Suggested I put my age up two or three years, which I did. I don’t know how I got away with it. But still. When war came along the CMF was mobilised and we were placed on garrison duties in Melbourne around the port areas and what have you until the civilian authority’s trained sufficient people to take over our job. Then we got the
task of training eighteen year old universal trainees. Which we did. Eventually this wasn’t good enough for me so I joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. That was in early 1940. Trained at Puckapunyal in Victoria.
From Puckapunyal I went overseas in May 1940. When we were halfway to the Middle East, Italy decided to come into the war and our convoy was diverted to England. We became part of what they called Austral
Force. When we got into England we had far too many technical troops for the number of infantry units that they had in them days. They took all the young fellows out of the technical units and made another brigade of infantry. That’s why I become part of the 2/32nd battalion which hadn’t even been thought
of back in those days. In January of ’40 we left England and went back to the Middle East via the cape and eventually joined up with the 7th Division. The 6th Division was in Greece at the time. Thoughts about sending the 7th. The 9th was in North Africa on garrison duties.
We were sent to Mersa Matruh in North Africa. When we got there they decided that they were short of a battalion of infantry in Tobruk which was then besieged. 2/32nd battalion was selected and we eventually ended up in Tobruk preceded by destroyers, what have you.
We spent from early May through to September in Tobruk. Came out of there. Went back to what was Palestine in those days. Refitted, reorganised and eventually ended up in Syria where we relieved the 7th Division who came home here because of the Japanese
problem. We stayed in Syria for some time and then Rommel decided he was going to capture the Suez Canal. Got as far as Alamein and we were sent to Alamein. From there we spent a few weeks in combat areas and the company that I was
involved with was completely surrounded one day and we eventually became prisoners of war of the Germans. They took us back to a place by the name of Alageela [?]. When we got there the German commander said to me at the time, “I’m very sorry, old fella, but we’ve now got to hand you over to the Italians.” I said, “Why?”
He said, “Well, you’re in Italian territory and they’re responsible for this sort of thing.” From there we moved, it took us six months to move right along the north of Africa where we had several problems with the Italians. I suppose they thought we were giving them problems too. But eventually
in January we were put on an old transport boat. It took us seven days to get from North Africa across to Sicily. Distance of from Tasmania to Melbourne. From there they sent us up to a place by the name of Capua just outside of Naples. From there we were eventually ended up in the very north of Italy in a place by the name of Gruppignano.
Camp 57. We stayed there until the Italians capitulated in September of 1943. The Germans came in. They took all the Italians away. Sent them up to the Russian front as slave units and took us into Austria. From
there we were put around several camps over a period of time. In February I think it was of 1945 a
Welsh guards fellow and myself decided that we would try and make a break down into Bulgaria, Romania and see if we could join up with the Russian forces. One night during an air raid they called us out to try and help the normal labour people clean up streets and what have you and we decided that we wasn’t going to go and do that.
So we just disappeared in the panic. Travelled by night and eventually we got down with the Russian forces. Our big problem when we got there was trying to identify who we were. They knew we weren’t Germans. They couldn’t fathom out what we were at all. One of the biggest problems was that our German language was much better
than theirs and they must have said to themselves, “These fellows must be something.” Then the following day we heard a woman say, “You fellows in trouble.” It was a Russian female doctor who had done her training in London. She spoke quite good English. She said to us at the time
“I know who you are. You’re from Wales. But you, I wouldn’t have a bloody clue.” Eventually I said to her that I was from Australia. She said, “Oh is that the place way down the bottom, the other side of the world somewhere or other?” That was their idea. Anyway they put us on driving trucks what have you and purely to do with that
medical unit. She was responsible for us. We stayed with them right through to the end of the European hostilities in end of May. Our big problem then was how we going to get back to England. We decided that we wouldn’t go down to Odessa because that would take too long. We wouldn’t go over to the British forces in Italy cause the Welsh fellow said
there’d be too much red tape [bureaucracy] and that’d take a long time. So we decided we better get up to the Yanks and see what they could do. So eventually we caught up with the Yanks. Within twenty-four hours we were in England. No problem at all. Got to England, they gave us leave. Twenty-one days anywhere in the UK [United Kingdom] at all. Open leave pass. I eventually ended up with some relatives of mine right up in the very north of Scotland. Couldn’t get up
any further. Came back, we were interrogated. That’s another story. Eventually we were put onto the [HMS] Sterling Castle, a boat, came back home here to Australia through the Panama Canal. We were given leave. Went through all the other problems
of returned from active service type things. Eventually I elected to take a discharge and I was discharged late in ’45. Got married to a girl that I’d been corresponding with and there it was from then on. We built a place down Pascoe Vale in Melbourne. Had three kiddies. I returned to my
pre-war employment. That was as a partly trained boiler maker welder. I finished my apprenticeship. Worked in the trade for a little while. Found that it was upsetting me so eventually got out. Went on to ambulance work. Stayed with them for about three or four years. Eventually the claims department of an insurance company decided I might be of benefit to them.
So I joined the claims department of what used to be Bankers’ & Traders’ Insurance Company who are now part of the QBE Insurance Group. I stayed with them right through till about 1980. Retired. Lost my wife. Remarried a couple of years later and ended up in Wagga. Then the girl that I came up with here she died on me too a year or so ago.
digress again. There was an uncle of mine who used to visit us occasionally. He had a extensive criminal record. He’d done a lot of time for varying criminal problems. Mostly to do with women.
He came up this particular occasion. He was there for a week. Or he claimed he’d been there for a week. One night I hear a terrible argument. I was in bed. I heard a terrible argument between this particular fellow and my father. The next morning my father was found dead in bed
at seven thirty a.m. Naturally the police were called. There was an extensive – what would you call it – investigation carried out by the police. The coroner was involved. The death was eventually
claimed to be caused as a result of misadventure. We never knew – I’ve never found out the actual cause of the death even to this day. I’ve had the liberty of reading all of the papers and what have you relating to it. I’ve even had the liberty
of reading the police report relating to the uncle. Police in later years said to me that they did not have sufficient proof to take the matter any further than what it was.
Medical profession at one particular stage said it could have been a mental or a psychological problem with my father that lead to his ultimate death. But nobody could substantiate it. Unfortunately he died intestate. Everything that was there had to be sold up. My mother never got
one cent from it. The monies that they received from it went into a particular fund which was administered by the state government at the time. And I think about 1933 my mother used to get
five shillings a week for each one of us three children. So she got fifteen shillings. But in the meantime she had to find some other avenue. This of course didn’t help her along the line.
demanded that the whole place be sold up. That eventually occurred and my mother’s problem then was where do we live? So Legacy heard of this through the Leongatha branch and they
obtained a five bedroomed home in Union Street, Windsor, a suburb of Melbourne with the suggestion that the two front rooms be let and the money used as an income. Legacy would look after us three children and, “Mrs Calder, you can please yourself with what you do.”
So eventually through Legacy we were shifted from Gippsland to Union Street, Windsor. Took up residence there. We went to another school. This time was most unusual because we went to a school where everybody in that room was in the same grade
whereas in the country schools you had from grade one right through to grade eight back in those days in a school. Couple of days after we were at the school in Windsor there was a lady came along to me and she said, “I believe you’ve got two sisters.” “Yes.” “Well when you get out for lunch
will you get those two sisters and meet me out the front and I’ll take you somewhere?” I did this. We were taken to the Church of England soup kitchen where we received a big bowl of vegetable soup and two slices of bread. That went on for the whole time that we lived in Windsor.
