Rupert Somerville
Archive number: 1924
Preferred name: Jim
Date interviewed: 06 May, 2004

Served with:

2/13th Battalion
9th Division

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Rupert Somerville 1924

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:36:00

Right Jim if we could just start with what I asked you about before.
Well I was born in Sydney. My background is - my grandfather was a farmer just outside Tamworth and prior to that he’d been in the New South Wales mounted police and he was at a

01:01:00:00

place called Kootingal. And my father lived there for a number of years and then when the war broke out he went away and he served in World War 1 and had previously met my mother who was a teacher at this place Kootingal. And when he came back they were married and he then worked in a

01:01:30:00

family business for a few years in Sydney, up in Gordon. My grandfather, my great grandfather had a business in Hornsby which was established quite early in the piece and father worked with them for about five years. And then I think he must’ve fallen out with them or something, but he then became the manager of a station property out at Corindi outside - away from Tamworth a bit. And then after that

01:02:00:00

he went to Tamworth and worked for a stock and station agent and became a land valuer. But to go back a touch, I was born in Sydney. I lived there for about four or five years and then we went to Corindi and we came to Tamworth when I was about seven and of course I started to go to school there and I went to the local primary school. And I went to Tamworth High School

01:02:30:00

for a few years until about, it was then called the intermediate certificate stage. And then I came down here to Sydney to school and went to Scotch College at Sydney and finished up doing my leaving certificate there. And by that time I’d applied for a job in CSR which was then called the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.

01:03:00:00

And happily I was offered a job there and started work in 1937. At the princely sum of sixty five pounds a year payable monthly. But when I turned seventeen, which I wasn’t quite when I started, it came to seventy two, I think, instead of sixty five. And I became a commercial cadet I suppose they’d call them these days. But I

01:03:30:00

- the letter of offer for the job said I would be joining the commercial staff so on and so forth. But I moved around the company a bit. They sort of had you in one department for a while and somewhere else for another period basically to get a picture of what working in CSR was like. But then at about August 1937 a friend of mine and I, both of

01:04:00:00

whom had been at Scotch, decided we would like to join the militia. Because lots of young men in those days did join the militia [Citizen’s Military Force] of one sort or another. There were - you know it was quite a big organisation the militia in the middle to late thirties. And so because we’d been at Scotch and you know we were associated with the New South Wales Scottish Regiment

01:04:30:00

we both joined. You had to be nineteen and in fact I was only seventeen at that stage. So I put my age up two years and I joined that battalion and because I’d been interested for quite a number of years in electronics and radio as a hobby I joined the signal section. Well

01:05:00:00

that was quite a major activity the militia because the 30th Battalion was a very good unit and it was hard to get into it. And therefore you had to be a good soldier while you were there. And I spent a heck of a lot of weekends doing training and promotions - to get one stripe in the 30th was a big deal, I thought. And

01:05:30:00

I did quite a lot of that sort of thing. And eventually by about 1939 I’d become the sig [signals]sergeant. You know there was a platoon of about thirty people and there was an officer and a sergeant and few corporals. But I was the sergeant. But it - other people might have been playing a lot of sport and that sort of thing but this took up so much time that I

01:06:00:00

really didn’t do a great deal other than swim at the weekends when I wasn’t doing anything in the army. Oh I played an occasional bit of tennis but I really can’t claim to have ever been a great sports person because it turned out eventually that I had a stigmatism. And therefore small ball games weren’t my forte. But nevertheless I took, I was interested in sport. And as I say I enjoyed swimming a great deal

01:06:30:00

because we were living at that stage, well my mother and my sister and I were living at Randwick. And of course it was close to Coogee. And we went there a lot and of course I spent a lot of time with friends that I’d been at school with and other people that I’d met. And at this stage my father was still in Tamworth. He - oh I suppose effectively he and my mother had virtually separated.

01:07:00:00

But she came down to Sydney as I say and we lived at Randwick. But I suppose at that stage you know I became more and more interested in the army and apart from my job, and I was doing reasonably well there. Because I was being shifted around and being given

01:07:30:00

quite decent jobs instead of pen pushing and that sort of thing. And in 1939, early ’39 I was sent up to Brisbane which was good from my point of view because it was a change and I spent about three months up in Brisbane, relieving a fellow who’d been sent to one of the sugar mills in north Queensland. And oh it was quite an interesting time because I was boarding

01:08:00:00

and you know living with other people in a boarding house and eventually the relief finished and I came back to Sydney. And at that stage, beginning of 1939 things were starting to look as if there might be a war but I suppose my mind was as much as anything, apart from doing a decent job for

01:08:30:00

my boss and the company, I was quite interested and September ’39 came and I thought, “Well hello this is it.” And in - early in the piece in the war the militia unit were you know sent off for three months to special camps. And we were up at Rutherford in the 30th and you know we

01:09:00:00

sort of spent our time in Newcastle. And sitting around beaches at night waiting for the enemy, whoever it might be attempt to land on some pleasant beach around Shoal Bay or somewhere. Anyway that went on for quite some time and oh in about early May 1940 I had

01:09:30:00

a call from one of the officers who’d been picked out by the CO [commanding officer] to be part of the team for the 2/13th Battalion. Which was in 7th Division. And he said, “Are you thinking of joining the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well our CO’s looking for a new sig officer, signals officers, would you be interested?” And I said, “Yes.” At this stage I’m a sergeant.

01:10:00:00

And so I enlisted and I was a private soldier for one day and I got paid one day’s pay and then I went down to sign at the engineer’s depot at Moore Park and out we went to Ingleburn and I became the commander of the signals platoon but I still only had three stripes. And the CO

01:10:30:00

then completed the papers and off it went and on the 6th June I had two pips on my shoulder. Which was some pleasure. And you know it increased my interest and I enjoyed the opportunity or I suppose the experience for a young person of having about thirty people. And

01:11:00:00

we’d been, the Scottish Regiment had been very good at all kinds of military activities like they used to have things called gymkhanas which are really sort of military exercises and competitions and you know, we used to win all these things so I suppose the CO of the battalion knew about us and was in the same brigade. And thought

01:11:30:00

well a 30th Battalion bloke might be alright for me and I was apparently. And so there we are Ingleburn camp. And you know it was a really pleasant experience then although it was hard work because our CO was a tough old fellow. And I suppose it was good for young blokes like me because of

01:12:00:00

you know he was like a very strict father so to speak. There was no mucking about. You had responsibilities and in those days, or as always I suppose, if something went wrong in your platoon well you got blamed not the people who were at fault half the time. It may seem a bit of a strange thing but you know it’s the old old thing. Well what were you doing? Why weren’t you looking after these fellows? Why didn’t you keep an eye on them? And this sort of thing. So it was good for me because

01:12:30:00

I’d not had - I really hadn’t had a father for quite some time. Because my father, well because my grandfather had died when he was, oh I was only about eight. He had two quite large farms outside Tamworth and he’d gone to live in the town anyway and had some people working on it.

01:13:00:00

I just want us to go through the very bare details first and then we’ll go back and talk about your dad if that’s alright.
Oh okay. Where am I? I’m in Ingleburn camp. Well we also had a good experience, oh it was a good experience there because the CO of our company was - which was called headquarter company and it had all sorts of bits and pieces in it, he was a bachelor but a very

01:13:30:00

- oh he wasn’t an outgoing - well yes he was an outgoing sort of fellow but he had very strict and conservative ideas of the behaviour of young officers. And you know I can remember one particular night when we had what they call a dining in mess and that meant that all the officers had to be in the mess and there was no escape. And the CO started fairly early and we all had a few drinks and one thing and another and

01:14:00:00

then we all started to sing. And next day there was an order to all the lieutenants to be assembled at five o’clock in the afternoon and Major Simpson wanted to speak to us. And then he gave us a very very stern lecture on behaviour in the mess. And I can remember his words, he said, “And the spectacle of subalterns beating time on the table with their spoons

01:14:30:00

impressed me as being something that one might expect in a back alley tap room in Surry Hills.” And that was the Red Fox they called him, because he had red hair. So after that we all watched our Ps and Qs [behaved]. So we trained there for a while and then in August 1940 recruitment was proceeding I suppose and they wanted Ingleburn camp and they were building a new camp at

01:15:00:00

Bathurst. And so someone conceived the idea it would be a good, a good way of getting us to Bathurst if we marched up there but it would be an equally good way of attracting a whole lot of interest in publicity for recruitment for the services. So we spent the next nine days in a very very pleasant march to Bathurst. It would be -

01:15:30:00

it couldn’t be described as a hard march or anything like that because the most we ever did was twenty two miles in one day. Well that might seem a lot but when you’re young and fit that wasn’t too bad. But we’d you know we used to stage it along the way. And by the time we got to about Katoomba we had a couple of days when we had a rest there, but all the way along the way people were very good to us and people came out and cheered and

01:16:00:00

so forth and so on. And at night people would invite you home for a meal and you know it was easy going really. And then ultimately we found Bathurst in about September and a jolly cold place it was. We were outside Bathurst at a place called Kelso which you might know. But it was a new camp and we discovered it

01:16:30:00

was a pretty cold place. And then we had, oh we had marches through Bathurst. The whole tribe of us went through Bathurst. They gave us the key to the city and all this sort of thing. And I can remember you know at the end of the day people were shouting out things and so forth. And I remember my platoon, oh when we marched back to Kelso I had all the sober ones around the outside and all the fellows who weren’t too sober

01:17:00:00

in the middle so they got out there.
I’m just going to ask you for the barest details of your war experience ‘cause we’ll go back and talk about all the other stuff.
You tell me where to stop.
I’d just like it in almost point form from where you went from Bathurst.
I get you. Well from Bathurst we then were taken down by train in early October

01:17:30:00

and out on a ferry to the Queen Mary and off we went to the Middle East. And we did that via Bombay. The Queen Mary - well we were ultimately going to Palestine what we called in those days. But the Queen Mary took us to Bombay where we were taken off the ship and sent up to an army camp, about a hundred and fifty

01:18:00:00

miles up for a few days. And then we embarked on a Dutch ship and up the canal and disembarked at a place called Kantara. Popped on a train and up we went to a camp, to our first camp in Palestine which was called ‘Kilo 89’. I suppose that was because it was eighty-nine kilo’s [kilometres] from somewhere. But it was near Gaza which was of interest because nowadays anyway because

01:18:30:00

we weren’t far from Gaza. And to toughen us up they used to march us over the sand hills towards Gaza. Well from there we - 6th Division had captured Libya and Cyrenaica. But they were required to come back and [General] Blamey nominated them to go to Greece and Crete.

01:19:00:00

And a new division, the 9th Division was formed and we became part of that and we were supposed to be under equipped. We were indeed. And you know hadn’t had a great deal of training in the desert sort of thing. And so anyway off we went off to take over from the 6th Div. And we got as far as Benghazi.

01:19:30:00

We occupied some bits and pieces and one company was sent off to guard Italian prisoners but it was the beginning of the Rommel [Field Marshal Erwin Rommel] period because the Germans started to land in North Africa and in about - oh in March 1941

01:20:00:00

down they came and we finished up being the first unit to meet the Germans at a place - oh I’ll never forget it. It’s called Beda Fomm and it subsequently turned out to be a major oil field. But we were gradually pushed back and the rest of the division had been moved into Tobruk. And we had our first encounter with the Germans, in fact we were

01:20:30:00

the first unit to ever meet the Germans. And we gradually - and then on about the 3rd or 4th April, two days after my twenty first birthday we were - some trucks came up, some transport came up and we came back and finished up in Tobruk on the 10th April. And from the 10th April till December that’s where we were.

01:21:00:00

And from after - the ship that was to take us out of Tobruk eventually - see the war changed and the Germans were chased back up the desert again. And we - the Australian troops were all to be relieved out of Tobruk because at that stage they,

01:21:30:00

Thomas Blamey, wanted us all to be gathered together as an Australian Corps. And after all we’d been there a fair while and bits and pieces of the 9th Division were then relieved by Poles and British Army brigade and so forth. And then the ship that was to take us out unfortunately was sunk on the way up so we got left behind.

01:22:00:00

And we had to fight another battle then because the Germans were trying to get into Tobruk still. But happily that - the Germans were defeated and pushed off. So unlike the rest of the 9th Division we were drove out on trucks. And off we went back down to the [Suez] Canal and back up to Palestine to another camp

01:22:30:00

where we were fed like fighting cocks because we’d had some pretty lousy time before. And there was more beer around than you could drink and all this sort of thing and I can remember steak was something you got just about every meal if you wanted it. And then I think there was some feeling that the Germans might sort of get too pally with the

01:23:00:00

Turks and come down through Turkey and come down to the desert that way. And so off we went up to, in a defensive role up to Lebanon really to a place called Latakia which was you know up towards the Turkish border and we had one company right near the Turkish border. But we had some time at Latakia, which was cold, west

01:23:30:00

and did some more training and - oh you know it was an interesting time I suppose because we’d not been in a populated place before. And then as part of a scheme to have some desert exercise off we went to Aleppo. And by that time the Germans were on the go again. And in about June 1942 popped on a train and down we went

01:24:00:00

and we came to El Alamein. And then of course we were there in a defensive role there for some time. The Germans used to poke around and we used to fight back. And then ultimately of course the 8th Army was formed properly and Montgomery came out and preparations were made for the Battle of El Alamein. And

01:24:30:00

our battalion took part in that and we eventually of course it was all over and the - we came back up to Palestine after that and on, in about February ’43 back we came to Australia on the Aquitania and - how far have I got to go?
I’d like you to finish your war service.
Oh righto.

01:25:00:00

Okay back we came on the Aquitania and we had six weeks leave and then we gathered together and were sent by train up to the Atherton Tablelands to a place called Keiri, which was quite pleasant and we did a whole lot of training of one sort including amphibious training which meant landing off landing ships and things. And then we went to Milne Bay

01:25:30:00

and we landed at Lae which - our division had the job of capturing Lae first of all which was quite an important place for the Japanese. 7th Div were going to do it one way, we were going to do it the other. 7 Div were going to do it by airborne landings, we were doing it from the landing ships. So fortunately Lae was not very well defended by the Japanese and it was -

01:26:00:00

although we landed on the wrong beach, we were there. And then the next move was up the coast and our brigade then was chosen to capture a place called Finschhafen, which was further up the Peninsula. And that was rather a more difficult thing because well it was, well you know part of these amphibious landings is get your feet on the ground

01:26:30:00

and you know get yourself ashore and - you know not be too cleaned up as you’re attempting to bring stuff ashore and bring yourselves ashore and you know it was an unpleasant sort of landing because you know half the time you were landing in four feet of water instead of on a beach and this sort of thing. Anyway Finschhafen was quite a battle for us and we eventually captured the place. And

01:27:00:00

we were there for some time and you know quite a lot of soldiering and waring was going on. And then the battalion came back to Finschhafen and we all got some dry clothing and that sort of thing after quite a long time of being wet. And at that point, about November, late November 1943 I was chosen to go to an army

01:27:30:00

staff school in Duntroon in Canberra. And so I gave up my job as adjutant of the battalion and down I came to Sydney. And I met my wife, because my sister was in the WRANS [Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service] too. And I met Lorna and then off I went to Canberra and

01:28:00:00

they really worked us hard for three months down there because they had a staff officers course which normally took about 12 months compressed into three. And you know we used to work day and night and it was really tough. But at the end of it I was posted off by mistake to a brigade for a while but then they discovered they’d sent me to the wrong place. And I was sent to a unit called the

01:28:30:00

1 Aust Combined Operations Section. Now basically it was a unit of the three services set up to manage if you like, oh the training of units for amphibious operations. And we were parked in a lovely old house up at Cairns and that was a very pleasant piece of war as far as I was concerned. But we had a lot of American landing ships came in as

01:29:00:00

- for training purposes and you know, we had to manage the training operations for you know various parts of it, the division who’d come down from the Tablelands and they’d spend three days you know jumping in and out of landing ships and climbing down the sides of ships and this sort of thing. And eventually the need for that apparently must have passed but I was then posted to a

01:29:30:00

staff job in headquarters of 9th Division, it was called G2 Combined Ops [operations]. It was a new thing because we were going into this thing. Well the operational side of the divisional headquarters apart from the divisional commander, we had a senior staff officer for operations and another staff officer for administration. But then they had offsiders. Well I was one of the offsiders in the operations

01:30:00:00

side. And we spent time then planning the Borneo operations. You know and we finished up going to Morotai which is north west of New Guinea and that was a concentration area for everyone at that stage. And from there we engaged in the Borneo landings and we went to -

01:30:30:00

then I finished up in a place called Labuan Island which was off Borneo and the rest of the division you know picked up bits of the coast line. And that went on until the Japanese threw in the towel and we - well there was a place called Sarawak and a place called Kuching which was the capital of Sarawak and there was quite a big

01:31:00:00

prisoner of war [POW] camp there. There were quite a lot of civilians and quite a lot of army people. You know British army and Australian officers and all sorts of people there. So I was then sent with a brigadier and another major and myself and a tribe of other kind of support people, you know infantry troops and supply people and we were put on a

01:31:30:00

naval ship and sent down to Kuching to take over the place and release the prisoners. Well that was a worthwhile thing to do and while we were parked in a very nice old palace on the side of a river. And we managed you know the shipping out of all the prisoners including quite a few of the civilians who were still there. And they were flown out. We had

01:32:00:00

air force people and there was an aerodrome there so they were all flown off to Singapore. And eventually the place, all the POWs were sent back to Singapore. Well then we had - the chaps had to be collected up and disposed of, sent home I suppose. But then I had the job of gathering up all the Japanese in Sarawak and also what’s now called Kalimantan which was Dutch Borneo

01:32:30:00

and that was really one of the most interesting times I think I spent in the war. Because there were quite a lot of garrison troops. None of them were very war like I didn’t think. They were basically garrison troops to provide guards and people for the POWs I suppose. And also the local administration. See the Japanese came into these places and they took over everything.

01:33:00:00

Banks, every kind of facility around the place and substituted Japanese money for all the local currency and that sort of thing. But they also had sent sort of garrison groups down to Dutch Borneo as it was in those days and so I had the job of collecting them all. And of course Kuching was a very good place to collect the Japanese POWs

01:33:30:00

because we had all these camps to use. And so I spent some time then doing that. And I don’t know how much detail you want of that.
None at this stage. We will talk about it later though yes.
So then what happened? Well I went back to Labuan and I’d really disappeared out of the army because

01:34:00:00

the 2/13th Battalion was removed from the order of battle was the expression they used. That meant it was finished. So then I sort of, you know didn’t do a great deal I suppose at that stage and the war was over and all I had to do was wait until my number came up and with the point system, you know for priority to get home. Anyway the day came and I was put on an air craft at Labuan air strip

01:34:30:00

called a Vultee Vengence with a number of other people to fly out of the place and go back to Darwin but unfortunately the undercarriage collapsed and I had to wait a bit longer because I finished up in the mud. Anyway we were put on a Catalina and off we went. I got over to Cairns eventually and happily because I was so called field rank, which you were when you were major and above. Some old fellow

01:35:00:00

over there was impressed and I landed back in Sydney with what I stood up in. One army blanket, one Japanese sword and a carton of Craven A’s and that was it. By that stage the war was - I was then discharged from the army on the 17th December 1945 and that was the end of R.J. Somerville’s military service. For the time being anyway.
Will you take us

01:35:30:00

through just very briefly what happened to you after the war. Where you worked and when you married?
Okay. Right. Well when - Lorna and I were married in January 1946. And I realised - I went back with CSR because in those days employers were obliged to take back people who’d been employed by them before the war. But there was no argument about that. I went back and I was

01:36:00:00

posted to a department and happily the head of it was a ex World War 1 fellow anyway. But I realised that I - in the post war world I needed more education and more study was needed. And I’d got used to studying at this three month’s staff course and for the first time in my life I was a hard working student. You know it

01:36:30:00

interested me to be a student again. Anyway I realised I needed to do something so I fortunately took advantage of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme and I went to Sydney University and I did economics as an evening student. Well that was hard because I worked all day till five o’clock. I’d jump on the tram and I’d go up to the university and have a quick bite to eat and get home - we lived

01:37:00:00

in Roseville in those days. Well we built a house at Roseville. And well I spent four years and out I came with a Bachelor of Economics. And then I worked - well I was in a group at head office of CSR in those days that dealt with superannuation and investment and

01:37:30:00

insurance and all sorts of things. And ultimately I became head of that and in about 1963 I think I moved to another job and I went into marketing, sugar marketing. And then I was sent to a course down at Melbourne University for some few months.

01:38:00:00

And when I came back the Deputy General Manager said to me, “How’d you like Melbourne?” And I said, “Well I quite enjoyed it.” And he said, “Well how’d you like to be Victorian Manager for the company?” So off we went and for nearly seven years I was Victorian Manager for CSR and this gets to about 1972.

01:38:30:00

And so I came back - prior to that I’d said to Lorna, “Look I think inflation’s catching up and one of these days I’ll get sent back to head office anyway. You’d better go and buy something.” So she looked around and she bought this townhouse in Waverton Avenue and we came back eventually. I was transferred back into a General Manager of the Division. And I said, “Look we’ll live in the townhouse

01:39:00:00

for a while” because we wanted to go back up the north shore where we’d been before and twenty years later we’re still in Waverton Avenue. And well I retired in 1962. CSR had a compulsory retiring - ’82 I mean - had a compulsory retiring age of 62. So off I retired and

01:39:30:00

then I you know, started to do other things. Prior to that I’d always been very much involved in service type activity and that sort of thing. I was in a thing called a Junior Chamber of Commerce for many years, which doesn’t exist now. And then when I went to Melbourne I was asked to join Melbourne Rotary Club which I was pleased about. And when I came back to Sydney I was - somebody said I was a good Rotarian in Melbourne so they took me into Sydney Rotary Club.

01:40:00:00

And I was very active in that. And I became President in 1982/3 and that used to be about three days a week in those days. And oh other than that I got involved in Probus [worldwide association of retired and semi-retired people] and became chairman of the Probus centre which was the administrative organisation for Probus for a couple of years. And then we started to feel that we needed to

01:40:30:00

think about moving. We’d had a weekend house up at Lake Macquarie for - oh some years. And we liked this area and I came up here one day with Lorna to see a friend of ours who lived here in this village. And thought, “Gee this is not bad.” So 1994 up we came and bought this - this was a new

01:41:00:00

place then and we bought it and here we are.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 02

02:00:30:00

Now Jimmy you were born in Pymble? How long did you live in Pymble for?
Well we lived at - oh it was really - we lived in Gordon actually but I was born in a private hospital up there. And lived there, I suppose at least till I was about four because I can remember, you know strange things trigger off your memory.

02:01:00:00

I can remember we had one of those old Ericsson phones you know where you wind the handle and I learnt to use the phone and I was about four then I think. But I think I was about four or five when we moved from there up to Corindi.
What sort of social economic group lived in Pymble in those days or Gordon?
Oh well as I say, I think my father ran a subsidiary

02:01:30:00

operation of the James Somerville one, in Gordon. In the main - on the Pacific Highway at Gordon. And it was still a centre for fruit farmers and you know all the people that - well it was still all right. There were all sorts of people I suppose but it was not a depressed area by any means.
Your father had

02:02:00:00

served in World War 1?
Yeah.
Doing what?
Well he served in an infantry battalion too and he became a signals officer at the end of the war and that’s how I became - I suppose first became interested because he didn’t really take much interest in it afterwards but I remember we had a thing called a crystal set in those days at your home. At Pymble. And

02:02:30:00

that’s what he’d been doing.
What did he tell you of his service in World War 1?
Not really. Not really. I mean, you know I became aware subsequently of what he’d been doing. I mean he’d gone away as a reinforcement to some battalion and finished up with a battalion

02:03:00:00

in Egypt and then he went to France. At the end of the war he was still alive. And as I say commissioned and he was a signals officer of his unit.
Do you think the First World War had affected him in any way?
No. Oh to the extent I suppose - oh I suppose he’d had the

02:03:30:00

benefit of going from being a farmer to a smartly turned out lieutenant. But he’d been well educated because he had been sent down to school at Maitland High School. Now there were only two country high schools in those days. One at Lismore and one at Maitland. And they used to have boarding houses associated with the schools and so he’d been

02:04:00:00

well educated up to what we might have called leaving certificate standard.
What about your mother, what was her background?
She was a teacher. And that’s how my father met her. She was a teacher at this place Kootingal. She was a primary school teacher.
So basically you did most of your growing up in Tamworth or Corindi?
Oh no in Tamworth. We went back to Tamworth when I was about seven and I did most of my growing up there

02:04:30:00

until I was - oh I was about fourteen. Until what was then third year I suppose. And I passed the intermediate certificate at Tamworth High School but somehow - well then my father or my parents I suppose conceived the idea that a GPS [great public schools] education in Sydney was a good thing, whether it was a social thing or what I don’t know. But anyway

02:05:00:00

I came down and I lived with an uncle for most of the time. He lived at Rose Bay and of course Scotch was at Bellevue Hill and that was quite convenient really. And that was that.
What do you remember of growing up in Tamworth?
Oh well it was a - well you know we did the sort of things that country kids did. I was in the scouts

02:05:30:00

and you know I was a choir boy at the local St Johns Anglican Church. And I think my voice must’ve been breaking or something but I also had a couple of misdemeanours and we pushed a whole lot of kids into the parish hall one night when there was some lecture on and I happened to walk past the arch deacon’s hat and pushed it in and I think it was time I left. So I got kicked out of the choir.

02:06:00:00

Other than that there were all kinds of tennis things from time to time, although I wasn’t much good at tennis. But oh you know - then I became - at one stage I became quite interested in what’s now called electronics and I used to fiddle around with - and I knew - my father knew

02:06:30:00

a man who was very much involved in amateur radio in those days. And you know I used to hang around this fellow a bit and see how it all worked and so forth. And that’s how I really started to develop an interest in communications really. And - but then - well you know as I say we had the scouts

02:07:00:00

and church, although I wasn’t a very good church goer. I must say I’m not very much involved in that now. But you know, we went on picnics occasionally but my father was - my grandfather’s farms of course had been left - when grandfather died they’d been left in the hands of people who worked on it and theoretically would become manager of it. But jolly

02:07:30:00

nearly every Saturday afternoon Dad used to get in the car and we’d all go out to the farm. That was the big Saturday afternoon deal and you know he’d sort of stir the place up a bit. So that was a sort of a fairly regular activity. We’d put the dog on the running board and off we’d go out to Loughborough, which wasn’t very far out of Tamworth really. And so I did quite a bit of that sort of thing. But it was enough to indicate to me

02:08:00:00

that I was never going to be a farmer. Although he was - I think he was more than just a farmer because ultimately he became very much involved in land management. And Sydney University Geography Department came up there - he became friendly with a man who was a geographer in the University and they became very interested

02:08:30:00

in land management. And improving the quality of the property.
How did the Depression affect those rural areas?
Tamworth was not badly off. Tamworth was a sort of mixed farming district and you know, there were no sort of activities up there that were

02:09:00:00

- you know knocked out so to speak. You know undoubtedly there was some unemployment but you know when I was going to school some of the kids didn’t have shoes and all that sort of thing. But I think I can honestly say it wasn’t too badly hit. You know the kids - their fathers seemed to have a job or there was part time work around.

