And the rest of it was a cricket ground and so forth. I suppose we considered it quite adequate. I suppose really it was adequate too because well education in those days wasn’t as complicated as it is today. No computers. No electricity of course. No electricity. None of the farms in the area had electricity. It was a farming
area. But no power. And then in 1927 I think it was, my father started up a cream run from that area, known as Round Mountain to Murwillumbah. He picked up the cream, milk wasn’t marketed in those days, only the cream and took the cream in
cans to Murwillumbah. Brought home in the afternoon, the empty cans and the bread and the meat and the groceries, whatever people ordered, because they didn’t have vehicles to get to town in. If they wanted to go to town they had to go in my father’s truck. That was quite good. It gave us a little bit of
an advantage over the rest of the neighbourhood. And because of that we were the first family in the district to have a radio. An old battery job. No electricity so it had to be battery. We had a big house. Quite a big house. The original house was only a small one and then later on
we built a big house and it had a beautiful big room in it that the local people used as their local dance floor. There was no other place to go dancing, no hall or anything like that at that time. A hall did become available later on when everybody got together and built it. So we had a lot of people coming to our place at times. And that was good.
Surprise parties, that was wonderful. We might be sitting there at the table all having tea together or maybe finished tea and having a yarn afterwards which we did a lot of in those days, no TV [televsion] to look at. And outside the accordions or mouth organs or whatever, would start up. And the local people had decided that they were going to have a surprise party at the Worthington’s. And that’s the way it went.
That was great. I look back on it now and realise how much better off we would be today if that type of thing still prevailed. But it’s gone and it’ll never come back.
is one incident I remember quite strongly. We went for a route march from Redbank to a place called Colleges Crossing. It was quite a long walk and it was a stinking hot day. When we got to Colleges Crossing, it’s out here in the hills somewhere. I think it’s formed part of the river. “Right oh boys, strip off.” We stripped off, put our clothes on the ground
and dived in and we swam around there and eventually, “Come on, time to go” So we got out, pulled our clothes on and in the inside of my pants something bit me. It was hairy grub. And that put me in hospital that hairy grub. I was in, I wouldn't say I totally lost consciousness but I became incoherent
and they, I don’t know how they do it, the officers, they didn’t have mobile radio in those days, but an ambulance came and picked me up and took me back to the Redbank hospital. And I got two days leave out of that. So off down to Murwillumbah.
the bite or some damn thing. It was a hairy grub. That’s what they described it as. Anyway, I went down to Murwillumbah and the Murwillumbah show was on. So I went to the local government medical officer, in Murwillumbah, a bloke named Dr Smith and I said, “Doc, I want another couple of days off because of Murwillumbah
show.” And he says, “Alright Reg, no problem at all.” So he wrote out the docket. So I took Iris to the show. I’ve got photos there somewhere. And when I got back to base, back to Redbank, they said, “We were just about to send out the military cops to pick you up for AWL [Absent Without Leave].” Ever since then, God bless all hairy grubs.
Gave me a bit of extra leave and I could take Iris to the show.
Do you remember the farewell with Iris? What happened when you said goodbye?
Well, yes I can. On Christmas day I had lunch at home and the next day, that would have been boxing day, 1940, we marched out of Redbank with all our gear and down to the Redbank station about half a mile, three quarters of a mile away. Got on the train and they brought us
into south Brisbane and next thing I remember we were on a train at the south Brisbane station. Ready to depart for the south. My eldest brother Jim brought our mother and Iris up to see me off. And they were at the
station there, and eventually we said our goodbyes and the train headed off for Sydney. Iris’s cousin, a girl, her name was Jessie Cummins. She lied in Sydney. I think she is dead now. No, she lived in Casino.
So Iris had arranged with her to meet me on the train at the Casino station. She did she met me there, I didn’t know at that time and I could see this girl there and I knew she was looking for someone and I asked her, “Jessie?” So she came over to me and she had a little bottle of drink for me and boy did I get a ‘cooee’ from the boys!
Meeting somebody! I had been such a quiet sort of fellow. Especially where girls were concerned. I had one girl and I didn’t want any more. Anyway, that’s one little thing that I remember quite vividly. So we went off on the train down to Sydney.
Had you made any mates by this stage?
Oh yes, a lot of mates. Not real close mates at that stage, but mates yes. I made much closer mates later on as things toughened up a bit. At that time we were all mates I suppose. We were all heading off and as we pulled out of Sydney harbour there was two other, three other ships joined
the convoy. One was The Aquitania, an old, steam driven of course, I don’t know who was on board, The Aquitania, The Mauritania. Sorry The Mauritania didn’t join us, she came out from Melbourne and joined us later on.
The Queen Mary, The Aquitania, The Dominion Line and a ship, a much smaller one from New Zealand with all Kiwis [New Zealanders] on board. That was the Awatea. It was a smaller ship. And we headed off and picked up the Mauritania. It came out from Melbourne and I don’t know whether we came out through Bass Strait or, you don’t know, they don’t tell you very much, or whether we went south of Tasmania,
I don’t know. the next port of call was Fremantle. Now the Queen Mary could not go into Fremantle harbour, because she didn’t have the ground clearance, needed too much water. So everything was brought out to the Queen Mary. All our supplies and all the extra fuel. Had it all brought out in barges and taken on board the Mary.
Then we left Fremantle, heading for, we didn’t know where, they didn’t tell us where we were going, but across the Indian Ocean and one day, I don’t know what time because it doesn’t matter, the Queen Mary changed. She put on speed and she leaned
over and off to the right. She left the convoy. We didn’t know why. But I know now. She was heading for a naval base at Trincomalee. Called Trincomalee, naval base on the north eastern part of Ceylon. The rest of them all headed for Colombo. The Queen Mary couldn't get into Colombo harbour. She was too big. So we went up to Trincomalee, got off the Mary there and we got
onto other ships. It took seven ships, much smaller ships, to take off all the troops that had been on the Mary.
that, yes. But I never saw anything of the wailing wall, that’s in Jerusalem anyway. I never ever got to Jerusalem. I had the opportunity of going but I think I was only going to be given one day or something and I said, “No, that’s not enough to see Jerusalem, I’ll save it up.” But I never ever got the opportunity again. Before I was able to get another opportunity to get to Jerusalem
they’d picked out one section, our forces supply column was made up of echelon. Number echelon, number two echelon, number three. I’ve forgotten. And we were C Section of number two echelon. So they picked forty drivers and an officer and his batman [servant]. That was forty-one vehicles.
And we headed off on this Hill 69 across the Sinai Desert, over the Suez Canal and up through Cairo, out past the pyramids and on up the coast of North Africa. Up through Mersa Matruh, Bardia, a few other smaller towns,
smaller places, Tobruk. And on beyond Tobruk. By this time our trucks had been loaded up with supplies for the troops up there who were still fighting the Italians. The Germans were not yet in that area. The furthermost west of Tobruk I got was a place called El Agheila.
And there I unloaded supplies I had on, I know the first load I had was anti tank guns. And we picked up a load of, each truck did this. They may not have all had anti tank guns, they had other supplies too perhaps, but I had anti tank guns. Emptied them out took a lot of people and picked up a load of Italian prisoners of war.
And headed off back the way we had come. Back through Tobruk and down Bardia and all the way to a place called Sidi Barrani.