Which was probably about 18 months. During the course of that period Legacy would come and pick me up one night, the girls up another night and we’d be taken to gymnasium classes. They girls had a separate or a different type of gymnasium to what the boys had. I became friends with a
few of the other lads who were in the same position as what I was at the time. We would go on outings. I remember one in particular. The Legatees came along one day and picked up us in the cars and took out to what used to be Essendon Aerodrome. It’s now Essendon Aerodrome. Each one of us was put into a Tiger Moth and taken
for a flight around Melbourne. That flight was taken by one of the Legatees who had been a pilot in the ’14–18 war. That was one in particular. Another very good thing that I remember from that time was that at Christmas time they used to take all the boys down to a place by the name of Balnarring on Western Port Bay
and they had an area there which belonged to Colonel Savage who later became Major General Savage. We were put into bunkhouses. We had a compulsory swimming parade every morning. We’d have compulsory mess parades and things like that. We were taken over to the
naval depot, they’re on western Port Bay. Had lunch with the sailors and were shown all around the place and all this. We used to spend about ten days there. It was very good because we were all together. We learnt discipline, things of that nature. These Legatees who were in charge of us were all ex NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] or officers from
the ’14–18 war. Shortly after we left Union Street and we moved to a place by the name of Princess Street Newmarket. I often wondered why and I was only looking through the notes the other day and I found that my
mother’s mother, my old grandmother, she lived in the same street. So no doubt that was the reason there. Now, when we were in Princess Street I was just about – I’d completed my sixth grade as we called it back in those days at school and Legacy decided that I should go somewhere else. So they arranged for me to attend Footscray
Technical School as they called it in those days. They purchased a brand new Malvern Star bicycle for me so as I could ride from Newmarket over to Footscray which was four to five mile I suppose. I’d do this every day. In the meantime I’d had this
run-in [fight] with my mother’s man. I got kicked out of the place – literally. So one of the Legatees decided that I could go and live with them. So I moved in with him for twelve to fifteen months. He lived in Williamstown. I used to ride my bike from Williamstown back up. This fellow
was a lieutenant colonel in the citizen military forces, was the commanding officer of the 2nd Field Regiment as they called it back in those days – artillery. When war broke out he joined up, eventually became a brigadier in charge of artillery of the 6th Division. His name was Cremore.
Bill Cremore was originally an English and sports master at the Footscray Technical College. Before I went to live with him he took on a position as secretariat of the Victorian Dried Fruits Board. Based in Melbourne although all the dried fruits were back in those days manufactured or processed in Mildura.
I enjoyed that. He lived with his mother. Never married. We weren’t mates like I was with my father. He was the school teacher type, or the colonel in the army type. But we got on quite well together. He taught me a lot about military matters, things of that nature. Eventually
I left him and I was sent to live with an aunty of mine – my father’s sister – whose husband was a sergeant in the Victorian Police. A fellow by the name of Huey McDougall. I couldn’t go back home because I couldn’t get on with these other concerns.
Typical stepfather, stepson relationship. So I went and lived with the McDougalls for a while. Then unbeknownst to anybody my interfering grandmother decided that the day I turned fourteen was time I left school and obtained a living.
She arranged through some friend of hers who was in the school system, teacher system, for me to be employed by a chair maker, timber chair maker in Northcote. Fellow by the name of Lou Abrahams. I say no more.
The day I turned fourteen which was then I had to leave school. I went and worked for this fellow at nine shillings and nine pence a week. If I worked Saturday morning I got eleven shillings and sixpence. He couldn’t work Saturday morning because of his religion. But he had a senior apprentice
who worked Saturday. I worked with him. I was fourteen. Didn’t know much. But knew sufficient to know whether I was being stood over and utilised and used by certain people or not. And I came to the decision that I was being used. When my aunty found out
about this business she says, “I don’t want any more to do with it thank you. I will have nothing to do with old Grandma,” although she wasn’t a relative. She was a relative by marriage a long way back. So they found board and lodging for me at a place in Kerr Street, Fitzroy.
Always remember it. 129 Kerr Street, Fitzroy. That was run by a church lady. One of the Church of England. Back in those days they used to have a minister who they called Brother Bill. Brother Bill operated very much in the Fitzroy, Collingwood, those areas where
things were pretty tough back in those days. And through him they got this place for me. Now I was put into a room with two other lads. Three of us. We had to pay the landlady ten shillings a week. Cause here’s me left with about six pence or something like that. So I decided that I
would talk to one of my mates in at Legacy about it, one of the gymnasium classes. “Why don’t you come out and work with me?” he said. “I work at a place in Coburg.” “Gee that’s a long way.” “Doesn’t matter. I work in a place in Coburg. I get seventeen and sixpence.” I said, “Gee, do you think I’d get the same?” “Well if you ask to come and work with me you probably will.” He was about twelve months older than me. Anyway I went out to see these people
and they said, “Oh yes. You can start work tomorrow. You can work with Bill.” I can never remember Bill’s surname funnily enough. So I left the Jewish gentleman and he paid me up and I went out and got this job at seventeen and sixpence a week. Rode me bike that Legacy had provided me with from Fitzroy out to Coburg to work. Our job there
was making vent pipes. I don’t know if you know what a vent pipe is, but a vent pipe is the pipe that you see outside a lot of houses which is a vent for the sewerage system. It takes the smell away from underneath and puts it up into the air. We used to have to make these into various lengths. We had to rivet them together and solder them together and then tar them inside and all the rest of it. We were given
so many to do a day. After we got proficient with that the fellow decided that we could do more. So we were pushed and done more. In the meantime I said to Bill, “This is no good for me. I can’t put up with this. I’m just not strong enough.” So I spoke to one of the Legatees – Legacy again – at the Friday night gym class.
He said, “I think we can fix that up. Come and see me next Friday night.” No idea what was happening. So next Friday night I spoke to him. He said, ‘When you’re finished, showered and dressed, come back and see me.” So I went back and seen him. I was introduced to a gentleman by the name of Bill Way. W A Y.
We had a quite a long talk. I thought it was a long talk anyway. He said, “Well what about coming working for me?” “Gee. How much you going to pay me?” “Seventeen shillings. Same as what you’re on now. But I can guarantee you won’t be pushed and I can guarantee you’ll learn something which is what this is all about. You’ll come and
work with me eventually as an apprentice boilermaker welder.” I said, “Gee that sounds good,” and I spoke to the Legatee fellow and he said, “Well I think you should.” Mind you, these Legatees were like a father to us fellows. But they tried to take the place of the father without the disciplinary part of it. Advice and talking and what have you. So I said,
“Okay, I’ll try it.” It was the best thing I ever done. Bill Way arranged for my termination at the Coburg place and I started with them and back in those days they had a big factory in Franklin Street Melbourne next door to the Victoria Markets. So I went in there and started off with him. He put me on various
tasks for a couple of months to make sure I knew what was what and all the rest of it – work with the other lads making up gases and learning all about the care and that sort of thing. Eventually placed me with a senior fellow that he had working there and I worked along with him and learnt what I could.
