Lawrence Calder
Archive number: 1842
Preferred name: Jack
Date interviewed: 29 April, 2004

Served with:

2/1st Army Field Workshops, CMF
2/32nd Battalion, AIF

Other images:

Lawrence Calder 1842


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Tape 01


To begin with, Jack, thank you very much for doing this. We couldn’t do it without your support so we can’t pay you but we can give you our thanks.
We’ll do our best for you.
To begin with we need a summary of your life. So, again, without too much detail and moving quite quickly,


can you take us back through your childhood and tell us about where you grew up?
I was born down in a place by the name of Leongatha in Victoria. It’s in South Gippsland. From there we were on a dairy farm for quite a few years. My father was a farmer. During the Depression he got moved from the farm down into Melbourne where he drove cable trams. Heard of them? For several years.


Then went back. Eventually went back to farming in South Gippsland. In 1932 my father passed away intestate and we had the problem of family with no income or anything like that. Eventually the closer settlement board as they called them in those days sold everything up and we eventually


moved to Melbourne. When we got to Melbourne us young children were fairly well off because we came in contact with a concern known as Melbourne Legacy who took us through a number of years and helped us out considerably. My mother got a little bit of incomes scrubbing floors and things of that nature. Thirty six my mother remarried


and had a child born to that marriage. Another ex-serviceman. He eventually passed away. On his passing it was found that the marriage was invalid as he had a wife and three children somewhere else. That upset my mother considerably. Ending up where she had to


be treated by doctors and what have you. I went and lived with a legatee in Melbourne. My two sisters went and lived with aunties while my mother was under treatment. But I never returned home again at any time because I was quite happy under the circumstances. The war came along and


took it from there. Spent a few years during the war, or most of it, overseas.
Can you take us through the war and give us a list of firstly where you trained and then where you served?
First of all, prior to war, I was in the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] which today they call the reserve. The reason I was in that was that I had a very good friend who enticed me into it.


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.


Sorry to hear that. That is a fantastic summary. I’ve never had someone with such an extensive story to tell give it so quickly. So that was very well done. We’ll have to go back to the beginning and we have a lot to go through so we’ll take you through it now in a bit more detail.
I’ve missed a lot.
No. We’ll go back and fill in those gaps if you like. We’ve got all day now to do that. Thank you for that. The beginning of your life


before your father died. What memories do you have of him?
I have very vivid memories of my father. We were exceptionally close. I being the only boy of the family probably made that, and being a first born. But he couldn’t take a horse and sledge down the paddock unless I was with him. He couldn’t go and


milk the cows unless I was with him. Those types of things. It was a real father son type of thing. After my father died I missed him terribly and I got very upset there for a few years. But those things being a young lad you don’t take that into consideration as much as you would today.


We were good mates. Let’s put it that way. Even though I was only, what, six or seven. I was nine when he died.
Can you tell us about his service in the First World War?
Yes. He enlisted early in 1917 with the 7th Battalion. It was a different set up in the ’14–18 war to what it was with ours.


Went to England on his six weeks training. Was sent straight over to France. In late 1917 he was wounded by shrapnel on the back of the neck. Was sent back to England. Had about six months back there. Eventually went back to his unit. No more problems.


Came home. His sister said that it did have quite a psychological effect on his mind. I wouldn’t know. But he did not have any more service than that actual – he served with the 7th Battalion all the time.
What, if anything, did he say about the war


to you as a boy?
Nothing. He was probably of the same nature as what I was. I wouldn’t speak of the war for the first twenty years after I was discharged. My family will say to me nowadays, “Huh. You never used to say anything like that when we were young.”


Was he a member of any groups that met and remembered the war or ANZACs [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps]?
Not to my knowledge. The only thing is that when he died he was on a farm at a place by the name of Dumbalk in South Gippsland. The fellow who had the farm next to him


was an ex 7th Battalion man. There were two others, both ex 7th Battalion. So there were four of them within that group at that time. But very little was ever said.
Can you tell us about the farm that you were born on?
The one I was born on, Fairbank, was a small dairy farm milking around about thirty, thirty-five cows


back in those days. Probably half a dozen pigs. Back in those days they could only sell the cream from their milk. They couldn’t sell the milk whole. It had to be separated. The cream went away and the other milk was fed to the pigs. One of my greatest problems back in those days


was playing with the little pigs. Apparently I’d been missing for some time and here was me down in the pig yard with the pigs. No baths, no showers or anything like that so I got cleaned up in the copper. The old copper back in those days. We lived in a small two bedroom weatherboard house which had been built by the authorities.


They didn’t call them war service in those days. They called them the closer settlement board. They built the place and we lived on that. But we were only there around about four years I think and my father was actually told to get off because he wasn’t producing enough to pay them and live so that was when he came to Melbourne. Eventually went back onto the


farming again.
Before he died in your ninth year?
We went to Melbourne. I started school in Melbourne actually so I would have been five and a half, six. He got a job driving the cable trams that used to run around Melbourne back in those days. He stayed in that for a couple of years and then


eventually he got another block at a place – just can’t think of it at the moment. Dumbalk, that’s right. Place by the name of Dumbalk in South Gippsland. He was put on there. But he died in circumstances which I’d prefer not to talk about if it’s all right with you.


Probably war caused. But that was in December ’32.
Just before we get to his death, do you have any memories of those cable trams?
Yeah. Quite a lot.
They don’t exist any more. Can you tell us about them?
Cable trams were a two car type thing. The front section was the one that


drove the whole thing. The back section was just a cable car that held passengers. They were operated by three levers in the centre of the cable car and they used to have a long piece of steel protruding


through a gap in the ground onto a cable. You could pull one handle and that would grip the cable. That would cause the tram to move. The other one had a reverse cable so they could reverse it. The centre one – I think it was the brakes – it operated the brakes on the car


on the back. The back car was enclosed. Not like the Melbourne trams today, but it was enclosed. And the front car or the grip car, it was completely open. It had seats down either side, seats across the front and seats across the back. And the driver used to stand in the middle and operate these three levers.


They have a speed of about – in the old – fifteen mile an hour flat out. The cables were operated by very large engine rooms situated at various points along the whole route and that would drive the cable. That’s about all I can tell you


about them.
And what experience did you have of all this as a young boy?
Dad used to take us for rides on it. If we ever went shopping we’d make sure he was there. They had a bell above them that you’d ring the bell if he seen us. Those sort of things. The other one was that I was very proud at the time that my Dad


had a uniform on driving the tram. He had his war ribbons on, what have you. Typical young lad. Very proud of it. They worked shift work, of course. They never worked a full nightshift, but they used to come off around about eleven at night and recommence about six o’clock then next morning. So he’d be on shift work either one way or the other.
What did you think about


Melbourne coming from the country?
Never liked it. Back in the ‘20s Melbourne was nothing like it is today. We lived in a suburb by the name of Northcote and Northcote was one of the very outer suburbs in those days – not like now. Probably too young to give it much consideration


back in those days. Went to school. Started school there. But I wasn’t there that long. Went back to the bush as they called it.
Northcote and Preston were almost rural.
Preston was rural. Reservoir was away out in the country. We knew Reservoir quite well because we had an aunty that lived there. Her husband was one of the caretakers of the reservoir


itself at Reservoir. It used to be a great thing for us to go out to her place once a month or something like that for Sunday lunch. Just trying to think how we went. That’s right. We used to go by cable trams to terminus and then we’d get a horse and buggy.


That’s right. That’d take us the balance. She’d meet us with a horse and buggy. No motor cars.
Were you an only child?
What siblings?
I had three sisters. Two of them – one born eighteen months after me. The other one was born eighteen months after that and then there was another won born about another eighteen months later. The


second sister died the same day as the third sister was born. She died of meningitis which was a fairly common complaint back in the ‘20s. They didn’t have the facilities available to them that they’ve got today. Those sort of things. So I have two younger sisters. They’re both still alive. They live down at Colac down in the western districts of Victoria.


What about your mother? What can you tell us about her and what kind of woman she was?
Poor old Mum. Mum was a daughter of a girl from a family of thirteen. She was in about the middle, a very timid lady. Can never remember her getting into a temper


or anything of that nature. My father was the one that used to give us the hidings [beatings]. Not Mum. Difficult to say. She was a good mother. Not a strong mother, but a good mother. In latter years she got to the stage where she couldn’t handle things and take it any more.


Even in Melbourne were you closer to your father?
No. Not as close because he was away working driving his trams and I was off to school of course. We used to play around in the vegetable garden in the backyard and do things like that, but that was all teaching for me probably.


Where were you when your father died?
Place by the name of Dumbalk on a farm in South Gippsland. We operated a dairy farm there milking around about I think it was seventy odd cows at the time. By hand.


No machines. Machines were just coming in. They had to be milked by hand. One of the things that I used to have to do before I went to school of a morning was milk my three or four cows. I would harness my horse, thinking I’m only nine at the time, to take the cream cans on the sledge to the pick up point.


Unharness the horse and ride it the next six or seven miles to school and then do the reverse coming home. Child labour back in those days was very necessary. Even though – I digress a little bit – at one particular stage my father decided that it would be better


if he got somebody to help. In the late ‘20s and early ‘30s there was a lot of English migrants came out here who knew nothing, were not trained to do anything, and you could pick one of them up for five shillings a week and keep. So he decided at that particular


stage that he’d get one of these fellows and he got them. He paid five shillings a week, full board and lodgings, work seven days a week. If there was no cows to milk, get down the paddock and catch a few rabbits or something of that nature. They were quite happy.
What dealings did you have with these labourers?
Very little. It was really


nothing to do with me. With the exception of course that they always slept in the same room as I did. Their bed was always a couple of poles and a couple of chaff bags along with the appropriate blankets. They were glad to have them.
Where were these men from, do you know?
This particular one that I have in mind came from London.


Had the typical cockney accent. Never seen him again after he left.
I understand if you don’t want to talk about the circumstances of your father’s death, but if it was war related it would be quite relevant for the archive to talk about how war affects people?
Well I’ve got to


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.
What effect did it have on you personally when your father died?
Very nervous lad. I pined for the use of the word


for many years. I’d go to bed crying my eyes out of a night time and things of that nature because all I was left with was two sisters that I always argued the point with anyway and a mother that had a problem. I was left on my own. I probably became a loner because of it.
Was the problem that your mother suffered exacerbated


by the loss of your father? Did that bring on behaviour in her?
That was the initial stages of it. The culminating factor was the death of the second man in her life. Finding that the marriage was not genuine and those sort of things.


What about financially? How did you life change when your father died?
We had no finance. We had to rely upon public subscription. We relied on his ex 7th Battalion fellows around who would drop half a sheep in occasionally or they’d say, “You better send the young fella up and get a bag of spuds [potatoes].”


I’d go up and dig a bag of potatoes. We lived on potatoes and cold mutton or hot mutton. School, there was always one of the other children at school would say, “Here have one of my sandwiches.” Things like that. So you existed. Not as


well as what we do today by any means.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 02


Apart from this informal charity that you talked about you were also helped by Legacy. Can you tell us how that came about?
What happened – digressing again a little bit – was that the closer settlement board of those days


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.


Just a couple of questions about you at that time, what sort of a lad were you? Were you headstrong or were you timid?
Timid. As I said, a loner probably. I wasn’t headstrong. In retrospect, looking back I suppose I was a typical young fourteen year old at the time. Easily led.


And what did you understand about this organisation Legacy and why they were helping you?
All I understood about them back in those days was that they were a group of ex-servicemen who had grouped together to help the children and widows – more so the children – of deceased ex-servicemen. That’s it. And they did that


very very well. They were responsible indirectly for our education – making sure that we were placed in the right area. I’ll tell you a lot more about this in later days because I became a Legatee myself in post war years. So I know a little bit about it. But the circumstances were different.
What influence did that upbringing


and having those people around you have on your patriotism or desire to serve your own country?
I feel today that what it had was put me into the right group of people instead of being let go and getting involved with whatever was available at the time. I’ve got my job to thank.


I’ve got them to thank for what’s happened to me over the years.
When you say you were a typical fourteen year old, did you nonetheless grow up quickly?
Yes. You did in those days. Very quickly, believe me. You became an adult before you were a youth.
Do you have any thoughts about that in hindsight and regrets about missing out on childhood things or did you do that as well?


In hindsight I feel as though I missed out on all the youthful things because I had to go and work. Even before I left school I had to have paper rounds so that I could supplement the family income. Things of that nature. Today you say, “Goodness me if the young ones


today had to put up with some of the things that we had to put up with when we were young they’d wonder what the devil was happening to them.” They’re still going to school at twenty years today.
You were persuaded to join the CMF before you were actually old enough. Can you talk about how that happened?
That was back in the boarding house in Kerr Street, Fitzroy. As I said before there were three of us. There was another lad twelve.


months older than me and another fellow, Bill Hodges I think his name was. He was probably two or three years or he might have been three or four years older. He was older than us. He joined the CMF through a mutual friend of ours mainly because he got paid for it and it was company. And when he joined


the other lad and myself found or felt that we were left out. This other friend of ours down the street spoke to us on many occasions and he was in the CMF himself. He said, “What about you two young blokes? Why don’t you join up?” “Cut it out. I’m only a boy. Can’t.” He said, “I think I could arrange that.” “How?” He said, “Well we’ve got a


cadet section which is from sixteen to eighteen.” “Still puts me out.” He said, “We could arrange it. Please yourself.” So he arranged it. Before I knew where I was I was a cadet in the 6th battalion.
What did that mean? What did you do?
It meant really nothing. It meant that I’d become a member of a CMF unit in the cadet section


We were under the control of what used to be the regimental sergeant major back in those days. A permanent man. He looked after us and trained us. We had get togethers. We had a camp at Christmas with the 5th battalion, the Scottish regiment, and another battalion, the 7th battalion from Ballarat.


I think there were about thirty of us all told, all cadets. We went down to a place by the name of Crows Nest just outside of Queenscliff where the big fort is. We’d go down there for ten days and fundamentally have the same life as anybody else in the army under the control of senior fellows. It was a matter of


getting together.
What about discipline?
That’s where we learnt it.
How did you take to army discipline?
Didn’t worry me. I was more at home in the army than I probably was anywhere else. Discipline never worried me because I always knew if I’d done the wrong thing I knew what would happen. Whereas if I’d do the right thing I was okay. I was always willing to learn.


Put it that way.
So you joined the CMF as a fourteen year old pretending to be a sixteen year old?
And for the rest of your army career you were always two years older.
Always well up in age group.
What happened to you when you turned sixteen or eighteen in the army?
We were transferred from the cadet section into the senior section and I became a private soldier in the Citizens’ Military Forces.


Same as anybody else. Fortunately enough I suppose somebody must have taken pity on me, sent me off to a NCO school and I became a corporal before the war started anyway. Well before the war started.
Was that an interesting situation to be in as an only sixteen, seventeen year old already being an NCO?
Remember everybody else was young too.


There were a lot of guys like you, is that what you’re saying?
Yeah. Quite a few. It happened. Never had any problems with it.
Was there any time during your career that your age was questioned?
What happened there?
I was wounded in Tobruk in 1941. I was called up one day by the second in command of the battalion and he


said – I was a sergeant at the time – “We’re in trouble.” I said, “Couldn’t be in much more trouble than I am up in the front area there.” “Oh no. I mean administratively. I’ve got a claim on here from your people back in Australia saying that they wish to claim you and you should be back in Australia because you’re underage.”


I said, “What are we going to do about it?” He said, “It’s up to you. You’re a senior NCO, you’re confirmed, you’ve been wounded. You don’t have to do anything about it at all. Or you can sign the appropriate papers and we’ll have you sent back home to Australia. I said, “Well you can tear the papers up thanks.”
Why were you so keen


to keep going in the army even though you’d been wounded?
You develop a lot of friendships. You develop a way of life. It suited me although there were areas which weren’t too good, you still done that. At the time I was a platoon sergeant.


