on my grandfather’s dairy farm in September 1918. My mother, ‘a course she was the daughter of my grandfather naturally and my father was, had volunteered for World War I and was in the 22nd Battalion but he got double pneumonia and pleurisy and he was discharged on medical grounds.
But frankly he didn’t have the physique to take it. Then I, well ‘a course there were three boys went up there for holidays when we were growing up and at one stage I did attend the Heath Hill State School when I was a kid. I had to walk three miles or something. And then of course with
Dad, he wasn’t allowed to go back to the Board of Works where he was working you know for some period, so he volunteered to go and work for the Victoria Stevedoring Company as a cabinet maker. And he was a beautiful cabinet maker just by hobby. We came naturally down to Melbourne and at the age of two and I was the only boy, only child at the time we went to
Vanuatu or the New Hebrides in those days. The old chap had obtained a contract with the other friend to build the first cargo shed for Burns Philp in Villa, so I don’t know how long we were over there but my wife and I were there a few years ago and the shed is still standing. So when he built something it remained built.
I was only two. And we came back here and eventually we lived in Alphington. I went to the Fairfield State School to sixth grade and then my father wanted me to go to the University High School. To get there you had to do an examination, so I went to live with an uncle up
in the country for he was a school teacher and he coached me for 12 months and I was sleepwalking in the finish ‘cause you know it was very intense. Any rate, I passed the exam all right and I got into University High School. I went there to intermediate certificate. I wasn’t a dedicated student, let’s put it that way and there were no jobs around and my father said to me, “Look, I think you better get a job.”
So I did and I went to the Stock Exchange of Melbourne for six months. Just running around on the trading floor. At the end of the six months, a small firm offered me a job which I took and I remained with them for about four years. And in the mean time I did my leaving certificate at night school and I started Accountancy.
In May 1938 with Hitler running all over Europe business just went down the plughole and the firm told all the staff and there weren’t, there were six or eight of us they could only give us one week’s work in three. So a position came up with W Ian Potter and he became Sir Ian Potter, eventually now dead and the same sort
of job that I was doing in this small firm. So I got the job in May ’38 and I walked into the greatest mess I’ve ever come across. Because the lady that was doing the job in front of me, her idea of recording all the sales in and out and so on was when she run out of a ledger she’d start another one but she’d never bring anything forward. So it took me the best part of 18 months to
get that up to date and I eventually with the help of the manager of the firm I got a card from this original firm the way they did the job over there, which recorded things very easily and we put that system in. And actually some of those cards were still in existence when I retired in 1979. They were just going onto computers then. But I had been since July ’35 in the Victorian
Scottish Regiment. 5th Battalion Victorian Scottish Regiment. One year as a cadet and then three years as an infantry signaller, which I love signals and so on and when the war broke out of course we were called up and I think the funny story is: we, my brother was in the naval reserve and I’d been out to the local hop that night, got home about one o’clock in the morning, ring on the door
bell, telegram for me on to report to Sturt Street drill hall at 0800 the next morning, dressed and so on. Hour later, another telegram for my brother to report to Lonsdale down at Port Melbourne, so we went off in the morning and we said, “Bye Mum, see you tonight.”
and I think it was Sydney Myer who gave it might a been old Mac Robertson of the chocolate people. One of the two gave a hundred thousand pounds to build that and it was done with a pick and shovel horse and dray and barrows. And the men would apply to get the, get a job and they would get one or two days work a week. They were all issued with army greatcoats, which had been dyed a purpley colour but
you know people outta work had absolutely nothing. There were soup kitchens. There were, there was a certain amount of sustenance given to them in the way of food. But I know our, one of our neighbours, he went to, he was on a shearing team up in New South Wales. I forget what they call ‘em, a roustabout in a shed. That was the only job he could get. He was a hat maker actually. But
no, look it was very tough and people today have absolutely no idea. I mean today you’ve got all the social service. You know if you go do this, that or another thing you go and apply and you’d get money for it. Not in those days. But no, it was tough. As I say we were lucky we didn’t really feel the affects of it like a lot of other people but things were tight.
We weren’t allowed to go and buy this and buy that and so on. And I remember our first football was newspaper rolled up tightly and tied with string. That’s the way things were. But the, no that’s, it was a great lesson I think to people of my age to see it. But ‘a course and that’s why so many when the war broke out joined the forces, to get a job.
There were many in my battalion who were unemployed when they came in, they came in, they got five shillings a day. Three meals a day and a bed, uniforms, everything. Didn’t cost them a cracker.
I remember marching to Puckapunyal and I didn’t have anything. No, didn’t have anything, it all had to go back. We might have got that equipment at [Puckapunyal], I can’t, look I can’t remember really. But I went in, I marched out from the Seymour Station. I was in my uniform, not the kilt just the trousers and the putties and so on that you wore,
the Scotch little cap. Can’t remember what they call it Glengarry. And there were bout thirty or forty of us came off the train and we were met by a Lieutenant Rowell who’d been in the Victorian Scotties and he’d been taken into the 2/5th as an officer. Very young, he was younger than I was actually and another man called Fred Ray. Funnily enough,
three weeks ago we were all at lunch together. We’d just marched out and I remember one fella, he’d got into the beer somewhere or other and he jumped into the Goulbourn River and we had a bit of trouble getting him out. But we had to march to Puckapunyal, no truck to pick us up.
second go because if they went back for a second go, they did it at the double. Now today there’d be a tremendous outcry. Bastardry they’d [call] it but boy it got results. And we, you know there were some bad eggs amongst that crowd. I remember the first day we sat down in the new mess halls they built for us and they had these big mess tables. Oh they musta been thirty
odd feet long, a lot a men sitting on either side of the mess hall, at the end they’d dish out the meals and they’d get spun down on the plates down the table. And we had a man Ritchie. Bernie Ritchie, I think his name was. The first morning he sat down, pulled a great sheath knife out. Slammed it into the top of the table. Quivered there like that. Any rate, when his meal came down, he didn’t think it was enough, so he spun it back and he said, “I want more.” So the mess, this is the way fellas went on see.
He, the mess orderly filled it all up and he personally delivered it but tipped it over his head. And Bernie Ritchie never touched that knife. And everybody’s waiting for him to grab the knife but he went to water. So there were a lot of fellas who just you know were bluffers really. But I - look after a month you didn’t see much of that at all.
there you had an officer, a sergeant and there was two corporals I think it was. But no, we trained, we did these exercises. Sometimes they were day exercises and this particular three-day exercise I happened to be on the switchboard and this message came through about midnight that corporals, sergeants so-and-so from all the companies, there’s fifteen names, report
to the CO’s [Commanding Officer] tent immediately. CO’s tent was about a mile back, so I signal, you know just put the message through to all the companies but my name was amongst them. So we all went back and old Tom Cook, the CO was a rough old fellow from World War I, he told us we were being sent to an officers’ training school. And we said, “No, we don’t want to go.” We, the units were sailing in a few weeks. So he told us in no uncertain terms what ungrateful [bastards] we were
and he said “At 0800 in the morning you will be on parade, ready to go” and we were. So we spent six weeks at the, over Seymour at this training unit. Didn’t learn
way it’s terrifying first up. And then after you’ve been in it for a while you realise crikey I’m still here. So you think oh that’s not so bad. But then you see somebody killed beside ya and think gawd. And I think then it really strikes you. But you’ve got to remember that there are thousands of pieces of metal flying around, if you just happen to get in front of one you’re unlucky, and considering what’s
thrown at you, there were very few people hit. But I found the mortar bombing worst of all. You can’t hear them. They’re just a bang. They’re off. If it’s quiet you can hear when they’ve fired, you can hear this pop, pop as they’ve fired but if there’s a lot of other noise around, you don’t hear that. And all of a sudden you find a water bomb lands beside you, and you don’t hear it, it’s just there. Then the shells are a bit different. You do
get a bit of a shoosh just before they hit. But they’re, it’s, I don’t know, it must be in everybody’s make up how they perform. As I say once the shooting started I felt all right but I worked on the theory it can’t happen to me. Which is a stupid theory but.
You know, you had thirty odd men and that was it. You did what the company commander told you to do. He in turn did what the orders the CO had given him. But of course it’s, see chaos unlimited once the fighting starts. The plan might be great but it doesn’t often happen. It doesn’t pan out ‘cause the other crowd are doing their damnedest to stop it happening. But we were fortunate
in a way that we took on the Italians because they didn’t have their heart in it at all. But the, we just came outta the desert, well I was in hospital when they did but the Germans just came in as our battalion came out and they were a different kettle of fish of course. The Italian, he’d give up very quickly. Once you got close to him you showed him a bayonet gamut,
and they’d come out in their hundreds. They took 40,000 prisoners the first day in Bardia. I hope you’re not Italian Zelda [Interviewer]. 40,000 prisoners the first day. And I’ve got the copy there somewhere of a cartoon in the [Sydney] Herald in ’40, January ’41 and it showed thousands of Italian prisoners, you can see the line going over the
desert for miles with one buck Aussie there leading them or beside them and he’s saying to them one of them, he said, “Hey Antonio, if you don’t stop dragging that rifle in the sand I won’t let you carry it for me.” And that’s exactly what they did. They’d have one Australian leading five or six thousand prisoners back. He’d have one man carrying his rifle, another man carrying his equipment and they were delighted to do it. Delighted to be caught.
And when I was in hospital in Tobruk, we had an Italian orderly. There were four of us in the tent, the ward and if he did anything wrong, we’d say, “Giuseppe, we’ll send ya back to the front line.” “Oh no, Momma Mia not you know the front line for him.”
But in a way they were pathetic, they really were. They killed a lot of our fellas there but. Oh they did.
thousands of gallons of Chianti dug into the sides of the wadies in big barrels. And I think the second day, the Italians if they’d counted, checked, mighta taken the place back. But they really got into the grog, I tell ya. That was all through the desert. We found these big barrels and they’d dug them into the sides to keep them cool. It was pretty
good wine too but I’ll tell you a funny story about one of my men. He’s a terrific drinker and we were just squatting around - it was very hard to dig a hole. You put rocks around you, there was plenty of rocks and then this fella missed his turn on guard at night and arrived back the next morning looking pretty poor. And I said to him “Where the so and so have you been all night? You’ve missed your
turn on guard duty.” And he told me the story. He’d been down in a wadi all day and he’d been having a pannikin of wine and he’d pass out and he’d wake up and he’d have a few more, pass out, wake up again. And it got towards dusk and he realised he oughta get back to the company. So he got up out of the wadi and of course as flat as this floor, couldn’t find his way. And he staggered around and he came across a lot a fellas in the dusk under blankets, so he crawled in beside ‘em in his inebriated
state and he woke - this was his story - he’s told me, he said, “I woke up this morning and I said I found I was sleeping with all the Italian stiffs.” He said, “I wondered why none of the buggers would speak to me.” Well what could I do with him? Nothing.
by truck. We did do a bit of it by truck and after Derna we went across country and our company headquarters with the Sergeant Cook and his field cooker were waiting for us because we were 24 hours late and he’d cooked a stew. Of course it was freezing cold at night up there but reasonably warm during the day unless you got these
sandstorms and the wind would just, went straight through. But he’d heated the stew up the night before and we didn’t arrive, so when he saw us coming across the desert and you could see for miles he heated it up again. Of course we all got there and everybody wanted a meal. Oh I think before that we’d had a meal of macaroni and so on because we’d pushed some Italians out of the way and they’d left their field cookers still cooking, so we got into that.
