William Monfries
Archive number: 2175
Preferred name: Bill
Date interviewed: 16 July, 2004

Served with:

2/7th Australian Field Regiment
9th Division

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William Monfries 2175


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Tape 01


Thank you for joining us and sharing your story with the Archive. I’d just like to start by asking you where you were born?
I was born at Wentworth, New South Wales. My father was


a stock agent and actually he went to Wentworth in 1911 to open a branch of Elders as a bachelor, and in time he married a girl who came from, whose family owned a station on the Anabranch and they were duly married in 1916


and I was born in 1917, actually in a house at the junction where the Darling joins the Murray. Another sister was born there a couple of years later in 1919, and that was the year of a flood and some how or other I think I can just recall the flood. Any rate, we’ve got a photo somewhere of a dinghy tied up to the


picket fence outside the house. Another sister, a second sister, was born in Perth where we moved in 1920. We were there for seven years. Dad was transferred over there with the company and I had my very young days over there. Started school over there, and


we were there until 1927. After that he was transferred back to South Australia and I’ve been living here ever since.
So when you say your father started up a branch of Elders in Wentworth, where originally was he from?
He was with Elders based in Adelaide, but in those days a lot of the produce in the way of wool used to come down the


river on the steamers and would be loaded say at Wentworth and come down as far as Morgan, then be transferred to rail and brought across to Port Adelaide for sale. At any rate, Elders thought there was a fair bit of business available up there, so as a result he was sent up there to set up a permanent branch of Elders to serve the lower Darling. He’d go up


about as far as Menindee I suppose and that was the reason why he was sent there.
And so with Elders, was he an agent?
No no. He was a staff man. He was on the staff. He started off as actually a wool traveller and then he was sent up to Wentworth as a staff man.


When we went over to the west it was due to Elders making a big expansion over there and with his knowledge of pastoral affairs he went over to travel, as the Elders representative, the north west of Western Australia to encourage the owners there to send their wool down to Fremantle for sale


by auction. Prior to that the wool used to go to Fremantle and then be shipped to London for sale in London. This way the growers got an earlier return for their wool instead of waiting many many months. So that was the reason why he was sent over there. I mean he came back here but he carried on as a pastoral inspector for the western division of New South Wales.
So when you say wool traveller,


what’s that?
A wool traveller is a person who represents the company and he goes around and he sees the growers and discusses with them how the wool was prepared and that sort of thing, how it was sold, and furthermore, there is a tie up too because with the wool growers there’s only one income per year and


the agents used to make short term advances against the proceeds of wool, and also against the proceeds of the sheep from which that wool was sold. So they also looked after the financial arrangements and quite a few of the properties would carry on with an advance, go into debit, and then in due course along would come the proceeds of the wool and the sheep and they’d go into credit again.
That would have been


a very interesting financial arrangement considering the economic times?
Yeah, it varied a lot, and when he was in western division a thumping drought came along and as a result they had to take a pretty close look at the expenses of the growers and a lot of them went on to a sort of, a monthly cheque would turn up just for them to live


on until such time as the proceeds of the wool came. But he was a bit of a psychologist when he arrived at a property. He’d have a look around the back and if it had a decent sort of a wood heap he’d reckon the grower was worth backing because, one, he was a worker, and two, he was looking ahead. As a pin off from that on his travels up to that area quite often he’d time it during the


school holidays because with me he had a ready made gate opener and there were a lot of gates in that area. But as a result I got to know it reasonably well.
That’s quite funny that a farmer was judged by his pile of wood?
Well you think it over. I mean he’s a worker, isn’t he, and he’s looking ahead. However, that’s just, what shall we say,


an aside?
That’s great. That flood, you were two years old?
Yes, it was the 1919 flood. I would’ve been, I just sort of have a feeling somehow or other that I can recall it.
And what do you remember, what can you recall?
Just that, very faint, all the water and that was about it. Remember


I was pretty young at that time. But going back to those days when I used to be taken up there as a gate opener there was another manager of course at the branch at Wentworth, I can recall seeing the lock being built at Wentworth. That would be about 1927, 1928.
But going back I’m inclined to think we travelled from, Mum and


my sister and I, travelled from Wentworth down to Adelaide on the old Gem river steamer, down to Morgan and then caught the train from Morgan to Adelaide.
So was that on the Murray?
Yes, that’s on the Murray. You see, Wentworth is where the Darling joins the Murray and in those days there was very very considerable river traffic, particularly


with wool and heavy loads like that. The roads were pretty non-existent and no big transports, and river freight was the way to go. I can recall being at Wentworth when it was still serviced by the Gem which was the passenger steamer and it used blow the whistle and come around the bend and the town would turn


out to the wharf and welcome the Gem.
How many passengers could the Gem take?
I would say it would carry about twenty, thirty. It was a double-decker and it was designed expressly for the transport or carriage of people.
And how long would it take to get down to Morgan?
I don’t know. You’d have to go down through Renmark. It would be


three or four days, it would have to be.
Would there be accommodation on the Gem as well?
Oh yes. They had cabins and catering arrangements and all the rest of it. That’s going back a bit.
I also imagine the Murray would’ve looked distinctly different to what it does today?
Yes. See, the Murray was served by rail, you see, the rail out to Morgan, but further up


into the Darling the steamers used to go up as far as Bourke which is a long long long way, and that was the only way to get the produce out. They also went up as far as about Echuca on the Victorian side as well.
Did you swim much in the Murray and the Darling?
No, they’re dangerous. It’s very slow running, very deep and very cold and there’ve been some pretty


nasty fatalities there, and the banks go straight down too. There’s no shelving beaches and no, people did, but it was not advisable, particularly with the change in temperature too as you’d come across a deep hole and this sort of thing. So there you go.
What did the Murray look like? What did the river look like?
It looked pretty well


much the way it does now, but they put in a string of locks. I think Wentworth is lock nine, and that was to sort of control the flow, so it was not an all or nothing thing. The Darling is not locked and I’ve seen that both ways. The Darling has flooded and I’ve also seen it just a chain of waterholes.


But that wasn’t as important as the Murray itself. That was the main stream. But the locks went in as I said to simply regulate the flow, and also the back fill, there are big sort of catchments up there as well and load them up and just sort of ease it gradually on its way south.
So the house that you were born in on


the corner, how long were you there before you moved over to Perth?
About, I lived there for three years.
Do you remember much about that house?
It’s still standing. I saw it not so long ago. No, I can’t recall the house. Remember I was pretty young, three is a bit of a strain, but it’s still there.
And what about the, first of all, how


did you get over to Perth?
We came to Adelaide and then we went by train. That was a fairly long drawn out affair, four days and three nights. Go up to…
Excuse me, sorry Bill, sorry.
It would involved getting on the train here in Adelaide and you’d go up


Terowie which is about 150 miles north of Adelaide and then there’d be a break of gauge, so you’d transfer into another one which went up through Orroroo and through the Flinders Ranges, the Pitchi Ritchi Pass and that sort of thing to Port Augusta. Then you’d get out of that one and then you’d transfer into what was then known as the CR, Commonwealth Railways, and that was a standard gauge line


which ran from Port Augusta right across to Kalgoorlie. That was a pretty long haul. You were on there for a couple of nights, and then at Kalgoorlie you’d change again to the Western Australian Government Railway line which was narrow gauge again, three feet six, and then an overnight run down to Perth. So you had two nights on the Trans between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie


and one night on the Western Australian system from Kalgoorlie down to Perth. Three nights, four days.
And did you have to get the steamship to Adelaide?
How did you get to Adelaide from Wentworth?
On the steamer. I reckon we travelled on the steamer to Morgan, which is where the Murray runs west and then turns and runs south, and there is a railway line to Morgan


and it was built expressly as a sort of a freight, mainly freight and passenger line to serve that area. So we would have travelled the steamer to Morgan and then rail down to Port Adelaide.
And that would have been quite a journey with the family and possessions?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mum was pretty durable. She had to be, it was pretty tough in those days up there you know. There was no refrigeration, no electricity. On the stations I’m talking about.


So where was your home in Perth?
Our home in Perth was a suburb called Mount Lawley which is just a mile or so north of Perth herself. It was pretty swish in those days. What else? The school I went to was Mount Lawley public school and I started there at six. They didn’t start in the west until


you were six years old, so that’s where I started my education.
I’d just like to ask a bit about your parents if I may?
How would you describe your father’s character?
Fairly serious. I think he used to worry a bit about his clients. Mind you, he was responsible


for management in a way for those clients, recommending whether they were worth persevering with all this sort of thing, and he was a bit of a psychologist with the wood pile and this sort of thing. But he was a pretty good judge of people and in his time up there he was very, became


very respected as a judge of property, country and that sort of thing. He was one of a family of eight boys, one girl, and they were all fairly highly regarded as people and that sort of thing. Scottish


background, fairly careful with the LSD.
Sorry, what’s LSD?
A bit conservative. Hmm?
What’s LSD?
Pounds, shillings and pence.
Right, sorry.
That dates you. Hadn’t you heard that one before? Is this going on tape? All right.


Thank you Bill, I’ve learnt a new thing today.
I’m very pleased to be able to teach one of the members of the younger generation something. Not too many people listen to me, but go on.
Would you say he was strict?
Yes, fairly strict and fairly formal. He always had his shoes polished and all this sort of thing and wore a collar and tie quite a lot. I don’t think he was over strict


but he was fairly retiring. But at his occupation he was pretty highly regarded. As an aside, a very very big family in South Australia, a family of pastoralists, they were operating as a company, there’d be six or seven of


them in it and one of them wanted to get out and get his share. So what they did, they asked Dad if he would value all their properties so arrangements could be made for this chap to get his share and go his own way. He said, “I’ll do it on one condition. I’ll put it down in writing and I’ll walk away from it. There’ll be no further questions answered or anything like that.”


Any rate, they accepted that. He put in his valuation and he was very very pleased because they all spoke to him afterwards. He used to worry a fair bit I think for these fellows. He knew they were doing it pretty tough because these droughts can get pretty extensive you know, up there under those conditions. You can see the dust flying and those sorts of things. I think he felt for his clients, but he


made a lot of life long friendships. Mum? Her mother and father and two little boys, brothers of hers, her two eldest brothers, came out from Devon, England.


Let’s see. They came to work on a property between Wentworth and Menindee, a big property called Moorara, and it was managed by a man who had come from Devon, and up there of course in those days all the work was done


by horses and this sort of thing, and to improve the quality of the horses he decided to import a stallion from England that would come out on a sailing ship, a (klyr? UNCLEAR) sailing ship. So he wanted somebody to come out with it, so my grandfather, George Thorn Parker got the job as attendant to this horse. That was all pretty straight forward, but he had one wife and two children.


Any rate, my grandmother, Mary Parker, she came out on a passenger ship with the two little children together with an aunt of hers. They separated in Devon and they met six months later back in Adelaide, or down here in Adelaide. Any rate, away they went and they were on Moorara and the first Parker child to be born


in Australia was James and he was named James Moorara Parker for the name of the property. Any rate, they were there for some time and then they shifted across to another very big property called Cuthero which is just the other side of the river and there were a number of children born from there including my mother, and all of them were born


at a little place called Pooncarie because Pooncarie happened to have a midwife, so that’s where they were all born. They worked on Cuthero and then my grandfather was fortunate enough to qualify for a land grant on a place on the Anabranch. The Anabranch is a, what shall


we say? Not exactly a tributary, but it runs off the Darling slightly west at around about Menindee and then runs parallel to the Darling and joins the Murray below the Darling, below the junction. They call it the Anabranch of the Darling. And these properties were set up on the Anabranch because it had flowing water and it was highly desirable, but it meant that the properties


had their headquarters on the water and then ran out east or west. The longer access was east west. They’re pretty hard to work because for shearing and that sort of thing everything had to be driven back into the woolshed that was on the river. Anyway, that’s where they spent their young days, grew up from there. They did pretty well.
How would you describe your mother’s character?


She was very durable, and very capable. She was one of the older ones and of course everybody, the boys were always out working and that sort of thing, and the older girls helped their mother a lot with looking after


younger children and also the domestic side of it to, you know, the cooking and the laundry and all this sort of thing. All the laundry would have been done by hand. She, as a child I should say, being one of the older ones and one of the more capable ones, she’d have worked, she’d have worked very hard. But she was very very practical, a good cook and


fairly adaptable too, and with the passage of time I think she had that rather wonderful ability to be able to associate with all generations which I think is pretty useful. I think people liked her a lot.


She was just so sort of decent, straight forward and as I said, she took an interest in the young ones and she could, she didn’t patronise them. She’d just sort of make her way with them.
When you say practical, how was she practical?
Well up there, see, they had no electricity, things like that, and all the laundry had to be done by hand and also


on the domestic side and that sort of thing there’d be a fair amount of work involved, I imagine feeding everybody and generally sort of looking after the household chores. As a follow on from that in due course, this is rather interesting, the eldest, no, William


Parker, I’m named after him by the way, was the second oldest one and his father got very very ill when William was twenty-five and he was having respiratory problems and William loaded him into a horse and trap and got him into Broken Hill where my grandfather died of pneumonia.


Right, that left William in charge of the property which wasn’t running all that well. He had one mother and eight siblings, so he became the head of the family and he did terribly well. That was in 1902 and


he knew the place needed improving, which meant cutting it up into paddocks, and of course the paddocks had to be watered, hence you had to scoop out what are called damns in South Australia but they call them tanks, in effect earth tanks in New South Wales. So this scoop of course needed draft power.


So what he did, he heard of, this is a pretty good story, he heard of a mob of cattle for sale down at Orroroo. Any rate, he decided this had possibilities. He was a very good bike rider so he got the bike out, made sure the tyres were pumped up and rode the bike along the Anabranch to Orroroo. In those days there were no made roads of course, inspected


the cattle, signed on the dotted line, put a bit more air into the tyres and then rode the bike back to, the name of the place is Tor Downs, on the Anabranch. Tor is as you may know, a Devon name, a Devon expression for hill, and was known as Tor Downs. Okay, then he got his brothers together and these cattle were railed to a place called O’Leary on the Peterborough/Broken Hill Line


and the boys got the cattle and they drove them straight across country to Tor Downs. There they were sorted out and the stronger cattle were used as bullocks, draft bullocks, and with a bullock team with scoops he cut out these damns, with the result that the property did that much better with


paddocks in it. See, they’d got control and so on and so on and so forth. However, he inherited all this. Not exactly inherited, but he took charge in ’02, and by ’07 the place was doing so well that he decided to move on. So he took on a property called Mullarooloo, about 100,000 acres between Mildura and


Ivanhoe. That would be north east of Mildura, and he took on this property and he wanted a housekeeper, so he selected Mum. She went out there and she housekept for him, and that was ’07 and 1914 he was doing so well, bear in mind income


tax was negligible then, you see, so these fellows could do pretty well, and in 1914 he took on another property. That was a big one. That would be over 200,000 acres up at Wilcannia which is up the river a bit. So William and Mum, Annie, went up to Minnamurti, it’s the name of the place at Wilcannia, and she housekept for him there.


He never married strangely enough and his well into his thirties, his mid thirties by this time. However, the war had started by them and in time he decided to enlist, so away he went, and they put a manager in on Minnamurti. Also had one down at Mullarooloo which left Mum redundant, so she went


down to Wentworth. She thought she’d become a nurse. So she signed on at Wentworth Hospital and this rather dashing bachelor, branch manager of Elders won her. I was…they were married in Adelaide. Actually they married and William Parker gave Mum away. This is down here in Adelaide just prior


to him going overseas and for a wedding present he gave her a Singer sewing machine, you know those treadle Singer sewing machines? So he gave her, it’s still in the family. One of my sisters has got it. So he gave her the Singer sewing machine and away he went to the war and Dad went back to work. But William was in infantry and mid-thirties and he finished


up in France and that was one of the most brutal winters that they had and there was a very unpleasant war going on over there, and the in the conditions under which they were living he got to the stage, actually he did get a commission, he just got his commission. But it might be a light failing, see his Dad died of pneumonia, any rate, William contacted pneumonia and he was


evacuated and actually died in a big general hospital at Rouen which was the base area there, so that’s where William finished. But he was a fascinating fellow and an outstanding person. In my travels in recent years, or in my working days, I have been up there and have met people who did


know him and he was very very highly regarded.
Was he buried in France?
Yes. Actually, this is jumping ahead a bit, in 1951 Mum said to me one evening as she was doing the dishes, “How about going to England next year?” This is as a result of going back to this William,


by his will left interests in these properties to his siblings you see, and at this time wool was doing pretty well and Mum put up this suggestion. All her brothers and sisters had been back and she hadn’t had the opportunity raising a family and all this sort of thing. Any rate she said, “Dad doesn’t want to go. Would you be interested?” At that


stage I was at Elders and they were P&O agents. In those days there’d be a regular service between UK and Australia with P&O and Orient. Any rate, Elders were P&O agents. The next day we were pencilled in. So mother and I went over there in 1951. I was still a bachelor and we were in England and then went


across to France and we went to Paris and down to Rouen which is just on the river, the Seine, and actually went out to see William’s grave. It’s in a very big military cemetery, Saint Sovair Cemetery. At the same time another brother, Harry, he was a bachelor also, he enlisted and he died of wounds


up at Frommels which is up near Montier and he’s buried in Fleurbaix Cemetery up there. So Mum and I went up there as well. That’s not far from Lille, so she did the rounds and saw the graves of the two brothers that had not come back form World War I.
And your father was old enough to join in World War I?
Yes. He was


older. He was a bit older than the run. He was quite a bit older than Mum. I don’t know how old he was at the time. There was quite an age gap there, but he didn’t go, no.
And when you moved to Perth you were there for quite a few years?
Yes, ’20 to ’27.
That was through the Depression years?
No. They were just starting when we came back here.


In those days Perth was like a country town and we had a pretty happy time over there. We made some pretty good friends. There was a percentage, or a number of staff from Elders had moved over to the west as experts in their particular line. See, Dad was a pastoral


inspector. Another went over and he was an outstanding wool man and he put up the, or he arranged for the erection of the wool stores in Fremantle, and another one was a market auctioneer and so on and so forth. The manager was South Australian. So they had that sort of SA connection. But at the same time we got to know some very pleasant residents of Perth.


But in that age, I was ten when I left, life is pretty, a lot of fun, isn’t it?
What kind of things did you get up to?
I don’t know. Dad was pretty interested in sport and we used to travel around on Saturdays and go to the football and to the cricket. He was a member of the West Australian Cricket Association and I can recall going down there in


1924 when an English side had turned up. Every fourth year the England side used to visit Australia and in 1924 an English team came out here. The captain was a man called Gilligan, Arthur Gilligan, and I can recall seeing him making a hundred on the WACA, Western Australian Cricket Association ground. The Perth climate is,


in the winter it’s warmer than Adelaide, and interestingly enough, this is looking ahead a bit, in 1927 when we came over here was the first time we ever saw a frost. They don’t get them over there. Perth has got its beaches. It’s a lovely city as you possibly know.


I don’t know, we seemed to live outdoors and outside quite a bit. Or Albany, 200 miles south on the Southern Ocean is a delightful resort town and we went down there for I remember Christmas holidays and you get down to the south west you’ve got caves, Yallingup Caves and one thing and another


and I don’t know, I guess you seem to do the normal things that children do. I can’t think of anything exceptional.
Were you on a property?
No no no. We had a home, our own place, our own house.
And was it a suburb?
Yes. In those days Mount


Lawley was fairly up market and strangely enough there were quite a number of Jewish citizens there. This is weird, when we first went over we had a while in a rented house in a street called Armaberry Road. How’s that for a memory? Over the road from us there was a Jewish family by the name Brackler and


they owned a very big shoe store in Perth. Any rate, in time we bought a place of our own. I think Mum did because she had the interest in properties and all this sort of thing, and we moved to Queens Crescent, Mount Lawley no less, and on each side of us we had Jews. The one on the right was a chap called Blitz and I know he was a dentist, but that’s by the way. It was


a pretty decent, at that stage, it was a fairly good suburb.
Well we’ve come to the end of our first tape Bill, so we’re just going to swap it over and then keep chatting.
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 02


Bill, you’ve mentioned one sister, were there any other siblings?
Yes, another sister. She was born in Perth, but I think she was conceived in Wentworth anyway. We all came through pretty thick and fast. I don’t know the number of years, but there was quite a large gap between Dad and Mum. So, catching up and that sort of thing.


So when you moved to Adelaide the family had grown by then?
Joan arrived. Mum could have been pregnant when we went across to Perth. So came here and we moved, we had a rented place down at Glenelg for six months and in the process a place was found up at what we called Glen Osmond then. It’s now become St


Geroges, so we moved up there in 1927, towards the end of 1927. It became the family home and we went to school from there and went our various ways from there.
So what school did you go to here in Adelaide?
In Adelaide, when we came over from Perth I had a short while at Glenelg Primary and then up at Glen Osmond I went


to Glen Osmond Primary until I was twelve. In those days we used to do a qualifying certificate. Everybody, grade seven, used to have this qualifying certificate and after that I had the good fortune to go to Prince’s, Prince Alfred College. I was there from 1930 to ’33.


I did four years there.
And what did you want to be when you were at Prince Alfred College? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t know really. Bear in mind, this was in the Depression and things were pretty tough. They were really tough, and I was lucky to go there,


and in those days the first thing one did when one left school, one got a job and more or less the sooner the better in effect. I suppose I thought of being a stock and station agent because Dad had been one too. There was no question of me going to university because in those days it was


a full paid job.
And you say it was during the Depression. What signs could you see that the Depression was happening?
There were plenty here in Adelaide. You know that stretch of river from the Morphett Street Bridge down to the weir? On the banks there they had shanties, tents and all this sort of thing where men were living, and also


you used to see it out in the country too when I was travelling there with Dad. From time to time you’d come across a fellow who was humping the bluey, they call it, the bed roll from station to station and this sort of thing, and you could just, although I was young at the time you could just sense that there wasn’t a lot of money around.


It didn’t affect me greatly; so much as it would have adults, particularly people with families and all this sort of thing.
Can you remember anything with the children that were around?
No. Well


yes, I suppose you would notice it on reflection. You see, a number of those children I went to school with at Glen Osmond, we finished grade seven at twelve and quite a lot of them, they had to go out and find some sort of job somewhere.
What kind of jobs could twelve year olds find?
I don’t know. They could help


parents who might have had businesses and all this sort of thing. You see, this is getting a bit personal, but you take Jim Quilliam. Jim lived down at Port Adelaide and he left school and what he did I don’t quite know, but he told me not so long ago that after the war, he and


his wife as well, they went back to school again and they got their intermediate certificate and then got their leaving certificate as adults and went on from there. But a lot of, pretty hard to know, I was fairly fortunate I suppose in the circles in which I moved, but a lot of them didn’t have


much formal education at all after they left primary school.
Prince Alfred College is quite renowned for its education?
Yes, yes, yes, it was then. But to kick on and get a profession you had to go through university and one would have to not only have the fees paid but one would have to be kept as well, you see, and as a result


you really needed people who had substantial income that could afford their children go on and get a profession.
So you were sixteen when you left, but whilst you were at Prince Alfred College were you a member of the cadets, army cadets?
Yes, yeah. Actually it started whilst I was there, so


I was a member of the cadets.
And what do you recall about the exercises you would do as a cadet?
We never went to camp or anything like that. We were just taught the basics and so on and so forth. But in my final year there we won what they call the Earl Roberts Shield which is an award presented to school cadets for


shooting, target shooting. I well remember going down to the Dean Rays at Port Adelaide and being part of the team that won that award. It was just mainly basic, I suppose it was handy in a way to get some idea of what it was all about, particularly the boarders, there were some pretty good shots amongst them, so that


probably helped.
What kind of rifles were you shooting?
We were using the issue 303 Lee SMLE short, full charge and all this sort of thing. So you had to be a bit careful. We were only boys and they did kick a little bit.
Was that the first time you shot a rifle?
No no. I had experience. It was very handy


having an uncle with a sheep station in New South Wales for the long Christmas and New Year holidays, so I would be put on a train at Adelaide and along with another boy who was boarding at Scotch whose Dad had a property right alongside Tor Downs, and the two of us would go up on the train, overnight trip to Broken Hill and someone would come in and pick us up and we’d go out and


spend the school holidays, or I would spend the school holidays on Tor Downs and this other fellow, Wally Hammet, he was on Wycott which is just down the river from Anabranch, but whilst there of course one learnt to shoot. That was interesting too. In a way it was fairly useful to me in later life.