and I was getting a bit tired of it. There was nothing else but teaching these young lads machine guns, what have you. And a friend of mine from Legacy said, “Why don’t you join the AIF?” “Come off it. I’m only a boy.” He said, “No. That’ll be all right. Why don’t you come in
as a tradesman?” “What?” “The army field workshops are looking for tradesmen. They want coppersmiths.” That’s right. Which is part of the sheet metal, boiler making aspect of trades back in those days. I said, “I’d never get through the trades test.” “I think you would without any trouble.” “What do I do?” He said, “I can put you
in touch with a major who’s at the Melbourne Showgrounds and he’ll arrange the trade test for you and if you can get through the trade test you’re right.” At this time I was still in camp with the CMF down on the Mornington Peninsula. Anyway the army field workshops major arranged for two days leave, arranged for transport from
Mornington up to the Victorian Railways Workshops in Newport which was there in those days and I was given the job of making a two gallon riveted bucket. This was no great difficulty because I’d already done the same task at night school for my apprenticeship. Got through
it. “Oh,” he said, “you’re all right. No problems. You’re in.” I said, “Now wait a minute, how do I arrange for my transfer from the CMF over to the AIF?” “That’s no great problem. All you do is resign from the CMF with proof that you’re joining the AIF.” Anyway he said, “Make sure you return your uniform and what have you.” So I arranged all that and before I knew where I was I was a member
of the AIF as a coppersmith with no experience whatsoever. But as long as they got their complement of tradesmen to fill the gap it didn’t matter because they could send them away for further training if necessary. I joined the army field workshops and
we were sent to Puckapunyal to do our infantry training which was still no problem to me because it was the same as what I’d done about two years before. Then we had one small problem. A great friend of mine was getting married in late April and he asked me to be best man. This was the fellow that had eventually talked me into joining the cadets. I said, “Well
I’m sorry, but I’m in the AIF.” He said, “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble. You’re still going to be my best man?” “Yes.” So I went to the second in command and told him and he said, “You’ll be all right. No problems. You’ll get your leave to be best man.” Little knowing that my leave was my final leave before going overseas.
So my friend still got his best man at his wedding. I’ve got photos there somewhere of it. And we went back to Puckapunyal and I was a member of the army field workshops as a tradesman of sixteen or seventeen years old. I still didn’t know what a trade was.
But that was before I joined them. The reason that they done their training in the Melbourne Showgrounds was that the technical colleges were available closely. They utilised the Victorian Railway Workshops which had every possible trade that you could think of attached to the workshops.
So they could put their blacksmiths for argument’s sake over to Newport, get the blacksmiths to teach them what to do. Their instrument fitters would go into the Melbourne Technical College. Blokes like me would be sent up to Footscray to learn the fundamentals of sheet metal or copper smithing or whatever which are all
relatively much the same anyway, or welding for that matter which was in its infancy back in those days compared to what it is now. So they pushed them all around. Eventually they had to do their infantry training and they only place they could do that was at Puckapunyal. Puckapunyal in the early days was a big army camp.
They had all these huts which held about a hundred men each. Corrugated iron, wooden floors, corrugated roof. Nothing else. No lining, no bed, no sheets. Issued with your three blankets. Your straw palliasse and that was it. Plus your uniform. And they would go out and do their various training things during the day.
The washing facilities were – they called them ablutions back in those days. They were just a number of taps where the water went into a trough and you used your hands to wash yourself. There were no showers. There were no baths or anything of that nature. You just stripped off and washed yourself
whatever way you could. And believe me you wanted to do that at Puckapunyal because that was a fairly reasonable dust bowl back in ’39, ’40. Cookhouses were no different to the early days of cookhouses. If you got eggs for breakfast they were always
hard boiled. If you got stew for lunch you got bloody stew. If you got stew for dinner you got stew. But there was no finesse or anything like that that they got later on in the services. But the fellows survived it and it done them good, never hurt them.
fellows who didn’t cope. Not extensive. Not to the stage that they have them today. Over here at Kapooka they got a fall out of about ten percent. Where we would have had perhaps two at the outside. And they were usually people that the fall outs weren’t so much physical.
It was more mental. They just couldn’t take it. What they done with them I don’t know. I recollect one instance in Puckapunyal, yes. But that was a different problem all together. We had a two up game going which is the normal thing and there was an argument over
something or other and there was a bloke kicked to death. Now the fellow that caused that was a well known Melbourne criminal. A fellow by the name of Red Maloney. Hope he don’t hear the name. But Red was well noted in the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne for this type of thing. He’d walk up
to you and demand certain things and if you didn’t get it you was bashed down into the footpath type thing. Now Red was discharged dishonourably from the AIF. Whether the civilian authorities took that up or not we don’t know. They could not substantiate that Red was responsible for kicking this fellow to death, but it was firmly believed that he was the
leader. I could talk about a lot of those sort of things. One well known instance was at the Caulfield Racecourse. In the early part of the war they used to take all the recruits into the Caulfield Racecourse. They’d be there for about
a fortnight and then they’d go out into training areas. They had the fellows bedded down in the Guinness stand of the Caulfield Racecourse and one fellow was found to be rifling or thieving other fellows gear. And a number of fellows just picked him up and over the side. He landed on his head down on the concrete. That was known as
Caulfield Guineas. Pretty. Now he died naturally. But nobody was ever apprehended for that. I’ll give you another instance, tell me if I’m going too far. On the boat. We got on the boat on the 5th May, 1940. There was the army field workshops.
There was the 6th Division Australian Army Service Corps and there were reinforcements for some of the Victorian battalions who were already in the Middle East. We sailed from Port Melbourne in the morning and when we got down to the south end of Port Phillip Bay they anchored overnight. The reason for that is that they joined the rest of them outside the heads the next day.
But that night we heard – a couple of friends of mine and myself were near the stern of the boat which was the Empress of Canada and we heard this problem, a lot of noise going on at the stern and we walked over just to see what was going. The fellow that was with me said, “What’s going on?” “Mind you own bloody business. It’s got nothing to do with you. Now nick off.”
Like good soldiers we done what we were told. We got out the road. But it was found that the Australian Army Service Corps police sergeant had been turfed over the stern of the boat and posted missing. There were ways of doing away with people that they didn’t like.
I could name several instances later on in the Middle East where similar types of things occurred. But I’ve got nothing to really substantiate it.
Melbourne. On that particular journey when we were about halfway to Perth they decided that they had to vaccinate everybody. Instead of vaccinating them back here in Australia they decided to do it on board the boat. Which they did. Of course we were all sore and sorry for three or four days. We got to Perth.
We were given shore leave in Perth. Most of the fellas dived straight for the pubs and filled themselves up [got drunk]. I can’t remember what I done in Perth. It’s just one of those things I can’t remember. But we must have went somewhere and done something or other. Got back up, got back on the boat and we proceeded
to go to the Middle East. When we were about a day’s sailing from Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka, they decided would take us to England because Italy had come into the war. That must have been about 10th June 1940 because I think it was that date that they came into it. Anyway we then went down to Cape Town. This is where we really played up.
