Percy Lyall
Archive number: 1887
Preferred name: Billylid
Date interviewed: 12 May, 2004

Served with:

2/15th Battalion
9th Division Carrier Company
Royal Australian Engineers

Other images:

Percy Lyall 1887


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Tape 01


Ok, Percy, we’ll start with that life overview we were talking about. Maybe starting with when and where you were born?
I was born in Ingham, North Queensland, and my birth certificate says the railway yard. My father was a linksman. He started off as a saddler but


after the Second World War he went into the railways as a fettler. So I was born in the railway house, but on my birth certificate it says ‘Railway Yard’. A bit crude. From there I moved around…I think the longest we ever lived anywhere was about two years. I had many hometowns that I would claim.


But my first recollections would probably be in Roma, and then to Chinchilla where I first started to go to school. From Chinchilla…that’s where I first learn to swim in an old kerosene tin down at the local creek. We had a great life. We moved from there to a place called Guluguba, which was on the Wandoan Line.


I went to school there for a couple of years and then moved to a place called Kalgoorlie. That was also on the same line and I went on to correspondence school. My sister was supposed to be my instructor and she got merits for me every exam. I wasn’t a very good pupil. I headed bush a lot.


So I missed out badly on education but it didn’t matter. We moved from there to a place called Ellinthorp just outside of Warwick…this is to give you a list of all the places I lived. We moved to Munbilla where I finished my schooling. And then my Mum and Dad moved to Brisbane where at the age of thirteen I headed bush to a property out west with my brother


who was managing it. We worked on this cattle property and that’s where I spent most of my years there. I was eighteen when I joined the army.
Tell us briefly about your army service?
I joined the army at eighteen going on twenty. According to my certificate…I wrote myself up as twenty.


I conned my Dad into signing it and giving me permission when in fact I was eighteen. I remember he was against signing me away because the first Percy Douglas Lyall, my uncle who I was named after was killed in the First World War.


So my Mum was a great believer of history repeating itself. So I had to convince my parents that all would be well. Anyhow, I joined the army and Dad signed it. “I suppose if I don’t sign the bloody thing you’ll go down to New South Wales and join up there.” So he let me in, but they didn’t like it much. They tried very had to get my brother…


and my uncle, we were all like one family, to claim me into the 2/10th Artillery. But fortunately I dug my heels in and said I was going into the infantry. I did about three months more training than they did and I was an old soldier by this time. My brother incidentally was eight years older than me.


Anyhow, the 2/10th went off to Changi. They got captured. So I took the best end of the stick I think. If going into the infantry is the best end of the stick. Anyhow, from there on I went to…do you want it all now?
Just in brief at this stage and then we’ll go into detail later.
So I went to the Middle East and served right through the Middle East for two years. I was at the Siege of Tobruk and the battle of El Alamein and then the garrison of Syria and then


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.


Not at all. Excellent. Well done. Now we can go into detail. I’ll go right back to the beginning again. You were talking about moving from town to town, why was that?
I don’t know. I think my Dad…he was terribly…if you saw my Dad you would immediately put him in the old bushman days.


A big moustache. Drank beer like it was going out of season. He’d right himself off every Friday night and stay that way…mostly. He was a wonderful guy. I think he just had an urge to travel. We saw a lot of Queensland. It was really great. I never regretted


not being able to stay in one town. I suppose I did in some senses…I got up to Gympie with my wife and she sees people she went to town and they’re all the things we didn’t know. But then I had the army and they were my boys. I don’t know why he moved around. We didn’t mind. We used to love it.


He was a wonderful guy. He was a saddler and a beautiful leather worker. Because of this and having the regular income which was a necessity for most men with a family, he had an income coming in from the railway. He had this ability wherever he went which was usually country towns….someone would hear that old Jack Lyall was there


and there would be farmers coming in by the droves with reins and saddles and horse’s collars to be done up. So he used to spend a pretty active weekend. He would do a bit at nighttime too. He was wonderful and he would do everything by hand. And consequently, I don’t think there was


all that much money that flowed between the properties, but there was always good will. If they ever killed, “Hey Jack, there’s a quarter of beef down there.” Or one of the old property owners would say, “Come and get a sheep when you want it, Jack.” So we always had full bellies which was great. It was a pretty wild nomadic life out in the bush.


I think I knew every ant, every insect, every frog, every snake and every bird for miles, and every fishing hole. This was my schooling.
Tell us about your schooling?
It was pretty ragged actually. I left school…you’ll be shocked. I had two years


…I was a bit of a rebel at school, and I spent about two years on correspondence. My sister was a dear soul. She’s gone now. She would never dob me in. She’s say, “Percy, we’re going to do this.” And I’d say, “You got for it,” and I’d dive off and she’d do it. She wouldn’t dob me into to Dad. Mum was very kind. She was a lovely lady.


Dad would have used the wrapped stuffing stick as he called it. It was a big stick. It was about three feet long and they used it to stuff saddles. You could bend it around like that and it would whip back again. It was some sort of timber, I forget what. It was very well polished. It was that wide and not much thicker than a cigarette packet…a pack of cigarette papers.


And they’d use it to stuff the horsehair into the saddles. When he hit you with it, it had a wrap round sting all the way, and he used it pretty regularly on me. Not half as much as I probably deserved. But anyhow it was pretty skimpy schooling.


I was miles behind every other kid and battled through until about fourth class. That’s when I was thirteen and I left. I went bush with my brother. But my education then started really. I learnt to read and write and all that sort of thing. In the army I had to qualify in education to get rank and to be a professional soldier which I was.


I ended up doing up to Leaving [Leaving Certificate], which was Army Class 1. But that was all done in army schools.
What’s it like to go out and work at thirteen?
Terrific. Really terrific. As soon as I went out there they gave me my own horse and that was great. It was great, I enjoyed it. I suppose I was a bit of a wild one.


I would fight at the drop of a hat. I had more hidings than wins too unfortunately. I wasn’t so much into girls at this stage. I think we were very shy people then, although I had three sisters. So it wasn’t that women were strangers, but I was very shy with women. That’s another story. I rave on, don’t I.


What was the Depression like for you and your family?
It never affected us to a degree. We always had our holidays every two years. Dad used to bring us down to Brisbane at Exhibition time. We always had plenty to eat. My impression of the Depression was


the continual flow of swaggies who were heading passed in bad situations. I think they had signs I’m sure on the bloody fences because they would always call in and Mum always had a pinch of salt for them and a couple of eggs and a bit of flour and a little bit of tea.


Some sugar and things like that. She would tell as well as she could, but she would always give them a feed before they took off. She never asked anything of them. I never remember Mum ever asking them to chop some wood. She was just a wonderful old lady, English. They came from Manchester originally. But she


…I think that was my only impression. And probably the biggest thing, the year the Depression was supposed to have broke, we came down to the Exhibition and they had a gigantic display on. I would have been about eight I suppose at the time. They had these two crafts. One was a war ship built on a truck I suppose


driving around the exhibition ground with ‘Depression’ on it, and another little cruiser came out on another truck and they blew it up. That was supposed to be the end of the Depression. I think my brothers had a different story to tell because they were in the workforce. My youngest brother was eight years older than me. The one nearest to me, and my eldest brother was about ten years older than me.


He would have had a different story to tell. But they always seemed to have plenty of work. They were stockmen. Cut bark, cut sleepers. Sucker bashers as they used to call it. They worked on properties. They were great cattlemen.
What was it like…you worked out at thirteen and worked with your brother, is that right?


What was it like working with him?
It was good fun. He used to rag the shit out of me, of course. I was the young brother. We worked for a chap who ended up in the 2/15th. He came and worked for us…Merv Dangerfield. He died quite recently. I’ll tell you a funny story about old Merv and I. We were milking about sixty cows I suppose.


We used to milk and then during the day we would go out ring barking or sucker bashing. I used to walk along with them. But mostly they’d send me out on a horse somewhere to muster up some cattle or take the cattle down somewhere or whatever. The old poddy calves were a continual source of problem there, because there was a big dingo problem,


and I suppose I used to do a lot of mucking around and getting them around and bringing them up to the yard for feeding and that sort of thing.
Tell us about hearing about the war beginning?
I was again working with my brother. I spent a lot of time working on properties and I was working at a property at Columboola and my


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.
Tell us about your uncle. What’s the story there?


Perce? Perce Douglas. I had a photo here but I’m afraid I haven’t got it at the moment. I think it’s on my son’s wall. He was a wonderful guy. I didn’t know him. He died before I was born. He went over to England and joined the Vicker’s Machine Gunners and he was hell bent on going.


He was my idol. Anyhow, I think he did his training in France and he lasted exactly a fortnight. My son went over to Germany and went and visited there, and we tried to locate him. He tried to locate his grave and it worked out that he was in a


grave unknown. They didn’t know where he was. He must have been one of the many thousands there who just got buried. I was very sad about him. I always dreamed about him and I had some nightmares about him for years. He was my idol.
How would he have become your idol if he had died before you had met him?
I think


just that photo of that soldier on Mum and Dad’s wall. It was of Perce behind his machine gun. Like I’ve got photos of me too on one. But I think anything…the First World War for us people who were born after it were affected by it greatly. By people limping around us and dying around us, friends that we knew.


I think it became important that you had somebody. I built up in my mind a hero I suppose.
And was there a connection with you because of your name?
Oh yes. Percy Douglas Lyall, yes. I hated the name Percy, always have. Now I call myself Perce. For years it was Doug. So if this goes to air someone might see it and say I knew him as Doug Lyall. But they were all my school friends.
So was there a connection of wanting to join up, in a way because of him?


Oh yes, because of that. I don’t think it was so much revenge…
And you were also talking about adventure and all that. What kinds of ideas did you have of war?
Well I don’t know really. I don’t know if I gave it a lot of thought. My idea


of war was very much, in my mind’s eye, was a little bit worse than what I experienced.


I thought of the war...I had heard so many stories of old diggers. Our old friend Dinny Gyler. He was a bullocky. He knew more swear words than you know the English language. He was a great guy. Walked


with a hell of a limp and he told me some great stories of war. And I suppose everywhere you’d meet a soldier in those days, you’d end up getting him talking. I suppose it was that we wanted to experience it. I suppose I’m a bit of a warmonger.


I even believe in what John Howard’s doing. That says something about my outlook on war. I believe in what they’re doing with the refugees, either send them home or something.
And what about your mates. Were you joining up with mates?
No I didn’t. I didn’t have any mates…I had mates, Ken Jackson


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.


Well tell us, how did your Mum and Dad feel about your joining up at eighteen?
They weren’t too happy. They were very very much against it. Dad of course was still stinging from the loss of his brother and my name being Percy Douglas he didn’t want me to go.


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.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 02


When you first arrived for your training, what was the atmosphere like in the army at the time?
Bewilderment but excitement. I think 99% of the kids were like me. They just wanted to


have a….everyone was very excited and keen to get going. We were very bewildered because it was a new world with strange things. I think the hut I was living in…just a normal hut, I forget how long it was, but there were about twenty people on either side, and we had a palliasse to sleep on. All this rough living didn’t really affect us.


We were used to it a bit. We were on these palliasses and there was no room between the palliasses to put anything. That was how close they were.
And did everything seem organised with the army?
Oh yes.


I thought so anyway. To me they seemed terribly organised because I was such an undisciplined and un-coordinated character. I was used to doing what I wanted to in my life and to come down to standing to attention in line without looking around was a bit hard.
How did they teach you this discipline?


