of course those were the Depression years when I was growing up and things were pretty tough. And everybody was on part-time work but I had a pretty happy childhood. My Mum and Dad were very good. I was one of five and the middle boy and I had quite an enjoyable life and we never sort of realised we were poor, which we undoubtedly were poor – there’s no doubt in the world we were poor. But when the war came,
it went along. I worked in the sugar industry around about on farms and in the mill and I picked tobacco up in the Meribah area and I picked cotton down in the Rockhampton area. All hard ways of working. And when the war came, I’d always been very quiet and been very interested in things that were happening throughout the world and I really thought I was going to save it
and I went away to a war. Joined on the 4th June 1940. Went to Brisbane. A country boy in a big city. I’d never been south of Rocky [Rockhampton] before. And we went to Darwin almost immediately. On the 1st July we went to Darwin and I don’t know who we were supposed to fight because I was in the army three weeks and had been through a rookie course and that’s all. But we spent four months in Darwin. Went up on a ship called the Zealandia, which was the first ship I
ever travelled, travelled in. Came back in the Zealandia in October. Then I had a very great birthday party in Darwin that’s the talk of the battalion. And then I finally went to the Middle East of all days to leave Brisbane Christmas Day 1940. Dehydrated stew for dinner, at least I think it was that – it was pretty crook I know that. And then
we caught the train in Brisbane and the women had put a meal on everybody’s seat and I thought it was remarkable and that they’d done it. And I had no-one to see me off because I’d come from Cairns. We joined up. I went overseas on the Queen Mary. We were in Palestine in Gaza Ridge right where all the blues and the arguments were. And we were there about a month. And we were up in the desert, almost completely
trained I’d say. And we had to meet the Germans. The 6th Division had gone through and hadn’t met the Germans and we went through and met them, and got the ears belted off us I might say. And then we made a very quick return to Tobruk wherein our colonel and our 2IC [second in command], our padre and one hundred and seventy others all got caught, all killed. We got back there and of course we got a new colonel and we
were fixed up with reinforcements. We held them back for some seven months. I was there for six and a half of them but for the last four or five weeks I left because I had jaundice, which was quite common within the place. We came back, camped at Palestine. Well I came to the hospital in Cairo, no in Alexandria rather, back into Palestine and then up to Syria. It was peacetime in
Syria. It had been won by the 7th Division and we stopped there for a little while and then we came back to El Alamein. We had a good time in Syria, I quite enjoyed it – very pretty place. And then we went to El Alamein which was very uncomfortable as was Tobruk of course. Our opposition were unfriendly but we did win it and it was so different at El Alamein because
in Tobruk we’d had no air force, we had nothing. In El Alamein we had everything. But we came back after El Alamein when we came back to Australia we had leave then back in the army went up to New Guinea. We went to Milne Bay which was a peace time place and then we went to, we took, we took Lae, then Finschhafen and
after that about five, five or six months a very, very uncomfortable time – the conditions were worse than the fighting I suppose. And then we came back to Australia and camped up at Ravenshoe. And to begin with we’d been camped at Kaira and then at Ravenshoe which made us all unhappy because we couldn’t get leave and I was only a hundred miles from home. And then we went up to Borneo. And I’ve always
made – I got chipped the other day for saying this, that I thought Borneo was a very easy campaign and that things went just as they’d planned and I was told that I ought to remember that two men, which wasn’t many out of nine hundred but still it was two and for them it was very important. And then I came home and I was discharged and from then on it was civilian
And can you tell me about your children and marriages?
My children? Well I was married in 1949, forty-nine yes to Gwen Anderson, a lovely girl. This is the one place I will get emotional about. She was, and she was a lovely girl and we had three children, John he now works in Woolworths, quite high up,
he’s a Distribution Manager for Queensland and he drives up to see me with a car about fourteen feet long and then there was two girls. And John I might say was a terrible boy at school, he was that lazy and then he went to Woolworths and did everything right. Apparently he never, he’s never put a foot wrong. Then there was two girls, there was Alison and she now lives in Sydney,
she worked in the Wales Bank as it was known in those days and she did well and she went for a trip to Europe and a trip, oh she did tripping around all the time and she was a very happy young kid. And she went to Europe and met a fellow in Europe and he was an Australian luckily so they came home, they got married – dates and me are not the best but
it would been I don’t know about nineteen, in the early seventies. And she now lives in Sydney. Two photos of them up there, two children a boy of twenty-one and a girl who is nineteen. I forgot to tell you John he has two boys, he’s about twenty-seven or twenty-eight, the worry of his grandmother’s heart. He doesn’t look like
getting married. He’s an accountant at the TAB [Totalisator Agency Board]. And the other boy he started yesterday as a matter of fact, he’d been in Western Australia, he manages Crazy Clarks in Longreach of all places. And he has our first great grandchild that fellow, who’s about twelve months old. And then Jennifer was the baby. She married a mechanic in Cairns.
Okay, your youngest daughter?
Ah yeah the youngest girl, Jenny, she lives in Cairns and she’s married to John. She’s different from the others, she’s had a ball of life. She tells father off in great style and she and I are the greatest of friends and she’s rather younger. She was the surprise of the family I suppose and she
told me, after her mother had died which was in 1972, she and I are having breakfast one morning before I went to work and she went to school and she said, “You know Dad I must have been a little mistake you know,” she said. And I said, “What did you say?” And she said, “I must have been a little mistake.” And of course I denied it and she disbelieved me and she is now in Cairns and he has his own business and he’s doing quite well I think and they’ve got a beautiful
home and two lovely kids, a little girl – She’s not so little either, she’s about eleven I think and the boy who’s six. Who’s mad crazy, he rides a motorbike, a proper motorbike with a motor in it and goes around – they’ve got an acreage – he goes around and around and around and around the yard. And well that’s about all the children. And they’re all doing particularly well I think because we’ve got no worry about any of them financially they could buy
and sell us the lot of them because I must admit that we’re hardly what we could call rich.
for many, many years. And I worked in the local brewery. And while I was there I had a very bad accident and I smash one of my legs up. I was selement [?UNCLEAR] and from then on I went in the office and I was in charge of the dispatch office when I left and was doing quite, quite well and was quite happy in the job but I had the feeling, I still was the man who always felt he could do something
in this world which unfortunately is wrong, I never have I suppose. And I was district secretary of the RSL [Returned and Services League] which was a pretty big job, it took about twenty hours a week for my wife and I. I was sixty-three I think and I decided I’d give the last two, couple of years of my life to the RSL properly and I went through as I said to seventy-three. And – I’m sorry
until I was seventy-three, that’s right. And it was quite a happy occasion. We travelled a lot. The district branch of the RSL came from Thursday Island, the Cardwell, that’s if you know North Queensland?
but we were particularly happy and she was a lovely girl and we just thought the two boys, the boy was working at Woolworths. He was in all of the unfortunate places he was in Gove when his mother died. And the girl had just started, Alison had just started at the bank. And it’s a very sad period. One night I was talking on the telephone and she was a bad asthmatic my wife, and I was talking on the
telephone to the treasurer and she was in the bedroom. We’d washed up and the kids had gone out. John I don’t know where he was and Alison was at some church group and all of sudden she came out and she said, “I’m not well, you’ll have to get the ambulance.” And I got the ambulance and when she went to walk out she couldn’t walk out, we had to carry her. She never reached the hospital.
as I did. She served in the air force herself. And they came from all, all over North Queensland for it. And then it was back to home and to work in the brewery and to a pretty rough time bringing up – and I kept on being district secretary. I must have been crazy I think but I kept on and I got other people – and they gave me a travelling allowance of twenty –
of five, five pounds a week it was to begin with and it rose to twenty-five dollars and I gave it all to a typist who did my typing and what not and I worked – I still made my trip to Brisbane and we were very, very busy. I worked every night I think and just Jenny and I were home because Alison she went to England and she married Darrell and went to live in Sydney. And I was with Jenny, Jenny and I for six,
six years we were by ourselves. And in my trips to Brisbane I used to meet Marge and she was in the office at headquarters in Anzac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] Square there. And we got married and we’ve done very, very well. We’re very happy and we get on well. She’s got two boys. Are you a Queenslander at all? Well do you follow sport? Do you know Bernie
Pramberg? He writes now. He used to write about football, he writes all about golf now. He used to be a football referee for The Courier Mail. He’s just back from America as a matter of fact. And six foot four of him. And I promised I’d look after his mother and which I’ve done pretty well I think. And Peter, who you’d never mistake, you’d never take for his brother. He always, if he has a drink or two, he always says it was a mixed up baby,
baby case because his brother’s six foot four and he’s five foot ten. But a very nice bloke. And he’s different from most men. He has a daughter who is thirty-three. He divorced many years ago before I knew him. He married and again and they’ve been married sixteen or seventeen years. No children, trying all the time. Went on IVF [in vitro fertilisation program], had the baby. The most beautiful little, she is, honestly she’s the most beautiful girl I think I’ve ever seen. She’s two and a
half. Always says when her big sister comes, comes to see her who has a business in the valley, “Here’s my sister,” she says and she’s two and a half and her sister’s thirty-three. And then she um, she – and she’s a lovely girl and calls me Pa and she and I get on well.
which was south of Babinda about six miles. It was farming area. And really in a lot of ways it was an unfortunate time. The farmers were all quite well off, they were quite well off. And for the people who worked, it was a very wet area. I don’t know whether you know but in North Queensland it has been the boast of being the wettest place in Australia. And if it was wet, if you were working on a farm well you just couldn’t work. And it was broken work. And when the season came, sugar’s a
queer crop because after about – the crushing season goes from June, or used to go, to December and when the cane grew up they’d return it and when it grew up it was um, it was too high to work. You know you couldn’t get through it, it was about five feet high, and so there was nothing. And that’s when I went picking cotton and picking tobacco and ah
cotton, picking cotton’s the worse the job there is Queensland. I’m glad they’ve got a machine doing it now. I went through there some years ago and I think I saw more cotton sticking on the fence around Jambin than I ever picked because they do it all by machine now. We worked hard. And again I see no reason why we weren’t unhappy but none of us were, we were a pretty happy family. Mum was very
good. And Dad worked. He had nearly a full time job on a farm because they always gave him something because he was older. But there was little there. I went to a school, a little place called Miriwinni and which is quite fair. If you know, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him Brad Bevan at all. He’s ah, he was world champion at ah, at ah, his running, where they run and bike ride and do the lot. We used to walk and see him on TV. I knew
his father or his grandfather rather. And that’s the unfortunate part, every time they’d talk about something I knew their father or I knew their grandfather. And I never knew him but he’s ah, he was quite famous. But it was a good place. We didn’t do much. There were plenty of creeks around naturally and we could all swim like fish the lot of us. And that was our main enjoyment. We had tin canoes and we used to go wherever there was um,
well you know whenever there was rain. It used to flood very, very badly and we used to go all over the place in these tin canoes. And how my mother never had a fit I don’t know. I’d die if my kids had done what we did but she never seemed to worry. And she knew we could swim, I suppose, and that’s all the trouble was.
no it must have been difficult but I never realised just how difficult it must have been for my mother and father and it must have been difficult. Because I don’t know if you’re – wages in those days were about five pounds a week, if you had full time and he probably with his broken time he might have earned four pounds a week. And you bring up five children on that sort of money – we had our own home and it was –
And I guess. Strangely I look back and say and wonder why we weren’t unhappy but we weren’t, we were a happy family and that’s all I can see and I think that stood me in pretty good stead. Although I was the troublesome boy of the family, I was the naughty boy and there’s no doubt about it. I read my history and what I did. I remember my mother would say it was teatime and there was a big mango tree in the backyard and I’d crawl up there and say I don’t want any tea.
And I’d be up that tree and I’d be starving to death actually but I would not come down and I’d go to bed without any tea because I wouldn’t go down because I knew it annoyed everybody and I was a bad boy and my mother said, I was just looking at that book that I’d written or started to write and I said that she said you weren’t, sometimes you weren’t a very nice little boy and she was a very gentle soul and that was her way of saying a real little bugger.
And did you have brothers and sisters?
Yeah I had brothers and sisters. Oh yes I had an older sister Nessie, a brother Jim, who was older too, he joined the air force. And two young sisters. And there’s only myself and the two young sisters alive now. But as I said we had a happy life. Nessie went away, she went working as a governess working out
in the station properties of the west. And Jim was lucky he got an apprenticeship and ended up as an electrician, no as a fitter and turner rather, and he did well and moved, he moved to Sydney eventually and married. I saw his wife only a few weeks ago. I was in Sydney and I saw her. She’s very frail now but she’s very nice and they have a home that’s worth a fortune and she defies the family and won’t go into
a hospice. She just says I’m right where I am. Well they’ll come in one day and find her gone, that’s what will happen to her. And Nessie, poor Nessie she died and left a son who’s named after me, he was born just after the war was over and I was the hero of the family because I’d been away and done everything. My brother was in the air force and stayed in Australia and had done nothing, as he always
says. And I was the only one. And Nessie’s husband had been away too but they’re all dead, the older ones. I’m the head of the family I suppose now, I’m the oldest and – but it was good. I hated school and I did badly at school there’s no good saying I did well, it wouldn’t be truthful if I said I did well.
And we had a school teacher, who I’ve always said to this day was a nasty piece of work. He taunted me with it, the fact that I stuttered and I never ever to this day I’ve never forgiven him for it. And I had him for the whole time I was at school. And they had a big send off to him – Most people liked him, I must admit, and I was probably a troublesome boy too that didn’t make him like me. But I never forgave him because they had this big send off for
him and every school kid there, except me, I just said I will not go, I said I don’t like the man and I’m not going to go and get up on my feet and say I liked him because I didn’t. And that’s the story and he of course is dead, Louis Beaton Sanctious Reed, I’ll always remember his name, but the women teachers we had were nice. There was Josie Hall my first teacher when I first went to school and she was there, she was lovely. And I loved her too, I really loved
her and she was good. And we had numerous other teachers but always standing over me was Louis Beaton and I didn’t like it. I left school at fourteen after scholarship and worked in the farms and roundabout and I went – Is this all right?
place from what you can read. There’s great squabbles with these two native clans there and they fight like Kilkenny cats and anybody else that gets in the road gets hurt sort of business. But no I never went into Boulia but I went into Cloncurry a few times and Winton but never to Boulia. But station work was pretty miserable, it wasn’t good. I saw nobody, did nothing. I came home when I was about, oh I suppose
about nineteen or twenty then. Worked on the farms again. And then when the war started – I always followed the war and my mother knew, she knew in her heart that I would go, she knew that. And she was very worried about it because she had a brother who was killed in the First World War. And very sad for her because he was her favourite brother and they never found his body, a shell came and that was the end of it and I had
his photo out the other night. And ah, and I used to talk about the war and I could discuss it with anybody and I was a young man, I was only twenty, twenty-one but I discussed the war and – but I didn’t want to go, I thought oh they don’t – the 6th Division went to the Middle East and didn’t look like doing anything. And then when it blew up in June 1940, when it blew up. And on the 4th June I went to Cairns and joined the army.
and Mum had two brothers both went. And Dad was the only member of the family that stayed and I think that the – well I never asked him really but I think that’s probably the reason. Because I imagine if you went in the army on five shillings a day and trying to keep your, your wife at home with three kids it would have been a miserable existence for her. Of course it
was a safe one for him too because he wasn’t being killed. But no he never went but he was always interested in world affairs and there were a few farmers. Now this is my greatest trouble I forget names now. It was um, old Bob Battle, who lived to be a hundred and one I might say. I went to see him last time I was in Cairns. No not the last time the time before I was in Cairns
and he was still quite perky even then. Deaf as a post and talked at the top of his voice and, “I’m a hundred and one now you know” he’d say. And they even wrote him and let him off paying anymore tax. He was quite, he had a farm, he was quite a wealthy man. But he’d tell you this at the top of his voice and everybody else in the ward would know. He was bedridden. And apparently quite happy too. But I used to talk to Bob because he always followed the war. And ah, and there was –
old man – Oh. And now, and now I’ve forgotten him. Wakeham. I always talked about it with him. He was there and he hadn’t gone, he was too young. But he used to follow it. His brother who I knew quite well and – but anybody that came to the house Mum reckoned I’d always steer the conversation into how the war was going.
What about your uncles, did they talk to you about their experiences?
Well strangely enough none of them really lived in Cairns. Yeah there was one and he didn’t go, I forgot him. No but one lived in Eire and he wouldn’t talk about it, he just never spoke about the war. I remember him making one, when I was a little boy, making one remark about a flag flying at what must have been Armistice Day or at Anzac Day and was flying my grandmother’s yard and
I made some comment about the flag and he just said, “I don’t want to talk about that.” And I always remember that, he said, “I don’t want to talk about that, that’s all finished, it’s gone.” And he died a very old man some time ago in Eire. And he was a great old man. My mother always reckoned he was the most handsome man in Queensland. And she said if he hadn’t of been my brother I’d have married him, she used to always say. But he was a good old bloke.
And what did he do in the war?
Oh he went to the Middle East, no not to the Middle East, he went to France, he fought, he was a soldier. And Malcolm was his name, Malcolm Quirk but what he did or where he went you can’t ask me, he never told me and he wouldn’t tell me. And his only brother who went to the war, Gilbert, he was killed and I, I just saw something he wrote. There’s a card in there he’d written
wasn’t, I worked hard and I even had money. And nearly everybody who went to the war, and we found that when we got in the army nearly everybody was broke, none of them had any money. And I did have at the back of my mind I would have loved a sugar farm and I still always would have loved one. I would have loved to have been a farmer. But when I came back after the war – when you get on the war I’ll tell you the procedure – they made great stories
of how they were going to look after you and do this and that and the other and go and see the agricultural bank. And I raked together a thousand dollars, pounds during the war and I thought I was quite rich and because most of them gambled and drank their money. I drank and I gambled but I was very careful too. I allotted some to my mother who banked it for me and – but that’s by the way. But as I said I really had no ambitions in the world to –
in uniform you know and he was a bit of a hero. And I’m still working and I’m getting around like a ragbag that sort of business. But he went away and got badly wounded and came back to be the butcher and he died many, many years ago. But the main thing I did was play cricket, I was a very, very keen cricketer. Not particularly good when I grew
up. I was pretty fair at school but when I grew up I wasn’t so good. But we had a pretty good cricket team and I enjoyed it and I loved it. And I played tennis, which I was a little bit better at. But cricket was always my love and rugby league to a lesser extent. But I used to think to myself I was a bit of a thinker always. I used to think now what’s going to happen if I break my arm or my leg at playing football? I’ll be a burden on my mother and father immediately again. Because I never had any –
you know very little money but –
Do you remember exactly where you were when war broke out?
Yes exactly, and that’s the funny thing. I was at a twenty-first birthday party and there was a girl called Gladys Bromham. And I remember I had to go back and down to the rail motor which was about half a mile away or more, nearly a mile away, and I had to walk down and meet a school teacher, Murray
Eels who was coming to the party and she was frightened to walk on her own. I went down and got her and walked her back. And in the middle of the night Gilbert Kirk who worked on this farm – Glady Bromham, she was a cousin by a very involved marriage mix up and her mother and father owned the farm. And Gilbert Kirk, a cousin of mine who I was quite friendly, he, in the barracks, now he had a little wireless [radio]. And we went over and we
turned the wireless on and we learnt, we heard Bob Menzies [Prime Minister of Australia] speech which I’ve never forgotten, which was a very good speech. Not that I’m a great admirer of Bob Menzies, but still I don’t have to be, but it was it was an excellent speech.
He was, he was an absolute, just as a speechmaker he was flawless, he was he was good. We could do with him now I think. Well as far his speeches were concerned I always said, I said to my father one day, “He’s very good at picking wars but he never went to one himself.” And that’s the strangest thing if you look at politicians around Australia today. You look at every premier and the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, there’s always wars they could have gone too
and not one of them ever went. But they all tell you that it’s good, a good idea, go mate, we’re proud of you. But they never went themselves.
the French were the greatest soldiers and the Germans what were they doing, they were crazy. But they weren’t so – well they were crazy. We went back to the party and I got pretty full that night, a thing I very seldom do but I did and it was probably why I did. And there was people going around and putting things under their lips and pretending to be Hitler and making speeches. I mean the whole party turned into a thing about the war.
I quite enjoyed the party and I still see Glady occasionally when I go to Babinda. She’s retired and living in Babinda now.
She was friendly. When I went down picking cotton in a place called Jambin – you see when I was in Jambin, I was picking cotton and as I said picking cotton’s a terrible job. You tie a bag around your waist and the cotton plants stand about that high, then you straddle them and pick it off and put them in this bag and you’re bent right over of course. And when you got back you’d lie down and straighten your back at the other end.
And I decided this is no good. I had a wireless, I used to listen to it often. So I went home to Goa. But while I was down there I did meet a girl, and this is just as well Marge is not handy, and ah, Audrey Haywood was her name and we became quite friendly. She was about seventeen I think and we became quite friendly and corresponded because when you went away to a war every man had to have a girl, that was just
part of the norm, you had to have a girl that you wrote to. And I used to write to her and she was lovely. I saw her when I came home from the Middle East two and a half years later but by this time I was a very different boy to the one that went away when I was twenty-one. And I could smell things were different – very, very quickly I did that and –
her first of all and I got to know her father who was an ex-soldier from the Indian Army, an Englishman. And I got to know him and used to discuss the war with him and he assured me that the British would do them just like, as though it was nothing – that we had no worries at all but – and I met her and we used to go around the house and play cards. We went to a couple of dances but there was very, very little to do and Jambin
was worse than Pawngilly really, it was a miserable place. Although it had a pub which I spent a bit of time in.
So can you tell me Doug how you came to be in the army?
