I wasn’t, I was pretty delicate, I believe, and another lady next door sort of done the main part of rearing me and, anyway, they unofficially adopted me and me own mother and father went to Queensland and she sort of adopted me and they reared me from then on till the period when I joined the war. They had a general
store which I worked in after school, I went to the local state school. When they left, I didn’t go with them, they left to go to Mount Macedon with their own daughter. And I stopped in Narre North, in the same district, I worked on farms, in a florist, general, you know, rouseabout sort of thing, till war was declared and I joined the army
when I was, I put me age up actually, I was only, I think I was seventeen or eighteen, I put me age up. Anyway, me father found out that I joined up and he claimed me discharged and I was discharged and out for about a fortnight and I went and re-enlisted again, though with his consent, and I come back with a new number.
I enlisted at Dandenong, we done out, a bit of training at the showgrounds at Melbourne. Then we [were] sent to Puckapunyal, we done all our training at Puckapunyal till the time that we sailed. We sailed on the Strathaird, it was a real luxury ship, she hadn’t been converted from a passenger liner. Me and another bloke had a two berth cabin and all
the amenities that went with it, we had a ball. We was about six weeks going over, we stopped at Fremantle, we stopped at Hayden, we went up the Suez Canal and then parked at a place called El Kantara. We were put on training and taken up to a military camp, prepared at a place called Beit Jirja. We done all
our training there and the Italians come into the war, they took us down, we went up through Egypt. We, done the first push up through Egypt, went through Bardia, Tobruk, El Alamein, Deir Suneid, all those places, up the Mediterranean coast until the Germans, we had the Italians,
we chased them right out of it, now Germans took over and they come back and they, soon as they come into it, they fought us, all us blokes back and they brought a new division out from Australia and sent them all up the desert and brought us all back and sent us over to Greece. Am I going on the right track?
and, that’s when the rot really set in you know. He dropped thousands and thousands of parachutes on us and we had him beaten and it was just through bad leadership that we got beat. We had a – am I allowed to mention names of [people] I don’t like? – a bloke called Freyberg. He was a New Zealand general and he made one big hash
of it and if they’d have held the Maleme Aerodrome, we had the Germans beat because they dropped thousands of chutes on us and we just about cleaned them up but they took the Maleme Aerodrome and then they started landing plane loads of troops and that’s what sort of beat us, you know. From then it became, after I was taken prisoner, I was, I was sent to, we went
over on barges back over to Greece and we finished up at a place called, I just can’t remember the name of it, it’s a prison camp pretty close to Athens. We found a sewerage drain which was, a few blokes was getting out, and one night I was going to go and they, luck would have it, or it was bad luck,
the Germans found out and they blocked the other end and a lot of blokes were still in the tunnel and they got fumigated with the sewerage fumes and they just died in there, you know, but I hadn’t gone down at that stage. Anyhow, we were put on a train and sent on a, to go on away to Germany and me and two other blokes, second night out, we were going through Bulgaria and
we were put in dog boxes, just, you know, forget how many blokes to a dog box, was the whole truck the whole cattle truck type of thing. And we had a little iron bar, somehow, I don’t know where we got it from, but anyhow we broke the wire, they had barbed wire across the windows and we snapped, managed to stop the wire and my mate went out first, we had to pull
him back because there was a tunnel coming up. And anyhow, we got him back in and he jumped and then they lifted me up and I went out next and we arranged to walk back up the line and meet each other, and anyway the third bloke that went, he killed himself, he got killed, he broke his neck or something, bloke named Jones, and me mate and I met up and we just sort of took to the hills and we were
travelling through Bulgaria for a fair while or, when I say a fair while, a few days. We didn’t have any food and that, you know, we were pretty crook. Anyhow, we went into a village and, they wanted to know, they thought we were parachute troops, but Bulgaria then was an ally of Germany and they said, “Where are you going?” and we said, “Oh we was trying to make for the Turkish border,” and they said, “Oh well.”
They give us a feed and they said, “We’ll get a bloke who will,” you know, “guide you through the mountains to the Turkish border.” So anyhow, a young bloke come out, he, well we travelled for about half a day and we come to a village and he said, “Would you mind just waiting here till I see if the track’s clear.” The track was clear alright, he come out with a brand spanking new German rifle and he had a full magazine and he bailed us up and he,
he then marched us into the village and they then handed us over to the Bulgarian Army and we had, we was with them for about a week, they treated us really well too, they, you know, give us a shave and bath and showers and plenty of food and they interrogated us and they said, “Do you want us, to stop with us or hand you back to the Germans?” And we said, “Oh stop here.” Anyway, the, one
morning, oh about, before daylight, they come and woke us up and there was another train load of prisoners coming through and they marched us down and we were put in with that. But the train we jumped out of, they all went on to real good jobs. We were, went to a place called Moosburg and worked on a railway for a while and then they transferred us all up to the coalmines in Poland. I was at a place called Piaski Don Brova,
yeah, they was the only two mines we was in, we was in them for about two or three years which was pretty crook, you know, the going was tough. And that went on for, yeah, for about a bit over two years or something, I think it was, until the, after the D-Day [6 June 1944 – commencement of liberation of Europe] landing and then the Russians started to push from the other side and we
were, ‘They must start marching,’ we were marched around Europe for about three months, you know, sort of getting us away from the advancing forces, until we was finally, Patten’s mob cut one night and we sort of, after that we were, we made our own way back. I’m a little bit vague on it, you know, how it all, put it in sequence, but it’s –
I know there was about four of us, five, half a dozen of us, we knocked a German tractor off, it had a hay cart on it, and we set off to make our way towards France, and that night the Yanks, we struck the American forces, and they said, “Get off the road because there’s a curfew on and half of them are trigger happy.”
So we stopped the tractor and we went to a hay shed or something and slept and the next morning, it was very cold and a little bit snowy, we couldn’t start the tractor, so then we just split up in pairs and me and another bloke, well we got a ride back to Nuremberg, I think it was, and we camped with the Americans there for two or three days
and then we, from Nuremberg we went to, we made our way to, I think it was, back to Regensburg, place called Regensburg. You just have to give me time to think, I’m running out of it.
a hotel there, and I ran that fruit shop then for a few years. There was a second, a son was born, the second born, and the doctor fractured his skull when he was born and he was left a bit physically handicapped and we had to give it away because we had to devote most of the time to him, you know. And then I just, you know, worked around any job I could get. I
was, worked with a shop-fitting crowd, I worked with a hot water crowd, I worked at a racecourse for a while, Sandown Park Racecourse. And, then life just went on, me first wife died, and then we lost the boy when he was twenty seven, I
think. And then the, I lost me daughter when she was, that’s her up there, when she was in her early fifties, she had breast cancer, you know, then Beverly and I met up and we finished up getting married.
Best day’s work I ever done. I got, but.
