then Mum developed cancer, apparently from the time I was born and we had to come back to Cairns for treatment for her. She passed away when I was fourteen and then I went from there into the railways and I worked away from home and I’ve been away from home more or less ever since. And I attempted to join in 1939 but they knew I wasn’t eighteen so they sent me home and then they stopped recruiting and I rejoined then when recruiting opened
in, I think it was May 1940. I was a cadet in the militia [the CMF, Citizens Military Force] and then I turned eighteen in November of 1939 and I became a fully fledged private and from there I went into the 2/15th Battalion. And we went to Darwin first and from Darwin we came home pre-embarkation leave, over to the Middle East on the Queen Mary to Trincomalee [Ceylon, now Sri Lanka] and then on the Indrapura to the Red Sea. And up
the canal and into Palestine and from there up the desert to relieve the 6th Division and then we were in the Benghazi Derby and the Jerries [Germans] chased us back to Tobruk [Libya]. And we were held at Tobruk for the whole time and came out of there in November 1941 and from there back to Palestine and up to Syria and almost onto the Turkish border. And then when the El Alamein show started we got called back to go back into the show again and
we did the El Alamein show and from there we came home. Had leave home, trained in Kairi on the Atherton Tablelands and then up to Lae and Finschhafen [New Guinea] and home from there. And then late in that year I was discharged, not discharged but found to be B2 [unfit for active service] and I was then sent to the 7th [convalescent unit] Cairns and I finished there waiting for my discharge. And
my mob went to Borneo and that’s the only shot I missed. From there I was married in 44 and we had a family of four, four boys. We had our first home and then I was in the railways and I got transferred to Richmond in Western Queensland, I was out there for three years, back to
Cairns and then in 66 my first wife died and I had the four boys, well two of them were getting up a bit, but one went into the air force and the other fellow went down to Melbourne to chase his career as a cyclist. And the other two were home and I raised them and a couple of years later I met Trish and she was quite a bit younger than I was but we became friends and from there it developed and
about nine years later after my youngest was twenty we married. Well then we were doing up our home in Cairns and Trish said to me, she’d like to move to Brisbane to be close to her parents. So I thought, “Well why not? The home we get down there will be her home and she’ll have the say who comes and goes.” And we came down here, we had four more, but luckily we got a daughter in this crew and from there both
of my families have melded in so particularly well together and I’ve been very lucky, I may as well have married the same women twice. They were seven days apart in their birth time, you know but not in the dates of course. And then wife’s just gone away, our eldest is still living at home, our second eldest is married and our daughter is at University at Gatton and Lindsay was in the navy.
And he’s just recently became engaged to a girl from Tasmania, although she happens to be a Kiwi [New Zealander]. And the girl that my second bloke married was a Kiwi as well, so we’ve got an Anzac connection. But that’s about it.
in school yards, or digging tennis courts and learning to play tennis, you know. And we used to go to school on horses of course and his wife was a very nice person. But then Dad reckoned I wasn’t getting an education, the way he wanted it. Anyway I then went to Kairi over near Malanda and I used to get into a bit of strife there occasionally because my horse put him in the horse paddock and lass named Joan Jashops [?] had a beautiful blue roan
mare and my bloke got in and got her into the corner and went hammer and hell at her one day with his hooves and this girl master said to me, “Wallace get that bloody horse and get home.” So I didn’t need two invitations and I took off for home and then another time I was going there and I was going through Pieramon, I used to have to ride through Pieramon to go to Kairi. And I could hear this yapping behind me, I look back up towards the hill and here’s our Alsatian bitch with eight pups
following me. So I couldn’t make up my mind whether to take them back home or to go onto school. So I continued onto school, tied Jenny up downstairs but the pups all came up into school and of course the kids had their fingers down behind the stools and that and calling the pups on. And so anyhow eventually Dan Redden said to me, “Wallace, get those bloody dogs and go home.” So anyhow from there when Mum, was ill with
cancer and that we had to leave and come down to Cairns. Dad used to bring Mum down to Cairns occasionally, I was left, I was an only child and I was left there on my own occasionally. And one particular night I remember waking, I could feel this weight on the bottom of my bed, and I had the twenty two alongside the bed, and I pulled it out and said, “Get out whoever you are.” and it was the old dog, she lifted her head up and I was just relaxed completely and went back to sleep. And of course no windows
or doors closed because you didn’t, nothing like that ever occurred in those days. And Dad came home the next day and I was alright you know, I was a kid about eleven I suppose. But anyhow we moved back to Cairns and when we got back to Cairns I had to take a team of horses back up, we had to get rid of the horses, we didn’t have room for them in Cairns and I drove a team of horses up over
the Gillies Highway on my own, against the traffic. If I went up over the old cattle track and that, when I got to the top gate I had to come down onto the road, and those days the traffic went one way for an hour and then the other way for an hour and they had a gatekeeper. And the gatekeeper was a bloke named Jack Titlow and I bought my horses down onto the road, they were loose in front of me and I was riding my horse and as I’m going
past old Jack was abusing me because I was coming up against the traffic. And I told him where to go, as a cheeky young bugger and anyhow I got to Yungaburra where the horses were being handed over to Williams Estate. And then one of the Williams brothers took me down to White Cars and I caught a white car back to Cairns.
what I mean doing the washing and things like that, I didn’t appreciate this until my own wife died and I had to do the same thing, only I had a few more to look after, you know. But it did teach me a lesson in this respect that I was determined in no way I was going to move out of my home with the kids. And I kept it going and of course when Trish came along we lived there and the boys came and went
because it was home to them and Trish knew a lot of things they did that I didn’t and she never ever split, she never ever told. And they trust her implicitly and it’s carried over you know to, they ring up and they’d just as soon as talk to Trish than me sort of thing, and she gets on remarkably well with them. And with our own family, Trish and my family the boys thought it was marvellous that they got a sister,
and even though she’s pretty straight from the shoulder Fiona. And I can remember at one time I had a bit of a blue with one of my boys over his older brother and he had a few things to say about his older brother and I got stuck into him, I said, “Look mate blood’s thicker than water and don’t you bloody well forget it.” And anyhow he didn’t ring me for about eighteen months and he was in Melbourne and anyhow he rang one day and Fiona answered the
phone and she said, “And about bloody time too.” And of course Chick, that’s his nickname Chick he said, “She’s a cheeky little bitch.” but they get on well and he’s pretty straight from the shoulder the same as she is. But oh no Dad and I didn’t have a really close relationship, possibly because Mum was ill and he was sort of doing what he could to alleviate
things for her. We had a few bad moments like for instance there was a quack [bad or fake doctor] named Trail in Cairns that she went to and he used to tell her to throw water on the grass and go and walk on it if there was no dew and first thing in the morning, this is part of treatment for cancer mind you. Anyhow one of the things that happened when Mum died, she died on a Saturday and Dad was delivering for the butchers he was working for
and I used to go with him on the run of a Saturday, we were developing a little relationship then of course but Mum died and that sort of broke it up again. But I knew his run completely and Dad got called to the hospital because Mum was dying and I had to stay there with the other bloke they sent out to show him the run. And of course when I got to the hospital Mum was almost dead and I didn’t realise it, I saw her and I said,
I remember walking out and saying, “Hooroo Mum.” Because I never expected her to die, I expected her to be there, to come home from hospital. Well she died that day, oh I don’t know how you describe it but I’ve been a loner ever since then, probably hard to get on with I don’t know. But I was very lucky
with the first women I married she was a marvellous women and she was exactly the same as the one I’m married to now, soft touch, everything for the kids, which is what you expect from a wife, good cook, good seamstress. She, oh treats you exactly the same in her manner and her ways, with her it’s all
the kids, which is what I expect and of course I get molly coddled [spoilt] too. But we lead a happy life and even though, when we first started going out together I was secretary of the Railways Institute in Cairns and at that time it was mainly run by people from the district super’s office, in the clerical side. And the fellows in the
blue collar side didn’t take a great deal of part in it. Well when I became secretary we endeavoured to change that and I went round when the new committee was to be elected asking blokes to nominate. And we ended up with a really good overall lot of blokes, blokes from the workshops, blokes from the loco [locomotives], drivers and myself I was a guard and then people from upstairs as well. And
anyhow we started to run various functions, we were running bingo to pay for the hall, Institute Hall, and we ran various functions and I can remember after we had our hall built and we had three pool tables in there. We had never had a railway ball in Cairns so Trish and I put it to the committee one night, “What about running a railway ball.” “Oh.” So anyhow we eventually
talked them round. So we went on holidays and when we came back we went for the next meeting and while we were away they’d had a meeting and decided they wouldn’t have the railway ball until the year after. And course we both said, “What’s wrong with you, you frightened of a bit of work?.” We asked them if they’d give us a fortnight to put the thing together and in the fortnight we’d sold three hundred and fifty tickets and arranged the whole thing. And it was a howling success and,
which we were very happy with, and we ran cabarets pretty regularly. You know we ended up with everybody coming from all walks of the railway and it was pretty good. And we enjoyed it, you know you’d get a ring at any time of the night, somebody had hired the hall, could you come over and light the oven please cause it was a bit complicated, the gas oven. From there we,
I eventually came down here. But with my first wife we, when I went to Richmond, oh how I came to go to Richmond we went on strike in 1948, the beginning of 1948 and the day before we had to go back to work I’d been working in my backyard and put an axe into my foot and cut the tendons. And I didn’t work from February to November, I got no pay and no sick pay or anything
cause I’d been on strike and how we existed god knows. I used to grow all my own vegetables; we had one son and another one on the way. And, but we struggled through, the people we had our loan for from the home agreed to suspend payment for twelve months and we struggled through. I eventually, then sat for the guard’s exam while I was off and I got posted to
Richmond. I went out there on my own and then after Trish had, after Elsie had had Wayne she came out to Richmond. And it was really the three best years of my life because we played tennis every weekend, eight hours a day, there was football every now and again, there was boxing once a month, racing once a month. Picture shows, three changes of programs a week and we normally went to the
three changes of programs. My eldest son and the butcher’s son, young Barry Jakes sent the first marsupial mouse that the museum had ever had, a live one, they were only about an inch and a half long, down to them and it was after the floods that they’d gone looking for these and they were turning over sheets of iron and stuff like that. And another chap named Harris used to have a few racehorses
there and he was brining them out for exercise one day and he went past our place and he said to my wife, “Hey missus you’d better go look for that kid of yours he’s up there turning over sheets of iron and there going to get a Downs Tiger.” which was a snake you know. But anyhow they didn’t luckily and we were out there and Don started school there. The first night we were in the hotel when Elsie first came out, we put the baby, the
cot got sent onto Mount Isa instead of being unloaded at Richmond and we put a drawer out of the dresser in the hotel on the floor and put a pillow in it and put the baby in that. About three o’clock in the morning he was roaring his head off, we woke up and the poor little bugger had been eaten alive by red ants and we weren’t awake up to this. And we woke the whole hotel actually and the people that owned the hotel came up and
told us how to, you’ve got to put something under them to stop the ants getting on, yeh that was part of the show there. But when I was working there we used to do runs to here and to Julia Creek and you would end up buying anything from a pin to an anchor for the gangers and the fettlers wives along the way, four or five stations between each way and they’d ask you
would you get this and that. And I remember one particular lady she was the ganger’s wife from Nelia, she came down to me one day with the drawing of childrens’ feet on a sheet of paper and she said, “Mr Wallace will you get me two pairs of black patent girls shoes?” I said, “Come off it Mrs Actin I’ve got son’s I haven’t got a clue about daughters.” and she said, “Oh you’ll be right just go to the girls in the
store and they’ll help you.” So I went down and I bought the shoes, anyhow when I bought them back I left them at the station and I rang her later on, or I saw her later on and I said, “How’d the shoes go?.” “Perfect.” So little things like that we used to do for different people. Anyhow on the Christmas Eve about 1950 I came off a job and I walked into the station to sign off and the night officer
Danny Conway said to me, “There’s a parcel there for you.” he said, “It’s about the size of a beer case done up in brown paper with a big red bow on the top and addressed to the Wallace children care of Guard Wallace.” he said, “I think there’s something alive in it.” So anyhow I picked it up and took it home and unwrapped it and it’s a pedigree Persian kitten, Frank Eakin bred them, and that was sent down to me as a present
for doing the jobs for them along the way, we had Tootie until she died. Yeh it couldn’t have been better. Well then one of the other things that happened before we left there the shearing contractor Nooky Crook had a blue dog Tony and Tony was always down at our place. So anyhow when I got transferred back to Cairns I said to Nooky, “You’d better give me the dog.” “You go to buggery.” he said, “He’s a working
dog” I said, “Go on Nooky.” I said, “He’s down at my place more than he is at yours.” Anyway so about a week before we came away he said, “You may as well take that mongrel.” so we had Tony until he died too. Oh I don’t know it’s been a pretty good life in that respect, from we came back to Cairns and I got tied up in camera
clubs and my wife did to, she was quite good with the camera. Oh different things, I was in unions right from day one and in the ALP [Australian Labor Party]. And my father eventually became, he became a councillor and then he stood for parliament and he was a member for Cairns for about nine years, till he died. And I did a lot of work there, I was secretary treasurer of the Northern District ‘sec’ [Secretary] of the ALP
until one time, when I started they were sixteen pounds in debt, that’s the days of pounds. Anyway over a period of a number of years I worked it up until we had five various elections, federal, council and state and we’d ended up with three hundred and fifty pounds in the bank.