Pretty big properties there and the paddocks would be about 10,000 acres and there was another boy who was a bit older on the property. He was the nephew of my uncle’s wife and we used to go out and we’d muster 10,000 acre paddocks. And


my uncle although he never had any children, he only married fairly late in life, he loved to sort of teach boys and of course he was James Moorara Parker, so he was a bushman to his finger tips and some of his teachings rubbed off, and I sort of developed a sense of direction knowing where


north was, south was, all the rest of it, and I developed sort of a slight affinity to the outback, but this followed on when I went to the Middle East. We got way out west near the Libyan border and the wide open country, following on from my outback


experiences wide open spaces didn’t frighten me but I respected them and I was didn’t have any real difficulty sort of coping with them. I reckon that was because of the experiences I had finding my way around the western division of New South Wales. However, that’s looking ahead. Where are we now?


Well, we’re talking about cadets.
Cadets, yes.
And on that note I was just actually wondering what part of the cadets you had a real affinity for?
Probably the shooting, as I went into artillery. Yeah, I was only sixteen at the time and we, I don’t know. It was the thing to do; either that or scouts and I thought cadets were more grown up


than scouts. Actually it helped me a little bit because when I went into the militia, you see, it wasn’t all strange to me.
So you left school in 1933 so you were about sixteen and you left the cadets as well?
What was your first job?
I left at Christmas


’33 and the 1st of July 1934 I signed on with Elder Smith & Co, second generation stock and station agent, so that was that.
And where were you based?
And what did you do with Elders?
You do about six months in what they call the correspondence which is running around posting letters and all this sort of thing, and


then I got into the stock department. I suppose they thought that my father was in the stock; stock was his specialty, not insurance, merchandise or anything like that. So I went and I was in the commercial stock side and used to go out to the abattoirs market on Wednesdays for the, they’d have sheep, cattle, pigs and calves there and


I was on the calf side. In those days a lot of the stock used to come in by rail and they’d be trucked out in the country say on the Tuesday. They’d come in Wednesday morning and they’d be unloaded and these calves would


be, a compartment load of calves would come along and with them was a consignment note and on the back of it was the list of brands and owners and this sort of thing, and they’d been clipped, say right ribs or top of head and all this sort of thing, and you’d work all this out and the owner’s name and they’d have to be written up in a clerking book.


So I had to sort these out and write up the clerking book and also paint numbers on them because they were sold individually. It was pretty hard work, a bit messy too, blue paint. Hard on the wardrobe. Pretty long days. I’d catch the first tram in from Glen Osmond to the city and be picked up


there, go out to the market and wrestle with these calves and get them all sorted out. They’d be sold and then we had to turn around and invoice them, which we’d do back here in Adelaide and those invoices used to go out into the post office that night, and quite often I’d catch the last tram home at night all for £1 a week, no overtime.


I was about to ask how much you earned for those kind of hours?
£1, one L, you know, the big L. £1 a week. A spin off from that, working back, to tell you the costings in those days, you’d get a meal ticket for the evening meal at a


eatery called Covent Garden in King William Street and that meal ticket was in blue and it was two shillings, but for that two shillings you’d get soup, you’d get a main course and you’d get dessert, and Covent Garden had a price of one and nine pence, but we never got the threepence change. But this will give you some idea of the costs in


those days. Amazing isn’t it, when you think about it? A three course meal, waited on, one and nine pence. However, that’s by the way. But Elders were not liberal payers and they had no trouble really getting staff in those days, because you see, the Depression was still,


was easing a little bit but if you decided to walk somebody else would walk in quick so you just sort of carried on with it, but it was rather desirable to have parents with means. A pound wouldn’t go very far really.
So would you keep that pound for yourself?
I’d spend it, but I didn’t pay board, I couldn’t, you see. That pound was mine.


But Mum and the family fed me and all this sort of thing.
So you joined the militia, sorry, what year did you think that was?
I reckon that would’ve been 1938. This happened because a very good friend of mine was in Elders. He was in the insurance side of it,


and he’d got into the militia. He’d got into an artillery battery. He had a, I think he had a cousin, an uncle I think who was interested in it. Any rate, it was through him. He was talking about it and I thought I’d go along as well. It was quite handy. It was something to do. You see in those days one had to amuse oneself and there wasn’t


any television or anything like that, and it was one night a week and you paid for it, a nominal sum. I don’t know…you’d go in a mob. Everybody seemed to be, a lot of the fellows in that company were getting into various militia units so I went along. That’s how it happened.
Was there any real threat of war at that time?
You just sort of could somehow


or other sense it. Sort of reading in the paper you could that Hitler was, Mussolini wasn’t a worry, but the way things were heading and what you read about it, particularly regards Germany. You sort of felt there was something coming. Of course we were a long way away from that


hemisphere. We were in this one, but even so, out here you could sense there was a certain…what shall we say? Yeah, a threat I suppose you would call it.
And in the militia during the time that you were doing this part time work in the artillery, were they preparing you for war?


They were training us. I think again it was just our basic level. The job was simply to train us, and what for seemed to be, no, you never, I can’t recall any thoughts of the thing being inevitable shall we say.


It was something to do and something that might be handy I suppose. That’s as far as my reaction to it was.
And what was the training that you were doing?
It was straight field gunnery. We had eighteen pounders and the field artillery is a bit fairly tactical in a way.


You’ve got the manning of the guns and that sort of thing, but in addition to which there is a technical side to it. Quite a bit of the shooting is what they call program shooting where they have to work out details of the line, range and this is where I was a bit lucky in that going to school I got leaving maths


and that involved trigonometry and logarithms and all this sort of thing. Actually the field artillery, particularly on the computing side is straight out logarithms and trigonometry and this sort of thing. So I had that bit of a background so I found it fairly easy to understand and manage.


What else? That was about it. I think in a way it was sort of companionship in it as well. My friends were in it and you may as well go along with the flow.
How many were in the artillery battery?
How many?
How many were there in the artillery battery?
A battery would have about


sixty, fifty or sixty. We used to parade down at the Torrens Drill Hall and then we moved to Keswick, but we were the 48th, then there was the 49th and then the 50th was out at Prospect, and the 113, they were the ones Jim Quilliam was in, in down at Kilkenny. So there were four batteries


and they made the 13th Field Brigade which was sort of Adelaide based. From those batteries they formed the nucleus for field artillery units which were raised here. I suppose in a way it was almost a training ground because those fellows went into


the full time AIF. They had NCOs and warrant officers and officers as a nucleus around which the thing could be fleshed out. A lot of the chaps that were in those batteries, you know, kicked on and did fairly well when it became really serious, senior NCOs, officers and this sort of thing.
Well, we will talk about the


change over for the militia, but did you ever go on any bivouacs?
Yes. I used to go up to Woodside. Went up there a couple of times. Woodside as you probably know is a very big army base area, plenty of space there and we used to go up and that’s where we used to have I think a months training at a time.


And of course they’d move from there out to the open country for manoeuvres and all this sort of thing. Actually I was at the second Woodside camp when I switched across to AIF.
Well before we talk about switching over to AIF, do you recall where you were when war was declared?
Yes. I was sitting in a motor car. No, I heard it on the car radio of a


motor car at the Kentville Terrace, Kentown, one night.
How did you, did you know there was going to be an announcement?
No no no. We just happened to be driving along and it came over the car radio. That’s what happened.
And who were you with?
Who were you with?
I was with a very good friend of mine. He was a chap called Gordon Sanders. He was in Elders as well.


But I don’t know what we were doing, just cruising along, driving past (UNCLEAR) the Kentville Terrace when we heard the news.
And what was your reaction?
I don’t know. I suppose I felt, I didn’t get excited or anything like that. You sort of felt it was coming and now it has arrived.


That would be about it. I didn’t feel like sort of joining up straight away or anything of that nature. I don’t know, that’s going back a bit. You’re testing me now.
Well, whatever you can recall?
I think,


well there it is. We’re sort of heading that way and now we know type of thing. There was no sort of jumping, no excitement as far as I was concerned.
Did you expect that the militia would transfer over to the AIF?
No, the militia is quite different to AIF. See, AIF you undertake to serve abroad. The militia is Australia only.


How did you become part of 2/7 Battalion?
While we were in militia we were notified that a regiment was going to be formed and at that time when


the war was actually announced, became official, a number of us sort of moved over. Incidentally, I was one of the original twenty-one who transferred from militia at Woodside up the hill to 2/7th Regiment Woodside in May 1940. I was one of the actual, my


number was 2840 which is fairly low. But there were twenty-one of us that switched across straight away, and the rest started coming in and others followed and recruiting and all this sort of thing. So we finished up at Woodside with a battery plus regimental headquarters.
So you volunteered?


You had to. I simply went; a number of others and I went down to Woodside which was the enlistment area. We went down one morning and had a medical check and decided that we were suitable and signed up. I was back at Woodside again that night and I’d gone from


militia at Woodside up the hill to the 2/7th Regiment lines.
And how did your parents react?
I don’t think they were surprised because the fact that I’d been in the militia for a year or so and this sort of thing. I suppose they might sort of half expected it, but there was no drama or anything like that.


Was it a natural progression for you?
In a way, yes. It was sort of, that was, yes, fairly normal. People my age; see I was the ideal age, in the early twenties, and position I suppose too in a way.
So when you moved to the 2/7 what rank did you go in?
Straight in as gunners. Anybody


who had a militia commission would move across with a commission, but I was only a gunner in the militia and I went across to the 2/7th and I was a gunner as well. Fellows who did have rank, like warrant officers in militia, mainly the warrant officers,


when they went across to the 2/7th they were very promptly made warrant officers there for control and all this sort of thing. But we went up there and we went what through what they call a bullring where you were tested on various


occupations in a regiment, and if you thought you were suitable to be a driver or this sort of thing you were channelled into the driving or a signaller and so on and so forth. But me with my experience in militia, I was on the guns. As a gunner I went in onto the gun side.
And did you move into Woodside full time
Yes, yes, straight in full


time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, five shillings a day.
How did you go with that transition to now being full time army?
Well you see, I’d had the experience with militia and it wasn’t much different except it was full time and we had weekend off anyway. So we used to come down on


Saturday and Sunday to Adelaide and back again there, or you’d go back Sunday night and away you’d go again for the five days of training. Come home and have my washing done.
And what was your training?
Very good I thought. You see, we had the militia experience. The people that were doing the training,


some of them had quite a few years in militia and were pretty highly trained and very knowledgable in this sort of thing and they’re the ones who, actually they were the core of that regiment really, and they did the training and they also decided if people were suitable for whatever job. See Jim, he was a signaller. That was


thought to be his forte shall we say.
And what weaponry were you being trained on?
We had eighteen pounders, the same as we’d been used to and so there was no change there. Just a change in ownership shall we say.
And what about your uniform?
The uniform was different. It was the standard


AIF uniform, but there wasn’t much, no, pretty well what we’d been used to.
So the only thing that really changed was who was paying you?
I owned me. I can’t tell you what we were paid in the militia. It was just a change of ownership in effect and getting into a bigger organisation. You see, a regiment consists of six batteries which was, although


only three were raised here and the other three, this is going in South Australia, the other three, the other battery was being raised in Western Australia, with the three troops over there, you see, and we joined them when we went overseas.
And when, I mean as you said the AIF were really overseas


postings, where did you think you were going to go at first?
Actually we thought we might be going to Europe. This is just where we thought we were going. While we were up there of course the Germans overran Western Europe. That all took place while we were up at Woodside, well and truly. It’s amazing, isn’t it?


They overran the bulk of Western Europe, yet we were up there and we just sort of kept on going. I don’t know whether we weren’t impressionable, but we didn’t throw up the hands or anything like that. We just carried on and with Italy coming into it, then we realised


it might be the Middle East instead of Europe. That all took place just after we signed the dotted line. So there was a bit of rethink on that one. So we wouldn’t see Paris after all.
Well, you did know that you were going away?
Oh yes. It was signed up to go away somewhere and no questions


asked. Wherever you were sent you went.
And how long did you have training at Woodside?
I was there from May 1940 to November 1940, about six months.
And do you remember receiving word that you were going?
Yes. They gave us embarkation leave. We didn’t know where we


were going but we had a pretty shrewd idea because the 6th Division was already in the Middle East so we thought that’s where we’d be going. By then of course the Japs weren’t in it, so there was no thought at all of the south west Pacific area.
And how did you spend your pre-embarkation leave?
At home. I don’ know. You just sort of


go with the flow in affect. Everybody, all your friends had embarkation leave. I don’t think there was any sort of drama about it or anything like that. Okay, you’re going away. Now, this is an interesting thing. In January 1939, that was prior to war, I had the very very good fortune to


do a Pacific cruise on a ship called Stratheden, a P&O ship called Stratheden. We joined it, fellows I was at school with, my sister and a friend of hers and several others. Mum was chaperone. We joined the Stratheden at Outer Harbour, Sydney; a couple of days in Sydney tied up alongside the bridge there at the passenger


terminal. Shipped to a hotel in Brisbane, Auckland, Wellington, Sydney again, Melbourne, Adelaide. Twenty-one days, first-class travel, single cabin for £25, January 1939. November 1940, I was a sergeant by then, another sergeant and I, Jack Bruce, were sent down as an advance


party to sort out, there was a railway line at Woodside and the troops would go onto the train and come down and finish up on the wharf at Outer Harbour and they’d just walk straight onto the ship. Our job was to go down there and find out where everybody was going to fit on board this ship. Any rate, Jack and I the day before were walking around the ruddy cargo shed, Stratheden again, the ship


on which I’d travelled on that NZ cruise. So any rate, we did pretty well, the two of us finished in a two bunk cabin.
Well you knew exactly where to go.
Actually it was a single birth and they’d built a wooden one on top of the single one. We finished in a two bunk cabin, so I had another trip on it. In that case all expenses paid.
Can I just ask


before you left were there any personal items that you took with you?
My aunt gave me, one of Mum’s sisters gave me a pair of nail scissors. Also she gave me a pair of field glasses which I think had belonged to, I don’t know where she’d got


them. She got them from somewhere or other. She gave me a pair of field glasses and a pair of nail scissors. No, I don’t think so.
Well Bill, we’ve come to the end of our second tape so we’re just going to swap it over.
How are we going?
We’re going good.
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 03


So Bill, just touching on that advance party that you went to Outer Harbour to check things out, what was the purpose of that?
Simply to find out the accommodation which had been set aside so that when the troops turned up on the train we were able to sort of lead them onto the ship and show them where


their accommodation would be. What had happened, down below a lot of the cabins must’ve been movable, movable partitions, they’d been gutted and they had open areas there with room for 170 hammocks to be slung in the one space, and hammocks were pretty handy, you see because


they don’t take up as much room as beds and during the day they can be rolled up and put out of the way, hence you’ve got floor space on board.
As you’ve just told us, you did a cruise on that same ship, the Stratheden, several months earlier in the year. How surprised were you to see the change in the ship?
Well, naturally I knew it as a, P&O were very very very


good passenger liners and this sort of thing and the change was quite outstanding, although particularly down below where they’d simply removed the partitions of where the cabins used to be and they had this wide open space. But being the advance party, Jack Bruce and I, we did fairly well I might add.


Being in a, just as sergeants too, there were a lot of sergeants but you had to be pretty quick. At the same time the 12th Regiment, 2/12th Regiment, the Victorian, complete Victorian full regiment came on board as well, and also the 48th Battalion which was a South Australian formed battalion, they joined.


I don’t know how many you’d have, about 3,000 people on board all told, but we were just looking after ourselves.
It is a lot of people. So can you describe where you got a cabin?
Up the front. It was a first class, normally a one birth cabin, but converting it to a troop ship they’d, using wood they’d built a bunk


above the single normal birth itself. We weren’t complaining. It was a pretty tight fit to get all these people on board.
And what was the Stratheden like?
Well, might get racist here. It was a British ship and the British in those days weren’t terribly good cooks. The catering wasn’t too good,


but it was adequate shall we say. There’s not much you can do on board those when you’re packed in like that. It’s just a question of sort of filling in the day. It was mandatory to always always wear a hat and always always carry a life jacket in case


the ship, us needing to leave that ship in life boats and all this sort of thing. Firstly you’d need a life jacket and also the hats of course were for sun burn and so on and so forth. We travelled from Outer Harbour to Fremantle and that’s where the West Australian battery, we were 13 Battery plus


regimental headquarters, and the 14th Battery, the West Australians, joined us over there. We had nearly a week there because there was a raider loose in the Indian Ocean at the time, so it was decided to hold us at Fremantle until things settled down a bit, which was rather nice in a way because it was November and we could


get off the ship and we’d march to, I think the beach’s name is Leeton somewhere near Fremantle, so you’d go for a swim during the day and that sort of thing. Plus the fact leave was on too, and of course I’d been living there in my young days so I was no stranger to the place and actually I caught up with some people whom I knew when I was there before. But carrying on from Fremantle we then went


to the next port of call, was Colombo in Ceylon and we had a full day there, and we were given leave. I hadn’t been to Ceylon before so that was quite interesting to have a day on the ground at Ceylon. Are we carrying on from this?
Right. And from there,
Sorry, you mentioned you hadn’t been to Ceylon before?
No no. Ceylon, Colombo


was rather popular as a holiday place. You see, with these weekly services by P&O and Orient which travelled up and down that track to Ceylon and then Bombay and then through the Suez Canal, people could get on board a ship here, go to Colombo, get off and have say a week at Colombo and then catch another one back, and


it was fairly popular instead of going the full distance of course to the UK. But from Ceylon we then travelled to, the first sight of the Middle East was Suez, at the mouth of the Suez Canal. I’d heard a lot about the Suez Canal and it was fascinating to go, in (dln? UNCLEAR) of course. So you go up


through the canal and then it opens out into the Lakes and then closes down again, and we got off at a place called Qantarah. It’s a rail head from the Egyptian side, say Cairo, the rail comes in there, and also from the Palestinian side. We called it Palestine instead of Israel as they do now. So we actually got off the ship at Qantarah.
Well you


mentioned that there was, the ship was very crowded. Was it a stifling sort of trip over?
No, not too bad. They used to, it used to get fairly thick at night. They used to close them down, but bear in mind we were lucky because in the other hemisphere it was winter time up there, you see, but the Red Sea in summer is stifling, but it wasn’t


too bad really. It doesn’t compare with travelling in a troop ship say in the South West Pacific. I had that experience and that can be very very claustrophobic, plus the fact the problem is they’re closed down at night and they’re just testing the ventilation. They weren’t meant to carry on like that, and you, or the tendency is


to lose quite a bit of perspiration and this sort of thing, and you can almost dehydrate, and the thing to cope with that of course were the ascorbic pills, but on, tablets, but on that run to the Middle East we were into their winter, you see. So I didn’t notice it so much there as I did subsequently


in the Pacific area.
What was the general mood on the Stratheden going over?
I don’t know. I think the tendency is you tend to switch off a bit. There’s nothing much you can do, nothing much to get excited about or anything like that. So you simply sleep at night and you have


three meals a day and just sort of carry on. There’s nothing much you can do on board. There’s simply a bulk transport of people from one place to another.
Well you were about to move into a war zone. I’m just wandering, I’d like to just touch on a bit about whether you had a sense of duty to country


or was it an adventure, what was it for you?
It was, yes, it was a new scene for me really. You see, I lived in Australia and Australia as we know it, the Europeans know it, is a very very very new country. Any rate, you step off at Qantarah


and you go up into Palestine and you’re treading on history there, aren’t you? And the thing I noticed about it was the age of the place and Gaza had been around for a long time. Near where we were when we actually got into camp there, there was a place called Ascalon. Well Ascalon was Herod’s birthplace and I mean


we didn’t have any equipment so we used to spend quite a bit of time route marching around the place to keep fit and I remember when we marched across to Ascalon it wasn’t very far. You could still see the remnants of the wall of Ascalon which is on the coastline, and you’d scratch in amongst the rubble you’d see ruddy porcelain. Well that porcelain was 2,000 years old. I found it revelational almost, the antiquity of the place. If


you peer over the top you’d see ruddy granite columns where the galleys used to tie up, the civilisation there compared to the civilisation which we’d experienced in this country. It was a wonderful opportunity. I didn’t make the most of it, but I did a bit, you know, seeing these old places about which you’ve heard for


a long long long long time. You’re treading on history. Have you been there? I tell you what, if you go to that area you’re treading on history. There’s not doubt about it. You go to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and that sort of thing. It’s a different world, it really is. That was the thing I noticed about it, yeah, the obvious antiquity of the area. Where it was also very interesting


was, there had been a general, in recent times prior to our role, movement of Jews into that country and it was fascinating to see the Jewish area and also the old Palestinian area, and the contrast there was unbelievable. There was a kibbutz quite close to where we were and to see


the Jews were handling the ruddy tractors and this sort of thing and getting stuck into it and doing something with it, and living in quite reasonable surroundings really, all thing considered. And then nearby you’d see an old Palestinian village the same as it had been for the last 2,000 years and a fellow with a donkey, a couple of donkeys


pulling a plough made out of wood. It was an amazing contrast to see that and to see, it might sound a bit racist, the approach and attitude and the way the two completely different, what shall I say, races, yes, I suppose you’d call them that, handle their surroundings.
Well where were you encamped when


you first got to Palestine?
We were quite close to Gaza which is southern Palestine. There was a string of camps there. What happened, the units that had got there before, they used to do a fostering job. There’d be an inflow, projected inflow, and whilst I was there actually


a number of some, sar-major, three sergeants and some troops, we went over and we prepared an area for another unit that was coming in which was quite close to where we were and there were a number of permanent buildings but mainly for headquarters and stores and this sort of thing. But everything else was tented, so we put up the


tent lines for them. And when those units came in, they came up by rail from say Qantarah, we would sort of set them up or just show them where there area was and quite often it was the done thing to prepare a meal for them too when they arrived. But there was a big build up of troops in that area at the time. This was of course


after Dunkirk and there was a vast shortage of equipment so we didn’t have any equipment at all, so something to keep us occupied like that was pretty good.
And who did you share your tent with?
Two Western Australians, two Western Australian sergeants. One of them was pretty good. One of them was, what shall we say, he was a gunner, a gun sergeant like I was, and the other one, he was a bit older


and he was a motor transport sergeant. But the one I, the gun sergeant, was a fellow called Bob Menzies and he worked for AMP and he was a pretty outstanding sort of a fellow and we got on very very well and I remember he taught me how to use a slide rule. You probably don’t know what a slide rule is, do you? Congratulations. Any rate, he taught me how to use


a slide rule and we used slide rules with the computations and all this sort of thing. It was great in a way, as we were a South Australian/West Australian unit, well you couldn’t get together much on the ship but once we got on shore and were sort of organised as a unit I had the opportunity of meeting and living with and enjoying the company of these two Western Australians.


