So whereabouts in Perth did you grow up?
Highgate Hill. It’s just north of the Perth Oval, runs off Borwell Street, and I was born there in 1912, and then Dad bought this block of land where we are now in 1914,
so in 1914, like two years after I was born, I moved out here and Dad built the house, it was completely all bush around here, no electricity, no water, not anything at all. To get to Perth we had to walk down to Nedlands to get the tram while we were walking across the Karrakatta and catch the train, and my brothers did that for some years when they were going to work.
I started school in Nedlands and I never had any problems with transport because we used to walk everywhere, and even when I started, I shifted a couple of schools, Mum was a Catholic, but she turned to Protestant to marry Dad, who came from Sweden in 1882, so –
Irish parentage, and Mum decided that perhaps St Patrick’s School might drill something in to me. Wasn’t too bad, a little bit of bullying there, a bit of skylarking around because Mum was a great seamstress and she used to send me out all dressed up in a cardigan and a straw boater with the thing on to stop it from flying off, and I never got on too good with the kids there for a while, around East Perth it
was a bit rough. And they used to bully me a bit till I just flew out and flattened two of them, so that all fixed that up. But then after that I left there and went to Claremont High School, and finished my education there. I was never an academic; I could do better with my hands than I could with my brain, type of thing, so the teacher said,
“Eddie, I think you’d be better off if you went and got a job.”
So then I – 10 shillings a week and I got in touch with some friends and they said, “Well we can get you a job at 30 shillings a week, down in West Perth shovelling sand for a sandblaster for German people who’ve started a business called Metal Spraying.” Now they sprayed the original doors on the old Embassy ballroom
in William Street, and I got working with them shovelling all this, and then they went broke and left me out on a limb with no job. So I didn’t go begging back to Dad again, so I went farming and all over the place.
Before we talk about that, what sort of things did you do when you were a younger chap going to school, what did you do on the weekends?
Well, we used to make our own toys, and then we got Mum to make us some sandwiches and we’d walk to Cottesloe and play around, play around in the bush here, of a night time you get the – if it was a moon light night, you’d go out possum hunting, you’d look up in the tree and get the moon behind the possums and you could see them running along the branches.
There was a fungi that grew on the trees that was sort of fluorescent of a night time, and there were some children over the road here in Boronia Avenue, they were about the same age, and we used to go round playing all the time, night time, moon light, any night, because Friday nights we were allowed to go to the pictures down at Nedlands which was open air, down
in Broadway, and then that only cost sixpence anyway. But we were never out of a night time. Mum used to be a beautiful pianist and a singer, as a matter of fact she sang with – the name escapes me now, but one of the great sopranos in Sydney, Melba, Madam Melba.
over in the corner there, and my brother when he came back from the First World War, he used to sing a great song called Nirvana, and of a Sunday the people would come visiting, with their horses and sulkies tied up to the front fence, and the old chook would get knocked over and the rooster – and they’d have a concert here with Mum, we used to see
How many people were in your family Eddie?
I had four brothers, there was Stan, Gus, Jack, Charlie, and a sister Mena,
where he was put in the artillery. He was badly gassed, but he came home, well you know, as whole as you could be, but he wasn’t the same man of course. I remember him sleeping here, he used to grind his teeth all night, so that was part of the war.
What sort of symptoms did he have from being gassed?
Well, see I was only a youngster, but I remember that was the main part, but he was sort of a nervous man all the time, I think he was probably shell-shocked, you know, and he got on, he married a lass, she was a nurse, she used to
be a nurse in Subiaco in the big hospital there, and they had three children, a son and two daughters, and he finished up on the transline as a steward, but he used to work for the Water Supply. Every member of our family bar my sister worked for the Water Supply, so we had somebody from 1908 till my youngest son
pulled out about three or four years ago, and went to Tasmania. So we’ve got a pretty good family record with the Water Supply. But getting back to my brother, he took to the drink a little bit, and his wife passed away, and I don’t know, he sort of got all nervous and that, and he went looking for accommodation all over the place,
and he finished up in – down south of the river there, at some – I think it was the Masonic Homes there. But he couldn’t look after himself so I went down there one day and I said, “Listen Stan, I’m going to take you into Hollywood.” So he said, “Righto, I think that’s the best.” So I got him into Hollywood and they said,
“You can’t have a wireless, you can’t smoke,” and he said, “Well belt me over the head, if I can’t do any of that in here.” So that’s where he passed away, I just forget the year now, but a fair while ago.
I had to go out – it wasn’t any big deal because there were trees all around the place, but that was my main job, and we used to have an old Colcast mower, I used to mow the lawns, odd jobs around, you know, I was never frightened to work. But I had nobody to play with when I was young, and my brothers used to sort of bait me and scare me. See, Stirling
Highway was built out of logs, cut like that in a circle, and just over not far away, they had these big saw pits – used to be – they’re still there, or they were, not now of course, and my brothers used to tell that if I went there Old Nick’d get me.
So it sounds like pretty hard work?
Well, it’s all hard work, in those days it was hard work, but I’m sure it was convicts that built the highway, right through. They had a convict camp down in Claremont, where Meals On Wheels have got their delivery – and they have Meals On Wheels there, I delivered meals down there for over 25 years, and there was an old camp there, and then the university got onto it, archaeologists,
whatever you like to call them, and they had a dig there, digging for artefacts from the convicts and so forth, there.
Gee. Did they find anything?
I don’t know, but they were all busy there with sieves, you know? A shovel, and sieving away. But they put a plaque there anyway, that they were digging. But the early days here were very
interesting, as I say, I never had toys bought for me because money was very short, I only had one bike in my life, and I paid five shillings for that, and I loaned it to a friend of mine to go home on, and what did he do? He left it outside the Swan Brewery with a flat tyre and somebody pinched it. So that was the end of the bike. But you learned very fast when you were young, because you did everything yourself, it didn’t take long to learn
how to use spanners or tools, or you know, change the oil in your car, or fix up your motorbike. I was a great motorbike man, as I grew older, just before the war, and you know, you learned – Dad was a very good carpenter, and he showed me how to – we used to get little blocks of wood and make toys out of them, and pinch Mum’s cotton reels, cut them in half, and they were
wheels, put a screw in. So the cotton reels were scarce, and pram wheels, they were in big demand for hill trolleys. And we used to go down the Cat and Stirling Hill there, past the pub, when I was about 10, on the hill trolley, you wouldn’t believe it. Wouldn’t dare put your foot on the place now.
person. We played tennis down at Dalkeith Road, there was a couple of courts there, but see, unfortunately my father passed away in 1933, and there was a big Depression on in those days, money was tight, and my friends, a lot of them were never out of work,
and their fathers worked. See my best friend, his father ran the Karrakatta Cemetery, and (BREAK IN TRANSMISSION)
around in the cemetery, and – but he just couldn’t give me a job, money was too tight. So I said, “All right.” So anyway…
Depression affecting people?
Well it all depends on what you could do. See as I say, I was never afraid of doing work, I used to go round cleaning windows for two shillings, cleaning windows. Do anything, go and catch crabs and cook them and sell them, cobblers down the river. In 19 – just before Dad passed away I went down to Bridgetown picking apples,
no pay, just food, clothing and food. But then when Dad passed away, Mum asked me to come home, and I got a job on the, probably sustenance you might call it, and that was five weeks on and six weeks off, because I had a dependent, like Mum see? And all my brothers had gone to Kalgoorlie and all over the place, and my sister
was a barmaid, and she didn’t live at home, so it was only just Mum and I here for quite a few years, until I went away. But it’s no big deal to make your own fun, you didn’t come in watching TV, TV wasn’t there in those – and my sister learned to play the piano, and I would have dearly loved to play the piano
but Mum never had the money to send me to school, to teach, so I bought a beautiful organ and tried to teach myself. It was a bit of a disaster, so it’s still there.
Why was it important to have a wireless?
Well Mum got – she never used to play the piano as much as she did, you know, nobody played it, it was just sitting there full of moths I suppose, and she said, “I think I’ll sell the piano,” and she went into Nicholson’s and got a – it was a lovely Beale piano, and she swapped that for a radio. It used to stand in the corner over there. And we used to put the records on, one of those long
players, and go around down the lounge there, having tea, or in the kitchen, and run out and come back and put another one on. And I’ve got a tea chest full of them out there.
all the works from the Water Supply, and in 1929 they started – they sewered all this place, this area here, and he was in charge of the whole works, they were building down on the foreshore where they go surfing now, and sailing, you’ll see a little pumping station there. Now the way they built that pumping station was to lay
bricks and dig the mud out from underneath, and the bricks would weigh it down and make the walls. See there’s always two walls in a pumping station, the effluent would go in, and it’s pumped away. So Dad asked one of the chaps to shift a five by five wailing, what we call a wailing, that’s a long piece about 20 foot long, to keep the lards apart, and he said, “No, I’m not going to shift that.” So Dad grabbed
it, and he shifted it and burst a duodenal ulcer, which was cancerous and we didn’t know that.
So the care was pretty basic, is what you’re saying?
Yes. It’s just one of those unfortunate things. Yes, Dad was a good man, liked to have a bet on the trots and the races, never drank, he smoked a pipe, but he was a good man.
Was it difficult supporting your mum?
Well, it was really. You see, I used to – as I say, I had these friends that were never out of work, they had fathers who ran things, like one of my best friends, he worked at Drabbles, the big iron monger firm, Bunnings have got the place now.
And he was never short of money, and we’d go to the pictures and I’d say, “Listen Dick, I haven’t got the money to go buying packets of Fantails and that.” And he said, “No, righto, she’ll be right”. But when he’d get there, there’d be – if we went in the middle of the week, he’d say, “I’ve only got three pound to last me till Friday,” and I never had two bob. And everything went ploughed into the house. So
that’s how it happened, but it didn’t bother me really. But then I got tangled up with signals.
a First World War signallist, and if my memory’s right they worked for the Water Supply, and they had a section, a signal section called 13th the mixed brigade sigs. And Jack said, “Well I’m going to join, do you want to be in it? We go camping, you know?” So I always liked uniforms, I was
crazy about them, and glamour and all the other – so I joined, and I went out to the drill hall in Beaufort Street, the next Sunday was the parade out at a place called Bushmead, which is just out of Guildford, and we got issued with a uniform. Leggings, riding boots, spurs, boots, slouch hat, bandoleer, the whole works. So I took that
home, and next Sunday there was another parade, so I went up, all dressed up, oh, my boots and my feet were hurting, the leggings were tight, and I came home with my boots around my neck, and carrying the rest in a bag. But I got used to that. But I used to like going out, we used to go into Perth and signal underneath the street lights, a little heliograph which works on
sun, and it worked quite well, you know, under a street light. And lamps. And I’d just get down to Claremont when the pictures came out, and I’d be there in my uniform, all poised up, and the blokes would come out, and the girls were out – talking to the girls.
didn’t like to be told what to do. No big deal to me, I was learning, I was a great learner, I was never frightened to ask anybody, no matter what it was, even how to use the humble shovel, I asked an old chap mixing concrete, I said, “What is the best way to use this thing”? And he said, “I’ll show you, because you’re going the way you are now, you’ll be dead in about two hours”. Because I used to lift the concrete up, and you’d just push
the shovel in and turn it over. When I was about 17, old-time dancing came into my life, and I used to go down to the Rosebud Hall in Claremont, and I’d polish the floor and I’d get in for nothing. It was only one and threepence, but I got in for nothing. And all the old grandmothers there taught me how to dance, and I’ve never forgotten.
that was one of the things that the Depression taught you, that you can’t get everything off a plate. Some were lucky, some got it through, but I was never fortunate like that, I was the only one here, my brothers were all away doing what they were doing in the Depression. But I was never frightened to ask anybody.
Was that the one thing that they were teaching?
Well, they had three methods, those with a vehicle would go up to Kalamunda or round – not to Kalamunda, up in the hills, and we would go to Kings Park, and we used the heliograph to signal, then one man would operate the heliograph, another one would call out,
“A, B, C, D, E” or whatever, and the other one would write it down on a signal pad. And that’s the way they transmitted. And then you’d signal back. Of a night time they had a lamp, very powerful. Now we used to get up on top of the roof, my brother and I, and we’d signal down to Mosman’s Bay, Buckland Hill of a night time, and you could see it quite easily, because there were no street lamps or anything like that, or there
were, but very dull. But you could pick them up easily. And they had one flag that was just a flag on a pole, and you’d go like that for a dot, and down further for a dash, so dot dash A, dot dash A. But they ran out of fashion because the snipers would – you know, you’d stand up. In the navy they use two flags,
When you looked out, you know, over Perth at night, could you see lots of people signalling each other?
No, no, it never went on, only us, only in the signals.
Code stick in your head, you know, it’s a long time since I used it, but I think I could go out there now and I could send it quite easily. But to receive it I might have a bit of bother for a while. You see, with Morse Code, when you’re reading it, especially in the job I did in New Guinea, you get a block of five figures, and as you’re writing this one down, the other one’s coming in your ear, so that’s how it goes.
You’ve got one coming in and one going out, through your fingers. So I thought it’d be quite easy to learn music like that, but it didn’t work that way. So that was the interesting part of signals, I liked it, I liked the uniform all right, but going out on the camps around the suburbs, doing training and you know, we had a blue and white arm band around here, to show that we were signals,
Yes, horse – you know, weeds. Like Patterson’s Curse or something like that. It wasn’t Patterson’s Curse I don’t think, but it was a similar type of thing, and if the horse got a bellyful of it, he’s history. So he said, “Don’t let him browse, don’t let him get
around.” So that was my job there, and also on the cable cart, the cable cart – two horses pulled it, and you sat on the back winding in the cable, and others are on the side, or on the horses with crook sticks, a long handle with a crook on it, and they’d pick this wire up, hang it on a tree, or go over the road and hang it on a pole, and
then we had to go and retrieve it and take it down and wind it up on the cable cart.
about that round, I suppose, and it pointed north and then you could point it at and work the degrees around the top, and so north-north east, or north-west or south-west, or whatever, but before I’d find out that, I’d turn that around and that’s so many degrees north or west, and it’s so many degrees south. And then if you go out – during the war
we used to go out in the bush, and then you’d have to navigate backwards, go out and then come back, which is a little bit tricky, but we didn’t have to do that very often.