So this particular council election came up and I said to the committee that was handling it I said, “Look, instruct the campaign director to spend, restrict his campaign until a fortnight before the election because that’s the money we’ve got.” Well anyhow at a branch meeting they gave him permission to go ahead and spend what he liked, so in the first week he’d spent about six hundred pounds. And I wasn’t at the meeting I’d been away on a job
and so anyway when I came back of course I was ropable and I just said to them, “Look.” I said, “I’m not walking the town hat in hand and asking for credit for the ALP.” So I went round on collections from the wharf and places like that and we eventually, I presented my balance sheet and everything was paid and we had about sixteen pounds in the bank. I told them they’d would have my resignation, I was
vice president of the branch and also secretary treasurer, they’d have my resignation because I wasn’t prepared to go on with that sort of rubbish. Anyhow one of the councillors wives said, “Oh isn’t that good.” well I won’t say what I said but I wasn’t, I’ve never said it in front of a women in my life before but I said, “It’s a so and so disgrace.” But anyway I continued on in union circles, I was chairman of the
Combined Unions in Cairns, and when they opened the new railway station in Cairns, I was the only railway man invited, the only working railway man apart from the district super. And I said to my wife, there was a cocktail party and that afterwards and I said to my wife, “I want you to go down and buy the nicest dress you can, I want you the best dressed bloody woman at that show.” So anyhow when we did go to the cocktail party she
was and the heads turned believe me, and I thought, ‘Well I’ll show you what the workers can do anyhow’. So anyhow from there on union stuff, I was secretary of the unions, we went to various functions. I locked horns with the district super [superintendent] over a pay dispute and we got a win on him and he never spoke to me,
not directly for about eighteen months afterwards, a bloke named Cec, oh God I’ll think of it later. Anyhow in this particular meeting where we locked horns over this pay dispute he had stood for the ALP plebiscite in Blackall and I said, “No one will ever convince me you stood for a bloody ALP plebiscite.” I said, “You’re
not interested in your workers” and of course he did his block [lost his temper]. But when we got the institute going he as a commissions rep was always on the committee and one of the chaps an electrician named Gordon Ross came to me one day he said, “Look I’m going to take Cec Walton on tonight.” he said, “I just want to convince him he’s got one vote like the rest of us.”
And I said, “What over?” he said, “Oh a few things” he said, “He seems to think anything he wants has got to go” I said, “Right oh I’ll back you.” So that night we took him on and we done him. And after the meeting we were all around the bar having a drink and he was up at the other end of the hall talking to the president, Les Matthews and he came straight down the hall to me and he said, “You’re a cantankerous bastard wherever you are.”
I said, “Not me Cec.” and I said, “I don’t sulk.” and I said, “I don’t hold grudges.” he said, “Meaning I do?” I said, “My bloody oath.” I said, “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me directly in eighteen months.” “Oh be buggered.” he said, I said, “Think it over old fellow.” I said, “You come up to people that I’m speaking to and you turn your back on me and speak to them.” I said, “The only time we’ve ever conversed has been on business matters.” And all of a sudden he started to laugh, he realised
I was fair dinkum, I was right. Well we got on like a house on fire after that, oh we used to go to cocktail parties at their place and his wife Larry was a great one for having all the…………what do they call that fish that you put on biscuits, Russian?
Redbank [Queensland] and in Redbank of course we passed in our militia gear and we were issued with AIF gear. You were given a great hessian bag to go and fill with straw because that was your bed. You had to learn how to put various gear together because, well I was lucky that I’d had militia training, that I knew most of that.
But then when it came down to training, like forming into a battalion, men were picked into different sections in different platoons and then leaders were appointed to the various things. I was lucky in that respect that I suppose I’d had military training and when I went there I became a section leader, only because I could teach the other blokes how to do rifle drill and stuff like that. And
one of the things that early in the piece my platoon went on strike when we were in Redbank, we’d gone for breakfast and it was, well white fish in tomato sauce, herrings in tomato sauce and it was rotten. And we just walked past it and nobody ate it, we had a cup of coffee and we went down to the RSL [Returned and Services League], had a bit of a canteen there, we went down there and had a cup of coffee and probably a piece of toast.
When we went back to our hut being civilians gone out and joined the army we were all unionists, we thought bugger this, we were not going to cop this. So we appointed a spokesman, a bloke named Jack Foxley and when it became battalion parade time we stayed in. Well everybody from the platoon sergeant through to eventually the 2IC [second in command] of the battalion came to try and get us out and we weren’t going. Anyway when the 2IC came down, Sir Charles Barton [later Major, 15th Battalion, 7th Division, QX6198] he later became
Comptroller General for Queensland and Charles Barton, the CO [commanding officer] was away at staff school. So Charlie was the boss and he came down and he said, “Well if I promise you the meals will improve from lunchtime will you come on parade?” And Foxley said, “They bloody better or we’ll be back here this afternoon.” So the rest of the battalion men had been standing out in the parade in the sun waiting for us to come and eventually turned up and paraded about an hour and a half late. But I give old
Charlie his due, he never held it against us and the meals did improve from lunchtime on. Strangely enough that carried over to, we jacked up again in Tobruk, not in the line of course behind the line. But yeah so that was the start of it. Anyway we did our training and the first guard I ever did on there, it was winter time you know, joined up in May and June in Brisbane was pretty cool especially out round Redbank, just bare
plains. And I can remember when the officer or the guard came around inspecting the guard about four o’clock in the morning and I was asleep on the Q-stores [quartermaster], on the Q-store steps and so he blew the socks off me. But that was the first guard I did and, but then we did our training and our CO Spike Marlin he was a good disciplinarian
and he took a pride in teaching us to drill properly, and we drilled pretty well. And we did a night march from Redbank to Ipswich and back and about two o’clock in the morning I suppose were coming past oh what was the name, one of the suburbs up there anyhow and all the women and kids had come out to see us, they wondered what was going on. They
were all out in their pyjamas and I don’t know if you know, but in the army we had a thing called a housewife, which was a gadget that has all your needles and threads like that and a hold all that holds that and all your toilet gear. And as we were coming through this little suburb, Evervale, a bloke out of our mob Bob Desaley, bit of a larrikin he said, “Hello housewives how’s your hold alls?” And
so everybody laughed and of course when we get back near Redbank about five o’clock in the morning our tails are dragging on the ground and we weren’t a very well looking mob. And the pipe band of the 25th Battalion which was just starting to form came out to meet us and marched us back into camp and we marched in like guardsman, because the pipe you know made the difference. But from there anyhow we went from there to Darwin, we entrained on the Zeelandia,
boarded the Zeelandia and we went up along the Queensland coast across the Torres Strait and into Darwin. And we were greeted in Darwin by the air force and navy blokes who’d been getting a bit of a hiding from the Darwin Mobile Force. They were an artillery crowd that had been specially recruited in Australia and they had the numbers and stood over the air force and the sailors because there was only a few of them there. But we locked horns with
them in Darwin but we did training all round the place. We had lumps of pipe for two inch mortars because we didn’t have the equipment and lumps of wood for different things. At the end of the day when we’d finished manoeuvres or whatever it is and one of the blokes had the pipe he would sling the pipe away and then be made to go and get it because that was the two-inch mortar and we’d be abused for losing the mortar. And that, it was strict training, we were in
Vestey’s Meatworks as our barracks, but we’d get occasional leave and we met the girls from the telephone exchange in Darwin and they were really nice girls and we used to have picnics with them in the gardens and things like that. Rarely that any of us got to take one of them out, like to the pictures [movies]; if we went we went as a group. And those kids were killed in the bloody Japanese bombing
raids, lovely girls. Oh no we got to know, we used to drink in town and the Don Hotel and the Victoria Hotel and I suppose we played ‘pak-ah-pu’ and those other Chinese gambling games and things like that. We went to the Knuckey’s Lagoon Labour Day affair and got into an all-in brawl with the Darwin Mobile Force mob. We had lanterns
out on the track that night waiting for the stragglers to get home. We eventually got together, we were trained at a place called Lee Point digging trenches and wiring and things like that and we worked in shorts and that’s all and we were burnt black by the sun. And then when it came knock-off time off went the shorts and into the sea for a swim, well all you saw was these black blokes with white underpants on, but they weren’t underpants you know they were bare backsides
because we were that burnt black by the sun. And we had a bloke named Wild Bullock Barry he was our cook there and not a bad cook. Well anyhow we trained there and eventually came back from Darwin to Brisbane, the 25th Battalion relieved us up there. When our first lot came down in the boat, so probably half the battalion the first lot of
the 25th went up and then our blokes came back on the return of the boat. Well then from there we went on pre-em leave, that was three weeks pre-embarkation leave and that was just prior to Christmas in 1940. I sent a wire home that I’d joined the AIF and would be home tonight and when I got home, on the mail train of course, Dad was going to drag me out and I told him I’d go under another name,
so eventually he overcame that. And back then and onto the Queen Mary, on Christmas day 1940, left South Brisbane and trained to Sydney and onto the ‘Mary’ to Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka now. And from there we went onto
the Indrapura which was a Dutch-owned ship and oh, it was a greasy oily bloody food you couldn’t eat, dirty ship you know. But anyhow we went from there over to Port Tewfiq or El Kantara ,I forget. Port Tewfiq I think was where we disembarked and into trains, goods wagons, steel goods wagons, box cars. And up there
into Palestine into camp, I think it was Kilo 89 [near Jerusalem, Palestine]. And the 17th Battalion and 13th Battalion, the other two battalions in our brigade were already there. Now we’d seen a Bren gun [light machine gun] and we’d walked past one in Brisbane but we’d never trained on them, we’d trained on the Lewis guns [medium machine gun]. And when we got over there we had a bugle call, reveille, it had been bought over by our CO
and we called it Charlie Charlie cause we always reckon it was waking Charlie Barton up. But it was a different reveille to everybody else. And when we went into camp alongside the 17th Battalion, I got a mate in the 17th and he tells me they always thought the Free French had arrived, cause when they heard our first reveille. Well eventually we trained in Palestine for a while then we were sent to the desert to relieve the 6th Division.
had to get onto this smaller ship where we were going. But nobody at that time had a clue that the Germans were even thinking of coming into the desert, we thought we were going over to relieve the 6th Division and they’ll go somewhere or other, the Germans were moving up above Greece then but we went up to the desert and we ended up at Marsa el Brega [port, Libya], up near, between Tripoli and Benghazi in the western desert. And
we dug in there, we took over from a battalion of the 6th Division and we had our Bren gun up on ack ack [anti-aircraft] mounting and we’d covered it with an old shirt to keep the dust out and done it up with a safety pin. The first indication we had of the
Germans was one morning this bomber came over and we realised it was a Jerry [German] and he was only about a hundred feet up and I raced for the Bren and I couldn’t get the bloody shirt off it, I couldn’t get the safety pin undone. And of course as he went over the top of us the rear gunner spotted me, down over his guns and give me a blast. But luckily they were only about a hundred feet up and his guns would be zeroed in probably a couple of hundred yards,
so that the bullets went either side of the Bren pit, frightened shit out of me. But that was the first indication that we had that the Jerries were coming and then the 3rd Hussars, which was a British armoured car regiment, they spotted tanks and it was the start of the Afrika Korps [German army in North Africa]. Well we were pulled out of there, we had no equipment, we had a rifle, bayonet, I don’t know if we even had
two grenades each at that stage, fifty rounds, if you still had fifty rounds because the blokes used to fire at those jerboas, the desert rats with the long tails with the little fluff on the end of it. And we were pulled back from there to El Regima and then from El Regima back to the Barce Pass. And we were over the top of the Barsii Pass and they’d blown a hole in the road coming up the pass and the Jerries were coming into
Barce with the tanks and they started to come up the road to the pass, and they filled the bloody hole in with empty forty four gallon drums and were coming over the top. We had no artillery, no ack ack or anything and about two o’clock in the morning we were dragged out of there. Well we went back, I think it was to Acroma and I was then sent as advance party with Bill Cobb [Wilton W. Cobb, QX6223, KIA 23 October 1942] who was a lieutenant and our driver was a bloke named Don Keys, to make our way back
to Tobruk and establish a position for the battalion to come into. Anyhow it was early hours of the morning, two or three o’clock in the morning and we could see this big shape up ahead of us, big dark shape and Cobby said to Don, “Slow down Don, might I tell you turn round and go for your bloody life” he said, “That’s a bloody tank up there.” Well we just got half turned around and the next thing there’s bayonets in the side
of the truck and a foreign language, and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ we’re bloody prisoners’. And cause I didn’t know German from Japanese sort of thing and as far as the language went. And the next thing along comes a Pommy colonel, “By Jove what have we here?” I’ve never been so pleased to see a bloody Pommy colonel in all my life, we’d been taken prisoner by an Indian Regiment. So anyhow we ended up being damn near the last into Tobruk.