Bob went on, he finished, he got a commission and picked up a Military Cross at Alamein subsequently. But at that time that was the sort of marrying up bit between the SXs [South Australians] and WXs [Western Australians]. They were different to us, we were different to them sort of thing. But…
What made you different?
I don’t know.


Western Australians, have you been to Perth? It’s pretty isolated, you know, it’s way out there and in those days as I mentioned before, Perth was a little bit like a country town, and dare I say it, slightly provincial? And these Western Australians, they used to lump us with the Victorians and the New South Wales, “All you Bs from the east.”


They were sort of very very very fine, WXs. I know, I spent more time, eventually with the passage of time I spent more time with the WXs than I did with the SXs, and they were a great bunch, what’s left of them. I get over to the west; I’m pretty well received too which pleases me. But it was, you could sort of, a


different sort of attitude and that. I don’t know whether they might’ve felt they had an inferiority complex. They’re stuck out there in Perth and, “You eastern staters.” I mean we’re over here and a different part of Australia. I don’t know.
So the South Aussies were the Bs from the east?
Yeah, yeah, Bs from the east. We were lumped with the New South Welshman, the Victorians, the lot.


This was just, you know, in comment. With time we did, the show sort of came together. We had one South Australian and one Western Australian battery, just the two batteries, but sometime afterwards they formed a third battery. The thing is that a regiment is attached to a brigade of three battalions, you see.


What’s the point of two batteries with three battalions? They formed the third battery, so you’ve got a battery for each battalion and to form a third battery they had one South Australian and one Western Australian troop. That’s where they sort of married up. Of course there was intermingling with officers and also when you got up to a warrant officer or troop sergeant major, there was an intermingling and gradually


they welded together. It was fascinating, that, in the early days.
Well I’m just wandering, Bs obviously means bastards?
Does Bs from the east mean bastards from the east?
Did you have nicknames for the Western Australians?
No, I don’t think so. Can’t think. Probably sandgropers in those days. No no, they didn’t sort of worry us.


We probably thought they were inferior anyway. Don’t get down to their level. It never got vicious or anything like that, but just an odd shot here and there.
So at this point in time you didn’t have much equipment?
No. This is where I was terribly terribly lucky. I think it was much, you see. Actually we had Christmas there and then in March I had


the very great good fortune to be nominated to do an OCTU, Officer Cadet Training Unit. I was thought to have officer potential, and that took place down at Cairo and that was run by the British Army. Of course they had a very very big British Army presence there, but there were also NZers, New Zealanders, South Africans and us. However, I was nominated


to do this OCTU and another sergeant out of 2/12th Field Regiment and I hopped on the train. We got on board the train at Castina and we went down to Cairo and we two went along to the Abasia Barracks which were about half way between Cairo and Heliopoulos and that was where


the school was based. That was a five months course. It was, we were joined by other Australians and NZers and Brits and we did a two month sort of general course on armoury procedure and this sort of thing and basic map reading and so on and so forth, and then we did


three months intense artillery training. But there we formed some wonderful friendships and it was our good fortune to meet half a dozen New Zealanders. They were a great bunch. We got on famously with them too. After our two months at Abasia


which was a very very old barracks, we then moved to Kasr el Nil Barracks right on the banks of the Nile right in the heart of Cairo.
I’m sorry, what was the name of those barracks?
Kasr el Nil. I think it’s Castle on the Nile. It’s an Arabic name. The Nile splits in Cairo and they’ve got Gezira Island. The Nile runs around


each side of it, and Gezira Island is a very swish residential area. They’ve also got a sporting club there, the race course, the swimming pool, the squash courts, the golf course, the lot, and the bridge which runs from Cairo city, CBD, across to Gezira was right outside the barracks, and of course we had the Nile flowing along on one end of it. There we had classrooms and so on and so forth,


but for practical training like gun drill, firing of guns and all this sort of thing, we used to go out past Heliopoulos to a place called Al Maza, but we would be taken out in a day and brought back again. But at that time Egypt was running on double daylight saving so we’d start pretty early in the morning and then around about lunchtime we’d knock off for about three or four hours. Cairo gets, this is mid summer,


God, it gets hot, and then there’d be that break and then we’d have what they call tea, the English tea. You know, bread and butter and a cup of tea and all the rest of the thing, and then we’d do another couple of hours, probably study and this sort of thing in the classrooms. That would be the day, but we’d have those few hours in between. We were perfectly free if we wanted to to go into Cairo. We also had the weekends off. A lot of us were terribly lucky being fairly senior


NCOs. We had a pretty fair idea of what artillery was all about and I suppose it’s skiting, I never felt sort of under pressure to perform because a lot of it I’d been introduced to anyway, you see. So it was a pretty good five months particularly with Cairo right there.
I was just going to ask you is it during


this period that you got out to see some of the sights that you saw?
Yes, you see, Cairo is, always time as you know, you go up to the pyramids and this sort of thing and there’s the museum and there’s also the citadel and the big mosque up on, I think the Mokattam Hills on the edge of Cairo and that sort of thing. I used to,


I don’t know, not skiting, but I used to take an interest in the surroundings and that sort of thing.
How would you travel around?
You’d have to use public transport. Buses and that sort of thing, and also to connect us with Heliopoulos or Al Maza there was a tram like the little tram here. It was fenced in and this sort of thing,


and that used to be a way of getting around. You could use taxis if you wanted to. There was always an argument with a taxi driver. That was standard. I don’t know, we seemed to find our way around. Cairo is…the city has limited appeal for me. It’s an old city, it’s a fascinating city, but my God there’s a lot of people there and you get it in


mid summer the way we did. Actually one day I think it hit 120°. God, it’s hot, and dust and traffic and everything else and noisy. Limited appeal. It doesn’t compare with Alex but that’s another story. But there were those things to see and I dutifully went out to look at the pyramids and I got inside and went down to a burial chamber and that sort of thing.


And also I remember seeing the step pyramids at Sikara and so on. I think that was by accident. I think we were doing a map reading course or study at the time.
And did the pyramids make an impression on you?
They’re so big it’s almost impossible to grasp, but when you think of the, have you seen them? The size of them and


realise they were put up 2,000, 3,000 years ago with what they had available to handle this stuff and you’ve only got to go over and see the size of the blocks, and how they managed to put it all together with what they available at the time is beyond my comprehension. But there’s no doubt about it, they are one of the sights of the world. The Sphinx was there too


of course.
So what do you think made the biggest impression on your…the sightseeing that you were able to do, which sights in particular made the deepest or biggest impression on you?
I think as I mentioned before the country, Australia is young.


At my age I’ve seen one-third of white man’s occupation of Australia. You think that over. At that stage over in the Middle East, as I said, you’re treading on antiquity there, and the simple age of what you are looking at is what made an impression on me. This is switching around a bit, but up at


northern Palestine you come to Akko and there’s a ruddy Roman aqueduct. I mean that was put up 2,000 years ago, and most of it is still standing. This is what impressed me. I suppose you would call it the antiquity of what I was looking compared to what I was looking at that had been put up in Australia at that time.


It would have been quite a sight?
Well yes. Actually you sort of saw them and sort of half took them and then you thought about it and it eventually sank in. I think it probably sunk deeper in this stage of life than it did then. But we, in a way, were terribly lucky to have had that opportunity of seeing these old sights.


But this OCTU was fascinating. As I said, we new these NZers very well, these half dozen, and I often wondered what happened to them. Of course the 2nd New Zealand Division were over there. They went all the way. They finished up up at Trieste at the end of the war, at the top of the Adriatic, whereas we came home. Any rate, this is going ahead quite a bit.


In 2000 I had a quick trip to the South Island of New Zealand, Christchurch, lovely city, and I had a few days in Christchurch itself. Right in the middle of Christchurch there’s this granite cathedral which is in the heart of Christchurch and I was walking through the Cathedral and on the wall I saw an honour roll. W Frewbister, I knew him well. If you had to pick, he was a top New Zealander. Bill didn’t come home.


I saw his name up there on that honour roll on Christchurch Cathedral. The others I don’t know. But you work together and it’s a bit competitive too. You see, six men to a gun crew, so we had six NZers, six Australians. We always tried to do it a bit better and this sort of thing, but there was no animosity or anything like that. No, they were an outstanding bunch of fellows.
And what sort of


guns were you specialising in?
We managed to get work on the twenty-five pounder. See, out here we only had the eighteen pounders. They’d been converted from the artillery wheels, wooden wheels. As the warrant officer used to say, “Spokes of hoak and elves of hash.” Spokes of oak including a bit of ash, and then they had wooden, they were


transferred from wooden, changed over to rubber wheels and we used them out here, but when we got to the Middle East and were doing OCTU and went out to the school of artillery we were using these twenty-five pounder mark IIs, and they were the ones we used right through, and they were the latest and I venture to state, the best. So that was a revelation to us to use this first class modern equipment. You see, the Brits lost so much


so much (coco feather? UNCLEAR) had to build up all these weapons and so on and so forth. Of course I suppose UK came first and they’d drift them out to the Middle East when they could. But we used the twenty-fives out at Al Maza. Al Maza is right on the edge of Cairo


near the municipality itself. It’s right along the Al Maza International Airport, and you could go out there and you were into pure desert. It’s not drifting sand or anything like that but countryside basically flat with knolls and ridges and so on and so forth. No growth whatsoever and that’s where we used to do our shooting.


It was very good practise in that observation of fire where you’re sitting up there and controlling guns, there were various way of going about it. There were rules which one has to adhere to otherwise you’ll never get there. This is an ideal sort of training ground for that. But of course we would


then go out. I didn’t do much of it. I was GPO, but then of course it was great for people to go out and actually practise it for themselves. They call it desert, but it’s not desert as we know it.
I’m just curious, at the artillery range that you’re practising at, at Al Maza, were you using live ammunition?
Certainly. Yes, this was the real


thing, yes, yes. Al Maza had what they called the Royal Artillery Base Depot and that’s where Royal Artillery handled troops coming in, reinforcements and all this sort of thing. They’d go through there, then be posted out to British regiments and so and so forth, and also they had this Royal Artillery school of artillery and that’s where the


observation fire courses used to take place because they’d get a lot of officers from UK. Of course shooting in the ruddy UK, you’ve got your kopjes and you’ve got your roads and you’ve got your (padex? UNCLEAR) you’ve got this, you’ve got that, the steam and all the rest of it. You go out into that ruddy Western Desert, that Western Desert, you’ve got nuttin’, so it’s a different environment


altogether. So they used to put these fellows through this desert shooting shall we say, so they could handle it when they went out into the desert itself. But there we did our gun drill and this sort of thing and then we actually sat on the guns and fired them and all this sort of thing, and then eventually right at the end we actually went up to our observation post complete with,


we had lots of training on it. You can do it with a stick, a piece of wire and a piece of wadding on the end of it and then you make a little bit of a sand model and you used to dob the little piece of wadding indicating your fall of shot and this sort of thing, and you learnt procedures. You see,


if you altered range you always changed it by something which could be divisible. Like you started at 1600 yards, well your next split would be 800, next split 400, next split 200, 100 and through down to 50. Okay, it’s no good making your range different, say 500. The next one is 250, well where do you go from there you see? Sort of creeping up. There were sort of rules of


ranging and observation fire which you don’t depart from lightly, and also angles. We worked on degrees and minutes. It was always sort of eight degrees, four degrees, two degrees, one, and then you’d break down to forty or twenty. It’s sort of a procedure thing. And that desert shooting where you had such limited sort of reference points and all this sort of thing,


you had to run it strictly by the rules. Fascinating.
Well I’d like to go into a lot more detail about the rules of operating the twenty-five pounders, but I think I might just stop here.
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 04


You were just telling us about the instructors you had at Al Maza. What sort of blokes were they?
They were divided into two. They were the instructors in gunnery and they were the officers, junior officers, lieutenants and captains and that sort of thing, and then they had AIG, Assistant Instructor


in Gunnery, and they were warrant officers and these would be British Army warrant officers who were very very experienced. The army had been their life and that sort of thing, and they knew the game from A to Z and I think we were extraordinary fortunate that these fellows imparted some of their knowledge to us.


Good fellows.
And what made them so good in your eyes?
They knew what they were talking about and their methods of instruction were very good too I thought. Those fellows, as I said, had a vas amount of experience and they were well worth listening to, and we had to respect them from then,


and you accepted what they said. They knew, you got that impression. There was nothing wrong with the instructors in Gunnery itself but they were usually people who were on a posting from a unit. They might be doing say; they might take a course through, say three months or five months, something like that, whereas these other fellows were sort of more permanent. But it was great


to have thee experience of using these twenty-five pounder mark II because they were the latest British field gun and they were a long time coming, but when they came we decided they were an absolutely first class weapon.
Well, how did the fact that Bob Menzies had taught you to use a slide rule, how did that come into play?


That’s a different aspect altogether. See, field artillery in our case, you’d have observation of fire where there was an observation officer up forward and have a telephone, a sig, telephone and a line back to the guns and he’d actually observe the fall of shot and that sort of thing and correct it on the spot. That’s what you’d call observed fire and then they’d have another method


or phase which is called predicted fire and this is where the sums are worked out and they’re actually applied to, sent onto the guns, and this is for use at night or maybe, although most of our big attacks went in at night but during the day if there was a set piece of attack they’d have this programmed shoot in effect. Okay, you used to


work off what they call coordinates which are map references, and this is straight trig. You’d have your northerly reference, your southerly reference with the guns. The same with targets and this sort of thing, and with this it was pure trigonometry, right angles and so on and so forth, you could work out your lines and your ranges and so on and so forth which


would then be handed on to the guns in paper. We used to call it programmed shoot. With this it involved a fair amount of work and we used to have these command posts where the fellows that used to do it, we called them computers, and normally they used log books to work out the mathematics of it and that sort of thing, but they also


had a slide rule. If you were really rushed you could use a slide rule. It wasn’t quite as accurate as log books. You could also use the slide rule just a check against gross error with your pencil work, logarithmic work. But at Alamein in particular with those big night attacks, all that was programmed shooting and had been handed on to the command posts


and they got to work on them and they knew the location of the guns, the troops, they knew the location of the targets and they’d work out the line, range, angle or sight and also timings came into it, and they used to deal with these defended areas which they picked up air, air photographs, you see, and then they’d transfer them to a map and from that they’d work out where the guns had to fire and they used to


pace the time the target is dealt with with the expected and hoped for rate of advance of infantry. They’d reckon they’d go at such and such a pace, therefore they would deal with these defended areas in advance of the infantry and gradually work forward with hopefully the infantry coming along beside, behind.
Okay, we’ll come back to Alamein. I’m just


wondering, still sticking with this learning period at Al Maza, you mentioned that you ended up, well first of all just tell us, there’s six man crew on the twenty-five pounder, so what positions did you learn?
The lot. With the twenty-five pounder six man crew they’re numbers one to six.


Each man, they each have different duties. Number one, he is the sergeant. He’s in charge of it, he’s the number one and he supervises the whole performance of the show. He kneels or stands, it depends on how exciting things are, right at the back of the gun alongside the trail so that he can see


what’s going on. Going forward, number two, he is forward and on the right and he is the man who works the breech. The breech is a sliding block and it’s swept by a lever which is swung backwards and forwards, drops the block and ejects the empty case and opens it up for fresh rounds to go in. By gun drill, number one should be the one that does the ramming.


A twenty-five pounder has a split round. It’s got a projectile and behind it’s got a cartridge case with a propeller, so they go in one after another and the gun is always elevated when it’s in action and in goes the projectile. Well, something has to keep it there so it doesn’t slip out again so it has to be rammed. Around the base of the projectile is a copper strip called the driving band, so in goes the round, a little


rammer pushed in behind it. Up it goes and it bites into the riffling inside the barrel of the gun and that holds the shell up there in the barrel although it’s elevated. Of course after that in goes the cartridge case and that just trips the breech block and up she goes and just sort of stops that going back. That’s okay. But number one is in charge of it, he should ram. Number two is the bloke who works the breech and more often than


not the number one (UNCLEAR) number two could ram it. Number three, he’s on the other side on the left hand side, and he has all the sighting gear and into that he feeds the line and the range and the angle of sight. The angle of sight is the difference between the height of the gun and the height of the target. If the target is higher than the gun up goes the angle of sight so that the range remains


the same. If it didn’t that shell wouldn’t get there because it has a curved trajectory through the air. That’s what you call the angle of sight. So the number three, he’s the layer, and this stuff is fed into his dial site which handles the lateral pointing of the gun and then he’s got a range cone and he sets the range on that,


and that upsets a bubble and by levelling the bubble the barrel is raised to the requisite elevation for that range. Interesting enough, they thought of everything. Consider a gun with one wheel higher than the other. Okay, you fire it, so the right hand wheel is higher than the left hand and you fire it, that shot is going to drift off to the left. Well,


they had a little horizontal bubble there whereby that used to be fed in and they’d put in a correction for line to counter for the difference in level of wheels, but those sites were magnificent. But that was the layer’s job to in effect lay the gun. That’s one two three. Number four, he was the bloke who loaded it, and five and six were the ammunition numbers behind him. Number four,


around about his right hand hip would receive the shell, twenty-five pounder shell, twenty-five pounds of weight. He’d hold the nose into the chamber, just into the chamber, and it would be rammed off his hand, just off his hand and straight into the chamber itself, and as I said, the driving bands would bite and it would hold there, and then he’d go back and from his right hand hip, or his right hip, he’d get the


cartridge case and he should pull the, there’s a cup in it, he’d pull that out. The cartridge case held red, white and blue bags for the different charges. You’ve got charge three, charge two, charge one, and if, charge three were all bags. If you only wanted charge two, you’d pull out the blue bag. If you only wanted charge one, you’d pull out the white bag leaving the red bag. But those charges should have been checked


every time they went in, but in the heat of battle and all this sort of thing you took a bit of a punt on it. You can appreciate if it went in with one bag missing the ruddy thing wouldn’t go so far, and sadly that did happen up in Queensland once and it was a bit messy because a shell fell a long way sort and did quite a bit of damage. But any rate, number four, he’s the bloke who actually lines things up to get them into the breech and I was talking to one of our old


gun layers the other day, and they work out systems. When the thing had gone in and the breech block had gone up, the number four used to always tap the gun layer in the middle of the back letting him know it was worthwhile pulling the trigger because the thing was set and ready to go. It’s just a sort of procedural thing which they worked out for themselves. That’s number four. Well, five and six, they were the ones that kept the ammunition up


in order, a round followed by cartridge case to the number four to feed them in. But we had things they called trailers and they fitted in between the gun tractor and the gun itself, and they included what you might call ready ammunition. You dropped the gun off, pull it up on it’s platform, get it into position,


and then you’d drop the trailer off and the trailer would be brought alongside the gun on the left hand side because that’s where it’s all fed in, and then open the doors and there you had your shells and cartridge cases. If you were there for any length of time you’d have another spare trailer on the right, and if it was a really big job like those big attacks, they’d have boxed ammunition as well, but it was always fed in, in from the left by four, five and six. They were the sort of ammunition numbers.


But where we were, this is looking a long way ahead, we actually were depot regiment at the Royal Artillery Base Depot for three months in which time we shot for the school of artillery two troops a day out on the ruddy range. Unrestricted ammunition. The training, everybody, every man on any of those guns could do any ruddy job, simply because they had the opportunity of shooting for the


school of artillery. We were there for nearly three months. It was a wonderful, it was a magnificent opportunity to train, but that’s looking ahead a bit. Now, they were the guns and they were those six men and what they did, but they were interchangeable and they had to watch it a bit. I know a fellow who was a country bloke and he was the nominated layer, but


on those long hauls we’d fire for six hours on end, and those long runs, he would, a country fellow, he was a bit strong, a bit tougher than the city blokes, he would go on ammunition number simply because of the effort and all this sort of thing and somebody else would lay the gun. They’d lay equally as well as he could simply because of this wonderful training which we’d had at the school of artillery. They’re the guns.


They pointed either on instructions coming down the line from an OP, observation post, or alternately you’re working off these programmed shoots.
And you mentioned that the trailer that you’d have the shells on, was that like just a wooden trailer?
No, it’s steel and all the rest of it and it was a stand. It was designed for use on the twenty-five pounders. You had your, what they call a tractor. Actually


it’s a big four wheel drive, overblown four wheel drive with good clearance and all the rest of it. In the front you had the driver and the number one, sergeant. There was a covered area at the back which had a canopy over it quite often. They had a fairly high silhouette and the tendency was to remove the canopy because it was pretty obvious, but in the back on parallel seats you’d have


gun crew, and underneath the seats themselves were lockers and in those lockers they had the boxed ammunition. If you were there for any length of time they’d pull that boxed ammunition out and use it. Behind the gun itself they had the trailer. That was hooked on with an eye and a hook, and that had the ready ammunition and behind that again


was the gun itself. So the whole shooting match was spread out over quite a distance. Your four guns and they had two, what they call section vehicles and they were tractors similar to the ones the guns used, but they had two trailers as well you see, so they had all this sort of ready ammunition coming along and if they were there, as I said, for a while the section


vehicles would drop off a second trailer at each gun, one left, one right, plus the fact having a gun, railer, trailer, there was a, offered a bit of protection to anything that might have come your way from the wrong direction. That was a troop of six.
So the tractor would move the twenty-five pounder?
Yes. It was designed to move the twenty-five pounder and the crew and the whole shooting match.


Actually they were tractors, not like agricultural tractors, they’re more like overblown four wheel drives, your Land Cruiser or something like that, but blown up big enough and with plenty of clearance and also with this accommodation in the back. If necessary they could put the full crew in the back. Sometimes I used to travel in the section vehicle because I used to tag along with the guns. See, four guns to a troop, a right section,


there’d be two guns and the section vehicle, left section and a section vehicle. That was the sort of layout of it, and each gun crew gunner was regarding as a sub section, but they used to number one, two, three, four. I was number four of ACK troop when I was a gun sergeant here, but I never acted as a gun sergeant over there because we never had any ruddy guns. I became a temporary gentleman instead.


And you became a temporary gentleman at OCTU?
Yes. I got out of that with two pips. Went in as a sergeant and came out with two pips. Temporary gentleman. What are you laughing about, don’t you believe me?
I do.
Come on.
So because you came out with pips from OCTU, you then sort of


had officer positions, so you weren’t actually on the guns after that?
No no no. It’s a job for…it’s a gunner’s job. It’s a sergeant command, a gun crew, and a troop of these four guns plus the section head is a captain’s command. You’ve got the troop commander, he’s a captain and normally he’d be out ahead with an ACK, an assistant and a


signaller with a telephone. There’d probably be a radio there somewhere or other. Quite often in the desert they used to travel in Bren carriers so they had the radio as well. But he’d be in say a trench or somewhere or other or sitting on a hill with it up front. That’s the troop commander, a captain. Next back, at the guns you’d have what they call a GPO, gun position officer and he would be in charge of those guns.