I was probably the youngest sergeant in the battalion at the time, but I had responsibility. I had the job of looking after all my fellow men. And I was quite happy.
Moving just back in time again to the outbreak of the war, what can you tell us about the news of war breaking out?
Prior to the war


breaking out it was rather obvious what was going to happen. People were joining the CMF to get a bit of training and probably eventually get a lot of knowledge so that if they ever transferred into some other unit going overseas at least they’d have the knowledge of what to do and be a bit better off than the bloke coming from the desk


or the factory straight into it. I said, there were a large number of those there. We had our normal training nights once a week and we had our sporting facilities as well. When war broke out we were immediately mobilised. Immediately. September the third ’39 the war broke out. On the fourth


of December we were all pulled into the drill hall. My employer at the time, Bill Way, says, “Good on you son, go for your life. Your job’s always here.” We were given the task of garrisoning all of the oil installations and port installations around Williamstown


and Port Melbourne. That went on for three months I think it was. September, October, yeah until early December of ’39. I personally had a section of twelve men I think it was and we’d set them up onto four hours on and eight hours off or two hours on and four hours off.


The idea was to do guard duties. Our food was brought out to us daily. Actually the battalion set up headquarters in the Williamstown Race Course. No, the Williamstown Rifle Range which is now full of housing commission areas. We had a couple of good months there.
How seriously did you take that work?


The garrison duty?
I wasn’t very happy about it. None of us were, but at the particular time there was nothing much we could do about it because we were members of the Citizen Military Forces. We come under the disciplinary action of them and we did what we were told.
Was there ever any threat to the oil installations?
No. Nothing. Not that I can remember.


I can’t remember anybody else ever being involved in any of it. The civilian authorities trained other personnel who became security guards and they eventually took over from us. We were a stopgap measure until they got their security guards trained and all the rest of it. From there we went into a three months


camp out on the Mornington Peninsula training universal trainees. When war broke out the government brought in a compulsory service bill. I think it was all eighteen year olders at a certain date had to go and do their three months training. Our job was to train them


for this special carter and some of the NCOs become specialists within that carter to train different people. I was fortunate enough to get a job of training in the old Lewis gun of which you’ve probably never heard anyway. But my task was to try and give them the operation of the Lewis gun.


We had other fellows whose task was to train them in parade ground stuff, general discipline, all the other things, rifle drill and field exercises and so forth.
You weren’t to refer to these as conscripts?
One of the things that came out when that first came in


was that the word conscript was not to be used. Under no circumstances. They were to be classed as universal trainees. And that name stuck. I believe in later parts of the war when the brought in national service that the word conscript came into it quite often. But we were prohibited from using the word, conscript.


Which I felt was good.
How did you find these universal trainees took to it?
No great problem. You had your usual young fellows that had probably come up through the hard sections of life that didn’t like discipline. But they got weeded out. The average young fellow of eighteen


he was fairly good. Remember, I was younger.
Were you a bit seventeen year old?
Not really.
How did you enforce discipline in that situation yourself?
Usual army manner. I never used to the process of putting you on a charge sheet or anything of that nature. I’ve never been known to have done that even right through. I found that


if you couldn’t get a fellow to do something there was plenty of avenues available to eventually getting him to do that. Putting him on some sort of duty. “I’ve got you on guard duty tonight.” “Oh no I’m not.” “Yes you are. It’s your turn.” So you use I think psychology’s the word.
Was there a


tension at this time between the CMF or indeed the universal trainees and those who were joining the AIF?
Yes. The AIF was just being formed prior to the Christmas of ’39. We were classified as chocolate soldiers. That was what it was. We lost a lot of officers and senior NCOs


out of the CMF who went and joined the original 6th Division of the AIF. They had a few problems for a while, but eventually that was overcome once they got into some form of action and proved their abilities. The chocolate soldier aspect was forgotten.
How would the chocolate soldier aspect


come into it? Where would these jibes take place and who would give them out?
The chocolate soldier aspect came into it because you had been a member of the CMF for some time. You had a pretty uniform compared to the other fellows in the AIF and you joined it for the comradeship and the few bob that you got out of it with no thoughts of –


their attitude was – being killed or wounded or active service or anything of that nature. Lot of them stayed in it. I’ve got a friend who stayed in the CMF right through the whole war. He didn’t get out of it.
What about koalas, protected species, or not to be taken outside Australia? Were there any other jibes given out at that time?
Not to my knowledge. But I


believe in latter years that did occur. Remember that – you’ve got to remember that I left Australia in May of 1940. After that we got all that sort of thing I believe.
Take us up then to your joining the AIF. What were your thoughts at this time on being a soldier? What did you want to do?
What actually happened was that I was on this carter


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.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 03


Jack, just coming back to what you were saying earlier. Training at Puckapunyal – what sort of things did you do there?
Very little really. It was mostly infantry training. The army field workshops done all their workshop training in the Melbourne Showgrounds.


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.
What about equipment? Training equipment?
In those days, ‘39


and early forties we were still using the ’14–18 gear. We had no modern gear whatsoever. We trained on Lewis guns which were very good machine guns used in the ’14–18 war. We trained on the old Vickers guns which were used in the ’14–18 war. We utilised


the same Lee Enfield rifle that was used in the ’14–18 war. None of the more modern weapons were used then. We had the same equipment – by equipment I mean the belt and pouches that they used to wear and the packs and all that. We had exactly the same equipment as they’d used in the ’14–18 war. We were all issued with that. Now when we went to England


in May of 1940 the first thing that happened to us was all that equipment was just thrown to one side and we were issued with up to date stuff. All Australia had done really was provide the manpower plus gotten fit, physically and the English


army or the British Army, they actually equipped Australian forces until industry in this country got around to it. I believe that was about 1942, ’43, before they got to that stage. I can’t substantiate that, but I know that early in the show we were still – we even had boots manufactured in 1917.


What were some of the fellows saying about all this old gear?
They didn’t know any different. Until we got overseas. When we got overseas and they found us they said, “Typically bloody Australian.” Typical digger [soldier] attitude.
You mentioned that I guess the Australian Army was getting you fit. What sort of exercises and how were they getting you fit?


to get the average soldier fit the greatest exercise in the world is marching with full gear. You see them today – I don’t know whether you’ve had the opportunity but they’ve got a big training base here in Wagga – Kapooka – and those lads go in there for six weeks and they come out real fit boys and all they do really is marching exercises. The exercises they do


is typical – they’ve always done the same. Typical physical culture. Arms, legs, running on the spot, deep breathing, that type of thing. Back in those days we used to do as soon as Reveille occurred in the evening at six o’clock – into whatever clothes you can grab and out and do one half hour PT [Physical training]. Physical culture.


It’s altered today, yes, because they’ve now found that certain muscles require certain exercises and things like that whereas back in those days – you’ve got a hundred men, they may all require different forms of exercise today – but back in those days they got the one. That was it. Finish. But marching, yes.


They’d start off, might do a five mile route march. The next day it’d be six mile. Eventually it used to get to the stage of twenty-five mile and that was a day’s march. People would come back off that, buggered, yes, but eventually fit.
Did any fellows not cope?
Oh yes. We had


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.
The Caulfield story events that happened there. Is that what you heard going round or did you see that?
No. I was actually – what army field workshops used to do was we used to use Caulfield as a central point


to send people out to various technical colleges and things like that. It was one of those times that I was there that this actually occurred.
How did you and some of the men regard the corporals and sergeants given that this police sergeant was tossed overboard?
Early in the war the regimental police and the provos [Provosts – Military Police]


had the same liking towards them as what had happened in the ’14–18 war. They were dead against them. As far as we were concerned they were just bloody coppers [police] and that’s all there was to it. But that altered. If first altered considerably during the Greece campaign when 6th Division had the big retreat.


It was because of the provos and the regimental police that a large number of men got away from Greece. They controlled everything and they were used for what they were meant to be used. From that time on the provos and the regimental police became part of an army establishment because they’d done their job in the field.


Not, like some of them all they wanted to do was prosecute anybody early in the show. A lot of those early ones were ex-policemen who never got on in the force, joined the army, became police in the army. They never lasted.
How were you fitting in at the time given that you were a couple of years younger than everyone?
Never worried me. We had


other younger fellows. I wasn’t the youngest by any means. I say by any means. The only fellow that I can remember that was younger than me, he was born in the May. I was born in the June. So there was no difference. We became good friends in later years. I grew up amongst these fellas older than me in my


youth and I became part of them. Whereas, today, that doesn’t happen. As you younger fellas will know.
Thank you for the compliment anyway. Can you just share with me the ship journey on the way over to the Middle East slash England?
Yes. Wasn’t a lot that occurred. But we left


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.


So where were you? Were you amongst the men?
I’m not sure. I don’t think there was anybody that wasn’t amongst it. We all had our day in Cape Town. And Cape Town back in those days was no different to any other town of any size then. I think I went up on the cable car to Table Mountain and had a look around the place.


Had a few beers and eventually ended up back in the boat. Then I’ve got to digress a little bit. Before, when we had leave in Perth, everybody was issued with what they called in those days a blue light outfit which was two condoms and two tubes of ointment with instructions of


how to use it. Now of course everybody just put them into their pack and forgot all about them. After we left Cape Town we then went up to a place by the name of Freetown which is on the African west coast. We went up there to refuel and take on water. We were there for about three days. We weren’t allowed off the boat because of circumstances. The natives would all come out


in their canoes laden with fruit and the barter system started to occur. So one of the bright subjects decided that he’d take these little tubes of ointment and throw it over and see if he could get something for it. Of course, the little African native down in the canoe he never had a bloody clue in the world what it was. The attitude


was the natives would take anything, whether it be money or clothes or whatever it is we’ll exchange it for fruit. Anyway this went over and the native would look up to the boys up on the top deck and say, “What’s it for?” “Oh, for cleaning your teeth.” There must have been hundreds of tubes went over the boat to these native kids to clean their bloody teeth with


it. And up come the fruit until one of the officers got on it and says, “No. No more. Stop it.” But that was a highlight, a real highlight of the poor old natives. I believe the next convoy they wouldn’t accept them.
Did you get some fruit?
I got bananas.
With your tubes? Did you trade your tubes?
For the two of them. I think from memory I got about six bananas. Something like that. Everybody


else was in it. We had to be in it. We left Freetown and this was around about the time that the German forces were very very much in the fore as far as the Atlantic Ocean was concerned. As we were going up through the Bay of Biscay one day the Queen Mary just off because she was only going


at about half speed and she just disappeared and we couldn’t fathom out why. We heard that there’d been a submarine scare, you see. The rest of us, nothing happened, but she’d got this. Then we went on a little bit further and there’d been the remains of an oil tanker that had been torpedoed. That’s probably what it was, was the submarine. But the next morning the Queen Mary was back in its same station with us.


We proceeded on. We actually ended up at the port of Gourock which is the port for Glasgow. Went right up around the west and the north of Ireland and came back down through Ireland and the UK into Gourock which is the port of Glasgow. We were there for three or four days. And they didn’t know what to do with us.


We just arrived. A convoy full. Eventually we were taken off in barges because Gourock had no facilities for large liners to dock. So they took everybody off on barges. We were put on the barges with all our gear. Put on the train. Eventually ended up down at Salisbury Plains in the south of England.
Before we get to that, I take it you were on board –


is it the Empress of Canada, is that right?
It is.
Could you describe for me the accommodation?
The accommodation was excellent. What they’d done is that all of the cabins they’d converted into double decks. If you had a two berth cabin it became a four berth cabin. That’s how we were accommodated. I’m not certain of this but we believe the


officers still had the original accommodation up the top which was natural.
Was there air conditioning?
Yes. They were quite good. The Empress of Canada was all right because that was a world cruise liner back in those days. It was quite good. Until we hit the rough sea and they never had stabilisers or anything like that on them in those days, but we put up with that.
What about the mess


and the toilet facilities?
They were all right. They were good. They used the dining rooms had been converted into mess halls. All they’d done was took out all of the furniture that had been in the dining rooms and put mess tables through, screwed them down to the decks and the seats were screwed down to the decks. The kitchens were what had been originally there and used by the army


cooks. Still got our stew, bully beef stew.
And the toilet facilities?
Toilet facilities were quite good with the exception that they’d torn out part of it and created banks of toilets. Like there might be ten instead of two. As we later on in the war termed them – ten holes.


You’ve got to remember that back in those early days they only had perhaps two to three thousand men or troops on board. Whereas later on when transport became difficult they might have four or five thousand. And they altered a lot of it then. As I can tell you later on when we moved back from England to the Middle East.


That was a different story.
On the way over from Australia did they continue training at all for you?
To a degree. We had a lot of physical culture. Things like running on the spot, deep breathing exercises and all that sort of thing. Small arms instructions, machine gun instruction and lectures by the officers.


In army field workshops we had a lot of university graduates – not a lot of them, but a number of them had graduated in what was termed those days electrical engineering before the advent of computers and what have you. They would lecture on all that sort of thing. The army field workshops was split up into


what they call sections. In a section they’d have an officer commanding it who had done a university course. It may be in electrical engineering or it may have been in mechanical engineering as it was back in those days. He’d be responsible for the tradesmen within that particular section. Of which I was one. And they’d lecture and talk about various things of that nature.


Excellent. Well travelling forward to England. Salisbury?
Yes. We were down to the Salisbury Plains. That’s where they took us. When we got to the Salisbury Plains we were billeted in what they called bell tents. They were a round tent. They held ten or twelve personnel. They had one entrance.


They were a pole in the middle and it elevated and gave you around about eight foot around so it’d be a sixteen foot radius. You put the men in that. The whole problem with the bell tents is that if somebody wanted to get up in the middle of the night and relieve himself he had to walk over everybody else whose feet were usually at the centre pole.


Quite a few problems that way. We lived in those bell tents for – June, July, August – about four, five months. Then we were sent to what they called winter quarters which were barracks. They were naturally a lot better. The initial training was always


in these bell tents.
So these, did they leak when it rained or were they cold?
No. They were fairly good waterproof – they had a wooden floor. They were elevated off the ground by about six inches or something like that. Of course, England doesn’t go by without rain one day of the week. It rains all the time. The biggest problem was getting things dry


and all that. They’d have a big marquee which would be about half the size of this house. You could go in there and they had heating arrangements to get things dry and all that. But that was very difficult – early. Once they got organised they were all right.
And shower facilities?
No. Your shower facilities were what you made it.


Shower facilities are probably first invented by the Australian servicemen. When we got there we used to have the kerosene tin with the holes in the bottom of it or something like that to get a shower. It was very difficult.
So were there any instructions in respect to washing?
No. As long as you shaved every day and you looked reasonably clean, no special instructions. There was no


inspection of clothing or anything of that nature. Which there should have been. They did have it later on, but early there was none. Still in their infancy.
What sort of training were you doing there?
I’ve got to digress. When we first went to England we as army field workshops were sent to a particular area and we were there about


a week and they decided that they would have to form another brigade of infantry because they had all of these technical units for the whole of the 6th Division in the Middle East and they only had three battalions of infantry whereas a division usually consisted of nine battalions. So what they decided was that all


the young fellows out of all these technical units would be transferred to a new unit which was to be formed. Naturally because I was young and never had much experience I was one of them that transferred. It suited me in the long run because of my previous CMF experience. Anyway anybody that never had


five years or more trade experience out in the field were sent to these infantry units and they formed three battalions. They called them 70, 71 and 72 which later became 31, 32 and 33 battalions. They trained as infantry battalions. We left our technical


units behind. They went their own way. So we became infantry.
You were reasonably happy about this, but what about some of the other fellas?
Some of them weren’t very happy at all. They tried to get back to their old unit originally but they never ever made it. Eventually they got used to it and they just became part of it.
And was there specific training then given since the


whole role of these fellas had changed?
Yes. What they’d done was they had all of these new fellas that very few of them had any infantry experience. We’d trained on the ’14–18 arms and they formed us into various companies, A, B, C


and a headquarters company for each battalion. They never formed another company which was called D company. That was formed in the Middle East later. Out of those companies there was an officer allocated who had previously been a CMF fellow and he became the company commander. He was really the reinforcement officer for the 6th Division originally.


But he became a company commander and what he’d done, he asked for anybody that had had previous experience especially in the CMF. Naturally I went and told him that I’d had it and I was sent away to a special course for I think it was ten days. It was an English school.