But you know these things sort of come back to you. In sequence I may be a little bit out but any rate. Winnie Ridge as he was called, the Sergeant Cook, we arrived and of course the men are all served first and my platoon went through and I was just about to be served and there was an air-raid. So everybody scattered and the air-raid was over and I came back and there was no stew left. Well that was all right, we were loaded onto trucks and we went
onto Giovanni Berta by truck. I think it was about seventy miles or something and all, the officer always rides with the driver and a convoy never stops and I could hear all this yelling in the back of the truck. ‘Cause took no notice of it, you couldn’t stop. Got to the other end - nobody in the truck. And as Don Company came through there was nobody in the trucks at all, and they were picked up by the other companies as they came through.
Now what had happened, the stew had fermented and of course they all got diarrhoea. Boy did I feel lucky that I didn’t get any stew. I’d just had a bit a bully beef.
No trouble there, you know you’d pass lines of Italian prisoners and you’d pass lines of minefields and the engineers had lifted the mines and you could see them stretching for miles across the desert. And we hardly saw anything or I don’t think we saw any Italian forces except prisoners. And I can still see one crowd that went past us - you know Italian leatherwork is very good.
Well they had beautiful belts and somebody further up had relieved them of their belts and they were all marching along holding up their trousers, which rather amused me. Unfortunately we, you weren’t supposed to have cameras and I didn’t have any photographs. But Barce, where we were quartered, it was a little like a little township we were quartered in there
and I had the guard one day, the CO Roy King as I say, he was as tough as goat’s knees and a disciplinarian of the first water but a wonderful man, a wonderful CO. He of course came round to inspect the guardhouse, which was in the stables. Huge, bigger than this house and very hard to get it clean you know. He came in, he
looked around and he said, “Shilton, clean up this bloody brothel.” Just like that. So we all got to work and tried to clean it up as best we could but you know. All cobble stones on the floor and you can’t get the dirt outta then. But see he was a Duntroon graduate and that’s the way they were trained, and he was right too, I mean that was good discipline for everybody. But there, I had a little bit of trouble
playing around with an Italian hand grenade but.
to somebody, he grabbed me and he said, “God.” So he whipped me up to the, on to a stretcher and up to the hospital. But I was all right after a while. They used to bathe my hand in methylated spirits every day that used to nearly send me into orbit. But I got used to that and then we were in hospital with three of us in the ward with a chap from the 4th Enniskillen Dragoon Guards, he was a major and
in the British Army they’re known as the foreskins fusiliers and you know you can imagine and they were an armoured regiment. They were in the 7th Armoured Division and he’d been hit in the backside. Well, of course did we give him hell at hospital. Told him he was running away and all that sort of thing and he hated it. But his batman came in the first morning. He used to come in every morning to him but first morning he came in stood at the door of the ward and he said: “Sar.” You know just typical
British and [Sir] took absolutely no notice of him. So he came into the ward and he pulled his dish wash, dish out from under the bed, which had a suede cover over it, it’s British Army see. He went out and he got hot water. He came in, he washed him and shaved him and did his hair and when he’d finished, he took the basin out and he came back into the ward and he said: “Sar.” Sir still did not recognise him. Well we gave him
hell. But I mean that was the British Army and that’s the way they, that soldier did not know any different. You know if it’d been one of our fellas you woulda thanked him. Not this chap. But I did meet him weeks later down in Cairo, there was a big club there called the Gezira Club and you could play pretty well any known sport there. It was huge complex now ruined now the British have gone and he was playing cricket and he was a wonderful batsman.
And I was speaking to him after the match. And I said, “Oh, do you remember me up in Barce?” “Yes”, he said, “You were one of those Aussie bastards who were getting into me”. But he look he didn’t worry about it. He was, he knew the Aussie sense of humour.
But of course when you get onto the hospital ship there were nurses. And then in the Alexandria hospital I was only there for a coupla days, there were nurses there. And I remember if I can tell ya this - I was, had a bottle one night in bed see and the matron came in and I’ve got the bottle under the blankets and I didn’t take it out. Because she realised I think what was there. But she was a British woman, quite nice. But then the, a couple a
days up there and then I was put on a train down to Cairo. Picked up at wherever it was, Cairo and taken out to this hospital at Heliopolis. And they said, yes it was a New Zealand hospital but it had a mixture of staff. The British doctor who looked after me, he thought I’d been hit in the leg and he kept me in bed. And I said, “What the hell am I in bed for?” He said, “You’ve got a wound in the leg.” I said, “Well have a look.” I said, “There’s no wound in the leg.”
He hadn’t bothered to read the charts. So after that I was let outta bed. And General or is it Brigadier Herring, an Australian, Sir Edmund Herring, he was out here after the war. I think he was a Lieutenant Governor here in Victoria, he used to come in coupla times to see any Australians. It turned out there were only two of us in the hospital. But he was a nice chap and boy he - you know you’d ‘a never known that he was
a brigadier talking to a coupla lowly lieutenants. But we had Britishers in there, New Zealanders Air Force fellows, Naval fellows. We had one British pilot who’d been shot down and he’d been burnt and he’d he had his goggles and his helmet and he’s burnt above his goggles and the rest of his face. A course he had a scarf around his neck, so that saved him. And every coupla days they take him down to the theatre
and they’d nick this very pink skin to make it stretch. Any rate when we were all mobile except Fred Young, he couldn’t get outta bed, there was a big Rhodesian pilot on crutches. He used to skite about crashing a 35,000 pound fighter plane and there was this British pilot, myself, Bill Owen I think, a Britisher who had something wrong with his waterworks. Any rate there were about five of us went
out to the RAF mess in Heliopolis - course we got full as forty cats as you can imagine and we came back in a taxi and we couldn’t get up the stairs to get up to the ward. And fortunately for us there was a sister Walker on duty and she was an Australian. She was one of these Queen Alexandria Nursing Service girls. And she came, she heard the noise downstairs and she came down fortunately for us and she really ticked us off but she led us each back one at a time up the stairs and put us to
bed. We woulda been in real trouble if we’d ‘a been caught by anybody else.
I was on the convalescent houseboat on the Nile for about six weeks and you know when I’d finished there I needed a holiday. Course we played up for six weeks. We ate well, was in charge of a Jewish doctor from Geelong and we musta given him a hell of a time. But we had a cabin, there were two bunks in the cabin side by side and a bathroom and then on the other side of the
houseboat there was another two another two beds and we shared the bathroom. And you’d be out, you know after we got there we used to go out every night and we’d go to the Metropolitan nightclub and I was still - my arm in a sling and other fellas were in various stages of getting over their wounds. And we’d we hired a car and the first night the chap driving Stonewall Jackson, he hit something going up
beside the Nile and the blackout, it was like the inside of a camera you know it was so dark. And he hit something, any rate the car kept going and we got to the nightclub. Came out about three in the morning and we he drove it home and we went out to have a look at it the next day and he’d sort of flattened one side of the car. He musta hit another one on the side. So we took it back to the wog where we’d hired it in Cairo, told him the car was no good and we gave him a pound, told him to get it fixed and he gave us another one.
So and that was a beautiful car. It was a 1937 Ford V8 coupe type a thing. Beautiful.
keep pulling the chain to stop the driver going off, and you’d finally get back to after leaving at say four o’clock or five o’clock in the afternoon, you’d get back well after midnight to Seymour. But the final leave train, we’d left at about four in the afternoon, well it was hilarious. I think it took us about two hours to get out to the Essendon station and everywhere they were pulling the chain and stopping the
train and the Essendon station, they got off, they took the chocolate machine off the train, they put it on the cow catcher on the engine, you know they were steam engines in those days, and they pinched the station master’s cap, the bell off the platform and ‘a course the train eventually took off and we got to East Kilmore and oh God, shemozzle. We got back to Seymour about four in the morning. Any rate, we were all lined up
the next day. There’d been a complaint from the railways a course and it cost, all cost us 10 shillings each to pay for the damage. But we’d had 10 shillings worth of fun I can tell you. We weren’t too good the next day though. But they, that was the worst of them but most leave trains were pretty hectic affairs.
have your meal and look at the film at the same time. It was very good. There were other you know little cafes around about. You probably ran a bit of a risk eating in some of them but I never once had a stomach upset and I’ve eaten in lots a places. Never once had it. You’d have these what they call Gulli-Gulli men with three peas and the half a coconut sorta
thing and they’d be shuffling them around and you had to, you can say right you put the pea under there. Lift it up, it’s not there. Then he’d put it back, lift it up again and it was there again. And Dot and I were back there in ’69 and I tried to find one of these fellows - they’d gone out of existence. But they were terrific on the table pushing these things around. And a course you’d have to pay them.
But there were exhibitions in some of the attached to the brothels where you could go and pay if you wanted to see the act going on and all sorts of things like that. As I say a pretty sleazy sort of city. But we went out to the pyramids of course and to Sir Ladden’s [?] tomb out at the, oh big mosque. Went to the museum there,
had a look at that. I didn’t get up to Luxor, which is up in the Valley of the Kings. I never got the chance. And I didn’t get to Petra, I think is the other place where you walk through a chasm like that between the cliffs just enough to virtually to get through. I think they can take a horse through it and there’s a city built into the rock behind it. And I didn’t get the chance to go there. But
I’ve seen it since on television.
convalescent, the troops came back and the chap who got his commission with me, old Jack MacLean, he’d been wounded over there and he’d came back and he was convalescent with me and we shared a cabin. And it was not very good for your health I assure you. The two of us, ‘cause you’d be out every night and you’d press the bell behind you your bed about midday when you woke up and this wog steward on board, he gloried in the name of
F-u-q. And a course he was given the treatment by the Australians. You’d press the button, he’d come along and you’d order a bottle of beer to start the day. Then you’d get up and have a shower and go down for lunch. So that was our day and after that you’d go to the Gezira Club. Those who could swim who weren’t bandaged up, they’d swim and the rest of us would sit beside the pool and just drink John Collins or beer, whatever was on. And I learnt to play bowls
there. I met a couple of old ladies there who their husbands were British brigadiers and they were up with the forces somewhere. And they said to me, “Have you ever played bowls?” I said, “No.” And I still had my left arm in a sling. They said, “Oh come over to the bowling green.” So I went over there and I learned to play bowls. I used to play with these old ladies for ‘bout three weeks I think, three or four weeks.
steel and we got to Cairo to Haifa and we were quartered up at Mount Carmel. There was a staging camp and in three days I drew three days’ pay for the troops down at the British pay office in Haifa. ‘Cause Mount Carmel was up above the town and I’d get their pay books and I’d get them to sign some sort of a form and I’d go down and draw all the money come back and give it to them and ‘a course they’d go down to the town, they’d drink it and
go to the brothels and so on. And the last night, the second last night we were there, the British provo martial [provosts: Military Police] rang me up at the camp and he said, “I got one of your fellows down here.” Mickey, somebody or other, can’t think of his other name now”. He said, “He tried to sell a Beretta pistol to one of my military police.” I said, “God, he musta been drunk to even speak to one of your fellows.” Oh he nearly went into orbit ‘a course. ‘Cause the military police were hated, the British ones
particularly. Any rate this Mickey somebody or other, he’d try to sell this to get some more money. Any rate, he said, “I want him court martialled.” I said, “Well look tomorrow night, we’re going up to the battalion,” I said, “We, he might have his head blown off the following day.” I said, “Forget it.” I said, “I’ll come down and get him.” I said, “Forget it. It’s not worth your trouble.” So I went down and I got him and I ticked him off and he was a little fellow, he used to drive a tram here in Melbourne.
