Garth Suthers
Archive number: 248
Preferred name: Granny
Date interviewed: 30 May, 2003

Served with:

2/9th Australian Infantry Battalion

Other images:

Garth Suthers 0248

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:37:00

So Garth, can you start off by giving us a summary of your life from start to present day?
Yes, I’m now approaching eighty nine, but I was born in Kingaroy in Queensland in

01:01:00:00

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

01:01:30:00

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

01:02:00:00

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

01:02:30:00

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

01:03:00:00

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.

01:03:30:00

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

01:04:00:00

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

01:04:30:00

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

01:05:00:00

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

01:05:30:00

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.

01:06:00:00

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,

01:06:30:00

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

01:07:00:00

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

01:07:30:00

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,

01:08:00:00

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

01:08:30:00

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

01:09:00:00

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

01:09:30:00

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.

01:10:00:00

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.

01:10:30:00

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.

01:11:00:00

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

01:11:30:00

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

01:12:00:00

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.”

01:12:30:00

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.

01:13:00:00

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

01:13:30:00

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,

01:14:00:00

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

01:14:30:00

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.

01:15:00:00

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.

01:15:30:00

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

01:16:00:00

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.

01:16:30:00

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

01:17:00:00

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

01:17:30:00

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

01:18:00:00

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,

01:18:30:00

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

01:19:00:00

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.

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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

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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

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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.

01:21:00:00

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

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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

01:22:00:00

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.

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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,

01:23:00:00

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

01:23:30:00

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

01:24:00:00

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.

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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,

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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

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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.

01:26:00:00

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

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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,

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.
Garth, you were talking about the nurses.
Oh yes.

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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

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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.

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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

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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,

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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

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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

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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,

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“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,

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

01:39:30:00

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,

01:40:00:00

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.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 02

02:00:33:00

So Garth, you were talking about how the Italians had possession of the mosque at that point.
Because there was this mosque there, we were instructed that the mosque wasn’t to be damaged, therefore it restricted the supporting fire to a certain degree, when the Italians had the

02:01:00:00

ground from which we had to displace them. I was with B Company at this time and for the actual attack we were the reserve company and there was a feature over to the right, which would have allowed the enemy to infiltrate the battalion,

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that is shoot at it from right angles in the event of them having machine guns on that place. So my platoon was ordered to occupy this feature which was about five or six hundred yards away from the main line of the attack. I didn’t mention that the 2/6th Division Cavalry Australian

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had contained the Italians there for some time and they were really the anvil and we were to be the hammer to remove them. The attack took place early one morning. The previous evening the artillery had registered the

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target with a high tail wind and they shot with a stiff head wind. Somehow or other they didn’t get their adjustments correct, so that when A Company attacked a lot of their rounds fell amongst A company, and we suffered a number of casualties, including that of the Company Commander who was a very fine soldier,

02:03:00:00

Captain Bob Reading. The fight lasted all that day and that night. The next morning the Italians surrendered.

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The Italians moved into the oasis and I happened to notice where the headquarters was, which was under one of the thick mud walls, which was only about eight or ten feet square, and in it was a small table and a filing cabinet.

02:04:00:00

Our intelligence officer, Bill Isaacs, was going through the filing cabinet. Well I went in and there I noticed on the table there was a pad and there was a pink sheet of typing on it and I said to Bill, “What’s this?” And he had a look at it and said, “I don’t know, it doesn’t look very important.” So contrary to all regulations, I folded this thing up and put it in my

02:04:30:00

pocket. Now if you like I have the pink sheet there, which is probably the only one in the world and I sent it home to my brother in north Queensland, who had a legal practice and he had a number of Italian clients, so I asked him to have it translated, which he did and he sent the whole thing back to me. So I have there

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what turned out to be the order of the day from the commander to his troops, and the commander’s name was Salvatore Castagna. I suppose this thing should be in the national War Memorial but I

02:05:30:00

haven’t just got round to sending it to them yet. If you like I can read you the translation of the thing.
We’ll do that later on.
Ok.
So what happened next?
Well, next two things happened as I recall. Oh the following day we were the duty company

02:06:00:00

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

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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

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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

02:07:30:00

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.

02:08:00:00

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

02:08:30:00

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

02:09:00:00

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

02:09:30:00

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

02:10:00:00

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

02:10:30:00

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

02:11:00:00

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

02:11:30:00

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

02:12:00:00

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

02:12:30:00

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

02:13:00:00

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

02:13:30:00

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

02:14:00:00

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.

02:14:30:00

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

02:15:00:00

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

02:15:30:00

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,

02:16:00:00

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

02:16:30:00

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

02:17:00:00

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

02:17:30:00

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

02:18:00:00

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,

02:18:30:00

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

02:19:00:00

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

02:19:30:00

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

02:20:00:00

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

02:20:30:00

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

02:21:00:00

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

02:21:30:00

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

02:22:00:00

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,

02:22:30:00

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

02:23:00:00

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.

02:23:30:00

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

02:24:00:00

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,

02:24:30:00

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

02:25:00:00

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.

02:25:30:00

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

02:26:00:00

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.

02:26:30:00

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

02:27:00:00

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

02:27:30:00

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.

02:28:00:00

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

02:28:30:00

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.

02:29:00:00

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.
Garth if you’d like to continue.
Anyway, we did the job we were expected to do

02:29:30:00

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

02:30:00:00

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,

02:30:30:00

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

02:31:00:00

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

02:31:30:00

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,

02:32:00:00

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

02:32:30:00

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

02:33:00:00

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

02:33:30:00

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

02:34:00:00

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.

02:34:30:00

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,

02:35:00:00

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

02:35:30:00

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.

02:36:00:00

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,

02:36:30:00

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

02:37:00:00

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

02:37:30:00

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

02:38:00:00

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.”

02:38:30:00

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,

02:39:00:00

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

02:39:30:00

but it was a very quiet trip down to the wharf, no doubt due to the fellows thinking.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 03

03:00:33:00

Garth, just to continue the story about the evacuation.
Oh yes.
So you mentioned you were aboard the truck heading down towards the waterfront.
As I said the fellows instead of being light-hearted they were quiet and when you come to think of it those fellows were probably thinking of the

03:01:00:00

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

03:01:30:00

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

03:02:00:00

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

03:02:30:00

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

03:03:00:00

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

03:03:30:00

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

03:04:00:00

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

03:04:30:00

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.

03:05:00:00

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,

03:05:30:00

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

03:06:00:00

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,

03:06:30:00

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

03:07:00:00

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.

03:07:30:00

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,

03:08:00:00

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

03:08:30:00

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

03:09:00:00

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

03:09:30:00

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

03:10:00:00

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

03:10:30:00

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

03:11:00:00

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.

03:11:30:00

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

03:12:00:00

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

03:12:30:00

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,

03:13:00:00

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

03:13:30:00

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

03:14:00:00

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

03:14:30:00

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

03:15:00:00

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

03:15:30:00

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.

03:16:00:00

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.

03:16:30:00

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,

03:17:00:00

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

03:17:30:00

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

03:18:00:00

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,

03:18:30:00

“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

03:19:00:00

[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

03:19:30:00

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.

03:20:00:00

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

03:20:30:00

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.

03:21:00:00

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

03:21:30:00

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.

03:22:00:00

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

03:22:30:00

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

03:23:00:00

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

03:23:30:00

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,

03:24:00:00

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

03:24:30:00

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

03:25:00:00

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,

03:25:30:00

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.

03:26:00:00

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

03:26:30:00

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?
I’ve heard his name before.
A fine bloke. He was our brigade commander and he was in his tent and he said, “Suthers, I’ve got some very serious charges here in front of me.” He said, “Before I

03:27:00:00

convene a court martial, I’d like to confirm the facts of the thing, of the case.” So he told me what I was to do. I was to conduct an inquiry into what happened and to furnish a report to him to decide whether it was worthwhile convening a court martial. So I said, “Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir,” then disappeared out of the tent.

03:27:30:00

Just as I got to the door of his tent he said, “Oh Suthers, I know you’re going to be very busy between now and the time that we leave for Balikpapan.” He said, “If you haven’t got time to give me that report, I will understand.” So I didn’t have time to give him that report. Col went on, he and his officers

03:28:00:00

did a good job and the charges were all torn up because he done a good job and at the end of the war, the charges were all cleared and that was the end. So thanks to Fred Chiltern, Col stayed on in the army and he became a full colonel in the regular army without ever having been to Duntroon. His widow lives here in Unit 104 and she’s a legacy widow of mine.

03:28:30:00

That’s a great story actually.
Whether you can record it because it just shows how Fred circumvented the business.
Loyalty, luck and good management I think.
It was. Now we were talking about this.
You mentioned Col’s injury in the Middle East and then he
Oh yes. Why he was never

03:29:00:00

questioned in his promotions and that sort of thing because he had, right to the time he died, he had this horrible scar on his back. And I heard a sister from the 2/2nd AGH where he was saying he was the most remarkable patient they’d ever had. We were talking about the ITB. We had an unfortunate case there, not

03:29:30:00

only, I knew the bloke before the war, fellow named Jack McHugh. He came over as a reinforcement officer when we were in Tobruk and one night it was raining and wet and he had been in the mess and walking back to his lines. The Arabs in our area had dug a deep pit for making mud bricks and they hadn’t fenced it off very securely,

03:30:00:00

and the next morning they found Jack McHugh dead in the bottom of this pit with his hands still in his pockets. He’d broken his neck in stepping over into this thing that’d be about six or eight feet deep, very sad. There were very many things like this. We had a chap come back through us named Bill Howell.

03:30:30:00

Bill was a cattleman from the South West Queensland and he’d been seconded to go down and fight the Abyssinians or something like that, the Italians down there and he was actually only a sergeant but so he could deal with those that he had to he wore the pips of a major.

03:31:00:00

And I can remember going out on a reconnaissance once with him for an exercise when we were teaching fellows tactics and that sort of thing and we went through this little village, two rows of huts. Just as we started, we were on horses. Horses that had been taken over from the RHA, the Royal Hussars Artillery, when they were mechanised and they were beautifully trained and I was riding

03:31:30:00

on horseback. And we got into this and my horse objected strongly to the camels that had come through the other way, you see. Bill was in the same situation but being an experienced horseman, he just sat there and sucked his pipe while his horse cavorted. Well I was flat out trying to control mine, that being beside the point.
Now this was still during the training period,

03:32:00:00

was it?
Yes.
In Palestine?
In Palestine. While I was there I acted as a best man to one of our officers, Bill Noise, I mentioned him earlier by name you see. He had met a girl, strangely enough whom I had met on the Strathaird

03:32:30:00

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

03:33:00:00

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

03:33:30:00

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.

03:34:00:00

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

03:34:30:00

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.

03:35:00:00

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

03:35:30:00

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,

03:36:00:00

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

03:36:30:00

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

03:37:00:00

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

03:37:30:00

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

03:38:00:00

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.

03:38:30:00

Where are we up to?
You mentioned flying to New Guinea.
Oh yes, I went to New Guinea. Oh, I should mention this just in passing. When I was going through a ward in the hospital a bloke said to me, pulled me up, a sergeant. He said, “What did you do with my pistol?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You took it off the stretcher yesterday.” And

03:39:00:00

up until that time it had been reported that Angus, this fellow that my brother had been talking about was reported dead. And the padre consoled with family on the thing, you see. And I said to the sergeant, “Well, what’s the story here?” And I look somewhat like my brother and he thought that I was Angus, and

03:39:30:00

Angus had apparently taken the pistol off his stretcher when he was wounded. Anyway, I followed it up. Angus had been hit in the ribs but he hadn’t been killed.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

Garth, could we continue the story from your arrival in New Guinea?
Oh yes. I saw these fellows at the 2/9th AGH and then I went over the range. I hitchhiked in an American aircraft that was full of the body of the aircraft was matting,

04:01:00:00

airstrip matting. I was sitting on the top of this excepting for a few cases of frozen chicken for the American troops in the front of the plane. We put down at an airstrip that they were laying and I gave the Yanks a hand to lift the stuff out of the aircraft and a

04:01:30:00

jeep with Yanks aboard came and pulled up and said, “Hey, you’re at the wrong airstrip, you should be at such and such a strip.” And the captain said, “Oh well, I was told to deliver it here. This will do me. If you want it shifted shift it yourself.” So I eventually got back to the Battalion. The Yanks took me some of the way and then I walked the rest of the way of course.

