rather odd story. But the best way I can describe it is once I was commissioned and went to the 26th Battalion I was given the job as sig. officer [signals officer] by the battalion. Which is a very important post because you’re the right hand man to the commanding officer. You’re responsible for the communication of the unit and that’s a pretty exacting sort of job. But just prior to that we were based on Horn Island.
And at that time I wasn’t the sig. officer I was the ack ack [anti-aircraft] officer and ack ack as you know is the light machine gun against aircraft. Our job at Horn Island, we were infantry support to the air force. And the air force was very substantial there because it was the biggest airfield closer to Australia that the Japanese wanted and Australia had to retain. It was a gateway to Australia because they could fly form Rabaul to Horn Island without any trouble, the Japanese.
So we were there for about six months and you might say we were garrison. But the troops, of course, became browned off but the officers couldn’t be that way. They had to sort of fly the flag, you know. Keep the training going and whatever. And then suddenly at the end of 1942 it was decided they would take the unit back to Australia. In 1943 we then really started to train for jungle warfare. We
went to various jungle camps and learned all that business.
years and I got sick and tired of being no one, being nothing. I finished up, I was given the job as factory manager, hiring and firing of labour. And of course by virtue of the fact that my father had worked in the factory he had so many old good friends there that I was pretty well treated by some of the foremen and whatever. So I could see that I was not going to be,
what’s the word…I was not going to be rich. I had to get more money out of life. So I’m still doing the course at Caulfield Tech. So I went into the managing director one day and I said, “Mr Stafford”, I said, “I think I’ve reached the end of my tether with this company”. He said, “What do you mean Norman”. I said, “Well I’ve been on the telephone, I’m taking orders, the travellers report sick, I ring up the shops and I take their orders over the telephone.” I said, “I’d like to
go out and represent this company as a representative”. Mr Stafford looked up at the ceiling in his office and then he looked me in the eye. He said, “Norman, you’re far too young for that responsibility”. After having had six years in the army and whatever. So I said, “I’m sorry I have to leave you sir.” So I took a fortnight’s leave, walked Melbourne and got myself a job as a country rep. That was in 1950.
You’ve kind of got a bit of a killer instinct, if they are going to promote you that quickly.
Well I think the situation was that very few blokes wanted to take rank. They wouldn’t accept the responsibilities. There were a lot of no hopers in the army. A lot of fellows went into the army who were no hopers. I didn’t think I was a no hoper. I had had such a hectic time leading up to the army days, I knew how to make a quid and how to look after myself and one thing and another.
And deep down I thought, “Well Dad would be proud of me”. That sort of thing. There was always this driving force that he got his reward for doing what he did in the war and I thought well righto. So we’re now at 1942 and I got my commission. That’s when the axe fell on the Militia and they said these units have got to be AIF so they sent us to Brisbane. And we were all lined up on the Yongapilly Golf Course.
All the officers there. All the sergeants there and all the privates there. Thousands of men. Three battalions. That’s about three thousand men. So they numbered us off. One, two, three, four, five, six. You go there. And I was one of the six was and going there was on the train to Cairns to join the 26th battalion.
on leave. The train was in the platform and they are about to board the train. And I happened to be what they call the colour sergeant. Every day there was a big red sash and this used to happen. You were what they called the colour sergeant. And your job, for that day, was to be
the link to the officers. You were the link between the officers and the other ranks. The whole unit is on the train ready to leave Bonegilla to come on home leave. And a fellow called…. he was coach for St Kilda. What was his name? I’ll think of it in a minute.
He arrived drunk, abusive on the platform. And the adjutant said to me, “Sergeant, arrest that man”. Killagrue…Alan Killagrue. “Arrest that man”. So of course I go up to Killagrue and I say, “You stupid so and so if you don’t smarten yourself up
that train won’t leave and they’ll kill you.
and to lose men like that. Apart from the fact that we were there and had a job to do. Outside of being on parade we were very close…We were very nice friends, good friends. So you see the sergeant really was the go between. Actually the sergeant had more authority, more roughness than the officer. He was the guy that “Now listen mate. I’ll send you up to
the officer if you don’t behave yourself” and all that sort of business. You’d be walking along inspecting the troops and you found a guy with a dirty rifle. “Sergeant, Take that man’s name and report so and so, so and so”. You had to put on a show. “You haven’t shaved”, and all this sort of business. But the other side of the deal is that when we were in Bougainville, being the officer, I had to inspect the men’s
feet. Make sure they didn’t have bad feet. I had to watch them take the Atebrin tablet. All that business. It was pretty much on then. Things were really mattering a bit so the thing was that there was a time when it really had to be seen that your rank had authority from the orders higher up. Some of the things that you had to do. I thought, “I couldn’t do this”, but you had to do it. But having started from nothing
you knew the other side of the deal. And on Anzac Day, some of the stories I hear. I’m the only officer by the way and they get around, “Oh you bloody officers” and all this sort of business. And I said to one bloke one day, “You know I started as a private. I know all the lurks mate. I know what you are thinking”.
somewhere. They staged us somewhere overnight. The next morning this three-ton truck came and picked us up. Two trucks, there were sixty of us. Sergeants and corporals and whatever. Potential officers course. So we arrive in Duntroon and the cadets in their red and whatever are drilling. And I’d never seen anything like it. And one bloke dropped his rifle. We all burst out laughing. Well the warrant officer in charge
nearly had a fit. His face went like a beetroot and he said, “Gentlemen, That will be the last time you will laugh for the next three months. But mark my word the day you leave hear you will be better than they are.” Well we quietly snuck away and I thought, well what have we struck here. So the day came for graduation. You still didn’t know whether you had passed. Three months later. The last day. The cadets are watching
on the parade ground and they are waiting for one of us. Because they were told what had happened. So in the midst of all that Watson screamed out: “Sergeant Turrell, Dress the parade”. Me. On this parade ground I am dressing the parade having laughed at the red coats three months earlier. Imagine how I felt.
You know and I thought Crikey, this is beautiful. And I must have been alright because I got away with it. I didn’t get into much trouble. The big test will then come when you finally go into battle and you’ve got decisions to make and people to look after. That was the big thing that none of us had experienced. We were being made and groomed for that and many failed. And I might have failed on the odd occasion, but I’m still alive. Lucky to be alive on several occasions, I can tell you, but I survived.
Some of my mates didn’t you see? So there were lots of things that you had to learn. And having been in the army and gone up through corporal, sergeant and whatever I had plenty of chance to study and watch how various blokes handled it.. A lot of these fellows that were on the course with me had never done that. They were just plucked out of there and they had never thought about it. I had thought about it and I had tried to assess myself. Would I be able to handle that when the time came?
Could I be an officer? Could I order my mates around? Of course I could order them around. So you sort of prepare yourself for that great day.
“46th Battalion, Sir”. ”Mmm. What’s your background?” “So and so, so and so …corporal, Private, sergeant, Bonegilla ,” all that business, you know. “Where did you qualify for your commission?” “Royal Military College, Duntroon”. “Did you enjoy it?” “Yes.” I can still see this bastard. “Righto. Wait over there”. Gradually they sorted them out and they said, “Well we’ll send Turrell
this company”, and so and so to so and so and so and so. They hated out guts because we were Victorians. Queensland Battalion. So the first night in the mess, you won’t believe this Stella [Interviewer]. The first night in the mess there are fisticuffs. All the Victorians on one side, the six of us, and the rest of them all six-foot fourteen Queenslanders. Six foot fourteen giants. And they took exception to having Victorian officers in their
battalion. And all this jostling and shoving and pushing and language was all going on and unbeknownst to us in the doorway is the colonel. New South Wales, NX59, 2/3rd Battalion. Colonel John Abbot DSO [Distinguished Service Order] watching all this. So
he got to the adjutant and he called the mess to order. This is in the mess. “Gentlemen. I’ve been watching this display. You’re a disgrace and I know what this is all about. You Queenslanders don’t want these Victorians. How do you feel about me? I’m from New South Wales.” Deathly bloody silence in the mess. “Now you’ll all shake hands
and there’ll be no more of this. If that doesn’t suit you there is the so and so door. Leave now”. This is in the officers’ mess the first night. There were no problems after that. By the time the unit went to war there were troops from every state in Australia. It didn’t matter where you were from. You were in the unit. The same thing happened in the sergeants’ mess. The same thing happened in the privates’ mess. They
were ostracised. They didn’t want them. See the 26th Battalion at that time was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray. VC, most decorated soldier in the history of the British army. Colonel Murray. You’ve heard of Colonel Murray. VC [Victoria Cross], CGM [Conspicuous Gallantry Medal], DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and bar,
DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal], Croix de Guerre [War Cross (French)], DSM [Distinguished Service Medal]. Mentioned in Dispatches thirteen times. He was the commanding officer when we got to Queensland. But he used to walk around in a pair of sandshoes, a pair of shorts and no shirt. And he carried all his medals in a sugar bag. He was a funny bloke. But he was fifty
and it wasn’t long until they retired him and that’s when Abbot arrived. So you see the battalion overnight literally became a national unit rather than a state unit.