And any rate the following night we did go up to the battalion. We went to a place called Habeesh [?] and I went out, fortunately the platoon I had up in North Africa and we went by truck from Habeesh [?] during the night to just behind the front line, behind the 2/16th Battalion, who were to do an attack at dawn the next morning across the Damour River
into the banana groves. So we settled in with them but in the middle of the night ‘a course they left us. But I was walking back to company headquarters just along quite a well defined track and all of a sudden bang, bang, bang all around me about ten mortar bombs. Now I had my tin hat on and most troops had a hessian covering over it to protect them from the heat – course it was like having a barbeque on your head. Hundred and ten to a hundred and twenty every day up there. And I had this moonlight, it must have
reflected on the steel hat. And all of a sudden bang, so I hit the deck and rolled into the ditch and I crawled along the ditch for a while before I got out again. But the French troops up there, they’d been there for quite a long while and they had everything, all their targets registered. And we’d these cans of white stones everywhere and they were their aiming marks and they’d have them numbered say R-2 or R-3 and so whenever you showed up somewhere they’d look
at the map reference and put a spot on it. That’s obviously what had happened with this. But the troops were, you know when I got back to the battalion they were sent out to various companies. And I got one fellow, a reinforcement, and he said to me “Sir”, he said, “I’ve never fired a rifle.” I said, “Jesus,” I did say that too. So I said to my Sergeant Les Reed, I said, “You’d better give him a lesson on how to fire the damn thing.” We couldn’t
fire them and make a noise where we were. So he put him through all the rudiments of firing there. They’re two pressures on the trigger, you take the first pressure and if you fired straight away like that, it throws the rifle off line. Take the first pressure and then you, it’s just a squeeze for the second one and the rifle stays true. And this Alec Farquhar, I’ll never forget him and I said to him, “God, you better learn fast boy because at five o’clock in the morning you’re going to be into it.” Any rate, he got
a great baptism of fire. But
2/14th Battalion and I said, “What the bloody hell are you doing here McAllister?” Hadn’t seen him since ’39. And he says, “I’m here to show you silly buggers where to go.” Because we were relieving the2/14th. He was the intelligence officer but he was just sitting on the rock with all this stuff flying around - still alive, lives down in Brighton. But we sort of re-grouped on that feature
and then we moved off into the attack and Don Company was on the left of the battalion there, I think there were two, yes there were two companies across the front and one company in the rear. We were on the left in Don Company and my platoon was on the left of Don Company, so there was nobody here other than the enemy. And we started off across this rocky sort of plateau at the time
and about six to eight hundred yards away there was a French battery firing at us. You could see the shells being loaded, you could virtually them coming out of the barrel. So they were just a bit out of range of our weapons and the CO had a, as far as I know, he had a naval bombardment officer travelling with him because the navy was supporting us up the coast. And there were about six or eight of these
cruisers and destroyers. There was the [HMAS] Hobart and [HMAS] Perth from the Australian Navy and several British things, and we were getting plastered by these batteries and they were 155mm, which is six inches. And boy when they went off around you, they really rattled you, your head. And we copped a few of these and any rate, all of a sudden these ships they were all lined up ahead, they erupted in clouds of black
smoke and they hit this battery and we never had another shot fired from it. They just wiped them out. But the, you know the range was probably half a mile which was nothing too. Of course we were within, I would say five hundred or suppose half a mile in from the coast and the battery was another six or eight hundred yards further to the coast. The navy didn’t have very far to fire at all. But the
whole lot of them all opened up at once and it just, they disappeared in clouds of black smoke. I’ve never actually seen a salvo fired before but boy it was very effective.
Shilton not to go any further.” And we were called back into a wadi and we then did the rest of the trip up a wadi and we’d, oh God we got to a placed called Araya and ‘a course outta water it was so hot and there was a well there and we were the last company in and I can still see the bucket coming up outta the well and it was just black with mud but we still drank it. And that we had
to dump all our equipment except our actual fighting equipment. Our haversack, ammunition tin, a bully beef and a packet of biscuits each, and as much ammunition as you could carry. And we started off at about dusk ‘bout seven o’clock and the CO was, thought we’d have a rest there. He was going to give us a rest because we’re absolutely exhausted. Well I was, having been completely unfit for weeks and any rate the
signal officer reported to me, he said, “I’ve just got two through to brigade headquarters, sir.” He said, “Mac, you are a bloody fool.” He said, “Now we get more orders.” Which we did and Brigadier - God can’t think of his name. Stan Savige, he said, “No”, he told the CO, “No, you had to carry on.” So at dusk we started the descent of the wadi Dacoon [?], which was a thousand feet deep.
Now we went down on goat tracks. You held on to little stunted bushes and rocks and went across the bottom and up the other side on the goat tracks and so on, very precarious because it was very steep. We got to the other end other side of the thing and we were completely neutered. I’m sure the whole battalion just lay down. Because it was the hardest work I’d done for years. Any rate they gave us a breather there and then
it was still dark of course then we started our march across or advance, across this plateau to a monastery called Deerma Georgie Georgus. And that was our objective and we got to the monastery just before dawn and we were waiting and we were still, Don Company was still there, A Company on our right, B Company was at the behind us and we
were waiting there for the order to attack and it was just a fairly shallow wadi across to the monastery and the French had been using this as a lookout for their artillery and so on. Any rate, before we were given the order to move one of my men was hit right between they eyes. Now, obviously a stray bullet because A Company had already engaged some French troops and it musta been a stray bullet from there somewhere. Hit him right between the eyes and of course he was dead
as a door nail and I had a medical orderly with me, who was incorrigible really, he was a, he’d come out of an orphanage and so on very good medical orderly but he spoke his, you know what he thought. And I, when I was given the order to attack, I said, “Righto 16 Platoon, move off.” I said, “C’mon Bull.” He said, “No B tells me how to do my B job and everything.” I said, “Bull don’t waste your time, the man’s as dead as a doornail.” Oh nobody tells me how to do his job. Any
rate, we got to the other side and we did the attack and we didn’t lose any more men. And when I looked around Bull was at the right beside me. But he was an excellent medical orderly and he got a Military Medal and the Silver Star from the Americans up in the Islands. No, he was good but you know discipline. Didn’t matter two hoots to him who it was.
no, we settled down and we were facing down towards the main road and the sea. And in the middle of the morning we fed ourselves and so on, had a cup a tea. Middle of the morning we were given orders to move down and form a road block on the main road, which we could see down there and we moved down through the end, Narmay [?] village, which was just below us. It was full of chooks and we started to be mortared as we got there we musta been seen but that didn’t
phase the troops. Chooks, we hadn’t seen fresh food for ages. Grabbed the chooks, off with their heads and strapped them onto their haversacks and we moved off and we got down to the main road and we had a bit of a fight down there and from the road block ran into a coupla tanks, ran into a heap a troops under the bridge over the road and I didn’t have to do that attack. Jimmy Lees had to do it with his platoon. And he got a few of them. I don’t know how many.
And he had to go through and then I had to go up on the right to lead my boys up the right of the wadi and out on the right fan out there. And we ran into a tank there and there was a tank on the bridge, which Jimmy Lee’s boys knocked out. The crew were out of it, so he was able to knock them off. The tank that we ran into was only twenty-five to thirty yards away, the crew were in the tank and of course once the shooting started they were in business. And they killed one of my chaps Jack Morris
and they started to fire at us with the tank gun. Was a 75mm thing you, it was like being under the Sydney Express [highway]. They couldn’t, you can’t depress a tank gun, well I dunno whether you can now but in those day they fired like that, you couldn’t depress it. And if they wanted to fire down, they’d have to get on a bit of a slope down. If they wanted to fire up, they’d have to get on a slope up. And this stuff was going over our heads and boy we high tailed it very quickly to a bit of a
sunken road beside an orange grove and it was down about three feet I suppose. The wogs had built it up, so you’d get the soil there for the oranges. So we sheltered there and eventually Bill Taylor’s platoon had gone up through and he’d gone up the left of the road and he obviously outflanked them and they pulled out and got outta the way. But Jack Morris, they killed him with machine gun fire. But, so we had to bury him.
Oh well, he was in the platoon. He wasn’t exactly a mate. I had to write to his mother of course. She only lived out here in Mitcham. She wrote back to me. Anybody who was killed, you wrote to their family and told them what had happened. I never pulled any punches. I said, “Look, he was killed instantly”, and that’s the best thing they could hear ‘cause some fellas weren’t you know and you had to say that they were. But
we were counter-attacked in the afternoon, that’s right and by black troops. The CO who was still up at the monastery, he saw what was happening and he called down the artillery on top of these fellows. I must admit we were called back from our position where we were into the wadi to, you know to fend off this counter attack. And I looked up over the rim and I saw these great big black, they looked like the Harlem Globetrotters coming towards you and I was very glad to see the
artillery get amongst them. But they got around, some of them got around behind where we were, then went back to our positions and some got around my platoon position. And I heard my Bren guns start up in that section and a couple of the rifles and any rate nothing else happened. And a few minutes later a couple of the villagers came down, it was right on the edge of the village and they intimated that there was up there wounded, so
Don, dunno the corporal any rate, Don and I went up, he had a Bren gun, I had still had me peashooter and we went up and there was this black fellow. He was a big fellow but he’d been very badly wounded and the villagers were around him and we said out of the way and we had to, we scouted around to see there was nobody else around, so we came back to him and he’d,
I think the Bren gun must have given him a full burst across that part of his anatomy above his hip, it had just torn it out and you know it’s nasty to say it but his inside was just hanging out. And he was a gonna like we could do nothing for him. You couldn’t a lifted him up to put him on a stretcher, he would’ve fallen in half. Any rate, I bent over him to have a look at his wound and I had my pistol out and his eyes went into the back of his head like Bob Hawke used to put his eyes
back. He thought, I suppose he thought I was going to shoot him. Probably the kindest thing I shoulda done. But I was only having a look at him and I said to Don, Don Lorry his name was. I said to Don “We can’t do anything for this fellow” and we intimidated the villagers you know like that. And Don lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth and I’ll never forget the look of gratitude on that black face. He really appreciated getting a cigarette.
