Roland Griffiths-Marsh
Archive number: 1882
Date interviewed: 30 March, 2004

Served with:

2/8th Battalion Middle East
Z Unit Allied Intelligence Bureau

Other images:

Roland Griffiths-Marsh 1882


Any access that you make of this website is undertaken at your own risk

You are listening to the interview audio


Tape 01


Okay Roland, if I could just start with when and where you were born?
Right I was born on the 22nd of April 1923 in Penang, Malaysia of an Australian sea captain and my mother was a French lady.


She was born in Haiphong, Indochina in those days. I spent a lot of my babyhood in Malaysia and periodically as my father was a sea captain and his home was in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. He would get six months leave every two and a half years and he and the family


would go to Victoria. By this stage my Australian grandmother lived at Mooroolbark in Victoria. She had about sixty acres of land and was quite elderly at the stage. And I remember first recollections she had this lovely little jersey cow and we used to cuddle this Jersey cow and play with it.


This was to say my brother and I and my sister. And so we made several trips from the East to Australia every time my father was due for a holiday. I think I should mention in Malaysia I would have been about six or seven at the time


we were living in Kuala Lumpur, and next to where we were living was a zoo. It was really a collection point by an American fellow called Buck, colloquially know as "Buck- Bring- them- Back Alive" and he used to collect these animals for the silent films. Particularly at that stage Johnny Weismuller, an Olympic swimmer,


was an actor and he depicted himself as a child in Malaysia brought up by animals [Tarzan]. Anyway to cut a long story short the manager of this collecting zoo on one occasion gave us a baby tiger. Later on I will elaborate on that, but I remember with


great joy the enormous amount of fun we had with this baby tiger. That tiger had to be returned when it grew up and was too big and was possibly dangerous and so we substituted that pet for another pet which was a baby elephant. They were highlights of my childhood. Ultimately the depressions settled in at that period, the whole world was affected by it, and my father's firm started to close down.


So he came back with us to Mooroolbark where we had purchased a seventy acre property in the bush. So for a while I was an Australian bush boy. Later on at the end of the depression my father accepted a position as a sea captain with Jardine Matheson [trading conglomerate] in Hong Kong. We returned back to the East,


this time in Hong Kong. Whilst in Hong Kong I went to De La Salle College. I forgot, prior to that I went to the primary school in Mooroolbark and in Hong Kong I went to De La Salle and it was there that my father regrettably contracted typhoid, died, and my mother went back to her maternal home in


Haiphong in Indochina as it was then known. Now it is known as Vietnam and Haiphong is was a sea port not very far from Hanoi, which was the capital. There I went to a French college, the Honken De Vierre College in Haiphong which of course resulted in me being tri-lingual because I could speak Malay and French of course


and English. My mother could see what was going to happen and so we returned to Australia. At that time we had a sixty acre property, a little cottage in Australia, my mother's home of course in Haiphong was closed down, we returned to Australia and incidentally


I should mention that my brother was almost completely blind, and my younger sister was going to school. There was no money coming in, although we had property there was no money in those days, there was no social service and I had to go to work when I was fifteen I worked at The Herald office in Victoria and also at Kodak as an office boy. And when the war started I was a sixteen


and a half, against my mother's wishes I assumed my brother's name, who was two years older than I was and joined the 2/ 8th Infantry Battalion in February 1940. So that was 2 /8th Infantry Battalion, 6th Division, I was one of the originals. We went to the Middle East, Palestine, where we trained for some


considerable time. Then we went from Palestine into Egypt and we were at the start of the first North African campaign. I fought at Bardia, Tobruk, Benghazi, Giarabub. These were the major battle in that time, we captured Bardia, Tobruk, Benghazi and that took us right up into Tripoli.


Around about that period of time Churchill made arrangements to give support to Greece which we thought was a bad judgement and so the Australian 6th Division and a few aircraft were sent to Greece. This in effect split up the force in the desert.


This weakened us, we didn’t have sufficient representation in Greece and because we were halved now, when I say we the Australians and the British, there was insufficient in the desert to stop Rommel who about that time had landed and was conducting the first of his campaigns in North Africa. In Greece, we were endeavouring to stop the Germans coming down .We were badly hit by the Leibstandarte [Hitler’s SS Bodyguard Division],


the Adolf Hitler bodyguard and the panzer [tank] division. We were forced out of the Veria Pass which was the first major battle and then we did the retreat down Greece. The Domokos Pass we were very badly battered and then eventually got to Kalamata where we got off on the destroyers and then were taken to a troopship. What was left of my battalion was split in half,


one half got safely back to Alexandria, and my half under the command of the second in command Major Keys we were on the Costa Rica which was a troopship to get back to Alex. But on the way we were dive bombed and sunk. We were picked up by the


destroyers and taken to Crete, that’s half of the battalion. At Crete one of the major battles of that period took place. The German airborne division landed in Crete, and I, with what was left, about half of the battalion, we fought several battles on Crete. Also with some British


Marines we did the rear guard from north to south and got off with the British navy. Went from there to Alex and regrouped and got re-enforcements and then occupied Syria. Then we were in Syria when the Japanese started their campaigns and caused a lot of consternation. Singapore fell.


And the Australian government brought the 6th Division back to Australia. Panic reigned supreme at that particular stage and they thought the Japs would come through the Northern Territory so they rushed us up to the Northern Territory when we came to full strength and started to train under tropical conditions. From there we went to North Queensland


Wondalga area and we had just about finished our training to go to New Guinea when I was sent for by an organization called the Allied Intelligence Bureau. The Allied Intelligence Bureau was an organization to provide intelligence for


MacArthur and for the campaign that MacArthur and the Australian troops conducted in the Pacific. And I joined an organization which came under the AIB, Allied Intelligence Bureau, a unit called Z, it was simply called Z Unit. A lot of people call it Z Special Unit but it was really Z Unit. There I


trained. The intention was to land Z operatives behind enemy lines, in the first instance to collect intelligence and secondly to conduct guerrilla warfare. I trained in all manners of warlike crafts, work or detail whatever it was and in


May, four of us got onto a Liberator bomber with all of our gear and what have you and we parachuted into a place called Beaufort in the centre of Borneo. I was sent down by my commanding officer, I was sent down on my own down the Padas River to cover an area


Sipitang area where I recruited guerrillas and started to collect military intelligence for the future landings in Borneo. It was quite hectic at times. We had to live off the land and we had no medication at all.


I was still in the jungle fighting the Japs when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and the Japanese had to sue for peace. And the Pacific or the Japanese War came to an end around the end of August although we were still fighting each other for around two weeks after the Japanese had surrendered. By that time I was very ill


suffering from malnutrition, malaria, amoebic dysentery, brucellosis and fortunately for me one of the other operatives came down, got me down to the coast they sent a torpedo boat to pick me up. And I finished up on the island of Labuan the 2 /5th Australian Hospital. From there I was flown back to Australia,


four months in hospital and about four years completely unemployable. My physical and mental state had deteriorated so much. It took a long time to recuperate. Do you want me to continue to the regular army?
Yes, just briefly.


I met a very intelligent lady, she happened to be Madam Marsh who was the lady who brought out the Vienna Boys Choir. She was Viennese and she had taken them around the world. Highly intelligent woman who could speak seven languages. And she was a very great influence on me and she got me interested in dogs, as I was unemployable


and couldn’t stand society for the first five years. I imported the first three Dachshund bitches and Dachshund male after the war 1946, and I started the Berneray Kennels in conjunction with Madam Henny Marsh and we bred our Dachshunds and really it was to this very day I have an enormous amount of affection for animals,


dogs particularly, because they really allowed me to cope with my mental and physical problems. In those days there was no such thing as psychiatry and on my discharge we were never debriefed. Consequently quite a few Diggers [veterans] either hit the grog or eventually got better. I then joined the regular army and I became a warrant officer


investigator with the army SIB, that’s the Special Investigation Branch, investigating Commonwealth Crimes. I was there for eight or nine years - and this is something a bit curly, will I mention it?


We will just hold it from the public record if you talk about something that you don’t want on public record.
Towards the end of my service as an SIB investigator, at that particular time the SIB investigated


Commonwealth Crimes and had to work in conjunction with the stage investigators which took place in their state .A particular incident occurred which affected my life and resulted in me deciding to leave the special investigation branch. At that particular time I came across an


incident which I believe was one of the very early incidents when the drug situation developed in Australia. I eventually found out that a certain individual was pushing drugs. It was a lady, a service lady and with a member of the state drug squad in Victoria, Senior Detective


Delaney and I, we pursued the investigation and we charged the lady with possession of drugs. I prepared the brief and it was on the verge of going to court when my commanding officer asked me to hand over all of the details


of the brief and details of the investigation and when I asked, “Why?” And he said, “It has to go to the attorney general and it was out of my hands.” In those days the case was always seen from beginning to end by the investigator. I demurred and said, “This is not right.” He said, “Well it has got to be done.” And I said, “I won't hand it over.” And he said, “Very well then you will be court martialled.” And I said, “No I won’t”. And he said, “Yes you will.” And I said, “Very well then I will bring along my very best friend.”


And he said, “Who is that?” and I said, “A reporter from The Truth Newspaper.” So they didn’t court martial me but I was told that all information was stopped there and then, it was in the hands of the attorney general. So I don’t know what happened to the lady, I believe she is dead now. But I thought this was an infringement on the


investigation powers that was accorded me and it was also to me an indication that there was a bit of skulduggery behind the situation. When I was told that there would be no more promotion I then resigned and went into civil life and was employed by H. J. Heinz


as a training and security officer. You want me to continue?
We might as well continue, right on.
I was there thirteen years, an American firm. I was a bit disgusted I had worked very hard for them, I had to contribute to now what is called superannuation,


five percent and the firm was also supposed to contribute five percent. But when I left they were so annoyed they only returned my contributions and didn’t give me the benefit of their contributions. I went to British Phosphates, again as a training and safety officer. We were employing two and a half thousand employees and because I could speak


Malay and we were recruiting a lot of Malay workers I got the job, I was there for thirteen years also. And then I retired from tropical service and worked on the Trong Power Station, for five years and then finally did retire. That brings me to where I am now, as a senior geriatric on Lamb Island.


I will just ask you one or two questions if you don’t mind about the sensitive issue regarding the drug investigation, when was this? Or are you comfortable to talk about this?
I am comfortable to talk about it, but the moment we start giving dates and what have you, they can pin it back.


I will go onto talking about your childhood, first of all tell us about your father, what was he like?
My father was quite fascinating. My grandmother was a telephonist, the early telephonist in the Myrniong Ballarat area and she met her husband, that’s my grandfather


Griffiths who was a New Zealander but he came from England. Mythology has it that he was what they call a ticket of leave person. In those days in England the 'black sheep' of the family would be sent off to one of the colonies, pushed off to one of the colonies and they would periodically send a cheque to them to


stay there and not return home. And allegedly that was my grandfather who was allegedly a bit of a rake and he used to drink very heavily, He met my grandmother who incidentally finished up as a missionary in China. He met my grandmother and they were both together in New Zealand when my father was born. Then they went to


Myrniong and Ballarat where he grew up. At about the age of sixteen and a half seventeen, my grandmother got him an apprenticeship as a deck officer in the British merchant marine and then in the process of time he became a sea captain of various ships in Malaysia and China.


He was what they call a China Seas sea captain. He met my mother in Haiphong Indochina. His ship happened to be there, he had to go and arrange cargoes and what have you because in that’s days sea captains, they not only navigated the ships but they also picked up and dropped off cargoes in various parts of the world


for the owners. So really the sea captains were not only mariners but they were also accountants. He met my Mum in Haiphong Indochina. She was the widow of an English gentleman named Hunt. But he died shortly after the marriage, he had tuberculosis and died. So my mother was a widow at the time and


she met her husband and they got married. Haiphong in those days was the seaport in what used to be known as French Indochina. It was a French colony. And the French had enormous influence, particularly in terms of the structure and social life and so on in Indochina. The locals were called Annamite. Now they are called Viet Minh


or Vietnamese. Then my father travelled at sea. We were still stationed at Malaysia, I was born at Penang Malaysia. And this is where in the process of time we came across this animal zoo or holding zoo, which I previously mentioned, I can elaborate on this.


This American by the name of "Buck Bring them Back Alive", that was his trade name, would collect these animals, take them to the United States and prepare for them for the silent films. And a very particular silent film at that stage was I think,


Was it Tarzan?
Tarzan and His Apes. Very few people realise and probably it is a very cruel trade in a way, cruel by today’s standards. The animals they collected very often the progeny like baby tigers and that sort of thing just fell by the wayside and they took the mothers for the films. In addition,


Tarzan films depicted Tarzan fighting with a tiger or a lioness or whatever and the actual fight took place. They would often extract their teeth and introduce rubber teeth or something like that .The same with the alligators, some of the scenes depict an alligator chasing Tarzan.


It was really cruel in a way I suppose. But they had these animal trainers and they were very fascinating films to watch. So Buck gave this lovely little baby tiger and we nurtured it and my mother got, in those days a baby formula called Lactogen, and we used to feed it and so on and it grew and grew until it was about the size of a


small Alsatian dog I suppose. My father happened to be back from the sea on this occasion and he was sitting in his chair reading a newspaper and the tiger though he saw an inviting lap and he dived onto my father's lap, pierced the newspaper, frightened the hell out of my father who reared backwards and fell over on the floor, the chair broke.


And so my father said, “Okay he is getting too big, too dangerous for you children.” And we started to object you see. But he said, “Look you can have any pet you like but you can't have baby tigers.” So we took the tiger back to Buck and I don’t know what he was thinking of but he gave us a baby elephant. And we were most disloyal in retrospect,


we completely forgot the baby tiger and got embroiled with the baby elephant. Few people realise, well Bloom taught us really how to make the baby elephant at that time, it was still in the suckling stage, how to make the baby elephant follow you. That was to press the forehead of the


baby elephant like that and it would follow you, apparently it imagined it was feeling the udder of its mother and it would follow you. My mother just about had a fit because my father was away when we got the elephant. But somehow or other we convinced her we were entitled to it because my father said we could have any pet we liked, but no tigers. So she eventually co-operated


and once again came out with this baby formula, Lactogen, and fed this little baby elephant from the huge bottle with a rubber teat. And eventually we could give it mashed bananas and so on. We had a huge house. I will digress for a short moment. There was eight in the family but in the tropics diseases killed the children very


quickly. And at this stage there would have been only four of us left. And Boosy the older boy was the ringleader of all of this. He eventually died of amoebic dysentery but this little baby elephant used to follow us around and we would rush around the house, hide behind the door, close the door against us, and this little trunk would come around


the edge of the door and feel up and down and reach into our pockets and pull out a banana or a peanut or what have you. It was a wonderful time. What I must explain is this, it may sound rather unique, but in those days every colonial boy had jungle pets of some kind or another. Whether they were monkeys


or whether they were orang-utans. We all had these various kinds of pets. And once again as an explanation and a strange co-incidence. About fifteen years ago I came across a doctor who was the son of a virologist in South Africa. And his father had given him a baby cheetah and he told me almost the same stories


as I am telling you now. How this cheetah was curled up in the sofa and he would give it milk formulas and so on and it had a collar and he would take this cheetah out for a walk. And so the point I am making is that it probably sounds quite exotic, but in actual fact in those days it wasn’t so exotic, but lovely for kids to grow up with I imagine.
What were their names?


I can't remember the name we gave the tiger but we called the baby elephant 'Cuckoo' which was at that time the name of a famous French clown. And the reason why was because the clown had baggy pants and looking at he baby elephant from the rear it also had baggy pants, folds and so we called it 'Cuckoo' after this famous French clown.


Shortly after this episode Boosy, Bosworth., that’s my eldest brother, he died and that caused a lot of sorrow and grief. Then subsequently, I think my first visit where I remember things, when we went back to my Australian grandma, I used to call


her my English grandma because she was English I suppose, her parents were. She was a lovely person and used to make the most glorious steamed puddings. I remember this very clearly. She had a jersey cow, a beautiful little animal, beautiful dark limpid eyes and soft fur and my brother and I started to experiment


milking her and pulling on her teats and so forth. She was exceedingly patient and I don’t know how she put up with us, but there we are. I loved the bush tremendously. We had sixty acres of land in the end in Mooroolbark and I loved the land tremendously. I can quote several instances which I thought quite unique at the time. Just on dusk, we had two big dams on the


property and on dusk I would go for a walk and stalk animals and so on and on this occasion I was approaching one of the dams when I saw a fox. It seemed to have something in its mouth and it was on the edge of the dam and I stood stock still observing this and the fox tip toed into the water until it was completely covered except for its head. And then it


dropped what it had in its mouth and swam back out, shook itself and ran off. I went out and had a look at what it had had in its mouth which was floating on the surface and it was a clump of sheep skin which was seething with fleas. And I suddenly realised that this was how the fox had


intelligently got rid of its fleas. Picking up something like this, there was a lot of wool around the place caught in fences and so on and then taking it in the water and letting the fleas retreat from the water as it became submerged and then all get onto this lump of fleece. And I did for some time tell people about this story but nobody really believed me, at least I felt they didn’t believe me. Until


about ten or twelve years ago in Queensland I was telling this story to an old digger who was a farmer and he said, “You know exactly the same thing happened with me. “and he told me how the fox had got rid of its fleas which just goes to show that the fox had enormous amount of intelligence. Fascinating that was, I don’t know if you have ever heard of anything like that before.
Tell me how were you coping with the change from the East to Australia?


Well it was very interesting of course, my father came from a family, my grandfather on the French side was commissioner of police in Haiphong and they had many servants and a huge double storey building. When she married my father when she was in the


East she was accustomed to a life of luxury, so to speak. We had a servant, Sayissee they called him. He was a chauffeur and he used to drive the old Ford, 'Tin Lizzie' car in Singapore and in Malaysia. When we went to Australia of course it was a great strain for my mother


particularly. There were no servants. My poor mother suffered quite a lot I imagine, but my brother and I were selfish as kids are and we probably didn’t realise it. Occasionally I would hear her crying in her room but she never complained. Later on when we went back to Hong Kong and my father died


and then from Hong Kong we went back into Haiphong where I went to school at Honken De Vierre then we had to leave there and go back to the property at Mooroolbark. In those days there was very little social service. My brother was blind. My sister started to go to school and needed school necessities so I


started work when I was fifteen to bring some money into the house. I used to trap rabbits. I would save the furs, skin the rabbits put them on a wire frame and sell the furs to the firm that used to make the Akubra felt hats. The meat,


a lot of the meat would be given to the pigs. Some we kept for ourselves and my mother used to cook them for us and they were quite delectable, very nice eating. We had our own fowls, grew our own vegetables and somehow we got by, but there was very little money. When we got holes in the soles of our shoes or boots we would line


them with cardboard. We were not the only ones, things were still pretty rough all around. And my school chums at Mooroolbark, some of them had no shoes at all used to go barefooted all of the time. It was a very hard life.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 02


Well we were in Australia on your first visit?
I had three or four visits, I get them confused. Well the depression started to recede, the world depressions started to recede and my father was


offered the position as a sea captain with Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong. And so we packed his bags and what have you for him and he took off first and went to Hong Kong whilst my mother organised things at home so that we could follow.


We made friends in Hong Kong, the harbour master was a gentleman by the name of Captain Lang. He had married a Mongolian princess, delightful lady, very slim and beautifully dressed. They were our first friends in Hong Kong.


At Hong Kong I went to De La Salle [college] and made some friends there. We had some interesting adventures. But first one adventure really which was not so very pleasant, one of the masters by the name of Brother Huber at De la Salle was a little bit vicious I


think and for any infringements that we kids committed, for minor infringements we would be required to kneel on split peas in a corner somewhere. For more serious offences we would have to hold our hands out but hold them out with our fingers pointed to the ceiling like that. Brother Huber’s technique, he had a very thin cane and his technique


was to taunt us I suppose by flicking his cane upwards and down and then suddenly he would swipe us across the hand aiming for the tips of the fingers. If we were lucky the cane would hit us across the palm of the hands and whilst it was extremely painfully it was certainly a lot better than when he occasionally got the tips of the fingers. This was quite sadistic and when the tips of the fingers were hit like that you would be almost paralysed.


