Thomas Dickson
Archive number: 1913
Date interviewed: 02 July, 2004

Served with:

2/13th Field Company
Originally 6th then 9th Division
Thomas Dickson 1913

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:37:00

Okay Tom, can you give us a brief overview of your life thus far?
I was born on the 4th of August 1920 at Brisbane at Woolloongabba actually,

01:01:00:00

the Five Ways and my mother’s name was Willis my father’s name was John Macintosh Dickson and we moved when I was one to Greenslopes just close to where the

01:01:30:00

present military hospital is. And I had two elder sisters and two younger brothers. Well the two younger brothers were born at Greenslopes. I went to Greenslopes State School, I think my next sister to me

01:02:00:00

was only eleven months older than I. Her birthday was in July and I think because she was starting school at five I started with her so I was probably four and a half. And then I went through the school, Greenslopes State school,

01:02:30:00

played football and cricket for them, with them and then I sat for scholarship in 1933 the end of 1933. I passed scholarship; I got fifty one point two percent. We sat at the

01:03:00:00

East Brisbane State School that they held the State scholarships exam in those days. And then dad allowed me to go to the Industrial High School

01:03:30:00

for, I went to the Industrial for about eight months and then I applied for a job and started work as an apprentice in October 1934.

01:04:00:00

I think that makes sense.
So you were fourteen?
I was fourteen, yes. And then coming up to the time I joined the army I managed to, I did, it was a five year apprenticeship and I did two nights a week college

01:04:30:00

and one half day a week at the college doing practical work and I earned, the first year I earned thirteen and a penny a week which is not unusual it was good money for a fourteen year old in those days. I think I started

01:05:00:00

with them on the 23rd of October. I’m not sure of that but, and when war was declared on September the 3rd, 1939 I was still an apprenticeship in 5th year and I had to start,

01:05:30:00

I had to sit for my final exam and my tickets in November. Now either I had to miss my exams or I went in the army. I tried to get into the army but I couldn’t because then I was very

01:06:00:00

youthful in looks and I wasn’t very big either and so that you know I couldn’t just disclose my age really and I went to Kelvin Grove at the last resort. Kelvin Grove Depot, military depot, and the

01:06:30:00

lieutenant, Lieutenant Lissett in those days was I knew actually because he worked with the Electricity Commission and they had contact with the people I worked for and so he knew me and not well but he

01:07:00:00

knew of me and he said, “Well how old are you?” and I said, “I’m twenty years of age.” He said, “Alright, when were you born?” and I said, “The 4th of August 1920.” And that gave me away really because

01:07:30:00

he was quite, he was a young man and he was quite quick. He said, “Well you take this letter home, this form home and have it signed by your father and we’ll accept you but we must have your father’s signature.” My father worked in the Government

01:08:00:00

Printing Office so I went down straight away and he signed it for me and I took it back and that made Lieutenant German quite happy and so he said, “Look you still have your fifth year exams to go and your ticket exams to go in

01:08:30:00

November. I said, “Yes” he said “Well, if you come to my unit I’ll give you leave to go and sit, sit for your ticket exams.” I said, “Good, good.” But I had to shift; I had to move from the depot companies to his company

01:09:00:00

which he formed as he came in November. That’s the first thing he did was give me a leave pass to go and sit for my exams. So, that was a company which was called the 2/1st Field Park Company. Now the Field Park Companies remained

01:09:30:00

in the army but as we got through into 1940 they built our company up to field company strength and we were changed to field engineers, the 2/3rd Field Engineers.

01:10:00:00

The, from here I, do I go to when we boarded ship and so forth?
Well just tell us briefly your first trip overseas not into the detail but where you went to and when you came back?
Good, well we left Queensland and went to Liverpool,

01:10:30:00

Raymond Terrace, Liverpool, Ingleburn different camps and then we sailed from Sydney on the Mauritania on the 5th of May 1940 and then we picked up a ship the Empress of Britain

01:11:00:00

and I think the Empress of Canada as we passed Melbourne we didn’t go into Melbourne but we did go into Fremantle and we were joined by the Queen Mary I think maybe the Queen Mary joined us at Melbourne and we picked

01:11:30:00

up another ship the Andes and that convoy was to pull in at Colombo to refuel. But at that time, this would be in May 1940 Italy came into the war somewhere about that time and we

01:12:00:00

switched courses and went to Cape Town. The idea was that we go to France. This didn’t happen really but we had leave in Cape Town and then we went on and pulled into Freetown at Sierra Leone and we didn’t get off ship

01:12:30:00

but we landed in Scotland at Greenoch – and I, stop now – can you stop the…
Yes we can stop for a minute. Okay.
We landed in Scotland at Greenoch and went, I think we stayed there for probably a day on the

01:13:00:00

Clyde on the ship and then we were transferred to the rail and we travelled from Greenoch I think it was that we went ashore and we travelled straight down to Salisbury Plains. In Salisbury Plains we, we were camped at

01:13:30:00

Tidworth and moved across to Ludgershall and spent the time trenching and building machine gun posts and one thing and another because the boys were just coming back from

01:14:00:00

Dunkirk. And so some of them were coming into those camps and wherever you know. They did expect Germany to attack of course but they didn’t and we stayed there in England until November

01:14:30:00

and the Battle of Britain had been decided maybe and the, they decided to move us. I think General Tom Blamey wanted the rest of his of his 6th Division back in Palestine because

01:15:00:00

the Italians had attacked in Egypt and at that time Italy, as you probably know, had a mandate over Libya which they gained because of their being an ally of Britain during the 1st World War and

01:15:30:00

they built Tobruk really as a port and as a defensive position and however we boarded the Renodel Pacifico in, in Liverpool I think it was the 7th of March 1940 and it was

01:16:00:00

only a small ship I think it was about ten thousand tonner and we travelled back down round the Cape we didn’t call into Cape Town we called into Durban and had a leave here in Durban and then the convoy continued on to

01:16:30:00

the Suez, Suez Canal and we went into a camp called Ingleburn, not Ingleburn I’m sorry, never mind I forget the name but the – and then we joined the 6th Division and we went up the Desert. The 6th Division attacked

01:17:00:00

with the British Army and but the 6th Division did most of the attacking of the Italians as infantry and took a number of places as you know Bardia and I think they took about thirty thousand or forty thousand prisoners there and then Tobruk and about the same number

01:17:30:00

and then we went on to Derna and we stopped at Derna for a brief period while the rest of the Division went on and took Barce and were pushing on towards Benghazi. I was sent with

01:18:00:00

two other men to Appolonia and with a company of the 1st Australian Battalion of the 6th Division. They, we met them at Cyrene and went down into

01:18:30:00

Appolonia we had to footed – walk down of course because Italians had blown the escarpment down into Appolonia. They had tried to destroy the power station and they had left in a hurry. We were able to

01:19:00:00

get the power station working again that’s why we were sent down to there. They had, they had attacked the diesels driving the sets and also attacked the DC [direct current] generators on the alternator

01:19:30:00

plants and so forth and we repaired them and got it working again. They were going to move the headquarters up to Cyrene which was on the main down the road to Benghazi. I don’t know whether they did or not but when we had finished there we moved on to Barce

01:20:00:00

to the power station there and on to Agheila. From there I was brought back to Barce and there was a POW [prisoners of war] camp at Barce full of Italian soldiers and we worked

01:20:30:00

with them on their tank mines, their mines. The mines are about three feet long and they were easy to repair and so forth and we, they did the work and we supervised it although they knew more about the

01:21:00:00

mines than we did at that stage and we used them because we didn’t have mines, tank mines.
Tom, I’m just going to stop you there for a second.
Pardon?
We stopped and you were still in the Middle East and this is when the Italians were blowing up the diesel and the tanks and what have you…
No we were repairing

01:21:30:00

tank mines at Barce.
Right, and then after that…
Is it on now?
Yes, it is, and then after repairing the tank mines at Barce you went home?
No, no, no, no, we’re along way from home yet. Then, Rommel came into the business then and he attacked and we had to

01:22:00:00

move. We set up a minefield across the, between Barce and Benghazi to stop the Derna Road being used as transport for him and the idea was that we blow the road there, they had blown

01:22:30:00

the road further back from El Agheila back to Benghazi and what damage they did in Benghazi I don’t know I wasn’t there I was in Barce. And then we, we lost, we had our first casualty at

01:23:00:00

that minefield the, what happened our sapper was placing the mines across the road and moved them back to let trucks pass and then unfortunately

01:23:30:00

one of the trucks passed one that was, he hadn’t move back, far enough back out of the way or something like that so we had our first casualty there and then we had, we blew a bridge at Maddalena which was between Barce and Cyrene.

01:24:00:00

Cyrene was a, there was a big American business going on there. There was an old amphitheatre there went back to the days, well who knows how long back. We gathered there, our unit all came together there

01:24:30:00

and it was decided that they’d go down and blow Barce, not Barce, Appollonia. We had blown Barce as we left it. Then there was two trucks out, there was one out over the Barce Pass and one on the Derna Road well

01:25:00:00

I wasn’t to go down to Barce some of our other companies went through Barce and through the desert. We went back along the, we sent men down to

01:25:30:00

Apollonia to blow it and then continued on to Derna. Now we didn’t enter Derna because there was a Red Cap, America – British Police

01:26:00:00

Red Cap on the road. It turned out he was not a Red Cap he was a, apparently a German who had got through from the tanks, see the tanks were well below us in the desert and they weren’t using the road necessarily and they were trying to go right round

01:26:30:00

us and take Derna, Tobruk and whatever you know. They did attack the group that came through Mechili in the desert and we lost one of our other companies lost some men there in Mechili and

01:27:00:00

there was a British 18th Mountain Brigade they call them, they were originally horse mounted in India, they were all Indian troops and they were you might say mauled by the

01:27:30:00

tanks. However but they got back to Tobruk and we tried to come, we were turned off the road by the Red Cap, so called Red Cap, and we were going to bed down because by this time it was all hours of the morning. We were going to stop and have a blow but anyway

01:28:00:00

we decide we would carry on to Gazala and there was a, the German tanks did come into to Gazala and, but they weren’t strong enough to affect us and we moved on to Tobruk. And

01:28:30:00

well…
Tom, now you said that you moved to Greenslopes when you were one and Greenslopes then was rural you were saying off camera before, that it was actually a rural area?
My father, see the house that I was born in at

01:29:00:00

Woolloongabba belonged to my grandfather and my father was paying rent for it and that’s where I was born but we moved to Greenslopes when I was one in my first year anyway because he had managed to get a war service home. That area where we moved to were all war service

01:29:30:00

home, First World War service homes. We were the last house in Peach Street, Greenslopes on a place called Stephens Hill and then there was a bare paddock right over the Kingfisher Creek and it was

01:30:00:00

all dairy farms around there, dairy farms on both sides of the creek. And Chinese gardens right on the creek so it was pretty rural, yes. There were on the same line of the houses in a street that was named but wasn’t built really

01:30:30:00

was Nudagate Street and very few, well there were very few cars came there in those days and there was a dairy farm belonging to people called Jefferies only oh half a dozen houses from, up from where we lived or down and up the other side of the valley from where lived. So yes, it was rural.

01:31:00:00

What was some of the things that you would do as a child, I mean were you given chores to look, to do when you were at home?
Well I was only one year of age when I got there but as my brothers, brother both brothers were younger than I but as a

01:31:30:00

child growing up yes I, I could earn myself a ride on a horse or have the horse for a weekend from the one of the dairies by looking after their, they had arranged that they could run their herds out at different times

01:32:00:00

on to where the Greenslopes hospital is today. So as a youngster you know you’d get, I’d could get, you wouldn’t get paid for it but there’d be some benefit that maybe a quart of milk or you know a ride on a horse or something like that.
This was the Depression era

01:32:30:00

wasn’t it?
The Depression started in serious 1929 I think and yes it, we, the war service home, we had no water reticulated and we had a one thousand gallon tank

01:33:00:00

we had, there were five children in our family and I can’t ever remember my father having to buy water and but we all bathed in the same water and we did get a hot bath

01:33:30:00

after Monday because my mother always washed on Monday and she had a wood stove underneath the copper. Underneath now, that water was boiled for boiler clothes and so forth and that water was kept it wasn’t thrown out that put a bath on for us of a night time

01:34:00:00

upstairs. And…
In the dirty clothes water?
It was soapy water. Yeah well that’s what we bathed in and the whole family bathed in it, not together, but yes everybody used the same water.
Isn’t that interesting that you said that you father never had to buy water because at the moment the Government

01:34:30:00

is trying to impose new rules on water where we will have to buy our own personal drinking water right now.
I think Sydney’s in the worst situation isn’t it, I’m not sure of that but yeah well most people have reticulated water don’t they from the water supply but we seemed to survive alright on a thousand gallon tank. And

01:35:00:00

every house was the same.
How would they buy water though, would somebody from the government or the City Council come by with some with water tanks and you’d purchase some?
I don’t think the councils would’ve been involved in that sort of thing in those days I’d never heard of it I don’t know that anybody bought water but today

01:35:30:00

they do even here in Caboolture people buy water when it gets short if they haven’t got, if they’re on tank water. We don’t have water from the council here. We’re on, but we’ve got a fourteen thousand gallon tank and we don’t run out of water.
So tell us about just growing up in that area and going to

01:36:00:00

school. Was it like a country school?
Yes it was and walked to school and I never had a pair of shoes until I passed scholarship and I had to go in the tram into town, into Brisbane, to the Industrial Higher School down at the end of George Street.

01:36:30:00

And the… we’d get a, by tram from Greenslopes and we’d get a weekly ticket and I can’t remember just how much it was but it wasn’t very much you could get one penny tickets

01:37:00:00

and when we played football for the school I’d be eleven or twelve I suppose, thirteen, and if we went to play say Morningside which was cross country we’d, we’d be able to walk home but we’d leave the school and we’d have to have our

01:37:30:00

concession ticket it was a penny down to Woolloongabba and another penny up to, and a penny was twelve pennies in a shilling as I started work in 1934 and I was getting thirteen and a penny

01:38:00:00

a week and that was a good wage.
When you said going on the trams, how would you get, would you catch a train from Greenslopes into the city?
Going to play football yes. The tram line at, when I went to school in Greenslopes the tram line stopped at Greenslopes.

01:38:30:00

It went up a road called Chatsworth Road that was the terminus but then they, I think just as I was leaving school they extended that tram line out to Holland Park well eventually they extended it right out to Mount Gravatt and the tram line and then the pulled

01:39:00:00

all the trams up. I think they did that after the war.
Would you have to stand up because you were a student?
Yes well walking from where I lived in Greenslopes, in Peach Street, we’d walk down to Logan Road and

01:39:30:00

the tram would be probably full but you, if there was an adult, you wouldn’t take a seat if an adult was standing. It’s just the way it was. Yes we quite often stood.
Okay Tom we’ll have to change tapes because we’re running out.
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 02

02:00:32:00

Yeah we were just talking about things but you said footie, like what code of footie did you play?
Rugby League.
What position?
Winger and centre.
Were you good?
No, I didn’t break any records. But I managed to get into the

02:01:00:00

team and we only, at Greenslopes school we only had one team and then when I played, I went to the Industrial High School for eight months, had a football team there and I got a game with them. Actually

02:01:30:00

the teacher that was our coach at Greenslopes School was transferred at the same time to Industrial High School so I was a little bit lucky there I think to get in the team. But on played for the one, see I was only there for, till October.