What did you think of the 303?
The 303? Good rifle, very accurate, give you a kick like a mule, but very good, very good for the job it was designed for. Especially for bayonet work, which I didn’t do, but …
So you weren’t trained as part of the infantry and then taken separately?
No, no, no. We were trained to communicate with the artillery, that was our job, and we learned that in the mixed brigade sigs [signals] before we joined the war, you know?
Did they just say, “You look good for being a signaller”?
No, I’ll tell you how it happened. I was working for the Water Supply at the time, and I was cleaning out pipes out at Belmont, because the pipes weren’t lined with any anti-rust stuff, so they had to be rotted out, cleaned out, they were two inch pipes and that. And there were all sorts of pipes had to be clean, get the rust out of them.
So it was a red hot day and I don’t know whether it was John Roberts or Bill Beazley the captain, came up and he said, “We’re getting a section ready to join the 2/3rd Field Regiment in the war, of course war had broken out then, and I was doing this job.
So I said, “I’ll be in that, couldn’t be any worse than this.”
So you pretty much knew what you were doing by then?
Yes, I did indeed. One trip I went down to Bridgetown for a while, and I taught the kids down there how to signal, and the scouts, took over the scouts, taught them.
Some of the other blokes in the militia, would they have been younger than you, or the same age?
No, John Roberts, he’s now – he took us into action against the Italians, he’s 88, and
of course everything was Hitler, the whole news and everything was Hitler, so you sort of got used to it. In September, October/November, when I joined, it was, I
don’t know, it was just – all you could hear about was the war in Europe, there was no war in the south-west of the Pacific or anywhere. So we – that’s all the news we got, and of course news was pretty slow too, not like today, you do it now and it’s all over the place in a couple of minutes.
Well, about the war breaking out. Did you think that it was going to happen?
Well I thought about my brother and what it did to him, but I don’t know, I just wanted to adventure and go further – I was in the signals and I just wanted to go on from there. There was really nothing here, you couldn’t
Yes, like that, prick, you put your feet in a bucket of water, and walk across the floor, so I said to the doctor, I said, “What’s the key to this?” He said, “I want to see if you’ve got flat feet.” But I was a big boy, I was well built, strong, because I’d worked hard all my life. See digging was no big deal to me. So I passed with flying colours, everywhere.
You were about to tell us the story about Northam?
Yes, well we went up to Northam and of course digging was no big deal to me, I could – I worked hard, but some of the chaps had come straight out of an office, it was only ten minutes and they had blisters. But besides that we were given palliasses and a great big heap of straw, a palliasse is a big
long bag, you use it as a mattress, you stuff if full of straw. And these poor blokes had never done any hard living at all, they felt it badly. But they got used to it as time went on. But one chap came and said, “I think I’ll go and catch a rabbit”. So I said, “Catch a rabbit, how the dickens is he going to catch a rabbit”? And he came back, and the thing is that if you can get a
rabbit and run him down in 50 yards, you keep him away from the burrow, you’re right. So Northam was our first experience of real army life. Then we came down to Perth, and they couldn’t send us away in these giggle
suits, so we went out to Midland and got dressed with militia uniforms, and then we went to the eastern states with those on. We went to a camp called Ingleburn Camp, which is out of Liverpool, and there we received our proper AIF [Australian Imperial Force] uniforms and badges and we started training then, we had nothing to train
with, we had no gear for our route marches.
at Kalgoorlie, Adelaide, Albury, about there or four changes you had to make till you got to New South Wales, and they dropped us off at this station at Liverpool, and we were picked up by trucks and taken to the Ingleburn Camp. And we were there to – this is about ’39, 1940,
January 1940, and we came back on the Manunda, back to West Australia where the convoy came in and took us away. But while we were at Ingleburn, it was a proper army camp, millions of mosquitoes, terrible place. But we were lucky, we got to – got out to see
Sydney and some of the Sydney people were very good to us, especially West Australians, and the one that said that I could go and stay with her, or two of us, was Eileen Boyd, she was a great singer and teacher of singing, I think she worked for Nicholson’s over there in Sydney, and she took us around, she was well-known everywhere, and
we got out on the harbour and the boats, all the VIPs [Very Important Persons] and things you’d never go in an army uniform, you’d never get there unless you knew somebody. And we had a great time there. And of course we started out, what training we could do at Ingleburn was mostly squad drill and learning Morse. I went to a school in
Sydney, a mechanical school put on by the Ford Company, so all the girls in the factory used to yell out to us, “Stupid mugs going to the war”, and all this. “You’ll be sorry”, was the great catch cry then.
wireless operator, and the part of the teaching I suppose was to go through this school and they’d teach you all about engines, well I knew anyway. And they had in the camp a little battery charger with a Douglas engine on it. My brother had a Douglas so I knew all about them.
So the corporal who was lecturing me, he said, “You know more about this than I do,” and I said, “Well I’m no stranger to it, so you know,” but I said, “But keep going, you’re doing all right.”
then we went to a camp in South Street, East Fremantle, they had a camp ready there for us, and we all camped there, they were doing the convoy to go to the Middle East in 1940, so we used to route march around the place while we were in camp there, and there was no training, because we never had any equipment or anything.
But that was just a gathering of all the troops that were going to go on this boat, the 11th battalion, and the second third field regiment, he was supposed to go on the boat and he wouldn’t go because he didn’t like the look of it, he said his troop’s not going to go on that. So anyhow, I went on it, so we sailed away on that.
How did you board the ship?
We went down the wharf, on Metro buses, and just walked up the gangplank onto the wharf, and I’ve got two photos there with ‘Via Karrakatta’ signs over the door, and we pinched these and took them to the Middle East with us.
So what were conditions like on board?
This boat, the Nevassa was a troop ship, used to use it in the First World War to transport troops from England to India, she was built for that purpose. The sleeping was all hammocks, just all together, and had a mess hall and the cooks had their
kitchens and that. The food was just food, and that was about all it was, nothing flash about it, in fact the CO [Commanding Officer] Louch, he complained about it, he was the CO of the 2/11th Battalion.
Cramped? Yes, very cramped. We did the signals on her, it was an old boat, it only travelled at 12 knots, which is not a great speed, you know, we were convoyed by the Ramillies and three destroyers, and there was about three other troopships, three or four, I forget, and the Ramillies was – we used to take the
signal and they’d say, “MT [Motor Transport] Nevassa, you’re going too slow, you’re holding up the convoy.” So next minute it’s smoking like blazes and they’d pick up a couple of knots, and then back would come, “Nevassa, you’re making too much smoke, you’re going to draw crabs on us with the squad,” you know, the enemy could see the smoke.
And somebody got a porthole light, “If you don’t put it out, we’ll blow it out,” this is the Ramillies. So I said to the English sailor, I said, “They’re not dinkum are they?” He said, “Yeah, too right they are, they’re not going to… this old tub”. So no big deal. So that’s how we – we
did a bit of training on board, like Morse Code, and got books on procedures for signalling and all that, walked around and around, we pulled in at Colombo and had a couple of days in there while they dolled the old girl up, and then we called in at Aden again.
Colombo, we went ashore – the funny thing I noticed about Ceylon, that when you were about a mile offshore, you could smell the spices, you know they talk about the Spice Isles? And you could smell it on the breeze, the different spices coming off the country, and when you get there they’re all spitting beetle nut all over the place, red beetle nut, and these rickshaws they had,
we’d go riding around in those and all buying souvenirs and just relaxed all the time, but we were very hot and we never any tropical uniforms. I just read in the Battalion book that they’d ordered tons of fruit for us on board, but it never arrived so we didn’t get any of it, they were very short of rations
The bakers made bread, and meat stews mainly with veggies, I don’t remember if we got sweets or not, can’t remember that, but one chap came up and he said, “They’ve just made a discovery, they’ve found an Indian stew that had been in the
freezer since the First World War. But the eggs were cooked, we ate a lot of eggs, and the yolk was black. God knows how long they’d been in there, I don’t know. Seasickness took over a bit, didn’t bother me so much, I don’t know why, I get very seasick, but well, it was all a new experience for us
so we thought it was just part of army life so we just put up with it. Some couldn’t hack it and they didn’t like it at all. But it didn’t bother me, I could eat anything, I’m used to it.
Anchor, that was a game like a draughtboard, and it had crowns and anchors. And some chaps made a lot of money on it, stuffed shirts full. My brother Jack was with me, he was a great gambler, yes, he used to gamble, a lot of gambling went on in the army. I never gambled, I couldn’t stand it, too hard to get without gambling it away, but old Snow,
he used to gamble, then get rid of it.
So you never relied on the odds?
No, what, the toss of the coins? Nope. Well, when I became an NCO in Palestine I had to go and close the game down, they all went – they’d say, “There’s your brother, coming down to…” I’d say, “It’s not me, don’t look at me, it’s the
So your brother was notorious, was he?
Notorious? Yeah, a gambler, yeah. Very hard drinker too, old Snow, poor old
they put a ramp up, and these coolies, baskets of coal, and they’re like ants, crawling up and tipping it in, in no time they’d have it full of coal, and away we’d go off to Tewfik and up the Suez Canal to the Bitter Lakes, and that’s when Italy came into the war, if I remember right. And they unloaded us into a station called El
Kantara and we were taken then by train about 400 kilometres I think, to Kilo 89 [Camp 89 km from Jerusalem], which was our campsite in Palestine. That was our first experience of Palestine.
What did they feed you on at El Kantara?
Well camel sausages I think. They were big in Palestine, camel sausages. But food was pretty good, it might have been bland and tasteless, but it was good for you. I used to like army biscuits, they were like rocks, like pavement slabs, but they were very
nutritious, especially on convoy work, I used to have a bag of these biscuits and I’d sit there and nibble at these. But the food was worked out I suppose in calories or whatever, although it didn’t suit everybody, it was good. But when you went on leave of course you’d change your diet to go into a café, my main one was Wiener
Schnitzels in Tel Aviv, used to go for them every time we could get into Tel Aviv. But you couldn’t go gallivanting around all over the country because you never had the money.
tents, and our first job was to put up these white tents called EPIP [English Pattern, Indian Police] tents, they were big white cotton ones. And then we’d have to dig the inside out, down about three feet, in case they were bomb blasted. If you were hit direct of course you were history, but if it hit the side, the bomb blast would scatter over the top, and you’d be safe. The same as digging a slit trench in the desert, you’d dig a trench big enough to
hold yourself, and then when the bombs came, the shrapnel would go over your head, and you were safe. A direct hit of course, goodbye Charlie.
Did you do much training there?
Yes, we went out in the desert, we got some equipment there and some vehicles, and we went out into the desert, and I got into trouble out there because you should never – in wartime – send a message in plain language, like I couldn’t tell you, especially on the wireless, because it’s gone,
so I did that, I made the blue, we were at Beersheba, which was a great – you heard of Beersheba, the great battle for the Australians in the First World War? So I sent a message, we were only training, that the Australians were advancing on Beersheba, and it was picked up by the Warsprite, the big English dreadnought off Gibraltar, and sent back,
and I got into big trouble over that, big trouble. Everything had to be in code.
So were you doing a training exercise at Beersheba?
Yes. We went all around – we went to the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem, they were only – I remember them as only sort of mud villages in those days, now they’re big towns. Gaza, we used to down to Gaza, we had surf races there in Gaza, and you’d take your clothes down there, and these – what do they call them? Dhobi –
dhobi wallahs or something, and they’d take your pants and shirts and wash them all, and bring them back, and get your same clothes back again. But I ran a dance at a place called Rehovet near Tel Aviv, and I put on a dance and invited a lot of the Jewish people to come, and we got on very well with those, they used to sing to us,
and of course they’d say, “Well you sing now,” and of course all we knew was “Waltzing Matilda” or something like that. But we got on very well with them.
How did you organise the dance?
I don’t know, I suppose being a dancing man I always had a pair of dancing shoes with me, till I wore a hole in the sole, and during the war you couldn’t get anything fixed, of course. And I couldn’t dance – well I
danced in my army boots, but it was a pretty shocking thing to do. But the shoes gradually wore out, and what they were – they were given to us and I got them for drivers, they were the softest shoe for driving, and they were very good, well made leather shoes. But I
asked the unit, you know, what do you reckon we run a dance, we got some Jewish chap to play the piano, some old time music.
Did you have to build the dance floor?
No, it was there, it was there. But the Jews came, they liked it, they were doing some of their own dances, and we did ours. Quite good, yes. I’ve got an old program there somewhere.
What did they think of the Australians?
Various. Drunken louts, no hopers, and well, to be quite frank some of them were too, they were you know, the larrikin element, you know, all out on the side, I come from way back of Widgimills or somewhere, and I can do all this on
my own, which they couldn’t, but a lot of larrikinism. They reckon we weren’t disciplined enough, the English reckoned we could do with more discipline than we had. But when it came to the nitty-gritty, they were good soldiers.
Jewish parents with plenty of money wanted their daughters to marry an Australian soldier so that she could become an Australian citizen, and after the war they’d get on a troop ship and go home, you know? Whether there was any truth in that, I don’t know, nobody fancied me, so I didn’t get married. So I wouldn’t have got married anyway.