04:02:00:00

And this was towards the end of the show. I was there for a few days only and at this stage Bill Parry-Oakden was the CO of the battalion. Clem Cummings had been in command since

04:02:30:00

we came out of Tobruk and then he was wounded at Buna and Bill Parry-Oakden took over. Incidentally I have there, Bill Parry-Oakden’s diary. It’s a rather lengthy operation. You can have a look at it if you wish. You probably haven’t seen one. He wrote it apparently in hospital

04:03:00:00

just after the conclusion of the Buna show. He was an original officer of the battalion and apart from being seconded as transport officer to brigade headquarters and a very fine cattleman from south west Queensland.

04:03:30:00

He told me the brigadier wanted to see me, so I went up to see the brigadier. I don’t know if you ever met George Wootten? I don’t suppose you did.
No, but I know his family though actually.
George was a very fine soldier. He’d weighed about stripped I’d say about seventeen or eighteen stone. But he is

04:04:00:00

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

04:04:30:00

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

04:05:00:00

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

04:05:30:00

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

04:06:00:00

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,

04:06:30:00

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

04:07:00:00

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

04:07:30:00

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

04:08:00:00

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

04:08:30:00

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

04:09:00:00

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

04:09:30:00

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.

04:10:00:00

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,

04:10:30:00

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”

04:11:00:00

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

04:11:30:00

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

04:12:00:00

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

04:12:30:00

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

04:13:00:00

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

04:13:30:00

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

04:14:00:00

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

04:14:30:00

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

04:15:00:00

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

04:15:30:00

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

04:16:00:00

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?

04:16:30:00

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

04:17:00:00

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.

04:17:30:00

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

04:18:00:00

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.

04:18:30:00

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

04:19:00:00

Choir and I know what I am talking about. I am sure Garth Suthers could enlarge on the above.”
That’s very good.
I think it is from the point of view that it shows that the fellows were dragged from all walks of life and it only stood to reason that out of six hundred men you could build a decent choir and a lot of the credit goes to him. He had a mate who was the CSM

04:19:30:00

of one of the companies, fellow named Ticker White. Now Ticker didn’t have an ounce of music in him but Lex Morrison invited him along one day to hear us perform you see, and at the conclusion he had a word on the side with Ticker and he said, “What did you think of that?” And Ticker whose music knowledge wasn’t anything, said, “I don’t like it. It sounds too much like an organ.”
Whereabouts did

04:20:00:00

the performance take place?
In Buna Inlet, or Pom-pom Park, that was part of it.
Was a recording ever made?
No, no recording ever made, it was just a way entertaining the troops sort of thing. So that was what he thought of his choir. So anyway, we trained and we went across. I can recall the night when the 2/31st

04:20:30:00

Battalion I think it was came to grief. They were to go over and someone had sighted this area in which we were and the marshalling yard and it was off the end of Jackson’s aerodrome, but it had a great range of hills between it and nobody, I don’t know if anybody realised that it was in

04:21:00:00

the sort of, if you continued the runway through the hill you’d hit the marshalling yard. The marshalling yard was the area where all the trucks arrived with the planeloads of, and it was from there we got into the aircraft, you see. On this particular night the 31st Battalion were all loaded into trucks. They’d arrived at the marshalling yard when a Yank bomber took off. It came to grief

04:21:30:00

taking off and it landed inside the marshalling yard. Killed I think, about a hundred odd men. First I knew of it I was sharing a tent with the RMO [Regimental Medical Officer] and there was this noise of ammunition going off. He woke and he said to me,

04:22:00:00

“What’s that?” I said, “Sounds as though the CO’s fallen out of bed.” And presently the phone went and the instruction was, “All medical officers to report immediately to the ER [Emergency Room].” So that was that. They very quickly got together replacement reinforcements and that battalion took off and did its job.

04:22:30:00

But they suffered very heavy casualties from that smash. They dragged fellows out of trees, and all that sort of thing. They were thrown up when the explosion took place. The doc was telling me all about it. But when we got over the other side there, we did the Shaggy Ridge show. It was a colossal physical effort. Perhaps it wasn’t the blood and guts

04:23:00:00

fighting that Buna and Sanananda were [UNCLEAR] there, but it was a colossal physical effort. We had relatively few casualties. One of two things I remember about it, about the brigadier. I was telling you about the fellow who rescued Col

04:23:30:00

East. We’d taken the main position and the Japs had pulled back beyond Mt Prothero and Alex Marshall had his company up on what you’ll see on the map as Marshall Ridge and the 2/10th Battalion, Wally Gunn’s company, I saw Bill Gunn died the other day, Sir William Gunn was

04:24:00:00

Wally’s brother. Wally was in 2/10th and we had a phone line through to Wally and one through to Alex and I happened to be adjutant at that time and the CO was between Shaggy Ridge and going down to see Marshall you see. So Marshall got in touch with me, he said, “We’ve got a target of opportunity, we attacking in ten minutes.” So I immediately

04:24:30:00

got onto Wally Gunn and said, “Bring pressure with you from your side.” And anyway after we’d been doing this for a bit the phone went. I answered it and it was the brigade commander. He said, “What’s going on?” And I told him. He said, “Suthers, who the hell do you think is running this brigade?” So that was once time he had occasion to bawl

04:25:00:00

me out because he was kept in the dark about what was going on. Anyway, he didn’t tell another battalion what to do but it was under the circumstances.
You mentioned that it was a colossal physical effort. Could you say why?
Why? You had to climb to the top of a five thousand foot range to start with and then it was up and down from there. It was a day’s march from

04:25:30:00

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.

04:26:00:00

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

04:26:30:00

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

04:27:00:00

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

04:27:30:00

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

04:28:00:00

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

04:28:30:00

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

04:29:00:00

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

04:29:30:00

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.

04:30:00:00

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,”

04:30:30:00

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

04:31:00:00

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,

04:31:30:00

“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.

04:32:00:00

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

04:32:30:00

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

04:33:00:00

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.

04:33:30:00

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

04:34:00:00

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.

04:34:30:00

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

04:35:00:00

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,

04:35:30:00

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

04:36:00:00

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?
Yes, I’ve seen them. I’ve also seen some footage of those sort of bombing operations actually.
Well, we did that all day. When we finished we went up to Wewak and he dropped a couple of bombs and we came back and on the way back

04:36:30:00

he flew low over Bogadjim. He said, “There was an aircraft shot at from down here. We’ll go down and have a look at them.” We went through at tree top height, of course and whenever he fired his guns, I’d wait a second and I’d fire, by this time I’d finished what, I was manning the rear gun, you see. I said to this air gunner bloke, this Yank, I’d said earlier, “Whose going to look after the rear gun?”

04:37:00:00

He said, “You are.” I said, “Fair go, I’m an infanteer.” He said, “Brother, if a Zero gets on our tail, you learn fast.” So I had to learn fast. So whenever the front gunner fired, I’d wait half a second and I’d fire out the back in the hope it went somewhere. So we ended up back in Port Moresby in due course about four o’clock in the afternoon.
I just want to ask you a quick question.

04:37:30:00

What were you able to learn of the terrain from those flights?
Nothing. Except that it was appalling terrain, that was all. I’d really decided in the first place that I was bored stiff back in Moresby, so I thought I’d [UNCLEAR]. That’s the story. Oh yes, after that flight the brigade major, the fellow who was brigade major, who was a regular soldier, he

04:38:00:00

was G1 Air [?], and he got the report of this thing that I was a passenger on it you see. A couple of days later the phone went and Clem, Colonel Cummins was sitting opposite me, we had a little thing and I answered the phone

04:38:30:00

and I recognised the voice, being an advocate major, you see. “Colonel Cummins there?” So I handed over to Clem and my end of the conversation went, “Yes Chips, yes Chips, yes Chips.” And Clem said, when he hung up, he said, “Major Dennison said I’ve got to reprimand

04:39:00:00

you. This is what he said.” He said, “Let’s go out and have a look at that exercise you were preparing.” That was all that I got. You see, I’d convinced Clem, he was the senior regimental commander left behind and New Guinea headquarters order had said that nobody but a formation commander could authorise for a dig to fly in an American aircraft. Well Clem was minister in command, so I convinced

04:39:30:00

him that he was in the position as a formation commander and he could authorise it and he’d said yes, so that was all there was to it. That’s the way things are, you’ve got to do these things if you’re going to go about a bit.
Personal initiative.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 05

05:00:31:00

So we got up to your trip, your reconnaissance trip where you dropped the leaflets and the reprimand that didn’t happen after that. So what happened after this point? Could you continue the story from that point?
Well we went across. We took over from the, oh I forgot what the name of the battalion was,

05:01:00:00

doesn’t matter, 14th I think, and then we had to do the attack. The attack was unusual from this point of view.
Sorry, which attack are we talking about?
The Shaggy Ridge.
The Shaggy Ridge attack, yes.
We were supported by Yank bombers, and also the Australian 4th Army Co-operation Squadron, who were flying Boomerangs.

05:01:30:00

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

05:02:00:00

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

05:02:30:00

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,

05:03:00:00

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

05:03:30:00

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,

05:04:00:00

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

05:04:30:00

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

05:05:00:00

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.”

05:05:30:00

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

05:06:00:00

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

05:06:30:00

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,

05:07:00:00

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.

05:07:30:00

That’s the way it goes.
Very good. Now listen before we leave this and we will come back to it later if we can, but just in case we don’t have enough time, can you talk about your main memories of the attack itself? Because we have spoken about aspects of the Tobruk campaign and so forth and you’ve given us specific memories of that.
Yes as I mentioned we had this aircraft support. We also had support from the Vultee Vengeance Squadron, which was an Australian squadron

05:08:00:00

I think, but they were a terrible sort of an aircraft. You’d swear they’d jettison their bomb upside down and once again the Australian Boomerangs would come in, mark the spot and the Vultees would bomb it. The actual attack, you could only attack on a two-man front

05:08:30:00

and we started off on Green Sniper Pimple or just behind it and it was the first objective that was taken and that’s when that photograph was taken.
Can you explain what you mean by two-man front?
Two men up. You’ve got six hundred men and two men are doing the fighting. That’s all you could do or you could have the mortars and machine guns firing but for the actual

05:09:00:00

men with the Bren guns or the rifles and bayonets sort of business, you could only have two men up because you can have a look and see just how narrow it is. You couldn’t put more than that number of men on it. The attack started. I was speaking to Fred Loxton, Captain who was a major at that stage, and I was speaking to him on the phone

05:09:30:00

when the mountain gun fired, that’s the Japanese mountain gun fired and there was the click, that was all there was to it, just as if he’d hung up. That was the point at which he was killed. We had a few casualties there, when I say a few, I’m talking about those that were killed.

05:10:00:00

Along the ridge there was an area where you could either walk if you were game or go like this on, like riding a horse about twenty yards long where the wind and rain had worn the mountain away and

05:10:30:00

afterwards when one of the 4OC, the 4th Squadron Aircraft Co-operation pilots came up to have a look at the place, I took him over this. And when he looked at it, he said, “Well I’m getting down to do it.” He wasn’t game to walk over it because you only had to overbalance and you’d drop a considerable distance. We were held up there at this particular time by one

05:11:00:00

Jap and we couldn’t attack more than at least if you like to walk down the side of the mountain and a bit and a section forward, so we just niggled away at him for a bit until finally he committed suicide using a grenade. But he was a wounded man the Japs had left behind to cover their spot.

