Frederic Pocock
Archive number: 2234
Preferred name: Fred
Date interviewed: 21 July, 2004

Served with:

2/48th Battalion
9th Division

Other images:

Frederic Pocock 2234

Warning

Any access that you make of this website is undertaken at your own risk

You are listening to the interview audio

Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:31:00

Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with the archive today. I would like to begin by asking if you could give me a brief summary of your service?
I joined the army on the 29th of June, 1940 enlisted

01:01:00:00

at Wayville, which is the showgrounds in Adelaide and we were there for quite some time. They formed us into units in the – when we camped in the motor pavilion at Wayville and sleeping on the floor on palliasses. And then they

01:01:30:00

we were – our instructors were mainly World War 1 soldiers and we learned how to march and to slope arms and all the rest of it there and then they formed the 48th Battalion from us group that were there. And from there on we were the 2/48th Battalion. And we stayed at Wayville for a few months and then we went to Woodside and from

01:02:00:00

Woodside we went to – we sailed to the Middle East we come down by train from Woodside and we got on The Stratheden and out of harbour and we set sail for the Middle East and that was in November, 1940 and the boat stopped at Fremantle and Colombo and we finished up in the Suez Canal where the

01:02:30:00

boat stopped and we were disembarked and taken by train to Palestine. And we were there for – in a camp there for quite some months. Training. And from there we went to the desert in North Africa. And our battalion was sent to

01:03:00:00

Darnah a town in North Africa where we were there for garrisoning the town actually. But things deteriorated and the Germans came back at us and we had to get out and from there we come back into Tobruk and we were in the Siege of Tobruk for seven months or whatever it was, something like that and quite a lot went on there. And then we

01:03:30:00

were taken out of there on destroyers and relieved by a Polish brigade they were. And we came back to – from – to Alexandria on the destroyer, then by train back to Palestine and we were there for quite a while just forget the – some months and then we went up to Syria where

01:04:00:00

we trained in all sorts of things up there. And we were at Tripoli for quite a while and in barracks there that were French barracks they were. And we were there. And from there we were called back to Egypt. Germans had got nearly down to Alexandria and we were driven

01:04:30:00

by motor convoy right through from Syria right down through Cairo and right into Egypt – right into – right up to Alexandria and we went up to the front line. We had to try and stop the Germans which were coming down they were nearly and from there we went into action from there and that went on to become the battle of El Alamein a bit later on. And we

01:05:00:00

went right through that and we come back – what was left of us come back to Palestine and we – from there we came home after that to – on a boat called the New Amsterdam, beautiful Dutch liner and we had leave – we got off at – in Melbourne. They put us straight on trains

01:05:30:00

all the South Australians and we come back to Adelaide by train. And one experience I’ll never forget is that on the train coming through, it was five o’clock at night and we got on the train, in the afternoon we got on the train and we travelled right through the night on the train and we just to smell the gum trees, things like that were very good. And we had leave in Adelaide and from there

01:06:00:00

straight from here on troop trains right up to tablelands in Queensland where we trained in jungle training and was the next thing was, we were sent to – landing at Lae, captured Lae. We were in that and after Lae fell we went up to Finschhafen and from there –
And by now it’s about September ’43?

01:06:30:00

Yeah. Yep. And – yeah, I was there for quite a while but that’s where I – I got scrub typhus in the finish and I was evacuated out and never, ever went back to the battalion after that. So I was just stationed around Adelaide and – until my number came up there was a system they had to discharge fellas that had been in the longest

01:07:00:00

and my number come up and I was discharged, and by that time the war had finished. That’s briefly going through what I did.
That’s a great summary, and what did you do when you were discharged?
I didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t trained for anything. So I tried a job in the post office and things like that, I didn’t like that. And I took a

01:07:30:00

course through the army training scheme to do bricklaying and it was a scheme they had going, I went through that and passed that and went out to – and worked for builders and that.
So that was like a rehabilitation scheme?
Yeah, it was set up for the 4 R&C [Rest and Care]servicemen to do.
Can you explain a bit, how that helped you?
Yeah, well we went into a

01:08:00:00

course, a full-time course, trained by instructors, how to lay bricks and you know, all the things. And after we were there – I can’t remember the time but we were sent out then to builders and the government paid sixty per cent and the builder paid forty per cent of our wages and it gradually till we got proficient at the game and they – just how long it took I’ve forgotten now, but till they – working full time, being paid

01:08:30:00

by the builders and we were passed building certificates and everything, exams and things, we had to be able to do the job properly and from there on, I worked for a builder for a few years and then I went out and subcontracted on my own. And that’s what I stayed at, subcontract bricklayer right till I retired.

01:09:00:00

So I retired when I was 60, cos we could get a pension when there was a slump on the building trade, work was hard to get. And I thought, “Oh if I can get a pension, I’ll get out.” So I did.
And what about family along the way?
Family? Yeah well, my wife was a widow, we married in 1943, when I come back from the Middle East and

01:09:30:00

she was a widow with two children, Dorothy and Colin and we had – Graeme was born in 1945, just before I got out of the army so we actually reared three children but one was mine, two were my wife’s. And that was – what else can I say about that?
Any grandchildren?
Have now yeah. I got

01:10:00:00

two – five, eight. My stepson was killed 1966, Colin, he was drowned in Sydney Harbour and they never found his body, he was living in Sydney and he was a great rock fisherman. Round the harbour, out, a lot of it done over there. And

01:10:30:00

a wave washed him off a rock and he was drowned and never found his body and that was quite a sad episode. Dorothy my stepdaughter, she’s been wonderful, she’s made all that book for me. And Graeme’s married, lives in Sydney. And he’s 59 now, and he –

01:11:00:00

he’s been a plumber till a couple of years ago, he had a motor accident and he can’t do his trade any more he hurt his hand in that, but he works in the office for the same firm, he’s doing office work and he’s quite happy with what’s happening.
Now, I’d like to ask

01:11:30:00

you about your childhood. Tell me about where you were born.
I was one of eight children, I was the fifth one of eight children and the first boy, there was four girls older. I was born at Port Noarlunga, just up two miles from here and my mother died when she was only aged 50 in 1937, so she’d left a family that was very young

01:12:00:00

And my father sort of left us to it a bit, we had to battle for ourselves. I was working when she died, but we were milking cows and delivering milk and all that sort of delivery jobs that were going around in them days and until I was – I joined the army and went to school at Port Noarlunga, here

01:12:30:00

and we went to the hills, we went to Sterling, Mooregate, Heathfield and all up round the hills way and that’s where I left school there and started working.
And so you moved around quite a lot?
Oh a lot yeah.
And how old were you when your mother died?
I was

01:13:00:00

she died in 1937, I was sixteen I think. Somewhere around about that.
Before your mum died, tell me a bit about your family life and –
It was pretty hard. My father was a very good provider, for the eight kids, I don’t know how, to this day, I don’t know how she fed us and but she was marvellous and he –

01:13:30:00

we were on the rations or whatever they used to call it in them days. And I think that’s why we moved a lot because we couldn’t pay the rent and they kicked us out. But yeah. It was pretty grim and as it, but we were – didn’t realise it at the time, we look back on it now and think that how she managed to feed us and all that was just marvellous. But Father – me father was,

01:14:00:00

he just didn’t like work but he wasn’t cruel or beat us up or anything like that, he was just a man that should never have had eight children to support but it was –
And what would he do during the day?
Well, he was left, he was one of a family, they owned a house where the Port Noarlunga Hotel is,

01:14:30:00

still there, actually the house. But pub’s built around it and – that’s what his father owned that, that’s my grandfather and when he died, it was sold up and there was, my father was an only son and he had three sisters and the money was split up, we had a – so they were given a bit of money but he went through his pretty quickly. I don’t know how he lost it, cos I was too young to worry about that, we finished up on the rations and

01:15:00:00

just surviving. But we went to school and we did all – I left school – went to grade seven in them days and most didn’t and had to get out and work. And get a bit of money to help keep the others going.
So how old were you then?
Fourteen when I left school. And –
During

01:15:30:00

your younger days, The Depression did start. What do you remember of The Depression?
Not too much. We didn’t sort of, we knew we was poor and we didn’t have much but we just didn’t worry about it, you know, we just survived and we weren’t under any pressure

01:16:00:00

we were just a big family and just surviving. I can remember quite well if a banana come into the house for instance, it’s just one thing, we’d get slice about a three quarter of an inch each, you know all round to all the kids and all I wanted – or longed for was to have a banana to myself. And things like that just stick in your mind. But

01:16:30:00

we were pretty happy family actually, when Mum was alive of course. She was wonderful.
Do you remember what sort of food she was putting on the table?
Rabbit stew, we could catch a rabbit anywhere just about, don’t know whether you remember rabbits but they were – they used to be everywhere and they were staple diet for poor families. Things like that

01:17:00:00

you know, and a great big pie dish about this big with a whatever was going, if apples were in, we’d have apples, if there was pie melons, then pie melon pie, I didn’t used to like it much but we’d have a big pie like this and a big crust over it and get a piece each. I can never remember being hungry. But

01:17:30:00

yes, that was food.
Where would you go to catch rabbits?
Well, you could get them practically anywhere. We were living at Port Noarlunga, this was just – I left there when I was seven or eight or something like that and I can remember them catching rabbits out in these paddocks where these houses are here now. And just set a trap, because they were banned then, we just set traps. You could always pick up a rabbit somewhere.

01:18:00:00

And if you could afford to buy them, there used to be blokes coming around and selling them – ‘Rabbitohs’, horse and cart. “Buy a rabbit for threepence.” So it was – oh yes, there was just rabbits everywhere in them days. But other than that, you know, she’d always put food on the table, but I don’t know

01:18:30:00

somehow, how it all come about.
Did you have any refrigeration?
No, nothing. I never had a refrigerator until I was married for years. All I had was cool safes, little safes, with a water running down the sides and there was no, later on, ice just come in when we could get ice. And everyone had an ice chest.

01:19:00:00

But it wasn’t until I was well and truly married before they had refrigerator. Yes, it was, I just wonder how they used to keep the stuff. The butcher used to come around with a horse and cart and open up the back of his cart and there’s the meat all hanging there and no refrigeration and no fly protection or anything. That was the way it was done. So, now all the – you know

01:19:30:00

what they go to, to try and keep food. Cleaning horse them but they didn’t in them days and we didn’t seem to suffer much from it.
Do you remember other tradesmen or people coming to the house like the rabbitoh and the butcher. Who else would come?
Baker would call and you’d – he’d come every day, get half a loaf of bread or loaf

01:20:00:00

of bread whatever. But Mum made her own bread for years. She used to get a bag of flour and make her own bread and she had it, used to wrap it up of a night. Put it on a chair and wrap it up and keep it warm and the yeast rise, in the morning she’d cut it up and put it in the oven and cook it. Was beautiful yeah. I remember that well. Yes, it was a different

01:20:30:00

different world in them days. The way things were done. My mother, she died in 1937, and she never lived in a house with electric light. Always had a lamp, or a candle or something like that, you know. Never knew what it was like. She knew what electric light was, but she never lived in a house where they had any power, they were always wood stove and an iron with a bit of hot coals in and

01:21:00:00

things like that. That was all. They did it hard.
So when you were young, you didn’t have any electric light, either?
No, never no. No, we didn’t have anything, we’ve got an old wood stoves that was it. We’d sit around it in the winter, up in the hills when we were there, we’d – cos we could get a bit of wood around the hills but we’d all be

01:21:30:00

sitting around the fire of a night, trying to keep warm.
What would you do for hot water?
Just put a kettle on the stove and heat it and big wash up dish and kettle of water and on the table, no sinks or anything like that in them days. Just big wash up dish and that was it. And a bath once a week with a tub – light the copper.

01:22:00:00

And every kid that went in there, got an extra bucket of water, you know. Once a week was bath night, sit the tub by the fire or whatever and one after the other and no showers every day like we do nowadays. It was amazing. Yeah, Mum used to inspect us before we went to school, she’d look in our ears and look at our fingernails, you know and

01:22:30:00

she’d – it was quite good.
And what about clothing, what – how did she clothe you?
I never had a pair of pants that didn’t have a patch on it. It was always hand me downs and things like that, I don’t know how she clothed, I really don’t, but I never had any pants that

01:23:00:00

didn’t have a patch on them or something or other, that Mum’d patch up and she had her – what she treasured so much was her Singer sewing machine, with a treadle on it and that was her – she did treasure that and she did so much work on it, to keep us kids clothed and looking tidy. It was just marvellous. Yes, that was quite a problem. Cos the girls, there was five girls and three boys, it was – and the girls

01:23:30:00

wore you know, hand-me-downs, as they go through. “I don’t want to wear that Mum. That was hers.”
So you’d have to wear your sisters’ clothes?
Oh yeah, they sent me to school in my sister’s sandals one day and that was the worst thing I can remember. Remained in my mind, cos I got teased and the kids, “You got your sister’s shoes on.” You know and oh and I hated that. I wouldn’t

01:24:00:00

wear them any more. No, it was –
Did you take them off?
Yeah, I took them off and went barefooted. I’d rather go barefooted than do that again. The kids teased the heck out of you. Yes it was, things like that, happened. Yeah the youngest brother he wouldn’t wear shoes at all. He just went barefooted. He didn’t care.

01:24:30:00

Cos I was the fifth one, there was three more after me and I was the first boy, so two more brothers and another sister come along after me. And today there’s – three – five of us left.
Who was the disciplinarian in

01:25:00:00

your house?
Father. You had to respect him, he was – Mum protected him so much and he was the head of the table, but he didn’t – he wasn’t cruel to us or anything, beating us up or anything, but we had to do everything right, yeah. We weren’t allowed to start our meal till he sat down and never leave the table unless we asked. And you know,

01:25:30:00

everything, kids’d start chatting to themselves, and Mum’d say, “Speak up so your father can hear.” Dad was – he was the big kingpin.
Were you scared of him?
No, I wasn’t scared of him. No, nothing like that. But he just wouldn’t, you know, wouldn’t provide, wouldn’t work and get money to keep us and we was just so poor. And he

01:26:00:00

had a big scheme, as soon as we could get out to work and that was his scheme. And I was, first job I got I was getting – milking cows and then I was getting seven and six a week and my keep and he used to come over every payday and he’d take six shillings and give me one and six. And he’d take the six shillings and he used to do that to all the kids that were working. And I didn’t think anything of it, one and six was all right. I thought I was made.

01:26:30:00

That was probably fifteen cents nowadays. But you could buy and ice cream for threepence or you know, any ice creams or chocolate or something like that and that was made.
Did you do that job after school or when you left school?
After I’d left school, yeah.
Before we talk about that, I’d just like to talk a bit

01:27:00:00

about your school years. Did you enjoy going to school?
Yes and no, it was – I was always thought that I wasn’t as clever as the other kids, you know. I got through, I got me qualifying certificate in grade seven which was the thing there, but I didn’t do anything marvellous, I just got through and that was all. And I was

01:27:30:00

I dunno, I was always too frightened to ask questions, I was frightened of the school teacher or something or other and I just used to battle and I found it pretty hard actually, school. And which I wouldn’t have done, I don’t think in normal circumstances I would – now or later on in years, you know, you – the school teachers used to take more interest in their students, but in them days, they didn’t – you know you either made it or you didn’t, it didn’t matter to them.

01:28:00:00

Yeah, I found school pretty hard, but anyway, I made it and that was the end of me schooling.
Were you picked on by other kids or…?
Not really, no. Sometimes, you know cos we – on your dress more than anything, we had to go to school in clothes that weren’t too good and you know, you’d get looked down upon by kids

01:28:30:00

who were in better circumstances and things like that. But wasn’t too bad. Wasn’t too bad. There was worse off than us too, really. In them days. But I don’t know how much worse off really, because we were really scratching.
What did you do for fun in those early years?
Just made our own. Kids’d play. We’d play marbles at school, bit of footy, we were

01:29:00:00

never taught to play footy but we used to play amongst ourselves and was – you could get twelve marbles for a penny or something at the shop and we’d play marbles and you’d never see it now, I don’t think. Different games where you’d play keeps, if you won you kept what you got and that all that sort of thing, yeah that was – tops, spin a top and all sorts of things

01:29:30:00

like that. But yeah we never seemed to, always seemed to be able to find something to do. Girls’d play hopscotch and amuse ourself doing something. Yeah, it was quite all right. Yeah, the –
Did you have a pushbike at all?
No, never – till I – I was able to buy one for myself and then I got one. We learnt how –

01:30:00:00

kid that lived across the road from us, he had an old bike and we learnt to ride on it but we never had any till we were old enough to buy them for ourselves. Yeah, nothing like that, we used to have – make our own little carts, so we’d have a box and if I could find wheels, wheels were hard to get in them days for kids, you know. All pram wheels or something and pull them out and another game we used to do was

01:30:30:00

get a bike wheel and we used to call them ‘hoop’. A bike wheel’s hollowed out and you’d get a stick and that and you’d run for miles with your hoop. Don’t see anything like that now. Yeah that was a great one, run for miles with a stick and a bike – old bike wheel.
That was just the metal rim?
Yes the rim, no spokes or anything and you’d get the stick and it’d fit in the groove you know and you could juggle it and steer it around and

01:31:00:00

yes we had them. Yeah, all sorts of simple little things, I think we used to do if we were – it was quite good.
And how did, it’s a big family of eight kids, did you fight much amongst yourselves?
Oh yeah. The girls used to fight. The girls, who was going to do the dishes, you know, “It’s your turn tonight. You always go

01:31:30:00

to the toilet when the dishes are coming on.” All this sort of thing. But my brothers – Dick was, he was the one that come after me, he – we never, we got on very well, he’s passed away now, but he was me best mate I reckon my younger brother. Cos Les was the younger son, he was just starting school when I was leaving and we didn’t sort of, well he was always there but we

01:32:00:00

used to say he was mucking up our games, you know, we was playing hiding, he’d dob [inform on you] you in and things like that.
So you were closest to the boy next in age to you? What was his name again?
Dick, Richard. Dick, we used to call him. He died five, six years ago. And yeah we were really good mates, right through.

01:32:30:00

Yes.
So you shifted around quite a lot, did you – but you went to school mainly at Noarlunga [means Port Noarlunga]?
That’s where I started but I wasn’t there that long and then we went to, the next one was Sterling East then Aldgate and then Birdum, Heathfield, you know just all the schools went to in that period but we

01:33:00:00

I started at Port Noarlunga here. I don’t know whether, I was six years old when I started. And
Did that make it hard for you, changing schools all the time?
Yeah, I used to hate it. Yeah. You just got – and the school teachers were – one used to make us sing a song. If you was leaving the school you had to go out and sing a song. And I was stood out the front for an hour and a half one day, cos I wouldn’t sing.

01:33:30:00

He wouldn’t let me go. You wouldn’t have got me to sing a song out the front of the class in a million years. Yeah, I used to hate it. All right once you got there and knew a few kids, and it – you know, it was okay, but the first day or two, I was always – I used to hate it. Yeah, we did it quite often as you know. Yeah, so

01:34:00:00

yeah, some of the old school teachers in them days, were pretty ordinary.
Did you ever get the cane?
Yes, but not very often, I used to try and behave meself. They used to give you ‘six handers’, with the cane. And yeah, that was the worst punishment they were allowed to do. Which was bad enough. And they used to swish it up and down like this and, “Hold out your hand. Boom!”

01:34:30:00

Yeah, that was –
What did you do wrong?
Well we went – one place we went – in me lunch hour we went bird nesting. Three of us kids. Crossing the paddock and we knew it was – we used to – everyone had a collection of birds’ eggs which was not good, now they wouldn’t tolerate it nowadays, but we all had these collections of bird eggs, especially up in the hills. And three of us

01:35:00:00

nicked over to this scrub paddock and we forgot the time. Never heard the bell. Took us half an hour to get back to school, got the cane. We used to get a bird’s egg, puncture a hole in each end and blow out the yolk. And just keep the shell and we all had a collection of birds’ eggs. There was the sparrows and the starlings and the

01:35:30:00

parrots and that and we used to know where they’d nest and sneak up and sneak an egg out of their nest. See who could get the best collection of birds’ eggs.
Did you eat the egg?
No, just used to, if you blew hard enough, put a pinhole in the end and if you blew hard enough, all the yolk would come out and you’d just – no we wouldn’t eat the egg. Yeah that was one of our things we used to do.

01:36:00:00

What did you do with the eggs?
Just have a collection in a cardboard box and see who could get the most different sorts of birds’ eggs. Have them labelled and all that sort of thing. But yeah. And in them days the goldfinches used to, there was flocks of gold finches, you know what a gold finch is? Like a little – colourful little bird and

01:36:30:00

if you – they nested in the tree, you could go and take the young ones out when they were just – just before they were ready to fly, put them in a cage, and hang them in a tree and the mother would very often feed them and then you – they become a cage bird, like the canaries these days. And we used to do all sorts of things like that. At one place we were in, we had our trap

01:37:00:00

set for rabbits and Dick and I had six traps and we used to go out and set them and this night, we could hear this awful noise, across the paddock from the house. And my father said, “Oh you’d better go and have a look, there’s something caught in the trap.” We wanted him to come too, but he wouldn’t come cos we was frightened. Thought it might have been a fox or something, anyway it was a hare, it was caught in this trap.

01:37:30:00

Making a hell of a noise. Anyway, we had to stand off and dong him and well cos we ate him, took him home and Mum cooked him. But made a heck of a noise and we were a bit scared to go over. Anyway, we handled it all right. We had cooked hare then for a day or two. Yeah, things like that.
But your dad didn’t go?
He didn’t go, no, he didn’t go. No, he

01:38:00:00

sent us.
Well you – how did you get the job in the dairy when you left school?
This guy – I knew him, I’d come to know him, used to deliver milk around Aldgate and he had a two cows, we used to milk

01:38:30:00

the cows, be up two or three o’clock in the morning, milk the cows then put the milk straight into cans and deliver around Aldgate and Bridgewater and places like that. And he’d been doing that for years, family called Ashenton. And Keith Ashenton took over, he was the eldest son, when the father moved off and I worked for him for a while, yeah, milking cows and

01:39:00:00

delivering the milk around the town in a horse and cart, you know, used to deliver the milk for him.
Did you find learning how to milk a cow difficult?
No, I learnt how to milk a cow when I was six years old. We always, we always had a cow, that’s one thing we did have. And that was a great help to – in the family we always had cows. And I learnt to milk when I was

01:39:30:00

very young, used to have to go and milk the cow. I could do that, when I got older and moved into town I was milking cows and I could keep up with the best of them, to milk ten cows an hour was good, Mum was an expert at milking cows, to milk ten cows in an hour was really good going and she could do that. She was excellent at that. When we were living at Aldgate, she used to get up and go over and help the

01:40:00:00

milk the cows to help pay the rent, cos they owned the house we were living in. But yes. So yeah, milking cows was a – learnt at an early age.

01:40:30:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 02

02:00:31:00

So Fred, you were telling us about working the dairy when you were leaving school. Whereabouts did you deliver milk?
Round Aldgate and Bridgewater, the dairy was situated in between the towns, between Aldgate and Bridgewater and we used to milk the cows, had cows cos the paddocks there to keep the cows in and then we’d go out and deliver it same day, fresh milk

02:01:00:00

straight from the cows.
How would you deliver it? How would you take it around?
In cans like the old milk cans on the back of a horse and cart and measure it out into their billy cans with a measure that was the way it was done. And yeah, I did that around there for a while and then I left there and we

02:01:30:00

I came down to Mitcham and there was this fella called Rayner had this big dairy and we were milking 80 cows there and he was also delivering by this time pasteurised milk was coming down from the hills. And we were – I milked cows there for a while but then I got onto delivering. And we used to have to do a round, we used to start work there at one o’clock in the morning and deliver our

02:02:00:00

morning milk and be home by eight or seven or you know at that time and go home and have a bit of a sleep and do it, go out in the afternoon and deliver. We used to have horse and carts in them days and we did it all round the suburbs of Adelaide. And I was working there right up until I joined the army when I was eighteen.
Tell us how the

02:02:30:00

death of your mother impacted on your family?
I was working, living away from home and she took sick and they put her into Adelaide hospital and they notified me that she was there and within two days she was gone. I never even got the hospital to see her. But the rest of the family were living up in the

02:03:00:00

hills still at Heathfield actually and it was pretty horrific for the rest of the family, we didn’t know what was going to happen. But it was a sad state of affairs, we found out Mum had kept it from us, but me father had a relationship with another woman, and she’d found out. And we don’t know to really to this day, I don’t really know

02:03:30:00

what caused her to, you know what took her off in the end, but she was a terribly sad thing for all of us and her knowing what was happening, she never lived to see her – any of her kids grow up and be able to help her. And there was three were still going to school, Dick, Lorna and Les, were still going to school so

02:04:00:00

and me father had ‘freed out’ and went and lived with the other woman. And so left us to try and look after the other kids. Well we all chipped in we were all there and my second sister, the second to oldest one, she got married and kids moved in with her. But it was too much and we finally,

02:04:30:00

the three of them went out to rellies and lived with, my youngest brother lived at Port Noarlunga with an aunty and another one lives at Reynella with an aunty and – for a while, you know while he went to school and we just all put in a little bit of money that we was earning. And it got through by doing that. Even when I joined the army I had a lot of

02:05:00:00

money, or a shilling a day I think it was, to my sister to help pay for their keep.
So this is 1937, where were you living at this point in time?
I was living at Mitcham, I was boarding with a friend and I was working at – on this dairy at Mitcham, and yeah, I was – boarding with a family that were close y there.

