I think, when we came to Australia. And I had that, what is really quite beautiful speech of South Wales, beautifully rounded vowels. And some stupid teacher seized upon me, because the idea is that the Australian accent was culturally unacceptable, was the general idea in those days. And so what you ought to speak, try to speak,
was like a cultivated Englishman. And so I was taken around the classes to read, to show them how English actually should be spoke. After school, I got a bit of a pushing around from some of the, from some of the rougher sort of blokes, who weren’t going to be told how they ought to speak, so I developed an Australian accent pretty quickly, and I never had any more trouble after that. And it was just,
school was fairly bleak, it was a bleak looking sort of place with no amenities, and that continued for a long time, public education. Even the high school I went to, half the high school, it was a great high school, but half of it was broken down old wooden, we used to call them portables, but they weren’t very portable. But any school in New South Wales, it didn’t matter where it was, was very much the same. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen some of those dreary old
public schools, most of them have been tarted up and rebuilt, and that sort of stuff. But if teachers were dedicated, and I received as good an education in primary school, as the richest kid in the state, I would say, as we all did. And I qualify, when, in that area, because it’s an industrial, well you know, closely settled area, that when you finish sixth class, you had to do an examination, they called it a Qualifying Certificate, the QC.
And the best of those from the area were allowed to go to Maitland High School, and I fortunately got into that band. And the next band, say from Kurri where I lived went to Cessnock Intermediate High School. Another lot, the next lot would go to the Tech, what they called a Technical School, yes, Technical School, well that’s what they did, you know.
For three years, they learnt practical things like woodwork and metalwork and all those sort of things in Maitland. And the bottom lot, stayed in what they called super primary in Kurri, seventh and eighth class which was a kind of a poor man’s first and second year high school course, in Kurri itself. And I went to Maitland High School, and as I say, it was one of the very few, I think in those days when I went there, 1930, there were
only half a dozen country high schools in the state, and it was one of them. And we used to play, we played rugby union of course at school in those days. We could only play Newcastle High School and a couple of local teams that played around the area there. But no, it was a fine school and I matriculated, as I say, once again. We were a fairly
recognisable mob, the Kurri mob they used to call us, because we weren’t as well dressed, and we had a kind of pride in being known as the rough necks of the school. We never, never aspired to wearing the school uniform, it was too expensive and that. But we had our own thing. I had a kind of a following as a bit of a rebel,
we never did anything very much except annoy the sports master, who was made responsible for general morale by doing things that a dignified high school boy shouldn’t do. That they should stand around or go and kick footballs, but we played ‘saddle me nag’, and sometimes we even played marbles, just to annoy Mr Henley the sports master. But the
headmaster used to barely tolerate us. I remember it was in 1941, my younger brother was coming through school. They had a thing where they wanted to know, you know, morale and the war effort, any boys that had older brothers serving in the forces. So my young brother said his brother was Dennis, and the headmaster, “Ah yes, ah yes, I remember him, what’s he doing now?”
“Oh he’s a captain in the army.” And the headmaster said, “He’s a what?” He couldn’t get his mind around the fact that I was an officer in the, in the army and responsible for discipline. But it was a, I got through very happily and matriculated, not as well as I should have, but I wasn’t a very good student. Got a teachers’ college scholarship out of it, and nobody could have done better anywhere else, a fortunate life.
And looking to try and find it, we found Afterley, but no mention at all of Tullenbah, so anyway, I caught the train, got up to Kyogle Railway Station and got off, and there was a taxi driver, and I said, “I want to go to Tullenbah.” “God.” he said, “What for?” That was a good introduction; morale was starting to drift a bit by this time. He said, “I can take you there, but it’ll cost you
nearly two quid.” which was nearly a week’s wages. And if I’d known of course, I could have stayed at the hotel for half that and caught the cream truck that went out once a week to pick up the cream, but I didn’t know that. But anyway, the taxi driver stowed me aboard, and said, “The road’s pretty crook.” I said, “Oh well.” And we were driving along, and I said, “Yes, it is a bit rough, isn’t it?” He gave me a look,
he said, “This is the bit they fixed up and done.” and he was quite right. Because all it was for most of the way, and certainly after Afterley where it went up over a mountain ridge, and down the other side, was just a track, really a horse track. The, once a week this cream truck rattled and jostled its way down. But otherwise, if you wanted to get in and out, there used to be a mail truck that used to go everyday to Afterley,
and if you wanted to catch it to go to into Kyogle, you had to ride a horse over the, over the ridge through the bush, and down into Afterley. So I landed at this forlorn looking, broken down, unpainted house, and a rather slatterly looking woman appeared, and I said, “Mrs Piggot?” “Yeah.” Well I introduced myself, and paid the taxi driver and off he went.
And she said, “We’ve been expecting you.” And I said, “Well, here I am.” and she showed me my room, which was a bit of the side veranda, curtained off with a bit of hessian, and with a bed in it and that was it, that was, no wardrobe or anything at all, just a bed. Oh and that’s right, there was an old wooden chair in there too, and that was my room. And
the man of the house came in and introduced ourselves, he was a much brighter specimen, he became a very good friend, Arthur Piggot, he was the farmer, but his wife, the dumbest and most basic sort of human being I’ve ever struck in all my life. Oh she was a good producer, she finished up having nine kids eventually but she only had, at that stage, I think, Noelly the baby, he was only the fourth, so all the rest of them happened after my
time. So I said, “Where’s the school?” and he looked just vaguely, he said, “I’ll show you.” So we walked up past the pig pens and that’s another thing, I’d always thought of pigs as being nice white things with curly tails. And these were great ferocious looking things, that acted and looked like tigers, you know. One day a calf had died, and he chucked the carcass over into the, and they tore into it,
exactly like tigers tearing this thing to pieces. And he said, “You want to be careful of them, by the way.” he said, “They’re pretty savage, those.” a couple of big boars. Anyway just past those, there was a shed, you know, a typical shed you found on an old farmhouse made of slabs with a tin roof. And with an old double sort of door, and went in and had a dirt floor. And
nothing inside, at least they’d swept it out and that sort of stuff, but that was the school. He said, “We got a note saying there was some furniture on the way, it should be in Kyogle Station, and we’ll get the truck to bring it out.” you know. So we waited, and it was only two or three days and I made the acquaintance of my pupils, twelve of them.
But it happened to be thirteen, because one of the Piggott’s little boys, he was four, he wouldn’t stay at home, if his brother and sister, they were going to go to school, he wanted to go to school, too, and he kicked up a fuss, and I said, “Let him come if he likes, it won’t do any harm.” He was a good little boy and he learned to read and all that stuff. The furniture duly came, it was a long thing that you probably have heard of that but never seen one, long desk at which four kids could sit. And I had to screw them all
up, and the benches that they sat on, long benches that they sat on, and so we started. And that began a year of one of the most quick and educational experiences I ever had, because this was my first experience of rural Australia. And this was a completely isolated community, no electricity, no water supply, nothing like that, they lit oil lamps and water came out of a
tank. And absolutely no sort of things happened, nothing happened, no community life much at all, except in the horse world, they used to be very interested in horses and anything to do, and I gradually found that there was a kind of social life, but it moved at a very different pace to what anybody is used to in towns or cities.
And I learnt, very quickly learnt to ride a horse and they were very kind, they let me use one of their old horses, a pretty good old beast, he was a good walker, Mac they used to call him. He had a head like a bullock, but he did me and they lent me a saddle, and so I was equipped, and I learnt to crack a whip. And for a tennis match on a Saturday, I learned to ride seven or eight or ten miles
over the mountain with somebody, for a tennis match against Afterley. And all those sort of things and I started to read and got myself into Kyogle and bought myself a second hand table so I could do, it was made of cedar it had been shockingly abused, and I bought it for five shillings, I think. So I spent some of my time sandpapering it down, and it
was going to be a project, you know, to restore this to its former glory. And I read, and I said we had a P&C [Parents and Citizens] meeting of course, there was only four families so I asked them to come, and we got a lamp up in the school, and we sat around solemnly. And I was madly trying to think what you did at a P&C meeting, because I’d never attended one in my life and didn’t know what you did. Anyway, they were all
quite keen, so I said it would be nice if we could raise some money and buy a bit of sporting equipment, you know, perhaps a, the girls could play too, a cricket bat and some stumps and that sort of stuff, and we could at least have cricket and play that. They said, “Yeah, that would be a great idea.” but they said, “Oh we could make a cricket club of our own.” so the P&C meeting turned into the ways and means of
making a cricket pitch. And I think Karen was with me, only a few months ago when visiting Kyogle, we went out to Tullenbah to have a look, and went looking for the old cricket pitch was a paddock now, overgrown with weeds and we had to hunt around for quarter of an hour and finally found it. And there it was, the cricket pitch we’d made, it took us weeks to make it, but it was as good as new.