But while this was going on our battalion was coming down came to a spot on the coast road where there was a diversion through the desert or round the coast to Derna. And there was a British MP [military police], a ‘Red Cap’ there and that and he was directing them into the desert until somebody woke up that his jersey had a bullet hole with blood round
it right in the centre of his chest. And he, they pulled up and he went back and he spoke to an officer about it and this officer came forward and they challenged this bloke and he was a Jerry, they’d killed the British MP and dressed this bloke up as a MP and directed our troops into the desert. Well one hundred and eighty seven of our battalion got taken prisoner, they went into the desert and the Jerries
were waiting there with tanks. The rest of them then went round the coast way when they found out about this and they eventually got through to Tobruk. But the CO, the 2IC, the adjutant, most of our senior officers, headquarters, all most all of Headquarter Company were taken prisoner. And anyhow the rest of us into Tobruk, well not into Tobruk but to
El Adem which was just outside of Tobruk.
things like that, discipline, which probably is the greatest factor. But by the same token for instance when we came back to El Adem I was a corporal and I’m putting my section down into position at an aerodrome and I’m doing the thing by the book, like a good corporal should, I was out there pacing out distances, making a range card, you know
which you use to give your fire orders from. And when you think that later on the book went by the board, you did things by experience after that, which you did the things you knew worked, not that the book was wrong in that case because you needed a range card, you had to be able to estimate or step out the ranges as a matter of fact and when you gave your fire orders you could tell them five hundred yards or
three fingers left of the bush or something like that. While I was there doing that I picked up a wallet and I stuffed it in my hip pocket and I finished my range card and I walked back to my section where they were digging in and I pulled the wallet out and opened it up and here’s a coloured photo of a girl that I knew but I couldn’t put a name to her. And I called one of my blokes over, one of my Bren gunners Coogie Kelly, he eventually became managing director
of Carlton United here in Brisbane and I said to Coog, “Who’s this?” and he looked at it and he said, “Malva Neville.” she was the secretary of the hospital in Cairns and she lived up the street from us. And, “Where’d you get that?” I said, “I just picked it up the wallet over here.” he said, “Whose wallet is it?” I said, “I’m buggered if I know, I haven’t had a look yet.” But anyhow went through it and it happened to be her fiancée and he was in, what was he in some transport mob or something I think.
But Coog said, “What are you going to do with the wallet?” I said I was going to hand it in and he said, “Oh I’ve lost mine.” he said, “Hand the gear in but give me the wallet.” so I said, “Right oh.” So I emptied it out and gave him the wallet, the army stuff, or the military stuff I handed into company headquarters and the private stuff I sent home to Dad, including the girl’s photo. Anyway he took it up to her and the day before he took it to her she received
a cable from her fiancée to tell her that he was okay, but he’d lost his wallet. And I got a letter then, oh about six or eight weeks later, I’ve got it here still somewhere and he was sunk with the HMAS Waterhen in Tobruk harbour and the navy divers went down and got the mail and the letter’s got the corners eaten away by salt water and marked across was a big stamp ‘saved from the sea’
but I could read the letter and she wrote the letter to thank me for sending John’s gear home, and they were eventually married years later. But it seemed so, I suppose marvellous that a Cairns bloke should pick up a wallet with a Cairns girl’s photo in it and I knew her face but I couldn’t put a name to her. And then should be another Cairns bloke that could look at it and say who she was, cause he was a bit older than what I was and Melva was older than I was.
That was El Adem, well then we withdrew from El Adem……..
Tobruk is on a harbour, it’s a typical Italian-style town, flat roofs, concrete places but not a big place. And cause when we got there it was deserted. The perimeter, the Tobruk perimeter which runs for some forty odd miles has concrete posts and we dug in between them, intermediate posts we called them. And
we held the front, oh probably from El Adem around to Hill 209, that was the 20th Brigade, 13th, 15th and 17th battalions, and then when the other Brigades came in occasionally one of their battalions would relieve us. But the posts themselves were concrete with an ack ack
pit on one end which was probably, well three feet deep I suppose, quite a circular thing probably, oh fifteen feet or so across, we used to call it the tennis court in my platoon. And then the others were tunnel roofed over going through to the other fighting pits. And there was quite a number of them, the numbering started from
Hill 209 and went, looking out from Tobruk towards the escarpment it went R to the left and S to the right. We were in; oh I think the closest I went to 209 was R10. But there was different places then from the lines, you went back to the blue line, which was the second line of defence that was
being developed, as you came out of the line for a rest, you went back working all day on pick and shovel and wiring all that, it was no rest but you weren’t under constant fire. And you were getting better, you were getting a hot meal whereas up in the line it was bully beef and biscuits all the time. And our refrigerator was probably a half an acre wide and about ten cases high of bully beef out in the sun and night
whatever. And if I remember correctly it was mainly Fray Bentos, the Argentinean bully beef and these terrifically hard biscuits. But you had the Eagle which was one junction place back towards Tobruk and what they called ‘Happy Valley’, where you could, if you were lucky and you got out of the line you could go for a swim in the sea. But when you were there of course, nine times out of ten you were machine gunned by the Stukas [German dive-bombers]
because they had El Adem aerodrome which was, oh I suppose if they took off the end of the tarmac they were over our lines, it was that close. And they used to come over, bomb Tobruk and then machine gun hell out of us on the way back, or come up and bomb us. And if you were in Happy Valley they’d come down and machine gun you there. I think we were the first place on earth to have a thousand-bomber raid launched on us.
But when we first went into Tobruk the 13th and 17th battalions which had remained whole and they held the line on the El Adem section in front of us, and because we’d lost our headquarters we were sort of re-organising and we were in reserve, in front of the Royal Horse Artillery, Chestnut Troop. And when the
Germans first attacked it was on the El Adem section and the 17th Battalion were instructed to let the tanks go through and take the infantry on afterwards, well that’s where Jack Edmondson won his VC [Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, NX15705, KIA 14 April 1941 - awarded a Victoria Cross]. And the tanks came through onto us and the Royal Horse Artillery were firing at them over open sights at about fifty yards and talk about guts, Jesus they were good that Chestnut Troop. I can remember a
battery sergeant major standing there with his arm almost shot off at the shoulder by machine gun fire still giving fire orders. And we were in front of them they were firing directly over our heads and then the infantry came in with the tanks we had engaged. And then when they’d knocked tanks out and those that weren’t knocked out pulled out and the infantry that was there went to ground and our carriers went out with 9 Platoon and rounded them up
so we bought home the first lot of prisoners. And from there we went up to the line to do a counter-attack in an area that the Germans had taken, part of the line. And when we got there Jerry was pulling out. So there was a German truck there with the flaps down and I can remember we’d gone though, cleaned the trenches out and cleaned the Jerries out but we walked over, well somebody walked over to this truck climbed up in the
back step and lifted the flap, put the flap down and came back and never said a word. And then somebody said, “What’s in the truck?” he said, “Nothing.” so somebody else went over and had a look and they came back, “What’s in the truck?” “Nothing.” So a couple of us went over to have a look and we lifted the flap and the first thing was a fist stiff with rigor-mortis in our face and the back of the truck was full of dead Germans. And this was the first really close hand experience we’d had of dead enemy.
were on brigade because at that time 9th Division hadn’t been formed they were getting the 24th and the 26th Brigades were forming and being sent to us, but we were just the 20th Brigade with no equipment, not a lot of training, which we were getting on the job training sort of thing. And we sort of, you handle things as they came along, luckily
Jerry wasn’t completely organised either because he chased us all the way down the desert, well then he had to organise himself and he thought he was going to just come in with the tanks and bowl us over and that was it. Well we were determined we weren’t going to be taken prisoners and so it was a case of we manned the perimeter fences and held him out. And I think the big thing that was in our favour we were,
I’m not boasting about it but we became pretty good at patrolling, at night time, we patrolled into his lines and as far as things were concerned, we owned no man’s land, because we were out there every night, and nearly all night as well. And the whole thing was that we were determined to hold what we had,
when Jerry launched his big attack on ‘The Salient’, and this was the closest he got to getting Tobruk while we were there, he hit the 24th Battalion which was alongside me, and they were almost wiped out that particular position, and what they later called The Salient. And the tanks came on with, well this particular tank with a flame thrower equipment and a
fuel trailer behind it, and the only time I ever saw the Boyes anti-tank rifle do anything useful, we set the fuel carrier on fire with the Boyes anti-tank rifle. They were coming for our post but we had a dummy mine field of old Itie aerial bombs with the noses showing out of the ground and they weren’t game to come across it, and they wouldn’t have gone off it you’d have hit them with a bloody hammer, and it was bluff. But anyhow they turned on the 24th,
well we couldn’t do anything to assist them except fire at the Germans as they were coming. But about two o’clock, oh all through the night the flame throwers were into these poor buggers and about two o’clock in the morning a young stretcher bearer came down from the 24th to my post looking for extra medical supplies, which we didn’t have a lot of but we gave him what we had. But I said to him, “Don’t go back son.”
he said, “I’ve got to go back” and he went back. Well the next morning we saw probably a dozen at the most come out of that post as prisoners of the 24th and the Germans moved into The Salient. Well we were in 10 Post, we were opposite the Jerries, they were probably a hundred yards away I suppose and we were relieved
in that post and then I went back there a few weeks later, I took over from a sergeant in the 13th Battalion I think it was, it’s getting back a bit you know. And the first morning we were there about five o’clock in the morning one of my blokes, Jimmy Arnold, came to me and said, “Come and have a look at this.” and at that time I was a corporal platoon commander because as I say were disorganised and things hadn’t settled down. And
I went and had a look and here’s the Jerries in the half dark shaking out blankets, having a wee, all this sort of thing, wandering about and Jimmy said to me, “What are we going to do?” and I said, “Nothing today but we’ll be up bloody early tomorrow morning.” So the next morning we were waiting for them and it was sheer bloody murder of course, when you think about it now, they didn’t have a bloody clue and we got stuck into them and we
must of killed a heck of a lot. Because from then on it got so vicious in that particular area that we ended up, their rations and our rations were coming up by tank, because you just couldn’t move above ground. And they’d fixed lines over everything, and fixed lines are where they set a machine gun on a certain line of fire and every now and again they’ll put a burst over, and if you don’t happen to be aware of it you can get knocked off. Anyhow later
on, I met this sergeant that I’d taken over from, he took over from me again some time later, probably six weeks later, and I met him when I was on leave and he said to me, “What the bloody hell did you blokes do up there?” I said, “What do you mean?” “Jesus Christ we couldn’t bloody move!” I said, “I thought that was the name of the game, killing Germans.” And we went from there to the bottom of the Salient
and we moved into there, we dug dugouts, we went back and got a sheet of iron, or couple of sheets of iron to put over the top of them and we covered that with dirt and whatever, camel bush and stuff like that and we would lie there that day and then attack up the Salient the next night. But the site was so thickly wired and mined that it was called off and that particular first night when we went in
on our way in the engineers had gone in and taped the area and supposedly cleared it of mines and booby traps and I came across a young signaller who was dying and we did what we could for him, a young fellow named Jack Dolmer and all he could say was, “Don’t touch the phone Sir.” he thought I was an officer. He said, “Don’t touch the phone Sir.” he thought it was booby trapped and what had happened, he’d stood on a booby trap
and he was mortally wounded, but that’s all he could say, he was thinking of somebody else, “Don’t touch the phone Sir.” And I thought what a game bloody kid, only a young bloke. And anyhow we went up there and we dug these holes and we went back to get the iron and on our way back, I’d taken all of my section except two which I’d left in the hole, for security’s sake.
So anyhow on the way back I saw this flash under the boot of the bloke behind me and while it registered on my mind that he had stood on a booby trap, at that particular time there was the explosion of the booby trap and I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was a booby trap or a mortar and I didn’t know whether to hit the ground,
to kneel down or to stand up, because normally if Jerry sent over a mortar when it exploded he’d machine gun the spot, just on the off chance of getting people moving. And anyhow I realised it had been a booby trap and I said, “Anybody wounded?” and of course Keith Weisel, who was from the ASC [Australian Services Corp] by the way, they’d lost their trucks on the way back and they’d been sent to the infantry, Keith said, “Yeah I’m wounded, I’m hit in the back of the head.”
And I crawled over him, he wasn’t badly wounded, to the next bloke who was Harry Parker, another ASC bloke and Harry was gone from head and shoulders blown off, Keith had stood on the booby trap, a jumping jack, and it had jumped up and exploded on Harry’s chest. Behind him was my mate Roy Parker and Roy had been wounded and a couple of blokes behind them were okay. I’d been splattered in the back of the head with a bit of light shrapnel from the booby trap,
but nothing much. And I yelled out to the two blokes back in the post to bring up what bandages and that that they had, which was only field dressings, and I left them too look after the blokes there and I went forward looking for stretcher bearers. Well I crawled forward because I thought well, booby traps, this hasn’t been cleared and they say a coward dies a thousand deaths a hero dies but once.