But that was the rumour going around, but it might have been all malarky, I don’t know. But we used to enjoy – I used to enjoy going round to the – I’m not a religious man by any means, but I like going around to the holy places, you know, where you’ve read so much, like the Garden of Eden, and the Garden of Gethsemane and the holy sepulchre and
all these – the steps of Christ when he carried his cross up through the rocks, through the town, they’ve got the – stations they call them, stations of the cross, and you’d walk up to where he was crucified, at a big building thing. I don’t know how they dug holes in the rock, but in the Garden of Gethsemane you could buy a little
olive leaf as a souvenir for so many mills, and mills was the coins in those days. They’re great ones for making a dollar, the Jewish people. But I enjoyed it there.
then we had to put them on the vehicles, the vehicle I had was called C2, now its job was to follow the commanding officer around, wherever he went, you’d be there. “Send a message back to headquarters.” Now wireless is a funny thing, you could send it, and it goes
up in the ionosphere, then comes down, like that. See, you could send the message, receive nothing here, but go down the other side of the fence out there and you’d receive it, or a bit further. And he always used to go crook, he’d say, “I could run faster than you blokes, sending messages.” But we got through all right. We laid a lot of cable
around from our sig headquarters, see we were attached to the artillery, to the headquarters and out to the guns, and we had to keep them in good condition, and when we started action and Bardia Bill opened up, used to blow our lines up, and I was told to go out and fix them. I thought,
“God, this is First World War stuff, this is not me.” But we did it.
Just while you were at Kilo 89, can you describe the training that you were doing in the desert, the kind of exercises? You mentioned some places earlier.
Yes, well that’s right, we did mainly communications, they’d go out and you’d signal to one another,
and train, getting used to all the procedures, the codes, so that you’d be spot on, should the occasion arise that you’ve got to do it. Even at night time you’d go out in the desert, and a lot of blokes got lost, out in the Sinai Desert, they didn’t know where they were. And they fitted our trucks with sand tyres, and of course they were civilian trucks and the clutches wouldn’t stand up to the big
tyres. But we did most of our training there around Kilo 89 and around the Dead Sea and up in the hills and all over the place.
called Jaffa, that was just out of Tel Aviv, I think everybody’s heard of Jaffa oranges, they’re beautiful great big oranges, and the green pastures and that, and they had these little villages called kibbutz, the Jews had these little kibbutz, and they’re like a little tribe or whatever, you know, and they’d live in those places instead of living in the towns like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
and Nazareth and all those places. A lot of Jews there, but they made these little kibbutz.
to fill up our tanks full of petrol in Kilo 89, and he filled – he grabbed a can, it was full of water, and of course we didn’t get two yards down the road and of course – but that was just one little thing by the by. But this place was Helwan out of Cairo. So there we started our training, real training there, round the Pyramids of Giza and all over the place.
That was where we started to get really into it. Then we had to camouflage our vehicles, and they weren’t spotted like these ones are today, they were stripes, like that.
Got a frog in your throat?
The reason being for this camouflage, that if you’re on a tarmac road, you pull off, you don’t alter the camouflage, you don’t alter it,
You mentioned that when you got here you started to really get into things. Is there where training increased, or you were just getting closer to …?
Well we thought things were getting a bit close to warfare when we started doing this, and also I think we got tin hats, and
then we were tearing around all over the desert, laying cables and fixing it up and training and learning all the procedures, all the codes and everything like that, and trying to find out the best way – we had earthing problems, you had to have an earth return on the – you’d peg it out to a little telephone, it had to be earthed. So we had one wire, and then you had to put an earth pin down, and drive it into the
ground so it’d make contact, and make good reception. So we found out that the best way to do it was to drive the pin and then urinate on the pin, which would dampen the ground, and make it better, better contact for earthing. That solved the problem.
How much water were you rationed each day in the desert?
In the desert, we had about a couple of pints, I think. A little water truck used to come around, full of chlorine, terrible, we used to
scrounge water from anywhere, but even the officers weren’t treated any different, they only got their so much. And I used to get a water bottle, take the cover off it and I’d – for Brigadier Cremor, I’d fill it up full of water and lay it on top of the engine, and heat it up for him, for when he had his
shave, he used to enjoy that.
Yes, well it wasn’t – it was all steel wires with the copper centre, and insulation on the outside, so when you had to fix them, when they got blown up, you’d have to cut so much copper, do that first and then wind the steel back, and then put insulation around it so that it wouldn’t
and I think they were some real cheapos, weren’t worth much I don’t think, but maybe, they were pretty good. But you learned very quickly how to do things, well I did anyway, because early in my life I learned how to do things, and you just couldn’t say, “Well I don’t know how to fix that,” you had to fix it up. Our first generator we got to go into action with,
was an old engine, and on the bottom of the big end was a little scoop to scoop the oil up and splash it on the cylinder. That fell off, so just useless, so we had to get another one. But that’s the sort of burnt out stuff we had.
atmosphere, very dickie, you know, you never know when you’re going to get it, when you’re not. I think it’s improved a lot now, wireless communications, but virtually a lot of times we just couldn’t get through.
used to knit balaclavas, you know, they put them on now and they’re robbing banks and things. But they were good. In the night time you’d put everything on that you could find, because of the cold. But in the day time you’d take them off. But I was saying that we used to have to dig a slit trench to lie in of a night time, and you’d lie there with everything on, and it was pitch
black, never seen such blackness in all my life. And we used to have a wire we’d run from the sig office truck along till you came to the slit trench, and then if you had to come on duty in the middle of the night, you’d pick it up and run your hand along and find it. You could get down, sometimes you’d see a silhouette, it was very hard, very dark. But I seemed to
be – I don’t remember any moon light nights, there might have been.
Did you have enough blankets to keep you warm at night?
Yes, I think we had enough. I was a great scrounger, I was a home comfort man, and I woke up smartly what would come in handy, such as a primus stove.
Where’d you scrounge that from?
I bought it in Jerusalem or somewhere, no it wouldn’t have been in Jerusalem, in would have been in Cairo I think, and we had – supplies of kerosene for it ran out very quickly, so I tried it on dieseline which didn’t work. But we never had thermos
flasks or anything, but we used to eat in the day time, the cooks had a kerosene, I think it was a kerosene stove, like a big – and it used to shoot the flame into an oven and it’d cook all the meals there. Well it was open tins and M&V, that’s meat and vegetables, or fish, herrings, goldfish we used to call it, we used to eat that until it
ran out of our ear, and then chop up army biscuits and make porridge out of them. So we could scrounge potatoes or veggies and hand them over, that all came in later on during the war, but that was all right then.
really, sometimes it just whacked you, if you were out repairing things, but other than that you just sit and wait, wait for it to come, sit in your truck, or go to wherever you were. See there’s nothing much you could do, just do your job signalling and keeping in touch, and keeping the lines open for messages, and
that was our main feature, to do.
and Cairo, and shut off the Suez Canal, and then their idea was to go up through Palestine, or through Alexandria at least, and across to Greece, and that would shut the British right off, and they’d have supplies right around. That was the idea. Because our first contact was with the Italians.
in Alexandria, and she said, “Well, we don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know where you’re going, but should you get to Alexandria,” what was his name, Bedford, I think, doctor, his address was 11 Rue Na Cradis, I’ll never forget that, his name will pop up, in Alexandria. So a friend and I, Charlie
Avery, we used to go – we met him, and he showed us around Alexandria, he had a big yacht on the harbour, and he used to take us out crabbing, and I thought, “I wonder what sort of crabs they catch over here?” The same as ours, blue mannis. He wasn’t allowed out, because you could see outside the harbour the destroyers patrolling up and down outside, but he could sail around in the
harbour. And he used to take us home, and he had all native servants, and everything was all polished silver and the whole bit, you know? And they used to give us dates, beautiful big dates. So anyway, Charlie saw a glass of water, and he drank it, and the doctor’s wife said, “Charlie, that’s to rinse your fingers in when you’re eating dates.”
to us. We used to go in by bus and around, and she’d sort of steer us through the place. And if they to chisel you on a bus, she spoke Arabic of course, and she’d tell them off. But she told us not to go into these back alley places in Cairo, because they said, “They’ll cut your throat and chuck you in the river, no big deal.”
So were there any girls in Alexandria?
They were lovely girls in the cafes, belly dancers. And belly dance, they’d belly dance, they’re like a big heap of blancmange, like a big jelly, and they shook, really.
Yes. And the chap was behind the bar, he said, “Soldier, no monkey business, my girl, she belly dancer. My girl. No monkey business.” But I used to like watching them, having a beer and watching the belly dancers. And they were good at their art, there’s no doubt about that.
How many mates were you hanging around with at the time?
There was Charlie Hay and I were mainly cobbers, we got on well together. All of them, you know, whether you’d see them and that. We had an experience in one of them, there was a convoy of English tramp
steamers came in doing convoy work, and this officer was full as a boot and he fell off, and we thought he was a navy man, so we said to the English mate, “Why don’t you look after your mate here?” “No, he’s not a mate, he’s a private, he’s not a navy man.” So they said, “Oh well.” Charlie said, “We’ll look after him.” So we took him down to the wharf, “Where’s your boat?” “What colour is it?”
“Grey.” Everything is grey. He said, “It’s that oil tanker.” And we found it tied up at the wharf, the coal wharf, and the chap said, “Why’d you bring him? He does this every night, goes down with a fistful of money and gets full, and expects somebody to come and take him home.” But anyway, that was part of it.
you know, if you were in trouble, especially after the war and coming home here with the Yanks here, no trouble at all, stick by you. Oh yes, and mateship was great in the Australian army. There was probably a few that couldn’t care less, but mainly if you were in trouble, you had, you know – quite easy to get into trouble, too.
You had to keep your wits about you, look after yourself.
the brothers were their pimps, and they’d say, “Come on, my sister very good, good doctor, very clean, you look.” And that’s what you do, it was no trouble to them. Dirty pictures.
7th Australian, 6th Australian division, the 7th , the 9th, three divisions of Australians, a division of New Zealanders, the eighth army, and the air force. So it was a pretty busy pastime.
And so how many blokes would show up to that?
I think Alexandria was called Sister Street. I was talking to a young Pommy bloke down at Claremont, and he said his father was in the war and went through the Middle East. I said, “When you get home ask Dad did he ever go to Sister Street.” So the next day I said, “Did you ask Dad?” He said, “Yes, you’re a dirty old man.” They had
the low price was for soldiers, the high price was for officers. See they used to have their – what did they call them – special places, I know out of Cairo I used to take an officer down to Heliopolis, and there was high class stuff there. In Alexandria
I don’t know, but even the girls operated on the dhows, on the Nile River, so the blokes – I’d say, “What have you been doing?” He’d say, “I’ve been diddling on the dhows.” Yes.
What’s the high class place like in Heliopolis, you know, what makes …?
Oh, big – yes, very expensive I should imagine, I never went in there. I used to drive the officers there and pick them up when they were full,
take them back to camp. I was a good night driver, it was completely black out there, and one night I had to pick up – I forget what this major’s name was, and he said, “Stop Eddie.” I said, “What are you going to do?” And they had shields over your headlights, with just a little glow, but no lights, because of aircraft. And he kicked them
off, he said, “Now I can see where I’m going.” I said, “I think sir, you’re going to get a snarler out of this.” Snarler meant back to Australia. I said, “Now I’ve got to drive all the way through Cairo,” yes, Cairo that’s right, “Out to Helwan, with no shields on the lights,” I said, “I’ll look like a searchlight coming.”
I said, “You’re in big trouble. I’m not taking the rap, I didn’t kick them off, you did.” So what happened to him I don’t know, whether he got reprimanded.
and then expand to two mile, then it’d be close up, and that’s how it goes. It doesn’t keep – you say 25 yards ahead of you, that doesn’t work, doesn’t keep going all the time, because the chap might hurry up to have a look at the light, and the other one comes in and gets together. But I learned driving at
night – I do it now – at night time I look at the kerb, because it changes colour, on a black road on the kerb, even on a clay road, the churned up will have a different colour to the other, so when you’re going along there and you keep in a bit, you know you’re on the road. See they used to make us – we had civilian vans, we used to have to
put grease on them, and chuck dust on them, the windscreens, because the aircraft, it wouldn’t shine, and you’d make a little hole like that, and you’d look through where you’re going. That’s in the day time. Well night time didn’t matter. See, another thing about aircraft, we didn’t
know this, that you must never look at an aircraft because your face shines. We didn’t know that.
See when we first got over at Capuzzo, we had to dig the slit trenches. Now you can imagine with a little pick trying to pick a hole in that road out there, which would be easy compared to this stuff, it was like a marble, very tough stuff, you couldn’t dig it. We only had a little shovel. So I said, “Well I’m going to sleep in the truck,
may as well sleep in the truck as to lie down there.”
and we got ours, in a – they called them a wadi, it’s like a little valley, and we were camped there up against this wall, because if anything did happen, it’d go over your head, and that’s what happened, a lot of them went over our heads, but a lot of them landed pretty close. And that’s what happened with the wires. See when I was told to go out and repair this wire, I thought,
“This is First World War stuff.” But that was serious stuff, and the shell would land on it and break it, and you’d have to go and fix it, you’d just run up, if it was in the night time, you’d run up with the wire in your hand till you found it, and you’d fix it. Then you’d run back again. In the night time you couldn’t find it otherwise, terrible place.
I don’t know, about a week, I suppose, after Bardia fell. It’s pretty quick, the desert, because the Italians gave themselves up in truck loads, and our next stop was Tobruk which they’d just left, they’d just left everything, so we had a field
day there, but what we wanted was clothes, we never had any clothes, our clothes were worn out, even the officer had a big hole in the behind of his pants, and he couldn’t find any either. So we went scrounging in Tobruk for Italian clothes, but they were only little blokes, they had nothing to fit me.