02:09:30:00

And the small farming, there was harvesting and all sorts of activities that provided a job although there were some lousy prices for produce in those days. I don’t remember too many of them knocking on your back door, “Can I have a feed missus” sort of thing. And we lived in the town anyway.

02:10:00:00

Your mum obviously coped alright balancing the family budget?
Well she had a job. She was very fortunate because she worked as a teacher and - well she worked for the education department as a teacher during the whole of that time. And we used to have a girl that came in and you know, did the necessary house work.
A working mother must’ve been quite unusual in that time?

02:10:30:00

Oh I suppose it was but my father was away a fair bit and you know, he became the local - oh not the local but the district valuer for the Valuer General’s Department. And he was away a lot because if he was having to value the properties in some shire that was miles and miles away he’d be away all week. And mother went to school at nine o’clock and got home at three. And you know

02:11:00:00

the girl that came to the house, she’d make the beds and get the lunch and we came home for lunch from school. So there were no great distances to be covered. And everything was in walking distance. We were in walking distance to the school and she was in walking distance of where she worked. And it still gave her time for you know the Country Women’s Association and all those sort of jolly things.

02:11:30:00

What sort of school student were you?
Lazy. No not lazy, yeah lazy’s probably a reasonable word. But unfortunately I had enough brains to be able to get through examinations without doing too much work. And I got seven Bs in the intermediate when I could easily have got a jolly sight better pass. But I think I must’ve got diverted and

02:12:00:00

you know I think I spent too much listening to a short wave radio that my father bought me at one stage of the game. And well as I say I could’ve worked harder. I started off at the high school and I was top of the class for Year 1. And Year 2 I don’t know I must’ve been, got lazy or started to look at the girls or something. You know I didn’t do as well as I could but I did it well enough.

02:12:30:00

I was doing decent subjects. English and maths and French and Latin and all sorts of classical subjects. So it wasn’t a wasted time.
What did you listen to on that short wave radio?
Oh in those days you could hear radio stations from all over the world and we had a decent sort of an aerial

02:13:00:00

up there. And you know instead of being up, once I’d reckoned my parents had gone to bed I’d turn on the wireless, although I was supposed to be asleep, and you know you could listen - God you could listen to telephone conversations between people. I mean that was no big deal but you could listen to radio all over the world.

02:13:30:00

Which was very naughty, I shouldn’t have had the thing. I’d have done a bit more work I think.
Were your parents aware of this?
Oh yes well you know - oh I don’t know whether they were or they weren’t but I didn’t ever get pulled up or I might’ve been told to go to sleep or go to bed or turn that damn thing off.
And was your dad a bit of a tinker with radios?
Not at all. No never.

02:14:00:00

You know we owned a decent broadcast receiver when we lived there and you know they listened to the radio at night and that sort of thing but he never had any interest in that sort of thing afterwards. He probably encouraged me because of some earlier associations but that’s that.
Why was it that you got sent to Scotch?
Well I don’t think the

02:14:30:00

family could’ve afforded to have sent me as a boarder. And I think the family sort of owed my father some - something for keeping an eye on the farms which looked after Grandma’s interest. And she lived in the town in Tamworth. And my uncle in Rose Bay offered to take me, and me live there. And Rose Bay being next to Bellevue Hill meant I went to Scotch. One of my other -

02:15:00:00

a young uncle I had he’d gone to Shore but as I say, I think it was largely a question of expense or cost. And I enjoyed it because there were some other fellows that had come from Tamworth were there. So that’s why.
And was it a stricter school than you’d been used to?
No. No not really.

02:15:30:00

I didn’t think so. I don’t remember at Tamworth High School that there were the kind of things one hears about these days. I mean you know if you played you got sent to the headmaster and you probably got the cane. I never got it. But you know there might have been the few odd fights and things like that but it was - I just don’t think there were the kind of - I mean teachers

02:16:00:00

were ‘sir’ and you know there was none of this ‘Charlie’ business that goes on these days. And there was a general respect for the teachers and a good lot kids I don’t know. At Scotch well there was quite strict discipline but there was no way in the world that you were going to be able to play up in those days.
So you’re saying it was strict but not brutal?

02:16:30:00

Oh good Lord no. I’m just not aware - there was no sort of belt you over the backside at the drop of a hat kind of stuff, none at all. They were good teachers and you know they did their job well and they participated in sport and all that sort of thing.
Were you in the school cadets?

02:17:00:00

In the signal group. But I didn’t get out and parade too much. But another fellow and I were both interested in radio and when the cadet parades were on we used to be playing with the phones and things like that. So the answer was yes but not out jumping - you know parading up and down the playing field.
Where did you get all the

02:17:30:00

components for this experimentation with the radios?
Oh you could buy them in those days. You could buy them in bits and pieces. There used to be a shop in Sydney that sold second hand radio bits. But this particular friend of mine he lived with a couple of old aunts. And he knew a man who was an amateur radio operator and we used to go to his place sometimes. And that’s how I got interested - more than interested in it.

02:18:00:00

When you say you were more than interested, I want to know what you were trying to do with the radios. What experiments, what constructions?
Well - oh not really it was just interested in radio communication. I mean you’d - sometimes you’d build simple things. I can remember building a simple crystal set

02:18:30:00

and things like that when I was only fourteen. And you know living in Tamworth there weren’t that many things you could listen to. But it was something to do, you know something to do and there was a local radio station started there. And you know you could tune in.
So you were a day boy at Scotch?
Yeah.
And you used to go home to where in the evenings?
To my uncle’s place in Rose Bay.
And what did you get up to on your weekends?
Oh

02:19:00:00

well you know I played football at school and I rowed. And in the winter time there was football, going and playing other schools and in the summer time we used to, in the afternoon we used to go down - there was a shed down in Rose Bay and we’d go down and row. And that kind of thing, and swimming and that’s it.
What was Rose Bay like in those days?
Oh it

02:19:30:00

was a quieter place than it is now. But it’s still Rose Bay.
What ambitions did you have for yourself as you were coming towards the end of school?
I think it was to pass the leaving and

02:20:00:00

give up school.
What sort of job did you have in mind?
I really didn’t have anything special in mind. You know it so happened that when the end of my leaving year was 1936. I think my uncle and my father, through a complicated set of relationships had suggested I apply for a job in CSR.

02:20:30:00

And I did, and as I say, I got this letter offering me a job of sixty five pounds a year. So that took care of me really.
What sort of company culture did CSR have at that time?
Well it was a

02:21:00:00

- well for a start most of the so called salary staff in CSR were recruited from boys who’d been to GPS schools. You know they used to laughingly say to get a job in CSR you had to protestant. People had to be Anglican, to have been to Shore or Sydney Grammar.

02:21:30:00

Be related to somebody in the company and that was seen as, not so much as a sort of piece of snobbery but because the company had sugar mills all over the jolly place and the Fiji operation, they reckoned if they got people from the same sort of social background and upbringing and so forth they could live with each other when it came to being whacked

02:22:00:00

off to north Queensland or down to Fiji or somewhere. And there was never too much insistence on academic brilliance but they reckoned that the bright fellows’d float up to the top and the other ones would do the kind of jobs that were you know every day sort of jobs. Accountants and bookkeepers and that sort of thing. But it was a pleasant

02:22:30:00

place to work. I enjoyed it because you know there were young fellows in there and we were all the same sort of people and we got on well together. And you know it was a very formal sort of place. You had to wear a hat and a suit and the - you know you were always called by your surname. You were never called Jack or Charlie or Jim.

02:23:00:00

Except by your peers and your mates. But I mean your boss’d call you Somerville or whatever. And the general manager himself was God almighty. And I spent the first few months of my service in a job in the department which used to be called the correspondence department. Basically a general sort of communications office.

02:23:30:00

Or typing pool and that sort of thing. And there were no women in the place except for two girls on the switch. And you’d have three particular duties. One was to sit on a chair outside the general manager’s office with a row of bells in front of you and if the senior officers wanted something they’d ring a bell and you’d go chundering off down to find out what they want. And then there was another one where we used to send -

02:24:00:00

had to take down the cables every afternoon to the cables office. And another job we had to go up to the post office and pick up the mail. And that was sort of a low digidy job and carrying the bag full of letters down from the GPO, oh that wasn’t any big deal. But we used to have to do it with a great big solid leather suitcase that we used to cart all this stuff. And you had to take up all the mail in the afternoon. Because in those days phones -

02:24:30:00

to ring up interstate was not encouraged. And there was the branch letters and the mill letters that went out every afternoon. We used to press copy. And you’d have to rush off up to the post office and get the Adelaide mail in by six o’clock. If you happened to be careless and shove it in the Melbourne box you had to go down the back and pay a fellow a shilling to drag it out for you.

02:25:00:00

That’s what happened. So in answer to your question it was a very good place to work in those days because you were given every opportunity. And to go back to the militia bit again, it was encouraged because although not many of the hierarchy of CSR had been at World War 1. There were quite a lot of fellows who had and it was seen as something that should be encouraged

02:25:30:00

and a lot of fellows in the office belonged to various kinds of artillery units and like it did, an infantry unit. And you know - when we went to camp we’d get our annual holidays and on top of time off to go to camps. We used to go and do a fortnight’s camp every year, well that was freebee

02:26:00:00

and you still got paid. So it was a good place to work. And I stayed there for forty five years.
Was there some sort of pecking order in CSR between the office staff, the engineers, the chemists and so on?
Oh no - amongst the staff

02:26:30:00

I suppose the chemist always thought they were a superior tribe. I was offered - after I’d joined the company and they discovered that I’d passed the leaving in chemistry I was offered a switch from the commercial staff to the chemical staff. But I thought, “Well I’ll go down - before I know where I am I’ll be sent off to a sugar mill or somewhere”. So I said, “No thanks I’ll stay where I am.” And I’m glad I did. But

02:27:00:00

it’s the sort of - CSR’s success in the early days was based on chemistry. Because the old Knox family people had come to the conclusion was that the way to make money out of sugar was not waste it. And chemical staff controlled the whole process from go to whoa and they were very important people. Engineers were

02:27:30:00

- they were not socially the same sort of levels as chemists. They were sort of thought of as mechanics. And there were hardly any graduate engineers in the place. There were a hell of a lot of people who’d done their apprenticeship and CSR ran an enormous work shop over at Pyrmont and there were a lot of apprentices and a lot of people were trained by CSR and went elsewhere.

02:28:00:00

So in answer to your question well the commercial people were there, the chemists were there and the engineers were there. But you could - there was no sort of special - the chemists and the commercial people were the ones that were mostly together I suppose.
Did the three groups not tend to mix socially with each other?
Oh I

02:28:30:00

don’t think so. No I don’t think. A lot of the engineers - we had an enormous - as I say big engineering facility at Pyrmont which used to have to do all the servicing for mills. In those days there weren’t local engineering works and things like that. And we had three ships and they’d bring in all kinds of equipment that had to be repaired or done something to it.

02:29:00:00

But there was a big drawing office and a lot of fellows were draftsman and that sort of thing. Well no I suppose my lot, we tended to - if you went to a mill it was different. I mean a mill was a family group in lots of ways. And everybody played tennis with everybody else and you were a shift chemist or a shift engineer or this sort of thing.
Now you only had the

02:29:30:00

two girls on the switchboard who were sisters I believe. How did you meet women after hours?
Oh through your other social activities.
Which were?
Oh well when we were school boys we met some of the girls from the other schools. And there were church activities if you were a regular church goer.

02:30:00:00

Well you just met girls that’s it.
What were the girls’ schools that you tended to mingle with?
Oh well it just so happened that we were in the eastern suburbs and they were - girls in the eastern suburb schools.
Did you socialise with mates from work?
Oh yes quite a lot, quite a lot.
What was a typical social activity?

02:30:30:00

Well we used to go and have a beer after work and that sort of thing when we had any money. But you know they were scattered all over the place and people didn’t have cars. You know that was a critical element in social activity. I mean you either lived up the north shore line or you lived out the eastern suburbs which I did.

02:31:00:00

And you know you never got together much. But there were company activities. They used to have a few social activities like a cricket day or some damn thing. There was a ball that they used to have every year and that sort of thing. But otherwise you tended to be - you social activities were restricted to you

02:31:30:00

residential area.
And you said that joining the militia or other service was encouraged by the company. Why did you decide on an infantry battalion?
because I’d been to a Scottish school and I was able to get into the Scottish Regiment and more over they met at Miller’s Point. Which was a convenient place for me because it was the end of the tram line. But you know

02:32:00:00

I can remember my father talking about the comradeship in an infantry battalion. And an infantry battalion has a life of its own in a way because it’s a complete unit. It’s got its own sort of support. I wasn’t too conscious of this sort of thing then but it seemed like a unit in those days that was successful because they used to win all sorts

02:32:30:00

of competitions and that sort of thing. So I chose that and I’m jolly glad I did.
Was the 30th Battalion a little bit more prestigious than others?
It was in some ways because as I say it was very selective. Selective to the extent that - I don’t know they

02:33:00:00

just seemed to gather - it seemed to attract a lot of young fellows who were Presbyterians or something I don’t know. And Scottish background, whether that’s an important aspect I don’t know. But the other units were scattered around and they might have had people in the Sutherland Shire or somewhere. Well that was the sort of people that came from the Sutherland Shire joined them because it was close. Again it’s a question

02:33:30:00

of transport. And it was something that - having done it I was glad I selected it and worked jolly hard to get promotion. And it was a fairly comfortable thing to do in other ways because you got paid. They paid your fares to go to parades and all this sort of thing. But some of my friends were in it

02:34:00:00

and some of the people - and I had a couple of friends in the company who were in it and that’s why.
What sort of commitment did it involve from you?
Well as I say you went to parade once a week. But then if you were interested you’d go away for a weekend promotional - training

02:34:30:00

I suppose. But you’d - they’d have courses for Morse [code] or courses for officers or something. And I used to go to those because I was ambitious I suppose and I was interested. And then we used to train for various things. And we had a great trooping of the colour out Moore Park one year. That’s it.

02:35:00:00

What training in equipment and weapons did you do?
Well you all had to do weapon training for a start. And you’d go out - they used to have shoots out at Long Bay and you all had to qualify for the skill at arms they used to say. You know you’d go out and you had to be able to hit the target enough times to get your rifleman’s badge or something. And then well we used to have

02:35:30:00

in the signals platoon, we used to have phones and exchanges and all sorts of primitive things like heliographs where you sort of used the sun to send Morse Code. And lamps for using at night. And you know you had to sort of train all the fellows how to read Morse Code and that sort of thing. I found it useful to be able to do so. So

02:36:00:00

you know you’d have a sort of exercise where - and the rest of the battalion would have A Company there, B Company there and you had to run signal wires out to them and this sort of caper. And then they’d have as I said gymkhana’s and things and you know there were judges and trophies.
What sort of events were at the gymkhanas?
Well as I say they were military competitions.

02:36:30:00

There’d be the simplest form I suppose was drill squads and then we’d have - in the signals you’d have - messages that had to get from A to around three places at once and it had to come back as the same message that was sent. This sort of stuff you know.
What sort of electrical communication equipment did you have in the battalion?
Very little.

02:37:00:00

Very little. I mean it was basically telephones and visual - there was a bit of flag waving used to go on too. But in those days it was fairly primitive I suppose.
So it was all hard wired field telephones?
Yeah that’s right that’s right. And you know there was a certain amount of running that went on and all this sort of business.

02:37:30:00

How was it that you were able to put your age up?
I just did.
There was no check?
No check. When it came to getting my commission the CO was supposed to sign a certificate to say that he’d seen my birth certificate. So I had to prevaricate a bit about where my birth certificate was. Was it in Tamworth, was it in Sydney or what.

02:38:00:00

And I think he wanted me badly enough and he must’ve - whether he realised or whether he didn’t, but he signed the certificate. So the army has me born in 1918 instead of 1920. And I had to preserve this illusion for the rest of my war service. Because I know when I was in - when we were outside Tobruk when the Germans started chasing us

02:38:30:00

on the 3rd April 1941 when I would’ve been twenty one well I just couldn’t tell anybody it was my twenty first birthday and I was being chased up the road by angry Germans.
What did you know about the gathering clouds of war in Europe at this point?

02:39:00:00

Look not a lot one has to say. You know I really can’t say I was a student of foreign affairs or this sort of thing. And you know there was a good deal of this sort of ‘king and country’ kind of attitude about in those days. And when the war came well Menzies [Robert Menzies Australian Prime Minister] announced Australia was at war, therefore we were at war. But

02:39:30:00

why we were and the sort of fundamentals that you look at these days didn’t exist. You just went. Patriotism was a big deal in those days.
What were your thoughts about the outbreak of war?
Well the night Menzies announced that Australia was at war I thought, “Oh well I’m in the army,

02:40:00:00

and I’ll do whatever I’m called on to do”.
Where did you think you might end up?
No idea at that stage anyway.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 03

03:00:32:00

Okay Jim what significance did turning twenty one have?
None at all. I just thought, it was just an idle thought that’s all.
Because when I turned twenty one - well it was a big deal in the 1990’s. Was it a significant birthday?
Not really, not really. As far as I was concerned we were looking at angry Germans running up and down on

03:01:00:00

the escarpment below us and it just occurred to me but I forgot it pretty quick because there were other things to do.
Can you tell us about your early training in the 2/13th AIF? How did you come to join that battalion?
Well I think I mentioned earlier that I was

03:01:30:00

rung up one day and asked, was I going to join the AIF? And I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Would you like to join the 2/13th Battalion because the CO’s looking for a signals officer.” And that’s how I came to join the 13th.
And what were your first impressions of Ingleburn?
Oh it was just an army camp that’s all. As I say I was still a sergeant at this stage of the game and we had a hut.

03:02:00:00

And all my fellows were there and we all went out and filled up our palliasses with straw and the smart ones didn’t put too much straw in and the silly ones had too much and they all rolled off at night. But that was Ingleburn and we were fed. And in those days there was a lot of recruits coming into the battalion and those that had any potential use in the

03:02:30:00

various specialist platoons were allocated to them. And I was quite fortunate really that I got a couple of fellows - I even got one who’d been to World War 1. He was a corporal and another fellow - a little fellow called Joe Solomon who - he’d been a sig sergeant in another battalion

03:03:00:00

in the CMF [Citizens Militia Force] or in the militia. And a variety of people. And our CO was - he seemed to have friends in the right places because every now and then they’d have battalion parades and along - one of his mates from the New South Wales Police Force’d come along and give him the nod if there were any baddies amongst the lot of them. So they’d get transferred somewhere else and somebody else would get them. I didn’t get any

03:03:30:00

baddies. Mine were a very young lot, very young lot for the most part anyway. You know there were - I can think of three who were sixteen or seventeen.
How did they find their way there then?
Only because they joined up and well I really don’t know how they found their way there. But they were allocated and I think one of them worked for the PMG [Post Master General], what was called the PMG’s department in those days. He might have been a telegraph messenger

03:04:00:00

or something. And there were some of them who’d been in country telephone exchanges where they’d been linesmen and you know that sort of thing. Fellows that went out and fixed your phone if it went wrong. That sort of thing. I just got them.
How did you function as a platoon with such young recruits?
Oh as I say I was lucky to have a few older fellows.

03:04:30:00

They father the young ones a bit. And we had one young chap who was subsequently killed but his family were very good and they’d sort of, you know encourage one of these older chaps to look after their boy so to speak. And well they’d play up sometimes

03:05:00:00

but not very much. It was a novelty I suppose for a lot of them and they worked pretty hard. They’d do all kind of training but there was a heck of a lot of rifle training and drill and there’d be lectures and that sort of thing. ‘Field craft’ they called it. How to find your way around and stay out of the gaze of the enemy.

03:05:30:00

So by the time the night came everyone was pretty jolly tired and they weren’t too mad on playing up at night. There were other people who did but you know my lot weren’t too bad and they were all there in the morning when I arrived so that’s all that worried me.
What equipment were you issued to train with?
Oh not a lot. Some of it was fairly out of date sort of stuff.

03:06:00:00

The rifle companies had rifles and we all had rifles of course and we had to do our fair share of rifle drill. And bayonet training and all this sort of stuff. But as far as technical equipment was concerned, we had phones and signal lamps and all sorts of capers, and stuff like that. And wire and we used to - we all had to learn - we had to teach them all to read Morse code

03:06:30:00

and how to connect up a phone and all this sort of thing. There was more to it than that but that was basically it. You’d have exercises and you’d have to change people over and give you a job today and somebody else the same job tomorrow and that type of thing.
What was your daily routine like?
Well you got up at six o’clock in the morning no matter how

03:07:00:00

cold it was. And you’d get on parade and there’d be A parade, administration parade. And you’d have to cover - they’d say, “Number 1 Platoon, thirty two men on parade, one sick one on cook house duties or something, Sir.” And then after then well there’d be breakfast and you’d back on again

03:07:30:00

about - oh I don’t know it might’ve been eight o’clock or half past eight and you’d be out on a training exercise somewhere or there might have been a lecture. There was a program. Every platoon had to put in a program of work for the week. And then you’d carry on with that and then there might be lunch. You might be out in the bush somewhere. In those days you’d be issued with a cut lunch and then you’d come back

03:08:00:00

in the afternoon and you’d march back into camp. And then the fellows’d have their showers, get dressed and the evening meal. And after that some of them might have got leave to go somewhere but you had to be back in camp by a certain time. And in the morning it all started again. So you know it was basically turning civilians into soldiers, that’s what it amounts to.
What did you wear

03:08:30:00

to combat the cold?
Oh well you were issued with a uniform. Everyone got uniforms and sweaters and boots and socks and all that sort of stuff. You had plenty of clothing.
Do you remember what the lectures were about?
Well map reading and field sketching might have been one of them.

03:09:00:00

And it’s a terribly important thing in the army or anywhere to be able to read a map. If somebody said, “Well look draw a little sketch of what your position is” - you might be sent out to do a reconnaissance and see where the enemy is and you’ve got to come back and be able to sort of say, “Well there’s a hill there, and a creek there” and this sort of thing. That was one kind. And I can remember feeling a

03:09:30:00

bit foolish one day I had to give a lecture on field hygiene. And all this sort of thing. And you’d read it up in the book the night before and I remember I had a book - a text book for young officers and how to lecture on this that or the other. And in answer to your question, no there were a variety of subjects.

03:10:00:00

And there were a few on the organisation of the army. You had to answer how the battalion was made up and who else was in it and what was the job of the cooks and bottle washers. What was the job of the mortar platoon. And the strength. How many people were in it and that sort of thing. So there was a variety, there was no sort of education if that’s the sort of question you’ve got in

03:10:30:00

your mind. But as I say the object in those days was to turn civilians into soldiers so there was more of the basic kind of military activity like rifle drill and discipline. And how to perform the jobs that you had.
Who did you share your sleeping quarters with?

03:11:00:00

Well when I got my commission, officers had separate - I shared a hut or part of a hut with another officer. And that was that.
Can you tell about your commission?
In what respect?
How did it come about?
Oh only because as I say

03:11:30:00

when our battalion the CO went around. In our case the CO had been head of a training group that had been set up. And he went around selecting and getting officers and NCO’s [Non Commissioned Officers]

03:12:00:00

from the various militia units and fortunately in our case we had people from the country. We had quite a few officers from country militia units. We had some from - in our case quite a lot of people from the New South Wales Scottish came in. And well

03:12:30:00

he had a group of people that used to go down to the recruit depot at Moore Park and they seemed to have their contacts down there. And they’d sort of get the nod from somebody, this is a good lot, they come from Moree or somewhere. They’re country boys, they’ll be alright. So okay, sign up you’re in the 13th Battalion. So it was a bit of

03:13:00:00

a racket to get the best people that’s what it boils down to.
Now you talked to me earlier today about the incident at Ingleburn where you were reprimanded for rowdy behaviour in the mess. Can you expand that story for us now?
Oh it’s no big deal but it was really all part of my remark that it was good for us

03:13:30:00

to be subjected to some tighter discipline than we’d been used to. We were all young. I mean the oldest of the lieutenants would have been in their twenties. Twenty six and youngsters that were only twenty two, twenty one. And you know we were just high spirited boys, get a few drinks inside us and we wanted to you know. But generally speaking you got told off pretty darn quick if you did the wrong

03:14:00:00

thing.
How available was alcohol to you in Ingleburn?
Oh quite. The troops had a canteen and the sergeants had a sergeants’ mess. And the officers had an officers’ mess and that was the way it all went. So we - the officers’ mess was a place where you had to get dressed up reasonably in the afternoon and then you went in and usually

03:14:30:00

had a couple of drinks before a meal. And sometimes after diner you’d have to go to a lecture on something. Things called the Principles of War. And they used to drum that into us all the time. And otherwise you know sometimes you could stay on and fellows’d talk and have a few drinks. And half past ten’d come and all tired off to bed.

03:15:00:00

That’s what it boils down to.
What sort of information were in the Principles of War lectures?
Oh basically - well I suppose they’re the sort of fundamentals like maintenance of the objective if you try to capture something you keep trying and trying and trying. Or if you - security, that means keeping quiet about what you were going to.

03:15:30:00

And that’s what it really amounted to. And there were a number of things that always pervaded military planning and military operations and they were called the Principles of War. I’ve forgotten some of them now but I can remember maintenance of the objective is one I’ve always thought of all my life because that meant sticking to what you were trying to do.
Has that been something you’ve applied since?
Oh indeed yes. I’ve always thought of that. And then they

03:16:00:00

used to have education exercises for want of a better term. I mean the army used to have things called Military Appreciations. Well that was an exercise in putting together a plan so that you started off with - what’s the object? Whether you’re trying to capture Ingleburn say. And then you sort of have a background unit.

03:16:30:00

You go through the background, the enemy’d be here and something else. The background of what you wanted to do. And then you look at what the objective is, whether it’s to capture the back door to Ingleburn. So then you go through the factors that affect you and what the enemy could do and what you could do and how they could react and it’s really only a sort of formal way of going

03:17:00:00

through a procedure really. And in the end you come out with an outline plan. Well that was really a training in military thinking I suppose. But it stuck to me ever since. And I used it, or variations of it of course in my business activity and things I had to do in my job.

03:17:30:00

How long were you at Ingleburn for?
Oh from May to about August where we took off for Bathurst.
Can you tell us about that?
Bathurst?
The walk to Bathurst.
Oh yes, the march to Bathurst it was called. Well we had a great battalion band for a start. The CO had got hold of a very good chap who was a band sergeant from a unit he’d had before the war.

03:18:00:00

And he had got together a whole lot of very good bandsmen. He was a Salvation Army fellow and he got some of them and we always reckoned - well the other units always reckoned that we’d pinched the BHP [Broken Hill Propriety] Steelworks Bank at Newcastle. So we used to - this was a very good military band and we sort of marched off with a flurry to Bathurst.

