and after interviewing the CO [Commanding Officer] of 2/8th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel J.W. Mitchell, I joined that battalion as a platoon commander a few weeks later and proceeded to Puckapunyal where the battalion was being formed as part of the 17th Brigade,
AIF. We trained in Puckapunyal throughout the rest of the year and into the new year and eventually disembarked for Palestine on the, let me see,
in April 1940. I’d been promoted to captain in March ’40 and was second in command of one of the companies. We went to the Middle East in the Nero and disembarked a month later in June at El Kantara [Suez Canal, Egypt] and went up by train to Julis where we were, this is
one of the camps along up north of Palestine and we stayed there and trained there for some time. This time the division was reorganised and the brigades were made three battalion brigades instead of four and we were transferred to the 19th Brigade and moved then down to Kilo
89 Camp which was another camp in Palestine. We continued training there throughout the rest of the year and until I think it was about May when we moved to Egypt and finally…
well it wasn’t May it was much later than that we moved to Egypt, continued our training there. At that stage it was divisional training. The first time the division had got together it was about December of the year. We continued there until the Western Desert campaign began.
Our brigade was then moved down to Mersa Matruh and then on up to Sollum and engaged in the battle for Bardia followed by the capture of Tobruk. In Tobruk during that battle I was wounded
and returned first of all to Egypt then to Jerusalem and finally rejoined the battalion in Egypt after they’d returned from their western desert campaigns. Is this what you want, the way you want it?
Because it’s really not as easy as this. Then I rejoined the battalion and went to Greece. On rejoining the battalion I was promoted to company commander and commanded C Company of the battalion throughout the Greek and Crete campaigns. In Greece
we were engaged in a number of operations but particularly up on the northern border in the battle of Vevi – captured the defence of the Vevi Pass. Finally left Greece at Kalamata on the last night the ships had come out and the ship
I was on sunk. My company was on it and sunk and picked up by the destroyers and taken to Crete, where we were involved in the Crete operation until, again the last night. Then came out of Sfakia and back to Egypt. Shortly after I arrived in, rejoined the battalion,
because of course the battalion had been broken up and only three companies had gone to Crete, the rest of the battalion had gone straight back to Egypt. From there I was appointed as staff captain A learner. That was a learner’s position on the headquarters of 6th Division. I was there for a little while up there again
near Tel Aviv. Then proceeded to go to the AIF staff school in Palestine, leaving that I was appointed a G2 Liaison with the 1st Corps in Syria, headquarters of the 1st Corps. That was after the fighting had stopped.
My job there was particularly being liaison officer with the 1st French Corps. Then in February ’42 we embarked and returned to Australia. Arriving in
Australia I was appointed to Headquarters 1st Army as a G1 Liaison and promoted to lieutenant-colonel. With the 1st Army Headquarters until August ’42 and during that time I was attached and detached from headquarters
and established the 1st Army during a staff school in Brisbane as chief instructor and was in that position throughout the first course. In August ’42 until October ’42 I was a student at the Australian Staff College, Senior Wing which was then in Duntroon. In October
’42 I was moved to New Guinea, headquarters New Guinea force where I was again appointed GS01 Liaison for a short time and soon after that I took the place of Colonel Harrison, who was the G1 operations, and occupied that position during the rest of
the year and into March 1943. During that time I was involved in the campaigns up on the north coast around Buna and Cape Endaiadere and at Wau in the operations in that area.
In March ’43 I was posted as GS01 at the Headquarters of the 7th Division which was then reforming on the tablelands above Cairns to prepare for further operations in New Guinea. We were then with the 9th
Division. We then mounted the operation to capture Lae and proceed up the Markham Valley and the Ramu Valley until in February 1944 I was withdrawn to be included in a group of officers going to Europe
to take part in the operations against the Germans in France, take part in the D-Day landings. I was then appointed G1 of a British Division, the 50th Division. Having landed in Normandy with the 51st Division I was
appointed a few weeks afterwards to be due on operations of the 50th British Division, which was an extremely interesting appointment in that we were in the infantry element of the breakout from Normandy itself with the Guards Armoured Division, the 11th Armoured Division and I stayed in that position throughout the rest of the campaign in France and Belgium and up into the
Netherlands as far as Arnhem. At the end of the year – that was the end of ’45 – in December ’45 the division was withdrawn from Europe and back to the United Kingdom and I then was finished my secondment to the British Army
and transferred back to the Australian Army as GS01 at Australian Military Army Representatives Staff at Australia House. I reigned in that position until I returned to Australia in 1947, March 1947 when I retired from the
now because my daughter lives quite close and I still maintain a close contact with my old college and so I go there quite frequently so I’ve seen the changes over the years. When I went my year would have only been, undergraduates, about twenty of us, but now of course, and the whole college comparatively was relatively small. It wouldn’t
have been more than a hundred and fifty undergraduates altogether. That would be the years before, the three years before I came and my year. But now they are much bigger and in my day the actual physical college was just one reasonably compact complex and now it is a much bigger.
They’ve built a lot on to it and a lot around it and have many more graduates. We had, only a few, what they called Dons, which were Fellows of the college that ran the place and did a lot of teaching both inside and outside the college. So it was a very different place to what it is now. A much, I would like it more, I think now I wouldn’t like it as much only because it’s a
much bigger place. When I was at Oxford it was, the traffic wasn’t too bad. You could park a car. Very few undergraduates had a car. I did have a car, I think, in my second year and from then onwards. It was a small car that I bought for twenty-five pounds. So, I was pretty unique. Well not unique – there were plenty around
but not that many. In fact traffic was much less than it is now. It is an impossible place to park. Mostly we rode bicycles around the university.
and they were very short so they had to try and re-establish themselves and during my time at Oxford there was a great, particularly during 1937 really I suppose, ’38,’39, they were reorganising the army and the air force and they were expanding the air force and building airfields all around, particularly around Oxford there were airfields being built. Later
on nearer the…when the war started from 1938 onwards it definitely had an atmosphere the place was getting ready for war and this was one of the things that I had, as I mentioned earlier got my commission at school and when I went to Oxford I tried to join the Oxford University Officer Training Corps,
but they refused to have me because I was already a commissioned officer. So I was, I then saw my uncle who was a regular officer, in fact a colonel of the sea force and he said I could join them as a reserve officer and it was in. I was all geared up to do some big manoeuvres with them in
1938 and then they had to cancel this because of the war. So I was very conscious of what was going on then and of course closer to the beginning of the war we were issued with gas masks and everybody was building sort of bomb shelters in the garden and they were digging up trenches throughout Hyde Park. The whole
atmosphere had become, was getting prepared for war. You see that was when [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain went over and saw Adolf Hitler and came back, waved the piece of paper, and nobody believed him for a moment. [Chamberlain favoured a policy of appeasement towards Hitler and returned promising “Peace in our time”.]
that year, but it packed up because they felt they had to stop that sort of business and get on preparing themselves for the war. I could have stayed with that unit and had I done so and gone to France I would have probably ended up in a German prisoner of war camp. They were, many of them were captured in a place called St Valerie during the first part of the war.
A lot of my friends at Oxford, Australian and British, all joined the various units and I could have stayed on in England and joined the army and get on with the business. I felt that I’d really like to return to Australia and see my family before I went to the war. There was never any doubt that I’d go to the war – it was a foregone conclusion. It never occurred to me that I
wouldn’t. A lot of young people ask me these days, “Why did you go the war?” and so on and so forth. I say, “Well it was just that I wouldn’t have not gone to the war because of my whole background and the background of my upbringing and everything else,” but I did want to join the AIF. Not that I had anything against being in the British Army or indeed many of my friends joined the air force and were most successful.
Some went into the navy. I just felt that I’d like to come back to Australia and see the family and that’s what I did. As it happens of course when I arrived in England first because I was on the Australian Army Reserve of Officers I checked in with the army staff at Australia House so that they knew I was in England. And then when I wanted to return which was after the beginning of the war, because
I was still there when war was declared, I of course couldn’t get a passage. It was very hard to get on to a ship to come back to Australia. So I went and saw my friends in Australia House and they organised a return passage for me and because I was a Reserve of Officers I was given an order from them to return to Australia for duty with the AIF. That’s how I got out of England so quickly
at the beginning of the war. War was declared on the 3rd September 1939 and I left just towards the end of September.
I think if I had said, “I don’t want to go the war,” I wouldn’t have been regarded very highly, because at that stage everybody was. When I got back, which was about the end of October – I left in September. It was about a month on the way.
As I said I think I joined the AIF on the 10th October 1939. I enlisted and I had an introduction to Colonel Mitchell who was forming the 2/8th Battalion and I went and interviewed him and he said, “Subject to a satisfactory medical examination I’ll offer you a job as Platoon Commander in the battalion that I’m forming.” He’d been CO [Commanding Officer] of the 8th Battalion in the first war as well.
One of the things they did was a very good thing to do – all the COs of the infantry battalions to a large extent were people who had held the same sort of positions in the first war and therefore had some experience of it. They stayed with their battalions until we were in Palestine and so on and they gradually progressed either upwards
or outwards. That was the way it went and it was a good thing because they had the experience and they were able to pass their experiences on to the battalions that they were forming.
Some of them had been in the first war. Three of them had been in the first war. They were all people with some military experience. I’m talking about the officers now. Troops just came in from everywhere. You see that because of the constitution we were not able to
have a standing army in Australia which could operate overseas so just as in the First World War we had to create one to enable us to go overseas. So that’s why the AIF and there was a quite considerable Citizens Military Force in Australia, very considerable, but they were not able to just draw on this unit by unit which is what a lot of them would
have liked to have happened. So say you’d been in the 14th Battalion in Melbourne in the CMF. The unit and the chaps in it would have liked the 14th Battalion to be moved over to the AIF, but they couldn’t do this so they had to start from scratch. So, the soldiers of the AIF came from volunteers, it was all volunteer army.
They either had to volunteer, if they had CMF training that was good, if they hadn’t well then they just came in off the streets or out in the country or from wherever and started from scratch.
first of all when I first got back I had a cousin who was a very senior officer in the army and he suggested that I join, they were forming a thing called the ‘Cavalry Regiment’. Each division had a cavalry regiment. Later it changed its name. They were not horse regiments, they were armoured regiments or going to be armoured regiments and
I thought that might be good. But in the end the opportunity arose to meet Colonel Mitchell and he offered me the job so I went in to the infantry. Mind you all my military experience, such as it was at that time, had been infantry and I’d always taken a great interest in it and read all the books and
got the manuals. In fact I spent my time on the ship coming back to Australia studying the field service regulations and the various drill manuals and so on so I brought myself up-to-date to a large extent. Which was very useful.