02:02:00:00

You mentioned the Industrial High School, tell us what you had to do to get into this high school?
You needed a scholarship from the State school and how do you mean get into it, enrolled?
Yeah, well that you’re kind of going along the right track there with you needed a scholarship…
Yeah

02:02:30:00

the, I don’t know who paid for it, the Government paid for it I think, the fact that I had won a scholarship at a State school gave me the right to go to, to high, to the Industrial High School. I didn’t have to pay for it as I remember, I don’t think so.
Well how did you win your

02:03:00:00

scholarship, what did you, what skills did you have or what did you have to do to?
Well there was four subjects, there was English, Arithmetic we called it in those days not mathematics, arithmetic, English, geography and history. And the scholarship examination dealt with the four subjects. There was a paper for each

02:03:30:00

subject and you had to get fifty percent to pass it. Now there was no one way or the other you had to get fifty or above. So, and I managed to get fifty one point two percent. I don’t know, I can’t remember what I got for the

02:04:00:00

individual subjects but I think my geography wasn’t good and my history wasn’t good so I think the other two subjects may have pulled me through somehow. Only just, so…
And what was your parents’ kind of reaction to you getting this scholarship?
My,

02:04:30:00

my mother arranged to buy a bike for me, I didn’t have a bike and arranged a bike. She bought a Scout bicycle, Scout bicycles were quite popular in those days. Named Scout which was handy for me. And it meant that

02:05:00:00

when I did start work I used to ride the bike into Brisbane and back to work would save me tram fare. There were, my mother died the next year and in 19… now I can’t count properly,

02:05:30:00

when I was fifteen anyway she died and I was still going into, into Albert Street we had the workshop then. The first workshop that I was apprenticed to was in Bernard Lane, Bernard Lane is still there runs from George Street, from Albert Street to George Street

02:06:00:00

between Queen Street and Adelaide Street and I think Bernard Lane is still there. The first shop they had, Hammil and Pas had, was in Bernard Lane and then the next year which would’ve been 1935 they moved to

02:06:30:00

just opposite the T and G Building on the corner of Queen and Albert next door to George Shaw’s Sports Shop, just down from Queen Street. It was an old butcher’s shop an

02:07:00:00

but there was a laneway between, up along George Shaw’s shop and we could get large motors up around the back into the back portion of the shop. It was a lot of hard work because there were concrete steps coming down into the same level as the bottom floor of the building. The following year after twelve months or so there they moved down to

02:07:30:00

Charlotte Street. Charlotte Street is the next one from Queen Street, there’s Elizabeth Street and Charlotte Street and so it was just down the road and around the corner between Albert Street and George Street. There was quite, quite a few electrical repair

02:08:00:00

shops in that area. There was in Elizabeth Street there were electrical repair company, George Gilbert and Son, George Gilbert and Company and there were other shops like W.E. Peterman and T. Tonks and Company which dealt with electrical repair

02:08:30:00

materials and so forth. It was more an industrial area than it is today of course.
What was the city like as a place? Like what was Brisbane, the centre of the city like?
Well the trams ran down Queen Street of course. The tram line ran from

02:09:00:00

every suburb into Queen Street and there was also a tram line that ran along Elizabeth St but it wasn’t – and Adelaide Street mainly. The one in Adelaide Street continued along until they pulled the trams out altogether I think. The Adelaide Street tram line

02:09:30:00

ran out to the northern suburbs and out as far as, eventually out as far as Tumeside. Whereas the Queen Street tram line ran out to West End, across the river, across the Victoria Bridge and ran out to West End and Stanley Street and Morningside and

02:10:00:00

Greenslopes and so forth.
Was it an exciting place in Brisbane?
Well I was in my teens and everything is exciting in your teens isn’t it. I think we enjoyed life just as much as teenage people enjoy the town now. I don’t think there was any

02:10:30:00

difference.
As a teenager enjoying life did you hook up with any girls? Did you have a girlfriend or?
Well you’ve been a teenager, of course that was so. As a teenager both my sisters and I danced and I had friends

02:11:00:00

male friends that danced to you know and we used to go in a, in company into Brisbane. There was a dance hall in Elizabeth Street the Caledonian Club. There was the Trocadero which was on the south side of the river very, very popular in Melbourne Street not far from the

02:11:30:00

river. And then there was another dance hall down at the end of Adelaide Street just across Wickham Street which was very popular and old time dancing and modern as they called it then dancing and the Jazz Waltz and so forth

02:12:00:00

was called modern dancing but it was all old time dancing I suppose you’d call it. Very popular, and of course yes, we met girls, yeah.
What was your approach?
Pardon?
What was your approach?
I enjoyed them, oh yes. Didn’t you? Don’t you? That hasn’t change at all

02:12:30:00

I don’t think. There’s no changes there.
What was your method of talking to them or getting to meet them?
Oh I’m not going to give away secrets like that. That’s something you’ve got to learn for yourself.
I was just after some tips?
I did have a couple of girlfriends but

02:13:00:00

strangely enough they didn’t dance but there was always, well I had two sisters that danced and we went to dances every Saturday night anyway. And, there was another dance hall down in

02:13:30:00

George Street the Druiders was quite a popular dancehall and there was the Blind Deaf and Dumb Institute had a dancehall for all combined in Vulture Street in South Brisbane. Dancing was very popular in the outer suburbs at Kenmore and the,

02:14:00:00

well at Caboolture like we have a hall here every outer district, and the rural districts had a hall, and dances were held there every, once a week I would say. So…
What dances were you particularly good at?
All of them. No, the

02:14:30:00

only modern dancing that I ever did was the Jazz Waltz and, I can’t think of the other one, the quickstep, but it was mainly all, in my lifetime, my dancing lifetime, I didn’t dance after the war. I didn’t dance during the war either very much of course but it was up until I was nineteen

02:15:00:00

I enjoyed dancing, yeah.
And you mentioned that the girls you saw didn’t dance. The girlfriends you had weren’t dancers how did you meet them?
I’m not going to tell you all of these, it won’t affect me now will it. Oh…

02:15:30:00

well I didn’t spend much time, I don’t know really where I met – oh yes one of them I met at skating. There was a, just on the south side of Victoria Bridge there was a dancehall called the Blue Moon it was right on the river but they eventually

02:16:00:00

turned it into a skating rink. I met two girlfriends there, yeah. I didn’t have them very long most of them. But then it was you know they weren’t close friendships.
Was there any girlfriend which was particularly close that you met in the years

02:16:30:00

before the war?
Before the war?
Mm?
Yes I met one girl in particular, I didn’t meet her at a dancehall and I was very close to her but I was nineteen years of age then. And she lived at Rainworth and

02:17:00:00

we’d go to picture shows, Toowong picture shows and that sort of thing and I thought I would come home and still have her as my girlfriend but it was three years before I came home and

02:17:30:00

I wasn’t a good letter writer and I did meet her when I came home in 1943 she was working at Finney Isles across the , well at Finney Isles I was going to say across the road from the Grand Central Hotel because I used to drink a little bit in those days. And

02:18:00:00

she was working in the, where ladies buy powder and stuff I don’t know what you call that sort of department but she was in that section and she agreed to meet me that night because she was working and I think in those days if you were working at something in a shop

02:18:30:00

you didn’t stop and chat to people for very long you know and she just said, “I’ll see you tonight.” And I said, “I’ll pick you up at home.” And she said, “No, I’ll meet you down at the corner of Milton Road just down from the brewery, Four X Brewery, I think it’s still there in Milton Road, and I met her there and we walked to the

02:19:00:00

Toowong Theatre and walked back and I was going to wall home with her to say g’day to her mother and she said you get on the tram here and I said, “Oh yes but I can catch the tram.” She said, “There’s a tram coming now, I think you’d better get on it.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Well I have

02:19:30:00

another friend I’m engaged to.” And I said, “Okay”. So yes I had a steady girlfriend when I left.
Did she tell you why?
I didn’t write enough. We did get little cards when we were in Tobruk

02:20:00:00

for instance all the time we were in the desert but I didn’t see any in New Guinea but just a little card which you put your name, see security was very keen in those days and every letter you wrote had to o to the orderly room or an officer who would read it

02:20:30:00

and if it mentioned anything about for instance say you were in Tobruk it had to be cut out, and they’d cut them out now whether they did cut them all out or not I don’t know. I used to write to my sister, my sister closest to me, frequently, well I wouldn’t say frequently but you know, but

02:21:00:00

I used to send this girl one of these little card which just said, I am sick, I am well, I have been wounded, I am in hospital and that’s all and it didn’t mention where you were or anything else like that and that was a security method. But you

02:21:30:00

could write a letter and give it to an officer and he would have to delete like cut out anything that gave an indication of where, this started oh way back in England. I don’t know about and I don’t think it worried in Australia as we left but I wasn’t very long

02:22:00:00

in the army when I left I don’t think they read your letters then.
Had she written to you much?
Well not when I stopped writing. But, I’d get a letter occasionally from my sister. It didn’t worry me greatly.
But yeah,

02:22:30:00

how did you feel about it when you got on the tram after hearing this news?
I wasn’t very happy about it because I did, see by this time I was about twenty three and I was genuine about it I had

02:23:00:00

thought about it but it’s one of those things. I didn’t have any girlfriends from then on until I came home. But I did, as a matter of fact I married, my

02:23:30:00

wife was the daughter of one of the fellows who was I was a lance corporal and he was a corporal over me and he, when I first arrived back from overseas, on my first leave I was only home a few days and

02:24:00:00

I had to go into hospital. I still had a leak in a wound I had in my leg which wasn’t worrying me greatly but I also had a carbuncle in my ear and fortunately the, on the boat they’d pressed and it had sort of spread a bit, and that was worrying me a bit and I went in, I was only there for

02:24:30:00

a few days because we only had three weeks ‘Liddington Leave’ they called it and then we moved north. This mate of mine Sandy, his name was Sanderson and of course he had to get the name, nickname Sandy didn’t he and Sandy brought his daughter down to see me in the

02:25:00:00

showgrounds, Brisbane Showgrounds there was a hospital underneath the grandstand. It was only a small hospital you know and I was in there for a couple of days. Also another fellow in our unit brought his two daughters down to see me you know.

02:25:30:00

But, yeah well my wife worked with the National Bank, oh Commonwealth Bank I should say, yeah Commonwealth Bank in those days in George and I, when I came back from New Guinea I, we started to go out together,

02:26:00:00

yeah. She was younger than I. I was about five years older than her.
Why were they all bringing their daughters to meet you?
Oh well we were friends you know you get your – in the army the older fellas seemed to

02:26:30:00

father in a way you know a younger bloke and the, Jimmy Webb was the other fellows name, both of those fellows were leaving the unit because Jimmy Webb had worked as a tradesman

02:27:00:00

with Sergeants in Brisbane who had a big shop down on Alice Street. Sandy had come from a gas company in Warwick and they were both over forty by the time they, you know, I think Sandy was forty four

02:27:30:00

when he came back from the army and he was too old and they knew it. And the, the officers knew it too you know they’re major knew it and so forth but they sorted themselves out.
And why did they like you? Why did they want to introduce their daughters to you?

02:28:00:00

Like what qualities did they seem to like about you?
I didn’t ask them, I don’t know, I don’t know. I didn’t ever see Jimmy Webb again, I don’t know where Jimmy went to. But he may have been, got a discharge I don’t know. The, Sandy did get a job

02:28:30:00

in Brisbane, at the military hospital, Greenslopes Military Hospital. And but he was, they were too old for the army. Forty four is, oh well they go on longer some of the but a lot of them at that age

02:29:00:00

had had enough.
I know you said that they kind of act like your father figure but was it different suddenly kind of having this mate as your father-in-law?
I don’t know that didn’t encourage me with his daughter I can ensure you no and he

02:29:30:00

he had nothing to do with our friendship. It was, and well we lasted together for forty one years of course she died. So, yeah, but we were always good friends, remained good friends. He died very soon

02:30:00:00

after actually he died oh, he died when just after when Robyn was born, she was in 1953 and I do believe he was born in, he Sandy was born in 1900, so when he joined the army he was thirty nine years of age and they got away with it,

02:30:30:00

well I got away with it too but I was only a year younger. Yeah.
And how did your romance develop from those first, from that first meeting with your wife?
I wasn’t over impressed by her I don’t think. She was, she was a quite a nice girl but I’d you know I’d just met her

02:31:00:00

and but she did write to me in New Guinea just a short letter and the, I did I think, I’m not sure, I did answer it maybe. But we weren’t in, I was only in New Guinea for about twelve months. I don’t

02:31:30:00

know how long it was now. I didn’t, I didn’t get on well in the army, see I got Malaria early and Dengue and I suffered from Malaria. As a matter of fact we

02:32:00:00

did are we going back to…, when we moved up to New Guinea our job as field engineers wasn’t, as a matter of fact I never ever saw a Japanese mine or booby trap and I can say that honestly because

02:32:30:00

I should’ve, I would’ve thought. Some of the boys said that they did run into them but I didn’t. I never but at that stage I had become staff sergeant, headquarter sergeant in the company and I didn’t spend as much time

02:33:00:00

involved with the infantry and the – so it was different but I was sick and after we, we did a landing at the, can we go on to the…
Maybe we’ll come to all that later,

02:33:30:00

Alright.
Yeah we might get to that later in the day because we were talking about meeting your wife at first.
Yes, yeah well…
What was your sickness that you had in the first place, you’d come back from the Middle East?
I was alright, mm.
But you said you met her while you were in hospital?
Oh yes well…
Your ear?
Yes I had an ear problem.
What was the, what was the exact problem?
I had a carbuncle in the,

02:34:00:00

inside…
What’s a carbuncle?
A boil. Don’t they use the word carbuncle now?
I don’t know…
Well okay, a boil in my ear and it had been squeezed and you don’t squeeze a boil you either lance it but you don’t squeeze it because if you squeeze it back into the bloodstream, I think,

02:34:30:00

I’m not a medical man, but and it can bring up other little boils, if we want to call them boils, and you can get internal carbuncles. So, it’s something it needed looking and I had a gunshot wound in my left leg and it was

02:35:00:00

still oozing and so and I wanted it cleaned up and I got it in Tobruk and that was twelve months or so before and I wanted it dressed. So anyway the boil was the main problem and,

02:35:30:00

how did we get on to boils?
We were talking about what injuries you had to go to the hospital where you were introduced to you…
Oh, yes, well I didn’t, I don’t think I met her again on that leave because that was it was only a three weeks leave

02:36:00:00

and I didn’t meet her again until I came back and, from New Guinea.
Did you think about her at all when you were away?
Not really, not really but I did get a letter from her and I think I answered it too.

02:36:30:00

She was more my mate’s daughter than she was my girlfriend I hadn’t been out with her or anything like that. And I did also, I don’t think we had our letters

02:37:00:00

censored, that was the word actually, censored, in New Guinea. I can’t remember that. There’s so much I can’t recall about New Guinea and I think that was created by Malaria and I had Dengue [fever] as well. Dengue was quite prevalent then.

02:37:30:00

up there some fellows went through New Guinea and never, never even got Malaria. I was getting Malaria oh for a few years after coming out of the army. It would repeat on me for some reason or other and it

02:38:00:00

it made me quite ill, yeah. They also found that I had Amoebic Dysentery. I didn’t have Dysentery but Amoebic Dysentery is something different and I spent, after coming out of New Guinea, we’re going back to New Guinea again eh… but, better stay with the girls, eh?

02:38:30:00

Oh we’ll just pause there anyway because we’re at the end of the tape so…
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 03

03:00:33:00

That’s alright if you’re not. Tom you mentioned sadly that your mum passed away in 1935.
Yeah.
What was wrong?
She had cancer of the stomach. Now I don’t know where it was or anything else and I’m not so sure that they knew a great deal about it then

03:01:00:00

either in 1935 but she was being treated at the Mater Hospital. She had to travel there and by tram and that sort of thing but she was treated not regularly I wouldn’t say I think it was once a month or something and I don’t know what sort of treatment she was getting. I’m

03:01:30:00

afraid I wasn’t told or don’t remember. She eventually swelled up and, they put her in La Palms Hospital up in Kangaroo Point or her people did. All of her people lived up in Shafton Avenue and down the streets of there cause there was thirteen children in the family and they, nearly all girls.

03:02:00:00

So they were all living up in there and they were more aware of her condition than my father was I think and my father was fairly, I wouldn’t say rough

03:02:30:00

but, he wasn’t a rough man but well he didn’t think about those things and I don’t think too many people did really. They know about cancer more today don’t they and it’s, a lot of people are dying from it before they know they have it.
Well there’s still no cure today.
No,

03:03:00:00

not properly.
No.
No.
So you father was left with five children but two or three quite young kids?
Yes the two boys, well no, John the eldest boy had died, was killed. John was working away, shortly after I joined the army I think he was

03:03:30:00

fourteen and had left school, I think I was in the Middle East at the time and he got a job up at Emerald and then Springshore I think maybe with the same people and he worked up there and by the time he was old enough to get into the army he was manpowered

03:04:00:00

because he was on there, so I think, I think he tried but I don’t think he ever got there they’d have manpowered him out because it probably was very difficult for people on the land to hold people, you know hold employees. Have I side tracked?
No that’s fine, I guess

03:04:30:00

I was just getting to the fact that your mum died when you were fifteen so that left you and two younger brothers so they didn’t foster you out to other relatives or your dad coped…?
Oh no, no no, no my eldest sister left home. She and my father couldn’t get along, well

03:05:00:00

she was about seventeen or eighteen or something so it was not unusual for that to happen. My father expected us to pay our way, the elder ones, I was paying him, in my first year I was earning thirteen shillings, thirteen and a penny a week and I was paying him seven shillings

03:05:30:00

to keep the family going you know because he wasn’t a rich man he was more or less doing a labourer’s job in the Government Printing Office and times were tough.
Also children were…
Where was I…
Sorry, but children were expected to help their parents in those days weren’t they?
Oh it wasn’t unusual at all. My

03:06:00:00

second sister, Elsie, stayed home and looked after the two boys because the two boys were still going to school until John left and got a job but there was still the young boy to look after, Donald and that was her job. Well she had to do washing for them and this thing. My elder sister left home altogether

03:06:30:00

and went working as a domestic and she worked for an architect actually and she I don’t know how much because I was away for four years or so, I don’t know how much she saw of Elsie or whatever but Elsie looked after the house, yeah.

