Well my name’s Joe Madeley. Joseph Noble Madeley I was christened, Noble being a family name of course. And I was born on a farm in a little place called Coreen down near Albury, Corowa way. I was born on the farm. My Dad was a soldier from the First [World] War… he’d do a soldier settler’s farm away near West Wyalong. A little place called Weethalle. And when I was about four we moved up there and I lived on the farm, grew up on the farm of
course. In those days I could drive a team of horses when I was about nine or ten. I did my schooling there at Weethalle school. Then I went to Yanko Agricultural High School but I was only there for twelve months and Dad was sick, had to come back on to the farm. So I left school when I was fourteen and worked on the farm. I was… Well I was the second son, I had a brother two years older than me.
And my job mainly was to trap the rabbits and go around and fix fences and look after the sheep and that sort of thing. And then when I became… Dad was a returned soldier from the First War. I was always very interested in the army and I was always very proud of the fact that he was a soldier. And as soon as the war broke, by then I was about eighteen, nearly nineteen and I wanted to join up but Dad wouldn’t let me.
He said, “No, no, the war’ll be over by Christmas anyhow.” But I finally persuaded him and he let me join up because I’d never been away from the farm. And I thought there was a bit of excitement, too, getting away. So I joined up in Wagga Wagga in New South [Wales] with a lot of other Riverina chaps. We trained there for a few months and moved to Tamworth for final training. Come
home on final leave from there and then sailed to the Middle East – Went over on the Queen Elizabeth. And we arrived in Palestine, did a little training there and by that time our 6th Division had moved up the desert and chased the Italians – only Italians there then – right back up as far as Benghazi. And then we moved up and relieved them and they went to Greece, the 6th
Division and we took over the frontline positions. But by that time Germany had realised that the Italians weren’t holding their own over in the Middle East or North Africa, so they sent the Afrika Korps over there under General Rommel, and he was a different proposition. In no time he chased us right back into Tobruk. We were in Tobruk for eight months, of course.
Saw the siege right out. Came back out of Tobruk after we were relieved, did a little time up in Syria, little bit of leave when the Battle of El Alamein started and they sent us back to El Alamein. By that time the 6th and 7th Division had come home. We stayed on for the battle of El Alamein. When the battle of El Alamein was over we had a big parade in Gaza on the airstrip where we were farewelled by
General Alexander. We came home on the Aquitania. We arrived in Sydney on the 27th February, which was marvellous coming in through the [Sydney] Heads, too, just as the sun was rising. And after a little leave we went up to the camps again up on the [Atherton] Tablelands. Did training there for two or three months then we sailed to Milne Bay up in New Guinea training there, amphibious landing and all that sort of
business. Oh, we did quite a lot of that before we went actually in Cairns. And then we did the first amphibious landing since Gallipoli. We landed at Lae and we didn’t strike much opposition there and headed towards the township of Lae. Before we got there, the 7th Div [Division] were coming from the other direction and they got there before us, which has always been the disappointment to us. And then we
turned back from Lae and marched up… back to… Where did we come back to? Oh, some little place just back from Lae, and did more training there. And they decided to do another amphibious landing at Finschhafen, which was further on, further north in New Guinea. So back on board the ship, landed at Finschhafen, a lot more fighting there of course. And after we’d
taken Finschhafen, which we were fighting for a couple of weeks I suppose, we took a place called Kakagog and then up the Sattelberg Road and went inland and very heavy fighting there. But that’s where Derrick got a VC [Victoria Cross] with the 48th Battalion. We came back onto the coast and chased the Japs up along the coast up to a place called Blucher Point. That’s as far as we went. Then we came back home
again. That’s another funny thing. I was born on the 28th February and we came into Sydney, got off the ship in Sydney Harbour on my birthday and we got on the ship to come home again from New Guinea on my birthday, the 28th February. Came back to Australia, had a little bit of leave and then went back onto the Tablelands again; we were training then. We were training for twelve months. We were on the Tablelands and absolute boring it was. We felt we were
wasting our time there. But we finally… They loaded us up around about Anzac Day in 1945 and took us to Morotai, to Morotai Island, where we were… Although we didn’t strike any Japanese there, but they were on the island but we were sort of the front run doing patrols. We boarded a ship again there and we invaded Borneo.
We landed at Brunei. Brunei Bay. Once again there was very little opposition. The 17th Battalion landed before us. We were the second wave and a couple of wounded Japanese that was about all. But it must have been easy because the day after we landed General MacArthur landed. He came ashore and some of our generals. We were there for about eight or ten days and then
they took us back on board again and we made another amphibious landing at a place Lutong, which was the oil fields. Before we landed the Japs had lit all the oil field and there was… Oh, it was a spectacular sight all going up in flames, the oil fields. But by evening our flag was flying over the refinery anyhow. Then we pushed up on the coast towards a little place called Muara. And we finished up on a place called Canada Ridge.
That’s where we had the last contact with the Japanese. We did patrols out down the main road which went inland – Reim Road. Made contact a few times but not a great deal of fighting, but we had a few Japs killed. And that’s where we were when we heard that the atom bomb had been dropped on Japan and the war was… declared the war finished. There wasn’t a great deal of excitement because there were still Japanese
about and they were still shooting at us even though the war was over – they didn’t know. But after a few days it all quietened down. I think we were more excited when we heard that we didn’t have to have our letters censored – you could write home whatever you liked – and more of a cheer went up there than when the war finished. And by that time they were bringing soldiers on the five year plan. Five years overseas, five years’ service, and at least
four years I think it was, overseas. You got points for so many years in the army and so many years overseas. And if you were married you got more points and children were points. Well of course I was only single and I was only young, but I had the five years up so I was one of the last to come home out of the 13th Battalion. And I was discharged on the 5th December. I went 1945… I went straight back on to the farm but I couldn’t settle down on the farm driving
up and down the paddock on a tractor on your own – no-one to talk to after all those years. So I went back to Sydney and got different odd jobs. I started off as a tram conductor, as a matter of fact, because it was the easiest job to get. Then had many, many jobs. Cane cutting, and I worked in the mines and I… Oh, I even sold vacuum cleaners at one stage. And I finished up down in Melbourne. And
I got a job with a motor car firm assembling motor cars. I had no idea how you assembled motor cars. I never heard of them because I’d been on the farm all my life. But I was going to stay there till I got settled in Melbourne and I finished up I was there for twelve years and became a foreman. And we had a franchise to build Mercedes Benz cars and they put me in charge of that, and I got sent to Germany to see how the job was done and get to know people over there that used to send us all over the spare parts and what have you, so they’d know
who they were in contact with. And then when the franchise finished of the Mercedes Benz, by that time my Dad had gone blind with glaucoma and he’d sold the farm and was living in West Wyalong. And I thought it was a good chance to come back. He wanted me to come back to New South. So I came back to New South and got another job in the motor car industry assembling motor cars, and I was only going to stay there a few weeks, too, until I got another job,
but I finished up there for ten years. Then by that time we’d built a house at Eastwood. Oh they closed down where I was working. I could have gone to Leyland Motors but I said, “No,” and I finished the last ten years working with RCA Records making records and cassettes and all that, and I finished up as a production manager with RCA Records. And that’s where I was when I retired.
Since retiring, I’ve been very active with the Rats of Tobruk Association. 9th Div Association, and also the 2/13th Battalion, of course, who I keep in close touch with. And travelled around. My wife and I went overseas three or four times and I’ve been on a couple of pilgrimages back to Tobruk and I’ve been over to Poland when they launched a new medal. At that stage I was the
International President of the Rats of Tobruk and I got invited there for the launching of the medal. And I’ve been to Afrika Korps reunion over in Germany. And now I’m looking forward to going back on a cruise up the Mediterranean and into Tobruk and Tripoli and all those places in this coming November. That’s where I am now.
at nineteen he came to Australia. He’d met my mother by then, of course, and I suppose they were childhood sweethearts really. And he came to Australia and did a lot of farming and share farming work to get to know all about the farming business. And by then the war he was butcher on Stud Park Station out near Jerilderie, away out west, Deniliquin I think it was.
And the war started so Dad joined up. And he was in the 15th Field Company Engineers, which he was always very proud of to tell me. Then he was sent overseas and went to France of course. He fought in France and Belgium and Villers-Bretonneux and Ypres I think they call it now. And Amiens and on the Somme he was.
And on his first leave back – he got leave back to England – he and Mum were married. He’d sent her an engagement ring from Australia before, while he was working of course. They were married when he got back to England. After the war… He got gassed fairly badly but it didn’t sort of affect him greatly after the war; he seemed to get over it okay. And after
the war they packed up as soon as he got his… No, not before… He married my mother as I say on his first leave. So by then Jack was born – that’s my eldest brother – and they came straight out to Australia. And Dad got a job as a share farmer working on a farm out near Corowa, a little place called Coreen. He worked for a Doctor Bird. And
that’s where I was born. Mind you I was born about three or four months, five months I think it was after they got to Australia. And I was born on the farm – at that stage there was no hospital handy. Dad used to have an old horse and cart and go into the little town called Daysdale and brought the bush nurse out in the horse and cart out to the farm, so I was born on the farm. And so were my next brother and my sister and another younger brother,
Roy. Now he worked for this farmer, for this chap Dr Bird, for about twelve months, two years, then he moved to another farm called Wongamong, which is still there right near Coreen. And he put in for soldier’s settlers property for those returned soldiers. They became available up around the Riverina so Dad put in for one
and he won one of these blocks. So as soon as he stripped the crop where he was down in Coreen he packed. And we had two wagons, covered wagons, and he drove one and my uncle drove the other one and we had another chap on a pony, he drove all the loose horses and cattle. And my mother came behind on the old spring cart
with all the food on it. And she’d go ahead and work out how far they’d get that night, where there was a waterhole to feed the horses, and she’d make camp there, and then when we arrived the food was all ready. And of a night-time we’d just sleep on the ground wherever we were. The weather stayed good, thank goodness. And we were ten nights on the road getting up to where the farm was. Each night we slept on the side of the road. And
I can always remember… Well I don’t remember but I’ve been told plenty of times, I was only four at that stage, that was 1924. And the tenth night we stopped just outside of the farm. Now the farm was… When I say a farm it was just scrub there was no… Nothing had been cleared; it was all timber. In fact we had to use the axes and chop trees down so as you could get on to the farm
it was that thick with timber. And Dad had a chap come and put a boundary fence, but for a start up he just had a bell on the horses and on the cattle so as you could find them the next morning. And we slept in a bit of a lean-to tent we had and us boys all slept under the wagon, of course. And we were like that until Dad and my uncle managed to build a bit of a hut with a dirt floor and just an iron walls and iron roof. Cold as
charity in the winter and like an oven in the summer time.
a wheelbarrow we made it, or scooters we made them. And from a very early age we all had our jobs we had to do. I had to trap the rabbits; that was my job. As soon as I was old enough to set a rabbit trap I had to do the traps because the rabbits were terrible. I can always remember Dad told us about this… A chap… He was always trying to get a rabbit trapper on the place to clean the rabbits out. And this chap arrived late one evening with a horse and sulky and
a few rabbit traps hanging underneath and he had a dog beside him of course. And Dad… He said… Dad welcomed him in… Of course it was always lovely to see a visitor. And the chap said, “What are the rabbits like here?” And Dad said, “There’s millions of them.” And he said, “Well I’m the rabbit inspector.” And they used to come around and if you had too many rabbits you could get fined for it. And Dad said, “Oh well you’d better come and have a look at them.” Anyhow he said, “We’ve got to do something
about those rabbits.” But he stayed the night of course and had dinner and breakfast with us. And we made our own fun, like we could ride horses, we had ponies and we could ride them when we were only just old enough to sit on. Used to have to get a box or something alongside so as we could on board. And we chased… We went rabbit trapping and we had dogs and we’d chase a fox, and we used to… We all learnt
to swim in the dam. We’d go in there, no clothes on of course, all in as we were. And it was… And then we had… The nearest neighbours were about two miles away and there were some boys there. Sometimes they’d come to our place, sometimes we’d go to theirs. And our school, we used to walk to school. We had the school just about on the corner of our property for a start off. It was one of those subsidised schools. You had to have thirteen children there to keep it open.
If you didn’t have thirteen they’d close the school down, so of course… We just had thirteen and two left, so I used to piggyback my younger brother – he wasn’t really old enough to go to school. He was only about four but we’d take him along too to make the number up, and another family did the same thing with their little boy and we kept the numbers up. But it was… We had a real…
And even though the Depression years we still had our own sheep and Dad’d kill a sheep and we had a field of our own vegetables. We had our own cow so we had our own milk and we could make butter and we had… And same with fruit – we had a couple of fruit trees although water was scarce. We used to cart water. So we lived fairly well. Only plain, but it was… And then later on
of course they had a picture theatre in Weethalle – the little town was called Weethalle. It was eight and a half miles away. And the pictures used to be on a Saturday night. We I’d sell rabbit skins to get enough money to go and my brother Jack, he was a little bit older, any dead sheep he’d take all the wool and you could sell the wool off the dead sheep. And another thing we used to sell was charcoal to the blacksmith. They always used charcoal in those days for their fires.
And we’d sell charcoal. We might get a shilling or sixpence for a bag of charcoal. Well that was enough to go to the pictures. All those sort of things. We had a happy life. It was very good. Life was rough but it was good. I think it was a good grounding for us and learning to look after yourself. Like I could go out of a night around
the rabbit traps and no problem of finding my way home. I could tell by looking at the stars, home must’ve be over in that direction. And so I think it must’ve fitted me out well for the later years when I was in the army when we had to do it a bit rough. I was used to that sort of living. Well I suppose I was. And then I did… Then our school closed down and we had to go into Weethalle school, which meant driving the horse and sulky in every morning,
nine miles. Get up early and yoke the horse up. Jack’s job was to yoke the horse up and I had to milk the cow and my younger brother Bill, he had to cut up kindling wood, that was the morning wood to light the fire of course for the next morning. We each had our own jobs.
and straightening arms. Nowadays they’ve got a different sort of rifle. We had the old .303. And Don Graham, when the war started he wanted to go into the army. He wanted me to look after his farm for him while he was away. He said, “No Joe, you stay here. I’ll go.” I said, “No, no not on your life.” So I went with a… I’ve got a very good friend a chap named Vince Rowitt. He still lives
at Long Jetty; I see him every Saturday morning. I’ve known him since I was a boy and he’d come from Adelaide. And never ever been off the farm or anything, or farming and he was going back to Adelaide to see his family. And he said, “What about coming for a holiday with me?” Well the chap, Don, wasn’t too pleased about me leaving, neither was me Dad really. But we went over to Adelaide and we picked grapes. That’s the first different job off the farm.
I picked grapes and then we went trapping rabbits away out near Oodnadatta and went broke of course and came back to Adelaide. We had an old utility truck and we decided to join up. But a chap, an old digger said to us, “Look, if you come from New South Wales, don’t join up in Adelaide. You go back to New South Wales to join up and you’ll always be pleased you did. Because when you go on leave, if you’re here
and your family’s in New South Wales, you’ve got to travel all the way back to Sydney to see them and most of the time you couldn’t get home for a weekend to see them. So you’re a long way better off joining up there.” And I was always pleased I did. So we came back to Weethalle. Dad gave us both a job of course on the farm until we went. Dad had to sign the papers and he wasn’t very pleased about it. He said, “Whatever you do,”
Dad was in the engineers, “Join the engineers or in the ASC [Army Service Corps] where you’ve got transport. Keep out of the infantry, whatever you do.” And what did I do? I joined the infantry. Because why I joined the infantry. We went to a camp in Wagga Wagga. We asked them which would be the first lot to go overseas. We always thought the war would be over before we got there. So they said, “Oh, the infantry go over first.” So I joined the infantry. So when I came home and told my Dad I was in the
infantry, oh goodness me, he couldn’t believe it. He said I must’ve been off my head.
