Archive number: 2186
Preferred name: Bob
Date interviewed: 13 July, 2004Return to Search results
10th Light Horse [Militia]
You are listening to the interview audio
Whereabouts where you born Bob?
I was born in Bunbury in Western Australia in January 1924, the 14th of January 24 and we lived there for about three years and then my parents moved to Marist College because my father was
wounded during the First World War and came home with one eye and one lung and couldn’t continue to run the farming property. So we moved to Muresk College [Muresk Agricultural College now the Muresk Institute and part of Curtin University of Technology] where my father was a poultry instructor and I grew up there as a child. And I had a sister and two brothers older than me. We had an idyllic life there from the point of view of childhood because we could play
in the Oven River and go chasing birds’ nests and beehives and rabbits and all those sorts of things and we used to go to Northam.
Do you have any memories of growing up in Bunbury?
No, because I was only about two when we left there. We left there in the later part of 1926. My elder two brothers and my sister
they went to school there, in Picton Junction. They walked about three miles from the farm into Picton Junction and I wasn’t old enough at that stage. I didn’t go to school until, what 1929 or 1930 and then.
What knowledge or information do you have of that property?
Oh very limited actually.
I have been back there in later years but unfortunately now it is completely covered in houses as Bunbury has expanded and it is very difficult to find anything that’s left of the place. There was a creek running through the property but of course that’s been drained now and houses have been placed over it so I don’t have much memory actually of it
How long had your family been on that property before your father went away to World War One?
Oh my father came out here from England in 1910. He was born in Winchester and his father was a building contractor and as each son, my father’s brothers, became twenty one, they were given a shop and a house in London by their father
and when it came my father’s turn, my father declared he was coming to Australia and his father said “No shop, no house, you’ve got a hundred pounds English if you’re going to Australia.” So my father worked his way out here on a windjammer and then bought the hundred acres of land at Bunbury and then slowly, over the next couple of years, he developed it to the stage where
my mother, who my father already knew, but they were not married, she came out here in 1912 and then my father went back to England in the Australian Army in 1916 but because he was wounded in France, he had one eye blown out and he was gassed,
the army then decided to give him a job as a paymaster going from ship to ship and paying people backwards and forwards as the transports went backwards and forwards from Australia to England. But during that period of time he was restricted. He was not allowed to communicate with my mother or my mother allowed communicate, so she didn’t know
whether he was alive or not. He returned home to the farm in 1919. She didn’t have any idea of whether he was coming or not, he just turned up one day and due to the fact that he’d been gassed and knocked about they just decided
after a couple of years that they’d have to sell the farm, so that’s when they decided they would go to Muresk College. He got the opportunity to go there and he took that opportunity.
What are your early childhood memories of growing up on Muresk?
Oh, I was a very happy child there because I learnt to do everything and whilst the students were away on holidays I used to become involved
in almost every facet of agriculture, everything from making butter to feeding pigs to looking after thousands of chooks [chickens], to shearing sheep. It was idyllic from my point of view until I got to fourteen and I had to go to work.
What was family life
like at Muresk?
Very, very good. All the people in the area, all the local farmers in the area when it came to sports days or celebrations or the end of the year ball, everybody contributed and it was a truly family atmosphere, far distance to what it is today because Muresk
has now become involved with the university and has become an institute of agriculture and there is no longer that family reunion or family atmosphere now. Yes, we were very, very lucky as children because we grew up during the Depression and there were thousands of people walking the roads, on the railway lines,
looking for work. They used to come to my mother for a cup of something to eat or something to drink, a billy of tea and my father being employed there safeguarded us children in many ways because we didn’t see the great effect financially that a lot of other people went through. I learnt lots of things
there from people that were employed there. A lot of land clearing was going on at that time and there was hundreds of unemployed men there who would get one day’s work a week. If they didn’t turn up for that day they didn’t get paid and it was only a pittance money, what we would call pittance money now days. But as a child I used to cart
bread and milk and eggs and meat to them on the weekends. It was a little part time job that I had in a horse and cart and the things that I learnt, that I saw, innovations if you like. One thing that I learnt was making a kitchen stove out of two kerosene tins dug into the side of a creek wall. If you light the bottom one,
make the bottom one the firebox and the top one your oven and the heat of the dirt around it cooks your dinner and all those little things I learnt, survival if you like.
Sounds a very ingenious idea?
Yeah, they were very, very, you know necessity is the mother of invention.
What kind of relationship did you have with both of your parents growing up at Muresk?
had wonderful parents. I don’t remember either of my parents ever smacking any of us. A word from my father and you did what you were told to do. I used to play up sometimes as a child, being the younger one and Mother used to shut me into the bathroom if I played up and I in turn would play up by putting a plug in the bath,
filling the bath and when the water ran out the door Mother would let me out or I would go out the bathroom window or put the towels in the bath and have a sleep.
Sounds like you were a bit of a handful Bob?
I was a bit of a rebel, yeah.
What kind of relationship did you have with your older siblings?
Well my oldest brother, Jack, he had, being older than me, he had already gone
to work and I didn’t see him very much in my life, as a child. And then my second brother, Norman, who is still alive and lives in Narrogin, he’s eight years older than me and we only had two years together at school but as kids we had childish arguments or disagreements but we got on quite happily together.
My sister and I used to fight up sometimes over the washing up, who did the washing up and who did the drying but we didn’t have too many disagreements as kiddies, due to the fact that my father had been gassed and knocked about during the First World War and my mother used to make sure that we didn’t have too many arguments because it used to upset my father.
I can’t ever say that we had an argumentative life. We had a happy life as kiddies.
Did your mother or father explain your father’s condition to you?
Oh well, no, but every morning my father got up between six and seven o’clock and my father would almost cough every morning
but almost to the point where he choked himself as the residue of the gas in one lung would almost bring him to the point of choking every morning. He still had to the day he died pieces of shrapnel coming out of him but unfortunately we were never, ever able to procure any of those. They would drop out but he would see them and feel them in his arms and in his legs
but unfortunately we were always going to get one as a souvenir but we never ever did that. So our parents, we understood our father’s condition.
And how did he manage work in his condition?
He was alright provided he didn’t do anything too strenuous, lifting heavy things or having to hurry, he couldn’t do
that but if you just left him to go on all day at it, at his own pace, he was very good at that. Very good scholastically and he’d been through a good college in England and he had a good education and he was good with figures and keeping records and things like that and he was a good instructor to the
students. I don’t think that my father ever had any disagreements or heated disputes with anybody in his life. He was a fairly placid sort of a person.
Did he make a comfortable income during that period?
Oh yes, yes, whilst he was at Muresk they bought a house down here in Perth so that they would have somewhere to go when
they retired and then in, oh I think it was 1954, he and my mother returned to England and he took the opportunity to go across to Germany and to find out where the sole prisoner that he had taken in his last operation in Germany during the war, he
went and found him. I can’t tell you where in Germany but that was one of his interesting points that he wanted to do in his life, was to find this person that he’d chased across no-man’s land when he was wounded. Because when he was wounded this German prisoner and he was in St Dunstan’s Hospital in bed side by side and he always wanted to
catch up with him again and see what he’d done in his life.
Even though they were on opposite sides of points of view at the time when they were both wounded but it was an interesting exercise on his part.
And he was successful?
Yes, yes, he was quite grateful that he went and met this fellow and had I think about half a
day’s conversation with him and the German was very, very happy to have met him again and they went two or three times in my father’s retirement backwards and forwards to England before my father died on his seventieth birthday.
So he lived a long life?
Yes, he did in view of the fact that he’d been wounded and knocked about. He found it difficult to drive a car with only one eye so
I started driving the family car when I was about twelve years old and I drove to the police station in Northam to get my licence and the police sergeant said to me “How did you get here?” And being a cheeky devil I said “well I had to drive the car didn’t I to get here”, and he said “but yes, you haven’t got a licence” and that didn’t go through my head at the time.
What sort of car did your family own?
Well the first one was an Austin Tourer and we had that for about four or five years and then my father updated to a Ford V8 Tourer and I learnt to drive on both of those. The Austin had an open crash type gearbox, you could see where you were going with the gearbox but the next car, the Ford
that had a conventional gearbox as we have them today, with the gear stick in the floor and then oh, I don’t think they had another car after that. I think when my father retired and came to Perth I think they sold the car.
Sounds like you really were quite comfortable during the Depression era?
Yes, yes, as I say we didn’t
suffer the same hardships as many, many other people because being employed at a Government institution we had a better life than a lot of people faced.
Were there any difficulties that you faced?
Were there any difficulties at all that you faced during that time?
No, not that I can remember.
Did food have to be rationed or?
you didn’t have the same amount of different types of foods that you have now days but living at Muresk, Muresk supplied almost everything at a cost figure, eggs, milk, meat, vegetables were all around about four to
five pence per pound. You could buy six chops for five or six pence and you’d get a basket of vegetables or a dozen eggs for five or six pence, a billy of milk, not a pint, a billy of milk for five or six pence so your cost of living was fairly minimal but bearing in mind
the wages in those days, I think my father got around two pound ten, two pound fifteen, which is five or six dollars now days and that fed a family of five people. The only thing we had to buy outside Muresk was bread or sugar or things like that.
You mentioned that your father had a good rapport with the students, what kind of relationship did your family have with the students at Muresk?
With the students? Yeah, very good. I can’t tell you why but I would imagine it’s something to do with the fact that my father only had one eye, he was nicknamed by all the students throughout the following years as “Bing” and that wasn’t
to his face but from the students’ point of view they used to refer to my father as “Bing”.
Yeah, Bing, I guess it was something to do with the fact that he only had one eye. My father had a very good relationship with all the students and my family did too because on Saturdays and Sundays many of the students would come to my parents’ house and having a sister
who was then about twelve or thirteen or fourteen was an attraction to the students. And my sister also used to go playing tennis, there was all the sports facilities there so she used to go playing tennis with the students and then many of them would come up for morning tea or afternoon tea or something like that so we always had quite a few students come to the house. Not during the week because Muir
Esk was run on the understanding of a three year term. You had first years, second years and third years and the first and third years worked together and the second years worked on their own, so one week you had first and third years in school, doing scholastics and that week the second years would be out doing practical work and then they would change over in the following month.
They were kept busy during the week but on Saturdays and Sundays was their time off apart from doing the necessary looking after stock and things like that but we always had a lot of the students come to the house. I wouldn’t be able to remember them all but my being younger of course I didn’t have the same relationship as my sister or my elder brother may have had
but as time went on I was integrated with the students and their activities. Looking back we always had what I’d call a good relationship with them. I don’t ever remember any unhappy situations.
You didn’t get up to any mischief?
Oh well we used to get up to all sorts of mischief as kids, yes, things we shouldn’t have been doing.
we used to, at one stage old Harry Hibbert, the stockman, of English origin and I think he must have been a naughty boy in England and sent out here, very well educated, his two brothers, one was the chief announcer on the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] in England and the other one was the chief civil engineer on the Indian railways and you could see he’d had a good education but he’d been a naughty boy.
But he was the stockman on Muresk and he had several sheepdogs and on Saturdays and Sundays he use to keep the sheepdogs down in the sheep yards where he fed them and looked after them and I don’t know why but we used to delight in letting these sheep dogs go and they used to run up where he lived and of course he’d think the dogs had got out and he’d walk all the way back down, several hundred yards, to put them back into their kennels again and after a little while we’d
go down and let the sheep dogs go again. Little mischiefs we got into. We used to get into the vegetable garden and rob the peas and things that you could eat, tomatoes and things like that and the gardener, Jimmy Nix, he’d come down on Monday morning and see that somebody had been through his garden. Or we’d go and raid the orchard and pick the fruit off the trees in the orchard
that was supposed to be for the students or pinch the grapes off the grapevines but we never did anything too disastrous. We knew that we’d eventually get caught up with because there was only about six or seven other children on the property and it was a case of elimination, you’d get caught up with.
What happened when you’d get caught up with….?
Oh we used to get a reprimand from
our parents of course. Sometimes we might get a reprimand from the principal, Mr Hughes, and he was a disciplinarian, very strict in his ways and his principles. Of course he had to be strict because he had to look after all the students there and they were his responsibility because they came from all different parts of
Western Australia and some came from overseas and that was his responsibility. We didn’t get into much disastrous mischief that I can relate to. Most of our spare time, Saturday and Sundays we used to like go climbing trees, getting birds’ eggs. We had quite a large collection of birds’ eggs and moths and spiders and things that
we kept and then many times we’d go away for the weekend, a group of us. We’d hike into some distant part of the (UNCLEAR)ed country. Take a few rugs and a few potatoes and a few boiled eggs and catch rabbits and cook our own meals and come back Sunday night. Mother used to despair that we’d get lost or drown in the river or something like that
but we survived quite happily. We were bush kids and we knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do, so life became very carefree and an idyllic situation in relation to children that live in the city or were less fortunate.
Whereabouts did you complete your schooling Bob?
Where did I?
Where did you go to school?
Oh we went to school in Northam,
which was about ten miles away and we had to cross the Avon River to get to the railway to, in those days the train came from Albany every morning and we would meet the train at Muresk siding at half past seven and we would then journey down to Spencers Brook, which was about three miles. And get off that train then and we would then get onto what we called The Jerk, which
was one engine and two carriages train which came from Northam out to Spencers Brook and went from Spencers Brook back into Northam, three or four times a day. And then we’d go into Northam and we’d get to the West Northam railway station at about nine o’clock and then, I’ve never worked this one out but we went to the East Northam School, which meant we had to walk the full length
of Northam, which was about two and a half miles, so we didn’t get to school until about half past nine. On the return journey we would have to leave school at about three o’clock to get back to the railway station at half past three to pick up the train to come back to Spencers Brook. But we had an arrangement with the engine drivers those days that they would stop about a mile before
Spencers Brook so that we were on the eastern side of the river, which was the same side as Muresk and they would stop the train there for us even though there was no siding and we would get off and walk about three miles up the river. If we missed that train at half past three out of Northam the only way to get home was to wait until we got a wheat train later in the evening and steal a ride with the engine driver
if the station master didn’t see us and then we would get home about eight o’clock at night, which meant a long day.
Did that happen very often?
Oh yes, quite often, yes. If you were running late or you dawdled going down the street of Northam, the train would go at half past three so you missed out. So you’d either sit there or maybe you’d walk home. Sometimes I walked home across country, not following the road because
the road wasn’t a direct line and then in the summertime we used to have school swimming classes in the Avon River in Northam and then I’d either have to ride the bike or walk home then. Sometimes we were lucky. We would wait until seven o’clock in Northam
and then go out to Spencers Brook on The Jerk which met the Albany Express going to Albany at night-time and we got to know all the conductors and in those days they used to have a dining car on the train and we knew the chefs and the cooks on the train, so by the time we got from Spencers Brook to Muresk we would have had our dinner at night and when
we got home Mother would say “hurry up and have a wash, your tea’s ready.” “Oh we’ve already had our tea Mother on the train.” We didn’t do that very often but it happened every now and again. We got to know the conductors on the train who always looked out for us and we used to take a dozen eggs or a bottle of cream or
a bunch of flowers so when the trains were coming down in the morning if we weren’t standing on the station they would look out for us and hold the train just a few minutes till we ran to get it, so we were always quite happy about that.
Sounds as if you were quite independent as children?
Yes, yes, we were. We had an enjoyable childhood from it. I’ve often
said to my sister how lucky we were to have grown up during that period of time and even though there was hundreds of people unemployed no-one ever interfered with us or my sister when she used to go to school sometimes on her own. No-one molested her or interfered with her as a child
as may happen today if you’re a single child travelling by that means.
What sort of schooling did you have in Northam?
Oh there was kindergarten, primary and high school, secondary education. I unfortunately, I only went until I was fourteen. That was secondary education and then
I left school in 1938 to go to work.
Before we move on to joining the work force, what was it like attending school? What sort of subjects did you enjoy or what sport did you enjoy?
Well unfortunately I didn’t enjoy school very much. I enjoyed geography most. I was quite good at that but mainly music. I used to get myself into lots of trouble
with the music teacher because I didn’t understand music as she wanted to impart it. History I didn’t like, arithmetic I didn’t like and I’ve probably learnt more in those fields since I’ve left school then when I was in school. I can’t say that I really enjoyed going to school. I was more interested
in learning about the birds and the bees and rural life if you like. I understood reproduction of life when I was maybe four or five years old because I used to watch and see the animals mating and that was of more interest
to me than going to school and perhaps in some ways it was my own downfall that I didn’t learn as much as I should have.
So you preferred the school of life to the life of school?
Yeah, this is right, yes.
While we’re on the subject, what were your teachers like at school?
Very good really. The only time I ever crossed swords with one of the school teachers was
Miss Reid the music school teacher. In see part of my schooling I had correspondence at home and my mother taught me for two years because there was a little school at Muresk and then as the children left there was insufficient people there to employ a school teacher,
so I had two years at home on correspondence and then the last year of school I attended the Northam High School. Because I’d been on correspondence that was in some ways more advanced than what you would learn in a classroom and so Mr Glue
who was the headmaster at the West Northam School used to get me doing all sorts of repair work around the school. One thing that I was involved in for about three months was the excavation of a school fish pond and the building of
a fish pond, the demolition of a house, the cleaning of the bricks, the carting of the bricks, the brick laying and then the opening of the pool where all the girls in the school got involved in scrubbing the inside of the pool to remove the lime out of the cement so it wouldn’t affect the fish they were going to put in there.
So that took up quite a lot of my last year at school and oh repairs in the toilets and things like that, he found me evidently an interesting person to employ, better than putting me in a classroom. I used to get into conflict with one of the teachers. She and I had a bit of a mental conflict
probably more than anything else. I used to get the cane sometimes, a couple of times a week for saying or not doing what I should have been doing but apart from that I had quite a happy school life.
What about sport? Did you play sport at school?
Yes, I used to play football quite a bit and that at times used to put me at a disadvantage to get home
on the train so that was one reason I used to go home on the wheat trains and my sister used to go home on the previous train. I used to swim when possible. I liked swimming and I used to swim in the river. No-one ever taught me. I was just thrown in and you learnt to swim.
Apart from football I didn’t play any other sport, no.
Who did you play against when you played football?
Oh against the other schools in the Northam area, that was usually during school hours. It wasn’t on the weekends because me living as I did ten miles away from school.
What were the names of some of the other schools?
Oh there was the East Northam and West Northam
schools and then there was the Northam High School and then there was the schools from the outlying towns like Macran or Grenully or Toodyay. They used to send their students over by bus or by car. There were not too many school buses in those days, so that restricted the amount of opposing schools that you could become involved
in. They were mainly schools from within the Northam town site area.
Sorry, what was the name of your school again Bob?
Well the first school I went to was the East Northam State School and then I finished my schooling at the West Northam State School and then there was the Northam High School on the other side of town.
Why did you move from East to West?
I think that was
possibly a decision on the part of my parents. I think they woke up to the fact that it was not so far for us to travel because the train stopped in West Northam where we had to walk the distance to East Northam and I think, I can’t really understand why we didn’t start in West Northam in the first place. Whether they considered East Northam was the better school at the time but that’s how things worked out.
So you weren’t trying to avoid trouble?
That’s right, yes.
We’re just getting the wind up there Bob, so we’ll change tapes before we continue.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 02
So why did you leave school?
Why or when?
Why and when.
Why did I leave school, during that period of time you couldn’t afford not to work. You didn’t get unemployment benefits as we have now days so it
was a case of work to survive. And so my father said to me, “Well you can’t stay home doing nothing, you must go to work”, and so I said “Okay.” I couldn’t work on Muresk College and so my elder brother, Norman, found me a job working on a property down at Narrogin and I worked for a chap by the
name of Andy Toll who had an Arab stud and I worked there for, oh from the start of 1938, beg your pardon, the start of 1939 until about October 39. I was working for Andy Toll when war was declared on September the 3rd 39.
Just with the, it’s a horse stud?
It’s a kind of high end range of horses?
Yes, yes, yes.
What are they bred for?
Well he used to breed horses for other people in the agricultural areas who wanted a good quality type riding horse, a stock horse, and so mares used to come there, be sent there from all over the
State to be serviced by the stallion and they would go back once it was proved they were in foal they would then go back to the properties they came from. But then my sister wrote to me, my sister was then a school teacher up at Nungarin and she heard of an opportunity for me
to work on a property there for a greater figure than what I was getting where I was working at Narrogin.
Did you like working with the horses though?
Oh yes, I enjoyed working there, yes. That was quite interesting work. So I decided I would leave Mr Toll and I would go to Nungarnat to work for a Mr Damon.
And sorry, had war broken out by that point?
Yes, the 3rd of September.
And I went to work for Mr Damon, but unfortunately 1939 and Nungaran turned out to be a drought year and I only worked there for a matter of about four months.
And what sort of work was….?
Oh I was doing agricultural, putting in crops and general farm work.
So this was something that you were pretty knowledgeable about?