But you’re getting to – like later on we did a lot of bartering with the Italian population, but mostly it’s just army stuff that you could get, you know, scrounge off – tea, you’d get plenty of tea. We used to
stain our camouflage nets with tea to make them brown. I said the people in Australia would go crook if they see us doing this.
It sounds like you were in a bit of comfort, you know, having a couple of bunks in the van.
Well that was it. See the wireless set was up against the front – see you had to be mobile, you couldn’t carry everything with you,
so we had the little tray with the set there, and the aerial was on the back, and the sleeping – you didn’t always sleep in them, you had to go to the sig office and work of a night time there, so it wasn’t all that comfortable, although it’s better than the poor old infantry, I suppose.
See we didn’t know a lot of what was going on, because they were saying, “The enemy has ears,” you know, that’s plastered everywhere. But we didn’t know, we couldn’t have told the enemy anything, because we didn’t know. Wondered, rumours, plenty of rumours, doing this and doing that, but we didn’t know. Even the kids in the street would tell you what you were doing, but we didn’t
know, didn’t want to know. Would liked to have known, probably, but we didn’t.
I think the Australian artillery, like Eric Watts’ crowd, they might have dug a lot, but they were all dug there by the Italians I think. Tank traps, so you couldn’t drive a tank, you’d have to fill it in or if tank went over, he’d never get out again.
Well mostly for the condition of the terrain, and what hostilities were going on, it all depends on that, like you had bombarding from the air, you’d have to have special dug-outs built for that, dig your guns in so they wouldn’t get blow up. A direct hit of course, you’re history. But a bomb
blast would go over the top, and these guns are poked in there with the muzzles sticking out. Ack ack guns, straight up in the air.
mostly round just the perimeter of the town, the perimeter could be over three or four miles, kilometres and that. But they were right through the desert, you could see them, they used to do a desert patrol, they’d go out say 100 kilometres, and come around, back in again, looking for enemy and that. And a lot of these – I take it the traps were built there then.
Where were you positioned inside the perimeter?
Wherever we could get a spot. Somewhere in the town I suppose, if I remember – no, it wouldn’t be in the town, it’d be out of the town, because the township would attract bombers, and we didn’t want to be there when that happened,
everything out and put in a pile, make a sig office out of it, then you never know when you’ve got to move, so you’ve got to move everything very quickly, because if they found out where you were, they’d put the shells over and blow you out of there. So movement was very quick in the desert, you had to be very smart, roll up all your stuff and get going
again. And then you’d stop, unroll it, communications, and on you’d go again.
Can you describe your headquarters when you had the sig office and everything set up?
Yes, it was just a table, with a wireless set, also the latest thing like the old telephone things with the plugs in, they were going out to the troops, or the guns, and you’d operate that like
and that used to stooge around spotting for us, and he’d spot whatever he wanted, and he’d fly away, and the artillery would put a barrage there. And I think they had the same thing, the Germans had a little thing called a Storch, Rommel used to fly around in that, and do the same thing, just slow moving, better than
a fast plane, these slow ones they just stooge around, like that, and they could spot, and they’d send a message to wherever it was, like a map reference, to the artillery, and they’d come over.
looking. The thought of getting killed never occurred to us, that we could get killed. We wanted to see what was going on. Silly. We were told so too, in no uncertain manner. Standing up there looking at bombs hitting, and shells. Stupid. That’s the way it was, but we soon learned. You’re a quick learner in the war, believe me.
spine-bashing all the time. In the army during the war you did a lot of waiting, a lot of waiting. Dangerous waiting, good waiting, but waiting. Spent a lot of time waiting for troop movements, waiting for trains, waiting for boats. Wait, wait, waiting for this, waiting for that. But of course when you’re hectic you’re not
waiting, unless you’re waiting for something to hit you, which is not very pleasant.
patient, you never know what’s going to happen to you in war time, you never know that something’s going to come and you’re history. So probably you worry, but you get a little bit patient too, and wait. Probably it’s just waiting for the inevitable, you don’t know. So that’s when you get to town, you play up, you know? Having a
drop of beer, watching the belly dancers, because there’s none of that out where the shells are. So you’ve got to – see one of our trucks, he was taking some supplies out, and he was told there’s a sign on the road, don’t go past it. He said,
“I’ve driven all over Australia, I know what I’m doing.” I said, “You don’t know what you’re doing, you know,” and I said, “If there’s a sign there don’t go past it, don’t go past it.” He did. History, gone. The Salvation Army did the same. Had an uptake, the Salvation Army always had coffee for you, had a tent. “Have you written to your mother today?” It was a tent, the whole
bit. Marvellous people, yes. And you know, it’s do as you’re told. I went out looking for a crowd that had come from England, and I said to Charlie, “What’s that sign say?” “It says mine field, keep out.” I was in the middle of it, didn’t see it. But as luck had it, I got out.
they were with you. If you went out when you’re training, out on a route march, they were there when you got back with a hot coffee or tea. I don’t say all the time, but most of the time, with their tent, “Have you written to your mother?” Not the other churches, they didn’t care whether you’d written to your mother or not.
them. I think the padres were there, but I wasn’t a religious man, although my friend, a great friend, a childhood friend, gave me a bible, he became a Born Again Christian, he gave me this little bible, I’ve still got it, and I thought, somebody was looking after me. Was it the bible,
or was it Mum praying for me? Don’t know, but I’m not a religious man. So all these things come into your mind as you’re going through wars, you never know when it’s around the corner. When I put in for a disability pension, I had a little Chinese doctor, and he said, “What would make you like you are?” I said,
“Well doctor, there’s things like that, they’re bullets, and there’s things like that, and they’re shells, and there’s things like that, they’re bombs. And if you get hit by one, you’re history.” I said, “That makes me internally what I am.” Anyway, we’re the other side of Tobruk.
you’ve got to sit alongside the road in the desert, or out in the desert somewhere, where you’ve gone out to put your truck to send a message, and you’ve got to wait for the message to come back, sitting there was – you don’t know what to do, you know, you just read or just listen, you’ve got to keep your ear on the thing for when the message comes through, what you’re going to do.
down and all the crew were incinerated and they were sitting in their seats, about six of them. Terrible. You know, when you see dead bodies lying around, that’s the worst part of war, that gets to you, it’s not a happy situation. So you never know when it might be yours somebody’s looking at. Who knows?
come home. Yes, we went to Derna, and Barce was the next stop, that’s when we got in with the Italian community, we did a lot of bartering. They said, “We don’t want war, you get on with your war and let us get on with our farming.” So we used to trade eggs and milk.
and we used to get these tinned tomatoes and the odd bottle of vino we used to get there too. But we got a lot of Italian currency, lire, and we were using it for toilet paper, and we found out it was currency, and the smart blokes had picked it all up and put it in their pay books, and it got covered.
Never thought of it, being any good. One big mistake.
Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
Wasn’t bad while it lasted. What we missed mostly, or I did, was bread, and it wasn’t until we got to Barce and we got on leave into Benghazi, that we got these little bread rolls, and they make a good bread roll, and I
It seems to me like an unusual scenario, you were trading with the Italian community, after defeating Italian soldiers in the area.
No, the Italians, they were rounded up or they nicked off, they fled to
How were they rounded up?
Just gave themselves up. A lot of Australians in there. They used to yell out of a night time, “Aqua, aqua, water, water,” and one bloke yelled out, “When are you mugs going to give us a drink?” And I said, “He’s Australian.” I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I came over on leave to see my relations in Italy, Italy came into
lady two doors from me, Helen, her father got – she never met her father, her father got killed at Derna, he was one of the first casualties, and her father married her mother, and Mum was pregnant, and he sailed away with us, and she never met her father, she didn’t know him. So that’s one of the casualties of war, and it probably happened to others.
I’ve seen plenty of casualties, but I never personally bayoneted anybody or anything like that.
Where were they moved to?
Oh, a lot of them marched, a lot of them – I think they were herded into Tobruk, which was a port, and they probably went from there into holding camps around Alexandria or Cairo, those places, somewhere like that.
There must have been, well thousands of them, marching along the road.
Yes. We used to chuck them a couple of tins of bully beef. But no, they were different to the Germans, but I didn’t fight against the Germans.
Yes, a fair bit, yes it was war all the way, but were too – see they thought we had bullet-proof vests on, but they were sheepskin, turned inside out, leather, and they thought they were bullet-proof, so what’s the good of shooting at them, it won’t kill them? So that helped a fair bit. And they were
Alexandria, and all the rest went to Greece. We went to school. Our officer said, “I can get you to Greece, we’ll rejoin the unit”. So I said to Charlie, I said, “Well he’s going AWL [Absent Without Leave]”, which is – it’s a no-no as far as I was concerned, I would never do it, never did do it. He went,
and he got on a boat called the Slomak [?], which was blown sky high. And it was only when we got back to Fremantle the Red Cross saw my colour patch and asked me what happened to him? So that’s the stupid mistakes you can make.
Can you describe the abutments?
Well, it’s just a trench, and it’s timber put up where you jump over into no-man’s land, if you’re lucky, you’d get over. You see a lot of it in Gallipoli, and France, mainly France. They had these
trenches, and they thought that perhaps trench warfare might develop, but it didn’t because it came into the blitzkrieg and the tanks, the tank warfare, and artillery. They never had time to dig trenches. If it developed they wanted to have somebody who’d know how to dig them, and I was the bunny.
But it was no big deal to me, I’d dug sand for years, no trouble at all.
he said, “Yes, you’re WX1293, Eddie Roberts?” And I said, “That’s me.” “Righto, we’ll go out and we’ll show you what to do, how to dig.” And this so-called trench digger expert, and I could have showed him myself how to dig the sand. And you go through all that.
It wasn’t the only school I went to, I went to another one when I came back to Australia.
Were the trenches put to use, or were they purely training …?
No, they’d tell us what they wanted done, and then we had to do it that way. It was the army way, you don’t do it any other way, the army tell you to do it that way, that’s what you do, be it dangerous or whatever.
But I might have thought you’d get enough practice digging trenches that you’d eventually use, rather than just digging ones for the sake of learning how.
That’s right, exactly, see they didn’t know what the war, what it was going to develop
knew was something wrong, that the trucks weren’t going over. You see, the trucks, they used to pull the top down over the – load the trucks up and pull the top down, it was made so that the top could come down, it was all steel tubing made like that, and a tarpaulin, and then it’d fit over into lugs on the side of the truck, or you could
pull them out and slide it down. So I said to Charlie, I said, “There’s something wrong here, these trucks are not moving.” And we’re down by the wharf. So then things started to happen, they started to come back. So I knew a chap in the 7th Field Ambulance, he got back, but there was only seven of his crowd, the
7th Field Ambulance, out of about 30 or 40 blokes. The 11th Battalion, they lost three parts of their crowd, left in Crete. So a lot of reinforcements came, so we regrouped and we were sent to Syria.
and if you were in the hospital or anything like that, and you had to come back, you entered this holding camp, because there was no guarantee that you’d always go back to your own unit. But I was sent – I caught Dengue Fever, and I was – this is – it was after – and then, I was put
in hospital and they stuff you full of sulphanilamide tablets, which kicks hell out of all the germs, but cures you. So then an officer was walking through and he said, “You’re a 6th Div sig,” and I said, “Yes, that’s me.” He said, “Do you want to join your own unit?” I said, “I sure do.” And they were bringing in reinforcements, so I got
sent, and he said, “Will you go as a batman?” I said, “I’ll go as anything.” So I went back and I was a batman to John Roberts, the commanding officer. That’s how I rejoined them.
any army camp, all EPIP tents, an orderly room, like a wooden hall, with officers in it, and that’s where if you’re court-martialled or reprimanded, you had to go up and face the commanding officer, the CO or OC, officer commanding, whichever, he’d give you a dressing down, 28 days’ leave if you were a bad one,
he’d send you to Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem was a prison, I had to take a bloke into Jerusalem, and they’d break you, break your spirit. And he said, “They’ll never break my spirit, Eddie.” We got to the gate, and the big red – Pommy Red Cap [Military Police] says, “What are you doing carrying that gear?” I said, “I’m helping the prisoner.” “Drop it,”
he said, “Prisoner, pick it up.” “What did you say?” The prisoner said, “Nothing.” He said, “That’s what you’re getting for dinner. Pick it up, double over there, double back, everything at the double.” So when I went and picked him up, he said, “I’m going to soldier on, I’m not going back in there again.” But they break you. You get a pack with eight house bricks, and you take two steps left
turn, two steps right turn, and about three sergeants barking at you, you’ll give it up. And the Pommies were good at it. And this bloke said, “Aah.” There were two chaps, they picked them up in Beirut, they were running hashish across the border in stolen officers’ uniforms,
I was on charge of the guard to look after them, and they said, “If they run, shoot them.” He gave me a tommy gun, a machine gun, I’d never handled one in my life. I said, “Oh come on, they’re Australians.” “That’s an order,” he said, “They’re bad, they’re villains.” See there were bad larrikins in the army, in there to make the big quid, see? Too right.
you’d go into a hospital and you’d – I don’t know why, but they seemed to all wind up in Gaza, and that’s where they sort you out. See the funny thing with the army, if you got promotion, sometimes you weren’t going back to your own unit with your own men, they’d send you to somewhere else. See one of the chaps, his widow now comes to the dance,
he was a signal with us, he got promotion to a lieutenant, but they sent him to a machine gun battalion, knew nothing about it, he was a signal, but that’s what they do. And it happened to me.
it’s akin to malaria, because it repeats on you, every March for a few years this dengue used to come back at me, right on time. You run a terrific temperature, and when I went into the hospital, the silly looking orderly put me under a shower to get my temperature down and nearly killed me. Worst thing you could do. So
that’s how I finished up in Gaza. But they pump you full of drugs and – it’s like – see we never had the tablets like in New Guinea we had things to fight those things with, things to rub all over you, and Atebrin to take. We never had those, so – I don’t know whether it was because we were
Australians or not, but we fell down with a lot of those funny diseases, you know, like dengue fever and all those things.
