Archive number: 2
Preferred name: Bob
Date interviewed: 28 April, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay Bob so perhaps you could start off by giving us a general overview of your life.
Well I was born in Sydney in Haberfield in 1918. My mother was a little American girl, who came to Australia from Illinois, Chicago, in 1909 and I was the second son
of my mother. I had an ordinary, straight-forward childhood but unfortunately we were brought up in the Depression where money was hard, my father made my brother leave school without any certificate at all because of the Depression and when it was my turn he wanted me to leave school too. But my teachers at De La Salle College, Ashfield came across and said that this boy has some potential and we think he should stay at school and we’ll give him a scholarship
to stay at school. So I stayed at school and I got honours in the Leaving Certificate never been to the university and took on medicine. I had an interest in medicine because I was terribly fond and loyal to my mother who sacrificed her life for her children. She….when I studied she would get up and three, three thirty in the morning and give me tea and toast no matter what I said to her I’ll just do it.
She had to get up and look after her son. And I got honours when I graduated in the university, I came third in the year, I shared the Craig Prize for Operative Surgery and the Cripton Prize in Surgical Anatomy. Then I got appointed at St. Vincent’s Hospital and I received the Coppelton Prize in Surgery and the Dearton Prize in Medicine and then the war was going on at that time in 1942
and they asked for volunteers so I volunteered. I volunteered for the army. I was sent to a place at Kapooka at Wagga [Wagga Wagga] to do my initial training and I did a lot of unarmed training there and we learnt to kill with our hands, and I became pretty good at it. I was then sent to a hostel at 114th AGH at [Australian General Hospital] Goulburn at Kenmore. And my commanding
officer was a man called Lieutenant-Colonel Archie Asplenor who was an MO [Medical Officer] at the beach at Gallipoli in the First World War. And I had adjudicated as to whether these men were fit to go back to front-line service. So I went up to him and said “Sir, I’ve never been in front- line service, I’m a fit, young healthy fellow and I can’t send these chaps to their deaths when I’ve never been around get me in the infantry battalion.” So he used his influence and within a few weeks I was in the 9th division infantry
to replace a Dr. Mick Collier from Rosewood in Sydney who had been killed in the battle of Alamein. I joined the battalion then and stayed with them until the end of the war. I didn’t fight in the Middle East because the battalion had pulled out of active combat. Because they had lost about seven officers as well as a doctor in the headquarters, I then went up to Queensland for training in Atherton.
And we trained physically and military tactics, because a doctor has to know what they are trying to do so he can organise where he puts his men for casualties, his stretcher bearers, I had to train my stretcher bearer and as I had been doing a lot of work in casualty in St. Vincent’s, I was determined to be a good doctor and a good soldier with the infantry so I used to talk
to the other officers about tactics and military things so I was best able to put my men to pick up casualties. We went to New Guinea and we did these assault landings in barges and then we went right along the coast from Red Beach or Scarlet Beach outside Lae right into the township of Lae and then I leant the hard facts of life, people get wounded and get killed. And some of your friends got wounded and killed. But men don’t cry
they were annoyed at their men being killed and they became very determined, they would kill the enemy. They didn’t want him to get away with killing some of his own men. They were my friends. I was a soldiers’ doctor, not an officers’ doctor, a soldiers’ doctor. I was just as good with the officers, but if I thought certain things should be done to help the casualties, I would say it, sometimes cause trouble and sometimes I had to have words with my commanding officer. Who was a Military Cross winner
top-class soldier, ten times better than I was, but my job wasn’t to be running the battalion, my job was to help the wounded and I was dedicated to help them because they were the poor fellows who went out the front and did it all. And it meant they got on well with me and I got on well with them. I wasn’t allowed to go on patrols with them, if it was a fighting patrol or a reconnaissance patrol I’d sometimes go if there
was a field ambulance with a medico and a field ambulance very close to my battalion head-quarters, then I’d get permission to go particularly if we had a company attack. If we had a company attack going I was the recommended doctor that I’d go with them. It was a very good for the men in a company attack where men were to get killed or wounded if the doctor could go there to look after and I was a dedicated man to look after the soldiers. They didn’t want to be killed and I was there to help them. And so, I didn‘t worry about the risk, they were doing
the risk too, they were doing more than I was and so I liked to go and I used to go and so I had dedicated men and so after the war they asked me if I would lead them in the ANZAC Day march in Sydney and I have led them in the ANZAC March for Sydney for many many years. And I tick them off I want the chests out not the stomachs out and the chests in, that’s no damn good to me, I put you on a charge sheet and if you’re
not careful an extra potato is a penalty at the end of the time you’ll need enough potatoes to bake dinner. And I said and the chaps would like that they’d give me one, “You were out there too sir you’re not so perfect”, and we’d tease the hell out of each other. Men like that. And I would die for them and they did for me too. And so when we’d go along in the war
and everyone is looking after each other. The Australian’s mateship is very exemplified in the infantry where you rely on each other, you save him, he saves you and we had an awful expression, “I wouldn’t trust that bugger at my left flank”, so if your flank retreated, you got shot from the side and that was never acceptable to them. The flanker had to stay there even if he got wounded
he let the chaps in the middle know so defensive replies were made, but nevertheless you don’t walk out on your mates. That’s one of the things I’ve learnt in my life both, as a doctor, as a soldier and after in my life as a husband and my life as a doctor. My dedication was to my patients and these soldiers were my patients and if I had to take a rest, bad luck I’d take it, for them. Because they were putting their life at risk for Australia
And it was little effort to do the same and so we got on very well together. We had lots of wounded, lots of killed but the characteristic of the Australian front-line infantry soldier is something to see, particularly if you were with them and you survive. I remember once in a place called Jivevening J.I.V.E.V.E.N.I.N.G. on the way to Sattleburg, we were surrounded
and Japanese don’t take prisoners so we said very well, we don’t take them either. And we were going to attack on a German method of putting all your troops to an area where they are slightly weaker and we went in that way. And men were getting a bit frightened, shelling was going on, mortars were going on and one man came to me and said “I don’t want to get killed, I have a wife and two children”, and I said “I don’t give a bugger if you get killed son we’re all going cause none of us want to get killed
and you’re going as well as we are. We are not going to a bum like you and hide behind a rock while brave men get killed and you come out at the end of it, they’ll shoot you themselves.” Anyhow, we had 38 killed and wounded in the next two hours and that chap whom I criticised got recommended for the Military Medal. He thought that every Jap was a bastard McInernery. But I mean don’t give sympathy I give encouragement and for anybody, men, women, or anybody, family members or anything encouragement is what we need
not sympathy all the time. After the war I returned to Australia and I was a senior injury doctor at the Australian 9th division 'cause I did a lot of combat in New Guinea and Borneo when I came back I hadn’t been in a hospital the whole time of the war. So my medicine was a bit off the piece but my soldiering was good.
And I couldn’t get a job in Sydney and I went to various hospitals and they had the positions filled and I went to St. Vincent’s where I was a house doctor and student and I asked them for a job and they said they didn’t have one. I said make one for me. They said they couldn’t do that. I said, I’ll work for nothing for you. So I worked for nothing off my deferred pay as a Registrar in Gynecology and I worked for about..
operated various many Gynecologists, four days a week, did a casualties emergencies 'cause I was good on emergencies because of the war. I did that. I had a lot of experience. I went to England because of my years at the University of Sydney helped me to get a job in England. And I went there and they’d give me cases to do and I’d be doing them for four-days a week for a year and was a little bit better than the average doctor 'cause I’d done a lot more practical work than them so I did that
and I got my MRCOG, Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in London, 1948 and then because I wanted to be better, I worked hard and I stayed in England for another year at St. Thomas in general surgery and I got my Fellow of Royal College of Surgery in General Surgery because I didn’t want to open a woman’s tummy and find I couldn’t do that because it is not gynecological.
So I could do a bowel resection or a gall bladder or ruptured ulcer or any of those things because I had been doing them for another year in St. Thomas Hospital in London. So when I came back to Sydney I had my fellowship in College of Surgeons, Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and I got a job in St. Vincent’s and eventually became one of their consultants in gynecology. I also got a job at St. Margaret’s as a superintendent
of St. Margaret’s hospital and I worked there for many years and when I worked there they were doing 4,000 confinements per year in the public hospital and I was the only doctor. I was very good. My sleep was terribly impaired. But I got a lot of work, a lot of experience. And then we got some residents and some registrars and because I was a moderately aggressive man, from my army experience and I wanted
to help my hospital, the turn over work was good. Lot of the doctors were general practitioners are not acceptable for the college for teaching, but I went to some of my army colleagues in Melbourne who were on the executive of the College of Gynecology and I said look, I’ll teach them and I’ll get other people to teach them and they made us a teaching hospital for the College Obstetricians and Gynecologists which meant we got better residents, better registrars. I became the
chairman of medical staff there and the chairman for the board for the hospital and I worked very hard. I became the president of the College Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the state. I sat on the council for 12 years. I also became Master of the Medical Guild of St. Luke. And I was a bit of a work-o-holic fellow. I married a beautiful girl called Betty Rose Strauman, who’s father was an obstetrician at Mater Hospital in Sydney and
I’ve been married to her now for 61 years and she’s a beautiful, 51 years, a beautiful lady, very honest, intelligent woman, attractive and very loyal. She impressed me because she didn’t criticise other women. She was a very sensitive, kind, sensitive girl, wrote beautiful poetry, knew how to dress well and I helped her 'cause I was proud of her. I’m still proud
of her. Unfortunately she’s now in hospital with Alzheimer’s disease, she knows who I am, but doesn’t talk much, never sees me. But I still get to see her, 5-6 times a week just the same. Because I’ll still love her forever because she’s a beautiful lady. I have paintings of her in my room and I like other people to look at her because I’m proud of her. And I think every woman likes her husband to be proud of her. And so I am proud of her.
And she calls me PC, Prince Charming and she also calls me ABC, Affectionate Boy Chap and I call her BBBB, Beautiful Betty Bob’s Baby and that makes her smile and I keep doing that everyday because she’s worth it and that’s the way now in the last few years, whilst I was a consultant,
I did over 17,000 babies, 'cause I had over 17,000 women and I have the greatest respect for women because I had a beautiful mother and every woman could be my mother, my sister, my wife and my daughter. And I want to give all those women in my life the courtesy I would have like to have given my mother in her life. We were brought up in the Depression we didn’t have much money. I was terribly worried if my mother got sick, we wouldn’t be able to afford to give her the best treatment.
So I never put in for a concessional pay in the hospital, the government introduced those, I still worked for nothing. I did cancer surgery, it might take me 3 1/2 or 4 hours to do them, follow up looking after them, I was always there. And my mother was my stimulus to be loyal to ladies. I have a theory that women will look after their husband, their home and children, more than any man. The nurturing capability in a woman is
what has always impressed me. You can’t compare a man and a woman, you contrast them, they are different. But not one better than another, just different. Brain power is of your brain, not of your sex. Reactivity is of your sex. Women are more likely to burst into tears, more likely to remember, my wife, if I asked her a question and asked her to do something, she said she’ll do it, I’ll come home at night and ask if she has done it and ten minutes I’m still not sure
whether she done it or not and I say to her yes or no did you or did you not do that. I am not in Gestapo headquarters if you don’t mind, I’ll tell my story my way if you don’t mind. And that’s the difference between a man and a woman. Men are more direct, women can be slightly more secret, but particularly my wife anyhow but she is more noble than I am and she is kind and charitable. I can be a bit rough at times.
Okay Bob well that is a great
summary of your life so far …
Yeah that’s all, I’ve cut the corners and just went straight down to it 'cause you told me too.
Yeah that’s great. Let’s go back to your pre-war life, we’ll just go back over the things you just told me about. Could you tell me when and where you were born?
I was born in Haberfield in Sydney, Yasmar Road, Haberfield, in a little nursing home maternity hospital
run by a nurse McLennam, M C L E N N A M, a lovely lady very experienced midwife and she has been friends of our family all our lives. Course she is well and truly dead now, but a lovely lady and I then went to Haberfield School, then got a scholarship to go to Lewisham to Ashfield School and then a scholarship to university. But I used to walk from Haberfield
to De La Salle in Ashfield which is about two and a half miles, morning, noon and night. Then we shifted to Burwood and I used to walk from Burwood to Ashfield to save money 'cause of the Depression and I was fit and healthy. And that was my contribution 'cause my dad made my brother leave school. My brother by the way never had any qualifications, became President of the Australian Hotels Association for 25 year and now
a multi-millionaire. He had the brain-power and work ethos, no charity, no hand out, work. And confidence in yourself.
Were you close to your brother?
Yes, very I go out with my brother, every week now we go to lunch every week. We tease the hell out of each other. He teases me and I tease him and it’s all if you weren’t together, you’d think we were fighting. It’s part of our act and we have been doing it for 30 odd, 40 years. He was a bomber navigator in the Middle East in a British squadron.
And course I teased the hell out of him being in the Air Force and not walking anywhere and he calls me you know slushy out in the mud and slops and he’s quite right we were. But we never argue with each other. We are different but respect the value of the other person.
Tell me a bit about your parents.
My mother was a beautiful lady. A little girl from America. Her father, when she came to Australia,
had the licence of the Lord Nelson Hotel at the Rocks and she was in Australia for 7 years before she married my father, whose people came from a farm in Benalla in Victoria. My father was a very good-looking man, real salesman, real-estate and motor cars. But those things weren’t being sold much during the war. So there was a marked shortage of money in the family
in those times, but we learnt how to work hard. No one was going to help us, we had to do the effort. But my teachers in Ashfield helped me and I’ve never forgotten it and I could show you a thing over there where they were helping some migrants from the Sudan. So I went and gave them $5,000 to educate some of these migrants from Sudan. Because they looked after me in my time
and now it is my time to look after others and I also am a Knight of Malta and used to go around the back streets of Darlinghurst and Paddington and feed the poor. And at Martin Place we turn up there and we’d feed them and they didn’t know who I was just like an ordinary bloke around the street, a social welfare worker. But I got pleasure out of doing that. And I find that
to give is better than receiving because you know what you’re doing. They don’t know who I am, I wouldn’t tell them because to do something gives me pleasure and I did all my sessions without payment, never put in for the covenance contribution for a session to the hospital or operating around, I do it all for nothing 'cause I wanted to save for my mother.
What memories do you have of the Depression?
Very hard because I told you before, my poor brother had to leave school without even the Intermediate Certificate and I would have been made to leave school except the Brothers gave me a scholarship at Ashfield. So I told you my father may have been a car salesman but they weren’t selling many cars in the Depression because it was very very hard. Very hard for people to get enough money to live and so we had
the usual thing we had a lot of mince meat and vegetables and nothing much else. I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies with the other boys at school. I wasn’t allowed to buy football gear to play football. I could only play football if other people lent me some of their gear. But I never got resentful about anything because I knew the reality of life, so I have always been out to try
and help people. And if I delivered over 17,000 babies, I must be doing something that ladies liked, 'cause I treat a woman like a woman not as such a male, because that is what she is not. And I get pleasure out of it.
Bob you were talking about your schooling in De La Salle in Ashfield..
Yeah very good school.
What else do you remember about the school?
Well they give scholarships
to deserving people without money, without any trial ever being made to know that the other people thought he was on a scholarship for nothing. They were very noble people. And a lot of people had been educated at these Catholic Schools. I don’t know what it is like now, but I presume people are trying to do the same thing. And I have never forgotten those brothers. And one of them who taught me
he returned to Ireland and when I went to England, I made sure I went across to Galway to see him in Ireland cause I was grateful to him. He came across from Ashfield to Haberfield to speak to my father and my mother to offer me the scholarship and I have never forgotten a good turn from anybody. That’s why it is. And I felt the school was a good grounding to a young man who had made his world in his life by effort, not hand outs, efforts.
How did your father react to the brother offering the scholarship to you?
With a typical Irishman’s a bit resentful at times because he couldn’t look after his own children, but with my mother supporting me and my brothers, he was resigned to that and so I never had any further trouble with him after that. But I had to walk from Ashfield and back just the same. Or when he moved to Burwood to a garage in
Burwood I had to walk from there. And you might say what tuppence a day but still that was two shillings a week. And that was a lot of money in those times, when the better wage was only 2 –3 pounds a week.
How long did it take you to walk to Ashfield?
Oh I never counted a time, I suppose 40 minutes.
It’s a good walk.
Yeah but I never get sorry for myself. One thing I volunteered for
infantry I never get sorry for myself. There are other people doing it worse than I was and I was not paying fees and I had a mother who would do anything for me. And I wasn’t going to let her down. I don’t let anyone down, I won’t let anyone down. I won’t let my soldiers down. They still, I still go to see them in hospital. There’s one of them, the man who saved my life during the war, he just had a stroke and he’s in Prince Alfred [Hospital] and I went to see him
just before the march and I’ve seen him yesterday and the day before and I’ll go to see them all. Another one, he only had one lung and he came back to the battalion with one lung. Now if he had been shot or bayoneted he’d had been dead because he only had one lung. But he still went there after the war. Now he is in hospital with pneumonia out at Sutherland and I got and see him just the same. They are my men.
So Bob, back when you were a teenager were there many people around you that talked about the First World War?
Not so many, no. My father did not go to the First World War so it wasn’t a topic of conversation in our family but I knew, when I graduated that the war was on 'cause it started in 1939, I graduated in the beginning of 1942 and I knew it was on and when they were just going near Port Moresby and they were coming down into the Coral Sea
I thought an invasion of Australia was imminent and as a young man, my job was to defend my mother and sisters and Australia and whether I got killed or not, I was going to do my best to do that. And that’s what I did, I was lucky I wasn’t killed.
And did the British Empire matter?
Didn’t worry me, I was fighting for Australia. I didn’t join the American army 'cause my mother was an American, but I joined the Australia army 'cause I am Australian, not American I am Australian. And
I don’t like the Queen or the Royal family but I am 100% Australian and I fought, they were coming down to Australia and England was a long way away. And they couldn’t defend Australia and the only people defended Australia at the time were the Americans. They knocked the Japanese in the Coral Sea, otherwise they could have landed in Queensland.
So Bob where were you when war broke out?
In Sydney I was in Sydney, I graduated we did not in going through medicine in Sydney they wouldn’t let us join the army 'cause we were medical students and so we never had, we finished the course in one year less because we never had any vacation. We’d go from one term to the next, straight through. Instead of having three months off at Christmas we didn’t do that. In three years we saved a full year and so it was all hard work.
But everyone was good because everyone was putting in for the war effort. And therefore we couldn’t let anyone down.
Whereabouts did you enlist to join?
In Sydney. Victoria barracks.
Could you describe what happened when you enlisted?
Well you know they asked for volunteers and I volunteered and I went up to the barracks, Victoria Barracks and we were told to go here, go there and the usual thing
they did a physical examination, to join the army. They accepted me and they gave me my uniforms and then I was sent to barracks. I forget where I was sent to I think it was out in Ingleburn somewhere for training. And then from there I went to Kapooka for unarmed combat and then from there I went to the 148th AGH where I told you before and I was treating these people
who had been wounded in New Guinea and some of them in the Middle East and I had to adjudicate, me a young doctor who had just been through, I had to adjudicate as to whether they were fit to go to the frontline to take combat and I was totally inadequate for that. So Archie Asplenor, my commanding officer from Sydney, Senior Surgeon from Sydney Hospital, I asked how I had myself paraded to him and asked him what to do and he said he’ll do what he could and
with no trouble I was in the infantry. Mick Colley had been killed and they had no doctor and so I joined them and I stayed with them until the end of the war. And if you survive a battle, a war, it doesn’t do you any harm from the point of view of character. And all my life after that I made it my principle that a man must earn his merits, hand outs are handy not if they take away his initiative.
You’ve got to earn your mark in life. And I still feel that.
I’m interested in finding out about what you went through in your training at Ingleburn, can you describe what took place there?
Yes firstly, the usual thing, drill. And drill is already to get a young man to
accept authority and orders so that he’ll be disciplined enough to do what he is asked to do. And there is nothing wrong with that. Isn’t it in an army will always be a rebel. We’ve been to New Guinea, chaps been in frontline infantry and they were hard people. The ones we met in Borneo were Garrison troops, not a match on us. We were far too rough for them. Far too tough for them, far
too battle- experienced for Garrison troops to beat. New Guinea different ball they were frontline troops and used to real hard battle. But we had far more initiative and when I went to Wagga we did more actual field training you know marching over preferences and couple spares at night time marches to find where to get at place to place. And it was very good because in the jungle,
you have never been there before, you had maps but you had to read contours of hills and valleys and get across rivers and we had to do it. Another thing we learnt that the Australian army, really equipped us pretty well. For example, we had leather, kangaroo leather boots and laces, we had ten times better than what any of the Japanese had, better than the American boots because
we were often wading through rivers. I remember in their take on Lae we were on one side of the river, a storm raging, the river was running and we decided to go across this river in the middle of the night, storm or not. Now we couldn’t swim across so we had to link arms with our guns around our necks, link arms with the chap in front and we were told that if you fell over, lost your footing in the river 'cause you couldn’t see the bottom,
well you could walk on it but you couldn’t see it, that you were supposed to let go or you pull the whole line over. Well 14 men were swept out to sea and drowned and I couldn’t swim 3,000 miles back to Australia so you had to be damned careful. We got across the other side, the Japanese weren’t expecting us and there was a hell of a fight, but we won. Otherwise you’re dead and then we had to go all this training helped us with we did training through hills and down
around Ingleburn and down at Ivanhoe in Victoria in the suburbs in the hills in the Gippsland Hills and we had to learn to read maps. It’s very important for a frontline soldier to know how to read and follow the topography of land. You never went over a scale or then they’d see you for mile on, so we’d have to go around through a copse of trees instead of a short way over, maybe surer but a deadly way. So we learned a lot of things, we learned a lot of unarmed combat.
So I can kill Graham [one of the interview team] more than he’d ever think I could 'cause I’m here with my arms folded, but they’re not folded, there is one resting on top of the other. He looks like he has the first shot of me and we used to train to watch him like a hawk to let him think I am frightened of him and we weren’t frightened, we were going to kill him. And so I would watch his shoulders, the top kind of a punch directly like that, that wouldn’t knock anybody over,
you have to get his shoulder into that and knock hard. I’d watch his shoulders and if it’s the right shoulder move, that arm would come up and knock his head out of the road and that one would smash his larynx and kill him. Choke him, in goes the vein and he’s gone. See you have to learn unarmed combat and I used to be trained hard at it. I don’t look like it but I was fast as a rock then. 60 years later I couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag, I couldn’t even beat the Girl Guides
now, but you know, I’m talking about 60 years ago not now, heavens.
So Bob when you were learning how to do…
We had trainers and we’d work on each other and we’d work on the trainer and he’d challenge us to try and knock him out. And so it was very instructive, hard. And we were young and fit. And I was aggressive and impulsive and I wanted to do good, I wanted to win. And therefore there’s effort,
no shortcut of effort.
Were there any injuries during training?
Oh yeah but nothing serious. I wouldn’t try and kill him and he wouldn’t try and kill me he might come but stop here. If he smashed there, a woman doesn’t have a strong larynx, a man’s larynx stands up and we used to hit against rocks and tanks and trucks and everything. So along here was very very hard along our arms, now like a pussy cat now.
Not then they weren’t.
Bob did you ever have to use any of your unarmed combat?
Not unarmed combat. I used my guns a lot. Going in attack and sometimes on patrols. But sometimes I was even on sniper post because I was young and I was aggressive and I wanted to win.
Do you think your training prepared you for what you were about to encounter?
I’m sure it did, yeah
I’m sure it did but I was with trained frontline troops that been in Tobruk and Alamein and they were good men, they were good soldiers and it didn’t take me long to find out who was a good soldier and who wasn’t. And if he was a good soldier, every company commander had a Military Cross in my battalion, but I became very good at assessing who was finding pressure and who wasn’t and if the soldier was a little bit
off compared to a company of men then he was a little bit off and he was a military cross winner I would suggest to commanding officer to make him LOB left out of battle, and put him in number two there. I didn’t want him to get emotional troubles in battles sent home and negotiate that he was a good soldier and got the Military Cross before. I am a man of humanity, but common sense. I respect a man for what he done in war
I wasn’t a critic of everybody. I think I was a very fair minded man, I still am I think.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 02
So Bob we might just go back to the unarmed combat training…
Well I could tell you all kinds of things but a lot of them are pretty conventional things
Well could you, could you retell…
Well say if you were coming at me with your arm out, your arms out coming at me like that, then I’d grab your arm, bend down, throw you over my shoulder might put you on there as a pivot over you’d go and then I’d turn around and do with you what I like.
You were coming at me with your arm out see, and I’d grab it and I’d put it over my shoulder and throw you like that. Your impetus would make you go further than you expected. And if you were coming at me with your head down, charging at me with your head down, I’d watch you and I’d turn to the side of you, get your head under my shoulder, under here, that hand would go across your face, not your neck, this hand would go under your shoulder and that hand would go there and snap your neck, dead in a flash,
Can you tell us, retell us again the one about the arms, the larynx?
