back to Australia, did our conversion training from desert fighters to jungle fighters in Kuri [?] at the Tablelands and then into the landings of Lae and…I didn’t go in on the landings. They formed a 9 Div [Division] Carrier Platoon
and they dragged out some of the older experienced carrier drivers and commanders and we formed this 9 Div Carrier Company. That was a bit of a farce because there was no way in the world that they could use carriers in New Guinea. It was too wet. So when we got there we objected a bit to being left out, so they formed us into a 9 Div
Independent Company. We did a hell of a lot of supporting infantry patrolling, long range patrolling and we did also a lot of escort duties taking native bearers to bring back wounded and that sort of thing. Then I came back from the islands. I had a leg injury, which I had received in Tobruk and I ended up in hospital for four months…
I scored a B2 which was a six month B Class and I ducked into a base job in Brisbane where I caught up on a bit of my social life. At this stage I was twenty-two I think. I spent six months there and then tried to get back into the infantry,
and they wouldn’t allow it, so I served a war out as a ….and that’s where I met my wife Kath which was the greatest thing that ever happened. From that I got out, did a rehab course for painting and interior decorating, served my time in that which was four months in the college and two years with a tradesman.
Then I went into business briefly with my brother who had my tutor and mentor. This was the fella who went in the 2/10th. From there we were painting a hotel right here in Lowood actually and in those days a tradesman only got a weekend home a month.
So I said to Tim that this wasn’t any good. I was married and they were pleading with us old diggers to go back and go to Korea, so I reenlisted and he came with me. So we both went back into the army. But because of our trade we went into engineers and I served for twenty years in the engineers. I didn’t get a trip to Korea, but I did get a tour of Vietnam towards the end of my tour.
And I’ve got to say that was a wonderful experience. It gave me a view…I think it has given me a link between two wars, which are our old diggers, my diggers, my old mates who are always saying, “What’s up with you bloody Vietnam vets?” They’ve got no conception of what the stress and the mental strain were like.
No concept. Different war entirely. It was good in that respect. I ended up a warrant officer class 1 RSM [regimental sergeant major]. I retired at fifty two and had to get out of Melbourne. I couldn’t stay in Melbourne for much longer. I thought I would lose one of my six daughters to wedding bells…I thought bloody hell, if a few of the girls get married we’ll be committed to Victoria forever. Nothing against Victoria, but
Melbourne is one shocking place to live in after Queensland. So we came back. I got out and I went back to my trade and ended up putting three of my sons through an apprenticeship and they all ended up wonderful tradesmen. Each of them operates as a business now, as painters. And we’ve retired up here to this little bit of heaven.
I came up here with my wife and I said that if we could get a couple of years here. I was 67 I think at the time and I thought if I can get a couple of years here and retire…we’ve had fourteen so far and going for another ten. And that’s about me. I married and had eleven kids. I suppose I should say that, and they’re the hub of my life now at the moment.
We have thirty eight grandchildren. I think we’ve got four great grandchildren. They’re all ideal and beautiful. They’re a wonderful family. They come here en masse for Christmas. We have anything from seventy people here at Christmas…out in the paddock, and Mother’s Days and all those sorts of things. And that’s about my life. Very uninteresting.
brother wrote to me and asked if I wanted to come up to Taroom and join him ring barking, but he didn’t want the station owner to know I was only seventeen. So I put my age up to eighteen. I wasn’t far out, I was only about six months away. So
I went up and I was ring barking at Canool and we were out on a ring barking camp with a very good friend of ours, Mick Walsh. He ended up in the 2/25th Battalion, now dead. There was my brother and another guy called Ping Richards. Anyway we all ended up in this ring barking camp contracting…working for Tim and Gerry who had the contract.
We were in this camp when they announced…we knew war was coming. We had a wireless and we were listening to it and we used to go into Taroom and write ourselves off, every month, I suppose. If there was anything big on we’d head in there. It meant twelve mile travelling and we mostly walked. We’d
go into town, get blind and do the things you did when you got blind. Then we’d come home. We were in the camp and I had a bit of a reputation of being a bit of a wild one…we were in this camp this day when war was declared. Anyway, Menzies’s announced that Australia was now at war and I said, “Beauty I’m going to join up.”
We went into town that weekend and I did leave. I left and went home. I went straight in and tried to join up and they said, “Go back to the bush, son, for six months and grow a few years.” So immediately it got round Taroom and I remember being in the pub and there’s about twenty in the bar. And someone said, “Perce is going to
join the army.” And they all vouched the same thing. “He’d do something silly like that too.” So anyhow I eventually came down and tried and they knocked me back because of my age and I came back out to a place just a bit further on from here, with another brother. My eldest brother. We were cutting pine.
I did that for six months until I grew up a bit and then I headed in and joined up. But amazingly enough, all these guys who said it was just the sort of thing I’d do, went into the army about a fortnight after me. So that was my introduction to war. We had seen the storm clouds coming over. Actually I was spoiling for it a bit.
Silly, isn’t it. I suppose it came down to the fact that my uncle had died and I was out to avenge him. I wasn’t very patriotic I’m afraid. Not then, I was more interested in getting that overseas trip and seeing some of the world.
was a mate of mine. He went into 26th Battalion and got captured. He’s now dead. I think I’m the only one alive, oh and my old mate Gordon. I’ve made some very good friends. The first day when I went in and had my medical exam and being accepted,
the guy in front of me was QX6957 and his name was Snowy Drew and he went into the same battalion as me. And the guy behind me was …I’ll get it in a minute. He went into a transport show or something. We all went in…actually, back to mates. We were at the tram stop, waiting for a tram. It was the first tram that ran. It was very, very early in the war.
I forget what time it was. When we had been accepted with our medical, they gave us a little brown packet, a paper bag to bring a cut lunch. That would be the only lunch we would have to supply.
No toothbrush, nothing. Just that. No razor. Waiting at the tram stop there, there must have been twenty or thirty blokes standing there with a little brown paper bag in their hands. There was a guy there, he was a little Pommie fellow and we were standing side by side.
I said, “What’s your name mate?” He said, “Bill Allan, what’s yours?” I said, “Percy Lyall.” And from that day on we were like brothers. He was killed. He was a great little guy and he got killed with Gordon by the way. He was on Gordon’s truck. And then from thereon I met people in the army and
we have bonded friendships that are with us today. They’ll always be with us. A chap called Bob Scarr, he comes from Redcliffe. He and I were very close. We did a lot of things together. Bill Allan, Doug Gordon. I wasn’t anti social. We had quite a little group of friends who I got to love as brothers, closer than brothers.
But they knew it was hopeless. I would have went off and joined somewhere, some how. So they let me legally, or illegally, legally. On the form it said I was twenty but I wasn’t, I was only nineteen at that stage. Incidentally my nineteenth birthday in Darwin was with the battalion. I had my twentieth birthday in Tobruk and my twenty-first birthday
a few days before the battle of El Alamein. And I had my twenty-third in New Guinea and that ended my war service. But Mum and Dad tried very hard to get my Uncle Gerry who was just a few years older than us, and Tim my brother to
claim me into the 2/10th Artillery. That was good because Tim didn’t stay in it. It was only a matter of time…by the time we came back from Darwin, Tim had transferred into 2/2nd Anti Tank. I would have been there with Gerry which would have been alright.
I think he got me drunk for the first time at a few sleazy places. Wine parlours they used to call them and there were secret knocks on the door and he would wheel me in there and we’d get drunk. This was when I was seventeen. I didn’t end up a drunkard by the way, I hardly touch the stuff now. But anyhow they desperately wanted me to go with them. Perhaps
it would have been great if I had have gone with Gerry. He died in the prisoner of war camp. He was a bad tempered man. He would flare up like mad and the Japs gave him a hell of a time. Perhaps if I had been with him I could have taken a bit of the heat off him. But anyhow, that’s the way it is. Can I tell you a little story about this? He died and he’s buried in
…anyhow, where he’s buried, my daughter and her husband recently went over and did a trip of Asia. They were with another family and they were walking around the cemetery. They had picked one cemetery out of the three, war cemeteries that they could have gone to.
And Pauline was upset by the fact that there were miles and miles and miles of Australians there, and she said to Howard her husband, “Come over and take a photo of me beside these graves.” Anyhow she walked across and stood beside a grave and Howard was about to take the shot
and he said, “Pauline, look what you’re standing beside.” And it was G.H. Lyall. Gerry Lyall. She didn’t know she had an uncle in the cemetery. So they took the photo and she was most upset about it when she found out it was her uncle. It was weird.
See, I told you I digress. I rave on. I’m a raver from way back.
ant beds. I think they called it the Eight Mile….the Eight Mile and the Eleven Mile if my memory serves me. There were two naval depots which were out in the bush and we lived in quarters there. It was good. I suppose they were originally the married quarters. At night time we would go out in our…we would usually work in companies.
So we’d go out in platoons on this big oval. It would have been about four or five, maybe ten acres. There was shrub coming in on it and they would situate the platoons at various stages so you wouldn’t know where the other platoon was. And we would do patrolling at night and that’s the way we learned to move.
And it’s why I think our people were such wonderful fighters at night time. We ruled the desert at night with our bayonet. And we did great changing there. We’d move in on other sections and belt hell out of them. Really it was just playful. They were all mates. We would get a hiding ourselves too. That was one type of training.
We did navigating with a compass. We learned to work with compasses and map, how to read maps. That was all part of the essential facets of soldering. We learnt to work as a team, a close team. We had some wonderful firsts in Darwin. We were the first to keep us out of Darwin mainly,
away from the vices of Darwin. They allowed us to have our own wet canteen and I think we were the first AIF to ever have alcohol in the form of a wet canteen. Our colonel…because of the fact that the Darwin Mobile Forces wore a red hat band around their slouch hat,
a puggaree, the old colonel allowed us to put our colour patch on the left hand side of our hat. So we wore with great pride our chocolate and blue colour patch which changed later. So I think we were the first to put
our colour patch on our hat. And this was a mark of distinction with the other factions that were there. And then it became a rule that we all wore our colours on our hats. They couldn’t tell us from air force who wore a slouch hat. I think most of the navy fellas wore khaki too.