Marched out of the railway station and there was thousands of people there to see… No-one knew we were going of course. But there were, “So long, John,” and “See you, Jack,” and all that sort of business. Girlfriends of different ones. We were there for three or four months, of course. Yeah. So we got a big send off even if it was midnight from Tamworth. And we arrived in Sydney early in the morning and went onto the barges
and there wasn’t a great many people there. We went on at Darling Harbour. We got on the boats and the Queen Elizabeth was anchored out off… What point’s further on out as you go around that corner? I can’t think. So they took us out there on these and we went up onto this great boat. On board. And there was little boats out everywhere
going around and people waving flags. And people with names you know. There was no-one there that I knew of course because none of my family knew that I was going at that stage. But the odd one happened to see their family coming around on these little barges, little boats. And that was marvellous, to see them all and all the cheering and there was bands playing and what have you. And we went on board and they showed us where we were… Put our gear into our cabin.
We weren’t in cabins. Where were we? Yes, a great big cabin we were in. It wasn’t actually a cabin. It was just a big room that we were. Bunk beds. And then we went back up on top and looked over the side and waved and then she set sail up the Harbour. Saw Sydney disappearing in the distance. And we hadn’t got outside of the Heads and I was seasick.
The first time I’d been on a boat and I was sick. I was seasick all the way to the Middle East. We pulled into Adelaide. I can remember pulling into Adelaide and I was doing something down in the cabin and somebody came racing in and said, “Joe, there’s someone up there, someone on one of the… wants to see you.” I thought, “Who the hell is…?” And I came up and leaned over
and there was somebody there, “Joe Madeley.” And it was this friend of mine, Vince, that I’d been trapping rabbits, it was his sister. How she knew that we were coming on that boat I don’t know. But she was there, so… And I went and saw the officer and they let me go ashore. So I went ashore in Adelaide and Doreen had her car there and took me back to her place. Her mother’s place. She was only a girl then.
And I stayed ashore overnight in Adelaide. Came back on and… Her and another chap, her friend, drove me around Adelaide and showed me some… met some of the people I’d met while I was in Adelaide for the few months. Got back on board just in time for the boat to leave. It was great. And then they took us around to Fremantle. But of
course we couldn’t get into Fremantle, the Queen Elizabeth was too big. We had to anchor her way out so we didn’t get ashore there at all. We were anchored too far out. We were there only overnight and then away we went. Oh, wait a moment, whoa, whoa. I’ve made a mistake. It wasn’t that time when the lass from Adelaide was there. That was
when I went back on a pilgrimage back to Tobruk in 1961. No, the first time I didn’t go anywhere near Adelaide. We were way down south on the Queen Elizabeth, of course.
and tell a few jokes. And crib [cribbage] was another game that… I had a collapsible little crib board and Donald and I played crib. But to be quite truthful, boredom was one of the worst things too. Doing nothing in the boiling sun, just sitting there. Like I’ve been back since and how we ever lived I don’t know. Like I wouldn’t last a blinking two hours now. But the
first couple of days, even though I’d grown up a little bit rough sort of on the farm, I thought, “Oh, I’ll never live here. This is worse…” I’d never seen anything like it. With all the heat and everything else, it was against you and shells coming over every so often. And mortar bombs. The conditions you were living under! But
gradually you sort of got used to it. Not washing or shaving. You had one lot of water and you used that for everything. And it wasn’t real good. I think that was the worst part of it. It was a sort of a pleasure to get out of the hole of a night-time and go out on a patrol to get out of it and get out in the fresh air. And
even though it was dangerous and the nerves were a bit on edge. But even though your nerves were on edge there was some exhilaration about it, you felt… Or I did, I know. It was like sneaking on a fox or a rabbit or something. And I’d always been used to that from the time I was a little boy, and it reminded me of that a lot. And they used to fire a lot of flares the Germans, always did. You’d hear a pop going and as soon
as you heard the pop you’d flop down onto your stomach and a bright flare’d go up and light up the whole area. And they did that all the time. Right through Alamein they still have these bright flares. We never ever did. We only fired a flare if we had a bit of a battle and we’d… When the battle was up, you’d had a victory or you’d taken the post, you had to light a green light to let them know that you’d taken the position. But the Germans used it all the time. And another thing
they used a lot that we didn’t was tracer bullets. Every tenth bullet in these… their Spandau guns was a tracer. So you could always see the tracers coming and every one of those tracers’d is going to be heading straight for me, too, I might add. But as long as it was long range you could see the tracers going over. You could just about stand up and walk underneath them. Or we used to crawl under them if we were coming home
back from a patrol and they opened up. You could sort of crawl underneath because you could see all the tracer bullets going. And all those sort of things that sort of kept you alert anyhow.
we never ever hated them or anything like that. But they were good fighters and we thought… We never underestimated the Germans. With the Italians we always thought we were a long way better than they were, of course. And as long as you had Italians out in front of you it didn’t worry you quite so much. But with the Germans you knew you had to be on the alert all the time. Because they were… A lot of difference if it was Germans. You knew that you had… that they
were just as good as we were at the fighting business. And they were brave men and we knew that they had Rommel in charge of them. And we knew they were good. Kept us on our toes. And their artillery was good and their guns were good and their tanks. And they had an eighty-eight millimetre gun which was better than any of ours. Like one of those’d hit a tank and blow it to pieces.
And so we knew that we were up against a pretty good enemy in the Germans. But when we took them prisoners we treated them well. We fed them and I even shared my rum issue with a German POW [Prisoner of War]. He was a nice sort of a bloke. He could speak a little bit of English. Yeah. I even shared a hole one night with… in Tobruk. We were
guarding some German prisoners of war. The only time we ever did, just our platoon. And we had to put a fence in between the Germans and the Italians. They used to fight. They didn’t get on too well at all. And it was so… When I got relieved it was so far to walk back to where I had to… outside of the compound I thought, “Cripes, I’m wasting…” We were having two hours on and four hours off
and I thought, “I’m wasting half an hour walking back and then they wake me and I’ve got to walk all the way back.” There was a hole close hand and I thought, “Oh, I’ll hop into that hole.” So I said to Rex McDonald, who had relieved me, “Whatever you do, don’t let anybody cut my throat during the night, will you?” He said, “No you’ll be right.” And just then a shell came over and I dived into this hole and two Germans jumped in on top of me. But they were just as frightened as I was. So we hugged one another. And of course
when the shelling stopped this German looked at me and he said, “Bloody Italians.” And I agreed with him. Yeah it was the Italians. So we just had a bit of a grin at one another and away they went. But we shared quite a lot with them when we were looking after them as POWs. And I understand they treated our chaps pretty well too. Like with the frontline soldiers. Mind you, no matter what army you’re in, there are some rough diamonds
as well that don’t do the right thing. But you’ll strike that anywhere. You could have struck a German who’d hit your over the head with the butt of a rifle too.
What was it like to kill somebody?
When you get going, like in the infantry and you get going, and there’s fellows falling and there’s chaps crying and screaming and there’s bullets coming and everything else, I don’t think you’re really human. It didn’t mean anything, and that’s true. And later on at Alamein we had them, we were firing at them and they were running and there
were some of them running towards us and we’d heard about chaps with, an Italian with a grenade in his hand come running towards us and we thought he was going to surrender and everybody stopped firing. And he threw the grenade. They told us that anyhow. Whether it was right or not, I don’t know. So even though they were running to try and get past us because we couldn’t shoot back because our own people were behind us. So if they got past us before they got shot. And you’re firing, well anything that moves you’re firing at.
So well it didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean anything. Not at all. It was just… It wasn’t as if you were like human or anything else. You didn’t think of it like that, not in the heat of battle, not in the heat of battle. You didn’t have time to stop and think. You just had to just keep going. Oh and some
terrible things happened, but it’s a war after all and you’re there trying to kill one another. And I’ve spoken about that with the Germans over in Africa. I’m good friends with lots of German Afrika Korps blokes. And we drink just the same; they’re just the same as we are. And we often say now, “What a pity. If we’d all been on the same side we could have ruled the world.” That’s what this German chap
always tells me. And another thing, that’s later on of course at the reunion… a few beers. And he said, “Oh Joe, I’m glad we were both such bad shots, missed one another.” And even when the war was finished, that didn’t worry me. It wasn’t till years later I used to get nightmares. Like my wife used
to wake me up at night and shake me. I was swinging my arms around and screaming out. I saw all these sort of things happen and I thought how terrible it was. It was shocking. But at that stage to live you had to shoot at anything. Yeah.
When you went on the night patrols, can you describe for us what you saw? How much could you see?
Well you couldn’t… like Tobruk… this is the patrol, we’re still talking about Tobruk. Well Tobruk at patrol it was very, very flat. That’s depending on where you were of course. But you couldn’t see very much at all because it was just… There were no trees and nothing like that, and no buildings. It was just desert, flat. And possibly you’d go out and you wouldn’t see a thing.
And you’d go out, a bright moonlit night without you having to run into one of their patrols or a machine gun post or… which you wouldn’t see anything. Very, very rarely. Occasionally. If you were in a fighting patrol it was different of course. You went out for a particular job to do, to either break some guns or else
a machine gun post. But patrols very rarely you ever saw anything. Very rarely. Like it was a desert and all you did was walk along very warily to make sure you didn’t… Another thing they had was a booby trap, was a trip-wire about that high off the ground and you’d catch your ankle in it and it’d pull the pins out of a grenade or something, or a
bomb that they had buried just below the ground. And they had a pin in it with a wire across to a trip-wire. And as soon as your foot touched that you stopped dead. And they were prevalent in a couple of the places we were too. But they’re the sort of things you felt for all the time. Your nerves were sort of on edge all the time you were on patrol. But as far as seeing anything, I went out on lots of patrols and never saw a thing.
And then, funny things happen on patrols too. Terrible things really when you think back. We were on a patrol one night and we had a very funny chap with us, Chris Davidson. He was right alongside me when he got hit too later on, when Keith Bowl got hit on the other side of me. And there was a dead German and he was crouched down and he had his hand out. He must’ve died.
People die in funny positions. And he was with his hand out. And we were right close to the Germans too and Chris said, “Oh cripes, how’re you going mate? I bet you’ve been waiting for someone to shake...” And his hand came off! Well, we… I nearly died trying to stop laughing, you know. I jammed my hand over my mouth and my fist in my mouth because it looked so damn funny with Chris standing there with … I suppose
it’s terrible really for you to hear that things like that happen. But things like that happen all the time. That was Chris’s joke: “How you’re going old mate? I’ve bet you’ve been waiting for someone to shake your hand for ages.” Just to sort of break the tension a bit. Oh God, we abused him. “Don’t ever do that again Chris, you’ll get us all killed.” He was a lance corporal, Chris. Very funny man. I used to go and see him in a nursing home later on, a few years back. He’s dead now.
and so?” When the tension was broken it was as if it was a party or a picnic. And it was always like that. We went out on a patrol one night and we had to go out so many hundred yards, or thousand yards, whatever it may be, and then we had to turn to the right and go along so far and then come back again to our positions. And unknown to us the
Germans had moved a jolly machine gun post up closer and it had barbed wire around it. But it was open at the back. And we went right around and we’re coming back home and everyone was sort of relaxing a bit, “Right, now we’re on our way home.” And we walked right in the back of a German machine gun post. Well one of them woke up first and I can always remember he yelled something like, “Englander kommen. Englander kommen.” [The English are coming] And then they opened up. But they all
were firing in the other direction. You see they got such a shock, too, to think that we’d suddenly arrived on them all of sudden, and nobody saw us coming in the back so they were all firing out the front. So all their tracers and everything coming up the front. So we were off for our lives and we were running as fast as we could. I was right on that end, I remember when we turned I was out there and of course we all ran and had to go back that way so I was the last bloke over here. Anyhow they finally got around to us and firing at us and throwing grenades. But they must’ve panicked a bit because
not one of us got hit. And there was about ten of us I suppose and we were right inside of their barbed wire. And I was running dead last and I passed one… I remember I passed one chap. I remembered we’d come out of a bit of a gully, and I thought, “Goodness, if we can get back into that gully the bullets will go over our heads.” So we got back into the gully and all the others are there waiting for us. We’d all joined up and you should have heard it. You’d have thought it was a party we were having. Everybody sort of relaxed and were
laughing about it now. So and so fell over and somebody else jumped over the barbed wire. And the way they were running and I can remember this John Dickinson, I shouldn’t have mentioned the name I suppose, but we had one fellow that used to exaggerate a bit and he said, “I fired a couple of shots here and I fired a burst there.” And I said, “You bloody liar Dicko. I was running as hard as I could and you were a hundred yards in front of me.” And those sort of things. And we laughed all the way back to our
battalion positions, back to our own barbed wire and got inside.
as we held our positions. We weren’t trying to take any ground off them. We were just had to hold our position. They told us we had to try and hold it for about three or four weeks because they were pushing the British back and it looked like they were going right through to the Suez Canal and so on. And they’d take Alexandria, Cairo, and up into the oil fields in the Balkans. So they wanted us to
hold it there because as long as you held it… This was the only good harbour. And they wanted us to hold it for a certain time so they could build up their armaments back along the Suez Canal. Like Alamein. Anyway it was supposed to be six weeks but we stayed there for eight months. But we weren’t going to attack anything and take any ground off them, only what ground they took off us, we’d take that little bit back again. We just had to keep the perimeter. So without the Germans broke
through well we knew we were going along all right. If we heard they’d broken through somewhere we’d know that we’d lost that little bit. “Righto, well we’ll attack there and take that little bit back again.” Mind you, with some of those we lost a lot of men doing that too, but we managed it for the whole time we were there. So then when the Germans attacked Russia, that was a great night for us when we heard that.
We thought, “Goodness me that means he’s got to fight on two fronts now.” So we were very confident that we’d hang out. And we used to listen to Lord Haw Haw, the German news in English. And he always… He was the one that called us ‘rats’ in the first place cause we were living like rats in the ground. And we should surrender and all that, and England was just about to fall and
all the other jolly things that were happening. In Tobruk, why don’t we show a white flag and surrender, because we were surrendered and it was only a matter of time. And Britain had deserted us sort of and we weren’t going to get any help. They’d drop off the Mediterranean. But we used to all try and get somewhere where we could hear that news. We thought it was great fun listening to that.
It never worried us. But as you say, in our part of the war we knew… Well we always thought we were winning because we owned no-man’s-land and they never got it. After the first few weeks, they broke in a couple of times but we chased them out again. They had tanks and everything. At one stage they came in with about thirty-eight tanks. But for the first time, like all over Europe, once the tanks broke through
the infantry used to surrender. But we didn’t. We let the tanks come over the top of us and then we attacked their infantry and left the tanks to our anti-tank guns and our twenty-five pounders and they lost about eighteen tanks the first time they tried it. And we took about two or three hundred prisoners and I don’t know how many we killed of their infantry. That was… But they came in just as if they were going to… like they’d done all over Europe. They just come straight up the main road.
And we were all just waiting.
relieved some. And we had the British 71st Army. They took over from the army that was in there. And gradually over the… Boats could only come in to take us out about three nights of each moon and we knew just what that was. When you got there you learnt where the north star was and you learnt when the moon would be up and when it’d be sinking. And had to come up at night so’s they could get back past
Mersa Matruh by daylight because otherwise they’d get blown out of the water. And ours was the last battalion to leave and all the other battalions had gone. They got down onto the wharf and the boats had taken them out. So we got down around about October… Oh I don’t know what date. I’ve got it written down somewhere but it doesn’t matter. All of a sudden we’re sitting on our boat to come up called the Latona and we’d handed all our rations to the crowd that was taking over from us. I think it
was the Border Regiment, the British Border Regiment that took over from us. And we gave them our ammunition and all the spare weaponry, German weapons and Italian weapons. And grenades, ammunition and all our food that we had over, we gave that all to them and down we went to the wharf. And we’re sitting there, came around about twelve o’clock and we thought, “Oh the boat’ll soon want to come in or it’ll never get back to Mersa Matruh.” And about one
o’clock in the… About half past one or something there came the order, “Righto, pick up your gear, back onto the trucks.” And the trucks turned up and we got on. Our boat was sunk on the way coming to get us. And we had to go back again. Now of course we were on nobody’s ration strength – we weren’t supposed to be there. And they dumped us… They took us back and they dumped us right near a big British ration dump, barbed wire all around it, and there were Indians guarding it. And
of course we had nothing to eat because we weren’t supposed to be there. Nobody to feed us. So I took a couple of fellows, three chaps out of my section, and we raided the ration dump. And we had cases of sausages on our shoulders. We went inside and took these cases that we found and put them near the barbed wire. Then we came out and picked these cases up and they were full of sausages. We hadn’t gone… It was a bright moonlit night. Hadn’t gone very
far and all of a sudden three British officers grabbed us. A captain, a major and a lieutenant. Marched us straight in in front of our old colonel. And wanted us charged and so forth, stealing rations and so forth. So finally we were court-martialled, the four of us. One of them was Keith Bowles, who was the chap from Weethalle – he was still with me. And I remember writing to Dad and telling him don’t be surprised if he didn’t hear from me
for a while, I looked like I was in a bit of trouble. We all thought we’d finish up in the boob back in Palestine. But we had an officer with us. These English officers… Our colonel was ‘Bull’ Burridge – he was always called ‘Bull’ because he had a big rough voice and was a rough sort of lad. But oh a good soldier, he got an MM [Military Medal] in the First War. And they told him what he had to do. Well it was the wrong thing to do, tell ‘Bull’ Burridge what he had to do. “These men had to be charged. They had to be this, that and the other.” So he said, “I’ll handle this.” And chased them out.