03:18:30:00

Oh I forget the first night: it might’ve been Penrith; I forget the stages now. But you’d get to one of these places and there’d be a tribe of newspaper photographers who’d come and take pictures of the fellows taking their socks off and rubbing their feet and all this kind of thing. It was a bit of a joke. And then you’d get to a town and you’d be put up in church halls and

03:19:00:00

we had our own feeding arrangements. But quite often the local townspeople would like to entertain ten men for dinner and this sort of happened along the way. And then you kept going. Springwood might be a place - and then you’d stop over there and the same thing’d happen and you’d always put up, under cover. We got to Katoomba and I think our company was all in the old town hall in

03:19:30:00

Katoomba. And that was pretty good because you’d get leave straight away almost. And people had friends and some of their relatives and camp followers’d come afterwards. And they’d see their wives and kids sometimes because Mum and the kids’d be staying in one of the boarding houses or something. So it was a pretty comfortable arrangement. And then we - after that we went on and as I say, we went to - the coldest night

03:20:00:00

I ever spent was at a place called Wallerawang, where there was a big power station and oh boy was it a frosty joint. But they’d put up tents and one thing and another so it wasn’t too bad. But after that off we went and kept going and marched into this Glenmire camp at Kelso near Bathurst with a blaze of glory and settled ourselves down.
What did you carry with you on the march?
Well you carried

03:20:30:00

- well you just had a pack, an army pack that just had your basic in it and your rifle. And groundsheet and a stupid gas respirator we all had to have in those days. But your bedding and all that sort of thing and your kit bag, they were all on trucks. And you know that was the basic army kit. I don’t know how they get on today because they seem to cart so much but in those days it wasn’t

03:21:00:00

too bad.
Were you marching on the road there?
Yeah. Oh we marched along the side of the road really. You’d have a platoon of three men across, well two’d be on that side and one on that side.
And what was the route you took from Ingleburn to Bathurst?
Well that was it. Straight up the old Western Highway. Oh the Western Highway.
Over the mountains?
Yeah over the mountains. Lithgow, we stopped at Lithgow. I think that was an overnight stop.

03:21:30:00

And I remember one of my blokes met his wife there as a matter of fact.
What was the social life like with the locals?
Oh very good because as I say, it had been well publicised this whole thing. As I say local patriotic activities had sort of fed us and that sort of thing. And some places had bunged on a dance and all this sort of thing.

03:22:00:00

Some people went and some people didn’t. And it was a - we were generally speaking welcomed into all these towns. I mean some places I think they thought that we were going to be a whole lot of jail birds or we were going to clean the place up but it never happened because you’d have been in serious trouble if you’d attempted and there was a lot of well controlled supervision of the whole thing for want of a better word.

03:22:30:00

So it was a great event from our point of view because we enjoyed it. It was like having a nine days’ holiday really. And like having a hiking holiday for nine days. And we got to Bathurst and then we got busy again.
So Kelso what was that like?
Well Kelso’s a little town outside but it was only just the main turning point

03:23:00:00

off the Great Western Highway before you get to Bathurst.
You mentioned before that it was very very cold?
It was cold too because it was September and it’s not the hottest place in the world.
What were your living conditions like?
Oh good because the camp had been built with huts and you know proper kitchens and mess hall and all this sort of stuff. You know we were comfortably off I suppose as

03:23:30:00

army conditions went.
How did the training differ at Kelso than what you’d experienced in Ingleburn?
Well we started to do unit exercises. The rifle companies would probably do platoon training. And that means that you’d have an exercise to you know take up - well you might take up

03:24:00:00

a position somewhere and have to dig yourself in and this kind of military activity. I don’t think we ever got to company exercises there but then ultimately we reached the point where we realised we were going to be going abroad and they started some foolish military activity of drills to get on trains of all things. You’d go to the local station and there’d

03:24:30:00

be a train pulled up there and you’d sort of, you know it was allocating people to carriages and all this sort of business. Right turn, enter the train sort of business. But in the end the train came in the wrong way around and it all went for nought. So that was a bit of a joke but we weren’t there all that long because off we went in the train down to Darling Harbour or somewhere and got on a ferry and onto the Queen Mary

03:25:00:00

and waved goodbye.
So when did you leave Ingleburn?
Oh it was about August, I forget the date but I could work it out. But about August in Bathurst - plus nine days march and then we were in Bathurst camp. And we embarked to the Middle East in October.
Right so just a couple of months in Bathurst? Okay so at what point were you told where

03:25:30:00

you were going to go?
Look I don’t recall but the fact that we were going to Palestine we knew that, but what was going to happen after that we didn’t know. And in fact you know it’s a feature of this whole thing. Most of the people in the battalion really didn’t have much idea of what was

03:26:00:00

ahead. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us. We thought, “Okay we go to Palestine for training.” But we had no idea I suppose there that 6th Div were going to be pulled out of the desert because Sir Thomas Blamey had decided that they were better trained and more use than we were and sent them off to Greece and Crete poor fellows. But we didn’t know much. And I think it’s a feature of

03:26:30:00

you know of the unit in the army that you only had a limited idea. I mean you were concentrated on your own war and didn’t worry about other people.
What did you know while you were still in Australia, what did you know about what was going on in the Middle East?
Oh well we knew that 6th Div had been formed and they’d gone off there and the 18th Brigade of 6th Div had gone to Britain. And that was all. And then we knew

03:27:00:00

that - not too sure whether we knew before we left Australia that 6th Div had sort of taken off up the desert and taken the place back from the Italians. But I think it was while we were there - oh I forget the dates now but we didn’t know a lot.
What was the atmosphere like on the train from Bathurst to Sydney?
Oh there was just - there was a couple, oh it was just a train trip

03:27:30:00

really but there was a bit of a joke because somebody had collected some money before we left and you know we were going to buy pies for the troops at Mount Victoria. But the train shot through Mount Victoria and it was ninepence, it was. You know it was sort of a famous thing in the 2/13th Battalion, “Where’s our bloody ninepence?” And this went on and on for years. But it was just a train trip.

03:28:00:00

Did Australians in the towns that you passed through come out to see the train go by?
Oh I don’t recall. No because the trains didn’t muck about, they just went.
And upon arriving in Sydney you said you took the ferry to the Queen Mary. What kind of ferry was used?
Oh an ordinary, you know one of the ordinary ferries, I forget which one of them. See the Queen Mary was parked

03:28:30:00

over in Athol Bight because that was the deepest water in the harbour, at that particular point. So that’s why we, you know the Queen Mary couldn’t pull up alongside Darling Harbour or anyway so we were taken out by ferry and we went aboard from that.
What were the conditions like on the ship?
Oh good. In those days the Queen Mary hadn’t been pulled about too much and the troops were pretty well

03:29:00:00

accommodated. And we were, well I shared a state room I suppose you’d call it a suite on the Queen Mary with four other young fellows, other officers. And sergeants shared cabins and you know the troops were in the open areas but they were quite comfortably provided

03:29:30:00

for. And the food was good. We even had a steward, you know the five of us. He used to - you’d shout to him, “Ten beers” or something. And in the evening we’d have dinner and that was all very polite and nice. And we’d sit around and play cards. I remember going across the Great Australian Bight - I think we’d had too much French champagne to drink

03:30:00:00

or something which we used to pay, goodness knows what, a few shillings a bottle for it in those days. I got seasick. The next day I had to - I was sick.
As an officer what other perks did you experience on the Queen Mary?
Oh I suppose we were better fed and we had better stewards to look after us that’s what it boiled down to.
Where on the ship was the cabin where you

03:30:30:00

slept?
Oh God I’ve forgotten now. But you know as I say, it was sort of the state room or sitting room if you like that belonged to a suite. Somebody else had the bedroom part of it. But they put beds - five beds in this and you know places for us to hang our gear and so forth. And we had a steward called Much. I remember his name.
Was he a civilian?
Yeah of course he was.

03:31:00:00

He was one of the permanent staff of the Queen Mary. Later on of course once it started to carry the Americans across the Atlantic, they used to stuff them in by the thousands but it was relatively - considering the size of the ship we were all pretty well - and plenty of room, everybody, all ranks.
What kind of a send off did you have from Sydney Harbour?
Oh you know a lot of relatives and friends came down to wave good bye, that’s what it amounted

03:31:30:00

to.
Did you have any pre-embarkation leave?
Yeah.
What did you do for that?
Oh nothing much. I sort of spent time with my mother and my sister. And you know looked up a couple of old girlfriends, I took them out I suppose. And there we are.
So what route did the Queen Mary take to Palestine?

03:32:00:00

Oh well down the coast, across the Great Australian Bight, full bore to Bombay. And that’s where we got off.
What do you remember about Bombay?
Not much because they wanted to get us out of the place but we were sent up to a camp at a place called Deolali it was called. It was about a hundred and forty, or fifty miles north of Bombay. And we were there for some days and there was a certain amount of leave given.

03:32:30:00

And you know everybody was warned about mischief that was available in Bombay and keep out of it. And diseases that were in these places. You know bilharzia and all sorts of frightful diseases that you could catch. And there was a famous road in Bombay called Grant Road which was full of brothels and you weren’t allowed anywhere near that.

03:33:00:00

So that was an interesting thing. And I don’t know, I can remember I bought a hundred rounds of ammunition for a pistol that somebody had given me. That’s all I remember about Bombay. But we remember all the buildings. We were taken all around. You didn’t sort of wander all over the place, you just looked and there we are.
What struck you about India?

03:33:30:00

Well we were in an Indian Army camp for a start. No other particular impressions because, we’d never seen the kind the conditions that the British troops had in India and they weren’t too bad and - but you know we saw a lot of Indians but we never took much notice of them. But we were just waiting and waiting for our time when we were put aboard

03:34:00:00

another ship to cart us up to Palestine.
Was there a particular smell about the city?
Oh yes there was. There always is. It’s still there I think.
Can you describe that smell?
Well it’s you know, well it’s a sort of heavy atmosphere anyway. I don’t know. I

03:34:30:00

can’t describe it, no. It just was a familiar Indian city stink that’s what it amounts to.
At this stage when you were on your way to North Africa who were you going to war to fight for?
Well Australians were at war. And we in support of the

03:35:00:00

anti Hitler. We were Australia’s contribution to fight the Germans and the Italians at that stage. And I don’t know whether we thought about the rights and wrongs of it. Hitler was bad, he’d overrun France. Britain was threatened. But we were never fed too much of the old country stuff.

03:35:30:00

I don’t think we ever were, I can’t recall it anyway. But you know it was - we were part of the total allied or British effort. And therefore we did what we were told.
What were your impressions of the British troops in India who you came across?
Oh hardly any of them. We didn’t see too many. They just looked after us that’s all. No I don’t think -

03:36:00:00

in those days the British Army - there were a great number of Indian troops, indeed there were. And we subsequently met some of them. Ghurkhas and famous units of the time and - at that stage we hadn’t had a lot to do with them. Subsequently we became to admire

03:36:30:00

some of them very much. When we got to Tobruk and we were supported by basically British artillery and the Royal Horse Artillery were absolutely marvellous people. And boy they could shoot and they were brave. And there were other people who came in afterwards and we had a lot to do with them. And you know we - well we didn’t meet too many of the ones that you wouldn’t want to meet let’s put it that way. And then at Alamein well we had magnificent units

03:37:00:00

like some of the Highland regiments. They were great.
How did you get from the edge of the sea in Bombay to the camp, through the city.
Train.
Do you remember what you saw out of the train window?
Not much, just countryside.
Were you approached by beggars

03:37:30:00

at all?
Oh yes there was always a certain amount of that but you took no notice or shouted back at them. You know the fellows’d shout back at them. Yeah. But I know what you’ve got on your mind but in those days there were always beggars. And snake charmers and people.
How crowded were the streets?
Well it was countryside we mostly went through and when we got to Bombay

03:38:00:00

I suppose you went through railway yards. The odd bit of day’s leave you might have had - yeah the streets were crowded with people but they were just Indians. You know it was a new experience to us, most of us had never been overseas and you know we had no idea what they looked like. You might have read Rupert [Rudyard] Kipling when you were a kid or something but that was that.

03:38:30:00

What ship did you leave Bombay on for…?
I think it was called the Christian Huygens, H.U.Y.G.E.N.S. It was Dutch.
And what kind of a ship was it?
Oh it was just a small passenger ship in its day really I suppose. It was a cargo ship but there was quite a lot of passenger room on it.
How long did that journey take to the Suez Canal?
Oh now

03:39:00:00

it must’ve been some days of course because it had to go around across the Indian Ocean and up the canal.
What were your impressions of the canal?
Oh you know really all one could say it was interesting. There was sand on both sides and you know odd Arab dhows [traditional boats] and things around the place. And you know there were roads on either side and odd trucks and you know vehicles around the place.

03:39:30:00

But you didn’t get too much of an impression really. It was all new and you just took it aboard you know.
Did the atmosphere change at all amongst you the closer you got to your destination?
I think everyone was jolly glad to get off the ship for a start.
What did you do on the ship to pass the time?
Oh well we used to - well on the Queen Mary for a start

03:40:00:00

you know there were various kinds of sporting activities. Boxing matches and you know, a bit of rifle practise and that sort of thing. And on the Dutch ship there wasn’t a heck of a lot because it didn’t last that long. But you know there were a few sort of exercises like anti aircraft drill and you know, drill - sea drills if the ship goes down where do you go kind of thing.

03:40:30:00

So where did you first land in North Africa?
Oh. Well we first landed in Alexandria I suppose. Yes Alexandria it would’ve been. And we went up the desert from there, we went to a place called Mersa Matruh. Well we all found a whole lot of sand in the places we were put and fleas.

03:41:00:00

How did the fleas affect you?
They bit us.
What were they living in?
Oh they were living in dust really. They were dust mites I suppose. But you know they got in our clothes but then everyone woke up to the fact and kept out of - you know we used to go searching through all these old positions there that hadn’t really been occupied by the Italians as far as I could see and there was rubbish everywhere. And that’s it.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

I want you Jim to tell us about the camp not far from Gaza when you first arrived.
Yeah well the camps had already been occupied in the past by the 6th Division and they shepherded us into the place when we arrived there. They had a party there that had it all fixed up for us

04:01:00:00

and you know we marched in off the train. And we were allocated to various buildings and tents and we had - I think there were eight man or ten man tents. And there were sort of proper cooking facilities and showers and all that sort of jazz. And so we were you know

04:01:30:00

shepherded into the place and bedded down and there we were.
The facilities sound as if they were okay there.
Oh they were okay. Yeah they were good.
Must’ve been a bit of a novelty for all you boys to have landed up there.
Oh it was a novelty I suppose but we became aware of - you know the local population used to appear from time to time

04:02:00:00

but they were mostly Arabs who were sort of casing the place to see what they could pinch at night. And you know it was a very important part of life in those camps in Palestine to have pickets on, during the night. We used to have to lock up our rifles to the tent poles and you know they were absolutely marvellous thieves some of these fellows. And you know they were known to have sort of picked up a whole tent - not of ours - but you know

04:02:30:00

there’s a history of being known to pick up a tent and walk away with it under the head of the pickets that were supposed to be watching. And you know you used to have to fire a few shots through the place occasionally to remind them that you were still there. But you know they were great thieves and there were kids that’d come around during the day and you’d reckon they were probably going home to tell Dad what was worth pinching.

04:03:00:00

What interactions did you have with the local Arabs besides firing a few shots at them?
Oh almost none. Because they were Bedouins, they didn’t live anywhere near. They shot off at night and then they were out in the desert somewhere looking after their sheep.
What about, did you get to visit any of the local villages or cities?
Oh rather yeah because you see we got leave. And you organised leave and

04:03:30:00

you know there was transport and buses provided and that sort of thing. And people’d get leave to go to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and we had the opportunity to have a jolly good look around Palestine. And you know a day’s leave was quite good. It doesn’t matter whether - the troops had - they could go and have a decent feed and have a few beers and things like that. And go to look around

04:04:00:00

these places. And if you went to Jerusalem for the day you got a walk around and looked at wailing walls and all this sort of familiar facts about Jerusalem and that was exploring some of the country that you’d read about but never seen.
Some of the places you’d heard about in Sunday school?
Oh yes. Yes those of us who’d been to Sunday school. But Jerusalem

04:04:30:00

was a prominent thing, most people had heard one way or another. Tel Aviv was just - it was a big Jewish town, that’s what it amounts to. They were an interesting lot of people because most of them were refugees and some of them were very competent, able people. I mean I got a great deal of pleasure once of going

04:05:00:00

to a concert given by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. Well I reckon or somebody told me that at least half of this orchestra had been leading violinists and that sort of thing in the Berlin Philharmonic and they were well worth hearing. And that kind of activity. But a hell of a lot of places you’d go to some of these bars and you’d find girls sitting up playing the piano was a hot shot

04:05:30:00

pianist from somewhere. So they were interesting people and then there was the officers - you probably had a bit more money so you went and had lunch at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, this sort of thing.
As officers did you have to be careful of what sort of entertainment you took part in?
Oh indeed yes because you couldn’t play up you know. I mean we were all supposed to have worn side arms, they call it. You know

04:06:00:00

pistols. Well that was supposed to be a precaution against being robbed of your uniform or something like that. But oh no you went in a group usually, you’d go three or four together, not so much for self protection but for company. And you know I went for my fair share of that. And there were other kinds of entertainment if you

04:06:30:00

wanted it.
For officers as well?
Yeah. Yeah I mean there was sort of class…
Was VD [venereal disease] a problem amongst the troops on leave there?
Not really because - oh there was a lot of warning about this but there wasn’t a lot of it rife in Palestine. And then of course the army would issue

04:07:00:00

condoms and things for troops that went on leave. And they had kits that you were given and you know after you got back to camp you were apply this stuff and it was supposed to protect you against VD. And we didn’t have much of an incidence. But there was a hospital over there for troops

04:07:30:00

that were unlucky enough to get a dose as they used to say. But we didn’t lose a lot that way because we had a jolly good MO [medical officer] who you know used to warn the fellows well and truly about what was ahead of them if they got it. You know I think it was called a special hospital but the troops used to refer to it as the weapon training school.
You mentioned

04:08:00:00

on the last tape that you had a side arm that you’d been given by somebody?
Yeah well on the march to Bathurst another friend of mine, an officer, we went to the hotel there, I forget the name of it now. But we sat down and had a drink and an old chap came along and he said he’d been in World War 1 and he gave this chap, my friend a pair of binoculars and he gave me a German Luger Pistol. Which

04:08:30:00

didn’t have an ammunition but it’d been a souvenir from World War 1 and we hadn’t been issued with pistols at this stage of the game so I used to - so that was my pistol and that was how I came to buy a hundred rounds of ammunition in Bombay.
Right so you couldn’t get any nine millimetre ammunition till you got to Bombay?
No that’s right. Pretty well informed aren’t you?
I even know the shop where you bought it. Just joking. I want you to tell us, you were the signals officer

04:09:00:00

at this stage. I just want you to tell us how the infrastructure of signalling worked in the battalion, who was where and where it all joined up.
Yeah well see on a battalion headquarters there was a CO. The commanding officer and he had a second in command. And then he had an intelligence officer and a signals officer. And an adjutant

04:09:30:00

of course. And so a signals officer really was responsible for communication within the battalion of all kinds. And fairly early in the piece I decided that the best way to deal with this was to train some of our fellows by allocating them out to the rifle companies so they became familiar with the people in the rifle company headquarters.

04:10:00:00

And you know felt some sort of company loyalty as well as a job. And then in the battalion you’d have a telephone exchange and hook ups to the CO and adjutant and a line to the brigade headquarters and probably another line to a neighbouring battalion. And lines to the company and then sometimes you might have had telephone hook ups to some of these specialist

04:10:30:00

platoons like maybe the machine gun platoon or the mortar platoon. And so you had to keep that working that’s what it amounted to. But the signal officer had the job of also of being a spare officer at battalion headquarters. And you sort of did your turn there of duty officer and, company officer and headquarter company was a fairly large group because it had all the

04:11:00:00

specialist platoons in it. Well you had to do your fair share of the orderly officer of the day and that sort of thing. So in answer to your question your job was basically to provide communications within the battalion and to facilitate communications to the next formation level and neighbouring units.
How many signallers would be placed with each rifle company?
Probably two. So that takes care of eight. There were

04:11:30:00

fellows who were linesmen. You had people in your battalion headquarters - their job was to - you liaise or work with the fellows that are allocated out in say A Company so there was two there and there might be a couple of blokes who when the A Company line went out they started their end and they started your end sort of thing, and met up in the middle happily and fixed up the break. But we didn’t have much radio, we had some radio sets that came with us

04:12:00:00

and there were a few fellows that we had who were familiar with this sort of - with radio but not very familiar I’d say. But these things were a damn nuisance. They weren’t much good. They were heavy and they really required operation beyond the capability of most of the fellows we had. And they operated offertories which you had to have and

04:12:30:00

they weren’t a great deal of use. But ultimately we used them a bit but, not a lot. I mean that’s in the beginning of the war. Towards the end of the war of course when we came back to Australia we had all the American equipment. We had walkie talkies and all sorts of wonderful things that we’d not had before. But in those early days, well there was - in a battalion there was not much other facility than telephones and

04:13:00:00

a bit of radio, but not much. I mean the main radio sets started about brigade level. They had a brigade signal section and they had wirelesses and all this sort of business. But we actually had scrounged some of these things but when we got up the desert you know there were a lot of - more equipment scattered around the place and we had grabbed a couple of army sets

04:13:30:00

that we had to keep quiet about because you weren’t supposed to do it. And we used them for all sorts of purposes but not necessary for communications, as much as anything for listening to the BBC news at night or something.
Were those radios you had in the early part of the war portable enough?
Yeah they were back pack things. And they weighted about twenty five pounds and you had a little aerial sticking up out the back. And they were alright if you were in range

04:14:00:00

but they were not a great success. And the sand used to get into them.
How rugged were they?
Oh fairly, they were manufactured in Australia and anything Aust pattern you had be a bit careful of because sometimes they were good and sometimes they weren’t.
Why were you dubious about Aust pattern equipment?
Well

04:14:30:00

I don’t know - without being - I don’t think I can be too specific but we always reckoned if there was some piece of equipment issued to the Australian army there always be somebody who had a fiddle with it, allegedly to improve it and sometimes it didn’t happen.
In the case of a defensive position like Tobruk your signals would have all been on hard lines

04:15:00:00

and well established. How do you achieve signalling in an offensive operation then?
Well if you’ve got an attack - well the signaller is supposed to follow up with lines and things like that. And more often than not it was necessary to send a runner back or something. And maybe that came from a company or maybe one of the sigs.

04:15:30:00

But that’s basically what you had to follow up because the whole thing’d move forward all the time. The battalion headquarters’d move forward. And sigs had a really hard job because with artillery and mortars and things flying about the first thing’d happen was a signal line’d go out. C Company’s off the air so off they’d go and have to join the ends up where it’d been blown apart.

04:16:00:00

And that was quite a operation.
What were you carrying all this gear in?
Well we had a sig [signal] truck, we had a utility truck it was in. But the battalion headquarters had utility trucks for headquarters gear. And the sig truck would have the exchange

04:16:30:00

and have our gear in it and some of our personal gear in it.
Did it mean that you could carry a little bit more personal gear because you had that truck?
Yeah that’s probably right. I think I had a folding cot.
Did you have a ‘batman’?
Yeah.
What did he do for you?
Oh well he did a bit of washing, it depended where you were.

04:17:00:00

In the desert - in Tobruk there wasn’t much washing. But his job was, he’d pick up my meals sometimes but basically he became a runner. And you know if there was a message to be sent somewhere or for someone to be found or talked to he’d go tell them, could they come and see the boss.
the move out of Palestine and up

04:17:30:00

into North Africa, can you tell us what happened there?
Oh yes we went in trucks. And as I say we went to Mersa Matruh and we had our first couple of casualties up there because some Heinkel bombers came over and started to shoot up the convoy and we lost

04:18:00:00

a couple of people including one of the officers.
This was the first time 2/13th had been under fire?
That’s right. So then we became - well two other battalions in the brigade had gone forward and they went to a place called Badja Dabi [?] which was beyond Benghazi and we were the reserve at that stage and then when the Germans started to get angry and come down they were withdrawn. And we became the rear guard for the brigade. And then

04:18:30:00

we withdraw to this place, Beda Fomm which was an air field and then that didn’t look to be a proposition to defend so there was a hill behind a place called Er Regima which was an escarpment and there was a road down the bottom and it came up the top. And we were there sitting on this place at Er Regima and you know about

04:19:00:00

three thousand Germans and tanks and goodness knows what were milling around down the bottom. And they started to come up and we had some support from artillery and they shot up a bit but it was pretty apparent that we were not going to be able to keep this position very long. And actually a couple of our units were surrounded by Germans and captured, sub units. And then overnight

04:19:30:00

some military transport trucks came up and we then set off through a very dusty night to get our way back down the coast. It was funny - it was not very pleasant because it was terribly - it was almost like driving through a cloud, with the dust that was on. And I can remember feeling diffident about shoving a rifle butt through the

04:20:00:00

window screen of the truck that I was because you couldn’t see. And that was my first experience of doing that and it came a bit hard really. Not hard but you think, fancy shoving your rifle butt through a truck’s window you know. But it happened, it had to.
That first battle that the battalion took part it, how would you describe the level of organisation there?
Oh quite good really because we were there on our own and it

04:20:30:00

goes back to what I said about an infantry battalion, you were a self contained unit. And you know we were being shelled and there were tanks down the bottom and I think - I wrote in the book that we produced, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen our CO look worried. ‘Cause he was a tough old fellow from World War 1. And we had a jolly good chance of going in the bag.

04:21:00:00

But fortunately we were able to get out at night on the 4th April I think it was and back we came towards Tobruk. But then we stopped at another place, we went through a place called Barce and we had to pick up a company there. And we stopped overnight at a miserable place called Matuba, I can remember. We didn’t quite know whether the Germans were there or whether they weren’t.

04:21:30:00

Or whether they were going to be there. But that time the rest of the brigade and the rest of 9th Division had withdrawn into Tobruk. And on the 10th April, six days later we lobbed into the place. And took up a defensive position in Tobruk and then we started again.
That first battle at Er Regima. When you saw the CO looking worried what did that do for your confidence?

04:22:00:00

Oh nothing much. Well it just wasn’t a question of confidence I don’t think. You just hoped that we weren’t going to go in the bag. You know it was on for the young and old and we’d already - well one whole platoon, a Bren carrier platoon, a lot of - the officer in charge of that had been captured and some of

04:22:30:00

them went off and finished up as POWs. And a couple of other officers had managed to escape but a couple of them got back to Tobruk eventually by teaming up with Arabs. But oh well it was full of uncertain, you don’t know what’s happening really.
Were your signals positions shelled?
Oh yeah, well battalion headquarters was shelled at one stage. And the

04:23:00:00

companies were shelled but you were just in communication and that’s about all. You know they’d report in - or somebody would say, “Look we expect there’s a force of Germans that are on their way up the road.” And you know all this sort of comes back to battalion headquarters and then the CO has to make up his mind what he’s going to do. Well there was not a hell of a lot he could do in those circumstances.

