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
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,
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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,
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,
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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 –
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
great. Anyway, it was a good little holiday.
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
And all these different names. It was good.
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
That was good, it was a good camp.
What sort of rifle training did you have at Ingleburn?
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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,
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.
Anyway, we’re not onto the war yet, are we?
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
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
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].
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,
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.
And all us blokes cheering of course.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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,
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.
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?
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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 –
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
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
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 –
it was the next day, I went back to the flies and fleas.
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
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
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.
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.
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
give them that, they both circled, and they came in and destroyed the plane. They didn’t fire at the pilot, which was good.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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].
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
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
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,
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
No, the famous English actor, the one who married Elizabeth Taylor.
Can you tell me about that battle and the first engagement you had with the enemy at that particular Battle of Ed Duda?
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
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.”
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?
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.
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
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.
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
like caraway seed cake, it wasn’t just the odd weevil, dead of course, there’d be hundreds, but it was bread.
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
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
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.
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 –
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
How else would you try and relax while you were in Tobruk, was there any time that you could spare?
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
the bed in camp, I’d get up in the morning and have a smoke. I bought about three pipes and gave them away.
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
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,
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
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
‘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
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.”
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,
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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,
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.
He was only eighteen too. But we were getting on a bit, I was twenty-two then. Anyway, what were we talking about?
We were talking about Alamein.
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
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,
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
platoon. Didn’t leave me much to lead, did it?
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,
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.
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
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
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
Aquitania, came back to Sydney on the Queen Mary. Had a cabin with four men, four of us, not so much of a squeeze.
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,
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.
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.
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
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,
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,
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 –
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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,
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
our dead bodies, our dead mates. No, I didn’t like it there, but we were there and that’s it.
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
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
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,
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,
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
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 –
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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,
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
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 …?
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
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
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 –
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,
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
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.
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.
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,
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,
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
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.
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
again. They put me in hospital
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.
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,
“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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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,
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?
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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,
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.”
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,
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.
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,
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
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
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
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,
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
Tommy. Yes, that’s his grave, at Alamein Cemetery. Sad day. Well liked, we used to look after him, ‘Mum Jones’.