John Kirkmoe
Archive number: 1814
Date interviewed: 16 April, 2004

Served with:

2 / 10th Battalion
7th Division

Other images:

John Kirkmoe 1814


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Tape 01


Where were you born?
Born in Adelaide.
Where did you grow up?
Mostly in the Adelaide Hills.
Before you enlisted in the army, were you involved in cadets or militia?
Nothing at school or anything like that?


When did you enlist?
June 1940.
Where did you do your rookie training?
Cheltenham racecourse. It was called Cheltenham Camp in those days.
How long was the rookie training?


Depends on how you describe rookie. The real rookie raw stuff was about three months I suppose. Then you continue training all the way along.
After the raw rookie training, did you receive any


I was acting. Acting promotions. I was a reinforcement for the 2/10th Battalion. As such you didn’t get confirmed promotions, you only had acting promotion.
You embarked early 1941?


Which ship did you leave on?
A French ship named the Ile de France.
You went to the Middle East?
Which camp were you at in Palestine?
A place called Dimra.


You were there about three months and were then ferried to Tobruk?
Is that where you joined the 2/10th?
Yes, in Tobruk.
The siege of Tobruk was roughly April to November.
Yes, roughly.
Did you join the 2/10th at the beginning of that siege?


I was only in Tobruk a very short time. Roughly about five weeks I think at the end.
That was October/November?
No. July/August.
After Tobruk,


where did you go?
Back to Palestine to a place called Kilo 89.
How long were you in Palestine before you moved to Syria?
Not very long. A matter of perhaps five or six weeks.


Now it’s the end of 1941?
Where did you go in Syria?
We were in various stages, but we finished up in the northern city of Aleppo. That was


up near the Turkish border.
Was that around Christmas time?
Yes. Just prior to Christmas.
What other places did you go to in Syria?
We went to a little place near Baalbek. We were only there for a few days. It was en route up to Aleppo.


And after Aleppo?
Came back to Palestine to a camp named Julis.
Then back to Australia?
You came back to Australia about April ‘42?
Yes, that would be right.
Where did you


go for jungle training?
New Guinea.
Before you left for New Guinea, did you do jungle training in Australia?
Not really. We carried on. We had training in amongst trees and all that sort of thing, but it could in no way be described as jungle.
You were sent to Queensland before you went to New Guinea?
Yes. We went to New South Wales


first, to Tenterfield, then to Kilcoy in Queensland.
That was a short period of time?
Tenterfield in New South Wales was a very short period of time. Kilcoy I suppose a couple of months. I’m not sure now exactly.
Then you were posted to New Guinea?


You went to Milne Bay?
Milne Bay, yes.
Was that about August/September 42?
Yes, it was.
After Milne Bay did you go back to Port Moresby?
No. We went further up around the coast to a place called Wanigela. We went up there by air. From Wanigela to Porlock


Harbour. From Porlock Harbour to Buna.
You arrived in Buna before Christmas ‘42?
Just before Christmas, yes.
After the action was over at Buna you were sent to Sanananda?
That is correct,


How long were you at Sanananda?
A few weeks. Perhaps three weeks.
Did you finish at Sanananda when victory came at the end of January?


Where did you go after Sanananda?
Back over the Owen Stanleys to Port Moresby for a few days. We were camped just out of Port Moresby. Then we came back to Australia.
Some of the 2/10th were sent to Nadzab and


Madang. Did you go with them?
Nadzab and where?
Madang. You didn’t go there?
Not Nadzab. The 2/10th didn’t go there. They went to the Finisterre Ranges. It’s up the Ramu Valley from Lae.
That was after your RTA, Return To Australia?


That’s when the battalion went back and reformed and went off again. I wasn’t with them then.
When did you rejoin them?
In the Ramu Valley just after the Finisterre Ranges campaign was finished. I’m not quite sure of the date up there.


Why were you not with them when they went to the Finisterres?
I had a long period of illnesses with malaria fever, mumps, a poisoned hand; that all took a long, long time.
You rejoined them at the end of the Finisterres?


By now it’s 1944?
That’s right.
Were you sent back to Australia before Balikpapan?
Yes indeed; the whole battalion. We


all came back.
Then you did more training in Australia?
Yes, we were camped just outside Brisbane, a place called Strathpine for a couple of weeks. Then we moved up to the Atherton Tablelands. We were in a camp at Kairi.


You did the Balikpapan campaign?
Yes. July ‘45.
When were you discharged?


Towards the end of November 1945.
After your discharge, what did you do?
I immediately joined the South Australian Fire Brigade. I had about a fortnight off after discharge before I commenced duties in the fire brigade. I


stayed there for 36 years; for the rest of my working life.
What prompted you to join the fire brigade?
It was a strange situation. Because I was under 20 years of age when I volunteered I was able to do an examination to determine which way I should go. There’s a word for it and I can’t get it.


It was decided that I had clerical aptitude. Aptitude test, that’s the word I’m looking for. So three of us in the lunch period went up into Adelaide to Rundle Street. A chap that was away in the Middle East with us was in Rundle Street. He asked what we were going to do. We said we had no idea.


He told us that he was in the fire brigade, it was a good job, they had vacancies, so if we wanted to, go around and see, which I did and got in.
How satisfied were you with your career in the fire brigade?
Not very satisfied for quite a while. I was at a stage where I was very, very, I suppose one could say disturbed. I was trying to adjust back into


civilian life, which I particularly found very hard to do. So for quite a time I was very restless. Before I was discharged and when we were still in Balikpapan, they called for volunteers to go to Japan in the occupation force. I was a single man


and I did think about it for a while. It was only for a short while. I decided I’d had enough.
When did you get married?
Just before Christmas 1947.
When did you meet Lois?
About mid-46 I suppose or earlier than that.


It wasn’t all that long after I’d come home.
How many children did you have?
Two: a daughter and a son. They’ve both got two children, sons, so I’ve got four grandsons.
That will keep you very busy.
Oh, yes. Very nice.


Where was your family home?
We moved around a fair bit in the early days, but it was mainly at Bridgewater and Mount Lofty near Stirling.
Why did you move around?
I don’t quite know.


My mother seemed as though she wanted to be on the move all the time and I suppose we were only little kids, so we had to move along with them. That’s the best reason I can get.
What work did your dad do?
He was a pipe moulder at a place called Hume Pipe down at Mile End.


What’s involved in that work?
Mixing concrete, pouring it into moulds to make the big cement pipes they put underground.
Did he do shift work?
No, straight shifts in the daytime.
How did he get to work?
Had to travel by train every day down to


the city and back home at night, which made a long day.
What sort of man was he?
He was Norwegian born. He came out here when he was a youth. He volunteered in the First World War in the 10th Battalion of the First AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. He served on Gallipoli; he was a Gallipoli ANZAC [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps]. He


also fought in France. At the outbreak of World War 11 he rushed off to volunteer again, but he was classified as too old to go overseas, so he served in the regular army back home for about eight years. He was my Dad. He was quite a good old bloke.


You followed in his footsteps.
Well, he told us, when we were little kids, about Gallipoli. I always had a fascination for Gallipoli. It was one of my childhood ambitions that one day I would go to Gallipoli, which I did do in later life.


I suppose we were a military family. He was a military man. We all followed into the armed services, the whole four sons. I was the eldest of four sons.
Did he talk about his World War 1 experience with you?
Not particularly, only if we asked.


When he did talk it was mainly about Gallipoli.
Did he suffer injuries?
He had gunshot wounds, yes. No loss of limbs or anything of that nature.
You were about to tell me something about your father.


For a couple of years he was unemployed. Times were very, very hard indeed. It made a marked impression on me. I can remember so well those times. My next brother, Don, would probably have remembered too, but the other two were that much younger and probably wouldn’t have much memory of it. Things were very, very hard.


I remember seeing men - we called them swaggies. Swagmen. They were roaming around all over the countryside trying to find work and food. It was a very distressing thing. At that time, young as I was, I couldn’t help but wonder how it could possibly be in my father’s case, that a man who fought for his country couldn’t find work


to keep his family going. I always remember that so vividly. It left a mark on me.
How old were you then?
I think I was about six or seven. I can remember it well. Through the late 1920s and the early 30s was when that great


Depression was on.
How did it affect your family?
A bit hard to put into words. I know how it affected me. My brothers were younger. We were still happy kids together. We did the usual playing around that children do. Apart from that I can’t give you much else on it.


If he was unemployed and there was no money coming in, what shortages were you suffering?
I believe there was a system whereby families got enough food to sustain them, but that was about all. I think that’s how my family got through. He was out of work for about two years, but then he got


his job back again. Apparently the whole firm closed down that he worked for, for those couple of years. Then they started up again and he got his job back.
How did you go for clothing?
That was hard. It was very hard. I think we got a lot of hand-downs from others. But I’m not sure about that.


Did you wear shoes to school?
No. Not to primary school. No shoes, no socks. Used to play football barefooted. I don't know how I did it now, but I did.
What food might have been on your table in those


hard times?
Mainly bread, butter, jam. I suppose it was the things that were recognised as being the mainstay of food but no such things as ice cream and that sort of thing.
What did you do for treats?


Not very much at all. Sometimes, fruit I suppose was looked upon as a bit of a treat in those days.
How did your mother cope during that time?
Not particularly well. She had a


throat operation on a thing called a goitre [morbid enlargement of thyroid gland], which left her for the rest of her life in rather poor health. She wasn’t too good all through the years.
How would you describe her?
She was my mother.


She did her very best for her family. Must have been hard on her at times. Very, very hard indeed trying to bring up four boys. She managed. But it left her in later years in not very good health. She died a relatively young woman. 60


is not young, but it’s not old.
What was it like being the eldest of four boys?
I seemed to have a bit of a responsibility. I had to leave school as soon as I turned 14 unfortunately to stay home and assist my mother in the home.


So I did one year at high school and that’s all I had. I think that was perhaps the main thing about being the oldest. I had to leave school to assist at home.
Where did you go to school?
Bridgewater School. For a short time at Crafers School and then for


about twelve months we moved down to the suburbs and I went to Colonel [Light] Gardens school. Then back up to the hills, finished my schooling at Bridgewater school and then I went to Unley High School for one year.
What did you like about school?
I liked all parts of school in the primary school. I was always very happy at school. I prided myself as being fairly


good at all subjects, which I enjoyed doing. When I got to secondary school, it was a bit of a different thing. Had to travel in the train down to it and then travel home at night, having homework to do. It made a very long day of it. I still liked going to school, but in comparison to my primary school days it was a totally


different thing.
What was the Bridgewater area like?
In those days it was quite good. It wasn’t built-up as it is in present day. Houses tended to be more scattered. There were a few shops there, a post office a railway station and the school. It was quite a nice place to live in.


What things could you do for entertainment?
During the football season we had a school football team. That was in 1934. I was the captain of it, which was pretty good in my opinion. To cap that off I won the medal at the end of the season for the whole of the schools’


association up there, which I thought was pretty good. Apart from that, we just played as all kids do. No organised sport of any description. No tennis schools or anything of that nature back in those days. I started learning to dance at 15.


I always loved dancing before the war.
Where did you learn to dance?
At the Bridgewater Institute. They held lessons. A lot of the kids went along to it, me included. I thought that was pretty good, learning to dance.
What sort of dancing was it?
Old style.
What sort of music?


It was strange. A dear old chap with a piano accordion. That was the music. It was enough for us to learn.
What people went to the dance?
Much the same as me. Some were older. It wasn’t confined just


to young kids. I suppose up to 19 and 20 year olds who went to learn to dance on those occasions. Generally speaking there wasn’t much to do. Not like today when they have tennis schools and schools of all sorts of things. Back then


it was a little different.
There was no television and…
No television. We didn’t have a radio. No radio till I came home from the war. I bought one. I don't know, my parents didn't seem to be very interested in radio.


Picture shows. They used to occasionally have a picture show at the Bridgewater Institute. Not all that often, but occasionally. The nearest picture theatre was up at Stirling. That wasn’t a theatre as such, it was held in the institute there.


When you had to leave school, what were your responsibilities at home?
Helping to clean up; sweep up. Help my younger brothers. Just generally assisting. No specific task. Running messages and that sort of


How frustrating was it to be in that position?
At the time I don’t suppose I felt frustration. Looking back on it, what an awful waste of my period of my childhood years. But no, I didn’t feel particularly frustrated.


I guess I was happy doing what I was doing.
Did that time bring you closer to your mother?
Not particularly. Just same as normal, I’d say. I knew she didn’t enjoy the best of health. In that respect I helped out as best as I could.


What were your brothers’ names?
My next brother was Donald. The third one was Julian, he was known as Ian, the last three letters of his name. The young one was Ralph.


They also served?
Yes. We all served.
Which services were they in?
Don was in the navy. He was killed in action. Ian served in the army. Ralph served in the navy. He was too young


during the war, but soon after the war, when he was old enough, he volunteered into the navy. So we all served.


When did you think about getting a job?
When I was 16. My Dad got me a job at the same place that he worked at. I went and worked down there for a year. I was on a welding machine. I’m trying to think of the word for it.


Operated welding machine. Welding wiring enforcements together that formed the reinforcement of these cement pipes that I spoke of earlier. I did that for twelve months then I was offered a job at Bridgewater. The baker’s and grocer’s, who I knew very well, offered me a job


driving their bread cart delivering bread, which I eagerly accepted, because it was a huge rise in wages in those days.
Where was the factory?
At Mile End.
Did you travel to work with him?
Yes. Down by train in the morning and up at


How was that for you?
It was pretty good because while I wasn't getting very much money it was a little bit to rattle around in my pocket I suppose, which was something I hadn't experienced very much of before.
It is unusual getting a job in the same place as your father.
What was that experience like?
It started


me off on my working life. I had no idea prior to that what it meant to go to work. So it started me off on that and I knew I was in the workforce.
Did you look up to him to help you?
He was in a different situation to me. I was separated quite apart from him at the work. I only came together in the mornings going down and going home at


night. We were apart during the day.
Did anyone give you a hard time for having a dad in the factory?
No. Most the chaps there greeted me very well I suppose through the influence of my Dad working at the same place. I was accepted. I was only a young


kid amongst a lot of men.
You were operating a…
Welding machine, yes.
What training did they give you on the job?
Just very basic. One of the bosses took me aside, showed me how to do it, stayed with me for a couple of days.


That was about it. It wasn’t a very hard job to understand. It was really quite simple. But it was dealing with electricity. You had to be exercised in the rules of care.


How did you find out about this other job?
It was offered to me. I knew the people at that particular shop. I went to school with one of the sons. So they wrote me a letter offering me that job. As I said, I snapped it up.
What was the job title?
Bread carter.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 02


How did you cart the bread around in that job you got?
By horse and cart. A proper constructed baker’s cart back in those days. That was exactly it. We had a settled round where we called on people. We called on them, delivered the bread and that was it.


That was the day’s work.
What sort of horse was it?
Just an ordinary horse. It wasn’t a draft horse.
Did you have knowledge of handling horses before?
None whatsoever but I soon learned.
What was the knack of getting the horse to stop and start?
Just pulling on the rein


and then as I pulled up put on the brake. They knew. The horses were well-trained. They knew exactly what to do.
The pay was quite good?
It was. When I started down at Hume Pipe, I was on one guinea a week. That’s one pound and one shilling. Sounds incredible


now. I got offered that job up there for three pound seven and six I think it was, which was a vast increase. It enabled me to do all sorts of things. Buy clothes and all that sort of thing. It was great.
Was the cart open?
Yes. Open


in all weather.
What would you do if it rained?
You had to wear a raincoat.
What about the bread?
That was inside. That was OK. No problems there. That was inside the body of the cart. To get to it you had to get off the cart, open the back door to get the bread out, shut the door etc.


Were you able to eat bread on the way?
No. Used to take my lunch. Not only bread. I delivered buns and cake.
That would have been tempting.
It was. They were good days for me. I was out in the open air.


I was to an extent my own boss because I was away from where the actual boss was. I just went about my job and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At that stage I was about 17.
Where were you in 1939? Were you still at that job?


No. The chance came for, the baker in the bakehouse enlisted at the start of the war in 1939 so that left a vacancy in the bakehouse. So they asked me did I want to go in there. I thought, “No harm in learning” so I went in there. Only stayed there


about four months. You had to hand-mix all this dough. There was flour going everywhere. We did wear a little mask, but I don't think that stopped it going down. I had seen a couple of elderly men who had worked in bakehouses. They were real pasty-skinned


and awful coughs. I thought, “That’s not for me.” So I got out of that job. I got a job with the bakers in Stirling then, delivering, only this time with a motor vehicle, which was quite a lift up. They taught me to drive. Then I went out on the baker’s van.


As each one went on holidays, I would take his position and do his baker’s round for him. I enjoyed that. I did a little bit of work with them in their bakehouse too, but totally different because they had mixing machines, which cut out all that leaning over, flour coming up in your face.
What driving test did you have to get your license?
Had to pass a


written test. That was all in those days.
No practical?
No practical test. But I had a good rounding on it. They made sure that I had a good grip on it before they let me drive.
Did you find it difficult?
The driving? No, I settled into that very well. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
What brand was it?


Make of van? I can't remember. It was a similar type of thing. The body of it was where the bread was stacked and it was just on the back of a motor vehicle, properly constructed bread-carting vehicle. You don’t’ see any of them these days. It’s all gone.


What was the bread wrapped up in?
Nothing. It was just bread by itself, stacked in the body of the vehicle. They didn’t wrap bread in those days.
What rumblings did you hear about the possibility of war in 1939?


We knew from news bulletins that things were very bad. I was still only 18, but I was able to grasp what was going on. We knew about Neville Chamberlain going to Munich and coming back waving a piece of paper around saying it was “peace in our time” but I don't think too many people believed that. We knew from news bulletins what Hitler was doing, how he was


going into countries and taking them over. We knew that something was going to happen, which it did.
Do you recall the declaration of war?
Yes, I can remember hearing it on radio. Not our house, we didn’t have a radio, but I heard the prime minister of the day, Menzies,


telling the Parliament that Britain had declared war on Germany and as a consequence of this, Australia was at war with Germany. I think that’s pretty much the exact words they used. I can remember that well.
Which radio were you listening to?
I’ve no idea where I was, but I heard it.


How did you react to that news?
My Dad went straight down to volunteer. My brother, Don, was already in the navy. He went into the navy before war was declared. He joined up as a 16-year-old kid for twelve years you had to sign on for.