So it was just as a distinction that we put our AIF colour patch on.
to be among them. And everybody firstly, when we first joined up we were all different…the boys from the bush, the city boys, the bank managers. They were all different shades. But after we came back from Darwin everybody was tanned to the same colour.
Everybody was in the same physical condition. We were at the peak of our physical being. We all looked like soldiers, and were. We were ready for war. And then we came home.
We had our pre-embarkation leave and we all went our ways. That’s when I got mixed up with Sylvia. I went and visited her and went to a few dances. We had our pre-em [embarkation] leave, said goodbye to our families, had a big march out parade at Redbank which was for our families and girlfriends.
We had a lovely day there. And then on Christmas Day 1940, we boarded a train in South Brisbane for Sydney to board the Queen Mary. My recollections of little Bill and Cynthia on the station that day. They were both locked in each other’s arms and both of them howling like babies. And me
standing there with a big grin on my face. Anyhow, we headed off Christmas Day. We had our parents there. I know my Mum and Dad were weeping away. All I wanted to do was get on that train and get going. It was a horrible feeling. My brothers and sisters came and
my Mum and Dad. I remember looking at Mum and thinking, I hope I see her again. We were leaning out of the window, myself and another young officer, Billy Qubet. He was one of our officers in Don Company.
I remember these two Mums were weeping their heads off and we were both thinking men don’t cry. This officer’s mother said to me, “You look after my Doug.” I thought, looking after an officer, that’s a bit odd. So I said, “Yes.” And my Mum said to him, “You look after my Perce.” And
he said, “Yes, of course we will.” He was the first officer killed. So I didn’t do a very good job. But he wasn’t with me. I wouldn’t have been able to help him anyway.
we do. Where we use paper, they wash. On the Dutch ship, in every toilet, half way down from the water line there’s a little jet up there like that, and I think everybody got caught with it. You’d be sitting on the toilet and you’d see these buttons on the thing and you’d think, what the bloody hell is this for? You’d hit it and a cold jet
of water would hit you right where it hurt most. It was their way…there was paper there for our benefit, but it became quite a familiar thing and if you happened to see someone in the toilet and without him knowing you’d press the button and catch him unexpected. But it was very crowded on the boat. They were Dutch
officers but Indonesian crew, hence the toilets catering for the Moslems. The food was appalling and we had a nasty experience of having to live on it for three days after all the rations ran out. I think we went to Colombo from there. We had a bit of leave in Colombo. We had day leave.
Our first sight of foreign soil. Then we went straight up the Suez Canal to get to our destination. However apparently one night when we were about half way along the canal, the Germans or the Italians flew over and dropped sea mines and supposedly in the canal. They had only been suspected of it mostly so they sent these planes
with big magnetic rings on them which would draw up the mines and they’d explode them. But until they cleared the Suez, they wouldn’t let us go passed the Bitter Lakes. I think
by this time everyone ran out of cigarettes. We all smoked in those days. Food got down to almost negligible. They were having a great battle feeding us, no doubt. Of course we couldn’t get anything in. To our rescue came a few Englishmen who would row out in their little boats and circle the boat. We’d
lower ropes down to them and they tie on packets of cigarettes and that’s how we managed to keep our sanity. It was quite an experience with these planes sweeping and cleaning the mines up. I didn’t see any mines. Never saw any exploding.
realisation that we were getting into something pretty serious. There were a lot of derelict trucks and things like that around. And as I said, everywhere you looked there was clothing or uniforms, parts of uniforms that had been discarded and thrown about. It was actually littered.
Anyway we were moved into trucks and went on up into [(UNCLEAR)], right up and through Buna [?] and Tobruk, Benghazi and right up through there. We were travelling through these towns which were occupied by
Italian civilians and Arabs and that. Again we were in this big great convoy and one person had to ride up on top of these big three tonne trucks, so you could keep an eye out for aircraft. We did get hit a couple of times, bombed. And that was a shock. I think we lost a padre. Not our padre.
But we lost a padre in a bombing and that was a bit weird seeing these planes coming. But it was good fun being able to shoot back at the buggers. They didn’t hit us directly, not at this stage. We got right up to Mersa Brega. I can’t remember much about going through the towns. Possibly we slept a lot. We were crammed in
tight and again you tend to get a bit of motion sickness in the back of a three ton truck, all covered in. I don’t think anyone was worrying too much about where we were. We got to Mersa Brega and we debussed there out of the trucks and we took over from the 5th Battalion
which was a 6th Divvie unit. They handed over to us. We were rather naïve I suppose, very very untrained…inexperienced at this stage. I’ve got a photo over there of my section where we were dug in in the front line area.
There were no enemy around that we knew of anyway. There was this big cross arrangement. I think it was star pickets driven in somehow on the road and a log across, a bar, which was the road block. The soldiers had pushed it out the road. Anyhow we lined up
with our rifles there and had a photo taken. Anyhow we did garrison work there for a while. We just sat there. A few patrols went out and there were quite a few experiences. So we had a quiet little war there.
How did that period change?
I’m not too sure. Again my memory doesn’t tell me too much there. As far as I know we were lifted into a convoy to come back with the view of going over to Syria and Greece to support the 6th Divvie. We had handed over to an English battalion. I don’t know what battalions they were.
I do know they were mostly conscripts and that the …my impression was their country was being razed and the hell knocked out of it. Their mums and dads and their families were getting more war then they had dreamed of and there was no way in the world that they wanted to be there in that useless desert.
So they weren’t very enthusiastic soldiers, I didn’t think. Which proved to be the case. We handed over to them anyhow and we set off back on a convoy. I didn’t think the Jerries had entered into it. They had been sighted but as far as I imagined we were heading for Greece and Crete.
Whether we were told this or not, I can’t remember. We hadn’t got very far. We had stopped at a place called Benghazi I think it was, just outside Benghazi, and this great rabble came through us like a bat out of hell. Poms galore. The old expression: ‘Run like fuck, Aussie, Jerry’s coming.’
We used it a lot. Every time we saw them it was, “Run like fuck Aussie, Jerry’s coming!” But the Poms went through us like that and I don’t think they stopped running until they hit Alexandria. But that threw us right then…by this time there was an advancing German force. That threw us right in at the sharp end of the stick.
I think at Marcia’s Escarpment we consolidated there. I was still in the infantry at this stage. I can talk for hours about this. We dug in and we actually saw a motorcyclist coming up the hill, a German and we at him with everything. I think we threw a tin of bully beef at him for good measure.
We knocked him out, or we knocked the bike out. I think he ended up getting off into a little road house on the side. I don’t know if we got him or not. And then about half a day later an armoured car, a scout car came up. I
remember our two pounders, they never had any closed sights on them, and this anti tank gun officer lined the damn thing up as a rifle somehow and the first shot they fired they took the hub cap out of the bloody thing. So they all escaped into this block house whether the other fella was there waiting for them or not I don’t know.
I don’t know if we got them. But we would have later anyway. Then we were ordered on the trucks and our old Colonel Spike Marlin…we were the rear guard, Don Company and I think B Company was just beside us or with us. I’m not sure. Gordon Wallace was in B Company at this stage. I remember
Spike got…the orders were to mount. We got on the trucks ready to take off. We didn’t want to take off because we reckoned we could have stopped anything at this time. We couldn’t have but we felt we could.
The next thing, they told us to demount. So we demounted and I think we got on those trucks about two or three times before finally they took off. An old Spike, Colonel Marlin, a wonderful old man, sadly to say the last time we saw him…he was with us right to the end, and as we drove off Spike’s staff car rolled passed and everyone
on the bloody convoy cheered him. That was the last we ever saw of Spike as a colonel. Our orders were to get back. I think we were heading for Tobruk I think. We didn’t know where the hell we were heading. Nobody told the odd soldier. There might have been a lot of supposition. But anyhow, we were heading to get out
and the…we came to a road block and apparently…this has all come out later, there was a German dressed up as a MP [military police] and he was there directing the traffic off into the desert and
he guided old Spike off. Spike and his convoy went off and he and most of headquarter company, all of BHQ [battalion head quarters] and a few other stragglers went in, and the next in line…I believe…this may be supposition but I believe it. A bloke by the name of Andy Skinner came along. He was a real old Scotsman. He had a DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] and a MM [Military Medal] from the First World War, highly decorated. And old Andy
saw this officer there, questioned him and found out he couldn’t answer the right questions, so they shot him. And when we came through he said, “I was told to go the bloody coast road and it’s the bloody coast road I’m going.” And he led the rest of the convoy through to the coast road. Old Spike in the meantime had got out into the desert.
I think he would have been the type who would have done that. It annoys me when people say he got caught having breakfast. That’s not my opinion of old Spike. I reckon he pulled his battalion down there and said they would wait until the rest catch up with us. And while we’re here grab something to eat and they did. They were sitting their eating something when the bloody Germans
surrounded them with half a dozen armoured cars and captured them. Lots of stories about that. True ones…I’ve got some of them written in that magazine of mine. The [(UNCLEAR)] experience which I wasn’t part of. But I know we came through and somebody said that the body was laying there and we all drove through.
At this stage I didn’t see it. I didn’t see my first body until I was well into bloody action and that scared shit out of me, I can tell you. Suddenly the glamour of being an overseas visitor was off a bit. Anyhow we then came in and I do remember coming through Derna. It’s so cloudy, the whole thing.