It was wonderful concrete, you could land a Boeing 747 on it, of course the concrete was about a foot thick, you know, which was. But anyway, as I say, we got a club together and we actually played Afterley across the road and some other mob that came that year. And the cricket club, I subsequently found, lasted a few years. Then the population of Tullenbah declined, the dairy industry
faded away, and there’s nobody lives there, or there’s a couple of people live there, I think they live on the dole, I don’t think they do anything much. But the farms, the farms have gone, it’s a very sad looking sort of place these days, and the old paddock and the cricket pitch, are overgrown. But I got to like all those people and I became a part of their community, it was pretty good, considering they had a profound contempt for townies, for a start. And I think I managed to win their,
particularly with the cricket pitch that did it, because schoolies were always people with soft hands that couldn’t do anything practical, you know. And I had blisters on my hands along with the best of them digging it out, so they accepted me as part of their community. And I was, I don’t know whether I was looking forward to it, because it was a fairly limiting sort of a life, and a very lonely kind of life, too, really. Nobody my age that I had anything in common with. And
I was looking forward with some trepidation to spending three years there, which was usually the sort of thing. But on the September holidays, I got out and went to Sydney. And it was a fortnight, but then I spent a week with. And I was going down Pitt Street, and a bloke suddenly put his hand, I wasn’t looking much where I was going, put his hand on my chest and said, “I forgot about you.” and it was a music lecturer
I’d had at teacher’s college, who became a very good friend, his name was Campbell Howard. And he’d been appointed as Deputy Director of Music at the Department of Education, Deputy to a legendary old figure called Treharne. Treharne, yeah, that’s right. And a fiat had gone forth that there would be music taught in high schools. Which was all very well except that there were no trained music teachers,
and were would they get one anyway. And he said, I learned this subsequently, but he said, “Where are you now?” so I told him up in the bush. He said, “How would you like to teach music in the high school?” I said, “I cant’ do that, I’m not trained to do that, I don’t know anything, I can’t play the piano.” He said, “Oh no, you can play the violin and you can sing.” he said, “Would you like to give it a go?” I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll try anything once.” He said,
“Right next year, Canberra High School, how about that?” So I had to go back to Tullenbah and tell them the news that I was only going to be there one more term, and they’d get somebody after me. And packed my box and off I went, and so at the beginning of the next year, that’s 1939, I fronted up in Canberra. Of course Canberra was only a small town in those days, and there was no
high school. There was a Canberra Grammar School, one for boys and another one for girls, and there was an intermediate high school at, the big primary school at Telopea Park, which was one of the earlier suburbs that actually got built, you know. Of course, Canberra in those days was just little clumps of houses, that eventually became great suburbs, the ones you know now. It was mostly bush with beautiful roads set out on a very complex
road plan. And so I started work, and they were building a new high school, brand new white stucco place, we moved into it in, I think it was May. So there I was in a quite, to my terms, lavishly equipped, it wouldn’t be held that much these days, teaching music which, no high school wanted in those days, they thought it was an intrusion. Because music meant
merely a period a week teaching them to sing or something like that, that’s all it was. And so the headmaster couldn’t provide enough periods to fill my day, so what they finished up doing was leaving me three days at Canberra, and two days at Queanbeyan, to teach music, singing. And that was alright, we had a good choir, we won a competition and it was a revelation after being stuck up in the bush. Of course, Canberra even in those days, was the most marvellous place
to live that I’ve ever struck, and still have. Whatever you wanted to do, there were always highly enthusiastic and intelligent people who wanted to do it as well. So I belonged to a church choir, a good big excellent church choir. I belonged to a male voice choir, I was in a drama group that was, you know, highly enthusiastic and run by one of those intense women that seems to get to run these things.
And I think she’d been some kind of a semi-professional actress herself before she got this other job and took this business on. And we were actually preparing, we did one play in that early year, and we were rehearsing another one, to be, take place in November, and of course, Mr Hitler put a finish to that eventually. And she was going to write to the Prime Minister to insist that
my ill-advised action in joining the action, could be deferred surely, until this play had gone on the boards. She never got a reply. And I played in a hockey competition, I couldn’t play football, I used to play football a bit but I wasn’t good enough to get in the competition there, but I played hockey. So I, you know, ran around with a few girls and started to learn to play the piano, marvellous life. But as I say,
I was in Sydney in the September that year, holidays, September holidays, and was at my old music teacher’s place at a sort of a party. And Mr. Menzies [Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia], announced, I think it was about nine o’clock that night, that Great Britain was at war with Germany, of course we’d been following with great trepidation for years, the progress of Hitler. And if I’d known how to do it, or had any
money, I would have gone off to Spain to fight against the fascists, but I didn’t know how, so I didn’t do anything about that, but at least this was home grown, and I was determined to join the army straight away. I was a bit frustrated, I went back to Canberra, but of course Mr. Menzies hadn’t made up his mind yet, what was going to happen. And he didn’t actually announce until the 10th of September, that there was going to be an expeditionary force,
that, the Australian Army, that is the militia, wasn’t going to be mobilised at all, that was going to stay, and they would raise a special force of one division to go and fight in Europe with the British Army. That’s what the idea was to start. And so it wasn’t until after the tenth that they opened the recruiting offices, and I think I was their first customer
in as soon as they opened the thing in Civic Centre in a little office, with a dumb looking lance corporal there manning it. And so, I think it was about the 11th of the 12th, whatever the day was. And I went in and said I wanted to join the army. And this corporal said, “Do you want to join the militia or this new force they’re talking about?” I said, “I want to join the new force.”
He pulled out a sheet of paper, name, and you know, age, occupation, and I said, “I’m a teacher.” He said, “Oh, I think that’s a reserved occupation.” I said, “No, no, no, I’m a music teacher, that’s different.” So he wrote it down, and I was in. And, but we had to wait, he said, “You’ll get called up in due course.” and so I went
and told the headmaster who was a rather pompous sort of bloke. His name has just eluded me, but in his youth, he’d been a geologist from the university, he was a geologist and taught physics and stuff, and he’d been with Mawson in the Antarctic. You know, courage and fortitude were our watch word. But he was a nice man, you know, a bit pompous, quite a fine looking, big fellow. And I told him I joined the army.
And he looked at me down from his great height, and said, “And did you request permission for this?” I said, “No, I never thought about it.” “You should have you know, you should have.” then he placed his hand on my shoulder and he said, “But my boy, I think you have done the right thing.” I said, “Thank you very much, Sir.” and toddled off. But the summons came on the
23rd of October, I had to report the following day on the 24th, at some particular place to be inducted. So we went and had some kind of a travesty of a medical examination, by a half drunk looking doctor, I don’t know where he could have served. He might have been in the army anyway, but there he was, gave us a cursory examination. There were twenty of us who turned up that day. One chap,
a couple of years older than me, but was in the civil service, but all the rest were working men. And well one fellow had one eye he couldn’t see out of, you see. So right-o, and of course he would have not been accepted if they’d picked this up, so he had a technique. So they said, “Right-o, cover your left eye.” so he covered his left eye and read it off.
“Right-o, now cover your right eye.” so he did the same, changed hands and covered the same eye up and read it off again, and he stayed in, for the next five years in the army, he got in. And so they did a bit of this and lined us up and actually gave us a number. And of course Swedie Norswen, a great big dumb Swede, who you know, stayed in, he was my hut mate later on,
he got his number wrong, and he gave them my number. And oh, did I have trouble convincing him that he had the wrong number, and that this was mine, but anyway. Well we were told to bring two cut lunches, and by this time, it was late in the morning, and they said, “Alright, you can go now and report to the station at five o’clock this afternoon, you’ll be picked up in the train.” And they gave us,
I think they gave us a few shillings spending money or something, and of course as I say, the typical Australian, you know where they went. They headed straight off to the pub, and that’s where they stayed all afternoon. And I must say, they rolled up in various stages of inebriation, but they all got there. And nobody saw us off, I think one or two of them had a relation, but most of them were sort of itinerant workers and stuff, that didn’t have family in Canberra anyway.