So my Dad got straight into the home forces, Don was in the navy and I thought about it for a while and I thought, “I should go.” At that period, if you were under 20 you had to have your parents’ consent. I’ve got that wrong.


If you were 20 you had to have your parents’ consent and be 20 to volunteer. I knew I could get my parents’ consent because they had given Don consent to go. So the only problem was that I was 18 and not 20. As a consequence of that, I had to put my age up two years, which I did when I went down and volunteered.


The doctor knew. When I did the hearing test I had to cover one ear and he whispered in that ear “Where do you live?” I told him “Bridgewater.” Then I covered the other ear and he whispered, “How old are you?” I blurted out “18” and I quickly amended it to “20.” He grinned. He knew. Still.


Where was your father based in the home front?
At various places within South Australia: Keswick, up in the country, Murray Bridge, all over the place. He was what we call garrison troops. They were put in various


strategic situations I suppose they were in those days, to guard things, like something big like electricity stations or something of that nature. They’d be there to guard that. So he went all over the state.
Was there payment for that job for him?
Yes he was paid the ordinary wage that


soldiers got.
What motivated you to enlist?
I first went down to


try and join the air force. My educational qualifications were nowhere near what they were looking for to train for aircrew. That finished that side of it. They said that I could get into the air force in various jobs and that I should wait until they called me. I waited for about three weeks and that was no good, so then I went across the road


to the army recruiting place and joined the army.
Did you consider the navy?
No, I didn’t, even though my brother was in it. I didn’t give the navy any thought.
Why the army?
Because my Dad was a soldier I suppose; First War soldier. Seeing


him in his soldier’s uniform I suppose activated me into saying, “Right, the army.”
What part did a sense of duty to King and Country play?
I think that all came into play. In a sense all those sorts of things


went through one’s mind. A sense of adventure, a love of country, love of family, I suppose King and Country came into it. They all came into it with the result that, in my case and I would suggest that in the case of a lot of men, that would have been the motivation for


going to war, joining up.
Still, the war was in Europe. How much of a threat to Australia did you think it was?
At that stage I didn’t think there was any particular threat much at all. Our troops were being sent overseas. The thought of any


invasion of Australia, I don't think it entered my mind at that stage.
Where was the recruiting office you went to?
North Terrace, opposite the railway station. I can't remember what building it was. It’s not there today that building.


It was quite a big place. That’s where most the recruiting was done then.
You started your training at Cheltenham?
Tell us about the Cheltenham Camp. Was it barracks?
No, it was the,


as it is, not today, it’s changed considerable, but it was just an ordinary racetrack with two grandstands. A lot of the soldiers were under the grandstand and the rest of us were in tents outside. We did our training in various places around the racecourse. A big airy place, plenty of space to do it. That’s where we did our basic training.


When were you issued with uniform?
To start with they obviously didn’t have enough uniforms. We had what we termed as a giggle suit [protective dress for training]. It was a very rough, what sort of material I’m not sure. It was a durable material, but it was a very,


very inappropriate looking uniform I might say. We were a couple of weeks before we got uniforms. They were our training uniforms. For all training purposes we wore those giggle suits.
It’s a funny name.
Giggle suit. That’s what it was known as.
Why was it called the giggle suit?
I don't know. I think perhaps somewhere behind it was the fact that they thought


people might have giggled at them when they saw them. I don't know. That’s just a theory. But giggle suits they were and giggle suits was the name, and a floppy hat to go with it.
Was that an all-in-one suit?
No. A blouse type trousers and a blouse type top


with the floppy hat on the head. Looking back, we must have looked a rather rare sort of bunch.
What colour was it?
You were accommodated in tents at Cheltenham racecourse?
Yes, some of us were. On


palliasses. That was a hessian bag thing filled with straw. That’s what we slept on. Pretty rough, but we got used to it.
Were there lots of other blokes joining up?
Yes, at that stage, when I


joined up Italy had just come into the war. I think that was a motivating factor behind a sudden influx of chaps joining. The fact that Italy had come in and well, we knew the news that was coming out that Britain was having a hard time. I suppose that was another factor in it. At that stage there was quite an influx of people


joining up.
Tell us about your training. What did you learn?
We learned, for a start, discipline. You were given instructions and you had to obey them. It seemed rather strange to start with, it was


something that was absolutely brand new to most of us. We’d all come in from civilian life. But we became accustomed to it after a few days. Then we were taught all the basics. Using the rifle, sloping arms, ordering arms, presenting arms and all that sort of thing. Bayonet training, a little bit on machine-guns. We only had


old World War 1 type machine-guns to train on but we did it. And how to do guard duty, sentry duty, picket duty, all those sort of thing. All that training came into it. Gradually we suddenly realised that we were soldiers. For a start we were just civilians going through the motions. After a little while it entered our heads,


“We’re soldiers,” which we were.
Had you given much through to whether you wanted to be infantry or artillery or…?
My Dad was an infantryman in World War 1 in the 10th Battalion. I thought I’d like to be an infantryman too, little dreaming


at that stage, although when we went into the camp at that stage we were designated as reinforcements to the 2/10th Battalion, which I was quite excited about: the thought that I was going to serve in the same battalion as my Dad in a different war. I was quite excited about that. That came about. In the 2/10th Battalion,


there were a few father and son combinations, but not all that many. As I understand it now there are only two of us left whose fathers served in the old 10th. Only two 2/10th chaps left.
You had a bit of World


War 1 gear?
Yes. The equipment was all World War 1. The machine-guns were World War 1. We didn’t’ see World War 11 equipment until we got to the Middle East. When we went away we still had the World War 1 stuff. Still, that’s the way it was then.
How easy was it to learn how to use


a rifle?
It came fairly easily to me. I seemed to grasp it almost straight away. Mind you, it wasn’t a hard thing to do. They gave us a description of it, how to do it, they showed us in front of us how it was done, so we saw it time and time again before we even tried. So when we tried most of us had it off pretty well.


What were your instructors like?
Very good. They were all World War 1 men. They’d been through it themselves and knew what was required. They were very good. On parade they were on parade. Off parade they were very good. They talked to us, discussed things about


the army, how things were done back in World War 1 and how different it was in World War 11. They were very good. We got on very well with them.
Occasionally you’d go to different parts of Adelaide for training. Where did you go?
We did most of it at Cheltenham; practically the whole of it at Cheltenham.


My Dad was the one who went out and about with the garrison battalion. We’d go on route marches. Sometimes, the area now that’s West Lakes, in those days it was just a huge swamp with sand hills. We’d march down into this area and do training down here. Route


marches were a toughening up process to get us to toughen to the ways of it, wearing army boots and all that sort of thing. A lot of chaps had trouble with their feet for a while, getting used to it. A vastly different thing to ordinary shoes suddenly wearing military boots but like everything else, we became accustomed.


How important was physical fitness?
Very, very important. Even on a route march. You’re carrying your pack and everything. If you didn’t have some fitness about you, you’d be in real trouble. So it was to help us be fit we used to do


physical exercises. That was part of our normal training.
What ways did they test you?
I don't remember us going through any particular test. I think the instructors just kept their eyes open. Obviously if they saw someone who was lagging a


bit on certain things, they’d take him to one side and try and bring him up to the rest of us. We didn’t’ go through any particular test that I can remember. We’d go to the rifle range and shoot at targets. I suppose that was a test.
Which rifle range did you go to?
One out, it was called the Dean Rifle Range I think.


I’m not sure. It was somewhere out in the western suburbs. Didn't go there all that often. That was considered to be a highlight to really shoot live ammunition out of rifles.
What sort of shot were you?
Average. I was no expert at it. I suppose average would be the


way to describe it.
How quickly were you able to form friendships with other rookies?
Straight away. We


bonded together. There was a bond I suppose right from day one. We were all in there together for one purpose. Even young blokes like me, 18, I seemed to bond OK with blokes who were nearly 40. We all seemed to be one.
What walks of life did the other fellows come from?
They came from all walks of life.


I can’t put my finger on anyone and say, “He was such and such and he was such and such.” They came from all walks of life.
After the first three months of raw training, what other training did you move on to do? Did you spend time at Frankston?
Yes, at a physical and recreational


training camp. That was quite an experience over there. There weren’t many of us AIF chaps there. They were mainly regular soldiers home service. One of them was a chap named Don Bradman, a famous cricketer. He was there. The instructors for the AIF section of it were two huge, burly


professional wrestlers. Huge men they were. Very, very fit. Their idea was to get us as fit as they possibly could, which they did. I was over there for about four weeks roughly.
Was that your first time out of South Australia?
Yes, it was.


What was that like for you?
Very good. For a young bloke to even move to another state was something of an experience. Nothing like going overseas, but.


Were there any that didn’t make it through that course?
No. The AIF section of it, which I was interested in, we were in a separate part of it, they all passed. I think every one of them were picked to go to that. They selected someone


who was perhaps an athletic type. Someone who wasn’t carrying excess weight and all those things undoubtedly came into the equation. We all passed. Yes.
How satisfying was it for you to pass?
Very satisfying. I thought it was great to have gone there and passed that exam.


To pass the test you had to get up on a table in front of the whole lot of the people that were there, and you had to instruct them on an exercise that you had personally selected. You had to go through all the motions of it, show them how it was done and then give them the orders and put them through it.


While that was being done, the head officer in charge and the others were on the side weighing up what you’d done, how you’d done and gave you marks accordingly. I thought I did fairly well. I came third in the whole school for the AIF section.
That’s quite an achievement.


Yes, I was satisfied.
Did you return to Adelaide after Frankston?
Yes. And then went to Woodside. Stayed there for a few weeks and then went overseas.
Why did you go to Woodside?
I think that’s where the troops


left South Australia to go wherever they were going. I think Woodside was the departure point, but I’m not entirely sure about that.
Throughout these six-nine months of training, did you get leave to go back home?
Yes. In Adelaide, if you weren’t on duty on


weekends, most weekends you were able to get leave.
What would you do on those days off?
I can't remember particularly what we did. I think we spent it as casually as we possibly could.


What do you recall of receiving the news that there was a possibility of you going overseas?
Well, I think excitement would be the main word to use. Finally going. That’s what we enlisted for, that’s what we volunteered for, so we were finally going. I think a great sense of


excitement prevailed.
You had been told you were 2/10th reinforcements. Had you been following where 2/10th was?
Yes. A chap from Stirling that I knew well was in the 2/10th. I knew his parents. I used to call in at their place often


and they would tell me where he was. I knew from them where the 2/10th were.
What did you do on pre-embarkation leave?
I can’t put it in any specific terms. I just don’t know what I did.


Stayed home and thought, well, as much time with the family as I could I suppose. My Dad was away; Don was away; only my Mum and my two younger brothers there, so I guess I stayed with them as much as I could.
During pre-embarkation leave, did you reflect on the possibility of not returning?
That was always in the back of one’s mind.


Didn't dwell on it, mind you, but the thought was always there that maybe I’d never come home again.
What send-off did your family give you?
I think my mother was


pretty apprehensive about it all. But my old Dad, I don't know that I even saw him before we went. He was away. Don was already away. I think it was just, “Goodbye, all the best” and that sort of thing.
Any words of advice?
No. “Keep your head down,”


which is a universal one. I think that’s given to all troops, “Keep your head down.”
What things did you take with you?
Only army issues, that was all. You didn’t have any room for any other bits and pieces, really.


I did have in those days a box camera, but I couldn’t take that. I waited till I got to the Middle East and bought a camera over there. Only took away stuff that was issued to us.
What was the issue?
The uniform that you wore, socks,


a spare pair of boots, hat of course, a pair of dreadful long underpants, shocking things they were, but they came in handy in later times that I’ll tell you about, and a couple of, they weren’t exactly singlets, I don't know what you’d call them nowadays.


They had short arms and round necks. I don't know what they were called, but a couple of those. And underpants. That was about the extent of it and your rifle of course and your equipment.
What was in your pack?
You had to carry your own, which was issued to you, your


soap, towels, teeth cleaning equipment, all that sort of thing was carried in the pack.
Was it a heavy pack?
Yes. We had what was called a sausage bag [kit bag]. Have you heard that term? We had one of those that most of the clothing was put into.


A lot of the stuff like underpants and singlets or whatever you called them, were put in the haversack or the pack. You had a pannikin for drinking purposes. I don't know, I can't remember other things. No doubt we had other things.
And a greatcoat?
Oh yes, of course. Goodness me. A greatcoat.


How did I forget that? That took up a lot of room trying to fold a great coat up and pack it in.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 03


Explain what you said about the acting promotions.
Reinforcements had to have NCOs [Non-commissioned Officers]. They still had to have lance corporals, corporals and sergeants etc. Selected people were picked out as


material to be put up in rank. You were made an acting whatever, acting lance corporal, acting corporal, acting sergeant, and you retained that acting rank until such time as you joined your parent battalion at which time you automatically reverted to private. Or, as in my case, when we got


to the Dimra camp in Palestine, which was the 10th Battalion training camp, and they had members of the battalion coming back through who had been wounded in action or who were ill in Tobruk and had been taken out and going back. If they had rank, they had to look at the acting ranks, and if they had one too many he would revert. That happened


to me at Dimra. I was a sergeant when I got there. After about three weeks or so, a sergeant from the battalion came to Dimra on his way back to Tobruk. They had one too many sergeants, so I had to revert.
Before you left, how did you feel about being promoted to sergeant?
I thought it was


pretty good for a bloke still in his teens. I did think to myself that perhaps the older men might not have been very happy about it, having someone who was only a kid giving orders, but it didn’t seem to work that way. Everybody seemed to take it well. I was pretty happy about it. By that time my Dad was a sergeant in the home forces.


I was fairly pleased about it.
Before you left Australia, were any of them aware you were only 18?
I think they mostly were aware of it.
How did they respond to that?


they didn’t show anything at all. Actually, I’d just turned 19 by then, but still, 18 or 19 is still pretty young.
You took your ship from Sydney?
Who was at the train station to see you off


from Adelaide?
We didn’t’ come through Adelaide. We got on the train at Woodside and went to Balhannah and we caught the train there and went through. Various officers were there, transport officers mainly, who were responsible for the trains and the transport.
What did you know about where you were going?


We knew we were going to Sydney. We didn’t know, I don’t suppose you knew anything back in those days when war could take a sudden turn, but we thought we were going to the Middle East.
How did you feel about going to the Middle East?
Quite good.
When you embarked on the Ile de France in Sydney,


what was the scene like in the harbour?
Lots and lots of ships there. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many. Troopships. We went away on a huge convoy of ships. I don't know that they all left from Sydney. Some might have left from Melbourne and we picked them up on the way. By the time we got out into the Indian Ocean we had a huge


What was the feeling in the harbour that day?
Before we sailed? I think one of excitement would describe it best. We were leaving our homeland and I suppose to an extent that tugged at the heartstrings a bit.


But I think it was excitement that we were going would be the main factor.
Describe the ship for me.
It was huge. I couldn’t tell you the tonnage of it. I think it was about 38,000 tons, but I’m not sure. It was a big vessel. I believe it was a luxury cruiser


prior to the war, but I’m not sure about that. But a ship that size surely would have been a luxury cruiser. We were pretty well jam-packed in. The troops were right down below. As the rank came up you moved further up. The officers were on the top of course, near the top. That’s about the best description I can give.
Where did you


stay on the ship?
As to what particular deck I was on, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea now. There was about eight of us who were acting sergeants were more or less crammed into one cabin.
You didn’t sleep in a hammock?
No. Not going over to the Middle East.
Were you seasick?
Before we got out of Sydney Harbour I was violently ill.


Shocking. I was a terrible sailor. It wasn’t until we got out into the Indian Ocean where the sea calmed down…I was in a bad way; very, very seasick.
Was this your first experience on a ship?
Yes. Later on things calmed down and I became quite a reasonable sailor. That first time it was


Was there any training on the ship?
Lectures mainly and some physical training. The room to manoeuvre was pretty limited, so you couldn’t have any parade ground sort of stuff. Just had limited physical training


and mainly lectures.
What were the lectures on?
All aspects of military life. Some of the people giving the lectures didn’t know any more about what was going to happen than we did ourselves, but they were more or less lecturing from military manuals and books.
What were they telling you about


the people you’d encounter in the Middle East?
Not very much at all. They told us we’d be encountering people from different, I can’t get the word, just different people, I have to put it that way for now.


Did they give you warnings or advice about these people and their customs?
We were warned not to sneer at them or to pass derogatory remarks. We were given very firm instructions on that sort of thing. They had their way of life and we had our way and that we should in no way try and influence them


with our way of life. Yes, we were given instructions on that.
On the way over to Palestine, did the ship stop at any ports?
Yes, in Colombo. We were given a day off in Colombo. We were given leave for six hours so we went ashore there. That was my first experience of being onshore in a land other


than my own. Very exciting.
Describe your impressions of Colombo.
There was so much foliage there; so much greenery. Everything was so green. They had beautiful flowers and shrubs. The people seemed to be quite friendly. You went into shops and people seemed to


want to go out of their way to help you. I gained a very nice impression of Colombo.
Were there other ports on the way?
No, that was the only one. The next one was at Suez Canal.
At that stage, who were your mates?
The names? There were a couple that I went


right through the war with. We stayed together. A fellow named Noel Shakes was one. Fred Dugan. Ron Sanderson, no one would know him by the name of Ron, he was Rolland Sanderson. He was a big, tall fellow. Quite a lot of others. We seemed to


stick pretty well together. We finished up going through most of the war together.
Were you given any duties on the ship?
I had to prepare rosters and that sort of thing in the position that I was in. The chaps themselves were given, they didn’t do guard duties, that


was left to the whole units that were onboard. There were several units that were entire units, like the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, they were onboard. Our lads did the work like unloading, loading and all that sort of thing. There’s a word for it and I can’t get


it to come out. That was mainly what they did.
How long was the journey?
I would suggest about four-five weeks. I’m not sure.
What did you do in down time when you weren’t listening to lectures or training?
Mostly just trying to read


or anything we could find to fill in. I was mainly dealing with rosters and that sort of thing. I had to roster all the chaps for the various work they had to do.
How did the sailors get along with the army men?
I didn't see many of them at all; hardly any sailors.


Amongst you, what were the rumours about what you’d be confronting in the Middle East?
I imagine every rumour that could be was


being spread, but I can’t bring any to mind that, all I could think of was that as far as I knew we were going to the Middle East and that we had to take it from there. We knew the Italians were in Tobruk and eventually we’d finish up there.
When you arrived in Palestine, where did you dock?