So we dropped the prisoners there at some big army base or camp, I don’t recall, then we went somewhere in the area and picked up loads of supplies, off back up the way we had gone the firs time. up past Tobruk. But it may not have been to El Agheila this time, it may have been some other town but it didn’t matter we were still west of Tobruk.
Delivered those supplies to the troops. Australian troops they were and licked up another r load of Italian prisoners of war and did the same thing all over again. Took them back down, some of them finished up in Australia, possibly even working for farmers on the Tweed as some of them later in life I did meet these farmers and they had, one of them was a prisoner of war from that area.
He came out as a prisoner of war, worked on a farm here, when the war finished he went back to Germany, picked up his wife and came back and now he owns a farm down just south of Murwillumbah a little bit.
But after a while you get a bit resigned to it. I think that might be the right word. You don’t like it but you know damn well that you can’t do anything about it so you just resign yourself to it. Anyway, after that for some reason the same section, the same forty drivers, we were then selected to go to Alexandria harbour on our way to Greece.
The same mob. The rest of our unit was still back in Palestine. We went on board a ship without trucks in Alexandria harbour. I was on an old rust bucket called the Ozarda. The first one I got on was Trincomalee was the Rajula, but this one in Alexandria harbour was the Ozarda. I think she was an old
Greek rust bucket. that’s all she was. We went on board that. the ship next door to us pulled up at the wharf, they were unloading air force personnel that they had just brought back from Greece. So we said, “What is going on here.” We knew we were going to Greece at that time
and here is all our air force being unloaded. They may not have been all Australian air force, I think they were British air force. Anyway, we went off, no, I had three cobbers by that time, Jack Cross, Gordon Glanford, George Sutherland,
no he came in a little bit later, the three of us, we went down town into Alexandria harbour, knowing very well that we were heading for Greece next day. And I didn’t like the look of that so we had our photos taken. I bought some stuff and I paid this shop keeper
to post these back home, knowing very well I couldn't do it. Just didn’t have the opportunity. And those things I sent back home arrived in Murwillumbah and I sent a lovely purse home to Iris with engravings of the pyramids and so forth on it, not engraving, embossing I think they call that. And I’ve still got it here.
As we went across the Mediterranean heading for Greece, the Italian bombers came out again and had a bit of a go at us, because we weren’t the only ship that was going across. There were I don’t know one or two ships, I don’t recall, there were two or three of us. But the bombers came and had a go at us but they were up too high and they never hit anything.
I landed in Greece, oh by the way I left Alexandria harbour on the 4th of April, 1941. A journey that should have only taken us three days took six, I think because the bombing, there may have been a sub or something like that. Took six days. I landed in a place called Khalkis,
just somewhere north of Athens on the tenth day of April 1941. And then we got our trucks off the boat and straight away into action, we had to take our trucks up to the north of Greece
or somewhere near the north of Greece, the furthermost north I got at that time I think was a place called Larissa. And that’s where our troops were fighting the Germans who had broken through by that time and they had come down through Yugoslavia into Greece and they did eventually just take the whole of Greece.
Come back, bring the troops back a little bit of the way and then they’d dig in again. Try and make a stand, we’d drop them there and take our trucks a little bit further back. Night time came and we’d go and pick them up again and come back. Because the German army was relentless. It was coming down slowly, but without any stopping. We couldn't stop them.
And that’ s what I did most of the rest of the Greek campaign, was cart troops back, back, back all the time. The Stuka, that’s the German dive bomber, they gave us hell. They were so deadly accurate. They’d come down out of, any number , three, four, up to a dozen. They’d come down at our convoys with
machine guns going as they went down, drop their bombs, turn and then go up again and then the rear gunner would open up on us. And they did a lot of damage. They played hell with us. Those Stuka bombers. Oh we were scared of them. There was no way we could escape them. The bomber flew high over, didn’t worry us nearly so much but the Stuka,
It was up and down and round about and so forth. It was virtually all desert country. And they had built this, I don’t know who built it, whether it had been put there just for the war I don’t know, this long black strip of bitumen. A long way too. Quite a long way. Until we came to the Suez Canal.
And that was at a town called, Ismailiah. And that’s where we crossed the Suez Canal on the pontoon bridge. You know a pontoon bridge, can be put there and wheeled, pulled away very smartly to let ships go through. We went across on this
pontoon bridge. First time I’d ever been on a pontoon bridge. And from there we went heading for Cairo. Most of the way I know was a long or near the bank, it was a canal, I don’t know what they call it, I think the white water canal. I might be wrong there.
We travelled along this business and it’s a very rich agricultural area because they’re suing the water from this fresh water canal. All coming down of course from the Aswan dam on the Nile a bit further up stream. A long way further up stream but I never went there of course.
As we went through Cairo I was amazed by the congestion of the place. There was enormous amount of people around and everywhere was so crowded and congested. I was quite happy when we got out and the other side of Cairo, was the pyramids. And that was a really interesting site.
I’d seen the pyramids, never on TV because there was no TV in those days, but I’d seen photos of the pyramids and here I was looking at them in reality. That was terrifically interesting. I really enjoyed that. And as we went on beyond the pyramids, we passed through various names and they didn’t mean much to us at that time.
One of those names became El Alamein which was one of the great battle areas later on in the war. But at that time it meant nothing to us.
was a load of Italian prisoners of war. We were designated to put them, each night we had a designated spot. The Italians were unloaded and they were guarded by troops. We slept in our trucks. If they liked the driver.
Next day pick up the Italian prisoners. And they would always make sure that they got in the same truck that they were in the day before. That’s if they liked the driver. That’s what we did, we picked up the truck the next day and off we went to the next nightspot. Because travel is very slow. You can’t travel slow in the desert in those sort of conditions. Even were there was a road it was very poor.
No maintenance or anything like that, until we unloaded them at Mersa Matruh into some sort of a base camp. But they did not worry us at all. We had one Australian trooper with us in each truck and he had a rifle. And of course nobody else had a rifle so he was the boss. But I was the boss,
I was driving the truck. I was the boss, he was there to guard the Italians in the back.
When you saw these people coming back from Greece…
Well I had been getting letters from home fairly regularly, especially from my second eldest brother, Ray. And we had codes worked out between us. Greece, in Murwillumbah we had a [Greek ] fruiterer named Steve Angus, so any mention of “Steven Angus” was a mention of Greece
and I’ve forgotten at this time, Egypt was something else. And he told me then before I knew that I would be going to Greece. When we saw these air force troops on board the ship. We talked to them, the boat was only ten, twenty feet away,
when we knew that they had been repatriated from Greece. I wrote in my diary then that I know this is going to be a long haul, it won’t be easy. But that all got torn out.
Over the Corinth canal which separates southern peninsula of Greece from all the north of the country. Corinth canal, It was built many years ago. As the campaign reached it’s climax at a place called Kalamata [evacuation beach]…have you heard of Kalamata, olives, supposed to be best in the world,
I don’t know I don’t eat them, not now. And that’s where we were captured by the Germans. The navy came in to pick up some troops but I didn’t get away from there at all and most of us were captured and there were twenty-two of us from our original forty less those that were killed,
were taken prisoner. I can only remember checking on that diary I said Iris gave me, I had all the details, that’s where I got the number, twenty-two of us were captured. Some got away. Only a few.
not a big bridge, he sheltered against the embankment formed by this bridge and a bomb came and we couldn't find enough of him to bury him. Hughie, that’s right, Hughie Fox. He was a little bit older chap than us. He wasn’t quite as mobile as some of us might have been then.