04:23:30:00

Except that - you report back to the next higher formation so somebody had fortunately set up some Cypriot drivers and a whole lot of trucks and away we went.
When the shells started to come in were you frightened?
Oh no frightened’s not a word. You ducked your head or dived into cover somewhere. You know you could hear them coming.

04:24:00:00

It’s not as if they landed unannounced. That was the case all the way through. You could always hear a shell and you got to know the difference between a mortar and you know a shell and bombs. You got fairly skilled at recognising the difference and if it was a shell well you knew it was not going to come to you sometimes. They’d be firing back at our artillery or firing somewhere else.

04:24:30:00

There was a certain amount, oh I suppose you could say, well it’s not our day today, they’re not going to give it to us, they’re giving it to the 15th or something.
Still to be holding a position in the middle of the desert with tank forces against infantry battalion wouldn’t have been a lot of fun.
Oh no indeed it was not. And it wouldn’t have been if they’d kept coming. Fortunately they didn’t keep coming. They didn’t know what was there fortunately.

04:25:00:00

They didn’t know there was a battalion less one company there. Or they might have rushed up the hill and grabbed the lot of us.
Where was the other company?
It was at a place called Barce, we’d dropped off - Barce was down the road further and we’d dropped off a company there when we went up the desert to take over a prisoner of war camp full of Italians that the 6th Division had captured. And the poor old Italians I think they were a bit sorry that we had to leave

04:25:30:00

them there. Because I can remember this fellow Chiltern I was talking to him. He was a major at that stage and I used to call him the Pacorli Majori - the little major. And I remember him saying to me afterwards, “They used to come up and say can we come with you?” They didn’t want to go back fighting for the Italians again. I don’t think they were very eager fighters anyway.
It sounds like the move to Tobruk was a

04:26:00:00

bit of a confused affair?
Not it wasn’t confused, it was just nothing else for it. You know I mean that was always the case when you withdrew or retreat was never a word used but you withdrew to a position that you thought could be defended.
But you said at some points you weren’t sure whether you were in friendly or enemy territory?
Well you know the desert was a sort of place where you didn’t know whether the Germans had

04:26:30:00

already sent a column of armoured cars and troops, and motorised troops on some back road through the desert and come up and were sitting there waiting for you. I mean two British generals were captured in a place called Mechili. It was just that - nobody knew. You se there was no air support. You didn’t have any kind of air support or air reconnaissance and nobody -

04:27:00:00

unless the information could be passed or - it didn’t - until information was gotten to the headquarters and somebody had sat down with a map and said, “God they’re there.” Well I suppose it wasn’t exactly confusion but it was lack of information about where they were.
Did you see German air support?
Oh plenty of that yeah. I can remember

04:27:30:00

when we were up at this place Betafrom there was - there had been a kind of a big battle and there was a battle with the 6th Div. And there was Italian gear all over the place, we equipped ourselves with trucks and all sorts of things. And one of my platoon was a good motor cyclist. He taught me to ride a motorbike on a beautiful Italian motorbike. I thought I’d go for a ride on this thing one day and I’m cruising along the road.

04:28:00:00

And I thought, “That’s funny.” I could hear a noise and then I saw a row of bullet holes going up alongside the road beside me so I took off quick. Got off the motorbike. So that was my last day on a motorbike. No these Hiekel bombers they were coming from Italy I suppose or up in North Africa further. And they used to come down.

04:28:30:00

What anti aircraft defences did your column have there?
Look as far as we were concerned we only had small arms - you know machine guns. Or Bren guns and things like that. But back at Tobruk of course there were proper anti aircraft regiments there but within a battalion you had a an ack ack platoon, anti aircraft platoon who were made up of all sorts of people

04:29:00:00

really. Bandsmen sometimes, they were given a job as - but that’s all you had. The most you could do was sit in the truck and fire off and hope you hit somebody but you never did.
Describe for us Tobruk when you first arrived into the perimeter?
Well one has to understand that Tobruk had been

04:29:30:00

fortified and built as a defensive area by the Italians. You see Tobruk was a port, it was the only decent port up and down the North African Coast. And it had been fortified by these concrete weapon pits and all kinds of facilities and there’d been quite a town there of course. And there was a hospital in the place. And there’d been anti tank ditches

04:30:00:00

in a front of a lot of these, and wire. Barbed wire. So we arrived and we came through this - some of these forward positions and defensive areas that had been occupied by other units of the division. And 17th Battalion was one of them, that was a neighbouring battalion of ours. And we came

04:30:30:00

through and we went into position and I think we had some role like, brigade reserve or some darn thing. But oh first impression was there it is. And there were a few rude words - somebody said, “Where are we?” And there was a - the answer was “Bloody Tobruk.” So our first impression was, there we are in the middle of - and you know we were back home so to speak.

04:31:00:00

And where about did you set up battalion HQ [headquarters] then?
Oh I don’t really remember too well. But there were - I suppose in one of these pre made Italian areas, that’s where it was.
Was it in a bunker?
Yes I suppose you could call it a bunker but they were - you know they were -

04:31:30:00

the forward positions that were there, you know they were concrete blobs like that around dirt holes if you like connected up by trenches and covering over the top of them and sandbags and things. But there were other headquarter areas which were larger and had facilities for the headquarters of units. And so

04:32:00:00

it wasn’t as if you were just stuck out in the sand.
What about your own position, your own signals position?
Oh well we would have been part of battalion headquarters, there would’ve been probably an area - there was the adjutant would be there and the intelligence officer would have his little patch and we had ours where we set up the exchange. And you know our facility.

04:32:30:00

So there must have been some early work there in setting up …
Oh indeed that’s right because 6th Div had been there before and we - it’s not as if you had to start from scratch by any means.
What sort of daily routine would you have had during the Tobruk siege?
Well it depended where you were. If you were in a forward area - one of the forward positions. The battalion

04:33:00:00

was in one of the forward positions - well the daily routine would be - by day not much happening. Because you’d get your head shot off. And by night - oh there were daylight patrols sometimes depending on where you were. But by night there was a great amount of patrolling went on.

04:33:30:00

Morshead’s [Major General Leslie Morshead, commander 9th Division 2nd AIF] great benefit to Tobruk was that he instigated patrolling, you weren’t just allowed to sit in your hole and hope the Germans didn’t come. There was active patrols, fighting patrols, reconnaissance patrols that went out to check up on what the Germans and Italians were up to. But in the reserve position which was called the blue line well

04:34:00:00

that was a bit further back, probably a couple of miles back. Well you could move around in the day time but ... well you just put in time, kept your head down and you know we were shelled and mortared a heck of a lot. But as far as I was concerned - my job was - I wasn’t in a rifle company so I didn’t have to go out on patrols but my job would be to be a spare

04:34:30:00

officer at battalion headquarters. That’s all. I mean the other people couldn’t sit up twenty four hours a day running the war. So you know I might be the battalion duty officer. Well comes night Somerville’s on the job and the phones’d ring and C Company would report that a patrol to XYZ had come back and nothing to report or they’d had two casualties. Or they’d something to report. And you would have to

04:35:00:00

record this. There was a thing called a war diary kept all the time. And other than that you’d be looking after your fellows and making sure they were getting fed, this sort of thing and more over that the system was working. But basically I had a good sergeant and a couple of good corporals and in those days we used to have a hell of a lot of trouble with dust in equipment. Telephone exchange in those days was

04:35:30:00

a thing - well there’d be relays and the little things’d flop down and they’d go bzzzzz. That meant that somebody was calling. But the way to overcome that they used to - oh these relays’d come out and they used to put them in condoms to be quite honest to keep the dust out of them. But you always - sometimes you might have to give a bit of a hand to the fellows to get it fixed because nobody’d be there. So really I suppose

04:36:00:00

my main job in Tobruk would’ve been doing my job of making sure that the 13th Battalion signals were as good as anybody else’s or better. And being a sort of spare headquarters officer. And sometimes you’d be sent out as a liaison officer. You might be sent out to a company to explain to the company commander what the CO had on his mind. If they weren’t able - there’d be battalion -

04:36:30:00

or conferences - you know and if it was daylight in some of the reserve positions, company commanders would come in and there’d be a conference and there’d be a plan of all the patrols for the next week. It depended on how long you were in a position. And you’d be in a particular position for sometimes up to a month but then somebody else would take off. And there was all this planning that went on of who relieved who, and who did what and what patrols did. And whether

04:37:00:00

A Company and B Company were forward and C and D were in reserve. And whether it was C Company to be in the forward position. It wasn’t just sort of sitting around doing nothing all day I can tell you.
What sort of deprivations were there as far as food, comfort, vermin?
Well basically

04:37:30:00

Tobruk was a filthy place, left that way by the Italians. There was rubbish everywhere and all these positions I talk about had - oh rubbish of all kinds. Clothing and that sort of thing. And there was great deal of effort put in to cleaning the place up and making sure that we had proper - always as good as could be provided hygiene for a start.

04:38:00:00

You know they had - well you know there were latrines. There were - even in some of these forward positions with the concrete positions there was one element, one bit of it was set aside where they used to have four gallon tins for urine and probably an ammunition box with a hole in it

04:38:30:00

for the other job. But a larger picture was there was a fellow on divisional headquarters who had General Morshead’s complete backing and A.B. Fryberg was his name. He was a health officer for the Brisbane City Council. A.B. Fryberg was given the job of trying to clean the place up.

04:39:00:00

Well that improved things quite a bit but the biggest trouble was flies from all this rubbish, and that brought on dysentery. And then food was very limited because in the forward area you could only bring it up at night and nine times out of ten a hot meal would come up and then there’d be hard rations like bully beef and biscuits issued for the next couple of meals. Or sometimes it was

04:39:30:00

what we used to call goldfish in tins, that was awful stuff I’ve never eaten it since. But you know - and there was no way of having a wash. We had very limited water and you only got a water bottle a day. Even at the best of times I think we only ever got about - oh three quarters a gallon a man water for the battalion. Well a lot of that went in cooking and

04:40:00:00

meals down at the rear area where all this was done. And so you know there was - the food was pretty awful or pretty limited. There was enough but - and there was bread. They had a bakery in Tobruk where we used to get bread up. And that was a luxury but otherwise lack of sleep. Continual from time to time

04:40:30:00

bombardment by the enemy and you know just living like a rat in a trap sort of thing.
What about the climate?
Oh that wasn’t too bad although it was cold at night surprisingly. Although in the day time most fellows just got around in shorts and a shirt or sometimes no shirt. But if you went on patrol at night you always had - it was cold enough and sometimes they even had to wear great coats. Which

04:41:00:00

great coats were a useful thing for getting through barbed wire fences too.
Just quickly tell me what’s the difference in sound between a mortar and a shell.
It’s when it’s coming. A shell spins around a great speed and you can hear this sort of whizzing sound so to speak. And a mortar’s more a thing that

04:41:30:00

plops out of a barrel and goes like that and it’s got a bit of a spin on it but not the same frequency, if you like. But you knew that.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 05

05:00:37:00

Jim, in Tobruk who ran the bakery?
Oh well I mean the army’s got all sort of support facilities and the army service corps would’ve had a bakery section and they’d bake the bread.

05:01:00:00

And the flour came up to Tobruk in the convoys that came up. And it was pretty lousy bread but it was bread.
You mentioned before when you were talking to Mat [interviewer] I thought there was a bakery in Tobruk that did good bread?
No.
Oh okay got that wrong. Alright you said there was rotation on the front line in Tobruk. The red line. How much time would you spend up there

05:01:30:00

before coming back?
Oh I can remember being in position for three weeks to a month.
What was life like?
It depends where you were. You know if it was up the front end it was dangerous in the day time and hard - there were these patrols that went on at night. Then you’d come back and if you were in a reserve position well

05:02:00:00

it was a bit easier because you’d send - groups of fellows’d be able to go down and have a swim and that sort of thing.
How much danger were you in from snipers?
Oh not a lot really. There were - I don’t think there was much sniper activity because if you got up close to where they were

05:02:30:00

well you got the whole lot, everybody’d have a go. No, no I can only remember once I think - we had things called Boyd’s anti-tank rifles - they were fools of things. And I can remember one of our fellows was famous for having shot at a poor German who was doing a job for himself, so he was a bit unlucky. But no, no snipers not a big deal. I mean there’d always be

05:03:00:00

people on duty on our side as well as them. If they shoved their heads up and started being careless and walking around well they got shot at. But there were no snipers of a kind that were equipped with special rifles. I don’t recall that. There might have been but we didn’t get too many of them, if any.
How did you pass the time during the day on the front line?

05:03:30:00

Well there were things to be done. As far as an officer was concerned he had to do what his job was and in my case I sort of used to stick around the signal office and make sure it was working properly. Or it might have been my day to be battalion duty officer. Or whatever, you know.

05:04:00:00

I mean it’s not as if you had time to sit down and read a book, because there weren’t any books. But we didn’t - well sometimes you’d be out all night. Fellows that went out on patrol and that sort of thing put in a bit of sleep. Someone’d be on - there’d always be someone on the lookout and others be having a bit of a sleep or whatever you know.
What was involved in being a battalion duty

05:04:30:00

officer?
Well you were sort of at the end of the phone, that’s what it boils down to. And if you were on at night, say when the patrols were out and coming back, well you’d sort of - and if anything serious started to happen, you know if an attack developed on a part of our front well the company commander would report in, “I’ve been attacked - looks like a small party.”

05:05:00:00

And then the battalion - you’d probably wake the CO up if he was there or the adjutant and give this report and he’d probably get on the other end of the phone and say, “Well tell us more about it.” There were pre arranged artillery facilities - not facilities - that’s not a good word to use in a military sense. But we were

05:05:30:00

covered by artillery. They would have ranged and they would’ve worked out in advance how they could shoot in front of your position, and if there was a German attack there, well one of the things you did was to call down defensive fire. Now there would be - they’re all listed and planned in advance so if you rang up the artillery

05:06:00:00

that was in support of your particular front. Or if we were being attacked by so and so. “Bring down DF No. 109.” Well that could translate to them in, ten rounds in the front of C Company of the 2/13th Battalion which might be up there.
In the night patrols that you did, how close did you get to the German front line?
Oh pretty close. I didn’t do any, I might say. I wasn’t - as

05:06:30:00

I said before I didn’t have patrols to do because I wasn’t in a rifle company. But the people that had it depended on what they were there for. Whether it was a so called reconnaissance patrol because you would be sent out to find out what the Germans were up to. They might be developing a position or establishing a new position or putting down a wire or mine or any of this sort of thing. And there would be so called fighting patrols. And there job was to go out and clean up the Germans. They might have been out doing these

05:07:00:00

very things that I’m talking about. So we had some quite large fighting patrols as much as A Company strength. Well a company’s about a hundred men. So you know that’s what I mean by patrolling and as I say it depends on the job you had. But it might have been that we particularly wanted to know

05:07:30:00

what the Germans were doing in one direction or another. Were they moving or taking over from the Italians. Or the Italians taking over from them. This kind of thing. ‘Cause the Italians were never, with great respect to Italy, regarded as especially a dangerous enemy. And the Germans actually had located themselves

05:08:00:00

in the toughest positions to hold from their point of view.
What did you think of Germans as fighters?
Oh they were good. You know they - well I mean the German Army, it’s always been a good army and

05:08:30:00

they were good. And they had back up from tanks. We had a few tanks but they had back up from tanks and good artillery. And presumably high class units. You know they were not a rabble by any means.
As an officer did you see many examples of battle stress.

05:09:00:00

Look a lot of fellows got very weak from dysentery and we in our unit had our own sort of little camp to send them off for a rest. A rest camp so to speak. But with the lousy food and the noise and you know the stress of being in battle

05:09:30:00

some people got very tired and so I suppose you could call that battle stress. And you know fellows just occasionally wouldn’t want to go back to it but they did. And well all the circumstances made a big pressure on people

05:10:00:00

really to use up all their reserves of mental and physical strength for that matter.
In physical terms how did you work the rotation on the front line, how would you be replaced?
Oh that was - everything was sort of preordained. You took over -

05:10:30:00

the same sort of unit would take over from the same sort of unit in the front. So that - and everything was left in place. Your reserve ammunition stayed there and our reserve ammunition’d be there for when the 2/15th Battalion came in. And then the emergency rations and equipment of every kind so there was no great

05:11:00:00

difficulty in switching units over because as I say men took over rather than haul in another lot of new equipment. So it was preordained and if you’d been there too long or you wanted to be pulled back for some particular reason well okay there’d be a take over of positions by

05:11:30:00

another unit of yours. That’s during the course of the operation but later on when Tobruk was being relieved and Australians were being pulled out it was a rather different set up. A different set up - I don’t know how far you want to go with that. You see the Australian Government wanted to pull out. After [John] Curtin became Prime Minister

05:12:00:00

the Australian Government wanted to pull out all the Australian troops in the Middle East and bring them home to look after Australia. Defend the place against the Japanese. And the 7th Div went home and remainder of 6th Div went home. And the job of relieving the 9th Division finished up that the 18th Brigade which belonged to 7th Division

05:12:30:00

was relieved by Poles. The Polish regiment that was mainly made up of refugee officers and NCOs [non commissioned officers] from the Polish Army. They were good. They came in and then overnight and always in darkness when the moon was down they came in and took over the positions so the 18th Brigade

05:13:00:00

had been withdrawn to if you like. And then they - we had the job then of sponsoring them in. Or units of ours that were already there had the job of sponsoring them in and you’d bring up groups of officers and NCOs and show them the kind of positions we had. And the Poles were a very fierce lot because you’d take them out and say, “Well the XYZ

05:13:30:00

Italian Regiment is over there.” And they’d sort of listen fairly patiently and then they’d say, “Yeah but where are the Germans?” They were only interested in shooting up Germans and when they first came in they had to put the clamps on them for using up all the ammunition in the place I think. But then when the British came in they’d take over from the brigade. You’d arrange that

05:14:00:00

they’d just move into the areas that the other brigade had in their units. And out they’d go. Everyone’d withdraw down to town and hopefully finish up on a ship that got back to Alexandria. But it was a pretty practised art by the time all this finished. But we unfortunately got left behind.
What sort of shape were you in by the

05:14:30:00

time you finally managed to get out of Tobruk?
Oh not bad. We lost a lot of people and our numbers were down but - we’d had a very successful operation. There was a place called Ed Duda outside Tobruk which we had been part of capturing from the Germans. Well there’s nothing like success in battle to cheer people up. And

05:15:00:00

we were in quite reasonable shape I suppose. Our CO had been wounded and he’d gone and an advance party of the second in command of the battalion and a number of people had gone out earlier on one of the night trips. And their job was to make things ready for us when we got out which didn’t ever happen.

05:15:30:00

And we had an acting CO and I became the acting adjutant at that stage of the game. And we’d had - it had been a success this it was. And so I suppose we’d been disappointed when we got left behind because there we are all set up ready to get on this mine laying cruiser and unfortunately somebody came and told us it had been

05:16:00:00

sunk on the way and back we went. But we were under command of the Poles at that stage for a short time and then we became party of the British division or brigade to the British Army that were there and they were quite good people. So taken all around it wasn’t too bad. The food position wasn’t bad because

05:16:30:00

a lot of stuff’d come in and we were reasonably well fed but nothing brilliant by any means. So when we fought our way out of the place and drove out of it we were the only Australian unit that actually went out on wheels. The rest went out by sea. And so we didn’t mind that.
How frequently did you get a hot meal in Tobruk?

05:17:00:00

Mostly once a day. And that would have been basically stew and sometimes there’d be a luxury of canned fruit or something. Condensed milk was a great substitute for cream. But basically that was at night and that was cooked in a back area and brought up by truck at night under cover of darkness.

05:17:30:00

But during the day time of course you had just cold stuff like bully beef and biscuits and these wretched canned fish.
Was there anything of a black market functioning in Tobruk?
Oh God no, no opportunities for that. No. No there was nothing to be swapped and no way it could happen.

05:18:00:00

I mean sometimes, the chap you were talking to, Joe Madeley [Joseph] was talking about stealing the sausages well that’s a sort of classic 13th Battalion story but, I can remember my platoon had a little raid on the same place one night. And it was a big sort of stores depot down towards the town and

05:18:30:00

it - oh it was surrounded by barbed wire but also there were a lot of dust storms and three of my fellows got under the fence one night and came back with the cigarettes and a bit of tinned fruit and that sort of thing and parked it under my bunk. So I was the villain. But one of them had been caught. And a young British army officer brought this chap back and started to tell our

05:19:00:00

CO what he ought to do about these villains that come down and raid his depot and Colonel Burrows was not the man to take that sort of thing lightly. But it was a court martial offence in Tobruk to pinch stuff you know like that. But the old bull arranged that when the court martial was convened there was - the chairman of the court martial was a major from another battalion who was a legal bloke.

05:19:30:00

And he arranged for our 2IC [second in command] who was a barrister in Sydney and he became the defending officer and he got him off. So they fixed it all up. So to answer your question there was no black market. You couldn’t swap - nothing to swap. I mean you might, oh I don’t know -

05:20:00:00

the people in the B echelon, it was called, which was the back up area for supplies and ammunition and all that sort of thing they might have done a bit of a trade with another unit who was lucky enough to have got onto something. And there was a certainly amount of Italian rations left behind. When the Italians cleared out they left four gallon tins of dried onions and all this sort of thing. Well you know

05:20:30:00

that wasn’t bad, that made a hell of a lot of difference to this famous ‘McConnicky’ stew, which was this British stew. I don’t know what was in it but it wasn’t too flash. So the answer to your question is not much opportunity. I mean even at one stage somebody sent us up some beer. Well it was about one bottle of beer between four men and I can remember fellows saying, “God I wouldn’t worry my thirst with that drop.” And gave it to somebody else. But that was a rarity. But

05:21:00:00

we didn’t occasionally get a bit of chocolate sent up from the comforts fund and I say tinned fruit was a really luxury.
What kind of contact did you have with home?
Oh mail. You know there was - people could write letters during the day. You asked what sort of things happened. They could write to their families, their mothers and fathers and so forth. And it had to be censored

05:21:30:00

and then it would be sent down through a mail facility that was set up on Tobruk and would be put on board one of the ships that happened to be up that night. And back it’d go to Alexandria and you know it wasn’t bad. It existed there was no doubt about it. And mail would come up from the other direction.
Who did you mostly receive mail from?
Oh me personally? From my

05:22:00:00

mother mostly and a couple of relatives. But that was my share.
Did you ever receive letters from her where parts of her mail had been censored to you?
Oh I don’t think so. I don’t remember it anyway. But you know we had to sort of - when you censored the mail you just didn’t cut bits out of it. They’d say, “Look I think you’d better rewrite that bit.”

05:22:30:00

And so you hear these stories of people with great paragraphs cut out but it never really happened as far as - fellows got educated to what you could say and what you couldn’t say. So it was not a problem really.
How did the sinking of the ship you were meant to leave Tobruk on affect the morale of the battalion?

05:23:00:00

We were disappointed. A. because we weren’t getting out of the place but B. we’d already given all our goodies away to the British Army that was taking over from us. There were a few treasures like having a primus stove and things like that. And cigarettes, we gave away all our cigarettes and tobacco and that sort of thing. And there we are stuck and had to hope that we could get some

05:23:30:00

back. But that’s how you felt.
Did you collect any souvenirs from your time in Tobruk?
No. Not really. I had one brass serviette ring. Some of the fellows they used to cut up the brass casings from shells and do a bit of engraving on them and you know that was sent back to the comfort fund for - no I didn’t collect any souvenirs. Neither did most people, there was nothing to collect.

05:24:00:00

How did you handle being under the command of the Poles for that short time?
Oh no trouble at all because they couldn’t speak much English and we couldn’t speak much Polish. So no it was really only a sort of nominal thing really. A nominal thing and we ultimately got involved in this action at this place, Edduda I’d say because we were under British command then.

05:24:30:00

Oh no the Poles were - there were some very well educated people amongst them and a few of them could speak a bit of English. We managed reasonably well. I got on with our counter part in the Polish battalion that took over from us at one stage, in school boy French. Because I wasn’t a bad French student at school and he could speak fluent French and I could speak

05:25:00:00

enough and we used to make each other understood. But there were a number of them who could speak a modest amount of English.
How long were you left in Tobruk until you could leave after your ship was sunk?
Oh we didn’t get out - we drove out in December, early December. See by that time

05:25:30:00

what was then the beginning of the 8th Army had - the Germans had withdrawn from the Tobruk area backwards. Back up the desert and it was the first time that they’d had a push back and so we were able to drive out at that stage of the game. There were no Germans there, they’d all been pushed back, back up the desert.
And what happened at

05:26:00:00

Ed Duda?
Well as I say we had to capture this position because it was quite important and the Germans were there. And we had a battle and well we beat the Germans and they withdrew. That’s what it brought us down to. We were unfortunate there because one of our platoons which was about thirty men had one of our own shells land in the middle of it and quite a few fellows were killed unnecessary- well unnecessarily’s the word - but

05:26:30:00

by accident. And this was you know something that nobody liked very much. But you couldn’t help it. It was one of the faults of war sort of thing.
How were those members of the platoon buried?
Well then and there probably. And ultimately all the war graves in Tobruk were accumulated in a

05:27:00:00

very, very magnificently set up war graves unit, area. And the Germans had some there and we had some. But you know Tobruk became, well they were located and some of them weren’t. The ones that were blown up, well they became a cross.
During your time in Tobruk

05:27:30:00

Japan entered the war. What difference did this make to your war experience?
At that time virtually none. See in circumstances like that one was so preoccupied with our own war that you didn’t really get -

05:28:00:00

well you didn’t take much notice of it really. And you know even later on - when was Darwin bombed? In about February ’42 wasn’t it? Well it didn’t really seem to be any big deal to us. At that stage we weren’t in Tobruk, we were back up in Palestine. But for people who’d been bombed and shelled day by day and week by week, you know

05:28:30:00

bombing of Darwin didn’t seem like any big deal. Nobody thought of it as part of a threat to our own country. We were so preoccupied with our war sort of thing that I suppose that’s a basic fact of life. In operations you had no time to think about anybody else. I mean okay when Darwin was

05:29:00:00

bombed I suppose - we had a couple of fellows in the battalion who actually came from up there and I suppose they were concerned. But we had no idea as indeed did the population of Australia know that a couple of hundred people had been killed when Darwin was bombed. So for all we knew Darwin had been bombed by the Japs. Yeah ho ho we’d been bombed day and night for days on end and it didn’t really occur to us really.