At the bottom end of the Suez Canal. Port Suez or Port Said [it’s Port Suez]. I’m not sure which one it is down at the bottom. We disembarked there and went up on trains to where the train went into Palestine. We went by train all the way, right to Dimra.


What struck you when you first landed in Palestine?
All the sand, the desert, the sand hills, not many trees, so totally different. You had the army camps of course were


properly constructed camps, so they fitted in with the landscape. Generally speaking it was a very sparse country.
Explain the layout of Dimra camp.
It was made up of three companies. One was the 9th Company, the 10th Company and the 12th Company [reinforcement companies for each battalion]. They being the battalions of the


18th Brigade, of which we were a part. They each had officers from the 9th, 10th and 12th Battalions there, and they had the instructors were NCOs from those three battalions. The CO [Commanding Officer] while I was down there was a major from our 2/10th Battalion, Geoff Matthews. He was the OC [Officer Commanding] of that 18th


Training Battalion. We were the 9th, 10th and 12th Companies. That was it.
How were they positioned around the camp?
We each had our own sectors. The 9th were over one side, we were in the centre and the 12th were the other side. We each ran our own battalion training. They had theirs and


we had ours.
What was your training?
Mostly marching in the desert, which was pretty hard, marching in sand. That was our first time doing that. We by then had the World War 11 weapons, machine-guns, so we had training on those. Generally speaking, trying to fit us into


the way of the battalion for when we joined the battalion.
What was the weather like?
It was fairly warm weather when we were there. It used to get very hot marching. We did sort of


get accustomed to it to a degree. It’s something that’s, marching in soft sand is totally different to marching on hard surface. We did sort of get accustomed to it. You had to get accustomed to it.
What was your uniform?
Shorts and shirts and hats.


You were issued with World War 11 equipment?
Yes, that was back home. We took that away with us. Webbing equipment and all that. We had that. As soon as we got to Dimra that was taken off, disposed of, and we were issued with World War 11 stuff.
How was the transition from World War 1 equipment to World War 11?


It was pretty even because it was much of a muchness. The World War 1 stuff had more pouches on it for stuff they used in World War 1. Whereas in the Second World War we had two big pouches that you could put the same amount of stuff in as if you had all these little pouches on the World War 1 equipment.


What were you putting in these pouches?
Ammunition if necessary. Anything that you had to carry with you while you were mobile.
How much would that weigh?
Hard to say in terms of exact weight, but it wasn’t light, put it that way.


Did you have leave while you were at Dimra?
Yes. Had leave into Tel Aviv one day. Leave into Jerusalem another day. I was lucky enough to get on a bit of an army tour with chaps out of the three 9, 10 and 12 Battalions. An officer


of the 2/9th was in charge, a major. We went right up the top of Palestine to the city of Galilee, spent a couple of days up there and then returned. One other time I did get leave; one day I heard my name being called out by the company sergeant major. I went down to the tent and there was a strange soldier there with him.


The strange soldier said to me that he’d just been on leave in the city of Haifa and a sailor came up to him and the sailor was my brother. So he said the HMAS Perth was calling in at Haifa at various intervals and if I could to try and get a day to whiz up there and see if it


coincided with him, which I got a day off, I went up there, and luckily coincided with him. So I spent a day with him. That’s the last time I ever saw him.
How long had it been since you saw your brother?
Before we left home. He went away quite a long time before I went away and I hadn't seen him since then. I was 19 and he was 18.


Stuck way over there on the other side of the world.
What did you talk about together?
All sorts of things. Mostly home and family I suppose. I can't remember.
Did you talk about any of the action?
Yes, well he’d had a very rough time. The Perth had been in action in the Mediterranean in several battles. Poor old


Don was feeling the effects of it.
How was he reacting to the action he had seen?
I don’t want to sound as if he was shaking and shivering or anything, but he just seemed a bit tentative.


That’s about the only way I could say it. I could sort of sense, he didn’t tell me he was feeling it, but I could sense that he was feeling it.
Were there apprehensions about having enlisted?
I don’t think


so. No. When it was time to part I had a premonition. It was amazing how it worked out. I knew in my heart that I’d never see him again, whether it’d be him or me, I didn’t know.


You went to Jerusalem and Galilee on leave, were you religious?
I only ever had a lukewarm association with religion. I could not say that I was a


deeply religious man. I went along with it to a degree, but that was about it.
I just wondered whether the leave was related to a type of pilgrimage.
In Jerusalem, even thought I wasn’t a religious man, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing


what I saw there because of the history of the place, the crucifixion and all that sort of thing. I was very interested in all that. For someone who’s not religious I think I’ve got a fairly good idea of the Bible and all that sort of thing.
What were your impressions of the people there?


There were different races. There were the Arabs and the Jews. So totally different they were in their way of life. The Arab kids were like all kids, very cheeky. Used to give us cheek. We got on fairly well with all the people over there.


Other soldiers have talked about having to protect everything from being stolen.
Yes indeed. That was a case of have to do it. Our rifles in the tents at night, we had a chain through them with a lock on it. You had to be very careful.
How many were in your tent?


In Dimra we had tents that were Indian Pattern I think they called them. I think we had about eight to a tent. They were pretty big tents. Later on we came down to a more conventional tent, where you had about six. Could have been eight, I’m not sure.
What was the


food like that you came across?
In the camps?
In the camps you would have been on rations.
But outside of the camp, did you try any of the local food?
No, not particularly. I must say that although army food got very, very so much of the same, I was one who always enjoyed my food.


Even though when I came home I said I’d never ever eat baked beans again, I love baked beans now.
Were you getting homesick?
No. We used to get regular mail from home. I


suppose our thoughts were travelling back home and thinking about things at home. We’d get a letter from home and dwell on all that. What was happening I suppose you could say there was some slight bit of homesickness in there somewhere.


How did you deal with that?
I don't think it was ever strong enough to have me sitting in a corner fretting and worrying about it, no. It was something that crossed my mind and thought, “It’d be nice to be home”. It never got to the extent that it worried me.
What were you seeing of the other men and how they were coping with homesickness?
Nobody ever mentioned


it to me. Nobody mentioned that he was homesick or anything of that nature. Everyone seemed to be coping pretty well.
What preparation were you undergoing for Tobruk?
No particular preparation that I can remember. We had to pass a


physical, pass the doctor, pretty rigid test with the doctor. Sounded you out everywhere. That was about the only test I can remember going through.
Soldiers that had been in Tobruk were coming back through Dimra. What did they tell you about Tobruk?


They gave us a brief outline; they didn’t dwell on it. They just said that they had been there and they got something wrong with them and they had to be evacuated and they came back through the staging camps back to Dimra, from Dimra back to Tobruk. They didn’t give us any detailed description of things.


What was the journey from Dimra to Tobruk?
We went to Egypt, a place called El Amiriya. We were only there for a couple of days. Then we were put on the boat to go to Tobruk.


What were you briefed about Tobruk?
Nothing in particular. We were told we were going to be joining our battalion. That was about it.


From Egypt you went to Alexandria?
And over to Tobruk. Describe the port of Tobruk.
There were a couple of wrecked whips there as I recall.


We were more or less bundled pretty much off the ship onto land and taken to our place where we’d be picked up by the battalion RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major]. It was carried out fairly quickly from the time we got there, off the ship and onto where the


RSM came and picked us up.
There were a few ships?
Yes, a couple of wrecks that I noticed.
You’re now going into areas of action. What were your thoughts when you got into the port?
I thought, “Well, here I am in Tobruk.” I knew the battalion had


had casualties, there’d been a few of the boys killed, quite a few. Thoughts started to come into my mind, “Am I ever coming out of here or not? It remains to be seen.” A little bit of apprehension crept into it. Hadn't been anywhere near action before. That was about the


main thing in my mind. It wasn’t the only thing in my mind. I had a thousand things going through my mind. I suppose that was the uppermost thing. That I was going to be joining the battalion at last and just had to take it from there.
What was the state of the men when you first met the battalion?
Very good.


I was amazed really. You do draw pictures in your mind’s eye about people that had been in action, being more or less skin and bone and that sort of thing. I was quite amazed when I finally got with them. They were all looking quite well. Scrubby of course. No shaving and all that sort of thing. It’s


fair enough with the water situation as it was. That was about it. The colonel came and addressed us, Colonel Verrier. He addressed us and made a point of explaining to us that we were now part of the 2/10th Battalion, we were no longer reinforcements.


That sent a sense of pride through me anyway, I suppose it did with the others.
What was your first taste of action?
It was a siege, the siege of Tobruk. There was the frontline that was called the Red Line, and behind that was a secondary


line called the Blue Line. That was a secondary line if they had to fall back to. Right in the middle of the Red Line, the frontline, was an area known as the salient. That’s where I found myself, in that area. The Germans were only a few hundred metres away from that point.


I didn’t see any action in regards bayonet charges or any of that. Plenty of rifle fire, bullets and machine-gun fire and that sort of thing going on. There were various patrols sent out. Reconnaissance patrols. Sometimes fighting patrols, wire parties, that’s the one I took part in, whereby you went


out of your trench, out to where the wire was and check on all that. Quite a few of us went out. A lot of us had to watch, keep an eye out to make sure no enemy were coming while others went along checking on the wire. It was rather an eerie experience. Flares were being sent up all the time. Whenever one flared out you had to


stock-still. You had to stand absolutely still. Don’t go to ground or anything, just stop in your track, because as I understand it, when the flare light is on any movement whatsoever attracts. So that was the order, we had to stand stock-still. That was my main one time getting near the


enemy. We were up there for, I couldn’t tell you how many days we were there. We were there for a few days.
Describe the salient trenches.
Naturally down below the level of the ground. Full of fleas. You


couldn’t move around much in the daytime. Nighttime was the only time you could move. Then you had to be very careful. Ears were on alert all the time. That was about it. You were standing fast the whole of the time.
What were you listening for?


Machine-gun fire, rifle fire, artillery fire, bombs, all sorts. The Germans had command of the air up there. We didn't have any air force there. Their Stuka dive-bombers used to come over, not so much over the salient, but over Tobruk Harbour


and around that area. A lot of people don’t believe you when you tell them, but they would dive straight down. As they pulled out of the dive, they dropped their bombs. The screaming noise that they made when they were coming down had to be heard to be believed. But there were also minefields up in the salient. They had somebody to guide you in and out of there.


When you were back behind, well, we used to go out working on the Blue Line digging tank trenches and that sort of thing. One day we were out there a whole platoon of us. I was in C Company, 15 Platoon. The officer, Lieutenant Murdoch was with us. The shells were landing quite a considerable


distance away to our left. Suddenly they started coming in closer. The lieutenant said, “If they come any closer we’ll go back”. Next thing one was almost in amongst us so back we went.
Was that the closest you had gotten to real shelling at that stage?
Yes, cos when we were in the salient we didn’t get any


shelling while I was there. But there was the machine-gun fire and the rifle fire and probably mortar bombs too.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 04


There was a submarine threat on the ship. Describe what happened.
Wherever they got the alert from was naturally down in the engine room of the ship. We didn’t know that. Suddenly the ship almost stopped


and they got these depth charges ready. Then it took off at high speed. I suppose it was going as fast as it could, I don't know. Then, suddenly, threw the depth charges over and the ship turned at a right angle and went away another way. So by the time the depth charges went off and the water erupted up, we were some considerable distance


away. Whether they got the sub [submarine] or not, we never found out.
This is before you got to Tobruk. So this is your first taste of real action.
Yes. But we didn’t know what the procedure was. We were soldiers and we didn’t know what the procedures were. To have that ship going at the speed it did,


and then throw the things off and then it heeled over to turn at right angles. The ship seemed to go nearly over on its side. Course, we didn’t know they were going to do that and we wondered what on earth was happening. We realised it was part and parcel of the way of the navy doing things.
Where were you when the ship was going nearly at a right angle?


Down near the back of the ship. I had seasickness again, of course. Very rough seas there. The destroyer, HMAS Stuart, was bobbing up and down all over the place.
In Tobruk, you explained a close


shelling from the Germans. How did you personally react to that?
I thought, “I hope they don’t come any closer” I suppose. It was pretty close. It was close enough for the lieutenant to say, “Right, back we go.” I suppose I’ve gotta say some part of fright


comes into you. I think anybody who says they’re not frightened when they’re faced with those sorts of things, I don’t believe them actually. There is some type of fright comes into you, whether it’s up in there or in your tummy or somewhere else in your body. You feel it. I felt it.
What did you do to keep your


nerves intact?
Just take a grab on yourself. You’ve got to do that, because if you just let yourself go you’re going to be a wreck before you know it. You’ve gotta get hold of yourself, talk to yourself, say, “Come on, come on, get on with it.”
Some of the men in your battalion had


experienced this often, how were their nerves?
The ones that I came in close contact with seemed to be all right. I know we had some of the chaps that I mentioned earlier that had come out in, gone to convalescent camps and that, they apparently were suffering some kind of shell shock or nervous reaction.


It showed itself in many, many different ways. Some men didn’t show anything and others certainly did. All people are different. Different things affect different people in different ways.
Describe the different reactions you came across.
The reaction what I was


standing out in that no-man's-land was so eerie with all the flares going off. I thought my reaction then was, “If they start firing machine-guns in this direction we’ll all be gone. If they happen to charge us, we’re here, but we’re right out on the front


on our own. They’d get us there.” It’s something that’s inside you and it’s jolly hard to explain just what it is other than to say that your nervous system gets all wound up, which it’s got to do,


which reacts in different ways on your brain. Then your brain sends messages out to the rest of your body and you react in that way. That’s how I see it. I don't know whether that makes any sense or not.
How do you calm down again?
When you’re not actually


right in it? I think the company of the other chaps with you, you talk together. Discussing things. I think that all tends to calm one down. Sometimes it’s hard to get calmed down, but


you eventually do.
In the salient trenches, did you share your trench with anyone?
Yes. We were all more or less stuck in together. Not in one solid little part, but we were all in close proximity to the officer so if we were needed we were all ready.


You could only move around at night. What did you do during the day?
I suppose talk. Even though the Germans were a couple of hundred metres away, you still talked in muted tones. I suppose it was natural to do it.


You didn't, no yelling out or no boisterousness or anything of that nature. Just talked about ordinary things that you talk about any other time, I suppose. In the back of your mind it’s there all the time, “Be alert.”
How does your body react physically to the cramped conditions and having to sit still?


No washing and all that sort of thing. You naturally felt very, very dirty. No shave, scrubby around the face, your hair all filled with sand or whatever. It was just something that you had to get yourself accustomed to. There was nothing you could do about it. So you just had to wear it.
Did you do any


exercise to stop your body from cramping up?
Only stretching and that sort of thing that you can do in confined spaces.
What was the rations like in Tobruk?
The cooks did the best they could. A lot of people


tend to, not sneer at, but jive about army cooks. My way of thinking, they earn top marks, the blokes that did the cooking. They tried their hardest with the material they had. They always presented something that, as far as I was concerned, was edible, even if it was bully beef.


How did you get your meals?
Someone would, the quartermaster would send them up. Someone would be guided in with a dixie [food container] loaded up with stuff. Then it’d be shelled out to each one. That’s when we were up there. Back behind it was a different story. You’d be able to cook. You didn’t have


stoves or anything, but the cooks back behind had cooking equipment of some nature.
What was the camp like behind the line?
You weren’t in a set camp. You were distributed all over the place. You weren’t gathered in a heap, naturally, in case shells or bombs or something would knock the lot of you off. You were


distributed out. Rather a strange sort of way of living, I must say.
Describe it so I can get a picture.
I was with two chaps. We were in, it wasn’t a cave, it was like a cave, it was sort of a scooped out part of the desert. I think nature had done it, it wasn’t man-made.


It had rocks and all that sort of thing. We sat in there most of the time. The other chaps were in little trenches distributed everywhere within reach of each other if needed. We weren’t hundreds of metres apart of anything of that nature. Where we were resting was a rocky sort of place with a ridge.


That’s about all I can tell you about it. The rest of the battalion was distributed around. While I was there, I mentioned earlier about a friend from Stirling who was in the 2/10th, he was the sergeant of the mortar platoon. So one day I went and found him and had a bit of a talk, which was good. We talked about


How important was it to try and find friends from home?
I found it very good that I found Fred Atkinson. He was a man that I always admired. He was a great soldier, a great leader. He was a sergeant; he was a leader of men. I’ll tell you about how he got


smacked around later. When I found him, in some silly way, it was like being home cos we talked about home and what we did at home. I only saw him for 20 minutes or so and I had to scoot back to my own company.


What were you doing to keep your mind occupied on a day-to-day basis?
There were times when they’d get several of us together and we’d be given a lecture on various aspects. Apart from that I can't remember doing very much at all. While


we were in Tobruk, I had the whole of the right side of my face covered in one huge scab. Desert sores or wog sores they were called. Everybody had them. I had the whole of my face. I spent about three days in the beach hospital in Tobruk while they treated that. That was three days out of being with the other chaps.


How did that occur?
You just got these desert sores for apparently no reason. They just came and they spread. This one on my face spread the whole of the whole right side of my face. They soon cleaned it up in the hospital.
There was no real explanation where these sores came from?
Unless it was a bite. I don't know whether it was a bite from


fleas. Goodness knows. I’ve no idea what caused it. Most the chaps had wog sores of some description and some size.
How did you combat the insects?
The fleas were awful. You couldn’t help it; you had to scratch. It was just something that you learn to live with.


Flies and fleas.
What did you do for water?
Got supplied with a bottle full of water each day. That was for drinking, for everything. Sometimes, I didn’t get the opportunity, but on odd occasions before ever I got up to


Tobruk, if circumstances permitted it they’d take them down to the beach to get into the water and sort of scrub themselves up a bit in seawater. I was only up there for a few weeks.
How did your time in Tobruk come to an end?
When the battalion came out. We had heard rumours that we were being


relieved. The Polish Army were going to relieve us. I don't think anybody really believed it until it happened. Then, when the CO told us it was happening, we had to believe it. And the Poles did in fact relieve us.
What were you told of where you were going next?
We weren’t told anything. We were


taken to the wharf. We were told to put a spare pair of socks in our pouch, so that when we got off the trucks near the wharf we had to pull the socks on over our boots, presumably so there wouldn’t be any clump, clump, clumping. We were told to march out of step, don’t march in step, so there was no definite clump, clump, clump.