Well as I said I’d always followed and had a keen interest in the army when I was home and I was picking cotton down in Jambin. And I was working like a slave and I was making, I was picking a hundred pounds a day. And there’s a friend of mine who’s here and we have an argument every time, I reckon we got tuppence a pound, he reckons we got tuppence haypenny.
What about your father Doug what did he say? What did your father say?
Well Dad. You know it’s a funny thing, I don’t remember Dad ever saying much about it. He was very proud of me when I went. I remember I was coming home on leave and he took me up the pub there and he had to be there with his son, “My son’s on final leave, he’s going overseas.” And Mum said that he never stopped boasting about you ever since ah
So what happened then, you went to join up?
And I went to join up. And I went in and old Bob McLaughlin, Major McLaughlin, I remember he was a lousy old coot because I’ll always remember him. He joined about twenty-five of us up. They used to join them up in groups and send them down to Brisbane to train. And we joined up and when the last – you sit over there when you finish the last, he said, the first thing he said to me “So you want
a ringside seat at the big fight?” he said. He didn’t tell me that I was going to be one of the contestants. But ah, when he was finished I always remember this one, when we were finished we went up to the hotel to have a drink, he said, “Come up and I’ll buy you a drink.” And he very carefully didn’t buy us a drink and we bought him a drink and that’s all there was and he was a major. And then next morning he just lined us up and he said, “Well I won’t tell you to quick
march you won’t know what I’m talking about so let’s shove off.” And we marched up the street and there were people coming out of pubs trying to give us a bottle of beer and cigarettes and anything of that sort or the other and I didn’t drink much in those days – well I don’t drink much now. And then we got in the train and we went south. And they looked after us fairly well – they gave us meals and everything on the way down. But there wasn’t much to it, we joined up.
Now when I come to think of it I did I went through it and I had to come back the following day I think. I forget exactly and what happened now but –
the infantry’s right out in front with – there’s nothing in front of the infantry except the enemy, was our great cry we used to say and it’s true, the infantry, the infantry and the engineers they were the two that had the heavy casualties in the war. They were, they were atrocious sometimes, on a few occasions. Best friends, people you knew and lived with and they were – you’d just look down and they were
a mangled bit of much and –
Why did you want to be in the infantry?
Because I didn’t know any better probably. No I don’t know I thought I wanted to get at them, that was my idea, I wanted to get at them. No I was a sig [signalman] which I probably didn’t do much firing or anything, I did a bit but I didn’t do too much firing because my idea was fix up telephone lines to run a wireless and those sort of things. But
as I said I wanted the infantry because I felt that that was the place where he was going to be beaten and it was too. And one of the things that always amuses me a little bit, I know a lot of people in the services here, in the RSL and what not and when you think there was only about one in three who saw any action during the war, the rest of them were in the lines of supply and all that. And yet I
suppose they collect all the accolades the same as we do now but that’s the way it worked out. I’m not complaining at all because I’m here.
I quite enjoyed it but they just packed you in. You had a seat, one, two, three, four, you know and they were old type carriages and you were packed in. But it was a good trip. They fed us well, they looked after us well, they gave us an evening meal in Townsville and lunch and I don’t know –
it was, it’s not a pleasant trip. Well it is a pleasant trip, my wife and I make it yearly. And we’ve flown a few times but Marge doesn’t like flying so we go up by train and we have a first class sleeper and I often say I did this twenty-five or thirty times in the war sitting up and now look at the way I’m doing it now. It’s no cheaper for us to go up by train than it is flying because they drop such specials around now.
My daughter in Sydney was listening to the wireless the other day or in October and she said you can fly to Sydney for thirty-eight dollars why don’t you come down? And so it was thirty-eight dollars down and back for the pair of us and we went down there and it was really good. Except that Marge said, “No more, never again in an aeroplane.” So we’ll be going up this year to Cairns so I presume we’ll be travelling off in the train again.
it was all new. They went out to Fraser’s Paddock which is a part of the Enoggera Army Base now. And they lined you up and asked you what you were and we were a bunch of civvies [civilians] and I was pretty skinny in those days and I found everything great trouble, everything seemed to be that far to around the tummy. And ah, and they just put us into various units. And ah, and there’s only one person I really
knew there, there was one person on the train I came down with but he went to a different unit, he went to the anti-tank. And I knew him Bruce and – oh Ken, Ken Simmons I knew him well and but he was the only one but then he left and I knew no-one. I was coming in amongst a thousand men they had in the 15th Battalion when we were there and I didn’t know a person. But you soon made friends because you
spoke to the fellow in the next bunk and what not. But it was, it was a completely new experience, it was something completely new and different and –
I was proud of myself, well I thought I’ve done what. And it took me about forty-eight hours to wake up that the infantry was the worst place to be. Well not the worse place but the place if you wanted action it was the place to be. I’d been told it before and um, old Con Lannighan in Cairns had told me that. He said he’d been captured in the First World War, he said “Keep out of that infantry.” But I was pleased I was there and we shifted over to Redbank
and went into camp. We were only there for three weeks and we went to Darwin. I joined up on the fourth of June and we left Darwin on the 1st of July.
you’re no soldier and I have been for twenty-five years,” he said “And I’ve got to make you the best.” But he said “They’ll be no sarcasm. They’ll be no picking on anybody,” he said, “That’s all I ask.” And some of them had some very rough times. The bloke said “You’re a bunch of galahs. You don’t know what you’re doing.” You know, “You’ll never make a soldier,” but he was particularly good and it’s a strange thing when we were coming
home from the Middle East I got off the train at Kalinga. And I got off the train and I walked up and the first thing that was in front of me was him. And I said to him, “Good lord do you remember me?” “No,” he said, “I can’t remember you. Were you in one of my rookie squads?” I said yes that I was in one. And he said, “I must have made a reasonable job, he said you’re about the fourth I’ve struck so far today that knew him. But he was very good and I quite enjoyed it. But we only had him for a fortnight and then I think we were back in, the platoon
went back to a single platoon then. The army, oh I don’t know if you know, is broken up into platoons. number one is the sigs, it’s the most important we used to tell everybody and then they go right through to the battalions. There was two, two was anti-craft and three was mortars and right through to the rifle companies and then they broke down into sections then.
two, that first two weeks of training? What sort of things did you do?
Well the first thing he taught us was to try and march in step, which wasn’t very difficult for me but some of them found it difficult. And it was just everything. He told us about the army. He told us how to salute which was most important in those days, most important. And we had no weapons or anything of that sort it was just purely march and how to march and
the way to form up and the various drill movements there were – we learnt all of those. And it was only about – it was, when I say a fortnight I believe it was a fortnight but I’m not certain of that but it was a quite enjoyable because we used to go, I’d never been in Brisbane before and there was a man, Andy Hogg, was in the next, he now lives in Wellington Point, and he ah, he said to me do you want to go to town? And I said yeah well I want to go to town,
but I won’t know my way. But he took me home, and to his home. And I always remember we went to the movies, he lined the girl up next door and we went to the movies. These are the sort of things I remember and I always remember I had my hat on, and I took her to this movies and you asked me did I kiss her, I tried to kiss her and the chin strap got in the road. I’ve never forgotten that, I’ve never forgotten that, it’s been one of the amusing stories of mine. It was most
embarrassing. It never happened again I can tell you.
it so you jump when you were spoken to and you could, and you knew all the basic movements the army done, did. But if they showed you a rifle, they gave you rifle and, well I’d done a bit of fighting, I was in a, bit of rifle hooch, anyway I was in the country. But it was um, it was quite good I quite enjoyed it, it was the best part of it really. And he was good and the team was good. I always remember we had one,
one chap, he couldn’t march, he didn’t know how to march and he had a terrible lot of trouble old Merv. But he was very kind to him. He was he was very good really, he could have been very bad tempered and most of them were. They all reckon they were, they were a crotchety team but our fellow was very good. And I enjoyed that first fortnight in the army. And I went into town with Andy Hogg and then I knew
my way and in the end I used to go in myself and poke around and –
What was happening in Brisbane? Were there a lot of American soldiers around?
Oh no, no this is in 1940. Americans didn’t come into the war until 1942. They might tell you they won it, well they might, might have to, they played their part, but we were going for two years ahead of them and – Oh no there was no Americans and there as not so many servicemen. There was a few, quite a few. They used to,
the unit and that’s when we met our officers and our sergeants and they picked them and incidentally for a short period – well we did we went back and the first fellow we had was a Lieutenant McDonald, and not many people – I’ve been ordered around by Lieutenant McDonald finished up as full general. He was a permanent army man and he was just out of the college and
and he finished up being chief of the general staff and the chief army man in the whole of Australia. And he wasn’t the friendliest sort of man because they were real soldiers – well they weren’t soldiers, they knew every bit of drill, they’d been to Duntroon and then, but then our real officer came back a bloke called Morrison. He was very good because Geoff was, he was a wireless mechanic and he came from Mackay.
Unfortunately he was one of our first casualties but he was very good, very friendly. He used to write bits on – he used to – as you know they read all your letters before you write them, after you’ve written them and he used to read them and he used to write a foot note on some of mine to Mum. I read them after I came home which amused me slightly.
old baby or something he was talking to a grown man. But he was good, he took a bit of interest in everybody. He was a good bloke. He was the one who always told the various story of when he was living in Mackay. He was on a crank wireless and there was a chap living on the island they have out, about four hundred miles out, I’ll think of this island,
and they’re on cyclone watches. And this fellow, the only way they could talk was on Morse [Morse Code], and he used to send Geoff Morse messages. And he’d say now this is a letter so Geoff would take it down and his wife would type it out. And to girlfriends he said all very affectionate and loving. Now he said send this to the following
addresses he said and he sent him four different addresses to send them to. And thought it was very, very amusing because he was newly married Geoff and he couldn’t see why any man could look and want more than one woman you see. And then he reckoned his wife complained bitterly because she was, she must have been a friendly sort of soul because she typed them. He said if she’d have done the nasty thing she would have sent carbon copies out. This is the days
before you had all your new implements, they were all done on the old telephone, on the old mechanical typewriters. And then we went to Darwin. Now we trained very hard in Darwin, it wasn’t an easy place. We went up to Darwin and –
for many times. And we were the first ones that travelled on her so she was, she was still a civilian ship. And the food was fair but they’d given us our needles the day before we left and we all got very, very sick on the way up. I know we called at Townsville, at Townsville on the way up and we were sick as dogs and we were just lying around. Nobody thought about leave, oh they didn’t want to get off that boat.
But she was a nice, a nice boat. The food was good and the crew were good and the cabins were comfortable and that’s about the best you ever got in a ship when you went. They were pretty, some of them were pretty terrible and she was excellent.
if he got a certain grading in the sigs he got two shillings a day extra which was a fortune, and you had to do Morse at twenty words a minute. And I could do it and it took me a lot of work I might say but, and this was the greatest thing I ever got this twenty, twenty cents, it was – and the wages were six dollars a day, sixty cents a day, I’m sorry. Sixty cents a day and you got this
twenty cents extra for doing Morse. And we did PT [physical training] and got lectures on the war by a bunch of officers who knew as much about as we did because they’d never been there but they’d read a bit about it and we filled in the time. It wasn’t that bad. The food was good and we called in at Darwin which was an absolute frontier town in 1940. There was only about
four or five thousand people there in Darwin. And there were two-up schools in the main street and oh brothels. There was everything in Darwin, it was a real frontier town
meatworks that was built just, during the war, during the first years of the First World War, and it had run for its life and it cost millions. It was run for its life for a total of six weeks at the Woolenhavock [?UNCLEAR]. Why they built it I will never know, there was not enough cattle to run it and they couldn’t get the staff there to run it. And we were camped but it was a monstrous place, if you like later I’ve got a photo that I will show you.
We were camped in the packing shed and the packing shed put two hundred and fifty men in a camp and it had a boxing ring and two offices in it and it was a monstrous room this. But then we went out there, and that’s by the way, we went out there and well from then on we trained. Over every hillock and everything I know it Darwin. Down to the sea and over to the Parap Hotel, we knew our way across, out the back way across there of course.
But we ah, we had an enjoyable time in Darwin. But of course we were very bitter about it because we were the only troops in the whole of the Australian Army that didn’t do our service training near a capital city or near a big city. And we were absolutely unfortunate in this the 15th Battalion did all their training in Australia, even after we came home from the Middle East, up in the Atherton Tablelands where there were no cities and it was
absolutely terrible. And besides that women life it was absolutely non-existent in Darwin, it was full of men and a pretty rough and tough bunch. And the Darwin Mobile Force of course which they had a permanent army there about three hundred of them. And that’s where we held our first strife with because we just had a running war with them the whole time we were there. We were just fought them wherever,
and wherever you saw them you fought them and –
What happened in the fights?
Oh we won some, we lost some I suppose. But they were all big men because they were bigger than us really. But there were a lot more of us then there were of them so we made up for – I remember we had a Labour Day of all times fell in September I think it was up there, anyway it wasn’t May the first as here, it was later in the year. And they were there
in big numbers and we went out there in bigger numbers and they finished up with a brawl and it was all over – I wasn’t in it I was on guard duty luckily. Luckily we weren’t called out to try and quell it. And they fought all over the sports field the 15th Battalion and the Darwin Mobile Force. But they were good blokes and they thought we were a bunch of rookies but we saw action because they never really saw it at all
really – as a unit they didn’t see it. But that wasn’t their fault. But at Darwin there were lovely beaches, Mendel Beach, a lovely beach. Have you been there to Darwin? It’s got a lovely town park, gardens and what and they were beautiful, and we used to get down there. But the only thing was – and a couple of nice cafes,
The Tropic and what was it The Something and the Tropics, the café it was quite good. That’s where if you want an off colour story that’s where I met a chap who was there, and I won’t do it to you but he, she had Rendezvous in the Tropics, that’s the name of i,t and she had it, Rendezvous in the Tropics across here. And he looked over and he said, “And what’s that there? What’s that there?” And she said, “That means – ” Whack. And she,
and she gave him, whacked him right across the ear. He was wanting to know what rendezvous in the tropics. He knew well enough afterwards anyway that she objected to him doing, to making strokes on her body on that portion of her anyway.
no I never visited. They were there, I knew where they were. And the pubs were rough but the brothels were there. But no I don’t know, I don’t think there were so many there but they were there and as I said I never visited them. It’s a strange thing, when we went Darwin, there’s no-one here I can talk to about Darwin, I’ve got three or four from my own battalion, they went to the Middle East with us but none of them ever visited Darwin, they didn’t
go up to Darwin. I always tell them I was the only man, that there is around here, that went up to Darwin in the first place and was still with them in Borneo at the last, a lot of them got out and got into easier jobs when they came home from the Middle East or before we went up to Borneo. But I suppose a lot of them went. But no I suppose a lot of them went, I don’t know, I was never inclined. A lot them did in Brisbane I know that, that was a favourite place for them to go in Brisbane.
any of them and I finished up one of the best, best in the platoon because I – there was only one, one better and that was the bloke Andy Hogg I spoke about of being over in ah, in Wellington Point now, and he just lost his wife about three weeks ago. And he worked in the PMG [Postmaster Generals Department] and that was his job, a wireless operator. And he went on and did particularly well. He would have been a good man to interview incidentally. And
he went on and when telegrams went out he took a job because he could type very well, very quickly because used to all type, he went up to Darwin as a court recorder. And he finished up CPS [Clerk of Petty Sessions] of Canberra. Now that’s hard to believe. It’s one of the most remarkable rises I think he finished CPS in Alice Springs before he went to Canberra.
And he was well known. I went up to Darwin, my son was in Darwin later on and I went up to see him and he was – If you mentioned Andy Hogg half, half the town knew him and by this time there were twenty-five thousand people there. But he was a great bloke Andy. But he was the best operator by a street.
Semaphore, which was useless because no-one’s going to get up and swing a couple of flags around. And we all learnt it but I mean it was a joke and even our officer Geoff used to say now this is a joke you won’t be doing this of course. And then they had a little weapon called – well we did heliographs and – and then we had one called a Fuller Phone. Now a Fuller Phone was a little square box like this and you could only Morse
on it but it was a direct current job and it came on a telephone line. It was impossible to be, for anything to be taken off except by a Fuller Phone that was calibrated to the same as yours. And we did a lot of work on the Fuller Phone, particularly in Tobruk we did a lot of work on the Fuller Phone – we did Morse all the time in Tobruk. I came out a real operator when we came out to Tobruk. But we learnt to do the Fuller Phone and we did manoeuvres
with the 31st, with the mobile force as the enemy and you know we made them up true sense of the word. But enjoyed Darwin. And the training was good but I never found that the training we did ever was anything like it was when we went into action, I’ll put it that way. I’ve always wondered how – Of course I don’t know, I was never, I rose to the dizzy rank of a corporal in the army, I
really don’t know how – it might be excellent for the army. I think tutes were better for them. That’s technical things without troops and they –
know something when you can do Morse as well as I can do it. But of course when you came out Morse was a dying duck, in New Guinea we never used it. It was like everything else you didn’t care where you went. You joined the army, they put you in a platoon and I was in one platoon and I made some very great friends. Dave Porter and Lou McIntyre and these blokes and Hal
Mennery and those they were very, very close friends. And that was your home, that’s where you came home, you knew everybody, you came home and that was home. And that went on for five and a half years and you had no other home other than your platoon. And I suppose you no idea that a rifle company might have been better. I don’t think it would have been, I think it would have been worse, I was happier where I was. But they split us up later, put us out. There were always two or three with each company in the army
but in camp we were all in one place.
Were there any fights within the men?
Oh yes, yes, although not many but there were some, there were some fights. Because men used to have a fights. I remember the old sergeant had a fight with the paymaster I remember him doing that, and he won it too. Up in Darwin that was. But there wasn’t many, there were odds
but usually we got on well together. There was none in the platoon that I know of. There were blokes that didn’t like each other much you knew that. We had a very big sergeant called Alf Potter who was – He kept a pretty close eye on – He was a very big man and a man who later on had a very distinguished war record in this respect that he was captured and escaped and rejoined us in the Middle East and he was
a great fellow Alf who went very, very bad later. He went absolutely completely bad. It was a terrible thing. When you’re handsome, good-looking, good soldier, good everything. Except that the army’s where he should have stayed, he might have been better off, off if he had. The last time I saw him he came to Cairns and he rang me up from down in Brisbane and this Andy Hogg he rang me up, he was in the sigs
in those days, he rang me up and he said, “Potter’s come to the Cairns,” he said, “Don’t take him to the RSL.” I said all right I won’t take him to the RSL and I remember going and having a few drinks with him at the Palace Hotel. I can still remember, I wouldn’t have remembered if I’d have taken him to the RSL but I remember because I took him – and he behaved himself, he was quite good and I thought they – He was well dressed and everything. He had a sister in Cairns and she told me she had a terrible time with him while he was there. He played up and
gabbled on. But I was very sorry to hear it because I had a lot of affection for old Alf.
He got into the drink or – ?
Drink and I think he got onto drugs, not drugs like they do today but drugs, they were prescribed drugs. He wasn’t with the world half the time. This is all hearsay to me, they tell me this, that you couldn’t get a logical conversation. He used to go around and bludge.
a matter of a hundred and fifty kilometres – all through enemy held territory. And this other fellow who was with him wrote a book and I picked it up out of the library here one day just by chance. And I read it and he said a big Australian called Alf. So it could only have been the one chap at the same time and everything. But I don’t think it affected him. He was quite good in the army, he never did anything wrong in the army. That was in 1941, that that happened.
Well he might have left before me but it would have been only days before me that he was discharged and I never saw him again until that one day I saw him in Cairns, one afternoon, I went and had a few drinks with him. It was one of those terrible – He was the only – well no we had another one. It might have been being sergeants. We had another sergeant, he also went bad. He used to drink and his marriage
broke up and you know he finished up in Ipswich and being, you know just being, doing a labouring job and he had been purchasing officer for Peters Ice-cream at one stage, but he just went bad and couldn’t hold a good sized job. It didn’t happen to many but it did happen to a few. And they’re very sad, they’re very sad. I’ve been very lucky it never happened to me, that I kept –
when I was on leave anyway and then they gave us a week’s final leave. Final leave they called it and for many of us of course, for many of them it was final pure and simply. And then we came back and we were in camp and – well it was in November and on Christmas Day we went overseas. But we went back to, we went to Cairns and I had a good time but then it had struck me what was happening and I was very sad and I was looking at my mother and I’m thinking
well God I’ll never see her again. I always feel that, well I didn’t actually feel it, I thought there was always the chance. I was very lucky I went through until – the only time I really had any great fear of being killed was when I went to Borneo and it was the place I should have had the least fear of being killed because I never saw an angry Jap in Borneo.
Poor old Mum was broken up and she always felt that Jim ran bigger risks. I always felt that because he’d been a good boy that Jim was a bit of a favourite ahead of me. But Jim was, Jim never went overseas but she always felt that the two of us were gone, the only two that she had and she thought that, she never realised that he was ground staff in the air force and he chances of being killed were pretty slim.
But she was good she didn’t worry – well she worried I suppose but she never showed it too much. She came into the train station when it passed through Babinda, and I remember my sister was there and I hadn’t seen her, she’d been away out west somewhere and she came running up the station to see me and she was about seventeen and she said, “You know that new suit you’ve got, that new suit you’ve got?” I said, “Yes I remember that.” She said, “Can I have it?” I said, “What do you want it for?” She said, “I want to alter it because it’ll –
vessel. She had to get coal and we called in at Bowen and I that’s where all the Macleans originally came from. And I had an aunt that came down to see me and it was just about on my birthday and she made two great cream cakes and brought them down and gave them to us. On the wharf there was no secrecy about it, we were there and we were leaving. And she gave us this and we ate them before we came to Brisbane. Yes
and I was sick. That wasn’t in Darwin that was just outside Brisbane, I was quite ill. And somebody else was, I don’t know who it was because we all sat down there and drank beer and ate cream cakes, yes.
