1914 – BJ. BJ being “Before Joh,” not “Before Christ.” Joh being, Joh Bjelke Petersen of course. My father was a schoolmaster and he had this appointment, which was to Rullen School, which was near
Kingaroy. When I was about two or three years old he was transferred to Montville, which is on the Blackall Ranges, which overlooks the Sunshine Coast. He was transferred there in 1917 and remained there until 1923. In our family we had six
boys and a girl, with the girl the youngest. It was the third generation that had that. From our experiences in Montville, as a child, it was a great place for kids to be bought up because it was dairying and fruit growing area but it was a typical
country area and the kids had to make their own fun. You’d have more fun playing cricket with a hand [UNCLEAR] tin than using a cricket ball. I can remember one of my childhood recollections, there are two of them particularly. One was a fire that went
right up the mountain. We lived right on the peak of the mountain and the other was a cyclonic storm that struck. I think it must have been about 1923. We lived in a very small house considering the size of our family, but we were happy, we were very happy.
And at that place there were children who went on, even though the school only had about sixty kids in it, with only two teachers, two or three teachers, who took two or three classes each. We found
that by all being in the one room together, you frequently learnt by what the teacher was teaching the other class, and your attention strayed, and you probably learnt a lot ahead of your time. When we left Montville, Father was transferred
to Cleveland, which is just south of Brisbane, and we were there for several years. In 1928, no 1927, I got my higher school certificate and went to the high school in Brisbane. We used to travel up and down every day, and then at the conclusion of that period
he was transferred to Townsville and we all went up there. And within about a month of arriving there I started work at Dalgety’s. You must remember that this was 1929, and the Depression was really looming on the horizon. I started work
at Dalgety’s. I was on ten and sixpence a week, which is just over a dollar a week, and I used to keep two shillings for myself and hand the rest to my mother. And the Depression years were crook. Not so much for us, because even though Dad had to suffer with all public servants a pay cut.
Almost a day wouldn’t pass without two or three fellows coming in begging for food. Mum, invariably cut a couple of slices of bread, put jam only on it, there was no butter, and then wrap it in a bit of old newspaper and hand it to them, and they’d walk out and sit under the mango trees,
which we had around the house, and they’d eat the stuff there and then, which showed just how hungry they were. I remained with Dalgety’s until 1939 at the outbreak of war. You must remember this: we lived in a very bigoted society. I don’t care
who you were, you lived in a very bigoted society. On the one side there were the Catholics and the Protestants on the other side, or Labour and what I suppose you would describe as Liberal on the other. And we lived just behind the Catholic School on the
Strand, and I can remember as a kid the girls going by, it was a girls’ school, shouting “Catholic, Catholic ring the bell, Protestant, Protestant, go to hell.” That just gives you an idea of just what it was like and that thought was reciprocated with the Protestants to the Catholics. We were,
I’m prepared to cover that in detail later on. When war broke out I had already been in the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] with three of my brothers. I was in the 31st Battalion, and I was in the machine gun company. When war broke out, we
signed up and moved into Redbank, and then, being North Queenslanders we were supposed to go into the 2/12th Battalion. The 2/12th Battalion comprised diggers from Mackay North
and Tasmanians. Whereas, the 2/9th Battalion was those in Queensland from below Mackay. Well I’d been a machine gunner and I had a particular name. Bill McIntosh. He was also in the Machine Gun Platoon in the 31st Battalion and we wanted to be
Vickers gunners. So we fronted up to Colonel Martin, who had been appointed CO [Commanding Officer] of the 2/9th Battalion, and we told him that we wanted to be Vickers gunners, but all the Vickers gunners were coming from Tasmania, so he agreed to take us into the 2/9th Battalion. That’s how we came to be 2/9th instead of being 2/12th.
Bill McIntosh was a very fine soldier. His number was QX2163, mine was QX2164. We knew one another well before the war, and he ended up with an MM, [Military Medal] which he won at Al Jaghbub and an MC [Military Cross] which he won at Buna, and he was mentioned in despatches several times, and he had the commander-in-chief’s card. He had everything.
He died about four or five years ago, but he was an outstanding soldier, no doubt about that. And then having joined the 2/9th Battalion, we went first of all, that was in Redbank, we went down to Rutherford, which is just outside Newcastle.
There we were in camp. Back in the CMF, in the 31st Battalion, I was a lance sergeant, but you lost your rank immediately you joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. So on this particular occasion we were at Rutherford and I went, I happened to
be in the company that was duty company for this particular day. And when I was going down to my tent about four o’clock in the afternoon, I looked up on the parade ground and there was about ninety fellows standing. Our CSM [Company Sergeant Major] was close by and I said to him, “What are all those fellows doing up there, sir?” And this chap who hadn’t had the advantage of an education and had served
in the first war, he looked at me and said, “Where was you in the administrative parade this morning?” And I said, “As matter of fact I was scrubbing a latrine.” And he said, “Well if you’d been on the administrative parade this morning, you’d have known them’s the blokes what wants to become officers.” I said, “Thank you, sir.” So I turned around and walked off down to my tent. He shouted out, “Don’t you want to become an officer?” And I said, “I’ve never thought of it.”
So he came down and he helped get me get into my battle dress. I raced up onto the parade just as the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] was handing over to the adjutant and there was a blank file at the end of the parade and I hopped into the blank file. The CO and the adjutant then went round the whole group and made brief notes as they spoke to every one of those fellows on parade.
And then they read out the names of those who they wanted to speak to further. There was about a dozen or fifteen men and my name was the last one read out. So we had to go up the battalion headquarters and the CO went and talked to us again. By this time it was well after dark. And he said, “Right, the following have been selected to go to an FOTU [First Officer Training Unit].” And my name was the last name read out again. So I went to the
first officer training unit at Liverpool and after some time, some weeks of training there, I think it would have been close on three months, twelve weeks I think from memory, anyway we came out. In our particular case we were the only ones,
our CO was a tough disciplinarian, we came out as second lieutenants. All the others who did the FOTU were appointed full lieutenants. Our CO’s argument was, “Easier to break a provisional lieutenant than it is to break a lieutenant.” So we were all second lieutenants in the 2/9th. There were nine of us who went to this FOTU. Perhaps a word on our CO
mightn’t go amiss. Colonel Martin was an engineer by occupation and he was a strict disciplinarian. He was fair and he drove his men like nobody’s business. I credit him with the 2/9th Battalion turning out to be such a fine battalion that it was.
During his time, and subsequently, because he was handed six hundred men who were civilians and told to make a fighting unit out of them, and he did it, to his credit and to the credit of the men as well. After training here in Australia, oh we moved from Rutherford down to Ingleburn.
And after training there, early in March we sailed for, we were to go to join the rest of the 6th Division, but because when we got on board the convoy, when the convoy was about a day’s sail of Ceylon, it became apparent that Dunkirk was going to take place and the whole convoy was turned around
and off we went to England. We stopped at Cape Town on the way and there at Cape Town we had leave. The fellows, some of them had had a little bit much to drink, they caused a good deal of consternation, particularly among the white people because you must remember this is back in the days of apartheid.
There they’d hire a Gary, which is a two wheeled vehicle pulled by a man, and they would act as the horse themselves and put the owner of the Gary in the passenger seat. And this caused a great concern by the local whites. We also stopped at Freetown on the way up to
England and when we left there we were picked up by our escort, which included the battleship [HMS] Hood, because you must remember that in our convoy we had the [HMS] Queen Mary. We, the 2/9th Battalion was on the Mauritania, but we had these, I think it was nine ships, and they didn’t want anything to happen to them so we had
a marvellous escort from there up to Scotland. We went up through the Irish Sea and we disembarked at Greenock. Unfortunately, it took two or three days to take all the men off. We got onto ferry-like vehicles and on the second day I woke up with
mumps, so I was put in the Knightsbridge Military Hospital with ninety-seven other fellows, from the convoy. The battalion went south, to a camp at Salisbury, we were left behind there. They had an officer’s ward there, in which there were only two other Australian officers,
who left a couple days after who finished their incubation period. And two French officers who’d been evacuated from Honefoss in Norway. Their knowledge of English was about the same as mine of French, so you can guess how much we had in common. We were nursed by girls; two of the them came from the Orkney
Islands and they both spoke Gaelic, so whenever they carried on a conversation with you, they spent a lot of time doing it because there was two of them looking after one patient. They would ask questions and if they thought it amusing they’d lapse into Gaelic and then come back into English for your benefit.