The gun, hold on, the third one is what they call the troop leader. He was a junior officer. Now, say deploying, there’d be reconnaissance would take place. Okay, the troop commander, he’d be way up forward there somewhere or other at the sharp end. He’d be looking for somewhere to set up his observation post. Back, the gun position officer, he’d be scratching around for somewhere to set up his


guns and the thing to do what to get then on a reverse slop of a hill or a rise or something like that. You see, these things flash when they go off and you don’t want to have them where flashes can be picked up by the opposition because they get a bearing on them. They get a cross bearing on them, on those flashes. So the GPO, he’d set up, find somewhere in the countryside to set up his gun position, and


back further again you’d have the troop leader with all the guns. He’d be looking after them until such time as he was called up. Then he’d bring them up and those guns would be laid out in the gun position as indicated by the GPO. Over there we became terribly dispersal conscious I suppose because of opposition air force and all this sort of thing and you didn’t have


your guns in a straight row because somebody might get a line on them from the air and do the lot in. So we used to stagger them like a W or an M or something like that, so that you only had at most two in a row for attention by the opposition. Any rate, these four guns would be dropped off and then,


what shall we say? One word for field artillery, parallelism. The guns used to have to be laid out so that the four of them were all pointing in exactly the same direction. So this is where the GPO and his assistant came in. He had a thing like a theodolite and it also had an unbuilt, a compass built into it,


and so the troop commander or somebody might tell him to lay out his guns on such and such an angle, say 210, so he’d feed 210 into his, the idea being to sort of split the area though which the troop commander had to deal. So he’d select a bearing whereby those guns were laid out so it would go roughly through the middle of


his zone. So the theodolite, the director would be set up and each gun, there’s a method of doing it whereby you lay them all out so you’ve got the four of them pointing in exactly the same direction. You could do it quickly but normally if you were there for any length of time you’d use this director, and when they were laid out use,


ready for business.
Okay, we might come back to deploying on operations in a minute, but I just want to finish up your time at OCTU, and you’ve like of laughed and made mention that you were a temporary gentleman, but what did that mean?
Well, that was a throwaway comment.


Well I was just wondering, I mean it was officer school?
Yes, we became officers. That was it. It’s just a little, I don’t know, laughing at ourselves I suppose. We came from all walks of life and this sort of thing. I’m glad I did it. This is interesting, my troop commander was a fellow called AW Goddard and last week I went to his funeral. He was ninety-one. And I


always give thanks that he saw fit to say I was a potential officer and he nominated me for that course. You ask me about this and only last week I went along to his funeral. But it was not snobby or anything like that but there were advantages you know. We had extra responsibilities bear in mind, but there were advantages to it.


I have no regrets that I managed to get through the course and sport the two pips. Mind you, where we, I don’t think I’m skiting, but in that regiment in which we were the depth of talent


that we had in it was unbelievable really, ability. What shall I say, an awful lot of fellows who should have done officers course and never had the opportunity because we never really had enough casualties to turn them over and warrant them, but if the going ever got tough junior ranks, they’d


ruddy step up and do the job, wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Was part of your introduction to life as an officer; was there a sort of society or cultural sort of life in Cairo that you took part in as part of that? Like I’m thinking of going to dances or balls or concerts?
My comment is I never got that far back. I lived in tents after,


I was always out in the bush somewhere.
I’m talking about at OCTU?
No no no. We were only cadets, bear in mind. So no, there were no sort of social events or anything. No, we were on sort of a transition between, a lot of us were sergeants and this sort of thing, and transition from there to commissioned ranks. But mind you, when you did


get it and if you ever did get back there, see, the sporting clubs were open to us as officers and also the Royal Yacht Club of Egypt and a few things like that. So if you happened to be on leave or convalescing or something like that, that was pretty, they were there so you might as well accept it. Somebody’s got to do it, don’t you think? But there were, you know, stratas. There’s no doubt about


that. But I happened to be in that strata so if it was there, I don’t think I abused it or anything like that. I was lucky to get here and have the opportunity. However, that was OCTU. In that five months when we walked out of that, well, don’t you tell anybody, I venture to state


that our qualifications as gunners were possibly higher, I’m sure it was higher, than fellows who’d been militia officers and gone straight in because of the training which we got from these pros. They were absolute pros at the school of artillery.


Fine points which we were taught that the others weren’t taught simply because these blokes that taught us knew what they were talking about. For instance, we’re not running out of time, are we? The GPO had a megaphone. You know what a megaphone is. And with that


it sort of helped his voice to, because these guns had quite a bit of spirit on, for safety’s sake, and if he was transmitting details to those guns you’d have to pace it. You don’t gabble it all out straight away, you understand, because various information has to be fed in and they have to feed it in and then


the next bit fed in and this bit fed in, and we were taught to pace our instructions to those gunners. And they also gave us sort of elocution lessons in a way so that they could be readily understood, and that’s the first thing I noticed when I rejoined the regiment and actually saw some of the, shall we say home trained GPOs and


I think we were better trained as GPOs. It’s purely a personal opinion. It could be debated in some circles.
It’s interesting to hear that that is something that you really learned at OCTU?
Yes. As I said, these instructors, both the ITC [Instructional Training Company] instructors in gunnery and the AIG [Assistant Instructor in Gunnery], ACK IG [Inspector General], the warrant officers, they knew what they were talking about. They were worth listening to.


So you were well versed in all six positions on the gun, but you came out as a GPO?
No, I came out as a troop leader.
A troop leader, sorry.
But through happenstance I did a lot of GPO. But I could use, actually I worked on guns of course back here in Australia, the eighteen pounders, and the principle is roughly the same except that with the eighteen pounders it’s a fixed round.


That’s the shell and the cartridge case is all together so it goes in in one hit and it doesn’t have to rammed or anything like that and there is no variable charge or anything like that. But this other, this additional complication was ideal. It didn’t apply in the desert, but in the jungle and this sort of thing, being able to get them over crests and trees and this sort of thing. The split round


with the varying charges does have, it would have happened in Europe too I’m sure as well, it’s a very marked improvement on the fixed round. Another thing with the fixed round you have trouble with what they call crest clearance because it only fires on the one trajectory and there’s nothing near as flexible. I’d worked on the eighteens a bit in


militia. I was only a gun member there, but the twenty-five was a beautiful weapon.
And you’ve mentioned the wheels of the twenty-five pounder, but what was it actually made out of? What was it?
Steel, metal, about a ton, a bit over a ton weight.


It sat on, it had rubber tyres and it had a thing which was called a platform which is a circular track and when the gun was being towed, put it this way, the trail was an open trail, two channels down each side which joined at the back and the platform, it was hump-backed and the platform


finished, it was carried underneath it. Well, to get the thing into action what you used to do was drop the platform and pull the gun back onto the platform so that it was sitting on this full 360 degree platform. The reason for that was these guns could be used in the anti-tank role. Fortunately I was never around when that took place, but they were, they


could be used if necessary in the anti-tank role. Well from the anti-tank role, the 360, the full traverse is pretty really handy because you don’t know where they might come from, and it was very easy to move these guns around on the rubber tyres on this circular platform. The eighteen pounders didn’t have it, and when they went off they had a spade which dug into the ground and if you wanted to traverse them you had to get them up out of the ground and simply move them around by a lever.


But the twenty-five itself, with that arrangement and that platform, were very easy to move. On the gun itself is limited traverse. It was four degrees each side of dead centre, so once you got out of that it was simply a question of simply moving your gun around, but rubber tyres sitting on this platform the thing hadn’t dug in because the platform used to absorb the recoil anyway. They were very very


easy to lay and aim.
But did they have a brake on it to stop it moving on the platform?
No no. Yes, it had arms, two folding sets of arms on each side. Links shall we say, and when it was dropped these links opened and when it was pulled back onto the platform the links straightened out, and those links held the gun itself to the platform which had a sort of serrated periphery to it


which sunk into the ground and they didn’t move simply because the whole thing was anchored onto this platform which was held into the ground with sort of broad teeth and this sort of thing. So no, they didn’t move. Also they had a very neat arrangement whereby the, as you may know


when a gun goes off it recoils. The whole show goes, the barrel goes backwards and it’s stopped with a buffer and then it’s pulled forward with what they call a recuperator. Okay, the twenty-fives had an arrangement whereby the more into the barrel the less the recoil because it was in effect recoiling into the ground instead of recoiling parallel


to the ground. So the design on those things was simply superb. That big night at Alamein that was on the 20th, the big blow up, each gun would have fired about 600 rounds.
Did the gun have anything about it that you didn’t like?
No. They were the


best I ever saw. They were the latest of course and I think they were designed in the late ‘30s and they were a beautiful weapon. See, at Alamein that big one, they’d fire 600 rounds. No ruddy guns would hold together and stand it. I hadn’t actually seen this. I was talking to one of our old number one’s—he eventually became a temporary gentleman too—at Anzac Day and he


said one night he said he saw four gun barrels glowing. They were so ruddy hot those barrels were glowing. I’d seen the after affect, I’d seen the blisters on the barrels. They were painted and the paint would have blistered. On the big October Alamein our regiment shot over 60,000 rounds. That’s 10,000 to a troop. It’s a lot of


ammunition when you think about it, and these ruddy things held together and did it. They were a superb weapon, discounting what they were designed for. They were designed to hurt people, but as yes, as a piece of equipment they were quite outstanding, and they were versatile too in that they could be used in the anti-tank role as well you see, in shall we say, in extremis. They had telescopic sites and (rtkls? UNCLEAR) on them and all


this sort of thing on them if you had to pull on a tank. Fortunately I never got, I was never involved in that. They could do it and they had a twenty-one pound solid shot and they reckon if they ever hit a tank that tank stayed hit. That’s by the way. But all this of course I think what might be overlooked a bit is the work done by those computers in those command posts, particularly in the


big Alamein in that October job, all that program work and all this sort of thing, and that was all, it would come into regimental headquarters and the tasks would be allocated to the batteries, each battery, and the boys in those command posts, they’d work all that out and all the computations necessary and all the timings necessary and all the rest of it.


That’s where you’d get your school teachers and people with a knowledge of maths, logs and that sort of thing.
okay, our tape is just about to run out.
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 05


Just before we leave the specialist artillery school you were just talking about the guns there and I did have one question, in the conditions of the Middle East did they ever jam?
No. They stood up to it terribly terribly well. Something they had to watch was wear, barrel wear, and we had the full charge, one two


three, charge three, but they also had something call super charge which was stronger again, but they tried not to use that because super charge was the highest speed of the projectile, the wear was twice that of charge three. Although we did carry super charge we rarely used it. Another thing too, looking after


the guns, after the boys would clean them out and washed them out, they always ran a smear of grease around the muzzle, then got a piece of paper and put that on the front and had the breech shut at the back with the object of keeping as much dust out as possible


because the gun was number three. You had your tractor, your trailer and the gun and dust and all this sort of thing coming up. They did their very best to keep grit and sand out. Of course when we went into action there was a canvas cover went over. That got pulled off and a little bit got blown away with the first shot. But we took every effort to try and keep those barrels as clean and as


clear as possible. The beauty of those twenty-fives too, if necessary in the field you could slip the barrel out and put another one in. You didn’t have to take the whole thing apart. That was yet another advantage of them.
Well, we will talk more about the use of the guns when we come to talk about the battles.
The big stuff.
Yeah, but we’ve got to get there first.
That’s right.
And after you left the artillery school


where did you rejoin the regiment?
I rejoined the regiment at a place called Marsa Matruh which is on the north coast of Egypt. It would be about 180 miles I think along the coast from Alexandria, and it’s a lovely little bay and history has it that Anthony and Cleopatra spent some time there, and also there they’ve got the odd Roman cistern,


still there. It was the rail head, the railway line ran from Alexandria to Marsa Matruh and that was the base area for the Western Desert itself, the big rail head. There were dumps there and all this sort of thing. The regiment by then had been equipped in those five months and they were there at Marsa where I joined them. I was only there for a few days


when I was lent or transferred to the 2/8th Regiment. They were half Tasmanian and half Victorian and they were also in that area at the same time. They were one of the three regiments in 9th Division and they must have been terribly short of officers because I joined a Tasmanian troop and there troop commander was a fellow called Roberts, Tulloch Roberts, and


I joined them. I went straight in as GPO, just the two officers and the troop. Normally as I said, there were three. But I fell on my feet there because Roberts was an stock agent, bloodstock agent like I was. We got on well, and these Tassies were great, Tasmanians were great. A bit low key, you know, not in a hurry, a bit (wrl? UNCLEAR). We got on famously.


So I joined that Tasmanian troop and I had a month or so with them, and from there we moved right up to the Libyan border. At that stage the line ran from Sallum which is on the border of Egypt and Libya south virtually along the boundary line between Egypt and Libya. The thing was that Tobruk was then still held and they


had some pretty lively troops in the 9th Division. All of our infantry was in there and one regiment, the 12th. We didn’t, we were on the outside, and of course the lines of communication came into it and there was only one road along the north coast of Africa. If Rommel had, I mean he kept on going, he had, these rather lively folk in Tobruk were likely to burst out and mess up his lines of communication. So the thing was sort of fairly static.


On our side there was a very big build up taking place for Crusader Operation. Crusader was the code word for the relief of Tobruk. Any rate, the border itself, they had a screen. It was just a screening job, you didn’t have to fight until the last man, last shot, and that was provided by the 22nd Guards Brigade three motor battalions.


A motor battalion is different to an infantry battalion because in a motor battalion everybody can move on wheels, whereas in a full infantry battalion, more men, and if they have to move anywhere where they can’t march, they have to bring in transport and all this sort of thing. So in effect the 22nd Guards Brigade were fully mobile, and everybody else was fully mobile too. We were mobile and so on and so forth, and


they also had armoured cars. They had South African armoured cars as well and anti-tank guns, but they were set up on the back of trucks, they call them porties. I suppose it should be portay. Any rate, porties, they had these anti-tank guns there, so we joined the Scots Guards, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards no less on the right of the line on the Libyan border.


Each day they’d go out and just sort of set up listening posts and this sort of thing and it was divided into, at night they’d come back and what they call lager, where they’d all sort of sit in together and sort of tighten up, and then that would be dispersed before daylight next day. However,


the thing was set up three columns, the code words of which were faith, hope and charity. Of course with the black humour they were reduced to fate, F A T E, hope and char. I was in char column.
Can I just take you back a step Bill? When you mentioned the Scots Guards there was a slight of the eyes there. How did you find the Scots Guards?
They were


superb. I’m inclined to think, the full force out there, we had the Scots Guards, Cold Streams and the Rifle Brigade. The Rifle Brigade go back a long way. I think they’re basically London formed but Rifle Brigade, they were pretty good operators. However, I’m pretty sure that these battalions would have been in Egypt when war broke out,


and they’d been there when we caught up with them. So they knew there way around. They were professionals, professionals to the finger tips and we got on famously with them because we were just so different and they were so different to us and we formed a wonderful camaraderie with them.


They were, as you know, a brigade of guards with a wonderful reputation, and it was rather interesting, in the Scots Guards they had a fellow called Bowes-Lyon, cousin of the Queen no less. They lost him one night. They used to do these deep patrols at night up into the escarpment and all this sort of thing and Bowes-Lyon and a patrol went out there one night and he was killed, he didn’t come back.


The only people that came back were the sergeant. But on this lagering bit, we had our platoon out in front, I remember, yes, back came this platoon, Scots Guards, and the platoon commander presented himself to me and asked for orders. When you got a commission in the British


Army you got one pip. In the Australian you got two. What I knew about infantry tactics was pretty minimal. He was pretty insistent that I was the boss and I should tell him what to do. However, I thought back to my general training at OCTU and I always remember everything worked in threes. So something like the easy way out is two up and one back.


I said, “I’d like two sections forward and one section at the back and I’d like your headquarters right alongside me.” So he screeched, “Sar,” and, “Sar,” and appeared about six feet two or three or thereabouts, quivered, and he was given his instructions and I didn’t tell them where to go. I kept out of that. Somehow or other we probably finished with two up and one back somewhere, but this fellow, this one pipper and I,


sat down there and we ceremoniously each drank a bottle of Ballarat beer at current temperature. Ballarat beer was just fair anyway. You can just imagine, no refrigeration, no nothing. But this is fascinating; I remember his name, David Butters. Fast forward to peace time and a year or so after the war had finished I was in a


doctor’s or dentist’s room and I saw one of those weekly’s which the Brits turn out, either Sketch or Tattler or something like that. Low and behold, I was flicking through this and they always had in the front a full size photo of somebody being married, Major David Butters, Military Cross, Scots Guards, was going to be married to somebody. Isn’t it weird really? I actually met that bloke


when he had one pip. He managed to survive the war, he picked up a Military Cross and I just happened to see his photograph. But any rate, they were the Scots Guards, and we were lucky in char column we were third from the coast, but in fate column which was probably an appropriate name, they used to drag forward a sniping gun. I think Jim Quilliam told you about this. They’d pull forward a sniping gun each night and set it up in the sand hills and then they’d


ping the occasional round into Halfayr, H A L F A Y R, known as Hellfire Pass, because the Axis actually used that as a link to troops they had on the ground on the coast itself. So we used to have, this was my old regiment because I was with the 8th at the time, but they used to have, loosen an occasional round or two up in Hellfire Pass, never hit anybody, and then sit tight because


an awful lot used to come back and I don’t know whether it was to reduce the ammunition expenditure of the Axis because they were having frightful trouble getting the stuff over anyway with the sinking of transports in the Med. Jim knows it. He knows more about this than I. Fortunately this sniping gun was in very soft sand and they had an awful lot of rounds that didn’t go off, coming towards them. But we were a bit further around and we could see all this dust and sand and


stuff going up, but we were lucky. The regiment was lucky we never had any casualties too, but that was on the coastal sector. They always made provision for anything which might happen and it came to pass that one night they could hear rumbling. There was an escarpment coming in


which met at Sallum. It travelled north west/south east and actually met the coast at Sallum and one night rumblings were heard up on the escarpment. It was a reconnaissance in force by the Axis, and when it was decided these fellows were actually coming to have a go, they issued a code word and this is a neat code word for us to


scamper back to Sidi Barrani about thirty miles, thirty or forty miles. The code word was bicycle. How about that? Bicycle came over so we hooked everything together and got out quick and we finished up back at Sidi Barrani and it transpired that the following day the reconnaissance in force, this Axis reconnaissance made the fatal mistake of refuelling


and clumping together, and at that stage our air force was sort of holding their own and they caught them and there was general mayhem. They caught the Axis troops while they were refuelling and they didn’t come any further. They turned around and went back home again, and with that we went back to fate, hope and char once more, but we were there just as a sort of screen, a feeler type thing, and no heroics


to be involved.
Did you see the attack on the reconnaissance Axis?
No, but some of our fellows saw, after that we went up onto the escarpment and some of the chaps actually saw where it had taken place. It was pretty messy. Busted vehicles and this sort of thing and I think there was the odd dead body still left around. But no, we were a bit further back. The story


goes that one of the sigs, or the report had come back to the, I don’t know whether it was the column commander or not, about this noise, thought it was vehicles and must be the sea. The sig is supposed to have said, “Never heard the sea changing gears before,” so with that they reckoned it was serious and got out.


But we’re lucky you see, they were mobile as well. They simply hopped into their vehicles and we all cleared back to Sidi Barrani.
And you had now been in the Middle East for quite a few months and this is your first, you’re on the front line now so to speak?
Yeah. There was nothing between us and them except further inland; no, on the coast we had Tobruk which was a thorn in their side. But that’s interesting, after I had my time


with the 2/8th the regiment, they moved up onto the escarpment and I rejoined them there, and the 14th Battery, they were the WX battery, they were with the Cold Streams. They had a real live lord, Lord Garmoyle, and I was with 13 Battery and we were with the rifle brigade, but virtually the same thing there. We’d lager at night


and before daybreak we’d go out and simply pull in behind on a knoll here or there and it was just a sort of a screening type thing. The guns were going, were put into action, but virtually no shooting. The trouble was it was just so flat and after about 9.00 or 10.00 o’clock the ground would get so hot


you’d get haze coming up. You just couldn’t see. However, we had two or three weeks with, I was with 13 then with Rifle Brigade. There was the 14th with the Cold Stream. They fired a few shots because they were right on the edge of the escarpment and the coast and this sort of thing.
It’s an interesting observation that you said you were called into action but never fired a shot. When you were called into action


were you
No, had the guns in action and laid out to fire them if necessary you see. Hold on, as a GPO of the troop I can’t recall firing one, but shots were fired by other troops but it was only a sort of occasional thing. It was just a bit of a sort of a show job. It was dangerous for the infantry. I remember one day, these lagers used to be broken up in full


darkness and I was heading out towards a knoll which was an observation point and the Rifle Brigade sergeant ran over and spoke to me, asked where his troops were. He said he’d been on a patrol the night before, they’d got jumped and not too many of them had got back. It was great


for us to I think have the opportunity of working with these fellows. They’d been there and done that and knew their way around, accomplished. As a matter of fact subsequently when Tobruk was actually taken by the Axis at the start of operations the Cold Streams were in Tobruk. When the Axis sort of counted what they


got in Tobruk no Cold Streams. As the Axis was coming in the Cold Streams went out and through and they were first class.
Well, just asking you about lager. You said you came in and lager at night. How would you do that?
Now that was interesting. It would be in a different position every night. There were very very few features in that country. They call it desert, actually it


was shaley ground and most of it, nearly all of it you could run vehicles over it, and very very small tussocky type of growth. No water, but strangely enough there were gazelle there and my view is that the gazelle found this tussocky stuff palatable, but the dews at night were unbelievable. It was crystal clear


and we could look up and see a million stars including the North Star which was very handy, and I reckon the dew used to form on this tussocky stuff whereby the gazelle would get the required moisture. But with the lager, the spot would be changed every night. There was a cairn; actually it was a sheikh’s tomb,


which was fairly central and that was always the reference point, and the lager would be set up so many miles, 1.8 miles or 2 miles in a particular direction, 180, 210, degrees I’m talking about, and that would be promulgated the night before. So before we broke up they’d say, “Lager next night X miles on such and such a bearing.” So


we’d go out on the following night and we’d go out in a different direction. Finding the lager could sometimes get a bit tricky. Most of them would come in around about dusk or evening and were able to get in and sort of follow the mob, but the OPs [Observation Post] way out, they had to come back, find the sheikh’s tomb and then out they go in pure darkness. No headlights or anything like that, and find this ruddy lager in the darkness.


So what they’d do, they’d line the vehicle up on a compass, hand held compass, and then note the speedo reading and then go out on that distance and bearing, and if you were accurate as a general rule there were no probs, but there were some, we had some interesting experiences with people getting lost. I’ve actually heard them talked in.


The OP bloke, he’d have his radio going. There’d be a radio set in the lager itself and I’ve actually heard them, you could hear this vehicle going along in the darkness, “Hard right, hard left,” actually talking them in in the dark, and one night we lost a fellow completely. He got out of that by firing a tracer.


A tracer is a, they had rifle bullets and they had this ruddy tracer and of course up goes the tracer and the fellows in the lager would get a bearing on it and they’d give him the reverse bearing to come in on. They always gave him that in code too, but I’ve actually seen them brought in by firing a tracer into the air and getting a back bearing on it and having another go.