We got out of the trucks, put on these socks and before we’d gone very far the army boots had worn through the socks. That little experiment didn’t work wonderfully well. Then we were told that we had to be on board the ship in 30 minutes, I think. I’m not sure. There was a time limit. Anybody who wasn’t on board the ship would be left behind. We were told that in no uncertain terms. So naturally


there was a bit of a scramble to get on board the ship. The navy were wonderful the way they came into it. We had to climb up rope ladders that they used to put down. Before we got to the top the navy blokes would haul us on board. We got on board and before we could sit down almost they had a mug of cocoa for us. Really terrific.


That was our exit from Tobruk. The ones that I was with went out on a British warship named HMS Abdil. At the time it was said to be the fastest ship in the Royal Navy. The rest of the battalion went out on a ship, I think it was called the Kipling, but I’m not sure. We were instructed that when we approached where we were going,


which was Alexandria, before we got off the ship we had to let down our shoulder straps and our equipment, take off our steel helmets and try to appear anything other than soldiers. I don't know what the big idea of that was. I only assume that it was in case of spies watching us. They wouldn’t be very good


spies if they didn’t realise where we’d come from. But we did. We had all this equipment down and we were carrying our steel helmets.
What happened when you got to Alexandria?
We went to a camp called Amariya, the same camp we were in on the way up there. We staged there for a short time.


The battalion went off back to Palestine. I stayed behind with…I don't know what they called the party. We were looking after all the stores. We had to watch those and travel with them. So I got back to Palestine about three days after the rest of the battalion, the party of us that were in that particular party.


We went to a place called Kilo 89 in Palestine. That’s where we settled for a few weeks before we were on the move up to Syria.
Was there any training in Kilo?
We had to do guard duties of course, and route marches. The army was never very far away from route marches. It was part and parcel of it. We


had to spruce up a bit. We all had to have haircuts and all that type of thing, and get back into parade ground army. We were back on the parade ground again.
What was that transition like?
It was all right for me because I was only in Tobruk that short period of time. I imagine for those who were up there for the whole five


months, they must have wondered what had hit them, getting back on the left right, left right, left righting again; all that sort of thing. Pretty durable the old Aussie soldier. He’ll settle himself down into whatever’s necessary.
Then you made your way to Syria?
What were your orders for Syria?


The only orders we ever got in those days were, “Right, get ready to move. Prepare to move.” The ordinary soldier like me weren’t told anything at all, except to prepare to move. Get on the truck and away you go. We did know that we were going to Syria. We didn’t know what our role up there would be.


We thought it would be what it transpired to be. Apparently, at that period of the war, it seemed as though Turkey might have come into the war on the side of the Germans. Seeing as Syria had a border with Turkey it was obvious that we were required up there, which is what did happen. We finished up in a place called Aleppo, a city


right up the top of Syria, and from there we were distributed at odd times, because other troops were doing the same. We were distributed out onto various places on the Turkish border, which was quite an experience.
Where did you end up?
The first place we went to was a place where the


railway line came through from Turkey, Medaine-Ekbase. It was M-E-D-A-I-N-E hyphen E-K-B-A-S-E if I remember correctly. That’s where the trains used to come through, not that there were many trains, but on odd occasions some people who were refugees would come through.


There was a little creek that meandered its way down. That was the actual border, this little creek. Often times several of us would go down to that border and stand there looking out towards Turkey, and some Turks would materialise from wherever they were in, trenches or holes in the ground, and they would come and stand the other side of the creek. We were standing there like,


we must have looked like idiots, waving and carrying on, giving the impression to each other that we were good blokes. And one of us would get a packet of cigarettes out of our pocket, throw it across and the Turks would open it up, light it up and give us the impression, you know, “Very good, very good.” So after a short space of time, out would come a packet of their cigarettes. Throw over to us.


We’d put them in our mouth, light them up and you’d feel the hairs on the back of your head standing up. They were so strong. We’d still carry on and tell them, “Right”. That was really strange. At that place, we went to another place after that of course, but we got on well with the Arabs who


lived in that area. Used to have good old talks with them and one of our blokes used to do the cooking. Did quite a good job of it. It was a different type of army life. We were away from the parade ground. All we had was our officer with us. To an extent we were our own bosses, which was


very good. it was a real let-down from the hurly-burly of the every day parade ground type of army life. That was that one place. Then we went back to Aleppo for a short space of time and then out to another place named Knaye, K-N-A-Y-E. That was also on the Turkish border.


That was quite a different situation. There was no railway line or anything there, only a small Arab town. There was a church there, a Roman Catholic brother he was called, I don't know if they were priests or what they were, but he was brother. So we were there for quite a few weeks and then it was back into


Aleppo again. We were in Aleppo when Christmas came. Just before Christmas the snow came. For many of us it was the first time we’d ever seen snow. It was amazing. The first morning we were awakened by the bugler. I think he was trying to play “Jingle Bells”. He was playing something on the bugle.


We all got out and we were amazed at this snow. We had heard prior to that about the Pearl Harbour incident. So there was a lot of guesswork going on as to what we were going to do, where we were going to go and how we were going to get there. Then when we finished in


Syria we came back once again down to Palestine to a camp called Julis, J-U-L-I-S. We stayed there until the move came to come home.
How did you react to the US [United States of America] entering the war?
We did think


it would shorten the war. We thought the United States, with the army of the size they had, and the navy they had. We had no idea of how the size of the Japanese army or navy, we had no idea whatsoever about that. I think the general opinion was that the Americans coming in would shorten the war, which didn’t happen.


How did you feel about Japan entering the war?
We were worried about home. I think every one of us worried about the home front because we were in the direct line. Australia was right where they could come down and invade. We were all very, very worried about that and hoping that we would be coming home.


So the orders were, “Get packed up”. So we packed up and we were once again put on the train, taken to Egypt, to the Suez Canal where we embarked on a ship called the New Amsterdam, which had previously been a luxury liner.


We left there and we headed for Bombay. We had about a day and a half in Bombay. They did give us a few hours leave to go into Bombay. Then we were taken off this huge ship, the New Amsterdam, and put on a little tiny British troopship called the Navasser . Alongside of the New Amsterdam it looked like a rowboat.


It obviously wasn’t, but it was a very small boat. That’s the boat that we came home on, all the way from Bombay, via Colombo, back to Australia. But we weren’t intended to come to Australia. A lot of the troops that came from the Middle East just prior to us finished up in Malaya. I’m pretty sure that’s where we were


intended to go, because reading the history books of the war, apparently Britain was telling our government to send all the troops there and the prime minister of Australia at the time [John Curtin] said, “They’re coming home. We need them home.” So we came home. While we were in Colombo we got the dreadful news, as far as I was concerned, that HMAS Perth had been


sunk. It was only a rumour at that time that floated around. After a few days we got it officially that it was sunk. So that didn’t treat me too well. The mates that I had…before we left the Middle East I transferred to the mortar platoon


from the rifle company, so we were specialists on the mortars. We were still riflemen, but we were mortarmen also. I was with my friend Fred Atkinson. When we heard that the Perth had been sunk, they were very good. They didn’t try and engage me in conversation they just...


Fred was with you when you received this news. What comfort did Fred give you?
He was very good. They were all very good. They left me alone, but they didn’t. They were with me all the time. They didn’t try and engage me in conversation; they were very good.


That would have been a long and quiet journey home.
It was an awful journey. Dreadful, dreadful, because it was on my mind the whole of the time. We’re on this little tiny ship. There was another unit on the ship with us. We had the band playing. They did a great job. Most days they got out on the deck and were playing music, which was


all very good, because we could do nothing. There was no room to do physical training or anything. We just were more or less in limbo until we got back. Then we got back to Perth and they gave us a day’s leave up in Perth, which I didn’t want to go up there, but I did. Then went back on the ship. Then we came home via the


Great Australian Bight and there were seas, I’ve never ever seen anything like it. One moment there was a huge wave, it looked to be 100 metres or so up in the air, coming towards us. You think, on that little tiny ship, how are we going to survive that. Next thing you’d be up on top of it looking down into a huge abyss down alongside. The ship was riding on these huge waves. It was pretty scary,


but we got to Melbourne. We disembarked in Melbourne.
How was your seasickness on that journey?
It was too frightening. By that time I’d got back, even going across the Indian Ocean on the Navasser I was OK. I felt a bit queasy on a couple of occasions, but a lot of the chaps were up chucking [bilious]. But I was all right then. For some reason or other I managed to


get out of the seasickness.
What was the first thing you saw of Australian shores again?
The clouds even looked beautiful: beautiful, big, white, fluffy clouds. When we saw them we knew we were near land. I think every one of us was


very keyed up about coming back home. I’ve always said, and I hope you don’t mind me putting this in, but a Scottish poet, I can’t think of his name, but he wrote a poem and part of it said, “Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said: ‘This is my own, my


native land’...” I think that came through so strongly, to me it did, and I’m sure it did to the others. When we first sighted land it was a marvellous experience.
You disembarked in Melbourne?
Did you get the train back to Adelaide?
Who was at the train station to meet you?
It was rather


strange, because on the way down through the Adelaide Hills, coming through Bridgewater, I thought, “I’ll be home soon.” Not long after that I started to shiver. Malaria. I got an attack of malaria. When we got down to the Goodwood Station they had ordered an ambulance. I remember two provosts [military police], one on either


side of me, half carrying me to the ambulance. They were absolutely amazed. It was a hot, hot day, and I was shivering. I remember them saying, “God, whatever is it? On a hot day like this, this bloke’s shivering.” I was the first one into the North Field Hospitalof our battalion with malaria. I’d only been there a couple of days and a veritable


flood of 2/10th men were coming in with malaria. That’s how I came home.
Where did you pick up malaria?
I’m so sorry. I’ve got it all wrong. That was coming home from New Guinea. I’m sorry. How did I get that mixed up? What a mess I made of that.


Do you remember disembarking from Melbourne?
Oh yes and coming home.
What was it like at the train station?
In Melbourne?
In Adelaide when you finally made it back from the Middle East.
People didn’t know we were coming home. My mother didn’t know we were coming home. We


came home, up the Port River right up to the top of the river where we disembarked and we were taken out to Sandy Creek. That’s where we were camped for the time we were in Adelaide. Little did I know, we were given seven days’ leave to go home. When I got home there were three soldiers from New South Wales billeted


in my Mum’s home. I thought, “How cruel can they be?” My mother had just lost her son and they palm soldiers onto her. But after, I realised it was the best thing that could have happened, because it kept her mind on other things. Actually it was the best thing that could have happened. She was pretty cracked up when I got home. Ian and Ralph were still home.


Ian wasn’t quite old enough to join up and Ralph was still only a little kid. I had seven days home and then it was back and off we went again.
How was your mother coping?
It knocked her absolutely. She was never the same again. It just knocked her absolutely rotten.


She was never the same again. She was always, how can I put it? She was always on the jittery side. Her nerves. She was in a terrible state.


Her health deteriorated all through the years until finally she had a heart attack and died.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 05


Your battalion was detached from the 7th Division and was put with the 10th Division in Tobruk. Did that have any effect on the way things were being run for you?
Not in any way, shape or form that I could


think of. We were still 2/10th Battalion, 7th Division no matter where we went; we were still the same.
How many of you were there in the wire party to check the perimeter?


There was a platoon of us in that particular section. The whole company was up there, but we were just one platoon. I suppose there’d be 25 odd. I can’t tell you the exact number.
When you had to check the perimeter,


how dangerous was it?
At that point? Very dangerous. The enemy could have opened up at any time with machine-guns or rifles, mortars, anything. It was a very vulnerable position.
What tricks did you learn to keep


out of the line of fire?
To be as flat on the ground as you could. That was the only thing you could be if there was fire around. Flat on the ground there’s the least target to be shot at.
Did you fire your rifle at Tobruk?


No. I didn’t.
You played a part in holding Tobruk.


Do you wear the name of “Rats of Tobruk” as a badge of honour?
Yes indeed, very much so. It was put on the Tobruk by a fellow named William Joyce, a renegade Englishman whose


name was Lord Haw-Haw. He, in a very sneering way, talked about living like rats in holes in Tobruk. It is a badge of honour. The Rats of Tobruk Association, you’ve seen the badge? I always wear that.


Before leaving the Middle East you transferred from a rifle section to a mortar platoon. Was that in Syria?
No, At Julis, when we got back to Julis I transferred over. I requested for a transfer and it was granted.
Why did you make that request?
I thought I’d like to be in the mortar


platoon. I was going to be with Fred Atkinson. I just wanted to be in the mortar platoon. That’s about the only reason I can give.
Previously you’d been in 15 Platoon,


C Company. What was the mortar platoon?
Number 3 Platoon, it was in Headquarters Company, apart from A, B, C and D companies. It was number 3 Platoon of Headquarters Company.
How many in that platoon?


I have to guess. I’d say 30 to 35 perhaps. That’s only guessing.
Who were you reporting to?
The platoon officer, Lieutenant Meagher. He was the platoon


What was your rank?
On your return to


Australia, you got sent to Sandy Creek. Where is that?
I’m not quite sure how many kilometres north of Gawler. Could be perhaps ten kilometres north of Gawler. It was only a partly-constructed camp and we were sent there. I believe it became an


army camp after we’d been there.
What did you do there?
We went home on seven days’ leave. We’d no sooner got back than we were on the move. After the seven days’ leave was over, very shortly after that we moved to New South Wales.
You went to


Tenterfield, that’s right.
What did you do there?
Train. Very hard training in amongst trees and that sort of thing. I don't know whether the powers that be thought it would be some semblance of jungle training, I don't know. We did a lot of training in amongst trees and bushes and that sort of thing. Route marches.


At that time I became a Bren-gun carrier [light armoured tracked vehicle, originally mounting Bren light machine-gun] driver because we had Bren gun carriers to cart our mortars around in.
What vehicle did you have to drive the gun around?
A Bren gun carrier.


Describe that vehicle.
It’s like a miniature tank. It’s a tracked vehicle. Shaped in a miniature tank shape. It’s open at the top, there’s no hood on it or anything. The crew are down below the level of it. The front of it was


supposed to be bullet-proof. The rest of it would stop perhaps some form of bullet, but it wasn’t meant to be a bulletproof vehicle. We had them, but once we got to New Guinea they were out cos they were useless up there. So we only had them for the time we were


at Tenterfield and Kilcoy.
What fun was it to drive?
It was totally different to driving an ordinary vehicle because you steered by the tracks. You pull on it and half stop the right track if you wanted to turn right. It’d put a brake on that track and the rest of it’d carry on around.


It was something that you had to get used to, the steering of those things; totally different to steering in a motorcar or truck.
How was the steering affected by the weight of the Bren gun?
We didn’t have Bren guns. It was a Bren gun carrier, but we were carrying three-inch mortars.


Using it, but we didn’t call it a mortar carrier, it was still a Bren gun carrier. We were carrying our mortars in it.
How many mortars would you stack inside?
Each mortar section had a carrier: one carrier, one mortar.


In the transition from rifle to mortar platoon, what other training…?
Plenty of training on the mortar. Plenty of it, before we left the Middle East we were training on it. Not firing bombs, but dry training. Morning, noon and almost night we were training on it. When I transferred to the mortar platoon, I think there were about a dozen others


who transferred to the mortar platoon also. So we had to go through a very quick drill period where we were doing nothing but mortar work.
Tell me again, you were doing mortar work?
Yes, all the time. Because about twelve of us were


new to it. We had to do a lot of it to try and catch up to the remainder of the mortar platoon, which we did, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
What was involved?
Mortars are in three separate pieces. There’s the base plate, the barrel and the tripod, all very heavy pieces of equipment.


It was laid out and you had to put it together and then go through all the practice of making out you’re putting a bomb down it, lining up, it had the spirit bubble level sights.


You had to get those sights. You had a level bubble that way and a level bubble that way. Depending on the range, at that particular time you fired from about 400 yards up to 1,600 yards I think were the ranges of it. So you went through all those types of drills.


Fixing the range finders onto a supposed target, setting it all up and doing that over and over and over again, until we had it absolutely correct.
How many did it take to operate one mortar?
Three crewmen, but you had others providing the bombs. There’s the number 1 would do the ranging, 2 would


put the bomb down the barrel, number 3 would hand the bomb to number 2 and there would be others back bringing bombs up, so quite a few in the mortar detachment.
Before New Guinea you were driving, but did you have a position on the mortar?


Yes. When you finally got out, you take either 1, 2 or 3, whichever one.
You rotated those positions?
You did rotate in drills. When you got into action you’d stay static on one particular part of it. But in drill you rotate so that everyone would be able to handle each part of it.


How many pounds were the mortars?
The total weight? The bomb I think about ten pounds; I can’t tell you off the top of my head. I think they were ten pounds, but I’m not sure. They were a fairly weighty sort of thing.
What were the main difficulties


of the mortar?
Carrying them around. They were quite a heavy lot of equipment. They were divided into three. Number 1 would carry the baseplate, number 2 the barrel and number 3 the tripod, but you had to keep changing them around because that tripod, no matter how you carried it, there’d be some part of it that’d be sticking into you. You could not


carry it in such a way that you wouldn’t feel it. Whereas the barrel, they had it on a strap over your shoulder or you carried it on your shoulder. The baseplate was carried with straps and on the hip. That was the easiest part to carry, the baseplate. Even though it was heavy.
What were the baseplate and tripod made from?
Steel I suppose. They were heavy.


The actual composition of their make, I can’t tell you. Sorry.
How quickly could you assemble it?
Very quickly. As soon as we got to the scene where we had to assemble it, down would go the baseplate, in would go the barrel into the baseplate and the tripod over the top of the barrel and away you’d go very quickly.


You had to watch out where you were assembling it because you had to have a very firm base because when the bomb was fired out of the barrel there was a, what do they call it when it reacts? Same when you fire a rifle it comes back on your shoulder. [recoil] That happened with a mortar.


You had to have a fairly solid base, which you couldn’t always find.
If you set up the tripod on an angle, not solid ground, in what way would that affect the trajectory?
If it was a soft base the whole thing would sink down. I can’t think of the word for it now.


It’d push that baseplate down further and further into whatever was there. At times we used to have to have sandbags.
When you were learning, did you have an opportunity to


fire live?
Yes. Not very often, but we did have the opportunity. Mainly you’d fire off smoke bombs. We didn’t fire the real live stuff that would explode out.
How noisy were they?
A bit of a clunk when it shot the


bomb out. It slivered down into the barrel and there’d be a “Woo” as it came out. You could hear it. It wasn’t a quiet noise, but on the other hand it wasn’t a really loud, loud noise. You’d get it because you’re right alongside of it. As you put the thing down, it goes straight down and back again, and number 2, I was number 2 a lot,


this ear was right alongside where it came out. Consequently I haven’t got really good hearing in my left ear.
It fires quite quickly after you load it?
Would you duck your head or turn away?
Yes, you’d load it and try and turn your head down and away.