On one occasion I came home and during the day my father had returned from one of his voyages and I walked into the house with my hands in my pockets. Now those days in those mid Victorian days boys were not allowed to put their hands in their pockets. And I put my hands in my pockets so that the warmth of my thighs would start recirculating the blood in my fingertips. And he asked


me he said, “Look son what are you doing with your hands in your pockets?” and I told him and he didn’t say anything except to say, “Is this the truth?” So I said, “Yes.” The following day my brother and I went to school and we were pulled out of class and were told to wait in the foyer outside the principal's office. And we heard a lot of noise and murmurs and


what have you and we peered around the corner and my father had Brother Hubers by the cassock, the large black frock I suppose and bumping up and down on the floor. And he was telling him, “Don’t you ever do that again to my sons.” Or words to that effect. Now Brother Hubers was a maths master and I was certainly


excelling at maths until this incident and from then on I wasn’t very good at maths. But Huber slunk away and the principal came in and asked us why we hadn’t reported this before. In those days you didn’t report your teacher because invariably, or mostly the parents would say you deserved it. But that was one incident which affected me considerably.


What sort of things would you have had to do to get this punishment?
Inattention, whispering, not doing your homework or not doing it properly, they were quite severe days. But to be completely fair the other brothers were marvellous. And I had another brother who did chemistry,


although I must confess the only thing I learnt from him was how to make gun powder. We used to make our gunpowder and make our own 'bungers' [fireworks] and explode them in the street and what have you. It is a wonder we didn’t blow our fingers off. The gunpowder is initially prepared with charcoal and a few other ingredients in a wet condition and left to dry. And we used to


put these cakes of gun powder where the Chinese servants were cooking, so if it had have gotten onto the stove it would have gone sky high. But these are the stupid things that young boys get to. Another thing, at the back of De La Salle there was a cliff, probably about sixty or seventy feet high.


We used to get large umbrellas, tie the out spanned spokes of the umbrella so that it would invert, it wouldn’t collapse and then we would run off the edge of the cliff and parachute to the ground. Crazy. Absolutely crazy. And in those days we didn’t realise that the parachute had to have a hole in the centre so that the air


could rush through the hole and keep as much as possible not swing backwards and forwards, but we didn’t know much about up draft in those days. A little Chinese boy who was a very light fellow he got his umbrella and rushed off the edge of the cliff and instead of going down he went up because the strong draft of the wind was going up the face of the cliff.


Absolutely crazy things that we did. Anyway that’s all, can I mention the book? All of this stuff is mentioned in my book which is entitled I Was only Sixteen. My father died of typhoid as I said and then we went to Haiphong. And that was the commencement,


the war started, a lot of war noises in Europe and my mother didn’t think it was safe .So she closed the big house that we had, left it in the care of some friends and we returned to Australia. By this time I would have been roughly fifteen or something.


At this particular stage we had no money. I will digress here. When my mother closed up the property and joined my father with us of course in Hong Kong, all of the money we had was transferred through to Hong Kong and when my father died, everything


was in the hands of a Portuguese lawyer by the name of Leo Delmada I think it is and we had something like about twenty-five thousand dollars, which in those days was enormous when you consider that the wage in Australia in those days was about ten shillings a week. Leo Delmada absconded with our money and the money of other people as well and


disappeared in Macau, which is not very far from Hong Kong, so that left my mother except for a small amount of money, virtually penniless. We were expatriated by the Australian government from Hong Kong to our property in Mooroolbark and as previously mentioned there was no social security in those days so I went to work at the age of


fifteen to support the family. First I was an office boy in the Herald [newspaper] office in Flinders Street where I underwent the initiation rites. We were young boys, I was a copy boy and in those days a copy boy used to charge around with information, with a copy


of whatever news there was of the day. By the initiation rites was a bit rugged. By that time I was a fairly solidly built youngster and could handle myself reasonably well and these four kids in my own age group grabbed hold of me, the clue apparently was the pull down my trousers and using the ink roller roll it over my


penis and make an imprint on a bit of paper. Anyway I objected to this and I managed to fend them off. We had a couple of black eyes out of it including me. But we finished up good mates. That was a standard apprenticeship in the newspapers those days for youngsters.
What sort of interaction did you have with the reporters?
I saw one yes, fascinating which was one of the


reasons I was interested in writing. Some of the reporters were reporters for overseas in those days and they would tell fascinating stories of revolts and what took place in Arabia and all of these glorious fabulous countries that one used to read about, which seemed to be so strange and foreign.


In those days also the printer, there was rows and rows of electrical machines where they used to heat the lead and make what they called slugs. Because everything that was printed of course was printed by the use of these lead slugs which formed the letters and they would


run ink over it and the paper roller would be pressed against it and that’s how we got the pages. I remember clearly of course the elder employees used to do the usual thing with young lads that were there. They would send you away to the storeman and ask him for a tin of striped paint


and of course he would send you away for something else equally idiotic and this was how they got their fun. It was all good clean fun and on one occasion I remember taking the copy from a printer. He said, “Take that to the editor. It is about the man’s laughter in Carlton."


And I thought this is another joke being played on me. And I found out it was a common term in those days that manslaughter was called 'mans laughter' in the printing industry. Fascinating. So I learnt a lot too there of course as a young lad would.
What was the sort of lifestyle that the reporters would live, what was that like in terms of hard drinking or?


Yes surely. Yes there was a little bar, I forget the name of the hotel not very far from there and these reporters after they had submitted their article for the day they would all adjourn there and get really drunk. Hard drinkers, hard smokers, really hard men and I think their life was pretty short too. Sometimes I would have to go down to the pub


and deliver a message, which was in Flinders Street. Corner of Finders Street and Russell I think and grab onto one of the reporters and tell him to do something or report back to the editor or whatever. And it was


very hard and they constantly had to meet schedules and the stress and strain must have been enormous. The reporters of course were in contact with all sorts pf people, people from the underworld, society people, politicians and so on, so they were very world wise and knowledgeable. I wasn’t making enough money there so my aunt, who herself


was a reporter, she got me a job in Kodak and I started to work there at Kodak. I became very interested in photography and I finished up doing my own developing and printing and enlarging. There was no unusual occurrence there that I can think of except that yes, I was a husky young fellow and always hungry


and I often had to take X-ray films to various places in Melbourne .So rather than take a tram, they would give me the pocket money for the tram, might be four pence or sixpence. And instead of taking the tram I would run like blazes to the place concerned and then spend the money on pies. My mother used to always prepare a lovely lunch


and I would have that eaten by ten o’clock. The hours were appalling because I had to walk or run five miles to the station and then take the train to Melbourne which was twenty-eight miles away I think, electric train. Except on Saturdays, we worked Saturdays, that was a coal burning train. And then work as an office boy,


we always worked Friday night I think it was until about nine o’clock and then I would rush down to Flinders Street and get the train to Mooroolbark and then walk home or run home and get home about ten o’clock or eleven o’clock at night. Saturday I would be up early again and go to work and finish work at one o’clock and catch the


steam train home again. Sometimes I was so tired I would go for a rest under a tree and fall asleep and not wake up until the sun was setting. It was a hard life but enjoyable.
And how would you describe Melbourne as a town in those pre-war years?
Melbourne was fascinating in those days. The policemen were all six footers in those days and they wore a dark blue uniform with a white topee, a white helmet.


A lot of horses, jinkers, heavy drays carrying produce, carrying barrels of beer. A whole host of activities of various kinds. In those days the tram, they still had the cable tram and the cable driver, the tram driver had a


huge brake. Because the towing cable was set in the road and the tram used to couple up to this cable and be pulled around everywhere. What else? I don’t know I think that’s about all.


Well the war started in September 1939.
In the newspaper what sort of things were you hearing about the build up of war, what was your knowledge about the possibility of war?
Well I suppose because I had travelled considerably and so on I was quite interested reading the various bits of


news that came through. It was fairly obvious that Europe was going to blow up at any time. We were more concerned about the Japanese. My mother, because her home was in Asia. And at that time the Japanese had already invaded Manchukuo or Manchuria, and already had invaded China. And here again I must digress for a short time, when we lived in the East and my father was


alive my brother and I would often go on his boat during the school holidays and we were in Shanghai where what is called the China incident took place. The Japanese manufactured an incident where a Japanese soldier allegedly was shot and that gave them the excuse in Shanghai to attack the Chinese.


The poor beggars, they were pretty helpless and I remember leaning over the rail of the boat seeing the corpses floating in the water. And then quietly, I wasn’t allowed to speak in those days but when my father had friends over I listened to their conversation about what the Japanese were doing to the Chinese. It was hideous. They mentioned the rape of Nanking where the Japanese troops,


for about three or four weeks, did nothing else but loot and rape Nanking. Hundreds of thousand of Chinese people were killed and I have loathed Jap’s ever since of my generation anyway.
Having had these experiences through childhood and growing up did you notice and differences between you and other copy boys of your age changes this had made in you?


Yes in a sense that I was probably, I had a wider knowledge of everything. I was conscious of that. I was amongst adults I imagine to a greater extent than these kids were here in Australia because they would come home from school and they would go out and play or something and I don’t think they would have read as much as I read.


Or was reading at the time. I also have to digress, when we were at Haiphong we had this large house on one of he tributaries of the Red River and at that particular time the country was infested with what they called the "Po phun Wa" the "Black Flaggers".


They had a black flag, and they were river pirates. And on one occasion the servants came up terror stricken and they told my other that they had heard the river pirates were on the prowl. So my mother had grabbed all of us including the servants and took us all into the house and closed and locked all of the doors and closed the typhoon shutters which were wooden. We had a large top veranda


and there she got the servants to dampen down bed sheets and blankets, drape them everywhere. Because one of the characteristics of the Po phun Wa was to attack a place and each pirate would have a section of bamboo which had kerosene in it and after they did whatever they wanted to do they would set fire to the villages with


this kerosene. That’s why my mother, thinking that perhaps they would attack us, had plenty of water in containers and wet blankets all over the place, although the house was concrete, draped over the balustrade and so on. I was a good shot because in the country in Australia had taught me how to shoot .


And my brother, blind as a bat could still us a shotgun. And on this occasion we still had my father's arms; one was a .44 Winchester repeater, the other was a single shot shotgun and a double barrel shotgun and also a 22 rifle. So my brother took the shotgun


so he could blaze away and whatever he saw moving because he could see out of the corner of his eye a little bit. I took the Winchester 44 because I was prepared to shoot at a longer range. That night we heard the thunking of the oars and the rowlocks. They came up, landed, and we could see into the moonlit night


These natives, they didn’t touch us, they went straight past. They were all naked except for a loin cloth with this bamboo container stuck in their belt and in their hands they would have a cup cup, it was like a large sword. And they went about two or three kilometres up to the post office and we saw the flares


of what we later learnt was the post office burning and they had raped the postman's wife, killed the postman, thrown their bodies into the fire and then had come back. Once again they just passed our front. I remember I was going to fire at one point and my brother told me, “Don’t be a bloody fool!” And fortunately I


didn’t fire. And they came back got into the sampans and paddled away and the next day the French came along with a lot of native troops and went looking for them. Incidentally too, digressing for a moment, in Hong Kong at that time there were a lot of pirates and they used to congregate around a place called Poatas Reef.,


and they were known as pirate areas. Each ship would have a master at arms, generally a refugee Russian. In those days the Russian revolutioneers were fighting the White Russians and the White Russians were kicked out and they fled to China. Generally the master at arms would be a Russian,


in a rack on the vessel there would be a rack of Winchester 44s and wire netting around the bridge.The character of what the pirates used to do would be to join up, because sometimes the ship would carry natives from one port to another for work and they would rush the bridge, capture the bridge, kill the European crew and take the vessel to Poatas Reef and strip it completely.


Shortly after that my mother took us back to Australia. I must mentioned this too. I think that’s where I became sexually active. In those days the native


girl would be married off at about twelve, eleven, thirteen or fourteen and being the tropics I suppose we Europeans too became sexually active at an early age. And there was a lady, a French lady about thirty odd years old, thirty-two or something and her husband had died of a tropical disease and in those days it was standard procedure by the French


and the British that if someone was widowed, different for men of course, if a man lost his wife he could continue working. But if a woman became a widow then she was expatriated. So she was waiting for her ship to take her back to France


and to cut a long story short she seduced me. She was a delightful lady, a very fine lady and I have always remembered her with very great respect.
Why do you think ,what was her interest in you do you think at the time?
Maybe she was lonely. I was a courteous boy, I was a fairly solid


looking boy I suppose at the time. I don’t know whether she was missing her husband or whether she wanted, she knew I became interested in her as a woman. All young lads look at pretty women and imagine what they could, how they would enjoy the female. I don’t really know


but things sort of fell in together on this occasion. She taught me a lot about women which I carried into my adult life which may have given me few successes, I don’t know.
And what kind of a woman was she?
She was a cultured woman, she was


the wife of a one of the middle management administrators. Very vivacious, we knew her before this occurred, so she was a friend of my mothers. I won't go into it too much.
Well given the era and the situation culturally, what was this sort of behaviour regarded as was what she did considered, taboo?


The affair? Well not exactly, the French had a different approach to it. I do know that going to school it was the ambition of every young then to have a mistress. And of course boys are great skytes too. I will never forget one day when


one young boy started skipping out and calling out he had a mistress as though he had got a first prize somewhere you know. Whether this is real or not I don’t know, we all claimed this. I kept very quiet about mine because I was in a way shy and she cautioned me and she was


leaving for France anyway.
How long did the relationship continue for?
A very short time. Because she was waiting for the ship to arrive to take her back to her family and she was a desperate woman in a way because she was leaving all of her friends. Leaving a way of life which she would never had in France. None of the colonials,


British or French liked going back to the home country because they would miss out on their way of life which consisted of servants, many parties and so on. Back to Australia and I started work with the Herald office and Kodak and the war started. And I always


remember the measured tones of Prime Minister Menzies, that we were at war. And my mother cried and my aunt cried and so did my grandmothers because only twenty years before had been the First Great War and a lot of relations had been killed. My French uncle Alexei


who was in the engine room, an engineer in the French Navy. He was sunk at sea in the 14/18 War. I lost one Australian uncle and another Australian uncle had come back from the dreadful mud of Flanders in the First World War and he had been very badly gassed, and he was practically a moron. So we were not looking forward


to a war at all. We young men of course thought differently and the propaganda was such that we thought that Germany should be taught a lesson. Then in addition of course, everybody thought that the war would only last six months because everybody said that Germany had no oil and the war would grind to a halt in six months time. So all we youngsters wanted was to get to war quickly before war finished.


What was your relationship like with the British Empire?
With the British?
Well what allegiance did you feel to the British Empire?
Well we felt allegiance to Britain. I remember seeing this war cartoon once with a big mother lion and


seven or eight cubs surrounding the mother and it had a name for each cub Australia, India, Canada, New Zealand and so on, this was the Empire and everybody expected the Empire to go to the aid of England. So we al rushed and I wanted to go away for a variety of reasons. On the French side there was little liking for the Germans, I had no hatred for the Germans


but my mother loathed them because of the loss of her brother. They started the 14 / 18 war and they started this war in a sense. I had a strong sense of duty because my family had always served England


or France. One of my ancestors allegedly was a lieutenant in Napoleon's Guards. My first brother Bosworth, it was a tradition in our family to always have two names, the first boy would have a Christian name amongst others, but he always had to have the name Bosworth. The next brother, George who survived he was given the name of Mowbray because some dim


ancestors in our blood line had displayed great valour in these battles. So this came down the bloodline. Now it has stopped of course because I had a daughter. It was part of our tradition. So I felt I had to serve. Initially I was keen on the navy. Naturally I was keen to get away to sea but by the time I got there which was January,


might have been November they were not recruiting anymore. Then because I was keen on photography I wanted to go away as an observer with the RAAF, but they too were full, so I joined the services under my brother's name, George Mowbray Griffiths. I did this because I was underage and I took his name,


without his consent, and went away into the army. I didn’t realise how stupid I was but I would get more money, I would get five shillings a day of which I would allocate four shillings and sixpence to my Mum and to the family and I would keep sixpence a day for myself and I did that for about a


year and a half, before I got some specialist pay.
What did you r mother think of you joining the army?
That was a traumatic incident for me. She talked about getting me back and so forth and I said, “Look if you do that I will go back into the army under a completely bodgey [false] name. And you will never know where I am or whether I have been


killed or not". So I really blackmailed her and I owe a great apology for this pain that I caused her unknowingly. But young lads are very selfish and stupid. I volunteered stupidly too, in


fact I think I won first prize for idiot of the year by volunteering to go to the infantry because ninety-eight percent of Australia’s casualties was in the infantry.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 03


What kind of expectations did you have as you joined up, of where you would be fighting, and what you would be facing in the army?
I think intellectually I knew that in joining the infantry I knew sufficient at that stage because,


and this is something I didn’t mention, I was a cadet, a volunteer cadet with the 24th Battalion in Ringwood for the one year when I came back to Australia. So I had some idea from talking to the old diggers of what to expect. I knew that things were pretty rugged in the infantry but I had confidence in my youth I suppose, little did I know.


My expectation? We all thought at that stage honestly that the war would last about six months and you had to get away quick smart, otherwise we would all miss out. That was one very dominant thought. Another thought of course was that we would come to the aid of the mother country because don’t forget in those days for example on the father's side, the grandmother


who was born also in Australia, my Australian grandmother, she still talked about "going home" for a holiday, home was England .My aunt who was born in Australia, she went 'home' for a holiday. We always considered England as home despite the fact that some Australians were third, fourth, fifth generation. But if you were Anglo-Saxon, England was the home country it was the


Mecca of everything. The other thing too, I personally, as I say it is a tradition in our family to serve.
Well tell us about the initial start, that first day when you walked in, and the training?


Well they held us at the Showgrounds, we went in there in our civil suits and each held a suitcase. And then we changed and got issued with our army uniforms and so on. Big red stiff boots, clothing that didn’t fit, either too big or too small. And you couldn’t exchange them.


The quartermaster couldn’t be bothered and there was too many anyway .We got our clothes and started to swap with each other and eventually got something that you could wear. The boots, we were taught to rub our feet with methylated spirits and to put on a thick pair of socks and wet the boots and walk around in those for


five, six, eight hours to let them take the shape of your feet. There was a lot of marching in those days. There was some really rough blokes with us, some from Fitzroy slums and so on, a lot of swearing, a lot of abuse from the NCOs , ”Can't you find your own bloody feet, you idiots?” and this went on,


teaching us our drills, and I can understand. We probably tested their patience a lot because we were really a bunch of raw recruits. I volunteered for the infantry and so I was only a short time in the depot, Flinders Street and I went infantry, they took us to Seymour, to the 2 /8th and dropped us


off ,one or two o’clock in the morning, the quartermaster swearing a little bit, got up and gave us a feed of bully beef and got our palliasses, that’s a hessian bag with straw in it, and we dossed down in these long houses. It was pretty grim.


And a lot of it, I was learning quickly, but a lot of it was pretty rough and course, "F!" this and "F!" that. It was a mixture, we were all volunteers and there were all kinds of people from let's say, and I hate using the word, lower class as opposed to the more gentile sophisticated class.


We had in my platoon alone, when we formed up into platoon we had a newspaper reporter, we had a retired naval officer, we had tram conductors, butchers and so on and some people from the slums. But you found your own level. And gradually as time progressed you went into a type of work


that was more appealing than another. But there was rough days, some of the coarseness annoyed me quite a bit. They would get drunk and there is no electric light, there was lanterns and they would have competitions to see how long you could keep an erection with a lantern hanging from your penis. Or a rifle,


some very strong people, that’s ten pounds. But that was the sort of fun they had. Of course they were not all like that. But then we started training and the training was hard. You start off with five miles route march and then seven, ten, fifteen and twenty. Twenty miles is a lot of kilometres, you get blisters all over


your feet. You start to lose your puppy fat, my puppy fat I was only sixteen and a half. You get much leaner and stronger and you’re carrying weight too. You have your harness and a duffle pack, it is a small pack and your rifle Then you go into advanced training, you start firing your rifle on the


range. I was a master rifleman principally because I had done so much shooting in the bush. And I got my 'cross rifle with the crown [badge] which made me the battalion marksman which came in very handy later with the Japs. Most of the marksmen were bushmen, the city fellows didn’t have the opportunity to train as a youngster.


