and at a very young age we moved on to a property between Blackall and Barcaldine, called Meena Park. Me being the eldest of the family, three other brothers were born when we were on that property, and in 1931
I think it was either '30 or '31, the owner of the property died, and it was in the height of the Depression. The estate, or the executors of the estate, couldn't afford to pay wages, so we had to leave. So we moved to Brisbane for a short time, probably about twelve or eighteen months. Our father drew a block, a sheep station, resumption of a property called Tarbreaks
in the Richmond, Maxwelton district, and we moved there in 1932. There were twenty seven thousand acres in the block, unimproved, just a flowing bore, and of course we built a home. And I can always remember the cost of building a home was thirty two pounds, that's fifty four dollars,
a three bedroom, plain home. Then of course, that was 1932, I think we built the house in '33, and for those years up until 1939 we worked on the property establishing buildings and fencing and stocking, and all that.
earliest memories, I can always remember when we were on this property at Meena Park, what age would I have been then? About seven or eight, and we had a very quiet horse, a flea bitten grey, and he was my horse, and even at that young age I could climb all over the
horse. He was a beautiful animal, and it was my job to bring the horses in early in the morning. At first light we would go out and saddle, and catch Old Kelt, as we called him, and bring the horses in. We also had a large chestnut horse that I wasn't, I was too young to ride of course, he was a bit flighty. The only means of mounting this horse was to take a
kerosene tin and step up on the tin and then pull the tin up on to the horse. He was so quiet you could do it. This morning I decided I would do the same with Glen. I managed to get the bridle on him and I managed to get on his back, but when I pulled the kerosene tin up he objected and he bolted. I can always see that fence coming up closer and closer, and he stopped, and
I of course went over the fence, tin and all. That's one experience, and I got a hiding then because he bolted home with the bridle and of course parents said, "Why did you put the bridle on Glen?" I was just mischievous and I wanted to ride him. That's one little incident I can always remember.
one was to bring the horses in, in the morning, and the other was to milk the cows and feed the poddy lambs [orphaned lambs], and the pig and the sty, we had chores, and do as much help, give your parents as much help as you possibly could.
In between working, what sort of mischief did you get up to when you weren't working?
Well, if we could quietly feed the rifle, we'd shoot crows, and we usually got into very big trouble if we were found out.
in between static and bubbles and squeaks and that, you'd probably listen to, Dad and Dave, or one other session. That was really our only entertainment, no television, no refrigerators, no electricity, it was all kerosene lights.
what I was saying, a butcher's room, or butcher shop as we called it. That's where the carcass hung up, it was cut up on the morning after it set overnight. We had pigs and sty, and in the winter time we'd kill a pig and scald it, and cut it up and make bacon and ham and all that. It was part of our life.
What sort of food can you remember mum cooking up for you?
Food, our food didn't vary very much. It was meat and vegetables and eggs, and we made our own butter, milking cows and all that, very wholesome food. We were fortunate of course, being on a property we could grow our own vegetables and have our own cows. People in the town or cities were restricted, and they did it hard. We did it really well.
do you remember of those Depression years?
The short time that we were in Brisbane, I stayed with an uncle and aunt, and they had a fish shop, and I can always remember the relief workers working on the roads, and I think the wages was about seven shillings a week, and they'd come over to the fish shop and buy a packet of
Can you remember what impact that had on your dad?
I couldn't answer that one, Peter [interviewer], because I was a little too young to understand his feelings. We just packed up and left, and that was it. We turned our horses out on the reserve, and all our family possessions were stacked into the wagonette. The wagonette remained under cover until we went back after drawing this property in 1932.
Our horses were still on the reserve and the wagonette hadn't been stolen or anything of that nature.
getting a living put it that way. If you are fortunate enough, well, to be honest with you, there are two properties balloted for, that was Winchester Downs, that was our property, and Bora was another place, and the person that balloted, his name was Fitzgerald, he had one look over the boundary and he went home. There was no way in the world he was going to carry on with it, so he forfeited it, and then it was
re-balloted for, and Frank Macarthur drew it, and he had it, and when I came back from the war, myself and my brother bought it from him, so that was our start on the land.
For people who don't know, how exactly did the correspondence schooling system work?
All the paper work was forwarded to Brisbane, the correspondence people down there, and they would check it and mark it and send it back. You'd receive a return once a week when you posted the others, so you would look forward to that one mail to find out if you got a special merit for that subject or you got a bit of a bad report.
doing it at home from say, doing it in an actual classroom?
We enjoyed governor's correspondence work, even when our mother was teaching us it was always quite pleasant really. Because we knew the family, and when you go to school the teachers are complete strangers to you, and if they didn't like
What about swimming, did you ever go swimming?
We had a period of time, a short period, in Yeppoon. Actually, we went from Blackall to Yeppoon, and then from Yeppoon to Brisbane, we went swimming a lot.
we just fitted in, because it was only a short space of time between our life on the property, and war years. It was 1939, I joined up in 1939, I didn't have many years actually. Only from '32 to '39, about six years, and part of that I worked for shearing contractors in the shed and that.
Might have been the tail end of the Boer War, and he passed away half way through the Second World War. He joined up in the Second World War but he was a little too old for active service. He had a non combatant position because he was over the age, but he served in the First [World] War. An uncle of mine, by marriage, he was a grenadier guardsman [soldier who threw grenades; first regiment of household infantry], he won a military medal in France, I can always remember that. Apart from those two, that's about
When you were at school at Greenslopes, did they have a cadet corps [school boys receiving military training] there?
No, nothing of that nature. I think the schools like Nudgee [Nudgee College Southport School] and Churchie [Churchie Brisbane Boys’ College] had it, but there were very few who could afford to go to those schools in those days.
When you were living in Brisbane, did you ever get to go to the movies, or dances, or anything like that?
Yes. We used to go to the movies matinee, every Saturday afternoon, the Hollywood picture show at Greenslopes. It's not there now. It was our entertainment.
What sort of work did you start doing straight away?
It was on the property, but during the shearing season I had a job with a contractor. They were still semi-Depression days too, the Depression hadn't finished, it was still lingering on, but it wasn't
Out on the property did you ever see any of the swaggies [swagman, itinerant labourer] coming through on the property?
Not where we were at Richmond, but at Blackall, yes, we were only about four miles off the main road. They would regularly come in for a handout,
and if you said a word out of place they'd put you on the knuckle quick [hit you], and all that sort of business. A sort of breed of people that don't exist today, unions don't tolerate it in the shearing industry. They'd shear Saturday, Sunday, today, anytime. In those times, they were strictly governed by unions.
property, what sort of work would you do there?
There was always fencing, there was always horse breaking [training horses], we broke in horses, we used to break in our neighbour's horses, and horses they couldn't ride we'd ride them for a pound, and break them in. We'd shoot kangaroos, and shoot pigs, and you'd get a shilling for their scalp. Take them into the local council, and they'd dry it out.
pests and then they'd die out or be shot out, the season plays a major part. If you happen to have a good season, the roos will come from miles away and eat you out. We were troubled with kangaroos, pigs were our main concern – become a nuisance. Overflow the board rains, and they'd lie
down, and the water would run out, and they wouldn't move all day, and only come out at night.
So, one of your jobs would be to walk around and find those?
We used to carry a rifle, we never went without a rifle. You'd shoot them, but they seemed to appear the next day, just as many as there were.
How did you develop your skill of shooting?
I learnt at a very young age. We'd pinch the rifle when we could, and we'd go shooting on the quiet, and this built up, and when we were old enough to have a rifle, we were allocated so many bullets, and if we didn't bring home a roo skin, if we were given eight bullets, they expected
Do you still pay for the property?
I think the entry fee is only about three or four pound, six or seven dollars to go into the ballot. It's government land, grazing homes, lease hold, it's all term free hold now.
you leased it. The leases usually run out about every twenty eight years, but you had priority for renewal. You had to abide by their stipulations, for instance, we couldn't run cattle on the property, it had to be sheep. You are only allowed a small amount of cattle say for milking cows and all that, so primarily it was sheep.
controlled by the government of course, lease hold land, and they would survey off what they termed a living area of about twenty seven, twenty eight, thirty thousand acres. They would take that, survey that away from the main property, but they always left the whole set to be balloted for also. When you put in for a ballot,
one person would win the homestead block, another person would draw the wool shed block because the wool shed was usually a few miles from home, the others were just unimproved. You have to pay a very nominal price for the house and improvements if you were lucky enough to draw those.
Between people, were people competitive for it?
No, it was like the casket. There were a few rumours circulating from the area, apparently this person was called to draw out a marble, and had a marble in his hand, but it was never proven.
Would you generally, when you were doing the contract shearing, would you go and do a whole season on one property, or would you do a couple of days here?
I was working for the contractor, I was a paid servant in the shed. Only one person contracts you, he employs
Would you generally spend the whole season at one place or would you go to different properties?
No, about every fortnight to three weeks you'd move to another place. What they call a cut out, you finished on a prior day, of course Saturday and Sunday there was no shearing, in those days anyway, you'd have the weekend to move on to the next property.
When you buy tobacco did it come in a tin or a pouch?
It was a sealed tin. Two ounce sealed tin, what they call Caps [Capstan], that was the main tobacco. Cigarette papers, pull them out singly, like tissue paper, and they had a gummy edge. You roll the tobacco up
You mentioned bush fires a moment ago, do you recall any big bushfires?
Yes, dreadful. Many properties were completely burnt out in those days. Give the body a feed, and if they happened to break out at night, on a windy night you could lose all your property.
In those early days before there were vehicles capable of carrying water drums, they used what you call fire beaters. A long handle with a big flap of leather attached to it. About so wide, and when you put it down on the ground you cover probably a square yard at a time. But that wouldn't always work either because you had to
think of your own safety too you know, and you could be burnt to death. Many were burnt to death, many.
and unless you are doing the right thing you could trap yourself. As I say there were many burnt to death. In fact, there were three men burnt at Caulfield between Geraldton and Richmond in the latter years. They did a foolish thing, they went out without matches. Normally when you've got matches you can burn your way out of trouble. You can deliberately
light a fire and let it go that way, and then go on to that burnt ground so when the main fire comes you are already on burnt ground. But they didn't have matches unfortunately, and they were three burnt to death, all one family.
Apart from bushfires, were there other things from the elements, like flood, or any other kind of natural – ?
Droughts were the main concern, bad droughts. You had to save your sheep, or go broke, or lose them. Normally in those early days, you'd
take them on the road droving if there was any feed in another area to keep them alive, or hand feed them. Of course, in the Depression years in the drought, in 1927 and 28, most grazers went broke feeding. They fed, hoping that the season would break, and the season didn't break, and they walked into the second year and had spent all their money on feed, and got into
debt, and went into the Depression broke.
Once the Depression was over though, and your dad had Winchester Downs, do you remember there being any droughts?
We had droughts, when we arrived in 1932 it was a drought. The only feed we had for our horses was where the board rains had run over, where the pigs had lied in the drain, and a little area of
grass with enough to feed ten or twelve horses, but that was about all. That was 1932, ’33, ’34, was reasonable years, in 1935 the drought broke in mid winter, and it killed every living – pigs, kangaroos, sheep, the freezing rain for a week
in 1935. But we didn't have sheep that year so we were lucky, and we didn't lose sheep because we didn't have any. Anyone with sheep, it wiped them. My wife's dad was one of many that decided to shear their sheep prematurely before the twelve month growth to get some form of income,
and the moment they shore their sheep and the rain hit, overnight they lost the lot.
Are they are a dangerous wild animal, the pigs?
No, he'd run away like a snake. If you bail up a boar, he'll fight for his life that's for sure. I've been attacked but I've never been hurt by them, I've always got the first shot at him. But they will charge you, my word. They are very dangerous, long tusks. They'll
the best that they could offer you, put it that way. But when I say primitive, the operating theatre was a room off the hospital itself, and it wasn't completely closed in. It had doors around it to allow ventilation because there were refrigerators, no cooling system or anything like that. You were subject to dust and all that,
injured on the property, what would happen?
Get to town as quick as you could, seek medical attention, it all depends of course how badly injured you were. People were subject to broken legs from horses or accidents of that nature, and that
was generally the chance to get in and do it, to help yourself. We always had a medical kit with bandages. You are subject to accidents more so than the city because you are doing different types of work aren't you? Like breaking in horses, or things of that nature.
You get kicked, you'd break your leg.
For something not quite as drastic as a broken leg, like if you just had a fairly bad cut or something like that, would that just be dealt with on the property?
As I say, it all depends. You had a medical kit with needles and cotton, and you'd stitch your wound up. Then of course,
the main thing is to stop the bleeding, that's not a hard thing. I can remember on one occasion a chap I knew very well, there were very few vehicles in those days, they were mostly buggies or wagonettes, and he was a shooter, a kangaroo shooter, and he had this rifle propped along the side, and it slipped off the seat and it went down onto the hub of the
wheel, and it discharged, and the bullet came in behind, somewhere behind his shoulder, and came out at the back of his shoulder. He lived to get into hospital of course, and he discharged himself after a few days. He was gone by morning. He wasn't going to stay in hospital, he was as tough as nails.
Things like that, it was more luck than judgement really.
What would be used as a disinfectant on something like a cut?
Of course you have to watch germs, and you are working amongst horses there is always the chance of tetanus, and we were never inoculated against tetanus, there were no facilities, so you could get
vehicles, where we could go to town without much effort. She would probably go into a CWA meeting [Country Women’s Association] once a month or something like that. Of course, they all had party lines, where if you phoned, and you could listen to your conversation, and I could listen to someone else's, a lot of listening went on.
Do you recall any of the good stories that might have been overheard?
Yes, but I wouldn't say that applied to everyone. To break the monotony, if you heard the phone – We had a code ring, maybe two longs and a short, or it might be a short and three longs, and you'd know by listening to that code who that call is intended for. If you wanted an ear wig [nosy / inquisitive person], you could pick it up but you'd probably be
A few people have told us some interesting things they overheard on party lines, do you recall any?
Yes, I can always remember one lady, she had a long extension on her phone where she could go out in the evening on the lawn with a book, and she'd have the receiver alongside of her.
This particular day there were two graziers talking on the phone, and they had a fair idea because they could hear the breathing, one said, "That would be right, Mrs Morris," and she said, "Yes," before she realised. I can always remember that, but she was known for it, because you could always see the long extension on the phone anytime you went to Martisian Downs, that was the
name of the property. That was the only incident, amusement.
How would that actually happen? Would that just be around the dinner table, or in the – ?
A gathering, probably out on the verandah of the homestead, or – not so much the dinner table. When you sat down you had a meal, and
stayed at Winchester Downs?
No not really, we had a visit on one occasion by the sergeant of police. Registration became overdue, and it hadn't been renewed, and he rode a horse from Richmond to Winchester, sixty two miles he rode that horse, beautiful horse. We put him up for the night, we fed the horse and
not always Christmas, probably Boxing Day or New Years Day, there was always a gathering from our neighbours, or we'd go to their properties and there would be a gathering there. It was a social day out, yes, but there was very little liquor in those days, and no one produced a carton of stubbies or anything like that. That didn't exist, it was more or less a
Did you ever go to the bank very often?