But he was a dead man, I mean. Only a short time to go I’d say. To get him he’d have to get to a main hospital and I don’t think they could’ve done anything because he’s absolutely torn through there. You know 25 rounds or whatever it was, a Bren gun, it makes a bit of a mess. But we were relieved late in the afternoon by B Company.
went into A Company for three or four weeks and that’s when I did my picket duty in the Latakia township. And then one company went up onto the Armenian boarder. Some name starting with Q, which I can’t remember. The rest of us stayed around Latakia. That company came back, we then made our way down to Tripoli and up to the Cedars of Lebanon, which is up in the
mountains. You know half an hour out of Beirut you are in the mountains and it’s quite cool. And our battalion headquarters was about 9,000 feet in the hotel and there was one restaurant down the mountain, a little bit called Mont Repo [?]. I was still in A Company and my platoon position was up on the pass over to Baalbek,
which is full of ruins of course. And that was at 9,850 feet. Another company was up on the ridge above us and they were up over ten thousand. Now when it got toward the end of December we got snow and boy did we get snow, so much so the tents caved in a few times and it musta been, yes I was still in
A Company for a while, then I was brought back to headquarter company to become the signal officer. And that was late December ’41. We stayed around there for a few weeks then we made our way down to Damascus where it was still snow very cold and we were a few miles out of Damascus a place called Dumah
the CO had said to us before we left “Every officer must take a case of whisky”, ‘cause he liked whisky. So we took a case and we had I think four of us in the cabin and we had four cases of that cheap stuff now. Starts with A - can’t remember. It was only, it’s cheap whisky today at about eighteen shillings a bottle and so we got part way on this, we thought to Java. And Java fell.
The ships, coupla ships in front of us, one of them had the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion on board, they berthed in Java and they virtually went from the ship into the bag. And ‘course they finished up on the Burma Railway and all places. And I still know a man who was on the trip and went to the Burma Railway. But the rest of the convoy was diverted to Ceylon. And we had four glorious months
in Ceylon. Couple of air-raids, nothing to worry us. Actually, before everything was unloaded off our ship there was an air-raid and there was a British warship beside us or near us and they dropped a bomb straight down the funnel and sent it to the bottom. Royal Sovereign, I think it was. And any rate we were taken by truck down to the southern part of Galle, Ceylon, what is it now Sri Lanka
to Galle, which was the old Portuguese headquarters because they’d been very big in Ceylon and they’d had this huge fort and some of us were quartered in the fort. I wasn’t. But there were companies spread around and I was with battalion headquarters on the other side of the bay sorta thing and we dug pits down the tracks from the beach. Filled them with sharpened bamboo spikes and
camouflaged them and frankly I wouldn’t dare walk down there in the dark. And we had a, as we were going down the planes from a raid on Colombo were going back. There was all these bombers up there with the Zeros in and out of them and so on. It was a nice sight but they didn’t drop anything on us fortunately. Because they’d dropped all their load any rate. But I didn’t see it but I met a man some years
ago who was there in Ceylon at the time in Colombo and he said a Hurricane fighter, a British fighter had been hit and it was outside the big hotel. Some name starting with N. It was on the lawn. It’d just come down there.
tic-polonga or something they were called but very, very dangerous but that was the closest encounter I ever had with one. But when we first got there, there were no women to be seen. Absolutely no women, except the old women. And I met an engineer officer there, Allan McQueen whose house we rented for a few months back in the ‘60s. He was going to Queensland
a geologist he was and I said to him, “Where are all the women?” He said, “Well they’ve heard the Australian division is coming here and they’ve sent them all out of town. They’d been told that you’re rapists and murderers and God knows what.” Any rate we were there a month and they were all back. And they opened up restaurants everywhere or cafes and we were entertained royally. And the planters used to entertain the officers, they were mostly British, the planters. A lot of them with
Burgher wives. They were a mixture of Portuguese and Selinese or Senegalese or whatever you call them and they were beautiful looking women magnificent. ‘Cause you know your most Eurasian women are, and they’d invite you out for lunch, you’d have a beautiful lunch, be shown upstairs to a bedroom, shower and everything, have a siesta, get up and have a shower and come down for afternoon tea. And we did that, I went to three or four
of these in me time and then we’d have, transport was there, they’d drive us back to camp. But they lived very well those planters. But with our companies, when we realised there was no great danger there a company would go off for two or three days and they’d drive up to Newrailya [?] and all those areas up in the tea areas. Two or three days trip at a time. We went over tea factories of course and I tell ya what used to
really, not worry me but you’d see these native women sitting down crossed legged with a huge mound of tea on a concrete floor in front of them and they were going like that picking out the stalks. They had a huge mound of tea. And that’s the way it was cleaned. I think they got the equivalent of what four pence a day or something. And of course you went out and saw the tea plantations and they supposedly only picked the new leaves but they don’t.
My wife doesn’t drink tea and I’d forgotten that, so I sent a box of tea home to her. Everybody else liked it but she didn’t. But tea was as scarce as hens teeth here in Australia.
“Oh Mr Reed.” So he said, “Well hold on, I’ll put John Reed on to you.” That was his son and he’d been going through the church records and he’d seen the name Shilton, and because Peter was very friendly with him. He’s the Vet in Bacchus Marsh, Peter and he knew John Reed. He was an ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] reader. Still is actually on the news, and any rate I had a talk with him. But I wouldn’t have a clue who married us. But this John Brown, who was the chap, he’d been in the merchant navy, he was our best
man and he was best man to about three lots because he was the only one not getting married. And we went to Lorne about the only place you could go to that was reasonably warm in August. And we got off you had to go down by train and coach down to Lorne and we got off the coach, and there’s two other couples to meet us. “Oh, we heard you were coming.” They’d been married a day or two before. And they said, “Fred’s down here, he’s got a house, he only came down
yesterday.” He’s got a house down in around the corner somewhere. So we checked into where we were going, Kalimna I think it was and next morning they all turned up to go for a walk. And they said, “Wait we’ll go around and get Fred.” So we went around and knocked on the door. Fred came to the door wiping his eyes. Fortunately, he had his pyjamas on. But any rate we said, “C’mon, have a shower, c’mon we’re going for a walk”, and we did that every morning. And at night we’d go down to the Lorne Hotel where a couple, two
couples were staying and we’d have dinner there. And the publican must have loved us there. He sold more grog than he knew what to do with.
she had no say and any rate I got to Singleton and I sent her a telegram which was quite you know, wrong you know to send telegrams. And I said, “C’mon, come up to Singleton.” And I put her into one of the hotels there, it was right on the corner of the main street and she had a room on the corner and the armoured division decided they’d go to Western Australia a couple of days later and for 24 hours they went around this corner. And if you’ve never known tanks,
changing gear and trucks and everything, terrible noise. And we were there for few days then we got orders to move to Greta, which is a you know coal mining area. So we had several trucks and no drivers. So Jack Brown who was the best man, I said, “I can’t drive a truck, I can ride a motorcycle.” He said, “I’ll give you a crash course.” So he gave me a crash course. The gearbox on that three toner was never the same after that I’ll bet.
But we drove all the trucks to Greta. Got there, set up our camp.
of the advance party, I went down to the AACC [Australian Army Catering Corps] and I said to the officer there, I said, “Look, we’ve got eight hundred odd men coming in Tuesday night and we want some rations.” Well he said, “I’ll send you up some mutton carcasses”, see. And there were no refrigerators, just the old cool safe method without the water over it, just hessian around the shack. So the meat was put in there and the battalion didn’t arrive. By the next
afternoon it was starting to get a little bit high. So I took a truck and I went down and I said, “Look this meat’s going off.” I said, “They haven’t arrived.” I said, “There’s [no] signal to say that they’re coming.” He said, “Well right, we’ll come and collect and give it to somebody else.” And he said, “Give me a buzz as soon as you hear or know that they’re there”, and he said, “I’ll have a supply of meat. And that’s what we did. We waited till they got there and the supply was brought up and of course once the cook set up, they got into it.
But I mean you just had to do it and the idea was that we’d give them some battle experience because they had absolutely no battle experience at all. And it was about, it must have been just after Christmas I got to this crowd, the 31st Battalion and I know my first bed was under a mango tree and I was cursing these things falling on me all night. ‘Cause they’re lovely things but, and then the most of the Battalion, 31st had been up to Cape York and they
came back just a day or two after I arrived. So I was introduced to the CO and showed him where his tent was and picked out where the – I had to sort of lay out the camp for them. Which wasn’t, it’s not difficult. You put the battalion headquarters here and the companies all around and I showed him where his tent was and he asked me a few questions. Where I’d been and what I’d done and so on and I hadn’t been there very long
and I was sent off too. I became 2IC of the company there and the company commander was the, had been the stationmaster at Charters Towers. Everybody knew him as Bob. Absolutely no discipline whatsoever. And of course, they’d got me and I realised after a coupla days the fellas were trickling back into [camp] after reveille. So I thought well, I’ll fix that and we had a company sergeant
major. I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me. He was an old, older fella and I said to him at ten o’clock one night. I said, “Sar Major, I want a roll call at reveille in the morning.” Well, he went as white as a sheet. ‘Cause he knew they’d all gone home to their wives and girlfriends. And of course we had roll call in the morning and only half the company was there. So they were given a dressing down. Next morning they were all on parade. And that was the end of their
little holidays at night see. But eventually we got rid of all those older fellows. They were just too old and the older officers who were in the battalion they were
Clyde Downs, he was killed in ’45, he was 34 and he was the, I think he was the oldest of them. The rest of us were all you know 24, 25 some younger even. They took a lot of the sergeants out of the AIF and commissioned them and also sent them out. They came a bit later. So I would say in our battalion it was amalgamated with another battalion, the 31st - 51st Battalion it became. I would
say that 80 percent of the officers came from the 6th 7th and 9th Divisions. Well it had to be, you know to give them the experience. These kids, they’d never been used to any discipline. They’d come, they’d been sent to Canungra for five or six weeks you know, jumping over creeks and up ropes and everything but they’d never been really given any discipline. And I lined these
fellas up and I said, “Look, when I say I want you to jump, you ask me how high.” I said, “That’s the sort of discipline I want,” and they called me Simon Le Gree. Do you know who Simon Lee Gree was? There’s a thing over there, it shows ya. One of my chaps was an artist there. He’s got this thing Shilton Circus. Simon Le Gree, ringmaster with the whip. Any rate, I got on with
them very well. They appreciated the fact they knew where they stood with me and they knew if I told them to do something they had to do it.
I had a company commander, he came out of the 9th Division and he was a disgrace to the Division. After old Bob Honeycombe had gone, the stationmaster, and this is when they amalgamated the battalions in April ’43. In the meantime I’d been to the Company Commanders Tactical School and been on leave for about six or eight weeks and when I came I came home I’d a bit a leave of course, up my sleeve. Came home and I got a telegram.