Yeah well see, another one if somebody is attacking you anywhere, you stand in front with your arms folded but they are not folded, one resting on top of each other. But he thinks they are folded and you back away from him as if frightened, and let him think that he’s got the drop on you, that you’re his patsy, he can take you anytime, he’s got the first punch. You want him because you’re a cattle puncher
and when he makes a shot at you, watch his shoulders, a little pat like that wouldn’t hurt anybody but if he wants to hit you hard he’s got to use his shoulder into it and I’d watch his shoulders. If his right shoulder moves I know he’s going to throw his right hand at me and that arm would come out and knock his arm out of the road and that one smash into his larynx. I wouldn’t be sitting this far away I’d be close to him, smash, knock his larynx, break his larynx and suffocate him then he can’t do
anything, I could do what I’d liked to him. And if it was the other arm, I’d do the same this way. We used to train by hitting our arms against rocks, tanks, trucks anything, they were as hard as rocks along here. We trained for keeps. If you haven’t got a gun you only have these hands and you have to be able to use them. That’s what we did. I usually carried a pistol, machine gun and I had a big bowie knife in my back here, like a khukuri knife
that the Nepal Gurkhas used to have. And we had to learn to use them. My knife was as sharp as their’s was because one of my soldiers used to work in a saw mill in Tasmania and he sharpened my knife up like a razor. Sometimes I had to use the thing to do radical amputations. If a chap had shot away and lost half the bone in his leg I couldn’t put it together and no body else could and to
transport him, I’d cut it off, give him morphine, intravenously, cut it off and pack it up and send him out. The public had no idea. That’s why I was good at emergencies after the war. I had to make a decision there and then. I would never let a man die by himself at night. Sometimes we couldn’t get them out. You wouldn’t go at nightime, your own men would shoot you or the enemy would shoot you so we had to keep the wounded at nightime, couldn’t get them out. And I’d sit with them, never let a man die
by himself, I would sit with him all night. Because that’s my job, I’m not being noble, that’s my job. I’m supposed to do it, to look after them and I would never let them down. They were my men.
Bob when you were training how did you first hear that you were going abroad?
When I asked the commanding officer at the
114th AGH at Kenwood to get me into the infantry and I knew the infantry were going to go to New Guinea. That’s how I knew. But about four months of training in the islands in the Atherton Tablelands. Off we went. And we attacked Lae. We landed at Milne Bay firstly. From Milne Bay we went to Buna and Gona and from there we went on the attack on Lae. We went on American barges,
LCI infantry or LCM, Landing Craft Men and we hit the beach on those.
Okay we might come back to that later on, perhaps if we just could go back to what do you recall of your farewell of Australia, when you left?
Well, we weren’t allowed to talk about it to our families, because we were going on troop ships
up to the Coral Sea and we went from Townsville up to Milne Bay, so we couldn’t tell anyone. We didn’t come down from Sydney to go on leave and then go. It was too much of a risk to tell people. So we had a few weeks off in Townsville, and I used to go and see some people in Townsville and but not allowed to talk to anybody and then off we went.
Who did you see in Townsville?
I forget the people…Wasson was there name, W A S S O N. They had twin little daughters and I am a sucker for children. And the parents, but I couldn’t talk anything else like that, you know but I played with them and I talked to the father and mother and so on like that, and I liked it. I still like children. See where I am now, I’m in a nursing home, seven men here and seventy-three women.
And this is a lovely place for me but it is a place for women. The what-do-you-call-it, bingo, verse reading, book reading, I don’t think it’s my scene. I don’t know what you think but I don’t think it’s my scene, first board doctor, front-line soldier, I don’t think those things are what do me, but I don’t argue, if I was the organiser I’d do the same and the organisers here do
look after seventy-three women. I’ve got a car, I go out, I mind myself. I might have had a cancer of the bowel, and lost seven feet of my bowel. I’ve had a bypass in the last year, but it’s over, I’m better. I don’t live in the past it’s over; I live on what I can do now. And I’m determined to do most things I want to do. I still go on the ANZAC Day march, I still go and see my men, I still give them cheek and they give me cheek. And we have a lot of fun together. See, it’s good
So when you left Townsville to go to Milne Bay…
We trained like mad in the swamps of New Guinea. It’s a very flat area, coastal swamp area and the area we put our camp down was swampy and wet and sloppy, but we had to learn to sleep in the swamp ‘cause what else could we do in New Guinea, everybody sleep where they stop. And you had to learn
to fight against the Japanese because they fight differently to western people. So we had to learn to counter them and we slept in the swamp on training nights. And I was a dynamically fit young man and a determined man and if we do training, we’d go for fifteen minutes marching
with full equipment on. And then I would go up and down the lines to see who was sick or hurt and I would have very little rest. But I’d still do it because good example to your men you looking after them, they felt better. And that’s my responsibility. And that’s my responsibility with women, I treat a woman as a woman not as a man ‘cause they are not men they never will be and we are attracted to the femininity of the woman and she is attracted to the masculinity of a man.
And so with men, I’m masculine and women I try to be more attentive to their needs as a woman.
So what other aspects of your training did you do specifically for…
Well we trained to realise that the Japanese are supposed to infiltrate better than we are at night time. Now we knew that but never always accepted it and we would always look if we stopped,
see the Australian infantry tentative in the jungle, we’d stop our advance at about half past three in the afternoon, because we wanted to get the defensive perimeter at night time so the Japanese couldn’t infiltrate our lines at night time. And we put booby traps out the front of our lines, we would place fields of fire for mortars and artillery from behind us, what we thought was the best places for the Japanese to advance. So if they came along, if they hit a
booby trap we hit the mortars artillery come to booby trap, ‘cause we’d know where they would put them. And so but we always had a watch for the infiltration. And I remember one day, we had been going all day we used to start off at about 5 o’clock in the morning and fight our way manoeuvring, patrols, what have you, you just can’t walk along a track you’d get ambushed and wiped doing that. You had to fight in carefully with flankers out and everything like that so they didn’t come behind you.
We had rear guard flankers and the leaders at the front, and the middle. And at half past three in the afternoon we got to what we thought was a good position for our troops to put a bivouac for the night, a defensive perimeter. We all undid our web belts, put our legs on our packs, and said buggered, you know typical Australian method, in
the heat, swamps and sweating like pigs we were and one of the chaps said, “I think I heard something over there anybody coming with me?” And I said “For God’s sake sit down we’re buggered.” But two chaps went up and they went and then from here to my door, I suppose about 18 feet and suddenly machine gun fire going like mad, our guns and we were all on our feet in a split second, there were four Japs hidden in the scrub
they were going wait, they didn’t infiltrate, they were there, they stopped there and they hid themselves, there was a chap with a rifle, an officer with a sword and a pistol, one chap with a light machine gun and two riflemen. And they were hidden there and the chaps wiped them all out, killed them down. Now they could have infiltrated us at night time, now that made us very wary when we stopped we made a really good search before we went to sleep, that’s how you saved your life.
And all our training helped us to be suspicious of everything, because that saves your life. Not taking it for granted. If one chap’s worried about something over there, he’d investigate with him, he didn’t take anything for granted. And our training made us like that. We weren’t any more braver than the Japanese, but we were more resourceful, more likely to adapt and change
tactics. They weren’t so much. We learnt that we should be flexible and variable and change tactics. I remember one day the Japanese were attacking us like mad, and sitting, this is in Finschaffen in New Guinea, and they were putting bombers over us every morning and we were firing the artillery at them, they were just out of range they only go to 12,000 feet they go 13,000
we miss them, used to annoy the soldiers. The Japanese were attacking like mad and we headed patrols out and we found out one chap, we’d killed all the others, one chap had what do you call it, had a map case on him and the chaps wounded him thumped him over the head and put him in. His map case showed four big blue arrows coming into our lines, one behind us from the sea and three big ones coming at our lines. We checked them against our own defences
we found they might even get through and beat us we only had the sea to go back it might have been certain death. Well as an alternative, we as Australians say, we’ll make the buggers pay and we took our air guns down and put them on the ground over over what you call it, logs and rocks, we waited until they came in we could see the whites of their eyes and the artillery boom boomed into them, quick firing with all the guns and Bofors guns.
And when they…a lot of carnage, a lot of dead, Japs and wounded, chaps with bayonets we out and bayoneted the life out of them. The Australian is not a weak fish. And he’s a bad enemy to have, if you were treating him respectfully, well he’ll treat you harder still. They used to call us barbarians, the Japanese. Because and they are funny people, we learnt
we were taught what they usually did and that’s our training made us that and they had a tendency to think in the western world eastern world that you make a noise it frightens the enemy and we hear them haranguing themselves and before a fight and of course, we used to laugh, we’d put mortars on when we heard them screaming ‘cause we’d wound some of them. You see the western and eastern fight different battles and our training made us remember that and so we used to set traps for them
and making noise, they must think we are nuts. They didn’t frighten us, we put mortars and artillery into them. Then they screamed and then of course the chaps would laugh and roar their heads off at them. It’s a funny game. Training makes discipline…discipline is what you have in life you need discipline, in frontline battles you need discipline. Of course, fire control, fire control, in other words,
they would try and find out where we have heavy machinery, light machine guns and riflemen, we’d let them. A few days later when we felt they were getting ready for the attack we would change the guns around. So they’d come where they though we had rifles and we have the biggest machine guns and we’d have the artillery there. And of course they’d think there was nothing there, only rifles and of course they’d come in and we would set traps for them. You win by skill and brain-power
not always bravery.
Bob tell us about, just we’ll come back to more of the battles later because I’m really interested in finding out more about that, but I’m interested in finding out about the trip from Townsville to Milne Bay.
Well we were on an American troop ship the General Bruckner [?]a big ship about 20,000 tons and I used to hold sick parade
under the rear guns on the stern of the boat, I’d do a sick parade there because they were far too sick to go to a sick parade because they were sea-sick. And so I’d get my sick parade over there well and one day I’m up there, under the rear guns doing my sick parade and I saw a submarine on my right flank and I thought oh god, it was one of our own. But you’re in enemy territories and you never know. To sink a troop ship is a very good thing get a lot of
men at one time. But we got in we landed at Milne Bay, but not contested within our own territory.
So what would happen on what was it a ‘sick parade’, what would happen on a typical sick parade?
How many came up they might have been sick they might have had a headache or temperature or they jemmied their hand and a laceration and I’d have to go and fix them up. But I had been doing it for years, I was good at that.
And what was the mood like aboard ship?
Good, good the men are good. Australian men are good. You see the frontline soldiers, expect to be a frontline soldier, you not supposed to be a fairy. You know you’re not supposed, and if they worried about trivia, I’d say for God’s sake, get your act together, you’re a bloody soldier son, you’re not a child anymore, you’ll get more than this. I made men act like men if I could.
I am a real old sweat at 23 by the way, a real old sweat.
What were the conditions like aboard the ship?
Good for a troop ship, good for a troop ship, I mean you got a lot of men, you’re in hammocks or sleeping on the deck in the heat some would sleep on the open deck, not on a hammock not in the hold at all. Some of them sleep on the life boats or under the life boats, under the guns,
anywhere to make it a bit more fresh air. Australian troops are good that way and nobody stopped him. But the meals were at a certain regular time and if you didn’t get any there, you missed out. But for a troop ship, no trouble.
And what would be a typical meal on board the ship?
In the morning you’d get porridge and some toast and an egg. At lunch time you’d get a chop or some meat
and vegetables, a piece of fruit. Night you’d get a salad and some toast and some fruit. Nothing wrong with the meal. See if we were going to battle though, when we land, and we were in enemy territory, we’d get a five-day ration of processed food, because we’d have to carry it. Nobody would carry it for you, you carried your own.
And the front line troops in the jungle, we were going into enemy territory, we’d carry about 50 pounds worth of gear because nobody was going to give us any more. And when you go in and start a fight, you’d drop that and fight without it, you know.
And when before you left Townsville to go to Milne Bay what did you pack, what did you..
We took dry clothes,
couple pair of socks, share pair of under clothes, couple of singlet, spare trousers and shirt.
And did you take any personal belongings?
No, no some chaps took a diary, but you ‘re not supposed to ‘cause if you were captured they’d find out where you were all from. So we were not supposed to carry diaries, many chaps did. And I had a, you see the soldier’s basic pouch was here. You see this
well used to have, a lot of soldiers used to put their dixies in there for food, and I used to put my morphia bottles in there. But one day shrapnel hit my chest, it didn’t get my heart but it went through this way and it put a hole in my dixie and ruptured my morphia bottles and came out the other side and hit this arm. I don’t know whether the shrapnel cut my am or the rough dixie.
And it meant that when we had wounded, I couldn’t give them morphia, and it was very bad and I had to show the chaps, I couldn’t give them any morphia so I sat with them all the time and it showed you what the power of a brain could to endure suffering. When I had my hemicolectomy, and my heart, I showed you this, I had no pain relief, ‘cause I am an obstinate man, these poor men
had to put up with all these wounded, without my giving them morphia, and I said, I can too. Bit of obstinance in me you see, because but you have to do this. You only had what you could carry, now they have to do that because they have helicopter gun ships, helicopter what had to carry it for miles. I used to carry an army stretcher which weighed 29 pounds 20 minutes every hour in through the slops. 20
minutes in every hour. If they had to do it I would do it too, I wouldn’t let them do it and I just walk along like a general, see. That’s why the men liked you. If you are prepared to do your job like they are they’ll respect you. In this life you’ve got to earn respect for a man and that was what I was trying to do. They knew I respected them and I wanted them to respect me. If you do that they put up with all kind of things. If you are a fairy or
a pretty-boy and don’t do anything they they wouldn’t go with you.
Bob could you tell us about the landing at Milne Bay?
Yeah no no it was it wasn’t nothing, there wasn’t a fight there. The Australian’s already had that spot. In Lae I could tell you…
That’s Red Beach?
Could you tell us about that?
Well see when you come into land you had a row of 9 barges and they had twin 50
they were very good barges, twin 50 calibre machine guns at the front, so you had 18 machine guns going and the second row, I used to be in the second row which was about 20 yards behind the first row that’s nothing and we had another sort of machine gun, so you’d have about 18 and another… 36 machine guns charging at the beach and they’d be flying like hell and then it’s a oh God. You were told that as soon
as your barge breaches the beach as it hits stops, down goes the ramp and out you’d go, and spread like mad. Unfortunately the barge on my left flank, I’ll never forget it, hit a sandbank and he thought it was a beach, and out went the ramp and the chaps all went out, the barge lifted up off the sand bank and it went over their heads. That barge was practically wiped out. A lot of men had their head half cut off, and arms broken, chest smashed open with the screws from
the barge. Life’s a lottery you know. It wasn’t bravery, they were just doing the same thing I am, barge and hit a sandbank.
So what happened to you?
My barge got on shore, we kept on firing, and we didn’t get many casualties and over we went. Then we, I picked up the casualties on the beach put them back on the barge and put them on the hospital ship out to sea. Then we kept on going
and the first night after Red Beach, the Japanese had strafing planes coming down on us, I could see the pilots. They were only about 20 feet above us. But we were, look, when you’re a soldier you could hide behind a blade of grass, you know why, if you don’t you’re dead. So we’d hide behind a blade of grass that’s what we’d used to say to each other, I was clever I could hide behind a blade of grass.
And by the time I was picking up the wounded and dead and getting them in, I was a bit behind the main body which was advancing against the Japanese see. And I got my men, my stretcher bearers and off we started on them and you never move around at night time, because your own men think you are the Japs infiltrating and they shoot you. So when it got dusk, I couldn’t go any further except we might be wiped out by our own men. So I stopped short a
perimeter around my men, this is at Red Beach and we put up guards at night time around us, I suppose I had 15 men and in the morning, half past five, we got up it was time to go because I knew my men, the main body were in front and they heard us coming, heard the Australian voices as I said, I was only 200 yards behind the main body but if I would have gone 100 yards in front of me I would have been shot. It’s a
lottery game. Life’s a lottery, you‘ve got no idea. Its not about bravery, it’s using your brains. And I stopped them, and we are working along trying to catch up and I was a dynamically fit guy there and I wouldn’t stop for anybody though and suddenly I heard a noise, my chap behind me dropped flat, passed out in the mud behind me, so I stopped for the night. Not a word, not a complaint out of him, he kept going
and he just went dropped, exhausted into the mud. And so the bond that a man gets with his men is a tremendous bond, I’d die for them, I nearly did a few times too.
What was going through your head during the first landing?
My head was going, if they’re doing it, I’m going to do it. I didn’t want to let anybody down. Whether I got killed or not, bad luck but they’re were doing it and old
McInerney’s going to do it just the same. I wasn’t going to dump I wasn’t going chicken out or anything.
What about fear?
If you don’t have that if you don’t have fear you’re a phoney or you were never there. Well we had a running chance of getting killed of course we did, but so were the other chaps and they were going. So I said well bugger it all if they are going I can go too. It’s certain obstinacy in a man, see he takes the odds.
So when…what happened after you landed?
Well then we went on further and then we started to get casualties as we came up against them again and again ‘cause they were fighting, retreating while we were going along the coast then we’d have to go across rivers and they were hazards because some rivers had crocodiles in them and some of them there’s a turbulent stream coming down fairly fast rate and
it was a bit risky, and so you didn’t go by yourself, you put your guns around your neck and you linked arms men go like that to stop yourself from being swept away and sometimes we’d see if we could get a strong swimmer to dive in couple of 100 yards up stream with a rope around his waist to get to the other side and we had a rope on this end where he left it
and we’d come across on the rope. All kinds of tricks. And one river, The Buttebom River near Lae we had 14 men swept out to sea and drown there. ‘Cause some poor buggers left, dropped …they had to let go and the others linked up and 14 got swept out to sea and drowned. ‘Cause what else can you do. People in the infantry get killed you know.
You mentioned crocodiles were there ever any crocodile attacks?
Not many not many, because crocodiles don’t come where there is too much noise, they get frightened of us and we of them. But if you’re just by yourself you wouldn’t take the risk. The come down from the Sepik River you see, full of crocodiles. But we weren’t around up there to much. You see if you were by yourself, the crocodiles would get you, but a big group, many people came from the Gulf of Carpentaria they’d take a herd of cattle across
and the cattlemen would get in the middle, the crocodiles might take one or two on the periphery, but they wouldn’t go in the middle. Too much noise and too much kicking hoofs. So we used our brains. I never lost any one from crocodiles.
Can you describe what the Lae environment was like, did you notice…
Yes it was wet, soggy, a lot of gorse
and a lot of trees, which weren’t very, they weren’t thick hard trees they were spongy trees. Sometimes the machine-gun bullets would go through them. If you got a machine-gun and went you’d cut a tree in two. I’ve seen chaps hide behind a tree and the Japs would see them and fire a machine-gun them and it would go through and get the fella. I’ve seen the bullets hit him the other side of the tree. So it was better to lie down behind a rock,
trees not so good. Instinctively you’d try and get behind a tree, wouldn’t you, but if a Jap saw you, you run a good chance of being killed.
You talked before about luck determining…
Yeah luck, yeah.
Could you talk a bit more about that?
Yeah well, I have seen men killed with flukes and I have seen other men saved with flukes. For example myself, my tin hat was blown off my head, this roll was perforated, bedroll perforated and other than a bit of mark on my arm, I didn’t have anything.
Now I should have been killed shouldn’t I? That should have gone that way into my heart, I’d got it in my head, I’d be dead, but I wasn’t, that’s the fluke. It’s not bravery it’s the luck of the game. I saw another chap, a grenade hit him under the arm and went on the inside, on the inside of his scapula and vigorously into his spine and cut his spine in two. Big strong looking fellow and he couldn’t stand up, he died from infection from his spine.
I couldn’t get him out, we were out in enemy territory. You see what I mean and that’s luck. I’ve seen another chap, at night time he went out and tried to empty his bowels and a Jap saw him and shot at him and he had a bible in his jacket and went into the bible and didn’t come through. That’s luck.
One of my men got a Victoria Cross, [Private Leslie Thomas Starcevich ] I showed you a photo of him over there and he was going into the attack on Beaufort in Borneo and as he was coming in, the Japs opened fire on him. Now everyone went to the side of the track, the Japanese had their guns firing on the other side and he stayed in the middle of the track, walked on with his machine gun at his waist like this, fighting, bang bang. And all he could see were the Japs’ heads
he knocked out four machine guns and 10-12 Japs. He killed them all and knocked out four machine guns in one afternoon. I’ve got a book on him there. That’s the luck of the game. He should have been perforated like a sieve but he wasn’t.
Did you have any religious beliefs that helped you get through…
Yes I sort… the padre in my battalion went to St. Joseph’s College,
played football and cricket for St. Josephs, he played for the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]in the Middle East for the cricket team and the football and he was a tough little rooster. He got the MBE [Member of the British Empire] know what that means for a soldier? ‘My bloody effort’, OBE [Order of the British Empire] ‘other bugger’s effort’, the commanding officer the ‘other bugger’s effort’ and the soldier gets the ‘my bloody effort’. And this chap was a tough soldier and a good soldier and he used to say to us before battle
say a little flower in the sour[?], use your power to save me. And I used to say that then I’d forget everything and do my job. I said if I was going to get killed, it was God’s will and if I didn’t get killed, it was still God’s will and it stopped me from worrying. I’m a lucky fellow I don’t bother I don’t worry too much. I’m lucky. I don’t get sorry for myself ever.
You mentioned that you had about 15 men working with you in your team…
No not always, but in this
time because I was left behind with the casualties on the beach and when we landed and I had 15 stragglers that I had picked and I had to catch up with my group ‘cause I was their doctor. And that’s how. I don’t have 15 men with me normally no.
What would you normally have?
I might have 6. And but I had 15 I had some stretcher bearers for another company wounded on the beach coming in and then I had some of my own staff and some chaps
who had been slightly sick on the landing.
And were you well equipped with medical facilities?
Well I only had as much as I could carry. But I had a big, what do you call it, pack on my back and I have a heater in it and kerosene and what do you call the other thing, liquid heat. It’s a odorless, you could put it on, put a match to it and it would go up but no flame
no flame. And we could cook tea there and if you’d been wounded and the chaps couldn’t move, I’d have a rubber infant feeding tube and go into the tea there and into their mouths, they could suck that, shifting their heads.
Okay and what else did you have?
I had stretcher bearers; I had instruments, sutures, local anesthetic, morphia, tablets for diarrhea,
tablets for headaches and disinfectant for lacerations and abrasions. When they fall here, in that they would go through and they’d get coral dirt in their groins and get a rash in their groins, and I’d have betadine. Or they would get rashes from their packs over their shoulders and I’d have sorbolene over their shoulders. I’d carry all of those. And I looked like a truck by the time I got going.
Plus carrying the army stretcher of 29 pounds every 20 minutes an hour. I had to be fit, I was fit. I never dropped out I did it all the time.
Did you feel that you were well equipped in terms of the injuries that you had to treat?
Reasonably yes, because well equipped means what you can carry
for what I could carry I was good. It would not be equipped any good for now because they’ve got helicopters coming in and taking the wounded out and all that stuff see. And I don’t need so much, but if I had to do a sucking chest, bullets went through his chest, opened up his chest, big hole, I’m looking at his heart, I’m looking at his lungs and I had to stitch them up
there and then. He’d be dead going back by ambulance in the jungle. I never had a bad word with bleeding. I had to try and stop the bleeding with clamps, sutures and then big dressings, packed tight. And I had little splints, I’d make them out of large cardboard or I’d make them out of wire cages. All kind of things you’d do, you’d improvise.
Cartons from guns, I’d take some of that, cut it up and use the wooden slats for a fractured arm or his humerus. ‘Cause I couldn’t carry everything. Not so easy when you’re used to being served hand and foot. “Nurse get me so and so.” I was the nurse and the doctor. And I used to train my stretcher bearer so everyone could do things. That’s part of my job to train them all
And if you set a good standard in yourself, they would do it for you. If you were a pansy and you won’t do anything they get annoyed with you.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 03
You are obviously a great believer in faith when …or you are obviously a great believer in fate when it comes to whether you die whether you live, whether you are injured…
Yeah I am yeah.
Do you have a religious belief?
I am a Catholic and I think a lot of Catholic teaching requires faith, because a lot of it can’t be understood, it can’t be worked out. And I’d rather have something like that to do than believe in nothing
as if I am a vegetable and if I use, this little tape that I used before, a little flower in the sour, use your power to protect me, it satisfied my conscience. And if I see people dying without any faith in anybody, they have a more lonely death than people who have a faith. And it’s proven around the world, there is Buddhists, there’s Islam, there’s Christianity and all its combinations
and people want to have a lead somewhere for them to follow. People without a rudder, the ship won’t go anywhere and people who had a bit of faith in something will help them.
How often was there a padre nearby when a man was dying….
Well sometimes he would be near where I was or sometimes he’d be somewhere else. We… if I thought a man was dying and I ask him if he wanted the padre and if he did I’d try and get him.
And if the padre thought that someone dying, and thought I could do something, he’d get me. We were a team, everybody was a team in the army in the infantry to help each other.
You were starting before to talk about Lae, could you give us a description a bit more of Lae as you found it?
Well as we went along the coast, fighting all the way, across rivers, we sometimes found our attack
was in speed or excess of what the Japanese expected, so sometimes some of their soldiers lagged behind. Now they had known where they had been and they came along the track after us. But we had sentries on our rear all the time. And they did things so differently. Some of the sentries would hear a noise coming through the river behind us and they would say, ‘Halt who goes there?’ It wasn’t one of our own men it be a Jap and the silly idiot
he’d pull out a grenade and blow his head off. See the difference, the Australian would duck under sea, throw the grenade and swim under the sea and try and get away. The Japs didn’t want to be captured so they blow their heads off, they are different people. They’re not frightened of dying.
What was your view of the Japanese as a soldier?
Good, good soldier. It depends on which group you met. Now some Australian soldiers were good and some were not so hot
but we were a tough frontline infantry, we were battle trained and battle hardened, we could take it. Other chaps who were not so good, didn’t take it so well. And so the Japanese were no different to us. They had some marine groups the Japanese, they dressed a bit like Americans, and they were tough troops, bluish-grey uniforms of an American soldier. And they were tough troops, just as tough as anybody. They didn’t retreat or surrender. They were good fighters, they’d kill every one.
They wouldn’t give in. They wouldn’t lay down arms. Others, brown uniform ones, weren’t as good. Same as Australians, frontline infantry you wouldn’t match the frontline infantry in Australian supply troops, they wouldn’t last five minutes. That is the way of the world.
So what were the short-comings of the brown-uniformed Japanese?
Not as resourceful and more likely to retreat. In other words,
they didn’t mind being killed if you know what I mean, but they are not as tough. But we were fairly tough frontline troops, we didn’t sort of chicken out too much. We’d have wounded but we’d keep on going.
What was your attitude to the taking Japanese prisoners?