03:07:00:00

Now you talked about your father working in the Government Printing Office, what did he do?
Well he, he was working as a, to start with, so he told me, as a knife sharpener. Now when he came out from, he didn’t have a trade of any sort when he came out from Scotland. So, he drove horses for

03:07:30:00

I think it Grularnic, the name of the people but they were house removers and he was driving horses for them. I mean a four team horse or a two team horse you know and he was very interested in dogs and

03:08:00:00

the, where were we?
Well that’s alright I asked exactly what did he do in the Government Printing Office?
Oh I see, yeah well then he managed to get through a friend of his, an army friend of his that had been in the army with him, he managed to get a job in the Government Printing Office as a knife sharpener, as a blade sharpener. Now I don’t know just what that meant

03:08:30:00

really maybe guillotines or something and he’d have to learn to do it and then he transferred into another department during his lifetime as a process engraver. And he worked in the engraving department where they made the

03:09:00:00

plates for printing you know and they used to engrave them with acids and things you know to make the plates because the Government Printing Office would print government stuff and they would be printing, I don’t know many hundreds or thousands of different documents you know the same as the, as you know I doubt they do today.
He was on, what was it George Street?
He was in George Street, yes.
I think

03:09:30:00

I know where that is. I think they got the…
It’s still there I think.
Yes I think they’ve got the science museum there now or next door to it.
Have they?
Yes, to the old Government Printing office.
Oh yes.
So would you often go up and…?
The Lands Office was just along from it.
Oh yeah.
In those days anyway.
Would you ever and meet him for lunch or anything like that?
My father?
When you were doing your apprenticeship?
Oh no, no, no, I no,

03:10:00:00

actually, we didn’t leave the workshop for lunch. We always stayed in the workshop.
Now you went into the army so your interests I suppose were they land interests I mean shooting, football, why not the navy or why not

03:10:30:00

the air force, why were you so interested in joining the army?
There were four of us really, yeah four of us all mates and they wanted to join the army because two of them anyway had been

03:11:00:00

in the First World War, two of their fathers I’m sorry, two of their fathers had been in the First World War and my father had been in the 9th Battalion in the First World War. Now the easiest place to go and enlist was over at the 9/49th Drill Hall which was just across Kingfisher Creek over at Junction

03:11:30:00

Park you might call it, there was a Drill Hall there and you could enlist there so we all went together. And one of them the younger boy he was refused and he never did get in the army. Oh he did, I’m sorry

03:12:00:00

he did he got into the army the same time as I did, he was a printer’s apprentice, he was the same age as I was and he’d put his age up but he didn’t pass the medical, we had a medical when we went into depot company before we were in the company you know. We

03:12:30:00

went in depot in lots, in depot companies in Redbank and we had a medical examination there and he didn’t pass it he had flat feet. And he, I think he eventually got into the army but later on I think it was when, well conscription came in

03:13:00:00

and I think he did eventually get into the army and I don’t know that he would’ve been manpowered he was a printer’s apprentice and somehow or other he got in, he did get in for a short period. That’s what he was put out for flat feet.
Gee they weren’t worried about flat feet towards the end of the war were they?
No, they were, no, as long as you had feet.

03:13:30:00

What two legs and a heartbeat or? Well you said about these mates were they friends that you had grown up with in the neighbourhood? These four…
Oh yes, all in the, yes.
So they weren’t all actually doing the same electrical apprenticeship that you were doing?
Oh no, no, I was the only one doing an electrical apprenticeship yeah. One of them wasn’t working at all.

03:14:00:00

He got in easily, he didn’t have a job or anything but he got easily because he was much bigger than I and he looked older and I, he didn’t, he was the same age as I, he was younger than I actually but he looked old and he was so big

03:14:30:00

I wasn’t very big and I looked younger.
What about the other bloke not that the one that was the printing apprentice but the other one?
The other one, who didn’t have a job?
No cause you said there were four of us?
The other one did get in

03:15:00:00

later, and there five of us actually.
So you had you, the flat footed bloke, the big burly bloke and who were the other two?
I’ll mention by name just by Christian name, Keith, Eric, David, Owen and me.

03:15:30:00

I didn’t have five friends, I had four friends, the five of us.
So who were the other two?
Keith did eventually get into the army he was younger, Mervin did get in and was put out with the flat feet, so they were out. There was only three of us really made it.

03:16:00:00

Although, Keith did get in later on I think when conscription came, I don’t know when conscription came in when the Japs came in I suppose. But there was Eric, myself and Owen. Owen went into the 9th Battalion, no I’m sorry there was another one, Ronnie

03:16:30:00

and yeah there were five of us, actually. Ronnie got in and Ronnie and Eric and went to the 2/1st Field Park and Owen went to the 9th Battalion.
Why didn’t Owen come with you blokes?
He didn’t want to.

03:17:00:00

He, I don’t know whether his father was connected with the army or not but he wanted to go in the 9th Battalion. I had no option, I either missed out in the army or I missed out on going and sitting for my ticket. So I had made, I had made

03:17:30:00

a promise to Gus Gurman that I would go to his unit and he would give me leave to go and sit for my ticket so I couldn’t go back on that. Now the other…
But you got to use you skills in the 2/1st at the 2/13th you got

03:18:00:00

to actually use what you’d actually been apprenticing for four years or five years…
Yes.
In the army which was a wonderful thing for Gus…
For him yes, yes for sure.
Yes, can I just ask you though why did Owen want to go into the 9th Divvie, what was so special about the 9th Divvie?
Well it was a Queensland Division, a Queensland Regiment. I’m not sure about, I think the 49th was too, in the First World War.

03:18:30:00

Owen didn’t live where the other four of us lived he came from Kelvin Grove but he was a friend mainly because of the dancing, he used to dance with us. And but no he made up his mind that’s where he was going and he went.
Did he survive?
Yes.

03:19:00:00

He still lives at Clayfield I talk to him occasionally. I’ve met him too in Tobruk.
Oh you’ll have to tell us about that later but I’m sorry I interrupted you then you were going to tell me about the other two mates when you went to the 2/13th, you were being used for your skills that you had learnt in your

03:19:30:00

apprenticeship what about the other two blokes Ronnie and John was it?
Eric?
Eric and Ronnie, yes?
Well Ronnie didn’t have a trade of any sorts but the unit that we were in didn’t consist only of tradesmen.

03:20:00:00

I was paid extra money for they called it, I’ve got to think of the name now but it was, I’ll think of it anyway as we go along,
Sure that’s alright…
…but I was paid six shillings a day once I got into that unit not whilst I was in depot

03:20:30:00

company and I was paid six shillings a day that’s a technician, that’s not the right word either. The other two came in as truck drivers. Now the 2/1st Field Park Company was a

03:21:00:00

backward, I shouldn’t say backward, but it was a unit that was involved mainly in roadwork and that type of thing and they needed, whereas a field company needed all of those things too

03:21:30:00

but the Field Park was more, would carry bridge building stuff and that type of thing you know. The Field Company was more involved in mines and but then on the other hand the field company was necessary as I told you about Apollonia

03:22:00:00

and Derna we had to run the power house at Derna. They have to do that if you know but in a place like Tobruk for instance there were no power houses to worry about there was nothing like that.
Everything goes out the window.
You know

03:22:30:00

there was yes in the Field Park has a different job to a field company and we were a field park until we reached England and we were getting reinforcements because we were even learning on the boat to speak French.

03:23:00:00

I wasn’t very good at that I didn’t ever learn really but we were doing on the boat we had a lieutenant who, we only had a Captain that was Gurman and a lieutenant and a one pip lieutenant

03:23:30:00

was called a first lieutenant. This is the wrong way around I think to say it I think because a second lieutenant was higher in rank and he had two pips.
That is confusing isn’t it?
Yes it is, well the army is a bit confusing at times for instance we used to march in fours when we joined the army and there were four

03:24:00:00

battalions and there were four battalions in the brigade and four brigades in the Division now they changed that they changed it before we left Australia. We were taught to march in threes and there were three battalions to a brigade and three brigades to a Division. They shorten the whole

03:24:30:00

think up now I think that had something to do with the British Army because we were more or less following you know the British Army. I don’t think we were following the Americans I don’t know how they worked. Have I side tracked again?
No, no, no, I‘d just like, just before we

03:25:00:00

go into you doing your training and joining up what about all that time that you were doing your apprenticeship how would you, would you save your money in a bank, the bit of money that you didn’t give your dad? Would you do…
Yes I had a bank account, as a matter of fact I had a bank account when I went to school and

03:25:30:00

I would it wasn’t, it was a bank account that the chemist shop in those days you could bank at the chemist shop from the school, now I had an account there, a bank account and I put, and we used to, I shouldn’t tell you this, you’ll put me in and

03:26:00:00

I’ll go to gaol. We used to collect cast iron and sell it to Crown Stoves because Crown Stoves were making Crown woodstoves in those days not far from where we lived. It was out in the suburbs at it wasn’t Holland Park really it was Raff Avenue I think they called it. It was between Greenslopes

03:26:30:00

and Holland Park. And we used to, any scrap iron we’d break it up and put it in our go-karts and wheelbarrows and take it up and we’d sell it to them.
But where would you get the iron from?
Well people that had town water I

03:27:00:00

knew I shouldn’t have said. People that had town water over there meter there was a cast iron cover over the meter and when they come, came round to read the meter to see how much water was being used they used to just grab the top and lift it off it was quite heavy too, cast iron and

03:27:30:00

we used to nip them off and break them off. It was genuine cast iron and cast iron stoves loved it.
They didn’t care where you got it from?
They didn’t, well it was all broken up and it went into the melting pot, it was all melted down and there was cast iron you know old, some old machinery sometimes you’d come across them any cast iron

03:28:00:00

you’d bust off.
Did you make a lot of money from that?
Not a lot but it seemed a lot. And yes it seemed a lot. It was enough to open a bank account and occasionally mother would give me a penny or threepence or something like that to put in the bank occasionally if I

03:28:30:00

was a good boy and the girls were treated the same. I don’t know, maybe I was spoilt a little bit as we were saying I was the only boy at that stage when I started school we started this business

03:29:00:00

the next boy to me John was, I’d have been five or six years of age when John came along there was a big gap there that’s why I was so spoilt.
Now growing up in Greenslopes and we were talking about it was quite rural in those days, were you given a horse and a rifle.
The,

03:29:30:00

no I could never have afford a horse from as I did mention to you I think if we did the people across Kingfisher Creek particularly had horses and some of the boys that came to school rode horses to school and we’d occasionally

03:30:00:00

we’d look after the cattle for them just to stop the herds getting together if there was a couple on the plains from where the hospital is now, we’d just make sure they didn’t get mixed up and so forth and stop them getting too far up into the Stephens Hill because there was a quarry up in there, a road, little quarry you know and just to

03:30:30:00

give the dairy men a bit of a break from looking after cattle out in the paddock you know and we’d take them back across the creek and sometimes we get, might get a small amount given to us pennies or something like that. But a penny was quite a lot of money really to a child, to a youngster.
Well it must’ve

03:31:00:00

been because I remember getting a penny, one cent when I was growing up and I could buy two lollies with a penny.
Yeah, mm.
What about the rifle did you learn to shoot?
Yes we had well Daisys [Daisy air rifles] which shot a little pellet out you could shoot a bird with them. We didn’t see

03:31:30:00

we didn’t have rabbit plague or anything like that that we could shoot we did go shooting out further out into Ipswich on the other side and when they were started to make the, forget the name of the dam, the first dam they built on the Brisbane River, dear I know it so well,

03:32:00:00

never mind, and yeah there were rabbits about and wallabies but the Daisy air rifle didn’t do them much harm. I did have a rifle, I did get a rifle later in my life and in fact my, my brother

03:32:30:00

John eventually was twenty two and he inherited from me when I joined the army and he had trouble with the, one of the lads, lived across the road from us and he shot him with it, shot him in the ankle. So you know, we did have, yeah,

03:33:00:00

we did have access to, to up to a point but we couldn’t afford ammunition for a twenty two really and so it would only be to shoot a rabbit go rabbit shooting or something like that.
Well Tom tell us about what you knew about the trouble brewing in Europe towards the start of the war?
Well we’d only see that

03:33:30:00

in our teenage we’d go to the picture shows of course and before our teenage before we started to go out of a night time you know we’d go to the matinee at the picture show. The picture show at Greenslopes was a Hollywood picture show and that was a good name to give it because most,

03:34:00:00

a lot of the movies were made in Hollywood in America in those days and we’d go to a matinee but to get into a matinee I think used to cost about sixpence and that was a fair bit of money early on and but in our teenage we’d go to the picture shows and yes it was news reels

03:34:30:00

about trouble in Europe and particularly in Germany and we knew all about the brown shirts and the, you know the...
So you knew it was coming to a point maybe to a head…
Oh yes, yes, oh yes the news reels were full of that yeah. The same as

03:35:00:00

it’s full of Iraq today.
So where were you in September when Menzies declared war?
Home, I think it happened on a Saturday night and I was home and the my eldest sister Mary was home and

03:35:30:00

she came into the little room that I lived in, actually the brother and I had the same room said that she had heard it.
Sorry, Tom I’m just going to have to stop for second… no we don’t. Sorry about that she came into the room.
Right.
Sorry it’s okay, she came into the room, yeah…
And she told me what she’d heard and

03:36:00:00

well it wasn’t long before Australia was in the war and I don’t know how long it was exactly, how long it was before they started taking enlistments I can’t remember that.
Was your dad in the room, can you remember if your dad was there?
Well he wasn’t in the room, but it wasn’t a big, well there was nothing,

03:36:30:00

there was no decisions to be made or anything like that you know. We didn’t even know at that stage that Australia was in the war we knew that war had been declared but we really didn’t know if Australia was involved.
I guess that was what I was talking about when Menzies came on the wireless and said, “It is my melancholy duty

03:37:00:00

to...” I can’t remember exactly…
Oh yeah that wasn’t long after yeah. Oh no well I think we were ready for it I think we knew that we would eventually be involved in it the same as it happened in the First World War.
You father didn’t have any inclination to join up again?
He did try but he was then in his fifties and he had no chance.

03:37:30:00

He couldn’t, no, he couldn’t put it back.
Well tell us about your work, going into work the next day you’d almost finished your apprenticeship now when war was declared did your boss say anything like, “Okay you boys better not take off?”
No the only, we had a foreman whose name was Keith McClelland

03:38:00:00

his father had the Willengaber Hotel, he was a hotelier’s son and he I think controlled my life in my apprenticeship more than the others did, the two bosses did, except Hamilton he was very close, you know closely involved with me,

03:38:30:00

but Keith McClelland they, Keith McClelland said, when I told them, you’re talking about when I told them I was going to join the army?
Yes.
The two bosses didn’t say anything. And Keith said, “Well we’ll

03:39:00:00

see lance corporal…” he was right too. And he wrote it on a post, we were in Charlotte Street then with a black pencil he wrote it on a post, L.C.O.L ,COL.

03:39:30:00

Dickson, he said, “You’ll be lance corporal as soon as you go in.” So he was quite happy really, and there no, never any asking me to stay or not to go no there was never anything like that.
But they must’ve been happy that Gorman gave you the chance, is it Gus

03:40:00:00

Gorman? What was his name?
Gus Gurman.
Gurman, they must’ve been happy that Gurman gave you the opportunity to actually sit for your final exams?
Oh yeah, but I don’t think they even knew about that, I didn’t, I probably didn’t tell them. And I didn’t, as a matter of fact, my intention was to go to the 9th Battalion.

03:40:30:00

My father came from the 9th Battalion. So, you know, yeah, my, I’m glad now that I did do as I did but because if they had’ve accepted me into the army to start with I wouldn’t have sat for my ticket.
That would’ve

03:41:00:00

been a waste of five years.
Yes it would’ve been, yeah.
I suppose you could’ve sat for it after the war?
Well I don’t know about that because when I, I couldn’t afford to do the diploma and I intended to do diploma after I’d finished

03:41:30:00

because diploma was and with the apprenticeship see sometimes I was doing two nights a week and then diploma as well would be four nights a week down to technical college. And also the apprenticeship cost ten shillings

03:42:00:00

I think ten shillings a month…
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 04

04:00:30:00

Okay good, yeah I was just talking to you about you joined up tell us about the first few days in the army.
I don’t think there’s a great deal to talk about really. We did training of course, marching and

04:01:00:00

drill and that’s about all. I think there was a medical examination necessary and that’s about all. The first few days I suppose were like the first few days at anything.
Well after a bit of initial training when you did drill and all that regular

04:01:30:00

stuff when did they give you the news you’d become part of the engineers. Like how did they…?
Well that was the first month, the depot companies didn’t all come in at the one time and the last depot company to come in I think was around about early in November the 7th of November or something at that time,

04:02:00:00

before that you want to know the first few days in the army it was just drill and so forth and then I was given, we had the depot companies were sort of all detailed to their various places either the 9th Australian Division,

04:02:30:00

Infantry Battalion, the artillery there wasn’t a field engineering section there was only the, the Field Park Section and so it was allotted out to those.

04:03:00:00

It was then that Gurman and his Field Park Company was formed and that’s when I was giving, given a leave permit to go until such time as I finished my ticket.

04:03:30:00

So once they knew you had the skill with electrical…
Yes, I wasn’t ticketed then actually the exams hadn’t been checked and you know it wasn’t all, it wasn’t until I was down in Ingleburn I learnt that I had passed my tickets and so forth There wasn’t a fifth year examination

04:04:00:00

actually. It was third, first, third, second, fourth year and then the fifth year was the final deal. So, I was there the company, the companies, the areas where you were going had been formed and it

04:04:30:00

was late in November that we moved as a company down south. Now I don’t know whether 9th Battalion went for instance. Some of them went to Enoggera some of them stayed at Redbank and all that sort of thing you know I don’t know where the artillery went to. But we spent the next, until we sailed,

04:05:00:00

spent the next few months travelling around New South Wales various places route marching and route marching was very prominent really amongst them and it was either that or drill and drill’s a pain in the neck.
So they’d put you in the engineers because of your electrical skills?

04:05:30:00

Yes well I was sort of honour bound to go there because I had already made that decision with Gus Gurman to get into his unit I had to go and but I was paid an extra shilling a day, I still can’t think of the term, I was a ticketed man actually. And,

04:06:00:00

so, that’s that. The next step was getting on the boat I suppose. Down in New South Wales well we had Christmas leave we came back home for Christmas and not the whole unit because by this time the unit had grown in reinforcements from other States

04:06:30:00

so we were a bigger unit not as big as a field company but we were a bigger field park unit and we were ready to go. And, we didn’t have any basic training like in mines or things which we were going to be involved in, which we

04:07:00:00

knew we would be involved in eventually but there was no one there, there was no one that could tell us anything about them cause, they this tank thing only started in the First World War didn’t it, you know there weren’t years and years of experience in looking after the tank. They knew all about it in Europe because you know they were well up in that sort of thing.