The number 3 bloke, he was over here, he’d put his head down and number 1 bloke he was the other side, he’d put his head down too. Then you had your OP [Observation Post] up the front to tell you where the bombs had landed, the Observation Post. Someone with binoculars watching and passing messages back whether you had to go up or down with your range.


What did you like about being in the mortar platoon?
I don't know. I don't think there was any great like or dislike. We were soldiers; first, last and always we were soldiers. We were still riflemen, although we were specialists on the mortar. We still carried our rifle with us.


Apart from our mortar training we had to remember all the basics of the riflemen.
Did you notice a different kind of bloke was in the mortar platoon compared to the rifle?
No. I think an Aussie is an Aussie wherever he is.


After Tenterfield you went to
Queensland. What was the purpose of Queensland?
I don’t rightly know. I don't know


why they took us there because we had similar terrain, similar type of hills and slopes and all that sort of thing. They took the whole brigade. We were all in that general area. Not in Kilcoy, 2/9th were, I can't remember where they were. They were


with the 2/12th in a place called Esk. All in that area but quite a few kilometres apart of course. I can’t give you any idea why they took us. Nobody told us. It was just the usual, “Pack up, ready to move.”


How did you travel to New Guinea?
The battalion went on a boat called the Both I think it was, B-O-T-H. The mortar platoon with the carriers, we went on a boat called the Balikpapan. Unusual because that’s where we finished the war, at Balikpapan.


It was a very small boat and we were on that from Brisbane to Milne Bay.
Did the Balikpapan go straight to Milne Bay?
Yes. And the other boat did too.
What was Milne Bay like


when you arrived?
God, we wondered what we’d got into. First we found out that the carriers were absolutely useless because it was all mud. There was no traction there. They tried to use them for a little while. It was such a muddy place. The jungle came right down to the water’s edge. All you could see when you were going up into Milne Bay was this green, right down to the water’s edge.
How did you get


off the Balikpapan?
When we got into where we got off there was some sort of, where boats tie up to…goodness me…wharf, some sort of a wharf there where the boat could tie up to. You got off and then you were into the veritable jungle from the start. Where we


got off was a lot of palm trees. Palm plantations all over the place. I think one of the big soap factories owned it, I’m not sure. It was all a lot of plantation. We were camped not very far from where we got off the boat for a certain length of time. Wasn’t very long before the Japanese invasion


You did actually take the Bren gun carriers.
Took them off. I don't know what happened to them afterwards. I know we had one with us for a little while. We weren’t using it as a weapon of war. They were useless there. Although they did manage to, somehow


our doctor and his RAP [Regimental Aid Post] crew got a carrier right up heading up to the front. They ran over a landmine and blew them all up. So I don't know how they got there. They had all the trouble in the world to drive trucks through the mud, which they did.


The drivers did a marvellous job there.
What did you understand was going to be the role of the 2/10th in Milne Bay?
At that period of the war, it wasn’t until the end of the war we learned anything. The average troop was told nothing. We were just told to pack up and be ready to move and then to move.


We had no idea. We didn’t even know the Japanese had landed until there was a flurry of everything. Everything happened at once. We knew we were going to be tangled up in it. We were an infantry battalion. We knew we’d be tied up in it somewhere, which we were.


The Japanese landed and then all hell broke loose. It was pack up and get ready and we moved. Then we moved somewhere else. We moved again. Then the main body of the battalion went off. One lot of mortars went with them. The rest of us stayed behind with the transport and other


parts of the battalion, headquarters company, most of it stayed behind. We got rushed up there the next morning. Once again we were told, “Get ready” and we were off on a truck. We got up to where they were building a new airstrip, Number 1 Airstrip. We were put off the truck there and were taken on further and


as we were going out towards the front a party of the 2/10th were coming back this way, led by a Captain Ross Matheson. So he instructed us to go with them, which we did. We went back to this new airstrip. We formed up on the opposite side to where the front was. In other words, anyone coming from the front had


to come through the open strip. We had God knows how much firepower there. Troops seemed to come from everywhere. We’d no sooner got back over there than the Japs came. I don't think for one moment that it was the full Japanese invasion force, but I think it was a pretty strong, fairly big fighting patrol. They came and we were


ready for them over the other side of the strip and we let them have it. That was, as far as I was concerned, the action at Milne Bay, because the battalion got cut up pretty badly and they had to come back too. So they had a shocking fight out of a place called


KB Mission. Apparently they got cut about pretty badly.
What signalled the start of that action?
Someone just yelled out, “Let them have it”. I don't know who it was. It must have been an officer, cos we had officers with us. That was it. Everything


opened up. God, everybody and his cobber must have been there with rifles, machine-guns. That was it for that part of it.
It’s interesting to hear how an action starts, finishes, who gives the signal
That started and finished almost immediately.


They came, we saw them and we opened up. That was gone. The others, the main bulk of the battalion out at KB Mission were confronted by miniature tanks. The Japs had these little, when you say miniature that’s not probably the right word, but they were nowhere near the size of an ordinary tank. They had a problem


with them because they had lights on them and it was nighttime. They were shining these lights on all the troops and firing from these tanks. Apparently they couldn’t stop them. They had those stick on bomb things that they stick on, but being in the tropics, all that stick on stuff had worn and they wouldn’t stick on. They tried to throw grenades into them, all sorts.


Apparently our battalion got cut about pretty badly.
How many mortars were there set up on Number 1 Airstrip?
We didn’t have them with us. We got taken out there quickly as riflemen. Didn’t have the mortars with us. So we were at there purely as riflemen.


What rifles did you have?
303 [Lee-Enfield .303 calibre rifle]. Had our normal rifles.
Was that the first time you had fired?
At enemy, yes, it was. It was.
it was all over pretty quickly.
That part of it was, yes.
What was it like to fire on and engaging enemy?


I suppose you use the word gut wrenching would be about the right word. Everything came up; suddenly it was there. One moment you weren’t normal, I’m not trying to make out we were normal. One moment you weren’t in action, and the next minute you were firing. Rifles were going off and everything. The enemy was


there. I suppose gut wrenching would be as good a description as any.
How easy was it to see the enemy?
You could see them. They were there. I’m sure it wasn’t the full invasion force. It couldn’t have been. There were enough of them there to make a solid front. With the amount of stuff that


got poured into them, they were gone straight away.
How did you know it was the end of that action?
No “all clear” was given, but everybody started standing up, walking around and all that sort of thing. Then we started getting lectures about, “Look out for anybody coming out of that jungle, they have to be Japanese,” which they weren’t. That sort of thing


Were you wearing your tin hat [steel helmet]?
Oh yes, very definitely. It’s a strange thing that tin hat. Without it you felt so vulnerable. With it, it was only a little tiny thing perched on your head. Somehow it made you feel safer, which you weren’t. You’re whole body was still exposed.


Just had that effect I suppose.
There was air force in the area?
What contact did you have with the squadrons that were there?


We had no contact at all. I think the only ones that had contact were the higher-ups, perhaps the general commanding. Someone would have had contact, but ordinary troops had no contact.
Even though you were at the airstrip you didn’t see any?
That was a strip that was being made, that wasn’t being used. The


strip that the air force were using was back over. The battalion, after that first night, they all came back in dribs and drabs. They got all split up. Some came back via the beach. Some headed into the mountains and came back that way. We went pretty near straight back


from where we were. They were coming back in parts for quite some days. We were quite some days before we reformed into a battalion again. In the meantime we were getting bombed. We had one detachment of mortars that had to go over and be a guard on part of the airstrip where the air force were.


They’d only been over there two days and a bomber came over, dropped bombs, one landed right on top of them, the position they were in. Three of them killed instantly. Other two were down at a nearby creek getting some water. They were on their way back and both got wounded. It just shows it didn’t have to be right in the actual


fight to be killed.
Was there an RAP close by?
Yes, our doctor and his RAP staff all got killed going out to the front. But we had to get another doctor and other RAP


staff. We always had medical people somewhere nearby. That was an awful place, Milne Bay. We still went up there, no jungle green uniforms or anything. We still had our Middle East stuff that we were wearing. Even to the extent we were wearing shorts. The malaria-bearing mosquitoes


everywhere. We were sent up there with summer stuff that we wore over in the desert. Incredible. That’s how it was.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 06


When you got to Milne Bay you were told to watch out for the Japanese coming out of the jungle, but that wasn’t always the case. What did you mean by that?
It was after the action had all started. We were on the side of the being prepared airstrip.


The other side that I’m talking about is where the action was all taking place further in. Whoever told us that must have believed that the only ones who’d come out of there would be Japanese, which wasn’t the case at all, because we had our men coming out. Aussies. There was more than the 2/10th in there; there were militia units in there too.


There were a lot of Australians in there.
Was there any confusion when people were moving out of that area?
I think there must have been. I wasn’t in there so I can’t comment really on it. The way those two tanks came on the scene must have caused some sort of confusion I would think. But I don't know whether it did or not.


How were the Japanese as fighters?
They were absolute fanatics. My understanding is that they would surrender, a few did at Buna, but they would fight to the bitter end. That’s my understanding of the Jap [Japanese].


From where you were at Number 1 Airstrip, what did you know of what was happening at the Kokoda Track and in the Owen Stanleys?
We were only getting very, very sketchy ideas about that. Someone was getting some radio reports from


somewhere. We knew there was a battle going on there, but we didn’t get anything that we could go on. Any information we could gather in and try and work something out on it.
What was the state of the Number 1 Airstrip when you got there?
It was being prepared. They’d only just cleared the trees and that sort of thing. It was


nowhere near being ready for aircraft at all.
Did you do any work at the airstrip to prepare it?
No. I suppose they had, I can’t think of the name of them,


special forces to do that. We had nothing to do with that.
What further action were you going out to encounter from the base at Milne Bay?
We didn’t encounter anything after that except the bomb that dropped on one of our mortar crews. That was


From Milne Bay you made your way to Porlock Harbour?
No, we went to a place called Wanigela first.
How did you get to Wanigela?
By plane. Plane loaded up with mortar bombs. It finished up the whole battalion came up there. I think they all came by air.
Was that


your first time in an aeroplane?
Yes, it was. Pretty scary too. With all those mortar bombs on board, we didn’t know just what could happen.
What was the type of aircraft you were flying?
I think it was a Douglas, DC whatever number [Douglas DC3]. Those early American planes.
How did you get on and off the plane?
I can’t remember if there were little tiny steps they let down


or not. I can't remember that. It was pretty primitive stuff.
Then you met up with the rest of the battalion at Wanigela?
Yes. We had to prepare an airstrip. By that I mean we had to cut down kunai grass, which we were doing with our bayonets of all things, to just make a presentable air


strip. When we first came there they landed amongst kunai grass.
How long were you preparing an airstrip in Wanigela?
Not long; only a few days. We were there for quite a few weeks.
Were there many Japanese in the area?
I don't think so. I don't know, but I don't think so. I think they congregated more up


around Buna, Sanananda, Gona and on the Kokoda Track.
You were just establishing another airstrip?
No, it wasn’t a real airstrip; it was just cutting down the kunai to make some sort of a presentable airstrip. We didn’t prepare a new airstrip, no.
From there you moved on


Porlock Harbour.
What was your role there?
I don't know. All I know is we had to carry all our mortars up a huge, steep hill. We were stuck up there. We were only there for a few days. Then we moved on to Buna. I don't know what special task we


were supposed to do at Porlock Harbour. I have no idea whether it was just a staging spot on the way to Buna.
You made your way over to Buna?
Yes, by boat.
What was the scene like when you reached Buna?
The 2/9th battalion had already been in action there. We knew that we were going in pretty soon.


We didn’t know exactly when. It was all coconut groves where we first landed and where the 2/9th battalion went in was coconut groves. We had to get across a swamp to the airstrip, cos the Japanese were entrenched right up in a coconut grove on the coast at the


end of the airstrip. They were really dug in. They’d made fortifications there with coconut logs. They were well prepared. We had to get across the swamp and form across the airstrip in preparation for attack.
What part of the mortar were you carrying across the swamp?
I think it was the


barrel. I’m pretty sure it was.
How was it getting across that swamp?
We went over in, I don't know where they got it from, a little dinghy thing. They first waded across to find a spot, but they used this little dinghy to carry the mortars over. It wasn’t easy. It was pretty hard there.


Had action started by the time you got there?
Yes, the 2/9th had gone in. They’d been in attack. So we were the next in. That was a couple of days before Christmas Day as I remember.


What was the state of the 2/9th coming out?
We didn’t’ see any of them.
What were your orders?
We had to get our gear across the swamp, form up on the other side on the


airstrip. That’s where the 2/10th went into attack from there. The mortars, we were on the side where the dispersal bays were. We did have some partial cover from them, but we couldn’t get right in the dispersal base, because we had to have room for the mortar to be able to fire


without hitting the high dispersal bays. So we were right on the end of a dispersal bay, actually outside the dispersal bay, but quite near it. The rest of the battalion formed across the strip. They had tanks there. First time we’d had tanks in New Guinea. Unfortunately they didn’t last very long. They got knocked out almost


before the thing started. They did get going, but they got knocked out. Then our boys went into attack. I’ve described Buna in my words as a hellhole if ever I’ve seen one. I’ll always think that. Our battalion got really cut to ribbons.
Were you adequately trained for Buna?
I think we were trained,


but the battalion was in an open situation, advancing up an airstrip. The Japanese were firmly entrenched within that palm grove in a fairly big area. They had the wood on us because we were open. Our boys were


advancing into guns and stuff they couldn’t even see. We had an artillery gun firing over open sights down that strip, into the Japanese positions. When it started off with all this noise you wondered how on earth how any of them would live through it down that end where the Japs were. But they were so firmly inside of bunkers


created with coconut palms and all that sort of thing that nothing was getting near them. Consequently, when our battalion advanced they really got cut about badly. Christmas Day was one of the worst Christmas Days I think we could ever hope to see. I think we were about six-seven days to get


up nearly to the end of the strip. Then our roles were somewhat reversed because some of us had to go right out into foxholes at the very front. I was in a foxhole with a mortar sergeant. We were there for about two days and two nights, stuck in this hole. The Japanese


were only a short distance up in front of us. But the battalion had been cut around so much that they were using us as frontline. We were there until the 2/12th Battalion came in on the 1st of January. They attacked that coconut plantation and they got cut about badly too,


but that was the end of the Japs.
How did the battering you were receiving affect the morale of the men?
I think we were pretty shattered by the whole thing. It was just happening so fast. Blokes were getting killed, blown up, all sorts of things.


It was shocking; it was carnage. Dreadful.
How did you keep sane and focused?
Just had to do it. Otherwise you’d get yourself killed if you didn’t keep your wits about you. We were thankful to see the end of Buna. A shocking, shocking


place. I think we had about 86% casualties. That included sickness and everything. Killed, wounded.
How close were you getting to the shelling in Buna?
Our mortar, we were in position. Alongside the dispersal bay there were


carrying parties carrying ammunition forward, or whatever else they were doing, and one, I don't know whether they had a mortar firing back at us or what they had, but they had something. They had pinpointed us and they lobbed one in the party of men going past us and blew them up. Shocking it was. It was far enough away from us that we didn’t, the blast, we heard that and saw it,


but it blew these poor blokes right up. So they were firing stuff back at us, but whether it was a mortar or some sort of mountain gun, I don't know.
Were you able to assist anyone around you suffering casualties?
Not really. No. We had stretcher-bearers


going all the time, doing their best to pick up wounded and take them back. But we weren’t in a position whereby we could offer any assistance whatsoever.
What really makes Buna significant and hellish for you?
I think that was the worst battle that we were involved in, the battalion.


Such high casualty rate, so much gunfire, rifle fire, machine-gun fire, and all that going on all the time. There didn’t seem to be any end to it. Plus our own stuff that artillery piece that was firing straight down over open sights down the airstrip into the plantation. The noise was,


I can hardly, thinking about it now you wonder how on earth we put up with it.
Did you do anything to mark Christmas Day?
No, nothing at all. It was just another day unfortunately.


When the 2/12th came in, did you cross paths with them?
No. We were still holding our position on the airstrip. They came in onto the plantation. We saw and heard them, but we didn’t cross paths at all.
When you left Buna, what was


the feeling like leaving?
Those of us that were left there, we honestly thought we’d be coming home. We thought, “Surely we’ll get some leave now.” We were gathered in the plantation, we were having to bury our own blokes, and Japanese. We looked up and the sight that we saw knocked our tails right in, because coming down the airstrip was


a long line of brand new soldiers that had just got there. They were reinforcing us. So we knew we weren’t going to be coming home.
What burial ceremonies did you go through?
Just buried them. You stuck their rifle upside down with the bayonet into the ground


so that, they had a war graves unit that used to come around and make sure they were all gathered up. Most of them were taken back and buried in Bomana Cemetery out of Port Moresby. There was no ceremony. The poor old padre couldn’t get around on an occasion like that when men were going over like flies


almost. The padre couldn’t’ stand up in the middle of a battlefield. Mainly it was left to the, I can’t think of the name of these war graves people that do that sort of work, but it was mainly left to them. For the Japanese we just dug holes and rolled them in it.


What did religion mean to you now?
I was just going to tell you. The battle of Buna finally knocked all ideas of religion out of me because I determined in my own mind that if there was a supreme being that had these great powers that are attributed to that supreme being, how on earth


could he allow men to go in and slaughter each other like that? It didn’t add up. Nothing added up to me. I thought, “That’s it. That’s the finish.” That finished me with religion.
What mates did you lose at Buna?


My old friend Fred Atkinson. Right at the start of the battle of Buna he got badly hit in the arm and lost his arm. That was very, very upsetting. We lost lots of men there. One of the chaps in the I Section, that’s the Intelligence Section, used to come past on a daily basis. He’d be


gathering in names of chaps that had been killed. Every time he came and told me someone from the 15 Platoon that I was in had been killed and so many of them were killed from that 15 Platoon, from the whole battalion, but those that I knew so well.
Where were you when Fred got hit?
I wasn’t alongside him. I was just in front of him


somewhere. We soon got the word that Fred Atkinson had been hit. That was the finish of the war for Fred.
Did you see Fred before he left New Guinea?
No. Next time I saw Fred was out in the repat [repatriation] hospital at Dawes Road when we came home. He’s still alive even now, Fred. He must be about 86 I think. Sadly


his wife died about a fortnight ago.
Fred had been a great support to you and you weren’t even able to say goodbye.
No. Didn't see him. That’s one of the cruel things about war I suppose.
How did it feel when you were burying your comrades


and you see a whole new group of reinforcements coming?
It was an absolute shock. We really thought that we’d be coming home after Milne Bay and Buna but sadly that wasn’t the case. We were reinforced and that was it. Then we went on to Sanananda.