I think it wasn’t so much a matter of teaching…we taught it in the regular army. It was just a matter of us wanting to be a soldier, so we really had our heart in doing it I felt.
And how did they assign you to what area you’d be in?
Well when we came in


initially, I was hell bent on being a machine gunner. That was my life, like my uncle. I went in and everybody else of course had the same ambition. It was a bit exciting and a bit romantic I suppose. Anyhow we went in in droves, little Bill Allan my mate, we had vowed and pledged that we would stick together.


We met up with another Bill, a chap called Bill Pritchard. The three of us were together and immediately we said we wanted to be machine gunners and one fellow snorted and said, “You couldn’t even carry the bloody bipod.” We were both little fellas. Anyhow they said they would make us light machine gunners. That was good. That’s a little bit more romantic than a big machine gun.


But what they really meant to say was they would make us bloody infantry. So that’s how they got us in. Our machine gunning was in the infantry, but I did end up as a machine gunner on a larger scale. I think


the…I don’t know…from where we went in droves to Redbank where the battalion was formed and I had the great honour of being a foundation member of our battalion, the 2/15th Battalion. We’re termed as originals now, which is quite a coveted thing.


So we went in droves and of course the old seasoned soldiers who had been in there for about twenty four hours before us, all lined up and yelled out remarks like “you’ll be sorry!” Then someone yelled out, “So will your mother, the baker’s joined up.”


Or something rude like that. Anyway we weren’t sorry I don’t think. I never regretted one skerrick of my army career. I loved it, loved every bit of it.
What did they teach you in your basic infantry training?
Well firstly they made us into soldiers from a rabble. They taught to fire weapons. They taught us to stand to attention.


The drill…foundation of drill. It might seem silly to people. Why are they drilling them like cattle, but it’s such a great foundation to a soldier and the better trained he is on a parade ground believe it or not, the more disciplined he becomes.


So that’s what they taught us. By teaching us to turn left and right and all this sort of thing, they’re teaching you self discipline. And then of course we went into pits and God knows what, and getting used to the old piss cans that they put out every night.


The army had an idea for hygiene purposes…do you remember the old dunny cans? You’d be too young. It was a can, about a four gallon size I suppose. It was painted black with tar and they would put two of them between each hut and they were what we were supposed to urinate in of a night time. When the lights went out in Redbank, there were no street lights there,


and trying to find that in the dark was hopeless. And for some reason they always put them out half full, or they seemed to be half full of smelly junk. So many a curse would come from the dark when someone accidentally walked through this area and got a can sloshed all over him. You’d go out for a wee of a night sweeping your foot like that and then aim in the general direction of it.


What were your general weapons?
303’s. I’ve heard a lot of stories of people training with pick handles. We were given a rifle. I never had that experience. We were trained on the Bren guns…sorry, not the Bren gun. We were


trained on the rifle and the more you handle a rifle in drill and exercises, the better feel you have of the weapon until it become more or less part of your arm. It was mostly the .303,


Lee Enfield, .303. I think we did our grenade training. How to throw a grenade, pull the pin and do it the right way so we didn’t drop it on our foot. We were introduced I think to the…not so much the machine gun side of it. We got that later in Darwin.


We were able to stand inside, in a group. How to march and that sort of thing, and how to work together, I think. Working together as a team, or part of it.
How long did you spend at Redbank all together?


If I remember rightly, I’m not too good with figures and dates. I would say we were there for about two months and for some unknown reason they hit us with our vaccinations. I think they planned it when the fourteen days, when everyone was greatly affected by it, would happen at a given time, but ours happened on a bloody little


old boat going up to Darwin. Some of us were in between seasickness and these vaccinations.
Why did they send you to Darwin?


Again, they needed to get us out of Redbank for one. They sent us to Darwin to give a bit of a show of force up there. We did our advanced training in Darwin and hated every second of it. The rumours that flew around there were shocking. We were there for the war as a cover to the back door of Australia.


It was all this sort of thing. It had a tendency to lower our morale. We really thought we were going to Darwin to do our advanced training and we were going to spend the war there. So we took it out on the Darwin mobile forces by belting them up…just joking.
Did you?
Yeah, we did.


They were the Kings of the North. A picked army. They were beautiful soldiers. I don’t think any one of them would have been under six foot but I don’t think any of us were six feet. But they ruled the roost there and there were some very very bitter fights that went on between the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] and the Darwin Mobile Forces.
How did the fights occur?
Usually in a pub.


Who would come out best?
Who do you reckon? It wasn’t the Darwin Mobile Forces. I can assure you. I’d say we beat them.
What kind of advanced training did they give you in Darwin?
We did navigating by compass at night. We did patrol work. There was one particular place in Darwin where there were magnetic


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.
Did you ever get into Darwin to explore the vices of Darwin?
Oh yes.
And what are the vices of Darwin?
Well, not much. I was only a boy, very bloody immature too I think as a lot of my corporals would tell you.


We would go in and explore Darwin. It was a wonderful experience. We would take photos. I had a little box brownie and Billy and I used to go around. He met and madly fell in love with a girl. He was probably a big governing factor in what we did too. We didn’t do anything naughty. We got drunk a few times.


I think three of us declared the Darwin Hotel one night and got a hiding. We had about ten bouncers who took us out and taught us a lesson in etiquette.
What did you do?
We did a stupid thing actually. We had bought a bottle of beer. We had gone in and drunk a few in the pub, in the lounge. We


weren’t going to buy any more beer, we were going to drink this bottle. So we fronted up and took the top off it. Immediately a couple of bouncers came straight over and took it off us because you couldn’t bring alcohol in there to drink, we were supposed to buy it. So that started a bit of a fight. And we got a bit of a bashing. Anyway an ordinary officer…I remember him wiping the blood off me and little Bill.


Bill was only a little kid. He was a great guy. He was about three or four months older than me. But I have visions of poor little Bill spread across the bonnet of this car and every time he went to get up this big bouncer would clobber him. I’m trying to get up to go to his aide and every time I get up, I got hit by somebody. And this officer, I forget who he was, he came and sorted it out.


He told the picket to take us home. They didn’t arrest us or anything. I think we had had enough punishment. But I remember the officer saying “At least they’ve got plenty of guts tackling these big bastards anyway.” But it wasn’t guts. It was a little too much beer I think. It was good fun. Boys will be boys.
How did Bill meet his girlfriend in Brisbane?
Most of the boys used to come out home with me.


My aim was to get back to Brisbane to my family. I think it stemmed from the fact that we used to walk out on the road and try and thumb a lift. It was very difficult to get to Brisbane because nobody had cars much. I think Bill was coming out our way to my place and I had gone ahead of him with a couple of us.


So we all went home and Bill went out on the road and was thumbing a car that way, it stopped and he walked out on to the road, and he was thumbing one that way, thinking it would go to Ipswich. And that’s what he did. He went to Ipswich with a couple of the boys and they went to a dance and he met this little girl. I can’t mention her name, hey? Her name was Cynthia


[(UNCLEAR)]. She was beautiful and she had three sisters who I became quite friendly with. Anyhow Bill got engaged to her during the three months we were there. But mostly he would come home with me and he’d go to Ipswich and visit her and then come home to Brisbane and spend the Sunday with us.


My Mum used to welcome them all. They were all Percy’s mates. I used to end up with about half a dozen blokes and we would all be raving on how good we were. It was good fun. She’s still alive and still in Brisbane somewhere. I haven’t seen her since.


That’s about it.
And how did you get along with Cynthia’s sister?
Famously. I was quite fond of her actually. She was probably my first girlfriend. Very young. I had a lot of respect for her. She was a wonderful girl. Sylvia. Very beautiful young lady. But again…


I met her when I came back. I went and visited her but we didn’t continue the relationship. I think she had joined the WAAAFs [Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force]. All these three sisters joined the WAAAFs. She was about the first into it. They were great kids. I went and saw Cynthia when I came home because Bill had died. He got killed in the battle of El Alamein.


That was a pretty sad occasion. Anyhow, that’s the fortunes of war.
And did you have a nickname at this time?
Not this time. I’ve earned one later. One of my mates, actually I went to school with him and he dubbed me Billy Lid.


My size, I suppose, and fact that I was one of the youngest in the platoon. The billy lid is the smallest part of the billy. So I became Billy Lid, and strangely enough it’s shortened to Lid and a lot would just say “Hey, Lid!” I had an experience just about some months ago. A gentleman rang me up. He was a friend of a friend of mine, Russel Snow. His name was Trevor.


He said, “A friend of mine told me that you would go through their album and on a tape give a description of all the photos.” We had all joined together. And I said I would love to do it. And they came out here and I said, “Did Snow ever mention Percy Lyall?” And they said no.


We were wondering about this. I told them that Snow and I were pretty good mates and it wasn’t until almost the end that I told them that they used to all call me Billy Lid. “Oh, Billy Lid, he’s been talking about you for years.” Anyhow I went through the album and explained all the people in it and that sort of thing.


Anyhow, they christened me Billy Lid and the name stuck.
When you had finished up your time in Darwin where did they send you after that?
I went home to Brisbane here and went into camp. And by this time there was an entirely different body of men. It was a proud feeling


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.
And what did you do about Christmas Dinner?
They gave us a thing like a shoe box and it had…I forget what it had in it now, but it had a damn good dinner.


It wasn’t what we had been used to having in the army I can tell you. Some of the meals in Darwin were bloody appalling. The cooks weren’t good. Anyone who wasn’t much good at anything then they’d make them a cook. Apologies to all the army cooks. I think we had a bit of ham and sandwiches and things like that.


What was the atmosphere like once the train got going?
Very exciting. We were riding on cloud nine. I think the average age would have been about twenty one. A hell of a lot of them were way below the twenty.


I wasn’t by any means the youngest in the battalion. They were very excited. We were on a trip to the world. We were out to beat the world and we did. Probably the best battalion of fighters, or one of the best in the world.


A wonderful battalion.
And can you describe the Queen Mary when you first saw her in Sydney?
I got lost on the bloody thing. I think coming onto it…again, getting on to the Queen Mary, that was something that the film stars would do. We never dreamed that in our life we would be on a thing like the Queen Mary.


To get on to it was a wonderful experience. It was huge. It was like a city. Coming on to it on the little barges. We went from train to barge onto the Mary, it was like coming up to the side of a city. I think they


immediately gave us…as you went on board they gave you your berth and a card and if you left that behind you were an idiot, which I did. But every deck was exactly the same. So you could end up walking down the stairs…I was walking down the wrong stairs unfortunately. There were two sets of stairs…we were established first. There were about six to a cabin which was designed for about two I think.


Immediately we went up on deck to have a look around. I can remember I forgot to take my card with me and I got on this set of steps. I knew I had to walk down the deck, down the steps, hit the deck, turn left, go two lanes along and there was a sort of a hall that led into two cabins, and our cabin was this one.


I ended up floating up and down that boat for about an hour before I finally lumbered in on it. From there on I carried my card and I knew exactly what deck I had to be on. It was like a city.
And can you describe what it was like to sail out of Sydney Harbour?


Oh again, it’s hard to describe. It was a beautiful feeling. I think every boat in Sydney Harbour was honking its horn. There was a whole armadas of little sailing boats and rafts and kids on tyres practically. Everything that could float and Sydney really sent us off beautifully.


They were there sending us out to war. The feeling was really exhilarating. It was a wonderful feeling. The only thing that marred it. We were dressing the deck as they called it. Our battalion was up on deck, standing to attention as we floated out. But then they relaxed with a stand at ease.


So that meant we could do things with our hands and our voices and that. I rolled a cigarette because everybody else rolled a cigarette and I lit it and my old sergeant Sandy Osmond spun round and said, “You’re on mess duty for the rest of the voyage for smoking on parade!” And I went to say… and he said, “Don’t answer me back.”