Very strict. Under the control of a house guards warrant officer. You didn’t even look at him the wrong way or you got into trouble. I was sent there to learn all about the Bren gun which we’d never heard of, but which was an old weapon. The Bren gun, the two inch mortar and the anti tank rifle


which were prevalent in those days. I came back to the battalion and it was my task to teach all of the other NCOs all about that. There were other NCOs which were sent to learn other aspects of infantry arms and things like that and their task was to come back and do the same thing. Anyway eventually we got that much we got to learn all about


these new weapons as we thought they were. We could do something about it. We went into field exercises and all that sort of thing. It was just general infantry training.
Just in respect to those three items, were you shown just how to operate them or were you actually shown more in respect of these contingencies?
No. During the course we had to learn everything about them. Everything from A right through to Z.


If there was anything like a stoppage, how to control it, how to overcome it, how to pull it to pieces, reassemble it under conditions that you would have in actual service. It was complete. It was no just part of it at all. It was absolutely complete. And they were good those household captain boys. They were really good.


So when you were training your men, starting to instruct those there, were you given live ammunition to work with?
On occasions yes. But in England we’d only use that on the rifle range area. We used blank ammunition in battle situations or training battle situations. It was always blank.


Given your fellows are using this equipment for the first time, were there any accidents that occurred?
Not those days. We did have accidents later on, but in those instances I could never remember anybody getting into trouble. From my aspect.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 04


At the time, what did you know of the destruction that was going on in London?
I personally became involved in the blitz. At one stage they asked for volunteers to go up to London


to help the civil authorities with the blitz. That was in the September, October, November of 1939. Our task was to assist the civil authorities in looking for bodies or people who were wounded and things like that. That was pretty difficult. But we were that busy


that the task – not the task, the thought of the human problem – left us because we were too busy. You thought about it later on.
Could you describe for me one of the days where you actually went looking for people?
That was night. The Germans originally started most of his bombing at night on


the ports of London and anything that was within a mile of the River Thames had bombs dropped on it. Now we might be involved in it during the night or in most instances we were involved the following morning. You’d come to a place that had been bombed – a home for argument’s sake – where everything was just rubbish on the


ground. But you might hear a noise and you’d have to physically remove the bricks and debris. You might find a child or a woman amongst that. They could be seriously injured. They could be dead. Didn’t matter. You would then hand them over to the civil authorities for whatever they wanted to do with them. But there were a lot of people injured


in that time of the war. Not as many as later. Not as many as what there was in Germany later on in the late ‘40s, but it was there.
From your perspective, do you think the civil authorities were coping during the war at that stage?
Their great difficulty was water. A lot of the water mains


were burst because of the bombing and they had to physically suck water out of the River Thames or anywhere else that had water available to put out the fires. The fires were the biggest problem. They were more of a problem than the damage to the actual housing because of the incendiary bombs. That was terrible. The fire brigade had a shocking problem.


The anti aircraft defences had a shocking problem too because most of the anti aircraft defences were mobile. But they couldn’t use their mobility because the streets were all covered in debris and things like that and they would have to wait until that debris was removed before they could move their guns from point A to point B and they weren’t very effective anyway.


London had a barrage balloon defence system. The balloons were anchored to a cable and they would be approximately five hundred feet off the ground. None of the German bombers ever came that low to get involved with the cables. The idea was for the cables to cut the wings off the planes, something like that. But they gave the barrage balloons


away after a while. They coped reasonably well.
I presume this was the first stage during the war that you’d actually come into contact with people who were injured or dead?
Yes. They were civilians.
How did it affect you?
It didn’t affect me. It affected a lot of people but it didn’t affect me greatly. Whether I was hard or what I don’t know.


But I always found that if a fellow or a person had an injury you done everything possible to try and offset that injury, help them some way or other.
You mentioned that it affected a lot of people – a lot of the troops you were working?
Not a lot of us. There weren’t a lot of us sent to London. Out of our battalion there probably


would have been ten of us only. That’s out of a number of about I think we were about six hundred strong then. So ten out of six hundred’s negligible really. But we were sent up on occasions. Purely as volunteers.
What were the other men doing back at camp?
They did their normal training. Of a night time


those men would be put on what they call outposts anywhere around the Salisbury Plains or later on further up north for the pure purpose of stoping any paratroops which they anticipated were going to invade England. Nothing ever did occur, but they anticipated that there would be a lot of German paratroops coming to England. They spent their nights out


on these various outposts. They were issued with live ammunition. But immediately they returned to their unit the following morning that live ammunition had to be returned to store. So they never retained the live ammunition. What would have happened had the paratroops come during the day god alone knows.
Where did you think you were going to go or be sent to?


You’re in England at this stage.
We had no idea in the world what would happen to us. There was nowhere in Europe we could go to because Germany had control of the whole of Europe. Later on in our English day we were part of the channel defence force north of London and that’s where we would have stayed if anything had have happened


from that point of view.
What was England’s channel defences like?
They had a system in the channel itself of several mines. They also had a system of several of the equivalent of the old forty-four gallon drums full of oil and they were anchored all around


the channel area. The idea was to set them on fire if an invasion ever occurred. Whether they would have been successful or not, nobody knows. But the mines certainly would have been successful. On land it was purely artillery, infantry, normal defensive methods used by


the British Army.
During your time there did you have any sort of contact with the home guard – Dad’s Army?
Yes. They were there. We never had a lot of contact with them. But they would come and train with us on occasions, the old Dad’s Army. Not like in the television series. But they were mostly retired regular army fellows


or blokes on the ’14–18 war. They formed themselves into little groups. Earlier they had broomsticks as rifles and all that sort of thing. But when England started to recharge itself after the Dunkirk fiasco they started to get a few arms amongst the home guard.


They only had rifles and bayonets really. They were good for garrison duties.
Could you share with me now receiving the orders and heading towards the Middle East, the events that happened there?
Yes. Our 18th brigade, which was the 9th, 10th and 12th battalions, they left England very early in December


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.
That’s quite a considerable amount of time. Fitness levels of the men at that stage?
Oh yes they deteriorated considerably, very considerably. We got off the boat,


on a train and up to Palestine and all the rest of the Australian troops. We were placed in a camp which they called Kilo 89 which if you read your history today was about five miles north of Gaza. With all the problems of today. We had our first Australian general hospital next door to us.


The first thing they done with us naturally was try to get us re-fit. It took them about a fortnight to do that. But once they got us reasonably fit we just went on to advanced training. Eventually back down to North Africa.
You were


made corporal in England, is that right?
How had your relationship with the men changed given?
Didn’t change at all. I was their section leader. I knew a little bit more about the business than what they did and they accepted it. The time when NCOs run into trouble was when you hit action. That’s when


things started to create problems.
Why’s that?
If you had an NCO who wasn’t prepared to lead in battle, men reneged, which is fair enough. But fortunately that never happened to me.
Kilo 89. Could you just describe the layout of the camp there?
Yeah. Kilo 89 was just a bare


paddock besides an orange orchard. And on it were erected what they called EPIP tents. European Patent Indian Personnel. They held about twelve men each and they were a good tent. They had about eight foot walls going up into a peak at the top.


Two tent poles holding them up. We were given beds of a type which were made of cane. You can’t realise it. It’s very hard to explain. They were made of cane. The idea was that underneath – they were raised about eighteen inches off the ground. You put your gear inside the cane underneath and you put your palliasse


on top of it and used it as a bed. Your rifles were chained with a padlock to the two poles inside the tent. Didn’t stop the Arabs from pinching the rifles. Tents were very good. They had good facilities for showering, washing


of personnel, plus clothing, things like that. They never had like the boys have today, washing machines or anything like that, but at least you had good facilities for that. Mess facilities were quite good. They were in very large tents. They would join several of these EPIP tents together and make one long tent of them. Company


headquarters, officers’ headquarters, things of that nature, they were all in these EPIP tents. They had one or two – I think it was two permanent buildings on that particular site and one was for battalion headquarters and the other one was used by battalion quartermasters’ stores where they stored the thing because –


One was battalion headquarters?
Yeah. And the other one was used for stores. If their stores, especially food and rations and things of that nature were not locked up – it didn’t matter what part of the war I was involved in, if your stores weren’t


locked up they would become pilfered for want of a better word.
Pilfered by whom?
The average Australian had a temptation to thieve food. If it was loose he’d take it and eat it. Kilo 89 was a very good example because it was next to an orange orchard. Everybody


ate hundreds and hundreds of oranges for the first couple of weeks until they got sick of them. The army authorities had to compensate the owner of the orchards for the taking of the oranges. But other than that, that was about what the camp consisted of.
So what happened to an Australian fellow that was caught thieving from the stores?
He probably would be taken before the


commanding officer of the battalion and the battalion commanding officer back in those days would say, “You want me to trial you or do you want a court martial?” “You can try me sir.” “Right. Five pound and twenty-eight days.” He’d be fined five pound. He’d be given twenty-eight days in a confined area under the control of the regimental police sergeant and that was it. Forgotten.


Now if he was court martialled and found guilty he would go to the army penitentiary at Jerusalem which was under the control of a very difficult gentleman. Ex-policeman.
Australian fellow?
What did you know of that?
Well I didn’t know much about it because I never become involved in it. But from a second-hand


point of view he was classified as the ‘Mongrel of Jerusalem’. But I’ll believe anybody that went there, the first thing they said that they would fill their packs up so they weighted ninety pound and everything was done on the double. Didn’t matter what it was, it was done on the double. Pulled out in the middle of the


night and made to double around the parade ground for half an hour. Typical penalty way of treating a fellow. Never done them any good.
Many fellas that you know go there?
No. Not from my unit. I had one in my platoon. Fellow by the name of Sheedy. But Des


Sheedy, he’s been dead many years so it’s quite okay. Des Sheedy couldn’t do anything without getting into trouble. Just one of those.
Such as?
Anything. Didn’t matter what it was.
Can you give me an example?
He would abuse an officer. He would tell them what he thought of them in typical Australian language. He would go AWL [Absent Without Leave].


Anything. Didn’t matter what it was. He would never shave. He’d shave perhaps three days a week or something like that. Didn’t matter what it was, he’d be in trouble.
Could you talk me through some of the charges that fellows get in trouble for such as not shaving?
It depended a lot on the NCO or the platoon commander who was usually an officer.


Some of them would charge them. Okay, they’d get fined a couple of dollars and put on penalties for five days confined to barracks. They’d have to clean up the area, do things like that. But the average good NCO or good officer would talk and counsel the fellow concerned. Usually it would work.


But in some instances it wouldn’t. Depend upon the mentality of the person concerned. Some of them were pretty tough. You’ve got to remember this. Fellows that joined up the AIF in ’39 and early ’40 were fellows who’d been through the Depression, had been unemployed for many years, they’d lived on their


wits – especially fellows much older than me. They didn’t like discipline and they got into problems. But as I said it depended upon the leader as to what penalty they got. Some officers couldn’t do anything other than say, “Put


him on a charge.” But others would talk to them and say, “Okay now look I’m going to give you extra guard duty because you’ve been a naughty fellow.” “That’s okay sir no problem.” And they done their penalty without being interfered with from a record point of view. Once they were put on a charge and penalised it


went into their pay book and went into their record sheets. If they got their records, which they can now do, it’s all plastered all over their records.
Is there a particular example you can give me of this stubbornness of the men in relation to the officers?
I suppose the fellow that I mentioned previously was as good as any because he literally


assaulted an officer and as a result of that the officer was put in hospital from bruises and what have you and that fellow went before the colonel and the colonel refused to try him and he was given a court martial and he was placed in


the penitentiary at Jerusalem for ninety days. He came out no different. So they transferred him eventually to a base unit and what happened to him after that I have no idea.
What about the officer, what happened to him?
He came back to the unit. Very subdued, but he still came back to the unit.


That’s one instance. There probably are many others, but I can’t say exactly because I didn’t witness them.
You mentioned a couple of stories of stealing amongst the Australians. There was the race course and there was also stealing from the stores? What about stealing amongst the camp, other people’s possessions?
Can you leave that till Tobruk?


Sure. I’ll hold that thought.
Couple of perfect examples in Tobruk.
Okay. The Arabs, their thievery, you mentioned if you didn’t lock up your rifles?
Yes well the Arabs were a particular problem. Their attitude was, well we can’t rule you at the moment, but we will. So we will do something otherwise. Now, you could trade with an Arab. And


this is something the Australians were fairly prevalent at. You would sell an Arab a blanket for five pounds sterling, get fined three pound sterling – it never happened to me but I know of instances where it happened – and issued with a new blanket. So they gained two pounds sterling out of it. So the Arab got his blanket and the bloke got fined three pounds


plus a new blanket. That was an instance. Now B company one night had an EPIP tent literally lifted off the ground with all their twelve rifles attached to the poles and taken away and nobody knew anything about it till the next day. The guard commander of B


company who was a particular friend of mine was charged the next day for derelict or what do you call it, something of duties, and he was demoted as a result of it. They were all asleep. The guards. Nobody in that tent knew or claimed to have known that tent was taken.


I’ve heard of many other cases where the same thing happened, but I didn’t actually witness them.
Did the Australians at all get the Arabs back in respect of their thievery?
Not really. They done some terrible things to the Arabs, yes, but the Arabs done some terrible things to us fellows too. A perfect example of that


Kilo 89 the first time we were there. We had one of our NCOs missing and we thought he’d gone AWL and we’d covered for him for two days. On the third day we said, no it’s not good. So we sent out a search party and they found him on a tombstone


in the Gaza Cemetery. Still alive. But what he had done is, he’d gone down into Gaza looking for a woman which was very rife amongst a lot of our fellows. The Arabs had said, “Okay fella we’ll teach you a lesson.” His story was that they took him, belted him up,


made him unconscious, put him on a tombstone in the Gaza Cemetery where we found him. I know of another instance from another battalion where a fellow done exactly the same thing and he was missing for several weeks and they found him in Bathsheba which is another Arab town. He’d had his


testicles cut out, sewn up in his mouth and left to die. That was their way of penalising an Australian soldier for interfering with their women. Word came round through orders that if anybody desired a


woman they were only allowed to go to the licensed brothels. They took the risk of having perhaps the same thing happening to them as what happened to this fellow. And it worked quite successfully.
Do you know what happened to this fellow after he was found?
He died. I don’t know whether he was posted missing, believed killed. Or missing in action. Or what.


But he was given a funeral. He’s in the Gaza Cemetery. Probably still there today. Young foolhardy lad didn’t know any difference. Had one urge which didn’t come off.
So really in a sense the Arabs, you couldn’t really trust them.
They were cruel. See the Arabs


had a law – somewhere I’ve got photographs – if they caught a thief amongst themselves they would hang them publicly in the village square. Hang them publicly. No problem to the Arab. Whereas we have court trials and judges decide. Not them.


mentioned the brothels. What did you know about them?
Could we wait till we get to Syria?
Take a note. I can tell you all about them then.
Advanced training you mentioned at Kilo 89. What sort of things did you do?
Advanced training was – training in the infantry soldiers started off as a section and then it went to a platoon and then it went to a company


and then it went to battalion. The advanced training was three or four battalions together or as a division. And that become advanced training which was really training for the officers of a senior rank more so than us fellas. We were the pawns for them to move around and that meant a lot of movement. Kept us physically fit.


Also made us a bit more proficient in the use of our arms, the Bren gun and all the other things. It also gave us firsthand information on what battle scenes may be because the engineers would come along with their explosive devices


and explode them within thirty yards of us fellows. In other words, a lot of noise. Get you used to that sort of thing.
Is this where the accidents occurred that you mentioned earlier?
It did amongst the engineers. Because they utilised the thing what they called a Bangalore torpedo.


I don’t know if you ever heard of it, but a Bangalore torpedo is just an ordinary piece of pipe, galvanised pipe filled up with gelignite with a fuse in it. The idea is to light the fuse and that the pipe would explode and shy away barbed wire, things of that nature and create a gap for us


fellows to go through. Some of the engineers might have had a short fuse and the thing’d go off before they could get back behind it. A lot of them suffered hand injuries and things like that. They eventually all came back much better for their experiences probably. If you call it an experience.