When I’d finished my incubation period there I naturally left and went down to Salisbury, but before that, the fellows who were left behind at the Knightsbridge Military Hospital, when they were discharged or ready to go back to the
units and they were allowed out of hospital, it was incredible, the generosity of the Scottish people, which was in close contrast to the stinginess with what the Scot is credited, particularly by the comedian Harry Lauder. When I went down to the south of England, it was quite a
busy time for everybody. We had to get stuck into some serious training to harden up after a sea voyage, but an interesting thing was that our brigade was because we were the only ones who had any equipment, all the rest had been left behind at Dunkirk, and our brigade was made the striking force for the south of England in the event of an invasion.
In that regard, there were a couple of things that stick out in my mind. It was a corporal’s dream because we were in vehicles, and the corporal commanded his vehicle, and he didn’t have to walk and he was a very happy
man. I can remember at this particular stage, towards the end of September or later, it was decided that the Germans would not attempt to attack because they had left it too late, so it was
decided to send half the battalion, half the brigade off on leave. They’d gone off on leave when I happened to be duty officer on this occasion. Now you must remember that the War Office had issued a password, or two passwords in the event of an invasion, taking place.
The first one was “resolute” which meant that the Germans were massing on the French coast. The second one was “Cromwell,” which meant that they’d actually getting into the boats. On this particular night I was sitting in the officer’s mess, I was duty officer, with Padre Steele,
and he was writing and I was reading a “Deadwood Dick,” and the phone went. I answered the phone and the conversation was something like this, “This is Garrett, Brigade Major,” he ended up as Lieutenant General Sir [UNCLEAR] Garrett, he was BM [Brigade Major] of our brigade. “Who’s that?” I said, “Duty officer,” and
he said, “Does Cromwell mean anything to you?” I said, “Yes, sir.” “Right, well get the most senior officer over here without delay.” Now that was a little bit difficult because the few officers that we had in camp were all down at the Pheasant Inn, which was some distance away. So I rang the transport
to send a vehicle down to pick up Captain Loxson, who was the most senior bloke, senior officer in the battalion at the time, and there was no answer. So I said to the padre, “Would you go down and see if you can dig someone up and send them down?” because I had to sit on the phone.
The padre went down. He couldn’t find any of the transport people there, but he found some keys that would fit a vehicle, so he went down and picked up Loxson and got him up to brigade. Loxson told me afterwards that the brigadier was ropeable when they turned up, because he said, “Here, I send for a representative of each brigade,
one battalion sends me the most junior officer in the brigade, another one sends me an officer who’s a little the worse for drinking, and the third one” – our battalion – “Took twenty minutes to arrive here at the gate.” So anyway, it turned out that the RAN [Royal Australian Navy] and the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] dealt with the German
effort. Whether they were actually going to come or they were just doing a rehearsal, I don’t know. From Lopcombe Corner, which is where we were, just outside Salisbury, we moved over to Colchester, and there we moved into barracks.
One thing that sticks in my mind there was I happened to be duty officer one night and I mentioned earlier I wanted to be a Vickers gunner, but when I got my commission I never fired a Vickers gun off for the rest of the war, but we had Bren guns and I hadn’t tackled a
Bren gun for months, so I decided I’d dismantle a Bren gun. That wasn’t very hard, but do you think, I could get it back together again. So I had to wake up my batman and tell him to do it, so I wouldn’t have to admit to somebody that I didn’t know how to get those last few bits together again. However,
that was that. When we were at Colchester it was a very pleasant time because we did a lot of sport, competing against British Army units. And each sport had an officer appointed in charge of it. As I had played a bit of soccer when I was a kid I
was appointed as the officer in charge of soccer, which was good because even during the week when we were supposed to be training if we got a challenge from any organization, British unit, we’d go over and play them and have a lot of fun, but I remember
on the first occasion on which we played a British tank regiment, I had a look at the fellows on our side and I noticed that only one of them had been born in Australia. That was me. All the rest had been English, Irish, Scotch or Welsh who had been born over there and migrated to Australia and had joined up here.
Well the time came that we had to leave Britain to go out to the Middle East. This was in December 1940. As a matter of interest, the thought just occurred to me, when we got off the
Mauritania at Greenock, we were taken off in a ferry-like vehicle that was licensed to carry six hundred in the still waters of the Clyde. It had been to Dunkirk, and the last trip out of Dunkirk, the captain told me they’d carried sixteen hundred men across the
North Sea and there was evidence that they had been machine gunned. On the deck there was still the bullet furrows where they’d been machine gunned. When we left England we embarked
at Glasgow. Now we were on the Strathaird. We embarked on the Strathaird, and to our delight the 23rd Scottish Hospital nurses embarked on the same day.
The nurses embarked in the afternoon and that evening we had a very pleasant time on the upper deck with a bit of singing with them and whatnot and we really looked forward to a very pleasant trip to the Middle East. The 2/10th Battalion was supposed to go on
a ship, which I don’t know whether it had been bombed or had mechanical trouble, but it failed to arrive in Glasgow, and to our horror, the next morning they marched the 23rd Scottish nurses off and put the 2/10th Battalion back in their place.
Such is the fortunes of war. The trip to the Middle East was uneventful I suppose you’d say. We sailed to within about a day’s sail of Iceland before we turned south. The reason being to try to get out of the
range of the U-boats and this time we stopped at Durban on the way back. There was nothing very remarkable about that voyage. The only thing that sticks in my memory is that, naturally, there was a complete blackout of the convoy and as such, particularly the men in the lower holds,
they slept in hammocks, slung closely together, and when you went down on an inspection tour there, the only ventilation that they had was what was funnelled down through great canvas funnels down into the lower holds. And it wasn’t until you went back on deck
again that you appreciated the conditions under which the men were travelling. And I think back on those, I salute them. We arrived in Alexandria, where we disembarked and there we went out to a camp at Mersa Matruh that had been established by
units of the 6th Division. One story there that sticks in my mind, I had a fellow in my platoon, named Jimmy, I won’t give you his surname, and Jimmy hadn’t had the advantage of a decent education. Therefore, he hung on the spoken word. Now we had a padre,
prince of padres, named McIlven, and no matter where we went, he told us the story of what had happened in this particular area during the past, and he wrapped his sermon round that. On this particular occasion he told us that where we were standing there was the winter playground of Cleopatra and he
said, “ In spite of the fact that she was a very beautiful woman and a clever one, she lived a dissolute life and she finally ended her life by committing suicide by clasping an asp to her bosom.” Well this had apparently impressed Jimmy greatly because the following day a number of us were going of on leave, the leave was staggered, and we were walking across
from the camp, across to the Mersa Matruh railhead and I happened to be leading the group, and I brushed my foot through a pile of camel weed and out wriggled a little asp. One of these horned vipers, they’re called there and this horned viper which as you
know only grows to be about eighteen inches, two feet long and has gristle-like horns growing out of the top of its eyelid, it wriggled back. Jimmy jumped over it and we stumbled on for a bit. Someone further back killed it. We stumbled on for a bit and then there was Jimmy’s voice addressing me. He said,
“Hey sir, wasn’t it one of them, Joe Blake’s that bit that sheila on the tit in this country a long time ago.” Anyway, that’s one thought that sticks in my mind I can recount. Our battalion with the assistance of units of the 2/10th and 2/12th were then booked to go down to Al Jaghbub Giarabub,
which was the first action in which we took part. I can remember I had always had trouble with my teeth and I went along the day before we were due to leave and the dentist had a look at my mouth. It was the good old fashioned thing where you had a treadle drilling machine and you had a
army tin can to wash your mouth out and you spat into a fire bucket and he had a look in my mouth and he said, “If you get killed tomorrow, your teeth will outlast you.” However the following day, we were given the job
of going down to Al Jaghbub. Now Al Jaghbub is on the border between Egypt and Libya. To get to it, it’s on the border and it’s down about the same latitude as Siwa, which everybody knows is a very big oasis there.
We went down by vehicle, of course, and there for miles you travel across a desert of tiny pebbles, not sand. You strike the sand later on, and after that you get into a depression, which is part of the Qattara
depression. We went down and it took us a couple of days to get there and then there was a reconnaissance first of all, by the CO and company commanders of the area.
