Ronald Burridge
Archive number: 2142
Date interviewed: 05 July, 2004

Served with:

2/13th Infantry Battalion
9th Division

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Ronald Burridge 2142

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:35:00

Thanks for participating the archive project.
It’s a pleasure.
If I can ask you to start by giving us a brief summary of your life, and briefly where you served?
I was born in England in 1920, in a small city called Exeter in Devon. I went to a little school at Mint, called ‘The Mint’ [St Nicholas Catholic School],

01:01:00:00

I played soccer and cricket with the school for years, and I’ve been more interested in that than anything else, and I did a – I left school at fourteen, I did an assortment of jobs till I was sixteen, and I came from a railway engineering family, and naturally I went onto the railway as an engineer. And when I turned

01:01:30:00

eighteen, well before that I always wanted to go overseas, but I wanted to go to Canada when I was sixteen, I wanted to join the ‘Mounties’, I had that phobia. So when I got to eighteen a friend of mine was coming to Australia so I decided to emigrate with him. I came from a good family, Mum and Dad were beautiful people, and my Dad was a lovely man,

01:02:00:00

he only had an occasional drink with his grandfather, with his father, I should say, my grandfather. We used to go up to his thatched little cottage on Sunday mornings, and my Dad would walk up in his suit and his cap and his gold watch and chain, it’d be about a mile, and he’d go down the pub with his Dad for a couple of beers, come back, I’d stay with granny, he had a big garden full of fruit and

01:02:30:00

stuff, which I used to eat of course, and then we’d go home for dinner. I migrated to Australia when I was eighteen, I went to an agricultural school up in Windsor for about six or eight weeks, and from there I went down to the Riverina and worked on sheep and wheat farms, till the war broke out and I

01:03:00:00

decided to join the army. But I loved the bush, I would have stayed there. And I joined the army in 1940, early ’40, in Ingleburn camp, which was full of disease I might say, everybody coughed, and all the shelves were lined with Buckley’s Canadiol, a lot of the fellows would know about that, and we marched

01:03:30:00

to Bathurst from Sydney, up through the Blue Mountains, and it was freezing up there too, like Orange. And then we went overseas in October on the Queen Mary. We camped in Palestine in Hill 69, Camp 69, no, sorry, Kilo 89,

01:04:00:00

we were there for about three months and we moved up the desert, Benghazi, and the Germans attacked up there and we all raced back to Tobruk, which they called ‘Benghazi Handicap’. So we got into Tobruk before Easter, when all the Easter battles came up, and we were there – I was there till July and I got dysentery, I got really

01:04:30:00

crook, I was in hospital for three of four weeks, and I was in the convalescent camp for a couple of weeks then they shipped me back to Tobruk, the day after my twenty-first birthday, which we got bombed all the way too. And the other troops were underneath, it was the HMS Abdiel a mainland cruiser, and all the troops were in where they keep the mines, which was empty of course,

01:05:00:00

one side with troops and one side with provisions, but I managed to stay on deck. Pretty traumatic, but it was better up there, so I had my boots off in case we got sunk. But I was sitting under a 4.7 anti-ack-ack [anti-aircraft] gun, and the noise, no wonder I’m wearing hearing aids, with this thing booming away over my head. And I could see the

01:05:30:00

bombs falling in the sea, we had two attacks, one with Stuka bombers, and when that finished they had high level bombers, but it didn’t do any damage. But when the ship was evading, you know, I just stayed on the deck, it was like that, you know, and the water was over the scappers, so I kept sliding on the metal, and

01:06:00:00

back I’d go, but I was prepared if we went down, I had no boots on. We went back to Tobruk then and we were there till – we were the only battalion to stay there, to hold the siege, in by road and out by road. Well, after the siege was over, well it finished up we were in the Battle of Ed Duda we were attached to the Polish

01:06:30:00

Carpathian Brigade and being the only battalion left there, because when they were to relieve us, we were the last battalion to leave. The Germans sank one of the transporters and damaged the other and the convoy went back. So they left us there for the next two months. And well that was an unfortunate battle that one, because we lost – it

01:07:00:00

was the last battle really. It was a strategic ridge which you could see for miles all around, three hundred and sixty five degree observation, which the Germans really wanted.
Sorry Ron, that was Ed Duda, was it?
Ed Duda, yes.
We’ll go back and talk in detail about Tobruk. If you could just tell me after Tobruk where the main points you went were, in

01:07:30:00

your service?
After?
After Tobruk?
Oh. Well after that we went to – they took us up to Syria and we finished up on the Turkish border then, snowed in there for three weeks, it was cold there. Then we moved down and then the Germans attacked El Alamein and they rushed us up in the desert so I was there – I went through Alamein

01:08:00:00

campaign for about four months without a break, and that was it. Well in the final battle, there was forty-one in my platoon and I was the only one not killed and wounded, I was the only survivor, which is pretty sad. And after that I came back to Australia. Well after that campaign, I

01:08:30:00

came back, it was Christmas and I couldn’t eat my Christmas dinner, I got sick. I missed the battalion coming back and came back on a British naval ship. After that we trained up in the Tablelands, jungle training, then went to New Guinea. We made two amphibious landings, one at Lae and one at Finch Haven, Finschhafen, and went up Sattelberg and

01:09:00:00

those places and then I got tropical ulcers and malaria and stuff, and they sent me back to [Port] Moresby, and from there I came home, I can’t remember coming home, really, I was that crook. And I finished – the first thing I knew then I was in Concord Hospital. Well after that we went training up on the Tablelands again, up Ravenshoe,

01:09:30:00

and I got malaria again, I came back to Sydney, that finished me then, really. I got discharged – well I got boarded out, I got the board to say I was medically unfit to do any more service, that was on the day the Japs [Japanese] capitulated, that’s about it.
Thanks Ron, that’s terrific. I just wanted to go back to your

01:10:00:00

life in England. What sort of experiences had your family had in World War I?
Well I’ve got a photo of my Dad, he was in the Irish Rifles in the First [World] War, he got wounded three times in France, the third time he was posted missing, believed dead, but he turned up about five weeks after in a French hospital. Like he was an infantryman. After that they put him in the

01:10:30:00

Army Service Corps until the end of the war, so he was pretty safe for the end of the war then. But he did have trouble with his legs all his life, through bullet wounds, you know. He was a lovely bloke, and my Mum was a great Mum, of course. When I left England I never saw them again, which

01:11:00:00

was sad to me. Right, let’s get on the brighter side.
I just wanted to ask, did he talk much about his …?
Not really, not really, only what I learned from his grandfather. My Dad never talked about the war, which was a worse war than ours, really. I mean we fought ours in the desert, in the jungle with

01:11:30:00

no civilians, no cities, which was a great place to fight it really, wasn’t it? No children around, wonderful really, man against man, not against civilians and children and women, which was good. Not even any animals, a dog or cat to get hurt, you know? Yes, well in England, I enjoyed my life there,

01:12:00:00

I had a good – I was looked after, in a good home, I had three brothers, I was the oldest, the three brothers are dead, one died when he was five, one was killed about five years ago. He was just about to retire from the railway, he was a train driver, they had a railway accident and he got killed. And my other brother died eighteen months ago.

01:12:30:00

He was eighty.
You said your family were a railway family. Can you tell me about that, and what sort of work they did?
Well they started off as firemen, shovelling the coal, you know, and then they finished up driving the big locomotives. I had uncles in it, cousins in it, even the girls used to be in the ticket boxes, God, if

01:13:00:00

all our family got sick, the whole system would have failed. There was two, there was the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway, and there were so many. All my cousins are on the railway.
What sort of money did working in the railways pay in England back then?
Fairly good

01:13:30:00

pay, yes, to what others were getting. I think at eighteen I was getting thirty-six bob a week, which was quite a bit, that. I mean beer was only five pence a pint, that’s five – no, two and a half cents, sixpence a bottle, what’s that, three cents? It was good days.

01:14:00:00

What did the town look like that you were from? What sort of a town was it?
It was an old – one of the oldest towns in England, it still has part of the old city walls around it, and the Ridgemount, which was the main castle, and lovely grounds around it, the war memorial in the centre, and had the River Exe running through, I used to do a lot of rowing on that. Yes, it was good, it was a good fun

01:14:30:00

place.
Did the ‘Depression’ affect your family or the town at all?
It did a bit, yes. Well my Dad – I think my Dad was only working two or three days a week, so he was lucky really, he still had his job. So I think we were pretty well off to what others were, who had no work, getting about five shillings a week or something. Yes, and I had a job all the time,

01:15:00:00

so …
Can you explain what you did in your job exactly?
On the railway? Well first I started off cleaning the engines, and then you go to local fireman, you know, like a branch sub on the small little engines and a couple of carriages and you’re a firemen on those and then – well I didn’t

01:15:30:00

transgress to the bigger stuff because I left at eighteen. But eventually I would have been a train driver, but I didn’t want to do that all my life anyway, so I decided to migrate.
What did you want to do with your life?
Well I was interested in horse riding really, I was going to go to Canada on my own, when I was seventeen,

01:16:00:00

but I finished up coming to Australia. I’m not sorry, I don’t regret it at all. But I finished up riding anyway. I had my own horse then, it was great.
Where did the interest in horses come from?
I wouldn’t have a clue. And I remember when we landed in Adelaide, I went to, I don’t know, we finished up in government

01:16:30:00

grounds there, and there was a big detachment of Light Horse, and I thought, “That’ll do, I’ll join them.” But of course it was all tanks then. Yes, I enjoyed the bush, it was good, I really loved it.
The town in Devon that you were from, was that – were there farms there? Was that rural?
Where I worked?
Yes, where you from

01:17:00:00

in Devon, was that a country, rural place?
Yes, it wasn’t a large city, about forty-five thousand people, it wouldn’t be much bigger than Coffs [Harbour], I suppose. But it was a city, cathedral city, had a beautiful cathedral there, I think it was built in about the tenth century I think. Took two hundred years to build it. Should have had me on the job.

01:17:30:00

That was a lovely place, it was old, hundreds of years, been there for a thousand or more years. And had the old Guild Hall in the main street, which was about a thousand years old. And I just loved the city, I like going back there.

01:18:00:00

What did you do for fun as a kid?
Go to the movies, take the girls out, naturally, normally, that’s all right isn’t it? I used to go down the river a lot, I used to row a bit down there, and I was in the boys scouts, and the scout master had a small sailing boat, we used to sail on the river.

01:18:30:00

So I don’t where the horses came in, I think in the street I was born in, halfway down the street there was a bakers yard, where they kept all the vans and the horses and I used to go Saturday morning and help the baker, he used to let me drive the horses sometimes. I used to get off and deliver the bread, but he’d do a bit of exercise while I moved the horse along, which was good, I enjoyed that.

01:19:00:00

Came from a little street, Shane Street, cobbled street, or half of it was cobbled, and it led down to the west quarter, which was pretty wild, that was a really wild place, and people never went through it even.
Can you explain to me why it was so wild?
Well it was a real slum area, and we were

01:19:30:00

just on the edge of it, but I got on well with them, because when I was a boy, I thought to myself, “Well the only way, is to join them.” So I went down and I met a few of them, and they just decent kids, you know, they used to get in gangs and that, but I didn’t join in with the gangs, I just went there, and I got known there, and they accepted me. And,

01:20:00:00

they had the best toffee apples in the city there, right in the middle, and I thought, “How am I going to get one otherwise?” They did, too, they were a penny, with all of that crunchy toffee outside.
What sort of things did the gangs get up to? What sort of activities?
All sorts, they were pretty wild, you know? Well, I

01:20:30:00

don’t know, they never robbed our house or anybody else, I don’t think it was that sort of – they were just wild, you know? Like kids are. And some of the men, too. I remember when we moved to Evertree, my mother’s parents died and left quite a bit of money, they had two big clothing stores in the city, in fact the terraced house we lived in, all the row was owned by him. So we finished up

01:21:00:00

moving to a new suburb, into a new house. But I used to go back there occasionally to see the boys. The school in the west quarter, we had to go down – the cricket gear was passed on from school to school, so if we went down there to get the cricket gear, none of our kids would go, so I used to go to get the cricket gear, big bags, and take it,

01:21:30:00

they didn’t worry about me.
Were you a tough kid?
Pardon?
Were you a tough kid?
I looked after myself. Well I was about eleven stone when I was about fifteen, I was pretty tall and,

01:22:00:00

well you had to look after yourself, didn’t you?
Can you tell me about the school you went to?
Mint School was a lovely little school, it was only small. It had – it was three storey, had three big classrooms and another one where the headmaster, Mr Chick, we called him Chester Chick, not to his face of course,

01:22:30:00

little dapper fellow, always wore spats, little moustache. It was a good school, very small, which was good really. But I played cricket and football, soccer there, from when I was about seven or eight, I suppose, until I left. But we didn’t win much because we played the big – all the other schools were about four times bigger. But we enjoyed it, I enjoyed it.

01:23:00:00

Ron, can you tell me about the cricket matches you played in the town?
Yes, well I played after the war, not after the war, I played after I left school as well, in fact I was doing pretty well, without boasting, of course, and I got trials for Devon county team, but

01:23:30:00

I finished up leaving England, so that put an end to it, joined the army and that was it, I wasn’t fit enough after the war, which I would have got into sport. Took me about four or five years to become what they call healthy again. On cricket matches I was a fast bowler and a mediocre batsman, I never scored a century or anything like that,

01:24:00:00

if I got to twenty-five, I was doing really well. But some of the other schools were pretty good, you know? But I enjoyed the cricket, I enjoyed the soccer as well. I did better at soccer really, because I was big. But I wasn’t fat, I was lean I suppose. But playing that in the west quarter, that school was tough,

01:24:30:00

you had to wear shin pads then. Yes, I enjoyed sport, I used to go swimming, used to have swimming lessons once a week at school, indoor pool, warmed, and I used to swim in the river, they used to have baths on the river with the logs there, pretty calm in that part of course.

01:25:00:00

Well they had one in Wagga when I working there, well I was working out of Wagga, but I used to go in occasionally, and I’d have a swim in the river. I’d swim in the – oh, you’re talking about cricket now, aren’t you?
Doesn’t matter.
Yes, well, most of my life’s been in Australia see, sixty-three years now, but I was Australianised during the war by the ‘mob’ of course. They’re a good mob.

01:25:30:00

So how old were you when you left school?
Fourteen. Well everybody left at fourteen. You could stay on if you won a scholarship, but you didn’t go to university then, you went to a technical school. From there you might go to university. But the scholarships were so few, you know, and might have been only two a year in the school, so didn’t have much chance, really.

01:26:00:00

But I learned enough, became self-employed and that, for thirty years.
So how soon did you get a job after leaving school?
Straight away, I worked in wine and spirit, grocery, fruit and vegetable, had three shops in one, it was all right, filled in the time.

01:26:30:00

I was getting about twenty-five bob a week, I think. That was a lot, I had forty-eight hours then.
And what were your day-to-day duties at that job?
Well I’d spend hours – I mean all the sugar and everything had to be weighed, so it wasn’t brought in cartons like

01:27:00:00

they are today and just take them out all prepared in a factory, you know? You had to weigh every pound of sugar, and wrap it up, all that sort of stuff. You’d serve a bit in the shop, and I used to have to clean the floors of a night, which was a bit of a drag. I’d start about eight

01:27:30:00

o’clock I think, in the morning, finish at five, Friday and Saturday nights I’d finish at eight o’clock, it’d be a twelve hour day. You’d have Wednesday afternoon off, and if it was quiet at lunch time they’d all go to lunch at one, there was, one, two, three, four working there, four men, and the boss and his wife.

01:28:00:00

So I’d be there for an hour on my own serving, wouldn’t be many customers then, I used to have my lunch then, on the house of course, cut ham and all that sort of stuff, chocolate biscuits, what a save. I didn’t mind it. What I liked – one thing I liked was the boss used to

01:28:30:00

roast his own coffee, it used to come, all the green coffee beans in bags, big bags, and he’d roast them, beautiful smell, coffee’s a lovely smell, isn’t it? And then he’d bring it up in a big thing like that and then they’d grind it for customers, you know, so it was pretty fresh stuff.
How would he roast the coffee?
With a gas cooker

01:29:00:00

thing which revolved. But he used to stand there and turn it, it wasn’t mechanised. He’d do that two or three times – afternoons a week. He’s the only one who did it.
And can you tell me about him, about your boss, who he was and what sort of a man he was?
Mister – I forget his name now, Mister – he was a lovely bloke, really nice bloke. He was

01:29:30:00

nice to his – well actually it was a big firm and he was a manager of that shop. He was a nice fellow, he would have been about sixty then, I suppose, and his wife, and he had a daughter working there, I forget what she was called now, they were all nice people.
What sort of things did the store sell?
Everything, grocery

01:30:00:00

lines, delicatessen like ham, not like these delicatessens with ham and corned beef and stuff like that. And the butter used to come from Australia, in big boxes like this, and I’d have to get one of these out and knock it up, and then get on this marble slab with the marble around it, with a couple of these

01:30:30:00

hammer things, and choppers and chop it up and cut it into half-pound – weigh it, cut it into half-pound blocks or a pound, and some you’d roll from a pattern, and when you had the block, you’d put the design on top, and all this stuff, and then wrap it up. What a mess. It was good.
What did you wear

01:31:00:00

to work?
At work an apron, a white apron, yes. I used to work down below in the grocery part, the vegetables, chew an apple occasionally, anything else. I used to like my prunes, I still do. I loved them in the army even. You’re not military people, are you?

01:31:30:00

Why is that Ron? Why do you ask that?
I didn’t know if you’d been in the army? Like the fellow who rang me from Orange, he was a colonel or a lieutenant colonel, or ex – I forget his name now, a nice chap.
How long did you stay in that job for?
A couple of years,

01:32:00:00

until I was sixteen, you couldn’t get on the railway till you were sixteen. So that was good. I enjoyed that better than the shop of course.
You enjoyed the railway better than the shop? Why is that?
Well a lot more mates there and you know, plenty of men around and I made quite a few friends,

01:32:30:00

there was about six or seven of us used to go around together. We used to – we always used to meet on Sunday, we used to – I used to listen to the operas and that, Sunday afternoon, relax, and I always liked good music, in fact I learned the violin for five years, and –

01:33:00:00

well I didn’t learn it, I attempted to learn it, but pretty hard. Often wish I’d done the piano, but I always loved music. The operas were good. I used to listen to this certain program for an hour on Sunday afternoon, and then I’d go out and meet the fellows in the city, have a few beers, and we’d walk up and

01:33:30:00

down the high street which was about half a mile, parading with all the girls, you know, you know what it’s like, well there was nothing else to do, and the cinemas were closed and the girls were walking around, and the boys all eyeing each other as usual, it was good. I used to go down to Exmouth a lot, a little seaside resort about forty minutes from the train,

01:34:00:00

I had a couple of girlfriends down there, got serious for a little while, yes. Good days, they were good days. I enjoyed my life.
How did you learn the violin? Did you have a teacher?
Yes, I took lessons, yes, I took lessons for about two years, and then

01:34:30:00

I gave it up for about six months, because I had a cousin, Rose, and she was a good violinist, so she said, “Ron, come up and I’ll give you a lesson.” so I used to go up there a couple of times a week with Rose, she was a – well I was sixteen then, I suppose, well fourteen, fifteen, something like that, she was about twenty-six then, but she was a good violinist and

01:35:00:00

yes, we got on well, a couple of years. Somebody introduced me to a girl and then that was the end of it.
Did you have your own violin?
Yes, it’s still in England though. It’s at my sister-in-law’s house. Yes, Dad bought if for me.

01:35:30:00

I really enjoyed my life, really, up till I was eighteen, and after of course.
Can you tell me about how you listened to music at home?
I used to put the wireless on, just relax in the armchair in the lounge room and listen, yes. Oh, I know my operas.

01:36:00:00

Do you want to hear a segment? Do you want to hear a segment of opera?
A what, sorry?
A short recital.
A short recital? Did the family listen to news at home on the wireless, or just music?
Oh, they used to listen to music, of course, yes. I never bothered with the news, I just had music, that was it.

01:36:30:00

I had too many other things to do. I used to love cycling, I had my own bicycle, a good one, a Rhodes Whitworth, semi-dropped handlebars, three speed, all steel, race around like a rocket, wonder I didn’t get killed. We used to cycle down to Doyle’s Warren which was about

01:37:00:00

twenty mile every Sunday morning, about five of us, and we’d have a swim, weather permitting of course, have a swim, play soccer on the beach, and then cycle home, time for lunch. Then I’d meet the boys in the afternoon.
So given that you had what you described as quite a good life, and you had a job, and friends and …
I did, yes.

01:37:30:00

What did you want to leave that?
Bugger – I nearly swore then, I wouldn’t have a clue. I just – I think I just wanted to look around the world a bit, you know, like all the kids do now. And I thought – well I was only coming to Australia before the war, I was coming for two years, I told my Mum and Dad, “I’ll be back in two years, I’m just

01:38:00:00

going out there and get out in the bush and have a look – see the bush life.” So the war broke out and that was the end of it, I didn’t go back till 1980 then, I mean Mum and Dad were both dead then. Well I would have missed my Mum because she died fairly early, she died in the fifties, which I couldn’t get back then, but I could have got back to see my Dad but I was

01:38:30:00

self -employed in the building trade, and work, you know, you put work first, sometimes, which you shouldn’t really. I should have taken three months off and – which I could have done. But, that’s life. Too late to reminisce on what you should have done.
Was Hitler Chancellor of Germany when you left

01:39:00:00

England?
Yes, oh yes, that was 1933, yes. Yes, Hitler …
What did you know about him and Germany at the time?
Not much, I wasn’t particularly interested, I don’t think. I think when you’re seventeen, sixteen, you just go out to enjoy yourself, don’t you

01:39:30:00

really? I knew he was a bit of a crook, but apart from that it didn’t worry me that much then.
What did you know about Australia? What were your expectations?
Well I knew about Bradman, Don Bradman, yeah, great cricketer wasn’t he? Yes, we used to hate seeing him come to England really, to

01:40:00:00

give our fellows a thrashing over there. So I barrack for Australia of course now, always have. I loved the rugby union, gave the Pommies [English] a thrashing this time, didn’t we?
What sort of a place did you think Australia was when you thought about going there? What did you think?
Well, I’d read a bit about it before I left,

01:40:30:00

I went to the library and got some books and all that stuff, and I got a couple of books about the First World War and that, and I read about the ‘Light Horse’ and all that stuff, you know, it was good.
What attracted you about the Australian Light Horse?
Well the horses, I think, and the men of course, terrific weren’t they?

01:41:00:00

Yes, I enjoyed the horses, I had a horse, a little black mare, I left her on the farm when I left, knew they’d look after her.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 02

02:00:33:00

Ron, you were talking about your reasons for wanting to leave England. Were there many young men wanting to move away at that time?
Not from my area, not that I knew of, no. In fact we were all pretty surprised, you know, so no, I wouldn’t say so, they were a pretty stay-at-home mob in those days.
What was the reaction

02:01:00:00

from your family?
My Dad offered me so many alternatives, you know, he wanted me to join the London police force, and he nearly convinced me I was going to join the Coldstream Guards in London, I nearly did, then I said, “No, I won’t, no, I’ll stick to my original ….” I would have gone in the Coldstream Guards for three years and

02:01:30:00

then join the London police. But I didn’t, so Mum was upset of course, and so was Dad. So, anyway, they – bit sorry about it really, for their sake, you know. Not coming to Australia but for their feelings. You don’t realise it until you get older.

02:02:00:00

After the job at the grocery store, where were you working after that?
On the railway, I was going to be a railway engineer, same as he had done, as a train driver, which was pretty responsible, like the older fellows, when they get to thirty-five, they’re on the main line, and beautiful big engines in those days, there’s

02:02:30:00

one in the garage there, a photo of course. They were marvellous, wonderful looking, better than these diesels. I mean the diesels are great, but the steam locomotives, the main line ones, all polished up, beautiful, King Arthur class, Queen Guinevere , all those names on the side, you know?