That was in Seymour [Victoria] which is just near Puckapunyal as you might know. Then I came back to my, and I was responsible for training my platoon and running the training of the platoon. Teaching them to shoot. We started off from scratch, right from the very beginning – parade ground drill and field drill and learning
to shoot and to throw grenades and do all the things infantry are supposed to do. So it was the whole bit which after all I had gone through myself through my years in the cadet corps followed by what I’d done and this course which I did which was the Junior Officer’s
Tactical School I think it was called in Seymour. I suppose the course lasted for about a month or something like that. We were taught a lot about infantry tactics and company level tactics. I had a responsibility for looking after the welfare of the platoon which was about thirty
chaps in those days I suppose. I had three sections of, three or four sections, that varied during the war, with corporals in command of them a platoon sergeant. So we did the whole bit of looking after a platoon which was a part of a company. A company was three platoons or four platoons, depending on the
organisation and they had company commander and a 2 IC [Second In Command] and a commander of that and he had a company sergeant-major and a company quartermaster sergeant. So the company was a small unit, the platoon section was the smallest unit of an infantry battalion and there was a platoon and then there was a company and then there was the whole battalion which consisted of four companies and plus
a headquarters with companies with mortars and that sort of thing and machine guns.
south towards Gaza where Kilo 89 Camp was. It was a big camp. That was when the brigade was reorganised, because they formed four brigades to a division. Previously there had only been three and so we, a new brigade was made which was the 19th
Brigade and that was assembling at the Kilo 89 Camp around Gaza and that was where Brigadier H.C.H. Robertson took command of that. Before that we’d had Brigadier S.G. Savige had been the commander of the 17th Brigade. So you now had the 16th, 17th and 19th. Of course a lot of troops had gone straight to England –
those ships had gone around the other way so there was a bit of a muddle up. The whole British Army had done the same thing. They’d brought the brigades down from four battalions to three and so we took with us, we formed into the 19th Brigade and the 8th Battalion and the 4th Battalion
and the 11th Battalion so that it was reorganisation. So the 5th and the 6th and the 7th stayed with the 17th Brigade. We were the new brigade that had been formed out of the spare battalions of the other three.
had mostly First World War rifles. Of course we had those all the way through anyway. We had Lewis guns instead of the brand new ones and there was quite a shortage of these things generally. I think we had a full complement of Lewis guns and we had Thompson submachine guns, which were clumsy sorts of things. They didn’t last long. They didn’t stay
in service very long. They were too heavy and they fired short of ammunition. We were very short of vehicles otherwise we had everything we needed. Blankets, food – all that was OK. Uniforms, there was no problem about that. The artillery regiments were equipped with old twenty five pounders and not modern ones and
we had a few machine guns, not a full quota I don’t think and with mortars. We had to train with this shortage of things. We had to cope with it.
prepared as a matter of fact in the end. We then went down to Egypt I think just before, or just after the battalions came into the war and when we went to a place called Amiriya in Egypt which was quite
near Alexandria, that part of Egypt. There that was the first time the division, 6th Division, had really got together or brigades and we were the last brigade to leave Palestine so I just can’t quite remember exactly when it was. I have it in my notes somewhere. And we formed the division and carried out some divisional exercises there.
I must say one had a certain feeling of confidence. Mind you everyone was on edge and wanting to get into the battle because the war had really started there for us. The British and Indian Army together had carried out those first desert campaigns and captured the passes up to
where they had defeated the Italians and we’d seen pictures of the hundreds of Italian prisoners of war. It had been a pretty impressive operation as far as we were concerned. Our division was, we knew we were ready to go to war and everybody wanted to get on with it. So eventually
I think around about Christmas time we started to move down into the western desert. Two brigades moved the 16th and the 17th Brigades moved down there and we followed shortly afterwards. We went down by train to Mersa Matruh. We disembarked from the train, I think we camped there for a night or two and then
taken up by truck to the very steep dusty road that went up the escarpment into Libya, into Cyrenaica really, and at Sollum and then we proceeded from there to move to a position outside Bardia which was the next objective of the western desert campaign. Then we took up a position just outside Bardia
with some little way away from it but it was our first experience as it were being in the front line and we had to proceed to conduct ourselves as an infantry battalion would in a defensive and stand to at six in the morning and stand down at dusk and carry out all the procedures of a defensive position.
We were generally out of range although I seem to remember we were shelled once or twice there, but then that was outside Bardia. That was to be the first of our campaigns – the capture of the fortress of Bardia where the Italians were pretty well entrenched. That was to be done by the
16th and 17th Brigades and we were in reserve there, the 19th Brigade was in reserve to carry on the battle when we went to Tobruk. As it happened when the battle started which was about… I’ll just look at these notes I’ve got here because it’s quite important to get the dates right.
16th Brigade breached it and the 16th and 17th Brigades went through. 16th I think went towards the right and the 17th went towards the left and then we didn’t go through until later on because as a reserve brigade we were not called upon until at one stage the 16th Brigade got into some trouble and we were brought in on their right to go down amongst
a number of waddies that led down to the sea. We didn’t do very much fighting there. We captured a lot of Italians because these waddies were full of their administrative troops and they gave up the war pretty easily and they came out down out of these waddies and we chased them out and we took hundreds and hundreds of prisoners of war
including a general. I was, as a second command of a company I haven’t got any direct responsibilities for fighting the companies so I detailed off to take the general back the brigade headquarters. He came out with his staff and a small staff car and he had officers with him and a car so eventually the CO directed me to take him back
to the brigade headquarters. So we all piled into this little car – the general and his chief of staff and his driver and myself. You wouldn’t have done it if you’d thought about it but I did. We just drove until we found the brigade headquarters.
wasn’t a great deal of resistance with them. The other brigade struck considerable resistance but we ourselves because we were in the reserve really didn’t, only dealing with one small part of it we didn’t have any particular problems. The battalion at that stage had been under the command I think of the 16th Brigade and then we reverted to General
Robertson’s command and I think the whole brigade came into play then. Then of course the essence, the speed was supposed to be the thing we had to follow so the battles of Bardia only took a couple of days I think and we had to prepare to move on
to Tobruk and being the reserve brigade I think we went first down this road about fifty miles and took up a position outside the Tobruk defences. Well again much the same thing happened while although we were closer, not too far away from the actual defences there.
At one stage the attack was supposed to take place very, very quickly but because a lot of the tanks supporting us and a lot of ammunition had to be brought forward, some of the tanks had to be repaired after the Bardia episode. In fact the battle for Tobruk didn’t really start for a few days after the time it was
Can you just tell me, you were set up on the outer defensive position?
This patrol that I did went in and out and reported back to the brigadier that night I think and told him what we’d seen and what happened. I didn’t keep a diary of any of these matters. I got an account of that particular episode because later on in the war I wrote to my family about it and I told them and that’s one
of the few letters that I’ve got that I wrote that had anything of interest in it. So we didn’t take a position in there – we just went in and had taken a look around and reported what we had seen and conditions were. We got far enough in we could hear the Italians talking on their posts or the wire where we went, but they didn’t see us or hear us and any firing was as
I say that took place was a bit distracting at the time was over our heads. We just laid down, waited for it to stop. It was ordinary defensive fire that these, sort of typical of what happens in these situations. So nothing very exciting there. We went back to our battalion position.
Where was the battalion position?
It was as I said on the outside, well back from the perimeter and then before the attack we moved forward a bit and nearer and then when the attack came again I think the 16th Brigade breached the defences and we went in through behind them and we were given objectives of some road
junction well into the fort and we made our way there under fire. From time to time a certain amount of shelling. We were well dispersed, we advanced no particular problems until we got nearer to our objective which we discovered was pretty heavily fortified with battalion tanks that had been dug in.
So we were held up by their machine guns and we then called for artillery support which we were hoping to get which would have covered our advances into the tank area because there were about twenty of them or so dug in around this road junction. Unfortunately before the artillery could be brought to bear on our
objective the company on my right – I was with C Company still, I was still second in command – but the company on our right, D Company, they began to advance which was quite the wrong thing for them to have done because that meant that we could not have the artillery support that we were hoping for. So my company commander had no alternative but to join in and
go forward. That’s when we got into a terrible lot of trouble with these tanks and the only anti-tank equipment we had were Boyes rifles which, although they were quite effective against the Italian tanks they were no good against the German ones we met later on. Even they were very small as far as a tank was concerned. It was just
a matter of going in best we could and trying to clear out the people in the tanks, which was done largely just by hand – open up the lids and drop the grenade in or something of that kind. In the meantime we lost a tremendous lot of people, well we lost a lot of people there. At one stage I felt I was in a very bad position because I
suddenly looked up and I had two machine guns and a tank pointing directly at me, and I was about twenty yards away I suppose. They followed me around, but for some reason or other the gunner never pulled the trigger, thank god. I then got in near the tank and with a Boyes rifle with me we blew a hole in the side of the tank and I got my pistol in and fired a few rounds inside and that brought them out the top very quickly. That was fine and it was OK.
I moved on a little bit and then we came under very heavy Italian fire again and I was, an Italian shell landed quite close to me and blew me up into the air and I came down with a bang. I was out to it. The next I knew…
The moment that you got blown off your feet by an Italian shell.
It was an Italian shell or something landed close to me. I can see the thing coming down to the ground. I think it was a small shell – they have smallish guns – and poof I went up in the air and bang down on the ground. It was quite a while after that I came to and there I was lying on the ground with a number of my chaps around me, who’d also been wounded and some of them
much worse than me. I couldn’t see out of one eye because I had a bit of shell in the eye. I was bleeding here and there, I couldn’t move at all. Somebody had in the traditional way shoved a rifle in the ground beside me with the bayonet down that was a sign for the stretcher-bearers to pick somebody up. That had been done and I could see the rifle and the sounds of the battle had moved on
considerably in the distance and must have been quite a long time afterwards and a bird came around tweeting in the air and sat on the top of the rifle beside me. I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t get up and I really couldn’t move in fact so I didn’t know what had happened. I suppose I was in some sort of shock. One of my chaps was
not so far away and he was terribly badly wounded and wanting water and there was nothing I could do to get to him and there were various others around too. I wasn’t there alone. I was not very conscious of what was going on.
if I flew or was just knocked over or whether was physically thrown through the air. I was dealt with quite effectively that way. Then eventually the stretcher-bearers came along and picked us all up and took us back to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] where we were lying on stretchers on the ground and the CO came to inspect the wounded, which was
typical of the COs of those days. And he came to the tent and the doctor was with him, a friend of mine an Italian doctor, and he stood at the end of my stretcher and he said, “I don’t think he’s going to live you know but we’ll send him back,” to casualty clearing station. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn't talk. I could hardly see and I thought, “My god that’s a great start isn’t
it. I must be pretty crook.” As it was they picked me up eventually and put me in an ambulance for the casualty clearing station where they put me onto an operating table which was warm and gave me a cup of hot tea and started to take bits of things out of me. Then bandaged me up and put me back in an ambulance and I was taken down a very rough road to Mersa Matruh
where they put me on an ambulance ship and we sailed off to Alexandria.
which was a 60 something hospital in Jerusalem and there they proceeded to take more bits out of me. By that time I was more or less mobile. I could move around and they started to operate on my hand and it was terribly painful so I said, “Here give me that thing.” It was a scalpel and it was in this hand and still there
a bit of it, and I started to fiddle around with it and it was too much for the nurse and she fainted on the spot to see anyone operating on themselves like that. It was not really an operation. The doctor didn’t mind – he was watching what I was doing. It was easier for me. It was less painful if I could do it myself. That was a small thing. I gradually recovered.