So I wore mess duty on the Queen Mary and I think the first day out I was seasick. I’m a horrible sailor. I was seasick from the time I got on the Queen Mary to the time I got off it. And working in a mess with stinking sausages and God knows what. But it was a beautiful ship.
How did you deal with being seasick all the time?


I wasn’t so much vomiting although I think I probably threw up a couple of times. It was just that nausea feeling. I’ve got a cure for seasickness now too. You need to sit under a tree for a couple of days. But anyhow it was just that nagging sickness. I was almost sick but not quite. I think the biggest effect was when I lay in the bunk at night


and I’d see the horizon up there and it would be floating up and down and that motion was the thing that used to really get me going. I shut my mind to it. I suppose it’s all in your mind. I suppose if I could have shut my mind to it and turn my back to it and forget about it, I would usually get on top of it.


Where was the first place that you stopped?
I might be wrong here but I think it was Trincomalee. We called…I’m sorry, we stopped at Fremantle. We anchored out to see a bit which was my first view of West Australia,


and finally this year my wife did a tour of West Australia. It’s taken me all that time to get back there. One of our very good friends, Norm Delacy, he was a West Australians. His family were out in boats waving to him. I think they had to physically restrain him and put him in gaol for the night to stop him going over the side.


Anyhow, it wouldn’t have hurt to let him off. But that’s the way the army is. Then from there we went to Trinkermarlee. I can’t remember stopping in between. Incidentally the news had it that the Queen Mary was sunk on about three occasions. The Germans claimed it. We transhipped in Trinkermarlee on a little boat called the


Indrapura, a little Dutch ship. Boy, that was an experience too. They had sausages. They fed us sausages I think about three times a day. They were long things. They were foreign, they weren’t Australian sausages. They were vile. They tasted like a combination of bloody sawdust and something.


It wasn’t very good food on that boat, I’m afraid.
Where did you think you were headed too?
I think we didn’t really know. I think we thought we were headed fro England, but then very very early in the piece of our voyage we sort of suspected we were heading to take over from the 6 Divvie [Division]. We did feel that and it was


virtually what we did. I think I was very happy that it was the Middle East. It was a wonderful experience. I don’t know they ever told us where we were going. I think it was just a rumour. On these rows of toilets, that’s where you tell the stories. The rumours.


I think it just became a general rumour that we were going there and that happened. But we transferred onto the Indrapure because the Mary couldn’t get up the Suez Canal, so then we felt sure we were going to the Middle East. I think we were receiving lectures then about it too.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 03


Well tell us about your trip on the Dutch boat from Ceylon to the Suez?
Do you want the rude bits?
Absolutely, they’re the best bits!
It was an experience I think that we all suffered. As you know the Moslems…am I allowed to say this? They don’t carry out toiletry like


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.
Where were you next? What happened after this?


Then we got off the boat at El Kantara and we were loaded onto cattle trucks, closed trucks, sea wagons I think they call them here. A wagon on a train. It had one big sliding door on either side. So they loaded us into there and we travelled on through to the Holy Land, to Palestine. We landed at a place


called Megazi [?] and we consolidated there for another couple of months. We were given some more training and introduced to the Bren gun, which we all immediately fell in love with. I think also the anti tank rifle which was


a useless thing. It was only good for breaking some bad digger’s heart. If he happened to be playing up he would get the job of carrying the thing. I think there’s many a swamp in New Guinea where there’s an anti tank rifle. They’d get to the swamp and whish, “Oh, I’ve dropped it!” Bloody things.
What’s good about the Bren gun?
The beauty of the Bren gun was its versatility. It was a wonderful weapon. I think where most machine guns were scattered fire,


you could concentrate your fire to a beautiful grouping. You could bring the fire cone down depending on how firm or how good you were with it. It was a fairly fast firing weapon and easy to maintain. Not a lot of stoppages. Mostly gas stoppages. If you cleaned


it and kept it oiled to the extent that you needed to, you would find it was mostly gas stoppages. But it was a very good weapon. Very accurate, terribly accurate. It would fire a fair distance too. I forget what the range was.
What were your impressions of this land, this place?


I was very much in awe of it. I knew it was country that a lot of famous people had walked through. In the old days there were a lot of battles fought in Palestine and those places. Jesus had walked there. I was in awe, and the


fact that our light horse fought there. That was a big thing again to us. The fact that we were walking in the footsteps of our forefathers. And being a foreign country. We were Australians and bound by water as you know. We hadn’t the experience of being able to jump on a jet


or whatever and travel like you people can today all over the world in next to no time if you want to. Those days you would have to go by ship and it would cost you more money than you could afford anyway. Money was pretty scarce and tight. So yes, I think it was the experience of living in a foreign land. The excitement of what was to come.


Tell us about your role, what you were being readied for?
At this stage I was an infantryman in the rifle section and we were being trained for desert warfare. Moving in the desert, moving in the desert at night time, navigating at night by the North Star which is a Godsend.


When we were out on patrol, in the desert at Tobruk, a fighting patrol, if you got split up all you knew…no matter how much your direction went you just had to sort out that big bright star and head straight for it and it would take you straight home. We learned a lot of things about night navigating, and handling weapons and digging in weapon pits.


It was good training. I think we were pretty well trained really by comparison to a lot of others who came to us later.
Tell us about what orders you received when you were leaving Palestine? What were you expecting?
Well, we pretty well knew where we were going. I can’t remember whether we got sat down in a conference room and told precisely what we were doing, ever.


I think we knew we were going up to relieve the 6th Divvie. We were a bit disappointed in that because the 6th Divvie had beaten the bloody enemy and they had pushed them as far as we were concerned out of Libya. So there was nothing to go up there for. We were disappointed in that. I think if they had said we were going


to Greece and Crete, it would have been more interesting. Everyone felt that the Germans would eventually come down that way. But we were very excited about going into the front line, into the desert. It was a wonderful experience.
Tell us about when you first left Palestine and went through Egypt to Libya?


I can’t tell you much about that. All I remember is we were on a train, not the first one, but the second one. The first time we were on a train and the shock of war started to effect us. We got off at a little siding…I can’t remember the name of it now. My mates could.


Our company was bivouacked in what looked like an old fort. It had no roof on it, just the walls standing up. It was wrecked by bombers. Everywhere you looked there was debris from war, the odd rifle laying there, Italian rifles. A hell of a lot of pith helmets which intrigued us no end.


I think every Italian had at least two helmets. I don’t know what they used them for. Anyhow we went on one occasion on a route march and little Billy Allan saw this good one sitting on the side of the road. He went over and picked it up and there was half a bloody skull still in it. That gave us all a shock. Wow, they’re fair dinkum around here!


What was the scene like of the war? What were you seeing in the desert?
There was a lot of debris around, a lot of wrecks. The 6th Divvie weren’t very tidy with their war. What they knocked out, they left there. But there was the odd grave and thing and things like that. It was a grim


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.
What was it like for you? What was going through your mind?
“I hope I survive this bloody show.” I don’t know…I won’t say I wasn’t frightened. I think anyone who says he wasn’t frightened…you didn’t show it. You had a


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].
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 04


After that first contact that you were telling us about, you were mentioning that you had to take wounded people to the RAP?
Yes, I picked up these two Jerries. I was the youngest in the platoon and therefore the ‘gofer’, I suppose a bit. The Corporal


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.”


And seeing the dead bodies, how did that change your opinion of what war was about?
I think we knew very well what it was about after that. These boys weren’t fooling around. They were fair dinkum. And suddenly this could happen to you. It was a bit bloody stressful I can tell you. I don’t think it showed much. We still carried on the same. Can I tell you about something stupid?


When I was in the carriers…this is rather vulgar. But it tells you how people sort of adjust to these situations. We were living on nothing but dry biscuits and bully beef. Just towards the end they brought in a bit of green stuff, fresh stuff.


But mostly it was a hard, merely biscuit like a…have you ever seen them? They’re a bit like a Sayo, and camp pie, tinned bully beef. It does terrible things to your digestive system and you have wind, and the aroma is not nice. Men have got a nasty habit of slipping one out. And in


a dugout, that smell would just about drive everybody mad. So we developed this technique that who ever did it we would grab him and belt hell out of him. Cork them on their muscle and this guy would have to sing out, “Badger badger badger 123…” Now you try and do that with about twenty blokes


belting you. It’s almost an impossible task. So I tell you what, we learned to be fast talkers.
Why did you have to say that?
Well, they would stop bashing you then, but until you could get it all said, a cycle said, you would be fair game to belt hell out of you for farting.
Who came up with that particular saying?
A guy called Norm Delacy.


I drove for his carrier for many years. Norm came from West Australia. He’s one of our outlaws. He was a Queenslander through and through, but he went back to West Australia. He was a sergeant with us. He was a champion swimmer prior to the war. He was probably Olympic standard. He had that finger blown off with a shot gun. Yeah, it was that finger because he was out shooting and he had his finger down the barrel of the gun and


knocked it down and blew it off. But his sister was Evelyn Delacy had won a few golds in the Olympics of ’39 I suppose it was. Yes, it was his idea. And it sort of stopped people from doing it. It would be rather funny. You’d see someone get up from the crowd and walk off in the mob, and


you’d know where he was heading. So as soon as he came back we’d grab and belt him anyway. They’re the sort of things you play at when you’ve got nothing else to do.
You were saying you had taken two rings from a German. What did you do with them?
I got rid of them eventually. As I said I was a bit superstitious. I thought, these bloody things, they’d worry me and I would put them


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.
Tell me about what kind of work you did when you joined the carriers.
Well when I came into the carriers I didn’t know how to drive the carrier. I had done a transport course in Darwin and I was pretty up on the maintenance and all that kind of thing. But I couldn’t drive a car or a truck much.


They wouldn’t have given me a licence, put it that way. And anyhow I wasn’t interested in transport anyway. I went over with a little bit of training. All I needed was some hands on skill with the vehicle. But anyhow we didn’t get it really in Tobruk. We did a little bit of driving. We drove an old four by four.


It was a four wheel steer and a four wheel drive, a German gun tractor that we fixed up and used as a get around, a vehicle. A little ute thing. I think they used it for towing guns and that sort of thing. But at Salient which is a hot spot where there thee Germans and our lines were only a few hundred yards apart and they were sniping at each other


and you couldn’t stand up or anything like that. We were in a little hollow at the back and we spent our days making gatta wire. We’d put seven pickets driven in a circle of a about a metre circle and someone with a roll of barbed wire would walk round and round. A very soul destroying job. And someone would be inside with little ties of wire and every second bay


he’d tie, and when that opened up it looked like a big roll of concertina. We used to make that by the galore, but the big problem was, if you happened to be caught in the barrel, inside, and when the wire got that high it was pretty hard to scramble out of, or a plane came over and strafed, so you had a few anxious moments. Anyhow we did that. We


had three Vickers guns in the section and we were the crew for the Vickers. So I finally got around to being a Vickers gunner.
Was it as romantic as you anticipated?
It was a little bit. But not as much as the driving of that carrier. I was a real petrol head I suppose. All I wanted to do was to be behind a carrier.


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.
So having something like that happen to you where you almost got hit, what sort of things would it make you think about, like your own mortality?
I didn’t think at any stage that anything would happen to me. I probably don’t think that way.


I don’t think there was any time…there were a couple of times when I thought, I may not get out of this, but there was never a time when I thought that anything could happen to me. I think that’s the case with every soldier I know. It’s always the other poor bugger that gets hit, not you. But somehow that poor bugger that got hit probably thought the same way. I think that’s what keeps you going.