Were your reinforcements quite green?
Yes, they’d come pretty well straight from Australia and from what I gather they had some sort of training in camp at Watsonia just out of Melbourne somewhere. So they hadn't seen any action at all.
How were you to prepare them?
We took them in and just treated them as though they’d


always been there. I think they felt quite at home with us.
Did you know where you were going next?
We had a pretty good idea, cos Sanananda was the talk. Everybody was talking about Sanananda, how the Japs were entrenched down there. So we pretty well realised that’s where we were going,


but we weren’t told. In those days in the army, the ordinary ranks were never told anything until the actual thing happened.
Did you speculate amongst yourselves?
Oh yes. We talked about what could be, what might be, all that sort of thing. That happened all the time.
How did you move


from Buna to Sanananda?
We were taken out of the Buna area and went to, I think the place was called Popondetta, but I’m not sure about this, where we all gathered to reform the battalion with all these new boys. Then we, practically straight away, started off down the track to Sanananda. Carrying our mortars and our


rifles and our other equipment. That was a shocking trip of it down there cos such a lot of it was through swamp. Up around hip-high swamp. It was pretty hard carrying those mortars and our other stuff, keeping it above that swamp level. We finally got down there. This was a different situation altogether, because Sanananda was like a beach


area right around, with swamp in behind it. The Japanese were all in on the beach type area. They did have places in amongst the swamps too, but their main force was out on the firmer ground.
Are you still in your desert khakis?
Yeah, we hadn't been issued with,


we had to wait till we went to New Guinea the second time before we got green-coloured stuff.
Were you warned about malaria?
Yes, we were taking that awful tasting stuff. Not Atebrin, that came later. It’s


a liquid and it’s such vile tasting stuff. We were taking that but that didn’t stop anything. We were open, all our bare flesh, arms and legs and that, to the mosquitoes. So we all got malaria.
Was there a problem with leeches through the swamp?
Yes. Shocking things they are too. A lot of the chaps who smoked used to use the


burning end of the cigarettes, touch the leach and they’d drop off. You couldn’t pull them off cos they leave their pincer like things in your flesh.
Did you get leeches?
Yes. Everybody had a bit of a share of the leeches. It wasn’t nice, easy going in those swamps up there.


We didn’t get to work with our mortars there, the ones I was on. We were doing a fair bit of stretcher bearing. The mortars were being used as stretcher-bearers. We were going up to where the action was, carrying back wounded chaps. One night


there were about 20 Japanese who were trying to escape. They were out in about waist high water in the ocean and they were coming down past us. They didn’t get past us because once again somebody, I think it was a captain named Schmedje , gave the order to let them have it. Goodness knows how many guns opened up on them. They were gone.


One evening I heard a voice saying, “Are you there, Kirk?” That’s what I was either called John, Johnny or Kirk. All Johns for some reason or other in the army seem to be called Johnny. I still get called that by the chaps that I served with. I heard this voice saying, “Are you there, Kirk?” It was my old sergeant from


15 Platoon. He told me the story, he had a section of brand new boys in there, nine boys, first time in action, and he had no NCO with them, they were alone. He asked me would I be prepared to go out and take charge of them. So I told him if he cleared it with my officer I’d do so. He cleared it, so I went out with these boys all night,


sitting out in the swamp. I thought, “God, what an initiation for these lads.” First time. Still, nothing happened, thankfully. So in the morning I went back to the mortars and George collected his chaps and took them with him.


What was the feeling like amongst these new men?
I don't know. I would say they’d be pretty tense. They’d have to be tense. I was tense myself, very tense. They would have to have been very tense and wondering just what might happen, cos


the Japs could have come from anywhere at any time.
How did you prepare them for that?
I just said to them, “We're here for the night. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and be ready to go into it if it happens.” That’s all you could say. You couldn’t hold forth at any great length a sermon sort of thing.


How did you sleep in this environment?
Well, you didn’t. We didn’t that night. Not one of those boys or myself shut our eyes. I suppose at times, if you’re a fair way away from where the action really was, you’d be able to snatch a couple of hours here or there. There was no such thing as lying down and saying,


“Good night, I’m going to bed now.” It was nothing like that at all.
What’s it like to fight under such fatigue?
It’s not good, but the will is there and you just have to keep going. That’s all there is to it. You can’t say, “I’m going to sit down, I’m going to rest.” You just have to keep going and you’ve gotta keep telling yourself to


keep going.
In Sanananda you were a stretcher-bearer?
We acted as stretcher-bearers. Not all the time. But we just assisted.
What was it like to be that close to the devastation?
I remember we carried out one poor kid. He was only a kid. I doubt if he was 17


or 18. He was badly shot up. We carried him out and it was pretty agonising doing it. Poor kid. He died. Not nice.
What comfort did you give these blokes?
You couldn’t give them much. Unless their wounds were, when you say “superficial” there’s no such thing as a superficial


wound I suppose, but if they weren’t so badly wounded you try and help them by saying, “You’ll be all right. We’ll get you back” things along those lines.
You did use your mortar in Sanananda?


At all?
Some of the crews might have, but we didn’t. The one I was attached to didn’t.
What role did you play in the battle there?
Riflemen, or we assisted with stretcher-bearing, carrying, all sorts of things. Where we were we didn’t get right where the real action was taking place.


How were you camped?
Only out in the open. Didn't even have those little two-man tents in those days.
Did you stay in the jungle or were you on the beach?
Out on the beach, yes. It wasn’t like our beaches here, nice and open beach, it was just a little short bit of sand and then like sand


dunes or sand hills with a bit of vegetation on them. Nothing like our beaches here.
You were there for a couple of weeks?
Yes, until Sanananda was finished. Then those of us that were left from the 2/9th, 2/10th and 2/12th Battalions, all went back and were gathered together in


a sort of clearing. There was hardly enough of us all that were left that would form a normal company of one battalion. I remember the CO of the 2/12th Battalion addressed us there and told us that as far as he knew we’d be going home.
What was it like to be standing


with three battalions with barely enough men to make one?
It was pretty shattering to think that all those men that were there with three whole battalions, all that was left at that finish was such a pitiful few. It was really hard to grasp that that was in fact the situation.
Did you thing at that stage that


you could possibly win this war?
Quite honestly we didn’t know what to think. We were getting the stories about the fighting on Guadalcanal and all these other places around the Pacific. There was a horrible warfare going on at Stalingrad in Russia. Things weren’t looking all that rosy in all


battlefields. I suppose one was tempted to take a rather pessimistic viewpoint of the whole thing and wonder just where it was all going to finish.
You were there for victory at Sanananda?
Yeah, we had a victory at Sanananda, yes.
How did that change your feeling?


We knew that that phase of the war for us was over for the moment, but we didn’t know where, when or where the next lot would be. We were sort of informed that we were going to go home after that for a short leave, and then we’d have to be going away again.
How did you get out of Sanananda?


On foot and we marched back, we didn’t march in column or anything of that nature. We got back to I think it was Popondetta, where they had an airstrip. We were flown back to Port Moresby across the Owen Stanleys.
Could you see anything out of the plane?


You could see out of the plane, but all you could see was jungle down below. Couldn’t see anything else.
No signs of battle?
No. I think at that stage the Kokoda Track was all finished and I think Gona was finished. That was another part of the 7th Division. I think that was all finished by then, but I’m not sure.
There was no aftermath that you could see?


No, couldn’t see anything from the plane.
You made it back to Port Moresby?
Yes. Then we came home on one of the American Liberty ships to Cairns. Then we were taken by bus up to the Atherton Tablelands and then we came home on leave.
What was the US navy like compared to the Australian


We didn’t see the real American navy like on warships; we only saw them on landing craft and that sort of thing. They seemed to be fairly laid back compared to our boys. They didn’t seem to bother about saluting officers and all that sort of thing, like our chaps


Did that seem like a sign of disrespect?
No, because we realised that was their side of the war, we were on our side of the war and if that’s the way they ran things, that’s the way they ran things. Mind you, this was in wartime conditions. Maybe on their home soil they’d be spick and span and


throwing salutes here, there and everywhere. I guess that would apply then.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 07


In Buna you were in a mortar crew of three?
How many mortar crews in your mortar platoon were there?
I think there were six, but I’m not sure. Could be seven.


Who got the action signalled to begin at Buna?
I don't know, I suppose the colonel did. I was nowhere near the colonel so I’ve no idea. It just started from my point of view.


You were mostly in the number 2 position?
Yes, on the mortar.
How would you know where to position your mortar?
We had an OP, Observation Officer, he was out the front as far as he could get. He would determine what


the target would be and that would be relayed back to us that so many yards, at such and such a point, and you had to put a pointer thing in front so the number 1 would be able to line up on that. Then you’d fire as per the orders given, so many at so


many yards. You’d fire away until you were told to stop or change the distance, or change the direction. Unless you could see the target you were shooting at you had to rely on an observation officer to do that for you and pass back the details to you.


How often would you send one off?
At Buna we were sending them off all the time. We were plastering in on that plantation, but they were so firmly dug in there that the mortars probably weren’t doing much harm to them at all. Anyone that was caught outside of them would certainly feel it. There was


rifle fire, machine-gun fire going into them, as well as coming out. It was coming both ways. We had that artillery piece firing over open sights right down the strip into that plantation.
How reliable was the information you were getting


about where to aim?
It was pretty good. It had to be otherwise we could have been shooting any old where. So it had to be right on the ball. Nowadays they’ve got radio and all that sort of idea where they just phone it straight back. We had to have some intermediary, perhaps a couple of chaps in between,


who’d get the order from the OP, he’d relay it back to the next one, and so on until it got back to us. That was the only way we could do it.
You didn’t have phone line down?
No. We had a signals platoon who were attached everywhere. They were running lines out, but they were for the company commanders and the CO and all those people


who were directing the whole operation like a company in one piece, whereas we were attached to companies. When we were on that side of the airstrip we were attached to Don Company. The others were mortars with other companies.
You were still in number 3 Platoon?
Oh yes.
But with Don Company?


Yes, attached to Don Company.
How were you carrying your mortars?
The other members of the platoon carry mortars. They were in little, not boxes, in carriers.


They were carrying them. So that’s how they had to carry our ammunition.
How often did you get up and shift your position?
We stayed pretty well in that one position on the Buna strip because we were able to reach the plantation


with the length of the mortar. So we stayed in that one position while we were acting as mortarmen. The last couple of days we were distributed out in the front.
How many mortars did you have with you? Did you use them all up?


three inch mortars do you mean? Yeah, they were all in use at Buna, my word. Just where the others were situated I can’t give you any information on that. All I know is where we were.
Tell us how the action was


once you get the information from the OP.
You set the mortar as to the information that you’ve got, the directions that you’ve got. If they say a different distance, they say 1,200 and you’re firing at 1,000, well, the number 1 would alter the


setting to 1,200 and set the mortar up for that range. So it fell on number 1 to do the alterations.
Was there a degree of inaccuracy in your range setting?


How accurate did the settings have to be?
You had to be as accurate as you possibly could get. Every time you fired off a mortar, like if you fired six bombs, one after the other, they wouldn’t all automatically fall in exactly the same position. There’d be a variation there. Mightn’t be much, but it might be


more than a bit much.
How many bombs did you go through?
I wouldn’t have the, I couldn’t even hazard a guess. We were throwing them around pretty readily. I couldn’t even hazard a guess.


Why is it hard physical work on the mortars?
The carrying of the thing to the position, setting it up, then you’re handling bombs and you’ve gotta handle them with care. You can’t just throw them around willy-nilly.


You have to handle them with care. They’re not lightweight stuff. You’re talking about in action? Yeah, well then the whole of the event that’s going on is weighing in on you too. It’s a weight coming from a lot of different ways.


How were you living at Buna? When could you stop to eat?
You had to try and snatch a bit of something when and if you could. There were no laid down times for anything. Everything was just on the go all the time.


We had emergency rations with us. They tried to sneak up a bit of food to us at times, not very much. That was the strange thing about in battle, you don’t seem to need food to put into yourself. You’re living on what you’ve got in there at that time. Doesn’t seem to cross your mind having


food. Drink was a different thing. You had to have fluid.
What was the water supply like?
Wasn’t too bad, but they gave us pills that we could put in the water. We tried not to do that. We waited till we got water given to us. Brought up and tipped into your water bottles.


You are practically living on adrenalin?
You are, absolutely. That’s what keeps you going. You know you’ve got your mates with you, you’re surrounded by them and you know they’re all good, honest, trustworthy Aussies. They’re


not going to let you down. I don't know of anyone who was ever let down by his fellow soldiers.
In your position, how much cover did you have?
We had a little bit from, we were at the end of the dispersal bay. We were slightly out from the dispersal bay so we were open to anything coming straight down.


Anything over to the right of us, which would have been behind the dispersal bay, they couldn’t see us. So we were covered to an extent over at that direction, but the rest of it we were open. Bullets were whizzing around all the time.


Wearing the tin hat I assume?
My word. Never let it get off your head.
What did you have to eat when you felt like it?
It wasn’t very much. We had a tin of some sort of chocolate substance, but you had to open the tin


to get to it so I don't think too many blokes opened it. We did get some sort of dry, very hard biscuit. It was like trying to eat a piece of cement, but still it was something. That’s about all we had.
No bully beef?
Bully beef, sorry, that was always there, the bully beef.
I’ve heard the bayonet was handy for opening tins.
Yes. That was


an all time thing, bully beef. That was with us all the time. Tend to overlook that.
Was it edible?
Yes. I always, look, a lot of chaps moaned about the food in the army. Yet, I don't know whether I was just one of a few, but I always quite enjoyed the meals in the army, even though they got a


bit wearisome and same over and over again. I quite enjoyed the food.
At Buna, did you get any sleep at all?
Not that I can remember. No, when we were out in the little foxhole right out the front we endeavoured, I was with a sergeant named Ralph Sulzman,


we endeavoured to try and get a bit of sleep. We just couldn’t. Your mind and your body wouldn’t let you. So we were days without any sleep.
What did that do to your concentration?
Once again, you couldn’t let that lapse either. You, at times you had a bit of a dull


feeling in your head, but you had to stay on top of it, no other thing for it.
When you packed up the mortar from the position you were holding, what did you do with it? Where did you store it?


When we went forward to the foxholes we didn’t have it with us there. We must have left it behind for other parties to clear up for, must have done. I don’t remember what happened with that mortar when we went out into the foxholes. It was left behind. Some of the crew was left behind. Not all of us went out there.


Did you develop a sense of belonging to this particular mortar and then you left it?
No I don't think so. You knew it was your weapon and


you were responsible for it. You were the ones that cleaned it and did everything with it. No, if you had to leave it to go to something else, then you went to something else. That was it. Like when I went in the swamp with those lads. I didn’t have any mortar with me then. I didn’t even think about the mortar. So you had to do the job that was in hand at that time.
When you were using it at Buna,


did it ever jam or not fire?
Occasionally you could have a misfire, but at Buna the thing fired perfectly every time. Every time.
How do you fire it?
Number 2 holds the bomb, number 1 takes the cap off the top of the barrel, put the mortar


on the top of the barrel, let it slide down and as it hits the bottom it causes the mechanism to fire it out. As it’s going through the air, so the mechanism for the bomb to go off is triggered as it’s going through the air. That’s the situation with the three-inch mortar.
So it’s got a


As it’s going through the air, yeah. And at the bottom it’s got the mechanism where it hits the bottom of the barrel, that provides the impetus to send it on its way.
Did you have an idea of what damage it could…
It could have done? If it landed among


men it would have a devastating effect. It’d kill anybody within a range of, I can't remember how big a range around it now, but if it landed among troops it’d kill them all. It went off with a shocking blast. It was a very deadly weapon, the three-inch mortar; very deadly indeed.


Given its power, did you have a sense of safety operating it? From the enemy?
No, not really. Because we were, in our position there, we were open to anything


that was coming straight down that airstrip from the enemy. So we knew we were very vulnerable there.
Did you ever fire your rifle?
Not at Buna, no. The old trusty rifle, it got carried everywhere, but I didn’t fire it. At Sanananda I did.
How often did you clean the mortar?


You had to be on the ball with that because it had to be cleaned to function correctly. So we had to be cleaning it and I must tell you that when we were constantly firing it, that barrel got very, very hot. You didn’t dare touch it with your bare hands.
When could you clean


You didn't get very much of an opportunity. Not in action.
The mortar would be ranging between the riflemen and the


artillery, would that be a fair description?
Yeah, we were almost up with the riflemen. They were slightly in front of us, but the artillery were way behind us. So we were as an intermediate weapon. It could be used coming down to about 400 yards. So it could be used in quite close


So you’re one step behind the riflemen?
Yes, usually.
How bomb happy were you after that action at Buna?
I don't think there was any


bomb happiness at all. We were all still much the same as we were when we started. We knew that we’d been firing off a lot of bombs, but as far as I know there was no bomb happiness. Not with me at any rate. I was a bundle of nerves I suppose, but there’s an explanation to that I guess.


When you came back to Cairns, you were struck down with malaria?
Yes. I was the first one from the battalion to go into North


Field Hospital. I got it coming down through the hills on the train. We were given leave when we got back to Australia. We got 14 days’ leave. So I had malaria eight times in total. Not exactly one after the other, that was over a period of a couple of years. Everyone who was up there had malaria.


I didn’t get it while I was up there, that was the strange thing. And I didn’t lose much weight while I was up there. I remember some of the boys saying to me, “You go home and tell people you’ve been to New Guinea, they’ll look at you and say ‘What rot, you haven’t been in New Guinea at all’.” Cos I didn’t lose much weight. Some of them were skin and bone.


