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.
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.
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.
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 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 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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.