Did you have any kinds of superstitions or lucky charms?
Oh yes. I’m a very superstitious person. Thousands of them. Everything. I never left anything to providence. I don’t believe in…if there’s a suggestion of something, ok


that’s fair dinkum as far as I’m concerned. Yeah I’m a superstitious person. I don’t think I prayed a lot. I wasn’t a very holy person then. I was a Christian, I suppose. I was brought up one. I was a strict Church of England and I became a very good Catholic later. I changed for my wife.


I don’t think I was really a good Christian with the things that I did. I never worried about things either, I still don’t. If I had to do something terrible tomorrow, I’d justify it somehow.


And I think that’s what happened to me in the war. I could justify everything. I think it’s a good outlook.
What kind of superstitions did you have in terms of keeping alive? Things that you might do every day, like putting one shoe on first.
Nothing like that. But I would never ever ever have any association


with the number thirteen. That was a no-no. I would never ever light a cigarette of a match, three cigarettes of a match. And I don’t think you’d find too many soldiers that would. Even in my day, you would often take a cigarette out. Two would light up but the third bloke would blow it out every time.


They were the general types of things. I can’t pinpoint any others. I don’t think…
Did you have any lucky charms?
No. The only lucky charm I had was my bloody rifle, and my ability to drive that Bren gun carrier.
Can you describe the Bren gun carrier for me?


Well firstly they were probably the biggest bloody death trap you could ever sit in. They had a Ford V8 motor, tract. They looked like a tank. They were manned by three people: the driver, the commander and usually a number two gunner in the back. He had a Bren gun mounted in the back and his rifle.


The sides and the back were that thin you could practically spit through it. It was plate steel. They would stop a shrapnel fragment. They stop a glancing bullet but I don’t know if they would have stopped a direct bullet. I think they would have. The front was a little bit better. It was a little bit heavier. We felt so happy in them and so


contented in them. I’ve known people to get out of a good hole and go and sit in their bloody Bren gun carrier. I felt terribly terribly confident in mine. I had faith in it. I didn’t get one until I was in Syria. I drove it right through then. They were manned usually with a Vickers or Bren gun. The Bren gun carrier did have a Vickers although


they were designed for a Bren gun. Finally we went totally Bren gun. They could do a hell of a lot of damage if they could get a fair go. Great for storming up onto troops and just razing them. You could jump a pit with them, you could fill a pit in with them. We knew how to do all this.


They weren’t that fast but they were a very difficult target. You were doing about forty kilometres across the desert. Forty K to the hour. They were a pretty hard thing to hit, but old Jerry used to find good ways of doing. We went into one action


…I’m getting ahead of myself here. It was at El Alamein. We lost quite a few but I’ll go into that later.
While we’re in Tobruk, take me through what would have been a typical twenty four hours for you?
Most of the work we did was by night. Twenty four hours? Well, mostly you’d sleep during the day.


It depends on where the situation was, what part of the line, the defences.
What about if you were in the salient?
The salient? Maybe we would do an afternoon or morning on curling up bloody wire.


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.
What were the pickets that you were laying?
Steel spikes. You’ve seen them.


You’ve seen these angle iron fences that they put up? It’s a three cornered piece of iron, seven feet long and you can drive it down into the ground and tie your barbed wire fences to it.
Were you tying wire onto it?
We were just laying it out this night. The following night someone would go out and put the fence up.


Were you laying them out so you could move further forward?
No, no. We were putting them out to strength the front. See, we’d be working along in the front of the infantry. Or it would be to close a gap between this post and that post, so the Germans couldn’t come charging through there and come in behind them. It was just a thickening of defences. We laid a lot of mines and things like that.


They’re an infantryman’s friend. I know they tried to ban them, or did ban them. As an engineer, a mine is something that can be used very effectively and very safely. But it’s indiscriminate use by unscrupulous people who make them dangerous.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 05


Just interested in your positioning in Tobruk. Were exactly were you positioned during the day or night?
I don’t quite understand the question.
Where exactly would you be? Would it be a trench?
Well, if we were in a second line of defence we would move around freely of a day if we weren’t required to do night duties. There had to be work parties that went down to the wharf, at the township of Tobruk.


Our supplies came in by boat and so therefore those boats had to be sneaking under the cover of darkness. They would have to unloaded and well under steam before the first light of day.


So if a destroyer or what ever it was came in with supplies, we’d whip down with a detail of us resting infantry people and we would unload those boats. This was how we actually got our supplies into Tobruk. We were completely surrounded and the only way in and out of Tobruk was by sea.


We didn’t have an air force and I don’t think aircraft applied in those days. They would have been shot down very rapidly because the Germans had air superiority.
What was it like in the very front lines?
It depended again where you were. If you were at salient then it was pretty damn hot. Very hot. You couldn’t get out of your trench during the day at least. You could only move around


under the cover of darkness. But some of the positions were quite normal. It used to be pretty bloody boring. Sometimes …they reckon there’s only two states of mind in war and that’s you were either scared stiff or bored stiff. A lot of the time in the front line you would be bored stiff. We would play poker.


We wouldn’t be asked to do any laborious things. It was pretty low key for the work parties and that sort of thing. Sometimes you’d go out and strength your position of course…not like unloading boats.
How would you humour yourself?
We read a lot. We all became very proficient bridge players.


And poker players. We used to run a book on poker. You could lose a $100 a day if you weren’t careful. Usually when you were winning and someone else was losing badly, the book would accidentally get lost. It was tit for tat I think. We didn’t think too much about money.


Money was no factor at all. I think we had the same change we had when we got out. The canteen services could be brought in at times…tobacco or something like that.
How were you coping with the danger and the bombing?
No problem.


Bombing is not so bad from my point of view because you could see the plane, you could see where it was going. It was when it was sailing straight over you and particularly when you could see the bombs being released straight over there and they were drifting towards you. You’d think, this could be it, but they would usually land miles away from you. Or, they might land among you. But you could more or less see what was happening.


Shells were the problem. You would get a fair idea where a shell was going to land too. And how close it was going to be. But you couldn’t be sure. Mortars of course on the front line were deadly. All you could hear of them was….a whoosh sound, and occasion you would hear a whoop in the distance when it was fired.


Were any of your mates getting hit or dying during this period?
Oh yes. Lots. Lots of my mates were dying. Not with me. One in particular…


I lost a very good friend in a chap called Button Singh, I’d like to talk a bit about him if I could. He was Indian, part Indian. And he came from Yandina. Edmond Button Singh. He was the most beautiful fella you could ever find. A knowledgeable soldier and brave. He was as game as anything. They broke his heart. Because he was an Indian, and they couldn’t have a coloured man…


now this is fact. I don’t care what the army thinks of it, but they wouldn’t promote him beyond a lance corporal because he was coloured. He went out to prove…I would have followed him to hell and back. And there wasn’t a man who knew him…he was our 2IC [second in command]. There were so many stories about him. He never denied them.


I asked him. One of them was. He ended up in the intelligence section. There was a particular nasty gun somewhere which they couldn’t pin point. Old Button would go out at night and pace the bloody paCes out to it. He would go out beyond the German lines and stay the night. This is how he ended up getting killed. It’s often said that the Germans used to bring the…he was a legend.


They used to bring a coffee wagon, car right into the front line and they were all very shadowy and hooded up, no words spoken. They would all move through and get a mug of coffee. They reckon he used to go through with them. I don’t know if it was true. I asked him one day and he just laughed at me and said, “Well maybe, or maybe not.” He would have done it though. He was a daring little boy.


He took the I section [intelligence section] officer and two escorts out one night and they went right out through behind the lines. And he went out to show them what he thought might have been a tank hospital where they repair tanks. On the way in they hit a bloody post, which was crazy, but they did it anyhow. So they laid down behind the Germans and


threw their grenades and then got up and went straight through and kept going. A big of shrapnel threw back and took poor old Button in the throat. So that was him gone. They couldn’t even recover him. They just had to leave him there dead. He was one very good close friend. Another chap was Wally Stone. I could name a lot.


What was it like for you when you lost them?
It was pretty devastating because some were like brothers. It hurt a lot, a hell of a lot. Poor old Wally got blown up in a mine field in Tobruk, and they laid a sig [signal] wire on to him. I wasn’t in that section. He was in my old platoon, the one I left in Don Company.


They asked a couple of us to go out and bring his body in. We went out on three probes to try and get him in but every time the corporal who was leading us, who was a Don Company boy, picked up the wrong sig wire and God knows where we ended up. So we abandoned the idea. We got him about three or four nights later.
Did you ever go out on these patrols in the armoured vehicles?


Not in Tobruk we didn’t. There were a couple of squirmishes done by the carriers.


See, we were terribly under strength. We should have had something like twelve or thirteen carriers. In Tobruk we had three. So there were maintained by their drivers and we were only potential or future drivers at that stage.
And there’s a story about a cook in Tobruk?
Oh, the old cook. After we came out of salient actually, they allocated a cook…rather than do the cooking and bring it in in dixies [mess tins] and whatever at night, they allocated a cook for each platoon. And we had a cook. And one of the means of cooking was by wood fire, an open fire.


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.
Well tell us about receiving the news that you were to transfer


out of Tobruk. How did you feel about that and what were you thinking?
I think we all had mixed feelings about it. We knew we were within a whisker of getting out. We all felt we could have broke out, but yes I think it was a great relief. I think everybody had had enough. We


were a little bit stir crazy. A 20 mile radius of land and that was it. You couldn’t get in or out. You were confined to the place for nine months. We weren’t well fed, no good water to drink. I think everyone was delighted to get out. Strangely enough, when we got out, we were that used to drinking water that had a high percentage of salt in it, that when we got into


Alexandria…I’ve always been a great tea drinker. The first cup of tea I drank tasted flat and dead. It was good pure water with tea and it tasted bloody awful. I thought, “I wish I had some Tobruk water!”
Tell us about how you left and what happened and the ship you went on?
I can’t remember. I can’t remember for the life of me. We came on a little destroyer. I can’t remember the name


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.
And where did you go to after you left Tobruk?


Immediately afterwards we camped just outside Alexandria. Of course everyone wanted to go into Alexandria. We hadn’t even heard a woman’s voice or seen a woman or even knew what one looked like hardly. And we all wanted to go even though we were all veiled up and hard to look at, and they were beautiful, some of the Arab girls.


Some of them made it in. I went with my little mate Billy. We went in and I don’t know where the hell we got them but we had a couple of Pommy jackets. So we had Pommy jackets on and Bill had come from Stoke-on-Trent and he said, “Don’t you do any talking, I’ll do all the talking.” I can convince them we’re Poms and they’ll let us through the roadblock.


He said, “All you have to do is agree with me and say, “I’m on.” So I said, “I’m on.” And he “No, no, ahm on.” And he was going on like this and I couldn’t get it right. Anyhow something happened and we didn’t get into Alexandria. We had to call it off, so we went down to the NAAFI [Navy Army Air Force Institute – canteen] and got drunk.
Where were you posted to after that?


I think it was Hill 69 Benghazi. We stayed there…we had Christmas there. A little bit of leave was granted. I think there were tours done and we thought we had pretty well done everything and there would be no hassle, but they used to get us out on those bloody sand dunes to toughen us up. You’d be walking for miles and I suppose it took your mind off sex. We’d be paddling through these bloody sand dunes mile after mile and


you’d think, what the hell am I doing this for. I’m sure they were just working us out a bit. We managed to get a bit of leave in and we did what had to be done on leave. A few beers…I did go on a tour. I think it was about a six-day tour. I must check it with Gordon. He was on the bloody thing with me. I shot through off it.