I should perhaps tell you a little about Al Jaghbub. The importance of Al Jaghbub was in the mosque that was there. The mosque was outside the fort itself. The fort was like one of these old beau jest forts, mud bricks I suppose about
twenty or thirty feet high, and a typical beau jest fort. The importance of the mosque was that it contained the remains of [Sidi] Mohammed ben Ali [ben] es Senussi, if you want to give him his full name, who as the founder of Senussism,
which had about forty million followers from Morocco around to Turkey, so whoever sat on that bit of ground because of this was where the founder was entombed, had a certain strategic advantage. The Italians had it and our job was to kick them out of it.
and the first thing we had to do was to bury the Italian dead, and that photograph which you see in Bill Spencer’s book, actually I took that photograph where the little pup was lying on its officer. I asked Bill not to credit this photo to me because
I have a very fine Italian daughter-in-law and my kids, naturally I wouldn’t like them to think I had been a party to this. Besides that there were two other things. When A Company got into trouble they lost a Bren
gun. Now you just can’t write a machine gun off without having an inquiry, so I was duty officer and I had to carry out an inquiry as to what happened to this Bren gun. And I had three digs [diggers] had come and swore that they’d seen a shell hit the machine gun and blow it to smithereens. Now that’s straining the friendship a bit, but this was their evidence and
I wrote it down. The third bloke was just signing his evidence when a vehicle from the 60th Cav [Cavalry] pulled up and the adjutant was handy and the fellow in the vehicle, an officer, stood up and held a Bren gun up in the air in his hand and said, “Hey, does this belong to you?” He’d found it up where the action had taken place.
So the adjutant looked at me and he said, “Right, disband the inquiry,” and that was all that took place. The other thing was that I remember particularly was that I had a batman. He was the prince of batmen, Aussie West. He was later killed in Tobruk. And when we were travelling back, the vehicles
that had taken us down, they were Royal Army Service Corps vehicles. They were clapped out. We travelled back in Lancier vehicles that we’d captured from the Italians you see and when we were lined up to go, I said to Westy, I said, “Who’s that bloke there, I don’t recognise him. Is he one of our platoon?” Because we were going to put the whole platoon into a Lancier
vehicle, you see. Westy said, “Oh that’s my batman.” I said, “What do you mean that’s your batman?” He was my batman you see. And he said, “I thought it’d just be handy to have a batman.” So he’d got one of the Italian prisoners-of-war to be his batman, so Westy kept him as his batman until we got back to Mersa Matruh
when the Italian had to go and join the rest of the POWs [Prisoners of War]. That was that. After that we were supposed to go to Greece to meet up with the rest of 6th Div [Division], but instead we were down on the wharf and we were
told then that the Benghazi handicap had started and that instead of going to Greece we were going to Tobruk. So we got on the ship, which in our case was the Athlone Castle , which was a terrible ship, and we went up to Tobruk
where we disembarked fairly early in the morning. One thing about that disembarkation that I remember is this – as we disembarked a lot of nurses embarked, I think they were from the 2/4th AGH [Australian General Hospital] and some of them were in tears and I heard one of them comment, “Here we joined the services
to do a job and the first time we look like being in a bit of danger the power group ship us out.” And they were actually crying because they were [UNCLEAR]. Well we, our job, the 18th Brigade because 9th Div was retreating from [Bir] El Gubi
and Benghazi, they were very disorganised. Our job was to hold the line and allow them to fall back inside us, reorganise and then take over the defence of Tobruk. In taking up our position we had no maps
except one that the CO and the adjutant had and they must have walked miles further than we walked. We only had to walk from memory about ten miles I suppose out to the perimeter of the defence and there we arrived sometime after midnight because of the disjointed move from early morning until late at night. You’d march for about
two or three hundred yards and then you’d sit down, and then perhaps five or ten minutes later someone would say, “Right, let’s go,” and of you’d go again. Don’t ask me who was in charge because I don’t know. Anyway, I suppose it would be about two or three o’clock in the morning, we arrived at the position that B Company was to occupy and I was a platoon commander and the adjutant
when he put the company headquarters down, he was putting down to platoon level, he was doing one half and the CO was doing the other half, the adjutant said to me, pardon the expression, he said, “I’m buggered.” He said, “Go on a bearing of so and so for about seven hundred yards, and when the stench of enemy
dead is overpowering, you’ll know you’ve arrived at your position.” This was post R-57, which I’ll show you on the map, where the 6th Division some months before had attacked and broken the Italian line, but they were in too much of a hurry to stop and bury the enemy dead and so we took up that
position and had to clean the place up the next morning. After some time we were withdrawn into reserve in Tobruk, because by this time General Morshead had taken over from General Lavarack and we were withdrawn back to Pilastrino.
One of the jobs of the reserve battalion is to do a counter-attack in the case of an enemy breaking through. Now perhaps I should mention
that this about Easter 1941. The Germans attacked the 2/15th Battalion and the 2/15th let the tanks go through first and then they bobbed up and they knocked out the infantry following and
the RHA, Royal Hussars Artillery, knocked out the tanks and completely defeating the attack. Very shortly after that the Germans attacked on a different sector and broke in at Hill 209. I’ll show you that on the map and they made this salient, as it was called,
into the defensive position, which would be about, I suppose, a couple of thousand yards deep. We were fortunate in being able to halt the break through and it stood like that for the next six months. In an endeavour to throw the German forces
out of the salient, the brigade was ordered to attack on the night of the 3rd, 4th May. Now that was because it was learnt the following day, the following morning the Germans had intended to attack again and try to take Tobruk. The idea was to beat them to the punch but of course
that had the disadvantage as far as we were concerned because what they were going to use as their attacking fire from their artillery, was what they just turned into their defensive fire when our attack started. But in training you were taught when you do a night attack everybody, right down to the last dig, must have an opportunity
to see the ground. Well this show was put on in such a hurry that some platoon commanders were issuing their orders to their troops as they crossed the start line, which was after dark. It was a night attack and for a night attack that sort of thing is fatal. We were given our objectives and Don Company and
A Company were the forward companies. As for the detail of that attack, one thing sticks out in my mind. That’s the story of Bill Noise and Bob Hobson who, when they were attacked by these small Italian tanks,
which were in support of the Germans, they opened the lid of the tank and dropped a couple of grenades in and knocked a couple of tanks out. Bill got a MC for it and I think Hobson got a DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal]. The attack failed, even though the initial
posts were taken. It failed because, I’d say, because of the lack of adequate preparation in view of the urgency that we were required to put the attack in. I believe that attack, that night attack was taught at the senior officers’ training
course at Beenleigh as containing all the things of what not what to do in a night attack. After that our battalion was put into the point of the salient to stop any further penetration. And incidentally, on that night attack
I lost a particular mate of mine, an officer named Archie Marshall who was the only officer killed in that night attack. When we took up this position on the point of the salient, it was at a place called Bianca [?], and it had a stone wall that
the Italians had built about waist high, supposedly as an anti-tank obstacle. It also had a mount. I think it might have been artificially constructed, as an observation post. I can remember shortly after taking up the position
I was in this post when a British forward observation officer with his things and whatnot turned up and he said, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “This is an artillery observation post,” and he said, “This is sacred ground as far as you’re concerned.” Now I had a high regard for
the RHA [Royal Hussars Artillery], don’t misunderstand me there but anyway a few minutes later the enemy artillery started shelling it. That’s the last time I saw that chap. So we were there then for thirty one days. During that time we lost a lot of men, that’s our particular company, which was
B Company. We lost a lot of men and officers. I ended up commanding the company, and my platoon commanders were two sergeants. One platoon was commanded by a sergeant, the other one by a corporal,
and the third one by a sergeant. We had a pretty rough time while we were there and we had done an attack, supposedly to straighten the line a bit. Unfortunately the attack proved a failure and everybody
in the platoon became a casualty except two. And those two were attached to my platoon that night. The show was reorganised, the company was reorganised, so we still had three platoons.
Just before we were relieved, after we were relieved from that position after thirty one days Captain Berry, who had been wounded at Al Jaghbub, came back. Now his company had been commanded in his absence, that was C Company by the most senior
lieutenant in the battalion, so when he came back, he came and took over B Company, which was the Company that I was with. He took it over from me, as I was more junior and I remained as his second-in-command until we left Tobruk. Now Berry was a very fine officer, even though he had a,
he was known within the battalion as “Berry the Bastard,” but I found him very easy to work with and he had a very short fuse but he was a fine officer nevertheless. He left us when we came back to Australia and he took over a militia battalion and I believe in his
initial address to the battalion he told them that the battalion that he came from, he was known as “Berry the Bastard.” We stayed on in Tobruk sometimes in reserve. Always the brigade in reserve had to continue the defences.