Just speaking about Darwin, you said that the training in Darwin was really tough. What was really tough about it?
Well I always feel if they didn’t know, if they woke up in the morning and they didn’t know what you were to do for the next twenty-four hours they’ll say look we’ll take a twenty mile route march. And away you’d go and you’d do the route march. You might do fifteen miles, camp out, come back and do the seven mile back the following morning. But that’s what they’d do. Well I suppose it was toughening up exercise.
How did you find the physical part of the training?
It was no, it was no trouble to me. As you can see I’m not a big man but I mean I’d been, worked on farms and lived an outdoor life and I had no problem at all. But a lot of them did, the city boys had a lot of trouble. Their feet played up and their condition gave out and all that.
How quickly did people make friends during training?
Oh almost immediately and you very seldom made a mistake, that’s what got me. You know all the friends I made in the first week they were – we moved, the originals we used to call ourselves, we moved in a little circle and we used to go together. Oh well the others were in it to a certain extent but we never, I never really
What sort of things would you talk about late at night?
Well, well the war. But mostly about women I suppose and they all had their conversation about women. Most of them, most of them had girlfriends and those that didn’t like myself had a, well I had a friend but you’d um, you’d persuade, you’d kid yourself that you had one that was really, really serious. But I mean it was mostly about girls, I mean they were a pretty high topic of conversation
So you said that people would say they hated the army, what sort of things did you hate about it?
No they didn’t hate the army, they used to say so, yes it was the in thing to say you didn’t like it. “Oh I joined it. Why’d I join this bloody army for? Oh a man wants to get his head read, he’s in it and deserves it.” But they really weren’t speaking from their hearts at all. They joined it, nobody made them. You went up, there was no conscription, there was nothing
at all, you just went up and said I’d like, I’d like to join the army. And as I said the old fellow said, “You want to ringside seat at the big fight?” And well you were there and to me I’d done it and that was it until I got out. We used to, later on we used to get very dissatisfied and quite rightly I felt because the likes of us, the originals, we went through it again and again and again and again. And the blokes in the back they, they shovelled
the food up to you again and again and again and nobody was firing at them. And I’ve always felt that when you came up out of action they should have whipped twenty-five percent of you out and put another twenty-five percent of you in and ah, and you’d have still been a good fighting force because the number was there. And then the following time it happened then the next twenty-five percent would go but it didn’t happen that way.
for us, yes he did. But why he did it, he was definitely wasn’t the type, he was, you know he was not, he wasn’t very smart and he had no idea what he’d let himself in for. The rest of the boys all knew what they were all going to but he, he didn’t know. Well there were odd ones. We had odd ones all throughout the war who broke down and had to be taken out.
Often to jail too because they wouldn’t go.
And how was that, initially in training anyway, how was that young man treated by the other troops?
Well I don’t remember. He wasn’t in our platoon. We had no-one it had happened to. But I think they were all right, I think everybody was, was pretty wise. If he was going to get out he was going to get out. The first thing you’d have them, they’d tell me, the man would be there and the next day he’d be gone. But we had one bloke
of with firepower when the firepower they had, to me it seems absolutely inconceivable that they did it. And we used to talk about this and you know when we’re in, particularly when we were on our way to the Middle East we knew that it wasn’t so far away and we used to think our chances of getting out of it you know weren’t good. Because you know they’d come up on a mile front and they’d march seven or eight thousand men go over the front like that. Well they didn’t do that in the Second World War.
Well we did at El Alamein but we did it at night. We were lucky it was an open area of the desert too.
Did you discuss with one another the possibility of being killed or wounded?
No, no very seldom. We may have once or twice when some chap got morbid and somebody would tell him, “Don’t be so bloody morbid.” They’d say and that would be the extent of our discussion. No, oh no you couldn’t start that, you’d run yourself down, you’d be useless as soldiers if you did that.
So you met up with those blokes on the train to Sydney and you said you had a rum and everything. What was the mood like then among you?
Oh they were all excited at going because we knew we were going to go on the Queen Mary and that was a great secret but it had leaked out, we were going on the Queen Mary. And when we got there, I got out of the train right at the wharf and I looked and I saw this great –
How many people would have been there when you finally were sent off?
Oh well on these barges. Well there was no-one. We left on a weekday. That was a weekend. I think it was Monday we left, we left about seven o’clock in the morning or eight in the morning, it was early in the morning, but there was very little around then, there was a bit then. But the day previous, in the two days previous were weekends and everybody, even if they had nobody, they knew nobody on, they had to go down and
see the Queen Mary and get a special trip on a boat and get around her. Having been on the Queen Mary had great disappointments really. When we got to Fremantle there was the Aquitania and the Isle de France and Awatier, the Mauritania, they were all in our corner, they were all the biggest ships in the world and they could all go up to the quays in Fremantle, and they all had leave.
The poor mullets on the Queen Mary sat off three mile out to sea it never went.
During that send off in Sydney, during that amazing send off were there emotional scenes?
No I don’t think, not many, not on board ship but there could have been mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters down on the, or wives, down on the boats that might have seen somebody they know that might have got emotional but no, there was no – our blokes I never saw anybody emotional. There was no-one in our platoon that had anybody there, they were all Queensland. You see we were a Queensland unit,
and they can’t get me off now. I’ll be very good, I won’t go sick, I won’t do anything, if I die before I leave. No and nobody, nobody wanted to get off. I think everybody – because I remember our battalion, before we left Brisbane the colonel, he got up and he said if anybody feels this is beyond them and does not want to go he said they’ll be no nasty things said, they’ll be nothing done
but come up to the orderly room after it’s over and put your name down and we’ll see you get your discharge. And if anybody went I don’t know but we didn’t, no-one that I knew went.
Why do you think you felt that duty?
I don’t know. I said in that book that I wrote I said, “I wonder why I felt it a duty.” And I don’t know. I said in that book I felt, that I’d written that I felt it was a duty to go. And why I felt it was a duty because when you looking back now I owed my country very, very little really. I’d never had a full time job in my life and I was willing to work and everything but they weren’t available.
Did you have any sense of the empire and sort of fighting – ?
Not, not a great deal, no, no. But I was, we were all, I suppose we were all empire men in those days because the thought of Australia being an independent
And what was the scene like on board the ship? How many troops were aboard the Queen Mary?
About eight thousand were on board on her, there was eight thousand. I think we were the only full battalion that was on. There was all, a lot of reinforcements on, there might have been artillery units and those on but we were the only infantry battalion on. Our old colonel he was the
Aquitania and the Mauritania. They were very big. The Dominion Monarch was there. They all had been first class liners in their day. The Awatea, she was the smallest, she used to run between Sydney and New Zealand. And they’d all been first class. Of course they’d all been gutted and a lot of them had been taken out, you know anything down that was of any great value had been gone. And they were
just for troops by then but they only carried about four thousand, three thousand passengers in the Queen Mary and here they’d put eight thousand on and later put fifteen thousand on her.
So from where did you travel and to where did you travel in convoy?
All the way. We travelled from Sydney. We went down to the, in, I remember it was very cold, we must have gone well south because at the time there was a German fleet, a small German
So what was that like for you that experience of being part of this enormous convoy?
Oh it was, it was great, it was great. Especially when we got to Indrapura, not on, we got on the Indrapura and into Ceylon. We had a day’s leave in Ceylon incidentally. And the bud boys were down there and you’re throwing coins over to see them dive and they’re trying to sell you, it always amused us, they’d be trying to sell you an ivory elephant
So when you moved, changed from the Queen Mary to this boat what was your reaction?
We thought, we thought this is absolute muck. You know it was, it was a terrible ship. She was a terrible ship. It’s mentioned in our history there,
but we knew it was only a fortnight. I don’t know how long it was exactly. But when we got there in the Indrapura a German aeroplane had come over and had bombed and had time bombs in the canal and they had to sweep them out and we were two days or three days in the Bitter Lakes which are a part of the canal, a place where they all go out into lakes. And we were in there for a couple of days until they swept the canal. And then went up to Kantara
which is about in the middle of the, in the middle of the canal and we got off there onto the railway lines where the railway line crossing crosses there. And we got on a train there.
What were those couple of days like when you were waiting for them to sweep the – ?
Oh I don’t know we were just for a couple of days we were on the ship and we hated the thing and we were on and we had to stay. They got off and I didn’t get on. They got, they dropped all the lifeboats over and the boys had a row and because it was still, it was right in the middle of the canal, yeah.
So you weren’t nervous about possibly running into mines?
It was not the in thing to speak about your nerves of going into action – I might be killed or I might not, I might be lucky or I might be unlucky, no-one ever did that. Well I never heard it because if they did well they’d sort of break down, you know the whole thing would collapse.
amazed, yes it was the Suez Canal and on it, if you go on history that would have been what at Christmas, that would have been the middle of January, and they’d kept a lot of Italian troops and they had them all in big camps along the side of the canal and we could see them. And they’d say, oh this war must be – and look at those blokes over there, they copped them, they’ve got thousands of them and we did too after El Alamein we got them by the thousand. But they were all there
and there was odd – Um, I remember I saw my first Hurricane there. It buzzed over, the aeroplane and I said, “What marks were on that?” It was an Egyptian plane and of course the Gyppos [Egyptians] they were – as their ability as soldiers hasn’t been terribly high but they never fought in the war. But it was just another ship. Until we got off and got onto the train going up to where our camp was. And see
you move in brigades in the army. There were three battalions, there was the 13th, 15th and 17th with an artillery brigade, battalion behind us. And we’d never met the 13th and 15th. We didn’t know, they were just the 13th and the 17th they were just names to us. And we met the 1st when we got to Palestine, right at Gaza Ridge where all the fighting is – we know Gaza, we knew Gaza and Ramallah and all those places I knew them. We were only there
a month I suppose but I knew them all, we’d been there.
of Europe, you know and they were right down there and they were fighting Germany – no they weren’t fighting Germany, but we were on our own and Britain had forty million people and Germany had eight million and I used to think to myself how could they beat them? And they couldn’t have beaten them. Had we stayed on our own we couldn’t have beaten them. I think that’s quite obvious. I mean in the war the command the Germans had because they took on millions and millions of
Russians and very nearly did beat them but and we couldn’t have done it on our own but they never got me but I used to think how can we win this? And then somebody go on and talk about the football match or what’s for tea and you’d forget about it then and you’d live in the future, live in the present not in the future.
in the afternoon, it was mostly night. Yes it was desert, you crossed the Sinai, where old, if you read your bible, where old Moses went across. And you thought, you never had much thought except – you see you didn’t carry in carriages over there you travelled in trucks. And you were jammed in these closed wagons as many as they could get inside them and all you’d do, all you wanted to do was get out of them, you couldn’t even see properly. You had to fight to get to the door
and other than that you just waited until you got out and you got out at Gaza. Where you were met by members from the 13th Battalion who had erected our tents and were ready for our arrival.
was. Tents, putting up for eight hundred and fifty men with mess tents and everything. There were tents for miles and miles. And there were 13th, 15th and 17th. The whole 9th Division or 7th Division we were then. And they were, there were tents everywhere and men everywhere and it was definitely a man’s world. The only place that wasn’t a man’s world. The only hospital they had near was the, I suppose I can tell you this, the 8th Army Special which is where
all men with venereal disease were sent, it was there.
So what were your thoughts when you saw this hospital cross prison camp type place?
My thought, it’s not for me. And it wasn’t for me either I’m proud to say. No I won’t say I was a complete virgin in the Middle East but by jove, I was the nearest approach there was. Once I can always remember, I can tell this on the army, I went with a friend of mine Lou McIntyre who was later killed, and his mother showed me – and
as we were coming away, we were going back to camp and he said never again Doug, he said never again and I said me too, never again, never ever again. And we were going in the bus and when we got home to Australia I went and saw his mother, he was killed in New Guinea and I had some of his gear and I took it. One of the saddest days I had in my life really but I went up to see her. And she got out all his letters and things and she said, “What do you think – Now what was he talking about when he said I went on leave I decided there were things I, things I saw then that I never wanted to see
and do again.” And I said I had no idea in the world what he was talking about but I knew of course but poor old Mrs Mac I couldn’t tell her. No it’s – No, those sort of things I was – I don’t mean I – I wasn’t a prude or anything of that sort, very far from it but I mean I was determined I was going to – after that I was determined I was going to get home, and that was after Tobruk that happened.
In Tel Aviv. And what was it about it that made you both say you would never – ?
Well I suppose it was, it was just like buying a shirt business sort of business and there’s no love, no affection, there was no nothing in it, it was just – I nearly spit when I think of it today even. And never again and I didn’t do it again.
And I went to Beirut, I went to all, Alexandria and all those places and I never indulged again. And I nearly, I might tell you, for a fortnight or for a week the pair of us, we’d done all the right things but we were scared stiff we might have got something. And I don’t suppose it was anything to be very proud of that we did go but we were in the minority I can tell you.
Okay what were you saying?
I was just saying the Arabs they were filthy, they were, they were a filthy people. When we were doing marches from Gaza, we were only there for about a month I suppose before we went up the, oh up the desert, and you’d go past their tents and on the bottom floor there’d be the pigs and the cows and the goats and upstairs Mum and Dad and fourteen kids would live. You know hear them killing kids in Gaza and they wouldn’t
touch them there’s that many of them. I never saw so many kids in all my life. And not that I’ve got any higher opinion really of the Jew either. The Jew in the city to me he was always a hungry money grabbing person. The ones in the countries on the farms in the kibbutzes they were nice people, I got on well with them but the Arabs, the one that always stood in mind, and I’ve always been sorry for them because they came and took their country off them, but they were
filthy. Especially around Gaza the place I saw the most was in Gaza.
for the first time we got our weapons, not all of them, we were about half armed but we got – I saw a Bren gun properly and fired one, I think I fired one if I remember rightly but I saw them anyway. And um, and we knew it was on because they’d gone as far as they could and they’d just run out of steam the 16th. They’d taken Bardia, Tobruk and Benghazi and up to a place called Elajelia and
Mersa Brega and they were just stumped. And I’ve often thought they sent them, they sent them across to Greece and Crete and they were stumped before they left – they were tired and – anyway that’s, that wasn’t me, I wasn’t there I don’t know exactly what happened, except it was a disaster. No I never really thought of being afraid of what was going to happen to me. I knew what it was like. Until we got the first little whisper
that there were Germans. When it was Eyties [Italians] it was just a joke and I remember writing to my mother and saying oh well they won’t stop us we’ll be in, we’ll be in Tripoli shortly, there’s nothing that the Eyties can do to stop us. But when we got there there was plenty to stop us.
We were going up, I was at the pictures with a bloke called John Dolgner, and I always remember this because um, you’ve probably never seen it. It was one of the pictures of the year, 1940, forty-one rather. And I remember him saying that’s a great picture. They called us all members of the 2/15th. In every theatre, I should explain this, but in every camp, brigade camp there was a theatre and a good theatre, a
properly built theatre. And we were at this and they called all members of the 2/15th battalion to return and he turned and said I’m going to see that picture out. Whatever happens that’s one thing, I’m going to see the picture. It was about the war and Nelson Eddie was in it who you’ve probably never heard of. And, and I always remember him something he was giving – it wasn’t a good war picture really because it was on the Russian front and a chap came up to him and
it was Christmas and he offered him a drink, Nelson Eddie was an officer, offered this bloke a drink and the bloke took it in his hand and when the officer turned his back he smashed against the butt of his rifle because they were just on the point of revolution. But he said I’m going to see that picture. And poor Jack was the first casualty in our battalion, he was killed first time up. First time up the line Jack was killed.
bloke. And you see what makes it very painful, not for me, oh well we’re not there if you want to know before you got there is the fact that two days before I was in B Company and he wanted to get up there and I said I’ll swap you if you want to get – I’m not – I’ve had this place they shoot at you day and night here. And he said, “Yes I want to go up there.” And we swapped and two days later he was killed. It should have been me. Well it would have been me, because he was out preparing a line.
Which had the line been repaired it would have been me out repairing it. A nice bloke Jack.
more getting used to our weapons I suppose more than anything else. But there was no this is what you do in certain circumstances, I don’t remember that, but we went out on the drome and out on the range and fired and marched and toughened up because we’d got pretty soft on the way over. And I think there was three weeks to a month, we went up on the first of February I think. And um
we worked hard, we trained hard. The sigs did a lot of work. I went to a sig school and –
thing that the Australian Government ever made. And anyway I was at this sig school, and that’s it, I was there for about a week I think and I went back, and I went – the first day I went to, I went to a Rat Tobruk meeting here and I met a fellow called Anson, a very nice man who now lives in New South Wales, and he said to me he said, “You know I know you.” I said, “Know me?” I said “I don’t know, where do you live?” He said, “Oh I lived in the west.”
He lived in the west and he lived here. And he said, “I tell you where I know you. Did you do a sig school at Gaza?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I did the same sig school.” And I thought well I must have been ugly then because I’m ugly now. But he recognised me and it was the most amazing – He said, “You haven’t changed much.” And I thought, I thought I must have been crook but still in all – yes he was, it was just amazing that anybody should recognise
you in fifty years when you spent a week together doing a sig school. Amazing. He was up here, he’s lost his wife, he was up here a few weeks ago. I never saw him. A couple of them saw him. He was only passing through. He said he was coming back to visit us. He used to live around the place. I used to see him. He was the secretary before me, of the Rats of Tobruk
Now I can really blow my bag a bit. But it’s probably one of the most important things in the army because the only way they – Now in Tobruk from battalion backwards. A battalion’s a thousand, they’re the front line, the 2/15th. From back to there they were all wireless sets. They had divisional sigs men there and they did all the work going back. Any message from the colonel to the brigade it went through there or if we just – we had telephone lines
but they were often broken, he’d speak to him on the telephone. But if there were orders for an attack they all came through this, up over the Fuller Phone, but usually that’s because the Fuller Phone could be busted. But forward of that, it was in Tobruk I’m referring to now, it was all telephones. And that’s what made being a sigs a very dangerous job. You spent all you time – because from
battalion to company headquarters – a battalion’s about eight hundred men, a company’s about two hundred, a hundred and fifty and two hundred. And they both had quarters and from then on joined out into three sections and they all had telephone lines. And they each – at company headquarters they always had three sigs and your job was to keep those lines in order. And very seldom did it go, did a day go that you weren’t out two or three time fixing lines.
And they had to be done. Often you had to crawl on your tummy and get along and fix them. You see they were all lined. Telephones lines were not like you’ve got here up in the air with two lines, they were one line along the ground and earth return, which was an old bayonet stuck in the ground and that made the circuit, the ground made the circuit and it was connected onto the ground. And they were very uncomfortable periods crawling on your tummy there, having
somebody using you as target practise and – and how we got out of it alive – well I suppose that’s just a guess. We lost a few but most of us got out.
Doug, can I just pause there for a second? Okay so how much time did you spend training before you went into action?
Well we had three weeks in, or a month in Palestine, at Gaza. And we trained there, we trained pretty hard there and
we didn’t miss too much. I was at sigs school and had missed a lot of it. But that’s all we’d done and then we were straight in the train. We went on the train through, across Kantara, the way we’d come to Alexandria on through – to Alexandria through Mersa Matruh and Tobruk where I remember the coldest night I’ve ever spent in my life – our blankets never got up. And then we went up to Mersa Briga and
and El Agheila, and we were in the front line. We took over from a 6th division battalion. They took them back and sent them to Greece and Crete. We said, “Have you struck any Germans?” He said, “We hear they’re there but we haven’t struck them.” And “There’s not many,” they said and we believed them, there wasn’t many and ah, and they went and we stayed. But we hadn’t
done much training. Really we had not been, we were not a well trained battalion and were not a well armed battalion. Because they had a lot of arms, the 6th Division Battalion – I think it was the 7th but I’m not certain of that. And they left and they took all there captured arms with them, their Fiats and Brigas and those things, machine guns, and they took them all with them of course. And we had these few Brens. But we’d been there for –
We’d – I don’t know who was – they’d split the divisions up. We were in the 7th Division really and then because they were making them different they put us in the 9th. And oh we objected very strongly to being the 9th because that was a later division, and we were earlier, we’d joined up earlier and this being in the 9th Battalion – it’s our greatest honour now I might say. But we took it very bitterly being in the 9th but you could do nothing, you could whinge that’s all you
could do and whinge we did. And then we finished up in the 9th. Then we got our commander who was more, his picture’s up on the right hand side of that picture, and he was Ali Baba as we called him and his twenty thousand thieves and he was good, he was a very good general. I think if ever a man should have been commander of the Australian forces in the war it was him. But then he wasn’t.
He never had a defeat. He was the only man. He might have been lucky. He undoubtedly was lucky in that respect but all the others – well Blamey [General Blamey] was not, Blamey was at the back, he never had defeats. But all the others at some place or an other, over Kokoda Trail they’d driven them right back and you know they’d had – and in Greece and Crete. And Syria hadn’t been too good either. They’d all had a very rough time and they’d finished on the wrong end of the stick
and um, and their generals, I don’t say our bloke was any good, but he was, he was a school teacher and very dry and I remember him coming up to see us one day in Tobruk and Pat [Patrick] Grace a friend of mine, only died a few weeks ago, he said, he was down beside his wireless set, we had a wireless set there, I don’t know what it was doing, and he said, “What’s the 108 like?” And he said, “It’s absolutely – ” so and so, “useless,” he said.
And I always remember Moreshead’s reply, he said, “I wouldn’t be as emphatic as that son,” he said, which amused us all, yeah.
Just asking about that wireless set, why was it useless in your opinion?