If you asked me what I had seen ten minutes after we drove through Derna. I don’t think I could have given you a clear picture. The whole thing was like a dream. We came through Derna and I don’t know if it was occupied by the Germans or it had been heavily bombed by them or something, but there seemed to be foreign soldiers there and
drove through the lot of them. And I can remember, probably the most touching sight I’ve ever seen was a little boy, a little Italian boy about seven or eight and his big brown eyes looking at us as we drove passed, and I thought you poor little bugger. I wonder what happened to him. I’ve got a fair idea. Anyhow we went through Derna and on into…just outside Tobruk.
I remember the orders came back for us to take up an offensive position and not to surrender and to fight to the death. We weren’t to leave there until we were ordered. We lay there with .303s, 50 rounds of ammunition, fixed bayonets. We laid there waiting. And I’ll never forget this.
Coming along the road…you can see a long way in the desert, there was a gigantic column. It looked like tanks and it was coming straight at us and I thought holy…this is it. Just about maybe a mile away, suddenly this convoy turned right and went off into the desert. Actually it was the column of Germans going to surround Tobruk.
Another mile and they would have got us sitting there. Not that we would have mattered too much. I tell you what, there was a big change of underpants that went on for a while. It was quite an experience. I think the whole bloody platoon just gave one great sigh of relief. Well then they called us in then. But back to Marcia’s Escarpment. We sat there for about two days I think. This is a very interesting story.
Before they actually blew the escarpment, we were sitting there in a defensive position and a column of the finest looking Arab soldiers, all with those big curly swords, turbans…they looked just like the Arabs from the old stories. All
mounted on beautiful horses. They came up that thing. We let them through. I think they hated the Germans and the Italians as much as we did, sort of thing.
I don’t know if it was true but there was a patrol sent off down into Barce and they found nearly every Italian down there with his throat cut, from these boys. So maybe our outlook may have been a bit different if we had known that. Our war was and never will be against children, in spite of what they say about Vietnam.
Anyhow when we got orders to lift up ourselves just outside of Tobruk, we moved into Tobruk and into a defensive position and consolidated there. We weren’t there long. This was where we found out our colonel had gone and that was very demoralising. Everybody had put old Colonel Marlin up on the highest pedestal. It was the top of our totem pole. He
was a great soldier. And some of the men who went with him. My brother-in-law and a great mate, Bill Pritchard, who I mentioned right at the beginning. Bill Pritchard got captured also. That sort of took a bit of living with and getting use to. The idea that we had lost a colonel. Anyhow the battalion rallied and they consolidated.
They put us into reserve while they built it up a bit. We hadn’t fired a shot and we had lost about two hundred men already. But on the morning of Easter Monday when the Germans hit the perimeter, some of our companies stayed back more or less covering the bowl where the massacre was.
Where they got these tanks in this killing field. Our company, Don Company was taken up…and this attack was going on now by the way. And they brought us in right behind Don Company of 2/17th. We took up a position there laying on the ground.
There weren’t any shelters. We were just laying there and everything was just going over our head. In front of us was by now a battle raging between 17 Battalion and the German infantry. None of them got through, thank God. Our role was…if 17th had been overrun we were to up and charge and that’s what we were there for, to counterattack straight away
before they could consolidate. But it was our introduction to real war. The shells were landing amongst us and we were just laying there with cowed backs and clods of dirt belting around us. But miraculously nobody got hit. The fortunes of war. We laid there until the counterattack finished
and then we took over from Don Company 17 which was Corporal Edmondson’s platoon. Corporal Edmondson incidentally was the first VC [Victoria Cross] winner of the war. He lost his life on that very spot. We took over. They came out and consolidate and reinforce and do what they had to do, and give them a couple of days break.
But while we were laying there, our introduction to war. Don Company was belting hell out of Jerry in front of us, fifty to hundred yards in front of us I must add. Between him and us there was a little escarpment. Now they call them escarpment over there but they’re like folds in the ground that drop down, which gave us sufficient protection from gun shot, but not shell fire.
Behind us, we could look back into the valley where we were sitting, and we were watching one of the greatest tank battles ever fought in the Middle East. There were these German tanks moving in and being confronted, almost with their barrels flat and level with 25 pounders, the Royal Horse Artillery. And boy, they saved Tobruk. They
opened those tanks up like bloody sardine tins. Infantry were riding in on them and they were eventually captured by our A Company and C Company. And above us was one of the most …it was unbelievable. The sky seemed to be full of planes. They were bombing us. Sending over bombs over Tobruk I suppose. But
these planes were there fighting this gigantic battle with about half a dozen Hurricanes. They were all shot down incidentally. But at one stage in the desert there was a Hurricane which had shot down two Germans. He himself was shot down and there were three planes falling out of the sky within the one battle. But
he was killed too. They were mostly killed. So that was our introduction to war.
fairly well controlled…I think our training had come to the fore. We had a funny experience. When the battalion moved out, we moved in. I won’t mention his name but our company commander drew in immediately all the machine guns. We had a couple of Bren guns by this time. We weren’t very well equipped.
There were a couple of foreign weapons in use. A couple of Bredas. I don’t know if he brought the Bredas in but he certainly brought all the Bren guns in to company headquarters for body guards. In addition to that he brought in two men out of each section. That from an eleven man fighting section. He came in with two runners from each section.
There’s three sections to a platoon, three platoons to a company and each section contains about eleven men. I was one of the ones selected to go myself and another chap called Doug Gordon. Doug was also a very good friend of mine. He was my best man actually.
I tell you an interesting story about Doug. He’s an old farmer. Only young. I think he was a month older than me so he used his authority on me a bit, but it didn’t work. Old Doug…in our bayonet practice we would fix bayonets and charge these straw bags stretched between a frame.
You’d go charging up and you’d do all this to this bag and then let out a scream. The more noise you make in battle they tell me…I think it’s to hide your own scream. But anyhow it’s supposed to unnerve the enemy. It unnerves everything I think. So we’d go flying in and Doug would come walking back and say, “That what I’m going to do to the first
bloody German I see.” This is written in our book, by the way. I was actually there with him because I was involved in it. Doug’s first action when he saw a German…there was this group of prisoners being brought back just before we took over from Don Company. There was this group of soldiers and in among them were a couple of walking wounded. A bloke with his arm off and he was being helped by another character
who was badly wounded too, but walking. When they came passed us they brought the wounded across to us and Doug jumped out of his bloody pit with his water bottle and gave this guy a drink of water. That’s what he did to the first German he saw.
They gave me the job of taking them back to the RAP [regimental aid post].
Dick Newcombe, a wonderful old gentleman and he’s still alive to day. Dick said, “You take them back to the RAP, Perce.” I said, “Right,” and I was heading back to the RAP and they used to term a couple of them there as the Ragged Ender 6 Section, and old Dick Berryman, also one of the Ragged Ends yelled out, “Hey you silly young bugger you had better take this with you,” and he held up my rifle.
I was walking off with these two Germans unarmed. But they wouldn’t have been able to do anything. One had his arm off, poor bugger, which was a bit unnerving to me. Also the other one had been wounded too. So I took them back to the RAP and the doctors took over from there and I came back and joined my unit.
When we got back and settled down we got this command to send two bodyguards up to …one runner and one body guard up to battalion headquarters. Our company commander was making sure he was secure I think. So we went up and Doug Gordon again…this is the kid that offered the water bottle.
He and I were selected. He was about a month older than me. We weren’t twenty yet, either of us. He immediately got appointed as a runner and I got appointed as a Number Three on a Bren gun which was good because I hadn’t fired them all that much. So
I was in a Bren gun crew and Doug was the runner. Anyhow, people can’t sit around in a war if there’s work to do, so they appointed two young boys from Yandina, brothers. I won’t mention their names. They were a lot older than us. So they and me were told to go out and bury these dead men. Now I hadn’t seen a dead person at this stage.
We went out and they were very very casual and callous about the whole bloody thing and as soon as they get to a dead Jerry they would rat him and go through his clothes and get everything off him. I thought, oh Jesus. Anyway we buried them very shallow. We didn’t dig a lot of ground. And buried two or three. And the third one we came across they said, “You can have this one Perce.” I thought, I don’t want to take
anything off him. Anyhow, it was shocking. Anyhow we buried him. I did take a ring off him, two rings actually, which was a funny story. I’ve always been a bit superstitious. I think there’s spirits everywhere when I’m on my own. Anyhow I had these two dead Germans’ rings
and I didn’t wear them at that stage. That night we all slept…the two gunners, number one and number two stayed with their gun and the rest of the supporting crew all slept in this big bomb proof shelter. Down under the desert, at night, it was totally totally blank. Old Doug was sleeping next to me and I don’t know why,
every hour he’d get called up. “Runner!” and Doug would go up. Finally he came back in off one run and I said, “Jesus, they’re working you to death Doug.” And he said, “I haven’t had any sleep yet.” So I said, “The next run they call you, I’ll go out for you.”
So anyhow, I don’t think a minute had passed before they called runner again and up gets Doug and woke me up and said, “Were you fair dinkum?” So I got up and they sent me out with a written message. I don’t know what it was. I can’t even remember what the message was. I went back straight as a die to my section. Now, desert at night time is totally different to anything you can ever imagine. To navigate
at night time…you could stand there for a second and you could very easy lose all sense of direction and you wouldn’t know which way to go. But anyhow I honed straight in on my section. I dropped this message off and I was heading back. I thought to myself, I know where the company headquarters are and if I walk
back to that tank there…I got to the tank and I thought I hope there’s no one dead in there. It was a bit scary. And I turned and faced this direction and I said to myself, there’s my company battalion headquarters. And I must have walked about a hundred yards, still with the tank in my view and I thought, I’m lost. I’m totally lost.
So I went back to the tank, lined up again and walked that far again. I was lost completely, completely disorientated. So I went back to the tank for about the third time and I thought bloody hell, will I ever find company headquarters. And I thought, well I’ve been this way and that way, it must be that way. And I took about two paces and I felt two figures…I felt them, I didn’t see them.