I’m crawling forward feeling for these three prongs of booby traps and what was known as ‘camel bush’ is a little bush that grows oh so high, prickly sort of a thing, every time I touched it I bloody near died with fright, expecting a booby trap. But anyhow eventually, and I’m thinking to meself if I get one I’ll mark it with my handkerchief, and I’m thinking “I’ve only got one handkerchief.” Anyhow I eventually got through and got onto stretcher bearers and we made it back and
got the wounded fixed up. And that particular night out of four Parkers in the company one was killed and two wounded, and that was Reggie, and Roy and Don Parker was a lieutenant, don’t know whether he was a lieutenant then he might have been a warrant officer, Don was the only one that didn’t get wounded that particular night. Anyhow we went back into these trenches put the iron over the top of them and laid there all the next day and roasted in these
shallow bloody trenches with the iron over the top of them. And then the next night we were told it was off, we were dragged out of there, thank God.
to you, you live with it, you think of the things you did, oh…………I don’t know if you can say you’re not very proud of it, it seems so senseless, when you think the fact that since then we’ve had so many migrants that have come out and they can be your next-door neighbour, they can be your fishing mate or whatever. And
they’re the same as us and they believed they were doing the right thing for their country, we thought we were doing the right thing for ours. And I suppose if the whole damn lot of the young people in the world said, “No, we’re not going.” there wouldn’t be any wars. But that’s not the way we’re built I suppose, that’s just what happens. But I don’t know if you realise I went over to, back to El Alamein in 2002
and there was ten of us from Australia went and when we went up to the international commemoration at the Italian War Memorial, we were seated above the Italians and the Germans were opposite us, and it was a tremendous affair, apparently they have it every year and of course it’s only a hop across the Mediterranean for them, it’s a bloody long way for us. Anyhow when the ‘Ities’ [Italians] realised we were Australians oh they were
all over us like a rash, half of them had worked out here and what hadn’t worked out here had relations out here. So we got on like a house on fire and there was one old general from the Bersaglieri there, [Italian 8th Bersaglieri Regiment] that used to wear the black roosters plumes on their helmet, and he was doing his block and of course all the old soldiers there are saying you know, he’s loco. But I was sitting alongside a German
commander from the navy, he couldn’t speak English very well but he could understand it a bit but his wife could speak it quite well and we were talking and he said to me, “Isn’t it marvellous?” he said, “It takes all these years to realise how bloody silly it was.” So we all get the same way, we all realise with age that the stupidity of it. But it’s over there we survived and
lots of poor buggers didn’t. In that particular position where we were, or not sure if it was 10 Post or 12 Post, the Germans had had three tanks knocked out near there and at night time we’d heard their recovery teams coming in trying to get them going to get them out, we’d fired on them naturally. But we sent for the engineers to come and blow them up so they couldn’t get them. And the engineers said, no it wasn’t their job but they’d send us up a
case of gelignite for each tank and we could do it. Well they sent the geli up, we didn’t have a bloody clue about how you used gelignite, somebody said, “Well you put detonators in the stick and you put a fuse in and light the fuse and she blows the whole lot.” So we went out this particular night, Don Parker, Coogie Kelly and myself and the furthest tank had a big swastika flag about twenty-four foot long which they used to have across the back of their tanks so their infantry
could see it and follow them, big red flag you know, the white circle and the black swastika And Don said, “I’ll do that far tank.” I said, “Well that bloody flag’s mine.” cause I wanted to do that to get the flag, he said, “Right oh.” So he took his case of geli up to the furthest tank, I took mine to the middle one and Coogie took his to the right hand one and we planted them in the drivers’ seats. We put the dets [detonators] in and the fuses, then we
came back to a shell hole and we lit a cigarette each, keep it under cover otherwise we would have been fired on, to go out and light the fuses with the cigarettes. And Don said, “I’ll light mine and I’ll come back and give you a tap on the shoulder and you can light yours and we’ll both run down past Coog and he can light his.” So anyhow we did this and were back in the shell hole waiting for them to go, I said to Don, “Where’s the flag?” he said, “I rolled it up in a ball and put it alongside you on that tank.” The next thing whoop away went his
bloody tank, boonk away went mine and so did Kelly’s, if I’d have been looking for the flag it would all be in bloody rags, got blown to hell, wonderful souvenir I thought I was going to get, but anyhow.
and you’d have a path through the mine field so as you could go out without stepping on your own stuff, and course when you went out you closed the wire behind you. Well if you went out on a fighting patrol you’d probably go out on platoon strength, you know thirty odd blokes and you went out on compass bearings to where you reckon you were going to launch an attack on the enemy line. And
you made your way there in the dark, and believe me you can see by starlight because over there there’s no lights to distract you, and the stars are that bright, you can see by starlight you know. But you’ve got to be careful, the Germans have this habit of firing on fixed lines, so they’ve got machine guns sort of crisscrossing their fronts and you never know when they’re going to fire, but they are a methodical
sort of people and they tend to fire more in a fixed time sort of thing, so that we got to know where the fixed lines were. So you’d move up to that position, you’d wait for them to fire and as soon as they’d stopped you’d move across onto the next position, that sort of thing. Well then if you got into Jerry’s line you had to try and get through the wire and into their lines. But they were like us, they’d have an outpost
with a couple of blokes in to give warning of this. And then on their wire, the same as we did, you’d have jam tins or anything with a couple of stones in so that if anybody moved the wire they’d rattle and you know it wouldn’t be cattle or anything coming through, it had to be blokes. But then if you went on just a normal listening patrol which we went out a certain distance in front of your posts, you spread out and you lay there
watching and listening for German patrols, they used to come out and they’d be on working patrols, you might go out near their lines where they were digging, enlarging their trenches or doing wiring work and sometimes you could capture prisoners like that. You’d go out there waiting on their working party and grab a bloke and rip him out of it and take him back with you. But you went out through your lines
and you had a set time to come in so that when you came back, you had a password of course, they would be looking for you to come back. And if a blue [fight] went on out the front unexpectedly, well you would attempt to get a runner back to tell what was going on. At one stage I nearly became the most infamous bloke in our battalion. We were on a listening patrol one night and we saw
what was obviously a fighting patrol loom up out of the dust sort of thing and they went to ground not far in front of us, and you could see who was obviously the commander and his sergeant get together and speak and they posted a sentry on four corners. And then they both disappeared and I thought, “Oh this is a Jerry fighting patrol.” I had no word of any fighting patrol out.
So I sent a bloke named Jack Anderson back to tell Don Parker that if you heard a blue going on we were stuck into a German patrol and I’d instructed my blokes two grenades each into them and follow it in with the bayonet and I had a Thompson gun and whatever we had. Anyhow we heard this bloke coming back from our lines and we rolled over, I had the Thompson, Jimmy Arnold’s got the rifle and bayonet and he just jammed the butt on the ground,
the bayonet was pointing back that way and this fellow almost run onto it and he said, “Jesus Christ!” and I said, “Who’s that?” and he said, “Col O’Brien.” I said, “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” He was a sergeant from, or a corporal from C Company or Don Company, I’ve forgotten C Company I think, he said, “We’re on a bloody fighting patrol and we got lost.” I said, “Is that your mob in front of us?” he said, “Yes.” I said, “Jesus Christ!” I said, “We were about to get stuck into them!”
I said, “If it had of been Jack Anderson come back instead of you.” I said, “We’d have been right into them.” “Oh bullshit.” he said, I said, “Well go and tell your officer where we are.” I said, “We were going to put a couple of grenades into youse and get into youse.” Anyway he went and told his officer and the officer told him, bloody rot it’s not there and Kyle yelled out, “Gordon, stand up!” and we were well within grenade range, and they’d got lost, they’d been out on a fighting patrol and got lost.
be going out say on a hundred degrees for say a hundred and fifty paces and then you might be turning to eighty degrees for two or three hundred paces and you’ve got one bloke counting. Well then you’ve got to reverse that coming home. But in Tobruk in one way it was reasonably simple coming home providing the night was clear, because where we have the Southern Cross here as our dominant sort of formation in the sky, over there it was the North Star.
And we had to get used to the fact that when you looked up the Southern Cross wasn’t there, it was all northern stars. Well the North Star hung over Tobruk sort of more or less and if you headed for that you were coming home. But luckily in B Company we had a bloke named Ted Donkin from Innisfail who played the saxophone; he used to be in an orchestra before the war and at night time Ted
did the playing and most of the patrols, B Company patrols would home in onto Ted, and one of the things he used to play quite often which got to be a favourite of mine was, ‘Little Star’ [The Astralita Serenade] and he’d be playing this and we’d know we were going in the right direction. But you can get lost out there, I was out on patrol with a bloke named Cec Guest, he was originally an Australian Instructional
Corps warrant officer but then he got a commission, you know professional soldier, real soldier this bloke. And I was out with him on the El Adem Road area late in the piece in Tobruk, we were to do an attack at a place called El Duda and we were out doing reconnaissance of this place and we were right in the horseshoe on the El Adem road and we could hear, we were right in the middle of this and we could hear Jerry talking and that. And anyhow this particular
night, when a mortar goes off you’ll hear the whoof of it going off and then you’ll start counting automatically and if you get to seventeen and it hasn’t exploded you keep on going till about thirty two or thirty three, because at seventeen it’s a three point three-inch mortar, if you go on that’s a 4.5. And anyhow this particular night we hear this whoof and I’m counting
one thousand, two thousand, three thousand………………..I’m just about onto seventeen and it’s gone off, well an explosion’s gone off and Guestie started to laugh and I said, “What wrong with you, you mad bugger?” he said, “There was a clear three foot of daylight between you and the bloody ground.” And what had happened the main gun, oh I forget what they used to call him, something Bill was, that used to fire in the harbour we must have been lying right in front
of where he fired over and he’d fired. And this bloody blast when I’m expecting a mortar and this bloody thing goes off and we both started to laugh then and the Jerry heard us. And they started up an AV [armoured vehicle] to come looking for us so we buggered off out of there in a hurry, believe me. But the 13th Battalion eventually did that attack and I was talking to them, they were left behind in Tobruk after we came out for a few weeks and they did this attack in the breakout of
Tobruk, at El Duda and I’ve spoken to the blokes since and they said, “You blokes were bloody lucky you didn’t go in there.” We knew it was heavily wired and mined you know so it must have been a real rough spot. Yeh but I’ve never forgotten Guestie that night when he started to bloody laugh and we were both laughing and the Jerries could hear us of course, and we buggered out of there in a hurry.
we were the most untalented bloody mob you’d ever met, you get three Pommies together and you’ve got a bloody concert party, they can sing, they can dance, they can play some instrument and they were fantastic, and it’s a fact, you get three Pommies together and you’ve got a concert party. And our blokes, oh Christ, odd ones of them can sing but they tell yarns, lot of them write poetry or they say poetry, they read but as far as artists go, well our mob weren’t…
anyhow, no way. But you talk about Roy Rene [Australian character actor and entertainer] and Amos and Andy [American radio stars, 1930s-40s], oh yaeh there’s some bloody funny things happen, there’s no doubt about that. I can remember one bloke, Jimmy Arnold, the bloke I was telling you about, my Bren gunners, he went up to the toilet this particular day in daylight, and the toilet was a little thing about that big and it was down a bit of
low ground but not thinking when he finished he stood up to pull his pants up and the Jerries dropped a mortar damn near on top of him. Anyhow four blokes raced out with a stretcher and grabbed him, dumped him on top of it and they held the stretcher above their heads like that and run with him to company headquarters to the RAP and Jerry machine gunned them all the bloody way. Not a one of them got a mention, not even an MID [Mentioned in Dispatches] out of it.
And Jimmy died later on, not in that particular case, he got killed. Yeah those blokes were, who was it Bert Columbus, Coogie Kelly, Pipe Passmore, I don’t know who the fourth bloke was but I can remember seeing them that day, yeah and they raced
out with the stretcher, dumped Jimmy on it and run with him up above their head and Jerry could see them, you know broad daylight, machine gunned all the way, never got hit luckily. I was almost, oh I’d say I probably was the youngest in my platoon, I had blokes all older than me and when we first came back to Tobruk,
or 9 section had been taken prisoner so that in 12 Platoon we only had 2 sections left. And Jack Kelly was my lance jack [lance corporal] and anyhow eventually after we started to get things organised and Jack was given his second stripe and given 9 section. And he said to me, “Who can I have?” I said, “Anybody you like Jack except Coog.” he said, “You bastard!” he said, “You knew I’d want him.”
that was his brother. I said, “Take a bloody fool’s advice Jack” I said, “You’ll have enough trouble on your own without worrying about Coog.” Because when I went out on patrol and I took one of them the other bloke was toey all the time until we got back, irrespective of who it was. And, I was only nineteen but I’d had enough of it to know that you’re better of without any extra worry, and
bugger me dead about three weeks later 9 section got badly mortared one day and that evening I had to go back to company to pick up mail and orders, that sort of thing, cause the first thing I wanted to know was how did 9 section go. And Jackie Kelly had been killed, he died of wounds actually. Anyhow I went back to my platoon and my particular mate Roy Parker met me and he said, “How
did 9 go?” I said, “Jackie got killed.” he said, “Jesus Christ who’s going to tell Coog?” And I knew there was only one silly bugger who was going to tell Coog. And I told him and Coog not long after that put in for a transfer and he went to the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment and got away from our mob. And I always felt right up till our fiftieth anniversary that Coogie had blamed me,
although I knew him in Cairns and he was the manager of the brewery and that, I always felt he blamed me. Anyhow at our fiftieth anniversary Jack Foxley who had been the corporal of 9 Section, that got taken prisoner, he’d been prisoner for four years, Jack used to have the pub here at Stanford. Jack and I were talking and I said this to Jack, I said, “Have
you seen Coogie?” I just said to him I said, “Look have you seen Coogie?” He said, “Yes he’s straight across there looking at you.” And there was a little ceremony going on and I said, “I always felt Coog blamed me over Jack being killed.” “Well.” he said, “You know that Coog and I were as thick as thieves.” they were really good friends he said, “And believe me he never ever did.” And it wasn’t until our fiftieth anniversary, all those years I always had it in my mind that Coog blamed me for
Jack being killed because I’d separated them. But I felt it was the right thing to do cause otherwise Mr. Kelly would have been getting a letter saying both his sons had been killed. Oh I don’t know, I suppose you dealt with these things at they came along.