Not really, it was all done, bills were paid by mail. As I say, it would be three or four months before you'd go to town. So if you got a bill in the mail one week, you'd send a cheque back the next week. Not all the time, sometimes you get over your accounts.
Militia Battalion, and they called for recruits. You went along to the local shire and said, "I would like to join." "Righto, fill in this, sign there, and away you go." Done my medicals of course and all that, and if you pass that, which we were all pretty fit, no trouble there.
CO [Commanding Officer] was Harry Murray, he had a property called Mozelle, and he was Australia's highest decorated man, Victoria Cross, you name it he had the lot. He was our CO you see. I knew him very well, I used to play tennis with his son and daughter. It was an honour to be under the command of Harry Murray, so there was no trouble getting the numbers, they might have been
over supplied, I don't know.
What can you tell us about him, what was he like?
Harry Murray? Have you ever seen his photo in the VC frame? Thick curly headed, real determined face, quite a handsome man he was too. Straight shooter, some said he was mad to win all those medals, but he wasn't mad,
When you went into Townsville, what were your first impressions of Kissing Point barracks?
It was tents, there were no buildings, they were all tents. I think a couple of admin buildings might have been there, I think it was an old scout den, rendezvous place. We were quite
What exactly did you do there?
As I say, it was more playground, form fours and stand to attention, how to salute, how to become soldiers, how to wear your hat at the right angle and all this. It was only a fortnight, because most of us were born with rifles in our hand. We didn't need much, but machine guns, I was on the
showground camp, the second camp, Colonel Murray had been out to the Queens Hotel for a night, out and his staff driver let him out near the entrance, and one of our hard case fellows from Richmond, he was, he was a really hard case, he saw Harry get out of the car, we say Colonel, and knew who it was. You had to challenge everyone you see, "Halt, who goes there?"
and the password. He said, "Halt or I will fill you full with bloody white ants." He had the bloody wooden rifle, Harry laughed his head off.
Where were you when you heard that?
At a café in Flinders Street, in Townsville. We heard that there would be an important announcement made at a certain time, so we gathered at this café, they weren't restaurants in those days, cafes, waiting for this to come over, I can hear the words still in my ears. They concluded by saying, "That means that Australia is
What was your reaction to that news?
A bit of a shock really, a bit of a shock. We sort of sat down and reconciled it all, and started to decide what are we going to do, are we going to go to war, dodge the war, not so much dodge the war, but a lot of us offered our services. I did, I was refused because I was
only eighteen, I was refused, a few others, some were accepted. It was so soon after the announcement of the war, that the defence department hadn't organised a second AIF, if you know what I mean? It was a premature move on offer. Most of the fellows took your names, and they were called up pretty soon after.
being involved in the war?
I heard discussions, the oldies discussing the possibility of Japan taking Australia. I can remember Dad saying, "No way in the world. If they were to put an army out of Japan, they would be vulnerable." Now these two people, two brothers, very well read, highly educated, and they said, "We feared
know where it was going, or what was happening to it?
We sold it on the auction system. I suppose when we had our return forwarded to us, they nominated the buyer, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, but no one objected, you sold to the highest bidder.
different was it that second week?
I think it was similar to the first week, except we had our minds to make up, waiting for the inevitable in that we knew, straight away, that it would be the second hour. They had announced that they were organising training for the AIF.
How would you describe the mood?
I think we were sort of worried at the time, we were weak. When I say weak, I mean England was on its knees more or less. We had no airport, we had a navy, certainly, it was obsolete, old ships against the German Bismarck and all those modern ships, we knew
You must have been quite anxious going home after that camp to talk to dad about it, were you?
Yes, we were, yes, very concerned,
What sort of conversation did you have with dad about it?
As I say, listening to him argue, he was wrong with Japan, he said there was nothing to worry about with Japan, and he was completely wrong. Japan was a big worry as it turned out.
Germany and Europe was almost, didn't concern Australia, they weren't concerned until Japan entered the war. Was it that feeling do you think amongst people?
Even to a degree Peter, we were really ignorant, we didn't know what would happen really. Some were saying it would only last six weeks and there will be an agreement, and they'll sign on the dotted line.
It must have been annoying that you couldn't hear clearly?
This is true. We had a weekly paper, the North Queensland Register, it used to come weekly. Of course, all the news, back news from a week, would be
The other camp that you had in Townsville, the second camp you had in Townsville, what did that involve, what sort of training?
Very similar, only more advanced in that we had learnt to stand to attention, how to right turn, left turn, but the second camp was
beautiful machine gun, very complicated, it took a while to become a gunner, a number one gunner. There was seven to a gun, one, two, three, up to seven. The seventh man was at the end of the line, he was keeping the ammunition up, number two fed the belt in, and number one fired the gun.
range at a target, once you started firing it didn't necessarily mean every bullet would go through. There would be a cone, and it would depend on how tight it was on the tripod. If you wanted to sweep the machine gun, gun control, what they call it, and they spray bullets where you wanted to put them, or to the best of your ability.
packing it up and moving it and resetting it up again?
Stoppages were a concern because there were stoppages. They had a crank handle on the side that operated the lock inside the mechanism, and it used to jam at a certain angle and you'd know whether it would be a one, two, three, or four stoppage, and then you'd have to correct that stoppage. One could mean that a casing
Did you enjoy the training?
Yes, yes, we did, we really did. Everything was done to a schedule where you laced your boots up when the bugle sounded, it was the life that, it was a beautiful life, it was a healthy life you know. You didn't have an alarm clock.
After you become a soldier you automatically woke up just as the bugle was about to go. That's a fact, even though you might have a night out. Even when I was at Canungra, in the last six months of war and I was instructing, I used to go down the sergeant's mess and have a belly full [many drinks], and I still awake in the morning, you know what I mean? Put it that way, it's a healthy life.
He said, "Put your bloody age up boy." So I walked in more or less the same recruiting officer, "Name, age?" and I said, "Twenty-two," he said, "Right, you are gone." That applied to anyone under who wanted to go.
All your mates were joining up as well?
Yes, there was a hell of a lot left, a hell of a lot, a train load of us left. I suppose there might have been two hundred odd in the 26th , that joined,
What do you think they might think about your decision?
I didn't worry much, I wasn't really concerned. Had they dug their toes in of course, you could go to another state under another name, and rather than have that embarrassment I think that they would have probably said, "If you want to go, it's up to you."
Were you concerned about leaving the property and leaving dad to all the work?
No, because the other brothers were growing up, and there was a concern because I was only in the 2/15th for a short time, and he became very ill with appendicitis, his appendix
burst. He applied for me to get out and they wouldn't grant me leave to go home. It's not what you know, it's who you know, and the manager of the finance company of the Australian state was a wool broker that was an honorary colonel in the northern command said, "You go home and come back when you feel like it," which I did, otherwise there was no one, the other brothers were all at school, boarding school.
ship the two hundred blokes to, where did they go?
Different platoons. You were asked what section of the military you want to serve in, and most of us said, "Infantry." I went in to 7 platoon A company,
and I came back when the battalion came back from Darwin, so I was away about three months. They sent me to a recruit training depot because I had missed so much training you see, am I ahead of you? When I heard that the 2./15th had arrived home, and they were on pre-embarkation leave, then we knew it was on.
I said to the commanding officer of this company I was in, "I would love to go back to the 2/15th.” He said, "Well go over and have a yarn to them," which I did, I went up before the Colonel, and he wasn't too happy because a higher command had gone over his head, and granted me leave where he knocked me back. Anyway, he overlooked that and he said, "Scarr, we couldn't take you
back, you've lost too much training." I said, "But I had three months in the militia, and I am a number one gunner, and I've got a skill at arms." Anyway, they put me in the machine gun platoon.
I guess a lot of bush craft would carry over to field craft?
Yes, honestly, yes, maneuvers at night, we could work by the stars. You never got lost in the bush, you'd look up and tell the time by the sun, and you knew the stars, and how the stars moved. The people in the city
Was Christmas celebrated at all?
Bloody stew they had, with whole cabbage leaves in it. It was the most vile stew I had ever eaten in my life. It was so vile, ladle in the stew, it was only water and cabbage leaves, I will never forget that one.
I suppose with what happened with you going away from the battalion and then rejoining it, you would of missed your pre-embarkation leave wouldn't you?
No, I was just in time. I was about a week you see, it was only a week's leave, and I was just in time, I've still got my old ticket there somewhere.
Were there rumors circulating amongst the boys in the battalion about where you might be going?
We all thought – I suppose you could put it that way Peter. Not really, when you boarded that boat and you went out of Sydney Harbour, you can imagine, it's all ocean. You had a fair idea which way you were headed. If we had turned around that way, we would have said Malaya,
Even Sydney, compared to Brisbane must have been a bit of an eye opener, was it?
Yes, you had to see it to believe it. Once you got aboard you got lost. You were on a certain deck, you want to stay on that deck, you wouldn't find your way home for a while.
Which deck did they put you on?
I'll try and think, I couldn't answer that one, Peter. It was somewhere about water line because when we moved, when the anchor chain moved, we knew we were gaining speed very rapidly, and the worst thing you can do, what I was told afterwards, is look out of a port
When you left Sydney Harbour, were you up on the top deck for that?
I moved up on to the top deck, yes I did. I can always remember climbing up the ladder, up the mast. There was a pommie sailor in the crows nest reading a book, would you believe it? I got up so far and I started to realise it was starting to move, I will go down, but there was so many behind I couldn't go down. I had to
hang on like a monkey. I was pleased when I could get down, it was a dreadful thing. Right up sixty, or eighty feet. He was reading a book in the crows nest, couldn't believe it.
It was an incredible sight leaving the harbour was it?
Yes it was, better sight coming home. As I say, these boats, you had to see it to believe it, and the number that could learn that we were going,
Did you have any idea what sort of mood, general mood, the men had, as you left Australia?
Not really, Peter, we were keen to find out where we were going and what we were going to do I suppose, that was in our minds. We had a fair idea where we were going, the direction.
Mauritania, Dominion Monarch and the Awatea, five of us. The Awatea was in our wake, she was the smallest the baby, a beautiful little boat. The other two, the Aquitania and the Mauritania, they were about forty thousand ton each, and the Queen Mary was about eighty three thousand.
Some bloke said it was a bit of a trick mastering getting into a hammock. Can you remember that at all?
It was a knack, yes, we had never been in hammocks before, but then of course there were plenty of larrikins that would wind you up like a cocoon, just for fun
Did they keep up training?
Yes, my word, we had Vickers guns on the Mary, mounted, and we'd have Vickers drills, yes. Of course there would be lectures in the book room, and manoeuvres and all that. It wasn't a holiday, not for one minute.
How long did the sea sickness stay with you?
I think once I got up deck I recovered, I think I was right. I remained pretty good right through until we got off the Mary in Ceylon, and got onto a filthy boat called the Indrapura, a Dutch boat. I become very sick on that because the food was shocking, and the smell of it was foul, filthy. You've got no idea, dreadful thing.
It got torpedoed, thank God, later on.
They'd beg, flies all over their hands, rotten away with leprosy, it's a dreadful sight to see. They were not cared for by the government, they were just neglected like mangy animals. We weren't too happy when we saw that of course. We visited the zoos, and other spots of interest and that. You could get on a garry [rickshaw], and they'd
pull you around the town for ten cents or something.
Just one other question about the Vickers gun, when you say it is water cooled, what exactly does that mean?
It has a cylinder around the barrel, of about that diameter I suppose, and that is filled with water. When shots are fired, when bullets are fired, the barrel moves
So, does the water in that cylinder have to be refilled?
It goes into a container, about a two or three litre container, like a radiator overflows, it condenses and then you have to add water once it comes down to a certain level.
refilled in the middle of a battle is it?
No, that will last for some time, you could probably fire all day and it would still have water, but over a period of time it condenses and goes into steam down a tube down into a container. No, it takes quite a long time, yes, there is no worry about that.
How did you blokes think about the guys that weren't joining up?
We didn't point the bone at them, put it that way. Some had a legitimate reason for not joining. Religious grounds or something of the nature, or previous commitments, some were cowards I suppose, put it that way. We
So when you left, before you left, did they give you any indication of what sort of conditions you might expect?
No, the only indication to what we would expect was from Colonel Murray because he was our commander, and he was the
highest decorated man, and he used to relate some of his experience to us, particularly after we joined he used to get a group together and explain the horrors of war, put it that way. Those that I think went away ignorant wold not want to know the
horrors of war, they'd rather not listen to it, and wait until the time came, and if we copped it, we copped it, and if not, then you didn't. I think that that talk was to go into your mind that it could change your whole view.
World War I as you know, and they didn't use it in World War II. Although we had gas in Tobruk, we never used it. I think it was shrapnel wounds, stomach wounds, and what you could expect from battle. That didn't create a concern, I think it was, take the risk, take the punt. If it
comes down heads, you , and if it comes down tails, you lose.
Before you left, what did you imagine life would be like before you got there?
We had no idea to be honest with you, no idea. We didn't know exactly where we were heading you see. We knew we were heading towards England or the Middle East, but we weren't sure what theatre of war we would be going to.
Would you of taken anything of your own with you, photos, or – ?
Most had photos of their girlfriends, or of their mother or children, and nieces, and
suppose at the time you avoided all the emotional side of it. We saw enough from other people that were saying goodbye, and I felt by not going home, I was relieved. No worries for anyone else in the family. As I say, my mother wrote a letter to me saying how pleased
she was to know that I was in Malaysia and not in Tobruk. She fell off her perch when I wrote back and said where we were, and we couldn't say straight out, but she knew we were in action against the Germans so she – (UNCLEAR).
their action, Bardia, Bugbug, Sollum, Sidi Barrani and all those battles that they won and how far they had gone. I left a little map there of Cyrenaica and we took over from them at a place called Mersa Brega, between Benghazi and Tripoli, that's where Rommel [General Erwin Rommel] landed, in Tripoli of course. They came back from there, we relieved
them, and went to Greece and Crete.
How had you been getting the information about what they'd been doing?
Through newspapers, they were all censored, but they would allow the public to learn what they wanted them to know. They wouldn't give details of battalions in action, but they would say, "Australian troops captured so many Italians, or took a town," or something like that,
A moment ago, we were talking about being in Colombo, but before that, between Sydney and there, you stopped in Fremantle, didn't you?
We anchored at Fremantle for a couple of days from memory now before, we formed the convoy out of Sydney heads, and we sailed to Fremantle, and we anchored there for two days for some reason, I don't know
How does that happen? Do they say, "Okay everyone, we are going now."
No, we were told nothing. Just the movement of the boat, the anchor chain, and it was a very huge chain on the Mary.
Did the convoy leave quickly, or does it take some time?
It doesn't take long to wind up the speed you know, it only takes half an hour and you are at full speed and they are all positioned. We were on the left, and Mauritania was on our right, Aquatania was next, Dominion Monarch was behind, and little
South Pole, freezing cold, rough, we didn't know where we were going, why didn't we see the other boats, what the hell is happening, no one told anyone what was happening, but we learnt later that there was a submarine scare, and the Queen Mary was so fast she could escape any battle ship, they couldn't catch us she was so fast, and all she did was just weave down, and woke up the next morning, and it was as calm as glass, and we were back in the convoy.
incidents for morale, it would break the morale of the people. You see, the Queen Mary chopped the HMAS Shropshire in half, that was a battle cruiser, and one half went each way, and seven hundred went down. The Australian people, no one in the world were notified of this tragedy. She thought she could get across the Queen Mary at full speed,
and the captain miscalculated, and imagine eighty three thousand tons of nearly forty or fifty mile an hour, cutting through the water, but that was never told.