05:29:30:00

We knew we were being withdrawn from Tobruk with a view to being hopefully taken back to Australia but there was some trade off and we stayed in the Middle East.
So from Tobruk you went back to Palestine. How long if any was your leave there?
Oh we had - we were there till about February I think. And then we went

05:30:00:00

up to, as I said earlier, we were sent up to Syria and Lebanon - in a sort of defensive role in case the Germans decided to come down through Turkey. But that was as I say about February 1942, yeah that would’ve been. And you know that was a different time.

05:30:30:00

When you left Tobruk did you have any specific health complaints from that experience?
No because - I think when we got back to camp back in Palestine we were absolutely pampered. We were fed up like fighting cocks. As I said you could have steak for every meal if you wanted to

05:31:00:00

just about. So those of us that were still there - I mean some people were probably medically examined and if they were not fit for further operation they might have been transferred to another unit that was not likely to be confronted with any

05:31:30:00

heavy physical activity. Blokes that had been wounded and that sort of thing. And we got quite a lot of reinforcements came then. And so you know the answer was weren’t a lot of emaciated slaves by any means. And those of us who got back.
Where did the reinforcements come from?
Oh Australia. They’d been parked in Palestine and you know they were all Australians.

05:32:00:00

How did they assimilate into …
Oh pretty well. I suppose they had to face the difficulty that those who’d been in Tobruk had faced a lot of action and had bonded fairly substantially one way or another. But taken all around there was a policy of avoiding this issue. We had to make them feel at

05:32:30:00

home. And well they did. And it was every officer and NCO’s job to make sure there was no them and us kind of business by any means. Reo’s they used to call them. Reo’s for reinforcements. That kind of thing had to be avoided and we always made a feature that when we got reinforcements that they were made to feel part of the family. And

05:33:00:00

there was this sort of family atmosphere a bit. You know you’re in the 2nd and 13th Battalion, we’re proud of our regiment and proud of our unit and now you’re part of it. And that answers your question a bit I think.
What did you do for Christmas?
Oh we had a beaut Christmas dinner. As I say there was plenty of food and plenty of grog. And we had tables set up around the place and

05:33:30:00

traditionally the officers waited on the troops and no we had - oh somewhere or other I think I’ve still got the menu for it. But we had a very good meal. And plenty of canned fruit and custard and all sort of stuff and that was Christmas dinner.
Was there anything about home that you really really missed?

05:34:00:00

Oh apart from personalities but no sort of home comforts. Okay well you slept in pretty rough circumstances instead of a bed and all that sort of thing. You never thought about that sort of thing really. I don’t think anyone did. I mean somebody’d joke, “God I wish I was at home in between a pair of nice clean sheets.” But that was that.
Who became your closest mates?
Oh well

05:34:30:00

in my own case other officers. Other officers I became very friendly with. You became close to and shared the same sort of things. I mean I got on very well with my platoon because they were youngish people. We were not too formal let’s put it that way, between ourselves. I mean

05:35:00:00

you know sometimes - theoretically there was Sir and Mister but you know a lot of my blokes called me ‘Slim’ and I didn’t mind.
It’d be good to have on the record the history of your nickname.
Oh well the history of my nickname goes back to the 1930’s when I was at school in Tamworth because, Slim Somerville was an old time movie actor at that time. And I started to be called that. When I came

05:35:30:00

down to Sydney to school I came down with a couple of other fellows who knew about it and I got called Slim Somerville. I started to work for CSR and my fellows that I worked with there they knew about this nicknames. And nicknames in that era were very common. I mean CSR was full of fellows that were Sandy or Joe - you know something else. And it didn’t seem to matter too much.

05:36:00:00

So that was perpetuated when I went to work and then in the army was Slim Somerville. And even today I’m always referred to - as the patron of our association I’m Slim Somerville. And I’ve got a fellow I know very very well and we were doing something recently and he said, “I’ve got to know your full name.” And I said, “Rupert James.” He said, “God I never heard that before.”

05:36:30:00

So there you are. So that’s how the Slim Somerville and my old friends now call me that. But when I was in Melbourne in the - when I went down there for the company I got sick of explaining to people where this came from so I hauled out me second name which was Jim and I’ve been widely used that since. Down there I was always Jim Somerville. Here, if you were talking to Eric Flood he’d call me Jim. But

05:37:00:00

if you were talking to Joe Madeley he’d - if you said Jim Somerville he’d say, “Who’s that? Is that the same as Slim Somerville?” And a lot of soldiers had this nickname.
What additional training did you receive in Palestine in order to go to Syria?
None. All we did there was get ourselves together again.
Did you have any skin complaints from

05:37:30:00

living in dusty conditions or respiratory problems?
Oh not too bad. Oh a few people had respiratory problems I suppose. But skin complaints, well I suppose we all got a bit of skin cancers, no doubt about that. They were wide. But the main thing that happened to people I think was hearing loss I’ll guarantee. On Anzac Day I look around at some of the

05:38:00:00

fellows I saw there and three out of five would be wearing hearing aids because there was a great deal of noise. And noise is a notable damager of nerves. So that was the worse thing that happened to us. We lost our hearing in Tobruk. But other than that people as I say probably had some residual damage to their insides from having bad

05:38:30:00

dysentery. But the wonderful thing that happened about that time. Sulphur drugs came on the scene. And I can remember in Tobruk sulphur drugs started to come up for treatment and you know you took about thirty a day or something if you got them but they still worked. And that was a most beneficial thing really. But taken all around. I mean some people had been

05:39:00:00

wounded and they had disabilities brought about through that. But all up you know we weren’t in bad shape.
What did you know about your responsibilities in Lebanon and Syria when you went up?
Not a lot. We were told why we were there and you know it was because of the concern that the Germans might cuddle up to the

05:39:30:00

Turks and come through Turkey. But we really garrisoned the town of Latakia which is northern Lebanon. It was a port town. The Russians later took it over as a naval base but years afterwards, that’s just an aside. but we occupied the place and we provided facilities around for guarding things. There were some French

05:40:00:00

troops and they were always a bit concerned that the Germans might attempt a seaborne landing on the place. Well there were some French troops there and we were there and we always had sort of mobile fighting forces set up in case they did, so if the Germans attempted to land there well you’d send down B Company if it was their turn to be on the stand by and resist the enemy sort of thing. So that’s why we - what we did there.

05:40:30:00

But we knew why we were there. It was thought the Germans might attempt some sort of an amphibious landing.
Was the architecture in that port town in Lebanon French?
A bit of it was. Yes I suppose it was, French Arab. Some of the administration things, like the postal service and that sort of thing were operated by French educated

05:41:00:00

Lebanese. So there was a French influence. I mean it had been part of a French protectorate, so to speak. I mean a lot of them had been educated at the French university in Beirut. But you know it was a tobacco growing area. There was a famous Latakia tobacco, a black tobacco that was mixed with pipe tobacco. One of the best brands of pipe tobacco in the world.

05:41:30:00

There you are.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 06

06:00:31:00

Jim I just wanted to get what your part in the battle at Ed Duda was, what were you operating and what did you see?
Well at this stage when the battle started I’m still signals officer but - and then I fairly quickly became acting adjutant because as I say our CO was wounded and another chap took over.

06:01:00:00

So basically I was at battalion headquarters and I wasn’t in the forefront of the battle.
I understand that you weren’t in the front of the battle. What could you see or hear or, what traffic was coming over?
Oh there was of course bombardment all over the place and very substantial small arms fire and artillery fire. And we still had a British

06:01:30:00

artillery regiment in support of us and they were - they were shooting in support of us. And it was a major small battle. It wasn’t exactly small because it was a battalion and a battalion of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire regiment involved too and they did a first class job. They gave the Germans a terrible fright and

06:02:00:00

we - one of our companies had a bayonet charge against the Germans and that cleaned them up. So as to answer your question a lot of noise, a lot of uncertainty and then it was all over.
Bayonet charges against entrenched positions?
No they were up on their feet. So that sort of thing, it’s not very nice but it happens. But

06:02:30:00

it’s enough to put a lot of people off.
Nevertheless it must have been good for morale afterwards?
Oh yes well - oh I suppose you get into these things it’s like getting in a fight you know. You do your best to win.
And you were saying that it was a dropped short that killed the platoon at start line?
Yeah it was. I mean this happened from time to time but it was an unfortunate thing to happen at this stage of the game.
When you were talking to me about Tobruk

06:03:00:00

you mentioned how you’d used condoms on the switchboard machine. What other sorts of improvisations and ingenuities did you see in Tobruk?
Well there was a lot of captured equipment used of course. I mean our mortar platoon we’d usually have three inch mortars which were like pipes in the ground you know. But they had - they called themselves the bush artillery - well they had some Italian 75 field guns.

06:03:30:00

And they used those. We had a heck of a lot of captured equipment that we picked up. Because don’t forget we went up the desert without much and then we got our normal equipment of Bren gun and that sort of thing. But we’d also picked up a heck of a lot of other Italian machine guns and this kind of thing. And certainly the sig platoon had about doubled its establishment in gear and one thing and another.

06:04:00:00

And eventually you know they had to attempt to put a bit of a stoppage on this because people had too much gear that’s what it boils down to. But as for improvisation a lot of it came about through the use of captured equipment. Well you didn’t have low down suites with the toilet, you had empty four gallon tins sunk into the sand and this sort of thing. But improvisation was

06:04:30:00

the best you could do at the time.
What sort of equipment had you added to your establishment in the sig platoon?
Well we’d picked up a couple of radios which we used for mainly news gathering I must confess. But whereas we normally would have a telephone to a company we had telephones to all the platoons and weapon pits and all sorts of things like that. So it was a fairly complete sort of

06:05:00:00

telephone set up. And you know then we’d also pick up - at one stage we had some German signal wire which the CO swore it had mystic properties because he could hear everything on it. Because it wasn’t hard wire two cable stuff at all. It was a single cable and so called earth return. You had a pin in the ground and the earth did one side of it and the cable did the other.

06:05:30:00

And well we also - oh the CO had an ordinary broadcast system radio and we used to be able to pick at night time sometimes we’d be able to retransmit the BBC news on the signal system. And then one of my blokes was very very good at reading Morse Code and he used to sit on one of these captured radio sets and he’d pick up the

06:06:00:00

American CBS network news services and that sort of thing. So we managed to get a bit of news one way and another.
Speaking of news did you ever read the ‘Tobruk Truth’ [miniature newspaper for the troops]?
Oh yes we got that.
What sort of …
Oh there were all sorts of bits and pieces in it. I forget the sort of editorial content of it these days but it was basically - you know sort of a bit of general news that’s all. No tactical information

06:06:30:00

or anything of that sort. Just cheer up sort of stuff.
Did you see any German or American prisoners in the Tobruk perimeter?
Oh yes well we saw - every now and then there’d be someone taken prisoner. Some of these patrols would capture a prisoner. I mean one famous occasion which other people might have mentioned, one of our patrols caught a German who was lost and he had the rations for

06:07:00:00

his company with him and we brought him back and brought his food back and our blokes ate it. So there were not a lot but we saw a lot of Italian prisoners of war on our way up. We did see some yes but there were quite a few prisoners of war taken.
Did you have to abandon all that captured equipment when you left Tobruk?
Yes. Well we handed it over to the people who

06:07:30:00

took over. When Tobruk finally fell to the Germans there were two British brigades, an Indian brigade and a South African brigade in there and they’d taken over all our stuff. And so yes we abandoned it to the people who took over from us.
Okay we will move forward again to Latakia. You were at some point up there working as a compensation

06:08:00:00

officer?
Oh that’s not quite it, but what happened when we got to Latakia, I was due for promotion to captain, and I became a captain. And they appointed me to command a headquarter company at that stage because the normal fellow was away, I don’t know where he was. But I was OC [officer commanding] headquarter company but because there was no-one else to do it and I really didn’t have more than an administrative job at that stage because

06:08:30:00

all the platoons had their own commanders. I got handed a whole lot of compensation claims. And what had happened of course, we’d been preceded there by a so called divisional cavalry regiment which had a lot of Bren carriers and vehicles of one sort. And they chased around all over the place and they’d caused a lot of damage to olive groves and some of the tobacco

06:09:00:00

growing farms. And oh people had been injured by army vehicles and all types of things. The locals got the idea well, let’s put our hand out and see what the army’ll pay. So I got this pile of stuff. And I was allocated an interpreter, a young French-Lebanese called Albert. But Albert’s

06:09:30:00

father was the local postmaster. But I had to investigate all these things and authorise the payment on them if they were genuine. But I had the precaution of one of our fellows from the intelligence section who’d been born in Egypt, spoke Arabic and French and he used to give me the tip if they were trying to pull my leg. So well we paid out quite a lot of these things. A decent big olive grove branch’d be worth about thirty shillings in those days. And

06:10:00:00

oh you know there were people that claimed they’d been run over or injured by army vehicles. Well half the time if you gave them an army blanket and patted them on the back they were happy. ‘Cause I remember I used to have to go and see a couple of people in hospital there and you know it had to be done fairly formally because when the money was paid out it had to be properly authorised. And I sort of had virtually certify that I’d properly investigated it

06:10:30:00

and it was a serious and fair dinkum claim.
I gather there were quite a few dubious claims?
Oh yes there were quite a few yes. But you got to know those fairly well. Well there was a local bordello up there and in deference to our friend here one of the girls claimed that an Australian soldier had broken up her wireless. Well I investigated that one day and

06:11:00:00

I said to her, “Well you’d only need a couple of nights and you’d pick up the price of that anyway.” And she turned to me and she said, “Captain I think you’re a bastard.” I said, “Well good luck to you dear.” And waved goodbye. So that’s the sort of thing that happened. But there was quite a bit of this that had accumulated over time. These people had shot through and left us holding the bag. But there we are.
Were there any

06:11:30:00

altercations between the 2/13th troops and the locals?
No. No. Not really. Not aware of any. I mean some of our blokes got steamed up on Arak, which was an aniseed drink and mighty powerful with water in it. And you know every now and then they’d have to be gathered up by the military police and shut in the guard house overnight or something and charged with the famous

06:12:00:00

army charge of ‘charge of conduct to the good order of military discipline.’ And there were, oh periodically some of our blokes’d get a bit frustrated I suppose and tell corporal so and so to get nicked sort of thing. And they’d be charged and we used to exchange a standing order they were called, the local

06:12:30:00

French troops there who had a commander called General Montclos. He was an old elder in lots of ways. But to the answer to your question not much.
I take it these were Free French troops.
Oh yeah. They were black most of them, I think the crowd up there - he was an ex foreign legion commander this bloke. Oh he had a pretty easy life. But theoretically

06:13:00:00

he was up there to sort of resist the Germans if they tried to land too. But I mean I remember Albert’s sister was his mistress and you know he had a pretty comfortable life one way or another. But we got on alright with the locals.
Being so close up against Turkey were there any thoughts of Gallipoli and Anzac spirit?
Never. Never. You see we had a company at the place called, right

06:13:30:00

up on the border, I just can’t think of the name of it. But basically there was very little contact between the Turks and our fellows. So no really Gallipoli - can’t recall that much about Gallipoli and World War 1 the whole time we were away really. Because as I said earlier, we were so preoccupied with our own war that other people’s wars and other

06:14:00:00

time’s wars were no big deal. So I accept some older people that it might have had more contact than I had or others had. Didn’t get a mention.
Was this posting up on the border on there a bit of a holiday after the Tobruk affair?
Oh it was easy yes.
How were the men kept

06:14:30:00

occupied?
Oh all kinds of weapon training and all that sort of thing. There were patrols to be done. We guarded all sorts of things. And after we were there we marched down to a place called Tripoli where there were a lot of considerable oil installations. And we had to have patrols and guard duty on the oil terminals. And developing the

06:15:00:00

defensive facilities around the place. We had a lot of work was done around there mainly by local contractors who were experts with explosives ‘cause it was very rocky country. And they were marvellous. I can remember one time one of my friends had been sent to an army explosives school and he come back with all the latest best rules about how much fuse you used. And we went fishing one day

06:15:30:00

with this gelignite and this fellow was going to throw a stick of gelly in with a six inch fuse on it and one of the Arabs said, “Give us that” or words to that effect. Gripped the thing with his teeth, chucked it in and about two seconds later we had about forty fish you know. That was the sort of thing. But substantially it was development of defensives around the port of Tripoli.
And then from Tripoli?
Across to Aleppo. Aleppo was

06:16:00:00

going to be the base for some considerable desert exercises out around the historic places like Balabac but that came off. For us - a few people did it but by the time our turn came the Germans were busy coming down the desert again. And so in about June ’42 we got sent on the train back down

06:16:30:00

to Alexandria and up to El Alamein.
Aleppo’s got quite a beautiful big market place. What sort of things would the diggers and you buy as souvenirs? How would you blow your money?
I don’t think we were there long enough to ever have much opportunity to do it. It was a place where we had a lot of sickness. I know I got dengue fever there and I was as crook as I could be for a couple of - oh for

06:17:00:00

about two weeks. And I survived on, you know gin and nothing. Oh no well in the town there was material, silk material and a bit of silverware and that sort of thing. And any time anyone got any leave down to Damascus where there were some wonderful things to be bought there. It had to be able to be disposed of and sent home. There were facilities for doing that.

06:17:30:00

But you didn’t send great big bulky things. Most people just sent plates and material probably. That’s about all.
Okay so across to Alexandria. Were you still OC of HQ company at this stage?
By that stage the proper man had come back from the school or wherever he’d been and I was appointed then to be OC of the carrier platoon. Bren carrier platoon. Which was about, oh in those days about fifty fellows.

06:18:00:00

What’s the role of the Bren carriers in the establishment of the battalion?
Basically they are sort of partly armoured light machine gun units and also used for reconnaissance and they’re not tanks by the wildest stretch but they were, they were some use - although we had some

06:18:30:00

marvellous fellows who were mechanics and they had Ford V8 engines in them and they used to overheat and they were hard to keep going. So we were really turned into a sort of spare company. And at one stage we filled in a gap between two rifle companies that’s what it boils down to. The carriers were used a little bit but not much.
So in effect you just worked as dismounted infantry?
That’s exactly right.

06:19:00:00

Were the carriers comfortable to ride in?
No they were hard as hell. They were just quarter inch steel things with tracks and a large V8 Ford. But the line between the petrol tank and the engine used to get overheated and the damned things would stop.
Not much shade in them either in the desert?
None at all. No there never was.

06:19:30:00

It was an open thing and there was - like a machine gun in the front of it. And some of them had sorted loaded them up and put a couple more extras in just for luck. And some of this captured equipment came with us. I can remember an Albert Chan, Bert Chan who ultimately won a VC [Victoria Cross] in 6th Div. He was a carrier platoon commander and he had a sort of mobile arsenal -

06:20:00:00

it was never really used much.
Okay so what happened when you got to Alexandria?
Well then we were sent up the desert and we took up a sort of reserve position. And ultimately we were allocated a position on the coast. Had a defensive position. And we then set about doing some training and a whole lot of things took

06:20:30:00

place. To deceive the Germans they’d send people down to Alexandria to pick up our winter uniforms as if we were going to be there forever. And there was a lot of planning and training exercises I suppose for the eventual battle of El Alamein.
What was the nature of those training advances, what new tactics were you practising?

06:21:00:00

Well towards the end, towards when the battle started there were extensive mine fields that the Germans had put down and I suppose we’d put some of them too. But there were a whole lot of training exercises which involved getting through minefields and a very significant part of the whole exercise. When the actual battle started there were

06:21:30:00

start lines, taped. And passages through the minefields sort of worked out and the engineers did a marvellous of mine clearance. But also on a larger scale there were dummy vehicles set up. And tanks that were made up out of trucks with camouflage all over them. And the spirit of the division was being worked

06:22:00:00

up. Montgomery came out there and it’s well known that he did a great job of assuring 8th Army that he wasn’t going to go into any battle unless he was ready for it. And that sort of spirit caught on. And we then - I mean we had quite a lot of attempts by the Germans to get into the place but never got past us much. And there were special factors about El Alamein. There was a great

06:22:30:00

sand depression on one side and the sea on the other. And it was in the middle.
So in the minefield exercise you were working with engineer regiments.
Oh yeah that’s right. We had field companies that were attached to us and they worked with us. Well the battle was a sort of set piece of tact they called it. We were there,

06:23:00:00

we were there, and somebody else was in reserve. And the artillery preparation of the thing has to be all worked out. It was a big jigsaw puzzle. It was all put together.
What was to be 2/13th role in the upcoming offensive?
Well at one stage we were brigade reserve and then when it happened we had to move up and, had our

06:23:30:00

alternative jobs to do. When the actual battle started I wasn’t there because just prior to it starting they had decided to have what they call LOB groups, Left Out of Battle groups. And basically the 2/28th Battalion had just about disappeared at one stage and so every unit had to leave behind a senior fellow who could take over command and had to have an

06:24:00:00

alternative adjutant which was me. And a number of other people. And we were sent back and camped outside Alexandria and we were there while the battalion was wiped out or substantially wiped out. In the end. So we had so many casualties that we were brought up before the end of the battle anyway and took part at the end of it but not for the opening night, we weren’t there. So I wasn’t there anyway because I was in

06:24:30:00

this LOB group.
And the LOB what was the purpose of that group in case a battalion had been wiped out?
They started a new one. They were the nucleus for filling up with reinforcements and to make a new one.
So when the opening night of El Alamein began were you so far back that you couldn’t see anything?
Oh you knew it was happening because it was only sixty miles away.

06:25:00:00

And there was an enormous glow in the sky and noise and we all knew it was there. We were all busting our necks to know what had happened to all of our mates and how our units got on. And we had a lot of casualties there. When I got back to the battalion I temporarily got sent out to the OC, C Company and I think there were thirty fellows left out of about hundreds or something like that. But then I got pulled back and

06:25:30:00

our brigade commander decided that we ought to have another adjutant in the 2/13th Battalion. I was appointed then, I became adjutant formally.
Was it frustrating sitting back there in Alexandria?
Yeah it was because you know we didn’t want to be there. We wanted to be in it but we couldn’t be. And that was our duty and we just put up with that’s what it boiled down to.
You could see the lights of the barrage in the sky?
Oh yes it was only sixty miles away

06:26:00:00

roughly.
What news did you have as the battles developed?
Oh well we got back - you know I have no idea how it got there but we found out that it was a pretty rough battle and ultimately we were wanted to come back because they were running out of officers.
How long after the opening of the battle were you brought up?
Oh about a week.
And what state were the men in

06:26:30:00

when you got up there?
Well at that stage as far as we were concerned it had stopped or nearly stopped. You know there was still a certain amount of artillery exchange going on and that sort of thing. But the fellows that were left there were probably sad that so many people had been killed beside them or near them. Some very special friends had been killed or badly

06:27:00:00

wounded. We lost the CO - the actual CO we lost him. He died of wounds. A fellow called Bob Turner. And then another fellow was brought up to command the battalion who’d been one of the early adjutants. His name was Joe Kelly and his son actually was Paul Kelly who was the editor of The Australian [newspaper] at one stage of the game. But you know that’s it.
How were you taken from Alexandria

06:27:30:00

up to the front line?
Oh you just went up on a truck.
What evidence could you see of the battle as you moved up?
Oh plenty because there were knocked out tanks and guns and the usual debris of a battle field. And then we spent the battalion then spent quite a lot of time clearing up the battle field. And I remember our poor padre had a rather sad job all the time going around looking for fellows

06:28:00:00

that were wounded and killed and put them remains in sand bags. It was a nasty business.
Not a very pleasant job for the padre?
No no it was - he was a compassionate little chap from South Australia who’s now dead. But he didn’t enjoy it and it was a sad time for him and he realised that he had the job ahead of

06:28:30:00

him of a lot of parents and people that have lost their sons and wives who have lost their husbands and kids that had lost their fathers.
When you briefly took over C Company what sort of activities was it engaged in?
Oh just sitting around getting over it a bit. That only lasted about an hour there because I got another message to go back to battalion headquarters. And Brigadier Windier was our brigade commander

06:29:00:00

had told the acting CO at that stage that he thought he needed another adjutant and of course one of them had been killed already. And another fellow was wanted for something else. And Somerville was approved.
Roughly what percent casualties of the battalion suffered?
Oh about a quarter probably. I think we lost over

06:29:30:00

two hundred people. I mean there were about eight or ten officers killed or wounded for a start. I think there were two hundred odd casualties.
Was the battalion at full strength before you went in?
Oh pretty full yes because we’d brought down a lot of reinforcements from Palestine. See there was a big reinforcement depot up there. In fact I was there for a while as

06:30:00:00

OC of one group. But we were all brought down and units were built up to full strength.
But obviously that strength had been quite expended in the Alamein thrust?
Oh yes it got knocked about yes. But then we got more reinforcements later on.
At what stage did you hear that you were going

06:30:30:00

home?
I think when we got back to Palestine again it was quite clear that we were going home. In fact it was well known that we were going home because 6th and 7th Divs had already gone. And we knew that we were also going home. I mean I think some of us would very much have

06:31:00:00

liked to kept up the pursuit of the Germans right to the very end but no, the New Zealanders went but we didn’t.
Why were you keen to keep on against the Jerries [Germans]?
Well because it was all part of the success in battle. There were a few people they thought would be allowed to go up to the eventual link up with the Americans and people in Tripoli but it never happened,

06:31:30:00

no we had to go home. The Government had decreed that the Australian troops in the Middle East were to come home and start defending Australia.
You sound like you were disappointed not to have followed it up.
Oh no not really. But you know it’s - you get these illusions when you’re young and silly.
Nobody had figured out your age at this point?
No. Nobody

06:32:00:00

cared I don’t suppose. But you know at that stage I’m twenty two going on twenty three. But in fact I’m twenty four going on twenty four. So no that never occurred to anyone.
How long were you back in Palestine after El Alamein before you were shipped home?
Well we went up there before Christmas and we left there in February. Back down to the canal and

06:32:30:00

got on the Aquitania and down to Australia.
What news had you heard about the battles in New Guinea?
Not a lot really. I really don’t know the timing too well there. But we were aware that 7 Div had been - we became aware that Churchill tried to shanghai the 7th Div and sent them up to Ceylon

06:33:00:00

but Curtin had put his foot down and they’d come home. And you know I just don’t know when Milne Bay was captured by the 18th brigade. Whether it was after we came home or before I’m not sure.
How were you transported back home?
On the Aquitania.
And where did that stop?
Sydney.
Didn’t stop

06:33:30:00

anywhere on the way?
No we had to get - where the heck did we embark on it? Oh it must’ve been down at the mouth of the Suez Canal.
Port Tewfik?
Yeah Port Tewfik that’s right.
And how did that voyage compared to the luxury of your one on the way out?
Not as good. Yes it was a bit less luxurious. Wasn’t bad

06:34:00:00

though.
So you came home on the Aquitania. Was any attempt made to reinforce the battalion before you departed?
No. No we picked up any stragglers we had or people that were, seconded for jobs somewhere else.

