They were on a farm at the time and the farm was only 20 miles from the CBD [Central Business District] here but it was very rural. It was outside Dandenong by about 4 miles. Getting onto my mother and father. My father was born on the goldfields in Bendigo and he was a miner
and the son of a miner and my Mum was born in Gympie and she was the daughter of a miner and they naturally both of them moved about a lot to where the gold rushes were. My Dad was in the Bendigo gold rush and my mother was in Gympie, Roma, Mt Morgan and all those gold rushes up there as only a teenage girl. When the Coolgardie gold rush
came in 1892, my Dad left the gold fields in Bendigo and went to the gold rush in Coolgardie and at the same time my Mum’s Dad, his 2 sons and Mum left Gladstone, they were at that time, and they went to the gold rush at Coolgardie. My Dad and Mum were married on the goldfields there in 1896. The gold rush was in 1892.
They came back and they still continued in the gold mining. When they came back they went back up into Queensland to the side of Mt Larkin and they mined there and then they came south here and went into farming and they farmed for the rest of their lives. I attended a one room, 8 grade,
one teacher school. I did 7 years of education there and then I went to Dandenong High School because I was only 13 when I got through State School and I put my extra year in because most people left school at 14 at that time and that meant in 1930, I went out to work because there was
lots of people out of work and the farming was fairly low and there was a big family of us and most of us took work where we could get it. I left home as a matter of fact and went out and lived with people on the farm. That was my first job and was on a dairy farm come market garden and I was
used to work and we really started work when we were 10 years of age. We used to go to the milking shed and feed the calves and kept the weeds down around the place. We were brought up to work and it was good because we were strong and we could work. I worked with those people and became friends with them right up until the end of their life.
I had a lot of happy experiences with them because they just treated me so well. I left there because I wanted to get on to day work. I was well known then and people knew that I could handle teams of horses. I could do most farm work and was a pretty strong lad. I tended to go for the day work and with the day work I could live at home
because I had a pushbike and I could travel to work. I did all sorts of work. It was just unreal what you had to do. Sometimes you’d only get half a day but it brought you in a few shillings and that was the go. A lot of the farmers were having a hard time from 1928 when the Depression started to set in. Come 1930, 1931 it was very severe.
You’d go to work for people and you knew them so well because we were so well known. It was such a community. Frequently, you never got paid and you never worried about it because they were having such a hard time. If they had money they paid you and they’d re-employ you and they’d pay you again but it was a community and people didn’t really worry about it because we could always go and live at home.
At home on the farm was a really good life. Even through the Depression we had a really good life.
stories told about the goldfields and it was remarkable the life they had on the goldfields. My Mum, her Mum was very sick and had a lot of ill health. Mum was the second in the family. Her elder sister, to get away from it got married when she was 18 and Mum was 16 and she had to do the whole house.
If they were mining in the area she generally got them lunches and they took food back to the diggings, as they called them in those days but if they moved about, when they went to Roma, Mum went to Roma with them and then they went to Roma for the gold rush and then they went to Mt Morgan and they went to Kinypanial and they went to Targinie and they went to Gladstone and from Gladstone they went to – and could you imagine,
it’s almost impossible for me to imagine having been to Coolgardie even now that my Mum at 18 years of age went out into that unknown with her father and 2 brothers and lived in the bush huts and gold rushes around Coolgardie. It extended to 20 miles out. They’d have a claim and maybe the claim wasn’t working well or maybe the claim
had been worked out, they’d hear about and there’d be a mini rush to another area where somebody had hit on gold again. They told a lot of stories about the people there and one story that really fascinated me was the ground rules that were in force in a mining area. They administered their own punishment to people and
it was really good because the Claims Office was established there immediately that Bailey had struck the gold at Coolgardie and they established an administration there to issue claims and if you struck gold you could work that claim for one day only and then you had to
peg the claim and take the gold back into that office to substantiate the gold claim. They then issued you with a right to work that claim, so you could peg over your claim. They could peg all around it. This was a bit of a nasty experience for these gold diggers because they were
alluvial gold men. They were only taking the alluvial gold. That is only within a distance of 20 feet of the top and they were striking very good reefs of gold and in came the big people from England and took over the gold and they established the mines, deep mines then and the deep mines could peg over their claims
and it created a lot of trouble, a really lot of trouble. The little miner got pushed out and finished. One thing that really impressed me was when Mum talked about roll-ups and these roll-ups used to intrigue me but if a chappie stole gold off another fella’s claim or he jumped another fella’s claim or if he over pegged another fella’s claim and they couldn’t
settle their argument, they’d call a roll-up and a roll-up was all miners in the area at a given time would meet at a given place. Each party was given one – they’d elect a chairman – and each party was given one hour to state his case. All the miners took a vote, and the one that lost the argument, he was given 12 hours to pack up and get out and never return.
They maintained they got rid of all the spivs and claim jumpers. They quickly got those out of the area and it made it a fairly good place to work at. Mum had so many happy memories because when she got married there they didn’t give them presents of money, they just gave them presents of small nuggets of gold and she had so many of these that she later had made into jewellery and
when she left there, they also gave her a presentation because she was one of the really early women on the goldfields, only as an 18 year old lass, so she had lovely experiences.
we felt loyal enough to go and there was 4 brothers, we decided 2 would go and 2 would work the farm and that was fair enough for a while. My eldest brother Bob, and myself. I enlisted. At the time I enlisted I was working on a market garden and I was working
2 jobs because I’d work a day in the garden and then I’d pick up because a lot of those chappies were getting aged in the rural soldier’s re-settlement blocks and they didn’t like driving the motor trucks into the Victoria Markets. I’d get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and I’d pick their truck up and take it into the wholesale market. Sell their load, bring their truck back to them and then go to the farm I worked on straight away and
back in time because the wholesale markets had to finish at 7 o’clock to let the retail market move in those days. Lights were up at 5 o’clock and you weren’t legally allowed to sell before the lights went up at 5 o’clock on the wholesale. If you didn’t have half your load sold by that time, you were going to have a bad market because all the hotels and
hospitals were the big buyers at that time and they used to come round early and look at what you had and they’d order, 4 or 6 or 8 dozen of this and all that sort of thing and by the time the light’s up, their orders were ready to pick up and the carts used to pick them up and they’d load them and they’d pay and away they went. Within 10 or 15 minutes of light up they’d left.
days the papers came out saying to go to the Drill Hall to enlist and I enlisted and I didn’t hear anything for quite a while. I went to the Dandenong Drill Hall and then Friday, 13 October, I was called up for a medical there and on 20 October 1939, I went into camp
and that was the first day of the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] in Victoria and our photos were in The Sun morning, the new AIF marching and it was a strange part of our life because the 20 of us that went in, Dandenong numbers start at 58 and went from 5800 to 5820. There were 20 of us
and by the time the bus got there we were almost all mates. It was a tremendous experience and we had to take with us 2 blankets, 2 towels, 2 meals, 2 changes of clothes and we went into the showground in Melbourne and we were off-loaded the truck and we were put in Centenary Hall in the showground
and said, “That’s where you’ll be for a week.” We got issued with a palliasse. They tried to give us meals from the cafes at the Showground but they didn’t have a hope of coping with that. There was no hot water or anything and there was only one tap in the yard for us to use. You couldn’t wash or anything.
It was a pretty rough life but we were all young and we were all enjoying it but we had some hilarious times in that showground. It was our first experience of being a soldier and the old diggers used to say to me, “Harry never volunteer, never ever volunteer,” so anyhow we get there and we’re all standing around wondering what was doing and the old diggers were watching the gate and doing a bit of gardening
and trying to get some info for us and that kind of thing. This old digger came up and said, “Can anyone ride a horse?” Two of the chaps I’d been friendly with going in gave me a nudge and said, “You can ride a horse,” and I said, “Yes.” They said, “We can ride a horse too.” They said, “They’re still singing out for someone who can ride a horse. It would be great if we had a horse, wouldn’t it?” So we put our hands up.
He said, “Come with me,” and he took us down to this shed and he said, “You can ride a horse?” “Yeah, yeah we can ride a horse.” “Well, you’ll know a lot about hay,” he said and he took us into this shed stacked high with bales of straw and in the other corner was this heap of palliasses. “That’s your job,” he said, “7 beds to one bale of straw and as the fellas walk past the doors, they come in,
hand them a palliasse.” We did that for about a day and a half and then we started to wise ourselves up a bit we said, “That fella never even took our names and he doesn’t know we’re here making palliasses and we’re sick of this, so we’ll bail out.” So we gave up the job of making up palliasses. It was a great experience actually. We didn’t have any food
and there’d be 100 round the one tap trying to have a shave with cold water just running from the tap. The organisation just didn’t exist. But we were young, we didn’t worry. We were used to knocking about going on camps and that sort of thing. There was one strange thing that happened to me there because we’d go down the street and get a meal
when it was supposed to be the evening meal at the showground when you couldn’t eat it or there wasn’t enough. We went to go out and the old digger at the gate said, “No, you can’t go out, you haven’t got a leave pass.” We said, “What’s this leave pass?” He said, “You’ve got to have a leave pass.” We said, “Well, we haven’t got a leave pass,” and we didn’t know where to get a leave pass and he said, “You’ve got to wise yourself up.” He said,
“All you’ve got to do is show me a piece of paper and you can go out that gate.” We said, “We haven’t even got a piece of paper.” He said, “You’ll never make soldiers.” He said, “Go to the latrine and get a piece of paper, show it to me and you can walk out that gate.” (Laughs). We were starting to learn quickly. From the showground it was quite an experience that you wouldn’t have missed because it was strange that everyone
that I knew at the Showgrounds had never been in the army and they were trying to teach us to march and we were marching in fours in those days and we had to do the drills in four and there wasn’t enough rifles only for one squad, so if your instructor was trying to teach you we had brooms and he was trying to teach us the exercises with
broom handles and it’s something you really remember.
and when we enlisted, we didn’t know what the pay was. On our enlistment form it said we would get equivalent pay to the First World War soldiers, so we got into the camp and we’d been there a week and we got our 35 shillings for the week but this was sufficient for the chappies because 35 shillings as the chaps used to laugh and say, “Well, it’s 35 bob and our keep.” Not that the keep was worth much
but a number of them that loved the grog got out of the camp and came back with heaps of bottles of beer and of course that wasn’t approved of in the camp. They were drinking in the barracks. We were in Centenary Hall and it held a lot of soldiers and so they decided they wouldn’t let them drink in
rooms where the other chappies were sleeping so they got them out and then they were drinking outside on the steps leading up to Centenary Hall. They were drinking on the steps and then the authority came around and said, “You can’t drink. You’re not allowed to drink in here.” They said, “Oh, that’s all right.” So they picked up the bottles and went back into Centenary Hall. As soon as the
authority had gone, they came back out again and they were drinking and they couldn’t stop them because they were shifting around the camp, so they switched all the lights off but that didn’t stop them from drinking and it was quite comical because they sat there in one place, they sat their empty bottles across the road where this chap that was harassing them used to have to come down and of course he would trip over the bottles and they knew he was coming. So they were
starting to learn the ropes quite early in the piece.
had no uniforms bar about the mid-size uniforms from the First World War. They must have been either big or small in the First World War and they wouldn’t fit any of us. I couldn’t get a uniform to fit me. So many couldn’t. Of course we had no QM [Quartermaster] stores and they established QM stores and the gear used to come through the QM stores and then they did not know how much they wanted because we were issued with what we called giggle
suits and that was a khaki jacket and a khaki pair of pants with a waist tie round it like a pair of pyjamas and that’s what we worked in. All our underclothes and boots and that, they were all our own but as we got something, we’d take something home. When we got blankets, we took our blankets home and that type of thing.
When our gear started to arrive and they had no organisation, which was laughable because you had these storemen coming around trying to make an inventory of what they had to order and what we needed, what belonged to us and what belonged to them and of course you’d say, “Well, the socks belong to me, but this giggle suit belongs to you. My singlet and my shirt belongs to me,” and they
couldn’t get it but then on the ground along side of you, you had all different things. Of course they couldn’t get it right but they tried and tried. They were good lads, trying to get a job going. But an hilarious event came out of it because they made up their minds, there’s no way possible that we can get this without getting all the fellows on parade
and you had to go on parade and you were not to wear any of your civilian things at all. You only had to wear what you’d been issued with. Well, we’d been issued with our giggle suits and we put them on and took what other we had with us. There were these big fellas, mainly sons of the First World War diggers and they were a hard case lot of fellows.