02:05:30:00

And yeah, it was the – family had sort of spread out, the girls were working and the – were all putting in money to try and – little bit of money to help. And keep the youngest ones. Well, Dick got out to work, he was two years younger than me and he was sent out to work, so that left the two youngest ones, Les and Lorna

02:06:00:00

and we just between us we just brought them up. She lived off and on with me married sister, they did in times and between the lot of it we got through.
So you were able to stay in touch with each other even though you…?
Oh yes. Yeah, but the family at that stage we were pretty close but as they got married and got families of their own, just things happen don’t they and

02:06:30:00

they drift away and got to concentrate on their own families and all the kids and whatnot. But now again, as we get older, we’re sort of come back together again.
So you – but you had found a boarding house in Mitcham?
It was just a family house and they took in a boarder, I was – they had two sons and there was three of us in the same bedroom but it was, I was quite good and I could

02:07:00:00

live with them and go off to work so that was just quite satisfactory to do that.
Did you feel like you were growing up a bit too fast?
Yeah, yeah, I did yeah. Didn’t have any young life like, didn’t learn to play sport or didn’t have any sporting life at all. And yeah, it was a feature and

02:07:30:00

then because the war started and at eighteen I was in the army and you know you’re – you grow up pretty quick there.
And was it around this time that you met a girlfriend or your future wife or did that come a bit later?
She was the sister of my best mate.

02:08:00:00

And her husband got killed – she was eight years older than me, and her husband got killed on a motorbike accident on Unley Road and left her a widow with two young kids and I knew her and I used to see her a bit and course I went to the war and I was away for two and a half years, the Middle East and I came back and

02:08:30:00

I think now, I did the – the wrong thing, we were married in 1943, and I went off – I was in the frontline fighting battalion, I knew it was going to happen and I left her there with two kids and she could have, I could have been – but as it turned out, it was okay, it was good and but I – I remember getting on the troop train and thinking yeah.
We might come back and talk about that later. But I was just

02:09:00:00

wondering, when you actually met her. That was before you went away?
Yeah, before I went away. And yeah, we were all sort of friends, her – a mate of mine, her brother, he was helping her a lot and we used to see a lot of each other and go out as a group together and I knew her quite well. And yeah.
What do you remember of that – the declaration of war in 1939?

02:09:30:00

Well, it was I don’t know, just being young and I remember it all quite well. And then they were – as it went on the Germans took over, they went through Europe and all that sort of stuff and got worse and worse and we just thought that it was time – we had to do something about it. So I just said, “Oh well, in I go.”

02:10:00:00

And I –
Do you remember hearing the Menzies [Robert Gordon Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia] speech?
Yeah, yes I do. It was so grim you know that you just couldn’t believe what was happening. You know, he went through Europe and all that sort of thing and just everything was bad, news from the war, the Germans were just taking – and thought there was, all we could do was

02:10:30:00

join up, see if we could do something about it. Yes, and at the time it was all the young fellas were going into the army, hundreds and hundreds at a time.
Did you have mates that joined up?
Yeah, plenty of them, but none that were with me, actually, I just went in on my own. They nearly all joined up sooner or later, round about that time.

02:11:00:00

What motivated you to join up?
Just the fact that the war was going so badly and what could we do to do our bit and of course propaganda was coming out, we were brainwashed as much as anyone else. To do, you know, I always thinking that back, we didn’t think we were, but we were. Yeah, “Join up now.” And

02:11:30:00

all the rest of it and was either, a bit later on I think they conscripted a lot in, but at the time I went in there wasn’t any conscription.
Do you think at the time, you had a sense of patriotism?
Yeah, I think so, yeah. And you know being young and you just don’t realise that you think you’re, I don’t know

02:12:00:00

just nothing can happen to you, you feel so young and full of everything but you soon learn different.
Do you remember celebrating empire day when you were growing up as a young kid?
Yes, salute the flag and all that sort of stuff, oh yeah. Yeah, always did that and I thought that was wonderful, you know. Yep

02:12:30:00

the ‘God Save the King’ and all that – it’s full on, that’s what we were brought up on. I don’t think it was bad, I think it was good. Yeah, they – when I went in to join up, I said to my mate this was my wife’s brother, I said, “I’m going to join the army.” He said, “I’m not joining the army.” He said,

02:13:00:00

“All the best.” I said, “Well, you’ll get called up sooner or later.” And he said, “Well, I’ll wait till then.” So he did.
Why were you interested in the army and not any other service?
I don’t know. I thought once of joining the navy, but that never come to anything, I’d sort of turned off that. No, it was

02:13:30:00

just whatever comes, you do your bit and that’s what it was. That was my motto to right through. I never volunteered to do anything, just as it comes, you just go with the flow and it worked out all right.
So you were still working at the dairy when you enlisted?
When I enlisted, yeah.
So where did

02:14:00:00

you go to enlist?
Down at Wayville I think it was, yeah, I’m sure it was, yeah, that’s right, went to Wayville and they were enlisting by the hundreds, you know, young fellas were coming down from the country and enlisting and that, yeah.
Did you go by yourself that day?
Yes, I did, yeah, yeah. I had to put my age up. They didn’t query it, didn’t query it one bit. I was only eighteen, supposed to have been twenty.

02:14:30:00

And nobody queried or said a word about it, cos there was a lot of others went in too of that age. And I just said, that I was twenty and nobody queried me, didn’t have to prove it or anything. But the medical examinations, I laugh when I – was just non existent just about. They look at you and look at your teeth and

02:15:00:00

ask you how you was and all this sort of thing and, “Righto, you’re good enough, in you go.” Yeah. They didn’t do too many checks on us. Physically.
What did the rest of your family think?

02:15:30:00

Oh they didn’t seem to – no one interfered at all, you know didn’t worry. The older sister, she’d joined the – she was a nurse, a trained nurse and she joined the army. I think she was in round about that time or before me as a nurse. Yeah, was –
Why did you put your age up?

02:16:00:00

Just to join the army, cos I thought that was the thing to do. Yeah. There was no other reason. I just –
And it wasn’t ever found out?
Never queried, no. It’s on my certificates and that, “Date of birth: 1918, or ’19,” or something like that, actually I was born in 1921.

02:16:30:00

Well that day that you went to enlist and you had your medical, what happened after you had your medical?
Well, it was quite comical actually, they didn’t have enough uniforms to give us, they just give us the hat and the coat, something or other and they just supplies weren’t coming in quick enough. And so some of them were still in civilian clothes and half uniforms and it was quite makeshift,

02:17:00:00

they didn’t have any rifles for us to train with and oh gee, it was real rough. But gradually those, you know we got our uniforms and yeah, I can remember that quite well. And they took us into Wayville and give us a hessian palliasse that’s like hessian bag and filled it up with straw and we had to go and fill it up with the straw, then we put that on the asphalt to

02:17:30:00

floor in the motor pavilion and that was our bed with a couple of blankets. And had all lines painted in the – had to keep in line and all the rest of it. Yeah, so it was an experience, I can tell you. Cos then you had to be inspected that was the thing in army they, you had to shave every day and you know they inspect you and all that sort of thing.

02:18:00:00

Stuff that’s just, as you go, go along it’s just natural thing, but when it first hits you, it impacts on your life, you think, “Wow, what’s this going to be like?” But as you go along you just take it for granted.
And how well did your uniform fit you?
Not too well. No, I had to bring it home to my sister to shorten the trousers by about that much and the coat. Oh God, it was just ordinary.

02:18:30:00

Eventually they you know got around to trying to fit us a bit better, but our uniforms in them days, were pretty rough and they used to, we’d call it a ‘giggle suit’, they’d give us a khaki drill pair of pants and a funny little jacket and that’s sort of our working stuff and we used to call it our giggle suit and gee that was about all we had. And a great coat, the old great coat was handy the

02:19:00:00

overcoat. Put a – over us of a night to keep warm. Yeah, they – then to learn to march, slope arms and do all the regimental stuff, you know the – it was quite different. But a lot of the World War 1, guys come in as instructors and they were good, you know, they helped us and showed us and

02:19:30:00

eventually pulled us into shape, we could march and that. And it was – we finished up quite a thing. We used to come in and out of Wayville and we’d go over to the parkland and train, drill. And march in and out of Wayville. Yeah. Yes I didn’t actually mind

02:20:00:00

the regimentation of it all. It was good. If you’re – I don’t know, just good for you I think a bit of discipline and things like that. Think a bit more could be used today on some of these young guys.
You mentioned that there was quite a lot of young men joining up all at the same time, did you feel

02:20:30:00

like a small cog in a big wheel at that point?
Yeah, just a cog. Yeah, well as you go through you get a number and that sticks with you for the rest of your days, you know, your army days. I still stick in my brain, everything I do, I still remember me army number. And yeah, you’re just a cog in the wheel you know and we’d sling off at each other, you know. Even today, they say, “What was your number Fred?” And I’d say, “Oh

02:21:00:00

he was a bit late hearing the bugle.” His number’ll be 5000 and mine was 6000 we sling off at each other like that, you know. And yeah. It was – but we can usually tell round about when our army number, when we joined up. They was all just going through like this. The old army number.

02:21:30:00

I was in yesterday to a dinner with some of the old mates, we have it once a month sort of thing, but I tell you what, the ranks are thinning down.
Well, how well equipped were you at this point in time?

02:22:00:00

Oh, not – eventually got a rifle. And we learnt to drill with the rifle cos that was the main thing, and that but they were old World War 1 rifles and they before we – as we got along a bit further we got new ones but for a start they were the old discards from World War 1, had been handed in, but that was okay for drilling and all that sort of thing.

02:22:30:00

Yeah, we weren’t well equipped at all, we were actually we weren’t too on the machine guns, we learnt on the Vickers [Medium] machine gun and then we never, ever saw one in the army they were World War 1, things and no it wasn’t a Vickers, it was a Lewis [Medium] machine gun and they were World War 1, and then we got issued with the latest in Bren [Light] machine guns and all that. But yeah, equipment was a

02:23:00:00

problem in them days because they couldn’t supply us all with the latest stuff.
So while you were – you were at Wayville for a few months, so did you – where did you do your rifle practice?
Out in the parkland. Yeah, or around the – out on the oval in Wayville, anywhere where we could get a bit of space. But mainly out in the parklands, we used to march out into the parklands and be out there

02:23:30:00

and there was a lot when on there, yeah, that was – quite a lot of our training was there, we moved onto Woodside but we weren’t there very long cos that was the main camp in South Australia at that time and it was full up – I think it was 1 Battalion moved out and we went up there and we were there only

02:24:00:00

wouldn’t be any more than a month, two months, I forget. And we went overseas. Cos we marched from the Woodside camp to Oakbank railway station the day we left there. Full kit, packs on our back. Yeah, to – I can’t tell you how far that is, but it’s a fair few miles, to get on the troop train.

02:24:30:00

At what point had you been allocated infantry?
Oh, right from the day I went in, we were in what they call the ITB, Infantry Training Battalion, that’s what it was called and they called for anyone that wanted to go into anything else, they could apply to go into artillery or you know, that sort of thing,

02:25:00:00

but I had nothing you know to change, I was – the blokes that I was with, I had chummed up with, they were happy where they were, we just stayed there and eventually we got formed into the 2/48th. As the whole unit was there.
So did that form while you were at Wayville?
Yes, the colonel come from

02:25:30:00

Sydney, he was Colonel Windeyer, he come over to take over the battalion which he did and he was a – I think he finished up, Chief Justice of New South Wales or something, Sir Victor Windeyer, but he come and formed the battalion and was in this – you know all the companies and I was in A Company and always had it right through I was with the same one

02:26:00:00

So during those Wayville days did it feel chaotic, or well organised?
Yeah, it wasn’t too bad actually. Yeah, I would say it was fairly good, the guys that were running it were mostly World War I, guys and they you know, knew a bit about it and yeah, it

02:26:30:00

was pretty good. They you know, we were trained as well as they could train – with the weapons that we had and by the time we could go a bit further along well we found out – our training was pretty good.
Tell us again which company and platoon you were allocated?
A Company, 9 Platoon.

02:27:00:00

I was in that right through, until I got sick, I finished up in charge of a section, each platoon there’s three sections, and I was in 8 Section and I finished up corporal of 8 Section.
And I understand you were an

02:27:30:00

original 2/48th?
Yes I was, yeah.
So where had most of the blokes from the 2/48th come from? What sort of blokes were they?
Good – oh looking in hindsight, the early ones that went into 6th Division, the earliest ones that went into the army were mostly unemployed and you know

02:28:00:00

this, that and the other, at the time that we went in, there was a pretty -we’d all been working and you know the – shouldn’t say that I suppose, but we were a good mob of guys, they were excellent, excellent guys, genuine blokes. And only joined up because of the situation the war was in, you know it was going so badly.

02:28:30:00

Yeah, we were a really, really good mob of fellas.
Do you remember receiving orders that you’d be moving to Woodside?
Yeah, yes I can, we didn’t actually know we thought it wouldn’t be long before we went overseas, but we didn’t think it’d be quite as quick as it was and they come and told us that

02:29:00:00

a battalion had moved out, I think it was the 2nd/43rd had moved out to go overseas and we went up to there, took over their camp. But Woodside was pretty cold and – it’s a pretty ordinary place. We were in tin sheds out there, now you go up there, it’s a different story but yeah. I can remember the frosty mornings and things like that. It was

02:29:30:00

pretty cold. And trying to get a bit of warm water to have a shave and things like that, was quite a problem. Yeah and showers were on all the time cos they had to – we’d have different shower days where we went, there’d be a shower parade, we’d all have to go and have a shower and you couldn’t just go and get a cup of water, hot water to have a shave or anything you had to do the best you could. Yeah that was, although it was an army

02:30:00:00

camp, it was pretty primitive. Not the standards of nowadays. But yeah, there was plenty of room up there to train, like we could train to – they’d take us out on trucks and do manoeuvres with us which we couldn’t do at Wayville and we learnt a lot up there. Which was a regular army camp, I think the facilities were there.

02:30:30:00

And during this short period of time at Woodside, what was the buzz in your battalion about where you might – what you might be doing or..?
Oh we knew we were going to the Middle East, we knew for sure and but you know you don’t get to know too much more than what you think, and the rumours that go around but nobody tells you much. Cos it’s wartime and but we thought we’d go

02:31:00:00

but the boat we went on, the was first time as a troopship, it was a passenger liner and it was converted in Sydney to a troopship.
Did you have an pre-embarkation leave or final leave?
Yeah, we all had final leave, yeah and – but I don’t know how long it was, it wasn’t for long I don’t think. Only a matter of days and

02:31:30:00

What did you do?
Just come home and see all the rellies and you know, weren’t allowed to tell them anything. You know that we were going overseas but everyone sort of knew what was going to happen. When and what – yeah, it was all supposed to be secret and it was.
And did you have a party or a farewell?
No, I just went around myself to all the family and friends that I could see and I said, “Well it looks like we might be off this time,” and that was it. You know

02:32:00:00

there’s no parties or anything. For me anyway, and yeah.
And what about any parades through the city before you left?
Yeah, I think we did, did have a march through the city. Yeah we did. And yeah we did a few so, yeah, there was a and we were in, we had

02:32:30:00

all our gear on. respirators, tin hats, and all that sort of stuff. We marched through Adelaide, yeah.
With your tin hat on?
Yeah. Oh yeah, big time.
When you packed your bag to leave,

02:33:00:00

do you remember taking any small personal items with you?
Yeah, I’ve still got, there’s a wallet out there that’s on the table that was given to me by my brother and sisters with the initials on and the little placard, it’s still there and I remember that and what else? They give me a little camera, a little ‘box Brownie’ or something like that, you know. That got stolen. And never – never saw too far. Yeah, I got a few little things like that I kept on me all the time

02:33:30:00

but yeah, nothing really big or anything, oh we couldn’t take it anyway. But a lot of photos that were taken of the family and brothers and sisters and all that so I had them in me little wallet.
So you took family photos with you?
Oh yeah, too right, I’ve still got them out there, a lot of them. Yeah took them with me. Yeah.

02:34:00:00

Yes, they – they gave me the camera and the wallet that was all I got from my brothers and sisters.
And how did you get down to Outer Harbour from Woodside?
Train, straight through, it didn’t stop anywhere right out to Outer Harbour, raced off the train onto the boat. And we were

02:34:30:00

allotted – the mess tables were in this thing and we had hammocks sitting above and we had to sleep in the hammock. Eat on the mess tables under, fold the hammocks up and eat on the tables – and oh it was pretty cramped conditions, I tell you. On the old Stratheden. Yes I can remember it quite well and then she pulled out I think it was

02:35:00:00

next morning or anyway I can remember following out from Outer Harbour and we’re looking across, there’s no, just a couple of people waving. Just people were kept away, you know not supposed to know we’re leaving. Yeah, it was the first troopship to leave South Australia I think during the war.
And there wasn’t much of a crowd?
No, no crowd at all. No, just – supposed to have been secret, yeah well it was cos there was nobody

02:35:30:00

on the Outer Harbour wharf, just a few people that had been there fishing or doing something, you know and they just saw us going off and they waved. Yeah, it was pretty low-key stuff.
Were you standing on the deck when she pulled away?
Yeah, we were, yeah. It was – yeah, you wonder, you know, thoughts go through your mind, what the future held but yeah, it’s funny isn’t it? You go

02:36:00:00

away like that.
Was that an emotional moment for you?
It was I think. It was very – I noticed everyone was quiet and there was no – no just had their own thoughts and it was all the same I think, you know, just all what’s in front of us? We don’t know.
And was there any bugles or any- no fanfare?
No, nothing at all, no. And then we

02:36:30:00

pulled into Fremantle and we were there a few days actually we had leave in Fremantle off the boat. I think there was a sub scare or something out in the ocean somewhere and they kept us there for a few days to see what was going on and then we set sail. From there and
Which deck were you put into?

02:37:00:00

It was one of the lower ones, D Deck I think it was. Yeah. Was pretty ordinary living conditions on that boat. We – meals were pretty ordinary and things like that. But, cos it hadn’t, it was the first troops on there and the crew that were on there and used to

02:37:30:00

cooking for so many people and all this sort of thing and things were all just trying to work them out, how to handle it the best way they could, so much was going on.
Was this your first trip out of Australia?
Yeah. Yeah, I’d never been on a boat like that, I’d never seen one I think as big as that and that wasn’t the biggest boat at the time but the yeah it was quite

02:38:00:00

something.
And were you seasick?
Not on that, no, I was never seasick, never in my life, a couple of times I was pretty close but never seasick, I used to get a bit of a headache while you get used to the rock of the boat but some of the guys they were seasickness terrible, they were really ill with it, but no, it didn’t affect me. Very much at all.

02:38:30:00

And was she really crowded?
Yes, it was crowded, yes, oh , you know, there was just too many on there I thought. Cos they were stuck on there and yeah it was pretty ‘Rafferty’s Rules’ [pot luck] the meals that we got, but later on we had a – some of the other boats we were on, coming home, was a different story altogether, they were organised and knew how to handle it. But this was all new to us

02:39:00:00

and we used to try and sleep on deck if we could. Which was a heck of a lot better, soon as you get onto the tropics, you sleep on deck, but the crew are all – were Asian crew, you know they’d wash you off the decks. They used to come up and yell out, “Washing deck.” Or something and turn on the hoses on you. Cos they used to scrub all the decks and the hygiene on the boat was good. I can remember though we were trying

02:39:30:00

to get a decent shower. Cos water’s always restricted on these boats, so they turn off the fresh water at different times and there’d only be salt water coming through. Sea water. And I used to get up at two o’clock in the morning to go and have a shower, so I wouldn’t be there when the rush was on. You get to know all the larks and how to you know, survive and do the best you can.

02:40:00:00

Your milkman routine came in handy.
Yeah, early mornings yeah.

02:40:30:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 03

03:00:31:00

Fred, we were just talking about your journey to the Middle East, on the Stratheden, what ports did you stop at on the way?
We stopped at Fremantle, we were there and had a bit of leave in Perth then we went to Colombo, and we had leave in there actually, we were there two or three days or whatever and we went into and had leave in the town

03:01:00:00

and then straight from there to up the Red Sea into Suez Canal. Didn’t stop anywhere else until we got halfway up the Suez Canal at Kantara I think the name of the place was and they just drop a platform over onto the – you know, so narrow the – just about take up the whole canal and we just walked off onto – then we got onto trains from there.
What was the scene like in

03:01:30:00

at Suez when you got there?
Oh, it was just pretty ordinary, wasn’t a lot of people around, mostly ‘Gyppos’, Egyptians, you know, it was just – yeah, wasn’t a lot of people around or anything there. And it was quite late in the afternoon when we got off the boat, so we didn’t see anyone. And they put us on cattle trucks. And we

03:02:00:00

didn’t – we had to sit on straight, all boarded up, just straight wooden seats and away they went, I reckon – we always reckoned, the train had square wheels cos it was so rough. And we travelled into Palestine and –
so this is your first trip out of Australia, what were your impressions of Colombo firstly?
Yeah, well it was a –

03:02:30:00

quite nice scenery, it was always a nice setting and to see all the – it’s just common place now to see – you see it on the TV and that, but just to see how they masses of people in the markets and things like that, you know, that just so many people and little hand trucks and little motor bike things, all sorts of transport, it was just amazing.

03:03:00:00

Cos, to see it all for the first time. To be – we didn’t have access to what they have now and yeah, it was good. Quite an experience, you know, I enjoyed it.
And then Suez, what did you think when you got there?
It was an experience going up the Suez Canal,

03:03:30:00

it was in broad daylight and everything’s – and it looks as though you’re -I don’t know, it’s – such a huge big boat, going along on this narrow canal and there’s no distance to the sides. And it was amazing, absolutely amazing. The – to sail up this Suez Canal. And the boat just stopped

03:04:00:00

at this El Kantara, I think the name of the place was and they just stopped – got the walking planks over and just walked off, it was just amazing. And – but other than that, it wasn’t a lot to see there, right there, El Kantara where we got off. Anyway we went just straight onto trains and away we went.
Could you see anything from the train?
Yeah, well not much, only

03:04:30:00

was like cattle, just letting through the – and was travelling at night too. And yeah, no, couldn’t see much – it was just sort of open country and till we got off and no, wasn’t much to see on that trip.
What was the camp that you stopped at like in Palestine?
Yeah we were at Dimra first. Was a new camp, they’d just set it up for us and in tents

03:05:00:00

we were all in tents, we were – there was four or six to a tent, I’ve forgotten now, but it was yeah, it was pretty ordinary, you know but we were quite okay, we – they had these beds that they gave us over there were cane beds and they stood off the ground, about this high and they were made of

03:05:30:00

they were pretty flimsy things. But the kept us up off the floor, if you sat on one, you know, it would collapse if you wasn’t careful. And yeah, and that was all right and the weather was, what was it, over there in – yeah, pretty cold I think. That’s – we left here in November and it was their winter over there. But

03:06:00:00

they soon had us going training and marching and all sorts of things to keep us fit.
What kind of training were you doing?
Well, it was mainly trying to get us fit. From where we were. We used to – we’d go over some sand hills to the sea, I’m not sure exactly where, but this place was called, Dimra at any rate and they

03:06:30:00

trained us a lot in the sand hills to get us fit and we were pretty fit. Our colonel at the time was a pretty fanatic fitness man and it was – we didn’t – we used to grizzle all the time, you know, having to do it, but it was good for us, we kept pretty physically fit and on the move all the time. Yeah, training there was pretty hard, they – and from there we –you know just – appreciated

03:07:00:00

it being fit, I think that went right through the war with us, we were a pretty fit lot.
Did you have any weapons training?
Yeah, we had to learn to use our Bren guns were our main automatic machine gun and they issued us with some they were called, Thompson submachine guns, they were an American

03:07:30:00

gun, beautifully made they were – didn’t handle the desert sand too well, we used to have a bit of trouble with them with dust and dirt and sand. But they were issued to us at the time, it was – they were the two automatics, was the Bren gun and the Thompson submachine gun were our standard equipment and of course the .303 [calibre] rifle we all – everyone had one of them.

03:08:00:00

Yeah, we had to do all sorts of weapon training and learn how to pull them down and put them together and you know all sorts of things like that. That came into it quite a lot.
You said there was a bit of a problem with sand getting into the guns, how did you protect them?
Well, you just protect it, keep it covered as much as you can and used to have to put a lot of oil into a Thompson submachine gun to keep it oiled up all the time, which

03:08:30:00

was the thing that we didn’t have to do when we got the later gun, but they were – and they used to fire a .45 shell which was a heavy bullet, and the ammunition was heavy to carry you couldn’t carry a terrible lot of it, we used to have the pouches on our equipment on the side, and yeah, it was you just couldn’t carry a lot of ammunition. The

03:09:00:00

time you had your ammunition for your rifle and Thompson and these submachine guns. But they weren’t issued to everybody, we only had one of each to each section. And the others just had ordinary .303s, Bren gun and a Thompson submachine gun. They, yeah, they – we went right through the North

03:09:30:00

Africa campaign with those automatic weapons.
And what were you using for target practice?
They take us onto the rifle ranges, well they set up a rifle range there, was a place where you lay down and shoot at targets, you know, had to fire our rifles and the automatic weapons well, we used to

03:10:00:00

fire them at the same place too, yeah, just have targets sitting up on a bank or something or other, pretty primitive but we were okay for the purpose to teach us how to fire them and that but yeah, they had places set up for – to do that.
Did you have any problems with locals stealing or wanting to steal?
We had to

03:10:30:00

chain our rifles to the tent pole of a night. The Arabs – Arabs would pinch them and quite a few got stolen and we had to either have them chained up or have a hold of them in our hand, all the time. Cos they were clever at pinching them. They were used to go to a lot of

03:11:00:00

trouble to try and pinch our rifles. Yeah. And so that was always a problem. But of a night, in the tent, we’d all have a chain and we’d put it through the – our rifles and put them to the tent post so they couldn’t get out with them. Yes, they – that was always the first thing we had to watch – if we lost our rifle, wow that was a ‘crime’,

03:11:30:00

it was – you had to go ‘up on the mat’, face the colonel.
Did you ever have anything stolen?
No, no. They got into it though – our camp was near an orange plantation and there was this orange plantation had a fence around it and we were in a tent close to that and they cut a hole in the fence, they come through the

03:12:00:00

olive groves and cut a hole in the fence and got into our tent but they didn’t get our rifles, we had them chained up. They had a really, really good go at them but the couldn’t get them, but no, we didn’t lose anything.
Were you asleep when they came in?
Yeah, yeah. And they were clever, yes. Didn’t hear them. I don’t know, six – at least six in the tent, might have been more but didn’t hear them, we didn’t hear them. But you

03:12:30:00

could see where they’d been.
How did you know?
Well, you could see where they’d tried to get our rifles clear and they didn’t have any cutting equipment, you know, they had bolt cutters or something like that, they would have got them easy but the didn’t have anything like that and all they tried to do was to lift it up so you can get the chain under the tent peg, but I just forget how they

03:13:00:00

I think one of them woke up or something and anyway, they were disturbed, they took off, they thought we was a – they were making too much commotion in the tent trying to get them and so they give it away and went, went for their lives.
After Dimra, where did you move to?
We were at Dimra all the time in Palestine that first time, I think. And we – they took us then up to

03:13:30:00

North Africa to the and we travelled right through, we went through Cairo, Alexandria, and headed right up to – see the 6th Division had taken Bardia and Tobruk and Benghazi and all those North African towns and they’d got up there and they’d pulled them out to go to Greece.