And he said, “Now what are you fellows…?” And we told him and he wasn’t annoyed. He said, “I’m not annoyed with you for getting in there and trying to get some rations for yourself.” He said, “The fact is that four of my men allowed three Pommie officers to arrest you.” He said, “That’s bloody terrible.” And he blew us up. Anyway we had a solicitor with us, Barton Morne, he was after a Queen’s Counsel later on. And he said, “Morne, I want you to get these men off.” And he got us off. He had them tangled
up that much when we were in the court martial, he said it was no good having the four of us and each one going up and so on, why not just charge the one and that covered the other three? And they agreed, which they shouldn’t have done of course because as soon as they did… I was the one they picked out to be tried. And the charge read that ‘stolen four cases of sausages’. He said, “Wait a minute,
how could one man possibly carry four cases of sausages? That’d be an impossibility.” And that was the sort of thing he got us out on, plus the four cases were there and the sausages had all gone. There was no evidence. And they were the sort of thing he got us out on. It was impossible for one man to carry four cases of sausages. So we were off scot free. In fact he nearly convinced me I wasn’t even in the ration dumps. And weren’t these three officers, they said, “They
didn’t even get a red line in their pay book.” I marched past these three officers, all of us did, and back to our company headquarters. That was the start of our stay in Tobruk after we were left behind. They put us up into a very easy area, the Derna Road area, where there was a big cliff in front of us and there was no fear of any Germans getting there and it was pretty good.. We had a funny episode there. One of the Poles came up,
a Polish officer. And one of our chaps, Ken Crutchett from Caloundra, he was on picket duty. And they ran to tell us that the Pole was coming up. We were used to get a sit rep, that’s a situation report. Every hour they’d ring through. And we got this message, Jack White, he was also from out that way, Temora or somewhere. And before we had a chance to tell Ken, this officer arrived. Well Ken challenged him and of course he answered in Polish, which is very much like German.
And he was silhouetted out on the skyline and I can remember Jack White and I looking and here’s Ken with a rifle and bayonet and this poor old Pole trying to tell him. And Ken standing their like this. And we were laughing that much we couldn’t get out to tell him it was a Pole that was there. But anyhow they left us there until… That was the only front line we went into. We didn’t go into any of the Salient or bad areas. And then the 8th Army attacked from
back down Alamein way and Mersa Matruh to relieve Tobruk. You know, drove the Germans right back to Sidi Rezegh and Eduda [?] and those places. And that’s where the big battles were taking place while they were trying to get the Germans out. And our crowd had attacked from in Tobruk too, but they were getting knocked about and they didn’t have a full battalion, there was only… Our
battalion was there of course. We hadn’t been in action at all. So against all the rules we were supposed to never go in again, they sent us in. And we went up to Eduda… Was a bit of a hill there that the Germans had. And we had to take that and we attacked it one morning. We had bad luck just as we were about to start off. A shell came over and blew one of our platoons to pieces, practically. Oh, quite a lot of people got killed that morning.
And anyhow we had rifles and bayonets and we’ve charged up the hill at them and anyway we finally took the hill at Eduda. And afterwards there was a lot more fighting around there. The Germans cleared off. They chased them all back, right out of Tobruk, right out of the desert, right back past Tripoli and Az Zawiyah.
We came… After our attack, the only one we did. Oh we did a little bit more fighting but not much. We came back inside the perimeter then. And we took patrols out but the Germans had gone. We went miles out and we yelled and fired and nobody opposed it. And they’d all gone. And a funny thing happened then, too. They told us to go for a bit of a look. We were walking around Tobruk and that was the
7th of December. Walking around on top of the ground was wonderful. And we got an order from our officer that we could go and look over the battlefields. Anybody standing on a booby trap or getting wounded was a self-inflicted wound. And the only one that ever did get blown up was him. And he’s still alive. Oh he’s a good bloke. He never come back to us after that cause it hit him in the legs and made a bit of a mess of him. He had his foot off the other day
actually, poor old John. And we came out by road. We were there… On the 16th December we came out by trucks. I say by road, but there was no road. We went straight across… We headed straight for Egypt. And the first night we stopped right on the Egyptian Libyan border. And that was our first night out of Tobruk.
Salum, near Salum in the Sidi Barrani. And that’s when the rail line ended there. And we got on carriages there but they weren’t sort of passenger carriages. They were open carriages for cattle and all that sort of thing. There was no seats in them, no brakes on them or anything and there was no… It was just an open carriage we got in. And the only brake on it was the engine. If the engine stopped you could hear the
carriages, bang, bang, bang. And you’d sort of brace yourself for your carriage, bang. But we were about three days coming across the desert down to Amiriya, unloaded there, had a marvellous meal at Amiriya. And then we came back to Hill 69 in Palestine not far from Gaza. And all the other battalions were there that had come out before us, they all lined the roads. We came in
the trucks at night. And they’d given us all their beer supplies and everything. Donated to us. Well we didn’t have to go on parade for about two or three days. They left us in the clothes we were in, dirty, grubby old things, half German, half Italian and left us. And I can remember it rained. On the first night we got there they had a beautiful big meal for us. And there was white bread and butter. And we hadn’t had
bread and butter. And I had a slice of this bread and butter – it was so good I had another one. And by the time the main course of a roast dinner and everything, I’d eaten that much bread and butter I had hardly any room because our stomachs had got used to small… And your stomach sort of shrinks up and you can’t eat much. There was all this beautiful food and I was full on bread and butter. But it was beautiful. And then of course the beer was on for us. And my old friend Bill Newman he was carrying…
Cases of it we were getting. And it was raining and there were slit trenches and he dropped straight into a slit trench. But at least he had his head up and the beer… So we took the beer off him and kept on walking, left him to get out. And we stayed in the tents. They brought the food into us, into the tents. And I can remember our company commander was Herb Cooper and he was very good, always thought a lot of the chaps. And our sergeant major, he’d come out early and he was always very strict. And he called
in the parade… still had the parade… A Company. This was about two days later. And there were so many on picket duty and there was so many on leave and there was so many on parade. And he had, twelve I think it was, drunk in the tents. And the company commander said, “Sergeant major, those men aren’t drunk. They’re sick.” So we always thought the world of old Herb after that. We weren’t drunk – we were sick. And they let us send messages home.
Little forty-five records, you know about that size. Five or six of us on each record. I’ve still got the record. Dad got it out when I got home. And we went on leave and I went to Jerusalem and I went with Keith Bowles and we went up to Bethlehem and saw the Church of the Nativity. Went to the Wailing Wall and couldn’t understand why everybody was
banging their heads against it. Seemed stupid to us, but that’s the Jewish business. Had a great time there. We were only back for… Oh, did a little training… New uniforms and everything. And then we got leave again into Tel Aviv. And we had a great time in Tel Aviv. Played up a bit of course. We were staying in the Hess Hotel. Hotel Hess.
while we were up there, that’s where the first lot of snow was. We got snowed in there for three or four days. And all we could do… We cooked in the hut we were in. You couldn’t go out on parade or anything. And we got on very well with the villagers there; they were Armenians. All Armenians. And went to church in the Armenian church. They treated us very well there. And
Keith Bowls and I got a job looking after our canteen. We had a canteen there so Keith and I were running the canteen for a while which got me off parades of course. Anything to get off parades. And then when we got snowed in of course… There was a bit of a cliff at the back of our place and we were trading with the natives down below. We were dropping and sock over and they’d give us a bottle of wine, then we’d drop them over the other sock. Or a boot over.
You wouldn’t put the pair over at the one time because away they’d go. So you’d put one boot over and get your bottle of wine and then drop the other boot over. So we were living rather well. And we were up there… Oh, must’ve been up for two or three weeks right up on the Turkish border. Then we came back down to Latakia. We were Latakia doing patrols and we were parading
and what have you, all that sort of thing that goes on. And then we marched from Latakia to Tripoli. Took us about five or six days I suppose it was. And it’s on newsreel, everything. What’s his name? The newsreel cameraman for the war. Different towns we marched through he was there taking our photos as we marched up. All the townspeople out of the way for us of course.
And that’s how we arrived up in Tripoli. But Latakia… We played a lot of football. Different battalions and different companies we played football, soccer and hockey and really just got in… improved our condition after we came out of Tobruk. Then as I say we went to Tripoli and we were
there for a few weeks. And then went up to Aleppo by train. And while we were up in Aleppo of course all the other divisions had come home. We relieved the 7th Division and they were on their way home and they knew they were coming home and we thought, “Oh, we’ll be next.” Then we got to pack up and we were leaving the next morning from Aleppo. And we were in town, we were on leave when we got told to come home.
So we got a chap with a horse and a gharry to drive us home. There were three of us and of course we’d had a few drinks. Got about halfway home and the old horse collapsed. Down he went. So we got out and one of the chaps said, “I know how to get him on his feet.” So he opened a bottle of beer and poured it in the old – a mule it was – the mule’s ear and he jumped straight to his feet and away you went and we hung on. And he got us right home. Beer’s good for lots of things you see. And left
next morning by train heading back down south. And we pulled into some little station on the way coming down and there was a chap there with… He had beer and he had it in a big barrel. And he was, “So much for a beer.” Well of course we were only there for half an hour. And only two or three got a drink. And just as we were about, just as the train started to pull out one of our chaps, Ted Rothington, big brawny fellow he was,
he jumped out, he grabbed the cask and threw it onto the train and away we went of course. So we had beer in our carriage. Well we stopped the night at… Not Beirut… A bit past Beirut before we crossed the border anyhow. And then they unloaded us onto trucks. And we were still hoping we were coming home until we got… We stopped out in the Sinai Desert we stayed one night there.
And then we got down to the Suez Canal and of course we turned to the right and we knew if we had turned to the left we were heading to Tewfik and home, but we turned and we knew we were going back up the desert again because we knew that Rommel was on his way down. So that was into Alamein. And the 13th were a bit lucky for a start off at Alamein because we’d spent all that extra time in Tobruk.
So they didn’t put us straight into the front line. The first night we were there they put us into a beautiful well-made positions, concreted, and there was beds and everything there. Oh we had lovely beds and there was blankets and everything else. And we thought, “Oh this is beautiful.” Just outside Alexandria. And we were only there the one night. The next night we were on trucks and up into the desert and we were what they called, oh, something
battalion. We were moved everywhere. Every night we moved somewhere different in case Rommel looked like breaking through somewhere they’d shoot us up there. But we never actually did any fighting. That was for about the first week we got to Alamein. And then we got put up into the front line and of course we were there then right through until the battle started. We went up there in July, I think it was.
We had many battles before that, but not the big battle.
all the time. We had plenty of transport and plenty of guns. You could get what you want. Ammunition, plenty of ammunition, which we never had in Tobruk. We always relied on the navy to get it up to us in Tobruk. But here we had transport just bringing it straight up from the [Suez] Canal or from Alexandria. So we were sort of very confident. Mind you we tried to take a point there at one stage.
Not our battalion and they got very badly beaten up by the Germans. Lost a lot of men. The 26th Brigade – wasn’t our brigade. And we worked with other battalions. And keep a straight attack and keeping in a straight line. It was marvellous… And then the work we did there.
And training with the Vickers machine gunners. We formed our own machine gun platoon, and training with them to fire over our heads or give us covering fire when we were… when we dug our positions so they’d know to dig that much further up here with their guns where they could cut right across the front of us. And marching with… like artillery. We had to… They taught us to march at a certain pace when we were attacking, not to get any faster or slower
and somebody’d count the paces so the artillery could land just in front of us and keep lifting. And we’d keep walking at the same pace so that we wouldn’t run into the artillery or they wouldn’t drop their shells on us, which was very, very good later on – we appreciated it. Of course we didn’t appreciate it so much then. We thought it was all a lot of hard work. And then another time we attacked with all of us on the tanks and jumped off and went tearing up a hill or something or
other. So it was very heavy, hard training, but very good training. Lots of things we hadn’t known before. And another thing they did too… Oh about a week before, they started sending us on leave into Cairo, which was a hell of a surprise. When I got my name called I had to go into leave in Cairo. But whether that was just a sort of, make the Germans
think that there was no chance of us attacking because, “Oh they’re sending all their men on leave, there’s no way that there’s going to be a battle or anything.” Whether that could have been the reason I don’t know. But I got leave into Cairo with another chap, Archie Brown. A bit of a wild sort of lad too. And that’s where the first met the Yanks. And of course it became a battle then, who was going to drink who under the table. No-one was going to give in first. We had some great times in Cairo for the four days we were there.
And we went out to the pyramids and Sphinx and so on. And I remember they wanted us to ride a camel. Now we were both from the country and both horse riders. And when you get a horse there and you ride around, of course there’s the old Arab he leads him around. Well that was no good to Archie and I so we just kicked the old Arab out of the road and away we went. You’re not supposed to gallop those horses because they’re all stallions and they’re likely to drop dead in the heat.
But that didn’t worry us. With the poor old Arab running behind us – crying his eyes out he was. And we galloped around. And then we went over to the Sphinx and we got our photos taken sitting on a camel which you had to do of course. Like this was the last day. I said to Archie, “Cripes we’ve been here for three days and we haven’t even seen the pyramids and the Sphinx yet. We’d better move out of the pub and…” So we did. And I’ve got a very good photo there of Archie and I sitting on
camels just near the pyramids. And we came back and had our last night with the Americans. And incidentally we did have the pleasure of being thrown out of the picture theatre while we were there too. Because we knew all the Egyptian National Anthem and of course we had a bit of a parody for that. Well Archie and I, we’d had a few drinks and they started to play this and we
stood up and sang the parody of course.
And we knew… They got us all together and they told us what was going to happen. This was going to be the battle to end all battles. This was going to be the finish of Rommel and drive him right out of the desert. And the artillery would open up at twenty minutes to ten and then we’d go in at ten o’clock. Well whether… What are they called? The thing in there where all the guns were. And this is where the German artillery is and this is our
infantry here and they’ve got a machine gun post here and we’re going to do this that and the other. But of course that’s all right till you start and then everything goes haywire. And we were issued with plenty of ammunition and extra rounds and they gave us extra rounds for the Bren gun. Extra magazines which we filled up. And they had a little chap called Jackie. He wasn’t little; he was nearly as big as me. He hadn’t been with us long. He’d joined us up in Syria. And
he had the job of carrying all these extra magazines, Jack did, I remember. And I think I had eight or nine men in my… Oh by then… About three nights before they’d called Tom Duncan from West Wyalong and myself… An officer came in and he said, “Righto, Joe, you two are going to be in charge of sections.” They’d offered us stripes but I never ever wanted stripes, I had enough trouble looking after myself. They’d leave so many
men out of battle before you go in in case you get wiped out so you’ve got corporals and sergeants and a few officers and so on to reform the battalion in case everybody gets… So they’d taken my section leader, he was left out of battle. So they gave me… What section? I had 4 Section. Chris Davidson had 5 Section and Leo Cunningham, one of the originals, had the other section. That’s the platoon, you see. About nine in each section, plus the platoon headquarters.
