James Holbrook
Archive number: 221
Date interviewed: 02 February, 2004

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Tape 01


Can you give us a brief introduction please of your life story starting from where you were born till after the war?
My name, James Holbrook, I was born at Northcote, Victoria. At an early age I shifted to Black Rock south of Melbourne, sent to school at the Black Rock State School until I was


nine or ten. My father at that stage got a job on the Tankerton Jetty at French Island, so I went to the French Island, it was a one room school, and after 12 months there shifted back to Black Rock and then went to the Brighton Tech until the age of 14. Left at 14 and we shifted to Warracknabeal, that was in


1934 I think. Didn’t go to school in [Warracknabeal]. I had bits of jobs in there and got bits of jobs as a box boy at the local grocer shop. Stayed there until I was 18, enlisted, moved into camp, enlisted at the Caulfield Racecourse,


was drafted to the Albury Showgrounds. My brother claimed me seeing that he was five years older than me, moved to Balcombe and in September 1940 sailed for overseas. Had initial training in Palestine, was drafted into the engineers in Palestine, moved up to the desert in January,


January 1941, done various jobs on the roads seeing I was in the engineers. Went as far as Benghazi and then Rommel landed and we were chased back to Tobruk, stayed there for the next 166 days or something like, and then we were relieved in Tobruk


by the South Africans and went from there to Syria. Stayed in Syria until June and we were recalled to El Alamein, the Battle of Alamein there with the 8th Army, and after that I think, yes, in March 1943 sailed for


home. Done a bit of training in the, what do they call it, the Tablelands, Queensland Tablelands, went from there to New Guinea. Stayed in New Guinea for about 12 months and went to Milne Bay, Buna, Finschhafen, Lae and then back home,


and then after a while I think they, I don’t know just what happened there. At any rate, I was made B-class and then after a while discharged from the army in 1945 and went back to Warracknabeal, couldn’t seem to settle down


and had various jobs there. Then shifted Melbourne, got a job with the Defence Department. I stayed there for over 20 years and medically unfit, so I think it was because of my service. So I was pensioned out of that and then


retired at what, 58 I think. 58, retired at 58, and then, oh now, went to, yeah, played around and then the wife, the family all grew up and left home and the wife,


we’d been married 54 years, she passed on and then I was at a real loose end, so I went caravanning around Victoria and I thought, oh well, Melbourne’s no good to me, so I shifted up to Numurkah, met this, my present partner who I knew 60 years ago and we settled down.


We’re still here.
Excellent. Excellent introduction, yes, you couldn’t do better than that.
Oh, is that what you?
Yeah, that’s what I wanted. You did spot on and I didn’t even have to interrupt you. Very well done. Okay, what I’d like to do is move back to your pre-war life. Tell us about your


upbringing in the places you stayed at? Where did you say, you said you were born in Northcote?
Northcote, yeah, I don’t remember anything about Northcote.
After, where did you move to from Northcote?
Went down to Black Rock at a very early age and I started school at Black Rock, at the Black Rock State School, ‘36, ‘39, I can still remember that, Alkaringa Crescent. I don’t know whether it’s still there though,


and stayed there until the 4th grade and then as I said my father got a job down at on the ports and harbours at French Island. So we moved down there and I went to school down there, the one room school.
French Island?
That’s a pretty isolated area, isn’t it?
Yes. Well, you can imagine what it was in the 20s.
Yeah, I could imagine, or I wouldn’t want to imagine.


No, no, it was just overrun by mosquitoes in those days.
Give us a little background about, or if you could tell us a background about your parents your father and your mother?
Oh yes, yes. Mother was born in Stirling in Scotland, she came out in 1914. Father was born at the Isle of Wight


in England and I think he was a bit of a roamer because he’d always mentioned New Zealand and Tasmania and that’s about all I know about them. In the early ‘30s father was a bricklayer. Of course in the early


‘30s in Melbourne work was very, very scarce and he got the offer of this build a chimney up at Warracknabeal. That’s how we come to shift up there and we used to, I know the father, I used to help him at times when there was a bit too much work for him and he used to go


move around the mallee and the Wimmera there building these chimneys and doing various brick work, and that’s about all.
What about their religious background?
Ah, well father, he wasn’t a very church-minded man, but Mum was. She was a very, very strong Presbyterian and she brought us up the


same. Like we’d be made to go to Sunday school and of course the, yeah, that’s about all.
Was your father Presbyterian at all?
No, no. I don’t think he was anything, Dad. Pop, I don’t think, he wasn’t very church-minded at all, but Mum was.
What was he baptised as?
Oh. Well, it would be probably Church of England I’d


say. I can’t swear to that though of course, but I’d say so, he is.
So your mum would encourage you to go to church on Sunday?
Yes, yes, she was very, very strong churchy was Mum, but oh no, we, oh yes, I used to go to, in Warrack there I used to go to bible class and the young men’s society


there. I will say the, when they both passed on the Presbyterian minister, he conducted both the services there for them.
Where was this?
At Warracknabeal. They were both buried at Warracknabeal. When the wife


passed on there I took her ashes back to Warracknabeal too. She was born in Warrack. Her family lived in Warrack. She was born in Warrack. As a matter of fact my three kids, they were born in Warrack, but we took her ashes back there and she’s back to where she started. So that’s


Did your father by any chance serve in the First World War?
No, no. No, he was medically unfit. He, but apart from that my brother, he, there was only the two of us, my brother enlisted. Like we both enlisted together but he was five years older than me and that was the only reason why they let me go, because when he


was going of course he was 22 I think, or 22 or 23 or something at the time.
You were talking about your father, about his First World War
That’s right, my brother, yes. Well see, he enlisted and I was 18 just going on 19.


Of course I pestered the, I pestered the folks to let me go.
Actually, I don’t want to go too far into the Second World War yet.
No, no.
But did you have any relatives whatsoever who served in the First World War?
Yes, Uncle Albert, he was in the First World War. He came back a bit of a wreck. I can just remember him, Uncle Alb. I still don’t know what happened to him.
How well did you know him?


Uncle Albert.
Yeah, well he never ever married. I know that much about him, but he was a bit of a, well as I say, he came back a bit of a wreck. He seemed to be not very stable when he came. I didn’t know him before he went, but he, oh no, he was very good. He was very good to us especially a bachelor there and boys.


He used to always throw us goodies and what have you.
Was he your mum’s side or your father’s side?
No, father’s side.
Father’s brother?
Albert Holbrook, father’s name was Walter Holbrook.
Did you talk to him about the war experiences he had?
No, I don’t ever remember, no. He died. He must’ve died in about the mid ‘40s I’d say, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to him that much,


but oh no, that just about sums up the
You just had one uncle in the war, that’s it?
That’s all, yeah. Yes, I don’t know, the wife there, I don’t know what she had on her side.


But we weren’t very big on history. We didn’t go back that far.
When you moved to French Island, how old were you?
I must’ve been nine or ten. I’d say ten because I was in the fifth grade down there, I can remember that.
And your father got a job there?


Yes. He was with the ports and harbours and they were building the Tankerton Jetty down there. It was Western Port Bay, it’s got a very, the tide, there’s a great variance in the high and low tide down there, so they had to build this jetty well out.
What was French Island like to live in?


Very, very barren see in those days it was fed by ferry from Stony Point. I think the ferry used to come over twice a week. There were no cars on the island. You had to, as a matter of fact I went back to, to a back tour of [previous] school [members] down there. I’ve got a thingo


up there. That was 1929. That’s right, I remember, it’s in the thingo up there. 1929, I went to school at French Island.
How big was the school?
It was only a one roomed school and that housed them all. I can always, Mr Davin, he was the headmaster. In fact he was the headmaster cum doctor cum everything


in French Island.
There was only like a dozen students or something, was there?
Oh, that’s about all.
That sounds pretty lonely in a way.
Well French Island was. There’s nothing down there.
Did you have any brothers or sisters at this stage?
Yeah, only one brother,


he was going to school up in Melbourne at the Brighton Tech [Technical College] when we were down there.
So just you and your brother?
That’s all, yeah.
What sort of things did you learn about history at school in French Island?
History, what the history of French Island? History in general?


history in general whether it be French Island or the war specifically.
I don’t know. I don’t think they were very big on history in those days. Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, that was about all, just the basics, no fancy education there. I left school at 14. Well, you had to in those days.


Well, 1933, 14, 1935, as soon as you turned 14 out to work, if you could get a job.
So how long did you actually stay in French Island for?
Only about 12 months or so.
And after that you moved to where?
I went back to Black Rock and then from Black Rock - I stayed in Black Rock


until I finished Brighton Tech school. Used to ride the bike from Black Rock to Brighton, that was, stayed there and then as I said, we, Dad got the offer of this chimney building up in the mallee there, so we moved up to Warracknabeal, so that’s where I stayed for what, the next 25 years.


And the kids got, I had to think of the kids coming along then because there was very, very little in Warrack for kids. So we shifted to Melbourne, out to Box Hill and we stayed there for the next 43 years and that was it.
That was after the war of course?
How did the Depression affect your family?
Well, that was it. That was,


that’s why Dad shifted to Warracknabeal because there was no work in Melbourne. That’s why he shifted to Warrack when he had the offer of building these chimneys.
Was it tough? I mean in the sense of clothing, food, just daily existence?
How did your family cope with the daily hardships? How did it impact on your family?


Well we weren’t the only ones. There was dozens of families like us and that’s where they used to have in those days was the Sussos, the Sustenance.
I’ve heard of that.
You’d get these handouts and of course all in the same boat, so there was snobbery or anything like that


but we managed, and the war came along. Of course after the war there things just really went mad and especially in Victoria, well I suppose all over Australia.
Before we move onto the war, which I will do later on, don’t you worry I’ll ask you a lot of questions on that, I’m interested to know


how you made ends meet as far as say food was concerned in the Depression?
Well, the Sustenance used to get this grocery allowance. Well, you didn’t get it cash, you’d go along to the grocer shop with the vouchers and there was no money involved.


Well the same with every now and again you’d get a picture ticket too, well that was a big thing.
The government gave you them as well?
Yeah. We’d go up to, there was nothing in Black Rock, so we’d go to Sandringham to the pictures there, but as I said, there was all the families in the same boat. Well, the majority of families, not all of them.
So I take it you would’ve


eaten things like bread and dripping?
Yeah, yeah, I can remember that but I used to like it, that’s why.
I could never eat it today.
No, you get that mutton fat on it. I reckon that was good. I still go for it here.
What’s that?
The mutton. After a leg of lamb’s been cooked there I like just soaking the bread in that. I don’t know whether it’s
Does the doctor


approve of that?
Hey? Oh yeah, he
He does?
I don’t tell him those little details, but anything, all nice things are bad for you for some reason or other, all, good things.
What about rabbits, how did they?
Oh yes. We used to go, that was nothing, we’d go around trapping rabbits and then we’d go around hawking


and selling them. You’d be, and the skins, you could sell the skins in those days. You used to get, bend a wire over it and dry the rabbit skins out. It was quite a, you had to get a lot of them of course.
How did you catch the rabbits?
Rabbit traps. We used to go down in those days, I can remember, we used to go down to Pearcedale and those places.


Picking blackberries was another thing. We’d go up to Tecoma and get these blackberries and sell them, you know, get them in old kerosene tins.
How often did you go looking for rabbits, hunting rabbits?
Not, well you couldn’t because we were at school, had to be during the school holidays or weekends.


There’s always a way, but we, as kids, used to live on the beaches down there because Black Rock, was lovely beaches down there and of course they weren’t crowded. I bet they’re crowded these days, but oh no, all in all, well, we survived, put it that way.


Tell us about Warracknabeal when you first moved there?
Warrack? Well it was all, well I was just an early teenager then, so it was all fun and games to me. Played sport,


loved going out on the farms in those days because tractors were just staring, a lot of horses around because there wasn’t the holdings they’ve got now.
How big was the town, or how small was the town?
I think it was a population of about 2,000 in those days. I don’t think it’s much bigger


now, but it’s still going. It’s different to, a lot of other, those mallee towns and Wimmera towns they’re folding up like Minyip and Murtoa, but any rate they all looked much smaller than when we were there for some reason or other.


What did you do for entertainment?
Well you made your own.
Such as?
Well, you’d go out yabbying or played cricket or, always if you had a bike you went bike riding. You always had a bike, you had some sort of a bike. Went swimming down the creek.


Oh yes, I can’t say that I had a bad life as a teenager.
When you left school at 14, what did you get into as far as work was concerned?
Well that’s when we shifted to Warracknabeal. I had a job


in the baker’s shop for a while. That was all night work in those days. You’d work all night and try and sleep during the day. Trying to sleep up in Warrack in temperature of always around the, what would it be, in the 30s and that.


So I didn’t last too long, but then I got a job at Taylors, a great local grocer there, as a box boy and I stayed there for about four years I think. It might’ve been longer, and I enlisted from there. That covered that. I didn’t mind that because Taylors, our house was just at the back of the shop,


so I only had from here down to the end of the street to walk to work.
That sounds pretty easy?
Oh yeah, it was, it was good.
You enjoyed yourself at work?
Oh yeah. I just had no regrets there.
Did you have to divide your salary and give some to your parents, whatever you earned?
Oh yes. Mum was always


a stickler for that, you had to pay some board. Doesn’t matter how much it was, but then goodness gracious, the first job I had I think was seven and six a week and that is, seven and six is what? 75, what is it?
Sorry, I’m not sure.
Seven and six, what is it? Yes, it’s 75 cents - that was a week.
75 cents?


Yes, so you didn’t get paid much but what you had got paid, you gave some to the family?
Yes, yes. I don’t know just how much, but if you wanted something you just paid it off, you know, a shilling a week or something.
Was Warracknabeal basically what, what


sort of ethnic or I should say religious sort of area was it as far as religion was concerned?
Wheat growing.
No, no. I meant by religion. Was it mainly like Protestant?
Oh yes, mostly in those days, yeah. Yes, there was, each one had their little church. There was the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian. Doesn’t matter how small the place was, whether it was only one room, they all


had their different religions, or basically they were all the same in any case.
Did you find that there was a lot of tension between Catholics and Protestants?
Oh crumbs, no.
No. I don’t think so. They wouldn’t come out and hit each other over the head or anything like that. They had their different groups, you know, there was the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] and the,


what was it, the CYMS, that was it, Catholic Young Men’s Society. They had a cricket side there and they, oh no, we used to play sport with them. I can always remember a Catholic priest up there, he was always the cricket umpire, Father Roper, yeah.


Oh no, as a matter of fact, what was it they used to have, what did they call it? Minister’s fraternal, no, what was it? At any rate they used to, they had a sort of little meeting of their own with all the church leaders. They’d all pull together,


you know, for a community effort up at the cemetery or something like that. I don’t know, there was
You don’t remember any tension?
No, no.
They’d pick on each other, wouldn’t they?
Well, I suppose they would. All in,


like in, all in good faith. They’d always have a shot at one another over something.
Like what?
Well, the cricket there, you know, say, well we’re better than you. Oh no, I don’t think it ever came to all out war or anything.
Say for instance what about inter-marriage between someone who was


Catholic? How would your parents react to that or would have reacted to that at the time?
I think they’d be a little bit stronger in those days than what they are now. Oh yes.
Did your parents ever say anything about that sort of thing?
Well, they’d accept it now but in those days I don’t think it was altogether, went over too good.


So basically you’re saying that your mother and father would’ve expected you to marry someone who was Presbyterian, something like that?
Oh yeah.
They expected that from you?
Oh yes, yes. They always, mixed marriages, they never work and all the rest of it, but they’ve always worked for some reason or other. I don’t know.


Personally, I think there was too much emphasis put onto it. It doesn’t worry, in fact two of mine, they’ve both married or Peter, the boy, he married a Catholic lass and they’re quite happy. They’ve got two lovely kids, and Janice, he


married, she married a German boy and they’re of the Catholic faith. No worries there. In fact the two grandkids, they go to Christian school up in Buderim, or there’s only one going there now. Scott’s too old,


going to university down here, but I suppose the university here has, I don’t know how they work down here. They have Catholic universities?
They do still, but it’s not strictly (UNCLEAR)
No, it’s not these days.
No, thank God.
No, it’s different. Well even the generation before our parents, goodness gracious, it was definitely unheard of.
So the school you went to, what was it


as a school as far as religion was concerned? Was it mixed?
Oh yes, they used to have religious instruction. It was a state school and Brighton Technical School, I don’t know whether religion hits them.
At the school you went to in Warracknabeal, did you?
I didn’t go to school in Warrack.
Sorry, you were working there, at Brighton and the previous school, what did they teach you about the British Empire?
Yes, Monday mornings


you got up and saluted the flag. That was a tradition.
Even in French Island?
Oh. I think they would at French Island too. I don’t remember now of course but that was an accepted thing with schools, especially state schools. The whole school used to line up and the flag would go up and everyone


would salute. I don’t think they do that now.
So what did Empire mean to you, at the time of course, not now?
At the time, that’s why I still reckon it’s a bit of


all right. Until they come up with a better idea, which they won’t. Oh no, I reckon we’ve got a lot to be thankful for the Empire.
What was the Empire, what did it mean to you at the time? I mean what did that word conjure up?
What, king and country?


Well, uphold it at all costs I’d say. As I said, until they come up with a better idea, I don’t think there’s one republic that’s wholly successful.
You valued the monarchy?
Oh yes, I still do too. No, I don’t think they could,


it’d be a sorry day for Australia, but any rate it’ll eventually come because weight of numbers is going to, and then they’ll start a little war out here to see who’s going to be the first president.
Mark Latham?
Hey? No, goodness gracious, no - God, it’ll be Eddie McGuire or one of those. No, it would. It was like the last one that came up, God, they were


all fighting amongst themselves who was going to lead the list. There was Eddie McGuire and Steve Vizard. I think Germaine Greer got in amongst it too.
She’s a favourite of yours, is she?
Hey? I reckon she caused more trouble in the bloody country than what Hitler ever did, that one. I’ll get away from that.
So life seemed to be fairly simple in that regard for you?
Oh yes.
Straight forward?
Oh, it was straight, never set the world on fire, quite happy just to, that’s probably why I’ve lasted till 83, yeah.


Did you have any interactions with, or associate with any minority groups, ethnic groups like Aborigines, German Australians, Chinese Australians things like that?
No, well no, what?
At the time of course
At the time?
Yes, ‘30s, ‘40s?
Oh gosh, no.
No. No, they
No Aborigines around Warracknabeal?
Yeah, yes. There was a settlement over at Dimboola, over,


where was it? Wail I think, Wail, but they, oh no, you’d talk to them. Personally, I thought they were too hard on them even in those days. See, they were banned from pubs and all there. They couldn’t go in and get a drink, but
What else do you mean by hard? Okay, they couldn’t get a drink, what were the other things that were hard on them?


Well it was hard to get a job.
They wouldn’t give them jobs?
Oh no. They used to just walk around.
Was there a lot of racism towards Aborigines in those days?
I don’t say there was racism. I know soon after the war, the football, they’d play football. We’d go off, you know, we’d have shots at them, tell them they should be wearing


tail lights, so we could see which way they were going. Oh no, all in all you could have some fun with them.
So they were good footballers?
Oh yes.
Yes, you’d get a, oh yes, even up at the Warrack shows they’d have these - Mulga Fred, he was one. He’d come around, he’d


give a demonstration of boomerang throwing.
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 02


Oh no, everyone ridicules Chamberlain, old Neville Chamberlain. They reckon he was a defeatist, I reckon he was the one that saved Britain, not Churchill.
How was that?
Because he stalled Hitler off for 12 months - Britain had absolutely nothing.