Some of our own fellows did have problems with Bren guns, yes. But not real severe injuries. Minor injuries that didn’t even require hospitalisation. They’d go back to the regimental doctor and be treated and be still fit enough to carry on.
So after Kilo 89


where did you go to from there?
We went back. Overall Greece was on and at the stage we were part of the 7th Division and the 9th Division was in North Africa, untrained, and they took over from the 6th Division which had been withdrawn from North Africa and sent to Greece. Now German


Afrika Corps started to come into the show then and started pushing the troops back way along the western part of North Africa. We were despatched from Kilo 89 down to North Africa to a place by the name of Mersa Matruh. The whole of the 7th Division was to form a defensive line at Mersa Matruh


in case the Afrika Corps got that far. Which they eventually did. But in the meantime the British Army – this is an overall thing – the British Army retreated and they were informed and they took over the Mersa Matruh area.


In the meantime the 9th Division was holed up in Tobruk. The original time. And they manned the defences of Tobruk. They found that one brigade was short a battalion. Our battalion was selected because of our training. We were selected. We were put on two destroyers and taken up to


Tobruk and we became part of the 9th Division. So really I served in the 6th, the 7th and the 9th Division. The rest of the 7th Division eventually went back to Syria and they were involved in the Syrian campaign. We were in Tobruk and we became


involved in the Tobruk campaign. We stayed in Tobruk during the whole of the siege. And remained with the 9th Division all the time. We never ever went back to our old area. The reason for that was perfectly clear. The battalion of the 9th Division that wasn’t with them in Tobruk


was still in Darwin. 2/25th battalion. And when 2/25th battalion came over to the Middle East they took our battalions place, the 31st, in the 7th Division and we stayed in the 9th Division where the 2/25th battalion should have went. So it’s one big jumble. But I can understand it and why it was.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 05


Can you tell us about the trip over to Tobruk on the destroyers? What was that like?
No great problem because we went from Mersa Matruh on [HMAS] Napier was the name of the destroyer.


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.


How did you all react coming under attack or hearing that sound for the first time?
The first time I heard thought to myself, “Goodness gracious, what have I struck?” The old heart started to thump. I got a bit nervous I suppose at the time, but I would look around and everybody else’d be the same. But after three of four raids we took no notice of them. Just became an every day


part of that. And those dive bombers used to dive bomb the Tobruk harbour perhaps four or five times a day. That’s why the destroyers had to get out by two a.m. in the morning, so they were out of the place.
Can you just describe the set up and the positions that they 9th Division were in when you joined them in Tobruk?


When we joined them they had an old Italian perimeter or a fortress. Most of that fortress was made up of concrete posts which the Italians had built in the previous ten years or so. There were deep dugouts there was


areas where troops could sleep, things of that nature. There was what they call weapon pits. They were all made of concrete. The only problem that we found with all of those was that the German and the Italians on the other side of us, they had all the maps and plans of all that fortress. So we had to literally create other posts


in between all our concrete forces. We had the front line where in some instances the German and the Italian forces may be only a matter of fifty yards, a hundred yards. We had other instances where they may be four or five mile away.


Our main factor in Tobruk was patrolling, especially of a night time, making sure the enemy forces never got any closer than what they did, checking on their mine fields. All those sort of things. So that our engineers could do something about their minefields. We would know where they were


on a night patrol. All those sort of things. In other words, keep them busy instead of them keeping us busy. That’s about what it boiled down to.
Your positions that you built in between all the established Italian positions, what were they like?
They were section posts. A section consisted of a corporal and ten, eleven, twelve men –


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.
In a town under siege though it must be very difficult to deal with sanitary and garbage conditions.
Sanitary conditions were extremely difficult.


From a urination point of view, at the night time we’d dig holes. We’d put old tins, kerosene tins, things like that in them. If a fella wanted to urinate during the day and he couldn’t go out because the German was too close to him he’d have to use a tin or a bottle and empty it out that night into one of these areas.


The other areas, they were extremely difficult. You’d have to have holes dug. Most blokes’d use their bowels of a night time. They daren’t show their head during the day time. They’d get it shot off from snipers and things like that. It was all right if you were in the areas where they were two or three mile away. That was


good. You could walk around during the daytime. You had reasonably good facilities. But in the areas where you were very close everything was done at night time. Everything. No matter what it was.
What was your daily routine then? Would patrols happen at night as well?
During the night we


would select – during the day we would select our personnel that would do a patrol with us that night and most – ninety-nine percent of the instances of patrol work in Tobruk was purely patrol work. You’d go out. You’d find out where the enemy was. You wouldn’t create a fire position. You’d mark that carefully. You’d go


back and make sure that it was marked down on our plans back there. We’d know exactly where they were. Minefields were always a problem. The German in particular had two types of mines. He had an anti personnel mine and he had an anti tank mine. The tank mines didn’t worry us because we could crawl over a tank mine


and it wouldn’t explode. Whereas if a tank did it would because of the weight. But the anti personnel mines were extremely difficult. They had three small prongs about the thickness of that wire there and probably about as long as your finger sticking up out of the ground. If you touched one of those pieces of wire, or those spokes,


it’d immediately cause a detonation and the mine would explode and jump about two feet and then there’d be another explosion usually of ball bearings or something of that nature. They would explode sideways. Anybody that was standing up would invariably get their knees or their thighs wounded because of those.


I suppose there’s dozens and dozens of times that I’ve been out with a patrol and we’ve been on our stomach with our hands out trying to feel these bits of wire and if we felt a bit of wire we’d be able to see them or feel them and we’d be able to gauge where the others was and we’d know there was a minefield there. We’d have to map that and go back


to the system. There were a lot of our people wounded as a result of these particular mines.
Did you ever witness a mine going off?
Yes. I did hear them. Of course as soon as a mine exploded he had an excellent machine gun. They called it Disbando. He had always had that on what they called fixed mines.


Those fixed lines, if you were within a fixed line, you was in trouble. If you were fortunate enough to be still on your stomach the fixed lines’d go over your head because they’re usually set at about the equivalent of the old two foot six, about three parts of a metre or something like that. If you were standing up you’d get it across the waist.


They were fairly accurate. But they didn’t move greatly. After a while we got to know where the fixed lines were and we would utilise other areas from the fixed lines.
Can you tell us a bit more about how patrolling worked in Tobruk? How was a patrol organised and how would you move around?
Patrols were always under the command


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.
Just a few more details on some of that stuff, if it was so important to be quiet and stealthy, how did you communicate with each other while out on patrol?
Hand. Or you’d go right over to the fellow, give him a signal and a whisper in his ear,


something of that nature. But you’d never say, “Hey mate, you’re in the wrong place.” Nothing like that.
Were these hand communications set out or were they improvised?
A lot were improvised. A lot were set down. We had certain hand signals which were used in all instances. Like, if you had to advance or if you had to stop or if you had to lay down or if you had to


double. Things like that they were all standard hand signals. But a lot of the signals which we would utilise on patrols would be improvised. No great problem understanding.
Are there any set down hand signals that you can still show us today?
Halt. Double.


Get down. On your tummy. They’re about all I can remember really. There were quite a number of them that were standard ones. They’re about all I can remember. It’s a long time ago.
That’s fair enough. With moving around too, would you move in a fanned out way or single file?
No. Most movements were done in a


fanned type fashion. We very seldom ever went in single file. You would go in single file through a gap in the wire. But that’s about the only occasion that you’d use a single file. Once you got on the enemy side of the wire you would go into either an arrow formation – usually an arrow formation – but remember there’s only about six of you,


so more line type thing, and that gave you a better idea because if we were in a straight line we had much better chance of finding mines than what we did if we were in a single file formation or in an arrowhead formation. Arrow heads were always taught but very seldom ever used.
How quickly would you move?


Very slowly. You’ve got to remember that you’ve got to avoid making noise. You’ve got a rifle with you or a submachine gun or a Bren gun and that can make a lot of noise if it’s put on the ground, especially where there’s rock. If you dislodge small rocks from an area like any of those places you can create a lot of noise.


So you moved reasonably slowly. It may take you an hour to cover a hundred yards – or what we termed a hundred yards.
With the stars as a means of navigating, how did you do that?
Southern Cross. We always knew where the Southern Cross was. We always knew where a particular star was at a particular time.


They shift as you well know. If it’s three a.m. in the morning one particular star can be in a different position all together to what it is at, say, 11 p.m. at night. So they’re all things that come into training and learning. Especially from an NCO point of view. You must know those things.
You were a corporal again


at this stage.
No. At this stage, when we went to Tobruk I was a sergeant. I was a lance sergeant when we went to Tobruk. I held the position of platoon sergeant. The reason that I was a lance sergeant is that we were short of officers and the platoon commander was actually a sergeant who was


due for a position but hadn’t got to the stage where he could go to the officers’ training college to do it. Now the same fellow was given a field commission in Tobruk about some time in the July. That made him a lieutenant and I was elevated


to a full sergeant as is the platoon sergeant. That meant my old section that I had when I was a corporal had to have another fellow promoted to take on my old position.
That’s quite a bit of responsibility leading the patrol?
A lot.
How did you react to that at the time?
Never worried me. I’d been trained to take responsibility. The only problem that


I had really was coming back and writing reports. That was my biggest problem. Because I’d never had a large education in English. All my education was in mangled type things. Not in the English language as you’ve probably noticed.
Speaking brilliantly today. What information did you include in these


reports? What did you have to do?
You would start off writing the report that, I so and so along with four personnel – and you’d name the personnel – proceeded through gap so and so in the wire at two double oh hours on such and such a date and we proceeded for five hundred yards


and found so and so. We mapped that or we took that into consideration on a step basis. Everything was done in step measurements. Then you might go further and find a minefield. And that minefield was so many steps from such and such a place. You had to keep that in mind


all the time. I used to operate on the basis that one of my fellows would be the step maker. That was his prime job, to make sure that the steps which were usually about thirty inches or something like that – we all used the same principle. And it worked very well.


Where would the reports go once you’d written them?
They would originally go to company headquarters. Who in turn would send them to the battalion headquarters to the intelligence section. The intelligence section would sort them out and they in turn would forward them on to brigade intelligence section who in turn would sort them out and send them to


fortress headquarters section. All your staff officers back at fortress headquarters can then make plans one way or another. They can amend their maps. The artillery, they could advise the artillery that there was certain areas that required shelling.


Or there were certain enemy outposts that had moved and they can update all their mapping situations from that. We had a – this is digressing a little bit – an Indian brigade with us in Tobruk. They’d go out on these patrols and the Indian brigade didn’t believe in


reconnaissance. They wanted to go out and get what they could. And they’d come back in the morning and they’d say, “Oh we killed thirty odd Ities [Italians] tonight,” blah and we’d say, “Oh yeah. Carry on.” So eventually they got to the old stage of bringing in thirty ears on a piece of wire. “Do you believe us now?”


That was the attitude used by the Indians.
Were they a pretty fearsome bunch of characters?
Oh yeah. They used knives. They had these big long knives. They never used a rifle and bayonet like we did. They used to use knives. They were real cut throats.
What was the most frightening or


dangerous patrol that you went on?
I think one night in what we called the Salient. The Salient was an area of Tobruk manned by two battalions and the German forces were anything from twenty yards to a hundred yards –


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 might be a difficult thing to do but is it possible for you to give us an idea of what it’s like out on that patrol. The patrol you’ve just described. What happened when you came under fire? What could you see around you and how much did you know


about what was going on ?
You know everything that’s going on. All you’ve got is machine guns from everywhere firing tracer bullets. Plus the Germans had an attitude of – all his machine guns were I think belt fed and I think one in every ten was a tracer which was a lighted thing so you knew exactly where they were.


It wasn’t the fixed lines that I always worried about the tracer bullets because I knew where they were going. It was the mortar bombs. They were just – they exploded anywhere and everywhere. They were fired from a mortar way back. Do you know what a mortar is? It’s like a pipe. They were fired from way back and they were fired into an area where enemy troops were supposed to be. They created


probably more casualties than anything else. Very frightening. But you get a different sense when you’re in those areas. It’s either, let’s get in and get it over and done with, or do nothing about it. One way or another. Our job was to sum up the situation. Whether it was worthwhile going ahead


with the original project, or get back to your own lines. In this instance it was one of those where it wasn’t worthwhile going ahead. You’ve got about fifty blokes or fifty German soldiers around a tank ditch throwing everything at you and here’s about ten of you left. You’ve got no hope.
How does that summing up take place? Are you communicating in


just plain language at that point?
Yes. It was all plain language at that particular point.
So all the stealth goes out the window when you’re under fire?
Yeah. A lot of fellas used to say, “Gee I get frightened. My heart thumps,” and all that. I said, “Well I’ve never ever had bloody time for that.” The position is that you


are in a situation where you’ve got to be in it or out of it. It’s very difficult. It’s one of these situations that it’s impossible to describe fully. You can describe your attitude the next day to a degree. That is, why did I do this and why did I do that? Or why did I do something that I


shouldn’t have done or should have done. Unfortunately I always look at these situations as an NCO, not as a private soldier under the control of someone else. That’s only the way that I was trained over the years. And it all comes back to say, now am I


responsible or aren’t I responsible? You don’t know.
When you’re on the ground and you come into fire, how does training come into play then?
Gauging the situation of the enemy fire, where it’s coming from, what type of fire it is, all those sort of things.


It’s just one of these things that you immediately put into thought. What’s the best way to combat it? We go ahead or we’ve got to go somewhere else to offset it.
On that occasion that you were talking about, how did the chain of command work once the leader had been killed?
I can remember it practically as though it was yesterday. One of my corporals said to me, “Jack, what have we got to do?


Go ahead or give it away?” It was my summing up of the situation as to what we done. I looked at it and I said to this fellow, “How many you got left?” He said, “Three.” “What about the other two?” “They haven’t got any either. There’s about ten of us left.” I said, “Well go on. Grab what you can and get back.”


That’s what it boils down to.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 06


Jack, you kindly showed me a plaque where it mentioned you were in despatches from Tobruk? Can you tell me about some of those despatches?
Not really. I don’t know anything about them.
Do you know about the events


I’ve never been able to get records. I’ve spoken to the company commander about it that would have put them in but he said, “Oh it’s too long ago. I can’t remember.”
Were you aware at all that you’d been mentioned in despatches?
Not back in those days. I did not know that I’d been mentioned in despatches until some time during the period of being a POW [Prisoner of War]. I’d no idea.


What happened back in those days each unit was allocated a certain number of decorations and if there was nobody who was capable of being decorated and they thought they were capable of being mentioned in a despatch as that was, they put them through that way.


But at the particular stage there were a couple of distinguished conduct medals issued to fellows in my battalion plus three or four military medals for individual gallantry type things. What I was mentioned about, I presume it was patrol work plus the incident that I told you about before plus platoon


leadership for the balance of the time of being in Tobruk. I can only surmise that. I don’t know. Just one of those things.
Earlier in the day we mentioned about the Australians stealing from one another and you said in Tobruk there were a few instances of this.
Yeah. We had an incident in Tobruk. The first six weeks we were there


we were stationed at an area called the Al’Adam sector. One of my corporals come up to me and he said, “Can I have a lend of the platoon truck?” The platoon truck was my responsibility because it was an administrative part of it. I said, “What do you want it for?” He said, “You’ll find out. But I guarantee we’re not going to create a problem.” So I said, “Well all right,


but make sure it’s back tonight at six o’clock.” No problem. So off they go. There was about five of them. Apparently they had discovered an old Italian food dump which was in a cave down near the seashore. They bribed the guards – what with I wouldn’t have a clue –


but they came back and the truck was absolutely chocablock full of all this dehydrated Italian food that had been in store for many years like cabbages and carrots and cauliflower and all that sort of stuff. So they distributed it equally amongst the three platoons of the company and nothing more was said about it except the company commander wanted to know where the extra rations come from.


The cook said, “I don’t know. They were just left in the cookhouse.” But that was literally stealing food. Eventually they changed the guards on the food dump. Put some Indians on I think it was and it stopped that sort of thing.