I think I was there for a couple of weeks in Jerusalem and gradually became mobile. As it turned out my wounds were really very superficial and although they did cause a lot of bleeding there were no really big pieces in me. I wasn’t a serious case, there was nothing they really had to do – they didn’t have to dig down into my innards to get bits out. It was just a superficial job.
3rd April. It must have been only a couple of days on the way. I can’t remember any details about that trip, but I do remember arriving in Piraeus, the port of Athens, which is in the newspapers today or this week. We disembarked and taken by vehicle, by truck to a camp a place called Delphi, which is just beyond, just
outside Athens. We could see down into the city from there and it was a delightful place – a lovely green valley with wooded hills around us. It was such a contrast to the desert where we’d left. It was a really delightful place. When we arrived there we were basically given a bit of leave and so we went into Athens.
The troops were given leave in small parties and went into Athens and had a couple of days in Athens. Mind you I can’t remember if it is one day or two days but I certainly remember visiting the hotel the Grand Britannia. Also we went to a nightclub and then back to the battalion and we were there for a few days just before we were finally put on the
train and moved to right up to the northern borders of Greece. That was for the troops a very uncomfortable trip. It was a very long trip because they were travelling in cattle trucks as it were. Railways in Greece in those days were very rudimentary. Officers had little ordinary carriages but the troops were in the cattle
trucks and a very slow journey up through the mountains. It was very cold and very slow. We went first to a place called Veroia where the 16th Brigade had been established and we had been there to reinforce them but we hardly had any time there. We just turned, hardly had a night, we arrived in the early hours of the
morning. There was snow on the ground and there was no shelter or anything of that kind and we looked around there and in my company area there was a tent that I went and looked at and examined inside. I found boxes of Thompson sub-machine guns and ammunition, but no people there.
While I was looking at all of this a young British guards officer came in and he was the chap who occupied the tent and he was part of the British special operations group that were helping to arm the guerrillas in northern Greece. He was very nice and we had a chat and he gave me a bottle of whisky – Johnnie Walker, which was nice. He had a case of whisky. That was something anyway.
Then we were ordered almost immediately to, again in trucks, and moved further into Greece to a pass called Vevi [Battle of Vevi Pass]. That was a long journey and the troops had not had any sleep. We’d had a meal I suppose when we arrived, but nothing else. It was a long cold journey. Then eventually we had to get out of the trucks and march the last
ten miles to a small village which was just short of the pass, about five or six miles short of the pass and we spent the next night there, again without any shelter and there was snow. We arrived in the late evening and we spent the night there lying in the snow. Then the next morning we did the final march to
the pass which was five or six miles away.
What were you using for food?
We had rations brought up to us. Our own quartermasters and cooks were there with us and they had the rations and so we did have enough for meals. We then marched on the next morning to the pass, which was interesting because it was a real pass through – there were hills
on both sides of the pass. The 8th Battalion was to be located on the right hand side of the pass. The 2/4 Battalion which was with us also because this was the 19th Brigade were on the left hand side of the pass and they were up on fairly high mountains towards the left and we were up on the hill to the right of the pass. And then the pass itself there was a British battalion
the Rangers, which was the battalion of the 1st Armoured Brigade which were also in Greece and they were holding the mouth of the pass and we went up on the hills to the right and the 2/4 on the left. It was quite a climb. It was a long climb up. I suppose it was about a thousand metres high
or a thousand feet in those days.
Greek village, and away in the distance you could see Monastir which was then in Yugoslavia. This was the border between Yugoslavia and northern Greece and you could see right through and it was sunny with a sweeping plain beyond. Then I could see,
eventually see columns of Germans coming down through in the distance and in fact there were some New Zealand armoured cars I think [27th NZ (Machine Gun) Battalion] and they went out engaged them. I don’t know where they went to after that, they disappeared. They were there. They carried out some sort of attack against them. A long way away, you could
hardly see it. Then the course of the day we got the troops up and we started to set up our position and it was very near impossible to dig. It was all stone and rocks. It was a terrible place. There was snow about and it was pretty cold. We could only get up what we could carry up. It was very little. We brought up blankets and ammunition
and equipment and what we needed and established a defensive position across the top of the ridge there. Then as the evening grew on I think the Germans appeared down in the village below, been a certain amount of fighting further left to the left where they’d engaged with some British units that had gone out to battle.
Then we saw this German starting to come down to the village below. During the night they patrolled up to us and we had engaged them and using a subterfuge they’d actually taken one of my forward sections by saying they were British and talking to them as Australians they took a couple of prisoners,
wounded one of our chaps. We were involved in the battle almost straight away in one way or another. There were German patrols coming up and it wasn’t a very satisfactory position because you couldn’t get proper supporting fire between
platoon positions and section positions. We were very thinly stretched out on the ground. We had the D Company on our left which was closer to the pass itself and then there was C Company and on our right were A and B but they were further up another ridge up further. Beyond them were the Greek Dodecanese Regiment
right on the far left. So that was our position and then the next night it had started to snow very heavily and this would have been the 10th April I think, quite a short time after we’d arrived in Greece.
find out whether Germans were still inside our perimeter by patrolling around between the platoons. There were no Germans but it had been snowing all through the night and there was a very heavy snow and fog on the top and we couldn’t see very much. When that cleared we could see further down into the village itself and there were German tanks, armoured vehicles of some sort.
A lot of infantry milling around down there which the artillery engaged. That helped them for a while. They finally tried to make another attack up there and we had to hold that off which we did successfully in the course of that day. It was quite a lot of mortars and we were being shelled and it was really quite
a problem this defence because of course we were so badly prepared and we couldn’t dig any defensive position. We could only build stone sangers [shelter against sand, snow] as you call them with our hands the best we could. There was no way you could dig into the ground.
barren on the top of these hills as far as I can remember. From there it was just the best we could do. So then the course of the next night the Germans attacked and we again lost one of our section which had been in my company had been captured. An officer had been killed. One of the platoon
officers had been killed. We had quite a big battle there. Then the following morning again it had snowed at night. We hadn’t been able to get up the track any food. We probably hadn’t had a hot meal up there. We brought up some sort of food in the boxes we had, insulated boxes. There was nothing very much.
It was not very satisfactory situation and of course that day I had another platoon from A Company, which is on our right, was sent to me to support me and we carried out a counter-attack, which was quite successful and got the Germans off the hill again. The young sergeant who
was in command of that platoon at the time he got a DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] for what he did there. It was a very successful counter-attack, which was good. We were then, the company, was called down to our battalion headquarters to get orders because it was decided that the brigade was going to withdraw that night from these
positions back to further back and trucks were going to pick us up. When we went down to the battalion headquarters and we were talking at our conference we realised that the Rangers were actually pulling out of the pass itself and moving back along the road and I think this was because there was confusion about orders. Obviously they thought that was the time they were to withdraw and they were doing it.
The unfortunate thing about that was that apart from leaving the pass undefended was that the communications between our battalion and brigade headquarters and the battalion on the left all passed through the pass. They’d just left the plugs out in the exchange. So communications were completely lost in the brigade. Anyway we went straight back up to the,
it was quite clear we were going to have to withdraw. We didn’t really expect the trucks would get there because by that time German tanks had moved in through the pass and were coming around behind us as well. Mind you the whole time this was going on there was a great battle going on on the top of the ridge where the Germans had come up from below. The
Dodecanese Regiment had also been ordered to move back and they were going back behind us, we could see them moving across behind us. One of the reasons we were supposed to hold the pass until after dark that night was to give them time to go back. It was quite obvious we couldn’t hold it once we got back to the top of the ridge. There was no way we were going to defeat the Germans there because they were swarming up the hill with
tanks and the whole top of the hills, they were operating right along.
anti-tank equipment – it was absolutely useless against German tanks. Might have dealt with Italians alright but it didn’t deal with the Germans. Then D Company Commander on my left and I decided we just had to withdraw back down to the, which was our other companies on the left were doing. Anyway withdrew.
So we withdrew down onto the plain by which time the Germans had come through and we were under fire from the rear as it were and there was only one thing we could do – we had to disperse widely and move back across the plain which was quite successful, but we lost a lot of people. A lot of wounded along the way and on the
top of the hill killed of course and indeed some were captured later on. One of my platoon commanders was captured down the bottom of the hill when he got there. He was a bit inclined not to expose himself to the dangers of fire and he remained there and he was taken. We eventually moved back and by the evening, late evening
we’d established a sort of defensive position on the next ridge further back.
A and B on our right had done the same and they were just moving back to assemble down below and move back to the next position. So it was a withdrawal. You wouldn’t have thought it was a withdrawal – it was pretty disrupted sort of retreat operation and we lost a lot of weapons, well we lost everything that was too heavy to carry down the slopes.
All our blankets and all that sort of stuff was discarded up there. I lost my, I’d had my sleeping roll and carried up with me the night before. I still had my bottle of whisky which I hadn’t even opened, I had that in it so I took a grenade and pulled the pin out and put the grenade in the end of my sleeping roll and
hoped that a German would be inquisitive enough to look in and get his head blown up. I had enough time to think about that, but I was very sorry to have missed my beautiful bottle of Johnnie Walker. I couldn’t take it down. I couldn’t take anything with me. We just had our personal weapons and any heavier weapons had to be left behind. Our Brens were taken of course and we had some two inch mortars,
but our main mortars were down below. The headquarters company had those. Then we just, I think a lot of, it was said that the troops threw away a lot of their weapons and some officer had directed them to discard their weapons to get away. That might have happened. I don’t know who did it and if it was ever discovered that.
I think they did throw away a lot of weapons and that always happens. The majority of them didn’t – they brought their rifles back and such ammunition that they could carry and a few Brens. We did our withdrawal and we were under fire a good deal of the time, but it wasn’t very effective because it was coming from quite a long way away. The New Zealand Machine Gun Company had set up
themselves in a little village down on the plain and they were very effective to give us some sort of cover from the Germans. They eventually got overrun themselves so we pottered away onto the next ridge where we took up a position. This was evening by now getting a bit dark and we’d marched
back from there to another place not so far away, about five miles back. Then we waited there for a little while and then finally we went to a third junction where we got picked up by trucks. We had no food or anything like that. Until we got to our first, second position back and then we
did get some sort of a meal that had been brought up. We slowly reorganised ourselves and a lot of stragglers came straggling back. The whole battalion was spread out across this plain retreating back on this next position and the Germans who got up where the rangers had been they were being able to fire down from
the left and others had fired from the right so we were really under a lot of fire from the enemy on the way back.
remember too much detail about because it was all a pretty confused picture at the time. So it’s not very clear in my mind what was going on. One of my platoon commanders also got a military cross out of that operation. So the battalion was well decorated. As I said the doctor got one, I got one and
my platoon commander got one. Don’t forget these troops were terribly tired – they’d been through the western desert campaign, they were really not all that fit when they arrived in Greece and then we had this long cold journey finally up to this position without hardly any sleep, certainly no sleep in the train because
it was rocking around. They were completely exhausted up there and then the climb up in the snow was suddenly so different to what we’d experienced in the western desert and they were not in very good shape. They did very well with what they had. There was a lot of criticism about this, but then
afterwards our Brigade Commander George Vasey was very critical. He’d thought that everybody had cleared out and not done the right thing. I had an opportunity when we got back when we got to Crete he was our Brigade Commander there and he came and we had a long talk about this operation and I think that he changed his mind greatly after
he learnt what was really going on on the ground. His headquarters is quite a way back, he couldn’t see what was going on. His staff captain came and visited us and brigade major was around. He was rather out of touch and his communications had gone so nobody could ring him up and say this is what’s happening.