02:03:00:00

Wonderful.
What did you do in your first job with the railways?
I used to clean the engines, but that was OK. And then you’d become a fireman, because it was all coal, you know? Well after that you’d clean out the engines, like the fire boxes—
How would you do that?
Well, you’d throw all

02:03:30:00

the live coals on one side on top of the clinker, you get a layer of clinker you know, on the – in the fire box, big area inside, be about like that, you know? Throw the live coals on one side, it’s a hot job, and then you dig all the clinker out and get that and throw it out, and they’d come put the engine in a certain place where all this stuff was, and then people would

02:04:00:00

come with shovels and shovel it into trucks. Then you’d throw the live coals on the other side, and dig the clinker out of that and then spread the live coals, and shovel fresh coal in. That’s if the engine was being used. If it wasn’t you just cleaned it all out and leave it, and they’d start it again when they’d finished any maintenance.
How often would you have to clean the engines?
We’d clean them

02:04:30:00

every night, not the same ones though. The part I didn’t like was the engines underneath, you had to get underneath and you’d put a board on, ‘Not To Be Moved’, a big red board, and you’d get up and there’d be all these rods, big rods, you know, the ones that go around, and you’d have to get up in there and clean them, and I was always frightened that somebody’d not see the sign and get on and move the

02:05:00:00

engine, you know what I mean, it would have made a mess of you. But they didn’t they’re all pretty careful. Well it didn’t happen to me, anyway, it would have made a mess.
So what hours were you working on the railways? Did you have to work at night?
Yes, I worked nights. When I started it was eight to four, four to twelve, and twelve to eight in the

02:05:30:00

morning. But then when you’re firing, when you’re a fireman on the train, with the driver, you could start at one o’clock in the morning or eleven o’clock am or eleven o’clock pm or, you know, all times.
What did you do as a fireman on the train?
Shovel the coal and keep the steam up. You had to keep the steam to a

02:06:00:00

certain – you know, the pressure. If you got over the pressure, it would all rush out the escape bowl, which wasn’t a bad sign. Some weekends I’d have to go to a Brownside for the weekend, we’d go down on Saturday morning and that night you had to clean – it’d only be a small engine there, a

02:06:30:00

small Brownside, like (Africoon UNCLEAR) or somewhere like that, and clean the engine and make sure Monday morning that it was ready to go when the driver and fireman arrived. Yes, well sometimes on the moors there, it’s pretty quiet, not that it worried me, but

02:07:00:00

it was it was a long weekend, nothing to do, only a bit of work, wasn’t much really. As long as the engine was ready for taking passengers on Monday morning.
So while you were working at the railways, how did the idea come about that you would go to Australia?
Well I don’t know, I just got fidgety, you know, I just thought, “I’d like to do something

02:07:30:00

else.” so I read about it and decided on it and that was it. I was going to Canada first. I would have.
Why didn’t you go to Canada?
Well because Tom Boddie, he had a half brother in Sydney, and he was going to come to Australia, so we talked about it and I said, “OK, I’ll go with you.” He finished up in the 8th Division and a prisoner of war in

02:08:00:00

Singapore.
Was Tom also working on the railways with you?
Yes, yes. The same job. I had a lot of good mates on the railway. I’ll see some when I go back now, a lot of them are dead of course, three or four are alive.
Could you tell me about that preparation for leaving

02:08:30:00

England and coming to Australia? What did you pack and how much did it cost?
Well my Dad bought me a great big cabin trunk, and he filled it up with stuff for me, all to work on farms, you know, even those leather black things over your – this part of – over your boots, come up to there, thick leather, in case you got kicked by a

02:09:00:00

horse, but I never wore them. But I don’t know – I know what happened to the truck when I left, when I joined the army, I left it at a fellow’s place, he was in our battalion, but I never ever got it back again. It’s not his fault, it’s my fault. But he’s dead, and I’ve met his son Bill, the same name, Bill, Bill Hutchinson, he said he

02:09:30:00

remembers that, everything was in it, stock whip, .22 [calibre] rifle, he didn’t know what happened to it, he got married and left home, you know? And my big hat, all the bush stuff, I would have loved to have had it. Still, a bit late now. Yes.
And who saw you off in England?’
Mum and Dad,

02:10:00:00

Tilbury, Tilbury Docks, we came on the Strathallan, a P&O [Pacific & Orient] ship. I came on a big brother movement, and there must have been about eighty of us, I suppose, boys and girls, all around about the same age, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.

02:10:30:00

I made a few mates there, they all – most of them finished up in the army, but I only knew one during the war, and that was Tom Dirkin, no, not Tom Dirkin, Ronny Quinn, he was in the 17th, the same brigade. So I see him occasionally. He went back to Manchester

02:11:00:00

about fifteen years ago.
Ron, could you tell me about what you remember of that journey over on the ship?
I spent all my money, for a start, arrived here with about four shillings I think, but we had a great time, a really great time,

02:11:30:00

nearly six weeks. Yes, we used to do all the things young blokes do, swim in the pool, go to the bar in the evening, stay there, wait till they brought the sandwiches out. They used to bring a tray, it would have been that big, and it was just stacked with little rectangular sandwiches,

02:12:00:00

you know, all sorts of delicacies and that. Imagine hungry blokes getting into that lot after dinner, it’d be probably about eleven o’clock. But it was all salt water for showers then, trying to get a lather up was hard in that salt water. Still, it was a good

02:12:30:00

trip, we all arrived and went to agricultural school there, which was good.
If you could just explain what the interior of the ship looked like, I’m just trying to get an image of what these passenger ships looked like.
Well, there was – we were in cabins with four in the cabin. There was – it wouldn’t have been very big, it wouldn’t be as big as our little room,

02:13:00:00

it had about a metre and a half between the bunks, there was two bunks on each side, and it went up to that end and there was a mirror and a wash basin and then there was a little corridor down there to the right, that had a porthole and a desk underneath it. It was quite good. I used to bring a cup of tea in the morning and an orange or something like that, or

02:13:30:00

orange drinks, really good. Three meals a day, good meals, too much really, but being a big eater I used to make a good job of it.
And what kind of facilities were there on board?
Well, there was an outdoor swimming pool, there was an indoor swimming pool, there.

02:14:00:00

was a big entertainment area, movies and dances and stuff, you know? But I didn’t go – I never was a dancer. One thing I never did, dancing, which I took a few lessons in Sydney once but I never carried on with it. Wish I had have, really.
You mentioned that there were other young

02:14:30:00

men and women on board that boat coming out, what were some of the other reasons for people leaving England and coming to Australia?
Well, I don’t know about the older people, but the younger people were just like me, I suppose. And the girls, well, I don’t really know why they left. They might not have been able to find a job, probably, I don’t know.

02:15:00:00

They usually had friends with them, like two people, two girls together or three girls together, they would decide to migrate, better opportunities probably than in England at the time, you know? I can’t say much really about the girls.
Was work hard to come by in England at that time?

02:15:30:00

Well, I’m not sure really, because I had a secure job and you know, when you’re that age you’re more self-centred really, aren’t you? When you’re seventeen you’re – it’s what goes on around you, individually. I suppose a bit selfish really, but you don’t give the

02:16:00:00

rest of the world any – I suppose, I don’t know, it might have been different, but I mean politics and all that didn’t interest me and all that, and to me everybody could have had a job, because all my friends were working, and they were all on the railway, so …
Had war already broken out by the time

02:16:30:00

you came to Australia?
No, it broke out a bit after, which was a bit of a disappointment really, because I was going home in two years. Anyway, I joined the army out here, so – I wrote and told my Dad. He said, “I expected you to.” so that was that,

02:17:00:00

from my Dad. I think my grandfather was in the Boer War, well all my uncles were in the war, my Dad was in the Irish Rifles, I think he lost a brother. They had big families in those days, in my mother’s family there were sixteen, and in my Dad’s there was eleven or twelve, so the

02:17:30:00

Chalks and the Burridges, they almost filled Exeter. There were lots of them around, and they all had fairly big families, you know? I suppose all my uncles and that, and their wives and my aunts, you know, they all had from five to six or seven kids.

02:18:00:00

So did any of your relatives who had been involved in wars, talk about it?
They bombed the centre out of Exeter, they bombed it right through High Street, the main street, they demolished all of that, but luckily it didn’t hit the cathedral, and it didn’t hit the Guild Hall. And there’s an old church opposite the Guild Hall, it must be –

02:18:30:00

I think it’s about fourteen, fifteen hundred years old, it’s only a small little place, it’s full of places like that, the Mint School where I went to, that was only a small lane, you went through on the other side, past the tuckshop, there was the old priory, which was hundreds and hundreds of years old. That wasn’t being used because it was only a tourist thing.

02:19:00:00

This was during the Second World War, was it, that the bombing … ?
Yes. They did a lot of damage, but it’s all brand new now, the centre of Exeter. There’s nothing there really they could have bombed, it was just a rural city really.
Well I might just ask you to tell me about arriving in Australia and what happened from there.

02:19:30:00

Arrived in Australia? I just arrived and they whipped us up to this school.
Whereabouts was that?
Windsor. It’s called Skyville, I suppose it’d be quite a few hectares, and I think the air force took it over during the war, it had big dormitories up each side, and a big like a

02:20:00:00

parade ground in the centre, the kitchens and dining room down the other end and administration staff up this end. It was winter time when I was there so we had plum duff every night, and custard, for sweets, which I enjoyed. Yes.
What did you learn at the school?
I learned how to ride, how to slaughter, which took a bit of

02:20:30:00

getting used to, pigs, all that stuff. All the things they do in farming.
What other young men were at the school with you at the same time?
Most of the fellows who were on the boat, and Australians as well. In fact I became quite a good mate with a Tom Gosling, an Australian, he lived at Bondi,

02:21:00:00

and we used to have weekends off, I used to go down with his Mum, his family, and we used to – I had my first surf there, he was a good surfer Tom, and he taught me how to surf. Well he didn’t teach me, I got rudiments of it, you know? Nearly broke my neck there one day, got dumped

02:21:30:00

head first in the sand. Yes, that was good. In fact Tom, he was at the agricultural school, he finished up in the paratroopers, Tom. He was in some other unit first then he transferred to the paratroopers. And where I worked in the bush was down about fifty miles from

02:22:00:00

Wagga, a place called Gerroa, and the farmers called Warragoon, they were nice people. He was a Light Horseman in the first war which was good, I used to talk to him a little bit. And he was at the big battles in Gaza and around there. Yes, a nice bloke. And he said – I wanted to go on my brother’s

02:22:30:00

farm at Boree Creek for a few days, so I was over there for a couple of weeks digging a tank in the creek, fill it with water, make a little dam. And who was working? It was Tom, my mate, so we had a great time together. We used to take the sulky down the pub in Boree, Boree Creek township, which was only tiny, one pub.

02:23:00:00

And yes, we got on well. And he finished up with a publican’s daughter as a bit of a girlfriend, and he had a girlfriend in Sydney, so we went down to Sydney when I finished there for a few days. He took his girlfriend with him, and I finished up with his girlfriend. That was a good arrangement, wasn’t it? I reckon it was

02:23:30:00

great. Anyway, it was a good little holiday.
I’m interested about the Skyville school and the fact that there were many young men from England who were there. Was there some kind of arrangement that the government was encouraging farmhands to come out?
There was, yes.
Do you know what that was?
Well I never saw the ad, but I presume they would be – they were looking for migrants in those days. Only cost

02:24:00:00

ten pound. Never got the ten pound back though. Forget all this for ten quid. But ten quid was – the average wage in England would be about three pound ten then, so that would be about three weeks wages, so ten pound was – doesn’t sound much now, twenty dollars, but ten pound was a lot of money then. You could buy a

02:24:30:00

motorbike for seventy pound, a good motorbike. My bike Roadsworth bike cost three pound nineteen and six, eight dollars.
How long did it take you to save up the ten pound to come to Australia?
My Dad paid it. I couldn’t have saved ten pound. I used to spend – I was a bit of a spender.

02:25:00:00

spender.
What did you spend your money on?
The usual things, a few beers, take your girlfriends out, go to movies, that’s all there was then, I suppose, go for walks. It was a good life. Only cost you nine pence to go to the

02:25:30:00

movies, a four pound block of chocolate was four pence, so pretty cheap.
What were your first impressions of the Australian countryside?
Well I loved it was great, yeah well, I liked the change in scenery and the openness, and some parts were so fertile and some parts were arid,

02:26:00:00

yes. I liked the big paddocks, you could get on your horse and having a good run, you know? I used to – they had two children on the farm, one was nine and the other was five. The five-year-old started school when I was there, she had about five mile to ride, she had a little pony about something like this,

02:26:30:00

and the older boy had a horse. I used to go and ride and meet them some afternoons when I wasn’t busy, ride home with them, race the boy up the tracks, he could ride well too, at nine, and the little girl behind on a little pony, about a mile behind, trying to get it going, she was good as well, five and six. Jill and Trevor.

02:27:00:00

What was the name of the family?
Scott. Dick Scott and his Mum – and his wife I should say. I don’t know what her name was, I always called her Mrs Scott, she was a lovely woman, good cook, they all are, aren’t they? I used to milk the cows in the morning first thing, I had a little shed,

02:27:30:00

I suppose it’d be about half the size of this, and there was a little store where they used to keep stuff in the next adjoining part of it. Had a shower in that with a kerosene tin, do you know what a kerosene tin is? With a rope on it, and a pulley, and a shower nozzle through the bottom, made a

02:28:00:00

hole and waterproofed, pull it up, fill it up, pull it up and have a shower. I used to slaughter the sheep that side where I lived, skin them and haul them up in a tree and leave them there after dark, all night. Pull it down in the morning in the dark, take it up to the – chop it up, lambs fry and bacon first morning,

02:28:30:00

always. Then you’d go through the carcass, I got sick of mutton, and we’d slaughter another one. The boss would pick it out. It took me a while to slaughter the first one, cut their throats and break their neck, quick as you can. I got used to it.

02:29:00:00

So did you sleep – which living quarters did you have? Did you sleep in that shed, or …?
Yes, I slept there, yes. Had a trestle bed and a little table board floor of course. And I used to have a gramophone there, but it was an old Edison one, and the records were about a quarter of an

02:29:30:00

inch thick, about five or six mils, they were real sick ones, you know? But it was good to have all the operas, Madame Melba, Richard Quilks and all the – and Debussy, the old opera singers, you know? A bit scratchy but served the purpose. I used to play that a hell of a lot of a night.

02:30:00:00

Well that music suited me.
How did you cope with the heat?
All right, I didn’t mind it, didn’t worry me. I can’t see – I can’t understand when they say, “You come from a cold country, you must feel the heat.” It didn’t worry me at all much. I just –

02:30:30:00

I never had shorts then, too. Long pants all the time. I never wear long pants really.
Could you tell me what you remember of war being declared?
Yes, well I was on the farm and the boss told me the war had started and I thought, “Oh well, it’s going to take a while, I reckon.”

02:31:00:00

So I worked for a – I stayed on the farm for a little while, about five or six months after, then I joined up. I travelled to Sydney, I gave the boss a couple of weeks, and my mate, he was Tom Boddie, was working in Trangie up in the north west, and he wrote to me and said, “I’ll see you in Sydney on a certain

02:31:30:00

date.” I said, “OK.” So I gave the boss a couple of weeks notice and – but then I got another letter then from him to say he couldn’t come for a couple of months, so I said, “Oh well, I’m still going.” And I just went then. I didn’t want to change it, it was too late. So I got the train to Sydney, I got there early in the morning and I walked up to Victoria Barracks, I deposited my bag

02:32:00:00

down at the station somewhere, I forget now, and I walked up there and sat outside until they opened. And I went in there and they examined me, OK, “We’ll call you in about three weeks.” I said, “Three weeks? Where am I going to stay? I’ve got nowhere to stay, no relatives, no money.” I did, I could have stayed at Neutral Bay with friends. No money, nothing.

02:32:30:00

He said, “Hang on.” So our colonel was there too, Colonel Burrows, Bill Burrows, he turned out to be our colonel, and I don’t know what happened after that, I saw them talking to him, and he came up and he said, “You can go in straight away.” So I joined the battalion then, that day, same day, it was good.
Can I just ask you about any discussions you’d had with your boss

02:33:00:00

back on the farm about his World War I experience?
Yes, we didn’t talk a lot about it. I used to pressure him, you know, but then he got a bit reluctant and I used to push him so far and then stop. But he got a little bit of his life in the army.
Do you remember what his experiences had been?
He was in the Light Horse in the Middle East, in some of them big battles. I don’t know whether he was at

02:33:30:00

Beersheba, but he was at Gaza, well they had quite a few battles around Gaza. He didn’t actually tell me a lot about the real actions, you know? He told me a lot about the horses and the treatment and all that sort of stuff, how they looked after their horses. So I didn’t pressure him too much because he had a lot of bad memories too.

02:34:00:00

That was the worst thing for them really, was losing their horse.
Why were you interested to talk to him about it, do you think?
Well especially when the war started, you know, I just wanted to get an inkling what I was heading into. I knew – well I’d have joined anyway, I mean when you’re young, like I said, a bit of excitement, isn’t it? I didn’t worry about

02:34:30:00

what was going to happen to me or anything like that, I just – I don’t think it was just patriotism, I think it was something new, something exciting. So I joined the army, I went down and got a photo taken and sent it to me Dad, I’ve still got the photo, I’ll show you after.
Where did you get the photo done?
In

02:35:00:00

Sydney in a studio of course, nothing but the best for me Dad and Mum.
Were there many other young men getting studio portraits in uniform?
I suppose there was, yes. There would be, wouldn’t there? You’d know. I bet you see a lot, all these good looking young fellows, who have gone to the pack now. If they’re not, they’re on their way.

02:35:30:00

You were in Australia at a time when the war broke out, and we’ve spoken to people and people in Australia said, “Well it seemed a long way away.” But you had family back in England, how did that impact on your feelings at the time?
Well not at the time, but when they started bombing the place I got a bit worried. Well me Mum and Dad did have to move out of their house for a couple of weeks when a bomb – an unexploded

02:36:00:00

bomb was in the road, so they had to move out, and they moved in with my uncle, not far away. So that’s the nearest they got anyway, which was near enough of course, if it had exploded.
Being English, did that have a greater impact do you think on your decision to enlist?
I think it

02:36:30:00

would have anyway. Yes, it would have. Not because it’s ‘King and country’, it was just exciting. I suppose you can always come back to the bush after it’s over. Nobody expected it to go on for six years, did they?
How long did you think you might be away

02:37:00:00

for?
I don’t know, when I got there at the start, I knew it would be a fair while. We were two and a half years in North Africa, a year in New Guinea, but long enough.
When you left the farm, were there many young men from that region who were enlisting at the same time?
Oh yes, there

02:37:30:00

was. All our first, second, third, fourth reinforcement came from the Riverina, all around that area, in fact Jim Maidley, he went through one of these sessions with you people, he lives on the central coast near Gosford. I wonder, it wouldn’t be you, would it? No, he was a particularly great friend. I had so many good friends in the army,

02:38:00:00

I’d need a scrap book to write them all down, all their names. Yes, we all had nicknames, mine was Chum, being a Pom of course. And I know who branded me too, Mick Eaves, he was an officer’s batman. Yes, Mick Eaves, Chum Burridge. They still call me Chum. I don’t mind, I’m

02:38:30:00

honoured. We had so many blokes, you know, they had nicknames and I didn’t even know their Christian names, like there was a bloke called Green, S A was his Christian initials, so we called him Sag, Sag Green, and he got that for the rest of the war, and after.

02:39:00:00

And all these different names. It was good.
How quickly would the nicknames be created?
In the first month or two, I’d say. Mine was about the first week. I didn’t mind, it was good. Lost a lot of mates though.

02:39:30:00

When you arrived in Sydney, could you just explain what you had to actually do to enlist?
Well when I caught the train up from Wagga, a bus dropped me into Wagga station, I got the train, and they must have liked me because his wife wept when I left, and she wrote to me for quite

02:40:00:00

a while, and being young, I never answered a lot of letters, I wasn’t a writer. But I wrote a few letters and she used to knit me socks and scarves, but it was cold in Tobruk, you know? You’ve got no idea how cold it was at night. What was the question?
When you actually …
Oh, to enlist?
Yes.
Well I went up into the enlistment area, and they said, “OK.”

02:40:30:00

I filled in the forms, signed them, because I was under 20, I had to sign an affidavit that I was 20, and then they took me in for a medical and told me I had to wait three weeks, but I told you I didn’t want to wait three weeks, so I went in the same day. Put us all on a train up to

02:41:00:00

Ingleburn.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 03

03:00:35:00

So what happened Ron once you’d had your medical? Where were you sent to?
Ingleburn camp. We were 7th Divvy [Division] then, we got changed to 9th Divvy in Tobruk.
And what were the conditions like at Ingleburn?
Well, it was a place of sickness, there

03:01:00:00

was meningitis, measles, pneumonia, everything you could think about was there. Blokes were in hospital on sick parade, it was a shelf where the beds, well not beds, palliasses, all lined up with Buckley’s Canadiol, cough syrup, you know? They must have made a fortune that firm, I don’t know why it was

03:01:30:00

called Buckley’s Canadiol, whether it came from Canada, I don’t suppose it did, but they must have sold thousands of bottles of that there. I had it, ‘Ingleburn bark’ they called it, the cough, Ingleburn bark. Yes, and then we were – well we only had palliasses, you know, like a big corn bag, and you’d go up the store

03:02:00:00

and fill it up with straw, fill the end up, if you had too much it was too lumpy, if you had too little it was too hard. So you had to get the right amount of spread, that was our beds, and use your pack as a pillow, wasn’t the pillows like you have today.
What was in your pack?
Change of clothing, a couple of changes I suppose,

03:02:30:00

singlets and a lot of stuff and shirts, and one uniform, and a giggle suit, training suit, which you could pull out here, you know? They call them giggle suits. And usual things, housemaid, for sewing up stuff, doing your own repairs and all the other personal stuff.

03:03:00:00

And where did you actually sleep, when you were on the palliasses?
In the – there’d be a couple of sections in each hut, lined up each side. You’d be there, and the next bloke would be about there I suppose, so there wasn’t much room. Used to be the corporal or lance corporal and

03:03:30:00

the rest of the men. I suppose there’d be fourteen blokes, I suppose, each hut.
How did the rest of the men treat you as an Englishman?
All right, yes, just called me Chum, and that was it. I was good mates from the start, yes, I got on well, straight away. I didn’t have any bother, I never had to fight anybody,

03:04:00:00

well I was pretty fit in them days too, I was about fourteen stone then, I was stone heavier than I am now, and I’d been working hard in the bush too.
So how soon after you got to Ingleburn did you get sick?
Well, I didn’t get sick, but I came out in a big rash, and I went down the regimental head post

03:04:30:00

and, “Well you’ve got measles.” So they whacked me in some hospital, in a measles ward, there was hundreds – well, lots of men, all of them with measles, and then the next day he came up, and my rashes, you know, and he said, “You haven’t got measles after all.” So I went back to the camp, and I thought, “Well I must get it now, being in that ward with all them blokes.” But I didn’t. And then in

03:05:00:00

August we were glad to leave there, we had that march to Bathurst, took us what, nine days I think or something like that, it was August and it was freezing. We had to go up in the mountains, you know, I remember camped in a school room in Lithgow, we took over the school for the night, we just slept on the boards with two or three blankets, oh, love a duck,

03:05:30:00

talk about cold. It’s not the coldest I’ve been in the army, anyway, but it was cold. We got to Medlow Bath up near Bathurst, we got in tents for the night, we got up in the morning, the photographers were there as usual, but they had the horse troughs, you know, to wash in, there was about that much ice on the top, and there was

03:06:00:00

these photographers smashing the ice for us to wash in, and we’re saying, “You’re joking mate, you’re not getting me in there.” It was cold in Bathurst, we were in sheds there, tin sheds, where you could look through where the tin joined, and the wind used to whistle through there

03:06:30:00

and, and the showers were open, like that far from the ground, and it used to cover you from there to there, see? Hot water, which always ran out, you’d get over there, put the hot water tap on, icicles would come out. You’d have a quick shower for about two or three seconds, never had time to use soap, you’d just freeze.

03:07:00:00

That was good, it was a good camp.
Before we go on and talk about the training at Bathurst, what did you do in your first training at Ingleburn?
Mostly route marches, parade ground stuff, you know, drill, army drill, bayonet practice was a lot, lots of route marches, that’s about all, really.
How did they teach you to use a bayonet?

03:07:30:00

They used to have a bag of straw hanging up and you’d charge that, then they’d teach you how to parry if somebody was coming at you, how to parry their’s away, you’d parry them away and hit them with your bat, all that sort of stuff. Yes. I never ever bayoneted a bloke, that’s something, anyway.

03:08:00:00

You never had to bayonet?
No. I never got to – never did. We had bayonet charges, we had one at Ed Duda, but there was a two-company front there, and I think it was B and D company and we were reserve coming up behind, by the time we got there it was all over, well the last of the Germans were

03:08:30:00

surrendering. But we lost a few blokes there, you might want to talk about that later.
Yes, we will, we’ll talk about that a lot. What was the discipline like in those first few weeks in the army?
It was pretty good, yes, we were all disciplined, we had good officers, we respected them, they were down to earth blokes,

03:09:00:00

blokes from the ranks, a lot of them, or the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] you know, before the war. And they were down to earth blokes and we were just like mates. I respected them, and so did all the other blokes, they were OK, the officers were good. We had good officers. A couple you didn’t like probably, but you avoided them.