I don’t think they had an aeroplane that would fly, and he gave them 12 months to build up.
Okay, that’s an interesting point. We probably better get back on track though.
Oh yes.
That’s interesting. We’ll have a bit of a talk about that in the break. Right, I’d like to take you back and just ask you a little bit more


about the years, your years in the Depression. Can you tell me a bit about what it was like for people? I mean you mentioned that some people were on the Sustenance?
Was your family on the Sustenance?
Okay. Well what was that like for your family? Did you ever go hungry?
I don’t ever remember going hungry. Probably that was due to Mum’s Scottish upbringing,


I suppose because she could make a meal out of anything. She could make a meal out of flaps or something like that, but well everyone survived.
Did you have shoes to go to school in?
Hand-me-downs. I don’t ever remember getting any new shoes.


Were there other people who were perhaps not so well off? Were there any other kids who didn’t have shoes?
I think the big families they were in real trouble. I think with some of them, we were just two in the family but a lot of families with five, six kids there, they must’ve had a real struggle. But there’s always


hand-out places, what would they call them? Soup kitchens, I suppose. Although, I don’t ever remember it coming to a soup kitchen where you went along with your plate. It was more vouchers. You’d go along to the grocer shop and you’d get so many, there were a lot of articles there you couldn’t buy. Like you weren’t allowed. It was just the basic things.


Tea, sugar, bread.
What sort of things weren’t you allowed?
Well I suppose, well I think pink salmon and all of this fancy stuff. I don’t think that was on the list. Although I don’t think my Mum would’ve ever bought it in any case.
A bit of luxury, wouldn’t it?


You mentioned Sustenance, if your father was on Sustenance, did he also have to do some work for that?
Yes. I think the Shrine in Melbourne that was built by, what do they call them? Dole labour that was in those days. They used to do roads and what was another one? I think a lot, a lot


of those brick banks along the Yarra, I think they were built by dole labour.
Whereabouts did your father work?
I don’t remember now. He, it must’ve been some projects around Sandringham Council or something. They’d have them around along the foreshores and things like that. They’d build these big brick


drains and storm water drains and that, and that was all dole labour.
Did they also provide clothes as part of the Sustenance?
Yes. There was the op [Opportunity] shops you could go and pick over, but most, there wasn’t too much


new stuff, that was for sure. It’s a different system these days, they just give them so much. Those days you, I don’t think the money was about.
Tell me a little bit more about some of the food that you ate during those years?


I think I’m, oh no, cheap cuts, the
You mentioned flaps before?
Flaps, well that’s the sheep, yes, my Mum used to be able to do marvellous with those flaps. I suppose it’s all cheap sausages and things, you know,


nothing flash. You wouldn’t get eye fillets or anything like that, that’s for sure.
Tell me a bit about the school that you went to in Brighton? What sort of mix of kids were there? Were there any sort of different races or different religions at all?
I suppose different religions at tech school. It was a trade


school more than anything, but I didn’t get that far. I just done the three years and that went to two years and that was it, you know, there was tradies there. They’d go to like plumbing or engineering or carpentry, but those, they were there because the, because they were


apprenticed to carpenters or plumbers.
Were there any different races at all?
Oh, there might’ve been the odd Chinese. Oh, I don’t remember. No, I wouldn’t, I haven’t got even any photos of those days. I don’t ever recollect any.
Apart from school,


did you learn anything about the First World War?
It was never taught in schools. No, I don’t, if it did it just went straight through. Nothing stands out, put it that way.
Did you know any veterans?
Only Uncle Alb, that was all.
There wasn’t any in your street?


No. If they were in the street they were just
Did you see any going door to door?
No, I don’t recollect that.
Any swagmen?
Oh, you used to up in the bush, you didn’t around the city.
In the


bush then, what did you see?
I don’t ever remember any swagmen. I think they did come to Warrack there. They used to always sleep over in the showgrounds there and the police would go over and turf them out, but they were just passing through. They were looking for work. There was no work anywhere in those days.


Did they ever come to your house?
I don’t remember. They were different to these door-to-door salesmen that keep coming around.
When your father moved the whole family up to Warracknabeal, he did so presumably


so he could get some work?
Oh yes. He had work promised up there.
What sort of work?
Bricklaying. He was a chimney weaver they used to call it in those days. See, most farms those days, they were all wood stoves ‘cause they were built in, built in wood stoves and


the open fire places and that’s what he used to do, that’s what he specialised in.
All right now, thinking about World War II, when did you first become aware that things were turning for the worse in Europe?
Well, I think right from the beginning it started.


Remember, 3rd September 1939, didn’t it start. It was, a Sunday, I always remember that. I’d been to church and after church they used to always have community singing around at the old picture theatre, so we went around there. So church at seven o’clock, out at eight, went around there and around about nine o’clock the lights


went on and someone came out and announced war had been declared, and then everything went downhill there. There was nothing stopping them, stopping the German army early in the piece.
What was people’s reaction on that Sunday when war was declared?
I don’t know. I suppose they stood around in groups. I’m blowed if I know, ask somebody


Well what about you, did you have a reaction yourself?
Oh yes. I suppose I reckoned oh well, next thing we’ll be playing Tipperary or something. Of course things just followed the war then, and then around about June that’s when Italy came into the war. Of course everyone flocked then.


What do you mean everyone flocked?
Everyone flocked to enlist then.
How old were you at this stage?
Ah, let me see, I was 18 like when the war started and I enlisted in June, that would make me 19.
June of 1940?
’40, yeah.


What made you decide to join up?
Well my brother had joined. He was 23 I think, yes, he was 23. He had joined and of course I pestered the folks to let me go and at last they relented provided we stayed together, and we were lucky enough. Although when I first enlisted at Caulfield, brother Jack, he was sent to Balcombe and I was sent to Albury.


Then he claimed me. They could in those days, like the older brother could claim the younger, and I went down and joined him down there and then we sailed in September. That’s how that one came about.
Before we get into that, I want to ask about the first few months of the war. Do you remember any newsreels


or posters or any other material at the time sort of talking about the war or trying to get people to join up?
Oh yes, yeah. Well they didn’t, early in the piece they didn’t seem to press, you know, none of these great posters coming out there, “Your Country Needs You”. Those that wanted to go just went and that’s all there was to it, but I


believe that after Italy came into the war, from then on I think the pressure started to come. They had enlistment depots everywhere then, but early in the piece, well Australia, they reckoned oh well, we’ll just send a token force over.
Do you remember any posters or newsreels?
No, I don’t remember any. Not, you know, “Join Up, Your Country Needs You”.


Not like in the first war. Apparently there were posters everywhere for that one.
Did you take an interest in the war?
Oh yeah. Oh yes, we followed it, when they went through Poland there. That’s when the fun started because early in the peace Hitler was taking everything in his stride. They were going through Poland


and down the other way through Belgium and France, but we’ll come to Tobruk later.
Quite a bit later
Oh yes.
We’ve got a fair bit to go through before we get there I think. I’m interested to know what the, I guess


what the atmosphere was like in the first few months of the war? Were you and your mates, were you all quite keen on joining up?
Yes, some did. Some of them did join. I knew it was a waste of time me trying to join, I knew the folks wouldn’t let me on my own. It was only because my brother went, that was the only reason why I was allowed to go.


See, you had to get permission if you were under 21, proof of age of course. A lot of them put there, but when Italy came into the war, gosh, if they had one leg they’d take them. It didn’t matter what age, although some of them, early in the piece some of them must’ve told some whoppers because when I got in the army there were some old blokes in there. Not too many young ones but there were some old


fellows. There were some First World War fellows, they must’ve doctored their age around a bit. I got down to Balcombe there was a Mick Bourke. He had two decorations from the First [World] War, so he couldn’t have been any chicken, and a fellow by the name of West. He was another old bloke, he had a string of ribbons.


They must’ve told some lies to get there.
At the beginning why were you so keen to join up?
Well, I think everyone was joining up, or everyone trying.
Well I suppose it was the right thing to do. As I said king and country and all the rest of it, and Britain,


whatever Britain done well that must be right. It’d be like the, well I think they did (UNCLEAR) in a bit of a way they were saying just like the First World War, “Australia to the rescue”, but oh no, I don’t ever


remember any great posters. I know when we came back from the Middle East, that was in, they used to have recruiting drives then. That was when Japan was knocking on the door. They were having recruiting drives in Melbourne, but early in the piece I don’t ever remember.


All right. Well tell us about your enlistment. What was the actual process?
Oh, you just filled out your application form. After a while it came back, you had to report to the Warracknabeal Town Hall or shire hall and Doctor Greer, he was there to meet us, had a medical examination


and I think there’s, must’ve been, I think there were about 12 or 14 or something in the group I was in, and then after a while if you got over that hurdle, that was a very low hurdle, that one, and then you got called down to Melbourne, or I had to report to Caulfield.


That’s where you went through the proper medical and took the oath, and then you were issued with a uniform and away you went.
Did you have any problems with the medical?
No, no, none at all.
And were your parents quite supportive of you joining up?
Oh yes, once the brother went. Once the brother went it was all right.


They signed. See, they had to, he was all right, he was 23, but I was under age so they had to sign. But once Jack went it was quite all right.
So after you enlisted you went down to Caulfield and
Caulfield Racecourse.
got your uniform and so [from] there?
And then


you didn’t go to Balcombe straight away?
No, no. Some went to Balcombe, but I was, I was in a trainload that went up to Albury Showgrounds, same, and
How long were you at Albury for?
Oh, only about a week I think. I doubt whether it would be that long.
What were you doing there?
You just went for route marches, you see.


I’ve got the, I’ve got in my pay book there. I could soon tell you. Can I get up?
No, not yet?
You’re not sure what you did there?
Oh no, only just marching. You didn’t get a rifle or anything like that. It was just basic training, you know, real rookie training. You know,


now that’s an officer, that’s the kitchen, that’s where you sleep. You went for like a boot march, which wasn’t very, being all new chums it wasn’t very big either, not with the heavy boots, and then when we got to Balcombe, Balcombe camp in those days was the 17th ITB,


the 17th Infantry Training Battalion. That was the 17th Brigade, that was the, now who was, that was the 6th, 5th and 7th Battalion, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalion. That’s right, there were four battalions. Four battalions to a brigade and we were the reinforcements to those battalions. That’s how we got away so early.


I didn’t get a rifle or anything until I got to Balcombe and then I was only in camp for about six weeks in Balcombe before I was on, I must’ve been the roughest recruit they ever had.
Can you tell me a bit about Jack? What sort of bloke was he?
Jack, he was a champion fellow. Good footballer, well, he was a good sportsman all around, he was.


But yes, he got severely wounded later on. He died at a very early age through war wounds.
And he was working with your father?
Yes, yeah.
Were you close to him?


Oh yes, very close.
What sort of things would you do together?
Play cricket, yes, he was a star cricketer. I was just to make up the number. Football didn’t play much football with him because he played in a far better league than I played in. I played in the very junior one,


but he was a good footballer. Oh yes, we used to do things together, but there was the age difference, like he was five years older, so when I was 14, well he was 19 and of course he was knocking around with different, they didn’t want anything to do with any 14 year old brats.


In such a small family though, he must’ve taught you a lot?
Oh yes, yes, he did. I owe a lot to him. It’s not about longevity, he couldn’t last but I did. Probably that’s why he spent all his time looking after me.
In what sort of ways, how did he look after you?
You know, about,


nothing physical or anything like that. He just, he was always there. He was always there.
Did he tell you about life?
Not really, all I had to do was just follow him. Between the pair of us, yes, he should’ve lived a lot longer than he did. He would’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.


But that was all. We were very lucky too because we finished up in the, well we stayed together right through in the same unit, same company, same section. Went through Tobruk, Alamein, New Guinea, we were together


all the time.
So, tell me about when you finally joined up with him at Balcombe? He claimed you and so you came down from Albury?
I came down from Albury. They gave me a rail warrant and away I went down and got out to Frankston and found a truck that was


going onto Balcombe camp.
Well tell me about Balcombe then. What were the conditions like there?


Oh just, now conditions Balcombe. Well, that’s where the serious training started down there. In Balcombe there we had huts, like they were galvanised iron huts.


Yeah, well Balcombe army camp, a series of huts, galvanised iron huts that held 24 I think, 24 to a hut. That was it. Slept on the floor of course.


And this is the middle of winter when you went down there, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was the middle of winter, right on the beach. It was a bit chilly, not as bad as the fellows at Williamstown though. Some of them went to Williamstown. They must’ve frozen down there, yeah. Yes, I always remember Balcombe, they had the heating was a,


what do they call those stoves? Pot-belly stoves, little fellows like that, they’d get red hot and they’d all cluster around and you’d get nice and warm in the front and the back would be freezing, yeah. Stupid things they were. Actually that’s where I met Jean down there because her uncle, Bert Bickford, he


was in the hut and her husband to be, Ted, Ted Casely, he was in the hut too. Like we didn’t know all this. Bert was one of those that must’ve told bloody whoppers for his age too, because he must’ve been well in his 40s in those days, and how he got in, but he sort of took me under his wing. He looked after me and


Jean used to, her and her family used to come down to visit Bert, Uncle Bert, and of course we all knocked around together. That’s the photo up there. All knock around together and she finished up marrying Ted. Ted was a bit older, well he was quite a bit older really. He was eight or nine years older and of course a young fellow like me,


I had no hope.
Were you interested in Jean then?
Well we used to go to dances and that. As I said we all knocked around together. Another fellow there, a fellow by the name of Cocky Eaton, or Joe Eaton, “Cocky” Eaton we used to call him. He was another one - he came from Warrack. I enlisted with Cocky and any rate Jean finished up marrying


Ted and I went, we all went our merry ways then. Although I didn’t, strangely enough I didn’t see Ted or Bert in the army after that.
They had their hands full with Jean.
Probably, but I still don’t know what happened to Bert. Like you’d reckon, we enlisted together, we sailed together, like in the same convoy, but then,


from then on never sighted them in the army days. They went to one unit and went to another.
But you made friends with Ted and Bert?
Oh yes, oh gosh yes. Yeah, we got photos up there of them.
What about some of the other blokes, how did you get on with them?
Good as gold. Well, all fellows, all new in the,


very, very, see, where we all got split up, we went over, went over as a battalion but due to the army organisation when we got over to Palestine they wanted reinforcement for the 6th Division and that’s what we actually went over for.


Of course when they got their required number of reinforcements to bring their battalions up to strength, there was all this mob left over, and so they formed an engineer battalion or engineer company and that’s where I finished up, and the brother finished up and this Cocky finished up, and the others, they all joined their battalion


and they went to Greece and Crete and all over the place and we just went up the desert then, and that was it.
Well tell me a bit more about Balcombe, what sort of training were you doing there?
Infantry training, there was arms drill. Now was there rifle butts down there, don’t remember, don’t remember.


Don’t remember there was, butts there. I don’t think I fired a, I don’t think I fired a rifle until they, but we used to do bayonet training and all that, unarmed combat and that down there, and route marches over the sand dunes and well, the basic infantry training.
What do you mean by rifle butt?
Like shoot.


Butts, like do you remember the Williamstown butts?
No. I may look old but I’m not that old.
Well, it’s not that long back either. A rifle range
Well, the butts are the big hills they shoot into. They have a target stuck in front of the hill and they’ve got these big hills,


you know, a safety precaution.
I thought you meant the end, the butt end of the rifle.
Oh no, no. They were different rifles to what they’ve got these days of course. Great things stood about that high and heavy as lead.
You don’t think that you actually fired a real gun when you were at Balcombe?
Not down at Balcombe. I don’t remember there, but I know I did over in Palestine there. They had butts


over there. We used to go out to rifle butts shooting, but I can’t, I don’t remember, not live ammunition. A lot of them went to Williamstown, a rifle range there, but I think Balcombe was too far away in those days. We did,


doesn’t matter.
How did you adjust to the regimentation of the army?
All right. I thoroughly enjoyed it - regular meals, it was good.
What about the discipline?
Oh yeah, that didn’t worry me. See, they were permanent soldiers that trained us and they knew what they were doing.


So you enjoyed getting up bright and early in the morning, marching for long hours all day, (UNCLEAR)?
Well, I wasn’t doing it on my own. There were plenty of others. When you’re with a mob you’re all right. In fact you’ve got to go along. You’ve got to go along with it.


That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enjoy it.
Well, you put on a brave face. Yes, you don’t, no good complaining because there’s always someone there to tell you to shut up and all the rest of it. But all in all it was
What about things like hygiene and cleaning out toilets and things like that?


Did you enjoy that?
No, I didn’t enjoy it, but the same as a mess orderly or anything like that, you took your turn at it. Others seemed to be able to get out of these things.
Did you get into any trouble?
Oh no, not really, not really. Not,


no, I don’t think I even went AWL [Absent Without Leave] down there. Might’ve been late getting back to camp. No one seemed to worry a great deal. Don’t even remember being confined to barracks or anything there.
Where did you go when you had leave?


We’d go into Melbourne. Go to Melbourne, meet Jean in there, a mob of us, we’d go to a dance or something or go to the pictures. But we weren’t down there that long. See, this was in July and we sailed in September, so it’s only a matter of weeks,


September 15th.
Tell us what Melbourne was like during wartime?
Oh, well I can remember Melbourne, wartime in the winter, it seemed to be all foggy for some reason. You never see that now. I don’t know whether it’s that


many buildings around but even on the tramline and train lines they used to have these detonators, that the fog would be that thick. I think on the tramlines they’d have the detonators there and you could hear them, bang bang.
That still happens.
Do they? Oh, well I haven’t been down to Melbourne, I don’t go into Melbourne, not after dark.


But oh no.
What else can you remember about Melbourne apart from the fog?
I don’t know whether we ever stopped in Melbourne that much. We’d come into the pictures and that.
You’d go to the dances there?
Not in Melbourne


so much, not in Melbourne. It would be, I remember going to the old, no, it was the Glacier, still called the Glaciarium, it was roller skating I think at the, as I say we didn’t have that much time in Balcombe. It was only a matter of two or three weeks and


we were away again.
Did you go drinking?
No, not a great deal. Not a great deal. I wasn’t, I wasn’t one for the grog. Too many other things to do I think, run around.