Why did they change ships?
I think the Mary was too big for the canal, I am pretty sure that would be the reason. She could go as far as the Dead Sea, Bitter Lakes, did I say the Dead Sea? I meant the Bitter Lakes. She probably would have gone as far, but she probably wouldn't have gone up the canal. The canal is quite narrow, they can do about
What was that like, going through the Suez Canal?
Had the conditions been better, it would have been enjoyable, but it was such a filthy boat, and the food was shocking, we were starving more or less, you just couldn't eat the food, it was just vile. It was all Singhalese crew, with Dutch
The walkway down the side of the boat was only about so wide and if one of the Singhalese was coming this way, and there was a Dutchman going that way, he'd smack him across the ear, "Get out of my way," sort of business, you know. There was no, "Beg your pardon," they were terrified of them, they were more like slaves, poor little beggars, little skinny legs, Singhalese they were,
What was the food they were trying to feed you?
We were living on more or less fresh air. The only meat was Belgian hares, big rabbits, and they were down in the holes, and they were vile, you could smell them when they pulled the top of the entrance down to the ladder to get them. You could smell them and nearly vomit
What was your first impression getting off the boat?
Hard to explain because we'd never seen these, ‘wogs,’ we christened them, that's where the, ‘wog,’ word originated, we christened them, ‘wogs,’ because they were filthy.
just don't touch oranges." Our first night in camp, we went to Kilo 89 [camp 89km from Jerusalem], Gaza, that's where all the fighting is at the moment with all the Jews, and there was a little girl only about five or six, and she was selling oranges out of a basket, and they were beautiful yellow oranges, so we bought them, but they weren't so wonderful to eat, they were bloody awful really.
But we found out now, they ripened them, they all urinate in a big vat, and they put the green ones in, and the acid ripens the oranges. The little girl couldn't give them away. We soon learned about that, but he didn't explain why we weren't to touch them, all he said was, "Don't touch oranges," and we found out why. It wasn't
very pleasant to think we were biting these things, and they are not very clean people.
Did they tell you where you were going, or where you would be fighting?
No, we got on a crane, and we got off at Kilo 89, which is Gaza, and that was our camp.
although our beds over there were different because they were sort of a basket, lattice work, made by the Egyptians, or Palestinians. After a while, they start to get movement, and the next thing, they'd collapse, and you'd sleep on the ground, that didn't make any difference.
During that two weeks training, did you see any civilians?
Hundreds of them, yes, Palestinians, yes. They were working in our camp, digging latrine pits and all that, ‘Slushies,’ we used to call them, paid by the army to do this work, quite a lot of them.
They would all come to work on little donkeys, tie them up, and do their day's work. They were lazy buggers, spent half the time praying, get down on the ground, that amused us.
What did the blokes think of that? It was quite different to anything they would have seen in Australia.
We found it quite rude in a degree, when they were in that position sometimes, they'd kick them in the backside. They didn't like it, I can't imagine why,
But on the quiet, yes, you see, we didn't have much time, we were busy all day, and then when night time came, you were tired and you went to bed. Alcohol wasn't allowed, and there was no parties or anything like that, no.
Was it just thrown up from someone's hand?
No, what they call a kip, a piece of wood, and they put the three penny, some play with two, with two pennies, some with three, sudden death they
Can you explain the sudden death with three pennies, I've never heard of that before?
You've got to have a result with two pennies, one could come tail, one head and you keep going until you got a result, but with three pennies it's got to be two heads or two tails hasn't it?
then you were allowed to draw pay day, day allocated for money, you just couldn't go up to the pay, I may be wrong, emergencies or exceptions, the paymaster could pay you. It had to be entered into the pay book. But pay day, I remember there was always a line up to get your pay.
You wouldn't want any money, nothing to spend it on.
Apart from two up, what was there to spend money on?
Just a bit of tobacco I suppose like that, that's about all. I think everyone had a few bob, and if not, they'd borrow off your mates until pay day. We were always borrowing, we always owed someone something.
No, we had to buy it, but it was very, very cheap. Two ounces of tobacco on the Queen Mary coming home, was one shilling, that's ten cents. Today it would cost you ten dollars or more for a packet of cigarettes. There was no import duty, you see.
So then, from that camp, where were you moved to?
We went up to the western desert then, and relieved the 6th Div [Division] at a place called Mersa Brega, it's on that little chart, you saw that? We were dug in, it was just desert, just desert, that's all it was, no buildings, I didn't see any buildings.
You didn't know where you were going to?
No, security, spies, if it was made public, and the spies went to the enemy, he would know your movements straight away.
I think we went by train to Messina, that's on the way, in Egypt of course, not far away from the boarder of Libya, that's as far as the railway went, and I think we got onto trucks in Messina, and went up the desert.
did you have to actually dig in, or were they already dug?
We took over from the 6th Divi, and they had the trenches and all that. You see the fighting, the 6th Divi had conquered the Italian army, and Benghazi was the last town that they captured. We went between Benghazi and Tripoli at a place called Mersa Brega which is just an area called Mersa Brega. I don't
When you got into the trenches and there was no fighting actually happening, what were you expecting would happen next?
We had no idea you see, we just had no idea at all what we were there, why we were there, or anything you see.
We couldn't understand why we were there really, why didn't we go further, why didn't we conquer Tripoli, it was just – they couldn't explain that. We left it long enough for Rommel to get in ahead of us and land his core, but they may have known you see, and kept it from us, you see. They may have known his movements and probably knew he
would be landing. But we weren't a powerful force, he was a powerful force. It was only seventeen thousand, and there were two hundred thousand Germans. It would have been a one sided fight.
we were under command, and the officers and NCOs [non commissioned officer], they were detailed of what we were to do, and not to do, and so forth. There were patrols, we went out further on, on patrols. We picked up tracks that Rommel scouts had already been on that area, or in that area before we, and we had a fair idea you see. He was putting out scouts, and so were we,
we had a fair idea that he would attack.
After that waiting period, what was the change, what happened?
He advanced of course, his plan was to conquer the Middle East, and he advanced his army, and we realised then, we had to get out, we weren't strong enough to
resist his moves, so we withdraw back to Tobruk. On the way, there were battles on the way, we left a town by the name of Barce, and a German Provo [Provost; military police], in an Australian uniform, military police, directed our battalion
headquarters, and part of my company off on what they call the Burta Road, and the German army was waiting. The next morning they were captured. I was in the last truck that turned off this bitumen road, when we broke a steering column, and we avoided capture just by luck. That's all it was, just luck.
When you were in the trenches in that waiting period, what was the first thing that happened that you realised it was all starting?
We were just told to get out. We moved back to Benghazi, and we took up positions there, and our battalion didn't engage, but our sister battalion, the 13th , they did engage
his forward troops there, and of course he was building up momentum all the time, and he was sealing these back roads off with armour, similar to what they used to capture our headquarters, and he was slowly overtaking us, and we had to get out the best way we could. Of course, he had a powerful air force, and he was ground strafing [an attack of machine-gun fire from a low flying plane] our trucks and all that.
It was only a matter of getting out, that's all, we had to pull up somewhere, and that somewhere was Tobruk.
You were told to withdraw before they actually got there? Before you moved, when you were sitting in the trenches waiting, and nothing was happening, then you were ordered to withdraw before you actually even saw their troops?
Yes, we didn't, as I say, our battalion didn't contact
the Germans, except those that were captured on the Burta Road. The group that I escaped with, we did fight him on the Derna escarpment, but most of them were taken prisoner, that's five of us that got out, we eventually got back to join the battalion. We lost quite a few men on the way back, and when we got to Tobruk, Morshead, General Morshead [General Leslie Morshead]
our commander said, "This is where we are stopping, and this is where we stay." So we occupied the trenches that the Italians had, it was an Italian fortress before, and they had underground concrete pill boxes [small enclosed gun emplacement], ammunition dumps, and all this, as well as trenches, and we occupied those. The perimeters was about thirty two miles around the township of Tobruk
so we occupied these two or three days before, that was Monday when Rommel launched his main attack.
When the orders first came through to withdraw because there were so many troops on the way, was there panic, or was there frustration?
No, nothing of course, it was very organised, calmly organised and accepted. We knew straight away it could be
So, when you first were chased into Tobruk, was that around about the time of the dust storms, and things like that?
The dust storms occurred periodically right through, and they got worse, and worse, and worse, you know what I mean. They were so bad, I am not exaggerating when I say this, for two or three days if you left your trench, you couldn't find that bedroom. We had a rope
So, during the dust storms, what would happen with hostilities during that time?
It would shut down, there would be no advantage to either side. You couldn't, you couldn't see. You couldn't see a yard ahead of you. The trench was dug out,
Dust would get in everywhere?
Oh my godfather, yes, your rifle, you'd try and put a cover around the bolt otherwise you'd never open the damn thing. Weapons, it played a lot of, it did a lot of harm to our weapons. Not the big guns, the machine gun fire mechanism.
Did you have the Bren gun carriers at that stage?
When we went into Tobruk, we had three or four old carriers, we lost one early in the piece, but I went on to the Vickers machine gun, because they were too obsolete. We had scrounged them on the way back, they belonged to the Poms [English], they had left them behind, we only had three or four of them.
That was on the way back, that was the withdrawal back to Tobruk. This German, done up, dressed in an Australian Provo’s uniform, directed the headquarters, and portion of headquarter company, including my truck, the truck behind us, we had an archi [?UNCLEAR] Andy Skinner, he had a DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] from World War I, and when he
came to this turn off, he shot this provo with his pistol, he knew there were Germans working our provos you see, and he apparently, being a First World War digger, he understood and shot this fellow. He took control of the convoy, the rest of the battalion, and they maintained their main road, going back to Tobruk. We only went a short distance, and we
broke a steering column, and it was the next morning we heard that our battalion had been annihilated, wiped out, and we were the only survivors There were about thirty two of us in this truck, and the only solution was to try and get somewhere. So, we walked for about seventeen mile towards Derna, and some RHA, Royal Horse Artillery people picked us up in their vehicle.
When we got to the escarpment at Derna, our engineers had blown the road, so we had to fill in these great holes to get the trucks over. While we were doing this, these German Dornier bombers were flying inside the escarpment, no more than a hundred, or one hundred and fifty feet off the ground with full flaps on, this little officer we had, he wasn't one of ours, he was a Pommie actually, he said, "Wave to the bastards, wave to them, pretend."
I can always remember this tail gunner, you could almost see his eyeballs, and he gave a wave back, and he knew damn well we weren't German. When we got to the escarpment they had two machine guns, and they mined the road. They took practically the whole platoon, five of us got out actually, we were damn lucky to get out. We eventually got back to
Tobruk. That was our first encounter with the Germans. They didn't fire to kill us, they didn't fire to destroy our trucks, because when they eventually took the majority prisoner, they drove their trucks, we learned later on, they drove their trucks over the escarpment down the back way, and if they intended to shoot us up, they would not have been serviceable. We didn't have
one casualty, except one fellow, he was pinned down, and there is a write up in the book about him, and his mates, he said, "I've been hit in the back, Christ it's sore, I can feel blood running." So he pulled the tail of his shirt up, and he run his hand up the back, and he could smell pineapple, and it turned out he had a tin of pineapple in his haversack [backpack; a bag carried by a strap on your back or shoulder], and the bullet went through the tin of pineapple,
that was the only casualty, pineapple juice. I got back out of that one, just luck more or less.
was in a wireless van actually, and I had a big blister on my foot from working, unusual for me to get a blister, but I did. Most of the boys got on the first truck and they said, "Come on, Scarr," and a Pommie said, "Hop in, lad," and it was a wireless van, so I hopped in there, and there was a bit of mattress, and put the earphones on. The back door used to come open if we were on a steep, we were on the escarpment you see. He said, "I've got to lock you in lad," so he locked me in, and
I said, "I am right." We hadn't gone very far and I thought we were being ground strafed, because when I took the earphones off I heard this roar of a machine gun you see. It wasn't planes at all, it was these bloody spandos that were firing, but not directly at us. I think they deliberately warned us, well they've got no chance of going past, they've got no machine guns. That's what saved us I think, their humane thoughts.
Can you tell us about the story of the fellow nearly flying out the – ?
Yes, an RK Brown, he was a big pommie, a big staff car, an open staff car, and the doors, I think it was a Reilly, and the doors opened from the front and back you see, so these two Poms, they were high ranking officers too, I think a Major, anyway they decided to make a run for it, so they got in the front, and started up, and they did
u-turn and Nutcha, we called him, he was a character fellow too, and he saw an opportunity, so he jumped on the running board, and as he did, the door came out, it was a big door and he was like a skinny little fellow too, and as he turned he yelled out, "Whoa, bananas!" and I don't know where he got that from, he got out of it alright.
But you got out of that alright?
Yes, we went back to the fort just on the edge of the escarpment, and we laid down a barrage, a pommie convoy came up, they escaped from somewhere in the desert. They were non combatant troops, they wouldn't engage in any fighting. Every truck had a blasted Bren gun, so we lined up about fifteen or twenty of these
How often do you think back to your truck breaking down and are thankful?
It was just a miracle it happened, why it happened, God only knows, if it hadn't, we would have been taken prisoner. Just one of those things that happened, and it happened to be the last truck
about the enemy, the Germans?
He was a good soldier, yes, we respected him, we weren't frightened of him, but we respected him. There were a few wrong doings committed, but we did the wrong at times. Generally speaking, Rommel wouldn't entertain any brutality or
What approach did he take as far as the tanks were concerned?
He attacked first light Easter Monday morning, about 10th, or 12th of April, about that date. We were in reserve, our battalion, the 2/17th, our sister battalion, was
holding what they called the – (UNCLEAR) road block sector, and he came in with about four thousand storm troopers [SA Nazi militia], and sixty tanks. The colonel, you've probably heard this before, the colonel, the 2/17th did a very wide act, he said let the tanks go, because there were one hundred and eighty storm troopers machine gunners riding all these tanks you see, and he said, "Don't let on that we are here," otherwise they would of mowed them down like tenpins.
Anyway, when the infantry eventually broke through the wire, they got in with a bayonet, and that's where Edmondson won the first Victoria Cross. I assume, that, they pulled these four thousand up with a big jerk, and it meant that the only troops that penetrated into the blue line was these one hundred and eighty odd that were riding on the tanks.