I felt something standing behind me and I spun round and there were two figures of men less than fifteen to twenty feet behind me. They were just standing there, and good training, I said, “Halt.” They were already halted. And I said “Advance one and be recognised.” They didn’t move and at that stage I should have shot them. But I thought bloody hell and so I said again, “Advance and be recognised.”
So I thought here goes for nothing. So I ripped one up the spout and I walked straight up to them and it was two Indians, and they were lost poor buggers. So we were completely disorientated. I think they were manning an anti tank gun or something. So they were lost too. So in our garble…I knew exactly where their pit was.
I said, “You’re right there.” And they said, “Your company is straight over there.” So I went home and I woke Doug up and I said, “You can do your own bloody running.” I think I might have gone out on a couple more, but during the night…we were laying there and …there were all these dead people laying around all blown to pieces, and this was playing on our minds
and we were laying there in this pit and suddenly something went whiz passed our eyes. And the whole bloody section sat up and said, “What was that?” It was an old gerboa rat. Those bloody rats. Everybody’s nerves were that much on edge. He went straight across us and we were all up ready to fight. I was talking to
my immediate neighbour who was also from my company, but not my section. His name was Reg Bambley. He won a DCM. A great soldier, a little fella. He is still a great friend of mine. I said to him years later, “Jesus Reg, that bloody thing scared hell out of me. I hadn’t seen a dead man before today.” He said, “Neither had I.”
outside. But I remember going over with them on when I transferred over to the Bren gun carriers. A very good friend of mine, Les Hawton, said, “What’s that ring?” And I told him, “Onyx,” no, bloodstone and he put it on and said, “That fits me, I’m going to keep that.” I said, “You can have it, Les.” And the other
one I’ve kept it for a while and one of the sergeants asked me about the ring and I told him it was a wedding ring. And he said, “Can I have it? I haven’t got a wedding ring.” But the funny thing about it. Two days later Les Hawton went out on his carrier to deliver ammunition to some post . It was Les and Cec
Ryan. Cec Ryan was a sergeant. A beautiful fellow. Jimmy Hawton was a bit of a rough head. He was a bit of a boy. A good bloke. But they went out in their carrier…I think three carriers went out on a patrol and they were delivering ammunition to the hot spot. One of the hot spots in Tobruk. This carrier, I don’t know if it went a bit too close or something, but they wore a shell, straight through the side of a carrier. It was armoured piercing shell and it went through the side, exploded in Jim’s lap
blowing both his legs off, and the armoured corp continued on and blew the legs off Cec Ryan. Cec lived briefly. He couldn’t drive it. The guy in the back was a chap called Eddie Gough. He hadn’t done much driving. He was just like me. We had just joined the carriers at this stage and a chap called Jim Christenson, a sergeant
in the other carrier saw their plight and went charging out. They were brushing these fellas with machine gun fire and he raced up beside the carrier and swerved in front of it, and there was a little fella inside it called Bill McCann. It didn’t have a tooth in his head.
But he could suck a biscuit quicker than you could. So Bill jumped out of the carrier and hooked it up and the moment he jumped out…whether it was coincidental, but the moment he jumped out, the machine gun stopped firing. He hooked it up and the moment he got back
in it started firing again. It might have been just that pause between changing a belt and something but I rather feel it was a little bit of respect the Germans had for a heroic act. He got a commander in chief’s car and Jim Christenson, the commander of the carrier, got a DCM out of it.
But unfortunately Cec Ryan died about two or three days later. I was telling you about the rings. God I rave on, don’t I. And as soon as I saw this I thought, wow that’s a bad omen. He’s the second fella who’s died with that ring on his finger.
So I was quite willing to give it away when someone wanted it.
That was my one ambition and I became a very skilful driver, so much so they gave me to the colonel as his driver. He had to be a man who thought for himself because he was on his own half the time. But anyhow we manned posts. When we occupied front lines we’d man posts with our Vickers and fill gaps.
On a few occasions there…I can’t remember what post it was in Tobruk…the caves there are different to our caves. Where we go in, there’s go down. We were living in one of these. It had steps going down and all. It had been used for something I don’t know, and there were two gigantic mounds on the enemy side.
So we had dug our two Vickers guns into there. And we were covering a front I suppose a mile or more between that line that went that way and the one that went that way. We filled that gap. So we were shooting straight across this company out there. I forget what company it was. We had quite a few experiences there. One
motor bike rider came in and we manned guns and we put him quietly away…or noisily away with the two Vickers chomping away. Shortly after that, we were called to the guns again. There was a truck that drove right into the wire, but we didn’t get it. I remember you could see the bullets actually ploughing into the back of the canopy of the truck and it was loaded with Italian workmen.
I think there might have been a few headaches in the back of that, because it was a pretty deadly gun. To amuse themselves, one of these characters, I don’t know who started it but they were digging around these mounds and the next thing we came out one morning and there was a beautiful skull and cross bones hooked up to a post outside our post. We were sitting right in the middle of an ancient burial ground.
At night people used to dig at the back, digging out bloody skulls. They would probably give us a medal because we found some ancient site or something. I don’t know. But we used to have to go for our rations, draw our rations from another…I must tell you a story about drawing our rations. There was a practice in Tobruk…we might
undergo two or three air raids a day, and these planes would usually come over in fairly large volumes, and they’d dive bomb Tobruk and then they’d level out…they would come down from say 10,000 feet, to almost nothing. And then they’d come hurling straight across the desert heading for home. Maybe fifty to a hundred yards above the…and of course we’d shoot at them, but I don’t think we ever hit one.
Also one of the tasks was to…for two men to walk from our post up to company headquarters at a certain time every afternoon to get our water supply for the day and our rations for the day. A chap called Bob Scarr, a friend of mine and I, were allocated the task this day and we were heading across this desert.
I suppose it would have been a good quarter of a mile from our post to that post. And we were about half way in the middle of it. A raid had gone over Tobruk and we were walking along looking back at these planes wondering what’s going to happen. And sure enough they couldn’t have honed in on us better. They turned and they were coming
straight back over us. These planes had the habit of shooting up anything that moved or anything they saw, and there’s old Bob and I walking along with these planes coming at us. We had no chance of getting to the post so we took off like bloody deer. Bob was a big tall bloke. He was about six foot and he would out stride me, and that height gave him a better viewing distance too.
So we were running back towards the post looking for somewhere to get out of the range of these planes and we knew we were going to get hit, and suddenly Bob yelled, “There’s a pit” and we dived in and we beat a burst of ammunition, a burst of fire from this plane. It was coming over us like that. We laid there for a minute then got out and we were standing there
beside the pit surveying it and suddenly a horrible aroma wafted us. We dived in on what had been a very well used latrine. I tell you, we smelled of roses for quite some time. We got our stuff back. They wouldn’t let us go back in the bloody pit with them. We had to stay outside. I think they gave us a half a mug of water or something to scrub the crap off us. And the stench, oh God, it was awful.
There was a lot of dry scrubbing with sand and with this bit of water. So we eventually got presentable enough to let us back in the pit. I think the smell…we got the stuff off us eventually. There was no change of clothes. I think it was a couple of days before they got a change of clothes off to us. The smell stayed with us for a long time.
Isn’t that a blood curdling story? It’s quite true too.
Concertina wire. So we would do part of the day doing that. We’d rest a lot. It was a very boring bloody place. At night time it would liven up a bit. We used to go out in force with sections. Johnny Duke, our sergeant, would take half the
platoon out one night and Bob Wicks our platoon sergeant would take the other half out the next night. But we’d carry pickets out to the infantry; put up fences for them; lay mine fields for them. We’d cart all the stuff out in support to the infantry. Quite a few…I don’t know how we ever escaped it,
actually. We’d go out and we’d be in front of the infantry, not far from the Germans and the amount of times that they raked us with bloody machine gun fire and never hit anyone. It was amazing. It was uncanny. And funny things happened. This big Bob Scarr who ended up being banned because of his odour, and me. We
went out one night and I still don’t know whether Bob saw something or imagined it. But you can’t afford to take risks. Anyway, we went out and this night we were laying pickets. I’m carrying them and he’s carrying them. We’re walking along, one two three and stick a picket in. One two three and stick in another one.
We were going out into the desert and heading for what we thought was a line of attack, and suddenly Bob dropped his pickets and yelled, “Jesus, there’s a bloody machine gun there!” And I looked over and all I could see was what looked like a white face staring at me. It was a bright moonlight night and Bob was by this time half way back to Benghazi or somewhere.
I turned and went with him and I didn’t question it. He swore that we walked right into a German machine gun post. Whether we did…it was possible. But the glance I got, it looked like a bloody scared face. So whether it was a poor little German kid out there behind the gun and these two Aussies walked in on him and he was crapping too. There was not a shot fired. We went back and old Johnny Duke
realigned his compass and said, “Jesus you were a long way over that way.” So we had walked off in the wrong direction and I think we had walked right into their pit and got them unawares. We had no rifle to attack with. We dropped out pickets when we got scared.
So a few of us would often go out scrounging for timber wood, but finding wood in the desert is almost impossible. So we always went out and we managed to find something we could burn. And this time we came across an old Italian ammo dump. So we were able to get a heck of a lot of good timber out of the ammo cases.
We noticed a big pile of four be twos. They were about four feet long. We thought wow, hard wood. So we loaded them on and when we loaded them on I noticed there were a row of holes in each one, and it wasn’t until the next day that I found out what the holes were for. Next morning we got up and there’s the old cook out cooking our breakfast,
on this open fire…and using our timber to cook it. He was cooking tinned bacon and it was the saltiest, greasiest stuff ever. Horrible stuff. And he was cooking it in this pan and just about when it was ready to serve, the
fire erupted in a great explosion. That gave the old cook a bit of ringing in the ears and there was scattered bacon and everything else for miles around. So we looked at the four by two and we found out it was the Italians method of safely carrying detonators. And each one had a detonator in it and they exploded. Anther funny thing about a cook. Years and years
later when I was a RSM in the regular army, I took a group people into Benalla on an NCOs [non commissioned officer] course. Like privates going for corporals and corporals going for sergeants…and we had had a bit of an exercise which required the use of grenade simulators
the night before. Anyhow the next morning this kid came in with a blind. A blind being a grenade that didn’t go off. Now these things are quite dangerous if they’re handled after they’ve been fired. Fire means pull the pin out. I took it. And usually we destroy them in situ. So I took it and I said I couldn’t explode it in the camp.