championships. Champion at Collinsworth for seventeen years in a row. Whenever he came to Kingston Heath I was his caddy. And I got to know him. It was Bill and Norm, see. We were at Horn Island and we were about to be relieved by the 9th Machine Gun Battalion. So I’ve got my crew. We’ve been up all night unloading a boat. Call the men out ready to walk off and I could see this new group coming towards me to relieve us.
And marching in front is Bill Edgar. Sergeant Edgar. So we meet on the jetty. The troops halt. His lot halt, our lot halt and I look at Bill and Bill looks at me. And he salutes me and I salute him back and I say, “How are you, Bill”. He says, “Do I know you, sir?” I says, “Yes. I used to carry your bloody bag at Kingston Heath”. That’s as true as I sit here. And years afterwards…of course I got to know him very well
and years afterwards I used to say, “Do you remember that day we met at the jetty on Horn Island?” He’d say, “What a performance.What did the boys think? You shaking hands with a sergeant”. You had to be able to blend away from all this status thing. You had to be human. You had to blend to the moment and I think that gave you a good image in front of the troops. You were human after all. You know. I saw nothing wrong with that.
the idea was that if Horn Island fell the next airstrip was Jacky Jacky, twenty-eight miles south of Cape York. That was the first or most northern airstrip in Australia at the battle of the Coral Sea. And a lot of aircraft never got to Horn Island. They landed at Jacky Jacky. Mostly they were Liberators from the Yanks and they used to hose out the
rear gunner and all that sort of business. When we left Horn Island they sent us to Jacky Jacky. It was only a short trip. And a lot of us went down to Jacky-Jacky, again as protection for the air force at Jacky-Jacky. Ultimately it became Higgins Field. Higgins was a bloke that was killed landing so they named the airport after him. So we spent our time between Horn Island and Jacky Jacky. Twenty-eight miles down from Cape York. It’s near Red Island Point.
The battalion is split up. A company is in Morokai, Dutch New Guinea. I’m in headquarters company as the ack ack officer, and then for some reason or other they decided they wouldn’t have an ack ack platoon any more. It was obsolete. They chucked it out and it became the flamethrower’s platoon. So I didn’t like the idea of running around with hot cans of petrol and whatever. So I asked to go to a rifle company. So I finished up in Don Company
He’s got three lieutenants and a 2 IC [Second in Command], normally a captain and a major in charge of the company. You’ve got five officers in charge of about a hundred and fifty men. Well the CO has been ordered to do such and such and Don Company, “That’s you Major Milson, I want you to brief your officers, officers’ level only at this stage that this is what the plan is”.
So we get called in and Major Milson sits us down. The three officers. He says, “Fellows that is going to happen but it is not going to be released at this stage. Prepare yourself. Prepare your thoughts. Prepare your men, perhaps in a different way, your training. Get them ready without letting them knowing what they are getting ready for.” So then the time comes and the company’s fallen in. Out comes the officer commanding the company and says,
“Well Fellows, good news. We’re going to war” or “We’re going to do this”. All the company is told at the one time even though the officers knew the day before. It’s a sort of a con set up isn’t it.
into majors and colonels that it becomes a bit tough. But even so you are dealing face to face with thirty odd blokes and if they don’t like you god help them. On one occasion I got called into the company commander, Dave Milson. He said, “Mr Turrell, I’ve had a complaint about you.” This is the company commander talking to me.
“Sir, what’s the problem?” “So and so, so and so says that you’re too hard or you made him do this or you made him do that”. And I know the bloke. A bloke called McKenzie. He was a swine. He was a shearer and he was going to…he hated my guts. I had trouble with him. So I said, “I know the man, without you telling me. It’s Private McKenzie”. He said, “How do you know that”. “I happen to know.” He said, “Did you have a run in with him?” “I could have a run in with him any time you like”.
He said, “What’s your reaction to that?” And I remember saying this to Dave Milson. I said “Major, I’m not here to make friends with these guys. I’m here to save their lives.” End of story. You had to be able to say that to your next senior officer. He knew. So you see…
We arrive here. What are we doing here? So the Yanks move out and they started to pull all the huts down. “Hey hey leave that”. We had never been in a hut. We had tents. So we took over a lot of their stuff, see. And we’re sitting there thinking, “Well this is a great old way to win the war”. And all of a sudden General Savige gets a directive from General Blamey, “Start the war. We want active patrolling”.
“Where are the Japs?” “Over there. Go find them”. So having found them, then it was a case of getting rid of them. They were below ground. We were above ground. They’re dug in. We’re up. So we would go on, on, on. We might be from here to the front door and you couldn’t see them. Suddenly they’re there. So they open fire, we return fire. We can’t move them so we ring up the artillery and say, “We want
so many rounds of whatever, 8G”. So they would fire. They are three or four miles back… Crunch. As near as your car and we’re dug down. There’s nothing worse than being killed by friendly fire. So they would scare the nips, thinking, “Well we’d better get out of here”. So up they’d get and run and we’d be chasing them. And that went on. Leap frog. Leap frog.
‘Til finally we got to Buin and that was the end of it. And that went on for eight months. That was our war in Bougainville.
when that war started in that area first of all the navy would stand off and they would blast all the trees. It was as bare as a baby’s [bottom] when we got there except on the top of the mountain where it was all still heavily treed. And that’s where the nips were over on the other side, and on the down side. And we thought, “Alright. It looks a soda from here”, but once you got
into the trees it was a different story. It was pretty dangerous. We felt that all the training we had, it didn’t prepare us for this. Like the training in Australia, It was…it doesn’t matter if you fall down a get a splinter in your whatever. It was a different story on the other side of things. All those little things like a sprained ankle and things
went out the window. That was nothing. You know it is very hard to go from peace to actual war. It was a shock. So we were told we were relieving the Americans. We thought that the Americans would be still firing their guns when we got there and the Japs would be firing back. There was none of that but once we started it was on. The Americans were then long gone.
Into a truck, sergeant and half a dozen blokes down to the Yanks. “What can I do for you guys?” Big black Nigger. I can still see this bloke. “Well we want some instruments”. “Well you come with me, buddy”. So we go into this huge place and there’s all the sets of drums, there’s pianos, there’s saxophones, there’s string basses, lord knows what. He says, “Take the god damn stuff. We don’t want it”. So I loaded up the jolly old truck. Went round to all the companies. “Can you play a harp, can you play
a violin, can you play a piano, can you sing, can you tap dance, can you do anything funny?” So gradually I got a concert party together. All done secretly. We used to practise and the night of the concert came and we were all up on the stage and Norm’s behind the drums isn’t he. Master of Ceremonies. I’ve got me piano, a sax player got a band. In comes the colonel and sits down. And away we go.
sig officer at that stage I would be at the CO’s right hand and he would say, “Norm, here’s a signal I want sent to all companies. Do this do that, send out a patrol or we want four men there…transferred whatever.” All sorts of stuff, see. So we’d ring up A Company, B Company, C Company, no answer on D Company. Line’s cut. So two blokes and a sergeant go out and find it and repair it
under fire, perhaps. That was my job. So you had to keep your lines of communication open. And when you think that we laid about sixteen miles of wire…That’s a lot of wire. So you see we had to be able to get the information to the companies. If it wasn’t done by telephone there was no other way except to send a runner.
