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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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,
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.