Well we learned everything what we had to do and where we had to start and who we had on our right. We had the 17th Battalion there and we’ve got the 51st Highlanders over on this side. And then… Oh, and this Jackie Low. We’d been playing cards – it all used to go down on a slate – and he said, “Before we go I think we ought to clear up our debts. You never know, some of us might get hit. We’d better square…” So we squared up all our debts.
And twenty minutes to ten of course the artillery opened up. And it was absolutely deafening. Burst your eardrums. For a start there was all the flash of lights and then it was like swooshing of a million birds or heavy wind overhead as the shells were going over. And then the crash came to us from the… The shells were there before you got the noise of the explosion. And then of course the Germans opened up and oh my God, it went on for twenty
minutes and you couldn’t hear yourself think. And it was absolute bedlam. And then at ten o’clock we marched… Heading off up to where the Germans were… All in our sections of course. And my platoon was the reserve platoon. There was 7 and 9 Platoon in front and then the platoon headquarters and then our turn was next. And we’ve crossed the start line and of course the shells… We realised
then what a great thing to have this… We kept on marching and the shells were dropping and I thought to myself, “My God, this’ll be a walkover.” Like my nerves were jumping and I was a bit tense but a feeling of exhilaration too you know. You’re getting going, everything… the blood was pumping. I thought, “There’ll be no German left alive and those that are will be all shell shocked. We’ll walk right over the top of them.” This was the first night, mind you. Well we did over their
first line, but then they’d all fallen back onto their second line and, oh, they gave us merry hell, they did. And I can always remember seeing our company commander, he got hit and he… Oh I had two or three hit before we got there. Tommy McClelland and Jackie… some other Jack I had. They got hit in the shins with I think it was their own shrapnel. And the company commander got hit and then Tom Duncan, the chap from West Wyalong who I had… went right through,
he was… There was a machine gun post he was having a go at and he was running short of ammunition and he was screaming out for ammunition. And I knew Jackie Low, he was just there. He was next in my section; he had the ammunition. And I said, “Jack, quick, race over to Tom and take that ammunition.” And he stood up and as he stood up he got hit. Whack, right in the stomach, I’ll never forget that. It’s something that’s haunted me a bit afterwards. Not then but in later years. And I thought it was me
that gave him the order to stand up and take … So he went down screaming. And Tom was still yelling out for ammunition so I went over to Jack and got his ammunition and said, “You’ll be right.” And I yelled for stretcher bearers and he was crying for his mother, too. Marvellous the ones that cried for their mother. Two or three I know that got hit and it was their mother they thought of and Jackie did too. But anyhow, he died. I raced up alongside Tom Duncan and slid in alongside him.
And there was a bloke lying there with his head on his arm and he had a bullet right through… and the blood was all over his face, you couldn’t see who he was and I said, “Tom, who’s that?” He said, “Oh that’s Lochie, they’ve shot Lochie.” Well Harold Lachlan was our sergeant and he was an original, and wonderful… everybody loved him. He didn’t drink and he didn’t smoke and he didn’t swear. As a matter of fact we got him to sing at one concert without… all he’d sing was “Please don’t burn our outhouse down, mother is willing…”
That was his song. ‘The Outhouse’. He was the only one to ever say ‘outhouse’. But Tom and I… I gave him his ammunition and he put it onto his… and we were all firing with this. And the runner came over to us and he said, “Look we’re pulling back to…” Wait, we were supposed to go in with tanks but the tanks got onto a mine field and couldn’t so we went in without them.” And the runner came from platoon headquarters and he said, “We’re pulling back to where those positions were dug until the tanks catch up.” And I looked up and the fellows
were all coming back. So I said, “Come on, Tom.” And he wouldn’t. He said, “No, they’ve shot Lochie.” And he was firing away and was taking all the army on his own and he was sort of around the twist. So I grabbed him by the heels and I pulled him back out. And he came out and we raced back with them. And we were there for about half an hour I suppose and the tanks caught up. So we attacked again. And this time everything was going all right. Oh our platoon commander got killed too. Norrie. So that was our
company commander and our platoon commander and our platoon sergeant.
There were tracers coming and there was shells and anti-tank guns. And there was tanks, by this time the tanks had caught up. Anyhow we attacked again and this time it was pretty easy going… well I say easy going but the Germans started to run. It was like a grey line in front of us and they were just moving, running. And we were firing as fast as we could. And they were… I said a while back… some of them were running towards us with their hands up because…
well they were running. You didn’t stop, you shot anything. If it was moving you were shooting at it. And as soon as they could get behind us they were safe because we couldn’t shoot backwards. And we’d heard… somebody had put down… when somebody was coming into surrender he had his hands up and he had a grenade in his hand and he threw it and killed the chap. So of course, they told us that anyhow. Whether it was true or not I don’t know. So we were shooting anything that moved. Well you had to. If you hesitated you were
dead. And everything was going very well and then one of the tanks ran over a mine. By this time it’s, oh, I suppose two or three or four o’clock in the morning I don’t know. And although it was a bright moonlight when we started, by now you couldn’t see anything; it was like dark with all the sand was churned up, and the smoke and the cordite… the smell was nearly absolutely choking you with the smell of cordite. And
the Germans must’ve reformed and there was a tank, one of their tanks was firing at us and the chaps, why they did… I have never known why all of a sudden all our fellows went down and started to fire. I suppose it was because you all got killed if you stood on your feet. And I went down and I had Keith Bowl – that’s the fellow from Weethalle whose mother told me to look after him – along one side of me and Chris Davidson, this funny bloke, on this side of me. And then King Cole, who was driving a carrier
but the carrier had got knocked out so he jumped out and grabbed a rifle and came with us. And all of a sudden these gunners sort of got right… and the tracers were coming and I was lying down there and a funny thing, it crossed my mind at that moment and I was crouched down and I thought, “God, I wish I was back trapping rabbits in Weethalle.” Why something like that goes through me head, at that stage, God only knows. And they started to pick them off and I could always recall seeing them.
There was old Whizz Nicholls got hit first and then Ronnie Blackwell and then King Cole and then Chris Davidson got hit alongside me and I thought I was going to be next. I had to be next but I didn’t, I wasn’t frightened. I’d past being frightened I suppose. Like I was beyond it. And I just sort of braced myself and the next thing Keith Bowl got hit on the other side of me.
And the first thing that entered me head when Keith got hit, “Good God! What’ll Mrs Bowles say?” Funny thing I thought of. “What’ll Mrs Bowles say?” Anyhow when I got back to Weethalle of course she thanked me very much for looking after him. But then Chris was yelling out so I got a bandage… I jumped on my feet and they were still shooting. I suppose they were but I don’t know because all I could think of then was getting these two blokes.
So I wrapped Chris’s arm up. I said, “Where are you hit?” He said, “Ooh.” The blood was dripping off his arm so I thought, “Oh, must be his elbow.” So I wrapped a big bandage around his elbow and said, “Away you go.” And I saw him back in hospital and he wasn’t hit in the shoulder at all. He wasn’t hit in the elbow at all. He was hit up in the shoulder and I’d bandaged his elbow up. He said when he got to RAP [Regimental Aid Post] they took the bandage off and there was nothing there. “I got hit up there.” Just the blood was dripping… Anyhow putting his hand in his shirt must’ve … And then I grabbed Keith, and Keith was a big man. Oh, big heavy man.
He was a dead weight. And he was spinning around and he got hit in the foot. And I’m sure that it was our tanks… Our tanks must’ve hit him because they were firing over us and through us and everywhere else. I thought, “I’ll pick him up in one of those fireman holds,” you know you pick them up over your shoulder and one arm around his legs. I picked him up and he was that darn heavy we both collapsed and we got tangled in barbed wire. And that’s the first time
I started to panic. I thought, “Oh my God! We’re gone! We’ll be dead!” And I remember my Dad had told me, he said, “Joe, whatever happens, if you get into a tight spot, don’t panic, because if you panic, you’re dead.” And I thought of that and I forced to control myself and I could feel the panic, you know it was coming all up… My legs were going stiff on me. That was the stage I got to. And I fought it and I abused Keith for bucking around, of course. And I said,
“We’ve got to get this barb off us or we’ll both be killed.” There couldn’t have been much barbed wire on us because it only took a couple of seconds to get the barbed off. And I looked… and I thought, “Now what the hell am I going to do? I can’t carry him.” And then one of the tanks come lumbering up alongside us and stopped. And a British bloke put his head out of the tank and I… I suppose I was right around the bend or something… I yelled out to him. I said, “Help me pick this man up and take him back.”
Because there was a bit of a gully further back where we’d started from I thought, “If they get back there he’s okay.” “No.” And you know what? And Keith and I talked about this afterwards, back at home after the war. I had a grenade in my hand and I don’t… I had it in my hand. And he must’ve thought I was going to throw it at him or something. I said, “I think you’d better help me and I think you shot him anyhow.” He said, “Righto, righto.” And he got down from the tank and he helped me and we put Keith up behind the turret.
And I looked around and everyone else had gone so I jumped up on the turret behind him. Behind the tank. And the bullets were coming on the other side and bouncing off and sparks were flying. And bust me, the tank turned around. Instead of backing out – he only had to go about a hundred yards – he turned around, which meant that Keith and I were on the wrong side of the turret. So he went around one side and I was around the other. And I said, “My God! For a man with one leg you move pretty fast!” And he took
us back and he jumped off, and “Is this okay? I’ve got to go back.” I said, “Righto thanks.” And pulled him off. And just then a truck came lumbering past and it was loaded up with barbed wire and pickets and one thing and another, it must’ve been an engineer’s truck. And he stopped and another chap came wandering out of the dust too. Rastmaster [?], I forget his first name. And he had a bullet through him, through the shoulder here. And I loaded… this driver and I loaded him onto the back of the truck and
I said to Keith, “If you ever meet anybody in Weethalle, when you get there…” I thought he was out, finished you see. But anyhow he didn’t, he come back into it. And away they went and I’m there and I’m looking and there was nobody and I couldn’t see anybody. And it’s all dust and it was dust and smoke and the tanks were firing and there was bullets flying everywhere. And I thought, “Oh my God…” And then out of the dust I saw somebody coming. And
there was a bit of a breeze blowing and the smoke was going sort of up and down and swirling. And this figure looked like he was about ten foot tall and then he looked about this high. And I thought, “Jesus! I’ve gone off my head!” And bugger me, it was Tom Duncan! He come wandering out of the dust, dragging his rifle. And I said, “Oh my God, Tom I thought I was the only one left alive!” He said, “I thought I was.” So we went back a little way and found the hole… No, it wasn’t a hole. We were still on top of the ground.
And I said, “We’d better see if we can find our company. There must be a few of them left.” He said, “Oh I don’t think there’s many, so and so got hit, so and so and...” I said, “That’s right, I remember seeing Ron Blackwell and the rest of them hit.” I said, “And Bowles and Davidson.” And I said, “I’ve got a tin of bully beef in my haversack.” And I pulled the haversack off and went and got the bully beef and the bullet had gone through the top of my haversack, through the bully beef, blown the feet out of a pair of socks that I had
and out the bottom. So that must’ve been the one that missed me when it got the other fellows. So I said, “Oh God, Tom, you can have it all. I don’t feel hungry now.” And we lay there and then we saw our planes coming. And, “Oh, you little beauty!” And there was nine of them. And they dropped their bombs and they fluttered down and looked like leaflets and then they sort of gathered power and they… Tom said, “Joe, these aren’t going to miss us by much.” And I said, “They’re not going to miss us at all.” And
we right down, and we rolled over, fingers in the ears and the mouth open like you’re supposed to do. And I swear I bounced about fourteen foot high. Must’ve been about a foot or two. Tom bounced up and down, we rolled over, and covered in dirt. And our ears were full of dirt and our eyes and blood was running out of my ears and out of my nose, and Tom, he had blood running out of the corner of his eyes even. Well he started to curse them. The Yankee planes they were. He
cursed them and he used language that I’ve never ever heard before, old Tom. I started off with a hysterical sort of laugh and I thought, “Oh my God, after everything else we’ve been through now we get blown up by our own flaming planes!” But they didn’t, it got only one of our platoons and two or three of our chaps got killed in that little lot. But Tom and I we were awfully lucky. And then a chap came out… by that time of course the sun was up and it was getting on. They said some of A Company they were
reforming back over in a certain area so Tom and I wandered over there. And they amalgamated two companies to make one. A Company and Don Company. And I got a couple more fellows in my… I think I had three fellows left in my section out of the nine we started with. And I said, “Well we’d better dig in because they’re sure to counter attack.” So we all dug in and the fellows were that weary… we’d been going for so long. And then when it got dark
I got a call back to our company headquarters. So I went back there and they were going to attack again. Because ours were the only area where we hadn’t taken our objective. The 17th Battalion were up on our right and the 51st Highlanders were up on our left but our little patch it still hadn’t… so we had to take… And I thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to tell the fellows they’ve got to attack again?” And I got back to the section and every one of them was asleep. And they’re sleeping all different… they’d just collapsed. One chap
still had a sandbag… they were filling sandbags to put around in case of a counter attack the next morning. And another chap had dirt on his shovel and one fellow had put his sandbag on and he’d just fallen over it. And I thought, “How in the name of fortune will I wake them up?” The worst I’ve ever had. I had to abuse them all and I kicked some and shooed some and said, “Come on get your gear.” Anyhow we got all our gear together and we got on the start line. And I looked at my watch and it was just ten o’clock. So I thought, “My God, it’s only twenty-four hours
since we started.” And all those things had happened in those twenty-four hours. And that I think is about the worse twenty… I reckoned I lived three life times in that twenty-four hours. The worse in my life it was, absolutely shocking! But anyhow away we went again and we took our area fairly easily that night. We got on to the start line and away we went and we fired a few shots and there were a bit fired at us and there was a little bit of a battle going on among the
tanks and what have you. But we caught up with the others and dug in. And we were dug in by morning, just in time for a battle out in front of the tanks. And one of our chaps… one of our sections of anti-tank guns had moved up near us and they knocked out three or four German tanks. And we had quite a good victory that morning. And the infantry that were coming behind, we opened up on them and they scooted. And I can remember later that morning and our colonel,
who was our 2IC [Second in Command] actually, George Colvin. He wasn’t a colonel. He dropped in the hole alongside me and I thought, “What the heck’s he doing here right up in the front line?” He said, “Colonel Turner’s been killed.” Oh at the battle of Eduda, our colonel, Colonel Bull Burridge I told you about, he got hit in the head and he never came back to us after that. And we got Colonel Turner who was a 2IC. Colonel Turner was with us then until Alamein and he got killed on the first night of the
battle. So George Colvin, who was his 2IC, he said, “I’ve been promoted to colonel. I’m in charge of the battalion.” I said, “Christ, sir, you won’t be in charge long if you don’t get your head down.” And he was our colonel then right through till the finish of the war. George Colvin. I got to know him well. I was on the mat that many times. He knew my first name as soon as I turned up. But… then each
night then we were attacking somewhere or other… sometimes in different directions. Sometimes we were even back the way we’d come. Like where the Germans had broken through and we had to attack and chase that lot out or it might’ve been an artillery post that had been by passed and we had to go and spike those. So it went on night after night so… and that’s when you say, did I ever see anybody… I saw one or two crack up there by the finish.
oh twenty on a ridge just in front of us. And quite a lot of them were hit and set on fire. It’s marvellous how long they’ll burn, big palls of black smoke come out. And they’ll burn for days. And we were close enough to see when a tank got hit and the chaps trying to scramble out of it. Sometimes they’d get out and sometimes they’d get about halfway out and all alight and it was a shocking scene it was. It was terrible to see.
There was one German tank got hit right near us and the first chap got out all right. He was all alight. His clothes were all alight and he was running towards us with his clothes alight and collapsed of course and he spun around burning. And another chap got… just got out of the turret and fell and the third chap was about half out and just hanging over the side of the turret. It was absolutely shocking and I always thought that… “No way I’d ever go into battle in a tank.”