Then we started, we had what we used to call the bull ring. On one side there they would be teaching you the Bren gun, well it wasn’t a Bren gun it was a Lewis in those days, the light machine gun. And then over there you would be doing the rifle shooting. Laying prone, legs apart, first press, second press of the trigger,


how to aim and so on. And then over there you would be doing bayonet practice. So you would do that for an hour and then ten minutes break and then go to the next one and so on. This was basic infantry training. Bayoneting is quite interesting -


high port, en guard, thrust, butt stroke, you bring the butt around to the side of the face. And then, by the time you get to the second dummy and it is on the ground and you poke him, the dummy, constant. And then of course you had night manoeuvres and then you learnt the basic various infantry tactics. Basic


organization in an infantry battalion, these are the men that really see the white of the enemies eyes, a section of ten men and the ten men are under the control of a corporal or lance corporal. And in ten men you have one machine gunner with his assistant. One LMG, light machine gunner with his assistant and the rest have rifles. In


the jungle a lot of them had sub-machine carbines. Sub-machine guns. And then the time comes, it was only a short time for me and we went overseas. I was on the Neralia conditions were very rough indeed, we struck a storm crossing the Bight and most of the people were land lubbers, so


they were vomiting all over the place and so on. And the stench down below was shocking. It was a British troop ship, the British Navy had never looked after their men particularly well and we had eighteen inches per hammock space, and you were head to foot, because then the


broader part of your body is your shoulders and hips, so by having feet on that side and feet there, you were able to cram more people in. Food was appalling, bully beef or stew or tinned fish. That’s all we had day in day out. Porridge for breakfast, then we had we continued drill on the troop ship going over.


Got to in Egypt, I am trying to think of the name., it doesn’t matter, we got


off the ship and I thanked God that I got off it, had been a dreadful trip. And we went by train to Palestine to and started to form up as a brigade. At that time we had the old style 14 – 18 war configuration. In other words you had four sections


to a platoon, four platoons to a company. Four rifle companies and headquarters company to a battalion, four battalions to a brigade, four brigades to a division, they called it a square division. And then they introduced the triangular division. So instead of the four you had three sections to every platoon and each company had for some reason or other I think four I


don’t know why, three platoons. Each company then there was A B C D, still four companies, basically it was three battalions to a brigade, triangular division. We went over with a lot of old equipment, like our harness was 14 /18 War stuff, and so on. When we got over there they outfitted us with a new harness which had the Bren


pouches. Tommy guns didn’t come until later. They gave us khaki, light khaki working clothes instead of the wool and we started to train together. Platoons together and then companies and then battalions and then we


would have the big manoeuvres where we would have brigade manoeuvres up to divisional strength. Division generally consisted of roughly twenty thousand men. But that’s all support troops, artillery, ambulance and so on, division is self supporting more or less. Now the training becomes more complex, particularly for the senior


people, the larger the organization it becomes more and more complex. Troopers like me, a basic infantry soldier, there is still a lot to learn, an enormous amount to learn and I won't go into the detail but making what they call shell mats. In those days they had no efficient system of finding out where the enemy artillery was, so you would have two men in a slit trench there and about


fifty or seventy five yards away another two men. And as soon as you heard the cough, because sound travels straight, a howitzer shell particularly goes up into the heavens and then returns, so the sound reaches you before the shell. And so I would take a quick bearing on the sound and my mate would note down time and those two there are doing the same thing.


When the shell landed you would take a bearing on that and he would put down the time, and so you built up over a period of time what they call a shelling map. You would go back to battalion at night time and plot them all in, so where you get an intersection of bearings you would know that the enemy gun pits are there.


We did all of that training and it was long and tedious and very demanding. We had occasion once or twice to go on leave, I didn’t have very much money but the duty battalion, what they called the duty battalion had to provide what they called pickets, in a township there would be like any other township but brothels


as well, and the picket duty was to keep the diggers in order. If they got too drunk you just threw them into the back of a truck and took them back to battalion. If there was a brawl of some kind between the Egyptians and the diggers you would stop that and get the diggers out of the road. Sometimes there would be brawls between the English soldiers and ourselves. So the duty of the picket was to keep the peace,


they were not armed except for a bayonet, that’s all. A sergeant and thirty men. Now this is quite interesting because sometimes you have to visit the brothel areas because the madam of the brothel might find one or two of the diggers a nuisance. They would send a runner very quickly and we would go inside, grab him and take him out of harm's way.


Some of the diggers were so stupid when they got drunk they didn’t know what they were doing anyway. I don’t know whether I should tell you about some of the experiences there. There was all forms of sexual entertainment. In those days I used to think that Egypt was the cesspool of the world. There is basically


no form of sexual variation or deviation which the human mind can conceive that you couldn’t buy in Egypt. You could fornicate with a donkey, they provided all of this sort of thing. One episode


I describe in my book is where three harlots did a cancan over three bottles of beer with the tops taken off. Then they would squat over that and pick up the bottles with their vaginas, and then they would hand it out to some of the diggers and some drunken digger would drink out of it.


But on this episode there was a digger sitting on a chair with arm rests about so thick and he apparently called something out like, “Ha, you didn’t come.” Or something like that. This was another, the other episode was where they had I have forgotten, a thing called the electric fuck


where the Sudanese fellow has a connection to his ankle and so does the female and it is connected ostensibly to something in the wall, whether it is a transformer or not I don’t know. A lot of this is make believe stuff you know and they proceed to become galvanised and the big Sudanese fornicates the harlot,


and on this occasion the harlot is only a few feet away from this digger and the digger called out, “Ha, you didn’t come.” So it is all very disgusting and then she scooped herself out and flicked it into his face, and then she jumped up on the armrest where he was sitting and


pushed her groin into his face. And he had a digger's hat on, stuck on the side of his head and he pulled his head back and must have scratched her because she let out a shriek and out they came, Sudanese and Gyppos [Egyptians] they had blackjacks in their hands, they had knives. We descended, we grabbed hold of chairs and stools


and protected ourselves as we got downstairs and then ran for it. Fortunately the British MPs, there were four British MPs, they were armed and when the Gyppos saw them they just disappeared. One of the big problems was there


was no provision made for the digger when he went on leave. The shopkeepers were on the make all of the time taking him down. There was at that stage nothing that what would have been interesting. I would have been interested in archaeological trips where you could go to the pyramids. But really the whole population was


geared to making more money and catering for the appetites of primitive man I suppose. It was sad in a way because both Egypt and Palestine had so much to offer. I was very interested, my father was a very keen historian and he taught me a lot about Egyptian culture and so on. But also I was very interested in Palestine


because my mother was a strict Catholic and we believed in a lot of stuff in the bible and it was fascinating to allegedly see the parts where Christ had trod you know. But you could go to Palestine then and they would sell you a piece of wood which they swore came from the original cross. There was a lot of commercialism.


Anyway we were trained and then we went to Egypt on the way to Bardia.
Before you get there can I just ask what kind of effect this had on a young bloke who was still only a teenager?
Well those days I was a very strong Catholic. I swore to myself principally because of my first


experience with this lady in Haiphong. I had a romantic view of intercourse between a man and a woman and still do. I still believe any intense relationship where a man and a woman enjoy each other, I think


it is a very fine relationship in depth and of great feeling. I for instance would never just automatically sleep with a woman, there has to be an enormous amount of understanding and real, not love if you don’t wish to call it love, but real liking for each other. I couldn’t understand, well I


never did, didn’t go to a harlot until later on, I will tell you about that, which changed my view on harlots by the way .But I remember and this I found quite interesting when we knew we were going up into action you would be surprised how many ,men went to the brothels. Whether this is a biological subconscious attempt and I am putting my own thoughts into this,


whether it was a submerged biological action or not I don’t know, but it looked as though men wanted to copulate, to procreate. Possibly, I don’t know. But I remember a young lad, he was only a year older than me and he asked me to go with him and keep an eye on him. It was his first and they way he described it to me,


when he came out he was crying and I said, “What’s wrong?” She just laid there with an apple, chewing the apple while he fornicated her. And it so cheapened it in his eyes, he got killed later anyway so there we are. Perhaps he might have had a premonition which has occurred, a premonition.


How did it affect me? I despised, not now but then I despised the social set-up in Egypt. Egypt was owned by five percent and the rest of them were [(UNCLEAR)]


and they lived a dreadful life. They had patches on their patches on their shirts. There was very little, there was no middle class, you were either very rich or very poor. Perhaps I should describe another situation. I was always curious and I was wandering around and in the better


quarters, there they all had their high fences with glass along the top or steel pointed spears along the court yards, and always a guard on the entry to the grounds. And always plenty of servants and I was wandering around having a gawk at some of these areas and this young Egyptian gentleman, for lack of a better word,


beautifully dressed, a bit fat, saw me there and we got talking. I could speak French. And most of the Egyptians in those days would send their boys, not the girls, but boys to colleges in Switzerland or France and so we got talking, he invited me in and filled me up with sweets


and Turkish delight and what have you, and with his servants cringing. Actually you would have thought he was royalty, they would bring something in and bow and walk out backwards, and this irked me a bit. I was taught by my father to be more socialistic I suppose and then the bastard put the hard word on me. There was a lot of that too with the


Egyptians. So I was stamped out of the place in sheer disgust and anger. Boy I was naïve. You have no idea. Well I knew so much but I was still a naïve boy, I had a lot of faith in human nature and I despised the Gyppos, still do.


Culturally these rich upper crust Gyppos were culturally very well informed and experienced, they were Europeans, they couldn’t care less about this own people. In Egypt, I don’t know whether you know, you would find some of the farmers who were paying off debts that their grandfathers had enacted. Perhaps their grandfather or great grandfather had had a bad season so they would go to a moneylender to buy seed way back and they


would put the seed down and unfortunately for them there would be a second bad season and next minute they are in the hands of a money lender and they are paying interest on the interest, for God's sake. Some of them were paying off debts that had belonged to their great grandfather. And that’s virtual slavery. That’s enough of that I think.


You were going forward to Bardia, how did you feel about going towards potential battle and war?
When you’re young and inexperienced there is a lot of excitement. What’s it going to be like? And so on. Intellectually you realise that war is war and people are going to get hurt,


you don’t think you’re going to get hurt. You are very curious about how you’re going to react. Infantry, you can sometimes come into contact with the enemy. How you’re going to react, am I going to run away? You are half fearful and then you’re half fearful also that you’re going to run away, which you don’t do in the best of circles.


You don’t let your mates down, number one. And number two, if you do run away you’re classified as having LMF, loss of moral fibre. They didn’t realise that men could crack, break whatever. So in Bardia we were the reserve brigade. That meant that the two other brigades in my division broke into Bardia and for us it was relatively light,


we only lost about five or six men. Several experiences there. The second day ,we were in reserve the first day in Bardia and then we relieved the front line battalion. And the


second day I shot, I killed my first two men. We came under heavy shell fire and we walked through the shell fire and when the smoke cleared we could see the lines of the defences of the Italian infantry. They were


perhaps four hundred yards and we came under machine gun fire and we kept on advancing. So we got into the high port, that’s ready for the bayonet charge and I saw two Italians perhaps two hundred yards climb out of the front line and


start to run back. They could have been running back to the second line of defence. I was a marksman and I dropped them both, at least they fell onto the ground. When we continued, as we got up to the trench they all came out and started


to wave white handkerchiefs. We were in a very nervous condition. Then we continued on. I went down this large hole with steps and found that it was a underground first aid post, regimental aid post


and there was a lot of Italian soldiers there that were badly wounded and on the side of the entrance there were stretchers with dead Italian soldiers. There was one stretcher that had an army boot and about that much of the foot still in it, with blackened blood all over the place; obviously


the fellow had had his leg blown off or it had been surgically cut, I wouldn’t know. And that’s when the penny started to drop that I suppose one could get hurt. That was the first time I went into action. I didn’t barge into the First Aid post, the Italian doctors there, unlike our doctors were armed.


So I took the Biretta pistol off one of the officers and put it into my coat pocket and left them to it. Italians were screaming and calling out, “Mama mia.” Mother, mother. Some of them were in a bad way, I saw one fellow with a huge hole where his shoulder blade should have been. That night


I couldn’t sleep, I was very mixed up. I couldn’t talk to the mates in my section because they were older than me and I thought I am a bit of a sissy if I talk to them about it. It was a cold desert night and I remember I had little sleep. I walked up and down and stamped my


feet and what have you. Next day I felt a bit better and had a hot breakfast and went on. Then Bardia had fallen and we got into trucks and went up to the outskirts of Tobruk. Now at Tobruk we knew that we would have to break the inner defences. Tobruk had,


typical Italian formation. Two half circles with each flank sitting on the water, Tobruk in the centre so it would have been like that with Tobruk there. And inner defences and outer defences. A lot of people just think you start a battle but you don’t. Before you actually have a set piece battle there might be two or three weeks where you are sending out patrols,


probing patrols, standing patrols, different kinds of patrols. Sometimes you just lie out in the desert at night and get as close as you can and wait for them to light up, and then you’re taking bearings on them all of the time, so that you know where their defence lines were. The Italians are quite jittery so they would quite often set off their machine guns, light machine guns, heavy machine guns and they all had


tracers, so you built up a chart of where the heavy or light machine gun was and so on, you could build up the defences. Now all of this goes on for two or three weeks or whatever and then you do the attack . In the attack there was


still parts of my brigade, their job was to break through the outer defences and each turn left and right and start to roll it up, while we dove through the gap and continued to the second line of defences. That’s where we struck a lot of problems .The Italians had dug in their tanks


so that only the gun was above the desert floor. C Company of my battalion was very badly knocked around, lost all of its officers except for one and lost most of its sergeants, except for one or two. I lost a few mates there. And strangely enough when we got in amongst the tanks


a second group of mobile tanks came up and hit C Company, and I don’t know what happened but probably the heavy fire from us stopped the


tanks and that’s the occasion when strangely enough one tank was stopped. Either a twenty-eight pounder [shell] had struck it or not I don’t know; but the turret opened and two young Italians started to run away and


I got one and the other one continued running and I got him too.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 04


Could tell me a bit more about your decision to join the infantry, about what being part of the infantry meant to you?
Not then so much, but I suppose I am rather proud that I served my country. You see I will digress again for a moment,


the services, the army is broken up into two basic, all services, two types of soldiers, one who does the fighting and the others, a very large gang who supports them. This is no reflection on them but you have to have many men


to support one man in the front line. Same in the air force, you have to have many men, mechanics, this that and the other supporting bomber crew or fighter pilots. I am rather proud, not because I won a decoration but I am proud that I was


an ordinary Australian soldier who served his country in one of the most dangerous forms of soldiering. I could have run away at any time, we were all volunteers and we would not have been shot if we ran away and I knew that. But as a young boy, my father had a very strict code and he used to tell me things like


"Once you put your hand to the plough you stay with it “You make your own bed, you stay with it. So whilst I quite often regretted having run away and hurt my mother so much, I am quietly proud that I was an Australian front line soldier, simple as that.
And what kind of a man would you describe the Australian


infantry soldier ?
Like any other man, but there is something about the infantry that you will not find anywhere else and that includes the navy and the air force, you live like an animal. You eat like an animal, you defecate like an animal and you die like an animal. And your survival


depends entirely on your mate, the man next to you. For example in an infantry section you have a light machine gun, the man that uses that is called a machine gunner and he has an assistant, each depends on each other .When the barrel gets hot you exchange it with another barrel, red hot. You expect your number two man to support you one hundred percent, he has got to provide


the full magazines, he has got to change the machine gun barrel and so on. So these men in an infantry section of tem men that’s so highly interwoven with each other's activities, and they live together constantly, they share each other's thoughts and fears and so on. You build up a unique relationship, and it has got nothing to do with


sexuality or anything like that. You have heard of the term no doubt, the brotherhood of arms. It is shared danger, shared discomfort, shared horror, shared fears that I think breeds the brotherhood. Right now I have a good mate, he died, not in the war, he died in South Africa, Ray Williams.


If he came to me right now he could have my shirt and he would do the same for me. You won't find this in the air force for example because, regrettably, in the air force you have your ground crew, and the ground crew sees very little of the pilots and so on. In the navy it is the same thing, artificial authority, artificial command structure.


Anyway you asked what do I think was the question again, what was the question you asked me?
The second one was what it takes to be an infantryman or what an infantryman is defined as?
Oh what it takes? Good physique, must be very healthy,


in fact it is compulsory. In my day, when you enlisted you had to have all of your own teeth. I don’t know whether they expected us to bite the enemy or something or other but it is important too. If you don’t have all of your own teeth and you have dental problems then you get pulled out of the line. And contrary to expectations, a lot of people think infantry are dumb and that’s why they go into the infantry, you have to be mentally alert.


You have so much to learn and put into action under great periods of stress. I have a lot of admiration for, read my book I have dedicated my book to all front line soldiers. Except the Japs, I should have put in. I didn’t like them. Yes I was an infantier.


And what would you describe as the importance of the infantry to an army?
Basically you can't hold ground unless you have infantry. They found this everywhere. Vietnam, in all wars including back to war with Saddam Hussein .You have got to have infantry to hold ground, you have got to have those feet on the ground, to hold ground. You can't


do without them. Now when I say infantry I am talking about infantry, commandos, special operatives. SAS [Special Air Service], these are the men that hold ground or hold an area somewhere.
And you mentioned the mateship that is formed in the infantry when did those sort of friendships start to develop for you?


I suppose it really started to consolidate, it started to pull together before action when you’re are training together. Because the training is often as hard, if not harder than combat. You do without water, do water discipline. Go out on manoeuvres for a fortnight say and


you have got grubby clothes and underclothes are grubby and your uniform is greasy at the cuff and the necks, and you’re getting boils and you have discomfort all of the way. Sometimes the food isn’t hot, most times it is not hot or on time, so you’re sharing this discomfort all of the time which makes it easier. Then of course when you go into action,


you sometimes put your faith into someone who breaks. I don’t think for example there is such a thing as bravery or courage. All I believe in is that some men break sooner than others. It is like a bank account. We are all born with an X amount of 'stickability' or courage.


Bravery if you like. Some have more some less. And when they break, some break earlier than others, it is no reflection on them. I had an officer who broke. Broke in Greece, he was a brilliant soldier in the North African


campaign. He was wounded and maybe he lost the sense of invulnerability, I don’t know. So I will never condemn anyone for running away, quite often it makes more sense, if you’re reasonably sensible about it, why get yourself killed? What for? For the government? For Howard?[the Prime Minister] The Packers?[business magnates]


For your country perhaps, or your family.
And during North Africa did you have any particular mates that stood out for you that you were particularly close to?
Yes I had a fellow called Ken Grosvenor, an English lad, we


were close mates. When we came back from the Middle East he got out. He became a civilian. But I was in a different organization then. Go on.
I was going to ask what he was like?
That is the fascinating thing about mates, it has got nothing to do with the


same cells structure or coming from the same school or anything. You invariably depend on each other and you accept them for what they are. Course, well educated, not so well educated, it doesn’t matter, you accept them as what they are. Now Ken was an English lad and he came out to Australia under a scheme, I forget what the scheme was called. He was quite, reasonably well educated, he


wanted to be an actor, and he used to spout Shakespeare all of the time. "Once more unto the breech…..", I don’t know whether we had much in common at all except that we were thrown together and went into action together and became so used and accustomed to each other that we


became mates. See I started off in a rifle company and I was taken from the rifle company into battalion intelligence. So my two mates, I had four mates, one very close in the rifle company. Of those four, two were killed in Tobruk and one was killed in


New Guinea and that left one fellow, I can't think of his name now
Can describe your memories of seeing Italian POWs, if you saw any, at Bardia?