It was great. These lagers were interesting. You’d come in and pull in in lines. Didn’t unhook it or anything like that, they’d have anti-tank guns on it’s portie on each corner and they’d leave a spare space in the middle and at night what they call a BS [Base Supplies] used to come up, petrol, oil, water, food, including


an ambulance. They’d have a sick parade there in the lager at night, and rations, all this sort of thing, and they always always found us. They’d come right down to the middle of the lager and then we would collect our stores or ammunition or petrol or oil or water or if you had a toothache you’d go along and see the ruddy doc and this sort of thing. It was beautifully organised, and I don’t know how far these fellows


came but each time they always found us. It was a lovely…it was almost a romance about it. You were way out in the middle of nowhere you know, and actually Jim is inclined to doubt this, Jim Quilliam, but I reckon at night, the night’s were crystal clear, I reckon I’d seen tracer going up way back in the direction of Tobruk because the nights were so clear. But with the nights, the


dews, God, they were phenomenal and we all had, I had a sleeping bag and all this sort of thing. The troops, of course they were issued with one ground sheet. Of course they got a second ground sheet and laced it together so in effect they had a sleeping bag as well, but everything used to get so wet from the dew at night. It used to be chucked onto the vehicles and away you’d go and during the day when things were quiet they’d sort of pull this stuff out and


dry it off in the sun. But it was a wonderful, almost a romantic area. We were sort of lords of all we surveyed. Actually from the OPs you could just see, there was a track running north south and you’d occasionally see a vehicle running along there. Occasionally you’d see an armoured car but not a lot. It was purely a screening thing.
And did you dig in?


In the gun positions, yes. We were lucky, I suppose it was training. We were always very very slit trench conscious which paid, a bit later on I’ll tell you the story, which did pay. If you were at any place, we didn’t dig in in the lager because the only way we’d get caught there, not that it ever happened, there was no, I can’t ever recall having any


aerial activity at night. If we were picked up by flares we would have been in big trouble because we were all packed in so tight. But what were we getting around too? Slit trenches, but there was training and I think sort of a sense of self-preservation. If we ever stopped anywhere for more than a minute or two, troops would just on their own, wouldn’t have to be told, they’d pick up a spade, little spade about this long


and sort of heart shaped, they were known around the traps as banjos, pick up a banjo and you’d dig a slit trench because you never did know when somebody might have a go at you, and the digging there, remarkably enough, was very very easy. Most of it was in the form of what you’d call sort of consolidated sand. You could dig down and the wall


would hold. It didn’t collapse you see. It was very easy to punch a hole down and keep its shape, and furthermore, amongst the WXs we had a few Kalgoorlie miners. They were pretty good at digging trenches I can tell you, but we learnt. That was mandatory. If a troop ever went into action the first thing they did was dig two slit tenches, one on each side of the gun, and when things, not much


was happening they’d keep on going down and eventually you’d have a ruddy gun pit if they were long enough. But we became very slit trench conscious. It was worthwhile too I can tell you. No good cracking hardy.
I was going to ask you, you were talking about just finding the lagers. How were your navigation skills out in the desert there?
I always found them.


We were terribly lucky too, with this clear, these very very clear and crystal clear nights, and cold. God, it was cold as charity. Of course the desert cools off so quickly, and this was, when was this? October, November, it was their winter anyway on that hemisphere. Where we were lucky we were far enough above the equator to see the North Star. Have you ever seen


the North Star? It’s just so obvious, isn’t it? So you always knew where the North Star was so you always had a pretty fair idea that you were pointing in the right direction, but to get into the right direction you had to use these lovely little oil bath prismatic compasses and preferably out of the vehicle so there was no metal around and get it lined up and get your vehicle lined up and then hop in the vehicle and take your,


take the speedo reading and you knew where you should have been. I must admit occasionally somebody might light a cigarette in the lager. You might have seen that and it might have helped, but it was close enough to see a match. One of our blokes persisted in getting lost. His given name was Ridgeway. He got a nickname, Wrongway.


This as I mentioned before, I think the fact that in my young days as a child I spent it up in the western division of New South Wales so wide open spaces, I treated them with respect but they didn’t frighten me, put it that way. And I think as a result I developed a sense of direction which I think


helped me even in the northern hemisphere and we had the ruddy North Star instead of the Southern Cross. But we were taught actually…at OCTU we were taught desert navigation. That was a requisite for that area, and that’s like marine navigation, bearing and distance. Of course if you’re lucky you had a thing called a sun compass and that used to fit on the bonnet of the car and it had a disk


with nought through sixty and it had a needle in the middle of it, and if you had to go out on say 145 or something or other, you’d spin 145 on the disk until it was on the pointer and then you’d move that vehicle around until the shadow of that needle showed 12.00 o’clock, and it had time scales worked around there,


so that way you had, that wasn’t affected by the metal in the car so you had a constant check if you managed to have one. I never owned a sun compass but if you did they’d stick them on the bonnets of the car, but I had the prismatic and we used the speedo. This is interesting because the maps were in metres of course and what were the ruddy speedos in? Miles. What were the ranges on the guns? Yards. So all the coordinates


when it all worked had to be converted from metric to yards before being put on the guns, and our slide rules actually had a Y notch on them so you could do it with a slide rule setting.
That is interesting to know.
That is interesting to know.
Now, how are we going?
We’re going fine. I’m just about to ask you when you actually left Tobruk.
We weren’t in


Well, you were behind Tobruk?
No. We were on the border when it became Libya. You go in about twenty or thirty miles and there was Tobruk on the coastline, you see, besieged. They were holding Tobruk and the Axis were all around them and came as far east as about the Libyan border, but weren’t game to come any further in case those Tobruk fellows burst out. In the meantime while we were doing all this, there was a huge build up taking


place behind us with this Crusade affair where they built up sufficient troops to actually relieve Tobruk, but we had several, two or three weeks, three or four weeks up on this escarpment, and then we were relieved and we came back east because the infantry had been taken out of Tobruk which they had to do at


night with destroyers and all this in darkness. They got the Australian infantry out of Tobruk and they were reforming up in Syria at that time. So it was decreed that when we could be freed, we and the 8th came back and rejoined the rest of the division in Syria. So that’s when we moved east and about the second or third day heading in that direction we were formed


into the three batteries and that was when the third battery was formed. Boasting a bit I suppose, but on the move back we moved back independently. By the way, on the feeding side of it every vehicle had a sun primus stove. In the lagers the food would be allocated into vehicle lots, so each


vehicle was self-sufficient for food. There was no central catering or anything like that. We did that for almost months. Each vehicle would do their own cooking. Of course all the rations we got were hard except occasionally we got some onions which were pretty handy, a bit of break in diet. What was I going to say? Finally, this is an aside,


when we were coming back I was then a troop, I had B troop, I was the troop leader so I had the twelve guns and the two section vehicles and we were to rendezvous at a certain place about where, on the edge of another escarpment further in. Any rate, there I was, me and the ute, driver and the two in the back, they had a


Bren gun which was on a mounting for anti-aircraft use and away we ruddy well went. We always moved in what they call desert formation is a couple of hundred yards between vehicles and to make it a bit more compact, instead of having them in a line where you could be raked with a line anyway, once you took off you’d give an old cavalry signal, “Cut,


cut, guard and thrust,” I think it is, which I did, and these vehicles would move out. The two guns, I’d be there, the two guns there, section vehicle here and the repeat, so looking down on it there was a diamond on a diamond, and away we went and I’ll never forget that day. We were cruising along in this open country ever so slightly undulating and you’d look out and you’d see the ruddy gun or the tractor and all the rest of it.


They always had an anti-aircraft man sitting up on the roof on the front and that gun and trailer, gun, tractor and trailer would go slightly hull down and come up again. It was like being in the sea almost just watching them sort of going up and down in relation to the way I could see them. Any rate, away we went and the fellow who did the driving was a bloke who was a dairy farmer down here on the River Murray and had a wonderful sense of direction.


Once I got him lined up there was nothing to aim for, no clouds, no nothing, but he had this wonderful feeling of being able to keep on a bearing. He’d go for a long way before he’d eventually drift off and we’d have to line him up again. Any rate, around about evening we’d just happened to meet this escarpment where it came in from our right and we decided we better not go any further at this


stage. Where were we? We were right alongside a re-entry in the escarpment. Well, the map showed a whole heap of re-entrance. Find out where we were? I got a piece of string. I measured off forty-two miles with a piece of string which had to be converted into kilometres you see on the metric. Put my thumb on the sheikh’s tomb that we started from and struck and arc


and hit this escarpment. It was the right re-entry. I wouldn’t guarantee to do it again. We settled down for the night. As I said, we had our own provisions and all this sort of thing and when it did get dark just in the distance I could see lights. Might have been somebody lighting a cigarette or something like that, but it was a most magnificent day. Memorable, one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had. Just out in the middle of nowhere all on your own


and this troop is relying on a piece of string to find out where they were. However, next day possibly, we were formed into the three batteries and that’s where I was actually allocated troop leader, Freddie Troop in the new battery, and they were the WXs. They were the Western Australian troop. We had one WX and one SX to make the third battery. So


that was my first really official posting as troop leader, Freddie Troop.
And where was that, sorry?
That would be somewhere between the Libyan border and Alexandria. This is while we were still out west. It just happened there. But when we came in, this is where it gets interesting, when we got onto the outskirts of Cairo we didn’t go in one end and out the other. We went in as Depot Regiment, the Royal Artillery Base Depot


at Al Maza again which was old country to me. I’d been there before and knew my way around. We went in there the only Australian Artillery Regiment ever to be Depot Regiment Royal Artillery Base Depot in the Middle East, and that’s where we had this wonderful opportunity of supplying the guns for this observation and fire courses for the training of gun crews.
Well Bill, I will stop you there because we have come to the end of a tape and


we’ll take a break now.
Will we get this through by today?
You’re sure?
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 06


Bill, just to take up your story again, you’re now troop leader of Freddie Troop and you’re at the base depot. You spent about eight weeks there?
So tell us what you did in those eight weeks?
Every day, every working day two troops out of the six were out on that artillery range shooting for the school of artillery


and it was a great opportunity for, with unlimited ammunition expended, a great opportunity for training for different jobs, multi-skilled shall we say. With time practically every man of the six could do any job on the gun. With the ammunition we were expending we could have been


over a few weeks probably the most shot regiment in the Middle East amongst the British troops over there. Also it was training for the signallers too, sitting up there at the OP and we usually had somebody up there as well, just sort of watching and seeing what was going on without interfering, he could see the effects of shooting in


those conditions. The signallers, they saw a lot of it and they were able to work it out for themselves and there were some occasions where the learner observation post officer was up there, a shot would come over, land in the middle of nowhere. He’d never seen anything like it before in his life and the sig out of the corner of his mouth would say, “Drop 800.”


This would happen too, and we had a wonderful instructor of gunnery. He was a Royal Horse Artillery officer and he knew it was going on too, but he thought in effect the thing would have more impact than he would because if the ruddy sig can do it the OPO [Observation Post Officer] should be able to do it. But it was great experience for those signallers.


At an observation post you’ve only got the observation post officer. He’s got an assistant and an ACK, and I know at Alamein from time to time the OPO used to let the sigs have a go, in case of casualties and this sort of thing, you see. This was sort of multi-skilled shall we say. They were out main


duties. Whilst we were there also we managed to re-equip with a lot of, we’d been out for months, out west, with transport and all this sort of thing. We brought everything right up to date.
So you also had a memorable Christmas I understand?
Yes. Have you ever been around when the Scots are enjoying New Year? They live it up.


Cairo was very noisy and there were a lot of Scottish troops out there. Also while we were there with all this spare time we participated in sports like tennis and this sort of thing, amongst civilians as well, and also rowing. We even put together a rowing eight. We had enough people who had rowed pre-war and we


put together this eight which did pretty well too. Hockey, hockey yes, hockey, tennis and rowing. We had some very good tennis players too, was about our main sport. It was a bit of a holiday really. We were, as I said, very fortunate to get there and plus the fact we were the only Australian regiment ever to have done so.
This is now Christmas ’41?
Yeah, early January, yeah.
So I’m just wondering did you receive


news of the Japanese entering the war?
Sure, yeah yeah.
And how did that affect you?
Well, I’m talking personally. I don’t know that I had much reaction to it, but it was noticeable because in January ’41 we moved out of there. We went


across the Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon. We finished up at Aleppo right up the top end of Syria and whilst we were going up there were Australian troops going back and they were going down to Suez to get on to the troop ships to come home. I don’t know. I don’t think I felt any great urgency


to come home or anything like that. No.
You still had a job to do?
That’s right. You see, the New Zealanders stayed there and they went all the way through and they finished up in Trieste and they only had the one division over there.
What did you do when you got to Aleppo, what was the brief?
The 20 Brigade, the


13th, 15th, 17th Battalion to whom we were attached, they were right on the Syrian Turkish border and they were just sort of fanned out there. It was just a sort of a holding area, and we ourselves were on the aerodrome at Aleppo itself, and I think it’s the first and only time I can ever remember where I slept in a permanent


building in that five and a bit years, except when I was doing OCTU. That’s where we were, and we were only there for a short while and it was winter and quite a bit of rain up there and very very muddy. We spent a bit of time in Aleppo but I know Aleppo is a very very old town. I think it’s on the Silk Route.


We saw it mid winter and it had no great appeal for us, but where things did improve after a month or so up there, we then came down to Lebanon itself and we moved into a camping area in an olive grove at the foot of Cedars of Lebanon


and it was a lovely area. That of course is thousands of years old and practically anything arable has been terraced and we had these terraces with the olive groves in it and that’s where we were. There again we were living in tents. The cedars were behind us and they still had snow on the top and it was a most picturesque area.


Lovely little mountain streams and the little villages here and there, lots of little two story buildings with the little mission rooves and it was a Christian area and on Sunday you’d hear the church bells ringing. It was an idyllic part of the world, and they made pretty good cherry brandy too. They did. However, there was


a very big feature there called Jabal Thabit and that had been built up as a barrage in case it was threatened from the north. Troops could come around the top of Turkey and down and in, and that was a natural barrier. So we did quite a bit of work there sort of digging gun pits and putting in defensive


areas and that sort of thing. We also did exercises. We’d go out of, go past Jabal Thabit out into more open country and we worked with strangely enough 48th Battalion who were a South Australian Battalion. I knew some fellows in that. But interestingly enough we had an artillery range and right alongside the gun position was a Crac des Chevaliers,


Crusader Castle. And finally Beirut was the capital of Lebanon itself and Beirut with the, it was a French mandate at the time, Lebanon, or Syria in toto, but Beirut was a delightful small city beautifully situated with the


coastal plain and then the ranges going up behind it. It’s quite fertile, Lebanon, except when it really goes up into that high country. So I managed to have a weekend down at Beirut.
Just touching on Aleppo and the Syrian campaign, did you have any enemy contact?
No no. The 7th Division did that. They’re the ones that did the Syrian job and they’re the ones whom we passed when we


were coming up from the delta. We more or less took over from them in that in the Syrian area. The 7th did that one. We weren’t involved there, but that would have been pretty ugly by the look of the country. It’s pretty steep and they ran into the French Foreign Legion which gave them a run for their money, more than somewhat. I don’t envy them having to


pull that one on.
So you were quite impressed with the beauty of Beirut when you got there?
Yes, Lebanon itself and Beirut in particular. We were just inland from Tripoli which would be their second city, but Tripoli was very Arabic shall we say in layout and everything else, whereas Beirut was, had received a bit of French touch to it


and had that for layout, sophistication, without being over the top. It was just a very pleasant and enjoyable city. They had an American university there. It was the heart of Lebanon, and they way the managed to put it together again, chopping it up and reducing it to rubble a few years ago is an absolute shame I think.


And after your time there where did you go?
Now this is it, end of June of course is when Rommel came all the way through. Actually he got to Alamein, and that is when we moved. I reckon it would have been about the last week in June we got notification to move down to that Alamein area. The NZers, they were up in Syria as well.


They also came down, and this is where I had a bit of a problem. I was a troop leader so I had my four guns and two sections there of course and my job was to sort of get them down there, and from a security point of view someone had the bright idea no hats. Well,


with my complexion and no hats and a troop leader in the utility and sort of looking up pretty regularly from time to time over the top to see whether I still had my troop behind, I got very very badly wind and sunburn, and this is a spin off from that.
So you were moving in open


Yes, yes. Most of the vehicles there, they removed the hoods anyway because it was pretty handy to be able to see what was coming at you, and some of them even removed the windscreens because of sun shining on the windscreen, you get reflection up into the air and some aircraft might see you. So it was fairly open, but not being able to wear a hat, that was the problem.


Sadly we were the only troops over there that had red boots. They used to have brown boots anyway, and of course an Australian has only got to open his mouth and everybody knows where he comes from with our accent. Any rate, that’s a spin off. From that I’ve sort of had this problem ever since.
Well June ’42 was the beginning of the Alamein campaign?
June ’42 we are now?


By the time we’d got down there which was just June, July, the thing had been stabilised anyway. See, Alamein itself is a line which runs from the coast down to the Qattara Depression. It’s only about forty miles long, and this had been foreseen and it had been, the defence works had gone in there anyway and the Axis were at full stretch for communication too. I think there


stuff was coming in from Benghazi. That’s 1,500 miles away. They had to drag it all that distance, what was left of it and then their logistic problem was immense, plus the fact they’d come a long long long way, and they were pretty well at the end of their tether anyway, but it had been stabilised when we got there. Actually shortly after we arrived


I think almost came the turning point of that affair. Right on the coast there was a very long feature which we called Tel el Eisa. It would be about two to three miles long, high feature running parallel to the coast with a swamp and then sandhills and very early in July, I think it was 24 Brigade,


they retook that. We participated in it with artillery support and that sort of thing. Any rate, they got it and secured it and held it and with that, up on that feature, it just stood out and long, we had that wonderful view in a southerly direction. We always had that advantage I think, and with the sort of turning of that with


time I feel the show sort of gathered momentum, but in my view that was the actual start of the turn. Interestingly enough the troop commander with whom I worked in 2/8th, a TXer, he picked up a Military Cross. What else? There was a bit of a, there was a sort


of a settling down and later in July they decided to have a crack at a feature called Ruin Ridge which runs east west and 28th Battalion, the Western Australian battalion, they had the job of assaulting it, and we provided


what they call FOOs, forward observation officers. They’re the fellows who actually move with the troops as distinct from OPO, he’s sitting somewhere. But we provided FOOs and one of them was my troop commander, a South Australian called Arthur Fielding, and this is a night attack. For a start they had to get through a mine field and that was lifted in the dark. They got through the mine field and


they made pretty good progress on Ruin Ridge itself, but the Afrika Korps had some pretty capable anti-tank gunners and they waited until the support vehicles were coming through with ammunition and all this sort of thing for the infantry battalion, and as they were the middle of a gap in the mine field they gunned them, and these vehicles caught fire and turned the gap into broad daylight. With that nobody could go forward and nobody


could go back. You couldn’t go anywhere, and as a result with the final expenditure of ammunition, the 28th surrendered and they were taken prisoners. But our FOO, Arthur Fielding, was in his Bren carrier and he had a crack at getting back, but in the process he was killed and his driver, a West Australian, Athol Manning,


he took a punt and proceeded on foot and managed to get his way through the mine field and all the rest of it and deliver a message to the people at the rear. But that would be one of the most unfortunate experiences I could have. You know, a fairly new officer in a, and he was first class as a gunner and all the rest of it,


but that was the way it went. That night it was interesting, as I mentioned before they’d fire these concentrations and work them at a distance ahead of the approaching infantry. So you might fire four, four or five hours a night. Not all the time. You’d fire a shoot and then you might have a bit of a break and then you’d have a go at another one and so on and so on. All this is planned, you see, so that you


had a bit of a spell, but we were firing away that night and quite close to us was a South African infantry command post. I don’t know whether it was a company command post or something like that. All of a sudden out of the dark appeared a couple of South Africans. Over there our petrol came in cans, four gallon cans. Once you got the fuel out of them they were very very handy. These South Afs had one of these cans


which had been turned into a bucket, and they turned up there with a bucket of tea for a gunners for refreshment. We didn’t ask. They just heard us plugging away and they didn’t have much to do so they made us this petrol can of tea. Things like that stick in the memory a bit.
I hope it didn’t taste of petrol?
No no, because boiling water and that,


that removes the taste of petrol. They were handy for all sorts of things, those cans. But that was a sad night for all of us I think. He was a very fine fellow and that was it. Talking about this, when you get involved fairly close up quite often they work what they call LOB, left out of battle,


and although I was only a troop leader I rarely did that. I was nearly always a GPO because quite often or not the GPO might be LOB, left out of battle in case of, well, you take the 28th Battalion, they had LOBs, left out of battle. They lost the battalion but they had a nucleus LOB and with reinforcements and that sort of thing they simply reformed


the battalion, but I think this is possibly how I got the GPO’s job which was a bit above normal.
But this night you’re talking on Ruin Ridge where you were GPO that night?
Yes, strangely enough I spent practically all my time at Alamein as a GPO. Not only with that troop, but with others as well.
Can you tell us what you did that night? I mean you said you


were firing?
And you mentioned earlier on that as GPO you would have a megaphone?
No, it wouldn’t be so noticeable there because this is a programmed shoot and the guns would be working off their program. They’d be, they’d have all the information there and I might do the timing for it, but they had all


the information on the line, range, angle of sight, the rate of fire, the length of fire and all this sort of thing. So the megaphone, there’d be none of that. That was used principally where you, during the observed shoots when the information is coming down from your OP to you and you transmit to the guns and you do what he says, as distinct from program shoots of which we did a tremendous amount


at Alamein because almost invariably those attacks went in at night and they’d be as I say, programmed and set up like that.
Well take us through what you would be doing?
I’d just be watching them and seeing how they were going. They were, these fellows were pretty accomplished, very accomplished and they were able to,


they knew what they were doing and knew what to do. They were managing the guns and possibly I might have kept an overall timing on it to keep these concentrations. I’d tell them when to stop, start and when to stop and then go on from there. It was a sort of a supervisory thing in a case like this, because they had all the information which they needed.
So that information wouldn’t


come through you?
It would come from our battery command post. See, they’d worked it out with their logs and slide rules and all the rest of it and they’d have like a program in effect giving all the information on a piece of paper, and one for each gun. But I’d probably tell them just as an overall to keep the things together, I’d tell them when to start and I’d have a program too so I’d know the duration of that


And what was the average length of those?
It varied a bit with what you were doing. It might be a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes. You see, you had to deal with an area and then lift and do another one and another one again at the rate of progress, hopefully of the infantry on the ground.