A few things like that. I know my kids have got hidings, my eldest boys, that they should never have got because of my nervous condition, what I mean, I expected that when I said, “Jump” they would say, “How high?” I’d been used to blokes doing as they were told for five and a half bloody years and I just expected things to be done as they were,
and my first wife quite often said to me, “You forget the boys haven’t been in the army.” But this is the thing that no one appreciates, these women that we married, what they put up with and how they supported you. What I mean there’s no use saying one thing and meaning another, we were pretty bloody hard to live with when we came back,
you come back entirely different to what you went away, you’ve had experiences that have changed your life completely. And your whole being has got to have change, and how do you, you don’t come back and, for instance like when we came out of the army you were discharged, you walked away out of the army depot, you were expected to go and get a job,
keep your wife and kids, or get married whatever and carry on as if nothing had happened. Well how the bloody hell do you forget five and a half years of you being out there committing murder? Because after all if you get down to tin tacks, you’re in the trench and you’re shooting some poor bastard across the road, if you did it now, you’d be in the peter [gaol]. And
you’ve got to try and overcome it, nowadays they get counselling and all this assistance and those days they never expected, you were supposed to have nerves of steel and if a bloke’s nerves went, a lot of them got committed to mental institutions, they never went into why it happened or how it was affecting the poor buggers. Like when we were in New Guinea I was in hospital and when I come out of hospital, or when I was walking
I went down to the theatre one evening with one of the sisters from the ward I was in and here was a young bloke about eighteen or nineteen standing on the corner of what they used to call ‘the bomb happy ward’, his hat on the ground, singing his heart out. And I was only twenty, twenty one, I turned twenty one just after I finished. And I’m thinking to meself , “You poor, young bugger.” I’m only a young bugger meself. But this is a boy there eighteen
or nineteen and he’s mentally affected, and he would have got a dishonourable discharge quite possibly. What they called lack of moral fibre, you were a coward. Christ, he was only doing the most natural thing in the world, he cracked up! It happens and you can do nothing about it, it’s just something you’ve got to try and overcome and get back to
living. And I know that the wives and kids paid quite a high price for it in lots of ways, I know I was no angel to live with, I realise that now, probably still not, oh Trish probably tell you I’m not.
well this Ringer Carlton I was telling you about we used to think he was a bit of a nut and we got relieved in this particular position by the 43rd Battalion, early hours of the morning. And this particular joker was coming up and he said, “Who are you?” or one of our blokes said, “Who are you?” “We’re the f….., f……. 43rd” and he said, “Who are you?” and from our place a very, very tired
voice said, “We’re the f……15th.” But anyhow this Ringer Carlton we were coming out that night and he fell down a shell hole, and Jerries are only a hundred yards away and Ringer’s yelled out, “Oh me leg, me leg, me leg!” and we’re saying, “Shut up you bastard!” So anyhow we end up putting him on a stretcher and carrying him back to company headquarters and he gets up off the stretcher and walks away to have a leak [urinate]. So I wonder who the bloody fools were, but this is the sort of thing that.
Then another time one of the few hot meals we got up the line, we were up near the Salient and Jack Anderson and Jack Sandler and I’d had gone back to get these dixies of food and I’m in the middle and I’ve got a hand on a dixie this side and hand on a dixie that side and Jack Anderson’s that side and got a dixie full of tea or something and Jack Sandler’s got a dixie full of something there. And anyhow Jerry mortared us,
were coming up over this ridge and the track through the mine field and he mortared us, so we hit the dirt and Anderson panicked and skied [threw] his dixie and took off. And Sandler and I are lying there and Jack said to me, “Don’t move your foot.” I said, “Why?” he said, “It’s lying on top of a Gypo [Egyptian] mine.” and his head’s alongside me bloody boot. But anyhow we often laughed about it afterwards, very carefully I sneaked me boot off this bloody mine
because things were made in Egypt and they had a habit that if they run out of these semi-lead shear pins they’d put a wooden match in there. And Jack’s head’s lying alongside me and he’s saying, “Now don’t move your boot.” And that was the bloke we rocked his bloody fountain pen. Oh I don’t know they’d put things over one another.
We had a bloke named Keith Craig, ‘Count Isenglass’ we used to call him because he used to wear glasses and Craigie was later near bloody killed at a show at El Alamein and taken prisoner but Craigie was a funny bloke, I don’t know if you’ve ever read, We Were The Rats by Lawson Glassop. Well there’s a bloke in there called Gordon Hardacre who was a financial wizard sort of thing, or he thought he was,
well he was Craigie to a tee and that section in that particular book I always thought that was Craigie for sure, but the bloke that wrote it was from the 17th Battalion, one of our Brigade. Oh no the funny things that happened, for instance we got sent to Tobruk on water, getting water, we’re back on the blue line
and we’d taken all the drums and water bottles, or water cans from the various platoons and we’d taken our own particular little white water cans and we’d been told there was a sweet water well, which was a fresh water well behind where the brothels used to be in Tobruk. And we went there and filled ours up and when we get back to the company, the company commander demanded that we
split our own platoon cans with the rest of the company. We told him to go to buggery and he demanded, so our blokes took the caps off and poured the water out on the ground in front of him, and he wasn’t very impressed. At that particular time we were up on a Sunday, we’d worked all day and then about six in the evening a runner came up and said
there’s a church parade on, would we attend. So I was acting platoon commander at the time and Billy Devonshire from Rockhampton was my runner and I said to Bill, “Hey Bill slip round and tell the section leaders to send a couple of men each to church will you?” He said, “You know what they’ll tell me don’t you?” and I said, “Well never mind, go and tell them.” So they told him, so I got my back up then I said, “Right oh, tell them that the parade is on.” and I marched them down to company. And I knew that they couldn’t
be forced to go to church and they knew it too. And one bloke went to church, and he intended to go in any case and the rest of us turned round and went back to our platoon positions. So the next thing there’s a runner up there, “Report to company headquarters.” so I went down and reported to company headquarters and the commander said to me, “You put those men up to that.” he said, “I’m going to have you charged with inciting a mutiny.” I said, “Come off it Captain Strains.” I said, “You’ve got to be bloody joking!”
I said, “All of those men are older than me.” I said, “If they want to make up their minds about going to church they’ll do so and you know they don’t have to go.” and I just turned my back on him and walked away. So I went down to company the next morning and the 2IC said to me, “You made a job of things last night didn’t you?” I said, “What do you mean?” he said, “The company commander’s up there seeing what charges he can lay against you.” So I said, “Look Len if that’s his attitude tell him
he can take these two stripes and stick them up his jack as well.” Anyhow I get sent for about one o’clock and I go down and this company commander said to me, “I think we’ll forget the whole affair.” I said, “You please your bloody self Captain Strains.” and I just walked away and left him to it. But he and I. we just never hit it off, I don’t know why whether it was, probably my fault but I
just couldn’t stand him and we locked horns a few times. Still in all, I’m not the only one.
it seriously once, I was out on patrol one night with the Jack Elliott I told you about was killed earlier. And I’d left his brother and a bloke named Lally in the trenches for when we came back. So anyhow when we came back from our patrol we approached our position and we weren’t challenged, so we hit the deck and I sent Jack
round one side and I went the other and we came in from the back and they were both asleep. So I said, “Who’s got the watch?” cause my watch was the only one in the platoon that was going and I’d given it to them so they could relieve one another and Lally had the watch, I said, “Right pack your gear.” he said, “What do you mean pack your gear?” I said, “You’re not stopping here mate.” I said, “You’r egoing back to company.” And of course he huffed and puffed and he wasn’t going back to company and I said, “Pack your bloody gear mate.”
and I took him down to company, that was about three o’clock in the morning. And the company commander I woke him and he said to me “He’s going back.” I said, “No bloody way.” I said, “Any bastard goes to sleep up there on me is not stopping there..” And anyhow that boiled over until when we went back to Palestine he threatened to shoot me one night and I had, we were guarding an ordnance depot at Berbara and each NCO [non commissioned officer] had
four or five blokes on a shift. And what we used to do is wake them and then they’d go out and relieve the bloke that was out there and then you’d go round and check that they had relieved them and everything was going okay. Anyway this particular time he didn’t turn up one night, he was woken and when I went out to check the post this post hadn’t been relieved and
a chap named Harry Denby out of 11 Platoon and I said to Harry, “When you go back wake Lally and send him out.” I said, “I’ll do your shift until he gets here.” so he never turned up. So the next morning I went to company headquarters and I was going to charge him and there was a bit of backfire went on and a bloke, acting sergeant major was trying to cool things down, I said, “Right, if he doesn’t turn out tonight I’ll come and wake you and you can do his bloody shift.”
So that afternoon he got full somewhere or rather and came up to where the NCOs were stationed and “Where’s Wallace?” so I walked out and said, “What do you want?” and he went on with a lot of abuse and I was going to hook him [punch him] and Benny Denman from Mareeba said, “Don’t touch him, that’s what he’s after, he’s going to get you to punch him and then he’ll charge you.” And I thought Benny was older than I was and had more sense I suppose. Anyhow he said, “You come near my bloody post
tonight and I’ll bloody well shoot you.” and I said, “Are you finished?” he said, “Yes.” I said, “Well don’t bloody miss.” So that night I went and woke him and the other blokes on the shift, I went and checked everybody else except him and I went out to his post last and he was there. And I slapped the bayonet on the rifle and I said, “Anytime you like mate.” and if he’d have moved I’d have killed him, and he knew it. Anyhow some time later
than that somebody said to me, “What did you ever do to Lally?” I said, “Why?” they said, “He’ll do anything you like.” I said, “I called his bloody bluff that’s all.” But that’s how things boil over, but that’s the only time I had to seriously use any authority I had. Most blokes you, they know they’ve got to do their job the same as you do.
and these big shells they hadn’t exploded there and I thought to myself, ‘Jesus Christ they’re not fooling this time’, they were big. And so anyhow we get dug in there and from then on things proceeded, like people forget that we were there for months, everybody thinks about the battle of El Alamein as the 23rd of October but they forget we were down there in June and blokes were getting killed and wounded everyday,
and we were still carrying out our normal duties, patrol work and that. And when, on the 1st of September our battalion did a battalion raid into the German lines, as far as I can gather it was to facilitate some plan that Montgomery [British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, commander 8th Army, North Africa] had to draw attention away from the south end of the line where he was going to attempt to break through there. But when they realised, we went in early in the morning
and we come about eleven o’clock, midday and we’d lost about a third of our strength, we took a few prisoners, killed a few blokes. And I think they realised then, or he felt they weren’t ready, that he didn’t have the strength he wanted. So things carried on then until the 23rd October and because when we went up that night at that stage it was the biggest barrage that had ever taken place.
And the night we walked up, they had a Bofors gun firing on our line of advance, tracers so that you could follow, they had those old white torches in beer cans facing back our way on stakes, green and red on either side to show you where the mine field had been cleared so you could walk up. And the artillery behind us, there was thirty miles of guns wheel to wheel and when they let up
ten o’clock at night it was just this one, just the whole horizon was lit up and these bloody shells going over to top and I thought to myself, ‘Thank Christ they’re going the other way’, cause they started to come back to when Jerry got back into it. But we went up and my battalion took all their objectives in every attack we went into. I don’t know whether we were lucky
or what because some of the battalions got a fearful hiding a couple of times and we had to go back in, whether we were lucky. But anyhow we were there from go to whoa and eventually we drove forward and then swung towards the coast and that was to try and encircle the Germans. And when the Jerries decided to run I was sent up with,
I had the anti-t platoon at this time, I’d changed into, within our battalion. I was sent up with four guns to straddle the coast road behind the Germans to catch them as they were withdrawing. But they didn’t, they withdrew through the desert and left the Italians behind and took most of the transport for the Germans. By the same token during the different battles that took place we took hundreds
of prisoners, actually and I took a hundred and seventy two back to Alexandria, to the cages back there at one stage during the show with my platoon. And we put them into this cage, outside Alex and we spent the night in the Egyptian Army trenches there, got a chance to wash our clothes. We hung them out on the barb wire and then somebody yelled out, “The wogs
are pinching our clothes!” so they got the Bren gun out and dropped a burst alongside them and as every time they dropped a burst they dropped some more of our clothes, so over a period of about a hundred yards we got all our gear back. But we went down that evening to these German prisoners and we went to put them in a cage with the Ities and the ranking bloke was a young corporal with these blokes, blonde, typical Aryan youth, the ideal
Aryan youth and anyhow he said, no they weren’t going in with the Italians. Well we didn’t give a bugger, there was another cage there so we bunged them into that one. So he organised things and got them, blokes working and doing things. So that evening we went down just to have a look and the Italians had built a large globe of the world with all the countries on it in white and the seas in blue, probably oh about six or seven foot high I suppose……..
forward that Montgomery wanted for when he eventually attacked. Besides that there was a lot of bogus tanks, artillery pieces, occasionally Jeeps or trucks going back and forwards across the line creating a hell of a big dust pool, as if there was a lot of stuff coming up, with the idea of deception to the Germans that
we were getting more stuff than we were getting. Continual artillery drills, not a lot of infantry work apart from patrolling for reconnaissance points of view, they were sort of settling in getting ready to attack to break through because Rommel was pretty confident that he was going to get to the Suez Canal. And there was a change of commanders in our side of it and they bought Montgomery in.