Oh yes, yes, yes. I used to get about up at four o’clock in the morning to harness up fourteen horses
and go to work at seven o’clock, after I’d had my breakfast and the horses had had theirs and then I would be seeding all day long and come home at sunset at night, feed the horses again, have my tea, then go and feed the horses at nine o’clock and then go to bed and then get up again the next morning at four o’clock.
With the farms that you stayed on did you get meals provided?
Yes, yes, yes, Mrs Damon cooked my meals and I did my washing
and things like that.
So you were sort of like a boarder?
Oh yes. I had quite a happy life because they had other children similar in age to me and so I had to leave that property due to the drought and I went home to my parents at Muresk and my father found me another job, which I didn’t know anything about at the time, which was on a sheep and cattle station,
between Port Hedland and Marble Bar.
That’s a pretty long, way away?
And what did you think about moving up such a long way?
I wasn’t over keen about it but seeing jobs were hard to find in those days during a depression I took it and I think it was fifteen shillings a week and my keep in those days. So I went on the,
I can’t remember the name of the ship and I went to Port Hedland. One the way up to Port Hedland unfortunately one of the members of the crew thought he’d like to have a relationship with me and came into the cabin one night and tried to encourage me to have a
relationship with him, which I’d had nothing to do with in my previous life and it upset me quite some what.
How old were you at the time when that happened?
I wouldn’t have been fifteen. I was only about fourteen years and nine months.
Did this come as a bit of a shock to you?
Oh yes, that’s right. Anyway I survived and got to Port Hedland.
Did he take no for an answer?
Oh yes, well he did after
I got a bit aggressive towards him and he came back to me the next day again to try to continue his activities but I again rejected his activities.
Did you complain to anybody?
No, I didn’t because I didn’t know who to complain to. You have to stop and think about the fact that if you complain to somebody on a ship at sea and you’re on your own, there’s the possibility
that you may not make the end of the journey, cause many people disappear over the side of a ship at night time, so I didn’t complain because I had that thought in my mind. When I got to Port Hedland, in those days Port Hedland was just a small sort of a port and as the tide went out the ships used to sit on the mud
tied up against the wharf. I stayed in the hotel in Port Hedland one night and the next day the owner of the station came into pick me up and then about ten o’clock in the morning he met me and then we went out to the station, Col Lindy which was about ninety
miles out, in his T Ford. No bridges across the rivers in those days, you drove down into the bed of the river and across to the other side and out again.
It must have been quite a relief to get to Port Hedland after?
This is right, yes.
So this bloke was he a nice bloke, this one that picked you up to go to the station with?
He was a single man
had lived on the station. He was a man of about thirty, thirty five and lived and worked on the station most of his life. His parents had bought the station for him. His parents were involved in coastal trading. They owned or had part ownership of one of the coastal steamers in those days.
He was a very quiet person, at times aggressive but maybe that was because I was inexperienced in that sort of work at the time. I was there for about oh, five, six months.
How many other blokes were there as well?
No, a Chinese cook and
Mr McGregor, the owner and myself.
So what was your average day like?
Oh my work involved cleaning of water troughs, repairing windmills, fences, and looking after sheep and cattle. And I would get up in the morning and leave about four o’clock each morning,
on a donkey or a mule to do a circle of windmills and water troughs and I would come back about seven o’clock at night. In the hottest part of the day you camped, you stopped the work about eleven o’clock and you’d go and camp in a creek until about three o’clock in the afternoon and then you’d go on again in the cooler part of the day as the sun went down.
Sounds pretty lonely?
Oh yes, it was a lonely day, that’s right, yes. Your lunchtime meal consisted of two pieces of dry bread and a piece of salt meat and sugar and tea leaves in a piece of newspaper and you’d light a fire in the creek and boil your quart pot to make a cup of tea. Then you’d have a sleep until about three o’clock
and then you’d get going again. In, I think it was September or early October, Mr McGregor decided to go to Port Hedland for a week, one his own, which left me on the station and I used to have my meals in the Chinese cookhouse then but when Mr McGregor was there, I had my meals
in his house. During the week he was away unfortunately a cyclone occurred.
And it rained eighteen inches of rain from Saturday morning until Sunday night. The wind was so strong it wrapped all the wings and the tails of the windmills around them, wiped his house completely off.
And flooded the entire area up to about two feet and when I work up Sunday morning, my shoes and slippers were floating around inside and as I put my hand over the edge of the bed, the wind had whipped off the back verandah of the house and it was built over railway posts and the wall, as it became
daylight the wall would come in and go back and come in and go back with the increasing and decreasing strength of the wind.
This must have been pretty frightening for a kid of your age?
It was because the water was coming through the roof as if there was no roof up there at all. The wind was driving the water through the joints in the roof and I had a long piece of cotton rope, ninety feet long, about thirty metres,
so I decided I would let myself out of the room as I thought it was going to disappear and I would be inside and I knew that the Chinese cookhouse was perhaps the strongest place and it was only then breaking day. And as I went to open the door the force of the wind was so strong that it sucked the door out of my hand and slammed it shut again and when I did eventually open the door I was confronted
by the rear of a horse who had backed up against the building to protect himself. I eventually let myself out to end of the cotton rope and I was then standing in about waist deep water and the water was flowing towards the coast, down the river and that was all I could see, was the tops of the trees sticking out of the water. When I got
to the end of the cotton rope I was not game to let go because I thought I would end up in Port Hedland.
Because if you’ve got such a torrent of water around you, I mean what do you do under those circumstances?
You can’t do anything, you just sit pat because it had blown almost every structure that you could see away, the wind was so strong. And eventually when it did get daylight, I eventually got out of my building and
went to the Chinese cookhouse and that’s when I discovered that the manager’s house had disappeared. It was only just the level board floor left and the chooks that were in the chook yard, they were completely plucked of all their feathers and implanted on the chook yard fence, impregnated into the fence wire. That’s why how strong the wind was.
And eventually as the day cleared and I was able to move around the property a little bit, it took about two to three days for all the water to totally disappear.
What did you do while the water was trying to disappear?
I was just going backwards and forwards to the Chinese cookhouse and doing nothing else because I couldn’t do anything else.
So there were areas where the water had subsided enough so you could put your feet on the ground?
went back into the river as the river was only about two hundred yards away from the house. That was part of the Shore River, which is part of the De Grey River and after about three days I was then able to get on the horse and move around the property a little bit and that’s when I found out that the sheep and the cattle were piled in heaps dead in the corner of fences.
The strength of the wind and the amount of water had killed all the sheep and piled them in great heaps and the cattle were hung up in the limbs of the trees and I found one or two big rock pythons dead up in trees and the whole place was a stench of dead animals and dead wildlife. McGregor returned about a week later, but the railway line had been
washed away and most of the roads had been washed away in different places and it was then about a fortnight after that I left the property, went into Port Hedland and I came back to Perth again.
What was his reaction to seeing his property in such devastation?
Well he’d been
through a cyclone before, at earlier stages of his life and he was completely upset the fact that the house had disappeared and everything in the house and the loss of stock and everything like that. Windmills, tanks, were all destroyed, it was a state of starting all over again and in many cases the fences were washed away or broken and you had to pull them back into line again. They were tangled up into trees and
dead animals and things like that. It was a colossal mess and that’s all you assess it as and the loss of all the sheep and the cattle. He didn’t have much to say about it to me. Maybe the fact that I was also leaving the place because he said he could no longer keep me any longer due to the fact of what had happened. It was
a financial loss to him.
So what did you do when you got back to Port Hedland?
I had to wait for a week in Port Hedland to get a ship to come back to Perth again. And it was interesting coming back because when we got to Onslow, we pulled in there and we got a live shipload of turtles who were tethered on the deck
to come back to Fremantle, because in those days they had a turtle factory that made turtle soup. Yes.
I’ve never heard of that.
Big turtles, like this and they lifted them up in a big net and put them on the deck and then tied a rope round their neck and they used to hose them down to keep them wet and there was turtles all over the deck of the ship.
A turtle soup factory?
There was a
meat factory as South Fremantle and they used to process the turtles into turtle soup. Oh that would have been 1940 then.
You’d have been hard pressed to get somebody to eat a turtle these days, let alone turtle soup.
It was the only time I’ve seen so many turtles, big ones, that big.
Were you expected to help out because you were a passenger?
No, no, I used to just walk around among the turtles but it was interesting to see so many. I hadn’t seen so many at that stage in my life.
So this was a more pleasurable trip back from Port Hedland than you had on the way there?
Yeah, that’s right and then when I came back to Muresk, to my parents.
Did they know you were coming home?
No, I don’t think so. My father said to me “Well, we’ll have to find you another job.”
Well the last one was a bit of a disaster.
So at that stage my eldest brother was a carpenter in Perth. He’d done seven years as an apprenticeship in a carpentry business and he found me
a job working for Lyons and Harts who were industrial plumbers, something I didn’t like. I don’t like working inside a building.
Yeah, I couldn’t imagine that you would.
What sort of jobs did you have to do working with these plumbers?
Well in Lyons and Harts I was involved in the galvanising shop where you were
working with molten metal, galvanising down pipes, galvanised iron, anything that was used in sewerage that had to be galvanised, steps down into, underground pipes and things like that, buckets, galvanised buckets. You had a bath of molten metal and with a pair of long
tongs you put each article into the molten metal and then lifted it out and one morning, I had another partner who used to help me do this and one morning we were galvanising galvanised pipes for downpipes, for water downpipes and he evidently was not feeling happy with himself and you had to put one end of the pipe in the
molten metal first to let the hot air escape before you put the put the other end in. And he put his end in the same time as I did and it blew the molten metal out all over him and skun him from top to bottom, clothes the lot, so that ended my working for Lyons and Harts. I could see that that may happen to me one day.
The air gets inside the pipe and explodes, so I went home. When I got home my mother said, “Your father’s not going to be happy about this, that you’ve now given up that job” and I said, “Yeah, well I don’t like it.” “Father will be cross” and I said, “Father is going to have to be cross because I don’t like it”.
So I then
worked on Muresk College as an assistant until November of 1941.
Were you following what was going on in the war at all?
Yes, through newspapers and wireless but we didn’t have television of course in those days. My eldest brother and my second brother had then joined,
my eldest brother joined the air force and he was in the air force for six years and my second brother had joined the Light Horse. He had been a volunteer in the Light Horse from about 1938, before the war had actually started because he was also interested in horse and animals. And November 41
I went into Northam with my mother and went to the recruiting office to join up. I was then seventeen years and nine months old.
Why did you decide to join up?
Well I knew, conscription had already been introduced then and I knew eventually I would be conscripted, so I decided, after conversations with my father, that I would
go and join up. My father said, “That’s your decision. You must make up your mind what you want to do”. So I went to the recruiting depot in Northam and the sergeant said to me, “Does your mother know where you are?” And I said, “Yes, she’s down town shopping.” He said, “I’m not asking you that, I’m asking does she know that you’re joining up?” And I said, “Yes, she does” and
he said “I’ll put you in the infantry” and I said, “You won’t put me in the infantry. I’m a volunteer and I’m going in the 10th Light Horse”. He said, “You can’t because there’s too many people in the Light Horse now, so you can join up and I’ll take all your particulars but you’ll have to wait and we will advise you when you can join the Light Horse because there’s too many people in that unit.” So it was not until the 1st of March 42 that I
joined the army and my introduction into the army was a bit unusual in so much that I left Muresk in the morning and went to Perth to what was then the recruiting depot at the showgrounds in Perth and went through my medical and everything and at two o’clock I was given a leave pass and told to meet a bus at midnight
outside Baird’s shop in Wellington Street, which I did. I got on this bus and went out to the end of the tar road north of Wanneroo and all the people on the bus got off and disappeared and I couldn’t hear anybody walking.
And I thought, “That’s a bit odd,” but then I realised they’d all walked into the sand because they’d walked off the end of the tar road and I could then hear one or two voices so I followed the voices and stumbled over a tent rope, which I immediately was abused for doing so. Then I stumbled into a sentry and he said, “Where are you
going?” And I said, “I’m not too bloody sure.” I said “I’m looking for my brother” and he said, “Oh he’s up there, go up two more rows of tents and you’ll find him”, which I did and it was pitch black at night time.
Were there blackouts in Perth at the time?
Oh yes, total blackouts, yes. All the vehicles just had little slits through their headlights. You could only see ten yards in front of you. No lights in Perth in those days.
I eventually found my brother and he said, “Where did you come from?” And I said, “I’ve come from home” and he said, “But you must have had some training?” And I said, “I haven’t had any training.”
But you were told to get on the bus and go there?
Oh yes. He said, “But you shouldn’t be here. You should have been to a recruit training camp before you came here” and I said, “Well I haven’t been” and he said, “Well I’ll have to take you up to the colonel in the
morning”. So I had a sleep that night in my clothes I was in.
Had you got a uniform at this stage?
I had a uniform yes and I had sent my civilian clothes home through a friend of mine in Perth. So the next morning after mess, which I didn’t understand, “What was mess?” Mess was breakfast. He took me up to the colonel and the
colonel said, “How did you get here?” And I told him and he again reiterated the fact that I shouldn’t have been there and I said, “I’m sorry, but I am here” and he said, “Well you’ll have to be trained” and I said, “Yes”, so every day one of the other soldiers took me into the bush and gave me rifle training and I progressed over a matter of three months
into a trained soldier.
A personal training regime?
That’s right, yes.
Did you enjoy it?
Yes, yes, it was something different I hadn’t done before but I was involved with horses so I was quite happy about that.
Well what sort of training did you get from this other….?
Oh only just training with weapons and rifle drill and parade drill and things like that.
And then we were doing coastal patrols from north of Wanneroo and up to the Hill River and down to Bunbury.
So this is the Light Horse and I’m assuming that there’s a lot of horses about as well?
Yeah, twelve hundred horses and twelve hundred men.
Well where are they keeping all the horses and how are they housing all the men?
In rows. You had a rope on the ground and a rope along
a row of trees. The horses were tethered to the rope that was on the trees at head height and one foot, one rear foot was attached to the rope on the ground so they couldn’t kick you. They were side by side, five hundred horses in a row and another five hundred horses, and another five hundred horses.
And then they were fed night and morning with a nose bag on them
and watered every morning and every night. You took them to a lake or to water troughs that were set up. There were either bores set up here and there throughout the country and we found water on lakes and creeks and wells throughout the country as we progressed along doing coastal patrols.
And is every man in charge of his own horse?
Oh yes, you had to
look after your own horse, look after your own equipment and everything like that, yes.
So did you actually get your own horse?
Oh yes, there was a horse supplied from the remount depots.
So was it three months after you’d done your training that you got a horse or did you get a horse before?
No I got a horse straightaway.
The next morning when I woke up and we had to take the horses to water before breakfast, yes I was put on a horse straight away. My brother said, “That’s your horse” because he became a farrier, that
is shoeing horses and he was in charge of the health of all the horses. He was not the only farrier of course. There were several others in the unit but yes, you got a horse straight away.
Was it a good horse?
Oh yes, the same horse I had for about two and a half years and you were immediately given a saddle and equipment and all the other gear which you had. Yes, you had to look after all your equipment and saddlery and
everything like that.
So tell me what an average day would be like once you’d done your training, there’d still be patrols and things to do?
We used to do coastal patrols. A squadron, which is similar to a company, an infantry company, and you were stationed on the coast in platoons
every thirty mile along the coast, so you would go from this base (demonstrates) fifteen miles north and they would come fifteen miles south and then you would travel inland two miles and come back again. You did that every two hours. There would be two people doing that, night and day, twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days of the year so we were scattered a long way up the coast. And then you would come
back to base after three months and do more training at the base camp and then you would go back to the coastal patrols again.
So while you’re on the coastal patrol, what sort of food are you eating?
Well we had mobile cook houses, steam cookers in the bush, with a tarpaulin as a roof and two army tables
and an army bench type seat under the trees. You didn’t have any tents to live in. You lived in, under the trees you dug holes in the side of the sand hills and rolled yourself up in your rugs in there and that was your bed. You stayed in the same set of clothes for the duration of the period that you were doing coastal patrols. You only changed your clothes when you came back to base camp. Of course
we changed our clothes because we used to go and swim in the sea, horses and men used to go and swim in the sea and you’d strip off and then you’d wash your clothes and hang them up when you could but many times you were riding in wet clothes all the time but going along your clothes would dry out.
What did the uniform look like?
Well we had breeches, gaiters and breeches and
jacket and slouch hat. We had a great coat overcoat in the winter time but we didn’t carry anything else. You just carried your army grey blanket and a groundsheet and that was all you had.
Would you fix that to the horse or….?
Yes, you attached that on the saddle.
Did you have any sort of backpack or anything like that?
a bandolier of ammunition and your rifle bayonet, water bottle and apart from that you had no other equipment. Those that were in the machine gun or mortar section of course they had machine guns or mortars. They were on pack horses and they went along with you wherever you went.
You said that when you go back to have a bit more training, what sort of training would you go back to after you’ve done the coastal patrol?
Oh more parade ground
and doing drill with horses.
What’s a drill with a horse?
Well you rode in the Light Horse; you rode in ranks of four, against infantry where you march in ranks of three. You would do virtually what you might term parade ground drill but on a
horse and mounted drill. You did also such things as mounted, or similar to a bayonet charge if you like but mounted on a horse. That was in most cases with a sabre, not a rifle and bayonet, similar to tent pegging
if you like where you had objects on the ground which you had to pick up with the end of your sabre and we usually did that in rows of maybe a hundred across a dry lake bed or something like that, a large area of an open paddock. It was to teach you using a sabre if you had to use a sabre in action, similar to what they did in the First World War. The possibility of doing that here in the Second World War
was pretty remote but it was all training. Then we had training in gas.
What did that consist of?
Riding with gas masks on.
That’s got to be difficult?
Yeah, this is right and also you did training of riding a horse at full gallop and shooting over the horse’s head at a target at an oncoming
target. Then you did training also with infantry, integrating with infantry units. We did training with armed cars and Bren gun carriers. They were our opposition.
Was it difficult to get the horses used to the sounds and action?
Yeah, they did for a while, yes.
Because you’d have to have a bit of training for them?
would either rear or put his head down on the ground when you shot over his head. After a while they got accustomed to it and when they realised what you were going to do, they would put their head down and still keep travelling if you were cantering or galloping. They got accustomed to it.
That’s got to be hard being in a full gallop on a horse and aiming and shooting?
This is right, it is but you let the horse guide himself. Now if you’re an experienced horseman you guide a horse with your knees, you don’t guide it with it’s bridle, with its reins. If you were chasing cattle on a station you guide a horse with your knees, by pushing your knees left or right you guide the horse. If you’re going through bush, don’t do it
because the horse will decide to go to the left of the tree and you are deciding to go right of the tree and you’ll end up in the tree, so you just let the horse determine where he’s going and watch out for the overhanging limbs that he doesn’t wipe you off. But no, horses get used to gunfire. They play up for a while of course but they get accustomed to it. Machine gun fire or artillery
stirs them up for a while but they get accustomed to where the bullets are going like you do. They don’t take much notice after a while. There’s always the fractious one that you have trouble with, like fractious people.
And how was your horse?
I didn’t have any troubles with him. The first few times I fired over his head he used to throw his head because of the
noise in his ears but I didn’t have much trouble with him. I used to let him do what he wanted to do provided he was going in the direction I wanted to go. I used to steer him with my knees and he understood that.
Where’s the logic, you said you were having gas mask training, but what happens to the horse? If you’re getting gassed the horse is getting gassed as well so surely the horse would fall out from under you?
That was not worked out by the authorities.
We used to do infantry type assaults too off the horses with gas masks running up sand hills in the middle of summertime and you end up with a bowl of perspiration under your chin because the perspiration runs off your face inside the gas mask down here. You have to lift the bottom of the gas mask and let the perspiration run out.
Did you find that whole sort of process of training with the gas mask kind of ludicrous?
It is very, very difficult to operate with the gas mask that we had because of the fogging up inside, you couldn’t get to it if you kept your gas mask on. You couldn’t clean it because if you took the gas mask off if you were in a gas situation you would
inhale the gas and it was very, very difficult with the gas mask. I don’t know with modern gas masks but very, very difficult to even to be able to fire accurately with a gas mask on your face.
Also being on top of a horse doesn’t make it any easier?
This is right, yes.
I just know that we’re coming to the end of a tape, so we’ll just swap it.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 03
How long were you patrolling on the coast of Western Australia?
About two and a half years until April of 44, yes, April of 44. We were then disbanded as a Light Horse unit
and the horses were taken away from us and before they were taken away from us we were taken down to Collie and there was a jungle training school at Collie and we were put through the jungle training school at Collie.
Well before we discuss what happened once the Light Horse was disbanded, what happened during the course of those two and a half years? That’s quite a long time to be doing those patrols?
We continued to do coastal patrols up and down the coast from north of
the Hill River down to south of Mandurah.
The Hill River.
Which is this side of Dongara, south of Dongara, down to just south of Mandurah, so we were stationed at different places along the coast in squadrons, which is the same as a company size
operation and then from there we were then spread out into sections of eight men along the coast.
Where were the squadrons stationed?