04:07:30:00

It wasn’t until we arrived in England that we started to see what a mine was, we didn’t know what a mine was really or how it worked or anything else or how it was deloused. And there was no point in anyone else trying to read a book and tell you about it so we just kept on training you know, drilling.

04:08:00:00

Did that worry you like that you were going to be working with mines and that you hadn’t learnt it?
No, no not at all but we thought we were going all the time till we moved back to the Middle East we thought we were going to France and that was the end of it but by the time we got to England, I think as I’ve told you, I think early in Jan, in June, we didn’t,

04:08:30:00

26th of June I think we arrived back down in, not back, we arrived down in the south of England. By that time Dunkirk, although they were still coming back in dribs and drabs but the thing was ready you know and the, the thought then was well we’ve got to wait for him to come across the Channel because it’s only twenty miles wide isn’t it

04:09:00:00

you know in quick time but he didn’t come. He made the biggest mistake of his life walking into Russia.
What did you think of this idea that you’d gone away to fight in France and by the time you got there you were preparing to defend England how did you feel about that?

04:09:30:00

Well we were against the same enemy you know Japan hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbour it was only 1940 and the war was against Hitler and he, I think it was fully expected that he would come across the Channel.
I guess I mean how did you feel about how quickly

04:10:00:00

Hitler and the Germans had pushed all through to France and the Continent?
Well we weren’t happy about it. He was pretty good. We you know were quite prepared to help stop him and the whole emphasis was on him coming across the channel either by sea or by the air and we

04:10:30:00

fully expected he’d come by air and so we also had a, every unit had a guard of course around their tent lines but they also had airborne troops and usually they were placed on top, out in the

04:11:00:00

countryside, placed on top of the cookhouse or something like that where they could watch for airborne troops landing. That was, that was something that went on for twenty four hours a day watching for airborne troops and we thought that that would be the first time we would see them but they didn’t

04:11:30:00

come.
Well tell us about your ship ride over there, like you expected to go to France is that right?
Yes well we did, we did have French lessons I wasn’t terribly interested in them, going to school again and but it was something just I think just to fill in the time anyway. But,

04:12:00:00

otherwise we did physical exercises onboard and that type of thing. See we were at least a month or more, six weeks I think onboard ship.
So was it, did they give you the news that you weren’t going to France or did you just arrive…?
No, no we, no we didn’t get any news about that. We arrived and I think we learnt

04:12:30:00

in, before we got down to the south of England somewhere along the line that troops were coming back across the Channel and from Dunkirk and it was just a matter of, we had to help dig in and wait for him and he didn’t come.
Well what role were you playing, you said dig in, what was your exact role

04:13:00:00

that you were playing in this period?
Well we were still training a lot we were doing rifle training and bayonet training and physical training and the, but the main job in the first couple of months we were in England was digging in, was digging in trench lines,

04:13:30:00

and posts, machine gun posts and whatever and even back as far as, well the Marquise of Bath’s Estate we were up there for a month or so digging across his estate because he had vast expanse of land there and we really thought that

04:14:00:00

if he came across I suppose he’d get up that far.
Whose estate was it?
Mm?
Whose estate did you say you were?
Marquise of Bath, yeah. Longleat, it was called Longleat house he lived there. That was, when I was telling you this before Sutton Veenie was that little town that I couldn’t think of.

04:14:30:00

We moved from Tidworth and Lagashore we moved up to Sutton Veenie and that was when we were working on the Marquise of Bath’s Estate. A line that had no doubt designed by the hierarchy in the army in England and it was good training for us I suppose digging holes

04:15:00:00

it as unnecessary really because he didn’t bother to come.
But the threat felt very real?
Well it was, oh yes, see the Battle of Britain was on then and we were bombed there was a bombing raid everyday. Every day Britain was hit by a bomb raid and you know the planes down at times

04:15:30:00

and the only time they bothered to stop one air raid was just they wanted to get rid of their load before they went home or they were on the wrong track, pushed off the wrong track or something like that. But the destruction in, particularly in London, was terrific, was dreadful. They did make a mess of the place

04:16:00:00

but the Battle of Britain was over, the Battle of Britain was all fought in the air and Britain had gained ascendancy over air for, over air war over the south of Britain and France and the Yanks weren’t in it there then either. The

04:16:30:00

Battle of Britain was won by the, well the RAF [Royal Air Force] and the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] and the Canadian Air Force. And yeah, we were transferred across to the north of London, a barracks there was just preparing us to move straight away as soon as they could put us on ships because as I

04:17:00:00

said before I think General Blamey wanted his 6th Division in one piece back in the Middle East because he knew the Italians had attacked and no one really knew how the Italians, how good they would be and fortunately they didn’t turn out as good as he thought they would or they thought they

04:17:30:00

would and but the 6th Division was placed on the coastal road to take care of it, I’m not saying there were more Australian troops there than English troops but we must remember that England had to maintain a big force in England because

04:18:00:00

it, he hadn’t come and they had equally strength in the air but might’ve still come you know.
What was the atmosphere like in England under this threat during the Battle of Britain and during this kind of threatening times?
Oh they were wonderful, they were wonderful. They, I don’t think the majority of people ever believed that they’d lose it.

04:18:30:00

That’s Englishmen. I don’t think as far as we were concerned, we were young enough to believe that we were going to win anyway, I suppose.
Did you see any dog fights or anything of this…?
Oh there were dog fights… everyday, yeah, over the south of England.

04:19:00:00

And that’s where it all went on although they did bomb England and Scotland because it was just as easy for them to come across and bomb Scotland as it was to bomb London, really because they had control of Denmark, Sweden they were still fighting in…

04:19:30:00

Norway, I was going to say Norfolk, Norway but he was bombing, well the navy had, Scappa Flow was the big naval base, and of course they were going to cop their share of it so all of England was being bombed but it was mainly on the south

04:20:00:00

of England Bournemouth and Southampton where there was a congregation of people and army that was bombed more.
What about your experience of the bombing were you, did you experience the bombing raids from the Germans while in England?
Yes, but we were too, too young when you’re young you’re not concerned about it really.

04:20:30:00

Didn’t scare you at all?
No, we, you know they had, on one occasions you were asking me about girls at one stage, we mustn’t forget about the girls, a mate and I went to Scotland we had three days leave and we went as far as Scotland we came back by

04:21:00:00

rail of course and we couldn’t get right in to the south of London, we did get in as far as Oxford Street. And we got off at Oxford Street walked through the seating area and what have you there were people sleeping everywhere those underground stations

04:21:30:00

were ready made bomb shelters and then we made our way across, across Waterloo Bridge to I think it was Paddington Station, no it wasn’t Paddington, Waterloo Station I think and we met two girls there this mate and I

04:22:00:00

and there were two girls on the station and the Australians were quite popular with the English people well most of them I’d say and these two girls said, “Good day Aussie,” or something like that would you like a, it wasn’t hamburgers in those days

04:22:30:00

it was sausage rolls or something and a cup of tea you know, “Yes” and so come on and they said, “Where are you going to?” we said, “We’re going back to…” at that stage we had moved to near Reading, Pang, a place called Pangbourne and they said, “Why are you over this -

04:23:00:00

where are you going to?” we said, “We’re going to Pangbourne.” “Oh well you won’t get a train tonight.” And the trains had stopped Basicsto… Bassingstone I think it is a big station, a big railway junction that side of London was out of action it had been bombed so they said, “You won’t be going anywhere tonight and where

04:23:30:00

are you going to sleep?” And well we said, “We’ll just sleep on the platform there.” And the platform wasn’t underground it was up above and they said, “Come down in the shelter we’ll get you a bed down there.” which we did. I couldn’t even tell you their names, their Christian names, really, I never ever saw them again. We went down and they had a bed roll each

04:24:00:00

and there was a policeman living in the underground with them and he was in command of the underground, not underground what you call the bomb shelter and so and they introduced to him and he said, “Where are you going to sleep boys?” And

04:24:30:00

we said, “Well the girls said they find us…” “Okay right” he said, “Go with them and get their bed rolls.” So we gave them a hand out with their bed rolls and they just put their rolls down and they hopped into one and we hopped into the other and slept there the night and then we went up in the morning and had a cup of tea again and waited for a train and

04:25:00:00

they went off to their work, they were working girls and that’s the way it was. People were coming in during different times during the night and getting their bed roll putting it down and going to bed and go back to work in the morning.
Must’ve had a bit of a community feel?
Oh yes, oh yes and the policeman

04:25:30:00

knew everybody that was in there. And oh it wouldn’t have been a very big it wouldn’t have been couple of much, oh about as long as our hallway out there it was such a long. These were all prepared I think they knew they war was going to happen and they’d prepared all these places ready for it. What happened to those two girls I don’t know.

04:26:00:00

But they were working girls and it was a, you know a bit of night’s fun for them and it was a bed for us.
Nice way to meet girls?
Yeah we were only there for the one night.
Would people stay up and chat at all or?

04:26:30:00

No they were mainly all working people because it’s just across the bridge to London and you know London is a big city and so, yeah.
Did you enjoy your time there like any time off there at all?
We didn’t have a lot of time off we were at liberty when we were say at

04:27:00:00

Luggershaw which was a village, we were at liberty to go to down to Lugger – we didn’t need a leave pass to go down to Luggershaw. There was an English, a couple of English pubs down there and you could go in and the English pubs were very busy and people would go in there and they were just like family pubs almost you know because villages there are just like big

04:27:30:00

families. Something like our small country towns. I’m not talking about Roma or you know places like that or Ipswich even or whatever you know but small country places you know.
Did you have fun at all I mean I know it’s war time but did you have a bit of fun?
Oh yes, oh yes and but we had a job to do we were still working.

04:28:00:00

Well we, what we called work for the next three or four years, yeah.
You said you met some girls in Hyde Park too?
Yes, met two girls and as I say one of them kept in – sending me cigarettes and a little cake.

04:28:30:00

We moved from, finally from Ludgershall across to Colchester to a barracks and I never heard from that girl again or for weeks before we moved across but at that time there was a big attack on the east end of London and

04:29:00:00

she may have been involved in it may have lost her home or lost her life even I don’t know. I never ever heard from her again. Well we moved to Colchester we were only there for a short time and then across to Liverpool and back and we hadn’t been to the Middle East but over to the Middle East.
And during your time, I know you were young and you didn’t really fear the bombings as much as you might

04:29:30:00

you in another time because you were young but did you see the damage caused?
We saw the damage but we didn’t see any bloodshed we were in the country most of the time and I know it’s not far from Ludgershall to London really or even with Pangbourne you know it’s only a little town there wasn’t,

04:30:00:00

there wasn’t a great deal of bombing on that on any on our camp even for that matter. So we weren’t, I don’t think too many of the Australian forces that were there I don’t think we suffered a great deal of casualties I don’t know we certainly didn’t suffer any casualties. There was two companies, two field companies there then.

04:30:30:00

The 2/3rd Field Company and then we were formed into the 2/13th now these numbers of field companies were the same in Australia you know and our battalion numbers the 9th Battalion and 10th Battalion, see there was a full Brigade of us went over there. There

04:31:00:00

was the 9th, 10th and 12th Battalions. Now the 12th Battalion was half Tasmania and half Queensland, 9th Battalion was Queensland Battalion. But the 10th Battalion was Victorian, South Australian whatever you know West Australian it was a mixed Battalion.
And were you receiving more training in

04:31:30:00

your role particularly maybe what you were to do in the Middle East?
Yes we were starting, we were starting to learn all about mines and we were shown mines and we were more or less taught the value of them and we wouldn’t we didn’t really learn what we had to know when we finally had to use them

04:32:00:00

because I don’t think the English people, well certainly our instructors anyway like the English, the Australian we didn’t really realise what it was all about and we didn’t have to use them over there but we were taught what they were like and how they would delouse and that’s all.

04:32:30:00

The war in the Middle East changed everything for us because the Germans came into it, their mines came into it and the Italians had mines and they were producing them by the millions no doubt and we only saw samples of the English mines Mark 1 and

04:33:00:00

Mark 2 which didn’t teach us very much. Didn’t teach us how to lay them either. And I don’t know that they were teaching English field companies how to lay them really because it became a mechanised war, an armoured war, more so in the Middle East because Rommel came across with his troops we had a 7th Armoured Brigade,

04:33:30:00

Armoured Division that was in action the first run up the desert against the Italians. The delousing of the Italian mine and that was the only mine there at that time was just simply a little stick with a det on the end of it, in the end of the roughly made mine and

04:34:00:00

it was so easy to just pull it out and we had learnt that but we hadn’t really laid mines. We didn’t get mines of our own to lay until we got into Tobruk by this time there was a mine being made in

04:34:30:00

Egypt called the ‘gypo mine’ [Egyptian] and it was a pressed metal thing we didn’t think much of it after seeing, as we had done in Tobruk, the German ‘teller mines’ which were cast and you know they were beautifully made. And all of the German stuff was beautifully made an the Italian mine was

04:35:00:00

a sheet metal thing just pressed out you know cheaply made it was only to blow up and but the Germans made some wonderful things and they were designed properly and they worked well too. And they dropped mines from the air, they called the thermos flasks, they were just shaped like a thermos flask and they had a

04:35:30:00

the cap that you drink out of the thermos flask you know it was sitting on the top and a little propeller on the top, not of the cup but on the top of the cup, and as it was unloaded out of the plane the little propeller on the top unscrewed the air coming down unscrewed the propeller and they were dropped at a certain height obviously,

04:36:00:00

hopefully when they hit the ground the case would be half off or thereabout and there’s three little – little lugs inside that came apart and some oil dripped out and once that oil dripped out the plunger that hit the det was just sitting on a ball, like a little ball bearing

04:36:30:00

and the idea was for it not to explode by the time it hit the ground some of them would explode but the others would lay there ready to go. The little prop coming off the top and the cup coming off or coming half off even letting the oil out and these ball bearings would just move and the det would be ready

04:37:00:00

at the slightest touch of it and they had to be deloused then and that wasn’t easy.
Wouldn’t they be seen though?
Yes but you’ve still got to delouse them, you can see them but you’ve got to delouse them but they were laid amongst the infantry or on any roadways where transport, see particularly in – let’s go to

04:37:30:00

Tobruk every night to each post the, the post around Tobruk were laid right from the coast on a nine mile radius right around Tobruk right to the other side to the Mediterranean you know. And

04:38:00:00

the posts were staggered and on the outside of the posts they weren’t all completely finished but there were tank mines, tank traps, they had dug so that the tanks couldn’t come across very easily. So the, am I getting side tracked? So

04:38:30:00

the German stuff, the Italians did alright in Tobruk but and they could hold off, you can’t hold every – it didn’t take the Australian 6th Division to take Tobruk off the Italians. It only took them overnight. The same in

04:39:00:00

Bardia but then the heart wasn’t in it for the Italians.
We’ll just have to pause there because we’re at the end of a tape.
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 05

05:00:32:00

Yes, can you tell me what you saw on the streets of London when you were there?
Well for instance in London itself in the Strand in London they blew a crater, there is a little fountain there in the Strand, near Australia House and the crater that they blew was quite, didn’t

05:01:00:00

affect this crater and I can’t think of the statue, I can’t think what the statute was now. I’ve lost the name of it you now but the crater that the bomb blew was thirty feet across and they put an army bridge across it so they could get the traffic through. Oh yes, they, but the, the bombing in London

05:01:30:00

was unbelievable really and…
I’ve never heard of that, put an army bridge across, that’s fantastic.
They put a Bailey Bridge across, what the call, the British army calls a Bailey Bridge and it’s a steel bridge it’s built in the factories you know and they put a Bailey Bridge across it. I seen it there so.
I’ve heard of actually the Bailey Bridge before

05:02:00:00

people building Bailey Bridges you know during the war I’ve always wondered what it was but…?
The Bailey Bridge is prefabricated built in a factory they’re built by the dozens and hundreds probably maybe thousands I don’t know. It belonged to the army and they, engineers use them. We were never ever called upon to use them we were never in an area where we could get one anyway

05:02:30:00

but and in London they would’ve been used quite a lot because the bombs grew bigger after the Second World War, much bigger didn’t they but they could blow a hole, a crater thirty feet in diameter no problem on a street. And you know a few of those bombs and the incendiary

05:03:00:00

bombs were pretty savage they didn’t necessarily blow a big hole but the started a big fire, yeah.
And you’d hear the bombs coming, being dropped from the sky?
Yes, but it’s too late when you hear them coming.
What were they called again there were the ones that made the noise…?
Well in Tobruk when you talk about the noise coming down the Stukas [Junker 87 German dive bomber/fighter] bombed us

05:03:30:00

every evening just on dusk just as the sun was setting in the west and they’d come down and they’d, the Stukas underneath their wings, underneath each wing had an electric motor driven from their battery and it had a siren on it and they made a screaming sound as they came down, they used them,

05:04:00:00

and they used them against the infantry in the forward post and it was a frightening thing but you got accustomed to them after awhile.
Why do you think they used the noise, as extra terror?
Yes, it was to, to terrorise, they weren’t made to bomb Tobruk really they shouldn’t, you know they were wasting their time because

05:04:30:00

but yeah that was what it was to terrorise the population down below.
And I guess they did.
They did too, yes.
Now, you went to Port Said before…
Port Said, yeah.
… before you went on to Tobruk with the 9th Divvie is that right?
We landed at Port Said I think.
Okay.
I’m not sure of that.