And of course Montgomery wasn’t prepared to go until he reckoned he had the strength and the weight of numbers to create a break through and maintain it. And the 8th Army wasn’t only Australians; we were only one small part of it, one division. There was New Zealanders, South Africans, Scots, British, Indians, the Jews had, I think there was Greeks there even in part of it. But the main thing was
general sort of static warfare where you were holding your positions and trying to improve it and at the same time trying to get what information you could about the enemy, and deceiving him into thinking you were a lot stronger than what you were. And then when Montgomery was sort of creating an impression that hi main attack was going to come from the southern end, down near the Qattara Depression [Egypt] and that, and there was quite a bit of work
went on there, as a matter of fact a few tank engagements took place down there. Well then on the first of September when we lodged this show they called Operation Bulimba, that was because Bulimba beer, we were a Queensland Battalion. That was a probe, a battalion raid that became an all-in go, that was a probe to test the German strength. And it probably could have
succeeded more than it did had the Pommy tanks gone in, but one tank got knocked out and they wouldn’t go in so our blokes were left without tank support. But it was a tactical turnout and of course the ordinary common soldier doesn’t always get that. For instance you’d have various officers coming up to the various units along the line
to find out what was going on. Moreshead [Australian Major General Lesley J. Moreshead, commander 9th Division] came up at one stage to my position and we saw this tall thin bloke and this little nuggetty bloke come up, and we knew the tall thin bloke was our brigadier from battalion headquarters and we just took it that the nuggetty little bloke was his batman or his runner or something. He had a tin hat on and he come over to us and he was sitting there talking and a
couple of days before they arrived we’d had a bit of a show on right on our front there and there was still the framework of the cab of a truck there, and they were ranging on that and shelling, giving us a fair sort of going regularly. And anyhow Sid Blinko was one of my blokes and Sid and I were in the same hole and Sid said to this bloke, he said, “Hey mate you’d better hop down in here. he said, “We get shelled pretty regularly. and he said, “And if he sees somebody up on top moving
about. he said, “He’ll probably give us a pating.” So anyhow this bloke hopped down into the pit with us and Jerry shelled us for about twenty minutes and we were talking about anything and everything, so eventually he said, “Oh well I’d better go over and pick up the brigadier.” So he hops up out of the trench and said, “Oh well I’ll see you blokes later.” “Yea right oh.” So he takes his tin hat off and puts his cap on, and
it’s got a red band around it and away he goes, and I said to Blinko, “You know who that was?” he said, “Who?” I said, “Moreshead. he said, “Bullshit! he said, “Generals don’t come up here. I said, “Well that’s who he bloody was.” We didn’t recognise him and he didn’t say a bloody word and that’s who it was, it was Moreshead alright and he went over and picked up the brigadier and away they went. The sort of thing that went on, this couple of nights before this happened I was the only one
awake just after dusk and I could hear these engines, I thought they were bloody tanks, and I was up on the flank of A Company. And I was going to wake the blokes and I thought, he changed gears and I thought, ‘No it’s not it’s a truck’. Anyhow he came over the top of this rise and when you’ve got an anti-tank gun your usually set back from a rise so that when they come up you can get a shot underneath they, they
come up over the rise. And the truck, this particular truck pulled up about, oh thirty yards away I suppose and he couldn’t see me and I could see the truck because it was a mass, and I was just about to yell out, “Hey Butch what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing out there” because I thought it was our ration truck had got lost. And two blokes got out of it and one bloke’s walking towards me and he’s saying “Hello, hello.” I thought, ‘Bloody
Jerry’ I thought, ‘This is lorried infantry’. So I grabbed the batman, my officer had got knocked and I had his batman with me, and I grabbed his bloody rifle and typical batman’s rifle, I drove three shots into these two blokes and the bloody magazine platform jammed down and I’m kicking Charlie around the bottom of the pit saying, “Give us the Thompson quick.” And I eventually got the Thompson and put a couple more into them and
I yelled out to the section leader of the next section, Alec Elch from 7 Platoon, or platoon sergeant he was, I said, “Alec quick, Jerry!” So I got stuck into the truck with the Thompson gun and my blokes woke up and they were stuck into it with rifles and we didn’t use the anti-tank gun because it creates such a bloody flare that the Jerries are right on you and you want it when tanks are coming, you know you want
the surprise element. Anyhow the truck started to explode and I went out to this first bloke that had come out and he wasn’t dead, he was screaming his head off and I went up to go through his papers and things like that. Anyhow I’m alongside him and the poor bugger is screaming his head out and he’s dying and Blinko yelled
out to me, “Finish him off!” and when he was up walking about it was okay but when he was on the ground, for me it was murder. And the bloody truck started to explode and I laid out there for two hours waiting for that bloody thing to explode over our heads, I thought were going to be blown to bloody hell any minute, and how the Christ it didn’t I don’t know to this day. But it left the shell of the cab left there and this poor bugger eventually kicked his life out
and the other fellow I must have killed outright. And then Jerry ranged onto that and he shelled Christ out of us, and from what we can gather it was a relief crew for an 88mm gun, a German gun but we must of overrun during the night, either our battalion or somebody in that area, had overrun during the night and they were a relief crew and didn’t know they’d been overrun, and he was lost. I
suppose if I had of done the right thing I would have gone out and rounded him up but as soon as I saw him I thought, “Lorried infantry, truck load of infantry, well, going out to round them up.” I wasn’t going to take the whole bloody truckload on, and that poor bugger. And I’ve got his ribbons there somewhere and a photo of his wife and two twin girls and………..I lived with
that bloke, I’ve lived with him ever since, for fourteen years he nearly drove me mad. I ended up writing a poem about him and it sort of got him a bit out of my mind but I’ve always had the feeling that I should have had enough courage to put the poor bugger out of his misery but I didn’t, I didn’t have enough guts to do it. But to me it was murder once he was down and I couldn’t do much to
revive him, to resuscitate him because he was too badly wounded. And I just had to lie there and listen to the poor bastard and I lived with him for so bloody long, I still do, I never ever forget him, that’s one of the reasons I hate bloody war.
I don’t know it’s upset me to buggery I can tell you, I don’t think I ever recovered from him, and it’s not as if he was the only one but under the circumstances it was a horrific way for some poor bugger to die. But still I suppose that’s what happened.
No. 2 platoon, there was two anti-tank platoons and what happens when the infantry go up to take a position and then you go into a defensive role, you go up to support them with four guns, the forward companies, and you have to go up and do a recce [reconnaissance], you go forward with them and you do a recce to where you’re going to put your guns and things like that. Then you’ve got to send back somebody
to bring the guns up and put them into position. And one occasion, I spoke about Bob Ogle earlier in the piece who was our CO and also about the officer, my platoon commander was blown up on a mine with the commander of both platoons, Captain Ross Jenkinson [122/QX6274]. And they hadn’t come back; they’d gone forward to do a recce and hadn’t come back so I went
looking for them and I came across the CO Bob Ogle, he said, “Who’s that?” I said, “Gordon Wallace, Sergeant Wallace.” he said, “Gordon, quick get up and take a recce. The platoon commander and Captain Ross Jenkinson have been blown up in a jeep, go forward and get a recce and get your guns up.” Which I had to race up, I was with A Company and do a quick recce and then send a runner back to bring the guns up and put them into position, which is what I did.
And this is the sort of thing you did. Luckily we didn’t get a severe tank attack on our positions, the 13th Battalion did, the other platoon of our mob did, they often used to throw off at us and say, “The only think we knocked out was a Don R [dispatch rider].” which they did with one of the guns. We took the part of
infantry when there was an attack of, we used our part as infantry because as I said using an anti-tank gun you’re giving your position away by the blast and you want in there in the case of tank attacks, and that’s what it was for. Then eventually as I say, I was sent forward to straddle the coast road and I had been getting a bottle of scotch
every now and then from the canteen sergeant and our blokes were getting a couple of bottles of beer and I was due to turn twenty one and we’d saved our grog up. So when the Jerries tossed the sponge in [retreated] we got on the scoot and I turned twenty one, it was a couple of days after the Jerries run. We had reinforcements come up because for some strange reason you’ve got to be full strength
leaving the field of battle, we were being withdrawn and being sent back to Australia at that moment. And they sent reinforcements up and they got into the German trenches where they’d never seen a shot fired and they were using these German weapons and that and firing tracer and all that into the air. And we were up behind where the Germans lines had been and were looking back and saw this and somebody said, “The silly buggers. Jerry will get into them shortly.” Well the next thing planes come over and bombed them and I believe there was fifty one-odd killed
and they’d never seen any action. But this was pure stupidity of course; I suppose they thought it was a wonderful opportunity. Our blokes had been there that long they weren’t interested in firing anything off. But we were, well I was bloody pleased it was over. Anyhow when we came out I got sent back to do an anti-tank
school on the seventeen-and-a-half pounder after being up there for what six or seven months with anti-tank guns. And then I came back to the battalion from there and there was a Middle East Camouflage School on and I got sent to that, actually what they were doing they were giving us a break because one was in Alexandria and one was in Cairo, which meant that of a day I was at the school but of a night you were on leave
and you were having a ball. After bloody months of up there it was terrific. And one of the funny things that happened, I had taken a British Wren [Women’s Royal Nursing Service] to a theatre one night and the theatres over there have a bar in the lobby and at interval I said to her would she like a drink or anything like that, no she didn’t. So I went down into the bar and I’m having a beer and in come this bloke with these mushroom coloured pants and chocolate coat,
gold braid, two rows of ribbons and I thought, ‘Christ he’s got to be a bloody admiral or general at least’. And he said, “Hey Aussie have a drink” and it was a Yank Fairy Battle pilot. And here I’d been over there just over two years been through Tobruk and El Alamein and I’ve got one lousy little ribbon and he’s got two rows of them, they’d just gotten into the bloody war. Anyway I had quite a few drinks with him and I’m sorry to say I don’t know how the British Wren
got home, because I never made it back to the theatre, but that’s… But they were sort of rewards, just breaks away, anything like that they tried to get blokes and send them to these different things.
German and Italian trucks knocked out on the area between our lines and theirs, in no man’s land. And our lines were in amongst these trucks and you’d get a company commander or a platoon commander that you knew would come and say, “Any chance of you blokes going out and dragging that truck out of our place, they’re ranging on it.” that means they’ve got…….yeah right oh we’d get out with
the porte and hook up to one of these trucks, one bloke would get in the other truck to steer it and we’d drag them in at night. Once Jerry heard the noise he’d open up on you with every bloody thing. But it got to the stage where we had just about cleaned out all our area and Bull Angus from A Company came to me and he said, “Are you blokes still dragging in trucks
from out there?” I said, “Well the CO’s put out an instruction that we’re not to go out under any circumstances.” I said, “Why?” he said, “Well we’ve got a bloody big diesel out there that’s right in our position.” he said, “And they’re ranging on it.” he said, “Do you think you can do anything about it?” So I went along to one of our drivers Norm Rider and I said to Norm, “How do you feel about going and pulling a truck out of Bull Angus’ company area?” he said,
“Oh right oh.” he said, ‘Bull’s a good sort of a bloke.” he was a captain. I said, “Well alright you know bloody well we’re not supposed to be going.” he said, “Yeah I know.” he said, “Are you game?” I said, “Yeah come on.” So as soon as it was dark we off, anyhow we got this truck and dragged it out and it’s a great big seven-ton diesel Fiat and our company commander, Captain Jenkinson, had given us the strict instructions from the CO.
So when we dragged it in we parked it near his ‘douver’, that’s what we called our trenches and that you know and Norm, the windscreen was covered with dirt and stuff and this Captain Jenkinson never swore, everything was “cuss it all, cuss it all.” and Norm writes across the windscreen, ‘cuss it all’ in with his finger you see and this is in the dirt and that. And oh the next morning wasn’t there a to-do, who dragged it in, nobody knew anything about it.
But I’ve often thought about that, Ross Jenkinson and Ross never ever swore and here Norm picked him straight away and put “cuss it all” across the windscreen. It was a, you know it was a battle of going forward once the main attack started, that every other night you were attacking again and because after all the show didn’t last for that long,
from the 23rd October until about the 3rd of November, 4th of November I think it was, and it was over. And in that time two massive armies had engaged and one had been defeated over a great area of land. It was the first ever victory, apart from Tobruk holding out, was the first ever victory over the Germans in the Second World War. And of course it made Montgomery’s
reputation, as much as the Yanks tried to shoot him down later on over that “bridge too far” claim. That was an unfortunate set of circumstances when the gliders went in. But we……
And what I mean there used to be a certain amount of friction between the choccos and the AIF [“Chocolate soldiers.” derogatory term for the CMF or Militia forces that were the first to encounter the Japanese in New Guinea before the AIF troops came back from the Middle East to help them]. But believe me we smartly learned to respect what they had done, because they had done a marvellous job. And once we got into it we realised what a wonderful job they had done. And we worked with a couple of battalions of the militia boys, or the CMF
or whatever they called them those days, and we got on as good as gold, as far as we were concerned they were just soldiers the same as we were. For instance the 62nd Battalion was disbanded and most of them came into our battalion, and they were treated just the same as everybody else, as far as we were concerned they were part of the 15th Battalion. And on top of which the older hands in our mob were getting thin on the ground and with
wounded and illness and stuff like that. But we went there into Lae and then it was a case of get into Lae to take Lae and really the 7th Division beat us to it by about fifteen minutes, and they were strangely enough Queensland battalions from both sides. And if I’m correct in remembrance, the 7th Division commander sent a radio message to our mob to
stop shelling his troops, because we were still shelling Lae when they were moving into it. And then we moved round, we re-embarked because the Busa River was in flood and we couldn’t get across it, so we re-embarked and went round then to the Malang air strip near Lae and went into defensive positions there. But from there that sort of fizzled out
the Japs, why we didn’t take a lot of Japs in Lae, we did take a certain amount, they withdrew into the mountains and our next job then was to go up the coast to Finschhafen and land there, which was another sea-borne landing, which we carried out. And this time we were opposed and there was a bit of a,
well quite a bit of a mess up with the actual landing that the 17th and 13th battalions were suppose to land ahead of us but they were landed in the wrong position. And so that when we hit the beach we had to take the beach because it hadn’t been taken. And in actual fact there was three companies, one from each battalion that got together there and because of the fact as a brigade we’d worked together on our
training very well and go on well these three companies melded in together very well and carried the position. Well then the Japs counter attacked behind us, they came in by barges behind us. But they were beaten off, not only by our troops by, there was a young American on a 50mm gun,
he earned the Congressional Medal of Honour for it, he got killed in the attack. But he blasted hell out of these Jap barges that were coming in. And then from thereon we, the battalion started to get together and we moved up the coast toward Finschhafen and there was several actions on the way up there, but eventually, matter of days we’d taken Finschhafen.