You’ll see from the map that there is the red line. Behind that there was the green line and then the blue line. They were successive areas that we were digging to defend or develop, we weren’t allowed to have an easy time. The policy of the
commander was that we had to dominate no-man’s land and this meant very active patrolling. Whenever you went out on a patrol if it was a long distance patrol, you were certainly commanded by an officer, if it was a closer in one, it may have been commanded by a sergeant.
On one particular night that I went out I collected those things that I showed you there. On this particular occasion I went out and I reckoned that if we hurried out we’d be able to get into position before the Italian working party, who were reported to be laying mines
got on the job. So immediately it was dark enough to do so, we hurried out and when we arrived at our position we found we’d beaten them there, but to my horror I happened to be leading the patrol. When I led a patrol I had a compass in one hand
and I used to count the paces on the other. We were told that this minefield was being laid about three thousand yards from our front line. And when you lay a minefield like that you normally put a trip wire on your side of it, so your men don’t stray onto it.
On this particular occasion I was slightly in front of the rest and I had a Bren gun on either side of me, but to my horror I tripped over the trip wire, which meant that I’d walked through the minefield with the defending anti-personnel mines in it. So I went back and
as soon as I stopped my patrol went to ground and to my horror I found a bloke lying with one of those under his arm there and his feet apart and one between his thighs.
It was a bit of a struggle to get him off it but we were lucky that he hadn’t actually set one of these two things off.
but we were very late getting back and we were supposed to be back by midnight. Anyway, that was just one of the incidents that I recall. Another one that I recall was, it bobbed up later on. The rifle company had to
produce to battalion headquarters a duty officer every night, so that the CO and the adjutant could get a decent night’s sleep because they had to think clearly and run the battalion. I happened to be duty officer on this particular night and at stand-to the next morning, I was standing, it was still dark you see because stand-to is an hour before dawn,
and I was standing next to the sig [signal] office, the sig being the brigade sig office because brigade is responsible or division is responsible for providing the communication from battalion back to the brigade, you see. Anyway, this sig was there and the IO [Intelligence Officer] and I were standing there, we were
just talking in undertones the way you did, when Jerry [Germans] started to shell. Well we hadn’t worked out where anybody would go because there you could only dig down about eighteen inches and then you struck solid rock. So when the shelling started there was a dive for, what was supposed to be
one man hole and the sig was the closest to us, so he got in and he was on the bottom. Tony Wellington, the IO, he was on top of him and I happened to be the slowest and I was on top, slightly above ground level, you see. Anyway, when the shelling was over we got up,
dusted ourselves down and that was that. I’ll refer to that later on. At the same time we had two padres. I should mention here that the padres in any brigade consist of a
Catholic, an Anglican and other Protestant denominations, in addition to that you’ve got a Salvation Army welfare officer. The 2/9th Battalion always had the Catholic priest and the Salvation Army welfare officer living with them. They serviced the whole of the brigade but they lived with the
2/9th. The 2/10th Battalion always had the other, OPD as we called them, other protestant denomination, be it Presbyterian, Methodist or whatever it was, and the 2/12th always had the Anglican minister. So that’s where stood. On this particular occasion of the shelling, the Catholic priest was
about fifty yards from his hole in the ground when the shelling started. He was over talking to the Salvo bloke and a shell landed in the middle of the Catholic priest’s hole and blew everything to smithereens and the boys treated it as a bit of a joke, telling him
that he knew we had to be safe, he was over the Salvo bloke. Perhaps I should tell you about these two blokes, they were incredible. As I mentioned earlier we were bought up in a very bigoted society and that bigotry I reckon was largely broken down and disappeared for two reasons.
Firstly, you didn’t care what a man’s religion was if he was a good bloke, a bloke you could rely on, you didn’t care about his religion and the other thing was if, speaking of that thing too, I remember on one occasion when I was with the ITB [Infantry Training Battalion], I had roughly four hundred men there,
and calling out the parade on the Sunday morning, you’d say, “Fall out the Catholics,” and the group I’d called out to, go to a different parade, they were sluggish in their movements, so I pulled them up and I said, “Look, I don’t care what your religion is providing you are proud of it and that you believe in what
you claim.” Because I said, “The day will come when, if you haven’t got that behind you you’ll find things are too tough for you to take.” It was this comradeship that largely broke down that bigotry that was so prevalent pre-war. The other thing was the calibre of the padres that we had.
For instance, in our battalion I told you the relationship between these two fellows. Now they got on extremely well together and it was reflected in the attitude of the men towards padres. And it will give you an idea what it was like. After the war, McIlvine, who was the Salvo padre,
the only Salvationist to ever be knighted was invited by Padre Steel, who was the Catholic priest, to the celebration of his ordination. He was at Beaudesert at the time. He was the fellow who founded Boys Town there. And Steele sent
McIlvine a return air ticket to be present at his celebration. That will give you an idea. I don’t know that. In Tobruk, naturally the things that worried you a lot were the fleas, the
flies, the sand, the heat, the cold, all these things. Perhaps, we should come back onto that later on. In due course we were relieved from Tobruk. On the particular night that we were to be relieved, on the morning
we received a message from the adjutant, and I’ve got the original there now saying the order of march as it’s called of the battalion going out. And then to our great disappointment that afternoon the adjutant phoned and said, “You received a secret message this morning?” I said, “Yes.”
He said get it and write on it, “Not tonight, repeat not tonight.” As luck would have it, the ship on which we were to come out had been bombed and the next day, he issued a further order that we would be going out that night,
so we did. Now you’d think, wouldn’t you that going down to the wharf in vehicles the way we were, a blacked out vehicle, no lights at all, you’d think that the fellows would be light-hearted and cheerful about it all
but it was a very quiet trip down to the wharf, no doubt due to the fellows thinking.
fact they were leaving something, leaving their mates behind. That they’d done the job that they were expected to do. When you come to think of it, I wonder how many of those thought that they themselves would be dead in New Guinea within twelve months, probably not. Personally I’d left behind my batman. He
was a terrific bloke, only a young fellow and this was one occasion when we were relieved, from there we were in divisional reserve, and we’d been on the point of the salient for thirty one days on this occasion and pretty exhausted and it was just getting on towards dark and we were having a cup
of tea and he said, “Oh I’ve got a mate over in 11th Platoon who got a comforts parcel today, he might have a bit of sugar, I’ll go over and see and get it from him.” And he started to walk from the area where we were sitting and he hadn’t gone more than fifty yards before a shell landed in front of him and that was that. When we got down to the wharf
we got out of the trucks and there we waited for the destroyer to come in that was going to take us away. It was incredible to see the navy in action there. There were no lights apparent from the land and there were only lights under the
staging of the wharf. The ship, the destroyer came in, a minimum of orders by the captain, they pulled up and off one side everybody who was, we were relieved by the 1st [UNCLEAR] Battalion, and
any people who had to get off, got off and then we piled on the other side and the chief petty officer said, “I want a working party of about twenty men,” or some such thing and we got stuck into it to unload landmines that they were carrying on the deck. I suppose we’d been going for some little time
when the captain, I heard the captain say to the chief petty officer or one of the officers say to the CPO, “We leave in five minutes.” And that was all there was. In five minutes up anchor and anything that wasn’t off, wasn’t off and he had to run to a strict timetable. We’d got all the landmines off. I don’t know whether he had to have any other thing taken off but to see the navy working
in those conditions, it was a real eye-opener. We set off, by daylight we were down almost to where we could get fighter cover from Mersa Matruh but apart from high level bombing attempted on us, we weren’t interfered with on the run.
Once again the destroyer would run on an angle and then it would change angles and the bombs would land some distance away, where we would have been if we hadn’t changed direction. So when we got back there we got into [UNCLEAR] and I’ll never forget when we got back to, we crossed at [El] Kantara,
and there we saw the first women we’d seen for six months and I can remember the affect of how pleasant it was to see women again after an absence of six months like that tied up in Tobruk. When we got back
we went into camp at Gaza and there we were fitted out with new clothing and generally had a bit of a spell. I remember we had been drinking brackish water in Tobruk for so long that when you got back to Palestine,
well I for one, used to put a bit of salt in the water because it was too sweet, ordinary water was too sweet. Well then I remember this [UNCLEAR] Colonel Martin saying to me, “Well son, you’ve drawn the short straw. I’m sending you back
to train reinforcements. We’re going up into Syria and you’ll stay behind here in Palestine.” I moved up to Dimra, which was only about a few miles from Gaza and there I stayed with the training battalion until we got back to Australia here.