03:14:00:00

And took us up there to garrison the towns and hold the you know, to take over. Which – then the Germans come back at us and we started to retreat, we had to. So the – actually we were at Darnah which was one of – was a nice little town in North Africa, and we were garrisoning the town and

03:14:30:00

garrisoned the town and next thing we’ve got orders to get out. Germans were coming down.
How long were you in Darnah?
Only a matter of a few weeks. Not quite sure how long it was. And the British Army were up further, they all start coming back, Germans were coming down in force, and they said, we had to get out the best way we could.

03:15:00:00

So we took off marching. We were garrisoning these houses, they were empty houses, we were camped in them it was quite good actually and orders come through to get out. Cos the – so we took off marching, anyway finally commandeered a truck and about 40 of us got on the back of this truck and

03:15:30:00

it just – we got to Tobruk on that truck. And they took – us to – it was a Pommy, an English convoy of whatever they were, the trucks were driven by Englishmen anyway and we didn’t stop too much all the way from there right down to Tobruk. We hadn’t had a decent feed for a couple of days, things were pretty ordinary.

03:16:00:00

How big was Darnah?
The track?
No, Darnah?
Darnah? It was a nice little town – I just don’t know how – it was fairly big, and it was in a – had to come down, if you were coming from on land, you had to come down this big pass to get into it and beautiful groves of

03:16:30:00

plantations and all that sort of trees whatever they grew there and was very pretty actually. And it was quite a – was a bit of a port there where the boats used to come in, it was a nice – it’d been a holiday town in – for Italians I think, they used to come up and spend holidays there. And it was very modern buildings and yeah, really nice, but cos the Germans had come down and took it over at one stage

03:17:00:00

and we took it back off them and the people there were you know, just a pretty town – a lot of them had gone. And everything.
Was there much devastation from the attacks that had gone on in the town?
Not a great deal. They didn’t seem to do much fighting in the town itself, they were either got out of it or come back and whatever, you know, they had – the civilian population was pretty

03:17:30:00

quite a lot there. They had trouble, we were carting a food dump, was all this tinned tuna and that in this big dump. All they wanted to do; they used to come round with heaps of money, trying to buy it off us. You know, they were – food was scarce, they were really – but we were there to guard it, but finished up walking out and leaving it.
Why were you guarding it?

03:18:00:00

The civilian population would have just take over you know, I don’t know, who it belonged to or what the whole story of it was, but it was this big dump of foodstuffs and if we hadn’t have been there it would have – the civilians would have just you know, took it all. But it wasn’t our, what we ate, they used to call it, it was tuna in big tins a lot of it and we didn’t

03:18:30:00

used to like it – it was terrible stuff, but the Arabs and that, they were – it was beautiful, they used to give you plenty of money for it if they could get it, yeah, so and there was everything in the town there, there was a nice hotel there, where it was to accommodate tourists, you know, it was quite a nice town.
So did anyone ever flog any of those cans?

03:19:00:00

Oh yeah. I got a zip up leather case out there on the table, come from there, we were billeted in this beautiful big house and there was a few things there that we knocked off. But nothing, you know, terribly worth a lot of money or anything, just little things.

03:19:30:00

What souvenirs did you knock off?
Well it was only things we could carry like I got – that leather case, cos it used to fit right in the back of my pack and it’d zip up and maps and a whole heap of, I thought that was great and I carried it with me all the time, got it home. And things like that that – but anything you took, you had to carry with you – you had no way of transporting it. If you couldn’t carry it, well you left it there.

03:20:00:00

As a garrison force you were guarding the tins of tuna, was there anything else that you were doing?
Oh yeah, there was a prisoner of war camp there and some of our guys had a bit to do with that and whatever makes – our company commander, Major Luffrey, was more or less running the town, you know when we went in there to garrison

03:20:30:00

he had – then all of a sudden we had to get out. So I don’t know what happened after that. But it was quite a nice town. Especially the surrounding country that you go through to get there. Like, your North African desert is just nothing, you know, but you get into these, like an oasis you get into it and they’ve got water there and they can grow things and it was

03:21:00:00

yeah and I believe some of the other towns were the same, none of us saw them, well I saw Tobruk, but that was wrecked anyway but Benghazi and those places were quite big cities, quite nice. Yeah, it was quite an experience getting out of there it was – we finished up landing right in Tobruk, big truck took us right into the town. And

03:21:30:00

then from there, well we had to find the rest of our battalion cos we were sort of split up on trucks and everything. And wasn’t until next day that we saw our first shells, the Germans were ‘knocking on the door’, so we had to get organised and be prepared for what was going to happen. They were starting to shell us and we saw our first shells had been fired at us.

03:22:00:00

From there on, we had to take over the perimeter, Tobruk was surrounded by perimeter of – built by Italians, big ‘tank traps’ and all these places where we guarded the town. And we took over that – like the whole 9th Division got taken there and we were there for seven months.
When you arrived

03:22:30:00

in Tobruk, what was the atmosphere like, what was the scene like?
Well it had been knocked around but there was one thing, there was a group of, there was a hospital boat in and there was a group of nurses, they’d been running the hospital, Australian nurses and all females and they’d been running the hospital and they just getting evacuated and everything. Anyway they got onto this hospital boat and it took them straight out and off they went.

03:23:00:00

Back to Alexandria I suppose, I don’t know. It was pretty well battered around a bit with the bombings and things that had gone on the past before we got there, but from there on, the time we were there, they just hammered, really hard, it was just a mess. Where the whole surroundings were, the whole perimeter or where we spent our time to keep the Germans out was all these prepared

03:23:30:00

posts and where you guard the whole perimeter and we spent seven months there trying to keep the Germans out, which we did.
So you said you saw, after the first day, you saw your first shelling from the Germans, were you dug in?
Yeah, we were, yeah, but not anything to a great extent, we were just pretty primitive just dig a hole so you get a shelter, cos they got

03:24:00:00

a – you know you get under ground, but yeah, things was just starting to get organised with the powers that be were trying to spread the troops around and be there for whatever was coming and it was a – yeah, we had to dig in for – eventually we got into the prepared positions which was quite good, we

03:24:30:00

had a bit of protection.
Where were you positioned?
Well, they used to move us around a bit. There was quite a lot of just perimeter went around and there was some places where we would – get moved to after – there was a few places that were really bad and you couldn’t stay there too long. Cos you had to live underground and you know, and

03:25:00:00

they used to put us in there for a couple of weeks or something then pull us out and put another mob in. And it was – and the Germans attacked us at – and they took one of the posts off the perimeter – and we had to pull back we used to call it ‘the Salient’ and we dug in to hold them, and they couldn’t come any further, but they actually took the

03:25:30:00

post that was there and we stayed there and wouldn’t let them come any further, but we couldn’t show ourselves all day. Cos they could see us if we moved. They were on a bit of a rise. So as soon as at night, it was a terribly funny situation, they have a truce at night. We couldn’t get any food in or out anything moved, so it got dark and

03:26:00:00

then you had to take your chances. Or as soon as it got dark this – we’d have a couple of hours, they wouldn’t fire on us and then at certain time they’d fire up these tracer bullets and that was the end of it, it was on again and we were firing at each other, but it was a phenomenal set up. You wouldn’t believe it in a war. but they were in a bit of the same position, we wouldn’t fire at them for

03:26:30:00

this two or three hours every night and they wouldn’t fire at us. But soon as we see these tracer bullets go up, get in under cover, cos she was on again. It was just one of those things, and they had a truce at one stage, with Australians, a company from the 47th Battalion tried to get this position back off them and they just got wiped out. And

03:27:00:00

they called a truce there, I just forget how it was worked now. And to – so we could get our wounded and dead out and they were in the same position. So then they – started up again. So it was just unreal. But they never, ever got any further, they tried hard enough a few times, but they never got it. We held them off.
How was truce called?

03:27:30:00

I know how it finished, it must have been the same way I think, they used to fire up these tracer bullets where you know, you can see them going up in the air and that was the call to – that everything was ceased, the whole place would go quiet. And we’d be rushing in the food and water for the next day and they’d be doing the same. And then I’ve just forgotten the time, but around nine or ten o’clock at night, they’d fire the tracer again and that was it.

03:28:00:00

Get under cover, or else you might get hit– yeah that used to operate on this one position. And they did it for quite a long time.
Well, you mentioned that one of the really bad positions you had was underground, can you describe how that worked?
Well you just had to have a – you couldn’t show yourself. Because they could see us. And we had to have – we used to try and dig a trench

03:28:30:00

and cover it with sandbags and make it, in a – to look like the surrounding country’s as nice as you could and just, but they used to shell us and they you know, they killed and wounded a lot of people cos they could get a direct hit on the position or something but they never actually took it, come out and tried to beat us off. But they give us ‘billy-oh’ [trouble], with every other weapon they could think of, but they wouldn’t sort of come and attack us straight

03:29:00:00

out on this position. They did in a few of the others. Yeah, it was a funny set up there. So we used to go out on patrol, used to do a lot of patrolling, I used to hate it. It was really nerve racking, all that, all done of a night. We’d go out to their

03:29:30:00

positions and at one stage I was on the patrol and we had to try and get a prisoner, they wanted to interrogate a prisoner, and we thought they were Italians in front of us, but we didn’t think they were Germans, and they were Italians, anyway our officer took us out and we got up at – got up a prisoner, he

03:30:00:00

organised a ‘grab man’, there was a big guy in our mob, knew him well, and he had to try and get the prisoner, was his job. And we had to be there to – cos they were going to take after us or fire everything at us, so we had to then try and protect him so he could get this prisoner back. Which he did and he had this -–they were on the working party, they were digging trenches, talking away in Italian, and we were sneaking up on them and

03:30:30:00

all of a sudden we were right on them and he dashed in and got a fella by the scruff of the neck and his trousers and the pack and headed back as hard as he could go. Cos they took a few minutes to realise what had happened cos they hadn’t heard us, then they opened up with everything. But it was too late, we were too far away by this time. So

03:31:00:00

we got a prisoner. Took him back to our camp and of course intelligence took him and I don’t know what happened to him but he – the officer, got a decoration for that. Was well planned and well carried out. But I was on that, I remember it quite plainly.
How many of you were there on that patrol?
Oh, I think there would have been about a dozen of us went out, yeah.

03:31:30:00

Around about that figure. And yeah, we did a lot of, lot of patrols. And trying to pick up information and all sorts of little things and it was always, it was terribly nerve racking. This – every position had what they called a listening post out front, they’d have a person out the front and concealed in a position, would listen to

03:32:00:00

for patrols. And another time we went out on one and we saw – we were told to try and get a prisoner – I don’t know if we got out there, but the listening post heard us and we seen him and get up and run back in. So that was it, everything just went quiet. Our officer said, “No,” he said, “They’re just sitting there waiting for us.” So he wouldn’t go on with it. Which was a good idea I thought.

03:32:30:00

Things like that went on all the time, just patrolling and trying to pick up information and where they were and what they were doing. It was yeah, quite we had system in my section where there were no volunteers, just, “It’s your turn,” you know, and you know when your turn come around, you had to go.

03:33:00:00

And we found that was the best way to go, yeah. No detail and you didn’t have to tell anyone, they knew it was their turn next.
Did you have any enemy ‘contacts’ on these patrols?
Oh yeah, yeah. A few times. Yes, not – didn’t have a really big shoot-out but different times they picked us up and had fired on us and we were able to get away cos we were seen

03:33:30:00

– they were face to face, not with me anyway, some of them did. So yeah, that was the thing we did all the time. Even later on we did more of it down in Alamein and that.
Well, you were talking about living underground, how big

03:34:00:00

were your trenches?
Oh just big enough to get in, depending what the ground was like, the digging conditions and the longer you were there, the more you worked on it and try and make yourself a bit more comfortable but the thing was to get underground, so as your head down so that they couldn’t see you and fire on you – and you wouldn’t be a target. But we spent forever digging trenches and

03:34:30:00

cos it was rocky ground and oh my God. Sometimes we’d be laying on our tummies just about couldn’t get down there deeper cos of the rocky ground and things like that. It was yeah, wasn’t too pleasant to have to get underground. But as I said, the longer you were there, everybody just worked on it. One time we were digging was

03:35:00:00

pretty quiet on this position and we got – they sent us up some explosives cos we couldn’t get underground, it was too rocky. And we blasted a few rocks out to get ourselves undercover. Yeah, it was – quite hazardous and hard living, you know, rations were thin and water was, all the time you know, just the barest thing, cos everything had

03:35:30:00

come into Tobruk by sea and the water mostly was seawater desalinated it was hard, you know it was terrible to drink and if you try to have a wash your soap wouldn’t last or anything like that cos it was, I don’t think they used to get all the saltiness out if it. But we survived on it, it was fine.
So how would you make your trench a bit more comfortable?

03:36:00:00

Oh, all sorts of ways. If you were just in, dig deeper and dig longer so you could stretch out in it. And if you could get some sandbags or anything for a cover over the top you felt a bit more secure, but you couldn’t, we could never get deep enough to stand up in – was just existence of moving around as least as possible in the daytime, cos they could spot us.

03:36:30:00

And they had air supremacy, they could fly planes over all the time without, well we’d fire at them but from the land but we had no planes, you see and we had – they could just do as they liked and if they decided to bomb us they come in screaming with their bombs and they bombed the town that much that there wasn’t much left of it. I

03:37:00:00

got dysentery and was sent out to the hospital in Tobruk and there was a big building but it had been bombed and that, it was pretty ordinary but the water point, the main water point was just where the trucks used to come out and get the water for the desalination, it was only just up the road from me, cos they used to come in and try and bomb that. And they hit the hospital,

03:37:30:00

the night I was there, the hospital was hit. And the building’s a flat roofed and they have sort of terracotta or masonry ceilings and things like that, and I was that ill that I didn’t feel like running and they said, “Here and hey.” And everyone was running in terror and I just got under my bed. And next thing ‘boom!’ Didn’t come in, it was far enough away but it showered us all with stuff from the roof,

03:38:00:00

me bed was covered and the whole ward was covered with it and oh, what a mess. But I wasn’t injured or anything like that. But I was pretty ill with dysentery at the time. And that was an experience that I didn’t think much of, going to hospital in Tobruk. And they shifted us out into a tent hospital that they’d put up and that was nearly as

03:38:30:00

bad. It didn’t have the buildings or anything like that, but they used to shell it and bomb it, Germans didn’t worry whether it had a red cross on it or not half the time, if they could have a go at us, they would. But I survived that and got back to the unit and yeah, we were shifted around quite a lot.
Did you feel more vulnerable being in the hospital?
Yes, it’s terrible, yeah. Yes, you did, you just

03:39:00:00

didn’t have anywhere, they had a few trenches around the place but wasn’t enough to get us – I wanted to get out of it, it was yes, didn’t like it at all. And –
And when you moved to the tent, how did you feel about it?
Oh, it was terrible, absolutely primitive. The way that it was set up,

03:39:30:00

we had – at least we had a bed and we had treatment from doctors and best treatment they could give us under the circumstances but it was just terrible to be there and feel under tents in that place, you felt so vulnerable, and they used to fly past – the German planes and they knew it was a hospital, big red crosses everywhere, but they just open up just for fun I think, you know

03:40:00:00

they’d strafe us in the hospital, you know with their machine guns and then fly off. But just cos they thought they were having fun or something I don’t know. But the red cross didn’t make much difference too them, so we felt very, very vulnerable, oh no, we had to get away from it.
How long were you in hospital?
I think all up it was a couple of weeks. And

03:40:30:00

there was a terrible lot of the dysentery, what’s the worst one you can get, there’s ordinary’s diarrhoea and then the worst one’s – anyway they used to test you for it. And the – if you had that well you got chance of being evacuated out of the town on a hospital boat. Some of them were swapping over and trying to leave – someone had had it, ‘you give me some of yours and I’ll see if I can get out’. I know that went on a bit. But didn’t with me. Yeah, I got back to the unit.
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 04

04:00:31:00

Just before we leave Tobruk I’d like to ask you a few more questions about living in the trench. How did you sleep when you were patrolling at night?
Oh just had to sleep in the daytime and do the best you can, you know, it was just – when we were in the frontline, at the perimeter, somebody had to be on guard all the time, well they were some

04:01:00:00

two hours off and four off or something, something like that, they’d usually work it out amongst themselves but somebody had to be on watch all the time. And then if you was patrolling well if you had to go on patrol that night well you’d have the day and you wouldn’t have to be on picket, which was the guard, and you’d get a bit of a rest during the day and – but it was only whatever the conditions were like well that’s what you had to do, as far as your

04:01:30:00

where you slept or whatever and they were, yeah, pretty ordinary.
And did you share your trench with anyone at all?
Yeah, there was always somebody, two of us would usually dig a trench together, or dig a trench like that and the one would be there and one would be here. Usually something like that and yeah, we’d try and have somebody close to us all the time, you could talk to and share everything with and that, you know.

04:02:00:00

It was, you know we could mainly only eat at night, because it was – the flies and things were so, so bad. Conditions were terrible. And the food would come up and you just eat at night. Everything was done at night and rest in the day mainly, you – because but you still had to have pickets on all day, yeah.
Who did you share your trench with?

04:02:30:00

Mainly with my mate, Harold Gast his name was and he survived the war and got wounded in Tobruk actually. He come out. And he got wounded at Alamein, yeah he was my mate most of the time, and then later on there was a fella called, Vingoods, he was a – he shared later on, we were together yeah, usually

04:03:00:00

you know, chum up with a two of a – it’s a funny thing, you know the personalities and things. One bloke who can’t stand the sight of him, cos he nags too much or something or other but they’d usually come together and you’d pick on somebody and soon as you – you got on well together. Yeah.
Be an interesting relationship to develop in those circumstances.
Oh absolutely, you get to know each other pretty well, pretty well

04:03:30:00

I tell you, yeah. Really, really good mates, that’s true. Yeah and it – yeah I didn’t think, that’s when it hurts, when anything happens to one of your, you know, you’ve shared food and you’ve shared dugouts and everything with them and then something happens and you really feel that, you know it’s really hard but it’s war and you had to go on you know, just as a..
So how did you quell the boredom with your

04:04:00:00

how did you get over the boredom of being stuck in a trench?
Oh all sorts of ways. All sorts of ways, we used to – one of our blokes used to make up crossword puzzles and he was a trimmer, oh we used to, “Here’s another one.” He’d make it up, you know. One thing I can remember, you know, he was trying to make these crosswords up and he’d finish up with one with a XYZ or something, you know, and he’d just say, “Oh a river in Russia.” Something like that for the clue and

04:04:30:00

but he was an expert; we used to have a bit of fun doing that and oh, there was all sorts of stupid things we used to do. Yeah, didn’t seem to – the boredom didn’t seem to worry us too much cos it was always something going on.
And did you talk to each other across the trenches?
Oh yeah, yeah. Mainly,

04:05:00:00

yes, where they were situated usually is in small groups, you know, everybody’d – each section would have their own area and we’d be in contact with one another, yell out or whatever. Yeah it was a funny set up but in the desert there we did most of our fighting and patrolling and that at night in the dark, was

04:05:30:00

sometimes it was quite easy to get lost if you didn’t have a landmark or something. So we had to lay tapes, used to have a roll of white tape and if we had to go somewhere in the night or something like that, you’d have a tape during the day or do it, whenever you could so that you wouldn’t get lost cos you’d turn around and you wouldn’t know which way it’s going, was just eerie. But the biggest thing that helped us all was the

04:06:00:00

North Star, in the northern hemisphere, you can always find the North Star, it’s so easy to find and oh, used to help us time and time again. You’d look for the North Star and you’d know where you were and which way to go. That was always a big help to us over there. It was eerie the way you could just, if you walked over to see a mate and it was dark, you sit there and have a think on it for a while and you’d just get up and go the opposite way, you’d swear you were going home, back to

04:06:30:00

your own trench and you wouldn’t be at all. But we used to have to have tapes laying and all sorts of things like that.
You said that you really didn’t like the patrols, what was it about the patrols that really..?
No. Oh it was just so dangerous and frightening and you were keyed up the whole time and you’re out in no-man’s land and you don’t know whether you’re going to run into one of their patrols or you know, it’s just so

04:07:00:00

nerve racking and the whole time you’re out. Yeah, that was the hardest thing. Some guys were really good at it, they could do it you know, they were experts, on night patrols and things like that but to me it was, we didn’t , was always glad when my turn was over. But I did a lot.
Did you lose many men on those contacts on patrols?
Not a great deal. Now and again you’d lose some on patrols but

04:07:30:00

mainly it was, you know when the big push was on you know that and then they’d shell us and then we’d shell them of course and if you got a direct hit on a position or something you’d lose some men, yeah I think – there was always something going on, always the whole time.
You were mentioning about the food and the

04:08:00:00

water, what kind of food were you getting in the trenches?
It was pretty – it was the old bully beef of course that was made up in a lot of ways, you always had a few tins of that on hand. And then we used to get what were called, goldfish. Tinned herrings. And they were just, they’d be laying around the desert everywhere, if you was really hungry, you’d eat them but otherwise, you wouldn’t,

04:08:30:00

now and again if it was possible, they’d cook up a hot meal, or usually a stew or something like that and something hot for us and but mainly it was just pretty basic, bully beef and biscuits and whatever they could get to go. Later on in the latter parts of the war they got a few different things then but that stage it was a yeah, pretty ordinary

04:09:00:00

food.
Hygiene, how did you keep clean?
Yeah, well we didn’t – water was so restricted, you couldn’t have a wash, or anything, used to have a shave occasionally and try and scrape a bit of mud off your face and things like that but yeah, it was just so – blokes would strip off and a

04:09:30:00

little thing of water like that and a flannel or something and just freshen themselves, you couldn’t scrub yourself, you know, but oh, whenever they could they’d send us down to the beach and we’d have a night or two nights near the sea. Well, you’d strip off and get into the sea and re-freshen yourself up you know and clean up all your gear and your

04:10:00:00

utensils from your food dixie and all that you couldn’t clean it properly and with a bit of sea sand and bit of salt water and we’d scrub everything up and have a good clean up and a decent sleep, that was the best parts of the – you know a bit of a- and they used to do that for us often as they could, so you can get a couple of days respite. Because in the Mediterranean, all the

04:10:30:00

sea, there’s no tide. The tide doesn’t come in like other seas, you can go and put your tent up three feet away from the water and you’ll be safe, you know and it – yeah we used to do that wherever we could. Not that we’d put tents up very often and up in Tobruk but you can lay down and you wouldn’t be worried with the water coming in. Yeah that used to be a good thing,

04:11:00:00

we used to like to do that. And clean up – not that you could get – scrub yourself that well but you – if you had tinea in between your toes which was a hell of a thing, you know, cos you couldn’t wash them but you’d clean your feet up with just walking in the sand and salt water and – but yeah, it was – it cleaned us up and we appreciated that a lot.