By daylight, we had one carrier, what do they call it, Port Palestino, an old Italian ammunition dump, thousands of tons of ammunition. We had the carrier in amongst this dump for protection, it was a bit of windy night you see. It wasn't until daylight the
next morning a shell come overhead and we realised there must have been a blue going somewhere. We knew nothing about the attack of the 17th, nothing at all. So we jumped from this carriage to get the hell out of here, there were hundreds of tons, or thousands of tons of ammunition. We drove straight out, and we raced straight down to where the 8th guns, where all the artillery were dug in, twenty five pounders [Howitzer cannons], then we realised it was a
tank battle. It was like sitting in the front seat of a theatre, we watched this battle. It was incredible, you have no idea. When daylight came there was a dog fight, and three fighters came down, Messerschmitt [Me-109 German fighter plane], the Fiat [CR-42, Falcon bi-plane fighter], and the Hurricane [Hawker Hurricane fighter plane], and they were dog fighting above the battle in daylight. They would of knocked out fifty percent of those tanks, it was all – (UNCLEAR), the Australians didn't play a part there, it was royal horse
artillery. The remaining tanks, the other thirty, they bolted, they went back to where they come through the wire, and Rommel was operating from no man's land, he was in the staff car, and he ordered two of his officers back to pick up these one hundred and eighty, but they refused. We don't know whatever become of them but they would have been bowled out I suppose, but they said no way in the world, it was certain death
to go back. That was the first defeat, it was a major defeat, but then we captured the one hundred and eighty later in the morning, they didn't put up much of a fight. That's a bit of write up they gave us here, in The Carrier.
What did that feel like for you after all the training and all the travelling that you had done?
It was a matter of being in the right spot at the right time, or the wrong spot at the wrong time, whatever. We didn't know that these troops were in the blue line, we were having a meal,
a breakfast actually, amongst the RHA gunners, and we heard a few sounds in the ground, and we thought, "Someone is firing at us, where the hell?" and one of the boys, a corporal in the carrier said, "I think there might be a sniper in the tank trap, we'll go and have a look." There was one hundred and eighty there, all machine gunners.
you see. The tanks had dumped them there, they were commandos, German commandos, they would take over the headquarters when they took Tobruk, and we were quite sure they were taking Tobruk. When we went out to investigate, we thought it was a sniper and we found it was one hundred and eighty snipers there too, we got stuck into it there.
I am guessing they got stuck into you blokes?
No, we had the upper hand on them really. We knew, there were two carriers, and when we made a frontal approach they hit one carrier with an anti tank projectile, similar to our boys' anti tanks, and cut a piece out of the gun turret [gun enclosure; a self-contained weapons platform housing guns and capable of rotation], and then we realised they – it wasn't ordinary bullets, we knew nothing about their armour you see, we had to learn that as time went on.
Then they opened up with two Spandaus [machine guns], and they were fast firing guns. But I had experience from the Derna escarpment, but these other fellows hadn't fired a shot, and I hadn't fired a shot, but I had been under fire. I said, "We can't go straight ahead, they are Spandaus." I remember Jimmy Houghton, he got killed about a week later, and he said, "What are bloody Spandaus?" I said, "They are machine guns." They put me in charge of the carrier, and I made a
suggestion that we detour around the top of the tank trap, further south, and just come down and have a look at what is going on, which we did. When we got in the position to see, we realised there was a handful of them. So we pumped a few bullets into them, and they got a two inch mortar into action, and they dropped the bomb in the tank trap.
We actually saw it explode. It did a lot of damage, the poor buggers, and we took advantage because the tank trap filled up with smoke and we thought, "Here's a go," so we raced the carrier straight at them, and Jimmy in the front fired a burst of the Bren gun, and they surrendered. They were the prisoners that I counted for as the first Queenslander to take prisoners, and that's how it happened.
because their commanding officer was a high ranking German, he had a big red lapel on his coat, and he had a cat of nine tails, I can always remember that, he had a piece of wood with these leather strips and he had that on his wrists. He wouldn't put his hands up, and they spoke good English. All those officers could speak English you know. He wouldn't put his hands up, and I was a rookie. Had it of happened later, he might have put his hand up
alright, but at the time I obeyed him, he wanted to surrender to an officer. He did come in with the prisoners to appoint or assemble, search them and what have you. It was there that Lance Bode, one of our top officers who was a man who fought Ron Richards in the ring, he was a boxer too, a beautiful man, he got killed on Bulimba, this big
German had a beautiful set of field glasses, and Bode went to take him off, and he ditched him, and I thought, "God, it's hot here," he didn't hit him, and he just took them off and presented them, and clicked his heels you know, and then took his pistol out and handed his pistol too, but he wouldn't surrender to me. But coming in with these fellows, one poor beggar had a bullet through his foot, from the heel to the toe was opened up,
and he lagged behind, and I could see he was in trouble, so I picked him up and helped him up on his feet, I searched him, and he had a clip of morsar bullets, I can always remember, I missed those, and he threw them away like that, he had no rifle. I got him on his feet and I am hobbling in with him, and he reached around and took my rifle and bayonet and put it over his arm, it was a laugh with the boys, funniest sight they ever saw, here's Scarr
coming in with a German carrying his bloody rifle and bayonet, he saw the map of Australia on my button on my uniform, and he shook hands with me. I couldn't understand what he was trying to say, but he saw that I was Australian and he no time for the Poms, but they apparently have time for the Australians.
when we interrogated these officers – I can always remember one of our intelligence sergeants, he thought he could speak German, and he was rattling off this German language to the German, and he said in pure beautiful English, "If you would speak your language I would have a better chance of understanding you." That rocked him, he had been
educated at Eton, in England.
taking their weapons and things off them?
They dropped all the weapons, they didn't come out with their weapons, they come out with their hands up. As I say, this fellow had a clip of ammunition in his pocket, but that was no use to him. This officer had a pistol which he handed over to Bode. No, they were unarmed.
I don't know why I act like that really, I changed my whole views, but I won't explain the reason for it. Before they were killed I had sympathy, but after they were killed, and the way they were killed, I think we developed a hatred, I am sorry about that, something
grabbed me. I really think, as I said a while ago, there were some cowardly things in the way of killing, and some brave deeds that made us admire them, but this respect in other actions, these two mates of mine should never have been killed.
They were not really in action when they shot them, they shot them in cold blood.
Were they the first mates killed in action?
They were two, two of our platoon. One was killed outright and just died, and the other had his leg blown off and he died of gangrene [the death of body tissue, mostly caused by a lack of blood flow caused by injury or infection] about three days later. I wasn't in the carrier, they took me
How did you hear about it?
The ration truck came up and a sergeant, I forget his name now, called me aside, he said he had bad news. The first thing that I thought was something from home. He went on to explain, and I learned from the chap who
Were you happy being on the Vickers, or would of rather been on the carriers?
Well, our carriers were more or less worn out, they weren't capable of fighting really. They'd throw the truck, the pins in the trucks were rusted out, I was happy, I like the Vickers machine gun. We moved about in Tobruk, we had five weeks in what they called the
warning that there was an air raid coming, or was that the first thing you would hear?
The monkey in the book – the morning of the tank battle, a twenty five pounder shell blew the turret off one of these tanks. Out flew Jerry the monkey, that's what we christened him, and one of the fellows by the name of Joe Woods, incidentally he was a Pom, but he was a more rugged Australian than ever you used to see, and we often wondered who was more handsome, the monkey or bloody Joe. He took after
Joe, while there were shells firing, he grabbed him by the tail and took him back, we had him right through El Alamein even. We had to hand him over to the zoo before we came home. He could hear those planes start up, and he was bomb happy, he was shell shocked. He would get down in the dug out and just tremble. You could put your life on it that within ten minutes you could hear them coming over.
We always knew when Jerry got down, "Hello, she was on now!" There wouldn't be a day without a dive bomb attack.
How did you look at the air raids, the aircraft, did it differ being bombed and strafed by them, than actually being attacked with artillery?
I think the artillery would be more frightening, or more destructive than what the bombers would be. You see, they
Easter Monday when they had that dog fight above us, it was fought at about five hundred feet I would say, and there were three shot down, the Hurricane, the Messerschmitt, and a Fiat. From then on they eventually shot the squadron out of the sky, they had no opposition whatsoever, they just did what they liked.
How hard was it to dig, in those conditions?
Most of the trenches were dug by the Italians, it wasn't too bad. Areas were, in the salients, we could only go down about three feet. There was rock, hard, we didn't have jack hammers or anything like that, it was only pick and shovel, we found it difficult. But you spent most of your time in the dug outs because air bursts, shrapnel, it was
safer in dugouts than in the trench. Most of our dug outs, we had protective covering, stuff we'd scrounged [collected], we put sand bags over, and that.
we had no food, only bully beef [tinned beef], and biscuits. The poms, there weren't so many of them there, but the tank core fellows and artillery, they had access to tin milk, and if we could get into their cook house we'd pinch their milk. You couldn't blame us.
or pull back from the front?
We came out after five weeks into an area, I forget exactly where it was, but we were still under shell fire because the artillery could reach the harbour, but we used to swim, and wash at a little area out and around the harbour, but then you had to be careful too, because
Bardier Bill was still firing shells at the harbour and all that. It was good to get enough water because the bloody lice we had in our clothes, the eggs, we used to run a match around and hear them crackle, all the lice eggs, through your hair, all big fellows, as big as your finger nails. You had no water there for five weeks,
only a water bottle with brackish water you could hardly drink, only to wash the muck out of your eyes. The food was virtually nil, bully beef and biscuits.
the generation today would not believe if we told them exactly what we suffered in that period of time. There was no such thing as getting out of bed in the morning. The only sleep you got was when you could get a bit of sleep, because we were patrolling and lifting mines at night, and if you could snatch a bit of sleep during the day it was so hot,
and cold at night, two different extremes. You'd probably have a tin of beef, part of a tin of beef and a biscuit for breakfast. At night when the ration truck came up they brought a stew, you'd have to scrape the sand off the top of it, and half the time you were cracking the sand as you were eating it, and sometimes
hard boiled rice, and it was so hard you couldn't get a ladle into it, you can imagine what it was like, that was what we lived on. Towards the finish, we broke out in what we called wog sores we called them. That was just, we would take our ascorbic tablets [Vitamin C tablets] to try and keep a certain amount of minerals in the body, but we couldn't survive today on it, only those who are young and strong I suppose.
matter if the trenches were further apart, but they were so close. There was a hill behind the German lines called Elmadower, Elmadower Hill. They cooked for their troops behind the hill because we couldn't get mortars or artillery over. They used to bring down in a wheelbarrow with a squeaky wheel.
When we went into the salient first, the boys soon got onto this, and the boys would yell out, "What are you doing you box headed bastard," and there would be dead silence, and he'd put his burrow down and stay quiet. When he thought it was all clear, you'd hear, “Squeak, squeak,” and he copped this all the way, and after about three weeks he started to learn, I suppose, Australian lingo [slang language], and this is clear as a bell actually, this night, there was no firing, just a calm
clear night, because we were getting on towards their teatime, and we heard, “Squeak, squeak,” and the boys yelled out, "Oil that thing up," and we heard, "Ut fucked!" That is as true as – it was even written up, the commanding officer was there about, a little bit of humour.
Can you tell us the story because we haven't actually got it on tape, about Ted singing?
Yes, about singing, Lili Marlene, yes, this night he sang, as I said, he had a beautiful voice. It was a clear night, and when he
What do you think was the inspiration to keep going in rotten kind of circumstances like that?
Hard question to answer, that one, determination I reckon, we had our backs to the wall and there was nothing we could do except fight because had we not put up a fight, we would of become prisoners, and we didn't want to be prisoners.
They were fritzes, and boxheads and Germans, and huns, and that. Not really, as I say, we held a great respect for them, there were a few nasty things, shooting our fellows when they shouldn't have. We were never angels. The majority would
respect them, but there were an element that wouldn't. First when he came out with his hands up like that, that wasn't good enough, the hands had to be extended right up otherwise they got a bayonet through you real quick, and he learnt that too. But you couldn't blame our fellows for it because they could be carrying a grenade or something under their arms. It didn't happen that way though.
whole – the name the Rats of Tobruk, when did that start getting used?
It was Lord Haw Haw [William Joyce – radio propagandist for Germany in WWII], the English traitor that went to Germany and changed over to the Nazi regime, he was the one that called us rats, he said, "We've got you hemmed in, and you live in the ground like rats, and we are just
What effect does that have on morale?
You felt sorry for the person because he was a married man, and he had children. That didn't affect our morale in that way. We had an officer, one of our most respected officers shot himself when we arrived back in Australia, Bruce Strange, a major,
his captain went in to wake him up the next morning, and he had pulled the trigger under the blanket and no one heard it. I don't know whether he was affected or not, but when the sergeant killed himself in the salient, he was under terrible pressure, and he just couldn't cop it [cope], took the easy way out I suppose.
Did men show signs of fear?
No, you don't, anyone that said that he wasn't frightened, he wasn't human. We were never frightened of the enemy, we were frightened of what might happen to us in the way of mutilation,
We were occupied because we used to send patrols out every night, and we had ghurkhas [British soldiers of Nepalese origin] of course, and they used to go out at night. We'd attack post, like getting in behind him, and lift his minefield and that. We were occupied the whole time, but we were still losing a lot of men at the same time.
any way that you could make life better for yourself?
I don't think there would be a possibility really. Once you were hemmed in like that, you had to stay there. You couldn't get out and walk about, you wouldn't live long if you did. It was just a matter of, every day seemed a week, and every week seemed a year.
Polish battalion that came from Poland. We were in this position just after dark, trucks pulled up behind the line and they said, "Right, we are going out." I couldn't believe it, just could not believe it. We were the last to go out of Tobruk, our sister
battalion, the 2/17th, the moon came up the next night, and they couldn't, and they had to fight there way out, which they did, and we had to leave them behind, which was a bit sad really at the time, but there was nothing you could do about it because with the full moon coming up at that time, they would of sunk the ship, submarines were lurking, and you know – the entrance to the harbour.
what happened? A truck pulled up and you just got onto the truck?
We got onto the truck as we stood there, all we had was our rifle and personal gear, a bit of a haversack, there wasn't much personal gear and all that. We went down and boarded this minelayer it was, had to climb up the sides on big ropes. That had to be done very quick, no time wasted.
When you are taken from one obviously dangerous situation into something that could be possibly just as dangerous, does it feel like – is it a relief, or does it feel like you could be going out of the frying pan into the fire?
Well you see, when we moved into the salient we knew then it wouldn’t be a picnic, and it
would be a dreaded spot on the salient and other areas we occupied were never to the same extent as dangerous as what the salient was. You could get around from the other areas because the trenches were, the front line posts, were about a thousand yards apart you see. They could observe us through peer glasses and that, and shell us, but in the salient they were
snipers, and you couldn't put your head up.
Did you have some leave there?
Yes, when we boarded this thing, the troops that went out before we left, a few nights before, some got washed off the deck,
and if that happens they never stop for you, the submarine, you drown, and they drowned, and I was frightened of water, and when I boarded this thing, I went down this flight of little steel steps to this room that had this auxiliary motor thumping away. I lied down beside this motor on the greasy old steel floor and this little pommie officer said, "Lad, you can't sleep there," I said, "Am I in the way?" he said, "No, the noise," I said, "The bloody noise
won't be worrying me." When I woke up, we were in Alexandria. The boys, they thought I was washed overboard or something, they looked down and said, "Come on Scarr, what the hell are you doing down there? We are in Alexandria." It was a beautiful sight to walk straight out and see the city. It was such a beautiful sight.
The women folk work on the wharf, and they are not very attractive. I am only joking when I say that. It was a great feeling of relief, it was a feeling of relief. I don't think in a lifetime you would ever forget it, you couldn't, it would be impossible.