The squadrons, the base camp was back in either the Gin Gin or the Wanderoo area at the time and the squadrons were broken up and stationed at different places along the coast, just in the bush. And then we
had mobile steam cookers dotted along the coast where we would come back to for our meals. We didn’t have tents, we just lived in the bush. And then about every three months we would come back to the base camp and be relieved and another squadron would take our place and then we’d go back to the coastal surveillance
Can you describe the base camp?
Oh the base camps were just rows of tents set up in the bush and then you had big marquees for Q stores or for cook houses, situations like that. They were readily moveable when
they decided to move to a different locality. Nothing permanent, the only things that were permanent were perhaps bores put down for showers and water supplies but there were no permanent buildings, so you could readily move at relatively short notice from position to position. Food for the horses
was carted in by road transport and distributed to different places along the coast, different positions along the coast and when you were on the coastal patrols you found your water wherever you could, in rivers or creeks, streams or wells. A lot of the places that we traversed is now covered by houses in
the northern suburbs of Perth, because Perth in those days, well the North Perth Hotel was the end of civilization if you like.
So you lived like bushmen?
What supplies did you carry with you?
Oh, only bully beef [tinned beef] and
biscuits. You got any other substantial meal from the cookhouses.
Can you describe the cookhouses?
Well it was just a steam cooker with a tarpaulin and a fly tent stretched over between two trees, a couple of army tables, a couple of army benches, seats. That was all that was there and then you
could get a meal from the steam cookhouse anytime, night or day and the cook looked after us very well because we in turn looked after them. We used to catch fish or kangaroos and supplement what they cooked and if we could find any vegetables from any market gardens or anybody that we happened to raid on our little trips through the bush, we
would find market gardens or whatever here and there.
But you would have been able to put your childhood experiences towards?
That’s right, yeah.
Who used to operate the cook houses?
Oh the cooks that were attached to 10th Light Horse and the steam cookers were moved by four wheel drive truck as you required them through the sand hills.
So they were semi permanent positions or….?
Yes, that’s right. They’d be there for weeks on end and then as you moved they would move to somewhere else, yes. We moved positions all the time so that if anybody happened to be watching you they weren’t able to sort of define the times that you did certain activities. We were always on the move.
How many staff would operate one of these cook houses?
Only two, the cook and his assistant,
There must have been some interesting characters amongst them?
Oh yes, there certainly was because quite a few of the cooks were in fact commercial cooks in private life, in business life. Some of them, we had two of them that were professional cooks in what was Bones, which became Baird’s Department Store. And they were
very, very capable and looked after us very well.
Would you ever corral the horses for the night at one of the cookhouses and set up camp at a cookhouse?
No. Usually you were camped on the coast and you’d come back from the coast back to the cookhouse and have your meal and return again. We used to,
as I say, we used to try and look after the cooks as best we could by introducing other food and things like that.
What did you observe on those patrols? Did you have some interesting?
Well occasionally we used to get Indonesian fishermen coming down the coast trying to get away from the Japanese and occasionally we’d get
sampan type vessels would come in that were blown south by a storm. We used to call them “copangers” because they came from that part of Indonesia most of them. We on a couple of occasions had sighted what we thought were Japanese submarines, the periscopes of Japanese submarines but I don’t think that we
actually ever saw any enemy activity actually. There was, on a couple of occasions there were fairy lights that were shot into the air at night time and never, ever actually found out if they were people signalling to submarines at sea or whether in fact they were put up by our own officers
to try and keep us on our metal in reporting things, that we didn’t get lax and not report things we should have been reporting. There were the occasions on coastal patrol that you would find houses that had lights shining out to sea. It was our job to see that there were no lights shining from buildings out to sea. If in fact there were
submarines at sea that they could pick up those lights and they could know where they were. We used to run into one or two people who didn’t wish to comply with our requests and we had to remove the light globes from the house or smash them or deter them from their continuing to do that sort of thing.
Whereabouts on the coast did you have those kinds of encounter?
Oh mainly in the nearer metropolitan areas. We didn’t run into any opposition as we went further away from the metro area, no. There was a lady that you may have heard about at Yanchep who had a house on a top of a hill and she was described by some authorities as being
a spy but she wasn’t in fact a spy. She just happened to live in this house on this hill, close to the coast, near Yanchep and in her private life, before the war she used to go backwards and forwards to where she originally lived in England and somebody
got the idea, for some particular reason that she came out here as a spy, but she wasn’t. She ran a horse stud of little Welsh mountain ponies and she used to let the Welsh mountain ponies, a mare and a stallion, out during the day time and over the period of years that she had lived there they had mated with the wild horses that lived in that area in those years.
And we, as a mascot, eventually captured one of these little horses and we used to keep him as a mascot and we used to put him in a ring of people on a Sunday and ask the padre or the colonel to ride him bareback and we used to feed him on oats to get him in fine fettle. And being so small he’d put his head down between his front legs and buck and nine chance out of ten he’d buck everybody off.
That was our bit of pleasure on a Saturday and a Sunday.
A bit of rodeo riding?
A few bets made?
Did you suspect or discover any Fifth Column activity [spying]?
No, I can’t say that we did. We used to think that the Italian market gardeners that were then north of Perth, we used to suspect that they were perhaps operating in that type of activity but we never
actually proved anything against anybody in that area. That part of the road going from Wanneroo north was shut off by the army during the war and all the vegetable trucks that used to come down in those days and horses and carts they were all searched as they went towards what was Perth Metropolitan Markets.
Did that create much friction or conflict with the market gardens?
They got used to what we were doing and we proved beyond a shadow of doubt after a while that they weren’t up to any illegal sort of business, so we didn’t have much trouble with them at all.
So what kind of relationship did you have with them?
They seemed to be, apart from the fact of course we were at war with Italy at the time,
you ran into the few that were a little bit hostile towards us but they couldn’t play up too much. They were living in Australia so it was a case of behave yourself on their part or maybe like a lot of other prisoners of war that were taken here. I mean there was Japanese and Germans, Italians, people who were in business here, they were taken out
into POW [Prisoner of War] camps on the Nullarbor because many, many times there were prisoner of war trains used to go from Perth out to the Nullarbor with people they suspected might be sympathetic towards the axis corps against us. I can’t say that we ever had a great deal of animosity because most of the Italians had lived here long enough, pre-war
to realise what was happening to them. I can’t remember any unpleasant situations. I think they just accepted the fact they were here and they had to put up with what we wanted them to do.
You showed them a reasonable amount of suspicion because….?
Well we weren’t too hard on them sort of thing. We had to do what we had to do, whatever the laws happened to be, military laws happened to be at the time well that’s what we carried out.
Did you take leave at all during those two and a half years?
Yes, we used to get leave about once a year. You got one day a month, fourteen days a year, a fortnight a year and
I used to go home to Muresk. There was a period of time when we were camped down at, oh south of Manjimup that we didn’t get leave for more than a year and the whole regiment went on strike, which was highly illegal in those days of course. We were told
that if we didn’t change our ways that they would bring in an infantry battalion to take us on and so we immediately secured all the ammunition that we had and said, “Righto, that’s what’s going to happen, that’s what’s going to happen.” So the powers that be decided that wasn’t a good idea and gave us leave.
So how long did that stalemate last?
Oh for about
three or four days, that’s all.
What was the atmosphere like amongst the regiment at that time?
Oh we were all very happy that we were going to sit pat and we were not going to do what we should have been doing. We were going to go on strike and stay where we were until we got our leave and I can’t actually remember why they decided not to give us our leave
as normal. That was a decision made by higher brass at the time but we won the day and everybody went happily on their way and we went back to work again.
And were you fully prepared to take to arms if the infantry have had of?
Yes, we were at the time because I don’t think that the army was really genuine
that they were going to bring an infantry battalion against us.
So you really felt as though you were calling their bluff?
I think that we realized that we were standing on fairly reasonable ground at the time. It wouldn’t have done military brass much good to have done that and that was in 1942, you might say at the time of the war.
So you were adamant about your leave?
Oh yeah we were adamant about our leave, yes, yeah. Because we were living a pretty rough life, no tent, living in the bush, and you only got into tents when you came back to base camp and things like that. I don’t think we were knocked about in any way because we didn’t have tents to live in. We used to make bark shelters and all those sorts of things to protect ourselves in the winter time and get underneath shady trees in the summertime. It was a rough life, I can assure
you about that but we survived alright.
What did you find the most difficult about the life?
Oh, I don’t think, having accepted the fact that that was life I don’t think that there was anything you could really complain about,
in saying that anything was too difficult. If you knuckled down to the fact that that was it, you didn’t have any alternative and I think you just had to learn to compromise if you like between what you might have wanted and what was stark reality.
What did you enjoy most
Well the free time when we weren’t doing coastal patrols we used to go swimming, fishing, catching kangaroos, which we weren’t supposed to do because we used to shoot the kangaroos off the horses. We’d go into the bush and we’d see kangaroos and instead of getting off your horse we’d shoot the kangaroos and we’d skin the kangaroos, take the meat back
to the cookhouse and peg the skins out and when we got a few skins we used to sell the skins to people like Elders or Wesfarmers. In those days you didn’t get a lot of money for them but you got a few bob because you remember we only got six and six a day, sixty six cents which was not a great deal of money, not that you wanted much because your meals and everything was supplied but
you weren’t earning very much money for twenty four hours’ service.
Why were you told not to go kangaroo shooting?
Well because we were using army ammunition and you were only allocated a certain amount of ammunition, so you had to every now and again when you had a kit inspection or an officer came along and wanted to know how much ammunition did you have, you’d have to try and make up a story how
you got rid of the rest and that wasn’t always easy to do if you’d been shooting kangaroos. Oh we might have had to shoot it, or we’d lost it or, because when you were not on active service you paid for anything you lost or damaged. If you take yourself to
active service, the day you go into action anything you lose or break or damage, the day you come out of action what you lose or break or damage comes out of your pay book. You don’t pay for it but you pay for it out of your pay book, it’s taken out of your pay book.
That’s a bit shrewd?
It’s a bit rough sometimes but it’s the way the services worked.
How real did you feel that the Japanese invasion was when you were patrolling the coast?
Well on a couple of occasions in April of 43 I think it was, April, 43, I don’t know whether it was for real or not but we were told that there was a Japanese invasion force moving down the west coast and I think perhaps
there may have been a Japanese force moving west and it was supposed then to have been south of Timor. It was supposedly coming this way. Now whether in fact it was a faint on the part of the Japanese Navy I don’t know but all leave was cancelled for navy, army and air force during that
period of time and we did think it was highly likely. We were all sent out to the coast, scattered along the coast and we stayed there for about a fortnight, three weeks. And there was nobody allowed on leave and all movement was frozen at that time but looking back in hindsight
I would say that most of us thought the possibility of invasion was fairly remote this far down the coast, back in the earlier part of the war, even though the army must have had many other thoughts about that because there was about a hundred and fifty thousand men here in that part of the war. You’re not old enough to remember
but a large part of the army was shifted over here. You might say almost all Australia’s Militia’s units were here.
Where were they being kept?
Stationed anywhere between Perth and Northampton inland, most of them as far inland as Mullewa, inland from Dongera and back far enough
from the coast where base camps were set up so that if there was invasion they wouldn’t have been overrun in a short time.
So you were essentially in forward observation positions?
Yeah, that’s right, yeah. We could move quicker and with less noise say than tanks, armoured cars, Bren gun carriers whatever and we were used more as
ears and observation as you like, yes, because in each case we would have infantry units or armoured units further inland than what we were so any information we picked up went back to them and anybody we picked up on the coast was sent back to them, and then sent through to the military police for interrogation and things like that.
How much communication did you have with those infantry and armed….?
As coast patrols, we only had communications with our individual officers and what they did with the information it would have gone back to headquarters but we didn’t have actually personal contact with them. There were very few units that we actually came in contact with.
How often did you come in contact with infantry units?
Oh maybe once every three to
to five months apart, not on a regular basis. We didn’t have a set of rules where we communicated or met them.
Do you recall any of those incidents, those contacts with them?
At one stage we had an occasional communication
with the 2/11th Battalion, infantry battalion, when they came back from the Middle East. They were camped at Gin Gin recuperating and reequipping because they had been knocked about pretty well in the Middle East and they had lost a lot of men and they were building roads and building camps in the Gin Gin area and we used to run into them occasionally.
I was involved in looking for two of them that lost themselves in the bush. Two of them went out on Sunday kangaroo shooting in the middle of summertime and we were advised on the Monday that they hadn’t returned and some of us were sent out to look for them and one fellow eventually died and the other walked
into the chalet at, not, where the caves are at?
Yallingup? That’s too far south, you mean Yanchep?
Yeah, sorry, he walked into the headquarters at Yanchep and
he was completely nude and at one stage in his delirium he was walking backwards and we tracked him through the bush and they had thrown off all their gear and thrown away their boots and their clothes and one bloke as I say had died through lack of water and we tracked them where they’d been digging for bardies and looking for food in the
bush. He survived, the chap that walked into Yanchep but they were both in poor condition. They’d been out for three days without any water. Unfortunately they’d only taken a water bottle with them and that doesn’t last you very long on a hot day but apart from that I can’t remember any outstanding incidents that we had there.
But you were ready for a full scale invasion?
Yes, yes, everything was organised for an invasion should it happen. We were only as I say eyes and ears for the infantry and for the armed.
Did you get any leave in the city?
Did you spend any of your leave time in the city?
Oh the only time that I
spent in the later part of my Light Horse life was when I’d get to maybe night time leave if we were camped reasonably close to Perth. I’d go to see my eldest brother’s wife. My brother then was in the air force in Victoria. I’d go
up to see my brother’s wife sometimes, yes. Just night time leave as it was too short to go home to my parents in Muresk or we’d go to a dance or go to the pictures or something like that.
How did you spend that time at your brother’s place?
Oh only just on a visiting basis for maybe three or four hours. We used to sometimes get into conflict with
the American sailors in the city. They didn’t like us and we didn’t like them and we thought they were overpaid, oversexed and over here as the saying goes.
So you’d let them know about it, would you?
Oh yeah, we got into all sorts of brawls with them on many occasions.
Whereabouts did you usually get into strife?
Oh this could happen in the main street, in Hay Street, anywhere in the city. You came out of a cinema at night time and they’d be standing
on the edge of the footpath and they used to call us “Bird Men” because we had feathers in our hat, like light horsemen and that used to provoke a lot of our boys especially if they’d had a few beers into fisticuffs [fist fights]. I don’t think that I ever got into it.
Could the Yanks hold their own in a fisticuff?
Oh yes, there was always the good ones and the bad ones.
We had some pretty rough characters among the Light Horse. Most of them were boys from rural backgrounds and we had quite a few Aboriginals and they didn’t take kindly to the Americans. They used to try and show who was the most dominant out of the two. There were always brawls going on in Perth during the war between allied servicemen.
We had the League of Nations here during the war, Yanks, Canadians, Indians, New Zealanders, French, Polish, every nation in the world was here and of course no matter where you put people of nationalities, different nationalities and then you add a little bit of liquor and then you add women into that, you get a whole heap of conflict.
Not always very suitable.
What were the popular watering holes [pubs] in the city?
All the well known pubs, I couldn’t name them all for you because I didn’t go to them all because nine times out of ten they were the points of where you might run into trouble.
Which pubs had the worst
I think the Wentworth in Perth had the worst reputation at the time and then of course all the pubs in Fremantle among the sailors from different nations, there was always brawls in Fremantle. At one stage there were more than eighty international submarines stationed in Fremantle. There was about another eighty in Albany of all different nationalities
and you mix them all together and if you bring people from situations, say ships or submarines or people that have been on active service you get some pretty high tempers at times and how you sort things out in your life.
What was happening on the civilian front in Perth?
Well Perth’s civilian population was severely rationed in food, clothing, fuel. I can’t exactly remember but I think most civilians that had motor cars used to get a gallon a month for petrol if you had a necessity for it but if you lived in the city where you had public transport then you didn’t get any petrol
at all. I remember that my father put the car up on blocks and only used the car once a month because the ration of petrol was not sufficient to run the car backwards and forwards into Northam all the time and many, many people did that sort of thing. They would conserve their petrol until they had an opportunity or necessity to go
somewhere. You got ration tickets. You had a ration book for everything, rations for clothes, for meat, for vegetables, for food, for petrol and if you didn’t have the necessary coupons well you didn’t get whatever.
Is there a black market?
Oh yes, definitely a black market, yes. That was going on I think. Well it went on in the army, the navy, the air force and it went on in civilian life.
There were huge dumps of petrol inland in forty four gallons drums with army guards on them with barbed wire fences around them but there was black market went on there. You sold the petrol out of the drums then filled the drums with water but you think about it. It was not very good on the part of those that did it because
had we have needed the fuel and in a hurry, in haste, you’d empty the forty four gallon drums and pump water into a tank or an armoured car or truck or whatever and then you’d stop. It was a little bit of what shall I say, fifth column going on but it didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen, yes.
Were there air raid shelters or armaments in the city area?
Oh yes, all around Perth
there were searchlights and anti-aircraft units and a large percentage of the anti-aircraft and the searchlights were operated by female members of the armed services. There was, well to my knowledge, there was not a lot of land based artillery around Perth. There was coastal defences at Rottnest and up in the hills behind Perth and
south of Perth and north of Perth there was coastal defences with the aim of keeping any intruders away but I can’t ever remember any warships coming into Fremantle and I don’t ever remember maybe once that the guns on Rottnest were ever fired in defence or to stop
any vessel from coming into Perth, maybe once I think. I think the coastal defence boys got sick of doing nothing.
They were looking for an excuse for action were they?
There was on a couple of occasions, if you go up to Useless Loop, Shark Bay, there was some Japanese subs sunk by land based artillery where the Japanese
subs came up at night time to recharge their batteries and the coast watchers became aware of the fact that they were doing this and bought up artillery and dug them into the sand hills and then waited for them to come back in again and on a moonlight I understand that they did knock off two subs in one of these sections of Useless Loop in Shark Bay.
But apart from that I don’t know of any other intruders that were ever seen close to the coast not that I can remember back then at any rate. I know Port Hedland was bombed and Broome was bombed and I think they came down as far as Carnarvon and of course there was quite a lot of loss of life at
Broome when, well I don’t know, round about twelve or fourteen flying boats were shot up there early in the morning when they were loading the women and the children with the intention of flying them down to Perth. They’d left the islands the night before and they’d flown to Broome and landed at Broome that night and they were refuelling and reloading when the Japanese Zeros came over and shot the lot of them up and I think if you went to Broome
you’ll find some of the aircraft at low tide sitting on the mud there now. I don’t remember any activity coming further south than that, not that I can remember.
We’re just getting the wind up there Bob so we’ll change tapes.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 04
So how did your time with the coastal patrol actually end?
How did it end?
Well in 1943 as the war progressed from defensive to offensive, where the Japanese were being pushed back, it was decided that all the troops that were here
in Western Australia were no longer required on defence because there was not the likelihood of a Japanese invasion so progressively many units were disbanded, taken east, retrained into infantry and then deployed as reinforcements into active units in the south of the Pacific, so it
then became our turn and in February of 44 we had the horses taken away from us, we were given leave and then in April of 44 we were taken to Sydney to a place called Rooty Hill.
Did you manage to retain a group of mates
with you or did you all go in different directions?
No, we were taken as a unit to Rooty Hill where we had dental inspections and then we were moved from there to Liverpool and then we were paraded one morning and told that we would then be cut up as reinforcements and to get with your brothers or your mates.
Was your brother the farrier, was it Norm?
Was he still with you?
He was with me, yes. He stood in front of me and my mate Tommy Townsend, he and I had been mates since we’d joined the army and he stood beside me and the sergeant major came along, “three, six, nine and twelve, off there, off there, off there” and my brother went to the 2/6th Engineers and Tommy Townsend went to the 2/5th Commandoes and I went to
Bathurst to an infantry training school.
So that must have been a bit distressing to be split up like that?
Oh well, that’s how it was. They just went along, “You’re going here and you’re going there and we want reinforcements for this and reinforcements for that” and you didn’t have any say in it. Strangely, Norman, my brother went to Wagga and then went to the 2/6th Engineers, Tommy
he went, unbeknown to me, he went to Bathurst too but over the hill from me into another part of the camp. I was there for three months. We arrived in Bathurst in the snow at one o’clock in the morning into open trucks and were driven out to the camp. It was then about half past one, two o’clock in the morning and snow was falling and we
were left there stamping up and down the road until six o’clock in the morning until the sergeant major came out and said, “What are you boys doing here?” And we were by that time pretty hostile, it was freezing cold and he said, “Why haven’t you got a hut?” We said, “No-one was here to meet us” and he said, “Well I apologise to you, there should have been someone here to meet you.” At any rate we were there for three months doing infantry training.
And sort of training were you doing?
Well when you’re in the Light Horse you parade and do all your manoeuvres in fours and when you’re in infantry you are then converted into threes. So you have to change as I say into parading in threes. Infantry training is totally different to
Light Horse training and you were then trained in different weapons and different manoeuvres that you would be then carrying out in the jungle.
What sort of weapons were you training on there?