What about stealing from one another?
No. Not on service. Didn’t happen. Not to my knowledge. You’re all in the same boat. So you just didn’t. You got your ration, I got my ration, we got paid the same amount of money


so there was no necessity to steal.
You mentioned earlier that I think lice was a problem there?
Not really. There wasn’t a lot of lice in Tobruk. We talk about lice later on. But there were a terrible lot of fleas. And mice or field rats they were. They was nearly as big as a rabbit


some of them. It was the dust. See, Tobruk was a place if you had a dust storm you could walk out of your dugout, go three metres, turn around, and you lost your dugout. Couldn’t find it because it was that thick. You would have to wait for the dust storm to ease down. And then you’d


find wherever you were situated.
What about flies?
Yes. Worse than the Australian summer, much worse. Plenty of flies.
How did you keep them off your food and not eat them?
You didn’t. You ate your food as quickly as you could. Used your hands. We never had any spray or anything of that nature back in those days. You put up with it.


What did fellas get sick with and diseased?
Mainly malnutrition or lack of greens [vegetables]. They broke out in sores. If you went out on a patrol for argument’s sake and you got scratched by a bit of barbed wire or a stone on the legs within three or four days that would develop into a septic sore which we called Barcoo


Rot. That’s what it literally was. It was really the lack of green vegetables that caused it. The time that I was wounded and went into hospital they spent more time treating the Barcoo Rot in my two legs than they did the actual wound that I had. They cleaned them all up in three or four days.
Just before we get to that – a few more subjects – the enemy?


Did they send out patrols and try and come up?
Very seldom. They were more like a static defence type situation. We believe they had a few patrols, but not many. Very few. They didn’t believe in patrolling like we did. Actually it was the responsibility of General Moreshead,


the commander of the Tobruk fortress. He was a great patroller.
Could you describe for me a typical day when you were in the lines? When you woke up and what the routine was?
In the daytime in an area like the Salient you slept during the day because if you put your foot up or your finger up or head up


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.
The weather situation over there – obviously it was mainly sunny and hot – did it every rain?
No. Not to my memory. Not in that area.


We got a lot of rain back in Palestine and in Syria. But we never got it in Tobruk that I can think of.
What were some of the difficult situations that you came under given that you were an NCO in command there?
Fellows who became what we called bomb happy – in other words, nervous wrecks. What we are


going to do with them until we can get them back to the medical authorities and have them assessed? They were most difficult. They’d scream and rave and rant and carry on and throw themselves about. Three or four fellows’d have to restrain them below ground so that enemy action wouldn’t do anything about it.
Could you talk me through one of these stories and what happened?
We had


one little fellow – five foot nothing – and all of a sudden he started yelling in the middle of the night. Screaming. “I’m not going any more. I can’t take any more.” Yelling at the top of his voice. His corporal grabbed him and said, “Now quieten down. Be a good fellow. Nothing’s going to happen to you.” And of course


he started screaming and screaming. I heard it and I went to them. I said to the corporal, “We better get him back. He’ll only draw the crabs,” as the saying goes. And we took him back and when we got him back to where the medical people where he was worse and the doctor just gave him a needle. He was away from the unit for


probably four or five weeks in the neurotic ward at the Tobruk Hospital which was worse than most other hospitals because it was right in the bombing part. So they made him worse really. But he was never any good after. Those fellows usually were sent home to Australia and discharged.
Did he return back to you though?
Yes. But not for long.


What happened?
He went into the same problem again and he was sent back. The doctors just wouldn’t send him back to the unit. I don’t know what happened to him. I presume he was sent back home here to Australia which was usual with most of them. They called it war neurosis. But ’14–18 fellows used to call it


straight out shellshock. Which was about what it was. But because of the bombing and the shells you had the two different problems.
What can you tell me of the neurotic ward in the Tobruk Hospital?
Nothing. I was never there.
And you never visited there?
I can only go on stories that these fellows told me when they came back to the unit.
What did they say?


Well, there’s screaming blokes, raving and ranting and carrying on and didn’t want to do this and didn’t want to do that and every time an orderly would come near them they’d kick them and punch them. Anything to stop treatment. That was the attitude. All they wanted to do was get what they called an Alex. An Alex meant that you got taken out of Tobruk


into the hospital at Alexandria in North Africa. If you got an Alex you got away from the whole business and probably didn’t come back again.
You touched on briefly of the fellow whose religious faith the Germans didn’t like very much got shot in the foot. What about other fellows that I guess the phrase is ‘cowardice under fire’ –


did you have fellas like that?
Never struck any. They were there I presume. But I didn’t personally strike them. All for one and one for all.
No other fellas that actually did shoot themselves in the foot or do anything else harmful?
We had one fellow, yes. A bloke from Tasmania who put his


leg in front of a Bren gun and pulled the trigger and about twenty bullets went through the muscles of his leg. He was invalided back to Australia. He never came near us again. But he was never tried as a self inflicted wound soldier because he was always too crippled from the injury that he had.


But we presumed it was a self inflicted wound. Only presume it. Can’t say for sure. But why would anybody do that? They knew darned well that could happen.
Padres, did they play any particular role?
Not to me personally, but they did play a good


role in counselling fellows. Before an action which obviously was going to cause some sort of injury or injuries the padres would be there with the fellows before they left our area and go through the wire to whatever. The padre we had at that particular


stage in Tobruk was a – I think he was a Roman Catholic padre, I’m not sure – but he counselled different people. They also played a great part in people who wanted to write home and say certain things which they didn’t want their platoon commander to know about. The reason for that of course is that the platoon commander


was responsible for censoring every letter that ever left it unless it was a special letter and that was done by the padre. Now the padre would give special dispensation to some people and they could write home more than what they could if their own platoon commander had given that in their letters.
What sort of things?


Personal, perhaps. Their own feelings. Nobody ever made the mistake of saying where they were because the possibility of the enemy getting that letter and knowing who they were. But a lot of it probably related to personal things. We had fellows who were married. In their mid twenties, late twenties and they


found out that their wife was on with someone else back here in Australia. That created a problem and they wanted to write home to somebody about it but they didn’t want their platoon commander or their company commander to know all about it. So they would do that through the padres. That sort of thing.
And the Salvation Army? Were they any different?
Yes. Yes. They were always there. The stories you’ve heard of the Salvation Army


fellows are no different in my opinion. They were always up with the front line boys with their letters and their writing stuff or their hot coffee or tea or whatever it may be. No, they done a marvellous job. Probably better than anybody else. Comforts. Minor comforts. They didn’t produce a bottle of beer or anything like that but if somebody wanted a bit of writing paper or wanted


somebody to post a letter, they’d do it for them.
You were injured at Tobruk?
Could you just talk me through what happened?
I was out in no-man’s land about ten or twelve feet from the German wire and they were using mortar bombs to try and stop us


from going any further. And I got a piece of shrapnel from a mortar bomb into my right buttock. I won’t tell you the story that was spoken about after, but you can work it out. Why the buttock? Cause I was laying flat on my gun. But that wasn’t a severe thing. It didn’t stop me bringing another fella out or anything like that.


But soon as I got back to company headquarters and they noticed it, the doctor says, “Righto. Off to hospital you,” because they couldn’t dare leave something open because of infection and things of that nature.
So you got hit in the buttock and you were able to help another fellow out.
Could you just share what happened there? He was injured as well, was he?


He was the fellow I was talking about before that had the bullet through the knee. We helped him out. He was in such a state that he eventually had his knee arthradised or fixed and sent home to Australia and discharged. But he lived. More than some of the other fellas did.
This action where


you got hit – that wasn’t the one you were sharing earlier about the most dangerous time you were involved in, was it?
Not really.
It’s a separate patrol.
It’s a separate incident. One was a patrol. This one was a fighting action.
What was your objective in this particular action?
Capture one of these posts that the German was occupying.


It was on a little bit of a rise and it gave vision access to most of the enemy area. Of course he wanted to keep that so’s we didn’t have vision and stuff behind him. Which he did. Nobody tried to take it again.
What were your actual strategies in taking this? Did you come up front? How did you actually approach this?


We approached them along their wire which I felt in retrospect was wrong, but I had no say in it. We did what we were told and we did not succeed.
So coming along the wire, what would you have preferred? What angle of attack?
We should have come in between his fixed lines because he had his fixed lines from his Bando guns


going down the barbed wire in every area. Their attitude was this, that to get to us they’ve got to get through the barbed wire. So we stopped that by putting fixed lines down that barbed wire. If we had have moved practically right up to his position where the barbed wire was the thinnest we would have been able to get through there.


But we had to get through further away where the fixed lines were.
So at the time you were actually cutting through the wire when they started to launch more attacks at you?
Yes. I think the engineers were pushing their bangalore torpedo under the wire so it could be exploded and create a gap in the wire. They must have heard it or something like that.


The German had a great habit of putting up fairy lights. It made the place like that light, like daylight. All he had to see was one little movement under that fairy light and he would open up everything which was available. This is obviously what happened this particular night.


So when one of these lights goes up everyone …
Goes to the ground. That’s all you could do. You didn’t dare – there was no tree stumps or anything like that so it was no good to be standing up.
So after you returned back, you’ve been hit in the backside, where did you go to get yourself repaired?
To one of the casualty clearing stations in Tobruk. They had a couple of casualty clearing stations


which had a small hospital attached to it which was staffed by male personnel. I think I was there five or six days or something like that in there to clean up all the infections and things like that and then I went back to the unit.
What did you see in there during those five days?
Not much because all the severe casualties were taken out by boat. Anything of a severe nature was all taken back to


Alexandria and a big hospital on the Suez Canal – 2nd Australian General Hospital – they all went back to those places.
You mentioned earlier that the bombing was fiercest around the harbour and hospital. Were there bombing during those five days?
Oh yeah. But we were in a cave. They had that hospital in a cave which was quite safe from any bombing. The Italians


had done a terrible lot of work in those North African places that they’d occupied. And every town was a defensive or had a defensive part around it. Most of it was concrete. They must have spent millions back in those days doing those things.
So they stitched up your backside.


Did they give you any other treatment, ointment or … ?
No. That healed. They were treating my Barcoo Rot on both shins more so than anything else. The buttock injury didn’t create a problem. That healed of its own accord more or less after it was stitched, was sutured. But the Barcoo Rot on your shins created a problem.


They were like an ulcer type thing.
What were they giving to fix that up?
They were cleansing it, using ointments on it, and giving us different food to what we would get in the front line. I think they gave us a fair amount of ascorbic [vitamin] tablets as well to take the place of vegetables. See, the problem was no green vegetables. No green food of any description.


You mentioned at the beginning of a day – this is when the CO came to you about the age problem that you could be sent home and you decided to stay. How many more months or weeks were you still at Tobruk before you departed from there?
That would have been about – that was August – I think I came out of Tobruk at the end of September. So it would have been about


five weeks, six weeks. Then we went to Syria. Was up there for a long time. Then we came back to Alamein. We were there for a long time.
Just before we get to there, during those five weeks did anything eventful happen?
Not really. We came out of that close area and we was placed on another front line where I wasn’t involved in any


matters of importance. Our D company was. They were involved in a big fighting patrol some seven or eight mile out where they disrupted a Italian outpost that was protecting the German road that was back down to the front here. They had a lot of people injured in


that one, but I wasn’t involved in that at all.
What was said and what was the feeling amongst the men when you heard the news that you were leaving Tobruk?
The attitude was, well thank god for that. We deserve a rest. I felt we did too at the time. Nobody was sorry. Nobody was elated really about it.


The idea was, well let’s get back and have a few beers. Which they’d never had before. Let’s get back and get rid of some of these old tattered clothes we’ve got and be refitted. Which happened.
So you left Tobruk. Where were you actually shipped to?
We were shipped back to Alexandria and from Alexandria we went back up to Kilo 89. Where we were refitted with new clothing.


All our arms and that was checked and all that sort of thing. We done a few weeks there getting fit again because we were very unfit. Then we were transferred to another camp for the Christmas of that particular year where we done the normal training, amalgamated the new reinforcements in to us. All the rest of it.


My platoon got a new reinforcement officer from Australia. One of the few reinforcement officers that I ever struck that had enough intelligence to realise he was a reinforcement officer.
Can you compare the two?
Yes. Very much. These fellows were young college blokes with a


silver spoon [come from a privileged upbringing]. They would do what they called the knife and fork course in Australia which was a couple of months teaching them how to use their knife and fork properly. They were taught how to become leaders. That was what it was supposed to be. This particular officer that joined us – I won’t mention his name because he’s still alive –


he said to me, “Look, all I’ve done is a knife and fork course. I’m a public school boy.” He was about twenty one, twenty two. “A public school boy. I’ve been to university doing commerce. I joined the army. They found out my qualifications they


suggested I do the officers’ course. You’ve been through it all. You know what it’s all about. What would you say if I sought your advice on anything which I may have a problem with?” He was the only fella that ever said that to me. Any others that I was ever involved with was, “I’ve got the commission.


I’ve got the pips on my shoulder. You do what I say.”
Can you share with me a story of one of those examples?
Yes. One in particular. Same situation exactly with the exception of what he had said to me. This first fellow, he eventually went to another job and I got another one just before the Alamein turn out


the following year. His attitude was, I’m the boss, you do what you’re bloody well told, don’t bother about anything else. I said, “Good.” The men were against him because of his attitude. When we did the first action in Alamein he was sent back to base.


No doubt the company commander realised that there was a problem. He didn’t carry out what I presume was the orders given to him and he was given what they call a bowler hat. Other words, no good. Whereas if that had have been me I would have probably been relieved of my rank or demoted to a


corporal and get into it.
We might come back to what actually happened there, but before we do, were you disappointed or upset that you weren’t promoted and you had a reinforcement officer come in?
No. I knew that would occur.
And you didn’t want to apply?
I was too young. I never had the educational qualifications of those sort of fellows.


Men in my unit that was in the same position as what I was at the time eventually ended up as a warrant officer or something of that nature. They never ever – a few obtained commissioned ranks, but very few. If you had the qualifications such as a highs school or today your leaving certificate or something like that you would probably have the


opportunity of doing that. As I said before, mine was purely technical. You haven’t got the right tie on.
Syria. Just coming back to Syria. You were sent up there.
Only as a garrison.
Where to exactly?
Syria after the 7th Division and some English troops took


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.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 07


Try and get back to where we were before in a moment. I just wanted to cover one question that I wanted to ask about Tobruk. The conditions you were under in Tobruk in patrolling out into this no-man’s land


between you and a close enemy was a little bit like the First World War. Did that ever occur to you at the time? Did you ever think about that?
Yes. All our senior officers were all ex ’14–18 fellows. This is Tobruk. I say this without any hesitation at all. Our senior officers thought they were still there. They utilised the same methods that they used in France in


’14–18 war. Their attitude was go out and get them and if you can’t, bad luck, have a go again tomorrow night. Same one like that. But that situation left us after we left Tobruk because we got a lot of younger officers with


thoughts of the forties and not way back.
Did you ever think about your own father and his experience while he was over there?
All right. That’s a very interesting point. I just wanted to cover that.
Syria you mentioned had a story to do with brothels. What were the brothels in Syria?
One particular stage –


at all stages – each unit was required to send a sergeant and thirty men to the licensed brothel areas in Tripoli and Beirut. It was my particular honour or call it whatever you like to take a picket we called them back in those days –


thirty men – to the Tripoli brothels. Our responsibility was to make sure that the troops who came down to the brothel area – which was always quite a number – went to the blue light area first, went to the brothel of their choice (of which we would have a fellow on to make sure they kept in queues and all that sort of thing).


Then make sure they went back for further prophyletic treatment at the thing. That was our responsibility and that went on for ten days. I often tell the story and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t repeat it that one little Armenian girl who was sixteen and I sent one of my fellows, a little fellow by the name of Len Casey


from Queensland, on to that particular brothel that night. I said, “Les, just for curiosity’s sake, count how many go in and come out for the night.” The night consisted of something about I think it was five p.m. through to about ten. We used to close them down about ten. Seventy-two he counted. Say no more.


Were the brothels expensive?
I think they used to pay about the equivalent of five dollars – of five shillings which was about fifty cents. Remembering that their pay was about five shillings a day back in those days. So …
Ten days pay? And how often would the men use these facilities?