Because they were no good. They broke down, their range was poor, their tuning was poor, they’re everything was poor. By the time we got to El Alamein – at the end of Tobruk we got eighteen sets which were far better. They were uncomfortable to carry, they were like a square box
we went by train and we went from Gaza, we went from there to Mersa Matruh. If you know where Gaza and Mersa Matruh are I don’t how far it is from Alexandria – a hundred and fifty, about a hundred miles perhaps. And Mersa Matruh, in biblical stories it’s quite famous and that’s where Cleopatra had her harem or whatever she had. And ah, but it was dirty, the Arabs had been there before and every place was dirty. We only put in the night. It was just a journey
by train. And it was – we starved nearly because we only had – If we wanted to something to eat we’d open a tin of bully beef, and bully beef’s about three dollars forty in the shops now, and there were great pot plaques of it and jumps of it wherever you looked then. But ah, then we got off, then we got onto trucks and we went on there by truck, from there to El Agheila or Mersa Brega. And it was rough. We went from there to Tobruk and in
Tobruk our blankets never got up, they were on trucks, and cold – I remember Dave Porter and Lou McIntyre, not it wasn’t Lou McIntyre, Stan Woods I think, we camped in this bit of a hole just wide enough we found. It was a peace time town. The Italians and Germans were miles away, a hundred miles away. And the man in the middle was warm but the two men on the outside they were shivering like leaves you know. And one of them would get out and, “What do you want to get out for?” you’d say if you were in the middle. We were taking turns to sleep in the middle.
But cold – and you’d run up and down the road to try and get warm. Oh cold. It’s funny how I remember that probably more than a lot of the action we were in, but I do remember that one. And from there we went up to Benghazi. We camped just outside Benghazi. And Benghazi’s – Strangely a lot of, I think they’re she-oaks, a lot of Australian trees along, an avenue just beside – we never went in but we went past it. Went up to, to El Agheila
and that’s where our troubles started then.
On that journey what signs of any action did you see?
Oh yes everywhere, everywhere. See they’d taken a hundred and twenty-five thousand Italian prisoners. Yes there was stuff, rubbish and muck everywhere. And they’d taken a lot of big – we were never ever in one but they had taken a lot of big ten ton diesel trucks that the Arabs had and they all had WOP on them and that, and that’s why we always call the – but that stood for
What sort of rubbish? What do you mean?
Oh papers and bits of paper. No weapons really because I think the 16th would have been short of weapons too and every time they saw a weapon they grabbed it. And when they got weapons they were collecting them and putting them in Bardia. I saw pictures later, streets of them in Bardia, you know where they kept them, they sent them to Greece,
Italians, they were all Italians and – Oh you’d occasionally see – well there were Australians killed certainly but I mean they were nearly all – and they’d done the first campaign of the Australian Army and had been very, very successful. There was they and an Indian division and they’d done, they’d just – they’d taken forty thousand prisoners in Bardia and thirty thousand in Tobruk. They’d got prisoners everywhere and they couldn’t handle them, they didn’t know how to handle them, they’d never
Do you remember how seeing, the first time you saw dead bodies affected you?
Oh, bloody Eyties again. That’s all. If it wasn’t Australian, I didn’t see them there, if it was Australian you’d always go and see if his meat ticket was – we used to call the information thing dead meat tickets and if you saw his
dead meat ticket was gone you’d know that somebody had given him a map reference on a map to say where he was so they’d come back and bury them afterwards. You see they had groups coming behind and picking them up and taking them back and putting them in proper cemeteries. No they never – In that way I’ve been very tough. Unless things hit me very, very close to myself it’s never sort of worried me. I didn’t like seeing them but I never got upset or anything, badly
upset. Two or three of my friends were killed in the war, or not, more than that five or six I suppose and they did upset me but that was only because they were close to me. Others got killed and I, I just took – if I wasn’t there particularly I just took it as a matter of course.
In those early days though when you were travelling along and you said there were some bodies around and people did bury them if they could. Were you involved in burying any bodies?
No, never. No. Some of them wanted to because they were – they’d want to because after, particularly El Alamein, they’d want to go where they’d made an attack and they had failed or something and they’d know they’d find some of their friends, and they wouldn’t go and – and I wouldn’t go, I had no wish to go because it was a terrible job. I saw one particular fellow who was a friend of mine, an officer, Basil Bannister, he was dead, he’d been dead about a month when I saw him and oh –
The thing I always remember his hair had grown and you know, you know his hair was quite long and it was blowing in the breeze. I’ll never forget it, his hair just blowing in the breeze. Yeah, a good bloke Basil too. Oh well. Some had to go, some had to stop. You see I was one of the very few in our battalion that went the
full distance. There’s only fifty or sixty of us who did it I think and I was one of them. I was always sick a couple of times but that’s all.
and we did and I used to think but it never affected me. If I saw a German coming towards me and I shot him well I shot him then he couldn’t shoot me. It was live and let live. Live and stay alive I should say. I was very sorry. We liked the Germans. You’ll find very, very few in our division that didn’t think that the Germans were good blokes, they were. They were fighting for their country the same as we were.
If he was dead he was dead and he was one less that’s all, that’s all there was to it. No I had no sympathy for them. I’d have sympathy for own chap. I’d see a chap I knew well and I’d see him there, “Poor old Tom.” You know and –
now I might be killed, it might happen, I might be wounded, I might, this might happen, and you’d go crazy. And that’s what happened to the man who failed. The man who did that, the man who worried about what might happen to him. You had to put it behind you and say well if it comes it comes, if it doesn’t come well it’s alright. No I never worried about that and that sort of thing, not early in the piece. Later in the piece I will tell you a place where it did, it did worry
and unfortunately I let other people worry too with it. But I mean that was quite late – I was shattered towards the end of the war, I was, I was shattered.
And how did they look when you saw them?
Oh they looked all right. They were very tired, they were tired. I got the impression, I said they looked tired. Because they’d been fighting – they’d taken Bardia and they’d taken Tobruk and they’d fought all the way along. It hadn’t been hard fighting, they’d been fairly lucky, but they had lost – it’s all very well saying it wasn’t hard but they lost a hundred odd killed. And you know they were always somebody’s friend and somebody’s
And what did they tell you?
Oh they said you’ll have no trouble with the Eyties but they said we do hear a whisper. And well we did on the way up there, we weren’t, but the 13th Battalion was machine gunned by a couple of Stukas and they lost, they lost three of four men on the way up by aircraft and that’s how we knew the Germans were there because their planes were there.
So you weren’t really too worried about the Italians?
No well nobody was. Well they went in there the 6th Div, what I mean there would have been twelve or fifteen thousand of them, they got seventy or eight thousand prisoners. Well I mean you don’t do that if your opposition’s as good, you don’t do it. Because they’ll stand and fight you and they’ll have as good a chance of taking you.
And he had one look, he went around the front and had a look and he went back and kicked up an awful noise. He said if you want to lose this division leave them where they are and you will lose them. Because if the Germans attack they’ll take them and he said it’ll be just like picking plums. And they pulled us back to just outside Benghazi there’s a big escarpment behind Benghazi. We could see down on Benghazi, we could see
down there. And they pulled us back there and trained us. They armed us a bit better but still not well. We had a good time there. We were there for about a week, I don’t know how long, we were there for quite a few days. But they all had sheep those people, sheep and chooks and all this sort of thing. We used to swap eggs for tea. They wanted tea. And we had the old idea, we’d get tea, we’d use, put it on a piece of paper
and it would all dry and crinkle up and swap it for eggs. But they gave us bad eggs so I don’t know who won the argument, you know they won it as much as we did. I can laugh about it but some of the boys said they were a bunch of rogues, I said “and weren’t we?” We were just as big a rogues as they were – except they could use the tea again if they used enough of it. And we were camped there and there was natives and everything sweeping all around in the middle of us. And while we were there the Germans attacked. They moved in an English brigade
to take over from us and the Germans attacked and they went straight through this English brigade, [UNCLEAR] rifle and a few more of them. And the next thing they were done, we could see them down in Benghazi. And then they started to work up the mountain and they took the 13th and 15th Battalion away, no 15th and 17th, they left the 13th behind. And the 13th got into quite a stink on this hill – they lost quite a lot of men. And we fell back to
Derna. And it was a mad race from then on. They were dropping us off and we were walking and then they’d get a truck, and they were short of trucks, and then they’d take a truck along fifty miles and then come back and pick us up and this sort of thing. And we had another dust up in Derna. We lost our first men in Derna. And from then we went to Gazala – running all the way, we were running, there’s no good saying anything else. I mean I know blokes talk about our fighting retreat.
I said we never fought, I never fired a shot. And we got back to Gazala and in Gazala we were um, we just, they sorted us out. When they came up it was a bit of an escarpment, then they sorted out, 15th, 13th, 17th, 48th Battalion they just sent you where you had to go. Because everybody was mixed up, just absolutely mixed up to glory. And we went into all these various places and we
connected up and then we slowly fell back in to Tobruk. And it was in Gazala that there was a bit of roadhouse there that had Griffith Tea Is Good written on the side of it. A lot of Australians have got pictures of it, Griffith Tea Is Good. And anyway I walked in this and I nearly fainted. When I walked in this place I was just seeing if there was anything to be found and Colonel Moreshead was there and a few of them were having a conference. I got out as soon as quickly as I could but I never heard anything or see anything
and I think they were just as worried as we were too. We fell back into Tobruk. And then we went up and took the lines. If you see in that map, you see where all the forts are marked on the outside of that map there.
Yeah I’m talking about the 13th Battalion, I think it was the 13th. And they got quite a lot. And the tell the story of the brigadier, he came along and they were, company headquarters or battalion headquarters were waiting to go and they reckon the officers often put on a big play that they’re calm, and I’ll be they’re not. And he went over to the widdle phone and did himself what he had to do and he came back and just sauntered over, he
was a big man Murray. And he said, “They tell me that there’s a scrap on around here. We’d better see what we can do about it.” He said “We’ll start marching back here and a truck will meet us.” He didn’t march, he had a car of course. And they were knackered and they staggered off. But they said it was obvious that one of the blokes that was there, one of the sigs that was there, not of our section, a J Section sig he said, “He was as calm as a badger.” You know he said, “Oh they tell me there’s a war on here.” With no
concern at all but he was concerned there’s no doubt in the world about that.
So what were you told before you actually left about – ?
We were told nothing because nobody knew anything I don’t think. I rode in the back with a Bruce Strange, a captain I think he was then, he was killed later, I rode with Bruce Strange and our idea was to get back as far as we could as quick as we could until we could reform and that’s what we did. They stopped at Derna
Just outside Derna. See there were two roads, you could come up the coast or there was an inline road like that. And somebody, there was a great talk, nobody’s ever known if was true that somebody said, “Put the 15th Battalion to go that way,” well this part of the 15th Battalion to go inland. And when they went inland they ran into these German armoured cars and they took them prisoner. Including the colonel,
They don’t accept it, they think the colonel was a good bloke, I think he led you badly he should never have stopped. Because a friend of mine from Cairns he was with the 2IC, who was, the man who was after Sir Charles Barton. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, you’ve heard of him. You’ve heard of him, well he was our 2IC. And when he said, he said to Vic, Vic Lidden, he said, “Come with me Vic,” he said. And Vic said, “What are we stopping here for sir?” He said, “I don’t bloody well know but
I do know this much ” he said, “We bloody well shouldn’t be.” And that’s what the 2IC said, he knew we shouldn’t have been stopping. But I reckon our – you won’t hear of this. You’ll be going to see Gordon on Friday, he’ll tell you that Mullen was a good bloke. I reckon he was an old woman and we were lucky to lose him. He was captured he wasn’t killed, he was captured.
But when you were retreating you must have known that you were doing that.
Oh yes and we weren’t retreating we were fleeing I think I’d say was a better one. And yes it was – as I said I never fired a shot, we never had any action, we never had anything at all, we just went for our lives so we could reform. And a couple of hundred miles
So having done all the training and arrived in the Middle East for war how did you, what did you think about suddenly being in a fleeing situation?
Well I was a bit staggered. You know I always thought an army was – you learnt it when you were in a company or in a battalion, an army is run by a certain set of rules and stories and everything like that, that’s how the army’s run. And everything is planned and organised and
where we were nothing was planned or organised. You see not only did they take the colonel, they took the general officer commanding, the lot of it, they took him too. And they took the chap who’d up commanded the army, the 6th Div and the Indian who commanded the whole shebang. When they’d gone up they’d captured him too in the same place near where they captured the 15th Battalion.
When you hear generals are getting captured you know things are getting pretty dangerous then.
So nobody ever suggested how to deal with that situation if it happened?
No, no. Except they did used to, they did give you lectures often, this is how you are to behave if you are, if you are captured, not how to escape or anything, but if you are captured you say my number’s QX7689, Maclean
So what happened after that whole incident of fleeing?
Well we came in there and Rommel, who was leading the Germans, he apparently was a very good bloke and he was a very smart man too. And we’d been in Tobruk about, oh, it was Easter 1941it was. I don’t know the exact date but it was Easter forty-one and the Easter Monday Battle we always referred to it as. And he
reckoned we were a rabble, which we had been all the way back and he reckoned he could take Tobruk and he threw a bunch into Tobruk. Well that’s the first time I’d – I was so interested in this that I, that I never had time to be frightened. They um, he attacked the 17th Battalion in front and they were ordered, the first time these sort of orders had been given to let the tanks go, stop the men who are following the tanks but never worry
about the tanks, the people at the back would get them. And they came through with about thirty tanks and they were right in the middle of us. But right in the middle of us there was a troop of RHA, Royal Horse Artillery. And they were firing over point blank range with not armour piercing shells with ordinary explosive shells. An armour piercing shell will go through a tank and it will always explode, but it didn’t matter because they were hitting them. And they knocked out nineteen, seventeen or nineteen. There were tanks blazing all over
the place. Aircraft fighting overhead. It was just exactly the sort of thing you see of a war in a picture. Only time it ever happened to me. And we were back and we captured about eighty prisoners that had got through on the backs of tanks – they rode in on the backs of tanks. We captured about eighty of them. And that’s if you don’t, anybody in the 17th will tell you, that’s when the 9th won their first VC [Victoria Cross] at Edmonton and it’s on that plaque
up there. And um, it was terrible we lost just a few but it was the artillery against the tanks and we were watching and cheering and we were too excited to be frightened I think. And I’ve got a picture there of a Hurricane that came down and nearly crashed on top of me. This Hurricane came down right in the middle of it and I’ve got an awful feeling we might have helped shoot him
down too. Because we were shooting at everything in the air. And it was a fantastic couple of hours that. I’ve never seen anything like it.
So where were you standing?
I was underneath a hole in the ground. I was looking out over the top but I was just near it all. There were tanks, German tanks a hundred yards away that they were knocking off. And he was right, almost amidst us because if he’d have got in it – they had a habit, when tanks got in, they just run over your, your
dugout, you know your little hole in the ground. But they got them before they got there. And the place was littered with tanks. I’m sure seventeen or nineteen, seventeen I think it was tanks there. About half of what he sent in. Because we were lucky that he didn’t have his up. He was chasing us but he was having the same trouble bringing his stuff forward as we had of assembling ours. But from then on we were pretty right then because we
were pretty safe. He fell back and left out and we took all the front lines. And the 13th Battalion, or the 17th or the 13th they mauled him on the way out and he’d had enough of – forty-eight hours anyway.
shot a few at tanks but it was just a waste of – they might have shot a few or the boys at anti tank. We had a fellow called, there that carried with us, he had the boy’s anti tank rifle, he said it’s bloody heavy, he said, and I carried it a long way and it’s no bloody good, he said.
Could you hear humans shouting or screaming?
No they were all inside the tanks. And these others, the seventy or eighty, they were well over on our right, yeah it would have been our right and they were behind a bit of a fold in the ground where they’d got off and they captured them. But I never heard anything. I saw some of them come in. They were a pretty cheeky lot. I never saw them but they reckon they were pretty cheeky when they came in because they reckoned that
recce [reconnaissance] patrols. They’d go out to find everything they could see. Somebody would find out there’s a little place here with about fifteen or twenty men in it, then they’d send out about fifteen or twenty men in – the idea of fighting patrols and do that and take over. And that’s happening all around the front that was happening, every battalion was doing that. It was ah, it was miserable stuff. I was on one of those early in the peace and I went in a few later. And
then we thought this is not bad things had got back to a bit normal, he was outside and we were inside. And then he made a big attack then on the salient.
Before we get to the big attack what was some of your early memories of those guards that were sent out?
Well they were, they were a case on going out. If you were on a recce patrol you went out and you find, you try and find Italians, there were a lot of Italians there, and you’d find Italians
that were patrols and you’d see what they were digging. They were digging, you knew where they were digging holes so you’d say well that’s where it’s going to be headquarters. And the bloke would mark it in his memory so he’d mark it on a map when he came back so they could shell it. And he’d know where there was Germans. If they got seen the Germans would fire and they’d work out where. Because of this, the way we did it, we were able to draw a line and know exactly where the Germans were all on the outside. And the German was very good,
he didn’t, I suppose he reckoned he didn’t need to have to do this to us because he knew where we were, he knew we were in the posts and – but they were, they were small little fights but they were going on all the time, all around the place. And we were having casualties again and again and again. Every night there was three or four killed and to me you know it seemed to everybody so useless but now we
know it was very useful really
What would happen in a group with you if you got a casualty?
Well in B Company, I was in B Company, we finished up in nine – I remember my worst experience at nine was – it might have been ten, it was the post, I had to run over to the next post. They had the uneven post were front and the other posts were lying and then the other was there
and a dog, a dog let all around the place, and the line went over to go out until this went out. And Bruce Strange said to me, you’ll have to, somebody will have to run it Doug, he said, we can’t leave it out. So Doug said oh well it looks like Doug runs it. And I ran it and I ran all the way over, ran in heavy military boots which is not the easiest way to run. And some bloke, a German, he would have been five hundred thousand, perhaps a thousand yards away, he fired at me
all the way. They were skipping up in all directions around me and I ran all the way with the line in my hand. This was, the funny part of this story comes at the other end. And when I get to the other end I said, “What’s wrong with this bloody phone?” Somebody said, “No. Why?” And nobody was on it, nobody was looking at it they were all looking at the enemy. And I stayed there until dark and came back after it was dark. But that’s the sort of thing sigs did more than actual fighting
and that was a bad one because he fired at me all the way across.
Yes oh yes you were frightened and what made me most annoyed was when I came back there was nothing wrong with the line. I had thought, I said to Strange before I don’t think the line’s out. He said it’s got to be out because there’s nobody at the other end. And well a private didn’t argue with a captain so I ran off and did it and that happened to me a couple of times that, to find people – at El Alamein I saw
a fellow reading a book one day and the light was on the switch and he hadn’t answered but it was quieter.
of firing at the enemy? Was that in Tobruk?
Oh yes, yes. I suppose yes I suppose one of those when we were first in there where there was a couple – you see we used to do these, some of these patrols and run when you used to run into them, and especially in salient a little bit later quite often because they were only fifty yards away. They were closer – well it might have been a hundred but certainly no further away, with a great minefield between you.
Well the first time Tobruk held him up. You see he couldn’t take Tobruk. When he was up on the frontier they had their, they moved in the 7th Division and the remnants of the 6th that had come back from Greece and Crete they had them on the front. And they had, oh they had every odd and sod in the world up in the line. And every time we’d have a niggle at them we’d have a niggle at him in Tobruk and every time he had a niggle at us in Tobruk they’d have a niggle at him
up there. It wasn’t heavy fighting in Tobruk, there was no – Except when the A, where the 26th Brigade when they attacked, tried to get into Tobruk it was very heavy.
It got very cold towards the finish, it was very, very cold and dusty, dusty. That’s what saved our bacon when we first went into Tobruk. After this attack there were about three or four days when it blew up a terrible dust storm and that allowed us to get organised I think, and we were organised ready for when he came I think. But when he made this attack on, which I wasn’t there of course in the, in the salient which was on our right, where he took about twenty posts and it was very,
very vicious the fighting there. Very, very vicious indeed. And we were all spread out behind for the counter attack but he pulled out. Well he didn’t pull out, he stayed there, he held what he held. But most of the fighting in Tobruk as I said as far as I ran into was skirmishing on patrol all the time. But it was thick and every night, every night it went on.
dust storm period, what was involved in getting organised?
Well you see even company commanders we had, or battalion commanders, he didn’t know what he had, he didn’t know where his battalions were, they had to sort them out and as he sorted them out he filled them into posts. And he had to organise his defensive shoots to safety in front of their things. He had to defend and we had a very good colonel there, he was wounded later, but he was a very good colonel and ah,
Ogle [Robert], and he got on well with us. And he was hard and tough and rough but he was good. And we forgave him for a lot of his faults and I suppose he had a lot to but he was a good colonel and then he had to organise our defensive position, because we were holding a defensive position. Because had he held Tobruk and taken all the troops that he had from Tobruk and could put them up onto the front here heaven only knows where he would
finish. The same thing even worse happened at El Alamein where he was so close there and they brought the New Zealanders and the 9th Division down from Syria and we held it there. But Tobruk was – the conditions were – there’s everything and that. And fleas, you never saw anything in your life like the fleas you had. And there’s nothing you could do to stop them. You’d pop stuff on and them and if it was daylight
you’d burn an old, you’d burn an old blanket in there and you’d think well they won’t be in here and half an hour later they’d be back and you’d be scratching and itching. Fleas, everybody could say about fleas, flies, rats, mosquitoes, you had them. I don’t know about mosquitoes, I don’t know I’m getting a bit carried away about that, I don’t think there were mosquitoes, I don’t remember them anyway.
Well the six months is quite a long time, did you you have any fun times over that – ?