Well this is interesting., it started in Bardia and later on Tobruk. The Italian foot soldier, the Italian Infantry in my humble opinion, didn’t want war. And there is a variety of reasons .the Italian Army had three scales of rations. In our army, once you


were in the field everybody ate the same food, officers, NCOs, non commissioned officers and privates. In the Italian Army you had three scales of rations .The poor old foot soldiers lower ranks, privates and corporals. They lived on pasta and tomato puree


and so on. And the next rank up was the junior officer to around about captain rank, and they had a better scale of rations. And then the top rank, later on I can tell you when we did the second day of Tobruk. They lived like lords, they had tinned cherries, tinned apricots, tinned fruits,


tinned fish, lamb's tongue. They lived like lords. So if I had been an Italian soldier I would have walked away, I would have given up the very first day. The distinction between the advantages in the Italian Army for the senior people as opposed to the man who did the fighting was incredibly evident. I was very sorry for the


Italian soldier. The Italian officer wore beautiful tailored suits, rows of ribbons which I don’t think he even earned. And calf length boots and I despised their officers a little bit because really they didn’t stick by their men, they didn’t lead their men.


Anyway what happened? We broke the inner defences got mixed up with the tanks and C Company got badly knocked around and then later on we put on a charge on Fort Pilastrino which once again didn’t come to anything because the Italians came out with white handkerchiefs and gave


themselves up. During that first day there were several examples one in particularly which I didn’t see it was told to me by a mate of mine. they came out with their hands up and as the figures approached one prisoner who had his hands up, Italian,


threw a grenade which knocked down a digger and then he pulled his pistol and shot him. And I won't say what happened to that group of prisoners because I didn’t see it, but I heard what happened. We thought that was very underhanded. We Australian diggers thought


that was underhanded, to first show a white flag and then to turn around after giving yourself up, pretending to give yourself up and start again, is very devious, however this happens in wartime.
Was this common behaviour from Italian prisoners?


No not this devious, the Japanese were famous for putting up a white flag and then shooting on people. No I think it could well be that the Italian panicked or thought he would benefit by it, but it was certainly a stupid thing to do. I suppose your mind is enflamed


and you do stupid or irresponsible things. Anyway where were we? First day of Tobruk. So Fort Pilastrino we spent there the first night. I think I put a machine gun out of action in the early part of the break through of the second line.


It was a Beretta; Beretta is the Italian machine gun. But remember this, I was a marksman. Anyway that night we spent at Fort Pilastrino. It was a ghastly night, I mention this in my book.
Where did you?
We stopped for the night my section,


the battalion, stopped in amongst some blown up enemy artillery emplacements. Ken Grosvenor who was my mate and I at about eleven o’clock after I told my sergeant we couldn’t go to sleep, we walked down to this emplacement


which was pretty badly shattered with dead Italians everywhere. Our twenty-five pounder artillery had knocked them around. We went down the steps and down the bottom in a dug out was like a double bed one on top of the other, bunks. Ken


threw himself in the bottom bunk and there was an unholy scream and Ken and I flew out in a great panic and it turned out a little Italian boy had hidden himself under the bottom bunk. And when Ken had sat on his or thrown himself on him, he or Ken had let out a scream.


Anyway we settled down and shared some bully beef with this Italian boy. And then we heard some moaning outside and Ken and I went out and we thought, we had thought that they were all corpses but it turned out to be an Italian soldier, well he was dying, very badly knocked around.


And broken concrete all over the place and his body was half buried and in the light of the torch his hair was burnt, his eyes looked like poached eggs, white and milky and he had his left arm badly burnt.


You could see the tendons around the wrist that looked as though they had been roasted like a lamb roast, dark and black. And we should have shot him, put him out of his misery, but I couldn’t and neither could Ken. So we left him there and I was exhausted and I fell asleep down below.
Was he aware that you were there?


No he was too far gone. He would moan and his arms would move a little bit, he was dying. Next day took two days to finish off Tobruk, we continued on.
What sort of fighting patrols did you take part in in Tobruk? How were these structured?


Sometimes a standing patrol can be with two or three men. You have got your front line all dug in in sections. Sections are dug in in what they call foxholes, might have two or three men to a foxhole and your section would have say three foxholes and the next section say three fox holes and the platoon in reserve has three foxholes. The one in front of that, perhaps fifty or a hundred yards,


send out one man and he just lies there flat on the ground. Sometimes you get your rifle bayonet and you stick it well in the ground and then you can put your ear up against the blade of the bayonet and then you can hear people's footsteps. Steel conductor down to earth. And the idea of that man is to give immediate warning if he sees an enemy patrol coming towards


the main defences. That’s a standing patrol. You have other patrols where you try to go and get a prisoner for information. They’re pretty dangerous because you have got to try and find a prisoner or snatch a prisoner from the middle of their front defence lines. Then you have other patrols where they go out looking for trouble, a fighting patrol.


So there is various kinds of infantry patrols that they use. Now it may be about as I may have mentioned before, making a chart of the defences. You either go up and listen to the talk or you generally take bearings on their cigarettes that they are lighting at night time. Because even though they might get down low in the trench and light a


cigarette, very often there will be the flare from the first match which will just show a little bit of light for a few seconds. So you’re building up a picture at least a week beforehand or two weeks. Building up a picture of the enemy defences.


And did you have any particular tricks or quirks that made you a particularly good marksman?
Oh no I think I was a good marksman because I had used a 22 rifle in the bush. I found the best marksman were generally bushmen or people who were farmers, something like that,


used to go out and shoot rabbits. I have actually shot two rabbits on the run through the head and done it just by sheer instinct in the bush. And so this came in very handy. Each battalion should have had what they call a sniper section, which is roughly


ten men, a sergeant in charge and they come under the control of the intelligence officer. But contrary to what the politicians were telling the Australian public, we were not the best armed army. We were missing a lot of equipment and we didn’t have sniper rifles until after the campaign in Crete, then I did a sniper's course as well


and became a sniper. And even then we used the Canadian Ross Rifle, can I get technical? We used a Canadian Ross Rifle, which was using rimless cartridge. A .303 cartridge used by the Australian infantry in those days had what they called a rimmed cartridge, which meant that when the cartridge went in the magazine


each cartridge had to go in front of the one before, otherwise when you push a round into the breech it would foul, because it has a rim it would foul the cartridge underneath and so the magazines had to be loaded in a certain way. If you had


rimless cartridges as the Germans had, and as the Canadian Ross Rifle had then there was not that problem at all. The other great problem of course was, the sniper ammunition for example was very highly quality controlled which meant that if you could hit a mans head at four hundred yards between the eyes, you should be able to with the next round also at four hundred yards hit him between


the eyes. In other words each amount of powder, whatever it is, in the rifle in the bullet had to be exactly the same as the one before so the manufacturing of sniper ammunition was very critical. You can understand the sniper only had one chance to shoot someone and then hide before retaliation starts.


So we did not have a sniper section unfortunately in the North African campaign, or in Greece or Crete.
And what type of weapon were you using in North Africa?
Infantry weapon. The riflemen had a .303 Lee Enfield,


his bayonet and a thing called a 36 grenade, it had a five second and a seven second fuse. In a section there was a Bren gun, although we trained on a Lewis when we got to the Middle East, they issued us with a Bren gun which is also .303. Later we got Tommy guns


but that was after the Crete campaign. Now in platoon headquarters, that’s three sections comes under a platoon and the officer in charge of the platoon has what was called a two inch mortar. That’s a small mortar and it allows you to drop smoke or steel


particles or shards onto the enemy. He had two mortar men with him. At platoon headquarters there would be the officer, the mortar men and his assistant and the platoon sergeant and a runner batsman. Each officer in the Australian Army those days was allowed a batman but the batman became a runner to deliver messages when required.


That was a highly dangerous job too. In addition we started off in that situation but later on we got a signaller who carried a signal pack on his back. Very primitive old fashioned and invariably the valves broke down and you didn’t have any signals from battalion headquarters.


The first time you knew you had shot someone, what sort of effect did this have on you and how did you deal with it over?
Well initially I felt both guilty and proud.


It is a complex feeling, I killed a King's enemy, enemy of our country. On the other hand I know deep down they were running away in fear or whatever. On the other hand I breached my very rigid Catholic training, it was very complex. Later on as time progressed I realised,


having come under fire repeatedly, I realised that I was protecting myself. A lot of people, when you are in actual combat you don’t think of God country or any bloody thing, you are only thinking of surviving. Only thinking of keeping yourself alive, that’s the most paramount feeling of all. There is great


fear sometimes, but in action you don’t have as much fear as a great basic biological urge to live, so you don’t fear. Later on I got a few Japanese, a few Germans. Except for one occasion I felt intensely proud because a German machine gunner was trying to


get me and he had sighted me, so I knew he after me. And I got him but what I thought was a trick, and I was rather proud of the fact that I suppose I felt like a duellist, someone in a duel. Somehow or other I had successfully completed a duel to


my benefit. But I had no real hatred for the Germans or the Italians you know. I loathe the Japanese, I despise them they were so cruel. I loathe the Japanese of my generation. I can never forget what they did to our nursing sisters. Bastards. Sorry. So Tobruk second day.


Well I am just wondering if you can explain to me what it is like to come under heavy fire, what the feeling is like?
Well there is different kinds of fire. What affected me the most was the mortar fire, the Germans had a very effective mortar with a massive detonation. They also had a bomb which exploded


on the surface and so it became what we called a daisy cutter. In the desert there was a considerable amount of shell, a lot of shale but a considerable amount of sand and the Italian artillery shell would bury itself in the ground, and then it would explode and the explosion would be like a plume. Now the mortar, the German mortar which was very effective and they were very good with


it. Because the ground was very rocky in Greece and in Crete. Once it hit there it would explode like that. You had a small angle of protection but very small. They were daisy cutters and they were frightening things. As I said, in the desert the effect of artillery and mortar


explosions was a lot less lethal than on hard ground. The question was, what do I feel under fire? So you have got mortar fire, artillery fire, you have got machine gun fire and rifle fire. Now rifle and machine gun fire is more lethal than a shell or mortar


because a shell or a mortar doesn’t pick out the individual, so you are just unlucky if you collect them. But the others are aiming at you, and you have got to be either lucky or quicker or more effective, because if you’re not well trained you start to panic a little bit. And we were taught the British system called the 'mad minute’, which meant you


had to fire and aim fifteen aimed rounds in a minute, and it takes a lot of training but we used to do that on the range and I used to use the' mad minute' quite a lot. It is very effective.
Well we were talking about the second day at Tobruk?
I must tell you about this


this it is fascinating, Ken was with me. Second day of Tobruk: we launched our attack first thing again in the morning, supported by the Australian twenty-five pounders [artillery], and the British Royal Horse Artillery, they had twenty-five pounders too. And they were magnificent men, highly trained regular soldiers, that’s the British Royal Horse Artillery. Anyway we launched the attack and we started to sweep the Italians before us and on this


occasion Ken and I captured or broke into a senior officers quarters. It was dug in, well concreted all around but the thing that fascinated us was, I digress again, on the dining table there was spaghetti and it was still hot, they had only left a short time before us. But


what intrigued us completely was where he slept. I call it a brothel madam's boudoir. He had a beautiful table with drawers and a big mirror in the centre with side mirrors and there was air pomade and all sort of scent and what have you for the senior officer and in the


wardrobe he had three or four capes. I call them, you wouldn’t know, Mandrake the Magician capes and they were lined in different coloured velvet. Uniforms with three or four different coloured ribbons. And in the adjoining dining area


was this spaghetti with two square beautifully polished carry alls I suppose and each one had four square wine carafes. And the larder was chock a block with lambs tongue and tinned duck and everything in the world. So Ken and I promptly threw all of our rubbish out of our battle packs, our bully beef and biscuits and we


filled up with this beautiful food. It was absolutely fabulous, tinned cherries, tinned prunes, they lived really like lords you know. I forget who his name was. Later on some of the other boys in the battalion captured General Dalamura, one of the Italian generals there.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 05


Tobruk, and moving on to Benghazi?
Okay second day of Tobruk was really a mopping up process. There were a few fire fights and on one occasion I think we had to call in the artillery.


That evening a lot of dumps of enemy stores and ammunition and whatever were set alight. And there was explosions all night long. Then we got into trucks. By this time we had captured so much Italian equipment that we were


a lot more comfortable. In other words the normal operation in an infantry division is that you have the service corps, the army service corps and they are the people that transport this around normally. But normally the Australian division only had enough transport to transport one third at a time.


Having captured a lot of diesel equipment from the Italians we were much more comfortable and we were packed into the trucks like sardines as per usual. And we took off for Benghazi. The Benghazi operation was a much looser operation in the sense that there was a lot more small fire fights, but not one huge major battle.


We captured Benghazi and the mayor of Benghazi declared it an open city and we marched in very formally and took over the city. What was interesting now was that the Italian people in Libya, in the Benghazi area from the Tobruk area on in Libya they


were becoming frightened that the Arabs in that particular area would get their revenge on them. And in some outlying districts in actual fact the Arab people and the nomads particularly began to kill and interfere with the Italian settlers. An interesting


comment here on the side is that we had intelligence information that the Italians had stored a lot of phosgene and mustard gas. And we received this intelligence information from divisional headquarters, warning us not to inadvertently open any forty-four


gallon drums in any dump that we came across. And they could be identified by various colours. I have a copy of that divisional intelligence information somewhere or other in my files and it is available whenever I find it. After Benghazi I ended up at a place called El Agheila


that was the end of the campaign as far as we were concerned. In El Agheila this is right now not very far from Tripoli, in North Africa. And in El Agheila we were billeted for a week or two amongst the Italian settlers. What is interesting is that in the


battle of Bardia the Italian propaganda people explained the downfall of Bardia by explaining that Bardia had been captured by hordes of savage Australians who were wearing armour. What we actually did have was sleeveless jerkins made from leather to keep us warm.


The propaganda was turned against them in effect because it frightened the hell out of them and they thought that we were protected by armour vests which would be much more difficult to counteract. So when we settled in amongst the population to recuperate and were billeted on the farms of the Italians they all thought


we were all savage Australians and were going to kill and rape them or whatever. Which was absolutely contrary because the average digger really in my time was just a normal fellow quick to make friends. In my case, where I was billeted with several others, it took about a week or two before the Italian parents there brought out their children. Particularly their young girls which they had


been hiding in case we were going to rape or murder them. We soon made friends. But when we left there to go to Mersa Matruh in Egypt they were actually crying, we had become such close friends with the Italian peasants. They were nice people, very gentle people too. Anyway we all left and went to Mersa Matruh.


By this time the Australian 9th Division and some of the 7th Division was also arriving in the desert. At that particular time the Germans had already gone into Yugoslavia and the Greeks were becoming concerned. And [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill, brilliant man in many ways,


and[Anthony] Eden [British Foreign Secretary], had I think really lent on the Greek government and promised them assistance, promised them two or three divisions of troops and quite a lot of planes and as this was taking place the Germans declared war on the Greeks and started to come down to attack the Greeks.


So to get these extra men to Greece the British government milked a lot of Australians and sent them over to Greece and that included my division the 6th Infantry Division. It was pretty obvious to anybody, even a simple solider like me and my mates, that this was a dreadful mistake.


Brought about by the simple fact that at the same time when these untried unblooded divisions, the 9th Division and most of the 7th Division landed in the desert, Rommel landed with his Afrika Korps to give aid to the Italians. So what virtually occurred was this; the British forces in the desert were split, half to go to Greece


and half that was left there consisted of the inexperienced 9th Div and a few British and some of the 7th Division. In other words the British forces were cut in half and it served no purpose at all, with the net result that they were run over by Rommel in the desert and also we were run over by the Germans in Greece.


When we landed in Greece, lovely people and I was fascinated by Greece of course. As I said, my father was a historian and as a young boy I had been filled with all of the historical events of early Greek civilisation. A mate of mine went up to the Parthenon, fascinating building, all pock marked with


bullets because at one stage Greece was under the control of the Turks. And there had been massive battles there between the Turks and the Greeks. To cut a long story short Athens was a unique and historical city, I was absolutely enchanted with it. Once


again I did go with a mate of mine to give him support to one of the Greek brothels which was housed in a very ancient old building, beautiful furniture and lovely women. And at that stage I was still very naïve in many ways and I will never forget the Madame of the house offered me a lovely young lady


on the house so to speak. But digressing for a moment anyway, my mother had warned me about the so-called inverted commas "dangerous women" and the sickness one could have from associating with them. But going over on the troop ship we had been


lectured by our doctor on the various forms of sexually transmitted diseases one could pick up from these so called bad women. And so I had the hell frightened out of me and all I could do was look at them, so to speak and I couldn’t enjoy their charms. But lots of diggers didn’t worry about that and so once again


I would accompany a mate and sit talking to the Madame or whatever it was while my friend made use of these ladies.
How did he go? What did he tell you?
Well this man was a bit more experienced I think and no they are very nice people the Greeks. I was impressed with them. I was impressed with them because they were absolutely dedicated. At that stage the Greeks


had been fighting the Italians and all of their men folk were away. So there was very few Greek soldiers. They were very poorly equipped. They pushed the Italians out of where they were attacked but when the Germans came in they had no hope, well neither did we, for that matter.
What was your role to be in particular in Greece?


I was still with the battalion, “I" section [Intelligence]. Perhaps I should explain, members in the "I" section were generally chosen because they could speak one of the languages or they were expert in something or other, it is called the "Intelligence Section", it is really field intelligence, a lot of the stuff is pushed together information that is coming all of the time. The strength of your enemy,


who was there? Were they specialised troops? All of this has got to be collated into some sort of sensible form and made available to the commanding officer of the battalion. So they greeted us with open arms, now the fascinating thing at this stage was that the Germans had not yet declared war and when we came off the troop ship we actually saw the German


consul with some of his staff complete with the swastika swatch on his arm making notes of our colour patches and other things as we came down the gangway. The Greek population themselves were absolutely glorious. They grabbed a hold of us, they carried us shoulder high and made a great fuss of us. Gave us kratsi, Greek wine. And a sort of a drink


that’s very similar to the French drink, that aniseed drink that the French drink? Piamou yes. Then they hustled the Germans then declared war, and on the front where the battalion was sent which was at Vevi Pass Monastir Gap, there is a huge mountain range and we were sent up there, but first we had to get there


We got there by train and also by marching and in our own trucks where possible, and it was areal disaster. It was just the end of winter there and there was snow and slush and mud everywhere and


trucks were getting bogged all of the time and the Greek villagers, refugees, were rushing out and interfering with our traffic, we could barely move. Eventually we got to a place called Saltier just south of Monastir Gap or Veria Pass. And there we had to lug, on our back, all of our


equipment and what have you up into the pass at Veria And we tried to dig in. The ground was frozen, you couldn’t dig in so we gathered stones and made what you call sangers, sangers are really big heavy stones organised so that you have some sort of protection. Now approaching us and barrelling down towards us was the


Adolf Hitler Leibstandarte, that’s Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard, all big men, magnificent men. Cockahoop they were, they had just gone through France, did very well both in France and in Poland, very well equipped and also one Panzer Division. We were three battalions, the


2 /4th on the left flank, the 2/8th on the right flank, and in between us was the King's Royal Rangers KORs and they were settling, their defensive position was between us, the two Australian divisions, further down the hill so to speak. And down that pass was a railway line. The KRRs had never seen action before,


the only people there that had seen action was the 2 /5th and ourselves the 2 /8th . There was three or four incidents there before we really got used to the Germans. Our fellows were just digging in and the 2 /8th were digging in as best as we could. We didn’t have enough spades or picks and were trying to dig ourselves in with our bayonets.


And could only get about four or five inches through the frozen surface and then rushed around gathering stones and then they hit us with patrols. Very shrewd move. A patrol of the enemy, but dressed in British battle dress came up to one of our sections and had a chat with us for a while,


and then suddenly said in a lower voice, “All right fellows don’t move you’re captured, we’re Germans.” And then we suddenly realised we were really up against a different and much more experienced professional army than the Italian Army .So all of that night in a flurry of snow and what have you, we stayed awake of


course, it reached the stage where some of us almost froze. The Bren gunner could only keep his hand from freezing by unbuttoning his fly and putting his hand in his crotch to keep his hand flexible. That’s the condition we were in. We had only our greatcoats, no protection from the snow at all except our


greatcoats. And then the next day the Germans were probing, sending out patrols and the fire fight continued and then we started to run low on ammunition and they grabbed hold of all of the odds and sods including myself and we started to lug ammunition up from the village where all of the ammunition had been brought to this village


but they couldn’t get it up the hill any further with mechanical means and so we had to lug the ammunition on our backs while the battalion was still under fire. Now the ammunition is boxed in a box that has a sealed tin contained inside, all sealed to keep the moisture away. You rip that open and inside is what they call bandoliers, cloth bandoliers with about


I forget now, a hundred rounds in each bandolier and so we would have to lug it up to the top of the pass rip open the ammunition boxes, throw bandoliers all over your shoulder and then try and get through to the sections.