03:09:30:00

What didn’t you like about them?
Well, it’s hard to say.
Well put it this way, what makes a good officer and what makes a bad officer?
Well I’d say they were all good officers, when a bloke is friendly to his mob, you know, he doesn’t treat them like –

03:10:00:00

like somebody beneath him. The officers, they treated us the same as themselves, you know, they respected us and we respected them. They all were working class people, most of them, so they were OK, I got on well with them.
What sort of rifle training did you have at Ingleburn?

03:10:30:00

Oh well, we had bayonet training and on the range, rifle range a lot, and drill, route marches. It was more or less for discipline and you know, drill. You know, army drill, all this presenting arms and all this, and getting it all right and all together and cohesion,

03:11:00:00

you know, everybody wanted to be the smartest platoon, so we tried. Some blokes couldn’t handle it, like ‘Buddy’ Smith, he was a little stocky fellow, ex-boxer, and he just couldn’t’ get that right and left foot properly, but they

03:11:30:00

didn’t worry about it, he just got along, a nice little bloke, Buddy. Yes. Yes, some people – some blokes are naturally awkward, you know what I mean? I’m not running them down, because they’re all good men, good soldiers. It’s not what you did in the parade ground, it’s what you did when the chips were fired.

03:12:00:00

And they were all good men. But Buddy was always changing step, he was always in the wrong step. Oh well. And some – there was another fellow, I just can’t think who he was, he was always slovenly on parade, like he always made sure he was in the middle of rank, and they used to have an inspection every

03:12:30:00

morning, and the officer, he got that used to – I forget his name now, I can picture him – the officer would come along and look you up and down, then he’d come to this chap and he’d walk straight past him and look at the next bloke. Yeah, they were good blokes.
What would happen to someone who couldn’t march? What sort of help would they get?
Well

03:13:00:00

I never saw anybody who couldn’t march at all, but I suppose there would have been some, they’d have been unfit otherwise, wouldn’t they?
Well someone like Buddy who was awkward and kept changing step?
Well, see they liked him so they let him stay, I mean they just didn’t chuck him out, you know? But he never got on any guards of honour or any of that stuff, you know, like I did, I

03:13:30:00

was picked for every one. I’m not boasting of course, just having myself on. I used to get picked, a couple of times for the Duke of Gloucester and General Alexander and our Brigadier, a few times, Brigadier Murray, I think he was a VC [Victoria Cross]

03:14:00:00

winner in the first war. So I didn’t mind, because you had to have about four days training, no route marches and that.
What did a guard of honour involve?
Well you’d have to be spic and span, and everything perfect, everything clean, and then they’d have all the big blokes, the tall blokes, you know, and all lined up, march out, drill,

03:14:30:00

perfect drilling for the – there’d always be the general or whoever it was there, and his retinue was it? You know, mob, with him. So you had to put on your best turn, couldn’t let the battalion down. Yes.
Did Buddy go to the desert?
Yes, do you want to talk about the war now, or what, later?
No, no, I just wanted to know what happened

03:15:00:00

to Buddy?
Buddy? He died about four or five years ago. He was in the Battle of Ed Duda with us and got wounded, and the rest of our wounded blokes, the lightly wounded blokes went out in ambulances, the seriously wounded blokes, they put them on a ship, transport, back to Alexandria, and they got sunk on the way and we lost them all, all our wounded blokes went down in that ship.

03:15:30:00

And Buddy, he couldn’t swim a stroke, and just managed to hang on to something until he was picked up. So he was lucky. Pretty wild bloke, I remember he wasn’t a tall bloke, but he was pretty stocky and you could see he was a pug, a boxer, ex-boxer, broken nose and thick

03:16:00:00

ears and – he looked tough. Yeah. But he was saved, he was lucky wasn’t he? He couldn’t swim eve.
Which ship was that one, Ron?
I don’t know what – I do know the name of it but I can’t remember it. It was just an ordinary transport, but it had an escort, you know, only it was torpedoed, we lost all – we lost a few blokes.

03:16:30:00

Bill Smith, we lost him, shame, he was a nice bloke. Him and Stan Sheamack were really good mates, they were always together, and they were both about six foot two, three, and Stan was shook when he lost his mate. But Stan got killed when we landed at Finschhafen, he was

03:17:00:00

on the beach, he was about there, and he was killed instantly by machine gun bullets. So it wasn’t that long after his mate.
Where were you when you heard about that ship sinking?
Oh, we were back in Palestine then, was in there for a

03:17:30:00

few days. We arrived back in Palestine about the 21st December.
What sort of effect did it have on the men?
Personally it affected me, I suppose it would have affected others, some more than others. I suppose if you were in another company – but he was from my platoon, you

03:18:00:00

know, pretty close. I suppose men in other companies would just take it as another casualty, unless they knew them well, you know, I suppose – I mean we knew everybody in the battalion, but your own company, and then your own battalion and your own section, you got closer and closer. So it was an unfortunate battle for

03:18:30:00

us. And we lost our colonel there too, he was up the front with us, Colonel Burrows, he always used to go crook if he caught any of us not wearing a tin hat, but what was he doing up there with a felt hat on? He got hit on the head with a piece of shrapnel, put him out of the war, pretty serious. He came back to Sydney and it was a big loss to

03:19:00:00

us, he was a champion, good bloke. Used to play football with you, come on the field and play with us. A big bloke, he could take it, he was about forty-five I suppose, a decorated man in the First War, well respected, and well, he recovered and they put him in a troop training place in Sydney as a brigadier, I think.

03:19:30:00

And the next colonel we had got killed at Alamein, the first night, and the third colonel, George Calvin, ‘Flash George’ we called him, dapper, moustache, impeccable, you know? But a nice bloke, he got through it all right.
Was that

03:20:00:00

Colonel Sanderson, was that the colonel that was killed?
No, that was Colonel Burrows, Colonel Turner and then we had Colonel Colvin, he survived the war. The only Sanderson I knew was a fellow who lives at Valla, still alive there,

03:20:30:00

Sandy we called him, I forget his Christian name, I never knew their Christian names, and our captain, Sanderson. He was our captain when we went into Alamein, and he got killed the first night as well. In fact we lost every officer, five, the five officers in the company were killed the first night, and three of the four sergeants.

03:21:00:00

We gave the Pommies a hiding at rugby union but they gave us a flaming hiding there. We had the furthest objective, and they were fully loaded when we got there.
What sort of a gap did that leave then, Ron, in the battalion when so many officers were killed?
Yes, we must have lost – I think our company lost the most the first night, we were the worst off.

03:21:30:00

everybody leapfrogged different battalions through the division, and we got the biggest, we lost about half our companies each. And then we got attacked again in the morning at dawn, and still got a hammering. But we took the position, but we had no officers, I was platoon, I was a corporal then, and I took over the rest of the platoon.

03:22:00:00

And we carried on, the Germans were going back so we followed them. But they got their artillery and they got everything into it, artillery, ack ack guns, really, they gave us a hell of a … Still, we got back and reformed, got a few reinforcements,

03:22:30:00

the third night we got nine I think, seven privates and Tom Evans, the sergeant, he’d been out wounded before, and Wally Birmingham, he was a lieutenant, and they both got wounded, I went out, I took eleven blokes out on a patrol, and I got seven blokes wounded on that, and

03:23:00:00

when I got back the officer and the sergeant had been carted away, they were both wounded. So we didn’t have any officers then till the end of the battle, not in my platoon.
So did you remain in charge?
Yes, apart from that night, that few hours. Yes.

03:23:30:00

How did you feel about taking on that leadership role?
I don’t know, I just did it, I suppose. The company commander finished up, he was the sergeant, Sergeant Ron – tall, dark,

03:24:00:00

I can’t think of his surname now, but he said, “You’re on, that’s it.” So we did the dawn attack and charged, but trying to keep blokes apart, that’s the main thing, so they don’t clump up, you know? But we had tanks with us then, but it didn’t help.

03:24:30:00

Did the tanks help at all?
Not in that battle, I mean some of our blokes got hit by the tanks, with the machine guns. So the tanks had to withdraw. The artillery was that heavy, and 88 millimetres hitting the tanks. So they had to get us out so we all had to climb on tanks and get out,

03:25:00:00

and take wounded blokes, blokes who couldn’t move, you know? Blokes with legs half off and stuff. I got hit in the back too, I didn’t get actually wounded, but I got hit in the haversack with a .20, that’s about that round I suppose, a

03:25:30:00

shell about that big, blew my haversack to pieces, blew a hole in my tin hat, and blew me into a trench. And I thought, “Oh strewth, I’ve had it.” You know, they say you don’t feel any pain, so I put me hand up to my neck eventually, and there was blood on my hands and I thought, “Oh strewth,” you know, it’s a bit frightening then. And I couldn’t hear anything,

03:26:00:00

deafened me, and a stretcher bearer jumped into the trench, he said, “You’ll be right.” Because all the bits of webbing and that were stuck in my back and in my neck, so I was all right. So they all festered about a week after the battle was over, so I went down and they picked all the bits out.

03:26:30:00

Anyway, we’re not onto the war yet, are we?
We got sidetracked.
We’re still on my personal life.
We got sidetracked, but that’s all right. We’ll go back and talk in detail about Alamein. Can you tell me about when you marched from Ingleburn to Bathurst, how long would you march for before you would rest?
Well it wasn’t a really particularly hard march really, we’d

03:27:00:00

march about nine o’clock to about three, I suppose, and then put in billets, some people were in private houses, but I always seemed to stop in a school somewhere.
Where there school children around?
No, no, no, no, evening, all the kids would be left school, and they’d then move all the things in one side, make room for any –

03:27:30:00

whatever they had to hold, you know? But we were in a classroom at Lithgow, cold, I remember that night, couldn’t get warm. Leave your overcoat and uniform on and everything.
What was the reception from the public as you were marching through to Bathurst?
Very good, yes, we were the first battalion through see, so

03:28:00:00

we were getting the most accolades, they were probably getting bored by Saturday, there wasn’t a whole division, because some of the battalions are from other states. There were three – there would be three battalions and support troops, artillery and all that stuff. So the 15th –

03:28:30:00

I don’t know whether the 15th was there even, because they’re a Queensland – whether they came down I can’t remember. I mean, you’re on battalion, you don’t know what’s coming behind you, and when you get in a big camp, nine hundred blokes, they take up a fair section of the camp. You don’t know who’s in the other camps really.
So what were people doing on the streets as you were marching?

03:28:55:00

Just cheering and

03:29:00:00

waving flags, yes. Got a few kisses. Oh dear. I’ve got a photo there of us going down Bathurst Street, our company.
So once you got to Bathurst,

03:29:30:00

what sort of training were you doing there?
Open training, like in open country, because we knew we were going to the Middle East, you know? We were hoping to go to Europe.
Why were you hoping you’d go to Europe?
Well I’d see my Mum and Dad, that’d be the main object. Yes. Well 1st Battalion went to England, October the 12th, but they

03:30:00:00

were in our Divvy, and at the time – they changed us - but they finished up in Tobruk, one brigade of the 7th Divvy, they were there for nine months, that would have been great, wouldn’t it? They were only about an hour and a half from where I lived. Pity. I’d

03:30:30:00

have had a great reception. I would have enjoyed that. Anyway it didn’t happen, so …
How did you know you were going to the Middle East?
Well, they didn’t actually tell us, but we had a good idea, because the 6th Divvy were there anyway, so we guessed we’d have to go there, because they did the first battles then

03:31:00:00

in the desert there Libya yes. So we got there while they were still up there. A different trip over there. A different trip over there.
Can you tell me about that trip over?
We were in cabins, about eight or ten in a cabin, we were on the Queen Mary, so food was fatty and greasy, it wasn’t that good tucker

03:31:30:00

really, better in camp, and blokes were taking souvenirs you know, but everything was stripped out really, the big dining room where we had our food, everybody was seasick, I wasn’t but the first few days you could go to the dining room, meal times, it’d be almost empty, they’d all be crook.

03:32:00:00

More food, but it wasn’t good for us. If it had been luxury stuff it would have been great.
Were you seasick?
No. I was all right.
What sort of souvenirs were people taking?
Fittings and that, you know? I never did, I never bothered, what’s the point of it? But some people can’t –

03:32:30:00

they can’t help themselves, they’ve got to have souvenirs. I don’t think I brought back anything, apart from myself, which is the main one, isn’t it?
How did you pass the time on the ship?
Well, we had some older fellows on our platoon, ‘Harry’ Kendrick, Tommy Wood, they were – and there was about four or five of them and they were all – well they were in their early thirties

03:33:00:00

I suppose, they looked old men to me, and they were all wharf labourers, and Harry Kendrick said – he always used to call me Ron, never called me ‘Chum’. “Come on, let’s make a few bob.” So he said, “Well play Crown and Anchor and start a game.” So we went in the dining room and all the tables were filled with this Crown and

03:33:30:00

Anchor dice, so Harry and I set up our table, made a few bob gambling, but then they closed that, so he said, “Right Ron, we’re not beaten” so we found a little corner down in the deck somewhere, blokes were always passing, couldn’t resist a game. So we made a few quid. That’s the first time I ever did anything like

03:34:00:00

that, it was new to me, you know? I never gambled in my life. I still don’t gamble.
Where was it whose place you stopped?
We stopped in Bombay, and we were there for three weeks I think, we were there for a few days and – terrible place, it was in them days, and

03:34:30:00

one day they took us – a group of us to one of the big mansions, you know, it was so squalid Bombay in parts, you know, and then you get this area with all the rich, they took us to one of those places for the day. It was good, they had a big pool, we got in the pool there for a few hours and mucked around, and they fed us and we had a good day. Then they shoved us

03:35:00:00

on one of those Indian trains, went up to Deolali, there was a program on the wireless in a series, a place called Deolali, ‘Some Mothers Do Have em’, not that one, something like that, a comedy, the same camp, wasn’t filmed there of course. But we were there for about a fortnight I think, and then we moved

03:35:30:00

back to Bombay and got on a Dutch freighter, Christian Huygens, we were all in hammocks in the holds, about that far apart, until we got to Suez [Canal].
Why was Bombay so terrible?
Well, the poor people there, might be different now,

03:36:00:00

it is. And you get people with elephantitis, you know, and they’ve got feet about that big, dragging them along and – terrible place. But there you are, you get the two – people starving and the luxury lot. Never seems to be an ‘in between’, does it? They should get together and share, they’d all be on a level basis.

03:36:30:00

The world’ll never be like that though, too much greed. Yes.
So how did that ship that you got on, that you travelled in to – up the Suez, how did that compare to the Queen Mary?
Well I’d sooner be on the Mary, because that was pretty fast, if anything happened. That depended on speed, she’d outstrip a lot of ships, but the Christian Huygens

03:37:00:00

was crook living, you know, it wasn’t anything very much.
Did you have any sort of escort?
Yes, we had one ship on the way over which was the – I think it was the HMAS Australia, took us to the Indian Ocean, well up the Indian Ocean, and then the Shropshire came, which was a British ship then,

03:37:30:00

which they gave to Australia later, HMAS Shropshire, it was HMAS Shropshire came – that’s one of the best sights I’ve ever seen, because the Australia went up, and came down and there was a convoy, and passed between the big ships, which were five big liners we had, we had the Queen Mary, the Aquitania, Ile de France,

03:38:00:00

and two others, I can’t just think who they were, big liners, they were all – and came down pretty close to the ships, and they had the band at the back playing, and all the sailors lined up in white, and it was a calm day, perfect day, crystal clear, sunny day, and it looked a marvellous sight. It was great, bring tears to your eyes, wonderful.

03:38:30:00

And all us blokes cheering of course.
Did it feel like a big adventure at that time?
Yes, we weren’t part of it, I don’t think really, but it was great. We used to sit around playing cards, we used to do a bit of drill, used to be, you know,

03:39:00:00

life jacket practice, you know, used to have that about five times a day, used to get sick of that, especially if you were doing your washing. They’d come down, “On deck.” In fact it happened a couple of times one time I was down there doing my washing and I thought, “They won’t miss me.” so I stayed there but I got caught. I had to front the colonel too.

03:39:30:00

He gave me seven days CB [Confined to Barracks], well I couldn’t go anywhere anyway, he had a grin on his face. I should have said to him, “That’ll spoil my leave for this weekend.”
You were talking about, you know, getting that escort from the Shropshire and the Australia …
Yes, wonderful.
Did you feel exposed

03:40:00:00

or under threat going on this journey, so many troops, on such an important mission?
I suppose in the back of your mind you thought of submarines and the Germans had those ‘raiders’, you know, but I suppose the Australia could have contended with the raiders, but – because they were armed merchant

03:40:30:00

men really, well armed, but the big battle ships, they weren’t, but I don’t think we had any of them there. I think they went around the world but I think over the American side, the Atlantic and all that. I suppose it was in the back of your mind, especially when you were brainwashed with all these getting on deck, you know, for – with their life jackets and

03:41:00:00

lining up, and allotting your boats, and you had to line up where all your boats were and – so you had to think of it a bit.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 04

04:00:33:00

Well I just wanted to ask you about your first impressions of arriving in the Middle East, where you actually landed?
Well we went up the canal, and landed at El Kantara, that’s the army place there, where you get off and they give you a meal and there’s a train centre, and the trains are all line

04:01:00:00

up, dog boxes, you know, like cargo, and they give you a feed there, it’s always mashed potatoes, sausages and peas. It’s always that. Which was OK. Well, the desert I suppose. Well, a

04:01:30:00

bit like Australia I suppose, wide open, you know, some parts of Australia look identical. And not much greenery around. And the canal was interesting.
What was that like, travelling through the Suez?
Well, you could only see desert each side, and the canal, but it looked strange,

04:02:00:00

when you got off the ship, and we were inland a little way, it was all desert, and then you’d see the top of this ship going across, you know? It looked so queer. All desert, you couldn’t see the canal, you’d just look and all of a sudden, there’s half a ship was coming across, as if it was travelling on the sand. It looked strange.
When

04:02:30:00

you got off the ship, were there many locals around?
Oh yes, money changers and all this stuff, mostly money changers, that’s all. Wanted your Australian money for Palestinian or Egyptian or whatever, that’s about all, there wasn’t lots of locals. We got off one side, the most of the time was on the other side of the canal.
And

04:03:00:00

where was your first camp?
Kilo 89, it was just outside Gaza.
Could you describe that for me, that camp?
It was on flat ground, and it was open, no trees, you could say barren, and it just went for about two mile flat, and then it went up into some shallow hills.

04:03:30:00

And that’s where the Turks had their trenches in the First World War, so we used to have to march out there every day, train in those trenches, you know, they were knocked around a lot, but we still used them for practice, like defence and attack, and then in the afternoon after mucking around there all day, you’d have to walk – march home. Did you ever see the

04:04:00:00

Light Horsemen? The picture? The movie?
I haven’t seen it actually.
Well, you’d want to see it. And, when the Light Horsemen charged, the view they had was a little town of Beersheba in the distance, a couple of miles, might have been a bit more, might have been two and a half, three, and you could just see little houses, you know, little – well that’s what our – same sort of country.

04:04:30:00

We were up behind the hill, and if you looked down on the flat and they just went away and away, and all little tents looked about as big as your little fingernail. And we had to march in a straight line, straight to that, no turns, nothing to take, you know – and those little tents seemed hours coming closer. You’d be marching for half an hour and they’d look the same size, it was a pretty –

04:05:00:00

pretty long march home, and you’d be hungry, and training all day. I used to take my eyes off it, just look on the ground, and all of a sudden they’d get a bit bigger, and a bit bigger, and a bit bigger, and then you’d get there. Wasn’t so bad marching out in the mornings because you were fresh, but you were thinking of your dinner that night, going back. It’s a long march.

04:05:30:00

How long would it take?
It’d be an hour, I suppose, which is not a long time, but it seemed to be then. Might have been a bit longer.
What would you think about on those marches?
You talk to your mates and all, it wasn’t that you couldn’t talk or anything, you know, it’s just marching. Relaxed, at ease marching, you know,

04:06:00:00

rifle over your shoulder, talk to your mates, have a bit of fun, laugh.
What were the conditions like living in the camps?
We had fairly good food there, pretty good, we had good cooks, we had a wet [alcohol served] canteen, we had loads of oranges, Palestine was owned by all the Palestinians then,

04:06:30:00

now the Jews have got it. But they had all the orchards and everything, the Palestinians. And they used to fill up these bath tubs, or these galvanised iron ones, with oranges, loads of them, they’d be about that big, be a few hundred in each, and they used to fill it with water and put condies crystals in it, kill any germs. But they were beautiful

04:07:00:00

oranges, used to eat a lot of them.
And your living quarters at the camp?
We were in tents, twelve men in a tent. We had two little trestles about that long, with a little turn up like that, about that high, and three boards on it, and then

04:07:30:00

that was it. No mattress or anything of course.
What was the water supply like?
Seemed to be all right, they probably put a lot of gear [purification chemicals] in it, but we drank the water, and the beer.
Did you get leave while you were based at camp?
Yes, we didn’t get a lot though, weekends

04:08:00:00

sometimes, you know? I suppose a lot of people think we had stacks of leave, but we didn’t. The biggest leave we had was when we came out for campaigns, you might get ten days then. Like we had ten days after Tobruk, ten days after Alamein, that was the biggest ones we had.
What would you do on leave?

04:08:30:00

On leave?
Yes.
Try to enjoy ourselves. That’s another story, isn’t it?
Are you able to tell those stories?
What do you want to know?
Everything.
Well, on

04:09:00:00

leave, there was sightseeing I suppose, not that I did much of it, have a few beers, those sort of places, and the military had certain places to go, you know, which were the best places really, because they were all

04:09:30:00

clean and everything like that. Filled in time.
Were they in the cities?
Yes, yes they were, central, they had policemen at the doors and all this, Pommy policemen, Red Caps [British Military Police].
What would their role be?
Stop any,

04:10:00:00

you know, drunks and anybody who wanted to get obstreperous, which was good.
We’ve talked to other veterans about the Middle East, and the lectures they had about diseases and VD Divvyvenereal disease]. What kind of lectures do you remember?
Frightening. All the things that happen to people, you know, and photographs of

04:10:30:00

people with big sores all over them, crippled in bed and all this stuff, and what happened to their children and – yes, it was pretty vivid.
What kind of advice did the officers tell the men, about avoiding VD?
The officers? We could have told

04:11:00:00

them; they were as bad as us. I think they went to the movies as well. I mean they were all young blokes too, weren’t they?
So what were the men told, do you remember?
Just be careful. They knew it was hopeless, I mean gee, blokes who’d been in Tobruk,

04:11:30:00

some of our had been there for at least eight months, I think the trouble is the ones who went to outlandish places, you know, little villages and all this stuff.
So would the military have their own places that they recommended the men go?
Yes.
And how would that be – how would that be signposted,

04:12:00:00

or how would people know?
Well I don’t know how we knew, but I suppose we were told, I suppose, must have been. They had one in Haifa, no, Tel Aviv.
And how possible was it to

04:12:30:00

go out and obtain alcohol in Palestine while you were there?
Get alcohol?
Yes.
Well they had their own beer, they made their own beer and Al Mauser was the main one, which was all right cold, but it wasn’t much good, well like any beer, hot, I suppose.
And were the men told particular things about security and keeping safe when you were away from camp?
Don’t think so,

04:13:00:00

no. Different days now. No, I don’t think so. We used to – there might be four or five of us, you know, blokes together, in fact finished up with fourteen of us in two rooms we booked, five of us booked it, finished up with fourteen of us in it. We went to this place on

04:13:30:00

Mount Carmel, it was a big fat bloke ran it, a cheery bloke, we called him ‘Poofy’, see? And we got into – a mob of Pommy troops came in, and everybody got on the sherbet [drink], finished up with a bit of a riot in there, big fight,

04:14:00:00

and when that subsided they’d all had enough, all these Australian blokes from our company all finished up there, they never booked in anywhere, they were stupid really, but they never did, and we hired a taxi, we got a taxi, and we couldn’t get them all on, so we dumped the driver.

04:14:30:00

We all got into this flaming taxi, you know how they shove all these blokes in – see how many you get in a car? One of the blokes was driving, a transport driver, he drove, he’d been drinking, and Mount Carmel’s up here. I was sober by the time I got out. Well they had nowhere to go so they were shoved in my two rooms.

04:15:00:00

Anyhow I remember in the morning the Arab chap, he came in with five cups of tea and five oranges, took one look, put it on the floor and left, and we got chucked out that day. So we had to find more accommodation because we were there for two or three nights, so we made sure we just got it for five.