Whenever they were in the area a lot of them. The married men were the worst of the lot. They were much worse than the single blokes. Most of the single fellows were always afraid of getting a venereal disease. Whereas the married fellows would say, “It doesn’t matter, we’ll be right,” and they’d go down and visit these places. We had a special


hospital in Palestine. I think they called it from memory the 1st Australian Special Hospital. And I believe there was always around about fifteen hundred patients in that place from VD [Venereal Disease]. Came from everywhere. Because VD not only covered the local problem, it covered all the other types of venereal diseases that were available or


could be got in the Middle East. There were a number of them.
What problems did you have down on the picket?
Mainly prostitutes refusing to take a fellow and he demanding that she have him. The fellow might be too large for her or something of that nature. They’d scream and the pickets


would have to pacify them and make sure. Or fellows jumping the queue. This little Armenian one, I used to do a tour every half hour around the whole area, make sure everything was all right, always had at least a dozen queued up outside.
Did you wonder why she was so popular?
Apparently she was better than the rest.


I don’t know.
What were the standards of hygiene like in these places?
Fairly good. That particular place, why it was picketed, was because it was under the control of the Australian medical authorities. They had to be inspected. I think they were on a weekly inspection – something of that nature. The medical authorities of the AIF found that it was


better to have controlled brothels than non controlled brothels. People would go down to Cairo and they’d get into places down there and end up in terrible trouble. Whereas in Syria we very seldom had much trouble. It was all policed. The people or the men were told that if they were caught in any out of bounds areas they were in trouble.


What went on in the blue light then? Apart from giving out condoms, what could they do?
That was a rigmarole which went through a process you had to inject some ointment type stuff into your penis. This is what they’re supposed to have done. Use your condom, got rid of that. And then you come back


to the blue light outfit after and they used to wash them with a particular – we used to call it Condy’s Crystals, it probably wasn’t. And they’d have another injection into the eye of their penis with a special ointment and go away. Nothing ever heard of it after that.
Would men do this willingly or did they have to be …?
Yes. Quite willing. A lot of men together


like that, they do those sort of things.
All right. We’ll move on from there, we might come back to it. We’ll talk about leave in a moment. But Syria was just garrison duty?
Purely garrison. We remained in Syria until the June on 1942.


Then the North African German forces decided that they were going to have another offensive. They went right along the North African coast. South Africans occupied Tobruk at this particular time. They lasted four hours. We could talk about that and the POW aspect of it.


Eventually the German got as far as Alamein. The only reason that he couldn’t go any further was that his lines of communication was extended that far that he couldn’t keep up with them and Alamein was the only natural form of defence from the sea to what they called the Qattara Depression was only thirty miles. The Qattara Depression was impossible to move a vehicle in it because of the sand and what have you so they had that thirty mile.


We were in Syria at the time. We were immediately placed into transport operated by the Palestinian transport company. We were taken around the back way down through the Dead Sea


and right down through there down and eventually we ended up at Alamein. We created a defensive area, the whole division did, on the north part of the Alamein front where they remained all the time.
At that time what was the atmosphere like in your unit after six months in Syria?
After leaving Syria


our attitude was that we were going home. We were put into trucks. Told not to say anything. We weren’t allowed to wear our slouch hats. We weren’t allowed to wear our tan boots. The Arabs would wake up straight away. But they knew it anyway. They only had to listen to us talking. They knew who we were. We all thought we was going home and when we got to the Suez Canal and then proceeded into Egypt


a lot of blokes became very despondent because they thought they were going back the other way onto a troop ship and home. Because of the Japanese problems here. Anyhow we ended up at Alamein and eventually they were all okay.
Had that development in the war – the Japanese coming into the war and threatening Australia – changed the atmosphere in general?
It didn’t seem to change our attitude greatly – with one exception, that we should be home,


not here. And every time there was a move we believed that it was going to be back to Australia. But they brought back the 6th Division first and they brought back the 7th Division and we thought, hello, we’re right now. But we didn’t. We stayed there.
Well what did you find when you got down to the Alamein area? The position you were in was the north flank you said?


We were in an area to which we had to create a defensive line. There was no enemy there. He was more south trying to get through the British section and a New Zealand division was right down south. He was trying to get in between the two. And he left us alone. Where we were were mostly Italians at that particular stage. So they decided


that they would try and straighten the line. They took thousands and thousands – we weren’t involved. There was another brigade, two Victorian battalions, the 23rd and the 24th were involved. They took thousands of Italians prisoners. As a result of this the German authorities decided that they’d better do something about it.


So they brought up one of their Panzer Divisions and put them in there. We became involved in the July in straightening out the line – another area. We run into these German Panzers and we never got anywhere.
So what exactly do you mean by straightening out the line? Can you explain that in a bit more detail?


The original Alamein line was a form of ridges. Some were easily defended. Others weren’t. The ones that were not defended, they had to try and take those and go further to create a better field of fire. In the desert


you wanted a field of fire of something around about twenty mile. Or as far as the flat country could see. But if there was ridges in between you couldn’t do that. This is where they straightened the line to create a better defensive area. It worked in some instances. Some instances it didn’t.
It made you particularly vulnerable?
We were extremely vulnerable. We went into,


our whole battalion went into a stunt one night to straighten the line and the company that I was in, we captured our objective without any great problems and the company commander decided to go another thousand yards further on. His company consisting of about a hundred men, we went on this thousand


yards further and when daylight broke we were completely surrounded by German armour and there was nothing we could do to get out of it.
Could you just take us through the events of that morning – step by step. Firstly, what was your objective and where did you end up that night?
We started off on the start line which was


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.
Just a couple of questions about that surrender. How did your company commander signal to the Germans that you were surrendering?
From memory the commander of the German force


said or yelled out, “Who’s your company commander? Who’s your senior officer?” And this fellow who was the company commander at the time stood up and says, “I am.” “Well put your hands up and come over here.” He was very despondent about it, needless to say, but there’s nothing he could have done. He could have,


but we’d have all been killed.
What are the emotions that went through your mind at that point?
“Oh no. Don’t tell me. I’m going to end up in the bag.” You were dumbfounded.
How long did that last, that dumbfoundedness?
A couple of weeks. Until you accepted it. Or until you


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.
Before we go on I just want to ask a few questions about this tunnel. How far underground was it?
The deepest part of the tunnel would have been about twelve feet under the wire.
And how much room did you have


inside it?
Very little. Enough to crawl. Air was our biggest problem. We had made up a form of compressor, call it what you like, to pump air into the tunnel. We had a few holes along the outer aspect of the tunnel to allow the stale air to rise up through the tunnel.


But air was the big problem. You couldn’t stay down there for any length of time otherwise you’d become nauseated and would be in trouble.
How did the digging work? What were you using?
Anything that would remove dirt. Some blokes got hold of some spoons from somewhere. I think they bought them off the South Africans. Spoons. Knives. They bought off the South Africans. Or exchanged


something or other with the South African for these particular things. Most of it was done with knives, spoons and things of that nature. We had nothing like spades. It took us – we must have been two months on that.
You mentioned removing the dirt through the twenty-two holer at the top, but how did you get the dirt back along?
That was passed in little bags back through each particular


person that was in the tunnel at the time. Might be six feet separating them. You’d pass that back and he’d be able to take hold of it. Not like the ones that you’ve seen in the TV screen where they had little trolleys and railroads and all those sort of things. That didn’t occur.
Still quite an achievement. Was there somebody who designed this or planned it out on paper?
This New Zealand fellow. He was really the


designer of it. No paper involved. None at all.
How many prisoners were privy to this?
Couple more questions about that camp. I just want to ask you a couple more questions on the way – you mention the very beginning the Germans almost apologised to you about the Italians. What was the respective reputation


of the Germans and the Italians?
Just exactly as he said. “We are sorry we’ve got to hand you over to the Italians.”
In your eyes what was the difference between a German and an Italian at that stage?
One was a soldier, one was rabble. And the German soldier considered the Italian soldier rabble. No dispute about that. I’ve


spoken to them since. I spoke to German guards who were in North Africa when we were in Italy. Their attitude was always the same. I can’t give an instance because we in Australia never had anybody in the Commonwealth forces the same way, the same attitude.


But the average Italian soldier was a conscript. He didn’t want to be in it. And all he wanted to do was get into an area where he could put his hands up and scream, “Donna Maria,” or whatever it was they used to scream and hope to get sent to Canada or Australia.
What were your conditions like in these two camps that you spoke about?
That’s only two. There were no conditions. None at all.


You were being fed rice?
We were. We were told to organise ourselves into groups of fifty. And each fifty had to have the control or be under the control of an NCO whether he be sergeant, corporal or warrant officer. I had a group of all


Australians and at feed time you would have a party that would go along to the main gate and under the control of Italian guards be sent to the cookhouse. You would get a dixie full of boiled rice. That dixie contained fifty


one pint mug fulls of rice. You would take that dixie back to your group and as the group leader you would be responsible for making sure that everybody got their pint mug full of rice. I would sit with the pint mug, dip it in, I had a piece of wood which I’d scrape across the top of the cup,


around all the edges and across the bottom to make sure there wasn’t an extra grain of rice. Sometimes they used to put biscuits – old weevilly type biscuits – boiled up in the rice. If there were a few weevils floating on the top of the rice, good luck, because that meant a bit of meat or a bit of vitamin. You would


give the cup to the fellow concerned and whatever receptacle he had, he was responsible for emptying that rice into his receptacle and making sure there was nothing left on it. Had no water. Nothing of that nature. To wash it with. So the next one would come along. I remember one day in particular two fellows from Western Australia were throwing fists at each other. I said, “Hey, hey cut it out,


you fellas. What’s going on?” “Oh he’s got more bloody weevils than what I’ve got.” That’s what hunger does to you. You get to the stage where you’re looking for every possible means of food.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 08


So Jack, after the tunnel incident, what happened there?
Three of us, a New Zealand fellow and myself and a little fellow from Tasmania were taken back allegedly as the ringleaders – which we were incidentally, but


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.
In respect to army law?
Army or later to DVA law, things of that nature.
Whose idea was this disciplinary action?
Another fellow and myself. We were the two senior NCOs. One was


this New Zealand fellow actually. Nobody else there to do it.
How did this fellow cope after?
Never seen much of him. He was a really one out. Nobody would have anything to do with him and he became more or less a hermit type. Eventually when we got to Italy I don’t know. Because he was never in the same camp as me.


So I don’t know what happened. He got back home here to Australia the same fellow. We heard that he was living in such and such a place. We wrote to him and told him that there would be reunions and that but never heard a word.
Earlier you’d said about Tobruk the South Africans who only held for about four hours – there were a few things said at the POW camp.


We weren’t very happy with the South Africans. To think that we’d been there for many months and held the country and they let it go in a matter of hours. Just an attitude adopted. Because the South African was probably a little bit different to the average British forces as we called them in those days. The South African were of Dutch descent,


spoke fluent German which is nearly identical to Dutch. And we always felt, rightly or wrongly, that the South Africans had more sympathy for the Germans than what they had for the British forces even although they were on the British side.
This fellow who


was of Australian descent but with the South Africans who was first captured in the tunnel, is there any reason to believe that he may have given the tunnel away to the Italians?
He was frightened of getting a bayonet through him. That’s all it was. The fear of a bayonet through you is not very pleasant. Especially if you’ve got no defence.
Did the Australians


like yourself want to get your hands on him?
Oh yeah. They separated him from us. Or separated him from the Australians in the finish and put him back with the South Africans. They had all the South Africans in the one compound. They wouldn’t mix them with the others. Just digressing a little bit, it won’t take a minute. We had in our battalion a West Australian aboriginal


whose name was Harry Davis. Harry was as black or blacker than your jumper. He was taken prisoner of war the same day as me. He came up to me in Benghazi once and he says, “Oh Jack I’m in bloody terrible trouble.” I says, “So what? Aren’t we all in trouble?” “Oh, no, the Ities want to


put me with those black boong bastards from South Africa.” He was blacker than the South Africans. I said, “Oh gee I don’t know what we can do about that, but we’ll try.” Anyway we were fortunate enough to be able to converse with one of the Italian guards and he in turn got in touch with someone and we had a little pass that


Harry had to carry with him to say that he was a black Australian and that he had to be kept in the Australian forces. To cut a long story short, he went right through Italy with us. When Italy capitulated Harry got through to Switzerland, stayed in Switzerland until the war finished and was repatriated home to Australia. No trouble. But if he had of went with the South African natives – who the South Africans used


as labour battalions. Native. That’s digressing.
Just to digress a little myself – just coming back to El Alamein, you mentioned that there was a reinforcement officer that came and was caught up in a situation and when word got back to HQ [Headquarters] he was actually given a new position. What was that?
That was a reconnaissance patrol


to try and ascertain where the enemy forces were. I was on that particular patrol. We went out some thousand yards I suppose and his attitude at that time was, “Ah this is far enough. I’m not going any further.” I said, “We haven’t struck any enemy yet. Let’s go and see if we can find them. See if we can get any reaction from them so as we know where they are.”


He says, “No. I’m not going any further. The patrol has now gone far enough. I’m in command. We shall now return to our own lines.” When his written report went in, I was also asked to give a written report. Which I did. That was the finish. No names, no pack drill.


Going now forward again, an Italian guard had told you that the British had taken Benghazi and it wouldn’t be long till you’d be free.
Our attitude started to become very good. We thought, oh we’re right. And before we knew where we were, we were all herded together, taken into Tripoli and put into a transport. There was oh two hundred and fifty to three


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.
Did you fellas get on with those guys? Did you personally get on with the French Foreign Legion?
No. Never had anything to do with them. I later had my fill of Frenchmen, thank you. But that


was later. All the Australians were eventually sent up to a camp right up in the north east of Italy at a place the name of Gruppignano or Campo 57. We all stayed there until the war finished as far as Italy was concerned with the exception that all the private soldiers and all the corporals


could go out to working camps in Italy near Sicily. Their attitude was, “Good, let’s go. We might have an opportunity of getting into Switzerland.” None of the NCOs were permitted. Some NCOs did get out by changing names or changing identification with a private soldier and the NCOs become privates


and the privates become NCOs but that was few and far between. Never affected me.
So a few of the guys did actually escape on those working parties?
Some of them did. But most of them that got into Switzerland got away from the working parties after the Italians capitulated. When the Italians capitulate they had no guards and the only people that could


stop our fellows from going anywhere was whatever Germans was in the area. If you had a prisoner of war uniform on which was actually an English battle dress with a red diamond sewn to the left thigh and a red diamond sewn in the middle of your back onto the British battle dress. Now, if you were seen in one of those by a German, that was the finish.


Cause the fellows with any sense I suppose got rid of their battle dresses. From some ways or others got hold of Italian clothes. But a lot of those fellows did get through to Switzerland and they remained in Switzerland for the remainder of the war or until the Americans got to the Swiss border in


early ’45.
Just coming back to the ship. How did you actually cope on that journey on the way over?
You didn’t. You just existed. There was no coping. You existed. You probably got to the stage, I think I got to the stage a couple of times where I would have loved to have got torpedoed or something like that.


But eventually you got there and you forgot it.
How did these two camps in Italy, Campo 57 and the other one compare?
The Capua one wasn’t too bad. 57 wasn’t too bad either with the exception that 57 had a fascist colonel commanding the guard and as camp commandant.


He had carabinieri patrolling through the Australian and New Zealand section twenty-four hours a day. No dispute. Twenty-four hours of the day, didn’t matter where you were, they were there. And they were all fascists. They had no hesitation walking up to you and giving you a good clip across the ears with a rifle butt if they didn’t like the look of you. Things like that.


You could have a dispute over food or something like that which the NCOs invariably did have. They’d just send these carabinieri in, no hesitation at all, give everybody a decent sort of a belting and that’d quieten everybody down for a few weeks.


Were you at all assaulted?
Yes. I had a fracture of the second vertebrae – what they call the Atlas. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d been hit several times around the head and the back of the neck and many years later


here in Australia I got a condition which was a nerve condition that was just like a cramp. I eventually ended up with a neurologist and he ascertained through x-rays and what have you that this fracture that I had, had calloused – which a fracture does do – and the callous


was pressing on the pharyngeal nerve and the pharyngeal nerve is the nerve that feeds the back of your tongue and as a result of that I was getting these cramps at the back of my tongue. Anyway, cut a long story short, veteran affairs had me admitted to hospital and I had that nerve


removed from its base. They opened up the skull, went down the side of the skull to this nerve at the base of me spine, got rid of the nerve. Never had a thing since. Veteran Affairs wouldn’t pay any disability pension for that condition because I had no pain, I had no disability. I had it operated on and it was successful. I also – no that was later on with a German.