We got as far as the Sea of Galilee, and I think we all had a look at the Sea of Galilee. We may have even had a pee in it. So we got to there anyhow where Jesus walked. That was quite a thing, and again it wasn’t a great big issue for me at that stage. Another little mate and I got a taxi and shot through and spent a couple of nights in Jerusalem.


We picked up the bus there. But Gordon wrote a beautiful poem about that. He met this little Arab girl…did he recite it to you? It was beautiful.
Did you meet any girls?
What are they? You don’t meet girls over there. Really, there’s no way


an Arab or a Jewess would have anything to do with us. If you could have gone out in civvies I’m sure I could have won a heart. I was pretty good looking in those days. No, didn’t meet any girls. Not as friends anyway.
Where to next? You were off to Syria…
Yes we went by boat to Syria.


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.
Tell us about hearing the news that the Japanese had entered the war?
Devastating. I think we all hit rock bottom. We didn’t want to be anywhere but home.


I think people who had never drunk in the lives before were looking to the bottle for a bit of comfort. We had so much at home. Our families, our mothers and brothers. We just didn’t want to be over there fighting some other bastard’s war. We wanted to be protecting our own country. And it went on


for so long with us. We thought we were heading home. I think the powers to be had a different view. We knew the Germans were coming through at a rate of knots. Tobruk had fallen. We practically walked out and handed it over to the Germans….the South Africans. We weren’t happy about that.


But there was so much of our blood spread there holding that place and just to see it go under like that…and with twice the equipment that we had. It was terrible what they did. They could have been over run or something, I don’t know. Anyhow we had a vague idea that we were going to go against the Jerry again, and we also felt at that stage…maybe we were very vain, but if anyone could stop him, the


bloody 9th Division could. And guess what, they did. We were really hoping though that we were going home. And when they told us to take all identification off, we knew then we were going to El Alamein, into the desert again.
How did you know that?
They didn’t want Jerry to know that


we Australians were moving in. And at that stage, we were pretty seasoned troops. The British forCes that were there were pretty much untried. Those individuals that were there…and the New Zealanders, and the Scots, the First Highland Division. We knew damn well…it was rather a farce because we had tanned boots and the British...all the other forces had black boots.


The old Wogs, the Arabs would come up to us and say, “Hello Aussie.” “How did you know?” “Because of your boots.” They knew who the hell we were. But we went up there with a lot different determination I think because we felt we were more skilled, we were better soldiers, better equipped and we knew what we were doing now.


We had come out of that stage of raw material to a finely tune army that we were. And we went into it.
Well, describe what first happened? What did you do when you first arrived there?
Well, I must tell you an amusing story.


We went up part of the way by train. It must have been about two or three o’clock in the morning when this train stopped at a station and the whole divvy…I always say the whole 8th Army, but it was just this one train. And I got out and as I say, I would do anything for a cup of tea.


So I got out and this Arab fellow, an officer was in the thing and he had a brew of tea on and I got talking to him. It was pitch dark, the middle of the night and not a soul but me off the train. Everyone was fast asleep and for some reason I was awake. So I was talking to him and I said, “Jesus, I’d love a cup of tea before the train goes.”


He said, “The train can’t go before I let it go.” So he gave me a cup of tea and I sat with him and drank a cup of tea and they all waited while I drank. I don’t think any one in the battalion knows that. They’d probably court martial me. Holding up the bloody war. But it was the most beautiful cup of tea I think I’ve every had. I was most grateful for that gentleman. So we went on and we landed on…I can’t remember getting off the bloody train.


It wasn’t at El Alamein. It was before that. And we took over our carriers…did we take them with us? Yes we did. We offloaded them and we had all our equipment with us, that’s right. We went in to a roving, mounted battalion, and I think the whole…Jerry had hit and then gone inland


and I think he was looking to do what he did in Tobruk. I’m not too much on the statistics of the thing. Anyhow he met the Australians there with some great results on their part. I think on bad on their part too. We lost almost a battalion. They were surrounded completely. But they were sacrificed.


We were mobile, ready to go in and help them but for some reason they wouldn’t let us go in. They held us off. Gradually we took up the coastal area which was a hot spot and we did front line duties again with lots of patrolling. On this occasion I did go out on several patrols.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 06


Well, tell me about the first patrol you went on in El Alamein?
One patrol that I went on, and I have no recollection of any details of it, but a friend of mine said he took out a patrol one night, Cec Dobbs.


He used to marvel at the fact that after all these years, all these months of soldiering on, he took out a patrol, a shallow patrol, or a fighting patrol, and the only man in it over twenty was himself. He said I was on it but I don’t remember. Nothing much happened. I think one night I went out…


after the big Bulimba show.
What sort of things were you doing before Bulimba?
Front line duties.
Well what are they?
We used to occupy positions in the front line.


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.


Did you have any kind of reaction the next day?
Oh yes. On any occasion like that…mostly while it’s happening, nothing’s happening to you. I’m not saying I’m brave. I’m not. I’ve felt fear. But you do feel pretty calm about it but the next day you go to pieces a bit. You realise what could have happened I suppose. But yes, I had a few reactions the next day.


But I was very relieved that they had all got in bar poor old Dave Knight. He didn’t make it.
What sort of reactions did you have?
I didn’t break down and cry or anything like that. I don’t know. I didn’t have any visible ones.
What did it feel like inside?
Really, really


terrible. I think to lose someone was a terrible reaction, but you’ve got to go through with it. You had to look on it as it couldn’t happen to me, it happened to that poor bugger. You had to adopt that attitude. I don’t think you would have survived otherwise. I felt hellish about Dave. He was such a gentleman. He never swore to my knowledge.


He was such a gentle sort of person, and to die like that. It wasn’t nice. Sure I had reactions. I felt sad. I think we were too buggered the next night to let it worry us and as soon as we lay our heads down, we were dead to the world. I dreamed about them much. I have dreams even now


talking about reactions. I have lots of nightmares when I wake up with a hell of a yell or something. I can scare hell out of poor old Kath and she bears the brunt of it. My war was good but compared to what she’s had to suffer with reactions like this. I’ve never been violent or anything, but you wake up and you sweat like a pig.


Often it takes a long time to get back to sleep. Oh God, you know. Until you just fade out. But most of my dreams are not about…I often see them. But you don’t dream too much about what you did to anyone.


What kind of debriefing happens after an ambush like that?
Well after that particular one, I don’t think we were debriefed. Often I’ve been on debriefs. You go out on patrols and you’d get back and usually we’d sit around a stinking little dugout, usually with a light going, and you would tell all you knew, what you saw.


If you saw a dead body there, or if you killed somebody. All that would come out, but the adrenaline is still running and I suppose you’re a bit crazy. It was different in Vietnam entirely. What they subjected our boys there, was bloody something shocking.


I know they had to go out and actually view the corpses and do body counts, and bring the dead in, their dead. We never had to suffer that. We just went toe to toe, fought him and got the hell out of it. But you’d talk about it that night but then you’d immediately put it out of your mind, or try to.


Well tell me about the lead up to the big battle of Bulimba?
Well it wasn’t much of a lead up as far as I was concerned. We rehearsed Bulimba pretty well. We felt what we did was wrong. We felt we had rehearsed it within his vision. It was in his view, and that’s why I feel we copped such a hell of a thrashing.


What kind of rehearsals did you do?
Doing fake attacks and battalion movements. I think for about three nights we did assaults on an area. I wasn’t in Bulimba by the way. I was in a – think that they called the Jock Column. I’ll tell you


a bit about Bulimba and how I came to be in the Jock Column. We allocated one section of carriers, three Bren gun carriers. I think maybe come to think of it, there might have been one carrier each section that went to this Jock Column. We had a company of infantry mounted. We had a couple of seven pound anti tank guns.


I think we had a section of machine gunners and we had artillery. Once the main battalion got into Bulimba, and took up the position, we were to go through and virtually…and as far as we were concerned, we would have been written off.


We had to go through and take on targets of opportunity. We used to shoot up anything we could. Never at any stage can I remember any plan of us coming back. When it’s over you’ll come here…none of that was ever talked about. I think it was just a matter of getting back if you were bloody lucky. We were being sold down the river.


We felt that. We felt it was a suicide mission. It didn’t happen, Bulimba. I’m getting ahead of myself. You asked me a question…
No no. Continue on. Tell me about your part of what happened?
When the order to withdraw was given…we had lost a hell of a lot of men. Our carrier platoon alone lost something like eight or nine Bren gun carriers. They were blown up. We lost


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.


I didn’t shoot anybody.
Tell me how you got in to get the wounded out under fire?
Just drove in with the carrier. I didn’t have to go through the wire. Once you got through the wire it was deadly. But we were still within range of bullets and shells and they were still firing at us when I went out on two occasions.


And whereabouts were you when most of the carriers were lost?
Sitting on the ridge watching them. Sitting on the ridge and as soon as they gave the go, we went straight through the lines. Straight through the Germans and out to do what we had to do out there.
What was it like to have to watch?
Not pleasant.


It wasn’t pleasant. I can tell you something pretty amusing. The password was ‘Bulimba’. So that was the order I think. So many hours after zero the day Bulimba was given as the password we were to attack. To break off – we were a Queensland battalion – and to break off an attack and to withdraw was Queensland. And


I had a little kid in the back, Siddie Day. A real smart arse little fella he was. Nobody liked him much because of his wit. But he was liked amongst the boys but he was always a bit of a smart Alec. Anyhow Sid was sitting in the back and he had a beautiful voice and he was singing, Beautiful beautiful Queensland, as we drove along.


It was rather amusing really. That wasn’t answering your question was it, sorry.
What your reaction was having to watching things like your friend’s carriers…
It’s hard to describe. It’s bloody terrible when you lose friends. And this is a terrible final thing when they go. I don’t think I would like to go too deep into that.


That’s a bit you keep to yourself. When I saw we watched it. We knew exactly what was going on. It’s indescribable. You feel sad of course, you feel devastated. But not at any stage did I think I should get out of the carrier strangely enough. I was reading a bit of Ron Yates’ statement over there of how


someone came up to him the night of El Alamein and said, “Watch out for yourself, Ron, these bloody carriers are a death trap.” That’s exactly what they were. You had a false sense of security. You had some thin tin around you and you thought you were infallible, but you weren’t.


Bullets were bouncing off them. Well used them well in El Alamein.
And when everything settled down after Bulimba and seeing so many people had been lost, was there some kind of ceremony?


No, I can’t recall. We had a ceremony when we left the area and we bid our farewells to our friends at the cemetery. We had a service. I think everyone had a quiet ceremony. I know one fella in particular, Ron Abbott, he lost his carrier and I think he lost his driver, and also he lost his brother.


That was pretty hard. We had Cyril Green. He was in the carriers. His brother was a commander of one and he was killed. And we had another Green in it to. Larry Green, he was a serving alderman from the Brisbane City Council.


Nobody talked much. There wasn’t much humour around. Nobody cracked any smart alex jokes. We just sat around and sort of suffered I think. I think we learned to contain our grief a lot. I think maybe if we had all sat around and had a bloody good howl, but men don’t howl, so they say.


I don’t know. Maybe it would have been better. Men seem to be freer with their emotions now. The Vietnam vets will go up and hug each other and start crying, and I thought, that’s wonderful. I never remember ever hugging Billy Allan or any of my mates. I might punch them in the ear maybe. I think our attitude was different and I think letting your feelings go is a little bit better sometimes.