I think me old man come up with the idea of growing cotton, he didn’t know what a reel of cotton looked like, you know, and that’s the last I ever seen of them, I think, of, for a few years. And they lived at a place called Mentale, which was only about fourteen mile away, but they, me brother was born, they had him in the meantime, and they just sort of didn’t bother about me, in the early stages, but later on. But I’m not going crook, I
mean, I had a better life with these people that had me than I would have done with them because they weren’t rich but they had money and they had a store, a country store, and my father was only, finished up working for the railways and, you know, and he only worried about himself, so I was quite happy.
old shop where the, next to the shop they had at Narre Warren North was a Church of England building and they had ground and they had four cypresses in each corner, like one on each corner, and I used to see blokes of a, humping the bluey, you know, carrying the swag, and they wasn’t the average swagmen, they’d be good types of fellows, would
be camped under that [at] night and they’d come out from under this pine tree of a morning with their swags, you know, just looking around the local, because Narre North was all farms and orchards and market gardens, you know, picking up a day’s work here, or half a day’s work somewhere else to send home money for their family and that, it was right in the heat of the Depression. I can remember, well I wasn’t fending for meself because, you know, I was well cared for. But these blokes, they used to, I can remember them as well as anything,
they’d all be camped under these cypress trees, you know, and coming out of a morning, getting on the road, making for the farms and that, seeing if they can get a day’s work. Yeah that was, it was right in the middle of the Depression.
because we, it was a country place and the school I was with, it was only a one teacher school and a one room school and it was all the kids from the first grade to the eighth grade, that’s when you got the, you left, you got your merit certificate, I think it was, and you left when you was fourteen. And we used to, at school we always got the old teachers that was always, that was the last school before they were pensioned off from the education department.
And they used to, the only way they used to teach you was with a strap about this long and about that wide and if they couldn’t teach you by fair means, they teach you by foul and I was always seen to [be] getting into, bit of a rebel I suppose. I remember one bloke one day, one teacher we had, I’d been to the beach and I was red headed when I was young and I had fair skin and I got badly sunburnt and he,
that was on the weekend or something, I went to school on the Monday, I went to school and I got hammered for something and I had all little blisters and he broke all little blisters, he belted me from the shoulders to the, me behind. And the old lady come when I went to bed that night and I had to soak the shirt off me with olive oil, he made that big of a job. Anyway, she went and got him and showed him, he was full, very apologetic that he’d done it, you know, but that was the type of teachers we had. They were the,
they were the sort of blokes that sort of lost their sense of humour and they shouldn’t have been there, you know, they’re on their last stages of teaching and I think I had about two young teachers, was good, I can remember that part of it, we never had them for too long, but these old blokes, I didn’t like them, they didn’t like me.
that was seven miles from where I lived, at a place called Dandenong. Now it’s, it’s nothing, but then it was, you know, you had to catch buses. No I was never a top line scholar, and I’ll admit it. I was flat out spelling cattle a lot of times, but I sort of got through you know. I think I leant more after I left school
than I did at school. When you’re working in, I was working around the shop and that, you sort of, you know, learnt more figure work than what I ever did at school. As I told the lass, I didn’t like the teachers, number one, and, there you are, your heart sort of wasn’t in it. I mean I got through alright, but I was never a brilliant scholar, no. I never had
any ambitions of being Prime Minister or anything like that, you know.
during the war years, I just didn’t know what I was going to do when I got out. The day I was discharged they sent us through, a few blokes had asked us what we was going to do, or did we want to be apprenticed to anything, or what we done pre-war, and nothing that they ever said to me turned me on, like, “Did you want to be a bricklayer, did you want to be a builder, do you want to be a – ,”
they asked me, ‘Did I want to go back to – ,’ I was working on a florist when I enlisted and they said, “Do you want to go back to that game?” and I said, “No, I don’t.” and so I just freelanced, you know, I, when you come out of the army and especially when you’ve been a prisoner or war for a fair while and been down mines, you know, you, it’s, I don’t know,
it used to, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown after the war, there was a lot of us the same, they, I was in the, what they call the thirteen, or fourteen, the barrack at Heidelberg Military Hospital. And they wanted to put the battery on me at that stage, they used to use a battery, did you ever hear of that? They put headphones on you, and clamp down your
throat to keep you from swallowing your tongue, and shoulder pads, and then they’d, two or three dirty great orderlies would come in, ex-military policemen, and then they’d hook you up and then press this button and it’d knock you rotten. Anyway, they’d roar like a bull and you always knew when you were going to get it because your name was left off the breakfast list. Anyhow my name was left off one morning, so I went up to the officers, I said, “Am I going to get the battery?” They said, “Yes.” And I said, “I’m not going to have it.”
They said, “Why?” I said, “It wasn’t doing any good.” I didn’t reckon, you know. I was in with some bad cases, there was one bloke, he was the troop carrier that hit the, to, of the Owen Stanleys, and anyway, they said, “Well look, that’s your option to do it but,” they said, “what’ll you do?” I said, “I’ll go home.” And, they said,
“The day you walk out of here without treatment, don’t ever come back to the army for help,” they said, “because you won’t get it.” And I’ll tell you what, they was right too, any application you made for a pension, I get one now, but back in that era, if you knocked it back then, you’d had it. So.
What did you think of this after, you know, going through service for the army for all those years?
Yeah, well, I don’t know, you, you’re terribly unsettled, or I was, you know. You, I missed the blokes I was with, I sort of, even women’s company didn’t interest me too much until I got married, but when you’re living with blokes and you’re worked with them, you know, you see them skittled and all this business, it,
I think this is what made a lot of us go troppo for a while. But, anyway, I sort of got out of it. But no, I never had any ambitions to be anything but a working bloke, you know. And as it’s turned out, I’ve done alright, I’ve, you know, through no, through good luck, because after the war, when I went into the shop and me
adopted mother bought me the shop, it was, there was that much money about, everybody had deferred pay and there was no, I only had this little country store and there was no supermarkets or anything like that you know. And I just, through good luck I think, I had enough money to buy one or two properties, houses,
and I’ve, when I sold out, I bought, I built another three shops meself and I sort of, you know, had a bit of a kick on from there. I mean, I finished up alright, I mean, I’m not a rich man but I’m not a poor man type of thing, you know.
When you mentioned that you go a bit troppo and the story about getting out of the hospital, what helped you personally, what sort of things helped you get over some of that?
You had to get over it yourself I found out, and I suppose it was mainly me wife, my first wife was very good like that and, yeah, you had, I realised that you had to help yourself, like sometimes you felt dreadful, you know, you, when your nerves go it’s a, unless you’ve been through it, it’s a horrible thing. It, yeah,
I gradually, I gradually sort of pulled out of it meself you know. I think me nature sort of changed a bit, I was terribly easy going at one stage and then I got, used to, went through the stage I got very agro over nothing and …. But no, I gradually, I got meself out of it, you know, and realised that you had to.
And the conditions was crook, you know, you went down mines and I reckon you was miles under the bloody ground and you didn’t, when they were blasting, all the lights used to get blown out and, it was, I think of it now and it was a frightening thing, you know, and I was with a crowd that was shaft-sinking down a mine, we’re putting another shaft
right down, trying to get another level. And these, like a lot of fellows survived that and they went through it quite well because, but the minute the strain come off you, when you were released and put back to a normal life, that’s when you’re, a lot of them cracked, and I don’t know what it was, but that was the case with me, anyway, I sort of ….
And it never happened for sort of a while after but I don’t know, something just went wrong and I ….
survivor of a troop carrier that hit the top of the Owen Stanleys and he was in a bad way, like he’d get up of a morning, he’d wrap his pyjamas in bloody newspaper and take them, and hide them in the culvert up at the main gate. You know, you shouldn’t laugh, but that was fourteen, well the next barrack was fourteen A, and they were under lock and key, nobody went in there, only the orderlies, you know, the big orderlies and that.
No, there was some hard cases in there but, you know, just blokes, their nerves had cracked, talk all the rot in the world, they’d get you depressed, say, “Oh I won’t be here in the morning,” type of thing, you know, “This is it.” No it was a pretty rugged period that.
right around the bend and that’s what I was frightened of, because they, they send two or three big ex- military policemen as orderlies in with the machine and you see them getting hooked up and, that era, they never put a screen around both, they were going to you and I, and they were going to do me, they wouldn’t put a screen around me or anything, you’d lay there and watch it, and when they pressed that button, they used to let out a roar, it just used to knock everything, just used to knock them rotten
and they’d be unconscious for two or three minutes or probably longer. But I was, I wouldn’t, you know, I said, “Well, I’m just not having it and that’s it.” And they said, and that’s when they turned dog and said, “Well, if you walk out, don’t come back to us,” which I didn’t for a long time. But no, I couldn’t, to describe, you can’t sort of describe it, you sort of got to go through it to – you know.