So he had a different view of this.
That’s right. We went to that position, they were forming a defence position along the line of the Aliakmon River which was further back and the remnants of the 4th Battalion or the remnants of the 8th Battalion because we’d lost quite a lot of people by then. Went with that and we established a defensive position then we were on the wrong side of the river and it was the right side to do it but
from our point of view it was on the wrong side because we had this fast flowing and wide river flowing behind us and so we were on the left of the line, the New Zealanders were on the right further around. It was quite a big defensive position that had been established there as a rear guard position. Not that I realised at the time but we were already just moving
back to get out of Greece. It wasn’t apparent to us and it wasn’t apparent for quite a while after that. Eventually it became the situation we had to move out of that and to do that we had to cross the river. There was no way they could get any bridging equipment down on to this deep river which is right down in the hills, so the engineers – we had an engineer field company near us –
and they built a wooden bridge over the river with whatever local materials they could find, chopped down trees and all the rest of it. We could just walk and go back over that. We could only take the equipment that we had with us. Any other equipment that couldn’t be carried had to be left behind there too. So that was the next break in the thing and then we were
faced with a long steep climb up the hills on the other side, very slippery goat track up the other side to the top where there were vehicles waiting to take us to the next defensive position. We proceeded to that eventually. We didn’t have any trouble with the Germans in those places and then we took up a position,
I can’t remember the name of the place particularly. It was a bit further back from where we were, quite a way back.
left of the main force, but as I say we were attacked all the way by Stukas and we didn’t lose very many people. A few people were killed and wounded and several trucks were set on fire. We got back alright and we took up our positions in a tree area which
gave us good cover from the Germans who were still flying over with reconnaissance planes and bombing certain parts of the front up there, not our particular area, it wasn’t too bad. This was the position that was to be held until the end of time. There was no, we weren’t aware that we weren’t going to go back any further.
It was a very strong position and it could have been held for quite a while I think, but by that time of course there were half a dozen German divisions coming down from various parts. They’d driven in the troops were on the left and they’d come past us so it was really pretty obvious. Actually it
was when we were there that the decision was finally made that the whole expeditionary force would be withdrawn from Greece and that was the last actual line of defence that we took up – the battalion.
really know and we arrived in Brallos I think about the 18th of April and it wasn’t, by the 23rd it wasn’t very, we ourselves hadn’t been attacked in Brallos as I said a lot of German aircraft and a lot of fighting going on down the bottom part of the hill but we ourselves in reserve on the top left we didn’t have any
particular fighting. It was at Brallos that we were joined by the last of the battalions of the brigade – the 11th Battalion turned up there, just arrived from Egypt. They’d been held back in Egypt for some reason or other when we came across to Greece so we the brigade only had the two battalions – the 8th and the 4th. We were joined by the 11th who were fresh from
their spot in Cairo no doubt. They were all ready to go but of course it was too late. Most of the 7th Division was supposed to go and they never appeared at all. So the Germans were against one Australian division, one New Zealand division and British division. There might have been a bit more than a division of Brits but
they had tanks and a lot of infantry. It wasn’t a very even fight. I’m sure the Germans at that stage would have had at least ten divisions in Greece and two of them were mountain divisions, very trained and practiced at fighting in the mountains. So it was a pretty uneven battle, but still we took our positions at Brallos and it wasn’t until the 23rd
we were told that we would have to withdraw and that’s when we knew that final withdrawal from Greece was going to take place. I think probably during the night of the 23rd we started off in a convoy of trucks and certainly the 8th Battalion, I think the 7th may have been with us, the 4th rather may have been with us,
so we withdrew back to, eventually, Kalamata which is on the west coast of Greece.
Nobody really wanted to go to Greece. There was very little we could do although I’m told we held up the attack on Russia by some days. Possibly yes possibly not. Certainly against the Russian oil fields in the south, or Romanian oil fields really. We got there and got into this convoy of trucks and moved out and the mountain road seemed to go on
forever. We were of course driving with very little light and very slow progress. A lot of stopping, there was a lot of congestion on the road. I remember at one stage the convoy stopped for quite a long time and it seemed to be longer than usual and I got out and walked down to the front of where the first
truck had stopped and the driver had gone sound asleep and all the other trucks had gone disappeared over the horizon. So that was quite a shock and a tense moment so we got moving again and it was alright and we followed the road until we got to a junction and then there was great quandary as to which way to go. For some reason or other the military police that were supposed to be directing the traffic had disappeared so we didn’t, it was a toss up – you could
go right or go left. We went down the right road thank goodness and eventually caught up with the convoy. It was a pretty scary trip that.
which we did early in the morning. That was quite an interesting to me because I had no idea of what it is – a really deep cut in the rocks and very narrow. You could see the canal right down below us. So we went on from there and eventually arrived at this place called Kalamata, which is where all the olives come from.
I still have Kalamata olives all the time in the house. There we just had to camp amongst the olive groves and conceal ourselves as much as possible and we stayed there thoughout the day preparing to evacuate from through the Kalamata port which is a very small, tiny quay really, down the bottom of the hills.
A dirt track down to it. We were there, it was pretty well organised.
and that was great eating and biscuits. We didn’t have any hot food there. We spent the day hiding amongst the bushes with the German aircraft keep flying over – mostly reconnaissance aircraft but there wasn’t any bombing there. Late in the afternoon we got the order that we would be
withdrawing and we were issued with instructions and what to do with the trucks and what we could take. We could only take what we could carry in the way of weapons and ammunition and that sort of thing. We formed up into various groups and they had some fairly good control over the way down to the beach here so we didn’t have any particular problems getting down to the beach.
The battalion at this stage was reduced to about four hundred and fifty I should think or sixty over. It was quite small – we’d lost a lot of people in Greece and so we formed up. Eventually well after dark when the convoy came in we could see the lights of the ships coming in. We were
directed to go down to the quay and we marched down to the sand dunes and the cliffs were really narrow small track and down to the quay and the small town of Kalamata and we lined up there. The battalion was all together there on the quay. When we finally got there two companies – my company and
D Company of infantry and the headquarters company were directed onto one barge and we went out to this ship Costa Rica which was an old Dutch coastal ship I suppose. The rest of the battalion, the headquarters of the battalion and the A Company and B Company they went in another party to the City of London. So
the battalion was divided then into two ships. We hung around until, the convoy had to be under away and away clear of the Greek coast before dawn. I suppose we left at about two o’clock in the morning or something of that kind so that we were well out and away from Greece when dawn broke, because that was when the navy
expected that the German air attacks would start because they had been bombing the ships all the time around there. Sure enough just as the light was coming up the first of the Stukas arrived over our convoy. That was not so bad because we had every machine gun, we had a machine gun battalion on the ship,
certainly in a company of it and we had our own guns and Bren guns and all these had been assembled on the top deck together with as much ammunition as we could find. The ship itself had two small anti-aircraft guns on the top so all of that was well organised and well ready for the Germans. When they came they got
a huge supply of small arms ammunition directed at them and of course we had, the navy had anti-aircraft guns on their ships and we had a lot of naval ships there, four or five destroyers and some others. All the other ships were armed in the same way we were so it was and we struggled on through out the day.
handled by the machine gunners and they knew exactly what to do. I think I went up and down and around the place a bit. In fact I was down below. Then at about half past three I suppose what we thought was the last of the German aircraft, they seemed to die down a lot and everything settled down and then one
single plane down out of the sun and dropped a bomb which landed about eight feet or so just to the stern of our ship. Well that was enough for a poor old Dutch ship, pretty ancient anyway. It stopped the engine to start with and then it sprung a lot of the plates and we started to take water at a pretty rapid rate. The ship started to sink. Well that was
alright. The alarms were given and all the troops were properly drilled to line on the decks and stay there and they did that and those that couldn’t get on the open decks, apart from the top deck which was reserved for the gunners, had to stand around in the corridors below and wait their turn to come up. We had three destroyers with us
and they came in alongside and went as close as they could to our ships and had the troops jump overboard and swing down ropes onto the decks of the destroyers and as one filled up the other one came alongside. In that way we were all successfully evacuated from the ship. The last troops to leave were the gunners and the ship’s officers were the last of that.
By the time they came down onto the deck of the destroyer the decks were almost level so they could walk straight across.
a strange island. We had just what we could carry, not very much. The troops had grate coats, we had our weapons with us, or most of them and that was about all. Eventually somebody came and we mustered the battalion into order. We had two infantry companies or bits of them and the headquarters company and bits of that, that included the band and people like that.
The carrier crews had been left behind but we had some of the crews. We had our headquarters company and the commander was a major, quite senior major in the battalion, Major Arthur Keyes, and he took command of
the battalion for what we were. We called ourselves a battalion – we were only two infantry companies.
the olive groves just inland from a little town called Suda which was the port of the main city of Crete, Canea. So we just went into the olive groves and set up camp the best we could, scrounged around for a bit of food. People didn’t have a great deal of equipment, troops didn’t have
their eating utensils, mess tins and so on had been lost in one way or another and so they had to eat tins of fish. Tinned food was available. We went down scrounging around the depots. The thing about Crete was it was being developed as a main base and there was a big depot there with buildings and we were parked just
not far away from that. There were a great many stray troops about – Palestinians, Cypriots and people of that kind that had been brought to, not really trained soldiers in any way. They were managing the base unloading ships and that sort of thing. So they were all about, it was pretty congested with those sort of people.
Anyway we stayed there, I think probably, about twenty-four hours. Then we went further down the island towards Retimo. We were of course on the north coast of Crete and then up beyond [UNCLEAR] was the airfield [at Maleme] and so to the east west
was a place called [UNCLEAR]. General Vasey had command of both those places and he was brigade, sorry a general later. We were in his command so we went down towards them. We didn’t go to Retimo – the 4th Battalion were in Retimo and beyond were other troops – Australian troops, British troops and
Greeks. We and the 7th Battalion, by this time the 7th Battalion had joined us, and we went to a place further down the coast where we again established in the olive groves and near what was called Georgeoupolis, which was a sort of by and we were there for quite a long time.