He was hiding behind a bush or tree. There weren’t many trees there so I think it had to be a bush. And the Stukas came in this way and he decided to run to another bush. He never made it. The rear guard picked him off as he was running.
Yes that’s how it happened. Nice chappie really, came from Toowoomba. But he became a casualty there. I didn’t see any others of my unit killed, except those two. Alan Easton got killed, he
was a great Queensland footballer. He got killed but that was later on in Germany.
the day before. Or two days before actually, when there was a long jetty there at Kalamata, and the navy sent boats in to pick up troops that were trying to evacuate Greece. And we were not the first group there. So we were well back. First night,
a mob went off, evacuated. The second night the same thing happened and the third night we should normally have made it onto a boat to escape, but the Germans set up their artillery on a hill behind Kalamata and they shelled the boats with their heavy artillery
and the boats would not come into us. Now because of that the Germans also occupied the whole of the jetty and the beach foreshore might be a better word around Kalamata, around the jetty. The Germans took possession of that. So the Kiwis, there were quite a few Kiwis there, they’re good troops those Kiwis,
and the Aussies, we went in. Time, might have been eight o’clock at night something like that. When we pushed the Jerry [Germans] out. We beat him, we killed a few, but the
boats didn’t come in for us so we were left there. Some of the boys tried to swim out to the boats. The distance across water can be so deceiving. They never had a hope. They drowned. They were foolish to even attempt to swim out to the boats. The boats sitting out there it looks half a
mile, it might be five miles. It’s so deceiving the distance over water. So when we realised that we had no escape, that the navy wasn’t going to come back, so some officers there told us that we would have to be prisoners of war. And next morning the Germans came in and we just,
there was nothing to do. And that was 9 o’clock in the morning on the 29th of April. I’d only been in Greece nineteen days.
The Germans, they didn’t do anything to us. They marched us to a cleared area and then they held a burial for their own troops that got killed in the scrap the night before. They buried them,
had a bit of a “Fatherland” thing, I couldn’t understand German at that time, and I don’t know what happened then, we lost a few too. I don’t know what happened then, I just don’t know. If they were buried there then it was in a different area than where I happened to be. I didn’t see it.
Yes, the Germans, I don't think he did much to us that day. Just left us in the cleared area, no food or water or anything like that. And then next morning he took, really took control of us. And we were eventually taken back,
marching and I think we might have done a few miles by train, to a place called Corinth, the Corinth Canal, which was a very important part of the southern Greece. We were in camp there for quite a long time, several weeks at least.
If you remember that diary I said I tore all those pages out. I kept a diary from that day on. And I have several other notebooks that I kept as a complete a record of my whole of prison life in there. The other day I started reproducing those words, as close as I could word for word
on another book that I think. The originals were starting to get a bit battered and faded and so forth, so I’m re-writing it all. And I’ve got all the details there of the whole of my prison life. I haven’t finished it yet of course, long way to go. I kept a very good record of all of it and so from here on in our talk this morning it’s going to be prison life.
Not on the beach but just a naturally sandy type of area. And we just camped on the ground. We had no facilities at all. We were put in groups of a hundred with our own, it was a drum cut in half. Yes, a drum cut in half was our cook house. I don’t recall
where we got the wood from but one of our blokes he was the cook and we were, supplies were given to us in bulk and it wasn’t very much and he’d cook them and do this with it and help make the best of it. I know at one stage the little Fox Terrier dog came into the area. I think he was a fox. Small, a dog similar to the size of a Fox.
We all chased him and our bloke caught him. He tasted pretty good in the stew. Poor little dog. But survival is very strong. We were sent off into different work parties after the Germans had organised us.
I was one that was lucky enough to get sent off into a work party frequently and you got extra rations, you might get half a biscuit or something like that. Half a biscuit to an ordinary person is nothing. But to us it was important. It was worth going and doing a bit of work to get half a biscuit. And of course, one of the greatest things
In that camp was lice. Body lice. They were, everybody had lice. I don’t give a bugger he had lice. If he was in Corinth camp, he had lice. You couldn't control them. So then at one stage the medical mob decided something had to be done, these lice were, because they’re very debilitating lice.
They’re living off your body. So the Germans marched us down to the foreshore, long gradual area where the waves are, the water is only this deep and then a hundred yards on it may be that deep. Not a lot of depth to it. So strip off hold your hands out and go through Germans here.
And they sprayed you. “Right oh, go and have a swim.” So you start walking off. “Jeez they’re biting a bit.” By the time you get to the water you’re just about fast enough to go into orbit. Because this stuff whatever it was, the bite, the burn the sting! Oh God it was terrific! We had this swim and wash this stuff off you, come back and put your same old clothes on again.
Hopeless. That happened a couple of times. Hopeless, you’re putting the same clothes back on again. I hate lice. The only time, after we eventually got up to Germany, we never had any lice, but there was one little incident where I got down among the Yugoslavs
who were in another area of camp, this was in Germany. And they had lice too. And that was the only other time I had anything to do with lice. It’s amazing how much energy lice can suck out of you. They’re living off your body. Not a nice subject but I’m afraid it’s a realistic one.
go up to Salonika. So we headed off across the Corinth Canal and then we went some distance on the train and tunnels had bee blown up so it was okay we’ll get off and walk. So you get off and the train the other side and so forth. A lot of that happened. There was one place from Levadi to Lamia, I’ve got it in my diary
and my heading is, ‘The Worst Day of My Life.’ We had to march from three o’clock in the morning because we had to be at the other end before dark and we marched thirty-two miles across the Brallos Pass. Now I still regard that as the worst day of my life.
Because by that time I’d formed up with a couple of cobbers [friends], one bloke by the name of Gordon Glanford and George Sutherland, two from my unit, both real great fellas. And we marched on and on carrying all our gear. Another bloke in our unit was a bloke by the name of Ernie Shelswell. He wasn’t as mobile as we were,
wasn’t as healthy and fit as we were. So he cracked up, well that would have been bullet. So Gordon Glanford and I took him one on each side, we helped him along, we carried him virtually and the third man George Sutherland, he carried all our gear. So he had just as big a load as we did.
That was a terrible dark day. Anyway, four or five of our chaps actually died on the trip. Not necessarily my unit but fellow prisoners died. There was one German guard died from exhaustion. It was grim.
And on that march how did they keep you moving forward?
Those German guards are, they had a truck, not a utility for any of their own men that fell exhausted, into the truck. We never had that opportunity. We were really an encumbrance to them. They didn’t want us at all. We were a bloody nuisance in other words.
So when we got to Salonika well that was a fairly big camp, big in that there were a lot of prisoners there. Now Salonika is the only place in the European mainland where malaria does occur. It’s the only area. George Sutherland
went down with malaria in Salonika. I never saw him again until about forty years, fifty years later I met him up at Caloundra. I suppose you could say he survived. But when he went down with malaria the Germans took him away somewhere,
I don’t know where, put him into some sort of hospital or something like that. I don’t know what his life was eventually. Because by that time I was totally on my own. After George was taken with malaria. I had no more of my original unit personnel with me. So I made it my business to go out on work parties as often as I could be chosen
Because it meant half a biscuit a day it would help maintain my fitness.
although the dirt is not as bad as you think because you can dig a bit of a hole for the hips or whatever and you can’t do that in concrete. Anyway, Salonika …oh yes, there was one little incident. Before I left home my brother Ray, second eldest, and his girlfriend at that time, became his wife later on, both dead now, they gave me a watch,
a good watch with leather covering and so forth so it wouldn't create signals and I sold that watch for half a loaf of bread, black rye bread, that’s the only bread you get in Greece. And George and I, that was before he took with malaria and we had half a loaf of bread to share and that was heaven.