04:15:30:00

What was the accommodation like that you could find?
It was pretty basic, but it was all right, it was just like single beds and didn’t have a shower, just had a hand basin, which we couldn’t use in the morning because it was unfortunately full, blokes being crook and leaving the plug in,

04:16:00:00

so we just left that lot, it was a bit of a wreck.
The locals must have loved you.
They must have loved us, yes. The manager must have done. Oh well, that’s life, isn’t it? Can’t have blokes stuck in a place like Tobruk for eight months and act normal, yes.
So when you were

04:16:30:00

based in camp, the first camp you were in, what were you told about what kind of campaign you would be fighting in?
Well, we didn’t – well we just trained for that sort of action, they didn’t tell us where we’d be going really, we knew we’d go up into Libya, but the training was for desert warfare, so that’s what we had to

04:17:00:00

learn and that’s what we did, whether it was Tobruk, Derna, and the other place, be the same.
What was particular about desert warfare?
Well there wasn’t any civilians for a start, which was great, and no cities to bomb, knock around, which I thought was just the right place to fight a war. It was man against man

04:17:30:00

and there weren’t any children around to get hurt, all that stuff, they were the ones that suffered most, weren’t they? And the women of course. Yes, a good place for men to ‘have a go’.
Could you tell me about leaving camp, and the

04:18:00:00

orders, when you got the orders to leave?
Well they just told us we’d be leaving, moving out in two or three days, they didn’t tell you where you were going, just get on the train and go where the train goes, the trains goes – went up to Alamein, that was the end of the line and then travelled on from there, up to Tobruk

04:18:30:00

or wherever.
And where did you get out, where did you get off?
Well at the rail head, where it didn’t go any further, I just forget where it was really. The same as when we left Tobruk, we went on trucks until we got to the rail head, got on trains.

04:19:00:00

I might talk to you about Tobruk now, and ask you to explain what you were told you would be doing there.
We were told that there would be no surrender, Tobruk had to be held by the – till the last man, and that came from General Morshead, our general. It was the whole –

04:19:30:00

it was mostly an Australian show, see? It was the whole of the 9th Division, and a brigade of the 7th, 9th, 10th and 12th Battalions. Well with the pioneer battalion there was thirteen Australian battalions in Tobruk, plus the artillery and ack ack and all the support troops, engineers and all that, and there was

04:20:00:00

the RHA, the Royal Horse Artillery, English regiments, there was the Northumberland Fusiliers, the machine gun British regiment, and some other British troops, and they had a lot of ack ack, they were British too, and there was some Indian people – regiments, but they were

04:20:30:00

mostly around the – guarding the food dumps and all that, because – then there was the front line, and the next line was the ‘blue’ line, where you went back for a bit of a spell, which was – used to cop a lot of flack from the bombers, they used to come over every day, about fifty at a time, they used to bomb all the harbour and the ships, although the ships

04:21:00:00

probably had left, but it’s full of wrecks, and they’d bomb the town, they’d bomb the food dumps and all that sort of stuff. And the blue line wasn’t far from it, so we used to get the backwash. But on the blue line you did have ‘doovers’, you could get underneath, you know? It was like a trench, and then a thing about that big,

04:21:30:00

with iron over the top and sandbags. And about five million fleas. Oh, fleas, honestly, they were a killer, they were worse than the Germans, I thought. Sometimes I’d just take a risk and get out and sleep on top. I used to – and in those days, I don’t know what they’d do to me now, but these were raised, little red, you know itch, and little red lumps,

04:22:00:00

and you couldn’t catch them, there were too many. Fleas, God. Never had lice, it was too dry. And little beetles, dung beetles, they’d be scratching away at you all night, and these chameleons, and they’d be up the top digging dirt on

04:22:30:00

top of you. You’d have – there’d only be one bloke in each, you couldn’t get two in there, and you’d have a tin, a full tin – not a full tin, it’d have oil and stuff in it, with a piece of four by two, that’s what you clean your rifle with, sticking out like that, and all the black smoke would come off that. Tried to read, no wonder your eyes are crook,

04:23:00:00

and then you’d be spitting in the morning black lumps, all the smoke stuff, you know? Horrible. Didn’t kill the fleas though. Oh well.
What could you do to try and combat the fleas?
You couldn’t do anything really, unless you walked around naked. You really couldn’t. I mean

04:23:30:00

it wasn’t as if you had a couple of fleas and you could search for them and catch them, it was just, you know, infested. And the flies, millions of flies there. That was the worst part of it, I reckon, scratching away. Makes me shudder. But the fleas weren’t quite so bad up in the

04:24:00:00

front line, they were there but – anyway.
So once you got off the train, could you just explain sort of the physical landscape that you were in, in Tobruk? What it actually physically looks like?
It was just desert, it wasn’t sand, it was hard, rocky, digging a hole, digging out rocks, it wasn’t easy digging. And it wasn’t sand at

04:24:30:00

all. Well you couldn’t dig any deeper than that, I mean you only had weapon pits about that big, about that long and about that wide, and they wouldn’t be any deeper than that, and there’d be two men in it with their weapons. And if anything happened you’d be right down, you couldn’t – like in the First World War

04:25:00:00

it was ‘over the top’ stuff, you had a different sort of – you couldn’t dig trenches like that unless you had mechanical gear. But it was just open, with this little scrub stuff about that big scattered around. And then you’d get the dust storms and you couldn’t see a thing, you couldn’t see that far. You’d get in your doover and pull a blanket over the

04:25:30:00

top, till it finished. And then shovel all the dust out, it’d probably get about that much.
Were you ever caught outside in the open in a dust storm?
Not really, but we were caught outside in the open a few times though.
So you were based at – was it the blue line where you were first of all

04:26:00:00

in Tobruk?
Pardon?
The blue line was where you were first of all in Tobruk? Is that correct?
No, we went straight up the front line, there were big preparations to get ready, because the Germans, they’d not quite arrived when we got there, as they were a bit behind us. I mean our battalion and the 7th did all the rear guard actions to hold them up, we’d stop somewhere and hold them up for a few hours, and then race off and then stop

04:26:30:00

somewhere else on some ridge, you know? But we couldn’t hold them up long because we didn’t have any tank support and they had tanks by the scores, they’d just start going around you and then you’d have to move. We lost – at Er Regima that was the first place we stopped, we lost most of 9 platoon, they

04:27:00:00

got encircled, they had to – they got captured, they couldn’t do anything about it. We had our first bloke killed there in the platoon, Curly Eland, little fellow, the first casualty.
Can you tell me what happened to Curly?
He got

04:27:30:00

killed with shrapnel, didn’t feel it. We had to leave him there, couldn’t take his body or anything. If he’d been wounded we would have, but it’s not – and you couldn’t dig a hole, so they left it to the Germans, they’d bury him. I mean, we respected the Germans there, because we knew they treated prisoners fairly,

04:28:00:00

and like I say, they treated the wounded, I mean we treated their wounded the same as our blokes, we didn’t just pass over them, you know, or our stretcher bearers did, not us, we didn’t treat the wounded. Or light wounds, we’d have those pads we could put over, but not for serious wounds, we wouldn’t have known what to do, really.

04:28:30:00

What kind of medical attention could be given to the wounded?
Well, by the stretcher bearers, the medical blokes? Well they did the best they could in the situation, and try to get them back as quick as they could to the main hospital – where the doctors and surgeons were. And then that was only a passing through place then. We’d have our own

04:29:00:00

medical officer, Captain Goode his name was, good bloke, good by name and good by nature. Yes, I think he has an e on the end of it, Goode. He was a goodie. Yes, he was a good doctor too. Well it’d go through him, and he’d get them back to the main bases as soon as he could, if they were serious, you know?

04:29:30:00

Yes, it’s crook to see a seriously wounded man, and you know you can’t do much. You can put a tourniquet on, that’s about all. I mean we got a bit of instruction with medical stuff, but not a lot to deal with really serious stomach wounds and all this stuff, you know,

04:30:00:00

which the stretcher bearers, they did a marvellous job. They should have all got a VC in my opinion, VC work, all out in the open, too, attending the wounded. I

04:30:30:00

remember a bloke called Trebilco, a real quiet fellow, I don’t know what his first name is, he was in our platoon, Trebilco. At Alamein I saw him when we got back, he was out in the open, tending a wounded bloke, one of our blokes, and the shelling was pretty heavy, and I thought, “Blimey, he’s pretty

04:31:00:00

exposed.” You know, I remember at the time, and the next thing I knew, he was slumped over as well, they were both dead. Well they both died, anyway. They were both dead when we got to them.

04:31:30:00

What kind of cover did the stretcher bearers have?
Cover?
Yes.
Nothing, all they did, they had a little Red Cross bag with their medical equipment, they never carried rifles, had a red cross on their arm and a red cross on the bag, about that big – over the shoulder, or their neck really, which they pulled round to the front.

04:32:00:00

Ron, I might just ask you about the first action that you were involved in, and what you remember of that day, that first day?
Well the first fright I got I suppose, was after one – or the first action was – the first big action was the Battles

04:32:30:00

of Easter when the Germans attacked the enforced perimeter at the 17th battalion mostly, we were on their left, we only got the side part of it, and the artillery part, but they attacked the 17th area, and the tanks broke through, all these German tanks broke through, and the 17th battalion

04:33:00:00

stopped the infantry, they couldn’t get through our battalions. That’s where Australia went in first, we – see, what was his name? He got killed anyway, forget his name now. Saw his grave in Tobruk, they had a little – they had a cemetery there, a big cemetery, they used to bury the blokes straight away in the

04:33:30:00

cemetery. Still there, big cemetery. Anyway, I’ll think of it later. And daylight, there’s all these tanks behind us, German tanks, and the British artillery was further over, and they’re firing open sights, you know, not like that, straight at them, like anti-tank guns, and the Germans knew they couldn’t do any good because they

04:34:00:00

never had any support, infantry, because they couldn’t get through. So they wanted to get out of there, so they just rushed up there, and we were in these little trenches like that, and they’re running over the top of us, and we’re trying to – and the ones that were knocked out, we were trying to kill the occupants of the tanks when they got out and got into other tanks.

04:34:30:00

A bit of chaos. And they’re firing their anti-tank guns and machine guns. Yes, you’d see this great tank, looking up, yes, pretty frightening that. Still, it’s all in the game, wasn’t it? Anyway, as I said, apart from what was knocked out, they lost a few

04:35:00:00

tanks outside as well. And next day they sent us on a daylight patrol out there, because the German positions were a fair way away, and we caught four Germans hiding in the tanks, sent some chaps back with them, and we were looking for other tanks and then all of a sudden three German tanks coming over the –

04:35:30:00

just coming into view, about a mile and a half away, Tiger tanks, big tanks, coming straight towards us. And we only had rifles, and I had a Bren gun, and I had a row of hand grenades around my waist, and about six magazines for the gun, and

04:36:00:00

we had to take off, move back as fast as we could, you know, we couldn’t handle tanks, too few of us. And the officer’s firing flares up for artillery support, and the Germans fire another set of shells, couldn’t hit us, they were going past us and exploding a couple of hundred yards in front of us, going back, and

04:36:30:00

the tanks are getting closer, but then the artillery, the British artillery opened up, and they dropped a screen of shells right between us. We were there and the tank’s here, and they dropped them right there, a barrage, and that stopped them. They wouldn’t come through, gave us a chance to get back to our positions. So that was one of my – after the Easter Battles, that was –

04:37:00:00

it was the next day, I went back to the flies and fleas.
When you’re on foot and there’s tanks coming for you, how fast are the tanks moving?
They’re moving pretty fast, they’re fast, yes, not as fast as cars or anything, but they’re pretty mobile.

04:37:30:00

Well it all happened within, you know, ten minutes. We didn’t suffer any casualties because of it, we were lucky I think. But what amused me after, was the officers firing all these flares and they’re dropping around us, you know, they’re going straight up. We thought,

04:38:00:00

“Christ.” We didn’t know whether it was the enemy or if it was flares, because they’re using a lot of tracer bullets in their machine guns.
Is that how the artillery would be signalled for?
Yes. They gave the alarm, to the officer, and then company headquarters would ring straight away.

04:38:30:00

Just going back to the Easter battles, could you explain what it’s like when you’re in a trench and there’s tanks?
It’s hard to explain that, it’s what you feel at the moment, you think – well I don’t know what I thought really, I must have felt a bit disturbed I suppose when I saw these huge things, and when you’re in the trench,

04:39:00:00

and it’s only that deep and you’re flat on the bottom, and this great – just as well it was rocky, if it had been sand, you know, they’d push it on us, but – and there were others passing too, you know? But the Germans, all they wanted to do was get out then, because they knew they’d lose the lot, otherwise. And the crippled tanks, like I said,

04:39:30:00

the tank crews were getting out, they had five or six, seven blokes in them, they were getting out, climbing on their own tanks, and our blokes would be firing at them. Pretty callous really, isn’t it? That’s war though isn’t it, it’s all callous. Killing. Kill and be killed.
How much warning did you have that the Germans were advancing at that battle?

04:40:00:00

Well not much really until we heard their noise, and then we got the runners that run around the platoons and all this stuff, company runners and messages from headquarters and battalion headquarters, to the platoon commanders, they’d send the runners around. Everybody was

04:40:30:00

mostly on alert the whole time really, we always had listening posts out and two or three blokes out about fifty metres in front, and they’d have a hole in the wire they could get through, they’d be out there listening, if there’s anything they’d whiz back and alarm.

04:41:00:00

You mentioned the wire. Could you explain what kind of defences you had?
Well mostly dannet wire, that round stuff, piled on top of each other, and then that was this side, and then there was a tank trap which would be like this room, right across the front, or most of it, be about all caved in with what the Italians put in it.
Could you explain what that is again, sorry, a tank trap?
Well, it’s an

04:41:30:00

anti-tank trap, it’s a long trench, about as big as this room, about as deep and about as wide, which a tank couldn’t cross unless it had something across it, and the sides were too steep for them – if they’d go in, they couldn’t get out anyway.
So when the German tanks broke through, how did they manage it?
They must have used something.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 05

05:00:33:00

Ron, before we go on and talk more about the campaigns in the desert, I just wanted to ask you about the lead up to the siege of Tobruk, and that time what you called the ‘Benghazi handicap’.
The Germans broke out from Benghazi and attacked our forces south of Benghazi, or east, I

05:01:00:00

think it was that way, I think it must have been east, east and west, not this way of course. Our first action was at Er Regima, where we lost 9 platoon, most of them got captured, we were encircled by tanks on the ridge, so we couldn’t do much about it, the rest got away, and then Barqah and a couple of other places on the way down, where the

05:01:30:00

13th Battalion and the 17th made rear guard actions, just to hold them up so the rest of the division could get back to Tobruk and prepared defences, which there were a lot of Italian defences they used anyway, a lot were done but they had to dig a lot of weapon pits and all this stuff. So they got back there a few days ahead, which gave them a bit of time, and we held them up at

05:02:00:00

different stages, just for a few hours, you know, if you held an army up for three or four hours, I mean they’ve got to get organised and move off again, so we had to hold them up, and then we all got back in Tobruk and the main battle started a short time later, three of four days, I suppose.
So when that retreat was going on and you were part of the rear guard action,

05:02:30:00

how quickly would you have to move, retreat, move …?
Straight away, the trucks would be waiting somewhere on concealed ground, and you just moved back on them and off, as fast as you could.
So how far away were the Germans when they were advancing?
They’d be – what, when we took off in the trucks? They’d be a mile, I suppose, the trucks would be

05:03:00:00

back a bit, we’d have to move back quickly to get on as quick as we could, and off, back to the next stage. Well the Germans would be held up a bit because they’d have to get reorganised, and all their tanks, and you know, mobilised again, because they’d be scattered a bit by the defenders. Yes, so it held them up, even if it was only

05:03:30:00

for a few hours, three or four hours, just to help – the rest of the division was going straight back, they didn’t stop, so they’d get back as quick as they could.
And I believe that was the first division to meet the Germans, is that …?
No, the 6th were the first, they were in the – they attacked – they were early in ’40 when they

05:04:00:00

attacked, up through Bardia and all them places, and they went right up to – the Italians, the Germans wasn’t there then, so they attacked the Italian armies and went straight back to east of Benghazi, pity they hadn’t carried on. But I suppose it’s a long line of communication then.
But that was really at the beginning of the German campaign, in the desert when 2/13th …?
Yes, well then the Germans sent over Rommel and the

05:04:30:00

Africa Korps instead of – well the Italians were still there, they were pretty hopeless.
Can you tell me about that, what your impressions were of the Italian army?
Well actually, to be honest, I didn’t see much of them, you couldn’t catch them anyway. I didn’t see much, I only saw the Germans really, they were there, they were good troops,

05:05:00:00

there’s none better.
What made them so good?
Discipline, they’re fighting men, the proved that over the centuries, haven’t they? Yes, they’re a race of fighters, I’d say.
When the German army were advancing and you were in the middle of that Benghazi handicap,

05:05:30:00

how well balanced did you feel that the battle wasn’t …?
Well we were outnumbered, we knew we couldn’t tackle them, because we didn’t have tanks or anything, you know? And the British had lost a lot of tanks in battles there, so we just knew we had to go back to Tobruk, and that was the message. That had to be defended because of the port, and if the Germans had captured Tobruk, it would have

05:06:00:00

halved their lines of communication, they could have brought all their gear into Tobruk there, to supply down further, down at Ceylon. Down Hellfire Pass [Halfaya] where the front line was then.
So at that point you knew that the retreat point was Tobruk?
Yes, we knew then, yes. And when we got there they said, I said before, Montgomery said, not

05:06:30:00

Montgomery, Morshead, our general, “You’ve got to hold it to the last man, there’ll be no surrender.” And there wasn’t. Good troops, Australians, I’ll have to say it, even if I was in it. Because I was a Pom. But I learn quickly.
So I take it you weren’t being treated as a Pom?
No, no. No, I was just one of the

05:07:00:00

mob, one of the mob, yes. I was Australianised early. They couldn’t understand what I was talking about, but I think it’s changed a bit. You still see it, can you hear it?
A little bit. How did they go about Australianising you?
Well it’s not a thing you could say really, I mean it’s not a thing you could

05:07:30:00

explain. I mean you’re with them every day, twenty-four hours a day, it must wear off on you somehow, and it did, I suppose. I’m one hundred percent Australian, I have been since the war. I barrack for Australia too, especially against the Poms.
So going back to that retreat when you were the rear guard action,

05:08:00:00

can you explain exactly how 9 platoon was destroyed so badly? What exactly happened?
Well, they split us, they got tanks between us and 9 platoon was cut off, surrounded by tanks, and infantry, so they had no option but to surrender what was left, I mean it’s no point in getting killed, is it? It’s like the 28th Battalion,

05:08:30:00

at ‘Ruin’ Ridge, El Alamein, we lost a whole battalion in one afternoon, I think it was about fifty men came back, they escaped, came back through the lines. That was one of the worst days of the war for me. We’ll get around to that, I suppose.
While this mad retreat was going on, how easy was it

05:09:00:00

to communicate?
What, with the top brass? I wouldn’t have a clue, really, our officers told us what to do and we did it and that was it. We had to get out, they’d say, “Let’s get out.” And that’s it. We never had time to dig trenches or any of that stuff, we just took our firing position somewhere and just

05:09:30:00

fired, and they had to stop, see what was going on, and the Germans, they’d send the tanks, we’d take off again.
So how long might you stay in one position?
Might only be two or three hours, but it gave the others a chance they were all going in trucks, so they’d be making up six hours, wouldn’t they, on the road.
Would you still be moving at night time?
Yes, oh yes, moved at night

05:10:00:00

mostly. We came to one – there was one roadblock there, and red caps, a couple of red cap- provosts were directing the traffic, and they were starting to send out traffic into the desert on the wrong road, not ours in particular, but they found out they were Germans, so they shot them, a couple of Germans acting

05:10:30:00

as military police.
Did you encounter them?
No, that was – might have been one of the other companies I think. I just heard the story later. You don’t know what’s going on around you really. You’re only in your little area. What’s going on over the hill, or in the other companies, can’t tell.

05:11:00:00

Not in that sort of position. A bit of chaos, you know? But it was well handled by Australia, and the officers, we got back, most of us.
What sort of artillery support did you have during that retreat?
Didn’t have anything, didn’t have any support, no tanks, all the tanks would have been going east, they couldn’t afford to lose any more.

05:11:30:00

Didn’t have any air force much. We didn’t have any air support in Tobruk, eight months. We had one squadron when we went in, they used to go up every day against all these German Stukas, dive bombers, and they gradually got shot down. I saw the last one come in, the last one.

05:12:00:00

For some reason I was there at battalion headquarters, and this Hurricane, the last of the Hurricanes, came screaming over the top and there was a bit of smoke coming from him, and he came – and two Messerschmitt 109s on his hammer, and he came down, made a pancake landing, the pilot got out, ran off, tried to get away, of course, and the Germans respected him though, I’ll

05:12:30:00

give them that, they both circled, and they came in and destroyed the plane. They didn’t fire at the pilot, which was good.
So how far did that plane land from the perimeter of Tobruk?
The airport, about a mile I suppose, be about a mile. We never had another plane land there. In the eight months, one Hurricane came up on

05:13:00:00

reconnaissance, flew around, then disappeared. If you didn’t have an air force really, then you didn’t have one. Not that it was the air force’s fault, they just didn’t have the planes.
So how frequent was the aerial bombardment from the Germans, while you were in Tobruk?
Aerial? Every day,

05:13:30:00

sometimes it was fifty dive bombers with a fighter escort, the fighter escort didn’t have much to do, because there wasn’t any opposition, but it was a fierce – one of the biggest anti-aircraft barrages in the world at the time, a lot bigger later, of course. Had a big anti-aircraft defence.

05:14:00:00

And the fighters, sometimes you’d see them come down and strafe the front lines, you know, give the machine guns something to do, cause a bit of havoc. Didn’t do much damage really, everybody would lie in the bottom of their doovers, there were some blokes got hit, I suppose. They used to send over a little moller

05:14:30:00

plane, we called him ‘Cheeky Charlie’, he must have been armour-plated, because we used to fire our Bren guns at him, rifles, never hurt him, must have been made of steel or something. Cheeky Charlie. And he used come fairly low, right along, making reconnaissance. But one day he disappeared, they must have got him. Didn’t see him after that. He used to wave, he was cheeky all right.

05:15:00:00

We didn’t have any anti-aircraft up there like Bofors or that, but he must have strayed a bit too close to Tobruk, I’d say.
So what sort of anti-aircraft support did you have on the front line?
Well, we didn’t need it really, they never bombed the front line much, only the fighter who’d strafe at

05:15:30:00

times, but he just tried to destroy all the food and all the petrol, which is the right thing to do, what’s the point of killing a few blokes on the front line, when they got all the petrol dumps and – it was all concentrated, all the food stores, make us starve, I suppose, we bloody near were. We used to get a pint of water a day, and that was it,

05:16:00:00

half a water bottle full. If you wanted to clean your teeth, that’s what you used. Never bathed, dirty all the time. Just imagine after months.
Was the water drinkable?
Some of it was yes, but the rest of it was brackish, you know? The Italians who were left, they spoiled a lot of the wells there, put poison

05:16:30:00

and stuff in. We used to bring water up in the navy, fresh water, the navy did a wonderful job. We’d have never held Tobruk without the navy, bringing supplies in and reinforcements. I think it brought about twenty-six thousand blokes in reinforcements over the eight months, of course there’d be, how many

05:17:00:00

Australians? Say twenty-thousand, I suppose. So it was a big Australian show really, wasn’t it?
So Ron, what would be the routine? How long would you spend on the front line before being relieved? How would it work?
Well, all depends really. Some sections were quiet because of the lay of the land, and the Germans might have been a mile and a

05:17:30:00

half away. Well they were fairly quiet, you might be there for four or five weeks, but the dangerous parts were salients, where they used to attack, made a bulge in our line, and down the two sides, that was the salient, that was the worst part. You’d only be there a couple of weeks, that’d be it. And down the other side was ‘Trigger Valley’, and the other side, I

05:18:00:00

can’t think what they called that one, but Trigger Valley was – well we’d only be from the Germans then, we’d be a hundred yards apart, so you couldn’t move. You’d be in about that deep, well if it was three foot deep you’d be in a little doover, so you’d have to be below

05:18:30:00

ground, all day, one pint of water, and you wouldn’t be able to eat during the day because of the flies. You’d have to lie down and open a tin of bully, you know? The Germans would be the same, the snipers and stuff like that, and well, if you got up and started moving round, you’re asking to go to hospital or something, or in a box [coffin].