Well we were then trained on heavier machine guns and heavier mortars. We were then given an insight into,
if we had to, working twenty five pounder artillery. We were then put through a gas school if you had to wear a gas mask in the jungle, which would have been a no-no I can assure you about that.
And was it a no-no?
Because of the humidity and the gas in the jungle is ten times more effective than gas in the open because of
the closeness of the jungle stops the gas from moving so fast. Like wireless in the jungle is half as effective as wireless standing on the beach.
Whilst we were there they carried out a program of weeding out the weak from the strong
and you were doing exercises all day and then in the middle of the night they would wake you up and take you for a ten mile route march and then come back and then go on with the day’s program again. And then the last month every day for about three weeks we marched thirty five miles a day
and then you would think, “That’s good, we’ll go to the canteen tonight” and then in the middle of the night they would pull you out to do a ten mile route march and what they were doing they were sorting out the weak from the strong, because it’s no good taking people who are not physically fit to the jungle. And the first fortnight in active service you’ll lose about fifty percent of your men
through death, wounding, sickness or inability to survive because of the type of conditions you go into.
So how were most of the men taking this pretty punishing treatment at Bathurst?
Yeah, a lot of them did and a lot fell out.
What would happen to you if you fell out?
They would be put into different units, into supply units or support units. And after three months in Bathurst
I went back to Sydney.
Before you go back to Sydney, just a little bit more about Bathurst. Were they teaching you any specifics with jungles or jungle training?
You had, or we had people who were sent back on training carters, people who were already in action in the south west Pacific to teach you jungle warfare.
They were supposed to teach us out of the book as the army laid down but was far more valuable for them to teach us from their own knowledge that they had achieved, men that had been through the Middle East, and come back and gone to New Guinea and come back. They were far more experienced in what you were going to learn. The army teaches you lots of things that you will never use
but someone who is experienced teaches you something that is practicability and practicability always comes out on top.
I’m just wondering what these fellows were like? Were they good teachers?
Yes, I was very lucky that I had in my case, that taught the squad that I was in, a chap by the name of Corporal Gerrin, he had
won himself two Military Medals, in the Middle East and one in New Guinea and he was a very experienced person, a bit of a wild boy. He used to get on the scoot in Bathurst of a night time and weekends and that and on a Sunday morning he would sometimes be so drunk that we’d dress him and brink him out on parade. And we would guide him as we
went to church parade on a Sunday morning. One of us would stand so close behind him and turn him around left or right but he was the salt of the earth from the point of the view he was a fantastic person to teach you anything. He would tell you all the things that you were going to confront in the jungle and what to look out for.
Would he tell you anything about the Japanese from his experience?
Yes, yes, he would tell you what they were
like, what you were going to confront to, how to look after yourself, things that you don’t get out of a book.
Can you remember some of those things that he imparted over to you?
Yes, it is difficult to relate to you as he had imparted it to us.
It was a case of “stick by your mates. Don’t race out and do things, sit and look at what is going to happen. Try to get a good grip on yourself mentally because war in the jungle, especially at night time is very mental, psychological, because the enemy is all around you
and doing all sorts of tricks to try and trap you into things, not to fall for these tricks of shooting your mouth off if you like. Pulling the trigger, as soon as you pull the trigger, it immediately pinpoints where you are and the Japanese have the habit of shooting at you and moving. Now we might not do that,
we would sit in one place, don’t do that. Sit pat at night time, don’t allow you to know where you are” and little things like that he used to impart to us all the time. He was a very, very practical and very sensible person, someone that has got a good hold on yourself mentally because lots of people, unfortunately, lose their cool and I have seen people shot
themselves through the foot or the arm or the leg in order to get out of the situation but that doesn’t cure anything because nine chances out of ten after you’ve recuperated you’ll come back again, you’ll be brought back again and you haven’t cured anything.
But the instructors we had there were very good. They were all practical people.
We had pretty strict discipline there in so much that whilst it was snowing and you flaked out in the snow you weren’t allowed to pick a guy up. You took out pace forward, turned his face out of the snow and left him there.
He could die?
No, the stretcher bearers would come along and pick him up but you’d stand in the snow for maybe an hour, an hour and a half for an inspection on a Monday morning
and then you’d be expected to perform and you’re half frozen and no overcoats, no balaclavas and no gloves.
Did you at least have some decent boots on?
Oh yes, yes, your toes would be frozen and you’d be moving yourself up and down trying to keep your toes active and when you went to move after to do rifle drill or something like that and nine chances out of ten you’d make a mistake or
drop your rifle or something but it was all part of trying to sort the sheep from the goats if you like, the weak from the strong. A lot of people didn’t appreciate that and we had many complaints about it but it’s no good complaining about it.
What about the actual barracks that you were staying in, were they fairly well sheltered from the cold?
Oh yes, they were all huts, yes.
You had a palliasse and two rugs and your great coat and you were still cold and you were always hungry because the army never fed you enough, so you thought.
Food was not so flash?
No, but it was nutritious. We always reckoned why did the army give you a dixie [cooking pot] that high (demonstrates) when you could cut it down to that high because you could never ever fill it but there were always complaints about the food
but the food was good food. It was wholesome.
So Bathurst sounds like it was a pretty hard slog?
It was, it was designed to do that and then we left there and went from there to Kunghur in Queensland to the jungle school.
Did you go and have some leave in Sydney before that?
So you just went straight from Bathurst, into
Sydney at midnight and the next day we were in Kunghur.
That’s a fairly reasonable journey though, to go from Bathurst to….?
Yeah, you’re going from the snow to tropical in one day.
From an overcoat to a jungle suit in one day, yeah.
Was it a train that you took?
In a train, yeah.
What were the conditions like in the train?
Oh six to eight to a carriage.
The train just stopped when it became meal time, the train just stopped and the cooks and the mobile steam cooker on the front of the train, put all the food on the floor, on the ground and you lined up and in half an hour you could feed hundreds of men, everything was back on the train and the train took off again. That’s how they did it across the Nullarbor. The train just stopped and you put all the food out on tables and you had
your meal. They put out two forty-four gallon drums near the engine and a steam pipe out of the engine into the forty-four gallon drum to boil the water and that’s how you washed your dixies and then back on the train and everything and those that helped the cooks in the cook house they prepared the next meal and when it became the next meal time the train just stopped, didn’t matter where you were, the train just stopped in the middle of the land, that was it.
Primitive but effective.
It was a quick way and an effective way of feeding a lot of men.
So what were your first impressions of Kunghur?
We got out of the train in Kunghur and we were standing in little groups talking to ourselves when a loud mouthed sergeant major said, “Don’t stand there, move” so he paraded us into three ranks
and we ran from there with all our packs and gear on.
How far was that?
Oh about a mile and a half, two miles. Kunghur was a school that everything was done on the double and everything was done with live ammunition. If you stepped out of line you got hurt. In the mornings, at six o’clock you took your
razor, your toothbrush, your toothpaste, your soap and your towel and you ran down to the river and you stood on stones on the edge of the river and you washed and shaved yourself in cold water. Then you ran back up again and if you didn’t keep up and anyone who fell out, after breakfast got a pack on his back and they had a track up the side of a hill
and you picked up a note that was on a post and you bought it back to the CO’s [Commanding Officer’s] office. Each time you went up you took a note up and you left that one up there and brought the other one back. And everything you did at Kunghur, as I say, was on the double.
Well does this mean you’ve done reasonably well with the intense kind of good from the bad workout that you had in Bathurst?
graduated to more punishment really at Kunghur?
Well you had twenty eight days at Kunghur. If you didn’t pass all the tests in Kunghur you did another twenty eight days there, so you made very sure that you did everything. They had, to try and assimilate you into jungle warfare they had wire ropes across rivers and across streams and they used
to throw half plugs of gelignite into the river to try to blow you off the bridge or to blow mud into your face. They had three or four Bren guns on concrete blocks. They were about six or eight feet apart and a track between the guns and you walked on the track while the guns fired live ammunition
besides you and in those tracks there were half plugs of geli [gelignite] set which blew up in your face at the same time as the artillery fired over your head. That was one part of the training and in another part they had tracks through the jungle and tin figures jumped out from behind a tree where you had to shoot it. If you missed it there was an officer who tallied all the hits and the misses.
Then they had a tank school where you did certain manoeuvres with tanks. One place I remember they had slit trenches and they used to drive a tank over your head to try and get you accustomed to, if you happened to be in that situation. Then at night time
you used to go out on simulated exercises where you used to be in trenches and the officers used to do it. They used to come in as though they were the enemy and drop in half plugs of geli or similar around you. And then on another place the lantana grows and
obliterates everything else in Kunghur and you’d go in and that would be about thirty foot high that lantana grew and they’d put your in the bottom of the lantana, give you a compass and tell you to go out the other side and of course lantana is all tangled together so you had to climb your way through there and with the compass get out the other side of it, maybe two or three miles away.
It was to teach you compass training and things like that. What else could I tell you about it?
Well what were the barracks like there?
The barracks were tents, no permanent structures there. There were showers there.
When you weren’t using the river?
Yeah, well yeah, that was it.
Sounds a pretty rough?
Oh there was the, I’m not sure whether it was in Kunghur or in Bathurst, they had the gas training. Put you into a room with gas masks on, took the gas mask off, turned on the gas for a minute until you’re almost choking and then opened the door and let you out.
What sort of gas were they using, do you know?
I can’t tell you. I don’t think it was chloropicrin or what’s the other one? Chloropicrin or?
There’s two of them.
I just wonder if there was anybody with health problems after they were gassed?
Yeah, there were some people come out of there sick, yeah, that would vomit.
So it was the real stuff? They weren’t mucking about?
No, no, no, it was the real stuff, yeah but I can’t remember what it was. They’d only leave you in there for about
half a minute when they actually turned the gas on. You could see the gas coming out of the wall. It was like a fine mist. I remember I wasn’t sick but it would certainly get at you if you stayed in there for too long. The end result wouldn’t be too healthy. I can’t remember if that was at Bathurst. I think it was at Bathurst, before I went to Kunghur.
How much of an emphasis was there on fitness at Kunghur?
During that twenty eight days how much of an emphasis was there on fitness?
Oh a hundred percent. People that didn’t pass out of there were either boarded out into lesser active units. Yes there was PT [Physical Training] every day, all sorts of drills to keep you fit.
How determined were you to actually get through the whole process?
How did I?
How determined were you?
Oh well I just accepted it. It was part of it and you, knowing that you would come back to do twenty eight days again, you made very, very sure that you passed all the tests.
This is right because you didn’t want to stay there. They had all sorts of obstacles.
There was one, you had a ships net to climb eighty feet up, and up and over the top of it and down the other side of it. They had forty-four gallon drums welded together into a tunnel and inside those forty-four gallon drums there was barbed wire connected to the inside of it, so you had to climb through the tunnel.
And in order to get through there so you didn’t hurt yourself too much, you used to put your rifle down in front of you, put your hands on your rifle, on top of the barbed wire and then lift yourself on your toes and shift yourself through. And then put yourself down and shift the weapon you had, whatever it was forward and put your hands on there, lift yourself and go through there. That was a bit of a tummy tickler, I’ll tell you. And then you’d go
out of there and then they had, oh trees cut off at about twenty feet above the ground, with rope ladders to this tree from that one, no handrails, just the ladder you put your feet on, about that wide (demonstrates), like the rungs of a ladder laying horizontal and underneath that they’d have big ponds of mud and they’d chuck half plugs of geli in that and try to blow you off. If you landed in the mud you had to get yourself
out and that was pretty gooey mud I can tell you.
Did you go in the mud?
No, I didn’t go in the mud, no but walking on a rope ladder is a little difficult when someone else is walking on the rope ladder behind you because when you go to put your foot on the rung that is down there and he puts his foot on the rung, that rung comes out and then when you shift your feet, the rung comes down and it makes it a little bit difficult.
Yeah, that’s right but you learn after a while.
Of course every now and again you’ll go forward and put your foot between the rungs where there is no rung and you’ve got to get back up again.
So what would an average day at Kunghur entail?
Oh down to the river, then breakfast, then out on parade doing weapons drill and then you may go
across the flying fox, where they tried to blow you off the flying fox, shooting at hidden targets, moving from one position to another one, digging slit trenches and from one position to another one, going through obstacle courses, whatever the
type of obstacle course happened to be. It might be, they had like ramps built out of logs, going higher and higher and they were I suppose about a yard apart. They were fitness if you like. You had to race up them, jump over the side and then up over a log wall, up over the ship’s net, down the other side,
through the tunnels and then you’d go through where these machine guns were all set up to get you used to weapons firing over your head or around you.
Carrying out unarmed combat with the other boys, you’d be positioned opposite each other and general fitness, unarmed combat or physical training, PT drill. They didn’t do long marches there. They’d
take you out on night time exercises, marching in the jungle. Nine times out of ten you’d be wet through with either perspiration or crossing rivers or laying in the mud or things like that, but that basically was our training there.
You must have been exhausted by the end of the day?
Oh yeah, that was their desired intention, to make you tired, to
see just whether you were physically fit enough to keep going.
And how did you go at the end of the twenty-eight days?
I passed out okay.
How would they let you know whether you’d passed or failed?
They would parade you and tell you, “So and so and so and so and so and so, you’ll be here for another twenty eight days”. There was no messing about asking, “Did you think you passed or did you think you didn’t pass?” They just
told you, that was it and then they would just to be ready for draft. That was for movement, “The next day or today or tomorrow you’re going to go to a certain unit, you’re going to go here” or, “You’re going to go on the train to go to so and so” and so forth.
So you just wait around waiting to be told where you’re going pretty soon?
It was a continuous stream of men going through the jungle schools. When you finished your training tonight, tomorrow morning you were off to a unit where you’re going to go to and I was posted then to the 26th Battalion, which was on the other side of Brisbane at Proserpine and I went there.
What did you think about being posted to
Well I didn’t know anything about the 26th. I didn’t know where we were going to go because out of Kunghur we were all divided up again into different units again and once you were paraded you were just put on a truck, and so many would go on a truck and, “You’re off to so and so” and somebody go on a train, you went all over the place. I was quite happy and I knew I was going
to an infantry battalion and I knew that I was eventually going to go to the jungle at the south west Pacific, or I presumed I was, so I just accepted it. What could you do about it?
Was that an exciting prospect for you?
Was it exciting?
Well there’s a certain amount of excitement if you like in so much that you’re moving about all the time, your destination
is then undetermined where you’re going. I suppose you could say there is a certain amount of excitement but there’s a certain amount of stark reality to you of what the end’s going to be, where are you going? What are you going to face after having been through all your training and what you’ve been told by those who have been there, what you’re going to confront?
It hits home to you after a while that maybe this is not the happy journey that you thought it might have been going to be in the first case and you’ve also got to take into consideration the amount of people that you meet that are worried about where they’re going. There’s a certain amount of people that you meet that
are saying, “Well I might get killed” or, “I’m going to be killed” who impart that point to you.
Is this blokes in the same position as yourself?
Yeah, as in the same position as you, some younger, some older. I eventually had one boy who predetermined his death three times to me and his prediction worked out right and he told me that three times, three months before
we actually left Australia and he told me the same thing the day before he was killed.
What did he say?
He just told me that he would be the first man killed in the battalion and he was and when we were in Brisbane on our final leave, he and I had our final leave together on a Sunday before we went on the USS Mexico, the ship
that took us to the islands, he said to me what would I like to do on that Sunday and I said I’d like to go into Brisbane and go up the Brisbane River to the Koala Park and he said, “Oh I’d like to do that” and when we went to the Koala Park and we were coming out the gate he said to me, “Will you wait while I have a photo taken to send home to my mother?” And I said, “Yeah, if you want me to, but
why don’t you wait until we come home?” And he said, “I won’t be coming home. You will but I won’t” and I said to him, “Oh you’ll come back, we’ll both come back” and he said, “Just wait while I have a photo taken” and he sent it home to his mother. And then when we went to the islands to Bougainville he and I were, I don’t know if it was by chance
with another chap, both those boys were ex-Light Horse boys and we were left to clean the camp up before we moved into action and going up in the Yankee six wheel drive truck you had to go up the Laruma River and you crossed the Laruma River twenty-two times in eleven miles because it was in a canyon.
And he said to me again he would be the first one killed and he was killed the next day and he had this, what will I say? This predisposition that it was going to happen.
Did you believe him at the time?
Yes I did because I could see he was a dyed in the wool [absolutely certain]. He was only
twenty-two. I could see that he was most sincere about what he had to say yet he wasn’t, he was a leading scout.
So he was a pretty skilled sort of a kid?
He was shot from a sniper up a tree, through the chest but
he was not frightened, put it that way. He may have been inwardly frightened but he never showed the fact that he was frightened because as I say he was a leading scout and he was killed but he had this dyed in the wool idea that he was going to be killed. He was one of eleven boys and one girl in the family and unfortunately the other little fellow he came home
and he was killed between two logs, unloading logs off a truck.
How lucky can you be?
Yeah, this is right, yeah, yeah.
Going back to that time you had in Brisbane, did you get some pre-embarkation leave before you went to Bougainville?
Only just two days, Saturday and the Sunday, that’s all.
That’s not very long is it?
We’d had leave here.
So you actually had some leave?
We had leave before we left here in Western Australia in the April but that was in the next December when I went to Bougainville but we didn’t get any leave, no. I didn’t get the chance to go into Brisbane when I was either at Kunghur or at Strathpine. We didn’t get leave there.
You’d been working pretty hard?
Oh well, you know you just had to accept it, the fact that things were programmed that way, you were going at that time. They had to keep the troop ships carting people backwards and forwards and I guess well you were programmed to go at that time, so that was it.
What sort of a ship was it that you boarded?
It was the USS Mexico was
a fast passenger ship that had been on the American coast and we went unescorted. There were fifteen hundred of us on it. And we left Brisbane on the Monday morning on December the 4th and we got to Bougainville on December the 8th and on the way across we ran
over a reef and the ship was going d,d,d,d,d,d, and I said to one of the young sailors, “What’s going on buddy?” And he said, “Oh just going over a rock, just going over a rock”.
Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence does it?
I thought, “That sounds okay but maybe it will bump the bottom out of the ship” but he wasn’t perturbed.
What were conditions like onboard the ship?
Well for me I was seasick for the first two days. Like a lot of
other guys. When you went down for meals into galley, the steam coming out of it, the steam cookers in the galley was wafting out the smell of the food and I’d get about three parts the way down the passageway into the galley and I’d be back upstairs again to be sick. But after that I got accustomed to it alright.
And what were folks sleeping on?
Oh you were just in hammocks, one above
the other, three above each other.
Did that take some getting used to?
Yeah, this is for sure, because your nose is almost opposite his backside, depending which way he slept. We were going to sleep on deck but we weren’t allowed to sleep on deck which would have been far more comfortable. It was only for what, four nights and
when I got to Bougainville we got there late in the afternoon and I went up then and we slept up on deck then, a good deal of us and the next morning we went over the side of the ship, down into landing barges and then down onto the beach and then they picked us up with trucks and took us out to our camp, which was the departing camp of a Yankee infantry battalion.
They were pulling out of there to go further north.
Well before we get too much into that I think we have to pause.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 05
What were conditions like on the voyage to Bougainville?
Apart from my being seasick for the first two days, the weather was not too bad at all, reasonably calm, tropical weather, hot, and steamy, sticky if you down below decks, good if you up on deck watching the flying fish go past and the
sharks and all the bits and pieces that you see, flotsam and jetsam going about the sea, but a pleasant voyage over. We went at about twenty six knots so we were unescorted all the way. When I actually got to Bougainville, to enter St Augusta Bay there was about eighty US ships, all sizes, shapes and dimensions there.
The Yanks were shifting the 37th US Marine Division towards the Philippines at that particular time. They were pulling out of Ambon and they were going further north, but yet, the voyage over was quite pleasant. We got there late in the afternoon and I slept on deck that night and
was unloaded the next morning into landing barges and then we went ashore and then we were transported by trucks to the camp, the temporary camp.
How did you occupy yourself during the voyage?
Well we were listening to voyages by intelligence officers about what we were going to see, what the enemy
were like, their makeup, how many were there and which in turn proved dramatically wrong. We were told there were twelve thousand jobs there and in fact after eighteen months of knocking them off at the rate of about a thousand a month there was still thirty eight thousand there when we left, so it didn’t prove very fruitful.
There were no other activities on deck. It was just a case of sleeping, eating and staying active, moving about the ship as best you could. We weren’t allowed to move about too much, being a Yankee ship they wanted to control us and where we went and what we did. Different parts of the ship you could be on and different parts of the ship you couldn’t be on.
It had a couple of guns on it, one on the back, one on the front and apart from that it was unarmed. It had been a passenger ship turned into a troop transport.
What kind of a farewell had you received?
What kind of a farewell did we have out of Brisbane? Oh there were a few people standing on the edge of the river. One lass decided she wanted to give us something to remember so she had no knickers on and she just lifted up her dress
as we went down the river, which bought all the boys to one side of the ship and that upset the Yankee crew somewhat. They said we’d tip the ship over and one of my mates said, “Well not a bad place to die perhaps, better than somewhere else,” but apart from that we didn’t have too many people on the edge of the river.