There were a lot of big fellows but there was one really big, well built fellow and he’d be about 6’2” or 3” which was , tall for those times. Anyhow we got called out, this was back in the 2/7th, we got called out on parade in these things and Maurie appeared on parade with a pair of socks on and a pair of braces over his shoulders. That’s all he had. Of course he created quite a laugh. It was just that we were in such a
state but it was amazing how when we got trained, we were a darn good unit.
peel 7 bags of potatoes, they were the big 160 pound bags, about 4 bags of onions to make the stews and that type of thing. The amount of food that went through those kitchens because they were feeding 1,000 men in the battalion, or close to 1,000. Some of the other things that happened, people wouldn’t believe them now
I’m sure. They decided to get our health right, that was paramount, so we had to go on dental parade. I couldn’t believe it and I’ve told people and they can’t believe it either. Our company, all companies went on dental parade, so out you went on dental parade. You had 3 columns. You walked along in 3 columns and you came to a chap
with a chair at the head of each column. You sat on the chair and he had the little looking glass and he looked in your mouth and he told you the, and he gave you a card, which he put your name and number on the card and that was the first medical card we had and it lasted for quite a period. He put your name and number on and then the amount of teeth you had to have either filled or pulled out. You got back in the queue and
walked on quite a bit further and then there was another chair. You sat in the chair, the chappie had a look at the sheet and then he had the needle and he injected all your teeth. These 3 rows are walking forward. There were 3 chairs with 2 dentists at each chair out in the open. Buckets of water down along side them. When you got back in the row after you had
the injection then there was a chappie who walked along the row and he used to flick your lip and he was readjusting you in the row according to how your lip used to flick and you eventually got to the dentist and he only had like an ordinary kitchen chair to sit on and one fella used to press hard on your shoulders while you put your head back and the other fellow would reef
them out and they used to go bang! into the bucket and you had to spit in this with your teeth in the bucket and after he got through it all he’d give you a mouthwash back into the bucket and then you went back to your room. They put thousands through Pucka to get their health right, to get their teeth right for a start. That was the most important and then all the injections and vaccinations were almost the same. We used
to line up in great long lines and you’d come to an orderly and he had like a pipe bottle full of what he was going to inject you with and across the top of it ran the plunger with the vernier on the side and he’d suck up enough and he’d read the vernier and he’d pump it in your arm until the vernier came to the amount you had to have. The next fellow walked up and he shot him in the arm
until he used that bottle, he’d fill it up again. The one needle for everybody and the one bottle. Those fellows used to have a joke because you’d say to them, “I hope the needle’s sharp,” and their common reply would be, “We change them every 100 and you’re number 99.” (Laughs) Things like that but we were so healthy. We turned out a tremendous
healthy bunch of fellows.
modern equipment. We guessed we were going to the Middle East because they gave us not the trench warfare type of training in the latter period. We were doing more open training. Travelling over long periods and it gave us the idea then that we were training for a desert war and it turned out to be right.
Getting very close to the end of our training there, they made a lot of changes to the battalions to put people back where they wanted to go. As my mate in civvy [civilian] life and I had joined together, his Dad was in the engineers in the First World War, we decided we’d go into engineers but I’d joined at an infantry and it was time for me to transfer
to the engineers and then I didn’t even know if I wanted to go. I’d made so many mates in the 2/7th and we had a tremendous Lieutenant, Waddy McFarlane, the First Lieutenant of our Battalion. He talked to me and said, “You’ve got so many mates here,” and I said, “Waddy, you know, I want to go with my mate for our Mum’s sake, so we’re both
together, so one can report back to the other and that type of thing.” That’s important in war. He said, “Okay, I wish you the best.” I saw so much of those boys because we were in the same brigade of course, so I saw so much of them right through the war. We’ve always remained friends. Not only that, they broke away the battalions into different types. There used to be a Don
Support Company in the Infantry Battalions. It was all guns and they used to call it Don Support, D Company and they pulled out of them a lot, and they formed a Machine Gun Battalion up in New South Wales and they drew a few chappies from all the battalions right throughout Australia because, while we were 17th Brigade we were at Puckapunyal, the 16th Brigade was Sydney Brigade
or New South Brigade and the 18th Brigade and 19th Brigade. See, there were 4 Brigades in the original 6th Division. They were made up from Tasmania, some out of Victoria, some out of New South Wales and Queensland and those formed those other brigades. They got all that straight before we left, before we left Australia. They got their units, they got their command
right. They swapped around the different commands and generally got us [UNCLEAR] although we’d only trained at that stage as a brigade and we were looking forward to meeting up with the other brigades and training as a division, which didn’t happen until we got to the Middle East but we were outfitted. We were given 2 weeks’
leave, vacation leave. We did a march into Melbourne and that was the most fantastic march you could ever believe. I just couldn’t believe it. We had a million in Victoria at that time and they thought that the crowd, and I still read this, it has never been surpassed even with the increase. We camped the night out at the Exhibition Building and we marched from – I was with the
2/7th. We marched down from the Exhibition Building right down and came right through the main streets of Melbourne to the Spencer Street Station and got on trains back to Pucka and they were 10 deep on the whole journey. It’s amazing how things happen. There were 2 incidents. On that walk we got stopped because the crowd went crazy and you couldn’t
get through – had to unfix the bayonets because they were too dangerous and put them in the scabbard, and we got stopped and I looked and there was my Mum and my sister. Of all in that crowd they were just right where we were stopped. The other incident we got stopped and a woman I’d never seen – didn’t know her from a bar of soap – she raced out to me and put her arms around me and said, “Don’t go boy, you’re too young. Don’t go.” (Laughs). She thought “I was
too young.” I wasn’t. So that was the march. It was fantastic. I’ve got a few photos in there.
It would have been the end of March or early April 1940. I think it was early April ’40 but we were on the water on Anzac Day. I know it was April. We were on the [HMS] Ettrick and it was a little 9,000 toner. It was only one of the small boats. It was a troop ship and it was used to shift the English
soldiers to where they had their troops in Egypt and India. It was all fitted out as a troop ship. It was a terrible ship to ride on because it both rolled and it reared. It used to rear right out of the water and come back down. They made up the convoy. We had the [HMS] Ramillies in charge. It was a battleship and
we had a few destroyers and that join us along the way. There was 4 troop ships in the convoy. We went out and they upped anchor and they took us out through the rip at about 9 o’clock in the morning, the next morning, and we were on our way. We all got seasick. It was tremendously rough, absolutely blowing a gale (laughs). Around through the [Great Australian] Bight and we had about a day and half’s leave in Fremantle while they took on stores
and took on more troops, the Western Australians. It was good. We got a tremendous reception in Western Australia. We got taken out to lunches and dinners, we got wined and dined. It was just great. We got back on the ship again and on our way to Colombo was the next stop.
I’ll tell you a funny story. When we all got seasick, or most, you could say 98½% were seasick. You were put on the mess table and your life on the boat was on that mess table. Your hammock was above it where you slept at night and you had the same position on the mess table and all your plates and that were in racks at the end, so they didn’t roll out. Two, in turn off the mess
table had to go down to the galley, get the food and bring it up to the mess table. So when we were sick we didn’t even want to look at food but we had to eat and so there were 2 chappies who had been – some of the chaps hadn’t been sick by this stage but there were 2 of the chappies struck a deal with us on our table that if
they did the mess orderly job until we were all fine over our seasickness, they didn’t have any other duties on the boat for the rest of the tour. Well that was great to us until we all got down one time to a meal and down they go with their dixies and up they came with their dixies. With the smell of food a lot used to leave the table and tear up top but
not on this occasion. Those 2 chaps that had been on merchant ships or other ships were used to the sea and were so good at it and they raced up with their dixies and put it on the end of our table and both of them vomited into the (laughs) and the whole 22 of us went “Whoosh” upon the deck. It was a shocking show. This was these people who were so used to the sea and it was so rough
that it got to them but it got us again too. But that happened early in the piece. Very quiet to Colombo (laughs). We had a tremendous show going over the line.
appropriate people and that type of thing. A lot of people got dipped that didn’t want to get dipped. But it was a lot of fun. We had boxing tournaments and that. A lot of PT. Incidentally, on the boat when we were going over all our heavy equipment was taken off us in the way of anything that you didn’t require on deck and we were given 2 pairs of shorts, a pair of sandshoes and a singlet and that’s all we wore all
the way over. That’s all we wore on the boat. It was very hot, very hot particularly when we got up to Colombo and further on and it was so easy to wash. We had very little water, it was so easy to wash your shorts and get them dry and that sort of thing. The sergeant of our platoon said to me,
“I’ve got to look after the hammocks in the hammock room” and he said, “Now come with me.” I said, “Yeah, yeah Bertie, I’ll come with you.” So then I didn’t have any further duties on the ship only in the hammock room. Get up early in the morning and take the hammocks and put them in their racks for the companies and go down of an evening and hand them out for them at night but it had a tremendous advantage for me because I was used to
fresh air and I loved sleeping on the decks, so it meant that I could get my hammock out and take it up and bobs my place on the deck by rolling my hammock out and I could roll my mates out, so we had our place on deck. It was good. I was in the hammock room all the way over and didn’t have any other duties.
where to go and that type of thing. For us who hadn’t been out of us it was tremendous to go to a country like that and see just how the people lived and this appealed to me. I was always very keen on the history of a place having come from only a town in Australia. Colombo to me was a tremendous experience.
Just having a look at the sights around Colombo but this old digger said to about a dozen of us, “I’ll get you a free meal at the best hotel.” We said, “How will you go about that?” He said, “Don’t worry about it, just meet me at a certain time and I’ll get you a really good meal.” I think we had to meet him at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I think it was the Grand Hotel or something big like that.
We went down there and we met him and he said, “Yeah, it’s all teed up. You’ll get a free dinner. “But,” he said, “Of course I had to trade. You know there’s a lot of troops here and I’ve convinced them they’re starting to get a few beers in them and that sort of thing and your hotel could get damaged if you didn’t have protection. I’ve got 12 blokes who’ll protect your place from these
other fellows as long as we get a free meal and get wined and dined.” He was a cagey old bugger. He had it all worked out. Anyhow we got a beautiful meal by being in there to stop any incidents happening. You learn these things as you go along (laughs).
When we were camped in Palestine, a colonel turned up and he said to our OC [Officer Commanding] we were all on parade. “Get dressed and all on parade.” Darky Wentworth was our Major and he was a great guy and Tommy Major came up and he goes “Pwop, pwop, pwop, pwop.” “Major,” he said to this fellow. He was a colonel. He said to our major, “If you’ve got a….
Would you have a cup of [UNCLEAR]? I could drive bulldozer.” Darky said to him, “Dammit old man, I’ve got a couple of blokes here who could make a bulldozer.” He said, “Well, that’s it.” We wondered who these 2 fellas were and he said to me, and he pulled another fellow out and said, “You work on the Country Roads Board.” A fellow by the name of Tom Wilson. He said, “I’ve got a job for you.” “What is it?” He talked to this fellow and he said,
“There’s a huge trench digger up on the Syrian border that they use to dredge the pipeline down to Haifa,” and he said, “We want it down the desert to put the pipelines underground because they’re getting bombed, the water lines, and we want to take water down to the desert but we’ve got to get that big digger from there down to the desert
and you and Tom are going to do it’. “Yeah, right. When are we going?” He said, “On your way. You’re on your own. It’s up there. You get yourselves up there.” Well, we hitched rides and we travelled and we pulled in at camps and camped the night. Told them “We were going until we got to this trench digger.” There were a few little railways running up there. There was the main line that ran from Capetown to Dover. Went up through
Palestine and we used to look at that and say, “We’ll follow that up to Germany,” but we never did. (Laughs). We got this thing. We got him down to Cairo. We had to get him down to Cairo. We got him going. It would only do a mile an hour and it was a huge thing. Got fuel. It was so slow and we put it on a flat top on one of these railways. Wouldn’t move for a week.
Anyhow, we got to a Tommy camp and we were camped with those blokes. We had a funny experience there too because – they were tremendous on the parade ground, they really work. The Tommy units weren’t like us. If you were 5’9½” you were in a certain company. If you were 5’9” you were in another company. On parade
they all looked so good. Anyhow Tom and I walked out to the parade one morning. We thought “We’d have a look.” They asked us not to come on parade again. Anyhow, we won ourselves a little Austin out of them. They gave us a little Austin motor car. No hood on it or anything. Open like a jeep. A little Austin 12 and we were made because when we were held up with the Digger, we could find ourselves a camp
to get rations and whatnot. It was quite an experience. When we got to Cairo we had to go to Kasr el-Nil barracks, which was the workshops of the British troop in that area. Right in Cairo. We had it on the flat top and it took us on the railway and the Kasr el-Nil Barracks were about 100 yards from where we took it off the flat top and Tom was right up
at the controls and I’m following in the little Austin. This chug, chug, chugging along. It had huge tracks on it. They were like railway sleepers. Great crawler tracks on it. Of course when it turned, it was a chain turn on the front wheels with a winch on the chain which you pulled back. Tom threw the winch to turn right
and she’s coming round but in the meantime an Egyptian in a little car had pulled up hard on his right and of course Tom couldn’t see him and I couldn’t make him hear because of the roar of the engine. That track picked up the end of his car and “Crunch!,” then the next one crunched it down and he fled out the side door. When the track came off it was as flat
as a sardine tin! It had absolutely flattened his car (laughs). It was amazing to see a car get flattened so much like that. Anyhow we got to Kasr el-Nil Barracks and we said to them there “Now, it’s got to go to Alexandria and there’ll be a crew there to pick up the SSS. They’re going to overhaul it.” So Tom and I went back to the unit and said
“Accomplished that.” But you did get a few jobs like that when you were resting.
and then up the Suez Canal. That was a tremendous experience. The Suez Canal was only 28 feet deep and 100 feet wide. You looked down from the deck and there was desert on both sides and your chugging up in the convoy. Chugging up the canal. We were to get off at El Kantara. That’s where the railway crossed to go up to Palestine but our stores were going on to Port Said
to be unloaded and the chap in charge of the stores said to me, “Will you come up and help me off the stores,” so I didn’t get off at El Kantara. I went on to Port Said. The troops went up into Palestine and I didn’t go up until the next day. We had to see our stores unloaded at Port Said and put on the railway to take back to Palestine. So I didn’t get back to the unit. They got up there
a day before I got up there and we camped at a place called Beit jirja and it was a good camp. We were in EPIP [English Pattern Indian Product] tents. That’s a big Indian tent with 2 poles and a very cosy tent. A full standing height tent. The sides rolled up and you rolled them up into the corners to let the air right through your tent and then rolled them down again
if you needed cover. They were beautiful warm tents. We were close to Arab villages. Very close to Arab villages. We soon made friends with the Arabs because we had money. That might be a bit unfair to them but I think that was the main reason they encouraged us and we were invited
in and sometimes given coffee and that sort of thing. Started to learn the language, and that in itself was an education to me. I didn’t realise that the Arabs in the villages were so primitive, living in the mud huts and they were so community or
whatever you call it. Whether it was enforced on them or not, I don’t know but they all worked for the Muktar of the village. He had all the money and all the say, the Muktar of the village. All the harvest would go into a central portion, all the grain and it was completely controlled by the Muktar of the village. They lived in poverty,
absolute poverty. It was degrading to see. Yet the Muktar pulled a roll of notes out and showed it one time. A party of us had gone in to talk to them and he had a real big wad of notes in his pocket. They had to work. There was a tremendous comparison, particularly the Jewish villages were all fenced
with similar fences we have round industrial sites. On the inside of the Jewish villages was the most modern farming I had ever seen in my life. It was just an eye opener to me. The machinery they had and the amount of produce they produced off the lands that they had. The care of their land. I
used to go into the Jewish villages and have a look what was doing. You couldn’t get into a Jewish Village without walking through a [UNCLEAR] pad about as big as this room, whether a beast came in or a beast went out they had to walk through, so there was no diseases taken into their farming villages. They had machinery that we had never seen
on our farms here. The difference was so marked. There was a Jewish village with the most beautiful green crops of any kind you wish and outside the village was the Arabs, ploughing the ground with a bent stick with a donkey or a cow or a camel
or something or one or two of the others pulling and them sowing their wheat by hand. They’d have a stick there and a stick there, one that came up there and they used to harvest it with a knife, put it in bundles and put on the donkeys’ backs to take back to the village. They used to strap it onto their donkeys to take it back to their village and they had no harvesting equipment. They got every cow and camel that they had
in the village and they used to couple them all together and they used to spin them round like that. Walk them all over the hay.