05:05:00:00

I think we landed at Port Said and we went to a place I couldn’t tell you when I was talking to you to begin with, we went to a little, well here was a little village there, it was a camp actually, an Australian camp called Ikingi Mariut. And that’s where we left from to rejoin the 6th Division, well we still, we were always 6th Division

05:05:30:00

then and joined the 6th Division to go up the desert for the attack on the Italians. We were a full brigade of course the 18th Brigade. That, the 18th Brigade was the Brigade that went to England the full Brigade and we were part of the 18th Brigade.
Now that was when you were

05:06:00:00

actually diffusing the mines out of…
Barce?
Ikingi Mariut? Was that the name of it sorry?
Yes, we’d just come back from England.
Okay, yes.
We came round the Cape again and stopped at Durban and then on to Port Said and from Port Said we went directly, and we, we at that stage were,

05:06:30:00

I’ve left out the fact that in England we were getting reinforcements all the time to the Brigade and we were changed from a field park company, they sent a field park, another field park company over and they made us into a field company which is a much bigger company and the, we

05:07:00:00

were renamed the 2/13th Field Company. So we were the 2/13th Field Company in England, we became in England the 2/13th. So when we went up to the desert, not back, came to the desert we went up as a field company. We didn’t…

05:07:30:00

there was a bit of a problem here apparently, higher up, because they had three field companies over there for the attack and we came into it so we went up still as a 2/13th Field Company but as Corp troops and because in a

05:08:00:00

Division I don’t know how many divisions make up a Corp I didn’t get that hight in rank but there was, we were went up with the 30th Corp I think they were.
So are you talking about the attack on Tobruk? The night Tobruk fell? That was in 1941?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, that’s coming back,
Right.
We never ever lost

05:08:30:00

Tobruk. I was talking before about us going up the desert, we went up with the 6th Division but we weren’t controlled by the 6th Division we were controlled by 30th Corp really because they had their three divisions, the three field companies and we did go up and we went into Derna

05:09:00:00

and we ran the, got the power station going in Derna and attached to the power station was a mill, a flour mill and that was all controlled by the power station. So, and there were Italian people still living in Derna. They had to be looked after and you know so the power station was

05:09:30:00

necessary. The lines had been knocked down by shelling and this sort of thing so we repaired the lines as best we could or as nearly as good and whilst this was going on three of us moved with a, I already told you this, but moved with the, a company

05:10:00:00

of the 2/1st Battalion, 6th Division to go down into Apollonia by this time Barce had fallen and Cyrene had been taken that’s a town which leads down to Apollonia which is right on the sea, on the Mediterranean sea and became a

05:10:30:00

U-Boat [Unterseeboot, German submarine] Base in the Mediterranean belonging to the Italians. Not a U-Boat, I shouldn’t call it a U-Boat that’s German isn’t it…
Yes.
… but as a submarine base, and of the three one was my, to become my brother-in-law.

05:11:00:00

And we didn’t know it then of course.
No.
And the three of us went, there was the staff sergeant, the corporal who was Sandy and myself who was a lance corporal and we went down, Sandy had worked in a gas company. The

05:11:30:00

staff sergeant had been an orchardist, an orchard, he had an orchard in Tasmania, worked in an orchard and he had worked with diesels, diesel engines and these four plants in the power station at Apollonia were diesel driven alternators and his job was to,

05:12:00:00

to make sure because they took needle valves out of the injectors of the diesels and he had to find that out and get the diesels running and it was my job to look after the electrical side of it which I did. And Sandy was there because he was, there was only the three of us NCO’s [Non Commissioned Officers] in the

05:12:30:00

headquarter company of our field company and the, they were all involved in something else. So, we went down there. That’s where and at this time Barce had fallen and then when we got the field company power house going in Apollonia

05:13:00:00

which served the Tureenie up in the top of the hill we moved over to Barce and that’s when we looked after, well had the Italian prisoners working, started them working on fixing up their or reassembling gypo, not gypo, Italian

05:13:30:00

mines. We used to call them coffin boxes actually because they were long, they were about three feet long you know. And that’s about where we got to when I stopped talking on the way back from Benghazi. Well actually it was a way back from I’ve lost the name of the town again, don’t worry

05:14:00:00

about it but you’ve got it already, you’ve got it there anyway.
I do. I get confused personally with all the, how many divisions, how many different names for regiments different names for, I’m okay now I’m following you, but where I have trouble is trying to – because not coming from a military background and you know when people say I was with this division and then we were here and then there or wherever I sometimes get a bit lost with the

05:14:30:00

numbers.
Well there were only two divisions in the Middle East and that was the 6th and the 7th…
And the 9th…
… the 9th wasn’t formed then.
Oh okay…
The 9th was formed in Barce because we went up, the 18th Brigade did belong to the 6th Division

05:15:00:00

but there was a, a we were brought back, our Brigade, the 18th Brigade was brought back from England and went up the desert with the 6th Division and they had enough men over there to make up a whole division anyway but, and the 18th Brigade stayed with us when we were pushed back from Benghazi, the Benghazi

05:15:30:00

handicap they called it, pushed back to Tobruk and they were trapped in Tobruk with us but they never ever became 9th Division. 9th Division was formed in Barce, the 18th Brigade didn’t come up to, as far as Barce it was spread out doing something

05:16:00:00

they went down in to the desert out from in Egypt somewhere but the 9th Brigade, the 9th, 10th and 12th eventually came up to Tobruk and at that time the 9th Division was formed they didn’t include the 18th Brigade in it because in England we had formed another Brigade

05:16:30:00

with reinforcements and they were all now back in the Middle East so there was a big turnaround you know big change over. They formed the 9th Division and we stayed, we didn’t know which division we belonged to really until we were in Tobruk. We were still 6th Division as far as we were concerned and

05:17:00:00

there was a division, there was an infantry battalion, the 32nd Battalion 30/32nd and they were formed in England or given their name in England, and they stayed in the 9th Division. They formed another Brigade the 32nd,

05:17:30:00

the 28th, 32nd and 43rd now most Brigade numbers run 9th ,10th and 12th and so on you know but this extra division, extra brigade, am I making it difficult for you?
No, no, well I’m understanding but I mean I guess if we can bring it back a little bit talking about your experiences

05:18:00:00

over there. Well first of all have to ask you how were the Italian prisoners towards you or the Australians that you were with?
They were quite friendly they didn’t want to be in the war at all, I don’t think. I didn’t speak to all of them there were forty thousand of them there. No they, they didn’t have a heart in it

05:18:30:00

but then again they’re on the other side of the wire and they’ve got a rifle and a bayonet, it only needs them to fire and so they’re your enemy aren’t they. I don’t think they ever really had their heart in it properly.
You mentioned the power station work that you were doing in fixing the

05:19:00:00

lines, what else did you do?
In Derna?
Yes.
Well the, are we talking about Apollonia or Derna?
Well you worked in power stations in both of them didn’t you?
Both of them yeah, yeah.
Okay, no the one that you, Apollonia was the second one wasn’t it that you were at?
Yes, yes, the first one…
The first one…
No the second we’re at but you want to talk about the first one?

05:19:30:00

No, no, the second one because then we’re going to bring you back and tell us what happened after that what work did you do besides fixing the lines, what other work were the Australians involved in doing then, you were involved in doing?
When the three of us were down in Apollonia?
Yes.
Yeah, well they got the diesels going alright. There was no problem there. They ran along the front of

05:20:00:00

the alternator sets which all had a DC commutator, DC generator and they smashed the, with a hammer they smashed the brush gear and he commutators they went along and they ran along the switchboard and hit all the meters with a hammer, broke the glass and so forth. It was, they were in that much of a hurry

05:20:30:00

to get out that that stopped you using the plant and stopping the diesels stopped them using the plant and it didn’t take very long to repair it. I had a bit of trouble with the alternators, with the DC generators on the end of the alternators

05:21:00:00

because they’d hit the commutators and I had to lift them you know and that was my job before I joined so it wasn’t a difficult thing to do just took a little bit of time and I just pulled the glass out and shook the meters loose glass out of that and we had it running in oh a matter of a week I suppose.
Was this a generator you’re talking about? What…
The whole plant.
The whole

05:21:30:00

plant. So I know I don’t understand specifically what you’re talking about which is fine I’m just trying to get it down for the archive to know what kind of work you were doing? Was that the main problem?
That was the main problem and we had the plant back on line within the week. And there were lines running up to

05:22:00:00

Tureenie and there was one pole that they’d knocked the top insulator off and the line had fallen down on the other lines. Now when we got the plants working we couldn’t keep the breakers in because, on that line, so couldn’t use that line but I went up with some Arabs that had worked

05:22:30:00

for the station before that, they were linesmen and they fixed the, up the pole and fixed it.
These are just Arab civilians that were…?
They were Arab Turks, they see, Turkey owned Libya

05:23:00:00

or more of less controlled Libya, they’re all Arabs aren’t they, and so they were Libyans actually but they were Turkish Arab people you know.
So after Apollonia, that’s when you started to retreat, is that right, started to go back?
The retreat started right back at El Agheila

05:23:30:00

that’s where the foremost armour was, our armour and as we lose our armour the infantries got to come back too and he, Rommel came through in force but he swept down around the desert mainly and then he was, he had to push the infantry, the infantry tried to hold his infantry, he had

05:24:00:00

motorised infantry and they had to hold him and so that’s why we mined the road between Benghazi and Barce. We mined it with Italian mines which we had plenty of in Barce we were reassembling them and as I told you we lost a man

05:24:30:00

there but you know that’s part of the game.
On a mine?
Yes he was holding the mine back and a truck coming through hit the mine, accidentally, but you know accidents shouldn’t happen they happen today don’t they?
Yes.
And this fellow was blown off and that didn’t stop

05:25:00:00

anything really and so it wasn’t you know serious as far as the army was concerned. And it went on but and it didn’t stop the armour it stopped the motorised, it didn’t really stopped the motorised infantry coming, the German infantry coming either really the Panzer Division because they can go round the road we could only mine the road that’s all, at

05:25:30:00

that position. But then there was a, we blew a bridge at the bottom, at Barce. I don’t know what they did going the other side of Barce down to Mechili but there was a big cutting from Barce, Barce is a beautiful valley in the desert it’s really lovely. It’s not an oasis it’s a really beautiful place and

05:26:00:00

there was a little village called Maddalena and we blew the bridge there and then there’s an escarpment goes up, it’s quite a steep one but it was a beautiful Italian road, made road, made up which runs down to Derna and on further to the border to the Egyptian border and that had blown. The Italians had blown that as they went

05:26:30:00

out, blew the escarpment. So you couldn’t get traffic down you know, we had to put a detour around to get round it or the 6th Divvie did as they went you know to get their truck round it because it was quite steep, really steep but we blew that as we went up to stop him but that didn’t stop his armour.

05:27:00:00

His armour did come up around it and came down the road. So the armour was a problem and we didn’t have armour to protect us coming along the Derna road. The armour was too busy looking after Rommel out in the desert and they weren’t doing it too well. Or he was doing it better than

05:27:30:00

they did. Yes he was very very good.
Did you have any leave there in the desert? Did you have any leave at all?
No, no. No we didn’t get any leave and we got back as I told you we went round that bloke with the Red Cap on and came into Gazala and

05:28:00:00

our Gus Gurman and our Commander of Royal Engineers, Australian Engineers who was a colonel, Gus Gurman was the Major then, our Major, and Sir John Overall was our Lieutenant he I don’t

05:28:30:00

know what he did at Canberra, he had something with a building at Canberra I don’t know whether you, his name was ever mentioned, he became a colonel he became a knight too for his work on Canberra, anyone who works on Canberra can get a knighthood. And I’m not saying that against him because he was a very good man. They went into Derna,

05:29:00:00

the, most of the infantry went round through the desert, not through Derna, they tried to steer clear of Derna but most of the infantry by this time was back in Tobruk because it’s not far and they went into Tobruk and blew Tobruk

05:29:30:00

and made a job of it and then they were late getting back into Tobruk and I think they date they’ve put on the start of the siege of Tobruk is the 8th of April, I think.
1941?
1941 yeah.
Not January?
No,

05:30:00:00

no, Tobruk was taken by us in not 1941 no we were back there in 1940, no 1941
1941, yeah.
I’m sorry 1941 that’s right.
and so you were there while all that was happening?
Yes, yeah, but we didn’t lose it
No, you held it.
We held it.
Yes.
We held it right through. I’m sorry 1941 that’s right. Until November 1941 and we were pulled out as a division, they pulled the whole division out and the British took over they had Polish troop and British troops and so forth. There were always British troops in there. The British Horse Artillery were always there. The Northumberland Fusiliers were always there.

05:31:00:00

They, they had already done two years in the desert for a misdemeanour that had occurred in Palestine there was a problem with the British Army against the Palestinians before the war started. And the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Black Watch was involved in it. I think they took the Black Watch home I’m not sure they left them

05:31:30:00

in Egypt or what happened that’s how the story goes but the Royal Horse Artillery and the Northumberland Fusiliers were in Tobruk all they time we were there. I don’t know whether they came out with us but we came out in November. I had been out before that I got wounded in I

05:32:00:00

think June and I was operated on in – the hospital in Tobruk was still operating although they’d bombed it and bombed the top of it but the underneath was quite okay and everything was in working condition and of course the Australian

05:32:30:00

Army Medical Corp got it working properly if it wasn’t and they, they tried to take this piece out of my leg. I was going to say they broke it, well shrapnel can be in segments, it’s all stuck together sort of business. You know it’s molten metal broken out of a bomb or whatever

05:33:00:00

you know and I got a piece in the, in the, and they call it a, they call it a gunshot wound. I must, I did disagree with them. How would you, I was sort of shrapnel wound and I disagreed with a couple, when I first come out of the army I was disagreeing with everybody

05:33:30:00

but when you come to think of it a shell throws shrapnel and it’s a gun, it’s a field gun, that’s what the shell comes out of so… but to me a gunshot would’ve been from like a rifle and that’s where I was wrong I had to admit it eventually.
What did it matter what it was called

05:34:00:00

your leg was not very good?
No, they, the shrapnel and gone in and I couldn’t walk or anything, I ended up down at the hospital in Tobruk and they did take it out but in the process of taking it out they cut around the shrapnel it was hanging out

05:34:30:00

of my leg but it had gone into the bone. Into the centre and it probably was, it was a flattish bit and it must’ve turned, it had turned in the marrow or whatever’s in there you know and it broke off. Well it meant then it was a major job to cut the bone to get it out. And

05:35:00:00

so they put me on a destroyer took me down to Alexandria, from Alexandria they, there was a Greek hospital which the Australians had taken over and they had a look at the whatever information came with me in the envelope but they said “Oh no we can’t do

05:35:30:00

that either.” And they sent be to the 2nd AGH [Australian General Hospital] at the town named, I’ll get it in a minute, I’ll tell you when I get it, it was on the Canal or close to the Canal on the railway line and it was a 2nd AGH and they took it. They had a specialist there that

05:36:00:00

could do that. The boys in, the doctors in Tobruk weren’t interested in that you know it was too bloody difficult. But to them in the hospital down that at 2nd AGH, I think it was the 4th AGH in Tobruk but they didn’t have the class that was necessary you know. The fellow that looked at it said, “I’ll get that out alright.”

05:36:30:00

How did you end up getting the shrapnel wound in your leg anyway? I mean obviously during fighting but what happened?
Well I don’t know what it was from, it may have been from a mortar or a shell. It may have been, it could’ve been from a mine because there were mines exploding but I think it was,

05:37:00:00

it was a long pierce but it could’ve been.
But was it during one of the night raids?
Oh yes a night event yeah.
And where were you exactly when this all happened?
We used to go out, we’d go out sometimes to sappers with a night patrol maybe if it was a fighting patrol they’d take four

05:37:30:00

sappers out with them and the idea was, so that they could get back, they’d have to open the field because we had built, we had replaced the, not replaced the Itie mines, we left them where they are but we had enlarged the length of the mines fields in front of our posts and so forth

05:38:00:00

so that the tanks couldn’t get into the posts. And it meant that we had to lift them to get them out to get the patrol out and we had to close the wire or they’d close, we’d leave someone behind to close the wire and we had to get them back and we might have to come back in a

05:38:30:00

hurry further on because the minefield around Tobruk became a lot better than the Italians had it. Because the Italian hadn’t when the built it they hadn’t come up to the attacks like Rommel was, like the German army was at that time. It was an

05:39:00:00

old minefield in other words. And actually they were only, some of the minefields were only one mine wide and one mine and a wire in front, barbed wire in front which would stop natives or you know.
A bit like stepping stones?
Yeah, but it became pretty difficult to get in.