We didn't know that we are being relieved, and we didn't know if we would ever be relieved, or if we'd be alive to come out, put it that way.
anyway, forget the name of the camp, it wasn't far out of Alexandria. We were equipped with fresh uniforms and what they call delousing. You had to go through certain bath procedures to kill the lice or any vermin, plenty of us had vermin. We were equipped with all new uniforms, and we had money in the bank, in our pay book, and there was an
old pommie brigadier, and he issued a warning that if we went AWL [absent without leave] we'd pay dearly for it. When dark came, the whole battalion went, we headed to Alexandria, and it was the first beer we tasted for ten or eleven months. They sold what they called the Black Horse there. It was the strongest alcohol of any
beer. If you had two bottles of that, you'd pass out, and most of us did pass out. They shipped us off the next day, because this old Pommie, he told us what he thought of us, and he got rid of us, and we were pleased to get rid of him too, so we went back to Palestine.
Did many of the men visit prostitutes?
They were available, I would think so. You didn't have much energy these blokes, there was no shortage of female company, but they weren't very attractive, the lot of them. Yes, that would be natural I suppose.
So then what happened once you got to Palestine?
We went into camp in Palestine, and we were given leave. I think we had three day leave to the Bitter Lakes, Tiberious and Haifa, Tel Aviv, they were beautiful towns there. Tel Aviv would probably be one of the
nicest, have you been to the country? It's on the Mediterranean, and of course the Mediterranean is not surf it's just ripples in the water and all that, and sidewalk cafes, and nightclubs, every second building was a nightclub, you can enjoy yourself there, that's for sure.
a very entertaining place, a very lovely country. Fruit, and stone fruit grew wild, food was plentiful, and all that, people were very nice. We enjoyed the same environment in Syria as what we did probably in Palestine. We were camped closer to a town such as Tripoli, not Tripoli in – there are
two Triploli’s in Syria, we were only on the outskirts there, so we could go in as we like.
What did they move you to Syria for?
We were garrison on the Turkish border. There was some fear of Turkey coming in on the side of Germany, so we would be there to fight the Turks, but we found the Turks very friendly, they didn't want war, they had seen enough in Gallipoli, we got on very
How long would you have been there for?
After Christmas we made of, had three or four weeks in Palestine, and we had gone up to Syria in January, we were there when Rommel took Tobruk, and we were rushed to El Alamein from Syria. That was in about
That time in Syria patrolling the border, was there any actual action, or it was just – ?
No, we were quite friendly with the Turks. They would entertain us over on their side, and we would entertain them over on our side. No, there was no action. We realised then that Turkey had no intentions of coming in and fighting us,
So, hearing the news that Rommel had taken Tobruk, what did that make you feel?
Terrible, terrible, we couldn't believe it. It was just something that was very shocked. They took over thirty thousand British prisoners.
Hearing he had taken Tobruk, considering you had fought there in horrendous conditions for so many months, did it ever make you wonder what it was all for?
We still wonder that, we do, we wonder what it was all about, it should never have happened, we should never have fought Germany,
Would the mood have been very sombre moving into El Alamein?
We couldn't imagine Rommel bringing all this heavy armour in the time it took from taking Tobruk, to arriving in El Alamein. We knew that when we were moving up, like his heavy armour like, mark four tanks couldn't be there, they'd be too slow. It was more his light tanks and his infantry, his storm
troopers that we met one afternoon in El Alamein, sixty two miles west of Alexandria, and we came in contact with these motorised infantry, that's where the battle started.
first day, or even a week, or probably a month after. Some of our battalion, 2/48th, 43rd, and the 24th they saw the brunt of the fighting, and we pulled him up. He dug in and we dug in. We remained in that dug in position until 23rd October  when the big battle started, that was the
What was actually there when you got there?
At El Alamein? A railway station, yes, that's all, just open desert. The Qattara depression was nine miles inland, and nothing could pass over that depression because you would just sink out of sight, so we were fortunate, the good Lord made it that way, I don't know,
if the main attack would take place in daylight, or at night. We attacked at first light on 1st September, Bulimba was our code word. We had sixty three killed and one hundred and ten wounded in about twenty minutes, and that convinced Rommel [he means Montgomery] that an attack by the division would be suicide,
Rommel would of defeated us for sure because that battle indicated – the casualties suffered, indicated that an attack in daylight was just impossible.
In Oberation Bulimba, can you just talk me through where it actually took place, and what actually happened?
We attacked his position known as, ‘trig thirty three,’ that was an area,
the Germans held of course. The object was of course to take this trig thirty three, and then we had a jock column, a portion of the 2/15th was to move through and destroy a portion of his artillery guns, but we weren't defeated, we reached our objective, but we were out of ammunition, and we suffered
so many casualties that it would have just been a bad blue to send the jock column in. So, we lost our colonel, I lost my platoon commander, 2IC [Second in Command] took over and he had to make a decision. We could see the dust from his German reinforcements coming up. We said, "Right, there's only one alternative, to get out of the place," so we did.
All the bodies were left behind, and we removed them after the big battle of El Alamein in October, November, when it finished on 4th November, but he had covered the bodies over with dirt. You very seldom dug a grave, just heap the dirt over, it wasn't a very pleasant job I can tell you. That's what it was all about, to satisfy
Montgomery to make a decision either way, a costly one.
Both occasions we rehearsed it, and then we were told we were going in for daylight, and it was called off on two occasions. The spies got to know of this attack, we didn't know of course, but we had our suspicions that we would expect him to be ready, he was ready alright. Boots were laced up, hot water, they never had water, they had coffee. It was warm coffee in their
bottles, and they brought it up to their lines, and they were waiting for us, we were sitting ducks. But we didn't know at the time that we were fighting for that reason, we thought, "Righto, we've got to get in, the battle of El Alamein has started!" That's all we knew, and after it was all over we were told then, the object was to get information for Montgommery. The General will do that, they'll sacrifice lives
without regard for life, to satisfy themselves. They were the ones with all the honour and glory, and let the poor buggers do the fighting, and that's what it was all about.
of that main battle, he had a powerful army, we had to win the battle we were so powerful. But Auchinleck, and Wavell and Moorehead, they fought Rommel with a handful of men, with no weapons more or less, and inferior weapons and that, and they won the battle, whereas Montgomery just won by shear force. Moorehead, particularly Moorehead, he held Tobruk with seventeen thousand.
When Tobruk surrendered – and thirty odd thousand were taken prisoner, plus those who were killed and wounded. So you can see, the leadership was not – in my opinion, Montgomery was not the person in the same calibre as what Moorehead was, he was a man who was respected, he was a stern General,
but he fought in Gallipoli, and he had war experience. I don't know about Montgomery and what his past was, he was certainly a General, Field Marshall, or whatever.
We just had to go forward, we couldn't dig in, the ground was hard and we just had to keep going regardless, otherwise we were sitting ducks. You had to get in and kill, and get out, otherwise you get killed yourself, it was a dreadful show it was.
fighting with rifle fire, but there was hand to hand bayonet or hand grenade over running trenches. If they surrendered, alright, if they wanted to fight, they died, that was it. As soon as you got to the object quicker, and that was why we suffered so many casualties, we couldn't do anything but keep going forward.
when people you know are dying, and you have to, then you yourself kill someone, and keep going?
I don't know, it's something that at the time, you don't think normally. You don't think, you are not frightened of being killed, I suppose you had that fear to a degree. You have a job to do and you
Are you in a situation like that, is everything just happening really quickly, or is it almost like slow motion?
Very quick, it is very quick. When we were approaching his mine field, and through the barb wire entanglement, we had to negotiate the mines, and we were very lucky we didn't get blown to pieces. That's where we lost most of our carriers, in the mine field. Once we got to the mine field
drive through a mine field and miss every mine, other times you could approach a mine and get blown up by the first mine. But you see, when we were going in we had a tape behind the Bren carriers, and that tape was a line for the infantry or other vehicles to follow, we didn't go there because you wouldn't last very long. You had to sit alone, and watch closely on the ground, and when you saw a mine, jump
out and pull it out, which we had to do, otherwise I wouldn't be here today. But after getting that mine out, we were lucky enough to go through it.
Driving through a minefield how do you know where the mines are?
This is where bush instinct comes into, we were setting dog traps. When we were witnessing dog traps as a boy from uncles, I'll explain, when a dog trap is set, a
short time after, probably a day or two, the earth does sink a little bit around, and that indicates to a dingo that there is a trap there. A land mine is similar to a dog trap, when they settle them into the ground they do sink down, and you can see a little imprint, the El Alamein were about that size they would blow anything to pieces. We only pulled one up, and it was right under the commander's
seat, we would of both been killed by it I suppose, we got that out of the way, and then I don't know, we just got through.
Once you are through the mine field, how do you get through the barb wire entanglement?
I reversed through it, I could see that by going straight through the wire, that the back sprocket would pick up the wire and it would be like a spider web. Something told me to spin the carrier around, and reverse, so that the sprocket – and fortunately it wasn't a
All the while that that is going on, going through the mine field and the barb wire entanglement you were being fired on?
Yes, very heavy fire, yes. There is a photo of that battle when we took the first wounded back, we had a little camera we carried with us, and we took that photo, it was about the middle,
that was a photo of the actual battle, of the shells exploding, just like a huge thunder storm cloud with sheet lightening, they were the air bursts. It was a terrifying sight, it was worse than going in the first time because you had to go back into it, then you had to pinch yourself to go back in. It was a dreadful morning.
When it was time to withdraw from there, how did you actually get out?
We came out peacefully, we had wiped out his trenches, and the reinforcements hadn't arrived. The shelling had died down, and we came out fairly orderly. They didn't shoot us in the back or anything like that,
they let us escape, they could of shot us, they didn't even fire a shell. Their commanding officer would of said, "Alright, they pulled out of the fight, let them live and we will kill them another time." I don't know, I really don't.
we came out very orderly, and it wasn't uncommon to see a German carrying a wounded Australian over his shoulder. It's hard to explain, to get someone to really believe what I actually saw with my own eyes, these Germans carrying our Australians. They were good soldiers,
they were fighting for their cause, and we were fighting for our cause. They did fight too, but they lost a lot of men that morning. We had a hundred and ten and sixty three killed, that's a hundred and seventy or eighty, they would of lost four hundred at least, most of them killed. There was no beg your pardons, just get in and do them over, and that's it.
As we've been talking about Operation Bulimba you've been looking at that painting there, by Ivor Hele, what does it mean when you see that painting?
What does it mean to me? It's hard to explain really, it was a victory for us,
and I suppose you look at a battle along those lines, whether it was a defeat or a victory, and the fact that we knew – that was what was in the war memorial, an outstanding painting. When I mentioned it to my son, he had access to it, and he got it, and sent it up, they didn't do the frame, I did the frame, but it was all presented nicely in those big rolls
with a nice letter from the museum, war museum, so I had to have it framed, and then I got quite a few of my snaps and that, and put them around it, to make a memento, or whatever you call it. It keeps you –
How did the blokes regard fellows that received decorations for things?
Those that won them deferred them of the bloody lot that won them, and didn't get any, put it that way. The way I look at it, we admire the fellows that were, but there were a damn lot that deserved them and didn't get any.
There was a write up by a friend of mine who wrote that story abut the doctor in Toowoomba, Malcolm Stewart, he was a colonel, and he was very bitter. This article that he put in the paper and he said, "In East Timor there were forty seven decorations for troops that never saw a shot fired, and we had six years of war for forty two decorations, so
how do you explain it?" It explains itself, doesn't it? There were no VCs [Victoria Cross], one recommendation went through for a VC which he didn't get, he got a DCM, Houghton McLaughlin should have got a VC, no doubt about that. There was only a certain number available at that particular time, and in New Guinea the person who got the VC when
our fellow was recommended, was diver Tom Derek, the 2/48th battalion that took Sattelberg, he deserved it, so did our fellow.
heroic deed performed, you can't realise the bravery of some people. I was always a bit of a coward. To see the performance of some of those fellows, you've got to admire them as supermen. Not only in our battalion, but in the 2/48th there was a sergeant,
what was his name?...I can't think of his name, the 2/48th received about four VCs at El Alamein, and he just threw his life away in the finish, I think his whole company was wiped out, and he was the only survivor, and he still kept going, and wiped out the machine gunners until they got him. I forget his name now, and there was a big write up recently, I didn't know him, only what I read.
Acts like that are not normal, I don't know if you just go out of your mind, or what.
he'd refer to his men under his command at the time, "The boys, they won that, don't worry about me, I only had a job to do." That sort of attitude, I think it's adopted by anyone really, yourself, myself. If you are in that position, you feel proud that you are probably getting it, but at the same time you wouldn't have won it without the help of your mates.
he got killed, he got hit, we got through the wire, he was my platoon commander in Syria. He was transferred to a rifle company, promoted, and George Bannister, he got killed that morning, and he took over, he got a bullet through the knee or that area, and his leg was shattered. We went to pick him up on the carrier
and he waved us on. Two stretcher bearers eventually put him on a stretcher, and a bloody mortar bomb killed the three of them. Lance Bode, he was a fine type of a man, by God he worked hard, and he was about six foot two, and he could fight, he was a professional in the ring. He fought Ron Richards for eight rounds you know, and he was an arrogant bugger,
he could fight, and wouldn't give any cheek. He was a lovely fellow, and I got on very well with Lance.
What was it about him that made him so highly regarded by the men?
His guts, he had no nerve, no fear. Billy Cob his mate, was just as good, and he had more decorations than Lance. He had an MC [Military Cross] and bar [higher decoration], and Billy was a little finely built
fellow, lovely bloke, and they both come from Winton, and he was one of our top soldiers. They were buried side by side at El Alamein. Bill was killed on the 23rd, going in, and Lance until September. We didn't take Lance's body back until after the battle, they kept a plot along side of Cob, so that when we did do, we could put him in that plot.
Poor buggers, we felt sorry for them, but look, when it finished we didn't think there would be a man alive, but they came out of those trenches, they were down in the dugouts. The shells didn't do the damage to the troops it did it to the vehicles, and ammunition dumps went up in smoke. It was a dreadful sound, unreal, you couldn't speak, the whole earth went like that.
Did you advance while the artillery was still raining?
No, we waited till it finished, and then it was spasmodic fire then from the artillery supporting the battalion, but the main barrage, we waited until it was over.
I didn't go in the first night, I was in the hospital at the war cemetery. I had come out of hospital, and moved up, and I arrived there the night the battle started. I was probably close to the artillery gun, but I wasn't in the first advance, I went up a few days later and joined the platoon.
You couldn't imagine the noise of those guns because they were synchronised. When they yelled, "Fire," every gun fired. What those poor bloody Germans thought, I don't know, as it came over. I would hate to be a German that night.
How did the action continue for you after that first day, or after that first night? How did it progress for you after that first advance that you made?
When we realised that he still had plenty of fight in him, we knew we had a fight on our hands. He did fight too, but we just maintained a steady advance at night, and re-organised, filled the carriers with petrol and ammunition, and everything was checked for the next night, and the same old thing, bring the dead in, bring the dead out, and the
wounded as we could just kept poking on.
With the constant fighting, lack of sleep, routine of what you have to do to keep going, do you find that there comes a point where you are almost on cruise control, you are almost like a walking zombie?