Perhaps I should digress. One, I suppose you’d say the greatest thing that happened in your life was when I met my wife. The story behind that, and this will take up an awful lot of tape, was this; pre-war in Townsville at the 31st Battalion, we had a military rifle club and the RSM of our battalion, fellow named Bob Ginn,
was a member of the, he was the RSM of the battalion and he had a daughter named Meg. Now Meg was quite an attractive redhead and because she was Bob’s daughter, before the days of equality of women you know, she was a member of our, the only female in our military rifle club and she was a pretty good rifle shot too. So
I and my brother Rod, who was in the military rifle club as well. Rod was in the 2/15th Battalion. This goes back to another story. When war broke out and the RMO, [regimental] medical officer, heard that we were joining up he called us in and he said, “Look, if you fellows join the
same battalion I’ll not be responsible for your mother’s sanity.” So I joined the 2/9th, Angus joined the 2/12th, Rod joined the 2/15th – he had a practice to dispose of. That’s why he was a bit later and Doug was the eldest and he was on headquarters, finally got away to Tarakan, but Meg knew me
and Rod. So when I moved up to Dimra, shortly afterwards, I got a phone call one day, “Meg here. We’ve just arrived in Palestine”. That was the two hundred VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachments] who’d been enlisted here in Australia to take over clerical duties and
certain nursing duties and all that sort of thing to relieve men in the Middle East. She said, “What about coming down to the mess tonight?” I said, “I can’t because Rod’s just coming out of Tobruk and I’ve invited him to our mess tonight.” She knew Rod, so she said, “Bring him down, I’ll find a mate for him.” So that evening Rod and I went down to the Gaza Hospital and
Meg in the mean time, had gone around her mates to find somebody who’d come out on a blind date, you see, to be a mate for Rod. She went into the tent where Beryl, my wife, was. She was a mate of Meg’s by this time. Beryl enlisted from Bundaberg and she said, “Will you come out on a blind date? Beryl said, “Oh no, I’ve just come
off duty and I’m going to bed.” And anyway the other girls in the tent said, “Go on, she’s you’re mate, you’ve got to go.” So Beryl ended up going. So the four of us that night went up to Tel Aviv. Coming back we had a car accident, a taxi accident and that held it up. Now the girls had leave passes till 2359.
First night out, they were going to be AWL [Absent Without Leave] and they could see themselves coming back to Australia. Now I should have mentioned earlier that in B Company we had a bloke named Barney Bugden. Now Barney was the youngest brother of the fellow who’d won, what’s his name? Well I’ve forgot his name. The youngest brother of a fellow who’d won a VC [Victoria Cross] during the First [World] War and
Barney was a lot older than we were but his brother had won a VC. Barney ought to do something but Barney was a good bloke. He was all right till we’d been in Tobruk sometime, then his feet cracked up on him and he was discharged. Well he was discharged from the battalion to the “Old and Bold.” They were the guard platoon you know, they had the job of guarding water points
and hospitals and that sort of thing. Now around the hospital to keep the Arabs and whatnot out, they put this barbed wire, this dannet wire. And anyway when we said goodbye to Barney, I thought, “That’s the end we’ll see of him.” As luck would have it, we had this taxi accident, the girls were AWL,
they were supposed to go in through the guard and hand their leave pass in, you see. Well they could see there’d be trouble. I said to Rod, “Look, surely there’s another way into this place besides going past the guard.” So we started to walk round the perimeter wire around the hospital, quite a distance you see, it’s about two o’clock in the morning. We hadn’t gone very far before a guard
loomed up in the darkness with his rifle slung over his shoulder and casual fixed bayonet and whatnot and instead of saying, “Halt, who goes there,” being an Australian, he just said, “Hey, hey, hey what goes on here?” And I recognized the voice. I said, “Barney Bugden.” Well he wanted me to give him all the news that had happened since he left
and the girl, she was in the background. He said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Isn’t there another way into the place besides through the guard?” And Barney thought for a minute and then he took his rifle and bayonet off his shoulder, staggered under the barbed wire and with a mighty heave he lifted it and the girls crawled under the wire. Well, as Bill will tell you
at the other end they’d just got undressed and decided they’d face the music in the morning, got undressed, just getting into bed and a runner came down. “Is that you Marnie? Is that you Ginn?” Beryl’s maiden name was Marnie. “Madam’s terribly worried. She wants to know if you are in yet.” And so the girls had to get dressed again in their uniform and go up and see Madam. Madam was so
relieved to see them, sound in wind and limb, after having been out late with the sentry soldiery you see, she forgot to reprimand them and said, “All right girls, just go back to your tent and don’t forget you’re on duty at six o’clock in the morning, Marnie.” And that was all there was to it. About five months later Beryl and I were engaged and then she stayed on
over there with 9th Div, while I came back with 7th Div. And I got back from New Guinea the same time she got back, and eighteen months later on the 14th March 1943, we were married. So we celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary the other day on the 14th March. So that’s the way I met my wife and on a blind date I suppose you could say but it wasn’t intended to be a blind date for me.
So that’s that. Well I stayed on with the training battalion to train reinforcements as they arrived. In those days when the reinforcements arrived they became 2/9th Battalion reinforcements. They knew before they left Australia, they were joining the 2/9th Battalion. It changed when we got back here to Australia.
But my predecessor for the six months we’d been in Tobruk, because they’d had this training show going all this time, you see, unwisely the power group here in Australia who enlisted people, enlisted fellows who should never have been in the services. Well,
we’d say they were mentally handicapped today. But my predecessor solved the problem by putting them all into the one platoon and never sending them forward, so when I took over, here I had a platoon of fellows who should never have been enlisted into the army. Well what happened on this occasion, I had a 2IC [Second In Command], he was a good little
bloke and he’d been posted back to the battalion, the training battalion. As I say he was a good bloke but he had his problems. I was lucky enough to get the job of being what they call a draft conducting officer, to take a train load of reinforcements up to the
brigade, up into northern Syria. When I got back to the parade next morning I had a look round and there was not, I said to my 2IC, “Where’s 13th Platoon?” which was the platoon with all these unfortunate fellows. “Oh,” he said, “Boss,” he used to call me boss, “Oh Boss,” he said,
“Div Headquarters called for twenty men and I sent the lot of them, the platoon.” Well you can imagine what they said when they got these reinforcements. A few days later I got a call to go to brigade headquarters training brigade. I knew the fellow in charge, Colonel Berry, who was CO of the 2/10th. And
[UNCLEAR] listened to the story of what had happened. “Well,” he said, “General Allen,” Allen was GOC [General Officer Commanding] at that time, “General Allen will be passing through tomorrow.” He said, “We’ve got to get you out of the road because he’s certain to ask for you,” because I was nominally responsible even though it had happened when I wasn’t there, so he said, “I want you to take a range parade down to New Serat, which was about
twelve miles away and have a range parade down there for the day. So the next day when Allen raised the problem they had with these fellows, he said, “I’ve sent them all over to the 2/9th Battalion,” but I was too far away to be produced, and he was in a hurry, so I never heard anything further about it.
But that was just my good fortune. Yes. But we had problems from time to time at the training battalion because we had fellows, everybody who was admitted to hospital who was wounded or ill, had to come back through the training battalion to be hardened up before we sent them back to the unit. And
I remember on one occasion Col East, who was a mate of mine, he was a sergeant when this happened. The night of that attack that I mentioned on the 3rd, 4th May a shell landed close to him and the shell took off his buttocks, if you could imagine that, and he was admitted to hospital. Well he came back and I always had a look, personally had a look at each fellow’s wound to see what condition it was in.
When I saw this horrible scar, I said to him, “You should never have been discharged from a convalescent depot with that.” So he stayed with us for a few weeks. I told him never to come on parade and I used to get my batman to collect his breakfast from the sergeant’s mess and bring it down to him and that sort of thing. His wife is in the village here with us now. Col died, that’s another
story, probably I don’t know whether we’ll record it or not. But Col died a couple of years now. That was the sort of thing that you saw. He later got his commission. Perhaps we can go straight on and talk about Col, he got his commission.