And we had, because of course we arrived on the 26th April, 27th it was because we embarked from Greece on the night of the 26th and so we were there a couple of days later and there our role was to establish some sort of coastal defences
because by that time it had been realised or they had information that the Germans were going to attack Crete but part of the attack would have been naval, sea-borne attack mostly reinforcing an airborne attack which they expected to have to be attacking the airfields.
was shipped off to that. No they’d either been evacuated out of Greece or left behind. A lot of them were left behind at various stages because they couldn’t handle it so it was that time in the Greek story some of the medical people did a wonderful job looking after the wounded. They were left in hospitals and the Germans by and large
took care of them and didn’t interrupt it too much. We on Crete, all those people who landed with us were all quite OK and capable. We might have had some sick people there that were shipped off to the hospital, but we had our doctor I think he was with, in fact I’m sure he was with us. I’ve got a photograph of all the
officers that were in Crete. So we stayed there until the main attack which started on the 20th and really as far was I’m concerned I always think of Crete in three phases. The first phase was this phase that we’re talking about where we were just preparing to defend the place. There was a whole New Zealand division were there, three brigades of New Zealanders were there. They’d been evacuated from
Greece to Crete. There was a brigade of British troops. They had a large number of anti-aircraft guns and gunners, but very little artillery because we’d lost all our guns in Greece and evacuated any, the artillery regiments. So there were a couple of Australian artillery regiments there but they didn’t have any
guns or there were no guns to spare on the island and this was one of the great problems – with such a shortage of artillery if we were to defend the place. Eventually they did send some weapons from Egypt but they were mostly, some of them were old American guns, first war style, some eighteen-pounders and there were a few Italian guns that had been captured in the desert.
It was a real hotchpotch and all the different ammunition so that our artillery support was very limited which became a great problem when the attack came on. There were some tanks but very few tanks in Crete at the time. There was a British light tank regiment I think, but nothing much. We managed to get re-equipped…
our carrier platoon with a couple of carriers that they were able to salvage from one of these sunken ships, so we did have three or four carriers. You know carriers are semi-armoured little transport to carry Bren gun crews into action. They’re not really armoured but they’re quite satisfactory when you’re fighting infantry
fighting. We were re-equipped with those. We had a few mortars, things like that but nothing very much. So as I said I think I always view Crete with three phases: the first phase was what we’re talking about now to the time of the attack and then there was the attack on the 20th, which we didn’t see the air attack because we were further down the coast
and we were waiting for the sea-borne attack which the intelligence people had known would come after the airborne to reinforce them. In the event, on the day, word reached us that the navy had got amongst the German ships and dispersed the force altogether and sunk a great many of them
at considerable cost to our own navy I might add. They’d been quite successful in frustrating the German sea-borne effort and that never really occurred.
later on the afternoon of the 20th the 8th Battalion was taken and moved up towards Canea and a part of the reserve the New Zealanders who were fighting up on the coast around the Maleme airport. Maleme was an airfield, or so called – it was very rudimentary – which was up about ten miles further up the coast
from Canea. We came into Canea but you could see, then we could see the paratroops landing and there were several waves of them all through the day and there was a lot of fighting and they had a very rough time, the Germans, and they brought in a lot of glider troops as well, brought in and they landed on the airfield or around
the airfield and they were all pretty heavily mauled so we didn’t actually engage in any fighting there. We took up a position between the hills and the capital and when I talk about the capital in those days it was a tiny little place, sort of Greek town. We took up our position there and we held that for about twenty-four hours. We weren’t attacked at all. There was no way we could attack the Germans – we were in reserve.
Then about twenty-four hours later, when we went there first we came under command of a British general who, General Weston, who was an anti-aircraft gunner actually, but he was in command of the Canea sector and New Zealanders up around, further up. Of course General Bernard Freyberg [a New Zealander] was there – he’d taken command of
the whole island. He’d been landed in Crete from Greece and he was in command of the New Zealand division so he was in overall command of the operations in Crete at that time. General Weston was in Canea and Brigadier Vasey was with the troops down in Retimo and that way.
The next day or the day after he was moved up to take command and brought the 7th Battalion with him and we then had the 8th, 7th, we had the 2nd Greek Battalion and he then moved us forward some thousand yards I suppose
or a couple of miles in other words forward from where we were and in that position we did have some contact with the Germans and we were patrolling carefully and occasionally came into contact with little groups which we’d have a bit of a fight, it was hardly fighting. The real fighting was going on all around the airport with mostly the
New Zealanders who were there in not a great strength because they were all on half strength like we were. They’d lost a lot of troops. I mean you call them brigades but each brigade was no more than a couple of battalions in size, in terms of people. We stayed there and then that was all through the 20th and 23rd around about that by which time
the Germans had secured the airport for themselves and were bringing in quite large numbers of airborne troops and so the battle was becoming very intense. This was the second phase of the operation really because it was all this fighting around Maleme and Canea and there was some fighting going on in
Retimo and Heraklion although we didn’t know anything about that because the German plan was to land in three places, airborne troops in three places in [UNCLEAR] Retimo area and they both had little airfields and the main attack was around Canea and Maleme airfield in that area. We were then
engaged in a lot of fighting when we moved forward there. By that time the Germans were getting, really getting control and by that stage they had control of the airfield itself and the New Zealanders were being pushed back and more attacks around Canea, there had been German attacks there. They’d finally
looked as though they were going to break through and so we were holding an important position which we did hold until it was realised that we were going to be outflanked if we didn’t pull back a little further. Before that my company engaged in quite a substantial little operation. It was a place that we called the Castle. Point of fact is
it was a rather rocky little hill not too far away and there were Germans there who could fire down on our positions and we launched a company attack on this position. It wasn’t very successful. The Germans were so well concealed we couldn’t winkle them out at all. Eventually it was decided to call that off. We lost a few people, not many.
We killed quite a lot of Germans and it was decided then that the situation on our right was getting so much worse that we would have to draw back and we were ordered to draw back to a line called, that became known as Street 42, I think, which was in fact sort of in the base area but
about the place where we bivouacked when we first came ashore. There we formed up with, our 8th Battalion was on the right, we were on the right protecting a road junction, a main road into Canea beyond. Then there was the 7th Battalion and there were two New Zealand Battalions and the Greeks were on the far end.
That was a good position to be in. We were protecting the port of Canea itself where a ship was coming in to land some more troops and some eight tons of stores were to land and our job was to hold the position until they could get them ashore. When we were in that position there General Freyberg called on us and came
to visit the unit and inspected us and talked to us. I’ve a photograph of him doing that too. Shortly after that happened the German attack, we could see about four hundred Germans coming down towards this position and they were starting to loot the stores out of the various stores houses up there
and this gave us a great opportunity. 7th Battalion and one of the New Zealand Battalion, or two of them I think, mounted a counter-attack to drive them out. This was most successful, terrified them. One of the Maori battalions, they were frightening soldiers and the 7th weren’t much better and they scared the life out of the Germans. They killed a lot – about a hundred or so, but the rest just
packed up and ran and disappeared and we didn’t see them again.
when we got to our final destination there were still about six thousand plus a lot of small bits of other units that had lost their officers and people like searchlight companies and practically non-competent units and they all just cleared off and tried to get down on some beach on the other side of the island and they were all there when we arrived back.
They were a terrible nuisance there. Then we really, this is a point I think about the 25th or 26th May I’m talking about now, that we were holding this position along the 42nd Street as they called it and we were in danger of being outflanked by the troops coming down through the mountains on the left,
Germans coming around on our left. The situation was getting quite critical – there was tremendous confusion of command, communications were practically non-existent and there was a very strange command set up with General Weston and the New Zealand brigadiers all having their own little interests and
it was really quite a confused situation and quite dangerous. So General Freyberg had to withdraw back a little way and I was out of communication with him, I think he was out of communication with Cairo at that stage too. The whole thing was in a really pretty serious way. So General Vasey
and the New Zealand brigadiers two of them got together and they made a decision that they were going to start to withdraw and organise ourselves into a rear-guard force and after this German attack that we repulsed, they never came back and we were able to disengage from that position after dark. There were no trucks, we just had to do this on foot and we
withdrew and arranged that we would withdraw up the road towards Sfakia.
I probably did, I certainly did. There was no way in the world that we were going to beat the Germans then because we didn’t have the capacity to do it, quite honestly, and we were outnumbered and outgunned. The whole thing was a real mess. It was always going to be unless they’d been able to bring in more a lot more troops. We
had very little air support. We did see occasionally, the air force had to withdraw back to Egypt, and we once or twice the RAF [Royal Air Force] came over bombing or strafing. There were no aircraft in Crete at all left. They’d taken them all back, very wisely, back to England so that we had no air cover, whereas the Germans had
bags of it all the time. They had the control of the airfield and they were to bring in any troops that they wanted to and at that stage they could bring them in by sea but I don’t think they did. I think they’d given up that idea – they had them just coming in by air. I think they got a terrible mauling and they were very, it was touch and go at one stage whether they
would or wouldn’t pack up and clear out. But they didn’t so we’d now reached the stage where we had to do it ourselves. I’m told that was the last really big airborne operation that the Germans did in the war. They got such a terrible going over in Crete they decided not to use paratroops anymore for that purpose.
That’s another story and I don’t know much about that .
and the others would move back and hold the position and so on back through the mountains. It was tremendously mountainous there. We went finally, the final position up on the little top of the mountain overlooking this tiny village of Sfakia and it’s very small port. To get there we did have several engagements with the
Germans. They followed fairly fast after, starting on the next day. We ourselves had an engagement with a group of motorcyclists came around and we were able to, from our position, to see them and fire on them and they cleared off and they didn’t come back a while and then we moved back again to another position and
finally we took up a final position on the hills overlooking the sea at the end. The 8th Battalion were holding up a particular waddy that went down on the left and the 7th Battalion and the New Zealanders were across the other side. We held a half moon
position overlooking, looking down towards the east from where we were in the mountains. We did there have several engagements with the Germans. The first of these was when we went into this position we had left behind us several tanks
and we sent down two of our carriers to support them and they had a big engagement with the Germans. They were there to cover the engineers who were blowing the road, blowing cavities in the road to stop the Germans using the road. Mind you all the time we were withdrawing so was the population. There was tremendous confusion on the roads. A lot of civilians were coming along
and of course a lot of soldiers, stragglers who either deserted their units or lost them or lost everything and were trying to do what they could to get to the beach and get out of the country. So there was quite a problem. At one stage a large number of Italian prisoners of war came and they were sent down the road.
They wanted to get away from us, so they were sent to the Germans in the hope that they would confuse them as much as we were being confused. Whether they did or not I don’t know. Our final position, as I said, we had quite an engagement with the Germans.
what we did. So we stayed there until, we held on with a lot of pressure from the Germans at that stage and they were coming around, we were afraid that they would get down onto the beach behind us, but they didn’t succeed in doing that at that stage. Then the evacuation started and there was some
considerable confusion then with all these odd people milling around trying to get, the situation was fairly well controlled until the fighting troops had got down, or some of them. Unfortunately the 7th Battalion which was also part of the rear guard couldn’t get through this mob of people on this very narrow track and they finally didn’t make it, or some of
them didn’t. Some companies did but some didn’t. When we got down on the docks we were still together, the remains of us. Actually there were only two hundred and three left at that stage. We had got down there and we were evacuated on the Phoebe which was anti-aircraft cruiser, came in and there were a couple of
barges there to take us out, landing craft took us out to the ship and we were OK.
What was your sense of relief when you got on that ship?
Of course you had a great sense of relief because you could have well not have got on. One of the sad things, really sad things was that when we were in that final position our quartermaster who was a very nice chap who’d been a captain quartermaster who just disappeared way back. He came out of the bushes and said to Keyes, “Can you take me with you?”
and he said, “No way you find your own way home. We’re not going to have you. You deserted us and now you can go on finding your own way.” This was very upsetting for some of us. I mean it was quite the right thing to do. Why should we, this chap had cleared out, I don’t know what happened. I supposed he was taken prisoner. He never appeared again.