And this was an all night action?
Yes, a full scale action. I reckon we probably fired for about five hours. Most of those big attacks, those attacks, set piece attacks, were for about five hours. See the big Alamein might have been a bit longer. It might have been for six,


so there was a fair amount of hard work involved in it. I was talking to one of our gunners recently and he reckoned on the first night they shot 600 rounds.
Well apart from the action you’ve just been talking about, the Ruin Ridge and Tel el Eisa which you’ve mentioned, what other battles leading up to the big barrage?
After that it stabilised. You could sort of read


that both sides were building up again you see. They couldn’t come any further and we weren’t in a position to push them back. So it was a sort of a stabilising time, but there was still plenty of activity. The infantry, they were the kings of the job; we were only the support really. But the infantry used to patrol at night and generally keep the opposition on their toes, and we used to fire quite a bit during the


day. We’d have our pips out all day, and particularly up on the Tel el Eisa, you see, you didn’t have the haze problem because you weren’t down at ground level. So we’d fire from time to time, but they’d be what you might call occasional targets, something which might crop up and the OPO would decide to have a go at it. We were always on duty and ready to go at any time, but it became,


you would almost call it as far as we were concerned, a quiet period although we could call on at a moment’s notice and I had the good fortune to be transferred from Freddie Troop to Edward Troop. Edward Troop were in a very dry swamp between Tel el Eisa feature and the sand dunes on the coast, and


there was nobody, no artillery troop any further right or any closer to the Mediterranean than we were. There during the day from time we’d let half a gun crew go and have a swim. We were right alongside the 20th Brigade headquarters. That’s the brigade to which we were attached, the 13th, 15th, 17th. And any rate,


two or three members, no more, could go over the sandhills and have a swim in the Mediterranean. Gee, we were lucky, and furthermore on this dry swamp you had the Tel el Eisa feature and right in the distance we could see the spire of Sidi Abdul Rahman Mosque which we believed the Axis were using as an observation post. Okay


if our guns fired during the day he might be able to see the flash, but there was somewhere down this valley in effect, he’d get one line on them but he couldn’t get another one on them. So we were perfectly safe there too. Also, I’d describe it as a dry swamp and the ground was fairly soft. Any rate, we were well and truly dug in. We didn’t strike water or anything like


that. It was very easy digging and we were dug in and something I noticed, although we never got really close to it, any shelling that came our way, the Axis fuses didn’t seem to be quite as instantaneous as ours, and these shells, they seemed to come in, just split, split instant and then go off, but they were in far enough for a crater to form, hence the blast


was up rather. This was rather noticeable because one day, although it didn’t get very close to us we had some twenty-five pounders fired back at us which had been captured, and I noticed the difference in the way our twenty-five pounder shells went off. They just seemed to be so much more instantaneous and you could see little bits of dust flicked


up and all this sort of thing. This stuff was skidding out at ground level, and also had an awfully vicious crack too. They’re nasty, those twenty-five pounders, what little I saw of them. I’d have hated to be on the receiving end the way we dealt it out to them. However, another thing we used to do there, at night we’d take two guns, a section, and move them forward 1,000


or 1500 yards or so, and just set them up in the sandhill and we were allowed to expend twenty rounds of ammunition and don’t come back before 4.00 o’clock in the morning, and we’d be given targets and it was just a harassing thing to keep the opposition awake. Any rate, we’d get into position about 9.00, 10.00 at night


and you’d fire a couple of rounds and then you’d wait half an hour and then you’d fire a couple more and then you’d wait an hour and a half. That’s the objective, keeping them awake. Kept us awake as well but that was all right. There again you see, if they saw the flash it was down this narrow enfilade in effect, so we were very very safe. Any rate, when we spent about twenty odd rounds we’d pull the guns back and set them up into position again. It was just a harassing thing.


Just being unpleasant.
Was it dangerous?
That wasn’t so dangerous because they couldn’t get a check on us. No way that they could get a cross bearing on us. See, they could see us down here, that’s okay, but we might be anywhere down there and the only way is to get another bearing, but they couldn’t because they had this great big Tel el Eisa feature. I never felt at any stage that was dangerous.
How could you get a fix on where they were?


We were given, the command post knew the gun position, court coordinates, and they picked up various areas which they thought could do with a bit less sleep and they simply gave us the line, range and angle of sight. So I’d get the two guns there, line them up and away we’d go, being beastly.
But you’re working at night doing those


harassing that you’ve just described, could you, like how could you see?
This was, we could do it with torches and this sort of thing. Once you got them lined up, you see, each gun had a torch and they could read it and get it onto the sights and that sort of thing.


That’s interesting. Back at this gun position was luxury, and of course the digging was just so easy too, and my quarters consisted of a slit trench down so far and then I cut a ledge in about so far again on the side of it and on that I had my sleeping gear sort of thing. Even when I was asleep


I was below ground level. That’s important, it’s terribly terribly important and that was my little, and I had a one man canvas tent cover over the top of it. But as I mentioned, it was dead easy to punch a slit trench down over there?
It was very sandy?
Yes, it was sort of consolidated sand, so readily. Harking back to


the first time we got dive bombed with ruddy Stukas, that was an interesting experience. We hadn’t been there very long. It was prior to that Ruin Ridge affair. We had been on wheels and we were waiting somewhere for orders, so we pulled in at an open space and fanned the guns out and were just sort of sitting there waiting and all of a


sudden we heard some croaking in the background behind us and realised we pulled in several or a few hundred yards in front of a medium battery. Now medium battery are the bigger guns and they’re used to counter-battery work. If from aerial photos you pick up what you consider enemy artillery, these medium batteries, because they can fire further and heavier shells, they’re used as counter-battery


work, you see. Any rate, we hadn’t been there for very long and lo and behold we heard these guns firing behind us and from the sound I knew they were mediums and all of a sudden somebody called out, “Look out!”. Stukas coming at us. The real thing. Any rate, what they do, they turn on a siren and they


also turn on the machine guns and when they’re in the right position they let the bomb go. Any rate, I had a quick look around. This training again, I saw one fellow had already dug his slit trench and he was in it face down. Always a gentleman, I said, “Do you mind?” and I went in on top of him and the two of us were two layers thick in this ruddy slit trench. My date was about so far below ground level. However,


I don’t know what it is with these things. It’s a fatal fascination to have a look. Believe it or not, to have a look. You look over your shoulder and these things coming at you, the sirens going and you can hear the sound of machine gun bullets hitting the ground and the bomb is held on sort of levers which come down underneath the plane and then let the bomb go. You can actually see the things coming down. It’s unbelievable


when you think of it now.
Did you have any fear?
No, it all happened so quickly. You didn’t have time to be worried. It’s amazing, I’d heard this before, fellows who had had the experience, they said, “If you’re dug in it’s surprising how many heads bob up afterwards.” So any rate, when the dust settled and all this sort of thing heads bobbing up here, there and everywhere. You see, this is that training.


Although I was in charge of that show, I never ever told anybody to dig a slit trench. They all did it off their own bat. I don’t know whether it was the survival instinct or what it is, and lo and behold there were heads bobbing up right, left and ruddy centre. But the guns weren’t dug in of course. They were just tied onto the tractor. We had a gun and trailer caught fire and that sort of thing. Any rate, we got instructions to move off and we’d gone some distance, all


of a sudden we realised that there was a sergeant missing. So I went back and I discovered that he had been, he wasn’t under cover and he had been killed and a couple of British soldiers had buried him. So they were just in the process of putting the final layer of soil over it so we said the Lord’s Prayer. He was a good fellow too, George Phillips from Western Australia.


So there you go. It’s the luck of the draw mind you.
And when you’re laying face down in a slit trench on top of somebody else, do you sort of have a sense of humour?
These things were on the way down coming at us so there wasn’t too much time for any emotion really except save your skin. I thought it was rather nice, wasn’t it? He’d dug the trench, he’d done the work.


I was glad he did too, I might add.
Did he have any words to say about you getting in on top of him?
No, no. We were both glad to still be alive. We got out and got up and got out. Truly, I’m not kidding you. These things sort of stick in your memory a bit.


But I must say it’s surprising what little damage those Stukas will do to properly trained troops in open country. They can do a vast amount of damage in a built up area with buildings and this sort of thing and where we were was pure open country and desert, and really, unless they stick a bomb in a ruddy slit trench with somebody they’re not doing a lot of damage.


Admittedly we lost a gun and that sort of thing, but that was nothing. We had another one in about twenty-four hours. They sent up another one so and back we were. But we were short of George Phillips, Philps, Phillips, which is a big pity.
Okay, well our tape has just come to an end.
Has it?
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 07


Bill, we’re around October 1942 now and I’m wondering what was the briefing for the battle of El Alamein?
It was a complete briefing. Auchinleck had moved on and Montgomery had come in as under commander for the 8th. He did a lot of inspections and this sort of thing, just sort of running around and seeing what it was all about,


and Alexander, he was the Commander in Chief of the Middle East, but you know, there was a general feeling of, always had been a certain confidence but it wasn’t backed with material, whereas when Montgomery moved in, of course he was getting these Sherman and Grant tanks from the USA which the other


generals just hadn’t had and it was given a lot of very serious attention by the Brits and a very real effort was made and he was given the men and the materials to do the job. There were exercises. A brigade might be pulled out of the line and practising exercises for night attack and control and all this sort of thing, and the coordination


between army and air force was tightened up considerably, and for the actual battle itself the instructions went down to every man that was there. It was very very well run. Leave was cancelled


prior of course to the instructions about the battle and that sort of thing. There were very big deceptive operations down south, you see, to make them think it was coming through from that area, and the preparations there were, what shall we say? They were extremely carefully managed and were very very very well done.


And can you describe the first night of battle?
Yes, well it happened. I was then transferred from 57, I moved to 14 Battery and they made me assistant command post officer, ACPO. There is a CPO and an ACPO and they’re the people with their six to eight computers. These are the boys that work on the program,


and I went there as ACPO. ACPO is a bit of spare man because the gunners or the troops that do all the computing and all this, they knew exactly how to do it and we were there more or less in a supervisory point of view. Any rate, I went there for the first night and our command post was on the southern


slope of this big Tel el Eisa feature. So in effect we had a grandstand view of that night because we had that bit of altitude up the slope and you could see this at 10.00 o’clock on the 23rd of October, the way it went, and you could see this crescent of gun flashes running around and back and then on virtually to the horizon,


about 600 or 700 twenty-five pounders plus mediums and all the rest of it all going off together. That was a very memorable sight. We had a bit of a tragedy that night. Charlie Troop, C Troop, 14 Battery, they were doing their work on their program. They fired for about an hour and then that


concentration was completed so they were having a bit of a break. They were sitting on the edge of the gun pit having a cup of tea and in came an aerial bomb and we had four killed and ten wounded, including the gun position officer, so it was a bit of a messy sort of a show. So with the result the following day I went out to Charlie Troop. See, spare man, you see, and I became gun position officer for Charlie Troop. They were a new


troop to me. They were WXs but they were very very highly trained and so I saw the rest of Alamein out like that as a GPO with Charlie Troop, but that was interesting in that there was a lot of hepatitis in that area. It’s a fly borne thing. I tell you what, there are no shortage of flies in Egypt, particularly around Alamein.


You know, you don’t think too much about that, and I didn’t realise at the time that I had contacted hepatitis. It is a very very debilitating disease. You sort of simply run out of energy and everything else. Any rate, gradually with the passage of days I ran out of puff,


and my eyes hadn’t turned yellow. The whites of the eyes hadn’t turned yellow, so I didn’t know what the hell it was. And any rate, I think it was the, it might’ve been the night of the 30th, I was so done, we had a bit attack going in again that night. What they did, they went west and then turned 390 degrees and then went north towards the coast, you see. So these attacks used


to go in night after night and I reckon it was the night of the 30th we had programmed shooting and five hours shooting and all this sort of thing. You know, I was so done I finished lying on a stretcher on the edge of the troop command post and my ACK, GPO ACK assistant, a fellow called Alan Irvine, bombardier, two stripes, he became GPO for the night, full stop.


He ran that troop about as well as I could. I was lying there and just sort of listening to what was going on. Mind you as I mentioned with these programmed shoots, the gun crews themselves have got the shoot. They’ve got all the details and it’s just a question of sort of keeping your eye on them and keeping them in time with one another. So that was the, that was my last night at Alamein itself, listening to a bombardier,


nine shillings a day, running a troop of gun. But that shows what training does, and just imagine what experience he would have had back at Royal Artillery Base Depot. You’re shooting for the School of Artillery there. You’ve got to be lucky. He was a pretty smart cookie anyway. The talent was enormous. Do you want to hear the follow on? The following day I reported to our Regimental Aid Post and


we had our doctor, a fellow called Eric Sybury, he was a New South Welshman, and he said he thought I had hepatitis but he’d like to see a sample. A sample of water, you understand. Any rate, his Regimental Aid Post was right alongside the Tel el Eisa station


and I always remember I had trouble with the water and Eric whistled and eventually I widdled on the railway line at the Tel el Eisa railway station. It was the colour of starch, and he said, “Hepatitis,” and wrote it out and that was the end of me. I went back to the delta. That was a little bit embarrassing. I went back in an ambulance and with the ambulance


there is room for four stretchers and they put the fifth on the floor, so I was in this ruddy ambulance and the other fellows all had holes in them here, there and everywhere, and here was I looking fairly healthy, you’re going back for the ride. But hepatitis is, it really takes the stuffing out of your way. It takes a fair while to pick up again too and it’s only a question of time. That was the end of me at Alamein


and I reckon that before I left I heard them talking about the big supercharge which was turned on by the NZers, and that’s where they went out due west, great big block, and that eventually punched a hole in the Axis line. The problem was they’d been there for so long there was a tremendous build up of mine fields and this sort of thing, and getting through those mighty mine field and getting armour through as well was the big hold up there.


But I reckon that night is when the NZers punched that supercharge operation into them, and actually it was the 4th Indian Division who went through and out into the open behind.
Well how did you feel about leaving Alamein in the midst of the main action?
Well, when you have hepatitis you don’t feel like anything much. I was no use to anybody at all, in no way.


It seemed a that stage, it seemed to be going along. You see, we were only a support. We were a fair way back but it seemed to be going along pretty well but slowly and methodically, just on and on and on, and eventually a hole will appear somewhere. Actually I think the fact that the 9th Division were nibbling away up north,


at the right of the line, and then turned around and started going up, it kept on edging Axis reserves which were drifted up from further down the line and this sort of thing to try and contain 9th Division. So as a result it just got thinner and thinner until eventually somebody punched a hole in it down the line. I can see,


I’m not a student of this, but I can see the same thing with those Normandy landing. See, the Brits at Colin, they drew so much nibbling, drew so much reserves into their area, as a result the Axis line got thin elsewhere and they were able to go. I reckon I could see quite a marked similarity between that and the Alamein job.


This is just supposition, but I can see it I think.
Well you left Alamein and you were taken to the RAP, where did you go from there?
From there I went back to the delta. It was actually on the east of Alexandria, they had 8th Australian General Hospital so I went


in there for hepatitis. There’s nothing they can do for you. It’s just a question of time so I was there for a while, a week or so and then I was moved to a convalescent depot just to sort of build up again, and that was between the 2/8th, the 8th AGH and Alex itself and that was rather nice. It was pretty close to the edge of the built up area of


Cairo. So I would’ve been there for two or three weeks simply recovering. The only way you can do it is the passage of time, but I did notice the first day I was there there were the sandhills between us and the sea, so I thought I’d go for a walk on the sandhills. Walking through sand when you’re recovering from that is not much fun. But it was a very pleasant spot and I met


up with some other fellows and we used to go into Alexandria for a day. Alexandria is a delightful city, it’s everything that Cairo isn’t, and furthermore Alexandria is chock full, it’s a navy base, and those navy in the Mediterranean, they were great. God, they worked hard. They were outstanding.


Around that area also, airfields, mainly bombers, light bombers and that sort of thing, and also were the chaps on leave. So they were all goers compared to Cairo itself which was more a sort of a base area, you know, the paper shufflers and all this sort of thing. So the company there was great. It was really enjoyable to sort of meet these fellows.
Well after that you returned to Australia?


Yes. From that, by that time we were booked to come back to Australia and where were we? The regiment and the whole division was moved back to the Gaza area of Palestine. You see, the transport people were around the world in those days and you had to have these ready troop ships and the ready troop ships were shuttling Americans across the Atlantic and all the rest of it,


so it was a question of availability. So I caught up with them again at a place just south of Gaza in southern Palestine and that was where we sort of waited until such time as we could get troop transport for a full division. See, you’re looking at about 20,000 men. You need several ships to do that, big ones too, and that’s how


we got there. But something I always remember, we had a divisional review, full division. Say 16,000 on the Gaza airstrip and the review officer was General Sir Harold Alexander, Commander in Chief of the Middle East, and he


reviewed us and gave a short address and then there was a march past and that sort of thing.
What did he say in his address?
I’ve got it here.
What stuck out in your mind about that address?
He said, “There’s one thought that I shall always cherish, under my command fought the 9th Australian Division.”


He was a pretty smart cookie. I mean he didn’t over do it or anything like that or go on and on and on. He was very very professional and a good looking chap and


had, I don’t know what you’d say, and had a great bearing to him. He was orthodox but not dull. Very commanding presence, and he was in charge of army, navy and air force and he was very very capable, and as an individual, that’s the only time,


I didn’t meet him either, the only time I ever saw him, but what I did, first class. He went on and did that Italian job and he finished up as Governor General of Canada of course.
And how did you feel about returning to Australia?
Well that was a nice change I suppose. A bit sad to leave those New Zealanders anyway. We’d been away for


over two years by then. So any rate, we came back. We got on board the ship at Suez and it was a Dutch ship. It was a trans-Atlantic liner called the New Amsterdam and about 38,000 tons. It was the biggest ship I’d ever seen in my life. Hold on, that I’d ever travelled on, and I think we had one of the Queens as well. And this is interesting,


we left Suez and then we went down south into the Indian Ocean and we pulled into an atoll, a string of islands. It was the Chagos Archipelago with is south of India and we pulled in there for refuelling. That was interesting. It was sort of a naval base right in the Indian Ocean. I never knew it existed until we called in there.


However, we carried on and our first port of call in Australia was Fremantle. The ship was big enough to get into Fremantle Harbour so we unloaded all the WXs there and then our next port was Melbourne. So we called in there and then transferred from the ship to troop trains, and the SXs came back here to Adelaide and we pulled up at Mitcham Station.


There were buses there. We got on the buses, and you might be able to recall it, Daws Road, you know the Repat? Over the road there is a, is it Daws Road High School? That was open paddocks full of tents and that was an army details reception area, so we called in there and unloaded any gear that we had and went on leave.


I don’t know how long we had, might have been a fortnight or so.
What was the first thing that you saw of Australia coming back?
When we called into Fremantle?
I’m just wondering what the feeling was like when you returned after those years away?
It was interesting because our families were overjoyed to see us.


This is dangerous. I don’t care what anybody says. World history was made at the Alamein affair. No doubt about that. That was the turn of the tide. We weren’t the only ones there. We had the Brits, the NZers, the South Afs and all the rest of it, and Rhodesians, but we were part of that. And another thing, we


wore webbing equipment. I think it’s made out of flax. Any rate, the climate over there was very very severe and this webbing would bleach of its own accord simply because of the fierce sun and all the rest of it, and of course, when we came back to Australia we had belts which were almost white. We were in khaki. We had the stockings and we used to wear these flax


gaiters and they were white as well. We were accused of blankoing them, and I always remember, this is a bit iffy too, (someone from) the air force saying, “All you blokes are known as memas,” M E M A S, Middle East Mutual Admiration Society. He was building ruddy airfields somewhere in Australia, but that was all right.


You see, it was no fault of theirs but they were doing it tough up there in New Guinea. There’s no doubt about it. There was no really glamour there. That was an ugly affair, and here we are, we waltzed in from North Africa, everybody looking pretty fit and well and suntanned with the khaki. They were in green by then you see, and with these white belts and all the rest, we rather stood out.


Well the war had now changed in Australia?
Oh yes. Darwin had been bombed and it was getting pretty ruddy ugly, and that Coral Sea Battle had been fought off Townsville too. Those airstrips up in Townsville and up on the Tablelands were used by planes which fought the Coral Sea Battle. I mean it was getting pretty ruddy nasty by then.


Well you had, after leave that’s where you went for further training?
We moved up to the Atherton Tablelands.
And what was the training that you were doing up there?
That was a pure changeover from what we were used to, jungle training. See, where we’d come from, I mean you had space, you could see and it was just completely open, whereas you get this jungle job.


They chose the Tablelands because there was a lot of rainforest up there which is very similar to the New Guinea country and this sort of thing, ideal training to convert to jungle training. So we went in up there and that’s where we had hit a very very flat spot because in time 9th Division was moved


up to, where was it? On the north side of New Guinea, I think it was Sattelberg or Finschhafen or up near there somewhere or other, and it wasn’t artillery country and they only took one regiment up there and that was the 2/12th, so the 2/7th and the 2/8th, we were left back on the Tablelands doing nothing really.
Were you doing, I mean you were doing training?


We were training, but you know, that’s a repeat of the same old thing. You know, it’s pretty hard to know what the hell to do with troops. You can do it for so long and then you run out of ideas really.
What troop were you with now?
I was with 14 Battery you see. I was probably with Charlie Troop there.


And any rate, whist we were up on the Tablelands I moved across to Dog Troop which was the 2nd Troop of 14 Battery. We did our, I don’t know, we were first of all at a place called Kairi which is fairly close to Atherton and when the infantry plus 12th Regiment went up to New Guinea


we moved over to Ravenshoe which is also on the Tablelands and when the Division came back from New Guinea that’s where we joined up with them again, and that’s where we saw our time out on the Tablelands.
With 14 Battery what weapons were you?
Same thing, twenty-fives. Twenty-five were made in Australia, Australian made.


Exactly the same pattern, design and everything else but ours had GMH on them, General Motors Holdens.
So the twenty-five pounders, the environment in which you were using them had changed as well. How did they respond to the tropical conditions?
They were heavier, they were a bit heavy, but you see, they had those three charges, first, second and third charges so they could get the higher trajectory and this sort of thing.


But in close country there is not much sort of scope for artillery really. It’s more mortar, you know, close quarters stuff and that sort of thing. They also designed what they called short twenty-five pounders, they’re Australian made, and they were constructed so that if necessary they could be broken down readily, stowed on board an aircraft. You wouldn’t get them on; you wouldn’t get a twenty-five


on the transport aircraft which we had in those days, and these things could be, these short twenty-fives could be broken down, transported and reassembled on the ground. Plus they’re a bit lighter and bit easier to manhandle. They use the same ammunition, but after being used to the Rolls Royce they were a pretty poor sort of substitute. Same ammunition but a shorter barrel. Hence the blast was enormous,


and also they were very unbalanced. They’d jump around. They weren’t on platforms and this sort of thing. We only had four of them so they were passed around amongst the ruddy troops.
When we were talking about the twenty-five pounders in the Middle East you were telling me how dust was prevented. What were the hazards in this terrain for the twenty-five?
No problem at all. Keep


on going. No, no, no.
There were no problems with moisture or anything?
No, no. Actually the maintenance of them was very high. One thing which we learnt in the Middle East, our motor transport was supplied from Australia. The New Zealanders were supplied from the UK and ours had to be brought all the way from Australia over there and all this sort of thing, so what we had we treasured and


our maintenance factor was extremely high, because if you broke one or did something to it you wouldn’t know when the next one might come along, and as a result we treasured our equipment because as I said, you weren’t too sure when it might be replaced. So I say it’s all training, inbuilt and all this sort of thing, but


our weapons were always kept in first class order.
So how long were you training in the Tablelands?
Let’s think. We got there in, be about February, March 1943, and we didn’t move out until about April ’45. We had two years there.
So how did you quell


the boredom?
Well after a year we went on leave. Of course for West Australians and South Australians that was quite an epic trip. You just imagine, the only way of travelling was by train and it’s a long way around there, particularly when you’re thinking where Cairns is. It’s a thousand miles north of Brisbane. So after being there about twelve months we were on leave, and this is interesting. I


happen to hear the Normandy landing on a radio in the Cathedral Hotel, North Adelaide. What was that, July 1944, wasn’t it? So there you go. Also up there, something we did do, amphibious training.
I was about to ask you how you trained for landings.
Well they thought it would be,


I don’t know whether they had it in mind but it would be pretty handy. Well they had to really once you get on this island hopping job. So we did amphibious training and we’d go down to Cairns and Trinity Beach, you know that area? Trinity Beach is one of those beaches north of Cairns and that’s where they had the landing barges and all this sort of thing. We did that, and furthermore, an English amphibious


assault ship turned up there and that of course had the lifeboats and all this sort of thing. So we had some time on that. That was not far out of Cairns. I think it was near Fitzroy Island or one of those places. So we saw it on the bigger scale as well.
And how did the twenty-five pounders, how did you get them ashore?
Well, they used what they call LST, landing ship tanks, and


they were no picture postcards I can tell you, but God, they were effective. They were used for all sort of things. They’d be 3,000 or 4,000 tons, these things, and the bowl would open, a ramp would go down and vehicles could come on board and they’d go into what they called the tank deck which was three-quarters or more of the length of the ship,


under cover. And in between the walls and the side of the ship they had bunks, longitudinal bunks where the passengers could sleep and live. They also had cooking facilities to handle X people in addition to their crew, and these things were great. They’d load them up and away


they’d go and they’d actually run them up on the beach, open the doors at the front and down would go the ramp and the troops would walk off and the vehicles would just waddle off from there up the bank and away.
How many guns would be on one?
We had a full battery and a troop of tanks. The size of them is


staggering to see what they could do, but the full 14 Battery on board and we also had, we had some tanks. Not a great number. I reckon we had some tanks from 9th Army Regiment, but there was room for everybody. Everybody had somewhere to sleep and it was fascinating


to sort of experience something like that. Actually this was from Morotai. What happened, we went from Townsville up to Morotai by troop ship and all our equipment was on cargo ship. That was all unloaded on Morotai and we all sort of got together then, and then we went on to the landing ship to go for that. It would be about three or four days run from Morotai across to


Well before you left what was, well actually, what I was asking about the LSTs were how many guns could go on one LST?
As many as they could pack on the tank deck. We had eight guns plus vehicles, odd vehicles and all this sort of thing. We had jeeps and utilities and things like that, a complete battery, not only the guns.