But apart from Balcombe it was very ordinary.
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 03


Okay, can you tell us with the lead up to the Second World War, were you expecting things to, a war to take place? What did you know about it, the tensions that were happening?
That would be prior to September ’39. Well, that’s where, 12 months before I think it all


started and when, I think Chamberlain was the Prime Minister then and he was, Hitler was, what was he? He was marching into war, taking over Austria and all the rest of it, and I think Chamberlain stalled things off for 12 months until it got, until it got beyond


Did you know this at the time though?
Like it was world news.
So you used to read the newspapers?
Oh yeah, and the news over the wireless, and things weren’t looking too good, but he stalled it off for 12 months and it gave Britain a chance to build up a bit and then it got that way that


Hitler was just marching, just kept going and going so he had to give him an ultimatum.
What did you know about Hitler before the war? I mean a lot of Australians thought he was doing good for Germany.
Well, he was, he put Germany, see, Germany must’ve been in an awful mess there after the First World War, and of course I think


they, I think the German people would’ve grabbed at anything and he came to light with a remedy and it worked. Of course he went from strength to strength.
Do you think he was a good leader in that respect before the war started?
He must’ve been. He pulled Germany out of the doldrums


‘cause apparently they must’ve been very, very close to starvation there and collapsing. He just went too far.
What was the talk around Warracknabeal area about the Germans and you know, the tensions that were leading towards war, looked like war might take place?
Oh, bits of talk because there were a lot of German settlers around Warrack,


like from a generation or so before that.
So there were German settlers there?
Oh yes. There was the Lutheran Church there and, but I think most of the Germans, German descent up there they were more Australian than what the Australians were.
What did they have to say about things like that at the time?
Oh, I don’t know whether, I don’t know


whether they ever said anything. They
Were there lots of them?
Not a lot of them. There was quite a few, there was a few families of them, settlers. But that’s
Did any of them fight in the First World War with the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?
Oh. That, I can’t say. No, I wouldn’t, probably would be,


probably would be. For all I know there might’ve been some there fighting on the German Army too. Didn’t interest me such a great deal in those days, not until we more or less got involved with it.
Did people suspect them to be, well, un-Australian (UNCLEAR)?
No, no, no, not for one minute.
You don’t think so?
No. I’d,


I’d be very surprised, put it that way. I’d be very, very surprised I think. I don’t think there was too many anti-Australian.
What were you doing the day war was declared?
War was declared? It was a Sunday. I said I’d been to church, came back, went around the Del Monte


Theatre, community singing and they stopped it part way through and I’m not so sure now if they didn’t sort of put the, put Menzies’ announcement over the PA [Public Address] system, the loudspeakers, he declared war, around about nine o’clock at


night, Sunday night, 3rd September.
What was your reaction to it?
I don’t know really. Probably all sang Tipperary or something.


Some of them in Warrack there, some of the older boys, I think they raced away and enlisted. I couldn’t tell you who though now, but September, October, November, yeah.


How old were you then?
Eighteen, I wasn’t nineteen until June.
So were you, you were quite interested in joining up the AIF?
We reckoned if it went for any length of time we’d have to join up, even if we didn’t we’d get called up.
So what was your view about service?
Well, everyone reckoned it would be all


over in, all over in four months or four weeks or something, nothing would come of it. But they were wrong. The general talk, they can’t win, they can’t win, but it took them a long time.
Now you weren’t involved in any militia at that time?
No, no, no.


No, Warrack was a bit isolated. I think the nearest camp there I think was at Horsham. I don’t know, I just wasn’t interested in that, although they did have a militia camp in Warrack. After war was declared they had various camps around the place.


So what, what motivated you to enlist? You weren’t called up?
Oh no, no, no. I don’t think the call up started until years later.
’42, I think when the Japs came in.
Yeah, I think that might’ve been it, yeah. Oh no, it was just every - the brother joined up, so I wanted


to be there with him and that was it. So we enlisted together.
And how old was your brother?
At that time he would be 22, I think. He was five years older than me.
I take it you would’ve talked to him about this before you enlisted?
Oh yeah.
Tell us about this conversation?
I don’t know word for word.
Of course not, but what


was the theme of your discussion with him?
Say we’d have to go and I think we were looking for a bit of a change and it would certainly be a bit of a change from life in Warrack, well it was too. Friend of mine, like Joe Eaton, Cocky, he was about the same age as me, a bit older but of course he


wanted to be in it and he was in the militia. They had a camp in Warrack, I think the something or other light horse or something, whatever it was, and he was in that. I’ve got photos of him there in his light horse uniform. Of course, he wanted to give the militia away and join the real thing. So we, the three of us,


away we went and that was it. Oh no, I don’t think there was any great chest thumping or anything like that. It was just a bit of an adventure.
Did you look up to your older brother?
Oh yes, he was very good.


He was, as I say, he was a good sportsman.
Did you feel any peer pressure to enlist?
Not really, not really.
Wasn’t it the thing to do in the bush?
Yeah, I suppose that had something to do with it but it wasn’t the real motive for it. I think it was more adventure than anything.


What sort of adventure were you expecting at that time?
Well, a change, I suppose any change would’ve been, every day was the same up there.
Well more or less, then it was just as boring at times in the army.
So what were you expecting? You wanted to serve overseas?


sort of adventure were you expecting to encounter?
I don’t, ‘cause we’d all been fed the war in France which is far, far different to the war in the desert, but any change.


Any change. Oh no, the, got a certificate from the shire in there, you know, for king and country and all that business, but
You said any change?
What do you mean by any change?
Well any change to the usual day


to day living that we were tied to up there. Six days a week you go to work and Saturday afternoon you played sport, Sunday you went to church, Sunday school and Monday back to work again.
What did your parents have to say about your enlistment?
They weren’t


too happy at first, but I think they felt, well eventually or as it turned out, as it turned out with Italy coming into the war, well we would’ve been going. Although we’d filled out our papers before that but you could see the writing on the wall.


What do you mean writing on the wall?
We knew it was going to happen. Well, everything pointed that way, that Italy was going to come into the war because Mussolini was jumping up and down there and beating his chest and telling everybody how good he was, so he was going to cash in on it.


Seems that we’ve got a Stuka dive-bomber around here.
Now tell us a bit about your brother. How did he influence you to enlist?
Oh, I don’t think he influenced me. It’s
Well I mean even if it wasn’t directly.
Yeah, well he was going and we’d always been


pretty close. I thought well, if he’s going I want to go. Of course the folks, they weren’t too keen on me going. They reckoned I was too young. Then they finally gave way ‘cause I don’t think Jack would’ve felt too comfortable going knowing I wanted to be with him. I don’t think he


would’ve been too comfortable going on his own and not me, but any rate I’m glad we did it, otherwise we wouldn’t have been together. As it was we were together all the time.
That’s Jack, what was his surname?
Jack Holbrook?
Who was the other mate of yours?
Joe Eaton, Cocky.
Why did you call him Cocky?
Well, he came off a farm.


I think that was, although he was always cocky.
Cockatoo, as in?
No, well cocky, there was cow cockies and wheat cockies and they were all cow cockies up here. Haven’t you ever heard that?
Well I’m not from here, am I?
No, no, but cockies are always known as, farmers are always known as cockies.
I didn’t know that. I’m a city boy,


what can I say?
They might’ve been the one that gave it to them, you’re just a cow cocky.
So the deal was that your brother was going to look after you?
Yeah. Well he did too, you know, we all went on leave together and what had you. Actually, it was better really because joining


the army it more or less brought us to the same level then, instead of him being five years older we were all the same.
Why didn’t you join the air force or navy? Why the army?
Well the army was the easiest one to get into. The air force, you had to be a little bit more educated than leaving school at 14,


and I think the navy was the same too. They were a little bit fussier, but the army, all that they wanted was numbers.
How did the women see men in uniform in Warracknabeal? What was it like for you


once you got into uniform? Was there a certain prestige attached to it?
That’s a good question. I don’t think so because once you got home there you got out of uniform, but everyone, it was like in Numurkah here, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in uniform or out of uniform, they all know that you’re in the army or in the police force. I don’t think so, well


Well I suppose socially how was it accepted? Was there respect for the uniform amongst the people?
Yes, yeah, see farms, there was a lot of young fellows on the farms. They couldn’t enlist because someone had to run the farm.


I bet there was a lot of those people wanting to be in uniform and couldn’t because someone had to run the farm, ‘cause farms were a bit different in those days than what they are now. They can run farms from an office now. In those days there had to be someone there doing the manual labour and all the rest of it.


So not everyone could leave?
Not everyone, no.
So you’re lucky your dad didn’t have a farm?
True, true. Although Joe got away, although Joe had some brothers, so he was the youngest of, see he was the only one out of his family. I think there was what, four brothers or something there.


What took place after you enlisted? Can you tell us what happened when you went to the enlistment depot to first enlist with your brother and Cocky?
Well all it was, we just went up to the town hall, filled out the papers there and
Where, Warracknabeal Town Hall?
Yeah, the town hall there
And this was


Yeah. Yeah, the, and that’s it, you just filled out the particulars there and then after a while you got a call up for a medical and after a while that was sent to Melbourne and then after a while you got a call up to report to Caulfield Racecourse, but there was about a dozen of us. There


was, there was other fellows coming down from Beulah and Hopetoun and that. We went down on the morning train, picked up at Warrack and Murtoa along the way. Of course we all, by the time we got to Caulfield there was quite a number of us and they just marched us from the station over


to the Caulfield Racecourse just across the road and then we took our, had a station there and that was it.
What did you want to be in the army when you first enlisted?
No particular, you was in. Well, you had no say in it.
Did you want to join any particular unit?
No, no.
Anything in mind?
You just wanted to be a soldier?
Just be


in there. We started off in the infantry and got thrust into the, I dare say anyone were more or less trained, like say for instance, anyone working at a post office, telegraphist there, they’d go into the signallers or anyone working in a hospital, they’d go into the medical,


but we weren’t trained for anything, so it didn’t matter.
So when did your first training camp start?
Well that would be Albury, first time we went.
So you went to Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne?
Racecourse, yeah.
What did you do there?
That was where they sorted you out, gave you, issued you with a uniform and a pay book and go


and sit in the corner, wait until your name was called and when they got enough they loaded us on the train and took us up to Albury, sorted us out into companies up there or platoons, and then done your basic training, marched around.
What was the unit you were stationed with?
I don’t think it was any unit at all. I think it was just a,


that lot at Albury, they finished, that I think was the start of the Bandiana Camp. They went from there to Bandiana and they got sorted out into different battalions. Well it was like us. See, we marched down to Balcombe, taken overseas,


shaken around a bit and then we dropped into the engineers. See, they didn’t know back here what they wanted over there. So when we got over some of them went to the battalions, brought them up to strength, and the surplus they were put into engineers or transport.
So you were like reinforcements basically?
That’s all it was, yeah.
Yeah, refills. Refills is a better word.


Be careful or I’ll have to get the whip out. Tell us about the training in Albury. What did you do, what was it like?
Albury? Only thing I can remember, oh, we used to march every day because there was nothing else to do. We didn’t have any side arms or anything, no rifles. Probably attended lectures, got


mess orderly duties, but always we slept in the stables up there and on the floor they had, they put in piles and piles of shavings, that’s what we slept on, you know, with a blanket over the shavings.
You mean like a palliasse?
Yeah. No, it wasn’t a palliasse even. It was just a blanket over the shavings. The shavings were just spread on the floor and


that’s what we slept on.
Pretty rough.
Oh yes. When we got down to Balcombe we got issued with palliasses, but Albury was just a, that was the first time they did, Albury Showgrounds had been used as a, what would you call it? Not a recruiting depot, a training depot. So it was pretty basic there.


But I don’t know, but I don’t think the troops stayed in Albury Showground for very long because they went from there to Bandiana.
And you were stationed with your brother?
You were still serving with your brother and Cocky?
Yeah, down at Balcombe. That’s where we sailed, from.
Did you do any arms training at Albury?
No, not at


No weapons training?
No weapons training.
So it was just what sort of training?
Just marching.
Yeah, just drill, that’s all. Physical training there, that was all.
How did you find it?
Oh all right. But all young fellows they’d find that all right. See, we were all the same.
What were the officers like?
Oh very, mostly, old Denya, I can still see him


He was a First World War fellow and he had this khaki uniform with leggings. He was an old light horse fellow, a real old bloke, or I thought he was. Nice old bloke he was, but well, they were sort of caught on the hop.


They didn’t have, Australia didn’t have such a big permanent army at the time, not a training mob. Well not specialised recruit training. All they had to do was use the First World War methods of training. Well of course that was all right up


to a point, but when it came to small arms and stuff like that it was different. They found out later that wasn’t up to the modern day. The same as if we went into the army now, the blessed arms training would be far, far different to what it was in our day.
How long did you stay in Albury for?
Only about a fortnight I think. I was having a look.


2nd of the 7th, my first pay was in Albury that was the 2nd of the 7th. The next pay was in Balcombe.
So you went to Balcombe, where’s Balcombe?
Balcombe’s down near Frankston - Mornington, down that way.
What did you do in Balcombe?
Mount Maratha.
How did you go down from Albury to Balcombe?
They gave me a rail warrant and I just went down the station, caught a train, and made my own way down.
With your brother


and Cocky?
No. I went down there on my own. They were already at Balcombe.
What happened at Balcombe?
Well that’s where we got into the training. I got issued with a rifle down there and this was small arms training down there, you know, rifle drill and combat training, a lot of marching, gas drill.


So marching, combat training, gas drill?
Used to always have to carry a gas mask. I don’t know what that proved down there.
What sort of gas training, tell us about the gas training?
They had an old gas mask. Well you’ve seen the gas masks.


You pull them over and they’ve got a big glass thing at the front and a pipe that comes out underneath through a strainer and
Go on.
Then you’d, they had these gas huts. Put this on, walk into the gas hut and it was filled with gas it was, and just as you were going to get out they’d


tell you to take the gas mask off and boy, there’d be a rush for the door, just to prove how effective they were. But that was never required. They all got thrown away when we got over to the Middle East.
So did they tell you about World War I and gas in the training?
Yeah, you did


gas lectures.
What sort of things did they say in the lectures?
Oh, about how to, gas thingos, you know, blow in the whistles and that and how to put the gas mask on. Very little, they didn’t go into great detail with the gas, not that I, well I don’t remember because it was never ever used.


But oh no, that sums the training. I always remember it, at Balcombe they’d take you for marches there occasionally with the gas mask, you know, gas masks on and we had a,


we had a fanatically fit officer down there who was Joshua, Bob Joshua, and he was fit. Gas masks on and then he’d step it out over the sand dunes at Balcombe and Mount Maratha. Yeah, Bob Joshua, he was fit, and he was no chicken either.


What sort of marching were you doing, just normal route marching?
Yeah, route marching.
How long would you march for daily?
It would be every day, wouldn’t it?
Oh yes.
When you were down in Balcombe?
Yeah, down in Balcombe, either that or you were doing physical training or if the weather got that bad they’d have lectures in the huts, but


that was about all. Then there was, the needles and especially before we went overseas you’d be lining up for the needles and blood tests and what have you. Actually, it was very, very, very ordinary and mundane things until we got over to


the Middle East. That’s when things started in earnest of course.
Tell us about the combat training you did at Balcombe?
Oh, very little there. We done, as I said, it didn’t start in earnest until we got to the Middle East.
So what sort of combat training did you do at Balcombe even if it was little?
Oh, just rifle drill, you know, form fours and all


that stuff, drill. I think just to teach us to handle the rifles I think ‘cause they were heavy things.
Did you find any of the training hard to get accustomed to?
Not really, not really. You take it when you’re young and fit you take it in your stride.


Now at this stage you weren’t put into a unit?
No, no unit. It was just reinforcements, reinforcements for the 7th Battalion.
7th Battalion, AIF?
Which was which division?
That was the 6th Division.
Now, how long did you stay at Balcombe for?
Oh, about six weeks I think or


might’ve been, yeah, about six weeks. Say six weeks.
Pretty intensive training?
Yeah. Well, it was to start off but towards the finish when we were getting used to it, it was all right. We were getting accustomed to it by then.
So what took place after Balcombe?
That’s when we embarked on the,


what was it, Christiaan Huygens on Sunday 15th September. I can remember that because I remember I got my vaccination on Friday 13th. It was a bad day, and by the time we got to Perth, I was a very sick boy.
So how big was this ship, the Christiaan Huygens?


yeah, Christiaan Huygens. How big? Oh, I don’t know, about, a Dutch ship. There was the Christiaan Huygens, Slomat, New Holland and there was another one. I don’t recall what that was, but I think there was four ships in the convoy, but they weren’t very big. Only about what, 9,000 or 10,000


tons. They were only sort of cruise ships. It was a Dutch convoy. They took us, we stopped at Fremantle and we stopped at Ceylon and then up the Canal, stopped at Kantara and that was it.
So you took off from Melbourne?


Tell us what the, you went with your brother I take it?
And Cocky?
And Cocky, yeah.
What was it like to leave Melbourne? Were there lots of crowds there and things like that?
Yeah. Yes, it was supposed to be a secret of course but it was a very poor kept secret because Port Melbourne Station, the peer was just crowded.


Did your family come visit to see you off?
Well, not then because my family were up in Warrack then, but my brother’s girlfriend was down there.
Your girlfriend, sorry, did you say?
Well, his girlfriend then. She was later his wife.


She got wind of it. In fact everyone in Melbourne got wind of it, I think. It was about the world’s worse kept secret that one.
How did you feel about leaving Melbourne?
All excited I suppose. Especially on the boat, never been on a ship before and tear around like a mad thing.


It was only a small thing and by the time we got out of the heads there we were all as sick - they’d make it.
You stopped at Fremantle?
Fremantle, yeah, we had leave, leave at Fremantle, went into Perth.
What was that like?
Very good, it’s changed a bit now.


And then the long trek across to Ceylon, and that was it. Only had the two stops, and from there up to, up the Canal to Kantara.
How long did you stay in Fremantle for?
I think just overnight, there one day and sailed


the next.
And what was the Indian Ocean like to sail from Fremantle to Ceylon?
I don’t, I can remember, I can remember the Bight going around to Fremantle or the size of the waves there, but the Indian Ocean doesn’t, that doesn’t stick out much, so that must’ve been very plain.


But that was it. Then we arrived in Palestine at Beit Jirja.
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 04


Okay, where we left off you’d just left Australia on the Christiaan Huygens.
Huygens, yeah.
Huygens. Can you tell us what the living conditions were like on board the ship?
Quite good. It was one of these, it was one of the earlier convoys and of course they were very good. They didn’t have that time


to convert from the passenger ship to a troop carrier, so it was quite good, quite good. Meals were good.
Did you have your own cabin?
Where there was say two to a cabin, they put in three. Sometimes four, it all depends on the size of the cabin. I don’t remember much, so it couldn’t have been that bad. It wasn’t as if we had to sleep


standing up or anything. It was quite comfortable.
What was the food like?
Food was quite good.
What sort of food?
I couldn’t tell you what we had of course, but oh no, it was all in all.
Was it army style food or fresher?
Oh, it would be fresher, it was fresh food. Big improvement to what we were going to get later


As you got further north it must’ve got a lot warmer. How did you cope with the heat?
It wasn’t that, going across the Indian Ocean it wasn’t that different to home here, the heat. New Guinea, going up there was a different matter, but going across it was all right, it wasn’t that bad.
So what did you do on board? How was the time filled?
Mostly lectures.


You know, PT [Physical Training], touch your toes, because we, in those days it was very slow but mostly lectures. There wasn’t much entertainment.
What sort of lectures did you have?
Army style, you know, what to expect and customs over in the Middle East


and what to do and what not to do, and that sort of thing. I didn’t take much notice of it.
Can you tell us a bit more about the lectures?
Well I can’t because I don’t remember too much about them. I think everyone was anxious to get over there and it sort of went in one ear and out the other,


but mostly there’d be army type lectures I could well imagine, you know, how to cope and all the rest of it.
I’ve never been in the army, so I can’t really imagine.
Well, the army routine, what to expect, who to salute and who not to salute and what to do and what not to do.