04:11:30:00

Well seven months under bombardment and patrolling, sense of humour would have been really valuable, how did you keep your spirits high?
It was pretty hard, I’ll tell you. Simple little things come into it a lot. Like, you know, it’s a bit hard to remember back but I can’t ever remember well

04:12:00:00

there were times I suppose but where we was just absolutely bored stiff or anything, there was just so much to go on with and do and they had us – if there was nothing to do and – no we could get out, we’d be improving our positions or be cleaning up our gear or if we couldn’t get out well we’d just a few of the guys used to have a pack of cards and we’d play cards and you know things like that

04:12:30:00

but yeah. I can’t remember being really bored stiff, time on our hands to –there’s always something going on.
Well after a bombardment, how would you clear the dead and wounded?
Oh yeah that was, well the – always had stretcher bearers near us and nearest

04:13:00:00

clearing post would be somewhere, yeah, it was quite a thing sometimes, we had to try and get them back to where they could get treatment and depending where you were, sometimes they’d have to wait all night, all day and you could only get them out at night. Things like that, you know. Yes, it was – every situation

04:13:30:00

every position was a different problem. But somehow we used to manage.
Were you ever required to bury any of your dead?
Yeah, oh yeah. Not so much in Tobruk we didn’t do much, later on in the Alamein, oh yeah. Tobruk , they were able to get most of them out

04:14:00:00

or even if it was a day or something like that. And the padres or the interns or whatever would take over and do that and but later on in Alamein it was a different story.
How would you describe your enemy, the Italians and the Germans?
The Germans were the hardest to fight, the Italians

04:14:30:00

we struck them and they didn’t even have any heart in it, they didn’t want to fight and they didn’t want to go to war I don’t think. They would surrender a lot easier than the Germans, the Germans were arrogant, oh so arrogant, and there was Rommel’s [Field Marshall Erwin Rommel] crack unit was the [German] 90th Light Infantry and they were all six foot Germans who’d been trained – They were arrogant, the Germans were. They’d come up and stand right in front of you and, “Heil Hitler!” and right in your

04:15:00:00

face if they had an opportunity. They were that arrogant and tough fighters, yeah. We took a lot of prisoners at different times and the Italians would give up, the Germans would fight you right till the death. But we captured plenty of them.
There was – you said that you had no air support, in Tobruk

04:15:30:00

and the Germans did. Why do you think it was so successful then?
We just wouldn’t give in, they – Rommel had – he’d bypassed Tobruk and gone around the whole area and then gone on further and he was right down to – nearly down to Alexandria and we he

04:16:00:00

had to come back and had a go at us, like he sent his crack troops in and he found he was losing too many men and he – we just kept going at it, and no, they we just fought them off, that was it.
Well you were – you spent seven months there and then you were relieved by Polish troops that came through, how did you

04:16:30:00

feel about leaving Tobruk?
Oh glad to get out of it. Oh absolutely yeah. It was – really we’d had enough and needed to – yeah it was – I had been, myself I had a terrible sore throat and it’d been there for a while and I knew we were going out pretty soon, but I didn’t know when and I didn’t report

04:17:00:00

sick with it. So anyway our turn come to come out and they took us down to the harbour in the dark put us on a – march onto this destroyer, as we were marching off one side end, the others – our relief was marching off the other and cos they could only come into the harbour at night and we got on this – the [HMS] Kingston, I think it was. And

04:17:30:00

it took off. They warned us that if certain time the bell would ring and that was it, if you was half on the boat jump. Cos the boat would move and that was the time they had to pull out and that’s the time, gives us no time to do anything, anyway we got on. But these boats are not meant for carrying troops, they were destroyers, we just had to sit around on the deck with our pack on our back, we’d drop it and we’d sit on it

04:18:00:00

and that was all we had. You could get up and walk to the toilet if you wanted to but there was a battle. And the boat takes off to back to Alexandria and well, we were sailing and we’re going along there and next thing the bells were clanging and things and they got a warning of some sort and the boat start to zigzag and they go fast as they can, wow. What an experience.

04:18:30:00

Anyway we got back. And we went straight from there into Palestine, yeah to one of our camps and they said, they draw a raffle or something for first leave in Jerusalem. I got on it and I went to Jerusalem cos we had a bit of a – few drinks and a bit of a

04:19:00:00

celebration and everything to be, that we got out of it and I got back to camp and I think I was hanging back – suffering with a hangover more than anything, I went sick and they swabbed my throat and I had diphtheria. I had diphtheria from the swab and they rushed me off to blinking hospital and all the jabbing needles into me and all sorts but I survived that all right. But I shouldn’t have done it really

04:19:30:00

but I did. Couldn’t have had it that bad, I don’t think. Yeah, so that was the end of Tobruk and we were back in Palestine again by that time.
And you – so you went back to hospital, where was the hospital?
That was in Palestine, it was a 9th AGH, Australian General Hospital,

04:20:00:00

set up, it was in tents but it was a beautiful place, you know, we got treated really, really well, all Australian girls and nursing and everything was set up for us there, it was good. Had no problems with that and yeah. I was there for two or three weeks, started to feel better, I thought, leave me here for a bit longer, this is good. Good food and – yeah, it was nice.

04:20:30:00

And after you left the AGH, where did you?
Yeah back into camp and yeah, we were – when you’re in an infantry battalion you never get any peace to train you all the time, always something going on, to keep you occupied and fit and all the rest of it and we trained in Palestine and then they decided to send us to

04:21:00:00

Syria. Well, Syria had been taken from Vichy France, the 7th Division had been up there and occupied Syria and we went to a town called Tripoli [?].
Can I ask you a bit more about the camp in Palestine. Which camp was this?
Now, I’m not too sure on this one, I think it was Dulis, we had – I think we had three different ones there, I think there was Dulis

04:21:30:00

And how long were you at Camp Dulis?
Oh, was – might have been months, or might have been two I don’t know. Just can’t remember.
So you mentioned that you did more training there, what other training were you doing now?
Well, we just – they don’t let up on you, they train you, they march you they – you go through all your weapon training again and do

04:22:00:00

field manoeuvres, they take you out in trucks and have mock battles and just something going on all the time when you’re in a frontline fighting battalion, they think they – you get bored or something, but I was just dying for a – just to leave us alone for a while. No, but in the long run, if you’re fit, you’re better off.
Did the battalion take reinforcements at Dulis?
Oh yeah they

04:22:30:00

all the time, reinforcements are coming in. So you’re numbers get down there’s always some reinforcement and that was all organised back in Palestine, all the time. There was troops coming over from Australia and they would go into a training battalion there and whatever you needed them they would go out to that. And that was happening, you know all the time. And even right to the very last.

04:23:00:00

There was a mob that went over and no sooner got there than came home. They just had a cook’s tour, over and back. But that was going on all the time.
So after Tobruk and with your new batch of reinforcements, did you give them any advice or guidance?
Oh yeah, tried to. Yeah, to bring them in and you know, had some wonderful

04:23:30:00

guys come to us and you were always teaching them the danger things and you know, to keep away from this and to so and so and yeah. Any advice that, and they would seek advice from, you know from us that had been and done it, you know they were, yeah, that was pretty good set up they had there. With and the way they reinforcements

04:24:00:00

came in. As soon as we get back from Palestine they were all even –wherever we were, they were trying to keep our numbers up to what they should have been if they – the reinforcements were available which they were most of the time. We had a – you know, like the 48th was formed all Australian at Wayville, that we had a lot of Western Australians in the finish and they were really

04:24:30:00

really good. Good guys, but yeah they came into us and as reinforcements. They were good.
Did you have any leave when you were at Camp Dulis?
Yes, I – yeah I went to Jerusalem, yeah, I did. I’ve got an idea I might have went to Haifa. Yeah, I think I did, I think I had two lots, I went to Jerusalem,

04:25:00:00

and to Haifa. But Jerusalem was the main I think they had a week or something in Jerusalem and then Haifa was only a matter of days they took us in by bus and we stayed a couple of nights and come out of it, it was a coastal town, not as nice as Jerusalem. Jerusalem had everything to offer, for, you know to anyone on leave that well you’d go on the religious site or just go sightseeing or you could

04:25:30:00

do anything you liked, it was nice. And first time, you were pretty safe. They had what they called the Palestine Police and they were all British soldiers, British, picked Englishmen, come out from England and they were in Palestine as police and it was policed pretty well and was a good place to have leave.
What did you do on that leave?
Oh I went

04:26:00:00

sightseeing and there was a lot of things that interested me were olden things. The Crusaders had built castles right through that area, you know, right through Palestine, and some of the buildings and the old castles were hundreds of years old and they were just amazing stone buildings you know, that were – and I just loved it, I used to wander round and look at the work how it all

04:26:30:00

used to just intrigue me, I used to love that. Yeah, and of course we went through the religious part of it the – where the Jesus was born in the manger and all that sort of stuff, that some people are more interested in that than I was, you know but there was plenty to see, it was good, I liked the leave we had in Jerusalem. And there was the Wailing Wall where you’d see all these – great

04:27:00:00

big wall. Just an ordinary old stone wall and they’d – all the Jews would be down there and they – you know doing their piece, you know whatever they’re doing there and you know, it was – and the streets, some of them in the old city, are just like little lane ways. You know, with donkeys and people and it just amazes you. They can have a modern part of the city which is a really modern then they have this old part that’s so old and you wonder how people

04:27:30:00

they come out of their little buildings like rats out of a blinking hole. There was people everywhere. They take their camels and their donkeys in with them and oh. It was just yeah, I really liked the leave that I had there.
What were the nightclubs like?
Yeah, good, some of the modern ones, yeah. They cos you always get these ones that were you get disturbance would be a fight going on amongst someone or other but

04:28:00:00

they were good actually and they were policed pretty good by this Palestine Police and we had our own provos [Provosts – Military Police] and all that to keep check of our blokes and all that sort of thing, but yeah. They were good. And there was plenty of them. Hotels where we stayed was well top class. So you know

04:28:30:00

for them days, you know, for 50 years ago, we thought they were wonderful.
How did it feel after coming seven months out of trenches into a bustling city like that?
Yeah you just – it’s really, really good to see that side of it, you know and to mix with people a lot of them couldn’t talk any – if you could find one that could talk English it was very interesting to and they’d

04:29:00:00

lived in their cities for a while, it was just so good. Yes, the – yeah good memories of leave in those places.
What was Camp Dulis like? How was that laid out?
Oh it was just a – it was only a tent city they were put up for a camp. And they had few permanent buildings like wooden structures for

04:29:30:00

mess huts and the cook houses and all those sort of thing but the main accommodation was just tents and we were there one winter, I think it – and for Christmas we were there and the mud, it just rained and rained and the trenches were – well the slit trenches, they bombed, and they were all got full of water and the mud that was, you know, no floors in our tents we just had to walk in the mud and we were up on beds these small

04:30:00:00

wicker bed things they give us. She was a pretty ordinary Christmas I tell you. Through the weather you know, some of the guys were up on trips to the snow, up in the mountains there, there was a bit of snow you could see the snow in the mountains, something like, you know the weather we’re getting here, you know it’s – and if you’re living in tents, it’s not that – not the greatest. Yeah, we

04:30:30:00

got through that all right.
And were there problems with theft there as well?
Everywhere in Palestine, everywhere, yeah. The Arabs and the Jews just hated each other, as much then as they do now. It’s just that problem in there, I don’t know how – I don’t think it will ever be solved, we’ve seen it from 60 years back when I was there.

04:31:00:00

They just hated each other, they were living you know as… cos the war was going on but all they wanted to do was kill each other, it was really what they wanted to do. They didn’t – the Arabs wanted to kill the Jews that was back in them days and they’re still doing it.
How did you feel about that that you were in a war fighting the

04:31:30:00

Germans and the Italians and then you come out of that and you’re amongst the Arabs and the Jews who are fighting against each other?
Strange, yeah, I don’t know, it was a strange sort of a thing, that they – the Arabs wanted to pinch our guns so they could kill the Jews and but in the cities and that they just co-exist they just somehow they just put up with one another. Deep down there is that, they hate each other and I think the

04:32:00:00

later generations of kids have been just reared to hate and they just don’t know anything else. So I don’t know how it’s ever going to come to anything, cos the Arabs reckon it’s the Jews took over their land and all that sort of thing and the Jews reckons it belongs to them before or whatever. You know, it’s a long, long – can’t see ever solving it, how –

04:32:30:00

Yes, it went on them days, it’s just as and as it is now. Not quite as bad but.
And then after Camp Dulis you moved onto Syria. Whereabouts were you based in Syria?
Tripoli. We went into it was a nice town, well-known town in Syria and we went into a French barracks they were

04:33:00:00

they were built for the army solid construction, you know, two storey and big long rooms or whatever they call them. Sleep on beds, and yeah it was really good. We had few weeks there, and they said, I think they said, “Oh too good for you guys.” They took us up on the mountains and – in amongst the olive groves

04:33:30:00

and the town tents, again. And they really – our colonel he really got stuck into us there, he trained the legs off us. Hilly, very hilly country and mountainous and olive groves and all that sort of thing. I remember he – we did a manoeuvre – we were out for days and the last morning we had a mock attack on our own camp so we finished up back

04:34:00:00

in our own camp. We climbed up this great gully and things that you have to do and we got back to our tents and – at least we’re home in our own tents, can we get to sleep tonight. Word come around that we had to move out again that night. He had something else arranged for us. So they called a sick parade, and we all got our heads together and nearly the whole battalion

04:34:30:00

was on sick parade. And when the old doc came out to have a look at the sick parade it was, you know half a mile long, he went to see the colonel and the colonel just switched everything around and took us down onto a place down on the coast where nice olive groves there and left us there for a week. We could swim, we could do anything we liked. And we had the time of our lives for a week. Yeah, it was, but then

04:35:00:00

of course back into it again, train, train, train. And then we got word that we didn’t know- the rumour went around that we was going to go home cos the 7th Divvy had left the Middle East and they were in the islands and a lot of them were taken prisoner and all the rest of it. They said, I think we’re going home. We got down to Egypt and the Germans were back nearly in Alexandria and that’s where we went to

04:35:30:00

up to fight them again. And that’s when El Alamein and all that started.
So when you said you heard the 7th Division had actually been captured, how did you feel about that? How did the battalion respond to that news?
Yeah well it was very upsetting, yeah, because they had left the Middle East and come back to the islands and they landed and they were nearly all captured straight away pretty well. Yeah, it was very, very upsetting and you know

04:36:00:00

and the Yanks [Americans] had just come into, just as Pearl Harbour and all that had happened and oh, it was – we really wanted to come home. Really, really did. We didn’t want to do any more of that Middle East business. But the powers that be just kept us there and the 9th Division we were on our own over there then. And we had to go up to the desert again. Yes, it was pretty awful because you know they were bombing Darwin and

04:36:30:00

war was coming to Australia and there we were stuck over there, we didn’t want to be there. But you know we just, you had no say in it.
Do you remember hearing about Pearl Harbour being bombed?
Oh yes. Yeah, yeah, wasn’t – we didn’t get good news bulletins or anything, only got it in dribs and drabs and what they wanted to tell us and everything like that but we knew about it

04:37:00:00

wow, it was pretty awful. It was just, we knew one thing though that it brought the Yanks into the war, and up until then they’d been sitting on the shore. And yeah so that was one thing that we thought would help turn the tide, cos the Americans were going to be right into it, which they were. And yes, but it was pretty awful to think that they were

04:37:30:00

bombing Darwin and that, and here we were stuck over there.
Did you know anyone who received any white feathers [symbol of cowardice]?
No, not really. No. I don’t think there was that much of a – might of went on but I don’t know of anyone who did ever had anything like that happen. Yes, we were

04:38:00:00

finished up they put us on trucks from our camp in – they said we were going up to this place called Homs in the – in Syria for a bit of desert training and we didn’t know any different and anyway they put us in great convoys of trucks and we took off, we didn’t go to Homs we went right from Syria right down through Palestine

04:38:30:00

right through to – I don’t know how long we was on the trucks for days on these convoys of trucks and next we were down going through Cairo, of course we knew that where we were heading, and some of the rumours still went round that while we were coming down through Palestine they were – the boats were waiting for us in the Suez and all this sort of thing which they weren’t at all. And then we went through Cairo well they – the news

04:39:00:00

was bad from there cos the Germans were coming down through and so they drove us all round the streets of Cairo for a bit of a morale booster. And then we finished up at Alexandria and from there on we come up to fight the Germans again.
When you got to Cairo, you knew where you were going, where was that?

04:39:30:00

Well we knew we were going up to, we weren’t going home cos we would have been down in the Suez and catching boats and whatever, so we knew that we were – the Germans were getting down to Egypt and we knew that’s what’s, but the – we just knew that that’s where we’d finish up. That’s where we did.

04:40:00:00

But we were in – because there’d been a retreat on the South Africans and the Indians and all that had come racing back from out of the desert cos the Germans were coming down and we were not fully equipped, we wanted some new guns and those things. Anyway some of our officers I wasn’t there at the time but some of our officers went some of these Indians were going back with

04:40:30:00

guns on their trucks and all that, so they stopped the trucks and took the guns away from them to fully equip us. And there was quite a to do about it all but it all got hushed up pretty well and anyway we got the guns we needed and we sure did need them.

04:41:00:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 05

05:00:31:00

Fred, before we go on and talk about Alamein, I just wanted to stop and reflect on Tobruk. The Australians were well known having held Tobruk, was it frustrating for you and your battalion to withdraw before it was really all over?
No, we were ready to get out, because we didn’t know how much longer we could take it.

05:01:00:00

We’d been there seven months under pretty ordinary conditions, and no they were glad to get out of it. And cos this Polish mob that came in they were really fresh, they just – it was a funny situation, they hated Germans and all they wanted to do was fight them, you know and they were just keen to get stuck in and take over from us. But it was, you know it was – we were

05:01:30:00

glad to get out of it. We had a fair whack of fighting and living conditions mainly; it were so harsh and hard. You couldn’t have a decent wash, we didn’t have a shower for all the time I was there, have a swim in the sea but you never had a nice shower where you could soak yourself up and get your body clean. And no, it just tells on you

05:02:00:00

after a period of time.
So was Tobruk the first time that you had fired your rifle?
Yeah, at an enemy yeah. That was the first shells we’d seen fired at us and then from there on, it was on.
Because you talked about the training that you had, had in Adelaide and did you feel really green when you got to Tobruk?
Yeah,

05:02:30:00

yeah, it was all new and but we’d been trained pretty well, and we knew what was going to come, when it happened and it did happen there and it was you know, just a matter of being able to do it and face up to it, which most of us did do and we were okay. But the training we did, although we used to grizzle and go on about it, but we were trained really, really well by our

05:03:00:00

– powers that be that were in charge of our battalion. We used to think it was ridiculous but it wasn’t. It wasn’t, we were fit and that counts for a lot and those parts of the war where we you know stamina and everything counts.
And that story you told of when you left Tobruk on a destroyer

05:03:30:00

was that a systematic move out or was that chaotic?
No, that was a systematic thing. They were bringing in the reinforcements to take over and the boats, wherever they could get in, cos they were – it was a touchy situation to get into Tobruk, they could only come in at night, cos the Germans could spot them and bomb them and whatnot, and it was yeah, we knew they was going out and we were down on the

05:04:00:00

wharf waiting for the boat and just glided in. And we started to get on it. But the boats went out on like the Kingston, was a destroyer which is not a troop carrying thing and it was just sitting around wherever we could put our pack down. And but we were only on it for that – I don’t know how many hours, but we were only about – took off in the night. In the middle of the next day we were down in Alexandria.

05:04:30:00

And so it got us out of the place okay.
And just a couple of other questions before we move on, when – by the time you got out of Tobruk I was just wondering whether you were able to receive any letters from home?
Yeah, we got mail all the time

05:05:00:00

you know spasmodically, as could be, we didn’t sort of lose touch with home at any stage, I don’t think but of course you never know the mail would get through, but it wasn’t too bad and they were getting our letters and you know, it was – they did a pretty good job in that respect, I think. So we
Cos you had a girl back in Adelaide?
Oh yes, I was

05:05:30:00

I used to write to her and she was getting letters from me too. Yeah. Every week I’d write to her. Of course she wouldn’t get them that regularly, then she’d get two or three together and all that sort of thing and the same as me, she’d write. Yeah it was – I think they did a pretty good job in that respect. For us. They didn’t know where we were and

05:06:00:00

the address on our – they used to just put the battalion and ‘Abroad’. And that was it, it’d go in and we’d get them sooner or later, but we did all right. The news, cos everything was censored and pieces of – especially from us to them, to cut out we got used to it in the finish, we knew what you should do and what you shouldn’t do so

05:06:30:00

but they all had to be censored by their own officers and whatnot.
Were you able to develop any kind of code to let her know where you were?
No, I didn’t even try. I didn’t even try. No, nothing like that I just used to write and talk about myself and ask how they were, you know just family things, you know and nothing about what we were doing or what was

05:07:00:00

going on because they just cut it out anyway.
Did you receive any food parcels or anything?
Yeah. Comfort funds [ACF – Australian Comforts Fund] used to get through, spasmodically you know and yeah. We – and I got parcels from Alice she sent cakes and stuff like that and you’d never know when or where you was going to get one, they’d be on the way but she’d do up a round tin with a fruitcake or something in it and seal it all up,

05:07:30:00

you know and I’d eventually get it. And we’d open it up and share it all round. Yeah, it was in the comforts fund used to come good at different times, you know, do the best we can. Salvation Army were good. They were marvellous. They’d be there all the time, you know, you could always bet on the Salvos to have something for you. Yeah, they

05:08:00:00

yes, yeah, I liked them the way they handled it and their guys that were close to us, you know they were really genuine guys and doing the best they can for us.
And the cake that your girlfriend sent you, was that edible by the time it got there?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Cos they know what to bake. I don’t understand it but fruitcakes and things, they’d keep you know as long as they were sealed up and they’d put them in a tin and cover it with cloth and sew it all around and put the address

05:08:30:00

all over it and yeah. Must have been quite a job preparing it. But they did it, and we used to get them. Yeah. They were very acceptable too, you’d get something from home, it always tastes twice as good, doesn’t it? Yeah it was nice.
Was there an unspoken rule about sharing it out?
Oh yeah,

05:09:00:00

yeah that just went. Whoever got it, that was ours, you know, close friends, your section, yeah, got a cake today and we’re all into it. Yeah that was unspoken word, anyone gets a cake we’re all having a piece. That was in everything though, when you’re living in the conditions we were, shared everything, anyone that like, we all smoked, and anyone had

05:09:30:00

tobacco and that was ours, if it was short, which it was quite often. And yeah. So yeah, the camaraderie is just something.
Did you get a cigarette ration?
Whatever, yeah, they used to try and get it through to us pretty well, but there was times where we run out and but not too often

05:10:00:00

they used to try and keep those things up to us to keep our morale up you know. If morale started to fall down, there was no smokes or whatever, the most important things, or morale’d drop down and blokes would be getting niggly and there’d be all sorts of things going on but yeah, that was very important to keep morale as high as it can because you know, living was hard and what we were doing wasn’t very pleasant.

05:10:30:00

What sort of condition was your battalion in and yourself in by the time you were on the move as you were talking about earlier, after Syria you were on the move back down to Cairo? What sort of general state were you in?
Oh, well trained and fit. We trained hard in

05:11:00:00

Syria, we just – they just marched the legs off us and got us fit and on manoeuvres and all that sort of thing, yeah that was yeah, it was –
Were you given a new uniform?
Yeah, whenever you needed it, you had to go to the ASD [Advance Supply Depot] or the whoever dished them out, I forget their names now, and

05:11:30:00

take your old one in and get another one you know, but it was pretty hard to get. Had to wear them out. Yes, so, because over there was in shorts and shirts most of the time. And it was a lot easier. We’d have a shorts and shirt and couple of pair of shorts, couple of pullovers, that’d be as much as you need – the rest you throw away, you’re throwing all your underwear away, cos you had to carry it on your back

05:12:00:00

or you’d pack it somewhere, but you – things like – underwear and stuff like that, really you just wouldn’t bother with it and whenever we got anywhere you know, a stream or anything, camp by stream or even if we pulled up for lunch or something for an hour we’d take our shorts off and wash them and hang them up and they’d be dry in a lot of places. And we were all walking around with nothing on. Yeah. so it was

05:12:30:00

yeah, so uniforms didn’t come into it much. Other than just shirts and shorts over in the Middle East, but different story when we got up here.
Did you get sunburnt?
We were pretty brown, all your – you know what it’s like now, to go – to get a suntan, you’ve got to go through a stage there you take it very easy for a while and to get suntanned and that was it. So it was probably why I’ve been cutting skin cancers off me for donkey’s years.

05:13:00:00

But that’s what we used to do, we were all pretty browned up. The nights used to get cold and – in the desert, in North Africa, dewy nights and we’d have a – cos plastic wasn’t invented. Oh, plastic, would have loved to have had some plastic. But they had these groundsheets that we were issued with and they were sort of a waterproof, showerproof sort of stuff. Forget what, and we used to put that over us. And lay on the sand and the sand would be warm because it

05:13:30:00

was a sunny day, warm day and put the sheet over the top of us cos the dew would come down and you’d be wet. And if you got your blankets wet or whatever you got over you, it was, you know you had to get them dry and that. And of course, the sand’d be, you just feel yourself into the sand and it was warm. Good. Yeah, I could sleep on a barbed wire fence, just drop down and wriggle round and

05:14:00:00

nice warm I’d sleep. So we – pretty primitive way to live but it was very – we made it.
Well, tell us about that journey from Cairo to the Alamein area?
Yeah, well they drove us through Cairo for a bit of a morale booster,

05:14:30:00

the Egyptians, cos the Germans were coming horribly close to Egypt. And they just drove us around the streets of Cairo and just was all in trucks and you’re just showing people a bit of something going on and then we went from there to Alexandria, and we stayed in a camp there for – only a couple of days and then we moved straight up to

05:15:00:00

meet the Germans and but we when we got up there we went into – we were pretty well straight into an attack on them, they – but they were all Italians, they weren’t the Germans. And we took hundreds of prisoners, hundreds of prisoners. The Italians didn’t want to fight, as soon as we got close to them they surrendered. Heaps of trucks,

05:15:30:00

and guns, the first attack we did on them which was – we captured everything and it was just amazing, and we hardly lost a casualty, they just didn’t fight us. But then that all happened the first day and we had all this stuff. By night before dusk, we could see a cloud of dust coming over on the horizon, we went on a bit of a

05:16:00:00

risen bit of ground there and I knew what it was, it was a – the Germans, he’s bringing his crack 90th Light Infantry in to take over from us, cos he didn’t like the way the Italians were surrendering and by that night, we – they came in and they would with their tanks and trucks and all that and they’d met one

05:16:30:00

of our companies out on the railway line and they’d played a bit of havoc with them. But it was getting dark. And they started to, was getting too late and so they organised this our company to go in and soon as it got really dark to attack them, so pulled in for the night. And they were a bit lost, they’d been travelling all day and we went straight in and

05:17:00:00

our company that were there, they’d more or less overrun them, there were still a lot there and we went straight in and attacked them. And we took a lot of German prisoners and really put them on the go, and from then on they did consolidate and we had a few we were into position where we were just fighting them as they showed themselves and they were doing the same to us and the Battle of Tel el Eisa

05:17:30:00

developed from there on.
I want to spend a bit of time talking about those first couple of days. This is now July 1942, so tell us about taking the Italian

05:18:00:00

prisoners first, how did you do that? What was your role?
Well we just went straight at them. They were there and in position and we attacked them at first light in the morning.
What sort of formation were you in?
We just – in line formation with our rifles and all our guns, spread out.
So did you move forward in a line?
Yeah and

05:18:30:00

they just surrendered to us, you know, they weren’t terribly expecting it I think, it was a bit of a surprise that we hit them so quick. And they weren’t organised to fight us off as we come at them in a line. And –
Can you just tell us, this is early in the morning?
First light yeah.
So can you just tell us how

05:19:00:00

who was giving the orders to form the line and what was the order to move off?
Yeah well it was – was all organised that we had to form up. And trucks brought us up, we were back a little bit, not far, but trucks brought us up to a position where we formed up in a line, I don’t know whether it was the whole battalion but I think there was one company

05:19:30:00

left in reserve to come up behind. And we just took off in line to meet these and we met them in all sorts of positions, they had guns, Bofors guns which were more or less for anti-aircraft and that and they were firing them at us, straight like that. And they weren’t meant to fight infantry with them, they were just so disorganised that they just finished up

05:20:00:00

and they were coming out of their holes in their underwear and all sorts of things- been camping the night and they had bits of trenches dug where they’d camped down for the night and all the trucks were up in a – out along the big area there and we just walked in and took them off. They just all surrendered.
So when you were moving forward in that line, towards the Italians, were you scared?