I got a heart condition caused by a German assault. That was another one.
What happened in this particular assault with the Italian? How did you get a blow to the back of the head?
I was not prepared to get off a particular path. They were on the same path and I just walked along that path, moved to the left and was told that I should get


right off the path by these people and told in no uncertain manner with the rifle butts not to do it again sort of business. It was quite common. We had a fellow from my battalion who was taken prisoner of war in Tobruk and he was shot by a fascist guard in Camp 56 because he refused


point blankly to remove himself from the path where the carabinieri were walking along. After that we had instructions issued not to walk on the paths that the carabinieri use. Use other areas or keep right away from them. Which worked quite well.
So from an allied point of view who was in charge of the camp?


Yes. We had an Australian WO [Warrant Officer] who had been taken prisoner in Greece. He was the fellow responsible for the liaison between the Italians and all prisoners. We had Australians, New Zealanders and a few Indian Sikhs in that particular camp. This fellow – I can’t think of his name


offhand – but he was responsible. Not that it made much difference to the fascist Colonel Calcatera. He didn’t worry about who was in charge. He might issue orders to the warrant officer to say certain things have got to be done and that was relayed through the normal channels. But other than that, never had any


say at all. The fellows in charge of camps in Germany had the say. They could talk to the German authorities and get somewhere but the people in Italy couldn’t.
Could you just describe for me the layout of Campo 57?
Yeah. Camp 57 was made up of what they called six lagers or six compounds. It was


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.”


So the Red Cross played no part there?
The Red Cross were kept out of the camps in Italy with one exception. Not long before the Italians capitulated we were all issued with another blanket. Every man in the place was issued with another blanket and the next day some Red Cross officials arrived.


The following day the Red Cross officials disappeared. The blankets were taken off us. What the Red Cross knew was nobody’s business, but there was another – there was many attitudes used where we tried to go against the Italian authorities. Especially the carabinieri.


In later days when we wrote reports about this particular incident or incidence the British intelligence authorities of which Australia was part of would not believe that it was possible. Now I wrote six foolscap pages in England in 1945


on atrocities mainly in North Africa, some in Italy. The intelligence gentleman who was a captain in the Australian army says, “You don’t like them do you?” I said, “No. But I’m only writing the truth. Won’t you accept the report?” There were six reports similar to mine.


He would not accept any of them. We said, “Why?” The Vatican wouldn’t permit it. Our attitude was, what the bloody hell’s the Vatican got to do with it. They’re a separate state. Got nothing to do with it. “Well they would not have permitted it. That’s it.” “Good. Thank you sir. Can we have our reports back?” “Yes, for what value they are.” So we took them back


and tore them up. Put them into his waste paper basket. That was the finale as far as that was concerned. Had we wrote six foolscap pages of atrocities regarding the Germans, yes they would have accepted them.
So these atrocities, have you shared all of them with us?
The atrocities were


things like I spoke about my thumb. I spoke about the fellow that was tied by the thumbs. I spoke about the detention of myself and other people by Italians, especially in North Africa. By the attitude adopted towards us because we were Australians. They


didn’t like us. Then we spoke about different attitudes adopted especially up in the north of Italy where people were shot because they wouldn’t walk out the road, where people were hit with rifle butts because the carabinieri didn’t like the look of them or because they were allegedly in their way. Getting pulled out at three o’clock in the


morning with snow on the ground and being left there for an hour claiming that the count was correct and recounting and recounting. Anything to keep the thing going for an hour or so and then we’d go back to bed. We spoke of all those sort of things.
Just before we go forward into Germany,


did the Italians provide anything for you besides food like clothing?
No. Our clothing was all provided by Switzerland and the Red Cross. We did get clothing. But it was well marked with the red diamond as I said before. They provided footwear which wasn’t


much good anyway. Think we got one pair of socks and we got a singlet and we got a shirt. Plus the battle dress. The Italians provided blankets, a ground sheet, some camps with palliasses. Others there weren’t. You’d use the ground or whatever was available.


When we got back to Australia we were debited a sum in our pay books for the whole time we were in Italy or under the control of the Italians. That was allegedly for food over and above what the Italians issued. Very few Australians


ever saw any extra food other than the same as what the others got. This money was paid from the Australian Government into a fund in Switzerland and allegedly from the fund in Switzerland out to the Italian authorities. We don’t know. We never got the money back. We complained


about it bitterly here in Australia, but it was done, the money was gone. That’s all there was to it. I don’t know.
So when Italy … withdrew out of the war …
Italy capitulated on 23rd September 1943. The German army came in, took all the Italians, sent them up to the


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.
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 09


Just before we got back to Graz –


anything about Spittal an der Drau that you can tell us? What was there?
Yes. There’s a couple of things. Except that it was a typical cavalry barracks from the ’14–18 war. It was quite comfortable really considering what we’d had previously. One thing that really intrigued us


there was we were issued with bread baked in 1931 in a form of – it was like a greaseproof paper it was wrapped up in probably before the cellophane days – well before plastic. 1931. All we could do with it was break it up into crumbs


and boil it in water and make porridge out of it. That was the way. That was how well prepared the German people were. The main diet was brown bread and potato and from potatoes you can make lots of things – soups. They also had another


main diet which was maize meal or maize or corn. All their coffee was made out of maize meal. They’d fry it for breakfast and different things like that. You’d see the guards doing it in different places. That was their main. Whereas the Italians, their main


diet was believe it or not rice, not macaroni – rice and tomato. Whereas the German was mostly potato and things of that particular and corn.
Apart from the food what other differences did you notice now that you’re in the hands of the Germans rather than the Italians?
You was treated like soldier not like a little baby boy.


If you did anything wrong with the German you’d go before whoever the senior was – whether it be an officer or an NCO – you’d be told in no uncertain terms that you was a naughty boy and you would get twenty-one days solitary. After twenty-one days solitary you’d be sent to another camp. Never ever


go back to the camp you was charged from. Some of the fellows got away with less than twenty-one days. It depended entirely on whoever the camp commandant was. Which was usually the equivalent of a German sergeant. Feltwebel they called them. Most of them were either invalided from the Russian


front or from the ’14–18 war. They’d called up everybody to I think it was sixty-five years of age. So their manpower was not very good a lot of it. Digressing just a small bit –


once a German knew that you was an Australian there was never any problem. Same with the New Zealanders. Very little problems unless you came in contact with some of the real dyed in the wool [fanatical] Nazis which we didn’t. A lot of them did. Some of the British fellows they got into real trouble with the Germans. Like some of the


others. But I could never say that I was badly mistreated as a result of normal German camps. Didn’t like them, but who did back in those days?
We’ll come back to the guards in just a moment. With the prisoners, were you exposed to a whole new group of men when you moved from Italy to Germany?
Yes. We were


exposed to a completely mixed lot. I became very friendly with a Welsh Guards warrant officer. Very friendly. We stuck together for the balance of the war actually. I struck him in one of the smaller camps. They had a lot of British forces. Personnel out of the British forces. There was


a lot of French that were taken way back in 1939 and ’40. A lot of Dutch whom we didn’t agree with mainly because we always thought they were more German than what they were Dutch, only because of their language. We did never get very friendly with any of the Russians and there were literally millions


of Russians in Germany doing forced labour. All their manual work, most of it was done by Russians of some description. And of course those poor devils couldn’t go back to Russia because Russia didn’t want them. They’d surrendered to the German forces and that wasn’t permitted in Russia. A lot of them became displaced persons.


You fellas wouldn’t be old enough to remember that in the late ‘40s and ‘50s we got a terrible lot of displaced persons from Europe out here in Australia. Most of those displaced persons were ex-Russian or Polish nationals. Ukraine in particular.


When Germany originally went through Ukraine, anything that moved he took back to Germany for forced labour. Didn’t matter whether it was male, female, what it was, he just took it back. And they all become, yes, displaced persons. That’s what we eventually called them. Displaced persons.
I’ve heard that while as you say the Germans treated their


prisoners more as soldiers there was indeed a lot of brutality towards the Russian prisoners.
Yes there was.
What did you see of that?
I can give you one particular instance of that. The Russians did not recognise anything to do with the Geneva Conventions. Nothing. They just weren’t interested in it. So the Germans done exactly


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.
What about the Austrians? Was there a distinction there?
Yeah. There was a distinction. If you was fortunate enough


to be in a camp where there was an Austrian guard he would do everything to give you little comforts. You could ask him to get extra cigarettes if you produced money to do it or something that he could exchange for cigarettes. The black market system wasn’t as evolved


in Germany as what it was in Italy. Everything was black market in Italy whereas in Germany food stuffs were black market, other things were not so. Some of the Austrian guards would come into your compound at night and play a musical instrument. There was one particular fellow who played a


zither. He was in a band playing the zither prior to the war. He’d been forced into the German army, onto the Russian front, was frostbitten on the Russian front, lost most of his toes, brought back to Germany and was given the job of a guard on a POW camp. He used to come and play his zither of a night time.


For nothing. Just to play. If he had have been a German that wouldn’t have happened.
Was that appreciated by the prisoners?
Yes. They used to enjoy it, but that was only in the very small camps where there might have been, oh say fifteen or twenty fellows. They may have been sent out to do various jobs in areas


during the day. Cleaning up roads. Getting the snow off the roads and things of that nature. Snow was a big problem in those parts of the world in winter.
You were in quite a few different camps at this stage?
Yeah. From one to the other.
How long did you spend in any given place?
I think the longest camp that I was in was Graz. I was probably there only about


three months.
In Graz you were digging these shelters. Can you tell us a bit more about that work?
Yes. We’d take a party out and we would be under the control of a German who was on convalescent leave from the Russian front after being wounded or frostbitten. His job was to try and make us, or our group, dig


into these tunnels. Invariably he did more work than our fellows ever did. But that was their attitude. They’d had enough of the war too. They weren’t over fussed about getting sent back to the Russian front and the same thing happening to them. But they knew that eventually they would have that happen to them. Their attitude was not to get fit any quicker


than that they could. And the idea of them being sent to these or in charge of us fellows was so that they could use the pick and shovel themselves and get themselves fit. But they didn’t. They had about as much heart in it as what we did. They were all young fellows.
What were the conditions like at Graz?
Graz was quite good. It was a big compound. There was quite a number of


people in it. I would say within the thousands. Conditions weren’t bad at all with the exception that there was a German tank training battalion just outside of the Graz camp and the Americans used to try and bomb that and sometimes their bombs’d end up in our camp. The Americans bomb by day


and the English by night. But we never had many night raids back in the early stages. We did later on, but in the early stages we never had that many. We went from camp to camp this Welsh fellow and I. Eventually we got into this little camp, I think it was a place by the name of Villach not far out of Graz. Villach


had a big railway yards. The RAF [Royal Air Force] had come and bombed those railway yards at night time. They also what they call blanket bombed which meant that their bombs didn’t go where they were supposed to. They went on the civilian side and all that sort of thing. One night …
Just before we come to that –


just a couple of more questions about the camps. Did you have any entertainment? Were there things that you did that were fun together?
No. I believe in the big camps they had entertainment. But we never had any in the little camps at all.
In Graz?
Not even in the big Graz camp. To my knowledge. I can never remember anything of that nature.
And apart from this – the clean up


work we’ll talk about in a moment after the bombing raids – were there any other outside work that you were sent on in any of these little places?
I wasn’t personally. I only went on to the tunnel area, but some of the fellows were sent out and had to work for farmers. They did very well, very very well indeed. But it was never my fortune to get a job with a group to go with a farmer.
What contact, if any, did you have with the local populations in any of the places you were in?


Very little, with the exception of the guards. We had a lot of contact with the guards. We did have contact with some of the maintenance fellows who were on that tunnel job in Graz. I think they had a blacksmith and couple of others that used to do the tool work for them and that sort of thing. We had a little bit of contact with them, but very little. Some of the fellows had a lot of


contact. It was never my good luck or bad luck to get into that sort of situation.
Attempts to escape – had there been any after your original tunnelling incident in Italy?
Yes. There were several in North Africa. They never ever got to any substance


at all. Nobody escaped actually and got back to the British lines that I know of. There were people that escaped from Capua, that first camp we went to in Italy. They didn’t get very far. Matter of fact two of them talked their way out of a camp


through an Italian guard and got onto a railway station and when they got onto the railway station they went into the wrong toilet. They went into the female toilet instead of the male toilet and of course that finished them. Little things like that. But there wasn’t a lot of successful escapes. The fellows that went up to the rice paddies up there in north of Italy,


some of them got away before the Armistice. But very few got into Switzerland. As far as we were concerned, where we were in Graz there was only one area to go and that was down towards the Russians. They were down in Bulgaria, Romania, places like that at the time.
A very good question as to how much you knew about where various forces were, what was happening in the war around you?


We probably knew four or five days later. Some of the fellows that went out into the farming camps, they were very friendly with the Austrian farmer who would relay the news to them and they’d bring the news back to us in the big camp. So we got it really third hand. When the invasion occurred we didn’t know for a week that there’d been an invasion.


We were a week or ten days behind most of the time.
After that, as the war began to look like it would be ending in your favour did the Germans treat you differently?
No. Not at all. Their attitude was that Hitler had a secret weapon. And he did. And that he would use that secret weapon. Now right up to the


time that I was in Austria before I went down into the Russian area they believed that Hitler had a secret weapon, which he did. But he couldn’t produce it. And his secret weapon was the atom bomb. The Yanks [Americans] went in and captured all the scientists that knew all about the atom bomb and took them to America. That’s what happened. And if that war


or if the invasion had not have been successful Hitler would have been able to have produced the atom bomb and of course that would become history. But their attitude didn’t change because they thought that he had the secret weapon.
Were there any radios in your camps that you were in or any underground information?


There was a radio in Camp 56 in Italy. They had it in a matchbox inside a brick in one of the cookhouses. They invariably got the news while we were in Italy. I don’t know of any in Germany but I believe in the big camps of Germany that they had them.


After you got used to the routine of being a prisoner of war, what was the worst thing about it?
Hunger and not knowing how long you’re going to be there. Our attitude was this, that we came back to Australia and we got six months for doing something wrong, at least we knew we were there for six months and we were out. But under this situation we just didn’t know.


How did those two things affect your mind?
They affected it in a neurological manner. You became very despondent. In some instances you


thought to yourself that it would never end and yet in other instances you said, okay I’ve just got to battle on. That’s about what you done in the long run.
Are there any things that you learnt to deal with that onset of despair, to stop it from happening?
I think we learnt to control our minds much better as a result of that situation


than what we would have done normally. I’ve found in the last thirty, forty, fifty years that I’ve had things on my mind and I’ve started to become concerned about those things. Then I’ve gone back and I’ve said to myself, “God, you didn’t do that when you were a POW. You forgot all about it and you created another avenue of thought.”


This is what I did post war. I made myself that busy with a family and with other things that you lost that.
What new avenue of thought did you create when you were a prisoner of war?
How do you mean?
How did you stop worrying? What did you put your efforts into then?
We had little clubs.


They would be discussion clubs. They would be argumental clubs. You’d all get together and you’d start talking about these particular things. There were even secret societies or societies of secrets started up in prisoners of war camps. In Germany and with the Japanese fellows


they formed Masonic lodges in those areas. We did the same in Germany. That was an area to take your mind off other things. You invariably had a guard on your side who was also a member, but you had to find who that guard was first before you could do that sort of thing.