Who to take notice of. Then, I should imagine we went through like stripping machine guns and putting them together again. Well, they’d have to, the training would have to continue on a certain amount. There was nothing else for people to do on board. Although I will admit on ours going over, it


wasn’t overcrowded.
Did they give you lectures about the countries that you were going to?
Oh yeah, well that was it, you know, the customs of the country, what to expect.
What did you expect?
Over in the Middle East? I don’t really know now to tell you the truth.


There was Arabs tearing around everywhere, but
Well, what did the lectures tell you to expect?
Well, we had religious customs there and
What sort of religious customs?
Well, their religion is like totally different to ours. Not to interfere with them.


One thing they did emphasise was never interfere with their religion, with their religious customs, which is fair enough.
Did they talk to you about hygiene?
Yeah, hygiene, that was all in the lectures, you know, not to go around spitting on the ground or if you drop something don’t pick it up and start eating it.


That’s standard thing. I think it’s more or less the same these days. They just give it to you in book form now.
Did they talk to you about venereal disease?
Oh yes, yes. The old doctors, they loved that. That was their


forte I think. They frightened hell out of everybody.
How did they do that?
Easy, they just get up there. See, there was all troops on board. There were a few nurses I think but they were well and truly isolated. They’d show you pictures and a film of it, all the after affects and all this.


I’ve never seen it, and I’ve never seen it from that day to this, so I don’t know whether, I suppose it happens.
And what was their recommendation for avoiding venereal disease?
Well, to keep away from the brothels I think was the main thing, or if you do go, go to the red light district,


but then you couldn’t get near there because the Red Caps, that was the British provos, they’d soon hunt you, but they were there. Like some of the troops, they got caught even when they stopped off at places. They’d be into it.


That happens today, so that hasn’t changed much. Yeah.
Did the doctors offer any kind of treatments?
Yeah, there was a special hospital for them, the 8th Special I think they used to call it.
But on the ship before you arrived?
I don’t know about on the ship.


No preventative medicines?
Well, they didn’t have much chance of contracting anything on board ship unless they brought it on with them. There wouldn’t be too many of those.
Did they offer condoms?
Yeah, I think you could pick up them at the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] if you wanted them, but I dunno, I never bothered with them, so I don’t think too


many did. They were available, put it that way they were available.
So most of the troops preferred not to use them?
Yeah, I think so. They just went to the, there was the, I dunno whether they were registered brothels or just condoned brothels but there was always a, like at Alexandria, Cairo, they all, the places, they had their


designated areas. They were well patrolled by the British ‘cause the British had been over there for years, like the British troops they’d been in Palestine for years.
And so you didn’t need to use condoms in those ones?
I don’t think so.


It wasn’t my piece of cake. Wasn’t really interested.
Well tell us a bit more about the ship? What sort of things would you do for entertainment?
They’d have made up concert parties, you know, and then there was, I think there was boxing.


Boxing was another favourite past time, and then there was, pictures. Like they’d have old films there, but usually concert parties, you know, they’d just volunteer concert parties. They’d get up and they’d entertain. There were some good, some shocking.


But reading, do a lot of reading.
What sort of things did you read?
Just books, there were no papers to get. A bit of a library, some of the conscientious ones would, you know swat up their army routines. See, I think


five weeks it took us but then we had a break at Fremantle and another one at Ceylon, but it wasn’t that bad. You’d have to go to the, Sundays you’d have to go to the compulsory church parade, but oh no, as I said we weren’t overcrowded on ours, so we didn’t do too bad.


Was there any gambling?
Oh yes, a bit of beer drinking going on. That was another thing, was the beer drinking. They wouldn’t give you the bottles. You weren’t allowed the bottles because of breakages and fights, so what you had to do was take along your dixie, you know, your


aluminium dixie and they’d fill that up and boy was the beer terrible out of those, hot, but there was a way of doing it, and of course gambling and where there’s a mob of fellows there’s going to be gambling. The only game I think, the only legitimate game the army allowed was the old housie housie, bingo.


No one wanted that, so there was crown and anchor, there was two-up.
Did you have a flutter yourself?
Oh, very little. I never got enough cash for that, goodness gracious, what, we were on five shillings a day. That’s 50 cents a day. You can’t play, you can’t do too much on that, not even in those days. Five bob a day.


So what did you spend your money on?
Well, by the time you bought the essentials you’d have to, you had to buy your own smokes. Sometimes you got a ration. I used to smoke. Well I started to smoke in those days. Never smoked before I got in the army


but when it came around with the free issues I pounced on them. If I didn’t use them somebody else did. Chocolates, that’s about all, well, you had to buy your own, like you got an issue of razor blades but it was still not enough, not enough for you to clear off and leave though. You


weren’t getting that much.
Why do you think you started smoking?
Probably because they were giving them out - boredom I think. Everyone else was smoking, so you started smoking. After the army I gave it away again, so it didn’t matter. It was only while I was in there. I haven’t smoked now for what, 50 years.


I smoked for a while after it, not enough for it, I couldn’t see any sense in it.
Tell us about Ceylon, what was that like?
Oh, I don’t remember, I think it was only one day or something we were there. I just remember going into a café there and having curried fish and something and God,


it was that hot I think I drank the water out of the vase. Hello. It was just a rushed trip over, going over, but it was uneventful.


It was - nothing stood out. We weren’t attacked or anything, so nothing outstanding.
So after Ceylon you went up through the Canal?
Up the Canal, yes, up the Red Sea Canal and then it got to Kantara.
What was Kantara like?
Oh, nothing there, it’s only just a railway crossing.


They’ve got a bridge across there now, although there’s parts, I’ve got a photo of it there, since then they’ve dug a road under the Canal, under the Suez Canal. It goes right under, so they must’ve went down quite a bit for that.
You’d think they would’ve thought of that before they built the Canal over the top?
Yes, well, they,


I suppose they reckon they’d done a mighty enough job getting the canal though there. Well they did too really, didn’t they?
So before this time had you ever been overseas?
No. Oh, no.
So this was the first time you’d ever been anywhere?
First time I’d ever stepped on a boat. In those days, God, we had fellows coming


down from Warracknabeal, the first time they’d ever been on a train and they were grown men. There wasn’t too much activity going on the in the ‘30s or the early ‘40s.
Did it impress you at all to go to another country?
Yeah, hey? Yeah, of course it did. I reckoned that was a bit of all right.
Well tell us about that. Take us back there


from the point of view of what it was like for you at that time?
What, going overseas?
Well, the excitement was there, something new. Not an everyday occurrence. In fact I could count the times up in Warrack, the time I hit there in 1934 I think or 1935, I could count the times from


then until I joined the army that I’d been down to Melbourne.
So getting on a ship and going to the Middle East must’ve been pretty exciting?
Oh yeah, going across the other side of the world, well it was for anyone in those days. It’s a different matter now. You jump on a plane and you’re on the other side of the world the next morning. If you feel inclined you could have two breakfasts, it all depends which way you go.


Yeah. You arrive there before you leave sort of thing. Yeah.
It must’ve been pretty exciting to see the sands of the deserts?
Oh yeah, and the Suez Canal. Well that was, of course we learnt that at school, the Suez Canal. That was a great. That was


a great achievement for anyone, all this water going through connecting one ocean to another. Especially in those days when there were no scientific things like they’ve got now.
So what did you see of the people on the banks or the scenery


as you went passed?
Between Kantara and Palestine there’s nothing, there’s just desert, that’s all that is. But I don’t ever remember any little stations or anything. I will admit it was dark, well we went, I think we went down in cattle trucks there, so we didn’t see anything.


So when you arrived at Palestine what was your impression of that?
Beit Jirja, yeah, well that was, Palestine. Palestine intrigued us because it was all orange groves there. It was very fertile there, and then we had a chance when we were in Palestine, had a chance to go to Jerusalem and places like that, Gaza.


That was a big thing in itself. Although Haifa, no, we didn’t do Haifa really until we came up into Syria. So we had quite a, over the two years, three years, we had quite a look at the Middle East or North Africa in part.
Where did you go to first when you arrived


in Palestine?
A place, Beit Jirja, they were all camps, all army camps along the railway line and went to Beit Jirja. That’s where we done our army training?
Sorry, what was it called?
Beit Jirja. It’s a little, just a whistle stop, a little railway siding, although it had been turned into an army camp.


There’s orange groves around there and I think there was an air force base along there somewhere.
And how long were you there for?
Let me see, that was September. We must’ve been there until September, October, November - we must’ve been there nearly three months I suppose. That’s where we done our training.


What sort of training did you do there?
Real, you know, unarmed combat training, rifle drill, the marching, everything connected with infantry training.
You got to fire a rifle now, didn’t you?
Oh yes, well there was


a rifle range there. We used to go out on the rifle range and practise our rifle shooting.
Were you a good shot?
Oh no, no. I just fired in the general direction. I wasn’t any sharp shooter.


Just as well too, that might’ve been why they put me in the engineers. They didn’t need rifles. I don’t know that one. I think it was just by accident I got there.
So when did you actually become a sapper?
Well, there’s, as I said, when we got over there we went over as reinforcements to the 6th Division


and of course the plan pushed up into Egypt. What had happened, the Italian army had pushed down into Egypt, then the British decided they’d push them right back again and they wanted the Australians, and of course the 6th Division was earmarked to go up, well then, they had


to bring their battalions up to strength. Of course that’s what we were for, that’s what we were sent over for, was to bring them up to strength, but then when this all started over there they found that they were still based on the First World War, which was four battalions to a brigade. They found that was far too cumbersome due to, it was all right in France where


they where, everything was all in a heap, but over there the distance was too long, so they chopped them down to three battalions, so they had to form another division. Of course they had more men for the 6th Division than they knew what to do with. They sent the 6th Division up and what was left was turned into the 9th. So they had to have all their, what


would you call, all their other units helping the infantry. Well, that’s where the engineers came in, so they formed a field company and that was what I was in. They used to just come along and all right, you go up to your battalion, you to the left, you join the engineers.
So that was in Palestine?
That was in Palestine, that’s where it all started, and


then what had happened, the base of the engineering unit that I was to join, they’d been in England and they came out from England and were in Egypt, where, Amiriya I think. At any rate we were sent up to them. That was at Christmas 1940 we joined the 13th Field


Company then, and then it turned out that we joined the 13th Field Company and they went, they followed the 6th Division up into the desert. When the 6th Division got as far as Benghazi they were sent back, only we stayed there then. We stayed, that’s how we come to, I think Tobruk


in the push up there, Tobruk fell on the 22nd, I looked that up, and we went into Tobruk on the 26th, four days later.
Just from your point of view though, when were you actually made a sapper? How long after you’d arrived in Palestine?
Oh, what three months. Once I joined the engineers, I became a sapper. I was still a private up


to then.
When did you join the engineers?
Christmas. Christmas or early New Year. I don’t know the exact date.
After you’d been at Palestine for three or four months?
All right. Tell us a bit about the living conditions at Palestine?
Quite good. We used to live in tents. We had,


there was no huts there. There was the tents, I think were six or eight to a tent. I’m not sure, but they were the bell tents, they were the round tents, you used to sleep with your feet into the centre. I think there were six. I’m not sure. Yeah, they were quite comfortable, well,


as camp life goes. I’ve had better, I have had worse, but I think we had palliasses there too, palliasses with straw. I’m not sure on that one. It didn’t matter much. Food must’ve been all right. Mostly sausages - Spinney sausages, he was the local supplier,


this Spinney.
Why was he called Spinney?
That was his name. Used to have good jam over there, marmalade jam and strawberry jam. I used to like that, but when you have it for breakfast, dinner and tea seven days a week, it


doesn’t, and the best of food gets a little banal there. It’s not the best.
And what was the heat like? Must’ve been pretty warm?
Yeah. I don’t remember it so bad in Palestine. We must’ve been there at the winter part of it. Possibly


if we had’ve been there around about the June, you know, May, June, July it might’ve been a bit different. But I think it was quite all right.
Where did you go when you had leave?
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, some of them went to Cairo, Gaza, Jaffa.


And what sort of things did you do?
There was a picture theatre in the camp. You’d go down and they’d put on concert parties and, but pictures were the main thing. You’d go to the pictures pretty well every night just to break the monotony.


What about when you went to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, what did you do then?
Drank, I suppose. You know, they’d go to nightclubs and that, have a look around the, especially in Jerusalem, there was plenty to see in the old city there.
What sort of things did you see?
Well, go out to Bethlehem, you know, you go down into the manger there and have


a look. There’s a funny thing, going down they’ve got the manger. I take it all with a grain of salt, but I suppose it’s fair, but you go down narrow stairs, narrow brick stairs like that, you know, and you’ve got a candle in one hand and there’s millions of people that have been down there. All the wax has got onto the steps there, on the


rock steps. Of course us in our hobnail boots, we’re there, you go boong. The steps were only very narrow. You only go down in single file, but you know, things like that, and the Wailing Wall.


Right, now did you go to the markets at all?
I don’t remember. They couldn’t have been very impressive. Anyway, it was no good us buying anything. We used to buy souvenirs of course and send them home, but there was, markets everywhere. Everywhere there was more than a dozen troops, every time a truck stopped someone would bob up selling something. One of


the little boys. Those Arabs, I don’t know where they come from, they’re like flies, they come out of mid air. Well they hadn’t changed, even in 1992 when I went over there. The coach we were on would only have to stop and they’d come out from behind a bush. They’d start selling things, set up a stall. Yes.
So what sort of things did you buy as souvenirs?


Cushion covers. I remember cushion covers. They were, oh, postcards, you know with your photo on them or something like that. All little trinkets, you know, they, but the usual souvenirs that they sell at, well you go down to Melbourne, you buy them. You go into the


$2 shop, you know, all that.
You get boomerangs and stuffed koalas.
Yeah, well of course you do.
Is it (UNCLEAR)?
Well they probably did too, but very enterprising those Arabs.
Pull my leg, go on.
No, I am not. They are very enterprising those boys, but postcards were the most thing with a photo on them or little brooches or even rings. You know, they’d have the photo


let into the ring.
And what were bars like?
Oh, well different to the old Carlton United, but no different to what’s out at Lygon Street. You just line up, climb up on the stool and there it is, and then there was the cafes. They’d


bring around the coffees and what do they call them? Hubbubs I think, you know, all sit around and smoke, smoke the, hubbas don’t they? Hubba?
Hookah, yeah, that’s them.
What was that like?
Well, they were all right. They’ve got them here too I think but they banned them I think here,


our government. What are those little? Bongs that’s them yeah, well they were just a baby one.
Were they selling drugs at all?
Oh, I suppose if you want them, but drugs were unheard of in those days. Goodness


gracious, I think everyone at home there used to grow the opium poppy. God, now you try growing it. I dare say they used to grow marijuana in those days. It was quite good.
There was a lot of cocaine around as well.
Yeah, well cocaine, that’s made out of the opium poppy, isn’t it?
No, cocoa plants.
Oh, don’t know them, but I know the old opium poppy, the round ones. We used to have


them growing.
Did you smoke it as well?
No, we used to just get the juice out of it. Yeah.
Was it good?
Yeah, very sweet, probably not enough to bong us out or anything
But give it a go anyway.
Yeah, well, we used to do that


as kids. Had these nice poppies. They were a beautiful poppy, but we weren’t there that long before we went up to Egypt and then that was excitement, or very boring with a few, broken by some excitement for the next,


what was that? No, the next 10 months at any rate. Then we went from, where did we go from there? From
You went from Palestine up to Egypt.
Egypt, yeah.
Whereabouts in Egypt?
Amiriya, just out of Amiriya? Yes, just outside Alexandria. We used to go into Alexandria


on leave and then we weren’t there that long before we pushed out.
So what was Alexandria like?
Very good, another ancient city that was well worth looking at. Don’t remember much about, ‘cause I’ve been there since then, so I’ve sort of forgotten the original. It hadn’t


changed much, not after what, 50 years. It was pretty well the same. I went back in 1992 and pretty well covered the same ground. Not from Palestine, didn’t go to
Must’ve been pretty exciting though for a young colonial boy?
Oh yes, it was,


we all thought it was all right and then it started to get a bit fair dinkum from then on. That was the, that sort of brought us back to earth quick and lively.
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 05


You were in Palestine. Tell us more about Palestine, your interaction with the people there? Did you get much chance?
Only the tradespeople, like we didn’t have a common language. Like Palestinians, they didn’t speak and English and we didn’t speak any Arabic so it didn’t,


unless they wanted to do business, they didn’t want anything to do with us either. No, I would wave to them, they’d wave back. That’s about all.
You were only basically in a transit camp in Palestine?
That’s all Palestine was, yeah.
Did you do any training there?
Just to relieve the boredom I think. There was no


dinky-di training.
No combat training?
No. There was no, you know, bivouacs or anything like that. Used to just go out and do a bit of rifle drill, marching and that was all.
What about the Arabs or the Palestinians for that matter? I’ve known that they were quite keen to get their hands on Australian


Oh yeah. Well, they were quite keen to get their hands on anything. If the Australians were there, we had to chain our rifles to the fence post of a night. Apparently they went. They used to thread a chain through the, take the bolts out and they’d put a chain through the trigger guard


and then whoever the senior one of the tent used to hold the key. But I think they were over doing it there. I didn’t hear of any of them going off, but apparently it must’ve went off somewhere for them to trigger it all off.
I was told that Australian troops, there were some Australian troops that sold their guns to the Arabs.
Probably, probably.


Some of them, they’d, some of the Australians they’d make a bob or two. They’d be into that too.
Did you hear about that?
I think that might’ve been what caused all the security probably raised from that, but I couldn’t vouch for it. I’d never, I didn’t know of anyone come up to me and said, oh, I made a few bob there.


I sold somebody’s rifle.
But it wouldn’t surprise you either?
It wouldn’t surprise me. No. Where there’s a dollar concerned I wouldn’t be surprised at anything that goes on.
Now Palestine, was there a booming sex industry there, a red light district?
Oh, I think every town where there’s


a mob of troops there’s a red light district.
Which area of Palestine, were you stationed?
I was at Beit Jirja, that’s where all the staging camps were, along there. But we went for leave in Tel Aviv and Jaffa and I daresay they had their red light districts, but they were all, see, Palestine in those days was a British protectorate. There was British police there


and of course they controlled everything. They used to run all these things. All the Red Caps used to look after this, but I daresay as I said, where there’s a mob of troops there’s got to be a red light district.
Were there Australian provos [Provosts: Military Police] as well?
Oh yeah. Oh yes, yes, they had their provos.


What were the Aussies like compared to the British provos?
Well, the British provos are just like police, like police force, and see, the Australian provos they were just volunteers like us, you know, for the duration of the war. But the British troops, they’d signed on for 10 or 20 years and of course then they had to elect to go into the military police.
So they were professional soldiers?
Yeah, they were


professionals. See, whereas the Australian provos, they, you joined up for the duration of the war. All right, they’d go into the provos. A lot of them went into the provos because they went in with two stripes. Corporals straight off, military police, so they were quite happy, and then there was the regimental police. That was the battalion


police but they had a job to do. They used to escort prisoners, bring up the ammunition and probably the pay and stuff, but that’s all the regimental police did.
What sort of foreign troops did you meet in Palestine?
Oh, foreign ones? What, the first time? Yeah, the first time going over, oh British,


that was all. Wasn’t too many of them. I don’t remember too many British troops. They were more, they weren’t army, they’d be police. Yeah, they’d be police. Civilian police just like the police are here ‘cause Palestine was a British protectorate.