But we did tend to bottle it up. We did.
Did Billy Allan survive Bulimba?
Yes he did yes. He didn’t do Alamein though. Yes he was a good kid. He’s a Don-R [motorcycle dispatch rider] now. We’ve got two Don-Rs now. I must tell you the story of Bluey Macarthur.


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.
After Bulimba, what was the kind of talk amongst the men about why it had gone so badly?
I think we all blamed this business of having a rehearsal first.


We all felt that Jerry was waiting for us. There was a bit of bad feeling about that. I think our minds very very rapidly got set on that. But we couldn’t dwell too much on mistakes. I don’t think we got it wrong. I think we proved that that battalion was one of the best fighting machines that ever ever existed.


That’s the 2/15th Battalion.
Well the big deal as you put it, the big battle, what was the preparation and lead up to that?
Well when we got out, I left my corporal and I got…actually to get Sid driving, he was a


good skilled driver…I had taught him as my number two and he was ready to take over a carrier. They needed carrier drivers desperately. A lot of our drivers were ready for promotion to corporals, but they would never do it, because they were too highly trained. It took too long to train a man to be a skilled driver. But anyone could be taught to fire a bloody gun and command it. So they were bringing in lance corporals.


Mostly dragging them in against their wishes. I think everybody had had the carriers by now. They brought these little lance corporals and gave them their second stripe as carrier commanders. We ended up with a hell of a lot of bloody good men. We had good men that we lost too. I forget what the question was, sorry.


What sort of things were being done in the lead up?
Well we went into serious training again. We did lots of patrols. I did an escort patrol with Ces Dobbs, a sergeant. Myself and a chap called Jack Rose who got killed a couple of days later. And Jack…he was a married man too, a lovely fellow.


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


hell out of us.
And what was going to be the role of the carriers in El Alamein?
It was a wonderful role really. I got shifted out from driving and they put me in with the colonel. We lost our colonel’s driver. We lost our colonel and his driver in Bulimba, and we had a new colonel. Colonel Keith Marnier.


He was a beautiful man. I idolised him. They sent me over as his carrier driver. The carriers were split up. I think there were twelve carriers, thirteen with the colonel’s. The carrier commander maintained his role as carrier commander.


I might be wrong about this, but each carrier section then went to support a company. So a company would have ended up with two or three carriers in support. Now, their role was to carry ammunition. One carrier was carrying the mortar crew and the mortar bombs,


and the other one was carrying…I forget what they were. But they were all carrying…more or less carrying supporting weapons. Once they got into a consolidated area when an attack went in, the carrier’s then would go back in support as extra guns for the infantry section, and do the odd patrols. And they did a good job. But we still lost quite a few carriers. I


forget how many. It must have been four maybe five carriers. At least four or five at the Battle of El Alamein. I had a cushy job I suppose, but a very lonely job because I was on my own most of the time. The reason they put me there was because I was probably a bit more skilled than most of the drivers. Not all of them, but some of them.


So I must have been the right man for the job. He was a beautiful man. The first day I drove up and introduced myself. “I’m Private Lyall, sir.” “What’s your first name?” And from then on he never addressed me by anything but Perce. I got to know him and to love him. He was a great old guy. He was a Queen’s Counsellor from Sydney.


A beautiful fellow. But he died…I got him out but he died before I could do anything. I’ll tell you about that later maybe.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 07


We were talking about El Alamein. When the battle got hot, describe what it was like?
I think I was a bit awe inspired by it. I remember sitting in my carrier and I had had a letter from home


and it was a dark night and I was actually reading the letter by gun fire. It was absolutely amazing. I think we had a thousand guns on our front and the sky was just like a flickering light. Shells flying, the smell of cordite. The Beaufort gun which was our guide. We had a Beaufort gun


laying three rounds, boom boom boom. Three big red Beaufort tracer bullets would go straight along our line of advance. We couldn’t go off it. We knew exactly where we had to go. All we had to do was wait a minute and three shells would go straight over. If it went that way then, oops, we’re going in the wrong direction. Terrific, we couldn’t make a mistake. And in addition to that they were laying


little torch batteries which were shining back this way. Just ordinary lights. How did I feel? I felt…I didn’t feel anything. I felt a bit apprehensive because anything could happen. I desperately wanted to survive it.


I didn’t want anything to happen to me. I had been through too much and I wanted to see home once more. So I was very apprehensive. I was uptight, I suppose. But I wasn’t all fired up with adrenaline or anything like that like you do when you’re going on a little fighting patrol or something. Then you get all fired up. I think I felt pretty calm about it.


I’m a pretty calm sort of a person really.
And you were moving forward in your carrier?
That was a bit of a curly one. I was the first vehicle through. I was driving for the colonel. He didn’t ride with me. I had a little jeep and that little jeep was actually the first vehicle in. And when I say the first vehicle in, this was through a minefield a mile line. You only have to touch one of those mines and you’re history,


particularly in a Bren gun carrier. I can remember standing up in the driver’s seat, like pushing myself up instead of looking over the top. I was in low gear driving along. I had the colonel’s batman sitting beside me as the gunner and he didn’t know what end of the gun was what. A good guy, a great little kid.


Actually I used to call him the Batman. I would pat my pockets and say “Where’s my cigarettes?” And he would say, “Oh here they are,” and he’d get them for me. We followed this line through. I was trying to track with the jeep which was impossible. I could sit his track on it and know that I’d go if anything happened. Or I could sneak over and put my track on it


and he was breaking virgin country. It was a funny experience. I can remember driving along and gradually I’d sneak over and old…I can’t remember his name. And I’d think, oh I can’t do this to the poor old bugger and I’d go back and sit on the other track. It was weird.


You were just talking about driving along?
Yeah. Actually every time we stopped somewhere I’d have Billy Allan, he was driving the other motor bike. Bill would come and jump in the carrier with me because they were ripping hell out of us with machine gun fire and overhead shrapnel. They’d be air bursts…they’d fire them and they’d be right over head. They’d explode


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.
When did it hit you, the effects of these three dying?
It’s still there. It will always will be. There’s nothing I could have done that would have saved his life. Nothing. If only the old bugger would have given up when he got that wound in his leg


It was a beauty. It would have got him out safe and sound. No, he didn’t…he was such a gentle sort of a person, and a brilliant man. To be a King’s Counsel, you have to be pretty good. He was a lawyer.
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.
What are you thinking about when you’re being shot at so closely?
It’s pretty comfortable in a carrier when you know the bullets aren’t going to hit you, but if it comes over the top then you’re in trouble and it hits the cowling in the front. I don’t know, the old adrenaline is running a bit. You’re pretty geared up. You play soccer don’t you? Well it’s just like that.


Yes, the old adrenaline is running a bit. I don’t think you feel fear. I don’t think I was frightened. I was only actually scared once. When I went to Tobruk and when I left was the first time, and at El Alamein when I came out the second time. Once last six or nine months and the other one last about six.


And tell us how it finished up, El Alamein?
It finished up on a pretty high note, because I had the honour I think of Johnny and I going out with four other carriers the next morning after these people shot us up, on the same line of advance and we got almost


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.
And what happened for you next after capturing


these guys?
Well we consolidated. Continuing the story of the patrol we were on. We went up to the mosque…this mosque that wasn’t supposed to be fired on and there was a heavy barrage of 25 pounders from our side. We had to get a message back by wireless very very smartly to cease firing


because the mosque is now occupied, it’s now our territory, and then it was on for young and old. The carriers that were there went out scrounging and we found some good loot that day. Stuff the Jerries had left behind. A couple of complete Q stores [quartermaster stores]. We all ended up with pistols and binoculars and watches, cameras.


We had a ball and we just occupied this thing. I don’t know what the hell I thought I’d do about it, but we just occupied it. Johnny got out into another carrier for some reason and I was on my own in the carrier, I know that. We looked up and there was a column of bloody trucks. We didn’t


recognise them. They were coming straight down the coast road and we thought they were enemy and Johnny said, “Get out and put a block out on there.” He told us and I took off like a rocket and as I said, the little batman didn’t know how to fire a gun. I had Donny Wright, the commander of the other carrier that came with me


and his crew and so we went straight down and we sat one on either side of the road waiting for them ready to engage them if necessary. I took over the gun. Anyhow, this bloody column came to an end and someone said, “Well done Aussie, we’ll take over from here.” It was the 8th Army.


I don’t know who he was or what he was but he said, “Well done Aussie, you’ve done a great job.” So we just pulled off, breathed a sigh of relief and just let him go. We would have been wiped off the map if they had been Germans. You do these silly things I suppose.
Well, tell us about coming home now?
I think…


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.
And what was it like to come home after all this time?
It was nice to be coming home. And that how I felt, nice


until I saw Sydney Harbour. It was the most emotional, the most beautiful sight I think I’ve ever seen. Again there were mirrors flashing everywhere at us. They knew who we were. I think they must have known who we were. There were boats out there honking horns at us and we thought, bloody hell. This is paradise.


I thought Sydney was so beautiful. I thought it was lovely, the send off they gave us. But the welcome home was probably the most emotional thing that had ever happened. It was beautiful. Heaven, a little paradise.
How did you feel about the prospect of having to go back to war, so to speak, in New Guinea?
I think I’ve always


believed in the theory that your luck can just hold out so long. I never got a bloody scratch. I had one mate who was wounded three times. Another fella…nearly all of them were wounded once or twice. Never a scratch. I thought something horrible was going to happen.


It didn’t worry me greatly. I had lost a lot of mates and I didn’t feel I had much to live for, really. No girlfriend. I was free and easy. I didn’t want to go to New Guinea, but I had to go because I wanted to get those bloody Japs. I hated them. The Japs had done something to us that I’ll never forgive them for.


They might be our good friends now, but I always watch my back. We hated them. We gave no bloody quarter and we didn’t expect any. I think you’ll find every digger who’s interviewed will tell you exactly that.
So tell us about arriving in New Guinea?
I went over in a carrier group and we were very


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.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 08


When you were in Milne Bay were you working as a Don-R for a while?
Oh yes. I was for a while. This is in the carrier platoon. I had ridden a bike. I learnt to ride one in the army.


We had a course on them in Syria. I wouldn’t say I was a skilled driver, but I had ridden. There was a fellow, Burke. I can’t think of this name, something Burke. He was out of the 2/13th Battalion. He was the designated dispatch rider in the carrier company. He got wounded.


I don’t know…he and I weren’t that close as friends. He knew my interest in bikes and knew how I could handle them, And when he got knocked…it wasn’t a serious wound. He knew he would only be away for a few days. He suggested to the major that I take over the bike. The major called me up and asked whether I would like to and I said, “Yep.” So I was riding a motor bike for a while doing Don-R work.


But not being a stickler for rules, it gave me a bit of leeway. I had made contact with the ANGAU [Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit] and they told me that my brother…I knew he was there somewhere, and I was able to find out exactly where he was this particular day. I had nothing on, so I kicked the old bike over and I went riding out on this road he was building


with this group of natives. I got the shock of my life. Old Tim was sitting there under a tree smoking a cigarettes, reading a book and on the road were these natives and they were weird. They had plaited hair like this and filed teeth. I said, “What’s this?” He said, “They’re head hunters, but they’re alright, they’re mates of mine.”


But that was the first time I had seen my brother for something like three years since I had left Redbank in 1940.
What was it like to see him again?
Great. He conned my watch off me. He was out there with a work party of natives and watches were pretty hard to get. I had a lovely German one, and old Tim said, “I need a watch bad.” So I gave him mine.