And I certainly didn’t have any family and neither did Frank, the other chap that we made friends, we were the only two sober ones, the chap that was the civil servant. And we got on this train that already had a fairly large number of semi-drunken fellows on there, celebrating on their way to Sydney, we picked them all up all the way to Sydney. And it was a very bedraggled looking
lot that early next morning, we landed at, at Liverpool and hangovers regardless and we tumbled out of the train. And they hollered and roared and got us into some kind of a column, and marched us into a, half a mile or so to the barracks.
camp, we moved up and actually formed the battalion early in November, 2nd or 3rd of November, something like that. And they were, I’ll never forget the first parade, somebody rounded us all up, and some fellows, a group of us who’d come up from Liverpool, were more or less, well after a fortnight after intensive drill and stuff, we vaguely looked like soldiers. And other
fellows had been drifting in, actually into Ingleburn itself, and this parade that lined up, there must have been, at that stage at least eight hundred, yes, probably that. As the battalion filled up, a battalion in those days was nearly a thousand men, nine hundred roughly. And one fellow turned up with a pair of bell-bottom blue, navy blue trousers, a pair of dancing pumps, and an athletic singlet, and
that’s all the field equipment he could find, and he was there. But then they pushed and roared and hollered and got us more or less into a couple of lines, lines that vaguely looked like an army parade. And then the colonel appeared. Now the colonel was a very special character, his name was Vivian Theophilus England, he’d been in the 12th Light Horse in the First World War, and he’d
been in that famous charge at Beersheba. Then he’d joined the Royal Flying Corps and was made a second lieutenant and he survived the rest of the war as that. After the war, he took a keen interest in the militia and commanded a battalion of the militia, through the inter-war years. And he was selected to actually command
a battalion in this new AIF [Australian Imperial Force], he volunteered for that. He was a big tall, great big fellow, six foot two, six foot three, magnificent looking man, he was in his forties then, so he wasn’t as sylph-like slim as he was when he was twenty. But beautifully dressed, he had a marvellous looking uniform, with riding breeches and riding boots, you know, the long boots, the proper thing. And he was a superb horseman too; you’d expect that, being in the Light Horse. And anyway,
he came on this quite spirited horse, and appeared on the parade, and we were sure he did this deliberately, he made the horse curvette and prance around, while he controlled it and so on, with a firm hand. So when the show was finished and the horse had settled down, we all gave him a rousing thing of applause, which he, he professed to be annoyed about, but in actual fact, I think he was absolutely delighted, he was
quite a showman in lots of way. Anyway, we were broken up, this unlikely looking lot were broken up into companies and platoons, and in those days, it was three infantry companies, A Company, B Company and C Company, and Headquarters Company, and while we were actually in Ingleburn, they changed the pattern to fit the old British Army, and made an
extra infantry company, to make four infantry companies. Well, I was part of a platoon that was handed over to a tall, very handsome man, called Philip Parbury, who was a member of the family who ran Lysaghts. And he actually was an executive of Lysaghts even before the war, he was a man in his middle twenties, I suppose, who turned out to be a very distinguished officer indeed. But at that particular stage, he’d been given a
commission, didn’t know anything at all about, you know, the things that made a platoon tick. So he used to have a little book, and of course, the first thing he had to do, he lined this unlucky looking mob, and he didn’t know anything about drill. So the first thing you had to teach a platoon was drill, you know, which was always in any army. He said, “Has anybody here
had any experience with drill?” and there was a bit of a silence, and my mate who was next to me said, “You could do that stuff.” So I said, “Me.” and put my hand up. He said, “Good, what’s your name?” And, “Right well.” he said, “Get this squad of formed men, and do some simple things like
right turn, left turn and forming fours.” I said, “Yes Sir.” and proceeded to do it, because I knew how to do it. And he was very impressed indeed that this young fellow could be able to captain and drill the squad, so I was made an acting corporal on the spot, which was confirmed a few days later, so I was a corporal almost as soon as the battalion was formed. And it was only a week or two later,
we were successfully surmounting that, and he was learning very rapidly what a platoon commander had to do, so I became sergeant. And another, they told you they made D company, Don company, as it’s called, an officer had to be made to command it, to make its new platoon, so people were
drawn from other places to make up this new company and platoon. And it needed a company sergeant major, warrant officer, so I got the job. And on actual fact, I was actually awarded a warrant, but I don’t know what happened to the piece of paper, but I had a warrant as a warrant officer. But then, once again, it seemed only a few weeks, must have been only a
few weeks, because there wasn’t all that much time and the colonel called me in. And I went in with great trepidation, because he was a rather big, intimidating looking fellow, the old colonel. So he said, he read out my name, he said, “How old are you?” I said, “Twenty one, sir.” And he looked at me, and he said, “I don’t want any bloody lies.” he said, “For a start, this stuff about altering.” I said, “I am twenty one.” caused I looked about seventeen at that stage, innocent looking young fellow.
So he accepted that, and he said, “I’ve decided to give you a commission. You can go into Kitchener’s, which are in…..” I think they were in Pitt Street, “Which is my tailors, tell them I sent you, and I want you to have a good uniform, I will not have officers in my battalion who are scruffy looking.” With my mouth open, I sort of stood there, he said, “Well that’s all, go on, get on with it.” So I marched off, fortunately I remember to salute and about turn and
get out. So I went into Kitchener’s, got myself measured for a uniform, and I reported with my ordinary things, and he gave me, either he or somebody gave me a couple of pips to put on my shoulder, and he said, “Report to the officers’ mess at so and so a time.” So I reported and I was welcomed into the officers’ mess, and made a blue in the first time. The colonel
ceremonially bought me my first drink and then, when that was consumed, I said, “Would you like another drink, Sir?” And I was taken aside and told that you never ask the colonel if he would like another drink, because that might indicate that he’d already had some, and you know, you were querying him for too many drinks. And I thought, God. So you ask him if he’d like a drink, not another drink. So my first lesson in officers’ mess etiquette. They gave me
a platoon in B Company, and I had to start learning because this was a dizzying ascent up through the, up through the ranks and I think it was the 12th of December that I was actually commissioned. So I, my three, two of three platoons were run by hard-bitten fellows who had been in the militia, and one of them had been,
one of the soldiers, most of them in the platoon had been gold miners at West Wyalong. As I say, a pretty hard bitten lot. But I got on well with them, and I had a pretty good old sergeant, Sergeant Smith, he became a friend for the rest of the war, and we proceeded to teach one another things. And I depended very heavily on these two sergeants, because they’d been in the militia for some years. So that I had enough sense to learn from them,
let them do things like instructing on bayonet fighting, which I’d only ever read about in books and never actually seen. And we pressed and one of the, well disadvantages of being the newest officer in the Australian Army, is that we had a parade in Sydney, the 16th Brigade went into parade, you know, a final
march, and I had to stay home and look after the shop, while everybody else went off to the march, which I suppose, I didn’t mind very much. But I would have loved to have been there and done that. And come to think of it, I think I missed nearly every march that everybody ever had, because for some reason or other, I was in hospital or doing something else instead. And then on the 10th of January, we were taken off and put on ships, and
once again, I was left with a small group of people, to clean up the lines. Well of course you’ve never seen anything ever like it, because everybody had come in with all sorts of civilian gear that they carted in, and of course, when they left they weren’t allowed to take any of that. So they hadn’t had time to take it home to their loved ones, so the barrack room things were a complete shambles, messes of clothes and personal equipment and stuff left all over the place. And so we worked like slaves, pretty well around the
clock, for nearly twenty four hours, to get it into some sort of order, and really we got to the stage, where we didn’t have enough dumpster things to put the gear in, but we cleaned it up. Scrambled on board the ship just before she sailed, and we sailed out through the Heads on the 10th of January 1940. And as one old soldier said as we cleared the heads, “Well, you’re all ex-servicemen now, all you’ve got to do is get home again.” so we sailed off into the wild blue yonder, and we left Australia.
we fired, I think, ten rounds each on the range, on Anzac range, that we’d walked to and back, that was before we left Australia. Because of the shortage of ammunition and stuff, we didn’t get all that much training with live ammunition even while we were in Palestine. Because, hardly any fighting, we only got Bren guns pretty late in the piece in Palestine. And we had them,
but the Bren gunners, well, of course we all had to learn how to fire and pull a Bren gun to pieces and put it together again. And the blokes who’d been trained as specialists, had to do it blindfolded, and all that sort of stuff. But we did very little by firing. As a matter of fact, excuse me, on the eve of the battle of the Battle of Bardia, they were told to test the weapons, and half the Bren guns wouldn’t work. Because
when you’re training and doing the mechanism without actually firing it, tiny little bits of metal, sort of become, if you bang something, a tiny sliver of metal will accumulate at the end. And of course with those sorts of weapons, it’s got to be absolutely done. So there was a frantic thing, the armourer, every battalion had an armourer, whose specialist job was to keep the arms. He was working all
night, making sure that these Bren guns would actually fire when we went into battle in another day’s time. So we were very short of those sorts of things. And as I say, some fellows, I’m sure, went through pretty well the whole of the war with still the same 30 year old rifle that they started with, it was the same brand. And most of our armaments, except for the Bren gun, were about, almost exactly the same as they’d used in the First World War. And artillery men, had to get used,
they had to train on a few old eighteen pounders from the First World War, until they got the standard weapon, the twenty five pounders, not long before we went into action. That was the artillery people, and the same thing with mortars, which is an infantryman’s artillery. We got very little chance to actually fire them with live ammunition, because live ammunition was so short, and we were told not to waste it, and weren’t allowed to spend it.