05:20:30:00

Oh yeah, we were always scared that you – but in this case, on that particular thing, things went so easy for us, you know, we weren’t losing hardly any of our men. And they didn’t put up much resistance at all. And it finished up, we got to the stage where it was a bit of a joke. You know that you see them coming out and surrendering one after the other. And yeah, we really had a good victory

05:21:00:00

that day and it was a bit of a morale booster for us.
And did you, personally approach any Italians, what did you do?
It was just a matter of firing a couple of rounds at their feet or at their holes where they were, or whatever you thought. Not at them, just where they were – they were all surrendering so easy you just don’t shoot them down, you can’t do that. And they were surrendering but

05:21:30:00

yeah, just fire on the ground in front of them and they’re just – say if you don’t surrender well you’re going to cop this. And they – it just all happened, you know, we were, when you get on top on a thing like that, it’s marvellous what snowballs, one of them are surrendering and a dozen of his mates will surrender and if one fires a shot well now and again someone else will, well if that happened well

05:22:00:00

you just have to shoot at them. And it got to the stage where they all surrendered quite easy, I don’t know how many hundreds it was, but there was a lot. On that day. But, and the trucks and the ammunition that we got, see they’d come down from into further North Africa along the coast. They’d captured a lot of British guns and stuff and

05:22:30:00

supplies. They were drinking Canadian beer. And they had bottles of Canadian beer in their trucks that they’d picked up on the road down. Canadian beer was well sought after over in the Middle East, we used to get a bit of it. So they’d been drinking their beer, they had a bit of it back.
So when you took those POWs [Prisoners of War] what did you do with their arms?
Yeah, all their arms had to go in a big hessian sack and they were guarded

05:23:00:00

there was troops come up behind that did a lot of that. They took the prisoners away and put them on trucks, I don’t know where they went but they went off. And yeah, the guns were all collected and the unit come through and took, got the trucks and they’d handle all that part of it. And we – all we had to handle was ourselves and the enemy, you know. And left us there.

05:23:30:00

To – but it was a different story when that night, we had to go and got the Germans – but it got that bad, I thought we would be taken prisoner, I thought I was a goner, I thought that was, we heard them out – we got to this railway line, Tel el Eisa Railway Station and we’d attacked that, run over that and

05:24:00:00

a lot of them had nicked off back there, these were Germans and we come back into our positions on the side of the railway line and we could hear them out there, trucks and things going. And we didn’t know what they had there, but I thought we were surrounded ,seemed a lot of them to me. I said, “I reckon we’re going to get lumbered here tonight, they’re going to be all around us in the morning.” But it didn’t happen that way at all. They didn’t know

05:24:30:00

where we were and we didn’t know where they were. And a couple of our blokes sneaked around and had a couple of shots at a few of theirs and they, a lot of them surrendered too. The Germans which was unusual they thought – it was just a matter of how these things happen, you know, you- how they unfold and the actual things and we took quite a few German prisoners.
So this was the next day or was it that night?
Yeah

05:25:00:00

it was the next day.
And the previous day, you’d moved forward in a line, how were you moving forward this time?
In the same thing, we had to go down and – cos our 9 Platoon, ‘Don’ Company were down on the station and the Germans come in and they run their tanks over the trenches and all sorts of things– had quite a few casualties and we had to go and – more or less we were sent in to

05:25:30:00

rescue them or whatever, you know. And it developed into a battle –
And did you move forward in a platoon or a company?
Company, yeah, A Company. And we – as a company, we lost a few men that night. Our sergeant, Jack Golding, he got killed and yeah, so

05:26:00:00

but it was a funny situation where we didn’t know where they were and they didn’t know where we were, it was just a matter of who could hang in there the longest that was going to overcome that situation. And we hung in a bit longer than them and took a lot of prisoners.
So this is at Tel el Eisa?
Tel el Eisa Station yeah.
There’s not many buildings around…?
No, it’s only a little siding on the railway line there, yeah there wasn’t anything, no buildings practically at all.

05:26:30:00

What were you using for cover?
Just natural cover that was there. A few trenches, we’d scrape out trying to get underground things like that. Don Company had dug a few trenches cos they go out earlier and cos when the Germans come along the top they got a few of them and we actually got into the trenches that they had already dug. And

05:27:00:00

we were, or it was, actually we thought we were surrounded by Germans we thought and our company commander, who was a bloke called Bob Schliker, called artillery to fire on us. He said, “The Germans are all round us,” and word come round for us to get as deep down as we can and get under cover cos the artillery was going to fire pretty close to it. Which they did and – but I don’t think any of us got

05:27:30:00

any of our people got hurt but frightened the Germans and put a bit of a few artillery shells around them and yeah, next morning they – quite a few surrendered, we got a few trucks and things like that. And –
Do you remember what you fired on?
No, it’s pretty hard, yeah. I heard a Bren gun, which

05:28:00:00

was a machine gun which you usually put down and fire on the ground, but you can fire them standing, I used to, a lot of them would fire from the hip and I let go – we knew the enemy were there and we just was dark and we just let go at them. No, I didn’t – didn’t sit down and fire any person or anything like that but just put – we just put up a field of fire in front of us as we moved forward.

05:28:30:00

And yeah, it was quite dramatic while it lasted, but as I say, the situation arises where the one who sticks in there the longest usually wins yeah, does it well, we did it, a few brave men, you know, of our men. Went out and surprised a couple of Germans and they

05:29:00:00

surrendered and then with that about another dozen put up their hands and things like that, there was a sergeant, 7th Platoon, called Bill Zeezy, he got killed later on and he was marvellous, he crawled out on his stomach to this tank that had been shot out there and yelled out and there was a couple of Germans on the other side of it and they surrendered and it gives the clue for a few more.

05:29:30:00

And things like that happened.
When you’re in an action like that and so forth – how easy is it to keep a handle on what’s going on?
Oh it’s very hard. Very hard. Everything just seems to be in the hell of a mess – you don’t know what’s going on half the time. It’s very, very hard and you’ve just got to size up the situation that you’re in yourself and do the best you can and try

05:30:00:00

and look after your mates and they do the same for you. Yes, very, very hard.
And what – at what point did you think that you were surrounded?
Well, they came in, must have went over a couple of days to be honest. To us and to the railway line and one night and we didn’t know how many trucks – we could hear trucks and things going on

05:30:30:00

and then we didn’t know how many there were, ourselves in our trenches, thought we were surrounded by them, the noise that went on, that’s when our company commander got the artillery to fire down on them. And –
And did you know that your own fire was coming?
Yeah, we were told. Bob Schliker was our captain and he said, “They got to fire at us.” He said, “The Germans are all round us.” And

05:31:00:00

but as far as I know I don’t think we had any casualties, I think, it frightened the heck out of them. Cos we were able to get right onto them and yeah, things happened from there. So you never know what’s going to happen, in battles and things like that, you know just things, spur of the moment things and person that can hang on the longest and size the situation up as it goes along cos it

05:31:30:00

alters all the time.
And how many Germans were there?
I don’t know, there was quite a few. I really don’t know how many surrendered but there was, quite a number, no, I don’t really know, there was quite a few. A lot of vehicles, they had vehicles with motor wheels on the front and tracks on the back and all that sort of thing, we captured a few vehicles.

05:32:00:00

And anyway, they nicked off. Or what were there they went further back and got out of it onto a bit of high ground that wasn’t far from us and they had the drop on us for quite a few days. We couldn’t move much cos they had the drop on us, and this – high ground. And we couldn’t get any rations in. Every time the ration trucks would show up, our

05:32:30:00

officers would tell them to nick off cos they were drawing the ‘crabs’ [artillery] on us; the Germans knew where we were coming. So we were pretty short on rations then they decided we’d have to get in and attack this rise in the ground. Well, B Company went through us at dawn one morning there to attack this, to try to get onto this high ground and they got hammered, they got really hammered and they couldn’t get to it, a few that

05:33:00:00

was to come back through us said, there’s too many there we can’t take it- so that was that for that day.
And you couldn’t get any rations, did you have any food?
Only what we’d been had on us for days, it was a matter of three days. Something like that. And the only things that we got was what we carried with a few biscuits or whatever we had. And drinking water that was there, just if anyone had a bottle of water they were lucky, they’d

05:33:30:00

share it. Yeah and B Company went through and they lost a lot of blokes that day. Any rate, yeah there was another full day, and they decided we’d have to have go at that hill, cos it was – so that night we’d all prepared to have a go at this hill and

05:34:00:00

we got out and up we went and they were that gone. The Germans had pulled back and we took over the high ground that we wanted without hardly firing a shot that night. But we heard – we got there and things quietened down and we could hear some voices, and they kept calling, calling, and a couple of our blokes and our officers said,

05:34:30:00

“We’ll have to go out and have a look at them.” Could have been a trap, could have been anything. Anyway, two or three of the guys decided that they had to get out and have a look and they found two of our blokes who had got there, when this attack was from B Company and had been laying out there for a couple of days. Wounded in the legs, couldn’t move, Germans just saw them there and walked away and left them. Anyway they got rescued and they come back and they

05:35:00:00

they were okay, they survived, but one had a terribly bad leg, he nearly lost his leg and yeah, they were rescued, they’d been out there for two days without nothing.
What were the casualties in your own platoon?
Yeah, well not too bad. We’d – I think we only lost three – only lost about three or four men I think in all the, cos the last night when we went onto the hill,

05:35:30:00

the Germans had gone, we were expecting a hell of a fight but it never happened, they decided that they were going to pull away and for some reason or other they – so we had an easy night that night and we stayed there for quite a while then. I think if I remember right, we stayed there for oh, a couple of weeks or something, we started patrolling and all that sort of thing. And then

05:36:00:00

they pulled us out and we knew that the big push was coming.
So you dug in at Tel el Eisa?
And from there on we got relieved by somebody, one of the Australian battalions relieved us and we pulled right back behind the lines. They give us a bit of a ‘spell’ behind the lines and all our reinforcements, everything was ready to go again. And actually I had a bit of leave.

05:36:30:00

They called for – they balloted out and I went down to Cairo for a few days that was good and come back and while we were coming back I could see all of Montgomery’s [Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery] arrived by this time and all the British equipment had come in and we had tanks, we had guns hidden everywhere. See it all. Had them all camouflaged from the – oh it was marvellous what went on. Getting

05:37:00:00

ready for the big Alamein push.
I’m just interested to hear your adrenaline was really high during that contact at Tel el Eisa, and then you found yourself on leave in Cairo, how did you come down from..?
Oh it’s easy, you know, you just I didn’t find it any trouble. Just –
Were you able to switch off?
Yeah. And I’ve always been able to switch off.

05:37:30:00

All my life, I can still do it. I can switch off from anything and I think that’s helped me a lot all through my life. Yeah and another guy called, I know his surname but I can’t remember his first name. Paul, his first, and we made it up and he was from one of the other companies and the 48th and we had a few days in Cairo and we had a really a good time.
So do you get on the grog?

05:38:00:00

A bit, they have Australian canteens where you can buy Australian beer and have a few but we weren’t booze – I was never a – I did a few times but get drunk just for the sake of it, you know just you go and enjoy in the Australian canteens in Cairo there was all sorts of entertainment, you go in there and spend the day with the pool or

05:38:30:00

all sorts, anything that was going on. Have a few drinks, a meal, and yeah, it was, it’s good. We didn’t know what was in store for us, well we had an idea what was going to come but when we got back to the unit well it was all go.
And where did you rejoin the unit?
They were still up near the, they’d been pulled back out of the frontline from after this battle at Tel el Eisa and all that

05:39:00:00

we’d been pulled back and we’d had a few, must have been a couple of weeks, might have been, few training things we had to get right cos we knew what was going to happen and all the officers, our officers were taken for briefs with Montgomery and all that went on you know and we..
And did you remain a Bren gunner?
Yeah I carried a Bren gun right through. Yeah, I finished up

05:39:30:00

as it comes to the start of the battle, Harold Gas was my mate and he was a section commander, he was a corporal, he got – we hadn’t crossed the starting line and he got wounded.

05:40:00:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 06

06:00:32:00

Fred, before we broke we just really got to Alamein and you were talking about the build up, what was the atmosphere like when you arrived at El Alamein?
Well, it was – how do you describe it, it was – we knew that this was the big battle that – we were told by the Montgomery the British general

06:01:00:00

of the 8th Army, that this was it. We either won the battle or we died on the trying and there was no – nothing to it but to – this was the big thing – we had to stop the Germans and we were just going in there and to beat them or die there, one of the two and he told us in those terms too that –

06:01:30:00

they had to build up to – with materials and equipment to fight an all out battle and we were just going to do it. But the build up you know was pretty, everyone was tense and you know, it was pretty dramatic. It was going to be the biggest artillery barrage ever for – in any battle after that. 1000 guns were going to open up at

06:02:00:00

ten o’clock at night. And from then on, we had to go in – we were actually in trucks brought up from back behind where we were camped and when the guns arrived and that, just ‘boom!’ 1000 guns opened up and just thought, you know the world was coming to an end, it was that dramatic. And we had to

06:02:30:00

move up a bit further in trucks and then get out and it started. There was a start line, it was all set up and things were done and worked out in paces, they had someone counting paces, we had to go that direction so many paces and then go that direction in so many paces and meet the opposition whatever was there. And that’s how it all started.

06:03:00:00

The briefing that – you mentioned the officers received a briefing, how did you receive yours…?
From the officers they came back to tell us that you know, all the finer details and you know what was expected of us and it was you know, so it was quite dramatic and everyone was tense and I don’t know, just quiet and you knew that something

06:03:30:00

big was going on. And there certainly was. And when the guns opened up well we knew it was on.
So you were coming up from camp in trucks and were you there when the guns went off at ten p.m.?
Yes.
Where were you positioned?
Well actually we were still sitting in trucks but we were – the guns were all round us, but we didn’t know they were there, they were – it was night time,

06:04:00:00

and when they opened up they were just you know, 1000 guns were all around and they all opened up together well they – we were there amongst them it was just horrific and all these guns opened up together it was just horrific. But the noise and all that went on. But it blasted about 20 minutes, flat out they were firing shots, then they eased off and then

06:04:30:00

it was our turn. We were lined up by this time, start lining and off we went.
So when you came out of the trucks what could you see?
Just desert, you know, it was night time, desert. And was nothing much to see but we knew what we had to do, we had to go forward and we didn’t know, just had to take what we met, that’s what we had to deal with.

06:05:00:00

And we didn’t – the first night wasn’t too bad, we didn’t meet face to face opposition too much, but lost a few casualties from their return gunfire, our shells, that’s when Harold was – him and I were walking together – we hadn’t even started and

06:05:30:00

the shell lobbed about – well it was over on our left, he was on my right and the shell lobbed over here and we didn’t even go to ground cos it was fair distance away. Next thing, Harold goes over and I said, “What’s wrong with you?” And he had a bit of shrapnel right through his leg and sticking out in here. Bit of metal like that. I can never work out how it missed me and got him cos he was on my left – shell was on my right, he was there. But that was the end of it and he just turned around and he said,

06:06:00:00

“Good luck, Fred.” And he was our corporal and I had to take over from then, I was the corporal of the section. And I had –I was a Bren gunner, so I just kept the gun I didn’t swap – I could have swapped over for a submachine gun but I – I’ll stick with me old Bren gun, knew how to handle that. That was that. We went on. Didn’t lose any casualties the first night, we got to our position

06:06:30:00

but we had to stay there and the – you know it was quite hard to fathom out what was going on around us you know, cos everything was, the whole front moved forward and different ones struck stronger opposition and all that sort of thing.
So was there a line leaving in front of you and you

06:07:00:00

were in another line behind?
Yeah, well we – we were the assault troops, we were the front ones, we had to go and meet them, if they were there we had to meet them. But we didn’t run into a great lot of fire that night. But their positions were a little bit different to what we expected and

06:07:30:00

the other companies which were spread out across the front, some of them struck heavier opposition than we did but we got to our objectives and we stayed there. And but it was a whole plan – quite a thing the way they had it worked out. 43rd Battalion which was a South Australian battalion were on the coast, and we were inland from them.

06:08:00:00

But they stayed where they were, they didn’t move forward. They stayed there, we were out to where we had to go and then we had to cut across. In the main road where there were the strongest defence the Germans were. But it took a few days for all this to happen. We were relieved from our position and after a couple of days we didn’t move much and they

06:08:30:00

took us out, back, we spent one night, they sent us in again the next night, we had the – to attack Germans from a different position and they were pretty strong that night and we lost quite a lot of men. But anyway we got to where we had to go and same thing happened again. Sent in the 17th Battalion to take over us. And we went out and one night out and

06:09:00:00

by this time we’d lost a lot of men. Sent us in again. And we had to cut across to the coast and sort of try and trap the Germans in a pocket but we just lost so many men that it didn’t happen like that at all. We just finished up fighting wherever we saw them, it was just horrific. And we actually went out, went

06:09:30:00

across to our right to the coast road and then turned back towards our position where we started where the 43rd were trying to trap these Germans which we did, a lot of them, we captured a lot. And we were coming across their positions where there was dugouts, lights and they were, it was actually behind the enemy line and we were – it was a hell of a thing to work out.

06:10:00:00

And we were losing men, all the time. And I had this Bren gun and we were coming across these positions dug in and dugouts and things that they had there. And this one had a light in it. I don’t know what it was, it was either headquarters or I don’t think it was a medical thing, and anyway we were just putting our guns and firing a few shots down and get taking prisoners and what not,

06:10:30:00

and this German officer, stood right up in front of me, and you know, I had me Bren gun, I could have, right in his stomach. Just had to pull the trigger and he was gone. I didn’t do it because he had his hands up and I took his, he had a Luger pistol on him so I just took that off him and sent him back as a prisoner. But a lot of the prisoners were getting away. We didn’t have the men to guard them or take them out or do anything

06:11:00:00

so – and we’d advanced as far as we could. And our colonel was with us, up with as at the time, by this time, our numbers were down to you know, very, very low. And he sent ‘Diver’ Derrick [Lieutenant (then Sergeant) Thomas Derrick], he said, “You go over to the right and see if you can find the 24th Battalion. See where they are.” He come back, quarter of an hour later, he says, “It’s only Germans out there. No Aussies over there.” And

06:11:30:00

so we come – they were supposed to advance with us, and keep together and they got held up. So we had to pull back a bit to link up with them. By this time it’s getting to – it’s getting near daylight. And our numbers were just so, so depleted that they decided that – our colonel was there and he decided that we’d stay where we are. And dig in and

06:12:00:00

stay the day and see what happened. Which we did. But by that time, there were so many wounded and that we were, we didn’t know at the time but we were down to 40 men in the battalion, actually 42 men come out. And they relieved us that night. And it was only 42 of us come in, on two trucks. The 43rd Division had been standing by watching it

06:12:30:00

they come in and relieved us and just as well they did because the Germans were – a counter attack with everything they had that night. And if we’d have been there they would have just overrun us cos there wasn’t enough of us. But the 43rd were able to –cos they had the numbers, were able to hold them out. And within a day or so from then, the Germans packed it in and went, and left. But we – we’d inflicted a lot of casualties

06:13:00:00

on them and the Germans knew they were beaten and they just packed up their stuff and went. And our tanks broke through, that was a big thing. See the tanks were okay, but we had to clear the way for them to get through, once they got through, the lines, got onto open country they played havoc with everything that was behind there. Because that sent the Germans

06:13:30:00

in full retreat and they just nicked off. But boy, oh boy, it was a horrific few days and casualties were so great. They sent us – they brought us back behind the lines and dumped us in a position there where we could – and we just fell off the trucks and we hadn’t had much to eat or drink or of anything, anyway we didn’t and next

06:14:00:00

morning the food truck come up and we got a meal. But there were so few of us, it was just such – and we spent a day there and then they sent us out on what was left of us out on burial parties. To bury our own mates. Which was, you know was absolutely ghastly. We went right through to where they – they were still there where they were killed and there was no chance of

06:14:30:00

anything being done with their bodies that – we just had to bury them where they were. And put their dog tags where, on top of the grave on the rifles, or whatever we could till people could get there and do this job properly. Eventually they were taken back to a cemetery and it was – but a lot of them were just buried on the battlefield. And

06:15:00:00

we did a lot of that and that was awful. Absolutely terrible. And then by this time the Germans had retreated and all the forces that were behind come through and the – we had plenty in reserve. They sent us in first. All was saved, we were used up but you know that’s beside the point.

06:15:30:00

The – we stopped them and they – from then on, the 8th Army went on and cleared them all out of North Africa until we didn’t go any further, we stayed there on the battlefield for a week or more I suppose. And just camped in whatever we could and by this time, a few of the wounded, were seeping back, they’d been wounded and gone into hospital and got fixed

06:16:00:00

up and they were starting to, a few of them were starting to come back. And they took us out then from and we finished up back in Palestine again.
When you were moving through, you were moving through at night?
All of it’s done at night, all the battles were – the when the retreat started all the

06:16:30:00

troops were just, well there was only one main road and it was just a continuous stream of trucks, tanks, men and everything, to back up the and really hit – carry out the – get the Germans right out of it which they did.
And how far were you moving? In one night, how much area would you cover?
Oh when we were in the battle we were – it was only miles

06:17:00:00

but in the – when the Germans started to retreat well we were just flat out, they were going for their lives and but we weren’t in there, Australians didn’t take any part in that at all. Soon as the Battle of Alamein was over we – the 9th Division, were finished as far as the fighting there was concerned. But yeah that was

06:17:30:00

it, took a while you know to get over that, that’s really horrific. But they even sent reinforcements had come over from Australia to us and they didn’t get there till after Alamein was over and they – and they joined the battalion, we got up to full strength again and but we come home then. Got on the boat and

06:18:00:00

after a month or so when I think it was in Palestine and they took us down we got on the boat and come home.
How many prisoners do you think you took?
I don’t know. No, I wouldn’t – couldn’t give you any idea of the numbers. It was,

06:18:30:00

just like all those, everything is – you don’t know what the next-one-overs are doing, you know, you only see what’s in front of you that job you’ve got in front of you. And everyone’s the same and it’s very hard to get an overall picture of it until it’s all over and you – see what happened. So, I never got a scratch, never got a scratch,

06:19:00:00

when I say I never got a scratch, I – something hit me on the leg, and I thought, oh this is it. Down I went, and well I went straight on my face and I thought my leg was gone, you know and put my hand down I got a handful of blood, and I started to move and I thought, “Ooh, I can still move it.” Next thing, I got up and walked. Was a great lump of metal had hit me on the leg and made a gash and a big bruise that was all, so I was

06:19:30:00

you know just so, so lucky.
How did you clear the other wounded out?
Well, the one little story I’d like to say was that on the last day we were there, there was three of us in my section left, Vin Goods and myself, got in and dug a bit of a trench that we could get down out of sight so that

06:20:00:00

day. Jack Rilebush who was a mate of mine, he dug a hole three or four foot away and he was on his own and we got down there with our heads below ground by daylight, but in that day they shelled us pretty badly and Vin and I were in the trench and one lobbed so close it buried us, we were sitting with our knees like this in the trench and it just caved in

06:20:30:00

and there was dust and we got out and it had landed on Jack’s feet and blew both his legs off. He was in the hole, his hands on his knees, pulling his knees up and no feet and legs are gone. And oh, we thought, cos he was bleeding from everywhere, his nose and ears and

06:21:00:00

eyes and everything. Thought he would die but and there was no stretcher bearers at all. Gone by the wayside, but there was a spot on the railway line that we all called ‘The Blockhouse’, and that was, they used that as a medical centre, the Germans were using it and we were using it, everyone was using it, combined. And after about half an hour Vin and I were able to get a stretcher

06:21:30:00

and we took him over there and as we took him in the German doctor came up, looked at him and he shook his head like this. Cos he was just shattered bone and skin. Just remarkable, wasn’t – not so much blood, but just flesh, you know. And we thought, oh that’s the end of Jack. So we had to go back and leave it at that.