This is where you were under fire all of the time. Anyway to cut a long story short we were supposed to hold the Germans back for three days, what I must explain, we were three battalions, try and remember this if possible, three battalions make a brigade, three brigades make a division.


The Germans had two divisions, one armoured and one Panzer Division against three battalions, so the odds were roughly four to one in favour of the Germans. In addition a normal battalion front is about a thousand yards, because we were trying to cover too big of an area the battalion was actually covering about two and a half thousand yards which meant that the


sections and companies were so sparse the German patrols could walk through at night time in the flurry of snow you wouldn’t see them. So we were at a great disadvantage. Anyway at half past three, the


KORs started to retreat, they were pushed back about a kilometre and then a kilometres and a half, and then at half past three the Panzers [tanks] broke through and it is just like an immoveable object being hit by a massive mobile object and we were just completely splintered. And we lost a lot of men there.


I got away with a fellow, George Simkins good mate of mine in the I Section came rushing up on his horse and he said, “Right piss off you silly bastards!”


and we said, “Where to?” And he said, “We are collecting at Saltier.” I think it is. “We are collecting there and will be picked up and taken back to a defensive position.” That was being organised. And then the tanks broke through.


Alan Fleming the IO [intelligence officer] was close to me, we were scattered all over the place. The Germans were streaming in between the 2 /5th and us because the KRRs had retreated. So our left flank had collapsed completely and they were around us and shooting up our behind, so to speak. Shooting from behind us towards us and we broke and the tanks came through.


Fleming was with me. I got a German machine gunner there and I have a witness to that. My mate Alan Fleming saw that. But in the flurry of snow you would see the enemy and then suddenly there would be a flurry of snow and then you would be like a white out, you couldn’t see anything at all.


We had to cross a stream which was flooded with the melting snow because it was the end of winter and I thought I could swim across with my gear on. I had a blanket and my battle pack and my rifle. Normally I could have done it easily


but I got swept away. I threw off my harness and rifle and tin hat and I thought I was drowning because I started to think of my Mum and my sister. And suddenly I felt the bulrushes under my feet and next minute I surfaced. And George Simmo, George Simpkins grabbed hold of me.


He was calling out, “George, George, George” Because you know I had a bodgey name. And he grabbed me and pulled me out. And we had a Greek soldier with us at that stage and he disappeared in the water anyway when we got to the village it was too late, the trucks had already left.


Something occurred here, which I can give no explanation for whatsoever. There was an old Greek Church. And I remember thinking,"Crikey! I am going to seek sanctuary in the church" and the church had two big old wooden doors with steel knobs all over it. I remember going to knock on the door to seek sanctuary, to get in there


and then suddenly I didn’t, I continued on my way. And here I must say something which comes later really, two years later when I come home on leave to Australia, my sister and brother and mother and I were gabbling away talking about everything under the sun and then suddenly my brother said, “What happened on such and such a date?”


and I said, “I wouldn’t know.” and he said, “Well it was about four days before your birthday.” And suddenly it dawned on me and he said, “I will explain what I experienced.” And he explained this as what we now see as a TV screen. He said, “Look I saw you there in the snow, there was white coming down which I take it was snow and you had a tin hat on,” which I didn’t have on “you had a tin hat on and you had your


hand out and you were knocking at the door of the monastery.” And to this day there is no explanation unless there is such a thing as thought transmission. Anyway that occurred. Whether anyone believes it or not, it really occurred. We got away George and I, and then that night we managed to find battalion.


By that stage there was only about four hundred of us left, the battalion is about eight hundred. And then we retreated down from northern Greece right down, every day being strafed and machine-gunned and bombs from the air. At the Domokos, at the place called the Domokos I was blown up by an aerial bomb.


And I suffered bruises and damages and loss of hearing in the right ear. And strangely enough I was half buried and became unconscious and when I came to I was on the road way and my mates that were looking after me washing my eyes out with their water bottles and so on, and then they threw me on the back of the truck.


And as it turns out, one fellow who threw me on the back of the truck now lives only a few miles away from me. He survived the war and he remembers it very clearly. Anyway we got away to Greece. I told you the Greeks were magnificent people. Eventually we got to Kalamata. Every time you go shopping and get Greek olives look for Kalamata olives, beautiful olives. And there we destroyed our trucks and


the British navy was waiting for us. But before then the Greek people fed us and so on. An incident occurred there too that I should always remember with great affection. A young Greek lady, well a middle aged Greek lady, as I was walking through the village she grabbed a hold of me by the arm and pulled me aside and took me to a Greek house and there they


had a couple of storeys or whatever it was and the steps were very steep. And this young lad and she, I didn’t know what was happening to me, I thought they might have been trying to kidnap me I don’t know why. They pushed me up the stairs and there was a beautiful repast all laid out, roast chicken, olives and Greek bread and so on all laid out. And I apologised to them for


my mates and I not being able to hold back the Germans. And she said, “Never mind you’ll be back.” They were lovely people. What happened was some of the remaining people of the battalions came along, I think we lost a hundred and sixty men there killed, wounded and missing. And what was left of the battalion there was split in two. That


half went on one troop ship which went straight o Alexandria. The other half went on the troop ship called the Costa Rica, that was the half I was in and so the battalion commander Colonel Mitchell and that half went to Alexandria and the 2IC [second in command] Major Keyes and the group I was in went on the Costa Rica and away we went.


Just before that when we were half way down Greece a Stuka [German dive-bomber] was shot down. Now in a Stuka there is two in a crew, a pilot and a gunner navigator in the back. Now the gunner navigator was badly wounded but the pilot was a young blonde haired fellow. Very arrogant but quite a nice fellow, but he could speak French


and I got talking with him and then my commanding officer told me to escort him to Divisional Headquarters for questioning by the Divisional Intelligence people. So I and another mate, Tom, he is in Melbourne escorted him. Out on the road, thumbed a ride until we found a


British organization, English. It was an English brigade, not a division. When we arrived the brigade was all in sixes and sevens, they were packing up to retreat further down the road you see? And they were definitely in a bit of a panic to get away in a hurry and I went up to this officer and said, “Sir, I can't find Divisional Headquarters, can I hand over this prisoner to you?” And he said, “Is that the fellow?” And he pointed to the Stuka pilot and I said, “Yes Sir!” Then


the Stuka pilot stupidly put his hand out, clicked his heels and said, “Heil Hitler!.” And now Stuka pilots were particularly hated because they used to strafe and bomb the villages and so on and cause a lot of confusion among refugees, which used to impede our progress. We couldn’t advance through to attack and that would interfere with our capacity to fight them.


They used to shepherd the refugees like sheep, they would bomb or strafe certain roads until they got the refugees to go down the road they wanted. They all hated them. If a Greek civilian ever caught a Stuka pilot on his own they would kill him. Anyway the officer looked at me and said, “Take him away and shoot him!” And that left me in a quandary.


So I took him away with my mate, he is still down in Melbourne, Bluey Evans. And I sat him down cross legged on the ground because it is very hard for a person to jump up and attack you if he is sitting cross legged on the ground. And I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t shoot an unarmed man. So I rolled a cigarette and I gave him a cigarette and I had one myself


and Bluey Evans, and then I said, “Right piss off” in French, and we left him there. So to this day I don’t know whether he is alive or not. The reason I mention this is because when we got off Greece and were on the Costa Rica, my half of what was left of the battalion and Major Keyes, we were dived bombed from morning until roughly about midday. A Stuka came out of


the sun and blew in the plates on the starboard side and the Costa Rica the troop ship started to sink. All of the time they were strafing us I was wondering if he had got back to his mates and he was now dive bombing and machine-gunning us. I thought, perhaps I have done the wrong thing to let him live, I don’t know. I could never shoot an unarmed man. Later on


when I captured a Jap and I didn’t shoot him, I sent him to hospital.
Well tell us where exactly had you captured this pilot?
Argos I am sure somewhere in Argos. Just south of Argos.
And did you have a chance to converse with him?
Yes I had quite a few talks with him.


It was quite fascinating in a way. As I said he was a very arrogant young man and he was cursing his luck because on Hitler’s birthday everyone was promoted. He was told that he would be promoted one rank on Hitler’s birthday and he was captured. Hitler’s birthday I think it was the 22nd of April or something and I was born on the 23rd, so he was


most indignant. But the other thing was it took me about two days and a night to find a place where I could hand him over. So at night time I called in at a Greek villager's place and we locked him up in a pig sty and he was absolutely indignant, a German officer put in a pig sty, and he was hammering away at the door. But we were so exhausted ourselves and we had to have sleep, and that’s the only way we could lock him up. In Greece they have pigstyes that you can lock up,


close the door and you put a hass through it. But he was a nice fellow. I liked him in spite of the fact he was arrogant. He said, and this was fascinating, he said they were not savage people who killed refugees needlessly and caused the civilians to become refugees. He said in fact it shortened the war and therefore it was more humane. And that’s how they operated in


in Poland and in France, they clogged up the roads everywhere so the Allies couldn’t move. And in a way tactically it makes sense. In other ways of course it is cruel. Well so is war for that matter.
What is it like to talk to the enemy and see the enemy up close in a war?


Well he was suspicious of me he thought I was pumping him, one way to pump is to get friendly and get information from him but he didn’t have much he could tell us because we knew he was a Stuka pilot and everything was so mobile. Even if we knew where the aerodrome was it wouldn’t help at all because by the time we got the information to anyone, everything was so mobile. But initially he was very suspicious. I liked him .He,


might have been Viennese for all I know. He had a good education, he spoke French. We spoke a bit about a variety of things, a bit about French literature, a lot about the war because I was curious. And he was curious too by the way. He would say, “Et vu resetos volaire” the equivalent, “You’re Australian, what the hell are you doing in this neck of the woods?” Sort of thing. They couldn’t understand and Australia being such a small place they had barely heard of us.


And what they had heard, Australia had kangaroos down the middle of Bourke Street. So they had no idea who Australians were really, they thought we were all English. And he used to say, “You English (UNCLEAR).” And I used to say, “I’m Australian.” “Oh yes, but you’re still English aren’t you?” And then of course you had to say you weren’t. It was as confusing for them as it was for us.


But I liked him I kept his address for a long time. I lost it, I don’t know what happened.
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 06


The first destroyer came alongside and we were all lined up all up on deck, hordes of us and the first destroyer came along side. Now the


Mediterranean was relatively calm but since the troop ship was a bigger ship and also starting to sink, the destroyer being a might lighter vessel was bouncing up and down scraping the hull, sparks everywhere. And the Dutch crew had run around and said, "Everybody for himself."


and a couple of diggers had already dived overboard and started to swim around. And I have to chuckle about this, you’re not going to believe it. Here we are sinking, there is still the possibility of being dive bombed by the Stuka and one bright spark, I will never forget him, he had glasses and bright red hair, he is swimming around and he said, “Come on fellows it is lovely and warm.” I thought you clod


we’re in this situation and you’re making a joke out of it. Anyway the first destroyer came alongside and we threw his a rope and he came clambering back up. And the first destroyer filled with troops and a destroyer is only a small vessel and was practically sinking with all of the troops on board. Then they got away and all of the time the men were throwing their rifles before jumping onto the


destroyer and they would hit the deck and go bouncing in all directions. It became very dangerous. I am telling you this for a specific reason the commander of the destroyer with his bull horn, loud speaker yelled, “Chuck them overboard you bloody fools don’t throw them on the destroyer!” because his men were getting injured, you could throw something it could be twelve fifteen feet to this steel deck and they bounced everywhere. They become a missile.


So we threw our rifles into the water. Then a second destroyer came in and filled up and away it went and then a third came along. And before the third came along I thought God this is it, so I took my shoes off and this is interesting, I took my socks off threw off my


equipment and I had a little book that belonged to my father "Elmark I am", a little book with a leather cover and I always carried it with me whenever I was in action, it was my lucky charm and I put that in my pocket and so on. And when the second destroyer went away I thought this is it I have got to swim. And then someone pointed out, “There is another destroyer coming alongside.” So we looked around and could see it coming and by this time we were very badly keeling


over and I got off with the last destroyer. Anyway we went. When we got to Crete we went ashore at Crete and I found out that I had only taken one sock off instead of two. Now that shows you, I remember stripping off and thinking, “Now keep calm, keep calm", I had thought I had taken off the two socks but I finished up with one sock which shows I wasn’t


as calm and collected as I thought I was. Anyway then we had to march eight miles bare footed, a lot of us were barefooted because we thought we would be in the water. We got re-equipped and what have you in Crete. The reason why I said about throwing the rifles over and


mentioned it in detail was because when we landed, and soldiers never lose their arms, they are not supposed to throw their arms away, some idiot English general was going to court martial us for not arriving with our rifles. Well number one it would have been idiotic to try and jump overboard with a rifle onto a deck that is


going up and down, you would throttle yourself and anyway we had been ordered to. We didn’t hear any more about that, but some English generals are incredibly naïve. They outfitted us and then there was a lot of people that had been dumped there, about ten thousand odd non-combatant soldiers. And they proved a disaster in the


end; but then we got information that they [Germans] were going to drop paratroopers on Crete so Ken Grosvenor and I we were Ops[ observation posts] day and night, really trying to find out what was going to happen. The Germans were probing with aircraft what they would do, come over and just aim


without any intention, strafe random areas hoping that if they could see troops running out they would know there would be some troops waiting for them. Paratroopers are very vulnerable and if they had dropped into a military encampment it is disastrous for a paratrooper because he is lightly armed and it takes a while when he hits the ground for him to reorganise himself and get a weapon.


Okay to cut a long story short, I must say one or two things. Once again the Cretans are not Greeks, in fact the Cretans and the Greeks don’t get on well together. Crete again interested me because of my historically inclined father because Crete was the home of the Minotaur. The Minotaur if you recall was a half man half bull monster


and they had to sacrifice a man or a maiden or whatever, a youth, to it every year. And on one occasion, I can't remember the Greek's name, this young man, the son of a chieftain, went there, the Minotaur and the victim or the sacrificial individual had to go through this maze. This young Greek male, like


all young Greeks, seduced or fell in love with the daughter of the Minotaur and she gave him a ball of wool and he went through the maze with this ball of wool, killed the Minotaur and got out of the maze. That’s mythology and I was fascinated and every opportunity I had I tried to talk to the people. They were very


suspicious of strangers, or were. And the men are very protective of their females. You look sideways at one of them, all of the men had little knives in their trousers, stuck in the waistband, and if you showed an interest in one of their ladies they were just as likely to disembowel you. Very, what's the word I am looking for,


some Italians are like that and some Greeks too.
Aggressive if you look at their females with any interest. Very macho is the word I suppose. Anyway they were lovely .We dug defensive


positions and what have you and they would come up and get our clothes and wash and iron them and give them back with little yellow flowers in the clothes, lovely people. Anyway then the Germans started to strafe and bomb and strafe and bomb and then this particular day I heard this, it sounded like thousands of bees all buzzing


and then the paratroopers arrived, no more than about four hundred feet above. You could see the paratroopers' heads. The paratrooping plane is the Fokker tri-motor, which used to be used in the [Australian] bush. Very big plane [The planes the Germans used were in fact Junkers Ju-52s]. We had orders not to fire at them and so we didn’t fire but we could see them going past and then they


started coming down and we were allowed to fire. Those young lads were slaughtered. They dropped twenty thousand I think paratroopers and one in four was shot and killed. And they landed right in amongst us, most of them. They landed in a place in the east called


Georgioupolis, and a few other places, and to this very day I say we should never have given up Crete. They were practically wiped out and then they brought in mountain troops. So we saw action, at least my battalion saw action. Georgioupolis, another place, and then we did the rear guard with the


British marines from the north part of Crete, to Sfakia which is on the south part of Crete. But I want to say that we were so short of equipment that at one stage we were opposite a feature, which we called Castle Hill, the Germans were


occupying it and they were calling it Monastery Hill, and they would sunbake themselves in the sun and I could see them with my binoculars and even with my bare eyes, they would sunbake and what have you in broad daylight and there was nothing we could do, we didn’t have mortars, artillery or planes.


We did the rear guard, oh I was wounded when I was dived bombed in Greece and I was wounded again in Crete. A nine millimetre parabellum round, that’s the type of ammunition used by the German's Schmeisser machine pistol, which has a long range but is


used as a submachine gun. I got a leg wound from someone firing a Schmeisser, it was out of range but I didn’t realise I was wounded. This is quite normal because when you’re in action you don’t feel pain. You’re so full of adrenalin you don’t even know what you’re doing. I have a friend who had his hand blown off


and I offered him a cigarette and he said, “No I have got my own.” And he put the butt of his hand in his pocket. That’s how shocked you are, you were full of adrenalin. So on this occasion we came under fire and we would hold up the Germans during the day and at night time we would march eight or ten miles and start digging in for the attack in the morning. And


this went on for about eight days I think until we got to Sfakia. There is one particular incident I must explain. One area where we were dug in, it was just on dusk. I grabbed a hold of my mate's water bottle and my own and went looking for water, water was at a premium you couldn’t get it. And on my left flank there was a very poor


Cretan hovel I guess, little farm. And I went there and it had this well and this windless and I am fiddling around with this ancient windless when this young lady, young girl came out. She was a Cretan girl possibly just married. She was very pretty, dark raven hair and she had a black frock on and


through signs and a bit of Latin and what have you I said I wanted water or something to that effect. And she knew how to operate the windless and she dropped the bucket down the well and got the water. And I said to her that next morning I would be coming around again because I wanted to see her, she was a pretty girl.


And next morning when I went to fill the water bottles, she was dead. During the night she must have come out and in the cross fire she was killed. So we did the rear guard across Crete and got onto the beaches


there and we held up the Germans there for two days. The last major battle there, we were in a ravine one platoon and myself, right up on the side of the ravine, there was a platoon down the bottom of the ravine and another platoon down the other side. And by this time we were all exhausted. We hadn’t eaten very much.


I think on the last three days we had a small tin of bully beef and a hard biscuit. Our clothes were battered and in very rocky mountainous country our shoes were falling to bits. Anyway we were falling asleep absolutely exhausted and I saw these, I didn’t know they were Germans in the beginning.


The Germans had the mountain troops and what was left of the paratroopers had broached one of our stores that we had left behind, and because it was hot, had put on these British khaki shorts. And their normal uniform is bluish in colour and so I saw these fellows coming down the ravine and suddenly it occurred to me


who they were, and so I gave the signal all around and we started firing. It would have been about forty-five degrees down from the horizontal. We had a mixed bag of ammunition, that is to say different kinds of .303, I had some tracers in mine and I got one German, I could see the tracer go through his pack into his body and then I couldn’t tell any more. We were just firing like mad. We were doing searching,


that is to say any thick shrub or anything like that, you always fired a few rounds into it. Anyone hiding there would collect it. Next morning we found that about eighty-two Germans had been killed, all young men. Oh the waste. Anyway by that time,


I didn’t mention previous to that I got another German, ratted his body and, went through his pockets and what have you to get information intelligence. And I got his pay book and his name was Shugg S H U G G. And he had a photograph of his


I assume it was his wife and two young kiddies. Waste. And now when we got down to the coast we couldn’t go off because there was roughly about ten thousand of these non combatants and we had Maoris with us. I must tell you this one.


Dickie Cardiou was the "I" sergeant. Half way through the battle for Crete we were dug in at a place called 42nd Street and Dickie Cardiou had some papers to be taken to our Brigade Headquarters. So he gave me, we didn’t even have a dispatch satchel in which


dispatches are sent. And somehow in one of the houses he found a small pressed cardboard suitcase. You carry it by hand. So he put the papers in there and said, “Right get that back to headquarters straight away.” So I grab my rifle in my right hand and this stupid school case in my other.