That is right, when we moved to the Mediterranean after the battle finished
on 4th November, there were people sleeping in the sun after three days. When I say in the sun, they would try and get a bit of shade, or a bit of camel bush or something, and after three days they would be still sleeping. Incredible, we had no sleep for ten days you see, only a few hippie – (UNCLEAR) to keep you going and that. They just seemed to relax and it was enjoyable.
No, they left us there until we recovered, and then we went back to Palestine. There was a book, I gave it to the grandchildren in Toowoomba for their Anzac Day school project, and it was written about the 2/48th, and they went in, in the toughest section, on what they call the cutting. There was a
railway line that went through, and there was just walls of rock on each side, he had a lot of armour and machine guns there. The 2/48th went in with either six hundred and seventy, or seven hundred and sixty, and after three days there were forty one left, incredible! The 2/23rd, they had about fifty left, there were two battalions that really took the brunt of El Alamein.
Those horrific kind of numbers, when you are there at the time, are you aware that you are copping such a hiding?
I wouldn't say we were getting a hiding Peter, we only knew what our platoon was doing. We had no idea what other battalions were doing. You were assigned to attack a position, and that's all we learned. As time went on, we'd learn all these things about the
allowed. They should never have allowed brothers to fight in the same platoon. That would strike you more emotionally than someone fighting in another country, you know what I mean? You felt so sorry for the brother of this poor bugger, you know what I mean? We had, he was in my crew actually, Snowy Pickup, when there was a bit of a lull, just before we finished El Alamein, he said he had a brother, Chook his nickname
was, in A Company, and he said, "I am going over to say good day to Chook." We knew he was dead and we said, "No you can't go over, you'll bring the crabs on us [attract enemy fire] and the shellfire straight away." We talked him out of it for a couple of days, and at the finish we told him, and he said, "Why the hell didn't you tell me in first place?" We couldn't explain to him why. That was just his reaction to it, he just accepted it,
if we had said, "Yes, we knew," we would of felt bad for him to go looking for his brother who wasn't there.
It's interesting, I just heard the term that you used, "It will bring the crabs on us," a few blokes have used that term when talking about – ?
‘Bring on the crabs,’ yes that was a saying ,yes, don't light a fire or do this, you'll bring on the crabs. I don't know where it originated from.
When all that action there had finished, and they pulled you out and back to Palestine, was it the same kind of relief you felt when you were relieved at Tobruk?
After El Alamein, we knew then we had defeated the German corps, we knew that we defeated him well and truly, and I suppose that gave us a great relief to know that we were coming home,
even though we weren't told that we were coming home. Alexandria, when we had our divisional march a few days before Christmas, he indicated to us, not directly, by saying, "We are now in a position where we will chose our battle fields, and where you fight next time, I don't know." Straight away we knew we were coming home.
What did you think about that news, that you were coming home?
We were pleased! Sydney head coming in was the most beautiful sight, coming in to Sydney Harbour, it was early in the morning, and there were hundreds of mirrors. The sun had just rose, and there was the reflection of the sun on these mirrors, and that was the best,
That must have been very emotional for a lot of blokes?
Yes, there were two extremes, going away, and coming home. I must tell you too, getting away from El Alamein, and getting back to Colonel Harry Murray, when this
contingent decided to join the AIF, he gave us a bit of a pep talk [speech of exhortation, attempting to instil enthusiasm, determination, and knowledge], and we learnt a lot from Harry Murray as to what to expect when we went into battle. He said, "On Gallipoli, they attacked Turkish trenches, and I came around a bend in a trench, and face to face with a Turk. The Turk bayonet was longer than ours, I could see by the look on his
face he was a determined soldier. We advanced almost to the point of touching bayonets when I pulled this trigger and blew his guts out." He then sort of went silent, the highest decorated man in Australia, and we sort of looked at him for a while, and then he looked at us and said nothing. He said, "When he went down he didn't utter a word except groan, but his eyes were
wide open, and they spoke to me by saying, ‘you cowardly bastard.’" Then he hesitated for a while, and he went on to say, "How was I to know he wasn't going to pull the trigger?" That sunk into my mind right from that day onwards. You could see his story, kill or be killed, it doesn't matter how you kill him. He went on to win the Victoria Cross, he wasn't a coward.
It really is, you know everything, when it boils down, that's as simple as it gets isn't it?
Yes, that's what he said, "How was I to know he wasn't going to pull the trigger?" but until he told us that, we couldn't understand. Australia's highest decorated soldier being a coward, he wasn't a coward at all, it was self preservation.
Coming back to Australia, did you get any leave straight away?
No – when we went back to Palestine, yes, we had leave, had Christmas there, but we left soon after Christmas to come home, yes, we did have leave. The camps were more free to go where you wanted to. If you had the money to go for a trip, and get on a bus and all that. I got picked up in Jerusalem, AWL.
Was your Christmas meal better than cabbage stew?
Yes, we were well fed there, we had plenty of food. We had good food at El Alamein because we had the South African canteen which was well stocked, and we had the English canteen, we still had the same military food, but we had clean water.
savage, you've only got to look up the casualties, my platoon alone, indicate, I think we had seventeen killed out of thirty three. In Tobruk I think we had three killed, and had fourteen killed in El Alamein, that's the difference in the platoons. Bulimba made a hole in our rank, that was our biggest loss, we had sixty three killed out of the battalion which was a lot really because the whole battalion
didn't go in, there was a jock column [mobile artillery] in reserve.
reserve for emergency. So, we went out on the mail truck, and we called in at a station called Belford on the way. God, it was mid-summer hot, we left, February we came home. The owner of the place said, "Have lunch with us." There was sweat pouring, what did he open up? A tin of bloody bully beef would you believe it? I will never forget that,
more emotional to say goodbye than come home. You come home and say, "Well I survived," you got that feeling. If you came back with a leg off, or mutilated, you'd feel differently, but if you've still got your health, we were still healthy, still young.
You will have to back track, and tell us when you first met her.
When I first met her was in 1932, and she was born in ’26, she was only six years old. When I came back from the Middle East, I can always remember saying to her old dad, with petrol being short, "Can I borrow your
truck?" He had a dodge truck as well as a car, "Can I borrow your truck?" He said, "Where do you want to go?" I said, "I want to go up to Windsor Park, and see Keith.” He was Joyce's brother. The old fellow gave me a bit of a sly grin and thought, "I know who the bloody hell he is going to see." He loaned it to me, and that was the start of our romance.
Yes, that was the start of our romance. Joyce, she went nursing after my discharge. I went back to New Guinea, I didn't see much fighting in New Guinea, I came back, and I was hit in El Alamein, and I had a vertebrae crushed, and my hearing and all was going, so
they boarded me out, and I went back to Canungra, and tucked in for six months, that was a good feeling. Then of course when I got my discharge, we bought the property next door, well, the parents bought it for us, and that meant we were joining Windsor Park, which is Joyce's old people's, and she went nursing, went to Brisbane nursing, and the only time I used to see her was when I used to go to Brisbane.
We had no money, and debt at the time, we survived!
position that was giving us a touch up with shells. A day before, Ron Yates, our platoon commander, he went out and got hit, he survived. The next day of course, prior to that we had a barrage of eighty eight shrapnel shells above us and it knocked out the bearing of one of my bogey wheels, so when the orders were to go
out and be fired on, I sent the message back to our commanding officer, Johnny Brown, and he said, "Take Coburns and put him in the hospital, his two crew were buried alongside the carrier." I thought, "I can't refuse this," so I jumped in. We were dug in at the time, and we were there for about two days dug in, and the infantry were dug in around us, like a half moon you see, where we could bring our carriers out, or we
could apply defensive fire with the machine gun. I warmed this carrier up, and I am going through these dug in trenches with our fellows, and they are all waving like this and pointing. I said to John, "Bloody eighty eight," so I zig zagged the carrier, and the next thing, boom. They laid a minefield, and they hadn't told us the bloody minefield was there.
Fortunately, we got out alive, but it cost a vertebrae in my back as it flew us out of the carrier. I survived it, that's the main thing.
Did that deafen you temporarily as well?
My hearing and all that – we didn't only hit one mine, I can remember hitting the first one, but it blew the tracks off and the frame, I was travelling about forty mile an hour, maximum speed,
that's all they'll do, I was flat as a trap in third gear, and I am weaving, and I thought it was the eighty eight's, and it wasn't eighty eight's, it was a mine field. I don't remember the next one, but we got blown out of the tank.
These were mines laid by Aussies?
They were our mines. I shouldn't say this really, but Ron Yates, wounded the day before, poor old Ron, he was a champion fellow, but he
always had a bottle of whisky hidden away somewhere, and when he got the news, he forgot to tell us. That was how I become wounded, own bloody weapon. It's a strange thing you know, as I say, I remember the first explosion, but I don't remember the other explosion, but they tell me, the infantry fellows, when they
saw us blown out, they said, "We didn't expect to see you alive, because we saw all this debris flying through the air, and you must of hit three or four mines together." The carrier with the frames went forward with the momentum, but I don't remember it really. All I remember, was coming to in the minefield. I realised then it was a minefield because it could have been an eighty eight millimetre.
situation, was it more annoying that it was from, if you like, friendly fire, rather than the enemy?
No, I was bloody annoyed, I was annoyed we weren't told a minefield was there, that was bad really. You weren't going to make any complaints, because Ron was such a well known liked fellow, we weren't going to make it hard for him, he would of got into big trouble. We just accepted it, and that was it.
is capturing, or getting the German flag, the swastika flag that you brought back to Australia?
There was a little write up, with that photo, did you read it? It wasn't a vicious attack, it was as a matter of fact on 4th November, when daylight came everything seemed to be so quiet.
No artillery firing, no machine gun firing, we thought, "Hello, the bloody thing might be over," then as daylight came it got more quieter, and a few little ground birds were there chirping around and getting a feed. We started to move about, and we decided to go out and investigate, so we headed for this El Arama Mosque, we could see it quite
distinctly. When we got there, there were about one hundred and eighty Germans loading their trucks with the gear they wanted to take away. One of our boys put a burst over their heads, and they just surrendered, they shook hands and were pleased it was over. We went scrounging through the mosque and I grabbed a Mauser [automatic pistol], that's what I will tell you about, and the flag.
two or three months, jungle warfare, which we weren't accustomed to, we had no training. Then we went to New Guinea. I saw very little fighting in New Guinea because I left the battalion, and they formed what they call a 9th Div Carrier Company, and there was a certain personnel from each battalion that formed this company. When we got to New Guinea we realised
you couldn't drive a carrier in the jungle. As I say, we got it pretty easy there, we only did patrol work and that was about it.
led to believe as far as what to expect from the Japanese soldier?
We were told by some of the troops that hadn't seen much action, "You wait until you see those Japs, you'll find soldiers, those Germans don't match the Japs," but they were wrong all together. The Jap wasn't frightened to die, but the German soldier was ten times that. He was a ratbag, a maniac, the Japs, he'd commit suicide as quickly as die with your
bullet you know, which we seen. They put the rifle in a log, and they'd fall on the bayonet and it would go right through them. Harry told me they let their stomach out, that was common with the Japs. In action, his weapons were nowhere near the Germans, nowhere near as harsh. As I say, I can't speak from frontline experience as I say, we
didn't see the action as the infantry boys did up there.
Australian soil had been attacked?
It made us more hate Germans [means Japanese], and hatred towards them, yes, we didn't enjoy that at all, they killed a lot of people in Darwin. I think we knew we were getting the upper hand all the time, but it wasn't a
Ravenshoe. I could always remember I was lecturing reinforcements on the Vickers at the time, and a runner came down and said, "You are wanted at the MO tent." I thought, "What the hell does he want me for." I walked in there, and the MO was doing some paper work and he said, "Righto, strip right off." I said, "What's this all about?" He said, "Haven't they told you?" and I said,
"They've told me nothing." He said, "You are a returned soldier. You are going to Canungra as an instructor." I couldn't get there quick enough, I had had enough, I had really had enough war then.
What were your impressions when you landed, in the first instance, at Milne Bay?
Well, it was vastly different to what we thought it was. Milne Bay and Buna had been devastated by the 18th brigade when they defeated the Japs there, and the coconut palms were flat on the ground and a lot of vegetation was destroyed from shell fire and that. Quite a big cemetery there and that,
Once you got to Milne Bay, what sort of operations did they have you doing?
A battle had been fought there, the 18th brigade had overrun the Japs, and that was one of the main battles, Buna, Gona, Milne Bay of course. We were stationed there preparing
for the sea invasion of Lae, so we were virtually waiting for the word to go in, as we found, to board the boat there. We moved from Milne Bay on an American ship that took quite a few hundred troops, and then when we were in the firing range of Lae we were transported onto landing craft, and an
American 5/52nd Boat Battalion I think, took us in. They dropped us off and they cleared out, their job was done.
and most of that was accurate. We were very, very distressed and upset and worried in Syria because Rommel had taken Tobruk and the Japs looked like taking Australia. Here we were, the 9th Division over there, sitting on our bums in Syria when we should be fighting, but we got all the fight we wanted, because when Rommel took Tobruk that, it was an uneasy
period, and it was very distressing to hear the victories of these slant eyes coming right through Malaysia, and what they were doing, and the atrocities, and murdering women and children and all that. We were very frightened if they got in would we see our loved ones again.
did blokes ever have the thought that they'd rather be fighting for us at home?
I think we felt that we couldn't get home quick enough. We felt that we had a job to do here, and the sooner we got home and got into them, the better. We were relieved to know that the other divisions had stalled him in New Guinea, stopped him continuing
before you went to New Guinea?
Yes, we heard that, and that's what made us so bitter against them, there were some dreadful stories that we learned to be true, but we had no experience ourselves with them, but when we were told by the troops that didn't see much action
saying that, "You fellows wait until you get the Japs, then you'll know you've got a fight on your hands," we thought, "By Christ, if they are better than the Germans, then we are in for a big fight, because they were pretty good."
You were telling us before the difference between a Japanese soldier, and a German soldier, just in the way they are, but what about – did you have different feelings towards the Japs, as opposed to the Germans?
We didn't take a prisoner. When I say, "we,"
as I said to Peter, that I went into the carrier company, and I didn't see the fighting that the infantry fellows saw, but seeking on behalf of the battalion, no prisoners came out, and they gave us, the battalion, credit for killing eight thousand. Every Jap that we hunted, died, there was no respect, they were animals, they were worse than animals, and we saw the
evidence. When we took Sattelberg 2/48th took Sattelberg, Diver Derrick won the Victoria Cross, and he was leading the attacking force that took it, and Sattelberg was a German mission, and there were skeletons found at the foot of palm trees, a
mile a minute vine grows while you are watching it, have you heard of the mile a minute vine? They are very rare, but if you do see one, you will see it move. The pelvis of all these skeletons had this vine in the pelvis, so you work it out, they were done, that was one of their horror treatment that they gave out to
After seeing German soldiers that would help Australian wounded, is that a bitter disappointment to see the Japanese fight, and learn of the inhumane things that they may have done?
As I say, we had no respect for them from what we were told, and we were out for revenge. We knew straight
away without fighting them, the difference between them and the Germans. We went into action in the islands, and we had no respect for the Japanese, none whatsoever. When they dropped that bomb on Hiroshima they should of dropped them on every city, but that feeling doesn't exist today, it's a different generation.
