to your hole you knew you couldn’t move, someone was observing somewhere cause someone had to be alert but

05:23:30:00

in our own immediate position, they were mortaring us and we’d be mortaring them. I wasn’t in the mortars then but they’d be mortaring our area and artillery. Soon as someone fired a shell, the other side would send one back, you know they’d start little mini wars, like crab drawing, once you had to get out at night, both parties. It was interesting, our meal

05:24:00:00

and supplies would come up, bringing up food and fellows they would bring them up in truck to a certain point and we’d have to send back carrying parties to pick up the dixies of food and that to bring them back to eat. The Germans would be doing the same thing on their side, you could hear them rattling things. Now and again they’d be singing away or something. Little stories like that you just couldn’t imagine. A few minutes later, any movements

05:24:30:00

there’d be shots fired at you, so that was funny. At the night there was always that little peaceful time, so you could have a feed and stretch you legs and get out, it was good.
Did you ever feel empathy or sympathy for the enemy, given that you were in such difficult conditions together?
No, no I don’t think. I never thought about them much at all, just it’s them or me. So you knew you had to be there for a reason.

05:25:00:00

But I never, I had no hatred for them, even well we had blokes, some of our fellows met up with some of the Afrika Corps on different tours they made; overseas and going back to Alamein and Tobruk, they met up with them, as if they’re mates, you know, talk to each other. I think you had that same feeling at the time, really you would have felt that way, in the right

05:25:30:00

circumstances. There was no direct hatred for them but you knew there had to be a fight, it had to be one or the other, gotta look after yourself.
Could we go back to Alamein and you were receiving the news that you were to be withdrawn back to Palestine? Can you pick me up from that point?
I think we were so relieved, that that was over and was

05:26:00:00

we knew it, we’re going back, we’ll be able to get home to Australia it looks like now. That was where we really wanted to be. I think there was that thrill of knowing that we were coming home, which was pretty obvious that we were going to. Because the longer each day the British drove Rommel further back until it was just about annihilation really and they were preparing for the 8th Army to go on into Tripoli and into Libya or right through

05:26:30:00

Libya and right through to North Africa. It was obvious that they were well and truly in command then, so we knew we were coming home. I remember about the 1st of November, oh that’s right, we went back to … what camp did we go to then, back to

05:27:00:00

Palestine, that might have been Julis. That might have been when we went to Julis. The last camp I mentioned, Hill 69, that wasn’t Julis,that was 69, this was Julis and we were in camp there and then we got some leave. I remember Christmas Eve in that, that would be 1942 just before Christmas Eve,

05:27:30:00

we got our 6 day leave to Cairo. I took a day to get there I suppose from Palestine and there was a group of us together and we got into Cairo and we met up with some New Zealanders. New Zealand troops, they were pretty popular with us and they were hateful of the English, there was always a bit of a war on with them. So we got mingled up with these

05:28:00:00

New Zealanders and we went around the town having a good time, having a few grogs and things. They used to have Garry’s, they were like a horsedrawn taxi, that’s what they used to run around town in and we’re in one of these, there was four of us, and we’re going back, we had to go back to the hotel we were staying at. And the chap was, we realised he was going down the wrong road, wrong way, so we told him to reverse,

05:28:30:00

and as he did a U-turn with the horses and the thing tipped over, got knocked some how, you know, when they do. And we all fell out on the road and we were groggy, full of grog, well not too bad, we were half unconscious, and by the time the provos [Provosts – Military Police] arrived. New Zealand provos came up with a utility truck and started to sort things out and they decided we were the cause of it.

05:29:00:00

It was only because this thing got locked and tipped over but they would hear of that, so they put us in this paddy wagon and took us to the jail, Babelhab was a big red capped jail, a British MP [Military Police], anybody playing up, they put them in this jail for the night. And we had to spend the night in this jail cell, a big cell it was with all these English troops and New Zealanders and four or five of us.

05:29:30:00

And the next day we had to front up the Australian provo in charge and give our story and we managed to prove, not prove, persuaded him that it was accidental, that we weren’t playing up or anything. So we were just discharged and allowed to continue our leave but one of my mates was a corporal and he said, “I’ll leave you in charge of your men and if

05:30:00:00

you come back again, you’ll go straight back here again,” so we finished Christmas Eve in the jail at Cairo. We went back to the New Zealand club on Christmas Day, we had a …. I’ve got the card here somewhere, the New Zealanders, it was a special invitation to go to their club for Christmas Dinner or something, so we went in there and had a nice time in the New Zealand Club

05:30:30:00

and carried on our leave, had a good time the rest of the time, behaving ourselves, it was just unfortunate experience that I would rather forget. It was another fun time in our lives.
What was the general attitude towards the provos?
Provos were very run down; we didn’t like them because they were sort of harsh. They had a hard

05:31:00:00

job to do and they did it hard too. You sort of, you didn’t hate them but you didn’t like them. Cause they were like the military police, they were a bit over…. They had a hard job to do I suppose. But they were pretty callous if they had to arrest you or anything like that.
As you were coming back across to Australia, were you aware of what had been going on up in

05:31:30:00

Papua?
We knew about the fall of Singapore, we were just worried about how things were going. We didn’t know how, we knew there were some units, we were crooked on the news that we got about the British troops, the Australian troops were coming back and Churchill diverted them into Seine. He wanted them to stay

05:32:00:00

around there for some reason and Curtin wanted them home here, which he forced them to do eventually. But it made us very angry at Churchill and even then they landed some of our units, not our battalion, our division, in Dutch New Guinea. As the Dutch and everyone else was getting out and they put our… one of our Pioneer battalions was landed there and they all got captured.

05:32:30:00

The officer of that unit was our original 2IC [Second in Command] of our battalion. He was a lovely soldier and he was captured in that landing, where they had to land in New Guinea.
So which battalion was that?
I think it was the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, he was commander of, they were either 7th Division or 6th. 7th Division,1 I think they were. As they were coming back to Australia they diverted them

05:33:00:00

into Dutch New Guinea, to help the situation.
That wasn’t your ship?
Oh no, not our ship, that was before, long before we even started to come back I think. And we just came straight to….we called into some islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean and then we came onto Fremantle. And gradually, and I think we dropped some off.

05:33:30:00

I’m not sure if we dropped some off at Adelaide and came to Sydney. That was a wonderful sight, coming off the heads, heading into Sydney, you see all the red roof houses you know. That was really, that was one of the highlights of army career, it was just so wonderful to see our own city. Came in and (UNCLEAR) wharf and all the crowds there.
There was a crowd there for you?
There was a terrific crowd. Got into buses

05:34:00:00

and they took us out to Wallgrove Camp. I was disappointed there, it was in the night time about 11 o’clock at night and they were issuing leave passes and they only had so many made out. So after 11 o’clock they said, “Stop. There is no one else going on leave until they got their pass,” so I was one of the unfortunate ones that had to stay the night in Wallgrove camp. But anyhow about 6

05:34:30:00

o’clock in the morning we got our leave pass and we got issued with more clothes and stuff while we were there. And Wallgrove, they took us in buses to Liverpool and I think I got a taxi there with a couple of other blokes. I was coming to Strathfield and they were going further on, so I got out at Strathfield at my home and they went on. I met up with Mum and my sisters and brothers.
How was that reception?
Oh they were really,

05:35:00:00

I think they were thrilled to see me back. Coming in with a kit bag and a rifle, and so I settle in home, it was a bit strange though.
Could you talk about your experiences with them?
I think I talked, I’d tell them most things in the letters I used to write them and that. I don’t think they were too inquisitive, they didn’t ask me anything

05:35:30:00

much. But I know I settled in well at home.
Were any of them in any of the services?
No, no my, well my younger sister she had rheumatic fever or something, she wasn’t real well in health. My eldest sister, she was working in an office, so she stayed working. My brother was a bit young at the beginning of the war. And he was in essential industry, engineering or something and he stayed in that. Like

05:36:00:00

later on, he’s still four years younger than me. And you know he was more or less tied down to his trade cause he was doing essential work and that. So I was the only one. But I came through it.
Tell me about meeting his wife’s sister. Your future wife?
When I came home he said, “Oh, I’m getting married.”

05:36:30:00

This was the end of February, we arrived the 28th of February and he said, “I’m getting married on the 29th of March.” So he said, “You can be my best man.” So I said, “All right I’ll be in that.” On the Sunday, which was the day I got home, when I got home to Mum’s, he decided to take me around to see his future wife, which he did. And my future wife was her sister and she was

05:37:00:00

nursing at a public hospital. She was home off duty and when I showed up at the door, she was just lounging around out the back and she didn’t want to see anyone, so she went into her little room at the side. And I came in and got introduced to my future sister-in-law and there was another sister of hers there and her mother and father. And we were sitting around talking and they kept asking my wife,

05:37:30:00

future wife, “To come out and say hello.” So she finally came out and she being a nurse… I had some little scars on my arm that were sort of little sores I’d developed over there from lack of vitamin C I suppose, and we got talking about them. And she saw them and she said, “You need to put some blue stain or something onto to clear them up.” And being a nurse she was interested in things like that

05:38:00:00

and I said, “Oh no, they’re bullet wounds,” tell them they were bullet wound, they weren’t just to have them on, got them all in. So eventually my brother said well (UNCLEAR) had a little car, said, “We’ll be going to the pictures next Friday night, so you can come with Derelle,” that’s my future wife. So I went with her and he with his fiancée and I think we brought her mother with them.

05:38:30:00

And the first night when we came back to home, after my wife, my future wife had to go home to hospital by train and I was stupid enough not to offer to take her home safely. Cause I was a bit, not used to women at all. So I just let her go. During the week it was made clear to me that I should have done the right thing and taken her home safely.

05:39:00:00

So next week we go to the pictures again, so I take her home this night and take her to the hospital, so a friendship developed. I kept showing up at their place when she was off duty and curtailed all my plans that I had of spending my leave. Changing my whole plans and eventually I was back at camp ready to go back and I had a couple of AWLs [Absent Without Leave]

05:39:30:00

to come out and see her. And one night she accepted my decision to get married. So we got married on the Saturday and a week later I moved off to Queensland for further training for jungle warfare. So I had to wait for another year to come back for a honeymoon.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 06

06:00:33:00

Frank, we left off yesterday when we came back to Australia from the Middle East and I was wondering if you could tell me the story of how you met and married your wife, during that time?
It was unusual circumstances. We arrived home and I went around to my mother when I got finally from the camp and my brother was due

06:01:00:00

to be married in a month’s time and when I came in he said, “Good, you’ll be free, you can be the best man at my wedding,” so I said, “I’d love to do that.” I came home on the Sunday, so in the afternoon he took me up to see his future wife and when I got introduced to them all. All of a sudden one of her, eldest sister, was

06:01:30:00

nursing, off duty and when I showed up she went into her room because she didn’t want to be involved with everything and they got her to come out. And being a nurse she… I’ve had some scars on my arm that appeared to be needing some treatment and I told them “It was bullet wounds” and she looked at them and said, “You need copper sulphate,” or something to remove the white proud flesh.

06:02:00:00

So that got her a bit interested in talking and so I didn’t take much notice of her because we only stayed there a little while. During the next week, my brother said, “We’re going to the pictures one night” and he said, “Derelle,” that’s my future wife, “Would be coming with us” and so we went to the pictures all right. And on the way home we dropped her off at the station at Strathfield to go onto where

06:02:30:00

the hospital she was nursing in. She had to walk up to that. Not being used to taking women out or anything I didn’t volunteer to take her home and during the next week I was made to know that I should have done the right thing there. So next week, pictures were on again, time to go back to the hospital. So I thought, “I’ll do the right thing this time.” I took her back to the hospital and

06:03:00:00

before she went into the nurses’ quarters, in those days the nurses used to have their own quarters, they’d live on the site. So we had a little sit down on the seat and just talking and eventually I started to get an attraction for her. So during the next week or two, every time she was home at her mother’s place, I’d show up. Gradually we started to go out, we went swimming at the Cabarita Baths

06:03:30:00

and went out to Coogee one time and I was feeling like I’d never felt before. I couldn’t imagine, never any thoughts of marriage but I was really infatuated and she didn’t, wasn’t too sure of anything so we kept going until it was almost time for me to go back to camp and finally go away for future training. I was AWL one night just to see her and I rung

06:04:00:00

her up to see how things were going and she asked me “If Saturday will do.” And I said, “What do you mean?,” she said, “Get married.” So I said, “I’d surely be in that.” So we got married on that Saturday and then the next week I moved away from Sydney up to Queensland. That was the start of it, but it was a year before I came back to go away on the honeymoon. But that was the

06:04:30:00

story of how we met. Just something that wasn’t predicted by any of us.
What do you think was behind the urgency to get married so quickly?
Well I don’t know. I had a very secluded life you know, never had anything to do with girls. It was mostly when we were growing up, boys stuck together and you know on the weekends we’d be playing around the parks and

06:05:00:00

never worry too much in my group. Some infatuation came, just the companionship and that. I don’t know whether it is right to say, but my wife at that time was a war widow, her husband was on a merchant ship, engineer and he’d been lost at sea. She was in a lonely situation and I was similarly situated and