Being young and what is the term I am looking for? I thought it was a bit sissy carrying the school case around in the middle of battle and so I started to go back to Brigade Headquarters. There was so many German planes moving and strafing all of the time that I was literally moving from tree to tree. I would wait until the observation plane had turned away and hop in behind another tree and so on. And


so I wasn’t looking very carefully where I was going and suddenly I hear this very strong English voice saying something like this. “I say, I say there, soldier you can't do that.” And I thought Jesus Christ and I looked around and here was a young subaltern in the British Marines with his body half out of a slit trench. He had his overcoat on, his gold buttons and his hard hat


which has just been painted or something, it was glistening in the sun, and I thought, “What is this bloody apparition?" You are supposed to be camouflaged you see. And he said, “You can't do that, go back where you came from.” And then it dawned on me that this fellow thought I was running away. He would have to be pretty dense because you don’t run away with a rifle in one hand and a suitcase in the other, well not in my book anyway so I didn’t know what to do. And the other Tommies were standing up and having a look and a bit of a laugh and a grin.


And I didn’t know what to do so I told him to get conventional word. And away I went you see. And I mentioned this in my book, it had such an impact on me. And years later when I was in Tel Aviv I got speaking to a young English subaltern and I told him the incident and he said, “Well you know, we have to set an example to the troops.”


And I thought you bloody idiot, you don’t have to know that if you go around with bright clothes in the middle of a battle, you attract attention. They were courageous the young English officers but they were pretty dumb in my humble opinion, even though I have English heritage. Anyway we had to try and get rid of these ten thousand odd non-combatants.


The disembarkation officer had got some Maori troops, by the way the Maori troops are magnificent. If anyone asks who was the best soldier I would say the Maori was, the real fighting men .A lot of people yes?
Do you have an examples in ways in which they excelled?
Absolutely ferocious. They use a haka [war chant] it frightened the hell out of me, must have frightened the hell out of the Germans. And they put in a bayonet charge.


While I was away at Brigade Headquarters, quite close to the incident with the suitcase and this young British officer, while I was away delivering this to the Brigade Headquarters the Germans had attacked. The Maoris were on our right flank I think, they had


attacked and the Maoris had counter attacked with a bayonet, and they had Germans running in all direction .they lost a lot of men the Maoris but, boy, did they have Germans running everywhere. They did the Haka before they attacked and then they just go berserk and they swarm in. Maoris are smaller but stockier built. And a good sense of humour, always


laughing, always laughing because when I came back I made sure I didn’t come back through the English lines, but came back through the New Zealand lines. And there were the Maoris troops using their own officers, but white officers and Maori troops. And they were drinking wine and eating the chicken from the village and they offered me some and I stayed and had a few wines. They are lovely people Maoris, I have got a lot of time for them, I have got a lot of time for New Zealanders too.


Anyway we got on the shore and I had this Shugg was a sniper and I later got his Mauser [German rifle], beautiful weapon and I later swapped that for a Mauser pistol. I gave a fellow who wanted the sniper's rifle I gave that to him and I took the Mauser which had "Gott mit uns"


''God with us' on the belt. Poor old German, I don’t think God was with them in the long run. Anyway we got onto the beaches there, these unarmed people who started to panic when they saw that the rear guard was there and they would soon be getting off, they rushed the ships, but they had Maori guards


and the Maoris had to shoot a few to stop them rushing the boats. And then we disembarked. I think we lost -out of three hundred we lost one in three. Every third man was killed, wounded, captured by the Germans or missing.
And what's your opinion of the way the campaign on Crete was managed?


Remember this, I am just a buck private or a small time corporal, but we were all volunteers and we were not recruited from any class. And there was some brainy people. I was recommended for a commission twice and lots of people, there was a university lecturer as a buck private because


once you got in there amongst your mates and all that, you were given the opportunity if you want to get get promotion but a lot of them didn’t, they stayed with their mates. I will tell you later about big Bill Dickson. So what's my opinion? We should never have lost Crete because after the first day they landed the young Germans were slaughtered. And


where ever they had landed we wiped them out except for one place, Maleme, which had an aerodrome. That night we were going to launch a night attack, we had sharpened our bayonets., we were fully equipped and what have you and we were cockahoop, we thought this is it. And then for some reason I will never know they cancelled the attack. Next day the Germans started to crash-land their planes and gliders.


You could see them crash landing and they kept on re-enforcing and kept on re-enforcing and it was too late. Now the overall general was a fellow called Maitland Wilson. And again in my humble opinion he would be the most incompetent general I think that was produced in the last war. I know I can be torn to shreds over this. But, he issued his command


that he was not to be disturbed after seven o’clock at night so that he could have his rest, which to me was corny. You don’t do that in the middle of a campaign. We had very little equipment apart from our rifles. But the Germans, initially the paratroopers were very lightly equipped and the only thing the Germans had that we didn’t have was oodles of planes and the Germans could strafe from morning to night.


They could fly over from Greece where they had the aerodromes and bomb and strafe us and go back and be back in half an hour again. And they should never, we should have gone in and finished them. But I think the generalmanship on that occasion was really lacking where the English are concerned.


If you can take me to the point where you headed back to Australia now to make sure that we cover the time in New Guinea, and then we might come back to cover the time in the Middle East after that.
On the very last ship, I was evacuated on one of the very last ships, that was the anti-aircraft cruiser called the Phoebes.


And at that stage I didn’t know anything about radar and we arrived at the cruiser Phoebes we were absolutely exhausted and they took us down below and we just collapsed asleep. But just before then an English cook came around with some hot cocoa and buns and he said, “Get that into you.” And so


with the hot cocoa and the bun and so on we just fell asleep. And then we heard the klaxons [alarms], what woke me up was the klaxons, action station and then the voice of the commander, the commander had speakers everywhere so that he could keep the ship posted and the voice came over, “Bandits coming over fifteen miles away.”


And one of the diggers said, “Jesus that bastard has got eyes in the back of his arse, how can he see fifteen miles?“ and it was the first time it came out that we had radar that could pick up planes. We couldn’t understand in the beginning how they could see fifteen miles. We landed at Alexandria and in Alexandria they took us into a rest camp and we slept and slept.


And ate and ate. Gradually recuperated and were gradually re-equipped and what have you. I was wounded in Crete. And then we went to El Arish, which is on the Egyptian border, which is where the half of the battalion had gone.


The first half of the battalion that had gone onto Alexandria was stationed waiting for us. We joined them. That was quite traumatic because there had been mates that had been separated by this action of halving the battalion and putting them on different ships and of course some of the mates had lost their mates that were with us in Crete. That was harrowing. But we were depleted and they brought us up to strength. I


remember the first day a hundred and seventy re-enforcements arrived, poor fellows they didn’t know anything at all, they were badly trained. And eventually we started to do manoeuvres and retrain for the benefit of the youngsters. Very briefly, El Arish was a place where Napoleon had staged when he wanted to capture Egypt. My friend at that time was a fellow called Ray Williams, Ray was a good swimmer and so was I and after manoeuvres we used to swim out


into the Mediterranean as mush as half a mile. The Mediterranean was a very mild sea, very salty and very buoyant. And this little episode I must explain .We saw a felucca, a small Arabic craft with a lateens sail and we are diving around and sporting ourselves in the water. It changed course towards us and we waved to it. It came up alongside and the Arab lent


forward to give me a hand onto his boat and I looked up and I was absolutely amazed. He had blue eyes and red hair. And I tried to find out what his background was, I couldn’t make sense of it. but for the sake of history in the 14-18 War the Light Horse was in Egypt. Now whether he was the progeny of an interlude of an Arab girl and one of the Australian Light Horse I don’t know, but he could even have been a


descendant of the French that was there during the Napoleonic Wars, or he could have even been a descendant of one of the crusaders. I have always been intrigued how this Arab could have blue eyes and red hair, he had a beard on him, reddish hair. Fascinating. Anyway we went to Syria and occupied Syria,


We occupied a place called Baalbek and in case you get the wrong impression, I am not a lecherous man. But again I went to a brothel with a mate of mine to keep an eye on him. And this is in Baalbek and once again in Syria I could speak French and I became battalion interpreter.


And on this occasion I went with a mate on leave, we were at Baalbek and we went to big town what is it called? To the brothel there and I am sitting there talking to the Madame and so on. There was a sort


of dais one end and when the girls had finished with a particular customer they would go and stand there and wait to be called or wander around. And there was a drunken digger there and there was a very nice little lass with a black shift., and he was a bit drunk and he said, “Hey, I will have you.” Sort of thing. And she said, “No. no.”


He said, “What's wrong with my money?” It is as good as anyone else's?” and then she placed her legs akimbo and then she pointed to her pubic area and said, “Cherry brandy.” And there was silence in the hall and suddenly it dawned that she was menstruating and this was her alibi not to have this drunken digger. Which madams didn’t like,


this sort of independence because it meant that some of the other girls had to put up with his loud mouth. Cherry brandy, we thought, the whole of us all burst out clapping our hands. We thought what a wonderful rejoinder, I have never forgotten that.
Did you meet any other interesting women or anything during your time?
Yes I fell in love.


We were building the defence lines and the authorities thought that the Germans would come down through Russia into Syria and once they got into Syria and Rommel at the other end we would be in between the pincers, pincer formation .So we started to build a defence line across the Beka’a Valley. That was done by,


one person would hold a big drill and the other person would hit it with a sledge hammer and you would keep twisting that until you made the bore hole for the gelignite. So on this occasion, the firer he would put the gelignite in, plug it and then there would be a small klaxon warning everybody that they were going to fire. Just as this occurred on one occasion


I saw this Syrian lass, might have been Lebanese, and I thought hell and she was right in the firing line so I charged out, no real danger, I charged out and pressed her against a tree and lent over her, Sir Galahad sort of thing. Anyway it all went up and there was clods of dirt everywhere, only a few clods on me but she made a big deal of it and invited me to


her father's house. I got to know the family very well. Now she had gone to what was known as the American University. They had an American University donated by and staffed by Americans. And when the war started, the Australians and the French were fighting in Syria. When the war started there she had come to her parents’ quarters.


He was the sergeant of police. And I got on very famously and I think I fell in love with this girl. But they were very, virginal and very suspicious of men and you had to be chaperoned the whole time. Which I put up with because I did like her. To cut a long story short we were given a moving order,


told that the Japanese had by this time threatened Malaysia and we started to pack up and we had to embark. We went to Palestine in a bus, got on trucks and embarked on a convoy to come back to Australia


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 07


What was happening in that relationship when you received the news to head back to Australia?
It was quite traumatic. Her father, the sergeant of police, suggested


that I marry her, that I desert. And he offered me as a dowry two thirds of his flock of sheep and olive trees and what have you. But, I was tempted but I thought no you can't do that, it is not done. So we departed, but before that he gave me a little very primitive flint lighter which had been used by the shepherds.


I think I still have it somewhere but I couldn’t find it, I had a look. She cried and I cried and it was very traumatic. I don’t know what happened to her. Anyway I think before we leave the Middle East I should tell you when I came back from Crete I had a lot of bad news from home,


so I went on leave in Tel Aviv. I was down in the dumps and didn’t have much money and I was in the middle of the street somewhere in Tel Aviv when this lady came along, an attractive young woman of about thirty with sandals. And she said something like, “I am Marie, you want me all night?” Something like that. And I was very


miserable with myself and I had been shaken up badly in Crete. And I told her to piss off and sell herself to some officer who had lots of money. There was a lot of base dwellers, non combatant people around there. She walked off and I walked off and then I heard footsteps and she was there again and she touched me on the arm and said, “Why so sad soldier?”


And then I was very miserable and I had bad news from home. Money was needed for my sister and my brother had had an accident because he was blind and chopping firewood or something. And she said, “You come with me.” And it turned out she was half Jewish half German.


I think, and she had been a refugee from Danzig somewhere or other. And the Jews didn’t get on with her, that was her story, because she wasn’t a pure Jew. The Germans had kicked her out but she said she listened and I weakened and I told her I didn’t want the war I was tired of the war, and I was frightened of


losing a limb or something or other. Really I had a bad attack of the juvenile reaction to war I suppose, I don’t know. Anyway as I described in my book, that night she restored my manhood for me. That’s the only way I will describe that. A lovely lady, and


from that day on I have had the greatest of respect for the ladies of the night. A lot of them, I don’t think they do this voluntarily. A lot of them do it for financial purposes to bring up a family or kids or something. But my view of a harlot isn’t the conventional view which exists everywhere. They are wonderful people in my opinion.


Anyway so we went on the troop ship, three days at sea when they called into Port Sudan. Yeah. And they pulled this ship out of the convoy and went to Port Sudan and then we received instructions and issued arms, we all


had our weapons but issued ammunition and at that stage it was thought that Rommel had broken though and got into Cairo. However a couple of days on, that was cancelled. While we were at Sudan as per usual being a curious fellow we had a good look around, and I saw


a large tower and all of the ground and timber work was covered with white excrement from birds. And I was trying to find out what this was about. And there was a Sudanese soldier there and he explained in broken English that it was the custom there to take the corpse lift it up to the platform and the


vultures would come down and consume the flesh and leave the bones and they would inter the bones. That was quite interesting. Anyway after three or four days the message


came through that we were no longer required and so we got back into our troop ship and came back to Australia. The news was very bad, around about the time when Singapore had fallen and there was a lot of fellows in my battalion who had relations in the Australian 8th Division, and of course were very concerned about what had happened to them.


We knew that the Japanese were quite barbaric from the information we had received, so we didn’t have much hope for those that were captured by the Japanese. From there we were stationed at Strathalbyn for a long time. The first time we landed in Australia it was absolutely glorious, you could smell the eucalyptus and we landed in WA, Fremantle,


I went ashore and a fellow there came up and shook my hand and said, “Welcome back now we feel a lot safer.” And so on, and he wanted to take me to the pub and I said, “No I am not drinking.“ and so he took me to a pie cart, bought two pies, real dinkie di [genuine] Australian pies and rammed into my hand, they were red hot, beautiful luscious. I hadn’t eaten an Australian pie for two years and this is a glorious sensation, he wouldn’t take any money.


And that was my introduction on return to Australia, anyway we finished up in Strathalbyn, South Australia, and once again I must quite an interlude there. The commanding officer, we had a new one by that time, the first one was Mitchell, I can't remember the second one. He said to us, “Look I'm going to billet you in the town. If you misbehave you will be under canvas. So behave yourself.” And so we did


generally behave ourselves. But on this occasion three louts got drunk, went into the hotel which was a double storey and got all of the flowerpots from the top and threw them over. So the local sergeant of police came along and grabbed all of them and put them in the clink [jail]. I happened to be on duty, picket duty, where as I said before the picket goes around


making sure there is not too many drunken diggers and keeping things quiet and so on. So I and the sergeant came along and plucked me and two other fellows, went down to the police sergeant and called out to the sergeant policeman and said he wanted those three drunks. And I knew what was going to happen. The policeman said, “No you can't have them, they have committed an offence and they will be charged.” Anyway they had a bit of a conference and the sergeant of police was a


wise old man said, “Okay you take them, better that I charge them because then they have got a criminal offence.” Record. So the sergeant was a big burly man, he got the three drunks, still a bit unsteady on their legs lined them up like that and then he called us and said, “Right each of you take one of those and bash him up.” And he was too big for me to argue with. So each of us


just walked up to the fellow and knocked him down you see. I didn’t like the idea of doing that and the sergeant looked at me and I thought it would be wiser to obey. So I just dropped the fellow, hit him one blow on the jaw and at the last minute I sort of pulled my punch. Anyway we


carted them off and brought them back to the unit and I went back to quarters and I was billeted with another fellow. And all night long I had this pain in the hand and in the morning my hand was right up like a balloon and this stupid friend of mine and stupid me said, “Look it is only a dislocation, I can fix that by just pulling on the finger.” So he is pulling on the finger like this and it is excruciating pain and I told him to stop and I went to the hospital and he said, “Oh you have got a broken bone in your hand.”


That happened on the 1st of April, April Fools Day. I have never forgotten that. It was stupid of me, I shouldn’t have pulled punches. From Strathalbyn we go to Darwin. All I can say about Darwin was that it was a revelation for me, Darwin had been bombed by the Japanese and many men had run away.


Some of the commanders had followed them. It was a nasty piece of work and to me it was a reflection on Australian soldiers the way they acted in Darwin. Some of them looted the place and caused a lot of trouble, I won't spend any more time on that. Except to say it is a very dark smudge


on the conduct of soldiers. These were mainly militia. And I have got nothing against militia because they did a wonderful job on the Kokoda Trail. From there we went to do jungle training. We were there for a year and we went to the Atherton Tablelands to do jungle training in preparation for going to New Guinea. It was at this stage that


my commanding officer received an instruction to send me down to an organization with its headquarters in Melbourne. He didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t know anything about it. He was very annoyed, not that I was important but I was an experienced soldier and always came in handy with new recruits. You tuck a new recruit under your control


and it is easier for the recruit to pick up and get mobile and so on. They flew me down and I went for an interview in this very handsome mansion in St Kilda Road, still I didn’t know what the score was and I was getting a bit irritated by this., I was taken upstairs to an upstairs room and interviewed by an English colonel. And he started off by questioning me and my background


and languages and so on. My experiences as an infantry soldier and weaponry, whether I was familiar with weapons and so on. And I got a bit irritated and said, “Tell me what is this all about?” and he said, “in a very dangerous situation would you be prepared to serve your country?” and I said, “No.” Because by this stage I had learnt you never volunteer for anything.


He said, “Well I repeat that we are interested in having you but it must be of your own volition and you must volunteer.” I said, “Well I don’t know what I am volunteering for, “and he said, “Well it will be for operations behind enemy lines.” And then I stupidly thought, I can get back to Indochina, because there are Japanese there. And I thought I would be working behind Japanese lines in


the Haiphong area, in what is now Vietnam. Those days French Indochina. He said, “Go away, here is a food chit [voucher], go to a restaurant, spend the night in this area, come back tomorrow morning.” That night I thought about it very severely. I knew that in conventional warfare there are so many high explosives and I knew that I had been badly affected in Crete.


The detonations and explosions in Crete had upset me. So when I came back the following morning I said, “Yes.” And that’s when I became an operative with Z Unit. Z unit, not Z Special. I already knew all of my weaponry of course, I was a marksman and knew all of my infantry weapons and then I learnt a lot more. How to garrotte a person, how to


break into a house, about setting booby traps, this that and the other .and we trained on kayaks and using underwater bombs against shipping. Then I qualified as a parachutist, I did two qualifications: as an ordinary


parachutist and then as a parachutist jumping out , it doesn’t matter, the conventional parachuting in those days used to exit out of the side door of a DC-2 or a DC-3 [transport plane].But because we were operatives


going into enemy country, the only way they could get the operatives into there was to go with a standard bomber group and one bomber would peel off, drop the agents, rejoin the bomber flight and do their bombing and come back and the enemy would assume that it was only a bomber group, not realising that they had dropped operatives in behind the lines.


I can't remember the name [of the aircraft] right now. The exit for this particular bomber is through its belly, you slide down a chute. So I did all of my training and unbeknownst to me I have got to explain this, when I did my training I did some of my training with an English captain at the time, he got his majority [promotion to major] later,


a fellow called Tom Harrison. A sick man I think mentally, and later on I think it was proved that he was mentally disturbed. But he was very erratic and so on. But in the beginning I didn’t know this and he and a sergeant and I did ninety-three mile route march in the Baw Baw Mountains in three days. We carried a sixty pound pack and I told him,


in those days he was quite rational, and I told him how the Italian Bersagliere Regiment used to jog a couple of hundred yards, walk a couple of hundred yards, march a couple of hundred yards. And they could cover enormous distances. So we tried it. the sergeant couldn’t keep up, he fell by the wayside, but Tom Harrison and I did three days through the Baw Baws.