As we were going towards the ship one of the local milkmen going down street in one of the back streets of Brisbane, he knew where we were going and said to us, as he called out, “Give the boys in Bougainville my love won’t you.” So I thought after, I thought that wasn’t a very good statement on his part, that he would know where we were going and we didn’t know at that stage where we were going but he knew
and I thought, “Well there’s a bit of infiltration going on somewhere, knowledge being flown around the country,” but apart from that it was fairly uneventful.
What were the relationships like between the Aussies and the Yanks in the course of the voyage?
Yeah, pretty good, yeah. In their case they were shuffling backwards and forwards shifting troops so they got pretty accustomed to
different people being on the ship and apart from them going on with their work, what they had to do on running the ship they’d stop and talk if they had time to spare but apart from that they got on with what they were doing and we virtually stuck to ourselves as well. Our relationship with the Yanks when we got there was quite good. Most of them hadn’t been there. Some had been to Guadalcanal before and they hadn’t had
a great deal of contact with Aussies and they were quite happy to see us. They wanted to exchange all our gear for ours and when we explained that was a no, no, they said, “Oh why not? We’ll get some more” and we said, “We won’t, we get charged for what we give away if we give things away.” They wanted to have our slouch hats and our uniforms and rifles and anything that was a souvenir to them
but it wasn’t a souvenir to us because we had to pay for it. But yeah, we had quite a good relationship with them. They had all sorts of stalls and markets and what nots set up. You could buy anything from refrigerators to cameras to all the lurid photos in the world, toasters, electric
kettles, anything. Came over as contraband if you like in crates that were marked that were supposed to have ammunition in them, had washing machines and truly black market like the Yanks have everywhere they go. Of course that all ceased when they disappeared.
How long were you co-existing together there?
Oh about a week, that was all. They were moving out and we just took over their campsites.
How many Yanks were there?
Oh about thirty-eight thousand.
And how many Aussies?
Oh about twenty-eight thousand of us eventually. There were only about thirty-eight thousand when I went there as some of them had been shifted. There were originally about eighty thousand Yanks there.
Can you describe the bay?
Yes, Emperor Augusta Bay was about a two mile wide bay, from point to point,
little island in the middle, good sandy beach where we landed, and the Yanks when they first landed there they’d gone in and just taken a small perimeter and then built roads in it. It was a bit like Stirling Street, going down through Como, about that wide,
and where streets that they had built intersected they had a forty-four gallon drum painted white with a policeman standing on top of it, directing the traffic. They’d grade the roads every two days before road graders but they didn’t stop the traffic. The traffic went between the road graders, one over here, one over there, one up here, one there, ‘cause it rained pretty heavily there,
but truly typical wide open tropical bay and palm trees hanging down over the edge of the water. The trees grow down in the tropics right to the edge of the water in a lot of cases and you can drive along underneath the trees in a vehicle if you want to in a lot of places.
Can you describe the camps?
Well their camps
were only very temporary and they just had hammocks, something I would never used, hammocks slung between the trees. A good opportunity for a Jap to come and knife you from underneath, which they found out on the odd occasions but they had tent flies, some of them had tents but nothing was permanent because they didn’t intend to stop there when they went there, only a couple of months before we went there, so everything was just on a temporary basis.
They did have their headquarters if you like, they were huts that were built out of timber that they had cut and milled. They had their own timber mill. They cut and milled their timber and built like commander’s headquarters and hospitals and things like that were a bit more permanent but apart from that everything was on a temporary basis, tents and tent flies and hammocks. Toilets,
what we called thunderboxes, they were temporary because you keep on shifting them all the time, showers, ablutions, from bores or desalinated water, whichever they declared they wanted and they would pump water from the sea.
How modest were they?
I don’t know how to explain that one to you.
Were they pretty basic?
Oh yeah, very basic, like ours. I don’t know if you’ve had them described as a meat safe? You dig a long trench six feet deep, about that wide, about a metre, a metre and half wide and timber across it and then the
thunderboxes all in rows over that and then the sand is pushed back against it and then a flywire safe is built around the loft with a tin roof. And a flywire door that end and a flywire door that end and the lids of the thunderboxes were, well I can put my hand on your knee and you can put your hand on the next blokes, that’s how close they are and they all had lids on them because of the fly problem because the flies would fly to there to the kitchens. That’s why they were
built in a meat safe style and then when it got up to a certain point they would shift it. The Pioneers would shift it and pick the whole lot up and put it somewhere else, fill that lot up and then put up a sign, “Foul ground” but the showers were in a lot of cases wooden slat floors and the water just ran away underneath them. There was no permanent drainage sort of business, just drained away into the ground.
There must have been a few practical jokes?
Oh yes, yes. This one was at the end of the war when I was on Rabaul. Some of the engineers found a great big steel disc. I don’t know what if was off of, it was about four feet across and had a hole in the middle and they decided that would be good for the base for a shower, if you got four coconut logs, posts and put them up there, join them together with a couple of
beams, put a water tank on the top and we used a forty-four gallon drum. The shower was from the forty-four gallon drum. You had to pump the water up by hand into, and then some larrikin from the Pioneers, he got an electric wire and attached it to the disc and
another hidden wire and attached it to the drum and then they found a magneto off a truck, joined the two of them together and they would wait until you were under the shower and then wind it. The extremities of your body, without me pointing it out to you, to blatantly to you, as the water dripped off the end, you got an electric shock from the plate up the eye of your
penis and it would give you a lift in life I can tell you.
Doesn’t sound too pleasant?
No, well it gives you a lift in life, gets you off that steel plate in time.
That was one of the mischiefs that they used to get up to.
How were you operating in Bougainville?
Well the first thing we did once we’d settled into this base camp, then we moved from there up the Larooma River and
up Pearl Ridge, which was about four and a half, five thousand feet up onto a ridge which ran across the centre of Bougainville. The 9th Battalion had been up there before us, about a fortnight, three weeks before us because when we went there the Japs and the Americans had an unwritten law that the Japs would go to the water point where they drew water from
in the morning and the Yanks would go there in the afternoon, so they didn’t come into conflict with each other but when we went there we changed that attitude. We waited for them to go to the water point and knocked them off and then we started advancing over the centre of Bougainville. Because what the Yanks did they just took about a ten mile circle around the bay to make a base camp and then they didn’t wish to do anything more in Bougainville. They just put in a
bomber strip and a fighter strip and that’s all they wanted to do but when we went there the idea then was to wipe out the Japs, what for I don’t really know because they had no means of communication by sea, because all the ships and the submarines had been knocked off, so we were doing actually a fruitless job. But we took over from the 9th Battalion and we advanced from ridge to
ridge. In jungle warfare you can only follow the high country with the ridges, you can’t advance like you can in open country on a front because of the terrain because you’re up a mountain. You’re either going up the side, down the other side or you’re in swamps in a coastal plain. We were up there doing that, advancing slowly across the centre of Bougainville and then after about a month we were withdrawn out of there and another battalion took
over and we went back to the base camp and then we commenced moving up the north coast, up the west coast but going north up the west coast, clearing out the coastal strip between the mountains and the sea. And there were commandoes up in the mountains and native police boys, Papuans, pushing the Japs out of the mountains, down to us or clearing the mountains as they went and we advanced all the way
up the coast, towards the north of Bougainville using the system of one battalion across the coastal plain and then another battalion would do night landings a couple of miles further north and go inland at night time and sit on a road or a track, dig in on a road and a track and you would catch the Japs moving up and down those tracks at night time
because they moved of a night time which we didn’t do. Then you would squash them between those two forces, leap frogging if you like up the coast until we got up to the top of the Sarakan Peninsula, Sarakan Plantation and then we chopped the island in half then because it’s only about three miles from Uri Bay
and then we started pushing up on both sides then towards the north of Bougainville, but that was only about another three miles to go and then we were withdrawn in May ‘45. We did a couple of night landings on islands and cleared out the islands because the Japs used to bring down an artillery piece on a barge and they used to shell us from that island
of a night time and then put the artillery piece back on the barge and go and hide it in the day time, so we did that on a couple of islands at night time to stop them doing that.
What were the conditions like in the jungle like on those patrols?
Oh you lived in the slit trench at night time. We used to advance in about platoon strength, one platoon here, one platoon there, following different tracks and
clearing out the Japs in between. You set up all round defence of a night time with your artillery observation officer and your own officer in the middle in a slit trench and the other slit trenches dug around it. If you put your hands out and I put my hands out like that, you could touch each other, that’s about how far the slit trenches were apart. And you dug a step in the end of the slit trench so you could sit in it and piled the dirt up on the defensive side and covered it over to
camouflage it and sometimes you were sitting in mud and water all night because well if you were in swampy, flat country the water was almost to the top of the ground, sometimes it was to the top of the ground, so you sat in mud and water all night and you were wet all day and you were wet all night. You were terribly cold of a night time, like being in a fridge, so you weren’t in the best of conditions.
How did you manage those conditions?
You couldn’t do much else about it. You had to accept it for what it was. You were in the one set of clothes for about five or six weeks at a time. The only time you took your boots off was perhaps to change your socks. Sometimes you had to use your slit trench as your toilet because there was no toilets, no showers. Toilet paper in the jungle is useless so you had to use whatever was about and if you sat in the
bush to go to the toilet, nine times out of ten you’d get shot in the backside if somebody in the opposite side had a sense of humour, otherwise they’d shoot you completely, so that was a bit of a no-no, so you had to do it at night time. But we had an unwritten law that nothing moved at night time and anything that moved at night time you knocked it off, either with a grenade or bayonet or a knife or whatever but you didn’t use your weapon of a night time because it defined exactly where you
were. You only used it if you had to use it and then occasionally night or morning they would attack you in the semi-dark when it’s very, very difficult to see, to distinguish between a shrub and a man that’s camouflaged. Occasionally they’d carry out suicide raids in the middle of the night, sometimes swinging long handled Samurai swords, sometimes an artillery shell in their arms and drop it and
that wouldn’t improve them but it wouldn’t improve you either if you were above ground but you didn’t get a hot meal. You lived on bully beef and biscuits and we had little round tins of canned heats and take the lid off it and get three sticks and stick around it and put your dixie on top and put a bit of water in it and it gave off no smoke. It was good in
that respect as you couldn’t light a fire because the smoke and you couldn’t get dry timber to light a fire so you tried to make a cup of tea with the canned heat. That was alright if there was no activity but if there was any activity it would get knocked over and you didn’t get your cup of tea. You might be lucky if you got something that was not out of a tin maybe once a fortnight and most of the time you broke up the biscuits with the handle of your bayonet
and put them in your bayonet and put them in your pocket and you were having breakfast, dinner and tea all day long, chewing it as you went along or what ever you happened to be doing. Then we had emergency rations which were compressed fruit, chocolate, fruit juice but you had to be careful in the tropical conditions that the fruit juice in the cans
didn’t go off. It would go rotten. We used to get about half gallon cans of fruit juice that they used to drop on the sides of the tracks for us in certain places but if you didn’t get them within about twenty fours hours of when they were dropped there you couldn’t use them, they’d go rotten. You could see the end of the tin would be blown up and one Christmas we had a thousand Christmas cakes all went in the rubbish because they were all rotten. The tropical conditions just made
them go rotten.
What a terrible waste.
Oh yeah, this is right but lots and lots of things that work here don’t work in the tropics because of the humidity. A good pair of boots just go rotten and soles fall off them and after five or six weeks the clothes on your back just go rotten. You can just pull them off and they’ll just fall to bits. You would say
a bit like taking a trip to hell I suppose.
What was your morale like out there in the jungle?
Pretty good, yes, provided you kept your sense of humour. Your sense of humour got pretty rough at times I can tell you but a laconic sense of humour if you like. You would perhaps see a Jap wounded or something and if you saw something
funny about it you would laugh as against seeing the tragic side of it because you couldn’t get too, what shall I say, personalised about things because you did, you got too upset about it.
Didn’t get too emotional?
You never knew when it was your turn. You would see somebody wounded and say “poor bugger” but then you’d stop and think “well when is it my turn, tomorrow, today, five minutes, five hours?”
You got a bit blasé about it I suppose after a while. You would hear artillery shells coming and you would say to yourself, after a while, “That one’s going over my head”. You could tell and well if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, that’s it. It’s no good getting up and running because if you run nine chances out of ten you’ll run out into it like mortar bombs coming down. Mortar bombs are perhaps more devastating mentally than
artillery shells because you don’t hear a mortar bomb until it’s a few feet above your head and it’s too late to shift then. You just learn to accept it, that’s right. If it’s going to happen, it will happen.
How many casualties were your suffering?
Oh we had about fifty seven, fifty eight
dead out of us and I can’t tell you how many wounded, oh, in excess of a hundred blokes wounded and when we went into action the first time there was about seven hundred and thirty of us and when we came out, the last time, there would have been about three hundred, three hundred and forty, three hundred and fifty and quite a lot of casualties in the jungle are pretty high.
How were the casualties taken care of?
How were they taken care of? Well you would, we all had field dressings which was a basic medical pack you had. You would do what you could there and then when someone was wounded and then they would be taken by stretcher and sometimes the stretchers were made out of our shirts
because we didn’t have stretchers carried with us all the time. You just cut two poles out of the bush and you took your shirt off and I took my shirt off and you did the buttons up, pushed the sleeves inside and three blokes’ shirts would make a stretcher, turn the shirts upside down and then you’d carry the boys back as far as you could and then invariably native carriers would, because the native carriers didn’t come any further than half a mile.
They would take over and carry them back or you might have access to a jeep road. Sometimes you might have access to a jeep road, depends on the terrain you are in and also depended on the amount of times the Japs blew up the jeep roads because a lot of the jeep roads were corduroy roads with timber and the Japs would put artillery shells underneath the corduroy
so when the vehicle went over it pushed the corduroy down on the top of the shell and the shell would explode. Or they would use aeroplane bombs sometimes, depending, all sorts of antics they got up to, things like that.
What sort of relationship did you have with the native carriers?
Very good, yeah I laid cable, telephone cable with four of them for two days and they were like brothers. They called you
“master” and you called them “boy” and you communicated with them pidgin and sometimes you savvied what they were on about and sometimes you didn’t and sometimes when you got the story wrong they laugh at you and say “master, no understand” or something like that to you and they came from many, many different dialects in New Guinea so they all had their own different ways of talking but basically yeah, yeah. They would do anything for
you and of course we fed them and looked after them and we got them away from the Japs so that was in their interest. We used to put them in compounds with barbed fence wire around it and they had their own Papua New Guinea police boys used to stay guard on them all night long to look after them.
The Japs? You put Japs in those compounds or the natives?
No, the native carriers. Oh no, you couldn’t put Japs in a compound
unless you shackled them and handcuffed them. They’d be out again, don’t worry about that. They’re pretty slippery characters as prisoners.
Did you take many prisoners on Bougainville?
Not a hell of a lot. If the Japs treated us with respect in so much that they didn’t cannibalise our wounded or our dead and we had the opportunity to take prisoners,
we’d take prisoners but if they played the game rough and our officers said to us they wanted prisoners, we wouldn’t refuse, we would just turn our back and walk away. So it was a case of if they treated us, if the Nips [Asians] treated us humanely and they didn’t come up with any rough antics if we had the opportunity to take a prisoner we would but there were not too many of them that would give themselves up. They used
to fight to the end.
What was some of the most fierce fighting that you experienced on Bougainville?
Oh probably on, during the campaign on the Sarakan Peninsula, doing night landings and things like that and
moving inland at a night time where you ran into the Japs in the night. You couldn’t always see them. War in the jungle is, how could I say it to you? You don’t always see your enemy, if you clash with him. In the monsoon period the fog will come down
after a monsoon rain to about a foot off the ground and invariably if they advance down a track or a road towards you you’ll only see his foot, that’s the first thing you see, so he’s as close as you to me, so it’s a case of who is quickest with the finger on the trigger. I suppose the most upsetting
or the nearest clashes I suppose would probably would have happened mainly in the night time, some in the day time. I had a paw-paw tree shot from behind my back as I leaned against it and I just tipped over dead, assuming I was dead, hoping that they’d stop machine gunning me. I had a, I was about to go into a dug out one night and a
six inch artillery shell blew the top off, that landed about as far as from here to the wall away from me. And another night we were dug in on a track and Japanese mortars opened up on us and one of the chaps that had only come up as a reinforcement that day he was calling “stop the bastards, stop the bastards” and he
was about to run and I knew wherever he ran, this was a bit dark at night time, that he’d run into trouble and I latched onto him by the hair and pulled his head down on the ground and that mortar bomb landed between him and me and while my face was down in the mud I can remember seeing the light from
that explosion. How close it was I couldn’t tell you now, probably about as near as the chair but I don’t know you run into these situations all the time, you have near misses and people running among you of a night time and they used to surround us at night time and break twigs to try to keep you awake,
one over there and then he’d move over there and then he’d move back over there. And then they used to imitate bird calls of a night time but they used to try to keep you awake all the time. They changed their men night and morning which we couldn’t do and that’s when we used to catch them going down their tracks. We’d booby trap the tracks and catch them many, many times on booby traps.
What kind of booby traps did you set?
Hand grenades on
wires, on thin piano wire between two trees or similar situations like that. There were plenty of opportunities to do that because the jungle is so thick and in many places you couldn’t see a trip wire because it’s got a leaf or a vine or something over it. And then we used to around our own area of a night time empty milks tins, if we could find a stone we’d put a stone on that and hang it on the trip wire
so that if they hit the trip wire the stone in the milk can would rattle, would let you know if someone was there but the only problem with that idea was there were wild pigs and little monkeys and squirrels in the trees and they sometimes tripped things off and there was nobody there but you didn’t know that.
Were the grenade booby traps effective?
Oh yes, very effective, for sure.
The only thing you’ve got to be careful is when you were setting the booby trap and you were pulling the pin out of the hand grenade, you didn’t pull it out too far, otherwise if it went off you didn’t have any seconds because we used to make the FI’s, fuse instantaneous. You had a seven second, a three second and a fuse instantaneous and on the top of a hand grenade they were all different colours, shaped, the little fuses like that. You unscrewed the top of the grenade and put
it in and if you used a fuse instantaneous of course as soon as the pin came out well it just went off, so you had to be careful. And he who set his booby traps at night he went and recovered them the next morning because you knew how you set them and they were all connected to the safety pin on the grenade. You tied it to a tree to the side of a tree or something static and then you put a wire between the tree
and the grenade. You only had to kick it or flick it and it went off. They were very, very effective.
How long were the patrols?
Oh they would, oh we would go out for five or six weeks at a time as you moved forward and then you would change over. You’d go back into the rear areas and another company, another battalion would take over from you as you
moved forward. They tried to rotate you all the time so that you weren’t doing the advancing all the time. You always had another company behind us so if you got into a tough situation the other company would come up and help you out. It was a case in many cases of leap frogging up the coast all the time.
Totally different than open warfare type of war.
What advantages does fighting in the jungle or jungle warfare opposed to open warfare have, if any?
Well jungle warfare is far more difficult because of the type of terrain we’re in. You’re either in swamps or you’re in mountains and
everything in the mountains in the jungle has to be carried in by hand and everything’s got to be carried out, even, well now you’ve got helicopters to carry things in and out but you’ve still go the problem, no matter if you’ve got helicopters. You couldn’t have helicopters hanging over you all day long because the enemy is going to knock the helicopter off if they’re that low down and so you’ve still got the problem
of trying to supply your men all the time. I know now days you see the modern day infantrymen has got a belt of ammunition hanging over his shoulder but that in itself causes a problem because ammunition is your first problem, water is your second problem
and food is your last one as you can live without food but you can’t live without food or ammunition and the more ammunition you carry the harder it is for you to move about in the jungle because you’ve got more weight. Now you can say you’ve got a better fire power, which you have, a better capability but you’ve got to keep supplying that fire power all the time and you can’t have a helicopter sitting above you dropping ammunition down to you all the time.
So you’ve come back to the basic fact that you’ve still got to handle a lot of that material into the jungle, whereas in open warfare you can see what you’re doing, where you’re going all the time. And in jungle warfare you can’t get access with roads into the country because it’s just an impossibility. In some cases
where we had tanks we had to have bulldozers behind the tanks pushing the tanks. Once you get down to that stage where the ground is so soggy it’s almost an impossibility to move. At one stage it rained for a fortnight non stop on Bougainville where everything is just a sodden mess. The water that’s coming down out of the mountains and washing everything away is just unreal. You try to cross a river with a
tank or a truck and it will just wash it down the river. It travels far, far faster than the water travels down the rivers here. To go across a creek you’ve got to make a human chain, I hold your belt, you hold mine and you don’t let go because if you fall over you just keep on going, that’s the speed that the water comes out of the mountains in the monsoon period when it rains heavily. It rains there like you’ve probably never, ever seen it
rain here. It just is like bucketfuls, just like you were standing there with a bucket which everything just goes rotten. You fire your rifle or your weapon now and in half an hour you look down the barrel and you wouldn’t see down it because the rust looks like a cobweb and every time you fire your weapon if you don’t take out that rust your barrel is doing that (demonstrates) so eventually
your barrel doesn’t shoot straight so it’s a case of trying to keep it clean all the time which is a job all the time. You’ve got to keep on putting the pull-through through it to keep it clean or keep on firing it, it’s just one of the little maintenance factors. Everything is so much more difficult, little things but they’re problems that are there all the time to try and keep things going.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 06
We’re just talking about how difficult the conditions were particularly in the monsoon season, did it get to your morale?