But he would have done the same for me if he had had anything to sell.
and march along and flop a bit of stew or whatever it is into that, never very much, always well the amount you’d get in a whole day would not equal of one normal meal, oh no. Starvation was a big problem to us in those days. I suppose it was because of lack of organisation. And by this time
I think I’m about right, or very soon after Germany started war against Russia. So that might be one reason perhaps why transport was so difficult for them. They were putting all their effort into the Eastern Front. That’s the Russian Front. And I guess we had to take second fiddle.
Or third fiddle or more. But then there came a time when they marched us over to another camp away from the original camp in Salonika and it was fine, after five mile away and we were there for only a few days and then first train load of men
went, heading for Germany. And we were the second train load from that camp only a couple of days later. They said this is going to take three days to get to Germany, so they gave us three biscuits and a little tin of conserve, I don’t know what it was,
and it took five days and six nights so we were hungry again. You get used to it. It’s amazing how much you can learn to live on. What would normally be disastrous for some people eventually, it doesn’t become adequate, but you learn to cope with it.
So then we were given a piece of bread, ten men to a loaf or something like that. I don’t know exactly. And a cup of coffee. Now ersatz coffee. Do you know what ersatz means? Artificial coffee. And it tasted so beautiful, I can still smell it today. It was amazing we had a cup of coffee.
Of course we had no cups, a dixie of coffee. After a couple of days they called for work parties and this is where my regular POW life began. I was not in Germany. I was in Austria, which was German, totally German just as Queensland and NSW are Australian. There is no difference. The language is the same the customs are the same.
Germans and Austrians were all serving together as one. They called for volunteers to go out on a work party. Thirty five of us. So you had to be something to get on this work party. And I became a schneider. A tailor. I couldn't even sew a button on. But they didn’t test me there. They took me on
this work party and we left the next day on this work party. All our gear which was very little and we went to a town called Graz. It’s the second biggest town in Austria. Got off the train and kept marching and marching and came to a place called,
a horse hospital, as they called it a Ferde Lazarette . A horse hospital in an area of Graz called Gosting. And our job there was, well we were doing various things, but firstly they
took us in there and I don’t know what they did, and then they marched us on again to what was to be our quarters. And it was the top story of a great big story, as big as the whole floor of this house, or thereabouts, of a town pub. The bottom story was a pub and the top story was this great big room and that where we were.
The steps leading up to it and the guardroom at the foot of the steps. All the windows were barred. And that was the guest house, yes they did call it a guest house, in Gosting in Graz. So I’ll skip on but it was the
same thing. Each morning we had whatever was breakfast and then we marched off to this horse hospital for our work nine or ten hours a day, I think it was ten hours a day there. It wasn’t too bad. We were given various jobs and part of my job was on the disinfecting gang.
Now this Ferde Lazarette had a lot of horses, I mean a lot. There were actually, at full strength there were a thousand horses there. Twenty stables with fifty horses to a stable. Twenty-five each side. When one horse died or was taken away from any reason, his stable and the one
on either side had to be totally cleaned out, disinfected and repainted with whitewash, lime I suppose. And I was one of three men detailed for that. And that wasn’t a bad sort of a job, no extra tucker [food], just rations. But this disinfectant played up. And that area snows heavily
all winter and you go out and spit onto the snow, it leaves a black trail. This disinfectant was getting into your system and it left a black trail of spit. That was alright I suppose, for POW life you don’t expect it to be easy and it wasn’t. The only meat we ever got was
horse flesh. If a horse died we ate some parts of him and the rest of the rations were pretty minimal.
You get snow this deep. And marched into work each morning. If you washed your face, wet your hair and combed it before you left before daylight. The hat or cap you wore, it all froze to your head. And that is true. The cold was terrific. Twenty seven degrees below zero, below freezing that is.
And damn cold. They use the same temperature gauge as we do now. Celsius. But the Germans treated us reasonably well there. Provided you worked you could cope. You could get by on it. I did. And I got word then,
Sometime after, well after the new year I got word that my people had heard from me and that they knew I was a POW. That was good news. Took a lot of worry off my mind. I was on the top story of a two story bunk and underneath me was a young Kiwi, New Zealander, Jack Coatsworth. He came from Invercargill. Can I digress a little?
and the bunk below me Jack Coatsworth, a Kiwi from Invercargill, New Zealand. Many years later I became secretary of the Murwillumbah Probus Club. I was there for three years in that office. And I got a booklet detailing all the names of all the secretaries and presidents of every
Probus club in Australia and New Zealand. It mentioned the name, the Probus club of Invercargill. And I thought just for curiosity I’ll write to Invercargill and see if they know anything of the Coatsworth family. So I wrote to them and eventually a few weeks later
came a reply from the secretary of one of the Probus clubs in Invercargill. “Yes, we know the Coatsworth family. Some of them are still alive and they would love to hear from you.” So I wrote a letter back to the Coatsworth family. And I got a reply saying, “Yes, please come over.” So Iris and I hopped on a plane
from Brisbane and we flew to Christchurch and hired a car and went down to Invercargill. Firstly Iris and I stayed with the secretary of the Probus club, they had accommodation for us and we went and met the Coatsworth family.
The father of Jack Coatsworth who I met in Austria, he had passed away and so had his mother, but there were brothers and sisters of Jack Coatsworth there. I met them and we stayed a week there and they treated
us wonderfully. I found Jack Coatsworth’s name in the cenotaph in Invercargill. I wrote a letter to the Invercargill Council asking them to please dress it up a bit because it had faded badly and for several years after that I corresponded with Margaret Coatsworth who
was the sister and law of Jack Coatsworth’s brother.
get anything extra or do anything extra for the boys. And the boys eventually, although they were all Pommies too, they rebelled against him. And because I could talk German they thought that I would be able to do a better job for them. I think it turned out that way. Because I eventually got permission through the Germans for photographers to come in and take our photos.
I’ve got some of them there. George was never able to do that. I got permission for them to go and play football against another work camp about nine mile away. In a different district. We were able to meet up with each other. George never attempted to do that.
I was able to get better clothing for them through the Germans. George didn’t attempt to do that. He couldn't write German and I could so that helped me a lot. After the war was over. We’re jumping ahead a long way now. After the war was over. I corresponded with the farmer that I worked with, his name was Adolf Kleindienst.
A learned man, whereas most of the local farmers were of the peasant class. But Adolf Kleindienst was a learned man and we corresponded in German for three or four years, until eventually his letters stopped coming. I don’t know why. I presume he died. He was getting old. He was about sixty when I was there. Age caught up with him I suppose.
and the guard was in the next room. And the window were all barred and to get out at all we had to go out through the guard’s room and of course he slept in there, ate in there and did everything in there. We were fed at the farm, whatever they ate, we ate. It was perhaps as much as you could expect in a prisoner of war camp.