Nothing’s worthwhile and you, you know, you go and no-one can talk to you and, it’s a dreadful feeling. And the people that’s closer to you and the people that you love the most are the ones that you sort of take it out on, you know.
hero, I was just as frightened as the next bloke, but as I’ve already said to you, you was going through an era where there was no money, no future. You were going into the army, you were going to get five bob a day which wasn’t a fortune, you was going to get, I think, three bob a day deferred pay once you were three mile out of Australia, you got all your food found, you got all your clothes found.
It was a carefree life, you’re going to get a trip on a boat overseas, which you never got under normal circumstances. Like, I went on, we sailed on the Strathaird to Hemel, and it was a passenger liner in that era and it hadn’t been converted, it still had the mod cons [modern conveniences] of a, you know, we had a ball, and that was, that was just adventure as far as I was concerned. There was no,
you know, I didn’t want to win a VC [Victoria Cross] or anything like that, it’s just plain adventure, just something different from the, you know, the horrible drag of the monotony of getting up, going to work, same old thing, day after day, and day after day, you know, with, you couldn’t see any light on the horizon type of thing. So, that’s all it was as far as I was concerned, I mean it wasn’t even
king and country as far as, I couldn’t have cared if they’d had blown the king up in that era, type of thing, you know. It was just a free trip, good time, and that’s exactly what I had until the Germans got me.
and he went into Victoria Barracks and claimed me discharged. And I done most of me training and we were pretty close to sailing, because we’d had all our inoculations and vaccinations and that, and this day we’d had that bad vaccination one where your arm gets crook and swells out if it takes it and they give us the afternoon off and I was laying up,
we were laying up at our barracks at Puckapunyal, and the battalion runner come up and he said, “Do you, the adjutant wants to see you.” And I said, I was on the way down and I was trying to think what I’d done bloody wrong, you know. And I went in and threw the salute as you do and called him sir and he said, “Currie, how old are you?” and I said, “Twenty one, sir.” He said, “Now tell me the truth,” and he threw this discharge
paper that me father had claimed was me right age and everything. Anyway, he was very good, he said, “Do you like the arm?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “We’re pretty close to sailing you know?” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “Look, go back, see your father, see if you can get him to sign your papers,” he said, “Go back to the drill hall where you enlisted,” he said, “sign up,” he said, “and leave the rest to me.” Anyway,
I did and I got the old man to sign me papers, I threatened to nick off and sign up somewhere else if he didn’t, so he signed then and I done what the adjutant told me and I got sent, was getting sent back to Pucka [Puckapunyal] but I was getting sent back to a different crowd to what the battalion I was with and we got to brigade headquarters and he was there and he yelled out me name, he said, I said, “Yes sir,” and he said, “Right, throw your gear over,” and I got back with me same mob.
Me number went from, me first army number was five, eight, four six, and me second, after about a fortnight out, went to five, nine, oh, three, but I got back with the same old crowd and everything, you know. But I went back as a new recruit and they wanted to vaccinate me and inoculate me all over again and I had to go through it. I had no hope of getting a disease because I was that full of antibiotics or whatever it was.
But no, we, we never was only, see, they classed it as a phoney war for a while because the Germans never made any move when he went in through Poland, he just put a line out to hold it, well the French couldn’t have attacked anybody anyhow, and there was no shots being fired and they were all saying, “Oh it’s a phoney job, you’re going to have
a real good time.” But when he said, “Go,” like we, he was ready after he got Poland and that he, then he swung into France, it was, we found out how good he was. Because in Greece, I think, he, I forget how many divisions he poured in there, and we’re trying to hold him with one Australian division with .303 rifles. But we struck him, the first we struck the German was in the,
when my battalion was up, we got right up the desert end too, or over the Tripoli border and Rommel’s mob come in, and I can remember the first German plane we seen. We, I was in an infantry battalion, a company, and a mate of mine was in the transport and was a scrounger, and he looked me up one morning and he said, “Come over
to the, where me truck is.” He said, oh he had all the fancy food he’d been knocking off, you know, other rations and that, and we seen these planes swooping and diving about and we said, “Oh, they’ve got to be ours,” they all had red noses and that. Then there’s one coming straight at us, next thing the sand started to fly up around us and there was tin dishes and everything going up and I said, “They’re ours alright,” and we took off and hit the slit trench. It was the first German strafing
job I’d been under. And then they, the silly part about it, we were trained, a desert battalion or division and they’d just brought the eighth, yes, one of the divisions out from Australia, and they had them all there at Alexandria instead of sending them across to Greece, they went to all the trouble of bringing us back, that we knew the desert, and putting them up there, and they only lasted
three weeks and the German got the lot of them. Then they sent us to Greece and wasn’t long before he had us.
And did you feel well prepared in that, after a few months training?
Physically in ourselves we were but we’d never had any arms. They, when we were training at the showgrounds when I first went in, we’d, we were in squads, and they might send my squad down to the ordinance mob and we would draw, say, forty rifles, we’d go out and train for two hours with those rifles
and we’d get marched back and we’d have to hand them in and then another squad was come in and they’d get the same rifles, that’s how much equipment they had. When we went into some of our real heavy battles, all we had was the, your rifle, I had a, they brought out an anti-tank rifle and I was one of the first blokes to fire it and I nearly walked back to it, nearly busted me shoulder and everything, it’d kick
you from here to that what’s her name. You were frightened to pull the trigger and when the tank went past you, all you’d see is a little white mark on it where the bullet hit it and skidded off it. That’s what they expect you to fight the best equipped army in the world with.
“Do you want a good job?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Come with me, I’ve got a permanent mess orderly job.” So I went with him and they had all the tables there set out on this mess deck. So this was a square and we used to, used to have to be up a bit earlier than the ordinary blokes, go down the galley and take the crockery up for our table, just the one table, like Amberley blokes was on it, and, then carry the food out for them, then when they were finished,
pick up the dishes and take them back to the galley, and every third day we had to get picked for doing the washing up and had to sponge a little bit of the floor around each place, we drew chalk marks to make sure we didn’t go over into the next bloke’s place. And, you know, I, and then of a, well we’d finished about nine o’clock and we’d be going up the back of the deck, reading a book, and all the other blokes would be, just be going up drilling, you know, in squads. Yeah they drilled the buggery out of them.
two-up game, and he said, “Eh, give us that quid you’ve got,” he said, because, you know, we were both, that was all we had. He said, “I’ll build her up.” He done it in the first spin. And anyhow we got, we bludged a ride back to the town, the main town, and we struck our officer walking up the street with two or three other officers, he said, “Hang on.” He’s a character this bloke and he went up and he threw him a salute and he said, “Excuse me sir,” he said,
“Could you lend us a couple of quid?” and he said, “Oh you’re making it a big hard coup,” but he said, “Alright.” Anyhow, he give us a couple of quid, we paid him back, you know, next pay, but he was a funny man, bloke named Jack Young that officer, good fellow.
Well you were only in Colombo, what, overnight?