“Report to the unit at once.” And I didn’t like the adjutant, any rate the fella called Rickard. And I ignored it and I got a telegram a few days later. No reply to my telegram. “Return to unit at once”. Claim priority. So I went into Spencer Street to the Railway Transport Officer, fronted up to him and I knew him. John, I think his name was. I said, “John, you can’t get me back to Cairns yet, can you?” And he said, “No, not for another week.” He said, “I got to get the 9th Division up there.” I
showed him the telegram and I knew see, so I had another week off. I just cabled back, “Unable to get passage for one week.” So that was that. And I got back, there was no hurry. They’d amalgamated the two battalions and the - I had this chap from the 9th Division who was the company commander and I was the 2IC and he had a girlfriend in a house near the camp. He was never in camp. And if anything happened at night the CO might want to
see the company commander I’d have to dispatch some coot down to get him outta bed too. He always fortunately took his clothes with him, so he could get dressed and go down. But it was only just outside the camp. Any rate this went on for some weeks and we trained. We did a lot of amphibious training. We’d march into Cairns, get on the American barges and they’d run us out to sea
during the night and they’d let ya slop around out there to let the young fellas get used to being seasick and before dawn they’d run you into the beach. Half the time they’d drop their barge or what’d they call it? The ramp, they’d drop it you know in four or five feet of water, so you had to jump off and you’d be wet through. They were very itchy these Yanks. They didn’t like getting stuck on the beach because sometimes with the heavy seas the barge would breach.
It’d go sideways and they’d never get it off, so they were always a bit cautious. Any rate, we did this exercise two or three times, it was a 24 hour exercise and you got off at Trinity Beach, I think it was and you crossed. It was only swamp behind there. Now you know there are resorts everywhere. But you crossed the swamps then you’d climb up the hills. Falling Smiths Lookout very, very steep
and you’d go across the range to Kuranda and then when you’re given breakfast there by which ever battalion was up there and then we’d go down to the Kamerunga Crossing on the Barron River and march back to Cairns. And the first time I did it, out of 150 troops there was only myself, one platoon commander and 12 troops left. Well they really copped it next morning of course on parade. The second
time we did a lot better. The third time we just about had a full compliment. But the first man to fall out on the first exercise was the company commander. I don’t think he even made the barges frankly. Oh he had a yellow streak down his back the width of the door. But he went away with us to Dutch New Guinea but we had an air-raid there. He was gone the next morning. He must have had friends back in Australia because I met him when I was down on leave one
time and he had a very cushy job on one of the headquarters, so he knew somebody and we
static position around the airfield and it was bombed a couple a times and this happened the day before. This is what set him off. He was yellow. So that night we had a bit of a mess going there, a hut had been put up, I said to the acting CO, I said, “Whose taking over C Company, sir?” He said, “Where’s Captain Peak?” I said, “He went back to Australia this morning.” He nearly had a heart attack. And now I left it at that see.
He rang me the next morning and he said, “You take over the company.” I had it from about August ’45. August ’43 until October ’45. But that fellow, he really shoulda been stood up against the wall and shot. But after the war he got a job in one of these equipment handling pools and boy if he didn’t get some you know
pocket money outta that because everybody wanted machinery. And he was selling it, he woulda done well. I don’t know what’s happened to him now, he’s probably dead. But any rate, we went to Dutch New Guinea see and
ships and it was about a two to three day trip to Horn Island and the old, the acting CO, he was an old World War I veteran, he wouldn’t allow us to use the bar. So we slipped a pound each to the barman and the bar was always open for us. But when the door was open you had to cut a piece outta the smoke to get in, that’s what it was like - passive smoking, my God.
And I didn’t smoke, never did. And any rate we had a good trip up there and we were off-loaded at Horn Island and we spent three or four days there catching mud crabs and fishing and so on. Had you know wonderful meals and then we got onto the Maetsuycker again, which we’d been on the battalion, the old battalion had been on and we were taken to Merauke in Dutch New Guinea. That was about a three or four day trip. And we were in Merauke from
‘bout end of June or early July ’43 to August ’44. And as I say there were one or two air-raids on the airstrip and we patrolled everywhere. We built roads, we built bridges because it was all rice paddies. Terrible country. The only thing was it was full of magpie, geese and the fellas’d go out and they’d shoot the geese and come back and
they weren’t bad eating. And I remember Christmas ’43, old Frank Ford who was the Minister for the Army, the government used to send up turkeys and chooks and all that sorta stuff, Christmas puddings and if you weren’t in action you had all these things. And this particular day I sent a few of them out to the rice paddies and I said, “Get a few geese”, and the boys had put a coupla
potatoes out in the scrub. There were wild pigs around, put a detonator into them you see, they blow the snout off a pig and they got a seventy pound pig. So that was brought in and the cooks butchered it and we had these geese. CO on the telephone, “Captain Shilton sir, I hear that your company’s shot a lot of geese.” I said, “We’ve shot a few, sir.” He said, “I want some for the officers’ mess tonight.” So I, we had plenty of geese. I sent down about a dozen.
But you know we, that was good except when the cooks got full they’d make jungle juice out of the dried apple and all that sorta stuff.
Alec Rudikoff [?], who had been one of my platoon commanders, he went to A Company and he was sent up to an area on the Eilanden River, which was roughly 240 miles west of Merauke. Now it was just swamp. It was huge river, it was over a mile wide and we were 10 miles up stream and Alec took his platoon up there, he didn’t have a full platoon and some Japanese barges came down the river one day and they landed in the northern
most village. They just pulled into the bank. It’s all mud of course and I dunno what they did there but Alec took his troops around through the swamps, they were all sago swamps. Ten yards and you were in sago swamp. And he took them around and he positioned them in around close under the native huts and when the Japs had nearly got back on the barges he opened fire. And created absolute chaos,
and they were instructed the first man to get hit was the coxswain and there were barges, which were driven from the coxswain’s area toward the back of the barge but you know a set up there. And they had the Boys anti-tank rifle and they had Bren guns and they created absolute havoc and of course you can imagine on a barge, it’s say eight by eight feet wide, fellas trying to scramble in, get outta the fire and there were, there’d be a mass of swirling
bodies. Any rate, they eventually drifted away from the bank, they got it away, got the four barges away and Alec called up the Kittyhawk squadron and these barges only drifted down the river with the tide and a coupla Kittyhawks came up and finished them off. But I, they don’t know how many he killed but if there were thirty on a barge it was well over a hundred he musta killed. Now he only got a mention in dispatches for that which I think was pretty poor
really. And then I came up with my company in ‘bout April ’44 and relieved him and I had the whole company. I had, well by then a course they’d realised it was a bit of a hot spot. I had the whole company: two sections of Vickers guns, a section of mortars, a troop of Bofors guns, which were anti-aircraft things, a RAAF radar station,
couple of engineers, a baker, a doctor with his orderlies. Oh, it was a very well equipped outpost and I think there were about 200 of us on it. And we had enough firepower to you know blast anything off the face of the earth, but the Japanese never visited us after that Alec Rudikoff’s [?] effort. They’d come from away up river somewhere. But they were all through that southern part of Dutch New Guinea. But
it was all mangroves and if you saw, I haven’t got a chart of it but just interlaced mangroves swamps everywhere. And we’d patrol, we had two Dutch minesweepers, they’d come up one at a time for about a week at a time and we’d send a patrol out with them and they’d take a couple of native dug out canoes and they’d go up through the mangroves as far as they could go and then the troops would take the canoes and paddle
around to see what they could find out. Didn’t come to any trouble but at one stage another group on a small ship called the Rosemary with one of my troops on board, they ran into a Jap position on the bank and this Angelo Barbutis [?], who was a Greek, he was up on the bow of the boat and he used every weapon he
could possibly, when he emptied one he’d pick up another one and eventually they killed him of course. But he did a terrific job and the Rosemary was able to limp back. It had an engineer officer in charge of it who’d done a bit of sailing. But that was really the only other contact with the Japanese. But we had the planes, they supplied us also by planes as well as these
minesweepers and usually it was a Dutch Mitchell bomber squadron from Merauke. They’d come up with one or two planes at a time and they’d drop torpedoes of food into the mud see and they’d get no damage, you’d just pull em out of the mud. Had mail and tucker on board and when they’d finish they’d go back across the other side of the river and they always flew up one, the other side of the river before they dropped anything to let us see who they were. Any rate, they’d swooped
back over the river and just over the top of the huts and nearly lift the roof off the huts, they loved it. And I knew one of the squadron, he’s up here in the Heroes club till he died last year. But one day there was a warning - we could see a plane a way up the river. This river was so wide you could see up it for ages and it was just across the river just above the trees. So I sounded the alert, everybody stood to their weapons and
Bofors gunners are there you know all ready to go and I got onto the phone to the radar officer and I said, “Can you work out what he is?” Because every plane had an identification friend or foe, which was a signal and he said, “No, he says he’s too low, I can’t pick him up at all.” And I knew that you couldn’t, the radar was useless if a plane was at low levels. So I thought God what’ll I do? And I could hear him coming down over the bank see.
Very, very low over the trees, well this is where experience comes in. I knew if he dropped any bombs he would blow the plane up and if they were delayed action, they’d go into the mud any rate and they’d do very little damage if any. So I took a punt on it and I’m standing there with the Very pistol to fire the red very light which would’ve started everybody firing and I took the punt. It was the end of my army career if I’d fired on it and down came a
Lockheed Hudson with RAAF markings on it, and you know you could virtually shake hands with the crew they were so close. So I felt a bit shitty about this I can tell you. So I went into the brigade intelligence sergeant I had with me old Jock Hollingsworth, he was a wonderful fellow. Scotsman. And I said, “Jock, that’s really given me the irritates this sorta thing.”
Any rate, I sat down and I wrote down a signal to RAAF headquarters and I just detailed what went on. This plane went around again and came back, dropped three torpedoes of food and stuff to us then buzzed off. Any rate, I wrote the signal out and I said what had happened and I said the pilot was an idiot. He didn’t have enough brains up in Japanese areas to fly up the other side of the river to let us identify him. And I said, “Your own radar station couldn’t
pick him up.” And I said, “He’s an absolute idiot.” And I said, “I risked the lives of 200 men on this outpost.” And I said, “Next time you may not be so lucky.” And that’s the way I finished it. Any rate I’m relieved of course to go home in August and we went back and the CO said to me, oh what was his name, “Air Commodore Healy wants to see you in at RAAF Headquarters”. I said, “Oh okay.” So I got a jeep and I went in. Fronted up to him, introduced myself and oh
he said, “Captain Shilton”, he said, “What’s the meaning of this?” And he put the signal in front of me and I said, “It means exactly what it says.” I said, “The pilot was an idiot,” I said, “He didn’t have enough brains to fly up the other the other side of the river, which is about over a mile wide to let us identify him.” I said, “He oughta know that the planes when they’re down low can’t be picked up by the radar station.” He said, “I was in the crew,” he said, “I wasn’t the pilot.”