And the 17th Battalion moved up into the hills to a place called Sattelberg, where a number of VC’s [Victoria Cross] were won there later on in the 48th Battalion. But the maps we had were twenty one years old and the information that we had that there could be from two to two thousand Japs in the area. Well in actual fact there was many thousands of Japs who had come from Lae up over the hills into Sattelberg. And we were
at Finschhafen, we’d been out in Japanese collapsible dinghies dropping Jap mines over the side blowing up fish. And we had a big fire going and we were cooking fish and we got moved at half past ten at night to go up and give the 17th Battalion a hand, who were in trouble. Well then they held the position and they were relieved by the 48th Battalion I think it was and there was quite a big battle brewed in
Sattelberg. On the coast, we were in small actions, nothing really major, company action and platoon size actions that sort of thing. And when it was all settled down we then moved up, chasing the Jap up the coast, towards Sio. And we had native bearers with us.
In the jungle one thing we did suffer was this weeping tinea, so that at one stage I was covered from my waist to my feet, just this complete black scale. And you’d go down the RAP and they’d paint you with Whitfield Tinea Paint, a green thing which stung like hell. And you’d be standing there with your hat fanning yourself to try and cool it off. And
it was taking some effect but not enough so the Doctor said, “I’m sending you down to B echelon for a couple of days, get your clothes off, run round naked in the sun, sea and sun.” And in a matter of thirty six hours the bloody stuff was falling off me. And I was down there one night, about the second night I was there and a Jap submarine beached itself there to drop supplies off, they didn’t know Finschhafen had been taken,
and we didn’t have a bloody thing, other than rifles to hit it with. We hadn’t taken anti-tank guns in there because there wasn’t any tanks to worry about, and we only had light weapons. And here they are, were trying to do something about this thing and they’d pushed off these waterproof bags of rice for the Jap troops and then realised they were in hostile territory. And they were scraping over rocks and things dragging out, and they got away of course
but we didn’t have a damn thing to do anything about it with. But it was an unusual and exciting sort of thing to happen, something right out of the blue a submarine coming up on the beach. But anyhow I went back up to my mob and we were engaged actually, my platoon as mortar’s headquarters, battalion headquarters defensive
position. And then of course we took our turn leading, or going up the coast, at one stage I was the lead platoon and we hadn’t seen many Japs but we smelt this fire, terrific fire. We’re going up the track and I’ve got my platoon stretched out and we came across this Salvation Army bloke with a
fuzzy wuzzy [New Guinea native] with a Jeep, and a big boiler boiling coffee, which he was going to hand out to the troops going past, and he was the forward troop for the whole division, and how the bloody hell the Japs didn’t get him we don’t bloody know. Because I was the leading platoon for the whole division and we come across him, how he got through our lines I don’t know but here he was with the boiling coffee there to hand out to the blokes. That will tell you what the Salvos were like.
And anyhow while I was doing this we came across a Japanese RAP what we called, a Regimental Aid Post. But they use to carry their wounded on sticks like pigs, tied to sticks whereas we carried them on stretchers or over your shoulders, whatever. And there was a number of them dead in this particular position and they were in this creek and there was maggots in some of them. Anyhow I went down then to report
to our leading company, what was ahead and what we’d come across and they all had billies of water out of this creek and were boiling their billies for a cup of tea and that, and we didn’t say anything until they’d made the tea then we told them what was in it up the road, and of course we weren’t very popular. But of course they’d boiled the water, it wouldn’t have made any difference, but they were having a go at us cause we’d shut our mouths until they had their tea made,
and then we told them what was in the water. Then we moved up there and on Christmas day 1943 we were sitting in the kunai grass and I was eating tinned pineapple, that was Christmas dinner and these troops were coming past and I looked up and this bloke and he smiled at me and I looked back down again. I looked at him again and I thought, ‘I know that bloody joker’,
it was a young bloke from El Arish [Queensland] where I’d been working. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” and he’d been driving for a colonel in Townsville and he’d pinched the car and gone home for the weekend so he got sent to the infantry and he landed in my mob. And then not long after that, just around about Sio I got malaria bad and I was taken out, well I don’t remember going out, I don’t remember anything about five days after that because I came to in hospital.
And as a matter of fact there’s a bit in that poem about the nurses that sort of gives you some idea of what it was. But anyhow from the hospital I went up to a place called Kokutai in the mountains outside Port Moresby, a convalescent depot, beautiful spot. And while I was there I went up with a bloke from New South Wales called Ken Campbell and when we got up there all these blokes
are running round with butterfly nets and Ken said, “We’ve been sent to the bloody bomb happies [shell-shocked soldiers].” And when we realised what they were doing, they were catching these big blue emperor butterflies, putting them under a bit of Perspex or whatever and selling them to the Yanks for five quid. And Ken said to me, “Christ!” he said, “If I’d have known that I’d have pinched a bloody mosquito net before we left the hospital.” And but anyhow when we got there, there was a concert put on, they had this big
thatched open sort of theatre thing and there was a lot of blokes at this convalescent camp. And this particular night this show was on, in came these American nurses with the camouflage pants and jacket and there’s a little bit of talk about women coming in and that. And then shortly afterwards in came our nurses in the grey dresses
and red caps and you should of heard the talk, I’ve never been so bloody proud of being an Australian in all my life. They looked wonderful and they were our girls and the talk you could hear it, all the blokes felt the same way. Anyhow in this concert party there was one bloke, what was the song, ‘As long as you’re not in love with anyone else why don’t you fall in love with me’ and he’s pitching to one of our nurses and God she was as red as a beetroot.
He embarrassed hell out of her but the song was so good and everybody was right on it to, she was getting a real chiacking [teasing] out of it, but as I say I’d never been so proud in all my life with the fact that our girls they looked so great. And they of course eventually went into the slacks and stuff too. But then I went from there to a place called Bootless Bay which was a return to unit place and another bloke from my mob called
Smacker Bridges and Smacker had got onto the cooks and got a bit of lemon essence and potato peelings and things like that and made a brew. And he’d bottled it and about two o’clock one morning we hear this pop, pop and the next thing Smackie yells out, “Get into it. She’s ripe!” So grog was pretty short up there. And then from there I was returned to Australia.
covering as much ground as you can because in the jungle visibility is not good, you can’t just look across and say there’s a hundred yards that’s clear because it’s not. Your probably, with a bit of luck you might happen to come across a place that you’re far enough into the jungle and there might be a small clearing well you’ll dig in. If you get the opportunity you’ll get out and clear a
firing area so that you’ve got some space between you, if the enemy comes they’ve got to come across a certain amount of open space that you can get a chance at shooting at them. Because you’re not going to leave bushes and things up there if you’re going to be there long enough for them to sort of work their way through. And it’s more or less like, I suppose if you’re going hunting,
which is what you’re doing actually I suppose. But as I said before we were, oh I don’t think we were over confident we were just confident that we could handle the Japs alright and we did. When Lae was a push over but then Finschhafen was a different matter it got to be a bit
nasty in different places and we had one position, Koitaki, A Company got into a bit of strife, lost a few men. Up at Cunnaway was a place at the top of what they called Easy Street, was about six hundred feet up in six hundred yards and mud and slippery as it comes, you know. And
we had landed there with a mile roll of signal cable between two of us on a stick and we had a big bloke named Alf Potter, Alf was with the signals. And we were struggling with this mile roll of sig cable, actually we come off the landing ship without barges in this particular time, they dropped the ramps, not the ramps, the sort of stairs and we came down them and they dropped us into about eight feet of water. And we were hitting and bobbing
up to get air and one of our lieutenants, a bloke named Jimmy Kay he got up onto a rock and he was sitting there laughing his head off at us, tin hats appearing above the water like bloody turtles, because we had this mile roll of sig cable that we had to take with us. And we staggered out of there and made our way out of it. But when we got to this Easy Street
oh well I know, when I was going up I was doing three steps forward and two back and the bloke on the other end of the stick was doing the same thing with me. And big Alf walks up there with a big roll of mile roll of sig cable on his shoulder and looking back at us as much to say, “What’s wrong with you mob?” And this was the same bloke that escaped from the Germans in Derna [Libya], he laid under the gutter on the roadway
into the prison camp and got away at night and walked across the desert to Tobruk and he said the hardest part was getting into our lines at Tobruk. I’d forgotten to mention that about Alf, but big bloke, good soldier. And yeh he walked up Easy Street with this mile roll of sig cable as much as looking at us as much to say, “What’s wrong with you mob?” and were struggling believe me.
there was a small action and some of our blokes were killed, there was a little monument about so high. You know you see those things at cemeteries with the sloped face on it, a little concrete thing like that with a sloped face on the, marble on there. Well on that sloped face was the rising sun carved out of soap stone, a beautiful job. And I found out about a fortnight ago who did it, we were at a
club meeting and a bloke named Garth was, said to somebody, “Anyone remember Easy Street?” and course a few of us said, “Yes we remembered Easy Street,” I said, “The thing I’ve always remembered about Easy Street,” I said, “The top of Easy Street there’s this little monument,” I said, “With the rising sun carved on it,” he said, “I carved that.” I said, “Be buggered!” I said,
“Doug Garth.” I said, “I’ve been wondering all the years who did that I thought it was such a good job.” I said, “I wonder if it’s still there?” he said, “I don’t know but it was done in soap stone.” And it was a thing that always stuck in my mind, and yeah about a fortnight ago I found out actually who did it. But as I say we went up there and there was a small action took place there. I wasn’t engaged in much
fighting at all with the Japs in New Guinea because I was defending battalion headquarters and we weren’t with the companies. And we got it pretty easy, we only had a few Japs that we come across, we never had a really heavy engagement with them, some of our companies did. And Sattelberg was major engagement and there was a couple of VCs won up there.
In my particular case, in my platoon we never had a, we had a few close things with them but not a, what shall I say a…………..oh a determined action, it was a case of I ran into one little blue, I was sent out on a patrol to investigate
one area and we ran into Japs there and had a sharp short little action of about half an hour with them. And I had a Papuan Infantry Battalion sergeant with me, a coloured bloke and I was told under no conditions was I to commit him to action, he was up there learning. And what do you do when you run into action and blokes start shooting at you and you’ve got a bloke there that’s a soldier
and he got shot in the stomach. And we carried him back and the poor bugger, what he wanted was a drink of water but all they could do was moisten his lips because stomach wounds you can’t get them to drink. And we carried him back, as far as I know he recovered but the Papuan Infantry Battalion mob that were there thought we were marvellous because we’d carried one of their mob back, well white blokes carrying their bloke back. Well they were carrying our blokes
came under our lot and it ended up with three companies from three different battalions working together as one unit to overcome the opposition in that particular situation. And it said a hell of a lot for the fact, the way our three battalions had trained together and the feeling between them. And these three companies assisted one another in their tasks
and overcame it. Well then the rest of the battalion of course landed in and what opposition was there they forced inland and then to a place called Kakapo where they had to attack across a creek and up a steep slope. And they were hanging onto vines making their way up this slope and the Japs were on top
and rolling grenades down on them. And they overcome, took this position, there was some story about it being a Jap hospital in that area but I couldn’t give any credence to that because I didn’t know. But B Company went in there and they, a particularly fine chap, a good friend of mine was killed there, Wes DeSalley,
very top line soldier. And, but then from there on that sort of crumpled the resistance to Finschhafen itself. And as I say we’d been out in these Jap collapsible dinghies dropping mines over the side to get fish and we were having a feed of fish that evening when the 17th Battalion got into trouble. The Jap little light plane used to come over,
“washing machine Charlie” we used to call him, and they’d throw out small bombs. And one of my chaps was killed one night through this bloke, I’d been on piquet this particular night, the rest were asleep and I heard him coming and I yelled out, cause we were sleeping on top of the ground, so damn hot. Anyhow all the blokes had taken cover except the next morning
one bloke, we went to wake him and he was dead and he had a little mark about as big as the head of a wax match of blood on his chest and shrapnel from this bomb, which had exploded in the trees, had killed him. He must have sat up and hadn’t got out of it, when I woke them, yeh Billy Furlonger.
But from there we moved, as I say we moved into Finschhafen and then there was various small actions took place in places like Koitaki and Cunnaway , these are all little areas around Finschhafen. And then we were called up to assist the 17th Battalion and then we did a bit of supply, taking supplies up to different units in different positions
because we weren’t engaged in any particular action at that time. But when that Sattelberg was finished then the move was up the coast to Sio and pushing the Japs ahead of us. And we didn’t see a hell of a lot of Japs on the way up there, odd pockets you’d find. You might go out on a job and you’d run across a few Japs and there’d be a bit of a short sharp engagement for a matter of minutes
at times, and they’d withdraw ahead of you again.
the meris [native women], the black women working for them in their gardens, plantation sort of thing with bananas, paw paws, yams that sort of thing, working for them. And occasionally you’d see a meri that was pregnant and some of the native boys we had with us would say, “Japan man.” they’d pat their stomach and say, “Japan man” which means she was pregnant to a Jap.