06:05:30:00

we sort of were brought together for that reason. I think we both felt the need in each one and it became evident to her that I really loved her I think because when I showed that in me attitude, and she must have come to realise, that being in wartime… She was a bit dubious about remarrying and having another loss but anyhow we went ahead with it.
How long had she’d been widowed?
She’d

06:06:00:00

been widowed for about 12 months, she was only married two years before, but her husband’s ship was sent away about three months after they were married and he never returned to Australia. He was actually captured by the Kormoran, that German raider that sunk the [HMAS] Sydney, that was capturing a lot of ships around the areas and they kept the prisoners,

06:06:30:00

the crews all prisoner on board. And when they had so many prisoners they had to put them on a supply ship, a German supply ship that was following them up. And that was loaded up with all these prisoners and on the way back to Germany for prison camp they were flying a neutral flag and a German submarine sunk the ship and John wasn’t saved. So that time on she was a widow. She didn’t have much of a

06:07:00:00

married life really, and it was a big shock and when I showed up. It was hard for her to make up her mind.
Was she still in grief?
No, I think she was over the grief by then, cause she took on nursing and she was enjoying it. She was a good nurse and she was enjoying looking after people. I think she was very unsure, but just something triggered in her mind and we turned out to be a

06:07:30:00

wonderful union.
Did you think the war played a part in strengthening the bond between you?
I’m sure it did because we used to write regularly, night by night almost you know, write letters. When I got wounded she, and it wasn’t a fatal wound naturally,

06:08:00:00

that made the bond closer, to think that I survived that.
You’d been in hospital in the Middle East too?
Yes, I had an elbow injury, a cyst and that was healed up. That’s what started me off, that altered my career in the army, because I did that mortar school and I stayed in the mortar platoon from then on. Which was

06:08:30:00

a different way of life to the rifle companies really.
Was that the injury that you said was the bullet wounds?
Oh no, no that was on the elbow, right elbow. The other wounds were on the left forearm, they were just little scars, I can still see her rubbing them, fingering and saying, “Oh you want some copper sulphate on them,” or something, the medical term.
You were taking some absences

06:09:00:00

without leave?
When we had to return back off our leave instead of going to Wallgrove we went to Narellan, there’s a camping area there. As different fellows came back at different times you just went, you got up with the early parade and if they didn’t have any duties for you around the camp you’d just lay around the camp, so what you’d do if you didn’t get detailed a duty, you’d just shoot through. You’d get a taxi up to the station

06:09:30:00

at Liverpool and away you’d go for the day and come back that night and you hoped that the sergeants would cover you, which they were pretty good. They covered us quite a bit. But sometimes they couldn’t cover you enough. When I finally, we got back the last week, well there’s no way you would go away then, but I had to front the CO, they had me booked down for about three days of AWL. I got fined

06:10:00:00

a certain amount, so many days’ pay.
Obviously they fined you, but what was there attitude on you coming in off?
I think they understood, they just relaxed it. You had to be fronted up eventually and the CO was fairly hard. My excuse was getting married but he didn’t take any notice of that, it was just I was AWL and that was it.

06:10:30:00

Were they angry at the amount of AWL?
No, no it, cause it wasn’t too much. You know and it wasn’t as if I neglected anything, there was nothing to do around the camp, just guard duties and things like that. There was always someone there to do it.
So the first time you went away, obviously there was no girl waiting for you, the second time there was?
The second time yeah, I had every

06:11:00:00

thing to look forward to. It didn’t alter my attitude to me job, but it was something I had to look forward to when I returned. So we got correspondence regularly.
It didn’t alter the sense that you had the same job to do, but did it alter your feelings about wanting to get back in one piece?
Well it did make

06:11:30:00

me, I had something to look forward to you know, even though before I would have. No attachments and you weren’t responsible to think of someone you’d left at home whereas with your family. Or if you were killed it was just bad luck, when you had some desire to try and stay alive, the incentive was there.
Was that a help,

06:12:00:00

or was that another worry?
Oh well, it was possibly a worry. Well, it didn’t worry me so much, because we hadn’t had much time together, but when we had enough to have a great bond between us, there was still concern I suppose to try and stay alive.
And tell me about when you said goodbye to go up to Queensland?
The last

06:12:30:00

Friday night I went up to the hospital and she had to go on duty that night, so we just sat out in the little place where it was common for nurses to have their boyfriends, just had a cuddle and say “Goodbye” then. And she went off on duty and I went back home, I went back to camp then and the next morning we went past in the

06:13:00:00

train right up past the hospital and I had a look up to the, I could see where her rooms were and I just thought, “She’s up there now and I’d like to be getting off and staying with her.”
Tell me about arriving in Queensland, how long did it take you to get up there?
It took about three days I think to get to the camp we went to. And that was our first experience of jungle training, like we had only been used to the desert

06:13:30:00

and training back in Sydney. And we had to, we were instructed by… The 6th and 7th Division had already had a taste of New Guinea and they’d set up training camps up there and they were teaching us jungle warfare.
What were some of the new things?
Well the, in the jungle there was…it was all in amongst shrubs and trees

06:14:00:00

and you know bushes and that, whereas the rest was open warfare. In the training when they had a training scheme built, they’d take you individually and you’d have to, suddenly things would appear like models of humans, they were suppose to be enemy. They would suddenly show up and you’d have to react, you know, you had a rifle there and make just to see how you would react, like as it you were a forward scout

06:14:30:00

or something. You gradually got used to all the little problems that you might face.
What about the differences in operating the mortar unit?
Well the mortar was different in New Guinea cause most the time we were walking and moving through the scrub. When we came to a fixed position

06:15:00:00

we would have to dig, there were lots of trees around though, dig a hole. Most of the warfare there, it wasn’t necessary, the mortars weren’t used as much, because it was closer combat and we drew with the rifle companies and we more or less were in the same position, though we had dug our mortars in some spots where we could… just in case there was an attack, and could be used. But

06:15:30:00

most of the places were a bit awkward to get in a suitable position for a mortar, but we still had them ready. We had supplies brought up with us.
Were there different things you had to learn about moving a mortar in a jungle situation?
No not really, it was the same; we’re more or less moving it all the time, advancing until they struck trouble. You’d be carrying, there’d

06:16:00:00

be three different fellows carrying different parts of the mortar and the rest carrying ammunition stuff. And you’d be sort of hiking up tracks and down tracks and then come to a stop and find a spot where you could put a pit in, you’d have to dig it in and dig your own holes around about it, cause mostly at night was perimeter sort of defence, you’d have to

06:16:30:00

all have your holes were in below the ground. There was always someone on duty, on sentry in the most vital spots because the Japanese were very cunning at sneaking through the scrub in the night time. It was more tense than in the desert fighting, in the jungle.
When you were in Queensland, did you get a sense that this was going to be a tougher campaign?
Oh no, we,

06:17:00:00

I don’t think we thought about it that way. We just did our training the same and we hope it was nothing, we were still at war, but we knew we had to have a different style and tactics.
So the 6th, the 7th Division that had been there before you, you also followed them into the Middle East in a

06:17:30:00

sense. Were they a source of inspiration for you?
Well, they were because they came home first and had to fight in the jungles before we came back, so they had the experience. That was like when we went up the desert, they went up there first, they wouldn’t have had any experience of that. Well, they would have to learn the same way as we did. But we were lucky to have training for jungle warfare,

06:18:00:00

but it must have been awkward for them going straight into it, without any preparation and knowing what they were going to face. But we had experience with that, which would have been beneficial.
Did you keep in touch with your wife, while you were in Queensland?
Only by letter, only by mail. We were only, we left in April and we were in the first camp

06:18:30:00

till August. Anyway I don’t think we rang, never phoned down, just by mail.
Were you ever tempted to take leave, absent without leave?
No, I wasn’t tempted. I wasn’t that type to go away from such a vital position you know, we were in then. There was no thought of AWL to come home, even though I probably would have liked to have been home again, but

06:19:00:00

once I got back to the unit, that was my job there and I just had to do what was required.
Tell me about going to the Channing?
On the Channing, when we were in at Cairns we did, we had our final training on the beaches there with the amphibious landing types of training and we’d

06:19:30:00

finished one day and we were allowed to have a swim off the beach, which was very good. And it was so good when they blew the whistle to come on, come ashore, some of us wouldn’t come and we kept staying swimming and they had a few goes to bring us in. When we finally came in it was about 7 or 8 of us were brought up before the officers because we were being disobedient. So we got

06:20:00:00

details to do duties on the wharf at Cairns. So, we were packing up our gear and it had to be taken down to the wharves and loaded off the truck, ready to be loaded on ships, on the Channing. So in the meantime the word had got around that the officers were going to have….their grog was in a special crate and the number of the crate was

06:20:30:00

given to us. So when that crate came down we had to put it in amongst all the other crates, surrounded it with them and we borrowed a jimmy off one of the wharfies and lifted the lid and got…. all the grog was dispersed amongst the men. We decided to leave one bottle of lemon squash in the box, that was all that was left with all the straw and stuff and we put the lid back on.

06:21:00:00

I never found out what happened when they got to the officers’ mess and they opened it up and it was empty. But there was quite a few involved getting a bottle of it. But that was just one of the things we used to get up to.
And how did you spend your time on the trip?
On the trip, was only four days but I can remember another fellow used to play chess and I knew a little bit about chess,

06:21:30:00

so I can remember sitting at the back of the boat up on some decking and playing some chess, there was nothing else much to do. And another thing we did, we found there was a vent going down into the various holes and there was a doorway into it from the hole we were sleeping in and if you got inside that there was a ladder down to the next hole, which we got down to and there was

06:22:00:00

supplies down in there and the canteen. Good, so we got in amongst them once, there wasn’t too much there, like biscuits and chocolates and stuff, so we thought, “We’ll have a bit” cause the food on it was very primitive. It wasn’t very much and also we were given emergency rations, special pack with all good vital foodstuffs in it but that was only to be used in emergencies,

06:22:30:00

if we were sunk and we’re on life rafts or something. That would keep us for a few days. But we were half starved we felt on the ship, so most, some of us ate our emergency rations when we shouldn’t have. When we got to Milne Bay, you had to hand them back in and all… and as you handed them in they ticked your name off and they stacked them up outside the orderly room,

06:23:00:00

and some of us were being a bit smart, and thought, “Oh no, they won’t do anything about this.” All we had to do was go up and grab one of the packets that had already been handed in and put it in as if it was ours, we would have been cleared. But being smart we just didn’t put our packages, so the six or seven of us had to front for eating our emergency rations and not handing them back, so we got another fine and so many days’ pay for that.

06:23:30:00

So we were gradually learning it wasn’t paying to play tricks like that.
When you said the food onboard was primitive, what was it?
It was more like, stews mostly, but it wasn’t much because they cooked up on the deck with the camp sort things to cook with. It wasn’t like in a proper cookhouse but I can remember

06:24:00:00

the first ones on the queue, you know, they’d be on the back up queue before some of us had been through. It was so skimpy, it wasn’t much, but I suppose under the circumstances they did the best they could.
What did you pack to take to New Guinea?
We just had, we probably had a change of clothing, we had jungle greens trousers and shirts and we had some underwear and any

06:24:30:00

personal things that you might, cameras or diaries.
What personal possessions did you remember bringing?
I only had diaries; I had a wallet with photos of my wife in it and things that were precious like that. I didn’t have any other things, only clothing.
What sort of things were you recording in your diary?
I tried to record everything that I did each day. Like wake up, got up in the morning

06:25:00:00

at a certain time, have breakfast and if we did any training I’d just note that down. Anything that cropped up just briefly, day by day, sometimes the same thing is written each day, you did the same thing each day.
And was that a … a lot of troops keeping diaries?
I think there were a few. I don’t… I knew two or three in my section that were doing it.

06:25:30:00

But I felt, I wanted to do it. I noticed most of mine were written in ink and there weren’t ballpoints around then, so I must have had access to ink bottles or something. I think through the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] and the Salvation Army, we would get all that stuff. I’m gradually putting it together again now into one big book.

06:26:00:00

Can you tell me what did Milne Bay look like when you arrived?
When we arrived there it was raining. Terrible rain and it was all wet. We came onto the campsite, everything was flooded and wet. They had, I think the tents were American type of tent. I think we had wooden floors on them but it was very uncomfortable that first day, cause of that. It used to rain regularly

06:26:30:00

in the afternoon, but once we settled in, we got used to it all.
What was the accommodation that you had?
Well there was tents about, there was about eight, I think we had about 8 in a tent, four each side, what I can remember. They were pretty good sort of a tent, standard army tent, American style.
When were you told about

06:27:00:00

the plans they had for you, the landings at Lae?
Well I think we were told, we didn’t know about Lae, but we knew we were going to do amphibious landings. Back at Cairns we practiced on the beaches there with LCVs [Landing Craft Vessels], the small barges that took the first troops in. I think we went out on a larger ship and then we’d clamber into these and then charge up to the beach.