05:19:00:00

Of a night, the nights, all endless patrols, you know? They did put on an attack there, but we never knew whether it was an attack by a company of Germans in Trigger Valley, or whether the reinforcements got lost, because a big force of them came towards our lines, and we opened up and got a lot of – they really

05:19:30:00

copped it, and next morning they had a – called for a truce, so they could take all their wounded and dead away. So they had a truce for a while there, and our stretcher bearers went out and helped theirs with the wounded blokes. They wasn’t dead, you could hear them out there moaning and screaming, you know, like wounded men do when they’re seriously hurt. Not pleasant, even though they were the enemy, it was

05:20:00:00

hard.
Can you tell me, during those battles at the salient and at Trigger Valley, how frequently the Germans would send in an attack? How would a day – while you were on those front lines how would – just give me an example of how a day when an attack happened, what

05:20:30:00

would it be like?
Actually the Germans didn’t attack that much there, they just held it, you know? We’d send out fighting patrols and all that sort of stuff, and we did most of our work at nights, there’d be reconnaissance and patrols, fighting patrols, patrols that try to bring back a couple of prisoners for interrogation, you know, all that sort of stuff. We did – like at

05:21:00:00

Alamein, patrols, patrols every night. Weary, mate. You either went to the listening post, or you went on a fighting or a reconnaissance patrol, that’d be about it, that was the two main ones, yes.
Can you walk me through what would happen on a fighting patrol?
Well you’d try to go out and find a working party, or

05:21:30:00

attack one at an outpost, and that sort of thing. But they used to have bits of traps sometimes, they used to have a strong force out in front of their positions, and somebody just digging away with a pick, to try to get you in. But it did happen at odd times, but we got a wake up, we used to crawl up close or send somebody up real close,

05:22:00:00

to see what it was. One place was ‘Thompson’s Post’ at Alamein, they – it was a pretty strong post, a big post, well defended, fortified, and we attacked that post a couple of times but couldn’t take it, so we sent – we couldn’t get into it, it was hard to get into the post itself.

05:22:30:00

So they sent Les Rhodes, Sergeant Rhodes, myself and three other blokes out on a reconnaissance. Funny really, I suppose, not funny really but we all got back OK, but we got up to the wire, right on the wire, and we’re lying there ‘doggo’, but somebody must have heard us, because we thought we never made a sound, but in the crystal air, sound travels,

05:23:00:00

and you could hear them, running around, waking everybody up, the blokes on guard. And then it all went silent, and Les Rhodes said to me, “I’ll sneak round here and see if I can find the opening.” Because we knew they had to get their trucks in, you know? So he got up on his haunches and they opened up.

05:23:30:00

God, you’ve never seen so much in your life, and all their machine guns, they had tracer bullets, every seven or eight bullets were tracer, like different colour, and we were there and they seemed to come – if they’re coming straight at you, you know you’re safe, the ones coming towards you, they won’t hit you because you wouldn’t see them otherwise, you know? I mean they’re going so fast. I mean if a bullet’s coming towards you, you never see it, but if

05:24:00:00

it’s a tracer, you wouldn’t see it either. But if it’s going past you, you’ll see them, screaming. Say like it seems to be in one line, but there might be seven or eight between each one. I knew we were safe then, but they started throwing hand grenades, so Les Rhodes said, “We’ll have to take a risk and just get over, and take off.” So

05:24:30:00

we got up and went for our lives, until we got to edge of this bit of a slope, and we just jumped off there. I tripped over my rifle of course, awkward, fell on a rock, I can still feel the ridge in my knee there, and my knee swelled up the next morning, but I didn’t go out with it, it was all right in a week. Stupid.

05:25:00:00

Yes, these patrols every night, especially at Alamein, four months of it. They put on a big attack just to our left, and it turned out to be a diversional attack against us, sent a few hundred blokes in, heavy shelling, and Georgie Watson and I, we had wire here, we were in our

05:25:30:00

positions, there was a minefield there, and then there was a listening post, which is two holes about that deep, and about man length. One bloke sits in one over the – almost to the ground with his head up, and the other bloke looks the other way, makes sure nobody goes round the back. And George is facing high positions,

05:26:00:00

across the minefield, and I said, “Quiet tonight George?” I can remember this as clear as day, oh no, he said that, “Quiet tonight Ron?” And I’m looking towards the Germans – and all of a sudden you see this great flash of lights pop up, you know, like artillery, and it seems like an eternity for the noise to get there,

05:26:30:00

because it’s well back. I said, “It won’t be for long George.” And all of a sudden this noise and the scream of these shells, landing between us and home, and on our positions. And it never gets dark in the desert, because – unless there’s a dust storm, but the sky’s so crystal clear, and the stars are in their

05:27:00:00

millions, and the Milky Way, honestly, there’d be millions, not like here, our skies are deserted compared to Middle Eastern skies, I mean you normally see a hand, you know, you can’t read of course, but you can see a short distance. And we thought, “How are we going to get home?” And they kept this

05:27:30:00

artillery up for a while and all of a sudden it eased off, so off we went with our rifles, down the track, we ran through the minefields, we didn’t worry about mines, and we got to the barbed wire, which is three – two dannet wire together, and one on top, and George is about – he might be a bit taller than me, and faster, and of course your lungs are full of cordite from the shells,

05:28:00:00

and the fumes and the shells, and burns your chest. I started running along this track, and George took the wire on, cleared it, and I thought – and he must have been about twenty yards in front of me, and I thought, “If he can do it , I’m as fit as him.” So my bloody foot hit the top and I fell on the wire, but it’s not that razor wire, it was pretty bad though. So I got a few cuts there.

05:28:30:00

And just when we got to our doovers, jumped in, Tex, a young bloke in the next platoon, 8 platoon, him and a mate had come back the same way, and he jumped in his doover straight on a rifle and bayonet, and it went right through his thigh. Yes. Tex, forget his other name. Funny

05:29:00:00

bloke, he’s a Pom too.
Would you just be with one platoon when you went out on a patrol?
Oh yes, yes, you wouldn’t take all the platoons, it all depends what sort of – if it was only a reconnaissance you might have only five or six blokes, and you might send a mob out just to search the area. We found our blokes dead, they’d been dead for quite a

05:29:30:00

while, and we’d mark the spot, we wouldn’t be able to carry them, because they’re decomposed and – so you’d go out the next night and put them on a blanket or something and bring them back. Rotten job. The Germans as well, we’d bring them back as well. But a corpse in that sun, they go black in a couple of hours.

05:30:00:00

What about if someone was wounded on patrol?
We’d carry them back, if he was killed we’d carry him back, even if we couldn’t, if we possibly could, or couldn’t I mean. Always look after them, dead or not.

05:30:30:00

Sometimes it’s impossible. I mean, in the final battles of Alamein blokes would be dead, you’d just walk past them, and wounded blokes, you couldn’t stop for them, you’d leave them for the stretcher bearers. I mean if your mate’s wounded, you don’t stop, I mean if everybody stopped for the wounded, the attack would

05:31:00:00

falter, wouldn’t it? Just leave it for the stretcher bearers, which did a marvellous job, should have all got decorated.
How many – were there many reconnaissance patrols when you were at Tobruk?
Yes, oh yes, we used to go out there, go out on

05:31:30:00

reconnaissance, some places were well apart and we’d go well out, mostly at night. The Germans didn’t like patrolling at night, or they never patrolled at all much. Well, a pity they hadn’t really, would have been some fun out there then, wouldn’t it? I think we were too experienced for them at patrolling, I think. They

05:32:00:00

just kept behind their – they just looked after their defence, which was strong, they were well organised, they were pretty good. Yes, if you’re on a reconnaissance you might be within thirty or forty yards, you’re creeping up, you know,

05:32:30:00

just to see what’s going on, if somebody was wandering around we’d surround him, they always liked to get a prisoner sometimes for interrogation. Well I suppose if they’d have been the Italians they would have probably got plenty.
Yes, we interviewed someone who said that – the ideal army would be German

05:33:00:00

equipment, with an Italian enemy and British rations.
Yes, he’s got something there. Oh well, I shouldn’t run down – I don’t run down the Italians really, it’s just – they’re not a war-like mob, I mean they’re not like they were two thousand years ago when they were Romans, they’re a different race all together now. Well,

05:33:30:00

I can’t say us, we’re only two hundred years, aren’t we? But we’re getting to be a different race, aren’t we?
So when you took German prisoners, how reluctant were they?
The officers didn’t like that, they wouldn’t allow the men to talk to us. But apart from the uniform they just looked like us, you know? They were all right,

05:34:00:00

we just tried to kill each other, that’s all. And they tried to win, like we did. Yes.
So you were describing the salient and Trigger Valley earlier, at what points did the Germans make the most impact on the defences around there?
That was at Easter, they never tried again, too strong.

05:34:30:00

Well I suppose the last four or five months in Tobruk, their aim was just to keep us in there, not let us break out. They knew they couldn’t take it, because they had an army down on the border, and they were expecting an attack from British forces down there, so they couldn’t take – they couldn’t put a really

05:35:00:00

strong force – they had enough forces there to hold us there, and they knew we couldn’t break out, but they couldn’t move them, any of them down to the border, where the British front line was, because that would weaken them there, and we could break out there, which we did eventually, when Auchinleck

05:35:30:00

attacked up through Libya, we broke out of Tobruk, that’s where we got mixed up in Ed Duda. They made a movie of that, that battle, with – who’s the bloke who married – Australians were in it too.

05:36:00:00

No, the famous English actor, the one who married Elizabeth Taylor.
Richard Burton?
Richard Burton. Yes, that’s him. Good movie.
Can you tell me about that battle and the first engagement you had with the enemy at that particular Battle of Ed Duda?

05:36:30:00

Well that was early in December, that was the end of the – almost the end of the siege. Well the whole story is, that was a strategic ridge, Ed Duda, and you could see for miles, all the way round, covered the whole desert. And the Germans wanted it badly. Well actually

05:37:00:00

they had it, and one of the British regiments, one of the county regiments, I don’t know whether it was the Wessex or the Sussex, one of those, they captured it from the Germans, and then the Germans brought a strong force over, tanks and everything, and attacked it, and the Poms suffered a lot of casualties there too, and they drove them off the ridge again. Well our battalion had been there eight months,

05:37:30:00

and they didn’t want us involved because – all the time, you know, and they put us in reserve positions. But when they got driven off there, desperation times, they brought us up and Colonel Burrows, our commander, we got there, surveyed it, and it was four or five tanks dug in across the front of the ridge. And he rang up the

05:38:00:00

artillery and said, “Get rid of those mongrels, or else my blokes are not going in there.” They wouldn’t have stood a chance, see? So the artillery put over a big bombardment, they set one tank on fire and the others pulled back over the ridge, and the attack went on. But the unfortunate thing about that battle was just as the forward companies were about

05:38:30:00

to move off, one of our own shells dropped short, sometimes a shell, instead of going straight, it starts turning like that, and you can hear it rrrr, rrrr, rrrr, and you don’t know where it’s going to land. It landed right in the middle of the platoon area, nearly wiped out the platoon. Yes. And so they had to bring up one of the other platoons to take its place,

05:39:00:00

for the attack, and Tim Fernside was in the platoon they brought up, and his brother was dying in that – where the shell landed. Tim Fernside, he wrote a lot of stuff for the War Museum and that. A shame, he knew his brother was in the platoon too, where the shell landed, you know? Just bad luck. Anyway, they

05:39:30:00

shelled the ridge and our two companies took off, we were in the reserve company, a bit of luck, but we were copping a bit of backwash and some of our blokes were getting hit, you know, but the forward companies, they got so far and they put on this bayonet charge in, and we could hear them yelling. When we got there it was just above over, we were

05:40:00:00

about a hundred yards behind, we could hear our blokes screaming out there, must have put the hell up them Germans, they heard this maniacal mob coming. Yes. The Germans thought all our troops were out of Tobruk, and they reckoned, one officer said, “You’re not Australians, you’re dressed up as Australians.”

05:40:30:00

Wasn’t, of course. But apart from the ship getting sunk with all our wounded on, it was the seriously wounded ones were put on a transport in Tobruk Harbour, and that got sunk by the Germans on the way, down at Alexandria, and we lost our wounded. Bit of a disaster, that one. War I suppose, isn’t it?

05:41:00:00

Kill as many as you can, that’s the idea I suppose. Terrible, isn’t it? Human nature. Honestly. And you get trained to do it. Didn’t worry me about the Japs though, how many of them got killed, wasn’t enough.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 06

06:00:42:00

Ron, when you were in Tobruk, I just wanted to ask you about the conditions in terms of the rations that you had. You mentioned the water earlier.
We used to get one pint a day, I used to get a dixie of tea at night,

06:01:00:00

they only brought food up, they’d bring food up after dark, a hot meal, which was usually water with bully beef floating in it, and a couple of tins of meat and vegetables thrown in, ‘McConachies’, it wasn’t very appetising. And they used to bring up desserts, which was about half a

06:01:30:00

dixie of rice and there’d be peaches in it. But the peaches would be chopped up that small, it’d be like bits of parsley in it, only pink, you know? Try to dig out a little bit of peach, then they’d leave a bit of stuff for the morning, hide biscuits and tins of bully to eat next day, during the day.

06:02:00:00

That’s about it. We used to get bread once a week, bread once a week but they used to bomb all around the bakery, and of course the bread used to go choomp, you know? So they used to be about that square, the loaves, and about that thick, and caraway seed, but it wasn’t caraway seeds, it was weevils. I mean it’d be

06:02:30:00

like caraway seed cake, it wasn’t just the odd weevil, dead of course, there’d be hundreds, but it was bread.
What was the men’s health like in Tobruk?
Dysentery was the main thing, I think, yes. Well really, what I remember, it wasn’t bad I suppose, except for

06:03:00:00

dysentery. Yes, there wasn’t any serious diseases really, or dysentery was serious, could be.
Did you ever get sick?
I did, I got dysentery and that, that’s all. And I was on the beach there, in these Red Cross tents, and they were dug in the ground about

06:03:30:00

that height, shoulder, about waist height, right there I suppose, and they were big marquee tents, with big red crosses on them, but they were full of holes, the tents, with the shrapnel and stuff from the bombing, good place to keep out of. I don’t think the Germans bombed them intentionally, but

06:04:00:00

I mean they were in a restricted area, and there was the food dumps there and there was ammunition dumps over here, and the ships and the docks there and – so they could have a bit of flack getting in, could they, really.
How did they treat you for dysentery?
Well, I’ll tell

06:04:30:00

you one of the treatments they gave me, was Epsom Salts five times a day, do you know what Epsom Salts is? Bloody awful stuff to drink, but what it does to you, Epsom Salts – well when I was first – Epsom Salts in Palestine, Epsom Salts five times a day, as much fresh orange juice as you could drink, and nothing else, no food for about

06:05:00:00

five or six days, nothing. So you can imagine, where you sat all day and all night, on the pan. Anyway, it must have scoured it out of me. And then they said you could have breakfast this morning, I thought, I was hungry then, you know? I mean when I was sick I didn’t care, but when you started to get

06:05:30:00

better, a young man, I was getting really hungry. So you got a slice of dry toast and a cup of weak black tea. I thought, “Where’s my breakfast?” That went on for a few days, until I finally got onto solids, then I went in a convalescent camp for a couple of weeks.

06:06:00:00

That was good.
Whereabouts was that?
In Palestine, I went back to Tobruk on – I was there for a fortnight, I met up with a Queensland bloke, I think he was in the 5th Div, I can’t remember now, but a nice bloke, never seen him since the war, can’t remember his name now, a tall blond bloke, really nice bloke,

06:06:30:00

and we used to go and have breakfast, and then we’d go down, there was a Jewish village there, and we’d go down and have half a dozen poached eggs or something like that, after breakfast. I was starving, geez, I had a lot to make up.
So how did you get out of Tobruk to the convalescent home?
How did I get out when I was sick? They brought me out on Waterhen, HMAS Waterhen.

06:07:00:00

I can’t remember much about it, really, I was that crook. But I remember being carried on the deck, that’s about all. Anyway the Waterhen, it got sunk later, next month I think. And I went to a British hospital in Alexandria, and then –

06:07:30:00

no, I went into a hospital, then to a convalescent camp in Palestine, Kefar Ahim, two weeks there, and back to Alexandria, and Amyria, that was a staging camp, and I left there a couple of days later, had my twenty-first birthday today, and I left and went back to Tobruk tomorrow.

06:08:00:00

I was sick there, I finished up in the New Zealanders’ canteen on the evening of my birthday, and once they knew it was my 21st birthday, God, they made a mess of me. I can’t remember getting home much, a couple of blokes brought me home, I went down with three or four other blokes. A good

06:08:30:00

night though.
There must have been a lot of young men having twenty-first birthdays?
Oh yes, there was, of course, lots. A lot older men, you know, in their thirties, they were like fathers and grandfathers to us, us younger blokes. They’d only be, what, ten or twelve years older, but they were – I think most of us looked on them as matured men, you know, who knew their way

06:09:00:00

around the world, while we were too bloody young to know any different. Nineteen and twenty, yes.
So what was the traditional way of celebrating a soldier’s twenty-first?
Getting drunk, or getting into the canteen, that’s about all. What else? Never had birthday cakes or birthday

06:09:30:00

cards.
Were you having any contact with people at home at this stage?
Writing, yes, letters. A lot of mail became missing though, because I sent a few photos, I think they only received one, the first one I had made after a month in the army, so I sent that home. They

06:10:00:00

received that one, because they got it enlarged, it sat over Mum and Dad’s fireplace, until they died, and then my brother gave it to me when I went over.
What would you write about when you wrote home?
I’d

06:10:30:00

just tell them I was OK, and you couldn’t tell them much really, couldn’t tell them where you were, you couldn’t tell them what you were doing, you just had to write superfluous stuff, you know? Which never gave them any – I used to put a pinch of sand in sometimes, a pinch of dirt, they probably tipped it out.

06:11:00:00

Yes, well you couldn’t say – they’d only cut it out otherwise, so just tell them not to worry, I’m doing all right, I’m doing fine, everything’s great, hope you’re all well, lots of love to Mum and you, how’s my brothers, that sort of stuff. Who rides my bike now? Yes.
Why

06:11:30:00

would you include a pinch of sand?
Pardon?
Why would you include a pinch of sand?
Well Dad might wake up, he’d say, “Geez, he must be in the desert somewhere.” And then it’d be in the news we’d be at Tobruk and that, he might have woke up, he probably did. And our letters to us were addressed to our unit overseas, so he knew we were overseas,

06:12:00:00

like. And all that was going on in Greece and Crete, or in Tobruk, he might have thought we were there, well I’d have put blades of grass in then, wouldn’t I? Or a couple of olive seeds. Who edits all this?
It’s

06:12:30:00

not edited. So could you tell me about after you were in the hospital and the convalescent home, how you then got back into …
Convalescent home? Camp.
Camp.
I wasn’t that old, I was only twenty.
How did you get back into Tobruk?
Well I went back to Alexandria by train, with other troops of course,

06:13:00:00

and then they took us by truck out to El Amiriya which is about three miles outside of Alexandria, and we were camped, and across the road was a big place, a white house, and that’s where General Blamey lived, in that house, whether he was there at the time I don’t know. And we stayed there, I wasn’t there long, three or four days,

06:13:30:00

my twenty-first birthday, and then back the next day. We got bombed all the blooming way. I told you, didn’t I? Did I?
Tell me about that.
Well we got up to Ras Salum, and that’s where the German fighters and air force used to come out and attack the ships, the ships had to travel by day to get there at nightfall, so they wouldn’t get there during the day, because they’d be

06:14:00:00

sitting targets, they always got there after dark, so they could go in, unload as soon as they can – could, and out. They never stayed, they just got everything off and took off, to get away from Tobruk before it got light. But Salum, it was daylight, afternoon, so that’s when they used to start bombing, they sent a big force of –

06:14:30:00

well this was a pretty big naval ship I was on, an old auxiliary cruiser, mine layer, the Abdiel, and they sent over the Stukas first the dive bombers, didn’t do any damage, and then they sent the high level blokes, so they didn’t get it, anyway, I think there was a couple of other ships with us.
What’s it like being on board a ship when there’s

06:15:00:00

that kind of air bombing going on?
It’s as if you’re below but I made sure I stayed on deck, I don’t know how many did, because everybody’s got to go below. They put everybody below before they get to that area, but I hid away, I wasn’t go to go down below, I don’t like it. I wanted to give myself a chance, so I sat under a 4.7 ack ack gun

06:15:30:00

and it nearly – well it did deafen me, so the noise of that banging away over your head, about as high as the top of the picture there, and the ship weaving around, you know, evading, and I took my boots off, that’s when I thought, “Well if I go in I won’t have my boots on, I’ll be able to swim to land,” it was about two or three mile I suppose, you could see the coast,

06:16:00:00

I might have made it, no sharks there. But we got through it all right, but it’s a nasty feeling because you’re defenceless, well the ship wasn’t, but I was.
How much longer were you in Tobruk?
Till December, August the

06:16:30:00

15th to – we got back to Palestine about the 21st of December.
Could you tell me about leaving Tobruk, finally leaving Tobruk?
Well when it was all over they just got a convoy of trucks and we all got in the trucks and off we went, through the desert, took a couple of days, and so we

06:17:00:00

got to the rail head and then we went on the train, to go back to Palestine.
What was the feeling of leaving after all that time?
Can’t say I was sorry, no it was good really, I just felt I think, at the time, well that’s over,

06:17:30:00

came through it OK, so, wonder what’s on the cards next? We thought we’d be coming home and we would have been if Rommel hadn’t attacked. We were in Syria and we were expecting to go home, we would have come home then because of the Japs. But things got desperate and they had to keep us there, which was bad luck for a lot of our men.

06:18:00:00

Still, that battle was run by the 9th Divvy and the 21st Islanders division, they took the brunt as well, ten days they lasted, we had five thousand six hundred and ninety five casualties, and they had five thousand four hundred and ninety six.

06:18:30:00

I think you’ll find that, it’s correct, in the records. And in the whole campaign the division had seven thousand three hundred casualties. It’s a lot, isn’t it? Yes, I went through the four months without ten minutes away. I was away for an hour, I had a tooth out, had a toothache, so I went to

06:19:00:00

battalion headquarters and they dumped me in a truck and I went back about a mile and a half, and there was a bit of dust blowing around at the time, and I came to this truck with hood over it, and there was a kitchen chair sitting there, beside the truck, on the lee side, and he dumped me in that, picked the needle up, shoved it in, picked the things up, I thought he was pulling my head off, honestly, strewth, and it was

06:19:30:00

an abscess on the tooth, so I rinsed my mouth out, he put me on a truck and I went back to the mob, God, I had a sore mouth for about a fortnight. I had nothing – we had a bit of water there though, and the food wasn’t too bad, because we were only about twenty-five miles from Cairo.
Whereabouts were you based at this time, with the toothache?

06:20:00:00

I was in the front line then, had this toothache and I had to get it out, so I raced up to my battalion headquarters and I was back in what, two hours?
I might just take you back to Tobruk for a moment. I understand that you were under Polish command at some point?
They were attached to the Carpathian

06:20:30:00

Brigade, because they had two battalions, we were short of one battalion, and they couldn’t bring any more up because they weren’t bringing any more reinforcements, because all the troops were needed then for the imminent attack, or the ultimate attack of Wavell’s, the New Zealanders and British troops, and so we got attached to them for two months, got a medal for it

06:21:00:00

too.
What was that?
A Polish medal, I’ve got it inside. Well they granted us this medal not long after the war, but with all the trouble in Poland they never got round to – so that must be ten years ago now. I went down to the Polish Embassy in Sydney and got it stuck on there

06:21:30:00

by the Polish Ambassador. Funny thing, there was lovely food there too, beautiful stuff, and I’m very partial to good food, and they had all this red wine and white wine, and the Polish blokes said, “Can’t understand why you blokes are not drinking the red wine.” We all seemed to be drinking the white, I was too. I think the red wine’s heavier, if you

06:22:00:00

want to drink a lot, you go for the white. Just remember that.
I’ll keep it in mind. Now when you were with the Poles, could you explain what kind of work you did under their …?
Yes, well they were in their sectors, we didn’t see a lot of them really. We did relieve them once in the sector in the east –

06:22:30:00

not the Derna – the Derna sector, and that was all steep gullies, the Germans were on top of these gullies, we were on this – and it was impossible to attack, because it was so steep, you know? And it was pretty quiet there really, that’s why they put us there. They used to do a bit of shelling down there, bit of machine gun stuff and all that.

06:23:00:00

And on the beach, there was a beach there separating us, couldn’t swim there of course, a bit dangerous, and there was a big round land mine, one of those big ones, sitting there, and we used to take potshots at that, see who could set it off. Nobody could hit it, you could hit the mine but you couldn’t hit where the fuses are. And somebody did one day, and up she went, wasn’t anybody there, of course.
How big was

06:23:30:00

the explosion from that mine?
Really big, sinks ships. Must have got loose of its towing or what held it there, and drifted in. A bit of fun.
How else would you try and relax while you were in Tobruk?
Pardon?
How else would you try and relax while you were in Tobruk, was there any time that you could spare?