That’s how it appeared to me. I could have been absolutely incorrect in that. That’s what I came away from those villages with was that the Muktar had all the money and lived a tremendous life and the Arabs lived so much in poverty. At the time there was a big English force keeping the peace in Palestine. There were no arms or ammunition or anything like that allowed in Palestine. Absolutely
banned was any guns or explosives because the hatred between the 2 of them was absolutely like you would never imagine in your lifetime. There were kids from the time they were 2 years of age and their hatred, and we had come from a country where you could dislike a person but you didn’t hate him like those people hated each other and we formed the opinion that
when we came back to Australia we said, “That war would never end” and when we were asked our opinions on that and I’ll say right now, I expressed it. A fellow said to me the other day, “When you came back from war you told me exactly what’s going to happen today.” I said, “It was inevitable that the Muslims were going to be a huge race and they were never going to fight a war. They were going to infiltrate
and they’d turn to terrorism because they used to mix up sugar and different things and make their own explosives and they planted them under the Jewish railways and blow their railways up.” Whether they were justified in doing it, I couldn’t make that assessment because it was
between them not between us. All we were seeing was seeing what was happening but we didn’t know the base of what was causing it to happen. Our early times in Palestine we were a very mixed team of fellows but a very accomplished team of soldiers. But you’d always get the ones out there for a quid. The Arabs were offering us £80 sterling,
they dealt in sterling, for a rifle. They were offering us a pound for a [UNCLEAR] and it was very tempting. It was very tempting. It became so tempting that some fellows started to sell the rifles to the Arabs with the ammunition because you earned money but when you are on 6 shillings a day,
it was a tremendous enticement. Alongside the camp there was an orange grove, a beautiful orange grove and the officers determined that was where the rifles were being sold and they said, “They’ll raise a posse one night and we’d go out and sell rifles,” so I was selected in
the posse and another mate who joined up in Dandenong. We were the 2 leaders in the posse and we went out with rifles on our shoulders and we walked down to the orange grove, met by 2 Arabs and we said to them “We wanted to sell our rifles, they’d give us the money
and we’d sell them the rifles” and yes, they wanted them. But not there. We had to go down a bit further. We went down about 100 yards and we met 2 more Arabs but we had a back up. We knew we had a back up. We had 8 fellows behind us who were armed and we got these 4 blokes and I said to Alan, “We’re getting
out-numbered.” He said, “Yes, we’ll push on.” They took us and they had us and the next batch was 4 but still no money. They wanted to buy our rifles but no money and they wanted to take us on again and we said, “No, no. We’re not going anywhere.” We had our rifle loaded and we fired a shot and the other 8 fellows encircled them and grabbed them.
We took them back to camp and we had an empty galvanised iron shed and we locked them in there. We got in there with them and said, “Strip off.” They wore about 6 or 8 gowns, long. We made them strip and they didn’t have a coin between them.
They didn’t have any money whatsoever. I’m a bit ashamed to say it but that was going to be our compensation for forming the posse, so we got no money but what we got! We got knives with blades that long (indicates about 2 feet). They were loaded with so many knives. They were prepared for us. They didn’t trust us right from the time we got there. Too cunning for us. So they didn’t get the rifles. We got no money.
We got a heap of knives and that was it, but one of our chappies was so annoyed and he fired a shot through the roof of the shed and that scared the dickens out of the Arabs, so I think it was a deterrent for the Arabs to come and try but we had 2 poles in these Indian tents with an eye bolt through the chain
through the pole in the tent. We used to stand all our rifles up against the centre pole and run the chain through the trigger guards and lock and we’d take the bolt out and put it under our pillow when we slept at night. One night in a tent, they got in when everybody was asleep. You wouldn’t think they’d get those rifles off but they got those rifles off
the pole in the tent. Whether they were aided by somebody in the tent, I don’t know but those other chaps were asleep when the rifles went out of the tent. The Jews were in the market for firearms too. They were a bit more subtle.
divisions of Indians. There were Free French, Free Poles, South Africans, Free every country in Europe (laughs) had troops there plus a big complement of British troops and it was a very large camp and we were assigned the job, 36 of us, as supervisors of the
air defence of Cairo and it had all been mapped out. We had to supervise this and we were allocated to our various tasks and we were given thousands of Egyptians to work for us. They worked for the equivalent of threepence or four pence a day. The Egyptians. There were 100 ton of aggregate
went into every pill box and we built a pill box a day and we had thousands of Egyptians. The trucks used to come along and they’d tip the aggregate in the sand and screening and cement. They’d unload the cement maybe 100 yards from where your pill box was and that would all be carried on the head on a type of what we called a plough disc on the head, shovel it into that and they formed circles. There were these circles
operating all over the place, some carrying in sand, some carrying in cement and building piles of that and at the same time there was other Egyptians who had these wide spades be about 16 inches wide and about 18 inches long and flat with a big handle on it and it had a rope on it and they’d have 6 or 8 fellows on the end of a rope and they’d
go to and forward, the length of their arms forward and backward dragging the rope and the fellows stirred the shovel through it and you mixed these great heaps of aggregate into cement and other people were coming round with water on their head to put the water into it until they had a cement mix and there’d be about 6 of those going on with all these feed lines of circles. They never broke the circle. They tipped it, got back in the circle, picked it up again.
It was a tremendous sight and the amount of stuff they were shifting. I couldn’t believe it because those pill boxes were a metre thick on the sides. They were half a metre on the roof. They were shell proof.
and we did over 100 of those were in Cairo and they were placed in such a place on higher ground and we did huge tank traps across the roads. The idea was to, if the German tanks had have broken through, was to man the
– they were machine gun posts – man the pill boxes with the heavy machine guns and let the floodgates to the Nile go and flood all the ground around them when the tanks got in. It would have been a tremendous defence because if they’d have let the floodgates go on the Nile delta – see it was very wet country and very flat.
If they had flooded them in they would have still had their own protection if any tanks had got through. To see what those chappies worked with was just unreal. They first dug, cleared the ground, squared it all up for the pill box and then they built the inner and outer skin out of lumber wood. Just any old wood you
could get and you framed them up with. Then the steel went in but the only tool they had, carpentry tool they had was like a tiny little mattock. What we’d call a trapper’s tool. You know to set the traps they have a tiny little sort of like a tommy axe with a blade going straight. The tommy axe ends the other way. It had a nail puller on the side, a slot to pull the nails. They cut all their timber
and nailed it all up with that one tool and it had to be so good and so strong to hold that weight of concrete. They did the steel – all the steelwork inside. The super structure and they bent all the steel with a plank with different bolts in it at different angles and they just tore it along the plank and pulled it through, round one bolt as far as another bolt and that was the angle
they wanted. All the angles and put it together for four pence a day.
or the equivalent of an unbroken line. Then there was the shaping of it round the gun slits – where you fired the guns. It has to be shaped around that. They were good. They were good, those fellas. It’s amazing, those fellows had no education whatsoever. They could talk their own language to each other but
they couldn’t read or write and yet you could get that amount of work out of them and they were as cunning, those fellows. They were an eye opener. Just how cunning they were and how keen they were for work and we used to pay on a disc. We had hundreds of discs with a number on it and a chappie would come along for his job. Yes, we want more men. You’d give him a disc, register the number.
You’d give him the disc and then he’d come the next morning to work. So you had another big bloke working for you but then we did this so often that we didn’t wake up to it until the pay cart came around. In the pay cart, the English soldier used to ration us and everything. They used to come round to
pay on these discs and you’d see so many fellows lining up at the cart that didn’t work for you and then tremendous fights would break out amongst the fellows and the English fellows used to have pick handles in the pay cart and they’d jump out and belt them with the pick handles and break the fight up.
What was happening was a big chap would come around and you’d think “He’s a good worker” and you’d give him a disc but he in no time had 6 or 8 fellows working for tuppence a day and he was collecting a penny a day and of course he turned up on pay day to get his commission out of the disc and that’s just how cunning they were. They started to exploit their own fellows.
It was something that was very difficult when you had thousands of fellows to control and this used to amuse me and I suppose it happened on so many of the other jobs also. You’d see them coming to work and they’d be carrying a fellow on their shoulders. They’d put him down on the ground at work. You’d look at him and he’d have a disc in his hand and he was nearly dead. He was dying,
see and of course they knew if they gave him a disc and brought him there and got him there alive as long as he died there he could get compensation out of us and they did that so frequently. Brought a fellow who was dying with a disc in his hand to try and get compensation for his death out of the job. It was unreal. They were cunning but they were good workers and nice fellows to work with. If they were really good we used to put them, make them a ‘rayce’
as they called it. A rayce was the equivalent of our sergeant in our language and of course they got a penny a day or the equivalent of a penny a day in mils. We used to pay in mils. They built that and did a mighty good job, a mighty good lot of defence there and all done so cheaply. That’s what they worked for, and that was embarrassing to us to see people really.
We felt for those chappies because there was no such thing as hours. You started to pour the pill boxes first thing in the morning and it was dark when you finished at night. No hours limited to what you could work. So that was our exercise we had and I suppose other fellows have told you there was fights between the English and Australians.
NAAFIs [Navy Army Air Force Institute]. The English had NAAFIs and they controlled the NAAFIs. NAAFI was and we called them NAAFIs and they called them NARFIs. We used to have to go and have a drink in the NAAFIs and of course there’d be a glaring match and then a fight would start. It was a shocker because there were 8 - I got into
a fight. I didn’t believe in it that much but gee, you had to back your mates up and that night after a fight I took 8 to hospital – 8 of our blokes to hospital in Cairo. That put an end to it. They banned us then because it got to the stage one night a little red headed sergeant, who was with us said, “We’ve got to organise
ourselves and we’ll go to the NAAFI early and we’ll put up a barricade. We’ll have our drinks and if they want to fight us we’ll fight them. They’ll probably kill us but we’re going to fight them.” He put the tables all around in a corner, parallel to the walls. Took all the chairs from the front and put them at the back and we all sat and faced them. As they come in we’ll
bash them over the head with the chairs but we had no escape route. (Laughs). They didn’t bash us. They took sympathy on us that night but we got out because they were going to kill us because they couldn’t stand you looking at them. Some blokes passed a comment to them sometimes but we were such good friends with them in the daytime but at night time it used to be on for young and
old. We were still good friends with them. We liked them and they liked us but there were tons of fights. I’ve talked to the old diggers and they said, “It was no different when they were over there either.” There were tons of fights.
to the markets there and I suppose if there’s a market for something there you take it to where the market is. So it did apply and it wouldn’t only apply to the Victoria Market but that’s where I saw it first when I was a young chap going in there. One of the old diggers said to me, and he was a nice fellow. He’d been in Egypt during the war and he said to me
“When you get to Cairo,” he said – they used to call it the Wazza over there and they burnt the Wazza down. You might know the story. They burnt the Wazza down. This old digger said to me, “If you get over there, go to the Wazza and see if Tiger Lil’s still there.” Have you ever heard the stories of Tiger Lil? Well my mate from Dandy and I, our first night in Cairo, we thought “We’d go down.” It was the Berka then, not the Wazza. It’s known as the Berka.
We went down the Berka. Beautiful street. All beautiful shops. We thought “Where are these places?,” until we came to a place with a great neon light out the front “Tiger Lil’s” There were floor shows. A lot of them downstairs and there were restaurants and that type of thing. They were very professional.
Anyway, before we and a few Aussies had gone in, a New Zealander had walked in and gosh, Tiger Lil had really gone to seed. She had that New Zealander, and we stood off and she gave it to the New Zealander about “What his father had done to her and he hadn’t paid” but she calling him “An Australian” (laughs) because they had a similar
hat except theirs had the point on the top, so we had to laugh at Tiger Lil and we got out but she would have given us the same. What his father had done to her and he hadn’t paid her. That was our welcome to Tiger Lil. A lot of chaps used the brothels.