The convoy consisted of The Queen Mary, The Aquitania, The Empress of Canada, The Empress of Japan, The Empress of Britain, The Mauritania, and one other boat. We had the whole 1st New Zealand Division with us plus the 18th Australian infantry brigade which came from Sydney. Plus
army field workshops and plus the Australian Army Service Corps. When we got to Cape Town they weren’t going to give us leave. No. The authorities won’t allow it. They can remember too much from the ’14–18 war. So typical digger fashion somebody decided that we were going to have leave. So it went around the boat, unbeknown to the officers, everybody marched off the boat
in good order, formed up down on the wharf, and marched off up to Cape Town. All of them absent without leave. Anyway eventually they all got back half drunk or whatever. And the next day they decided that they were going to penalise so they all got deducted one day’s pay. That was it. Finished. But they had their day in Cape Town.
of ’39 so we decided that we would be next, but when? That was the point. So we were all have Christmas lunch on Christmas Day and the colonel come round and says, “Well this is the last big lunch you’ll have in England. We’re off to the Middle East.” We were given orders the next day to pack everything up,
put what wasn’t required into store, the rest of it onto your back, and you’d be marched out of the barracks. We were marched out of the barracks on to a troop train and went back up to Gourock in the port of Scotland and onto to troop ships there. I can’t remember the actual number, but there was something like two hundred troops ships in the
firth as they called it of Gourock. We were placed on an old ship which had literally been ditched at Dunkirk and they removed it. A ship by the name of the Franconi they called it. It was a Cunard liner before the war.
All the troop accommodation was in hammocks. No bunks. That was all out. Where they had four bunks there would be perhaps twenty hammocks. We were right up in the forecastle or the front end of the boat under deck and we were in hammocks. That was the whole of the battalion was in the fore part of the Franconia.
They had another battalion in the rest of it. So they really crammed them in. We sat around in Gourock for a couple of days and then eventually we joined a convoy of over eight hundred ships north of Ireland. Because of Germany’s submarine presence in the Atlantic we went right up
near towards Greenland over towards Newfoundland in Canada, over the equator and then back under the equator back into Freetown in West Africa. Refuelled, went down to Cape Town. Half the convoy stayed at Cape Town. Any ship with Australians on was taken around to Durban. They wouldn’t let the Australians off at Cape Town.
So we all went round to Durban. We had a couple of days in Durban. We had shore leave in Durban. Then from there we went out into the Indian Ocean back up into the Red Sea and into the Bur Taufiq I think the name of it was at the east end of the Suez Canal. We were taken off there.
That took us from the 1st January through to I think it was about 12th March we were stuck on troop ships. That was a terrible journey.
We left Mersa Matruh about four o’clock in the afternoon. We got through to Tobruk about one a.m. in the morning. Did not have any German bombers or anything like that. They had to leave Tobruk at two a.m. to get away from the bomber rally and get back down towards Alexandria. So we very
quickly got off the destroyer, were marched through the town of Tobruk, and just as we got to the other side of it the Italian bombers done their night raid on Tobruk and the port, hoping that they’d hit something. But they used to bomb from such a very high attitude, the Italian bombers, that they would never hit anything,
very seldom hit anything. That morning we were about four mile inside back in towards the front of Tobruk and the German dive bombers came and dive bombed the port. That was a pretty frightening experience although
most of us had experienced the bombing during the London or during the Battle of Britain, the fellas that joined us in the Middle East didn’t. It was their first experience of bombing. The Stukas’d come right down low and they’d aim at a certain point, let their bombs go and go out to sea and back to their own port. They used to have a sire
that they’d operate and during their dive this big scream would go down. Of course everybody would become frightened of the scream more so than of the actual thing itself. We used to watch the Stukas and you’d know exactly where they were going and we’d say, “Oh well we’re safe. They won’t come near us.” But from a noise point of view and from a psychological point of view they were very damaging to a lot of people.
depended on the strength at the time. A lot of them were dug with pure physical labour. In some instances we had to have the engineers come up and use their pneumatic hammers and pneumatic drills because of the rock. But a lot of them we would build out of the rock that was in the area. A lot of them , instead of going below ground, they would be
above ground and they would be what we called sangers. They were very effective. Our pioneer platoons would go back and they would get by fair means or foul old pieces of sheet iron, something like that, bring it up so we could put it across the top, fill that up with rock so that if we got a
mortar bomb burst or anything like that at least we’d have shelter from the top. One of the biggest problems that we had there was the German 88 millimetre gun and the equivalent of his mortar. They could out range anything that we had. He could have an 88 millimetre gun that would burst or say
fifteen to twenty feet in the air and spray shrapnel downwards. If you never had overhead cover you would get injured as a result of those sort of things. Most of the blokes had their own little dugout type of thing. They’d scratch them out of the earth and cover them with whatever
they had. To keep the daylight out during the day they’d have a blanket across the entrance. The place was absolutely full of fleas. There were more fleas in Tobruk than I think the rest of the world. Most of them were as a result of the way the Italians had left the place originally.
Most of their areas were extremely dirty. Filthy. One thing that we would always try and impress on our fellows was, try and keep the place as clean as you can. That stops things like fleas and lice and all the other vermin that get around these places.
of either a corporal or a sergeant. It depended on the number in the patrol. Patrols usually consisted of about four to six men under an NCO. They were selected during the day. As soon as it became dark those people who had been selected were advised that at midnight you’ll be off or two a.m.
in the morning you might have to be at a certain point. Everything relied upon the stars as to where you moved. You’ve got to remember most of the area of Tobruk from the front line point of view was flat. You had nothing there that you could distinguish greatly.
So you operated by the stars. You knew where you came back to your particular area because there’d be something there like the barbed wire fence or something of that nature would be there to indicate to you that you’d come back to the right area. If you didn’t come back to the right area somebody would call out to you. You had certain passwords
that you had to use. If you had that right password the fellow on the other side would say, “You’re fifty yards too far to the right,” or, “You’re fifty yards too far to the left,” and you’d move back and you’d know exactly where you was. Then our sentries would challenge you again. You’d give the password and you’d get back in. When you was out on patrol
most of it was done in light moonlight. Full moon you didn’t patrol because you were too visible. We all wore a light khaki boiler suit and running shoes on a patrol – or most of us did. The light boiler suit
gave us an indication where the fellow was say three feet on my right, or three feet on my left. I could distinguish him. The running shoes of course was from a noise point of view. Had we wore out boots they would have made a hell of a noise on the rocks and the stony surface and things like that. If you came to an outpost
that never had mines in front of it or anything like that you’d just stay there and listen. If you heard either the Italian or the German speaking you would know the difference and you could go back and report their actual position which the artillery used or which our people used later on
during the Tobruk for fighting patrols. You go out there and you’d create problems that way. But it was really – most patrols were purely for reconnaissance and obtain information. If you ran into trouble you had strict instructions to try and get out of it if you could. Bring the information
back. That’s what we were interested in. I was sent out on one occasion. The brigadier wanted a prisoner by fair means or by foul and I was sent out with a patrol of six blokes to get a prisoner. We failed to get one because of minefields. All we got was a dead
German in no-man’s land. He wasn’t much good to us. So we had to go back, but some of our fellows did eventually get a prisoner of some description.