06:24:00:00

Well in the blue line – where you were supposed to – but there wasn’t nothing there, it was only doovers and it was close to the – well it wasn’t close, it’d be about five hundred metres, I suppose, half a mile, but they used to do a lot of bombing there, and you know, bombs miss and we’d get the ones that went astray, so it

06:24:30:00

wasn’t really healthy, but it was healthier than the front. We used to get – we got a water allowance of brackish water, and in little drums, you know, and we were pretty grubby, so we put our groundsheet on – dug a hole in the ground about that big,

06:25:00:00

put your groundsheet on it, waterproof side up, push it in the hole, strip off, stand on the – put your water in, have a shave, if you had a razor, if you had a toothbrush you cleaned your teeth, then you’d wash yourself, sponge yourself down, you’d dry in the sun, and then you’d wash

06:25:30:00

your socks and your shirt or whatever, we never wore singlets, never wore underpants, because you couldn’t wash them any, shirts and shorts. By the time you washed your socks, it was near like mud, you know? But that’s the only time we had a bit of a wash. Yes.
How often would you get the chance to do that?
Not very often, not very often. We couldn’t spare the water, even the

06:26:00:00

brackish stuff. Yes, I think I had one swim while I was there. They brought a couple of trucks up, put the platoon in the trucks, went down the beach, which is lucky you didn’t get any bombing then, went down the beach, had a good swim, rubbed yourself with sand, we had no soap, getting it off your

06:26:30:00

hands was the worst, you know, you couldn’t get it out of your nails or anything, but you’d rub yourself with sand, the real dirty parts, and have a swim. The trouble is there’s so much dust in Tobruk, they took us on the dusty roads back, and the dust was that fine, and the awnings over the trucks, and the back’s open, and the dust always comes up and goes straight

06:27:00:00

in. Then when we got back we were dirty as we went. Might have been fresher underneath the dust, that’s about all. It had it’s bright side, I suppose. We used to get a cigarette issue once a week, I forget how many packets. I never liked smoking anyway, but I used to have an odd one. But I was pretty popular with my mates, the

06:27:30:00

heavy smokers, especially the older fellows. Some would just stick their heads up and say, “Hey Chum, have you got any cigarettes there?” So I’d sling them across, whatever I had. I’m not saying they’re good blokes or anything, I just didn’t want them anyway. I never liked ‘smokes’. I took on a pipe once, yes, I used to keep putting it beside

06:28:00:00

the bed in camp, I’d get up in the morning and have a smoke. I bought about three pipes and gave them away.
When we think of Tobruk now, we think of the men who were in that siege, could you talk a little bit about the camaraderie that developed under those conditions?
Well, there wouldn’t be any better camaraderie than those troops in the world, in my opinion.

06:28:30:00

I mean it wouldn’t matter if you were a total stranger from another battalion, it was Australian and that was it, and he was your mate. You just looked on it like that. Oh yes, and when you lost a mate it was bad. Bloody upsetting. Like Stan Shumach, he got killed, he was a good mate. His best

06:29:00:00

mate was Billy Smith, they were both tall blokes, well built, nice looking blokes. He got drowned, wounded at Ed Duda, he got drowned in the ship, Bill Smith. Stan Shumach was a lovely bloke, a really good mate, and he was – we came off the landing ships at Finschhafen,

06:29:30:00

I had a Bren gun, and he was there, about that distance, I just saw him, bang, down he went, never moved. I couldn’t stop, I just kept going. But he was dead. Shame. A lot of other blokes too, of course. I took a patrol out at

06:30:00:00

Alamein, and eleven, twelve of us, I didn’t do any good, I was supposed to knock out a five inch mortar which was creating havoc, but we got on top of this bit of a ridge, only shallow, it might only be six foot, you know, a slope up, bit of high ground, rocky, and I sent us to

06:30:30:00

‘scarper’ across, it was about fifty metres I suppose, bending down, running across there, but he must have spotted us with night glasses, you know. And all these flares went up, I thought, “Strewth, down.” So we all flattened ourselves, but then he opened up with all these mortars, and wounded seven blokes. I called it off then, when he stopped, we just had to stay there, wounded and all. So we

06:31:00:00

got back on the deep ground. A couple of blokes were fairly serious, but we got them back, and there was five of them walking, shoulder and arms, and the other blokes had leg wounds so we had to carry them. A couple of blokes carried all the rifles and stuff. So it was a hard job getting them back. When I got back the

06:31:30:00

officer, Wally Birmingham and old Jim Evans, they’d both been wounded while I was away, and some of the other fellows, with a booby trap. It wasn’t a very good night. But Stan wasn’t with us that night, because he was sick too. They took him out the next night.

06:32:00:00

Don’t know what was wrong with him, he was pretty crook. Jim Evans, Sergeant Evans, he had a – well I had enough hair then, pretty good really, and Jim Evans was bald as a badger, and he was a Pommy bloke,

06:32:30:00

and he was a seaman, he must have been forty, and he looked it too to me, he looked about sixty, and Jim, he brought the Manly ferry out from England, the Dee Why, I think it was, they boarded up the sides and he was telling me one day he worked

06:33:00:00

on – he was a sailor on the Manly ferry, they came from England, built in England, and they got to Trincomalee or somewhere there, and they got the storms when they left there, they had to go back twice, because of the – I mean it was a big ferry, but they’re only big on the ocean, a ship doesn’t look very big in all that expanse of sea. He was an interesting bloke.

06:33:30:00

And in Tobruk we used to say, “How does he keep his blooming head so clean?” Jim. We used to say, “It shines.” He’s got to keep his hat on because he’d be a dead giveaway, you know? So we caught him using drinking water, washing his head. Geez, he copped it for that. But we let him off. He was a good bloke, a little bloke.

06:34:00:00

What do you remember of hearing the news that Japan had entered the war?
Yes, well, where were we then? 1942. That was the end of Alamein then, that ended on 2nd November, the final battle, that was, that started 23rd October, twenty to ten on the night of the

06:34:30:00

23rd, finished ten days later. I don’t know really, I didn’t think much of it really, I thought we were well of that lot.
You said that you thought that you were going to be going home after Tobruk?
Well when we were in Syria we thought we would, yes. Because Japan wasn’t in it.

06:35:00:00

Oh, Japan had come in then, yes, it was after Alamein. When we were in Syria we thought, definitely going home, even on the train, going into Egypt, it either turned left to the port, or port – what was the port there? I can’t think now, or you turn – go straight on up to the desert,

06:35:30:00

and we were almost crossing our fingers there, we never knew really, we knew Rommel was attacking, but in our hearts we knew we wouldn’t, but we were all hoping, everybody was waiting for that. And then we went straight on, and we knew then.
What did you know about Rommel?
He was a good soldier. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, I think

06:36:00:00

all the division did, everybody. And he was a humane bloke, never ill-treated prisoners, treated the wounded well, he was good to his own troops, he was a real good general, I mean I wouldn’t have cared if he’d have been in our – he’d have been a good acquisition for us, he was popular. We knew he was out to win the battles, you know, that was a general’s

06:36:30:00

job.
How well equipped were the Germans compared to you?
They were well equipped, yes, they were well equipped. They had the best gun in the war, the 88 millimetre, it was fantastic, it was anti-tank, anti-personnel, and anti-infantry, you know, like high explosive.

06:37:00:00

It had three sections, armour piercing, shrapnel and explosive. You could explode those over the ground about twenty or thirty feet, and you’d see the whole of that area puff up with shrapnel. So when they first brought them out, we started putting tops on our doovers, we had the trench there,

06:37:30:00

and dug a piece out here, enough to get in, say two blokes or three blokes, and then put some whatever you could find on top, and sandbags, in case of shrapnel.
What could you find to put on top?
Well, sand and sandbags full of dust and whatever. And around the doovers you’d stack

06:38:00:00

rocks, we couldn’t get them very deep, you only had a pick and shovel, it was hard, it’s not desert, well it is desert, but it’s not sandy, just dust and rock, and a bit of scrub about that high.
How quickly would you have to dig in?
You’d do it as quick as

06:38:30:00

you could. You’d get down as far as you could in the time you had, and that was it. We had two – I remember we got a couple of reinforcement blokes one night, and the first time in the desert, and, “Where do we go, Corp?” I told them where to dig a little doover for themselves, they had all night to do it,

06:39:00:00

well it was a quiet night, so – in the morning they’d dug a hole about that deep, and they’re both lying in it, and as soon as the German started his ‘morning hate’ then, started shelling, we had three blokes in our small doover, who arrived? Those two were like rockets. I abused them too. Yes.

06:39:30:00

The Italians came up there that night, with fourteen tanks, they lined up ahead of us, we opened up on them with machine guns and rifles, which was pretty hopeless against tanks, but they all turned around and shot through.
Whereabouts was that, Ron?
That was Alamein, in the main push.

06:40:00:00

And it wasn’t nice there. One of my mates, you know the clock up here with the 2/13th on it? His brother lives in Taree, Norm Wilson – Norm Webster. Bert was killed that night, and him and another bloke in their doover, he was a corporal, another section, and

06:40:30:00

he got hit in the stomach, and in the morning, we couldn’t see, there was no correspondence between doovers, you know, and the battalion company headquarters didn’t know this bomb hit the edge, and Bert, and the next morning they tried to get him out, they sent one of these tank – small

06:41:00:00

Bren gun carriers up, with a red cross on it, but only a small one, I’ve always said, “Why don’t they have a big red cross on it?” I’m sure the Germans would have respected it, but no, they probably didn’t see it, it was only a little paint, so they put a shell straight through that, killed two or three blokes, so they couldn’t get Bert out of his – you couldn’t move there, see?

06:41:30:00

And - but Bert was all the time till they found him, holding his stomach in. Christ. Bloody good bloke, too. Pommy bloke, another Pommy bloke. He’d been out here since he was ten, I think, and his family, came out with the family. But a bonzer bloke. His brother made me that clock, sent it up one day as a surprise. Yes.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 07

07:00:33:00

Ron, when the siege was raised at Tobruk, you were supposed to be evacuated by sea, is that right?
That was in October, the Australian forces had been there six months, apart from the time we were up around Benghazi and that, we’d been there six months, so they decided to pull us out, which was fair enough, six months is long enough.

07:01:00:00

So we were the – what do you call it – we were the lowest number, what do you call that, the leading …? I forget now, anyway, so they took all the rest of the battalions, all the Australians out over a couple of weeks. So we were the last to leave, so this particular night the depositor took on trucks, they put us in the wars, the British troops

07:01:30:00

took over our position, and the Polish troops, they stayed there, and they put us around the town, and in some of the caves which were there, and some on the wharf, and we just sat there waiting for the ships to come, for two or three hours. We thought, “It’s getting late in the night, it’ll be daylight before they get us off.”

07:02:00:00

which is dangerous. And ‘Bardia Bill’, had this big gun out there, they fired that every couple of minutes, it was a big gun, they’d probably fire, I don’t know really, every half an hour, and when you’re in the front line you could hear it go boom, out in the desert, it’s a fair way out,

07:02:30:00

long range, and then you’d hear nothing and then you’d hear, whooo, like an express train going through the air, and we knew what it was. And then you’d hear nothing, and then you’d hear whooof, in the town. So he’d be bombing the harbour. But he sent a few of them over, about four or five I suppose, while we were there. Didn’t do any damage to us, but – but then

07:03:00:00

they brought around a ship been sunk and the other damaged, so they took the rest of the convoy back to Alexandria. “What’ll happen to us?” “Oh, we’re staying here now, till the end of the siege.” And funny thing, I read in – they used to drop off the Women’s Weeklys [magazines] and all this stuff you know, sometimes, and you might be lucky to get one. And I remember reading in the Women’s

07:03:30:00

Weekly, “And the boys marched off without making a sound.” What a lot of rubbish, we were whingeing our heads off, abusing the officers. After six months there, who wouldn’t? But I laughed at that, it was funny. But after a couple of hours we just got resigned to it, you know? So they took us up and put us in blue

07:04:00:00

line, then we went up the front line to the quiet spots, they kept us out of the busy bits, which is fair enough, and we did a lot of patrolling there and we did get mixed up in a couple of little things. There was a – there was a - in one position because of the lay of the land, it was a fair distance between the two camps, the two forces,

07:04:30:00

right in the middle was – where the Arabs had had – or the Bedouins had built these little huts as a kind of whatever it was, mud huts, must have been about a dozen of them scattered around, and it was called ‘Bondi’. And we used to go out there of a day for observation, we’d crawl out there during the night, that was about a mile I suppose, we’d get

07:05:00:00

out there during the night, and all get in some of these little huts. There’d be a section, I suppose about eight, nine blokes, we wouldn’t be all in different huts, we’d probably go in two, because it was a bit dangerous, well a bit dangerous anyway because – and we’d have an old pit bearer taking in land and anything he could see, because he could see them there, but he used to shell it, and he used to concentrate on one

07:05:30:00

hut, because they’re a fair way apart, you know, it wasn’t like terraced houses or anything. And he’d drop half a dozen shells round or on one hut, one little house, and we used to think, “Of Christ, it’s going to be us next.” Yes, but it didn’t, he wouldn’t shell them all night because he didn’t want to waste his ammo on it really, he

07:06:00:00

wasn’t sure if there was anybody there or not. I often wonder why he didn’t send half a dozen tanks out? But then our artillery was – and he couldn’t afford them because of the Auck [Auchinleck] attacking down the south, or the east. So that was part of our duties. And one of the big British regiments was putting on an attack there one night,

07:06:30:00

and we were in reserve, behind them, and we were all geared up, and then they called it off. Don’t know why. Might have been good for us, I suppose.
When did you first realise that you’d been called ‘Rats’? That you’d earned this famous reputation?
Lord Haw Haw [William Joyce German radio propagandist]. “You might as well surrender.”

07:07:00:00

He’d say, “Because you’re caught like rats in a trap.” I think it started between us then. Yes. Not a very good name really, is it? Get into trouble for calling somebody a rat, wouldn’t you? Before the war.
So what does it mean to you to be a Tobruk Rat?
I’m pretty proud of it, yes.

07:07:30:00

Now I’m glad I was involved, in all of it. It’s easy to say now though, isn’t it? I was then. Well, I could have been in Sydney eating oysters or something, at Fernandos in Pitt Street, a nice restaurant that one, steak and oysters. But we were there and

07:08:00:00

that was it. I wouldn’t have left the mob anyway, I’m pretty sure of that, not without being sick or something.
So the Germans had advanced, but by the time you got to Alamein the Germans had advanced quite rapidly?
They were twenty-five miles from Cairo. If

07:08:30:00

Alamein had been lost in July, it started in July, if it had been lost then, that would have been the end of the Middle East, they’d have gone straight through to Cairo.
Was there a sense in Cairo and the rest of Egypt of how fragile it was?
I don’t know really, I can’t tell. Up there you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes much. I

07:09:00:00

know King Farouk, he was on the Germans’ side, well he would have been, he’d have greeted them with open arms. King Farouk. What was his wife’s name? Queen Farida. It was, yes. They reckon she was a good sort, too.
What did you think of the Egyptian women?
They were all right, they were

07:09:30:00

nice people, same as anybody else, aren’t they? Never run down a lady.
Did you think they were good sorts?
Beg your pardon? Yes actually I did meet one, she was about nineteen I suppose. I went – nothing serious, but relocation, you know? They had a big mansion in the

07:10:00:00

good part of the city, for the troops, the All Services Club, I think they called it, the United Forces Club. And you used to get good meals there, cheap, and you could have a good shower there and all this stuff, you know, have a shave, hair cut if you wanted it. But I didn’t because I wasn’t there long enough. And I saw this girl on the veranda, she waved, so I waved back.

07:10:30:00

So next thing I see her coming out the front door with a little white dog. So I went for a walk with her down the park, and I did that for about four days. That’s all. Her name was Samiha, nice girl. A doctor’s daughter.
Could she speak English?
Yes, yes. Yes, she was quite pleasant, it was a nice break

07:11:00:00

for me, to talk to a lady, you know, she was a lady, she was educated. Well I don’t say you’re not ladies, I mean to me, my mother brought me up – my mother was pretty strict about women, she always told me that any woman is a lady, to be treated with respect, which I’ve always tried to do. She was a nice person. Often

07:11:30:00

wonder what happened to her. Probably married to another well-to-do bloke. Her Dad would have taken a dim view of the whole thing, I reckon. I never met the Dad of course.
How much experience had you had with women before you were in the Middle East?
Limited, wasn’t much

07:12:00:00

leave, I think we had ten days after Alamein, ten days after Tobruk, and the rest was just odd weekends, that’s all. So people think that you’re in these cities over there all the time, leave all the time, but it’s not. They’re not real – how much leave would I have had? Well the one after –

07:12:30:00

after Tobruk, I had ten or twelve days leave, but I finished up having two, because I got mixed up in a bit of a riot in a hotel, and I finished up getting lumbered and put in the peter.
Can you tell me about that Ron? What happened?
Well there was three of us, battalion butcher,

07:13:00:00

Corporal Goodlet, a Scot fellow, and myself. And we got pretty – had a few, we went in there and the Jew wouldn’t serve us because he reckoned we were too drunk,

07:13:30:00

so the butcher, he was a madman, and he jobbed him too, and it was full of Pommies and New Zealanders, somebody else started something and it finished up a big shindig, a bit riot, everybody – like you see in the movies, that’s what it was like. Of course the three of us were involved, and I thought,

07:14:00:00

I was starting to get my senses and I thought, “It’s time to get out of here, I reckon.” Because all them coppers will be coming soon. So it was at Piccadilly Café, it’s a big place inside,

07:14:30:00

and there was about thirty steps up to it, about as wide as this, and I grabbed the other two and said, “Come on, let’s go.” And we just got the – pulled the black-out screens back and looked down, and there was about twenty Australian provos coming up here, and about twenty red caps, Pommies, coming up here. So we ducked inside, got mixed up with the mob, and the Jew was there, at the door was the captain of the red caps, pointed us out, you know, we’re ducking around, but they finished up grabbing us, we couldn’t get out, see? They were at the main door, couldn’t find the back door.

07:15:00:00

And I don’t think I touched the steps going down, about six of them had me. The next thing I landed with a thump in the back of the wagon, and so did the butcher. But the corporal, he got away, good luck to him. And it was snowing, there was about six inches of snow on the ground there, in

07:15:30:00

Jerusalem, and we finished up in this cell, with a – just stonework, and a wooden bed with a couple of blankets, freezing, and a big arch window, had bars on it, but no glass, and the snow was coming through the window. Freezing. Oh geez. We got into

07:16:00:00

trouble over that.
How long were you in the jail for?
Overnight, they took us back to our battalion, but I missed out on all the leave, I didn’t get it. I finished up facing the court, but that was about six months later, and the defending officer,

07:16:30:00

he got about eight blokes out, all looked like me and the other fellow, blondes, I was a blond then, and he was a red-head, he got a couple of red-heads, found them, lined them all up and me in the middle or somewhere, and the Jew’s walking up and down, no, couldn’t pick us. So that was the end of that.

07:17:00:00

What were you actually charged with? Do you remember?
Causing a riot and destruction of property. I didn’t do all of it, all the mob did it.
Was that after Alamein?
That was after Tobruk, we were all mad then though. When we got back to the camp it was Hill 69,

07:17:30:00

had a bit of a battle there in the first war, the Lighthorse, Hill 69, and when we got back there they closed the camp, nobody allowed out for a week or so, I forget how long. They opened up the wet canteens for twenty-four hours a day, and they knew we’d want some grog, and they had all the Christmas parcels there, all our mail,

07:18:00:00

which had been there for weeks and weeks, and a mountain of parcels, and we lived on beer and cake and Christmas puddings and stuff from the parcels for about ten days, and it rained the whole time, poured down, there was about four inches of mud everywhere, all the air raid trenches were full of water, and on the level parts you couldn’t tell the ground from the

07:18:30:00

slip trenches, and blokes were disappearing in them, and you’d get all the beer and take it back to your tent. And after ten days – they had these wicker beds, the cane, looked lovely when you walked in the tent, when we got there, blankets, after ten days there they were all trampled in the ground, the blankets were covered in mud.

07:19:00:00

Gee, what a mess, and then they called a halt, that was it, they got it out of our systems. It was a good idea, it’s not good depriving blokes a bottle of beer after eight months, because there wasn’t any liquor in Tobruk, see? We used to get a drop of rum about once a week or a fortnight, which wasn’t much. So we let our heads go there. I’ll never forget that mud there, it was like

07:19:30:00

Flanders.
So in between these ferocious campaigns that you were involved in, how important was it to be able to get drunk or have contact with women?
I don’t know anything about that. Use your imagination. Yes well, it was important.

07:20:00:00

Like that girl, the Egyptian girl, that was fabulous, I mean we never did anything intimate or anything like that, we just talked, and that was really good therapy for me, only about four days. Really great. I’ll never forget that. And there was nothing between us at all, just like friends, meeting and talking. It was great.

07:20:30:00

It was good therapy. Yes, it was nice. Could have been nicer of course.
You’re cheeky, Ron. We could talk

07:21:00:00

about Alamein and what you remember about that initial bombardment. What’s your first memory of …?
Of Alamein?
Yes.
The worst day of my life in Alamein, it was in July, when the 28th battalion attacked German forces, which they predicted was – with fifty-odd tanks, British tanks, came in, that battalion went through us, we took over their positions about

07:21:30:00

one o’clock in the morning the night before, and they attacked the next afternoon, and the tanks came in from each side, but the Germans were in strong force, because they were expecting an attack there. And probably our attack was his loss, probably stopped him from attacking at the time. The 28th battalion went in with all their anti-tank guns and all this stuff, and they got annihilated

07:22:00:00

by German tanks and we lost fifty tanks there. And the only men that came back from the battalion was about fifty that escaped and filtered back through the lines. And the last message they got from their commander was that the position was hopeless and he’d have to surrender to save what was left of the men. Yes.

07:22:30:00

And I was in a trench with Ted Loren, he was a really good mate of mine, and Charlie Rayner, Charlie was a – only just joined us, it was his first action, and he was shelling us pretty heavily there in case there was another mob coming behind, to follow through, and Charlie wouldn’t bring his head down. I remember Ted saying, “You’ll get your blooming head blown off Charlie, if you don’t keep it down.”

07:23:00:00

And we were in this – it was about that big I suppose, three of us, about that wide, not much room, three big blokes, Charlie was big, Ted Loren used to play football for Wollongong, as a forward, so he was no lightweight, and Charlie put his head up and blew the top half of his head off. Piece of shrapnel. And we put a blanket over poor Charlie,

07:23:30:00

couldn’t do anything else, he was dead, instantly. And we sat there till it was over, with bits of Charlie stuck on our clothes, his head and that. What a bad day. That was the worst day I had.

07:24:00:00

He was only eighteen too. But we were getting on a bit, I was twenty-two then. Anyway, what were we talking about?
What do you think went wrong at Ruin Ridge?
Pardon?
What do you think went wrong at Ruin Ridge? Is that what you were …?
Yes, Ruin Ridge, yes. We were out-manoeuvred, they had too much

07:24:30:00

force there, too many guns, 88 millimetres, best gun in the war, especially if they were anti-tank, and it was too strong, defence was too good, and their tanks were better than ours at the time, so there you are, you win some you lose some. But we lost – the

07:25:00:00

28th we lost a lot there, the rest were taken prisoners of course. There’s no point in getting them all killed, is there? Then they called for volunteers to go to the 28th and create a new battalion. They took a lot of reinforcements, but they wanted a nucleus of experienced blokes. I didn’t go, but one of my good mates did, Peter

07:25:30:00

Love. He died a couple of years ago, three years ago, lived down in Nambucca. Good man. I cried at his funeral. Very good bloke, a good mate. Anyway, what were we going on about?
We were talking about Alamein.

07:26:00:00

Yes. That was our biggest battle during the war. New Guinea was worse conditions, but not big battles involving – I know the battle was won by – even Montgomery said we could never have won that battle so quickly, ten days, without the Australian 9th Division. And they

07:26:30:00

give the 21st Islanders just as much of a rap as well, they were good, that division, they went in with us. There was – one thing I said before, we had in that ten days we had two thousand six hundred and ninety-five casualties, they had two thousand four hundred and ninety six,

07:27:00:00

and in the former campaign our division had seven thousand three hundred. It’s a lot, isn’t it, four months? I never got a wound either, amazing isn’t it? My platoon was all wiped out except me, in the ten days. There were a lot wounded of course, forty blokes, forty-one blokes, I was the only one who survived in my

07:27:30:00

platoon. Didn’t leave me much to lead, did it?
What does happen then, if you’re the only one left standing in your platoon and you’re the platoon leader? What happened?
Well actually, two or three days before we formed one platoon out of the company, it was only – there was about a

07:28:00:00

hundred and twenty-three I think went into the battle, and there was twenty left, so we formed one platoon, three sections out of that, which is small, about seven blokes on each. But the last two or three days we didn’t do much because we didn’t have the manpower. And then the Germans took off one night and everything went quiet, and that was it. Funny thing, next morning, the first morning

07:28:30:00

after the Germans left, because the main forces were all behind us, ready to – as soon as the Germans broke, they went after him. There was two hundred and forty thousand blokes involved, but the main battles revolved around the Scottish Division and the 9th Division. We had the hardest sector. So we had to break him in the attack, and that was his strongest, that was the point.