But it was rife and not only in the Australian Army but in the British Army and then the other armies and they set up one particular hospital. Just one hospital. The 8th Special in Palestine for those chappies that got infected and they went in there and they got good care.
I think a lot of it – quite a lot of it was chaps did frequent those places with no early intentions of going to. Get a few drinks in and that type of thing and then used the facilities and regretted it later because they’d probably be
out of money and they’d go to the out of bounds ones, which weren’t regimental ones and that. When we went over there we couldn’t understand how we were living and the water tasted terrible. They were putting this bromide in the water. It was all new to us and we couldn’t
understand that the fellows could even be bothered. Because it was – it was really effective that bromide but some nice fellows would get infected and they did get mad about it because sometimes it was supposed to be a supervised brothel that they’d gone into and look, I never used them, but I can,
never if I had a bit of pride. I thought “I had more pride than that.” I don’t even think it was a matter of pride, I think they did get carried away after a few drinks and the striptease and that type of thing in the floor shows and they’d come and sit on your knee with no clothes on and that type of thing and tease the fellows.
Fellow are only human, I guess.
the link up between the news that was happening in the war and they could talk to us and we’d get first hand information and we knew when we’d go into Cairo of a night, there was a curfew in Cairo and the curfew was worked out according to the length of the day. The German bombers wouldn’t fly over land in the daytime and they used to time their run.
They’d pick the canal up as their guide because on a moonlight night it was like a strip of mercury really from the air and they used to fly down the Canal as far as Ishmalia and then they’d take off at an angle for the air over Cairo and they’d fly and we knew and we’d be in Cairo and we’d even stop up after curfew and we used to just get in the doorways and sit in the doorways
until the bombing was over. But they didn’t attack the town much. There was an aerodrome, I suppose it must have been out 20 miles. Helwan Aerodrome I think that’s the name. They used to attack it because they thought the British and that were using it but they never ever used it. Never. But they used to attack that drome quite frequently in the moonlight at night and talking about
that, the Egyptian army what they had, and the Egyptian army, and they sent the search lights over Cairo, was a very close second to London first. It was the whole
sky, it was just like a huge spider web landing in the middle of all these searchlights all around Cairo. Tremendous light when the planes came over and they put the search lights up. It wasn’t a very gallant army. The gunners didn’t like having a go at them much and the Germans used to fly out again. If they got too low
or the lights went out. When we were in Cairo, they didn’t have a volunteer army, they had a press gang army and we got a lot of amusement because this press gang would come up the street. There’d be a chap sitting in the gutter and then you’d see him take off like blazes and people would jump out of the press cart because he had nothing to do
if he was sitting in the gutter and he was in the army and they used to always lead them back by the ear. They’d bring them back and put them in the van and that chap was in the army and they had to teach them then to march and we used to go and watch them trying to teach these fellows to march. Each fellow had a fellow by the ear instructing him and walking him along. The next chap had the next bloke by the ear to try to get them
to walk with their legs together because they didn’t want to be in the army (laughs) in the first place. But they were in by press gang and that made up the army and no wonder they were no good. They were hopeless. Absolutely hopeless as a fighting force. But they had the money. King Farouk. Queen Farida. You can imagine the parodies that came out of being Queen Farida. There were some tremendous parodies.
our artillery out-ranged and they were giving our front line the dickens and our artillery couldn’t reach them but they were racing up behind as hard as they could every 100 yards gained they were getting up. We were fortunate that we had so many of the Australian destroyers and British destroyers helping us in the Med [Mediterranean]. They were going up and down the coast and they were
giving them blazes with long range naval guns and they were trying to counter the Italian guns. The artillery was very fierce and very heavy and in those days there was no way of letting people know what was going on.
They had these Lizzy Lysanders, we called them a “Lizzy Lysander.” It could almost hover over the lines and it was dropping messages in the way of flares and signals as to where the artillery posts were that were giving the problems and they would try to bring fire on those to silence them but they didn’t really silence them until we got right forward enough to reach them.
That was, the main damage was done in the first 2 or 3 hours by their artillery. The platoon that I was with had the tank trap and the mines were our problem. The other platoon had cut the wire
and raced through and let the infantry through. They just flooded through when the wire was cut. They gave us protection from machine guns because they took the posts on straight away. They got tanks through as quickly as we could fill the tank trap in. That helped the infantry go in. The infantry was so well organised there and the whole battalion behind us
when the 2/7th Battalion swung to the right and to take the Mediterranean side and that was where the Black Shirts of the Italians were and they were darn good fighters but in the other areas they gave up at close. When the machine guns and tanks got up close they’d fly the white flag although they were so well dug in they had
a real fortress there. The prisoners were brought out by the diggers but we lost 6 men, killed and 14 wounded in that. That wasn’t good.
A lot of them put their arms up and he was leading a company. He was leading the company and a lot put their arms up to surrender and one of the officers threw a red devil and killed him. He was leading the team off that were giving up and the Bren Gunner
there was standing alongside him and he emptied that Bren gun, the full magazine into that group of Italians. So many died for that act. John Green was the leader. He was just a tremendous guy and should never have been killed that way. It might be interesting to them, whether it’s of concern, I don’t know but
if ever you watched ‘The Sullivans’ on TV, it was all B Company, 2/7th and when they showed that episode I knew all the chaps by name but it was very factual. When that chap threw the – when it showed him throwing that red devil, that was a hand grenade, and hit John Green, you heard a fellow
shout out “No Ken!” and Ken was the machine gunner and they didn’t show him mow those people down but he mowed them down.
mile walk and they wore their boots out, the infantry in trying to keep up with the Italians to try and get the equipment. The closer they got the more equipment they left behind. When Derna fell – that was the next place – Derna fell very quickly and then there was 2 or 3 little places and of course after Derna there was an oasis at Derna and we had water. We didn’t have water before Derna.
We were able to stay back a bit. Mussolini had built tons of houses, concrete houses, through that area. 40 acre farms, productive farms. They were just getting into production, so we were back in life again. We were out of the desert and back into wheat – almost like the Gippsland area.
That almost went right into Benghazi. It did dry out as you got towards Benghazi and that was the next big town. Benghazi declared an open city and there was no fighting in Benghazi because they declared an open city.
Our tanks had raced round behind Benghazi to cut them off to try and stop them getting back to Tripoli. They were very, very successful and they cut off thousands of retreating Italians. We went quite a way past Benghazi. I don’t know, it was very hard to gauge in the desert but some people said
“200 miles past Benghazi.” We were keen to go on to Tripoli with the navy to give us support from the sea. We were going on to Tripoli and we were going to invade Italy and why they turned us back, I haven’t a clue but Churchill turned us back. So they sent in commanders who were sent
by Churchill to turn us back. We were in full flight and by that time we were a very vicious army. We had nothing but desert between us and Tripoli. We could have been [UNCLEAR] we felt with the navy in control and with the sea on that side and we could have gone on to Tripoli but oh no, they turned us back.
range of the aircraft. They had bases in the north of Yugoslavia where they’d pushed in up there. They had a fair long running aircraft and they had to
to pick up convoys and they didn’t pick you up ‘til you got close to Greece. The amazing thing about it was that their intelligence was so good that they knew what was on every ship and their fighter planes would strafe the decks of the troop ships but their main aim was to sink the ships or appeared to be
to sink the ships that had the transports and that type of thing. They were very effective at that. We got over with no mishaps whatsoever but the convoy was attacked and we were struck by the fighter planes. It was only about a 2½ day trip.
When we got there, the harbour, it was blown to bits of course which made it very, very difficult because a couple of nights before they’d hit an ammunition ship in Piraeus. Piraeus was the harbour, and it sunk when it blew to bits, it sunk every other ship in close proximity to it. It killed 600 on the
land. 600 Greeks were killed that lived along the port. It damaged the port but there was still a jetty that we landed on. We got there in the evening when the air attacks had stopped. When we got there they parked us out by a little island. In the evening
they brought us in to the little jetty to unload. It was quite humorous in unloading it, but we didn’t see the humour of it until later. Coming down the other side of the wharf, we were going down one side and coming up the other side were the English soldiers. They were saying to us “You’re going the wrong way, Aussies. You’re going the wrong way.” Things were bad.
Well, we were starting to wake up that things were bad. Anyhow they came out on the same boats that we went in on. We went to a grove of olive trees about 10 miles out of Athens and we got our
equipment and we were marched then as A Company. Next day we were on our way and we were attacked. From about midday and all that day we came under quite a lot of air attack. We kept going. We stood outside towns and saw them blown to bits and smaller villages and that, attacked by dive bombers.
Bridges over rivers and that were attacked. It made it a bit difficult but we kept going and we thought that “There was 2 sections of our company that kept going,” and we thought “We were going to mine the roads up close to the Yugoslav border” but we didn’t get to the border. We got to a little town
not far south of the border and there was shocking attacks. There were so many Yugoslavians crossing the border, the roads were just flooded with people fleeing in front of this enemy attack. We had no hope if we had intended to put down mines, we’d have never put down mines because
we’d have trapped those people. We had a lot of luck there and it was a lot of luck. We struck 3 days of misty rain and we had 3 days relief from the bombers. That was really good. We were able to get our wits going again and there was communication coming through what was going to happen and
some of the Infantry Brigade. The 3 Brigades of the Division split up across the full width of Greece and they met the Germans head on. The Italians had not been doing so well in Albania, and the Albanians, but as soon as the Germans swept into Albania
they drove the Greek Force back out of Albania. They were helping the Albanians against the Italians and they had the horse drawn guns. They had very, very primitive equipment and they blocked the road something shocking. It was difficult to mechanise
transports of guns and that up and down the road. The infantry did a tremendous job because they inflicted quite a lot of casualties on the German and took quite a lot of German prisoners. We then started the withdrawal.
They said, “It was hopeless and we were to withdraw, a fighting withdrawal.” We all came together again. Some of the brigades looked like they’d been cut off because they were progressing further in some areas than others with huge equipment. They were just absolutely,
those fellows had not had a fight since Dunkirk and they just went really hard at that German army. So they brought them in. Each night or every second night a brigade would leap frog over another brigade and dig in like steam and we’d leap frog, leap frog by brigades
all the way down through Greece. It took about, from the drive back, it took us about 3½ weeks I think. When we got to Corinth Canal they took us back to Corinth Canal and I think, it’s very hard to establish because we didn’t know what was going on but they evacuated the 16th and 19th Brigades to Crete
and they’d left the 17th Brigade on their own and we were told “We had to fight the rear guard, the 17th Brigade” and they fought the rear guard and we came right down to the bottom end of Greece where we got off and we were told “We weren’t going to be evacuated.” That was a bit upsetting. We
didn’t know. We lost contact and there were troops still in their companies or in their platoons moving about. I suppose there were about, there were 2 sections of us, about 20 or 30 guys hid in a drain that had bush on both sides and we were in there for 2 days and the Greeks
in the houses close by used to bring us water and bread. That’s all we had to eat, water and bread. The Germans were gone then. Then a chap came in, where he came from, I don’t know but he said, “The navy’s going to evacuate you and if you come back to the beach, the navy’s going to
endeavour to take you off. I don’t know what the Head Officers knew, but they may have been more informed than what we were. They might have intended to evacuate us all along but if they’d have been a day later I’d have been gone because my mate and I had got a map of Greece and we were going to get out. We weren’t going to give up. We were going to go out
and try and go back right up the top of Greece and come back through Turkey to the Middle East. Quite a few chaps did that.
so harassed by the air force that it became quite funny because the way we tried to beat the fighters – we were very cluey about the bombers because we got very jack of it really and they’d come over by the hundreds. They’d split and 30 would go in one direction and 30 would go in another and their fighters would go
with them. You’d watch them coming in and you’d see them lined up on us and we knew just how far to look back and if the bomb bays would open and we’d say, “Get out, they’re going to [UNCLEAR].” We became so accurate in anticipating the bomb, when the bomb left the bomb bay we knew whether it was going to fall short of us or fall over
the back of us. If it was coming for us, we’d hit the ground hard and we were very accurate because some of those bombs were close. Otherwise we never stopped, we just kept going. The bombs were not going to hit us, although I’ll tell you there was one plane that took us on. There were about 10 of us and we were walking
through an oat crop, green oat crop. I suppose it was about ½ a metre high and this fighter plane took us on. It was a Messerschmitt and it was the big Messerschmitt that had 2 engines and 8 machine guns across the front of him but he flew by and actually swooped at us. He missed us and he came back at us again because we were lying down and we must have been such an obvious target for him
and he lined up again and he dived at us as he came in at the right angle and the oats were just as though you’d put a reaper through it. His fire power was so heavy as he was coming for us. He made his dive and was running to the line but he got too low before he got to us. If he hadn’t pulled out
at about 20 feet short of us, he’d have killed every one of us. His fire power cut that oat crop just like a reaper. But he pulled out and we all had a laugh and said, “Goodbye.” We went on again. There was another time when 3 of us were on a pass only on a low side of a hill and a
recce [reconnaissance] plane came over and you knew the bombers weren’t far away and one of our chaps who was a hard case put his rifle up and went bang at him and he must have hit him because it annoyed him and he went into attack on us. Three people and he attacked us and we couldn’t believe it because we were getting a shot at him every time. The cutting in the road
was right at a corner. We only had to duck round the corner and the machine gun hit into the bank behind us. By the time he turned around again we were back round the corner on the other side. But that plane, he made about 5 passes on 3 people and that’s just how it was. Yes you could get a laugh about that.
company there we’d have known and we didn’t know the causeway at all. We did as an Engineering Unit, twice we were sent back to blow things that had been missed and we were told to. It was an unfortunate thing for the Greeks. They were such nice
people to us and they treated us so well and to meet so many of them trying to keep out of the way and it was hard to blow your crossings until the very last minute because you were cutting them off also. So we’d be sent back and given a time limit when they estimated the Germans would get there and to blow say a bridge or a pass or a railway tunnel
and things like that and we were given a time to do it and to leave and told “If the Germans arrived before that time just to give up.” There’d be no disgrace in giving up to them because there’d only be 10 or 12 of us and we did that on about 2 or 3 different occasions but we got away on both occasions. One time I was in a party
and we went back to blow the passes round behind Delphi. We’d done the main pass, destroyed big bridges there and we thought “We were going on” and we were sent back. We travelled all night and we came to these passes
and we loaded them all up. We were told “To leave at 5 o’clock that night, not to stay.” They anticipated the Germans would come past at 5 o’clock and it was a strange evening that because 5 o’clock was a little bit before dusk and we blew the pass and we’d just blow the pass
and I suppose we’d gone about a quarter of an hour down the road and there were a few Australian Army service trucks going up and down the road picking up the infantry that had obviously been left to defend the place. That late at night we were attacked by bombers and that was unusual, so they knew we were there.