So you can’t say much about the treatment that you received?
No, just like a hospital with nurses, very good, lovely ladies, looked after you, pat you on the head, and wipe your
Was it one of the Australian general hospitals?
Yes, Australian. I don’t know, they called them AGH [Australian General Hospital], the 24th AGH, the 28th AGH. And once you’re cured, you were discharged out and sent to the Gaza holding camp, where you’d wait till somebody wants you. So as luck happened I got
When we took Tobruk, my friend Charlie Avery, we went looking through the town, and we entered a church, a big Catholic church, so there was a casket there with a lovely crucifix on it. So Charlie said, “I’d like to get that and take it home for Cath.” I
said, “Well you know, this is sacred ground, turn it up.” And a priest came out, and he said, “My sons, what do you want? Don’t steal anything, you can have it.” And I said, “Well we don’t want to steal anything Father,” I said, “But my friend would like the crucifix.” So anyway, he disappeared then, the priest, and I said to Charlie, “Well put it up on the trestle and I’ll get a screwdriver.”
And when we went to lift it up there was somebody in there. So the priest came back, and I said, “No, we’ve decided not to take it Father, we’ve left it.” That was one incident, I’ll never forget that. The second one was scrounging around, I got a little Baretta revolver, and Charlie was having a snore off
alongside me here, and I was playing with this thing. And he got up to go to the loo, and I went like that and it fired a bullet straight into the pillow where his head was. Yes, you wouldn’t believe it. So I went out and I threw it in the Mediterranean, and it’s still there as far as I know. That was the second incident, it always sticks in my mind. But the third one was a machine gunner from the
Northumberland Fusiliers, somebody had shot his mate, and he was going up the front line with this Bren gun. I said, “Tommy, where are you going?” He said, “I’m going to sort them out with this,” he said, “They just shot my mate.” I said, “You can’t fight the army on your own, you’re the one that’s going to get sort out.” “I don’t care,” he says. And he was way off the planet. And those three incidents, I’ll never forget.
Would you see a bit of that going on? You know, with the shock of an experience, and people doing …?
No, I think chaps discuss it, but not much – I’ve never – I don’t think I ever told Charlie about it, himself. But they’re things that affect your life, and you think about
batman is a chap that looks after an officer, looks after his clothes, washes his dishes or cleans up after him, and he goes everywhere for him, runs messages, and looks after him. If he wants to take him into his confidence and talk about things, like family matters, or he wants somebody to talk to that he can’t talk to anybody else,
a batman falls for it. And I used to talk to John Roberts, I still talk to him, he’s over in Cargill there. But that’s how I got back to the unit. Now the unit was out of non-commissioned officers, that’s NCOs. So after a while, all the reinforcements were coming in, so John said,
“I’m going to give you one stripe and make you a lance corporal.” I said, “Well that’ll wag some tongues, won’t it? Your batman to a lance corporal?” So anyway, that’s what happened. And then after that I got two. And that’s the job of a batman. I’ll tell you another story about a batman. This Jewish chap I go and visit, he was sent to Rottnest as a batman for the captain there, and he didn’t like this bloke. And the
captain didn’t like him. They couldn’t get on. So he said, “Oh well, I’ll have to do something.” So he took the job on, and he starched all his underwear. Yes, he said, “I didn’t last long as a batman.”
looking after somebody else, I’ve got enough on my own plate. But you can – it’s somebody to talk to, you know, and his name was Roberts, came from West Australia, and we used to talk about everything, and he had one passion, when I was driving him around, he wanted to knock off ashtrays for souvenirs, even in Damascus.
I said, “I’m not over-rapt in this,” I said, “All these beady-eyed Arabs there.”
and you know, don’t do anything, but I sometimes get a little bit untidy, but in the army I found out that you can carry more if you’re tidy and do things, like carrying around your haversack, I learned how to fold a blanket around it. Some blokes were carrying it in their hands, and all that. And you get very good at packing
things in a small space. When I went to hospital with dengue, I had all my underwear was spotless, I was always a great one for cleanliness, always, but when I undid my pack in hospital, it was all dirty stinking clothes, and somebody had pinched mine and swapped it over. Yes, I was very hurt about that.
See we waited – well I said to Charlie, I told you, the officer went AWL, that’s absent without leave to get back to Greece to the unit, and he wanted us to go, and I said no. I said to Charlie, I said, “You don’t know what could happen, and things don’t look too good over there, because the trucks are not going,
were going through, we overran an Italian hospital, I forget just where it was, around the Tobruk area somewhere. And there was stacks and stacks of hypodermic syringes and drugs, didn’t understand them, so didn’t touch them. So I said to Charlie, “We ought to take a box of these back to Alex and give them to the doctor there, they might come in useful.” And he said, “What’s the good of that? They’re Italian, they won’t fit English ones, the needles.”
“Oh,” I said, “All right.” So we left them. When we got back to Alex, we told the doctor, he said, “I would have given you two and six each for them, I can’t get them.” And there were thousands of them, thousands.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of studying going on if you’re just digging trenches.
Well, I suppose there was other things going on, nothing to do with signals, I know that. But just army things, I think. I know it was
explosives, the officer there nearly blew himself up, and I warned him about it, had a special gun cotton that you put around a train line and fire, and it’ll cut a piece out of it, used for demolition from partisans and you know, fifth column people. And he went over, it didn’t go off, and I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you sir, don’t go near it.” I
said, “Give it another quarter of an hour.” And he went, and he just got a couple of feet and it went off. He said, “You were right Eddie.” and I said, “I told you,” I said, “It’s very tricky stuff, that fuse,” because a fuse might be continuous, but then it might be a little piece with no powder in it, and then it smoulders then grabs again, and it’s hot, see, you think it’s all right, bing, got you.
some of the other blokes?
Well they’re funny things, you know, that’s the only time I had anything to do with explosives, was blowing out, except you’ve got to be very careful when they light them, that you count them, like one’s gone, two, three, four, miss, then it’s a miss. Now, you’ve got to remember where it is, and try and dig
Was it after you finished the course that you went to Syria?
No, it was when – Greece fell, we lost everything in Greece, my truck with all my souvenirs and everything, and then we went back to Palestine and reformed, so there was a bit of a shemozzle up in Syria, we went up there as a garrison
army, to look after it. But while this was going on, Churchill and Curtin, the Prime Minister of Australia, wanted us back in a hurry because the Japs were in the war. And he wanted us back, and Churchill wanted us to go to Europe, because he had that D-Day in mind. And we had the good name, the Australians were good soldiers. So this is what’s going back and forth, we didn’t know that of course,
but we learned afterwards. And while we were up in Syria, all this was going on. So …
looking after things. We were still doing signal work, but there was no war there, it had finished. I think the Vichy French were taken over by the Free French or something. And then there was talk of us going up into Turkey, but we didn’t go to Turkey. This hullabaloo about coming back to Australia was still on. So we looked after all that in Beirut, and we were in a place
called Baalbek, which is a very old ancient town, beautiful ruins there, out of Beirut. And then down to Damascus, the 2/11th Battalion was down at Damascus, it was just keeping things in order in case anything flared up, you know, we were there on the spot.
Well they’d sit there for days and you wouldn’t know they’re getting closer and closer all the time, they’re sitting there in the grapevines, you know, think they’re picking grapes but they’re – as the Yanks would say, they’re casing the place, yes. They’re very – I never had any trouble with them, but the funny thing in the desert that the Bedouins would come across the battle
field looking for the – on the end of a shell is what they call a driving band, that’s made of copper, and that fits into the rifling in a barrel, in the gun barrel, and these were very well sought after by the Arabs because they made jewellery out of them, and different things, yes.
Right. So what was the boat like that you got on?
It was a pretty modern one, fast, no escort, because they reckon it was fast enough to outrun a submarine. I said, “What about if a submarine’s waiting for us?” Never happened, it
18th and the 19th, were left in Ceylon as a garrison, because the Japs were coming, after Singapore had gone, they were coming, but they were beaten in the Coral Sea by the American fleet and Australian fleet, British fleet. So Ceylon was safe, but there was still plenty of fighting going on in Malaya and all those places, Borneo
and New Guinea and Rabaul. So we were left there as more or less the garrison, I said we were there but we never had enough money to commit suicide with, or ammunition at least.
Was it a bad time for you?
No, it was a good time, I liked Ceylon. We got friendly with the tea plantation, a place called Akuressa, which is down near Galle, they call it Galley,
it’s an old Portuguese fortified – old fort, a Portuguese fort, Galle I call it. Well inland from there was this Akuressa, and they sent a bunch of natives in and in about no time they cut the trees down and palm leaves and weaved them, and they had a roof on it and everything, in about an hour. So we were stuck in there. We
used to go to Galle I think for the pictures, and sometimes if we were lucky we’d get on a bus and go to Colombo. But I got friendly with the manager of the tea plantation, and I went up to a place north of Colombo, that’s where he lived. So I stayed there for a week, I got a week’s leave, and learned how to make tea and all that.
do for a week on a tea plantation?
A week? No, we still had our signal duties to do, but we used to spend our time watching the girls picking tea, you know, like this, and the more you looked at them the whiter they got. They used to get five cents a day for picking the stalks out of the tea.
site, Theo said to the owner, he said, “All those coconuts have got to come down,” he said, “Fall on your head.” “No, no, no. Sorry, can’t cut them down.” He said, “I’m telling you, Get a monkey or somebody up there and pull them down.” The bloke wouldn’t be in it. So he said, “Orderly sergeant?” “Yes sir.”
“Four men with axes.” So those blokes went and got axes, brought them over. Now, are you going to pull them coconuts down or are we going to chop the trees down?” Put it on him, plain. “Yes, all right.” So he got the blokes to – they’re dangerous, coconuts, get them on the head and you’re history. So I was just trying to think of the name of the things they
made for the roof. But they were very good, they were rain-proof, but all the timber started to grow very quick. Everything went mouldy, we had our desert stuff, all from the desert, and after looking at a distance in the desert, when you get into a jungle, you know, right up close, your eyes ache.
what sort of signal work were you doing while you were on this plantation?
Well just communication between ourselves, like you know, as far as I know we didn’t link into the Ceylon system, but we did most of the signals. And they sent one chap we got there as a reinforcement named Kelly, and he told them in Australia, “If you send me to the jungle I’ll die, I don’t like it”. And they said, “You’re going
there.” So they sent him and he did die. I’ve got a photo of his grave. But it was – what did the Yanks call it? Resuscitation or whatever? It was a good spell after the desert. The meals were good, we used to buy curry and beautiful tea, they made lovely tea, and they used to have a little urn
with little coconut fires, the husks, and they’d just put the water through the sieve with the tea in. Beautiful, absolutely.
No, not made it, eaten it?
No, no, we used to have it at home, Keens curry powder. Mum used to make lovely curries. But they made it out of
Because it’s a big difference you know, going from the desert …
That’s right, we had hardly anything, because everything went to Greece, the whole division, their equipment was lost.
I don’t know, there were some ships coming from Australia to Ceylon, communications were pretty good because they had the Catalinas flying from Crawley to Ceylon. And mail came through, I got new clothes, got special clothes, and I got a tailor in
Calder to alter them for me, and put my stripes on, and when I got home they thought I was a doctor, they’d never seen this tropical stuff – uniforms, before, nobody had them. Nobody had tropical gear till New Guinea opened up.
How often would you get mail?
I think it was pretty regular, perhaps once a week, all depends how often you get letters from home. I used to get a couple from my sister and that, Mum never used to write, my sister used to write to me and that. Never had any girlfriends either write to me.
What sort of things would be in the parcels?
Toothpaste, toothbrush, razorblades, nice cake. There was only one thing with the cakes, that they didn’t have any preservatives in them, and they’d go off, and they’d taste like ants. You know what an ant smell is? A real acidy smell, and that’s how they went.
rumours in the war. Furphies, they used to call them. A furphy called about by the water tanks in the First World War on wheels, called a furphy, a water tank, and it was never used much, in this war, because they called it a furphy, because they didn’t want it.
can you think of any other things that you got up to while you were there?
No, I mostly – really just lounging about and I was a great reader, I like reading books when you get hold of them, and go sightseeing, you know, around the place.
these temple dancers, with the gongs and bells, clanging all the time, used to be a lot of them. And they used to have parades with these huge elephants. They were big, those Indian elephants, they’re colossal things, and they’d be walking down all painted up and a thing on their trunk and eyes painted, and a big thing on, they’re all sitting up in there, a
howdah I think they call them, I’m not sure.
modern ones, I think they were still the same ones we used in the desert. But I don’t think we – wait a minute, yes we did use wirelesses in Ceylon, because I remember having to scale up a tree, and it was full of ants, coconut ants, and I struck the same things in New Guinea, same type of ants, and rats. Used to have things to put on your leg
here, and you’d dig them into the trunk and climb up.
Warsprite picked me up, because they had to have a powerful receiver, and they’re monitoring the air all the time, and decoding everything if it was in code. The English were very good at breaking codes, and I suppose they thought, “What the dickens is going on here, what’s this, Australians in Beersheba?” Because it was right, we were there, but I shouldn’t have said it,
What sort of communications were you talking about when you were in Ceylon? Is it – what information is being passed?