06:27:30:00

A coxswain and a crew of them had experience that way too see, get used to coming into the beach and landing properly, not broaching and things. It was good experience. We did that. When we got to Milne Bay we were doing more of that and I think possibly, I can’t remember when they decided, told us it was going to be Lae. We had a month there doing training like that before we went round to the Lae campaign.

06:28:00:00

What was difficult about leaning amphibious landings?
I think clambering down off nets on the side of the boat was a bit awkward, but when we finally went around there we went in what they call LCIs, it was a Landing Craft Infantry was what they called it. You were already on that, you got on that, there were cabins and that where you could,

06:28:30:00

places where you could bunk. And to get off them there were two ramps, on each side, one on each side. The crew, the gun crew up in the front, they had a Bofors gun on the front of them that could fire 20mm shells and they had control over the gear that lift the ramp up or lower it. And so when it was time to get off they’d wind the ramps down as we come into

06:29:00:00

the shore. And as we came out our various positions and go down either right or left and get ashore that way. But that wasn’t difficult, that time. The ones that went in the initial wave, that started the landing, went in those LCVs, the smaller ones which had a big door up the front, a flap. And as they got close to the

06:29:30:00

just about the shore, they’d drop that and skid up to the beach and the fellow would all run off from that. Well, they had to do the actual forefront of it and when we came along with some of the rifle companies and mortars too, we came in these LCI s. Hopefully, they would have the beach held so we could get ashore easily. But the red beach

06:30:00:00

for all of Lae was unopposed, we didn’t have any opposition there and we got off pretty quickly. But after our first lot had got off we were moving into inland to get organised, there were more troops coming in behind us and there was about three or four Jap bombers came over and dropped some bombs on the ships and killed a few men from another battalion. Just at the time as they shot over we were

06:30:30:00

a few hundred yards inland but when we heard it we dived down to the ground, we didn’t know what was happening. Then we saw they were bombing the ships.
Can I just ask, I’d like to ask you about Lae now? Going back a little bit, your approach to Lae by ship, can you tell me what you can see when you were going in?
Well all the way along, there was this long,

06:31:00:00

had a lot of, a big convoy, a lot of barges and a lot of warships guiding us. And just coming along the coast and it was a really terrific sight. And I think I can’t remember any opening barrage where we landed because there was no opposition there, we were a few miles away from Lae, a bit north of Lae and we had to walk through overland back to Lae and we had rivers to cross, several rivers

06:31:30:00

to cross, and there were some Japanese troops on some of those rivers, held us up for a bit. But as far as coming up it was just good to see the massive fleet that they had there.
Whereabouts are the troops on the ship, were you all in a huddle?
In the LCIs, we’re in a kind of a hold… it was like in a cabin sort of, all around us there were spaces under

06:32:00:00

the deck where they had all the troops.
Were you all fairly tightly packed?
We were fairly tight, yeah fairly tight. And when it came to get off you’d just the first ones would move out and we’d just follow on.
And what’s the mood in there?
The mood was to get off quick you know, everyone move off pretty smartly.
Was there an air of excitement about…?
I think there would have been then, yes there would have been

06:32:30:00

seeing there was nothing, no opposition but still we wanted to get off quickly.
But did you know there’d be no opposition?
No, I didn’t know, we didn’t know, we expected to be some there.
And tell me, when you were waiting to go ashore, in what state of readiness are your guns?
Oh well, I can’t remember that far back now. I’m sure we were keyed up, we knew it was getting to the….

06:33:00:00

But would there be some drill about a certain..?
Oh no, we were just all ready to move and just automatically followed on what we were told to do.
And what weapons were you carrying with you?
We, each of the mortars, we’d have our rifle and a bayonet and a bandoleer of ammunition around your shoulder, around your neck and then there’d be three parts of the mortar. Three men would have a

06:33:30:00

part each and then I think some of the others would be carrying bombs but the most would be just your rifle – that was the main weapon. We didn’t have Bren guns with the mortars.
When you actually got off the landing craft, how deep was the water?
Well the water, Lae, it was all right, it came up on a beach, straight in, it was easy. But Finschhafen there was,

06:34:00:00

we got, they came in at the wrong spot and we got over amongst the rocks and the one I was on there was a lot of machine gun and mortar fire, strafing the left side of our ship. And the initial troops that were trying to get off there, they had a few casualties on the top, on the deck, and it was getting too hot. No way of going down that ramp, so everyone went to the

06:34:30:00

other side and so the crew, the American crew, decided to wind up that ramp, get that up out of the way and after a little spell, a few seconds or two another boat, LCI, came on that side of us, so they copped the ammunition from the enemy, so that meant our deck was free and I happened to just come out about then,

06:35:00:00

so I thought, “Everyone was going to the right side,” I said, “I’m going down this ramp here,” because I didn’t know there was, it had been pretty hot there before and the ramp was up a bit, off the bottom and when I got down the end and thought I was stepping off into rocks or something. I went down about 6 or 8 foot of water and I’m carrying the base plate of the mortar which weighs 37 pound I think. So down I went. A mate of mine was coming behind me, I don’t know how he

06:35:30:00

but he dragged me up out of it. It was… we must have had some rocks just near to get onto.
It must have difficult to get to shore, you were soaking wet?
Well it was just that area, cause the boats all veered, drifted to the left a bit. Normally, we were supposed to go up on the beach where the LCV’s had already got in there and the first troops got off and raced inland. We were supposed to follow them but as our boats

06:36:00:00

came in they veered them onto the left and they got jammed into these rocks.
Why did they land in the wrong position?
I think it was just, as they came in they didn’t come in fast because they’d ram into it and as they were coming slowly, they drifted slowly to the left.
It was the current?
Yeah, just the current.
When you were training for these landings, did you train in different weather conditions?
Oh no I can’t remember the actual training.

06:36:30:00

It was always pretty well, pretty good, the weather then. The weather was all right on those landings too as far as the weather…
Well what about the tides of the sea?
Yeah well this particular one we drifted a bit, that was the only two we did. The Lae one was straight in onto the beach. That was good.
Did you ever have to land in rougher sea?
I didn’t have to land in rough seas,

06:37:00:00

in a battle situation, but when I was returning to me unit after I’d been in hospital, we had to…..various ships took us back to where the unit was, up the coast. Once or twice I was on a sort of a …. they used to use little light boats to carry supplies up, sailing vessels and things like that. And the last time we were in one of these LCVs

06:37:30:00

and it was a rough sea and as they were trying to get to shore, it broached sideways, and it was a bit of fun trying to get out of that one. I just forget how they did, I remember coming on broached, that’s when it was a little bit difficult then.
Were you working with Americans in the training?
Yeah, they were American ships, cause they ran…

06:38:00:00

the coxswain of each ship, these LCVs especially, were Americans. And on the bigger ships, they were American ships, and as I was saying they had this Bofor gun up the front which would blast away at the shore as they were coming in and they were 20mm cannon shell in that, and they controlled the winches to wind up these ramps. See they didn’t, they only put the ramp down in the last minute, so that you

06:38:30:00

could get off and then they wind it up quickly and they’d reverse their motor and back out when they had to get away and probably go back to get some more troops. They were all Americans doing that.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 07

07:00:34:00

Now I’d like to ask you more about the landing at Lae. You said you didn’t meet much opposition. What were you expecting?
Well, we didn’t know what to expect cause we weren’t used to it, but we thought, “There’d be troops dug in there opposite us.” But they must have picked a beach, they thought it wouldn’t be, they

07:01:00:00

probably knew it wasn’t occupied cause when they… before they land there used to be someone go ashore, sort of commando types would go ashore and they’d have lights to guide them in. Cause you come in the dawn, early dawn and they’d have to guide them in the positions. So they would have known there was no opposition there but they did. I think they did the same at Finschhafen too. They had, the first ones got ashore, but there was

07:01:30:00

a lot of Japanese dug in opposite that one. But at Lae we didn’t see a soul for days after that and our battalion split up into two groups, one went along the coast line, close to the shore, another lot went a mile or two inland and combed through that area, cause the Japanese were evacuating out of Lae and they were heading up towards Finschhafen and they had to come through that area where we’d landed.

07:02:00:00

But inland a bit, so that’s why they went in to try to cope with them.
Were you aware of fighting on other beaches? Was there any other Japanese resistance around you that you were aware of?
No, not at all at Lae. The 13th Battalion landed at another beach just past us and they didn’t have any opposition either. I’m not sure which way they went after that but

07:02:30:00

I know we came along the coastline, several rivers to cross, swift flowing ones too, they were.
Was that difficult to get across with the equipment?
It was, I think, I can’t quite remember it, we got boated across any of them. I just can’t visualise the ones we did go across. But certain parts you’d get out on the, right on the, out onto the beach they’d be shallower

07:03:00:00

there. But there were some places where there was enemy, not so much with us but there was Japanese on the other side of the river, heavily defended and some of those battalions or companies had to swim across and fight in amongst them without… from the water, coming out of the water and that. They had some tough spots. Luckily for us we

07:03:30:00

didn’t strike any of that where we were.
What about up natives, were they around?
We didn’t strike any around there at all. Not in Lae, not in the Lae area.
Tell what happens, you land on the beach and how many of you are coming up together and what do you see from the beach, how many of you get off the barge?
You just kind of see the country and anywhere you could move in

07:04:00:00

and as quick as you could get in and form up. Get into your right section, the officers knew their plans for each company, what platoon had to go this way and that way and we had to be with one of the companies with our mortars, you know we go, wherever which company we were attached to. And we would just follow along with the mortars.
And were you established in a camp there?
No, we didn’t, we never stopped, never in a camp. Once we got organised

07:04:30:00

we were just moving on towards Lae and of a night we’d stop, wherever we’d stop, we’d form a perimeter around just to in case we were attacked in the night, you never could tell. We just form up in a perimeter situation. We had sentries on all the time.
Did you have patrols?
No, we were fortunate in a way, the mortars didn’t do patrols, the rifle companies did all that and we

07:05:00:00

just stuck with our mortars ready to, if they needed any support fire.
Did you go into Lae?
No, we never got into Lae, there was, we probably finished up four or five miles away from Lae before we, the last day I remember, everything was quiet and there was a force of Flying Fortress Bombers came over and bombed

07:05:30:00

Lae. The last big smash and we were, the attack was suppose to come on from the troops and the forward troops of our division were probably moving in. And also at the same time the 7th Division had landed up the Markham Valley and they were coming down through the Markham Valley mopping up whatever was there and they actually got in before us. After this hold up with this bombing raid was on, everything was stopped

07:06:00:00

and they moved on when everything was over, so there was a bit of jealousy there because they go in before us. Happy jealousy.
You were relieved that …?
Well that was one thing over; we didn’t know what Finschhafen was going to be like. We thought, “This is all right so far.” And then they just left us where we were camped and then they, the plans came through, that was the 21st

07:06:30:00

of August, 21st of September, it was about three or 4 four days after we knew we were going to go to Finschhafen next.
Were there Japanese air attacks happening?
The Japanese air, that’s one time they bombed us, the next line of ships that came in after us. But the American fighters came in then and dispersed them quickly, but it was too late, they hit some of the ships and killed

07:07:00:00

a few personnel there.
Could you tell me again what you saw and heard of that incident?
We’d got off ashore and I can remember we heard these planes roaring in and they roared right over us, right along the beach, they were aiming for the ships and they just let the bombs go and there was explosions and noise and flames, we

07:07:30:00

couldn’t do much, we all hit the deck naturally. And these fighters came in and chased them away and that was just the one raid. Later on we had a few raids come over us, when we were going through Finschhafen area and that.
Tell me about, what were you doing when the orders came through to attempt the Finschhafen operation?
We were just camped, just in your normally camp situation.

07:08:00:00

We had some mail brought up to us, letters I had, I remember having all these letters. Reading them, from my wife some of them and others and the, yeah, that was another time… then we had to get on the ships and ready to go up to Finschhafen. It wasn’t that far up.
And before you went to Finschhafen, you come off, you moved into Lae, or

07:08:30:00

just outside of Lae what was… did you have daily duties at that point that you?
No, I think mainly, thing we did was keep our gear clean. I think we were just sitting around washing and things like that, I’m sure. I can’t remember doing any duties but it might have been sentry duties at night just around your own area but we

07:09:00:00

weren’t doing any special training or anything.
And there was no interaction with the natives then when you got closer?
No, I’m pretty sure there was no natives close to us then, around that area.
Tell me about going back on the boats then to go up to Finschhafen?
We got on them, now wait on, one time, I’m just a

07:09:30:00

bit vague on this one. We were getting ready to get on and there was an air raid and we all dived for a hole in the ground and I dived in this hole, it’d been a sewage pit or something at one time, and I dived into that cause it was a bit of a hole in the ground. We got out. And when we came out I was all rotten and dirty and I raced

07:10:00:00

out into the sea and washed meself off. And one of our fellows, he was a bit fastidious and he had some powder or something and sprinkled it all over me. I put that in the, in our battalion history book, someone wrote, one of my sergeants put that in, in the history book and I was very crooked on him for saying about that one.
Tell me what time of day did you go

07:10:30:00

over to the ships to go on board?
I think it would have been late in the evening, early in the evening, cause it was in a safe area I suppose. I can’t see the actual time we got on them and how we got on them. Because it was on these LCIs but they could still come up to a beach and we’d walk up the ramp and get on them. I just can’t picture that particular time, I can only remember getting off them.