It was really rather sad. The other sad thing that happened on that whole evacuation was coming out of Greece when we were being picked up by the destroyers a band as I mentioned was with us and we had a very highly prized bugle which had been with the 8th Battalion throughout the first war and it was very highly prized this relic. And
the chap who’s responsible for that threw it down onto the destroyer deck to somebody there and while he climbed down the rope, but of course when he got on the destroyer it was never found again. It had been liberated by the sailors or somebody. We never found that beautiful bugle. That was a bad blow to the morale of the battalion. These
little things had happened. So we’re back in Egypt now. The battalion was reforming up at a place called Rafah which is again in the news now. When we were there it
was a tiny Arab village just near Gaza. It was on the edge of the Sinai desert and just a small place and that was where the battalion was encamped and reforming and those of us that had been in Crete went there and joined the rest of them. We were there for a couple of weeks I suppose. We were engaged in patrolling out into the desert from
Rafah on camels. I’ve some photographs of the 2/8th camel patrol. Of course at this stage the battle of El Alamein had not taken place and war was still going on in the western desert and of course in Syria too.
I don’t know what they were looking for. I didn’t stay with the battalion long. After that I was sent to the headquarters of the 6th Division as a staff captain A learner. That was up near, not so far from Tel Aviv –
the headquarters. I went up there and joined that and I didn’t like that work much but still it was something to do.
I was only there for I can’t remember how long but not that long and I was sent to the AIF Junior Staff School that was in Palestine where I caught up with my friend who’d actually got me my
ticket to leave England in the first place, Reggie Pollard, who was then a lieutenant-colonel and in charge of the Junior Staff College at a place called La Trune and I did a course there which was about six weeks or something. At the end of that I was promoted to major and transferred to the 1st Corps Headquarters
which by that time was in Syria, having the war by then concluded in Syria so I didn’t see any of the actual fighting but I went up to where the headquarters was and I had the position of… I was G2 Liaison as a major and my main responsibility was liaising with 1st French Corps
who had their headquarters in Beirut.
Tel Aviv and have a really good dinner and things like that. We didn’t have a bad time. So we didn’t do any other socialising I don’t think at that stage. We did some socialising when we got to Alayh, which is on the hills just behind Beirut and of course we had a wonderful time in Beirut and we got to know lots of
people and parties. As far as we were concerned the war was on and we were just there in a defensive position, because it was expected that the Germans might try to come down through Syria to relieve the Germans in the western desert but that didn’t come out. The other thing that I
did in Syria, I was responsible for the formation of an Australian Ski Battalion, because there in the winter the land in between the two mountains that go up the centre of Syria of course was all under snow. During the summer that area was covered by a British cavalry regiment on horses.
They were the only horsed regiment in the area. That was their responsibility, they patrolled the area. When the winter came there was nobody there so it was decided to establish an Australian Ski Battalion because the French had ski battalions there and they had a barracks up there at the Cedars – ski battalion barracks. So we collected together a number of Australians who were good skiers or who had skiing experience
and we had a very high quality British instructor who had skied for Great Britain before the war and some established and well trained Australian skiers. My job was to get this thing together and get the equipment and I was given carte blanche to go down into Beirut and buy as many skis as I could, which I did, to
the fury of the Q branch. That was what I was told to do and that’s what I did. The French destroyed all their skis on ski trips up there. They left the barracks but didn’t leave any skis behind. So we put together a group of them. I don’t know how many we finally got together, some hundreds of Australian skiers and they went up there and trained.
great fun. They had a great time they had lots for the short time it lasted through the winter. I used to ski down from my mess to my office down the hill. I’ve pictures of that too. We had a very good time there. A bit of relief.
It was from there that I was finally withdrawn from corps headquarters back to Australia. We went, I can’t remember the date offhand, we went down to Suez and we withdrew back to Australia. I was sent down to Cairo with a small
convoy to collect… when we withdrew our divisions from the 6th and the 7th Division from the Middle East the British ensured, part of the agreement was that we would take with us a full kit of stores. I was sent down to Cairo to GHQ [General Headquarters]
to collect the last of the war stores that were to equip the 6th and the 7th Divisions. I took those down to Suez and they went to the units and wherever they were they didn’t embark from there, now I can’t remember. That was my last chore in the Middle East.
when I got back to Australia we were converted to what they called the 1st Army Headquarters and we were all sent up to Toowoomba where we set up the army headquarters. General Lavarack was in command of the corps and he came up to 1st Army Headquarters commander. We formed the staff of the 1st Army up there in Toowoomba
and tried to get together a tremendous lot of units from all over Australia and lots of them were designated to us as the 1st Army. When you went to see them it ended up they had hardly any soldiers or any trucks or you had a division that didn’t have any vehicles to move them. They were just pieces of paper, they had them on paper.
Were still good CMF Divisions around the place and some of them were the 1st Army and some of them were elsewhere. So it was our task to get the thing reorganised a bit. I said I was by that stage the senior liaison officer in the 1st Army Headquarters. We had a
number of our officers I knew very well there.
I was in this position – G1 Liaison, General Berryman who was the chief of staff of 1st Army and he’d come to the conclusion that there was a great shortage of staff officers around, junior staff officers, captains and majors. So they decided although there was some sort of staff school being established in Duntroon
at the time they decided to established their own 1st Army staff school to train captains and brigade majors and that sort of thing. I was designated to go down and establish this school and I went to a convent in Brisbane and I can’t remember the name of the place but we took over this
big convent and I got several officers around me to be instructors and we started from scratch. Actually I was the chief instructor of the first course. We ran a course before I finally left to go to the new staff college that was established in Duntroon, which had two wings. They had new staff college, the senior wing that I was in and
the junior wing. I went on the first course of the senior wing.
Yes you were there until August ’42.
Yes August ’42 from March or April. That was a very good course, a very interesting course. There weren’t very many of us on it – about ten or twelve officers training. A lot of the instructors were people I knew from the Middle East.
It was very good. I hadn’t quite finished the course when a telegram arrived from army headquarters to say that I’d been posted urgently to New Guinea and so I went, it was about a week before the end of the course, I was taken away from Duntroon and went straight up to Port Moresby
and once again I’d got myself into the A branch because I went there as AAG [Assistant Adjutant General]. That was the end of the A branch and I was to take over from a chap who was there. I didn’t relish this at all but alright that was what I was to do and I did. I hardly got into the job, I’d been over there a
couple of weeks I suppose and was transferred to become G1 liaison again and then I was only in that job for about a week and then I took over as G1 operations at New Guinea Force Headquarters. It was a much more interesting job.
senior officer who could be sent anywhere to do anything to find out anything. Some of my visits were quite interesting – I was sent down to Buna or Cape Endaiadere where the war was going on because we had very little information about, this may have been a little bit later,
from an American division fighting down there but nobody knew what they were doing. The commander at that stage was General Herring. He just wanted to find out what was going on so the liaison officer was sent down to their… to talk to the American general. When I found him he didn’t know much more about what was going on
than we did. I reported this back plus my experiences there, which were quite a tale, but other people have written about this and eventually he got the sack, because they were just not doing anything at all. Their communications had been lost and they were in an awful mess. So that was the sort of thing I did. On other occasions I
went up to Wau, I was taken up to Wau by General Berryman, because they were in some trouble up there. The brigadier his brigade major had gone off and got himself lost so I went up there with General Berryman, A – to find out what was going on and
B – too I was left behind to help up there for a while until this poor chap had found his way out of the bush. Those were the sort of things a liaison officer does. I told you what I did in Syria – you’re sort of an odd job man.
Can you explain more your role in the planning process of the attacks in New Guinea?
My real role, the planning had all been done when I was doing this in New Guinea Force Headquarters apart from the day-to-day developments of the operations I was involved in of course but otherwise it was all done. I didn’t really come into the planning bit of it until I was organising in the 7th Division for
the landing in Nadzab. There was an airborne operation and that was a little later in the story. So we were in Popondetta and I stayed in Popondetta until I was appointed G1 of the 7th Division which had by that time had gone back to Australia
and was reforming up on the tablelands, together with the 9th Division which had just come back from the Middle East and they were down on the coast because they were going to take part in this operation too and it was to be a joint operation between 7th and 9th Divisions against Lae to start with. We were,
the plan was we would land inland in Lae at a place called Nadzab where there was lots of grass and the possibility to build an airfield and we were to capture that and then move down behind Lae and the 7th and 9th Division were down on the coast just above Lae and
we were going to meet and carry out a joint attack on the so-called city of Lae, which was really hardly a place in those days, not a place at all these days. It was a centre of Japanese resistance and we were very concerned that it would be reinforced. I think that we had ideas that there were a lot more Japanese than in
fact were there. That was when I did any planning that I did and that was a lot of planning, because well first of all we had to, as I said I was with the division for almost a year doing that job – one of the longest spells I had anywhere. And I came back from Port Moresby and had a bit of leave I suppose and went up to
the Atherton Tablelands above Cairns and joined the divisional headquarters which was getting itself established there.
What was the intelligence that was coming through?
I can’t remember really now the details of it, it was such a very long time ago but we were getting supplied with quite a lot of information about what they thought the Japanese were doing there and where they thought they were. So we had to plan around all of this. We went back into Port Moresby and a lot of our time
was spent speaking to the 5th Air Force who were the air force up there that were going to do the transportation for us. We had to plan out in detail what every aeroplane would contain, when we wanted the various units to arrive and what they were to carry in their planes and what the supply problem was and all that. We had an American parachute regiment attached to us which was a very
good crowd of people and they were to do the initial landing and they landed with some sort of heavy engineering equipment and their job was to clear a landing strip there so we could bring the transports in and then headquarters would go in there then at that stage. One of the brigades and so
on and so forth. I can’t remember the details.
When the troops did land in Nadzab, did you go there?
Oh yes we landed very soon after the, we were in the first group of transports to come in. We had a bit of a land advanced too. Groups of commandos had come down under our command and down onto the Markham and further down and joined up with the paratroops when they landed. We had a Pioneer battalion as well to help
with the construction effort. The Americans landed their troops and we landed engineers to get the airfield going. It gradually got going, quite quickly actually. We were there from, pretty soon after, as soon as the transport planes could come in we landed. I wrote a long report on the whole of this operation, which I saw a copy of
not so long ago. Hadn’t seen it for forty years I suppose. It was a very detailed report of all this planning and the operation. The operation plan which I had to write for the operation was very complicated and a very detailed operation on the supply side – the order in which units should arrive.
One of our problems was when we got over there and then they weren’t arriving in the right order. I was sent back to Port Moresby and I had go and see General Whitelaw, who was commanding general of the 5th Air Force, with a complaint that he wasn’t following our plans so that was interesting. I had General Blamey, I took him along. Not Blamey, Berryman took me along to see
General Whitelaw and had a long talk to him. I met that very nice chap General Kenny who was the head of the whole of the American air force out here. Awfully nice man. I saw him later on after Europe.
Who did reconnaissance of the ground of the area?