06:22:00:00

A week later when we got settled down we asked, “What happened to Jack?” He was in the hospital, bright as a button, he was okay. He’d come home and lived, got married and had a family and had no legs. Yeah, it was, had two wooden legs and yeah, it was just remarkable. That was a pretty bad thing that happened with us. But to see it all and you know

06:22:30:00

the flesh and – it’s just, your mind boggles with the enormity of the whole thing.
How dangerous was it to get Jack out of there?
Yeah, it was very dangerous cos it was daylight and there – well it was you know ten or eleven o’clock in the morning and yeah and when my mate, he went off, he said, “I’ve got to get a stretcher somewhere, Fred.” I said, “Well, I don’t know where you’re going to get…”

06:23:00:00

Stretcher bearers had all been wounded, or there was just none around. And so he took off, running and diving and he was away I don’t know, not terribly long anyway and come back and he had a stretcher. He’d got down to the blockhouse and there was a few stretchers laying around – he grabbed one and come back. And we were able to get him on, and we just carried him

06:23:30:00

between running and so much going on that you just thought you had a pretty rough ride into the – carrying him. But we got there and we got back but I didn’t think Jack would live but he did and that was really nice.
Was Jack in a lot of pain?
Well, I don’t know, it’s – sometimes, it amazed me that he was the lack of blood on a thing like that, I thought

06:24:00:00

the blood would be coming out of all his veins or something like that but it wasn’t. Just don’t know, why and I don’t think he was in so much pain cos he was bombed out, you know, and he didn’t know what had happened he was – the shell lobbing so close and blowed him and his – he didn’t – probably unconscious I would have think, although he was groaning and he had his hands on his knee

06:24:30:00

he didn’t make any sense at all, we couldn’t talk to him. But just amazing. Yeah, he got back. My sister was on a hospital boat that brought him back to Australia. And

06:25:00:00

it was amazing. And there was a lot of things like that happened, the colonel that was with us right till the end, to that last day, got a bullet through his mouth, cos he was always hollering and yelling at us and they reckoned he had his mouth open, he got a bullet straight through his mouth there and he went down to the hospital and within two hours he was back with us, they’d patched him up. Didn’t – must have had his mouth open cos he

06:25:30:00

didn’t do much damage. It was just through his cheek. It’s amazing things happen like that.
You said there was only three of your section left. How many went in?
Eight. Yeah, I think the whole battalion had 42 men our platoon had six I think. And the company had 14, the whole company and all that was three platoons, and

06:26:00:00

the whole battalion and I think we only had one officer. And that was in the 42, that come out that night. Yes it’s quite a thing but – things went on, we come back.
Those few days that you were out with

06:26:30:00

the frontline, you had your Bren gun with you, did you have any rations or anything on you?
No, we didn’t have anything. What used to happen was there was always a convoy of trucks behind the lines and we had ours in there ready to supply us with whatever we want, ammunition, food, water, all those supplies were in trucks and within a distance behind the line.

06:27:00:00

Well ours got blown up. Our 48th Battalion trucks were all congregated somewhere and shell hit one which was full of ammunition and it sent the whole lot up. Fourteen trucks were blown up in one big bang. And we you know, lost a lot of men there and all our stuff went up. So we were scrounging stuff wherever we could.

06:27:30:00

But that was on the – pretty well on the last of the whole battle there and we never run out of ammunition or anything. Everyone had enough to see us out. But oh, when we got back and seen the mess and those trucks, oh God. The – there’s a photo out there of the mass grave where they’ve just buried all the guys that were in the trucks.

06:28:00:00

We had a quartermaster that used to look after the food, well he was in the truck, he was killed and the drivers, of course were all killed. Think there was about fourteen killed in that one explosion. Yeah, it was a – pretty awful.
And when you went out as a burial party, did you

06:28:30:00

have any ceremony for your mates that you were burying?
Yeah, well we found, you know, all the graves that – in one particular battle, the part of the battle where we were advancing, 9 Platoon, we had three sections, 7, 8 and 9 and I had charge of 8 Section, and our officer was

06:29:00:00

what we used to call our ‘head formation’, there was two sections out there and one behind here, and our officer was in the middle and we sensed that we were – somehow I don’t know how it was but we were getting closer to the German lines, and all of a sudden there was a horrific explosion and what they did, they saw us coming and they threw grenades. And they wiped out all our 9 Platoon, our officer was killed and

06:29:30:00

both the two front sections are – were a lot of them killed and wounded and they all threw grenades at us. And ‘Diver’ Derrick was our sergeant and he was behind, they – the officer was in the front and our sergeant always come behind, well he come and took over, and I know he came up to me and he said, “Put a burst over that cos there’s a couple of Germans there.” And I fired my Bren gun from the ground at them and they were

06:30:00:00

on a machine gun, on a stand, they went ‘sphoo-sphoo-sphoo!’ Went over, just about took me skin off me back I think. He said, “There’s only one thing to do here.” He says, “Get up and get into them!” So he got us going and we went over that trench you know firing and we got the whole lot of them I think there was about six Germans there and but they – when we went out to bury the party we could see exactly what had happened,

06:30:30:00

well, that was terrible. Yes, some good men got killed that night.
When you were out burying your mates, were the Germans doing the same?
No, no, we had to more or less do the same with them. Leave some identification on top and bury the

06:31:00:00

bodies. I tell you what it was, what a job to – just beyond talking about to bury bodies, in the field, just with a shovel. You know, it’s just terrible. Yeah, it’s – but then of course, as the days went by they were all buried properly.

06:31:30:00

A lot of Salvation Army and padres and all that sort of – belong to the 9th Division they all got that job done. And – but they weren’t put into a cemetery for while I don’t think, I think they were mostly buried on the battlefield.
‘Diver’ Derrick is a legend,

06:32:00:00

‘Diver’ Derrick, yeah.
‘Diver’ Derrick’s a legend for the way he conducted himself on the battlefield, that moment you’ve just explained there, “Get up and get into them.”
Yes that’s right. That’s what the type of guy he was – yes he got us going that night, oh my word. And later on he got wounded too but not seriously, he was only away for a few days I think.

06:32:30:00

I forget where he got wounded now but it wasn’t serious to keep him out for long. So he wasn’t too long and he was back with us. And yep.
How hard was it to pick yourself up and keep going?
I wonder how we ever did it. Cos now they get counselling and all this sort of stuff nowadays, we had nothing you know, you just, you either got over it or you didn’t, you went

06:33:00:00

‘bomb happy’. And quite a few did that I can tell you. They just, it affects them. And but it was, you either survived it or you – best way you could but it’s a bit different to what happens these days.
When you were brought back in and then given refreshments you were, and then sent back out again, what was

06:33:30:00

that like having to go back out there?
Oh, it was just unreal. I just wonder how they could have done it, especially the last night, you know, we’d – our numbers were down to billy-oh and they said, “Well, you’re going in again tonight.” Unbelievable. And we had – we weren’t even half strength and but they just sent us in, you got – you just gotta go.

06:34:00:00

And we had to combine more or less the platoon had to work more like a section, every platoon has three sections and the numbers were down that much it was just a group and trying to do a job. Which I think we did pretty well. Under circumstances, and yeah, it was yeah, I could never understand why

06:34:30:00

they did send us in that night, cos they had other troops that hadn’t seen anywhere near as much as we had. And had better numbers and all sorts but they didn’t, but it was just as well they come and got us that night and when they did, cos the Germans – had our last flutter at it, and if we’d have been there, they would have overrun us. So we would have – we just didn’t have any numbers to – but had a 43rd came in and took over our positions and

06:35:00:00

were able to beat them off and that was the end of the battle then.
Did it feel like lambs going into the slaughter?
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yes, it did. And we just – I don’t know how you keep going but you do something that motivates you and you just

06:35:30:00

keep going. Yes, it’s hard to explain, you know how you do it, but somehow or other you face up to it and do it.
What – there were a few nights out there and the numbers were going down and down but

06:36:00:00

when was – for you, when was the worst night or the worst time?
Oh the last night, yeah, the last night we were there. The numbers were so far down, and we just a bunch of men trying to the job of a company and there was no way and they told us, well the 24th have had the same trouble, 2/24th Battalion and they couldn’t,

06:36:30:00

didn’t get as far as we did. So they said we had to pull back to try and meet up. When we did that, by this time, it’s getting daylight. And when we did pull back we found a lot of our – well I know one bloke, he’s only died just recently, Jack Rattle we picked him up he’s shot in the legs, couldn’t walk and we grabbed him and

06:37:00:00

the two of us helped him along to get out. I don’t know how he would have got out. So we picked up a few wounded as we come back through but we didn’t – then we got into a position where there was a big group of us all together and that’s when that side would stay for the day and which we did, stayed there all day and that’s when Jack got his legs blown off and yeah, and we lost some more of them, they just shelled us and shelled us.

06:37:30:00

A few tanks go over – our tanks come around which we were cursing because they, the Germans could see the tanks and they were shelling the tanks and we were copping it. Cos they were all round the positions where we were dug in. Yeah, it was a really, really – it was horrific to think how it all panned out and

06:38:00:00

we hung there until we beat them.
How many men went into El Alamein?
Was full battalion I think we were pretty well, someone said only 600 but I think there was more. Full battalion’s round about 800. And I think we were – the night we went in we were pretty well full strength, I know we were in our platoon. And there was

06:38:30:00

between six and 800 and only 42 come out on the trucks that night. And the – I just – I don’t know the numbers of the dead cos a lot were wounded and you know, the different sorts of wounds and the – some come back to the battalion, some weren’t fit enough and all that sort of thing. Went on. Yes and after that we got back to

06:39:00:00

Palestine again and I forget what camp we were in then, but we weren’t there for that long. And we come down – there was a battalion and got on a boat in the Red Sea. And it was called The New Amsterdam, it was a Dutch liner. Beautiful boat.

06:39:30:00

And we were, we got on board that, forget the name of the place we were going, somewhere in the – near abouts to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea there and it took us out on these big lighters and we got on this boat, wow was that a boat and a half. And we had good trip home. They looked after us very well.
When you pulled back from the line and saw how few men were left,

06:40:00:00

what went through your head?
Gee, it’s hard to – in a way you just think, well, I’m still here, you know, you can’t let yourself get down in the dumps cos your mates are gone you just had to think of yourself, well you know I’m lucky to be here so be it. And you can’t do much else. But it’s

06:40:30:00

if you start getting back to your mates and all that sort of thing, you really, really starts to get you down. Really gets you down.

06:41:00:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 07

07:00:31:00

Fred, your experience at El Alamein was very, very intense, how much did it really test your own personal courage, do you think?
I don’t know, I was okay. Cos we – we got back here, we had to go back and do it all again and

07:01:00:00

but I felt that my luck was starting to get stretched a bit, you know cos I hadn’t been wounded or had anything like that at all. And then I just felt I would like to have got out. But I was fit, and healthy, things that had to be done, up in the islands so that’s where we went

07:01:30:00

and yeah, that was the only thing I thought. I’d just been so, so lucky. That just couldn’t go on forever. And –
And do you think it was just a matter of luck for you?
Well, I can’t see anything else, you know cos I was just there, I was just an ordinary soldier doing what I had to do, and why was I spared, I never got – it was there with everybody that was getting killed all round me and wounded and all that

07:02:00:00

and I didn’t get anything, I didn’t get a scratch, so I don’t know what else you can put it down to. Yeah that was – but you know I was starting to think, might be starting to stretch it a bit. But anyway it went on and still carried on.
What was the noise like during that battle?
Horrific, horrific,

07:02:30:00

it was just unbelievable, the screaming planes were bombing and by this time we had air support, like we had planes going over and what they used to do in the air with our planes, they’d go over in groups of I think about twelve or something, planes, and they’d pattern bomb the desert, they’d go towards, there’d be a group of Germans or transport or something and

07:03:00:00

they’d just go ‘Psooo!’ We’d see them go over and you’d see all these bombs falling down on the Germans. And we had a bit of – and that cos we could hear all that noise and what was going on and yeah, the noise factor was, I’m still suffering from that, I’ve got tinnitus in my ears, my ears never stopped ringing. And it’s caused through war related noise and that. So but I’ve learned to live with it, I’m okay.

07:03:30:00

So you would see the Stukas [dive bombers] coming over?
Yeah. All the – when the Germans had air superiority they used to dive bomb us with Stukas and they’d go howling down towards us and drop their bombs and they give us, you know, but at the Battle of Alamein we had air support and they got shot down pretty quickly if they come over, so it meant

07:04:00:00

a lot to have the – the bombers would be up in their groups, to pattern bomb then they’d have the fighters you know, zigzagging all round and so that no enemy could get anywhere near the bombers, but cos the Germans and the aircraft fire would now and again get one and you’d see a planes flying along and then one would drop out of the middle, one of ours. Yeah. But yeah, noise factor, was, oh,

07:04:30:00

but I think the first night, when they opened up the 1000 guns that was just – you couldn’t describe it, we were sitting in trucks and we – just couldn’t believe what happened, it just were all opened up together. Yeah, that was – yeah don’t know how the old body takes a lot.

07:05:00:00

And you mentioned that as others went down, you then stepped up. And you were given corporal duties, so what did that mean?
It didn’t mean that much, I was in charge of 8 Section which was in about eight men in a full unit, eight or ten men I forget. And

07:05:30:00

I just carried on with my Bren gun just the same and our platoon commander was our officer and we had a sergeant, most of the orders come from them, it didn’t mean – unless we were sent over and there was a specific job to do as a section, I didn’t have that much to do as a corporal, just to be there and but mainly as a platoon, we’d go out together and the other officer and the sergeant would be in charge of the lot of them.

07:06:00:00

So just it didn’t entitle too much at Alamein I just carried on as though everything was normal.
You mentioned your ration trucks got blown up, I have heard about this and that made it really difficult for you to get food, so where did you look for food?
Well, I don’t know

07:06:30:00

the powers that be got it from somewhere. Our transport officer and he was, he didn’t go up with the trucks and they just had to go and get it wherever they could and to get us supplies up to us. Which I don’t think the – we got enough to – never run out of ammunition.
I was just wondering if you were able to scrounge any food from anywhere?
Not really. But

07:07:00:00

they got food up to us, cos it was their job. Behind the lines and when the trucks went up well they had to do whatever they could to get more and what happened there well, you know, I don’t know but we were okay. But the food was just a secondary thing, you just had a meal a bit of food whenever the opportunity.
Did you get very hungry during that time?
No, I can’t remember ever – remember being terribly hungry but

07:07:30:00

yeah.
Why do you think that was?
I don’t know there was too much going on I think. Always had something on us, a packet of biscuits or bush biscuits, or hard, rough biscuits or bully beef or something or other, didn’t have packs on our bags, you could always nibble on something if you had it really bad and we always had a water bottles, kept

07:08:00:00

them full but was always taught not to drink much water, which I think, looking back on it now, it’s just the opposite isn’t it. We should have drank more. But we didn’t have it, so it was a scarce item.
And you say you never ran out of ammunition?
No, never. No we always carried some on us, and we could – we never run out, there was always supplies somewhere along the line that

07:08:30:00

we could get. Or we used to take it off dead bodies. Or anything, if somebody went down well you grab a heap of their bullets and put them in your own pack if yours was getting low. Cos all sort of things like that.
And the Bren gun is quite a weighty weapon..?
Yes, it’s a gun, fixed position gun really it was; a tripod on the front and you sit behind

07:09:00:00

it, you can carry them, I used to have a sling across my shoulder and I learnt to fire it from there, you know, you can, with a lot of practice you can get pretty accurate was just pointing it, not sighting it but you’re pointing it in the right direction and you let go a burst of fire, it’s pretty, you can get pretty accurate with it. Yes, I had that right through Alamein and

07:09:30:00

changed when we went up the islands.
Did it jam at all during Alamein?
No, I never had any trouble with it, no I never had any trouble with it. Bren guns were really good, as long as you kept them oiled and they’d take a fair bit of dust and stuff without jamming on you.
How much truth do you think there is

07:10:00:00

in that saying that it’s ten per cent of the men who do the fighting?
Could be true. Very true. Yeah. And it’s just the luck of the draw you know, I’m a fella that had a pretty good war, but yeah. And we seemed to be coming and going all the time, you know, I was in a

07:10:30:00

frontline fighting unit, if I’d got out of that I probably would have been all right but I never tried. Yeah that was it.
And the Middle East war was – particularly the Battle of Alamein was a real turning point for the Middle East campaign,

07:11:00:00

in what way do you think it was as it’s been known, or it’s got a reputation for being a bit of a gentlemen’s war, do you think that’s true?
No. No. No, I think it – well, I think we got used up bit but that’s only my opinion that’s not…

07:11:30:00

We were Australians and we had a reputation and they just put us in a lot of times when we shouldn’t have been there I think. There was other troops that could have done – went in before us but because – powers that be do that, we can’t do nothing about it. That last night at Alamein, I thought that was really

07:12:00:00

over the top sending us in that night. But that’s what happened.
So you were disgruntled?
Not really, I suppose. But I just thought that you know, we’d done a fair bit and had done our share, I thought, without that last night and our colonel

07:12:30:00

his name was ‘Hammer’, and he was a bit of a glory man, you know, he liked to be, how do you put it, think he was the best and he really hammered us as far as – that was his name – he hammered us as far as keeping fit. But I didn’t disagree with that, I thought that

07:13:00:00

worked out in our favour in the end. And if you’re physically fit, you can take on, you know, take a lot more.
What was your view of Rommel?
Yeah, that’s – he was a pretty shrewd German general, but he

07:13:30:00

was just overwhelmed in the end by Montgomery and his troops but yeah. He was a – but he didn’t like the Italians, they left the Italians out in the desert after Alamein. The story was that there was a lot of Italians further out in the desert and he took the transport off them and left them there.

07:14:00:00

And they couldn’t – he knew that they were going to surrender and he didn’t leave them any trucks or anything, they were left out there. British had to go out and pick them up and bring them in as prisoners. A lot of things like that went on I think. But yeah, Germans were a tough enemy.
Did you respect them?
Yeah, yeah. Oh yes they were

07:14:30:00

brave and they fought you know, they were different to the Japs they – the Japs would do anything, but Germans they were beaten, you know really beat, they’d surrender but the Japs wouldn’t. And this is the difference I think. The Germans would – knew when they were beaten. But they were arrogant. The lot of them were arrogant. Very arrogant.

07:15:00:00

The – don’t know how Hitler got them to be like that but it was just amazing what they’d do.
So after Alamein, you went back to Palestine, did you have any roll calls or any..?

07:15:30:00

We had a big parade in Palestine, with all the 9th Division, and General Alexander [Field Marshall Harold Alexander], think he was a supreme commander and he was over the top of Montgomery and he come and thanked us and there was just a ceremonial thing. The whole battalion – the whole 9th Division were marched on this big ground there in Palestine somewhere and lined up

07:16:00:00

and Alexander spoke to us and you know, thanked us and all the rest of that that goes on. Ceremonial thing. Yeah that was the – quite good. And from there on we knew that our job in the Middle East was finished, we was coming home.

07:16:30:00

So you were then put onto the New Amsterdam?
Yes.
What was that trip like, back home?
Oh beautiful, absolutely beautiful, it was a troopship but a beautiful liner and well organised, like just take for instance, meal times, they went all day. You was given a ticket when you went on and that was your meal ticket and no sooner breakfast would finish last sitting

07:17:00:00

of breakfast then the first one of lunch would be starting, just you know it went on and on and on. But it was a beautiful luxury liner and we had – forget now, we were, anyhow quarters were quite good, a lot better than when we were on the Stratheden and most of the time we used to sleep on the deck. All sorts of things, but it was nice. Good trip home.

07:17:30:00

Food was good and that was a big thing.
What was it like setting foot on Australian soil again?
Oh, unbelievable. We pulled into Fremantle and Blamey was there to meet the boat and the thing was, we pulled into the wharf and of course they had

07:18:00:00

to rest the ship because everyone wanted to be on the wharf side, cos it was full of troops, you know, and they put the thing out of balance. They couldn’t manoeuvre the ship properly and blow me down, I’m on the other side, I missed out and we had to – had to have dress it all round. And yeah and they had a bit of a ceremony there. Blamey was welcoming them back and then we set sail

07:18:30:00

from there and we went to Melbourne. Pulled in there and they – straight off the boat onto train, straight into a train, filled the train, train took off, up, we were so pleased to get moving, we didn’t want to stop anywhere else just wanted to get home. And then the feeling, you know is coming through, it was February, beautiful weather in Australia, you know, summer

07:19:00:00

just about over and to walk out on the platform as the train’s chugging through from Melbourne and smell of the gum trees, you know, you live with them and you don’t take any notice of them, but when you’ve been away, and you come back, and I’ll never forget that, as long as I live. Just to be home.

07:19:30:00

They finished up, we had a camp at Springbank Road, by you know Springbank Road I guess, well where the school is there now, there was big open area there straight opposite the hospital and they had all tents up there and we camped there for the time I was in Adelaide. We had three weeks leave or something like that. And yeah, it was an excellent time. But then they spoiled it,

07:20:00:00

they – well I don’t know about spoiled it but they marched us – took us into the parade ground and – Kingaroy Road and marched us with fixed bayonets and all our gear, or we didn’t have all our pack on our back but we had fixed bayonets on our rifles and they marched us to Springbank and we went the full length of King William Street, up South Terrace to Huntley Road, Huntley

07:20:30:00

Road to Crossroads, Crossroads down to Goodred Road, then out to the camp, that was the march we did. And we were you know, we’d been on three weeks leave and we were just about had it and they lined us up and the governor had to inspect us out at the camp, well he was an English governor I forget his name, but oh,

07:21:00:00

didn’t go much on him at all. Any rate, he went up every row, you know, like this instead of just walking right past the battalion and dismissing us, and using a bit of common sense, he just stood – we stood to attention for a blinking hour. While this governor walked up and down and they dismissed us and our second in charge of the battalion at the time was a Major Batten

07:21:30:00

and he said, “Don’t leave the camp. No one’s to leave the camp. We’re on draft.” He said, “there’s trains coming in to Mitcham Station and we’ve got to be ready to fill the troop train.” No one took any notice, we just all went home. Got on the trams and people come and picked us up. And no one couldn’t care less what – next morning we come back to on the first trams and all this sort of thing,

07:22:00:00

and there’s trucks going always out of the camp. And there’s a train up in Mitcham Station waiting to get filled up with troops and they didn’t know where to find them cos they’d all gone home. But as they – we come back into camp they grabbed us and next thing we’re on the troop train and we’re off.
Did you feel as if you had come home a bit of a hero from the Middle East?
Oh yes, people make you

07:22:30:00

feel like that, you know. Yes and they – the march through town was just you know, everyone was there to cheer us on. Was really good, all the way up Huntley Road and you know Goodred Road and all that there was people – thousands of them. Yeah, you get a – you know you feel elated and as though you’ve done something.

07:23:00:00

Yeah that was good. And I got married. While I was on leave.
And was that a snap decision?
And it was a – looking back on it, I you know, I should never have done it but as it turned out it was okay, it was wonderful I had a good, got married for 53 years. And but Alice had two, she was a widow with two kids, battling to

07:23:30:00

working to keep her head above the water and I thought, oh if we get married she’ll get an allowance from me and all that sort of thing. So that swayed us a bit, but when I got on the train to – when we were heading off again, I thought, my God, what if anything happens to me? She’s got to go through all that again. And it very rocked me and I said, got married for all the wrong reasons, and hitting meself but it was done so, we had to live with it and it turned out

07:24:00:00

so we had a good marriage.
And was that a wedding in uniform?
Yes. Yeah. She and we had a son, that’s him up there. Yeah so we were on a troop train for a week and right from here, to the Tablelands in Queensland

07:24:30:00

on a troop train. We just about lived on the sausages and mashed potatoes and trombone and prunes and custard, cos all the ladies on the stations they were giving us meals. And oh they were so good though. Yeah and we finished up right up in the Tablelands, of North Queensland and yeah it was a

07:25:00:00

camp – amongst the gum trees and things like that, it was nice. The Baron River was just you know, half a mile away and we used to swim in that, but they soon got onto us and we had to do jungle training and then it all starts again. Yeah. But that was a good period, like coming home and leave and you know, and it was sort of broke the whole thing up.

07:25:30:00

I was away two and a half years and it sort of made a nice end to do that half way along. And the next time well I was, think I was away about twelve months before I got back again. But –
When you went up to the Tablelands, how was your morale for the war in general?
Oh yeah, we were good, we were good. The battalion was functioning

07:26:00:00

good and everyone was but as I say, we had the same colonel and he was into us to get us fit and cos everyone had come back off leave and you know, the fitness had gone down a bit. And gawd, he trained us and he marched us and – anyway we went up to New Guinea very, very fit and my God we were all thankful for it. Because it’s a tough country.
What was the jungle training that you did?
Well, it

07:26:30:00

was all the – it’s very similar to New Guinea and we did all sorts of training and were taught by the instructors that had been and fought the Japs and know how to look for them and what they did and all this, and lectured on all that sort of stuff and then we – how to – cos you’re crossing rivers and you’re doing all sorts of things in the islands there’s rivers everywhere and

07:27:00:00

we learnt how to handle all that sort of stuff. And but oh, you know, I didn’t like it, jungle training, or jungle warfare was terrible. Yeah, I didn’t like it at all. The conditions you had to live under, was hard.
Did you do any amphibious landing training?
Yeah. Yeah, they took us out on boats and we landed on some island that we

07:27:30:00

went up to – or we didn’t do any of that until we actually went to New Guinea, and we did our training on land and all that and round tablelands and the Baron River and all that, and then when we got to New Guinea they we did this, we knew we were going to land did a landing so they got some boats and we landed on a couple of the islands around there,

07:28:00:00

you know got used to how it all worked.
Before you left Australia, what sort of briefing or lectures did you have on the Japanese?
Oh it was just mainly instructors that had been in New Guinea and Milne Bay was – had a battle of Milne Bay and the 10th Battalion had fought in

07:28:30:00

Milne Bay and some of their you know, NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officer] and things had come back and were lecturing us on you know what to expect and what to look for and how to handle these – the Japanese and that and it was pretty intense and really good training. And it was – yeah it was pretty good for what we had to do.