07:29:00:00

So if we could break him at his strongest point, you were right, which is what happened.
What sort of aerial support did you have at Alamein, Ron?
We had plenty of air support there, yes, and plenty – because we had anti-guns and anti-tank and everything there, it would have been a different story if we were equal pegging, but it wasn’t, we had the power.

07:29:30:00

So what’s it like looking back on Alamein now, given what you said, how critical it was in terms of saving the Middle East and the price that the Australians paid?
Yes, it’s sad, war, isn’t it? We will get involved in these flaming wars, you’d think the world would wake up, wouldn’t

07:30:00:00

you? But they don’t, do they? Greed.
Do you want to move on? Shall we talk about leaving the Middle East?
Whatever you like.
So how did you come

07:30:30:00

to leave the Middle East and receive your orders that you were coming back to Australia to prepare for a new campaign?
Oh well, they told us then we were going home, yes. So we went – they took us down to some lake where all the ships were, I forget now, by train, and we got on – well the five big ships were there, the

07:31:00:00

Queen Mary, Aquitania, Mauritania, to take us home again. I went right through that campaign, and then I got sick on Christmas Day, I couldn’t eat my Christmas dinner, I just left it, couldn’t, I was that crook. I woke up that crook, and so I just walked in the RAP [Regimental Aid Post], I had jaundice,

07:31:30:00

that’s a sort of a meningitis, isn’t it? So I got stuck in the hospital, British hospital there, and the fellows left about two or three weeks later, they took the odds and sods, I was getting better then, and I finished up on a British naval ship with the other blokes who’d been crook.

07:32:00:00

That was a good trip home, but I could see the Aquitania across the water, where all my battalion was, which I would have loved to have been on there. But it was good on the British ship, used to serve up meals like the Yanks in the tray with different departments, and we used to get a couple of bottles of beer with our meal every night, and I did all right. All the

07:32:30:00

non-drinkers, I used to be friends with them, not with the ones that wasn’t paying for it though. But a lot of blokes would just give it to you. So I used to get a few of the other blokes and we’d share it, get in a corner somewhere. It was a good trip, we landed at

07:33:00:00

Western Australia, where is it, Perth, Fremantle? Didn’t get off the boat then because the Queen Mary had to get into the harbour. No, that’s right, I got off the naval ship there, put me on the Queen Mary again, the one I went over on. So I got on there, I didn’t know anybody on there of course, the battalion was still on the

07:33:30:00

Aquitania, came back to Sydney on the Queen Mary. Had a cabin with four men, four of us, not so much of a squeeze.
So were you back with your mates then?
Yes, I went up to the hospital, I think I was there two or three days, they gave me a clearance, then I went back to the

07:34:00:00

battalion. Had seven weeks leave then. We always said we’d go to Fernandos in Pitt Street, nice restaurant there, not there now of course, we’d all have a big steak and a dozen oysters, which we did, about ten of us. Yes.
Did you

07:34:30:00

talk about – when you went out with your mates and you got back together in Sydney after being separated and …
Didn’t talk about the war no, talked about all the nice things, not war, that was out.
How long did you have on leave before you began to prepare for New Guinea?
I had seven weeks in Sydney after being away two and a half years,

07:35:00:00

seven weeks, and then we went up to the Atherton Tablelands, I think it took us about four days on the same train. I think we changed trains down the bottom of the mountain, and then got a train up through the Tablelands.
Could you notice an American presence in

07:35:30:00

Australia, in Queensland by the time you got back?
Yes, there was nearly a riot on the way up, we were stopped at some place, and a Yankee train stopped opposite, right beside us. They go on like a lot of smart-arses, and we took umbrage at what they were saying, “We’re winning the war for you boys.” And all this rubbish, “Couldn’t beat time with a walking

07:36:00:00

stick.” And they’re not as good as our troops mate, don’t worry about that, man for man. So we invaded theirs and started throwing a few fisticuffs, you know, till they broke it up. The trains took off, stopped at Coffs Harbour, all off the train, up the pub down there, Chatty,

07:36:30:00

don’t know if we got any grog or not, got some wine I suppose, I think we did, that’s about all.
How worried were men about their girlfriends or wives running off with American servicemen?
I don’t know, I didn’t have to worry, I didn’t leave any – I knew girls, but

07:37:00:00

I didn’t leave any I was madly in love with or anything.
Do you think any of your mates were worried about it, who had more serious …?
Well quite a few of our blokes were married, see? Like the other blokes, Harry Kendrick, Tommy Ward, quite a few of them. Bill McCaskill, they were blokes in their thirties, they had children. Yes, a big worry for them, and their

07:37:30:00

families. I think most of the time they’d be worrying about their families worrying. Yes. Quite a few blokes married. But there you are.
So what sort of training did you have once you got to Atherton, given that you were preparing for somewhere completely different?
Jungle

07:38:00:00

training, we spent a lot of time in the jungle, and the jungle up there is worse than the jungle in New Guinea, rotten jungle, full of leeches, big leeches, and these big – these vines with big leaves, and if they hit you they stick to you and they sting you. Yes, pretty thick, and muddy,

07:38:30:00

just like New Guinea, in fact a little bit worse, I thought. But we used to get the red mites up there, they gave you disease and that, and all the stuff in the water, you had to put about five [purification] tablets in when you filled your water bottle. The water looked good, but it had hookworm and all that stuff in it, from the villages I suppose.

07:39:00:00

But we never saw – all the time I was in New Guinea, I never saw one native, they were there for the 6th Divvy or the 7th, Kokoda and all that, but it all disappeared from the coastal regions.
Why do you think that was?
To get away from the war and the Japs, I suppose. I don’t blame them, they just went inland somewhere

07:39:30:00

I suppose.
We talked about what sort of soldier the Germans and the Italians were, while you were at Atherton, what sort of instructions were you getting about what to expect from the Japanese?
Well all the stories about how they were treating our prisoners were starting to filter through then, and we really developed a great hate for them then, because they were doing shocking things, weren’t they? And

07:40:00:00

in New Guinea there wasn’t any quarter there, no quarter. We didn’t take prisoners and nor did they, just shoot them, anyone – just shoot them, that was it. And I didn’t care either, at the time. And they’re the same now, they’re our biggest threat, I reckon.
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 08

08:00:33:00

Ron, I just wanted to ask you a bit about the training that you did for jungle warfare. How different was it to what you had been used to in the desert?
Totally different, wasn’t it? From desert to jungle, the two extremes really. Both – well the jungles are good for the environment with all the oxygen and stuff, you know, the trees? But the

08:01:00:00

desert’s a real dead loss, isn’t it? Well it couldn’t have been from one extreme to another, and I’d sooner be in the desert than the jungle, because the jungle conditions, you know, all the things you can pick up, tropical ulcers, malaria, not in Queensland, but in New Guinea.

08:01:30:00

And what was the – the disease from the little red bugs, they used to get out of the Kunai grass, and it was fatal in a lot of cases. In most cases you got over it, but I know a couple of our blokes died of it, something fever, a certain fever, I forget now. Just like malaria, it made you really crook, I’ll think of it

08:02:00:00

later.
Was it dengue fever?
Pardon?
Was it dengue fever?
Dengue, yes. And there was another one as well, fever, yes, dengue fever. There was a little red mite in the kunai grass.
In terms of the equipment that you had when you were training in North Queensland, how did that change?
The equipment?
Yes.
Well we just got jungle greens, with long – used shorts a lot in the Middle East of

08:02:30:00

course, and we wore uniforms a lot there because it was so cold at night, and a dry, hot heat during the day, you couldn’t imagine the two extremes, because you’d need your full uniform on to go on patrols, and you’d probably put a balaclava on. Some men would wear on reconnaissance they’d wear overcoats, but I never wore an overcoat on patrol because –

08:03:00:00

because too much incumbrance there, you know, if you had to move quick and you had hand grenades, I just had my uniform with a scarf and a balaclava, I tried to leave my tin hat on, just go out without one, if I could get away with it. Because they’re a menace as well.
Why was that?

08:03:30:00

I don’t know, but they flop around a bit and there wasn’t – like the American ones sit right down, these sit just around there, you know? And you had to wear the strap behind your head, not under your chin, which held it down firm, because if anything hit the tin hat with any force,

08:04:00:00

like that way, it could break your neck. So we to wear the strap around the back to that it would come off easy. So it wasn’t as secure as having a chin strap.
How long did you spend in North Queensland training?
We must have spent about three or four months, I suppose. We were in the jungle a lot, route marches and other training in

08:04:30:00

camp too, like weapon training and we had a lot of training with the fire thing – what do you call them? You know, the ones they shoot all the flames out.
The ‘flame-thrower’ – was it the flame …?
Flame thrower, yes. I didn’t like training with them.

08:05:00:00

Why was that?
It looked a bit dangerous, there was enough danger around without having those. But still we trained with them anyway. But we were lucky we never struck any, so pretty lucky there. I think if the jungle’s thick, you’d have to get out in the clear to use it anyway.

08:05:30:00

Could you tell me about leaving Australia for New Guinea, and where you left from and that journey over?
We left – we went up to North Queensland and we left from there in ships, Cairns I think, if I remember. We went up to Milne Bay, there’d been a battle there before, but it was in our hands then, we were at Milne Bay getting a bit acclimatised

08:06:00:00

there for three or four weeks, and then we were training there for – well at Cairns we trained a lot in Cairns for amphibious landings on Trinity Beach, ever been there? It’s all buildings now, isn’t it? But it was all swamp then, and we’d get off our naval ships in landing craft, land on the beach there, and get through the

08:06:30:00

jungle there. It was all jungle there, and swamp, and all that sort of stuff. We trained there for quite a while, and then we went to Milne Bay, we were there for not a long time, about three or four weeks, and then we took off in the LCIs, landing craft infantry, and landed in Lae.
I might ask you about Lae a little

08:07:00:00

bit later. I just wanted to ask about your impressions of Milne Bay, you said it obviously had been the point of the battle before, what condition was it in when you got there?
Well the same as the rest of New Guinea, it looked all jungle, you know, the same sort of area, not much difference up there really, unless it’s all been cleared and you know, like Cairns, Trinity Beach, it was all swamp and – terrible really,

08:07:30:00

you wouldn’t think they’d ever build there, but it’s all big buildings now, isn’t it? Yes.
And what was your camp like at Milne Bay.
The camp was – you know the road, I suppose the road’s still there, we were on the shore side of the road, flat country, and tents, usual camp, but a lot of snakes there, tiger snakes,

08:08:00:00

you wouldn’t make your bed before you got home, if you went into town, you know? You’d make it before you got in, because of the tiger snakes. In those days there were a lot there, there wouldn’t be so many now of course. And Black Mountain is around that area where the camp was. We used to train on Black Mountain, and I reckon when we were charging up there with rifle and bayonets, it was more like climbing up a cliff,

08:08:30:00

it was so steep. And they had blokes on the top with blanks in their rifles, firing down the orders. But I tell you what, it was good training, up that mountain, Black Mountain. So that was the extent of our training with the amphibious stuff. And Black Mountain, all the usual training.
This was still in North Queensland, or

08:09:00:00

this was at Milne Bay?
Yes, North Queensland, yes. Cairns. Different place then to what it is now.
And the trip over on the ship, what kind of expectations did you have about what you were going to?
Well, I wasn’t looking forward to it really, after the jungle in the Tablelands, I knew it’d be

08:09:30:00

similar, so I thought it was going to be a slog, that’s what I really thought. But still, it had to be done up there, with them Japs there. They say the Yanks saved us during the war, I reckon the blokes – our blokes on the Kokoda Trail saved Australia.
How much news were you getting about what was happening in New Guinea?
How much were we getting?

08:10:00:00

Well I suppose we were getting what was going on, and what we were allowed to know, and what battles were being fought, where our fellows were, like other regiments, so I think they kept us pretty informed on what was going on around New Guinea, and Guadalcanal and the other places there, we were getting the news from them, they were giving us that.

08:10:30:00

You’d already been through an enormous amount at Tobruk and Alamein in the Middle East, how battle-weary were you at this time, knowing that you were going into another domain?
I don’t know, I was only, what, twenty-two, I was pretty fit, we’d had a few – we’d had leave and we were up in the Tablelands there and we had a good camp there, and the Barwon River, is it

08:11:00:00

Barwon? That ran through there and we had a big swimming pool there, not man-built, in the river, with a big cliff on one side, diving off into this deep pool, it was pretty deep, but there’d be snakes in that. But I wasn’t much – I could swim well, but I wasn’t a good diver,

08:11:30:00

but I used to – I was stupid enough to dive off it, and land on my belly most of the time, and I had a black belly, black and blue, bruised. I gave it away then, learning to dive, I just jumped, finished up with a black bottom, bruised. I could jump off all right,

08:12:00:00

it was good fun. We used to play two-up in our spare time, if we had the money.
And the trip over to Milne Bay, what were the conditions like on board the ship?
It was just – it wasn’t a long trip see, not like going to the Middle East, but it was just an ordinary cargo ship, with,

08:12:30:00

with a – what do you call them?
Hammocks?
Hammocks, they were all around the deck, you could stay on deck if you wanted to, unless there was an air raid, but there wasn’t any so – yes. We landed there, we didn’t lose a lot of men there, which is pretty good, because the Japs all went up to Markham Valley, they thought the main

08:13:00:00

attack would be in Markham Valley, we had a 7th Divvy landed by plane on the airstrip there, and they left a skeleton force there in Lae, which was overcome pretty easily, and we made our way up into the tracks and up in the hills a bit, but the Japs, we didn’t encounter

08:13:30:00

them really a lot there, because they were all up the Markham Valley, which the 7th Divvy got a lot of them there, and I’m sure they wouldn’t show any mercy, I hope. Then we wasn’t there more than a few days and we landed at Finschhafen, which was a totally different story. They were right on the beach,

08:14:00:00

and the beach wouldn’t have been any – wouldn’t have been much wider than this, and they were right in the scrub there. We lost a few blokes there, and the trouble is the Yankee blokes, they took us in on the these LCIs, but we were in about five foot of water then, didn’t take them right up on the beach, and we lost a couple of blokes with base plates, mortar base plates on their backs,

08:14:30:00

short blokes, drowned. And then we had to get off the beach quick, because they were right on, just in the scrub. That’s where Alan Sanders, a mate of mine got killed there. And Peter Love, a fellow named Backer, he was a stretcher bearer, and one of our stretcher bearers was –

08:15:00:00

no, it wasn’t our – it was another stretcher bearer from another company, was tending a wounded bloke, Alan Brock his name was, he was a stretcher bearer, tending a wounded bloke on the beach, and a sniper in the trees shot him, wounded him, luckily, and Peter Love grabbed the soldier’s rifle, the one that was wounded, and it had a full magazine, and he came from the bush, that’s the fellow who said his

08:15:30:00

address was west of the Darling, and he was a good shot, but he was a stretcher bearer and never carried a rifle, but he did a lot in the bush type of thing, and he stood over the two men, and he had an idea where the sniper was, and he fired the whole magazine into it with the rifle, and he got him. Now that’s a brave act, isn’t it? Because that sniper could have got him, easily.

08:16:00:00

Yes. I didn’t know anything about that till later, I was too busy, but I got the whole story from Brocky later, it was great. I cried at his funeral. I don’t think I’ve cried at anybody’s else’s, but he was such a good bloke. Anyway.
Well I just wanted to ask you

08:16:30:00

about the preparations for the landing at Lae, first of all. Would you explain what it was like to leave Milne Bay and make your way to Lae?
Well, it was our first time, first amphibious landing, we’d never done one before, so I knew that you could get a lot of casualties, you know, on the beaches, like Gallipoli, and any of the other landings, you know?

08:17:00:00

But we were lucky at Lae, we got there early in the morning, daylight, and the navy was there, and they bombarded it all, you know, which helped, and then while the bombardment was on we all went up each side of the LCIs and there’s a ladder down each

08:17:30:00

side, not a ladder, but a ramp, and we just raced down the ramp and into the water and onto the beach. But we were in pretty deep water, it was hard to get out of there, and I had my Bren gun, half a dozen magazine in my pouches, you know, a haversack with food, sort of stuff in, rations, a bit of weight.

08:18:00:00

You know what a Bren gun is? I carried a Bren gun all the time I was in New Guinea. So we won the battle of the beaches there, went in, landed and then we went straight up into the hills. Then we got up to the top which was a bit of a climb, we were climbing up the roots of trees, you know, that were sticking out,

08:18:30:00

it was like that. That was a drag, for me with a Bren gun. Well we helped each other a bit too. So we got up there on the escarpment and we turned left, our job was to go straight down as far as we could,

08:19:00:00

come in, land and encircle the Japanese. We could see the Japs down the bottom at times, on the tracks, too far away for rifles. But they got eliminated there, we didn’t take any prisoners, like them, they didn’t, they even mutilated

08:19:30:00

our dead bodies, our dead mates. No, I didn’t like it there, but we were there and that’s it.
When you’re making your way through the jungle, how difficult is it to tell where the enemy is?
It’s hard, it’s a nervous

08:20:00:00

condition, you don’t know when they’re going to pop out, or a sniper’s there or whether there’s a force there, ambush, or the other forward scout in front, he’d be quite a few paces, and then there’s the second forward scout. That was a dangerous job. I was only once forward scout but I had the Bren gun so I was about the middle of the

08:20:30:00

section all the time. My job was to cover them if anything happened. We used to do patrols up the tracks, we were with one patrol, Sergeant Delaney, and he took a section of men and

08:21:00:00

my section went down to cover him, he took the main track and there was fiord there, to cross the creek, we took a position there around that way to cover the track, I was right here under a tree, good coverage, with a Bren gun, on the side of the track, and there must have been a turn off to the right, a small track,

08:21:30:00

and he really should have reconnoitred that, or sent somebody up, there must have been a couple of hundred Japs, they didn’t know we were there, we didn’t know they were coming, each section went past, they were just out of sight, and all these Japs knew they’d found out they were there, and they rushed down to the creek to cut them off, straight at me, big blokes, marines,

08:22:00:00

so I opened fire on them, got a few, and the rest behind, lucky for the section in the creek, they all went back to my right on our side. If they had have gone in the creek, they’d have probably annihilated the section, because we lost – three of the blokes were dead anyway, or two of them, and then they were in the

08:22:30:00

jungle then on this side, and we opened fire of course, as soon as they got there, when we knew they were there, and they started throwing grenades, I could see them going through there into the creek. A gully like, you know? Be about six foot deep I suppose. And we lost two blokes there, killed, and the rest raced down to where I was, opposite me, and they were –

08:23:00:00

Tommy Delaney was going to get them in one group and race across, they had to get across that track. So I was going to open fire as soon as they moved, but one fellow, Leach his name was, he rushed across on his own they hit him in the face and blew his face off with the explosive bullet, and he crashed through and he fell across my feet, and I could hear him gurgling, you know, he was

08:23:30:00

dying, couldn’t do anything for him. He’d lost his face and everything, and I was firing up there and they came across, they got across safely, the rest of the section. But there would only be about six of them then. So – and the Japs started throwing the grenades at our way, so we decided to pull out then, because there were a couple of hundred blokes there and they were trying to circle us then, because we only had

08:24:00:00

eight blokes, nine blokes. So pulled out, everybody pulled out, and one of my other best mates, Johnny Dickenson, he was in number two underground, he used to pass the magazines and stick them on, he stayed with me, and I had the Bren gun, so I started to back out and a fellow waited round so I could get in deep ground, pulling this bloody Bren gun,

08:24:30:00

and it got hooked up in the vines and stuff, and I’m pulling and pulling, and it wouldn’t come, and Johnny said, “Leave it, leave it.” And I thought, “I’m not leaving the bloody Bren gun for them Japs.” So I gave it a tug, and away it came, so off we went. But he stuck with me, Johnny, he was a good man. He’s dead now too. Johnny Dickenson. Yes.

08:25:00:00

Right.
Whereabouts was that Ron, that that happened? Was that after Finschhafen?
That was at Finschhafen, but we were up in the hills then, and we did patrols down to the tracks to see what the Japs were up about, you know, reconnaissance, but you always sent one section and another section to cover them in case there was trouble, because you’d never know in the jungle, it’s not like a desert, you can see them coming there.

08:25:30:00

We might just go back and talk about the landing at Finschhafen, if you could just explain what that was like for you? What you remember of that?
Well our biggest aim was to get into the jungle and off the beach, and run over through the Jap force that was there on the beach, you couldn’t see them, they were in the jungle, but we were sitting shots, we had to get off that beach.

08:26:00:00

Well the beach wasn’t any – the length of this room, I suppose, if that, very short, like those island beaches, you know? So it was only a few paces, but we had to get out of the water, it was up around here, and you can’t run out of the water, you’ve got to – it’s a slow process, isn’t it? So

08:26:30:00

once we got out of there and overcame that, we had them on the run then, so we caught up with a lot of them, a lot of them were stopped and put on the defensive a bit, but you know, they weren’t organised then, so a lot of them died there. It wasn’t a dead loss – it was a dead loss – no, it wasn’t a dead loss, that.

08:27:00:00

I still don’t like them.
How much cover did you have, how much support did you have when you were doing that landing?
We had plane support, a lot of American planes and Australian pilots, but they couldn’t support you really in the jungle, they couldn’t see, unless there was – they’d target the Japs or a particular

08:27:30:00

target, munition dumps, they couldn’t really support us in an attack because like once they’re in the – were up there and three or four of these Lightnings came around, mistook us for Japs, and machine gunned us, luckily there wasn’t any casualties, American planes. It happened a lot, in the

08:28:00:00

Middle East it happened a lot. We got bombed by our own air force at Alamein the first morning, there was eleven bombers, they used to fly in a diamond, and they had pattern bombing, and there would be a bloke in front and he’d drop a flare and they’d all drop their bombs at once. Right over the top of us, they look like a lot of leaflets when they’re coming, shiny

08:28:30:00

in the sun, you know? And they dropped them right on our position, killed three or four of our blokes, but killed about ten Germans on stretchers and that, wounded, we couldn’t get them into trenches in time. And at Ed Duda we got shelled by our own mob, and in the morning we were bombed by our own air

08:29:00:00

force. And during the battle we were fired on by our own tanks. It wasn’t a happy show. Oh well, you laugh a bit later, I suppose, it wasn’t funny because at the time we were screaming. Anyway, what were we up to?
Well just that issue I suppose, of being accidentally fired upon?
Yes, it’s easy to do in the war.
What kind of response would there be among the people on the

08:29:30:00

ground when that was going on?
Well the language would be pretty hot, but that had to be accepted, whinge about something, you’ve got to have a whinge sometimes, gave us a big whinge. Especially if blokes got killed, that’d be disaster then.
And when you’re getting off the landing craft and you have to wade through this water with heavy

08:30:00:00

packs, how much firing was going on, from the jungle?
Quite a lot, yes, blokes were getting knocked over, yes. Until we got into the jungle, then they had to stand up or go, which a lot of them stayed there, they would have got killed of course. But it’d be over in what, a few minutes, you know, with a couple of companies,

08:30:30:00

and blokes racing up the beaches, and there was more than one of our craft there, the other craft might have been up further into the sand, I don’t know because I was only interested in our little area. You don’t know what’s going on around you half the time, you only do what you’ve got to do, where you are.
You mentioned earlier the episode with the

08:31:00:00

Japanese up above the beach, they were marines. How different were the marines …?
Well they’re bigger men too, they’re bigger men, so we just took them as marines. The average Japanese soldier was a small bloke, just as nasty of course. But they were bigger fellows, they had a few marines up there.
Were they trained

08:31:30:00

differently, or did they fight differently?
No, I think they were land trained as well, I don’t know if they came off ships, I think the marines – I mean marines - like – different to marines in the old wooden ships in Nelson’s day, I think a lot of marines are infantry trained and all that now. And if there’s any landings they get on a ship and land. I don’t think–

08:32:00:00

do we have marines now? I don’t think they do, do they?
Sorry, the Japanese? Do the Japanese have marines?
They did in those days, probably, don’t now, I think it’s more mechanised, computerised, war’s totally different, isn’t it, so different now. It’s not man to man, is it? It’s just a massacre. Yes, it’s a pity

08:32:30:00

really. Yes, I’d sooner see ‘man to man’.
Why is that, Ron?
Well, too much damage with these missiles and civilians getting slaughtered, and all this sort of stuff, they kill one soldier, and about ten civilians, or thousands I suppose,

08:33:00:00

since the war. Like Vietnam, three million. Terrible.
When you were fighting in the jungle, what was the communication like in terms of to know where to go, where the enemy might be?
It was only on maps, the officers, the captain, had a map and that was it, and the trails on it, all the different trails,

08:33:30:00

that’s about all there was I suppose. I don’t know if they could – see when we were up in the mountains we couldn’t have telephones because you’d never be able to get all the wires there, never had – like phones we’ve got today, like mobiles, we had to have the wire to transfer – you know, in those days. So they

08:34:00:00

didn’t have telephones unless you were on flat ground, down below, and communicate that way. They might have between company headquarters and the platoons, they probably would, or a battalion to the companies, all depends on the situation, and the lay of the land, because it’d be hard for the signal section, you know,

08:34:30:00

wiring it up. But if they could, they would. But we had runners in them days. You couldn’t have semaphore, stand out too much. But you couldn’t yell out all night, we used to – at night we used to put booby traps out, put stones in tins on strings

08:35:00:00

in case anybody was sneaking around. And if the tins rattled, you’d open fire. But it was hard to get around the jungle at night anyway, but that was a precaution we took at times.
How would you sleep when you were …?