When we got back to Australia they transferred people across to the CMF units to get more experience and that sort of thing and Col left us for some considerable time but he came back to us for the Balikpapan show. Just before the Balikpapan show started the CO and the adjutant flew out
with the planning team, you see and they went up to Morotai and on this particular, oh the 2IC became acting CO, and I happened to be the senior major in the show and I was acting 2IC. Col came to me one evening and he said, this was the evening before we were leaving, and he said, “Can I take one of my officers into the officers’ club at
Baron Valley Hotel?” which was the officers’ club at the Atherton Tableland, and I said, “Who’s going to be your duty officer?” “Oh,” he said, “Les Cronier, who is an experienced warrant officer.” “OK.” So off they went. I said, “Whatever you do, don’t get yourselves into trouble because tomorrow we’re leaving.” Well I don’t know whether we should record this or not, but I’ll just give you an insight. When they
got into the Baron Valley Hotel as you went into the foyer there was a small photo of the king above the door. When you went into the main lounge there was this very large photo of Tom Blamey. And this apparently irked these blokes because they decided on a plan of attack. At ten o’clock that night Stratford was to race into the foyer,
let out a yell and grab the big bunch of, they always had a big bunch of gladioli on the counter, and let out a yell, throw all the switches which were all apparent there and disappear with that. At that time when he threw the switches, of course the place was in darkness, excepting that they’d forgotten that there was a fire in the grate in the lounge you see, and there was a good deal of light
there. While he was doing this, Col East was to get onto Osbaldsen’s shoulders and grab Tom from off the wall. Well all went well according to plan except that a drinking officer from the 2/27th saw what was going on and he did a rugby tackle onto Osbaldsen’s legs and down came
Osbaldsen, Col, and Tom Blamey. They came back that night and the camp had been struck. All the officers were sleeping side by side in their valises in the only permanent mess building there was. And I heard the conversation going on, “Don’t hurt her, don’t hurt her.” I wondered, “What’s going on here?” What they’d done when they’d failed to get Tom off the wall,
somebody else had hopped into the dining room next door and taken Princess Alexandra off the wall, you see. Anyway, next morning what happened, we had to get the story, so Col fronted up, he said, “I’m afraid we’re in trouble,” I said, “What’s happened?” And he told me the whole story. I said, “There’s only one thing to do. Grab a vehicle, go in and apologise to the warrant officer who ran the club,” you see.
He did that. When he came back he was rather crestfallen and I said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “The warrant officer was prepared to accept the apology, but Lady Blamey was staying there that night and she got the whole story.” Well when we got to Morotai, the CO Myrtley called me up and he said, “What happened after I left?” And I pretended I didn’t know because I
didn’t know how much he knew. He said, “The brigade commander wants to see you.” So I went up and fronted up to Fred Chiltern you see. Do you know Sir Frederick?
and he came down to South [UNCLEAR] in a school and he met this girl again and they were married in St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem and I happened to be Bill’s best man for the occasion. I had met Ann before on the Strathaird in Glasgow. And that was that. If I can think of anything worth mentioning I’ll
mention it later on in my time at the ITB. But we came back as a training battalion, and all I had to worry about were twelve sergeants and my batman. That was all I had to worry about, it didn’t take much to worry. First of all we were
billeted at in Adelaide and then we were billeted at Mt Barker and in that time we had our problems. I won’t quote them now.
And then we moved here to the Eastern States and no matter what we tried to do, we couldn’t get anybody to give us a job. We were a complete training brigade and we spent time down at Balcombe, south of Melbourne, and then up at Tenterfield until I finally got sick of it and
I said, “Whether you like it or not I’m going back to the battalion.” So I went, I got on a train and went up to Townsville, saw my brother who was DAQMG [Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General] there, and I said, “I want to get a flight too,” you had to get permission from his as DAQMG to get on an aircraft, otherwise you went by boat, and I’m a crook sailor.
So I said to Doug, “I want to go.” And he said, “I can’t do that, that’s what you call nepotism.” I said, “Like fun.” I said, “I’ll tell you what, I noticed your lawn needs mowing. I’ll mow your lawn and you give me a ticket.” So he ultimately agreed, reluctantly to give me a ticket to fly to New Guinea and I got back to the battalion. While I was in Port Moresby on that occasion, I was staying at Murray Barracks
and I went out to the 2/9th Hospital, not the 2/9th Battalion hospital which was out at the foot of Rouna Falls and the, a lot of our casualties were in the hospital. The first one, day I went there, there were two fellows sitting there. One I knew well,
full name of Bill Wills, and the other fellow I hadn’t met. Bill introduced him as a reinforcement officer. His head was completely bandaged you see. Turned out he introduced himself as Alan Renouf. Now I don’t know if you remember him. He ended up as the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, he was
Ambassador to France at the time, that he organised Whitlam’s trip to China. He’s living over here in the Eastern suburbs. I’ll be seeing him a week today because the few of us who are still alive, are living here in Sydney, meet on the first Friday on every second month and Angus just rang me this morning to remind me, that we’re meeting next Friday
and Alan will be a starter there. There’s only about six of us entitled to go. ‘Cause you see we’re all foreigners, nobody from New South Wales. We’ve just gravitated here but Alan Renouf had got a bullet through his steel helmet and it had creased his skull and came out the back. You wouldn’t believe it. Anyway, finally
after we got back on the Tableland, Brig Tilton said to compliment me, “I want you to take these out, these new reinforcements out and try and teach them some tactics.” So to compliment me, he asked me if I’d go along as an instructor and we were out one day when a Don R [Despatch Rider] pulled up. He said, “Message for Lieutenant Renouf,” and this
message said, “Report to Canberra immediately. Signed Doc Evatt.” So nobody argued about it, so Alan went down there, as a cadet and he never came to us because he just trained as a cadet to join the diplomatic corps. So that’s his history.
remembered probably for his vocabulary. He had a vocabulary that any bullock driver would envy and he could swear for five minutes without repeating himself. So I was called up to him and he said, he was dressed there as usual in his thongs and his shorts and he had a fly
whisk and he was brushing the flies away. He said, “Soldier, I want you to go over to Port Moresby and see that they’ve established a convalescent camp there fit for the finest brigade in the world,” was the way he put it. So he gave me some instructions on what he wanted me to do and I said, “Yes sir,” and I went to leave his tent
and I made the almost fatal mistake by turning around to him and saying, “Sir, how do I get out of this place?” You must remember this is just at the end of the fighting, there’s no organization whatsoever and well he let fly and he didn’t repeat himself for five minutes and concluded his comments, well what he meant to say was, well that’s your problem. So I went down to one of the many airstrips
and I sat there for a couple of hours until there limped in on three engines, a Flying Fortress. It was supposed to be on a bombing mission to Rabaul, but got half way there and had engine trouble, jettisoned its bombs and came back and landed at Dobodura, I think it was. I was sitting
there waiting and as soon as the captain got off, I said, “Listen, can I hitchhike a ride back to Port Moresby with you?” “Yes,” he said, “But it’s your neck. I don’t know whether we’ll get off safely or not.” And so he said, “You can have a seat.” So finally, well there was another gentleman, who came along not long after,
a colourful colonel and he said to me, “I believe you’ve got a seat on this Flying Fortress when it goes.” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “I must ask you to leave it because, give it to me because LHQ [Land Headquarters] are waiting for me to get back urgently.” “All right,” I said, “You give that to me in writing, signed by no other than Brigadier Wootten and you can have my seat.” ‘Cause I knew George would hit him if he went
near him. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got my seat on the aircraft which happened to be standing in the bomb bay of the Fortress and we took off and we just cleared the trees. So that was that. We got back to New Guinea, to Port Moresby and I went about organising this
convalescent depot, convalescent camp really at Dobodura which is above Ramu Falls, you don’t know New Guinea. The final figures for those that I had to accommodate were just under three hundred. The three battalions were about the same, instead of being the best part of six hundred
strong, they were each ninety plus strong. So give you an idea of the trials and tribulations the brigade had been through. Then we came back to New Guinea from there, the first time back and that, I arrived on the Tableland to learn that the 9th Division had just arrived from the Middle
East. So I got in touch with my wife, who was on leave in Brisbane and I told her that I was back. And I said I’d worked it out, I could be down in Bundaberg by Monday. I said, “Let’s get married Monday afternoon,” and she said, “I don’t think Mum would like that, it’s a bit short notice.” So we didn’t get married till Friday. And
that was that. We went on a first honeymoon then. We had a second honeymoon the next time I got back from New Guinea and because my wife was married, she was transferred out of a forward unit to Greenslopes Hospital
and she hadn’t any leave due. So I said, “Make an application just for leave without pay.” Apparently, they were a bit short staffed and her leave was knocked back, so I whizzed into the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] headquarters in Wharf Street in Brisbane and asked to see Madam Roach. She was the commandant in charge of Queensland.