Yes it does after a while especially when it’s so wet. Especially when you’re in action because as
I said you’re in clothes for five or six weeks at a time and you’re living in holes virtually in the ground and at night time it’s perishingly cold. We used to keep a jumper wrapped up in a piece of, well similar to oil cloth if you like, waterproof, in our pack to try and put on at night time. You’d pull your shirt off if you got the opportunity and just drop it in the mud and put your jumper on.
How would you stop your jumper from getting wet?
Well in this piece of oil skin.
But I mean of a night?
If it rained, yes of course your jumper got wet, yeah. Your trousers were wet, your boots were wet, your feet used to go rotten with tinea and under your armpits, between your legs, anywhere anything touched you. I had three or four days in a field hospital with tinea. I had holes in the bottom of
my feet about as big as your finger. They just bleed, bleed, all the time.
Oh yeah, this is right but everybody is in the same boat. You get leeches going through your legs, through your trousers and wherever you pull the leeches off you’ll go rotten and each day it will get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, so you’d just go rotten. They delighted in trying to climb
into the eye of your penis or up your back passage.
Oh yeah. You sit on the ground and you’ve got hook worms, so you couldn’t successfully do that. You couldn’t run around bare foot. You had to wear long sleeves down all the time because of the mosquitoes so you got malaria. You got lots and lots of bities. You can’t drink the water out of the creeks or the rivers because the natives and the Japs use that as their toilets so you ended up, if you did that you ended
up with cholera. You got your water out of the bottom of bamboos, the big bamboos, that grow that round and are about fifty, sixty feet tall and we used to bore a hole in the bottom of a section of the bamboo, put in a little piece of bamboo to make a chute, like a spout and then pour a hole in the top to let the air in and that’s where we used to get most of our water from because the water bottle, they’d bring water up to us but a water bottle
had to supposedly last two days and a water bottle won’t last two days, not in the tropics but that’s where we got most of our water from, out of the bamboos. We used to have a wash in the creek but that was completely dressed, what was the use of taking your clothes off because your clothes were filthy and you were filthy so it was just as easy to walk in one side and out the other. That was your shower or lay down in it.
So how do you keep your spirits up under those sorts of conditions because
it sounds pretty unbearable to me?
Well you’ve just got to make the best of it and get on with it.
But how do you make the best of it?
Psychologically, it’s all in the head. As I said before the only thing left was your sense of humour because you see so much destruction going on around you that you don’t have much left other than your sense of humour.
If you get into a head to head, if you like to call it, fight with your enemy and the enemy calls up the artillery and you call up your artillery and you call up your mortars and they call up their mortars and the trees are coming down and the mud, the limbs and the logs are flying in the air and what was a piece of jungle in a quarter of an hour is a paddy field and you’re in the middle.
So how do you keep your sense of humour with that?
You’ve got to learn to keep your cool, at night time you’ve got to learn to keep your cool because if you don’t, if you start firing at everything, they’ll fire back and knock you off. You want to sit and keep cool and calm and collected and it’s not easy.
But that’s the sort of things that these experienced corporals
and sergeants used to teach us in places like Bathurst and Kunghur. People that had seen these things, things you don’t read out of a book.
Well how do you keep your cool? What do you say to yourself inside your own head?
You’ve got to talk yourself.
What do you say?
Try to bear it, to stay with it, not to get up and run like a lot of people think they’re going to get up and run away or shot yourself in the arm or the foot, hoping you’re going to get out of it.
So you just accept the fact for what it is, you’re there and you can’t do much more about it. It’s not easy, mentally it’s, I suppose you could say it sends you half crazy.
Well you mentioned before that there were some fellows who would shoot themselves in the foot or the arm in order to get out of it. How common was that?
common but it did happen from time to time, yes and then you would get other people who feigned sick or maybe they might have a dental problem or something like that. Not often but it did happen sometimes, yes.
How would the other blokes respond to a fellow who would shoot himself in the arm or the leg?
Oh you respected somebody for their strength, their weakness. Don’t rubbish them for that, that they don’t have the strength to accept what’s going on in life but I don’t think, you may not
admire them but you accept the fact that they haven’t got the ability, the mental ability to accept it. It’s like some people have motor car accidents. Some people are greatly upset about it and as we have now days we have people to counsel you, well we didn’t have people to counsel us, it was a case of get on with it and I don’t personally believe that a lot
of counselling as we have it in modern day life is totally necessary but I think in a lot of cases it’s over weakness on somebody else’s part. Maybe you might see that as a pretty rough sort of a statement on my part. Little children I think it may be necessary but.
I don’t know. I think that in this day and age there are different issues and different sorts of methods of dealing with mental illness.
I mean say for instance in your time clearly there would have been blokes that went a bit troppo [mentally unstable]?
Yeah, there were lots of blokes that went troppo.
Now they would have had to have had some sort of counselling?
You were sent to a psychiatric hospital, this is right but in a lot of cases it was a case of get over it yourself.
What would happen to the blokes that went a bit troppo as I’m sure you must have seen a bit of that?
they would be just sent back to a hospital and then go from one hospital to another one and then if they didn’t get over it, they would be discharged, so you didn’t see them again.
What would happen when these guys went troppo, what would they do?
Oh, they would, how could I say? Act a little bit unbalanced if you like. That’s the only way I could explain it to you.
Not behaving normally until you realised that they were troppo.
Maybe gun happy?
Oh yes, sometimes, sometimes, but not mainly. I wouldn’t say that. They wouldn’t interfere with you or do anything silly like that, mainly they acted as though
they were drunk and mentally not capable of handling their daily work, what they had to do.
What would you do if you saw a bloke in that sort of a state?
Oh you’d only report him to a sergeant, to an officer and let them assess the situation and they would remove him. It wasn’t your place to remove him, more your place to look after what you were doing because it was bad
enough looking after yourself unless you had to look after someone else, unless you had been given the job of being a corporal or a sergeant where you had other men to look after.
How would you look after each other?
Just as best you could under the situations. If somebody got hurt you would attend to them.
In the case of where you had something to eat and they didn’t you would share it with them, the same as in the case of ammunition. If they were running short of ammunition you would share with them in all shapes and forms. You would do what you could, whatever happened to be as at that point of time.
How close would you become to the other fellows in
Like brothers. If you live with someone for two or three, three or four years you learn to accept their weaknesses and their strengths and they do the same to you and if you can do someone a good turn or kindness well the same as you would perhaps for your brother or sister.
You get very upset when you see somebody get killed or wounded who you’ve been with a long time, which is only a natural human reaction.
What would you do when somebody would be killed who you knew really well?
It would totally upset you but you knew that you couldn’t alter the situation, you couldn’t do anything about it and you just had to get on with it. Because
of the tropical conditions you always buried your dead as quickly as you could because under monsoon periods you deteriorate extremely quickly in the jungle from a human being to nearly as big as a forty four gallon drum in eight hours.
And you’ll fall to bits and
the stench of dead men is a bit like, what’s those flowers with the yellow?
Is it a cactus?
Yes, they have a sweet sickly smell and if you ever get a bunch of daffodils and put them together that’s what dead
men smell like. My first introduction when we took over from the 9th Battalion they were digging up the boys that had been killed the week before because you buried your dead on the side of the track with a bush wooden cross with a piece of tin on it and with a hammer and a nail you imprint his number, the date he was killed, his religion and KIA [Killed in Action],
killed in action. Now a fortnight or so later for every man that’s dead you’ll come along with two native carriers and a bamboo pole and a man from, a corporal or sergeant from the War Graves Commission and they will dig you up again and lash you onto the bamboo pole between the two carriers and they will carry you down the mountains to the coast or to the nearest road head and by then you’re only a little bundle,
that big, that long (demonstrates), that’s it and you’re bound with telephone wire into your blanket or your ground sheet and you’re carried down to the coast and you’re reburied again in a temporary cemetery and at the end of the war they were all moved over to Bomar in Port Moresby or to Lae or to New Britain and reburied then in the permanent cemetery.
You deteriorate terribly quickly in the jungle.
Who’s job was it to do the digging up of the bodies two weeks later?
The War Graves Commission.
And who was part of the War Graves Commission? Were these soldiers?
Yeah, oh yes.
Because that seems to me like an ugly sort of a job?
Yeah, I know but war’s an ugly job and you couldn’t leave men or we didn’t want to, we didn’t want to leave men
all over the south west Pacific, dotted throughout mountains and eventually everything would deteriorate and you would never find where a body was. And if you go to the cemetery in Bomar where there’s about three thousand, seven hundred and seventy six, the last time I was there and at the back of the cemetery there’s a monument and I think there’s something like seven hundred unknown graves,
people that have died, there’s no known locality, airmen, soldiers, sailors. And you think about this spread all over south west Pacific, that’s not the sort of thing you want to do to your own people. At least putting them into a cemetery you know where they all are but that went on all the time, wherever,
even in the Middle East, when someone was killed they were buried there and then and then they were dug up again and then shifted. The War Graves Commission has a big job all the time locating people, because you always made a map reference of where someone was buried so as you could locate sometime because you never knew if the enemy was going to pull the head, the cross and throw it away, if
they wanted to.
Was there a suspicion that they might be doing that?
Oh yes, this is right, yes, yes. That’s always on unfortunately. It’s the same as you get, there is a certain amount of people that will carry out cannibalism, well you might not but somebody else will do it and it’s the same with, you’re desecrating somebody else’s grave. There’s always
screwy people on the other side of the world, the same as there’s screwy people this side of the world.
I’m just surprised that the, what is it, the War Commission?
Yes, War Graves Commission.
Yeah, War Graves Commission would be digging up bodies in such a time when it would be really dangerous to be doing that. They might lose their lives when they were trying to dig up dead people?
Yeah, well it’s a job that has to be done and if you
only have a restricted amount of people doing this and they may be here today, there tomorrow and somewhere else and they have to keep up with the flow as you’re advancing all the time, otherwise you get too far behind. And I know there were several teams doing this, depending on the amount of people that you had to pick up but you always had two carriers to every body so you could lash them onto a bamboo pole
so you could carry them down out of the mountains or through the swamps or whatever, well depending on the type of terrain. But in the case of when you carried a wounded man on a stretcher down out of the mountains you might have eight men, eight carriers to carry that one man down because of the angle of the hills you had to lash him, tie him to the stretcher and the people at the front would have the stretcher above their head and the people at the back would
be down there because it’s steep and muddy and you’re slipping and sliding around. You can walk to the top and slide to the bottom on your backside.
Well what were your chances of survival if you happened to be injured on one of these patrols because I can imagine that you’re reasonably a long, long way from good hospital care?
Oh yes, well many times you would be maybe two, three
miles away from where you could be operated on and they would only be field hospitals in a tent with a fly safe around them. You could look in the side and watch the doctors operating on your mate if you wanted to and the doctors always didn’t like you doing that but if you wanted to. All depended where you were wounded.
What would scare you the most about getting wounded somewhere?
Getting left behind and then getting
butchered by the Japs, that always frightened us.
But the thing is nobody would actually leave you behind though?
No, but you couldn’t always recover your wounded. Sometimes you could, sometimes you couldn’t, depended on the action. I know of several places where the boys were left behind and they knew there was not much possibility and they put a grenade beside their own head and killed themselves because they knew that there was a possibility that they would not
be recovered. We had one boy that was wounded and was pinned on the ground for two days and they put cross machine guns on him so that every time we went towards they’d knock us off. They used him like a guinea pig if you like, like a chook.
Did this happen to your….?
We tried to get to him but we couldn’t get to him and he was a married bloke and had four or five kids.
Eventually he died, poor bugger.
So how long did you try to get to him?
Oh we tried over about two days that he was pinned there. He was pinned out in the open in a piece of open clearing but it was just a useless situation after a while. You were going to lose more men trying to get to him. You just can’t do that sort of thing unfortunately.
That must have been pretty distressing?
It is, but unfortunately you see this sort of thing everyday, people getting wounded, people getting hurt all the time and you’ve just got to learn to accept it. It’s not something that is easy to accept.
Did it surprise you the level of cruelty that the Japanese were capable of?
In some ways yes, the more I learnt about them the greater the depression, or the depth of depravity that I saw among them, the things that they would do, the things that you had seen that they had done to the natives and you’d learnt that they’d done to the natives and the way they knocked people about, yes. And the stories you would hear from
different places and different people, yeah I can’t understand their depth of depravity, because they were supposedly, what shall I say? Well educated, modern nation but unfortunately my view of the Jap is give him a big stick and he’s a monster, take the big stick away from him and he’s very humble.
He plays two sides of life and I believe that give them a big stick again and they would rise to the monster again, but there again a bit like the Germans, the Germans had someone stirring them all the time, in the case of Hitler, they had [Hideki] Tojo stirring the Japanese for a long, long,
time, and they unfortunately have a bit of a sadistic streak in them.
But do you think that’s the state of the human condition or do you think it’s just relevant for Germans and Japanese?
Well in the case of the Japs it’s been a long feudal system among them over many, many, many, many centuries. You can trace the history back over, I mean go back to the point of time
when they invaded Korea, before the war, and then they took the Koreans and trained many thousand of them to go into Manchuria and all the atrocities they carried out in Manchuria and then they came from Manchuria down through Malaysia and then through Singapore and we struck some of them in Bougainville. Some of them that I talked to had been impressed into the
Japanese Army by the navy and they were pretty tough customers, trained by the Japanese Navy and they only had one way to go. If they refused they got a German Luger in the back of the head, so you only had to do that once or twice to impress the others what to do. But yeah, I think in the case of the Japanese it’s something that’s been trained and taught into them for a long, long, long time but I still,
the fact that they’re human beings I still don’t understand the depth of depravity that they can, because they can if you care to dig deep into there past, they’ve come up with some pretty rough things in the live. The Germans were too, but I’d sooner be a prisoner of the Germans than a prisoner of the Japanese personally.
Do you think
that the fact that you were hearing all these stories and being eyewitness to the cruelty of the Japanese actually motivated you to push forward to another day, to get rid of them or to help the war effort?
There you have a very complex answer to a complex question and to explain that one I’d have to go back a little bit in
history. Here you had two generals who carried out identical situations. You had General Bennett, in charge of the 8th Division in Singapore and you had General MacArthur who came out of the Philippines. Both of them came to Australia with the same motive in mind that they were going to impart to allies their experience in jungle war.
This one got belittled and humiliated and this one became a famous world general and when he came to Australia he wanted to integrate the Australian Army, and officers and equipment with American officers and equipment and integrate it into the American Army. When the Australian Government said, “That’s not on” he spat his dummy
and said, “The Australian Army will do no further invasions anywhere in the south west Pacific”, and history records that fact. That’s not my say so, the Government records that fact so as an army we were belittled into doing nothing to aid the defeat of Japan. Our time on Bougainville was a useless exercise.
The 5th Division on Rabaul was a useless exercise, the operations in Borneo were a useless exercise and bearing in mind that MacArthur refused to allow the Australian Army to go in with a parachute battalion and surround the prisoner of war camp in Sandakan and take out our prisoners. And down here in Midland Junction
you will find Jackie Su, the man who led the commandoes in Borneo with the intention of finding out the Japanese movement with the intention of taking out our prisoners and MacArthur refused to give us the operational ability to do it. He went into the Philippines to get out their prisoners, therefore
to answer your question, what we were doing as an Australian Army was a useless waste of human manpower and I don’t have, you might think this is a bit rough, but I don’t have any respect for General MacArthur because I believe he was grandstanding for his own wellbeing. Because he
and General Blamey went to Isurava in New Guinea to belittle and humiliate the 39th Battalion and tell them that they couldn’t fight, that they were useless infantry and not doing anything when in fact they had their backs to the wall fighting the Japs, and then went away and did nothing about supplying them
with further equipment or further manpower. You might think that’s a bit rough of me but a lot of men were killed for no good purpose, if that roughly answers your question or doesn’t.
Did you come up with that logic at the time that you were in Bougainville or was it something
that you came out with?
All of us, all of us on Bougainville knew that we were fighting a useless war, we knew that. The officers knew it and some of the officers wrote to the press here in Australia to point out that point. We never ever got any press in Bougainville. We were never recorded, our operations. You won’t
find too much history written about our activities on Bougainville but yet maybe, I’m not sure about this one, but maybe the last significant infantry to infantry fight that was carried out by Australian troops in the last world war happened on the south of Bougainville, where a hundred and twenty nine of our blokes took on two thousand, one hundred Japs
between the 25th Battalion, which was a militia battalion and that was poorly recorded as at the point of time. Because MacArthur made sure that we didn’t have press because he didn’t want the Australian Army to be pressed, he wanted the American Army to be pressed in the world news all the time.
Did you have those feelings towards MacArthur at the time?
Yes, we all did
because we knew that we were getting killed, over five hundred of us and fifteen hundred wounded, all for nothing. The boys on Rabaul had the same attitude. Whilst they were not actively engaged because there was ninety three thousand Japs there against about six or seven thousand of our blokes, they were only put there as a containment, somewhere to put them. When
MacArthur told the government that we were not going to do any more landings what was General Blamey going to do with an Australian Army? Either you demobilise the lot of us and you put us back into civilian life and you let the Yanks carry on with the war or you make a token effort. Now if the landings in Borneo hadn’t have been in their advanced stage that
they were when MacArthur came here they would never have ever happened. He said that because they wouldn’t supply the destroyers, the landing craft and all the equipment you need to carry it out. Now we were desperately short of landing craft and tanks on Bougainville because MacArthur wouldn’t give us them.
Well what do you think you should have been doing rather than Bougainville?
We should have all been in New Guinea to wipe New Guinea out, choonk, like that and then gone to New Guinea to one island in the Indonesian chain and then gone from the Indonesian chain to Singapore. It would have helped to get our prisoners out. Think about it. There were only six survivors of the men who walked all the way across Borneo. Those six would have been
greatly increased had that march across there never ever taken place. That was only simply because MacArthur wouldn’t give us the equipment to do it, to carry it out.
Well getting back to what I was mentioning before as considering the fact that you were under such hideous conditions in Bougainville and also considering the fact that at the time you believed that you shouldn’t be there, that you should be
in New Guinea, how do you keep your morale up under those circumstances considering all is really lost?
Right, when you join the army you sign and agree that you will serve your country for the duration of hostilities and one year after if it is at the reining sovereign’s request,
step out of that lot, what do you become?
Unemployed and on a boat home?
No, you become a deserter, you become a military deserter, don’t you? Military law is far more severe than civil law and in time of war
if you’re a deserter, I’m not saying this would happen but it has happened, the wall.
Up against the wall, yeah, that’s right. Now it didn’t happen but there’s no promise that it won’t happen because if you started that system of jumping out because you don’t like it, how many more are you going to have do the same thing? You could start precedent couldn’t you?
And then where are you going
to end up? You’re going to end up with anarchy. As I said to you before you have to toe the line and do what you’ve agreed to do and try and keep your sense of humour. The Japs knew that we weren’t achieving anything by killing them because they knew they couldn’t get off Bougainville and we knew that by killing them we weren’t winning the war.
We both knew, both sides but we both fought each other as hard as we could. You could say a senseless exercise and I’d agree with you but the powers that be say that’s what you’re going to do, so that’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it? You don’t have any, we could say to our officers, “We’re not going to be in it” but the officers
would just turn around and say, “That’s what you’re going to do” and you don’t have any alternative about that. We knew exactly that we were not achieving anything, and we knew that we were not winning the war helping to hasten the end of hostilities. It’s very, what shall I say? Demoralising, but you’re between a
brick and a hard face, between the wall and a hard face. We didn’t like what we were doing but that was it.
So after you’ve been out on patrol and you come back to your base camp, how many days do you have off in between patrols?
Well that depends, depends on the operation. You might go out on patrol for a day,
you might go out on patrol for several days. If the necessity is you might go out again the next day and you may not have any time back. Your base is only a set of slit trenches, dug outs, nothing flash. There’s no cookhouse or anything there.
But at least you’re not under possible fire?
Well you are because the Japs will be around you all night long. They are following you,
every day, every night and you’re almost under twenty four hour surveillance, doesn’t matter whether it’s day time or night time. They’re either under the trees, they’re up the trees or they’re in slit trenches or they’re in fox holes that they’ve dug two or three years before and camouflaged, so no matter what you do, you’re been watched or you can assume you’re being watched,
so if you’re not mentally aware of this you’re being a silly person. It’s not a case of, “I can stand around having a smoke”, or whatever, it is eternally that you are possibly a target.
It can’t be good for your sleep patterns?
No, well you don’t get any sleep.