07:29:00:00

The amphibious part, well, had to learn to get on and off boats and all sorts of things like that and yeah. And from there we did all that and spent a time in Milne Bay, terrible place and it rained every day and you was forever wet.
I’ll just ask you so now you’re

07:29:30:00

finished your jungle training, did you feel ready to go to New Guinea?
Oh yeah, I think we felt that we had, you know couldn’t do any more for us, they’d trained us and told us and we’d learnt what to expect and everything. Yeah, I thought that was pretty good.
And did you start taking

07:30:00:00

Atebrin [anti-malarial tablets] before you left?
Yeah, I don’t know where we took it. On the tablelands or, can’t remember now but no, we had it all the time in New Guinea. Yeah. We were always yellow as anything; you know send your skin a bit funny.
And how did you travel to New Guinea?
On an American boat,

07:30:30:00

they took us out to – from Cairns on these lighters out to sea quite a way out too it was, and these American ships were there. And I thought to meself, “How the heck are we going to get on board there?” We were down on a little flat things and these – and as we got closer over come the rope ladders. Up we had to go. We had to climb up the side of the boat

07:31:00:00

on rope ladders and yeah, we did that. Get on board the boat and the Yanks give us a slap-up feed – all out, they had good rations, so that was all right and off we sailed to Milne Bay. We get in there and it’s dark. And same thing happened again. Rope ladders over the side and away you go. The boats, bobbing round like this, one minute you’re against the boat, next minute you’re

07:31:30:00

way out and blokes are down the bottom grabbing us as we tumbled into this light I think and whence that was full, they take us in to shore. Yeah and we were there. Trained there for a few weeks I think. I just don’t know the period that we were there but it was a horrible place, it never stopped raining.

07:32:00:00

And we learnt – we did amphibious landings and that from there, and learnt a lot about that, then they say, “Righto, she’s on. We’re up to Lae.” So they briefed us on that and I was put on a – the 48th Battalion were going to be the reserve battalion there was the 23rd and the 24th

07:32:30:00

in the brigade they were going to land as assault troops on this beach, the 48th were coming in after and they sent an NCO from each company and an officer from the battalion in with assault troops, to be there when their mob come in and we had to take them into the jungle and you know, disperse them around and all this sort of thing, we had to be there as guides and I was picked for that.

07:33:00:00

And for A Company and we went in with the 23rd Battalion, as on the assault landing the barges were not the ones that open in the front. They were opened, two ramps, one on each side. And they’d go charging into the beach drop their ramps and we’d run off each side. And we were twelve boats coming into Lae

07:33:30:00

twelve right up the coast from Lae and charging in and nearly to the beach and two bombers, Jap bombers, I don’t know how they got in but they did and they dropped a string of bombs along and they got the boat I was on. And they got another one, was two. The colonel of the 23rd was on the boat and he got killed, on the way down. What had happened cos we didn’t – weren’t making the assault we had to go right at the back of the boat and be last off.

07:34:00:00

And the bomb went right down the middle and oh, blew the boat to hell, a lot of troops got killed. Colonel of the 23rd got killed and the boat swung around and anyway come time for – I’ll never forget the Yankee crew they just – the word come through, “Abandon ship.” They were the first off, the crew of the boat. They went straight on, got on the next one. Left us

07:34:30:00

stranded. Anyway we eventually found our way to get off and eventually and I can remember jumping into the water and I was up to here, and pack on me back trying to get – me feet were just touching the bottom.
Do you know who gave the call to abandon?
It was an American, yeah. Or crew, I don’t know whether or who it was in the crew but they were screaming out to their Americans were, “Abandon ship!”

07:35:00:00

God, they soon did that. And yeah, that was a real mess. So we got out of that one. And
And you went overboard yourself, into the water, what did you have on your back?
I had a pack and all me equipment, fully equipped, this time I didn’t have a Bren gun, I just had a rifle, but
And how did you save your rifle from getting wet?
Oh

07:35:30:00

just hold it above your head and I could just touch the ground and jump, bob up and down and was trying to get me feet to stop the water from going in my mouth. I can remember as plain as anything. And anyway we struggled ashore, we got there. And we had to do our job, we had to go and find this area, where we had to go and our –
Did you meet any resistance?
Wasn’t a lot of resistance, there’s 23rd Battalion went

07:36:00:00

straight into the jungle, you know they were the assault troops and they went straight in and I don’t think there was too much, too many Japs there but they struck them later on as we went down the coast and things, no there wasn’t any – they weren’t there shooting straight at us on the beach, no they weren’t but it was actually a funny campaign, the whole thing, we struck pockets of a resistance where we didn’t expect

07:36:30:00

to and they’d abandoned and gone bush or did something.
So can you just clarify again, what was your brief? To go ashore and do what?
To be there when the 48th Battalion came in, as the reserve battalion, we knew they were on different boats, they were on the boats that opened up at the front and they come out the front. We were on the assault boats – they’d gone, bar the two that

07:37:00:00

got bombed. And we knew as soon as they were coming in that we had to be on the beach to guide them to their assembly areas of where it was designated they were – had to go to be ready to if they were needed to take up the attack or whatever, but at the time, the 23rd and the 24th had done all right they had taken their positions as far as they had to go that day and everything was running to

07:37:30:00

very good time. So our mob just came in and they went to these areas that we had picked out for them and we stayed there all that day. And then from then on they were sent to take their part in the advance into Lae. We were sent inland actually for about a couple of miles and we had to go inland and then go

07:38:00:00

head towards Lae and but it was a real struggle because the rivers there were so, that we struck the Busa River is a very strong running river and we couldn’t get across it. Japs were over the other side too having a few pot shots at us and we – you couldn’t walk across it; running too fast.

07:38:30:00

We chopped down trees, engineers come up, chopped down trees, thought that might bridge it but the trees went straight down the river they weren’t big enough. So we was in trouble, was held up for a week. They finished up, they sent us as working party and we had to ‘corduroy’ a road, to corduroy means you chop down trees and lay them crossways to make a – for vehicles and they brought in a big steel girder, huge great thing it was and towed it in

07:39:00:00

on jeeps or something or other and couple of them I don’t know and they got that in and they got that across the river after a few days. And I can remember going across the river and the – where we had to walk was underwater and the water was rushing through and the thing was shaking and wobbling but we got across.
So this is quite a bit river?
Yes, and it’s very strong flowing river. Never – some of them over there they come down when it rains in the hills and

07:39:30:00

then they dry up till the next rain but this one was a strong flowing river. And we were held up there for you know, I reckon a week and finally got across.
How did you get across?
Just on this big steel girder and one at a time, going – just in one line and hoping that

07:40:00:00

it didn’t give way, it was bit frightening. But anyhow we got across okay.
And when you were crossing over on the steel girder, did you get any pop shots?
No, they, we didn’t get any. The engineers that were there, were doing the job, they had a few casualties, but as soon as they could get across the river they took off after them and there wasn’t too many of the Japs there and they got rid of them you know and

07:40:30:00

yeah from there, once we got across the river it was full charge into Lae as fast as we could go. Well we – they – the Japs knew it was coming and they nicked off into the jungle, or somewhere I don’t know where they’d gone. But I know we were the advanced platoon of the whole battalion was coming behind us and we were going down onto a track –

07:41:00:00

End of tape
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 08

08:00:32:00

We were just talking about the capturing of Lae and you were just described going over the river and you were heading up the track.
We were the advanced, the whole battalion was combined – we were on a bit of a track that led onto the Malahang airstrip which was a – wasn’t used for a while and it was a big airstrip and as we were walking down this track we could see

08:01:00:00

pointing straight at us was big Jap machine gun, looking straight up the track at us. Cos we saw there was Japs there, but they weren’t – they left it there. They’d abandoned it. If they’d have been there they could have given us curry, but they’d gone. Just as well for us too. But yeah, we – and we got into Lae without much opposition, they’d gone off into the bush and we’d gone up to Finschhafen or somewhere and

08:01:30:00

so we didn’t have much trouble getting into Lae, it was just a few pockets of a few chaps we’d run into and plenty of places abandoned, but they weren’t there.
So what was it like, now fighting in the jungle compared to the desert?
Oh, I didn’t like it, you know. Living conditions had just – you’re walking over streams and in water and it rains every day and you’re

08:02:00:00

wet and we were moving a lot and you’d camp for the night and you’d roll up your bed roll and it’d be wet and you’d have to unroll it and that night again, it’s wet. Couldn’t get dry. It was hard. But yeah, we – we were in Lae for I don’t know, a few weeks I think.

08:02:30:00

They found a few – couple of Jap planes on the airstrip and they were in really good condition – actually the flew them out they were that – and took them back to Australia cos they wanted them for some reason and, yeah we were down there guarding them. So we had a pretty good time– wasn’t too bad, the whole Lae campaign.
From what

08:03:00:00

you’re describing, it fell relatively quickly.
Yeah, it did, yeah. We went straight in there from – I don’t know how many days, the river held us up. But I don’t know how many days from when we landed but we – it wasn’t a great deal and we were in the town. And yeah, so that – there was a lot of Japs inland, there was a lot of Australian troops in the Ramu Valley and al that inland from the coast, they were still

08:03:30:00

battling away with them but we had done our part and next thing was Finschhafen was the next.
Well you make the comment that on the way up to Lae, you found pockets of resistance you didn’t expect. What did you expect?
Well we didn’t know. It was – didn’t really know what to expect, we thought they would be – you know fighting harder and holding the town

08:04:00:00

but they for some reason they didn’t. And it was quite strange, I don’t know how it all worked out but we would find pockets of a few Japs and they seemed to be on their own, they had ammunition and everything like that but I don’t know how they were getting on for food or anything, but just a few pockets and we’d have a go at them and the next day they’d be – some had gone and might have killed a couple of them or something but

08:04:30:00

yeah, it – they didn’t sort of hold us up for long. Didn’t make a great effort to hold the town. Just seemed as though they wanted to give it up. It was all right by us, we got in there fairly quickly.
Well, how would you describe them as an enemy?
I didn’t like them. No, they – they were – you just had to

08:05:00:00

kill them, couldn’t do anything – they wouldn’t surrender, or tough fighters, they’d fight you till they were dead. And yeah, and they were all sorts of things, you just couldn’t predict what they were going to do they were quite different to everybody else I’d fought, anyway. Yeah, the Japanese.
When you were in Lae

08:05:30:00

and guarding the airfield, did you find – did you have any contact with the Japanese?
Not really. There was a few and I still don’t know how, they found a couple up in the hills in a dugout and there was no more there, they were left behind for some reason or other. Yeah, no there was no concentrated groups of them to

08:06:00:00

fight it was quite strange, I didn’t know how to work them out. They seemed to be here, there and everywhere and nothing organised, you know to make a stand and hold the place.
You also, when you were describing the landing – going in with the US allies, this is the first time you’ve started fighting alongside of them, how did you find them?

08:06:30:00

Okay, yeah. Japs, the Yanks were different – to us. In a lot of ways, I don’t think they were trained as well as they should have been. For instance, we were on a boat going up to Finschhafen, this was as bit later and there was a young lad on there and we were talking to him on the crew of the boat and he had never seen the sea in his life until three months

08:07:00:00

before and he was out there in New Guinea. He hadn’t even seen the sea in his life, because, he told us where he come from but I’ve forgotten. Three months ago and he was out there and he was only a kid, you know. And I thought, “God, poor thing.” Yeah and –then we had trouble with them, they used to run the barges, up the coast and we used to use barges a lot where we were needed and all the crews were Yanks

08:07:30:00

and they would do some strange things at times. There was some wounded from the 28th Battalion had been in a bit of skirmish they’d had and these barges had to come in and pick up the wounded and they came in, and they were starting to – get organised to get all the wounded on and they heard a Jap plane – they heard a plane, don’t know whether it was a Jap, suppose it was, they

08:08:00:00

just upped their barges and went. Left the wounded on the beach. And our boys were really, really cross. So the next night, they come in and there was the – our officer, an Australian officer went on every barge and he said, “You’ll go out when we let – tell you to go, you’re not going out until we tell you.” And things like that they did in – I always thought it was a lack of training and you know but weight of numbers always got the

08:08:30:00

Yanks through. They’re just weight of numbers. They just, if you got killed they send some more in you know, until they – quite different to us.
What was the feeling like when you did capture Lae?
Oh it was okay, yeah, we were pleased the campaign went well, we hadn’t lost many men at all and

08:09:00:00

yeah, it was a pleasing thing and we were – you know all set, what’s next on the hoist? And so it went on.
Where were you camped in Lae?
Right in the – on the estuary we were, right on the – which is near the town, the – yeah it was

08:09:30:00

and we had you know things to – little huts and things that were around the place and we made ourselves pretty comfortable for a week or two we was there. Was good.
Was there any incidence of Japanese bombing the airfield?
No, we didn’t strike anything like that. We had air supremacy up there, that time. The Japs couldn’t get a look in. The

08:10:00:00

Yanks were very strong, there, all their planes, they’re all American planes and if they tried to bomb us well they were shot down quick smart.
So you then went onto Finschhafen, how did you move from Lae to Finschhafen?
Up the coast on barges again, but once again we weren’t the assault troops,

08:10:30:00

we was sent in after the troops were on the ground, I don’t know, how long after, it might have been a week after. We had to take up positions there and we met up on a lot of Japs there, and yeah, we was had a fair bit of fighting then. But they were just so different, you know. They

08:11:00:00

come charging down this track and they did it six times. And we were just sitting there and shooting them right there, they had no chance of getting to us cos we was in a nice position and yet, they kept trying. And didn’t sort of make sense what they were trying to do. That’s what they did. Then we pushed inland and

08:11:30:00

this is where the whole thing ends with me, pretty soon, I – they held Sattelberg, that was a – well known place up in the mountains a bit, and we were heading up there, like and we were sent out on a patrol, Derrick was in charge of it.

08:12:00:00

An all-day patrol. We had to try and find this track that they were supplying, there were troops up on Sattelberg, and we found it. It was late in the afternoon and we had a – we knew where it was and everything and we had to get back – it was dark when we got in. And I’ll never forget the whole patrol – we laid a wire, cos our communication was in them days

08:12:30:00

to get right to – the sigs [Signals]come with us and they run a wire with us, all the way, all day. So they could talk to the colonel back in the command post. And when we found the track, he – well actually we were just about to the limit of our day’s journey and it was going to get dark too quick so Derrick said,

08:13:00:00

he said, “You, myself and another bloke will go forward and we’ll walk as quick as we can for half an hour.” Or whatever it was and, “See if we can locate it.” Well we did. And we located the track and we come back to the mob, and we told the colonel over the telephone that we’d found it, and he said, “Get back as quick as you can.” Well it was after dark before we got back to our unit and the jungle gets pretty dark.

08:13:30:00

And yeah, I took crook that night. And he come over to me and he said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Oh not too well, I’ve got the shakes. I’ve got malaria.” And he said, “Oh well, I’ll come and see you in the morning and if you’re no better you’ll have to go out.” And

08:14:00:00

that’s where it ended. I went out. And a couple of days later they’d – had my unit, at Sattelberg and that’s where they captured Sattelberg but I wasn’t there, right on the spot, I was – I had to walk out for sickness – I don’t know how many miles.

08:14:30:00

Down this muddy track and there wasn’t only me, there was a half a dozen others, all suffering with malaria and whatever and we got to the coast and the barge picked us up, took us to down the coast and it was with a hospital, a bush hospital set up. Near the – went into there and they had the doctor – we said, “Give us some treatment for malaria.” Which was usual procedure we knew what to do

08:15:00:00

and I was there for days and didn’t respond to the treatment. So they put me on a boat, took 28 bed patients and we went down to Buna and I can remember them rolling me over and I had to – heard the doctor say, “There it is, there.” And I had a bug bite on me which was then knew I had scrub typhus.

08:15:30:00

Can I take you back to Finschhafen before we move too far ahead. When you landed at Finschhafen, was there much resistance?
No. Didn’t strike much resistance on the beach but as they pushed inland they struck a lot of resistance and 20 Brigade did that, landing and that was, we were in 26 Brigade and they did that landing but we come in and took over from them

08:16:00:00

and pushed further out into the jungle and met quite a lot of Japs in there and yeah, but fighting got a bit grim there at different times. The – the thing of it was, we wanted to get this high ground where Sattelberg was and they brought in tanks, first time we’d ever seen tanks again and but they couldn’t move off the track they

08:16:30:00

were a liability and none of our blokes – the tank commander wouldn’t move unless he had foot troops on either side, we had to walk out in the jungle and track – tank trying to keep to the track and the – if they come across they had Jap machine gun posts, well they were good then they’d just blast it to pieces. But we had to walk alongside these tanks cos they

08:17:00:00

were frightened of ‘Molotov cocktails’ [makeshift ordnance] being thrown at them. Well the Japs which – the Molotov cocktail is a bottle of flammable stuff, soon as it hits metal it bursts into flames, sits in the tank and you know it puts them out of action. They were scared of that, so we had to walk alongside and cos everyone’d be firing at the tanks and we’d be trying to walk alongside, so we didn’t like them at all.

08:17:30:00

Yeah that happened a bit.
What protection would you give to the Molotov cocktail?
Only shoot the bloke that was trying to throw it at you. You know, we would probably see them before the – cos tanks had a limited vision and we were out in the open we would know the enemy was around, pretty close. And try and stop them from throwing these Molotov cocktails.
How easy was it

08:18:00:00

to see in the jungle?
To see? Yeah, oh pretty hard. But it’s worse inside a tank. We just, cos they used to sneak up and belt them on the tanks and of course they hit the metal and they’d break and all the flames would go down into the cracks and the whole tank would burn out if you weren’t careful and crew would have to jump out or whatever. Yeah and all those sort of things

08:18:30:00

yeah it was pretty hectic sort of a turnout, to fight in the jungle like that. And that was the end of me in the jungle training. I eventually got back to Buna in the AGH [Australian General Hospital] there and I was there for quite a while recovering.

08:19:00:00

I want to ask a bit more about you were saying about the Japanese going along the track and you’re just taking, where were you positioned when the Japanese were coming down the track?
Oh we were on quite a good position, we were straddled the track and they wanted this position that we were in because it was a bit of a high ground and it was important for them to get it and we wasn’t going to give it to them under any circumstances. But they

08:19:30:00

just come down and they finished up, coming down with an artillery piece on wheels and they’re pushing it by hand and they pushed it out in front and we could see it and they pushed it out and they started to load it up and were going to try and shoot it at us. They were plain, we could see them. So we just opened up and shot them and that was it. They did some queer things.

08:20:00:00

Funny things they did. Yeah, I don’t know.
And what – did you come across many snipers?
Now and again but not a lot. We didn’t strike a lot. No, we didn’t strike too many snipers they – Jungle warfare was a whole different story

08:20:30:00

to what the desert was and it was, I think more blokes got sick than got wounded up there.
Touching on being out in the desert and being dug in and feeling that vulnerability of being in an open space, did you feel that same vulnerability when you were in the jungle?
No, not really. But you was always frightened they were going to sneak up on you

08:21:00:00

and you never felt safe wherever you were, if there was anywhere of the possibility of there being Japs there well you had to be so, so careful cos they’d sneak up and do all sorts of things – awful things and you had to keep watch all the time. All the time.
What about kamikaze [Divine Wind – ritual suicide]?
No,

08:21:30:00

we didn’t come across that at all. No, they didn’t – but they wouldn’t surrender if you wounded them or anything. We come – a lot of them were laying out on where we’d open fire on them but to know whether they were alive we had to go out and kick them to make sure that they were dead, otherwise they’d

08:22:00:00

‘sham’ [pretend] – and one of the blokes did this one day and this Jap jumped up and he was alive – so we took him prisoner and he was – there was a boat coming into – for supplies, with supplies so they took him on the boat and they provos took him over and this truck was backing out of the

08:22:30:00

on the ramp and he threw himself under the back of the truck, away from the provos. They didn’t want to live they wanted to die – anyway they dragged him out he didn’t get squashed but by heck he got pretty close. That’s the sort of thing they’d do. And –
Did you come across any booby traps on Japanese –
No, I didn’t. I did on Germans but we didn’t on Japs.
You found booby traps on the German..?

08:23:00:00

Yeah they’d booby trap dead bodies and all sorts of different times. Always had to be very, very, very careful if you shifted a – you know if there was a dead German there and they – you had to move it or anything, you had to be careful. Yeah, they would do that but Japs, no, we didn’t, actually they probably would do it.
How did your Bren gun cope in the jungle?

08:23:30:00

Well, that’s another thing I didn’t – we didn’t – I didn’t take a Bren gun up. We had them but I didn’t have it, I had a Owen submachine gun. Cos the Owen gun come into it when we got up – they did away with the Thompson submachine gun, that was an American thing, and we had supplied with Owen guns, they were invented by an Australian. And they were excellent, they were a lightweight Tommy gun like that.

08:24:00:00

Short barrel and they fired a nine millimetre shell which was only a little bullet, which – and you could carry a lot more of them, and they were excellent and you could fire them and you know, you could leave them out in the mud and pick them up and fire them and they were really good and I had one of them right through New Guinea. And yeah, they were really good little gun.
Where did you get the Owen?

08:24:30:00

When we got back to Australia, after the Middle East, we were equipped with them before we went to New Guinea. And we learnt on the Tablelands we – they were given to us and we learnt all about them from there on. Yeah, they were an excellent little gun.
And what kind of training did you do with the Owen gun before you left?
Oh just you know, learnt all about it, you know, the mechanics of it, which was very simple, and just practised with it, cos you fired them

08:25:00:00

on the hit. And yeah, just practised until you got pretty accurate. Yeah they were good.
How easy were they to maintain out in the jungle?
Oh very good, yeah. Yeah that was the beauty of them they were so simple and they would – you could fire them in any circumstances, never known it to misfire on you or anything.

08:25:30:00

And you made a point about illness, was it more difficult to combat in New Guinea than elsewhere?
Oh yeah, malaria and scrub typhus was rampant. And though we used to take our Atebrin all the time, we had mosquito repellent in bottles of liquid, it was horrible stuff and we could put that on us, but you still couldn’t stop

08:26:00:00

you know, getting bitten. And yeah, it was – I had malaria three times, I think and I had scrub typhus once. That was really bad. What scrub typhus is, is a bug comes out of the kunai grass and it gets onto you and it burrows its way into your skin and sort of like a – something like a boil or something like that, they find it, and it gets causes the scrub typhus.

08:26:30:00

And it was very, very serious they were losing a lot of men with it up there. They didn’t have any real treatment for it, it was just nursing and your ability to survive and you know, I went down – I was twelve stone when I left Australia and pretty fit and I come home and I was back in Adelaide and I was nine stone.
What uniform were you equipped with for….?

08:27:00:00

Just jungle greens, like a drill trousers and shirts and that’s about all. And just ordinary boots, same boots we’d always had. It was yeah, couldn’t help getting bitten by mosquitoes and things.
And what were your

08:27:30:00

rations like in New Guinea?
In New Guinea? Yeah, not the best, you know it was the same old story. By that time the Australian Army had formed what they called a catering corps and all the cooks in the battalions had gone through schools in this catering corps to be and food started to get a bit better but it was only good when the supplies were good and when you got onto the

08:28:00:00

really into the jungles well you – it was hard. And – but it had improved through the catering corps and the cooks being more experienced and that. But we still couldn’t live up to what the Yanks, they were living on – up in New Guinea on Christmas and we had a pretty ordinary Christmas and I forget what we had but it was pretty ordinary. The Yanks were a mile down the track

08:28:30:00

and they were having chicken and ice cream and been supplied by Australia.
Did you ever swap any of your rations with the Americans?
Oh yeah, yeah, they were good. If it was anywhere near them then they would always – they knew they were getting better food than we were. They’d always invite us in or give us something of theirs, yeah they were we had no problems with them in that

08:29:00:00

way.
Was there any problems with supply in New Guinea?
No, not – we were always near the coast somewhere and all the supplies would come up by barge. It was just a matter of getting them in to us. And it was usually they’d get in all right but preparing it and you know, having fires and something to cook on and all this sort of thing was

08:29:30:00

always a problem for them. But by this time they were – had these – I think they were kerosene – they used to blow a flame and if they could get stuff – fuel for that, they could cook really anything, but yeah it was – that was a problem all the time. Was the preparing it and we were never supplied with the food

08:30:00:00

that was really top class. Oh well.
How did you camp in the jungle?
Well when we got, you know just under the stars. And no shelter, we never had any shelter all the time we were up there and we had groundsheets which were wire-proof things, but plastic hadn’t been invented, which was quite – cos that would have been handy

08:30:30:00

and try and keep dry which was hopeless to, cos I used to find my feet were the worst I could never get dry feet, you couldn’t get a dry pair of socks or and – you know, it was always wet and cold and damp. Wasn’t so cold in different places because it was tropical but it was always wet and clammy, you know.

08:31:00:00

Did you dig trenches?
Did we dig trenches? When we had to but not a lot up there. It was a different warfare altogether you just – you could put up a bit of a shelter amongst the bushes and trees and guard your perimeter with a – someone would be on picket all the time would – but we weren’t getting shelled from over the – like we were in the desert, well

08:31:30:00

they used to fire mortars and things at us but and but nothing like the artillery fire or anything like that to – that we had in the desert to combat.
Did you do many patrols in New Guinea?
Not as many as we did in the desert that’s for sure, but we did a few, yeah and yeah. They’d send it out to try and locate the Jap

08:32:00:00

positions and all that sort of thing. Yeah but it didn’t do – wasn’t quite so hair raising in the jungle we seemed to be more to hide behind, you know, you had bushes and trees and you just had to sneak up on people and out in the desert well there was nothing, you just had to dig a hole or whatever. And yeah.