07:11:00:00

How long were you on them?
I think it was, we must have been on just one night cause we landed about 6 o’clock in the morning I suppose, just after dawn. We didn’t have far to sail once we got on.
Tell me again about the landing then, the problems you had getting to the right spot on the boat?
Well the

07:11:30:00

initial, the early boats, the LCVs, we saw them going in, in their formation line, line formation. They charged up to the beach and the fellows got off and raced into clear the area, because it was a fairly wide bit of beach there. And then there’d be the second wave would come in and we were probably coming in the third in these LCIs, which were

07:12:00:00

bigger, like a little frigate sort of shape and they should have come along on the sand beach too, and we’d have got off the same way. But as ours drifted up to the left and got in amongst these rocks and when we finally go off we were under a cliff of rocks and it was hard to get out into the beach and to get onto a track to see where you had to go. We were huddled in there for a few minutes before

07:12:30:00

we could move off and some other rifle companies patrolling to go and clear the area to make sure it was safe to start moving off.
You must have been dripping wet?
We’re all wet, I was soaking wet. Yeah, I got dropped into the sea and was all wet. We used to get wet a lot every night when it rained so. Paying the price for it now with the arthritis, I suppose. You know we could handle that sort of thing.

07:13:00:00

So how long were you waiting under this cliff?
I figure it would have been half an hour or more before we moved off. Even our CO was in amongst where we were too. He was detailing troops to do certain things. There was a creek just near us so he sent some rifle company blokes up there to see if it was all clear. Well they had to go scouting with a risk of being sniped at or anything, but they got,

07:13:30:00

they gradually cleared the area, there was a few Japanese still around, which they soon mopped up. And gradually we got well into the land and they started bringing supplies in on the beach then.
So you said the landing at Finschhafen was a lot tougher than Lae with the opposition. When you were landing what signs of enemy activity were there?
Well there was, we came across their dugouts, they had beautiful

07:14:00:00

dugouts, built with trees over them, very difficult to… very easy to defend but hard to capture. But they, the initial barrage from the navy and these Bofors on these ships would have silenced a lot of them. And the initial troops would have mopped up any that were still there. They retreated out quickly, once we got ashore.
So how long after

07:14:30:00

the naval barrage did you land?
Well I’d say straight away, the boats would be on their way in, the first barges, they’d be on their way in and suddenly stop just about as they hit the beach.
Describe it to me the sounds of …?
Well just, there’s nothing like naval gunfire, shells screaming over your head. These Bofors too, the fellows that went on these little

07:15:00:00

barges first, we were coming on behind on these LCIs. And they were firing in amongst the treetops over their heads and they were a bit scared they might drop their sights a bit, cause they were clearing, the beach went up and down the Japanese were up a bit higher, so they were sort of just clearing the scrub as much as they could.
And what’s the visibility like?
Oh well, you couldn’t see too much,

07:15:30:00

it was all heavily jungle. And you’d get on tracks, there was tracks leading everywhere, so you’d get on a track and head for thi….. the main thing was to get down, there was a natural harbour just down a bit south from Finschhafen and that had to try and get that because that would have been a good place to get ships in, unload stuff. Langemak Bay I think they call it.

07:16:00:00

So our main thrust was down that direction and then we went up inland a bit, there were little villages that had been villages but there were no natives in them but we had some Papuan infantry, Papuan troops with usually an Australian Sergeant or Officer looking after them. They were pretty good troops, good soldiers and they used to go scouting ahead of us in lots of places,

07:16:30:00

but there were no natives that used to live there around. They’d all been, gone out because the Japs were there I suppose.
So when you’re moving in off the beach, what are you carrying?
Carrying, just carrying a party of mortar, which you had, and your rifle, your haversack with whatever gear you had with it, you mightn’t have had a haversack with a…… you have a groundsheet possibly. I think we had a

07:17:00:00

groundsheet cause at night it was wet, night time especially. And if you could carry a change of clothes or some socks or something like that, we didn’t have much.
And you’ve got the base plate?
I had the base plate that time. A lot of time I remember carrying the tripod or the bipod, I think that was 44 pounds, I think it weighed.
How many of you are there carrying the parts?
Three, one carries the base plate, one the barrel

07:17:30:00

and one the bipod. And the barrel was probably the lightest and then there’s ammunition, carrying the panniers with three bombs in them.
And all of this was heavy?
Oh it’s heavy, yeah it’s heavy, you could carry the base plate. They had straps hooked on and over your shoulder kind of and hold on with one arm you know, and your rifle on the other shoulder, something like that. We

07:18:00:00

had Owen guns by then too, Owen guns, so the odd one or two would have Owen gun. They were like a machine gun instead of in the desert we had American Tommy guns at first with big half inch slugs, 45 mm slugs in them and they were very heavy. So the Owen gun was a welcome for that sort of situation.

07:18:30:00

Tell me about the weather, the temperature?
It was very steamy always and you could guarantee you’d get rain every afternoon. Very steamy, very close and another thing too, there were these grassy patches, Kunai grass grows about 6 foot and there was a big patch of that everywhere. They were very tricky, you could have Japanese

07:19:00:00

lurking in amongst them and you had to be very careful when you around them but they were good in one respect. They were a target for our Australian Boomerang Plane. It was a little fighter plane, they would come over and drop supplies for us, like the Owen gun troops with them were running through the ammunition pretty fast and they had to keep dropping supplies of ammunition.

07:19:30:00

Once they see Kunai patch, was a soft place to drop supplies into. So they were handy for that sort of reason. They had to keep the ammunition up to the, cause as far as getting off the beach, there wasn’t much….. you could get jeeps or things to run up for a while, so they got engineers ashore to make roadways and things like that which followed on.
How dependent were you on the supply drops?

07:20:00:00

Well in some cases very desperate, when they got inland a bit cause it didn’t take long to fire off a magazine of Owen gun ammunition, but as far as rifles and you’d be right, troops wouldn’t be firing rifles too much, they’d probably be mopping up through the thing, but the Owen gun was the vital one at that time.

07:20:30:00

Did you ever run out of ammunition?
No, I didn’t. I only fired an odd angry shot kind of thing, cause we were with the mortars, we wouldn’t be in the forward scouts area, we’d be just following on behind. It was more or less the safer position to be in but at night time. It was just the same in the perimeter situation and everyone had to… you’re in a circular position,

07:21:00:00

everyone had a risk.
Take me from the beach when you started to move inland since… Finschhafen I’m talking about. Where were you progressing towards from there?
We went, we headed towards as I said Langemak Bay, was southward area and Finschhafen town, what would have been a township was a bit south of where we landed. And we had to get down and secure that part of the

07:21:30:00

area, which they did fairly quickly. But to get around to this other place, there were a couple of rivers to cross and that held up things for a while there.
And how did you get across?
I think, whether they had barges or just down at the shore, you could wade across, I think. But we went inland eventually to a place called Kumawa, I think it was there were some little villages in there and

07:22:00:00

we were attached to one of the companies that had to do that area. And I remember coming along where you could see the old, their gardens that they used to have growing stuff, no natives around.
They’d abandoned the place?
They abandoned it, and the troops with us had cleared those areas out and I remember we came back and the next spot we’re heading up towards Jivevaneng and Sattelberg was a,

07:22:30:00

that was a high spot out of Finschhafen, it overlooked everything and that was where the Japs had got a good stronghold there. So that was our next objective, to capture that. So all the troops were moving up the track to Jivevaneng, which was halfway to us and we… I remember getting there and

07:23:00:00

we dug a mortar pit in that spot and the Japanese must have spotted us digging it and one day we saw them dropping, they dropped an old cannon down, up on the top of Sattelberg and some ammunition. Well, we’re going to have some artillery on us soon and sure enough, they were right on our spot where we had our pit dug and

07:23:30:00

we had a few barrages of shells come screaming in all around us, so we had to shift the pit somewhere it wasn’t visible, dig it in another spot.
So what do you do when you hear the shells coming?
You just dive for the ground. Hopefully, you’ve got a hole. You usually, when you get in position where you’re going to be static for a while, you got to get under the ground a bit. But I remember that was

07:24:00:00

very terrifying really. When they start, were that close to you, you know. And they’re right on the spot you know they’ve pinpointed you to a certain degree but anyhow we got through that. I think they ran out of ammunition pretty soon, for that particular gun.
Did you return fire?
We didn’t fire the mortars at that time. There were no troops that

07:24:30:00

very close, but shortly after, about just after that time, that’s when I got, a sniper got me through the leg and I had to go back to the CCS. Later on there was a bit of a battle in that area and I think our mortars had to fire a few rounds in there.
But did you, was there any opportunities for mortar fire between the beach and Sattelberg?
No, we never had to. We never even mounted our mortar anywhere. We were just

07:25:00:00

carrying it along and following the rifle companies.
Was that a sort of frustrating?
Well it was in one sense but you know I mean we were ready to use them if we had to.
You mentioned there was an odd angry shot that you had to fire, tell me about that?
Sometimes in the night you’d hear a bit of sound, you’d fire a shot or two

07:25:30:00

just in case there was some, coming you know, someone creeping around there.
Is there any risk of shooting your own doing that?
Not really because you’re in a perimeter position in front of you, there’d no one, beside of you, there’d be no one right out in front of you.
Tell me what the jungle was like at night?
It was very eerie, it was all

07:26:00:00

quiet and it’s an eerie situation.
Another New Guinea vet told us there were birds that could imitate machine gun fire?
I don’t know, I can’t remember. I’m not sure about that. I don’t remember coming across that but there could have been noises like that.
I was just wondering, what were the sounds of the jungles?
I couldn’t visualise

07:26:30:00

noticing anything like that at all. I know that the Japanese had a machine gun called the Woodpecker, it used to go peck, peck, peck. I don’t know whether that may have influenced him to think of this. But I never heard of birds making noises like… not in my situation. Could well have been though, you wouldn’t think they would be too many birds around.
Was the jungle noisy

07:27:00:00

at night or?
I think it was pretty quiet, what I can remember of it. See, that’s a few years ago now, cause I can remember doing my sense of duty, sentry, sitting in a hole watching a bit of a track or somewhere you think they might come, just keeping you eyes alert, you know, that’s the main thing.
I’m just wondering what sorts of sounds might make you think you’d have to fire a shot into the dark?
Yeah well, the Japanese used to

07:27:30:00

make funny noises sometimes. They’d blow bugles and all sorts of things but they wouldn’t, didn’t do it in the night so much.
Why would they do that?
It’s just scary tactics I suppose. They were known for that sort of thing.
Did your troops do anything similar?
No, I don’t, we were very quiet. I think we’d just wait. Another thing they’d be up trees, snipers, you had to be careful.

07:28:00:00

Tell me about the incident where you were hit by a sniper?
We were in this, around about this area where the shell fire came on us and when that ceased we had to come back to battalion headquarters, which was about half a mile back up the track to get some more supplies to bring back to the company area we were in. And so we had to carry a fellow out with a crook back and on a stretcher. We got to battalion headquarters

07:28:30:00

and they were all dispersed amongst the trees and all around and there was Japs mortaring the position, they were surrounding us a bit. They were mortaring with light mortars and there must have been the odd rifle shot and as we were moving across to a group, we were going to head for some big trees, to get in amongst the trees cause there was a fair bit of mortar firing. I just felt this whack in me leg and

07:29:00:00

I had a look, I dropped me trousers and there was a hole, there was a mark there and another one further around, it must have been, a sniper must of shot at me. At first I thought it was a mortar, only thing I could hear was mortars bursting on the ground but if that had been a mortar shrapnel it would have torn me trousers and torn my leg and so when I dropped my trousers I seen it, one of my mates put the field bandage on, I got special bandage wrapped around and tied me up and

07:29:30:00

it wasn’t sore and it didn’t look crook so I said, “I think we’ll wait till we get our supplies and I’ll go back to the company area.” And the first aid man, like the Zambuck, came up and had a look and he said, “No, you’ll have to see the doctor first.” And he was in with the battalion headquarters area, so I fronted him and he said, “No” and he wrote a tag on me and he said. “It’s a gunshot wound and you’ll go back to a field ambulance

07:30:00:00

and further on.” They had a jeep there with a driver and they put this fellow with a crook back on that on the back of it with a stretcher and I was sitting in with the driver and so we headed down the track. The first stage is after you get wounded like that you go to a, there’s a field ambulance somewhere just close where there’s doctors and orderlies to look after you a bit. We called in there and they decided

07:30:30:00

the track was too rough for the bloke with the crook back to take any further, so they left him there and they took me right down to the beach where they had the CCS and I spent the night there. They looked at my wound and they said, “We’ll operate on that in the morning.” Which they did, in the early hours of the morning, they just gouged it all out so it would just scarify, so there was no germs and that.