So I soaked it in dieseline for the night. Now, dieseline is supposed to neutralise the explosive power and next morning I got an old bandage and wound it around the grenade soaked in diesel. It had about a three foot wick on it and I took it down. The young adjutant said he must come and watch it.
I told him it would probably burn away if it had been neutralised, if not it will explode, but there will be no damage done. So we set it up and lit it and the next thing the little lance corporal, an MI, mutual instructor. He was bringing people in to practice lessons. And one of the favourite methods of instructions I suppose was to give the introduction and ask for questions and hope like mad that the squad would ask questions where you could show
your knowledge particularly if the RSM and the adjutant were watching you. Anyhow, he breezed through his introduction and immediately said, “Any questions?” And the old adjutant whispered “What about that explosive?” And I said, “Don’t worry, it will burn away. There’s no use telling them about it, it will distract them too much.”
So there was no questions and the next thing the little lance corporal said, “Any questions?” and this bloody grenade went off with a roar. And a voice from the back came up from the cook, “Yes, has anyone got any paper, I think I just shit myself.” I don’t hate cooks, but things happen.
Tell us. You were in Tobruk for nine months or so. How did you manage to cope with all the danger over that period?
I don’t know, really. I never let it get to me. I don’t think any of us did. We had a thousand ways of keeping ourselves going and amused. No, I don’t think at any stage I ever lay in a bed in Tobruk of a night time when you do your serious thinking and thought, I’m not going to get out of here. I really didn’t expect to get killed.
I didn’t think it could happen to me. So therefore I think having that feeling gave me assurance. But they used to shell us like buggering, and you’d think anytime now a shells going to come and share the bed with me. But it never did.
You would be pulling your hair out with fear. I think everybody just took it very quietly as Australian soldiers, diggers do. Sometimes someone would snap, but very very rarely. I think the bloody officers sometimes did things to us that tested us out more. We had an officer, Tommy Keys. He was a bit of a larrikin, old Tom.
He used to be a manual arts teacher in some college here in Brisbane. He got his commission with us when we lost our boss at the beginning of Tobruk and he became our commander. And old Tom at one stage…we had a wonderful CSM, the company sergeant major.
And this old Nick Carter…he was really a great guy. He always looked after his men. Anyhow, in this particular position he set his company headquarter up in this area and the Cow[(UNCLEAR)] were adjacent to them. And Nick came over and asked our boss would he
…they were great mates. And he asked whether his platoon would picket headquarters. It would be a break from roving pickets. So that was ok, and the very first night, Nick arranged for our last shift
to wake him up so he could get platoon up on standby. Everybody stands by at dawn. No matter where you are, you standby your weapons. Anyhow that went good, but old Tom countermanded the order and it came to him and he would wake Nick up.
He had inherited or got a German Very Light pistol from the Easter Monday show, and his method of waking old Nick up was by firing a Very Light at his donger and these great balls of fire were flying out and hitting the roof and going up in the air. It just about killed poor old Nick.
But Nick was very careful in future. He had lady’s pit in that incident. His dugout was half covered up that end where it was facing the enemy and the open area was towards us. So in future he always had the covered end towards Tom. He was up and running in no time flat I can tell you. But another time, with his great balls of fire, Tom
suggested we leave our dixies out to air. This was in the third line of defence, the green line. Anyhow someone got a big plank from somewhere, a big slab of wood from somewhere. They put that up on two ammo cases and we put our dixies out. The next thing old Tom gets out with the Very Light pistol and had some practice blowing them off.
of it, but it was great thing. I remember, towards the end we were starting to get a rum issue every night. I thought, I’m going to save up mine. So I saved up about five nips and I got those into me. So A, I
wasn’t too happy about going on a boat and B, it was the joy of getting out of Tobruk. But the ship we came out on, the little destroyer, I remember sitting outside the cook’s galley and it was bloody torture. As I said, we had been living pretty rough and they must have had a roast on, a roast dinner. And the smell of the roast meat was almost unbearable. I can’t
remember even eating on the boat. I don’t think we had a meal. I don’t think we did. Anyhow the old cook came out with a tray about a metre long and about half a metre long and about half a metre wide full of beautiful baked potatoes. So we hoed into them. They tasted like heaven. That was the first real fresh food for a long time. There was another time in Tobruk when …they brought in fresh meat and potatoes very occasionally, but towards the end
they got better control of the supply. I remember I had bloody dysentery. I was going and going, and I went to the doctor and he hit me with something and I went back the next day and he did it again. And the last day I was really getting serious and I think I was within a whisker of being sent out.
I went back and he said I should try this and he gave me a mug of fluid and I always hated castor oil. He said down that and I drank it. I tell you what, it hasn’t improved in taste from when I was a kid. I went back and I thought it was murder. Fancy doing that to a soldier. Anyhow I went back and meal
arrived that night and it was fresh meat and I’m supposed to be on a no food diet…fresh meat and potatoes and thought to hell with the dysentery. And I remember it was getting on towards latish in the afternoon. The sun was still up and I had a hunk of meat. Everybody did. We had no dixies or anything. By this time we had settled down to a dixie and a spoon. That was all you had.
So we had these pieces of meat. They were cut into about two inches by two inches by about six inches long and we had it in our hand like that and you’d be shaking the flies off it and eating these boiled potatoes. And I thought to hell with this, I’m going to eat it if it kills me. And I never went for a week after that. I was right. That’s all I needed. Was to be bunged up with a few good potatoes.
There’s a photo of me having a cup on the way. We went to …I think we went to Aleppo and we were set up in the German barracks there, and that’s when our serious training started.
I was on a gun carrier crew and we all did our training. We went to Aleppo…what’s the other place? We did extensive driving and stripping carriers. We became quite mechanical. They taught us how to service a carrier, strip a distributor down
and how to strip all the wires out and rewire it and everything. That was done by a Captain Lance Bowd who was one of our heroes. He was killed. He was a wonderful soldier. A legend he was. Gordon would have mentioned him for sure. He was also an A Grade mechanic.
He brought us up from nothing as way as mechanical knowledge went to very skilled drivers. He had us out driving over ditches and jumping things. We could do wonderful things with the carriers. During the Syrian campaign for me,
we did guard duties too, up on the border, the Turkish border, which was rather strange. We went up as a platoon without the carriers and we occupied an area there and we would guard them religiously all day and sleep all night. The Turks came over and helped themselves.
We felt it was some agreement between the governments that we were supply the Turks with vehicles and fuel to keep out of it. That was actually happening. You could hear them come over the border at night. We didn’t mind. We did what we were supposed to do. That might be only supposition.
We were in the snow then. At one big petrol camp we were guarding. It was shocking. There was snow on the tent and you’d have to get up and knock it off now and again. Most of the days we spent in bed. You’d lean out of bed and grab a tin of bully beef and eat half of it and pass it on to you mate and he’d eat the other half.
We had a cook with us there too. He’d get up occasionally and do the right thing. We were cold and we weren’t used to the cold.
We used to do day patrols and that but no active patrols. One patrol I went out on…our boss who took over when Lance Bowd left us, a chap called Ron Yates. He replaced him and also his lieutenant was George Bannister. He was a DSM when we went over.
So George walked into the place and he said, “I’m going to stir these bloody Jerries up.” He started going out in a carrier and he would drive out right up to the Jerry’s wires, spin around…he had two machine guns mounted on the back. And they would just razz these Germans, spray them. He did that for three days in a row, just to stir the Jerry up.
He hoped to send an ambush patrol out the next night which I was involved in. It was only a small patrol but we had a hell of a lot of firepower. We had two Thompson sub machine guns, two Bren guns, and the two number two’s to the Bren guns were rifles with a sergeant in charge. We were supposed to go out 1600 yards to
ambush. We went out 1200 and got bloody ambushed. The Jerry outthought us. It was pretty touch and go. It was remarkable actually. The Jerry had made a big mistake in my opinion. He had dug in his two machine guns and he had dug them in on the top of a sand dune.
You know how time and tide washes the shore line up and there’s always a big ridge, well he had dug in on top of that, or just a little bit below the top of it. And his command post was in the centre. As we came along…I was on the extreme right in the front with a Thompson. I was there. My sergeant was in the middle in a V
so he was there, and the other Thompson was over there. I was the furtherest away from the guns and I would have been fifty or sixty feet. They hit us with everything. I saw them but it was too late to do anything. I was walking along and I saw this movement on the bank and someone called “English” in German and the
next thing, they swamped us. They were firing at no more than fifty or seventy passes, but instead of firing across the desert, with the desert and then they would have got us all, they were firing down like that. Both guns must have been focused on one boy. Dave Knight. They practically cut him in half. He didn’t know what hit him.
We hit the deck of course and waited for a command from John. I fully expected them to grenade us but they didn’t do it, for some reason. They just razed us and razed us and strafed us. At one stage Johnny called back to me and he said, “We’re in a bloody fix here.” And I said, “Yeah, I was thinking of crawling back to that tank.”
It was a bright moonlight night and I said, “I was thinking of crawling back to that old knocked out tank and open up with the Tommy and see if I can draw the fire for you.” He said, “That’s a good idea, we’ll both go.” Anyhow we were getting ready for the moment to go back…we just pushed ourselves back. I had my weapon under me and I lifted my head to look at something and a bloody burst of rounds went whiz right under my head. I thought I had lost my head. I was spitting
and spluttering, and he was saying “Shut up, shut up you bloody idiot.” And I said, “I think I’ve lost my head.” Anyhow we started to slither out and strangely enough, just as we started a cloud that looked no more than that big, (you don’t see clouds on the desert much). It just drifted over the moon and gave us just that moment and we took off.