05:11:30:00

From that height you could look down at the Faria River and there you could see Japs bathing. You can’t with any degree of certainty fire a 303 down five thousand feet and expect to hit a man down at the other end. He probably doesn’t even know you’re firing at him. Because

05:12:00:00

he’s so far down you can see him, you can fire at him but you can’t hit him. In this action when Marshall was up on Marshall Ridge the Japs cut his telephone line. It was reported to the sig officer, the sig sergeant, a fellow named Jock Hyde

05:12:30:00

and without discussing it with anybody he decided he’d go and fix it and so he went down to [UNCLEAR] and started to climb again and I heard that he was going out on his own, out into that sort of country, so I immediately rang the fellow, the company commander down the Kankiryo Saddle, this is Prothero, down to Kankiryo Saddle up to Marshall’s Ridge, you see. I said, “Look, Jock Hyde’s heading

05:13:00:00

off there. See that he’s got a covering party to help him,” and, “Oh,” he said, “He went through here five minutes ago,” and anyway the Japs were waiting for him and as he stuck his head up where the break was they did him over. That was the end of Jock. There were

05:13:30:00

as I said the 2/12th did most of the fighting on that particular spot.
You mentioned the Japanese blowing himself up, did you actually see that event?
No, we just heard it – that’s all. He was only a matter of probably fifty yards from us.

05:14:00:00

Yes, go on. He was only fifty yards
Only fifty yards from us but he was behind a rock sort of business and just using this as a shelter and he could see he couldn’t hang out any longer and was probably dying and so he finally committed suicide with a grenade.
How many Japanese were up there approximately?
I have read it. Frankly, I don’t know

05:14:30:00

how many were sitting opposite us. It certainly wasn’t, I would say they only had a battalion’s strength over the whole area. I wouldn’t know how many of those were opposite us. He probably had a platoon or a company forward but the rest were strung out along the ridge.
Given the impossible terrain there why was Shaggy Ridge such an important strategic target?

05:15:00:00

Only because it was a route through to Bogadjim and the Japs felt apparently if they held it they could control the valleys on either side and they were in occupation of it and we just had to kick them off and the idea was to go through to Bogadjim. You must remember they had the whole of that

05:15:30:00

Huon Peninsula, which included the area that the 9th Division ultimately kicked them out of and the area that the 7th Division had to do.
Now you mention Fred Loxton being on the phone to you at the time. Did you know Fred Loxton well?
Oh yes. Fred was, he was with the Perpetual

05:16:00:00

Trustees, one of the trustee companies before the war. He was a legal type. He went to Oxford. He got a [University] blue rowing and generally speaking he was a pretty bright bloke but like most bright blokes he was that far ahead of the fellows that he was commanding

05:16:30:00

that sometimes they didn’t see eye to eye, that was all.
And how long before you realised that he’d in fact been killed?
Five minutes, I suppose before his 2IC phoned to say that he’d been killed. Talking about bright blokes, when we were in England our original medical

05:17:00:00

officer was Charlie Marks from Brisbane. He was a gynaecologist specialist. Now that’s an ideal bloke to put in charge of a lot of men and he was our RMO until we arrived in England and he took over a field ambulance and we were sent an RMO named Jim Yates. Now Jim’s number was UKX1

05:17:30:00

of which he was justifiably proud. He had been over in England, he was born and bred in Toowoomba, and he was over in England and he’d just got his FRCS [Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons] and he turned up as our new medical officer. I can remember he turned up and once again I happened to be duty officer and the CO

05:18:00:00

called me in and introduced me to our new medical officer and he said, “Now take him down to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] and show him where he’s got to go,” and whatnot, and I can remember Eric Martin saying, “And see that the first time he comes on parade, he doesn’t look like a boy scout.” So some time, I suppose about a week or so later, I went down to see how Jim was getting on at the RAP

05:18:30:00

and I said, “How are things going?” “Well,” he said, “Not too good. I’m not used to these fellows coming to me with their coughs and colds. When they turn up what will I do?” He said, “I’ve got to say to myself now what did my mother give me when I had this and I treat them accordingly.” He was a surgeon. This is off the record. When he, after the war

05:19:00:00

Jim was practising here in the Eastern suburbs and he met an untimely death. We needn’t put this on the record. Can you cut this off?
So we’re to the end, I think, of your involvement in Shaggy Ridge, so what happened after that?

05:19:30:00

To continue the story on to the end of Shaggy Ridge.
That was when I went down to the ALO school at Canberra, and there again I arrived at Port Moresby after making my way over the range and that evening I managed to hitchhike on a 5th Air Force aircraft

05:20:00:00

that was bringing pilots out from America. I got on this aircraft that had just these aluminium bucket seats all around it, the sides you see. They dropped their load of pilots at Moresby but they had to terminate apparently in Townsville. They loaded quite a few fellows on, various army types, mainly Australians

05:20:30:00

and it was a bright moonlight night, and we’d been flying for some time when the second officer came down and he said, “Do any of you guys come from a state called Queensland?” And there were a number of us did. He said, “Do any of you come from a place called Townsville?” And I was the only bloke who had. So I signified

05:21:00:00

this. He said, “Well, would you come up into the nose of the aircraft and see if you can identify where we are?” So I said, “Fair go mate, I’m used to walking over the ground at four miles an hour.” Everybody else was up in arms and said, “For god sake, get up into the nose of the aircraft or we’ll all end up in Alice Springs.” So I went forward to the nose of the aircraft, as I said a brightly lit moonlit

05:21:30:00

night. Now you could take me across the coast probably anywhere in Australia and I wouldn’t know, excepting where we hit the coast. I don’t know whether you know the area at all, but you know Hinchinbrook Island, it’s a mountainous island and it’s got this narrow Hinchinbrook Channel between it and the mainland. And I looked over and I’d been up and down the coast on many occasions on flights then and I looked over and here’s Hinchinbrook Channel and all. And I said,

05:22:00:00

“That’s Hinchinbrook Island, that’s Hinchinbrook Channel, we’ve got to turn left to go to Townsville.” So immediately, the navigator was up in arms about it. He said, “We haven’t, we’re south of Townsville, we’ve got to turn right.” The captain said, “You shut up, you were doubtful as to where we were, this bloke says he knows where we are, we’ll turn left.” So we turned left

05:22:30:00

and I suppose a few minutes later, a bit more, the cloud disappeared from the top of Castle Hill and you could see the beacon affair on the top of that. Because in those days, radar and that sort of thing was in its infancy, so that was our experience there, that this bloke

05:23:00:00

reckoned we were south of Townsville and we should turn right to go to Townsville.
And Castle Hill was Townsville, was it?
You know Castle Hill?
No, I don’t actually.
Castle Hill is nine hundred odd feet high. Townsville’s built all around it, it sticks up in the centre of Townsville and it’s just a great rock and Townsville’s built all around it, so that’s how I knew it.
So you went down to the ALO School?

05:23:30:00

The ALO School, it was interesting. In the morning, well first of all we sat two at a desk, a pilot and an army officer. The pilot was only recently commissioned I’d reckon. In the morning you’d do the theory, in the afternoon you’d go up and put into practice the theory that you’d learnt on the ground in the morning. Then I can remember I

05:24:00:00

was with a red-headed pilot, a fellow named Walsh and we were going to fly out to an airstrip not very far out and camp overnight. And the pilot said, “This camping overnight sounds a good idea.” And I said to Walsh, “That’s all right for you blokes that the last time you slept out overnight was when you humped your bluey as a

05:24:30:00

swagman,” and he wasn’t amused at the comment. He said, “You wait till I get you up this afternoon in the aircraft.” And the next time we went up he just about made that aircraft stand on its tail. What had happened actually was that we were doing photographic work and I had to take the photos, you see. And he said, “You’re right,” and I said, “Yes,” but I’d been crouching over a camera and I’d released my waist belt, my

05:25:00:00

safety belt. He thought that I still had it on when he started the stunt and I had to do nothing but wrap my arms and legs around the seat to stay into the thing. Anyway, that’s the thing I remember about ALO.
What was the purpose of the ALO School course as far as you were concerned?
Well it was to, you’d apply then to become an air liaison officer,

05:25:30:00

which I should have done because it was a lot easier than being an infanteer.
Air liaison officer on behalf of the army of course?
Yes, that’s right. To appreciate the problems of the aircraft in say calling for an air strike or anything like that or anything at all.
So when you say you should have become this, why didn’t you actually follow through and become an ALO?
Oh I don’t know. Frankly

05:26:00:00

it was a, perhaps it was a bit of a dead end job and I knew what I was doing as an infanteer and I just stuck to it, that was all.
Did you realise that by the end of the course or did you have that instinct or feeling beforehand?
Oh no, I passed the course all right. There was no doubt about that. I passed it easily.
So you then had to make a decision, did you?
Oh no.

05:26:30:00

I think, I forget, you may have had to apply to be an ALO, I can’t recall that detail of it. I just went back to the unit, a little wiser, a little more appreciative of the problems of the aircraft and the pilot.
So just to clarify, having passed the course, why didn’t you become an ALO?
Well I think,

05:27:00:00

I can’t recall whether you were appointed or whether you had to apply or just whether it was to broaden your knowledge. I think in my particular case it was just to broaden my knowledge because I didn’t have any intention of, the only ones that I struck that ever went across as an ALO, excepting Peter Lovett, who was one of our old company commanders,

05:27:30:00

they were junior officers who just did the course and wanted a change.
So following the ALO course, what happened then as far as you were concerned?
At this stage, well then we had to go back, and we were back for some time preparing for the Borneo show

05:28:00:00

and that was just the heavy training. The next thing I can recall is the heavy training for the Borneo business.
And where did that training take place?
At Kirra and

05:28:30:00

the first time we came back from New Guinea it was Ravenshoe and the second time it was at Kirra. Now when we were at Kirra, my wife, rather, I organised for my wife to have some extended leave and she came up and installed herself at a farm house not very far from our battalion

05:29:00:00

and at night time after lights out, I’d walk home to the farm house and I’d be in before reveille in the morning. That’s the way it worked.
Very good organization.
That’s the way it worked. It was good.
That’s excellent. So that was training. Now can you give me even just a brief outline of what form the training took to prepare you for Balikpapan?

05:29:30:00

We had a lot of concentration on close support. Because of our experience with the Japs in New Guinea we started the idea of a range parade,

05:30:00:00

on a thirty yard range you would have the men lined up as usual, ten targets, ten men and they’d start firing and you’d call, “Fire, halt,” [UNCLEAR] but we trained them to a better pitch than that. When the order to fire was given up within a couple of feet of the target an officer would walk across and it was up to each dig

05:30:30:00

to say when he started firing and when he finished firing. The theory being that you were covering a bloke who’s going into a field box and we did a lot of intense training with that sort of thing. Not only with targets but when we had field exercises, you’d have people going up the centre, officers

05:31:00:00

going up the centre, with the digs firing from the angle and they had to decide, only they would decide where to, when to stop shooting. I remember on one occasion I’d done a couple of runs on it and a fellow, one of my officers, a fellow named Howard, doesn’t matter about his name, he said, “Come on, you’re not in a protected occupation, I’ll do

05:31:30:00

the next one.” So he walked up and as luck would have it, I think a dig either lost his nerve or else he struck a faulty round because a bullet hit the ground and ricocheted and hit Howard Fellows in his, fortunately he had his webbing belt on. It went through his webbing belt and into him but still with the bullet sticking out, it

05:32:00:00

was just inside. Well of course, he went over and then there was panic stations and all that sort of thing. He had to be evacuated by ambulance and I went up that night to the hospital and saw him and he was playing cards. So a couple of days passed and he hadn’t turned up back at the unit and I thought I’ll go up again and see how he is. He was in intensive care.