This chap I’d met up at school with and we’d been school mates. Never seen him since school. That bomb attack on us, the bombs were coming and we knew they were ours. We made a throw for a ditch just as another fellow did and he turned and looked at me and said, “Harry New?” I said, “Yes. Jack Ford?” He said, “Yes.” The bombs dropped and he gave me a whack in the shoulder and said, “If I get out, I’ll go and see your mother.”
“If you get out, will you go and see my mother?” I said, “I will Jack.” I never sighted Jack but he got off. I never sighted him back in Greece and that was the night, the evening in that bombing attack was when they dropped the leaflets right on us accusing us of being the Dunkirk Rats again on the run and asking
us to give up and asking the Greeks to stop us from getting out and that was at Levadi. There’s a little town called Levadi. Through that town that night we went through the town in our truck and there were Germans everywhere in the town. Drinking and hurrahing and that type of thing. We backed off and we drove around the town and we never accosted.
They were just having a tremendous party in town and we drove on and we picked our company up again and got out of that one all right. As a service unit, and with such a respect for the infantry, you’ll do anything once you see that infantry in action. They are just the greatest.
The greatest soldier and you’ll do anything to help them. It was your job.
and I think it was borne out by the ones who were taken prisoner. They had hard times. Some of the chaps who were taken prisoner had hard times only calculated against the time they were used to having. But the German soldier,
we had a tremendous respect for. To us, he was the closest soldier to the Australian. That was our thought, as far as a soldier, all we could say is, how he obeyed the Geneva Convention. That was shown very distinctly in one place, he caught us on the flat
between 2 hills and he caught the whole brigade in one of these step overs and he flogged us, I suppose for 2 or 3 hours. He held us down with bombers and you could look up in the sky at any time and see 50 or 60 bombers bombing you and 50 or 60 leaving and 50 or 60 arriving. All that time he pinned us down. A lot of us being wounded and
we were trying to get the wounded out to the road to get them medical and we had no ambulances. The ambulances had the red crosses on them and you never attacked an ambulance. We had no ambulances. We were just using ordinary trucks. Drive them in and lay these wounded fellows in and get them out to the roadway to get them into hospital and
patch them up and that. He could see those fighters that used to strafe us on the ground while bombers were bombing us. They would skip their plane right over that bus and yet they had no marks on them whatsoever. I didn’t take them but one of our chappies went with a truck load into the Leumeah Hospital.
We weren’t far out of Leumeah. He came back and he said it was just unreal. He said Leumeah was laid flat except for about 100 yards around the hospital. Not a bomb landed on the hospital. They weren’t attacked when they were taking a truck load of wounded people to the hospital. The German soldier,
we didn’t have a lot to do with but if you had prisoners to look after he was so much – he was a character. All he wanted to do was kid to you and be friends and then escape. It was so typical of Australians and he got a bad name after the war. The Germans got a bad name because of their treatment of the Jews but I’d be very, very surprised if any of those
German soldiers or their commanders had any knowledge of the slaughter of the Jews. Whether they knew it was going on I wouldn’t know but they weren’t that type of people. They just weren’t that type of people.
because when the Hero transferred us to the Dilwara, it was about a 10 or 12,000 ton ship. It was absolutely loaded with soldiers who had been off loaded and of course it was in everyone’s mind obviously as it transpired as the day went on to get as far
away from Greece as we could in darkness to try and get out of the range of the dive bombers. We hadn’t been on board the Dilwara only a very short time when the convoy took off. We didn’t know how many was in the convoy until light broke in the morning and there were 4 troop ships in the convoy and we had 13 destroyers and
battleships circling us trying to defend us all the time. They stuck with us and stuck close in and as soon as it was daylight an order came through the ship. Every machine gun and its crew up on deck and I wasn’t on a machine gun crew but I went up on deck and we established 103 machine guns
on the deck of the Dilwara and they did on most of the other troop ships. Now in the convoy and in charge of the convoy was the Phebes [HMS Phoebe] and that was a totally and completely anti-aircraft boat. A big boat and it had every type of anti-aircraft gun on board and that was soon, it came right across as the
dive bombers were there. The dive bombers came into attack immediately it was daylight and there was a little Greek boat that was in the convoy. That got sunk straight away. It didn’t have soldiers on. We heard later that it had some top Greek people on board. Obviously the Germans knew that and thought, “We’ll have them first.” It got sunk so that left the 3 of us
in the convoy. There was our boat and the City of London, the one that got sunk, the one the 7th Battalion was on and they came into attack. Why people have never featured and didn’t take a film of a dive
bomber attack, it was the most perfect symmetrical operation - you could see them come in probably groups of 35. They’d form this huge circle before they came into attack, then they formed a circle and they moved into the target. They’d dive out of that ring and drop their bombs in the dive and they’d pull back into that circle. They’d stay in that circle all the time, each one dropping a bomb as they went over
the target. The captain of our ship when we got out of aircraft distance, we didn’t get a bomb on deck. I wouldn’t be here if we’d got a bomb on deck. But we got bombs that you could have almost sworn you could have put your hand over the side and pushed them off. We poured 30 rounds out of 103 guns
at every dive bomber as he came into dive. We threw up this huge barrage of lead and at the same time the Phebes was into them and the other 12 warships, battleships and corvettes even were given them the blazes. But you’d see them coming down
into that hail of lead and they’d start to waiver and that would save us. If you could just make them waiver in that rain of lead that they were coming into. There were six of us filling – you didn’t have time to change the machine gunner, they were coming in so rapidly and there were six of us filling magazines and it kept the six of us full-time filling magazines and clamping it on for the next one coming in for the dive.
We’d used machine guns for a long time and that was the first time I’d seen a machine gun glowing red hot in the daylight. We poured so much lead skywards and there was so much attack on them. There were a lot of planes and I don’t know the quantity in those raids that morning and how many were shot down but several hit the water close at hand to our boat and spun over in the water.
They never pulled out of the dive but what the number was, I don’t know. It was a strange thing and it was a sad thing to me. We got out of range of the dive bombers and the Phebes was in charge and they run the white flag up. Now a white flag in a convoy signals all clear, so we sat around and relaxed and then all of a sudden
they run the yellow flag up and the yellow flag indicates aircraft in the area and they ripped it down and put the red flag up, that’s aircraft coming into attack. They put the red flag up and we couldn’t see any aircraft. They took the red flag down and put the white flag up. Just as they took it down, the aircraft came in. The level bombers came in and the long range bombers came in from the other direction
and they whacked bombs right over our boat. How they missed with those strings of bombs, I don’t know. It lifted our boat out of the water, a big boat, and turned it the other way. It loosened the rivets and water was coming in like steam but they hit the – what was its name? I know it well. The 7th Battalion was on it. They got a bomb that close that it burst the side of
their boat and it started to sink. But the City of London and the Dilwara both limped back too, listing quite a bit. The pumps were pumping the water quite okay. We got back to Alexandria but I’ve forgotten just now the name of the boat that was sunk but all troops were taken off it. One of the Australian destroyers whipped in alongside
and although it was listing badly they were able to hold it and get all the troops off and sadly the 7th Battalion was on there and they were taken to Crete. No weapons, nothing and put on Crete and we came back to…
that nothing upsets you like it would in civilian life. So trained to do your job and we were so well trained. We were so well commanded and we had so much confidence in the people who were commanding us. It was unreal in Greece that when the corporals wanted us [UNCLEAR] actions that I knew well
and he was a Western Australian and he still had his haversack when we were retreating, and we’d been down by Corinth at that time and he said, “You wouldn’t believe what happened today,” and I said, “What happened today, Joe?” He said, “I’m standing there thinking things were quiet and we could have something to eat”
and he says, “Along comes Tom Blamey and Stan Savige. Stan Savige shot through the hand and bleeding.” It would seem that Tom was wandering alongside, and he said to him, “Digger, you wouldn’t have anything to eat?” He said, “I can give you the choice. You can have a tin of meat and vegetable or you can have a tin of bully,” and Tom said, “Give me the bully.” You know, when you’ve got people
in command like that, it’s tremendous. They stuck. They stuck right in with the troops.
brought into the war. The Germans, apart from Leningrad and Stalingrad they were walking through Russia. They were getting very close to Moscow and if they had reached Moscow because they had Turkey on their side and they’d have come down through Turkey and they would have swiped the whole oil belt in the Middle East. That’s what they wanted of course. Every nation wanted those oil fields.
Then we would have lost the war, there’s no two ways about it. Everyone agrees and anybody who writes about war writes that. If it hadn’t been for that huge snowfall. And we were putting it up on the Turkish border. Back from the Turkish border, we were digging defences and making roads and crossings, so we could get an army through. Whole divisions were working with thousands and thousands of
the natives on building defences not far back from the Turkish border. All of a sudden we became absolutely snowed in. It was a tremendous snowfall. It was higher than the camps that we had. We thought that “This was terrible” but then when we heard that it had turned the Germans back
we were quite happy about that and that saved it. That snowfall saved the Middle East, I’ll still bet to this day. The Germans had bypassed Leningrad and Stalingrad and they were still progressing at a rate of knots. Whether they would have taken Moscow, I don’t know but they were very, very close to it. They had nothing once they got past there. They had nothing to the Turkish border. They’d have been through,
absolutely through and that would have been [UNCLEAR].
The canal was the lifeline of the Middle East because any boats coming in through Gibraltar had to pass so much hostility and they had that narrow neck of land to come past Malta and the tip of Italy. They were under dive bomb attack all the daylight hours and so there was very little transport came through there to maintain
the forces in the Middle East, so Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa had to swing in, in full board to supply the Middle East. The Germans knew this was happening and they had the Middle East cut off from the Suez end, they decided they wanted to cut it off from Suez Canal end and they very successfully
and so cleverly did it. At that time the Suez was nowhere near as big. It was only a 100 feet wide and it was only 28 feet deep. It was such a strip of water, I think about 100 miles long. They could fly down that on a moonlit night and drop mines in the Suez Canal and every day in the Suez at that time, there’d be 20 boats,
merchant ships in convoy would come up from Suez to Port Said or else go down from Port Said to Suez because that was a day’s sailing in itself. They set about and they dropped these mines in. They didn’t give them any worries because they had the mine sweepers, tons of them there and they used to just sweep the mines and then bring the convoys
up and they were achieving what they set out to achieve. Then the Germans were quite aware that that wasn’t successful. Then with the depth of the Suez they found they could drop magnetic bombs in the Suez, which the mine sweepers couldn’t detect. As a boat passed over them, they’d explode
with the magnetic field. It blocked the canal but the boats were not lost because they settled on the ground and frequently they could still operate their cranes and they used to rush barges down and block off the part that had the hole in and get the boat but it took weeks. They were getting the stores and that
disappointed the Germans again. So they invented a timing device on the magnetic bomb and you never knew how many boats could pass over and often 10, 11 boats would get over one mine and then it’d explode and half the convoy facing one way and half the convoy
behind them that couldn’t turn around. They knew there were other mines and they absolutely blocked the canal because they had all different settings on their bombs and the boats that were out in front still could run into a mine that would take them out. Anyhow, when we came back the Suez was completely -
they gave it away. There was no road leading from Suez down to Cairo and there was only a very bad track from Ishmalia to Suez. They had to barge the stuff up past these sunken ships in barges and that was a very slow process. That worried people in the Middle East. I knew because we had the bomb disposal squads in our unit
and we got all the information about this because I was involved in this. When they dropped the one that only went off the first boat that went over it, being in the water, we weren’t allowed to touch it because it was a navy problem and the navy were very jealous if we entered in on anything they had to do.