If you got hit you only got out one at a time. And the smell was… oh it’d nearly choke you the smell of the burning clothes and bodies and oil and tar and tyres and what have you. It was dreadful. But one of the lads always mentioned to me years after… I called out and… we had… a truck had
come up the night before and brought us up some water. And we had an old… we always carried an old billy can with us and I filled it three parts full of water and I crawled out and put it onto it. I boiled the billy on the tank. That was the most expensive fire that I’ve ever boiled a billy on. And crawled back again. And there was so much going on at the same time, not only just then. There was planes coming over dropping shells, and mortar shells and
bursting around. And anti-tank tracers and bouncing here and there. And when it was all over the carnage. It had knocked out tanks and trucks and guns and anti-tank guns. All the equipment that was lying around, it’s a terrible sight. That was the second day and then of course it went on like that each day we’d attack
somewhere or took something. We relieved the 17th Battalion and then one time we had a bit of a rest for a day but then that following night we had to attack another little point that was holding us up. But never nearly as bad as the first night of course. It was only short and sharp and it was finished. And it was around about the oh, 7th, 8th, 9th I suppose… I had a chap with me, an Irishman,
George Bleakley, he’s broad Irish. And I can remember as we were going through another company, we were taking over the front line, and this chap… a fat chap he was. He came from Weethalle, a Mervin Lees. We always used to call him Old Rolly. But why we called him Old Rolly was we were in camp when Old Rolly won the Melbourne Cup at a hundred to one. And Merv Lees backed him. So he was always called Old Rolly after that. And this night as we were going in he said, “Keep your head down George, there’s plenty of bullets flying around.” And old
George of course being an Irishman said, “I’m right Rolly. If you get hit you won’t get hit in the head, you’ve got a much bigger spot you’ll get hit in. You want to keep that down.” That was his stern end of course. Well that night, or during the afternoon when the shells came over, poor old George he was on top of the ground doing something. He come charging and he said, “I’m hit Joe.” I said, “Where are you hit, George?” He said, “I’m hit in the so and so stern end.”
And he said, “Oh, won’t Old Rolly laugh,” when he hears that he was the one that got hit. That was old George Bleakley. But we attacked oh around the seventh or eighth night and where we stopped, we drove the Germans out but they left a lot of booby traps. Barbed wire all around and you weren’t game to touch the barbed wire because they’d have something tied to it. So as soon as the wire shook off’d go… And we got a terrific amount hit with just
these little boobies… little bombs or little hand grenades. Tied, there was wire and as soon as you touched them, off they’d go. So we got quite a lot hit in that area. And we got a lot of men badly hit. And I remember another fellow Dick Burrell he was another great friend of mine, he came from up our direction. And he was on top when the shells… and he was running trying to find a hole and we were all our holes. And every hole he went to there was somebody in it. And I thought of
once again my mind went back to catching rabbits. We used to… and I’d always fill their burrows in first and when the dog was chasing the rabbits he’d go to one hole and it’d be closed and he’d be trying, looking for a hole to dive into. And Dick Burrell reminded me exactly of the same thing. And I knew Dick, worked with him for years after the war. But I struck him again when I got hit and I got back to hospital. He was hit in the leg, all up the back of his legs. And he couldn’t
bend over. And that was another funny one. At the hospital in the ward he’d been out for something or rather and he was coming back in again and his pyjamas slipped down and there he was standing and he couldn’t bend to pull his pyjamas up. And of course we laughed, we thought it was a heck of a joke. When the nurse was coming there was poor old Dick standing there all bare from the waist down because he couldn’t bend to pull his pyjamas up. We told him that story many times too. But this night he… we got the stretcher
bearers and cleaned them all up. And another great friend of mine, who’s still alive… he’s been back with me on a few trips to Tobruk, Curly Morecombe. He was on the list and he got posted out into the mine field and he got hit and there were so many hit at the same time they were racing here there and everywhere. And bandaged him up and this voice came out, “Son, when you’re not busy will you come out and get me?” So I went out and got him and he’d
been hit. But he sat out there and waited till there was a little bit of quiet so as he could get someone to come and bring him in. By the end of that evening there was only me left in my section, everybody had been hit barring me. And this Tom Duncan and I went out to get the rations. It was oh about one o’clock in the morning I suppose and we heard the ration truck had turned up. So Tom and I and another chap named Charlie Nimmo.
And as we were coming back with the rations, over came a shell and got the three of us, hit us in the legs. But prior to that a strange thing happened there too. We had a Billy Ratten, he was our stretcher bearer. And a shell come up and we all dived into the hole and Bill was the last one and he dived in and he was on top of me. And when the shelling had eased a bit I said, “Come on Bill out
you pop.” And he was still lying there. And I said, “I think you’ve been hit.” And I had… Leo Cunningham was in the hole with me and we pushed him up on top and he was dead. But he didn’t have a mark on him, not one single mark. It must’ve been concussion or something that killed him. We called for the stretcher bearers and they came and looked him over and… it was a moonlight night. And he never had a mark.
He was just… and yet when the write up was in the paper I saw ‘died of wounds’ which was quite wrong. He didn’t die of wounds, he got killed straight out. But when I got hit, I didn’t know I was hit. I went to take another step forward and fell head over heels. I got shot… a piece of shrapnel went through my leg. And my boot was full of blood.
And I thought, “I’m hit.” And Tom Duncan was hit as well. He was the same Tom Duncan. He was alongside me. He got hit in the legs as well and Charlie Nimmo. We got bandaged up and that made my section… that was the finish of my section. I was the last one hit.
How did it feel for you, sorry to interrupt, how did it feel being the last man hit. You said you were the only one from your section, how did that affect you?
It was a bit of a… it was a strange feeling. At that stage I thought, “Well I can’t get hit, I’m right, I’m, okay.” I knocked off worrying a bit. I thought, “Well I’ve survived all that.” And by that time we had the Jerries on the run a bit. They wouldn’t last much longer, we were very confident at the last night we attacked. And I felt very… I was still a little bit
shaky… like we’d been going for so many days. But I wasn’t really frightened. I was quite confident I was going to get through without getting hit. And then when I got hit in the legs which I suppose was as good as you could get. But then the problem was… they brought us out and put us into an ambulance. The three of us, Tom Duncan and Charlie Nimmo and myself, I was in the bottom and there was a chap across from me. He died on the way coming up in the ambulance.
And of course there were no lights or anything and there’s still shells going on. And I thought, “My God, we’re going to get hit or we’ll run over a mine and I’ll killed here.” And here’s me on my way out of this. I was sure we were going to get hit. And Tom Duncan once again, I think he abused every jolly German in the army and Hitler and Rommel and he kept on going for the whole half hour or so we were in the ambulance, old Tom.
And I had to laugh again, even though the condition we were under and the thought that we were going to get blown up, I still couldn’t help laughing. Old Tom was still going on. He cursed everybody. And we finished up… went to a casualty clearing station, a New Zealand one. And they bandaged us up and put us onto another ambulance and we went back to an English
hospital. But they took us off and found we were Australians so they put us back in the ambulance and sent us to the Australian 7th AGH which was at Sidi Bishr just out of Alexandria. And so within oh eight or ten hours we were back at the hospital and you can’t believe, you can’t explain to anyone the feeling it was to get back to the peace and quiet. And we got sheets
and pillows and sheets and in bed. And washed and cleaned and there was nurses wandering after all. That was the biggest shock of anything, like you’d sort of forgotten that those sort of things were still occurring. And we were back there and out of the battle and everything. And in the ward I went into I remember it was number nine ward, half of my section were all in there. I caught up with them again,
those that hadn’t been killed. Only what, a couple killed and the rest were all wounded. And I joined them again in the hospital bed, they were all in bed as well. And Tom Duncan was in the bed alongside me. The chap that I’d been right through with. And they promoted us both to corporals, we were lance corporals up to then so they made us corporals both on the same day. So we were lance corporals on the same day and we were corporals on the same day. Old Tom.
it wasn’t so terribly bad. No. And when I did get back and found out it was only just a hit… and lucky it didn’t hit any bones just in the back and out the front, incidentally. It wasn’t in the front and out the back. But shrapnel must have shot… but it didn’t hit a bone. It was what you call a good sort of a wound, it got me out of the battle fields. Although by that time, it was only a couple of days later we only ever attacked again once after that. Our chaps and it was all over.
Rommel was on his way. They’d chased him right back past Tobruk and right back out of Egypt and out of Libya and Az Zawiyah and right back out of North Africa. And they didn’t stop till he was right out of the place. But of course I was still back in hospital. And I was in hospital for, oh a week or two. Then we went to a convalescence camp.
While… just after I got out of bed… on my crutches, I was able to walk around a bit. Another chap out of the 48th Battalion and I, Sergeant Richardson, we… the hospital wasn’t far from the Nile. And we were dressed in white shirt and blue trousers which meant hospital patients. And we were walking along the Nile and all of a sudden a couple of Arabs… both had reaping hooks and they wanted
cigarettes for starters. Well I didn’t have any cigarettes. Then they wanted our money and the next thing we were surrounded by all these jolly Arabs and they all had some sort of a weapon. And I thought, “Oh, dear Lord!” And a chap had me around the head, and I thought I was going to get my throat cut. Anyhow I finally got a whack and I’ve still got a big bump on the back of my head. And they took all our money and everything we had on us. My belts, my boots and they’re pulling my trousers off. And I was kicking and
some other Arabs come racing up screaming their heads off and these chaps who were around us all took off. So we got back to the… oh incidentally it was all black sort of soil alongside the Nile. And I thought they were going to throw us in. But anyhow they didn’t. We got back to the camp and oh it caused a hullabaloo and we had the Egyptian police there and everything and that night they… about nine or ten o’clock I suppose the police came and got us two, Richardson and myself. And they took us
in a van down some Egyptian village and they’d set up a court room there. And they had the chaps and I got back my money, I got my belt back. I even got a telegram back that I had received that day from Dad. They found the people. It was a rough old court case. They’d ask him something… they’d give him a slap over that side of the face and if he didn’t say what they wanted him to, another slap and knock him down. And up he got again. And I had to say, well they asked me if that was one of them. Well they look all alike to me.
I said, “I couldn’t be sure.” They all looked like… all Arabs looked alike.
But they did get them and we got most of our gear back again. But the nurses wouldn’t let us go to bed till all hours. We got back about, oh three or four o’clock in the morning back to the hospital. And the night nurses were all waiting there, we had to tell them all our story, what had happened and who we’d seen. How many there were. Sat around talking till the blinking sun came up. Just to hear our story. But
I still have the bump on the back of my head but it didn’t do me any harm. I had a bit of blood run down the back and my white shirt was covered in black, where they’d rolled me over in the dirt and so on. And as I say, only about two or three days later we left… they packed the hospital up because the battle had finished. And we went to a staging camp just out of Alexandria. And I got leave into Alex too with Keith Bowles
who by that time, he was back on his feet again too. And had a look around Alexandria which I’d missed out of then back to different staging camps. Then back to join the battalion who were back in Palestine then. And we rejoined the battalion. And of course, people were gradually coming back from the hospitals and what have you and I had three or four of my old team there. And quite a few of… a lot of new
reinforcements arrived by then. And build up my section. We knew then… well we’d heard we were coming home. So they had us training for a big parade at Gaza airstrip. Just getting close to Christmas too. No I didn’t get any leave at that stage because
it was too soon to coming home. And we had Christmas… No, we had this big parade at Gaza airport. All the 9th Division were there, we all marched around. We had General Alexander, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the forces in the Middle East. We all marched past him and he told us what good fellows we were and I can always remember, in fact I’ve got it there, his full speech. And I always remember officer, warrant officers and non commissioned officers and men and
so forth. And I remember his last little bit he said, “No matter in what field of battle he ever was, he’d always remember that under his command brought the 9th Australian Division.” That was his finish. And then we marched back to the camp and it was Christmas… that was on the 22nd December. And then Christmas day… oh we had a wonderful Christmas dinner. We had roast turkey and plum pudding and the officers all waited on the men. And Morshead,
General Morshead came around and saw us all and spoke to us. And there’s a photo there, sitting at a table at that Christmas dinner and General Morshead drinking a ‘Lady Blamey’ as we called them, what we used to drink out of. It was an ordinary beer bottle cut off around half way up it. So we didn’t have the top on, you just had the bottom half of the beer bottle. And that was all filed off nice and smooth and that’s what you used to drink out of. We called them ‘Lady Blameys’. Well
there’s a photo there somewhere of General Morshead drinking out of one of these Lady Blameys at our Christmas dinner. Congratulated us all on the job we’d done.
I think it was three weeks’ leave or something like that. And then we went back into camp. We had a march through Sydney. The division marched through Sydney and that was a very proud moment too. We didn’t have much training but we marched through. And then of course we… we went to Wallgrove camp for a while and had a bit of leave into Sydney… night leave
if you were lucky. And then away we went up on to the Tablelands, that’s up in Queensland. For training. For jungle training. And I was up there. I only did a little bit of jungle training and they sent me to a small arms school down near Brisbane at a place called Redbank. With two others – Tom Roberts and Jack Fitzpatrick and myself. And with members of 2/48th Battalion
and 2/43rd Battalion, all different battalion in this small arms corps. I suppose there’d be a couple of hundred of us there. And we arrived down from Queensland and we got out to Redbank Camp and we weren’t supposed to get there till four o’clock. And we got there around about twelve. And they wouldn’t let us in. They said, “Oh no, you’re not supposed to be here. No, no, no. Not until four o’clock.” Well that didn’t worry us. We thought, “Oh right, fair enough.” So off into… Ipswich
was the big town of course. We arrived at the school under police escort of course. Our usual performance. Provos [Provosts – Military Police] brought us in. Jack, not Jack Fitzpatrick, he was waiting there to do the right thing, but Tom and I. Tom’s still going; he’s got both legs off. Lives down Mystery Bay. And we got into Ipswich and we got into a bit of a problem there with some of the Yanks. Like we’d met the Yanks by then and had quite a few fights.
Provos grabbed us and the chaps from the 48th Battalion. Herb Ashby, he was with us too. He’s still going at Mount Gambier in Victoria [actually South Australia], old Herb is. And they brought us in straight in before the camp commander, and who should it be but a Captain Walker who was a 13th Battalion chap. Been with us in Tobruk and Alamein and so forth. And when the Provos marched us in. And he looked up and he saw us.
And he said, “Righto…” Corporals they were. No, sergeants they were. “Righto sergeants, I’ll handle this.” And they said, “But, but…” “Never mind, I’ll handle it. I know what the charge is”, he said. And the Provos walked out and he said, “Now what the bloody hell have you fellows been up to?” Like although he was an officer we were all sort of in together in battle. And he gave us a bit of a dressing down and he said, “Righto, as of
now, behave or you’re in trouble. I’ll let you off this time.” So we got off scot free that time. Still didn’t get a red mark in my pay book. So I was at that school and the school lasted for three or four months. Three months I think it was.
up as far… the crowd from the small arms school only got as far as Townsville. And at Orroroo, just out of Townsville, we stopped there because the battalion was coming down. We met them at Townsville and we joined and went on to Milne Bay. We were in Townsville for about three days before they arrived down and we looked over the town. We never got into any problems in Townsville.
But I could’ve done because the boat was there waiting to take us and they sent an advance party on board the boat. And I’d put a phone call through to… I knew we were going… to Margaret, that’s the lass I knew at Redbank for her to ring me that night at this post office at Orroroo. And during the afternoon
they whacked me on board as advance guard onto the boat and of course you weren’t allowed to leave. Oh cripes, no. You couldn’t get leave. And I thought, “What the hell am I going to do?” I said to another chap, “I’ve got to get ashore somehow.” And I got talking to a Yank and I suddenly had a brain wave. I said, “Would you change me clothes for tonight?” See the Yanks were going ashore. I said, “I’ve got to get ashore. Us Aussies can’t go off but the Yanks can.” And he said, “All right.”