We didn’t use trailers there, we used boxed ammunition. The trailers were a bit bulky for that sort of thing and it wasn’t a mobile job such as we’d experienced in the Middle East, so all the ammunition was in boxes. But I don’t know, I can’t give you a number there. I don’t know what else we had on board. I distinctly remember the tanks and our


full battery.
Well the way in which you were fighting the war now changed distinctively?
Yes, completely different.
What training were you given about your new enemy, the Japanese?
This is where we did our jungle training in the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands. You were taught all sorts of things like


using native vegetable, timber and this sort of thing to make little shelters, so on and so forth, get up off the ground. Also little tricks, go out at night and you’d be in your shelters and all this sort of thing and that rainforest at night, I’ve never seen anything as black and as dark. To get from one shelter to another we used to use


cane and they’d string their ruddy canes so you’d pick up the ruddy cane and walk along with a cane and you’d eventually finish up at the shelter to which, well, little strong point or whatever it was to which you went. In addition to which our gun crew numbers were increased from six to ten. The Japanese were pretty keen on infiltration and this sort of thing, so


with the extra four men they were used for sort of support to that gun, and we were issued, not everybody, but Owen guns were issued, you know the machine pistols. And we were taught how to use grenades and all that sort of basic infantry stuff because it was up to us to look


after ourselves because the nature of the thing had changed. It was more or less eyeball to eyeball, and they used to, as I say, infiltrate and endeavour to cause chaos in the backline.
Well you spoke very fondly of the Middle East and the desert and that type of terrain. How did you respond to the jungle?
You were sent there, you had to


live with it. It’s a different operation altogether. It’s like alley fighting. You know, backyard stuff. It’s ugly, God, it’s ugly. That jungle fighting is, no, it’s, but that was our job. We were sent up there and we had to make the most of it.
What did they tell you about the Japanese?
Well, everything that wasn’t nice. Expect anything and be surprised


at nothing, and show no mercy.
And what did they say about the tactics which they used to fight?
The same. They’d say be very very careful on this close quarter work and this infiltration I was telling you about. The Japanese do some stupid things really, thoughtless things. I know at Tarakan


a Japanese got a fair way back and he got right back to a casualty clearing station. Well that was full of fellows who’d been wounded and all this sort of thing. Okay, what did he do? He rolled a grenade in there and these fellows were out of action anyway, in effect he’d wasted that ruddy grenade. From his point of view it did no good whatsoever,


except make you hate them a bit more. Whereas if that was rolled into an ammunition depot or a petrol point or a headquarters or something like that, how much more effective would that be for his side. They do some, I don’t suppose you expect a CCS [Casualty Clearing Station], but there it was, a tent and row of stretchers with wounded soldiers in it. But a sheer waste.


I don’t know whether he ever got back home again. But they were amazing. Of course we didn’t see them really close up. We got close enough. But their mentality is, I don’t know.
Well we will talk more about your confrontations with the Japanese once we start talking about your landing, but how did you get to Morotai?
We travelled


on a troop ship. We travelled on an American, a US troop ship. She was designed as a troop ship, pure and simple, and we got on board at Townsville and how long would it have taken? About a week, and we went up to Morotai. This is where we were fairly fortunate there. It was blacked out at night. It had to be. But it had a lot of anti-aircraft


gear on board and this sort of thing.
Bill, can I just pause you for a moment please because we’ve come to the end of the tape and we don’t want to miss your arrival in Morotai.
All right.
Sorry to cut you off like that, but we’d hate for you to
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 08


So Bill, just as we were talking about off camera, I just want to spend a moment going back to the night of the big barrage at Alamein because as you’ve just mentioned you had the prime advantage point to watch at your position at Tel el Eisa up on the ridge. Can you just paint that picture of that night?
Our battery command


post was about half way up the ridge on the southern side which gave us a view in the southern direction and we were, from the programs we knew what time the barrage would start because it had gone through us and then out to the guns. So we got out of our command post and stood there and


had a grandstand view of the actual start of that barrage. There was pitch darkness. Yes, pitch darkness, and all of a sudden somebody jumped the gun by a second or two. We saw a flash way down south and all of a sudden a complete crescent of gun flashes could be seen. From where we were they


fell away a little bit to the left and then swung around in a crescent or fingernail shape, and that light, the flashing, would have gone as far as the horizon. There were about 700 twenty-fives operating and of course being in open country and that sort of thing, there were no trees, no cover, so every gun that flashed you could virtually see it,


and there was sort of a glitter of flashes running around in this huge sweep. Fascinating.
I have heard that it really lit the night sky?
Yes. Not noticeably from my point of view, but it was a constant glittering. When you get that number of guns packed into that


distance and going off, they don’t all go off together. Once they start firing they load and fire them and away they go. In effect they’re firing independently, except they have to get so many rounds a minute. But they were just sort of pegging away, and I call it almost a glittering sweep of gun flashes.
And from where you were, even though you were up and back a bit, could you


Oh yes, but it wasn’t, it was sort of just a steady rumble. I can’t recall the noise making any great impression. We were some distance away from our own guns and they were spread out. No, I cannot recall any great impression


of sound, more this sparkling, shall we say, of light.
And as you mentioned, you had the program?
So what did that tell you?
That simply told us what time it would start and we’d passed the program onto our guns and that sort of thing. We’d done our bit. The gunners then had those programs so they had to follow those programs for about


five or six hours, that sort of thing. So we’d done our night’s work, so we watched the action from that distance of course. Nothing more that we could do from the command post.
And what was the buzz around the command post that night?
Well, I don’t know. They’d been working very hard, you see,


to work out all these program shoots for the guns and I think, well, we’d done it, it had been passed onto the troops and it was over for them to follow through and deliver those rounds at the appropriate target and the appropriate time for the appropriate length of time, and we sort of handed it over to them.


I don’t think there was any, I think probably what impressed us was this huge crescent of fun flashes which we could see. It was obviously big time, there’s no doubt about that, to see it just sort of disappear over the horizon and you realised what a tremendous amount of spadework had gone in before for the whole thing to


be organised and put together, and at the appropriate moment, except for this one down south that got away two or three seconds before he should have, it all happened on time. You sort of feel, I don’t know, we did what we had to and it was over to the gunners to do their bit. It’s funny, I don’t know, no,


it’s interesting with these questions that are asked, about the emotions and so on and so forth, I don’t know. I don’t think it became automatic, but you just sort of, job has to be done, you turn around and do it and that’s it, and where we were when you’ve done your job you just sort of sit back and relax until something else happens. Funny, I don’t know. Go on.
Well, I’m just thinking in the lead up to the beginning of the barrage from your


vantage point, could you see the massing of the 8th Army?
No. They came in at night, dug in, put nets over themselves and all the infantry were moved in at night so they couldn’t be seen and this sort of thing, and lay up during the day so that at 10.00 o’clock over went the start of the concentrations, that’s when they got up out of their


shelters and all this sort of thing and carried on with the job. The troop movements we did not see. The big troop movements, and they would have been really big, I mean you’re dealing with several divisions, we just did not see because all that was done at night. A deception type of thing I suppose and done very very well. An awful lot of thought went into this, and awful lot of detailed thought. I don’t think they missed anything.
And could you see anything of


the enemy fire?
Enemy fire?
No, virtually nothing came back. I think they were swamped, and this unfortunate business we had with Charlie Troop, that was an aerial bomb anyway. No, there didn’t seem to be any retaliation whatsoever. But this plane must have been flying around for some reason or other. I don’t know what the hell he had to aim at. He just sort of


dropped this bomb and our fellows got it. Having, not really, no, having seen and heard twenty-fives some distance away and just a couple of rounds, you imagine hundreds of rounds going over. I would not have cared to have been on the receiving end of


that lot. The detonation and everything else and the build up had been going on for six hours. The effect on opposition would be stunning I would say. The big problem of course with Alamein were the mine fields, getting through those damn mine fields, because they’d had months in which to build them up. They used to go out every night and lay more mines, and the


infantry could get through because they could tread lightly, but you had to get them, you couldn’t risk it with armour and this sort of thing, mines blowing tracks off armour and this sort of thing and not getting anywhere.
And one other question about the enemy in the Middle East, what did you and your troops think of Rommel?
He was very highly regarded.


He was, as a matter of fact on a couple of occasions how they worked out where he was…we actually had Target Rommel. How they knew where he was I would not know. Twice I think we had Target Rommel.
What do you mean by Target Rommel?
Somebody reckoned they knew where he was on their side and we turned, we


fired at that area where they thought he was. There’s no doubt about it, on the…
I’ll just get you to sit back.
He was very very capable, particularly in mobile warfare, and furthermore his equipment, his tanks, there’s no doubt about that, until the US Shermans came along, and Grant, his tanks were superior to ours.


He could think quicker too. I don’t know about his…took risks, his view on logistics. He seemed to sort of run out of supplies on everything else and get out on the end of a fairly shaky line of communication. But Montgomery was well aware


of Rommel’s strong point and it was in September that Rommel made his last and final fling down at Alam, was it Alam [el] Halfa down south. The 8th Army were pretty well aware that something was going on down there so they made all preparations, dug in, tanks and all this sort of thing, and the instructions


were that not under any circumstances were they to chase Rommel if he withdrew. Let him go. I think Montgomery knew his strong point and our less strong points. Any rate, it did come to pass and that was Rommel’s last and final fling. He was very very badly mauled down there and he simply went back where he came from and left an awful lot of wreckage


and tanks which he could not really afford to lose. He couldn’t recover them you see, and that was it. Looking at it academically I think Montgomery was well aware of the strengths and weaknesses on both sides and what not to do, and I think that showed up as well. See, Alamein was a set piece job, a sheer slugging match. There’s no doubt


about that. It never ever got mobile, which mobile wasn’t really the 8th Army’s forte shall we say. That sounds like cheek from a temporary gentleman. It’s interesting reading now, there’s some very good books around and I’m not a military history junkie but some of this stuff is pretty good to read, particularly with the benefit of hindsight and release of material and so on and so forth.


But that’s by the way. Mind you, I was never up around that level. I don’t think I ever saw Montgomery. I saw Alexander at that big parade at Gaza.
Rommel was quite well respected then?
Yes. He was treated with a lot of respect. If you got out in the open, be very, better still, don’t get out in the open because the bugger would run rings around you and he had the equipment with which to do it too,


you see. Mind you, I’m almost horrified with this stuff which is now coming out through World at War, a repeat of a repeat and all the rest of it, to see the conditions under which those Afrika Korps fellows worked and lived. Where we had a very definite advantage is that the Brits had been in Egypt and that area for


generations and they’d developed methods and appreciation of what it is to work in the desert, and they had hygiene for instance. There were flies everywhere but we adopted different methods to try and reduce that sort of thing and make life a little bit more


comfortable for the men out there that were doing it, and these were strictly adhered to, and it’s almost devastating to see the photos of what these Germans put up with out there and the sheer squalor in which they were living and they didn’t seem to do anything about it. And I think that as a result it would have sat quite a bit,


they must’ve had a tremendous amount of fellows on sick leave and this sort of thing and reduce their efficiency simply because they weren’t living, or living under the conditions which they were. Bloody flies, I’ve never seen so many flies in my life, and they weren’t all that far away either. They were only just over there. However, that’s by the way, but I think if you’re doing that and troops


are much more comfortable. We had a fly problem but it never got out of hand or anything like. With the rations too, we had a bit of a problem with desert sores and you can counter them with scorbic acid and so on and so forth. I wasn’t there but one morning one of guns, one of our troops was surprised


when a Messerschmitt landed alongside them. One of the latest, 109G Gustav, pulled, landed, pulled in the pit.
Crash landed?
No, he landed wheels down and all the ruddy rest of it. So they went over and they said a boy got out of it. He’d in fact deserted, complete with a 109G too, immaculate. Any rate, this young man got out


and they reckoned that he would have been about nineteen or twenty and he was scared as he could hold together with what he’d done. He didn’t know what reception he’d get, and they said he was covered in desert sores. Now that kid was covered in ruddy desert sores and there he was going around flying the ME 109G. Any rate, this was rather interesting. What’d they do, they hadn’t had much experiences with captured


Germans, so I think they gave him a cup of tea and all this sort of thing and called up the MPs and the rest and the air force. Any rate, the rest of the crowd went over to have a look at the plane and all of a sudden he took over to the plane and he switched off the trigger for the ruddy gun in case the lads pressed the wrong trigger and away she went. However, the MPs came along and took him away and then the RAF turned up quickly with a transporter because here was a


brand spanking new 109G. Any rate, what did they do? That’s right. They loaded it onto the transporter and then put on a camouflage net, a big one. Whilst all this was going on another 109G had sort of seen this one on the ground. Any rate, he went away and then the Stukas


came back. By then there was, they bombed hell out of the ruddy net and the 109G had gone, taken back for evaluation and all this sort of thing.
That would have quite amazing to have a look at a 109?
Yeah. It was their latest, their G Gustav, it went in letters and it had a lot of (emels? UNCLEAR). Okay, that’s by the way, that was an aside.
Yes. Well, that was a very interesting story. Well, we’d better get back to
Where are we?


Tarakan landing that you did.
Tell us about that landing? What was your position for that landing?
At that stage I was troop commander of Dog Troop, so I was working with the infantry and we’d switched, we were 26 Brigade by now and that was the 23rd, 24th Victorians and the 48th South Australians, and


as 14 Battery we were with 24th. I think they were all British owned if everybody had their own. So I went ashore and I teamed up with the company commander of one of the companies of 24th, and I went ahead with him and we sort of worked our way inland. The landing was virtually unopposed and they we got this really close quarters


work where I was close enough, you’d see a mound with a concrete pill box on the top of it with the concrete roof on and you’d actually see the head of the Japanese in this pill box. What did they do with him? They put a ruddy flame thrower. It was so close quartered it was sort of very hard to work artillery in on it


because, whilst I was there, because of the lack of, what shall we say? You couldn’t get far enough away. It was very undulating and steep and it’s hellish at night trying to sleep on a ruddy slope, I can tell you. It was close quarters stuff. We were following tracks heading inland and I finished up


on the edge of the airstrip itself which would be a couple of miles inland from the beach on which we landed at Tarakan. It was I think Linkers Beach.
And did you come in at day time?
Yes, we came in at day time. We came in at morning and I simply tracked along with the infantry. We didn’t do


much firing because there was nothing much to fire at. I mean, here you are, you’re looking fifty yards away and there’s a ruddy strong point. Well, you can’t sort of engage it with artillery at that distance. He has to be dug out. They torched him, they torched him out. That was a completely different operation to the desert


as I knew it. It was very very hard on infantry because the only way you were going along was on tracks and of course they could lay ambushes on the tracks. It was there that we lost Derek who was a VC winner with the 48th Battalion. It was tough on infantry, plus the fact those fellows had been there for a couple of years and it riddled with tunnels, strong points and all the rest of it. They


were not exactly Jap soldiers. They were Japanese something like marines, naval marines, a landing party and that sort of thing. I did see a dead one. We worked out way along and there was a dead Jap alongside a machine gun and he was very very well fed compared to the Japs which I have noticed on this World at War from out on the islands. They must have been living


quite comfortably. They were hard and they were tough, but something I did notice the few nights that I was there, late one afternoon a ruddy Japanese warrant officer walked in, which was the turn of the tide. He walked in and gave himself up. So I don’t know whether it might have sunk in that there was no future, but it was certainly against their policy.
Well, what


was you duty or your objective?
To go along with the infantry and as and when required bring down, observe fire on anything which they wanted. But I can’t recall in that time having to do that because there was nothing far enough away to warrant the use of artillery. It did open up


considerably afterwards when the got inland and artillery was used quite a bit. It was just starting to open up. It was actually on the edge of the airstrip itself where I got whacked and that was in more open country.
So you were camped on the edge of the airstrip?
No, I was with the infantry on the edge of the airstrip. Airstrips as you know are wide open


and everybody could see if you were crossing across airstrips and (UNCLEAR) didn’t want a frontal assault there because they would be asking for trouble. How they got it, I think they ran around the end of it, got around the end of it any rate and came in from behind when it was eventually captured, but that was after I’d left.
So when did the rest of your battery come ashore?
They all came ashore at the same time. Actually, the day before we put a


battery on an island in the harbour itself and that was put on the island so that it could cover the landing. That went in the day before, but our battery went in on the day of the main assault on the mainland itself.
So tell us how, I understand you


were there only a few days?
Yes. I got hit with a mortar fragment.
What happened?
It went through my arm, in one side and out the other. Right arm and I’m a right hander. I was lucky; it didn’t hit a bone or anything like that. I also got a graze on the chest here so it’s a good thing it went through where it did instead of any further back. The mortar was fired


by a mortar platoon of the 24th Battalion who we were supporting. It was friendly fire, and of course there was only one. It was just ranging around. We had the mortar sergeant up there with us and he had a line running back to his mortars, and any rate he was going to have a go at something, obviously having something on the other side of the ruddy airstrip and he made a miscalculation. Remembering the observation of fire rules, you always visualise the line


of fire. Any rate, he didn’t visualise the line of fire, ordered a correction and it landed in company headquarters where we had the company commander and his troops, me, the artillery, and I had an ACK there and also a couple of sigs there. The mortar sergeant was there himself, and it landed right in the middle of us all. Gee, I was lucky. He was killed, the mortar sergeant.


These things happen, but there you go. The company commander and I finished up back together in the officers ward at Morotai in a general hospital. He was hit but he wasn’t hit badly.
And was there any warning?
Mortars are mild. You don’t hear them coming. A shell you can hear coming. At Alamein you could hear shells coming and you could


pick those that were going to land fairly close. But a mortar, it’s a low velocity thing. It hasn’t got the space of a shell and it’s a high trajectory and they come in and they land with a plop and they’re going so slowly that they detonate and go off on a arrival, but you don’t hear them coming. They’re


not nice, really aren’t. We never heard this thing coming. It just landed and let go and there was general chaos. I was able to walk out and the company commander was too and I think it was (UNCLEAR), but others had to be carried out and all this sort of thing, a real shambles. When you get a company headquarters you’ve got a few troops around there and you’ve got your artillery men, and


in this case we had the mortar sergeant and that sort of thing. Did something the Japs couldn’t do.
And at the time that it went off were you aware that it was friendly fire?
No, but I worked it out soon afterwards. We hadn’t had any trouble with mortars at all or anything of that description, but nothing could be done


about it. The damage had been done by then. But this happens. It happens a lot actually. Not regularly, but it’s always on. Human error I suppose you’d call it, and when it’s observation of fire whether with mortars or with twenty-five pounders or whatever, it’s a human job. You are in charge of, or you direct


what comes over and this sort of thing. So that was that. It was quite an experience.
Well, when you get a wound like that do you remember what it felt like?
It’s weird, it didn’t hurt, no feeling. It went right through this big muscle up here, and as I said, I must’ve been picking my nose or something because it grazed my chest. So just here and here,


what else could a fellow be doing? And honestly it did not hurt. Any rate, the stretcher bearers all came along and they had a look at it, and what did they do? Produced a razor and slit my shirt, which was done up. Up in the jungle you always had the wrists, done up at the wrists and this sort of thing, or you had all sorts of problems with stanna bushes and all this sort of thing.


I always remember he slit my shirt. It formed a sort of a hammock there and in the hammock was a length of muscle that had come out of here. I don’t know whether I was still in a state of shock and didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I took it all very cool, calm and collect. It didn’t hurt. Honestly it did not hurt at all, and it simply took a section of muscle out of this bicep


here. Fascinating, isn’t it?
So you were conscious through the whole time?
Oh yes. I got blown over. They go off with a blast. I got blown over. When I picked myself up I discovered my right arm wasn’t working, and when they slit it open and had a look it was there for everybody to see. I’m not cracking hardy. I don’t think I am. No, but why it didn’t hurt I just don’t know. I suppose being a muscle there were no


nerves in it.
And what happened after that?
I was able to walk out and I got into a jeep and they took me back to a Casualty Clearing Station. That was an interesting experience too. A Casualty Clearing Station is where the wounded are collected and they sort them all out and they do basic surgery and this sort of thing as and when required and so on and so forth. I can always remember


the surgeon at this Casualty Clearing Station was a fellow called Bill Dawson, a South Australian who used to work up at Broken Hill. I thought they’d better clean this wound up and I always remember, this sticks in my memory a bit with the experience that I’ve had since, what shall we say, the operation procedure? Here was Bill Dawson, a qualified surgeon, what was he dressed in? A pair of shorts, a pair of socks,


a pair of boots and a carpenter’s apron and here he was operating on me. However, that was the way of it. However, they did clean it up. They didn’t stitch it up. They just sort of cleaned it up and this sort of thing and I think I spent a night there and then the following day, this is where these LSTs are just so handy, there was an LST up on the beach with the ramp down and they simply loaded all these, they simply filled the tank


deck with stretchers. You see, stretchers are collapsible, you see, and everybody had his own stretcher. They had these ready rows of stretchers in this LST. It was under cover, perfectly comfortable. They had all facilities. They had cooking facilities and the ruddy lot, and when she was loaded up they closed the doors, put her into reverse, backed in off the beach, turned around and headed towards Morotai. They’re just sort of


so useful, those things. They can be used for all sorts of jobs.
And were there many wounded on that trip back?
Yes. I couldn’t come up with a number, but there was a tank deck full. I mean, they had the accommodation to handle them, you see. It was under cover, perfectly comfortable. It didn’t matter if it rained, hailed or snowed, you were well looked after. They had all the facilities to look after you.