Anyway, she wasn’t available. I spoke to her adjutant, and the adjutant went and saw her and she came and said, “Sorry, we can’t approve the leave.” That was one of the few times I pulled my rank. I happened to be a captain at this stage and I said to her,
I said, “My compliments to Madam [UNCLEAR], but tell her that she’s either got to make a decision as to whether she’s going to have an unhappy private in the show or, Beryl was a corporal at the time, or she’ll have a happy corporal if she doesn’t grant the leave. She still dug her toes in, wouldn’t do it. So I said, “Right”
and she added the rider, “If she goes AWL, I’ll have the military police pick her up.” So I said, “All right, if that’s the case as soon as I see the military police coming I’ll put her under arrest and nobody will be able to take her from me except the DAPM [Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal] of the division, and the DAPM has got something else to worry about arresting someone.” So she came out with a leave pass, threw it on the counter and walked
away. So that was that. We had a second honeymoon that time. Well we trained for the next show, which was the Shaggy Ridge show and this time we went back, we’d got a lot of reinforcements in the meantime because we’d suffered casualties
so heavily on the first occasion. So they sent us half of one of the motorised regiments which was the armoured division, which had been disbanded because they no longer had a role for them. We got some very fine officers out of that. I should have mentioned earlier that before we went down to do the Al Jaghbub show, we were brought up to strength
and we were brought up to strength by giving us, I just forget the number, but it must have been close on the hundred fellows who were from South Australia, who all had SX numbers, we had QX you see. There were some very fine blokes among those. Well, we went back the second time to do the Shaggy Ridge show. We had a
problem a bit. We were at Pom-pom Park and there, a few of us went over the range to have a look at what we were likely to be faced with, and I thought to myself, I happened to be adjutant of the battalion as this stage, and I thought, “If we’re going to climb these five thousand foot mountains, we’ve got to do more than train on the flat.” So I called
a parade and all the fellows on battalion headquarters, what’s it called swags, when you take your stretcher bearers and all the rest of it, and about a quarter of them turned up the next morning for the parade. They’d all had other duties, you see. “All right how many
of the lot of you were up before reveille?” Nobody put his hand up, so our reveille would be five thirty and for the next couple of weeks we trained up and down a hill from five thirty to six, which would be normal reveille until the fellows were in pretty fair condition climbing hills. Of course they objected like stam, you know. One was a PT [Physical Training] instructor and he said, “You shouldn’t do that sort
of violent exercise on an empty stomach.” And I said, “Have you told the Japs this?” And anyway, we arrived over there. We climbed this mountain, the tail end of Shaggy Ridge. I can see now we went through rifle companies who hadn’t trained. Although their men were very well trained they hadn’t been trained in mountain climbing
and it’s a sad sight when you see men sitting down vomiting from exhaustion, as they climbed with a big load on themselves as they go up, because it’s tough. So we got into position there. Before we went over the range to keep our brigade, the other two brigades were over there, our brigade hadn’t gone over and to keep the
troops interested, the brigade commander introduced a programme with all sorts of competition, cards and they had various sorts, cricket and football and all that sort of thing. He also had down, they wanted a champion choir. Now
this became a bit of a problem to train a choir of men from scratch. I have here a letter from one Lex Morris who was charged with creating the choir because he was a schoolteacher and a choir master before war. Would you like me to read this thing to you?
He wrote this to a fellow named Allan Elliott who was writing a history, or attempting to before he died. He was a journalist on The Land newspaper and he wrote this, here’s his letter: “I’m trying to type this as my handwriting not very reliable following a partial stroke about a month ago. The same condition applies to my memory, so feel free to adjust any dates. Around September 1943 General Vasey
decided to delay the brigade’s move to the Markham Valley and as all the battalions had been trained hard he decided to give the brigade three weeks of fun and games. This took the form of an inter-battalion competition with all kinds of entertainments; football, boxing, basketball, cards, bridge, eucha, drama, music, bands and choirs just to name a few. My concern – this is Lex Morris – was the male voice choir.
Captain Garth Suthers secured from his father at Toowong several sets of male four part pieces and at the same time did a juggling act and bought forth a piano. I think from a deserted farmhouse, which was a point of fact where I got it. I had the great job of going around the different companies in search of men who could sing in tune. Having tested them all for pitch and range I ended up with a choir of forty men, ten for each part. I was surprised
believing that all infantry men would be he-men, with deep voices. I found I had ten tenors who could reach a top C, all of whom would be an asset to any metropolitan male choir. On the other hand on the other bass line there wasn’t one who could reach down to bottom C, however after much individual drilling and parts we performed at the amphitheatre where all these things were played and we came second.
To me this was a travesty of justice seeing as the other two battalions sang in only one part some modern, sloppy popular ditty, which appealed to the adjudicator, who by the way was the late Jerry Connelly, who was noted for his jokes about his uncle in Gin-Gin. The point I want to record for a history book is that I believe that the same choir if in existence today would be really world class. Many years later I conducted the Brisbane Eisteddfod Choir and the Brisbane Apollo Male Voice
Choir and I know what I am talking about. I am sure Garth Suthers could enlarge on the above.”
brigade headquarters to battalion headquarters. A day’s march, mind you terrific effort. We developed a system instead of going straight up the way the native did, we zig-zagged and you’ve probably seen the photos of the zig-zag. We dug that zig-zag up and we were there for about three or four weeks before the attack went in.
The other thing was it was on a maximum of a two-man front. You couldn’t put up more than two men to fight at any one place. You can see from that photo that I showed you there and Fred Loxton was the commander of our company and a mountain gun got him and he went over and he must have dropped, I’d say about two thousand feet before he
stopped and then to get to his body, they decided to recover his body and one other, they had to take a day’s walk down to brigade headquarters, round up the Faria River and climb up an unbeaten track to find the body and to bring it down. That was the situation. The 2/12th did most of the actual fighting
because they did round on the left flank where we had only a two-man front, they could put a company forward the way the brigade commander sent them round. After, immediately at the conclusion of that
I remember one thing that was funny happened one night. I was sitting in a little doover that I’d had made for myself, that I had with the officers in playing cards and this was night-time and it started to rain and we were sitting under our great capes trying to keep the rain out, and playing cards at the
same time and finally they left and I went on reading by the kerosene lamp and presently I felt somebody in the room, in the shelter with me and I thought, “What will I do?” I thought it was probably a Jap as the Japs were streaming all around the place, you see and I looked around, couldn’t see anything
and then there was a rustle at my elbow and a snake came up to the light, stuck his head at the light and I thought, “What will I do?” There was a tin dixie there, which we used to eat out of, so I reached out, got the handle and went ‘bang’ over him like this. All that I did was hit the light at the time that I bought it over and the snake just slithered off into the darkness and I was left there with the light
on its side. That was one of the funny things that happened. There took over from us one of the militia battalions and to support them we had climb up further along with a working party of about a hundred men and I took these up
and the only thing I can remember about that was distributing the salt tablets to the men whenever we had a break. I used to say if you put a salt tablet in your mouth, you wouldn’t taste salt and when you did taste salt, probably half way through a tablet, you knew that you didn’t need any more and you just spat your tablet out.
Then, while we were there a signal came from New Guinea Force Headquarters asking that we could nominate a fellow to do an ALO school, an Air Liaison School, so I said to the CO, I said, “This is the sort of school that would fit me nicely,”
and so he finally agreed that I should go to the ALO [Air Liaison] School, which was about two or three weeks duration in Canberra. But before this I can tell you, before we went over the range when we were still at Pom-pom Park, we had a chap in our battalion named Peter Lovett, I don’t think I mentioned
him by name earlier, anyway he became the senior, as a lieutenant colonel, the senior Australian liaison officer with the Yank 5th Air Force, and they were in New Guinea and Moresby and so I said to the CO one day, I said, “I’d like to have a look over the ground over which we’ll have to fight from a Flying Fortress say at about forty two thousand feet.” And I said,
“I’m going up to see Peter Lovett, subject to your approval of course.” And he agreed, so I up and saw Peter Lovett and as I was talking to him, a Yank major passed his office and he called this fellow, Major Hyde, he called him in. He introduced him and Hyde said to me, he said, “You’re an infantryman, you don’t want to see it from forty two thousand feet, you want to see it from tree-top level.” Well that was the last thing I wanted to see.