We just pushed ourselves back and as we were going back, another body came slithering out there and another one there, and we got back a respectable distance and one of them told us about Dave being killed. There was a lot of speculation about this. Our book says he was wounded and they went out after him. But that’s definitely not true. He was dead before he hit the ground.
He was cut from there down to there. He was hit and also…a Bren gunner came out with us, and the other Bren gunner Billy Ritchie stayed back with his number two who wore a bullet on the side. He didn’t want to move. He was in pain.
Anyhow Bill was trying to get him to come out. We went out to get him but we were assured that he was gone actually. We thought he was out. Anyway, this Bill told me later that old Shorty took another bullet in the ankle and he realised how bloody much alive he was. “I’m getting out of here!” Just at the moment the Germans must have
thought they had us because they sent about eight men out. We didn’t see them. They sent them out and they started to move around in front of Bill and come round to his left. And they turned to come back, and there was another couple who came down to join them, and Bill realised that the guns couldn’t fire at him without hitting their own men, and these
two shielded him from them a bit so he spun his gun around and he wiped them down. He got eight down. He grabbed little Shorty. He hauled him and they took off like rabbits. I think they bloody near beat us back. But we only left one man there. We got about eight Jerries, or Billy got about eight Jerries that night. That was a bit nerve wracking.
nine killed…this is out of thirty or forty people. There were nine killed and eight wounded. So I lost a hell of a lot of good friends, including our carrier commander, George Bannister and his driver. Just so many. So we were to go through an assault. But when the thing…when Colonel Gray decided, after our colonel got skittled,
Major Grace took over the battalion and brought it out in copy book style. He called the thing off. He couldn’t see the point in sacrificing any more men. So he brought us out. And then us remaining carriers, we went back in to do what ever we could. We got as far as the RAP,
and the RAP was a little depression in the ground, and the doctors and the RAP staff were there working frantically. There were dozens and dozens of them. Germans and our own fellows. There were bodies everywhere. I remember my carrier commander, Sid Day, he said, “We’ll stay here and help with the wounded
you get out what wounded you can.” So I don’t know how many trips I did in that day. It’s just like a bloody dream. I remember going in once and meeting a group coming out. They were under fire most of the time. I remember loading on the fellow they were leading out and he had a
part of his skull blown out there. I remember looking at him while I was driving, thinking, “Poor old Pooley.” The brain was going like that, pulsating. And I brought the rest of the section out and got them to the RAP and I don’t know how many trips I did in that day. I remember going out at one stage and someone said there was a couple of engineers over there in a hole. “They’re not game to move. See if you can help them.”
I raced in and spun the old carrier around to shield them a bit and they leapt out. Three young engineers and they charged…they had a little lance corporal in charge. I’ll tell you about him later…how your lives brush together. This little lance corporal was most thankful. Anyway I got them out and then we brought wounded out then, what we could. That was my part of Bulimba.
A great little guy and he went in as a Don-R with George Bannister the commander who got killed. And George said, “Where ever I go in the carrier, you come with me.” For a carrier, it’s ok. They’ve got an inch of steel all around them, but a motorbike’s sitting there like the proverbial dunny. And poor old Blue was trying
his best to keep the carrier between himself and machine guns that were firing at him. Anyhow at one stage he came in and old George raced in and engaged a machine gun nest…I’ve been told, and Bluey brought the carrier right in behind him, and the next thing he was given the order to get the hell out of it and Larry Green, the
driver, reversed and went straight back over his bloody motor bike. So while he’s doing that, Blue’s scrambling over the back of the carrier and swearing like a beauty. So he lost his motor bike. Anyhow he brought the wounded back to the…these are all factual stories…back to the RAP, let the wounded off
and one of the carriers came in minus a commander. I think it was Don Wright. Yes, he had got hit and the carrier was still in action and George said to Bluey, “Take command of that carrier.” And Blue jumped in it and he had never fired a Vickers before and he said to the number two…I forget his name. It’s in the book there.
He said, “I’ve never fired one of these bloody things” and he said, “Jump over in the back and I’ll take over.” He never got to fire it. They went straight into a mine and it killed both the driver and
number two and old Blue got out of it without a scratch. Those things happen. They can just change like that.
We escorted two engineers out exactly on the line of attack at Bulimba to lift up a couple of mines. We weren’t a fighting patrol, even though we were armed to the teeth with machine guns. We went out with a view of getting a mine because they felt there was something different about the mines. They were so devastating to the tanks and the carriers.
We went out this night, I’ll never forget. It was pretty amusing I suppose. But we got almost out from the wire…this being a pretty common thing for a soldier to do, a quick nervous one before he gets too close in. And usually a trained infantry man will roll over on his side where the water can fall. But this bloody engineer stood up and
he peed and peed and he peed and this water coming down and hitting the hard desert sounded like Niagara Falls. This poor old Cec Dobbs and Jack Rose were saying, “For Christ’s sake, shut up!” Anyhow it was just something funny. We went down and let them in anyway. We got right up to the wire and we were all actually on the wire and the
engineers had just moved forward to cut it and go through and a bloody patrol of Germans, eight of them, came in and they walked right in front of us. I could have grabbed them by the ankles, and they didn’t see us. And it wasn’t a very dark night. It was pretty light. We dressed in khaki when we went out and it was hard to see us laying on the sand. Anyhow we had to abort it.
They came through, walked around and went back over and around. Whether they were doing a patrol or heard something I don’t know…probably this fella peeing. But anyhow they got stuck into a work party, a big party of Italians, so we said we should abort, so we did. Coming back in we were walking along and I remember giving the signal to Ces. I asked, “Are they men over there?”
There was this post and I often talked to the boys who went out on patrols and they said they were caught by the same thing at one time or another. It was what looked like men standing in a gun pit from there up. And this bloody Ces Dobbs. He had no fear, Ces. He said, “Let’s go and investigate it.”
And I thought I wish I hadn’t told him they were there. We nearly passed them anyway. So he stood up and he walked straight towards them. We had pretty powerful fire power. They only had to move and they were gone. He had a Thompson and Jack had a Thompson. Anyhow old Cec just walked straight up to them, and of course we had to walk with him. But when we got back I said to Cec, “You’re a bloody stupid bugger. What did you do that for? You had me just about soiling my pants
out there.” And old Jack got up him too. And Cec said, “You pair of buggers. I was only walking because you pair were.” So we nearly talked ourselves into trouble there. But anyhow it was only a couple of…they looked like cardboard cartons that they used to put big shells in. It was a dummy that Jerry had set up and it frightened
so many feet in the air and then they’d shower and they were devastating. Also I would end up with little Jimmy Kelly in with me. They’d all come into the carrier for a bit of shelter. There would be a fight between Jimmy and Bill to see who would get the front seat. As soon as the order was to move, we would just follow the battalion in.
On the first night in, the only variation was…one of our officers lost a leg, Bob England. This sergeant came flying over and wanted me to take him out and I said, “I’m not allowed to. We’re supposed to bring all wounded in. And I’ve been specifically instructed not to take wounded out.” I said, “Go and see the adjutant if you have any problems with that.”
So he did and the colonel was there and he said, “Tell Perce to take him out.” So I picked up poor old Bob and brought him out without a leg. The only thing he said was, “I won’t be able to play bloody cricket any more.” But later in the regular army…he stayed in the army as well. I think he was in the Army Reserves.
I think he was at the Bulimba Workshops. I had joined the local cricket team and I used to go and play cricket against him. He was a sullen bugger with me. He would never talk too much. I would always say, “G’day Bob, do you remember me?” “Yeah, I remember you.” And that was as much as I would get out of him. But in spite of his no leg he could hit that bloody cricket ball. He used to have a runner.
But he was quite impressive. He couldn’t bowl or anything like that. It wasn’t until years and years later, in the hospital. I went and visited him and he had lost his second leg through bad circulation. This was when we were both old men. I saw him and he used to be as grumpy as hell with me and I asked why. It appeared…
I knew he had cracked up a bit in the carrier because he was in pain, poor bugger, and those carriers aren’t any cushion to ride on. And old Bob let out a few squeaks. But he always felt he had broken down in front of me and he wouldn’t let me get close to him. And it wasn’t until I wrote a little item about him. It’s over there, actually, about him going on a
course for his majority in the regular army…this instructor kept ragging him about his slowness and he never said a word and someone said to the instructor that he should look at how he was handling Bob, that he had only one leg and the stump was raw and bleeding. And this instructor never knew, so he backed off him.
And I wrote this story about…such is the courage of our 2/15th officers and such was the courage of Bob England. His wife told me later that he had always felt this guilt about giving into himself. I never even thought of it.
And so tell us about some of your time up near the front at El Alamein?
I did a lot of work for the colonel there. On the first push in, I went back and picked up the lights and things like that. And they worked me pretty well as a safe vehicle.
It wasn’t until going in on the second push, when the colonel got killed. This particular night, we walked into a wall of death. That was only way you could describe it. The bloody air bursts that were coming over was shocking. And machine gun fire…and I had little Billy Allen with me, and Jimmy Kelly. They were with
me in the carrier. As we were sitting there, the adjutant …the colonel went forward of the infantry…he went forward to have a look at the situation and he took the two I section fellas through with him too. I know their names: George Snowden and Johnny Coyle. A good mate of mine Johnny, he joined up with me.