Malaria was a rotten thing. It certainly knocked you around when you got it.
Which hospital did you go to?
North Field. It was called North Field. It was a certain number AGH, Australian General Hospital. We just knew it as North Field.
What other


health complications did you suffer around that time?
I had mumps. My poor old face came out here somewhere. I was in isolation with that. I had another lot of malaria whilst still home. I think I had three lots. The night before we were supposed to leave to go back up to Queensland I


was carted to hospital with malaria then. On the way back, after I recuperated from all that, I don't think what happened, my finger, I got a poisoned hand. I remember I got to Sydney on the train and I thought, “I’d better do something about this.” I told an officer, my hand was badly swollen, I said, “I’d better have something


done about it.” He said, “Wait till you get to Brisbane.” That’s how, look, it was awful. It’s hard to believe sometimes, some of these stories. I got to Brisbane and my whole arm was swollen up so I was sent straight to hospital. I was in there for about three weeks, a month, at Redbank. Then I got going again up north. I got up to Townsville,


more malaria. Sent out to a convalescent camp, way out near Charters Towers. I was there for quite a while. In those days they convalesced you for quite a while after malaria. Towards the end it didn’t seem to matter much. I finally got going and got back up to New Guinea. The battalion was up in the…


they’d just come down from the Finisterre Ranges, they’d finished that campaign. They’d come down into the Ramu Valley and that’s where I rejoined them. I was with them for the rest of the war.


We were there in the Ramu Valley for a little while, more or less resting they were. They used to bring films up to show us once a week. One week they cancelled the film and they brought up a South African pianist named, I can’t think of his name.


He was quite a world famous chap, but he played classical stuff and the average troop was not very interested in classical music, so we all sat and listened, but during the course of this playing by, I can’t think of his name, the adjutant got up and said that in the morning we would be


leaving; we were going back to Australia. The poor old chap on the piano, that was more or less the finish of his…he still played, but I don't think too many stayed there to listen to him. I wish I could remember his name; he was quite a famous pianist. That’s by the by. Then we came home again. Flew down the Ramu Valley to Lae,


onto ships and back to Australia, back to Cairns again, up to the Tableland and came home on leave. I think they gave us 48 days’ leave that time, which was quite a good leave.
What did you and your mates in the battalion


think of the things General Blamey was saying about your efforts in New Guinea?
We were not impressed at all. I was actually personally outraged when I heard about what he said. I thought it was the most rotten thing anyone could say, a leader of the men, of all of the Australians, to say a thing like he did to those chaps


on the Kokoda Track. I thought was a despicable, despicable thing. Another thing that we were, can I put it in? Another thing that we were not very happy about was General MacArthur putting out communiqués to say that Allied troops had done this and Allied troops had done that, when it was in fact Australians.


He wouldn’t mention that. He wouldn’t say “Australians”. I have read where he made an observation to Blamey that he didn’t think Australians measured up when it came to battlefield. I didn’t think much of General MacArthur either.


Was there anyone that gave you a pat on the back?
General Vasey was around the place. He was in charge. Sometimes you’d see him wandering around. I remember once, I don't know how we came to be talking to him, whether he came over to us, I suppose he did, we’d hardly go over to him.


One of our lads said, this was before Sanananda, “When are we going to get some home leave, General” just like that. I thought, “Gee, fancy talking to a general like that.” He was quite good. He said, “Look, we’ve got a little bit more to do up here. When that’s done you’ll be getting some leave.” I thought that was pretty good. There was no standoffishness with him. He seemed to be a very good general.


As far as I was personally concerned, I thought our leaders and our officers did quite a good job. General Blamey, what he said to those troops that was unforgivable. I was like all others. We were all outraged about it even though it wasn’t said to us.


It is difficult to keep your spirit up when you know that that kind of thing happens.
Oh yes. I think to myself those men showed marvellous, to withhold themselves and not yell and abuse old General Blamey for that. That was amazing how they did that.


Because they must have been smouldering within. I reckon they could have been forgiven for yelling out abuse, but they apparently didn’t. I don't think he was held in very high esteem, General Blamey. You’ve read what he said?


About rabbits running. That was shocking. Shocking.
You were now a bit of an old hand at being a soldier.
I’d been there for a while, yes.
After the second trip to New Guinea, were you


feeling battle fatigue?
Yes. Very much so. Very, very much so. I’m sure all the other chaps that came home with me were the same. We kept saying that it looked as though they were going to keep throwing us off the deep end all the time. That’s the way we put it. That’s how it appeared, because they kept sending the same ones back in, back in, back in.
What do you mean


“Thrown off the deep end”?
Into troubled waters, off the end of the jetty. It was just a saying. That’s how we certainly felt, that we were being chucked in at the deep end all the time; same old troops. We were feeling quite battle fatigued. But we knew, we didn’t know, but we thought


we’d be going away again, which we did.
The 2/10th didn’t really get a lot of leave.
We had seven days when we came home from the Middle East, 14 days when we came back the first time from New Guinea. I think it was 48 days, I’m not sure, but we got a good long leave that second


time back, which was much appreciated. So then it was time to go back again.
Did you visit your family in that leave?
Yes, came home to Adelaide. By then Ian was away. My Dad was still away. Ralph was still home


at that stage. He was home alone with my mother. That was 1944.
Did you catch up with your dad?
On odd occasions. Very, very odd occasions. He’d be somewhere nearby when we came home on leave and I’d catch up with


him then. Then we went back north again.
Were you at a staging camp before you went over in Australia?
First we went to Brisbane; a place called


Strathpine. We were there for a few weeks during the course of which the 7th Division marched through Brisbane. You’ve no doubt heard that the 7th Division was called the Silent 7th. The others divisions got plenty written up about them and all that sort of thing, but for some reason or other the 7th Division never had that.


So we marched through Brisbane.
Were you aware of that reputation at the time of that march?
Yes, to an extent we were because while we were home the 9th Division came home. They made a big song and dance about that. They had a big march through and all that sort of thing, whereas we were watching from the sidelines. So we were aware that


we were accurately called the Silent 7th Division, which was hard to understand because those early battles up in New Guinea, the Kokoda Track and Buna, Gona, Sanananda, they never ever received the publicity that others did. However, that is the way of it I suppose.


After we’d marched through Brisbane, we then returned back up to the Tablelands.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 08


Were you training at the Atherton Tablelands?
Yes, we did landing from ships training. Landing on beaches. A place called Trinity Beach. Invasion training it was. We did quite a bit of that.
What was the ship you were training with?
It was an English ship. It wasn’t a


warship. I didn’t know the name of it even. We used to go out to that and then climb down rope ladders to the landing craft and whiz into the beach, drop the front of the landing craft and we’d charge onto the beach.
What were you carrying in this training?
We were still mortarmen, but we weren’t carrying that out


off the landing craft. I’d become a corporal then so I had a pistol instead of a rifle. That was all. They carried their rifles, bayonets, while we were doing the training. We did a fair bit of that.
How long were you training in the Tablelands?


We had Christmas up there and we didn’t go away till about May, so about four months or so. We did a lot of route marching; real toughening up stuff. Getting us ready. This is where the army did an absolute reversal. Whereas in previous campaigns they


told the troops nothing, this time they opened up. They told us everything, where we were going, showed us maps. They had little…I’m lost for a word.
Was it set out in front of you?
Yes, all set out with little hills and valleys and everything. Little, I can’t think of the word, but


they had them.
Was it like a model?
That’s it. Why can’t I think of words like that? We were told everything. So we went into Balikpapan knowing where we were going, what we were supposed to do, everything about it. In previous times we had nothing to back us up. We had everything backing us up going into Balikpapan. Ships firing rockets and aeroplanes going over dropping bombs, everything was


weighted our way.
With all that information, did that change your feelings of preparation for going into battle?
It did, because we knew. It was no wondering what was going to happen when we got there, what we were gonna be confronted with and all that sort of thing. We knew where we were going, where we were landing. They even showed


us the beach on the maps and on the models where the beach was. We knew everything, which was certainly a totally vastly different way in comparison with the previous times.
Where did you leave Queensland from?
From Cairns. We went on little landing, not the little ones that dart into the beach,


but on landing craft. We went to Morotai and finished our training there. Then we went from Morotai straight to the landing.
What training did you do at Morotai that was different?
Nothing really. Just more toughening up stuff.
What was the mood on the way over to Morotai amongst the men?


In view of the fact that we were told where we were going and what we were doing, there was a more positive outlook from all of us, I imagine, much more positive. We were going into the unknown certainly, but not into the unknown as we had known it before.
The landing at


Balikpapan, describe how it went for you.
It was just so totally different. We were on the ship. We got off the ship onto the landing crafts to take us in. All the time we had these rocket-firing boats going in with us, aircraft dropping bombs. The


noise was deafening, but the noise was on our side. So we got there, they dropped the front of it, we all rushed out onto the beach and then the officers took over and ordered us where we had to go and how we had to do it. We had our mortars, but we didn’t use them. We were used purely as riflemen there.
I’ve heard of men carrying the mortars


off the landing craft and drowning because of their weight.
I don’t doubt that for one minute, but they would have had to have them tied absolutely to them. Otherwise, if you just had it over your shoulder you’d just slip the strap off or the tripod had a shoulder, and


the plate too, that had a strap. If they were loose on you and you got into trouble, you could just ditch them. I don't know, I’ve never heard that story.
What part of the mortar were you carrying and how?
Barrel, either by the strap over the shoulder, or just to give it a change, I put the barrel itself on the shoulder, but mainly with the strap


and interchanging.
Were you training with the barrel?
Trained with all parts. In training you change over so you all understood and knew how to operate each part. Every one of us on that mortar at Buna, we were all able to operate the sighting and everything. We knew how to do it.


We were trained to do it.
In Balikpapan, once you got on the beach, where were you ordered to go from there?
To go forward. We went forward and we had some Japs in a cave. So we had to do something about that. So we didn’t approach it frontally, that would have been suicide,


so we came at it from the sides and heaved grenades in on them. Apart from that we saw few Japs, everything just worked clockwork in Balikpapan. Everything was weighted in our favour and it went our way. The Japs went backwards. Something that we didn’t think they’d ever do, but they


retreated back into the jungle parts.
After they retreated, what did you do from there?
They didn’t all retreat. Some of our lads, we weren’t attached to Don Company on this occasion, but a platoon of Don Company were advancing up a hill down on the left hand side of the landing space,


and unfortunately these things happen in wartime, but an American plane came in and put rockets into them, which was shocking. It happens. Killed half of them. They were chasing Japanese. Balikpapan was nothing like Buna, Sanananda and Milne Bay. Nothing


whatsoever like it.
General MacArthur led the landings at Balikpapan.
No. MacArthur? No, we didn’t see MacArthur at all.
But it was under his instructions.
The Australian Army had some reservations about it.
Balikpapan? I didn't hear that.


No, I never ever heard that.
How significant do you think Balikpapan was to the victory in the Pacific?
My view is that General MacArthur didn’t want to use Australian troops in any big actions. He wanted to reserve that for


Americans. He used Australians in a, could we say, a mopping up sense; going in, mopping up. The whole strategy in the Pacific War, they could have starved all those Japanese that were left in the islands, but they didn’t, they sent in troops to clean them out. Balikpapan was a significant


area. There’s no doubt about that.
How did you feel about going in to just mop up the Japanese?
I didn’t worry too much about it. Doing that sort of thing wasn’t in


my opinion going to win or lose the war. It was part of something that was left behind when the show had moved on. They had moved on up to Manila and the Philippines. It was still something that had to be done.
From the


extensive briefing, how true was it to what you found in Balikpapan?
Absolutely correct. Everything we saw on those little models and the maps was all there. It was as though we were going into some place that we knew; some village or town or city that we knew all about from all that briefing.


That was wonderful that we had that. We had a marvellous leader of our battalion, Colonel Daly. He stayed on in the army and finished up as Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Daly; he was Chief of the General Staff, the number one soldier in the country. He was our last leader.
What were the qualities


in him that you admired so much?
He was a soldier’s man. Apparently he’d been a soldier from his early years. He was a strict disciplinarian. He was a human being. He was a man and he treated men as men. That’s the way I saw him. I thought he was a very fine man. He only died recently.


How long were you in Balikpapan?
We landed July the 1st and I left there in about the first week of November to come home. They instituted a system whereby if you had five years service and two years overseas


service, then they were the first ones to come home.
You said you didn’t use your mortar in Balikpapan.
What happened to it?
Once again, I’m not sure what happened to it. I can’t remember seeing it again after. It wasn’t all that long afterwards that Hiroshima occurred with the atom bomb


and war was finished. So what happened to our dear old mortar, I have no idea. I suppose the people that go into that sort of thing, the armaments people; they would have gone around and collected everything.
Did it become frustrated to carry it around with you and then never using it?
Yes, it was somewhat.


What new challenges did being a corporal bring to you?
I had to lead a section. I was in charge of a mortar detachment and whatever else a corporal…corporal of the guard and all that sort of thing came into it.
How many men were in your section?


I’m not sure nowadays what it was. I think it was about eight or nine.
What duties did you undertake as a corporal?
I had to be in charge of that detachment at all times. I had to take charge of that.


The ordinary things that an NCO has to do, like corporal of the guard - that came around often times where you had to be on the battalion guard. Even though I mounted the battalion guard in Aleppo in Syria as a private once, but that’s another story how that occurred. I could be the only time a private


ever mounted the battalion guard I would think; a most unusual happening.
Share that with me now.
I was a private on the guard and I was in 15 Platoon, C Company. The company sergeant major was the CSM at Dimra when we first got there. So he knew that I had


reinforcement rank. So just as we were about to move off to the battalion parade ground for the orderly officers’ inspection, the corporal of the guard had some form of stomach trouble and had to dash to the toilet without any warning. Old Wally Jowls looked at me and said, “You, take the guard.” So I took it.


The orderly officer came up to inspect us. I had no stripes on my arm of course. He said, “Are you a corporal?” I said, “No, sir, I’m a private.” Well, I thought something might happen out of that lot, but it didn’t. It just got washed away with the way things went.
But in Balikpapan you were a corporal.
How would you describe yourself as a corporal?


Just as a non-commissioned officer who had apparently qualities that the powers that be recognised that I was able to take charge and lead men.
You said “apparently”.
Well, evidently then. I’ll change that to evidently.
Being in charge of this small group of men,


how did you take that responsibility?
I accepted it because I had done it previously as a reinforcement NCO. I accepted it and I’d tried hard, I’d always been, in my opinion,


I’d always tried to be a model soldier as a private. I thought somebody had to get it, so why not me?
How did you hear about Hiroshima in Balikpapan?
We heard that almost straightaway I imagine.


Radios were operating in the units then and they obviously got it straightaway and we got it straightaway. So we thought that would shorten the war, which it did exactly do.
What news were you told about Hiroshima?


That an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. That was about all we were told. We were told that they’d dropped that bomb. We didn’t know what the bomb was. We heard about an atomic bomb, what it could do, what it might do, but that was all we knew about it. We shortly heard about the


mess that it did make. Then the war finished. I did something that I don’t suppose too many others did. I went away and found a spot by myself and sat and reflected on everything. I reflected on the fact that I was going to go home, I’d got through it all. I reflected that dear old Don wasn’t going to go home.


I just did a reflection on my life as a soldier for those five and a half years, how I’d got through it, and wondered how.
Was it over for you then? Did you contemplate staying on?
They called for volunteers to go to Japan in the occupation force. I was still only 24 years of age. I was a single


man. I did consider. I thought about it, but then I thought, “No, I’ve had enough. I’ll go home.”
Before you went home you were mopping up?
Yes, although we didn’t see any Japanese after the war was declared to be finished.
Prior to that, what was the state of the Japanese at


I think they had been through a bit of a hard time from their own side, not from us. I would suggest they were glad the war was finished. Even though we did hear stories about some of them hiding away in jungles. Apparently they found one bloke about


25 years later, who was still living in the jungle somewhere. Whether that’s true or not, I don't know.
What are we referring to with “mopping up”?
Just cleaning villages out. Making sure there’s no Japanese in there and that sort of thing. No enemy. Just, I’ll use the word cleansing, just cleaning the whole place up.


Were many Japanese taken prisoner?
No, I didn’t see any taken prisoner.
How did the locals respond to the influx of Australians?
Pretty well I thought. Rather well. The only ones who didn’t seem to appreciate us being there were the Dutch who were controlling


the oil fields. I remember once we went walking around, several of us, and we approached one of the oil fields. We were very rudely told to get out of here, “Get out” in a very nasty way. We didn’t appreciate that of course.
Is this a


patrol you were on?
No, this was after the war finished and we were just sightseeing.
Prior to the war’s end, when you were mopping up, were you going out on patrols?
Yes. Didn't see anything. Just came upon little villages and helped. The only Japs I saw in the whole of the Balikpapan operation were the ones I told you about that were in the


cave. Then we only got a glimpse of them. They were shooting at us.
What did you do with the dead Japanese?
At Balikpapan? I didn’t see any. Didn't see a single dead Japanese. Not one. We were the first ones to land. It was a totally different


type of warfare altogether. Something we’d never seen before.
Explain what you mean by that.
Milne Bay, Buna, Sanananda, totally different. We knew nothing about it, we were going into the unknown, we knew what we could expect, but we hoped we didn’t get it. But this one, like I told you, we had maps and


models and all that sort of thing, where we knew where we were going, what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to do it. In that respect it was totally different.
What was the air combat like?
We didn’t see any Japanese planes. Didn't see a single


Japanese plane. Plenty of ours, bombers and fighters, didn’t see even one Japanese plane. For all intents and purposes, they mightn’t have been there. I didn’t see a Japanese, neither did the chaps with me.
In your estimation, how many Japanese were you confronting on the landing?
At Balik [Balikpapan]


I wouldn’t have the faintest idea. We were certainly being shot at, so they were there with weapons, but I don't remember, none of our boys that were in my immediate vicinity got hit.
When you heard of the Japanese


surrender, did you have hostilities from the Japanese soldiers still in Balikpapan?
I didn’t see any, so I don't know.
What was the feeling like when you heard the news of the surrender?
One of relief. One of huge relief. A heavy weight had lifted off. I thought, “Well.”


That’s when I went away all by myself. A lot of the chaps went cockatoo, making merry about the whole thing. That was their way of showing it. I’ve no doubt others did what I did, but I just did it by myself.
There is that feeling of celebration at the surrender, you took it completely the other way.


Yes, I did. I was glad. I was happy. I was pleased. All those words came into it. I didn’t feel like yelling and screeching and hollering and carrying on. I just didn’t feel like it.
How much did Don’s death make an impact on your reaction then?
I think it had a lot to do with it because he was in my mind quite a lot.


When we came home we came into the Sunda Straits between Java and Sumatra and that’s where the ship was, down in there, but it was late at night and I didn’t know we were going that way actually. If I had known I would have gone out on deck and had a bit of a look. No, that had a very marked effect on me when Don got killed.