The thing is where do you find them? So there were pretty exciting times, I’ll tell you, where the message never got through or it was interrupted. We lost some blokes because one man would stay put while the other bloke would scramble up the tree to find the wire, wherever it was.. And we lost a few blokes like that. But that’s war. You say, “How did the message get through? What were they told”? There was
all sorts of stuff that had to be relayed. We were all given code names. We weren’t Turrell, we weren’t lieutenant we were all called orange or pineapple or something, code names. “This is Apricot”, “Pineapple, yes”. To confuse the Nips. Poor buggers. How could they ever win? But actually it was a funny set up. It was a funny war. It wasn’t like the wars in the desert Wasn’t like
the wars in Europe. It wasn’t like the Battle of the Bulge any of that.
come down. I’d get a call or report to the OC [Officer Commanding]. “Turrell I want you to send out a fighting patrol, map reference so and so, so and so. Find that and report back”. A fighting patrol means you attack. If it’s a listening patrol you hide in the jungle and listen what’s going on and come back without revealing you’ve been there. So you get the sergeant and say, “Sergeant, I want a corporal and ten men and we’re going out at O 10 100 tomorrow morning”. I might go, sergeant might go, you never went together because he’s
your right hand. So you would send the blokes out. There would be shots fired, they’d come back and there’s one man with his hand hanging off or something like this or someone’s not there. And now you would say, “Well we found Japs in strength here. We killed three, we lost one.” That would all go in the whatever, in the diary. And that’s how the war was fought.
So we all hit the dirt and I dived in behind a great big log. Meanwhile my forward scout would be about from here to where your vehicle is. Private Sorenson. I don’t know that he has been shot and killed so after all the firing ceases my job is then to check if I’ve got any casualties. So you get your runner to go to section… You’ve got three sections in a platoon.
Sections one, two and three. So nick over to one and see if they’re alright. “Yeah One?” “OK” “Two?” “One man missing.” “Who is it?” “We don’t know yet”. Roll call. “It’s Sorenson”. “Where was Sorenson?” “He was the forward scout. He must be over there”. Right. The firings all over. We then get Sorenson’s body out. My job as the officer, has to go through his effects. So I take his little pack off, which is a bag about as big as that
off his back. In this pack amongst all sorts of things like his razor and his knife and fork is an exercise book. And the boy is teaching himself to write. He was illiterate. A, B, C, Nobody knew. He is nineteen. He hadn’t started to shave and he is dead. That shook me up so I turned to my platoon sergeant, Ian Alford, and said, “Did you know
he couldn’t read or write.” “No.” The kid never told anyone. He bluffed his way through. He’s dead and Ian says to me: “It’s a damn tragedy. I’m a schoolteacher. Had I known about this I could have helped him”. Two day later I lose him. How do you reckon I felt?
from a peanut farm on the Atherton Tablelands, Private Sorenson. It is one of the biggest farms there today. I’ve had a life. I’ve reared a family. I’ve had a great time. I’ve been around the world. He never even got past nineteen and he is dead. That is a personal tragedy for me. Really it is. Just imagine if that bloke was still alive today he would be a big shot in the Atherton Tablelands
with all his peanuts. That’s a personal thing. That was the first guy I saw shot. I didn’t see him, but I knew he got shot. I’ve never forgotten it. Two years ago my son and daughter took us up to Longreach where the battalion was raised and I went wondering around the town and I come to the local scout hall. Didn’t know it was there. And I see
‘Ian Alford Memorial Scout Hall’. My platoon sergeant, he was the local scoutmaster and I never knew. I howled. I howled. You’ve asked me if I had seen blokes shot. There was a bloke next to me when I lost Ian Alford I got a new sergeant. Burgin, B-U-R-G-I-N. Private, Sergeant Burgin He was my new sergeant.
We were in another shindig and they opened up on us. We used to wear those green berets. The shot took his beret off and left a mark over his forehead. He wasn’t worth two bob the next day. They had to get rid of him. Like I’m trying to preserve myself. Thinking, “God, How am I going to get out of this?” Death is a terrible thing. Poor bloody Sorenson.
So now I write the book, sitting up in that den of mine up there and I’m reading all my notes and I get to the battle of the Soraken Plantation and I read the action. I’m reading the war diary. 9 Platoon engaged the enemy at such and such. Private Sorenson killed. I had to shut the door and go away. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle it. I came back. It’s in the
book. Now that’s 1991 and he was killed in 1944. How long’s that? But still in here. See I suppose I felt life was unfair to him and how lucky am I here today. Look what I’ve achieved and he had no chance.
Another bloke Tom Beatty, a beautiful Fellow, a lovely bloke. We called in friendly fire to move the Nips. To get them out and get them to run. And one shell hit a tree, our own shell hit a tree and came straight down and went through there and came out there. I saw him go down.
Like once is enough in your life for that. To have that every day would have been….
take over. It’s not that I’m not scared. I’m bloody scared. When you’ve been under enemy fire it makes you really…it doesn’t matter who you are and what rank you hold. You’re a human being and one bloke’s trying to knock you off, right. And you get superstitious. You think I’ll go to the right to the right or I’ll go to the left. I went to the left. I lived. I’ll go to the left again. You go through all this nonsense but you either live or you die. Like there was no
whole row of soldiers mown down with machine guns. It was all very personal. One man against one man You just couldn’t see the others. Like it was a strange war. We weren’t trained for that. We had to suddenly get a whole new ballgame going. And that put the strain on the commanders but because we had been so well trained. And I speak now of our officers, our sergeants, corporals,
senior privates. They all did a fantastic job. We lost thirty-seven men killed. And Ray Block, my…he took over when Sorenson was killed. Ray is…he lives over in the Pascoe Vale retirement village. He was being interviewed on the phone yesterday by one of the girls. I hope he gets a chance at this because he is a very interesting bloke
and a bloody good soldier. The war has been over thirty or forty years and I didn’t know Blocky was still on this earth. And I go to the football one day and Richmond are playing someone and it’s half time and Blocky is down on the fence and he turns around to look back into the stand and he sees me.
“Blocky!” And he’s got a voice like a foghorn. “Turrell. You bastard” People are wondering what’s going on.We raced towards one and another. It was the first time I had seen him since the war ended and he is still alive today. These are valuable moments.
premier drummers I then thought, “Well that’s my future”. So I then started to take lessons from George Watson and I used to go into town every Sunday morning at Alan’s and go through all the business and whatever. So then of course it was a matter of practising. And one would have records and play the records and play the drums and drive the neighbours mad. So of course in due course I had to buy a set of drums . Well that was a bit of a battle because I was a bit light on for money
because I had no capital to start with. So the long and short of that was I reckoned I’d got to a stage where I could play the drums. Now at the Mentone city hall on Saturday night there was a big dance. And I knew the lady pretty well that played the piano, Cath Barnard. Her husband was Jim and he was the stationmaster at Mentone. So I got to know the Barnard family pretty well. So I went to the dance not to dance just to listen to the band. And I couldn’t stand the…
So I looked at this for a while and I went up to Cath at the interval and I said, “That drummer of yours is not so hot”. She said, “Well what about you”? I said, “I can play the drums better than that”. She said, “Well we have a rehearsal at our home every Sunday morning. Bring your drums around and we’ll give you a run”. Which I did. I got the job and from then on in I started playing in the band, you see, as her drummer.
They used to go everywhere. They’d go to Somerville, they’d go to Tyabb, they’d go to Sorrento, they’d go everywhere and word got around, as it does in the music business, that Norm Turrell’s a drummer and that’s his phone number. So in due course I get a ring from people like Mrs Cook who had a band down at Summerville, they were orchardists and then I got very pally with a fellow called George McQuinney who ran a dance studio in the city and I used to go and do some work in there. And then I started playing drums
with other bands and I gradually got the feeling that I ought to be running things myself. So I knew a chap who was at the Blind Institute. A fellow called Alan Campbell. He played alto, soprano sax and clarinet. And he was a hell of a good musician. So he said to me, “Norm, If you ever want to get a band together we’ve got all the other players here.” So I went up to the Blind Institute here at St Kilda Road and I sat in and listened to them.