So I dressed up as a Yank, all the Yank’s clothing. It was just on dusk when I was going off and you go down the gangway. And bust me, our officer Captain Barrett, he was standing at the top of the gangway to make sure none of us went off. And there was two of us. Stan Tumack was with me. He just said, “Goodnight,” and we walked on down the gangway. And when we got to the
bottom this Yankee officer was there and he said, “Now remember guys, liberty finishes at twelve o’clock.” “Yes, sir.” And away we went. Anyway I got my phone call through and everything else and then we decided to have a look around Townsville, which wasn’t a real good idea. Dressed as Yanks. We went into a little coffee shop where I had been before… see we’d been there for a couple of days and I’d be around Townsville and I got to know a lot of people.
Sat down and she came over to serve the coffee. And she dropped the cup. Recognised me you see and I’m dressed as a Yank and I’d been there as an Aussie the day before. “What are you doing? You’ll get into trouble.” She said, “Look my sister’s just coming to pick me up in the car. Now you two best get in the car. We’ll drive you down to the wharf and you’d better get back on board again before they find out you’re missing.” So that’s what they did. These two girls got us in the car. We had a cup of coffee mind you, hopped in the car
and she drove us back. We had had a good look around town before that. Hopped in the car and drove us to the wharf and we marched up the gangway. The Yanks at the bottom of the gangway nodded to us and saluted and we saluted. We worked out their salute. We saluted and up we went. So I was an American in Townsville. Mightn’t have been in Paris, but I was in Townsville. Yeah.
sick, gees I was sick. And I remember before we come in they gave it a bit of a pounding. The boats gave it a bit of a pounding with their artillery off the ships and the air force gave it a pounding. Cut down all palm trees and anyhow we ran off and I wouldn’t have given a hoot who was there, I wanted to get ashore. Of course as soon as you hit the shore it’s a bit different. But at Lae we didn’t have any opposition.
We all raced ashore of course and we were in water up to here because the thing didn’t come in far enough and we had to step off into the water. And one chap got drowned there. He had a base plate of a mortar on his back and he went down and didn’t come up again. Right near me, his hat… I can always remember his hat floating away past me. We went ashore and got off… went down just at the edge of the trees and I think we might have one shot or two shots fired that was all. And that was all we saw then for days.
We sent patrols out here, there and everywhere and then we headed straight for Lae. Marching and doing sort of forward scouts and what have you up towards Lae. By the time we got to Lae the 7th Divvy had come in from the other direction so they were first into Lae which was a bit of a disappointment for us. We wanted to be, so we never got into the town of Lae. We turned around and come back, marched back. I can always remember just as we started coming back from Lae I can remember my platoon
and we had to march… the Yanks had a big ration dump there. And they had tins of pineapple and tins of condensed milk and tins of this and sausages and all the different foods and that. And my mob are marching straight through. My section. Well by the time we got out the other end, past their rations people were bulged out like this, they were loaded up with everything. Pineapple and tins.
But the Yankees knew too but they didn’t say anything, they took it in good part. So we ate very well for a few days on American rations. And we got back to… near Lae and it was marvellous. We’d only been… about eight to ten days I suppose and by the time we’d got back there the Yanks had all moved in and there was roads made, there was huts and that.
And there was ammunition stores and everything you could think of there. At Lae where we’d landed where there was nothing just a few days beforehand. My God, they were quick and expert at the job. And they sent us down, my section to unload… a barge had come in, a Yankee barge loaded with ammunition. I had to take my section and unload the barge. Well once again of course we unloaded more than the ammunition and lived well again for a few
days. That caused me a bit of trouble because it was my section so I was in charge of it. So I had to front about that but I didn’t see anything happen. It must’ve fallen overboard before it got to us.
well it jammed the whole works. But we… after little bits of skirmishes here and there and then we went further on up into the hills. And getting up the hills it was… you know you’d take two steps up and slide a couple of steps back. It was shocking, hanging on, trying to get up the jolly hills. Slippery and wet and muddy and smell… the smell was terrible. Even yourself you smelt… of course perspiration and everything was black and it was shocking.
I can remember that right through. One thing I can always remember about New Guinea, that’s the jolly smell. Your whole body. Worse than in Tobruk where we didn’t have any water. And there was plenty of water there. Anyhow we finally got up off the ridge and up onto, more into the hilly country. But some of the Japs did circle us and attack those back on the beach and they had a big problem. They had to get… from another brigade to come in and help out because our brigade
was all up on the hills. And then we had… our object was a place call Kakagog. It was quite a big… well defended place up on the hill. And we… after a couple of days we attacked that but they were too good for us and they chased us back again. We had quite a lot knocked there too. And they decided that, right we’d… before we went… we had to cross
a creek and one of the other companies had the job of crossing this creek but they got held up by machine gun fire so… as it happened my platoon, 8 Platoon, we were the nearest so they sent us down. Had to go down the side of a hill to help them out. And by the time we got down the side of the hill chaps were going wounded and coming back up the jolly hill. And my section, we got to the bottom to give them covering fire and there was two of them got killed. Poor old little Ronnie Walters and Jim Henry. And crossing
the creek… I raced across first and Jim Henry was the Bren gunner. And instead of him waiting until… and giving covering fire while all the rest got across and then waiting for us to give him covering fire, he followed me across and he got hit, just as he was crossing the creek and he fell on top of me and his whole Bren gun was red hot and it landed on my arm and I burnt my arm. What did he say? He said, “They’ve got me, Joe.” And I said, “Where are you hit?” He said, “Through the back.” And the bullet, just a little hole
in his shoulder. He was coming across and the bullet hit and got on his shoulder, and no sign of where it’d come up. But it must’ve been an explosive or something and that’s all he said. And he just gave a couple of shakes. I yelled for a stretcher bearer because we had to keep on going. And he was dead within… before we’d gone really. The stretcher bearer was close at hand, he come and grabbed him. Yeah, poor old Jim. He was the black sheep that the
old Father Burns he said he had in his flock. His sisters were nuns and one of them wrote to me. Well I wrote and said how sorry I was and that sort of thing. And I didn’t get a letter back but I never ever saw the family afterwards.
we raced up the hill and there wasn’t a Jap left, they’d all disappeared overnight. And weren’t we pleased. There was nobody there for us to have a shot at and we weren’t being shot at. And we arrived up there and there was an old church, it was only made out of leaves and palm fronds and that. And there was an old organ in it. And we had a chap with us, Phil Jenkins – he’s my twin actually, we’re both born on the same day –
and he still lives at Umina. I’ll be seeing him on Wednesday. And he always plays the organ in the church, still does, still plays the organ in the church. And this organ… so we brushed all the dirt off it and made him sit down and play us a tune and he played ‘The Road to Gundagai’ on the organ. And that was at Kakagog when we got up there. And they gave me the job of, my section to… there was one of their
hospitals there, a Jap hospital. No wounded in it but there were three or four dead chaps and they’d been dead for a long time. All blown up and the smell was something shocking. And this was all the hospital was only a wooden hospital and fronds for the… palm trees for the roof and all that sort of thing. So we… the four dead chaps we put them on the ground and we covered them all over with mattresses
and anything else, furniture and piled it all on. And then one of the chaps… happened to light a match and up she went. So at least they did get a funeral even if it was a… like there was no way we could bury them, oh goodness me our stomachs couldn’t stand it. Of course I had to front over to that one to find out why,
what had happened, how the hospital went up in flames. Probably one of the chaps struck a match or something happened and away she went. But that was all overlooked. So they were cremated. And then we moved on from there back down to the coast again and then up… there was a main road that went up inland, Sattelberg Road.
And that’s where most of the main fighting went on in Finschhafen, along Sattelberg Road. We were in quite a bit of it and a couple of the fellows got killed. But the 2/48th Battalion did the most fighting there in Sattelberg Road and took Sattelberg Hill. And Diver Derek he was one of the sergeants, he got a VC there at Sattelberg. And I know I was on the carrying party for them and also one of our platoons had been out,
a different company to me. You know he was giving them a bit of covering fire and one of the fellows had got wounded and they sent me on a carrying party. To help carry them back in and the first chap I helped to carry in was one of the chaps that I’d been at the small arms school at Redbank with Jack Fitzpatrick. And it was a terrible job getting up this hell of a ravine, nearly straight up. You had to strap them onto the stretcher and you’d push them up so far and then somebody’d take them from there and pull them up a bit further. It was a
shocking job but we got them all up. And they cleaned out the Sattelberg part of it and then they sent patrols out here, there and everywhere and I took a patrol out one stage or other. And I took… oh a platoon went out. We had a platoon… an officer with us. And we had to make contact with the Japanese to see how much further they’d gone back up the coast. And we’ve
stayed overnight and we kept on going next day and we finally… you could always smell the Japanese, knew we were getting close. And I had a forward scout. On patrols the jungle was too thick you could only go up a little path. And you had to have a forward scout out in front and I had Arthur Skye… he’s alive too, lives up in Nambucca Heads. I’ll be seeing him in a few weeks, Arthur. He was a great fellow out of my section. And
he was the forward scout. And I followed along behind and there was a big bomb crater and he was sneaking around the side of the bomb crater. And Bob McKenzie who was next to me said, “Joe, that’s a Jap on the other side.” And I looked and there was a Japanese fellow all crouched down. And my forward scout was walking around straight towards him. And I thought, “Now, if I yell out, Arthur’s likely to look around.” So I just
ordered the fellows down and fired a shot and shot the Jap anyhow. And as soon as I did, they opened up on us with… oh they had two or three machine guns there and so forth. But a funny thing. Arthur of course, he came scrambling back. And all the shots were going over our heads. And I thought, “That’s funny.” None were coming near us. But another one of our sections was crossing over some open area and they got right onto them
and a few of them got badly wounded. But we had made contact and that’s all we had to do so we pulled back. And we had to carry these fellows with us and all of them… two or three miles back and by gosh they were heavy. But one of our other sections, Ken Crutchett, an old mate of mine from Caloundra… he got his section and heard that I was in trouble and came racing out. And met us and carried the fellows in for us and our stretcher bearer who had been out
when we had our little armistice in Tobruk he came out as well and sewed these chaps up. One chap was bubbling out through his back and we bent him over and he was all… like he’d lost that much blood he was all white. And all the cotton that Doc Goodworth had was black. And I said, “God Doc, you could have at least sewed him up with white cotton.” He said, “That’s all…” Anyhow he survived the chap did, and we got back out of that. And then we followed the… that was the
last battle we did there and then we chased the Japs on up along the coast from there on. From Finschhafen we pushed them all up and they kept dropping back and dropping back. And we contacted them every so often and there’d be a bit of a shoot up and away they’d go again. And we came to a river I can always remember that and my section happened to be the forward section that time too. And we hadn’t struck anyone but we’d struck a… there was a lot of blood and then we came to a
bandage lying down and another bandage. I said, “There must be one of them wounded and he won’t … real soon, we’ll catch up him.” And we got to a river and there’s a little single man bridge across it. And I said, “Righto fellows we’ve got to cross that bridge.” The river was flowing too fast to cross the river. I said, “I’ll go across first. Give me covering fire.” They said, “Right.” In case there was somebody on the other side but I didn’t think there would be. And I got half way across and there was a Jap crouched down behind a bush.
And saw he had his rifle up. Well I didn’t know what to do. It was no good me running back because I was over half way so I charged straight at him and he was dead. The relief. Once again I broke out again and started to laugh, sort of this hysterical laughter because the tension that I was under. Just, only a few steps before I was off the bridge. And I gave a yell of course and the other fellows, they started firing all around me.
So must’ve been the fellow that we’d been following that had been losing his blood and then his bandages and then he’d finally given up and he’d died. But he was crouched just as if he was going to shoot. And that was the last one we struck for a few days. We had to get back over the river that night and Jackie Perry, he was only a little fellow, he got washed away and I heard him yell as he went down and he hit me in the legs. And I grabbed him. I was lucky enough to just
grab his haversack and pulled him up out of the water and he was still hanging onto his rifle. So you could’ve got killed, there were other ways than just getting shot at. Little Jackie. And we followed them right up to a place called Bloocha Point and that’s as far as we went. And I got Dengue there very bad. And I went back… they sent me back into Lae Hospital. And I was in Lae Hospital for some time with dengue fever. Went back out of Lae Hospital into a
little coastal steamer thing which took me back up to where they were. The battalion were, and they were all preparing then to come home. And we boarded a boat there… we got a lot of new reinforcements incidentally. That was funny, we got reinforcements just before we came home. And boarded the boat on my birthday, the 28th February. Came back down to Brisbane, unloaded in Brisbane then back to Sydney and got a little bit
more leave. And then back up onto the Tablelands again for more training. But that was our last we did in New Guinea.
I know I got leave once and went to the races. And people… we were at Atherton… they would… some people offered to take us for the night you see you could stay the night there. And Atherton Races was on so we had three days off another chap and I. And we were staying at some people’s place, put us up for that time.
And there was a lass there that I got to know and she worked in the butcher’s shop. We went to a dance, that’s right, and I met her at the dance. And I wanted to take her to the races and she said, “Oh well, I’m working in the butcher’s shop. But I think I’ll be able to get off to come to the races. Come in and ask me and if the boss’ll give me the time off… But if you come in and the boss is in
the shop, whatever you do don’t speak to me because he doesn’t like me talking to soldiers.” I said, “Righto. Wait a bit. What about I come in in the shop? I’ve got to do something.” She said, “Oh well it’s a Saturday, so order sausages because we don’t make sausages on a Saturday.” I said, “Right.” So I came in and the boss was behind the counter and the lass was on the typewriter. And he said, “What can I do for you, sir?” I said, “I’ll have ten pound of sausages.” And he said, “My God, you’re lucky. We don’t
usually make sausages on Saturday, but we made them this morning and I think we’ve got about ten pound left.” I got all these bleeding sausages and I looked at the girl out the corner of my eye as I walked out. And she had her head down typing. Yeah, I took them back to the camp. And it was the joke of the company. Joe Madeley and his sausages. But we did get to the races, not with the girl of course. I met her again afterwards.
Yeah. That was a great weekend. But then we… on the Anzac Day we boarded the boat again at Townsville. We came down from the Tablelands after all that useless… it wasn’t useless it was good training I suppose, hard training. We came down to Townsville once again and boarded the boat. And away we went over to Morotai.
Well Morotai was… half of it was still in Japanese hands. And the Americans had… we landed there and they took us right up past the Americans right up to where the front line was. And we did patrolling but we spent most of our time clearing the timber and scrub and the jungle away to build our camps and so forth. And we didn’t… that was all we did… training there. We knew we were
going to do an amphibious landing somewhere, we didn’t know where. We knew it was one of the islands. and while we were there too I got a letter from a lass that I knew who had joined the army. Joined the… well actually she was a nurse. No a VAD. And she was at 5th AGH. And I found out the 5th AGH were on this island of Morotai. But of course nobody could get any leave so I went and saw my officer
who had been with us for quite some time. And I said, “What’s the chance of getting…?” He said, “No, couldn’t even think of it.” I said, “Well I’ve got a cousin. With the 5th AGH. It’s not so far away.” He finally gave me a leave pass. So I managed to duck off down to the 5th AGH and met my cousin. And that was very nice. Before we went over to Borneo.
And spent the day there under the eye of course of the matron all the time. To make sure we didn’t sneak off anywhere. And one of the American Negroes drove me back. They could only drive me so far, they weren’t allowed past a certain line, only the Australians on the other side up where the Japs were at that stage. And hitchhiked a ride back to the camp and then a couple of days later we boarded a boat for,
they told us we were going to land in Borneo, on the mainland in Borneo. That wasn’t a real bad landing, we were the second wave. The 17th Battalion landed before us. And they… the few Japs that were there the 17th got them, so when we landed all there were was a
couple of wounded Japanese and that was all. So we pushed on up into the hills and took the village of Brunei. Little old grass huts and what have you, there was nothing much there. And a few days later they decided we’d have to go back on board and go back around to a place called Lutong, that’s where all the oil wells were. And make another landing there. Well as we were coming in
there the Japs had lit all the oil wells up. And the oil well was one of those artesian wells where oil shoots straight up in the air and they’d turn on all the taps and oil was shooting up and all alight. And it was such pressure coming out that you couldn’t see any flame or anything up for about thirty or forty feet and then the flame was up on top all alight. And the whole lot, all the thirty or forty of them were all aflame. The most spectacular sight it was with all this oil burning. And anyhow we landed there
and we took the town of Lutong and by that night we had the… our flag flying over the refinery at Lutong. And the engineers and what have you came and it took them days before… one at a time they put these oil… they finished up bringing an old Wirraway aeroplane in and they’ve got a lot of… what do they call it when they… the propeller they get steam up and it’s got so much back blast that it blew all the flames away so they could get close enough to
sort of douse the flame and that’s how they put them out. But by that time we’d got on to a town called Miri. And we had to take this town and we were on one side of the river and the township of Miri was on the other. We hadn’t met many Japs at that stage. And we stayed a couple of nights on this side of the river getting all organised before we took the town. Well that wasn’t a good idea either because there was all little canoes tied up on our side.