08:35:30:00

Not much, not much at all, there’d be rain, a lot of nights it’d be pouring with rain, you’d sit there and then put your raincoat around you, or your groundsheet, put your hat on, and that’d be it. Yes, couldn’t sleep much, we couldn’t even get a cup of tea up there in the hills. We

08:36:00:00

used to have little metal containers with a blue flame, which you lit with a match, you know, to boil the billy, if you had a chance, but you never got much chance really. We ate bully beef and hard biscuits, that was about all. We used to soak the biscuits in water, and they’d be like porridge in the morning, we’d eat them that way. Pretty tasteless but – no

08:36:30:00

sugar, well it stops you getting fat, doesn’t it? Good slimming diet up here. I used to like bully beef cold, but in New Guinea a tin of bully, open it, pour all the fat off, because it’s hot, you know, but you had to eat it, that was it. Yes. A tin of good food, there wasn’t any –

08:37:00:00

couldn’t get cooked meals up in there, you know? Occasionally with the situation, if you were near the battalion headquarters you might get a meal. But very rare. ‘Bully and biscuits’, that was it. And you’d get some hard rations, like tins with – used to have a bar of chocolate in it,

08:37:30:00

dehydrated vegetables, egg, all that stuff, pretty awful stuff. You couldn’t cook it anyway. Yes. You’d mix it in hot water, you might be able to get some hot water to cook over the heater, but you’d use these little blue flame things, pretty hard to get a dixie full of water hot. But that was it, you couldn’t

08:38:00:00

complain, we never complained, we knew that was the situation. I mean if you were in camp and you got a crook meal you’d complain, heartily. But up there in the desert, we knew that was the situation so – I mean getting the food up there was a problem.

08:38:30:00

So doing the patrols in the hills at Finschhafen, how long were you doing that for?
Three weeks, about five or six weeks or so, till we came down and encircled the Japs and went back along the flats again down the bottom, where the road is.

08:39:00:00

And then we organised a move north, we were up the Peninsula, up towards Sattelberg, that’s when I started to get crook then, malaria and stuff, finished up with tropical ulcers, finished up I couldn’t walk, with my leg.

08:39:30:00

I should have gone to RAP before but I didn’t. I had to take my boot off because I couldn’t – I couldn’t get my boot off anyway, so I had to cut if off, it was in one leg, and my ankle swelled up, well the whole leg, my leg down there was as thick as my thigh,

08:40:00:00

I was in a bad way there. I finished up in a jungle clearing station, and on a stretcher with a – I woke up on a stretcher, with a mosquito net over me, and I felt something crawling over my breast, I just had a pair of shorts on and nothing else,

08:40:30:00

and I was semi-conscious, and it was a centipede. Do you know how big they are? They’re about that big, I grabbed it, it bit me on the breast, on the nipple, and I crushed it in my hand and threw it, but it must have hit the mosquito net, but I must have damaged it because I crushed it. But I thought, “Oh geez, don’t tell me that’s going to kill

08:41:00:00

me.” And my breast burnt, it was red hot, and I thought, “I’d better call somebody.” And I thought, “Oh bugger it, let it go, see what happens.” But it wasn’t fatal. Then they stuck me on a plane, a biscuit bomber, to a military hospital.

08:41:30:00

So that was the last action I saw, really. I think I just went at it then, I finished up in Concord for a while, and I left Concord and I was on my way back to the battalion and I got to Townsville and I fell ill with malaria

08:42:00:00

again. They put me in hospital
Interviewee: Ronald Burridge Archive ID 2142 Tape 09

09:00:32:00

Ron, before we talk more about New Guinea, I just wanted to ask you about – one more question about the desert. It was a really big propaganda war going on during that desert campaign, did you- -
Not really.
Did you experience any leaflet drops or …?
Yes in Tobruk we did but not el Alamein. Yes, I didn’t keep any, but we were short of toilet paper

09:01:00:00

then. The Germans used to drop a lot, I mean they had no chance of us surrendering, that was stupid, what a waste. If I’d have been them I would have just dropped more bombs. I mean, nobody took any notice of it.

09:01:30:00

That was the only time.
Was it at the start of the siege?
Yes, and through it, not all the time, but occasionally. “The Yanks are having a great time with your girls in Australia, what about you?” And all that sort of stuff. They used to drop a lot.

09:02:00:00

And what about on the radio, did you get to listen to any of ‘Haw Haw’ or anything on the radio?
No, we never had a radio. We used to get all the news from ‘Jacky’ – he’s a little stocky bloke, wasn’t very tall, but he loved to read and if he got something to read he’d read it a hundred times, he wouldn’t throw it away, or give it away,

09:02:30:00

he’d just read. And of an evening, “Where’s Jack gone?” Jack had disappeared. He’d go hunting out somewhere where there was a wireless, and listen to the news, and hear Vera Lynn sing, and he’d come back, wander back, it’s a wonder he didn’t get shot by our own blokes, you know? And he’d give us all the news. Jack, I can’t think of his name now.

09:03:00:00

A nice little bloke. I remember one day they were shelling us, and Jack’s sitting right down with head down below the top, you know, reading, and a shell landed, what, where that table is. A great heap of dust and stuff came in with it, there were three of us there, and Jack looks up and says,

09:03:30:00

“Geez, they’re getting fair dinkum now.” He was a funny bloke, he was calm, cool, a dry bloke, you know, a dry humour. But he was good for the news.
How accurate was the news of what he was getting to what you were living?
Well, it’s hard to

09:04:00:00

remember now, that question. Well he just heard it as he heard it, and it’d be ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] and BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation], but he just got what they gave the people. I mean they probably kept things from the people, if there was something – you know, they wouldn’t tell the whole truth in wartime like that, they’d like to give out good parts, you know, they’d say a bit about

09:04:30:00

us still holding out and all that stuff. I think he went to hear Vera Lynn, most of it, she was popular then, wasn’t she? You’ve heard of her, I suppose?
So in terms of that propaganda, when you were in New Guinea did you believe

09:05:00:00

that you were – to what extent did you believe that you were defending Australia against the Japanese invasion?
We knew, because we knew they wanted to go further south, they wanted the whole lot, and I mean the Kokoda Trail, if they’d have got to Moresby they’d have probably got to Australia. I think that was a vital thing,

09:05:30:00

and all the other battles as well, Gona, and all those places, the Japs landed there, the Japs landed there and elements of the 6th Divvy pushed them back into the sea in three days. That’s why MacArthur wasn’t – he didn’t like Australian troops getting all the glory, that’s

09:06:00:00

for sure, he didn’t. He – I mean I’m not being nasty or anything, but the Yanks were around Gona for five weeks, and Blamey said to him, “Look, get your blokes out of here, I’ll shove mine in there.” And took three days. They lost a few blokes though, but still, stopped them building up and having a bridge out there. We wasn’t

09:06:30:00

involved in that of course.
What were your impressions of the American soldiers that you came into contact with when you were actually in the New Guinea campaign?
Well we never actually fought with them. But I won’t say any more about that.
What about their navy?
The navy was pretty good I’d say, they were good, good navy.

09:07:00:00

They had nice uniforms, they fed them well on ice cream. Morale boosters.
You talked about the rations you had, how well prepared do you think you were for those jungle conditions?
Well, we were prepared enough, it was getting the stuff to

09:07:30:00

us, like up in the hills. And the Japs could infiltrate, you know, you wouldn’t know where they were, but still we had our own rations, and that’s what we lived on. We’d get stuff up, bully beef and biscuit stuff like that. I know we went without tea and sugar for quite a while, hot drinks, we didn’t get evening meals,

09:08:00:00

if we had an evening meal it was bully beef and biscuits. Like I said before, we used to soak the biscuits in our dixie with water overnight, and eat it at – ‘pappy’ we used to call it. Pappy, I don’t know where than name came from, but that was it. Pretty tasteless too, but still, it was easier to eat.
Was Finschhafen the most difficult

09:08:30:00

place to access supplies?
Not really I suppose, the Yanks – on one occasion when we were on lower ground, they sent a patrol of us down to where the ships came onto the beach, like landing craft, barges mostly, they brought the stuff in, not ships, and it was a Yankee barge,

09:09:00:00

and we had our hard rations here and they couldn’t hide, there was another quarter, tinned fruit and all this sort of stuff, and little luxuries, you know, and the air raid siren went, they had big lights on the barge so you could see to carry stuff off, and air raid sirens, all the lights went out, black, quarter of an

09:09:30:00

hour, the sirens ceased, the lights came on, and nothing in the quarter. Our stuff was sitting there, but their tinned fruit and stuff had gone. And the captain’s raving, he knew what had happened. But he had no chance of getting it back. Oh dear, funny, but we were all there when the

09:10:00:00

lights went on, we were quick. I don’t say we took everything, we took what the time allowed, and we wanted to be there, so we took it off in a few minutes, what we – one bundle each, put it away, dumped it in the bush, in the scrub in the jungle, raced back, not far in, but they didn’t want to hang around anyway, so they wasn’t going to go searching for it,

09:10:30:00

they wanted to pull up anchor and get off the beach and go. I don’t blame them. And they went and we picked up our – what we were supposed to have. And he was screaming, “I hope you have six hundred miles to go on hard tack.” Yes, he was screaming, the captain, he wouldn’t be a captain, he’d probably be a lieutenant on a

09:11:00:00

barge, only be about six blokes, I suppose. He might have been a bosun or something, I don’t know, I didn’t stop to ask him.
What did they have that was so sought after?
Tinned fruit. Well, they used to have hams and all that stuff. They used to eat it right away of course, you couldn’t keep it. But tinned fruit mostly was there, which was

09:11:30:00

nice, and tinned milk, you know, like Carnation milk and stuff like that. Because Australia supplied most of their food, you know? That’s why we finished up with no debt. Yes, what they lent us or sold us, we sold it back in food, so we came out about even after the war, which was good.

09:12:00:00

Could you make out what the Japanese supplies were like at that stage, given that they had been fighting a long campaign?
Rougher than ours, they were starving. Half the time they were really starving. They were living on what they could find in the jungle, and I think they were eating bodies sometimes. Yes, they were cannibalising,

09:12:30:00

at some times when they were so short of food.
Did you see evidence of their cannibalism Ron?
No, not really, well I didn’t really no, to be honest. But they were starving, they didn’t have any food, so I can believe it. They used to mutilate bodies anyway,

09:13:00:00

so you wouldn’t know what they did. Yes, there was no quarter there, don’t mind if they were wounded, they deserved it, that was it. Still a threat, they’re a threat to this country.

09:13:30:00

Can you tell me about one or two of the incidents when you – that you’ve just described?
Pardon?
Can you tell me about one or two of those incidents that you’ve just described?
Well, they went into a casualty clearance station and they shot all of them, shot the lot. We didn’t mind it. I wasn’t involved in it, that was another platoon.

09:14:00:00

They used to say ‘if we wanted a couple of prisoners’, but if you took a couple of prisoners or whatever, you had to take them back through the jungle, and that was just as dangerous as being up with the boys, or more so. So like on one occasion they had three blokes, they sent blokes back with them. Bang, bang, bang. They came

09:14:30:00

back, they tried to escape, that was it. I don’t think I saw a Jap prisoner myself. Not a live one. And the dead ones didn’t worry me anyway.
Did you ever see a Japanese soldier willing to surrender?
No. No, they were

09:15:00:00

fanatical, I give them that, they would fight, and they’d have these charges where they had no chance, just get shot down. But that way they were good troops, they really surrendered their lives to Japan, you know? Fanatical. I think at the end of the war it was changing a bit, especially

09:15:30:00

after the atom bombs, you know? My mother always taught me to sit up straight.
When you were at Finschhafen, how close to defeat, or how far sliding towards defeat do you think they were?
I think

09:16:00:00

they knew, I think their officers knew, because they were being driven back all the time. I don’t think they had a victory after the Kokoda, they drove right down almost to Moresby, but after that it was all over. But it was hard fighting, you know? The troops on the Kokoda Trail, they did wonders didn’t they? I really admire them.

09:16:30:00

The 7th Divvy, we were with the 7th Divvy too when we sailed from Australia, the 7th Divvy and the other troops, what do you call them? The conscripted troops, they did well as well, they did very well, proud of them.
The CMF troops and the 39th Battalion had been

09:17:00:00

accused of certain things by Blamey in their retreat, initial retreat through Kokoda.
Yes, well I can’t comment on that. I wouldn’t like to comment on it because I don’t know. I’d have to be there to see it.
My question is, what was the opinion amongst the men of Blamey?
I don’t think he was that popular, I don’t think he was a great

09:17:30:00

general or anything. I mean over there Morshead was the – General Morshead was the – he was the best general, he was a top general, General Morshead. He – I don’t know how Blamey had gone – I mean a battle can rest on the shoulders of a good general or a bad general, making the wrong

09:18:00:00

decisions. But Morshead was a – he’ll go down in history as one of our best, like Monash in the First War, and Cheval in the Middle East, they were world class.
Ron, were you aware or were you cautious of Japanese booby traps in those

09:18:30:00

last operations?
Yes, but I don’t think we faced them, we were pretty fast moving once we – we never really got in static positions for long. But we got more booby traps in the desert. The Italians used to leave lots, cakes of soap, with stuff in the middle, you know, booby traps, once you touch

09:19:00:00

them. And 6th Divvy, we’d never contacted them a lot but the 6th Divvy did. We used to get the ones like the jumping jacks [land mine] in the ground and mines and more deadly really. The jumping jacks, all there was, three little prongs, metal prongs,

09:19:30:00

about that long, sticking out of the ground. You couldn’t see them, you’d jump on them and the two canisters, the inside canister would be blown from the outside canister, up into the air, about six or eight feet, and that would explode, full of shrapnel. Pretty deadly. It wasn’t wasted in the ground, it just went boom, at men’s level, you know?

09:20:00:00

They did a lot of damage. The engineers used to have a track, make a track through the scrub in the desert, it’d be scrub like that, with their hands, to feel these prongs, then they’d have to dig it out. Gee it’s a dangerous job. You know, they’re all heroes, aren’t they? Blokes like that, fantastic.

09:20:30:00

I mean all you’ve got is these little prongs, once you step on it, the prongs go down, if you stay on it for the rest of your life, you’re safe. But once you moved off it, that was it.
Would you know, once you’d stepped on it?
No, you wouldn’t know, you wouldn’t know ever. Well if you did you wouldn’t step on it.
You didn’t hear anything or …?

09:21:00:00

Pardon?
You didn’t hear anything once you’d stepped on it?
No, no. You wouldn’t until you took another pace, and then that’d be it. It didn’t go off in the ground, it probably would have blown half your leg off, but well it deadens the surface on the ground around it, you’d probably get the blast from the top.

09:21:30:00

Ron, how long were you in hospital recovering from the tropical ulcers?
I was in there for a few weeks in Moresby and I was pretty crook, so they brought me back to Sydney, Concord Hospital. I was in there quite a while, and then they sent me out to Marrickville and they put me

09:22:00:00

with other troops back to my battalion. When I got to Townsville I dropped over with malaria again and they put me into hospital there. And when I came out, two or three weeks later, I went to the orderly room to go back with my battalion, and he said, I’d already had two or three weeks leave, “Oh, you’ve got some leave coming.” I

09:22:30:00

said, “Yes, I think I have.” So he sent me to Sydney for three weeks. So I had another trip back to Sydney. But I was only back there a week and I got a telegram from the battalion to report back at once. So I got back and a lot of my mates are gone, and all reinforcements, all the young blokes,

09:23:00:00

eighteen-year-olds, twenty, so I never knew any of them, so I thought, “I’ll try and get a transfer to another.” So I tried to join the air force, they were trying to get rear gunners so I said, “That’ll do.” But they were going to accept me, to train me, but the colonel wiped that, he wouldn’t let me go. So I

09:23:30:00

said, “All right, I’ll try the parachuters.” Because I had a mate in the parachute battalion. The same thing happened, Colonel Shrabden wouldn’t give me a pass out. So – I wasn’t well anyway then, so I got another bout of malaria and other stuff. No, that’s right, I’d already had that,

09:24:00:00

and then I went to a hospital on the Barwon, River Barwon. So then I went back to Sydney and then I was there for two or three weeks recovering, I had to report to Marrickville, and I went to an RAP and I said, I said to the doctor, “I don’t feel well.”

09:24:30:00

He said, “You’re not going back any more, you’ve had the war.” And that was it. So I was in the hospital then for two or three – that was a couple of months where the war – no, the war ended, I was in hospital when it finished, in fact they had a board and they said I was totally unfit for any service then, so that was it. And I was discharged about October, November, final discharge,

09:25:00:00

1945. So I’d been with the battalion for five years and eight months, except the months I was in hospital. So it was a pretty good effort, I reckon.
Ron, you’ve talked a lot today about mateship, and how important it is to you.
Oh yes, I could talk a week on that. I never had better mates in my life,

09:25:30:00

they’re still my greatest friends, what’s left. I’ve only got about four or five down on the central coast, they moved up from Sydney in retirement villages or you know, retired. Jim Mazy, Paddy Parry, Kenny Tucker, all top blokes.

09:26:00:00

More like brothers really. There’s so many blokes I could name. I’m not boasting or anything, but I made so many good mates, lots and lots.
So when you were discharged, can you describe then what it’s like

09:26:30:00

to not have that structure of the army any more and not have those mates around you all the time?
Well you feel a bit lost, and I didn’t have family here see? But I had a good friend, he was in the First War in the Royal Navy, and his wife Cath, Les Boddie, they looked on me as a brother, they didn’t have any children, I used to go there when I was

09:27:00:00

on leave and stay, and I lived there after the war, so I was lucky there. They’re both dead of course now. But yes, Les was unlucky, he had diabetes mostly, going through the war. He was fifteen when he was in the navy,

09:27:30:00

he was attached to the Australian navy for a lot of the war, because he was only attached he was still Royal Navy, but – and he wasn’t entitled to any DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] entitlements, which was pretty crook really. I mean he was attached to them and served with them and you’d think that’d be enough. And he

09:28:00:00

stayed here after the war, and lived here, but married an Australian girl, I mean, that’s enough isn’t it? He should have got it, yes. But he was a nice bloke, a good bloke, and his wife of course.
So when the war was over and you’d been discharged, and you didn’t have that army structure around you,

09:28:30:00

how difficult was it to cope with some of the things you’d seen?
Well, I try to forget all the action shots, and I used to see my mates quite a bit then, because I lived in Sydney, you know, and most of them – it was a Sydney and Newcastle battalion, so

09:29:00:00

most of them lived in Sydney, so I did see them often, which was good. But if I’d had to move to another state, I would have felt a bit lost then. But I started work about a fortnight later I suppose, a job at Nock & Kirby’s which Les got me, I didn’t stay there long, I told Cath

09:29:30:00

about that, didn’t I Cath? I told you about Nock & Kirby’s, I won’t repeat it all.
Ron, how do you think your career in the army, your war service, changed you?
How did it change me? I don’t know really. Probably made me a better bloke, in the way

09:30:00:00

I wasn’t quite as wild as I used to be. I was for a while, settling in. But after I got married and took the carpenters’ course, carpentry and joinery, and I got stuck into it and went to tech for two or three years of a night, which was hard at twenty-six, I used to - the tech I

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used to go to at Darlinghurst, and then I moved from Randwick over to Freshwater, Harbord, and I worked for a boss from 1954,

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and I started my own business in a small way at first, and I was self-employed then till I was 64. So I’ve had a good life really. I enjoyed the building trade, made good mates in that.
Ron, we were looking at your photos when we were having a coffee break,

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and in one of the pictures that your friend gave you of Alamein today and the war graves there, and I saw written on the grave of Tommy Jones I think it is, it says, “He died so we could have everlasting peace.”
Yes, Tom was a great bloke, he was only a very lightly built bloke, medium height,

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he didn’t have any muscle or any of that sort, he was just a – but he was a good soldier and a good bloke. But he was – I’ve always said he shouldn’t be in the army, he was too light. But he was strong, as a soldier, was his main thing. But Tom, we called him ‘Mum Jones’, Tom, he was a nice bloke. Mum Jones. Tommy Jones,

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this was El Alamein, in a static position near the ‘Hill of Jesus’, there was a bit of a hill over here, and a bit in front of us which stood back, looked like a lion’s head a bit, and there’s a listening post on it, used to be a long pole with a seat on top, and rungs up the side, and the bloke used to race up there at dawn, and have a

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good look around, he’d be up about thirty foot, and he must have been – he deserved a VC to sit up there, I reckon, exposed, and he used to do it at dusk, see what was going on. And they used to shell him, with this ‘Alamein Ann’, a big gun. But he never hit the post of course, but as soon as he heard that gun he’d come down there quicker than he went

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up, and into a doover. But we had a little – back a bit from us we had a little dunny, poor Tommy went to the dunny this morning, and they always used to shell that part mostly, they’d shell us with lighter stuff, but then one of these big shells landed on the level part, well away from Tom, and we

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all ducked because of the shrapnel, it goes a long way, and the rocks – a lot of shrapnel are rock pieces, you know, blow the rock to pieces. And I looked up and here’s Tom, he lying there, and I thought he’d just gone to ground. He didn’t move, so over I raced, and Ron – what’s that bloke, I couldn’t think of his name before, a sergeant, he rushed over,

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and he had a big cut, a shrapnel wound in his arm and his shoulder, and I thought, “He’ll be right.” But there wasn’t much blood on him. And I looked in his eyes, and you can see death right away. His eyes were dead, and covered in dust, and he had a little hole in his forehead here. Yes. Poor

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Tommy. Yes, that’s his grave, at Alamein Cemetery. Sad day. Well liked, we used to look after him, ‘Mum Jones’.
So for the sake of people – for the sake of the death of people like Tommy Jones, how successful do you think we’ve been in having everlasting peace?
Well we’ll never have everlasting peace the way it’s

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going, will we? I mean it’s a bit of a joke these days isn’t it? I wish we could have everlasting peace, it’d be great, wouldn’t it? But with all the wars going on, and since the war, how many wars have there been? We’ll never have peace, all man’s greed, and we shouldn’t be involved in the war,

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we shouldn’t be in Iraq, we should never have been in Vietnam, we had to fight the Second World War of course. Don’t know how many times – everywhere the Yanks go, we’ve got to go. Dead loss, isn’t it? You must admit. We’re lucky we had no casualties in Iraq.

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So as someone who has lost so many friends from World War II, what would you like us to have learned from that conflict, from that war?
Peace, that’s the only thing you could learn, isn’t it? And it’s just greed, isn’t it? Every war is for money.

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I mean American’s not going to Zimbabwe to get rid of that despot there, what’s his name?
Mugabe.
Mugabe or something. They’re not worrying about there, they couldn’t care less, because there’s nothing there, there’s no oil, no profits, so it’s only for the big monopolies, petrol companies.
Ron, you said that you went down

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to Sydney to march this Anzac Day. Could you tell me what Anzac Day means to you? What sort of a day it is for you?
Well, it’s a get together really, isn’t it? To remember your mates. You do that, you talk about them, but you talk about – you don’t talk about them getting killed, you talk about, “Remember when we were on leave all of us, and we had that terrific night?” You know. And all those sorts of things,

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you know? We don’t talk about the rotten parts of the war. We just have fun, we have a laugh and hope our blokes are watching us and laughing with us, it’d be good, wouldn’t it? Don’t think they are, but you never know, do you?
On that note, thank you so much for today, thank you for participating in the project. It’s been wonderful to talk to you. Thank you.

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I hope you don’t walk away and say, “What a dead loss today was.” Because I’ll hear, and you won’t sleep tonight.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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