07:31:00:00

I had a big gash on my leg. I was just coming to in the morning and I’d been under pentothal they used to put you out with – and that was a nice sort of a drug, it makes you feel happy when you wake up. When I woke up there was bullets flying around, mortars dropping in the hospital and a Jap party had landed on the beach in the early hours of the morning. And there was American machine guns protecting

07:31:30:00

the beachhead because they were looking after the supplies, they sort of attacked them a bit and stopped them. But they got inland and were in amongst the hospital getting close, so they evacuated all… The order came to evacuate all walking wounded to walk down to the beach and stretcher cases had to be wheeled down or got out somehow. And so the.. But

07:32:00:00

there was a brigade of ours, reinforcements had been landed that night before, so they had them close by. So they got in amongst the Japs and mopped them all up. And there was quite a few Japs tried to get in, the beach machine gunners got a few but then the rest of this brigade cleaned up the rest. The trouble was they sent one of the bigger LSTs around to pick us up off the beach. That came

07:32:30:00

round and we walked onboard and they took the stretcher cases onboard but some of the stretcher cases were seriously ill and some of them died through that, you know, shaking up, It was sad to see that happen but we were all evacuated around to that Langemak Bay area I was telling you about. They had an advanced CCS there where they take the load that was ready to go back to hospital, they used to take them around

07:33:00:00

there, we were loaded around to them and that area was doubled up with so many wounded men. So we stayed a day there then we got on a LST and it took us back to Buna I think, it was, they had a 2/11th AGH formed, proper army hospital, with nursing sisters and all and they landed us there and we spent the night there. And the next morning the doctor

07:33:30:00

came and check us all and he decided I’d go back to Moresby. So the next morning I was taken to the airport, Dobodura I think it was, flew over to Port Moresby and I spent about 6 weeks in the 2/5th AGH and then when I came out of that I went to the convalescent depot in that area and I spent 6 weeks there getting… you got checked every

07:34:00:00

week to see how fit you were, so gradually you got hardened up enough to go back to your unit.
Can I just ask a bit more about the actual wound? What did you feel when the bullets went in?
I just can’t, I must have just felt a whack, cause a bullet’s now very big, but it must have hurt me a bit. I had a look down and I saw the tore in me trousers I think. It wasn’t like painful, it didn’t make me,

07:34:30:00

it wasn’t hurting because I was going to carry on. When I saw it I could move around freely and it didn’t look anything to look at it.
Was it bleeding?
It was just a sort of ooze, a bit of blood it is now. That’s why they put the bandage on.
Did it get sore later?
No, it never ever got sore, never got sore.
What actually was it, two bullets?
One bullet, it went in about there and came out down there.

07:35:00:00

It went straight through in the fleshy part. To look at it you couldn’t see much at all. Just two little holes I suppose, it wasn’t really a hole, just a mark and the trousers were torn.
What treatment did you receive at the beach?
At the beach?
Was that when you were given the pentothal?
No, no I had the pentothal down at the beach. No when that happened my mate put the bandage round me leg

07:35:30:00

and wrapped it up and I pulled my trousers up. And when the bombing, mortaring of the area stopped, the first aid bloke came along checking anyone, he told me “To go around to the doctor.” He could have given me an anti tetanus needle, he could have given me a morphine needle, I’m not sure. He just wrote out a thing, what was wrong with me and put a tag around me wrist to take me down to the CCS.

07:36:00:00

And when I got there, that was in the night time, they just looked at it and they just said, “We’ll operate in the morning,” but I don’t remember giving me any treatment. But then I remember on the operating table and they had these pentothal capsules, files and he said, “Start counting” and they had a bad batch of them. I counted up to about 30 or 40 before I started to go

07:36:30:00

to sleep, they usually knock you out in about 5 or 6.
And when you woke up under Japanese attack, were you still affected by the drugs?
Well, I was happy, I must have been because I wasn’t scared. I was happy and someone gave me a rifle. I had a rifle with five rounds in the magazine. I don’t know how they gave it to me cause it looked like we were going to have to fight our way out of the hospital. That’s what it looked like at first. And in the hospital, the way they had the hospitals

07:37:00:00

there, they had a hole dug in the ground about the size of an area of a tent and they had the tent over the top, you know for weather protection and you were about 18 inches, two foot under the ground really and on your stretcher bed and I can remember there was this rifle like a parapet in front of me, could have been, ready if I had to use it.
How did you focus, you’d just come out of an operation?
I think I’d come around like a minute or half an hour

07:37:30:00

before or something. That’s a….pentothal is a….I’ve had a few pentothal injections later, different operations and you always feel good when you wake up but I mean how they operated was a bit severe I suppose. But I was, I felt quite able to do anything if I had to. And when they said, “The walking wounded to move down to the beach,” I was with a group

07:38:00:00

and we thought, “We’re going to go round to Langemak Bay. We might as well walk around there instead of waiting for the ship to come in” and we went past one of these American machine gun post, which were protecting the beach and the Yanks said, “Where you going?” and we said, “We’re going around to Langemak Bay,” and he said, “You don’t want to go that way, there’s lots of Japs down there,” he said. “You’d better stay here.” So we decided we’d stay, went down the beach when the big LST came in.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 08

08:00:32:00

Frank, I’d just like to ask you about waking up to the enemy fire just after your operation. It must have been an enormous surprise?
It was a surprise, you weren’t expecting anything like that but as I said I was feeling, whether the effects of the pentothal I was, feel good, I just can’t remember who

08:01:00:00

gave me this rifle, because I didn’t have one with me when I came down there but the… I think one of the doctors must have came around – “Anyone who could handle a rifle, cause we were in a bit of strife,” so I said, “Give me one, I’ll be right.” And then later on they came round, “All walking wounded evacuate to the beach and all stretcher cases to be taken out.”
Could you hear gunfire?

08:01:30:00

You could hear the shots going through, odd ones and mortars bursting, it must have been leading up to it more so.
What did you do, when you heard the fire?
I just had to wait and see what happened close to meself I suppose. I was in the tent situation, I wasn’t up and about. And that word came “To all get out,” so we got out and walked,

08:02:00:00

there were quite a few walking patients.
Did you see any Japanese?
No, never saw any, no, never saw any in close to the tents. I doubt if any got into the area, I think they were coming towards it and that’s when this other brigade, troops that had landed. They were seasoned troops you know, it didn’t take them long to get in amongst them and what

08:02:30:00

the beach parties hadn’t captured, they did or shot.
Was there an air of unreality about it?
It was, because you don’t expect anything when you’re in a hospital situation like that cause there was no thought of any Japanese counterattack that way. Coming by the sea, we thought everything would be in front of us on the land. That track that I said was cut, was cut for a few

08:03:00:00

days before any more access to that area. It was and so I was lucky to have got through there.
Tell me about, you were walking wounded, how was your leg feeling?
I think I was hobbling a little bit, limping because it had a big gash in it and a heavy bandage around it. It was probably a little bit stiffish. Cause I know further on in hospitals it was a little bit

08:03:30:00

tender for a while.
And you were taken to Buna, was it by boat?
Yeah Buna, Buna they’d set up a hospital situation there, where the 11th AGH moved in there. A properly, fully equipped military hospital with all tents and staff. You know, very well equipped one cause they could bring any injured troops from round up Finschhafen and further, they could bring them all to there rather than have to go over.

08:04:00:00

I don’t know why they didn’t just keep me there. But I think they’d keep patients there that could heal quickly. You see they knew I’d have to have a long time to heal and then convalescence afterwards cause it was a fully equipped hospital and we just went from one to another.
Did you know that there were female nurses in New Guinea?
Oh no, we didn’t know anything about the hospital being there. I didn’t know till I went there and I couldn’t believe it, you know.

08:04:30:00

It was so good to be, come under proper nursing you know you felt, it was good. That was that hospital; it was a fully equipped hospital. And up in New Guinea, Port Moresby that was excellent there, the way they looked after you and the concert parties and things, plenty of entertainment.
It must have made you think of your wife?
Oh yeah, I thought of her a lot.

08:05:00:00

And especially when I got wounded. I wrote her a letter straight away explaining because I knew the harshness of telegrams when they come. I told her it was, I had a bullet wound in the thigh and it was OK, nothing serious, and she got that before she got the telegram from the army to say… so she was ready for that.

08:05:30:00

It gave her a bit of a shock when she got my letter, but she was ready for the other one.
Tell me about how they assessed your recuperation on a weekly basis?
Well you’d front the doctor, there’d be a doctor in the convalescent camp and each week you’d go up to him and he knew what you were in for and he knew what sort of training you were suppose to be doing. He’d ask you “How you were?” and he’d just judge

08:06:00:00

from the look of you and whether he’d say “You’ve got another week yet for you.” It was round about the Christmas time when I was in there, so they you know I had a good easy time there. Once he’d decided I was fit to go back they put you on the return to unit list. That was a long tedious trip then, from there you had to jump as I say these little ships

08:06:30:00

and some of the barges that take you. Depends on where your unit was and whether there was something available to take you on.
Where was your unit at this stage?
My unit was… Sattelberg had been captured, not by my unit but by the 48th Battalion. That’s where ‘Diver’ Derrick got his VC [Victoria Cross] there, but our battalion was heavily involved just after I left, the attacks ranged of, they had a

08:07:00:00

couple of good battles there. And they started to head up the coast northwards, northwards direction, to a place called Sio that was a little township up there and they just were marching up the coast and mopping up any thing if there was any opposition. I don’t know if they struck much.
So you were getting little boats around the Huon Peninsula?
Yeah, see they were going up, if there was a boat…. I went from Port

08:07:30:00

Moresby convalescent camp, they flew us over to Bogagera, which was a landing spot over near Buna I think. It was or somewhere another. We got to Oro Bay, was American camping area and that’s where we were stationed there in tents and living there under American supplies and that. And then when there was a ship available moving towards the troops.

08:08:00:00

We got on board, it might have only gone a couple of miles away and dropped you off at the next staging place somewhere. It depends on how far they were going then. I think I had about three different trips to do that. The final one put me in a place within walking distance of where the unit was. So I just automatically got on the track and following… no one was in charge of you,

08:08:30:00

just your units up there so you just catch up with them.
Were you by yourself?
I can’t remember if I had others with me, I know that’s all they did. There was no truckload of troops to take out anywhere.
Before we go on with you rejoining the battalion, I just want to ask you about the concert parties in the hospital and what they did?
One of the strangest things there was the first time I’d seen these.

08:09:00:00

Oh no, I had seen them over in the Middle East actually, but they had female impersonators, blokes that just look like a girl, they were really smart looking. And they were clever too, you know. They were only blokes dressed up you know. But they do all, sing all the popular songs, do skits, little skit, and really good entertainment. I remember once I was there when Gladys Moncrieff came over and she sung for the troops

08:09:30:00

out in the big open air area, so there was always some good entertainment like that.
What sort of songs did the female impersonators sing?
There was one particular one. It’s a popular one for them. Oh dear, if only I could remember it, it was appropriate. It was a sort of, it was a well known song, it was you know, just

08:10:00:00

a very popular song. It wasn’t a made up one, it was a well known song at that time and appropriate for that sort of situation. There were singers and instrumentalist and skits, a lot of skits and things like that.
Tell me about some of the skits?
I can’t remember now because there was always some act, some plays going on. There was a good couple of hours’ entertainment all the time.
What were the kind of jokes

08:10:30:00

in the skits?
I couldn’t put my finger on any of them right now.
Was it to do with army life, or were they sending up certain things?
They would have been but now I just can’t, cause it was so long ago now, see I just can’t. I don’t know if I’ve written anything in my diary, I don’t think I would have written those individually but the one particular song. When you mentioned a song, I can

08:11:00:00

remember this one, it’s on the tip of me tongue, it’s a popular one about a boy and a girl or something, but I can’t get it out. But I never forget the one of the female impersonator walked up amongst us all sitting in the pews, in the seats and the fellow that was in our unit, sitting next to me he reached out and pinch him on the bottom as he went past and he said , “Somebody

08:11:30:00

knows me.” I always remember that particular thing.
So you found the entertainment really good?
Oh, it was really, it really gave you a good feeling you know, as really something good to getting back to more normal life. Seeing that and the fact that they were looking after the troops you know where they could, especially in hospital areas.
When you were in hospital and you were

08:12:00:00

resting away from the battle zone, did you have a feeling of…did you feel that you were getting away from some form of tension?
Oh yeah, you sort of relaxed completely, you’re not in under that constant tension, like night time especially, there’s no rifles or machine guns

08:12:30:00

firing around you or any mortars or anything, you’re just in a real relaxed situation. And hospital was good. You had hobbies you could do, you could make things in…. Red Cross had huts where they could teach you weaving and all sorts of things like that.
Did you ever wake up in the night thinking you were back in camp?
No, I remember in hospital once I woke, I used to have nightmares a bit and

08:13:00:00

I remember snakes, I use to dream of a lot of snakes and some situations I never… saw like someone trying to attack me in the bed and I’d be yelling out, you know I did that a lot after I came home after the war. I had nightmares for a while. I don’t know what triggers that off but it was you know, that must have been playing up on your mind when you’re

08:13:30:00

asleep, you know things must come back to you.
And what form would the nightmares, what was the most common nightmares that you’d have?
The most common were someone was trying to attack me but I was always in bed and they were trying to come into the room and I’d try to call out and I was stifle, I’d be stifled with me voice. Then I would make, at home especially, I used to

08:14:00:00

make terrible noises and my wife used to pat, calm me down. And one time I nearly choked her, I thought someone was getting at me and so I had to be very careful after that.
How long did that continue?
I had them, actually I had the last one about two, when I had that operation on me heart, 2 years ago. I thought I had overcome all those things but my daughter was here

08:14:30:00

helping to look after me and I started calling out at night and she came to the door, but her mother said to her, “Don’t go near him because he might attack you,” cause I was really screaming out or yelling out or something. So they just called out. I come too usually, but so that was… I thought, “I’d finished with them then.” But I talked to my doctor about

08:15:00:00

it and he thought, “The stress of the operation might have triggered that one off.” But I haven’t had any of those sort of since then.
How often would you get them like just after the war?
I, quite frankly I remember at home after the war, but up here, I don’t remember when I was at Bundeena, it was mostly up here I started to get those feelings came on me.