We didn’t bother taking them. We’d kill them all. You know why? They’d do the same to us. If they killed some of our chaps, we had these big kangaroo boots,
and they’d take our boots. If we saw a Japanese with Australian boots on, we’d all kill him. No charity with the Australian. They didn’t take prisoners, so we said if you don’t take prisoners neither will we. You can’t threaten an Australian troop, frontline troops. You play the game, the Germans and Italians put their hands up and we’d bring them in. And they’d do the same to us. But not the Japanese. He had to die. If I told you some of their gruesome deeds. Oh God I don’t know if I want to tell you.
well we were attacking them on the way to Lae and they knew we didn’t take prisoners and we knew they didn’t take prisoners and the chaps moved in on them, about 30 of them and their officers were behind them and if they tried to retreat he’d slash at them with a sword at the back, we could see him. So you know what the Japanese did, they would pull out a grenade and blow their heads off, their hearts out and their guts out.
And do you think Australians would do that? They said we’ll take as many of these buggers out before we’re dead. But they wouldn’t surrender and they blew their heads off and hearts out.
So you’re basically talking about Japanese soldiers doing it to other Japanese soldiers or to themselves.
No to themselves, they did it themselves, they did it themselves. Our chaps were going to kill them but they did it themselves. I only saw it once
but I remember the Japanese officer slashing with a sword so they wouldn’t retreat.
Did you feel sympathy for Japanese ?
Not the infantry no. I felt sympathy for some of the garrison troops because they weren’t frontline soldiers and they weren’t a match for us, they just weren’t a match for us. But they didn’t surrender, you had to kill them all. They just don’t surrender. What were you supposed to do? You may as well be killed
by one of them.
So what was it that made you feel sympathy?
Well they were fighting for their country. And we were fighting for ours too. They were only doing what we were doing. As a matter of fact, the word sympathy, because I felt they were brave soldiers, I had no problems going to Japan after the war. Went there three times. I worked with a Dr. Kabiashi who was the obstetrician and gynecologist for the Emperor. I worked with a Sakimoto,
who was the obstetrician to the present Empress of Japan when she married and they were good men, good surgeons, good doctors, good colleagues. They showed me a lot of things when I was there. In fact Kabiashi when he came to Sydney, he came to my operations when I was operating. So I felt that if we were to be accepted to fight
for our country, that’s all that they were doing. They were doing what they were told. And they were just as tough as their own men, this officer was slashing with a sword behind them.
So the Japanese soldiers trying to escape were being slashed with the sword…
No they weren’t trying to escape, they were retreating
They were retreating and the Japanese….
No they weren’t running away, weren’t running away, they were just retreating a bit, but he didn’t want them to retreat.
So he was slashing their backs were they fatal wounds?
but enough to hurt.
Enough to make them stand their ground.
And make them bleed too. I saw their bodies. The slashes weren’t mortal wounds but nobody, you wouldn’t like to be slashed in the back with a sword would you? No chance. But that’s what I mean people don’t understand. Japanese fight Japanese way,
we fight western way, they fight eastern way. I wasn’t in Korea, but the chaps will tell you, the Japanese, the Koreans used to make a big noise when they were coming to attack. They seemed to think that that frightened the opposition. Didn’t frighten us, we’d put the mortars into them and then they’d been screaming and we’d laugh our heads off. But the Japanese did it and the chaps tell me that the Koreans did it in Korea.
Did the Japanese make much of a noise at night?
They didn’t. Well I have spoken to a commando who said that he used to hear Japanese troops’ dogs barking, he used to hear the Japanese play music at night.
Oh yes yes I heard them play music I didn’t know what you meant but they’d often…. it’d gee them up for attack.
So you’d know exactly where they were.
Yeah, stupid. But they play the eastern war. In other words they felt that might frighten us, because apparently it boost them up their ego
this noise of what they are doing. Do you think that that worried the Australian? You’re kidding yourself. It didn’t bother us. We loved to hear them swimming and we would put the mortars into the middle of them and they would scream and laugh our heads off at them. But in the jungle, there is no road noise, you can hear each other a fair way away. When you fire a mortar in the jungle we could hear it plop in the tube. So which way do I get him in the water? Do I get that side of that truck, that tree, or this side or that side or here.
You just got to take your chances.
So just to reiterate, the Australian soldiers would fire a mortar at the Japanese and then when they saw the impact, they would laugh?
The Australians would, yeah.
They would laugh at the impact on the Japanese.
Yeah because we’d hear them their screaming and playing their noise and trumpeting and so on and then we would put the mortar into them and they would scream because they have been injured and them we’d laugh at them. Why wouldn’t we? These silly crumbs, they thought they were frightening us.
They didn’t frighten us, they gave us a target to aim at. It’s funny you know. But I saw some brave things from the Japanese. I remember a place called Katika, in New Guinea, it’s a little village near Finschaffen and when we took it the Japanese were trying to reach, they had more men
than we did but we were very good because we got on shore. We had wounded and dead, but they retreated. And then when they found out there was more of them than of us, the started to attack us again and it was just at a little village called Katika, K A T I K A. Well what happened is when you’re against the Japanese you watch like hawks because they do a lot of things in the middle of the night and the chaps were looking
down the track chap said “What’s that I can see down there, a rounded hole that I didn’t see there last night.” ‘Cause when you’re life’s on the line you’re very careful and I said “Oh don’t be so bloody stupid” you know. No he said it wasn’t there before. Do you know what it was? The opening of a artillery piece, the barrel of an artillery, the opening of the barrel of an artillery piece. So he was one of a Vickers with a gun he was watching it and suddenly he saw
the gun crew walking across to get to it. Vickers said he couldn’t miss them and wiped them all out. Guess what happened, next gun crew went over the top, they got three gun crews and knocked them all out. They all went over the top of the dead bodies to get to the guns.
These are Japanese in every case.
Yes, they not frightened. But they weren’t smart. He got them because he had eternal vigilance
to check everything otherwise, we’d have all been dead. See it’s a very interesting thing. It takes a lot to disturb people like me now.
Did you ever have to use a weapon?
Yes, yes I was sometimes on a sniper post and sometimes I would if they were coming in and it would all depend on if they were coming,
I’d have my own gun. But I didn’t go out on attacks. That’s if they were attacking us. I didn’t go out on a patrol, you see you never sent the doctor out what is called a fighting patrol because if he gets killed a whole group is without a doctor. That’s bad news. See the commanding officer wouldn’t let you go.
So you were there in a defensive position?
That’s right yeah.
Did you ever have to fire a shot…
Certainly yes, if there were
if they were attacking, and people were getting wounded, I sometimes had to stand up and fight.
Can you recall for us any particular occasion?
In Finschaffen very tough spot, Finschaffen, the Japs., they were attacking us they came from behind us, they came from that flank they came from here and came from there. We were being attacked from four sides, so everybody
had to go down. I remember one time the casualty clearing station was over run, was being over run, and there was a lot of men in the casualty clearing station who were wounded, stretcher cases, in bed, gut wounds, head wounds, broken legs, bullets in their legs and they were on the stretchers and I couldn’t possibly let these chaps be attacked in their beds and die. So I got some stretcher bearers, I got my machine-gun and I went out.
And I got some of these fellows and I came on dead ground down to the beach. I’m going on along, a lot of fire, gun fire going on over our heads because I came on dead ground, I’m obviously an experienced soldier. If I walked on the top, we would have all been wiped out you don’t see people in the jungle, the bullets travel a long way and a chap said, oh quick sir I’ve been hit, I look around and I’m about here from Rebecca to me, had a bullet sticking out the middle of his chin and I pull it out,
loose teeth, bleed. I said keep the bloody thing as a souvenir and lets keep moving. By then I fired bursts of machine gun in the direction of where the bullet had come from.
And did you see the consequences of the firing of the machine gun?
Oh we got out, we got out otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
You’ve used a term a moment ago you were moving along did you say ‘dead ground’?
Yes we were trying to get down the beach to put him on a barge to get out of the battle zone.
Can you describe what ‘dead ground’ actually is?
‘Dead ground’ is that would be ‘dead ground’ from that see, the bullets are going down from that and going over the top of head. The bullet you hear is never going to kill you, it’s gone past you. The bullet that is going to hit you, you never hear it, smacks into you, sounds after it’s past you.
So in other words, you were walking along a covered position?
Not covered, but below the level of the the area where
the bullets were coming. That’s called ‘dead ground’. See you’ll never go along a top of a rise, ‘cause then they’ll see you from anywhere. When you are in enemy territory, they are looking for you, you’re looking for them and they’re looking for you. So you go down under the lee of the hill, see.
I’ve spoken to other people including nurses who said that they felt that it was their job to treat the sick and injured particularly the injured after the battle no matter what nationality they were…
Oh I would agree with all that. I would do that. I mean if I had some Japanese who came to me and they were wounded, I wouldn’t shoot them. And if someone mentioned it, I’d have a few well chosen words to them and shut them up. I’d get them back.
So what was your actual response while you were firing your gun and…
No, they expected that I’ll kill you or be killed. One Japanese prisoner we did take because we wanted to get information about what they were doing, and this fellow said to me, through an interpreter, we had a lot of American-Japanese who spoke perfect Japanese and he said, your King no good. And I said, I beg your pardon, how would you know that. And he spoke to them, to the American interpreter, and he said well you do this, you surrender.
We die for our Emperor. You see, so being killed didn’t bother them too much. They were prepared to die for the Emperor.
Sorry… you were sufficiently aware of this not to have any remorse about killing them…
No not at all no. I’ll tell you why, one day we took a little village on the way to Lae and we walked in, in this village that we have taken and there was a lot of dead Japs lying around on the ground and one of my men about from about here to where Rebecca is came to the front of the hut
and kicked the door in of this hut and there was a silhouette up against the light behind him you couldn’t miss him, if you were other side of that light you couldn’t miss him could you and this Jap was hiding in the shadows and he shot him, dropped dead from here to Rebecca away from me. And what do you think we did? We all killed him we put a pot of oil on him and he came out on fire and we all hosed him down. What do you expect me to do? Hold his hand? He didn’t speak English
I didn’t speak Japanese. How can I talk to him? How did you expect me to talk to him? The do-gooders are our pet-aversion they’d wet themselves if someone came at them with a gun or a sword. Do you expect them to win a battle? Don’t be stupid, rubbish.
Now you’ve spoken in fairly strong terms about people who probably went to water before a battle or who were so…
On not many, not many only a few,
but my job was to keep up the spirit of a battalion. I’ll tell you what, one doctor from another battalion lost his nerve, he had a lot of wounded and killed and he was certainly in a difficult position and said that because he had a lot of men who were nervous like that, they had to get rid of him ‘cause his nerves went. And I was sent out there. Won’t tell you where it was, which battalion ‘cause I don’t want it to get back to the man concerned. He’s still alive.
And when I got out there I said I’m Captain McInerney for the 43rd Battalion, now I’ll send you out if you’re dead or badly wounded or very sick otherwise you’ll stay here and I’ll stay here with you. That’s where I had the tin hat knocked off my head and my bedroll. But I stopped like that.
So you stayed with him?
Of course, what did you think I’d run away, not a chance. And I stopped him being sent out.
What sort of condition was he in, I mean, can you be a little bit more specific?
Nervous, nervous and frightened of being killed and so on like that. Who wasn’t frightened of being killed, you think I didn’t say I wasn’t frightened of being killed, of course I did. If you say you weren’t frightened you were a bloody liar you were never there.
So you stayed with this man how did you calm him down?
No the battalion…
Oh the battalion. So what happened to the doctor himself?
Oh he was sent out, cashed out of the army.
Did his attitude affect the morale of the men?
Course it did, course it, ‘cause he sent them all out so they had to get rid of him. He lost control of them. I stopped it like that.
Did you stand up and give the men a pep talk?
What did you say?
I said, gentlemen, your doctor has gone and too many appear to have been sent out with nerves in the service and I was sent from the 43rd and I am not going to send you out unless you are dead or badly wounded, or very sick otherwise you’ll stay here and I’ll stay with you,
whatever happens. And it stopped.
Were there any men who were already too far gone and had to be sent out as a result?
I didn’t send any out no. ‘Cause this chap had practically destroyed the battalion. He sent out tens and twenties. You can’t keep a battalion fighting doing that. And what you people don’t realise those chaps get a pension for the rest of their bloody lives, I don’t want these bums to get
pensions for the rest of their lives while brave men are staying fighting and getting killed. Do you want me to do that? I wouldn’t do it.
Surely there were men so affected by exposure to battle that they were rattled…
Yeah well sometimes I made them LOB, left out of battle. I did officers and men, LOB it’s called, left out of battle, one of them was a Victoria Cross winner. Course they do everyone has a breaking point.
I don’t want you to think that I was ruthless, unfeeling fellow, ‘cause I’m not. But people watching, look they are watching others like hawks and if I let them go, one or two like that, the other chaps say I’ll be the same as that and they’d come up to you. And so you have to put a line on the ground and say that’s it.
Did you see any examples after the war of men that had been affected by their war service?
No not so many. No so many in my battalion. I can tell you one funny story. One of my men was an ex-jockey, I won’t tell you where he came from, ‘cause I wouldn’t want it to get back to him and he was going around acting rather peculiarly,
and for example, he went into the commanding officers tent and he would hit him on the shoulder and go you’re doing a damn good job, goodbye sir. And away he’d go and eventually, one of the chaps, the padre came and told me about this fellow. I said Father, go and tell this chappy that he is going about it the wrong way. A chap who thinks he is going mad thinks you’re going mad, he’s very smart. He’s going about it the wrong way, so
that night we were asleep on the ground fully dressed, our guns beside us, ground sheet to stop the rain and to go in a ditch in there to give us hot water could boil up the water in the morning for our porridge, complete with dirt, mud and everything. We got used to the dirt. New Guinea dirt wasn’t too bad. But anyhow I’m lying there three quarters awake and one quarter asleep,
I put some leaves down to sleep in the mud, you know, palm fronds and things like that and suddenly I heard… it was a bit off the main track and I heard this noise coming towards me and I was just about to get up and I thought these bloody leaves will creak and he’ll hear me and the Japs there and he doesn’t know I’m in there, and suddenly it stopped and I didn’t move
then the steps went further away from me and I though now I can get up. I had my machine gun beside me and then the steps started to come back towards me and then I heard a rifle bolt click, one putting the strut and the butt went in again and I thought bugger this, I can’t stand this, so I went up, and I grabbed my gun and went out and there was this chap, who was
fixed bayonet and rifle up the strut walking, doing patrol. He said I’m just giving you protection for the night sir. And so I got rid of him, because he had an alibi he was going nuts, he could have shot me and got away with it, so I got rid of him. What would you have done?
That’s a very difficult question.
Surely, that’s what I’m telling you. Well I got rid of him. And he went back to where he came from and riding, riding in races within three weeks of getting home.
Look the whole concept of ‘left out of battle’, could you explain a little bit more about…
Yes indeed. When you go into battle, you don’t want all your battalion to be wiped out so you might leave a hundred of them from key positions in your battalion LOB, left out of battle, so if you do have responsible people killed then you have a nucleus of leaders to come and keep the battalion going, that’s what it means. Now if I found a chap had done an awful lot of combat
and was a bit tired, I would suggest to the commanding officer to put him LOB.
So you as the doctor go to whom?
The commanding officer. Yeah I wouldn’t tell the chap. Didn’t want anybody to think here is a Victoria Cross winner who has lost his nerve. I’d put him out and it kept his confidence going. See, a bit of a rest, he came back good again.
Can we talk about the conditions of living in the jungle?
Well firstly, you never took your clothes off. In enemy territory, everyone is your enemy. And you had to be alert all the time and take nothing for granted. Any little jungle had an enemy sequestered there as far as you were concerned. The more cautious you were the more aware you were the more likely you were to save your life. And you slept in the jungle and with these big boots
we could go through the slops pretty well. The ordinary boots were no good, so we had big boots, we had metal cleats put on so we wouldn’t slip underneath them. And the Japs loved our boots. They had canvas boots with a split toe, they were no good they used to rot off their feet. And you see we had these, and we never went by ourselves, if you know what I mean.
You always had people with you, by yourself you’re gone, you got no protection, you disappeared off the track and so we had a very great sense of belonging to each other.
Was there a lot of non-verbal communication?
By signs yes oh yes yes. But if were going into enemy territory, we had a good talk about what we intended to do before we got there so we weren’t shouting at each other. We always took our pips off our shoulders because the Japs always tried to shoot it off.
And we were weren’t gesticulating all the time ‘cause that lets them know you are an officer you were in command, so we tended to take all our pips off before we’d go into action.
Talking more about jungle conditions, was it constantly hot and oppressive?
No not always no. Sometimes it was worse, sometimes it was wet and sweaty. We had to put headbands around here because the hot sweat would salt into your eyes and you’d get red sore
eyes, see and often we’d have a big white mark under here, we’d sweat in the arm pits carrying things.
What about conditions like tinea?
Common, common. And a lot of the chaps, as I told you before, going across the rivers near the sea, you’d get a lot of coral grit in there and it would chafe your groin ‘cause you are under water half the time and they’d get tinea there or they’d get what I’d call a
a moist rash from the abrasion of the salt and the coral in your groin since it was sweaty. And they called it impetigo put different names on it and we used to put, we used to call it rainbow dermatitis because they put various paints on it, brilliant green, gentian violet, or whitfields, other things and often
the groin would have other colours showing through it so we used to call it rainbow dermatitis. So if you kept on putting another chemical on it you make would make it flare because you’d treated it and cured the original condition but now you’ve given it a chemical so you have a chemical on top of chemical. So you had to stop that. So many times if you got them to wash their clothes and get them to go around with nothing on for a bit and put an ointment on like sorbelene cream or something like that,
they’d get better. That’s why they had to have dry clothes, in wet clothes they would never heal. Sometimes I had to send them out, the poor buggers couldn’t march, couldn’t march.
How prevalent was malaria?
Not so common after a while because we we had mosquito repellant on the hair and face, we took Atebrin everyday and malaria was supposed to be a
self-inflicted if you got it, but occasionally if there was rain that washed off the mosquito repellant lotion and the poor guys sweating three hours at night time on duty, would get bitten by mosquitoes. So it is not always as easy as you think. Theoretical stuff is good but it is not always as practical as you think. When we went to Milne Bay they made us the first two nights, we’d go along with gloves on and meshing all over our
faces and shoulders and they were passing out like droves and I had to go and say that was nonsense, they can’t do that. So we I made them get rid of the gloves and the masks, ‘cause in the heat and sweat it was too oppressive and they were passing out. And they can’t fight if they are like that. If someone came on them they were so half-mulled up they couldn’t fight.
So each soldier had a supply of Atebrin and they were expected to take one tablet everyday?
Yep, everyday, one a day yeah.
They often tried to do it section by section to see that they all took it.
So it wasn’t very common? What about other things like black wattle fever?
That’s only if you get a malignant malaria. That’s not common, not common. You see we talk about, I’m talking only about infantry, but you’re talking about troops in New Guinea, well there are a lot, for every soldier, frontline soldiers there are thirteen other men
keeping him there, they are the ones that got them.
The support people were the ones that were getting…
Yes you had signallers, you had quartermasters, you had transport, you had all these other people getting the troops up to the frontline. And supplying them with ammunition, supplying them with guns, clothes to take over what had been rotted off their bones, see. It takes thirteen men in the Second World War to
keep one man in the frontline.
You spoke about severe conditions at Finschaffen can you be more a little bit specific about that?
Well yes because you see, we landed and the Japanese retreated but after a while we went from Finschaffen up inland to Jivevening and from Jivevening up to Sattleburg. Well the Japanese suddenly and we went up the coast towards Sador and the
Japanese and we tried to go up between Sador and Warrio and the Japanese found that there were more of them than of us and they started to counter-attack us. And we were about 10,000 out in enemy territory and we killed some Japs out on patrol and one had a map that showing how they were going to come in behind us. So we had to up and work all in the middle of one night to get back to the position, original position
at Finschaffen where they were coming in and sure enough we heard the blighters coming down and then they were coming down from in land on the river and this side of it and there was a free-for-all and every man for himself, and the ambulance casualty place was overrun and pretty tough show. You couldn’t surrender
but you had to fight. And the Australian infantry soldier is a pretty tough rooster, he’s a… he can accommodate, he felt we’ll give him hell, they can come in but we’ll be ready for them.
When you say pretty tough show can you walk us through what actually happened there?
Yeah well see they came in. Firstly the people came down from the coast we knew they were coming ‘cause it was a marked map and the chaps
were facing out on the coast there on the point there, you say that’s Finschaffen there, that’s the point there and they came round there they were coming in there. Now we had the troops facing out facing straight at them. They thought they’d be going to surprise us and come in behind us, muffled motors and everything. But we were ready for them. We had them here. And of course they had four barges, 30 men in each barge, 120 men commandos they were, tough tough guys and
we let them come in, and then down into the ramps and into the machine guns, give ‘em hell. And a lot of them couldn’t get away, they were dead. But one group got away, they landed over here but we were waiting for them there and we wiped them out to a man, the whole 120 of them, wiped them out to a man. And they came down to land at the same time, came down to land same time, that’s where we put the ack ack guns down on the ground and gave them hell.
We got rid of them and they weren’t able to take us anymore. We killed an awful lot of them.
Sounds like a very decisive battle?
Oh it was very decisive, Finschaffen, don’t you worry. There’s no charity.
No. Can you recall how many fatalities there were amongst the Japanese?
Well the chaps told me they thought about 640, dead. I don’t know how many other wounded. Like all other battlefields, they
tried to take their wounded away with them. They did and we did.
So just to be more a little bit more specific about what happened, the bulk of the Japanese were coming in on landing barges?
No I said 120. 120. 4 barges of 30 men, not the bulk. See the one group coming here behind us, another group coming here, another group coming there, another group coming there. That’s four groups, there would have been well over a thousand Japs coming at us, but we had about 600 men. But
we were dug in, we knew they were coming and we were ready for them. And 600 dug in is better than a thousand in open sites. ‘Cause we knocked out 120 out and that comes down to 900. And we were dug in and had our artillery going straight down the middle of them and they didn’t have it, they didn’t think we had anything. So they took risks. And they were wrong, and they paid with their lives. But a lot of them got out again, you know had retreats but they weren’t an effective force to come back at us anymore after that.
That was a feisty battle around there.
Did you believe at that time that the Japanese intended to invade Australia?
No. But I did before I went up there because of the fact that they got a fleet a naval force plus a carrier right at the Coral Sea and they were only 35 miles from Port Moresby. So we certainly, certainly were. They were bombing the hell out of Darwin, they were coming
at us like that. So yes we thought they could. If that group had come down the Coral Sea, some could have could have come behind our backs and the others could have come into Queensland, so we thought so, yes. But not once when we got amongst them, we didn’t think so. I’ll tell you why. The Japanese landed at Port Moresby at Milne Bay, we counter-attacked against them and drove them out and they had to retreat and lead all their troops out of Moresby out of of Milne Bay. Then we went up to Gona and Buna, we got them out of there. Then went to Lae and got them out of there. Then out of Finschaffen, out of Sador and out of Sattleburg. So they couldn’t come back at us, we’re too strong for them. And we felt that the war was over from then in New Guinea, they never came back anymore.
And yet they themselves obviously were prepared to follow orders and keep on going to the end.
Oh yeah, my word. And we were told you know, they don’t take prisoners and you tell that to an Australian he’ll say, well neither will we. It makes you fight very hard, very hard. I don’t look like that, but I tell you the chaps did they followed it that the nth degree, I tell you and they didn’t take prisoners, because it didn’t work. That’s in New Guinea I’m not in Borneo yet.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 04
In the time between the start of the European war and the start of the Pacific War was there a false sense of security within Australia itself?
No because you see with the going towards the Pacific, firstly it went to Burma and General Slim’s, [Field Marshall Sir William Slim] 14th
British Army went into Burma and the British government tried to get the Australians to join that force. To capture Burma get the Japs out of there, let them take Australia and then get them out of there. The Australians didn’t have the foresense to say forget it we’re not going we are going to look after Australia. So the 7th division came back from the Middle East and went up with the 6th division went up to New Guinea. So we didn’t have the forsense.
Just looking at a key newsreel such as the Kokoda Frontline where Damian Parer is saying to the Australian public don’t be lulled into a false sense of security…
Well we probably we weren’t, the soldiers weren’t. What the public did I’m buggered if I know but I wasn’t there, I was in the front. I don’t know what they did, I didn’t read the papers ‘cause I wasn’t there. All I know was that Damian Parer’s widow was over here at this place at one stage and
the media are responsible for a lot of the troubles in Australia or in any country . They you should have listened trying to run the Iraq War. You know it was pathetic listening to them. Pronouncing little girls, doing the interviews why did you do this. You know it’s sheer nonsense, it’s bloody stupid, with all due respect. You know it was so wrong it wasn’t funny.
What was your view of the media’s coverage of World War II that you actually saw at the time?
Well I was at the front all the time, I didn’t see it.
Did you have any thoughts about what was going on at home in Australia?
No because I was in Sydney at the time the Japanese submarines bombed Sydney and and it was proven that the Australian defences were pretty good you know and that the Australian troops would never lie down to anybody and neither would the navy, neither would the airforce. And so I……
that photo of me, I sent it to my mother, I posed for that deliberately, I said listen, don’t you worry the Japs will never take Australia, Billy the Kid will turn them back. And I forgot I did it until I had my operation and my wife’s in a nursing home and my sister’s brother sold my house in Castlecrag and they went through all the pollution and they found the photo. I had forgotten all about it. But we weren’t worried about the Japanese. We were when they were in the Coral Sea.
Were you exchanging letters with relatives at home?
Not so much only my family. But you see a soldier, a frontline soldier would run the risk of being killed, we had a lot of killed and wounded, but telling his mother and you know why? Because she is a woman and she’ll worry herself sick that her son is going to get killed. So we wouldn’t do that to her. I’d laugh and joke, I’d tell corny jokes, like Billy the Kid you see. I wouldn’t ever tell my mother. I’d never tell my mother than I had my tin hat blown off my head and would never bring that tin hat back.
Clearly if you needed to reassure you mother, clearly your mother was worried what would happen to Australia if the Japanese invaded?