I got on reasonably well with, especially the old bloke, the chap I wrote to later on. The old hausfrau, she was alright I suppose under the circumstances she was okay. Bit of an old bitch we thought at the time. She was tougher. She was more pro German than Adolf was,
her husband. They had three sons. All in the army. Two of them got killed right near the end of the war. Their youngest son, Hans, he was in the German army fighting up on the front, the Finland front, up near Finland and Russia.
He fought with the Fins against he Russians. And he used to come home on leave and he was the youngest so he used to come to his house. Whereas I was working there. And we had many conversations about army life and so forth. No animosity. He as a German doing his bit. I was an Australian doing my bit. So we didn’t hate each other, we understood each other.
But the older two they were both married and lived away from home and I didn’t see nearly so much of them. Another little point while I was on that farm, Germany depended to a large extent on foreign labour so there was a Polish girl, Zoske Treikuna [?]
was her name. She was a bit older than me. She worked in the house, but also on the farm, whatever was doing she had to be in it. Those European girls they could work just like men. They can fair dinkum, it would surprise you. Anyway, this young Ganek Granowski [?], he actually was a Ukranian, Polish- Ukranian, Russian, very little difference.
They can all speak each others language up to a point. So Egon, Ganek, the Germans called him Egon so eventually I called him Egon too, but Ganek was his name, he arrived there with no boots, just an old skinny pair of longs on that came down to his ankles and an old what we would call sports coat.
That’s all he had. So I helped to get clothes for him. Gave him a little bit of something. We taught each other or language. I learned to speak quite a bit of Polish and he learnt to speak quite a lot of English. He learnt all the swear words very early in the piece. And when we were having our lunch, one day I remember very plainly in
the kitchen. And the old housefrau is over there doing something and Ganek and I were talking a little bit of English, Ukraine, Polish, same thing, a little bit of German. And the old hausfrau couldn’t understand what we were saying so she blew her top. She said, “When you are in my kitchen you speak German!” We really upset her.
But I’ll stay with Ganek if I can. When the war finished he was still over there and eventually I came home. I got letters from him, he was still in the are, so I made an effort to get him out here as a migrant. I got total approval, I had to go through a lot of avenues to get it from our authorities here, total approval for him to come here,
and I would be totally responsible for him, but I was prepared to do that because he was a good kid. And then I got word back from him that he had accepted migration to Canada and I’ve never been able to contact him since. Don’t know where he is. He night be still alive, he was six years younger than me. I’m only eighty-five now so he’d be seventy nine now. That’s life.
That must have been a bit disappointing?
I would have liked him to come out here. You do things in war time that you wouldn't do otherwise. Why would I ever ask a Ukranian boy to come out here to Australia? But wartime he wasn’t a Ukranian, he was my friend. But we were living in this house, we were taken to work mostly morning,
you had to get up at five o’clock, you had to be at the farm at six o’clock. It’s daylight by four o’clock over there in summer time especially. We’d have our meals on the farm and then at night time we had to be back in the camp by eight o’clock. Still daylight over there. Not in winter, it was dark very early. And then if we needed anything, a few times we had to go to the doctor.
The guard would have to march us into the nearest town which was Kreuzberg. Not Kreuzberg Germany, that’s where the Volkswagons are made, this was Kreuzberg Austria. Anyway, we were treated I suppose within reason. But by gee you had to work. That wasn’t easy.
I coped with that quite well. There was only one problem we ran into and it did come back on me. Towards the finish. A couple of the boys escaped. How did they do that? We got a hacksaw and sawed through the bars on the window and they got out and it happened to be the window closest to my bed where they were getting out. They never succeeded.
They didn’t get away for very long. They were caught and the Germans found out how they were doing it. I was held responsible because I was their boss. I was their (UNCLEAR) is the German word, confidence man is the English word for it. I copped all the blame and that happened three times. So I was held responsible for three escapes. And towards the finish, do you mind if I don’t go into this?
I wouldn't be here today. Had the war not finished then, I wouldn't be here today. Eventually because of that I was taken away from that camp and put in prison
and finished my days in Markt Pongau which was a disciplinary camp. In other words, a prison camp within a prison system. That’s where the war finished for me, then. I was due to be court martialled over that.
Over helping the escape. The Germans looked very badly on that. Escaping from German control. It was bad. But anyway that’s, a lot to do before the war finishes.
he happened to be an Aussie that came to the camp later on and he said, “This is no good, they’re making me work all the time.” So he said, “I’m going to escape.” And so we said, “Okay we’ll help you.” He didn’t get far. And another chap was Frankie Wheatcroft and the other was Henry Davis. They’re the three that escaped from there. Now one little point I don’ t know whether I should put this on tape but it actually did happen. Frankie Wheatcroft
who, an Englishman from somewhere in England, I don’t remember where and it doesn’t matter. But he became very ‘un-British’ eventually. I don’t mean that he became German. He became dirty, slovenly, untidy. He just wasn’t a good soldier. He was no credit to his fellow cobbers.
I pulled a string and had him removed from the camp, sent back to base camp. He was no good to us. He was doing our total reputation, all of us, he was doing us damage. Actually, he was working on a farm and a farmer came to me and told me that he wanted to get rid of Frank. Frank was not good. He wasn’t blending into the family he was working with, he wasn’t blending with the rest of his
cobbers. So I thought best thing to do so I got him removed. So that is one of the powers that I had as leader of the camp.
one way or another. I coped. They were generally a good bunch of boys. They were decent fellows. One chap, Len Smith, he came from some part of London itself. He was having trouble corresponding with his wife and he asked me to write to her and I did, I told her that,
well I suppose her that Len was having a tough trot and try to encourage him a bit more. She wasn’t encouraging him at all. Because he used to, “Reg, read this.” She wasn’t helping him. And I
think when you are in a prison camp, you need all the help you can get, mentally and in every other way. And she just wasn’t helping him at all. She was more or less belittling him. It wasn’t the right thing to do. So I think from there on after I wrote to her and I think she improved. May have been some problem between them and they just weren’t combined and of course he’d been away for
quite a few years. That’s life. You get all sorts.
What sort of things did you discuss about those letters, after the time?
I don’t know. What does a man and his wife discuss about, there are lots and lots of things? I think that in a way she was very proud of what I had done in keeping all those letters and proud also of the letters that I wrote. I was
a good correspondent if I say it myself. Some of them, not all of them, I’ve still got some of the letters here to prove it. I loved writing letters. We used to receive an odd issue of cigarettes. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life and I traded those cigarettes, what for? Letter writing material. Letter forms or letter cards,
which is very much smaller. I used to buy those letter forms or cards to the chaps that didn’t bother writing so much and I was able to write far more letters than I was really entitled to.
Yes, we used to have ping-pong tournaments, spelling bees, quiz sessions, we had one chap played the mouth organ beautifully. And the Germans got him a mouth organ. That’s not too bad is it? They got him a mouth organ so he could play. Things like that, you had to try and entertain yourself somehow. Try and break the monotony. And that was one way of
doing it. And of these quiz sessions, that type of thing, good. Another thing that I was good at, at that time. You’ve probably never heard of it, being a girl, ‘scratch pulley’. You’d get two men to sit on their haunches with a roo stick between you and you put your legs against each other and see who could lift the other bloke off the ground. I was good at that. And there was one contest we had, I won that.