They were fantastic. Magnificent musicians. You know, just away they go. So the long and the short of it was I built a band out of the blind musicians. I had Fred Holland on piano, Jack Terns on base. And Jack used to play down where Bobby Gibson played down in St Kilda, Palm Grove. I got Jack Turns on base. Then I had Helen Campbell on saxophone, Dick Sutcliffe on Saxophone, on tenor sax,
and a fellow called White on trumpet. We had a seven piece band and I used to play at the Jewish Young People’s Association in Elma Road every Saturday night. And one of the guests that used to go there was a fellow called Ern Petifer. Ern was one of the best clarinet players in the country. And Ern used to come along and MC [Master of Ceremonies] the night. And they had what they called dance schools and dance prizes for the best couple. Whatever. And he would
come along and he would say now this is the tempo I want you to play in Norm. And I’d play his tempo and he’d stand in the background and fiddle around. It was fantastic. We had this seven-piece band and it was good music. So at the end of the business I used to have to take all these guys home, didn’t I. Everything hanging out the back of the car. Here I am driving down the road with three blind blokes. So the long and the short of it was I gradually got into the industry. People would ring me and say, “Look we want a job done can you get
a band together”. “What do you want?” “Oh I want four pieces, five pieces, six pieces”. Then I used to go down to Mt Martha House every Friday night for the cabaret night down there, very strict stuff. And we played down at Mt Martha House. And then we’d have old time in Mornington on Monday night. We’d have a swing night down at Summerville on Tuesday. At Christmas time at the carnival they had a band that played all day behind the wire and you bought a ticket and went in and had a dance. We used to play there. We
did all sorts of funny things. One night I went to the deaf and dumb place in Gellibrand and we’ve got a fellow blind on the saxophone, Fred Holland and me. Fred was the piano player. And we’ve got deaf and dumb dances. And I said to the MC. “How do they know when to start?” He said, “You start. They’ll start with you”. “How do they do it?” “They feel the vibrations in the floor.” So he gets up on stage and announces the Palmer Waltz
or whatever. Bang bang and it’s on. Here we are sitting playing music like that. Then of course we gradually got into the weddings. I played for the Mentone Jockey Club. They used to bring their hearse. Not the hearse, the horse float to Fred’s home and pick up the piano, six blokes picked up his piano And took it down to the Mentone Golf Club. Took it up here to the Mentone Hotel, the piano. We had all sorts of jobs. It really was fantastic. So I went into the army with a lot of musical
background and my crowning glory, when we were in camp at Maryborough…I had my commission at that stage. When we were in camp at Maryborough we went to this huge army dance in the Maryborough town hall. And I got dobbed in to play the drums. So I thought, this will be a bit of a thing. It’s a seventeen-piece band. The lost you know, the whole deal.
I got introduced to the bandleader. He said, “What would you like to play, Sir” because I’d got my rank up. I said, “Well we’ll start off with Tommy Dorsey’s Song Of India’, Glen Miller, ‘In The Mood” and Benny Goodman’s ‘Bugle Call Rag’. As it is” He said, “You fair Dinkum?” I said, “Yes”. He said, “Go”. So I started off. Well it was fantastic. I’ve got a seventeen-piece band and here I am sitting up.
Those were the sort of bands. Well that’s my background in music. Then just for a joke I made a Changi Fiddle. A Changi Fiddle is made out of a dunny can upside down. With one string through it and a pole. And I used to have that for my second part of the act. And one night I got a bloke to play the drums in the blind band and I’d produced the fiddle.
And Alan Campbell turned down and said, “Who’s that bastard playing bass”. And I said, “It’s a new bloke in the band, Alan”. He said, “Well he’s not a bad bass player. So when the interval came he said, “Introduce me to him”. So I did a double round and said, “Pleased to meet you Mr Campbell”. So he put his hand…He said, “This is not a bass, you bastard, this is a dunny can”. We had a lot of fun. A lot of fun. So that briefly is my story but in the end I made quite a few bob out of it. You know I used to play for
seven and six and when I left the industry it was ten or fifteen bucks. It was good stuff.
They were up in the roof of the garage and ever now and then we’d have a party and out would come the drums. The first night my brother came home from Changi, I took…he was living with a lady up in…He actually took board and lodgings with a lady that had a daughter and he ultimately married her, up in Bentley. He said, “I’ll go and get the grog. Can you arrange the music”? So I rang the blokes up. I said, “Look my brother Bill’s home. This is a gratis
job. I want you to come to this place up in Bentley and we put on the band”. Well they had a fantastic night. And there we were belting it out up in Bentley there. And Bill is sitting there. He was a bit of a keen drummer and he’s had a bit of a serve and I thought, “Well you know that was a nice gesture”. Mostly I played for money because the money was pleasant, you know. It was a good thing. The only down town was that I used to probably get too tired and I used to fall asleep at work.
And all this sort of business.
ukulele. He was very good and we used to go down to Sorrento for weekends. He and I and our two wives. And we would play ukulele and bass and it used to bring the house down. Well then being very friendly with the Jewish fraternity in Caulfield, playing at their Saturday night. I used to get the weddings. And the wedding reception would invariably be at this palatial home in Toorak.
We have the band all set up and we’re playing and we have a good night. So I thought “Well I’ll put on a performance here”, so I excused myself and went out to the car and got the dunny can. Knocked on the door and this lady opened it and said, “Yes”. I’ve got the dunny can like this. I said, “Do you need one of these Madam”. She said, “ Oh no no no. Just a minute, you’re the drummer. What do you think you’re doing?” I thought, “I’ll show you”. So we go in and started and I’m playing
the bass. It brought the house down.
never sort of in the same place more than one night. For obvious reasons. Now let me take you back a bit. A company has three platoons. Each platoon has three sections. A section is ten men; nine men and a corporal or an NCO. Now you couldn’t afford to have all your men in one spot. So you would go out on a patrol. That might be a patrol with a view to staying out
overnight on your own. So you’ve got a map and a compass and they say, “If you go that bearing for three hundred yards you’ll come to that and that bearing for another two hundred yards and you’ll come to that”. And you’d check it out on your map but of course the maps were ancient maps and a lot of the paths and things had been made by the Japanese to suit their own mode of travel. So we were really being conned on the map you see. We would arrive at a place and decide that it is getting late in the day
and you never moved at night, no one moved at night. So you would dig and digging in meant a two-man trench. About four foot deep and about a foot wide. And close enough so that you can touch hands with the next trench on your right or left. So you’ve got either a section that’s ten men or a platoon of thirty men in what we call a perimeter and platoon headquarters, that’s me, the sergeant, the runner would be in the middle.
In the middle so you’ve got your eye on the whole deal see. Then before you got to bed you’d put the booby traps out, you see. You’d get some milk cans, put them on a wire and string the wire out across the track and put two hand grenades at either end of the wire. If the wire was tripped the hand grenades would go off. So that was your protection. And that was the only way in and out of our perimeter. Nos that is where you stayed the night. If you’ve got say, a platoon, you’ve got a bit of backup. If
that part of the platoon is attacked you’ve got a reserve force to bring in. But if you down to say one section, ten men. You’ve got to spread your group pretty thinly but safely. So digging in was the thing so that at least one man could sleep at night or part of the night. You couldn’t afford to be above ground at night. So with the rains that used to come nearly every night we cut
palm those huge leave things and just lay them across the trench. But at night everyone actually got in the trench and one man would be awake and the other would be asleep. We used to say tie a string to the guy next door because at night no one spoke and if you wanted to get him you’d do this sort of business, see. You had silent contact and you also had code words. Hand signs and all sorts of things to indicate what your intentions were going to be.
Now, OK. You’ve gone out on the patrol platoon strength. You strike the enemy and you decide to dig in for the night. Of course the next morning you’d stand to before light. Everyone’s up ready to go. No thought of any meal or anything like this. So you test the enemy. Are they still there or are they gone. If they’d gone, Ok you’d get a meal and then you would go further on. Now when I say further on you might only move fifty yards. That’s a long way in the jungle, fifty yards.