God, I wouldn’t know, a dozen. How they worked when they’d had enough I don’t know, but there were a lot of troops on board, but we all had our own stretcher. A lot of us were able to walk around with arm wounds and this sort of thing. Some couldn’t and so on and so forth. So we went back to Morotai on this ship. It would have taken about three days I suppose and then moved into


number 1 AGH [Australian General Hospital] where the surgeon, he probably had a mask and all the rest of the business, he got to work on it and stitched it up. But that was a very very very well run hospital, that number 1 AGH, first class, and we were well looked after there. Not that we weren’t well looked after at the CCS with what they had.


But it was right on the edge of the water and Morotai was coconut palms and all the rest of it, and of course things lifted a bit, the standards. They had proper kitchens and so on and so forth, and we used to get newspapers. Any rate, I was there for a week or two. See, I’m a right hander and I had no movement at all on this side.


Any rate, when they reckoned I was fit to move I went out to a Casualty Clearing Station and that’s where the physios got to work on it and gradually go it going. But I must say the experience I had with the Australian Medical Services with the war years were first class. Army.


Whether this is on or off the record, at Morotai there was a huge airstrip. It was loaded up with aircraft. It had the Americans, they had these Mitchell medium bombers, there were Spits, there were Kittyhawks, Liberators, the lot, and there were a lot of Australian Liberators, the big four engined jobs up there. Any rate, this is


dangerous, but there was an RAF Hospital up there and I happened to see that. It didn’t compare with the army hospitals in my opinion. That’s just an aside.
What made the army hospitals so good?
They run with clicking precision, whereas they other one was, just didn’t have the


appearance. Everybody was wearing whatever they liked and this sort of thing, where all the nurses all wore a safari jacket, slacks, gaiters, boots, light boots. That 1 AGH was an absolute copy book affair. The surgeon was a fellow called Starr


who was apparently a leading general surgeon in Sydney subsequently. Just I suppose the army would have more, what shall we say, more numbers to work with and all this sort of thing. But the presentation and the obvious organisation, and


this is a bit cheeky, a pride in their unit, it stood out, particularly when I saw this other one. I was horrified. I saw a fellow, he must have been a pilot, he was pretty badly burned, I could see this fellow, I don’t know…


You haven’t said anything too bad.
Don’t you think so? No, this is interesting on this thing. Are we running out of time? Because in the war these air force fellows would come along and they had collars and ties and these nice blue uniforms and all this sort of thing and had their hair parted in the middle and they cut quite a dash around the place, whereas the army, yeah, there were a lot of them and this sort of thing. Army.


But I tell you what, what I saw when the going got rough the army held together very well. God, I saw some rough RAAF camps in my time, up on the Tablelands and also on Morotai. But that’s purely a personal opinion. They may think the same about us. Now, what are we after?
I think our tape is coming to an end.
Interviewee: William Monfries Archive ID 2175 Tape 09


Bill, we were talking about you convalescing in Morotai, when you found out that it was friendly fire how did you feel?
I felt there was nothing that could be done about it. The damage had been done and that was that. I think one tends to get a little bit fatalistic, either it happens or it doesn’t. It happened. Absolutely nothing could be done about it.


I think I was very relieved that it went through there and not an inch or two further back, otherwise it could have gone through me, you know, pretty important parts and this sort of thing, and I suppose I’m a bit of an optimist, looking on the bright side and my thinking was, well, it could have been a lot worse. I suppose it depends on


the person’s makeup, but one does become, I perhaps it’s me, you become a bit fatalistic and I think that would have been the case. I didn’t feel any resentment or anything like that, otherwise this fellow had made a mistake. He’d killed himself in the process; he didn’t mean to do that. It was obviously a mistake. It was a very damaging one in that it


took out the company commander, captain company commander and the me, the troop commander for the artillery, together with quite a few other troops as well you see. But I don’t know, you look upon it as these things do happen and it’s nice if they don’t happen to you, but if they do, well I suppose you have to give a bit of thought to what could have happened.


Only an inch or two don’t forget. I’ve got the scar here, an inch or two that and it would have pretty, it didn’t even hit the bone. It just took a sort of a slice of muscle out of that bicep.
Did you expect to go back into the war after your convalescence?
Yes. What happened after the convalescence I went into what they call a


General Details Depot again. That’s a bit like the base depot at Al Maza. That’s where troops get sorted out and get returned to units or whatever. By that time things were sufficiently under control that people who’d had enough time in the AIF plus marital status


plus age, it was worked on a points system, and if you had sufficient points you could have left to come home.
And did you have enough points?
Yes. I never asked about it because what pre-empted the whole show was in August, those two bombs landed in Japan and that was the end of the war anyway.


You see, I’d lost touch with the unit. I was on Morotai, they were still on Tarakan and I had no idea if people would have taken advantage of it. I didn’t even get around to thinking about it because I’d just come out of this convalescent depot and it was only made public when I went into the details depot. I was only there for a short time when the bombs


landed and that was the end of the war as far as everybody was concerned. I didn’t give it a great deal of thought because I didn’t know about it for very long.
Well, how did you, well first of all, just prior to the bomb being dropped, what progress were you keeping of the unit’s efforts in fighting the Japanese?
Well, I had the guns behind me and


I can’t recall ever having a target that I could warrant using them on at that stage, the landing itself and the procedure. We hadn’t got out into open country.
I was thinking when you were at the details depot were you keeping check on how the campaign in the Pacific
I didn’t have any contact. There was no way of


contacting what the unit, but no doubt, see with the jungle establishment, instead of three officers you went up to five. This was brought about by the increase in numbers and this local defence and all this sort of thing, so there were plenty of officers to sort of move up and take my place. There wouldn’t be any problem there.


But I had, from when I got loaded onto that LST at Tarakan, I can’t recall having any connection whatsoever with the regiment which was still back on Tarakan, except one of our officers came through the General Details Depot but he was only there for a day or so.


Yeah, by then, actually there were a couple of fellows in the 1 AGH of ours who had been wounded, but they were like me, they had no contact. There were no sort of lines of communication really. It was about a three day


trip and hundreds of miles, several hundred miles on the coast of Borneo, on the east coast of Borneo, where we were out on the Halmahera area.
What work did you do at the details depot?
Nothing. I wasn’t there for very long. Peace was declared and we were just sitting around waiting until such time as we came back to Australia.
What was the reaction to the bombs being


Well, glad it’s all over and hope to get back home as soon as possible. But that was done on a points system and I had quite a few points. I’d been in for five and half years by then. Age came into it. I was reasonably young when I started but my marital status was single, whereas married men, I think their points counted double which is fair enough. They


came out first. It was just a question of waiting until such time as you became eligible, sort of floated to the top of the list and away you went. Where I was terribly terribly lucky there, the unit, the bulk of the unit was picked up at Tarakan by a ship called the Duntroon which used to trade around the coast of Australia. It was a passenger ship.


They had a whole wing, there was Duntroon, Kanimbla, Manoora, Manunda and others and they’d been used for various things. Some were used as landing ships and others were used as troop ships and this sort of thing, and the Duntroon had been converted to a troop carrier. She had done a run to Singapore to pick up PWs. That had been accomplished and she was then freed, and the Duntroon


called in at Tarakan, picked up the bulk of our regiment, called in at Morotai, and who got on board? Me, and I thought it was wonderful by sheer chance I rejoined that regiment for the trip back to Adelaide.
Can I just ask now, when peace was declared how you celebrated?
Well, nothing. You couldn’t


celebrate much. What could you do? You were sitting up there on an island. I think it was just a general, see, five and a half years is a pretty long time and you it was just sort of a relief, you’re glad that it’s all over and there’s no way of going out and getting drunk or anything like that. You just didn’t have the facilities and we were just sort of looking forward to the time when we could come back to this country.


And did you celebrate on the ship with your unit?
No, not really. I was glad to catch up with them again because we started together and by sheer chance, I don’t know who else got on board, probably a few others at Morotai, but I think that was sheer accident because they happened to call in there, had a bit of room. They might’ve put me on because I was 7th Regiment, but no, we were hoping to get in back to


Australia as soon as possible. There was nothing you could do on a ship like that except sleep and eat and that sort of thing. I remember we called into Brisbane, first port of call in Australia. We called into Willemsharven on New Guinea. Why we called in there I wouldn’t know. But any rate, we went into Brisbane where we unloaded the QXs [Queenslanders] which we had, and then down to


Sydney and I always remember between, this is a real homecoming, between Brisbane and Sydney took place the 1945 Melbourne Cup. How about that? Broadcast for all and sundry to hear. It was won by a South Australian horse too. However, in time we cruised into through Sydney Heads


and pulled up in Sydney and that is yet another highlight of my five and a bit years. Actually, what a welcome back to Australia, coming back through Sydney Heads and pulling up in Sydney itself.
What was the atmosphere like in the Harbour?
I don’t think there was any special, there were a lot, troops were coming back anyway, and no, I don’t…can’t think of anything.


I suppose people would have known about it. Any NX’s [New South Welshmen] connections might have known. They might have made a bit of a song and dance. Actually, I don’t know how the hell they did it, but my two sisters turned up there, although they were living in, one had been married. That’s right, she was living there. She married an NXer during the war so she was living in Sydney. But the other one, I don’t know how


they did it with travel restrictions. She turned up there as well and the two girls were there when I arrived.
How did they find you?
I don’t know. Bush telegraph I think. Some how or other, it might have been made public. You see, there was no security after that and it might have been made public and they might have known it was on and who was on board and all this sort of thing.
How did you know they were going to be there in the Harbour?


I don’t know. I just do not know. I got off that ship and I don’t know whether, we must have had some time there because I can recall going out and meeting them. They were at Cremorne Point in a private hotel there called Holyoaks. That’s where I caught up with them, but how I knew they were there I just do not know.


One sister had a husband in the army. He was in 4th Battalion, NX battalion, and he might have had contacts or something like that. Maybe it was done through him. But however, I saw the girls there and I hopped on a troop train, went down to Melbourne, probably had a day there


and then on to Adelaide.
And who was here to meet you in Adelaide?
I think my mother was I think. She was the only one who was home. The girls were still up in Sydney. I’m just trying to think where I got off that train in Adelaide, whether it would be at Central or I think we might have gone through Mitcham again. That was a sort of a sort out, a


details depot. Hold on, it might have been at Wavell; that was another. You see, they use the showgrounds for this general details area and reorganisation and sorting out and so on and so forth. I’m a bit hazy on that. I do know that I actually received my discharge out at Hampstead Barracks at North Adelaide.


was there any parade or march when you got back?
No, no.
Just discharged? How quickly after getting back were you discharged?
They, you go through a medical check if you’ve got any claims on them, any disabilities or anything like that, and that was all done by appointment. Actually I was living at home then.


I did go in and see them. You go through a medical board. They had army, navy and air force, a doctor of each and just sort of have a look at you and reckon you were fit enough to go back into civilian life. If you had, carrying any disabilities or anything like that they’d probably whack you into a hospital or this sort of thing and sort of get you going and back on your feet.
Was your hepatitis classed as a disability?
No. But


this was very handy in that it was well and truly written up after I got from Lebanon down to the Western Desert. It was a very bad combination of wind and sunburn. The skin had really gone to the pack. Any rate, I went along to the RAP and I think they put me onto Nivea cream or something like that to sort of try and


cope with it, but it was written in on records. Any rate, some years later I had a problem with skin and I went along and saw a doctor, a fellow with whom I went to school, he was a radiologist, and he did some X-ray work and he asked about the history of this sort of thing,


and actually he was an RMO with the 2/4th Battalion. He did his medical and then he was like a lot of those fellows, he was allocated to a battalion. Any rate, he said, “What you want to do is take this up with Vet Affairs,” which I did and it was decided that the follow on was war linked and I was put on a disability allowance of ten percent, just ten percent, but I had


the foot in the door. So any treatment thereafter would be at the expense of Vet Affairs. But where it got very important was in 1972, I developed cancer. It was on the side of my neck, here on the paratha which is the spit gland, and


I finished the job being down out at Daws Road and the surgeon who did it was another fellow with whom I went to school, a general surgeon. I had a choice of surgeons and I chose this bloke because I reckoned I knew him, my sister knew him and he better get it right. So I had, it was a major operation. They had to cut out the paratha and all sorts of bits and pieces that were attached to it, and I was out there for about


six weeks. Any rate, they did a review of that and it was decided that was a spin off. I grow, I’m very very very fortunate with the cells which I grow, if you know anything about medicine, mine are not melanoma. Melanoma will roll you over quick, but the ones which I grow are the lesser ones. They’re still ruddy dangerous, SCC, squama cell carcinoma, and that’s what I grew. So any rate, this job was done and


I was re-assessed and then my disability allowance went way up to seventy percent and that means I’ve been entitled to the gold card for zonks, but it was a fortunate chance that I called into the RAP with this problem and it was on record, and then as a follow on I developed cancer big time,


and as a result I’ve received very very good treatment. Mervyn Smith was the general surgeon who did the job on my neck, and I’m talking about my complaints a bit, but eight years ago I developed a lump on the front of my throat here and that was tended to be a leading ear nose and throat specialist in Adelaide, a major op too. I had


cancer twice big time. Any rate, I got out of that. That was nasty. They had to do a skin graft. They took my left pectoral; it doesn’t balance with my right. They took a piece out of here and plonked it in there and it took quite a while to settle in.
So after you had your medical and you were discharged, how did you settle down?
Well on the 2nd of January, 1946


I went back to work at Elders.
But did you have any problems settling back into civilian life?
No, no. I had none at all that I can recall.
Did you miss anything about the army?
No, not really. I had the great good fortune to be in a first-class unit which was in an elite infantry division. 9 Division men were,


they were some of the best around. But I made wonderful friends, you see, with whom I used to meet thereafter, but I had no wish to soldier on. A number of ours did. They carried on. They did pretty well. They got a fair bit of rank on in the permanent army and that sort of thing, but I reckoned five and a half years was enough, and it is a bit restricting, the permanent army. I preferred to go back into


Elders and I was there in stud stock which is a fairly choice department, and I enjoyed the stud stock game. You got to know the top stud breeders and all the rest of them and the wonderful friendships in that game.


You deal with, I managed to deal with three different generations with the passage of time. Breeders, their sons and their sons again, on quite a few occasions. So I was quite happy to go back to the stock and station game. I didn’t make any money but it was pretty satisfying. I had a nice balance between a swivel chair and a motor car. You can have too


much of one or the other, and I used to go out bush. I used to go out to the Broken Hill district, Wentworth, New South Wales. I used to go to Royal Shows, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney.
Well when you did come back and you were still a part of the army, did you feel you had come home a hero?
Not really. There were a lot more like me and I think no, I didn’t.


I was just sort of one the crowd.
Did you ever talk about your war experience?
Only amongst, mainly amongst my comrades from that time. But with other people, not a lot. I have a son who is pretty interested in it. He actually was in Adelaide University Regiment, so he had quite a bit of it. He had that experience.


My son-in-law, he was in the permanent army for twenty years. But I don’t know, I don’t talk about it a lot. It just doesn’t seem to, I don’t know, be justified or the opportunity comes up. But we do, I suppose we live in the past now, having reached that stage. But fellows like Jim Quilliam and blokes like that, we reminisce quite a bit.


And how do you think your war experience changed you?
How do you think your experience in the war changed you?
I probably became more tolerant and I think it made me appreciate people from all walks of life, from commoners to kings,


all that way, and I try to sort of deal with people as people. Not what they are, what they’ve got or anything like that, and I suppose you’d call that a tolerance, wouldn’t you, and an appreciation of them as human beings. They’ve got as much right in this planet as I have.


A tolerance I think would cover it.
When you came back from the war did you have any nightmares or flashbacks?
No. Bear in mind, we were support and we didn’t go through what the infantry did. They were really at the sharp end. Of course we had men up there like the OPOs and the sigs and the ACKs and this sort of thing and they had some pretty shattering experiences.


A very very good friend of mine who died recently at ninety-five is Sydney, he won a Military Cross at Alamein and he had the shirt pocket, pocket taken off his shirt by a flying shell splinter. I had nothing like that. I got shelled and I got Stuka’d but that was it. I never got sort


of mixed up with the general mayhem which did take place right up at the pointy end.
Well looking back on your war experience, what would you say is one of your proudest moments?
I think being a member of the 9th Australian Division, full stop. They, yes, they were there when history was made and it was my good fortune


to be in a first-class regiment in an elite infantry division. 9th Division were one of the best, so were 2nd New Zealanders and 4th Indian Division and the 5th (UNCLEAR) Highlanders. They were all there at the same time. That was something, of course we were brought up in those days of Empire and all this sort of thing. You look at 8th Army, what was that made up of? You had the Australians, you had the NZers, you had the South Afs, you had the Indians


and you had the Brits. Of course you had Scots and you had the Englishmen themselves. You didn’t meet many Welsh or Irish, but it was a sort of an Empire thing as we knew the Empire back in those days, and 8th Army were very very effective, it really was.
We’ve heard of the 9th Division


being called Ali Baba and the 20,000 thieves, do you think that’s fair?
Just a throw away comment. I think Rommel might have thought of that. Bear in mind that he had huge respect for 9th Division. In around about Easter, probably Easter, that would be right, Easter 1941


when the 9th Division were holding Tobruk, incidentally they had the 12th Regiment there, but they also had at least one regiment of RHA, Royal Horse Artillery. They were the British gunners. They call them horse artillery but it was just a name because they are the blokes who worked with the armoured corps and all this sort of thing. They were very mobile and they were first class. At any rate, at Easter 1941 Rommel had a go. He bounced.


Those infantrymen, I’ve heard stories bear in mind, God, they’re tough. Tanks went in, the Axis tanks, followed by infantry; well our infantrymen couldn’t stop the tanks so they let the tanks go through and then got to work on the following infantry. The tanks were in there, they had no supporting infantry and they were running down, closed down and all this sort of thing, sort of semi-blind.


They were glad to get out of it too. But Rommel, he bounced and 20 Brigade, 13th, 15th and 17th Battalion, they were the ones on which he bounced. Bear in mind, we weren’t there at the time. We were outside.
So where do you think that term, Ali Baba and the 20,000 thieves came from?
Probably, I don’t know. Mooreshead was interesting. He was our divisional commander.


He was only a weekend warrior. He was in the First World War, and then I don’t know what he did. Was he a school teacher or something like that? He finished up, he was general officer commanding 9 (UNCLEAR). It was pretty well a civilian division and it was made up of a mix. When we first joined up at Woodside we were what they call an


army field regiment, which meant that we were just a field regiment in our own right. We were attached to a corps and used as and when required, and in that case we had a triangular colour patch. Any rate, when we got on board the Stratheden we were told we were now part of the 9th Australian Division and we had to change the colour patch over and it became a circular patch, and I think


being a member of 9th Division gave us a sort of an identity.
If you could summarise words that relate to that identity what would you?
I know it’s looks odd, but it was simply good fortunate to be in charge of an elite organisation.


They were some of the best around. When the going gets rough I’ll snuggle up with the best, when the going gets rough. After Alamein we had, see 9th was made up of people from here, there and everywhere. Some of them had actually been in England, some of the battalion. They had all sorts of colour patches. After the 9th we got our own distinctive one which you may know, which in effect it’s like a short-


legged T. So that I think sort of sealed the job. If you saw anybody with that colour patch he was 9th Div, whereas all the other divisions, the 6th might have had a fairly standard one, but the rest of them had bits and pieces. They never changed them. They were based on the colour patches of World War I together with the grey background to make them AIF, 2nd AIF.
And today


can you still spot a 9th Divvy?
A person?
No, not really. They’re getting pretty few on the ground. I think we’ve only got about forty left in South Australia. It would be about the same number in Western Australia, but strangely enough there are a number in New South Wales. What happened when we came back to Australia, we were getting reinforcements from


all over, but a lot of them came from Victoria and New South Wales and of course they’re that much younger than we are. Then they did that Tarakan job, so they’re more sort of Tarakan minded, whereas we did the, because we were there earlier, we did that Alamein job. We’re sort of more Alamein minded. Not that it’s against one or the other, but that’s the way we


tend to think. So we got some very very fine young reinforcements that joined us. They look upon us as father figures. (UNCLEAR) been there and done that or not. I suppose in a way we were. It’s a real sort of camaraderie. Unless you’ve been in it you just don’t know, and it’s damn hard to explain the chemistry of it. Is that the word, chemistry?


It’s a pure, yeah, camaraderie, I think the word is. It’s simple respect I think for one another as people. We relied implicitly on one another over there when the going was on. I mean, no good a layer pulling the ruddy trigger of gun unless the damn thing has been loaded you see, and he wouldn’t know where to point it unless somebody told


him, or somebody worked out where he had to point it and this sort of thing. It’s a pure teamwork thing and I think it sort of builds up this wonderful camaraderie which, what is it, respect for one another? And not only people, but sort of on the sociability side of it. We came from all walks of life. We had an alligator shooter and a window-dresser. We had an ex-senator


from Canberra, lawyers, architects, stock agents. They came from north, south, east and west. They became a homogeneous whole and it was all forged there. Our CO [Commanding Officer] was a fairly father figure. He was married and had four kids and he had a sort of a paternal effect on us. He wasn’t a sort of a hot-shot soldier or anything like, in his manner.


He was very very effective. He finished up a brigadier. But it’s through time and the experience of relying on one another, a simple respect for one another as human beings and it’s lasted for sixty years.
It certainly has, and how would you like, your story today is going into an archive that’s going to be


there for future generations, and how would you like them to think of the 9th Divvy? How would you like the 9th Divvy to be remembered?
They were very effective. In it’s time it would have been, it is classified


as an absolutely top-notch infantry division amongst the Western Allies, and it was also made up of civilians too. We had very very few, I can count them on the fingers of one hand pretty well,


the number of regular soldiers which we had there who were in the army full time who joined us. We unloaded a couple before we left Australia too I might add. Well, I don’t know, it’s interesting to ponder on.
Well, you told us earlier today that you march every Anzac Day.
What does Anzac Day mean to you?
Yes, that is a day


it’s not glorifying war or anything like that. You can forget that. It’s a day of remembrance. I simply remember the fellows who, over there, just did not come back and some of those would be some of the finest men that I have met in my life. You see people under extreme pressure over there, and we had some, a lot


of magnificent men, and as far as I’m concerned it’s purely and simply a remembrance thing.
Well as I said, you story is going into an archive for future generations to look back on and to refer to. What words would you like to leave for those future generations?
I wish I’d had some notice, like yesterday, on this one.


I think the value of simple friendship and camaraderie. You can’t buy it, you have to earn it. This was earned


I think by the fact that we were under pressure. An awful lot of idleness, then things really get violent, and just a simple respect and reliance on the other fellow doing the right thing, and with that


you develop this respect for your fellow man with whom you pass through some fairly trying conditions.
Are there any last words you’d like to leave before we wrap up?
No, I don’t think so. It’s pretty hard to, I wasn’t aware that I might’ve been asked these questions, otherwise I might have been able to do some homework on


them. No. Put it this way, be very careful with your choice of friends, and I said, friends, not mates. You can buy mates, but you have to earn friends. If you earn friends you’ve got them for life. It’s not like a fishing trip or going down to the footy and abusing an umpire and this sort of thing. These friendships, they’re lifelong.


Well thank you very much, Bill.
That’s all right. What are you laughing about?
I’m not, I’m just smiling. Thank you.
You should have fed me a bit of a slip telling me what some of the questions which I might have been asked and I might have been able to put it together a bit better.
You did fine, Bill. Thank you.


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