Anyhow, the next thing the adjutant came flying back passed the carrier and he stopped and yelled out, “The colonel’s been hit badly” and he himself had been hit too. He wore a pretty nasty wound in the neck. So Morrie went on to get fixed and Jimmy and I…I said, “Let’s go Jim.” And we went through this wall
of machine gun fire. It was everywhere. And I remember coming up to these two fellas laying in a hole. I had Jim with me. I was in front of him and I crouched down beside Jim with George Snowden, and he said, “The colonel’s been hit bad, he’s in a little shell scrape just a head.” And Johnny said, “Get down in the hole or you’ll be killed.” And I said, “If I get down there now, I won’t have the courage to get up again,” and I wouldn’t have either.
Anyway we got to the colonel and we threw ourselves down beside him and they were just raking over the top of us like that. I dressed the wounds the best I could. He had an arm off. I put a pressure bandage on that. He had a head wound, which I was very worried about. He also had a wound on the leg and I bandaged that. And he said, “The thing I’m worried about, Perce, is my stomach. I’ve got a bad stomach wound.”
And I thought, oh shit. So I did what I could. Jimmy and I picked him up in a fireman’s carry and ran back with him to the carrier. He kept as calm as anything. He kept saying, “Leave me here now, I’ll be alright. You’ve done the first aid on me. The medical team will pick me up.” But I wasn’t leaving my bloody colonel here.
I said, “If it was good enough to take Bob England out on your instructions, sir, it’s good enough to take you out.” And he didn’t back it. And privates don’t give colonels orders. But anyhow I did and we put him in the carrier and I drove him back. I didn’t know where the RAP was. I just kept driving until I saw this RAP which happened to be…I think it might have been a 51st Highland Division. Pommies they were, and I remember loading the colonel off.
He was still quite conscious for all his problems, and again he said to me, “Get yourself back, Perce, quick because you’ve got the brigade set on. And if there’s any messages to withdraw from brigade then they’ve got to have it there straight away.” There’s two brigade sets, one was on the jeep and he said, “If that gets knocked out they’ve got no contact.”
So I said, “Ok, I’ll go back sir.” But I hated leaving him. And he reached up with his good hand and he grabbed me there like that and he said, “I’ll never forget you for this,” and he died. But it was a pretty sad thing. I got back to the battalion…they had got through their problem and
established themselves. Ron Yates, our commander, called me over. He said, “Hey kid, get over here.” He handed me an enamel mug full of OP rum and he said, “Get that into you.” He said, “Your mate Sid Day got killed, and Billy Allan too.” And I thought, shit. Three men gone who had meant so much in my life. They were all gone. But the colonel, gee, he was a great guy.
He would have been a wonderful soldier if he had been spared.
How were you the next day?
Again, I had built a bit of a hard barrier against it. I suffered so much about the loss of my colonel, and Billy Allan. I knew I had to front up to Bill’s girlfriend sometime. I felt awful. It didn’t last long, I suppose.
The colonel that took over, Major Bruce Strange, he took over and he handed me over to…and Ron Yates allocated me to…Ron got hit too by the way. They allocated me over to a very good friend of mine, Captain John Brown. John joined up with me as a corporal. He was a corporal in the CMF [Citizen’s Military Forces].
He and I did a hell of a lot of patrols. I went out on patrols with Johnny Duke a couple of times. He was a sergeant and a very dear friend of mine. John took me out to drive for him. We went out to contact the Maoris who went crazy and were about a mile ahead of where they should have been. We
had to go out and establish contact with them. Johnny Duke being Johnny Duke, said, “Go that way!” and we went straight out into enemy territory where we were fired on, and then come home like a bat out of hell in the carriers. I went out with John a couple of times on patrols. I went and sat in an area with the CO’s [commanding officer] batman who
didn’t know…I had to drive and fire the gun which is a bit tough…to close a gap off which we knew of and which the Germans might infiltrate through. Then they handed me over to Johnny Brown to drive him in a carrier. John came up and said we had a bugger of a job to do. He said we had to go out and do probes around the perimeter. We were almost surrounded there in the last position.
He said we had to go out until we’re fired upon and then get the hell in. They had to establish that the Jerry was there. They felt he was about to break. So we did that and I think on two days we went out so many times. We were practically under the bloody guns and as soon as they belted into us, John would say, “Home!” And we’d do a split arse turn and then out. Oh boy, could that carrier throw itself around.
I showed them my exhaust pipe very very smartly. And one day we went out on an angle towards the mosque. There was a big mosque, which was our line of advance right through the whole battle and not to be fired on, because it was a sacred area, this old mosque. I’ll tell you a story about that. Jerry used it as a pit and he could see for miles.
We went out on the line to that and we got out about 1000 yards I supposed and John was standing up in front of the carrier with his binoculars, and I looked across at on an angle of 45% away from where John was looking with his glasses, there was a group of about eight Germans scurrying around getting behind their machine guns. I yelled out, “Sir, look!” And he said, “Get out of here.”
So we turned at them and then kept going with Bren gun fire.
to the mosque and we looked over and there was a batch of about a hundred and twenty Germans getting to bloody hell out of it, on foot. They had been left behind and old John screamed out to the carriers to take a hold down position. That’s facing towards them with the guns on them, and he instructed one carrier to put a burst of fire over their head
and he did and one hundred and twenty pieces of white flag went up into the air. They had had it. So we went out and captured them. I claim that would have been the last contact that Australians would have made with Germans. There might have been the odd pocket somewhere, but this day, the 8th Army went through us like a rocket.
That’s another story, but I think we were the last ones to go out. Johnny got an MC [military cross] for it by the way, for that and all the other good work he did during the battle. But I think we were the last to actually have large scale contact with the enemy. It was rather amusing…these little things. We can talk about the horrible things of war, but these are
the things that live more in my mind than anything. It’s the fact that old John Everett, we used to called him the Bloody Bedouin. He was a great mate of mine, John. I looked on him as a father. He was a lot older than me. He had a little moustache like a Bedouin. He was as black as the ace of spades. He was sunburnt like burn leather like we all were. But he had a dark complexion and brown eyes.
But he was very very Australian of course. Ron when in (with these fellows). They had quite a few wounded with them. Johnny Brown, our captain, said to Ron, “Take those wounded out, Ron. You take them out and we’ll send another carrier out to escort the prisoners.” But anyhow, old Ron was sitting in the carrier. He was leading
the prisoners out and they were to follow him. They had a carrier on either side of them and one behind them with a machine gun trained on them. If they had blinked a bloody eye…and there wouldn’t have been any messing about with that. Ron had these two wounded fellas and he had them sitting up in the front of the carrier with them. And this fellas kept tapping him on the shoulder and saying “Mines, mines.” And Ron
was looking around saying, “No mines here.” What the poor bugger was trying to tell Ron was he was right in the middle of a mine field and he drove right through without anything happening. Amazing.
We came back to Palestine, Egypt then Palestine then we headed home. And that was a period of time when our battalion was buggered. I think us old fellas had had it. We went through some traumatic times then I think settling down.
There was a lot of heavy drinking going on, and a bit of fighting. We weren’t ourselves at all. We had new blood in the platoon. We had lost about seven or eight or nine. We had built it up to strength with new reinforcements. So anyhow, we survived it and we came home.
We came home on the Aquitania. We landed in Sydney. I must tell you a funny story about the Aquitania. As I said, women in the desert…we didn’t have Yank comforts like they have now with women in the forces with them.
I remember on the boat there was a batch of nurses, sisters, and they were kept down below in the officers’ quarters and only allowed in their own area, the officers’ deck and on the top deck. So we never saw them. There were a few sightings around the place by some fellas. Anyway, it all happened on the way, before we got home…this is a bit rude.
They gave us a complete inspection, short arm, the lot, for VD [venereal disease] or any other contagious disease. They were marching us into this…I hope Fiona isn’t listening here. They marched us into this hall, this big mess room. We were stripped off naked with our overcoats on.
We marched in there and they told us to take our overcoats off and fold them up against the wall. So we did that and you can imagine a lot of young men standing starkers in the one hall not knowing what was going on. There were bets about what was going on… “Look at that big one…oh, he’s got a little one.” And it was great fun and suddenly out of the doctor’s surgery, the door burst open and a nurse ran through, and as she ran through,
she said, “That one wins.” There were about thirty blokes there covering up. So that’s something that happens and which takes you off war.
angry that we weren’t with our battalion on the actual landings. We landed with them but just after them. We were very loyal to our battalion. Nothing could take us away from our battalion and that’s where we wanted to be. But on the same token, I’ve got a letter I wrote somewhere, to my sister.
When the broke up the carrier platoon, it was devastating. They had taken a group of men who had got closer than brothers. It’s a bondage that will never be broken. They split us all up and disbanded the carrier platoon. It was devastating. All I wanted to do…I concentrated on my driving. I was a
very skilled driver. A very competent driver, and that’s all I wanted to do. I was a bit of a bloody cowboy, I suppose. When I was behind the carrier, I was God. That was it. I didn’t want to be in the infantry. I didn’t want to be a machine gunner. But when we went over to New Guinea, and they took the carriers off us because they were no use there, and they weren’t.
So we became a mini work battalion. We were unloading boats and it was a very hard thing to cop. Again, I think there was a point in forming that carrier platoon. If things had gone bad in New Guinea, if we would have been pushed back to Australia, if…all these ifs. They had a force there that they could build
the carriers around again. Once they got back to Australia, the carriers would have played a very, very important role because of their versatility. I think they kept us there just for that. They didn’t want us to be lost to the infantry. A lot of them went into the infantry though. Nearly all of our NCOs went. They kept a small percentage back forming one platoon, one section of carriers which
was three carriers and our commander, Ron Yates…and our 2IC, Alex Baden. But we whinged about it that much…we did whinge about it. We were very unhappy about the fact that we weren’t with our battalion.
So they changed our name and they called us the 9th Div, Independent Company, and they said we would be doing lots of patrol work from now on. So we did. We did a hell of a lot of patrol work. We did patrol work in as much as we would patrol an area that was between two infantry shows. We’d go out at night or day or whatever. We’d take defensive positions. I never ever fired a shot in New Guinea.