I wasn’t as big as the other fellows but I think I was fitter than most. I always regarded fitness as being pretty important and I don't think some of the others put the same emphasis on it.
and that would come around all the farms and thresh their grain. This was all on the plant and that would have to be put through the thresher. All women doing that. If I was the only man I’d be doing the hard work there. And
the women would be doing all the other work and believe me they can work, they can work just like a man. They’ve done it all their lives. They are the peasant women. I don’t say the city women are like that, they’re not. But these other women they could take a couple of cows out and yoke them up onto a plough and go and plough a paddock. We, what happened, the first farm, I was on two farms.
The first farm I caused a stir, I walked off that because they, I couldn’t stand the food they used to dish up. It was filthy and I protested and I won. But I wasn’t the leader of the camp then. That was not long after I went to the farm camp. Anyway, this Mitzi, she was something similar to my age. Big, hefty, she could have picked me up and thrown me out the
door. When it came to ploughing. She’d be leading the cows and I’d be holding the plough at the back because I knew more about that and she knew more about driving the cows than I did. And things like that, two cows pulling a wagon load of hay as high as this ceiling. They’d be up,
I might have to, using the pitchfork, throw the hay to the top and they’re up there treading it down and they know how to do it, they’ve been doing it all their lives.
Quite a few of them around. There was another Polish girl she worked on a farm way up on the hills there. Zelka. I don’t know what her real name was. Christ, she was as strong as an ox! But know women didn’t come into it very much at all. I have heard of some contacts being made
and as a matter of fact there was one made in our camp but I knew nothing about it. A strong point this. When I was moved to Markt Pongau, about there months before the end of the war, I lost touch with my fellows, until the war finished. And I read it in my diary, only the other day, some days after the war, the chaps
that were from my old work camp, my own cobbers. They came through pulling wheelbarrows and whatever and one of them eventually tried to make his way back to the farm where he apparently got very friendly of the daughter of the whole of the German family. What was her name?
Frauney [?] Funny thing you don’t know people over there by the surname as you do here. You know them by their farm name. Wald bauer Frauney, Wald bauer was the name of the farm, Wald meaning forest or scrub. This blondie, I know it never succeeded because eventually he wrote to me years later
and said he was living on his own in England. And he made an attempt to get back to see Fraunie. I don’t know how it worked out because they threw us out of Germany so I don’t know. But he is the only one that I ever heard of and I didn’t hear the conclusion to it so I don’t know.
this is a very unusual thing and it does concern this. It was written by my younger brother, he was in Syria at the time because our Australian troops were in Syria. He had written to my second eldest brother, Ray. Telling him he was in it, he describes what he is doing in Syria, driving trucks and so forth and saying at that time, this was written in
1941, he still hadn’t heard anything of me. That’s right yes. And up until that time none of the family had heard where I was or what had happened. He mentions just one liner,
“Haven’t heard anything of Reg yet.” So he didn’t know. But he eventually as I said before he was a member of the corps troops ammunition company, he eventually became a paratrooper and learned to jump out of planes as a paratrooper. But they were based at that stage mainly up on the Atherton Tableland. But the war finished and he never jumped in
of lice by that time. They deloused us again. Gave us new uniforms, different uniforms, clean uniforms. And then we were put on a hospital train, a Red Cross hospital train and went right across France past Rheims, to a place called Le Havre,
right on the coast of the English channel. It’s south of Dover, Calais, and from there after spending another night out in the open because there is no accommodation, we were flown across into England across the channel. Old Dakotas, DC3s [Douglas Dakota bomber]. They just about finished now, I think there are only one or two operating
in Australia. We flew across to a place called Guildford in Surrey. And from there by truck down to Eastbourne right on the south coast of England, lovely spot but their peaches are pebbly, no good. They haven’t got any beaches like we have, totally different. There we were given mail and
so forth. A dozen letters at a time. They’d caught up with us.
type of letter form, you could only write a certain amount. And that was posted home so, yes I think it was posted direct to home. They knew I was free. So at Eastbourne we were given a bit of recreation time and so forth.
Another story that does concern this, during the war, while I was at my very first camp in the horse hospital business, a bloke named George Gaskell, an Englishman from Lancashire. He wanted me to write a letter, he did not have the ability to correspond at all; he wanted me to write a letter to these people
who he was very friendly with. He wanted to write to them. He said, “Reg, will you write to them?” They were the Smith family in Lancashire. And I wrote to them and they wrote back and that went on for a while and after a while we wrote to each other independent of George Gaskell. So when I arrived at Eastbourne there was an invitation from the Smith family
of Lancashire to come up to visit them. And I went up, now if you look up at that Red Cross parcel there, it shows you something very relevant to the story I’m telling now. Read what it says on it, “A gift on behalf of your next of kin
with best wishes from the London committee, Australian Red Cross Society.” I took that parcel full of goodies from the Australian Red Cross to the hostess where I was going to and she was working doing something WVS or something, Women’s Voluntary Service, he was a baker,
Bill Smith. And during the day he would take me, put me somewhere with some people that were, one day I know he handed me over to a vet, going around the sale yards and that worked out well. I wrote to those people for a short time after I came home but then, like everything else it died. I came
back from Lancashire then back to Eastbourne.
And we went by bus or something and pulled up at Buckingham Palace and we walked, no you don’t walk when you’re in the army, you march, through the portals of Buckingham Palace into the great, big, backyard. Big lawn area, must be five or six acres of it, beautiful big lawn. And that was in June 1945. So June in England is
their nicest month I think. Beautiful. There were a lot of people. Mainly troops, both sexes from various parts of the Empire, there was an Empire then. And there was a certain number of medals dished out and I saw one chap being decorated with the VC [Victoria Cross]
and I think his name was Brown. He was an airman from Canada. He was in a wheelchair and he had no legs. I think he would have swapped that VC medal for a new pair of legs.
Anyway, we enjoyed that. The King and Princess Elizabeth, the present Queen that is. They marched around one side and the Queen and Margaret Rose marched around the other side and they met. You don’t ever speak first to royalty. They
speak to you. And the Queen stopped in front of me and asked me a few questions and I answered as best I could and we talked for I suppose a couple of minutes, quite a little bit of a chat you could call it. But I’ve always said of the Queen Mother, ‘She was a lady.’ I don’t know of any reason to change that at all. She was the pick of the royalty bunch as far as I was concerned.
What was it like to suddenly be somewhere, where to suddenly had the freedom to move around and do as you please?
A great relief I suppose. I think you want a better answer than that. Well, I don’t how I could answer that one really. it is just a great relief and a great sense of freedom and on top of that I’m only here because we won. And that was a good feeling.
I could tell you this, a few of our chaps when they hit England, they went off the deep end altogether. They did all the wrong things. You see we were suddenly in possession of money. All our wartime pay was stored up and we were able to get it and I didn’t draw much because I wanted money for when I got home. But some people as soon as they got the money they did all the wrong things.