So it was, for our lot, it was a fairly ad hoc sort of an operation, in which I suppose never were we ever fully equipped with the latest kind of weapons. See even in New Guinea, the Owen gun had been invented, and probably the best small arms sub machine gun in any part of the war. It was very reluctantly
taken up by the army, but over the Owen Stanleys, in our brigade, I was the only one who had one. And I used to take it and demonstrate it to the troops, and say, “Now very shortly we’re all going to get one of these.” you see, it was a beautiful little weapon. But they finished still lumping their great .303 rifles, with a clip of magazine of five and single shot bolt action rifles. And I don’t know to what extent, even later on, the infantry actually
got any of these Owen guns. Because late when I rejoined the battalion, we certainly didn’t have them in 1943. And then I rejoined the battalion after I came back from India, they still didn’t have them. So it must have been that other people had them, and not us. We were always short of equipment, so we had to depend on manpower. And as I say, fortunately the circumstances of
war were different, but as far as what we had, we were very little better than what we had in 1918. Except for the Bren gun when we finally got it, which was an excellent little weapon. Very good, but we only had one per platoon, and no sub machine guns. But we did have, they had a few of tommy guns, you know, the American gangster things, but they were hopeless. They were no good in any kind of rough circumstances, they used to break down all the time.
And we even had a, I don’t think we took Lewis guns into action, we discarded those. But they were a kind of a funny looking sub machine gun, they developed in 1917, 1918. And that was what the militia had as their standard weapon, we had to train with those in the early days of the war and throw them away when we, when we finally got Bren guns.
base, they advanced into Egypt, up at a place called Mersa Matruh and Sollum, places like that. And then the very small British Army that was available there, stemmed there, fought them and pushed them back. So General Wavell took the opportunity, he was a great man; he was a very fine general.
The only real infantry that he had at his disposal was the 6th Division, Australian division. And so, they had other regiments and things, there was some, naturally, because they fought a bit of a war. But with this division as his main, this Australian division as his main base infantry force, he had some tanks, 7th Hussars, they were a very famous regiment, they became even more famous, but his tanks were not very
exciting in those early days, and it was very difficult to replace them. But they were a considerable force. And people don’t recognise it, they had what they called infantry tank, the I-tank, which fired only a two pound gun. So it was neither very big, nor very powerful by modern, later standards, but in those days it was the best tank in the Middle East,
better than anything the Italians had, and actually better than anything the Germans had at that particular point. But there was that few of them, and they used to wear them out getting them from one place to another, and not fighting with them. You know, because those tractor vehicles, they look marvellous, they’re like racehorses, they’re very impressive, but they’re very delicate, too. And so the idea of having a vast fleet of what you call tank
transporters, well you stuck the tank on and drove it two hundred miles, and then took it off and it went and fought. The poor old tank had to go trundling nearly two hundred miles, so by the time it got to the battle, it was half worn out. But still they did make, even the few they had, they did make a very significant contribution. But, so our division, General Wavell made up the idea he would chase the Italians out of Egypt, nobody
drew a line in the sand, it was hard to know if you were in Egypt or Libya, it all looks the same up there. So he did that, and the British forces cleared the path up until the way to Bardia was open. We came up, actually by train as far as Mersa Matruh, and then by trucks to the bottom of a place, we called at, called Halfaya Pass, we called it Hellfire Pass. Because in Northern Africa was a great plateau, and from the
sea, where the flat, you have to walk up. A bit like Australia, we get used to very low, in Australia we’ve only got very low hills and plateaus and that sort of thing, this was just a plateau. And I remember we marched up, and it was winter time. Of course by this time it was, I can’t remember the dates actually, the 12th of December, something like that. Absolutely bitterly,
I’ve never struck such cold in my life, even when we were in the snow later on, it wasn’t as cold as that, blowing up out of the Sahara. And we marched up Hellfire Pass, and there were greatcoats had been left on the trucks, each platoon had a fifteen hundred weight truck that carried its gear. And we got up the top and we’d been sweating, and then we got up the place where we had to invest outside the fortress at Bardia, and I thought
I was going to die with the cold, I remember all the troops hunting for the truck. Anyway, finally turned up in the early hours of the morning, and we got our greatcoats off and that was it. And then we invested, so we were out in the desert we invested, while they made a plan to assault it. This was a major, what they call a major set piece battle. And it meant that against a well defended and well prepared fortress, which there were concrete
gun placements, barbed wire, anti tank ditches and that sort of thing. And somehow an infantry force with just men, and was backed up with artillery had to bust this stuff and get into it, and take it. Now that’s the sort of thing that we complained about in the First World War, where ordinary soldiers were sent up against emplacements with thousands of machine guns, and just got mowed down in their thousands.
And this was the sort of thing, it had to be very meticulous planning, and our divisional commander, he was a rather austere man, General McKay, Ivan McKay, very good. Well he’d been Captain McKay who’d captured Lone Pine at Gallipoli, which was a very famous. In fact, he’d been in his youth a notable warrior, so he was a soldier
first and last, been a schoolmaster actually, between the wars. He’d created this plan and that’s what we did. We invested it, and the plan was made where we would break the wire, and we would get in among the forts, and then we’d just subdue them. And it took three days, and that’s exactly what we did. My battalion, our brigade, and the two in the middle, 17th Brigade on the right and 19th Brigade in reserve to come in and what they called ‘exploit’.
But when we got in and made a bridgehead, inside the wire, they’d come through and then fan out and go and capture the things inside the fortress. Because the fortress was miles long, it wasn’t just a little castle or anything like that, it was a wired and concrete emplacements that stretched for miles around the perimeter, with all sorts of defended positions within it. So when you busted the original wire, you still
had this series of defended positions that you still had to take. So we had to as a brigade, we had to break the wire and make a bridgehead, and in this one, I think it was the first, no, 1st Battalion I think, had to bust the wire and the 2nd Battalion come in, and we were the 3rd Battalion,
we had to go through this bridgehead and then go straight through towards the little fortress town of Bardia itself, and so that’s what we did. And we had ten percent casualties I suppose, I forget, roughly ten percent casualties, we had something like eight ninety were killed, and proportionate number were wounded on the way.
And we had to march across this two thousand yards after the initial perimeter, we had to go across this completely flat area, with machine gun positions and artillery positions lined up, hammering away with everything they had, and we just had to walk into it, the way they’d, exactly the way they’d done in the First World War, only not so close. And so we had to go and take one Italian position after the other, and
sometimes the troops got a bit irritable, because they’d fire like hell, until you got close, and then they’d stand up and put their hands up, or wave a white flag. So you just got to the stage where you were clenching your teeth and ready to get into them with a bayonet, and then they’d give up. But they created a lot of damage beforehand. But some, they talk about the Italians being a pushover, but there was some very severe fighting took place, especially down one place where the 17th Brigade had to go
in, it was very heavily defended. They suffered tremendous casualties. But we and the, my company, C Company, we had the honour of assaulting the fortress of Bardia by itself. The colonel who had shot, he had his little carrier. Do you know what a Bren carrier is? Well it’s a little track vehicle
with thin sides and an open top. And you know, people used to think of it as a tank, but it wasn’t a tank, you could fire. I mean the metal, it wasn’t much better than an old Plymouth motor car, 1936, but it had a track and it, very flexible on things, so he had one of those. And he drove up to watch while we spread out, and we proceeded to assault the town. It could have been very dodgy if the troops had withdrawn and if
they put up a stern resistance, we would have had tremendous trouble. But in actual fact, once again, as we were approaching the walls, there’d been a bit of sporadic firing, and an Italian gentleman came out waving his arms very frantically, indicating that firing had stopped and that any fighting troops had cleared off. And so we actually got into the little town and we captured it on our own. The legend went around that we had
looted it. Well, I suppose some fellows picked up things and one thing and another, I don’t know what they did, but if they did, they threw them away again immediately, you couldn’t carry anything away from there. So the old canard about we looted Bardia was absolute nonsense, because I was in there myself. And, so we pulled out of the town, cleared it of any remaining troops, and there’d been, they’d had, of course they’d had
women in there, I assume just an ordinary brothel of some description, but where the girls went, I’m not sure, but they weren’t there when we came. But there was evidence, of course, that they had been there. Women, of course, medics rooms and all that sort of stuff. And then we pulled back out of there, camped overnight so that Bardia took about three days for us to secure it all together.