08:15:30:00

This was no doubt in your mind that this is an effect of being through the war?
Yeah I think so, I think so. I had nothing that could have worried me, like frightened of anything before. Just as I said one time I remember I think I had snakes crawling up me legs, I was doubling up in the bed. I was in one hospital, I remember screaming out at night,

08:16:00:00

it was in Queensland, I think. A sister came up and the fellows in the beds near me did wonder what was going on. Because I had this feeling of snakes were coming at me. I don’t remember seeing any snakes in the jungle but I know there was always the thought of them at times. But these other ones, were always someone was coming in to attack me.
And were there

08:16:30:00

other effects from the war in your waking hours that you noticed?
No I don’t think, I’ve never been… since the war I’ve never slept well at night. Early times of marriage and that you’re, you know, comfortably asleep, but after I got well and truly on the way, I have bad nights of sleep. I’m lucky if I go through a night if I

08:17:00:00

sleep more than an hour at a time. And lately now too I get up in the middle of the night and have a cup of tea and it takes about another hour before I can get back to bed. I get muscle cramps and arthritis pains and that disturbs me a lot but I think that’s all through the war service. I don’t think you can pin, arthritis is a natural thing to get

08:17:30:00

I suppose. I don’t get any pension for that but that’s pretty disturbing at night.
I just wondered, do you think that the conditions that you were enduring in the jungle contributed to that?
I’m sure they have health wise and I think to we’re used to… funny when you were in camps you’re always sentry duties, you’re on two hours and off four hours and there’re so many troops available, why couldn’t they just

08:18:00:00

put you on one hour and have so many doing it? But two hours on and four hours off and that goes on night after night and in situations like Tobruk, you’re waking up and down all the time so you don’t get a normal sleep pattern. And I think that somehow stuck to me. I don’t need a lot of, when I was working I didn’t need a lot of sleep, I could 5 hours sleep and down there any time, I’ve always had that

08:18:30:00

waking up period.
Do you feel that there are long-term effects of coming under shellfire and gunfire?
I can imagine that would be the….it must have shaken you up somewhere cause we were under lots of heavy barrages and some of those that went into Tobruk, with the Bardia, there’s a big…. Bardia, “Bill” they called it, it used to fire an 8 inch shell and that used to scream over

08:19:00:00

you like you couldn’t imagine the noise of it. And burst and you know those sort of things, they were sort of terrifying really. I think under a barrage like that constant, it must shake you up somehow.
After the war when you were getting back

08:19:30:00

to the civilian life, how were your feelings about the enemy?
I had no animosity towards… it was probably against the Japanese when we read what they did to our troops in Malaya. I’m not a hateful person but I sort of resented them to a certain degree but I actually went on a long service leave to Japan

08:20:00:00

in 1966 and there was no resentment to the people there, even though some of them would have been alive when the war was on. They would have known, I don’t know if they knew what the troops did or not but I sort of … I haven’t got the hatred like some people have, they won’t touch anything that’s Japanese and they just can’t stand them. As far as Germans go I realise that the average German, normal German, not

08:20:30:00

Nazi type, they’re nice people. I wouldn’t have any thoughts about against them. Italians, they’ve made a big difference out in Australia when they came here, they sort of …. They’re not that race that you’d be hating, so I’ve just forgotten what the war was all about really. I’m just happy to be comfortable with anyone really.

08:21:00:00

Tell me then about your feeling in the time? Like when you were in New Guinea, what were the feelings about the Japanese there?
Well, we knew they were very vicious, we heard stories of them. They were so tricky, so you had to be on your toes all the time, listening sort of prepared for them for anything to happen.
Was there anger towards them?
No, well just that they

08:21:30:00

were the enemy at the time, but no, I didn’t have any angry thoughts. If it happened to come that you were confronted with one, you’d do what you had to do I guess, but I never had that situation, so I wouldn’t have known until it happens. But there was no hatred for them.
What do you think about dropping the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima?
Well at the time when it happened

08:22:00:00

I was …the way I looked at it, it was tragedy for other people in Japan but it brought the war to a close. I just imagine if they hadn’t have done that and they had to land into Japan itself how many more casualties there would have been of our own, so at the time I thought, “It was a good thing to happen, just to end the war.” Now it’s all over it’s…

08:22:30:00

you just wonder if it was worth what it did, but it’s just something best to keep out of your mind, thinking about it.
Tell me about then rejoining your battalion at Sio?
Oh, yes finally I got the last trip where I had to walk to the end and I rejoined the unit, I was only with them 3 days and I got

08:23:00:00

taken with malaria, I got very severely sick with malaria had to be evacuated back to….I don’t know how I got there, I remember walking back to a place where there was field ambulance situation and they treated me with a, possibly with …no they wouldn’t have treated me, cause they wouldn’t know if I had malaria at present. When I was fit to move further I gradually got back

08:23:30:00

to Finschhafen. At that time there was Finschhafen area was cleared and they formed, the 3rd CCS had formed a hospital situation in Finschhafen and they had nursing sisters attached to them and I was allocated to them and so everyday they would take a blood slide off you from your finger to see if they’d have to examine it in the pathology

08:24:00:00

department to see if, what you had wrong with you. Until they got a positive slide to show it was malaria, they wouldn’t treat you, they’d just hope that they got onto it. It took me a couple of days to show up, so I was getting worse in the effect of if. When they finally diagnosed it they gave me the treatment and quinine and stuff, but I kept having recurrences

08:24:30:00

and I was there for, I was there about 6 weeks or more eventually. I kept getting worse and I think they finally, diagnosed me of having dengue fever as well and then one malaria case was MT [malignant tertian] malaria which was malignant type, which was the more severe one, I think that might have led more to the dengue fever situation.

08:25:00:00

But when the unit they came back to Finschhafen area before they sailed back home for leave, I couldn’t go with them because I was still in hospital. I followed on later on a troop ship that was taking sick people back to Australia, we called in round to Port Moresby and picked up some more and came to Townsville then and unloaded at Townsville and then trained down to

08:25:30:00

Brisbane and onto Sydney.
Tell me what were the first symptoms that you had when you first got it?
You get a fever, you shiver cold, you’re shivering, oh you get terrible shivers and shakes and your temperature rises and the next day you might be all right.
Where were you when it first struck?
I was going up to… I didn’t get to Sio, they were on their way to Sio, it was some miles from Sio when I joined the unit.

08:26:00:00

I just got in, filed in with the mortars and went a couple of days walking up the track and then I started to feel crook.
Was it a gradual…?
It came on suddenly, I started to feel feverish and shakes, you got the shakes. You knew you had it really. Only the doctor would have to look at you and send you back. So that’s what happened.
You were on the move in the jungle?
Yeah it wasn’t so much, it was up the coast

08:26:30:00

line. It wasn’t really jungle, it was easy going at that time. It was on the edge of the jungle I suppose.
And what provisions did the army make to try and prevent soldiers from getting malaria?
Well, we use to have Atebrin tablets and at the time we were up there I don’t think we had it then, because no one had been getting it much, so it took a while to take

08:27:00:00

effect. Eventually the tablets were given to us, you used to have one every day and to make sure we took them they’d, on the A parade of the morning like when we came back to Australia, the sergeant would come along with the tablet and you’d put it in your mouth and if you wanted a drink of water, they’d watch and make sure that you took it cause some fellows wouldn’t take them regularly. They wouldn’t take the Atebrin, because I don’t know if they didn’t want it, like it. But it

08:27:30:00

used to make you… it was a yellow tablet and you used to get a yellow complexion and they used to be very severe on making sure we had it cause that can be very debilitating if you had too many men laid up with malaria. So in the hospital they had two different treatments, the quinine treatment was the most severe but the best, but it was a longer treatment, there was

08:28:00:00

actual real liquid quinine, you used to have to take that three times a day or something and that was a terrible taste. But the Atebrin, course you’d have so many Atebrin tablets each day and it was only about 6 days and you were more or less cured enough to go back to your unit.
What was the troops attitude towards malaria?
Well, they

08:28:30:00

just put up with it I think. It was something that happened, I don’t think we had any control over it, there was no way that we could stop it. You couldn’t very well have mosquito nets over you all night when they might be active.
Was it feared?
No, I don’t think anyone feared it, it was just annoying to get it. I suppose another way out to get back to hospital or something like that

08:29:00:00

but it wasn’t, didn’t take long to get you back.
I was just wondering was it possible that some people would deliberately not take their tablets?
Some deliberately wouldn’t take them but I don’t know whether that was so they’d get malaria or not. My idea of that was to let it get a hold on you could be very serious, cause we were educated enough on it. So there was no way I would have wanted to

08:29:30:00

deliberately have an attack of malaria.
And you did get the serious strain?
I had it pretty serious, actually after I came home. I was, I got another attack of malaria and I was at home back home with my wife and my temperature raised to 106.6 and she being a nurse, she was taking my temperature all day and so they rang

08:30:00:00

the Concord Hospital and they said, “Bring him in here straight away, we’ll send an ambulance to pick him up.” And the ambulance came and she had already got my, the repat [repatriation] doctor I had to report to if I was on leave and got crook and we’d already contacted him and he’d come to me. I was still at home, cause I was still in the army and he didn’t come, so that’s when they rang the hospital and he arrived just as

08:30:30:00

the ambulance was getting me into the ambulance, and he abused my wife for panicking and here’s me 106.6, delirious you know. And so they sort of took me off to the hospital and they put me in the malaria ward and treated me and then when I was ready, after I had done the course I was supposed to… the doctor decided I was

08:31:00:00

in a crook enough condition to go to a convalescent depot over at Holsworthy, they had one there. And he said, “You’ll have to go there for a couple of weeks,” and that was the time I’d just come back from and we were going away on a honeymoon. My wife had got leave from hospital and we were going to go on the honeymoon and that was the thing in my mind the most, so when I was discharged from hospital to go to the discharge place,

08:31:30:00

I just walked out of the hospital and I said, “I’m not going to the convalescent depot” and I went up. I went home and I was getting a bit what you call “Troppo” then, delirious and silly, doing silly things, and I went up to the hospital and my wife was coming home for the afternoon and I came back with her. And in the bus I kept pulling the stop cord, I was dong all silly things, and she woke up that there was something wrong with me. And when I got to where her mother lives,

08:32:00:00

my brother was there and they rang the Concord Hospital and they said something about you know and they said, “Oh, he’s disappeared from here, if you’ve got him bring him back,” so I went back to hospital. They took me back and finally I was admitted to the psychiatric ward, I think, I had amnesia. I’d lost my memory and everything and they had me in a not a closed ward, just a normal ward but

08:32:30:00

I was under a psychiatrist and he realised it was a heavy bout of malaria I’d had that caused this trouble and I had to have, stay there for about a week treatment. And gradually I came around and he got my wife to ask me certain things and he went by what my answers were, if I was picking up. So eventually he decided that all I wanted to do was get away

08:33:00:00

on my honeymoon, so he let me go. He didn’t send me to a convalescent depot.
Were you feverish when you were at the psychiatrist’s?
Oh no, I wasn’t feverish then because I had the course of treatment and I was clear of the malaria but it affected me with this amnesia, I couldn’t remember things and I was doing silly things.
Tell me what brought on the amnesia?
Well I don’t know, it must have been high temperatures, must have

08:33:30:00

triggered something because I couldn’t remember things. She’d come to the hospital and she’d say “What clothes did she have on yesterday?” and I wouldn’t know what she wore. I couldn’t remember here being there yesterday. The doctor told her to “Ask me things” and that’s, was how he could check you know if I was fair dinkum and that.
So tell me about going troppo?
Well that’s an old saying, “You go troppo.” You just

08:34:00:00

do silly things. Like a shell shock feeling, say you were in the first war, a lot of fellows got shell shocked from constant bombardments and they’d do silly things. And we called it “Troppo.” Gone troppo, like got “Tropical fever” or something but it was just an effect of malaria I suppose.
What things would you do when you were Troppo?
That’s what

08:34:30:00

I say, I was in this bus and I kept pulling the cord to stop the bus to get out and I was parading up and down. When I got back to the hospital, when they told them to bring me back, I was watching the clock on the wall as the time, the second hand went around, I was jumping up trying to grab it pulling it around and the doctor that was admitting people saw me while he was doing someone else, he thought, “I was putting on an act, like trying to get out of the army,” I suppose.