Yeah, I think we were. I remember the Strathaird had a bit of trouble getting into the harbour there, it was, it wasn’t a deep harbour and she churned up a lot of yellow muddy sort of water. And all these little, they’re sort of a small native type of bloke, they all come around in boats and they were selling us vegetables and we let a rope down and they’d, with the money and then they’d put vegetables in
and, we’d pull it up, it wasn’t vegetables, it was fruit. Anyway, one, a couple of them, got on board and two or three of our blokes went up the to deck and they were champion divers these fellows. And they‘d throw a coin into this muddy, murky water, and these little native fellows would dive from the top deck of the Strathaird, and when you’re, the top deck of a boat is like getting up on top of the
Taj Mahal, it’s that high, and they would dive into this water, this murky water, and they’d, nine times out of ten, get that coin. And our blokes couldn’t do the right thing, they were wrapping pennies up in silver paper and stamping it on it and the poor little buggers thought it was two shillings and they’d dive after it, when they got it they found out it was only a penny wrapped up in silver paper and that. But that’s an Australian to a tee, that’s an Australian to a tee.
I got picked for battalion guard one night and you had to do, they inspected before you, a battalion guard of a sergeant major and he was a real soldier, you know, pretty nasty type, he used to be a, in the black and tans or something in Ireland when the big trouble was on,
and anyhow, I went to the MO [Medical Officer] and I said, “Look, I can’t, I’m picked for guard,” I said I, you know, and sunburnt, and I couldn’t shave, I had, you had to be spotless. He said, “Don’t worry.” He said, “I’ll give you a chit [signed voucher].” So he give me a chit and I had all this yellow stuff over me face and the growth. When he got to me to inspect me, he went red in the face, but he must have woke I was armed with a chit, you know. And, anyway, he had
to hold your thumb in the butt of the rifle and he looked down to see if the rifle was clean and he picked me on that and he get me on something, but I never got into trouble over it.
oh I don’t know, they was, they got that way they dressed because their belief is that the second coming of Christ will be born to a man and they used to wear these baggy-assed britches, all that rot, you know. And our blokes used to sort of make fun of them. But no, we sort of never, the real, there was a real dinkum Arab that lived in the desert, the Bedouins,
was a fellow that you had to watch. They tried to put the yarn over us, it was only propaganda on the part of our officers and that, they reckoned they could roll you ten yards in your sleep and not wake you up. And in the tents, where we lived, in the tents, the pole, they had a couple of poles and the one I was on, you used to have to take the bolt out of, this is how silly our blokes was, you had to take the bolt out of your rifle,
stand the rifles in a ring right around this pole and then run a chain through the trigger guards and they’d have to be locked. Now, seven out of ten blokes, you probably, you’d have, you’d go to sleep and you’d take the bolt out of your rifle and you was half drunk, it’d finish up it was half buried in the sand, you couldn’t find it, you didn’t know where it was. But if you got onto the right Arabs, these Bedouin fellows, a rifle would make a lot of money,
so you had to guard it with your life, because if you lost your rifle, you was almost court martialled, and they reckoned you’d sold it to an Arab.
We wasn’t Acwilly [AWL – Absent Without Leave] or anything, because we had leave passes, but we didn’t know that they’d been recalling us and we had, that night we had to go out in the desert and dig slit trenches and man them up, you know, for doing different shifts and that and, other than that, there was no …. Until we, they took us down to Egypt, we went down to Egypt and we struck the Italians the first time at
oh, Hellfire Pass [Halfaya] I think it was. But we didn’t have any trouble with them, they, throw a packet of crackers, you know, and come out, but they had beautiful fortifications, and Bardia and Tobruk and that, they had underground railways and hydraulic guns that would come up and fire and go down again, and they should have been taken, but
our blokes didn’t have much trouble. We got them, in twelve hours, I think, in Tobruk. The attack started about dawn and we had them all out by there, then, because it was gone by nine o’clock at night.
they give us a blow, we stopped at a place called Giovanni Buta [?] I think it was, and it was like an oasis type of country in the desert, there must have been underground springs or water somewhere and there had been an Italian, Italians or something stationed there because, see, they ruled North Africa, but there
was a big dairying place, they grew, you know, crops and dates and had farms, pigs and all that type of thing, big army barracks, and we stopped there and they give us a blow for a week or something, and because I remember we was going around shooting pigeons and pigs and that and boiling them up, you know, cooking them, barbecuing them, until we seen a pig eating a dead Italian one day and that stopped
us eating pigs. The, we had a pretty good time there, sort of, and the Italians used to drink this, had these big casks of wine, but they used to drink it as it should be drunk, you know, with mineral water and everything. Our blokes, we got gallons of that, we used to be drunk as monkeys, and we went on from there. I think the next stop was Benghazi,
they put a bit of a fight at Benghazi, then we went onto a place called Agatibear [Biet Jirja?], it was over the Tripletranean border and that’s when Rommel’s mob, when we struck Rommel’s mob, they were all landing at Junee and Tunisia, and he pushed the tanks through on us and we had a, oh I think few Pommy tanks with us but not enough to try and stop him, you know.
And then that’s when they withdrew us all back to Alexandria. And they put the fresh division from Australia that they just landed, they come up and took over from us and we come back and went to Greece.
train and sent up the front, up the, the eighth battalion was already up there, and they sent us up and we only got as far as a place called Larissa and the fifth column was that bad that the train stopped at this Larissa and we had to get out, and his aircraft come over in pitch black at night and pinpointed right where we were camped. Anyway, we had, they give us the order to
pull back and we, the engine was still there but the driver had blown through and I don’t blame him because there’s sparks flying out and flames, she was a sitting shot. Anyhow, one of our blokes, a bloke named Edwards from, he was in my company, he could drive a train and him and a couple of other blokes fired her up and we all jumped on and it took us back to a place called the,
Don McCass Pass [?], and then we just fought our way back, you know, as we, like, he’d keep coming till he engaged us and it might be a five or six hour skirmish or fight, you know, and then we‘d have to pull back, we were getting too big of a hiding. And till we got back and we got back to a place called, we got off at a place called, I’ve got it written over there.
And we got taken out, I got off, you know, got off and this destroyer come in and got us and took us out to a boat called the Costa Rica and I remember climbing up these rope ladders and pitch black at night with all the equipment, it was a bit rough. And we was on her for, and she got
going and all the next day the last bomb of the last two or three of the day got us and they sunk her and I got off on the little destroyer called the Heroine. He had too big of a load on, so they dropped us, this other, dropped us all at Crete, and that’s how we become to be there because he said he couldn’t survive another torpedo attack in the Mediterranean.
and you’re sick of running and you know. I just couldn’t describe what me thoughts, when we got off, when they got us off Greece that night I thought we were safe. But then who knows if, the, you know the blokes that did, there was only four ships and ours was one that was torpedoed.
Those blokes that was on the other boats, they done the Syrian campaign and then they were brought home and then they were up here and they done the island campaign you know, Wewak, Bougainville and all those places, see, and a lot of them got, escaped, went through all that and then got killed up the islands, so you don’t know whether you was lucky or whether you was unlucky. If we’d have got, that ship hadn’t have got hit, it was the last bomb of the day,
last torpedo of the day, if we’d have missed that, we would have done the Syrian campaign, been sent home and then straight back up the islands so, you know, a man could have got out of that lot and then got killed up there, so, it’s just luck of the game I suppose.