That was, I think that was the second day that we actually took the town itself. Meanwhile the other brigades had been doing the moving on, mopping up and capturing, the resistance crumbled after that first day and a half, two days. Really after the first day, the resistance crumbled, it was a matter of mopping it up.
shooting, so we just kept plodding up. And suddenly we got fired on by a very rapid fire machine gun in an emplacement that we couldn’t get at, and I had a bit of a look at. I shouted in my best French to tell them to lay down their arms, “Je de be ver arms, le ent er on!”[phonetic] And the only answer they gave to that was two machine guns then opened up. So we had a bit of a conference and we decided we were probably on the wrong
track, because the battalion couldn’t have gone up past these and left, I mean the company, couldn’t have gone up and left these, so we were on the wrong spur or something. So we decided to go back down the bottom of the hill and start again in the morning, this was only a couple of hours until daylight. And sure enough that was what had happened. So we collected some more water and stuff, and off we went back up and joined them in the early hours of the morning on the top of the hill. And by then of course, the French had woken up,
that they’d been tricked off the hill, and they were determined to take it back again. And they kept firing and lobbing artillery shells which were uncomfortably close, and they had snipers posted at strategic points around the place, that made it very difficult for us to move in around there. And one, I poked my head round a rock, and a sniper was waiting, and he fired, it must have gone within an inch of my eyes, straight across like that and hit the rock. And my face was all scattered with rock chips.
Looked as if I’d had the measles or something. And so we got stuck up there, and then a white flag appeared with one of our captured troops, with a note saying, “You are completely surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered. Unless you surrender by four o’clock this afternoon, you will be blasted from the hill.” And Alan Murchison, he was the company commander, and when in a situation,
he used to adopt a rather pompous tone. He was only a young man, he was only twenty three or something, he was a bit older than me, a year, or six months older than me, a year older than me. He said, “I have no instructions which allow me to do such a thing, and if you want to have this hill, you’ll have to come and get it.” Sent the poor bloke with the white flag back, and then they talked. I used to say to people,
when people talk in the Bible about when the Israeli troops were going to cross to Jordan, they made the sun stand still so they could all get across before the end of daylight, you see. And I said that’s perfectly reasonable. Because this was in June, it must have damn well been the longest day of the year anyway, but it’s the longest days that’s ever been in centuries, I reckon, we were up there. It must have been, we determined, we had a conference this day and saw them off, and we did.
Every time they came, we saw them off, but we were running out of ammunition. Alan said we’d wait till dark, then we’d get out, we’d sneak our way out if we had to, we’d fight our way out if we couldn’t sneak out. And so we had to put up with it all day being shelled and machine gunned. And the night time came, of course
our blokes were scattered around, and told to come in. And I don’t know whose fault it was, but I’ve often felt dreadfully guilty, because it might have been my fault. One little section with an officer, didn’t get the message, I thought they had, but they didn’t. We collected them all together, and we had a British sergeant, Sergeant Mountjoy and a few British soldiers, who were the clumsiest footed people I’ve ever struck in all my life. Just as well there weren’t any tin cans
around, because they would have kicked every one. And in a retreat, the commander always comes last, so we were clearing out of this hill. I went first, the second in command was Alan Murchison, the company guy, he brought up the rear. So I had to weave my way down this, we didn’t know where we were going, we just had to get off that hill. And we could hear the French on either side, hear the cavalry and hear the horses and we could hear
men talking. And we sneaked down, picked fortuitously our way between them and got out right down the hill and onto the plain, took us all night. And we were wondering what the hell we were going to do when the dawn broke, because we’d be out exposed to the Vichy French who now, the rest of our forces had withdrawn and left us on the top of this hill for dead, you know. And we found a, you could hardly
call them caves, a bit of overhanging rock that made a sort of a cave in there, so we all bundled in there and it was very effective. So we could see the French cavalry scouring round the place, there was a hell of commotion up on the top of the hill, because the French had decided to attack, and there was nothing there to stop them except for this half a dozen men. They got caught and they got captured, and their young officer,
Bill Hildebrand his name was, he got killed, which was a sad blow to us. Somehow or other we should have been able to prevent that, but that’s past praying for. And then we stayed down under this cave arrangement all day, we had a couple of wounded we had to carry and help. At night, we once again had a conference and decided
that back towards the south was the way to go. And as soon as it was dark, we set off. And of course, we hadn’t thought that our being left up there caused great consternation in the battalion and the whole brigade, that we’d been left up there. My friend John McDonald had been sent as liaison officer to the British brigade headquarters, actually it was a British brigade we were attached to this time, shows you the
sort of shambles it was around the place. And the brigadier, he was a terribly nice bloke, he said, “McDonald, I’m afraid we’ve got very bad news. Those chaps of yours up on Jebelmazaar, the place has been retaken and I’m afraid you’ve got to write them off, they’ve either all been killed or taken prisoner. Accept my condolences for this.” Old John he was
a funny bloke, he told me about it afterwards. He said, “I sat there and I could have bloody well cried, I sat there, and I nearly did.” And then he said, “Oh don’t you worry Sir, they’ll be right, old Murch and Dennis, they’ve got out of worse places than that, they’ll be right, they’ll be along.” And the colonel, the brigadier, he sort of understandingly patted him on the shoulder, you know, a bit of natural bravado in sorrow. And anyway,
the night time came, we kept plodding along and suddenly, “Who goes there?” in English. So we said, “C Company.” and there was a hell of a bloody commotion with the sentry bloke, “It’s bloody C Company, they’ve turned up!” If there had been any enemies they would have been a sitting duck target, they all came pouring out, and there we were, bedraggled looking mob, C Company, and we’d only lost a couple of blokes in all this palaver. And the word filtered through,
and old John McDonald said, he heard about it and he said, “Well I just said, well I told you, didn’t I Sir that they’d turn up, and they have turned up, haven’t they?” So we turned up and joined the battalion, and we finally finished up we captured Damascus anyway. That, and then we were sent back after that, back to the coastal thing and we were on a fort around the, in the hills,
around Merdjayoun, and that’s the place where Mr. [Sir Roden] Cutler got his VC [Victoria Cross]in that fight. So they were fighting down and we were up in the hills circling around them, which was a dodgy arrangement too.
wounded discharge and that sort of stuff. And we were billeted up in one of the villages up the side of the hill in Lebanon. Which incidentally is one of the most gorgeous places on earth. I remember we got up there, winding road that seemed to go right up the side of a precipice, you know, and little white villages stuck up. And we were in this one, and you looked up, and some poet talked about the blue Mediterranean coiling like a snake underneath him, and that’s exactly what it looked like.
And I used to think, “This is paradise on earth!” and I even thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful after the war to come and live in a gorgeous little place like this, in a white painted house on the side, and let the rest of the world go by.” And it was an awful tragedy that Lebanon became a disaster area, when it should have been one of the most, could have been one of the most delightful places on earth. But we stayed in this billets and didn’t train much, and fiddled about. And the biggest problem was to
keep the troops amused. So we had to go through training exercises, and I remember a beach, I was acting company commander at that stage. I used to get them for an hour in the afternoon, and read them poetry, and particularly [Rudyard] Kipling’s soldier poetry,
you know. And for a start, they looked at one another, and thought, “The poor buggar’s gone completely mad now, we’ve got another psycho case on us.” But they got to like it after a while, and they used to make requests, what about that one, and that one. So for several weeks, they became acquainted with the soldier poetry of Rudyard Kipling which I, I’ve still got the copy up there somewhere, that I had there. A big bulky copy of all Kipling’s poetry,
that sort of thing. Then, it seemed the German menace died down a bit, but then they got an idea that the Germans would come anyway, when they got the time. They developed a marvellous scheme whereby in these foothill things on the road the Germans would take if they were coming down there, they would develop a series of
forts on tops of hills, where troops would remain there. And when the Germans would pass through, we, or the troops that were in there, would sally forth from these like medieval knights and come and fall upon the rear of the Germans as they came, and create mayhem. And it was a brilliant idea, but it would have lasted about five minutes before they would have had their arses shot off. But,
I was then again given the task, I had my own platoon, two hundred labourers from the sweepings of Damascus would come out each day in trucks, and we were to build a road up to the top of one of these particular hills, so that the fort could be built, you see. And we were doing alright, you see, the fellows got to like it, it was good labouring work and they liked that, and the challenge of cutting a road with picks and shovels
up, and working, making a sort of gradient that a truck could eventually go up, we were making good progress up there. And a Druze sheikh had his house in the valley just close by there, so it was on his land really that we were doing this really, so I went over as soon as we got there one morning, made myself known, had coffee with him, he was a nice old gentleman. And we made do with a mixture
of my awful French and a few words of English that he had, and he gave me coffee and we used to talk, and I got into the habit of every day or so going over to see him and have a cup of coffee with him. But anyway, a colonel of the engineers turned up one day, “What the hell do you think you fellows are doing here?” I said, “We’re making a road up to the top, up there for the fort.” He said, “Where’s the
engineer soldier that I sent here to do this operation?” I said, “Oh there is a fellow, a nice young fellow too, he’s hanging about here.” He said, “What do you mean, you’re supposed to be merely supplying labour, and he’s supposed to direct the operation.” private soldier, you see. “Oh, my colonel told me to take charge of it and to get the job done.” So he stamped
off, and he said, “I’ll see about that.” But anyway, by the time we had another colonel, he and I didn’t get on very well, but at least he backed me up in that much, and he saw this other bloke off, so we kept on building the road. And then the snow started to fall and that was the end of it. As far as I know, the road is still three quarters built up to the top of the hill, and has never been occupied. Because we had to get back and then we had an encampment in the
hills area, and we got twelve feet of snow up in the Syrian foothills. So that a tent, an ordinary sized tent, there’d only be that much showing above the top.