We had aerial photographs and maps. Nobody had physically done a reconnaissance because there was no way you could do it. We had a very good idea what it looked like and where the enemy were. In fact they’d cleared out more or less. Then we landed at Nadzab which is inland from Lae – I don’t know how
many miles but a long way and eventually it became a huge airfield, it was a main airfield later in the operations. All the air force moved up there from Port Moresby or a great many of them. It was a big airfield eventually, but we started it by this landing. We then moved down to Markham toward Lae and the 9th Division landed on the coast
towards Lae and we met there.
precisely. We didn’t actually cross over – he arrived a few days after I did, because I had to come out quite urgently. I had a good staff there with me – there were G2s and 3s and they all stayed. This nice fellow came in, I knew him, his name just escapes me for a moment. I just can’t remember it for the moment.
I was extremely fortunate to be included in this party apart from the whole idea of going was most attractive to me – had I stayed I would have been killed because General Vasey came down to Brisbane and I saw him in Brisbane before I left and he came down with his new G1 and on their way back to New
Guinea from there the plane crashed near Townsville and they were all killed. So that was the end – I would have been in the plane had I not left the division.
had a bit of leave and went back to Brisbane and we went across the Pacific on the American Liberty ship with the fourteen of us and the army plus a big contingent of air force trainees that were going over to the air training scheme in Canada. We had a lot of Americans returning to America
from leave around these parts. The ship was called the Sea Corporal. It was a new, one of these Liberty ships that they built, hundreds of these ships in America. They were very basic ships. Ronnie McNichol was another lieutenant-colonel. There were two lieutenant-colonels, there were about four majors and the rest were captains,
or might have been more majors. It was like that. So McNichol and I shared a cabin which was down in the stern of the ship and over the door was “cabin for three seaman”, so we were down in the worst part of it. The American colonels got better accommodation up near the bridge, but that didn’t matter to us. The rest of them were down in the hold.
Some of them didn’t like that much. It was very basic. We had two meals a day, they were always the same; hard boiled eggs about nine o’clock in the morning and about four o’clock in the afternoon we had bread and potatoes and a few green vegetables, and sort of corned meat I suppose it was. That was all we got and
We were navigating and we were going to go straight into this great reef. We could hear the breakers pounding on the reef and there was an American lieutenant-colonel on the ship who was a navigator. He went up and took over the navigation of the ship, otherwise it could have been quite a disaster. You could hear as we approached this thing, the pounding on the reef.
It was just another adventure. We arrived into San Francisco. We were very well received by the locals and put up in a nice hotel – the Mark Hopkins actually which was one of the better hotels in San Francisco. At least Ronnie and I were. The others were sent out to some camp or other outside San Francisco.
We were all entertained – the locals turned on a dance for us. We were the first Australian Army officers that had been seen on the West Coast, nobody had gone there. So we were quite popular, it was jolly nice and we were looked after quite well. We got on a train and for seven days we travelled right across America by
troop train which had us and I think there about four hundred air force people with us, quite a big contingent. We went via Chicago and there they got onto another train and went north into Canada and we went north to New York.
They wanted to have a look at us so I was attached to the Highland Division and I was one of three G1s, actually they had the proper one who was there all the time and I was attached and there was another British officer attached in the same rank. We were all planning then the landing and after a couple of days when they
got accustomed to me I was then inducted into the secrets about the landing in Europe and the plans for it and what we were doing. The planning part of the divisional headquarters was quite separate from the ordinary part and protected by a barbed wire fence. The divisional headquarters was in an old country
house in England, which you know, these places are pretty big and the mess and our living quarters were in the old house and the headquarters troops and the officers were in a series of huts around in the park of this old house, concealed as far as possible.
photographs, endless aerial photographs of the area. Detailed planning, very detailed, very impressive indeed. I was with a division which had served with great distinction in the Middle East as well, so we had a lot in common, although I wasn’t at El Alamein as British General Bernard Law Montgomery reminded
me on several occasions. They’d been and they’d been in Sicily and the Sicily landings. So they were a very experienced division and it was a great pleasure to be with them. Mind you they had been diluted a lot when they got back to England. They’d taken a lot of officers away and put them in other divisions to build them out
and give them experience, but still they were mostly people that had been in the Middle East.
some days before the actual landing because we moved down to north London. They’d established a lot of camps for the invasion force, which were really sealed camps. They’d been built by units that either were not taking part at all in the invasion or were going to land much later on. So they were really
rather like, well they did the housekeeping, they did all the, you know, the cooks, guards and all the things you have to have in these camps because once you got into the camp nobody was allowed to go out because of security reasons, except for people who had special pass. In my case I had a special pass because they wanted me to go around to the various units and do jobs outside.
Everybody else was just there and once you got into the assembly area, or marshalling area as they called it you never got out. They did this because all our vehicles had to be properly waterproofed and had to be packed with exactly what they should take, what they should land with. It was very much like the work I’d done with 7th Division in the case of the aeroplanes.
Units had to be allocated to particular ships arriving at a particular time and place so that everybody was in his place when they arrived at the far end. All that had to be done in the marshalling areas.
made to have secure areas into which they could go because then of course it was very touchy business. The troops were not briefed. In fact even the officers were not briefed except the COs of units and perhaps their adjutants. Nobody was briefed until they went to sea so they didn’t know where they going or what they were doing and it was only when they went to sea that they opened up rolls of maps
and produced the maps to show people where they and various people that had to have them. They were then properly briefed on the operation. Of course if the units had gone to sea as they had in some cases right down in the far west of England because they had a long way to go, they were at sea when they called the thing off and they had to bring them back because the sea was so rough they would have died from seasickness.
So they brought them ashore and they had special areas, they’d exercised in this plan before, and they went in and guarded and kept to themselves and as we now know in one or two places where we thought that they might have lost the secret, but it didn’t in fact happen. So it was only a short thing and it didn’t affect us. Whether we were even aware of
it, I don’t know if we were aware of the delay.
supplies going in, tanks going in, constant movement. And of course in the air above constant patrols of fighters and in the background the naval warships and cruisers that were doing the gun support for the troops on land were blazing away. Very noisy and very smoky and
all very exciting scene, it was exciting. It was the sort of thing you’d never see again and never be involved in again. This was the biggest operation of its kind that had ever taken place and the only one of its kind that ever will take place. It was really a very impressive scene and you felt that you knew that this was the beginning of the end for the Germans really in Europe.
That you were taking part in something that was absolutely unique and just unique and terribly interesting and having been involved in the planning I knew something of the plans and I was therefore very interested to see how it developed. I was also, I felt confident that we were to be successful. I don’t know why I felt confident but I did. So I wasn’t really
very frightened as it were by all this that was going on. It was a tremendously impressive sight. Of course on the other hand I’d lived through Crete where the Germans had such a close call of being defeated that I realised that this really could happen to us here in this case and we might get pushed off again, but it happened to the Canadians when they
did a raid on Dieppe which was a trial run for the whole operation. They were badly beaten up and dispersed. I realised that could happen but I didn’t really think it was going to happen because I felt having seen the plans and knowing the strength of the force and also being very familiar with what the Germans had on shore at that stage because we’d had a lot of intelligence when
we were doing the planning and we knew where all the strong points were and indeed where all the German divisions were. So one had hoped, but mind you it could have gone wrong, very wrong indeed in fact. They very nearly did at one stage with a counter-attack up in the centre and nearly got to the coast themselves and the air force saw them off there and Typhoons came in and they were the
aircraft that were designed especially to attack tanks and then attacked this armoured division and really dispersed them.
The main objective of our front was Caen itself. We were the Reserve Division of the 1st Corps. The 1st Corps consisted of the 3rd British Division and the 3rd Canadian Division and the Highland Division was the three divisions of the 1st Corps. The 3rd Canadians and the 3rd British landed on D-Day itself on the beaches and our battalions and brigades landed
later in D-Day, but we were really the reserve – most of the fighting well the fighting had gone before we got there. The main objective of the Corps was Caen itself. We didn’t reach Caen, which was ten or fifteen miles inland from the beach and of course the airborne division that landed on our left and secured the
bridges over the Orne River and they’d had a lot of fighting on the left. We came in as a reserve division. Over the next few days we relieved some of the British units of the 3rd Division and gradually took over some of the fronts there, especially on the left hand side. That’s the left hand side looking at it all.
What sort of resistance did you encounter?
There was a lot of resistance then. The Germans were very keen to hold Caen, they didn’t want to let up on that because that was a key communications centre across the whole front. So they held on to that and in the end they reinforced it considerably, but in the next few days when Hitler had decided to let German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel bring some of his Panzer divisions down from the Pas de Calais,
which is one of the main elements of the whole operation. It was a deception operation which was aimed to deceive the Germans as to where the main strike was going. The deception was that there was another army in Britain that was going to land around Calais, that Normandy was only a diversion in order to draw the Panzer division away
from the Calais area. That succeeded because they didn’t come down for forty-eight hours or so after. Of course Hitler wouldn’t let Rommel… Rommel wanted to move them down long before and had they done that than the landing might have been different, might have resulted differently. He wasn’t allowed to move the divisions. Hitler wanted to take control of that and that’s what happened.
The deception was total and very successful and by the time the first forty-eight hours had gone past we’d landed a very large number of troops and stores and everything else. Just as well because the weather changed and we were then in for several days of stormy weather and nothing can be done, nothing could be landed. That didn’t look too good.
the big heavy bomber strikes in support of the troops that were taking place. There were something like six hundred odd aeroplanes, heavy bombers from England came and pounded the defences in one go and we saw that from way back about ten miles back from it we could see a constant stream of aircraft coming over your head from England and dropping their bombs down there, it was really a fantastic sight.
They called in a thousand-bomber raid and they had several later on. Actually there were only about six hundred and eighty bombers involved in this but it did a tremendous lot of damage. Then an attack was put in under cover of that and eventually that succeeding in securing the target. It was terribly demoralising –
bombing of that kind. In fact one German division was entirely wiped out, just disappeared off the face of the map. But still even then it was a long several good days of fighting before we got in. By that time, or closer to that time I’d moved on down to join the 50th Division where they were further down the line.
I saw that raid and I was still with the Highland Division they put in an attack on the left which wasn’t very successful and the Canadians attacked and they succeeded in getting in and so did the Brits. It was then after that there was a lot of hard fighting before Caen itself was secured. It was a key communications centre – all the roads and railways ran through Caen.
We’d already captured Bayeux, that was a bit further back and that was captured. I went in there, in fact I went in and had a bath in the public baths. Otherwise there was no way you could have a bath for days. We used to go in there to public baths. That was the first phase and by
that time I was directed to, because I think the general had reported that I was a suitable chap to do the job, I was then appointed to the 50th Northumberland Division which had landed on D-Day and was battling in the Bocage country a bit further down. That was a great,
I was delighted with that because it at last gave me some actual responsibility as opposed to standing around doing what I was told to do or just observing what was going on. The observing period was quite useful in that I got to know some of the brigade level and I went down to see how they were fighting. It was a very useful period,
but still a bit boring if you’re not actually taking part in the day-to-day operational matters of the division.