06:34:30:00

And no we all came home complete, what was left of us. And that was quite a lot still.
Did you get leave when you came home?
Too right. Six weeks.
What was it like coming into Sydney Harbour again?
Marvellous. It was a beautiful day and it was good.
Were you welcomed?
Yeah we were.
Can you describe how you were welcomed and …
Oh well there were a lot of relatives and people were around. And we were taken off and then we were sent out

06:35:00:00

to a camp out at Wallgrove. I think it was there. There were a couple of camps anyway. We were taken to this camp and then we were sent off on leave. You know the formalities had to be - leave passes and all that because you couldn’t roam around Sydney without a leave pass without you know somebody wanting to know where you should be. So we all got a leave pass and quite a lot of fellows got married and their families. And

06:35:30:00

we had six weeks leave. And then back into the camp again and then up to - oh up to North Queensland to Keiri on the Atherton Tablelands.
The division was of course quite famous for its role in Tobruk by this stage. How did you deal with the fame and everybody talking about you?
Well I suppose we

06:36:00:00

had to enjoy a certain amount of soldierly conceit really so we were pretty pleased with ourselves and we knew that we’d done something pretty worthwhile. Well that’s about the answer.
Were you in any parades?
Yeah we had a parade through Sydney at one stage.
Were you in that parade?
Mm.
What did that feel like?
Oh that was wonderful. Except that I walked on the tram lines the whole way I

06:36:30:00

reckon. But no it was a great thing and people were cheering and going on you know.
Did you get to see your family on your leave?
Yes I did.
The fact that you were a soldier now, did your dad share any more stories?
He was dead. He died in August 1942. He was a foolish fellow I think because when the war broke out he became the secretary of a citizen’s recruitment

06:37:00:00

committee for the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] up in Tamworth and then the RAAF seemed to have a lot of fellows who wanted to learn to fly but they didn’t have much administration apparently. And they started an administrative school down at Sale in Victoria and my father was dragged into this and they made him a flight lieutenant or something. And he as in charge of this administration school to sort of teach people - RAAF

06:37:30:00

units about administration requirements. Anyway the point about it was he got a lung infection when he was down at Sale and the lung infection got to his brain and killed him. And I got a telegram when I was up in Palestine in September ’42 to say that your father had died and that was that.
That must be quite sad when you’re so far away from home?
Well it was - you know you began to have regrets. I wasn’t very

06:38:00:00

close to my father over many years because he and as I say my mother were virtually separated and we weren’t very close to him. And I knew he was there and in some respects I was disappointed that I hadn’t made a bit of an attempt to have some kind of a reconciliation. But it didn’t happen and he was dead.
Had you had any other relatives in service in World War 11?

06:38:30:00

Oh yes yes I had a young uncle. There were eight people in my mother’s family and one of them was a navigator in the RAAF and he got shot down over Malta and that was the end of him. But no other relatives - I mean I’ve got distant relatives, cousins and people like that at the time but we were not a close knit family.

06:39:00:00

Were you close to your mum?
Yes I was.
How did she deal with you being away in such harm’s way?
Oh I suppose sadly in a way. But we had a sort of ladies’ support group. You know wives’ and mothers’ support group and she was in that and kept in touch with the other mothers. And probably wished at that time that her son had written more letters to her. I was not a great letter writer although when

06:39:30:00

I sat down I could do it pretty well. She used to be in touch with the mothers of some of the fellows who wrote more often than I did. So she missed me of course she did. And my sister at this stage was in the services.
What was she doing?
In the WRAN’s.
Where was she based?
At Balmoral initially and then she went down to Canberra.
What sort of branch of the WRAN’s was she in?
Oh well

06:40:00:00

she was a writer.
Speaking of writing to your mother you must’ve been quite busy anyway to spend a lot of time writing letters?
Well that’s right. I think I procrastinated probably that was the thing. “Gees I must write to Mum.” That’s about it.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 07

07:00:34:00

Jim how much did you talk about the horrors of El Alamein with the guys after it had happened?
The short answer is not a lot except to say you miss certain people. I had a couple of special friends who were killed and I miss him but then the

07:01:00:00

whole basis of military activity you move onto the next thing that has to happen to you. I mean apart from feeling sad that some of your mates had been killed or wounded or something like that, well there was always the next phase that you had to really direct your mind to. I mean some people are probably more sentimental than others but for the most part I’d say that

07:01:30:00

fellows were stoic about this sort of thing, for want of a better word.
And what did you do on your six weeks leave in Sydney?
Oh I don’t know. Called on people that you felt you should call on. And I went into the office a few times because there were two fellows in there

07:02:00:00

who I’d worked with and worked under and they were ex World War 1 chaps and I felt they were glad to see me. And chat about what I’d been doing. I kept contact with CSR. And then a lot of us used to go out, well Princes and Romanos [nightclubs open for officers] got a lot of my money at one stage

07:02:30:00

of the game. And there were a couple of restaurants in Sydney. And we had friends we used to take. Some nurses we knew from the general hospital that we’d met in the Middle East, sometimes they were on leave. And we might take them out. Some fellows might have their wives and you know basically we just sort of knocked around and I caught up with my friends. One of my school friends

07:03:00:00

was doing medicine at Sydney and you know I went out a bit with him. And I went and saw a few mothers of fellows who had been killed or otherwise left us. And one fellow particular his mother was a very good woman and had done quite a lot for my original platoon and I went and spent quite a few days with her because she was obviously a very sad lady because she’d lost this younger son of hers.

07:03:30:00

And that sort of thing. So it all went so quickly.
At what point did Lorna come on the scene?
Not till about January 1943.
Okay.
We’ll get there eventually.
Yeah we will. Okay. Now you went up to the Atherton Tablelands. What were your first impressions about that part of the world?
Oh it was a great

07:04:00:00

contrast - I mean we’d been sent up there to be converted from being desert soldiers to being jungle fighters. And the Atherton Tables is a beautiful place. It is still is and it was then. And we used to marvel at the wonderful country it was but we spent a lot of time up there on amphibious training. And we used to go down to Cairns and we did quite a lot of training

07:04:30:00

with an American - oh it was called an engineers special brigade but basically it was an American unit that took over the beach when the forward troops had captured it. And they set up all the facilities for receiving stores and enabling ships to come in and that sort of thing. It was called an engineers special brigade. And they were a good lot of chaps and we spent a lot of time with them because they were unlike a lot of Americans.

07:05:00:00

They were really good fellows and they’d had a fair bit of battle experience and I remember the head of it was a wonderful big fellow and I think his name was McDonald. But his mother was a Red Indian [American Indian] and his father was a Scotsman. And they used to instead of calling us the 2/13th Battalion they used to call us the two bar one three combat team. Which greatly amused us. But that’s what we did there and then we’d go back up to the tablelands and carry on with

07:05:30:00

being issued with jungle kit. Jungle uniforms and we had quite a lot of - oh concern I suppose - quite a few fellows got a disease called scrub typhus which was a real killer. But then we were imbued with the idea of being careful of malaria. Not that there was malaria up there but there was you know

07:06:00:00

we were being trained to manage the jungle when we got there. So it was quite important for a unit to be good at accommodating itself to new conditions all the time. And that’s what we did.
What did the Americans tell you about what to expect in New Guinea?
Not much. I remember we had

07:06:30:00

a big conference up there one day and the divisional commander who by that time was General Wooton had got all the COs and adjutants of the division together and this cove - at that stage the Americans had captured Tarawa, I think it was. And this cove came along with a couple of his offsiders. And we listened and they were talking about the way they’d done it and how many casualties they’d had, and they’d had a lot.

07:07:00:00

But I can remember old George Wooton saying at the end of it, he said, “Oh well Major as far as I can see the secret of the whole thing is you’ve got to get a toe hold on the f-ing beach.” And that was George Wooton. So that was our introduction to it but the Americans that came with this equipment that we trained on, these landing craft that they brought with them, they told us

07:07:30:00

a few of the things we’d have to put up with. Like not being able to land ourselves comfortably with dry feet up on the beach. That we always had a fair chance of finishing up getting into the water and so we did as the time went by.
So what’s that like, to leap out of a landing barge?
No good. You get damned wet. Fortunately it wasn’t cold but you know with equipment - if that happened well fellows’d have to hold their rifles above their heads

07:08:00:00

to keep their arms and that sort of thing from - fellows with heavy equipment like trench mortars and that sort of thing that’d be a pain in a neck because although we always had big strong tall fellows like your friend here carrying them, there was always the risk of being drowned. And odd fellows used to get drowned in these things.
So what kind of training exercises did you do?

07:08:30:00

Oh basically patrolling in the jungle. That’s what it amounts to. Setting up small attacks on points. You’d pick out some place, we need that hill or we need to be able to get across this creek or that creek or whatever. Because we were being trained at that stage for an amphibious landing on Lae. And so it was sort of typical

07:09:00:00

patrolling and that sort of thing.
Looking back now at the benefit of hindsight, how useful were the tactics that you used on the Atherton Tablelands to put in practise in New Guinea?
Oh well they were the same basic things that we’d always done but we did it in a different way and a different

07:09:30:00

place. You know you still had the same organisation and you know there was less visibility and you had to keep your eyes, particularly fellows in the rifle platoons and infantry sections and so forth had to be better at supporting each other because unlike the desert where you had a fair idea - you could see for miles in front of you or you could see

07:10:00:00

what was going on in front of you and then you could be ambushed quite quickly and we had to train - be cautious about being ambushed. That’s the kind of thing that was different. I mean you were still in the business of trying to capture the ground from the enemy. That’s what infantry’s for, that’s the whole job of it. You know you’ve got to either kick the enemy out of the piece of ground you want or alternatively stop them taking over your piece.
And the ground that you were working on

07:10:30:00

was it marshy and muddy land?
Oh no just wet.
What extra equipment did you pick up to deal with the jungle?
Well we had the same basic equipment as we always had except that we had jungle greens and we had no shorts, full long gear all the time. And putties - anklet things -

07:11:00:00

the idea was to sort of - you never kept too dry but it was basically to keep out the mosquitoes. You weren’t allowed to get around at night. Your sleeves had to be rolled down and all this sort of thing. Quite a lot of people when we got up to New Guinea copped malaria. For no other reason than it was just rife and even the brigadier got it at one stage of the game. So you know it wasn’t - no guard against

07:11:30:00

this sort of problem. And some fellows got sick, I don’t know. But didn’t stand up too well to it and so we always had people that were a loss one way or another. They’d be back in hospital getting over malaria or something like that. But when we finally landed at Lae it was not opposed and we didn’t really have a great deal to worry about there.

07:12:00:00

But then the next day our brigade was planned to go and land and capture Finschhafen from the Japanese and we actually marched around the coast up an embarking place where we got on more landing ships and so forth. And had a quite seriously opposed landing at Finschhafen.
Was it Port Moresby that you arrived at first

07:12:30:00

in New Guinea.
Oh no Milne Bay.
Right. Can you tell us about arriving the first time in New Guinea?
It was hot and wet. But not much of an answer. But Milne Bay had been captured by the 18th Brigade and it had become a substantial military area really. There was quite a lot of transport there and the RAAF were there in fairly big strength. They had

07:13:00:00

quite a lot of air craft there but you know it was just another camp.
How long were you based there for before you set off?
Just can’t remember now. Not long anyway.
Where were you sleeping at night?
Oh Milne Bay I think we had ground sheets and that sort of thing but when we got further up we probably slept on the ground wet.

07:13:30:00

Were you any more or less apprehensive about meeting the Japanese as an enemy compared with the Germans?
I don’t think we had very much respect for the Japanese. I mean the Germans after all were Europeans and the Italians were European. And we

07:14:00:00

had a sort of historical background for meeting with the Germans and Italians. But the Japanese we had no experience of them. I mean before the war, we just didn’t know much about them really. And they’d come down and by this time we knew that they’d taken Singapore. And so they were just

07:14:30:00

an enemy and we didn’t have much respect for them that’s what it amounts to.
So that the day that you set off for Lae, what time did you leave?
Oh I think it must’ve been - I don’t know but it was a day light landing. The Finschhafen one was a daylight landing too.
What happened on Lae then when

07:15:00:00

you landed?
Well we just landed and the Japanese had cleared out and so we were allocated an area and we sort of grouped and there was our battalion and we just waited for the next job.
What evidence could you see of the Japanese having been there?
Oh the place was knocked about a fair bit because there’d been a fair bit of bombing preparation by our side before it ever happened.

07:15:30:00

And 7th Div - they were supposed to do an airborne landing there, parachute landing. And they did it. They were unopposed too so not much happened there. But of course 7th Div were given the job of going up through the middle and we were to go up through the coast. And they had a bad -

07:16:00:00

it was a bad sort of war they had at that stage because it was very - crossing rivers, it was jungle. And there was no doubt about it - it is hot and it is wet and it’s jolly uncomfortable. I’d never go back there in a fit. So then we sat around at Lae for a while until we got new orders for our brigade to get ready to embark to go and capture Finschhafen and we marched up the coast

07:16:30:00

to an embarkation point where we - we had to - we just didn’t get on the ship and go. I mean there was a plan which we had to be ready for and you know we were allocated this beach and they were allocated that beach and in the end we didn’t get onto the right beach anyway. We got ashore alright at Finschhafen and unfortunately a couple of our fellows were killed by snipers sitting up in trees. But we cleaned them up

07:17:00:00

and we got just so far. But the Japanese were well dug into an area and we had to go and clean them out of that before we got anywhere because the whole aim of the thing was to get up a track to a place called Sattleberg which had been a reasonably German mission come winter quarters kind of place for the German missionaries. And that was a serious war for a while, we lost a lot of people.

07:17:30:00

And at one stage one of the battalions was cut off because the Japs had got across the track and they couldn’t supply them. And anyway ultimately Finschhafen was captured.
Backing up a bit from there, before you landed on Lae what were you expecting to encounter

07:18:00:00

when you did?
Japanese troops in well entrenched positions.
So when you arrived and that wasn’t the case, what was the situation like for you?
Well in Lae we expected them to be - yeah in positions to resist our attack from the sea. But they weren’t there, they’d cleared out. But when we got to Finschhafen they were

07:18:30:00

back from the beach. We thought they’d be up close but they were further back in the hills at the back. And oh well that meant we were able to get ashore and actually to establish a beachhead they used to call it and we got quite a lot of stuff ashore.
Can you describe the terrain for us at Finschhafen. What could you see from the ship?
Oh Finschhafen

07:19:00:00

was a little port. And you know - well it was just a little town on the coast and a little village on a coast I suppose it was. But there was also a hospital there and it was a way up to this Sattleburg place. There was quite a lot of beach there.

07:19:30:00

What else?
Were there any natives around?
Oh yes there were. But we didn’t see a lot of them. I think a lot of them around there were in cahoots with the Japanese and I think a few of them were either captured or our fellows fired on them and they cleared out. But the Americans put a lot of stuff ashore. And you know we used to laugh. We reckoned with the Americans the troops came first, then the Coca Cola and then the ice cream.

07:20:00:00

It was a township and we were there but then we had to do the next bit then and get to this place called Kakapo it was called which is - well one of our companies actually attacked it and captured it. But then we all resumed operations on going up this track. And it was a dangerous place because you never quite knew when you were going to be ambushed

07:20:30:00

and it was difficult to supply us because it was steep. And you know jeeps had trouble even getting up it but you know I can remember I think I saw my first bulldozer. Americans had landed a couple of bulldozers and some of our engineers were operating them. And I admired the fellow that was doing it because there he is out in the middle of the jungle sort of ploughing away with his bulldozer, not another soul in sight. I thought, “Well I hope everybody keeps out of your road from the other

07:21:00:00

side.” But there we are - and finally the Japanese cleared out. They were running out of food, they were, obviously. When we came across some of them eventually they were pretty much starving because at that stage of course there was an enormous air cover and the Americans were there with their Lightnings and goodness knows what. And they used to shoot up everything Japanese. The Japanese attempted to try and resupply some of these places by floating in bags of rice. But they got shot

07:21:30:00

up or alternatively our fellows caught them first. And so they really had no other course but to withdraw because they were virtually unable to be supplied and they would have starved to death if they’d stayed there.
When you first arrived and landed at Finschhafen how far back from the beach were the Japanese

07:22:00:00

that knocked off some of your guys?
Oh I think it was - there were some of them probably half a mile. The bulk of their defences were about half a mile back.
And what was it like coming across those?
Oh well they were shooting and you knew they were there. I can remember there was a line of trees at the back and that’s when - I can remember one of our officers actually

07:22:30:00

got shot by a sniper up in the trees. And of course everybody got stuck into that and he didn’t last long. The sniper I mean. So you just had to keep pushing and the Japanese withdrew then from that position into others.
How long did it take you to realise you were now involved in a very different war?
Not very long. I mean it’s a totally different place.

07:23:00:00

And as I’ve said before, observation was limited and you had to - every man had to keep an eye out for everybody else all the time because the Japanese were pretty good at this infiltrating of things and setting up ambushes. And you know you’d have a patrol out and you’d send a couple of fellows out and before you knew they were opening fire. So it was different sort of an enemy and a different sort of war entirely and that’s why we were sent up the

07:23:30:00

Tablelands to train for it. And by that time there had been a lot of lessons learnt from 7th Div activities in Buna and Gona and other parts of New Guinea.
When did you first set your eyes on a Japanese soldier?
Oh at Finschhafen I suppose. There were quite a few there.

07:24:00:00

And they used to - I don’t know one place we used to observe them crossing the river on a log and the fellows used to take pot shots at them but I don’t think they managed to hit too many. But you know I saw a few and there were a few prisoners taken. But they were always sent back as smartly as possible back to intelligence where they were interrogated in an attempt to find out the usual military information that prisoners were asked for.

07:24:30:00

But the Americans - there were a limited number of interpreters I suppose but the Americans had quite a few because there were so called Nisi [first generation of Japanese immigrants to America] Japanese American citizens you know from Hawaii and San Francisco. So quite a lot of them became interpreters.
How were the Japanese Americans received bearing in mind

07:25:00:00

that America was at war with Japan. Was that a conflict area?
Oh God well - the Americans were flat out trying to capture as much of the country - all the islands in the Pacific and they were out to kill as many Japanese as they could. And indeed they lost a lot of people. And so did the Japanese. With some of the famous battles like Guadalcanal and that sort of thing, there were thousands of Americans

07:25:30:00

casualties and wounded and there were thousands of Japanese. So it’s not really a question of how were they received by any means. They were received on the wrong end of a gun.
I was more thinking of the Japanese American interpreters?
Oh those fellows, oh I see what you mean. Oh they were honest good American boys.
What was your impression of the standard of fighting from the Americans?

07:26:00:00

The Americans had a different style to us really. The Americans sort of idea was, you know a great preparation with as much bombing and strafing and air, before ever the foot soldier got on the ground.

07:26:30:00

They always liked to put on a tremendous bombardment of the target before the troops ever got to land there. So it was different because they had the resources and - but that was their style. I mean there was no economy of force like we might have said. They hit them with the lot. Well no argument about that if you’ve got the lot.
What’s it like to be ambushed

07:27:00:00

in the jungle?
I wasn’t ambushed but it’s no joy because you might get shot. You know an ambush is - well you’ve got no alternative than to fight your way out of it. And at that stage we had these Owen guns which were Australian made tommy made guns and they were very good. They could stand up to the jungle as well as anything. But you know there was every patrol and that sort of thing

07:27:30:00

had a Bren gun and a light machine gun and probably a couple of the fellows had these tommy gun things. So you tried to fight your way out of it and if you couldn’t, well that was the end of you. So quite a few casualties came about through people being ambushed. I mean okay you set up ambushes - if you found that the Japanese had a regular

07:28:00:00

path where they attempted to ever bring up their situation, bring up their rations or whatever, well you’d lay in wait for them and bang bang, you tried to kill them as much as you could, or as many as you could.
Did you ever have to kill any Japanese?
Myself? No. I took a pot shot at these fellows who were crossing the river but I don’t think I hit anybody.
What did you think about the prospect

07:28:30:00

of killing somebody at close range?
Well it was him or me. Right throughout the war there was no other way of thinking. It was him or me. You didn’t want to spare anybody’s life if he was going to take yours.
The part of the road that went from Finschhafen up to Satteburg, what kind of a track was it?

07:29:00:00

It was a poor jeep track, if you can imagine that. Like a four wheel drive out in the middle of the National Park somewhere. Oh no there was no road about it it was just a track. And with all the rain. It rained like the devil up there. And you know it’d get muddy and the engineers used to cut down trees and put down logs and you know. But a jeep could barely make it.

07:29:30:00

And it was a problem for people with heavy equipment like artillery and you know sometimes they’d have to push like mad to get things out of the mud. And so no the Sattleburg track was a track.
Do you remember roughly how far it was from Finschhafen to Satteburg?
No I don’t. It was some miles. Sattleburg was a hill. I can remember it was a high hill. And there was another mission just - it was called Hopoi mission but it had been

07:30:00:00

a German protectorate before World War 1. But there was still a lot of German missionaries and people there before the Japanese came on the scene. But I can’t remember how many miles it was but it was not a lot. There’s this hill sitting at the back of Finschhafen.
How did you decide where to sleep of a night as you were moving along this track?

07:30:30:00

Where the next bit of ground was, you know a comfortable bit of ground. And we had things called ground sheets you just put those over your head and that was just about as good protection as you had. You know I can remember for at least two weeks there I don’t think I was ever dry. And I never had any kind of change of clothing. And I think we were all fairly

07:31:00:00

wet and probably a bit on the nose but we never got any dry clothes until the battle of Finschhafen was over and we were able to come back to the port where we got issued with some clean clothing. So that was the answer, you got down on the ground. I can remember, I had a particular friend, he was the intelligence officer and I’m the adjutant - we both smoked and we put two ground sheets

07:31:30:00

over the top of us and you know have a cigarette under the ground sheets and talk.
As the adjutant what were your responsibilities?
Oh I was the battalion commander’s staff officer. I was the sort of mouth piece for the CO. So it was my job if he said, “Oh get on the phone and tell Paul” and Paul might have been the company commander of B Company -

07:32:00:00

“I want him to go this and go that.” And I used to convey the CO’s orders and that was the job. And also there was a bit of administration in it but not much at that stage of the game. But substantially it was the CO’s staff officer.
How severe were problems with animals and insects on that track?
None at all except mosquitoes. No animals. I didn’t ever become aware of any animals like snakes or things like that no. Insects were our biggest menace.

07:32:30:00

You know bloody mosquitoes.
Are they big huge ones?
Oh they were big enough. That was the first time I ever saw a pressurised spray because the Americans had pressurised spray things that were about this big. Press the button, great stuff. First time I’d ever seen it.
How similar was it

07:33:00:00

to what we have today?
Oh the same stuff only bigger. And in khaki coloured cans that’s all.
Still working as an aerosol? And in what situations would you use that?
Oh at night. I’m not being silly but we didn’t see it all that much but I know in Finschhafen we were given some of these by the Americans.

07:33:30:00

But I say it was no big deal but I just happen to recall that that was the first time I’d ever seen a pressurised mosquito spray. Prior to that I’d only ever been used to Mortein sprays where you blew a thing in a bottle to spray.
How did that work? I’ve never seen one?
Oh not too good not in the army. But never in the army. This was in civilian days.
You’d blow into a…?
There was a little pump thing and you blew in - there was a bit across the top and you did -

07:34:00:00

like that and it drew it up and sprayed it out the front. Mortein spray.
Did the cans of insect spray in Finschhafen have a name?
No. I mean the Americans would have had a name for them but God knows what it was.
Did everybody have access to this or?
No no we just had a few of them I think. It was not a general issue. But before too long they’d be a nuisance

07:34:30:00

and you’d leave them in the mud.
Were there other things that the Americans gave you to make life more comfortable.
They had better food than we did. They’d have these big cans of cooked chicken and stuff you know. Luxury.
And if you could possibly generalise were they cheerful people to be around?
Oh sure they were okay. The Americans, oh we got on well with them.

07:35:00:00

They - well they were fighting soldiers and so were we and we all got on well together.
Were there any significant differences in your methods?
Oh not really because the ones we had were - the ones we associated with were the operators of you know the amphibious boats and things like that. And also

07:35:30:00

professional or people good at establishing these beach groups. Beach supply points. They brought the stuff in and there were not a lot of them there by any means. But they just part of the help we had, support we had I suppose is the word.
How

07:36:00:00

did things go for you in Finschhafen. Were you successful?
Oh too right we were yeah because the Japanese withdrew from the place. And then we went back into brigade reserve back to the township and that’s where I left the battalion because I was told that I’d been nominated to go to a military staff college down in Canberra for three months.

07:36:30:00

And I got on a little launch and went back to Lae and I got in an aeroplane back to Port Moresby. Port Moresby back to Sydney by plane and that’s when I met me wife. So that answers your question. This was about January ’44.

07:37:00:00

Can you tell us the story of the romance with your wife?
Oh no well I was there and my sister was in the navy and she was at the same depot as Lorna. And I said, “Oh look we’d go- “ It might have been Gone with the Wind at one the theatres in Sydney or something. So okay my sister brought Lorna and another lass along and we went to see Gone with the Wind. And I think then you know I rang her up and took her out somewhere else.

07:37:30:00

And that was the beginning. And then I went down to Canberra at this school and I worked like a slave for three months down there. And then - where are we? How far do you want to go at this point?
No tell us the whole story.
So this school was for training staff officers for higher level. You know we used to do all kinds of exercises all the time.

07:38:00:00

And it was - you know there was all sorts of tactical exercises but you had to plan them. And what had to be got together for them and how to get it there and how many of them there were. And you know you’d sit down and you’d say, “You’ve got to move X division from here to there because of something else they’re going to do.” And you had to sit down and you’d say, “Well God almighty

07:38:30:00

we’ve got move twenty thousand trucks” and all this sort of thing. It was a long exercise. And then we did a period of amphibious training. We went down to Moruya and we planned a whole lot of landing exercises on paper down there. But what used to happen we were in syndicates and we’d have to report the next day about you know what was our syndicate’s plan for doing it. So it was good training but it was long

07:39:00:00

hours I can assure you. Because the whole thing was compressed from a year to about three months.
Who else was doing this course?
Oh a whole lot of other captains and majors. But after that finished by mistake I got posted to a brigade in 7th Div and then the army realised they’d sent me to the wrong place. And so I got reposted then to the amphibious

07:39:30:00

group up in Cairns which was a nice thing to do at that stage. And we then started all the training for the eventual landings in Borneo. And after that fizzled out and we were all carted off to Morotai and I was then posted to a senior staff job at headquarters 9th Division.