it’s funny with our fellows. Of course, the Japanese had developed a reputation very quickly as being almost supernatural fighters, they’d cleaned up everybody that they had attacked. And they conquered the whole of the eastern portion of the British Empire in one hit, without any serious opposition. And so what our fellows used to say, if we could only get them in the
open, we’d clean them up in no time. And we understood, after the war we heard that the Japanese were saying, if we could only get these bloody Australians out in the open, we’d clean them up in no time, it’s very difficult in these, very restricted things. Because the Japanese Army had been trained, and had practiced in China, which has vast quantities, so they’d moved by divisions and corps and so on, they’d been at since 1931. So the Japanese Army was very
well trained and battle hardened and seasoned, but in those particular conditions, jungle warfare was really almost as new to them, except they’d anticipated and had trained their fellows, as it was to us. When they came down through Malaya and that sort of stuff, they came through territory that foolishly the British Army had declared impassable. And as they proved, there’s no such thing as an impassable area, somebody will always pass it if he is determined enough and is
prepared enough. So that was it, and our fellows found that they could match the Japanese at anything. And one thing they really were very good at, they had a very good discipline and ability to move by night. And what their tactics were, they knew we were pushing them back, it was to hold us up as much as they can, they knew they couldn’t advance again, because we were pressing them.
And they had a seventy five millimetre gun, which was a kind of an old mountain gun that you could take to pieces. And you know, you stuck a pole down through the barrel butt, and a couple of, I don’t think they, up there, I don’t think they had any natives to do that sort of work for them, they had to do it themselves. But they could fire that gun. Of course, firing along a narrow track like that, every time they fired it, they practically hit somebody,
which was a bit intimidating. But at night time, if they decided they were going to pull back, they were able to dismantle that gun, get it back, pull themselves out of positions, and in some cases they were only ten of fifteen yards away from our own blokes, and we’d never hear them. And in the morning, we used to have a little ritual, this was all the way up and down the hills over the Owen Stanleys, cause it was a track.
The mountains run lengthwise down the country, and we were moving sideways. So we weren’t moving along ridges as much, we were up and down, and up and down, and that sort of thing. And going downhills like that, is nearly worse than going up them, because your knees tremble and so on. We had a ritual each morning, when we were in contact with the Japanese, you know, we’d open up at dawn with a fusillade,
blast for a minute or so, firing into where we thought they were positioned, just like that. And then they used to fire back. So then we used to settle down for the routine of the day, that is probing around their flanks, and getting them to the stage where they reckoned that very shortly, they’d be cut off, and we could get in behind them, and they used to clear off. And if one morning they didn’t reply, the old brigadier, he was a, some of the company, battalion commanders were a bit
cautious, and they’d say, “My dear man, you know they’ve gone, now get up and get on with it.” And so the old brigadier, if they didn’t reply, up you got and march off, and they’d never, never fail, they never let us down once. In other words, they didn’t refuse to fire and then catch our blokes coming, they weren’t subtle enough for that for some reason or another. And that’s how the campaign went, up and down. But the
conditions and the privations and that, were something absolutely shocking. And we were losing men from battle casualties, because inevitably when you’re fighting as close as that, a lot of people were getting hit. And then they started to fall with malaria, and then they started, when we got over the worst of the mountains, with scrub typhus. Until we finally, anyway, pushed over the mountains and
down onto the plains at a place called Poppendatta, and then it was flat, running to the coast. And at that stage, we reckoned we had them on the run, we were overrunning their posts, we were going so fast, coming out of the hills, that we caught several of their posts by surprise and killed them. Because none of our troops by this stage, they had such a fanatical and ferocious hatred of the Japanese because they
ate some of our fellows, and our fellows never got over that.
keeps happening, and you sweat so badly, and somehow or other, a very offensive smell emanates from the body, I suppose it’s the unhealthy sweating and that sort of stuff that gives that out. And gradually you get weaker, and in some cases of course, it can end in death. In other cases, you have this and it passes off, if you get proper medicines it’ll
pass off. And then you’ll feel not so badly for a while, and then it’ll come again. Oddly enough, I was probably the healthiest man in the brigade right up until the end, because I never got malaria there, or at least didn’t ever show it. It wasn’t until I got out of New Guinea, that I came down with a particularly virulent form, I nearly died with it. It’s what they called malignant pericardial
malaria, it’s supposed to hit you very badly, but it doesn’t recur. But it hit me very badly and it did recur, because they learnt a lot about, they didn’t know much about malaria before that. And even worse than malaria was scrub typhus, a little mite used to come out of the bush and bite people. And it literally, once it got a hold, it used to turn men into like animals, they lost control, they lost
control of their bodily functions, and just, they were always completely soiled with faeces and stuff. And then they got terrific temperatures and mostly died. And when I finally got back into hospital at Moresby, I watched two of my friends, they got them back alright, but there they were, with all the
attention which was possible in Moresby at that time, and they just died. And so we lost lots of men like that, and we lost lots from casualties, too. The brigade, the worst part of it was right towards the end, we thought we would be able to walk straight through. I started to tell you that we, we were moving fast, and then we ran into a very strong series of roadblocks
across the track. And we were well down in numbers by this time, but the blokes by and large, you know, there were enough still on their feet and doing pretty well, and we thought we’d clean them up in no time, but in fact we didn’t. And so we wrestled around in this bloody swamp for days and ran into weeks, until finally out of the two thousand two hundred
men, I think it was that had started in my brigade, 16th Brigade, started across, I think there were a hundred and fifty left standing. And they were all mad with malaria, until they finally pulled them out in the early months of 1943, all this took place between September, September 1942 when we started off up the track. And January 1943, when they dragged us, well,
not me, because I’ve never, never ceased to be ashamed of it. But as I say, I was fit, always running about doing my job, and we were in the middle of a battle, you know what we call a battle, it would be very small scale, compared to something that we had before. But it was a battle nevertheless, because we were trained to dig these well dug-in Japs out of this place. And suddenly from being
the fittest man, I got a dreadful pain in the stomach, and I didn’t dare go near the doctor, because he was in a paddock there, with dead and dying all around him, trying to do his best for them. And there was a surgical team a couple of hundred yards down the track, with an operating table made out of bush poles and kerosene lamp and a tarpaulin stuck up over the bush poles, that was their operating theatre.
And a few days before a shell had landed on them and blown them to kingdom come. And this other team had only flown in two or three days before, but they’d had no sleep, because they were going twenty four hours a day, working on the casualties. But finally, towards the end of the day, the fighting died down, and I found the doc and he was out on his feet. And I said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got this frightful pain.”
and he said, “Where?” I said, you know, there, and I’m hunched over with this pain. And he sort of looked at me and he poked me in the belly and I yelled, and he said, “Oh, that’s acute appendix.” and wrote out a tag and hung it around my neck, he said, “Join the queue.” I joined the queue lined up for his surgical team, I got to the thing and the surgeon said, “Right-o, next.” and I came up and he looked at
me, “Acute appendix.” he said, “I haven’t done one of those for a couple of years, fix him up corporal.” And the corporal’s fixing up, lay me, stripped me off of the filth I was wearing, the clothes I was wearing, so I was naked, sloshed a bit of methylated spirits around on me, got a rag with some ether on it, plonked it over my face, and I woke up and they’d operated on me for appendicitis.
And the surgeon saw me afterwards, and he said, “Pretty acute, just as well you got to me in time, it was rather bad, but you’ll be alright.” But for years afterwards, if I ever went anywhere for an examination to a doctor, they’d look me over and say, “What the hell is that?” And I’d say, “That’s my appendix operation.” It was about that long, and these days, an appendix operation is about an inch, isn’t it, that you can hardly see. And actually, some years later I had to get it opened up, because lesions had
developed. But anyway, I got back to Poppendata and there was another story, once again, a casualty clearing station which is as near to hell as I can possibly imagine, dead and dying blokes, orderlies, I don’t know where they came from, but they were a disgrace. I was stuck in a tent for a start, with about eight others,
and there was one bloke died one morning and they never came, nobody ever came near the place, so they never got him out of their, until the following morning, he lay there dead all day amongst us. He was still on a stretcher, this only the second day, and they dragged me up to the edge of the airstrip with other, these were battle casualties, not appendixes, but they were pretty bad. A couple of American boys and couple of our own.