They controlled Palestine. But yeah, that’s about all I think there.
Now I believe, what year did you go over in Palestine?
What year did you arrive in Palestine?
And you were in 6th or 7th Division?
I went over with the 6th Division.
6th Division. Now this is before the Syrian Campaign?
Oh yes, oh yes. This is before any campaign.
So what


were you preparing for after that? What took place after that, after Palestine?
Well, we went up to Egypt and that’s when they, while all this was going on the Italian army was coming down from Libya or [Cyrenaica] there in those days and they pushed right through to Egypt. They finished up in Sidi Barrani I think, and that’s when the 6th Division went up the, the original


6th, went up and pushed them back and by that time the reinforcements were all sorted out, and I finished up instead of joining the 6th Division I joined the engineers and we went up, we followed them up there, fixing up the roads and what have you. We didn’t have much to do in the


6th Division advance. Then we finished them right - we followed them up to Benghazi.
Is that past Bardia and Tobruk?
Yes, yes. That’s past Tobruk that was right up.
Near Tunisia was it?
Well, getting very close, yeah, getting very close.
Now you were a sapper?
Tell us what sort of work that involved


on the march from Sidi Barrani to Benghazi?
Now. Well it was road mending, rebuilding bridges. I remember that. Water pump, like water pumps water points, yeah, where they dug for bores.


See water was a problem over there, and all in all, that’s about all. There was no mine laying or anything there.
So you were a field engineer, not a pioneer?
No, no a field engineer. Then, and we were doing that right up to until we got to Benghazi


and then we stayed in Benghazi for, must’ve been February, March. Yeah, that’s right. I remember one particular bridge there we spent a long time rebuilding. Like what it done, the Italians when they retreated they blew up all the bridges, which is the only natural thing


to do, and of course not too many roads there. So we had to make, we had to be quick and lively and fix up the bridges, but that was all right, and mend the roads, but then when Rommel landed at Tripoli there, that’s when the fun started, really started.


Did you see any action at all when you were firing against the Italians?
Not a great deal, the Italians.
What did you see?
Well, we were more or less mopping up and fixing up the roads going up, but then the 6th Division, the powers that be reckoned they’d gone far enough,


pushed them the other side of Benghazi. So they brought up the 9th Division, the newly formed 9th Division, and then the 6th Division, they came back and they went to Greece and Crete, and we stayed up there. We more or less, more or less policed the place around Benghazi and Barce.


All right, tell us what, you would’ve marched through Tobruk. What did Tobruk look like once the Aussies had taken it over from the Italians?
What was it? A hell of a mess. I was just reading that last night in here, ‘cause we were there, what, two days, two days after it fell, the engineers, and of course we stayed a while in Tobruk because we had


to restore the water points and those sort of things being engineers. The harbour was in a hell of a mess. There were sunken ships everywhere and after we got that and more troops came in, we pushed on up to Derna, and then Benghazi, but by that time the


6th Division had gone. They’d all come back and went over, and then in the, while all that was going on, while we were around Barce and Benghazi rebuilding the bridges and patching up the aerodrome and that, Rommel landed further along the coast or he landed at Tripoli and of course


in Libya or (UNCLEAR)?
Yeah. Well Tripoli in Libya, there’s one in Syria.
Yeah, that’s right.
A Tripoli in Syria.
There’s one in Lebanon as well.
Yeah, well that’s the one. Well that’ll come later. We were there too but that was later.
I see. So what took place once you got to Benghazi? The Germans rocked up with Rommel?
What happened to


you there?
Well, the first thing we knew the Germans were all around us. They caught up with us and of course we had to scoot from there in a hurry and all the bridges and roads and the aerodromes that we’d patched up for the last two months, we had to blow them up again. Then we headed back to Tobruk and we went out to a place, Mekili,


out there, but then the Germans they were there. They were already there. What happened, Rommel was using his European tactics, you know, where he went around in a circle, and of course what we didn’t know is that he’d already taken Mekili and we were heading out there. That was a Foreign Legion fort out in the desert a bit, and of course when we got there or near it, we didn’t get there,


the Pommies were coming towards us, you know, saying, “They’re coming, they’re coming”. I always remember. “Who’s coming?” “The Germans are coming”. So boy, we about turned, we shot there and then we raced for Tobruk. He hadn’t been there but he was around it. We didn’t know this, and of course we went straight through Tobruk and ran smack bang into him on the other side around Sollum there.


And of course he chased us back to Tobruk again and that’s when it all, that’s when the siege started. That was Good Friday, 1941, April 11th. I remember that. That was our home for the next 166 days we stayed there.
You were there for


166 days?
166 days, yeah.
About five months, isn’t it?
It was a long time, yeah.
Tell us when you were in these operations did you face any air strikes from Germans or Italians?
Well, tell us about these air strikes?
Well, it wasn’t the Italians. They were the high flyers. They’d drop in from about two miles up,


but the Huns in the Stukas, they were the boys. I remember that one you were looking at - that water tower. I went there. Early in the piece we were out there laying mines and if you read in one of those books there where it was the minefield that stopped the Germans getting in there. Any rate, we were all, like the 13th Field Company, we were out there


laying these mines there and these Stukas came over and I had a navy blue sweater on. Not a khaki one like they were issued with over there. This was a navy blue one that I had issued in Melbourne here, and of course with the navy blue sweater it stood out like a neon sign, and I can still hear this Stuka coming down and I could see the little


spurts of dirt coming up just in front of my nose. I didn’t think a man could dig into rock, but by hell I did that day. Any rate, he finished up, Rommel, he finished up taking the water tower but when he pushed on he ran into all these mines and that’s what crippled him. He didn’t get into Tobruk.


So you can remember the battle, the land battle?
That one.
That one.
Yeah, well actually that was the only one I was tangled up with until we got to Alamein.
How close were you to the front?
Well, that was the front.
So you were amongst the infantry itself right at the front positions?
Well, I think the infantry were behind us. We were out there laying mines and the infantry were back consolidating. See, they wanted the minefield in front of them.


But you’ve got to imagine over there, it wasn’t as if one lot was there and the other lot was over on that wall. They was like hundreds of yards apart. It wasn’t as if you could just throw a grenade over, drop them over.
Did you ever see


German infantry or run into them?
Oh yes, oh yes.
Tell us about that?
Oh yes, big blond boys, big fellows. Yes. We were out, no, that was at Alamein, that’s another story. But we could hear them, like we done most of our work of a night, the engineers, because they


had these landmines, trip wires, you know, anti-personnel mines. You know what they are.
Of course, yes.
Yeah, and they all had trip wires and that’s, that was our job to go out, or when the infantry found them we’d have to go out and delouse them. That was our job. As a matter of fact, my brother, brother


Jack, he was out in a party. I don’t know whether it was him that set it off or one of the infantry, but any rate, one of them set it off and he was, he didn’t cop the lot of it but he copped quite a bit of it, him and a few others. These jumping jacks, they used to be in the ground and then they’d jump up and then explode.
Yes, I’ve heard of them.
Yeah, yes, wherever they were they’d, anyone within that vicinity would get,


they’d get hit.
Have you seen them explode?
Oh yes, oh yes.
How high can they go up?
They only come up about waist height. That was the idea of them, only jumped about three feet, like daisy cutters and then they’d just boonk. They were about the size of a five-pound jam


tin. You know, I’m looking around for something. They were only about that round, a bit bigger than, there they are, about a five pound jam tin, and they had an explosive that blew them out of the ground and another explosive in them that scattered the stuff as soon as they got up. Yes, they were pretty dangerous those things.
You didn’t actually give me


some details about the German infantry you came across.
No, well they were like us. You know, there were only pockets of them. They didn’t march in, I would say they were pretty well the same as what we were, but I don’t think there was that many infantry there. They were just, they were used for everything over there, the Panzers, they were used in, you know, on


tanks and armoured cars ‘cause they didn’t have infantry as such. The same as we did, they didn’t march in columns or anything. They were quick moving. They’d have, I should imagine they would’ve had so many to a vehicle and that’s how they were able to sort of encircle them. That was, actually that was


the first time that Tobruk, was the first time that Rommel had been held. Prior to that he’d got away with everything. It was the first time he’d, and I don’t think he liked it, the old boy. You’ll read it in that book.
What was your view of Rommel when you first heard of him? When did you first hear about him?
When he landed in Tripoli.


How did you hear about him when he landed at Tripoli?
He was knocking on the doorstep, great panic going on.
What, the commanders would come and tell you?
Yeah, like it’d come down the line. He was able to move that fast and this is what floored everybody, and then he moved too fast and that’s what floored him because he couldn’t


get into Tobruk. If he had have got into Tobruk it would’ve been a different story altogether, but he couldn’t get into Tobruk, so he had to encircle it and that means he had all his supplies, his food and ammunition and all that stuff had to come from up at Tripoli. See, ‘cause there was no other deep-sea port.
Tobruk was the last one?
Tobruk was the last one, that’s what he wanted, and the next one to that


was Tripoli. See, when he couldn’t get into Tobruk, the next one was Alexandria. Of course that’s how Alamein came about because he was knocking on the doors of Alex. See, Alamein’s only 70 odd miles or something from Alex and once he got Alex it was goodnight nurse.


And what held him up there was Tobruk. He couldn’t get past there. He did eventually but by then it was too late.
What was it like to fight in the desert in North Africa? What were the problems you encountered being an engineer?
Well, I suppose


the, well the living conditions for a start. They weren’t the sweetest but then everyone had that. Mines were the greatest bugbear because the German mines, they were very clever and then you had to find out how they worked and then of course being an ordinary sapper


we couldn’t find out ourselves. They had to be - someone had to bring one in for them to study it. Once we got over that we were all right, but we used to, the infantry would go out on patrols but their main worry, their main thing was to get prisoners and of course they’d have to take engineers with them in case they


struck some of these anti-personnel mines. That’s where we used to take our turn. Like, I went out a few times. Well, I said the brother went out, he got wounded. Others went out, they weren’t so lucky. Some of them, quite a few of them got killed, but we used to live with the infantry for a week at a time. I don’t know how those poor coots put up with it because we had a week and then we’d go back down to the


beach, but they’d have to stay there all the time. We didn’t do too bad really. Old Harold, if you ever get talking to Harold, he’ll be able to tell you.
What was the ration of food?
Ah, now that’s a, I’m glad you asked that one.
Better not be bully beef and biscuits.


Well that was how it was, bully beef and biscuits, and the army biscuits, did they ever tell you about them? A square biscuit as hard, they were like a tile, they were about as hard as a tile. The only way you could eat them was to soak them for about 24 hours. No, it was. They broke more blessed teeth those things. And the bully beef,


well, you can’t do much with bully beef. By variation we’d get goldfish - fish and tomato sauce, you know, herrings and tomato sauce, plain herrings. Goldfish - we used to call them.
What did the British troops get?
The same,


everyone was on the same.
Bully beef and biscuits?
Yeah, that’s all. See, one thing about Tobruk, early in the piece there were a lot of Italian rations left there. There was a food dump there. We used to raid that until they threatened to shoot us ‘cause they had to hoard that, and if it wasn’t for the navy, see, the navy used to bring it in. They’d bring supplies in of a night but destroyers,


they could only carry a certain amount and then they’d take the wounded out and bring fresh troops in, but they couldn’t carry that much, but then they couldn’t do that all the time because a full moon, full moon for a week, it was just like daylight, so they couldn’t come in. And then as I was saying before, they had a bird’s-eye view of all of Tobruk from the water


tower and of course they had, their long-range guns could reach anywhere in Tobruk. Of course if they could see any activity they’d bring the long-range guns on. So the only reason they could do was bring in of a night and trust the luck that they didn’t do any haphazard shelling, but what they used to do there, the destroyers, they’d bring in the rations and they’d dump it


on one of the wrecks. They’d fill up one of the wrecks and get out as quick as possible. So they could get back to, not right back to Alexandria, but get out of the range of Tobruk there before daylight. And then what they’d do, they’d send the troops out in lighters.


I had it a couple of times, and unload it during the day onto lighters and bring it into shore. No one ever wanted that job. As I said, he had open slather on to the harbour and even if he couldn’t see you he used to just drop shells every now and again and you never knew when one was coming. Then there was the air-raids of course.


How often did you have air-raids in Tobruk?
Were they just a couple of planes here and there sort of thing or more significant air-raids?
There were decent air-raids. They’d keep you on your toes, or if they happened to see a bit of activity they’d come over in a mob because they had a big airfield at Derna, which is just along the coast and once they got that there was activity going on in the harbour, that was it.


No one ever wanted to go into the town. You could always get into Tobruk town, not that there was anything there mind you.
That was headquarters, wasn’t it?
Oh yes, it was wall underground, the navy that was all underground there. The hospital was there, it was a stupid place to have the hospital, and then next door to the hospital they had the blessed workshops.


But if it wasn’t for the navy we would’ve been, well we wouldn’t have survived, that’s for sure. Two Australian destroyers were sunk there, they’re still there I think, or they probably got them out by now.
You were present when the battle for The Salient took place?
Oh yeah.
What happened in that battle?


Did you see much of that?
Is that the one with the mining, you put the mines?
Yeah, that was it, that was the start of it. Of course they came in that night, they came in that night and they took the water tower, The Salient, that was the hill there and pushed all the Australians back and then they brought the tanks in but that’s when the tanks got caught in the


minefield. It was just, what he used to do, the tanks would come in and behind the tanks was the infantry. As the tanks went past the infantry would close in on, and the Australians, the infantry of the Australians, they were too good for them. They, where the tank traps were, the tanks would go over them


and they’d drop down into the tank traps and as soon as the tanks went past the Australian infantry were up and they were into them, and they in turn would bottle up the tanks that had gone through. You’ve got to remember that Salient was about, I think was about 12 or 14 miles out of the harbour, like it was well out.


But they could still see.
Did you meet any Indian troops there?
Oh yes, yes, they were there.
What were they like? I mean they wouldn’t have had bully beef and biscuits, would they?
Well, they wouldn’t get anything else.
They had a different appetite, different stomachs?
Well, they must’ve, or they’d get used to, it was either that or starve.


I don’t know what their staple diet was.
Did you meet any of the Sikhs?
Oh yeah, they had
They’d be there with their turbans and their beards. Funny there, they’d wrap it around. God, they had long hair. They’re the Sikhs, are they?


Did you find the Indians to be formidable soldiers?
What was the impression of Indians amongst Aussies?
They were very good, very good. I never ever worked with them but there was all sorts of stories coming back, you know. They’d go out on patrol and they’d come back with a row of ears threaded on a bit of wire and things like this. I never ever, didn’t ever see it.


But I wouldn’t be at all surprised with them because they never ever said much. Oh no, then towards the finish there I got, there’s a medal up there from the Polish. The Poles took over. We came under, what was left, like all the time they were, when I say all the time, from about


July on I think, no, it might’ve been, yeah, about July on, they were taking troops out and they were bringing Polish troops back in, and it got to a stage there, there was more Polish troops than Australian. We came under the Polish Army. Colin’s [Interviewer] there, if he stands up he can see the Polish medal there.
What were the Polish


Army like?
They were all right. Up on the wall there, see it. No, up, see them up there? Yeah, the one on, no, not that one, the one on, the medal on the, you can lift that down. Yeah, yes, well that’s the Polish medal.
Tell us about the Polish Army, what were they like?
They were all right. Couldn’t understand them of course but they were all right. They had a job, I was in


the hospital there, not the hospital but the casualty clearing station there. I’d got scalded all down one leg there and they put me in the hospital there and there was a Polish fellow there and you couldn’t understand a word he said.
What did you find the diseases were like in the Middle East and North Africa? You talking about hospitals and things, you know, in New Guinea you get scrub


typhus, malaria. What did you get in North Africa, what was the equivalent there?
Well, I’m blowed if I know. Well, I didn’t get anything.
I suppose gonorrhoea was a problem in North Africa?
Well yes, but if there’s no females around, there’s no gonorrhoea. Unless, they used to always, they used to always say those sort of diseases, the ordinary troops, they contracted in the traditional


way at brothels and that, but officers and padres they got it off toilet seats. I don’t know how much truth was in that mind you.
I’ve heard worse. I heard another, there were a few guys that contracted gonorrhoea a few times while they were on service.
Yeah, oh yeah.
Do you know of any people?
No, no.
who have contracted gonorrhoea,


Oh yes. They just always reckoned you could always tell if someone’s got it when they’re in the toilet and they can twist the cistern off the wall. They reckon (UNCLEAR). I never ever, that’s just hearsay.


What were the things - were there any diseases at all, I mean outside the STDs, [Sexually Transmitted Diseases] which are, anything peculiar to North Africa?
No. I think there were some fevers, you know, there was sand-fly fever and all that, but I never ever got it. The worst thing that happened to me there was I pulled a


tub of boiling water of my legs. That was all. I had to go into hospital and they had an air-raid shelter, they used to call them, over the leg, but not serious enough to send me out. But the sand, sand used to play up with the ears and things like that.
Sand must’ve been a big problem.
Oh yes, sand was.


The flies were a bad thing. Fleas, they were a menace.
How did you get rid of the fleas?
Just take your blanket out, shook it and that’s about all, but they were in the sand, so they were always there, but they were, but, what else was another one?
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 06


Okay, I’d like to take you back a little bit now, back to Egypt, is it Hoki Mariut?
Ikingi Mariut. I, well, write it as you pronounce it I think. It’ll probably be wrong.
Okay, well Egypt.
You became or you joined


an engineer’s corps now. Tell us what sort of training you did?
None. None whatsoever. None whatsoever, you just learnt as you went along. We were trained as infantry like with weapon handling and all the rest of it and then when we got over there, we didn’t even


go anywhere near it. In fact we’d be flat out even sloping arms.
What about mines and explosive training?
Well no one knew anything about it because the Germans were just inventing these as they went along. Although the British had mines too, but they were just straight forward ones, no fancy


stuff about it. You soon learn how to handle them, but any rate that wasn’t delousing them. We were burying them, covering them over. Just priming them, and there was nothing to learn about those, about the Gypo mines.
So they just handed you some mines and said, go to it,
That’s right.
work it out for yourself?
Go to it, well the NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] probably just showed us


where to put the detonator and away we went.
And you were allowed to lay them wherever you wanted?
Oh no, they were laid to a pattern and, as a matter of fact this could be interesting too. Over in, well this is in 1992, notices, they’ve got notices all along the main road there, “Beware of Mines”, “Minefield”. They’re still there. No one


knows where they are, and you walk over there at your own risk now. It’s a wonder they haven’t all gone off but I suppose they covered over, uncovered, covered over, uncovered with the shifting sands, but they’ve got them, “Danger Area”, out there.
So you were given a specific area to mine?
Oh yes.


That’s shown up on that map there. Usually in front of the infantry it was done. Like the infantry had, they had their trenches, especially in Tobruk because the defences were already dug there. The Italians had fortified the place years before and all the Australians had to do was go and clean them out and use them again, and the engineers, we put up barbed wire in front of


them and then beyond the barbed wire the minefield, and that was to protect them, and that was our job.
As you said, you were also defusing or making safe German mines?
German mines, yeah.
Were you trained in doing that as well?
No. Someone went out and got caught, like brother of


mine, he went out. That’s how they discovered they were there and someone brought back a live one, and then some bright spark, they examined it and found out a way how to delouse it and that was passed down, so we knew what to do, and all it was just a bit of bent wire, that was all. Like I was showing you on that thing there, you just slide it through.