I often used to wonder how on earth brothers in a battalion did it. I don't know. We had two brothers killed in action one day apart at Sanananda. Terrible. I don't know how on earth they did it.
How did you respond to seeing two brothers killed having lost your own brother?
I was very


saddened. Deeply, deeply saddened about it. I was saddened about everybody who was killed. I thought, “How on earth did two brothers…?” It’s a wonder that the powers that be allowed two brothers to serve in a combat unit. You often wonder how it comes about. I don't think it’s right,


myself. But still. They allowed it and it happened. It happened in other places. I remember reading about two brothers up on the Kokoda Track. One was killed there and the other one kept going.
You had a brother in the army?
Yes, Ian. He served in Darwin.


Were you concerned about his welfare in the army?
Yes, I worried about it, hoping he’d come through it all right.
Did you ever think of claiming him?
He put out feelers to me for me to do that. I said, “No.” I wouldn’t do it.
Why not?
I wouldn’t have a brother of mine alongside me


on the battlefield. No way.
Weren’t your mates like brothers?
Yes, in a vastly different way of course. We were very much like brothers. No, I wouldn’t claim Ian.
How did Ian respond to that?
He was all right. He just put feelers out,


he didn’t ask me in a direct way.
Being in Darwin it was relatively safer than New Guinea?
Yes, I don't know whether he was up there when the bombing took place. I don't know whether he was up there or not at that time. He went up there after.
In your moment of reflection,


what was your opinion of the war?
I think it achieved nothing. We came home and were told that we’d done a wonderful job for our country and peace was restored to the world. I just asked myself, “What peace?” There's never been a proper peace since. Not even since World War 1. I think of all those lives that were lost


trying to achieve peace and I wonder why. I really do.
How did you feel about being on very much the first ship out?
I wasn’t on the first one out, because married men came home first. A lot of other things did enter into the equation. I was on


probably the lowest level of the ones to come home under that scheme.
Between war ending and you going home, what work were you doing in Balikpapan?
It was very much a winding down situation right from top to bottom I suppose. Trying in their own way to wind down,


get it out of their system so to speak. We still had parades, still had lectures and that sort of thing, but the preparation for being discharged from the army, there was a lot of paperwork required for all that sort of thing and I was involved in a fair bit of that, the paperwork. I think roughly that’s about what took place.


How did you unwind?
Just within ourselves. Just let it all go. That’s the best way I can describe it. I suppose a lot of them tried to get as much alcohol as they could possibly get. They would have their own ways of unwinding. That was my way of just


letting it all go and trying to get the feeling that it was flowing out of me.
Did you uncover any men who were making their own jungle juice?
Yes, jungle juice being made, yes. Particularly up on the Tablelands. They used to try anything.


I never tried that sort of stuff. You didn’t know what they were putting into it.
How much would be consumed to take an effect?
I wouldn’t have any idea. I often wonder if the chaps that were making it, it wasn’t all that many people making it, but I wonder if they knew themselves what they were putting into it.


They surely must have. Where were they getting it from? It’s strange. Some very strange things happened. I came home from it all and I got my discharge and I walked out of the barracks where I got it.


I stopped in my stride and I thought, “Boy, you’re on your own now. For all these years you had your food supplied, your health had been guarded. You’re on your own. What are you going to do?” It was a momentary, just a few seconds, I thought, “I’ve done the wrong thing by getting out.” It was a strange feeling.


Why didn’t you want to go to Japan?
No, I thought I’d had five and a half years of army life and I weighed it up, I was still single, I thought, “No, I’ll go home.”


What was your opinion of the Japanese by the time you left New Guinea?
I thought they were the nearest approach of a human being to being an animal. That was my opinion. I thought they were a shocking race of people to do the things that we’d heard that they’d


done. No, they were bad news, the Japanese.
What did you hear that they had done?
The atrocities. We’d seen atrocities at Milne Bay.


We saw what they were capable of doing. We knew the Aussies could never stoop to that sort of thing. I never ever heard anyone of my fellow soldiers who deliberately ill-treated anybody. They had their funny ways, we all had our funny ways, let’s face


it, but the Aussie, in my opinion, is not made that way.
Have you made peace with your enemy?
With the Japs? I hold no grudges against the young ones. They couldn’t help what their grandfathers or whatever did.


I’ve got nothing against the young Japanese, nothing at all.
Did you take anything as a souvenir from the Japanese?
No. When we left


Balikpapan they presented each one of us with a Japanese sword and I gave mine straight away. I didn’t want it.
Why did you not want to keep the sword?
No, I just didn’t want memories of it of anything of that nature.
Interviewee: John Kirkmoe Archive ID 1814 Tape 09


Take us through the amphibious landing you did at Balikpapan. What sort of craft were you coming off?
Special Landing Craft Infantry, LCI they were called. I don't know how many they would hold altogether,


but they would land right up to the beach and then the front flap would go down and you just go off it. Very, very easy it was. No clambering over the sides or anything of that nature.
During that landing,


you were in the first wave, did you receive air support?
Aircraft going over, yes. Bombers and fighters. Plenty of air support.
Did they drop any bombs for you?
There was a lot of noise going on, so obviously they were dropping bombs somewhere, yes.


The craft came in close to the shore?
Did you get off into water?
Yes, a little bit. Not very deep though.


On those patrols you would go out on, how many men were you?
Actually, I didn’t participate in any of those patrols. I don't know whether anyone from the battalion did. Other battalions were doing that, that landed higher up than us. I didn’t participate in any of


those patrols.
You were spending time back at base?
We had work to do. I remember we landed and we cleared out those Japs in the cave. Then we were going up a steep hill


and we were stuck there, I don't know why, but we were. I don't remember any gunfire coming towards us or anything of that nature. Then we moved on from there. Then it was a strange situation. We were more or less static at that time. It wasn’t all that long after that the war finished.


Where were you accommodated?
At Balik? For a little while there were huts there that obviously workers from the oil fields were occupying. We were in a couple of those for a while. Then we finished up in tents.


We were stuck in the same place for quite a long time. I can’t remember the name of it. It had a name, but I can't remember. It was part of Balikpapan like a suburb name, I suppose, but I can't remember it. That’s where we were til we came home.


How did you deal with the boredom during the static time?
I suppose we all had our share of talking. We talked, wondering what we were going to do when we came home. That occupied quite a lot of time. Trying to work out what on earth we could do. Cards, I suppose,


a lot of card playing was done. I don't know about crossword puzzles and that sort of thing, I’ve got no idea about that. I’ve got no idea. Different ones had different ideas, I suppose.


You were a corporal during this time. Did you have any men you had to discipline during this time?
No. I don't think there was much, discipline was still there, but I suppose in a sense it was relaxed, right from top to bottom probably. They still


had guards and that sort of thing. They still mounted guards. No, I didn’t have to do any disciplining. I don't remember anybody else doing it.
What about fraternisation with the locals?
We didn’t come into contact that much with them.


We more or less kept our place and they kept theirs. Didn't see very much of the locals. What we did see they seemed to be quite friendly.


When you did come home, where did you disembark?
Melbourne. Came home by train from Melbourne. Then we went to Wayville. Most of the procedures we went through at Wayville. Then for some reason they took us out to


Hampstead to the barracks there for the final discharge, where an officer thanked me for my service, handed me a discharge certificate and that was it after all that time. That was it.
Did you have to give your uniform in?


I had to wear it home. We held onto the uniform. Yes.
What was it like waking up the next day in civvies?
I felt like a lost soul. I really was. It seemed so strange. More or less looking for fellows that you’d been with through the years. It seemed


so strange to be out, finished, knowing that I was on my own, that I had to look out for myself now. All weighed up in my mind. It felt very strange. Took me a while to settle down.
What did you do?
I went straight around to the fire brigade. I was taken in there.


I said that I wanted some time off. They didn't want me to have any time there. I said, “I’m going to have a fortnight.” So I took a fortnight off and then I started in the brigade. I was very unsettled. Very, very unsettled for quite a long time. Thankfully I met Lois and that was the best thing that even happened to me,
Where had you gotten the idea to join the fire brigade?


Because I was under 20 years of age, we were allowed to have a test to work out what was best for it. What do you call that test to determine whether you had potential for clerical work or what other sort of work? I did the test,


but during the lunchbreak we went up into Rundle Street, two other chaps and I, and we met a fellow who was away with us in the Middle East in our battalion. He said, “What are you going to do?” “We don’t know.” We had no idea. He said, “Look, I’m in the fire brigade. It’s a good job; they’re looking for men. So if you want a job, go around there.” So that’s what I did. I went around there. I


joined it and for twelve months I was so unsettled. I found it very, very hard to get back into civilian life. Very hard but I did. It’s like I said. I met Lois. That was a very steady influence on me.
What was the hardest thing


in adjusting?
I think trying to make myself believe that I was no longer a soldier. I think I found that hard for some reason, to make myself believe that I was a civilian again. The wheel had turned a full circle.


I think that would have been the hardest and adjusting myself to the civilian way of life. All those years I’d been under somebody’s command, obeying orders and everything. Now I was the master of myself and I had to get used to that. I don't know whether that sounds sensible or not, but that’s it.


I’m comparing it to finding freedom, I guess.
Yes, I suppose.
And the difficulties of that.
Yes, that could be said. I considered myself always to be a happy man when I was a soldier. I tried to be. I tried to


look on the positive side of things. I’ve always tried to do that throughout my life.
Did you suffer any nightmares?
No, not particularly. Sometimes I’d wake up in the night, but I wouldn’t know why. Nothing in there to tell me why. I seemed to settle


back fairly well. I’ve had this awful anxiety stayed with me ever since. It is a shocking thing. Sometimes it almost gets on top of me, but thankfully I’ve got Lois to steady me. I’ve got other things wrong of course that certainly don’t help nowadays, cancer being one of them. You’ve just gotta


live with it.
Immediately after the war, did you start getting anxiety attacks?
Right from the word go; right from the very, very first, yes. Bad. Lois tells me she used to be quite worried about it, the way I was at times.
Had you had an anxiety attack before the war?
Not that I can remember. No.


No. I was a pretty free and easy sort of a young lad before the war.
How did the war change you? I guess this is one way the war changed you.


it changed me considerably I feel. I grew up overnight. From being a youth I became a man. I think that’s about the strength of it. You go into something as a carefree youth and suddenly you’re living in a world of men. You want to try and make believe


to yourself that because you’re living with men that you are a man.
Tell me more about the anxiety attacks that you started having.
They come in varied ways. Sometimes my stomach will just go into a tight knot and I think to myself “Whatever’s


happening?” Other times it’s happening in there. I get into quite a state at times. I take pills for it. Medication. I’ve taken that for many, many years. Hopefully, I’ve got to 82 and I hope that I can go on for some years yet with Lois’ help I


beat it when it hits me, but it’s not a nice thing. Not nice.
When you came back from the war, did you talk to anybody about your experiences?
Not particularly, no. I think I tended to bottle it inside to an extent. I’d say, “Yes, I was an infantry soldier” and perhaps leave it at that. I wouldn’t go into


all the business of it.
Even though your father and your brothers were also serving?
How much did you talk to them?
Much the same as I talked to anybody else. My old Dad went through Gallipoli and France and we never ever got down to discussing battles and battlefields and that.


We’d talk about the lighter things of our army lives. I think you tend to do that, even at a battalion reunion. You try to make light of things and you bring up humorous things that you had during the course of your army life. Very seldom do you start getting into the battlefields.


Very seldom. Some perhaps do, but in my experience they tend to keep away from that.
How much were you able to talk to Lois when you started having problems?
I let go with Lois. I spoke out about it. I think that’s one way I


to an extent got it out of my system. It’s never out of your system. It’s indelibly in there and will stay there until I die, I know that, but it helped to blow it out of your system so to speak. She’s been really wonderful in that way. She’s put up


with me for 56 years, so.
Was there anything you might have missed about being in the army?
That I missed?
That you might have been fond of?
The comradeship of


my fellow troops. You miss that for the rest of your life. That’s something you took into your inner self and it’s still in there even though so many of them are gone now. I’ve been keeping a tally as best I can of our boys when they die.


That’s only the ones I know that I read in the paper or I’ve seen their graves in cemeteries. I’ve come to the conclusion that about 80% of the South Australia chaps are passed on. Course a lot of them were so much older. I was one of the young ones. Anyone who was much older than me


have gone years ago. I lost a very dear old mate only last year. He was in 15 Platoon C company. He lived to be 90. He was a wonderful old chap. Finally he died.
Looking back, you’ve spoken about the


7th Division being known as the Silent Division. Do you think, at that time, post-war, the 7th Division received enough recognition?
No, I don’t really. You ask people today, if you mention Milne Bay, Buna, Sanananda, Gona, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about.


Tobruk is more well known. I think that’s quite a well-known place, Tobruk, even though lots of kids have said to me, “What’s that badge you’re wearing? What’s it about?” They’re never taught anything in schools about war. I suppose in a sense it’s best that they not. If you can keep war out of the heads of kids I think it’s the best way to go.


But no, the Silent 7th, it’ll always be known as that. I think we’ve all accepted it.
What do you think got you through those five years?
Sheer luck for a start; absolute


luck that the bullet or the bomb that had my name on it didn’t hit me. I tried to stay positive throughout it all. I think I maintained a positive outlook. I tried to be friendly. I consider myself to be a friendly chap. I don't think I made enemies. I know I have since war,


but that’s a different story. From my service, I think all those things combined and mixed up, I think that’s what got me through it all.
What part of the identity of the digger do you identify with?


I think what a carefree, fun loving, what else, carefree, fun loving man the average Aussie is. I think he’s the salt of the earth. I think it’s still going on to the


present day. I think Aussies are Aussies regardless of the times. I don't know, that’s about the best way I can say it, I think. Fun loving, carefree, happy, most have got pretty high ideals I think. There are


different ones. In every walk of life you can find vastly different people, but from my experience the average Aussie is a good bloke. I think if you call an Aussie a good bloke that’s about as high a compliment as you can pay.
In your service, did you encounter any acts of kindness


that still stay with you?
From my fellow soldiers? Yes. I remember just one simple thing up in New Guinea. I was feeling rather seedy, quite sick. One of them, out of his bag, he had a pot of Vegemite. He mixed up some Vegemite with hot water and gave it to me.


It doesn’t sound much, but at that time I thought that was a great thing, a beaut thing to do. Just a spoonful of Vegemite. That was one thing. Obviously there were other things along the road. That one sticks in my mind. Just a simple, simple thing like that.


It helped, obviously?
Oh yes. I’ve got faith in my fellow man. I really have. I know there are terrible things happening in the world today, but somewhere in behind it all there’s the good ones still there.
For you personally, in your five year career in the army,


is there a particular achievement or memory that is your proudest?
I don't know that I could isolate any one particular thing. I don't think I could. Nothing comes to mind readily that I could say, “That was it,” because as far as I’m concerned


everything was good in a respect. Leaving out all the rough stuff.
When the war ended you reflected on how you came through and that in itself is quite an achievement.
Yes, I was


very thankful about all that. That I was going to go home. I was still a single man. I had nothing to come home to. I’d had girlfriends through the years, but a couple of times on a reasonably serious note, but nothing ever came of it. So I quite enjoyed myself as a young man, going dancing.


I always enjoyed the company of girls.
Did the army offer anything in the way of assistance to settle post-war?
I’m on a 100% military pension. I have things wrong with me that are attributable


to the war service that are recognised by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Only one thing, I’ve got a bad back that I first hurt in a Bren gun carrier accident at Kilcoy. At the same time that I did that, I tore a huge chunk out of the inside of my leg. The lieutenant was driving the Bren gun carrier and he drove me straight back to the RAP


and stopped the bleeding of my leg and wrapping all that up, my back was missed out and nothing was ever put down about that, so that’s something I haven’t got through repat. Ah well, I’m still here at 82. Sometimes I do get


times with despondency and anxiety to go on top of me. But thankfully I’ve got Lois and she helps me.
You have anxiety attacks and yet you didn’t suffer from nightmares?
Not to my knowledge. I used to wake


up at night, not knowing why. It could have been something to do with it, but I’ll never know. In later years I haven’t had any problems with nightmares.
Even though you may still suffer from your nervous condition,


did you come to a point of making peace with yourself about your war experience?
That’s a hard question really because it’s in me and it’s there to stay and will never go away. I try to make


myself understand that I’m no longer connected with war or army, but it won’t go away. You ask have I made peace with myself in respect to war, I suppose I can only answer, “Yes.” In terms of my life since, my married life’s always been a happy one.


So I expect I could say yes to that question, or hopefully yes.
If you were to put down any words of advice for future generations, related to your war experience, what would you say?


Try your hardest to stop your leaders from making war. That’s obviously a ridiculous thing to say because the ordinary man in the street’s got no control over whether war is made or not. I’d hate to see, my kids are beyond the age of going to war, but I’ve got four grandsons. I would hate to see them


being caught up in war, I would hate it and to see anybody else’s grandsons or sons. I think war is a shocking, shocking thing. It’s a blight on humanity that people can go away and murder each other the way it’s done in war. It’s shocking. If I had the power to do


so, I’d outlaw war, I really would.
The part you played helped win the Second World War. Do you think you helped to win peace?
That’s a very hard one because they declared that we had


won peace, the politicians of the day. They maintained that we had brought peace to the world so in a sense I suppose I could say yes. My little effort along the line somehow helped to restore peace, put it that way.


What does Anzac Day mean for you?
Commemoration first, last and always. That’s what I think about it. I remember all the wonderful blokes that I served with that are now gone and those who died in the war.


That’s what Anzac Day means to me.
Why are you proud to be a 2/10th man?
I suppose initially because my father was a 10th man. I was very proud to think that I served in the same battalion as he did in different wars. I think the 2/10th


was second to none. I think it was a very fine, fine unit, led by very fine men and containing very fine men. I know they’re all the same, all battalions are the same, but we were 2/10th. Does that answer it reasonably? Good.
Was there a 2/10th motto?


Yes, I know the motto: “Pro Patria”, “For Our Country.” That’s the motto of the 10th Battalion. I think it suits the 10th Battalion right down: “Pro Patria”, “For Our Country.”
Is there anything


you feel we’ve missed out of your story?
No, I think you’ve covered it very, very well. I’m so pleased to have met you two girls, I really am. You’ve handled me in a very fine, sensitive way and I appreciate that; very much so.


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