I don’t know I wasn’t here.
But you felt the needed to reassure her?
Oh all the time. Boys do that to their mother, you see because they know women are women and women worry about everything. They worry about anything, they more worrier than men. And if you get a man like this, I told Rebecca, she’d say it was a bloody old woman,
So in the letters you were receiving from home did you have much a sense of the mood of the war as it was being experienced at home?
It’s hard to say because I was so far away from everything that my mother I don’t think would have tried to worry me. You know she’d say, poor bugger, he’s got enough to worry about what he’s doing now, I don’t think they’d worry you too much. My mother is a very stable lady and she and while she was worried about her son
she would do everything for him and my mother knew I was not a terribly worrying kind of a fellow. She knew I wasn’t like that ever. A mother knows her children.
Yeah. You used a term sucking wounds can you be more specific about what that means?
Yes. When you have your lungs are covered see, and if you get a wound in it
and the air runs into your chest instead of through your mouth and your lung collapses, that’s called a sucking wound. Every time you take a breath, a lot of air goes into your lung, into your lungs and some go into the hole ‘cause you have a hole in a lung and the air runs out of your lung and into the pleural cavity that’s called a sucking wound.
How would you treat a sucking wound?
Well firstly, I was kneeling on the deck of this gun boat and I’m looking at it and bleeders in the lung, I put clamps on it,
tie them off and then I put a tube in the lung, an infant feeding tube and pull it out and then I’d stitch that rib there to this one, about five or six depending how big the wound was, and have we got them all in and I tied them one after an other and them put a big pad over it. Now if I had been in Sydney I have been able to put in a water bottle so that it would have negative pressure from the water holding it
but I didn’t have it from there, I had to put a pad over it.
You just mentioned a gun boat…
American gun goat
Aboard an American gun boat, what was actually happening there?
Well see, we were going out, we had this American gun boat, it had twin 50 machine guns there, twin 50 there, twin 50 there, twin 50 there with two gunners of each. That’s two, four, six, eight - eight 50 calibre machine guns, that would cut you in two a 50 calibre bullet. Ours were only .303, 50 is point 50.
big bullet and it would knock you backwards, if you were going forwards, it would knock you backwards. The power of the bullet and the power of the weight of the missile hitting you, you’d go back wards. Now they would have aside, this gun boat was a big barge, flat topped barge with these four eight 50 calibre machine guns and two gunners on each, they we were on its right hand side 60 heavily armed men, we were doing the attack on the town of
Beaufort, we had other troops on the land and others coming down here and combined attack so they couldn’t, he couldn’t put out all his defences on the one spot. But as we came around, the Japs are not fools, and they had machine guns on that side of the bank knocked these, our fellas were knocked to the back and they had machine guns on that side and knocked these fellas to the back and in two seconds flat with a couple of bursts of machine gun from the bank, they’d wiped out the eight gunners. So we couldn’t do the attack
‘cause there was no no covering fire. Now of course, being a doctor, my job was to…. I looked over the side of the gunboat although I had to be careful not to have my head blown off, because they were hitting the side of my barge, but that’s my job. Can’t be worrying about being killed not your job, there were wounded and I hopped on the deck gunboat, my own barge came alongside, I asked them to and I jumped on the deck of the gunboat. Now the Japs saw me and they tried
to wipe me off the deck of the gunboat, they hit the Americans, but I was low down. I wasn’t sitting in a cage behind the guns. I was on the deck. They were on the deck and they were going over my head and my men fired at them from this barge here and knocked and made them, I don’t know if they wounded any but they made them get sick of being shot at like that so they retreated. And the barge came round the corner, went back and I was sitting on the deck of
the gunboat sewing them up.
How many patients did you have?
Three. I had eight patients but only three sucking chests. I had to sew a big hole in their lung. And the chest wall had a big hole and the lungs collapse, instead of a filling the space, a hole comes in if you had a balloon you put a hole in it… and well a lung does the same.
What’s running through your mind when you have to deal with an emergency situation like that?
You have a job to do so do it, don’t get sorry for yourself, you’ve got to do it,
save the chap’s life and do it.
What about fear for your own safety?
I didn’t have fear. I don’t get fear. A job had to done, I was the doctor and my job was to do it.
What about strategies about staying alive I mean obviously…
Well I had to rely on my men and they saved my life. I relied on my men.
How were they actually saving your life again. They were providing cover and…
They kept up the gunfire against the Japs who were firing at me and they kept the gunfire, made them put their heads down.
See these Japs were there and there and these gunmen, we had 60 heavily armed men, and they were firing at the Japs there, they could see flash of their of guns and they wounded some, killed some and made the others give up and my barge turned around and got out of the road.
Do you remember the name of the gunboat?
No no I don’t. As a matter of fact between you and I, I’ve written to the American State Department trying to find out what happened to the men but I couldn’t stop, we had to go on
and do the attacking you see.
Can you remember when approximately this was?
Yes it was about… peace was declared about 21st August 1945, I suppose it was about 3 months before that.
It sounds like a remarkable action?
It was a bit hairy but still that was the job you had to do.
Would that have been the hairiest situation you found yourself in?
No I think it was when the doctor lost his nerve and went away. That one I wasn’t hit, the one in the other one the tin hat was shot off my head, my bedroll was perforated. I could have been killed by that by that or this one.
That near injury was followed by the doctor losing his nerve and being sent away…
That was in 1943.
That was in 1943, what was the location?
A place called Pabu on the coast of the inland from Lae. Have you ever heard of a family called the O’Reardons?
Erins sounds like a German name?
Well it’s not, O’Reardon it’s an Irish name.
Yes O’Reardon. See we were going out
in enemy territory and it was my job to get this other doctor, get him out of the road and take over, ‘cause I was sent there, I had malaria and wasn’t terribly well, but pretty obstinate fellow I am, when I have to do a job. I’m not obstinate arguing with you two. But I had to go and it was bloody hard getting through it, I had a high temperature. But he was being sent out ‘cause he was no good and
I wasn’t going to get out because I couldn’t get there. I was going to go whatever happened to me and we were going along in enemy territory and we came to a Y track, see like that, copped some jungle air, track this way, track that way, there was a target over there, we split and that group went that way, wiped down to a man by an ambush
the group I was in, nothing happened to us see and he was buried, he was dead and had to go, we came back later on and I had to bury him.
O’Reardon. John O’Reardon
Now who was John O’reardon?
He was a friend of mine
And he was in the first group.
He went in the left hand group, I went in the right hand limb of the Y and that group was wiped down to a man 14 – we went this side.
Was this the action that saw the bullets going through the bottles?
No, yeah but later on. I went, when we got to my target area it happened there.
Right. Could you tell us a bit more about that, you have spoken about the the impact of bullets going in but could you tell us more about the actions surrounding that action?
Yes. The Japanese they were on a hill you see on a hill, and we were in enemy territory we couldn’t resupply ourselves properly
‘cause the Japanese were half around us. We had a small truck and I got into it with the other 14 men. The other 14 were wiped down to a man so the Japs knew we were there, knew we were coming. And we were being resupplied by drops from Wirraways, dropping gear into us, guns, ammunition and food. And the Japs were attacking like mad. Artillery see, if you fire at a hill and you hit the trees with artillery, it
cascades the shrapnel down on you. It’s very hard to depend yourself from them from the point of casualties, but we had to do it. And that’s when it happened. They were shelling the hell out of us but we had dirt and we put, we cut down logs and trees put the log over the top, and over the top of that and tried to stop the shrapnel coming through at us. Listen when you have to save your life man you
think of all sorts of things make no bones about it.
So you created your own instant fortifications, took shelter and it was at that point that you got shot?
That’s right yeah. That’s right
When you were taking shelter.
Yeah but I was walking moving around wounded and dead, I wasn’t hiding in my hole. A doctor can’t do that, he has to do his job.
Were there a lot of wounded and dead?
Yeah, a lot. I was near one tree and they were shelling the hell out of it and I looked across and one of my men, about from here to the wall of my room from me, I suppose 30 feet and I saw him hit and he was standing up and he wobbled backwards and I looked at his arm and his shirt jacket was completely opened there and I ‘m looking right at his insides and then
he was still standing and I suppose from here to there, it took me 3 seconds I got across and he wasn’t bleeding much ‘cause a hot shell or shrapnel often cauterises the wound a lot of the time you have a big blood vessel and his big blood vessels were damaged. So I went across and I put a big dirt yellow and laid him down and gave him one of my cups of tea. Then I kept on going
that’s how my tin hat blew off me, I was going from spot to spot. You don’t forget things like that you know. Because I was busy, busy. I remember we had eventually we had a lot of casualties and we were getting some reinforcements and one chap I’ll never forget him, poor little fellow, he came in, he had an gob American naval gob-cap on, brush little chap, chewing gum
you know and we put him in the frontline which was 10 yards from where I was, the frontline was on top of a hill see there’s the frontline there, there there there and I was in the middle of it and hills are not so very wide and this poor fellow put at the frontline, looked over the top and there was a dead Jap you know with a rifle and fixed bayonet, and blown up because of the heat, look like a giant, he was about 10 feet from the parapet,
the poor little fellow looked over and there was a Jap 10 feet from him, dead and of course he ran out screaming from the frontline and guess what I did, sent him home, too immature at 17 for that kind of business. I’m a real old sweat at 23, he’s far too immature at 17 for that, see and I put a covering note to protect him, look after his psyche and everything like that. Not all hard. I can be soft at one thing if you like.
You’re obviously fairly good at being able to detect the kind of men that could take the pressure.
I was good at it, I was good at it. Same as footballers too, I was good at it.
What kind of man could take the pressure?
A man who has a lot of confidence in himself as a person could take it. Those who were terribly highly strung and self-centred had trouble. See if we had a chap like that, either a footballer or a soldier he’s vulnerable.
Women too. If you had a woman like that, having a baby she is very vulnerable ‘cause she’s so tense she’ll go to everything to try and make the labour better. She never had a baby before but she…. you don’t know, people get at her and when they know a woman’s pregnant, the girls come out of the woodwork to help her. And the girl who’s had one baby before her becomes the world authority to advise his and what she does is make the girl listen to what she went through.
That’s not advice. That’s dumb.
Obviously this self-assurance would come with a you know, we are obviously looking at fairly fit people we are not dealing with…
Oh you have to be fit but it’s in the basic nature of the person. I have a brother who is a lovely fellow, better than I am, but he can’t drive through the ruddy city. I had my heart operation and
I’m over it, I’m getting around and had to see the doctor for a post-operative visit and he was game to take me through the city, and he’s my brother. See my other brother who had been a bomber navigator in the Middle East, he took me, but the other younger brother wasn’t going to drive through the city. See what I mean, people they are the same flesh and blood but he’s not as tough as I am. And I can’t say anything
to him I tried it one day, he said don’t you bring that up any more. He produced a defensive reflex about himself, I’ve seen women do it, I’ve seen men do it, one of them my own brother. And don’t you think I am criticising women unless you say I am criticising my brother. I’m not criticising anyone, nature is nature. You can’t change their nature, they can’t change it either.
Moving back to the equipment you had to work with in the jungle, you referred to giving someone a cup of tea, now how did that come about?
now for example when you walked in, see, you were getting ready and I said would you like a cup of tea and you said no no, see because it’s a social thing, they like it. Now if you take a chap who has been wounded, and he doesn’t have a gut wound, and you give him a cup of tea, he feels it a life. The caffeine gives him a bit of a lift.
But you were rushing around treating people, how do you have time to make tea?
Because I had stretcher bearers too
and we had little tins of jellied heat and we’d put it down, put a match on it and put the kettle on it might be his dixie, his own dixie out of his pocket or mine and put some water on it, put tea in it and put it in a cup or mug, we all had mugs as soldiers and I put the little plastic tube into his mouth. Take me one minute.
But we were accustomed to doing it see. It’s not as if you took half and hour to work it out, we done it so many times it delights us and the chap felt better, the heat and warmth of the tea, he felt better.
Tell us more about the medical kit that you carried with you on operations.
Well I had I had a few splints which I attached to the top of my pack. I had a…. what are those things that you heat up
you put them in you a forget what you call them, the heaters. You put spirits in them, turn them on and put a it’s got a top like a a I forget the name of the damn things, it’s so long since I used them…
You talking about a Primus?
Yes Primus, a primus stove, I always carried on of those in my bags, I carried some metho
and I put a dixie on top of that. Now the water, you’d use so much water, but I tell you what I did, it’s corny I know but the dixie the what do you call that we had on our back, the ground sheet or poncho, we’d get the rain over and at nighttime we’d knock over with a machete some branches of leaves and put those in, branches of trees. We’d dig that in the ground, we’d put a poncho over that slant it like that,
we’d sit on this side on the ground, keeps the rain off you and the mud and then we’d put our dixie on the corner and the rain would go into the dixie. We’d put our army biscuits, dog biscuits that were hard and in the morning there was the water for our porridge and then we would put on the top of that little primer thing and up we had our porridge. I tell you we improvised like mad.
In terms of other medical equipment
Other medical equipment. I’d have drugs
for diarrhoea, I’d have drugs for constipation. I’d have drugs for rashes and I had drugs for pain relief, codeine tablets, not sleeping tablets because they had to be alert at night, they couldn’t be half drugged. And I had big surgical dressing for a big template on a wound and then I had dressings,
3-inch dressings to put on a wound, a finger or arm and local anesthetic bottles, if I was going to repair something. If I had a fractured arm I’d put locals around his arm and put it under a local a good way to send him to a hospital, I’d send him to hospital eventually but I’d do that there and then and with the soldiers though the only things what you’ve got is what you can carry, they’d accept all those things otherwise they wouldn’t
do it at all they wanted the anaesthetic so I gave local anaesthetic.
What about bites in the jungle I mean what about bites such as spider bites, snake bites?
Well I’d put iodine on them, iodine.
But if someone had been severely bitten by a snake?
Well I’d put pressure dressings on them, pressure dressings on them, pressure dressings. You know and stop them moving, make them lie down, pressure dressings. But all my men were told they must not be rushed around bought
to me, put them on the ground, put a pressure dressing on them and leave them alone.
Sorry I just missed what you said a minute ago…
I said I would put a pressure dressing on it, tell my stretcher bearers not to rushing them along down down to me, I might be a mile or half a mile away because that would increase his blood pressure, his circulation and spread the poison all over his body. So you had to lie him down, put the pressure on and stop the absorption so if a little bit would go through only slowly, the body would accommodate it. Instead of getting than getting a big surge
of it see. The idea of cutting it out, that’s all nonsense. That’s only in novels you don’t do that. That’s stupid. See I am a professional and I don’t do dumb things like that.
Did you ever have the experience of Japanese aerial attacks and strafing?
Of course we did, plenty of them. I saw the Japanese pilot, I don’t know whether I told you, when we were landing at Red Beach, he was strafing us. I saw his face, he was about 20-feet above
I saw him coming down, the flash of fire from his gun but I was a bit to the side of him and he didn’t get me. And he was aiming at others as well. And as he went past I saw his face, couldn’t recognise it because he had a helmet on and what do you suppose we did? We were firing like hell at him.
That was of course…
Red Beach. Scarlet Beach at Lae
And I think it happened again and Labuan and Brunei, didn’t it?
Plenty of them there.
I showed Rebecca a photo of a big bomb crater where they bombed us. But I haven’t talked about Borneo so far
No you haven’t talked about Borneo so far, no. Just for how long were you in New Guinea. I just need to….
I suppose altogether a year and a half. Twice we were there
we were there twice . You can’t keep fighting straight for an hour for a year and a half, you run out of bodies. Resupply, you might get an infantry frontline fighting for 4 to 6 months maximum.
So for how long were you there on the first occasion?
I suppose 9 months some of it was training. See we went from Milne Bay to Buna
to Lae to Finschaffen to Jivevening to Sattleburg to Sador and so on like that. And I suppose about 6 months, but some of that was training see and then we the frontline came back home to refurbish to go back to Borneo.
So you came back to Australia for refurbishing. And can you tell where you came back to?
Yeah, I can tell it very well, I’ll tell what happened, I’ll never forget it. We went away 812
and came back 231, I showed Rebecca the list of casualties did I? I’ll show it to you after. And the ship was an American Liberty ship, we came in at the harbour at Townsville and any sucker could see us coming in, we docked into the Townsville Harbour at 10 past 12 and the wharf labours who were having their lunch wouldn’t put the gang plank up for us and we felt like jumping over and throwing them in the harbour
but they were on a nationwide strike. So the officer had to calm everybody down and we would have held them down too, bugger them, they wouldn’t put the gang plank up for us. We had to wait they were no more than 20 feet from us on the deck. Can you imagine how when a lot of my men had been killed and buried how we’d resent that? We’re fighting for these crumbs and they wouldn’t put the gang plank down for us. Two men, two minutes to put it up, ‘cause we would have over the top put it up there.
What do you think of that?
Your men put the gang plank up?
No, they wouldn’t let us.
So they eventually put the gang plank up themselves.
After they finished their lunch at 1 o’clock.. We said we’ll keep for three quarters of an hour. Do you think you would have been happy and placid about that?
No. So once you got off the ship did you say anything to these fellows?
No. Because of lot of you people don’t know the difference between unions in different countries. In
Australia you have a craft union, in other countries… trade or craft. In other countries you have what is know as a company union, now in a company union you might have Mitsubishi or Toyota or Honda and they have storemen and packers, they have accountants, clerks, you name it all kinds of things. That is called a company union. So 12 storemen and packers can’t send the whole storemen and packers in New Z
in Japan out on strike, they have to go that company. And all the union representatives say we’re not going to lose money over that you fix it up with the boss. Not so in Australia, 12 storemen and packers from Brisbane could send Australian storemen and packers on strike Australia wide. That’s what they do.
So despite the fact that you felt like saying something to these guys when you got off the ship you actually didn’t?
The officers had to speak, we had to the fellas because there had been a nationwide strike.
The officers had to speak to the soldiers…
Had to speak to the soldiers before they got off and thumped these fellas. Because that would have stopped the war effort on that dock and every dock Australia wide.
So once you arrived in Townsville what happened then?
Well then we went to, out near Charlestown to a big camp. We retrained there and then we went back up to the tablelands caught a train and then went to Borneo. We were given a leave in Sydney.
What sort of training did you do in those places?
All crossing rivers, crossing rivers, ‘cause there are a lot of rivers in Borneo, crossing rivers, abseiling down cliffs, going across ravines on ropes, and firepower and a liaison between this company and this company and mortars and artillery and everything like that.
Were you training alongside the men doing this as well?
Of course I did,
I had to go with them. If I wouldn’t have trained I wouldn’t have actually been involved with them.
Did you know during this period of training where you were headed for?
You knew that you’d be going to Borneo?
Yeah. We did the assault landing on Labuan Island and then we went across to a place at Mempickle [?] and then we went right through a dirty old stinking swamp, right down to a place called Beaufort. Then we did the attack landing at Beaufort, but we got knocked out by
the gunboat being knocked out then we had to come and do it on land. And we eventually took it and them we went on towards a Japanese headquarters run by a Japanese General called Adashi, but the peace came in and we didn’t have to go any further.
Where was that headquarters?
Peace came in on I think the 20th
But where was the headquarters located?
It’s in…I used to know the name well, but we never went there because they surrendered and they came in. Tnom T N O M, T N O M, Tnom. And then we went down to a place called Weston on the coast of Brunei Bay where the rubber plantation went, then we went further up this up this railway
with the cheap wheels on it, up to a place called Padis, on the Padis River and then Japs came across this swamp and of course we slaughtered them when they came in. They were tired, we were fresh, waiting for them. No charity.
How many Japanese died?
I God I suppose, maybe a couple hundred. But we didn’t take many prisoners.
When you say slaughtered, was this basically gunning them down?
Guns, machine guns, bayonets. People got no idea. You would have done the same thing we did, but because when there was men to kill by them, you lose charity towards your fellow man. Do you know why? They did not believe in Christianity, they did not believe in fair play, they believed in fighting and winning for their emperor, because he was a god to them. And therefore if they went
they went to Valhalla in heaven for their gods and their gods were their ancestors so when they died they became an ancestor god for their families you see. It’s a, they are different. You have to realise that the Japanese are different. It’s a for example, the Australian woman, she is besotted with
medication for nearly everything. For example, the menopause, they all got to have hormone replacement therapy and the drug companies spend billions on them and they spend billions on themselves. And this profit money. They hardly treat them in Japan do you know why, get on with it. Ask yourself a question, which do you think is the biggest change in life, puberty or menopause?
I’d say puberty.
it is they develop breasts, they don’t fall off at 50, they have pubic hair, it doesn’t fall out at 50, they have periods then, thank god they have stopped at 50. What do you think the girl’s body rounds out, they’re aroused by boys and they get aroused by her and they are heady then and they like. And at 50 they don’t become a vegetable. The change of life at 14 is far greater than the change of life at 50, but what did your mother tell you to do at 14. What did you mother tell you do Rebecca,
at puberty? Get on with it, get on with it. But you don’t say that to woman at 50 oh no, oh no. Pity you, you don’t know what you’re talking about you haven’t been through what I have been through.
Are you saying that the Japanese women did not have the same kind of issues with menopause?
No no they might have a few flushes, but the Japanese they get on with it and that’s what they do.
So that obviously you’re talking about the Japanese style of warfare and you are also relating it to the Eastern style of warfare….
I’m saying that Japanese either men or women they are totally different
to western society, totally different, you can’t compare them.
You referred to this slaughtering of the Japanese this was at Padis was it?
Would that have been the most intensive action you saw against the Japanese?
Oh no we killed more of them at Finschaffen. Oh no ‘cause they had more of us and we were going in. I’m sure that some of the Japs got away from us at Padis but we weren’t
going to chase them.
Now you referred to the depleted numbers of the unit when you came back to Australia, obviously the unit was supplemented with other people…I’ll just keep you standing there because we are on camera…you have a book.
Look there’s all the wounded and dead
But the unit was supplemented quite considerably….
Beg your pardon
Before you went to Borneo and Labuan and so forth the unit was supplemented…
Oh it had to be supplemented..
So how many men went away again?
I can’t remember the second time. I was so annoyed with the first lot with the behaviour of the….that I didn’t want to get too bitter. All I know is we should have shot the crumbs the wharf labourers.
I’ve never been in favour of wharf labourers ever since. They are war effort for Australia? Forget it. What about us, we are the wharf labourers. Don’t start me.
Just before moving us on to going Borneo and so on, what did your R&R [Rest and Recreation] in Sydney consist of at that time?
Just going to your family and going out going out to the football, the races
or meeting your friends. For example, I was very fond of my mother and my mother’s a lovely lady, but all mothers are lovely all mothers will sacrifice themselves terribly for their children, they’ll do more for the children than for the fathers. ‘Cause the father has to go out to work, he’ll rationalise, I provide the money, you provide the care and attention, which is basically true. You get between a lioness and her cubs and she’ll kill you
Did you have any girlfriends in Sydney at that time?
No I wouldn’t appear to have girlfriends, because what I was doing was too risky. And girls are too emotional, they might want to have sex with you, get pregnant and before you know where you are you’re killed and I don’t think, I couldn’t do that, that is not responsible. I didn’t marry until after I came back and after getting my degrees, because I saw too many chaps killed and their wife left
I saw too many men killed because their wife double-crossed them while they were at the front line, she’d be having intercourse with her husband and he was away and she missed having intercourse. People forget women want intercourse as much as men do. Women are very sexy people, they have feelings just as much as a man. And I remember one poor man, I remember his name Phil Zecks from Western Australia, he used
to get loving letters from his wife and he’d get other letters from anonymous people saying that she was playing up with the Americans, a pile of Americans go there every night. And so he started to go out on patrols and patrols until he was killed, he had no chance of surviving. He wanted to get killed he didn’t want to find out that his wife was double-crossing him so he got killed. I’ve seen too much of this. I like women but they are just as vulnerable as men, but the poor things always blame the man. You ever hear of a dirty old woman,
no it’s always a dirty old man. But he is having intercourse with a dirty old woman but they never say that, they always say dirty old man, you see. When you‘ve dealt with as many as I do, they are just as vulnerable to sex as a man. You only got to look at X’s, they always going around ‘cause they leave someone for another one in two seconds flat, it’s a natural instinct.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 05
Bob can you tell me about your predecessor as regimental medical officer?
He was a chap who graduated Dr. Mick Collier or Captain Mick Collier, he graduated from Sydney University, he came from Rosewell in Sydney and he joined the battalion at Alamein. A previous South Australian doctor was a doctor at Tobruk and he’d joined the battalion at Alamein and he gave
very good service, very popular, a very courageous and good doctor, liked by all the men and he was killed when the German 88’s attacked the battalion headquarters, killed Mick Collier the doctor plus other officers. After that the battalion was taken out of the line.
Was there a fairly high mortality rate among RMOs?
In the 9th Division, 2 of the 9 were killed
and others were wounded, but only 2 out of 9 were killed. Well that it a lot, well that’s nearly 30%.
Did you have much contact with other RMOs?
Not so much because when you’re in action, I would after the battle but not in the battle, no, ‘cause I was with that battalion fighting there, the other one was over there and I couldn’t go and talk to him I was looking after my men So I would see them after or during training, I saw them in training quite a lot
talk, discuss notes and what have you.
Now I believe you’ve got quite a vivid story, a vivid memory about a place called Jivevening?