05:39:30:00

It stopped Rommel anyway while we were there.
We’re going to have to change tapes now.
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 06

06:00:33:00

We were just talking off camera about mines, do you remember the first mine that you had to diffuse or?
Well the first mine that I ever had anything to do with was the Italian mine in Barce because we had the prisoners doing the work for us

06:01:00:00

putting them together but they didn’t have any detonators. What we had, the most dangerous part of it, see they couldn’t explode the mines or anything. They could put the, we put gun cotton, some of them had gun cotton in them we put jelly bag in them. Amanol it was actually. Until the det’s placed in there and the dets weren’t placed in

06:01:30:00

until such times as they were going to be used so they could be travel, they could be you know the same with the gypo mine it was, we carried them in truckloads and not that I was ever in a truck with them but the driver had to worry about it if one exploded the lot would go up. And the but it

06:02:00:00

wasn’t dangerous to a tank you could put it out there and run over it a thousand times and it wouldn’t explode probably but it was the detonator that did the damage, that started it you know. You know what a detonator is? The gypo mine was just a, like a cup, like a plate it was about

06:02:30:00

nine inches in diameter but it was just a hood and a base and one fitted over the other and would on the top you know and it just had a det in a, on a stick again pushed in to pull out. And once the, to delouse it pulling out the det delouse the mine.

06:03:00:00

It’s not a, it’s not a, I know the infantry said they wouldn’t touch them you know. It needed a brave man to go out near them. But that’s not true. Well it’s true in a fashion a fool could make a mess of it you know but once the det came out the mine’s quite, quite

06:03:30:00

okay, excepting that you can’t just delouse one because if the other one goes off sympathetic explosion could occur and that one will go off as well you know.
But it must’ve been scary the very first time you had to do a live one a real one?
Once you know what to do it’s not, no it’s just like going

06:04:00:00

to work and operating a lathe or whatever you know.
You mentioned that in England you were trained on mines but only English mines but what about the first time you had to defuse like an access mine?
Well it is, yeah, I suppose you say it’s, yeah it is scary for awhile, yeah. Okay we’ll admit that.
Do you

06:04:30:00

remember that very first one that you had to do? Were you shaking or were you a bit nervous?
No I don’t think so. It would be a gypo mine but we did explode bombs if a bomb was dropped in places at times we’d have to detonate them

06:05:00:00

and then it means pushing a bit of fuse into the end of a det. Now it became, you really should have a pair of pliers and nip the, have you ever put a fuse in a det. No, I though you might’ve. You come from Long Reach don’t you? No you don’t oh I thought you did. Somebody told me recently they were brought up on a property in Long Reach.
No Sydney quite different.

06:05:30:00

Oh okay, well the detonators. Well the detonator is a little aluminium cylinder an the explosive part it’s about as long as my forefinger there that part of it and you push a, the fusible,

06:06:00:00

which is a fuse, into the end of it and if you light the end it’ll give you time to get away from it if you’re blowing something and you can set it the same as a fuse in a hand grenade.

06:06:30:00

When you let the, say on a Mills bomb you can pull the pin out and you can hold it until such time because as soon as you let it go and the lever flies out you can set it for seconds or whatever you know but that gives you time anyway to let it go,

06:07:00:00

you’ve got time to throw it. So the det, that goes in you push it in the only reason you’ve got it on a stick is so you can push the det in and something has to hit that det and from the top of the mine there is a little plunger

06:07:30:00

comes down and hits the det and sets it off that sets the whole thing off. So it’s not, you know unless you’re, we did have a few casualties with sappers because they get so accustomed

06:08:00:00

to using dets if they’re in a field company and even some of them haven got pliers they just bite the end on the fuse before the push it in and put it into place. Well biting the end of a det is ridiculous but it’s been done. And it’s done in mines

06:08:30:00

you know in mining and this type of thing it shouldn’t be done like that it should’ve been nipped a little bit. But with the gypo mine and the Itie [Italian] mine the stick just fits nicely into the end of the det [detonator] and you just push it gently into the or just pull it out to delouse it.
How would you find the mines when you were doing a bit of mine clearing, or clearing the mines?

06:09:00:00

When we started in Tobruk we had to, we never had mine detectors and all the time I was in the army I never ever used a mine detector I never saw one. We didn’t get them in Tobruk and so we went along and poked with the bayonet into the ground and once you felt it then you’d pull the sand away from

06:09:30:00

round it and felt for the det and pulled the det out. With the Teller mine, the German Teller mine you didn’t have to do that but you had to find the tappet and find the Teller mine it’s laying underneath the ground and the, there’s a plunger on the top and that’s what the tank runs over and

06:10:00:00

if you unscrew that it’s attached to the tope of the mine, if you unscrew that it’s safe. So your bayonet goes down through the, or you can dig around and try and find it but once you find where the mine is you can scrap the, you can find the knob, if you unscrew the knob

06:10:30:00

get it then the mines safe so it’s not such a difficult job but you want to know what you’re doing, yeah.
Well what about say walking around an area like how did you have to walk or?
In Tobruk and Alamein the problem was the teller mine walking

06:11:00:00

because you could probably walk over one and not set it off. Once you know where the first one is you know where the others’ll be. You find the first one and you’ll know, when they lay them you must lay them in a pattern, we had to lay them in a pattern, maybe four deep or whatever what depth you want

06:11:30:00

and as long as you want but a tank can’t, you can’t guide a tank through it because the first rows set and the second row, the next row’s half way so it come down to say four or five feet. They’re not, we don’t measure them with a tape measure or anything

06:12:00:00

to make sure they’re accurate so it’s difficult, a tank couldn’t be driven through it. They’d hit one sooner or later.
Why would they lay them in such neat patterns wouldn’t that just like…?
They’ve got to lift them up. We’d have to, we were taught, we learnt the hard way probably that you would have to know how they’re laid so that you could

06:12:30:00

lift them up when the time comes to go through them yourself.
But in as far as say providing a, a defence against the enemy, if the enemy can work out your pattern?
Yeah well you work out his pattern first, yeah we do, so you find the first one and delouse and it and you go along and find the next one and you know how he’s laid it.

06:13:00:00

Now, he’s, if he puts them down he’s got to be able to pick them up sooner or later. It doesn’t always work I know, but it’s wise isn’t it if you’re going to put something like that down in the ground you’ve got to know what the pattern is and

06:13:30:00

because and when we got to Alamein it was made, it was very, very important because we laid mines right from the sea right across our front and it wasn’t a straight line either you know but you can follow the wire whichever the wire goes, the wire’s on

06:14:00:00

the other side of it so the wire isn’t any problem to a tank he can run over the wire for that matter but he’s going to hit a mine sooner or later so he’s not going to run over the wire even but to get in and out we had to take patrols out of a night time and they wouldn’t, the

06:14:30:00

infantry, I’m not saying every infantrymen wouldn’t do it but they, the infantry decided it wasn’t worth trying because sooner or later one of them are going to make a mistake and so let the bloke that put them down pick them up. And they had them, we had

06:15:00:00

fellows working at El Alamein on the mine fields that we laid and we laid quite a lot of them and they were all mapped and they were all laid to a patter, same pattern and you know the, they had to be picked, we didn’t every have to pick them

06:15:30:00

up only to get out whilst we were there. When we left, when we sailed the mine field was still there and had to be picked up after we left. And I think they’re finding after the Vietnam War and you know in

06:16:00:00

Iraq today mines have just been laid higgledy piggledy you know and it’s created a lot of trouble in Vietnam anyway.
Well, speaking of their roles, anti-tank and you mentioned you could walk over some without doing it, but when you’re looking for that very first mine when you don’t know the pattern, how careful do you have to be about where you walk and how you

06:16:30:00

put your bayonet in like…?
Yes you have to be careful you have to find the first one first but the trouble with the Germans was that eventually they started to use a booby trap with them. Now every mine didn’t have a booby trap on it but if they put a booby trap underneath the mine

06:17:00:00

you had to make sure when you picked the mine up there wasn’t a booby trap underneath it. We could delouse a booby trap too. And we had little pins, I’ve got some still in my what’s a name there. Little pins with a little end turn around just like, you can make a pin with a piece of barbed wire just cut the plain piece off and unravel it you know you could make a bit to,

06:17:30:00

to poke it in and make it so. A booby trap you could put the pin in and you can put a pin in the tank mine and remove it without worrying about the det.

06:18:00:00

How would you exactly get rid of a booby trap if it’s trapped, if it’s underneath? How would you check how would you know?
Well you’ve got to dig down and you’ve got to find it and then delouse it and that’s what caused most of causalities was the fact that some of them he place underneath a mine a tank mine, some of them he had wires running

06:18:30:00

off different dets just poking up three little pins sticking up out of the ground. If they exploded the, a sympathetic explosion the tank mine would go up too but the, the booby trap the S-mine when

06:19:00:00

you stood on it or you hit the fire or pulled the wire the S-mine flew up in the air and then flew up just above head high and then exploded. And the, it would not only kill the man that it stood over, set it off but it spread out and they were

06:19:30:00

a container and they different things in them like when they were made old ball bearings, in factories like old ball bearings, old bits of steel and so forth and the case of course would break up into shrapnel and that’s where a lot of, a lot of well most of, I’d say, probably most,

06:20:00:00

a big percentage of the casualties came amongst the engineers.
Did you ever see this happen yourself?
Oh yes. Oh yes. And at Alamein there were a lot of casualties a lot of minefields too.
How hard’s it to do your job when you’re

06:20:30:00

dealing with these kind of weapons?
Well booby traps make it’s a lot, a lot more difficult and it had happened just cutting the wire and delousing but then you’ve got to cut the wire and he’s sitting

06:21:00:00

back there watching you with a machine gun so you know it’s not easy to, most attacks went on at night time of course and you could get to it and blow the wire but you still had to, to delouse it to go, his mine his field to go through it and for the infantry to go through it.

06:21:30:00

And you need more than one gap to put a, you know, to cover a battalion.
Well how long would it take to delouse like a mine usually would it take? How long would it take to…?
To lift them?
Yeah to lift them?
No, it didn’t take long of a night time if you’re going out on patrol and if you’re not

06:22:00:00

facing machine gun fire. The, you know the pattern you know his pattern and you only lift a small portion to let the infantry through and they go on and deal

06:22:30:00

with him. And then that gap has to be widened of course for a tank but you’ve got to get through it first before the tank can get up there to help you so you’re on your own.
And how would you mark these gaps? Or would you guard these gaps or?

06:23:00:00

We put a tape down so that, and near a post we’d put a tape down so that we could go out and leave it there so they could come back unless it was in a position where they might say, no you’ve got to pull that tape out and put it in when you come back, but

06:23:30:00

that seldom happened. It’s not as, it can be done quite easily providing you know what you have to do. The biggest problem was booby traps and

06:24:00:00

I didn’t see any in New Guinea I was in company headquarters and I wasn’t going out for boobies. They did find some boobies at the Finschhafen …

06:24:30:00

area at Jemaluang I never ever saw one but then again I didn’t have to go out with the infantry at that stage cause I’d come up to headquarter sergeant. They didn’t meet a lot though, we didn’t have a problem.
And like at El Alamein for

06:25:00:00

example when you’re going at night on these patrols and you’re having to create these gaps was there any pressure with time or anything so that you couldn’t check – like how effectively could you check for these booby traps, would you be really thorough?
Well it, on a patrol you’re not worried about booby traps really

06:25:30:00

you’re only worried about getting the boys out through the gap, your own gap and you know where the mines are and you know there are no booby traps there so you put the tape down, you’re quite competent yourself that you could walk through there but it’s not good unless they you know you’ve got to put a mark for them

06:26:00:00

to walk through. And so we’d lay the tape and they’d see us do it and so forth and we’d go out and the, we have to come back too but most of the time we’d just lay the tape and go out on the patrol and if it was just a reconnaissance patrol

06:26:30:00

you might not get into trouble out there so well you might be pushed back but even so it wouldn’t be an attack from them and they wouldn’t be coming back looking for you so.
And what tools did you have to use? What did you have, did you have like a tool box or?
No, no, no well all you’re doing is, is digging in the sand to find the mine.

06:27:00:00

If you’re going to go through his minefield, not your own, you know where your own are and you can pick them up.
But in his minefield like?
Well yes you only need the bayonet to find the first mine and then it’s a matter of finding the pattern. To get through his minefield though you’ve got to be worried about boobies

06:27:30:00

and you’ve got to make sure that there’s no boobies there.
So what have you got, clippers or what have you got to cut through wires and to dig?
You don’t want to cut the wire if it’s laid, it’s waiting for someone to pull it and stretch it so you’ve got to find the mine, dig down and…

06:28:00:00

Lift it slowly or…?
Well get your hands down and get the det out.
Just with your fingers or?
Yes or if you can find the hole that the pin goes in put the pin in and then forget about it leave it there.
Now we were talking before about Tobruk and you went into Tobruk basically

06:28:30:00

tell us about the first few days here as you came under attack?
Fire few days?
Yes.
Well he had to get all his strength down he wanted to take Tobruk and we manned the posts as we got

06:29:00:00

the people going back and they had to be put into different places. That relied on our brigadiers and battalion colonels to decide and so the first, the most dangerous time was the first

06:29:30:00

week or so, couple of weeks. He attacked, the first real attack he made was in Easter. Now Easter is some, Easter Monday, when does Easter Monday fall, I don’t know I can’t remember.
It’s some time in April usually?
It’s in April yeah.
but it changes every year.
But it doesn’t change by very much does it?
Not by that much, depending on the full moon.

06:30:00:00

Yeah. Well he attacked, well he didn’t really he probed and the infantry were able to look after him but he, his first real attack happened on El Adam Road which ran out from the south of Tobruk. It’s a road that runs right down

06:30:30:00

into the desert and it, there was the post thirty three and thirty five, all of those mines around Tobruk the, they were staggered and the outside line were all

06:31:00:00

uneven numbers like one, three five and seven you know and the inside posts were even numbers. So they were numbered from into Tobruk a road called… I’ve lost the name of that I’ll tell you in a minute,

06:31:30:00

not El Adam Road, another road that run at right angles from Fort Palestino which is right in Tobruk, and what was the question?
I’m not sure…
Oh no about April, you’re right…
Just coming under attack those first few days, yeah…
Well he attacked and the other post were thirty three and thirty five, thirty four’s in the middle,

06:32:00:00

in the centre of those but stepped back. That’s so that they could fire enfiladed fire and from the inside posts you know and knew where the outposts were and the, he attacked at that point and that is the point El Adam Road where the 6th Divvie made one of the

06:32:30:00

first attacks because Bardia Road and Derna Road come in along the coastline and more or less you know not necessarily on the coast but they were closer to the coast than anywhere else. Particularly on the Derna side of Tobruk it’s quite close to the coast

06:33:00:00

on the Egypt side of Tobruk it’s further south, Bardia Road comes in and it depends on the waddies, the waddies are valleys, gorges you might call them, that come up and run from the coast caused by rain thousands of years ago you know. And well that’s where he attacked first that was

06:33:30:00

a particularly strong attempt he used engineers, assault engineers and motorised infantry to come up in the El Adam Road area and his tanks and he was going to demolish the forward posts and the,

06:34:00:00

he got in through the wire. There was a, El Adam Road there’s no tank trap, there’s a tank trap that comes up to each side of it but it’s not so bad at El Adam Road because it is a roadway in and out of Tobruk and he eventually got in with his tanks. He got through the infantry with his tanks and the infantry was

06:34:30:00

smart enough to forget about it let him go what could they do with him what can they do with a tank wait for his infantry and his tanks got in quite past the forward posts and it meant that the artillery twenty five pounders had him under open sights.

06:35:00:00

The, whilst this was happening his infantry came in and attacked the posts of course and there was quite a fight there and the twenty five pounders destroyed a couple of his tanks

06:35:30:00

and he had to retire but he was in there long enough before the infantry, before the artillery really got at him for the infantry to get in, for his infantry to get in and attack.
What was your view of this where were you and what did you see?
We were up there at thirty five the 2/17th Battalion were in there.