05:32:30:00

Blood poisoning had set in or some such thing and anyway, he finally recovered and came back to us but this just showed you the risk that there was, and another form that the training took was close support with artillery. You’d have say a bunker there and you would, infantry officers

05:33:00:00

with probably an artillery FOO, forward observation officer, would lie within about say twenty, fifty yards at the outside of the target and then you’d call on the artillery, or the FOO [Forward Observation Officer] would call on the artillery to bring fire to bear within that distance from you. And then they’d

05:33:30:00

bring it closer and closer and probably cut out ten to fifteen yards from you. The idea being that most of the shell burst is forward and they’d be shooting at right angles to you but this was to train infantry officers in calling for supporting fire in case the FOO became a casualty, you see. We managed to handle that period without any casualties.

05:34:00:00

Now following the training, was it straight up to Balikpapan?
No, we had to do the embark and disembark, what do you call it?
You had to do the assault landing course.
Assault landing course. And that was up north of Mossman, north of Cairns. And I had several practice landings there and sometimes

05:34:30:00

I’d been in the water up to there and I’d seen a fellow with a base-plate on his head, and the base-plate go right under. When we came to land at Balikpapan I stepped off on to dry sand. Incredible. After all that training.
At least you were well prepared.
Oh yes. The thing was getting down into the assault landing craft from a bigger ship, so

05:35:00:00

when we came to do the actual attack at Balikpapan itself we left the Tableland, I told you about Col, his part he played, we went down to Cairns and there we had to get on these liberty ships, no they weren’t liberty ships,

05:35:30:00

they were the assault landing, they were a landing ship anyway.
Landing SI or an LTI?
No, Landing Ship Infantry, LSI, landing ship infantry. And they were constructed with the idea of being able to load or unload on the beach

05:36:00:00

but to assist them they carried on either side of them pontoons, steel pontoons, each weighed about seventy tons. Well we got down to Cairns and we had to load into these things. We were in camp the night before and I can remember, I read a letter that I wrote to my brother about it. A fellow was,

05:36:30:00

who thought he was a tough guy went into, one of our men, went into a café and started to play up a bit and the proprietoress, who was half Chinese, she hit him over the head with a jug full of water and knocked him out and opened his skull up and all. Well the police arrested her and they advised me, and I went down to see him and he was unconscious, so I was having a yarn to the police sergeant

05:37:00:00

who came from Ayr, below Townsville there and he thought that I was my brother, Doug was a legal type, and he thought that I was Doug, so I didn’t disillusion him, and we got on famously, so I told him, “Unless the dig dies, don’t do anything to the woman because he was obviously making himself objectionable.” Anyway, the next day we got on this LSI [Landing Ship Infantry].

05:37:30:00

And they had up in the front of the thing a great pile of lifebelts. Well I was lucky, I had half the battalion on that comp and we had the other half of the battalion on another one and the only accommodation was on the top deck and nobody had given any consideration to this.

05:38:00:00

I got the ship’s captain to run a hawser from the bridge down to the bow and we used tents to provide some sort of cover for the men. You wouldn’t read about it. I said in my letter to my brother, I said, “I’m only sorry that Frankie Ford and who was the prime minister of the time are not present here on this trip with us,” because it was such appalling conditions under which to ask men to travel. Anyway,

05:38:30:00

they had these collapsible stretchers and we lined them up on the top of the deck and men got into these things and you had a passageway just wide enough for a man to walk sideways on down the passageway and there you’d have one man vomit into the stretcher next to him. They were terrible conditions. Anyway, I was all right, I shared a cabin with the executive

05:39:00:00

officer. But in the middle of the night, a couple of nights later, we struck a blow out in the Coral Sea and presently the fellow came down and said to me, he said, “The captain wants you on the bridge immediately.” He was a Yank, a black Yank and I told him what to tell the captain because I was seasick and I couldn’t care less about anything else.

05:39:30:00

He said, “You can’t talk like that about the captain, he wants you immediately.” So I struggled into my greatcoat and went up and there in a blacked out convoy, what about our ship we had a floodlight on, down onto the deck because the sea had carried away one of these seventy ton pontoons on the side of it and we were running along on an angle like this.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 06

06:00:32:00

So Garth, you’re in the middle of telling us about being called up to the deck by the captain.
So here’s this floodlight on the ship on a blacked out convoy. It was incredible. So the pontoon had been washed away in a high sea and it was chained onto the mother ship, if you like

06:01:00:00

with a chain with links about as thick as your arm, but I had warned the fellows against sleeping under these chains because if anything, accident did happen they’d get chopped in half. As luck would have it we only had one man injured when this happened and he was washed into the scapper and that probably saved his life because as the chain went over apart from

06:01:30:00

being very badly bruised in the abdomen, he got away without being chopped in halves.
So what actually happened?
You see you had a couple of big chains, these heavy chains, which tied the pontoon, which was sticking probably ten feet above the level of the deck. It was washed off

06:02:00:00

and the chains just went over the side with it. So if the fellow had been under it, it would have chopped him in halves as it went down but it was just fortunate that wasn’t the case. I should have mentioned that when we got on the ship the executive officer handed me the sort of the standing orders, a volume about two or three inches thick. As he handed it to me he said,

06:02:30:00

“That’s been written by a guy in Washington who’s never seen the sea.” He said, “There’s only one thing to remember.” He said, “That if your guys see our fellows getting into the boats, then they’ll know it’s time to abandon ship”. And he said, “Your fellows have got those lifejackets.” And I said, “But those lifejackets have been in rain now for days

06:03:00:00

up there in the front.” “Oh,” he said. So I had to acquaint the 6th Company, all my men who were on the deck there, and I was standing up on the bridge and I said, “The executive officer says so and so and he said that lifeboats are only for the ship’s company.” Well you can imagine the roar I got from the mob when I told them that.

06:03:30:00

And anyway as luck would have it, we didn’t have occasion to use them but as I say the standing orders were written by a bloke who’d never seen the sea according to the Yanks.
What was the relationship like between the Australians and the Yanks?
Oh the relationship was great because quite a number of our fellows had decorations up and

06:04:00:00

the Yanks could see that they’d done something and the relationship was very good indeed. I can remember I ate at the captain’s table there and I liked porridge for breakfast and when I ordered porridge, the black Negro

06:04:30:00

waiter said, “Well, you can’t have porridge sir, that’s only for the men.” And I said, “Fair go, I’d like porridge,” and he had to make a special trip down to the galley to get me porridge because I liked porridge. That same waiter got more pay, was on a higher pay rate than I was just because of the different pay scales between the American navy and the

06:05:00:00

Australian Army. Oh no, there was nothing wrong with the relationships between the two, they were very good.
What about the relationship with the black Americans?
Well we didn’t see much of it. Well apart from the waiters and our officers, we didn’t have much contact with the

06:05:30:00

Negro. They only had a few Negroes on the ship anyway. But there again it’s an interesting thought because at that stage we still had the same attitude to black men that prevailed before the war and you could understand things being,

06:06:00:00

whites still thinking they were superior to blacks. But it never raised its ugly head anywhere with us.
‘Cause it’s interesting because you talked before about how before the war it was quite a bigoted time and that you saw that broken down in certain ways through the religion with the Catholics and the Protestants but it didn’t seem to happen with the colour issue.
We didn’t have

06:06:30:00

very much to do with the black. My brother will probably expand on it because there were blacks supporting black engineers and that sort of thing but at Milne Bay and I had nothing, just that brief time on the ship that I had anything to do at all with blacks and we had no

06:07:00:00

black contact in Borneo, so I can’t express much of an opinion there.
Okay. So what else happened on the boat trip to Balikpapan?
When we got to Milne Bay, we had a navigator on board and this navigator I doubt whether he’d ever had a shave. I said to him, “How come you’re a navigator?” Well he said, “When I joined the navy,” he said, “I reckoned the,

06:07:30:00

first of all I joined the navy because I’m off the land and I’d seen enough dust, so I thought I’d join the navy and then they wanted a navigator, so navigation sort of came natural to me, and I did a course.” I listened to that and then we were approaching New Guinea, I said to him, “How do you reckon we’ll be?” And he said,

06:08:00:00

“I think we’re too far to the left. I think we’re too far to the left.” So he said, “They’ve got an experienced guy in the convoy in the captain’s ship,” and he said, “He’s had more experience than I’ve have, so he’s probably right.” And sure enough about a few hours later we hit spot on

06:08:30:00

the right, on the spot that we should have. And I said to him, “How would you have got on if you’d been on your own?” “Oh,” he said, “I just would have steered round for a while and I’d have found out where I was.” However, we got to Milne Bay and the first thing we had to do was replace that seventy-ton pontoon. Well unlike the Australian navy or the British navy, when the captain issues an order it’s carried out, and that’s

06:09:00:00

it. But with the Yank navy down at that level mind you, the captain issues an order and then everybody, from the captain to the ship’s cat discusses that order before it’s carried out. Well, finally we got a pontoon back on board again and then we headed for Morotai, and that part of the trip was fairly uneventful,

06:09:30:00

except passing liberty ships and that sort of thing which I don’t know if it was crook navigation or not but you’d see a liberty ship completely, almost completely covered with jungle, that had just driven straight up into the jungle. You see in certain parts of New Guinea the water is very deep right to the edge of the jungle, so a ship can do that

06:10:00:00

quite easily if it’s blown there or mis-navigated at night or something like that and it wasn’t uncommon to see, I suppose we saw two or three instances of it of these liberty ships parked up in the jungle. We headed off to Morotai. Morotai is a, I think it is mainly coral, all the airstrip is just crushed

06:10:30:00

coral and there we just had to reorganise ourselves and that’s where we got onto the [HMAS] Kanimbla, which was a landing ship infantry, LSI, well it was then called a landing ship infantry. Well, we had done a lot of training on models of where

06:11:00:00

we would be landing and a lot of the time was spent between Morotai and Biak and studying these things. We’d studied them back on the Tableland beforehand. And then came the day when we were due to land and it was the first landing, it was the first time we had ever done anything at all where we had adequate support.

06:11:30:00

We were always starved of support be it aircraft, artillery, naval whatever it was. Well here they’d pounded the lights out of Balikpapan from the air and from the sea. The navy had been in and removed a lot of the underwater obstacles that the Japs had put in.
What sort of underwater obstacles were there?

06:12:00:00

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

06:12:30:00

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

06:13:00:00

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

06:13:30:00

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

06:14:00:00

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.

06:14:30:00

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,

06:15:00:00

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

06:15:30:00

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

06:16:00:00

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

06:16:30:00

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

06:17:00:00

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

06:17:30:00

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

06:18:00:00

beginning. I said, “We don’t want any piss poor map reading in this company.
So can you just clarify what actually happened when the Americans bombed the 2/10th, didn’t they?
All I know is they killed one lad who was an original member of the 2/10th Battalion. They were up on what they called Parramatta feature above us, and all I saw was the fact that they were being

06:18:30:00

bombed. It didn’t really affect us excepting that we could see this was something to worry about a bit when you were bombed by your own bombers.
That must have created a lot of anger towards the Americans?
Oh yes, well the usual thing. Fellows were fairly,

06:19:00:00

they didn’t take these sort of things to heart very much because when you’re in the game you realise that everybody’s trying his best to do it and if you’re just badly trained as so many of the Yanks were, you’ve just got to put up with these things. I don’t know if it, it didn’t cause our fellows to be terribly upset against the Yanks. What worried me more than

06:19:30:00

that was when our fellows did the fighting through the built up area and we opened a store room that was full of Singer sewing machines and within about an hour, a Yank three toner pulls up and starts loading these things that we’d rescued, loading them into their truck and took them away. There was nothing we could do to stop them. But that was the sort of thing that

06:20:00:00

stuck in the craw of our fellows pretty much where they came at that sort of thing rather than genuine mistakes.
So what else happened at Balikpapan?
Well we fought our way through there and that night we were leaning on the Japs fairly heavily and the

06:20:30:00

Shropshire fired over flares every few minutes. They must have gone through hundreds of them during the night to keep the area lit because we were so close. In due course we kicked them out and then we had to chase them, having kicked them out.