Yes well in there the A company, the 2nd 17th battalion was appointed there a place there on the road to Sattleburg, from Finschaffen to Sattleburg the main part of the 17th battalion was at a place called Kontika, near the coast
and they had to come across country to join there, but they the A Company on the 17th were getting shelled very vigorously and they needed a doctor, getting wounded and dead and killed and wounded. So I was seconded for the 2nd /43rd battalion, we were in reserve at the time to do there and I’d always go and at one stage two main instances occurred. Once the Japanese used to often
shell very heavily before attacking, we do the same, and infantry are ready for that. They know that once the shells have stopped that the attack comes in and the Japanese often used to send dogs to make noise through the brush and we’d be all ready and out comes the dog and people would relax but the Japs would be coming about 10 yards behind them. And one group of Japanese broke through, some of them were killed but one of them knocked a rifle out of one of the men in the forward pit
which was about 20 yards from the edge of the jungle, knocked the gun out of his hand and so he was defenseless so he hopped out of the pit and went for his life with a Jap with a sword chasing him. Now we were in a circle around this area and it was very difficult to fire because we might hit our own chaps on the other side so we had to tell one side, now you keep still and we’ll fire from my side and we’ll called out to the Australian soldier and for goodness sake stop give us a chance to get at him
because one way around we might have shot him. So he stopped turned and faced the Jap put his arms out, the Jap slashed him with the sword and cut right down to the bone on both his forearms and of course the Jap had to stop to do that and we shot him. I didn’t shoot him the other men shot him and so we got him and he was saved but of course the Jap was dead and obviously we survived the attack. Another time they were shelling the life out of us and I’m in my pit and the others were in my pit, and there was a pit from about here
to I suppose 12 feet away from me and they call out, Doc, so and so had been hit with a shell so I slithered across the ground the 12 feet and went into the pit and there is a chap sitting there like a stunned mullet, a shell had hit him in the shoulder, and dropped down to the ground and resting at his ankles sizzling away, it was about 2 feet from my face so I looked down and it didn’t go off. I pulled him out of the pit, dragged him across the open to my pit, the shell didn’t go off. So he
should have been slaughtered, so should I. But that’s the luck of the game. That’s what luck… people are killed with luck, bad luck and saved with good luck. Now he was saved and I was saved because the shell didn’t go off. And with my face 2 feet from it I would not have had a chance, but that is life. And you do things spontaneously, it’s got nothing to do with bravery, it’s spontaneously. You just do it. If you thought about you wouldn’t have been game. And so that happened at Jivevening and I was always
tremendously impressed with the courage and guts and teamwork of the Australian frontline infantry soldier.
Now you’ve got specific memories about a man called…you have specific memories of a man called Tom Starcevich can you tell us about him?
Yeah well Tom Starcevich happened in Borneo, now we had a three-pronged attack on the town of Beaufort. One group was coming down the river and I was in that group
we were doing an attack from the river on the town of Beaufort. Another was coming down the track into Beaufort and another was coming down a hill, coming down into Beaufort. And Tom Starcevich was in B Company in that group. Now as they came along a crest of a ridge, the Japs opened fire on them from dug-in machine guns posts, most the of the chaps went to the side
but Tom Starcevich was Bren and he was number two on the Bren, kept walking straight down the track.. With his Bren, straight at the Japanese, all he could see were their heads, about 20 yards from him and he blew their heads off or wounded and killed them and knocked out those two machine guns, that saved an awful lot of lives. Straight out raw courage, he should have been perforated like a sieve but he wasn’t. Number two of the Bren was wounded, but he wasn’t and
that stood out, so we went on the same idea and about another mile away or less than that, in the jungle a mile is an awful long time it might have been only 25 minutes and we came along another lot and Tom did exactly the same, knocked out another two machine guns and another 6 Japs He knocked out 4 machine guns and 12 Japs in a space of a little over hour and a half. It saved an awful lot and they came down long the coast, straight over the ridge, into the Japanese. That kind of bravery
saved men’s lives and he deserved the Victoria Cross. 4 machine guns and 12 Japs by one man with the courage walking straight at them with a Bren gun. I must admit a quiet modest man, a Yugoslav migrant from Grass Patch in Western Australia, what a name for a European, Grass Patch but a great man.
Can you give us more of a character portrait of Tom Starcevich?
Well Tom was a quiet and gentle man but a very strong in battle
but hardly spoke at all. Not a loquacious man at all, quite a reserved man, a gentle man, not a man you’d expect to be a Victoria Cross winner, public idea of a Victoria Cross winner, they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what they are. A quiet, honest, resolute, determined man, not a demonstrative man but very strong in battle, always at his peak in battle.
Did you keep in touch with him after the war?
I saw him after the war, he came to Sydney and I heard about him coming to Sydney and I met him and I took him out to lunch and took my wife with me and he asked me if I could have a kiss and I said, sure Tom. He was a great man but he died some years after the war from heart disease at Grass Patch. Lovely type of man, good type of man. I always keep in touch with my men. When they are sick I go to see them wherever they are in Sydney or environs
or I go because they are my men.
What sort of soldier would you say made the most efficient killer?
I’d say the strong determined man who is not very noisy, not very talkative, but a firm resolve to do the job properly and you could rely on him. The boaster and the braggers, not so good. They
are very seldom did that, not unless they were hepped up on grog and we didn’t get grog in the frontline in the Second World War.
So these men that you could rely on did they ever feel any remorse afterwards?
No no we didn’t feel remorse. In killing the enemy who never took prisoners, we had no remorse at all, it didn’t come into it. Kill or get killed was a motto for the frontline infantry against Japanese. They didn’t take prisoners and one of them we did capture
was and we didn’t kill him because he had a map case and we wanted to find out what was on the map case. It showed four big blue arrows coming at our lines and whether they were going to attack us. We did question him through a Japanese-American interpreter and the Japs had no knowledge of security, they weren’t supposed to be captured they weren’t told what to do if they were captured, so they just tell you and I remember the man’s words very well,
we are going to annihilate you, this through the Japanese interpreter, they were going to annihilate us because they were coming down to attack us soon. Through the American interpreter we asked when was that, well you know that the morning after the fires are lit on the peaks of Wario and Sattleburg, we’ll come and attack you. So we were looking for them, one night up come their damn fires on Sattleburg and Wario so we knew it was on the morning. And we knew from the blue arrows where they were coming and we were all ready. We took our ack ack guns down
and put them on the ground as artillery which the Japs didn’t know about and when they came in, the chaps put the artillery right in the middle of them, machine guns and there was a chaos and 120 commandos, marines, came on the coast and landed at our backs but we were ready for them and the whole lot of them were wiped down to a man, the whole 120. No charity there, they were trying to kill us and we killed them.
Was there anything in army training which helped foster a frame of mind which focused the mind entirely on shooting to kill ?
No it didn’t go like that, it’s save your life. In other words, they were trying to kill us and they wouldn’t take prisoners so we were going to be killed. So the idea was if you kill them they can’t kill you. Simple as that. We wouldn’t have Japanese prisoners on our lines at nighttime because they’re suicide people. And we had the experience early in the piece we’d keep a few and they’d
try to break out in the middle of the night and we were half drowsy and so it was better not to go that risk. Even if had only one man killed that was one man unnecessarily so we wouldn’t run that risk at all. And the do-gooders can do-gooders anything they like, but they weren’t there.
What about the strategic importance of keeping certain prisoners alive for intelligence information?
Oh we did that for a while, I told you we did a few of those . We did a few of those, but that was to prepared us for their attacks
and we had a few American-Japanese interpreters in our lines. And I mean it’s an interesting thing, we had once we were on the coast of the corner of Finschaffen and it’s an old German missionary town area and we heard an Australian war plane or an American war plane, you can tell, infantry you tell sounds, the noise of that motor against a Japanese motor. And we knew it was an American
because of his motor sound. Infantry are very aware, you can tell one of their gun fires from one of our gun fires. It’s your life depending on it so you are very astute. A blind man has got a better sense of hearing and smell than a man who can see because he has to rely on those senses. And we could do the same, we are relying on them. And we heard this plane surging around in the storm and rain above and we knew he couldn’t he could see, we knew he was lost and suddenly we felt him dive
and then he came right out of the dive up and we knew he was going to bail out and drop out the back. And sure enough the next we heard the plane screaming and hit the ground, not far from out lines. So we knew the pilot was going to come down, the Japanese lines were only about 250 yards from ours. In the jungle you are very close to each other. So we set out a patrol to get this American before the Japanese got him, because they would kill him so we got him first and I had to check him over. He had sore shoulders from the parachute
and he was talking to us and so anything that came in, you had to be making a decision on the ground then. If he had a map case we would keep him for interrogation, be it the Japanese or we ask the Americans what’s going on and what they were doing so we were well informed of what the course of the battle was going in our area. From any course we could get…natives, natives as well as that. Natives could smell the Japanese…
sniff Jap man top along. He could smell from where they’ve been there. Because they would often drop rice and the rice would ferment in the jungle and the heat. They could smell it, we couldn’t but they could. They could smell ours and we could smell theirs. And they were very good to us.
In dealing with the native people, how many of your soldiers could speak local languages?
Oh we all had a bit of pidgin nothing much, a little pidgin but nothing much. If we had a native a white man who knew the language with us in some we’d use them that way.
How frequently were the Japanese bodies gone through for maps and other intelligence information?
Not many of them, oh not so many. Because the Japanese they are good soldiers, in New Guinea they are good soldiers, marines and ordinary troops
and they were good soldiers and they didn’t want to try and make it easy for you. And they used to use a lot of native labourers to carry light-weight mountain guns with them and they could put a mountain gun and fire at you from there and you’d try and line up and fire back but they’d gone and taken it to somewhere else. Good tactics, they were using good tactics and we were using good tactics. You don’t give them your life for fun you know. Everyone is trying to survive and live.
With the Australian dead, what sort of ceremony was there when they were to be buried?
Not much, we’d put his, we’d see he was dead and we would put his bayonet and tin hat on top of it and we’d let the padre know and if the battle wasn’t raging we’d go back and say prayers over his body, but if the battle was raging, we’d just leave him there. Otherwise, the chap who shot him might shoot us if we’re gathering around his body
so it’s all survival. Emotion didn’t come into it too much, we wouldn’t cry. We’d make sure that we’d, we’ll say we’ll get that so and so who killed him and that the troops can get very bitter and very powerful.
Did the troops ever bury any Japanese?
No. The Japanese used to often cut the fingers off their Japanese and take them to their ancestors in Japan and we often found a dead Japanese with a finger
taken off and we’d find another Japanese with a finger in his pocket. There’re a different culture to us you see, totally different.
To take to their ancestors or their relatives?
No to relatives, and the relatives burn it for the ancestors and put it in a little crate at home.
Did you ever hear of any stories of cannibalism amongst the Japanese?
No never, no. I didn’t hear it. In our group we didn’t hear it.
What sort of conditions were the Japanese in at this time because I heard later they were starving?
in the first lot in New Guinea weren’t starving at all, they were very fit, powerful and good troops. In what’s the name of the place, Borneo, they weren’t starving, there was plenty of food around Borneo, the ones in Solomons were starving ‘cause they weren’t being resupplied, they couldn’t get resupplied and the natives wouldn’t feed them so a lot of them starving in the Solomons. But I wasn’t in the Solomons.
In New Guinea, what was the attitude of the average native person’s attitude to the Japanese?
It depended a lot on how fearful they were. We had good natives on our side and we had natives on the Japanese side mostly from fear because they’d kill them. They carried their guns but if they could get away a lot of them got away, but some stayed with the Japanese. It wasn’t the same everywhere.
But we often used as many natives as we could because they could smell the Japanese. They’re very good at reading signs and they’d cut Japanese signal wires for us and come back and show us the wire, saying Japan man top along.
Now we haven’t mentioned dates in this interview…
We haven’t mentioned any dates in this interview could you give me an overall idea of when you went to New Guinea and when it was that you left to come back to Australia?
Well I think we went to New Guinea
towards the end, the later part of ’43, we came back ’44, we went away late ’44 and the war finished in mid ’50..’45. We were way out between Beaufort and Tnom when peace was declared.
Can we talk about the journey to Borneo, what ship did you travel?
Well after we returned from New Guinea we came back to Australia and we landed at
Townsville and we had trouble with the wharf labourers they wouldn’t put the gang plank down because it was their lunch hour and I tell you what, the troops weren’t very impressed with that. We had 812 strong in my battalion when we went to New Guinea and 213 of us came back and we’d been burying a lot of dead people and we weren’t very happy with that service from Australians even though they were wharf labourers. We had to have a lot of reserve and control otherwise we’d have thrown them into the habour
and held them down, we weren’t impressed one bit. And the trainer who has been burying his friends is not easily disturbed, but bothered the life out of us. But in the unit in Australia the craft Australian-wide Craft Union it’s a trade union in Japan and America they are often called company unions, different ball games. But that didn’t impress us. And then we went in training, had new reserves put in, new recruits in, to build up our battalion strength.
and then we did a lot of training up in the islands and then we went to Moretai, we trained in Moretai in the jungle, somewhat similar to Borneo. Then we landed at Labuan Island
What sort of training were you doing in Morotai?
Getting the new men accustomed to the routine and the officers of the battalion. And crossing rivers, attacking beach heads and going up mountains,
going up streams, and finding our way in a jungle without maps and without tracks. What kind of tracks to read by what kind of usage there were on the tracks. In other words if you went straight along a middle of a track you might be ambushed, so we had alternative methods of getting through the scrub. And we’d train to go in heavy storms but cut down the noise, if you go on a track you get ambushed.
So in other words by doing an ambush in a heavy storm the noise was muffled obviously by the noise of the storm?
Yeah so we’d wouldn’t go up the track we’d go up the other side and they wouldn’t hear us so much, ‘cause we’d usually cut down lash the trees and make a track and we’d often use natives to tell us if the Japs had been along that area.
Was there any distinction to the jungle training that you did at Morotai as distinct to the training you did previously?
No. no same
same type of hot, heavy, steamy tracks.
So the conditions in Borneo….
Well the new troops mightn’t have done it see. So we had to make them line up with their fellows in the platoon, or that section or that company.
Actually I just want to leap us back for a moment. When you left New Guinea what stage was the war up to then in New Guinea.
Well when we left there, the 6th Division went further up the coast of Sador and Wewak, there was no, that’s the only battle going on
at Wewak, for the 6th division. So to all intents and purposes, the Japs were beaten in New Guinea, they never went over the Owen Stanleys anymore, Buna, Gona, Salamaua and Milne Bay and Lae and Finschaffen were secured. Sattleburg and Wario were secured. The highlands in our hands up Nadzab Valley
and the 6th division came to keep them going. They weren’t getting resupplied and then the British, the Americans and the Australians attacked Rabaul with heavy bombings and fighters and navy and the Japs’ threat in New Guinea was just about over. They went along as far as Hollandia and the north line of New Guinea but they weren’t a threat to us anymore.
Could you take us through the sequence of events when you arrived in Borneo?
Yes well in Borneo, firstly we stopped at Morotai and were made, coordinated a unit there again. Trying to get men used to the officers and the officers used to the men, tactics for Borneo worked out and then we went on LSTs, landing ship tank. But we used to call them large slow targets because the men and we went
right past Mindinau in New Guinea…in the Philippines, went though the Pallawan Straights just above Sandakan and Panoin Islands and came down into the China Sea between Borneo and Labuan Island and did the attack on the Labuan Island. Now this time went with the Americans. American heavy bombers, American fighter planes, with Australian fighter planes, and American rocket ships and mortar ships and
American tanks, amphibious tanks. So we were protected a lot. And the tanks all had a 105mm cannon and twin 50 calibre machine guns out the front so when you get a line out of that there is an awful lot of firepower heading to the beach and we came out the back of the tanks. They were troop carrying tanks and we came out the back. And we hit the beach
anything that moved was killed, we didn’t worry who they were. You weren’t going to get killed trying to find out so you shot everything. And we got on shore I have a photo there showing General MacArthur landing with General Moreshead and our own commanding officer and our own troops. So if you read that pussy footing MacArthur you know just looked beautiful and spick and span wading through the waters, well so what he was there.
He was there the same Moreshead was there, no sign of Blamey, Moreshead was there and MacArthur was there.
Was there considerable resistance from the Japanese at Labuan?
No not so much no. They couldn’t they retreated inland because it’s very difficult to hold yourself on a beach head because if you are overwhelmed there there is nothing behind you so good troops would go behind. Now the attack,
when you do that, the attack comes on the water’s edge about and rise about 100 yards where the troops would be and the next lot of infantry goes behind them to get resupply and reinforcements and behind that again. In other words when you came in you kept advancing under under the barrage of cover of advancing shelling. And the shelling… they tried to shell us but
not so badly. Our shelling was far heavier and more effective than theirs.
Were there many allied casualties?
Not so many in Borneo, nothing like the casualties we had in Japan ah in New Guinea. Because we had garrison troops they weren’t as many good frontline hard-nosed troops in Borneo as there were in New Guinea so they we they weren’t a good match for our seasoned hard-line frontline infantry.
The Japanese weren’t a match for your seasoned hard-line…
No, we were too good for them, they kept dropping back.
What was your own attitude to MacArthur?
I thought he was good. He was there with us when we hit the beach. MacArthur and Montgomery, not Montgomery, Moreshead was there. I mean, the American leader was there the Australian division leader was there. What more could they expect of him?
He put plenty of troops in it, he put plenty of mortar ships, rocket ships, tank ships, heavy bombing, straffings. We went in with plenty of firepower. To go with American firepower was a very good thing for the troops.
It has been said that MacArthur in publicity and propaganda wanted to play down the Australian involvement and emphasise the American one, would you agree with that?
No I don’t agree with that. I mean let’s face it, he is an American and he was praising American
troops. Okay we were Australian and we were praising Australian troops what’s normal about... I mean a family will talk about it’s own family. I don’t get upset about that. And a lot of the dummies said that in Reveille one ex-soldier signaller wrote a scathing report about MacArthur coming in beautifully attired General landing at Labuan,
okay but he was there, what do you expect a dirty old scruffy-looking twit? Course he wouldn’t. That’s stupid. He wouldn’t be a dirty scruffy looking twit if he was dressed coming from a battle ship, why should he? I mean that’s corny. That’s a corny criticism and the chap who wrote it in Reveille I don’t mind meeting him any time he likes to talk.
Did you ever meet MacArthur?
Yes. Only because I was there when he came in.
What was your impression of him?
I thought he was a straight professional soldier, no nonsense with him. Look a professional soldier, a general is trying to win a battle with the minimum casualties he can, that’s his job. People are going to get killed and he was trying to get the best out of those troops. Now it was well know he didn’t like Blamey, a lot of the troops didn’t like Blamey either, ‘cause Blamey criticised the 39th
infantry battalion of the militia who retreated over Owen Stanley Ranges. He said they were cowards. What nonsense, cowards my foot. He got militia never been in battle before against a leading Japanese infantry and they held him and everything through to Moresby, they fought every yard over the Owen Stanley. So they retreated, well wouldn’t you? Infantry militia against top class infantry. That’s a terrible criticism
from a General who had never been in battle in his life, he’d been an intelligence officer for Monash in the Western Front, he’d never been in the frontline battle before in his life. He wasn’t a frontline battle commander, he might have been a good professional soldier, but not in the frontline. And to criticise another chap for cowardice is dummy.
What was your attitude…
We didn’t like him in the 9th division, let me tell you.
Why didn’t the 9th division…
Because of his criticism of the 39th battalion infantry militia. And MacArthur never like him either because he didn’t have frontline experience, MacArthur didn’t like him. And so when we were sent to Borneo that was to give Blamey a guernsey because MacArthur wouldn’t have him.
Do you consider Borneo an unnecessary war?
‘Course I do, ‘course I do because a lot of brave men were killed in Borneo. Shouldn’t have been there.
Can you be a bit more specific about
why it was an unnecessary war?
Because the war had passed it only courage was tested, just a lot of brave men were killed for fun. The Australians didn’t put a battle attack sounding card and only 2,000 Jap prisoners of war were killed there. We didn’t go there, we went on the other island. See what can it prove. Labuan Island is a backwater gone past, only garrison troops.
So you maintain we should have gone to
Sandakan Island instead?
Well we should have gone towards Japan, but MacArthur wouldn’t work with Blamey because he didn’t like him, he wasn’t a good soldier.
What was your attitude to American soldiers generally?
American soldiers are just like Australians, there was good ones and bad ones. Top class infantry in Australia were good, garrison troop weren’t as good. That’s worldwide, nothing profound. Doesn’t matter if it is Australian, American or Japanese. Trained infantry who are accustomed
to kill and getting wounded will take casualties and upsets more equitably that people who are not trained for that.
What impression did you have of Lesley Moreshead?
Excellent top class general, a soldier’s general, a military general of considerable capacity and the soldiers liked him because when we landed there, there was Moreshead, there was MacArthur,
no sight of Blamey.
Can we just cover a bit more about the sequence of events as they involved you in Borneo? Now you went to Labuan…
Well we did the take on Labuan, we got the airstrip. One of our first objectives was to get the airstrip. We didn’t want useless casualties chasing the Japs all over that little island. Our main objective was to get the airstrip, which we did. We got the airstrip
in 36 hours. Attacking Australians are a very hard enemy, they don’t forge just to get ahead, they keep going and they were relentlessly pursuing the Japanese and they retreated further up the islands and we left them there for a while, we contained them but we concentrated on getting the airstrip. So we then had, the airstrip had been heavily bombed by us and by the Japanese, so we had to have the air force
maintenance people come along and fill up the holes, the bombed craters so the planes could land on them and make it harder. And some of the first Spitfires landing there crashed, because they bombed the ground. They tipped over like that. And so we had to spend a lot of time to put a lot of coral into there to make the track landing hard. And the Americans did a lot of that in Milne Bay, they put metal, perforated metal
grids on the ground so the planes could land and take off on them and that was done for a while and then resupply came in both the ammunition, men, food, everything and it was very good. And after a while we cleaned up the rest of the Japs ‘Cause they weren’t, they weren’t frontline troops against us.
So for how long did you yourself remain on Labuan?
Oh we didn’t stay there for long because we were the first troops
we were probably only there for about a month at the most because then we went on to Mendicle [?] which was on the opening to Brunei Bay and then we went along the river there through the swamp and muck to attack Beaufort which is about 60 miles inland. And I don’t mind telling you that a lot of the chaps got hookworm in the slops and mud
of Mendicle to Beaufort
Were the men having to wade through the swamps?
Oh yes certainly, yeah. You know, see some go that way and some go the flank there and some go the flank there. You can’t always put them on the one track. One shell take the lot.
How shallow or deep were the swamps?
Oh about a foot, sometimes 2, sometimes only 6inches.
and the chaps would wade there. And we’d get the natives to help us too don’t worry. I remember once about it reminded me about the old missionary who had been boiled on the pot because we’d go through the swamp and the natives could here us coming ‘cause their home land see and they would have pots of hot water there and we’d put our dixies in there and tea bags and have a hot cup of tea and we thought the missionaries had been boiled in those pots years ago and there was a sort of interesting comment
that we made. We could hear the crocodiles sort of roar or grunt of the crocodiles and they smelled, they had a musty smell…
You could smell the crocodiles?
Yeah, they were in the river. They often sunbathed on the banks.
We’re any of the men taken by crocodiles?
No no, cause there was too much firepower. And the crocodiles, doesn’t, it only goes for the men if they go in the river
‘cause it’s the crocodiles’ environment, the water. They roll over. You know the death roll of the crocodile, he grabs you and used his big tail as an oar and spins you around like that and drowns you, holds you under water and drowns you. So they don’t devour you, he takes you away to one of his mud flats and eats you at his leisure.
So for how long were the men making their way through the swamps?
I suppose it took us about 3 or 4 weeks, ‘cause you can’t go very fast,
the Japanese hear you coming. So they’d have little spots to try and stop us and delay us. Some would go in rivers, some would go inland and so on like that. Some of went that way to Papas.
So the Japanese were quite often waiting on river banks?
That’s right, yeah.
Were there any firefights on the way?
Oh yes all the time. They don’t.. they put most of their force around Beaufort but you see they weren’t a match for us
I remember going through this swamp and we came across this Australia Beaufighter, over covered with vines and things. The pilot had crashed, the pilot was still in there. I think he’s name was O’Neil, he had dog-tags from Cooperoo, Brisbane.
How long had the plane been there?
Hard to say, his body was a skeleton. It’s been there I suppose for a couple of months. Eaten by the insects. And the pilot was still, he had crashed into the swamp.
He was the sole occupant of the plane was he?
Beg your pardon?
He was the only person aboard the plane?
Yeah a Beaufighter, fighter, only one pilot. And we found his body and he had dog-tags on him, O’Neil from Cooperoo, Brisbane.
That must have been an eerie experience?
It is experience.. but we are accustomed to death as soldiers, infantry, we saw a lot of it. We saw dead Japs and dead Australians we’d come across and so we could take all of that. We didn’t like it but we could take it because we might be next,
Once you reached the end of these swamps what then?
Then we had to attack this town of Beaufort and that’s where we had a three-pronged attack on Beaufort, one on the river with an American gunboat and another barge, 60 heavily armed men and I was in that barge, with an excess of machine guns, Brens. Then another group coming along on the coast along the edge of the river you know. And a third coming down the hill into Beaufort
and we eventually took it. But the Japs just didn’t give in either they had a dug in position round this town but the Australian with the barge coming along in the river, the one’s from the coast, some on the other side of the river, and coming down from the top – we had a four-pronged attack against them and we were too good for them.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 06
We were up to Beaufort and we were starting to talk about the four-pronged attack on Beaufort?
Okay well okay. Well the four-pronged attack was one heavily armed barge with 60 men in it and I was one of them. We were accompanied by an American gunboat which had eight 50 calibre machine guns and 8 gunners and one Coxswain. We were going up
the river like that, getting close to the attack position in Beaufort because the gunner the American gunboat was covering fire while we went in under the attack. And then we had another group going in along the track beside the river on the land side and another going in on the right hand side further out, not so the Japs could see, they were coming back in this way. And a third group was a fourth group was coming down on a mountain range
going down over the top of Borneo…. Beaufort. Now as we went along the river the Japanese who were good soldiers, had machine gunners on that bank and they shot these American gunners facing this way. The machine gun on that bank shot the American barge coming this way. And they wiped out the 8 gunners, didn’t kill them all but knocked them all. Now our barge was hit but machine gun fire
but it was armour-clad and it didn’t come through and I heard all this and I heard no returning fire for the American gun so I knew that the gunners had been hit. And I poked my head over the side of the barge and I saw that and I got the coxswain to put our barge against the side of the gunboat. And when they did that I hopped on the gunboat. Now the Japs saw me and they started to fire to wipe me off the deck of the gunboat just as they had the gunners but my men
in the barge, noticed what they were doing and opened fire on the Japanese and made their accuracy less effective. So although the barge gunfire hit the barge it didn’t actually get me ‘cause I was leaning down attending the wounded. And I had a job to do and didn’t take any notice of that, because I had a job to do. And I was looking at the Americans, three of them had serious wounds with bullet wounds right through their chests
hoping that their chest walls hadn’t been hit by their knife or sword and I was looking at their lungs and their heart and some bleeding. I had to put clamps on the bleeders, tie them off, and then sew up the chest and put a tube in their lungs to equalise the pressure in the chest wall. On the three of them. Now the gunners were firing at the Japs, they were firing at me and fortunately the coxswain on the gunboat I was in,
turned the boat around and got away from the American fire and went down the river. So I didn’t get hit, I was lucky. Now I don’t know what happened to the Americans after that because when we got off we had to continue the attack.. There was wounded but you don’t stop the attack it keeps going, that’s what you try to do.