no man’s land consisted of that salient. I think one of the most frightening patrols that I had was on the Salient one night where we got heard. They started mortar bombing us. They never used their fixed line, they mortar bombed this particular area and we had
I think two fellows in that patrol we had to carry back in because they’d been injured. Making the report on that particular patrol was difficult because I always believed at the time and I still probably believe it that it was my negligence that allowed that patrol to get into a situation where this
occurred. Psychologically it was a difficult position. But that’s small patrols. I’ve been on fighting patrols and things like that which are a different thing all together. This platoon commander that I had – we decided the whole platoon one night would attack and capture
a particular feature that was held by the German. We proceeded. We had a start line and it was one of these four a.m. or four thirty a.m. situations. We had no artillery support or anything of that nature and we decided we’d go and – well we never even got to the barbed wire
and the Germans were into us. The platoon commander and one, two, three others were killed immediately on a fixed mine. I was left to command the platoon. I’ve got one section leader seriously injured. When they were injured they usually went back, followed back the
way they’d come so they’d get picked up somewhere along the line. I took into consideration the situation and I decided that it wasn’t worth going ahead with. I said to my fellows, “Get anybody that’s wounded and try and get them back.” In the meantime I got wounded myself. But I was fortunate enough
to be on the wound. I only had a flesh wound in the buttock. This didn’t stop me from walking. I grabbed a fellow that had a bullet through his knee. He was useless. He couldn’t do anything. I grabbed him and the rest of us all eventually got out. Unfortunately we had to leave those who were
killed. We never had sufficient means of getting them out. The Germans got them the next day and gave them a military funeral. They were buried at the back of the German lines, recovered later on after the whole situation was sorted out and buried in the Tobruk cemetery. That’s one little fighting patrol. I think we went into that patrol
with something like twenty-eight men. We came out with about ten that had nothing wrong with them. The rest of them were either away in hospital or something of that nature.
it’d get a bullet through it. I suppose we had instances of self inflicted wounds from similar type of thing. I remember one particular fellow – no names, no pack drill – he was of a religious faith which the Germans didn’t like and he decided Tobruk wasn’t the place for him.
It was never substantiated, but he got a bullet through his foot. The only way he could have got it was to put his leg up and a sniper got him. But there were many incidents of sniper fire where bullets had gone through sandbags and hit fellows on the steel helmet and things like that – but never done any damage
cause they’d gone through a sandbag. That was their way of keeping us quiet. Now, immediately it became dark, it was on. The first job I would have as a platoon sergeant was go around my sections to see if everything was all right. See if there was anybody wounded or anybody that’s really sick. Get them back so something could be done about it. Then around about
ten at night there was an unofficial armistice between both sides for about one hour. That became the food issue time. I would take a party back to company headquarters, pick up what we call dixies of hot stew, bring them back up to the boys in the front, they’d have their stew. That was their hot meal for the day in that particular area.
Ay other meals would be iron rations or bread and jam. You never ate the butter or margarine because it was just useless because of the heat and the flies and what have you. Then you’d prepare for your patrols for the night time. But most of your day in those bad areas
was taken up with trying to get what rest you could. You didn’t sleep much but you got what rest you could. One of those situations.
Syria from the French. Syria was made into a form of a fortress because they anticipated the German forces would go down from Greece through Turkey – never mind about Turkey’s neutrality – and go right down through Syria, Palestine, and so get the Suez Canal. The same as what Rommel tried to do from the other side.
It was like a pincer move. Germany made the big mistake of going into Russia and he forgot all about Turkey and the Suez Canal so that upset that. But we went up there mainly to create a fortress type situation in Syria. We used the locals for labour. Paid them.
We supervised it all and at the same time kept ourselves reasonably fit because the area that we were in, in Syria, was actually Lebanon on the coast was very hilly and mountainy. We’d do exercises with mules because no vehicle could get into the area. The terrain was very rough. Just done general
infantry training, supervising the civilians with the building of these fortresses and things of that nature. About halfway through Syria I was sent down to Cairo to do a chemical warfare cause. Somebody had got the inclination that the Italians was going to pester us with mustard
and forsingene [?] gas. So they thought they’d better do something about it. We were issued with all the equipment but nobody knew much about it. Typical. So one sergeant from each brigade of the 9th Division was sent to this special course in Cairo. We went back and our job was to translate that information to other
NCOs within the brigade. But nothing ever happened. It’s been alleged – rightly or wrongly – that the Italians used mustard gas in North Africa when the 6th Division originally went through there. But I can’t substantiate that.
west, no north of the objective. That start line was in a depression. The idea was to move out of that depression and in line ahead the whole battalion or three companies of the battalion were to move ahead and take a ridge which was known as Ruin Ridge.
That’s what they termed it. We all succeeded in taking Ruin Ridge. A lot of us. With very few casualties. But then the company commander decided he was going to go further. Which we did. And as the further we went, the stiffer the resistance was and we got to a place around about
about seven a.m. I think it was in the morning. We were on bare flat ground and all we could do for cover was gather stones or things like that. You couldn’t dig because the ground was too hard. The Germans counter attacked and of course we had no anti tank weapons. We had no machine guns.
All we had was rifles and Bren guns which were useless. We fired a few for a while. But it was just like firing onto an armoured plate. Just bounce off. Eventually by about twenty past seven that morning all these tanks and armoured cars just completely surrounded us. The rest of the battalion was
a thousand yards behind us. A thousand yards in those places is a long way. The company commander surrendered. Nothing you could do about it. They took the four officers away immediately, the Germans, and then they rounded the rest of us up. Told us to get rid of our gear. We were left with a shirt and a pair of shorts and a pair of boots.
Says, “Right, march!” We were taken back to a place by the name of – I can’t think of the name of it was at the moment. But it was a POW camp or staging camp. We were put in this and I was the senior at the time, being a sergeant. And the German
fellow said he wanted to speak to me. So he spoke to me. He said, “We are very sorry, but we’ve got to hand you over to the Italians.” I said, “Why?” “The Italians have complete control of any person who’s taken in North Africa and it becomes their responsibility.” So we were handed over to them. We stayed there that
night. Then we proceeded from there onwards.
got involved in some other problem. Which was pretty consistent. But they would put you in the back of trucks, open trucks, there’d be forty or fifty blokes put in the back of a truck. You couldn’t sit down. You had to stand up. They might take you a hundred or a hundred and fifty ks [kilometres] and you’d be put in a compound for the night. And
I think the first permanent compound we went into was just outside of Benghazi. It would have been a couple of weeks after we were taken. You’ve got a small tin of Bully Beef, about fifty grams, a pint of water – if you had something to put it in. Remember they took it all off us. Some of them had bottles and stuff they’d scrounged.
That’s all you got. That was all the tucker they gave you. But we eventually got to this permanent place just outside of Benghazi that was in an oasis. They called it The Palms. There were probably about a hundred and fifty Australians in it. There were probably as
many New Zealanders. Might have been a few Englishmen, there was. The latrines – The Oasis was in a saucer type thing – were built around the top of the saucer so that the guards could watch you, make
sure that there was nothing going on that shouldn’t have been. Eventually all the urine and excreta and stuff like that started to soak through the earth and come down into the bottom of the saucer which we used as a sleeping place or what have you – bearing in mind you had no gear. You slept in what you stood up in. Those sort of things. The
commandant was a fascist of the Italian regime and he was a real fascist. You couldn’t look at anything sideways or he’d want to penalise you for it.