And having moved that fifty yards you would consider you’d won that ground. That’s a plus. If you’re attacked and you have to retreat you would probably retreat more than fifty yards. You wouldn’t go back to your old holes because they’d had those zeroed. You might go back seventy yards because ten, fifteen, twenty yards in the jungle was a long way. Now, OK, you would then, if you were bedding
down for the night you’d ring company head quarters and say, “I’m at map reference so and so and so and so” and he would look up the map and see where you are. You had to be able to read a map and you had to recognize the terrain and know exactly where you were. Your compass would tell you, you’d read the stars and you would report in. Often the company commander would not know where his platoon was because you couldn’t get through, the lines were down, or it was not safe to use the telephone. So
it boiled down to this. To go out in a section patrol or a platoon patrol. Sometimes it was very very dicey. Now if for arguments sake the next day nothing happened and you were told to go out for three days, you would on and on and on. And you’d ring on the third day and say, “Do we go any further, sir, or do we come back?”
He’d say, “No. That’s as far as you’re allowed to go. Come back but come back a different way”. Before you left you had to bury all your
rubbish because they knew troops had been there. You were not allowed to blaze trees or knock things down to say give you an idea where you were. So that’s how patrols acted. If for some reason or other you arrived at a place and you decided to dig in and you found suddenly that the enemy were close, say as close as that road out there and you couldn’t lodge them you invariably had an artillery man with you and he was in touch with his battery of guns back two or three miles
and I would say to him, “What about three or four rounds to stir these blokes up?” and he would say, “Righto I’ll whip over”. So he would say back, “I want three rounds rapid fire, Bang Bang Bang”. Over would come three big shells onto the enemy and you would wait and see what’d happen. Whether you’d see blokes get up and run or nothing happens. You’d just say, “Well we killed them”. But we might not have killed them. They might be well and truly entrenched and they were.
So you had your options. So really it was a games of wits. Yours against theirs. There was nothing in the rule book to tell you how to do it. So you had to be pretty versatile. You had to have the support of every man. There were no weak links. If there was a weak link you had to get rid of him.
six feet. A track that they had made with all the continued walking. It wasn’t a road or a lane. It was just a track. They would invariably have a dugout or a machine gun over there sighted so they could get anyone coming round the track, invariably on a bend where you could come round the bend and suddenly you are there. You are vulnerable, see. So if you were on these tracks you got to know
them. Not by the map but just where they were in your mind. “Now we know there’s a track up…That goes there. I wonder if …” and you look at it and think, “That hasn’t been used in a while. That’s a bit scary. There has been no movement from this end up that track. We could be walking into an ambush” so you’d veer off the track and go around it. Now having found the enemy and you couldn’t go forward you’d go round their flanks and come in from the rear. So what you would do you would put one section in front to attract
their fire and you’d send one section round there and one section round there. You’d have to say, “Now don’t fire because you’ll kill one another, don’t fire under ten seconds, twenty seconds, one minute. Don’t fire unless l I give you the signal“ And that’s how you surrounded them. And then what would happen is that the Japs had all their armament facing that way they were sitting ducks from the rear. And a lot of our fellows got close enough to throw in
grenades and kill these guys in the back door, see. So the favourite thing was to sit on a track because invariably you were going to draw something. Now sometimes the Japs got very angry. And they would come out of their foxholes and come after you. And they would just, blokes would look up and pick them off like peas. And I remember one occasion we were astride a track and it was getting
late in the afternoon and we’d sort of stirred them up a bit. Like ants they were angry and the next thing they attacked us. I can still see this officer resplendent in white gloves, sashes, waving this huge bloody sword leading his men. And they just came out of the woodwork. Well it was a case of everyone fire, go for your life, you know.
They’d ring up and say, “Roger, Apple here”. Well I knew I was talking to Major Souels and he knew he was talking to Norm Turrell. No one else knew. My blokes used to call me Roger. I never wore my rank in action. Never. Because unfortunately the Australian Army gave us green uniforms and white badges of rank. They stuck out like dog’s balls, excuse the expression. It was stupid. But the blokes would never call you Sir. They’d just yell out, “Norm, We’re in trouble” and that was right.
Because I wouldn’t say, “Private Smith”. I would say, “Smithy” or something like that. There was no corporal this and sergeant that. Except when we knew we were safe. So in the heat of battle the less said the better. A lot of it was sign. I would say, “I’ll send three blokes round here and I…” what was his name, corporal…I’ll think if it in a minute but I’ll say, “Corporal Something.
I’d go…Three men round there. Smithy. Three over here…Two there”. He could mouth me, sort of he could sort of understand what you were talking about.
If someone moved it was enemy. Now if the booby traps went off everyone was up, alert. Now you knew where the gate was. It was over there. There was a wire across a track about six foot. If the booby traps went off and sometimes they went off and in the morning there was a dead Jap. If the booby trap went off and there was no one there they got out of it but two days later we find a bloke lying on the side of the track wounded and bleeding.
He managed to get out of it, right. Sometimes our own blokes were wounded with booby traps because they were too close. The Jap blew them up. One bloke has got his head, “What’s going on?”. That happened. Wounded by own booby traps. That happened. There were a number of fellows wounded by booby traps. On another occasion we were walking along and I had a police boy with me. That’s
a native police boy, a Solomon Islander. Fit like these league footballers. Fit, keen. Just their lap lap on, their beads and their rifle. And you introduced yourself, “Hello Jimmy. I’m Norm”. “OK Boss. What do I do?”. “When I stop sir you stop. When I run you run. Right?” “Right” “Pass the word back”. So the police boy, me. We are going down the track and all the boys behind me. Going along this track at a rate of knots and he stopped.
Hand up. “What’s wrong?”, He says… And here’s a wire across the track and on each end of the wire are two mortar bombs. A mortar bomb is about that big and that round. Had he not been there I would not have seen that wire and the lot of us would have gone.
Fred, what’s wrong with Charlie Smith?” “Well his wife left him or he’s feeling crook or he’s got a sore foot”. Whatever.. You’d say “Look. Gee him up, see what you can do”. That fails. So then the sergeant goes over and assesses in front of the corporal. “Now listen Charlie, What’s your problem. We’re too far from home and you can’t go back on your own. You’ve got to stick it out mate”. Mate still hasn’t responded so he fronts me or I front him see. “Now look, I can’t send you back.
and you know. What’s your big problem”? Invariably they would take advice from me that they wouldn’t take from the corporal. They think I know more about the things of the world. It’s a case of a status thing. So invariably you got a result but where you have no recovery at all in that sort of situation he simply has to go. So you send him back. On the pretence sometimes, because of saving face, that you’ve got a message for the officer commanding
that company. But you would ring the company commander up and say, “I’ve got to send Brown back, he’s no good but treat him pretty well. He’s not a bad sort of a bloke but he’s having an off day. But send me up a replacement”. You wouldn’t sort of give the bloke a bad start to his problem but if he didn’t respond to that well the company commander would take over and he would get rid of him. Sent him back to one of the base areas. Because we always had reserves up to a point but it meant
a strange man coming into the section and that was always a dicey thing. Because if a section is together for three or four weeks on their own, they know exactly what the reaction from each person’s going to be. Suddenly you’ve got a strange man and a feeling of, “I wonder if he’s alright”. It was a very, very, very close to the bone situation. And a lot of these blokes never ever got the credit for doing nothing but they did something. They never did nothing outstanding
but they did something. They did their job.
down a track thinking there was no enemy about and suddenly they’re there. And they invariably fired first. They saw us before we saw them. It’s a case of every man for himself so that’s when you’ve got to really make a quick decision. And I think I told you yesterday that that did actually happen to me. We were sitting on the side of a track thinking, “Well we’re here. Do we go on or do we go left or right?” They saw all this and when they reckoned they were right and they had enough bodies to fire at they opened fire. But invariably
you sensed that they were there. Particularly if you had one of the police boys. They could smell them. They could tell you that they were there but they couldn’t be seen. So you would send one man out to ascertain what the numbers were. Were we outnumbered? Were they dug in? In other words it was a case of a quick assessment before you went anywhere. Very rarely were Australian troops out-manoeuvred. They were too shrewd. Australian troops were so well trained
because the Japanese sort of were blind hit or miss. The Australian troops weren’t like that. They were pretty cunning. They were shrewd. They were Australian attitude, you know, “Let’s have a look at this mate”, sort of thing.. And they always had a bit of reserve. The Japs were hit or miss. There’s a lot of men like that.
to face with were captains. But their NCOs had a lot of clout. Their corporals and sergeants had a lot of clout. They were very much superior in reputation to our NCOs and they used to drive their men to do fanatical things. A lot of them didn’t have to be told to do it. They would happily die for their emperor. You know. A completely different attitude
to the Australian soldier. The Australian soldier didn’t want to die but the Japanese soldier couldn’t have cared less. He was there to fight to the death. So it was a queer situation. We hadn’t struck them before and they hadn’t struck us before. But they had struck the Americans and the American attitude was this; “If you can’t kill them with guns fired from ships two miles away why go into the jungle and try and kill them with bayonets? That wasn’t the American way. It had to be a mass slaughter job.