Can you talk us through what happened once you landed at Lae?
Well as I say, we remained there until we received the orders to invade, no, Lae – They over run a hospital in Lae, and there were rotting bodies in the beds in the hospital, there were still maggots in the bodies of the Japanese hospital, and from the operating theatre, the limbs were thrown out of the window,
and they were all decomposed on the ground. They went through the hospital and they killed every Jap in it, and set fire to it, and burnt it. It's a terrible thing to say, but this is what actually happened. I did not participate in that myself, but I know for a positive fact, those that did.
cholera [an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of contaminated water or food], they were dying with cholera, and they come down the Mesawang, or Buni River for water, and they were so weak and dehydrated that the would lie down and die alongside the water hole. The river wasn't running, there was a water hole. I can remember one occasion I took a patrol up the Buni or Mesawang, one of those rivers, and my forward
scout indicated there were Japanese on the river bed, so I went up and had a look myself, and I could see this one Jap lying near the water. I approached him ready to kill him, and when I got there he had his hand extended with a hand grenade, and he had a rifle and bayonet across his chest, and he was just staring into space but he was alive, he had a pair of glasses on one
eye, one was broken, and I jammed my foot on his wrist and took the hand grenade and my mate took his rifle. The angle boys, the fuzzy wuzzy's we had, they made a make-shift stretcher, and took him back, but he died on the way back, he was dying of cholera. It would have been probably more humane to have shot him on the spot, but cholera is a deadly thing, diarrhea, the smell is something.
guarding ammunition dumps, and things like that. We were not engaged in the frontal attack, the battalion was. There was some very bitter fighting, and there were a lot of casualties, not only our fellows, and I wouldn't like to say how many Japanese were killed, there were thousands killed there. As I say, prisoners were not –
I probably shouldn't be saying that because I might lead myself into a hornet's nest by someone saying, “You shouldn't have touched that sort of thing about war.” When I say, “No prisoners,” I mean that.
Can you tell us how that came about?
Actually, my friend, I mentioned, Johnny Duke, who died from cerebral malaria, we went through Tobruk, and El Alamein together, he was the carrier commander, and I was the driver, and after Bulimba, Alex Bacon, the commanding officer
took over, and Bannister's place when he was killed, and he offered me promotion, and at the time I said, we had been together John and I in the carrier for so long where we should have been killed, and we escaped, and to divide us now, there is an equal chance that one of us will die, and if we are going to die, we are going to die together, and that's why I
declined it. When John was taken sick in New Guinea, word came back from the hospital to say he was no longer capable of serving in the line, so I was called up to headquarters and Badon, and Ron Yates, he was the captain, and they just said to me, "You can't decline a promotion." I couldn't believe they
pinned it on me actually, because I knew I wasn't doing the wrong thing, and I knew Johnny wasn't going to be coming back. So I accepted it, and they offered me a confirmed corporal on the field, or an acting sergeant, I had to take my choice and I said, "Give me the confirmed rank against an acting." That was Hitler's rank, a corporal, he was a corporal during the war. They said, "What rank?" and I said,
With that not wanting to tempt fate by being split from John, apart from that, in all of your time in the war, did you develop any other sort of superstitions?
No, I am not a religious person or anything like that, I
just sort of took things as they came. You sort of develop a friendship with someone, and you are tied bond wise, and you just like to be with that person. If you are on a gun crew, you'd like your number two to be with you all the time because you can trust him, and you know he's not a coward or anything. I just think that was a decision I had to make, you know.
There is a better chance of one us being killed in two Bren gun carriers against one, wasn't it.
anything outstanding, an incident or that nature, because we didn't actually participate in the hard fighting that the infantry boys did. I got off relatively light. I got off very light really, but the jungle was similar, and the rivers were the same, and the natives were the same type of people, you could understand a bit of the lingo and that,
they were very friendly, and they were very good to us too. We used to always have them on patrol because they could smell the Japs. They'd say, "Japan man, white master." We were always white master, and then they'd go for their lives, their job was – we paid them for it of course, we paid them.
Malaria of course, that took its toll. No pneumonia or anything like that. There was ‘scrubtitis’, and if you got that you were gone, and of course malaria is a terrible disease to get. We were on Atebrin tablets [antimalarial drug] the whole time. I escaped that really, I threw malaria off, I got malaria, but it didn't affect me later in life. My system sort of threw it out, and that was it.
The work you were doing in New Guinea doing the patrols and guarding the ammunition plants, comparing that to having been right in the thick of things in the Middle East, did it seem boring, or was it a relief?
It wasn't boring, you could be killed any time. Those little fellows, they'd strap themselves up in trees and you would never know when a sniper was going to pick you off.
You didn't relax, you were on your guard all the time. Of course then, at night, he'd send patrols in at night where the German never ever sent a patrol in at Tobruk, but they would send in patrols. They were so cunning too, at Buna, our next door neighbour, Mike Steady, he was a lieutenant in the 2/12th battalion, and he was a Vickers machine gun commander,
and he got shot through the head by a sniper. This sniper had killed quite a number of the 2/12th, and how Mike come to be killed was he heard this voice, "Hey Mike," and he put his head up, and shot him. This Jap was up in this tree for days, tied into this tree, and he learnt this, "Hey Mike," from the Australians,
and that was how Mike was killed, he fell for it. That's how cunning they were, you know what I mean. They knew he was in this tree, this was related to me by people who were there on the spot, because Mike was not only a friendly next door neighbour, the property joined us. They knew, the foliage and the dense trees, you couldn't see into them at all, it's like looking into that wall, but he was in there somewhere.
They said there were so many killed in that platoon and there was only one way, and that was to charge under this tree and they did that, I don't know how many men went out to do it, but they raced under this tree and he fired a shot and he ejected the cartridge and it dropped onto his boot and straight away he let a mag go of his Bren gun, and his body eventually fell out of the tree,
and that's how they got him.
weren't, but then again we had a lot of casualties in our battalion, and I could have been one of those I suppose, but at the same time, you don't shoot your mate, if you had something to do, you do it, we had orders, we obeyed, that was it. I suppose if they had put us back in the battalion we would of served as well as we could possibly have served. We weren't disgraced or anything like that, but as I say, we got it easy.
stopped the Japs coming over there. So you know we only had our own opinion, and that's a personal opinion. Collectively, as a team they were never equal to the standards of the AIF, no way. I think we were volunteers, where in nine cases out of ten, they weren't. They were Q, their number was
We weren't sure if we were being sent further in the islands, or where we'd eventually go, but we were told that we were coming back to Australia when Finschhafen finished. We done our job, and then of course, our battalion went to Borneo, but I wasn't with the battalion, I was at Canungra then. It was only a maneuver, they only lost about three men killed in Borneo, it was more or less a
holiday, and that was the last action.
While you were in New Guinea, how were you holding up with your injuries?
They were telling on me a bit, I suffered with problems in my back because my vertebrae was crushed, and I didn't know at the time. I wasn't as active as I could have been, and it wasn't until
Once Finschhafen was over, then they told you, you were coming home?
Yes, we came home on an old Liberty ship, they are the ones that used to break in half in the water you know. They were built over night in twenty fours work, in
When you were coming back to Australia that time, did you think that you would stay put in Australia, or did you think that there was a chance they could send you over somewhere else again?
Yes, you see the battalion went to Borneo, but I was boarded out medically, so I would have gone but had I not been
and we had, yes, we were given a wonderful welcome, especially Sydney. We came in Sydney Heads, all these mirrors from the windows, you couldn't look at them at all, but still, it was a lovely gesture.
there was a feeling leaving my mates behind, but we didn't have too many people left that served with me from the word go. Those that survived, were boarded out I suppose that way, so I felt I wasn't saying goodbye to the battalion,
because my mates were not there in the quantity that they were prior to that. It's hard to explain really, but I had had enough of war. That was the feeling and I thought, “At least I survived it.”
all these no hopers that were released from jail and dodged drafts, and all this. They weren't the same troops that we lived with in the battalion. I was lenient to them, because as I say, I realised, and I knew that the war was virtually over and finished, and I knew these fellows would never see action because they had been dodging the war for so long, not all of them,
but a big percentage of them. I wasn't popular for a while, and I realised then that I wasn't going to be unpopular and get a punch on the nose or something, so I thought I would be more lenient. I wasn't hard on them, no.
eight days, and we'd make our way up to the Lamington, O'Reilly's Guest House, and we'd arrange it so that we arrived there Saturday night because they used to put on a dance for the girls who came out from Brisbane, so I used to bed my troops down in the jungle, and I used to sneak up to O'Reilly's Guest House and have a few beers and dance with the girls and that sort of thing.
Do you think those blokes coming through knew that they wouldn't see overseas action?
I think a lot of them were determined to dodge seeing action, yes. There was never an instance of stealing in our battalion, you'd never steal off your mates, but there cases at Canungra where they would rat your gear if you didn't lock it away.
I could go on naming a whole lot, a lot of them have passed on with our age group, it's only natural, but they are all similar to myself, they are boarded out of the battalion through health reasons, wounds. It was nice, we used to have a break
down the Gold Coast. Every month we'd go down for four or five days, we'd have a camp on some sort of a creek out from Surfers Paradise, it wasn't Paradise in those days compared to what it is today, you know what I mean. You could bum a ride in on a car, and you could go in to the Cavel's Hotel, and it would be open to anyone who wanted to have a beer. It was a different style altogether, and it was really enjoyable.
news were you hearing of what was still going on in the war?
We knew when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, that was headlines in the paper. I was in Southport the day they dropped the bomb. A young lass said to me, who I knew down there, said, "They've dropped an atom bomb." I said, "What the hell is an
atom bomb?" She said, "It's in the paper." That's where I read about it, and I realised then, that that was the finish of the war now. I had no regrets they dropped it, they should of kept dropping it. That was our feeling in those days, against today, it's a different feeling altogether, a different generation. I think that
was the close of the story then, this was only a week or two later that I went to Redbank, and was handed my discharge.
Were there celebrations for victory in Europe?
Yes, they call it V day do they, victory in Europe. There was dancing in the street, and celebrations, but you couldn't get much beer in those days,
You said, “Sometimes things would get stolen if you didn't lock them up.”
Yes, I was right off the target there. Well, you just have to accept it, it's very hard to prove. You wouldn't leave your watch down, or your wallet, but you could in your battalion because it was a different kettle of fish altogether.
when you were speaking about the Japanese fellow that you came across who was very sick, and you were saying, “In hindsight it may have been more humane to have shot him, rather than carry him out because he was so sick,” did you ever know of any circumstances of mercy killings like that?
Yes, as I said previously,
prisoners were unknown there. If you came across a wounded Jap, he's better off dead, than alive. It's a thing that's very hard to discuss with people like that. After all, you are more or less telling what your best mate probably did, and if he was alive today
he would be horrified to think that I related what he did, do you know my feelings on that.
mate. I think he was virtually dead when he shot him, he was cut in half, a tank had gone over his body, and his legs were over there, and his top portion was there, but his eyes were still moving, so he pulled the trigger and blew his brains out. I wouldn't call that a mercy killing really, I suppose in a way you would, wouldn't you? There is no possible chance of surviving because a
badly wounded soldier could live with his hip blown off, eventually he would die, it's not quick like that. Only on that one occasion I didn't see it, I was told about it.
one fellow, Shepherd was his name, and he was badly wounded in New Guinea out in front of the trenches in the jungle, and he pleaded with his men to shoot him, and I believe he screamed abuse at them, and called them, “Bastards, and for Christ's sake shoot me,” and eventually he died, but no one had the guts to shoot him, it’s very hard, had you of
shot him and that, then you would have to live with it, there's the possibility he could of lived.
Do you know if mates ever made deals with each other about that? Do you know if mates ever discussed that, if people discussed that with their mates and said, "Listen, if I am in that situation, please – ”
There were probably more discussions amongst ourselves, than people who were involved in it, but not –
it is sort of dying out now, and at one time it was a discussion I suppose. On many occasions we would relate our experiences, and today it's different. It's like this friend of mine was saying to Malcolm, "I saw your dad blow a German's brains out," but he shouldn't of said that, but there you are.
He's dead and gone now, so he's not going to tell anyone else what I did. I think it's getting to the stage now that there are so many falling off the perch – in a few years time, I will be eighty three in August, I was one of the youngest. Eight seven, eighty eight is a common age, how long are they going to live for? This old mite down there, a hundred and seven, but he's the one and only World War I.
That's the idea, what you are doing now is to keep a record of what happened in our time for the generations to come, I wonder by saying what I said about no prisoners, would that ever be used against me if they were investigating, saying, “You had no right to say, ‘no prisoners were taken’,” how would I react to
that? Develop an argument straight away, I'd have to go and get some of my mates, but they are all dead, how do you feel?
So you told us about the celebrations they had for V day, and after the atom bomb, the surrender by the Japanese, what celebrations were there for the end of the war?
I went back to Canungra the next day as a matter of fact, and Captain Todd, he was the company commander I think he was, captain, or major, he was a World War I
old digger, lovely old fellow, and he said to me, "Righto, Scarr, you pick out four or five, and guard the hotel up at – (UNCLEAR)." So four or five of my mates come along, and did we have a whacko time, we didn't see daylight for about three days. As a publican, we were there to keep the public away, you couldn't do that, everyone was bloody welcome there,
but we had a mighty time, and never put our hands in our pocket for anything, it was all ‘on the house’ [free]. That was a celebration I will never forget, and he realised what I had been doing.
and that was it. I just wanted an honourable discharge because when I went to Redbank for my discharge, they were going to put me through an aptitude test to lay bricks. I said, "Look, all I want is my discharge," and they said, "But we've got to fit you into a job." When I said I had a sheep station to go on to, they said, "What?" they couldn't believe it at my age, at the end of the war, but that was
there for me to go on to actually, and it was a nice thought.
Did you have to do a medical before you were discharged?
No, I went up from Canungra, and just walked into the building, and there it was. Once they – they weren't worried about your health much then, I don't think.
I just forget now exactly, Peter, I don't think so, we would of signed for something, we had to hand in our equipment, our rifle and bayonet, and equipment. What you took up in, was the army clothes you could take home, but I couldn't get to Pike Bros [Brothers] quick enough to get civilian clothes, felt out of place too, when I did get them to be honest with you, we
That's the suit that everyone got was it? Did they give you a chit [coupon] to go and get a suit?
Yes, the clothing rack and chit, my word. You are only allowed two pair of trousers, or two shirts, or something like that. But I had my account from Pike Bros of course, mail order from home. I was treated reasonably well, and I could get more than I was supposed to get there.
Did you get to keep any of your army gear at all?
Not much, I think it slowly disappeared. I didn't take a steel helmet home, I handed that in of course, but I would of had a hat, and clothes I was discharged in. No, I think they all disappeared eventually, I might of wore the hat out mustering sheep, or something like that.
You went straight back home, or did you hang around in Brisbane for a little while?
I went around Brisbane for a little while and did a bit of shopping, and sort of become accustomed to civilian life again. Then of course it was about a three day trip on the train to go home, there was no aircraft in those days. I had something to go back onto, whereas a lot of the fellows didn't, they had to go and get a job, or rely on their parents to support them for a little while.