06:21:00:00

Well first of all we had to go, our battalion went across to Panajam which is on the over, the Riko River comes down into Balik and Panajam is on the other bank and that’s where I collected those from, the binoculars, from the coast defence guns. We had to go over there. We went over in,

06:21:30:00

we went over in ducks. Now you know what a duck is? It’s only got a free board of about that much and it will hold a section of men. We went over on these things and as luck would have it the Japs opened fire on the ship that was supposed to be the first one to land. These ALCs, Assault Landing Craft.

06:22:00:00

And the Japs opened, and the Yank in charge of it just turned tail and disappeared with it, the party that should have been leading the mob, he disappeared. And so when we got ashore we had to do a bit of improvisation because there was no start line or anything like that, which is all very carefully planned, because this had happened and I remember one tank that

06:22:30:00

was supposed to be with us waddled off the ship into about eight feet of water and disappeared under the water and that’s where it stayed until after the show was over. We went ashore and we had, we took this area and then we had to put in a

06:23:00:00

defensive position because we didn’t know just how strong the Japs were and I had a fellow with me who was named Andy Helgeson, a showman to his fingertips, and he was in charge of the four point two mortars. He was actually a light ended aircraft gunner. But the four point two mortars, you see the ordinary infantry has a three-inch mortar,

06:23:30:00

the light ack-ack has a four point two mortar which has a much greater range, but it’s also got the bad habit, it’s got such a big charge behind it, of blowing the tail fin off it, so the bomb is likely to land anywhere. I can remember I was, these mortars were mounted over on the other side of the river and Helgeson was guiding them

06:24:00:00

and I was standing with him and this four point two went off and nothing happened and I said, “What happened to that?” And he said, “Goodness only knows,” and just then the bomb landed behind us because it had blown its tail fin off and it was completely out of control. But that was only to be expected.
How close were you to the bomb exploding?
Oh that was some distance away.

06:24:30:00

We weren’t in danger from the shrapnel from it. But then we had to follow the Jap up, right up to the composite group right up the Riko River in these ducks. Now you talk about crocodiles. I’ve seen some big crocodiles down here but I’ve never seen anything like they were up there. And not only a few of them,

06:25:00:00

the place was lousy with them. And going up the river through, we were heading for a place called Sepan. The crocs were asleep on the banks and someone suggested that they fire a Bren gun at them. I said, “For God, sake don’t. You don’t know what will happen if you stir up a great tribe of these things.

06:25:30:00

Let them be.” And I have seen a 303 kill a crocodile but I didn’t want them to disturb the crocodiles or to tell the Japs we were coming. So we arrived at what they called the Duck Head, which was where we established ourselves and then we had to attack the Japs at Sepan and

06:26:00:00

a couple of interesting things happened there. As we were moving through the jungle we pulled up this particular night and I had the company quite dispersed and I’d been forward to see the forward platoon and it had taken me longer than I’d thought and I was some distance back from company headquarters. And I was going back there with my batman and in fading light and we came to

06:26:30:00

some chattering. Gosh I hopped behind the nearest tree and he did too and we looked around and here is a tribe of orang-utans, a whole bunch of them, red haired. He was all for having a shot at them but I said, “No, there’s no point at having a shot at them, they’re not doing any harm and also you don’t know what harm they might do if you injure one of them.” So after a while

06:27:00:00

the fellow spotted us, and he just gave a bark and they all disappeared into the jungle. But we pushed on and then we got into trouble. And that’s where I called for a, before this where we were you used to go out of radio contact about three o’clock in the afternoon.

06:27:30:00

It always rained like anything and I found that I had no contact with battalion headquarters, so I spoke to the CO about it and the following day a fellow turned up with a cage of pigeons in a basket, pigeons for me to use after,

06:28:00:00

when the wireless went out. Well the next morning, I said to him, I spoke to the IO and I said, “Look, I’m going to try out one of these pigeons.” And I said, “I’ll send you back a message, I’ll address it to Beryl and I’d like you to put it in a envelope to her and we’ll just see whether the pigeon arrives.”

06:28:30:00

Would you like to see the message? I’ve got it there.
That would be great, yes. Is it over there?
Later on. Afterwards
At the next break, we’ll get it and we’ll have a read because I’d to see that.
Then when this bloke reported with the pigeons, I thought, “I’ve seen that bloke somewhere before,” but you see so many fellows you just dismiss it out of hand.

06:29:00:00

Anyway, we pushed on and we got into trouble.
Just before you push on, did the message actually make it home, the pigeon message?
Yes, it did.
To Beryl back in Australia?
No, the pigeon only had to go the battalion headquarters then he had to stick it in an envelope because the pigeon wouldn’t know where she was. The pigeon only had to go back to battalion headquarters. But we pushed on and we got into trouble and

06:29:30:00

I called for an air strike and they sent this ALO up, this Yank bloke whom I mentioned before and I had a little bit of trouble getting that air strike because the CO had left and he’d gone over to Balik to the 2/9th AGH and I spoke to the adjutant and the adjutant said, “Oh gee, I can’t do that,

06:30:00:00

I can’t call an air strike down without the CO’s permission.” Well I said, “Look, if you don’t order an air strike, I’m going to speak direct to the brigade major.” Now who was the brigade major? My younger brother, not the bloke over here but another fellow, a fellow who was in the 2/15th here, he was in the 2/15th Battalion. He did a staff school

06:30:30:00

and when they wanted a brigade major to the brigadier who do they pick but they pick my younger brother from the 9th Div to come across as our BM. So I said, “All right.” Well, he knew I’d get hold of Rod and that I’d probably twist his arm. He was my younger brother and I’d get my air strike, so he ordered the air strike. Well, the air strike was coming in.
Just before you go to the air strike you mentioned that you were having a bit of trouble, what was the trouble that was going on there for you to call the air strike?
Well the Japs,

06:31:00:00

well what had happened was the Japs were on some high-ish ground that overlooked Sepan and the, I’d said to the platoon commander, “Go along the top there because anybody will dominate you if you stick to the lower ground.” But he found the going was so slow, what did he do? He moved down the slope and he got into the [UNCLEAR] wasn’t so thick

06:31:30:00

and he got himself into trouble and I had to rescue him. So I had to call for an air strike because the Japs had wounded a couple of our fellows and they were going to try to use them as a bait in the trap to get us to come forward, you see. So the air strike went on. Well now, as the aircraft appeared well over, things were a bit tense,

06:32:00:00

there was a number of company headquarters standing around together, you see. Things were a bit tense, and just to relieve the tenseness a bit, I said without looking around, I said, “Look you fellows, you see that hole there,” and I pointed to a little depression in the ground, I said, “You see that hole there, if these Yanks overshoot the mark that’s my hole.” I just said, “That was that.”

06:32:30:00

A voice behind me said, “You’ll have to be quicker than you were last time,” and I looked around and here’s this bloody div sig bloke who’d bought the pigeons up. He was the fellow who was on duty in Tobruk four years before and he was the bloke who was on the bottom and he recalled in detail what had happened in Tobruk. And that was that, and anyway the air strike went on.

06:33:00:00

We rescued the bloke and very shortly after that peace was declared. But there again, I had a platoon commander who was an original member of the battalion and he’d lost a man through action on this particular action, and I’d got word from

06:33:30:00

the battalion that the chap’s had surrendered and they weren’t to be fired on unless you were in danger, so I called this bloke up on the wireless, this platoon commander, and I told him there was to be no firing unless fired on and he said, “What’s that?” And I said,

06:34:00:00

“No firing unless fired on.” “Oh,” he said, “I’ve just established an ambush, I can’t hear you.” He said, “I can’t hear you, what’s that you say? What’s that? I can’t hear you.” He wanted to spring his ambush because he’d lost a man and peace was declared right there and then.
Did he go on with the ambush?

06:34:30:00

I didn’t ask him, if you see what I mean. That night we were well out of Balik, but the Yanks, they celebrated on the ships. Everything that they had they just stuck up in the air and fired. The stupid coots didn’t realise that what goes up must come down

06:35:00:00

and all through the night there was this clatter of shrapnel or spent rounds coming down. When they come down from a few thousand feet they can do a lot of damage, falling in the general area that we were in. That’s what I remember the night peace was declared.
Was the Australian camp celebrating like the Americans?
Oh no, only because nearly all of us were committed in

06:35:30:00

some way or other. Our fellows didn’t do it because it would wake the Japs up to exactly where we were and I have never heard of anything like it going on in 9th Div and 7th Div, they were fully committed and there was no celebration like that at that stage. Really, I suppose you can say we never celebrated the end of the war

06:36:00:00

as such. We came back in due course. We had a problem. Shortly after we landed there and did that Sepan effort, a fellow came to me and said, “We’ve got a lot of women.” I said, “What?” He said, “We’ve got a lot of women.” “What do you mean you’ve got a lot of women?” Well it had turned out that the Japs had

06:36:30:00

imported from Timor a great tribe of girls. They were told that they would be required as stenographers and that sort of thing. When they got them up to Balik, which was the headquarters of their fleet there, they found all they were wanted, they wanted them to be prostitutes for the benefit of the troops, and here I had this great tribe of women, I forget how many were in it,

06:37:00:00

but the CO was appalled when I told him because he could see us as men being faced with some problems. So early the next day, he sent up an ALC to load all these women in, to take them back but they’d had a pretty rough time I can tell you. They could speak English as well as you and I, and I chatted to a number of them.

06:37:30:00

Did they tell you what they’d been through?
Oh yes.
Can you recall what?
Just the fact that they’d been treated like slaves, prostitutes and slaves for the benefit of the Japs. They’d had a rough time.
I can imagine that that must have affected you and your men seeing women involved in, being forced into that kind of

06:38:00:00

situation?
Yes, but very early in the piece I’d given my fellows a pep talk and told them where women were concerned. I said, “You can only interfere with women if you’re quite happy that some,” and once again I use the expression, “Buck nigger in Australia is not doing the same

06:38:30:00

to your wife.” I think that helped to keep a lot of them on the straight and narrow. [UNCLEAR] your wife or girlfriend, you don’t interfere with women unless you’re happy that somebody else should interfere with those you think belong to you. And I can remember we went over to one place before we did the Sepan

06:39:00:00

show and the head man offered me the use of one of his women, for me or the troops, and the troops, he could speak broken English, and the troops behind me were saying, “Go on, accept his offer, accept his offer,” just for the heck of it. There was very little problem like

06:39:30:00

that. I can remember leading a patrol when we were, not leading a patrol but I was picket officer with a patrol.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 07

07:00:31:00

So ok Garth, you were about to talk about the picket in Tobruk.
This was in Alexandria.
Alexandria, sorry.
When we were at Mersa Matruh our fellows were given leave, but they had to be out of Alexandria by midnight and so the picket had to go round the brothels and kick out anybody out who was still there. On this particular occasion, I was at this brothel with my sergeant and

07:01:00:00

and there I found a man and a woman and I, he had no clothes on and I just put my foot on his bottom and I pumped it up and down and said, “Come on dig, it’s time you got out of here,” and he looked over his shoulder at me and started to chatter in French, and then I looked on the little table

07:01:30:00

at the side and I saw this beret affair with the red pom-pom on it that the French sailors used to wear on leave. He was off the Richelieu, the French battleship that was part of the, that was tied up in Alexandria harbour. It was part of the agreement with the surrender of the French to the Germans. So that was the experience there, it was most embarrassing when he started to chatter to me in

07:02:00:00

French and I had no right to disturb him. So that was that.
So perhaps we should go back to Balikpapan, did you think that that Balikpapan was a necessary campaign, in terms of the Borneo campaign in general because a lot of people think that it was a waste,

07:02:30:00

what did you think?
I didn’t think the Borneo campaign was a waste. I think that certain of the Solomon Islands ones were a waste where they threw out particularly, was it 3rd or 11th Division did that? I think that was, it was unnecessary to have the loss of life that they had there because they did have a lot of casualties there, you know. They could have

07:03:00:00

achieved the same by not being in such a hurry to rush in and try kick the Japs out. They knew the Japs would starve where they were. I wouldn’t say the same was so of Balik because it was the headquarters of that south western Pacific fleet and they were fairly comfortably settled in there.