06:36:00:00

Our positions, our jobs were to cover 3 Battalion, Brigade, and so we’d only have two or three men at each battalion you know and we’d have two men to go to a post

06:36:30:00

and at the Easter Battle I was in the post thirty five and they went through and the infantry couldn’t do anything about him with his tanks but they had to deal with the infantry

06:37:00:00

and there was a big fight there. There was a VC [Victoria Cross] winner at that time. The first one, I think probably the first of the Australian Forces in the Second World War, Jack Edmondson I think, I’m not quite sure I think

06:37:30:00

but he went to the assistance of the, I can’t think of the Lieutenant’s name, who was having trouble with a couple of Germans and he had his bayonet stuck and Edmonson ran in and

06:38:00:00

saved the day for him and then he attacked, not only, he attacked quite frequently with the bayonet and he was awarded the VC but he died that night before he got the VC.
It often happens. And had you laid a lot of the mines in the defence of Tobruk in the time leading up to that…?
Yeah I’d

06:38:30:00

say probably particularly in Tobruk and in El Alamein yeah, yes, hundreds. We probably laid thousands because particularly in Tobruk. No I shouldn’t say that because we were only seven months in Tobruk and I was out for a month or so but

06:39:00:00

in El Alamein we were back at El Alamein in June 1942. See we went out of Tobruk in September, October, November, no, no, October

06:39:30:00

I think the last of the battalions came out in November about October and we went up into Syria.
We’d better pick that up on the next tape because we’re right at the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 07

07:00:33:00

Tom you were talking just at the end of the last tape to Keirnan about going into Syria?
The what?
Going in Syria, can we pick up from there what you were just telling Keirnan?
About going to Syria?
Yes.
This is after Tobruk?
Yes, yes, can you tell us about that happened then.
Well we were taken out of

07:01:00:00

Tobruk as a Division and in our division was three battalions, 9th, 10th and 12th which were the battalions of the 18th Brigade and they belonged to the 7th Division and the 7th Division had been moved back to Australia

07:01:30:00

and the, I think, I don’t know who was, Curtin was the Prime Minister wasn’t he? I forget but anyway I think it was Curtin and he wanted the whole 9th Division brought back to Australia. He’d already moved the 6th back

07:02:00:00

and rightly so you know but they didn’t get right back they got held up in Java or somewhere and fell into trouble there and so forth and it’s just as well he did as he did. I’m not saying that… Howard should bring the troops home from

07:02:30:00

Iraq you know there’s nothing political about it as far as I’m concerned but it was the right thing for Curtin to do and he also wanted the 7th and 9th back and of course General Blamey went back with the 6th and 7th and took some, half the 7th back and then he took the 9th 10th and

07:03:00:00

12th home as well because they belonged to the 7th. The 8th division had been annihilated in May, in Malaya and so he wanted the 9th, Curtin wanted the 9th or Tom did I suppose, I suppose I can call him Tom, so

07:03:30:00

it meant that the 7th Division without the 9th, 10th and 12th had gone up into Syria and I think they fought the French up there cause they had Syria and the so the 9th, 10th and 12th

07:04:00:00

went back to join their Division they were never in the 9th Division as I told you before, the 9th was formed in Barce and although it’s, Tobruk is called, I shouldn’t say the 9th Division did it, the 9th, 10th and 12th I don’t think

07:04:30:00

were included in that and they were there all the time anyway I’m not going to argue about that. They didn’t come up to Syria when we went up to Syria where it was more as a rest, as a you know, and I can’t think of the name of the place I think it was

07:05:00:00

Farvickcombe [?] or something it was up in the Kurd Country up in the north and almost to Aleppo almost to the Turkish border and so they decided that we’d do exercises up there along the Turkish border because there was a problem as far as Britain was concerned that the Turks

07:05:30:00

may come in on Germany’s side and come down and it would’ve been difficult for the British Army to stop them they had enough on their hands with Rommel and had Germany been able to talk the Turks into attacking down at the same time as Rommel was attacking

07:06:00:00

and we thought that the British would hold Tobruk anyway and they didn’t, did they, you know. The, we were up there on a, having a break you know doing exercises. We didn’t do anything really,

07:06:30:00

we… it snowed whilst we were up there and there was nothing we could do and we were getting leave to Damascus and this sort of thing and we had a good break but that was in say

07:07:00:00

November, December. It snowed about Christmas time I think then we moved back to the coast to Tripoli, see there’s a Tripoli in Syria and there’s a Tripoli in Libya and from Tripoli there’s a pipeline

07:07:30:00

from the Iraq oilfields and it runs up underground I think anyway, and comes out in, to a refinery in Tripoli on the coastline or just north of Tripoli and it’s called the IPC Barracks, Iranian, no Iraqi

07:08:00:00

Petroleum Company Barracks and we moved our headquarters into Iraqi Petroleum Company’s Barracks fortunately. They were good barracks nicely concrete barracks and you know. And so it was really a holiday and we were given leave into Tripoli wherever we wanted to go and down to Beirut

07:08:30:00

and this sort of thing. And the war was over as far as they were concerned. The 7 Divvie had attended to that with the British no doubt and so it was a real good break you know. But then in June, I don’t know when Tobruk fell really

07:09:00:00

but Rommel did take Tobruk and I can’t tell you the month, I don’t remember really but it must’ve been around June, May or June or something like that because he also came right down as far as El Alamein and he

07:09:30:00

so they moved us back from Syria back up to supposedly El Alamein but it was the next station further west at this place called Tel el Eisa so that’s where the Battle for El Alamein started

07:10:00:00

at Tel el Eisa. It didn’t start until October 23rd so but he held that position right down to almost to Tel el Eisa his front line was just up past, actually he was at Tel el Eisa station.

07:10:30:00

I think earlier on he was right at El Alamein but there’s a, Qattara Depression is right down in the valley, in the desert I should say and he, that’s where he was halted and, but all the time armour was being built up by the British Army and,

07:11:00:00

when did the Japanese attack…?
December 1941.
December 1941, that December, well then the Americans started to build-up to come over and attack over in France and then we were getting in the desert at El Alamein at Tel el Eisa

07:11:30:00

we were getting more strength in the air and on the land but in the meantime we had to hold him at Tel el Eisa which we did. And, the line was

07:12:00:00

stabilised and having a stabilised line there that’s where the, the front line of El Alamein started from so that was the end of our Syrian holiday. But

07:12:30:00

it lasted for eight months or so.
Doesn’t sound much like a holiday?
Oh it was good up in Syria it was good, very good. We did exercises, brigade exercises and all this sort of think that was doing it up around the Aleppo area

07:13:00:00

was to just let, Turkey know that you know.
I’ll just get you back to you were talking about Curtin making the, well having the troops come home. When you came back home that’s when you had to go and be trained in Jungle warfare is that correct?

07:13:30:00

Yes we went up to Kairi up on the Tablelands, Atherton Tablelands and yeah we were doing well we had to change all our clothing because we had khakis in the desert and we had to change to greens to go to New Guinea and all that sort of thing you know. And they took the advantage of

07:14:00:00

letting some of the older men please themself and go out if they wanted to. They did, and quite a lot of them did, yeah.
Why did you stay?
I was only twenty, twenty, twenty three, in 1943 I was twenty three. I was still a young fella.
But still were they not going to get rid of you? Did they ask you if you’d

07:14:30:00

like to go?
Oh no, no, no it wasn’t like that really it was just that the, the elder fellows had had enough they weren’t twenty three a lot of them were forty three and older you know and they had come back

07:15:00:00

and joined their families again and all that sort of thing they’d been away for nearly three years and so and not only that there were two million Americans here and

07:15:30:00

what was our population then?
Six million I think.
Yeah five or six million, yeah was it, yeah.
I think so…
Well see, they didn’t really need Australians in the north but of course it was our country, well it wasn’t really our country we did have a mandate over New Guinea didn’t we.

07:16:00:00

So were you, did you have to go through all the basic jungle training like all the grunts or the infantrymen?
Oh Yeah, well it wasn’t, it wasn’t there was not a lot of training as far as the jungle’s concerned we didn’t know the jungle. They could only tell you what it was like but – when the first

07:16:30:00

Australians went up there to defend that jungle they didn’t know either they had to do it the hard way. So, it was a matter of re… reuniting the divisions our division and there was, there was problems with lots of married fellows that had

07:17:00:00

been away for two or three years that caused a lot of trouble.
What do you mean by that?
Well their home life, married men and their families had busted up and you know things like that and that caused a bit of trouble but I think mainly the older fellows that had families and

07:17:30:00

it was more or less a compassionate…
Gesture?
… gesture, yeah.
So tell us then what happened after you were trained up there in Atherton in the Atherton Tablelands did they say, “Okay well you’re off to New guinea now.”?
Oh we knew we were going to New Guinea, yeah. Oh we didn’t know exactly where we were going but see

07:18:00:00

we knew all about Milne Bay happening and all that sort of thing and… at the same time as we went up the Americans landed in the Solomons and I can’t think of the name of the…
Guadalcanal…
Guadalcanal yes, and I’ve been there since

07:18:30:00

and the, see they had a good win up there and that was the start. Well the Australians had been in trouble before that in New Guinea hadn’t they but they’d managed to hold him but they weren’t going to hold him much longer, so yeah, we needed the Americans and…

07:19:00:00

What are you laughing at?
Well I suppose we…
We’re in a similar situation these days is that what you’re…?
No, no I think that if you know

07:19:30:00

Asian Countries united against us we would still need the Americans. We’re only a population of twenty million aren’t we I think there is I don’t know probably in Malaysia alone there’d be more than that.
I think so yes.
And you know if China, I don’t think that would ever happen but it might happen mightn’t it or it

07:20:00:00

could.
I hope not.
I hope not too.
But now you went over to the Pacific, you actually arrived in Lae is that right?
We didn’t arrive in Lae, the Japanese had Lae, they were holding Lae.
So is it around the corner about…?
We were at Rabaul, not Rabaul, I’m sorry, no, no, they held Rabaul too we were at Buna, we landed near Buna and

07:20:30:00

we left from Trinity Beach just up past Cains and on Liberty ships and see there’s the Americans again they, what they had going for them we’d have been lost without them. We would’ve had real trouble getting him out. And so

07:21:00:00

the Japanese were beaten then down here, down in the Australian area really. They never ever got here to Australia really but they flew over that’s all with what the Americans were doing in the Coral Sea Battle and so forth and you know I think they, the lines

07:21:30:00

of communications were that long that they only had to be moved back that’s all I think they were beaten then. Well they weren’t beaten they lasted for some time didn’t they, they lasted for another two years didn’t they.
Yes.
1944 and 1945. We were, we were I think in my

07:22:00:00

experience of New Guinea isn’t, wasn’t, wasn’t so good either I didn’t like it very much afterwards but I mean because I got Malaria early and Dengue fever and the, we left Rabaul, Buna by

07:22:30:00

landing craft, landing, LST’s [Landing Ships Transport]and we landed fourteen miles the other side of Lae and we worked back along the coast at the same time the 7th Division left Port Moresby by plane and they landed at Nadzab north of Lae

07:23:00:00

up in the Ramu Valley and we attacked it wasn’t a devil of a big attack. They had us under fire of course they were out there protecting Lae and also I think they gave 7th Divvie a bigger hiding than they gave us. They didn’t give us a hiding but they gave them more trouble than they gave

07:23:30:00

us. They held us up for some time, we were at the Busu River, north, west of the Busu River I was with the 28th Battalion not with them that’s a Battalion that we were looking after and the

07:24:00:00

24th they were north of them and at that stage I was headquarter sergeant and we didn’t go up to the infantry we, they were, they were between the Busu River and the Burep and they were, they were holding waiting for the 7

07:24:30:00

Divvie coming down the Ramu Valley and I think he put more weight on them then he was putting on us. And…
You mean the Japanese?
Yes. And we, whilst he was still mortaring us and that’s all but he didn’t have any big field guns or any armour or

07:25:00:00

anything like that so it was a different, entirely different war you know. And I didn’t get malaria until we moved from – when the 7th. Divvie got to Lae we moved in on him and but he moved out between us.

07:25:30:00

When we got into Lae he wasn’t there, he’d gone. There was some talk he must’ve gone out by submarine well I don’t think so. We’d had a big battle in the Solomon’s and the Coral Sea and I don’t think that although

07:26:00:00

we had a couple of miniature subs down in Sydney didn’t we. But I don’t think anything like that it could’ve happened I don’t know he was still a bit stronger further up towards the Madang area you know but we only went, when we did move from Lae

07:26:30:00

we, I got Malaria about that time. I managed to go over across to the 7th. Divvie with a mate of mine that had a brother in the 7th. Divvie and he met him and so forth and

07:27:00:00

but they didn’t know where the Japs had gone either some how or other they cleared out between us but they were still up at the Shaggy Ridge and at Finschhafen they were well established but then we made another landing up at Finschhafen

07:27:30:00

and…
What was that like Tom?
Well he was pretty strong there but then that’s the only, after Lae that was the only strong point he had waiting I don’t think he thought he’d ever have to defend it. He was particularly strong at

07:28:00:00

Jemaluang which is up towards Sattelberg on the Finschhafen area and he took a bit of shifting from there but in the meantime I had been flown over to Moresby with Malaria

07:28:30:00

because we couldn’t get, what’s the stuff you take for…?
Atabrine and Chloroquine…
No, no, well it may be today but the main thing you took for malaria in those days was…
Quinine?
Quinine yeah and we couldn’t get it and so I was lucky enough

07:29:00:00

to be put on a plane up in Nazdab and flown across and flown back just to get Quinine, ‘Quin-ine’ it is not ‘Quin-in’ but I was only over there for a week or so and it fixed me pretty well, well I though it had fixed me but it didn’t fix me at all

07:29:30:00

actually so from Finschhafen on to Sattelberg I was continually down.
What about, sorry Tom for interrupting, but you were saying the Japanese were very strong at Finschhafen are you talking about when you first landed and you had some opposition there on the beach is that correct?
Yes they were, they were strong, yeah, but...
So did you run out of the landing craft

07:30:00:00

was that the…?
Oh yes, yeah but it wasn’t like Gallipoli or anything. And they moved back and they held for awhile at Jadevanang and then they held for awhile up on the next ridge, they held at Sattelberg for awhile and there was a VC won at Sattelberg.

07:30:30:00

And then the next ridge over was, I’ve forgotten it…
That’s alright, so I’m just trying to get this right when you, you didn’t actually spend much time there in Finschhafen because you were sick?

07:31:00:00

No I didn’t get sick in Finschhafen I was right until, after I came back from, from New Guinea, from Port Moresby I was alright until and I went up to Sattleberg and up from Sattleberg across I did a trip across to and I’m trying to think of the name of the place and I can’t

07:31:30:00

it was a mission up there beforehand so was Sattleberg and we were going to do a, the 2/24th were up there, and we were going to do an attack down to the coast but and he gave us a bit of a hiding up there for awhile. Not a hiding but kept us quiet

07:32:00:00

and it’s so close in the jungle you know they are so close and although once he was, he was pushed off Sattleberg the only place to fight was up on top of

07:32:30:00

Boria, not Boria, no, I can’ think of the name of it, it doesn’t matter… but he could see us from up on that ridge he could see us at Sattleberg you could see him, all out in the jungle but he was too far away the two peaks were too far

07:33:00:00

away.
What was your main job to do there? I mean you talked about when you were in the desert about the mines and the booby traps what was your job in the jungle?
Just to get them across the rivers. For instance the Busu River was a, we became more or less part of the Army Service Corp I suppose

07:33:30:00

because we had to, we couldn’t form roads quickly enough but we had to get ammunition and that sort of stuff across we had a medical… ambulance, field ambulance with us because it was

07:34:00:00

too close to take them up to the front line and he was continually snipping from back where he was to the Busu, to the what do they call that river?
The Busu.
The Busu and he could mortar us but it was, but it was nothing like the desert.

07:34:30:00

It wasn’t as heavy, he couldn’t mortar as heavy. He was, he was worn out in Lae and when we got to Finschhafen he’d moved back to Finschhafen he’d left somehow he’d left a, someone to look after the place but his main strength was at Finschhafen. Yes he put up a bit of

07:35:00:00

a fight there but it wasn’t a great deal sickness was worse than him.
So did you have many troubles…
And he had trouble with sickness too, there was a lot of them, we took a lot of prisoners in Finschhafen because they were sick, they were left, left behind. Some of them still in their mosquito nets we’d come across them as we moved

07:35:30:00

up and we moved right up to a place called Kanomi Beach and I think the front went to Sio and from, at, on Sattleberg, let’s go back to the Busu at Lae

07:36:00:00

we moved across the Busu and got to the Burat River and I’d been across to the 7th Divvie and come back and I hadn’t seen our major who wasn’t Gurman then, he’d left us in Australia he got burnt in his sleeping bag but the captain had gone up, Moody had gone up to Major.

07:36:30:00

And Major Moody came down to me and I was down and he said, “Ah ha you haven’t been taking your Atebrin’s.” I said, “I’ve been taking them every night.” And I hadn’t seen him since we left Buna at this time and

07:37:00:00

he’d never got up to our line actually he was in contact with the because it was spread up through the jungle and it wasn’t so easy to get from one place to another you know and to come up the coastline we were walking in water all the time you know and

07:37:30:00

there was no way we could make a track to bring some vehicles in you know so that’s what he said to me, he said, “You haven’t been taking your Atebrin.” I said, “I’ve been taking them everyday.” And but I did have malaria bad and he said, “Well we’re going to move again shortly” and he said,

07:38:00:00

“so you’ll have to get some real treatment and put you on a plane in Nadzab.” And so they drove me up to Nadzab and I got a plane, it wasn’t, I think it was a DC3 or something which was a big plane in those days you know. I don’t know what it was really and

07:38:30:00

then I flew back. I still, I was alright and I was alright up in Sattleberg and I hadn’t had an attack since and I thought well I was just unlucky that’s all and we used t have a, up on Sattleberg

07:39:00:00

I was in headquarter section, of course, I was staff sergeant at headquarters and of a morning we used to make a cup of tea and Moody would sleep in his mosquito net and what’s a name and his batman came out this morning and he, with a cup of

07:39:30:00

tea and took it back into his, where he had his little hideaway and we call him the Bull that was his name, Bull Moody we called him and the Bull’s not coming out for a cup of tea this morning. And Sammy said…

07:40:00:00

the next thing we know there’s a jeep, you could run a jeep up to Sattleberg cause it was a mission at one time and so was the other place and a jeep comes up and you didn’t drive a jeep up there just for fun you know, but you could get one up there. And turns around and Moody come out a blanket over his head and got straight in the

07:40:30:00

car, he’d had it, he had malaria. And I didn’t get a chance to say anything and I don’t think I would’ve said it either. “Have you been taking your Atebrin, Sir?”
Alright, we’d better switch tapes, Tom.
Interviewee: Thomas Dickson Archive ID 1913 Tape 08

08:00:35:00

Alright, we were just talking about New Guinea and all that, tell us how did it compare for you being a veteran of the desert, how did you compare the two environments the jungle and the desert, which was better which was worse?
I have to say that the early fights that they had in New Guinea

08:01:00:00

against the Japanese would have been dreadfully hard working in the jungle would’ve been very, very difficult. The fire power though in the desert was ten or twenty times greater than the, than what we saw in the islands.