No, none at all. You were there and that’s what made it so bad. At El Alamein and those other places they could pull you out and give you a proper rest but there wasn’t an area of Tobruk that wasn’t under, within artillery range of him to fight in. You could fight in – big guns called Bardia Bill. It’s the one time the base lodger, he was the same as we were, he got shot at the same as we did. Because the harbour where all our
gears came in it was all under fire. So Bardia Bill it was a big gun, two hundred millimetres it used to drop shells into Bardia all the time. Yes of course he was having trouble, he couldn’t let loose as much as wanted because he was having trouble getting his stuff over from Italy.
days were generally – you see when I took about them doing these patrols, they were all done at night. Days you’d get up in the morning, you couldn’t show your head up or you’d get it blown off particularly when you were in the salient. Some of the others weren’t too bad. A lot of the others weren’t too bad. But oh you’d just have breakfast and you’d always keep an eye on – you always had what your listening post out about four or five hundreds in front with the telephone, which you’d have to run out the line for them. And if they could see
anything they’d see them coming and they’d let them know and then you were ready for them. But he never made many great attacks. That big attack he made in, I think it was July, it was really savage and then from then on when he had the sail, he built it, he took a lot of the places and he held this half circle in there and it was a terrible place to be because he was only a hundred yards away and
the only time you’d poke your head up was at night and we had a bit of an unofficial truce on there, they brought food up for their mob at night and we brought food up for us at night and for an hour or so it was pretty quiet. But from then on it was on just the same.
And there was always artillery fire, artillery fire all the time. But we were in, I in particular, I was, and I suppose most of them were too, were in these big cement posts that the Italians had built. And they had a fire step on each end and an underground shelter between them, and you were down there and your were safe. I mean you did get hit if one hit right on it, I don’t know that it would do it any good but we were all right. And the only time we got into real trouble was doing patrols and things like that.
And also going down at night and unloading boats and things like that. Because they boats couldn’t come in in daylight they had to leave, they had to leave Alexandria full of stuff. And they’d get, just, they got in lieu of the German aeroplanes about dusk and then they’d ship in at night and you’ve never seen anybody work like those navy blokes did throwing the stuff over into
barges – just throwing the bags of potatoes – the only vegetable we got. Chucking them over and “Get out of the road you so and so’s below there!” Because they wanted to get out and get back. And they lost quite a few ships too – they lost the Parramatta and quite a few. There was no actual blood and guts really as in an attack except there and then later on one of the other brigades did an attack
to try and take it back and they failed not miserably but they failed. And they had a lot of casualties and that’s where that, that Catholic priest he ran out with a flag and brought in all the wounded and spoke to some of the Germans. And it was very vicious too. But we missed out on that, we never made any real big attacks there but we were in little attacks all the time.
we were in a peaceful area, and I went back and he said, “What’s the matter with you?” And I said, “I don’t know.” He said “Well I’ll tell you what’s the matter with you,” he said, “You’ve got jaundice.” And I knew what it was because quite a few had gone. A lot had gone. They reckon if they’d have stayed there another month they’d have lost nearly the lot of them – it was just sweeping the place. And I went down and got on a destroyer and came out.
Alexandria – a very, very flash place. The Greek hospital, step down baths and all that sort of thing. And the difference between it and Tobruk was absolutely amazing. You never got to have a bath. You’d go down for a swim very occasionally and it was, it was, I don’t know what they called it, it was artillery anyway, there was artillery always, they always dropped a few on the beach for practise and –
No I wasn’t, I suppose that’s wrong. I was pleased. We knew they were being relieved because the 18th Brigade they had a division in there, the 9th Division, and the 18th Brigade. And the 18th Brigade had been relieved by the Poles and had gone out. And then half another brigade had gone out by destroyer. They brought the destroyer and put them on destroyers and put them on board and brought an English regiment in. And we knew it was happening.
Well nobody told us but you know you knew well this is over we’re going now. And if you read history they, the Australian Government had a terrible fight with the English Government, they never wanted to take us out. But the Australian Government said every man had lost two stone in weight and he’d have been useless – another month he’d have been useless in there.
you – well you couldn’t think back to 1941, everywhere else in the world the British were getting – while we were in there – I always remember the morning the Russians came into the war because we had wirelesses and we could hear them. We had one, we didn’t have, but the divisional sigs had them and they could turn on, they’d flip over quickly when they knew was on and get it. And we knew the Russians came in and we knew, well we thought we’ve got a chance now
and that. But how we kept on when you come to think we should have been known we were defeated, we should have known that, but we didn’t apparently.
And they all got killed unfortunately, all our good leaders, like Lance Bode and Captain Malus [?UNCLEAR], he was the mightiest soldier in the army. He came from Winton and Cobb, another fellow who came out in the same direction – one had a military medal and the other had two of them and they were terrific soldiers. Because I remember one day we were whinging, just whinging for the sake of whinging in a quiet area one day and Bode came in and said, “What are you bastards whinging
about for?” And somebody said, “Oh just saying what an awful waste to spend the war in this joint” He said, “Let me tell you if anybody had told me I’d be in action for three months and was still alive,” he said “I’d have called him a liar.” And that’s the sort of war he fought. And he was killed at El Alamein and so was the other bloke Cobb too he was killed at El Alamein too.
it’s recommended that all troops have been advised that a dispersal is the safest way of staying alive. If they could see us they when they took the salient they took the only high piece of land in Tobruk, and it was just outside Tobruk, and they could see all over Tobruk. And if they say a group of ten men, and they were only ten mile away from, with glass they’d fire a shell
at them. So you had to disperse. And if you were by yourself it wasn’t worth him firing a shell at you.
So do you think the term the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ is appropriate?
Well we like to think so. And I think, now a lot of people disagree with me here, I think it was very tough, it was, very tough, very hard and very nasty. But since Tobruk
we came out – the only thing that was, we were winning at the time was Tobruk. And we sold ourselves. And I know Gordon for one will disagree with this one because I’ve argued with him before on it, but we sold ourselves and said now we’re something special, we held Tobruk. And we were special too because Rommel he tried twice to take it with full scale attacks and
he couldn’t do it. And the more he tried – you know after the second try we were always very confident we could hold him from then on. We were very confident from then on because behind the front line we had the blue, what they called the blue line, that was a red line and the blue line behind. If he had taken the front one he had to come back and go through the same effort again and as I’ve said we’ve sold ourselves because we’re probably the only group that still meet to this day.
We had a meeting last Saturday, not last Saturday the Saturday before and we had eight or nine there and three or four widows. And I don’t think there’s another organization does it.
joke about him being called Ali Baba undoubtedly have you? Well, he was Ali Baba Moreshead. Well there was a chap used to broadcast from Germany and he referred to them, us as being twenty thousand prisoners, because there were fifteen thousand Australians and four or five thousand others. Because we were holding, and he said just in prisoner and then they said well Ali – and then he said and they left him there and the
only thing they were pleased we were there because we were a bunch of thieves anyway, which Australians had the reputation of being. And so it started on Ali Baba and his twenty thousand thieves. And then he came out and he never lost it really, Ali Baba and twenty thousand thieves. Because everybody, I think everybody has a high regard for, we might disagree on many things but not on him.
The only time I ever saw him was the time he told the bloke, and he came and he said, he told him to, about that it was no bloody good, but he used much stronger language than that. And he said there’s no need to be as emphatic as that. Oh he was, he was a good bloke, old Moreshead. A terrible pity him. He must have, he apparently got dementia or a disease where he lost his mind and because I used to see Colonel Ogle
years later in Sydney and he said it was the saddest thing in the world. He’d ring up and try and have a conversation with you and he couldn’t. And he was so agile and young and alert and bright
So what happened to you after you left Tobruk? How long were you in that hospital?
I was in hospital for quite a while, I was quite sick and then I went into a convalescent home. And by this time they’re all out and they put on their great do they put on our battalion. I missed a funny one. This one was the funny one where they ah, they were having a Christmas party and the colonel, I don’t know what Bob Ogle was thinking, he said they could have a bottle of beer each you see and they thought a bottle of beer and they knew there was plenty around, the next door battalion were having
as much as they could drink so they thought – So they went up to the officers mess the whole battalion and said “We want beer, we want beer.” And Ogle came out who was running a party in there for the sisters. Well you see the officers always had first connection with the sisters, there was no women there. And they had all the sisters and AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women’s Service] over from the hospital. And he gave us the beer and then he gave instructions that revelry was to be rung at half past five the next morning
and after that he took us for a twenty mile route march – Not me, I wasn’t there. He took them for a twenty-four – and he marched with them. But Tobruk was a nasty place and we fought, we fought. I don’t mean to say that I had a cook’s tour in Tobruk because I didn’t. I went out on a several of patrols and a couple of times he had his skirmish patrols that he attacked us and you were under artillery fire
all the time. There was artillery fire all the time. Wherever you were he could reach you with artillery. But I was pleased to be out of it. Again a lot of people disagree, I reckon the ruck was no worse than El Alamein and we lost a lot more at El Alamein too than we did in Tobruk. We lost about seven hundred in Tobruk and lost well over a thousand at El Alamein.
How long did it take you to get well and who nursed you back – ?
Oh yes well I came out and I went to a convalescent, in the hospital. They gave us leave and of course they gave you a fat free diet. I remember writing to one of the boys in Tobruk and he said they laughed when they got the letter. I said, “I’m sick to death, I wish I could get a tin of bully beef.” And they thought that was funny. But anyway they gave you a fat free diet and then they sent me to a convalescent
camp. I was there for about three weeks. And then always in the army they had a re-echelon that they call where you went back to this re-echelon then the first time they get a group of you they sent you back to your battalion. And I was in this re-echelon and I was in there for a month and they wanted me to stay there but I wanted to get home. It was a funny thing a place like your platoon. I knew nobody. I was in the re-echelon and I didn’t know a person there. Well I did, they left
half a dozen but I didn’t know them well. And then I went back there. I got back in January I think I got back again. It was about October and I didn’t get back until January. Just before it was time to get up to Syria.
Well I guess you go through quite a big experience and you’re together –
It learnt you that there was an experience of life without women, completely and absolutely without women, from the time we went up to that desert or from the time we left Australia until we finished up back at Palestine, there was no women. As far as I was concerned there was still no women. But I mean – but that’s what it was. The only thing was a man was the only communication you had so –
very, very good friends with him after the war. And the funny thing about it, I forgot to tell you, when I was up in Darwin I did strike him up there, he was in the air force in Darwin. And we were in camp and they had good, good areas there. He was a sergeant and he used to pin three stripes to my arm and over I used to go over there to get into the sergeant’s mess all the time. It was good in Darwin that part.
two months. He was still there when I left. He got out of Darwin, he was very lucky, he got out of Darwin about three or four days before the Japs bombed it. He was very, very lucky. And he was one of these blokes he was always – He didn’t like the RSL much because they wouldn’t let him join it in the old days because he hadn’t been overseas. But he had been. He told me that he went Ambon, because we were all good swimmers. He was a good swimmer and there was a plane that had shot down, come down
in Ambon Harbour and they wanted someone from the air force to go over and see if there were any bodies in it and he went out and he swam out to this. That only should have put him in. He was in a war service zone again when he’d gone to Ambon. That’s before Darwin had been bombed. But he went to his death poor Jim – although he was very proud of the part I put in it. I was district secretary and I was a Queensland vice president for two years. A country
vice president for – when I came to live here it was impossible to carry on I had to leave it.
Did you catch up with the company from your battalion that you’d been with?
Oh yes I went back to my unit but I didn’t go back to the company I went back to my battalion, back to battalion headquarters, the company headquarters. And we were in Syria mostly as a platoon, the full thirty of us. And we trained, or retrained I should say which bored most of us to tears. And we had a new
You know to see a man, a good strong man, go into a jibbering wreck. It was it was a very sad performance. Most of them used to take it as a matter of course but I was always very, very sorry for them because I used to think perhaps some day it could be me, perhaps some day it could be me. But it never was luckily but there was quite a few. Not many really but there was some, yes.
you wouldn’t know the history but they drove the enemy back almost to Tel el Eisa again and when he got there and our lines got too long and his got very short he attacked and drove them right back. And on the way back he took Tobruk, he took everything in front of him and he got to Tel el Eisa and ah, which is fifty miles outside Alexandria. They were that scared in Alexandria everybody was
fleeing that weren’t friends with Germans – a lot of them were. And the New Zealanders were in um, a whole division were in Syria and so were we. And they ran us down and everybody’s was still saying we’re going home, this is the opportunity, everybody and the – and I thought that’s balarkey [nonsense], but it wasn’t and we finished up in Tel el Eisa or El Alamein, whichever you like to call it, and this time it was real, like First World War
war. A front sixty miles long, here’s the Germans and here was us, about a mile between us. It was a very savage position.
Can you tell us exactly what happened there from the time you arrived?
Where at El Alamein? Well we carried on, we were, we were in reserve and one of our battalions got into great trouble, the 28th, and they moved us in, to take us in to try and get them out of their trouble but they lost over half,
half the battalion. And it was um, it was too late we couldn’t got in. Our colonel said you’ll lose another battalion if you go in so we didn’t go in and it was a very sad thing because the battalion, the 28th, one of our, well one of our sister battalions from Western Australia. And they were depleted. They had to pull them out of the line and reform them and everything. It was a ghastly thing. They had about four hundred and fifty casualties.
And from then on took a place in the line. And the German was probing and looking for a place all the time to come through and it was pretty constant fighting all the time at El Alamein. It was very bitter and very nasty and it was two clear open spaces between us and artillery fire was very, very heavy and it was rather a terrible
What do you mean a terrible performance?
Well it was nerve wracking I suppose is the way I mean. Oh no I don’t say I nearly broke, I didn’t but I mean I was, I was very much afraid that the future looked pretty, pretty grim. And just then you’d looked at things still going on around, and that was the beginning of, no the end of 1942. The Philippines had fallen
Can you tell us about that big attack?
Well we went, and it’s known as Bulimba, because it came from Queensland, we were all Queenslanders and there was about four hundred of us took part. And it’s a sad story to go back to. We had a hundred and seventy, a hundred and eighty casualties in two hours and I’ve never seen such
There was plenty of fighting and plenty of shooting. If you see I’ve got a book over there. There was one man who won the DCM, he should have got the VC. There’s a picture painted by Ivor Hele of what he did. It’s rather a ghastly looking picture. But we just fought until they said – and they nearly broke our major, our colonel got very badly wounded and they sent a major up to take charge and he said, “We’ve got to get out of here or we’ll lose the lot.” And he got us out
and they held him back for promotion for two years after that and –
I know it’s obviously quite painful to remember some of those things but what was your own personal role during that battle?
Well I carried a wireless. By this time we had eighteen sets which were far better than the 108, and I was with a major, Major Suthers, he came from, there’s a great family of Suthers from around the Townsville area. He was manager of Proserpine
Mill afterwards this fellow. And I was his wireless man and I was following him around. And he got the order to came out and he said, “Now out you go in twos and threes.” And we just went out in twos and threes and got out a mile back to where we were reasonably safe. And the main story when he gets out an officer comes up from one of the other battalions and said, “Rod what’s going on up there?” He said, “I’m afraid we may have left somebody up there on the barrel feature.”
And he said, “Come on Rod we’ll go and have a look.” And Suthers turned to me and he said, “And you’d better come, Mac.” And I got on that and we went up and it was a scary ride up to the top and we got up to the top of this bit of a mound and we looked over the hill, and I can always remember it, and I thought there was fifty but they tell me there’s was fix or six German tanks coming up there and they had guns about this – ninety and fifty yards away. And we get out in a hurry and they peppered us all the way back. But it was the most frightful couple of moments that’s I’ve had seeing
these tanks – all of a sudden going over and seeing all these great big tanks lumbering up. There’d been an attack on the flank and they were trying to persuade him that we could attack too and splitting his forces. Whether or not it worked I don’t know. It was a terrible night.
and, supplement us with more troops but the Germans did, they brought in more straight away on theirs and if you were attacking in one place here, there’s all the artillery from over here and over here all firing on you. The artillery fire was absolutely horrendous. That’s my opinion, I never did any of the actual fighting that day, I was with Rod Suthers and he was wandering around and he didn’t seem to have a fear in his body and I had to follow him and ah, with
the wireless on my back and it was not a happy moment I can assure you.
What was the importance of carrying that wireless that day?
Well he had to have communication with battalion headquarters. Where first of all Ogle was there and then he was wounded and the major came up, I’ll think of his name shortly too, but anyway he came up and he to get things. And he, the major had advice to the rear right back to where
where this soft stuff was, this quagmire stuff was. And the idea was to stop him. Our going through – the idea was for us to go through and get into the reserves he had at the back and do them over but it was absolutely impossible. It took three divisional attacks through the Battle of El Alamein to do it and how a single battalion was going to do it heaven only knows. Well it
possibly worked because the German attack on the flank was a failure. And ours, well I don’t suppose ours was exactly a failure, we killed a lot more Italians and Germans than we had killed but still in all it didn’t do too much towards winning the war. But the one thing I think that most men of the 15th are proudest of is Bulimba.
having a swim and stuff, did you think about what had happened?
Oh no, I can’t remember really but we just went back and did the job and held our positions. It went on – we took on patrolling. There was heavy patrolling in that mile distance them, the patrols, and we patrolled much more than the Germans did.
and after the war, after the El Alamein Battle was over which took about ten days, we had burial parties that went and picked them all up. They were all lying everywhere. The Germans had buried that were nearest their line but they couldn’t bury them because we’d have attacked them and they’d have attacked us had we’d gone in and to bury them – so they left lying. Now a man and I, we went out looking for a fellow. He said he wanted to find him, a friend of his, and we found him alright. He was the fellow I said his hair had grown, it was quite long, it was blowing in the –
I can still remember it blowing in the breeze. Oh it was a terrible day that one.
but many men, and you’re interviewing one I know of and he’ll tell you the other way around. But that’s just a natural opinion but I, they were, they were both pretty terrible. The country was so horrendous. It’s a pitiful, horrible country that desert, it’s got to be seen to be believed. It’s out of this world and even to go there is difficult enough, although they reckon Tobruk’s very different now. I’ve spoken to men who’ve been there and
there’s, it’s a big oil centre now. And now we’re friends of Qaddafi [Libyan head of state]. If I was a bit younger well I might have got back there again but I probably never will now.
You said earlier that you sort of nearly broke that day. What, why was that? What do you mean by that?
What that I personally nearly broke? Oh I don’t know if I nearly broke but it really, it really affected me. Because every time I looked around there was another chap gone, another one gone. And I knew them,
And I knew them, I’d been with them all the time. I was attached to A Company at the time and it was just – they were just everywhere. You imagine a little space between here and a bit further than the bitumen road with a hundred and seventy dead and killed and wounded lying around. And you knew the Japs, not Japs, Germans and Italians lying there. It was just carnage that’s what it was.
But it did it’s job I suppose. They tell us it did its job so I suppose I’m not to argue, but it did it and – but we lost a lot of friends. I had a great friend that came from Cairns, Nelson Favell he was killed that day, yeah.
What do you think gave you the strength that day to get through that?
I’ve thought of that one a thousand times and I couldn’t answer it because I could no more do it than fly to the moon now, I couldn’t, I’d say I’d be almost afraid of the dark now. No I don’t say I wasn’t afraid, but I did what had to be done. And the fact that I was, I had on that particular day
And ah, but they picked everyone up, they got nearly all of them back but not all of them. A couple of them got captured and wounded and – but the Germans were very good. If they captured you wounded you were looked after, you knew that, you knew that they had a chance, but we never got them. They had carriers with us and they were the Brendan Carriage, you know what they are, you’ve seen them? And they’re like, well I suppose a tank without the hood on, they’re just like a about that high and all
all armour plated. They’ll only stop rifle fire going, hitting you. And they’re very fast. They do forty-five mile an hour and they were going around picking up all the wounded. And that’s, several of them, a couple of them died I believe on the way back because all they could do was jump out and throw them in the carrier, because they couldn’t spend any time out looking after them, but they were a bad show.
And can you tell us what happened for you?
It was a sector where we went back, back in the line. We had patrols. I don’t think I went in any, I can’t remember, I don’t think I went in any but we had plenty of patrols. One of the members of our sig platoon, Bill Knight, he went out on one and he got killed. And ah, but it was a pretty stationary, quiet thing. And then they pulled us out again
and when we were out they did big night manoeuvres and the only time they ever really planned a battle was the Battle of El Alamein. They, Montgomery was our general and he planned it to the last inch. Well I don’t think it worked but still it was all planned, you knew exactly what to do. And Moreshead was very good he said, “I want the – ” he said, “I not only want the officers to know what’s going to happen I want the men to know. So if anything goes wrong to an officer the men can say that’s the place we’ve got to
go for, it’s there and if the officer’s gone well I’ll take it out.” Which Australians thought was pretty good at I think. It’s one of the things that made them better, better soldiers than most.
It took four months but we did it. It was about three thousand kilometres but we did it. And they told us to do our thing, we were to fight them, we were to defeat them and they were to go and we were never to let them stop running, which we didn’t. It was a very bad night. We had a new colonel after the other one was killed, was wounded, he was killed and, and he was a good bloke too, Magno M – A – G – N – O. Funny how they called it Magno.