08:35:00:00

But I was fair dinkum. I was doing it but I didn’t know why I did it. And there was no way I was trying to get out of the army cause I wanted to get away on my honeymoon and I also liked the army life, I wouldn’t want to you know put on any act to get discharged.
So what were your plans at this stage? You wanted to…you were going on your honeymoon?
When I came home from New Guinea after I came from Townsville,

08:35:30:00

my wife had to, she was getting her leave, a fortnight’s leave or something and I was home at her place and I got ill with malaria while I was there and the next day or two we were going off on our honeymoon. But when I got, had to go to hospital, that curtailed that and when they wanted to send me to the convalescent depot, that made me more sure I wasn’t going to go there, and that must have set me right off.

08:36:00:00

Did you know where your battalion was to go next?
No, no we had no plans, we came home from there and they were all on leave, they were still on leave and we didn’t know where we were going to go until we came back. New Guinea was, there was still fighting in New Guinea, but the 6th Division and the 7th Division were up in various areas up towards Wewak and things like that.
And after your honeymoon,

08:36:30:00

where did you rejoin your battalion?
I rejoined, the unit had moved, gone back to Queensland to Ravenshoe this time and when I came out, finished me honeymoon on leave, I had to take me day’s leave. I had to report to the Transit Depot at Marrickville and if there were no troops going back, they’d give you a leave pass for the next

08:37:00:00

day and come back each morning you’d go down to Marrickville and when the final time came for you, they had to put you on the draft on the train, we went back to the unit then. So that was… A few weeks after I came back from that I went up to Ravenshoe and joined the battalion up there. And we stayed there, we were there from, I would have went there about July and then in

08:37:30:00

….we were training on. The plan was we were going to support the Americans capturing the Philippines back, that was the talk. So we were training for that. And it got very boring by Christmas time and we were just doing hard training all the time and everyone was, there’s blokes, were shooting through on leave, on AWOL and there were rumours that we were going to get some more leave and it dragged on and on and the next

08:38:00:00

thing. MacArthur decided he didn’t want Australians in the Philippines, he wanted Americans to do that. So anyhow it went into March and my son was born then, about the middle of March and I got the telegram up it was lovely to hear. And about 5 weeks later I got ordered by the… orderly room corporal came around and he said,

08:38:30:00

“You’ve got to be ready to go at 9 o’clock in the morning, your son is seriously ill and they require your presence at home.” So I was ready to go at 9 o’clock and they took me down to the train and I was supposed to go to Cairns and pick up a Flying Boat. They were going to fly me home straight away. But that was the day that Roosevelt died in America, the President of America, so instead of me getting a seat on the plane, some officer

08:39:00:00

was coming down to a turn out at Brisbane because of Roosevelt dying and he took my seat. So I had to wait and go on the train. It took me about two days to get home.
Interviewee: Frank Soden Archive ID 0181 Tape 09

09:00:34:00

We’ll start off this tape with campaign questions. The first is one, it’s about MacArthur. He was notorious for minimising mention of Australians when he was writing up his accreditation of victories. Do you feel the men were given their dues in this respect?
No, I don’t think so, I’ve always be critical of

09:01:00:00

I’ve read lots of books of different writers and I’ve got the impression that he didn’t give us the credit we should have had. And actually he discredited us in certain circumstances. That was my own from reading these things and what I heard and things that happened personally and that. Oh not personally but we knew were happening at the time.
What were the troops’ opinions of MacArthur at the time?

09:01:30:00

At first we thought, “He was pretty clever,” but then to take command of the whole operation in the South Pacific. But another point we felt he might have deserted his men in the Philippines too, that was the sort of feeling when troops hear of a commanding officer getting away and the men getting all captured, you don’t have a very good opinion of him,

09:02:00:00

probably not the right way to think of him but I’d think that was thought, the majority would have felt.
Did you feel that the mopping up campaign in New Guinea was worth it?
Well, I think it had to be done, I mean I don’t know whether just letting them run wild you know, would have been, probably would have

09:02:30:00

saved a few lives in one sense but I think it had to be cleared up completely.
This question again, it’s probably something we’ve covered quite well but I’ll ask anyhow. The conditions in Papua New Guinea, the living conditions, in particular what illnesses or discomforts did you particularly

09:03:00:00

have to deal with?
All the wetness or the rain, the dampness, and it was very trying and uncomfortable. Water was a problem too; we had to be careful drinking out of the rivers and that so you had to be very careful in that way. But I think the main thing was the uncomfortableness and close steamy conditions.

09:03:30:00

Did it make it more difficult transporting all your heavy equipment?
It was hard, as I said in the desert we had carrier to carry the mortars but we had to manhandle and I can remember some of the tracks we walked up, you’d go up two steps and you’d slip back one it was so slippery and wet, it was always wet, it was very arduous and you’d get tempers getting frustrated a little bit at times

09:04:00:00

when you’d trip over and fall and stumble. It was very arduous really carrying the mortar equipment because you had your other gear with you.
Did frustrations amongst the troops ever cause violence between?
No, no, I don’t, not in our areas I never found anywhere that developed to violence or anyone arguing. At times we’d be critical of the officers or something like that

09:04:30:00

but no one ever got violent about things. The trouble was you do what you’re told and even if you don’t agree with it, you’ve been told to do it and you do it or you try to do it.
Was it sometimes difficult following orders?
It wasn’t really I suppose you felt; you knew your intermediate officers were pretty genuine and close to us.

09:05:00:00

It’s just we’d be very critical sometimes of the general area, the generals and some of the things they decide on.
In hindsight it appears that Japan was sliding into defeat. Did you feel that at the time?
Yeah, well in the areas that we were in, we were slowly but surely getting on top but I didn’t, don’t think

09:05:30:00

we felt anything about the ultimate situation. We knew the areas that had to be covered yet. And I didn’t personally, didn’t expect it to finish as quickly as it did. Without that atomic bomb I think it would have been a lot longer and it was going to be you know a very strenuous time for us all.
So, when you were landing at Lae and Finschhafen was there a feeling that the Japanese were on the run?

09:06:00:00

We thought, “We got them on the run then” because we were gradually getting them out and they didn’t have the heavy defences like they had at Buna and Gona, there was nothing like. We’d heard all about those campaigns and these were more or less only little skirmishes, compared to them, they were very savage. It looked as though we had the equipment now to overthrow them properly.

09:06:30:00

Were you confident going in those places, or apprehensive?
Well, we were confident enough, especially after Lae landing it was very confident, we went to Finschhafen but we got a big shock there with the difficulties we had with the mission landing, was a little bit of a set back in our thinking but and it was a bit of a struggle getting through

09:07:00:00

what we did there. And then on the track up towards Sattelberg was very severe, you know very tenuous all the time. But we felt we were going to get there eventually.
How do you mean severe and tenuous?
Well it was, we didn’t seem to be getting ahead too much, there was, we were cutting up some pretty severe opposition and it looked as though they were building up a

09:07:30:00

bit of defence against us and it was getting into a more difficult area too, climbing, and so the tenseness was still on then it was as comfortable as the Lae campaign.
Did you feel that the actions that you were involved in were decisive?
Yeah I think so, even though the

09:08:00:00

Finschhafen one dragged on a bit, that was a, we seemed to be gradually moving forward. It looked to me as if it was going to be conclusive eventually, I just felt, I didn’t feel that we were going to be defeated there at all.
Can I ask, at the time did you have a sense that Australia

09:08:30:00

was under the threat of invasion by Japan?
No, I didn’t have that feeling at all. Especially after the Milne Bay campaign and when we got over there, I didn’t think there was any chance of them, any fear of them attacking us any more.
What about before Milne Bay?
When we heard, up until Milne Bay there was a thought because the way they went through Singapore and down through the Dutch East Indies.

09:09:00:00

It looked very grim until that Coral Sea Battle. When they really stopped them and the Milne Bay campaign looked like they were going to capture that and then around to Moresby and then things would have been desperate. But that changed the whole attitude to our thinking once the Milne Bay campaign was over.
So did you have a sense that you were defending Australia by being up there?
Oh I think so, we

09:09:30:00

were because that was the next step was to come into Australia. If we hadn’t have stopped them there or the troops that did stop them really over the Kokoda and Milne Bay, they were the ones that… from then on I think we felt comfortable that we were going to win eventually.
Was the idea that you were defending Australia used as an inspiration in battle?
Oh yeah,

09:10:00:00

you’re fighting for your country then and you’ve got to stop the invader if you can. You’ve got to do everything and it was all the loved ones at home we’ve got to protect them. So that was the easiest way, over there rather than wait until they come into our land.
How did your commanders inspire or motivate you?
Most of the time we have very good

09:10:30:00

platoon commanders, were pretty efficient, even the battalion commanders, most of the ones we were involved with, they were really good soldier type. We didn’t have any ones that wouldn’t dare to fire, you know, we had confidence in them and most of the NCOs too were, early ones especially, were well trained in the militia units and they were a

09:11:00:00

good nucleus for us to start off with.
Did they use the idea of defending Australia to motivate you or was that something you thought of?
Oh no, it was just a natural instinct you had, our country was the thing and our loved ones, gotta defend them and keep the enemy away from them as much, as far as possible.

09:11:30:00

The next question is a comparison between the Western Desert and New Guinea. And you may have some comparative points you might like to make in regards to the command, clothing and weapons in New Guinea as opposed to North Africa. So I was wondering, did you notice any difference in the way you were supplied with weapons

09:12:00:00

for example in the two theatres?
It was a while before we got well equipped in the desert, we had Bren guns, we hadn’t had anything to do with Bren guns when we first went up, we were just starting to learn about them and we had some drill with them to see how they were constructed and pulling them down and assembling them. But

09:12:30:00

by the time New Guinea, everything was well equipped. I’d say in New Guinea we had plenty of supplies, clothing was in the desert, we didn’t need much clothing there cause most of the time we would get around in shorts and a hat. You didn’t have to worry too much about clothing so much but I don’t remember getting too many issues of it there but New Guinea, we were well equipped all the time with

09:13:00:00

clothing and they kept the ammunition up to us pretty well. And in the desert I think we improvised a lot with a lot of captured stuff, it was very handy to have.
Tell me a bit about that?
Like the, some of the Italian machines guns, we could rig them up, fellows were capable enough to use them. Artillery was the main thing; there was so much artillery ammunition

09:13:30:00

and they had these different units, what they call “Bush artillery,” the fellows from the units from certain areas get a few field guns and a lot of ammunition and they’d have improvised ways of firing them and there was plenty of ammunition as long as they were on the targets it was very good to have the extra and not using up our own supplies, cause at time in Tobruk the ammunition

09:14:00:00

was scarce. The artillery units were restricted to how many rounds they could fire each day and it was noticeable when the Poles came, the Poles came to relieve us. They hated the Germans and their artillery unit, they got rid of all the, just about all the ammo in a couple of barrages, they just couldn’t resist. So it must have been hard for the navy to keep supplies up

09:14:30:00

in those circumstances. But you see in New Guinea, even though we had times when they had to drop supplies into the kunai patches, most of the times there was plenty coming through from the beachheads and that. So I’d say we were better equipped, I’d say for supplies in New Guinea really, even though it was more difficult terrain and that.
What about the weapons?
Well the weapons, well

09:15:00:00

in New Guinea we just had our standard weapons, they were efficient enough what we had. There was more jungle fighting, there’s more rifles and more armoured guns and stuff like that, whereas in the open warfare you’ve got machine gun regiments, which would be hard to use up in the jungle area, so I’d say as far as what we needed we were well equipped enough in New Guinea.

09:15:30:00

And the last part of that question is the differences in the command? Did you notice any difference in effectiveness of the command or decisions you were working under?
It’s a bit of a hard question.
Did you feel that the organisation of

09:16:00:00

the troop movements or the how the orders were communicated to you, were there any significant differences?
You mean in the Western Desert and New Guinea?
Yeah, yeah.
No, I think everything came through about the same through brigade commanders down to battalion commanders, I think we were well, and then down to the men themselves, I think we were well educated on what we were going to be doing.
What about the faith

09:16:30:00

in the command, was there a….?
Overall, in our division, I don’t remember ever being over critical of any of the top leaders, we like most of our high up officers were competent men and none were demoted in anyway. In some other areas there

09:17:00:00

might have been some troops, the higher officers might have been demoted because of the general, the higher generals’ attitude to them, but I’d say in our division I can be very confident of good leadership all through.
What was the quality of rations like, I’m going back now to the New Guinea campaign?
New Guinea campaign, the rations were a bit scarce at times,

09:17:30:00

even after the Lae campaign we, it was hard to get, there was no way when the campaign we were doing there, to any road traffic to get supplies in jeeps and that. So it had to be, we had to take it with us or manhandle, work parties bring it up. But still that wasn’t a great worry, we weren’t starving at any time.
And what were you eating?