07:03:30:00

No, I don’t think it was a waste of time in that regard.
So you, just going back to war’s end, because you know it seemed for the Australian soldiers to be quite a solemn time, whereas the Americans, you know, off shore seemed to be having, you know, these outrageous celebrations.
Well it may have been just the different temperaments of the two groups but I

07:04:00:00

can’t recall any fellows doing the stupid business of shooting off their arms just for the sake of doing it. Our fellows were greatly relieved it was all over but as for celebrating in that regard I can’t remember anything at all taking place in our battalion.
Was it bitter sweet, the end of the war?

07:04:30:00

I suppose it was but I think that most of the men looked on it with great relief and thank god we were able to get home to our families. Yes.

07:05:00:00

Perhaps our fellows, they were tired of warfare. You just can’t go on fighting people all your life, there’s no future in it. Once you’ve relieved or got rid of the danger to your way of life and

07:05:30:00

the fact that you joined up to do a job for a particular reason. You might say, “Why did you join?” Well I think that for the married man he had a lot more to lose than the single man. The single man, I think joined up because he looked on it as a sort of a duty

07:06:00:00

but at the same time he felt that this was something he had to do if he was going to enjoy the standard of living that he has. Now I’ve got a thing there that I’d like to show you to answer that question regarding why did I join up.
Ok Garth, I believe you have something you wanted to read.

07:06:30:00

Can you explain what this is that you wanted to read?
Yes, I joined the war, the army at the outbreak of war. My younger brother Rod had a practice to get rid of. He was a solicitor in Ingham. He didn’t join until the 9th Division, when he was in the 2/15th Battalion and he wrote to me and I think that this

07:07:00:00

fairly well describes what the average Australian felt when you really come to sum it up. He wrote: “Some months ago I took a cutting from a Saturday Evening Post of a poem in the form of a meditation of a bloke in America who, when he was young had decided to go with his wife to Shanghai, amongst other places. The poem was in the present tense and the bloke having grown older was still in America and

07:07:30:00

the destruction of Shanghai by the Japs was then in progress.” This was a sign of the Japanese war. “I find in the poem some bloody good reasons for joining the AIF and doing it now. One of the verses finishes like this – “Wait long enough and Shanghai always burns. Your bridges burn before you, not behind” – and the whole thing finishes like this – “Tonight they burn Shanghai and we are safe.

07:08:00:00

Safe from the world and all its puzzles, safe from everything except our own contempt. Tonight Shanghai is burning and we are dying too. What bomb more surely mortal than death inside of you, for some men die by shrapnel and some go down in flames, but most men perish inch by inch in play at little games.” And that’s what I reckon.

07:08:30:00

It’s the thought behind most Australians. If you analyse that it gives you reason. You look at the thing and you say, “Right, I’ll do this.” Why? Because most men perish inch by inch in play at little games, but even if I perish I’m doing something concrete and I’m preserving our way of life.

07:09:00:00

And that’s why I think that article that appeared as he said in the Saturday Evening Post shows really the reason why most Australians joined the services, the outbreak of war.
That’s a very powerful piece of writing. I found it very moving actually.
I think it is too. I think so. So that as I said is the reason why we joined.

07:09:30:00

We didn’t celebrate the conclusion of the war the way they might have expected the servicemen to do. In the street, did you see the photos here of the celebration in Sydney? We don’t regret the people, rather envy the people who did. In some respects

07:10:00:00

it bought home to the expression, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” We were in the thick of it, we knew what was happening. Those who were left behind here, our wives and sweethearts, and parents and brothers and sisters, they did not know what was going on and when you don’t know what’s going on you can imagine

07:10:30:00

all sorts of things going on. You can’t appreciate the boredom, ‘cause war is really only, as somebody has said, it’s ninety five percent boredom and five per cent intense fright. And that’s pretty right. But for the people behind, left at home, who don’t know what’s going on, I think it’s probably even a worse war than we had.

07:11:00:00

And that’s how it was.
So the war has ended, what happened to you next?
War ended?
Yes, what happened next?
Well I went back to Townsville and to my job in Dalgety’s again. It was probably, it was pretty hard. You missed, even though you were married with your family and your friends around you,

07:11:30:00

you missed the comradeship of blokes on whom you relied so much. And that lasted for some time.
How long did that last?
Oh some years I’d say. I was fortunate. Anybody, who had a family to go back to was fortunate. Single men, I think found it harder to settle down again because

07:12:00:00

they didn’t have that extra responsibility and attachment that a married man had. I went back to my old job at Dalgety’s and I suppose with that and my family interests, I didn’t find it hard to settle down but I certainly missed that

07:12:30:00

companionship with my mates. I joined the RSL [Returned and Services League], but the trouble with the RSL was everybody seemed to have an axe to grind and one place that I found that was not so was in Legacy. I was invited to join Legacy, but I didn’t join it for some time. In those days you were invited

07:13:00:00

to join Legacy, they didn’t seek members. And I took a great interest in the CMF to try to pass on some of the knowledge that I had to the rising generation and I found great pleasure in that.
What was it about Legacy that attracted you to the organization?

07:13:30:00

It was funny the way I got into it. I’d been transferred down to, I’d been invited to join them in Townsville but I was so involved with the CMF that I didn’t have the time to do it. I went down to Albury in 1954 and there I took a continued interest in the CMF and I switched across to the headquarters of an armed

07:14:00:00

unit, the 8/13th, the Victorian Mounted Rifles it was called, and I had a particular friend who was very active in Legacy. Now the Albury Legacy Club used to take a group of underprivileged kids who were wards of Legacy, from Melbourne every winter up to Legacy. They’d take them up for a fortnight

07:14:30:00

and look after them and entertain them and on this particular occasion, this fellow who was in Legacy, he came to me and he said, “Look,” he said, “We’ve got a problem, we’ve got so many Legatees and each Legatee has taken a couple but we’ve got a couple left over, what about taking them?” So I had a word with Beryl and we agreed to take them. Unfortunately we ended up with two

07:15:00:00

eleven year olds and they were both bed wetters and you can imagine living in Albury in the middle of winter with a couple of bed wetters on your hands. So after we’d sorted the problems out, I said to Beryl afterwards, I said, “Look, if we’re going to assist Legacy, we might as well join them and be in the thing properly.” So that’s the way I came to join Legacy in 1955, in Albury

07:15:30:00

and I’ve been in it ever since. I’ve been in the pensions committee, had a lot of dealings here with the DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs], you’re not interested in that aspect of it, but I’ve been in the pensions committee for thirty-eight years. It’s been very interesting to watch the way medical science has developed in thirty eight years. The changing attitude of DVA

07:16:00:00

in thirty eight years. Today and for many years now DVA has bent over backwards within the confines of the law, to give a widow a war widows pension if she is at all entitled to it. Legacy’s job is to present the case and advocate for them if they need an advocate. I don’t know whether you know, but some

07:16:30:00

perhaps up to ten years ago, might be less, the DVA formed a group of experts who laid down for almost every condition from which a dig can die as to the causes that might have contributed to that. When a widow makes an application for a pension today it just goes before it, and if it meets the requirements of any of these

07:17:00:00

then the widow automatically gets a war widows pension. But if it doesn’t and the DVA knock it back then that’s where our committee comes into play. We’ve already had a hand in submitting the original claim, but it’s been knocked back, but now it has to go before the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the section of it that is known as the

07:17:30:00

Veterans’ Review Board and that’s up to us to present a case then on behalf of the widow where we think that an injustice has been done by her not getting a war widows pension in the first place.
They do remarkable work, Legacy.
We’ve got in this group, we’ve got five doctors and four laymen, of which

07:18:00:00

I happen to be one and it’s very interesting to hear the arguments that come up some time to support an application. Afterwards, I’ll show you roughly the sort of things we tackle. I’ve got a summary there now that I’m working on.
That would be great to see, but let’s get back to your story. It’s good to know you are involved in Legacy

07:18:30:00

because that’s a very important and great group, great work that they do. But I’m interested to know now what it was like for you to settle back down with your family and with Beryl after the war. Were you able to talk to Beryl about your experience of the war?
No, frankly we talked very little about it. As a matter when that youngest son of mine, wherever he is, in one of

07:19:00:00

those photos, he was a medico. He did medicine. He became a specialist physician and after he qualified he went home to England. When he was doing his post-graduate study he went along to, he went to do some work with the Queen Elizabeth

07:19:30:00

Military Hospital, I think it was called. And he said that a patient came in one day and he happened to be a major-general and John knew the right thing to do and if he wanted to go from one place to another, John took him. And he commented to John, he said, “I’ve been to hospital on many occasions, but this is the first time I’ve been paid the courtesy of having somebody to accompany me. I’d like you to have lunch with me.” So he took him to his club

07:20:00:00

to lunch and this fellow turned out to be a member of the RHA in Tobruk. John wrote to me from England and he said, “Do you know?” he said, “With that general I learnt more about what went on during the war, than I learnt from you in the last thirty odd years,” or whatever it was. Because the average bloke, unless he’s talking to an ex-serviceman, he

07:20:30:00

doesn’t talk about the war.
Why?
Maybe because foolishly they’ve become so emotional. I can’t account for my emotionalism today. I can’t. Why don’t they talk about it?

07:21:00:00

Are you trying to protect people or?
No, you’re not trying to protect people. It’s, you only remember the funny things that happen. The funny things that I remember there, I can remember much more clearly than I can some of the more tragic things that happened. The way men were killed, sometimes killed through inefficiency.

07:21:30:00

And it’s, why don’t I talk more about war? I remember Beryl – does she ever talk about it? Rarely. We talk about the women that she worked

07:22:00:00

with, but it’s generally about what’s happened since the war, not what happened during the war. You can bet your sweet life if it’s something that happened during the war that it would be something funny, it wouldn’t be something tragic. And they certainly saw some pretty tough things there. She was asked at the church to give a talk

07:22:30:00

on her wartime experiences and I supposed I learnt more from that, than I have with living with her for many years, because I went along to hear what she had to say. The funny things that happened, she talks about, she told a story about

07:23:00:00

when she was in the Middle East. There was an argument going on between a couple of digs, which concerned the British Empire and whatnot, and they called on her to referee it and she supported the dig who supported Britain you see. And anyway,

07:23:30:00

later that day she was in what they, they had an area, which had a door on it, that had all the linen and what not. She was in this. One of the digs, patient, locked the door on her and they wouldn’t let her out because he was one who’d been in this argument, wouldn’t let her out until she sang, “There’ll always be an England.” So that’s the sort of thing that comes

07:24:00:00

to light. But
But you didn’t actually discuss any of that with Beryl until this time?
No, we didn’t discuss that sort of, if we did discuss anything it was something funny like that that we’d discuss. You didn’t discuss the some of the terrible things the nurses had to put up with. The same I suppose applies to the men. You hear two men talking today,

07:24:30:00

you’ll hear them talking about something funny that happened during the war, not something that was otherwise.
Now the impression that I’ve gotten from listening to you today is that you were actually a very good leader and that’s an impression that I get and you also were quite paternal

07:25:00:00

towards the men that you were in charge of and I’m curious about that because you were obviously under a lot of stress, you know a lot of time, and I’m just wondering what do you think makes a good leader in a situation like that you were in?