And – I never met knew him. I met him. The only time I met him we were in a hole somewhere and I was in this little sig office where I had the telephone and the wireless and, and he came bowling in and I said, “Watch that bloody light.” I had a candle inside and I looked up and it was the colonel. He said, “It’s alright corporal,” he said, “I’ll watch it.”
no I didn’t mind going back in the Middle East because we were all because everybody, nearly everybody over there was a combatant soldier. No I didn’t mind going back. I disliked a lot more in Australia because I felt that, well there was no equality in sacrifice, that’s all. They should have brought, taken twenty-five percent of us out and put twenty-five percent new troops in but they never ever did it, they – and the man in the back – I was reading that little article I wrote there – I said
the chap in the back he could sell all the petrol and, as they were doing too and make no mistake about it, petrol and food and stuff. But we were in the front, we were at the last end of the line and that was us always that was missed out. But no I had no qualms about going back in the Middle East but back in Australia I did.
his divisions there had about a ten mile, oh I don’t know how far it was but it was a long way, a wall heavily defended. And then we started to get attack after attack at night. And you used to run into small groups of Germans – well we ran into on lots on occasions. One night there was a hundred wounded in one place, wounded and dead Italians we ran into. But
mine was mostly carrying, carrying a wireless. But we got into a couple of places when we were attacked very heavily and you were just an infantryman then, you just fired, if you saw something move, even if you saw something, if it was only wind or something, if you saw you fired at it. And I tried to think, never tried to think that I certainly hit men but I almost undoubtedly did but –
What was the hardest part of that experience in the Middle East?
Oh well undoubtedly losing friends. There was one fellow, a DCM, when I told you about that fellow that I said his hair blowing around, he and I were together and then they dropped a few shells around us and we lay down, and he was a big, heavily built man,
he said, “I’ve been hit.” And I said, “There’s nothing been near here.” He said, “It must have gone right over you.” He said “Because it’s on your side.” I was lying down and he wasn’t a little fellow he was a big bloke and it just hit him on the side. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t bad, he never went out and he was killed two days later and a shell just lobbed and his thing went. Well it was a dud, it lobbed between my hole that was here and his hole that was there and lobbed and it went straight in down like that and it just went straight through him. Christensen, he was a good bloke but
they were all good blokes I’ve said and they were too, they all were good blokes. But I did, when things were tough and you fired you were an infantryman but usually you were, your job was to keep communications open and worse still to make sure the lines were open, no matter how heavy it was you had to go out and fix telephone lines. They were just – well like, oh not as thick as that thing there but all you had to do,
we had to knot, we used to scrape them off and join them together and it was a pretty miserable job when somebody was firing at you I can tell you. And you had no, no chance of firing back you just had to the job.
could do all that sort of thing and I knew how to work a wireless set and do very minor repairs, they’d want to be minor, but that’s all. And I carried our dearest – I was almost hit, I carried a wireless at El Alamein and all of a sudden it wouldn’t work and the piece, a bullet had gone through the set on my back but it was a good excuse to dump it until we got a new one. You have no idea the waste. They were worth
about two hundred pounds then which was a lot of money in those days. I just dropped it and said, “This is useless.” Because it had a bullet through it and they gave me another one.
Did you stop to think about what that meant?
Oh yes you used to – you’d think what had happened, you knew what was happening but no you had the job, it had to be done. And nearly every attack was done, we did them pretty automatically at ten o’clock at night and I think the German used to set his clock by them. But I mean no –
And did you wonder whether they bullet had – ?
Oh no well it hadn’t hurt me, I knew that, I wasn’t hurt. I think it was a piece of shrapnel, a piece off a shell, you know that a bit of the steel or the stone or something had flown up and gone through it because I dropped the set and I never ever saw it again,
So after El Alamein where did you go from there?
Well we were camped back, and I’ll always remember the night we finished we came back there was a spare shell fell just down the track from us and hit one of the brigadiers and killed him, yeah. And but anyway it rained like thunder the night after El Alamein finished and it’s what probably saved the German. Because he did get out, he could get out because there was only one bitumen road and
all he had to do was hold that road because nobody could get off it. It must have rained an inch. Because I was in a hole and it flooded down there and I got into the front of a truck because everything was quiet. But that’s all we – it rained and we didn’t do any training we just got down there and we fired off all our ammunition and nobody seemed to worry about it and we knew we’d go home then. And it was, well it was over and we followed – they got a section together to go in
there to be present at the retaking of Tobruk, they asked me if I wanted to go and I said no thank you very much I don’t want to go. But in never came off anyway.
very, very tired. Everybody was tired and worn. The same as Tobruk. If you’d been in action for months you were not – I was not near as bad as when I came back from New Guinea – I was absolutely completely worn out when I came back from New Guinea. But I was tired and we had a good trip home. We were on the Aquitania a ship of forty odd thousands tons. And we had a cabin and we were down right in the bottom. If we had had a torpedo it would have been
an air burst and would have gone above all our heads. But where the big air force vents – an air vent went over us, about this wide, it went over and we got in behind it with a bayonet and we banged it with a boot and we backed a hole in this. And then we stuck a boot or something in there and then we got the hole so the air would go past and jammed in there. And I’ve often wondered what they thought when they found it but there was about eight of us in the cabin and we got
plenty, plenty of air. Other than that it was absolutely stifling. We were on D Deck which is the lowest deck there was – it was stifling really.
Can you tell us Doug what you did when you came back to Australia?
Yeah well we came back on the Aquitania and it was a lovely trip, I enjoyed it because it was so peaceful, so quiet. And they let us alone, they let us alone pretty well on the way back. And we did a bit of training and he’d say you’d better get on the little buzzer and do a bit of practise and I said, “Well what’s the use of doing that? I’ve been doing it for twelve months, I can do it in my sleep.” And I can’t even read the
Morse code now. But anyway we got back and we got off the train in Sydney. They had us well organised. We got off the boat in Sydney. Marched off the boat onto a train and straight through to Brisbane. Got off the train in Brisbane and spent a few hours there and then another train and then I went to Cairns. It was as quick as that. They had us organised, I’m sure it was the 9th,
that had organised it, it wouldn’t have been anybody else couldn’t have done it but it was very well done. And I got home to Babinda and my grandmother who’d lived with us had died while I was gone and everybody else was there.
How did you fill that time, what did you do?
Um, well I tell you what I did do and I nearly broke Mother’s heart I think, I drank too much, that’s what I did. Because the nearest hotel was five mile away on the bus
and used to go in on the morning and I’d drink and come staggering onto the bus after the pictures and come wallop and into my bed. No, I troubled my mother a lot because I drank a lot and I knew nobody. The place was crawling with Americans. The 501 or 503 Parachute Battalion was in Gordonvale twenty miles away and they were in there and my family had taken them to heart of course and I couldn’t take them to heart at the time. Now I laugh about it but I couldn’t then.
And I drank too much. Oh a few friends we used to go out but I had no – Oh yes I did, in the middle of this I took a trip down to Rockhampton to see the lady down there and I realised again that the duck had flown and so I just said that was it and –
After that month of leave?
Leave? Well we went back, we went back to camp at the Atherton Tableland. I don’t know if you know the Tableland at all do you? A little place called Kaira, I was up there a few months ago. And Kaira is a, there’s nothing there. Wherever we went, wherever the 15th Battalion went there’s only one thing you could be sure of there’d be nothing there. And a little shop. I got quite – not friendly with the girl, with I did get friendly with her in this respect that she used to give me sugar – sugar was impossible to get. And I’m telling her one day
and she said, “You come from Bindi, do you know the Mays?” And I said, “Know them well.” “Oh.” From then on she used to give me a little packet of sugar and the blokes used to always say to me you’d better go and see your sugar girl because we used to boil – if we were I camp we’d boil up every night. But we camped in Raven – not in Ravenshoe, in Kaira. And right on there is a big ridge behind it, it’s where the Tinaroo Dam is the biggest dam in Queensland is. And it wasn’t there and the dam,
where the dam is now three hundred feet of water or however deep, I don’t know how much, it was only a trickle and we could walk across. We went down one day and cut a few trees and put them across so we could walk across and keep your feet dry. And we trained very, very hard because we’d heard reports that the Jap was a very good soldier. And we trained very hard for about three months there and up over those hills and gorges and down, it was really hard.
As I said I saw it only a few weeks ago and the dam was nearly, nearly dry or two-thirds dry but it’s full again now, my daughter tells me.
entirely different from desert training. But they were good we’d had very little trouble. Some of the battalions had big troubles when they got reinforcements. We got three hundred in one swoop once and we accepted them. We put the old soldier act on them the whole time – we were the old soldiers and they were the young ones but still in all they took it and they were – no we never – but some of them did, some of them had a lot of troubles, right down from their majors,
from their officers down they, they were sarcastic about them.
Did you have officers that hadn’t been to war?
Oh yes and we got them all the time, oh yes we had them, they used to come all the time. I remember coming – we had a bloke call his Dad now Alan Hardy. I remember saying something about going now and he said, “You’re going to get married when you get back.” I said, “Me get married? No, no.” He said, “Why?” He said, “Oh I thought I’d come up and be your best man.” And I thought you’d be the last bloke
I’d have to have as my best man, getting around in your flash officer’s uniform and me in the old one that the Australians make. No but ah, no and they were pretty good officers but again we always, we always made a point of putting the old soldier act on the new officer. He’d give us a lecture and he’d have Vol five which is the signal training manual and he’d say this that and he’d read it all out and we’d say yes but we don’t do that
sir because – and then we’d tell him. And he’d finish up having the lecture.
How did the signals job change from that point?
It changed, it changed quite a lot. When we came back there were telephone lines but lines were very difficult to carry and scrub – we carried them certainly. We captured a lot of German equipment. The German had, all his equipment was good. We carried a home a couple of, a couple of reels of very fine
wire. It was, oh it was thicker than cotton, to say it was thinner than cotton but it wasn’t very thick and we could carry this and we could lay it and you could hardly see it and it was black and it was on the land. But we had little handset wirelesses, American jobs, they were quite good, for about a mile and we used them a lot. We didn’t use the wireless much because the forests were too heavy – if you were in scrub the wireless wouldn’t work. And we used these little handsets and a telephone
but it was – but the conditions, physically the conditions were terrible. And I always reckon – we landed when we went to New Guinea we left from Cairns, we were up in Kaira, we did training with the Americans on Trinity Beach and then we went up and landed in Milne Bay and then we went to, we were going up and then we were going up to
Mount Litaklin [?UNCLEAR] on Lae. And it’s always a bit amusing to all the old blokes they told us we were going to have very serious fighting in Lae, he had twenty thousand troops in there and we’d have to fight to the last thing and we walked into the place virtually. He’d got out. He saw us coming. Because they’d land another division up the Markham Valley and they were coming down the valley and we came in from the sea and so they were – and then they sent us to Finschhafen and this used to, this used to be our standing joke
on the intelligence, they said they sent us to Lae and said it was full of Japs. They said you go to Finsch and there’s no Japs and when we got to Finsch there was about ten thousand of them there and four thousand of us they put in the middle of them. But I was never in the city at Lae, or city or the place, it was all swamp I got to within a mile of it when they pulled us back because the 7th Division had got in first. And they
pulled us back to the beach and sent us to Finschhafen which there was nothing there really but –
When you first got to Finschhafen what could you see?
Well what they were doing, what they were trying to do was drive the Japs, they wanted to, at Finch they wanted to put an aerodrome in and the Americans, native and those black Americans and their white officers they did a marvellous job. There was scrub like you see
saw them in something in Guadalcanal and they threw a hand grenade in a place as big as this and it all blew up, the whole place was up, and everybody was – and all our blokes they were silent because they knew it wouldn’t happen but the Yanks would always “Oh hey look at that! That’s the way!” And they’d clap. But this whole place went up and it wouldn’t have killed everybody who was inside because they weren’t big enough, they were only big enough like this to throw in.
They’d make it very uncomfortable inside, probably kill most people but they were, they were very good at their job. They had their job, they were a boat battalion and if we told them where we wanted to go they put us there. They weren’t keen on it I know but they did it.
Finch we had fighting from the second we landed, I mean he was there. We fought our way off the beach. Not heavily, it wasn’t heavy fighting, there was only a few of them there but it was just getting off the beach, you had to get off the beach because a few minutes later he bombed it. And if you were on the beach it was a pretty nasty place to be. Well we got off it and got inside. And we
went along and took Finschhafen, where it was, and there wasn’t much there, we took that. That was heavy fighting, we had some heavy casualties, some very, very heavy casualties as a matter of fact. Captain Christie and Lieutenant Harpham and Wes De Sailey, Lou McIntyre, my friend. They’re innumerable the ones we had there on the way and it was just one by one and one by one they were dribbling off. It was –
To Lou McIntyre? Well we were – it came to this and it was when Harpham and Christy went forward to look out, we came to the Busu River looking at a way to get across it, it was a pretty big river, and they went forward to have a look. And we were on a track and he started to mortar this track and we got off it, I was carrying the wireless and Lou said to me, “Come around to this side of this tree.”
And I said, “I can’t get around there because the area won’t let me get around.” I must have had a 108, 118 rather, and I was trying to get around to the other side of the tree. And all of a sudden the mortar hit the top of the tree. Well Lou was very badly wounded, he died next day and oh about ten of them were wounded. I was about the only one, the very few who wasn’t wounded. Billy Woods and I, I think he wasn’t wounded either. And anyway they took Lou back
and he was good, he was right as rain, he was happy, he was talking to me, he wanted to know if I wanted his camera. He was allowed to carry one. I said I’ve got enough to carry now. And a little folding primus he gave me – I’ve still got it, it’s out in the garage there, a little folding primus which was very useful, I took that. But he got back and the next day they rang me and told me he was gone. And I see that book I wrote, I just read it, I read it, it’s ten years since I read it that they took
his leg off. I’d forgotten that, they had taken his leg off when it happened. The trouble is he was a very tall boy, very think and not very fit and because of too much walking, too much marching, too much war and he just didn’t seem to have the strength to get over it. Had he been well I’m sure he would have got over things but he wasn’t well.
didn’t go to Darwin, we picked up when we came back, Christmas Day when we went to join the boat for the Middle East, yeah. I keep loose contact with his sister, she lives up at, up oh where they have the troops, Canungra. I don’t know why she lived up – she used to live down the coast and he was a solicitor her husband and he died and she wanted to
go, well when they buried him she went up there. I’ve never known why. I haven’t seen her for years.
and if you read the war histories you read where Moreshead was crying, or the brigadier who was there, Windeyer, who was a Judge of the High Court later he was calling for more troops, he said we want another brigade, we want another brigade and, and the commander in chief not so much Blamey but who was the commander of the Americans?
Macarthur, yeah Macarthur said, he kept saying they, there was none no Japs there and the blokes are telling him no and they sent again, Melbourne’s telling us there’s no Japs there. And they’re in Melbourne and we’re there with them. Anyway they beat them in the finish. I think Moreshead sent them, sent them a brigade up and then they sent another brigade up and then we had the division there and from then on – that’s where a chap won the VC there going up to – taking Sattelberg and
died with Eric and he got the VC. He was a DC [Distinguished Conduct] winner in the Middle East and – it was very tough fighting, very nasty fighting. Little niggles, little niggles all the time, all the time, all the time. And all the time you turned around somebody was being killed and –
you couldn’t see any further than that curtain and the front yard. The only thing you’d see, you’d see a rustle or a whistle or anything. It was mad and you were being killed by people you couldn’t see. In the desert you could see him, you knew where he was. But I don’t suppose it was any worse really. Well it wasn’t any worse, I think it was easier there but the physical conditions were definitely worse. The food was bad, the lines were
bad, they had the dark boys [indigenous Papua New Guinean] bringing it up to us and if there were few shells they’d fly through and leave it and you’d have to go back and help yourselves and – No the food, the whole conditions and that were terrible in New Guinea as far as food. I spent a bit of time away from the battalion. I poisoned my foot and I was in hospital for a little while and then I was in a convalescent camp again and then I went back and I got malaria. But I was
with them a lot of the time. But when I was back, one of my favourite stories, when I was back in the convalescent camp there was a fellow called Bob Pewit there – he was the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major]. And he was a warrant officer class one and I’d learnt by this time, I was an old soldier I’d learnt a bit of what you could do and what you couldn’t do, and one day they were up at Koitake which is a convalescent camp right where the foot of the
Owen Stanley started. And it was a lovely place, I’d been up there and I’d been there and these fellow they were, all the members of the convalescent camp were going around in starched clothes, they all had a native servant, and you know they’re dressed up to kill and we had dirty, filthy uniforms we’d come back from the desert, scrub in. And one day he wanted, and he never did any duty, as they said they’d get, the men who were supposed to be recuperating did the duties, they said you come and pick up a big pile of rubbish there. I said,
“Okay staff,” I said “Where’s the shovel?” He said, “You don’t want a shovel. You an old soldier ought to learn to manipulate and do things.” He said, “Use your hands man, use your hands.” I said, “Listen staff,” I said “I’ve been shovelling shit up in Finschhafen for months.” I said, “I don’t want to do it anymore.” “Oh,” he said, “a smart guy are you?” And I said, “Yeah. A smart guy. I want a shovel.” And then he started into me and I knew just how far I could go, I answered him back a little
bit and by this time I’d got an audience of twenty-five and he said, “I think I’ll send you back up the island.” And I said, “Well that’ll be alright at least I’ll be amongst men.” And then he said, then he said, “Well after that I think I might keep you here.” And I said, “That mightn’t be a bad idea, I don’t see anybody getting shot around here.” But I was gone the following the day. My tongue got me into trouble. I was always in trouble with my tongue. I was rather a naughty boy in the army. Not that I ever did jail or
anything, but I wasn’t as good as I should have been.
What were some of the things that you said that got you in trouble apart from that?
Well that was the biggest trouble. I probably over went it, I could have got into trouble but he was, I think he was a bit nervy, he didn’t like pulling me on because he would have had to get officers from there and most of them would have been soldiers who’d been in the line and he didn’t get in the line.
habit of trying – the younger soldier had the great habit of trying to get up close to you and you’d say, “Get away, get away, get away, get away.” You didn’t want two of them – a better shot if there was two of them. No they were good they never – and a young soldier soon became an old soldier when he was with you – he soon learnt. He saw what the other blokes did, they were pretty wide awake they saw what everybody else did and they did it too. Yes it was – Kaira and that New Guinea campaign a nasty campaign. Well they all were,
but physically it was nasty I found. But it wasn’t as – we never had the casualties we had in the Middle East and we never, you know but we all got malaria, I think every man got malaria.
sick and you were, you didn’t care whether you lived or you died. Then they put you in hospital and gave you three days quinine I think or four days and so many days of plasma quin and so many days of quinine and said back to the front and that was it you were out in about nine or ten days. But you always came back, you were the best part of a stone lighter than when you went and oh no it’s a nasty illness and you had it, I had it for years after the war, I had it for three
or four years after the war. And I had a brother-in-law who went to the war and he had it for about seven years afterwards. But malaria it was a nasty complaint and you didn’t like it but it was always good because they used to, when you got – we were over on Finschhafen and Lae, we were over the other side of the Owen Stanley from Port Moresby and every time you got sick they used to fly you back. And they were fourteen thousand feet high the mountains and um
you always knew when you were going back at least you were going to be safe for a few weeks. And when I came back – a couple of times I hurt my foot, it wasn’t good and then while I was away it was quite bad and when I was back it was bad and then when I got malaria and when I came back it had just about finished, we were going up to a place called Sio up the coast and that was pretty easy. I remember going to a church service on
Christmas Day with Algie Ash whose father was the bishop of Rockhampton. I saw him only the other day. I hadn’t seen him for years and years and years, I saw him at the Anzac march, he’s a doctor, Algernon Ash.
a month and we were never dry, never ever dry. You carried two half tents between you, between you and somebody else and when you stopped you put them up and your feet went out the end and you were never actually ever dry in Finschhafen. No there wasn’t much fun. When we came back, we had a little niche when we were waiting to come home for about a fortnight, behind the sea we used to go for a swim – it wasn’t bad. But it used to rain every day because we had a little cave we used to go and play bridge in all day.
But it’s a very bad country. You take Milne Bay, a perfect day in the morning, three o’clock it would be raining every day. And Finsch wasn’t quite as bad but it was nearly as bad.
How do you think the Jap compared to the German soldier?
Well, here again you feel some people disagree, I reckon he wasn’t in the same class as the German soldier. He’d die, he’d die in his place, he’d been in a place there and they’d bring up blokes and call on three or four of them to surrender. There’s no way they’d die. All you had to do was throw a mortar amongst them and kill them because they would not surrender. Well the German would,
he would if it was impossible, if he saw his situation was impossible. I always reckon the German was a really good soldier, a really good soldier, a better soldier than the Jap. We might not have seen the Jap at his best because he’d lost the Kokoda Trail battle and he’d lost Lae, not Lae, he’d lost Buna and Gona and Sanananda. And we came on him when I think his victory days were finished and if he had any brains he knew he was beaten but he fought, he fought to the end,
he’d, you know he’d be still going as long as he had ammunition he’d fight.
And how did the death of your friend affect over that time?
Oh it affected me. I was, especially Lou, especially Lou. Dave Porter another friend of mine was very badly wounded in the Middle East, he came home, he was all right and he died a little while ago. But Lou, oh I was, I was absolutely shattered when Lou died. I couldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t believe it.
But it was true. I met his mother. I took all his gear. One thing that I was just reading while I was waiting for you and I read, I went saw his mother and I spoke about going and seeing his mother and I took his stuff. When he got wounded I said have you got any money? And he said no and he said we’d been playing poker on the beach at Lae before we left we were, and he said you won it all and I had to, I’d won about thirty or forty
pounds. And I said well you’d better take – and I gave him seven pounds, I remember seven single pound notes I put them in his pocket. I said you might need this more than me and he said, “Oh I might I suppose.” And away he went. He said, “Do you want the camera?” You know everything he had, “Watch?” No I said I’ve got a watch – I don’t want your watch and I don’t want your camera. When I went to see his mother she said, “Poor Louie,” she said, “A handful of silver,”
she still had it a handful of silver – no watch, no camera. And I opened my mouth and I was going to say something and then I thought no because if I’d have said I gave him seven pounds she’d have given me the seven pounds and I said no. But then I couldn’t help thinking that it was the base man that had gone through his gear when he was killed and that was it, yes.
twenty miles. But we came back from there and went to Brisbane. Yeah we went to Brisbane that’s right and I met my brother in Brisbane. He happened to be stationed at Brisbane and I was a corporal so he went and got a set of stripes and he took me out to the sergeant’s mess at Amberley and oh we had a great old time. I shouldn’t have been there of course. And all the blokes were buying my beer
which was just as well because I never had a brass farthing [quarter of a penny], I never left to get any money. And I had a great time, it was a marvellous night there and they treated me like the hero I thought I was and I quite enjoyed that night in there.
when you came – we went to Maryborough well I should have known my first wife Gwen she would have been there but I never got near her, there was a paratroop crowd there, there was everybody. And there were seventy thousand troops on the Atherton Tableland and I mean your chances of getting yourself a lady were very, very slim I can tell you. And I used to go home which as I said didn’t do the pay book much good, I got into trouble once or twice for it but I went home.