We had no money when we left, my gratuity was about two hundred pound after six years, that's all we had, otherwise I was penniless.
sort of good, semi-relief, even though we enjoyed our army life and our time in the army, apart from the battle side of it, we enjoyed it. You made mates, and you enjoyed their company, and you sort of looked forward to meeting them again in a different period of life and civilian clothes, which we did and that. I think it was a feeling, Peter,
of relief, to know that you were a returned solider. I came through it, and got an honourable discharge, and I did the best for my country, and that's it. You adapt yourself to the civilian way of life.
well you looked forward to saddling them up again, and even the dogs were still alive. The young dogs that we were breaking into work, they were still getting along in the tooth. You sort of, strange enough too, animals know you. It doesn't matter how long you've been away. I went out to our daughter and son-in-law's property at Mandara only a couple of months ago, since we've been here, and one old dog,
she's eighteen years old, and the last time I saw her would have been about eight or ten years ago, and the family went for a tour around the world and I looked after the property at Thargaminda, and of course this old thing came up, went through all the other people there just to me to say, "Hello," she whined, she remembered me after ten years, it's an amazing thing, and animals don't forget you. She never had a tooth
in her head, and as deaf as a beagle, but she still knew me.
So, mum and dad's reaction when you got home – ?
They got help now, we had a property, so we had to help the old people there too. I think, you know, particular my mother
Did you just go straight back to working on the land, working on the property?
Yes, it wasn't hard to take. We hadn't really settled down, if you know what I mean, it's very hard to explain. When I came home on leave from the Middle East,
I couldn't eat, I couldn't swallow food, I just couldn't. You chew it, and you try and swallow it, and it wouldn't go down. I only spent half of my time at home, I had to get away, I had to get the hell out of it. I went to Townsville and I met up with my mates and I was as right as rain, that is a fact. I can always remember telling one of my mates and he said, "I know how you feel.”
I got off the train and got a taxi out to the suburb where his girlfriend was, and he said, "I threw my gear on the verandah and I cleared off down the pub and I got drunk with my mates, and when I got enough guts to go and say hello to her, she abused me for what I did." He said he couldn't face her, and had gone to pieces. You can't explain, your body sort of takes control
of you. Why is it? It's just something you can't explain, it didn't only affect me, it affected other fellows who all had the same symptoms, we couldn't eat, couldn’t enjoy this, you were crabby and annoyed with people you know, it was too abrupt a change from army life back, and that was leave, and then of course when we were discharged, we slowly adapted ourselves,
but we weren't the same people for a while. Very easily upset, and very easily lose your temper very quick. But you slowly got back into it again, civilian life. You reminisced a lot about what happened, you did that yourself quietly, rather than openly discuss things.
I suppose I talk more of the war with you people in the last few hours than I have done in the whole of my life after war, to be honest.
Did anybody ask you specific things?
Yes, you get a lot of questions too, from children, like, “Did you kill a naughty German, did you shoot this?” are you kidding, it's a little bit hard to answer those children because they'd probably say,
"Why did you go to war as a soldier and you didn't kill anyone?" In their mind you go to war to kill, and that's fair enough, that's why I did go, but it's a thing you didn't want to discuss, water under a bridge. You've got those people, and then of course other people that understand, even though they may not have had war experiences, they sort of understood your feeling afterwards. Some people
would ask you questions, and some would tell other people what he did, and, “You shouldn't have done it,” and all that. That came out, sometimes it was embarrassing.
Did you march on Anzac Days?
I used to march quite a bit for Anzac Day. When I was in Brisbane, Anzac Day, there were no marches – no, I beg your pardon, of course there were. There was always an Anzac Day celebration.
Did you do that straight after the war?
Yes, a year after, when they started to organise the RSL [Returned and Services League] out there, and get things together, probably a year or two after, not immediately, but probably two years after things settled down.
How big an RSL do they have there?
Not very big actually, I am the only survivor that joined the AIF from Richmond, so that gives you an idea, it's only a small number. When I took that flag out a few years back, that was open to be discussed, who were the survivors, and they could only name me as the survivor that all joined up more or less at the same time. Went to the AIF,
No, that were in Richmond RSL?
We only had one World War I, and that was Harry Murray, but he didn't belong to the RSL strangely enough, he never attended any celebrations or anything like that,
How did you – you spoke about adjusting to life, what sort of hangovers did you notice in the years following the war? That rationing of fuel and food and those sort of things, how long did it take for those things to settle down again?
As I say, we were married in '48, and you couldn't go into the pub and buy a bottle of beer, you couldn't buy a packet of cigarettes, they were rationed. But the old saying, Peter,
is ‘It's not what you know, it's who you know’. When we were married I had a '47 Ford Utility, a 1947 Ford Utility which I bought when we come down and got married, I took Joyce back to the hospital after a bit of a session at the Carlton Hotel, she didn't drink much of course, but I was half shot [half drunk] because there was no such thing as drunken driver in those days.
I dropped her off, and I only moved a short distance, when a car run into me sideways. He was a Chinese fruitier would you believe, and he had a bag of potatoes over the bonnet, and this fruit all fell over, and the bag of potatoes burst, and there were potatoes everywhere, and there was no sign of a policeman, but a taxi rank, and I said to the taxi, "Go down to the valley and get a policeman." He said, "I am not paying for this," I said, "You will be paid,
just go down and get a bloody policeman, that's all." Which he did, and he came back, and I paid him his four pound or whatever it might have been. The policeman said, "What happened?" I said, "I stopped, and all I know is that this Chinaman ran into me with his fruit cart." The constable opened the door and said, "Where are your breaks?" The Chinaman said, "No brakey." In the mean time, he got his spuds together, and he put them back on the bonnet in the
bags. He said, "Handbrake?" and he said, "No handbrakey." He said, "How did you see him with the potatoes?" He said, "I look out over the top." Poor old fellow, they booked him. Then he turned to me and said, "Where's your permit?" and I said, "What for?" He said, "Bringing this car down from Richmond. Didn't you know you had to have a permit?" I said, "No," he said, "You are in big trouble." God almighty, I knew nothing about this. My friend's
father was the head of the traffic police, Ben Hall was his name, strangely enough, and he was a very nice fellow, I found that out too. I was introduced to him, and when the ticket came along to prosecute me for this not having he said, "I keep a waste paper basket for those things," and he crumbled it up. He was the person who got us our grog for the wedding.
Incidentally of course, petrol rations were very, very severe, and if you go to a garage over the south side and just say such a word to him, and he gave me a booklet of ration coupons, as many as you wanted, for one shilling a ticket. One shilling a ticket, amazing isn't it, in rations, as I say, ‘it's not what you know, it's who you know’.
go to the CPS station [central police station], and sign a declaration to say it was a case of emergency to be in to the doctor, but you could buy a drum of petrol on the black market providing you paid ten pounds to the distributor, it was a racket, that applied everywhere. We were lucky, we didn't go short of anything because we knew the person to look after us.
Do you think about your mates, and the places that you went, and the things that you did during the war?
Yes, I do, they come back to your mind all the time. I think you think of those days regardless of whether, that is
Insomnia is what they like to call it, but it goes back through your mind, and you start dreaming. I've never shouted in my, to my memory, during the night, but some unfortunately went to pieces in their sleep, and would scream. I never reached that stage.
How have you kept in contact with your mates from the battalion?
I think the contact was kept by the RSL, or by correspondence or Christmas cards from some of my old mates. Not all of them, I used to always send a Christmas card to close friends and vice versa, and all that, but that sort of died down because they aren’t here to receive a card. You only associate with those that are alive today,
and I've got an old mate round here, Barney McCall, he's the grandfather of Rupert McCall, the poet and that, and Barney was an original battalion, and he's much older than me, he still gets around, he's got his marbles and that. We get together occasionally and have a cold beer and so.
What are you most proud of with your service?
An honourable discharge I would say. I was never convicted, I was arrested for AWL, but being a friend of the commanding officer, it was scrubbed too. I think the satisfaction of knowing you didn't commit any crime that you were responsible for. In those days
a woman could walk down the street anywhere at two o'clock in the morning and there was never such a thing as being molested, look at it today, it's frightening isn't it? Every paper you pick up you see some harm to children, every paper. That never existed in those days, never. I can never recall ever reading of anything of that nature. People on a tram would get up and give a lady a seat. Today they look you up and down and just ignore a woman,
it's a different kettle of fish, a different way of life.
spine Peter. That's a handicap, and of course it is very embarrassing with my hearing, it's been that way for so long, any background noise, I am completely shut off from the world, I just would not understand one word you were saying. Any sort of noise in the background, it's killed the nerves, the main nerves, and a hearing aid is of no use to me. That is the worse problem I found, was being deaf.
delegate from the RSL, and he said, "You've experienced a hell of a bang in your ears at one time," and I said, "Yes." He said, "It killed both your nerves." So they gave me a forty percent disability pension on it straight away, the accepted it. But I also had to sign a declaration that I would not sue the Minister for Defence. Now, what a stupid thing to put, fancy fighting the Minister for Defence
for the compensation I am entitled to. Some are unfairly treated and some are receiving more than they ever deserved.
In that regard, how do you feel you have been treated by repat, or DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs]?
I admire them, I admire them tremendously. I never got on my knees and begged for anything, I just took what I was entitled to in the way of disability,
and we still live on a war pension as part of our income. I find them very, very good. I feel a bit disappointed but TPIs [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension] are handed out to those that are not deserving of that, that's my opinion, and some never left Australia and they still get a TPI. That's my own feeling on that, it's a feeling adopted by
nearly everyone that's been compensated with a disability pension. We all feel ourselves that we were deserving of more, but they keep me on ninety, they won't give me a hundred or so, but if they keep me on that level, I believe, you've got no chance of getting an increase. Once you pass a certain age, and I'll be eighty three, so my life is virtually finished, so for me to go along and apply for an increase they'll say, "Well you lived pretty well up to age,
what do you want more money at your bloody age for, what are you going to do?"
but I would not like to go on my own. I would rather take Joy or a member of my family, but in the danger at the moment, you are not safe in that country. You could be knocked over just like that. It wouldn't worry me, but I wouldn't want my family to – and with my health, I can't walk distances, I can't stand for long. So I passed the stage of the point of no return, put it that way. But seeing and viewing those films
that were taken when they did go on the trek back, it was very touching, it was very sad really because they showed graves of my mates there. Just by sheer coincidence, and I don't know how this happened, but when I was viewing it I said to Joy, "Oh my God, I don't believe it, I saw Tom Stanley's grave." His number was
2462, and I was 2460, and then the camera focused back onto this grave and they gave a speech on how he was killed and all that. I couldn't believe my eyes to see what I saw that day, I just couldn't believe it, after all those years, and there was his grave. Things like that, quite touching things really.
The ceremony, did you see the film on the ceremony?
by our history books, and stories written by other battalions, and people that you know in those battalions, and you sort of put it together then. We were told by other people what they did more than what we knew what they did, that's a way of looking at it. We had a fair idea, but I never realised that the 2/48th lost all those
men at the time, I never knew until I heard about the official, that came up in DVA, a little booklet a few months ago. I sent it up to my youngest granddaughter for a school project, and reduced down to forty one men from seven hundred, three days of fighting. We never learnt that, even when we were in the Middle East.
Was there an understanding of the significance of being back to a place that only twenty five years or so ago – ?
It was fresh in our mind, and it was fresh in the Turk's mind, they would of felt the same way as we felt, what this was all about. They had no ambition to attack anyone, they wanted a peaceful life, they were
quite nice people. We had the same views, but we were not sure what their reaction would be to seeing us there, whether they would say, "Well you killed my father or my uncle, I will kill you." That was not the case at all, Peter, very friendly, very understanding people
That was something that was not accepted by ninety nine point nine of diggers, was socialism and Communism. Russia was an enemy after war, through Communism. They changed their views a lot now of course, but Communists were out to conquer the world, same as North Korea, they wanted South Korea, but that's politics.
Speaking of politics, if you imagine this was a time capsules, what sort of thing would you say to future leaders of this country that would consider ever sending Australians overseas to fight in war?
Sending them to Vietnam was the greatest mistake ever Australia ever made sending them to Vietnam. They caused us no trouble, that’s Communism straight away. You see, America wants to suppress them down.
They have no right to bring us into the war, that's my opinion. I was very bitter because Malcolm could have been conscripted in those years, and I would of fought nail and tooth to stop them taking my son away. If you volunteer, but no, to be conscripted, and that's what it was, it was conscription to go and fight for a country that had no right to send us.
Through the influence of America, I support America most certainly with what they are doing now, and I support sending our troops over to Iraq, but I don't support these ill treatment of prisoners like animals over there, they are human beings too. I don't know, it's one of these complicated things, I wish it would all end peacefully if possible, and I don't think it will end peacefully, I think there is going to be a lot of blood shed.
What was your opinion of them?
Get out quick enough if they could. The Yanks were good, they thought we were the best defence, they were very generous, we got on all right. There were more brawls I suppose in Brisbane when the Yanks were here, than there were anywhere in the world because they were stealing our
There is a sort of lingering feeling that lingers today even, that we owe American a debt of gratitude for – ?
America saved Australia, I know for a positive fact in my heart that they did save Australia. Had they not beaten that Coral Sea Japanese fleet heading for Australia, they would of taken Australia. We've got to be realistic and
It was just pure luck that Malcolm's number didn't come out of the ballot?
No, he might not have been quite eligible, or old enough to be conscripted, but had he been of course, I would have been very bitter against it,
now, and he's got another couple of years of medicine before he graduates, so I don't think, if he did go in, he'd go in as a doctor I suppose, by looking at – We've been fortunate, we are very lucky in that respect, but I do think that a lot of these interference's now in countries could have been avoided,
I really think it could have been avoided.
nation, much more advanced than I expected to see them. Of course, terrorism is a terrible thing isn't it? They've been influenced by terrorists, and they do some dreadful things. Look at that poor woman and her four daughters, that pregnant woman, they were shot dead like animals. Now, revenge has got to come in, if that happened to your auntie, or wife, or sister, wouldn't you feel like revenge? That's what is going on all the
time. When we were there, the Palestinians, they were suppressed, they were kept right down because they only just lived in mud villages and that, but today they've got influence all over the world.
do feel that most of the young generation today realise and are thankful for what we did, that's my feeling, Anzac Day proves it. They've been educated at school, educated along the lines to be understanding and helpful to your neighbours, that sort of thing. I think there might be a fear of dissatisfaction for those younger generations to see what's going on,
why are they doing this, their dad and uncle and so forth, to stop this, why is it going on, and that's our great concern today is, where is it all going to finish up? It's getting worse every year. As you said, to go back to the Middle East today, I would love to go back, but I wouldn't see the Middle East how I saw it back in those days, the difference has changed dramatically
and they could be a violent race of people, for what they are doing, to shoot innocent children is something you couldn't comprehend could you? They are doing it, they are doing it all the time, to their own flesh and blood.
as we've done today, and I appreciate what you and Dene [interviewer], and how you've conducted this. There is a lot I could probably say which has been withheld to a degree, emotional things I think, I try and escape those sort of things, sometimes I just become
a bit shaky and all that, but I think what I've said to you has been one hundred percent truth and experience, and I feel that you will be assured of that when you are interviewing more.