Near realised everybody had gone, we were all along on the edge of the airstrip, under this little bit of bashir they called it. And it was cause the Zeros were around, they used to come around now and again and shoot up the aerodrome. We thought we were going to get it because there was nothing else for them to shoot. But for some reason, they were over the other side, their attention. So when they had all gone, an orderly came back, and he didn’t apologise for having left us, he just shot through to find
somewhere out of harm’s way, and left us all there for dead. I remember one of the, he looked, he looked only about seventeen, one of the American kids, he’d had his leg, they’d amputated the bottom part of his leg. And while we were there waiting for the Zeros to come, he’d started to whimper. And the rest of us weren’t feeling all that bright, but in cheering him up and telling him it would be alright, it raised everybody else’s morale, so we all got him through that
particular crisis anyway.
I went down and the brigadier was a tall, dignified sort of fellow. And where he had a tin hat was festooned, it was sort of supposed to be camouflaged with some, what had started off as being green mosquito netting. Well by this time, it looked like nothing on God’s earth, it looked like some kind of demented birds nest, an inverted birds nest. So he cut a rather comical figure with his tin hat, and he was aware of it, he used to play on it a bit,
he was quite humorous. And we got to the place, and we stood there for half an hour, and then sort of the bushes parted and a little man in a soup bowl helmet pulled over his head, came out. And he recognised the brigadier’s rank, so he saluted very smartly, and said, “Major Barnes, Sir.” of the 126 United States Regiment. And the colonel said, and he put on his best English accent, “Well you’re
very welcome indeed, and we welcome you, and we look forward to co-operating with you and we hope we can bring this to a very good conclusion.” And he said, “Thank you, sir.” And he said, “Williams here will show you.” you know, “Where the situ is, and put you in, and he’ll keep you in touch with me at all times, so I’ll say goodbye.” “Well” he said, “Colonel, we sure have walked a long way, and we ain’t burnt no party yet, so the boys are all raring to go.” And, “I’m glad to hear it”
and off he went, you see. And so they file out, they were good looking young fellows, tall, not like our blokes, buggered, they were in pretty. Because they’d walked off their fat, puppy fat, getting there and they looked pretty good. And I thought oh good, we’re going to get some action here. And then the commander I think, Colonel Tomlinson, he came out and he greeted me quite effusively. And we got to where
they’d laid out a place where they could, sort of thing….. And I told him where we were and what we were doing and that sort of stuff, and what we were up against. And I said, “What are your immediate plans, Colonel?” He said, “Well, I guess we’ll attack.” I said, “When?” He said, “Nothing like now is there, we’ll attack.”
And if you know anything about it, a brigade attack is a fairly complex military business, and there are orders and plans and contingencies, and maps that have to, sketch maps and all that sort of stuff. So I gallop back to our brigadier, and I said, “He’s going to attack.” And the Colonel said, “That’s very nice indeed, when?” I said, “Right away.” He said, “Tell me more.”
I said, “Well, he’s going to send one lot round to the left and one lot round to the right, and he’s going to squeeze them in, and that’ll get rid of them.” “Dear me.” the brigadier said, “That will be very interesting.” So sure enough, the old colonel got his men together, and made a rousing speech about these Australians and done very well, and they’d lost so many casualties and they couldn’t finish the job, so we’re going to finish the job.
“And Betke, you’ll take the battalion around to the left, and I want you to keep in touch with your radio, and when you get to this particular point, when you’re behind the roadblock, you’ll radio me, and Bond, you move around to the right and be ready to follow up on the success when they squeeze them.” So I galloped back to the brigadier and told him the plan, and as I say, the old brigadier was half mad with malaria by this time,
so he regarded it as the greatest joke of all time. But anyway, Major Betke who was commanding this battalion, he moved off to the left alright, and he, oh it must have been nine o’clock in the morning, perhaps ten by this time, by the time they’d come, and they disappeared off, you see. They reckoned, he reckoned, oh he should do that in a couple of hours, but I knew better than that, because I knew the terrain and it took you an hour sometimes to go a
mile in that country, in scrub and swamp. But anyway, then no word from them. The poor old colonel is pacing up and down, “I should have heard from them.” And anyway, they got a message through on the radio, and he calculated he was in such and such a place where he was in behind the enemy. And he was waiting to hear from the other battalion so they could commence their operations. So off
I trotted to the brigadier again. He said, “I think that sounds fairly unlikely.” I said, “Well, that’s what he reckons.” But the major didn’t know where he was, because nobody knew where they were in that scrub. So we teamed up an idea where we’d get a fix on them, and we took from two separate points, we organised over the radio, backwards and forwards, all in and out, and it actually worked for once. That he’d fire a Verey [flare] pistol, and our two people
at a particular time, would take bearings on it, and by getting the angles, they’d make a fix, you see. So we did that and I looked at it, and I trotted off to the brigadier and he didn’t believe it, and the old colonel said, “It must be wrong, it must be wrong, son, they can’t possibly be there.” So the people agreed to do the whole operation again, fired the Verey pistol, take the thing, the same
result came up. And they were about two hundred yards from where they’d started. And it appeared they’d walked all these hours and all these swamps through, and they’d come around in a circle alright, but they’d finished up almost where they started. And I’ll pay for this, the little fellow called Captain Boyce, he was their intelligence officer. “Well son, if they’re there, there’s only one way to find out, colonel.” and he picked up his tin hat and he
dived off into the scrub. He came back about half an hour later, he said, “That’s where they are alright.” and that’s where they were. And that was the pattern, they kept sending groups and, groups would land up without their officers, and we found. And the old colonel he was raging around like a lion, you know, kicking privates in the bum and telling them to get up where their platoon was, because “The war is up that a way, don’t hang about in here!” And it just
finished up as a complete and utter shambles. It was my friend, after I got carted out, my friend Bruce McDougall, he had the job, my job for a couple of weeks, and he was more forthright than I am, and he just told them, they were hopeless, untrained lot of, and he told that to the American general. And they tried to smarten them up, but I don’t think the 126 Regiment of the 32 US Div, I don’t think there were any particular commendations, they just vanished into the mist, having achieved
nothing. That’s one example of their ineptitude.
when it finally came, they suffered very badly in the last campaign at Wewak, because they were carrying the weight of the whole battalion operation. And some of the younger troops they had to work with weren’t as keen about the war as they had been. But not bad, not bad. I mean they did the job and did it very well, but it was a pointless job. But earlier, I was on leave and
this business came around about nominating somebody to be part of this, and it had to be one infantry officer from 6th Division, at least anyway. And there were so many artillery officers and an engineer and all that sort of stuff. It was my mate Bruce McDougall who was talking to the colonel when this came up, he said, “Oh, I might send old Dennis, he’d like that, he’d be good at that.” sort of thing. And they couldn’t think of anybody
any better, so my name went forward, this is as far as I know it. Your idea about somebody else had been nominated and got wounded or something, I don’t know anything about that. But anyway, I reported back from leave and they said I had to go and see major somebody or other at the depot, you know, in the showground. “What for?” And I couldn’t imagine that I’d been having a
sort of gay run around the park with a group of ladies, of which his wife was one of them. And I thought holy smoke, I hope I’m not going to be pistols for two when I meet this bloke. He turned out to be a very charming, a very nice man, nothing of that at all. He said, “You’ve got to report to Melbourne and you’re going on some kind of a jaunt to India.” I said, “That sounds great.” so that’s all he could tell me, he didn’t know anymore about it.