At this point were you still in the swamps or were you on the open river?
We were on the river there, we were still on the river. When we came to the ground we passed a swamp we were in the approach to the town of Beaufort
which was a dirt track road. It was a road not a track.
Can you walk us through the arrival in Beaufort itself?
Well the Japanese were surrounded on all sides so they got out the north side, they went out the other side. And then when we got in there were only a few in there and just killed them all. I remember we went to a movie theatre there and we went in there and we found a Jap.
hidden under one of the seats. They didn’t kill him. He didn’t have a gun on him, they pulled him out for interrogation. I used to have a photo of him but I can’t find it now.
You used to have a photograph of the Japanese?
That one but I can’t find it. That was 60 odd years ago…
There were very few Japanese left in Beaufort?
No they had all gone out.
How big a town was Beaufort?
I suppose it’d be about 1,000 people it had a railway station, it had shops, it had some residences, but in those areas, the natives tend to live to live out of the townships. The British, it was a rubber plantation town, they lived in the town. The natives lived out of the town.
Did you have much to do with the natives in your time there?
We yes, we put on a concert for them
and a fete, a gala, a gala fete for them with what do you call it, flowers, balloons and food for them so on like that. They all turned up. We put a slippery dip and they came down the slippery dip. The Australian is a very friendly soul particularly he loves children and we did that a lot.
Was this part of a conscious hearts and minds win over the locals policy?
I don’t think so. Infantry, we weren’t doing that. We were doing that because we
were relieved to have the place and pleased we were still alive and good will. And they were they were helping us so we were helped them.
When you refer to natives, was this a mixture of Malays, and Chinese…
Yes Borneo Dyaks and so on…
So they were Dyaks there as well?
Yes, oh yes. And we used to give a bounty to Dyaks if they bought in Japanese heads. They’d open up their lap bags and out would come a company’s head and we’d give them something…a pair of scissors.
When you say we,
who were you talking about?
Our battalion, the men in our battalion.
Were many Japanese heads brought in?
Not many women, no women in Borneo no.
No no so as a result of this bounty were many Japanese heads brought in by the Dyaks?
Oh quite a few, I suppose at least a dozen. They were worth far more than shooting at us. We didn’t care if there was two.
Could you describe the Dyaks as you found them?
They were child-like people, very durable, very good in the jungle and always smiling. But they were deadly warriors in the jungle with their blow-arrows of poison. And if a Jap was going along like that…they’d poison them. And then they would come in and tell us where they were. In other words, if you have the locals on your side you’ve got an extra special espionage system working for you.
So we’d know which way to go, instead of just going out into the jungle, we’d know which way to go.
Did you meet any of the Z-special unit people who were working with the Dyaks?
Not me. They were more going out from Jesselton and by the time we got there, the war was over. But we picked up those prisoners of war, the six people who survived the Sandakan march.
Oh tell me about that.
We picked those…
Which six people were they?
Well one of them was Tipplewich, another one was I think Evans and we picked them up and they were sent to us at Labuan Island after the war. By the time they got through, we picked them up there.
What kind of condition were they in?
Pretty poor. So we some of them we had to give blood transfusions to and I remember one Irishmen we got from Kuching we picked him up from Kuching too. And I said don’t worry son
we’ll give you really good Australian kangaroo blood, we’ll have you hopping out of your skin in no time. And he liked that. So when I went, he was very pleased ‘cause he was in pretty poor shape and I gave him a couple of bottles of Australian blood and good food and what have you and he improved and then I never saw him anymore. But he gave me his telephone number and address of where he’d be in England, he was a permanent British army. And when I went to England some years later I called and see him and of course heavy heavy
rationing of food in England at the time just after the war, 1948, ’47 and I saw this fellow in 1945 and when I went to England he had, I remember it very well, he had a wife and two children they were only youngsters and I had chops, eggs and bacon and so on like that
And they didn’t have it. I’d taken their weeks rations of food like that. And I had to eat it because they were doing, give it to me and they couldn’t amongst themselves and I had to show that I was grateful for their so I ate it all. See but he was an Irishman and obviously I called him Paddy, but
Moving back to Borneo, were there any relations or relationships, or sexual relations
between the Australian soldiers and the local women?
In Papas yes and I was going along there and I saw a group of men near some native huts near the Papas River and I decided to go in and investigate when I went in there, there was three Australian men actively having intercourse with three very compliant local ladies. And I went up and tapped one of the fellows on the shoulder he looked around and said, you’ll have to wait your turn, mate.
we all roared, the women roared, the men roared, and everybody roared. See in other words, it appeared that the ladies had had plenty of intercourse with white people before, the Japanese before, the local people before and they didn’t regard it as anything untoward at all. And it’s interesting.
Was there any kind services’ edict against the men having intercourse with locals?
I don’t think they were encouraged, but I don’t think there was any active campaign to stop them.
Were there any worries about sexually transmitted diseases?
Very little in Borneo, in the Middle East yes, in Borneo and New Guinea not much, didn’t get much sexual diseases in them there. Because we were never out in the cities. If we had been in the towns it might have been more common, but we were with the native women in the scrub
those diseases weren’t so common.
When you say native women, once again are you referring to Dyack women or..
No they weren’t Dyaks they were sort of Malay-type women.
Right. Yeah who were a fair part of the population.
There were many different tribes in Borneo, they weren’t all Dyaks. Dyaks were more in the hills country and the backs of the rivers, further inland, not so much in the cities.
Getting back to the celebrations that you had in Beaufort, you mentioned a concert party,
what did that consist of?
Yeah well we the Australians, we are a friendly soul and when you let down after fighting and killing the Australians want a bit of levity and so they put in and a lot of children around and they ask you for a chocolate, you’d give them a chocolate or some fruit or something and they’d all laugh and giggle and so on like that and that would makes you laugh and so on as a soldier and we did well and I reexamined them and they liked all that
most children want attention and the Australians like the attention too, it’s a human quality.
To get back to the concert party what did that consist of?
We put on races, we’d put on three legged races, we’d put on funny dress contest, funny hats and then we put on slippery dips and swings. And the children lapped it up, they didn’t have anything like that in years and years and years
Where did you find a slippery dip?
Oh we’d make them. The chaps made them out of tins. Look the Australian is a very resourceful man. I showed you on one tour how they made a 75 bullet magazine for an Owen gun and the Australians are very resourceful. In you’re in any battalion there are men who leave you for dead with their ability to do things, to invent things, to rationalise things, to improvise things and we used all their talents.
I don’t think you did mention that improvising…
Well you see I’ve got a photo I could show you there of Private Harris from C-Company, 2nd /43rd battalion who invented a magazine to take 75 bullets for an Owen gun. Now the normal magazine is a vertical magazine that can take 32 bullets, sometimes if you put 32 bullets sometimes jammed and if it jammed, you’re dead because you’ve got nothing to fire with and the enemy can fire at you and you’re dead. So we only
put in 28 and they never jammed on us. But this man worked in our battalion and he put in a magazine going over the top and another one going down here so we had 75 bullets in it. And so it fired differently but by training you can work out, it lifts up you see because it is heavy and as you fired it, you lived up the barrel more and hit. And we were the only battalion that had it. I think there
is one of our machine guns in the War Memorial in Canberra, I showed you a photo of it. Private Harris.
If you had to use a weapon what was your choice of weapon?
If I had it I’d use a Bren, but I didn’t carry a Bren, I carried an Owen gun, a Bren gun a chap could walk through an Owen bullet if it didn’t hit him in the vital spot, but you can’t walk through a Bren, it would chop you to bits. I saw some Japanese hit with a Bren an Owen a Bren gun
and I thought someone had hit with an axe, went straight at their face and split their head in two. It’s got a 303 bullet with a big magazine, Owen’s only little gun of that size, but the 303’s a long bullet with a lot of power in it, so when it hits you, it hits you.
Now you’ve spoken about treatment of various wounds, you’ve mentioned the sucking chest wound and I think you’ve certainly mentioned someone who had their arm blown off. Can you talk
about some of the other wounds you having to treat?
Well head wounds I couldn’t do anything to them. I just had to put a dressing on it and give them some sulfur tablets. We didn’t have antibiotics then we had sulfur tablets and hoped he got better. And dressed him to try and stop him getting infected as best I could. I put some iodine on his wound and sent him out. But sending him out at New Guinean border was not like they have now, we didn‘t have helicopter gun-ships,
helicopter rescues where they landed in the clearing and took them to hospital and they were in a hospital half an hour later. Now that didn’t happen with us, we had to carry them, used natives to carry them, stretcher bearers. We couldn’t take, we had to get from our place to the advanced resting tents, main resting tents of a field ambulance. Once I took them there, I couldn’t control it anymore I had to stay with the men fighting.
What were the most common kinds of wounds you were dealing with?
In the jungle it was chest and abdominal wounds because we were so close to each other, more likely that the biggest target were the chest and abdomens, arms not so common. But a shrapnel wounds could be anywhere, head, chest, arm, leg anywhere. We got a lot.
Was there any particular way that you would have to deal with a shrapnel wound as opposed to say a sucking chest wound?
Just a direct examination of the wound where it was. If it’s bleeding, I’d have to put a clamp to stop bleeder
and tie it off. But my hands were always not clean, I’d have to clean it from a water bottle and get some Dettol cream on my hands and do the wound. And that was, that’s pretty simplistic sterilisation technique, ‘cause I was doing it out in the field.
How often were you being resupplied with medical equipment and medicine?
Well as often as I could get it by getting back through the field
ambulance behind me. They might be a mile behind me.
Did you ever have to improvise in the absence of essential supplies?
Yes sometimes I had to use faith healing. For example I had to give them Panadol for real pain Because my morphine wore out or was perforated, and I didn’t have it. So I would sit with the men, tell them all my problems, they’d see it all, show them the broken bottles where they had been shot and they’d accept it.
Men will accept anything when they know you are there with them and you’ll stay with them and you tell them why. The Australian soldier is a very durable man, I would like never go against him , I’d rather have him on my side.
Off camera yesterday, you mentioned you used the terms dandruff and canvas back, could you tell us what dandruff and canvas back…
You used the terms off camera dandruff and canvas back in relation to…
What I mean by that, it wasn’t in the war, it was in the football.
Football..don’t want me to….
Could you just explain what you meant by those terms?
Sometimes, having looked at soldiers from close up, I’m a good judge of the durability of a person, how tough he is, what he can take it or he can’t take it and we used to say, I wouldn’t trust that bugger at my left flank in other words, he didn’t have the hard-nosed guts
some of the other men had. Now in football, after the war, I was watching a game, Western Suburbs, I went to school in that area, and they were playing at Pratten Park and I saw some chaps injured, one with a laceration and they called any doctor in the house, I went and stayed with them for 30-odd years. And I worked with them for nothing, I never took a payment for doing anything for football ever in my life. Because I was a man’s man and
used to like dealing with men and it and if I’d get a chap who was whinging and falling over every time he got tackled hard, particularly if our team was loosing so if he got taken off it wasn’t his fault, I didn’t like that. He was in the can’t take it racket to me, so I’d tell the coach Noel Kelly or Tommy Raudonikis and call him canvas back, or dad he was always falling down and I didn’t like it.
And what did canvas backs specifically mean?
It mean falling down had to be taken off with a stretcher, a canvas stretcher. And I didn’t like that. I don’t mean that for everybody, no no just a few of them, I didn’t like it. And I’d discuss it with Roy Masters the coach at the time and he’d listen to me and I’d meet him every Monday after the football game to discuss the injuries and what I thought of the behaviours of this person, that person and a hard-nosed
critical assessment of them. And Roy and I are still very good friends. If he didn’t like it as a coach he wouldn’t have met me every Monday but he did. ‘Cause he knew I was experienced, and sincere and genuine. And that’s what I did.
So you’d brief him on the strengths and weaknesses of the team members?
Moving back to Borneo after Beaufort came Weston, what actually happened in Weston?
It was purely the closest coastal spot
for evacuation. We could because we put railway wheels on our jeeps we could go straight down 40 miles an hour on the railway tracks, to get to Weston instead of a 3-day march through the swamp and it made a big difference to us.
How were the railway wheels actually put on the jeeps? Who did this?
The chaps in our battalion did that, brain power, initiative, reinforcements.
So there was no railway rolling stock available?
There was railway stock there but they wouldn’t fit under our jeeps they were too heavy and too big heavy things to pull big loads of rubber from the rubber plantation. So we took the wheels off them, I have a photo of it, and put them on the jeeps and we’d get about six men piled on the jeeps had machine guns on it front and back and in we’d pile and it’d go down. Had a couple of wounded, I put a vertical stretcher on top of them and down they’d go.
So how many vehicles are we talking here?
As many as we have, we may not have had many jeeps. The jeeps would come off the barges a so they could go through the swamps.
So they made quite a number of journeys?
Oh yes, not one.
So they went from Beaufort to Weston….
Sometimes if there was a lot of them we’d sit them on the barge going back to Membickcle and over to Labuan Island
So Weston was on the shore of Brunei Bay and…
No yeah Weston but that was
one of the spots we used. And the others we had a lot were too slow we’d put them on the barge back along the river to Membickcle and across to above Beaufort to Labuan Island.
So your unit was still staying together as a unit?
Oh yes still a unit there. When peace was declared, no when peace was declared we chased the Japs after leaving Beaufort towards their headquarters at Tnom which was further in the valley behind Beaufort oh about
100ks away. But we never caught up to them. We caught up to them but peace was declared on about the 21st October because the atomic bomb landed in Japan and by the time the second atomic bomb was landed at Japan in Nagasaki peace was declared. Now we had one of our men killed after peace was declared
because the local Japanese didn’t always get it, but our Australian was killed and they were coming in and one Jap. shot him. So we had to shoot a few Japs
After peace was declared?
My word, because they shot and killed one of my men.
Were they showing every sign of wanting to continue the battle?
No they weren’t no.
The Japanese weren’t…so why were they shot?
They didn’t know peace was declared. At the time it was only five days after peace was declared.
It wasn’t three weeks after, it was five days after.
So these Japanese actually hadn‘t heard?
Well we didn’t know because I couldn’t talk to him and we shot and killed him anyhow, so I couldn’t talk to him.
And so other Japanese were killed after that?
Yeah a few, not many. Just a few of that little patrol, that little patrol. We had a patrol out and they had a patrol out.
So that was that little patrol showing any sign of continuing the fight?
No not really, they saw us, and we had rifles and thought we were going to fire so they fired first. But
our chaps would have normally fired first, but because peace was declared they gave them a break and that’s why you get killed.
Did you have anyone who you were particularly close to that got killed at any time in the war?
Yes John O’Reardon. I knew him before the war and knew his family and he was an officer in charge of the Papuan infantry
troop in New Guinea and he went with us on a lot of patrols, we used a lot of them for leading our patrols because they could smell the Japs, knew where they had been, they knew the sites, they could read the local topography better than we would and we came to a certain spot, a Y-junction, his group went to the left hand side not the whole natives but 14 of our men plus John O’Reardon and I went to went with another 15 on the other side
they were wiped out to a man, ambushed and wiped out. I was on the other side, wasn’t hurt. You’d live and die by flukes, nothing to do with bravery. And I was very upset because I knew his family and I had to bury him. And I wasn’t happy. But I mean the Japanese were soldiers and we were soldiers it’s accepted. We were trying to kill them, they were trying to kill us, they happened to kill him.
How long did the impact of that death stay with you?
Do you know why? I was a soldier, I was accustomed to it. And I don’t let things bother me too much. If I can’t make any difference to it, it’s not my fault and I can’t do anything about it I have to contract the next lot I’m still alive.
But it must have surely have left a feeling at least for a day or…
Oh I still think of it, I still think of it. I can tell you the whole deal and I can show you the map of where it was. If I had my book I could still show you. But it affected me ‘cause I knew him. Another one affected me was a boy called Graham,
his aunty lives here with me. I didn’t tell her. He was where the Japs landed behind our backs at Finschaffen he was a reinforcement in it we’d only had him about a month and I went to school with him, I was about three or four classes ahead of him in school and he came to us as a reinforcement and he was on the point of the bay at Finschaffen, the commandos came in, they were all killed
except one barge came to that point and we killed them all but they killed John Graham, John Graham in that spot. I went to school with him and helped to bury him, he had a gun shot wound and had a sword slash on him. And having been to school with a kid and see him there, I’m a kid, a real old sweat at 23, a real old sweat I was, but it effected me because I went to school with the kid, the boy or the soldier.
What impact did it have when you saw his body?
Disappointment because he only lasted with us a month and he was dead and I would’ve tried to do more and more to him, but I couldn’t be every spot at once. I was trying to get the people from the casualty clearing station down the beach to save them too, I couldn’t be everywhere.
Wasn’t there one point when the Japanese attacked a casualty clearing station?
They did an attack at Finschaffen.
See we had to have bases for putting our casualties and a casualty clearing station is a big operating unit, before that is a field ambulance, before that, that is the MDS, main dressing station, behind that is the advance dressing station and behind that is the infantry doctor, that’s me. So it came to me to the advance dressing station to the main dressing station to casualty clearing station. So it’s in our in base, in our baseline, see.
Now when the Japs tried to counter-attack us, we had to draw in our troops from there, from there, from here, all over the place to protect our base because they were going to attack us because there weren’t many troops there because it wasn’t a fighting unit, it was base unit. And they’re not fighting soldiers at all, nothing like we were, and so we had to march back. And when we got back the place was under threat by the Japanese. Big threat, commandos
landing behind us they were coming down here and the casualty clearing station was in the road. And they were being fired at so on like that and our men were getting in the front to protect it and I was with them to try and take the casualties round to the beach, coming down dead-ground. Dead-ground is ground below the level of the main ground, that is called dead-ground, it a valley is dead-ground and get down to the beach. And I’d pick up
two lots of 17 men, another Doctor, Win Bennett from Orange he did another…so we had 68 people out and some of the others walked out themselves.
How many were killed?
Very few ‘cause we wouldn’t let them. We’d fight like mad so that they weren’t bayoneted in their beds, casualty clearing station. They never got right through, the Japanese, but you don’t know that when you were fighting. You have to make sure they don’t get through. And so every man
for himself. And that’s about the only time I fired a rifle…a machine gun in anger. When a man got the bullet through his chin, I put myself over the top of the thing and fired back at them.
You put yourself over the top of?
The dead-ground see I kept below the ground but I fired where the bullets were coming from.
So you fired back at the Japanese?
Yeah. I didn’t see them, because… I hit them. They were firing, ‘cause couldn’t see us ‘cause I was on dead-ground
I didn’t want them to think that they could just come straight through because that would wipe the lot of us out.
Did you ever kill a Japanese?
No, not that I know of, no, no. But I was firing at them, but if I killed them I wouldn’t have a clue. I wouldn’t have a look, I wasn’t going to look. Half the chaps who are firing don’t know if they have killed anyone or not. See you put a covering fire, anything that moves out there
they get killed, but you are not firing at a particular one. That’s only one on one you’d do that. Like if there is a group charging at you, you can see them but if there are in the scrub, flitting from tree to tree, you don’t actually see any particular one. I wasn’t in the frontline, I was the doctor, I wasn’t in the frontline in the attacking unit that was ahead of me, that’s why I got such great respect for the average
Australian infantry soldier, who does all the dirty work. That’s why if they are wounded I’d make sure that they weren’t neglected.
But of course you were treating the attacking unit?
Oh yes, of course I did, all the time. I’d be here there and everywhere. I never had a rest every hour at all, my job was to see if anyone was hurt or sick or bad blisters or anything, while they’re resting I’d get going again
I’d be exhausted at the end of the day, hardly get a rest.
Moving now onto Papus, that was…
Well we had no further fighting after that
No further fighting after Papus..
But Papus that was were this massacre occurred wasn’t it?
There wasn’t massacre, a Japanese massacre there?
No no it wasn’t a massacre. Papus is where I said 300 but I only know whether it was 300 or not I only know what the chaps told me. But the Japs who came through the swamp, the chaps gave them the works.
This was at Papus was it?
Yeah but we hit the Japs there, they didn’t hit us. We did it to them.
So the Japanese were advancing on Papus…
Yeah they were retreating from Beaufort through a swamp up to Papus but we went along the track with the jeeps and when we got there we had one group coming from Membickle across the swamp and …
Don’t worry about getting the book…
I’ll show you were it was…
Well show me later.
And they came that way, we came this way and the Japs were coming
up from Beaufort that way and they were coming up and they were caught and I said 300, but later on I found out that all ..the majority of people coming up from Beaufort were killed by us there. They didn’t get any further the Japs. A lot of them went out, I said 300 but I found out later on that a lot of the Japanese left Beaufort and went up toward Tnom to their headquarters, so we didn’t get them at all. But when they surrendered we got them.
from then on I was transferred back to the division headquarters after peace was declared at Labuan. And then I was given a lot of the people on Labuan Island had been transferred from the infantry battalions back to there for treatment and I had a lot to do with their treatment and I had a lot to do with the treatment of the prisoners
of war, who had been released from Kuching and the Sandakan March the six of them. So I went over and checked all of those. One of them was a Doctor Taylor and his wife and they had been at Sandakan and sent by the Japanese to Kuching and when they came to Labuan Island I treated them there and I became friends with them and after the war I met them in Sydney and about a year ago I met their daughter. She was a boarder
at Rosebay Convent and after that war I met her.
So Doctor Taylor and his wife had been internees had they?
Yeah, they had been internees at Sandakan and Kuching.
Did they tell you much about the conditions and the treatment…
Yeah they told me. Well, Kuching not Kuching, Sandakan was a hell-hole and they had very little, what I call
dignity in the treatment of the prisoners at war by the Japanese, the prisoners of war were an impedimenta. And the Japanese when things were going bad for them, made them march from Sandakan to Renault, anyone dropped out, they killed them, clubbed them or bayoneted them or shot them, only six got out to Sandakan, from Sandakan to Renault which was inland from Beckleton. But the others, quite a few were sent from Kuching,
from Sandakan to Kuching where they had quite a few more prisoners of war, mostly British and Indian and Dutch and a lot of them came to me to be treated when I was at Labuan Island.
What is you option of the tragedy of Sandakan?
I think it’s a, what I thought was a classical destruction
of prisoners of war and evidence against the Japanese by the Japanese leaders. They weren’t frontline soldiers the Japanese and they, increased power corrupts people and the Australians were prisoners of war and they had no dignity as far as the Japanese were concerned, they were nothing. They should have died fighting. That’s the Japanese principle, you die for your emperor. I didn’t like that, but they fight the eastern war, we fight the western war.
They didn’t believe in Red Cross, or anything like that at all, at all. A different philosophy of life different philosophy.
Do you think the Australian services should have launched a rescue mission to Sandakan?
No the Australian soldiers when they went there, there was no one there, they were all gone. Found a lot of dead, a lot of dead graves and what have you, and shocking conditions but no prisoners of war left there when they got there. Only six left
and we got them at Renault. I then got them in Labuan Island.
Can you remember the way you felt when you heard war was over?
Relief that I had survived and that my friends had survived. We thought we did a good job for Australia and I was proud of the Australian men I was with. And I am still very good friends with them all. But to think that the war was over
after all of those years was a relief that I’d get home to see my mother and my brothers and sisters and my father. And it was a good feeling.
Were there any soldiers in Labuan and elsewhere after the end of the war who wanted retribution against the Japanese?
Not not not not my battalion because we were killing as many of them that tried to kill us so we weren’t hurt by being prisoners, we were never prisoners of war
The prisoners of war would still want retribution from the Japanese and I don’t blame them. But that’s different.
How were the Japanese as a defeated people after the surrender?
Well it all depends if you were a Japanese soldier or a Japanese citizen. The Japanese citizen didn’t know what went on, they weren’t told. If you read Japanese…I’ve been to Japan three times since the war and if you talk to Japanese people they do not believe all the stories that the enemy,
their enemy were telling you because it wasn’t in their papers. In fact it is not in any of their history books. It wasn’t even in their history books. The rape of Nanking by the Japanese soldiers was never in their history books. What they did to other people in Burma and Changi and Burma railway was not in their history books so they don’t believe you.
What about the impact of the surrender on the Japanese soldiers how did that change them?
Well many of them would not believe it.
And many were picked up from the Philippines 20 years later. In other words, they didn’t want to come out. They didn’t know whether you were telling them a fairy story or not. Their idea was to fight for their emperor.
Did you have to medically treat any Japanese after the surrender?
Not many, not many, no because we killed them all.
What was the attitude after the surrender of those Japanese?
Oh bland indifference. Bland indifference. You know I couldn’t speak to them,
I didn’t speak their language. They couldn’t speak to me so I was talking to a silent person. Very difficult.
Were there any feelings of hostility within yourself?
Not really no. I mean a soldier is fighting for his country and I was doing the same for my country and so I didn’t… but I was never a prisoner of war. I’m trying to kill him and he’s trying to kill me. So I respect him as a soldier fighting for his country that’s why
I went back to there three times because they were brave soldiers for their country.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 07
Okay Bob we have just heard that the war has ended with the second bombing of Nagasaki with the atomic bomb, what did you know of the atomic bomb?