There were various things.
What about food? In a situation where you’re really hungry what is the fantasy of food like?
You would dream of what you could eat. Knowing quite well that you couldn’t get it. But you just went without. Your stomach shrunk to such a proportion that


you were not getting sufficient food but you were getting enough to take you through to the next issue. Plus what you could trade and get. But food was a big problem.
What were your fantasies about? What did you most want?
I always fancied going out and having a white loaf of bread with a heap of butter


on it. Cause we never had white bread. We hadn’t had it for many years. White bread. And when I got to England that was the first thing I done and it was like a beautiful piece of cake.
Right. We’ll move back to the story you were about to tell us before, but before we do could you just tell us a bit more about this Welsh Guardsman that you became friends with? Who was he?
Yeah. Taffy and I became friends in


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.”
A couple of questions about that. What uniform were you wearing while working with the Russians?
We still had the uniform we were issued with in Italy. We’d taken the red diamond off the knee and off the back and course the Germans had a bluey grey


uniform. Nobody there had khaki. So they knew we must have been foreigners of some type. Germany was full of what they call Auslanders. In other words, foreign workers. It was absolutely full of them. Whether they’d be Russian, French, Belgium, Norwegian or take it wherever you want to, they


were all over the place. But we still retained that British battle dress which we were issued with in Italy.
And apart from this Russian doctor who took you under her wing as it were, what was your treatment like at the hands of the Russians?
Quite good. She had control, or if she didn’t have control she passed on word to her


fellow people in the equivalent of the Russian medical corps. They would say that we had a truck and we were to report to such and such a place that night who would have invariably have been told by this Russian doctor that we were coming. They looked after us.
How did you communicate with the others?
We didn’t. Unless they had English.
And were they a different army


do you think?
Oh yes. They were a rabble.
Like the Italians were a rabble? What do you mean by that?
No. They were a rabble. That part of the Russian – all the good Russian forces, highly disciplined and that were up north. They broke into places like Berlin and those areas. Down south it was just purely numbers.


Most of them come from the rurals of Russia, way back. A lot of them you thought were of Chinese descent or something of that nature. But they had no idea what they were doing. They were pure numbers. They never had much opposition down south because all the opposition was up north trying to defend


Germany or Berlin and what have you. And all these people were doing was occupying areas where they were told to occupy. Their discipline was as a result of one white officer on a horse and he controlled perhaps two or three hundred of this rabble.


They would march into a little village, they’d rape every female in the village wherever she stood. That was their attitude and I’d say to the Russian doctor, “Why are they doing that? Why are they allowed to do it?” She said, “The Germans done the same.” I said, “Is that your excuse?” She said, “That’s all I can tell you.” I said, “How is it that you


are protected?” She said, “I’ve got a uniform on. They know who I am. They know what I am. They know what I can do for them.”
Interviewee: Lawrence Calder Archive ID 1842 Tape 10


Just coming back, before your escape from the prison camp, what was your knowledge or your understanding of the Russians?
Very little. There had been a number of our fellows


escape into that area, had never come back, so we thought they’d been successful. We thought exactly the same thing. But they all had very similar experiences to what we had. There were a number of fellows escaped down into the partisans in Yugoslavia. They were forced to fight with the partisans.


They became captains and majors in the partisan force and what have you. But the Russians would not permit us to go anywhere near an area where there could be some sort of fighting between them and the German force. We were used purely as a medical viewpoint.


When did you first discover concerning the rapes and goings on there?
About four or five days after this doctor took control of us we moved into a small village. We’d call it here in Australia a country town. Might have had a population of four or five hundred. All the


men had been conscripted into the German army so there was very few men about except very elderly men or young boys. Course, the native women who were Bulgarians, came out waving the hand to welcome these Russian troops into the city and within minutes they just


bowled over where they were. Didn’t matter who they were, what age they were or any other thing. Didn’t matter to these people.
You didn’t see this did you?
I did see it. Yes. We were at one end of the town. As we said to the Russian doctor at the time, “They shouldn’t allow this sort of thing.” She said, “I can’t help it.” Part of their being in


the force. They were all conscripted in and they were all just a herd of men under the control of one white officer on a horse. No discipline. Not that we knew of as discipline. Just one of those things.
You spoke earlier of some of the brothels some of the Australians went to in the Middle East. Did you come across brothels with


your time with the Russians?
No. The only thing that I can talk of or speak of in that particular area was that the Italian forces in North Africa each unit had their own brothel. Not like – no I’ve never heard of anybody else having it, but they did have it. Might have two or three girls


to the Italian unit and they were there for the use of the troops.
Just on the subject of sex on the broader school – the issue of homosexuality within the POW camps, did that ever arise?
Yes. There was one instance and it was amongst two Australians. I was


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.


You mentioned earlier in regard to the French, you sort of inferred that you didn’t like them particularly much, is that correct?
They were very two faced. You didn’t say anything to them because they would go and say something to the German which would benefit them and not benefit you.


They probably weren’t all the same by any means. But the ones that I did strike and have conversation with, they would have had to speak a little bit of English anyway because I wouldn’t have understood the French at that stage. They were just – probably I’m very prejudiced. Especially against the Italians. I feel that I’ve got a


reason for that. I’ll never lose it. And I’m probably a bit the same, have a bit the same thoughts about some of the French. Wine, women and song.
Going back to the Russians, did you ever come across Communist thinking?
No. I had a few conversations with this doctor. One of them that I


remember quite plainly – Taffy and I was talking to her one night and we said, “What’s the difference between your communistic regime and the German national socialism?” She said, “There’s only one difference.” “What’s that?” “We have got the Jews.


Germany hasn’t.” Said no more. In other words, their political set up in Russia was very very similar to the political set up in Germany with one exception. They had a lot of the Jewish fraternity still in Russia in control of lots of areas.


Whereas Germany had none.
Given her education in England, was she pro communism?
Yes. I would think so. Although she would say at times and this has come out in the long run, “If you live long enough


and you find that the Russians become educated the system that we have today will no longer exist.” It has worked out that way. She said, “It’ll only be education that’ll do it. People will start to think to for themselves. I’ve been educated in another country. I can think for myself.


But I don’t dare say anything to my intermediaries or my officers or anything like that because I would be probably shot.” That was her attitude. In hindsight she hasn’t been far wrong.
Medically speaking, during your time with the Russians, how did their I guess hospitals and care of patients compare to


the Australians?
Very little of it. A Russian soldier once he became wounded and unable to do anything, he was darned near forgotten. The doctors gave them very cursory treatment. We could have treated them the same ourselves with our knowledge which was very little at that stage.


The hospitals back in Romania and that were all full of wounded people. It didn’t seem to be the same type of care for a person who suffered wounds as our people would have had. Just a different system all together.


There were millions of them so manpower didn’t really mean a lot. They had a thousand killed today they just pull another thousand in. That didn’t work with the top trained troops up north. But these people in other areas it was just pure numbers. Nothing else.
When you were driving with the Russians or


for the Russians was there ever a time that you were scared?
Occasionally during the daytime you’d be stopped. You would show this letter type thing from this Russian doctor, they’d read it or if they couldn’t read it they’d get someone else to read it. A lot of them couldn’t read nor write. They’d look at it and they’d just say,


“Pass,” or the equivalent of pass.
So what Russian phrases were you given to learn?
About the only thing that I ever learnt, really, intentionally, was a phrase, “Nee polly my.” I don’t understand. It was an excellent phrase to use too. You relied entirely upon paper. Apparently a document


to a lot of these people was very important. They attached a lot of importance to a document.
Coming over to the Americans when the war had ended, that was an easy transfer?
Yes. We got on the plane at eight o’clock the next morning and four o’clock that afternoon we were in England. So from the time of meeting the Americans


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 the question and answer, was that an interrogation of where you’d been and what you’d been up to?
Yes. We had an


interrogation of most of the areas where we were being and the NCOs or all the senior NCOs, that was the sergeants and warrant officers, were all asked to write reports. Nobody else had to. Just us fellows. And then they completely ignored it. Because of the Vatican tie up.
What about the fact that you’d been with the Russians? Any questions about that


They accepted it. But they didn’t put it on our records. They accepted that it must have happened because you know too much about it. But any of the other things, getting back to the Italians and things like that, they just said, “No. We’re not prepared to do anything about it.”
This particular staging camp, the POW camp where the Australians all met in England?


In England.
Yeah. How many Australians had gathered there when you arrived?
That I can’t tell you. But it wasn’t a camp as we know a camp today. What they had done is that they’d commandeered all the housing in the whole of Eastbourne and they used all that housing to accommodate previously forces that had


been in the invasion. Then the Australian POW unit came into force and they commandeered sufficient accommodation for us fellows while we were there. We weren’t there that long. They’d give you leave to get rid of you, go somewhere else.
Given the time that you were a POW you hadn’t been obviously paid, when you came to England were you paid up front for all those


monies? How was that all handled?
Yes. I can’t remember how much was in my pay book. It’s probably there amongst the records, but I had many hundreds of pounds. I was paid as a sergeant. I think my rate was around about twelve shillings a day whereas a private soldier was on about seven shillings a day. For all the time that


you were in that area your pay just went on.
So when did you eventually get a ship home to Australia?
Ship home was in the very late June or early July we got a ship from Liverpool in England which took us over through the Panama Canal across to New Zealand and up to Sydney. I think it took us a little under three weeks to get home.


Circumstances were quite good. Name of the boat was The Sterling Castle. It had been nicknamed the Starving Castle. When we got to Wellington, something happened to the boat. The Australians were obviously


the cause of it and they had to get the part flown over from Sydney to Wellington to repair it so we had about three days in Wellington. Looked after very nicely thank you.
In what way there?
Beer, food. Nothing else. But the New Zealanders looked after us quite well. We’d spend the night on the boat


and we’d be given all day leave.
And then from Wellington to?
Wellington up to Sydney by boat. And we got to Sydney and we spent a night in the Sydney showgrounds. It depended what state you came from, you was placed on a train the next day. I was placed on a train down to Victoria. We eventually got to the Royal Park Staging Camp in Melbourne where


we were given more leave and told to report back there. We reported back and then we had to go to a camp at Ballarat. We were in Ballarat for about ten days. That was more of a medical revision. They took all our history. Found if there was anything wrong with us. Went before the dental authorities and all those sort of things.


We had a pretty thorough medical examination there. Sent back to Royal Park and then we were asked, “Do you want to stay in or do you want to get out?” Remember Japan was still in the war at this time. My attitude was, “No thanks. I’ll take a discharge.” Which I did. I was discharged I think in the August, late in the August some time or other. And that was my life in the army.
Medically, had anything come up


during that examination?
One particular thing, dysentery, yes. Which left a lot of problems liver wise. All others fortunately we were able to divulge to our people, the doctors, the problems that we had with dysentery. And some of us were pretty crook [sick] with dysentery. It’s a hard thing to explain.


It’s a very demanding form of disease. Attacks the liver and everything. Most of us had liver problems as a result of dysentery. It was a special type of dysentery. They called it Alibius [?] which is caused mainly as a result of tropical waters or waters coming from


tropical areas which was the Mediterranean mostly they claimed was the cause of it. Some of our liver lodes were eaten away with this Alibius. Eventually they found this on me, that it was still going, and I had to go into repatriation hospital


in Caulfield down in Melbourne. I had six weeks there and I was married with a couple of kiddies at this time. This was around about 1950 odd. Had to have six weeks. Not allowed out of bed for six weeks. And three lots of injections each day. They used to inject this imoteen bismuth [?] and iodine into us. And it cured it.


Fixed it. Fixed the Alibius. Never had any trouble with it after that except the psychological problems if any. Which there was. Bad temperedness. Get tired very quickly. All those sort of things. But they wore off after a number of years.
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.
So just coming back to the war and breaking back into society, what was the hardest thing? Was it a traumatic thing to work your way back


into civil society?
I think the big difference was probably going from one lifestyle to another lifestyle. Whether I made a mistake or whether I didn’t I don’t know. But one of the first things I done after I come back from the war was got married to a girl that I’d corresponded with from


way back in the Tobruk days. Today I don’t suppose I would have done the same thing. But we had a good marriage for the first ten years. We had three children in that particular time. But our marriage just went on the rocks [was troubled] afterwards. We never had much of a marriage.


She eventually died in 1990. That overcome – I say it with tongue in cheek – the problems. The family never ever knew until I told them here about two year ago. They thought that we were a lovey dovey husband and wife situation, but far from it.
Did you have, after the war, nightmares that kept you up?


Considerably. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I’d be getting hit around the head with rifle butts. That went on night after night until they found this liver problem from the Arabias. After I’d had the six weeks treatment that particular type of nightmare didn’t occur


as often. Must have been neurological effect on my mind. The Arabias had caused it. Eventually I never had that many. It tapered off. Until about the late 1990s or the middle of the 1990s we started on that book.


All come back. I’ll probably have a night tonight. I may not. Think I’m over that sort of thing. I’m old enough now to understand that it’s gone.
That particular incident of the rifle butts?
Yeah. It’s always been the one thing funnily enough. The rape


situations – I’ve never had nightmares over that. It’s always some traumatic occurrence to yourself. I was struck in the chest on several occasions with rifle butts. That created a problem with a heart valve which is recognised. It hasn’t caused me any trouble


pain wise, but it’s still there. One of those things that veteran affairs say, “We better get you to a specialist and have another examination.”
Given obviously we’re doing this today, asking questions for an archive and for future generations to watch or read or listen to, what would you like to say to them about war itself?


If possible stop the situation of greed. How we’re going to do that I’ll never ever know. But it’s my firm conviction that wars are caused as a result of greed. Somebody wants more power than somebody else. Somebody wants more land


than the next fellow. You want a job that’s better than the one you’ve got now. You want a greater salary than what you’re on now. That becomes greed. I want my pension increased because I don’t think I’m getting enough. That becomes greed. I feel if we can stop that – I don’t know how – that we can stop things like war.


We must be much more understanding towards each other. Fortunately today people have got the opportunity of being educated far beyond what I ever had the opportunity. And this does give them the opportunity to be able to discuss. They’ve got much more freedom of speech. It may not stop the greed,


but it may help to offset arguments. I don’t know. It’s a difficult question as you well know.
You mentioned that you had a little bit of involvement with Legacy after World War II, can you compare Legacy for me before World War II and after?
Yes. I joined Legacy Melbourne Branch in about the


1960s. I was asked to join because of my ex service experience. Melbourne Legacy had several branches. I was a member of the Essendon/Coburg/Brunswick branch – which was a suburb actually. We had something like twenty legatees in that branch.


We were responsible for I don’t know how many. I had on my personal books eighty widows and their families at one particular stage. Most of them were in the suburb of Broadmeadows in the big housing commission areas up there and they were a problem. Apart from that, with my insurance experience


I was delegated to become claims clerk for the branch, call it what you like. We had to sift every application for war widows’ pensions or special benefits for children and things like that to see whether it was worthwhile combating what the veteran affairs had said no


to, take it further than that. I gave it all away about 1992. I found I reckoned I’d had enough.
You mention that some of the war widows were a problem in a certain area. What was the problem that you’re referring to?
I think one particular example is a pretty good one.


Legacy used to do what they called a wood drop. That meant that we would send some trucks up onto the Murray River, fill them all up with firewood, bring them back down to Melbourne. We’d do that twice a year. And each widow that applied for firewood would be given around about two ton of firewood each. And it was invariably round about June


and perhaps later on in the year, maybe November, when they didn’t want as much. I had one particular widow in Broadmeadows who I would go to visit perhaps every six weeks or two months to see if everything was all right, see if the kiddies from the deceased ex serviceman were all right. Never mind about the other


kiddies that was there from other avenues. But that’s the type of woman she was. We would drop wood off to her because she had applied for it. I knew that she had an open fire. I knew that she had a wood stove. She never had gas or electricity. And I said to one of my fellows, “I think I’ll go up there tomorrow morning and see what’s happened to the wood, see whether it’s been taken in or not.”


So I went up the following day. No wood at all. She’d sold it. She never got any more. But this was one of the minor problems. Another widow in the same area who would ring up about every ten days. “My toilet’s blocked up again.” We had a plumber on call. We’d send him down, they’d unplug it.


She’d use pages of newspaper to cleanse herself. We had to give her a big talk about how to operate a toilet.
We’ve got one minute left. Are there any final comments that you’d like to add to your story today?
The only thing that I would like to comment on is this, that


my service was good to me in lots of respects. It broadened my mind. It allowed me to have a reasonable life afterwards. And I found or I find today that without my war service or my army service I would not have been able to live the life


that I have since. It taught me so many things that I would never have been taught before. Self discipline.
Chris [interviewer] and I and the archive would like to thank you for your time today. So thank you.
That’s all right.


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