07:40:00:00

I was called G2 Combined Ops. I think I explained before that the divisional commander had an operations staff group and an administrative staff group and I was one of the two senior operations fellows and we sat down and planned the Lae and Borneo and Labuan landings.
When were you promoted to major?
Oh I don’t know, in Cairns I think.
So after you’d done the course

07:40:30:00

in Canberra. Right okay. How many other guys were doing that course in Canberra?
Oh there must’ve been oh probably about thirty.
Was it explained to you why you were chosen to go down that road?
No because the army was - they kept training people to fill these sort of appointments because they were running out of them and people

07:41:00:00

had been promoted and new kinds of operations were being planned and they needed more of them that’s what it boils down to.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 08

08:00:31:00

Before we actually go to staff school I wanted to ask you what the sort of relationship was between front line troops and officers and people like you who were in the rear echelon?
Well we were never in the rear echelon, I assure you. Battalion headquarters was not miles away. So you know the

08:01:00:00

relationship was good. There was the hierarchy of the battalion and there was the CO and there was me and there was an intelligence officer and battalion headquarters people and companies and we were never very far away I assure you, up in that operation.
Do you think the guys at the front were a bit acrimonious towards you sometimes?
Never. And I’m not kidding. I don’t ever recall anybody ever thinking that way because we had all been -

08:01:30:00

oh except for new people we had all been in it together before. And we were a very closely knit mob I can assure you. And George Colburn who was our CO at that stage he’d been a company commander and he was a good fellow and everyone admired him. The answer is none. To the best of my knowledge I suppose one should say,

08:02:00:00

but still I don’t think there was any.
When you were in Finschhafen and those places in New Guinea how did you cope with the heat?
Oh well it was just hot. Hot and sweaty. I had my jungle green pants on and a shirt which I’d had on for a fortnight and that was that.

08:02:30:00

There was no point about heat.
How badly affected was the battalion by disease?
Quite a lot really because you know quite a number of people caught, as I say there were quite a few people who caught malaria and you know it was - I forget what kind of complaints they had but quite a few had to be evacuated.

08:03:00:00

I mean if you had malaria you weren’t much good as a soldier because you had these rigours that they used to call them and you could die if something wasn’t done about it. But we were all taking Atebrin at that time but we were still unluckily enough to catch it you know.
How many of the old hands were left by this stage?
Oh I really don’t know but there was pretty much a nucleus of it. I wouldn’t

08:03:30:00

know what proportion. Off hand I don’t know. It could be worked out but there were still quite a few of us left. But when we came back from the Middle East quite a few fellows who were medically unfit or for some reason or other were transferred into competent units. And there was a medical grading and if you were B class well you were taken out of combat duties.

08:04:00:00

How did you feel about leaving the battalion?
Well I was sorry to. But again it was going to be a new adventure and I’d been there since the 8th May or something 1940 and I’d been through what I called a pretty fair share of what had been going on and I realised it was going to be a new experience.

08:04:30:00

So there was a mixture of being sorry to go but interested in what was going to happen in the future.
Why do you think that you had the sort of skills that would require you to be posted to a staff officers’ course. Or what better skills is a better way of saying that.
I suppose experience really.

08:05:00:00

Experience in - I’d been virtually on a battalion headquarters the whole time. Except briefly in Lebanon but other than that - and I had an experience of the army in a bigger picture than say a person in a company.
What skills do you think a staff officer needs?
Tact.

08:05:30:00

A good sort of political sense if you like and an ability to cope with complications of the military system and planning and that sort of thing. I suppose that’s what it boils down to. Mental capacity

08:06:00:00

to be able to learn to deal with it all.
I could actually ask you the opposite question as well and so what makes a bad staff officer?
Well bad staff officers never - oh I can think of a couple of examples but, they never get there. You know the army’s got a sort of self protective way of - if somebody’s not doing a good job or is in the way of

08:06:30:00

good operation, you get transferred somewhere else. And they use you up in some sort of administrative job somewhere. No names, no pack drill, but the chief staff officer of 9th Division, when I went there was not much good. And my immediate

08:07:00:00

offsider who was another G2 he and I actually did all the work and kept him out of the road. But eventually although he was very highly regarded by the GOC [general officer commanding] it had to be realised that he was incompetent and so he got moved.
Incompetent in what way, laziness?
Oh just not able to cope somehow. That’s not a very answer but no not laziness.

08:07:30:00

He was sort of untidy in his thought processes and unable to sort of produce material and produce orders and that sort of thing which was part of the exercise. Unable to do plans that were quick and accepted and you know fitted in with the whole picture.
There must be a tremendous amount

08:08:00:00

of information to process at that level.
Oh indeed there is. And well on a divisional headquarters - well a division’s a sort of large unit on its own. But there were all sorts of questions about if you’re planning an operation at that stage, who goes on what ships and who’s attached to what, what artillery regiments and things are required.

08:08:30:00

And co-ordination with supporting people. At that stage when we went to Borneo I think the Shropshire was with us, an Australian ship and they did a certain amount of bombardment before the operation. So there are all these sort of things that have got to be co-ordinated and brought together so that everyone knows at what time, at what place and how much they are

08:09:00:00

involved and required. So it’s a question of considerable co-ordination I suppose.
I can’t imagine where on earth you start at something like that.
Well that’s why they send you to school to learn these things. Because you start with a basic facts of life and they say, “Okay 9th Division has been set up to go and land in Borneo. So there are people

08:09:30:00

who know what that means to the extent that the artillery commander knows that he’s got three field regiments. The chief engineer for the division knows he’s got a certain amount of people and units and equipment. The RAAF people are kept in touch and you know what they’ve got. And then the infantry brigades are by that time

08:10:00:00

well and truly entities that you can easily understand. It’s all the odds and bits and pieces that get tacked on that you really have to worry about. Who are quite necessary and part of the whole operation but can’t be forgotten. You know there might be engineer work shops that have got to be able to repair tanks or the RAAF have got to have a unit that goes with them -

08:10:30:00

got to get a unit there that develops air fields and all this kind of thing. It’s a question of knowing where all the bits and pieces are and being able to slot them into the right place at the right time. So yes it is, and that’s why we spent a lot of time and a lot of work in putting all this together so that when the general comes to sort of deal with all the other people he’s properly informed. And he knows that

08:11:00:00

he wants to do can be done because it gets back to what I was talking about, military appreciations. We’ve been through all this what can go wrong and what must go right kind of thing.
So at the school how did they start preparing you in that way and then making it more and more involved?
Oh well they gave you - the directing staff they called it - they gave you exercises to do and they gave you a great book full of - this is the

08:11:30:00

order of battle of an infantry division. And pages and pages of it. And it gets down to field hospital, mobile bath units and all sorts of crazy things that you never believe. So you go away and you say, alright well we’ve got to move 20 brigade and they’ll have in support the 2/12th Field Regiment. And okay you sit down with all the information you’ve got

08:12:00:00

about these organisations and say, well we’ll need four hundred trucks. Thirty three tonne trucks to move their gear or move them. And move all their equipment and you can’t take this sort of a gun because some ship can’t take it aboard or you cant’ have tanks because there’s no ships that can take tanks. This is the kind of exercise. And you got marks in the end. You’d have to produce a thing called an operation order and you’d get -

08:12:30:00

you’d either get a tick on it which might be complimentary or it’d say, you have forgotten the something or other. Or, this is a good order. So that’s the way you were taught.
And they would increase in complexity?
Oh too right they would. And then there’d be the sort of bigger exercise and different exercises. And you’d go out in the field and they’d probably have a dummy this and dummy

08:13:00:00

that. But then you’d be given - if part of the deal was you required air reconnaissance of enemy positions or land positions they’d lay on the RAAF. Down there they used to lay on aeroplanes and we’d go flying around and say, oh yes and look out the other side. And we’d go down to Moruya and did some co-operation with the navy. And bought oysters for four bob a

08:13:30:00

twenty dozen bag and that sort of thing.
How many hours a day were you working at that school when it was so compressed in time?
Well it might start in the morning after breakfast at about half past eight and you’d get the task. And then you’d have to work on it as a syndicate. You know and you might go to half past eleven at night or something like that.

08:14:00:00

Because you couldn’t agree or you didn’t think we’d done a good job on this and eventually some pigeon had to sit down and do the writing. I used to get that quite a bit in our syndicate. But it all had to be in the directing staff’s box by nine o’clock the next morning. And however long it took you or how quick it was was your own business.
Why did you cop the secretary job?
Oh only because I think I wasn’t bad at putting words on paper.

08:14:30:00

The background that you had had with the 2/13th was that fairly typical of the young men that were there?
They’d come from various - yeah they’d come from regiments. Artillery regiments. Army service units. Other divisions. Yeah it was fairly typical. Some people had been, the army had a system of learners -

08:15:00:00

on a brigade there’d be a brigade major and a brigade major learner. Well the learner guy might have been sent off because somebody thought he was going to be good enough to be a brigade major or this kind of posting or jobs that you had given to you. And I think probably by that stage you’d established that your intellect was up to, that’s what it boils down to.
I guess the clichéd

08:15:30:00

picture of a staff officer is a bit of a chinless wonder without much between the ears.
In the Australian Army no senior officer would accept somebody who hadn’t had battle experience. Mind you the army had scattered throughout it various graduates of Duntroon and quite a lot of them were given staff appointments.

08:16:00:00

But mostly after they’d had some regimental experience. Because for their own future it had to be on their record that they’d served six months in the XYZ artillery regiment or this that and the other. And that’s why I say if they were no good they got transferred somewhere.
You’ve talked a lot about the planning there of logistics and

08:16:30:00

movement and support. Who worked out the actual tactical plan?
Oh you were working to a tactical plan. Yes that’s right. And indeed there had to be a tactical plan as part of it because part of this process of military appreciation finished up with an outline plan always of how it might be done. And then you had to test that having come to that sort of conclusion whether could it really be done.

08:17:00:00

What was the brigade staff that you were briefly and mistakenly posted to?
Oh 25th Brigade. I was posted to the job of staff captain at that stage but I was about to be a major and they’d sent me to the wrong place. I enjoyed that for a little while but they drank a bit those fellows. I was glad to leave. They were nice fellows but you know the first words the brigadier said to me when I reported for duty.

08:17:30:00

He said, “Somerville do you drink?” And I said, “Yes Sir, a bit.” He said, “Well we’ll try you out tonight.” Tonight came and I had to be very cautious. Anyway that was that.
What is the role then of a brigade major or a brigade captain in the staff?
Well the staff captain was the administrative fellow. The brigade major’s job was to be the brigadier’s chief staff officer in the same way an adjutant was for an infantry battalion commander.

08:18:00:00

And then up to the next level the division had on the operations side a fellow called a G1 - general staff officer grade 1. And you also had an administrative chief who was called the adjutant or adjutant quarter master general.
The combined operations post. How was that different to a standard army establishment?

08:18:30:00

Oh nothing except that we sort of - we co-ordinated all the training that’s all. We sort of said, “Righto it’s 26th Brigade’s turn this week.” And we got the Americans all organised with their ships and down 26th Brigade came and bingo, handed over.
How did the different services co-operate?
Oh well.

08:19:00:00

There was no inter service spats or anything?
Oh no couldn’t be. I mean the other services were sensible enough to send people who were likely to get on. No we didn’t have any wars about that.
The combined operations was a fairly new beast I suppose.
Yes there was a thing called -

08:19:30:00

they formed things called beach groups. And basically they were the equivalent of this American organisation I talked about. They set up the beach after it had been captured. And it had elements of army service corps, supply people, ammunition receiving and well basically it was setting up an administrative

08:20:00:00

set up to support the troops that were pushing on inland.
The command operations post was that before or after 9th Division headquarters post?
No that was well before. I went from there to 9 Div headquarters.
When did you go to 9 Div headquarters?
Oh must’ve been about - oh early 1944 - at the end of ’44. Yeah at the end of 1944.

08:20:30:00

Might have been early ’45 I’m not sure.
So how is a divisional headquarters different from a brigade headquarters?
Oh just more people. Because you’ve got all kinds - well you’ve got representatives of the other arms there for a start. No more people.
And what was your role at 9 Div headquarters?
Well my role at 9 Div headquarters was to be an operations

08:21:00:00

- a G2. My role was G2 combined operations it was called. My job was to help with the planning of the landings on the Borneo and Labuan Island.
And how well did all your training prepare you for that job?
Well we reckon we did a pretty good job because it all went off pretty well. But by that time the war was not too serious.

08:21:30:00

But it had to be good. And it was good.
What did you think at the time about the necessity of those operations you were planning?
Well I don’t think we had any say in it. That’s the short answer. I mean it had been arranged with the Americans that - oh General Macarthur had decided that the Australians weren’t much use in New Guinea and the

08:22:00:00

islands at that stage of the game. Weren’t wanted. And basically there was a lot of POWs in Borneo and the Brits, well we wanted to, the British wanted it back again and off we went. So I think it was a way of keeping us occupied quite frankly because we hadn’t really done much after the New Guinea coast for

08:22:30:00

a long time. Nearly a year.
Other veterans we’ve spoken to who were quite lower down the pecking order from 9th Division said that that year was incredibly hard on morale by the end of it?
It was. Because you know fellows had been married and it was close to home and your thoughts were closer to home. And a hell of a lot of fellows went AWL [absent without leave] and it was always very difficult because

08:23:00:00

there’s somebody who’s a really first class soldier and he goes AWL. And theoretically he should have been charged and put in the bag sort of thing for a while. But if they were brought back they were forgiven their sins so to speak. But it was a difficult time because you weren’t doing anything. It was just damn boring, that’s what it was.

08:23:30:00

So how did they keep the men occupied?
Oh well they used to - all sorts of amusements. They used to have race days and cricket matches. And inter unit football matches. And you know quite a bit of leave was handed out in those days because it was pretty hard to get a fellow from north Queensland to Sydney or Adelaide or even Brisbane in those days ‘cause there was just no transport much.

08:24:00:00

Does a division lose its edge after that long?
No I don’t really think so. I mean there were a whole lot of new people. We had in the 13 - I wasn’t there but we had a whole lot of new officers and they were blokes - some of them had had experience, some hadn’t. But it was a - I suppose a different kind of an

08:24:30:00

environment for want of a better word. But people, as I say were bored and they wanted to go home. And their families weren’t far away and we were just wanting something else to happen.
Were the staff at the divisional HQ aware of that problem?
Oh yes everyone was but what could we do about it? Your Government and their advisors

08:25:00:00

tell you what to do at that stage of the game and we had to do it.
Were you aware of any agitation within the divisional headquarters asking for jobs to do? For missions to be given?
Not really. No I don’t think so because there were a variety of people, that had different obligations and different kinds of jobs. They just did them and you know

08:25:30:00

that was that.
I was just wondering if you think the divisional command was lobbying hard to be given something or a new campaign?
Oh I don’t think so because I think Tom Blamey wanted to have something to do and although they made him a field marshall I think he felt as if he was being sidelined by Macarthur and so I think he persuaded the Government that we should accept this role of

08:26:00:00

recapturing Borneo from the Japanese.
What did you think of Blamey?
Didn’t have much to do with him. We really didn’t. I mean we never saw - I mean okay Tom Blamey inspected us a few times but we never thought much beyond our own divisional commander. I mean we idealised Mooreshead in Tobruk and we

08:26:30:00

- oh George Wooten became a divisional commander in New Guinea - he’d been successful as a brigade commander. They used to call him old mud guts but he was twenty two stone. But he made his name eventually. And our own brigade commander, Victor Windier had been with us for a long time. And we had great respect for him.
What did you think of Montgomery’s

08:27:00:00

leadership in the desert?
Oh wonderful. As far as we were concerned Montgomery was a new light on the whole thing. Because we were assured that Montgomery wasn’t going to do anything as much as he might have been pushed by Churchill, but he said, “I’m not doing anything until I’ve got all the equipment. I’m not going to go off half baked.” And he didn’t. No we had - his PR [public relations]

08:27:30:00

was marvellous really. There were so many instances of him pulling up a fellow trying to fix a truck or a tank and say, “What’s wrong son?” “Oh Sir the petrol pump’s busted on this” or something. And next day a light aeroplane would fly in with a new petrol pump or something. All these kind of anecdotal stories got around. “This guy’s wonderful, he’s new.” So we all felt pretty happy about him.

08:28:00:00

And he sort of got around in a digger hat all the time. And he had a very good lot of people with him. And there were a lot of good British units came in with him. So the answer to your question was we all admired him tremendously. Because he was successful.
What about MacArthur when you were working under him later on, what did you think of his leadership at that theatre?

08:28:30:00

We didn’t know too much about MacArthur. He was in Australia and he had a headquarters in Melbourne and he had another one in Sydney but - you know he was no large part of our thing.
What were the special problems or conditions that you had to contend with in planning the Borneo landings?

08:29:00:00

Well we were going to go there by ship and we had to clamber down the sides of ships and you know that was a bit different. Nothing that we hadn’t been able to do before. And Labuan - the divisional headquarters landed at Labuan. But 1 Brigade went over to - oh

08:29:30:00

what was then, British North Borneo. And our 20th Brigade went down - further down on the coast on a place called Miri, where there were a lot of oil fields that were worth recovering. The Japs had them alight but they managed to get them out. And another brigade went around to Balikpapan which was an unfortunate thing because they had a pretty hard fight there. So there was nothing different except it was a new place.

08:30:00:00

Unknown resistance by the enemy, that sort of thing.
So there were no unique challenges in planning?
There weren’t yes that’s right. But we also had to take account of the fact that in Kuching and Sarawak there was a lot of prisoners - both civilian and army. And that had to be thought of.
When you’re planning a divisional

08:30:30:00

operation which involves the brigade’s landing at quite widely separated points does that throw up any challenges?
No because - oh yes it did in general because of supporting arms and everything. But basically they were never given a job that they couldn’t do on their own.
So is that because of the nature of the way a brigade’s constituted?
Yes that’s right. I mean you got to the point

08:31:00:00

where certain supporting arms were always regarded themselves as attached to 20 Brigade. I mean you always had a particular field regiment, you know gunners. You always had a particular field company and they felt as if they were a part of the brigade family and you got used to and friendly with all their officers. And the fellows got to know each other and trusted each other.

08:31:30:00

So you think that establishment and order of battle in brigades was a good flexible system?
Oh sure it was mm. Proved itself over and over. But you know it meant that a division could fight as a division, as a single unit away from everybody else if it had to. And brigades and even battalions could fight on their own. A battalion was virtually self contained. As long as you didn’t give them too big a job.

08:32:00:00

When you’re planning back there at headquarters and you’re looking at maps and establishing objectives and these sort of things, how can you tell whether it’s going to be difficult or hard, you know that two hundred metres on the map might be a very difficult thing when you’re on the ground.
It’s an appreciation of the enemy’s strength. If there’s a hell of a lot of enemy

08:32:30:00

known to be there and they’ve got this and they’ve got that, you know that it requires a different kind of operation to one where you know they’re scattered all over the place as they were in Borneo. But in order to win the war you still had to capture the ground. So you aimed - the aim of the exercise will be to recover or to capture a piece of country, that’s what it amounts to.

08:33:00:00

I imagine it’s hard to take into account what that country might look like in reality?
Oh yes but mind you you always had the benefit of people who’d been there pre war. And you know there were quite a few of those around, as it was in New Guinea. We had fellows who were so called patrol officers. We had one officer in our battalion who’d been a patrol officer there. And he knew the form of the local native people. He could speak Pidgin and all this.

08:33:30:00

And the same thing when you got over to Borneo. A lot of these people had been British civil servants before the war so they were rounded up and we had the benefit of their advice and their help when the time came. They called themselves - I think they were called the British civil affairs unit or something. The Dutch had a few when it came to Dutch Borneo.
So you would have to take these things into account when you were making sure you were establishing reasonable objectives.
Oh sure that’s right.

08:34:00:00

So that was no big deal. But then ultimately the end of the war came - are we there yet?
I just wanted to ask you if you kept a special eye on 2/13th when you were in the staff?
Oh yeah that’s right because they were my home and I used to be regularly in touch with the CO with whom I was very friendly. I knew where they were going and

08:34:30:00

you know I had a couple of friends on 9 Div headquarters who were also 2/13th men and we - you know we knew where our mob were.
Were all the men in the 9th Div staff from 9th Div formations?
Oh for the most part yes a lot of them were. Although there was a general

08:35:00:00

sort of arrangement to send people around for different experience. But I can remember 9th Div headquarters, nearly all of them had served somewhere in the division before.
When you plan those landings in Borneo and they happen and the news starts coming back that things aren’t quite going as planned, how do you react to that?
Well because the brigades were all scattered about they had to react themselves.

08:35:30:00

And if there was something that could be done. Like air support. I mean if you get a pocket of resistance somewhere at that stage there was tons of air support around the place so okay, we have half an hours bombing of XYZ. So the division at that stage is able to support the unit by bringing in air support or that sort of thing that was available. I mean the brigade - the 24th Brigade that went around

08:36:00:00

to Balikpapan, they had a pretty tough fight but they were able to bring in air support to assist them.
It was obviously quite a heavy shore bombardment before Balikpapan as well?
Yeah.
Why was that thought necessary in the planning?
Oh just because it’s a good thing to do. To soften up the enemy as it were.
And you obviously had the resources to do it?
Yeah.
Can it get frustrating if you see that things aren’t

08:36:30:00

going towards your carefully prepared plan?
One of the principles of war is flexibility. And you had to be able to find some other way of dealing with it. Or the formation that was on the job had to find some way of switching people around or bringing in reserves from somewhere. Or asking for more support. This kind of thing.

08:37:00:00

And you went to Labuan with the divisional HQ is that right?
Yeah.
What sort of facilities were there at Labuan for you to organise and do all your planning?
Oh there was no planning much at that stage. It was sort of, see it was all happening.
Was there a feeling that this would be the last show of the war?
Oh yes because the word was getting around that the Japanese were likely to be throwing it in and

08:37:30:00

the Americans were fast capturing all the islands between Hawaii and Japan. And you know, it looked - and indeed the war in Burma - Field Marshall Sir William Slim had done a great job and the 14th Army had cleaned up the Japs there. So it all looked like coming to an end.
There’s been a fair bit of criticism

08:38:00:00

over the years about the necessity of the casualties that were sustained at that late point in Borneo in particular. What’s your response to that?
Well there weren’t all that many when it comes to that. But you know it’s inevitable that in military operations there are casualties. And okay we needn’t - well somebody had to go

08:38:30:00

there so we were the ones that were chosen to do it.
So what did you personally get up to in Labuan and after that?
Well oh I had quite a bit of fun there really because we had an American PT boat squadron there and I used to go for a ride sometimes at night with the PT boat fellows. And they were going up and down the coast looking for Japanese shipping and that sort of thing. I did that

08:39:00:00

a few times. But I had to co-ordinate their activities with other things that were happening, and the navy and so forth. And so that was an enjoyable bit of fun. But I also went down and visited the 13th one time. But then the war was coming to an end and there were -

08:39:30:00

when the Japanese threw it in, a force was sent down to Kuching, which was the capital of Sarawak and where there were a lot of POWs. And our job then was to release the POWs and gather up all the Japanese. And it was a - we went down on a navy

08:40:00:00

ship from Labuan and landed up at Kuching. And took over the place - we had troops with us. You know quite a few of us - the divisional artillery commander was in command of this exercise and I was one of his offsiders and another chap was an equally offsider. and you know we sort of hoisted the Australian flag. And

08:40:30:00

the Japanese by that time had been told that they were surrendering. It was very difficult with the Japanese because they had lousy communications. But the RAAF started to drop a whole lot of food and goodies into the camps. And we got there and of course we went straight out to the POW camp and opened the gates and out came - one fellow

08:41:00:00

I was at school with came out of the gate. And I was delighted to see him. And then we set about, we had facilities from the liaison with the RAAF and hundreds of POWs and a number of civilians were flown over to Singapore. Out as quick as you could. And we had a hospital - quite a substantial hospital came with us. And some people needed treatment and all that before they were sent back to Singapore. And we …

08:41:30:00

I’ll stop you there Jim because we’re at the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 1924 Tape 09

09:00:32:00

Jim you were telling us about your experience with the POWs in Kuching?
Yes well as I say they were - we sort of moved in and we took over the camps of course. And we moved in and gathered up all the Japanese. And put them in the place where the prisoners had been or the POWs had been and then they were

09:01:00:00

given the opportunity to be medically examined and fed up. We had a lot - heck of a lot of food dropped from aeroplanes and then put them aboard aeroplanes sent back to Singapore where they were all sorted out really. That was the big sort of POW gathering place, for want of a better word. But then there were a number of civilians there and

09:01:30:00

they were moved out too. There were women and some kids. I don’t think there were too many men civilians there, I can’t recall any anyway. But you know it was in and get them out as quickly as possible. To release them back to a different life.
What sort of physical shape were they in?
Oh

09:02:00:00

some of them weren’t bad. The officers camp, they won’t too bad. The Japanese kept the officers away from the general one of troops because they reckoned they were likely to put them up to no, try to escape and all this sort of business. So they tended to be separated, as indeed that was the case with a lot of, Germans, and in fact our own army. You kept the, tried to keep the leaders

09:02:30:00

away from the led. But they weren’t good. Mentally quite a few of them were, with respect, a bit away with the fairies and they took a lot of settling down I would think. Some of the British people we were - they were still madly running around saluting each other, that sort of thing when the war was over. But the answer was, not too good. There

09:03:00:00

was a number of ordinary troops there and they were not in the same sort of bad condition I don’t think as the fellows were over on the railway and in Changi. And as for the civilians they weren’t too badly off. There was a women called Agnes Keith and she wrote a book ‘Three Came Back’ and it was about her experience in the Kuching Camp. And she reckoned the old commandant wasn’t a bad old fellow.

09:03:30:00

He was reasonably kind and gave the kids lollies and all this sort of business. He, poor old fellow, was flown back to Labuan and he committed suicide in a tent. But then we had the job of gathering up all the Japanese. Now the Japanese in Kuching were under the command of a Japanese brigade

09:04:00:00

commander who was a pretty old fellow and he - they were not the cream of the Japanese army. But they would garrison troops, they provided guard duty I suppose on the camps and they took over all the civilian activities. You know there were people that took over the bank and the postal system and the transport. And particularly the currency and they really ran the place, administratively. So we then,

09:04:30:00

with the help of some British civil affairs unit people who served in the place before the war, set up administration in the capital Kuching to sort of get all this back together again. But the main body of the Japs were down a river there and I had the job of gathering the Japanese up. But I

09:05:00:00

found that one of the Japanese who was a major spoke excellent English with an American accent - he’d been manager of the Tokyo Bank in New York before the war. And Major Tatara was a very well educated and sensible man. And the chief of staff of the units there he was a permanent soldier but you know he was a bit old. But he was a good man.

09:05:30:00

He was easy to deal with. And then there was the little Japanese captain. And he was an agricultural scientist, I eventually found out. He was easy enough. So we had them herded the headquarters of this outfit into a house. We took all the arms away from the Japanese including stuff that they’d pinched from the civilians. Shot guns and God only knows what.