Nothing. I didn’t know that the bomb had been dropped the first time in Hiroshima and I thought, gosh that is terrific. And when I hear people, see we were designed, we were frontline infantry, we were designed to keep
attacking, we weren’t garrison troops, we weren’t supporting troops we were frontline assault troops that was our job and that’s what we were good at. And we thought we’d be going off with the Americans to land and attack in Japan. We knew an awful lot of us would be killed because we had fought against the Japanese, we know how resilient they are and how tough they are and how they don’t mind dying. So we knew that if we were the troops to attack Japan, an awful lot of us would never come home. So when the atomic bomb was dropped,
it killed a lot of Japanese we said well okay that saved my life. So when we hear do-gooders say that it was criminal for American to do that we said, listen you come up here and fight yourselves. It’s rubbish, it saved hundreds and thousands of Australian and American and British lives – atomic bombs. ‘Cause if you saw the way the Japanese fought in the islands, how much more do you think they’d fight in their own country? Don’t you think Australians would fight very much if they attacked Australia itself? Well why makes you think that Japanese wouldn’t fight?
Women, children, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, aunties they’d all be in there, carrying a scythe or a sword or a gun or a paling or a rock or anything. And I mean, it’s silly. It might have killed a lot of Japanese but those Japanese would have been trying to kill us. So it saved an awful lot of lives. And as a frontline soldier I was awfully glad it was dropped. I’d drop it again. I don’t like do-gooders.
Did you ever at any point stop to reflect
on the loss of the civilian Japanese lives?
Not really, no. That never bothers me. I mean, all enemy do the same. The Germans bombed Coventry off the world, they practically bombed London off the track. They did all these things, and we retaliated. I mean if one does it the others say well right I’ll do it now. So honour goes out the window, when one does something the other will reply. You must remember that.
Any act like that will get a reply. You only have to read history. And the do-gooders only talk about because they are not being bombed, nobody hit them, they’d say forget them.
So when how then did you find out the war had ended?
On the radios, chaps had little radios and then command told us. We’d get a newsletter
from headquarters told why peace had been declared after the second atomic bomb. Declared by the Emperor of Japan, not by the army, the emperor. The emperor went on television said that the war is over, save unnecessary loss of life. Because the next two bombs would have wiped Tokyo off the earth.
And were there any celebrations?
Oh my word, the chaps were thrilled because they weren’t going to get killed anymore, and they were going to get home.
And everyone from that moment on was trying to get home. We didn’t want to stay in Borneo any longer than we could help it.
So what did you do to celebrate the end of the war when you were in Borneo?
Oh well they gave alcohol around and peanuts and chocolates and everything like that. And I’m a non-drinker, I had a lot of peanuts and chocolates. And as a matter of fact some other chaps, I remember I had to operate on one night on a man who got a bowel obstruction because of eating so many peanuts and it was like a lot of gall stones in his gut.
I had to open his gut and pour out all the peanuts and sew it up again. He survived.
And this was as a result of eating the celebratory… the celebration peanuts?
Yes. And a lot of the drug lords they gave alcohol and rum and everything like that after the war. We didn’t like in the First World War they use to give them rum before they went over the top, they didn’t do that in the Second World War. We only got an alcohol ration after the war fighting was over.
And how long did the celebrations last for?
Oh I can’t remember…only a few four days not long. Because we still had wounded in the hospitals and we had these prisoners of war from Kuching and Sandakan. And we also had our own wounded and that had to go on, you couldn’t neglect them.
So there was a lot of work to do?
Oh yes for us. Not the fighting soldier, but I was in the 9th division headquarters on Labuan Island
and at a field ambulance…at a field hospital near the airstrip.
So there must have it must have been a great boost to morale?
Oh terrific, terrific. See a soldier is like anybody, if you win a grand final in the football and you get the grand final badge or you’re badge from the first 15 of 11 at school you feel good. And if you are a victorious battalion, a victorious army, your vanity is pleased that were there
doing you job. So you’ve got a very strong bond with all those men in your battalion. You’ve seen them with muck and slush all over them and you’ve seen them now when they are clean and you know they were frontline soldiers. You see us walking in ANZAC marches, we don’t look like soldiers anymore. But I know what they did, I see them back 60 years ago, I still see them 60 years ago and so the bond is very powerful. There is a certain amount of pride in it, you survived,
and you didn’t let your people your men down and they didn’t let Australia down, they didn’t let their mates down.
Was there a long delay in getting home to Australia?
No, I got home peace was declared in August and I got home in January. Five months, well some chaps had been in the army since 1939, I’d only joined in ’42 so they had priority over me and common sense I’d have done, if I was an administrator I ‘d made
exactly the same decision. So nobody argued about it, we just accepted it.
And how did you get home?
Well interesting…they had some American Liberator bombers, they had a lot of people to send home and we sat, we stood on the spine of the backbone of this plane next to the bomb doors, we could see the earth striding around there with the bomb doors, on the spine of the of the big bomber
we had about 30 odd 40 men in the bay. Weren’t seats for everybody, we didn’t give a hoot. We went from there from Labuan Island to Darwin and from Darwin we refueled and started again. We got into a storm, an electrical storm, wiped out the electrics of our plane and we couldn’t get down to Melbourne so we landed at Albury airport
in a rainstorm ‘cause Melbourne was wiped out and we stayed there over night and we started off the next morning. And I remember it was raining, the ground was muddy and the big, heavy bomber took off in this storm or rain, but Melbourne was clear and I remember because I was sitting in the spine of
this bomber, the bomb bay don’t fit like that they fit like that, you can see earth and practically the trees I felt they were going to go up my tail, they were so close to the underside of the bomber as we went over them. But see you get accustomed to things like that and then we landed in Melbourne, transferred another plane back to Sydney.
So can you just explain to me the spine of the plane?
Well the spine of the backbone, your backbone down your back and that’s the spine,
it’s the structure of the plane. When you build a plane or anything like that, it has to have the support to hold it together then you put the skin on the outside of it. The skin’s not the part holding it together the structural geometry of the struts and everything are holding it together. And that’s the one. And when you are carrying bombs, the main thing is to have a big opening to put the bomb in and and when it is ready to come
the sides go up and the bomb is left to go to the ground but they’ve got to be attached to the strong body of the member of the plane to hold it. Otherwise they can’t put it on the wing, the wing would fall off, too heavy, see. And that’s what I call a spine of the plane. The spine of yours holds all your muscles together, all your heart, lungs, tummy, liver all caught on the spine at the back. No spine down here, it’s at the back.
Did you have to stand the whole flight?
That must have been exhausting?
Yes, very. But we were on our way home. You can put up on all kind of things the infantry. At times we might have changed seats with somebody else who had a seat. I mean nobody was going to have a seat all the way or stand or the way, it’d vary. And nobody would make and sweat over it at all. Very fair to each other
all the men. They knew what we had all been through. And if you had a fair run, you’d give it to the next chap.
I imagine the mood on the plane must have been quite jovial?
It was good, good because we were prepared to land, hit with lightning and have some of the electrics go out and to have to land at we didn’t care. We were on a way home.
So did you think at any point during the storm that you were in that you’ve come this far and…
No I didn’t think that.
I’m not a fatalist, see. Whatever happens, will happens, see and I take it. I told you what the priest said to me before we went into battle, he said little flower, in the sour, use your power to save me. And I’d always say that and having done that I’d switch off. Let it take where it comes, I still do it.
I’m wondering if you before you left Borneo if you took any mementos or brought anything back home?
No. See I almost brought the tin hat
had a hole blown in it, but I thought no if I do that some people or soldiers would say to me, that bum could have picked that up anywhere off the battlefield. Nothing to do with him, trying to make a big shot out of himself. I don’t like doing that. I don’t I don’t sort of do that. I’m only talking to you because you were here sent by official people to do it, but I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. My patients don’t know all this. And I’ve had plenty
in 50 years as a doctor, plenty of time to tell them, but I don’t. They come to me to have a baby, not to tell me what a soldier I was. I told my family at times because my brother particularly who calls me his mentor, looks up to me and he wants me to give him a good example. He’s the one who wants a copy of all of this because I might only last another year or so. He would like a copy of all of this for his boys and children
and children’s children to see what Uncle Bob did during the war and that is all I’m doing it for, not doing it for me, I know what I’ve done. I don’t care two hoots whether you people know or not. It doesn’t worry most soldiers either. If you wouldn’t have told me Starsevich was a Victoria Cross winner, he’d never tell you. Quiet fellow. I would have made a Military Cross twice but I got knocked back by my commanding officer I used to argue with him.
And he was a Military Cross winner and a damn fine soldier and a good guy, but he had a few kinks in his mind and one was vanity and because I argued with him he was going to, you know, put me down. You saw what that chap wrote and he was there when I did it, the commanding officer wasn’t there, this chap was.
Were you disappointed to miss out?
No because a soldier thinks I know a lot of other chaps
did more than I did and they should have got it but got nothing and so neither should I, so you just you don’t go in for that. My job was to look after the men to the best of my ability and I hope I never let anybody down. I’m only disappointed not for me, but for my family who might have thought I did a good job you see. But I don’t do it otherwise.
So what happened when you arrived back
Well when I got back to Australia, we hadn’t been demobilised there and I was very fond of my mother, and she is dead now but she was one of my favourite ladies, always would be ‘cause she sacrificed herself for her children. And I was very fond of her and I used to take her out, I didn’t have any girlfriends, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend during the war it’s too risky and I wouldn’t like the make a girl pregnant and and I get killed and
she’s got a child, more difficult for a woman and I wouldn’t do that to a woman. So I wouldn’t have so I used to take my mother out a lot. And I remember taking my mother out I was in uniform, 9th division patch on my soldier, and few ribbons and a little wound stripe on my shoulder, on my arm, yellow, a yellow ‘V’, and and the three
‘Vs’ for years overseas. And I was very fit, hard as a rock I was and I’d take my mother out and she was pleased because a mother likes their sons, they like their daughters too but and I’d take her down the street and I saw some men with my colour patch and they’d come across, here’s the bloody old doc’. And my mother said, fancy calling you a bloody old doc’, you’re my young young boy Bob. I was 24 years old then.
See I was her little boy Bob, but to men, the men I was the old doc’, the bloody old doc’.
Where did you take her?
Oh I took her to DJs [David Jones] and there’s a used to have a restaurant there I’d take her there. I wasn’t a member of any club at the time. I’d been away. And then I went to England for five years. And I stayed there and I, I’m a bit of a tricky I love to trick my mother and play up to her, boys do this you know it part of the act. So I came home with
gloves and a Homburg hat and she started crying, she thought I had changed, it was just an act. That painting there is to show my mother that was Billy the Kid to turn back the Japs you see. This is a joke for her. And the Homburg, the hat, I never wore the hat again, but I came off the plane from London with a Homburg and gloves. That’s tease. All my brothers and sisters knew it but my poor mother got upset,
my boy’s changed, she said. But I hadn’t changed at all. But I used to take her out a lot.
Bob if we could just go back a bit, you mentioned that you were put forward to receive the Military Cross twice, can you mention, can you talk about the particular incidents…
Well what I’ve told you about the barge.
Can you just explain that for the record, the video?
I thought I had done that, twice. But I’ll do it again. This barge
I was in with 60 heavily armed men we were going up to take Beaufort town, we had an American gun boat to give us fire power while we went in. We went in and they had eight 50 calibre machine guns, they were getting covering fire as we went in and eight 50 calibre machine guns give an awful lot of gun fire as you go in. And they were wiped out by the Japanese and I jumped over the deck of the gunboat to repair
wounded were my job. I had to do the job, no one else there to do it except me and if was risky you don’t think of the risk. A man has got to do his job and so I went. And my men kept on the covering fire. Graham could pick up read it beside him, you’ve read it. And I didn’t know who was firing my men, I was flat out doing the wounds on the deck I wasn’t watching, the Japanese or my
men. I know the bullets were hitting around, hitting the guns and the deck of the gunboat, the coxswain area at the back, but I was concentrating. And they saw me and they fired at me, and my men fired at the Japs like mad. And this chap thought I should have been given a medal. He wrote but the commanding officer wrote back and there could have been many many more deserving cases for a medal than I was.
But I wasn’t looking for a medal, I was trying to save lives. That’s my job and whether or not I got killed was bad luck because the men who charged, the enemy could be killed too some of them were, some of them badly wounded so I didn’t do anymore than anybody else. So I didn’t lose any sleep over it. Up in Jivevening, but I never knew he put it in, I didn’t know he put it in, not until after the war, he did that for me. He said
and he tried to tell me. I didn’t tell anybody else. You don’t do that as a man, you just do your job and it was only years later that he told me he put it in long back. And another one, he’s dead now, he’s a Military Cross winner, Jivevening and he was wounded and a lot of wounded were wounded and killed, wounded and killed was a tough spot and we were surrounded and I was doing a fair bit of work for the wounded and killed
and so on and this Military Cross Winner recommended me and the same commanding officer knocks it back. Once again there were plenty of other chaps doing plenty of jobs they were probably more deserving than I was so I didn’t lose any sleep over that. I only mentioned it because you asked me, I’m not doing it otherwise. I’ve never tried to follow it through and all this, I don’t do things like that.
So you’re back in Australia and you’ve taken your mother to DJs…
Oh and I took my sisters out and I took my other brothers out some of them younger and I had reunions with my soldiers and I went to the football and I then I had to go out looking for a job and I couldn’t get one and so I offered to work for St. Vincent’s for a year for nothing. You see I am very competitive when it’s important not otherwise, socially or sport, relaxation,
I’m not competitive I don’t bother. I want to relax and take the tense out of me and have a bit of fun with the sport, playing golf or going to the cricket or going to football. And that’s all, I’m not getting worked up about that, I’ve had more important things in my life than that to get worked up about. I do my best. But my best wasn’t sometimes not good enough, but I won a couple of cups at golf over there.
Had your brother, your older brother come back from the war?
He came back. He came back,
yeah. And he to do like me had to start for a job. He became a what do you call it a salesman for Boydeds then he worked in my mother’s, father’s hotel, then he took over that hotel and from there he went into getting in the executive of the Australian Hotels Association then his own hotel, the Illinois Hotel at Fivedock, ‘cause
my mother is American and came from Illinois, so he called the hotel the Illinois because that is where my mother came from. I told her she was a gangster’s moll and had to blow town that’s why she had to come to Australia. And we’ve all been a very good family. My sister, she’s now Dame Commander of the British Empire because there are not too many Dames of Australia but she did a lot for charity and she came president of the Australian.. the Women’s.. Catholic
Women’s Association of New South Wales and she raised many millions of dollars for charity, for them. And she’s a good operator a good worker. My other sister is a housewife and mother of children and my young brother is a headmaster of a school, fully qualified pharmacist and now he is retired.
And now when you came back and you saw your family again, what else had changed about Australia?
It seemed to be pretty quiet after what I was doing, pretty quiet and laid back and the people weren’t worried any much, the war was over, they’d done that, they got on with living. And the idea was to get on with living, I had to do it myself. And I couldn’t get a job so I offered to work for nothing and I got a job. Now being competitive, I didn’t want to be an also-ran. Some of the chaps at the hospital, whom I used to beat easily at the examination at university would now
have been senior to me for the rest of my life and I used to beat them before I thought I was better than them, better brain, tougher operator, and so on like that. So I thought, no one has been doing Obstetrics and Gynecology and I’d liked it when I was a student and so I thought I’ll do that and so I started there and there was no competition for the job, no one else was doing it, all the chaps who had done it all war, they had enough of it, they did it all through the war and they retired.
Practically all on Lachlan Ward retired straight away. So I had an opportunity there and I took it. Then when I.. Professor Maze, the Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, he liked me and he supported me and he helped me to get my first job in England. And I worked with a chap called Hal Malcom who was on the board of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in England. He was a senior obstetrician gynecologist
at the City Hospital at Nottingham and I went there and I got my degree first shot there my MRCOG in London in 1948. I then went down to London and did my FRCS [Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons] at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London in ordinary general surgery and I got that too. ‘Cause I meant to win, I meant to do well and I work like a thrasher. I didn’t have any women to bother me, I didn’t have any wife or girlfriend
because girls are nothing wrong with them, they are lovely people, but they certainly want attention. They don’t want to be taken for granted, they want attention and I saw many doctors’ lives wrecked up by their wives trying to make them do this and take them out. I’m in a strange country and I’m by myself and I’m lonely, see. And it stops the chap going with another chap to do a study course here there or everything. Whereas I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to get where I wanted to do and that is
concentrate on what I was doing.
When did you meet your wife?
Well, when I came back from England I had a FRCS in general surgery and a MRCOG in obstetrics and gynecology and I was at a wedding, at a wedding venue at Killara, I forget the name of the place and I met her there. Some girl whom I knew at St. Vincent’s before, told Betty Rose, that’s the girl I met,
this is the kind of man you want, she said to my wife. And she brought the girl over to meet me and she was a very nice lady and I was attracted to her, but by that time, I had done my degrees and I got my qualifications and I had a hospital appointment and I was more prepared to try and get married and so that’s what I did. And she married me and I’ve been with her now for 51 years
and I don’t regret one bit of it. She was very loyal to me and the poor thing now she doesn’t know what is going on she’s got Alzheimer’s disease but she was very very loyal to me and I think I was very loyal to her. I don’t think it, I know I was.
Did you ever tell Betty about your experiences?
Yeah sometimes I did yes, but women are not so innocent they don’t know those things so much, but I told her some of it.
What things did you tell?
I haven’t told her all the things I told you. Because some women are squeamish. They don’t like to hear we’re killing people, but we had to do it. They were trying to kill us and we’d do it, I’d do it again tomorrow.
And when you came back from the war did you ever dream about your experiences?
No I never dream, I never have conscious worries, I never dream, I never see this, I don’t do any of those things, I’m lucky, I’m a
very stable kind of a man. I don’t get worried or get upset, I take it on the chin whatever happens and I come out the other side still fighting. I still do it. I didn’t worry about this, I didn’t worry about that. My heart, my bowel operation. I was at a football once with my young brother and I wasn’t feeling very well I was feeling it very hard to walk from the stadium at Homebush back to the railway station, but I stopped I never gave in and I got home.
And I got home and he wanted me to stay at his place that night, and I said no I’ll drove home. And I drove home to where I was staying at Castlecraig and no here I was living here ‘cause I had a heart attack see? And but I got here and I had an awful lot of bleeding from the bowel and I was sick. But then I’m a doctor, I know that it’s cancer if it’s proved or it’s not cancer so I went to a friend of mine I had a colostomy. Now I’m
a funny kind of a fellow, I don’t feel it so much, I feel it but I can switch it off. I had to do it during the war, I could switch it off. So I said now I want a colostomy and the chap said right no anesthetic just the colostomy, I can see the cancer on the thing and I said right do it and a few days I put in and did the operation. And I was in and I can be fairly tough when it suits me and I said I don’t want any drugs for relief of pain and the nurses said oh you’ll undo the doctor’s work
I said ma’am, I’m not undoing anybody’s work and it’s my body and I know I’m going to take it. And she said no and I said I know this doctor, I don’t want any drugs and so I had it all and got back home in 9 days, back to here, proceeded to work. And then all the time I used to do a lot of other things. For example I became the President of the Right to Life of New South Wales. I don’t like abortion because it damages too many women,
and they can get away with it but a lot of them don’t. And as a doctor I’ve treated too many of them that have become sterile after having an abortion. The people who tell a lot say it doesn’t happen but it does. Otherwise these women have been telling me a pack of lies and if they have to force a baby through a cervix never been stretched before in a young girl it sometimes leaves them with an incompetent cervix and they keep miscarrying. But people who saying no it never happens, it only happens to the one girl and that’s happened to her.
It doesn’t matter what happens to anyone else, it matters what’s happened to the person. And so and I used to give lectures on and say I was a defender of the defenceless. The mother can order the destruction of her baby but nobody else can. But she can, it’s her baby, she is the one who has had intercourse but the baby is innocent, nothing wrong with it and I couldn’t do that.
Bob you said that you helped to give birth to 17,000 babies after the war, can you talk a bit about that?
Well I am very pro-woman I like women because my mother was such a lovely lady so I would never want to let her down and I made a promise in my life when I was wounded in New Guinea and knocked my tin hat off, that I would devote my life
to doing my best for the less fortunate people or women who were pregnant because of my mother’s sacrifice for her children and so I have tried to do that all my life. I never put in for sessional payment and I sat night, Christmas Day any time, I’d turn up for their confinements. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I was always there. And I don’t get panicky or nervous and I think that shows off when you’re treating a woman because women are very perceptive
and they watch their doctor like a hawk and if he appears to be nervous or worried they’ll be more frightened. When he appears to be don’t worry I’ll fix it, they’ll relax and they do better for themselves. And I try to give people confidence that I know what I’m doing and I was well trained and I think I did do it. And you see I treat a woman as a woman, I don’t treat her like as a pelvis. Too many women themselves treat themselves as a pelvis, the part they can’t see. I treat them as a woman. Women have periods, not wombs, women are pregnant
wombs are not. And therefore if you treat a woman as a woman, the one if front of you, you going to get more co-operation from her to get a better result for her. So my caesarian section rate was very low because I wanted the woman to do it themselves. I wanted a man to do it for himself, I want a man to fight for himself and I want people to have more confidence in themselves as a person because if their, otherwise they end up half drug addicts. And too many people in this world on too many drugs.
And I don’t like it.
You also mentioned you were the doctor for the South..
Sorry Western Football Team, can you talk a bit about that?
Yes well see because you se I like people, I like men and I like women. And a man’s got to be treated as a man and a woman has got to be treated as a woman. So when I saw these footballers wounded, these men wounded, I go for them. If I see a footballer doing his best for himself as a
footballer, team spirit like a battalion spirit then I wanted to help them And I was there one day where I went to school, Ashfield, and I… demand for a doctor, one was injured I went in. Look at trauma there is a little cut from a football, nothing to what I’d been doing so I was good at it and I treated him and took over and controlled them and they understood this guy knows what he’s talking about. So Mr. Lumos asked me, from Western Suburbs, would I
be their doctor? They had another doctor but they thought I was tougher and a bit better at it so I stayed there for 33 years. And I liked it, ‘cause I like men who got a bit of guts in them. I don’t like weak fish. And I always try to make a woman, in having a baby, remember that she was pregnant, she wants the baby to get the best out of life, nobody else wants, she wants it’s her baby, she goes into labour,
she carries it, she feeds it, she breathes for it, she excretes for it, and she wants to give it the best start in life therefore I wanted her to make sure she gave it the best start in life. I made her build herself up that she can do it and they can do it. If you treat them as a pelvis they can’t work it out and they drive themselves nuts and they worry them sick and women talk and they go worst, they are waiting for someone else to do it, it’s no good.
Bob did your wartime experience
make you a better doctor?
I think so I’m certain of it because I’ve seen so much pressure, pressure, and so much stress and so much trauma that if I saw a person worry about trivia I’d quickly make them stop it and get on with having the baby, I’d say it’s your baby ma’am would you fight for it? Yes. Well for God’s sake do it then, you fight for it, it’s yours. And when you deliver that baby and you hold it or give it to your hus…, you know you have given that baby life.
I did it. And they’d say did I let you down doctor? No you didn’t let me down and you certainly didn’t let your baby down you were terrific. And her husband should always acknowledge that to a woman and let her know she was wonderful. A husband shouldn’t say that oh it’s a normal function for you, it’s not, it’s hard. That’s why they call it labour. That’s why I believe in God he may be a man because it’s too damn hard to be a woman. I’m on their side and if I’ll help them, I’ll help them
And you can help them by, if a woman can…let me give you an example about drowning. Give me your hand, there’s nothing wrong with your hand and you go in swimming like that not if you panic what happens to your hand? Panic and you hold a lifesaver, he can’t swim to save you and if you do that in have a baby and try to elevate a muscle, the baby can’t be born. You’re holding back, you’re blaming everybody else but you’re doing it. The lifesaver didn’t go out to drown, he went out to save you. And you’re trying to have a baby,
to help it, if you squeeze and say save me doctor, do something, you’re doing it, I’d say well let go, the lifesaver let go or he’d punch them, headbutt them and make them let go and they can be saved. They don’t understand their own bodies, they are blaming everybody else.
So would you also motivate your footballers in the same way?
Always and my men. I don’t… look labour’s too late to wait, you work on them before, you work on them before right through the pregnancy,
you don’t wait for the labour, you have seven months to work on them and you tell them these examples and you help them.
So what would you say to the football players?
I say before they go on to the field, what do you think you are, aren’t you men, aren’t the others men? Well what’s wrong with you? Aren’t you as tough as they are? If you let them know you are hurt or you’re frightened, they’ll kill you. They’ll go right and walk over you. You make it, dish it out as well as you take it.
If you take, grit you face and come on again. And I have worked with some tough men, Noel Kelly, Tommy Raudonikis, Peter Diamond, none of them were fairies. And I get on very well with them, but weak fish not so good. There’s Boyd, they’d die for you see and that’s the bit I liked about the war and I like women to fight. A woman comes to me and in the first minute
she wants me to promise will I give her a epidural. I said madam, don’t tell you have failed before you have even started, it’s your first baby and you’re failing already. But they don’t come back anymore. Because I can’t promise what I’ll do. You know why? I can’t get the anaesthetist if he is not there, or with he is somebody else, do you follow?
Otherwise they will shoot me before I can keep my promise you see you can only do what you can only do. Some things are impossible. But I don’t want them to fail before they have even tried.
Because we would never win a battle if we have women like that or men like that. You don’t go onto a football field saying they’ll beat us, rubbish, you go on and say we can win.
So Bob you also mentioned yesterday off camera that you and your wife had done quite a lot of charity work?
Oh a lot of it.
Yeah could you talk about that.