They used to have on their boats a very small sea plane to fly them off the boats but they couldn’t put them back on again. They had to land if they went out on reconnaissance or anything they used to land. They were tiny little planes and they got these tiny little planes and they put a magnetic ring around it. The cockpit was about the centre
of the circle of the magnetic ring, well out the front, past the propeller and the back of the magnetic ring was out past the tail of the plane. The Germans thought that first bomb was going to do it but it didn’t. The navy overcame it by flying a magnetic field low along the canal and it exploded all the bombs, so they
had him beaten. That’s why he introduced the ones that had such a delay, up to 17 or 18 boats would pass over a bomb and then it would go off. That closed the canal. There were boats sunk in the canal everywhere. When we came back the canal was completely closed. We crossed again at El Kantara and they drove us down the canal and we walked to
Suez - about the last 3 miles with our packs on our backs. We walked to Suez to catch a boat.
and before we got on the boats, Singapore fell. Then they said, “You’re going to Surabaya.” They told us that. “You’re going to Surabaya.” So the convoy got formed up quickly and headed for Surabaya. We were on a little 9,000 toner, a boat by the name of Ettrick I was on
with our company. Several battalions crowded on that boat. We were going to make a run to Surabaya to try and hold the Japs back there. We’d been out 2 days and going down the Red Sea, we got up one morning and had a look out and we were the only boat. We were going back the other way. We couldn’t believe it. What was wrong?
You always had the life boats hanging over in the davits ready to drop straight away if we were hit. We climbed in the lifeboats and had a look at the covers and we were definitely going back the wrong way. Then word was passed around that “The convoy had to speed up and we couldn’t keep speed with them,” so they turned us back and the rest of the convoy continued on to Java and when
they got to Java, of course a sad story, the Japs were there and they had no fuel to return, so they had to sail in and give themselves up. That’s where all those troops, that whole brigade gave themselves up. A Java picked brigade and Weary Dunlop, he was in charge of our camp clearing station, Weary was at that time.
Weary was on one of the other boats with his camp clearing station and of course Weary, we’d heard so much about, Pioneers and Machine Gun Battalions, all dumped in Java, in the hands of the Japs.
and we got on board and we went one boat out and they put the big balloon up, which they did when boats were one out. Like the London balloons that they used to put up to keep the bombs up. They had it on a winch and they used to fire above us with the dangling chains to keep the bombers off us and we went on out and we went to Colombo.
We took on fuel. We weren’t allowed – I don’t know if we went to Bombay or Colombo first but anyhow it didn’t matter. We headed off again after 2 days. They took on stores, water and fuel. We had a look at the covers and we were going east again. We couldn’t believe it. I think we
went east for 4 days. We must have hit the South African coast. It was just at the time when the Japs had sunk the [HMS] Prince of Wales, the English boat and here was our little boat bobbing along out there on the sea. We weren’t allowed to remove our life jackets or our emergency rations. We had to have them hung
on our shoulder at all times. All life boats were lowered almost to the water and all the rafts were set loose. They just had to be pushed overboard. Half slept and the other half was on the rail all day. Shoulder to shoulder we stood on the rail of that boat, glaring out to sea and you had to report,
even if a fish came up out of the water you had to report it. Every 10 had field glasses and they were passed round to us and then you’d pass them on. There was one with field glasses and then say 9 or 10 without field glasses, looking, looking, looking. Any dappling or anything out of the ordinary had to be reported immediately and we went back.
We were wondering when we were going to hit Africa and then we turned south, dead south. We sailed south. We were 3 weeks on the water from Colombo and we sailed south then for a week. Then all of a sudden we turned east and we thought “Ahh Australia. We’re going home.” You know, and we sailed away
We didn’t realise at the time but we knew we were getting close to land because the birds start to come on ship so you know you’re getting close to land. The birds started to come on ship and by jingoes we’re getting close to land. Then the American navy picked us up and took us into Fremantle after 4 days. That was a real hot spot. We didn’t realise at the time but that was a very hot spot at the time.
So we sailed into Fremantle. Back in Aussie. That was our trip home. We absolutely didn’t know. We didn’t know what was going on.
and put on a pair of shoes when we went on leave. We’d put on a khaki shirt and a khaki tie and open our uniform top and you made reasonable uniform out of our battle dress. We’d go into Melbourne and it wasn’t permitted. We were sent off the streets. The authorities that were running the thing, we were not regimentally dressed.
We felt that we were resented coming back here. A lot of trouble started between the 2 people. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all. I saw things happen that I never thought would happen. We had to go back to Watsonia Camp, to go back to Adelaide
on the train and we back there and the RTO [Rail Transit Officer] said to us, and marshalled us and of course a lot had had quite a few drinks because they were going back on the train. They marshalled us. He started to call a roll. We said, “You don’t need to call a roll here.” Heaps of guys said, “Don’t worry about calling
the roll. We’re all here.” He would persist in calling the roll and chaps wouldn’t answer. They stood over us until it got to a stage every time the fellow called a name, we had live ammunition and the bloke would fire a rifle. Can you imagine that? At Watsonia Station? Things were starting to get grim. Every name that was called, a shot was fired. They eventually gave us away and we got on the train
and went back to Adelaide. We weren’t happy and we were less happy and I don’t want to raise this too much again but it was a very disappointing thing to the AIF. We went back up into the Northern Territory and there was nothing. Everyone bar a few had cleared out. We were put on 2 shifts.
The whole brigade was on 2 shifts. Digging, making defence lines, roads and river crossings and ammunition dumps and food dumps and water points. We worked 2 shifts. We would start work at 4 o’clock in the morning and the other shift took the machinery over and they worked from 12.00 to 8.00 at night and that went on all the time we were in the Northern Territory.
South of Katherine was a huge force of chaps that could not go north of Katherine but we worked our gut out digging trenches and we could have had another 10,000 people. The defences were never used but they could have been used if it hadn’t been for the Coral Sea Battle, they would have been used.
but we worked our way right over the top there, establishing crossings back about 40 mile. There was very good thought put into the defence of Darwin because right around Darwin itself, facing out, the northern part we trenched it all the way with weapon pits and trenches and tunnels under buildings and that, so we had a
continuous defensive post all the way round that. Then we dropped back about 40 miles and we put in the food dumps and the petrol dumps, made roads into them and put causeways over rivers to keep the fresh water back to establish water ports. That’s the type of thing we were doing. We
were a bit concerned that they were going to let them land and we’d be 40 mile back but the amount of troops we had up there we could never have manned a perimeter, whereas if they’d landed they’d have been in a concentrated area and they would have concentrated the defence on them. There was a, another reason was that most of those northern rivers are tidal for about
40 miles and there’s no fresh water and so that he wouldn’t have been able to have survived. He’d have had to either quickly get out or push back to where the fresh water was and that turned out that it would have been a very good defence because we would have beaten them.
We had a strange experience. There was about 10 of us, I suppose doing a particular, finding tracks through the ranges. They were only very light ranges but they were quite [UNCLEAR] tracks across the north, there we came to a corrugated shack and we called into it, right out in that isolation
and there was a chappie in it and 3 Lubras. He spoke English and he was a white fellow but he’d been so long in the outback there and quite a story came out of it. He was a New Zealander and years, and years and years ago he’d come to Australia and he went on the mines in the Northern Territory
and then he went bush and he got these 3 Lubras and he used to shoot the kangaroos and that for them and they used to go out and every fresh water in the streams they’d go out and speck gold for him. That chappie had nuggets of gold that he’d hammered into shape, as big as your fingers
and that type if thing. We worked that area for quite some time, a week or more and it was quite good because we called him “Maori Jack” and he wanted to know how the war was going. He’d seen the planes coming in and going out and all this type of thing. He thought “There was a war on.” We said to him, one of the boys said to him
“Jack, what do you do with your gold?” He said, “Oh, about every 5 or 6 yeas I go into the big smoke and I splash it all up then I come back here.” He said, “No relatives, no relatives.” We said, “Where’s the big smoke, is it Brisbane or Melbourne or Sydney?” “Oh no,” he said, “Katherine.” (Laughs). Katherine had a pub and a store
at that time but that was the big smoke to Jack. He was very good to us because the natives were still in the tribes up there and the tribes used to have their meetings around there and try and coax those 3 Lubras away from him. We saw a lot of people, lots with
the native tribes that when they mate they have this corroborree and we saw a native corroborree there and he was able to tell us that “The natives would meet there and have a corroborree and it was quite an education.” Unbelievable. To see the natives in the wild having a corroborree.
raids on Darwin and the whereabouts when we were up there. There was some very severe raids on the aerodromes that we formed. A lot of the raids we didn’t see because they were out over Wyndham and sometimes they’d go round Darwin to go into the aerodromes but there was 47 and I’ve got
them all listed, the planes out there that were shot down because I got it from Darwin. There were some heavy raids on Darwin or they passed over Darwin while we were there. The American planes had no hope against them. Their fighters couldn’t compare with the Zeros. It got to the stage that they never took to the air against them. They used to let them come in and land and possibly
out of sight of us they may have attacked the bombers but if the Zeros were with them they gave the Kittyhawks the dickens. They really did and any of the heavier fighters, the Zeros were tremendous. Then they brought 3 squadrons of Spitfires out and they put them on a strip about 35 miles south
of Darwin and we said, “Hurrah, rah, rah” because we’d seen how good the Spitfires were. There was nothing that could touch them in the Middle East. We thought “Bring over your bombers now.” One Sunday morning 22 bombers came in V formation and were flying very low and you could hear the Spitfires. They were right up. They had a ceiling of 33,000. They were up higher and the
the Zeros didn’t have that. Anyhow we heard the Spitties [Spitfires] rising. They had them back that far so they could climb. By the time they got to Darwin we thought “It would be on” and the dogfights started and you could just see them fighting and then a plane would come hurling down and we’d cheer, “Have a look – a Spitfire.” They shot down 15 Spitfires.
They said, “They got 5 Zeros in that fight” but out of those 3 Squadrons, we lost 15 of our Spitties in our first fight. It wasn’t very encouraging but later they came in with a big raid again with the Zeros with them and I believe, we didn’t see that,
we believe the Spitfires cleaned them up because they hadn’t had the opportunity of getting their techniques apparently. They were like a little blowfly. They were as wide as they were long. They could somersault or they could flip back over. They could drop a wing and drop straight down in a second. They were so manoeuvrable. We were glad to hear the Spitfires got on top of them although we didn’t see it but they
must have done because they cut the bombing raids off.
rain forests at that time up on the Tablelands and we were camped out of that in a place called Wondecla. It was a 6th Divvy camp and we were close at hands to Tablelands and close at hand to the rain forest and we used to do our patrol training and our
survival training in that rain forest. We’d go out there and make camp for the night in the pouring rain and things like that we had to expect in the jungle. It was a training test that tested anyone because our assault courses were so much different. They were so much heavier
and emphasis on assault because we had to operate in such rugged country and we learnt to live in those rain forests. We could bed down at night. We could put out our guards and our listening posts and our sentry posts. Set up our tripwires and all this type of thing
we learnt in the jungle. Something that we hadn’t done before and we were taught close hand to hand fighting where you could only see at best, 30 to 40 feet. Observation had to be so much better but so many men paid with their lives to work this out for us, so we were privileged in that point. One
thing that – if you’ve got time, I’ll tell you about the jungle warfare. When we left the Middle East we were issued with Tommy guns, our light machine guns were the American Tommy guns and they fired a 0.45 bullet which are nearly as heavy as our 303. Now our 303 was an effective rifle and had an effective range, well 800 yards, it was pretty good.
You couldn’t see further than 100 feet, so there was so much patrolling to be done up and down hills, we quickly learned that rifles with the 303 were a very poor weapon. Now the Tommy gun with the weight of the ammunition of it was a little better. The Tommy gun was a gas operated gun like the
Bren gun was. When we were in the Middle East, a chappie went away and we didn’t know him but his name was Owen. He invented the Owen gun and they sent him back to Australia and we were amazed when we came back that we couldn’t get an Owen gun. We still had the American Tommy gun and so did our infantry. Then the talk went
round and a lot of talk goes round in a camp. Some is right and some is wrong. But the talk was substantiated after the war that the Owen gun was such a simple gun, it was recoil action, it could stand the humidity and the wet and everything, whereas the gas operated guns operated through a very small port of gas and they used to block up and those guns used to become non-operational
in jungle conditions. This recoil gun only had a very light point, a bit bigger than a 22, which was quite sufficient and it only had a range of about 80 yards and that was sufficient and a recoil action. Nobody had them and as I was saying they could have been built for £8 but they couldn’t get anyone to build them.
They finally arrived at a contract with Lysarts is how the story went, after 12 months Lysarts built them for £80 each or made them for £80 each and they were issued to the troops. That, when we went to the islands was the difference between us and the Japs, was that light machine gun. It was absolutely tremendous. It wasn’t as rapid a fire
as the gas operated guns, which was good. You didn’t expend so much ammunition, you could fire a single shot, you could fire 2, fire 3, down on the ground you could fire a single shot. If you went on further if you touched the trigger it fired before. You only needed one with the Owen and further it being a recoil gun it bounced around and you had a big cone of fire which was great. It wasn’t near as
accurate but very light gun to carry, very light ammunition but it was one experience that when we did go to the jungle we had the Owen gun and so did the rest of the people up there but that was delayed to those late actions in the islands. I don’t know how many people are aware of that or how true what I’m telling you is but there was a huge delay in the production of that Owen gun.
It was claimed that it was the cost of production. People didn’t want to reduce the price and it could have been. I wouldn’t know.
Tell us then about the campaign in New Guinea? How did you get up there?
The campaign we had we went right around the back of New Guinea and MacArthur’s Headquarters were in Hollandia, which was in Dutch New Guinea and we didn’t quite get up to it. We landed at Aitape and that was in the Australian New Guinea. The Americans were there and had created an air
field there and I suppose they kept it there to protect Macarthur’s base but by that time they’d pushed on to the Solomon’s and the nearby islands. They pushed back from there but they did maintain that there. We relieved them and the Japs had cut the Americans hard. We were amazed when we took over from the Americans, the Japs didn’t bury any bodies.