So I said, “Well I said you’re bloody lucky to be alive.” And we parted good friends. Had a cup a tea and parted. But he realised then. But see that pilot had never, never thought about it. Couldn’ta thought about it. Now he might have been a new rookie from Australia and no experience. As I say we coulda shaken hands with them, they were so close. Any rate we were relieved in the August.
harbour, all sorts of ships and I looked across and I could see the [HMAS] Kanimbla there. So I went up to the bridge and there’s a Yankee signaller up there. Now you’d never walk onto the bridge of an Australian or a British ship. Never. But I just walked up and I said, “Listen, can you get a message across to the Kanimbla?” He said, “Sure Bud, what do you want to say?” And I thought my God. So I wrote it out for him and he got on the semaphore lamp and he signalled across and when we landed the next morning both
my brothers were on shore to see me. Because I didn’t realise the [HMAS] Manoora was there as well and Bill had got a message to Jim, so they were both there. And the following morning they were loading Yanks you know, they were going up the scramble nets all the time. There were thousands and thousands of them. And the next morning they came out to the camp for a while and we just had a cup a tea and they had to go back, by the end of that day they’d gone. Whole convoy had gone and I think it was the landing at Lingayen Gulf
they went to. And Bill told me, he said, “You know the batteries pounded the place before they landed”, and he said, “The Yanks always pounded every thing.” And he said, “They did one at Iwo Jima or one of those places, Okinawa or something. He said, “They pounded and pounded for ages.” But he said, “When the troops landed the Japs were still there because they’d gone into their tunnels.” And they lost a lota Yanks. But
regiment’s area but they were wasteful as always. They’d bulldozed hundred weights of food into big trenches. Just bulldozed it. Tinned food and everything, [covered] them over. They knocked down every building they had there. The only thing they didn’t knock over was the big sign at the entrance to the camp. I think it was the 147th Infantry Regiment. Some number like that, Congressional Medals of Honour, six.
Distinguished Conduct Medal or whatever they were - Distinguished Service Stars or something 50, Silver Stars 200. But the one that intrigued me was the one at the bottom, Purple Hearts about 1,400. There’s only 800 odd men in the battalion 1,400 Purple Hearts. So it meant that most of them musta been wounded twice. Any rate, you know 5 or 6 Congressional Medals of Honour that’s 5 or 6 VCs [Victoria Cross] to us.
But that’s why they handed them out, and a friend of mine, Bill Mollard, who had a guard up on the Tablelands in the 9th Division, a major’s guard for General MacArthur. And I think they have two companies for the generals’ guard and he told me this story oh some years ago now. MacArthur said to him at the end of the inspection, he said, “Major, I don’t see any decorations on your
men.” And Bill Mollard said, “No, it’s very hard to get them in the Australian Army, sir.” Oh he said, “We hand them out to encourage our men.” And that’s it, they hand them out and that’s why you know they’re from here to the floor. But where were we?
And there was a ration of beer of course and so on. We had a pretty good set up, I tell you it was very good. But then they sent this patrol up the north-west coast, a reconnaissance patrol it was but Alec being the man he was, he was a very good soldier but he was a hot head. He attacked the Japanese. Of course you’re not supposed to do it on a reconnaissance patrol. If you’re a fighting patrol, okay that’s
what you go out to do - to fight. The other patrol is to get information. The result of it was that his sergeant was killed and he had a coupla others wounded and he was very badly wounded himself. So much so that he went back to Australia and we never saw him again. But you know he had an ANGAU [Australian New Guinea Administration Unit] officer with him that was a patrol officer from New Guinea and they joined this Australian New Guinea Forces and a couple of the Papuan police
boys and one of the police boys was able to carry him out. But he was a foolish fellow because he didn’t need to do that but that was his nature. But about the middle of January they sent Don Company up the north-west coast, oh we moved up that’s right we moved out of Torokina up to a forward base Siki, I think it was and we were just bivouacked around there you know just
under bushes and so on. Don Company was sent forward and they hit a position called Tsimba Ridge and they tried to take it. I don’t know whether they tried very hard but they didn’t take it and they, I think they only had one man killed in the whole company during that whole campaign. So that’s why I say I don’t think they tried very hard. They had a couple of officers who turned out to be no good.
One was sacked and the other came back and told the CO that he couldn’t carry on, so he went back too. And then they got a couple a chaps out of the AIF Divisions and it was much better. And they changed the company commander, actually took my 2IC as a company commander and he was all right. But when Tsimba Ridge couldn’t be taken first up, it was a ridge, it just came up like that and it was oh
about three hundred, four hundred yards long I suppose from the - it was high at the sea end and it tapered down to a saddle, then it went up to the pimple at one end. And we got hold of the pimple all right but they couldn’t take the rest of it because it was all Japanese bunkers and they all faced down hill, so to attack up hill was very dangerous and particularly difficult. And they bombed it a coupla times and they shelled it but
you know when you’re under cover that doesn’t really matter. So then I was ordered to take my company across the Genga River, which was on one side of Tsimba Ridge and form a bridgehead across the river and the track down to the river had been reconnoitred by one of the sergeants and a coupla my fellows and we went down this track and we went to the crossing point. We went across by just a little
rubber boat sorta thing pulled by ropes on either end and they had to swim, the first fellas had to swim across to take the boat across the rope. And there were crocodiles in the river that they swam. Probably a bit of the shelling around might have frightened a lot of the crocs, I don’t know. Although the old Roman Catholic padre a few weeks later, he went down to have some water for a shave and looked into the mouth of a crocodile. But any rate, we went across, one of
my platoons under a 7th Division officer, he went across the night before or afternoon before and he’d had contact with the Japanese as soon as he got across and then we came across the next morning, the other two platoons from Company Headquarters and I settled them around with you know two platoons forward and one in reserve type of thing. And I had a section of mortars with me and I think it was two Vickers machine guns I had. Had an artillery officer
who couldn’t see a damn thing. He became the Minister for Defence in the Fraser Government I think later on, but Jim couldn’t fire because you couldn’t see. We didn’t know where the Japs were, a canopy of trees was right over us. Couldn’t use the mortars because you know they would’ve exploded in the perimeter. So we just had to defend it the first night. Well I should say first. The padre came to me, I was very friendly with the padre, can’t understand why because I was a bit of a heathen. And he
came to me and he said, “Blue, I want to come up with you”, he said, “You’ve had some experience.” He said, “I want to experience what the troops put up with.” And I said, “Oh well Len, I said you’re bloody mad, it’s dangerous up there.” I said, “Clear it with the CO before I say anything.” So he cleared it with Colonel Kelly and he came up with his batman and that first night the Japs got stuck into us. They really did. It’s just probing little attacks to see what was there.
And they made a hell of a noise all night. There was a lot of firing went on and so on and I just call out to everybody, just use your hand grenades because if you fire at night you pinpoint your position. And these, we never moved at night but the Japs always did and they were very adept at it. And so I said, “Just use your hand grenades.” So they’d toss them out and the next morning I got the signaller with me I said, “Get onto the quartermaster and tell him I want 200 hand grenades up here very quickly.” And I got the
message back that the war establishment said that I was entitled I think to twenty hand grenades per company per day. I said, “Well you tell him if he wants his barbeque store there in the morning, get the hand grenades up here.” I got them. And they came up and the fellows in the carrying party brought them up. They were shelled on the other side of the river. And one chap who died just last year, he never let me forget it that he was on that party. But the padre and his
batman and of course everybody was told not to move at night. And the weapon pits being right beside the river, they had about 18 inches of water in them, the water table was very high, so nobody got into their pits. When the shooting started they all rolled into their pits. Next morning dawn came, the padre and his batmen were about eight or ten yards away from me, and they were still lying on the ground above the weapon pit. Well the troops told me my language was very picturesque.
And they said I didn’t repeat myself once. And look the old padre’s eyes were out like organ stops. And I said, “C’mon Len.” I said, “Get back.” I said, “This isn’t any place for you, you’re here to bury us, we’re not here to bury you. Now get your gear and get outta this.” And I think he was very glad to go. But he got on the other side of the river to the pioneer platoon, which was our back up on the other side commanded by a friend outta the 2/5th Battalion and he said to this Kelso, he
said, oh he said, “I want an escort back to battalion.” He said, “I got papers on me.” Kelso had all these years experience, he said, “You’re not supposed to have any papers.” He said, “Look if the Japs get you”, he said “Your batman will [?] [ratch] ya, so don’t worry.” And sent him off the two of them on their own. They got back all right. But I remained friendly with the old padre until he died. But that was you know funny parts. We were attacked night and day. And we
really didn’t get any sleep, I think it was about a fortnight or so we were there, I can’t remember. But I always thought it was seventeen days but what I’ve read since it wasn’t quite seventeen days. But we were wet through all the time. We never had our boots and socks off in all that time. We lived on bully beef and biscuits and we had dried potato and dried onions and rice, and you could make up quite a good meal.
And my batman would say to me, “Skipper, what do you want today? What do you want today? Bully beef and rice or rice and bully beef?” And I’d say, “I’ll leave it to you, Doug.” And Doug was scared stiff all the time. He was a runner and of course if I had a message to go out to the platoons, he had to crawl out to them, scared him but he did it all right.
couple of warrant officers with swords. They carved up some of the fellows with the swords or one fella did, the other warrant officer was shot by one of the best shots in Queensland. Turned out to be a really first class rifle shot. But they carved up one of my Bren gunners across his shoulder and a number two, he’d had his left hand across the barrel the, what do they call it?
Not the barrel end, the other end of the gun? Stock, had it over the stock of the gun. And we used, there used to be a second handle on a Bren gun to hold it but it wasn’t quite steady enough, so they put their hand over it. Now the sword came down and took half his hand off, carved him around the neck and the shoulder. And he’s still, you know getting around with his, did something to his arm and he can’t bend it properly. Any rate they were all cleaned up but they got in again the next morning and
they over ran a section on the perimeter and well it looked very dicey for a while because they’re you know in quantity. So being the company commander, I sort of took a punt. This is when I say it’s absolute stupidity. I ran across to this area. I reformed the position by dragging some troops from the rear. Reformed it and then
I launched a counter-attack with the rest of that platoon around on the flank and they came in at the back of the Japs and we cleaned up most of them but oh you know it was touch and go. And that’s really why I got the MC [Military Cross] but you can read it if you want to and
OC, C Company quickly established the bridgehead with his company across the Genga River at map reference so and so. The enemy reacted violently and attacked the position on several occasions and on the afternoon of the 29th January 1945, the enemy staged a particularly savage and vigorous attack in strength against this company. The fire was severe and a number of our
troops were wounded and three killed. Where am I? The enemy broke through one portion of the perimeter and sword cut wounds were inflicted on some of our troops by the fanatical leader of the attack. Captain Shilton, without concern for his own safety dashed over to this sector and quickly re-established the position,
calmly directing our medium machine gun fire up there to Vickers guns onto enemy automatic weapons, which were firing into the perimeter. Captain Shilton launched a flanking attack with a small reserve, which completely surprised and resulted in the destruction of most of the attacking enemy.” This is the bit I don’t like reading out. “Captain Shilton’s personal conduct and leadership
was a dominating factor in the bridgehead being held even though his men were tired and suffering from lack of sleep due to constant attack of the enemy, both by day and night. The holding of this bridgehead was essential to enable the battalion to continue the advance across the river. Captain Shilton’s courage and calmness under fire and capable leadership under extremely difficult jungle conditions was an
outstanding example to his men.” No, I don’t like, didn’t like reading that.