So I got my leave pass, got on the train and went to Melbourne, and sure enough, they told us. That the story was a group of Indian Army officers, British officers in the Indian Army, had been sent over earlier on to a 9th Division group in New Guinea, to see what Australians were doing about jungle warfare tactics. And they were very impressed with the reception they
got and what they saw. And they went back, and loud in their praises of, because they were just put to join Australian units, and naturally were with them on a full time basis and in whatever actions were going and that sort of thing, and they appreciated it. And so the Indian Army sort of retaliated by issuing an invitation to a group of Australian officers, I think it was twenty, to come
at the invitation of the Indian Army. And we thought we were going to be the same thing, we were just going to be attached to units in the Indian Army, and do the fighting for whatever length of time it was. But we found we were going to do that too, and we did it, but that was a minor portion of the thing. What really we were there, we were treated as honoured as guests, and given a five star tourist view of India, and the Indian Army that was unrepeatable
cause the Raj collapsed shortly after that. And so I’m one of the last persons to see the Raj in action, and we were in places like up in the northwest frontier, through Fort, what is it, Jamrood, the ones that they used in the ‘Lives of the Bengal Lancer’. And up to, the what do you call it, Ninetytal[?], and Darradoon, the headquarters of the
Ghurkha groups. Went to Darjeeling and saw Kanchenjunga in all its glorious beauty out of the window. And went to Calcutta, we went to Bombay, we went to Madras and we went to Utagamoond. And we went to the Palace of the Rajah of Mysore and looked through all his gorgeous apartments, and even because there was nobody in residence at that time, they showed us through the harem
and the stables with magnificent horses, Irish Hunters. I’ve never seen one like that; I’ve never seen a horse like it before in my life or since. And you know, I stayed at the vice royal palace for two nights and dined at the vice royal table. And in the meantime, we got in and the army, got up at Kalahart and what’s the other big battle, I’ve
forgot. And it stopped the final Japanese advance into India, anyway and then they started on the track down to Mandalay, and that’s where we went with them. And very similar, a bit slower than our stuff in Owen Stanleys, except that the country wasn’t so bad. And they were able to move in larger formations and that sort of stuff. And the landing at Akiab on the other coast, which did
enough to convince us that we weren’t complete drones and tourists, that we actually saw the war. We’d done some, at the Akiab, it was supposed to be a famous battle there, and it was going to be a combined operation sort of thing, and landing craft. And they scrounged up, they managed to scrounge up some landing craft and I was with a battalion of Punjabi Muslim men at that time. And the
English company commander said, “Do you know anything about that landing craft stuff?” And I said, “Oh yes, we did extensive training on that while we at.” He said, “How do you got about it?” so he got all his officers, and I gave them a bit of a lecture and a rundown of how you run combined, how you loaded a thing and how you unloaded. And I absolutely, I made quite sure and it was some, he looked about sixteen, he was in the Royal
Indian Navy, he was the driver of our particular one. I said, “Make sure that when we’re getting close to the other side, he gives it the gun and runs it up on the beach, and then flops the front down, and we can all rush out.” Because we really did expect to find stiff opposition, tough and go sort of thing. Until we got three quarters of the way across, and a canoe thing came out and a gentleman in a bright striped blazer sitting the back, got up
and yelled and hollered and said that the Japanese had gone, and please don’t blow up the place. So that, one of the blokes said, “You never know, we started this operation, so we’ll finish it.” So off we went and anyway, the bloke hammered into this Indian kid that he had to run it up the beach, so what did the Indian kid do, he lost his nerve at the last minute, and he cut the engine when we were still, I suppose about ten or fifteen yards from the shore. And the front went down
and the troops, up to their necks in. Well fortunately nobody was drowned, the water wasn’t quite deep enough, cause they would have drowned with all their packs and stuff on. So we straggled ashore, and I said if there had been any Japs there, they’d have potted us like rabbits on the way up. But the Japs really had gone. So that was the famous landing at Akiab that got in the newspapers as a great victory.
and the crew was special too, all tall blonde handsome men. And the second in command was the first mate, should have had his captain’s rank on another ship, but of course, Norway being overrun by the Germans, so this ship had got away from them and joined the British, and so they kept their ship’s company exactly as it was. So it was a highly professional and very efficient,
and men of, I think, very good character and they seemed a bit up market really, for ordinary sailor men, but that’s an impression we had of these Norwegian blokes. But the captain was a very philosophical bloke, he said the ship before us had been torpedoed and lost with all hands.
and I said, “What about submarines and stuff?” and he said, “We can run fast, we can outrun them.” And I think we were two days out, and we came into where we were sitting around doing something. And he said, “Would you like gentlemen to see my fireworks?” We said, “Oh yes, Captain.” So we all trooped up and he pointed up, I’ve never seen anything like that. Because the boilers had needed a cleaning or whatever it was, or needed new gaskets or whatever they do. There was a flame,
thirty feet high coming out of the funnel, that you could have seen from sixty miles away. So any Japanese submarine anywhere within fifty miles could have seen this and converged on us. But the old captain was quite imperturbable, he said, “Unless one is directly in front, we can out run it, so do not let us worry, it has served us well so far, so we will be alright.” And anyway, so we rolled down to Colombo, and you know,
did the usual thing, very, only accommodation for twelve, I think it was, and there were ten of us, so there was a spare cabin. Best sort of cargo ship, passenger accommodation, I don’t know whether they still have it, can you still get accommodation on a cargo ship to go between places, there? I don’t know, but anyway, it was excellent. And we thought we’d earned it, after our privations of the war, going back. Anyway, we pulled into Colombo,
and we’re hanging over the side on the rails, and a boat came out and it had a naval officer and a woman, a WRAN officer, who you recognised from that tiddly hat they used to wear, marvellous sort of hat. That. That was the ancestor of all these womens’ forces hats they have these days, you know. Tall, blonde girl and of course,
the lads were all interested and hanging over the rail watching. And she had to come up a sort of a ladder to come on the place, under this concentrated gaze of a whole lot of lustful Australians. And we thought the naval officer was coming too, but he was only seeing her off and putting her on the ship. So there she was, one woman on a one, a ship with an entirely male
thing and ten Australian officer passengers. And they all, as they felt was their due right, they all had a test of her virtue and in the long run, I was the one that got the ball, because I made a rod for my own back of course, up in the bow of the ship going through the tropics and singing love songs under the moonlight
you know, a man only has himself to blame for that sort of thing. When we got back to Sydney, we got married and the word went out, so that I had to go back, I had to rejoin the battalion, I don’t know why the urgency, I don’t know why at that stage of things. Because the campaign was well under way, and I probably couldn’t have got there in time to make much of an impact on it anyway, but we had a weekend, sort of thing, and then I went off to New Guinea.
But the Wewak campaign as we called it, was pretty well over by the time I got there, I took up my job as the company commander. And we were up after the major battles, we had to engage in chasing down odd Japanese units, and we climbed up the mountains and looking down over the Sepik, and we should have left. What should have happened is that those odd Japanese units should have been left there to rot,
they wouldn’t have caused any trouble. But politics meant that they had to say that the Australian forces were engaged in this type of warfare and doing that sort of thing. So we were up there, and the next day we were going to have to advance. And there was a post there, for what I knew about the Japanese, by this time was considerable, that the forward scout would get shot. And I somehow tried to work out a scheme of doing it, so that wasn’t the inevitable,
because the distance wasn’t too great. You see, it’s a lottery, if you’re going to say you’re going to be marching for two hours or something, and you can say you change the forward scout every half an hour, there’s a possibility that you know, it’s, anybody could draw the short straw. But in this case, they were only less than two hundred yards down the track, so somebody was going to get shot in very short order. And I was agonising about this, how I’d work it. And a message came over the telephone,
“Don’t advance, don’t do anything, don’t advance tomorrow, get further instructions later.” So that was a reprieve. There were rumours going around about the war, and it came over the blower that the Americans had dropped a bloody great bomb on Japan, and we were to sit and hold our water and wait for developments. And sure enough, a couple of days later, they said they’d
dropped another ruddy great bomb. And shortly after that, word came over the wire that it’s all over, the Japanese have tossed it in. And you know, we saw pictures later on of wildly cheering crowds in Piccadilly Circus and also in Sydney and stuff, and we sat up there after six years, and I went around the said to the blokes, “Well it’s all over, they tossed it in.”
And there was no excitement, no feeling of elation or anything at all, we’d been at it so long, that the end seemed an anti-climax. So we left the Japs where they were, and clambered back down the hill, and sat around by the beach at Wewak and waited for the organization to start getting the troops home again. And that’s what happened. And in dribs and drabs,
of course I discovered it was a diabolical plot, amongst some of my dear fellow officers in my brigade. That they would all skun off and organise that they’d have me left to command what was left of the battalion, while they cleared off home, you see. So I went down and nosed around the wharf, and I found the bloke that I knew who had to fill out the form,
who was going to get on one ship. And I said, “Can you put my name on that list?” and he said, “Yes, no trouble.” So he put my name on the list and I didn’t tell anybody. So I said, “When is she going?” and he said, “The day after tomorrow.” So on that morning, I had my pack all packed and my suitcase, no I didn’t have a suitcase, I had my kit bag and my back pack. And I said, walked in and said, “Well I’m on such and such a thing.” and signed whatever had to be signed, and left them with their mouths open, and I went and got on the ship and left them
all to it. But they followed me then, and in the matter of a week or two, but I wasn’t going to be diddled like that. So I got home and reported and in a very few days, 24th of October, no 16th of October, I got formally discharged and became a civilian again.