No hand to hand stuff. That was the difference. We were the hand-to-hand stuff. We were there on the ground. Not hitting them from miles away or shelling them for two weeks in a row and frightening them and getting them to hit you. You know. Ours was face-to-face stuff. You’d come into a place where there’d been a village and you’ve got these huts. Bamboo huts and things. And you’d look at is and think, “I wonder if this is occupied”? See.
And you could tell the signs. You were looking for smoke, if there was fire, right. So then you’d send a couple of blokes out. One man to go and one man to follow him three or four yards behind and cover him. And he’d say, “I’m going over there” and he’d go and suss this place out and if he was going backward you knew there was a problem. So those guys would hit the dirt and we’d fire over them. And they’d quietly come back on their hands and knees.
So you had to sort of make it up again as you went along. You couldn’t sort of say, “Well I’ve got to have five men to do this”. It was a case of what have we got? How do we get out of this quickly? There was plenty of that because those huts invariably would be occupied by the Japanese. In other words they had chased the natives away. They had knocked their gardens off. They had been overnighting in this lean to come bamboo hut whatever it is and when we went
into some of these places there’d be dead Japanese there. There’d be bandages or there’d be rubbish. They were a terrible filthy lot the way they lived. There’d be a few little garden with beans and all sorts of vegies tried to be grown. But you were gradually able to recognise the signs of occupation or non occupation. Very rarely did they sort of set themselves in a hut,
high up in the ground to withstand any attack. They were always below ground. If we caught them in a hut we would catch them unawares and of course we would hoe into them. Then if the hut was empty that would go down. Because when the patrol leader got back he would have to report everything that happened. Insignificant as it well may be. ‘Found a hut at map reference so and so. Searched. Possibly occupied by ten Japanese last night.
Lots of bandages on the floor. Rations laying about. Odd scraps of paper and one thing and another. Probably the ashes in the fire were still warm’ which meant they were there yesterday. That would all go back to headquarters. And then we would go on and perhaps the next day we would go back again to see whether the Nips had come back. See there is nothing in the books about all this. This is all make it up
Not that this is related but I’m going to change the subject slightly. I’m wondering if you would talk to me about Ian Alford?
Yes. When a new officer goes to a company invariably you inherit the platoon. You get the lot. You get the NCOs and the privates, exactly, right. In my case when I went to this eighteen platoon Ian Alford was the platoon sergeant. Up stairs I had all the records of promotions in the unit and I noted that he was a corporal for a long time in Sellheim in 1941.
He was a corporal. When I got to him he was a sergeant. He was a very quietly spoken gentleman. Little did I know he was a scoutmaster in Longreach prior to the war. He was a bloke that could defuse a situation just by being there. And when I inherited him I thought, how lucky am I because some of the sergeants wanted to set their officer up, wanted to knock him off, they hated
his guts. Ian was exactly the opposite. He was a good friend as well as my platoon sergeant. We both clicked. We had a good runner and the three of us clicked. And when we were on Goode Island we had what they call two messes; we had the officer’s mess for one man and the other rank’s mess but Ian always ate with me. So the sergeant ate with the officer.
That’s how much I thought of him. And my batty used to come in and serve Ian without any problem whatsoever. The troops never queried it. They thought it was only right and proper that Ian should not eat with them, should eat with his officer. Now when Ian was…Well he was wounded and then he died of wounds. When Ian was with me I had every confidence.
Had I been knocked off he could have taken over without any problems. The men respected him. He was one of the original soldiers in the unit. A lot of the blokes in the unit were Queenslanders. They knew Ian Alford. They all came from Longreach or Winton. They knew Ian Alford. He was a schoolteacher. He knew a lot of people. He had a reputation as a bloke before he even got into the army. And when he eventually died there were a lot of sorry people. More so than me. Fantastic bloke.
So when you’re writing your company history, your battalion history, what do you do about those sort of things? I take it you left them out.
No I put it in but after I had done that I put the cover on the typewriter, locked the door and I went away for two weeks. I went to London. I came back completely refreshed and started again. I couldn’t handle it. I put that in the book. That, “The author has reached the stage where
he remembers the loss of certain people.” It’s in the book somewhere there. “And you’ll excuse the author if he puts down the pen at this stage,” or something like that for a while so I can come good. Had too. But I never ever got to speak to his relatives. I never got the chance. Letters went out because they go out but really and truly
what can you do? Every man is open to that sort of thing. But the loss in Longreach must have been huge because they erected that scout hall and that is a big tribute to one man. He wasn’t a colonel he was just a humble sergeant. So when I saw that in 2001 that made me even sadder.
The generation that we met never even knew there was a war on. It never happened but it is only now that we are getting evidence that they want to know what their forefathers, the terrible things that they did. My hate diminished by time but had I been a prisoner of war like my brother I would have kicked arse.
When I was writing the book, I got hold of what they called the surrender form, which was dropped out of the plane for the Japanese to pick up and come and surrender to us. But it was all in Japanese. Three doors up one of the top men at Nissan used to live. We said, “Hello, Hello”, very polite for years so I got hold of this and I wondered if he would interpret that and
put it into English for me. So knock on the door. “Hello”, I can’t think of his name, “I’ve got a problem”. “Yes, how can I help?” Very polite. “I’ve have a document here in Japanese. Would you interpret that into English for me please?” “Oh Sure”. He picked it up. “Oh…..Mr Turrell
I will do it but you’ll have to give me a little time to think about this.” He was shocked. I don’t think he knew about it but to his credit he brought it back here one day and knocked on the door and said, “Mr Turrell, I’ve done what you asked me”. And he had it all typed out in English for me. But he was never the same, never the same. I shocked him. I don’t think he knew. That’s just a little side thing.
That’s how I sort of saw another side of the Japanese.
So Austy his mate, that’s Captain Fores, was a QM [Quartermaster]. “Why don’t we get Austy and the three of us will go?” So the three of us went to Japan. We had a fantastic time for a fortnight. Went everywhere. And I was amazed at Japan. Loved it. This was in the late seventies perhaps or early eighties. I’ll say the late seventies. So being in the travel business I’ll say that Japan was an excellent destination for a group tour.
So I organized a group tour. And I had that agency in South Caulfield and I put an ad in the paper. Tour leaving for Japan and all that sort of stuff. It costs so much so much and I think I had about thirty odd people and we went to Japan and had a fantastic time. Then I took another tour. It was such a success. Now being a tour guide
and having had a lot of trips away as a tour guide I then leased myself out to the bigger operators like Travel Land. They’d ring me up and they’d say, “Norm, we’ve got a group going to Japan on the thirtieth of April. Are you available to lead it?” “Yes” So I was…I would hire myself out to other big companies and take their groups to Japan. Now that’s three or four times I’ve been. Then Alan Lea…He was also a lieutenant. He had 8 platoon. I had
9 platoon. He got married for the second time. I said, “What are you going to do for your honey moon? “ He said, “I want to go to London”. I said, “What about we go via Japan”. So we had another six days in Japan. So that was six times I’ve been in Japan.