There is one chap I will talk about, Greg Bourchier. Now Greg was the first Aussie that escaped from our farm camp. When he arrived in England. I didn’t see this but I heard from his own cobbers, the first thing he did was spend money and he got himself a woman. He was with this female on the Street
and somebody, an Englishman, made a comment about, “The Aussies being over here pinching our women.” Words to that effect. And Greg turned around, he was an aggressive bugger, he turned around and smashed this bloke and broke his glasses. It cost him a lot of money in the local police court. That’s what some of them were like. They didn’t know how to control themselves under a different set of
circumstances. All of a sudden they were free. They couldn't handle it. I didn’t spend much money I bought a few presents to bring home with me. I knew I wanted that money to set up house when I got home.
Australian and Kiwis only. And there were a lot of war brides on that boat. English war brides who had married Australians that had been stationed over there. And of course they were coming to Australia most of them for the first time. And we came across the Atlantic,
through the Panama Canal. We were allowed ashore for eight hours. Maybe four hours. At a place called Colon which is the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. And then only to a great big American PX [Post Exchange] store, like a big canteen. We were allowed to do what we wanted to do there with what money we had.
I wasn’t spending anything. I’m a bit of a scrooge and I wanted to save up the money for when I got home. And we went on board ship again and back, on through the Panama Canal and out into the Pacific. Japan was still at war that was July 1945 and the Japanese war didn’t finish until August ’45. So Japan was still at war.
So we set off I imagine. They don’t tell you precisely what you are doing. But I think we were heading for Wellington New Zealand. We had Kiwis on board. And after a day or so out of Panama Canal on the Pacific side our boat turned around and went helter skelter back to Pearl Harbor. They told us there was a Jap sub in the area. I don’t know if that is right,
but I have to believe that it is because that is what we were told. There was a Jap sub in the area. So into Pearl Harbor we went. that was a fair way off our course too. Now we had no money. So they paid us two dollars American. It came out of our pay book which I could show you there. Now the first thing we did when we went ashore at Honolulu, we’d been on ship’s tucker for well fortnight,
three weeks something like that. We headed to a café for a decent feed. And you could have tea and toast, or anything you liked. And what do you reckon it cost us? Two dollars. So I was broke for the rest of my time in Pearl Harbor. That’s all the money I had. But the Americans treated us very well. I’m a non-drinker but they picked up a lot of our boys and took them to the pub and shouted them.
We got back on board ship and then the ship moved out from the wharf and stopped. Another load of Aussies is coming, or it might have been Kiwis. One of the American boats picked them up and bring them out to us. And we, off we go again,
we’re way down, Pearl Harbor is a bit like that, it opens out as it goes, at least that’s my impression. And we’re a long way, just out to the stage where you just feel the boat starting to react to the swell of the ocean and we stopped. What for? We looked around and there way in the distance coming from the harbour is an American boat, launch. Coming
flat out! You could see the waves splashing and standing up in the very bowels of the ship with one hand on the front of the boat, he might have had a rope in his hand, is the (UNCLEAR) and he’s belting the boat. He’s going home! That was so funny, I bet five thousand people cheered him on. they brought him in up the rope ladder and he was too drunk to get up the rope ladder so some of the seamen went down and helped him up the rope ladder.
So that was alright. Off again we went and heading to Wellington New Zealand. Got there on Saturday, Sunday, raining. Wellington always rains, always windy. So they tell us. Left there on Monday morning and off for Sydney Harbour. And late on I guess it would have been the Wednesday afternoon we came into Sydney Harbour and there was the sun setting
behind the Harbour Bridge. A glorious sight. Wonderful. We were back home again. We had completed the circuit. I like to call it ‘Around the World on Five Bob a Day.’ But it was great to get home.
I came home and they bunged me into a convalescent camp for a while and various other things that had to be done I suppose. And that was on the 8th of August I arrived home in Murwillumbah. On the 15th of August Japan surrendered. The war was over. And I like to say that the Japs heard I was here so they decided to give in, but that wasn’t the case at all.
Couple of months passed by and then on the 3rd of November 1945, Iris and I got married. He had been a long courtship brought about by the war because we were engaged on the 16th of November 1940 so we’d just about a five year engagement. Now while I was
a prisoner of war I wanted a job when I got back to Australia. I wrote to the manager of the Shell company in Brisbane, giving me details, because they knew of Worthington transport, we’d carted all their produce at some time. And that application was received by him and it was put into what they call the Shell House Journal and then
when I came home eventually I went to Shell company and asked for a job. “What sort of a job?” I showed them their Shell House Journal. “That job.” So I got a good job out of it. I was on the refuelling staff at Archerfield aerodrome. Archerfield was the airport then. But only, within twelve months, Eagle Farm, the present airport became the main one.
And I got transferred across to there. So that was lucky. Iris and I bought our first home. We paid half a house rent for a few months until we got our own home and then we never paid rent since. But we’ve always had a struggle. Mainly because we love travelling so much. Caravan travel is not cheap. But we loved it.
But that was okay, we hit it off right from the word, straightaway, no problems at all. And as I say, we got married on the 3rd of November 1945. I started work for the Shell company very soon afterwards and then eventually I resigned from the Shell company. I wanted to get a little bit of dirt between my toes. The old
farming instinct was still dominant. And we bought an orchard up in Stanthorpe. And went up there fruit growing and I also had a poultry farm attached to the orchard. That worked out alright. We were up there for four years. And then we sold that, did reasonably okay out of that. Never made a fortune but we didn’t lose any money either.
And we went down to the Tweed [River] again, banana growing. That was alright. I had one of the best banana plantations on the Tweed. The Department of Agriculture said it was in the top six of the Tweed. Eventually our family grew up and started to drift away. Graeme went into the air force, that’s the eldest one that is in Singapore now.
Rhonda left home she wanted to do her own thing, so she moved into Murwillumbah. So eventually we left there and we sold our house we had bought in Tyalgum, the village near where we were banana growing. And we bought a home in Murwillumbah right on the river bank. It was quite a nice home. I paid ten thousand and fifty dollars for it at auction.
Eventually we sold that for seventy five thousand dollars and Rhonda and her husband both in the air force had won a block of ground at the village of Condong just outside Murwillumbah where Chillingham is.
And they had to build a house on it within twelve months which was more sudden than they had anticipated. And they didn’t have enough money to buy the block of land and build the house too. So Iris and I sold our home on the river bank and lent them the money to finish the house and we moved into it with the idea that when Graeme got out of the air force, Rhonda was going to get out earlier we knew,
they would pay us back and move into the house and we’d move out somewhere else. Well, that’s the way it worked out. Graeme had to get out a bit earlier than he thought he would and he’s TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated] now. Rhonda’s still going, she’s running a family day care centre. So Iris and I had to move out and that’s when we bought this place.
We went along smoothly for the eight and a half years that we had been here. Until Iris passed away on the 6th of March last year. That was a big blow because life hasn’t been the same since. Not for me. I’m not cut out for bachelorhood. But I’ve tried to cope. It’s different. We’ve had a hell of a good life. We raised
four kids quite successfully. We’ve done a lot of travelling. We’ve been around Australia. We’ve been up and down this way and the other way. We went dancing together. Iris joined the RSL [Returned and Services League] Women’s Auxiliary, she’s a life member of that. I’m a life member of the RSL. We both played bowls together. See the photo of Iris in her bowling
gear? She’s a better bowler than me. She won a lot more trophies than I did. She was quite a good bowler. But I was only ordinary. But I enjoyed it, still do. I don’t play now but I still watch bowls. I think I will be playing again soon. Soon as this knee improves.