A lot sort of, got a bit crooked on us I think and said, “Well, what are you running for,” and we said, “Well, go back and have a bloody look and see why we’re running.” And, but that’s all me first, yeah we were,
after Greece, after Crete, after I was taken prisoner, we got taken back to Salonika, the camp in Salonika, oh it was a cruel camp, the only way they could keep us was by starving us into submission you know. And you were that weak and tired, you was like these pictures they show of the Jews, what the Germans done, that’s what we were like at one stage, the only way, you know, too weak and tired to get up and walk.
use them prior to an attack. Whenever you got a bad Stuka raid, you knew there was going to be an attack coming. And his artillery was, see he was, in my book he was the best soldier in the world at that time, the German, and he had the best equipment. His artillery, I remember one night on Brallos Pass we, putting up a stand, but we was right on top
of a mountain and there was all rock, you couldn’t dig in, you might get behind a bit of a rock. But there was an English unit there, I don’t know what they were transferring, they had mules and everything tied up everywhere. And our artillery were just behind us, but anyway, they were plastering me, he was timing the flashes of our guns, our artillery guns, to when they landed and he got the direct ranges to where we were and these shells were landing on top of this bloody bare rock. You’re laying there like a, you know,
shag on a rock, God, there was mules getting blown up on top of the mountain and blokes going and getting blown everywhere. I’ll tell you what, I’ve never been frightened in my life until that, well, yeah, I have been frightened but that was the worst fright I ever got. Oh you could hear the bloody things coming, whistling, crashing into the bloody bare rock.
just getting our first, in Greece we never, all we saw was bully beef, hard biscuits and bully beef, not even a cup of tea or anything, water. And I was down in the queue and the navy blokes were, the sailors were getting the, oh, plate of stew, a dixie [pot] of stew and a lump of white bread and a cup of coffee I think. When the torpedo hit her and she, or she lifted
as high as that couch out of the water and all the lights fused. And we had to get up and, as you know on a ship, you only got the narrow stairway and when you get something like thousands, hundreds of men trapped down, you didn’t, make sure you didn’t fall over or fall because you get trampled to death. Anyhow, I got out, I got up on the top deck and, no, she didn’t go straight down, she lists badly and we only had one cruiser
with us I think. And I said, “Well, this is it,” you know, but I’ve never had any great fear of water, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I reckon I’ll float around here for a while.’ Anyhow, within half an hour there was bloody battle ships and cruisers and everything come over the horizon. They come in and they hooked onto one side of her and righted her until we got off. I jumped, they were going like that a bit, the sea was a bit rough, so
I just waited and I jumped off onto this Harrier wit. There wasn’t many blokes went overboard, I think two or three got crushed between the ships, other than that there wasn’t many casualties at all.
out the water, and masts. And we had nothing, because all our equipment, rifles and everything went. And our mob were there, they order, every man had to be shaved and nobody’s got a razor and they come to light the, I don’t know how many razors they had, but our company or my section got one razor. And I think I was about he fifth bloke that used it and we had to shave with salt water. We took skin and everything off, you know,
because we had to be shaved and then they got, there was a lot of ack-ack [anti-aircraft artillery] blokes there, units. They took the rifles off them and give it to us, and bunged us out onto the island, at a different place. I got, we was out there for a while and I got crook and I got sent into a field hospital and after a couple of days,
two or three days, I started to come right, we used to nick off at night and get out to the villages and buy this wine, you know, this Greek wine, it was alright.
and they brought him into this ward, in this tent, it was only tents, big long one. And he got into the bed and all his clothes and everything, you should have seen the bed. Another bloke alongside me had got a shrapnel wound in Greece and they didn’t, you know, didn’t have time to do any dressing see, so gangrene had set in. A couple of doctors come around one morning and said,
“Listen mate, we’re going to take you down to the theatre,” which was another tent job, they said, “If you come back and your arm’s gone, don’t worry about it, it’ll only be for the best.” Anyway, they brought him back, his arm was gone, took it off right up. Gangrene had set in and that night there was a Pommy orderly up the end of the tent with a bloody lamp and this poor bugger, he’s still delirious with aesthetic and that, he got out and he was trying to walk, you know, and
with his arm gone he was sort of out of balance and he’s hitting the side of the bed. Anyhow, we all screamed out, two or three of us screamed out at this Pommy orderly and when he seen who it was he panicked, I don’t know how that bloke finished up, they took him away somewhere, he’d have been repatriated home I think.
when we got there there was a lot of wounded New Zealanders there. they were dug in and our, we occupied a lot of the slit trenches and that, and there’d been an English ordinance crowd there before us and we got out there sort of scrounging, you know, looking out tents up, and we found one ordinance depot and it was full of clothes, English overcoats and tunics and, me and me mate I was scrounging
with, we went, was trying on these Pommy overcoats because they were beautiful, they were double breasted and like, you know, and we looked out the tent door and out about a hundred yards we saw a German walking past and we thought, ‘Holy hell,’ you know, ‘they’d caught up with us, they were right on us and we didn’t know.’ So we shot out the back and we got out to our own lines and it was then that the bulk of the force started to move in on us and this
Captain Crawford, I think his name was, he rallied about two companies of us and he said, “Right, let’s go,” and we went over the top and, yeah, I had to do something I regret ever since, but I had to do it, it was his life or mine. But I thought after, I could
have, you know, gone about it some other way, but it’s just one point I’m not proud of meself about. We were charging over sort of undulating ground and we jumped over a bit of a trench and the bloke next to me said, “Look out, there’s a German in there,” and I looked down and he was crouching down, the poor bugger, he was just as frightened as I was, and, oh, and under normal circumstances
I wouldn’t have done it, but I just, you know, I just pulled the trigger and that was it, I didn’t give him a chance, but I’m not proud of it, no I’m definitely not. But that’s the only, you know, but still I could have bypassed him and he could have shot me in the back or something. You know, I look at it that way, but still he might have been a good bloke, you don’t know.
But it was a blood bath while it lasted and when we, we frisked a few of them coming back and they all had Woodbine, packets of English Woodbine cigarettes and that on them. They’d taken an ordinance depot somewhere, you know. Our blokes were doing it tough for smokes and these blokes all had a lot of our cigarettes and that sort of stuff on them.
Do you remember what happened when they said, “Okay, that’s enough no more fighting, we’re taking you prisoners”?
No, we retreated to a place called Sfakia and the barges were going out, there was British war ships evacuating our blokes and a lot of our, well lots of Australian and English but mainly English had deserted and they’d withdrawn to this place and they, our battalion colonel,
we retreated in an orderly fashion, he had us all lined up starting to go off on the barges, and all these deserting blokes, blokes they were, deserted back and they were living in caves and that around this place and they all rushed in at the side and they broke our ranks and the navy said, “Well, if this is the way you’re going to carry on we’ll leave the lot here,” and they just, because they value the warship more than the do the hundred or two lives. So they just pulled out and just left,
that’s how we come to get left. If the deserters and the blokes that had done the wrong thing, if they could have kept them out we’d have got off, yeah. They were starting to evacuate us but they just rushed in from the side, broke our ranks and everything, and stormed the barges and the navy couldn’t handle it, they just pulled away and said, “Right, stop there, you’ll have to stop there.”
So did you see a lot of Australians and New Zealanders, I guess, get onto the ship, and …?
Yeah, I seen, I don’t know, see the navy was taking a pounding from the air and they couldn’t, they didn’t want to lose any more warships and they wasn’t going to sacrifice and stay there, this was sort of prior, just prior to daylight, and they just couldn’t afford to stay there long because they would have lost, they’d have lost, a warship’s far more
valuable than two or three thousand men. And that’s why they had to go and leave. But a lot of the blokes did get off, I believe, from Crete, they said, they nicked off when they seen it was all up, they went to the hills and the navy was sending subs [submarines] in for a while, getting a few of them off, but a lot got off, a lot did and, you know.