We finished up at a place called Valhalla in the mountains. Holiday resort, it is now a holiday resort a couple of hundred miles from Melbourne. It has a large hotel there, it must be explained because of what came later. When we got to the large hotel at Valhalla there was a couple of civilians there including a couple of ladies and


and a male so called footballer. And they wined and dined us and what have you, and this footballer became interested in this lady and she came up to me and said, “This man is making a nuisance of himself can you help me?” and I said, “Yes okay.” And he was a bit drunk and so when


he went to the toilet I just followed him out and said, “Look mate just lay off the lady will you? She is not interested in you.” And he said, “I can do F… what I want”. And this that and the other. So I kneed him in the kidneys and dropped him and that was that as I thought. In the meantime Tom Harrison who was a bird expert, ornithologist


and so on and had written books, kept his audience spellbound with all of his adventures in various places and that night I finished up with this lady in her room. And suddenly we hear thumping on the door and I thought it was this drunk coming back. So I whipped


the door open and grabbed a hold of the shadowy figure by the shirt and pushed him against the wall the other side of the passageway. And I told him, “Piss off you silly bastard.” Or something like that. Turned out to be Harrison. I explain this for what I think is the reason for his antagonism.


Which occurs later on. Anyway next morning he couldn’t look me in the face and I couldn’t look at him. I thought I would be court martialled because he was a captain at that stage and you don’t strike an officer, not supposed to. So I finished all of my training. Interestingly we also had to do water jumps and night jumps. Jump at night time and jump in water.


It is a quite interesting thing, we did that in Darwin. They gave us a little container which had perforations and was filled with what they called a shark repellent. So we knew we had sharks in Darwin Harbour so when we jumped, you jumped with a small dinghy which is folded up. You jump, you get out of your harness you sit in your harness you drop your dinghy


it has a little CO2 bottle in it, and as soon as your feet hit the water you lean forward, your chute slides away and you swim around, turn on the CO2 bottle and the dinghy flaps open and you hop into it and start paddling away. So that night after the first water jump we were in the water and drinking and telling each other how fast we were and so on and one fellow said, “You know that shark repellent?” I said, “Yeah is pretty good, keeps the sharks away doesn’t it?”


He said, “Yes but it doesn’t keep the salt water crocs away.” And Darwin harbour was full of salt-water crocs. So next day when we jumped into the harbour you have never seen people move so fast in all of your life, we were practically walking on water getting these dinghies inflated. That’s an interesting thing. Yes, so eventually in early May we did fold boating,


two men kayaks. Limpets, we were trained in the use of limpets. These were explosives that you put on the side of a ship's hull to blow up the ship. So in early May, four of us we dropped into Borneo at a place called Blouit. And by the way I had all of my special gear; I had silencer, pistol with


a silencer, sub machine carbine with a silencer, I had my commando dagger, cyanide tablets, escape kit which is compressed and contains maps, morphine, fishing lines and so on. And so Harrison


took my kit away from me and sent me down, right where all of the Japs were, with only what I stood up in. I met an operative, I was asked to deliver a message to an operative that I was told I would meet on the way. He then also provided me with ten rifles to recruit guerrillas.


So I went down the Padas River, met Colin McPherson, he was the other operative, a very good mate of mine and we are very close. He is dying now, he has got dementia poor fellow. So I went down to a place called Malaman on the coastline. At this stage I was on my own.


I recruited some Dyaks. Now the term Dyak is a generic term because in that particular group of Dyaks you have the sea Dyak and the land Dyak and in the land Dyaks you have various tribes. The best warriors of all were Ibans, magnificent little headhunters. They were all head hunters.


At Malaman I had my first contact with the Nips [Japanese], I walked out in the mud flats in amongst the shore line one evening. I had my LMG, light machine gun. My Bren gun saddled up, I hadn’t trained anyone yet on how to use the Bren gun so I had to use it, but I used one indigenous Dyak to carry my


Bren magazines, I didn’t know how many I would require. This Nip patrol came through in a prau, a prau is like a long dugout, it is a canoe and I poured fire into them and they all plopped into the water and then it was sunset and I couldn’t see anymore. Covered in mosquitoes.


Full of mud. And then two days later I took some of my Dyaks with me and we entered the jungles. Some of the natives had said to us that there was half a dozen or more Nips there in the swamp area. And this was one of the most ferocious that occurred to me in the whole of the war. We tracked them, the Dyak scouts


are magnificent trackers, every bit as good as the black fellow tracker. And he called me over and he said, (Speaks another language) perhaps five or six Japs and he showed me a mangrove root, I


couldn’t see anything but he said, “There you are , fresh five minutes.” So we came upon the Nips and one Nip fired and just missed me and I shot two Nips. By that time we were using American automatic carbines.


Then my guerrillas started to open up but they couldn’t hit a bulls arse with a hand full of rice,[couldn't shoot straight] for a variety of reasons. We gave them the wrong weapons. I must digress, when I trained, we gave them .303 rifles and they were little men and they couldn’t hold the rifle properly which meant that they couldn’t pull the rifle butt into their shoulders. Now when you get a kick from the 303 it is all right, so long as you have got it hard into your shoulder, but if you leave it


loose it whacks your shoulder pretty solid. And they got gun shy. The term is gun shy. But they started to shoot in all directions. I had a Chinese man that I had recruited, Artor, magnificent man and we screamed out, “Geman maninback.” “Stop firing Stop firing.” And then they all pulled their parangs, parangs are their head hunter swords and they slaughtered those Nips.


And then they took their heads off and brought them up to me to examine. “Look master, I got me head.” And I had seen a lot by that time but that really shook me and from that night on I had nightmares. Well so


the initial intention first was to get intelligence for the landings in Borneo and we collected quite a few Japs, small pieces here and there .And I was lucky I captured some very valuable information, intelligence which I sent to Harrison. Which in turn went to the 9th Division and


helped I hope or think with their landing information. Defensive positions.
What kind of briefing did you receive about the role you would be playing with Z Unit before you went?
I assumed that I would be picked to go into Indochina because I spoke French


and work there behind the lines against the Japanese. As it turned out I finished up with this Captain Harrison who later became a Major and because of this incident which I have already mentioned with the girl, I think he was trying to get me bumped off. Some of my friends categorically have said, “He tried to kill you.” Number one he sent me off with no gear, and number two


he sent me right down to the coast at that time which was full of Japs. Up at the place where we dropped Blouit there was no Japs because it was about a hundred kilometres, right up in the hills. The briefing he gave me, he is an erratic man. He said, “Here is ten rifles. Organise your guerrillas and get some intelligence


and later on when the time is right we will start guerrilla activity.” And he said, “There is a message for Colin McPherson” that’s the fellow I was telling you about. “Tell him to go to Suppon State on the east, [Japanese] General Baba has a gold sword and I would like that gold sword.” The most idiotic statement I have ever heard, in the middle of a war he is interested in a gold sword.


He was erratic. There is a book one should read in conjunction with mine and I will tell you later on and the title of the book is The Most Hated Man Alive. He was loathed by many people. And he was threatened by a fellow called Charlie Hardy for not giving him rations and medication. I was ready to execute him in the end,


I got ready to bump him off. He was an intolerable person and I didn’t receive one item of food or one item of medication, although I had men wounded and couldn’t help them with my escape kit. He was a most erratic man. Later on if you like I can give you the detail


of this other book to read and you will understand why, he is a schizophrenic. Does that answer your question?
Certainly. I am interested to know how you were told and how you approached recruiting native people?


In my citation they cited that I did this that and the other, and I very quickly established contact with the natives and formed a guerrilla gang. Now this was because principally number one, I could speak Malay, I had lived in Malaysia and there was quite a lot of ethnic connection and down the coastline in Borneo you speak Malay. So I got on very well with the natives but I have always got on very well with Asians.


I have very good Asian friends. And I always keep an open mind, I am not racist in the least. The fact that I loathe the Japanese male of my generation is not because he is Asian but is because the gratuitous cruelty in the lands that he occupied and what he did to our Australian nurses was appalling.


War is bad enough, but you don’t have to gratuitously torture and so on. So I loathe them. I have got nothing against the young Jap of today, I think he is a bit stupid because after the war was over the young Germans questioned their parents, “What the hell was all of this about?” “Why did you do this?” And universities and so on. But the Japanese


kids still don’t realise what their grandparents did, it is a closed book. They are the biggest bunch of hypocrites you can imagine.
On the very first day when you came into contact with the local people what would you say to them?
Well Harrison had already dropped in and I dropped in on Harrison’s headquarters.


I was only there overnight. I jumped into a swamp, bloody near broke my legs, but I rolled up my parachute and then pulled out my sub machine gun, loaded it, cocked it and waited to see what happened and they turned out to be Harrison’s friends or mates and so they led me to Harrison.


So there was no problems there at all. Further down as you approached the coast we were the first white men there for many years, things could have been a bit dicey. There were one or two of the natives that could have been pro Japanese. But the Japanese were quite stupid, they did exactly what the Germans did in the Ukraine. In the Ukraine the Ukrainians would have joined Germany fighting against Stalin;


they loathed Stalin and what he had done to them .Instead of which within a couple of weeks of when the Germans went into the Ukraine they started taking all of their cattle, all of their produce, interfered with their women and burned their villages and so in next to no time the Ukraine said, “To hell with the Germans why should we give them a hand?” and so they formed guerrilla parties.


It is the same in Borneo. The Japanese had this great highfaluting sounding name, "The Great East Asia Co- Prosperity Scheme" but they were telling the Asians, “Rise up against the British or the Dutch a or whatever and we, us fellow Asians, let's join hands in friendship". The moment they occupied a place, whether it was Malay, whether it was what is now Indonesia or Singapore, they started


interfering with their women folk, pinching their food to the point of starvation. Doing some atrocious things. One fellow that I know became our spy, his hatred for the Japanese was incredible because they, the Kempei Tai [Japanese secret police] had taken his sister and used her for a few weeks and then he handed her over to his troops.


And there was an enemy for life. The Japanese didn’t display much sense at all. And we as guerrillas wouldn’t have survived one day if the Japanese had treated those Asians properly. I personally dressed the hand of a young nine-year-old boy, a Japanese had put his hand on a stump and took


that part of his hand off with a sword. They did things like this, cruel things that were unnecessary. Don’t forget they machine gunned thirty-five of our sisters and Banka Straight. The only survivor was [Sister Vivienne] Bullwinkel, a good friend of my wife and we were good friends with the Bullwinkels. She was the only surviving


sister, they machined gun the lot, killed them. She survived and when they left she crawled back up on the land and managed to survive. That’s how it all came out.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 08


Well I think we should clear the air in relation to certain things. Head hunting was part and parcel of their [Dyak] culture. It had been reduced a lot when Raja Brooks, a famous Englishman [the White Raja] who was given a sultancy,


reduced the habit of head hunting. When the Japanese arrived and caused the people to loathe them so much and they found out that there were white soldiers in the jungle, in the bush we were called "oran darie


capatallbum miong" which simply means "the man who came out of the ship of the air with an umbrella". That’s how they described us. And we used them as guerrillas, we couldn’t interfere with their practice, number one. Number two, I never allowed them to decapitate a live Jap. I had to get the intelligence to save our boys and they decapitated


them after they were shot in action, for which I don’t apologise at all.
How would you gain information from the Japanese?
From their bodies. Every Jap had a soldier's book, Japs were inveterate diarists,


they had diaries about everything. And they were inveterate gatherers of pornographic films, you would see photographs of presumably their mother and children and their wives, and the mountain of Fujiama. And then there would be a whole pile of pornographic photographs. In other words they were family men too.


But they treated everybody else, the women in particular, like dirt. So this was a lot of intelligence and this would go immediately to Harrison and them from Harrison, particularly when the Australians landed in Labuan and on the east coast of Borneo the intelligence went to them. So I would like to think, well it does mention in my citation, that I captured valuable intelligence.


Also I had spies in Suppong State, I could send messages. No hope of me going there, I was a white man and would be captured straight away. But I established contact with some native police who were originally native police in the British times and then taken over by the Japs and worked for the Japs and they gave me a lot of information. See I said before, the stupid Japs antagonised them so much,


these people loathed them so much that they were prepared to risk their lives and a lot of them did risk their lives ,and they have never been recompensed by the Australian government, never recognised. One fellow, Mohammed Youdsing who was one of our spies, he got an OBE [Order of the British Empire] or an MBE [Member of the British Empire].
What was he like?
He was of Malay extraction, he was the pingaloo of his


village, a village chieftain. A philosophical sort of man, a young man, bit older than me but still young and sometimes we used to philosophise and talk about the Muslim religion, my philosophies, his philosophies, a wonderful man. Typical Malay Muslim, though he was very proud that he had three sons,


later on after the war I kept in contact, three sons that had been educated in England and I asked him about the girls and he said, “Oh I don’t know.” The Asians, particularly the Chinese and Malays, as long as they have got sons, they are more important than the females. They love their daughters but don’t worry about educating them, well those days.


I got close to Artor if ever a man deserved a VC[Victoria Cross] it was him. He was Chinese and I loved him like a mate. He had a gold tooth and when he grinned, nothing was too much for him. Now the interesting thing you see, I have spoken to a number of pingaloos, they would say all practically the same thing, “You


know when the British were kicked out and the Japanese came along and said "This is the 'Great East Asian Co-operative Scheme' let's work together as Asians and get rid of these colonials". We thought it was a good idea, only for three or four months until we realised when the British were here the British had primary school, they also had hospitals manned by a dresser.” A man that is an Asian


who is probably a little bit more trained than a nurse but not trained as a full doctor and he can give injections and do minor operations and so on. In other words the British were doing some sort of effort to improve their lot and the particular English district officer in the area I was involved in, he was well regarded. They said, “This is crazy why should we help these Japanese when they’re interfering with our weapon and they are


very severe?” I had three hundred Javanese coolies sent to me, originally there had been seven thousand Javanese coolies collected by the Japanese to produce food for them and work in Borneo. I got three hundred of them, I don’t know how many of them died, thousands. When I got them they were full of dysentery, full of malaria,


and you could almost put your hand like that around their thigh bones. They were like Belsen camp horrors. Now you know what I mean when I say Belsen camp horrors? [Nazi concentration camp] It was ghastly. And my villagers used to have to push them into the water so they could get cleansed, they had yaws, tropical ulcers almost as big as that sometimes.


on the thigh bone, deep craters of rotten flesh. They treated those unfortunate people like animals. They grew the food and weren’t allowed to eat it. I stand in wonderment as to why some of us go over and weep with the Japanese on the anniversary of the atomic bomb.


The atomic bomb stopped the war like that, it killed a lot less than the Japanese killed in China and elsewhere. What do people expect? Not to use the atomic bomb. The Japanese themselves had so little regard for their own people, they had a million and a half, and this is intelligence, a million and half adolescent boys and girls armed with bamboo sticks, sharpened at one end


and put in the fire which hardens them and makes them like iron almost. They were supposed to repel the Americans and the British when they landed. Those kids would have been slaughtered. They had kamikaze motorboats and kamikaze one-man submarines and so on. They were putting at risk the whole of the Japanese population. Just because the army, particularly the army generals, didn’t want to surrender.


And they wouldn’t have surrendered hadn’t it have been for the Emperor. So the Japanese had even less regard than they had for their own people, don’t kid yourself, they were completely dishonest. In the sense that they were liars, I had to take a group of guerrillas up to a place called Eburu and Colin McPherson my mate was there, and


the 2IC [second in command] Rick Edmeades was there, there was no food there so I had to go back to the coast. While I was there they brought two prisoners, one was a Jap and the other was a Japanese harlot, and the Japanese male was only too happy to co-operate and so was the female. They took something


like about fifty thousand or more Korean women for their brothels, and the Japanese now have got the hide to say they volunteered, and they have got no recompense., they have appealed to the Japanese time and time again and no recompense what so ever. Even today, sixty years later, I think they are a bunch of, my generation. I am very


heated as you will realise, I am very upset and annoyed and the thing that annoyed me, one of the biggest war criminals unhung, the Emperor, and when he died Bob Hawke had all of the flags in Australia put at half mast. I don’t know whether you remember that. What a farce. I am just getting heated up.
Tell me a little bit about how you would survive and live day by day in terms of eating and sleeping?


We were starving in the end, we were eating wild game, wild pigs, which is where I got brucellosis. The village pig was very dangerous to eat because they used to eat human excreta and so when you ate that sort of pig you could really taste it and so I refused to eat it. But there was some problems of course;


the piece de resistance and the food that was always give an honoured guest, and the white man was always an honoured guest, would be pigs' testicles. And so you had to munch those and close your eyes and swallow it and so on. Wild game, in the end we were eating monkey, I was eating monkey, wild rice and ordinary rice. Fish, there was fish in the streams, throw a grenade


into a pool and you get a lot of fish. I was suffering from malnutrition in the end, I was dying. I got amoebic dysentery, malaria, an unknown tropical disease where all of the glands in my body swelled up like hens' eggs.


How did you deal with these diseases whilst living in the jungle?
Well towards the end in the last three weeks I used to have my jumbung, my toilet constructed for me and I had a sulla, a small native hut built from me, and I had a lantana vine from the toilet to the house.


And then my bowel fell out and I would be pushing it back in by hand. I had no medication but I had a lot of Japanese iodine that I had captured. And I used to dilute that with water and then have a pad to push back my intestine, that’s called prolapse of the bowel through constant forcing with dysentery. And I would stagger to the jumbung [the toilet] and sit there all night


sometimes, stagger back in again to the sulla. I was very lucky. McPherson came down two weeks after the armistice, two weeks after they dropped the atomic bomb McPherson came down and grabbed a hold of me and took me down to the sea, where they radioed for a torpedo boat and got me to


Labuan Island. I was four months in hospital. By that time, you see what it interesting is this the British and the Australian High Command really didn’t understand much about their troops and so on. Everybody has a limit to stresses


and so on. They only started to realise it in a small way. In the fighter and bomber squadron the doctors were told to keep an eye out for someone who looks like they are breaking up; talks too loud, drinks too much, hands shake, signs of a fellow starting to go down hill. Get a fellow early enough, doesn’t matter whether he is infantry or fighter pilot or whatever, get him early enough and give him a good long rest


and a bit of civilisation, he would pick up again. It is like a bank account, if you use a bank account all of the time and never put back in, you finish up with nothing. Well the airmen after thirty operations was taken off. And he had the choice of going back into operations or taking a ground job or a safe job somewhere. The navy personnel, if they were sunk at sea


got thirty or forty days special allowance off duty. The soldier got nothing; he just went from one patrol to another patrol, from one battle to another battle, from one campaign to another campaign and you can't do this for five or six years, you finish up a wreck. Now any Tom Dick or Harry can tell you that, but our commanders were too dumb, I think they were told but they just used


us up. See I have got some mates, they finished the war and just became drunkards. Good mate Marshall Hall he was a drunkard, an alcoholic. He fell to pieces and it took him years to recover.
Well tell me some more about encounters that you and your guerrillas had with Japanese troops?


We had another encounter, a fascinating one which I also mentioned in the book. I had instructions, shows you how stupid Tom Harrison was, Major Harrison. When I got right down to the place called Sindumin or Sipitang, by that time the Australians had landed at Borneo and he gave me


instructions never to go more than a day's march from Sipitang in case I was needed or in case the Australian divisions wanted to contact me. Which is ridiculous. If you put a one day limitation, you are really putting a half day limitation, so if you go somewhere you have got to go back, so that meant I could only have half a day operation and you can't go far in half a day.


Now the Japanese alright, I heard that there was a group of Japanese in a place called north from where I was, I forget it. And because I had to remain in a given area, made Artor


guerrilla leader in place and gave him some guerrillas to check out an area where allegedly there were some Japs. As soon as I sent them off and I cautioned him. He had with him a Bren gunner that I had trained and away they went and I had to wait for Harrison, I knew I had to wait for Harrison on a given day and then I would follow them up.


So I met Harrison, he used to abuse me for no reason at all and he abused me again on this occasion again and then he left and I said, “Thank God.” And away I went with a Chinese captain, Captain Gong, following up where I had sent my guerrillas, in the meantime they were jumped by quite a strong Japanese party. They killed quite a few, they killed about fifteen of this party of Japs.