Just troop movements I think, about our own personnel or troop movements, there wasn’t much to report on, because there was nothing much going on,
So how did you pass the time?
Exploring, looking, reading, practicing, reading our army books on things, you know, studying wireless procedures. There was plenty to do to keep you occupied, but it was – you’d always find something to do.
Da da da da, Churchill used to sing it, Da da da da, that’s a Vee, and E was just a dot, and a Z is two dashes, a dot and a dash. So that was your opening thing, and you get a reply back, and you’d carry on. I think, was it – who wrote that score,
Mozart or somebody, Vic Eddie Da da da da.
clapped, we shouldn’t have clapped, they were Japs, and they’d just bombed Colombo. Now Colombo was full of warships, and Cunningham, who was the chief admiral of the fleet, he got wind of this, and he told them to get out to sea quick, “Quick, get out,” because they’re all lined up, sitting ducks, and they got out and the Japs came but they were a bit late. I think they made a bit of a mess of the harbour, but they missed
the big cruisers and that. Yes, see he was lucky, didn’t he blow the tripe out of them. Tell you what, we were all waving to them, we thought they were ours.
Certainly right with that. So what did you do?
Well, we didn’t do anything, we just stood and waited and as I said before, you spent a lot of time waiting, and then the message came that we were to pull down our gear, pack it up, and
go to Colombo, because, pardon me, we’re being moved. We didn’t know where. And see everywhere they were saying, “Don’t tell the enemy anything”, we didn’t have anything to tell the enemy. We didn’t know where we were going, nobody told us. But the rumours were there that we were going to Australia, you know?
Terrible. We were on a – I don’t think it was a very old boat, it wasn’t a new one, but I got seasick. Everywhere you looked, you’d look forward, look up, look down, I never had a good meal from Colombo to Fremantle. The
weather was atrocious, you’d see a boat go up and the propeller’s spinning around, on top of the wave, and it’d go down. And that’s how it was nearly all – we went way down south, because it was starting to get cold, to dodge the Jap submarines. We didn’t know that of course, but that’s what it felt like, so all the way, I think it took us about a fortnight to get here.
“I’ve heard – it’s come to my ears that there’s pilfering on the boat. Now, I’ve got no time for pilferers, if you find him, chuck him over the side, but if you don’t want to do that, bring him to me and I’ll throw the book at him, which means he’ll get everything I can give him.” So I’d never heard of any pilfering going on, but they reckon it was pretty rife. In the staging camps,
yes, but when we got to Fremantle, I had the job of dishing out kitchen duties for the troops that weren’t getting off, there was only West Australians getting off, and all the eastern staters were staying on, and going around past Albany, you know, to the east. I’ll never forget this bloke, and I said to
him, I said, “Fred, you’re on kitchen duty while the chef’s in port.” “Oh, no way,” he says, “I’m going to get leave.” I said, “You won’t get any leave.” He said, “I’m not doing any duty.” I said, “Well that’s an order, you’ve got to do it. I’m told to give the orders, I’m just passing them on, it’s not my fault.” And he king hit me. You know what a king hit is, don’t you? Hey?
Sounds like a dinkum blue.
Oh, it was a real blue. And when we pulled in alongside the wharf, I said, “There’s an ambulance there,” so I said, “Oh, somebody’s going to get picked up.” It was me, down to Hollywood straight away.
Sounds like you were a mess, if you ended up in hospital.
Yeah, I had to go down and get all this hand all plastered, the ambulance came past here, I got him to stop here and I threw the kit bag over the fence. And my sister was there, I said, “Tell Mum I’ll be back in a minute.” And when I got down to the hospital and got my
hand done, the doctor said, “I’ve got to keep you in here for three days.” I said, “Oh, come on, I just came from the Middle East, I don’t want to be stuck in here.” And I said, “Do you smoke?” He said, “Yeah,” so I gave him a carton of Craven A cigarettes, so they got me on three days’ leave. So I came home here, and that was my introduction back into Australia.
I’ll just ask you a few questions Eddie. Why do you think this bloke was so determined not to accept the duty you were ordering him to do?
There were people like that, they didn’t want to do anything, they weren’t soldiers. I know chaps grizzled about the uniform, grizzled about the army, grizzled about everything, they weren’t worth two bob. And he was a trouble maker this bloke, I know him, because
Sorry, I was just going to say, if you were in the same unit together, how did you come to having such a big blue?
Well he didn’t want to do anything, he didn’t like taking orders. See, I had to detail all these jobs to be done,
there was a lot of jobs to be done, even on a boat with a crew, there’s the mess orderlies, and potato peelers, and the whole box and dice. And you’d just dish it out, I had my share of it, before I was an NCO, I did it, no worries, part of growing up and learning. But some of them didn’t want to learn. So they had to take it the hard way. And I learned a trick or two too, in the meantime.
the first time you’d disagreed on a …?
First time? No, no, no, I had trouble with a bloke in Ceylon. I had to put him on a charge too. He didn’t want to do anything, he started swearing at me, he called me for everything. So I thought the only way to shut you up mate, is to put you before the CO, which I marched him in. But you finish up mates after all.
Well unfortunately when I left the hospital and come home, Mum wasn’t too bad but she was very ill, because there were no doctors here, the doctors were all gone in the forces. So I went down to the Gibsons, my friends, hopped on the tram – no, the first thing I did was to go down, I
took a case down to Captain Stirling and I said, “Give us half a dozen bottles of beer,” and the barman said, “Where have you been?” I said, “I’ve just come back from the Middle East.” He said, “I thought so, we’re not allowed to sell it to you.” Anybody in an Australian uniform is not allowed to buy it, bottled beer. And I thought, “Oh, all right.” So I thought, “What sort of a country I’ve been fighting for?” But anyway, I went down to the Gibsons, and they –
Ida and Ella Gibson and Mrs Webster and some friends, they – I’m trying to think of the word, adopted a destroyer, an Australian, and when it came into port they’d put a party on for it. And Mrs Webster’s husband, he got caught, and he was a POW in Germany, he got caught in Libya somewhere.
So I had all my arm in plaster and I said, “Oh, great carrying on, you’re all having a party here, drinking up and your husband’s a POW,” and they said, “Well don’t go crook at us,” you know? I said, “Well I can’t understand it, what are you celebrating?” And then I got – later on I got to know, that these sailors, they went out and never came back, they got
torpedoed or blown up, and while there were in shore they really played up, they had a good time. And that didn’t click onto me at the moment, but it did after, because when I came back on a couple of pieces of leave, I enjoyed myself too, because I didn’t know what the future held.
So it was while you were overseas.
No, oh yes, yes, true. No, no, no, it wasn’t while Mum was alive, no. It was after Mum died.
Barmaids have plenty of booze, yeah, but that’s what annoyed me, because the Americans and the Dutch could go down there with taxis, and the boots of their cars were scratching on the ground, full of booze, yet we weren’t allowed to buy it, and the bloke that put the order on, was a bloke named Bennett, who gave the surrender services
Oh, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I went back – you see, what happens when anything like this, like you get leave, or you get out, you’ve got to go back to a staging camp, and I was talking about the one in Gaza, now the Claremont Showgrounds was the one here, so you had to go back there, and they said, a
little bloke, he had little whiskers like this, on the gate, he said, “Who’d did you come from?” “G section, signals, attached to the 2/2nd Field Regiment.” “Where are they?” “Wouldn’t have a clue, in Australia somewhere.” “Well you’ll have to wait till we find them.” I said, “Righto.” So anyway they found them in a place called Church Point out at Newcastle in New South Wales.
So I rejoined them and I met this bloke I had the fight with, we got on all right together.
What was that train journey like?
Oh, it took weeks, weeks. Stop, we were going across there once, Christmas time, he ran out of coal and he had to leave us on the siding and run away and get some old sleepers, to get to Port Augusta.
lot. The first trip across, when we first went was – we went as passengers, civil passengers, when the army took over they had a truck with a mobile kitchen on it, and you’d get your food from there. We used to get bags, or a bucket of rocks and throw it at the empty beer bottles. You’d always go and catch the train at Parkston with a cargo of beer to see you
and this wasn’t a troop train, this was going as far as Kalgoorlie, there were some troops on it, and I got talking to her, and I met her Mum and Dad, he was the manager of a mine, so we used to go out there, but it didn’t last long because I was only there for a few days.
So he’d left the unit while you were on leave getting well?
Yes, he’d left, and my brother Charlie, I don’t know what – he finished up in the Old ’n’ Bolds, a mobile laundry,
Can you describe the more modern equipment that you got?
The wirelesses were better, world range, you could get anywhere on them. The transport was good, it was all Lend Lease stuff, the trucks,
Well I don’t know, they tried to make room for all the soldiers you see, coming back from the Middle East, and they picked these places, it was a lovely spot out by the – not far from the ocean, but mosquitoes, we called them the Hexham Greys,
No, not till I got to Cessnock, I met a lass there, and I got very friendly with her, and her family, Maxine Letts, her name was, and
No, how did you resist her advances, like her …?
Oh, easy, when it was advances and home cooking and home life that you’ve missed, quite simple, quite simple. Silly, but simple.
What were you doing in Cessnock?
We weren’t camped at Cessnock, we were camped at Singleton, that was about 20 miles away, and we used to go up by – any way we could scrounge a lift, used to do up all my clothes and iron my shirts and do my pants and everything, and polish my boots. Always used to look nice.
load – I think we went back to Newcastle, and a train load of trucks was going up to the Tablelands, the Atherton Tablelands, and we got put on that to look after the trucks. And we finished up at Cairns and then we went up on the Tablelands with these trucks, took them off. And we were at a camp – we were camped
at a place called Wondecla, which is on the Tablelands, and the artillery came there, the second second field regiment came there, and we got all our reinforcements, and got our section going again, and we camped at Wondecla. And the trucks were dispersed out, and up at a place called Atherton they had a big canteen there where they used to dish out the beer, and
the supplies. But we had a chap, an artillery man was a brewer, so he used to make home brew for the camp, for the regiment.
The same as the desert, going out and messages and trying out our new sets and all that. We used to go – can’t think of the name of the place now, down on the coast, it’ll come to me. We were there a couple of years ago. But it was just training, everything, you know, everything you do is training.
together on the map. You know these road maps they’ve got, they’ve got 1B and 1C and that, like that, and you’d find these. And you had a board and you’d write them down, where they were, and you had to keep up with them, so the CO pulled up, he said, “Where’s number one battery?” “Oh, it’s down there sir.” And if you didn’t, he wanted to know why you
didn’t know where it was, because you’re supposed to have the knowledge for him, being the signals who operate, and he might give you a bit of a brass, but – and Brigadier Cremore, he was a nice bloke, very straight-laced, he was very strict, but a nice fellow. I got on well with him in the
desert. When I couldn’t get messages, when I couldn’t …
myself. I was sent to a school in Maroochydore, that’s north of Brisbane, they must have thought I was officer material. So I went to this school, failed. Did everything right, I knew all the – everything about wirelesses and everything, but my maths were no good, I failed at maths horribly. So anyhow, all I got out of it was an extra stripe, I became a
sergeant. And when I got back to my unit up in the Atherton Tablelands, they said, “You’ve been transferred to the third Aust mobile meteorological flight,” and I performed – I said, “What’s that?” They said, “They’re just over the road, it’s an air force show, you’re taking weather reports, you’ll be in charge of three operators, wireless operators.”
So that was it, I got shoved out of the artillery and sent over the road to the air force. I didn’t join the air force, but I was army in charge of three wireless operators. But I came under the jurisdiction of the air force. That was a good move, quite all right, I didn’t mind. I played merry hell, being shifted, but that was the army, that if you went out to a school and you got promotion, there was no guarantee you’re going
back to your same unit, they’d send you somewhere else. So that was the – I stayed with them …
Why didn’t you want to leave your unit?
Why didn’t I? Well I’d been with them all the war, I knew them all, they knew me. And to go to a heap of blokes I didn’t know, and never seen anything, can’t blame them for that, poor blokes, but
Did you have a few drinks before you left?
Oh yes, they had a good – this air force mob, they could get drink running out of their ears, but they weren’t – you could just go to the thing and get a drink and just sign for it and pay up on pay day, you know?
was – you’d take the block letters, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and a gap, five different figures, not letters, figures, and they’d send them in at about 20 words a minute, and as I said, it goes in one ear and you’re writing with the other one, see? The previous one you write, and you get very good at it, at the finish, it just comes naturally, just coming in and going out. And you hand that
over to a flight sergeant, and he does all the weather work, makes the forecasts, puts all these scribbly lines, I forget what you call them now but …
Did you tell them anything about your experiences?
Not really. They didn’t want to talk about it, they had their own experiences of what they did. Two of them wanted to be pilots, no, one wanted to be a pilot, and he was good but he couldn’t land an aeroplane, couldn’t judge it, so he got wiped out and put in the … Two of them I think wanted to be pilots.
Pretty serious operation, was it?
No, it’s not a serious operation, they made a big deal of it. The padre was the anaesthetist, he just put a strainer with some cottonwool over my face and dripped it on. They had a good dance going there, so it was all right.
What does that smell like? It’s got a pungent smell hasn’t it?
Terrible, all of a sudden you go bomp, you’re out. You wake up and you can’t breathe, so the sister comes along and pinches your nose, and you start breathing again. I used to panic, the bloke next to me, “He’s not breathing sister.” She said, “Save me running around, you can do it.” But watching men come out of
Nope. I didn’t want to get involved, there’s only one girl I thought I was involved with, Beryl Lord, she worked at Dalgetty’s in Brisbane. She used to write to me. I met her in Maroochydore, but her mother laid down the law that she didn’t want her daughter to go with anybody that drank
or swore or – as a matter of fact, if you were in the army you were out, because they were all- –
That’s all right. So what was your reaction to hearing that you were going to New Guinea?