So for the benefit of those who couldn’t see what you showed me before, can you describe the process of delousing a mine?
Now it all depends what sort of mine. Some of them had a flash cap on them, but as soon as the plugs are dropped you set the flash cap off. That in turn would explode the detonator, which in turn would explode the main charge.


The idea was to take the flash cap out and then it didn’t matter even if it was activated. There was no flash cap there to send the next charge off. There was no harm done. That’s all there was to it, and the other anti-personnel mines, they


were, you’d come along and you’d walk on them, walk on the three pronged ones, you walk on them and that would activate the charge underneath, and all that we had to do was go and put a pin in them to stop it going down. That’s all it was, was that. Like it’s easier said than done of course, but that’s all that had to be done there.
So if somebody walked on a mine


they would have to stay there. As soon as they stepped off it would go up?
No, no, once you stepped on it that set it going. That, you pressed the detonator then and that set the main charge off.
So once it had been stepped on there’s no way of delousing it?
No way of - you’ve started it.


So how did you find mines to delouse them?
We’ll, we’d go around on our hands and knees. Once the infantry found a minefield or, we’d go around on our hands and knees finding these little prongs.


what do you mean?
They came up, I had one there. Wait a minute, it’s no good showing you if it’s not on the, but any rate there were three prongs sticking up and you’d stand on it and that would activate the mine underground which in turn would jump up and then explode, and our job was to find these three prongs, follow, and just underneath the three prongs there was


a safety pin there that went off, but to activate it they took the safety pin out and then in the ground and once you stepped on it that was it. The engineer’s job was to go down, find the prongs underneath, put a bit of wire through and that would stop it going down then and made it safe.
So would you just feel around in the sand with your


Yeah, across, yeah. Like they weren’t below the surface, they were sticking up.
There must’ve been some danger that you would step on one?
Oh yeah. They were always stepping on them and that’s how they knew they were in a minefield once they started to go off.
Did any of your blokes step on a mine?
Oh gosh, yes.


Oh yes, Jack Gardiner, he was one. I don’t know whether my brother stood on one, but a lot of them, a lot of them. If they didn’t then the infantry did, but there was another sort of mine that just dropped from aeroplanes there. Like they were an anti-personnel mine, thermos bombs they used to call them. They were like a thermos bottle and they’d float down to the ground


and once they’re on the ground and touched, up they’d go. I think there’s quite a few Australian soldiers walking around with their toes off and fingers off through playing with those. They’d see it and give it a kick and up it would go, or they’d pick it up and up it would go. They were anti-personnel mines, nasty little things.
Was there any way of delousing them?
No, not that I know of.


There could’ve been but the only way was to stand back and shoot at them. There could’ve been but I never got that job thank goodness, yeah.
So with all these, woops. Right, we were


speaking about the thermos bombs.
Thermos bombs, yeah.
As you say, a lot of people were killed by (UNCLEAR)
I don’t know about, I don’t know whether they were big enough to kill them. They’d maim them. They’d knock a foot off or take fingers off.
Did you ever see this?
I didn’t see it actually happen. I’d seen


the bombs, these thermos bombs, they were dropped by planes. They’d come over of a night and just throw them around the place, and of course, people would come along and happen to see it there, looked like a thermos, and pounce on it and that was it. Once they rattled they were gone, just an anti-personnel one.
What about the regular


mines, did you ever see any of those detonate?
Well, there was one big land mine there I know I can remember in Tobruk Harbour, and I didn’t see it go off actually, but I did see it like after it was dropped. It must’ve been lowered by parachute, a big land mine. It was a huge thing and it fell by the side of the road there, you know, lowered down by parachute but they detonated it somehow.


Some engineers, it wasn’t us though, not that I knew of.
Nobody in your unit was, hurt by a mine while you were around?
I’d been out on patrol there when these booby traps had gone off but I didn’t know it was any of ours at the time because it was all dark.
Did you see it go off?


Well it was night-time and someone must’ve stood on it and up she went.
Was anybody hurt?
Yeah, Jack Gardiner, he was one. Some of the infantry could’ve been wounded too. See, they covered such a wide field once they went off, these


jumping jacks.
Jumping jacks?
Well, that’s what they used to call them, jumping jacks. They’d jump out of the ground get up about waist height and go.
So basically from Egypt you did mainly road?
Yeah, road


and bridge work. Some of us, like not, see, allocated, you know, one to a water point and some to maintain, had to keep the water open in Tobruk because there was very little water there. They did have a bore I think, but,


then they had a distillery going there. They used to distil it out of seawater but we had nothing to do with that, you know. At any rate all the water they got out of that was harmless. There was a water point down near our camp there, Wadi, I just forget the name.


When you got to Tobruk what was the main operations you were involved with?
Patching roads, different ones, I think they were restoring power, I think power stations.


They were all busy as bees there. I think the first thing in Tobruk there was, the first job was to go out and make good


the fortress, the strong hold, you know. They were all filled with sand and all the rest of it. So we had to go out and clean, well, they were tank traps and things like that. Morshead, that was actually on the way back, but going up there the main thing was patching the roads. That’s the thing I can remember.
How did you patch the roads?
Like the Italians


there they had a big dump there. There was road maintenance, like a big road maintenance depot there with drums of bitumen there, and that’s what we done - we went out and patched the road, we got that ready. Where was another place? Oh, up beyond Tobruk, that’s right. They had a road maintenance plant, you know.


I don’t know what they call them. All that we had to do there was just to go and get it, go and get the stuff and take it out on the roads and just fill up the holes. I don’t know how long it lasted mind you, but it was good enough.
Did you enjoy this work?
Well, we didn’t have much option. Whether we like it or not it had to be done. So was no good


sitting back and looking at it. Of course when we came back from Benghazi there, Morshead, he made sure everyone was working. The infantry was out manning the perimeter and then the rest were all working busy as bees.


Because the, you couldn’t do much digging there, because the ground, the sand only went down about a foot or 18 inches or so and then you struck rock. Of course that wasn’t much help.


But altogether, even 50 years later the place hadn’t changed. The tank traps and trenches, they all got full of sand of course. I’ve got some photos there, but there it is.
Did you find the work hard?
When you’re 19 years old you don’t


find it hard. Yes, you don’t. I had my 20th birthday in Tobruk.
Tell us about your birthday.
There’s nothing to say, it was just another day.
No presents from the others?
No presents, no, no presents. We got a mail occasionally but there was


no celebrations, no big wild parties or anything.
Did you have a few beers?
There was no beer to have, so it didn’t matter. No, she was a dry old period that.
What about the


mine work, did you enjoy that? Delousing mines and setting mines?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t like it one little bit because they were starting to get, it was getting that way that some of the mines, the other side they were just as cunning, as you’d delouse one, they probably had


another one in that mine set up too that you didn’t know about. So you’d be chortling there as you fixed it, but you hadn’t fixed it.
But nobody got hurt?
No. I know one stage of the game that was at Alamein there, one mine, I went out there and I thought I’d deloused it and I just


pulled the trip wire and let the hammer go down and I brought it back and what had happened, the detonator had been put in upside down and there was a hole right in the end of the detonator, went right into it. There was no flash cap. A flash cap would’ve sent it off, but how it didn’t go off I don’t know. Well, thank goodness it didn’t.


I’m still here because it didn’t. It would’ve shortened my breathing time quite a bit I’d say.
(UNCLEAR) [Are you] too hot?
No, it’s all right.
Okay, now the Siege of Tobruk is a famous time.
Oh yes.


is renowned because of the endurance shown by the Australians.
Now tell us about that. What was so difficult about that time and what made it possible for the Australians to get through?
Well for a start, the navy. The navy, they kept us supplied, so I suppose in the true sense of the word that’s not quite a


siege, is it? Not like the Siege of Mafeking. They were completely surrounded with no food. But at least we could get a bit of food, and then there was, what was the other place, Berlin wasn’t it? The Berlin airlift where they couldn’t get food there but they supplied them from air, from the air. See, they, well they’re not quite


sieges, are they, when you can supply? But without the navy we’d never have lasted. That goes without saying ‘cause they managed to bring supply and ammunition.
I guess the term, the Rats of Tobruk, came about because of their sort of annoying tactics of going out at night often (UNCLEAR)
No, no. Actually that was


by all accounts, that was founded by Lord Haw-Haw. He was a, what was his name, Joyce I think, Joyce. He was an Englishman. He must’ve been a bright old Englishman for all that. Anyway, he joined the propaganda team over in Germany and he used to broadcast at night. We used to look forward to that too because you’d get a good laugh, but he knew everything that was


going on, and we got, and he was saying, “You Rats of Tobruk”, he says, “You’re caught like rats in a trap”, you know. And of course they pounced on that. The infantry, they all pounced on that. They reckoned that was good, the Rats of Tobruk, but he didn’t know at the time it’d still be going.


I think he, I think he didn’t commit suicide. I think he was condemned to death, wasn’t he, Joyce? Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Lord Haw-Haw any rate. ‘Cause they got that way and they dropped that leaflet over there. That’s one of the leaflets they dropped. They wanted us to surrender. Caught like rats in a trap. That’s how that came about.


Okay, but at any rate one of the characteristics of the Siege of Tobruk was the fact that the Australians could go out and (UNCLEAR)
Yes, well that was Morshead’s policy, go out and harass the enemy.
What part did the sappers play in that?
Well they used to go out, they’d clear the minefields for a start.


See, we’d go out one night and we’d clear a track through for the infantry to go and then they’d come back and by the next night, the track, they couldn’t stay out there all night. By the time we came back the, by the time the infantry came back there, there’d be more, there’d be more booby traps put there. So it was a, there always had to be sappers out there. Not


necessarily the same ones. We used to just take it in turns and work with different battalions.
Given the process you described before of finding the mines and delousing them, how did you do that at night?
By feel. You see you got to know the mine. You knew as soon as you went in you felt the three prongs, well you knew where it, you knew the make up of it, so


you just felt down until you felt the little hole through the, through the, what was it called, the stem, the stalk or whatever, and just put a bit of wire in and that stopped it going down then. ‘Cause that was the main mine they used. I don’t know how the Germans got on delousing our mines. I suppose they did.


But any rate, you see the tank mines they were big ones. They were about that round and of course as the tanks went over the pressure would send them off and to blow the tracks off and the wheels off cars or trucks or anything like that. They’d disable them at any rate. They couldn’t move.


Now what happened to your brother during this time ‘cause he was injured, wasn’t he?
Yes, well he came, they brought him out of Tobruk on one of the destroyers and brought him back to the hospital in Alexandria.
What happened to him?
I don’t know whether it was him. Someone in the party that he was with must’ve stepped on one of these mines and he was one of them that got caught with the shrapnel,


but he turned up back at Tobruk there later on. You know, three or four months later. He’d recovered enough to come back.
Was it just a piece of shrapnel in his arm?
Yeah, but it had whacked the bone, you know, and chipped it and all sorts of complications, and I think in the back too. Not enough to stop him but it caught up with him after the war.


There was quite a few of them went out and then came back. I left there, when did I go, September, October, never to return, which I did though 60 years later, 50 years later.
You mentioned briefly before that you got, scalded by some hot water.
Oh yes,


that was just off a primus. I must’ve had a too big a bucket on the primus or something and got it hot and it was only just balanced there and I must’ve knocked it and it just spilled all over me. They just sort of, I went down to the RAP. They just wrapped me in, smothered me in ointment but nothing serious. Well serious like blistered and all the rest of it, but I soon got over


that. That was, apart from, that was about the worst thing that happened to me apart from the usual wog sores.
What was that?
Wog sores, if you get a little scratch or anything it was, the ground was so dirty it would just fester and it you sort of neglected them it would go, they’d spread. But we were lucky really. I suppose we had the sea there


and once you get into the salt water that kept everything pretty clean. All in all, provided you weren’t hit with anything, your health was pretty good. But as I said, the Polish brigade came in towards, in


August, they started to come in in August, that’s right.
How did you find the Polish?
Very good. You couldn’t understand them of course but that didn’t matter. They were there, they were all on the one side. We were all on the same side, but boy, they must’ve had a rough old, they must’ve had a rough old go during the war, that mob,


the Polish, because that was the first place that Hitler went into. He made an example of them too.
Could any of them speak English?
Well actually down at Box Hill there, I had a Polish fellow opposite me and like I knew he was there but I didn’t like to go over and talk to him,


and when the Polish ambassador came out and presented us with a Polish medal and of course it was all in Polish, I took it over to Peter and see if he could interpret it for me and we finished up good mates. I used to go along to the Polish club with him.
So he was in Tobruk as well?


No, no. Some of the Poles were. At the Polish club, no, he was at the, what was the ghetto there? Wait a minute, the
No, no, Warsaw, the ghetto, Warsaw ghetto. He put the time in there,


but he took me over and at the Polish club there were two or three Rats there. It was good. They really made me welcome.
How did you get on with the other fellows at Tobruk? Were you popular?
I don’t know about popular, none of them came around and done


my washing or anything like that. We all got on all right. We had no option. If we didn’t get on all right that would be two forces we had to reckon with.
Well sometimes people get on, sometimes people don’t get on.
Oh yeah, especially locked up. I often wonder how they get on on board these little destroyers and that. They’d have to, they’d


have to be, well be mutual agreement over some things. They couldn’t all, you couldn’t fight all day that’s for sure. Well it’s the same like when people are thrown together for any length of time. Joe Eaton and I, Cocky, we shared the same hole there for all the time we were in Tobruk,


unless we were working of a night. In fact there was a fellow by the name of Merv Sheriff, a Queenslander, good old Merv, dead and gone.
Well if you were sharing a hole with the bloke how did you pass the time?
We’d be talking and yakking. There was no lights, no lights in Tobruk of a night.


Used to go for bits of a walk only you couldn’t go too far because you’d have to find your way back. There was no pictures to go to. Now that you come to mention it I don’t know how, yeah, all that time. I don’t know what the hell we done.
Did you play cards?
Well there was no light, unless you got into a, if you got into an absolute


dark hole there that meant there was no air too, so you were in real trouble then.
What about singing songs?
Oh yes, they used to have a bit of community singing. I think the orderly room at headquarters there, if you like to go walking, finding your way down there. I think they had a wireless


there. You know, you’d go looking for the news, and the Salvation Army, they’d come around with coffee. You know, they had a battered old van that used to come around. Always remember the coffee there. I don’t know what they made it out of.
Was it good or bad?
Anything was good then.


What was particular about the coffee?
Well, it didn’t taste like coffee, put it that way, but everything had a peculiar taste there. See, there was no fresh vegetables or anything. We used to get vitamin C tablets. We used to take one of these tablets a day. That was our vegies.


As you said, there wasn’t much water, there wasn’t any beer, what did you do for liquid?
The water, you had to boil it up because it was that chlorinated you couldn’t drink it. You’d boil it up and just let it settle and it was passable, but you got used to it.


All your joints would come out white. You’d be white here behind the knees, under the arms. It was
What’s that from?
That’s from the water. It was all bore water. I suppose it would be the minerals in the ground.
Sending your joints white? I’ve never heard that before.
Oh no, the sweat, you know,


it would brush off. It would come out of all, not really, but where you were sweating there you’d see a white rim.
Did you ever see any dust storms?
Yes. Not too many thank goodness. I remember there was one when we first hit Egypt there was a beauty. We had to have


a rope from the tent over to the mess hut to find your way, or find your way back. But a couple in Tobruk there, they couldn’t even feed us. They’d just, someone would go up there and get a tin of bully and some bikkies or something and bring them back, or tinned sausages or something. One thing about when there was dust, no one could do anything.


So after Tobruk where did you go to from there?
Out of Tobruk, what did we do? I came out on the Hotspur, HMS Hotspur to Alexandria, down to Palestine. From Palestine we went up to, that brought us up into


’92 I think. Wait till I just
You didn’t go to Alamein?
Yeah, Alamein came later. When did we shift? I know we were up in, without going to this all the time. We were up in Lebanon for Christmas. I know that because I can remember it was a real


old English Christmas, snow everywhere. That’s right, I went to hospital then, that’s right. I came out in tinea all over me.


I don’t know what brought it on because - anyway I had it all over me it was. Put me in hospital at Lebanon in Cedars. In fact I think I had Christmas, but any rate we were up in Lebanon and then we went from there to Tripoli.


That’s where we went into the oil refinery barracks in Tripoli. We, no, we didn’t maintain them but we were sort of guarding. That was good there because we could go into Tripoli or down to Beirut. It was quite a good break there, and that’s, oh, we went down to Haifa to a bridging school down there


and then that brought us into, we must’ve put about six months there, because I know in June we were all getting bored out of our wits there because it was so boring, nothing to do and then we got this call to Alamein, and that was in early, that was in June.


That’s right. That was in June. We hit Alamein and that’s when the fun really did start.
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 07


Yes, tell us about El Alamein and your experience there?
Yeah, well plenty of dogfights, Alamein, carting mines. That’s the 9th July we started to mine at Alamein. I can remember that and I think around about the 10th,


must’ve been a couple of days later, that’s when the Germans came down. They were hell bent for Alexandria and the Australians were there and they held them at Alamein. It’s history from then on. They held Alamein until the 23rd October I think or 24rd October, that’s when the Battle of Alamein


started. Rommel was held there, that’s what stumped him. That’s when Montgomery came and took over then.
So you were laying mines there?
Yeah, but it was really tank warfare there. The more mines you could get down the better.


It was a real old hard slog that. Alamein, well it was just, as I say it was just static warfare from July to October and that’s when the big push started.
Were you involved in the big push?
Yes, they were leading up to it there, but the Australians


didn’t have, once they started it they didn’t go too far. Once the Germans were on the run the Australians more or less dropped out of it.
What do you mean dropped out?
Well they didn’t go, didn’t follow the Germans up. The British took over, but the main push was very early in July


when the Australians pushed and took, what was it, they called it the Hill of Jesus, but any rate it was Hill 306. It was the highest point around. Well the Australians took that and the Germans never every got it back. That was the turning point, turning point of the whole lot.
Did you lose any mates in those battles?
Yes. There was quite a few went off at


Alamein, Arthur Keeley, Jock Broadford, Roy Costello, Eric Smith, quite a few went there. Oh yes, she was really hot stuff there. In fact there was another one, Keith Christie’s brother, what was his name? I didn’t know him but he was the 23rd, 24th Battalion.


He died of wounds there. But that was I think the really turning point of the whole war, was Alamein.
Did you have any close experiences yourself there?
Yes, yeah.
Can you tell us about them?
Well one night we were out, what were we doing? Oh, putting


up barbed wire, that was it, along the road there and a patrol came along and this Jock Broadford, the pair of us there was stretching out a piece of wire and I remember Jock saying, “Infantry patrol”, and they said, “Yes”, and with that they let fly with everything, you know, Tommy guns and they got old Jock but


the rest of us, we all ducked, we all went in all directions, but I think they just happened to concentrate on Jock. He was the closest.
And he got killed?
Oh yes, yes. We went after things quietened down and a couple of us went out and got him and he was dead then because I had him under the knees and carried him back in and he was cold then.


Yes, there’s some fun and games at Alamein.
Did you have any other sort of experiences like that in North Africa?
Probably out on patrols there but no individual done such a, done many patrols. Like we all took our turn.
You did patrols as well?