They used to just throw them down the gullies and in those gullies there were many American helmets as there was Japanese and that’s how we used to distinguish you’d see a helmet, the Americans were different from us and we were different from the Japanese. There were lots of American helmets in those gullies. They suffered. Trying to hold that base the Japanese
made if very, very difficult for them. We took over there. We took over at place called Ramu River. They were holding down as far as Ramu River. That was our first experience of the Japs but we knew a lot about them. We knew what to expect and what the treatment was going to be.
What to expect I suppose mostly. So we weren’t surprised.
for him and he’s set the ambushes over the tracks for us. It was only when you got mainly native villages that he’d taken over where he’d taken over their huts and that sort of thing that you caught him in big quantities. Large quantities, otherwise it was different from what our chaps told us in Salamaua, Wau and Gona
because they did head-on fights there. Much the same as they did in the Middle East but in closer quarters. My brother was right through those campaigns and he told me the same thing. He got off the aircraft, my brother did, he told me “He got off the aircraft and fought the Japs on the side of the aerodrome and some of the ones that went over on the aircraft got back in the aircraft wounded and went back
on the same aircraft.” That’s how close they were but we never, we had to hunt them down. They never attacked us. We would have a stand too, every night wherever our patrol was and we’d have a stand too, first thing in the morning and that’s when you’d expect if they were going to attack you they knew you were in the area. That’s when they were most likely to attack. It was mostly hunting down other patrols anyhow. It was
a strange game because the only way we could get anything into the fighting chain was along the beaches and the small craft used to pull in and land and dump off food and ammunition and the medical staff used to move along the beach but most of the patrols went in
about 5 or 7 days and you did a half a circle and came back out roughly. The terrain altered it and you came back in and so many patrols were doing that, circling and coming out at the beach and just beating the whole bush out all the way.
Did you see things that disturbed you in that campaign?
No. I saw things happen that I never thought could happen but thy didn’t disturb me because by this time we’d heard so much about our enemy and we were starting to see things that our enemy was doing. We didn’t get a hate,
we got horrible dislike for our enemy and I think that Blamey put it into the correct words when he took a sword from that fellow up there, “I would never class you as a worthy enemy,” he said when he took that sword. That’s how we felt about them.
They were a terrible enemy. They didn’t believe in taking prisoners. There was no such thing as a prisoner. I don’t know. They truly believed if they were a private and dying they went to their heaven as a corporal and if they were corporal they went as a sergeant. They didn’t fear dying.
They’d never give up. Never give up. One man would sit in the ground in a fox hole and he’d hold a platoon off with a machine gun. He knew darn well he was going to get overrun and killed but he didn’t care. He didn’t care. That made him a very difficult fellow to deal with. We were fortunate, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our infantry were the best fighting force in all the world.
It was a tribute to our infantry how they handled them.
couldn’t understand. We had moved through to a river and we’d passed one of our patrols who’d gone down on the river and was holding on the river. We passed by that. We went on to this river and we put down on the side we’d approached the river, so that we didn’t cross that night. That we had an escape route.
We were just putting down. We had nothing to sleep on bar the ground and we were just planning how we would arrange to get out. We had a platoon of the 2/4th Battalion and there was my section. I went with every one of our sections. They had a corporal in charge of the section but I was platoon sergeant.
We were just sitting there, not making a noise and down came a Jap to get some water at the river. One of my blokes just drew a bead on him and shot him. He was just alongside the river and we thought “This is dangerous.” There are other Japs in the area and normally if you heard a shot you’d race to help your bloke. You could tell the difference between the guns.
We knew whether it was Japanese guns firing or our guns firing. No Japs turned up and we crossed that river after daylight the next morning and we hadn’t gone 100 yards when we were in a stoush with the Nips [Japanese]. Now if one of our fellows had gone down to get some water, got shot or even if a shot had rang out we’d have swarmed
down there to defend him. But they never came down. Never came down. Yet they were 100 yards and they had fox holes and everything there to defend themselves. They were waiting for us to attack, I don’t know but when they did get attacked they got cleaned up. Absolutely cleaned up which happened in most cases.
We were probably because we had that deep sense of dislike. It ran right through and we were tremendously looked after by our medical staff, by our orderlies and sisters in the hospital and when they sank the Centaur that sent a wave of dislike through the whole of the Australian Army as far as I knew. That was just not on. That was just
not acceptable. That was a man’s fight. It wasn’t a woman’s fight. They were covered by the Red Cross. That was poor. That didn’t do them any good. We were relieving Indian working parties and they were telling us what the Japs were doing. We had the mishap to have,
I wasn’t in that patrol. It was the 2/11th Patrol. 2/11th were a Western Australian Battalion. Just before dusk one night, their patrol got into trouble and 2 chaps got wounded and they were calling out to their mates “Don’t come in there’s too many.” They knew they were still alive. They pulled a platoon in and
went in the next morning to get those fellows, and get their prisoners out because you did anything, absolutely if you were over numbered you did everything to get a wounded man out. You knew what the result was going to be. They went in and one of them was hanging by the ankles in the tree, completely gutted with a stick across his gut and the other one
was cooking in the pots. That doesn’t do you any good. No good at all. That raised the ire. That stirs a whole army up. It does really. We’d heard they did it over where my brother was, the cannibalism of the wounded was so horrific. They didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about it because of the people concerned.
We didn’t know the people behind but in that case we were right there when they cannibalised those 2 fellows. The Indians told us tremendous stories. They didn’t eat the Indians. I suppose they ate too many herbs or something but they even killed their own people to eat.
Any that we got of them were, I can show you photos, they weren’t bad in condition. They were in pretty good condition. They took over the gardens from the natives. They had beautiful gardens there, the Fuzzy Wuzzies and they’d taken over their gardens and were living off the land. Fish were plentiful and they were in good condition and even
we saw it but why cannibalise people? We couldn’t understand it.
so I was right up the front. All the time on the drive on Wewak we got through Wom quite well and across the Owen River and we’d moved down along the coast for the attack on Wewak Point. Then we got to a creek, I suppose a small
river. I suppose it was about 60 to 80 feet wide. The forward patrol and the 2/4th Platoon crossed the creek and they immediately ran into heavy machine gun fire and running inland there was a huge swamp
and there was no way that you could get round the back of them on the narrow neck of land. They were through and the colonel who I knew because I used to report to him every night. We had something to do with the pace of the attacks. They depended on me being able to tell them how quickly they could get their tanks and their artillery up and that.
I was leaving word for the following engineers to log up creek. Push logs in with bulldozers, so you could get a tank over or if it’s too wide to make a causeway across and to assess the pace of the attack, the forward companies can’t get far in front of the back up artillery and that type of thing and stores.
The colonel said to me “We are going to withdraw back again. We’re going to go back a few hundred yards. We can’t sacrifice the men in front of those machine guns.” He said, “We’ll probably withdraw for 2 days. Do you think the engineers could build me a crossing across that creek to get a tank over to wipe out those machine guns?”
I said, “Yes we can. We can do anything.” If we’ve got it, we could. They got the troops up and we built a bridge. We worked all night and we bridged the Minga Creek as it turned out to be. Minga Creek. We were under shellfire all night. Not continual but spasmodic and they never landed a shell on the bridge.
“Get the bridge built. As soon as you have it built, will you come back and tell me?” I used to talk to him every night. It was great. He was a great guy. Very comical. I think it was about 4 o’clock. 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning I went back and he was back about 400 or 500 yards and
he’d said, “Wake me. It doesn’t matter what time you come back. Wake me.” I went back and I said, “We’ve fixed it. There’s one tank over on the other side” and he said to us, and this was unbelievable because we weren’t allowed to have fires because it attracted the enemy. This chap who was looking after him, the
batman said, “Give the sergeant a hot cup of coffee.” I thought “Where’s the hot cup of coffee coming from?” but he got a hot cup of coffee for me. (Laughs) I hadn’t had a hot cup of coffee for so long. He was so pleased that fellow because they’d put the tank over first and he wiped out the machine guns. Saved hundred of lives. I was quite proud
of that achievement because it was known as my bridge but it was my men that built it not me. It was our idea too and that was needed and we did it. That was the job of the engineers, to back the infantry up. All you had to do was back the infantry up and they did the job. Really did the job. It was just great because they would have lost a lot of men
off that narrow strip if they had attacked. However, with the tank over we attacked that morning. I went down to the bridge and watched those fellows crossing and then drop in behind them. We had the attack on Wewak Point and when I saw what went on – there was a curve in the road and there was a bank about 5 foot high, a cutting
with an open cutting on the other side and they dug down and they had slits out through the cutting and all machine guns placed. You would never have – the infantry would have just been walking into death. It was a pretty pleasing sight. The attack on Wewak we had 40 artillery lined up and our people and the artillery always travelled too also with the forward infantry
observation post. Travelled also in that forward section and he told me that “We would go in under a barrage of 100 round gunfire from 4000 rounds” and it was that rain that we went in under and that was the biggest barrage we ever went
in under in the islands with 40 25 pounders lined up and a 100 round gunfire but yet the Japs were still going. They suffered but having the tanks over was marvellous. Absolutely marvellous because the tanks didn’t have a lot to do because they couldn’t work in the areas but at Wewak Point
it was just made for them. It was great.
was that Mission Hill, the aerodrome was over the other side of the swamp and there were causeways across for their aircraft. The same day as we took Wewak Point we occupied the aerodrome but about a mile and a half back from the aerodrome there was there Mission Hill. Wyroorie Mission and that was the only name it was known as
Scrubby Hill. He’d withdrawn to Mission Hill and that was the biggest fight of our time up there. That was our last big fight. There were 2 VCs [Victoria Crosses] at Mission Hill. They had to bring up 2 brigades to take it. It took them nearly 4 days to take it. He fought like death but he still
had an escape route and a lot of them escaped from Mission Hill as he ran. As he was being defeated they were escaping. They didn’t have any escape route, everyone was killed at Wewak Point but he had an escape route and he just went back into the jungle. But we pushed on then and I suppose we were,
the 19th Brigade was withdrawn from the front and the 4th Battalion was up, either the 8th – I think it was the 8th – went forward after Mission Hill and they were pushing him back into the jungle and they were doing the same as the 2/4th Battalion.
They were having the same experiences but he still had those mountain guns and he was shelling that airstrip and we were at the airstrip and our company were given the job because the Americans had bombed the airstrip and it was unusable. It had huge craters in it. They
said to our company, our Platoon Commander, “Would our platoon drop off and supervise the reconstruction of the airstrip?” When we went in we always had a job building a bridge or doing something. But this time we didn’t because the 8th Battalion had taken over from the 4th.
We got quite a lot of mechanical equipment from the field path, bulldozers and graders and we built a chinaman. Do you know what a chinaman is? Well chinaman, I was used to them in civvy life because you couldn’t shift any earth without a chinaman. You build a big frame that you can run a truck under and then you get your
bulldozer and all your bulldozed earth to make a ramp up on top of that frame and a ramp down the other side and you run your trucks under it and there’s a slide and you push the dirt up and it all falls into the truck. The truck pulls out and another truck pulls in. We built a chinaman on the coral reef and we had bulldozers filling in the craters. It’s still there that aerodrome and you know there were so
many bombs round the aerodrome, broken aeroplanes and whatnot we bulldozed the bombs in to fill the holes and of course they weren’t active. They didn’t have any firing devices in them because they didn’t want them flying them out. But they are still under that drome.
We built the drome and we were able to get the Douglasses in there, we got the fighter planes in there. We sheeted it all with coral.
There was one incident that I hadn’t mentioned to you. We were between Wom and Wewak
when VE [Victory in Europe] day, when they threw it in over in Europe. The Americans had been giving a series of air strikes from Nadzab and the artillery had moved on to Wom to set up because they could range on Wewak Point from Wom. Wom was substantial also. The Americans
obviously didn’t know we were so far forward and they bombed the dickens out of Wom. They knocked a lot of our guns out, killed quite a number of people. That was a sad event. We were told that “They were all disciplined and struck out of the air force. They’d got full in the canteen and decided to go and have a play with the Japs.” That was the story and it couldn’t have been anything else because they kept coming in to bomb,
kept coming in and there was an American barge that was supplying us with stores. It was out to sea and he was signalling to them apparently that they were Australians. That was the first time in war I saw direct blood transfusion.
They called you up and asked what blood group you are and you always had it hanging around your neck. They’d look at someone with their legs blown off and bleeding pretty freely and they just put a tube in your arm and a tube in their arm and fed them direct blood. I heard them talking on the wireless the other day that they’re thinking of doing direct blood transfusions. Direct blood transfusions
were done at Wom that day in 1945. To keep those fellows alive. There was a sad lot of those fellows. It was the 22 Artillery and they were Victorian. They’d gone in and they were in Pucka with us.
go all stupid. They were camped about a mile down the track from where we were and Cliff who I was friends with, I’d been in the platoon with him before and he’s coming up the track waving his hands. As he got closer he’s singing out to me “Harry, the war will be over.
Harry, the war will be over” and I thought “Oh gosh, Cliff’s gone troppo!” He was a nice guy and that but when he got closer he said to me, and he was out of breath, he’d run up there to tell me, he was excited. He said, “The war’s going to be over.” I said, “Oh Cliff, no, no” and I couldn’t believe it. He said, “They’ve split the atom” and splitting the atom, I hadn’t been educated to that extent! (Laughs)
I said, “What’s that got to do with the end of the war?” and he said, “The first person who splits the atom will win the war and they’ve dropped this huge bomb on Japan. They can’t stand it. It’s going to be the end of the war.” Sure enough in 4 days it was the end of the war. That was the greatest letdown of your life. From thinking that you had so much more – I was up to the 6 years by this time.