Well you see I used to…she used to be on the Black and White Committee and she was a very good person
to go to the functions and I used to try and take her, even though I was tired, exhausted, I’d take her because I had a responsibility to my wife as well as my patients and I’d would never neglect my wife so I was sometimes damned tired and exhausted and I’d never let her down, I’d still go. I’d don’t let anybody down if I could help it and I’d go. And she’d get a nice dress and she’d look lovely and I was pleased. I’d tell her how lovely she looked, and women like that. They don’t
want a husband to take her for granted. The worst thing you can do to a woman is take her for granted. She must be acknowledged as an individual, a person important to you in your life so you want to do everything for her and she’ll do more for you. Take her for granted and she’ll resent it terribly. A woman must never, never be taken for granted.
Interviewee: Dr. Robert McInerney Archive ID 0002 Tape 08
So Bob you were talking about your charity work?
Well my wife’s she’s the Black and White Committee and I used to support her and she’s artistic and she used to wear lovely dresses, and she’d look good at the functions and they’d get publicity. And they used to take lots of photos of her and I was pleased for her and then
the Black and White committee she would do all the dressings of the prizes, she’s artistic. She’d do that beautifully. And I wanted her to do it because I wanted her to be involved to be contributing. And she never used to criticise other people and so they used to all like her, ‘cause she didn’t criticise. They’d be jealous of her but she’d do the work, she could do it . And she used to do it on the hospital committees and what have you and
I was the senior doctor on a lot of them, she go along and do the work and I always support her and let her do it.
What did the Black and White committee raise money for?
Deaf, dumb and blind. And they raised a lot of money. And they had some wonderful presidents and she’s worked for all of them and she’s done it very well and she is popular with everybody because she is not jealous and she always looked good. People putting on a charity
they like to see attractive, good well-dressed people, don’t they. They used to take photos, you’ve seen them. And I used to be pleased with her. Because all women like to be noticed and men like to be noticed. They didn’t notice me for my broken nose from fighting or a black eyes and so on but but split heads, but anybody like to be recognised no matter who they are.
How did you break your nose?
Someone was taking me on and I wouldn’t genuflect so I had to fight for it.
When was this?
At school. And I got 12 of the best from the headmaster, showed the other chap but I never had any more trouble with anybody ‘cause they knew terrific well that I would go in and fight. And I don’t seemed to get hurt. I can be hurt, but I won’t let the other guy know, I’ll still keep going.
And I’m not a big fellow but I just don’t give in. Very hard to beat a chap like that ‘cause I never admit I’ve been beaten.
You also mentioned yesterday that you’d done some charity work feeding the homeless?
Well I used to do that for the for St. Vincent De Paul and for the Knights of Malta I was used to be the President of the Knights of Malta in Australia and that’s my ribbon over there, that one there. And we are people
who buy ambulances for nursing homes and for the dying, we used to take it for drives and for the dying, we used to take them for drives, we’d buy the ambulances for them the Little Sisters of the Poor out in Clovelly and visited the people at the hospitals at St. Vincent’s and food for the poor and I used to like doing that, because I said to God when I was hit
at New Guinea, that if I survived I’ll contribute. And I never break my word.
That was when you were hit with the morphine in your pocket?
Yeah, yeah. So I could’ve should’ve been killed, why I wasn’t… I mean look at your own chest, if a bullet or if a shrapnel why didn’t it go a fraction further right through you, but it didn’t.
So what promise did you make to God at that moment?
Yeah because I said look, people had been killed and wounded around me and the other doctor had gotten frightened
and left and I thought, I’m not going to pull out and I’ll stay what ever happens. And I got out. I said promise to look after me and I’ll do what I can. That’s why I never kept any money from the football comp for 30 years. And some of them are on big money, but I did it for nothing. I wanted, I never put in for session payments at hospitals. I did a three and a half hour cancer operation all for nothing. And the public thought I was getting paid.
One lady came in and she was having her period so I couldn’t examine her so she put her hand out and said I want my money back. I said I want my money back. I said what do you mean. I paid five dollars. I said madam I don’t get a penny, you ask them and ask them. They don’t believe it you do it for nothing. It used to be upsetting to me because people didn’t know you were doing it for nothing.
So do you feel as though you kept your promise to God?
Oh I do I do. Because you only live once and I may as well do as best
what I can. If I promise something, even if I get hurt or lose money, I’ll do it. I never I never I never worry about things like that. I don’t have any money, I just what I could see. If they didn’t have any money I’d do the cancer operation for nothing.
Bob could you tell me what the motto of the 2/43 battalion is?
Never give up, never despair. And we didn’t.
We were a very good frontline infantry battalion and everybody was looking after each other. There’s no, nobody was trying to get gongs or anything like that. Nobody worried about whether you got it or you didn’t. And anybody was recommended if they could support it, we’d help them but everyone must be a man of character and fight for his fellows and his country. And I’ve always done that if I could. I’m no genius
I’m not pretty stupid, but I never give in. I don’t look like a fighter, but I but I won’t give in. And I like the men. I like men and I treat men and I like women and I treat them as women. And I have to do them quite differently. Do you think all women are the same?
Well then I can’t treat a woman the same. Everybody to me is an individual be it a man or a women not one
better than the other, just different.
So Bob did you maintain contact with many of your mates after the war?
All of them. I’ve been to see two of them in hospital this week. One of them, the chap who saved my life over there, has got a stroke in Prince Alfred and I go see him and tomorrow I’ll go and see McKinny who’s sent to a nursing home. Another one down at Caringbah, I’ll go and see him, he’s got pneumonia, he’s only got one lung. If he’d come back to the battalion and fought with one lung, he had a bullet through his chest and bayoneted
he’d had been dead, he had no lung. But doesn’t matter, I’m very loyal to them. If others had been in I’d go and see them too. I’ve been up as far as the coast, Central Coast, Umina, Gosford, to see others, Liverpool you name it, down at what’s the name of the place? Wheeler Heights to see others. It just doesn’t bother me they are my men I will go and see them.
you get together with your men do you reminiscence about the war?
Not much, but we tease the hell out of each other though. We tease each other, men love to tease each other you know, it’s a characteristic of being male. I don’t know whether women tease each other as much as we do but we do it and the more outlandish it is, the more we get a laugh. And if he replies and gives us as much as we give him, we have a big roaring laugh. I don’t think women do that as much, they think, what does she mean by that and get more temperamental about it. I might be wrong of course. But the women I have seen that’s what they do.
So did you ever feel like you that you need to talk about your wartime experiences with your mates?
Not much no. I don’t know who put me up for this I didn’t do this. But if you come I’ll tell you the truth, whether you like it or not that’s not my problem. I’m telling you what happened, to me the way interpreted it. And you asked me what I did I’ll do it
I didn’t write that thing but that soldier wrote about me. I didn’t do it. I didn’t know who it was firing, I was flat out working on the deck I didn’t know. I didn’t know for years, this other chap had Military Cross winner, Gordon Coombs, he I was sick dying. I went down South Australia to see him before he died. ‘Cause he was my men, he was my friend and I won’t let a friend down, doesn’t matter if it costs me money or not.
Friendship is not valued, it is friendship. And he was a great man, he got a Military Cross and he was a first grade Australian Rules player in South Australia and he played first class cricket and a good type of man and I related to chaps who have got achievements and who can do the work.. Without turning on a big act for it. You wouldn’t know Gordon Coombs was a Military Cross winner at all. But I know him ‘cause I
was with him for years and I helped him when he was wounded at Jivevening. And he’s the one who recommended me for a Military Cross. I didn’t get it but I did go for that, I went because Gordon was my friend.
You have another medal didn’t you I think you were awarded a medal?
Yes I was a Knight of Malta because I did this charity work and I used to help people and I am also a CMG [Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George] from the
Queen because I am first doctor in this country of Australia to transfuse babies inside the womb before they were born. The first on in the whole continent of Australia. And the third one in the world.
That’s what you did?
Could you explain what that was?
Well being an obstetrician doing a lot of I used to see a lot of babies die through severe affected RH [Rhesus]disease. They’d get severe anemia and get all bloated up and all swell and they’d die, there is no treatment. Or what treatment wasn’t saving their life.
So then I read an article, a doctor has got to keep reading the world’s literature to keep up with the latest worldwide, not just Australia. And I read an article of a New Zealand doctor, Bill Lilley was transfusing babies inside the womb before they were born and saving some of these cases. So I decided at my expense to go across to New Zealand and talk to him and listen to what is done and see his procedure and work it out and then come back and did it in Australia. So I did that
and I was successful. In 1963, that’s 30 years ago 40 years ago and then we knew more about it and I used to do them. My hospital bought equipment for me to do it and some of my colleagues used to be jealous of me. But I couldn’t care less I was trying to save babies I wasn’t trying to upstage anybody and that is how it works. So I do things like that. And then I was a guest professor
in obstetrics and gynecology in Japan in Bangkok, in the Philippines, Fiji, Atlanta, Georgia, Buenos Aires. Because I suppose if I can do something and people want me to do it for them, I go and do it.
What was it like to visit Japan after your experiences?
Excellent because the Japanese are very intelligent people, they are very proud of their country and I’d operate and talk to them
and then they’d give me the day off and they’d put the bullet train on and I’d go down to Osaka and I’d they’d show me there Kyoto, they showed me the old palace of the Mikado Ordemio and they had a girl for me and girl for Betty Rose and in Japan, a lady is not allowed to talk. They can answer a question in a public meeting with their
husbands, but otherwise they sit in the background, see. But if if you ask them a question they talk and answer but not otherwise. Where when I went with Betty Rose, my wife is a very friendly girl, talks to everybody and those three girls talking like nobody’s’ business. I’m walking in front of them and they’re talking. I wouldn’t interfere, I want them to talk, because they are normal girls the same as you are.
It started to rain in two seconds flat they had dumped Betty Rose and put the parasols over me, and say ‘Ah-so’ I make a very good Japanese gentleman, see see. Man is number one in Japan and the woman are possessions of the man. We don’t like that but they are brought up in that culture.
Did you when you were in Japan, did you have an opportunity talk to anyone about the war?
No I wouldn’t do it. Too much common sense to do that. I wouldn’t do that, I
wouldn’t do that.
So it never came up?
Never came up. But one of the Japanese chaps I worked with, Sakimoto, he’d been in the Japanese army during the war and he was doing his job for his country and I was doing mine for mine. Who was to say that I am doing any more than he was. He wouldn’t think so and I never thought so either. So I was worked with him. When he came to Australia, he came to watch me operate and I watched him in Japan.
So you never discussed it with Sakimoto at all?
No never I don’t do that.
I don’t do that, it’s not right. If I was called up, no I volunteered but I volunteered to fight for Australia because the Japanese were coming down in New Guinea and I thought my job was to fight for my family and my country. They thought they were threatened by America, wouldn’t give them oil, they wouldn’t do this and they were threatening the future of Japan and so he’ll fight for Japan. He was doing for his country what I was doing for mine. But they have a different culture, they
fight Japanese way we fight Western way. To us our way is better, to them their way is better. And they were very intelligent people, the Zero fighter was a very good Japanese fighter. They’re Woodpecker machinegun was a damn good gun. You can’t say they weren’t brave men because they were.
Bob what does ANZAC Day mean to you?
It means to me a recognition
of men, Australian men, who fought and died for their country, fought not killed and fought and died for their country. It’s a recognition of my friends who never returned. I want to give them recognition. I want to present myself for them. And I want Australia as a country to recognise that they gave their lives for this country. It’s not it’s a old soldiers saying that it glorifies war, that irritates the hell out of us
Anyone who could glorify war when you’ve buried all your friends, you couldn’t do that, that’s dumb. But some people who don’t like war think that old soldiers glorify war. That’s an insult to us; it’s got nothing to do with it. It’s recognising your friends. If you see a man who has represented Australia in test cricket, you think he is a good man, represented Australia in football and he is a good man. Man or woman okay. These chaps represented Australia and they died
a lot of them were stupid wars. Why did we go to Europe in the First World War? Why did we go to Gallipoli? Doesn’t matter but they went. And they died, unnecessarily, who knows? We don’t know what it would be like if we hadn’t gone.
What do you think about the recent activities in Iraq?
Correct thing, the correct thing, you never give in to a bully. Only the do-gooders give into a bully ‘cause nobody is threatening them,
they only do it theoretical, they are theoretical scientists. Hitler wanted, what did the League of Nations do to Hitler? Nothing. He took Zudentenland, the Rhine Land, Austria and Hungary, he took the Baltic States and what did we do, kept talking to him, kept talking to him. And you read history, Mein Kampf, My Struggle, he’ll tell you that. He said the British will just talk, they won’t do anything and he was right.
Beautiful picture of Chamberlain the Prime Minister standing on the steps of a plane back from Berlin, paper, peace in our time. What nonsense, he was being conned and he fell for it because nobody wants war, see. So Hitler said, I was getting all of this without war, why should I have to take it with a war. When he invaded Poland, what happens, Chamberlain was kicked out and Hitler says,
we’ll will go to war. Bright thing to do. What did Mussolini he took Eritrea and Abyssina, nobody took him, then the United States took him, okay they stopped it. What about Napoleon, he went as far as Warsaw, to Moscow, those pips, history will tell you they’ll never give in, they keep going. Why you’re gas-bagging talking, they’ll take everything. And Saddam Hussein what did he do?
He put gas-bombs in Kuwait, into Kurdistan, Kurdish Iraqis they are Iraqis, killed hundreds and ten thousands of people, I don’t know the figures but I’ve read different figures. Then he attacked Kuwait, airforce and infantry and then invaded the country. So there was the Americans got him out
of that in less than a week, they went right to Baghdad and the United Nations stopped them just on the outside Baghdad. And Hussein signed a peace treaty to get rid of all his weapons, no further ambitions. Okay. What did he do? He was supposed to tell them where he’d had them, show evidence he, he wouldn’t do it. In 1999 the United Nations had another meeting
and asked him to do it otherwise, he’d be in trouble. And did how long are we supposed to wait by talking, how long are you supposed to wait and he had been killing locals all over the place, a dynasty of one, his party. Not all the other parties, just his, the Bath party, not the Sunni not the Shiites, just one party.
What are you supposed to do? Let him get away with it? United Nations was a paper tiger, they did nothing, they talked. It cost about 3 billion dollars a year to run them and what do they do, nothing. What did they do in the Hutu massacre in Belgium Congo [probably means Rwanda]? What did they do, talked. See talking is no good. If I talk to a bully, what will he do. I got a broken nose and a black eye but I
never had any more trouble. And I did it myself, I got into a fight, I got the broken nose and smashed face, but it doesn’t stop me being a bad doctor.
What do you think about modern warfare?
Modern warfare is brutal, and there is no defence against half of it. I mean it multiplies casualties terribly. When you consider they have laser sites, the bread dot gets onto the tank and it automatically fires the gun
and hits the tank. And laser bombs can be radar directed from satellites to hit a target. It’s very hard, it’s brutal. But what are you supposed to do? Let them get away with murder? Don’t let them get away with murder or do you stand up and fight? Wars don’t stop wars, wars just stop aggressive take-everything for nothing that’s all they do, they don’t stop a war.
They never stopped a war, they didn’t stop the 1914 war, they didn’t stop the war, they didn’t stop the Kosovo War, they didn’t stop the Korean War, they didn’t stop the Vietnamese War. They don’t stop it, but what are you supposed to do? I don’t know. But I know if somebody attacked my Betty, I’d go in and fight him. I wouldn’t have any hesitation at all, even if I got hurt.
I’d tell you what, he’d know he was in a fight. I don’t look like a fighter am I, but I’d defend my lady like nobodies business, no bones about it, even if I got hurt.
Bob did you become a member of any veterans associations or RSLs? [Returned Services League]
No RSL only. I wouldn’t say that I was a devoted military man at all because I don’t like war, but if it’s necessary
I’ll fight as well as anybody. Or not as well, but to the best of my ability. Chaps can fight better than I can but I can do to the best of my ability. But I don’t want to be a custodian of the RSL or anything like that. But I join them and I go to the ANZAC Day marches, for my men. A reflection of loyalty to the chap who fought and didn’t come back.. Just
as much for those who came back , they were just as brave as the chap who was killed. The chaps who were killed were not any braver than the ones who weren’t killed. It was just the luck of the game. I mean John O’Reardon was killed going that way I was not killed going that way, but I was doing the same thing. We were both in enemy territory.
And I believe that you carried the banner for your battalion?
No no I didn’t I had another man carry that. No I’m the doctor and I lead them, but the banner carrier is at the front.
I’m on the side of him. I don’t believe that. More men did more for the battalion than I did. I’m not the flag bearer. I did my best for them, but these other guys did their best too. There are many men in who marched in my battalion who were wounded in action. I only had a little scratch. I didn’t put it down as a wound. They would have sent me out from battle and I wouldn’t go out. I stayed there.
It’s not recorded in the battle that I was wounded in action. ‘Cause I only had a trivial little thing there, I wouldn’t go out for that.
What did you have?
A bit of shrapnel, I don’t know whether shrapnel or the perforated dixie scratched my arm. All I had was blood on my arm. I don’t know whether shrapnel hit it or the sharp dixie hit it where it perforated.
Did you have to stitch yourself up.
No. Yes I got stitches, I can’t see it I could hardly see the damn thing. I had three little stitches.
And you did that yourself?
Yes but I had somebody to holding it because I couldn’t hold it with both hands. It was there.
That must have been painful?
No. I don’t, men you see, in battle when somebody hits you, it numbs you a bit, if you do it straight away it hardly hurts you. But I could have this without pain, I could have that without pain, oh I had pain but I could put up with it. I’m obstinate you see.
I’m a bit obstinate. See then I joined the…. I’m Master of the Medical Guild at St. Luke. I was President of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in this state, and Chair of the board at the hospital and so I’ve done a lot of other things like that because if somebody asked me to do something or they voted for me and I accepted that means I have to do it otherwise I wouldn’t have accepted
accept it at all. You don’t accept a job unless you feel you can do it. You don’t sort of just go for a job for a sinecure or a title, you’ve go to do the job. And that means you sometimes upset people. You have to make decisions. And if you got to represent a job, an organisation, it’s the organisation you’re representing not yourself. If you don’t want to do that
don’t take the job. But if you do and you upset somebody when you make a decision, bad luck.
Bob could you give us a list, I know you have mentioned them throughout the interview, but you could actually give us a list of your medical qualifications that you have?
Yes. MBBS Sydney, Honours; FRCS that’s Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of London; FRACS, Fellow of the Royal Australia College
FACS, Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; FRCOG, Fellow of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists from London; FRACOG, Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist; Brown-Craig Prize, shared Brown-Craig Prize, Operative Surgery, surgical, Operative Surgery; Climpson Prize, shared Climpson Prize in Surgical Anatomy;
Compton in Surgery at St. Vincent’s;
DEETA Prize in Surgery In St. Vincent’s. They are the professional qualifications.
That’s a pretty impressive list.
Then I’ve got the CMG, that’s for the Queen, the Competitive of the Distinctive Order of St. Michael of St. George, AM from the Australian order, and JP
and I am a KM, that’s Knight of Malta and I’m a KCSG, that is a Knight of Sovereign Order of Saint oh I forget, KCSG, Papal Knighthood.
How do you get a Papal Knighthood?
‘Cause of the work you have done
for the various organisations over many years. I’ve done all these things for nothing, I don’t take money for them. I work, I do the positions for nothing and operated for nothing, did charity work for nothing and you treat them all for nothing and eventually somebody notices it and gives you something. But you don’t get it for nothing, you might do it for 30 years before you get it.
but you don’t do it for that. But that’s how I’ve done all those things see. But I like it. If I can contribute to somebody, I’ll do it. I give lectures now, it’s all kind of organised. JP societies, Rotary Clubs, Probus Clubs, and all kinds of things, but I like it. You see people are very ignorant,
newspapers.. too many people are what I call media educated, in other words, their knowledge is from reading newspapers, watching TV which may or may not be true. It may not be accurate, you see. And it’s sad to me, that’s how most people are educated. They read an article in the newspaper and they say well I know it I saw it, it’s true. Wrong. That’s what a reporter in the newspaper thought.
Doesn’t mean to say he is any better than I am. You see. And I have done a lot of court work as a medical specialist, and it’s not fair a lot of the things are stupid, the decisions are ridiculous in law. But you see I am not a lawyer, I’m a doctor. But the judge becomes a senior consultant in the case and he, if a professor comes against me, his decision
is considered better than mine because he’s a professor. And the jury and the judge will think, well he is a professor and he should know. Wrong. The professor is an academic. You never see a professor at the cliff face doing all the emergency surgery, you never see him in the middle of the night doing emergency operations or confinements. He is the academic professor lecturing to the students. I do ten times more, fifty times more things than he ever done in his life.
So talking about war injuries, we were just talking about war injuries a little while ago you also mentioned before that you had malaria
I had a malaria at one stage, because see if I have a lot of casualties at night time or late afternoon and of course it becomes night and it’s raining, I’m flat out working and sometimes even though I had put Adament on, it might not have been effective enough if I haven’t had a heavy dose. So at one stage in New Guinea in Finschaffen I got malaria. I got a high temperature
I had some blood taken sent it to the local thing, found malaria parasites. So I gave myself some adrenaline and Adaprin and Quinine and I stayed on duty because I had to go to this other doctor who had been sent out and I wasn’t going to not go, when they asked me to go when because I had malaria to use as an alibi. So I went just the same, but I was pretty tired when I got there.
What happens to your body when you have malaria?
Well you can get severe lassitude and shivers and shakes but I’m pretty tough I knew what I had and so it didn’t bother me, I was I had some chaps carry my gear for a while until I sort of got over that attack and not over that attack, over that sort of tiredness because we were going over a hill called North Hill at Finschaffen
And I had a hill to get over, when I got over the hill and down the other side, I started to pick up and then I went to that spot where John O’Reardon was killed but I was getting better and I kept on going and I treated myself and I got better. Then once more back in Australia before I went to Borneo I got another attack but I was in hospital there for a couple of days and it didn’t come back at all. See your resistance
goes down if you are doing a lot of hard work you know.
Was it difficult to perform as a doctor while you were ill?
Oh a little hard but I wasn’t as ill as all that. I had had malaria and I didn’t get too bad, I didn’t get too bad. But we weren’t in action at the time, we were in reserve on North Hill then when had to go to the other spot and by the time I got to the other spot Pavo I got over the attack.
I’m a bit obstinate. I’m a bit obstinate you know. I wouldn’t let it bother me too much. I suppose I get more cranky then. But I still didn’t… that’s where I got the tin hat knocked off and other things when I was there. And I was very please I went because I wouldn’t want to think people I got nervous and didn’t go wouldn’t go you see. A soldier has a certain vanity you know,
he doesn’t want to let anybody down. Certainly doesn’t want to let himself down anyhow. I’m a bit obstinate like that.
You seem to be quite a determined character…
I am a bit, but not at the expense of anybody else only at the expense of myself, not at the expense of anybody else, I wouldn’t hurt anybody deliberately.
But that seems like quite a you know quite a unique quality.
I can’t imagine every soldier was like that?
Gee I met some pretty good soldiers though, they did just as much more than I did, not as much more than I did. Some people you’ve got no idea, they become very determined when someone is firing at them. They resent it. The thought of Japs coming at me made me very resentful for them. And the other chaps did. Now the chap who had the Victoria Cross
he had only one chance in buckleys of getting through, but he got through. He had two machine guns lined up at him and he walked down the track with a Bren gun looking straight at them, he could only see their heads. One burst from them and he was gone, cut to ribbons. But he kept going. He did it again about an hour and a half later. So you see, there are those who did far more than I did, far more.
So we joke amongst the men. I got decorated during the war, well after it anyhow. I got the RSL, Returned Soldiers got home. See we joke with each other. And I said oh God I was brave I got the RSL, see men we joke about it, we don’t make big deal of it you know. We were supposed to do a job and if we didn’t do a job it was our fault and if we did a job, we were supposed to, so that’s what we expected. I didn’t go looking for anything.
And if I was decorated, I didn’t realise I was sent for those things. It didn’t bother matter. You know I wasn’t going for that, I was going for a man to make sure my men respected me as a man. That’s all I couldn’t care less. Those things are half phoney. I have seen one of my men get a Military Cross and I thought he was an idiot. He got himself in a stupid position and if he tried to get out he’d had been killed, if he stayed there, he survived,
so he got a Military Cross. You see, you people don’t know how decorations are given out and I’ve seen too many of it. It didn’t bother us. There area lot of people non-medical, non-surgical, non-military people they don’t know, see. It’s funny we don’t think the same way somebody
else thinks it ‘cause I have seen what all the chaps have done. This little chap Ozzy he did all those attacks, just the same and he got nothing, he recommended me for a Military Cross. He didn’t get anything, he just got the RSL like I did. And I laugh and joke with him. I see you’ve got no influence Ozzy you’re a useless twit. Didn’t get anywhere, nobody listens to you. Ah well and we joke. We tease each other.
Bob we are going to
finish up soon but I was just wondering if you have anything else you wanted to mention?
Yes I think respect everybody else in your life the way you want people to respect you and remember this, that if I’m entitled to a point of view, some one else is entitled to a country point of view just as much as I am allowed mine. And it doesn’t matter if he’s right and I’m wrong, or I’m right and he’s wrong we are both different, we are both entitled to a different point of view.
And that is why the commonest cause of trouble between a man and a woman. The woman always thinks, acts, reacts and emotes like a woman because she is one and a man always thinks, acts, reacts and emotes like a man because he is one and they are not the same at all but they are both entitled to their country point of view. We shouldn’t fight over it, we should accept the difference. If you do that you have less trouble with people. Otherwise it is a vanity of personal opinion ruining your life and we all have a certain vanity. I don’t
I don’t trust people who don’t have ambition, I don’t trust people who haven’t got a bit of vanity about their own self doing something. And that is commonsense. But it is not cause for a fight or an argument. A different opinion does not mean you should fight, at all, it’s stupid and obstinacy.
Well Bob it’s been a real privilege listening to your story, thank you very much.
I’ve enjoyed it, you have been very fair people and I hope I haven’t prattled on too much but I feel that you are sincere people and you want to know what somebody did 50 years ago and later on and why he does that and I have tried to be honest with you. Thank you very much.
We appreciate it thank you very much.