Otherwise it was all going along well. In France and Belgium it was fairly even going. When we got into Holland and started to go up through, it’s very wet country and the roads are very narrow and on top of dykes and this was very difficult country to get through. Mind you the 50th Division when I first joined
it was operating in very difficult, what they called the Bocage country in Normandy which is a lot of very small fields surrounded by high hedges and the roads are so ancient that they’re like ditches. Tanks couldn’t go across them and only one tank at a time down the road and so much concealment to be held up by very few enemy troops by
machine guns well placed in the hedges. So it was a very difficult country for infantry and for anybody to go through so we had all that experience and then when we finally got up to Holland we had a few pretty solid battles on the way up. Particularly going across the Albert Canal, securing a crossing there in Belgium and going up through France. On and off we
struck a lot of trouble. The Guards and the armoured divisions, they swept past the trouble and that was left for us to clean up you see. That was why there were two infantry divisions in the breakout force. Our job was to clean up the pockets of enemy that were left behind by the armoured troops that went through quite fast. In fact the whole thing was a very fast move, unbelievably fast actually.
Never have thought it could be quite so fast.
is where that great battle took place that was not very successful and we’d gone up and we’d got through as far as Nijmegen which is the other side of the Rhine, but there was nothing much we could do about getting the last bit across. So anyway caught there and they were evacuated through our, such that some did come out eventually
but that’s a very long story which I wasn’t personally involved in because we were on the other side down near Nijmegen on the lower Rhine. The Americans had some trouble in various places. They had two American airborne divisions; the 82nd and the 101. You hear of now, they’re still talking about them. They’re in Iraq, some of them were,
they’ve been all over the place since. They had troubles and we had trouble getting through on the roads because first of all there was all the traffic and very few roads and not only that the roads were very narrow and on either side of them was swamp, well fields that were flooded so you couldn’t get off the
road and no vehicles could get off the roads. We couldn’t get along the roads because of the vehicles and a couple of the German guns would hold up a whole division or corps for a day more or less because they could command with these 88s, the anti-tank guns, and they were holding things up so we had to skirt around these pockets and attack them from
the other side. There were two or three places like that that were very, very difficult. I wished that I’d kept a full diary so that I could record all the details of these things but I didn’t keep any sort of a diary whatsoever, so I’m completely lost in terms of remembering the details. I just remember the general outline of what was going on.
about in the books, between US General Dwight D. Eisenhower who wanted a broad front into Germany and Montgomery who thought by capturing the bridges and linking up with these armoured divisions having the whole support of the 21st Army group as opposed to just the British soldiers he could have gone into Germany and ended the war much more quickly. Well that was the theory, but we didn’t succeed because we didn’t get through the final
barrier and then they had a great slogging match to cross the Rhine and eventually go up through the Ruhr. Down in the south the 1st American Army they were champing at the bit. They wanted to have troops to sweep into southern Germany and into Austria. It became a problem because Montgomery would have had to have a much greater amount
of support and petrol to get his plan going and Eisenhower couldn’t agree to, he wanted to make it slower. Well he might have been right I don’t know. As it turns out the ‘Market Garden’ was a great operation. It got us up onto the Rhine but didn’t get across the Rhine. So then they had to do all, it was after my time – I left the division when the division
left Europe. We came back to England just before Christmas in ’45 and as I said we’d been action the whole time and the battalions were very depleted with troops. We’d lost a tremendous amount of officers – some battalions had lost as many as three commanding officers along the way, all through there. We were a very tired division and not only that
the British Army was then getting very short of infantry and they wanted to have, but they had more artillery than they wanted so they were wanting to turn artillery regiments into infantry regiments. So one of the ways to do this is to withdraw one of the divisions altogether and turn it into a training division and wait and prepare it to go somewhere else, and our division was the one selected to do that.
We had a great send off and got back to England just before Christmas.
halfway up France; my general had gone out somewhere, gone towards one of the brigades and our corps commander’s car drew up outside my caravan and I went down and said, “My general is not here,” he said, “I didn’t come to see the general I came to see you. I’ve found an Australian person in the CCS down the road and I thought we’d go down and have afternoon tea with her.” I said,
“Well I can’t leave the divisional headquarters.” “Oh yes you can, don’t worry about it, you just come with me,” so we went down and had afternoon tea with this rather nice girl down the road and came back. By that time the general had got back, but it was a very nice gesture on his part and that was the sort of man he was – very thoughtful and a wonderful general himself to lead the corps.
I was just wondering having that flexibility of the transport if that assisted your co-ordination?
Sure it certainly did, it greatly assisted the co-ordination of what was going on and also I would get a lot of information about what our troops were doing and was able to come back and tell the general what was happening. I had G3 liaison officers that went and did the same thing, would go to various units and would go down and come back and tell us what
was going on. So we were in touch. Of course communications were so much better, at that stage we had much better communications within the division. We didn’t rely on telephones – we had wirelesses and that sort of arrangement. It wasn’t like Greece or the Middle East where we relied on very primitive communication. We had quite good communications
and radio telephone that sort of thing. Actually in the battle area we could do a lot of work by telephone by radio telephone. It was probably being intercepted by somebody. By the time they sorted out the information the situation would have all changed. We were able to get, I remember frequently talking to
particularly brigade commanders and brigade majors particularly as to what was going on at brigade level. We had a reconnaissance regiment that was a motorised, armoured, semi-armoured rather like our they had them in the AIF too, so I was able to keep in touch with them because they had armed cars and carriers and
small tanks. I was able to talk to the commander of that because he would be out in front somewhere. You had a much better grasp of what was going than we ever did in Greece or the Middle East or indeed New Guinea for that matter. Although by then we did have more air radio communications so we weren’t too
badly off in New Guinea. By the time I got to Europe it was a very different picture.
paratroops, the airborne division got a lot of opposition. We were there to go to relieve them when they got too much opposition. This is what we were doing on the way up – taking over areas that they had captured so they could go back and be retrained or something of that kind. They seemed to disappear. There was a lot of opposition.
Of course because it was a very defensible area, mind you we had a lot of air force too. The German air force had given up the ghost by the time we did all this, we didn’t see them again. That must have been very bad for German morale I think. We had our own fighters and bombers
and could call on air support because by that time we’d established airfields all through Europe. In fact they established airfields in Normandy in the first twenty four hours and we had fighter squadrons there on the ground so that it was a lot of fighter bombers.
Was there one area that you stabilised and established as the base?
We finally when we moved into we crossed the Rhine at Nijmegen, the bridge had been captured by the American Airborne Division and we crossed that and went into an area of low-lying land between the Neder-Rhine or the Waal it was called and the Rhine itself,
quite wide about ten miles wide and that was where we established the defensive position there when Arnhem couldn’t be captured and when the airborne division were not making any progress and that was the end of the operation. We exchanged artillery fire with the Germans and ourselves and it was,
I wouldn’t call it a base but it was a defensive position that we got into there which gradually developed and it was pretty uncomfortable because it was wet and any fences built into the ground filled with water pretty quickly so it was all pretty uncomfortable for the troops to
taken back to the Australian Army and not stayed on with the division, which would have been nice for me. Actually when we got back it was just before Christmas. I was one officer that had no family there and I had no dependents so they said to me, “Well you can hold the fort while we go off and have Christmas with our families,” and they all disappeared except myself and a couple of other officers. I was in charge of the whole business
and just left and we had a nice there in Yorkshire, deep snow everywhere. We had a great English Christmas. It was a pre-prepared camp so there was a camp staff in the headquarters so our own cooks and bottle washers could go off and have Christmas with their families and it was a very nice young English lady officer, captain I suppose, who was in charge
of the camp, camp commandant. And she made us very welcome and we had a great party at Christmas time, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – those of us that were left which as I said were only three or four. Then the others came back and I got a message from London to say that I was to return to the Australian Army and take my friend Jimmy Harrison’s place in Australia House, which I was quite pleased with that,
I was quite happy to do that and looking forward to being in London just for a while. Didn’t think it was going to be for two years, but that was alright. That was a very interesting job too.
time there. The general was in fact my cousin’s husband, General Smart. He was a lieutenant-general so he was a fairly high ranking general, the highest rank that had ever occupied that position and he was a very nice chap to work with and there was a lot of responsibility under him and we got on with the job. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were
getting information from the war office which we were sending back to army headquarters in Australia and he used to write a weekly newsletter to them telling the chief of the general staff what was going on in Europe and how things were progressing. We had lots of responsibilities for Australian officers who came over on courses for training and things like that. It was a
very interesting job. Then we had a big technical staff there. We had a brigadier who was in charge of that and he got with the business of purchasing equipment and the technical side of it and I did the operational staff work with the war office.
In the war office actually. I watched the march past in Whitehall from the windows of the war office and to my disgust the march was led by old General Graham and there I should have been beside him on the march. I was very disappointed with that I hadn’t got this opportunity. He led the infantry side of the thing.
It was a great march past, a great celebration and there was a lot of fun in London went on. I ended up on the steps of Trafalgar Square with a very old friend of mine who had been in the Australian Army with me and he was the manager of the steelworks down in Port Kembla and he said to me then, that night, “Well what are you going to do after the war?” “Nothing to do at all. I haven’t got any plans.”
He said, “Well you’d better come and join us.” So from then onwards I knew I had a job back in Australia when I got back. In fact I, towards the end of my time in London I was given what they call CRTS [Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme] which is a leave to training before retirement. I did the course at the Imperial College of Metallurgy and I spent a
little bit of time with the steelworks at Newport in Wales and learning the business of steel making. I spent a few weeks doing that. Very pleasant. By that time we’d gotten married and so Jean came down with me and it was quite a pleasant thing.
What would you say out of those six years was your proudest moment?
I don’t know that I was proud at any time particularly. Well I was very delighted to be given these various awards that I got. I got the Military Cross as you know for my work in Greece and I was mentioned in dispatches for my work in New Guinea and I got the OBE for my work in Europe. I think they were great rewards, great
experience that. I couldn't have asked for anything more. I was very pleased and delighted about that. Finally I got the French award the other day. All around I have a fair collection of medals. I don’t think I was proud about any of the things I did. I was pleased that I was competent at doing
what I was doing. Everybody seemed to be pleased about that so that was alright. That was all I needed.
things like that. I hope that Anzac Day will go on. It’s changed its character very greatly. I can remember the Anzac Days when I was a small boy at school when I was perhaps ten or twelve. The marches then were an extensive collection of old diggers and lots of them wore uniform and it
was a great parade. Now gradually it got tied off and then after the Second World War it was exactly the same. The marches were very long. Huge numbers, people turned up. Unit associations were very active and now most of them aren’t very active and most of them have disappeared. Most of the people have disappeared so they’re not going to go on.
The fact of celebrating Anzac Day as a National Day of Remembrance is really quite important I think. I think it’s shown by the fact that the present crowds that go are younger people. There seems to be a revival of interest in Anzac Day by the population, although it’s not nearly at the sort of,
I won’t say sacred day it was it’s not really the day of remembrance that it used to be when families of people who had actually been to the first and second war were still around. Now they’re not around so it’s different, it’s just a generational thing. Young people of today they know about Anzac Day and after all they all flock to Anzac itself.
There are huge crowds go to Anzac and they’re all many generations after these two wars have finished. So there’s a revival of interest like that and I think that’s a good thing. We take much more interest in that than most European countries.