and we acted as stretcher bearers. Instead of having a few days rest, we had 24 hours. Then we carried stretchers all the next day for the attack. And they got carved up as I said attacking up hill with all these bunkers and everything very dangerous and we did that for that day and the following day the ridge fell. The Japs pulled out of it actually and I was ordered to take the company up further up the coast to relieve another
company, which had relieved us on the Genga River. And they’d gone along a river and up a bit and this was commanded by my former 2IC and I fronted up to him and said, “Off you go, you’ve got a few days rest”, and that was up near the Gildon River [?]. It was the Genga, the Gildon [?]and something else further along. And we got into this position and we patrolled out in front to see what was there and we ran into a few Nips
up the track a bit and I had one of my men killed and another one wounded. And he turned, he was one of our best rugby league footballers and of course he was sent back with a wound through the calf, and he was sent back and Joe Kelly, the CO rang me, he said, “Blue, you’ve had Barton wounded.” I said, “Well I didn’t have him wounded.” I said, “He got in the road.” And he said, “He’s one of our best footballers.” And old Joe used to bet on the team, see they were a very good team. So
I knew why he was worried about that but old Percy Barton, he was back playing within about three weeks. But I had another fella on the Genga, who got a bullet through the calf and he lost his leg. He got gangrene. And I said to him, as I said to most of the, you know what I call minor wounds, I used to say, “Make it a coupla weeks rest.” And then I went back finally to Torokina. We went to see
him and here’s poor old Bill Goodall with his leg off. Still I shouted him to lunch earlier this year in Brisbane.
every man took his Atebrin tablet. Well you can’t have fellas falling down with malaria when they’re in the front line, it’s you know, it’s vital. No, I didn’t get it for about, I was home three or four weeks before I got it and I stopped taking Atebrin straight away. But saying, after I’d relieved Don Company and we found these few Nips up there and the CO rang me and he said, “I want you to do a flanking attack inland to find B Company and find one of the
platoon commanders”, who’d instead of going that way had gone that way and took us all day to get around to them. We followed their sig wire around and so on, and we found them about four in the afternoon and I reported back to the CO. I said to him, “We’re in B Company area now”, and I said, “I got a patrol out following Rigby’s sig line, we’ll have him in very shortly”, which they did. And he said, “Oh you’re going onto the Gilman [?].” I had to, the
orders were that I had to get to the mouth of the Gilman River [?] on the north bank and I said, “No, it’s getting a bit late in the afternoon. I’ll leave it til the morning.” He said “Okay”. So we did that the next morning. We had to forward the river and put our sig wires up you know in the trees to get them across and we got into this position. We dug our position and I still had a platoon left on the other side of the river. But behind us on the north bank of river there was a little Japanese, I think it was only a listening
post, a coupla fellows and I reported to CO, I said, “Well they’re here in position.” I said, “We’ve got a small position behind us. He said, “I think you’d better attack it.” I said, I knew I was going to be relieved in a couple of days, I thought, no, I don’t want to get anymore men killed. I said, “Oh leave it to Ed Ebsley [?] in the morning when he brings his platoon through. If they’re still there, he’ll clean it up.” Ed had had a lot of experience too in the Middle East and any rate shortly after
that, one of these Nips came along the track. One of my fellas shot him. I said, “Why didn’t you let him come in?” He said, “He woulda set off me booby trap.” And the other fella during the night obviously disappeared ‘cause his mate didn’t come back. And the following day we were there for the next day and I got the artillery officer to box our position in which they, you know they’d fire and register all around you in case of attack, they could just say fire 10 rounds gun fire and
on all these targets. And a chap Dick Skews was a FOO [Forward Observation Officer] and one shell got a bit low and it clipped the tree and of course they explode, I forget the touch fuse or something they call it and it exploded and of course it spewed stuff all over the perimeter and he got a lot of comments about his parentage. But we stayed there all that day. We patrolled up in front of us
and we found quite a big position up in front of us. Far too big for us to handle, so I just reported that back and Ed, the following, that’s right the following morning the, or that night with Ed, the 26th Battalion relief party came in the company commander and another officer and a couple of his troops and they stayed with us over night, and the following morning before his company arrived we were probed by a Japanese
patrol. And the platoon out on the beach side of this position, they came back by whisper, you know patrol on the way, so I just ordered everybody to get down and I said, “Let them come in close”, because that’s the way we worked. Let them come in close, you killed more. Any rate, we left it just a little bit too late and the forward scout spotted, obviously spotted some of our positions,
you know they faded into the ground just like that. It was stupid to open fire because it would’ve alerted them that there were a lot of troops there. So we didn’t fire and the 26th Battalion came through and we handed over to them and we went back.
that when we were on the south side of the Gilman River [?], a man, an officer paraded to me and he said, “I’m so and so”, and he said, “I’ve got two 4.2 mortars” and he said, “I’ve been sent up to be under your command.” And I said, “Well, what do they do, I’d never seen one?” Oh he said, “They fire a 16 pound bomb half a mile or some damn thing.” He said, “They kill at 200 yards.” I said, “Well great, we’re just going up to have a look at the Japanese position,
just up in front of us a bit”, and I said, “Get your signaller and drag his cable along and his phone.” So we went up and when we were fired on we stopped. And I said, “Well there’s your target up there.” It was only about thirty or forty yards in front of us see and the Japs used to dig in under the bowels of the trees. And unless you got a direct hit, you were, you know just wasting ammunition really. But this fellow, when I told him, I said “There’s your target”, he went as white as that sheet.
And I said “Look, nothing to it. Get behind a tree”, I said, “We do it all the time with our own mortars.” We only had 3-inch mortars. God, he dropped the first bomb half a mile up I think. Eventually got back onto target and he said, “What do I do now?” I said, “Give ‘em ten rounds.” I must admit when they went off close, they just sucked all the oxygen out of the air and the stuff flew everywhere. But it was quite okay behind trees. And well I was relieved the following day
and he went back too. And as I went through the doors, there was the base area there with the company. I was given a hoy from the side of the track and I saw the sign 101 Heavy Mortar Company and here was the chap out of the 2/5th Battalion who’d been the mortar officer and he was the 2IC of the company. So I fell the company [?] out for a bit of a break and I went over and talked to him and I said to him, “I had one of your fellas up a day or so
ago.” I said, “He was a bit dubious about firing.” He said, “Yes, he came back here and he said all those buggers up there are mad.” And then he said, “It was his first time in action. The poor kid.”
was acting as the security guard for the base but I was the beach master, which means I controlled all the water transport. I controlled all the goods coming in, where they went. The ammunition coming in was stored in various dumps, so that it wasn’t all together to be blown up together and generally you know keep everything in order. And then in the May, I’d just seen the brigadier - they
had a film up there one night. They brought some film up and they were showing it back at this base area, which was a fair way from the front line and the brigadier, I was at the film one of the chaps said to me, “The brigadier wants to see you.” So I went out the back of the, it was just an outdoor theatre no buildings and he told me then about the MC [Military Cross]. So I said, “Thank you very much, sir.” And went back to the film. And a couple
of days later we were called up to what they call the battle group conference at our battalion headquarters, which was a bit further up the coast, you know within walking distance. And I went up there with couple of others, when I got there the brigadier was there and the CO was there, headquarter company commander from the RAAF, intelligence officer from artillery people and so on and
they laid out this plan to land at the Porton Plantation. And the idea was that they would move the forward supply base from Freedy Beach [?], which as it was known up to Porton, which was some miles up the coast, but well in front of the forward troops. Now to me it was a bit ridiculous. They didn’t know what was there. The idea was that we would land a company in one of my platoons for a start and then
another of my platoons would land the next night and another company would come through the jungle and meet up with us. And a course they couldn’t get through because it was all swamp. So we were left there really and it got to the stage where we were running out of ammunition. We were there onshore for about
rehearsals for the landing which could be seen by the Japanese lookouts on some of the offshore islands obviously. So they knew something was happening, they could see troops on barges and so on. And then we were told the landing was to be made on the morning of the 8th June just before dawn. So everything was prepared, every troop had their ammunition
but the man in charge of the operation, he wasn’t a Middle East veteran and he allowed in the operation fifty rounds per man, which to me was stupid. So all my troops took a hundred and fifty rounds. Put another bandolier across their shoulders. Now one of his platoon commanders or two of them were both Middle East veterans, they also took more ammunition. ‘Cause you can live without food but you can’t live
without ammunition. So we boarded these barges about midnight and we arrived off the beach before four o’clock in the morning and what had been disclosed at the briefing was the fact that there were coral reefs opposite the landing beach but the native guide landed us a little bit too far north. If we’d landed in the right place, everything would have been okay but we were landed where all these reefs were. So the
three or four A Company barges that went in first, they didn’t have a shot fired at them. And I was to be the beach master of this area. So I was on the big landing barge with the stores and the spare ammunition and all that sorta stuff, mortars and anti-tank gun and so on and we hit the reef 150 yards off shore, so no hope of getting heavy stuff ashore. We did take a bit of small arms ammunition. But when I stepped off the
ramp off the barge, I stepped into water up to here. Now in coral reefs you didn’t know whether you were going down another six feet or not. Well we got ashore, we were fired on from way up the beach there was a machine gun firing on us with tracer bullets. Well you can see the tracers and you know that between every tracer there’s five or six others that you don’t see. Any rate, we all got ashore without being hit but then I tried to get the stores off. No good. Because every time we ventured to the
beach machine guns from each end just laced the beach with fire and the fellas woulda never got through it, so we had about three attempts and couldn’t get out there because the way to get it ashore was to have a line of men in the water just passing the gear down the line. In the finish there would have been no men and no gear. So I reported to the man in charge of the operation. I said, “Look, I can’t get anything ashore, Clyde, we’ve just gotta put up with what we’ve got.”
And we were attacked and attacked and attacked. And I think we were on shore from about four in the morning till about two o’clock two days later, two in the afternoon. And we were running out of ammunition. Very, very low. So much so that the few troops I had around me and sort of in the rear of the position, I’d got them to pass all their
ammunition forward and I kept one round in my rifle. ‘Cause I thought, well the Japs are not going to get me ‘cause I knew what they’d do, they’d just run the bayonet through you and leave you. So I thought well if they get close, I’d just put the rifle in my mouth and blow my head off. So I kept one round. And I think most of them did that. But we got down to the stage in the finish where the Japs just pressed in closer and closer and closer. And we had a lot of wounded, a lot of them. And they were being
brought back to near where I was, and we had a doctor with us and a couple of medical orderlies and I’d put the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] in a little depression but it had three or four very stunted trees beside it, just low trees but they were on the southern side, so there was no relief from the sun for these poor beggars. And I had to go over to the medical orderlies and tell them look you’ve just got to crawl up to them and give them water all the time. And they were stacking up.
Any rate, the OC of the operation, he wirelessed back or sent messages back, he had, I think our wireless was blown up, machine gun fire. But we had pigeons, and homing pigeons, so they sent a couple of those back with messages. Asking for an airdrop of ammunition.
charge of them. He was a signaller and Wilbur left a couple in the cage on shore and he’s never forgiven himself. But that was the only way we’d get the messages back. And old Clyde asked for an airdrop and the brigade headquarters said, “No airdrop, you’ve got enough ammunition.” Now these are fellas back in the base, wouldn’t have a clue, you know what was going on or we’d struck more troops. They’d said there were very few troops there but you know that was the greatest lot of nonsense of all time.