But I, well I liked the tableland although it was – we worked very hard in Kaira, we didn’t work so hard at Ravenshoe. We all reckon the war was won at Ravenshoe and that’s where we got the three hundred reinforcements from the battalion they broke up.
nothing. Because we were going to go about three times. We got half ready, cancelled. Half ready, cancelled. Because by that time if you follow history the Americans were just rolling them back like this all the way towards Japan. And we would have gone to the Philippines only apparently, not Moreshead, Blamey and the American had had a big row. The American wanted to split 6th, 7th and 9th, they were
the three infantry divisions. The 8th had been taken in Singapore. And he wanted to take us and put us each with an American division to make us into – that’s what they call a corps, three divisions. And Blamey wouldn’t have it, he said I want to send the 6th, 7th and 9th as a corps with their own artillery, with their own aeroplanes, with their own everything. And the Yanks wouldn’t have it so they sent us to Borneo. We camped in Ravenshoe.
We played up in Ravenshoe, the drink in those days – I wish I could do it now but –
What were some of the things that you got up to?
Well I remember one night I’d won some money in the two-up game so I went and bought a carton, not a carton, they used to put lager in cases. And a chap and I bought a case of lager, four dozen, warm. Now where are we going to drink this? There was about ten of us there. Come on we’ll take it over to the
railway yard. So there’s an empty wagon and we got in the railway into one of these empty wagons. And we finished that. I don’t know how many was there, but people used to come and go and we drank the lot of it. And then we staggered home. One chap I know he went to sleep in the bottom and I said, “Look he’s being sick.” And I grabbed him by the feet and pulled him out of the way and next morning he had all splinters in his shoulders from being dragged along the railway line. It was terrible to think that – Five years of wasted
life. All I did was kill and try and kill people and I did nothing really, it didn’t work because we came back we gave them the country and what did they do with it? They messed it up but anyway who am I to complain? I’ve done reasonably well and –
then. My parents tried to get me out but they couldn’t. A lot them did, a lot of them – if they knew the right politician they got out. And they would take them out for farm work and the farmers were there, we had farmer friends that said, “Oh we’ll get it him out. We’ll try and get him out.” But they couldn’t, especially in sigs. It was very difficult to get men who knew Morse and that sort of thing so I was there and there I stayed. And then we were there we came down and did invasion training and I went home
two or three times and then we came down and they said you’re going to Borneo. Well they didn’t say we were going to Borneo but we knew we were going somewhere up there. We knew we were going to Morotai. And my sister who worked in Cairns she came out to see me. We were camped just out of some of the suburbs. And I’ll always remember her, her boss gave her two bottles of beer to bring out and she rode a pushbike out – a bottle of beer in each hand riding a pushbike. No cars, no petrol. And Dave Porter and I sat down beside the roadside
and we drank the two bottles of beer. And then we went up to a friend that she had and stayed the night and she said she had the most miserable night she ever had in her life because I told her I was going to be killed. I said I’ve been in three times and I can’t do it a fourth time. It’s got to end, it’s just got to finish, that’s it. She said she went home and cried all night. But I went and I never saw a Jap, never saw an angry Jap anyway, saw a few prisoners but I never saw angry Jap when I went to Borneo.
for. In Finschhafen, not Finschhafen I mean in Tobruk ever second weapon we had was an enemy weapon that we’d captured, we had them, you know that chap would have Bren, when we were supposed to have a Bren. We were armed like nothing on earth in Tobruk. Instead of having a Bren we’d have a Bren and a Breeder and Fiat or something of that sort, we’d have about four machine guns there. And plenty of ammo too because the Japs, the Italians had been captured and they’d left all their
ammunition behind. And their guns which they sent to Greece. And we landed on Muar Island. They bombed it and they shelled it with a cruiser and about four or five destroyers and we went on and there hadn’t been a Jap on it for months, hadn’t been a Jap – it must have cost a million dollars to do it. Then we went over the island and then we went up to Limbang and no Jap I never saw them. We had two men killed there, two men killed.
Somebody roused at me the other day they, I made a joke I said, “Oh Borneo that was nothing.” “It was nothing to you.” He said, and this fellow he’s a good friend of mine, he said, “How about the two men that were killed? How about their parents and their wives and whatever?” He said, “I didn’t know them they were newcomers to the battalion, probably why they were killed.” I said yes I had to admit they were right I should never have cracked a joke about Borneo being easy but –
plenty in Finch and masses in Tobruk and El Alamein, there were masses of enemy there. No Borneo’s a very pretty place. I enjoyed Borneo when I got there. But when I came home, especially from New Guinea, she was shocked with the condition I was in when I came home from New Guinea. I was like a walking rake and we knew the butcher and I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to eat and we knew the butcher and he
used to give us all the fillet steak we could use. You know rationing was on and we got beautiful meat, we got everything we wanted but it was no good I was a bad case. It took me months to get over that. But when I came home from Borneo, I was no good when I came home from Borneo because I got sick every day on that little LST I came home from Borneo on.
mainland. And there’s no roads in Borneo, there’s hardly a road in the place – well there is just a little bit. And they took us up in a boat to a place called Limbang, which has been in the news a few times of late. And we went to this Limbang and when we got up there, went there and an old Chinaman came up and he said, “We are very pleased – the proud British soldiers – ” And they said, “ Where’s the nips [Japanese]? Where the nips?” And he had his speech he had to finish his speech, he said “They went yesterday.”
And but we saw them, a few rallied to them and we had the Dayaks [indigenous people of Borneo] in there, they were greatest thing. They weren’t frightened of any Jap. He never quietened them, they’d always, if a Jap was seen, they’d always kill them and they were little and they were always doing it and they were little and the most handsome men I think I’ve ever seen. About five foot two, beautifully built, copper coloured, and walk, they just glided
when they walked. The women were beautiful too until they were about twenty and then they got like, oh everything wrong. But they were beautiful women and beautiful men and nice people too. They gave us parties – we had a good time in Borneo. Rice wine and coconut wine and everything. We had a whale of a time in Borneo. I did I enjoyed Borneo but I nearly killed myself on the way home though.
Doug you spoke about New Guinea being more difficult in some ways, how did it affect you and your state of mind?
Well I don’t know if it affected my state of mind but physically it affected me a lot because as I said I was a complete rake when I came home and I was, I was, to use an old army term, I was stuffed and that’s it, there’s no doubt about it, but I think nearly all of us
were. It was hard been hard up hill, down, physically it had been very, very hard. Not so bad – it would have been with the Japs, I don’t mean we didn’t have plenty of fighting we did have but physically it was far harder than the Middle East and I was, and I’d had it when I got home. I remember I lay for the first twenty-four hours I never got off the bed I don’t think. And poor old Mum was worried about me too, “You shouldn’t have to go back.” And all this sort of business but of course that was
What about your state of mind though, did it deteriorate while you were in New Guinea?
Yes well after Lou was killed yes I was very bad. Lou was killed this day and we had to walk up a – they decided they couldn’t cross a river there so they made a flanking mid, and there was a big hill, I reckon it was up like this but it must have been a bit there. And we got up there and I remember crawling up this hill pulling a wireless and a roll of cable and everything up there and somebody came along and said,
saw me and said, “You can’t stop here Doug.” He said, “The Japs.” I remember saying, “They can have me if they want me, I’ve had it.” And I remember he, he was an officer, I don’t even remember who it was, he took the line of cable off me. Anyway I crawled up. But I was physically and then the foot was sore and they were doing service to the foot and then that night the chap on the cabinet up there he was killed. I was in the hole here, he was in the hole there and the mortar fell right into his hole
and killed him and the next day the doctor said, “You’ve got out.” Well it was undoubtedly my foot because I couldn’t put a shoe on, a boot on. But I was physically very close to cracking, I was I was the nearest approach I ever was to cracking was there before we crossed the Buso River. But I’d have made it I’m sure, I’m sure my pride, I’m a very proud man in a lot of ways and I’m sure my pride would have made,
made me go because you read the description, it’s they trekked up a great steep hill like this and when they got up there the brigadier came along and he said, “I don’t know how they did it.” And you know it was a marvellous job. It goes down as one of the classic things in New Guinea this attack, but I wasn’t there and thank heavens.
and death and you spoke earlier about losing many friends there, what was it about the situation in New Guinea with your friend Lou that – ?
Lou? Well I was closer with Lou. I was friends with others but he was like a blood brother, he was, completely, he wrote a history himself. It’s what gave me the idea really but his mother showed it to me when I came down. When he was home on leave he wrote it before he went to New Guinea and he just said, “And this
Doug Maclean I’ve mentioned him once or twice you’ll hear a lot more about him from now on.” You know it was just the fact, we just seemed to have something and he was probably the bravest man I knew, he never had a fear in his body, I had plenty but he never had fear. I remember one day he was making toast, making toast in the camp up in the Atherton Tableland and they had a little soya bean stove and he made the toast and the thing exploded. And he’s
still sitting there with his piece of toast trying to make his piece of toast and me I was over about that fence over there and so was everybody else. And he just looked up and said, “That was disconcerting wasn’t it?” I always remember he said, “That was disconcerting.” Well that’s what he was and I thought he was indestructible, I did. I never thought they could ever, ever, ever hurt him but they did. And I still,
well I don’t say there’s not a day I don’t remember him every day that would be silly but I mean quite often Lou said or something he did will just track across my mind and I’ll think Lou said that or Lou did that, Louis John. Yeah. I used to go and see them when his sister, she was, she was alive and she married a solicitor and he was a POW
of the Germans and he was taken in Crete and I used to go and see them. And then they sent their kids up and they stayed with Gwen and I in Cairns. But somehow it seemed to fizzle out, I don’t know how. I liked her, she was a nice girl and he was a nice bloke too.
dress him, he was hurt up here, all around the hip and more down here and it was all torn to ribbons the leg but I helped bandage him up and we put him on and sent him. Because it was only a mortar bomb that had hit him, it wasn’t under rifle fire you can get out and look after – and he went off quite happily. He said to me, “You write those sisters.” I had two younger sisters and he knew them, he’d met them, he said, “You tell those young sisters I’m in Rocky,” quick because they were taking him to Lae
and flying all wounded direct to Australia. “You tell those young sisters of yours to come and see me.” And of course I said, “Oh of course I’ll do that.” And away he went and we just never saw him again and next day they rang up and said he was gone. I think and two days later I was gone too, I was taken out. But it did, it affected me very, very badly. And still does affect me. He’s the one thing that I think about sometimes and
I can think about the others Dave Porter and Holloway and these blokes but I liked them, I got on well with them, never had an argument, was friends with them, but never was as close as with Lou. I couldn’t beat him at poker, he used take the money. The only time I did it when I put this seven pounds in his pocket that I wasted but –
LCIs, sorry, LCIs. What was the situation when you arrived on the LCIs?
Well in Lae they just, they ran the LCI, they ran them up on the beach and had the laneway down each side, not on the beach near the beach and we just walked down it. It was different in Finch –
we knew they were brawling on the beach, we knew that, we could hear it and see it. A few got killed. A mortar bomb landed on one of the LCIs. But we went down, some of them in deep water up to here in water and you got ashore. And then for about a few hours we got inland and we, we didn’t go too far but we dug ourselves in and he was not exactly thick on
the ground, his troops were twenty miles away and it took him a while to get them there. And by the time we got them there, and we were ready for him and we were very heavily armed by this time, we had everything we wanted and we captured a few Japanese guns, we had everything and we were well armed and we could stand nearly anything but it was very close on Finch once or twice. They attacked the beach and came in barges and attacked the beach. We were up the front.
And the troops came in and it was very dicky for a while but –
go I suppose it’s all fixed now if you go to Buna and Lae you see they were big coconut plantations there, everyone had the top blown of them because they fired them off, they reckon that was the favourite trick of the Jap. That’s one of the things the 6th and 7th Divisions told us, never leave a coconut tree standing because they’ll be in the top of it. And that was the same in Lae, the same in Finsch. But we were just on the ground, we just fired into it and the waste of ammunition was absolutely horrific but we used to
And what sort of impact did you actually witness in terms of the success of your firing? Did you – ?
Oh yes they’d be odd dead ones and you’d fly in half a ton of material and there might be three or four dead but no there wasn’t any great impact. But you used to get them on trails and they used to get you on trails too that you were on. We had a couple of, some men were very good scouts in front, they could almost smell a Jap. And the
Papuans could, they reckon they could smell Japs, they reckon they could smell us too. They used to say, “Smell him. Japan man he stink. Japan man he stink.” And they’d go along and you’d have a Japanese and they’d say, “Japan man he stop over there somewhere, Japan man.” And then they’d leave because we were instructed we weren’t to use them in action at all, the ordinary natives, they used the infantry battalion but the ordinary natives we never used, we’d shoot them
back. If he said there was a Jap there you could be sure there was and we’d send them back then.
How did you get on with those indigenous people?
We got on well, to the disappointment of all the old New Guinea people that reckoned we treated them too much as equals, which we did we treated them as equals. They carried our food and they carried our clothes anything we wanted and they were good too. But the New Guineans said you’ll ruin this country and we probably did too, they said, “You’ll ruin this country, they’ll be
Can you tell us about that experience?
Oh the hospitals they were very good. They had big hospitals in Port Moresby and all the casualties used to come over, not the, the easy ones, the slighter ones like my poisoned foot and asthma, not asthma malaria they used to go over. And they were particularly good the
nurses and the, and the AAMWS or AWAS, AWAS they were or AAMWS I forget which was which, Australian Medical AAMWS they were, they were particularly good. But there again you were there for a fortnight what chance did the average Australian he was bedraggled, he’d had it, he was dirty, he was everything that he shouldn’t be and his clothes were an awful mess and they gave him a new set that didn’t fit him
and he was there for a fortnight and these other blokes were living there. They all had girls. It never worried me a great deal I might say but I was prepared to give my love life a complete rest for the war.
into war did you really think that you didn’t have – ?
I really thought that I was going to be killed. I just said look it’s happened, I went to Tobruk, I went El Alamein, I went to Finschhafen. I came through them all. Went up to Sio, came through them all but you can’t keep going back. Because nearly all the lot of them who’d done it had all been wounded, killed or wounded and were gone and I was one of the few who was still left. Because as I said she said she went home and cried all night.
And you went quite willingly?
Oh I went willingly. Oh yes I got on the boat and went willingly. There was no thought of disappearing. Some of them did and I must admit that quite a few, not a lot, but some did they deserted and – but it never entered my head. I knew I’d go, but I felt sure I wouldn’t come back. As I said
we didn’t know and the 7th Division was on the other side and they were even nearer and we didn’t know and those blokes were – there were fifteen hundred Australians. They just got marched to their death and that’s why I can never forgive the Japs, I can never ever, ever forgive the Japs for what they did. I know when we were there it was not a, it was not a fighting, like a war where you took prisoners, it was a death march, a death – everybody was killed. If you saw a Jap you killed him and if he was wounded
you killed him and that’s all there was to it. Because they’d lie there and four or five of them, we tell stories, that one would be alive, and they’d say oh they’re all dead and they’d walk past and then this fellow would sit up and go bang shoot him in the back. And the idea was then if you saw them there stick another bullet into them to make certain. We were nearly as bad as they were but they started it, we never did it with the Germans or the Italians.
and we came across the Jap’s, probably a clearing station or something, and there was a string of Japs there. They’d all been shot, they been, all been shot, they were all dead and there was only person who could have done it and there was no-one ahead of us except Japs. And the Japs must have done it and these men were too sick to walk or to move so they just killed them. It was just the outlook that the Jap had on war. But I don’t know what we’d have done under like circumstance because you read what the Japs had done to our prisoners they were absolutely
think they’re a decayed, not a decayed, they can’t be decayed because they’ve done very, very well but they had their ideas of war were so completely different to everybody else. You read the story of how they killed Newton, the VC winner. He was shot down in front of Lae just before we landed. He swam ashore and they picked him up and just beheaded him, just like that. Terrible.
And when you arrived in Brunei what did you know at this stage about the prisoners of war, the Australian prisoners of war and how they had been treated?
I personally didn’t know there were any in Borneo. I think they knew they were there. Well they did know they were there because Ivan Blow had escaped from there, a chap called Ivan Blow, a great footballer he had been, played for Queensland and Australia. And they knew they were there but
So the Australians did things that you didn’t – ?
Oh yes, yes I always remember if you can go back to El Alamein, one night at El Alamein we made the first attack at Alamein and ah, not the first attack but one of the attacks at El Alamein, I think it was the last one, and we had an Italian who’d been shot in the leg who said he was a warrant officer and he was lying on a stretcher at headquarters. And it was quiet another battalion had gone through
it, the firing was a mile in front of us and wasn’t affecting us. And a chap came up whom I knew and I’ll let him be nameless this bloke and he said, “Why’s this bloke carrying on?” Because Italians all cried for their mother, Mamma mia, Mamma mia, “Mamma mia, Mamma mia!” And he said “Where’s this so and so who’s crying for his mother.” I said “Oh he’s over there Mac, he’ll be all right.” He said “Lou’s been talking on the wireless and there’ll be a carrier up and they’ll take him back. He’s a warrant officer, he might
have some information.” And he said, “Oh no information, the – ” ‘b’ he said. He walked over and he had a Bren gun around his shoulder and he went, and I walked up to him and I pushed the Bren gun apart and I said, “Don’t kill him Mac, there’s been enough killing tonight.” There was dead everywhere. “There’s been enough killing tonight we don’t want anymore.” He poked at me and said, “Get out of the way bastard head or I’ll shoot you too.” And I thought he meant me so I got out of the way and he just turned around and gave this fellow a full round of Bren and
this fellow held up his hand and he was crying to me because he knew I’d try to save him. Well that’s one thing I saw. That’s the worse thing I ever saw in the war that one as far as our troops doing. Just cut him to ribbons and he was finished, he was out of the war, he should have been taken back and he might have had information we wanted but he just shot him and told me if I didn’t get out of the road he said “I’ll shoot you too.” And he knew me this bloke, he knew me, not well
but he did know me. But they were terrible days. The days now are much more peaceful but I’m too old to enjoy them now.
I had hate for the Japs that I’ve spoken of before but never for the German and the Italian. Contempt for the Italian I suppose really. But for the German we always had him – you know and when the French behind us at one stage at Mersa Brega somebody said, “They should be twisted around.” He said to me, “The Germans should be beside us and the French should be who we’re fighting.” No I had no hate for the German
they were, the Germans were very, very friendly really when you captured they took it well. They were bombastic I know but they were, but they were quite good I think.
So back in Borneo you were talking about Dayaks, the –
Oh yes, oh yes the Dayaks. Everybody that’s been there – they took us up to Ukong, Ukong that’s right Ukong. I went up there with a patrol one day and they were they and oh they put on, and the Japs were only half a mile away too,
much more careful before we go there but once they, once we got there it was open season. I remember going along one day and finding Dayaks who had a couple of Jap heads in a wire basket and were smoking them. And he got a stick and he turned to me, he spun them around and he had a big grizzly face and he got this stick and he rubbed all their teeth to brighten their teeth up. But you see now that would make me sick now but I laughed then,
Dave Porter and I then we both laughed. And neither of us were hard hearted men. I was a soft hearted man really, I still am.
That’s what I was asking.
And that’s what they used to – they used to shrink them to about that size and that’s how they used to shrink them, you know down to the skull and – Oh no I couldn’t do it now. If I went to Limbang now I’d, I’d be admiring the pretty girls who were twenty and that’s all I’d be doing, I’d only be admiring them.
and so I had to go as his wireless man. At the finish we ran a telephone line from Limbang back to Brunei, the city of Brunei and every politician in Australian was sending messages of congratulations. And they couldn’t come up by talking, it was too bad you couldn’t hear it so it all had to be taken by Morse. And there was only Dave Porter and I, I think were the only two who could still do it well.
And we were hours on this thing listening to these blokes, setting this stuff up, hours. And they were good operators so further back we had to tell them to keep slowing, go slow we hadn’t done it for a couple of years and we were never up to their quality anyway. And I remember I was doing it one day and this fellow I told him to go slow twice and he didn’t do it so I just put my headpiece down and when he finished
I said, “Inka morink [IMI].” Which is ‘send it again’. And he somehow, he got on and he screamed in the telephone and you could just hear him, “What are you doing up there!” And he said, “Haven’t you got an operator there?” And I said, “No we’ve only got soldiers up here.” But just then Andy Hogg walked in who was an operator and he knew back – so I said, “Give this fellow a run, Andy.” So Andy did and, he was in the rifle company by then and
he asked this fellow to send him a bit faster until he broke him – which we all thought was funny.
well I mean if you take – it’s amazing if you speak to the ordinary person and you say you were at El Alamein and they’ll say, “And where was that?” There was over a thousand Australians got killed there and three thousand wounded – four thousand out of fifteen. And they don’t even know it happened, they don’t even know where the place is. That’s why I say in the book The Anzacs, it’s supposed
to be a classic written by Patsy Adam [Smith]. You ought to read it sometime. She says a woman writes a letter, she was a matron in a hospital and she said, she was a real pacifist, why she ever went I don’t know but she said people are saying we’ll never forget these people and they absolutely mean it, in their own mind they’re mean it, they’re quite sure now that that’s what they mean. But she said ask them in twenty years time and see what sort of a story you get. And that’s just exactly what’s happened I think. It’s that
far ago now that they think it’s past.