But which I suppose was natural enough, they were there for quite a while and the natives were in no position to resist them really with the equipment they had. I suppose it was to be expected. But they talk about yams, yams make bloody good chips but if you boil them up like potatoes they’re like glue. We often thought
that we might be able to use them in that way. I didn’t realise until a long time later that the only way to cook them was, as far as I was concerned was roast them or, and we had no facilities for roasting, or make chips out of them. But we used green paw paw as a vegetable, you could boil it and that and you were getting some greens. You weren’t getting a lot in the way of good rations
we had M & V [meat and vegetables] and that sort of thing. That’s one of the things about being on the barges, they had these marine diesels and the V-shaped engines and the Yanks got a bit of a surprise because when we were on the barges we used to get the tins of M & V and stick them in the V of the engine and heat them up, instead of eating them cold. They got the idea pretty smartly too, often beat us, how the hell they didn’t
wake up to it themselves, but our blokes woke up to it pretty smartly, the round tin of M & V would sit in the V of the engine and heat up quite well. We had a good relationship with the Yanks of the 5/32nd, Shore Battalion we have a bloke that occasionally writes to our battalion newsletter from America, he’s from the 5/32nd and he always remembers his good relationships with our mob. But
oh you know, compared to the Middle East for us it was a hell of a lot easier. I’m not denigrating the New Guinea campaign by any means because had we had to do the Kokoda Track the same as those kids did we would have suffered the same way as they did. We would have done it alright, the same as they did but it would have been just as bloody hard and just as dangerous.
And Buna and Gona, Milne Bay, the 7th Division came into Milne Bay and they gave a hand to the militia blokes, but we would have had just as tough a job. We weren’t any supermen but we were, by that time we were old soldiers and professionals and the blokes we were bringing out of our unit were being trained by blokes that knew what they were about and had been under fire. And it makes a hell of a big
difference because when you take a mob of lads that have got no training, bugger all equipment and you throw them in against an army that’s been running over the world without being stopped, and those kids had the goods they stopped them and turned them round. And what I mean they were the first to do so irrespective of what the Yanks might like to tell people, they were the boys that turned them round. And we were the blokes that turned the Jerries around for the first time in the Second World War. So between us we’d sort of
Catering was done at home because there just wasn’t the facilities, it was rations and things like that and the reception was held under her parent’s home, and of course in Cairns all high-block houses. But it was nice, a real family type of wedding. Not a lot of my close friends there because they were scattered all over the country on leave at the time. But as I was just saying to Kiernan
a while ago about Bull Angus our company commander spotting us in the street and saying, “Are you getting married?” and I said, “No I am married.” he said, “Where’s the show?” so Bull was there. And she got well known to my blokes because she used to come to Ravenshoe, she was an easy person to get on with. And now of course my fellows that I was in the army with, they know my present wife Trish
just as well as some of the others knew Elsie and they get on with her like a house on fire. And I’ve been extremely lucky believe me because she’s just a marvellous person and as I said, the kids come one, two, three, four, I often used to say her, I said, “I’ve been through this before I was number six in the family once before.” No she’s just something out of the box
and if it hadn’t been for her I would say we would have lost Fiona, she was night and day with her for about three years and she slept up in the hospital there in an old lounge chair alongside the bed. She’s just been a tower of strength all the way through for the whole damn lot of us, and you don’t, I’ve just been lucky, you don’t often get two chances.
Well I know I’m happy, I just hope she is, but it’s a wonderful feeling that the eight kids melded together so well. You know we get rings from the big blokes and Wayne my second eldest boy and I are going to Melbourne this month, next month, at the end of May to the World Cycling Championships together, because
when my boys were growing up they were all tied up in cycling and they rode all over Australia. Two of them were Australian champions and the youngest bloke could have been in that family but he was too lazy, he didn’t train to the extent. But Trish knew the fact that he didn’t always go to training when he should of, she never ever told me though. And different things that happened that she knew about but I didn’t. And they come out when we have parties or
get together and things like that and when the Wallaces have a party it’s generally a pretty good party. But she, all the different things that come out and the boys look at her and laugh and they say, “Didn’t they Trish?” and I hear this all second hand. This is the sort of thing that you’ve got to just be happy it’s that way.
Oh no I’ve got no complaints, as I often say I’ve got three feeds and part of a bed, so you’re not doing too bad. No I’ve got some particularly good friends, I’m trying to take my glasses off, I’ve got some particularly good friends in the Battalion Association and we put a journal together every three months and we correspond
with quite a few people. And I had a bit of correspondence with a lady who was the wife of one of our fellows who died, Pud Bickle and her brother was on the HMAS Sydney when it was sunk off Western Australia. And she went to that Geraldton memorial, the dome of souls they call it, and she sent me all these pictures and the story about it. And I put it
through the newsletter and everybody loved it, and this is what we’ve been trying to do get everybody to contribute. Mrs Walters she went out to Roma [Queensland], they had a big Back to Roma turnout and she wrote the story about that and we got that into the journal. Just the different things that hold the place together. And Anzac Day we’ve always been men only and we’re getting light on the ground so this year we decided at the Anzac Day get together
that were going to have the ladies come along next time, because after all we’re past the age where were telling dirty jokes, well nothing that will offend the ladies anyhow.
jungle training, same style of thing. Odd new weapons came out which we had to learn about, but generally it was just the same type of training. And to the old blokes it was old hat because they’d been there and done it. But they had to be kept in contact with their weapons and all that sort of thing. And the new blokes coming in who hadn’t done it had to be shown how and given a few tips from the old fellows.
And not only that they had to be fostered into the battalion so that they knew it wasn’t a case of oh he’s an original he won’t think much of me. That wasn’t the thing, they were fostered in so that they knew they were part of the battalion, because that’s the main thing with any unit, is the pride of unit, the fact that you belong. And
ninety nine point nine percent of the old hands, a new bloke came along they were quite happy to see him, and he was just treated as one of the boys. You know some funny things happened in Ravenshoe, for instance getting clothing replaced was terribly hard, replacements were short and we put a whole platoon through for new shirts on two torn shirts
because we got one of our blokes into the Q Store and he was passing them out under the back of the tent and the next bloke was going round with the same shirt and exchanging it for a newie. And this was the sort of things you had to do to get new gear. And early in the piece when we came out of Tobruk we went on leave in the service dress that we’d worn in Tobruk and it was quite a hell of a mess at times,
and worn out, but that’s what we had there was nothing else to get. Except if you knew the padre and he happen to have some Comforts Fund stuff had come in you might be able to get a pair of shorts and a shirt off him. And this is the sort of thing that happened. But the big thing in all this is the fellowship, the fostering of fellowship and belonging. To belong to a unit,
any unit with a mob of blokes that have been there done that must give the young blokes coming in a feeling of confidence that they must think, ‘Oh at least these buggers know what they’re doing’, and quite often we didn’t. But the main thing was to keep the feeling of oneship altogether and the pride in unit believe me
that is above everything. We got a new colour patch after El Alamein, caused a little bit of hard feeling amongst the other divisions but to us we regarded it as a decoration because it was a complete change away from any other type of colour patch. And we were supposed to get, as far as I can gather, the white crusader patch that the 8th Army used to wear on their shoulder but
we weren’t allowed to because of bad feeling between the other units. And eventually they come up with the T, it was something completely out of the box, whereas our old colour patch was chocolate over blue in a rectangle, because our original unit had been in the 1st Division in the First World War. And then to come up with the T which was something out of the box, but were pretty proud of it.
I knocked off smoking because I was developing catarrh and the people giving you tobacco, in those days it was on a ration sort of thing and they thought they were giving you the Golden Casket [the Queensland lottery] so I did my block one time at the tobacconists and told him where to stick it and I came home and said, “I’m finished smoking.” And my wife about three weeks later went out and she bought every cigarette and tobacco she could buy in the city and bought it home and threw it on the kitchen table and she said, “For God sake smoke that.” And
I said, “You can stick it, I’m finished” and Wrigley’s chewing gum paid dividends for about six months but I was twenty nine then, I’d been smoking for ten years and I gave it away, I’ve never missed it. I know I used to be at work and after work you’d go for a few beers and one of the blokes there used to say to me, “You’ve got me beat.” and I said, “Why?” he said, “You come over here and shouting your turn,
then you say ‘Right oh, that’s it ,see you blokes later.” he said, “I’d had two.” he said, “I’m there for the night.” But I had a family and they were the most important part of it, what I mean I’ve never been any particular success, I’m not success story but I’ve had a happy life. There’s times you’d like to change sort of thing, I didn’t let my children see their mother when
she died, my big boys, I didn’t, I saw my mother after she died and I hated it, it wasn’t Mum, and I thought I was doing the right thing. Anyhow years later I was down in Melbourne, we’d gone fishing up into the Goulburn River and one of my boys had a place up on the Goulburn and anyhow we were sitting out, we’d been fishing and caught a few trout and we’d come home, bought a slab on the way home and
the three of us were sitting there having a beer, my two youngest from my first family. And we were sitting there having a few beers and waiting, we’d wrapped the trout in foil and chucked it on the BBQ and right out of the blue Chick said, “I never said goodbye to Mum.” I said, “Jesus Christ!” I said, “Twenty eight years for that to come out.” and it had been sticking in his craw for twenty eight years that I hadn’t let them see their mother to say goodbye. And, because
she had a massive heart attack right out of the blue, never looked better in her life. She’d worked for the last two years of her life and we were walking home this particular Saturday morning, I’d gone to pick her up and were holding hands and the girls in the shops were chucking off saying, “Come on you two, you’re too old for that sort of thing.” And that night we went to see a friend of hers in the hospital and we went to the high school fete and she bought tickets there, she was talking to different people, had a pain in the chest
and she said to me, “I’ve got a pain in the chest.” I said, “Well come on I’ll open the car up.” I said, “And you can lay down in the car a bit, for a while and I’ll wait to pick the kids up.” But then when she got down to the car she said, “Oh God!” she said, “I’ve never had a pain like it!” I said, “Come on.” I took her home and sent for the doctor. And he said to her, “What have you been doing today?” he said, “Your blood pressure’s way up.” she said, “Graham I’ve never had an easier day in my life.” And she hadn’t, she’d gone to watch one of the boys
play football for North Queensland, she normally used to come home and she’d do the washing, she hadn’t bothered and we’d gone up to see Noreen and we’d gone to the fete. And anyway he gave her a needle and gave her a prescription, he said, “You can get that filled on Monday.” he said, “And if you get this pain again just put a tablet under your tongue.” She was right for about half an hour and bang that was it and my second eldest boy came home and he was giving her mouth to mouth resuscitation.
while I was working on her chest and it was just no good and that was that. Yeah and twenty eight years later that came out, believe me that stopped me right in my tracks. Not something I’d recommend to anyone rearing kids on your own, particularly when you’re working away from home and shift work and that. But I got on and I could cook and I could sew, I couldn’t sew but I learnt to use a machine cause one
of the boys was an apprentice and he came home one day and he said, “Hey Dad these boys at work want to know if you do welding?” and I woke up what he was at, he tore his jeans, shorts and I’d put a patch under it and machine over the top like you should do you know. I said, “You go and tell those blokes that they’ve got wives and mothers and sisters to do their work.” I said, “You’ve got your father.” I said, “And yours are always washed, mended and ironed.”
think, I was dismayed when the Americans dropped the atomic bombs [on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, thus forcing a Japanese surrender]. I don’t know I really, just the fact that it was over, we could go back to peace and Australia was a wonderful place to live in, those days was far ahead of what it is now. And we’re doing such stupid things now,
we’re imprisoning people, women and children for no reason, what have they ever done and all we’re doing is breeding terrorists because they must hate our guts by now. They’ve been in there for years and for what? For wanting to get away from somebody, some despot and they’ve exchanged one type of imprisonment for another. No we don’t know, we just haven’t got a clue on how to deal with people.
But with the war I was just glad it was over, when I went back to El Alamein the year before last and walked into that cemetery I just was in tears. I looked down and every name up come a face and a voice and they knew we were there, they knew we were there, there’s no blue about that. And
oh God I thought, “What a bloody waste” and we’ve had sixty years of living and being married and having children and those blokes never had the opportunity to enjoy and they should have done. It’s not, it wasn’t a fair go, that young men like that were denied the opportunity to fulfil their life. And for all you know we might have had the cure for cancer buried there, they could
have been scientists or whatever, we just don’t have enough sense to see that that’s what were doing, sending our away breeding stock and our people that can make a world of difference to the world in general. I don’t, often times you’ll hear someone saying, I remember when they used to call us ‘five bob a day murderers’ but
we were certainly not war-mongers, we might be patriotic but we don’t believe in war. There’s a rare bloke that you’d ever talk to that, of our vintage that would ever agree with war, it’s so stupid and more particularly since we’ve had the opportunity to have migrants come in. Admittedly we resented some of them because we were European stock and
we had a different way of life to these people. But they’re entitled to a way of life too and we’ve just got to learn to live with it and it’s taken so long to learn the lessons and we still haven’t learnt much. And then we have the audacity to think we’re the only intelligent beings in the universe, God they’ve got to be joking, they’ve got to be joking.
Intelligent? My God, we’re too bloody silly to keep sending our kids away to get killed, I don’t know.