What does that kind of compressed anger and hatred and pain do to a man do you think over the years?
Well it sears you for life. Because they did terrible things to the prisoners. I mean being beaten and starved and when you read the stories about how many men perished. On the very last day before the war ended they executed Australians and all that sort of business. I don’t know whether I could have tolerated that. And I’ve just read a book, I’ve got it upstairs, and it’s entitled “Four Thousand Meals of Rice”, is the title of the book.
It’s the story of this guy that was a prisoner. He finished up in Japan making parts for guns to fire against his own men. And the book’s entitled “Four Thousand Meals of Rice”. He survived and he’s still alive. When you read those sorts of books. I’ve read every book on military history. I’ve got all Weary Dunlop’s books up there. I read every book. I get a fair cross section of material that gives me room for thoughts and things and I sort things out in my mind.
But I don’t hate the Japanese. I could have if I had been in Bill’s shoes. But they didn’t harm me. They made me frightened. I lost my mates butthat didn’t make me hate them. Because every Japanese I met, just not that I was a tour leader and was bringing business into their country, they treated me properly. I think if any one had stepped out of line I would have stared them right down, you know. You would have to do that. You would have to do that. But no I…
Freda look, stuff from Japan. Loved it. We went to where they have the pearls. That thing there. that came from where they had the pearls. The pearl divers and all that sort of business. A beautiful country.
We were all at the same golf club. We used to see one another every Friday for golf. We used to fraternize. Socialize, we knew their kids. I was godfather to their kids. They were godfather to our kids. Happy family group, right. Austy used to own Mack’s Hotel in Mortlake. We used to go down there for a wild weekend. He then moved to the Bush in Toorak Road, We used to go up there and get nice and how do you do thank you very much. Very close
knit. So you might say that we were pretty well much the same. Our thoughts and emotions were under control. So as a group of three of us you would reckon one would have something to say but for some strange reason we all went down the same path together. We talked about it before we went. “How are we going to get on with these Japanese. What are we going to do?”
And Arthur would always say, “Don’t stir the pot. Take things…” Because he had to earn a living from Japan. So there’s a line there. You decided well they’ll go over it. We’ll come on this side. But we went away peacefully minded and we had a fantastic time because we were on holidays. Now if I went there tomorrow I might have even kinder thoughts.
Age does mellow you and I would have to be very hard pressed and provoked to even mention the fact that I was in the war. I really mean that. I have nothing but happy memories of Japan and the people that I met.
in the Royal Melbourne Regiment. They prefer men that have been in action and they prefer men who want to retain an interest in the army. And bearing in mind that we’re still on the reserve…” Officers don’t go out of the army. They are forever in the army until you run out of time. You reach a certain age and if you are only at that rank that means you’re out but if you’ve still got years up your sleeve, you can go to another rank and you can stay on. I kept going until 1968. That’s nearly twenty years after the war. So he
said, “What about coming up one night and meet the CO and he’ll look you over and if he’s happy about it you’ll get a guernsey”. “Well what’s it mean, Arthur?” He said, “Well we’ve got to go up to the drill hall outside the baths in the city”. He said, “We’ve got to talk to these cadets and drill them and instruct them in map reading, and marching, and weaponry and whatever, whatever. Will you be in it”? “Yes. Why not?” So we used to go up there every Thursday night, the three of us. Get up there at seven o’clock and we’d be out up and down
the road and left right left end all that. And you know, drills and things and we’d have a talk about tactics. We’d have a talk about the war in general. And these young blokes are all fit, keen young kids of about seventeen, or eighteen. Almost ready for war, you might say. And we did that for a long long time. For a long time. And what finished me off in the end was after all that was over you would be accepted to go back to the mess
and I say the mess and it was a mess. Because this bloke was a terrible drunk, the CO, and you’d still be there at midnight. No future in that. Gave it away.
the further down the line of command the less you knew. The higher up the more you knew. Right, you were not privy to anything much above your rank. What would happen the general would call in the Brigadiers. That’s the brigade commanders and they would have a conference. And they would say, “This information must not go below the rank of major”. So, righto, it gets to the major.
So the major is the 2IC of the battalion. He is second in command and he may have a company. Now he would issue policy as to how he reads the instruction. But if the CO, that’s the lieutenant colonel said,”Tthis can go down to company commanders or platoon commanders to other ranks” that’s the end of the line. But if the company commander said to the platoon commander, “You can distribute this information
to all ranks”, then that’s how the ranks got the official story. Other than that it was scuttle but. Via the batman or via some other way. In many cases it was wrong. So you see the chain of command dictated the release of information.
And a good officer would look after his sergeant. The sergeant would fix the men up because he’s got supreme command. He’s got close command. The sergeant only relays your order. You don’t give the orders. He relays them. You tell him and he tells them. So a sergeant and his officer have got to be a good team if they are going to succeed. But it’s a fair thing because it means both parties have get the right support. The men are supported. The officer is supported
because you’ve got that chain of command that makes it that way. So if an officer is on uneven ground…And I’ll be quite frank with you. Many a time I said to Ian, “What will we do? What would you do?” And on that day when we were attacked I was in conversation with him. “What do you reckon we ought to do. Go left or right, Ian?” And then it all opened up. You get so close to a guy. And you might say if an officer’s green and he does’t know he’s a bloody
fool if he goes ahead on his own. And many did and they failed. “Bugger the Sargeant, I’m in charge here, baby”. Plenty of those guys lost their lives because they were arrogant and didn’t take the advice of the seasoned NCO. Many blokes got to sergeant and couldn’t go any further but they knew a hell of a lot about the army and the war. And once they got to a warrant officer you could be more scared of a warrant officer than you could a colonel because a warrant officer
was really the man. If he was a RSM, a regimental sergeant major. I remember when I first got to the 26th battalion, the RSM was a fellow called Paddy… I’ve just lost him. Paddy, but he was a Welshman, fought in India. He was a Welsh Guard and he was as broad as…he was a real Welshman. You know how they speak…
and he was a stickler for everything. Everything had to be absolutely right. He was well on in his years. Perhaps he was hanging on a bit. And we are raw young lieuts, very proud of ourselves and our rank. And if you were the officer of the guard he would be there to supervise to see you didn’t make a balls of it. It wouldn’t be beyond him to whisper out the side, “You forgot that, sir”. You know. He’d
look after you. And I remember the first time I struck him. I was officer of the guard. And bearing in mind that I’d just come out of Duntroon I was pretty sure of myself, you know. And I’ve got my guard there. About eighteen or twenty blokes. And it was his job to come up to me and salute me. And he never batted an eye at anyone. He was so fair dinkum but you know when a bloke’s trying to tell you something.
He came up to me and came to attention. He gave me a flashing salute and I saluted him back, you know. And I sensed I’d done something wrong but he didn’t tell me what it was but he warned me that I had done something wrong. I quickly thought, ‘Geez, I have too” and fixed it up. That was the sort of bloke he was. They are mint those guys in the unit. So you’ve got the highest admiration for fellows who have reached that rank and know
they can’t go any further. But a good officer relies on a good NCO. A good NCO relies on his men. It is a peculiar thing the army. It was a shock to the system and the more rank you got the more you had to think about it because you realized what your responsibilities grew.