I had a funny, we had a, oh I had a funny experience in that camp. There was a lot, there was Cypriots locked up with us, and they used to have a Paddy’s market out in one of the parade grounds. And these Cyps [Cypriots] used to, they were the blokes going out the sewer network for a while before the Germans sprung them. And they were, bring back stuff and trading you know. And me and me mate, we got hold of a packet of cigarettes,
I don’t know where we got them from. And it was a sort of a cardboard box with a lid and a slip of paper over the thing, and we undone it as quick, we never tore anything, we took the cigarettes out, and we put a bit of cloth back in about the same weight as the cigarettes and done it all up as …. I went out on this Paddy market with these Cypriots and traded it. I think I traded it for a tin of jam or something and he, but he opened it before
I could get away from him and I started to run. Anyway, he was right on me hammer and the, they got steps up the barracks and there’s a mob of English blokes standing on the rail, you know, egging me on. Anyways, they let me pass and soon as he went past them they flattened him but I wasn’t game to go out in that market for a day or two, he’d have remembered me. Yeah, we come
at all those sort of things, you had to.
So how did you, then after a while they decided to move you on, take you back to Germany. How did they round everybody up, did they have somebody who spoke English and would talk to you?
No, no, they just got you out in, say, bunches of twenty or thirty or fifty, whatever the case may be. Oh occasionally you’d get one that might speak English but no, they just ruled you by, the night we got to Germany, on the second train that I got put on, they unloaded us at a place called Stalag 7A, which was in Moosburg.
We got there about nine o’clock and it was, oh there was heaps of us, hundreds of us. And there was a mob of German guards waiting for us on the station and not one of them had a gun on them but every second bloke had a bloody Alsatian dog on a lead and that’s how they got us to camp and not, you wasn’t, you step that far out of line, out of your ranks and you’d get this great Alsatian dog whack his teeth down alongside your leg.
And before we got properly used to the camp, in this 7A we was in, they used to, you had to be in barracks by seven o’clock and they used to let the dog go about ten to, and this particular night I was crook because when we got out of this horrible camp, when we got to Germany, they fed us on red cabbage
and that type of stuff, and there was a fair bit of it and we made a guts of ourselves and all got crook and we were all in the toilet and they let these dogs go. I finished up sitting on a partition, there was a partition sitting along the row of toilets this side and a row that side was a partition, I finished up sitting up there to get away from them. They’d have eaten you, they were violent. But they were proper army dogs, they all had a number
and a dog ration and everything. I had to get the guards in to grab them all to get us all in the barracks, half of them.
this other bloke, he was a bit of a daredevil and he said, “Well, I’m going, anyone else want to come?” and I said, “Yeah, I’ll come.” Another bloke said, “I’ll come.” And none of the others would be in it and they said, “Oh you’ll get us all shot.” And we said, “Oh that’s your worry, you can come too if you want to.” So anyhow, we bunged Joe up first, and he was on the side, he was going over, there was a tunnel coming up so we had to pull him back, I don’t know how they, he must have seen it or something. And
when it got clear, he, we pushed, he hung on and he jumped, or he sort of fell, you know, and then I went and then the third bloke, he broke his neck or something, we heard he was killed. But, yeah, it was a pretty scary, I had a shirt on and I got it caught in a bit of the barbed wire still on the window and I ripped it meself from the top of me neck to the top of me behind as I went out. Just cut me shirt like that and went straight down me back. And I, then I landed alright,
I just lay there for a couple of seconds, you know, couple of minutes, until the train got clear and it was doing about forty or fifty mile an hour down through the hills at night. And the, anyhow, we, I walked back up and met him and then we got into the hills and, as a matter of fact, he got an MM for it. And the army wrote to me, just after I was married, when I first went into the shop,
I got a letter from the army wanting to know the ins and outs of it, and I’d had the army at that stage, I didn’t want a bar of it and me first wife, she wasn’t soldier minded much and I never, ever bothered, I think I threw it in the dust can. Anyhow, Joe answered his, he is, and he got an MM out of it. Not that I mind, MM’s nothing, I didn’t want an MM anyway. You don’t get a pension for it or anything, it’s only a bit of a rip.
I remember we was raiding tomato patches and, you know, eating raw tomatoes and half green tomatoes and that. And we stuck, we come across this village that I was telling Joanne about that, they were driving these oxen around on the, on the hay to thresh it, you know, the old fashioned way. But they thought we were parachutes, so, we couldn’t speak their language,
they couldn’t speak ours and it was, you know, sort of doing it by signs. Anyway, they give us a feed and they made us understand, “Where did we want to go?” and we said, “Turkish border,” you know, drawing maps, and they went away and got this young bloke and he come back and, oh, he led us for two or three hours through the mountains until he got to the next village. And they told us to stay there and we did, and he went in and must have notified the coppers or some bloody thing and out they come with a gun and they took us in
and handed us over to the army. They never ill-treated us or anything, they treated us alright, but had we made a false move, this bloke would have shot us, you know, no worries. But no, they only treated us good.
start at one group around, keep walking around the groups to make sure they were all still about. I’ll tell you a funny story. This was in Munich, when we was there and they had a lot of conscript labourers, and conscript labourers from countries they’d taken wasn’t allowed in German brothels. And they had
brought in women from the countries they’d conquered for their own private, for conscript brothel sheilas. And we used to, in the Red Cross parcel we used to get a two ounce block of chocolate, a packet, a two ounce packet of tea, tin of cocoa, various other, you know, small things. The Germans hadn’t seen. Anyway, while the guard would do our mob, he’d go on to the next one,
you know, it’d be an hour before he’d get back to you. So our boys used to go to the conscript brothels with a quarter pound block of chocolate, get what he wanted and probably get a bit of change, because it was that sought after, chocolate, they hadn’t see it for years before the war. And tea, they almost kill for tea and cocoa and that. So we done alright with these conscript brothel sheilas. You couldn’t dilly dally, you had to hurry up, but it was, worked alright.
there was only two ever made it. They got through to Switzerland, and they got to the British Consul in Switzerland and he got them down through, with different agents and that, down through free France, Spain, Gibraltar, Gibraltar across to England, but out of all the blokes that I knew that had a go, and we had two, I had another two
goes in Germany. And, you know, and you know, it was almost virtually impossible, it was only these two blokes that ever got away. But no, the guards, they never used to, they never used to worry much, it’s, because they knew that if you got away, you’d soon get caught again. I mean you wasn’t, he never stood over you with a
bayonet or anything like that, I mean they give you a bashing if you want it but other than that, no, the guards was alright.
Pfennig is their currency and we used to get paid in special camp money, it wasn’t the ordinary currency like, it was a special printed note, but we used to give it, if we wanted, or we had one guard who was a particularly good guard, he was a bloke named Black, and we, we could, you could get it changed in the camp, or we used to give it to him coming home
from work and he’d take it in and the shops or anywhere could legally cash it. And he used to let us go into a pub, he’d come in with us, and, he’d, or they used to serve beer about that bloody, in pots like that in Munich, sort of in earthenware pots or something. And we’d give him the money and he’d change it into, you know, the proper currency and we’d pay for it and he’d let us have, he’d let us have two pots
of a night, going home. He was a real good bloke.
they had a brown uniform, I forget what they called them, they were a work unit. Solely for, you know, for relieving the army blokes or doing army work on construction jobs or, just trying to think of the name of them, I can’t. They used to call them the brown shirts, oh there was hundreds of them but, no, I think towards the end of the war, because I wasn’t in Germany then, I was up in Poland, we was on the big march. But
yeah, anybody of serviceable age was taken up with something, there was nobody walking around doing nothing. And it was, like Germany was full of conscripted labour, from Poland, France, all the places he’d taken, or Russians, or he, Christ, he killed them like flies.
and all on one side was Russians, Ukrainian Russians. See we was getting a Red Cross parcel when we was in that first, in the camp, and our own, like a bit of food off the Germans, and these Russians are, he only treated them, they wasn’t in the Geneva Convention, they had no rights at all, nobody worried what happened to the, he could do what the liked and they used to,
we were, you know, they, you’d see them and all their hands, they’re like the Jews you see on there, their fingers were pulled back and, you know, just bone and all their testicles and that were just swelled up like footballs. Legs get, you know, just like that rod there and we used to sort of take a bit of pity on them, if we had a bit of food we’d sort of try and get it to them through the wire. And at night, a lot of them tried to get through to us,
you know, just to get a scrap of food off us and, you know, they had machine gun turrets up each end of the wire, and the search lights, and if the search lights went up and they might, there might be half a dozen trying to get through at different points, they just rip them open with the machine gun and let them hang there till the morning and then a body bus just used to come through and they just cut them down out of it and sling them into it and take it away.