Well, there was no reaction at all, I wasn’t wrapped up in it, you get fed Atebrin tablets and green uniforms, and didn’t know what
No, what did you fear most, an air attack or a sea attack?
Well I saw an American, and he said, “Don’t worry about the Jap air force, you worry about ours,” that’s when we were coming down the coast, a little bit from Aitape.
I don’t know really, but it just was their accent, I could have sat down, when I came home, and just let you talk, didn’t want to make love to you, didn’t want to kiss and hug you, just hear
you talk. It’s strange. But I think we all felt the same way, because it was that long since we’d heard an Australian voice, bar a nurse, but you never spoke to nurses. You’re talking to men all the time, it’s sort of – whether you get disoriented or whatever, I don’t know. But I just loved – keep talking, you know, what’s wrong with this bloke, is he nuts or something?
It’s quite a sweet thing to want to do, really.
Yes, it was. I couldn’t understand it myself, to tell you the truth, why, but I just loved to hear the Australian accent again, which was good.
as I said, you don’t always go back to your own unit, and this job came up with these new people, I don’t know whether it was something – they had to go to New Guinea or not, but I filled the bill because I could read and write Morse, and having three stripes I could tell them what to do. It wasn’t easy, but I got on all right with them.
time, and you share things. You might talk about your home life, or something like that, and I remember in Ceylon they got some Women’s Weekly’s there, and it said, “Australia welcomes the Americans, showing them around,” and the bloke said, “Showing them around, that’s my wife that bloke’s got his around.” Yes, he nearly went off his head.
Were they trying to get their hands on the girls back home?
Yes, well the girls loved it too, didn’t they? Well dressed, well spoken, plenty of money. Used to go to the Embassy dance with a bottle Scotch, tied around their ankle. You weren’t supposed – according to them, take beers into the dance or something. That’s the story I heard, I don’t know how true it is.
a crowd of Yanks with those trucks called Ducks, you know the Ducks? D-u-k-w, you can drive them on the land or in the water. You can just come off the water and drive straight up the beach. And they tipped all our gear into those, and they had landing craft too, and just chucked our gear in there, we had to sort it out on the beach. That was our first – and I went crook at
them, I said, ‘I’ve got wireless sets and everything.” So, “We know nothing about that, buddy, if that’s yours, take it.” So we had to go through the whole lot, you know, and there was a lot of stuff there, laying on the beach.
It was green, always wore long sleeves and long pants. I don’t think we got green short ones because of malaria, and scrub typhus. Now a lot of silly blokes wouldn’t – they said, “I’m not putting all that rubbish all over me,” and they got scrub typhus, which is not funny. I think that’s a type of malaria too. And you get another stuff called Mary, which you put all over you to stop the mozzies,
and you ate Atebrin tablets that made you go yellow. Yeah, yellow as anything, from eating the Atebrin. But I was very conscious of all this, so I never got malaria, but I used to scrounge a bucket of hot water from the kitchen, if I could get one, and then tip it all over me and then go and jump in the ocean, and the weather was nice there, you’d be in the
lovely water and wash it all off. And I did that regularly, every day, I couldn’t always get the hot water, but I could go and jump in the ocean. They got some showers afterwards, the Yanks put some showers in, we got hold of.
they badly wanted to go to Australia for some reason or other, I don’t know why. The same thing, New Zealand and Australia, not much difference. But I said, “If you want to know something about Australia, I’ll get at atlas and I’ll give you a lecture on Australia.” Big deal, I’m no school teacher, see? So they said, “Righto.” So I got them all in, I’m talking about it, going around – the people live mainly on the coast and the mountains and the rivers and
sheep and cattle and everything like that, and they enjoyed it. It wasn’t all true in every respect, I’m sure of that. But it satisfied them, nothing to do. They wanted to give me a fridge.
cream things on the deck, making ice creams to eat, plenty of cigarettes, they had plenty of everything. And one thing I did get off them was one of their mosquito nets. Ours were made out of green netting stuff, heavy, and it used to cave in and the mozzies could bite through it, so I got one of theirs, which was fine like –
not as thick as a silk stocking, but similar material, enough to keep the mozzies out, and it’d fit tight down over your bed.
orange juice – lemon juice, and two gallons of alcohol they tipped in it. So I said to Wayne, I said, “This stuff’s only lemon juice.” He said, “You haven’t been around twice, buddy.” And boy, it’d knock you head over tip, yeah. But they’d import thousands of turkeys for them and all that, and we never saw that type
You buried the asparagus?
Yes, in the cans, and put it in the sea to cool down. But the Yanks had mosquito repellent which was very cold when you spray it, and you’d spray it on your beer, cool your beer down. You see, you go – I think we got two bottles a week or something, so to stop you
tennis racquet and a box of tennis balls there, in New Guinea for God’s sake, and sent them down – a chap came, he was doing a report on the – the weather reporter, the air force bloke, and he took some photos which I’ve got, and I made him a – no, it wasn’t him, I gave him this tennis racquet and balls to take back to Beryl Lord in Brisbane, and she got them.
So what job were you actually doing in New Guinea?
We were taking the weather reports for the artillery and the air force, we were parked always by the air strip, Aitape and then Wewak, we were camped there, and we had our …
how would you find out what the weather was going to be?
Well they knew, I didn’t know what it was going to be, just give them all these figures, and they’d say, “It’s raining in Perth, Eddie.”
You stick all these figures together, in such a way that can tell you what the weather is …?
To the expert, the air force bloke, he knew exactly. I didn’t, didn’t mean anything to me, it’s just letters. But I gave him the accurate
Right, so that would be your daily job?
Yes, you had a big wireless, world range wireless, and they used to come in – sometimes you’d wear earphones, or just put a speaker on, and it came over loud and clear, beautiful, sit there, give them to him and he’d –
force, directions and for the artillery, because it could cause a shell to drop short, they call them drop-shorts, which is very dangerous because an officer with a signalman used to go out to where the Japs are, and he’s just talk quietly back and he’d ask the artillery to put the
shells 50 yards in front of him, yeah, forward observation officer. I think a lot of them got knocked over, but what a job he had, you know? “Bring it down two yards, or bring it up…” Oh goodness. No fear, nothing.
doing, it becomes a strain on you. When I first was just learning Morse Code, and couldn’t do it properly, it bothered me. But then all of a sudden it clicks, and you’re right. So vital things like weather reports and wind velocity, if you don’t get them right, you throw everybody out of gear, and it sort of, you know, the
responsibility is with you, you’re it.
we all do, we looked – you know, when’s the war going to be over, let’s get home. And the officer, the one that did finally finish – the air force officer said, “Eddie, I’ve booked you to come with me to Japan as occupation force.” I said, “No, I’ve done my bit, I’m not going.”
Just rewinding you back a little bit here, what were the weather conditions out there in New Guinea like?
Sometimes good, but then they’d come like – the tropics, down it’d come, and you go over a creek bed, going out, and come back and it’s a swollen river, and Ceylon was the same,
exactly. But a lot of weather you could go out and we had swimming there and everything. But the weather was muggy, you know, but I suppose you just say, “Oh well, muggy again,” and get on with your job. Can’t be bothered wondering about what the weather’s going to be like, because you’d be wondering
all your life. So you just got on with it and put up with it. When it was raining I’d just put my glass underneath the tent and get beautiful cold fresh water, especially if there’s a drop of Scotch to put in it.
job that I could do it. The poor bloke out in the jungle, he couldn’t do that. But I made sure that I did everything the army said to do. If they got basin of stuff to put your feet in for tinea, put them in it. Condies Crystals, you know? The blokes said, “Can’t be bothered doing all that,” finished up with tinea, finished up your toes drop off.
and as you’re walking through, they get on you. Leeches, yeah, they live on the kunai grass, and the scrub typhus bugs get on you and they crawl up you, that’s why we wore gaiters all the time, we wore gaiters before we got into the jungle, because I made sure mine were tucked into my socks, and I’d put this special stuff they’d give us to rub on there,
stop them from getting up my legs.
I mean did they give you a big lecture before you got over there, and tell you what it is that you’re supposed to be doing?
I don’t remember ever getting one, no, no I don’t. We heard all about it, you know, to take this, I think they did give us a lecture on taking Atebrin and this other stuff,
think the Yanks put up some showers and I think they were salt water, pumped. But as I say, I used to get some hot water and lather myself and then jump in the ocean, which was very refreshing, it was beautiful there. But I used to swim a lot too, out in the surf, and I also used to go out picking up these shells, I got an old Japanese gas mask, and put it on, it’s tight around here,
and then you just hold the tube up and look around under the water. Little did I know that these shells, they’ve got a little dart in there, that’d kill you, poisonous. Yeah, I didn’t know that.
there’s sudden there’s nothing, a big black hole. The coral reef stopped. And I thought, “God, those flaming octopus could come up there and grab me.” I’d take to my scrapers, back into the beach again. But when the war finished, we used to fish, catch fish.
Well how many different ways can you cook bully beef?
Well, you can curry it or make rissoles out of it, or just plain stir fry it with veggies or something, I suppose, or just eat it cold,
Could you get any fruit at all on the island? I’m sorry, New Guinea?
Not New Guinea, not much, no. In Ceylon, stacks of it. In New Guinea, no.
get torpedo juice, I don’t know what that was used for in a torpedo, but it was alcohol in there, whether it was for a buoyancy tank or something to do with the steering, it was pretty powerful stuff, so they used to drink this torpedo alcohol, it was about 80%, 90% or something.
taking released prisoners, marching down the road, they were sent down and a cook shot them, he thought they were Japs. But there was two Japs in the hospital at Wewak, and they were in hospital beds, and a chap came in with a rifle, and he said to the nurse, “If you don’t take this rifle off me, I’m going to shoot those two, right on the spot.”
He said, “And I kid you not, I’ll shoot them.” And they took the rifle off him. He was away with the pixies. I saw three men outside the hospital tied down screaming and yelling, away, gone, mentally, absolute. Another bloke had a burst of bullets down here from a machine gun, waiting for transport, and I said, “Gee, stiff luck, mate.”
“No fear”, he said, “I’m going home, you’re still stuck here.” So that’s the way war went.
Were they over there and you were over here?
I don’t think they – whether they’re allowed to get friendly with the troops or not, I’m not sure. But the Yanks had a big – at Aitape they had a big hospital there, and the American officers and that, the blokes used to talk to them, taking their photos with them and that. But no, I never
from New Zealand to occupy Aitape, and then they were going to Guadalcanal or they came from Guadalcanal, I’m not quite sure. But the bloke I cobbered up with, Wayne Showman, he said, “Here’s my torch,” which I’ve still got, he said, “I’m going stateside.” That means he’s getting out of the army. But he’d drink anything, he was away with the pixies, absolutely, an alcoholic man.
What was morale like up there?
Well in my little company, it was all right, you know, nobody was laughing their heads off, or anything like that, because they were fed up with it. But other than that we got on with our job and did the
bombers going back and forth, from Australia, well I mean it’s not that far, really. But we got mail pretty regularly. I used to get, I remember, a two shilling piece, I used to cut a piece out of it, and leave the crown, the Queen’s crown and that, and get a piece of blue, and a piece of white toothbrush,
the handle, and make little colour patches, souvenirs out of them, that’s when the war finished.
That’s pretty fiddly stuff.
Yes, we just went – nothing to do, you see? We just did the weather reports, we kept them up, but the fighting had ceased, we got a ship load of ammunition in
at Wewak and the CO of the regiment, he said, “Well these Japs are going to get it whether they like it or not, I don’t care if the war is over, they’re going to get it.” And I was listening to the news and one of the blokes said, “What’s happening?” I said, “I don’t know, I think the Japs have had it, they’ve dropped some sort of a bomb on Tokyo, on – not Tokyo…”
Yanks are doing, with the girls and your wives, and all sorts of things like that, trying to break your morale down. And a lot of blokes did too, you know, they felt it, too. But I didn’t have that worry because I didn’t have any, so it didn’t bother me. But a lot of the blokes suffered with it, if they could hear it. They didn’t all hear it, but I heard it and I just told them, they said, “Oh big deal,” you know? Like Lord
Haw Haw when he was doing it for the Germans.
And how often would they be broadcasting? You know, like Tokyo Rose? Was it on the wireless every day?
I think – I’m not quite sure now, it was pretty frequent I think. Because I could only listen when we weren’t receiving. I used to tour around a bit on the dial, for something to do. But I’m not quite sure now, I just forget when she came on. But she had a good
And so after you’ve got the balloon up, what happens next in a day?
Well, they take all the readings and they plot it on a chart, and we’d send it off to the artillery and the air force, I’d take it, or somebody would take it.
Would you send out like the weather broadcast, in Morse Code?
It was, yes. Morse Code. It finished up, they told me, I don’t know whether it’s true, that some girls were on it, and they were very good at it, and they used to throw it at you really fast. So I was pretty good, I got up to 20 words a minute, which was pretty good, and that didn’t bother me, I’d just – if I had to send a bit back, I pelted it
So you suspected that they might be girls, and you didn’t want girls getting the better of you?
No, I don’t know, I think it mostly finished up with machines, they had a machine that would just send it out. Very good at sending it was, very good. They could – they reckon that the spies during the war could tell who’s sending them by
just about halfway down we came in on the coast, inland, the Yanks were running the barges, and then these air force blokes came over fresh from America, and they bombed us, and nearly killed the padre and the senior officer, killed about 11 of the 11th Battalion,
well we came in to sea, and then we pulled in, then we went out, and we came in again. Probably because of the terrain and where the Japs were, so we went in where the Japs weren’t, but the artillery and the 11th Battalion were there, and they were looking after them, up in the hills. I was just reading the story of the 11th Battalion, and one officer was going out on the observation post and one of his own men shot him, thought he was a Jap.