I can’t get the terrible thoughts of people like Ian Alford out of my mind. I think, “Why should I be able to do this and he’s been up in Port Moresby for forty years?”. I feel guilty. And it’s not until I have about four beers down at Bells Pub that I sort of recover myself. I go quiet and they say, “You alright Norm?” and I say, “Yes. I’m alright”. But I’m not alright. But I feel that because I can
see the terrible tragedy of loss of life. And when I come home on Anzac night I sort of go, “Thank God that’s over”. And for some reason or other the next day I’m a bit listless. Not sort of with it. I’ve noticed that lately that it takes me longer to get over Anzac Day. So what happens now is my eldest son Roger comes with me as a minder. And two years ago
the march was over and we’d finished the march and when you get to the Cenotaph you veer left and I got the staggers. He said, “Are you alright?” I said, “Yes. I’m alright”. I wasn’t sick. I was in another world.
this. But the medals go away and I only hope that my kids when I pass on. They’ll do the same thing. See I encourage these guys now to bring their sons with them because they can’t cope on their own. And I want these young blokes to march when we are all gone. Because they’re now men of some
years. Some of them are in their fifties and whatever. And I know they will. Because they’re doing it while we’re alive. And I know that my son, both of them…Peter won’t, he’s not interested one bit but Roger is. Because Roger had six years in the RAAF. He knows what the system’s like. He knows what it’s all about even though he didn’t fire a shot in anger. He knows how the system works. And Peter’s got no idea. Roger’s got discipline. He knows
what to do. Peter hasn’t got any idea but you see he’s a younger boy. He’s lived in a different era. So I can say to Roger now, “So and so, so and so.” And there’s a bit of an army way of putting it to him but I can’t talk to Peter like that because he thinks, “Oh dear the old man’s gone”…And his eyes start rolling around and whatever. But Roger is now doing what I am doing. He is organizing a reunion of his group of
men that he served with in the sixties. And he’s been all over Australia finding blokes. He’s got them on the Internet and he’s organized reunions, you see. I’ve schooled him into it and he loves it. So it’s a foregone conclusion. Our Roger drives up from Teraglin, gets here at eight o’clock. Leaves home at stumps. Drives here and leaves the car. We go in on the train and he puts his grandfather’s medals on and he has a great day.
I treasure that. So I don’t think I’d get the same comfort out of the day if I’m on my own. Even though the troops are there it is nice to have your son there.
take a bloke that lives in Ballarat. It’s only two hours away but to him it’s a big event to go to Melbourne and back in one day. When you’re eighty-five. It’s asking a lot. So the newsletter fills a void there. And we send out about eighty newsletters. And I edit it and put in a lot of, you know, light and shade stuff. I think it’s been a wonderful thing because I get
so much feedback. Then I ring blokes up and I say, “Give us a story. Give us about fifty or sixty lines about something that happened”. And one bloke I got onto was the CO's batman. Arthur Thompson. He rang me up form Port Macquarie. He said, “You don’t know me but I used to be the CO’s batman.” “You’re just the man I want to hear from”. I said, “What about giving us a little story from while you were the CO’s Batman?” “Righto” he says. So he writes me down all this and tells me about when our battalion went to Rabaul
to be garrisoned for all the prisoners up there. Over thousands and thousands of Japanese prisoners. The colonel had the Japs build this beautiful hut, bamboo hut for the CO and he insisted on a hot shower. And the hot shower was out of a forty-four gallon drum and whatever whatever and Arthur wrote back and said, “When Bernie was not there I had the hot shower”. Bernie knew but he never said anything. Funny little story but this is all of interest to the boys.
It’s better for them to know than not to know that that happened. Poor old Bernie’s dead but it’s only a little thing. It’s of no interest other than that all the boys in the unit are better for having sort of thought about Author Thompson. That he was prepared to have the colonel’s hot shower when he wasn’t there.
early on was a barber. He had a barbers shop in Hurstville in Sydney. He was a much older man but a very good bloke. Quick moving like a bird and plenty of chat like a barber has. Excellent barber he was the camp barber. And he came to me one day and said, “I volunteer to be your batman”. I said, “I’d love you to, Ernie”. He said, “Would you do me a favour boss?” He always used to call me boss. I said, “What do you want?” He said, “I want a tent so I can set up a barber’s shop”. He said, “I have to go around all the companies.
Why can’t I have a tent at headquarters and let people come to me?” So I got a tent and got the pole painted red and white. I got a form made. Old magazines and here’s Ernie in the barbers shop and when we moved that was the first tent that went up. And it was years afterwards that I found out that a bloke called Johnston ran an SP [gambling business] from there. So I put it in the newsletter. So Ernie died about three months ago so I wrote and obituary saying he had done all that and I said, “By the way, Ernie
knew the SP was operating from the tent. He told me who it was but I’m not telling”. You should have seen the feedback I got from that. And the bloke that ran it is still alive. I know who it was. But see it’s all little funny stuff. Light and shade. It’s colour, it’s memories.
get Ernie to paint me. He thought that was hilarious. You know, dobbing it up and down his bloody officer and I’m there hanging on to the tent post. I mean that’s another fact. This is not a fable. This is a fact. I can still see it. You might wonder how we kept ourselves clean. This is a funny thing. I never told you that yesterday. He got hold of an American helmet and you know how they are sort of like a bucket. He carried that all the way and that was our
bath. He got three sticks and put them in the ground and sat the American helmet in it and filled that with water. So you stripped off and took a bath out of that. And the last final act was…that’s it. That’s how we had a shower. This in the jungle. You can’t believe how you did those things.
But everyone was in the same boat. It was not as though you were the only one suffering. But he was so anxious to make sure you had the best that was available at the time. And he carried that bloody American helmet and then when we were going out of Townsville on the way from Brisbane to Bougainville he didn’t come. He shook hands. He said,
“Boss, I wish I was coming”. And I said, “You can’t come you’re too bloody old”. And we’ve kept in touch all through the years and when I was in Sydney I used to ring him up and say, “How are you going Ernie?”. And as I say he died late last year. I got a lovely letter from his wife. She knew. She knew his connection with me. Because I used to look after him. He was well off, Ernie, and good luck to him. And I used to say, “Get rid of that”. “Yes. No problem”. And he’d get a quid for a bottle of beer.
You know, cigarettes. He never drew any. I think he used to charge a shilling for a hair cut. It was a good thing for the blokes to be able to go into the barber’s shop and have a professional barber give him a professional hair cut. He get put a quid on a horse and read the books and one thing and another. It was a funny set up.
God, I can’t even remember your names. The young lady yesterday, that we carried on as officers. We were given this big American truck on the quiet. And Austy Ford who was the QM he had access to transport as well. And having transport you could go places without anyone knowing and do terrible things like going on overnight leave and getting away with it. You know.
We had this big truck and we were in Bougainville and the war was over. And we used to go into the mess and get pretty well tanked up and carry on. So we decided that we would go down to the officers’ mess at Torakina. Where all the officers used to go for drinks. And we’d be drinking with General Savige and all the top brass and whatever and we’d consider ourselves bloody heroes and whatever and on the way home we would knock down as many signs as we could.
And think that was funny. And one night we approached the 26th battalion officers’ mess and the driver wanted to drive the truck through the mess and wreck it. And Kent Maxwell the Adjutant came out and stood in front of the truck and said, “Gentleman.Please, don’t do it”. “Kent, Get out of the so and so way. We are coming. These are officers and gentlemen”.
I’m in the truck. As bad as the rest of them. The grog’s got us. “Please don’t come any further”. So Austy drives the truck up and touches Kent. And then sense prevails. Boy O boy that was a close thing. Just imagine if he had driven it through the mess. We would have all been court martialled. That’s the other side of
war. You might say that is a stupid thing to do. But we all did it and we loved it. Perhaps it was happy release.
Strathpine and there was a big army camp. This was just prior to going to Bougainville. And the CO said, “Why haven’t we got a piano?” “I don’t know sir”. I’m the amenities officer. “I don’t know sir”. He said, “We’ve got enough money. Go into Brisbane and buy a piano, Turrell”. “You fair dinkum?” “Go into Brisbane and buy a piano and bring it back”. So I get my sergeant and about a dozen blokes and we get into this three tonne truck and we go into Brisbane. We go into one of the shops there and we see this piano and
I’ve got the bloke the plays it. Bonsy Bradford, he was the RAP sergeant. Beautiful pianist. And I say, “Which one do you like Bonsy”. And he says, “That one”. “We’ll have it”. Up comes the man. “Yes gentleman” So I say, “We want to buy a piano”. And he says, “Which one?” “That one.” “Where do you want it sent?” “We’re taking it!” In comes the blokes, picked the piano up. Bonsy opens the lid and as we were going out of the shop he was playing the piano. We put it in the truck and came home and we’ve got our piano. That’s the funny side of it. See.
As against driving through the mess. There had to be that, John.