But we like, they never done it to us, it was only the Russians they done it to because they wasn’t in the Geneva Convention.
And from your interaction, did you ever get to know any Russians or have any impression of them?
Yeah, we was, oh we used to try and talk to them but they were a very illiterate race. Me and another bloke we done a, we blew through in Germany one time, we was out for about a week. We got caught, but we got seven days in the boob, it was in a gaol inside a gaol, you know. We was allowed out for, well they used to let us out for an hour’s
exercise a day. But this one time we was in this barrack, it was sort of a long one that was doing a, where they had us locked up, and there was a Russians’ camp, oh jeez, it was attached to it somewhere and this Russian bloke, he was got in the ceiling and he come down and he was talking to us, we give him a bit of food or something. And I had a set of false teeth
at that time, with, only half set you know, and they were that illiterate that I pulled these teeth out and he was like a little kid, he jumped from here back to the wall. And he come up to me, kept asking me to do it again, you know, they’d never even seen a set of false teeth. No he, he slaughtered them in thousands, Russians, so did Stalin, their own bloke.
knapsack, and when we went out on a work party we hid it a, the railway line has a crop and we put all this food in it, well we never had that much, but we had few jars of Vegemite and that in our pocket. And, blow me down, they cut this crop where we hid it on the same day as we put it in there and they found it. But anyhow, we managed to nick off and we hid in the railway
shed but that night it started to snow, this was, escape that just didn’t eventuate. And we hid in this shed and it started to snow and we sort of couldn’t go because we’d have died, you know, out in the cold and no food, and anyway, they caught us the next morning. But that was a weak attempt we had. But another time we was out for, we was out for a week,
we got right to the foothills of the Alps, was a place called Tanzee [?] and it was a big holiday resort and the gigan [?] condition beat us, we’d run out when they, that’s when they found our rations and we thought we’d lost them. All we had was a couple of jars of Vegemite and a bandicoot and spuds, and spreading Vegemite on raw potatoes, you know, to eat it. And, anyway, we
went into a back of a hotel yard there and there’s a place called Tanzee, it was a big holiday resort at the foot of the Alps. A woman come out, you know, wanting to know who we were, so she went out and got her husband and we told him, ‘We’ve got Crig, Stefolangolan [possibly Staatsgefangenen – state prisoners],” which is, “We are prisoners of war,” and we could speak a bit of German, so he said, “Who do you want to be handed over to, the police or the army?” and his wife then said, “Oh hand them over to the army,
you’ll get a better go, you know.” So they went in, they got us a dish of sauerkraut and spuds and that and give us a feed and that and they rang the army blokes and they come and picked us up. But we wouldn’t have got through, where we were going to try and get through it was very hard because it was right in the Swiss Bavarian alps and you had to know the passes and he had all the passes pretty well covered. It was, the two
blokes that got away, that I was telling you about, that got away successfully, was working at the main Munich railway station. And they got to know the trains that was going into Munich and what, into Switzerland and what time they’d go, so it was only about a forty mile trip from Munich. And they made a rope hammock and they somehow slung it underneath a carriage of one of these bloody trains, these carriages. They knew
which one to do, what time it went, and blow me dead, they got through. They managed to, when they got to where they’re going they managed to contact the British Consul. He contacted, oh, he must have contacted the underground or something, they got them down through free France, Spain, Gibraltar and then across to England.
And you mentioned being in the boob, was there any other punishment, like would they beat you or anything for escaping?
No, no they, the German took the attitude that it was your place to escape and theirs to stop you, how they stopped you they didn’t care, so long a they stopped you. One camp commandant we had, his wife was interned in America, and we got a reasonably good go off him, he, no there
was no, never any, like floggings or anything like that. You just got solitary confinement in a boob or, you know, just let out for an hour’s exercise. If you was a habitual escapist they had a place where they used to send you, I think it was that place the air force blokes
busted out of, I just can’t remember the name, but it, it was escape proof, if you caused too much trouble, they’d just bung you up there. They wouldn’t, they didn’t belt you or anything like that.
No, before we get to Poland, in Germany.
Well, we was in, up in Breslau [Lamsdorf] at 8B, before we was, no we were sent from Munich up to 8B, up to Breslau. And we was sort of drafted there, they picked out, they must have given us a medial examination I think, and they picked out blokes fit for heavy work, like coal mine work. And, the Germans fed the prisoners of war,
on account of what work they were doing. Like we would, I see I got picked for the mines, so I was physically, pretty physically fit as I could be on no food. The team I got sent with, we got better fed than the bloke that got, stayed back in the camp and felt he couldn’t go out, now that’s how he fed his army,
blokes in the front line got the best of rations and what they had, the base wallahs and that, they had to make do type of thing, sort of thing, with not so good a rations. But we got fed alright in the mines, but just alright, you know. With our Red Cross parcel, we may be open to a bit of training and that.
you know, go down the mines and anyone that wasn’t, shape up, he was outed and, but no, most of us got sent to the mines. Yeah, the Poles are pretty good blokes. We was in, over in Silesia, we was in a place called Priaska, a place called Dubrovnik, big, they were just big mining towns, you know.
Then in the winter time, you, few blokes went around the bend actually, not that they sort of there, but what I was telling you about, when they got out they sort of went, because winter time, if you went down, if you was on day shift, you’d go down in the dark and it’d be dark when you come up. And, you know, you never saw daylight and it sort of got to you, get enough of that and it sort of get to you in the long run.
We used to, we sort of working hard, they used to issue us with, oh, chits about that round with a little hole on a chain and you used to have to, when you filled a, one of the wagons, you used to put it in the hole in the wagon and the bloke on the shaft would take it up and hang it on your hook. We used to have to do eighty of those a shift. Be two shovellers, used to be with
an old Polish miner bloke. But sometimes you wouldn’t be able to start for, you might sit on your bum for an hour and half because you’d go onto the face on your shift and this old Polish miner bloke would have to, he might have to bore anything up to fifty or sixty holes in the face and he used to have to plug it with dynamite, and then blow it and, you know, blow all the coal down. And then you used to have to wait till he went in and made
safe, he’d have a short ladder and he’d never get down, that was the face, he’d start there, had a little short handled pick and it’d be big lumps hanging over his head that hadn’t fallen and lumps to the side and he’d just go whack, whack, whack, drop them all down, you know. Well, then you used to have to go and have to get your trolley off the main haulage, the main railway line, push it up the face, when you filled it, you pushed it out, you hooked it to the cable going to the shaft.
And there, the first, probably twenty or thirty trucks you’d get easy because it’d be in big lumps and we used to just pick it up and put it in by hand, but after that you used to have to shovel pretty hard, you know.