So he said, this was the Yank security “We’re putting on a big raid on at Rabaul tomorrow,” he said, “Later on in the week, I’ll get in touch with you.” So later on in the week he phoned me and said, “Be down at Duran’s drome at six o’clock in the morning,” which I was and had a Yank meal, such as the Australian Army never saw, and then in due course we got on this aircraft, which was
a B-24 [Liberator]. It was on its own, they’d taken the, they’d put a hole in the bottom of it and put a camera in it, and that was used, it was a fast bomber of course, and they could do photographic reconnaissance of the territory, you see. But they’d taken the camera out and this time, the Japs had been defeated
in Lae and Salamaua and in the inside of the aircraft there were these bundles of leaflets to the natives and telling them the Japs had been beaten, and to report in and don’t support the Japs.
My job was to be a [UNCLEAR] bomber and so we took off and I remember we took off, I had shorts on and I was cold. I only had an ordinary shirt on when we got up and I said to the only other fellow in the belly of the aircraft, who was the wireless air gunner, “Where did you get that parachute from?” He said, “Didn’t they give you one
before you left?” It wouldn’t have been much good, I wouldn’t know much about them except that he said, “Have a look up the back, the previous bloke might have left one, the tail gunner might have left one there,” and sure enough there was one there. I got into it only because I wanted to keep warm. Well we went over to Lae. We had a lightning escort which we saw to begin with, and we never saw the [UNCLEAR] until well later on.
And we went up through the Finisterre Ranges. The Yank in the front had an ANGAU [Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit] bloke, that an Australian New Guinea unit member who was a patrol officer in that part of the world before the war, and he was to tell the pilot where to go. So we were flying along and the Yank, I had headphones on to the
Major Hyde. He’d say, “Calling Suthers, calling Suthers, village below going down, ready to bomb, bomb.” He’d tip the aircraft nose down like this and when he said, “Bomb,” I was supposed to bomb. Well the first time I just put it straight out, didn’t take the wrapper off ‘cause I reckoned it’d tear the wrapper off, I put it out but with a five hundred mile an hour gale, I pulled my hand back, lost most of the skin off the back of my hand,
you see. So I learnt fast. The next time we were ready to “bomb, bomb,” I took the paper package off beforehand and I “bombed” but by that time the aircraft had started to pull out and there was a five hundred mile an hour gale coming into the aircraft, so instead of bombing I had two thousand leaflets whizzing around. As I was shovelling
them out the air gunner said, “You’d better keep a few of those in case a Zero gets on our tail,” so I’ve got a couple of them there. Have you seen them?
These Boomerangs did incredibly valuable work in that they didn’t have to rely on the Yanks. They would drop a smoke bomb on where the target was and the Yanks would come in and drop their bombs on the smoke. The remarkable thing about it was that we were at times looking down on the top of the wing of the bomber that was supporting us. Because they’d come in at an
angle and to bomb say a dip there and we were looking down on the top of the aircraft, which was an unusual situation. Tells you what the country was like. Some of the aircraft, a few of them had twenty-five pounders mounted in the aircraft. Now people would tell you, you could see the
aircraft when they fired it, you could see the aircraft go backwards, it was a strong bomb. You could see a perception of the slowing down considerably of the aircraft but it never made the aircraft go backwards. So in due course we carried out the attack and we captured the area. I was,
we got more decorations out of that show than we got out of Buna and Sanananda, you wouldn’t believe it, the reason being we had such heavy casualties that no sooner, it should have recorded but the thing was lost to history. But at the conclusion of the exercise, the attack, we established battalion
headquarters at Mt Prothero, which was the part of the Shaggy Ridge show, and there as usual, we had many visitors from LHQ and everywhere else. They all come up to have a look, but of course our first two visitors, were General Vasey, who was our Divisional Commander,
and Bill Riggall. Bill was his PA [Personal Assistant], he was a legal type from Melbourne, and they stayed with us the first night after the show fell, and we had one tent fly in which the natives built two beds. One was for me and one was for the CO. Well of course on this
particular occasion I had to vacate mine for the general to sleep in but before, the general was a bit keen on gin and Bill always carried a bottle of gin with him and on this occasion we were sitting round there with a little lamp in front of us, and a little table that had been made by the natives and we were just
talking about things generally and the matter of decorations came up and I suppose I shouldn’t say this, but Clem would do anything to get a decoration. And I knowing this, I said to sort of throw the cat among the pigeons, I said, “You know, I don’t reckon an officer should get a decoration for any reason. He’s an officer, he’s undertaken to do his job.”
And I said, “That’s the end of it.” Well of course, the general and Clem came in hook, line and sinker and Bill could see I was hopelessly outweighed so he came in on my side and he was a clever arguer. Anyway, the discussion concluded by the general saying to me, “Suthers,” he said, “You’ll have to write the citations for the CO’s approval for this
action. You must remember that the fellow who finally makes up his mind will be a general back in LHQ whose wife who has probably given him a crook breakfast anyway.” This was the way he always used to talk. And he said, “You’ve got to make your story tell because that’s where the decorations are won.” So I sat down and I wrote all these
recommendations. I got them from company commanders and whatnot. And then Clem, to show who was running the show he had to alter a few words. I said to him I want to take then I took it down to Rick Rickenbach,
who was our brigade legal officer. He was a QC [Queen’s Counsel] here in Sydney. Now Rick was a very clever bloke. He lived down in Manly, he died a few years ago and he gave me a hand to polish the whole thing up and that was the reason we got more decorations there because Rickenbach had his say into what should go in and what shouldn’t go in to a recommendation for a decoration.
What sort of underwater obstacles were there?
Oh mainly spikes and mines and that sort of thing to prevent a landing. Well, came the day we first of all had to get down into the landing craft. Now the landing craft were capable of taking a platoon of men I’d say, and we got into those down scrambling
nets and that’s not an easy task because when the sea’s rising and falling the way it was, you rise and fall with it. We got into those and then headed off for the beach. Now all the time this was going on you’ve got a terrific roar going on as the navy, particularly is supporting you with rocket firing
ships. A rocket fire sends off a bank of rockets at a time and these whizz onto your target area. You had ships like the [HMAS] Shropshire, which is probably the biggest ship that was supporting us. You had them firing their big guns and generally speaking it was a terrific din. On the way in then the Japs
engage you and we were fortunate we didn’t have any casualties in the particular boat I was in. Our battalion, our brigade, our battalion did not land with the first wave, we landed with the second wave and as I mentioned earlier, although I’d trained and been wet many times
when it came to landing at Balikpapan I stepped off onto dry sand. Our battalion’s task was to swing left from the landing position and go down through the built up area, which had been the Dutch barracks beforehand, and the Jap barracks at the time that we landed. There was a lot of shooting went on.
The Japs in order to try to put an obstacle against us had, I think they were responsible, it might have been in peacetime, but there were great drains dug from the cracking plant, the cracking plant being where they treated the oil,
the crude oil, and these drains led from the hills on which these were situated down through to the sea. Now they flooded those with oil and then when they were lit they’d put a barrier there that you couldn’t get through but then the wind would come and apparently the
solution was so thick that the wind would blow the fire back considerable distance, so you could cross it, which was our experience. We had tanks supporting us and sometimes I think it was the tracers from
the tanks that lit the oil that was going down but generally speaking we just had to fight our way through that. We had air support of doubtful value at the stage because at one stage the aircraft came in and instead of bombing
north to south they bombed south to north, the result was most of their bombs landed on the edge of us but in the 2/10th Battalion and they did quite a bit of damage, which led us to another position where some time later I got into trouble up the Riko River and I called for an air strike and they sent an ALO up, this was a Yank
ALO and I was talking to him and I said to him, “How do you account for that mistake that occurred back at Balik [Balikpapan]?” And I said, “You’re supposed to bomb from north to south, and you bombed from south to north.” And he thought for a second and then he said, “Well I was on that aircraft carrier when your
ALO briefed those pilots and that fellow knew his job and he told them exactly what he wanted.” And I said, “Well how do you account for what took place?” And he said, “Well,” he said, “I guess it was just piss poor map reading.” So subsequently when I took an interest in the CMF, that’s training young men in map reading, I always told them that story at the
beginning. I said, “We don’t want any piss poor map reading in this company.