It was great to see him again. He was a bit of a …my mentor I suppose you could say. He was eight years older than me but we did an awful lot of things towards the end together. Later in life we ended up in business together as painters. We worked a lot together at different times. So I managed to see him.


And when you went around to Lae and landed after the landings, can you describe the sight of how they were set up?
I never got into Lae. We landed quite a few miles up from Lae. The first time I saw Lae was when I went about six years ago when I went on the Australia Remembers Australia Day Tour.


I was selected to represent 9 Div from the Brisbane area. That was the first time I saw Lae town. We saw it from the distance only.
Where did you land?
We landed where the infantry landed at Red Beach. That was a beach landing and we just operated around that part of Lae.
What was the set up there like?
It was pretty hectic


I suppose. There were a few ships blown up around the place. There was one ship on the shore. LCM [landing craft, mechanised], I think it was. It wore a bomb and it was a bit of a mess. But we never got to look at it much I’m afraid. We were out in the bush most of the time. They used to bring barges in at certain places and we’d do a bit of landing with them.


How many Japanese were around the area at the time?
I don’t know.
I mean, was there much of a danger to the setup in general or was it fairly secure?
Oh yes. We hit them hard and they hit us hard at times too. Again, I was never exposed…I never got any where near a Jap


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.
Tell me about the role of forward scout?


How do you move, and what do you do?
Very carefully. Very stealthily. I might be the wrong man to ask that question. I adopt a bit of an attitude. If they don’t get me with the first bullet they won’t bloody get me. No fear of that. You know you’re the pin point


of the thing. If they’re going to shoot anybody, then it’s going to be you. So you move very, very carefully. You move, making sure that everything’s checked. You lead the group through and any sightings of Japs you could down straight away and then you notify them of what’s going on and they’ll plan the attack.


But your job is to go from point A to point B usually without the aid of a map. You’re being directed from behind or you’re told to follow that ridge along five hundred yards or whatever. You would have studied it prior so you know exactly where you’re going, but you’ve usually got a platoon sergeant behind you with


the control of where you actually go and you just more or less follow instructions. You’re walking as if you’re walking through…I’ve experienced the same feeling on blind destruction. I was a qualified blind man in the engineers where we used to have to go out with a


plug of explosive and put it next to a bloody hand grenade that had misfired, knowing full well if you moved that grenade and caused the mechanism to fire then you were dead. You feel about a thousand feet tall and you’re moving in an unreal sort of way.


I don’t think there’s any thought of not going. You just keep going.
How do you keep your concentration up for a whole day?
I don’t think you should be asked to. I think an hour is all that anybody should have in a forward position. But for some reason they had me there, I was out of this carrier platoon which was having a big bludge down on the beach some where as far as I was concerned. So they were going to use me to the limit.


One of my own officers. I think they used me because…in a way I’m glad I was able to do it, because those infantry boys had had their bloody fill. The old hands. I don’t know, you’re dying for a bloody smoke most of the time. You’re walking as if…you feel every fibre in your body is alive. You’re looking, you’re listening, you’re moving.


Anything unusual happens, then you’re onto it. It’s a most unusual experience.
When you get back from a patrol like that, how do you calm down?
It takes a lot of calming down…it’s not so much calming down. With great difficulty, usually. I’ve never been in a situation before other than this occasion when I was out for


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.
And did you come under fire from the Japanese at all?
Yes, there were some occasions. Quite a few occasions, yes.


you ever come into face to face contact?
No, never. We were always out being fired on. We were under very heavy fire on one occasion. We went up to support our Don Company, and we took a group of about eight or nine. There were only about three of us I might add. We took about eight or nine Fuzzy Wuzzies up


with a supply of ammunition so they could perform this attack that they were doing. We had to wait through the attack and practically act as observation of the whole thing and bring back the wounded and killed.


So we did that. On this occasion when we went in, first up the bullets were raining straight down on us and the poor old Fuzzies were really worried. It’s a very amusing story really. They were looking startled and that and we were just laying there quietly smoking. And just as a calm came, an earth tremor hit us. And you would have sworn we were a jelly with a fly sitting on us. The whole


thing went like that. Even the trees were wobbling. And this was when we all panicked. We were all looking very startled. They were laughing at us.
What was it?
An earth tremor. A minor earth quake. We got them often in New Guinea, and this was a particularly bad one.
Overall in New Guinea,


what would you say were the main differences in terms of the type of action you were going into compared to the Middle East?
It was so different. We could see what we were doing in the desert for one thing. I think we were crash hot desert fighters. We were trained for night work. We ruled that no-man’s land. That belonged to us. They


never patrolled and we had them really on their toes. I think we knew the desert. I was happy with the desert, I was confident. Everywhere I went, I could get home. I knew where home was. But in the jungle you never had a bloody clue where north, south, east or west were. It was just


overcast, dull, dark. I used to yearn to see the sun sometimes, just to get out of the darkness. The sand was terrible, the sand storms. But as terrible as it was I don’t think anything could be worse than the wet, cold bloody jungle. The rashes


we got from the jungle, the creatures that gnawed at you. It was a shocking place. All we had to contend with in the desert were flies, fleas and Germans. Not in that order.
And in the jungle, what was the different sort of atmosphere amongst the troops?


I don’t really know. I think at that stage we had developed a strong loyalty to our country. We thought that by dying in New Guinea we could save Australia in any way, then we were there to give our lives.


It was so close to home and our loved ones. There was no way we wanted the war to go beyond bloody New Guinea, and I think any many would have pulled his heart out to keep it there and to defeat the Japs which we did in the end with the aid of an atom bomb of course. They were buggered then. They were on their knees when they got that bomb.


There was still a lot of bitter fighting to come, and according to a report I read, we hadn’t hit the worst of it. They’re best soldiers and the biggest and fiercest battle would have been on their soil if we had got there. But the atom bomb saved us that. There would have been millions and millions and millions lost.


I think every kid, every woman was a fighting machine ready to handle the invasion.
And when did you first feel symptoms of malaria?
In New Guinea. I did have a bout of dengue at one stage and I spent about three days in bed in hospital.


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.
What was that like, not being able to see them any more?
I saw them but I never saw them any more. It was pretty rough. I didn’t want it that way. I ended up with my leg of mine badly damaged. I was in hospital for about three months.


Because I’m aware of the time, can you tell us about when you heard that the war was over?
I was a little let down. I was in this job. I had met Kath and I was very fond of her at this stage. I had had a couple of quick romances that didn’t last long, and then I met Kath, a young student teacher. I was wrapped in her.


I wanted to make my life with her, but in the same token, I don’t remember Europe…I was out like a light that day. But I remember when peace in the Pacific was declared.


All those men who were gone. And even though they were dead they were still with me. But suddenly there was no army and they were gone. It was a bit of a strange feeling. I was a bit let down. I really felt that the best part of my life was gone. It was over.


What sort of things did you think about the people who hadn’t come home?
Very much and they’re still there some times. I don’t know what I thought about them. I couldn’t equate to why young lives like Billy who died


about a month after he turned twenty one. The colonel. There were so many of them, so many.
Did it feel like a time to celebrate?
I didn’t feel like celebrating. I went out one night and celebrated but the celebration went on. The next night I had a hell of a down. I hit bottom I suppose. My brother rang up and said, “Come on out, Perce.” And I said I had nothing to celebrate.


I never went out. I just stayed around home. It was a funny thing. I didn’t have anything to celebration.
Did you think it had been worth it?
I’ve never for one moment


thought it wasn’t worth it. I think I will always think that. I never regret doing anything I’ve done. I never regret going into the army. I just wish things could have been a bit different, but they weren’t. I don’t regret going to Vietnam. I cherish the thought that I was in Vietnam.


I knew I was giving something to a lot of young men there that they needed…what I received from the old fellas when I was first in action. No I don’t regret anything. Maybe doing a bit more. Maybe adopting the SAS’s [Special Air Service] slogan.


He who dares wins. Maybe I should have dared a bit more. I’m happy with what I did, bloody happy.
Talking about Vietnam. We might just jump ahead a few years. Around the time before you were going to Vietnam and the few months leading up to that, what stories were you hearing about what was happening in Vietnam?


Not a lot. We knew what was going on. I felt we had every right to go in. I was a soldier, a professional soldier and as far as I was concerned, they asked for help, and we were going in to help a country that was in trouble. I firmly believed


in the domino system, that is, if Vietnam had have fallen in, rightly or wrongly, I believed maybe all of Asia may have tumbled into the Communist thing. It was so close really and I believe we were sitting ducks, and we still are.


But I believed that by going to Vietnam and I could have stopped that in any manner or form, I don’t believe we were beaten in Vietnam. We weren’t defeated. Politically we were defeated, but the army wasn’t allowed to do what the army should have done. And that’s the big hang-up a lot of the boys have got. And the attitude of the people was so wrong.


It was terrible.
How did the army prepare you for going to Vietnam?
Prepare us? Psychologically?
Psychologically and physically?
I had a troop. I was a staff sergeant. I came out of Kapooka actually. I spent three years there as a drill instructor, and I and this troop that I was getting DP’d.


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.
What was her reaction?
Her reaction? You had better ask her that.


I think I was a pretty brave soldier, and I’ve seen some pretty brave men in my day, but I’ve never seen anyone as brave as her. She accepted it, as I knew she would. She didn’t want me to go. I’ll tell you a funny story…
We’re almost at the end of this tape.
Interviewee: Percy Lyall Archive ID 1887 Tape 09


It was a few years ago. I went to a reunion in Toowoomba. One of my mates in Toowoomba, Jack McClean. He was one of the original in the battalion and he brought a young fellow over to me and he said, “Perce, you knew Cliffy Dore pretty well,


(Cliff incidentally was in the 2/15th and he got killed in Tobruk.) This is his son John. He’d like to talk to you about his Dad.” This kid sat down and he said to me, “What was my Dad like?” And I felt a flush of bloody anger against Cliff. I thought, you silly old bugger. You had two kids


and you joined the army. I was raving on about it to Kath on the way back and I told her I felt so angry at Cliff for doing that to his children. Here he was, a man with two kids and he went off to war. And then I thought, hang on. I had ten kids when I went traipsing off to bloody Vietnam. I could have easily been killed and been in the same boat.


It was a bit heart rendering. I was able to tell him what his Dad was like a bit. It was a terrible thing.
So why did you want to go, especially considering you had ten kids?
I didn’t want to go to another war. I didn’t want to, really. But I had spent at this stage about twelve


years in the army, being well fed and well paid. I felt that I had a lot to give the army with my army experience. I felt that I had trained for four years in Kapooka, training men who were going to Vietnam. There


was no way in the world I could not go to Vietnam, for my own piece of mind. I had trained men to go to Vietnam and say no myself. So I just felt morally obliged. I don’t know if that’s strange thinking.


I had something like about eight hundred through my platoon, and they all turned out bloody good soldiers. Some were not so good too I suppose. My lieutenant was Ernie Martens. And as a team I think we were crackerjack and we always got top marks every time we marched the platoon out.


We were always proud of them. And having done that, could I say no. Could I even think of not going. I met a hell of a lot of men in Vietnam. Every where I went, every day, someone would walk up to me and say, “G’day, fancy seeing you here.” It would be one of my recruits. I’m glad I went.
Well, what was your role


in Vietnam?
I went over…I had been in transport because of my carrier experiences, naturally I was in the engineers and I went in as a painter. But very soon transferred out of that because it was a dead end job and I wanted to make a career of it. So went straight into transport as a corporal.


Within a month I was a sergeant, and I stayed there for about five years because promotion didn’t come very quickly in those days. So I was a transport sergeant and I knew I had to make a break from transport to field to progress further. My aims and goals were higher than a sergeant.