And they were troops who’d fought in the Rape of Nanking and they were tough. They were professional soldiers. But see these fellows on brigade, they make the plans and the chap, brigade major who made the plans from what I’d heard, he’d never seen a shot fired. It’s all right to make a plan but it doesn’t always work. And as I heard later he’d suggested that they get a cape-off bridge to get us out. Now you can imagine a cape-off bridge across
the water out to the barges. How many would get along a cape-off bridge? The chaps would be popping them off everywhere. And there was one Japanese position at the end of our landing beach. I wanted to take it but the OC said, “No, we’d lose too many men.” We would have lost a few men too but boy it woulda saved a lot of men in the finish if we had taken it. Because it fired right along the landing beach and as the ammunition ran out, I think the Vickers gunners were about the only ones
to have anything left and one gunner Felix Grasso, he fired his gun and if you listen to the tape on the Porton landing he will say that the gun got so bloody hot they couldn’t handle it. And they’re water cooled guns and a course if you can’t refresh the water, they just keeping heating up and heating up.
they’re just air cooled. The Bren gun can get too hot and it’s a gas propelled thing that sends the bolt back and so on and reloads it but if the barrel gets too hot, it just won’t do it. I suppose the bullet gets stuck in it, that’s what happens, and our fellows, they had two barrels but they only carried one and if it got too hot they’d just dump it in the bottom of the weapon pit and in the water. Didn’t do the barrel any good but it cooled it down. But you know it’d got to
that stage where old Clyde Downs had to say, “Everybody to the barges.” We had to get the wounded out. And there were no stretchers, you just had to man handle them out to the barges. And I don’t know how many there were but there a lot. But I’d been wounded just before we left the beach. I’d stood up to direct a Vickers gunner, you know there were some Japs coming on one side of him, crack. And I had a mortar man in the hole with me and
I said, “Here Slim.” Slim O’Donoghue, I said, “Stick a field dressing on that Slim.” He said, “God”, he said, “I’ve been hit just as you were hit”, and the bullet obviously - he’s squatting down beside me in the hole and I was standing up and my wrist must have been just near his mouth and that bullet must have gone through, taken the corner off one of his teeth and gone through my wrist, very lucky fellow. And then I obviously got hit again as I went out to the barges but my arm was so numb I didn’t feel it.
But that’s still there. But it was a hell of a job to get the wounded out. One barge got away and I was going for that first and I thought not too many getting on there, so I switched to the centre barge and course it got a hole in the bottom and just filled with water, only wooden decks on it. Plywood and the rest of it was armoured all the way round and on the top. Another, the third barge got stuck
but it didn’t get holed and it was in charge of a Middle East veteran and he eventually went at high tide, he got them to pole it off the reef with their rifles and bayonets. But in the meantime the fellas had got outta that barge and we got out of ours to try and push it off but then we found the hole on the barge, we just couldn’t move it, so we left it. And got back in but his fellow’s got out and I can still see it and I’ll never
forget it. This Japanese position was thirty yards away and they just enfiladed the side of the barges like that with machine gun fire and they were dropping off like flies. And I can, I could see two or three of my men there. I knew them, a course I could recognise them but they were just killed. But out of that action we had close to thirty killed, which wasn’t bad when you think of it. But 106 were admitted
to the advanced dressing station. Out of which there were about 70 wounded I think, pretty heavy casualties out of 190. And the water transport company with the barges, they lost a coupla men. The field ambulance sergeant was killed and it was a debacle - it really was.
no. After we’ve finished I’ll tell you about the Epworth Hospital. But we were, well one barge got away, they rocked it off the reef and they got away. They must have had forty or fifty on board, which was overloaded. There were a lot of wounded on the barge I was on. A few fellas, how, hadn’t been wounded and on Bluey Rita’s barge which was stuck and eventually got away, he had 27 wounded on board I think
but he’d lost a lot a men off the sides. And he got back and he really tore into the brigade major. And General Blamey was there and Blamey said to him, “What did you think of it, Mr Rita?” He said, “Well, I’ve been to the Middle East, Greece, Crete, Milne Bay and a few other places”, he named them and he said “I’ve been in some stuff ups but this is the biggest stuff up I’ve ever been in.” And the
brigade major said “You can’t speak to the general like that”. He said, “He asked me the question and I answered it.” He was a very forthright fellow. But Blamey I think probably appreciated the fact that he was told. But it was the greatest stuff up of all time and it need not have happened. If they’d done their reconnaissance first and I think the whole thing was that the headquarters of brigade and division were trying to impress General Blamey.
Because brigadiers and so on and brigade majors and so on, they get their promotion by being successful, brigade major becomes battalion commander. A brigadier becomes a major general but that’s the way it is. Doesn’t matter about the poor old troops who get shot down below. But no, that really annoyed me that thing to think
to form a bridgehead. Now a bridgehead is something that’s out on it’s own as you understand and the CO didn’t tell me not to come back if I didn’t hold it but he more or less inferred it. So I knew it had to be held and I had a company with me and they were all untried troops except one of the platoon commanders. He’d had experience in the Middle East, the other two hadn’t.
None of the troops had any. ‘Cause you, the 2IC, he hadn’t had any but he’s always left back at the base any rate. And I just had my orders to hold the bridgehead and you know I just did it to the best of my ability. And I had to place the platoons in the various areas and when one had been given a good going over by the Japs, I’d bring the reserve platoon up and change over that sort of thing. But it’s all
based on how things happen, what you do and you know that first night we were there, I thought God these kids who’ve never had any experience. And I thought Jesus, they’d run all over us but they didn’t. They were very good. But see once you got a coupla days under your belt you you’re pretty right then. You know what’s going on. You realise and I think this is probably
one of the things that chaps realise after a while, not every bullet that’s fired hits you. And there were thousands of bits of metal in those battles in the Middle East flying around us but you know very few men were hit. And once you get used to that fact and realise that, you don’t worry too much.
operation, you know two companies had a great number of troops killed and wounded. And what the other companies had in casualties, the other two rifle companies, the battalion was not really a viable fighting force and the Porton operation finished about the 10th of June I think 10th or 11th of June. All the troops got back and at the end of June, the battalion
was pulled out of the front line. There just weren’t enough fellas to fight, they were taken back to the base at Torokina and we were there when the war finished. And I reckon it was more dangerous there the night war finished because the base troops fired every weapon they had. God knows where they were firing them. But our pioneer officer took, I’d been in hospital because I’d been wounded at Porton. I
didn’t get out till nearly the end of the war but we could see, you know it was on the cards, then we heard about the first atom bomb being dropped and I was to take the company out on a exercise with tanks the next morning just after the second one was dropped and we were going down to the south of the island where things weren’t too good. And you know I heard the bomb was dropped and the armistice was called,
so I got on the phone to the CO, I said, “What about the, this exercise sir?” He said, “Stuff the exercise.” So that was the end of it and the troops were taken down to the beach every day and they lazed around, still discipline in the company. They had to keep their tents clean and clean their weapons and everything but they had a relaxed life. Concert parties, picture nights, all that sorta thing.
the [British Commonwealth] Occupation Force to Japan but being married and having a child, which I hadn’t seen, I thought no, I’d better go home. So, I had been overseas for four years out of the six, I’d so many points I could come home in the first group and the battalion was taken to Rabaul on my brother’s ship, actually the Kanimbla and I went down onto the Kanimbla and I saw him of course. We had a couple a drinks up in the canteen and then they went off. He didn’t come home till
about the middle of ’46 ‘cause he stayed on board, he was a, by then a diesel engineer. And they couldn’t get people to stay aboard, so he stayed. He had nothing to come home to. So I went home. We came home on the Taroona and we went to Brisbane and we trained it down to Melbourne and I was home for three weeks and I got utterly bored. Absolutely bored stiff ‘cause I’d been used to being so active for so long.
I had nothing to do and we didn’t have a house. We lived with my mother and I thought I’ve got to go back to work. So I went into the office one day and I saw one of the partners and I said “Mr McColl, I’m fed up with being home”. I thought I was going to have three months’ holiday mind you. Three weeks I had. So I said, “But I haven’t got a suit.” He said, “I’ll get you a suit.” So he rang up Snows Menswear in Flinders Street. He knew the secretary and I was sent straight around. They measured me
for a suit and I had it about a week later. I went back to work. Been back at work for three weeks, flop with malaria and I had that till February ’49. I used to get it every coupla months. And then eventually it, they knocked it out of me but oh they gave me some big trouble with pills. Gave me blackouts and all sorts of things. Double dosing and I eventually got rid of it.
and they’d rush up of course to go to the toilets in the morning when the hatches were taken off. Nobody cared whether they suffocated under there or not. And then they were fed given bully beef and biscuits and so on. But we had an interpreter on board and one of my fellas told me this and there was a line drawn on the deck, painted line where they were not to step over. If they stepped on the line they were dead. And one of these poor coots, he tried to speak with the
interpreter and he put his foot over the line and the Bren gunner went brrrrrrrp. Put his foot under him and just lifted him over the side, see into the water. The skipper thought that was a pretty poor thing to do. But he was told, if you’d been fighting these so and so’s for three years you’d think that was just retribution. But they had on the Japanese senior officer, they painted a yellow
line back and front on his uniform, so they could pick him out and told him he’d be the first shot if anything went wrong. So it was but they didn’t give any trouble. No trouble at all in the POW camps, no trouble. And the battalion went to Rabaul after the war was over and they were in charge of Japanese working parties cleaning up the bomb damage, never had the slightest bit of trouble. And they had all the tunnels of course in Rabaul, that’s why they didn’t get rid of
them, they were, just went into the tunnels.
and I stripped everything except my underpants and I had two wounds in the arm and within you know forty yards or so of the Japanese position. And it was moonlight, so I swam side stroke all the way and just put my head up every so often until I got out to another barge. But it was a stranded barge, a big stores barge LC [Landing Craft] -15s they called them and I got on there and a few fellas had swum out.
We got in between the two big motors but you could virtually watch the bullets come in one side and out the other because it wasn’t armoured and you were being spattered with little bits of metal. And my batman came, swam onto another barge and I said, “C’mon Doug, this is too hot here. We’ll crawl up to the bough to the big ramp.” And it had huge girders on the ramp because it could take tanks and all sorts of things. So we crawled up there and we sat up against the girders and we were safe as houses there.
But no, that was probably the worst because we were fired at with several others as we swam. The place was full of sharks and crocodiles and you know we never even thought of it and then to clamber up over the sides of this barge we were being fired at all the time. I suppose it’s the fact that we were getting away. And I don’t know, I just never analysed
anything. I was just lucky to get there, that was it but we were taken off by an armoured barge later in the night. We had to swim across to it and as I dragged myself up onto the deck of the stern, they had a Vickers gun on a dual machine gun, Vickers gun and he was firing at the Japanese position and they hit him and he fell on me and he was a big fellow. He hit my head straight into the steel deck and I slid off
into the water unconscious and one of the water transport officers, he saw what happened. He leant over the side and he grabbed me by the hair, which I had in those days and pulled me aboard. Otherwise, I was a goner. I would not have known. I would have just been drowned. So you know, I don’t know I suppose I had many terrifying moments during the war but once they’re over you forget them.