Oh yeah. Well the infantry, when the infantry went out they used to always have an engineer with them in case they found a minefield, and then they, the engineers had to be there to open the barbed wire and let them back in. Always wondered how that infantry


were able to read those compasses and they’d go out and they’d come back to the exact spot. They were good, yeah they were very good.
So how far did you go after the Battle of El Alamein? How far were you sent forward with the operation?
Alamein finished. We were all Australians. Like when we came back we all came to Australia then. That was in


February. That’s right. They had the usual big parade over there with the Duke of Gloucester and all the rest of it, and then we came back, and when did we come back, in February? February ’43, that’s right, and we stayed


here for a while and then went up to New Guinea.
Were you still with the 9th or the 6th?
No, the 9th.
You were with the 9th?
Yes, the 6th had gone years ago, two years before.
They were fighting in New Guinea?
The 6th were in New Guinea, or the 7th in New Guinea. See, New Guinea absorbed a lot of troops there, a lot of different places, but up in New Guinea I only went to,


I only went to one that was Lae and Finschhafen. Although when I first landed it was at Milne Bay but all the fighting was over by then. Then I went from Milne Bay around to Buna and then I think the jumping off place for Finschhafen was Buna. That was the initial fighting was at Finschhafen, but that’s all I did do there.
All right. Let’s go over that again. You went, you


came back from Egypt. Tell us about the voyage back to Australia.
Oh, that was on the [HMS] Queen Mary, so there’s nothing to say there. If you knew the Queen Mary, well it was bigger than Numurkah. So you was, you didn’t call anywhere, you just went down, nothing to do. That was most boring,


that one.
Where did you stop over on the way?
On the Queen Mary?
It didn’t stop anywhere, except a ride on the Queen Mary. It was too big to get in anywhere. It pulled into the middle of Sydney Harbour and then they had to use ferries to get us off that to the docks. You couldn’t pull up anywhere. That was the biggest ship afloat in those days.


How did you react to the Japanese capturing Singapore?
Well, it was all just hearsay to us. We couldn’t have done anything about it, it didn’t matter, but that was a real


shemozzle, that one.
So how did the troops react over there? You said it was just hearsay.
We didn’t know what was going on except that Singapore had fallen and there was nothing we could do about it.
You would’ve heard about the 8th Division being swamped up?
Oh yeah. Oh yes, as a matter of fact there was a lot of them coming back from the Middle East there got caught too. They went, I think


the 2nd Pioneers I think they lost a lot. They went into some place and then the Japs just closed the harbour on them. I don’t know where that was. Oh yes, there were some decent old mistakes made.


Once the Japanese were thrown out of New Guinea, well that was the finish, well, for them, what with the, I think early in the piece down near, when they were fighting out from Moresby, I think that was the 6th Div. That’s what saved it.


I didn’t know too much what was going on there. Only what little bit I was in, that was all.
A lot of soldiers up there, did they want to come home and fight the Japs?
Oh, no. I think they’d just had enough, but apparently the politicians thought so because they got us home and then just sent us straight up to New Guinea.


How did the troops, before we get to the New Guinea aspect of it, how did you and your mates deal with the American presence in Melbourne in Australia? You know, they were seeing a lot of the girls here
Oh yeah, yeah.
and there were a lot of problems about that.
Oh yes, well of course that was the old papers stirring up and the,


especially the German propaganda, they were working on that.
What were they saying?
You know, just Aussie troops, I think it’s on that thingo up there, Aussie troops, you know, American allies back home with your girls, and all this. I don’t think it stirred them up a great deal.
But it did have an impact?
Oh yeah, especially when they came home. They,


I think when they came home and found out how the Americans were being treated by the Australian public and they were missing out, I don’t think they were quite happy about that.
I heard that the 9th Division wasn’t too happy with the Americans.
No, well of course the Americans had been here. They’d more or less taken over the country by


the time we got back.
So you were the last division to come back from the Middle East?
Yeah, from the Middle East, yeah we were the last troops to come back.
So what was the talk on your way back on the Queen Mary with the troops, just generally?
Not a great deal.
About the Yanks?
Not a great deal. We knew what was going on and couldn’t do anything about it. I don’t think they were, there was all sorts of rumours especially when


we went up to North Queensland training. The people of North Queensland, they didn’t want to see any Australians up there. They wanted the Yanks, they’d spend, they knew how to go about things too. They’d


throw kids’ parties and things. They’d come for miles to go to it. Australians would have a party there and no one come to it.
There were a few big fights
Oh yeah.
in Melbourne.
Oh, there was bigger ones in Brisbane too, the Battle of Brisbane. Someone reckoned Brisbane was a good American town spoilt by a few Australians. That was the summing up of it.


So when you got back to Australia, you docked at Sydney first or Melbourne?
Sydney. The Queen Mary couldn’t get into Melbourne.
What took place for you after that?
We had a bit of leave.
How long?
Ooh, now that’s a good question. I don’t think it was very long because we were sent up to North Queensland up to the Tablelands up there training, jungle training and then we were sent,


we were sent up to New Guinea pretty well straight away. I know it wasn’t long, wasn’t long because by that time the Japs were just about on the run. That’s why they were anxious to get as many troops and keep them running.
Which battalion in the 9th were you in?
The engineers.


There’s no battalions, we were just attached to battalions. See, there was three battalions to a brigade and there were three brigades and there were three field companies, and each field company just went to a brigade.
What was your company?
13th, 2/13th Field Company.
Which infantry unit were you attached to?


We were attached to a lot of them, 15th, 17th, 13th, 24th, 28th, whatever.
2/28th was in Kokoda, wasn’t it? No, it was in Port Moresby.
Was that a part of the 2/16th and 2/14th?
No, no, no. No, I think the 9th Division stuck together as the 9th Division.


When you went to Sydney can you tell me about the Americans soldiers you came across there?
I don’t remember them in Sydney. I didn’t get to Sydney. When I say I didn’t get to Sydney, I passed through it, but that’s all. I wasn’t stationed there, never. Same as Brisbane, I wasn’t, I didn’t get into Brisbane much. I’d come down to Brisbane on leave,


But that’s all. See, we went straight from here on leave, after we finished leave up to North Queensland and then we came from North Queensland down to the coast and done our amphibious training at Trinity Beach just outside of Cairns and our landing practise for New Guinea, and then after that we went up to


New Guinea. It was a sort of rushed job.
So you didn’t go to Melbourne for long?
Not for a long time.
Okay. Tell us what you saw with the Yanks in Melbourne?
I wasn’t there long enough for the Yanks.
There were plenty of them roaming the shores?
Yeah, but I wasn’t here at the time. That was, I was either up in Queensland or still over in the Middle East.
You didn’t go at all when you came from Sydney for a short break or anything like that?
Yeah, well


I’d pass them in the street but that’s all.
Didn’t feel any ill will towards them?
No. They were there. I don’t ever remember having a drink with them or anything like that.
What about fights?
No, I don’t remember having any fights. Any fights, I’d run a mile at any rate.
You sure you weren’t involved in that fight?
No, no, no, I can assure you of that.
In Flinders Street Station?


Or was it Young & Jacksons?
I’m blowed, but there’s always fights going on. There was the Battle of Brisbane.
I’m sure I’ve seen you in a picture there.
No, no, no. You put us in uniform, there was a lot looked the same. You can’t pin it on me, no.
I remember that smile.
No, they


When you were in Queensland, Brisbane, tell us about Brisbane, the Yanks there?
I don’t know. They took over the place, but that’s about all.
The Battle of Brisbane took place after, before you came or after?
Well, that was after we came home, that was for sure, but there was always battles going on with the Yanks.
But Brisbane was


pretty bad though, was the worst?
Yeah, Brisbane I believe was a good one because any time you went into Brisbane and there was a mob of troops there was always going to be a brawl of some description. The same as there is at any blessed soccer match. They’d start a brawl. They’d start a brawl at the drop of a hat there, especially if the old ref gives a wrong decision.


It didn’t take, put it this way, it didn’t take too much to start a brawl.
With the Yanks?
Now you would’ve seen plenty of them in Brisbane.
Not plenty of them. I wasn’t in Brisbane proper for any length of time.
But the ones you did see, tell us about them?
I don’t know whether I can tell you. I don’t know how it started. As I said, there was always a fight going on every corner, the same as there is at a football match.
So you’re talking about big brawls here?


No. These were only just little skirmishes.
Between Aussies and Yanks?
Yeah. Sometimes I think the Yanks used to scrap amongst themselves because I always remember in Brisbane there, their MPs, [Military Police] the Yankee MPs, they used to have a big night-stick. Ooh, it was about that long. They used to have it tied around their wrist like that and they’d be swinging like that.


Two and three Yanks coming along, you know, skylarking they must’ve only been youngsters. One had his tie undone. As he walked past, dong, he just hit him right there to show him that he had his tie undone. I think the Yankee MPs must’ve had them all bluffed. Boy, did he, tied his tie, might’ve been in his


pocket, you know. It intrigued me the way with this night-stick as he was walking along swinging the thing and he just went dong. Never said anything.
What about black soldiers?
Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, up at the Albury Showgrounds the first lot they had a platoon of black ones up there, like Kooris.


Like the Australian blacks.
Yeah. Well down at Balcombe, our sergeant down there, he was black. That was Reg Saunders, but he was
He was your sergeant?
Yeah. He was our sergeant at Balcombe, old Reg.
What was he like?
He was a funny boy. He could play football, gosh, he could. Yes, he’d be


out on manoeuvres of a night and he’d come in, he’d come over and he’d poke his head over the trench and they’d all go off crook at him, you know, get out, because they couldn’t see him, he was that black of a night, and he’d take it all in good part.
Did you notice there were race differences between the white Americans and black Americans?
Oh yes.
Tell us about them.
Oh yes. At Brisbane


in those days there was no, they just had the one bridge across the Brisbane River. There was no, the train never ever like never went into Brisbane, the southern train. It would come from Sydney and it would stop at South Brisbane and the black Americans, they weren’t allowed over the river. They weren’t allowed over the river into


Brisbane proper. They had, all that they were allowed, their recreation was on the south side.
Not in the town?
Well like, there was still the town over there but not in Brisbane proper.
The central area?
Yeah, CBD [Central Business District] there, I don’t ever remember, not that I was there for any length of time.
How did you react when you heard that? What did you think?


It didn’t worry me. That’s their rules.
Did you think it was a bit harsh?
‘Cause you would’ve known obviously it’s because they’re black and white, that sort of stuff?
Yeah, well of course there’s no blood even lost over there now, but they accept them now, but in those days it was a real contrast between the white Americans and black Americans.
What about like did you see any sort of racist or


unfair behaviour with American, you know, white American soldiers and black American soldiers on the street?
No, I had nothing to do with their politics.
I was told that a lot of the officers didn’t like to, they’d just ignore black soldiers altogether. They wanted to be on separate beaches,
Oh yeah.
One would be white, black.
Crying out loud, it’s only just recently that they’ve been accepted.


Did you think that was unfair though when you’d see those sort of things? How did you feel about it at the time?
Well I suppose everyone’s equal. There’s a lot of whites there too, I wouldn’t like to associate with. I don’t know that’s their blessed business.
Did you have any


interactions with Americans, like talk to any black soldiers, white soldiers from anywhere?
Oh yeah, I said good day to them, like
I mean a conversation sort of thing.
No, I haven’t discussed things with them in depth or anything. No, the,


no, I don’t think so. Well they’re all accepted now. Well, they’ve got to. They’ve got high-ranking black officers. I don’t think the Australian blacks have ever reached that level out here with the whites, but over in America, the blacks on the social


scale they’re way up there with the white. Not all of them but some of them.
Yeah, some of them are, yeah.
Yeah, but we haven’t got any here that are well up.
So this time when you were preparing for, you were doing training basically so you had a couple of weeks off, you had training in the Atherton Tablelands.
Yeah, yeah.
Tell us about the training, the jungle training?


Was it tough?
Well, we’d just come from the desert and it was totally different, totally different to what we’d had, but then even the training at the Atherton Tablelands that was far different to what we struck in New Guinea too. Like New Guinea, it gave us an idea, put it that way, what to expect when we got to New Guinea.
So what was the difference between the Atherton Tablelands


and New Guinea.
Well the Atherton Tablelands, their jungle up there was civilised to what it was compared up in New Guinea. See, up in New Guinea there’s kunai grass and that had all sorts of wogs in it and there was all the jungle with the vines and things.
How long did you train in Atherton for?
Not very long. I


don’t think it run into months or anything like that. I think the rain up in New Guinea sort of threw us too. Never stopped raining but we survived.
And then what happened after the Tablelands?
Well, I went to New Guinea.


Done our amphibious training down at Trinity Beach as I said in the landing barges. We headed for New Guinea, and then into landing barges at Finschhafen and then overland, then I’m a bit hazy what happened after we got to Lae.


So Finschhafen you were there for the landing?
From Port Moresby you went straight to Finschhafen?
No, not from Moresby - Milne Bay and then around to Buna. Buna was the kicking off place.
What Buna, there was a big battle there?
Oh yes, but that was well before we got there, that was well before we got there.
Did you get out and see the place, Buna?
Well, there was nothing to see. All it is, is just coconut


palms chopped off at the roots, devastated. It was, well you could imagine the shelling that went on there, but our main job up in New Guinea was on the roads, corduroy roads. They used to, well, had to work bloody hard up there because as I say it was so wet, and every road was just a swamp.


We had to cut down trees and put down corduroy on the roads and as fast as you would put it down it would sink. Yeah, that was
So tell us about, Finschhafen had already been taken by then?
Was it taken


by then, Finschhafen?
No, no.
You were there on the actual?
We were part of the force that went in there.
All right. Tell us about the day you were on the barge?
Well, our troop must’ve been all right. Some of them got machine-gunned and strafed along the way there because the Jap planes were about there.


But I recollect Busu River there that was it. Yeah. When we landed at Finschhafen then we went overland and pushed back down to Lae.


Did you have any close shaves at Finschhafen?
No, not really.
You saw a few people get killed?
Well there was bombing and things.
What was the Japanese resistance like when you came on the beach?
It was a bit there, but it wasn’t, by the time we got there we followed the infantry in there because there was no mines, no barbed wire or anything there. All our main thingo there, the engineers, was to


on the roads.
Were there a lot of dead bodies?
Yes. There were more Japs than anything.
What about the Aussies did they lose a lot of chaps there?
I don’t know how many they lost there. You’d have to look up the records there. I’d say it would be quite a few, but I think sickness claimed more up in New Guinea than what actual gunfire did. There was, quite a few of them of course, but I think


sickness claimed more than anybody. It was the living conditions in New Guinea.
So your job was to build a road around Finschhafen for what purpose? Where was it gonna connect to?
Lae for a start - they had to, I didn’t get up any further there. I think the, but that was about all my contribution in New Guinea. Our unit, it didn’t


play such a big role, but that about sums it up, and then I think we came back. I don’t know what happened then.
Hang on, what about Lae? I just want to find out more about Lae.
Well, I can’t tell you much about Lae.
Was there much action there?
No actually, there was no resistance whatsoever at Lae because the 7th Div had come in from Nadzab.


They’d come in from Nadzab and they’d more or less taken the place by the time we got there. They’d done a, came from Nadzab, they had a parachute drop over there, the 7th Division, and they came in from there and we came in along the coast, but I think if, history will probably tell you that the 7th Div got


there first. So all that we more or less had to was just mop up and fix up the roads, so that they could consolidate around the place, and that was it.
Did you see, any Japanese soldiers, live ones?
Only a couple that were taken prisoner - that was all.
What happened to them?
Buggered if I know. They were taken back there,


but they didn’t like being taken prisoners I don’t think.
Yeah, they didn’t take prisoners on both sides it seems.
No, no.
What was the view towards the Japanese amongst the Aussies?
Not too good, I don’t think when the truth came out.
What truth?
Well, what happened to the prisoners that were taken in Singapore. I don’t think they were too pleased about that.
So are you saying that it was sort of like they wanted to settle


a score with the Japs after they heard that sort of stuff?
Yes, but any rate the Japs themselves didn’t want to be taken prisoner. They’d do anything too, because I don’t ever remember too many. I’d heard a lot of them, like of a night you’d hear the Japs running around out in the undergrowth. ‘Cause you


didn’t know just how close. There was no front lines or anything with them. They’d sneak in. I suppose our fellows done the same too for all I know.
Were there a lot of booby traps and things like that you had to watch out for?
I don’t remember booby traps, don’t remember. I don’t think so.
Trip wires, things like that?
No, they didn’t seem to,


but the engineers, they were always playing around with trip wires and things and blowing themselves up.
Are you serious that actually happened?
Oh crumbs, yes.
What because of playing around with things?
Oh yeah, they were always, you always find these boffins there like


playing around with explosives. The same as these fellows like playing around with electricity, but it wasn’t my piece of cake. Let somebody else find it out.
When you were in New Guinea did you hear anything about sort of like the Japanese having some gold stored away during the war?
Now wait a minute. There’s always sorts of,


sorts of yarns going on about that especially with the Dutch I think over in Broome. They were, you read all sorts of books, but that’ll go on and get bigger and bigger and better and better, especially in Dutch Indonesia and those places.
But I heard specifically in New Guinea and Bougainville


there was talk about, you know, the Japs storing some gold.
No, I never heard of anything.
You didn’t hear rumours about, talk about that amongst?
No, never heard anything. They probably did for all I know. No, I never heard anything. Actually in New Guinea there was nothing to talk


about there except the blessed weather and the living conditions. Like there was, no people up there.
You definitely didn’t have fun did you?
No, there was no fun there.
Did you contract malaria?
Yes, I had malaria about seven times I think or six times. It’s in the book over there any rate.
You had six different attacks of malaria?
Yeah. Look, malaria got that way that if you got it you just went down the RAP


asking for some Quinine and then just went back and laid in your tent for a couple of days and that was it. It got that common.
So practically everyone got it?
Oh yeah. Well, you couldn’t help but get it. You were up there unprotected, you were living in water even if you were only up there for a fortnight.
What about scrub typhus?
No, I missed out on that. Dengue fever I got,


but scrub typhus, that whacked quite a few. That was pretty deadly that. Dengue fever, well that was just like malaria.
Have you heard of gympie bush?
No, it’s a newie on me.
Never heard of gympie bush?
Going through the jungle, prickly


palms sort of thing. Gives you a massive rash. I’ve heard of people using it as toilet paper.
Well that would hurry them up.
Send them to high heaven I can tell you.
There was [stanis] weed that was the vine. You couldn’t get through it, it would wrap itself around you, I know, and it had prickles on it. It was lantana, wasn’t it, lantana?
Yeah. That would,


that would stop you, but then in the kunai grass there was all sorts of little mites in there. The kunai grass, you know, it would be up like, you could walk through it. It would be well above your head.
That’s where you got the scrub typhus, is it?
Well it would be I’d say. It would be all these little mites, all these little mites in there. As I say, I didn’t get it. If I did it was treated for something else. They called it malaria or


something, dengue fever, although I did get tinea. Well, everyone got tinea up there. They used to paint us over with this [gentian] violet.
Did you know of people who went troppo?
No, not really. I’ve heard of some of them trying to brew their own


home grog. I don’t know whether that might’ve sent them troppo, but I don’t ever, like I know of people, especially in our unit. Their nerves packed up, well naturally it would, but I don’t ever remember anyone ever tearing up and down there committing hari-kari there with a big sword or anything, but I daresay they were there ‘cause some were under more strain than others of course,


but I don’t recollect any
Interviewee: James Holbrook Archive ID 0221 Tape 08


All right, so we got as far as Lae. Tell me where were you when you heard about the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima?
(UNCLEAR) when was that July 7th, was it?
August, well no, I was out of the army by then. I came out in July 1945.