I thought I had more ability than that, and it was my profession now. So I talked to…I was due for warrant rank too by the way, and so I talked to the posting’s major when he had an interview with me. I said I was a little bit back in my drill procedures. I’m still an old .303 man


and we’re looking at weapons like SLRs now which I loved. I said I would like to spend a few months at Kapooka. I would have to learn the ins and outs of these weapons before I can instruct on them. You can instruct on anything, but you have to know what you’re talking about. He said, “No problem, but you probably won’t be any more than six months.” I was something like three or four years there. So I got there, loved it, beautiful place for kids


to be, and we really had a happy life. I was home every night, most every night.
But what about in Vietnam, what was your role there?
I was breaking away from transport. This was the cherry they handed me. Get your warrant rank, you’re due for it anyway, but would you take over a transport section for me…be the transport officer at


17 Construction, and I said, “Does that mean you’re going to label me transport forever?” And he said, “I promise you a RSM job as soon as you come back, and he did.” So I went over there in transport. Sorry I digressed. I rave on, mate. So anyhow I had a year in Vietnam as a transport warrant officer.


What were your specific day to day tasks in this role?
My task was…I think I did a lot to improve the situation there. The method of fuelling was quite inadequate. I devised some ideas, some brilliant ideas I thought for refuelling. I created things in cells like repair cells, tyre repair cells.


It was a big job. I had control of about forty or fifty vehicles I suppose. Not plant, just transport. Some very heavy trucks, some five ton tippers which we ran around the clock. We were perpetually puncturing tyres. I don’t know if the Vietnamese were putting stakes to run over or not. But every night


we would have five or six flat tyres which would throw that vehicle off the road for hours sometimes. I came up with this simple idea. The course commander loaded all the tyres on his truck and he would just cruise from the quarry to the depot, the distributing point, all night. As soon as he saw a truck that had broken down,


in a few minutes he’d be along with tyres and they would be on the way in a few minutes. It worked so successfully. Tyres came back to a cell and we were repairing them. It was a good idea and it went well. I enjoyed it.
And where were you based for this period?
A place called Vung Tau. I did rove around Vietnam a bit. I got a bit naughty at times and went and did things which I shouldn’t have done with the Yanks.


We had a…I went up to Da Nang and spent some time up there with the team. I went out on a couple of little shows with them. Just generally…because of my regimental training they practically made me the permanent court orderly. You know the old fellow that marches in.


Then you march them out of them. In charge of the court, in other words. I don’t know how many bloody court marshals I was on. It was – old Perce Lyall knows what to do.


And so that was another job I did there. But mostly it was leading the kids. I built up a great companionship and respect I suppose from the boys. They still look on me as their mentor, a lot of them. They presented me with…on the dressing table, I’ve still got it. It’s a beautiful watch they gave me.


I would step over the line for them a bit, and I think it pays. If you give a man a go he’ll give you the world.
What was it like being an older, more experienced man? A man who had been in Tobruk and all that?
I never thought of myself as being old. I still think of myself being about twenty. I still perve on twenty year olds, if that’s any indication.


I think I felt pretty happy about it. My wife had a hell of a job. They copped bloody hell. My kids were razed at school. Even the nuns at times would have a go at them at times. Your father shouldn’t be in Vietnam,


as if they could help it. The public built up a terrible barrier against the thing, and we were soldiers doing the thing that our country told us to do which was a pity. Sure, we had Nashos [national servicemen – conscripts]. What’s a Nasho? We cut these bloody kids’ hair when they came in, put a uniform on them, sat them out on the parade ground and within a month you could


tell them from any one of us. They were soldiers and they were Australian soldiers, and the best. I was very pleased and proud of them. They served me well and I tried to serve them well.
Would you hear about this razing and this hard time your kids were getting when you were over there?
No, Kath didn’t talk about it. It was only in latter years and I had a bit of a rough time at times myself. I came home…I was lucky…


I came home from Vietnam…it was an entirely different war to what we had fought. Ours was a toe to toe, punch it out war, bayonet to bayonet. It wasn’t that sort of war. It was a war of nerves and stress. It was a war of not knowing who was going to attack, from where, or when.


Whether they be a kid…I’ve had people shout at me. “How do you feel killing kids?” I never killed a child in my life, but I might have. I might have had to. If I saw one running to me as they did. They used to deck them out as little bombs and send them out and explode them in amongst the diggers.


Describe the dangers in Vietnam when you used to go out doing some of your work?
I think you were under constant danger because as I said you didn’t know where, or who or when they were going to hit you. You didn’t know if the smiling little boy over there didn’t have a bloody SLR or something under his belt. You didn’t know.


It was something that you…it was a bit stressful, very stressful and I think what was more stressful was when you came home you had people screaming at you. I remember when I was an RSM, and I was very proud of my uniform. I was very proud of what I had done for my country and I can remember orders used to come out to my depot.


We were nothing to do with the intake. We were an engineering depot and it was our big drill hall where all the intake for Victoria, or in the vicinity of Melbourne used to come through. And every intake, Moratorium people [anti-Vietnam War activists] would be out there in masses. And the orders were specific. Do not wear a uniform, whatever you do.


And I as the RSM could get away with murder, I suppose, I used to say, “I’m proud of my uniform. I’m an RSM and I’ll wear my uniform where and when I like, and I did. But it was a foolish thing to do. I had people push at me and people screaming at me, “Don’t go into the army. Tear your card up.” And there’s me, nearly bloody fifty!


They were idiots. They didn’t know what they were doing half of them. They were just blindly following them, I think.
Well tell us about some of the sights you saw in Vietnam?
What sort of sights?
Did you work in the local villages at all?
I was mostly in an established camp. My sights, 90% of them was seeing


our boys build a hospital for our wounded and sick. Building camps for them, supplying the water for them. I was an engineer, not an infantry man. Building the communications for our men, but mostly we built the helipads and all that sort of thing. Right almost in the operating


theatre and things like that. I was pretty proud of what we were doing there. There was nothing horrible about the sights I saw in Vietnam.
Did you see any horrific sights though, violence or death?
No, not really. I didn’t look for it I suppose. No. I don’t think I even saw anyone who was injured there.


We had these that went on. I can remember in our offices, the sergeants’ mess. We messed together there. They decided, the CO decided that Friday night would be a dining in night for every body and for the Vietnam staff to stay back and work until 9 o’clock. And the transport drivers would run them home.


Now, to let a driver go out at 9 o’clock at night into territory that hasn’t been completely cleared. Knowing full well if you travel that course tonight, this Friday, and next Friday, then the third Friday you could almost bet the VC [Viet Cong, Communist guerrillas] would be there and they would have an ambush ready. Knowing this I had to send drivers off on these.


Well this was a bit of a problem. So I used to send a jeep out, a long wheel based jeep, with two girls in it. The stewards or what ever they did in the bloody kitchen. I would send at least four diggers armed to the teeth as shotgun for them. And in addition to that, I went with them. I would never let them go on their own. I would


always go with them. We were never hit, but I think that sort of thing built up a big confidence in us. I don’t know. I know they sure appreciated the boys. I went out…I said I would go as shotgun. The first time we went I said I would go. I wouldn’t ask a digger to do this, and at least six of them came up armed to the teeth. They wouldn’t let me go on my own. And that’s a nice feeling. They were Nashos, by the way.
Did you have any close calls at all in your time in Vietnam?
I got drunk a few times.


No I didn’t. I had a good war in Vietnam. I’ve been a protected soul all my life. I went out with the Yanks a couple of times on a few squirmishes. I went and joined the Big Red One, which I shouldn’t have done. Just out of bloody pigheadedness I suppose.


They said I was coming home on Monday and I said, “Beauty!” Monday came and they said there had been a big casualty list and I won’t be able to go home. Everyday was a lifetime in Vietnam after you had served a year. And I think


after about a year of stalling me off, I said to the bloody RSM, I said, “I’m going bush.” He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going off to see one of my mates in Big One. Big One was up in the Red Delta. They were one of the forces there. And he said, “You can’t do that,” and I said, “Just watch me.” I came back the next day and he said, “The CO says you’re going on an inspection of


engineer fittings,” and that gave me an open pass. I could get on any plane in Vietnam. I just went up and spent a bit of time right under the nose of the enemy. Stupidity. It was just the way I felt. Then I came back and got ready for home.


My family met me at the airport, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that too. Another wonderful experience. My wife was a wonderful woman. She stood by me through thick and thin.
What were the differences that you noticed between the Vietnam soldiers and the World War II soldiers?
Are you talking about the soldiers? There’s no difference. They were Australian soldiers. There’s no difference in those soldiers.


There was a difference in the way they were treated. The difference in the stress. The difference in the rejection is two worlds apart. They were rejected even by our own RSL [Returned and Services League] you know. I’ve had so many reports of boys coming home from Vietnam, go to join the local RSL and they said, “That wasn’t a war. You’re not entitled to join the RSL.” They have


bloody cadets into it now. Anybody. I didn’t suffer that. I was hero in my kid’s eyes, and I came home to exactly that, a hero’s welcome. It didn’t affect me as much as some of those poor buggers who came home and had their mother’s screaming at them, girlfriends saying they shouldn’t have been there.


They had no option. They did what their country told them to do. Please God they never do that to a force again. I don’t think they will.
And looking back at all your service, what do you think were your worst memories?
My worst


memories? I can’t answer that really. My worst? Fear? That we don’t prepare our country. We don’t live our country. We don’t support our country. My worst fears are that we are sitting here in the middle of a very hostile region,


and…I don’t want to get political, but you can see what’s happening with Timor now, how they’re having demonstrations against Australia. We saved them. Maybe Australia needs to look at their policies and give them back


their bloody oil. Maybe they do. Timor was a wonderful country to our boys in the war, the Second World War. The fought the Japs and we let them down something terrible.
Look back at your service time, what do you think are the best of times for you?
In the army? I don’t know, really. I think


the best time was…the best time was being able to survive what I’ve survived, and still I’ve got my mentality. I’m not crazy…I don’t think. Maybe I am bloody mad but I’ve never been in a psych ward yet.


I never had any mental breakdowns. The best thing about my life I think is that I’ve been able to control my emotions. I let them go sometimes when I think of people gone who shouldn’t be gone. So that’s pretty sad, and I’m so happy I’ve been able to survive it all.


That’s good. Have you had any lasting stress or post traumatic stress?
I think any soldier who served six years in the infantry, and any soldier who went through Vietnam and didn’t have any stress problems, he would be dead. He’d have to be.


Yes, I’ve had bloody stress. I’ve got a rash that comes up on me, violently. I got that in Vietnam. They tell me it’s psoriasis. I’ve never had psoriasis. Yes I’ve had some stress I suppose. I have dreams, Jesus, I have dreams. But I think I’m on top of it though.


I love life too much to let it get me. I like singing. I like playing my guitar. I like doing the things I do and I love my life and I’ll go on loving it. And I hope to live until I die. I have no problems yet. I can still walk and build things. I’m 82 and I can still act like idiot. I


can still dance around. I’m so thankful for that, and I hope to be able to do it until I die.
Now you mention the guitar…we’ll just pause there. Just explain what the song’s about?
This is a little song. I got a very good friend of mine, a poet, Milton Wallace, who incidentally is an ex 2/15th fellow. You gentlemen and ladies know him.


I asked Gordon to write me a little poem. Something about four or five lines…it’s to do with friendship. And Gordon came up with fifteen versus. Anyway I put it to song. I wrote the little ditty for it. (SONG)


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