I went bloody close. They also used us a lot as escorts. They’d send a corporal or a sergeant and usually two of us out armed to the teeth with a group of Fuzzies [‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’, an indigenous Papua New Guinean]. So we’d take the Fuzzies and escort them up to the battalion with ammunition…particularly if there was an attack coming up. We’d wait through the attack and
with the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, we’d bring the wounded out. They’d carry the wounded. So we did a very worthwhile job but it wasn’t the sort of role we wanted to do. Anyway after New Guinea…I got malaria badly there. I left the battalion and I never saw it again. I came home and had six weeks holiday, leave. I went out with two of my mates
Johnny Duke, the sergeant, and Bob Scarr. We went out and razed the town this night. I had injured my leg in Tobruk on a patrol one night. I felt it click. So I was walking around with a limp for a couple of days. Anyhow, I sat down in the gutter, drunk and full of booze. We sat down in the gutter to have a bit of a nag
and a smoke, and I couldn’t get up. My leg had locked. It was a very painful bloody thing. Anyway I ended up going to hospital with it. The cartilage had slipped and it had locked my knee. Old Doctor Ken Wilson tried to manipulate it. He put me under and got it straight. I spent about a week in hospital.
I didn’t want to get out. I wanted to go back to the battalion. He let me out. He was an ex 9th Div man too. He was in 4th AGH [Australian General Hospital]. He let me out anyhow and I reported into the Transit Depot and they
said, “Right, you’re heading off on the train tonight.” And I said, “That’s soon enough for me.” I went around to the RAP and sat on the step of the RAP with a couple of other digs. The RAP corporal came and issued us with rifles and that sort of thing. I went to stand up and my bloody leg was locked again. So I went back in and Ken Wilson said, “You’ve got no option now, boy.”
So they took it out and I spent the next six months in a base supply depot, and it was really a wonderful experience for me, because they made a driver of me. I became a skilled driver, still am.
until, as I said before, we whinged about being in this bloody carrier platoon and we wanted to be back with our infantry boys. So they decided they would bring out three soldiers from the battalion…well they didn’t go with our group. They went out and spent three or four days just reclining and relaxing.
And they got three or four people from the carrier platoon to take their place. We did a lot of patrolling and that sort of thing. And soon as I got into it I went straight to B Company and met up with a couple of mates of mine and I remember I was only there with them for a day and they decided to
move out on a patrol, and because I was a new boy but an old digger, I was an old hand, and they all knew me and the officers all knew me. This young lieutenant said, “You can go forward scouting for the whole bloody patrol.” That is very rare, and I was a bit angry about it all because
you would normally send a man on a forward scouting patrol for an hour or two and then bring him back and give him a break, because it was terribly stressful. Anyhow, they sent me out and I spent the whole day out front of the patrol which entailed crossing the Song River [?]. I forget what battalion it was now. I think it was the [2/]28th Battalion, or whatever.
They had hit the Song and started to ford across and then they got hit. There was a machine gun nest cutting them down so they called the attack off. This day we came off the Song and there was this young lieutenant. It think it was his very very first time in action. “Over you go, Lyall.” And I said, “Over there?” and he said “Yes.”
I said, “Alright, are you going to bring someone up to cover me?” He pulled his pistol out and he said, “I’ll cover you here.” I thought Jesus what am I in for here, a young lieutenant with a pistol in his hand saying he’ll cover me for machine guns. I said, “You’ll better think of something a bit bloody heavier than that.” So he brought a section up, I think. Anyhow, I took them over the river. I tell you what, if there had been even a suggestion of a bullet being fired,
I was going to die. I was going to abandon it and go underwater. Anyhow I got them over and the Japs had left the day before. So we continued the patrol and I think one half of the battalion was to hit an area…I can’t remember where it was. I can’t remember the ridges and things like that. Anyway, they hit this…the Japs were in the habit of hitting them, stopping them
and then falling back and leaving them. As soon as they consolidated, the Jap’s would move. That was the idea of bringing this half battalion around and hitting them. I led them up along this ridgeline all day. Right up to about this time at night or a bit earlier. We came to a great riverine, straight down. It wasn’t far across, but it went down and up.
I could hear these bloody Japs. There must have been about twenty of them there. They were having a great old talk. I put the battalion down and the officer came forward and I said, “There’s a Jap patrol or something over here.” And with that, the commander of the battalion, Bruce Strain, came up and said “What’s the matter?” I told him and he said, “Over you go.” I thought this is it. So I started to make the descent.
There was no way I could have crawled up this thing without making a noise. It was like that. I just made it and they got a wireless message or something telling the battalion to hold down where we were and to avoid at all costs any contact with the enemy. And I thought, oh God. I was that close. So they settled us down for the night and I remember we slept in this section with our feet together in this big ring.
At night there was no movement or anything. You would just reach out and quietly touch the guy next to you and he’d get up straight away and do his watch and that’s how we kept the thing going. The chatter that was going on with these Japs all night. It must have been a bloody battalion of them there. I don’t know. Anyhow, next morning we withdrew and came back
and the 2/15th was pulled out of the forward area and consolidated and I think at that stage they were ready to come home. They did do a sweep up the coast, if I remember rightly.
longer than an hour. I’ve done other scouts on other jobs many times, and always they call you in and give you a break. But this young officer kept me there all day. It was like, why use my boys when he’s here for three days. I’ll use him up. I think he died within about a week. He didn’t last long. I can’t even remember his name.
I think I calm down pretty easy. I can count myself down. I can lay in bed and start off with my toes and put myself to sleep just
by going right through my body…relax the toes and then go through your body like that. By making your mind blank of all thoughts, you can do it. We didn’t have a bad role in New Guinea.
We did a hell of a lot of patrolling. Some of the more amusing parts was the fact that for some reason…I can’t remember what part of New Guinea it was in now, they got this idea that these Americans would like to do a patrol. They wanted some hands on experience as a digger or a soldier and they were sending these bloody people off boats.
We’d line them up and our old captain would stand there and say, “Righto patrol, we’re going out today and there’s been twenty five Japs sighted, and our job is to go out and make contact and kill as many as we can.” It was all bull. We knew it was bull. But the Yanks used to get all fired
up about it, in fact it was almost too bloody risky to walk in front of them. So we’d head off with these Yanks and usually we’d have two scouts. We’d usually have one on each wing and one front. We’d head out and we’d be walking along and suddenly the scout would put you down, and you’d see him disappear into the bush and everyone would be waiting for him.
He’d come back with a ripe paw paw or something and we’d all have a feed of that, and the Yanks used to say, “God damn, you Aussies are casual. Fancy pulling up here to eat a paw paw in the middle of a battle like this.” But we knew there were no Japs within a hundred mile of us. The old boss used to put over a good story. That was the amusing parts that happened in the war.
I went over with malaria just like a light. This day I woke up in the morning feeling headachy and by dinner time I was running a temperature which you could boil a bloody egg on. It was well over the hundred. All I can remember was the RAP fella sticking a thermometer in and saying, “Jesus!”
I couldn’t have cared less what he was sticking into me, I was that sick. Anyhow the next morning I woke up and I was as bright as anything. Again, I had a hell of a hangover, head wise. I went up to the doctor. I don’t know who he was. I reckon he was a choco [‘chocolate soldier’ a CMF militiaman], but we won’t talk about chocos any more. But he
asked me my symptoms. He said, “You haven’t got a temperature now.” I said, “I’m talking about yesterday.” And he practically accused me of being a malingerer. Anyhow the corporal saw me come back from the RAP and he said, “What are you doing back here. You’ve got malaria. I’ve got no doubt about that.” And I said, “I’m not going back to that so and so.”
So he took me to another RAP and they tested me and I had B2 Malaria. So I did a three-day course on quinine in a camp hospital. And they then flew me back. It was my first trip in an aeroplane. We went over Kokoda Trail. They flew me back to Moresby and I went into the hospital there. I got over that attack.
I got out of hospital and I was only up for about three days and I went over with it again. I went out again and then I had another attack. I had three attacks in quick succession. I didn’t think I was ever going to be free of it. Anyhow, the last attack, it turned out it was bronchitis, but I don’t know what it was.
So they flew me home. The battalion by this time had left New Guinea and was heading home by ship. I had had all this sick leave, all these terms in hospital. I step on a plane and I beat them back to Brisbane by about three days. So I flew back to Townsville and trained it back to Brisbane and the battalion got there the day after.
I never saw them any more.
That means ready for overseas service at a ten hour warning cycle, where you could say to them, in ten hours we’re moving. I was doing this to take them to Borneo. Things were a little bit dicey in Borneo.
I had brought up my troop to a pity high degree of physical condition. I had set the example by doing it with them. At this stage I was about forty six, but I was never beaten in a run or anything like that.
I had them equipped up with their equipment, their training, their physical. They only thing they had to do was Canungra, and they did that after I left them. And that’s when they offered me Vietnam. I had volunteered for Vietnam. When I was in Kapooka, they came there
and they called us sergeants together and they were looking for a team to go over. I wasn’t selected, along with quite a few because of my hearing problems. I had had a lot of exposure to high explosives in the engineers, snarling and snapping of SLR [self loading rifle] guns in your left ear. Ninety percent of the instructors had been wiped out on all their high frequencies and they wouldn’t accept us in the team.
I was a bit disappointed there because I felt I had a lot to offer. When I got the opportunity they rang me up…I was overdue for my warrant rank too, by the way.
The posting’s major rang me up and said, “If you accept the posting to Vietnam you’ll be stepping on it as a staff sergeant and stepping off it as a warrant officer. I can get you warrant officer straight away if you do this for me. Otherwise you might have to do some time.” It wasn’t the reason I wanted to go but it was an added cherry in the pie.
I accepted it without hesitation. I didn’t consult my wife. It wasn’t a decision for her to even take part in. I wouldn’t ask her like I had to ask my father and mother. I never asked my wife.