And during those years while you were POW, what did you used to think regarding Iris and what did you think when you wrote to her?
Very difficult to say. I tried to make my letters interesting. That’s the first thing. Make your letters interesting. And after a bit of encouragement, a bit of juicy sweet stuff. And anyway, it worked
whatever it was. Mind you she did not have to wait for me. She was free to do what she liked. She chose to wait for me. I’m the winner, I was lucky there. She waited for me. She’s a nice person, a good wife, a marvellous mother. She loved her kids and even now the kids, they love her. Although she’s not here to have it.
No, she was a nice person. I was a lucky fellow. Very lucky. I’ve never spent a day of my life unemployed but thousands of people can say that, especially at my age. Unemployment was never a thing in my day. But I always had interesting jobs. Or tried to make them interesting. When I was with the Shell company I became a leading
hand. That’s virtually the same as a foreman and that was good.
So could you read us a few entries from the diary?
Yes I can. And here’s one which I, it’s very strong in my memory. It starts off on Saturday the 7th of June 1941. We’re on a train travelling at that time. We’re on a train travelling from Corinth where we had been in camp, up to Salonika. That’s where we were heading for.
We marched some of the time, we went by train some of the time. So I’ll read now, “Oh my God, what a day, I’ll never forget it. The worst of my life. I marched thirty-two miles in eleven hours today across the Brallos Pass
carrying all my gear. Five of our men died and one Jerry guard. Reached Lamia at four pm. Had a snack and got on train again. Will travel all night. I feel almost dead. Locked in again and fifty-three of us to a cattle truck.”
It wasn’t really a cattle truck it was a box car. Not enough room to all sit down. That was the worst day of my life. I still think now even sixty-three years later. That was the worst day of my life. I’ll go on now. At random.
“Out of bed at nine am, did my washing in hot soapy water.” How did I get that I wonder? “Shaved, cleaned up and then the thing I have been wanting to do for months, I wrote a one page letter home.” It’s August the 24th that is, 1941. “Couldn’t say too much but it should satisfy them at home that I am okay. I wonder how they are at home?
Hope Jim Ray and Sid haven’t tried to enlist. Sorry I can’t write to Iris but we are only allowed to write to the one person whilst a prisoner. Had a look through my few snaps this evening, it seems to bring them a little closer to me. But wish I had a few more snaps.”
The next one at random again. Diary is starting to fall to bits, that’s why I’m re-writing it all. “Wednesday 3rd September 1941, spent all the morning swinging a fourteen pound hammer. Driving in round poles
as stays for the stable doors. Quite a solid job but it kept me warm as I have no shirt now. We have been able to scrounge a few tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden. But they have finished. There is plenty of vegetables in the garden but they all have to be cooked. We are doing fairly well.”
Now next one at random again. “Friday the 31st of October. Snowed heavy all night and then a heavy frost this morning which turned all the snow into ice. There was about two inches of ice all over the ground making it very slippery to walk on. Although the sun shone all day the snow has only thawed very little by dark tonight. What is
surprising is the warmth of the snow except on our feet. Today I wore wooden clogs which just about crippled me but they are warm and dry. The sergeant major was taken away to hospital today.” Don’t know why, don’t remember why. This is a very important one on November the 6th. Thursday November the 6th.
“At last thank God I have received word from home. One letter from my dearest mother dated on the 8th of the 9th ’41. And one letter from my beloved sweetheart written on the 24th of the 9th ’41. Everything is quite well at home. Ray and Athene, that’s my brother and his girlfriend. Syd and Phyllis, another brother and girlfriend and Eileen and Max, my sister and her boyfriend, have all been married.
Iris is working in Brisbane. What a great kid she is. Jim has shifted to Grafton. Kevin is in Palestine. Oh boy am I happy tonight. Thank God for the Red Cross. I am prepared to wait any length of time now.” That’s just different feelings as wartime effects us. Another at random. December the 7th Sunday 1941.
Up at 7 am marched to work and started at eight o’clock. Worked until four pm and then the corporal said finish. We had worked well. Fancy working all day on Sunday. Bit of a cow. But the chief, that’s the German major, wants the fence finished. Tonight I am writing a letter card to Iris and a postcard home. This evening we were issued
with new pair of socks. A pair of putties and a neck tie, supposed to be a scarf.” Now we’ll move on a bit further. This is Friday the 26th of December, that’s the day after Christmas isn’t it? Boxing Day.
“Today was something the same as yesterday, just a continual round of eating and sport.” We’re in the guesthouse at the horse hospital at this time, all this diary. “It is twelve months today since I last saw the ones I loved, at the station at South Brisbane. It has been snowing heavily during the day but it’s not cold.
Tonight I wrote I very sincere letter to Coral.” That’s my younger sister, just near the end of her life. “And may also write to Iris. I am very thankful to the Red Cross and all others who have helped make this Christmas such a pleasant one. Although I am prisoner of war, and in Germany too.”
Becomes Saturday 27th December 1941. “Went to work this morning but only groomed horses. The boss told us to knock off at dinner time
so we came home. Gave the place a good clean out and some washing and all received another parcel from the Canadian Red Cross. The German radio admitted today that British troops have once again occupied Benghazi.” That’s in Libya. “That’s very good news for us. But I am still very worried over the situation in the East. Those cross eyed Japs may do some damage for a while.
But they can’t get too far I hope.” Now this is the last entry in this diary. And it’s also the last entry for 1941. It says, wait on I must go back one because it’s a continuation,
“Tuesday the 30th, worked again all today. Terribly cold the mercury is almost zero, 32 below freezing point. I have the toothache result of extreme cold. Well, as the year 1941 gradually draws to a close, I am very busy with my thoughts. It has been a very eventful year for everyone and likewise
for me. Last new years day saw me on board the Queen Mary bound for death or glory. Well, so far I have found neither but at I have at least found much adventure. First a month of almost pleasure in Palestine, a month of hard work in Libya and then three weeks I was held in Greece.
I was part of the capitulation and so I became a POW. Then came three months of extreme starvation, hardship and neglect and then to Marburg and then to Gosting where I am writing this. But I have much to be thankful for and many to thank for it. First comes my loved ones at home, my mother and Iris for their kind letters of comfort and the parcel they sent me. And then comes the Red Cross
for the parcel of food we have received. I am very thankful. Today I had two teeth out so my gums are rather sore tonight.” And that’s the last entry for the year.
That’s all. He never tried to tell me anything that might have possibly been scratched out by the German censors. Or sometimes by the Australia censors too. One thing I’d like to mention is during the whole of my wartime career I’ve always tried to write home as much as possible and give them news that
may have been interesting to them. When I was a younger person, Keith Virtue was the local pilot. When planes were very scarce, Keith Virtue was a pilot. And he grew up eventually to be a very important person, so any mention of the air force bombing I said, Keith Virtue did this or Keith Virtue did that.
Another person in my life who played a big part in the letters I wrote home was a bloke name Snowy Potts. Now Pottsville, a seaside resort on the coast of NSW is named after Snowy Potts. At that time he was the only person living at Pottsville, now there are thousands. Well, more or less. And Snowy Potts had the reputation of being the world’s
greatest liar. He could tell lies. Terrible lies. But we all knew it was a lie so anything I wrote home that I want the people there to understand the exact opposite, make sure you tell Snowy Potts about this. So they knew then the exact opposite was the case.