09:06:00:00

So I used to have a sort of meeting with these guys every morning and I’d go down there with an armed guard, a fellow - two fellows standing beside me with a rifle and bayonet fixed - it was a bit of a charade I suppose. And then I would sort of issue the orders for the day just that they were to bring back all the money from the bank. The Bank of Sarawak which they had at this place some

09:06:30:00

miles down the river. Well okay, they’d transmit the orders to their people down there and say, “We are ordered today to bring back the money and we want it here by five o’clock this afternoon or look out.” And then we used to use all these Japanese for working parties for things that had to be fixed up. Anything that had to be repaired around the place like roads and holes in the

09:07:00:00

fence and so forth, we’d say, “Well we want a working party of a hundred men this afternoon. And we’ll give them picks and shovels and they’d better get on with the job.” And that went on for quite some time and we gradually got then all back into what used to be the prisoner of war camp ready to be repatriated or you know taken back to Japan. And

09:07:30:00

as I said it was a very interesting exercise because I got used to these Japanese people that I dealt with and I got quite interested. In the end I had enough of their language to be able to cope a bit and I could ring them up on the phone and as long as I got to Tarasan on the phone it was alright. But they were sensible people and the war was over and they just wanted to get home.
What sort of shape were they in physically?

09:08:00:00

Oh they were in good shape. They were well fed. They were alright. Then there was another sort of group of Japanese down at a place called Pontianak which is now what is Kalimantan. It was a port on what was then called Dutch Borneo. And we had to get them up too. So one of these American

09:08:30:00

Japanese was with us and I had him all the time. So he and I and another couple of fellows were given a Catalina and we flew down to Ponchianak, having previously told the Japanese to warn their people down there we were coming and they’d better get to work, putting all their arms in one place and getting ready to be taken out of it. So we went down there and this all happened and they

09:09:00:00

were doing what they were supposed to do. And we had arranged for a thing called a landing ship tank. Now it was a British - a big landing ship they put tanks on - there was a hell of a lot of room on them. And so that went down there and it turned up in Pontianak and all these Japanese were shovelling on board that. And they came back to Kuching and picked up some more and they were all taken over to - I think they were taken over to Singapore where they were then put on

09:09:30:00

ships and carted back to Japan. So that was an interesting experience really because it was just something you might never have done otherwise. And I found that the Japanese chief down in Pontianak had a beautiful Pontiac car that he’d obviously pinched from some Dutch person. So I got him out of that pretty quick and lively and that went on the landing ship

09:10:00:00

tank and it went back to Kuching. Not for me but for our brigade commander. By that time the Dutch were starting to infiltrate back into the place but the Indonesians as they turned out to be - Javanese and all the races they didn’t want them. When I was at Pontianak I used to get delegations come to me every night. We were there for about a week or more. I’d get a paper sent up for me to read.

09:10:30:00

It’d be addressed to the allied commander of West Borneo, that’s me. And it’d come from the Chinese community who were complaining about the way that the Indonesians were treating them. The Japanese were hated because they had - the Chinese were hated because they had all the money even though the Japanese were there. And so then the Chinese’d then complain about the Javanese

09:11:00:00

and they’d all have a harrowing tale to tell you about what had happened to them with the Japanese. But it amused me no end that I used to be addressed as the allied commander in West Borneo. Poor old Somerville. But anyway back I came to Kuching. And we had collected - oh all kinds of arms. And Japanese swords of course. When the Japanese small arms had been taken from them and all the officers

09:11:30:00

swords had been taken from them. We had a great room full of them in this palace place we were staying in. But one day the RAAF fellow - the air force fellow rang me up from the airport and he said there’s a Japanese aeroplane landed here and there’s a colonel aboard and he didn’t even know the war was over. So I said, “Oh I’ll come out.” So I took out a party of fellows and anyway there was this colonel fellow and relieved him of his sword pretty smartly

09:12:00:00

and the RAAF took over his plane and his crew finished up in the POW camp. But it was just indicative of the fact that they had such poor communication to tell everybody that they’d surrendered and the war was over. But anyway I went back to Labuan and took the sword with me because you never quite know

09:12:30:00

in the army who you’ve got to bribe to get things done. And those sort of souvenirs were valuable. And anyway back to Labuan I sat there until my time on the priorities came to go home. And it came around and I got on a plane one day, which as I mentioned earlier finished up in the mud, because the undercarriage broke when it was taking off and so

09:13:00:00

a Catalina took us over to Balikpapan and then across to Darwin, across to Cairns. And I got home.
Back to your time in Kuching, how were the Japanese as a group having surrendered? How did they behave?
Oh this lot pretty docile. They were -

09:13:30:00

I don’t think some of them cared too much because they hadn’t been - they were not fighting soldier types and I mean okay, well a lot of them were I suppose had the Japanese attitude of, life’s finished now we’ve been defeated and the Emperor’s lost the war, kind of thing. But I remember this Japanese Colonel Fujiko his name was. When he left

09:14:00:00

he gave me a Japanese tea ceremony bowl which had been in his family for a long time and he said to me through the interpreter, “As far as I’m concerned my family is finished because we have lost the war.” And I kept that for a long time but I thought it of some significance to attitude. But they were easy enough to deal with but as I say I think they reckoned the war was over

09:14:30:00

and let’s get back to Japan or wherever they take us as quick as we can get there.
Did you have to discipline Australian soldiers who treated them badly?
No. No Australian soldiers they never treated them badly because as I say, well the people we took down there had not had any experience with POWs, but they knew about how badly they’d been treated. Mind you they weren’t treated

09:15:00:00

with kid gloves. But nobody - oh there was none of the kind of things you hear about now let’s put it that way. But they were not treated with kid gloves. They were herded onto these ships and taken back to Singapore and how they were treated after that I don’t know. But basically nobody went around shooting them and doing things

09:15:30:00

like that. That was just not on. So it was a different state of mind. You know it’s easy now when you hear about all these atrocities that happen afterwards and happened in POWs in 8th Div and that sort of thing. I don’t think everybody was - I really don’t know what the attitude was but as far as we were concerned, again we had a job to do and we would’ve been in strife ourselves if we’d allowed that thing to happen.

09:16:00:00

We were the managers of the operation for want of a better way to put it. So it didn’t happen. I don’t know anybody who actually assaulted a Japanese soldier. There was a Japanese in charge of the group in the POW camp - some of his troops escaped out of the place and I said, “You’d better find them quick old boy or you’ll be in trouble” or words to that effect. And he said, “When they come back they will be executed.” I said, “No you don’t. When they come back they won’t be executed.” I said,

09:16:30:00

“You’re not going to do that.” They weren’t terribly good to their own troops, the Japanese really. There was a sort of social order of some of them. But they really didn’t have much respect for their own troops. In the way we did. Because I suppose they’d come from a different sort of social order.

09:17:00:00

Anyway that’s not really a very large issue in itself. But that’s what I felt at the time.
How were the Japanese prisoners you took separated into those who’d be tried for war crimes?
Oh well the CO - the head of this - of the whole outfit was sent back to Labuan and he was going to be tried for war crimes.

09:17:30:00

But as I say somebody was careless leaving a knife with him and he slit his tummy. He committed suicide. So you know we didn’t have - other than him - well I don’t think there was anybody down there that was - ‘cause I think the old CO that I talked about - he was a sick old man, I think he died anyway. But there were no - well they surrendered

09:18:00:00

formally down there on the deck of this Kapunda this navy ship that was there. That was the end of it. So other than Colonel Suga who cut his - who committed suicide on his own account, I don’t know of anybody from down there who really was tried as a war criminal. What happens afterwards, you don’t know these things because they might have researched what they’d done and where they’d come from.

09:18:30:00

They might have been baddies all the time and they probably were.
What about the people who you liberated. You said that there was somebody that you went to school with. Had he been fighting up in that part of the world?
No he’d been - he was in 8th Div. He’d been captured somewhere in an 8th infantry battalion. And he died a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact. So I was glad to shake his hand. And he said, “G’day Slim” to me and I said, “Hello Alan, I didn’t

09:19:00:00

expect to find you here.” Or something and that was that.
And who were the women and children, how were they involved?
They had been the wives and children of people who’d been - who had civilian jobs in Kuching and British Borneo. Their husbands had been administration people and I think

09:19:30:00

most of them had been in the area before the war. I mean this Sarawak was a strange place. It was a British protectorate and it was run by the Brooke Family, Vyner Brooke was his name. And they were little kings in their own right [Rajah of Sarawak]. But there was quite a substantial public service

09:20:00:00

for want of a better way of describing it. And these guys came back and as I say, they helped us take over the administration of the place and put it back on its feet. Because the Japanese had sort of taken all the good money, real money and they’d substituted Japanese printed currency and all that had to be gathered up and exchanged. And you know people had to be in some respects I suppose compensated for the fact that one minute they’re rich on Japanese money and next minute they’ve

09:20:30:00

got none. So these guys dealt with that sort of thing, we didn’t.
What was it like for you arriving back in Sydney again?
Well my mother was there, Lorna was there, I think my sister was there and you know it was the end of the war and I was glad it was over.
How long had you spent

09:21:00:00

working with the POWs up there?
Oh we were there for only about - oh a couple of months.
Oh all of your difference services during the Second World War what did you find the most difficult to deal with?

09:21:30:00

As you get older - I was there six years - as you got older you got wiser. You know I just don’t think I could give you a sensible answer to that. I mean there were times - go back to Tobruk days and I fell foul of the CO at one stage for being stupid enough to kick up a lot of dust when he had some war correspondence with him. And I couldn’t do anything right for a while.

09:22:00:00

But I found that difficult in my younger age. And later on well I don’t, I don’t think I had any - I have a good answer to that. I mean a lot of things were difficult and conditions were difficult. Physically things were difficult from time to time. But I couldn’t give you a horrifying experience kind of answer at all.

09:22:30:00

It’s been said before that some of the men that served, particularly as ‘39ers, lost their youth.
Oh well, I think I can say I gained my manhood. I mean if you’d gone to the war at twenty three or twenty four or twenty five or something, yes okay well you lost your youth because the whole world’s

09:23:00:00

changed for you. But I matured from virtually - not much more than a young not far out of school boy, kind of thing to be a responsible person with a whole lot of responsibilities of various kinds and at various levels plonked on my shoulders over the years I was in the service.

09:23:30:00

How did you settle back into civilian life?
Well Lorna and I were married in January 1946 and we went to live in Lindfield. We were sharing a house with an old lady who was there, who my aunt knew and I went back to work. I was allocated to a particular department that dealt with

09:24:00:00

superannuation and funds investment and insurance and one thing and another. But I came to the conclusion fairly smartly that two things were required. More education and the kind of study that was likely to help me as I progressed through the ranks of CSR. And also there used to be a feeling amongst lots of people that ex servicemen had trouble settling

09:24:30:00

down. Lots of fellows did and they used to get on the grog and this sort of thing. But I reckon that if I had hard work to do and plenty of it I’d settle down pretty quickly. So I was able under the Commonwealth rehabilitation training thing to go to Sydney University and do economics as an evening student. And it was a pretty

09:25:00:00

fast old course because they used to do it in four years in those days. And I used to go to lectures at least four nights a week and nearly every weekend I used to have to do some study because in those days it was terribly hard to get textbooks and get at textbooks because the day students would monopolise them. So Lorna and I used to spend many a weekend at the public library, me pouring through J.M. Keyne’s theory of

09:25:30:00

economic activity or something. So you know it was all hard work and tough on her because she was working as a part time person and this Captain Howard we were talking about he employed her as a civilian. But I’d go to work in the morning and I’d knock off at five o’clock and hop on the tram up to the university, have a bite to eat and go to lectures.

09:26:00:00

And we lived about a mile from the station at Roseville so I’d have to walk home. And I’d be jolly time when I got home but I’d get up early in the morning and do a bit of study before you went to work. That kind of thing so that was my lot for about four years and I graduated - well I completed at the end of 1949 and got the cap and gown in 1950 in May and that was how I got over being at the war.

09:26:30:00

And by that time I had more of a responsible job and it was recognised that because I was able to pass the examinations at the university and that sort of thing, that my intellect was alright and you know I was promoted in this department I was in. And I went from there.
What did you miss about the army?
Oh well I mean you still had a lot

09:27:00:00

of friends. It’s like growing up - they were your family. They were like your brothers in a family because you saw a lot of them still. In about 1950, that’s after I graduated, somebody got together a group of ex officers to run training courses for the young officers who were going to

09:27:30:00

go for their examinations for promotion to major. And we used to run these weekly exercises for them and do a bit of that and that fizzled out and I gave it up. But it was a relationship with the army and then you were talking about Ray Worlies this morning. Well there used to be an organisation called the Junior Chamber of Commerce, called JC’s and it was a worldwide young men’s organisation

09:28:00:00

that engaged in training of young fellows under forty through community service. We learnt about meeting procedure and public speaking and that sort of thing. So Ray Worlies was due to be out of it and I was nominated by CSR to you know, they paid me subscription and all that to be a member of this. Well apart from my work I got interested in that and

09:28:30:00

I became President of the Sydney Club. And I think - well about 1957 I was thirty seven I think at this stage, I became National President of it. And you know I enjoyed that and I got a lot of benefit out of it because I reckon if you get a bunch of volunteers to do things you could get anybody to do anything. And that was part of it. And then - well

09:29:00:00

then I got very much involved in work with investment and we had internal superannuation fund which had a very large investment portfolio. I used to have to deal with stockbrokers and make recommendations to the trustees. And also look after all the company’s insurance which was quite - very considerable really. And I did that for a number of years and as I was saying earlier

09:29:30:00

about 1961 or 2 another chap took over from me, my assistant and I was transferred to the sugar division and I got involved in fine sugar marketing which was you know a big part of CSR’s business in those days. And then there was a Melbourne summer school of business administration which was

09:30:00:00

you know for advanced training of young managers and down I went to that for several months. And came back and the deputy general manager asked me what I thought of Melbourne. And I was sensible enough to say, I quite liked the place. And he said, “Well would you accept an appointment as Victorian Manager for the company down there. Perhaps you’d like to discuss it with your wife.” And

09:30:30:00

so I went home to Lorna and I said, “How would you like an account at Georges.” Because Georges was a big deal shop in Melbourne for women. And so she burst into tears and anyway, we got over that and down we went to Melbourne. And we were there for nearly seven years and I had a very interesting time down there because you know CSR was a big big company in those days and in all sorts of things. And you know I was the sort of representative of head office and head office

09:31:00:00

was God - it was a very centrally managed company in those days. And one of my friends used to call me God’s vigour in Victoria. But I had a most interesting time down there and I got into the Melbourne Rugby Club which was an important sort of side line activity. And I - prior to that in Sydney I’d been very involved with the first National Heart

09:31:30:00

Foundation appeal. It was the first door knock that had ever been run in Sydney. And I was the door knock chief and that was good. Then down in Melbourne I got involved with the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal. We showed them how to do it really and did well there. But ultimately as I was saying earlier, I said to Lorna, “Look this can’t last I’m bound to be appointed to something else. So we’d better buy something in Sydney.” And

09:32:00:00

so she came up and looked around at houses and one thing and another and we bought this home unit - town house in Waverton. And then the day came and I was appointed General Manager of the division in Sydney. And we lived in a company flat in Bay Road Waverton for a while until our tenants got out and in we went and twenty years later we’re still but in the meantime

09:32:30:00

I’d been involved in all sorts of activities in the sugar division. And take-overs. We took over a firm called the Australian Estates at one stage which was a British - yeah UK owned company and they owned a heck of a lot of properties - you know pastoral properties but they also owned some sugar mills which we really wanted. But they had - you know agricultural agencies like Dalgety’s and people like that. And

09:33:00:00

I was on the board of that. I was also company secretary. We had to have a company secretary because it was still registered in Britain. And ultimately it required an act of the British Parliament to transfer the thing out to Australia. And then I was, as I say, on a board, on the board. And I knew the chairman of the board very well. That was a most interesting time really. It was the best time I ever had in CSR because

09:33:30:00

I think it was felt without being boastful that I was a fairly diplomatic sort of character with a good political sense and could handle this sort of - I got put on the board of one of the sugar mills which we only partly owned and some people thought it was a crazy appointment but I had the job of reconciling CSR’s style of doing things with their style, which was entirely different. And then

09:34:00:00

I also had the job of reconciling CSR’s management style with what they’d been doing before. So it needed, as I say without being boastful, a fair bit of political sensitivity to cope with all this sort of thing and I seemed to do it pretty well. And then it’s about

09:34:30:00

near enough time for me to retire from CSR and in the meantime I got very much involved with Sydney Rotary when I came back. But we had a compulsory retiring age of sixty two. And fortunately the chap had retired in head office and I was appointed to become general manager of the group in the headquarters of the company that owned all the corporate

09:35:00:00

services. It was called the corporate services group and that meant that unless it was law or accounting it was mine. It embraced all sorts of corporate purchasing. And land, we owned a hell of a lot of land around the place and I was responsible for that. And buildings, and we owned a company aeroplane which I used to be responsible for.

09:35:30:00

And a number of - when they couldn’t think of anybody else to give it to they gave it to me that’s what it boils down to. And I had a very interesting time for the last couple of years and age sixty two came around and Somerville gets the wave goodbye and I’m retired. By that time I was very much involved with Rotary and I became president of Sydney Rotary which was a big operation in those days in ’82 ’83. And

09:36:00:00

then in Probus and all kinds of service activities. And in 1994 we came up here. We decided we wanted to go to a retirement village and so we settled on this place because we’d visited somebody and liked it. And here we are ten years later. You know I keep reasonable pretty good health. At one stage about 1996 I had a fairly serious heart problem.

09:36:30:00

I had seven arterial bypasses. And that didn’t do me much good but I’d also been unfortunate enough to get bladder cancer but for ten years I was treated for that regularly. But they found a new cure for this fortunately and I’ve not had any problem. But I’ve got to be a bit careful with myself now because you can’t have your heart chopped about and that sort of thing and get away with it forever. Although I get regular checks and here we are.

09:37:00:00

Living quite happily.
Have you ever been back to any of the places you were when you were in the war?
No. No except north Queensland, I used to go up there regularly. I used to have to go to board meetings up at a place called Giru which was south of Townsville and we’d often go up - oh and Lorna and I went up there a few times. And went up to Cairns, the usual Daintree River thing and

09:37:30:00

up to the Atherton Tablelands. But as for going back to - trips back to Tobruk or Alamein or the Middle East - no. I’ve been a number of times to America. I’ve been to Europe but you know I never quite could spare the time or the inclination really. I mean I know you talked to somebody from our battalion recently.

09:38:00:00

Well I know he’d been to Tobruk and he’d been all around. And El Alamein and you know that was his interest but I don’t know what he did for a living in those days. I just really wouldn’t have been prepared to do it again. I mean it’d be nice to do but there’s a limit to what you can do and A. what you can afford and B. what you want to do I suppose. But we used to go to America several -

09:38:30:00

we’ve been to America several times because Lorna had a great friend there. And Europe we enjoyed several times, trips around the place. Here’s today.
What do you think of the film adaptations of famous battles that you were involved in like Alamein and Tobruk?
Oh well that they

09:39:00:00

did of Tobruk I thought was a farce really. Originally. You know - there were - the BBC did various series at various times over the years. You know there was one that covered Montgomery’s career - that sort of went briefly to where we are. We concentrated on the war in Europe

09:39:30:00

which was of course their speciality. You know the Americans weren’t terribly good at this sort of thing. Real blood and guts you know sort of affair. To answer your question I don’t think I’ve seen too many other than some - recently the ABC had a jolly good session on the life of Rommel and I watched that with interest. Because

09:40:00:00

well it came home to I had been there and done that sort of thing. But as to wanting to go and look at movies that you know darn well are not exactly what they were, not my piece of cake.
And what about Anzac Day - when did you begin to get involved in that?
Oh right from the beginning.
What was it like

09:40:30:00

right from the beginning?
Well Anzac Day was - early in the piece I suppose right after World War 11 it never had the same sort of emphasis by the media, as it does today. In those days we used to have big marches and you know we were

09:41:00:00

proud of our part in World War 11 and for my own part I was aware of the great sacrifice that was made at Anzac Day and then you read a bit of history and you found out it was a bit of a farce that shouldn’t have happened anyway probably. And it - then as time went by of course

09:41:30:00

one got older and a bit more sense and you realised that there were other significant aspects of Anzac Day which are mainly because it was seen as the beginning of Australia. After all we only sent people to Anzac straight after virtually not too many years after it had become a Federation.
Interviewee: Rupert Somerville Archive ID 0506 Tape 01

10:00:32:00

We’ll just continue on with the question you were asked about Anzac Day, how do you feel about the increased attendance at Anzac Day in the last few years?
It is a source of great satisfaction to ex servicemen really that the public and the young public turn out in such numbers on Anzac Day. And we all have a great deal of understanding now I think that

10:01:00:00

Anzac Day was more than the sacrifices the fellows made on Anzac. It was part of our national psyche and part of our national history. And you know I find it pleasing really that young people want to know more about it. We had a grandson of a lady who lived in here and she rang me up one day and said

10:01:30:00

that he has to do an essay on what the future of Anzac Day. And this kid was at North Sydney Boys High and a bright lad at that. And it was pleasing to me that the school was giving these sort of tasks. You know more and more I suppose it’s seen by people as a national day. You know I know there are people who say anniversary day

10:02:00:00

on the 26th January’s no big deal, it ought to be Anzac Day, I don’t really agree with that. But it’s a different piece of history. But to answer your question I’m very pleased to see that public awareness of Australia’s history and the kind of people we used to be, are being recognised and being remembered.
What do you think is the future of Anzac Day?

10:02:30:00

I really can’t give a sensible answer because we veterans of that are all going to die. You know once upon a time we had two hundred and fifty people on the Anzac Day march, this year we had forty eight. And that’s only because, not for want of enthusiasm but they’re in the country and it’s too much trouble to come to the city.

10:03:00:00

Or they’re lame and hobbled and it’s not on. I suppose it can go on for a fair while but what you can put on to replace it I don’t really know. So the future of Anzac Day would be nice to keep it as a national day but I really don’t have any ideas about how it might be done. Anyhow after say the next five years. I mean just about everybody who served in our battalion’s

10:03:30:00

got to be more than eighty. And I’m probably one of the younger members and I’m eighty four. And you know we’ll run out of steam eventually and so I don’t know. But you know I find it a good thing that the media promote visits to Gallipoli and all this kind of thing as the medium on which people can be sort of reminded that

10:04:00:00

what we enjoy today was probably the result of what happened to us in the past.
How do you think your war was different from other people’s? What’s special about your war?
Well the only war Australia’s ever been involved in apart from the Boer War. But World

10:04:30:00

War 11 was Germans, Italians and Japanese.
I meant more you personally. The time that you had in World War 11, how do you think that was special or different to what other people experienced?
Well it was a World War for a start. But

10:05:00:00

we did, we served in a unit that was a part of the Australian contribution to World War 11. We’ll never serve in another one because we’re all too old thank God. And hopefully another World War Three may never happen we hope. But you know I just think, as I said earlier in this interview

10:05:30:00

we’re proud of our war and proud of what we did in it. But that’s what special for us and it made men out of a lot of us. I mean a lot of fellows came back and they got education. Quite apart from people like me but a lot of fellows got education. They got jobs straight after World War 11. There was plenty of employment prior to that there’d been a depression and fellows were out of work. So World War 11 gave a lot of Australians

10:06:00:00

a new start.
The sacrifices that were made in World War 11, do you think they were worth it?
I suppose that you’d have to answer generally yes to achieve the object of

10:06:30:00

defeating Hitler and the Nazis, yes they must have been. So far as keeping the Japanese out of our country, yes it was worth it. You know it could’ve been anyone else, the Chinese if it comes to that. Keeping anybody out of our country was worth it. It gave us a whole new status I suppose

10:07:00:00

having been part of the war in the Pacific with the Americans. So there were lots of those issues that make it worth it I suppose. You might say well I don’t think we would have regarded fighting the war in Burma to keep India in the British Empire as being worth it. But we would’ve had

10:07:30:00

to do it and that was that. And I wouldn’t like to think we were used for things just because we were colonial troops to put it in a crude sort of way that it was put some years ago.
Given the economic dominance and success of Germany and Japan since the war, do you think we won the peace?
Oh the

10:08:00:00

Germans did for a while but it’s an economically depressed country now. As for the Japanese, well you know the Americans gave them a new start and probably they - their economic success came about because they became wonderful people

10:08:30:00

at making electronic gadgets and they had an enormous export trade with America and you know it became a very important economic entity as far as America was concerned and indeed Australia. ‘Cause we had a very large export market to Japan for all kinds of commodities. So I suppose that’s what we got out of it.

10:09:00:00

This is quite a trivial question but from the research biography we were given I noticed that one of the things you were trying to bring back to Australia before the plane crash was a bag of pepper. Why was that?
Well pepper was a rare commodity in Australia. And you know at that stage Borneo was a great place for pepper. And I finished up buying a couple of pounds of

10:09:30:00

pepper. And I thought, “That’ll be great, I’ll go back and make a good fellow of myself with family and friends. Pepper, ooh we haven’t seen pepper for five years.” So unfortunately that bag of pepper finished up in the mud at Labuan. So that was just something to bring home that was a bit novel and might well be useful. I brought the Japanese sword back with me because you can get into these transit camps and places and it’s pretty hard to get out. But if you’ve got the right kind influence

10:10:00:00

there’s some way you can finish up on a plane than you might have otherwise done. So it was a bit of nonsense there. But the same Japanese sword wasn’t needed and I finished up selling it to a collector once for four hundred dollars. That’s what happened to that.
If you were to leave a message for future generations about serving one’s country, what would it be?

10:10:30:00

I think people’s attitude would have to be prepared so that they thought it was worthwhile. I mean I don’t think young men and young women would be prepared to sort of rush off and

10:11:00:00

you know you’re joining up to fight for queen and country, as readily as they might in the past. I think they would have to be prepared and conditioned to the idea that this was worth doing. I mean we had the advantage of Nazi Germany likely to be masters of the world

10:11:30:00

which we wouldn’t have liked. We had the Japanese who would have taken over our country and heaven knows what would have happened to us. So you know I suppose the answer to the question is, I just think people are better educated and indeed women are better educated than they ever were in those days. And men - there are more thinking people about.

10:12:00:00

And you would just have to - not exactly persuade them I suppose - but as I say you would have to mentally condition the population that we had to do it for our own good.
Jim we’re coming to the end now. Is there anything you want to say that you think you haven’t said today?
No I don’t think so. I mean you can waste

10:12:30:00

a lot of time on trivial and little anecdotes and that sort of thing. I suppose for you know for myself the best thing that ever happened to me was that I turned from - my service in the army turned me from a young virtual teenager into a fairly well rounded sort of man. And that - I often

10:13:00:00

- no I don’t not often - but from time to time when I think to myself, what would have happened to me if I hadn’t come down to Sydney to school. If I’d have stayed in Tamworth. What would have happened if I hadn’t got a job in CSR which I greatly enjoyed having stayed there for a long time. I might have got a job in a bank or one of these things young blokes went to. At the end of the Depression. Goodness knows what. But taken all around it

10:13:30:00

helped me with a life that I now find fairly agreeable. More than fairly agreeable, quite agreeable. Lorna and I we’re great mates and we get on well together. Although we don’t have a family we’re part of another family as sort of ex officiated grandparents and so one way or another we’ve got a lot to live for.

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