As war went on, life got cheap, you know? Everybody felt the same, am I going to get home? Oh well, if I’m not, stiff bikkies. But you know, you wanted to get home, but a lot of them didn’t make it. I was lucky, I made it. But you know, you don’t know. And it got that way that did we care whether we got home or not?
And that’s a thought that often comes into my head, did we care so much? We were there to do a job, so be it if we get killed. And I don’t suppose I’m the only one that thought about that, but I thought about it quite a bit. I’ve seen it in the desert, death and destruction, stacks of it. Not so much in New Guinea,
but I’ve seen men out of their heads, probably finished up committing suicide or dying or something, they were away with the fairies, completely. So you don’t know, in wartime you don’t know what’s going to happen, you think you know, but you don’t know, don’t know what’s going to happen.
You mentioned that there were a lot of blokes away with the fairies. Did you say there were troppo?
Troppo, exactly, yes. That’s the latest word coming in now, if you get Alzheimer’s they reckon you’re away with the pixies or the fairies. But no, that’s true, yes, troppo, gone troppo, a lot of them. It was similar to I suppose shell shock in the First World
How were those blokes who went troppo treated?
Very well, very very well. Oh, they’re good staff there, nursing staff, doctors, did their best for them. But what can you do? Have they gone
Well we wanted to chase the Japs out of it, which they did successfully, 6th division started at Aitape and they took over from the Yanks, and chased Colonel [Lieutenant-General] Adachi I think his name was, he handed over his sword at Wewak, and surrendered, because he said to the colonel, he
said, “Are you going to give me your sword or are we going to start this war again?” He said, “We’re prepared to go on with it, so give us your sword or you’ll be the first one to go.” So he had no option, it’s like what do you call it, the bloke in Singapore, the Japs didn’t give him any option, just said to him, “You’ve got to surrender,” which he did, and everybody that
went to Singapore got caught. But Brigadier Stephens, he didn’t mess around with him, he said, “Give us your sword, or over you go.” I think he finished up getting hung anyway. Very cruel.
There was nothing – I didn’t have – I used to make souvenirs when things quietened right down, used to make dinner gongs, the smoke shells had a brass cone on the top of them, with all the timing on them, you’d take those home and you make a little thing like that and hang a gong on it, and get a bullet with a handle on it and make a
where that came from, it was given – I don’t know where it originated from, to tell you the truth, from New Guinea somewhere, but it was in the house when I took it over, so some Yanks or someone must have brought it here and left it. I didn’t bring it, couldn’t carry anything, we just left everything there, in New Guinea, beautiful wireless sets and everything, the
Why do you keep the sword near the front door?
In case – I told you, if somebody breaks I’ll stick it through him. A chap came into the Captain Stirling one day and he said he’s buying Japanese swords. There was one bloke there, he got shot by the Japanese, five of them line up in the river, and shot, and he was the only one that survived. He said, “I’ve got one.” “Oh good,” he said. He said, “Well, bring a Japanese to stick on the end of it, you can
kill me, but they sure took a lot of my life. Same as the Italians or the Germans, but I don’t hate them as much as I do the Japanese, for some reason or other. Making me go and live in that stinking jungle. And I got into my dear friend we went to New Zealand, and I was grizzling about the Japs, and every grey-headed Jap that came, I said, “I wonder if he’s one them that belted the blokes on the Burma Railway,” and she told me
that – she said, “You’re mucking up your head, you’re messing mine up too, get it out of your system. It’s gone, history.” Can’t.
What do you think of the younger Japanese generation?
Well they’re probably all right, just like you, they don’t hurt anybody, they had nothing to do with the war, it’s the old blokes I’ve got a snout on, don’t like ‘em. Don’t know why. It’ll go out of my system, I suppose.
Maybe you can get it out of your system today, who knows?
I can’t, no. I don’t know what it is, there’s some things in life you hate, and some things in life you love, and it’s one of those things of nature, you can’t, you know – like my friend, he went into the army with flat feet, came out with flat feet and got a big fat pension. So it’s the luck of the draw. But I don’t
How would you compare fighting in the jungle to fighting in the desert, Eddie?
Oh, no comparison, the jungle’s worse. If you were walking along in the dark in the jungle, and all of a sudden a big jungle rat falls down, jumps down near you, your hair goes like this. It doesn’t happen in the desert,
it doesn’t happen. And you hear so many tales about the Japanese, you know, they’ll grab you and slit your throat before you know what’s happened to you, and they’re gone. And a lot of them speak with Australian and American accents, see? And they caught a lot of Yanks like that, speaking with an American accent, and the poor Yanks thought they were Americans, and got up, and got shot.
The same could happen with Australians. Yeah.
Apart from the fact that it was war time, do you think the jungle itself played a big part in those blokes going troppo?
No, I don’t think it would, nope. No, the people that did all right out of the war in Japan – in New Guinea, were
those that stayed behind and got all the copper wire, the smart ones, took all the signal wire down out of the trees, and all the scrap and that, and sold it, made a mint. My friend Dick Gibson had his cousin over here when I came on leave, and he said, “I hope the war never stops.” I said, “I’ve a good mind to smash your teeth in, but I’m curious, why?” He said, “Because I’ve got a contract making batteries.”
I said, “Now I should smash your teeth in.” I don’t know what stopped me, I really don’t know. Only because I knew them. And that’s a great thing to say to a soldier who’s just come back, hey? Three years overseas, he hopes the war keeps going forever, because he’s got a battery contract. I don’t know why I didn’t smash his face in.
Of course he’s profiting, a lot of them made money out of the war, stacks of them, not only here, England, everywhere. A couple of my friends were manpowered out of the army and they were making munitions, making a packet, every week. Plenty of money. I was on five bob a day, and doing the rough stuff. But, that’s the way it goes. However,
your friends are gone, everything is, you know, you’ve got to start a new life, you’ve got to – as luck happened I had a job to go to, I was told to get it quick because they were going like – you know, jobs were getting scarce, so it’s a toss up on your make-up, how you feel, you know? We had a bloke at the dance,
and he was belted to pieces by the Japs, and he said, “They were only doing their duty, they were only doing as they were told.” And I said, “Oh, for God’s sake, what’s wrong with you?” But he forgave them, they belted hell out of him. Not me, I won’t forgive them for causing me to go out there for half of my life, my army life.
You must have thought it was a waste though?
Of course, but you can’t – of course it was a waste, all that good material, but what are they going to do with it? The war’s finished, it’s only built for war. The vehicles,
unless they were modified, they were no good for civilian life, they drank petrol like it was going out of fashion, and they were good 4-wheel drives for going through mud, but other than that, no used for them. Not comfortable, well you’ve seen them on Anzac Day, the little Jeeps, they’ve been done up. I used to drive one around a bit in New Guinea, good for what they were built for, but useless for anything else.
What about your radio equipment?
Left it there, don’t know what happened to it, just turned the set off, left it. Memories, left ‘em, not all of them, definitely glad to get home and start a new life. Didn’t know what to expect when I got home.
How long did it take you to get home?
Well I’ll tell you the story about that. I met this lass Beryl Lord, I told you, but her mother didn’t want anything to do with drunken soldiers or anything like that, so I got on a troop train and got home at about a couple of months after, I think. We landed in Brisbane and
they put us on trucks and gave us a march through the city at dinner time, and we went into Yeerongpilly and then we got leave pass to the staging camp at the Showgrounds at Claremont, and that’s where I finished up.
Were you unpopular with the family when you got full?
Didn’t want to know me, nope. I met some of the blokes there, and they said, “Come out to the sergeants’ mess,” and I said to them, “I can’t go, I’m staying with this family and they don’t like anybody that’s been drinking.” “Oh God, oh well, do what you like.” I said, “I’m coming.” Didn’t mean that …
Were you travelling with a few buddies on the train?
No, not many, no. Some of the blokes I didn’t know, they were in the – infantry blokes, we had one destination, was WA, some air force and so forth. I was glad to get home when I got home, went through all the paraphernalia
Can you describe that, what happens?
Yes, they give you a book and they mark off all your – you go through medicals, and if you’re OK then you get a – if you’ve got a rifle you hand it in, a gas mask, hand it in, and you can just go – it takes about a fortnight to go through all the
Were those pubs full of ex- well, returned servicemen?
Probably, yes. We used to go for about I suppose about a month after we all came home, we used to go to the Landborough Bar opposite the Town Hall in Merrick Street,
of a Saturday morning, play darts, but then as life went on and we married and that, it was all – Anzac Day we used to go to each others’ houses, and like they’d come out to my place and we’d go out to Bassendean or somewhere. And after a while that petered out because the family came up and a few of my section died, so I just gave it away, and we stopped.
But there’s a few I visit, a couple now, but that’s all. It’s all gone, history, all gone.
wording, or similar like that, with the Metropolitan Water Supply. So I signed that, which meant that they paid me holiday pay, not full pay, just holiday pay. So when I came home, I met – my brother was with me, and he had a handful of notes, and I said, “Where’d you get that?” He said, “I’ve been up to head office, and they paid me my holiday pay. Go
up and you’ll get it.” I mean it wasn’t any big deal, it was only a few quid, but it was money. We got some other money paid by the Vets Affairs too, I forget what they call it now, about 350 pound or something. Long service pay or something.
distance at Claremont High School, but then I left and I got a part time job before I was waiting to get a job at the Water Supply, or it was after, I forget, as a mechanic down at Claremont, a motorbike mechanic. And she used to come with her friend and talk to me, and then she’d take her friend up here and said, “I’m going to marry Eddie and live in that house”.
So we did. And the first one I met on the trolley bus was Audrey. So we had a pretty happy life together, till cancer took over.
They replaced the trams, they didn’t run on rails, but they ran on electricity with two poles up, and those grey poles you see along the Stirling Highway, they used to be trolley bus poles. And Nedlands is the only one that’s got any left. And they went right up to Swanbourne and turned round and came back, it was silent, ran beautifully, comfortable. And they cut out the trams in 1955.
Did you have any difficulty settling back into civilian life, Eddie?
It was strange. Clothes were the worst part, you couldn’t buy clothes. I had to go to Kalgoorlie to get that suit made, because my sister knew a tailor up there, to get married in. Never had a suit. Only had army clothes.
So he just melted away into the darkness, and I got the house. He never contributed anything, in any of his life. He was away up at Mount Magnet working there, and going round the gold fields trying to make money. I don’t know where the lass came from he married, but they reared a family in Mount Magnet, Kalgoorlie.
My sister? She married a – first in 1924 to a chap named Les Whaling, and he was in charge of the Eagle & Globe steel company here, he ran it, it was in Wellington Street. He was a First World War man, and he went melancholy, he went completely melancholy,
didn’t know who he was or anything. So he passed on, and then her next venture into marriage was a bloke named Kilpatrick, I think. He was a seaman. My sister worked in the bar, and she was a good barmaid. And then they split up, and he nicked off. And then she met another English seaman, Bluey Godmore, he used to do convoy work up in Durask [?] during the
war. And she couldn’t stand him, but they finished up getting married, and he was the best of the lot, used to look after her and that. And then he had a bad stroke, and he went, he’s gone. My other brother Gus died of cancer, Jack drank himself to death, he
collapsed in a heap, and Stan, he just got old and died. He said he didn’t want to live anyway, he’d had enough. And he was about 85. So that’s the way it goes in life.
What do you do on Anzac Day?
We used to go to each others’ places, but I always carried our banner. Two years now, a little girl cadet wanted to take it off me and carry it. I said, “No dear, not this, this is mine, I’m going to carry it”. Yeah.
popularity of Anzac Day Eddie?
I think it’s great that they should remember the Anzacs, you know? Some of them reckon it’s a lot of baloney I suppose, it’s history, forget it. But you can’t forget it if you were mixed up in it. I can’t forget it. I wasn’t at Gallipoli, but I’ve seen enough in the desert and in New Guinea to satisfy me that – you know, I hope the young people do remember it.
insult. We’ve got no – a lot of young people, they don’t seem to have any pride in anything. I think their attitude to life is one door shuts, another one opens. They get greedy, want everything yesterday. I don’t say all of them, some of them are good hard working – but my experience with some of them, you don’t want that money, give it to me.
What lessons did you learn from your service, Eddie? That perhaps a few young people could learn?
I don’t think you could teach anything to the young people about war, but companionship, depending on – not always, but in a tight corner you could depend on your friends, if you got into the rough stuff.
And you had mates that you visited all the time, and went out with, had a few beers perhaps. But there was always that companionship there, and that feeling of security, that if you went out on leave and a bit of a blue started, you know that you’ve got somebody to help you.
Never always started, but sometimes it did. But those are the sort of things that you miss when you come back into civil life, you’re looking for them all the time. You found them – I found them in Audrey, and my friends, but it wasn’t the same. So what I’m trying to get at, it’s not exactly the same feeling. But you know, when you’re living with men for
five or six years, it sort of grows on you. As I said, I just wanted to hear the girls talk when I came home. Never mind chasing them round and trying to get onto them, just to hear them made me happy. Just to hear them talk, get back in the Australian way of life. Didn’t last long because work commitments and getting on with it and raising a family, takes all the
other thoughts out of your mind, you’ve got to get on with your life. As luck happened, I had three lovely kids, well educated, they’re making more money than I ever did, so they’re quite happy. I’ve got seven granddaughters, had one grandson, the poor little bloke died, but they’re all well educated, making good money.