Well how do you operate on that exhaustion level?
You slowly become wound down. You slowly become
a gibbering idiot.
A gibbering idiot?
Well this is right because you cat nap and if you sit on end of a slit trench and your mate sits in the other end, you know he’s going to go to sleep because he’s equally as tired and he know you could, and you’ll say to him “I’ll keep awake while you have a sleep”. Now invariably he will wake up to find you’re having a cat nap too and that’s not
good but when you’re awake twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, it happens all the time but that’s the only way you can keep going, to cat nap when you can and then try to be awake all day long. It slowly wears you down and gets you, you’re forever on edge when you come out of action and they will give you one day to rest. The next
day you will change all your equipment if you have to and then the next day after that they may start, if you’re in a base camp, they will start you on doing rifle drill, exercises and the reason is that if you don’t keep men that have been in action busy they get into an argument over something, there’s only one way they’re going to end it, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve been doing for the last five or six weeks and
you’ll turn to anger with each other even though you’re mates because that’s the only way you know how to cure a problem because that’s the way you’ve been curing the problem, so they keep you active all the time, don’t let you sit still for too long. You may say well that’s a silly way to go but it’s not, because you’ve got to be all the time kept mentally oriented
if you like, active.
Did you manage to get any leave during your time in Bougainville?
No, no, no, where is there to go? You could go down to Bosley Field, if you were in the base camp.
What’s at Bosley Field?
Bosley Field there was a picture show in a shed and as I said to you, you could buy fridges, TV’s, not TV’s, washing machines and all the
lurid photos in the world you wanted. Anything else the Yanks came up with, clothes, that they’d stolen.
So that was really your only outlet or possibility?
Yeah, or you could go down to the beach and have a swim but there was nothing, nowhere to go. There were films on sometimes at night time on certain, say Saturdays and Sundays.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 07
How long were you in Bougainville?
From the 8th of December 44 until September 45 and then my battalion was moved across to Rabaul in New Britain to help to rehabilitate and disarm ninety three thousand Japs that were there and I was there until
the 9th of January disarming Japs, controlling working parties of about a thousand a day, disassembling ammunition, disassembling bombs and artillery shells, putting the cordite in one heap, the projectiles in another heap and the bomb and shell cases in another heap.
The cordite was burnt everyday, the projectiles were taken to sea by landing barge and dumped in the sea and the casings were shipped home as brass to Australia. And then on the afternoon of the 8th of January I was warned of a draft to come home.
Well before we talk about coming home what
was happening in Rabaul when you arrived?
When the war was on or when I went there?
When you arrived.
Oh when I went there was no, the war had finished and there was no activity as far as the war was concerned. It was just a case of compounding the Japs so that we could control them and their food and disarming them and removing all their ammunition and things like that. And we had them so many every day would
come out of one of their compounds to build roads, tent areas for us, playing fields, anything that would be of benefit to the native population when everybody left there.
Can you describe the camp areas that you were put into?
Yes, we were camped on the shores of, what’s the name of
the bay? Over the opposite side to where Rabaul township is, over oh Cut Hill Road went up over a mountain and down another side. We had tents along the face of the shoreline and while we were there, I don’t know if you know it but on Rabaul there are two active volcanoes. One is active now and
one was active before and then one shut down and blew the top off itself and filled up part of the harbour and covered part of the town, but when either of them used to get active the land used to disappear under the sea and back again. Instead of the sea like it does when a wave comes in, the land was going choofdy, choofdy, choofdy, choofdy, (demonstrates) and if you were laying in bed you were going tonkdy, tonkdy, tonkdy, tonkdy, like that (demonstrates).
And the palm trees used to go (demonstrates), like that.
What a peculiar experience.
It was earth tremors and if you went to the picture show, they had an open air picture show there, your hat would get covered with the fine ash and the dust coming down from the volcano. It was active all the time when we were there. It was belching out smoke and flame and fire but it didn’t erupt.
Did you fear a large eruption?
Well we thought it might but we weren’t particularly concerned. We reckoned we were safe. We were over the other side
of the bay and it had to fill up the harbour we reckoned before it got over to us but it was a perpetual concern.
You’d given it some deep consideration?
No, no, we didn’t get too worried about it.
Can you describe the tent rows that you were in?
Oh yeah, what we did when we had the Jap prisoners, we used to get them to cut down coconut trees and then put a coconut log shape around the floor of the
tent and then fill it up with sand to lift the height of the tent floor so we when it rained we were above the surrounding country and they were all in rows along the face of the beach. We had showers and little toilets, urinals as we called them. All they were was a piece of downpipe pushed
into the ground, with like a little spout on the top but they were made our height and sometimes when the prisoners we had working there, them being shorter legged, they found it very difficult and we used to delight, being unkind, we used to delight in making them stand on tippy toe to pee into the top of these pipes. If they peed on the ground, we would abuse them, tick
them off for doing it. That’s where you do it done there but they couldn’t get up high enough.
Can you describe the actual tents that you were in?
The tents were just ordinary twelve by twelve white and camouflage tents with a tent fly over the top of them, all in rows.
How many men per tent?
Oh eight men to a tent, no six men to a tent, I beg your pardon, six men to a tent then.
They were just two poles, the army palliasse, which is like a big bag if you like and the pole stuck through it and you made your bed in the middle of that. Sat one leg on either side of it if you wanted to sit down or sit over the edge of it. They were not the most comfortable things but they kept you up off the ground and dry. You just
had your two army blankets and we got another blanket then when we went over to Rabaul because the weather was getting a bit cooler. That was your bed and all your equipment was stacked neatly up on top of your head of the bed.
What sort of equipment did you stack at the head of your bed?
Oh it was just your weapon and your military equipment, your haversack and water bottle and basic
pouches etcetera and your groundsheet and your two blankets and your overcoat. No, we didn’t have an overcoat, beg your pardon. That was back in Brisbane.
You would have liked an overcoat though?
And what was the daily routine there?
Oh very, very limited actually. Those of us that weren’t doing guard duties we could virtually do what we wanted to, go down to the beach and
swim or have a look around at other parts of the island, provided we didn’t go down into where the Jap compounds were, we kept away from them. You could wander over, or if you were lucky enough you might get a jeep or a truck to take you over to where the town site to where the wharf was. When I was there, there were several ships, Japanese
ships that had been, that were run up in the beach because in 1943 the Yanks and our blokes bombed about a hundred ships that were in Rabaul Harbour and sunk a great deal of them and lot of them had ran up onto the beach before they sank. Some had sunk in the harbour and you could see a mast sticking up here and there. There was one tied up against the wharf
and he’d sunk where he was and eventually they cut the top off him and filled him up with sand and made a harbour out of him and he’s still there as far as I know although I think since the last eruption he might have been covered up now because the rubbish and the mud coming down from the volcano covered up a lot of the town, but our day’s activities were fairly limited apart from, as I say, doing
guard duties and things like that.
How was guard duty organised?
Oh you had, depending on how many prisoners you took out each day, you might have say forty men out of the battalion on guard duty, on different guard duties. Where you had, say you were making a road or a playing field you might have, say in the case
of a playing field well you might have ten or fifteen men scattered at different points around the playing field and the Japs carrying out whatever work they had to do. If they were building a road well you’d have men scattered along the length of the construction to keep an eye on what they were doing. Every time one of your own trucks came past or a jeep or a military vehicle came past you used to make them stand to attention and salute, whether they had to salute or not but you made them salute and you
belittled the officers, their officers, if any of them got out of line, if they refused to do what you told them. The greatest humiliation was to belittle the officer in front of his men. Don’t go and tick the private off, tick the officer off and make him in turn, belittle the officer that his men would not behave themselves.
How did you find
the Japanese behaviour during the….?
Well as I said to you before, once you take away the big stick away from the Jap he’s a different story. (demonstrates) would comply with what you told them. I didn’t find them difficult to get on with. I communicated, some of them could talk English. Some
of them would talk English to you through a book that they had. Their dictionary was not alphabetical. If you wanted A you might go through about half a dozen pages until you found words with A on them and then you might go twenty, thirty pages before you found B but it didn’t mean to say it was going to be numerical or alphabetical, a very. They knew how to work it but I didn’t. Obviously it was written in Japanese to suit their
ideas but to find a word that you were looking for in English was sometimes very, very difficult because it was not always where you thought it was going to be in the dictionary, simply because it was worked out in Japanese.
So how did you communicate?
Oh you would keep on explaining to them until they got the idea, demonstrating whatever it was you wanted to tell them or show them and
they would cotton on and they would try to communicate to you back again the best they could in whatever broken English they had. Others of them that were better educated could talk to you quite fluently because many of them had been business people in Japan in life before and some of them had been professional soldiers before and they had a long history of military activities.
Did you hold any resentment towards them?
I don’t hold resentment against it but I don’t respect them. I have no respect for them even though I would say to you now, having been to Japan since the end of the war I’d have to take my hat off to them and say they are an industrious, innovative, capable nation but I don’t have any respect for them as a nation, as a people.
I know you can say “that’s a pretty difficult attitude or point of view to take up” if you like but I don’t despise them, no.
What about when you were in Rabaul, did you have any resentment towards them then?
Yeah, I’ve had resentment towards them for what they did. I know you could say to me
well that is not all the case of what I would say to you, that our men didn’t ever carry out atrocities against them because I know there is some hard nuts amongst our blokes and they carried out one or two things that I didn’t go along with or we were not allowed to do under Geneva Convention but basically the Australian Army fought a war under Geneva Convention.
The Japs didn’t. I don’t respect them for the things that they did and the things that I know that they did against our people and against undefended kiddies and women. I can’t go along with that one. War is war but if I could, to answer your question in a
slightly different way, a man like the late General Rommel was a professional soldier and he once said, “Being a professional soldier you don’t kill people and civilians to achieve your target. You take out what you have to take out to achieve militarily but you don’t wipe out
or carry out atrocities.” And he was quite totally different to a large percentage of the German thinking. And there is the difference between the person who is a butcher and a professional soldier. A professional soldier doesn’t kill people for the hell of it. He kills people to achieve what he has to achieve militarily, if that’s possible to divide that in your mind. Okay?
I can hear you loud and clearly. What were some of the things that the Australian soldiers that you mentioned were doing that you didn’t agree with?
Well knocking out teeth, knocking out gold teeth to get the teeth out of dead Japs. I don’t go along with mutilating like they used to do to our blokes. They mutilated people sometimes just for the hell of it, in sheer butchery. Different things like that, some
of the Japs had gold teeth, some of them had gold earrings or a gold wristlet watch but that was not on the bracelet. I don’t know how it was fixed on there but you had to mutilate it to get it off and now there were some blokes that would cut a dead bloke’s arm off to get it off.
Those sort of things. They got severely reprimanded if it got to an officer or up to higher administration. I don’t go along with that.
What about during the Japanese captivity in Rabaul, did you see any resentment towards them there?
There was a lot of resentment among the Chinese people who were prisoners there because a lot of the prisoners that were on
Rabaul had been bought from places like Singapore, because in Rabaul the Japanese had dug large tunnels through the hills, as big as this room, from one side to the other. And on either side there was stacks and stacks of ammunition that they intended to use either in New Guinea or here is they landed here. And there were large amounts, thousands of
tons of it there, even after the war, thousands of tons of parachute bombs. We got lots of silk parachutes right out of the end of the bombs and there was a great deal of resentment there amongst those people who were prisoners to the Japanese. You have to bear in mind too, go back into about 1941,
our 2/22nd Battalion landed on Rabaul and kept the Japs off Rabaul for about four or five days and yet eventually the Japs landed there and they surrounded the whole battalion. Now some of those blokes were still hanging in the trees with their hats on their heads, where they had hung them and
lots of them were bayoneted, tied together in bundles and bayoneted. I don’t go along with that sort of thing in war. It is unnecessary and yes, I would have a certain amount of resentment for the things they did. I don’t see any point in bastardry,
bestiality. I know war is a horrible business but that’s not to me being an educated human being. You’re going back to bastardry, to medieval attitudes to life as far as I’m concerned.
What kind of conditions were the Japanese kept in when they were on Rabaul?
Oh they had largely built their own, or they hadn’t done it, they’d pressed and forced the native community into building them those very successful and very dry kunai leaf huts. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them doing that? They build them out of bamboo
and they’re very quick and they’re very capable. They go and cut all the bamboos that they want to build it, like timber, lash them all together with vines, with creepers and then go and cut all the kunai grass and thatch the roof with kunai grass and they’ll make it about that thick. And then they’ll make a floor and they get bamboo and they split it down the middle
and roll it open so they’ve got like a flat board, turn it upside down and you’ve got the nice, smooth, shiny piece on top and that’s your floor, makes a very, very suitable and workable sort of a hut. That’s how they made their hospitals and things like that in the bush, in the jungle and they made the native community make a lot of them for them. They didn’t make them themselves because they did that all over the place. They forced the
native population into working for them.
How many Japanese POWs [Prisoners of War] did you say there were on Rabaul when you were there?
Ninety three thousand.
And where were they all kept?
There on the bottom end of Rabaul, New Britain, the island of New Britain. They were on the southern tip, the bottom end of it, not up near, it’s that shape (demonstrates) and Rabaul is up the top and they
were right down the bottom. They were the furthest away from the New Guinea end. I don’t know why in fact they congregated on one end because we didn’t push them there. We didn’t have the ability to push them there but I don’t know whether they had a better harbour facility although Rabaul Harbour was a wonderful harbour. It’s circular like that (demonstrates) with an inlet here but it’s got a six hundred foot piece of stone that sticks up in the middle, or did have
when I was there, from an earthquake but it was the perfect harbour from the point of view of being kept away from the rough sea, but I don’t really know why they congregated on that end of the island.
And they were all housed in these buildings that you described?
Yeah, but some were in tents but having been there for three or four years as they had, all their tents, their equipment, everything was deteriorating and they didn’t have any replacements because they were cut off.
There were no submarines or supply ships. They lived off what they could generate from gardens and of course they had the natives making gardens and running gardens for them and potatoes and paw-paws and pineapples and coconuts. You know you can live on green coconut juice and that will keep you alive. The green coconut juice is better
than the milk.
Did you put them behind barbed wire?
No, no, they couldn’t get out, they couldn’t go anywhere and they knew the end of the war was over and they happily accepted, I don’t know about happily but I don’t think Japan has ever happily accepted the fact because it’s a great dishonour for them to be beaten in war. It’s the first time they’d ever been beaten in war by a
What was the atmosphere?
Oh I think an atmosphere of acceptance on their part in view of the fact that the big boss in Japan had said the war was over because they took notice of, he was a, what shall I say? The supreme commander over all Japanese
and I think they just accepted the fact. I’ve only known about one that didn’t accept the fact and was still wandering around in the jungles of Bougainville, supposedly as an active soldier, when I went back there in about, oh, about 1978 and the people that run the hotel there down at Buka told me there was still one bloke there up in the mountains
and he reckoned the war wasn’t over and he was still going to live up there but apart from that the rest of them were told that the war was over and that was it. I don’t know if they accepted it happily but I think they accepted that fact, that was it.
What was your reaction when you first found out that the war was over?
Oh everybody threw hats in the air and, “Yippee, we’re going home.”
Where were you when you found out the news?
I was on Rabaul in the camp. I found out about, oh five o’clock at night and quite a lot of the boys had gone down to the picture show. There was a picture show on that night and we were then had come out of action and were back in
the base camp at the Torakina Perimeter and so we were mainly away from any action even though we still had guards about just in case there was some infiltrators. And I was one of those on guard duty that night when someone heard on a wireless that the war was over and some believed it and some didn’t and then we heard, there was a lot of ammunition
being fired off on the airstrip and we thought that was a bit funny because the airstrip was only just a couple of hundred yards through the bush from where we were and then a truck or a jeep came up with a couple of chaps in it and they said, “Oh yeah, the war’s over and it’s dinkum.” Everybody said, “Yahoo, yahoo.” We were disbelievers for a little while until the next morning
we were all paraded and told that the war was over and in the next couple of days we were going to be shifted across to New Britain but it was a little bit difficult to sink in after that time, “Was it for real or was it a hoax?” And then you started to think to yourself, “Well for three, four, five years I’ve
been doing this, what am I going to do now?” It’s a little bit hard to comprehend when you’ve had all your meals and everything you’ve done organised for you. You in your civilian life might find that difficult to accept and say, “Well that’s a stupidity” but it’s not a stupidity
because you’ve had your life organised for you and you haven’t had to look for anything, your meals are there, your clothes are there and what you’re going to do today is there and what you’re going to do tomorrow is there so you could say you were a little bit like an organised machine if you like, insomuch that everything is programmed
for you. Now you’ve come dead stop and what are you going to do? What do I know? I only know one thing and it’s hard to except until you sit down and ponder this one to yourself, where is your next meal going to come from? Where is your next money going to come
from? It takes a little while to sink in and to explain that one a little more clearly the day that I was discharged on the 2nd of February 46, you go through a process. This officer is recording your health, this officer is recording your dental, this officer is recording something else and so on and so on, you’re slowly whittling yourself down the line as it were and
you get to the last person who was the rehabilitation officer and he turns around and says to you, “Well Mr Froome” and I looked at him and I said, “I beg your pardon?” And he said, “I said well Mr Froome, what are you going to do now?” I said, “I haven’t been called that for five years” and he said, “Well now you are mister,”
and it’s difficult to appreciate the fact that you have to stop and think now for yourself what you’re going to do.
It’s a large identity shift?
It is, yes and it’s a stark realisation that you’ve got to turn around and start your life over again.
Just before we contemplate that further, just returning to Rabaul, how long were you there guarding the Japanese POW’s?
We got there in September, about late September and I was there until the January. I came home on January the 9th. I came home,
Had the Japanese all been sent back to Japan?
Oh no, because shipping became
a crucial situation because you had the Americans were taking up all the shipping they could get to ship the Japs out of the Philippines, out of Malaysia, out of Singapore to send them all back. They were using aircraft carriers, aeroplanes, anything that would float and at the same time we were trying to shift our army home, so you could imagine that shipping was
a commodity that everybody wanted at the one moment. It was case of it might take a load of Japs home and then the ship would come back but that might take you two months and then that ship might pick you up and take you home to Australia and then come back to pick up another lot of Japs. There were ships travelling all over the world, flat stick and of course you’ve got appreciate the fact that there’s a good many ships that we didn’t have because they were all in bottom of the sea, sunk.
Everything, landing craft, anything that could float, was being used transport people home and people back to where they came from at the same time as transporting home things like empty shell cases, cargo if you like. There was not a great deal of military vehicles came home. Well I won’t say ninety percent but a large percent of military vehicles were
on lease lend and a lot of them went over the edge into the sea. I’ve seen new Caterpillar bulldozers and graders and tanks and trucks, that were new today, into the sea tomorrow because they were all under lease lend, a real stupidity and then the world turned around and said, “We’re short of trucks, we’re short of this, we’re short of that, we’re short of something
else,” and you pushed it all into the sea simply because it was all wrapped around that (demonstrates) because America provided it and America said, “It goes into the sea”, stupidity, another one of war’s stupidities.
Seems extremely wasteful?
Yeah, it is wasteful, that’s for sure, yeah and the amount of material that was left in the islands, equipment that could have been have been used for civilian purposes, just rotted away.
Was there any souveniring
Oh yes, but there again, you couldn’t bring home anything, say if somebody wanted to bring home a Japanese machine gun I’d doubt if you could because you’d have had to had the firing pin broken out of it and then you would have had to get it past military customs, if you like, similar. They inspected you as you came in. We were not supposed to have bought in
silk Japanese parachutes for some reason. I don’t know what the reason was but I bought one home stuffed inside my water bottle. Took a long time to push it in there I can tell you, in a hole that size (demonstrates) but I got it in there. The Chinese on Rabaul used to make silk underpants for you. If you took them down a parachute they would pull it all to bits and the Chinese women in the Chinese compound they would stitch it all together and make a pair of underpants.
I can imagine they were quite comfortable.
I bought home a Japanese sword for a chap and took it around and gave it to his parents and they let that sort of thing in but they were reasonably restrictive in what you could bring in. I don’t know whether it was from a disease point of view, coming out of the tropics back into Australia
or whether it was for some other reason.
So did you and your mates sort of relax while you were in Rabaul after having been in?
Oh yeah, life was good there. We didn’t have too much to do apart from doing guard duties and things like that, yeah.
What kind of recreation or relaxation did you enjoy?
Well apart from going to the pictures and going swimming there was not too much that you could do.
Oh you could go sightseeing if you liked, walking here or there, souvenir hunting, whatever you could souvenir and just generally looking around the place, what was left of the place because it was bombed by both the Yanks and our blokes and all the houses and all that was left there was streets and power poles and broken power lines and part fences on houses
and half of houses, not a great deal of interest to see.
Did you discuss your plans together of what you’d do when you got home?