But Artor was killed and four others were badly shot up. On the way there I came into a village and there was Japs everywhere and I saw on the roadway what I thought was a woman, a naked body with black pubic hair. And then I heard


this strange gibberish and in a sulap, a sulap doesn’t have windows they just have an opening like a window, here is this human head being jangled up and down like that. And Gong said, “Don’t shoot that’s a victory dance from a head hunter.” And then I thought that’s the head, and this headless woman, because the Japanese have very small breasts


and no hair you see, very little hair. This must be the headhunter that did this Jap over. They on their own accord were bumping off Japs too. And as it turned out he had a mate, and since there was only one head he decided to take off the testicles of he Jap. It was a Japanese soldier and they stripped him of his clothes, it was a very savage war. And when I approached the corpse the pubic hair disappeared,


it was blow flies, and that’s what I thought was pubic hair. It wasn’t, he had been emasculated and flies had collected. And as I said the mate of the first head hunter he couldn’t get two heads out of one so he decided to get another appendage to hang around. It is a cruel world, it was a cruel world.


People have no idea how callous one becomes. I never in a million years abused a corpse, not my cup of tea. The head hunters would have a dance with the head, but again let's understand this clearly, they were very fine people, they were very gentle people.


It was a rite of passage for the man to demonstrate that he was a warrior, and any self respecting maiden wouldn’t marry a man unless he had at least one head. They used to tattoo the fingers for the heads.
What did the tattoo look like?
A flower or something. So now people have said to me, “How dare you say they were nice people when they are little more than savages.” And I say,


“Now hang on the British and the Americans had a thousand bomber raid on Hamburg, they killed eighty thousand people in one night, who are the savages?” Now don’t misunderstand me, those air force boys did a wonderful job. They risked their lives and they got shot out of the sky many of them and they were wonderful people.


It is the nature of war, it is the nature of savagery. But we as Europeans were every bit as savage if you called it savage, you make your own judgement. I wouldn’t torture a Jap but I made bloody sure that, I had no remorse, in fact I saved a Jap and sent him on the barge to Labuan


Island for questioning, it was intelligence. And they came back and said they had thrown him overboard, they loathed them, the Australian sailors. And I thought he was gone. Later on after the war I communicated with the Japs, a fellow called Marinishi spoke to me, I asked him to check, I forget his name, I asked what happened to him. It turned out he got back to Japan the fellow I had saved.


But when Marinishi approached him to say he was in contact with the bloke who had sent him to hospital he said, “I can't remember anything.” Typical Jap. It was a dishonour to be captured you see so he can't remember anything, very Japanese.
The guerrillas, if you were going out on a typical mission or operation, take me step by step through what your job in that would be?
Well number one I only took those I had trained, except for anyone who knew the area and he would be a scout.


In the jungle you walk behind each other, some of the tracks are only like that, so I would have two forward scouts and them probably myself with my Bren gun next door to me, with the man with strict instructions to thrust it into my hand the moment I tell him to. Then I had the other warriors behind that again. As I said we were extremely lucky that the Japanese had been so cruel. Every time the Japs made a move I knew. Sometimes


one or two local people for some reason or another tried to dob me in, one fellow tried to dob me in and I was jumped by the Japs once, Colin McPherson happened to be with me at the time. But because of the antagonism that the natives had for the Japs, they still hate them. I was as safe as a house. I was safer there than being in the normal


infantry in a big battle. Because if there was five men coming up the track I would ambush them and bump them off. And then the Japs would send fifteen men, I would ambush them and bump them off and then they would send fifty men and I would just disappear in the jungle, and they would flounder around the jungle. In other words not only me but the fellow operatives were masters of the area. And the Jap, as I said, was helpless


because every movement he did was known. Mind you in the end one had to be careful if you couldn’t slow them up because they would go into a village and cause mayhem. They would say you have been associating with the enemy but then all of the villagers would run away and hide in the jungle and the Japs would burn their houses. So it was a vicious war,


brought about by the Japanese. In Crete the Germans were gentlemen. When a wounded was picked up he would be taken to a German doctor and he treated Germans and Australians exactly the same way as we treated them. If we got Germans who were wounded our doctors treated them. This is standard humane action for, God's sake. The Japanese would torture you


for the sheer fun of it.
And how did you ensure the village you were based at was protected from the Japanese knowing that you were there?
Well in the end the Japanese were running around in circles, the enemy was all around. Anyway I finished up very sick in hospital.


Tell me a bit about that village you were based in?
Well I wasn’t based in any village you see? You were continually mobile, a few days here and there and so on. Because there was a lot of walking, I must have marched hundreds of kilometres up hills and so on. Wherever I went I was greeted, I was the


white master and I covered an area. I was just a mere corporal mind you. By the way I was promised my sergeant's stripes when I got into Borneo and when I got into Borneo, Harrison stopped it, he was a bastard.
When you moved around so much, would your guerrillas move with you?
Yes. There was a standard group of guerrillas that you trained and they moved with you. Even into


villages that were once upon a time their enemies. Well not enemies but they were not friendly with. But that was all dropped by the wayside temporarily, all of the village antagonism was dropped by the wayside.
Were they paid?
Yeah fifty cents sometimes. The carriers , porters got fifty cents


Malay which is about eleven or twelve cents. Don’t forget all I lived on was corporal's pay, I didn’t get anything special. We were underpaid. Nowadays they had danger money and all of the other stuff. The Australian wharf labourer got three times my pay, and then


a pound a week danger money when they worked in Darwin or in an area where the Japs had bombed, Darwin and Broome and so on .That’s their rationalisation and my mates were getting their heads blown off for five shillings a day. That’s life, I suppose.
And tell me about some of the information


that you discovered from the Japanese bodies that you saw?
Well a lot of it I couldn’t understand, but I got a lot of Japanese field maps, with their notations on it and so on. All of their diaries I sent away. Incidentally their diaries, I have it here but I couldn’t find it. Fascinating read, I have got one where this Japanese is learning English and he is putting the Japanese characters and then the


English and in one he has got there, Miss Lo fifteen dollars, Miss Li, twenty five dollars. It must have been the prostitutes he was with see ? He made a diary and he has this in it. They are great diarists, they wrote everything down which made it wonderful for the intelligence people. I got a seventeenth century Japanese sword.


One of the things I got, which was quite interesting, was a small tin like a cigar tin, tin actually, taped with surgical tape sticky tape around that and when I shook it I could hear fluid and when I opened it up I thought it was pig's bristle; it was actually part of a scalp. With the Japanese they had to take part of the body if they couldn’t take the lot, or if


they couldn’t take any part of the body they had to take something personal like a signet stamp and put it on the Shinto warriors shrine in Japan and burn it; and it would go up to heaven and their souls would go. Otherwise their souls were condemned to wander around the face of this earth. I got one fellow I called it the Kuwatsu file, if you are interested I can show you the detail of it.


One young fellow I collected in the jungle his name was Kuwatsu and I got his signature stamp. What do you call a thing that you stamp your coat of arms with?
A seal?
A seal yes. I call it the Kuwatsu seal. And after


the war when I was working at Tooronga I came across some Japanese engineers working there and I always thought someone might like to know what happened to their next of kin. So I contacted Japanese TV people because I was not an enemy of the Japanese people I was an enemy of the male Japs of my generation. I have got no dislike for the Japanese female or the Japanese kids. I despise some of the


males there because of their habits. And eventually they couldn’t find it so I sent everything to the war museum, including hand crafted sword, blow guns, a Japanese seventeenth century sword and so on plus what I called the Kuwatsu seal. And then I got this letter from a Mr. Suzuki, he was married to Kuwatsu’s sister. When the war started and Kuwatsu went away to war the family gave the daughter


and Kuwatsu a seal ,the family seal, and I got the seal that belonged to Kuwatsu. So I sent them back, Mrs Suzuki was delighted at long last to know what had happened to her brother and so I sent her the real seal and in gratitude they made a copy of it and sent it to me to give to the war museum. When I offered it to the war museum they said they didn’t want it because it was not the original. Stupid idiots.


It would have been a lovely piece for a talking point.
Just talk me a bit more through the process of how you could communicate this information?
Well I would be gathering it and sending it immediately to Harrison. Now he would have to send it to, at that


stage the 9th Division had started in various places, or before he would dispatch it by work boat to some divisional headquarters.
And would all of the information you collected come from Japanese bodies or was it from observations of Japanese movements?
Oh yes I did pass on information of Japanese movements because in the end I was right up near Sappong State with General Baba


and about twenty thousand of the Jap soldiers were there, and I would be getting information all of the time and passing that on, not verbally but in writing. And I would give it to a runner and he runs all day long, you see?
And what sort of things would you observe that you would write down?
From sound, machine gun firing in certain areas. From reports of natives escaping. Their position, where they had gun


emplacements and so on, military information. And also equally important, the food problems. They had big food problems the Japs because they were not feeding their workers. They wanted it for themselves because their supplies started to come to a grinding halt and they had to live off the jungle. So they were taking the food from the natives and growing a lot themselves.


I had better finish off by saying, you’re not interested in what took place after are you? Hospital, I went to Heidelberg hospital.
Tell me how you heard the news that the bomb had been dropped?
I got a message from Colin McPherson given to me by a runner and I have got it in my diary somewhere. We didn’t know it was an atomic bomb. A very powerful bomb has been dropped on Japan.


And I thought what powerful bomb could that be? A bomb is a bomb if you want to make it more powerful you make a bigger and bigger one. And then later on, yes Mac said, it is a special bomb that has lot of explosive power. Then it came out that it was an atomic bomb, didn’t have the faintest idea what it was.


How did we eat? Fish and so on, the ladies were beautiful, lovely sense of humour. They were topless and that was part and parcel as much as anything. One fascinating thing is that the male is much more family conscious. To start off with they never beat their children, never.


No matter what the child does, there are no naughty children. Two, the children are shared in the whole village, everyone is uncle or aunty or whatever. Three I suppose I can broach the subject, I am no archaeologist, not archaeologist what's the word? They were


conscious of various aids which would increase, I suppose, their satisfaction when copulating. Chinese too do the same thing. They would use the eyelash of a pig, they would cut that out and then the male would put that on his penis and allegedly that gives the woman greater satisfaction.


But hang on, the fascinating thing what I used to call the penis tie pin, the native, the male, very painful operation ,would bore a hole through the penis just behind the head of the penis. Then insert a piece of wood and make the hole bigger and bigger until they could get a pin through it, like a fairly sturdy hat pin you know? But smaller. And then you had


to thread one end of it and so they could finish up with this thing transfixed through the penis with a silver ball on each end. And this allegedly was a form of increased stimulation, they were very conscious of their duty, more so than the average European male of my generation. Now males are much more conversant with how to satisfy a female.


And the female incidentally, I am not sure of it, I was told could actually divorce her husband if he wasn’t that way equipped. So when you get married you tell your husband, " I am going to divorce you." This is true and this is reported, I had no time of course to investigate more of their customs, but they had some fascinating customs. But what I found was their sexual life and their married life and their


social life was really wonderful. They were wonderful people. So I refuse to let anyone get away with the idea that just because they took a head which demonstrated their manhood, it was a rite of passage, that they were savages, they were no more than we were.


End of tape
Interviewee: Roland Griffiths-Marsh Archive ID 1882 Tape 09


I am just curious to know how you learnt about the sexual customs of the native people there?
Well actually I was on my own, occasionally I would run across McPherson or another operative that was there but I was virtually on my own. And,


as I said, I am a curious sort of individual and things would interest me and I would ask questions and sometimes it would be difficult because I couldn’t find the right word. But I had a boy called Bali, he was perhaps eighteen or something, he was interested in our world too but he was the son of a head-hunter and he would have been one too, and was my batman and he looked after me. When I had amoebic


dysentery he did a magnificent job., and we used to talk about everything under the sun and he would ask me so many questions and he would ask me questions, why do you do this and that ? And I learnt quite a lot. You see they were atavist do you know what an atavist is? Rocks and trees and birds, they weren’t


God like, but they had attributes of some sort or another. When you would go on a patrol, go out in the morning on a patrol and a toucan bird happened to fly across from right to left, that’s a no no, you stop and go back. You don’t do anything else that day. It's an ill omen. If he goes from left to right it is a wonderful day, you can go and you will get lots of heads.


Scores of, it is a very complex interrelated thing and for a European it can be confusing. It is no good making an arrangement for tomorrow and expecting them to do it because something might crop up. They have seen a light in the sky or somewhere in the jungle, the mystery of the God has made it and the man won't keep the appointment or whatever.


Doesn’t really matter.
We had better move onto coming home because time was really short, you were sick obviously with the illness, tell us about getting home?
I finished up in Labuan Hospital in a dysentery ward and I will never forget when they put me on the stretcher and they


tipped me on the bed and I was dirty and I was grimy, I had a beard and I smelt of the jungle and smelt of mud everything. And the orderly came along and washed me with warm soapy water. And this beautiful, she was probably ugly as sin, but this sister came along with a bit of lipstick or whatever and she smelt like a woman, like a western woman.


I thought "Oh God, this is heaven". But I couldn’t get over the fact that I was alive. I had conditioned myself that I was going to die. The odds were too great. I had been going on too long and I thought I would die in battle somewhere. But when I knew there was no more war we had tents and I used to roll up the side and I would wait on my stomach for the sunrise.


And think, oh God I could see tomorrow's sun and the sun after that, and I realised I was out of danger, it was a wonderful sensation and everything seemed to come to life. The leaves and the colours and everything seemed to become important. When you live in the jungle on your own you lose weight. You develop a sixth sense,


you can smell danger, or it comes to you. Now this is a very primitive atavistic thing and you don’t know why, I put it down to sixth sense, but it's when you’re at the peak of your physical fitness and you're registering things all of the time. For example why suddenly do the trees stop moving up the top?


Or why suddenly does one tree start moving at the top, could be a monkey, could be a Jap. You’re living on the edge night and day, you go to sleep with your harness around you and even your boots on sometimes. When you go back into civilisation everything is fresh. Everything smells different, tastes different. And European food, porridge and


treacle and honey and cakes, fantastic. But after a while you become civilised again and then you’re in hospital. I had prolapse of the bowel. I think with the amoebic dysentery the amoebas stages get into the liver. I had a lot of liver trouble,


malaria. I was in a bad way. And then I couldn’t work. I was anti-social for four or five years. And this is where this lady helped me start some kennels and I really believe it was the dogs and handling the dogs, dogs are very faithful, there is not artificial things about a dog,


they are loyal creatures and I think they helped me pull myself through, back to good or reasonable health.
And were you suffering from anything like nightmares or flashbacks?
I had nightmares, ever since that episode in the mangrove swamp. I had nightmares every night for years and years,


they gradually get mixed up with a whole host of things all of the time. I still have nightmares and Valerie she wakes me up sometimes and I jump about two feet off the bed you know, but I have learnt to live with it. The fascinating thing, in those days there was no psychiatrist, there was no treatment at all, just thankyou, goodbye


you’re discharged and away you went. And about ten years ago my doctor said, “Look let's try something." about fifteen years ago, perhaps, “We will try a psychiatrist or something.” It was a lady psychiatrist and she started and it got worse and worse and she said, “Look I will stop you here, your mind has made its own adjustment. It has covered things. It is like an onion, layer on layer and I am peeling off one layer


at a time, and it is making it worse, it is coming out.” Your mind is adjusting itself and you have got to live with it, but I accept this now. I am a bit angry with the way repatriation treated me. For a variety of reasons, they refused to accept some of my illnesses. I got cancer of the bowel, carcinoma in situ, and they


refused to accept that, but then five years later they had to accept it because it was found that in bully beef and other meat products that there was forty times the amount of chemicals that were in what was prepared for the ordinary civilian. They had to keep the meat for so long. But I knew


there was no cancer in my family. 1972 I think, 1970, I had prolapse of the bowel and had been using suppositories and this that and the other. I knew this was caused by something or other connected with the war but they refused to accept it. Now they accept it. But what annoys me is that the Department of Veterans Affairs, well in those days they called it the Department of Repatriation,


in any contentious appeal of any kind where there is an element of doubt one way or the other, the deference had to go to the servicemen. They did it the other way, there are still servicemen today arguing the point about something.
And after all of this time, how had you changed from the sixteen year old who had joined up?
Oh a lot wiser.


Very much more compassionate. I don’t kill anything if I can help it. Sure a mosquito or something like that but a life is a life and it is so very very precious. I see things more critically. Death doesn’t worry me. I despise


people who are untrue. People who take advantage of other people. There are many diggers that have been taken for a ride by a variety of people, not only the Department of Veterans Affairs. Politicians trade on us. “We’ll look after you.” Sort of crap. And they don’t. I will give you a quick example.


I won a Military Medal, when you won the Military Medal in those days you got a cash payment of twenty pounds, but you were entitled to sixpence a week if you have a disability. So after about fifteen years I think, or eleven years they finally accepted my first disability,


a result of my amoebic dysentery and I got two shillings and sixpence a fortnight I think and so then I got this letter, “This is to inform you that you were entitled to six pence a week because you are the recipient of the Military Medal. However as you have already been given a substantial grant of twenty pounds, you will have to wait until at the rate of sixpence a week


that twenty pounds has expired, and then we will add it to your pension. Thank you very much…". and about twenty years on I get this letter, “Now you are now entitled to have your six pence a week with your disability pension…". And it stayed like that, it was frozen. When [Prime Minister] Howard introduced the ten


percent tax what do you call it?
GST [Goods and Services Tax].
When Howard introduced the GST he increased all of the pensions, I can show it to you in black and white, he gave us ten cents extra per week on the sixpence. Fact, I can prove it. You haven’t got the time. And it is frozen. Everybody’s pension, including their own pension, including their non-taxable


account for postage, they get a big account for postage and they don’t have to account for it, that has always increased CPI but this paltry seven pence now remains static, why? Everything else has increased. And that sixpence a week hasn’t increased in twenty years. Pettiness, small time pettiness.


This is really mean, Jesus Christ that sixpence a week doesn't represent half a cigarette these days. We laugh about it, it is unbelievable. This is the way the political mind works. I am not bitching. I am alive, I have met a wonderful lady, I have seen a wonderful life, God I wouldn’t exchange places with anybody.
So do you have no regrets about your wartime service?


I have nor regrets of what I did. I was an Australian soldier and I was proud of being an Australian soldier. And I am proud that I defended my country in one of the most dangerous arms of the service. I was prepared to put my life on the line for my country. I am no hero,


I have refused to accept that, people have tried to write it up and I have read reviews and I have said, “You cross that out.” I am not a footballer or a cricketer, I have been nominated for the Australian of the Year last year, and I have asked Val should I ever mention it or use it? It is not worth much anyway I just missed out.


You see, even Australian decorations get up my nose now. I don’t know whether you know but they nominated a fellow for the Liberal Government, Greek fellow with a Greek name and they find out that he borrowed three hundred thousand dollars from a known drug dealer. How come he got an Australian medal?


You have read about it haven’t you? Yes it was in the paper, politicians have no sense of to me, honour and integrity.
What do you think is your worst memory from your wartime service?


Probably the one that affected me the most, I don’t know if it was the worst but the one that affected me the most was the interlude in the jungle where the seven Japs were beheaded. That’s the only time the Japs were beheaded before being shot, and it was a ghastly exercise and it broke me. In the last year of the war I was just hanging on by my fingernails and I knew I was a nutcase, that broke me.


I am sorry I didn’t kill Tom Harrison. But I wouldn’t now, if he came back now I would give him a good kick in the sternum and tell him his is a silly bastard. But if you’re interested, anyone who reads my book should read this particular record.
We are getting to the end so is there anything else you would like to add for the record, Roland?
Not really I am grateful that…


I feel slightly honoured… that you people have decided to interview me. I have been interviewed before. At the age of eighty-one one takes a lot on board and doesn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I don’t know what will happen to this but it is a rather odd feeling to realise that perhaps a hundred years down the track


someone will be talking about poor old Marshmallow. I call myself Marshmallow; I live in Marshmallow Mansions from the Griffiths-Marsh. But no, I wont be cynical, honestly I think it is a rather unique situation to be in. I know that book is going to live and I have been told that because it is a reference book and it is highly regarded by many people. But more importantly in a hundred years time they will say, “This is part of Australian


history, who was this fellow? Why?” This that and the other .So I wont die in vain. But all I want in this world is when I die to go to heaven and if there are no dogs there we I don’t want to go. Dogs are wonderful creatures and thankyou very much indeed.
Thankyou you have done a terrific job Roland.
Thankyou very much indeed.




0 Comments You must to sign in to add a comment Add a comment