09:18:00:00

Well one of the staple things was the army biscuit, they were “Dog biscuits” we called them. They were a very hard biscuit but if you soaked them and make them into a kind of porridge it was edible, and the bully beef types of things. And we used to have a little

09:18:30:00

methylated spirit sort of a thing, a little box, you could heat stuff where you wouldn’t have a big fire. You’d set these up under your dixie and you could cook things on them and things like that. But the general ration was just enough to sustain you.
Was it difficult to preserve food in the humidity?
It was, the bully beef, if you had cans of bully beef,

09:19:00:00

if your carry it in your pack, it could get a bit rancid quickly in the heat and the stifling conditions. But I can’t remember having anybody getting overly sick from any foodstuffs, cause they had hard food, so I think basically we got through all right on the meals.
How did you cope with

09:19:30:00

shortages of supply?
Well, I don’t ever remember any difficulties, any situations I was involved with we had plenty of ammunition and we had our carrying parties carrying the mortar ammunition in New Guinea especially, but we didn’t use it too much, so we never had any times where we ran out of it. Even in the desert

09:20:00:00

it was brought up to us pretty speedily when we needed it, cause they had the carriers to carry it up, the Bren carriers. So most of our situations we were well enough supplied I’d say all the time.
Were the troops homesick?
I don’t think too many showed it openly, they might have had moments of feeling

09:20:30:00

they wanted to be home, but we were just like a happy band, as happy as you could be, it was a camaraderie that you can’t imagine today. It will never happen again because the war situation’s all so different now. There was always someone to keep you cheerful and there was a great feeling of togetherness I’d say, so I don’t remember there being too many feeling overly homesick,

09:21:00:00

showing it anyway.
What about your own feelings?
I was quite comfortable with it all, even though I would have…especially after the marriage, your one thought is “To get home and be with your family,” but it didn’t make me get melancholy or sad about it. I just had to wait for my chance to get home.
But did you feel differently about being away after your married?
I did because there was something I

09:21:30:00

had to look forward to that I didn’t have before. I didn’t know what was ahead of me before I was married, but once I was married I knew I had something to look for and I had a responsibility that I didn’t have before. It probably was a bit, a little bit made me think a bit more. “When the war’s over I’ve got to keep a family” and otherwise if I hadn’t have been married I could of not worried

09:22:00:00

about anything. Had something to inspire me, I suppose.
Did it increase your concerns about the possibility of not coming back?
The thought was there, because I thought, “What a tragedy would be for my wife to go through it again,” so I was just hopeful I’d be saved which I was, preserved. So the homecoming was really something to look forward to

09:22:30:00

and appreciate.
Tell me about, your homecoming, you were back in training…let’s pick up the story when you were going back down to see your sick son.
I came back. I had three weeks’ compassionate leave or something like that and after that time was expired I had to report to the transit depot and I had a letter from my doctor to say that

09:23:00:00

“He advised my presence to be still at home,” so I had to send a message up to my CO at the unit and get him to ok it, which he did, granting me some more leave and in that time the unit moved away over to Morotai and on their way to the Borneo campaign. And so when I finished that lot of leave I got stricken with

09:23:30:00

malaria then. I had some more time in hospital and eventually I was cleared of that and I was sent on the way to sent back to the unit, back through Brisbane and onward and in the meantime an order had come out that any troops with five years war service could be on the discharge list.

09:24:00:00

They were starting to discharge troops even from the front line, even they would pull them out if they had five years service, so I came under that category and the Borneo campaign was well on the way then. So I got back to Brisbane and they weren’t sending any more troops back to reinforce the unit so we just, just in camp at Brisbane each day, and if you didn’t have a duty you’d

09:24:30:00

just go on leave into town. So I was a bit frustrated I wasn’t going to go back to the unit and so I went to the doctor explained to him the situation, and I was wanting to get back home to me family and it looks like there’s no thoughts of getting this five year plan, you’re not racking up the time, so he decided he’d send me back with an

09:25:00:00

anxiety state or something like that. So I went to hospital in Brisbane and fronted a doctor there and he decided to send me down to Goulburn Hospital there and that’s close to home and I was examined by a psychiatrist and explained the situation and he decided I was ready for discharge but he said, “Settle back and take it easy for a week or two and

09:25:30:00

we’ll settle your discharge eventually.” So I had six weeks down there and finally I got me discharge and home to my family and we went to Bundeena, a place in Sydney for our honeymoon and we just, my wife had a friend down there sharing a house, so we lived in that for a few weeks,

09:26:00:00

after I was discharged. And then I had to get back to work, I had a family to keep, so I cut out all me leave that I was granted, so I had to go back and live in Sydney, at my wife’s mother’s place and I went back to the firm I worked with and they put me on again but they wouldn’t give me the, as a tradesmen – which I was entitled to – until

09:26:30:00

they saw how my experiences, if they’d been effected by being away. Anyhow I finally got my… backdated it as an apprentice and that gave me good training and I got a tradesman’s wage, so I was able to keep a family without any struggling and so I carried on in that firm and finished me apprenticeship and in those years ahead, my wife had

09:27:00:00

purchased a home before the war ended at Cabarita, so we moved into that, had our own home. It’s all paid for and so we got on with our life and had, our family greatly increased and then we had to go, we ended up brought a block of ground in Bundeena to have a weekender. So we finally went to live there permanently and all the 1950s we lived there. And when my wife’s health was failing a bit

09:27:30:00

we were under a doctor up here at Engadine, so we bought a block of ground at Heathcote where we live now and we moved up here and as the family grew, my son had to do tech work and so it was a bit hard to get out of Bundeena for that, so everything was running well up here at Heathcote, so we just kept on living as a happy family and gradually the kids got older and married off.

09:28:00:00

Can I just, going back to your discharge, could you just clear up for me, why did you go to a psychiatrist with your stroke of malaria?
Do you mean in hospital that time, when I came back with this amnesia troppo feeling? I was acting a bit troppo, that was the sort of feeling they put you under a psychiatrist because they reckon you’re not in your right mind, you see I was

09:28:30:00

doing silly things, so a psychiatrist would be… I was in the ward where the psychiatrist was in charge of… I wasn’t locked up or anything. It was in an ordinary ward, there were other cases that were severe ones. They were in rooms, closed rooms and that but I don’t know, he didn’t give me any special treatment, drugs or anything. But I just came under his control and he just talked to me a lot and it worked out

09:29:00:00

from his observations what was wrong and it was just a matter of my mind settling down again.
So you were eligible for the five year service discharge, the discharge on serving five years?
I wasn’t discharged because of that reason, I could have been if I had, I came under that category.
But the discharge was to do with the…?
Yeah, while I was waiting to go

09:29:30:00

in this camp, where the next move would be to go onto the unit, which they stopped. They weren’t sending any more troops up because they didn’t want any more reinforcements. I didn’t want to be laying around there, so I went to the local doctor in the camp and gave him a story, a frustrated story, and he agreed that I had a bit of a case for anxiety state. I was anxious to go home and there wasn’t no point going back to the unit cause the war was finished

09:30:00:00

as far as they were concerned. So he sent me on to the hospital in Brisbane and the doctor there sent me on to, sent me made papers to go back home to me own state and that happen to go to Goulburn for that.
Did you have any desire to go to Borneo at all?
I did, I would have like to have done it, to do all the campaigns that the unit was in but I didn’t mind if I missed

09:30:30:00

out to be home with me family, it didn’t worry me. I didn’t feel that I was letting the unit down cause by that time the campaign was over, I was getting letters back from me mates and I thought, that’s why I thought, “I’ll put the pressure on this doctor,” and he was agreeable and set me off on the track.
Did you see your father after the war?
No, not after the war.

09:31:00:00

The only time that I met my father that I can remember was about a year or two after I came home to live with my mother. He came around to the house at Strathfield and I had to see him out at the front gate because my mother wouldn’t let him in the house. So I had a talk to him over the front gate.
Why wouldn’t she let him in the house?
I don’t know why. She just said, “Your father wants to speak to you, you can go out to the gate to talk to him.”

09:31:30:00

So she probably didn’t want to have anything more to do with him. I’ve never ever got the story of what went wrong but I know it was more or less his leaving and whatever he did, but I never ever got the full story.
Did your mother and father ever reconcile?
No, they never. I can remember I was put in this home,

09:32:00:00

the first time and that was the only thing I heard about me father, that time I went out the gate and talked to him. I can’t remember what we talked about. The next thing I knew, the week, just after we moved up here to live in the middle of march I was seeing me mother a few weeks later, she said, “Your father died last week.” He was buried at

09:32:30:00

or cremated at the Woronora Cemetery on the first of April it was I think. I don’t know whether, if I’d have known he was alive somewhere I would have seen him, I didn’t have any desire to. I was raised up not to hate him or anything, but not to ever know him. So it was probably easy for me to accept that I didn’t have a father, which made it hard for me being a father,

09:33:00:00

I didn’t know what a father, I never had the luxury of having a father. To try and be a father, you didn’t know how to treat kids but I had good kids and I had a wife that was a good mother, she soon guided my thoughts to right.
I’d like to go to North Africa again when you were first

09:33:30:00

going there and the first time that you came under enemy fire, if you could tell me bit more about?
Oh yes, that was on the way, we’d just got into the perimeter of Tobruk on the withdrawal from Benghazi and we’d just stopped off the trucks having a meal or something and all of a sudden a couple of shots, artillery pieces lobbed over close to us. And that was a couple of

09:34:00:00

German tanks were coming onto and they must have seen truck movements and fired a couple of shots and we thought, “Oh no, it’s really on now.” It was only the two shots at the time.
And when was the first time you fired in anger or fired in the war?
We were on one of these patrols around that Plonk areas and we were suppose to defend, that was an outpost of ours but the Germans coming

09:34:30:00

back to them with, they were using tanks. They were gradually bringing their lines closer to us, ready to have a bigger attack I suppose. When they attacked us, they came up with tanks and troops and so we were out on a patrol. So we just fired a few shots back at them, we had to withdraw though, what had came to get out because we couldn’t fight tanks

09:35:00:00

and they were heavily armoured coming at us and we were just a patrol of about six people, so that the only thing.
Was that a big moment in you life?
Yeah, well I suppose it was, it was the first time, sort of firing a shot in anger, I suppose. Whether it was effective or not I don’t know but I…we just evacuated pretty quickly and

09:35:30:00

we were under a barrage of artillery as we got back to our lines.
I’m just interested in the notion of blooding the troops, is that a big part of….?
I think just the fact that you’ve come under enemy fire that’s been (UNCLEAR) as much as yourself being shooting, just to come under enemy fire, that’s an experience that’s

09:36:00:00

the same as being blooded in warfare.
Was it important for your division to prove itself to the 6th?
I think it would have been important because they’ve done all that heavy fighting. They had heavy fighting through Bardia and Tobruk and we came up there and then the next thing we’re withdrawing. I don’t know what the individual feelings were but it wasn’t our fault, it was just common sense cause we had nothing

09:36:30:00

to stop Rommels’s troops coming through. It was the same feeling we probably had after Tobruk was relieved and things quietened down in the desert. Rommel pushed again and he captured Tobruk, the South African army was in there then and they captured it in no time and we’d feel a bit remorseful about that,

09:37:00:00

after we spent seven months defending it and they let it recapture overnight more or less. But we don’t know the circumstances at the time.
Can I ask how do you think war changed you?
I don’t think it changed me much at all. I’ve got through it all right and I settled down to a family life. I don’t think, I don’t know how I would have been if there hadn’t have been a war. If I had settled down

09:37:30:00

as a parent, I don’t know. It might have been a good experience though. The one great thing about was, I learnt what it is to have true mates, like the camaraderie that’s with us, I just look forward to the Anzac Day marches, our platoon, mortar platoon has a luncheon on the day before Anzac Day even though there’s only two or three mortar men alive or attending now.

09:38:00:00

But there’s other members of the battalion come just to be together. It brings back those days of mateship which I ….today I don’t think people could get that same feeling though, unless under a war situation, the type of warfare we were in.
Can I just finish off the tape, just asking the best and worst times of the war were for you?

09:38:30:00

Well, the best time was really, was my wife saying she wanted to marry me and without being in the army that might not never have happened. And I’m just so thankful that we had the lifestyle we did have, we had such a lovely relationship and I always put that down to the war being the cause of it.

09:39:00:00

So and I’m thankful for the great mateship that I… I was brought up in the boys’ home with, I got used to having mates, you know, we’ve got a bond between us and the same thing happened with the army, I think that a wonderful experience.
Now how about the worst times?
The worst times,

09:39:30:00

that’s a bit hard. What to think was the worst thing, that’s very hard to come to grips with… what would be the most worst thing... It’s very hard to put a finger on

09:40:00:00

something that was hateful or… cause it’s very hard to say something that was the worst thing I’ve had to experience.
That’s okay. We’ll finish the tape off. I think that’s sort of an answer in itself.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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