Yes, before I left Rabaul, before I left Bougainville we had a brochure sent around to us of some of the things that we could perhaps
become involved in and one thing was that those people who wanted to apply for War Service Land Settlement Homes or War Service Land Settlement Farms could apply and I applied for a Land Settlement Farm. I didn’t hear anything about that, even after I came home and I thought, “Oh well, I’d got lost in the bureaucracy somewhere”
and then about, oh, 1956 I got written to to tell me that there was possibly a Land Settlement Farm available to me but it wouldn’t be available to me for six months, so that brought me to March of 1957.
And eventually I was given a War Service Land Settlement Farm at Narrogin, that was about the 10th of March, 1957.
Well before we discuss the farm that you received when you got back, how did you come home?
Ah, I came home on the 8th of January, 46. I was
warned for draft to be ready to move next morning and trucks were supplied and there was a group of us went down to the edge of the harbour, there was no harbour there and we just sat on the beach and there was about maybe a hundred, a hundred and fifty other boys there from different units waiting to get on the landing barge to go out to the Riverlodden. The ship that I came home on was an Australian built cargo ship and I saw
a corporal sitting on the beach and I put my gear down beside the chap and said, “Good day Corporal” or, “Good morning Corporal” and it happened to be my ex-Light Horse corporal that I’d been in the army here with for two and a half years. He was in a different unit. He’d been in Rabaul for twelve or eighteen months and we came home together on the Riverlodden and I was down inside the ship, in the
hold of the ship and I found a suitable place up on top of a heap of timber, up against the wall of the ship and every time the waves came in and slapped up the side of the ship I’d get a bang, bang, bang, all night long but I was quite happy to come home like that.
How did you spend your last night in Rabaul?
I don’t think I was too elated at the fact that I was coming home. I don’t think I got up to any mischief at all
as a matter of fact. There were lots of illicit alcohol stills being created. I don’t know if you know but if you get green coconut juice and you get raisins and you get the essence of lemon and you get boot polish and you put it in a drum or a container and you boil it with a pipe coming out of it,
passing through another container that’s got water in it to cool it, put it into a bottle and drip, drip, drip, you get out almost a hundred percent alcohol and it will blow your head off. Some of the boys had, when we got to Rabaul earlier in the year, they had started the still and they buried six bottles in the floor of the tent I was in so the officers wouldn’t know it was there and then on Christmas that I spent there
they said, “Oh yeah, remember the six bottles” and they dug it up but I think in taking the tops off that, all the tops were wired on it, it was that potent that when they took the tops off it they only got one glass out of the six bottles because it was that potent it just went skyward, boom. It would really make you troppo if you drunk that stuff. It was like drinking petrol.
Did it cause a lot of trouble?
Oh yeah, caused lots of problems, yeah.
Blokes used to get really rolling drunk on it and go troppo on it and they didn’t know what they were doing, it was that potent. You’d boil it and then you’d take the oil off the essence of lemon and you’ve got almost neat alcohol in there and then mixing it with the green coconut juice really, really makes it potent. It’s not a good thing for you to drink.
It sounds like rocket fuel?
that note we’ll change tapes there.
Interviewee: Robert Froome Archive ID 2186 Tape 08
Bob I will get back to the bit about the farm because we do want to find out what happened eventually but before we do that I just want to find out did you get to see any concerts when the war ended? Was there some sort of a little bit of a celebration apart from having the pictures? Not even in Bougainville?
I just sort of….
At the end of the war, I don’t know whether you know this or you’ve had it explained to you by other ex-service
personnel that you came home from your service on a quota system, on a, what did they call it? For every month of service you were allocated a set of figures. If you served overseas you got a greater set of figures, numerically numbered and I came home on one hundred and seventy nine points.
The points system, sorry, they worked it out on a points system. For every month of service you might have got one point or two points. If you were married you got extra points, if you’d been overseas, if your service was overseas and not within Australia, you got greater points, so you came home on the points system. So as your points came up you were sent home. So you might have had a full battalion today but tomorrow you only had half a battalion, half of them had
already gone, so there was not much room for celebration because some of them gone within two or three days of the end of the war, some of them had already gone, because the points system was being worked out and demobilisation before the actual end of the war came. There was not much room for celebration I’m afraid, plus the fact that you were all happy and wanting to get going.
So you didn’t, to my knowledge after I left the islands, in the New Year, 46, there may have been some celebrations but not while I was there, no.
Did you have a wife at all at this stage?
In 1944, the week before I left to go to the islands I was married.
Oh that was
Well how did you meet her?
Through my going to see my sister-in-law, there was a girl boarding with her who was in fact her relative. She was a, she was in the air force. I’m just trying to think of the group that she was included in. She was a,
not a, any rate coding and decoding messages.
It’s a WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force]?
Yes, yes, yes, but there’s a word.
With lots of A’s.
A WAAAF with lots of A’s.
Yeah, she coded and decoded messages to ships and submarines and aircraft at sea. There was a group of twenty four of them that used to do this. They were top brass if you like. She was an intelligent
girl and unfortunately through that she got into a relationship with a British Pommy navy officer, one of her activities unfortunately.
While you were away?
While I was away, yes.
Yeah, I know but she had many of them unfortunately.
Did you find about that while you were away?
No, no, no, I didn’t, not until a long time after.
I was just wondering if you got a bit of a Dear John letter [letter announcing a relationship is over] while you were?
No I didn’t but I was told that about this Paddy, she’d been to see Paddy because the girls were taken down and shown over some of the submarines in Fremantle Harbour. There was about eighty submarines in Fremantle Harbour at one stage and she got to know the crews on the Maidstone and the Spiteful. The submarine was the Spiteful and the Maidstone was the
mother ship to eight British submarines. Sorry, I’ve lost the train of.
That’s okay, I was just asking you about?
Oh yes, oh yes I was married and a week after I went away to the islands, which I didn’t know at the time that I was going away. I knew I was going to come out of the Light Horse into infantry but I didn’t know where we were going, so away I went.
I didn’t have any children. She was still in the air force and she stayed in the air force until almost the end of the war or as soon as war was declared she was demobilised. I left the islands on January 9th, ‘46 and I came home and I had my twenty second birthday, yeah twenty second birthday
on the way home. I might have been in Brisbane or I might have been on the troop train coming home. I got home here about the 16th or 17th of February and I was given a fortnight’s leave and told to report back on the 1st of February to be demobilised. I was paid for eighty seven days’ leave
which gave me about forty quid, or something like that, nothing very much and I was told by the rehabilitation officer, the last officer I saw that I couldn’t go back to Muresk College where I joined up from but they would give me a job at the Merredin Agricultural Research Station. And I thought that one over and I said,
“I suppose some job is better than no job” because I didn’t know what else I was going to do at that point in time.
Had you broken up with your wife by that point?
No. And as I had previously said I had applied for a Land Settlement Farm when I left Bougainville. But that was all in the pipeline. I didn’t know how long that was going to take because there were many, many other people that had applied for them too and seeing as I was only twenty two I knew there
were boys older than me that would get preference. At any rate we went to the Merredin Research Station and about a month after we were there she said to me that she had been to a clairvoyant, a palm reader. And that she would have a second husband in her life sometime and that became very, very prominent in her mind unfortunately. Any rate then in November, during
‘46 while I was at Merredin I had about twenty doses of malaria and appendicitis in the first twelve months.
That would have been hard?
Took me from about, I was nearly thirteen stone down to ten stone four in a matter of a few weeks, then my daughter was born in November and then,
oh the Department of Agriculture decided they would like me to board a man, a single man at their price and I said “no, that wasn’t on”. And so I left there and I went to work in Perth for Massey Ferguson assembling machinery and then I don’t know who it was but I think it was the Director of Agriculture came to
me at Massey Ferguson and said they were going to clear a thousand acres of land at the Agriculture Research Station at Wongan Hills and “seeing as how I’d worked at Merredin would I be interested in going to Wongan Hills? And I said, “Well that depends on how much you’re going to pay me and am I going to board anybody?” “Oh yeah, so that’s okay” and so I said yes, okay, I’d go to Wongan Hills and I went to Wongan Hills and
my son was born in Wongan Hills. That was in ‘48 and unfortunately when he was born he was born very quickly and I don’t know if you know but sometimes in both women and animals when you have a quick birth the loss of blood mentally unbalances you. You don’t know
that? You lose the oxygen out of your bloodstream because you lose a lot of blood and to illustrate that point you can have your pet milking cow that you’ve know for years and is so docile, she has a calf and she’ll turn around and gore you and it’s because she becomes mentally unbalanced and unfortunately from that day on my ex-wife
became epileptic and my son also mildly epileptic. He used to, as he grew older, going along in the school bus and the bus was going through a grove of trees and the sun going twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, it would put him into, not a fit but he would roll his eyes and if you were talking to him he would lose contact mentally with what you were talking about.
As soon as that stopped funnily he would be able to carry on his conversation as though nothing had happened. She would go into a full type fit, very, very strong, very powerful but coming out of it she would talk to me about some of her previous life. Yet if I turned around and pointed out that she’d
spoken to me she would hotly deny it: “It never happened”.
So this is how you found about the.…?
Yes, yes. Then I, the first time that happened she fell backwards into an open fire. She was standing in front of an open fire and she fell backwards into it. She was then at her mother’s place down
here in Perth one day and they phoned me to tell me that she’d fallen back into the fire and did I know and I said I didn’t know anything about the fact that she’d had an epileptic fit or a blackout. That was the first time it happened but it used to happen maybe a month apart. Sometimes it would happen in the middle of the night and sometimes it would happen in the day. It used to frighten the two kids when they were little fellows because they didn’t understand
what was happening.
So the marriage sort of went a bit under after that, did it?
It wasn’t very happy because she had several other relationships during that period of time. It lasted for seventeen years and then I, in 57 I got my Loan Settlement Farm in Narrogin and she always wanted to live in Perth and she didn’t want to co-operate or
help me and she wouldn’t do anything. I didn’t ask her to work on the farm or anything like that but I said would she do my bookwork and “no, no, no” and she wouldn’t do that.
So it was time to part company?
That’s right, so eventually she left me and came to Perth and I put my boy into the Ag [agriculture] School in Narrogin and he was there for three years. My daughter went with my wife and they lived in Perth and then
eventually I was divorced on the grounds of my supposed desertion but I didn’t desert anybody.
So did you keep up with the farm life after that?
Unfortunately I didn’t.
You didn’t? Do you think you should have kept up with the farm life?
Yes, unfortunately I got upset about it because I was under both financial and psychological pressure and I gave it up. I sold it and came and lived in Perth for about six months and
then I bought another three hundred acre property up here in the hills. By that time my boy had gone to New Zealand for a holiday, a working holiday. I was then asked by one of my relatives would I help them put their crop in and harvest it, three months to put it in and three months to take it off up at Nungarin, which I did, besides working on my own
property here. I was growing fat lambs up here in the hills and so I was able to work those two together.
You were pretty busy?
Oh yeah, yeah.
Yeah, I was lucky in so much that I knew an agent down here in Wesfarmers who used to buy sheep for me and put them up there for me without my having to bother about it and then he’d send me the bill and I’d pay it. I gave me a set figure
of how much to buy and transport the sheep for. He was an honest guy and then in February of ‘66 I went to New Zealand to see my boy and I had a fortnight there and the people he worked for were two brothers, one had a farm and one had a bulldozing business and he used to go between the two. He was only a kid of sixteen but he knew what to do from an agricultural point of view and then the
November of ‘66 the police told me that he’d had an accident and I went back to New Zealand and stayed there for six weeks and bought him home and then unfortunately because I was away for six weeks I was unable to take off the harvest and those people started legal procedure against me because I wasn’t there. So when I came home
I put, Brian went into Charlie Gardner Hospital and I bought a woman doctor from Melbourne over here with me and he went from Charlie Gardner into Shenton Park and then he went to north.
By that time I had sold the property here and I had bought the farm, I no longer share farmed because of the disagreement I had with them and I bought the farm up at Killarney and I was only there until the October, no, the August and I came down here one day
in the middle of the night and went looking for my mother and my mother was up at my brother’s place and I went up there to find that my brother had died that night, which I didn’t know anything about. That was a shock to me and then six weeks after that I was again at my mother’s place in the middle of the night and I
was phoned up to tell me that my son had been drowned in the Gascoyne River and unfortunately four days later they found him in the bed of the river and that was in October of ‘68. About four
days after he was buried I lost my memory.
Are your mates really important to you because of the time you’ve spent in the war because of the kind of camaraderie you’ve got with your mates?
Do you still get together with them?
Sometimes, yeah. I went back to the farm and then I ran into a drought year in 1969 and while I put a crop in there hoping that I would then be able to sell the wheat, I came
down here and worked at the Hammersley Golf Course for Monday to Friday and then I’d go back Friday night to the farm and work on the farm over the weekend and come back Sunday night and I did that for about two years intermittently trying to keep things going. And then in ‘73 I had to give that up and I came down here and I had the
opportunity to buy a transport business and I carted bulk groceries around Perth for about fifteen or sixteen years.
That’s a bit easier than a farm?
Yeah, well long hours, six o’clock in the afternoon until nine o’clock at night and then in 1975 I went to Singapore and Bangkok and Hong Kong and Kuala
You mentioned you went back to Bougainville?
Yes, I’ll get there in a minute.
Right and then in that same year I contracted a, I don’t know if you’d call it a disease or a complaint, it’s widely known among people who have poor ventilation in where they sit, secretaries, doctors,
truck drivers, bulldozer operators, and what happens is the perspiration running down your spine rots the hairs on the base of your spine and where the hairs drop out, women are not so prevalent to this as you don’t have so much hair in that area as men do. And if the germ is present the germ goes in the two little holes and goes either up on either side of your backbone
and goes out like two hard boiled egg yolks in the middle of your back or it grows down and comes out like two monstrous boils on either side of your back passage. And it shuts off your back passage and shuts off your water. The first nurse, the first doctor that I had operate on me and I’ve had this done five times over twenty-five years.
Bob I can’t believe your luck, that’s just, I’ve never heard of anything like it.
It is called an ischiorectal abscess.
So this is before you actually went on your Bougainville trip?
Yeah, just hang on a tick. I had that operated on once. My friends, when I got that
I could only shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. I could hardly walk and the people who took me down here to the doctor said, “Tell his relatives because he’ll be dead in twenty four hours. He has cancer of the colon”. And that proved not to be right. They operated on me and what they do is they take out two pieces about the size of a fifty cent piece on either side of your back passage and about three inches deep and they pack it full of gauze every twelve hours
and pull it out again, while you’re conscious, you can’t have anything to stop the pain.
I’m hoping that you’re going to come out with a good thing to happen to you before you get to Bougainville.
And now within the last two or three years, yes.
So you’re back to better health after all these troubles?
And there’s something else I’ll tell you that I missed. In 1966 driving from Nungarin to Narrogin to see my two children at four o’clock
in the morning, you see I talk out of one corner of my mouth and I’ve got a piece of skin from there. I was paralysed from there to there, that half of my head and I went to New Zealand with a piece of pipe up my nose because that side of my head, you’ll see one eye is bigger than the other one?
Not really actually, Bob.
Well but it does. I know about it.
You’re in pretty good shape.
That bit of skin is there because my face was dropped down here. I got what you called Bell’s Palsy, which is a freezing
of the nerves in that side of your face.
And you’ve got through all this to go travelling?
What year did you go travelling after all this had happened to you?
Okay, that was in 1975 I went to Hong Kong, Bangkok and back again and I had the transport business. I got a guy to drive the truck for me and then in, I think
it was in 1978, with this complaint still on bursting every fortnight, like a boil, stink like a rotten egg, excuse the French but that’s what it was like. I went from here to Sydney to Nandi in Fiji, from there to Honolulu, from there to San Francisco and from there to Calgary, from there to Banff, from there to Jasper to Edmonton, to Vancouver, to
Seattle, to Anchorage in Alaska, to Fairbanks, to Cukotsku, to Nome, to Anchorage, through seven tunnels to Valdess to the end of the Alaskan oil pipe line, round through the mountains and back down to Anchorage. From Anchorage across to Japan, to Tokyo, from Tokyo to Kyoto, from Kyoto to Osaka, from Osaka to Tokyo, from
Tokyo to Hong Kong to Melbourne. One year later with the same complaint bursting every fortnight I went for a fortnight to Tasmania. Two years later I went from here to Alice Springs, to Townsville, to Cairns, to Port Moresby
and from Port Moresby to Rabaul, from Rabaul to Buka, which is just on the top of Bougainville. From Buka to where the mine is on Bougainville, Kiata to Vila,
on the little French island. From Vila to Noumea and then Noumea to Sydney and then from Sydney to home.
What I really would like to know is why did you decide to go back to Bougainville? Was it something special that you wanted to do?
Yes, I found Bougainville, like all the tropical island, a pretty place in peace.
If you could take people and not pollute the area the amount of places that there are in the south west Pacific, the little islands that would be an idyllic situation for a holiday. It is not romantic but a lovely peaceful pretty place to be.
Was it an emotional thing to do, to go back there?
Yes, I wanted to see for myself where all the boys that I had known where they were. You could say foolish. A lot of people would say, “The poor buggers are dead, what can you do for them?” I can’t do anything but having known that there’s so many Light Horse boys here
went to that part of the world and ended their life and as I might have said to you before, you build like a brothership if you like between people that you’ve lived with them and you’ve shared everything with them and you’ve seen them come to the end of their life and I know you can say, “That’s not going to achieve anything by doing it” but I
still wanted to do it, I still wanted to.
Do you get the same sort of thing out of Anzac Day?
Oh yes. I don’t have to have Anzac Days if you like. I remember people, and I remember situations but yes, I go to Anzac Day, not like some people
say well RSL [Returned Servicemen’s League] and ex-service meetings are war mongering, it’s not war mongering and I go to ex-reunions and I have, this last Anzac Day I flew to Melbourne. I went over in the morning and back at night.
Nothing stops you, does it Bob?
Because the boys in Melbourne, there’s only maybe six or seven of them left.
Are most of them in Melbourne?
Well some of them, the 26th Battalion are a Queensland battalion but I have been up to Rockhampton one year but it’s a long haul to Rockhampton. You’re forty eight hours from here to there and by the time you get there and you wake up in the morning and you leave here at midnight and it’s Melbourne next morning and by the time you get to Rockhampton the sun’s going down, it’s a long, long, haul.
It’s a long haul.
I’ve been to England and back and that’s a long haul too,
but it is, but yeah if you’ve been under pressure with so many people.
You make the extra effort to rejoin?
Yeah, to do it and I like to do it and as I said to the boys when I went to Melbourne, “This is going to be a once off, I’m not going to be doing this every year” and every year I get letters from over there
and, “This one and this one have come to the end of their life” and “this one and this one has come to the end of their life” and slowly we’re being whittled away, so make the best of it. I know I’m not going to be here for the next two thousand years. I might like to be but I’m not going to be.
I’m not going to be either.
And I know it but there’s the inference if you like.
What do you usually think about on Anzac Day?
I just remember all the blokes that I served with,
as I knew them. Like I could look at you and say “you’ve got a pimple on your nose, you’ve got a dimple here”, I know you haven’t but, and as I knew you best because most of those blokes were, if you went to Moama and you walked up and down those rows there is a large percentage that would fit between eighteen and twenty two.
You were all incredibly young?
Yeah, it is just something, my brother says to me who lives in Narrogin, “I try to remember it”. I don’t try to remember it but I don’t forget it because it’s there written in my memory. I could, if I was
an artist, and I’m not, a bloody poor artist, my daughter’s a hell of a good artist and that’s why we are so far apart. She sits on her bum and won’t do anything and she is so bloody capable it’s not funny.
If you were an artist you could what?
I could depict for you, out of my memory, places I have been, scenes, tracks and I could depict it for you because it’s up there.
Well you’ve certainly done a
pretty good job of describing it for us today. Do you think that Anzac Day has changed a lot over the years?
Yes, and I would say by my observation, I go to Dawn Service, I don’t go to the March because there’s no organisation there that I can march with but I would say yes, it has and I say that’s a benefit because if you look at the amount of young people and I presume they’re
volunteers that come to Anzac Day, kids of all ages. There’s twenty, thirty thousand people get up here on Dawn Service now. People that are standing half a mile back from the Memorial and they have loud speakers, that I haven’t seen in many years. You get four or five thousand people but sometimes when I go up there now they’re half way
down from the Memorial to the Kings Park gate because they can’t get any closer. Now I don’t know, and this seems to have happened all over Australia, but I don’t know why, what it is? Whether the younger generation feel that they should or whether perhaps,
I don’t know, waking up to the cost of freedom. I don’t know. It is something that has triggered because it’s just not happening here in Perth and perhaps we are, or we are looked upon to be pretty unique in the world that we do this. It’s a bit like Melbourne Cup. The nation stops for Melbourne Cup, well virtually once upon a time, well it doesn’t now but
virtually stopped for Anzac Day. Once you had buglers on all the intersections of the streets, Anzac Day or Armistice Days, that’s something that doesn’t happen now but it seems to be an increase, a movement towards younger people going to Anzac Day.
Well it’s nice that there’s a continuing appreciation of what fellows such as yourself actually did for the freedom of the country.
I just want to thank you so much for talking with us today. It’s been an absolute delight and quite philosophical in parts.