And I had some very adventurous fellows in my section. And we hadn’t been there long and a lot of these boats were missing and so were some of my blokes. And two days later when we went into the town, we were marching and the Japs had gone and an officer said to me, “My word, Joe, these natives seem very friendly!” “Hello Bill. Hello Jack. Hey Jack, how are you?” The chaps had been all over… well I hadn’t
because I was in charge of them. But they’d all been in… rowed across and met all the girls in the town and had a great old town. All my section, we knew that there was nobody in there, there was no Japs left there but we had to attack… we couldn’t say, “No it’s quite all right, there’s nobody there.” So when we walked we walked straight through the place. No wonder the natives were friendly, they knew all of my blokes. They’d met them over a period of a couple of days. So we took the township of Miri
and then went up onto Canada Ridge which is at the back of Miri. And that was actually as far as we went. And we did patrols there along… what was the name of that road? The Reim Road I think it was called. Yes Reim Road. We did patrols out along that and occasionally you’d strike some Japanese holding you up and have a bit of a gun battle with them but not very much. We only lost two or three or four chaps I suppose during that period.
But we had deep patrolling to make sure that they were well back. And I had a funny experience there too. I had a… we got mosquito nets. Mosquitoes were very, very bad. And you’d hang them up in a tree with the middle of it and then tuck it underneath your blanket to sleep at night. And this night I’d been on picket duty and I came in and I remember it was a bright moon light night too.
And I crawled in under my mosquito net and there was a snake who had crawled in before me. A green tree snake. And I came in one side under the mosquito net and he went straight up the other side. He was inside up the mosquito net. Till he was right on the tip of his tail and his nose was up touching the top of… And of course I’m trying to get out and of course in me excitement I got all tangled up in the mosquito net. Anyhow finally the snake he managed to get out and away he went. I kicked up such a din that everybody stood to. They thought the Japs were attacking us.
Yeah. A green tree snake. That was about the biggest fright I got while I was in Borneo I think.
cautious about going into any village or if there was a hut there, I’d go in in case there was booby traps or something like that. Well I was never ever like that. And I’d always make sure everything was pretty safe before we went into any place. Well prior to that well you didn’t have time for all that. So I think the officer realised it too because he didn’t send me out on many patrols.
And I realised it was time… my nerves were getting the better of me. And I felt terrible about it but there was nothing I could do. Even when I was on picket duty or something I was so jumpy. The least little noise and I’d sort of, I’d jump, there always seemed to be somebody at my shoulder. And it was starting to get me worried. But we didn’t have a great deal of fighting at all
in Borneo. The other battalions, one landed on Labuan… brigade I should say, not divvy, landed on Labuan and they got a terrific amount of fighting there. They lost a lot of men killed. And also on the other island, Labuan and… can’t think of the other island. There was a lot of fighting there. But on the mainland where we landed we thought most troops were supposed to be because they had all the oil there and everything, they were very little.
So we sort of finished without a great deal of fighting. Mind you we still lost some good men just the same. And that’s where we were when they dropped the atom bomb. Up on Canada Ridge and a few days later they… the war finished. But
prior to that… a lot of POWs. We got a lot of Japanese… we never got many but this time we did get quite a lot. And we bought them to a POW cage in Miri, township of Miri. And we had them in there. And then one night there was a boat… they let us know there was a boat load coming down so we got this boat load and they were all women, all Japanese women.
But we heard afterwards they had all… used to travel with the troops. There was prostitutes and what have you. And about fourteen children. But we weren’t prepared for them. By that time we’d come down off Canada Ridge and then our company was looking after the POW cage. And so we had showers and everything with Hessian around it, just as high as the showers were but we had no rooves on them.
They were all inside a barbed wire cage which covered about a couple of hundred yards that way and so and so. And we had a machine gun planted on one corner up on a big stand right up in the corner so they could look down on the POWs in case they attacked, or mutinied. Or played up. And I could never make out why it was that I always got volunteers to man the machine gun up there. And I thought, “That’s a bit different.”
And then it suddenly struck me. There was no roof on the showers and that’s where the women had their shower. Yes they were all sitting up there, they had a birds-eye view and the women had to shower and everything, that’s all they had. So anyhow one of them could speak a tiny bit of English. And when the rations came I used to go in with the rations and see everybody was lined up and feeding them. And this girl said, “No roof, bad soldiers look.” “Gawd blimey!”
So we had to get the hessian and put a roof over the top of them. But and that was when the armistice, around about that stage it was the armistice of course but they were still POWs. They had to be repatriated back to wherever they sent them, I don’t know where. And as I say there wasn’t a great deal of hip hip, hoorays and cheering at that stage. But there was more
when we got news there wouldn’t be any more censoring. Our letters didn’t have to be censored, you could write what you like. And I think there was more of a cheer and hooray then. But we had a lot of collaborators, they were Borneo people, Sarawak and so on. And we had quite a lot of those in a cage on their own. And they were all playing this game, it looked like… oh what would you call it? Dominoes.
But it wasn’t it was a different thing. And I always loved playing any games at all. And they were playing mahjong, have you ever heard of the Chinese game mah-jong? So I watched them and I finally got them to teach me it. So I was sitting there with them playing mah-jong.
winds and south winds and all the other… it’s a strange sort of a game but it is a good game. It’s a marvellous game really and there’s about ninety pieces in it. You put them all in a heap on the… and you pull them, you get so many and they get so many and you’ve got them all sitting up in front of you and the first fellow plays and somebody’s got to have something that’ll join onto that and this chap’s got something to join onto that. And then it comes your turn and if you can’t find anything to put yours onto… and it’s the one who gets rid of all his
what’s his names first. All his playing… all made… they usually made of ivory. I bought a set of them and took them home with me after we finished there. And I’d sit there, came time for them to relieve me on picket and I’d say, “It’s all right I’ll keep on the picket for the next couple of hours.” And I’d sit there playing mahjong with these chaps. So I learnt that game. But then of course they…
by that time chaps were getting out on five year plan, which meant you had to have five years in the army and at least, I think it was four years or something, overseas service. You got so many points for time in the army and so many points for overseas service and so many points if you were married. And so many points for children and things like that. So chaps were coming on that but of course I was single and I was only young.
And I’d had all the service up. And at that stage they were recruiting people to go over to Japan in the 60th Battalion which was the occupation forces in Japan. And our colonel was going in charge of the battalion and he was picking out fellows to go with him and he wanted me to go. But I said, no I’d been long enough, I was a war time soldier. I didn’t want to soldier on. I’m a bit sorry afterwards that I never ever did go because it would’ve
been quite interesting. I’ve never been to Japan. But after a certain time of course there was only about seven of us left in the battalion that had the service, the overseas service and enough points to get home on the five year plan so we came home. We started out on a truck and the road was all washed away so they put us onto one of these army ducks, that’s one of those that can go on land or in the sea.
Went right out into the sea where it was very rough and the water was lapping over the side and I thought we were going to drown. I’d taken me boots off and all me gear and I thought, “I’ll have to swim for it for sure.” But anyhow we got back to the land again, came back to Labuan, stayed overnight in Labuan. And then got on board one of those victory ships that we bought off the Yank. First night we stopped, we stopped at Morotai. So I wheedled
me way off the boat and went back to the hospital to find the hospital was all packed up and they were coming home. And there was nobody there only fellows packing up. So they said, “But some of the nurses are still at the staging camp, they’re getting a plane in the morning.” So I went to the staging camp, hitchhiked. And bust me, the one that I’d seen, she was still there. She was leaving the next morning. On a plane to come home. So I was able to see her so we had a bit of a natter and told her I’d see her when I got back to Sydney.
Well I didn’t, I saw her about ten years later. And got back on board the boat and we left Morotai on the day that Rain Bird won the Melbourne Cup on the 5th November to come home on the victory ship, the American victory ship. And we arrived in Sydney, oh about the 10th or the 12th November I suppose it was.
Arrived into Sydney. We came straight into… did we come straight into Sydney Harbour that time? Gee… no we didn’t, we came into Brisbane again. Had to stop there and I got leave again and went and saw a lass that I met, Margaret who used to write to me. We got married later on. And then I got back on the train and we came by train to Sydney and out to a staging camp. And we were there for three or four days before we
got our discharge. And I got discharged on the 5th December.
Before I got discharged I was in camp… had to stay in Sydney for about… I could have gone home on leave. But I met one of my old mates that I’d shared a dug out in Tobruk, Jack White and he wanted me to be his best man. So I stayed on in Sydney until I was discharged. I was his best man. Then I got discharged the 5th December. And that was… there was another one of my army mates… Teddy Days. We always knew him as Bobby Summers. He was only sixteen in
Tobruk. And they discovered him in Tobruk and his mother saw his photo in the paper or something or one of the chaps put him in. So they dragged him out of Tobruk and sent him home. And he came back to us afterwards and he was with me in New Guinea and he was one of the young ones, really young ones, so we got discharged the same day. We come home on one of the seven. And we were sitting there, we were filling
all our papers and all that… at the showground we were. And they’re calling them out. “Mr so and so,” and, “Mr…” And he always had a hot temper and he jumped to his feet and he yelled, “It’s just the same as it’s always been. The officers always come first. They’re not officers any longer so why should they be first?” And the next call was, “Mr Edwin Days.” And he stopped dead. He said, “Christ! That’s right! We’re all misters!” And you couldn’t believe it when they called
“Mr Joseph Madeley.” And I was ‘mister’. And to go up and get my discharge. And he walked through there because he was a different letter to me. We walked through both together, we picked up our discharge papers and so forth. But before that we had to go and be interviewed as to what we were going to do and whether we wanted to do a course on anything. And I said, “No I don’t want any bosses. I’m going straight back to the farm. I don’t need any courses. I
know enough.” And Teddy was the same. But he did a course on plastering afterwards. And we had a few drinks and I put him on the train for Melbourne and he said, “Joe, if you ever come to Melbourne, come to Flinders Street Station, Number 7 platform. Get a train to… oh what’s the name train… and get off at Yarraville. And ask for me. If you ever come to Melbourne.” Well it was years later, 1950,
that I did go to Melbourne and I did exactly that and I met his mother and his father and his sisters and so forth. And he was living in St Kilda only around the corner from where I was living. So we got together again after the war. But I went… then I went straight back to the farm and worked for Dad. It was getting just about the end of the stripping and I stripped a little bit of wheat for him. But he had a tractor by then of course. We didn’t
have the horses. He’d gone up in the world. And carted in some wheat and some hay and so on. And came around about January… I stayed there over Christmas. And driving up and down the paddocks on the tractor and nobody to talk to and you come home of a night, and wash and clean up and into bed. And it was getting me down and I think my father realised that too. Because I said to him, “Dad, I think I’ll duck off, have a little bit of a break and go back to
Sydney.” He said, “Yes I think that might be a good idea.” And I never ever came back to the farm. They gave us a great reunion, welcome home and all that sort of business but I never came back onto the farm to live barring coming back to help Dad strip a crop of… sew some wheat if he wasn’t capable, and one of the brothers weren’t able to get there. But I didn’t, I got back to Sydney and after oh a few days, a week
I bumped into an old mate, Bobby Baines and he wanted to know what I was doing. I said, “Well I suppose I’d better get a job.” And he said, “Well look there’s an easy job on the trams, as a tram conductor. They give you a uniform and you can take that on while you’re looking for a job.” I said, “Well that’ll do me.” So I got a job as a tram conductor going out to The Gap and back in Sydney. On those corridor trams. And also I worked on the
running board when you had to go on the outside of the tram on the running board. Go out to the races and things like that. And I did that for three or four months I suppose. But once again you had a boss and everybody… all the passengers are your boss. “I want this.” “Stop the tram I want to get off here.” And all that, and that sort of got me down a bit too. So I met my old mate, this old Vince, the chap that’d I’d been trapping rabbits with and so forth. And he was a POW and he’d got home by then.
And he was working for Austral Bronze as an inspector. And I met him at the hotel on the Saturday and I said, “I’ve had this. What say we toss it in and do some hard work.” He said, “What do you suggest?” I said, “They’re looking for cane cutters up in North Queensland. What say we go up and do a season of cane cutting?” And he said, “Righto. I’ll come too.” So we gave our notice on the Monday morning and the following Monday we were on our way back up to Queensland. That was,
oh, around about June I suppose it was. June, July, heading up to Queensland. And we went up to Tully near Cairns and we did a season of cane cutting. We went there as a new chum gang of course, they put us in a new chum gang. Started us straight away. And they took us out in a truck and as we were getting off the truck a couple of fellows were throwing their bags back on and they said, “Take our advice, don’t even take your bags off.
This is the worse job under the sun.” But we stayed the season and we got into a full proper gang and earned good money at the cane cutting. So that was my first year really after I was out of the army. I’d been a trammie and then I’d been a cane cutter.
Incidentally the first thing I took her to was the cricket to watch Don Bradman batting. He got two hundred and thirty-four I think it was at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the Second Test. So we went up to Weethalle and I introduced her around to family – they’d never ever met her. And my brother was working at Glen Davis in the mines, the shale oil mine at Glen Davis. And he said, “This is a good job, good money and it’s permanent.” So we went there and I bought a little house there. And we lived there and
then I moved into a better class house and I worked in the mines for two and a half years. It was a shale oil mine but it was costing… petrol was produced there at that mine on the site. But it was costing about five shillings a gallon to produce and petrol was only about two shillings a gallon. But there was talk they were going to close it down of course so I thought. “I’d better get out of this
and find something different.” By that time Leon was born, that was my son, he was born in 1949. At Glen Davis. I was took on as the SP [starting price] bookie [bookmaker] there in the hotel on the Saturdays. And the day that Hiraji won the Melbourne Cup the 21 Flying Squad came around and I got pinched. And a chap named Billy something or other and I.
And that’s one of my only times I’ve ever been inside looking out. Only for a few hours while they took all our particulars and I can remember Margaret arriving outside. And we knew the policeman well. The local policeman wasn’t bothered, it was the flying squad up from Sydney grabbed us. So I can remember the policeman saying, “Christ, now you’ll be in trouble when you get home.” He said, “It’ll be cold bum and hot tongue for you tonight.” Those were his actual words. But anyhow we had to face court of course
and they fined us twelve… but the worse was they confiscated all our money. Well when you’re consolidated revenue we owed quite a lot of bets. Anyhow we managed to pay them off. And just about when the place was about to close down we decided to move back up to Queensland, Margaret and I, because there was family. She didn’t have a mother and father but she had been living with her grandmother and grandfather had brought her up and she had a sister. So we went back up to Queensland and I worked there for a while. I played football
with the Wynnum Football… I was playing football, rugby league that was in Glen Davis. And they gave me a job there as long as I played football with Wynnum. And when the season finished we came back again to Leeton in New South, back home where all the family was and so on. And I worked in many jobs around there. I was a plumber and then I worked for a carpenter and I worked in a general store. And I worked in the cannery of the big factory there.