And how does that affect you?
It doesn’t affect me, oh no I’m not bitter. I don’t want you to get the idea that I’m a bitter man, I’m not, I’m quite a happy man really. I get on quite well with my neighbours and my wife and all that. But I’m sure if you asked them about the war they’d know nothing about it. I remember Joc next door, I made some mention about some place in the Middle East, I don’t know Beirut or some place where it was and she didn’t know where I was
Do you think we should remember the war?
Well I don’t know if you should remember it but I do believe that they should remember that it was a group of men that are very old now that made this country safe. Because if the group of men hadn’t gone the war could have been lost, I’m talking about a group of men from here, from England and from America and from everywhere, and if we’d have lost we’d have been with a big straw hat chipping
Can you tell us about that?
Oh well we knew it was coming, you could smell it, you knew it was coming, but I thought it could have gone on for three months, six months. And ah, and they were still talking about going to Japan. Moreshead, not Moreshead, MacArthur was in the Philippines and we were listed apparently, they tell us now
that we were listed to go with him – they were going to pull us out of there and send us with him. And it would have been a blood bath had we gone too because they had, they’d fight until the end. And it wasn’t until we thought it was finishing but there was always a chance, it seemed after five years it seemed too much, too good to be true that it could be over. It was very nearly over we knew that – they were defeated completely. Japan was fighting the world which was absolutely impossible – fighting Britain and France and when
they talk about the battleships they’d have twenty battleships and ten aircraft carriers bombing the hiaties out of them at ten miles off the coast so they couldn’t do anything about it, the Japs. They were completed defeated but only when Hirohito [Emperor of Japan] got up and said we are defeated that they knew. But yet people that have been there, friends of mine that went up in the occupation force say they’d never admit they were defeated, they’d never admit it.
So when that news came through what was the mood like?
Oh it was great cheering and happiness. Oh yes completely, absolutely completely happy. Yet strangely enough it didn’t matter to me, I was to come home a couple of days later. I was coming in any case, they were pulling us out, anybody. If you had five years service and two of them overseas you were being discharged, and I was coming. The first one got to Australia, John Douglas
another friend of mine, he got to Australia the day peace was declared. And he wrote us a letter back and he talked about the Queen Street Commandos that you saw was full of servicemen he said and wonder how many of them have ever seen a shot fired, he said, and they’re bright and bigger, he said, and they were the real heroes. And by the time we got home it was, that was all over you see. But I’m not crooked on it. I came back I was quite happy, happy to come back and –
So when you left for Borneo you sort of had that feeling that you weren’t going to come back?
A feeling, that terrible feeling, it was a terrible feeling. And I had it through the early days of Borneo I had it all the time – it’s going to come, it’s going to come, it’s going to come. I’ve been very careful. But it didn’t come obviously and I was never touched. The only thing I’ve got, when a bit of shrapnel hit me at El Alamein on the knee and they put a couple of stitches in it and they said do you want to go down as a wounded? And I said no I do not because my mother will throw a fit if she sees
And while you were in Borneo with that sort of feeling that you weren’t going to make how did that affect you on a daily basis?
It didn’t make me a good soldier I don’t think, I was being far too careful in Borneo. Not that it was necessary for me to be good, I don’t think so, I don’t think it was, but I was a very careful soldier in Borneo
In what sense were you careful?
Well if they’d say there’s got to be a chap go on patrol, there’s got to be a sig go, well you just said I’ll go, I’ll go. Somebody else would say I’ll go. Not in Borneo, not me, I was the old soldier in Borneo I wasn’t going unless they’d say Mac you’re going and Mac would go then.
home but I was very, very happy just the same. Yes we came home on an LST which was a big floating box. I remember that, I was sick every day but I was happy every day. I remember we came past Green Island on a Sunday afternoon, I remember that. And I said to the chap who was with me, he came from Innisfail this fellow, and I just said just think homes only forty mile away. He said, “Yes doesn’t Green Island look lovely?” And I
looked and I said, “I’ve never been to Green Island.” And I said, “This is the closest I’m ever going to get to it.” And I didn’t for twenty years. I lived in Cairns and had never been to Green Island. And people would say have you been to Green Island? No I haven’t been to Green Island. Until Mrs McIntyre came up and she wanted to go to Green Island and somebody had to take her, she was about eighty so I said I’ll take her.
when you came home to Australia there was a man called Ernie Lee, he joined up from Cairns, he left all his clothes with my mother, we used to play cricket with him, and he had left all this clothes and of course they were in Australia when the war finished, Ernie got wounded in the Middle East, they were all in Australia and when I got home there was nothing left – every bit of underclothes, every singlet, every shirt, we were all about the same size, they were all gone. And me I had to buy new ones. But I was very lucky in that it was a little
town but the draper there was a friend of the family and he said come in and buy what you want. And that’s it there was no talk of coupons or anything.
Doug how difficult was it for you to adjust to civilian life?
It was very difficult indeed, it was very, very difficult. I just saw where I said I’m no longer QX7689 Corporal Maclean, DL, I’m not Mr Maclean. And I found it very, very difficult. I longed for my friends in the army. In a little place like Babinda there was one or two in there but none of them that I was close friends with ever served in the same unit, except one
Were there a lot of other soldiers like that?
I don’t know. I’ve never really asked them how they readjusted. Most of them had a job. You see if you had a permanent job say in the post office and you came back and you went to work in the job, or in the brewery or wherever you went to work you went back to work and you met, it was different. I came back, I hadn’t had a permanent job. There was work around on the farms but I wouldn’t take it. Oh no I don’t know why
I want to go in the pub this afternoon sort of business. If I’d had a job it would have been better. But anyway I got over it and got just a small position and I really drank far too much. I did all through my life. Up until twenty-five years ago I was quite a drinker and foolishly drinking. But at least I’ve had that much
strength. When they told me I had to give up smoking that was the finish I never smoked again. You’ve got to give up drinking. If I have a beer now I’ll have a beer, I’ve got it there all the time or if I want a beer I’ll have it but I’ll go three weeks without having one. But I drink wine, I’m allowed to drink wine and I’ll have a glass of wine before tea but I don’t drink much now. In that respect I must have been stronger than I thought because I had no trouble – I worked in the brewery and didn’t drink for, didn’t have a drink,
well I used to get a drink and talk with the boys and I’d drink about that much off the top and then throw the rest in the gutter.
up – oh I’d rather – buried a man only the other day and his, and his daughter said in his speech, because he was an old man, he lived to be eighty, she said they told Dad he had to give up smoking and he had to give up drinking. He said I’ll give up smoking but he said I will not give up drink, that’s all, he said I can’t give up drinking and he never did. But he lived to be eighty so he didn’t do too badly. But I just said they said I was only, oh I suppose I was fifty, forty-five, fifty when they told me to give up
drinking and I said oh – and I haven’t given it up in that respect. They told me I can drink wine and I can drink spirits but I’m not keen on spirits. And my son he’s got himself a high position and he reckons in a great way he gives me a bottle of whisky. He doesn’t drink much himself. He gave me a bottle of whisky the other day, Glenfiddich, the other day which if you know whisky is about the best you can get. And it’s two-thirds – I’ve never had a drink of it.
My wife will have a drink occasionally. And he makes a big time – I’ll give you a bottle of scotch. He gave me another day when I was over there a bottle of Johnny Walker.
Well what do you think those few months after, directly the war had finished how did it help you being able to go to the pub and – ?
Well I don’t know if it did help me at all, it just got – except I think I thought to myself well you’re just being ridiculous, this is silly, you’ve got to go to work, you’ve got,
you’ve got to get a living and I went nowhere, I went nowhere. I mean by this time all the female attractions were around and of course I wasn’t as young as I was, I was nearly twenty-nine by this time, or nearly twenty-eight I would have been. But I ah, I just said, so I went back and I said I don’t know what I want to do but I tell you what I’ll go and work on the farms like I used to do. And of course they grabbed me with open arms, we’ll
pay you wet or dry sort of business. And ah, but I never stayed. I stayed for six months with one chap and then I joined the PMG. And I didn’t like that so I joined the brewery and that where I saw the war out.
And then you met your wife?
Oh yes and met my wife. Well when I decided I was going to give up playing silly buggers I decided I’d play tennis again so I joined a tennis club. And a great, a great friend of mine, Stan Prior, that I’d known pre-war, we joined this tennis club and she was a tennis club girl and I got to know her and we got to go out. She was secretary to the manager of the Bimbinda Mill. And ah,
and we’d go out. She’d been in the forces and, and we had a lot in common and we went out. And that was in forty-seven and forty-nine or was it fifty we got married and, yeah February fifty.
Was it easier to settle down when you had – ?
When I was married it was no bother at all, really it was no bother at all. When I settled down I got a job in a little place called Malanda, I don’t know – if you don’t know the Atherton Table you don’t know these places. And I used to go and see her, she lived in Babinda still. And anyway we got married and she moved to Malanda. And then
I went to work for the brewery because I preferred it. And we moved to Cairns and we rented for about twelve months and then we built a house and – and from then on we – In about eighteen months, two years time we had a little boy who was a little vulture – he was a naughty little boy, he was his father’s image. My mother told me she said “He’s your image that’s what he is.”
So I put up with him, I had too. And then I had the two girls and they were perfect little girls, still are. So he’s grown into the quietest man although he must be, at work he must be a bit savage to be in the job he’s in, he couldn’t do it if he wasn’t.
in my life I had my roots down. I felt, I had my wife, I’ve got a son and I’ve got two daughters and it’s just it, I’m right I’m completely comfortable now. We had a nice little house in Cairns – it wasn’t that little, it was three bedrooms etc but it was a good place. And we were good. She never worked. You didn’t in those days, it was never thought the wife would work.
How often did you dream about the war?
No that’s one thing I’m happy to say – I have dreamt about it, it’s no good saying I haven’t, but it’s been very, very, very, very rarely. I don’t dream much at all. I sleep very badly but I don’t dream. And my own fault in it, I should have advised the Department of Veterans’ Affairs I didn’t sleep and I might have been on a bigger pension now, but that’s by the way.
did you come back thinking it was worth it?
I did for a long time. Sometimes I wonder now, I wonder was it all a complete waste, was it a waste. Not for me because I lived but I think of Lou and I think of Jackie Dolgner and Hal Mennery and Phil Knight, and I think of, Nelson Favell, I think of all these blokes. They were all young men in early twenties and what did they see of life? They saw nothing of life, nothing of life at all. And how much
one of them could have been the Premier of Queensland for all I know. And whether it was worth it I don’t know but as I said I’m, I look on the bright side, I don’t stop to worry about whether it was true or not, whether it was good or not. And I joined home and I joined the RSL and I decided to give all the work I could to helping the men that couldn’t help themselves, and there were quite a few that couldn’t. Some of them
were pretty useless and didn’t deserve the help I don’t think. Because I’ve always – a man who said that didn’t see much action – it’s the nerves that did it to me, it’s the nerves, it was the war that was, is my trouble. Where’d you serve? Oh I went to New Guinea. And I went to Babinda which is a very small place. If ever you get there all you’ll see is the one pub. But it used to be the most famous pub
up in Queensland once because it had the biggest bar in Queensland. They took it out and put a smaller one in. And when they had sugar cane that used to be cut by hand labour they had six hundred cutters there during the season and this monstrous bar and those six twenty-sevens around the counter, it was a great old spot. But last time I was in Cairns it was just one bar along the side now, very quiet because there’s no cutters, it’s all done by a dozen machines now.
What was the RSL like back then?
The RSL, it was good. I think in the RSL you had to be an imperial soldier, you had to have served overseas to join it. It was quite strong – we had a good sub branch. Rusty Martin the man that, remember I said I carried a man in and I asked the man why he carried the wireless? Well it was Rusty Martin we carried in that night. And Rusty who had a, who didn’t very long, but Rusty was the secretary and
we used to along to the RSL and that was the monthly night out that one, it was a big one. We always had a leave pass for that one and you’d drink more than you should then. And I remember one time the publican said he didn’t have any beer, beer was a bit short so he sent us half a dozen bottles of rum down there and we drank the rum and cursed him all night and you know he stayed at home, he never went to the war, he stayed at home and what he made himself a millionaire and look at him now and look at
him now the big pot gutted bludger – you can just imagine the discussion with about twenty-five or thirty men sitting around with a rum in their hand. And that was really when I really probably as much as anything stopped drinking because I drank half a bottle of rum that day and when I rode my pushbike home I fell off it and I was batching, because it was a farm, and I was sick for three days and I said no more of this, never again. That was the
fullest I’ve ever been in my life that night.
What would the guys talk about when you got together at the RSL?
Well they don’t talk war now. As a matter of fact the RSL to me, I go occasionally, I go and have a drink and I go to an occasional meeting but they, all they seem to worry about now is having this RSL bigger than the one up the road which they’re succeeding in doing – if you’ve seen our RSL it’s a monstrous place. They,
it cost them nine million dollars to put there, which they’re paying off too. And they’re good blokes who are running it, I’ve got nothing against them. But the war and them they’re all Vietnam, most of them are Vietnam, and some of them never saw service at all or saw any distance service overseas. But I’ve got no complaints about the RSL. I was very disappointed when they just changed the eligibility of it to let others in. I just felt that they – it would have
better to have let die, to fade out completely and make that a servicemen’s club but the majority didn’t think so, so I had no argument with them.
they could have spent a lot of their money that they’ve spent on some of the older men that needed it. And there are older men that need it. You see you take men in our situation. When I left work I was getting fifty dollars a week more than anybody else in the office but I was getting a hundred and seventy dollars a week. Imagine a hundred and seventy dollars a week and now I suddenly find myself, I’ve got to live my life where everybody’s getting six and seven hundred dollars a week but I’m expected to
financially be able to live in this life. I can to a certain extent, if I’m careful we can but ah, but there’s plenty of people who can’t. There was no superannuation. My wife worked for the RSL for twenty-three years – she never got a penny of superannuation. I did, I got it at the brewery but it wasn’t much.
have been very kind to them in a lot of ways. I think they’ve been handled a lot more gently than we were. There were so many of us it was impossible for them to give them – but a number of them, the Vietnam boys are high graded pensions, TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Pension] and all that. They amaze me, I’m not, but it amazes me that they are. But they’re good, they work hard, they’ve got the RSL but I don’t think they’ve really got the idea of
building this RSL up, which they’re doing well too I may say, and I enjoy going their myself.
What have you enjoyed about the kind of retirement years? What has been enjoyable for you?
Well the greatest interest I have is my family. You see now it was a very tragic thing I’ve had a few, I’ve been unfortunate in life. My sister said to me when we left Cairns she said “No wonder you left Cairns, Doug,
you haven’t got very happy memories of it.” My first wife Gwen who was a fine lady and she was a fine girl and everything that I would have wanted and she, and I’m not being detrimental to Marge in any way this because she also is very good, but she was an asthmatic. And one night I was talking on the phone, I was district secretary of the RSL, I was talking to another, the treasurer, and she was in the bedroom, we’d
washed up, all the kids, the two older kids were working, they’d gone out and she came out and said, “You’ll have to ring the – you’ll have to take me to the hospital, I’m sick.” I said, “Will I get the car out?” She said, “Get the ambulance, I want to get there quick.” Well she got to the car, she couldn’t walk out we had to carry her out, and from being quite well she never reached the hospital. Well that was a complete and absolute tragedy in my life.
forty-three, forty-four and I would have been fifty, fifty-one perhaps. Because when the phone rang, she and I were home, we took, we left to go because I said we knew she’d been in – if you are an asthmatic you often go to hospital and get a needle and you come back and you’re better. And I just said to Jenny this will be, this will be Mummy ringing for us to go and get her, go and
put your shoes on and we’ll go and pick her up. And the telephone rang and a man said, “Mr Maclean?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Your wife is dead.” And he hung up and that’s all he said, as bitter as that and anyway then for seven years I was on my own. Brought up Jenny from a girl of twelve, eleven, eleven until she went to work and then I decided it was time, I’d looked after her, and then Marge and I had known each other for twenty years
and we decided to get together. She was a very attractive woman Marge when she was younger, well she was even then, well she still is quite not that bad now. She’s not here I can’t run her down anymore but she is she’s been very good and very – I don’t think I’m hard to live with, I’m not but I do get a little bit moody sometimes when my mind goes back to past times but I’m well and I’ve got no
complaints. We did a terrible lot of work in the RSL, she and I and did my first wife too. And I was district secretary and that even meant being district secretary meant keeping a home where we had forty odd old diggers. And it’s still there, I go and look at it when I go up. There’s none of the old diggers there that were there in my time. But the day I left was the day they put a full time man on,
the day I left. And they were paying me a car allowance of fifty dollars a week because I used to go, I wasn’t at work, I used to come from home every day. And then I worked it out, when I said I wanted to leave worked it out they could afford to pay a new man full time and they did and it’s been so ever since. They then built him a house on the place and he lives on the property now – well it’s not him it’s another man now but –
a week, other than work working on the RSL and I think they got quite sickened of it. Because after – when Jenny went to work, I remember the last couple of years I said, “Would you like to do my typing?” I said, “I’ll give you the fifty dollars if you like, if you’ll do it for me?” “Oh no, no, no,” she said, “I don’t want to do – ” She wanted to work at the bank and get out when she was finished. But it’s ah, it was very, very enlightening working
at the RSL. I had some good trips I made right up. I’ve been to nearly every RSL in Queensland I think in my time, certainly along the coastal area. And I’ve been to twenty-three state congresses. But yet it’s the funniest thing, this is what happens when you get old, every year they have a thing where they start off, and all the old people that were in there they call them in and they have a dinner and it was very good. And then about four years ago
I just said to Marge one day, we never got invited to the RSL and I asked two or three people and they dropped all the blokes, we’re all gone, we’re all off the list. She worked in the place for twenty-three years, she’s not invited either.
Oh that must have felt awful.
But she doesn’t know anybody there now, she wouldn’t know a person if went there now, because we’ve been married twenty-four years. She wouldn’t know a single person. But that’s what happened that’s the, you’ll find this some day, that’s the penalty of age, that’s what happens.
2/15th which is probably the best known Queensland battalion. We’ve still got our organization going. As a matter of fact I think you might be going to see the secretary of it, John – Johnny – oh he comes from Herbiton too. He enlisted the same day as me, that’s how good my memory is. Anyway John is there although he’s very sick poor old John. But that’s the most famous unit from Queensland I think. The only one that
keeps going, that’s kept itself alive really. And we’re really proud of that and well I don’t know other than that really what I’m proud of, but I’m proud I went to the war and I can look the whole world in the face because I owe not any man.
light go past as they went, they were firing them at what oh I forget at about, but they were firing these at every fifth ball that had a light, they knew where they were going, it glowed as it went past. People here they talk, they see pictures where bullets go bang, they don’t, they go – as they go, if they’re going close within a couple of feet of you they give an awful click
Well most, most people haven’t experienced that kind of situation, you know it’s quite an extraordinary –
Well, no, no, no and that’s when I was scared. Nearly every night we made an attack at El Alamein and you know you were going and then you’d get amongst them and if they were Italians they’d surrendered and if they were Germans they fought it out, and every night you had this. El Alamein was, really I believe that El Alamein was than Tobruk but nobody, everybody’s forgotten El Alamein now. And it was probably the
You helped win the war, do you think we won the peace?
No I don’t think, you know the strongest country? Look at Germany, a very wealthy country and very strong country. And look at Italy also very wealthy, quite wealthy and quite strong but I don’t think we won the peace I think the
peace just gabbled along after the war. Others might think we won it but I can’t see how it can be possibly said that we did. No. My happiest memories probably after the war is being in the RSL too. I was very happy in the RSL because I was I was very busy and doing a great point and my two wives, Gwen knew nothing about the RSL
when she got married and she would never join – well she couldn’t join it. They wanted to make her an honorary member and she wouldn’t she said I did nothing, I served in Australia and that’s all and had she been alive when they opened the thing up she wouldn’t have joined it, she was quite emphatic about it. But she was proud of what I’d done and she knew that I was doing what I thought was right and I believe it was right too what I was doing. But no-one else would do it.
There’s another been another district secretary in Queensland that’s went for twenty-three years. I think about three years has been the maximum for anyone. But I, I enjoyed it really. A man called Dick Penny used to live in Cairns, he was the – he was from the 2nd Machine Gunners, he was, he was a good bloke, he worked very hard for the RSL but he was fully retired. And they offered me the job of full time Secretary of the Cairns RSL but I wouldn’t take it. It was more money than I was getting at the brewery but it was
still, you were at everybody’s beck and call and my wife, oh granny, she just said you’ll never be your own master if you do. Here you can tell them to go jump in the lake if you like and if you’re working there you never will be able to, and that suited me and I stopped where I was at the brewery.
back. And I have some great friends. I’ve got two of them down in Ballycara [Retirement Village] here, who both I served with and they’re good blokes and I’ve got some good friends. A good wife, Marge, she went here and brought all the brains to the place because she worked in state headquarters. And Gwenny was good and Marge was extra good as the secretary. And we’ve had a happy, in a lot of ways we’ve had a happy life. But as I’ve said before they’ve been a couple of terrible disasters that
hit in my life and they sit on my shoulder a bit that’s the only problem that I’ve got. But that’s the lot. Thank you very much.