He would be responsible for rations and things like that which were negligible anyway. He was also responsible for the guards around the place, all that sort of thing. A couple of our fellows decided they might try and escape from The Palms. Bloke from Queensland was one of them who I knew very well. There used to be
an Italian truck bring in the rations which at this particular stage had gone to rice. They’d bring this rice in the truck in bags to feed the hungry hordes and this fellow decided that, “I think I could get out if I spreadeagle underneath
the tray of the truck into the chassis I’ll go outside and when it gets outside I’ll be able to drop off or the truck’ll stop and I can get away.” Anyway these things happen – he done that. Just before the truck was to move off out of the compound there was a number of English
fellows about – they’d be twenty, thirty yards away – down on the ground looking underneath the truck. Course the Italians, or the commandant, he woke up straight away. He got this fellow from underneath the truck. Took him away, gave him a thrashing and then decided that
he’d have to penalise him so that nobody else would do the same thing. So what he done with poor old Jack was they tied his two thumbs together behind his back on a cord, put it up over a pole at the top and pulled it so as he had to stand on his toes. You can imagine your arms behind your back, but you’re
being pulled up. They left him like that over night. Fortunately for Jack, during the night there was an old guard on who wasn’t a fascist and he put a brick underneath his heels. This allowed him to get that little bit of rest because he wasn’t up on his toes. The next morning he let him out.
Couple of days after they emptied the whole camp out and we were sent up to another place in Benghazi. There were bloody thousands there. It was the whole of the South African division that had been taken in Tobruk. They had all their gear, all their clothes, everything. They probably would have still had their rifles if they’d have been allowed. It was a
lot of Englishmen. There was a lot of New Zealanders. There were a lot of our fellas that had been brought up from Alamein. They had them in compounds of around about a thousand in each one. They had several compounds. Might have been more in some of them. Around each compound they would have latrines. What we called twenty
two holes. They were boarded up, made out of pine board, with eleven holes one side and eleven holes the other side. With a trench dug underneath. When it got to the stage of just about being filled up the prisoners would have to dig another hole and the residue of the dirt from that hole
would go in to filling the other one which meant that you had all this sloppy mess on the top. That was part of the hygiene. Everybody had dysentery because of that sort of thing. The Italians started taking away a number and taking them over to Italy. One boatload in particular that I can recollect
was sent to Benghazi, put on the boat and they were to go to Italy’s east coast. They went over to Greece and from Greece across to Italy. When they got between Greece and Italy they were torpedoed by an English submarine. I think there were six of our fellows killed in that
particular episode. There were a number of them wounded as a result. Some of them were picked up. Some of them got back to Greece. Some of the blokes were picked up were taken over to Italy and the normal procedure happened. I never seem to have been chosen to go on one of those trips so I stayed in
Benghazi. A New Zealand fellow and I got involved in a tunnel attempt. There were thirty of us all told in the party. We dug this tunnel out that the dirt used to be put into the latrines in little bags made out of anything that you could get hold of. We eventually got the tunnel finished with the exception
of about two feet at the end which was out about a hundred yards from the Italian wire. The idea was for everybody to get into that tunnel, break the last couple of foot and everybody go out through that and make their way south and eventually to the depression and see if they could get along to the British lines three or four hundred mile away.
While we were in there the carabinieri used to come round. The carabinieri was the equivalent of the police. They were also most of them out and out right fascists. They would come around with their bayonets on rifles and stab it into the ground to see if there was any tunnels or anything like that and they must have got somewhere near the one
that we had which incidentally was down through one of the latrines. It hadn’t been used but we had twenty-two blokes sitting on it permanently. But our dirt used to come back to tunnel into that area, taken by the fellow sitting on one of the twenty two holes and somebody’d take his place on the hole and he’d take his
little bag of dirt and put it into one of the other latrines. That’s the way we got rid of the dirt. Anyway amongst the thirty of us there were Australians, there were New Zealanders, there were Englishmen, there were a couple of South Africans. We weren’t very keen about the South Africans joining our party, but one bloke claimed he was an ex Australian and he’d joined up the South African Army
and we let him in. Anyway they came around with this bayonet and all of a sudden we could hear from where we were in the tunnel this, “Don’t stick it into me! I’m coming out, I’m coming out.” It was this South African fellow. He came out of the tunnel, up through the twenty two holer and of course the carabinieri were all round the place by then. The rest of us
had to come out of the tunnel because this South African had told them exactly the number of people that were in it and the carabinieri’s attitude was we’ll flood the tunnel or we’ll put bullets down there, we’ll do anything if youse don’t come out. So eventually we all come out. The carabinieri had ascertained the leaders of that
particular attempt. One was a New Zealander, great mate of mine, myself and a fellow from Tasmania. They took us out of the camp and took us to their quarters and wanted to know what information we could give them about other attempts to escape and all this sort of business. Our attitude was
my number is so and so, my rank is so and so, my name is so and so, that’s all we are obligated to give to you under the Geneva Convention. But that didn’t worry the carabinieri.
that’s beside the point. And interrogated by the carabinieri. As I said previously, all we were prepared to give them was the information necessary. So they grabbed the New Zealand fellow and me and put our thumbs into a vice.
Our right thumb each into a vice and screwed the vice up. I’ve still got the scars there on my thumb to substantiate it even though the DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] won’t give me any disability rate for it, but it’s there. We did not divulge anything about our plans or anybody else’s plans for escape. So we were
thrown into solitary confinement which we were in for a number of days which I can never remember because of the way we were mentally, physically. Rotten with dysentery, all those sort of things. Food once a day. Eventually something must have happened and we got
let out of the solitary and put in a truck and sent further along North Africa to a place by the name of Taroona.[?] There we were put under close guard again, the three of us, and although we were allowed freedom of exercise, we weren’t allowed freedom to mix with the other people.
This lasted some time. In the meantime we’d heard through the grapevine [word of mouth] – which was usually an Italian soldier on guard – that the British forces had captured Benghazi and it wouldn’t be long before they relieved us. Anyway, from there we were shifted to another camp just outside of
Tripoli in North Africa where we stayed until such time as we were shifted. One of the things that we were talking about previously of thieving food and what have you, when we were in this particular camp we found that one of the cooks who was an Australian fellow was having more than his share of food.
We substantiated that without much trouble and we asked the Italian authorities if they would do something about disciplining him and they said, “No. This is one of your internal matters. You do what you want with him.” So we tied him to a tree and another fellow and I gave specific orders that he was
not to be touched, physically, that he could stay on that tree. You could spit on him, abuse him, do what you like as long as you don’t physically touch him. We left him there for two days. Let him off. Nobody would talk to him. He never stole again. Neither did anybody else in the camp. That was our way of penalising a
thief. If we had marked him in any way we could have been in trouble later.
hundred of us in one hold at this transport. And that was on the first of January 1943. We were given two tins of Bully beef and there was a drum of water sent down for us to drink which never lasted very long. They set sail and we were told that we were
going to Italy. They sailed up along the north coast of Italy from Tripoli, went across to a little island by the name of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean one night. We stayed there a couple of days and seven days later we got to the port in Sicily. I just can’t remember the name of it offhand.
But it was a journey about the same as what Devonport to Melbourne is. One night. It took seven days. We were not allowed on deck at all. We utilised one corner of the hold to relieve ourselves. We’ve still got dysentery. We’re still in trouble. You’ve got no idea what it was like.
It was putrid. Absolutely putrid. Blokes were sick and what have you. But anyway we eventually got there. No loss of life fortunately. Got into Sicily. They put us into cattle trucks. Two hours later we arrived at a place by the name of Capua just outside of Naples where we were
placed into huts. It was there that we started trading with the Italians. The only way that we could trade with them was that we would ask the English fellows who once they got to Italy got their Red Cross parcels, we would ask them for cigarettes. Cigarettes became a currency. We would trade with the Italians for currency using cigarettes for currency for bread and things like that.