And from there we were, we were flown from Rheims to – what’s that big other aerodrome in England? – I just forget, anyway, that’s where all these girls were there and they had the tables in the hangars all set out with what food they had and, I was with an all-Australian crew and they’d
issued us with a special Yankee dressy shirt, oh they were nice to look at. No, no that wasn’t right. Yeah, I had that but it was sort of half Yankee uniform I had, and I had this coat, a fur lined, half duffel coat type, and this young aircrew bloke said to me, he said, “Where did you get that coat?” I said, “We got them issued in Rheims.” He said, “Gee, they’d be good for our job, wouldn’t they?” and I said, “Yeah.”
So anyhow, just when we’re about to land, he said, “How are you for money? You haven’t got any at the moment but we’ll get paid soon as we get into an organised camp.” And he pulled out a wad of notes that would have choked a giraffe and he peeled off about fifteen English pounds and he said, “Here, put this in your pocket.” And I said, “No, I didn’t, I don’t want that mate.” I said, “I’ll never see you again,” and I said, “I can’t pay it back.” He said, “I’m not lending it to you, I’m giving it to you,” and I said, “Alright.”
And I knew he had his eye on this jacket, so as I jumped out the plane I peeled it off, I said, “Hey mate.” He said, “Yeah?” and I said, “Cop this.” And I heaved it straight back into the fuselage, it hit him in the face with it. He said, “Nah, nah.” I said, “Yeah, keep it,” and I just nicked off, because he’d give me fifteen English pounds, the coat possibly wasn’t worth that.
because it cost us a lot of money, a taxi wouldn’t pull up unless you was American or Australian, and I was always bushed in London, I could never find me way around, with a lot of other blokes. If, grab a taxi was the easiest way but you might only want to go around the corner, you didn’t know but he’d take you, he’d keep you in there for another twenty minutes. And, you know, he knew we all had money, the Yanks had plenty of money, the poor bloody English soldier, he was getting one and six a day or
something, he had nothing. And we were very popular with the women, we had to beat them off with sticks, just about because half of them, I was, got grabbed for company runner one day for, when we was in Eastbourne, and yeah, I was, had to stop in the office and run messages and that for him, the CO [Commanding Officer], and if you wanted to get married, you had to
make an application to your commanding officer, and there was a heap of applications of blokes to get married that high. They married, these Pommy women got onto them and they married them like flies. All they wanted was a trip out to Australia, I reckon, half of them. As soon as they got out here, they probably dice the... But anyhow, a lot of our blokes fell for it. Married them right left and centre.
Cross parcel was the best, but in an average normal Red Cross parcel you would get, say, a tin of meat rolls sort of stuff, you’d get a two ounce of chocolate, you’d get a two ounce packet of tea. You’d get a what’s her name of cocoa, you’d get a packet of dates. I just
can’t remember all the stuff, but what they used to do, was you had to pair up and they would only give you one parcel between two of youse, twice a week so as you couldn’t hoard stuff and, in lots of cases, they would puncture the, they would puncture anything with meat in it so you couldn’t hoard it, you had to give it out, because a lot of blokes used to hoard stuff to nick off with. So they woke up to the fact
and they just used to puncture anything that was like bully beef or meat rolls or meat luncheon. This Canadian, we used to get this half thing of milk in a, powdered milk, I know it was the best parcel of the lot. I, ‘cos I think you got a fair bit more than what you got in the normal parcel, you know. But it was a life saver as far as we were concerned, like I reckon we’d have died if
it hadn’t been for the Red Cross parcel, we, we got them fairly regularly but they were regular a lot of the time, it all depends on what camp you was in.
And, he cut tea out, we used to get, all they got was that Ersatz coffee stuff and, oh, it was vile stuff. We got a, most of it too, but yeah we, we used to get, we used to have to bribe some of the guards some of the time. We used to get a round tin of gold flake cigarettes with fifty in it and we’d bribe one of the
guards with ten cigarettes out of that to close his eyes while we done a bit of trading with the civvies, you know, because the civvies took a bit of a risk too if they were caught. Yeah, there was a lot of, when we was in Munich we done a lot of trading because they were a more easier going people and the guards wasn’t so strict. But the trouble is, when you was bringing bread that you had traded from outside, when you were bringing it back in the camp at night from the working party, you’d have
to say that, say if I just done some trading, I’d get you to carry a loaf and I’d get some, Mick Smith to carry a loaf and Joe Blow to carry another loaf and just pray to God we wasn’t searched. They very rarely, they searched us occasionally, they’d spring a search on us but very rarely because the guard, he’d have been in the, he’d have probably been in the joke too with his bribe of the cigarettes, and he used to, you know, say, “They’re right, there’s nothing on them.” And get us through the gate.
The blokes, you know the talents you get in a, men like that, it’s fantastic. We had one bloke named Lofty McGuiness, he was a beauty, he was. We was in, oh Palestine or Egypt, forget [which] it was, and we got a new issue of dixies, and they was an aluminium square type, not like the old round one, you know. And a few of them started to go off and they woke up and anyhow,
this McGuiness in Palestine, they had a twenty cent, twenty mill piece, they called it, about that big. Had a hole in the middle and this bloke was knocking off aluminium dixies and making these counterfeit twenty mill pieces and he was, he got caught a few times but a lot of times he was passing them at shops at leave and that, and getting away with it. And that’s where our dixies were going and he made a, oh he made
a little miniature canon and he used to put gun powder in and fire it. He blew a hole in the sergeant major’s door one day.
And just one question about the lead up to the end of your time under German guard. How did the behaviour of the German guards change? Did it change noticeably?
Yeah they, you could sort of tell that it was getting near the end, they never got dirty or anything but they got very stand-offish and there was a different attitude toward them, you know. They were taking the attitude, ‘Well, I’m going to look after meself,’ you know, ‘I don’t care what happens to you blokes,’ but no, they were alright, yeah, I mean you’ll always get one or two snags in any
race, I mean, I can remember the first lot if Italians we got out of Bardia, we couldn’t get water, supply had run out, it was in the desert and we had one bloke – we had thousands of them locked up – doing guards on them and this bloke was going up with a water bottle full of water and taking wrist watches off them for so much water and all this business, and that was
one of our own blokes doing that. So every side’s got them.
I, no, yeah that’s where, yeah you got medically examined and they done our teeth, I forget what else they done. But I knew we, yeah that’s about all they done. We was at Camp Hell and they paid us up, put us through thing to find out if there was any trade we wanted to do. You know, blah, blah, blah,
the rot they go on with, and, that was, it was the finish, they said, “Here’s your discharge papers.” But, yeah, Ballarat was the main convalescent camp. If you had anything wrong, that’s where you had to tell them, and like a fool I, you know a lot of us were a bit crook with nerves and one thing or another but you said, “No, I’m alright,” anything to get out. Sort of had been in there for five years, it was a long time out of your life.
Puckapunyal in’39. Matter of fact, me and [a] mate, they’ve just done the same thing, just talking to him yesterday, we was just laughing about it, we got seven days’ CB [Confined to Barracks]. We were on horse picket at night and the horses used to be a long line and you used to tie them up and you used to leg rope them to stop them kicking and they’d settle for the night alright. And we was
in Palestine, and Palestine gets shockingly cold at night, red hot through the day but, oh, freezing at night. And there’s a big heap of spare horse rugs there, so when the horses had settled we said, “Oh, we’ll get underneath these rugs and keep warm,” but we made the fatal error of going to sleep. And the brigade officer from the 6th Battalion came around, and caught us and charged us. I think written on the thing is that we failed to obey an order and, oh God, they threw the book at us and
fined us so much and we got seven days chasing the bugle, but other than that was about the only trouble I ever got into. Yeah.