08:01:30:00

For instance at Alamein there was a thousand guns spread over the attack frontage you know and it was massive really, a massive attack and I think it was something like they did in France you know in the First World War that type of thing

08:02:00:00

and it had to be, it had to be that way to stop him because he was that close to the canal that you know and had he got there I think it would’ve been the finish.
Tell us what it was like to be part of that kind, that big battle with all those big guns, what was it like in the mix, in the middle of that?
Oh it was,

08:02:30:00

It’s had to describe but really… he was beaten in that battle really it only lasted from the 23rd to the 1st - we were pulled out on the 7th of November, it was all over it started on the 23rd of October

08:03:00:00

and the first week of it was, we didn’t know which way it was going and he came up, he moved his armour up at the coast to try and break through, he didn’t break through us and he thought it was because there was so much armour down below and Montgomery obviously played the game

08:03:30:00

better than he did, he won it he must’ve. But when he moved the, he moved one of his big Panzer Division I think it was the 21st Panzer Division up against us to break through there. See we were on the highway actually, the main road and

08:04:00:00

across the main road and down further they were in the desert, desert all the time and so there was a big battle out in front of us the 30th Corp battle and once they broke through from us and that decided what was going to happen to him really but he moved his

08:04:30:00

armour up and he attacked closer to the coastline to try and break through us. It was a… It was far, far greater stuff falling around you than could possible fall around you in the jungle.
I was going to ask you what was it like personally

08:05:00:00

for you with this, with these guns going all the time and you know with shrapnel falling around?
I think we were accustomed to it in the desert because we’d had seven months or most of the seven months in Tobruk and he was at us all the time

08:05:30:00

but the fire power couldn’t compare anywhere near what the fire power was at, and he’d built up his forces on the other side of the line too you know we weren’t the only ones firing he had tremendous fire power too and big eighty, seventy eights and plenty of

08:06:00:00

tanks but it was a big tank battle that, then again our armour had to get out to him they couldn’t get past each other down in the desert and they couldn’t decide it, it had to be decided up there and we had to hold him there and that’s all we did. We push him

08:06:30:00

oh probably I don’t know how far, probably not very far but we’d beaten him, we had beaten his infantry and brought his Panzers around and it was the last stroke to play and had he broken through there he’d have got around behind the armour but he didn’t get though.

08:07:00:00

What was, I know your role of laying mines and de-mining and all that through the lead up to El Alamein…
We had finished laying mines.
I know, I’m saying like but what was your role during the heated kind of two weeks of that battle?
We were, we went with infantry we might shift from, the infantry

08:07:30:00

were going for different positions too and we might move from one battalion to another but we’d go in with them because every position that you went to, not towards the end of course, he didn’t have time, but there was a chance there’d be a booby trap field around him and we had to go in with them.

08:08:00:00

But it was only a week or so you know but it was a pretty rough week and I think after being in Tobruk for that long we were accustomed t it, yeah but we weren’t accustomed to the jungle warfare and I think you’d have to fight in

08:08:30:00

the jungle to become accustomed to it and the boys in the 8th Division they faced it, threat, you see we knew nothing about jungle fighting really and I don’t think they’d know a great deal about it

08:09:00:00

and he got into them quick and but he’d had plenty of experience in the jungle.
And what about around El Alamein when you were under attack where would you take cover, what would you do, would you lie in the trenches?
At El Alamein?
Yeah?
Well we had trench lines and posts…

08:09:30:00

that’s all we had it was trench warfare. At the attack at El Alamein we had his trench line you might say. We moved, we moved from our original positions and all our objectives became another set of trench lines and so forth

08:10:00:00

so we had cover.
And as you moved forward you had to take out their mines?
Oh yes and after we found a mine fence we had to delouse enough to put tank roads through, to get tanks through. That was carried out

08:10:30:00

at El Alamein, the widening, a lot of it was carried out by the field parks they brought them in because they were educated in minefield and we’d do the break through but then some of our other companies would clear the gaps properly.
Who were the field parks?
The

08:11:00:00

Field park was the first, we had a field park behind us all the time and they didn’t take part in the initial, the field companies did the front. We were originally field park in Australia and England and in England we became a field company.
Were

08:11:30:00

there time pressures to clear these, these tank routes through the minefields because of the heat of the battle and…?
They had to be done, yeah, see the infantry, we put the infantry through to start with. Whoever was detailed to go with the infantry stayed with them and went up to the next because if they could’ve gone further over the next line they’d take it

08:12:00:00

and gone through and then that the sappers that weren’t with the battalion that made the attack cleared the minefield to a width wide enough for a road, a tank road and of course those, those

08:12:30:00

tank roads were well made to, well known to him to him more the devil you know when he thought someone was using it but not during the heat of battle. Once we’d gone through it relieves the pressure on that area up to a point and he still heavy

08:13:00:00

shell stuff behind him of course he could pop over and mortar fire but he was too busy in, with the frontal troops and so those that weren’t in with the infantry, for the initial attack, would clear the field and just make it wide enough and the mines were just stacked up on the outer part of the

08:13:30:00

field.
And what was your role in the heat of the battle were you up with the infantrymen or were you clearing the tank gaps?
Yes well it depended upon the night. Some nights you’d go in with a battalion and then the next night you would be relieved and you’d go in

08:14:00:00

and help clear the mines and whatever or next day or whatever it was.
And I mentioned like because you were moving quickly was this an added danger to clearing the mines like having to clear it quickly or?
No, no, no, not added danger. No it, well I shouldn’t have said that I suppose, it depends on

08:14:30:00

the individual on the person for instance we had a fellow named Ted Perdy, now he had a son in the air force that was his age you know I’m saying he was, he would have to be a man over forty, and wouldn’t have to be but, he would’ve been and Ted was, hadn’t gone through the first gap

08:15:00:00

with the infantry he was back and his job was with the rest of the platoon that he was with clearing what was left you know make it wide enough for a tank to go through and he had, he was picking mines up someone was lifting them and he was picking them up and stacking them

08:15:30:00

and he had, instead of carrying two at a time he was carrying he had five in his arms and obviously one of them the stick had, they were gypo mines, and the stick probably came out of the det and left the det in there

08:16:00:00

and he had these five mines, it was alright to carry them but you had to drop them but that wouldn’t matter if they’d been deloused properly but whoever deloused it hadn’t seen the det come out they pulled the stick out of it out of the det and he must’ve squeezed it and it went off well we didn’t find him, well they didn’t find him. They said they found part of his back bone

08:16:30:00

and part of this and… and there’s always a danger probably but that’s what do you call it… it’s foolhardy yes but it’s an individual, no that’s not the right it’s…

08:17:00:00

well it’s the wrong way to do it anyway. Yes there is always a problem like that. Well it’s not as dangerous going out lifting them in the first place.
Well I was curious to know whether you ever had to set up booby traps when you were laying the mines, did you…?
We never ever, we did have a booby trap

08:17:30:00

actually a Hawkins mine they called and but we didn’t choose them. They were used but we didn’t get them until Alamein there’s lots of things we didn’t have well until well I should say I suppose until Montgomery came on the scene but he came on the scene with the, with the better supply of everything we got

08:18:00:00

maybe he wasn’t responsible for that but the fact is that it was supplied to us we had better air cover and everything. But… I can’t, what was the question?
Did you ever set booby traps?
Oh, Hawkin, no, the only booby traps we had was Hawkins mines

08:18:30:00

and they were only two pound pressure. You could actually use them as a hand grenade cause if you threw them hard enough at oncoming traffic well personnel oncoming, it would explode if you hit him right. Two pounds in not a lot of

08:19:00:00

weight necessarily and you could do it, you could throw it at someone and it would explode but we didn’t see them I never ever used one. The, some of our fellows did they supplied them, they put them out in front of the, just laid them on the ground in front of the infantry. Infantry

08:19:30:00

wouldn’t touch them, wouldn’t use them, they wouldn’t do it themselves but and rightly so because see how dangerous it can be if you do the wrong thing.
And after having experienced Tobruk and all the hardship of that what was it like to see El Alamein the turnaround when you

08:20:00:00

started to overcome the Germans what was the feeling like amongst the troops and yourself?
We wanted, well I could say this honestly, yes, there was relief obviously, the, I happened to be with the 32nd Battalion actually at, when he’d

08:20:30:00

gone, he was going. There was an attack had just happened and some of them were hiding this is the last action really and some of them got up to run and an infantry

08:21:00:00

sergeant is… one of his platoon wanted to keep on firing at them and he said, “Forget it we’ll get him later.” Because it was over you know and then we moved up to

08:21:30:00

the airfield, there was an airfield further up he had gone those few the stragglers that were left didn’t matter anymore it was over.
What was the feeling like of it being over?
Oh well it was a relief yes,

08:22:00:00

yes, of course it was, yes. But then we stayed up there for a couple of days we’d pulled out and you know it was all over and the problem arose…

08:22:30:00

the next step was Tobruk who was going to take it… I think most of the, most of the boys would’ve

08:23:00:00

Do you want to pause there, yeah… Okay you just decided to talk about returning home from New Guinea you told me earlier in the day how you’d been sick and that was when you met your wife…
I can’t remember coming home, I can’t tell you anything about it.

08:23:30:00

Just let me gather myself for a moment.
Do you want us to pause for a bit longer?
Mm?
Do you want us to pause for a bit longer?
Mm.
We can do that, yeah. Okay…
I don’t even remember how I came home. We came back to Finschhafen

08:24:00:00

and I can remember Finschhafen how our major, Major Moody left us at Sio and they sent him across to, as an observer, to the second front opening in France and he was one of the observers that was sent over there he was back in time

08:24:30:00

for the Division to go to Tarakan he took a different company but he took the 2/16th instead of the 2/13th but it was a well an honour isn’t it to go over there as an observer to the second front.
But you must’ve been pretty sick if you…
I was I remember him going and

08:25:00:00

he said to me and he got the CB’s [Construction Battalions], the American CB’s were doing all the landings for us, he got a CB to come in to Kenomi Beach and I was down with Malaria again and sent me back to a hospital which wasn’t as back as Finschhafen,

08:25:30:00

it was a tent hospital in off the beach somewhere and I was that crook and he I got into the tent hospital there were Japanese, sick Japanese prisoners on this, on this boat coming, going back, taking them back to the hospital, captured and you know and they were too

08:26:00:00

sick to be of danger to anybody you know the poor devils and they were really sick, they were sicker than I was and anyway I went into the hospital and I wasn’t there for very long a brigadier came in, a doctor, but he was a brigadier and Englishman and I don’t know what he was doing out here

08:26:30:00

really but probably he was sent out because he wasn’t good at what he was doing but he was a doctor, probably learning something about Malaria and so forth and he just happened to stop near me and he was talking to the doctors and he said, “No,”, he said, “look” well they were all 9th Divvie fellas in the

08:27:00:00

tent in the tent hospital and the Japanese and the Japanese were some of them, and he said, “These fellows want sending home.” And the doctors said, “Well it’s a matter of our governments to do that we can’t, we’ve got to do our job.” And they sort of had a little bit of a talk about it and he said, “Well

08:27:30:00

they won’t last much longer up here.” you know and I thought to myself, “Well you know you’re not going to last much longer up here either.” Then they sent me back from there by road to Finschhafen and because our mob had moved back and they were going

08:28:00:00

home but we were at Finschhafen itself not in hospital or anything for two or three weeks I think before we moved and I’d, I’d got worse at this time I shouldn’t have left the hospital and come back, and moved back with the unit I don’t think because I wasn’t, I hadn’t,

08:28:30:00

you know I hadn’t been right for so long and we, I think we caught a, were put on a boat at Dredge’s Harbour must’ve been taken out to the boat, I don’t remember that and I don’t remember, I don’t know whether we landed at Cairns or Townsville we didn’t come down to Brisbane but

08:29:00:00

we obviously came back by train but I can’t remember the train trip down which is quite unusual you know because sometimes in those troop trains you’ve got to sleep up on the, some of the fellas have got to get up on the, to get a sleep to get up on the luggage rack you know on the old carriages so but I don’t remember anything, I can’t now remember

08:29:30:00

and I thought I’d get it back but it hasn’t come back.
You must’ve been sick…
And I got home and I remember my sister had married a fellow who left us when he had the same unit had left us when we

08:30:00:00

moved up to New Guinea he left us beforehand, he was older he was pushing forty I think anyway and he’d married my sister, I didn’t know about this any case the, he wanted to go up and see his mother up in the Downs up in Cecil Plains

08:30:30:00

and I’d only been home a day or so and I remember getting home, not getting home but I remember they were living at West End and I remember the house at West End being there and they said you know, “We’re going up to Cecil Plains will you come up with us?” I said, “Yes” I don’t know whether I wanted to not or really but and we

08:31:00:00

got the train from there and went up to Cecil Plains by, up to Toowoomba and out to Cecil Plains and that was on an Anzac Day or a couple of days I think and the, I was sick all the time and Anzac Day occurred and they said,

08:31:30:00

“We’re going into Cecil Plains because there’s a march on.” And, I went in with them, I wasn’t quite on to it you know and there was only seven people going to march and, in the township, ex-servicemen

08:32:00:00

and most of them were Second, were First World War diggers and they said, “You should march too.” And my god I marched in it and that’s the only Anzac Day march I’ve ever marched in. I never ever march again.
Why not?
Well

08:32:30:00

I was that sick I didn’t take, and I was sick for a long time. And whether it was the Amoebic, they found Amoebic Dysentery on me, I didn’t know I had it then, I was getting recurring, now whether rit was Dengue, I think they found more about Dengue now then they, and they found more about Malaria too I suppose, I don’t know.
But why hadn’t you,

08:33:00:00

why haven’t you marched again on Anzac Day?
Well I’ve just given it all away and…
Is it just easier to forget about the war service?
Oh yes. And I wasn’t good for oh… months after that and then

08:33:30:00

the… they sent me to away from Greenslopes, they put me in Greenslopes hospital and they sent me across to Holland Park hospital. The Americans had moved and they had built a hospital up near Mount Thomson, the Crematorium up there,

08:34:00:00

Mount Thomson and Mount Gravatt and they sent me there and I don’t know why the sent me but I did find out I didn’t know why they sent me I didn’t know what was going on and it was to treat the Amoebic Dysentery and I had treatment there for oh months

08:34:30:00

and then when I got discharged I went out to Redbank to get my discharge and got my call up early because I was an early number. The war was over, the war had finished and all the rest of it.

08:35:00:00

I got a, I didn’t get a discharge certificate it was sent in the mail... and it says Private and I’d never ever been a Private, and I had a bit of trouble with it since because I’ve got no

08:35:30:00

discharge number I tore it up, it’s no good to me but I can’t show you the discharge. So…
Well and how did you find settling back into civilian life after all these years in the army?
I was good. I did get Malaria

08:36:00:00

a couple of times that was accepted. Rosemount was the hospital that I would go to because I was living in New Farm I’d married and was living in New Farm and I didn’t get an attack of Malaria for probably three months or more after I come out of the army and I shouldn’t have either because they’d been treating

08:36:30:00

me for long enough and I wondered whether it was Malaria that was affecting me or whether it was Dengue because it was just like, an Amoebic Dysentery doesn’t affect you like that.
Well apart from the diseases and all that how’d you changed like in yourself like personality wise after, from the kind of young man or the boy that went in, in 1939 to 1945?

08:37:00:00

You mean getting back to work?
No, how’d you, how’d you as a person changed over those five, six years?
I don’t think I’d changed much, well what would you say about yourself…
I haven’t been through a war though…
No what would I say about myself I’d, I wouldn’t think I was any different but I hadn’t, I had been sort of non compos mentis lets say,

08:37:30:00

here one moment and gone the next, but I went back to work as soon as I was discharged and the, the first day back at work was very difficult because, and I went back to the same shop

08:38:00:00

for the same people I’d worked for. The ruling was if you’d been in the army since the beginning of the war or whatever you had to get, they had to give you, they had to re-employ you for six months. Well I wasn’t worth anything really when I first went back there and

08:38:30:00

the, one of the, Emden Pass said to me, “You’ll have to smarten yourself up Tom if you’re going to compete with the apprentices.” And I was the only tradesmen that they had they said, you know some of them

08:39:00:00

were fifth year apprentices and so forth and that was probably true, he was right in saying that. Hamilton didn’t say anything about it at all and but I didn’t know where anything was in the shop like to pull a pulley off a motor we used a pair of drags which

08:39:30:00

everyone knew where they were and I had to tell an apprentice to go and get some and pull that pulley I couldn’t, I didn’t know how to do it myself, and that, once I saw it happen again I knew and it came back and when , when one thing’d

08:40:00:00

come back like pulling the pulley off say well then I knew what had to happen next. And that lasted for oh I suppose a couple of months but then I only stayed with them for about six months I suppose

08:40:30:00

because I wanted to be on my own I wanted to work on my own I didn’t want to work with anybody else but that was sickness that wasn’t because of my personality at all it was just that I was still sick and so I got over it gradually though

08:41:00:00

and once I started on my own and I didn’t have an attack of Malaria for probably, I was only on my own for about six months but the wage was three pounds fifteen sixteen for a week for a tradesman and that’s all they paid me and I don’t think I was worth that really but they didn’t put me out but then

08:41:30:00

I was winding smaller staters on my own at home and I was getting five pound a stater for it.
We’ll have to pause there.

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