And they kept me there as long as I played football with one of the teams. But when the season was over we weren’t sort of getting along real well. Although we were still good friends we were right through to the finish, we were still good friends. But she wanted to go to Queensland and I didn’t want to go to Queensland. And although we didn’t argue or fight or swear at one another or anything like that, we decided it was time for the parting of the ways. So Margaret went back up to
Queensland and I got a job selling vacuum cleaners which took me to Deniliquin and from Deniliquin I hitch hiked down to Melbourne. And Leon was being looked after by some very, very good friends of ours. Dave and Mrs Chanter and their daughter Roma. Roma was only about fourteen or fifteen. And got to Melbourne and the chap… there
was a couple of us in a car and he dropped us off and he said, “Where are you staying?” We didn’t know so he dropped us off at the Salvation Army People’s Palace. We stayed there the night and they gave us a meal… we were always broke in those days. And they said, “There’s a job going at the motor industry, looking for assemblers. You can start tomorrow morning. And they will find accommodation for you and organise
your meals till you get your first pay day.” So I thought, “That’s all right, that’ll do me for a couple of weeks.” So Johnny and I, Cookie and I went down and we got the job. And they were just starting up and the employment officer said, “Now what job do you want?” And I said, “What’s the best paid one?” He said, “Ever been, done any…?” I said, “No. I’ve worked on a farm, I can handle all tools. That doesn’t worry me. Hammers and chisels and screwdrivers and all that, I know a lot about machinery.” He said,
“Righto, you can start as a motor trimmer and you get a shilling a day extra.” And so we started there and they found us accommodation out at St Kilda. And the night… we got to St Kilda about four, we’d finished work about half past three, four o’clock and we had a bus down to St Kilda and we went around and found out where our accommodation was. But that didn’t include dinner that night. So we went into a little coffee shop and we had enough money for one slice of toast and two
cups of coffee and that was our dinner for the night. But from then on we had all our meals at this place, they supplied all the meals. And that night Luna Park was starting up and they wanted operators. So I said, “Well we might as well go in here and we’ll get a job here. We can work that at night and we can work.” So we went in there and they started us straight away. And Johnny Cook, he got a job on the Big Dipper and I was working on the clowns that wobble their heads back and forwards. He wanted somebody that could
speak and speak. He said, “You should be able to talk all right.” So I said, “Righto, I’ll take it.” So I became then, Mr Clown I was, looking after the clowns. And really we sort of got back onto our feet because I’d just started the job and I was looking at a lot of overtime at night-time and working all the time I didn’t have time to spend any. I did have a lady friend, but only one night a week I got off and that was the Thursday. So I’d sometimes see her
on a Thursday night and give… I used to give her all of my wages and live on what I earnt at Luna Park and she was putting it in a bank for me. So I built up pretty quickly and we had a lot of fun at Luna Park. One thing I must tell you. This Johnny Cook, he was a bit of a larrikin, and he come to me and he said, “Joe, it’s amazing the amount of girls together on the Big Dipper.” He was looking after the second ride. If you wanted a second ride he took the money off you. He said, “Would you
come along and look after, take the other one?” And I said, “Righto Johnny, but I’ve got to see what she looks like first.” I was just around the corner from him. I said, “Send her around and ask me would I like a cup of coffee or something and if I don’t like the look of her I’ll say no, I’m too busy tonight. I can’t go out for a cup of coffee.” So this first night a lovely girl, red haired girl, oh she was beautiful. She said, “Johnny on the clown wants to know if you’d like to go for coffee afterwards?” I said, “Oh yes, tell him yes, oh marvellous.” I look around
the corner and Johnny was standing up at the Big Dipper and I went, “Beautiful yeah.” Well when the show was over of course we paid in all our money, walking out and of course there’s the red haired one and another big tall girl and I’m heading off and he says, “Hang on mate, the red-haired one’s mine, yours is the one on the left.” But she was a very nice girl. She didn’t have any teeth. She’d been to the dentist and had all her teeth extracted and I said, “For God’s sake, Johnny! She was a lovely girl, but next time get me one with teeth, will you?”
The following night I’m there working and a dark girl… I don’t know whether she was Samoan or whether she was South African… as black as the Ace… about that big. But she was all… she smiled and lovely eyes. She said, “Johnny on the dipper wants to know if you’d like to go for coffee.” I said, “No I’m a bit busy tonight.” And I look around the corner and there’s Cookie and all his mates all laughing their heads off. They were all in the joke. And I said to him afterwards, “Oh Christ, Cookie.” He said, “Oh at
least she had teeth.” Well I stayed with that motor company then. Cookie came back to Sydney but I stayed on. They made me leading hand and then I became foreman in charge of the production line. And then they got the franchise for building Mercedes Benz cars. And they put me in charge of building Mercedes Benz and I got a trip back to… over to…
At that stage we had a pilgrimage back to Tobruk. And I was going on that one and I got time off I think. Oh about two months, three months. And they got me to go to Germany while I was over there to have a look… this was just as we were about to start you see… as to how they were made. So the car was all made in Germany and all broken down and packed in boxes and came out to Australia and we re-assembled them was what it was. And to find
out how it was done and who I had to get in touch with if I needed spare parts and all that. And I was there for a couple of… two or three weeks in Stuttgart in Germany and they treated me very, very well. Each day at lunch time I had to sit at a different table with the engineers this time, with the trimmers this time, with the assemblers the next time and so on. And I’d walk in and there’d be an Australian flag sitting on the table and I knew that’s where I had to sit. They were very good. Anyway I came back… afterwards I came back to
Sydney… to Melbourne and I was with them… I was there just on twelve years. The franchise cut out on the Mercedes Benz and they’d closed the plant down there, the assembly plant but they moved to some other spot and I could’ve stayed on, but Dad by that time had gone blind with glaucoma and he’d sold the farm. And I said, “No, I want to get back.”
Plus the fact that I never ever got to any reunions and I used to get their journal from the 13th Battalion and they had a reunion and dinners and Anzac Day they all marched. And I didn’t know anybody down in Melbourne. There was no 13th Battalion… only this Teddy Days. So Anzac Day was just like any other day. We’d have a few… Teddy and I’d have a few drinks but I always wanted to get back and I thought this was a good opportunity. So I left there and they gave me long service leave.
And they gave me… paid me my superannuation and I arrived back in Sydney. And once again I thought, I had a little old car… I had a new car but I sold it before I went back over to Tobruk. And I had just a little old bomb. And I’m driving along Cosgrove Road, Enfield and there was a sign up there, ‘Assemblers wanted’. And I thought, “Well if I can’t get anything else at least I can always start
as an assembler. That’ll do me for a while anyhow.” And I was living in Ashburn in a boarding house. So I went there and they said, “Yes you can start straight away. Ever done…?” I never told them I’d become the production supervisor. I thought, “No they’ll want me to take over something and I don’t want to because I don’t want this as a permanent job.” So I started on the assembly line just assembling, I was putting in the dashboard. But they were…
And they were just sort of beginning too. And they had everything all upside down. I was trying to work while somebody else was putting in glass ware or putting the trim up. And I couldn’t control myself. I said, “Listen fellows, how about I put the dash in?” One fellow wanted to put the seats in, the front seats in before you put the dash in. Well that made it very awkward because there wasn’t enough room because to put the dash in and put it in easily you lay on your back underneath and you stuck it all… if the seat was there you couldn’t do it.
And all those sort of little things. And I was gradually shifting fellows around and getting storemen to put the… like the fellows doing doors… a chap’d do a door on this side then he’d get all his gear, and his bolts and his nuts and scramble over the other side and do it all on the other side. Same with the back door. I said, “Well why don’t you do the front door and the back door and just have everything on this side. And Bill can do the front door and the back door on that side and it’ll save all that time.”
And the boss come to me and he said, “Joe, you weren’t just an assembler were you?” And I said, “No I wasn’t, but I wasn’t thinking of staying here and I thought I’d sooner just be an assembler.” Anyhow they finished up and I was there for ten years. I once again became a leading hand and they put me in charge of the production of the Land Rovers. And I had a very good time; it was marvellous.
For the first time I had problems with unions there a little bit because I couldn’t avoid helping fellows. I’d see chaps… like it’s a moving line and the line broke down. And we had to push the cars and I could see two or three fellows struggling pushing it and I couldn’t resist it… I had to get in and give them a bit of a help, give them a bit of a push. Or a chap was trying to pick up a door to put it on or something and I’d go over and give him a hand, or hand him a screwdriver. And I got into a lot of trouble for doing that.
They’d say, “Do us a favour and keep your hands in your pockets.” And that sort of thing.
get to that one, I was in… ’74… at that stage… Actually in 1968 I got married again – I married Jessie. And there was a trip on back to England, a tour back to Tobruk and Alamein… no to England and we were going on. But this Afrika Korps
reunion got an invitation, the Rats of Tobruk. So we went to go by way of Stuttgart and we went to the Afrika Korps reunion. And it was great to… they were so much like us. They all had their steins of beer and we had a sing song and what have you. And Manfred Rommel was there. And he welcomed
us of course. They put a table for the Australians right at the stage, right at the front. And we were surrounded all the time… if it wasn’t the Italians, it was the Germans. And that was really the first time I’d sort of got to know them and one chap in particular. He was a prisoner of the Africa Corp. Heinz Bock… Karl-Heinz Bock. And he was a tank commander and was taken POW at Alamein. And he was in charge
and he come and sat at our table and he spoke perfect English and we had a great time plus the fact that at that stage I was the… had become the President of the Rats of Tobruk Association. And I represented the Rats of Tobruk. And another chap who was a colonel was the president of the 9th Division. So Manfred Rommel was the Lord Mayor of Stuttgart so we got invited along to morning tea with Manfred Rommel before the reunion started.
And we had to go there afterwards to the hall. And of course not only me, there was people from everywhere. And they introduced us and when I got to meet him I got introduced as, “This is Mr Madeley from Sydney from Australia, he’s President of the Rats of Tobruk Association, representing the Rats of Tobruk.” He said, “Ah, Tobruk.” I wrote it down straight afterwards so I know it off by heart I’ve told it so many times. He said, “Welcome to Stuttgart, Mr Madeley. My
father always said the Australian soldiers had the best fighting infantry in the world.” And I said, “Thank you. And by the same token, your father frightened the hell out of us a few times too.” And he had a great grin and he said, “Welcome to Stuttgart.” And that’s where I first met him. He spoke pretty good English. So we had morning tea with him, plus Montgomery’s son was there too. And he was there
side by side they were so I met Montgomery’s son as well. And then we went to the reunion, the Afrika Korps reunion. And every time you turned around there was somebody there with a stein of beer for you. And they made us so very. very welcome and they supplied us with a… we were staying at a place just out of Sindelfingen, where I’d been at the Mercedes Benz factory. And
Jessie and I had Rommel’s bedroom at this place we were staying. What do they call it? It was lovely too. A marble bathroom, we had a waltz in the bathroom as big as this. And we had a waltz around and it was great. And they supplied us with a bus to cart us all around and an interpreter. She was a woman the interpreter and a driver. And they took us everywhere
and they’d be there to pick us up and take us to different functions and a different castle we went through. Then we had a wreath laying ceremony and we were there… Rommel laid a wreath and I laid a wreath and two or three others laid wreaths. And they really treated us well because as I say, they had this woman interpreter. And we had a big party the last night we were there. And of course there was only one place to have it.
In our room because it was the biggest… in Rommel’s room. And the lass came in there too and he was black the driver and of course he wasn’t allowed into a lot of things. But I talked this lass who was a PR [public relations] lady to let him come in. I said, “He’s the driver, he can’t sit out in the bus all night.” She said, “Righto.” So he came in and he sat in a corner and we came him a couple of drinks. And in the finish he just slid down the wall and went to sleep in the corner. And that was our
final night in Stuttgart and it was great. And we did have a wonderful time. We went on one trip… we went to one of their wine kellers where there was a big party on. And they put us all up into the front seats and they had all people there singing songs and all those German songs. And there was one song I liked very much was what’s it called? ‘Sailor’.
That’s what we call it, ‘Sailor’. And it’s a rollicking sort of a one and of course I’d had quite a few wines by then. And trying to get them to sing that they couldn’t understand, so I got up and I sort of… I sang it in the tune I know. I gave them the start of the tune and then one lass caught on and then she started and finally we had them all… everybody in this wine cellar we were in… everybody was singing. Well we all as one, we mixed with them and arms around one another and drinking and you know. And that’s what it was like.
It was really marvellous in that reunion. And we went from there over to England. And the Rats of Tobruk there had organised a function for us there too. Jessie and I. Over near Liverpool. I can’t think of the name of the town. And the chap wrote to me from there, he knew where I was staying in London with the secretary of the Rats of Tobruk. And the Victory Services Club we were staying then.
And I called in there because Jessie came from Scotland so we hired a mini and we went up to Scotland and all around Scotland and all that sort of business. And we came back, we had to come back through Liverpool and he said, “Stay the night at Liverpool I’ve got a few here… not like Australia. A few rats here would like to meet you.” He said, “And I’ve booked you into so and so.” I said, “Righto.” So we stayed in that hotel and we arrived there and it was dark and we
booked in and he was there waiting at the door and he said, “Righto Joe, I’ve got them, there’s only a few there. A big hall. It’s part and parcel of the hotel. And we’re booked in… we’re all booked in as your guests because you’re booked in here.” I said, “Thanks very much.” And we walked in and it was dark, pitch dark when we walked into the room. And I can remember it so well. Then all of a sudden a spotlight came on us and then dim lights opened and the place was packed.
There was not only Rats of Tobruk but there was 8th Army chaps and there was and there was all army people, veterans and their wives and so on. There must’ve been two or three hundred in there. And there was Jessie and I. It was great. I had to make a speech and so on. And I got through it pretty well I think. According to Jessie I did a good job. Oh we had a wonderful night we did, absolutely marvellous.
And they were all supposed to get out by twelve o’clock. Well about a dozen of them came back up to our room of course as my guests. And I saw the bell boy or whoever was in charge around about eleven. They all had to get out by eleven, they all went barring this crowd and I said, “I’m having a few quiet… could we have some…?” “Oh yes, certainly.” So they sent us up sandwiches and we got a bottle of champagne. And it was great. And that was really our first meeting
of a crowd of the English Rats of Tobruk. So we’ve kept in close touch ever since. But they were only branches; the head was from Australia. We ran the whole show.
such a… I thought, “Oh goodness me, there’s no fighting and that going on up in Vietnam. It’s only a funny sort of a war – nothing doing.” Until my son joined. He wanted to get married at nineteen and I wouldn’t let him get married. I said, “Cripes, you haven’t…” He came to live with me as soon as he left school. We always arranged that his mother, Margaret, came and got him from these people and she brought him up. And took him to school till he was about twelve.
I said, “As soon as he leaves school he’s got to know that I’m his father.” I was his uncle at that stage, he was always calling me uncle, but we got along real well. And he left school and I went around to the house and they said, “Righto.” So I told him I was his Dad. And he insisted then… a week or two later I got word from Margaret to say, “Can Leon come and live with you? We can’t handle him since he found out you’re his father.” So he come and live with me. And he wanted to get married when he was nineteen and I said, “No, you’re too young.”
And the girl was nineteen. I said, “She’s very nice. You haven’t got a permanent job.” I’d got him a job as an apprentice with me but he didn’t stick to it. Anyhow a few days later he turned up with all the papers to join the army. He said, “Is this permanent enough for you?” So I said, “Right.” He joined up and he got married, he married this lass. Very nice girl. And they’re still together and they’re still all over one another and that’s thirty-odd years ago. Still as much in love
as they ever were. But when he joined up, that was all right and then he went to Vietnam. And then all of a sudden Vietnam became a terrible war then. And I hated getting the thought of the mailman coming or a telegram to come for fear that something had happened to him. But he got through all right and he got promoted. He became a corporal and later on became an RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] … like a warrant officer. As he always said
he outranked me. And he did the one term, twelve months in Vietnam. And he was in the engineers. He stayed in the army then for twenty years. And sort of made a life of it. But after twenty years he was in the engineers and they’d put him through a civilian course of engineering, and for the last six months all he was doing was going into the army to get his pay. He was up in Queensland.
And when he finished he got out of the army. Went into the engineering and set up his own engineering business and he did very well indeed as an engineer. But he’s sold that now and he’s retired, although he’s only fifty-five or fifty-six. Well he’s semi-retired… he’s still got all his equipment on a big trailer and if anybody breaks down on a farm he’ll dash out there and weld something and mend a gate or a ramp
and the show committee’s always got him going there mending sheep yards. Or if the school… if something’s broken… he does most of it buck cheap but he loves doing it.