08:32:30:00

You made your way to the AGH in Buna, so how did you get to Buna?
By a boat that carried 28 bed patients. Wasn’t a barge, it was some sort of a boat and they put us on it up there and took us

08:33:00:00

to Buna and yeah, we were taken off, straight into the Australian AGH there, 11th AGH it was. And I was there for quite a while, yeah. And well I don’t know how long I was there.
What were your symptoms with scrub typhus?
Oh it was the same as malaria. You get the shakes and you get temperatures and all that sort of thing. And you don’t respond to the treatment

08:33:30:00

they treat you for malaria and you don’t respond to it, you just stays there, and you start looking around for bug bites and when they find it, there was no treatment for scrub typhus it was just, I don’t know every time I’d open my eyes up a nurse was there trying to push water – drink water, drink water, drink water. And trying to push food down my neck.

08:34:00:00

All I could think of was preserved pears. That was my favourite. She said, “I got some nice preserved pears for you.” I said, I thought, “Oh no, I’ve got to run away.” I didn’t feel like anything but I did eat them cos they were nice, I still like them.
Did you continue taking your Atebrin when you were…?
Yeah, all the time, never missed. You know, it was just – religiously take that but you still got malaria

08:34:30:00

actually I didn’t – I got scrub typhus before I’d had an attack of malaria. But I finished up I think I had about three attacks. A couple of them were when I was back here in Australia. After I got home and that came on me but you tend to stop taking your Atebrin and it comes on

08:35:00:00

you.
So with the scrub typhus you said that the doctor examined you and found it, did you think you already had it?
No, I didn’t know, but as soon as I heard him say that, I can remember to this day, they were rolling me over looking for it and he said, “There it is, there.” And that was it, when you – I knew from there on, that I had a battle in front of me and

08:35:30:00

and it was a nice hospital, it was good but they had a few male nurses there that I didn’t like. One bloke used to rub my back with metho [methylated spirit]. I said, “Is this is necessary?” And I had a lot of bed sores and it used to sting like crazy, you know, it was raw, he shouldn’t have done it, and I said to the doctor, “That orderly there rubbed me back with metho.” And he had a look at me and he said, “He doesn’t!” and I said, “Yes he does.” And he got into trouble. And the same guy, he was

08:36:00:00

walking past my bed one day and I’m pretty groggy and that and he’s talking to someone. He said, “We’ll be burying him before long.” And he nodded over to me and I thought, “Yeah, not if I have my say in it.” He really got my back up that guy. Probably did me good.
What were the female nurses like?
They were – yeah the girls, they used to – well very regimental in them days. It was a Sister

08:36:30:00

Cowan in charge of the ward that I was in and she was pretty tough but everything had to be done to the ‘old way’ you know you – the girls were all in their uniforms with their starched collars, didn’t know where they were and we had to all – have our shirts in the wards and sit to attention when the matron come in and oh you know, it was pretty full on, in them days but they were good, mainly they were

08:37:00:00

yeah.
What was the hospital like in Buna?
It was all tents but quite a big place and it had been there for a while and yeah it was nice. They had everything there that they – you would expect and it was good. I had no complaints about that.
What was the treatment for scrub typhus?
Nothing

08:37:30:00

just battling, there was none, they didn’t know, and they were losing a lot of patients too, they were dying. And you know they were just trying to treat you to drink water and food and you know and try and build your resistance against it and somehow or other if you – you either died or you lived. And I got through it.
What were your physical ailments with scrub typhus?

08:38:00:00

Didn’t effect you any more once you got over it than what malaria did, I don’t think, but it was just the fever and a bit more intense that malaria you know, I really can’t – everything worked all right once I got going again, the weight just fell off me and I was skin and bone and I come back to Adelaide

08:38:30:00

I – they put me in the hospital out at Northfield and I thought, I won’t tell my wife that I was home, cos I’d ring her the next day or something. Anyway the Red Cross went and got all the wives and ‘rellies’ [relatives] and they took them out there and we were only – got into the hospital in the morning in the afternoon all the family had arrived. I’d broke out in boils. Coming home on the hospital boat from

08:39:00:00

Moresby they were feeding me up on a bottle of stout and all the good food that I – next thing I got a boil, I had a boil on me face and I was yellow as a Chinaman and me hair had fallen out through the high temperatures, I was a real mess. And I can remember her looking at me and the tears running down her eyes and I said, “Oh I’m okay now, I’m getting better.” She said, “You don’t look too good.”

08:39:30:00

But I was a ‘walking’ patient by that time.
When they discovered that you’d had this tick embedded in you, did they remove it?
I don’t know. I – perhaps they did but I can’t remember that, whether it was, but it was definitely a bug that burrowed its way into you and did what it did and whether they had to get it out or not, I can’t even remember them doing anything

08:40:00:00

to me in that respect. They might have.
Well if they didn’t have a treatment, how did they know it was okay to move you?
Just by the fact that if you could move, your ability to get up and get about and I was just a skeleton when I first got up and they’d tried to get me out of bed and walk and I couldn’t walk,

08:40:30:00

I’d been in bed for quite a while and but gradually you pick up and – but it took quite a while – even when I got home, I reckon I was a year before I was back to anything like normal. But they wouldn’t discharge me from the army, they kept me in.
Interviewee: Frederic Pocock Archive ID 2234 Tape 09

09:00:31:00

So, you’d lost quite a lot of weight by the time you got back to Australia, and what sort of emotional reunion was that with your family?
Oh it was full on yeah. It was yeah, I knew that was the end of the fighting part for me and then it was just so good to be home and I was still in the army but I was in Adelaide

09:01:00:00

and I was home quite a lot. They wouldn’t discharge me because you know, I well for quite a few reasons I suppose. They had a system going where the earliest ones in were going to be the first out. Your number came up, well that did come up right towards the end of the war and I was just about to get my discharge and the war finished.

09:01:30:00

When you came home, did you go to hospital here in Adelaide?
Yes, they had a army hospital at Northfield, yeah, I was out there for a while and I come out of that and being a corporal they had to find a job for me in the army, so I got some wonderful jobs, I tell you. And they sent me up to Woodside, at Woodside there was a

09:02:00:00

officers school, in there and I was attached to an engineer mob that were looking after the sewer plant and all the whole camp and I was there for a while. And I don’t know what happened there, something – I finished up there and they sent me to Port Pirie and I had a wonderful job there, troop trains were coming through from Western Australia and going

09:02:30:00

backwards and forwards and all I had to do was be there when the troop train’s in and show them – used to give them a feed at Solomon Town Station, and show them into the mess and just look after them and – practically a home from home. Yeah that was good, I was there when the war finished. At –
And were you living in barrack there?
We had huts. Yeah, I was living there, I used to get home quite

09:03:00:00

often cos I knew the fella that was – they used to have an officer run on the troop trains and I knew two or three of them and they’d, “Want to go home Fred?” And I’d say, “Yeah. Get away from here.” And I come down on the troop trains, with a trainload of troops and they’d sneak me in. And I got home quite a lot, so a fair bit of leave, which was good.

09:03:30:00

Well you were still recovering during this time.
Oh yeah, I had – I was okay but I didn’t pick up for at least a year, I think it might have been more before I really felt, cos I had malaria a couple of times after that. And they sent me down here and to Adelaide and I had to go round spruiking with a couple of other guys, trying to sell war bonds. All they wanted to do was send

09:04:00:00

somebody around to all these factories and that and get people to buy war bonds. And they had a couple of – I think it was an Aborigine fella and he was a real character, he’d fought in Milne Bay and he’d been around, you know and we had a good time. And the guy that was in charge of us was an ex 48th man, who was wounded in Alamein and had been home and got discharged.

09:04:30:00

And we had a good time going selling war bonds. And I was living home and getting paid to live home and all that, home from home.
What were the war bonds that you were selling?
They didn’t seem to want to – they wanted to get the money away from people that were earning a lot of money in factories and things and there was

09:05:00:00

nothing to spend it on. And they wanted people to invest in war bonds and government would have the money, you’d buy a war bond and pay for it and the government would have that money to whatever they wanted to do with it. And it was to try and get people from buying the luxury goods that weren’t available and they were anything that was available was prices were soaring cos they were in demand and all that type of thing. They didn’t care about the amount but they just wanted more people

09:05:30:00

to buy them as many people to buy them as they could. To keep the money from being used to create things that were sky rocketing in price and when they shouldn’t have been. Yeah, it was interesting.
And you did that before you were discharged?
Yeah, and I was on that when I got an attack of malaria. And I got – the ‘tucks and drakes’ [symptoms] and the – I knew what it was, so I went out to Dawes Road and

09:06:00:00

put meself in there and there was – there was always a course of treatment for malaria and you took a couple of weeks, few days in hospital and they give you all the stuff and then after a few days you start to pick up by the end of a fortnight you was okay again, or reasonable.
Just to backtrack, when you first came home from New Guinea, did you expect to return?
No,

09:06:30:00

I was boarded ‘B class’, right from the – I think that happened here in Adelaide but I knew that I would never go back again. By different ones had told me, you know once you had scrub typhus they said, that was it. You were – they wouldn’t discharge you but they would just board you B class and send you back. Doing all sorts of jobs. Yeah that was all over for me

09:07:00:00

as far as that was. So I – the unit went to Tarakan and I didn’t go to there. And that’s a time where I thought, you know if I’d have gone there then – that would have been – there was a guy that took my job as a corporal of 8 Section who was killed in Tarakan. And my section was really, really decimated up there it was terrible. Yeah, so I didn’t, I missed out on that.

09:07:30:00

When you were made B class, how did you feel about that?
I didn’t mind, I didn’t mind, I felt all right. And just to be B class in the army was no big deal it was just – I’d been in – been through a bit and a lot of that came into it I think and – the service you’d done and where you’d been and the doctors would take

09:08:00:00

that all into consideration to make you – not to say that you had anything incurable things, I knew there’s a doctor that was 48th doctor. He was a Yateman – he’s still alive today – and he told me, he said, “You’ll be all right Fred, you’ve got no worries, it’s just a matter of time.”
And those troops

09:08:30:00

that were going through Port Pirie when you were working up there, at the staging camp, where were they headed?
Western Australia. Going home on leave or coming back from leave and troop trains used to go across the Nullarbor and they were – glorified cattle trains half the time. All the West Australians had to travel on them and I was up there when a trainload come through and there was one guy that I knew very well in the 48th Battalion

09:09:00:00

and – Curly Ryan – and I had a yarn to him, “How you going Curly?” He said, “There’s something going on, Fred.” He said, “There’s something going on. We’re off somewhere soon.” He was going back to the battalion and that was the Tarakan and then Curly got killed in Tarakan. So, yeah. He was a good guy too. But that’s – he knew there was something going on, but didn’t know what.

09:09:30:00

Yeah the troop trains, used to go across the Nullarbor and they were the old steam trains in them days. Chugging across there. They used to have cookers on the train too and they’d cook them meals and stop on the side of the track and feed them and then go on again. And
Well that would have been difficult talking

09:10:00:00

to people like Curly one day and then hearing about the news later on.
Yeah it was yeah. Yeah, good guys and the guy that took my place was Alf Badman and he got killed in Tarakan too and my section got really, really knocked about. It – so I was happy to miss out on that one.

09:10:30:00

And do you remember hearing about the atom bomb being dropped?
Yeah. Yeah, we certainly did and they were – it was – ended the war and saved a lot of lives. If the war had have gone on to

09:11:00:00

where they had to invade Japan there would have been thousands and thousands more killed in the war. Cos Japan would have fought to the very last. And it was heading that way, when the Yanks were getting close to doing that. They dropped the atom bomb and – it’s a pretty horrific thing but it ended the war. Yeah remember that very well.

09:11:30:00

And when VP [Victory in the Pacific] Day came did you take part in any celebrations?
Yeah, got a bit tipsy I think – I was at Pirie and – Port Pirie and yeah, the war’s over, wow, everyone went crazy. Everyone went crazy and they opened up the officer’s mess and everyone was in there drinking the officer’s booze and

09:12:00:00

oh my God, just couldn’t believe it, you know, it was wonderful. Yes, it was a bit celebration all right.
And did the whole town of Pirie celebrate?
Yeah, oh yeah, they were out in the streets and nobody went to bed. It was on, it was the same in Adelaide, yeah. Yes it was

09:12:30:00

quite a thing that you never forget to see that. The people that had been affected and it was over, and you just couldn’t believe it after all this time. I was down at Wayville getting discharged and it was over. And blokes that I knew were coming back from the islands

09:13:00:00

and I said, “How’d you get back?” “Oh we hitched a ride with the Yanks to Darwin and we come down.” No boats to bring them home. And they were stuck in the islands there and they didn’t know when they would get home and some of them and a lot of them down in Wayville with no papers or nothing, you know. And oh it was a real pantomime but they didn’t care as long as they were home they’d go home and didn’t care how long it took to get the discharge.

09:13:30:00

It was quite emotional, the whole thing was wonderful.
And the day that you were discharged, what was that like to be one minute in uniform and the next out?
I couldn’t think of anything nicer, I couldn’t get out quick enough, it was the 5th of October, 1945, I come out of Wayville and I had 85 pounds in my pocket

09:14:00:00

I’d never had as much money ever on me in my life. And they’d paid me out from leave and all that, I didn’t – whatever it was, they owed it to me and I come out of there and I thought I was a millionaire. Cos wages were only five or six pound a week in them days, and 85 pounds, wow! I didn’t think I’d ever have to work again. But I soon found out different.

09:14:30:00

Yeah that was good to really be out of it. And I met a cousin of mine and he’d been in it and he said, “Now’s the time you should have been staying in there. I’m going to stay in the army.” I said, “Good luck to you.” I said, “I can’t get out quick enough.” I’d had enough.
And did you have any nightmares at all?

09:15:00:00

No, I don’t think I did. No, I can’t remember having really bad nightmares about anything. It’s a wonder, but I didn’t. The thing is when you got discharged we had nowhere to live, that was a burning problem, we were living with Alice’s mother and father and they were only renting a house and

09:15:30:00

we had room there and by this time, three kids, and it was just couldn’t get a house anywhere to live. And everyone was getting out the army, I remember working on a job and this was twelve months later and we were all ex-servicemen working on a building site and not one of us had a house – we were all living with in laws or somebody’s back-ender

09:16:00:00

or something like that. That was the hardest part. But gradually things come good.
You say you couldn’t get out quick enough, was there anything at all that you missed about the army?
Oh you missed your mates. Yeah, I did really do that and I met them on a few Anzac Day events and things like the services combined and we used to do things that we shouldn’t

09:16:30:00

and you know, just missed them and when you meet up you’d just be so thrilled to see them all. Yeah that was one thing that was really lacking, you know, you did do that. We used to have get-togethers different places and all that sort of thing but as the years go by and they all get their kids and family ties and you know, you drift apart again, and

09:17:00:00

then as we got older, we seem to come together again, there’s a – their families are growing up and they’re looking for something to do. And –
When you reflect on that camaraderie, what do you think it is that creates such a strong bond?
It’s just that you rely on each other so much. And you – you’re just so reliant on your mates that

09:17:30:00

you just you know, whatever happens, you’re there for each other. And in anything you do, wartime and especially in the fighting units where you would, you know you just be there for them and they’d do the same for you. But it’s pretty hard to explain but it’s just something that

09:18:00:00

develops over the years and what you’ve been through together. Yeah. It was wonderful. It’s good even to see them today. I was in there yesterday and there was I think about 25 of us all over 80 and no one under 80 and some were coming in in taxis and frames, but it’s still good to see them, still good to see

09:18:30:00

them.
Well when you think back, how do you think your war service changed you?
Oh you missed out on a lot cos I joined when I was 18 and you don’t – I never played sport or don’t know – much at all, cos

09:19:00:00

I worked, I had to work, so fourteen I was out working and then – miss out on a lot I think.
You had put your age up, do you think that those war years were lost years?
Yeah, yeah. They were. They were good years, like kids at eighteen now are enjoying their life, you know they’re doing things and

09:19:30:00

going places and educating themselves and we just had to earn money. You had to get money. And to keep the family going and anything else, was incidental, if you could do it, well you was lucky, but now, kids a lot of them at that age, are at home with their parents and you know got security and yeah, just different – with us it was

09:20:00:00

a lot harder and we did miss out on a lot of that but yeah, never mind.
You did see some of the worst fighting at Alamein in the Middle East, do you think that hardened you?
Yeah. You – I don’t know what it is but it just gets you, to the extent that

09:20:30:00

it doesn’t matter what happens and who of your friends get killed and that, it just sort of goes over you. For some reason, you can take it and you think, oh well, I’m still here. And you’re thankful that you are but it does harden you, for sure. Yeah. But as the years go by you think back on it and you – you feel a bit different about it but at the time,

09:21:00:00

just got to go on and yeah, it’s hard.
How much did you identify with the digger identity?
Well, I don’t know, we were – I don’t know, I was just there and was one of the mob and I suppose we were doing our bit and we think we were

09:21:30:00

doing our bit. But we think we did our bit so that was it.
And well, you’ve said that your fellow digger was your best mate, but was your rifle also your best friend?
Oh yeah, yeah that was, you had a hold of that all the time, that was –when you were in a unit like we were in, it was

09:22:00:00

something that you – you did everything with, you drilled with it, you wouldn’t be anywhere without it, it was just part of you. And you looked after it like a – you would a pet or something like that, you know, clean it every day and keep it nice. Yeah and you if you went on – like in ceremonial things well you would go on guard and things, you would learn how to do your drill

09:22:30:00

and all that sort of thing, your rifle was just part of you. Yeah, that’s – yeah, I don’t know how else you could put it that way but it was. Yeah. I used to know my rifle number but I’ve forgotten it now.
Could you pull it apart and put it back together?
Yeah, the old looking rifle that we had, yeah.

09:23:00:00

The rifles – the guns they’ve got now, I wouldn’t know, but yeah they were all right, the old 303, well there wasn’t much to it, you know – yeah that was really something we soon learned to do that. Yes, it’s – all the drills and things we did

09:23:30:00

you know, you slope arms and present arms and all that. Was your rifle come into it.
You were also a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ at the time. Do you remember when that term was coined?
I think

09:24:00:00

it was caused by the Germans I think, Lord Haw-Haw [German radio propagandist] or somebody like that, started that going and it just continued on and it you know, we all finished and we were just – they formed a ‘Rats of Tobruk Association’ and things like that, yeah. That –
Do you wear that name with – like a badge of honour?
Oh yeah. Yes. Sure do, yeah.

09:24:30:00

What does it mean to you?
It’s something we’ve accomplished and you know we were there and I don’t know how else to say it except you’re just proud of it. I believe it’s soon to end. I think it’s coming to an end, the Rats of Tobruk Association, there’s not too many left

09:25:00:00

in it.
And did you have any superstitions at all

09:25:30:00

or routines that you went through before you went into battle?
No, I didn’t have any – things like that didn’t worry me. We – no some – I know some of the lads, some of the different things they used to do and they wouldn’t go anywhere unless they had their certain photo in their pocket or things like that but no, I didn’t

09:26:00:00

go for that much at all. I just took things as they come and that was it. But I know quite a few did. Another thing struck me was premonitions, I believed in them, there was different things happened and blokes would say or do something

09:26:30:00

and it turned out they – one thing in particular, when a good mate of ours got killed in Alamein on the last night, and it was a terribly sad thing for the family, there were three boys and they all got killed in the Middle East, two of them were with the 48th and Phil was the last one and the night – the last night we went in, he went and seen the quartermaster, sarge, and he handed him some photos and things he said,

09:27:00:00

“Send them to Mum.” He said, “I won’t come out of it tonight.” And he didn’t. A few things like that happened at times, you know premonitions an it always seemed a bit strange to me, they – I never had anything other than I thought I would survive. I always felt I’d survive. But no, I had nothing about being wounded or anything could happen, but I always thought I’d survive

09:27:30:00

right through. But towards the end, I thought my luck was running out, you know and I’d – I got the scrub typhus and that was the end of my fighting service and yeah, I thought, you know, there wasn’t too many original 48th left and –
When that digger did hand in his photos, do you think it was a sense of giving up…?
No, he wasn’t the type to do that.

09:28:00:00

He just, things were really at their – the battle was really, really on and we knew what we were going into that night. And already he had two brothers killed, one’s killed in Greece and the other one was killed on the first night at Alamein. Harold and then Phil was with us. No, I don’t think that for one minute, he was there and he was a good little guy, good soldier. But

09:28:30:00

the odds were against us to survive it, yeah, I’ve heard a few cases where the premonitions come up. That was one I remember quite well.
And why do you think that you never had a sense of that yourself?
I don’t know, I still don’t know why. But it’s just that I always thought I would survive and never thought anything different. And whether that makes any difference or not, well

09:29:00:00

nobody knows, do they and yeah, I don’t think, for one minute that the ones that I knew that had premonitions would give up on anything or purposely do anything cos he was killed and fighting the enemy and yeah. Yeah, so it’s strange but things like that, you hear of them you see them and you don’t know what –

09:29:30:00

Did that often happen that diggers felt like their number was up?
Yeah, quite a few. Another guy we were going over on the boats, we were leaving Australia, he come from Broken Hill, a guy called Rowdy Lear and when we got to the Middle East he got word to say his son was born and he’d never – born after he’d left home and he said, “Oh I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll ever see him.”

09:30:00:00

And he didn’t survive, he was killed. So, you know, I don’t know, makes you wonder.
And it is hard to make sense of it.
Yeah it is, absolutely yeah. You never will I don’t think you just it just happens and you wonder why. Yes so

09:30:30:00

things like that happen through your life and you just can’t work it out there’s no way, it just happens.
Well you mentioned that the 9th Division did have a bit of a reputation, how would you – when you reflect on your war service, how would you like the 2/48th Battalion to be remembered?

09:31:00:00

Oh, just the greatest, yeah they were good. We went into everything that was put in front of us and did the job properly, well trained and good officers and wonderful lot of men. Yeah they now and again

09:31:30:00

you’d get somebody you didn’t like – officer or something, got your back up or something. Overall it was good, you know, good guys and yeah, they did the job wherever they were and some of the fellas that – there was a fella had a reputation he was ‘Tex West’ and he used to do patrols in Egypt and he used to like doing them. In North Africa and he

09:32:00:00

won a DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] and oh wow. What a soldier. Different ones I can remember, I can reflect on and they were really, really brave men. Really brave. But yeah, but kind of it all boils down as you get older you think back on how stupid it all was, you know, the war is, why do we have to go out and kill men, you know, kill each other

09:32:30:00

it’s just so ridiculous, but of course in them days the enemy was the enemy and they had to be stopped. So still going on today isn’t it.
Do you have a sense of pride when you look back on your service?
Yes, I do, yes I do. Yes, I think I did

09:33:00:00

everything that I was expected to do and did it to the best of my ability and yeah, I do. For sure.
Which part of your service is the strongest for you in terms of that pride?
I don’t know, it’s just an overall thing, you served in a

09:33:30:00

fighting unit they were pushed into everything, and survived and just did what was expected of you. I never used to volunteer, I didn’t believe in volunteering, if ever they called for volunteers no, but if I was picked out, away I went and did what I had to do but I wouldn’t stick my neck out on anything, ever on that, and a lot of my mates, close

09:34:00:00

mates were the same, we for instance, if we knew we had to go out on patrol, we were in order, if it was your turn you just went. You just, you weren’t picked out or you had to volunteer, it was your turn and off you go and do it. And all that sort of thing and we took – was just a part of what we had to do. Yeah.

09:34:30:00

Oh yes, as the years go by you – sometimes you – I sometimes think back on it when this war was coming up now, I thought, why am I here? And you know and I’m nobody special. Not really special but you know, I suppose to my family I am. But you just wonder why you get over all these years and I’m still here and I’ve

09:35:00:00

got reasonable health.
When you march on Anzac Day these days, what does it mean to you?
Oh it means a lot, yeah. It’s amazing that the people that are there and watching on the side and they clap you and the younger ones, especially like the last, say the last five or might be a few more years, children – kids at school are learning more about it and

09:35:30:00

appreciating what happened and at one stage I thought it would all die out but – of course it never will and they’re learning about what we did and turning up at parades and giving us a clap and what not, it’s wonderful. Yeah, I think Anzac Day, there

09:36:00:00

will come a day when I won’t be able to march but so far I’m managing. Yeah.
Well we are coming to the end of the interview and your story is going down on record for future generations to look back on, what

09:36:30:00

sort of message or words would you like to put down on record, in relation to your war service?
I just think as the years go by how ridiculous and the stupidity of what the whole thing is, but when you’re called upon to stand up and fight for your country, you gotta do it. Just a pity that they can’t solve these

09:37:00:00

things without having to go out and kill each other but what – you know, I’ve met Italians and Germans and even my son’s father in law fought in the German Army and I met him, knew him quite well, he was Italian, I mean, not in the German, in the Italian Army. And

09:37:30:00

it makes you, he’s just like us, no different. We go out and shoot each other, it’s just I don’t know but it’s what happens. Yes, so I anyway I just did what I thought was right and hope it doesn’t happen anything like that again.
And do you think that you have

09:38:00:00

been able to find some peace within yourself about that war that you went through?
Yeah, yeah, I don’t have any bad dreams about anything I did. No, no way, we only did what we had to do and if we didn’t do it, they would do it to us and it makes it a bit different – it’s like when you shoot a man, if you didn’t shoot him, he’s going to shoot you. Well

09:38:30:00

that makes it a little bit different, it’s not like you’re going out and shooting anyone in cold blood, it’s – it makes it a bit different. But then when it’s all over you think how stupid it all is.
Are there any last words you’d like to say in closing?
No, I don’t think so, just thanks for doing it all and I just hope

09:39:00:00

it – well I don’t know how it’ll all come out but – I seem as though I’ve talked all day. Yeah it was good. I’m glad I’ve done it now.
Well it has been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you very much.

09:39:30:00

End of tape

Comments

0 Comments You must to sign in to add a comment Add a comment