07:25:30:00

As for myself, as I told your mate up in Orange, I remember telling my men very early in the piece that I wasn’t there to win a popularity contest, I was there to get the maximum number home safely to their wives and families, but that was a secondary consideration. The first was to win the war and then get them home safely. And the other thing is

07:26:00:00

I think it should be second nature to any man who has a responsibility for other men to look after them. To look after their well-being. I’ll think you’ll find that one of the most hateful things that an officer had to do during the war was to censor mail because he was really intruding on a man’s

07:26:30:00

private thoughts and I think any officer, any officer worth his salt, found it a hateful job to censor mail. You had to do it every day, if you didn’t do it every day, it got away from you. And it had a slight advantage I suppose, in that it gave you a little bit of an insight

07:27:00:00

into the bloke himself and you knew, in certain circumstances what to expect from that bloke under certain circumstances, but generally speaking it was a hateful job. Now there were various ways of leading. Some men lead by the mere fact that they’re, “Hale fellow or mate.” It’s got its advantages but it also has its

07:27:30:00

disadvantages because you never know quite in a tough spot just where they might stand. Others by their pure personality will lead men. Others by, set a certain standard of discipline and being fair in their discipline and in every thing they do, they consider their men,

07:28:00:00

that is another way of leading men. I think there are many ways of being successful leaders, it just depends on the individual and his makeup. But unless he follows a standard I don’t think he will. And I think too,

07:28:30:00

that any man who’s got the courage of his convictions he will prove to be a better leader than a man who is not definite in what he thinks. I think a leader has also got to not to think that he knows everything.

07:29:00:00

He’s got to be prepared to listen but having listened he’s got to make up his mind, and make a decision and he’s got to carry that thing through. But it all depends on the individual I think, but I think those are certain aspects that he must toe the line on himself before he can expect other men

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to hold him either in respect or love and affection or whatever it is that makes a leader of men and then follow him. That’s about it.
I feel like I’ve learnt something. Garth, how did the war change you as a person?

07:30:00:00

I suppose that it certainly changed my bigoted outlook on life. That was important, but was one of the lesser things, nevertheless.

07:30:30:00

I suppose no man can spend six years in the army without being the better for it. Of course one way, I suppose it changed me, was getting married and having a family, added responsibilities. It made me think more of others

07:31:00:00

more than purely myself and I think my experience with men and my attitude to my workmates in civvy street also helped in that regard to make me more considerate. But it also, sorry.
I didn’t want to interrupt you but now that I have, can you explain what you meant by your bigoted attitude?

07:31:30:00

In what ways were you bigoted before the war and how did that change after?
If any man before the war who said he wasn’t bigoted, I think he’s kidding himself, because we grew up in a bigoted society. But the war changed all that because you took a bloke at his value not

07:32:00:00

as to what his religious persuasion was or his political persuasion and you valued a fellow for what he was, not for what somebody else tried to tell him he was.
So what were your attitudes before the war?
I suppose

07:32:30:00

unconsciously I would say that I was bigoted but I hadn’t made up my own mind how justified bigotry was. My parents, I know

07:33:00:00

were anti-Labour and I questioned whether that was right or not. Before the war I had a vote, I probably voted Liberal because my parents were anti-Labour. Today I vote accordingly, you’d call me a swinging voter if you like, but depends on whom I think

07:33:30:00

will do the best for the country, is the one that I will back. There’s sometimes conflicting there, but you’ve got to make up your mind and you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions but today I will not blindly follow what somebody else thinks, I’m prepared to question it and act accordingly. I think that

07:34:00:00

the war reinforced those earlier thoughts that I had and they show up after the war. Today, am I bigoted? I’m prepared to listen to anybody who’s got an argument and I,

07:34:30:00

whether I agree with what he says, it doesn’t always mean that I do agree but if I disagree I’m prepared to discuss it with him. And if he’s convinced me that I’m on the wrong track, all right I’ll live with it but he’s got to be good.
And so do you attribute that

07:35:00:00

understanding that you now have to your wartime experience?
Yes. Because I think that anybody today who didn’t have the advantage of being in the services missed out on appreciating the fact that there is more to

07:35:30:00

any argument at all than your original thoughts on it. You’ve got to discuss things and you’ve got to be prepared to admit when you’re wrong. If you’re not prepared to admit and stick out of sheer cussedness to what your first thoughts are, then you’re a sorry case. That’s what I think. But as I said, before you listen to all the arguments and having heard what they are,

07:36:00:00

you decide your course of action and you stick to it.
Garth, did you upon your return to Australia, did you dream about the war, about your experiences?
No. Rarely. Why? Because

07:36:30:00

I was fortunate enough. Because of my performance here today and emotionalism I claimed that I was in the fortunate position of being able to detach myself after the war from the experiences of the war, but I’m now not so sure

07:37:00:00

that I have. But I didn’t dream about them a lot. In many of these cases that I get through, through Legacy you read where men have awful problems after the war in dreaming of things that occurred.

07:37:30:00

But I was never worried in that regard and I only put it down to the fact that after the war I was able to detach myself from anything that occurred during the war. It’s only when you talk about them in the light of day that things become a bit more difficult.

07:38:00:00

Would this have been perhaps one of the first times that you’ve spoken in detail about your war time experiences?
Come to think of it, it is, because in a constant session like this you cover everything. You might have a fleeting glimpse of it, the last few minutes or something like that in a discussion or something occurs. It comes and goes but this is the first time that I have been through in detail

07:38:30:00

what my experiences might have been. I only hope I sleep well tonight.
Me too. I hope you get a good night’s sleep as well. So I’ve got a few more kind of general questions then Graham [Interviewer] is going to take over and probably go back over a few other

07:39:00:00

things that you’ve mentioned. I was just wondering whether or not battle stress or shell shock was a problem in your battalion at any point during the war?
I wouldn’t, it was apparent that some people had a problem. We had a bloke, and I often think of him, and I take

07:39:30:00

my hat off to him. His name was Joe Cottrell. Now four brothers served in the one company, which is a terrible thing. And Joe he didn’t go bomb happy but his nerve cracked. He wouldn’t be evacuated but he was sent back to Bashalon [?] where the cooks and that sort of thing prepare the meals and that sort of thing and send them up to the forward line.

07:40:00:00

And when we were in Tobruk I saw Joe on a number of occasions. He wouldn’t give in. He’d come up with a ladle of stew and he’d pour it out of the ladle into a dixie and his hand would be going like this but he wouldn’t give into it. Remarkable and occasionally, a fellow became bomb happy and did

07:40:30:00

strange things but I put it down to partly to the discipline that was in our battalion. We were very fortunate, I said earlier that Colonel Martin was a great disciplinarian. He was called “February”. The boys reckoned his favourite comment when a dig was reeled up before him was, “You’re fined

07:41:00:00

five pounds and twenty eight days,” and so they called him February.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 08

08:00:32:00

If we could round off the Joe Cottrell story. So he was somebody that could be defined as bomb happy and yet he was prepared to carry on, no matter what.
That’s right because of the nature of the bloke. Even though he, I suppose you could say his resistance had broken down, he wasn’t prepared to admit it and he’d fight it, even laugh about it.
What about your own reaction to battle

08:01:00:00

and the stress of battle? Did you ever feel a great, almost overpowering sense of apprehension?
Yes but I reckon an officer was fortunate in that regard in battle, particularly in preparing for battle or taking a patrol out for instance. You were so busy, just imagine, you were so busy

08:01:30:00

organising things, making certain that no stone was being left unturned, that you didn’t have time to dwell on the possibilities of the outcome, whereas you take the average dig, he’d be told say three o’clock in the afternoon, all right you’re on patrol tonight with so and so, and you’ve got to do so and so, and that was his first briefing. After he’s briefed, he’s got nothing to do except think about

08:02:00:00

the outcome of this patrol and I can well understand many fellows sort of cracking up under the pressure of thinking about what might happen. An officer didn’t have time to do that and in that regard he was very fortunate.
Either before going into battle or during the battle itself were you ever afraid would you say?
Oh yeah, I suppose so.

08:02:30:00

I would say so.
Could you say to what extent you were afraid?
I would say that anybody who said that he wasn’t afraid was kidding himself. But I think when I say I’m right that most fellows would not admit they were afraid

08:03:00:00

to their mates for fear they’d be criticised for it, even though they were afraid, they wouldn’t admit it. That’s just the difference between when you’re afraid and you admit you’re afraid, you’ve got a problem on your hands. But as long as you’re afraid and don’t admit it to your mates, you’ll get through.
Within yourself when you did feel afraid, how did

08:03:30:00

this manifest itself?
Gee, that’s a hard one.

08:04:00:00

I don’t know that I can answer that question because I’d have to try to recall circumstances under which I felt I was particularly afraid.
Well thinking of particular battles, what battles do you think probably would have caused you the greatest degree of

08:04:30:00

apprehension?
Well I was very fortunate that I wasn’t neither at Milne Bay nor Cape Endaiadere in New Guinea. I’d be able to answer that more truthfully. I felt that the night of 3rd, 4th May in Tobruk, the attack that we did that night,

08:05:00:00

I’d don’t know if it made me all that afraid, but it taught me many lessons and I think lessons that stood me in good stead later on. For instance, you’d had to have a look at the map to see, but because we were attacking inside the wire,

08:05:30:00

we had a left flank that was fixed. Now, anybody who goes into attack wants room to manoeuvre, but where you’ve got a fixed left flank, which is barbed wire, you’re conscious that you can’t move that way in order to get round an obstacle, or to give a better go. And I think

08:06:00:00

that’s a thing that I did learn, that if you have a fixed flank you’ve got to try to do something about overcoming it. As a matter of fact in that attack that night, I don’t hesitate to say that we’d have done better if the platoon that I was in charge of had gone outside the wire and attacked from that position, but it’s really easy to

08:06:30:00

be wise after the event, obviously.
This is a real laymen’s question, but could you explain what you mean by fixed flank and why this presented so much of a challenge?
If you’ve got barbed wire there and you’re attacking up there and you’ve got another company here, that company seals that flank and the barbed wire seals this flank. That shows, might want to swing that way or it might feel it wants to swing this

08:07:00:00

way, but it can’t swing this way because this one can’t swing left either and that’s why I think if you’re pinned down like that you’re at a real disadvantage to start with. That’s partly what happened on Shaggy, that the sides were so steep you couldn’t manoeuvre either way, there was no manoeuvrability, you just had to go forward on a very narrow front.

08:07:30:00

Well that’s a most undesirable situation to find your self in.
It seems an almost surreal, impossible landscape to manoeuvre in.
It is. There’s no other way to describe it. No manoeuvrability at all.
And that obviously placed huge emphasis on the two men that were in the front line every time.
Oh yes. It was like a patrol. You sort of wait till the first man gets bumped off before you know that the enemy is there.

08:08:00:00

Actually, I wanted to ask you when you were mentioning before that you’d drawn up a list of men that you felt should receive decorations for Shaggy Ridge, who are some of the men whose names spring immediately to mind now that you were putting forward for decorations? Who were some of the men that you felt contributed most?
Alec Marshall was one. He commanded the company. There was another young fellow that he had, a young officer he had with

08:08:30:00

him, named Derek Power. I think that he, he may have been from memory recommended. He was an original member of the battalion. He was commissioned in Milne Bay. We had, I’ve got the figures there, I think I had eight sergeants commissioned in the field after Milne Bay.