Well, that’s when the bomb was dropped and then Nagasaki was dropped, what, a week later?
Something like that.
Yeah. Yeah, I’d just got out, that’s right.
Why were you, why did you, why were you demobbed before the war was over?
Yeah, just. I think they were getting rid of a lot of them. I’d lost my mother.


She died, oh, when did she die, ’44? That’s right, and Dad was on his, own and he was failing in health. My brother was married, Jack, and he shifted to Melbourne I think, and so I put in to get out. That’s right, to get home and look after pop.


I think that’s how it went.
So how did you return to Australia?
I came back with the unit. I came, the unit there, they, I think later on they went over to Tarakan but by that time I was more or less out and that’s all there was to it, and then after the war I went and looked after pop for about


10 years I think. Might’ve been 10, might’ve been a bit longer. Wait, ’45? No, it must’ve been about 10, and then shifted to Melbourne and got a job with the Defence Department and stayed there for 20 odd years and then got pensioned out of there. I think everything was starting to catch up with me, and


then I lost the wife, that was at 54 years. The kids were all married and cleared off. So I was just pottering around Melbourne there on my own. I had a caravan, so I went touring around Victoria, went back to Warracknabeal and must’ve been a bad time of the year there, very dry, wasn’t very impressed


and so continued touring around. Went up to Broady at Euroa and came to Numurkah, and then thought oh well, I think the Caselys came from, like Ted I was in the army with, that’s down at Balcombe, and I knew he’d passed away. So looked down the phone book and sure enough


there was a Casely there and on the off chance I rang, and here’s the result, we’re still here. That was what? That’s three years ago. Yeah. So there you are, so I’m well dug in up here. Do not want to leave either, growing tomatoes, yeah. So there’s the
Tell me what Warracknabeal was like


when you first returned?
First returned?
Well they were in the middle of a drought up there. The ’44 drought was supposed to be a very big one. Well, pop was still there. The wife to be, well I got married in ’40, no, when did I get married? ’46, that’s right. Still very dry


but by the time I left there I had three kids there and there was no future in Warrack, not unless the parents owned some flourishing business there or a big farm, so I was quite happy to shift to Melbourne and that was it, but then I went back to Warrack and had a look, took the caravan back. I did have bright prospects of


returning to Warrack but not so good. The wife was born there, so had her cremated and took her ashes back there and she’s with her sister and her parents and her grandmother and grandfather, so she’s back to where she started, so quite happy about that one. My folks are there so I go over


now and again.
Were you glad to be back in Australia?
Oh yes, oh yes. I’d been for a few trips but I still like to come back here.
Why is that?
Well I still reckon it’s the best place in the world. They can say what they like. Well the best place I’ve been to, which is not that many, but I’ve been to Japan.
What about it


did you like?
Well, it’s such a free place and it’s such a big place. You can move around. You go to places, like Japan there goodness gracious, well you can’t move. There’s plenty to see if you like fast changing things, but I still like Warrack. Like the wife and I, we used to like caravanning. We’d


go out outback Queensland, you know, out to Longreach and Winton and those sort of places, it was beaut, and New South Wales, the back of Bourke, St George and, I still reckon that’s beaut.
Do you remember where you were when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima?
No, no.
Do you remember having any reaction at all?


No, I don’t. Probably said, well that asked for it, and then I went over to Hiroshima and had a look at the place and I’m not so sure. God, it made a mess.
When did you go to Hiroshima?
It was years later but they’ve still got all the, in the museum there, they’ve still got all the immediate


photos after it and the things that went on there, and you stand up in the spot and there’s a big illustration in front and it points out just where the plane came over, and God, you look at it and you look at the real place. You look at this illustration and then you look at


the actual hills was and you can, I swear you can see the planes coming over.
So in retrospect do you think it was fair enough?
Well they, well it put a stop to the war there’s no doubt. Truman, he was criticised for it, but I still reckon it put a full stop to the war.


When they hummed and hahed about it he dropped another one and by hell, that put a stop to it. If there’s a real last resort. If they can find some other answer to stop them, so I suppose you can blame Japan for that. They should’ve seen it coming. They should’ve seen it coming and said, “Right.”


Well it was either, put it this way, it was either them or us, but any rate there are plenty of worse things going on in the world today.
Do you remember where you were when the war actually finished and Japan surrendered?
I was in Warrack, but just where I was I wouldn’t, I can remember when the war finished in Europe.
Tell us about that?
Yes, I was


in Melbourne. I was in uniform and of course once, I’m on a tram going over Princes Bridge and those in uniform, well goodness gracious, they were just about scragged, you know. Everyone just went mad. It was the grand final it was. I remember that.
What happened, what could you see?


Well just a sea of people outside the tram. The tram couldn’t, well that was at a standstill. It couldn’t go backwards or forwards going over Princes Bridge. There was just this sea of people all around.
What were they doing?
Jumping up and down and yelling and screaming, and as I said as soon as they spotted someone in uniform on the trams, I wasn’t the only one, they yelled


and screamed. Didn’t matter what we were up to when we’d done nothing towards the war. They all yelled.
Did you get a few kisses?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Did you have a celebratory drink?
No, I don’t know where I went. I don’t even know where I was going, to


tell you the truth. I don’t know whether I was still in camp, no, I must’ve been still in camp or at the staging depot down there, Royal Park or somewhere. There you are.
So you don’t remember when


the Japanese surrendered (UNCLEAR)
I remember having a drink with that though because we must’ve been down Sheep Hill somewhere. That’s a little place outside of Warrack and I must’ve been with pop somewhere because I remember going into the Sheep Hills pub there and Mrs Powell had the pub there and we had no hope in the wide world of buying a beer there. Oh no,


like she knew us. Like she knew we’d been in the army.
You mean she wanted to give you the beer?
Oh yes, yeah, a drink. We didn’t have that many, but I can remember that. We were at the Sheep Hill’s pub. When that one, that
Was there a bit of a celebration there?
Oh, I suppose they would. It was just I think it was


one afternoon if I remember right. There was no one in the pub. There probably would’ve been an hour later. We headed back to Warrack then and from then I don’t, I couldn’t tell you what we got up to. That was all, so I don’t know who came out the winners on that


one. I really don’t.
Why do you say that?
Well who gains? Britain since the war there, Britain seems to be sliding backwards and Germany seems to be going forwards. So I don’t think there’s any winners, but I don’t.


Don’t you think being alive and free is enough?
That’s enough, of course it is. Yeah, but people don’t, people won’t stop at that. I want more, I want more than you’ve got. That’s all it is.
So do you think World War II was justified?
Well, they had no option. They had to do something, had to do


something, but it certainly undermined Britain, there’s no doubt about that. Britain’s colonies have just been dropping off one by one by one, and strangely enough the places where Britain’s walked out of, they’re in a bigger mess than ever. There’s


Africa, there’s India there’s New Guinea. Name them all, where Britain, well, there’s Palestine.
No, I think Australia is still all right, but they’re fast heading that way. Australia is such a big place. There’s still a lot of Australia that can be inhabited, but the


trouble is the world’s getting too small, yes, it’s been overpopulated, that’s the trouble. God, I remember during the war at Cairo you had to, the pyramids were miles out or seemed to be. Well 50 years later when we went over there, Cairo’s touching the pyramids. See, Cairo was just, I think it’s


every eight years it doubles its population. That’s shocking you know.
You can walk straight from the Great Pyramid to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just about, yeah. They’ve got to do something to regulate the population.
Now I’m going to ask you some more general kind of questions.


Did you feel a part of the Anzac tradition?
I think so, yes. Yes, well they, some of them likened Tobruk to Gallipoli although the maximum loss of life of course there was no comparison, but the, they


likened Tobruk to another Gallipoli, although Tobruk had something to hold for. Gallipoli had nothing. I don’t know what was there for ‘cause it was, what I can gather from Gallipoli, it was a lost cause right from the start and it was no advantage to anyone. I don’t know what they wanted, I suppose just to be a nuisance.
Well Gallipoli was a great tragedy


and Tobruk in a way was a great victory.
As it turned out, that’s what I say, Tobruk was a cause. Gallipoli wasn’t. See, they, personally I reckon Tobruk, that hurried up the war for the simple reason Hitler couldn’t get oil, he was prepared to come down through Turkey, Syria,


Palestine and link up, he had the whole lot. That means he had all the oil in the world. Had all the oil from up Syria there. He had the oil that, in Tripoli.
What did it mean to you to be part of the Anzac tradition? What does the Anzac tradition mean to you?
Well just being part of it, I think it’s


a big thing. I reckon, well it’s an honour to be part of it.
You were fighting for your country, but what did it mean to fight for Australia? What do you think Australia stands for?
Well as I said before, there’s freedom, you’ve got plenty to move about.


It doesn’t matter where you, I found that out in the army, it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re going to get pushed around by experts, that’s for sure. It’s probably the lesser of so many evils. Why they want a republic out here has got me beat. They keep saying we’ve got to have an Australian head of state. Well as I can gather they’ve had an Australian head


of state for years, that’s governor general.
But the Queen’s our head of state?
Yeah but just, in name only, or I suppose the governor general is. What does he do? He does nothing, but he’s still the head of Australia, so there’s the Australian. But I still reckon, I still reckon once you bring an Australian into it


you’re going to have infighting. While you’ve got Liz [Queen] over there, well no one’s going to take a great deal of notice of her at any rate, so let her there and she go around and wave to them and the rest of it, but she’s doing more good than harm. I reckon they’re asking for trouble. Look at all the bloody bally-hoo that goes on in America with the


election of a president. Goodness gracious, that must cost millions.
When you were fighting was the king important to you?
Oh yeah. I wouldn’t like to say anything about his family though, but oh yes, old George. I reckon King George VI, I reckon he was the bravest of the brave, that fellow he was.


He wasn’t trained for the job, but he took it. That Edward, he was groomed for the job and he just walked away from it.
Well, why was it important to you, an Australian, fighting Germans in the desert?
Well that was part of it. We were sent there, we were told what to do and that was it.


I suppose it was the same in the First World War. What were the Australians doing over in France getting the daylights belted out of them, although I think Australia was more tied to the British Empire then, than what it is now, they had more to fight for. They were looked after by the British Empire. See, they’re more or less independent now.


I still reckon they could do worse ‘cause they’re just there in name only. As long as it doesn’t cost us too much dough. Well it costs us a damned sight more, a president, so what.
Did you tell your children about your war experience?


Not really. I don’t think they were really interested. I will say this that Peter’s always said, like my son, he’s always said, “All that stuff up there, that’s mine”.
Does he want to keep the medals?
Oh yes, as long as they can keep them together.


The family that up there now, look at that after all these years. That’s Jean’s father’s, medals there, see, still there, still there. Oh no, if you’re, you’ve got to look back as well as look forward I think.


Did you ever dream about the war?
Do I or have I?
Did you ever, yeah?
Not nightmares or anything like that, you know. I did for a while after we came back. I used to hear planes and that because especially in Tobruk or New Guinea was the same. There’s, always planes buzzing over, whether they were ours, or theirs.


See, planes in Tobruk, they came every night. We knew damn well they weren’t ours ‘cause we didn’t have any. As soon as you heard a plane come you kept awake until he went or until the bombs dropped and if they dropped a long way away, well that was all right.
Did it scare you?
Well, once when one landed just outside our


dugout in the wadi there, it did. I don’t know whether, I don’t think he was looking for us. He sort of just got out of the way and just dropped. But oh no, it was an experience old, well, you never forget of course.
Did your experience


change you at all?
I really don’t know what I was headed for in the first place. Probably makes you unsettled, made me that way that I thought Warrack was too small, you know.


You wanted a bit more excitement than that. Now I’ve reached the other end of the scale there, I’m looking for somewhere quiet.
Did you find it hard to settle down after the war?
Well yes, I did. I don’t think I really ever got rid of it there. That’s why


as soon as I got a bit of money together we’d go travelling. Itchy feet, I think that might’ve, anywhere else they might’ve been quite happy just to prop and let the days go by, like now.
So you settled eventually?
Yes, yes, well I don’t say settled, slowed.


Yes, at 83 there you start putting the skids under.
When you were at the front how did you deal with the absence of women in your life?
Oh God, that was no trouble. I was tied to one and that was it.
You were tied to one?
Well I had one. I had the late wife she was,


we were going together then. Well that was it. Possibly the war, possibly if I had have been home there it wouldn’t have lasted. When you’re away like that, all right, you can’t get into any harm out here. If you were there under her feet all the time you might.
Did you worry about her back here in Australia?
Worry about her?


I think she worried more about me, and my mother. I knew they were safe enough in Australia. I don’t think the Japs were ever that great a threat. Might’ve scared them a bit, but I don’t think they’d
What about other fellows?
No, as a matter no, well actually no. I never thought really. Well she


was in a funny position too. Well not a funny position, but she lost her mother and she brought up her family since she was 14. She brought up a family of boys and one sister. I think there was five in the family, so she had her hands full there. That was it.


Did you write to her often?
Oh yeah, oh yes, I think there were a lot of letters there. Tobruk there, you’d go days and days or even weeks with nothing and then all of a sudden they’d come in, you know. Then you’d have some fun sorting the letters out. As I said,


the navy done a mighty job there. They brought mail up as well as rations and things.
Were there times when you enjoyed the war?
Only on leave. No, I can’t say that I was ever that rapt.


There were recreational, I remember up in Queensland there we went down to Gordonvale on a bridging, a bridging school down on the Mulgrave, Mulgrave River, on the pontoon bridges. You know, we used to spend more time swimming and fishing, and fishing there, the idea of fishing


in those days, especially with sappers there, was dropping gelignite into the water and getting the fish that way. Not very sporting, I know but. Even Tobruk had its moments. We’d get time off and like every week or so to have a good bath, we’d go down the beach.


We’d just sleep on the sand for a couple of days. Someone would bring down some rations and that was all right.
What about when you were overseas did you ever enjoy it over there?
Yeah, well that was it, at Tobruk there
Oh sorry.
we’d go down the beach. That was the only way we could wash, you know, bath.
Did you ever


encounter cowardice?
Well not in blatant form.
Even in small ways?
I don’t think so. There was jobs that people didn’t like doing but as far as I knew they all done their best. I think if


you were in an infantry battalion it would probably be worse but I never heard of it there even.
Did you ever meet anyone who just couldn’t take it anymore?
I met quite a few people trying all sorts of ways of getting out of the army, but still that happens all the time.
What sort of things would they try?


Oh I don’t know. They’d feign being sick and all of this. But not straight out coward.
Were any of them successful in getting out of the army?
Well you’d never know. They got out


medically unfit or something. I don’t know whether they knew the MO [Medical Officer].
So some of them did get out of the army?
Oh well, we often wondered why they got out, like on what grounds they got out, but they got out.
Are these people that you knew were trying to get out of the army, or people you suspected of trying to?
Well, just suspected. I don’t think anyone would just,


I think we all tried to get out towards the finish. There were all sorts of excuses. You know, very hard to say. If there was any, I don’t know of anyone that had their discharge papers stamped or something, you know, dishonourably discharged.


I bet there would be some, some there. They were just like straight out rogues or something and the army didn’t want them. Everyone that I knew they all got an honourable discharge like that one up there.
Did you ever see acts of heroism?
Well, it all depends what you call acts of heroism.


This Tom Broadhurst, he got a military medal. I don’t know what he got up to. Tom doesn’t know himself but he got it.
Did you ever see anybody do anything that you thought was quite a good thing to do?
Many a time.
Tell us about that.
Many a time. Oh, I don’t know just off hand.


Well, you say that there was many times?
Well, there must’ve been many times. People, what do they call it? Beyond the call of duty, yeah, but what is the call of duty? I remember old Joe Oatley,


like he was a sapper and I think he risked his life there, or so they say, to mend some telephone wires, nothing whatever to do with him. Old Joe had a, he went and mended them. The proper thing to do was to go and report it to the signallers or something. Tell them to go and do it, ‘cause old Joe went and done it himself.


Was he in danger?
Well I think he must’ve been. I wasn’t with him, but he was out on one of these patrols. He just found this severed wire there and followed it along and he found there was a lot of them. He joined them up. That was quite common, like between posts.


So tell us about when you actually went back to Tobruk. Why did you go and what did you see when you got there?
They were advertising a trip, you know, it was ex-9th Div personnel, you know, one of those. So we put our name down


and it was very good. It was more or less subsidised. It was, and a party of us went. The government sponsored. We had Senator Ray I think he was Minister for the Army [Defence] at the time. He was there, and who else was there? Oh, when we got over to Egypt there was the ambassador there.


He welcomed us and looked after us, and then I think general, what was his name? General Broadbent, yeah, it was General Broadbent. He was the boss of the trip, but no, very good. Was [El Alamein] Revisited, they called it, but we went up to Tobruk, you know, followed the thing right through, but things were very touchy there because


that was soon after the Lockerbie bombing. Remember there when that plane fell out of the air, and of course Libya and Gadaffi, they were on the nose. Of course, when we got to the Libyan border there we got into the compound there in the coach and there was Gadaffi’s troops there, you know, marched around us and they collected our passports and they


escorted us for the rest of the trip. Very good though they looked after us and gave us a medal there, I don’t know where it is. I think it’s in the box there somewhere.
What did you see when you went there?
Just the same as it was before. It hadn’t changed.
So the old trenches and
The old trenches were there.
strongholds were still there?
Yeah, there’s photos of it there, filled with sand


and strangely enough at Alamein there there’s all the “Beware of Mines”, even the minefields are still there. But when we got to Alamein was surprising because the Hill of Jesus that the Australians took early in July there, the Germans have got their war memorial right on top of it and the most enormous thing you’ve ever seen, and the same in


Tobruk. In the prime place of Tobruk overlooking the harbour is the German war memorial. It’s built like a ruddy great castle. See, what the Germans, they didn’t have cemeteries. They haven’t got any war cemeteries there. All their dead, they went around and collected them and they buried them all in the one place and they put all their names on this wall in this great


fortress they’ve got, but it’s the prime place in Tobruk. The Australians, they haven’t got anything at all. They’ve got a bit of an entrance into the Australian War Memorial but that’s all.
Did you find this upsetting?
Not really, not really, but it made us a bit bloody, well upset, it made us a bit wild. Same at Alamein, there was this big, this big monument, and the Italian memorial


goes for about four or five acres. Great marble thing they’ve got. The Australian one would fit in this room. In fact two of them would fit in this room. Not even, no, I won’t. Shocking, you know, Australians played such a main part in it


and yet they’re underrated. It makes you think who won it. Well it does. When you got there and have a look at this Italian and German monument at Alamein.
All right. Well, that’s all we’ve got time for. If there’s anything you’d like to add to that?
No, not really. I’m glad we finished on that note because I hope someone picks that up because


I am, no, I was crooked on it. The British monument there, they’ve got an elaborate war cemetery but the Australians are part of that too, but this German and Italian monument in Alamein and the German moment in Tobruk there, especially it was held by it. You’d think, although I met some


of the German soldiers. They sent out a contingent from Germany there. I’d like to show you the photos of them. They were characters you know, they were nice fellows because they were another generation.
All right, we’ll leave it there.
Well done.


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