One cigarette would buy two hundred grams of bread. That supplemented our rations. With that two hundred grams of bread we could probably buy off the English fellows that just got their Red Cross parcels three or four cigarettes. Four cigarettes meant eight hundred grams of bread. And if you were a good trader you done very well out of it.
In that particular camp we had a number of French Foreign Legion come in one day. They’d been picked up in west North Africa by the American forces who had landed in West Africa at the time. The French Foreign Legion joined the Germans one day
and they were back with the British the next day and so on like that. It depended on what suited them. Eventually the German says, “No. You are now POWs,” handed them over to the Italians and had them transported across to us and put them in the camp with us. Now the only reason that I mention the French Foreign Legion is that for some unknown reason we had two old mangy dogs in that camp.
They must have been feeding off the rats or the mice or something like that. Within one hour of the French Foreign Legion being in the camp there was no dogs. They told us later that they’d eaten them. Didn’t matter to them. Of all the Foreign Legion fellas that came into that camp there was only one of them that spoke English. He was an Irishman. Their common language was German
amongst them – even though they were in the French Foreign Legion. This Irish fellow used to talk to us about life in the Foreign Legion which wasn’t very pleasant at all.
in a square. I can’t tell you the actual size of it, but there was plenty of land there. Completely surrounded was a very large barbed wire fence. Either side of that barbed wire fence was smaller barbed wire fences. They would have been about twelve feet from the main one.
So you got a big one with one either side. On each corner there was sentry boxes built over up high off the high fence, probably twenty feet up, and there would be two guards in those sentry boxes. One looking one way and the other looking another way. Like one north and one east and vice versa.
In the middle of the long fence they’d have the same sort of thing. They were all armed with machine guns and if anybody decided to go through the wire as we called it – the barbed wire – they would just fill them up with lead from the machine guns. We had one young fellow once – younger than me – don’t know how much younger
but he was younger than me and he just couldn’t take it. He walked out onto the wire, committed suicide. They riddled him full of bullets. He was the only one that I know of where that occurred too, or where I actually witnessed that sort of thing. They had a road running down the middle of it. That big compound. And they had compounds one two
and three on one side of the road and compounds four five and six on the other side of the road. Right down on one end they’d have all the fascist guards quarters. – the commandants office and the administrative quarters – and right down the other end would be what they called the camp hospital. It was an Australian doctor there in the
camp hospital. But he had nothing. Not a thing. They couldn’t. A couple of beds. There was nothing. No gear of any description. No bandages. No ointments, no nothing. He would diagnose his condition and say, “Not much I can do for you mate, but this is what you’ve got. Watch your food.”
Russian front to use as labour battalions on the Russian front. Then surrounded us fellows and told us in no mean terms that if any of us decided to try and get away there was plenty of spandaus around and we would be shot immediately. We were all herded together, put into cattle trucks, taken into Germany into Spittal an der Drau [Austria]
which was an old cavalry barracks from the ’14–18 war used by the Austrian army. When we got to Spittle we were issued with Red Cross passes. Each and every one of us. We thought that this was all right, if this was going to be Germany, well that’s pretty good. Most of us were sent from Spittal out to various places.
In Germany it didn’t matter what your rank was. As long as you weren’t commissioned you had to go out to these particular camps which they claimed were working camps. I struck a Queensland fellow and we were sent out to a camp up in the Austrian mountains.
We were there for about three months and then we were sent back into Spittle again and this went on and on and eventually we were sent to a place by the name of Graz which was in Austria. They had a very large camp in Graz and they used to select the fellows and if they knew there was an NCO there they would put the NCO in charge of them
who would be in turn charge by German guards. Graz in the middle had a very large hill – what we’d call a hill here in Australia – and the idea was for the prisoners of war to dig tunnels in that hill to act as air raid shelters for the civilian population. It was in
Graz that we used to take these parties of fellows out that might take them days and days to dig a couple of feet. They’d strike. They’d have a spell and say, “No food.” Keep on going. Typical Australians. And eventually there was a fellow from – that had been taken in Greece –
he started up a finger breaking machine. Yeah. If you convinced the German authorities that you had something wrong with you and their doctor agreed that there was something wrong with you, you didn’t have to go to work. So this fellow for five cigarettes would break your left little finger or your right little finger.
Without any marks. He would do it. Five times. Cost me twenty-five cigarettes.
the same thing as far as the Russians were concerned. And that meant that there was no national body or world body to protect anybody. I was at a camp in Austria just outside of Graz and I was detailed one day to go and bury Russian soldiers that had died.
I thought, “Oh this’ll be easy.” I took ten fellows with me, fellows of our own. We were taken into this Russian compound by the German guards. What happened with the Russians is that they came up for their rations in threes and they were each one of three was given
their pint of potatoes – kartofel zuppe, we called it – but it was potato soup. Water with a couple of potatoes thrown in with it. That was their actual ration. Invariably the centre one was dead. They dragged him out, got his ration, took him back into the hut, threw him onto a bed. After he’d been dead for
some time and he became to the stage where they couldn’t put up with the smell any longer they would throw him out of the hut and grab another one. Our job was to go into the compound, pick up the ones that had been thrown out of the hut. Put them into a German cart which was an unusual thing – it was on four wheels
and it had sides like a V and you could throw something like twenty bodies into one of these carts. They were driven by oxen. All the horses were at the Russian front. We would drive these vehicles out of the camp and under the guidance of the German guard to an area where the Germans had bulldozed
a big trench and we just threw these fellows into the trench. We were on that job for three days. Wasn’t a very pleasant one as you can well imagine. No identity, no identification of any description at all. I believe people are still digging up mass graves in parts of Germany where
people of that particular nationality have been buried. That is one instance. The Germans’ attitude towards the Russian. Now, the Russian was no different in his attitude towards the German. None at all.
Graz. We decided that we’d have to get out of that area somehow or other. We volunteered to the Germans, the pair of us, to go out into one of these very small working camps who become responsible for cleaning up the rail yards and the surrounding area after an
air raid. We were successful in getting sent out to that. One night there was a very large air raid and the two of us along with several others was called out. Taffy said, “This is it,” and we off into the hills. We left the party. Course, everybody was in a panic you’ve got to remember after an air raid. Even the guards. We off into the hills and we laid up
in the hills during the day and moved at night time. We got over the river Drau in a boat that we pinched at night time and we got down into Bulgaria. Eventually we struck the Russian forces after a couple of weeks. Right down the bottom end, the other side
of Belgrade. When we struck them we were in real trouble. The only thing that we had to identify ourselves was the German plaque which was issued to us. I’ve got it over there somewhere. That had written on it Stalag 18A and your prisoner of war number. Mine was
seven six nine nine. We eventually showed this to the Russian authorities who got us and they said, “Ah. You’re German!” Our German was better than their German so they thought we were Germans and just as we were about to throw in the towel [give up] as the saying was,
we heard somebody say, “Are you fellows in trouble?” Just like that. And Taffy said to the person concerned who was a Russian female doctor and had trained in London, gone back to Russia and been seconded to the German army. And he said, “Yes. We’re trying to convince these fellows we’re ex prisoners of war from
Germany and we want to help you people if we can.” She said, “Well I know where you come from. You come from Wales, don’t you? And I bet they call you Taffy.” That was her attitude. And she said, “I don’t know about you. Where do you come from?” And I said, “You try and guess.” She said, “No. I can’t guess.” Eventually I said, “I’m from Australia.” And she said, “Oh that’s the place way down the bottom of the world, isn’t it?”