The colonel had said to me “What are you going to do after the war?” a few weeks before that and I’d said to him “Look, why think about after the war. Whenever is it going to end? Why think at this time? I don’t have a clue what I was going to do when the war ends.” It ended about 3 weeks or 4 weeks after that conversation and it ended so suddenly.
We had a job to get the message through to the Nips that it had finished because the batteries on their, although they could block out communications, they had blocking devices but they were having difficulty getting long messages. They couldn’t get the boats in close enough after the
Coral Sea Battle. The Americans had started the hopping. They weren’t getting very much news, the Japs, and we were afraid and they did, they shelled us for 2 days after the Armistice and terrible. It’s sad. I think to be killed after the war was finished was really sad. The doctor of
2/4th Battalion who was on the airstrip, they were camped by the airstrip because they were not in forward action, and they hit one of his boys and he went to attend him and the next shell killed him. Those 2 fellows were killed after the war and he shelled us for about 2 days but then they dropped leaflets. I’ve got leaflets there that they dropped – I can’t read them. They’re in Japanese. They dropped on them
telling them “The war was over.” I suppose in about 3 or 4 days they started coming in, putting their arms down. They were led in by people who confirmed that we were getting confirmation that the war was over. There were a lot of them. A lot of them. We put a prisoner of war camp up on Wom and put a prisoner of war camp over on
Mushu Island. Shipped them over there to the island. Then I came home. (Laughs).
had dependants, your points were doubled and so chaps with 2 years less service than me if they had a dependant, they had more points than I. I didn’t – it was sad time, that fortnight to me. The war was over
and we got flooded out of Australia. Thousands of troops that had never been out of Australia before. There were thousands of them. We called them TEUs “Tax Evasion Unit” because you had to serve outside Australia before you could get a tax deduction and those chaps. Some of them were majors and colonels and I don’t think they’d had their first shave. They were young fellows that got
thrown into posts because they had people pushing them into the better jobs in the army and that type of thing. It never got under my skin but I thought “It was a bit rude.” I thought “It was a bit rude.” That culminated in a very nasty incident one night. We got the best films. The films that the Americans brought in.
They were not released in Australia yet for 12 to 18 months after. We had films every night. We built this – there was a gully and just a nice sloping gully with nice slopes up the sides and we got the big screen put up, right in the gully. We had a couple of miles to walk to the screen each night. We used to – we’d pick up a log and we made a
complete amphitheatre. It would hold thousands and thousands of men and each night we took a log and put it in and that. We got this new general. He had been not thought good enough when the war started. He started with us as a matter of fact. He came back to us and “Black Jacket” as we called him Jack Stephens, he had gone home.
He issued an edict or a routine order that the 6th Div was a rebel and just had to be disciplined. It didn’t go over very well. He had draftsmen and architects with him. He drew up a complete campsite for the whole division that was exactly the same as a platoon
with the cookhouse and the orderly room, fellows camped around it and they formed a circle with 3 platoons and then you had the Company Headquarters in the middle of that. It went right through these companies, through the battalions and I had a very hard case. We got on tremendously well together. He was a good bloke – called a spade a spade. He said to me, he brought me the plan and he said, he always called me “Sarge” and he said
“Have a look at that Sarge. What do you make of that? This is where we are” and he pointed out where you had to go. He said, “Would you take a compass?” because they had points marked along there. It was to locate where you’ve got to shift it. I said, “Not a problem.” However I found the spot we were in, in 6 foot of water in the swamp.
Where we were located. It was unbelievable what that fellow had done. He had drawn up a list of how we rolled up our blankets. We only had half a blanket. How we polished the soles of our spare pair of boots. We never had a spare pair of boots. Laid our kits out, right throughout
the whole division had to be laid out that way. We had to take the laces out of our spare boots and polish them. We never had any polish and this type of thing. Anyhow, when the pictures got going, he issued this and got the work done and he didn’t get the engineers to do it. But he had barricaded off the first and best section of the picture theatre.
Barricaded it off with a fence. Round it, in a horseshoe around it on each side and around it was barricaded off with a fence. He issued this routine order that all the red tabs had to go into the central position. All the other officers had to occupy all those other places and all the OR’s went to the back. Well, it was the OR’s who had built that. Another thing, we had to wait
for dark of course before you could start the film. He issued the thingo and it was not to start until he got there. Well, I thought, “That’s trouble. You’re in trouble mate.” The first night this came into action we all took up our places. We sat back, you couldn’t get a nice place, you had to be
behind all the others. We were there, the picture didn’t start, the picture didn’t start and then in the dusk comes up about 6 jeeps. The general and all his top ranking red tabs and he got out and there would have been 15,000 men there that night. They told Robbie what they thought of him.
They stood up and they howled abuse at him. It had never happened before. He slunk into his place in that before the picture started and the officers went to stand up. They had to stand to attention while he went to his seat and the blokes who were close to the benches where the officers were said, “If you stand up you’ll get this piece of wood in the back of your head.” So the barriers were removed
the next day. That was our new general. (Laughs). I won’t name him. I came home. Had a beautiful trip home coming home. The River Fitzroy was there and the old officers said, and they couldn’t guarantee anything but if you stay with the platoon, you can’t be a commissioned officer
with the platoon but when the war’s over we’ll have you made a commissioned officer.” They said that and then they went home. I was there 3 weeks extra. I’d got up to the orderly room because there were 2 lieutenants still there. They only had 2 or 3 years’ service. I used to go up and have a yarn with them of a night.
One night I went up and they said, “Harry, your commission’s come through.” Well I thought “That’s lovely, I can go home with a commission.” They said, “But hang on, there’s one condition.” “Yeah, tell me.” You’ve got to go to Japan for 2 years. “They’ve figured your commission, you’ve got to go to Japan.” I said to them “See that hulk out in the harbour? I’ll be on that in the morning” (Laughs).
It was the River Fitzroy, an all steel boat. It didn’t sail that morning. It sailed about 2 days later and the Americans had mobile steam kitchens. The Americans were particularly well looked after. They really looked after their troops and they were very generous in giving overflow to us fellows. The Americans were great in the field.
So they took out to sea, one of these “Café de Move Alongs” they got christened by the Australians. They were mobile, they were on a trailer. They took one of those and they tied it on the decks and it was all steel decks and hot. They tied the whole Café de Move Along on the deck.
I reckon there was 1200 troops crammed on that old River Fitzroy coming home. We had one meal a day starting at 5 o’clock in the morning. You didn’t get another meal and we were all happy to be going home. Those blokes would have been screaming to high heaven you know. We were going home. It was so different. One meal a day we survived on coming home. We got a tremendous welcome at Brisbane. We came up the
Brisbane River and we got a tremendous welcome there. The state’s people came out and addressed us and thanked us. They were very, very good to us. Put us in buses. Took us out to the camp. Said “The train wouldn’t be going until 5 o’clock in the afternoon.” Leave all your gear there at the camp and they put guards on it and supplied bus runs
from the camp to the city of Brisbane. Can I tell you about an experience in Brisbane? With 4 of my mates. We went into Brisbane on the tram and it was the first time I’d had my foot in a bar for years. We went down to the pub and ordered pots of beer. We were having a drink and there was a café next door and we went into the
- we finished our drinks and went into the café. We said to the fellow, “We want the biggest steak you’ve got on the biggest plate you’ve got and a ring of eggs around it. As many eggs as you can put round the steak on the outside.” He said, “Good, good.” We said, “How long?” I forget how long he said but we said, “Right, we’ll be back.” We had a few more drinks and we came
back and sat down and we really enjoyed that meal. He came around and said, “That was a big meal. How did you enjoy it?” We said, “Good, but it wasn’t enough. How long again for another serve?” He said the same time, so we went and had a few more drinks. We went back and we had the same meal over. We were so hollow for a meal. (Laughs) We enjoyed that. That was our first meal back in Australia. It was great. (Laughs)
things and we were let loose in Sydney for that 2 hours. Some of my real good mates are New South Wales blokes. They said, “When you come through Sydney there’s a very pointed angle of 2 streets directly across from the station and there’s a pub there and we’ll be waiting for you.”
That’s where I spent my 2 hours and there was about 10 of my mates in there. A lot of them I never saw again after the war. We had a few drinks. You might think I’m a terrible drinker but I’m not but I did enjoy a beer that day (Laughs). It was a long time between beers. We came on to Melbourne and got the same treatment there. We arrived on the Spencer Street Station.
They had open cars and we were driven to a Governor’s Reception and we were feted in as much food and drink as we could eat. Nice party. Real nice party it was. We were all transported – arrangements were made that we could go wherever you wished. You could go home if you liked, which I did.
You can come back next morning and pick your gear up. There’ll still be guards on Spencer Street. I came in next morning and picked my gear up and took it home. I was at Dandenong at the time. I stayed with my sister in Dandenong. It was quite a coincidence. My brother Bob flew in from Bougainville on the same day and we arrived back within an hour of each other.
Yes, it was quite good. Quite good. This colonel that I’ll tell you about. He was such a great fellow. He said to me, “What are you going to do after the war?” and I told him “I don’t know.” At that time he said to me, “Look, if you’re looking for a job, I’ll get
you a good job.” “Thank you very much.” I never thought I’d get to take the job but he referred me to a man in Melbourne and he said, “Go and see this man as soon as you get into Melbourne.” I thought, “I wanted to get back earning money. I’d lost a lot of my life. I wanted to get back on and I wanted a job from the day I was discharged,
I wanted a job.” I went and saw this fellow and he had been contacted by the Colonel of the 4th Battalion. He welcomed me with open arms and he said, “I’ve got a good job for you.” He said, “You’ll be working on Dittman’s staff. He’s the Minister for Repatriation or Reconstruction.” The Department of Reconstruction.
“Who do I go and see?” He said, “You go and see this chappie.” I was still in uniform and I went and saw the chappie and he already knew. He said, “How about a job in the Public Service?” I knew it was going to be because it was a Public Service and I said, “Yes, fair enough,” because I had malaria terribly bad, real, real bad malaria and I thought
“This would tide me over.” I worked with the Ministry and the Department of Reconstruction for 2 years. It was a great pleasure to me because I was in the section where we were putting chaps back into the trade. Ones that had half done their apprenticeships and finding apprenticeships for them
and getting them their money. It was a great scheme, the Reconstruction Scheme. Those chappies, if they started an apprenticeship and the fellow would take them on that had them apprenticed although they were 5 or 6 years older some of them. They went back on full pay and he paid them a third of their wages and we paid them the other two-thirds until they finished their apprenticeship. That was great for him because he had a cheap
employee and the Digger had full pay right from the time he slotted back into the job. Ones that were young and didn’t have trades, we arranged training on the job for them and the same thing if they wanted to be a carpenter, we’d get a carpenter to employ them. They’d pay a third of their wages and we’d pay them two-thirds
of their wage and arrange all the tech training for them. It gave me a lot of pleasure because I saw a lot of my mates go through and they weren’t under the pile I can tell you.
I was working with nice people and we were all well thought of in our department because we were looking after ex-servicemen and that was what we wanted to do. I could have had quite a career in the Public Service. I wish I had a fellow looking after me very well. But apart from that I did a lot of work. It was a cause as well as a job.
After 2 years I resigned, much to their shock. That a man had resigned from the job I had. And I bought a farm. Moved onto the farm and all the time I was away, the girls that I knew and had known for a long time, I made up my mind before I went away that
I would not commit to a girl. That I’d have friends. I had no commitment to any girl. I thought it was unreasonable if I was going to be away for 4 years for her to be committed to me or me to be committed to a girl. I never went into that. A lot did and were very sorry afterwards. Not all but a lot. To come home and find that your girl wasn’t there and that she was still
writing to you and in some cases drawing their extra money. Wasn’t very tasteful. That’s the reason I didn’t have a girlfriend. I had tons of friends but I didn’t have a girl. Beryl was first girl I had after the army. She lived in the next district and I knew her people very well.
Beryl was only a schoolgirl when I went away. We’ve passed our 55 year mark, so our apprenticeship has been pretty good.
They’re out of my system. I think I changed attitude. Everyone did what they had to do in the war and although we held grudges I forgot them.
I did really. Those chaps that we were fighting had families at home too and a lot of them got killed and they’d left a family behind. They’d paid the price. They were patriotic to their cause and we were trying to be patriotic to our cause. We were pretty much on the same level and that’s my thought now.
I’ve never been to Japan and I’ll never go to Japan. I thought at one time “I would never buy a Japanese car” but I have ended up buying Japanese cars. All’s forgotten. In the Middle East, the treatment of our
soldiers that were voluntary soldiers by these Provos [Provosts – Military Police] was just unreasonable and they were tried and put in English jails for simple things like being an hour late for parade, 28 days in jail and people do not realise the viciousness of those jails. I had a very good fellow in
my section and he was one of my staff. He’d been through the desert, he’d been through Greece, Syria. He got a day’s leave to Jerusalem. He got a few drinks in him and missed the bus home. He wasn’t satisfied with that. He got out on the road and tried to catch transport back
to be at the unit for roll call the next morning and he didn’t make it by about 2 hours and he was picked up by the Provos and they tried him and put him 28 days in Jerusalem jail run by the English people and the colonel was known as the Bastard of Jerusalem. I had the task of taking that fellow
down to that jail. I drove him down from Syria and back to Palestine in full kit, which was an extensive kit. That’s haversack, rifle and everything you’ve got. There was a big circular wired compound with a guard on the gate. On the other side of the circular compound was a
shutter window and I had his papers.