Any way we were given a truck which was what they called a Canadian all steel which had been sent from Canada to Russia through the Lease Lend agreement that Russia had with America. That truck had eventually got down the southern parts and was actually
a Canadian Ford truck. A three tonner. We were given that truck to take the wounded back into Romania and bring up what they called medical stores up to this doctors’ area. We’d take about a week to get down to Romania and about a week to get back. We had a pass from this doctor.
We had no great trouble. We were given food to do the journey and get back again. We were treated reasonably well. We were given good food. We had to remain with the Russians because they protected us. If we had gone any further we would have still had the problems of identifying ourselves and all the rest of it.
So we decided to stay with them. This Russian doctor said that the war should finish in a month or two. This was about the March of ’45. The war finished in the May. We continued doing the job that we did. The war finished. We didn’t know the war had finished. We got back to this Russian
doctor and she said, “I suppose you fellows know the war’s finished?” “No.” “Well it is. Now you fellows have got to go back to England whether you like it or not because you from Australia have got to go through the staging camp in England and you, Taffy, have got to go back to your regiment in Wales.” I said to her, “What do you suggest?”
She said, “There’s three avenues open to you which we’ve been told about. One is that you go down to Odessa on the Black Sea. It might take you weeks to get there. You’ve then got to get a boat from Odessa which will take you back through the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. You might eventually end up in England.” So we said, “No. That’s no good to us.” She said, “Well you better go home
to the British forces in Italy.” Taffy says, “No. I’m not going over there because I know what the bloody red tape of the British Army will be like. It’ll be weeks before we get back to England.” I said, “Well it doesn’t leave us much option. Can we go up into Europe and meet the Americans?” She said, “Yes. You can do that. They’re up there on the River Elbe but it might take you a week to get there,
but they would look after you.” We said, “Doesn’t look as though we’ve got much option.” So we proceeded to get lifts with various refugees trying to make the American forces and get away from the Russians, walk miles, and eventually we struck the American forces on a bridge on the Elbe, convinced
them who we were with our little POW plaque and our speech. They took us in. They said, “Get over into that marquee and get yourselves deloused.” They used this spray type thing. “Get into the next one and get yourself reclothed.” They gave us new clothes. “Go into the next one and get yourself a feed and
go into the next one and get yourself a bed. But whatever you do, be back here tomorrow morning at eight o’clock.”
partly involved. It was up in Northern Italy. We had a fellow whose name – he’s been dead for many years now so it won’t hurt to say his name. He’d been discharged from the Royal Australian Navy in 1938 for that reason. His name in the navy was Richard Cohn.
He joined the AIF, 1940, as Con Richard. Reversed his name. When we were in Italy in the camp right up north we caught him with an Indian Sikh in the bunk with him.
They were performing a sexual act between them. The Sikh undressed looks very very much like a female. Long hair. They’ve got that sallowly smooth complexion that
some women have. They were performing. There’s no doubt about that. We spoke to him about it. He said, “Well what are you going to do? Tell the Ities?” We said, “No. But don’t let it happen again. Not here. If you want to do that sort of thing, go down the Indian compound. Treat yourself. But not here. We don’t want that sort of thing
going on here.” That’s the only incident that I can think of. I know it goes on. We have – this Taffy at one particular stage, he got a job on a German farm. This was before I met him and I’m only talking hearsay now
so I don’t know whether it’s truth or not, but I have no reason to say anything else. He was on this farm and there was a French POW, call him whatever you like, also working on the farm. He had become more or less free, the French fellow. Taffy caught him playing around with one of the daughters
of the farm. Then one night Taffy said, “I was in the barn about to feed the calves with skim milk and this French man’s in there relieving himself with a calf by mouth.” In other words, I say we used to say gameruchie I think was the
word we used. But when Taffy accosted him about it the Frenchman’s attitude about it was – no sorry – the Frenchman’s attitude was, “We do this type of thing in France all the time.” So that was another episode. But I didn’t actually witness that. That’s only second-hand. But the other one, yes.
it took us about two days I suppose and we were in England. No problem at all. They put I think it was forty of us fellows, Australians or New Zealanders, into a flying fortress. They’d taken the bomb bays out and boarded them over with pine boards. They put forty of us in, fly us straight
to England. If you were English or any other nationality there would be fifty go in and they’d only go to Belgium. They had a big staging camp in Belgium for all those people and they went there but we went straight to England. We went through much the same process in England as what we did when we met the Americans with the exception that they allowed us to retain our clothes.
Then we were put on trucks and sent down to a place by the name of Eastbourne I think it was in south east England where there was a big Australian staging camp for all the prisoners of war. You got down there and they had everything that we wanted. Had all our records, new uniforms.
Even fellows like myself that had ranks, they had our stripes sewn on our blooming uniform. Had everything there. Pay book hadn’t been deducted anything with the exception of the Italian payment. Was given a pay book, completely outfitted and I think one or two days later we were given a pass
for twenty-one days leave which included a rail pass and we could go anywhere in the whole of the United Kingdom on that rail pass. Course, we had money. We didn’t worry about food. We had ration tickets that was issued to us as well. I spent my twenty-one days with some relatives right up in the very north of Scotland, a place called John o’ Groats, which you’ve probably heard of.
I spent the whole time up there, came back down to Eastbourne. Went through the question and answer business and the six pages of what have you and then given some more leave because there wasn’t a boat available to take us home.
So was it easy or hard settling back in to … ?
Very difficult. Extremely difficult. I went to my former employer which I was talking about this morning and he says, “Come back here and finish your apprenticeship. What you do after that’s up to you.” I said to myself, “Yes. Well I suppose I should. Otherwise I’m going to be in real bloody trouble.” So I did that. I done it a lot quicker than I would have under normal circumstances because they pushed
all the ex-servicemen, gave them special privileges and technical colleges and all that sort of thing. After I completed that I must have had four or five different jobs. Couldn’t settle down into them. Course, I was outside the scope of Legacy by this time because I was over twenty-one.
Eventually I had a great interest in medical things. I done a course under what they termed those days, the St John Ambulance Brigade, had a special course. Topped the class. Eventually took on a job driving ambulances in Melbourne. That lasted for three years. Then I got a job with one of the big
meatworks as a first aid attendant or male nurse, call it what you like, looking after them. I was only there a little while and one of the fellows from the insurance companies who handled all the injuries and what have you said, “What about coming and working with us?” I said, “Oh cut it out. I don’t know anything about insurance work.” He said, “You’d be all right.” So I went in and had an interview with them and most of it was relating to work or road type
injuries. They didn’t have anybody that understood injuries of any description. So I went into them which was the old Bankers’ & Traders’ Insurance Company. Was put into their accident section. Done very well. Quite happy. Got annual increases and all the rest of it. Then eventually Bankers & Traders
amalgamated with Queensland Insurance Company and became QBE which is still in the books today. I became claims manager for Victoria/Tasmania at QBE until I retired.