08:09:00:00

And five of them were killed and the other three were wounded after Buna. So, it was Cape Endaiadere actually. We use Buna and Sanananda and Cape Endaiadere loosely, we refer to Buna.
Now you referred to Alec Marshall. What actions did he perform?
Oh dear from memory. Well, he led his

08:09:30:00

company through this impossible piece of country which was up to the right of Shaggy Ridge and then when the time came he saw an opportunity to attack and he led his men and it was by his sheer demonstration

08:10:00:00

of personal leadership that took the day, because I think that anybody who was present would doubt that without his leadership it was problematical as to whether he would make it. That was when I called on the 2/10th bloke, Wally Gunn, to attack. Poor old Wally got stuck into it but a Jap grenade landed beside him and they dug fifty three pieces of that out of his back.

08:10:30:00

But he was a darn good officer too. I remember after the war, I knew Wally very well and I had occasion to be down south west Queensland and the Gunn’s owned some beautiful properties there in south west Queensland and I called on our quarter master who was the manager of Goldsborough Mort in Goondiwindi and

08:11:00:00

he rang Wally Gunn and he said, “I’ve got a bloke here who’d like a word with you.” So I spoke to Wally and he said, “Come out and see me, it’s only about eighty miles, just down the road,” you see, and Fergie said, “Gosh, I’ve got a job to do here, Wally, I can’t do that.” And Wally said, “Well,” and Wally being a Dalgety client since the turn of the century, he said, “If we have a

08:11:30:00

break away from Dalgety’s, I won’t go to Goldsborough Mort.” “All right” says Fergie and so he got in the car and we travelled eighty miles to say good day to Wally. That’s just the way things were.
Sounds like the country notion of just around the corner.
Yeah.
Just around the corner, maybe half way to Elura.
Yes that’s right. As I say, Alec Marshall showed great leadership in that show. His younger brother, Archie, was killed on the night of 3rd, 4th May in Tobruk.

08:12:00:00

He was, Archie was one of our finest officers in my book and it was a great tragedy the way he was killed. It was thought that he was hit in the upper chest by an anti-tank round and of course, you can just imagine what happened in the end, without a head on his shoulders.
Now you mentioned another outstanding soldier at one particular

08:12:30:00

point, Bill McIntosh who won a Military Medal. Did you know Bill McIntosh?
Oh yes. I knew him before the war. He was in the Adelaide Company or Howard Smith’s, one of the shipping companies and at the outbreak of war I was on my way to work the day after they called for volunteers and I called into the drill hall as I had to go past it and I

08:13:00:00

stuck my name down and I was on the top of the list. And about midday I saw Bill and he’d been down about eleven o’clock and he said, when I met his at midday, he said, “Gee you taking a long time to hear the bugle, aren’t you?” I said, “Why?” “Oh,” he said, “I signed up at eleven o’clock.” I said, “Did you see whose name was at the top of the list?” That’s how well I knew Bill. As I say we were in the CMF

08:13:30:00

together and machine gunners and that’s how we came to end up in the 2/12th, 2/9th, not the 2/12th. And he was a, he should have got his commission when we were in England but he was a sergeant there and his name had gone in as a possible officer

08:14:00:00

but when he had to front up to the CO he had a black eye. Why? Because the night before he’d stopped a fight between two other, two of his men and he’d accidentally got a black eye out of it and so the CO just wiped him. But he was commissioned, first of all he was still a sergeant when we did Al Jaghbub and there he won his military medal because

08:14:30:00

he was a Vickers gunner and although he was wounded, he went back and he got a further case of ammunition that he’d carted up himself, up to the gun, although he was wounded and he did a jolly good job and because that Vickers gun section played a major role in the success of the

08:15:00:00

operation. And then at New Guinea he had his commission. He was commissioned in the field at Milne Bay and then in New Guinea he led many attacks at Cape Endaiadere.

08:15:30:00

One of our officers, a mate of mine, named Vince Donnelly tells of Bill McIntosh when they were at Cape Endaiadere, he said, “Bill was going through this area when a Jap jumped up out of the ground and he went down the track with Bill in hot pursuit.”

08:16:00:00

My mate said, “I couldn’t help but stand up and call out Yorks tally-ho.” Anyway, Bill caught up with this Jap, but as I say, he not only got the MC in Cape Endaiadere but he had mentions in despatches several times. He was badly wounded, very badly wounded in the knee. As a matter of fact he was, I think ultimately to stop him getting killed,

08:16:30:00

he was made an LO [Liaison Officer] on Brigade Headquarters. Because those fellows were like that, you know they’d take so many risks their luck must run out in the end.
Now you discussed before with Rebecca [interviewer] your instinctive feelings, your theory of what makes a good leader, what involved you on a day to day

08:17:00:00

basis in being an officer? We’ve spoken a lot about campaigns and about the events of those campaigns and a number of the people and indeed a number of your own actions, but if we can look at your day to day activities during say a couple of those campaigns. If we can just shade in a bit more of the picture as far as you were concerned?
You mean in action?
Okay. Let’s look at

08:17:30:00

both in action and on other occasions.
Well on other occasions, once again a funny story. I had, I experienced that age-old joke that you probably know. We were in England and because of the danger of being invaded

08:18:00:00

the Poms had dragged down all the signs they had, the names of places and where this one led to and all the rest of it and we did a lot of route marching there and I remember leading the platoon at this stage and we were running a bit late and I thought, how do we get home? I wonder if there’s a short cut? And we came to these cross roads and here was the famous yokel leaning on the gate, chewing a straw.

08:18:30:00

And I looked around and not a sign, you see to tell me which way to go and I said to him, “Where’s that road lead to?” “Don’t know.” “Where’s that road lead to?” “Don’t know.” I said to him, “You don’t know much do you?” “No,” he said, “but I ain’t lost.” And that was one thing that an officer hated doing and that was to have to make a decision when he wasn’t certain where he was going because

08:19:00:00

if you lead a mob of infantrymen who are walking all the way and you lead them up the garden path, it takes you a long time to live it down. And that became an important thing for officers to be really proficient at map reading. You had to be good. I don’t know why, there was a bit of a joke in our battalion

08:19:30:00

because when we were England no matter where we went, Eric Martin would say, “Nixon Smith, give us a reference number,” and, “Suthers, do you agree?” Or it was, “Suthers give us a reference number,” and “Nixon Smith, do you agree?” And you could bet your sweet life that he’d pick on the two of us. “Where are we? Do you agree?” It became a bit of a joke and I think because of that

08:20:00:00

at least we were reasonable at map reading and it stood us in good stead many a time.
It sounds like a bit of initial ordeal by fire. In action, in battle could you describe your day by day, could you describe a typical day in terms of what you were called upon to do?

08:20:30:00

Well when we were in Tobruk you did whatever administration you could do but very frequently you just had to more or less lie up. If you were a company commander you could speak to the battalion by phone but you had no

08:21:00:00

connection with the platoon frequently. I was a platoon commander there for some time before I took the company over and my runner was a fellow named Jack French, whom you know J French, VC. Now when I say to people Jack was a runner of mine, they just think just another dig sort of thing, whatever a runner is, but you know, you must remember that this was before the days of walkie-talkies,

08:21:30:00

or we didn’t even have a phone, so that if you wanted to get a message anywhere you had to send the poor old runner. I think his official name was orderly. And it was a dangerous job because you can bet your sweet life that the time you want to get a message through urgently, that there was plenty of lead flying round.

08:22:00:00

So Jack French was an invaluable member of the platoon in that regard and he was the orderly from the day that I got my commission until we came out of Tobruk and I wasn’t surprised when he got his VC at the, when he was a corporal, he was promoted at the time when I was back at the ITB.

08:22:30:00

You talk about a normal day.
You used the term, some of the time I would lie up. What did you mean by that?
Well you’d have men on watch, you must remember these men had been working all night. Perhaps we should discuss what was a normal night, what was a normal day or night. Men had to go to sleep some time, so you’d have two on, two men

08:23:00:00

on lookout because you never knew when your friends or the enemy were going to launch an attack and that was even so when there was a sand storm on but at night-time, well the first thing you would do there at night-time would be, or even the day time as far as possible, to do as much of the organising as you could of sending out patrols

08:23:30:00

and you would normally send out a patrol to say finish at midnight and another one to take over and to be back by dawn. Well that all had to be organised and that would keep you as an officer busy but the troops they were forever improving their situation. As an officer

08:24:00:00

at night-time you’d, after you’d got your patrols, unless you were taking one out yourself, you’d go around the whole of your company area, and see that things were going well. Did I just say going well? Well you could amongst other things, check on the fact that the water and food

08:24:30:00

was there in the post because it was laid down that every position had to have a two gallon water can full and there was a great temptation for the men to touch that water. It was a temptation that they rarely yielded to because they were on strict rations of water and it was a pretty light ration, I’ll tell you. But you had to

08:25:00:00

have that water there in case they were cut off or in case, you never know just what emergency, they might blow out the water point or something like that. So you’d check that and then you’d get all the latest information regarding any observation they’d seen of enemy change of position or anything to send that information back to battalion headquarters.

08:25:30:00

There was information you had to pass onto any successor or any visitor. I can remember there on one occasion there was a heavy machine gun, a German heavy machine gun, a Solothurn, which they evidently set on a fixed line that went just over the corner of a position and periodically,

08:26:00:00

you could almost set your watch by the frequency of it, it would fire. And you would hear it fire before the bullets would arrive, to tell you how far away it was, but it would land on the position and you had to be certain that anybody that went there was aware of the danger of being in that. I remember one night before Bill Parry-Oakden, that fellow whose diary,

08:26:30:00

took over from me, I was walking with him and I stopped him and I said, “Now look, you’re going to hear this, if it fires, hurry you’ve got to get out the road because it’s going to be dangerous,” and anyway I heard it and I skipped out of the way. I knew it was coming but he was a bit slow and he got the bullet through his putty and it just grazed the skin. He often laughed about this even when he was,

08:27:00:00

he ended up as Secretary of the AGC [Australian Guarantee Corporation] and from there he went as, what do you call them, general manager or something of the Royal National Society, the Show Society here.
Oh the Royal Agricultural Society?
The Royal Agricultural Society. And I saw him on many occasions and he had this, he often laughed about this bullet that nearly got him in the leg. It’s just the luck of the game.

08:27:30:00

Certainly a stroke of luck.
That’s the sort of thing that kept you occupied. Going round and making certain that the, and also contacting your flanks, the units on your flanks because the weakness of any show is in its flanks because you’re never ever quite so sure how much anybody else has taken care of your flanks and so you’d go over and contact the bloke next door

08:28:00:00

hoping that his sentries or his men wouldn’t be so bomb happy that they’d shoot you on the way. That was…
Thank you, that’s a very good overall description and for people that haven’t been in the army and certainly haven’t been in World War II, that’s a very comprehensive description. Just wondering about, was there anything special about planning and conducting night attacks at Tobruk?

08:28:30:00

I mean was that a much more unique situation than a day time attack?
Yes, before we did any attack, you sent out patrols to try to get as much information as you could and

08:29:00:00

I can remember on one occasion, an officer being sent out to get info, and the idea was that he would get information for an attack. He didn’t go out as far as he should have and a subsequent patrol, the following night,

08:29:30:00

the officer in charge went out considerably further and he reckoned that up to twelve machine guns could hit that any position that was attempted to attack it. He could tell that because these machine guns were firing spasmodically for some reason or another. And the result was when there was an attack based on the first information

08:30:00:00

the platoon that did the attack got into serious trouble because they didn’t have adequate support. They weren’t granted sufficient artillery support to neutralise these guns while the attack went ahead and that was one occasion that I can recall where the information for a day attack wasn’t correct and it ended up in a

08:30:30:00

tragedy. As for the night attacks from memory the only big night attack we did was that one on the 3rd, 4th May, but it was the patrolling at night time and we covered that in fair detail but if there’s anything else you think

08:31:00:00

you could get out of it.
There was something that Rebecca had mentioned and I didn’t recall us covering it in any detail but this was an incident involving a trip wire.
When you lay a minefield, supposing we’re laying it here. We’re the friendly, it’s our minefield, then you booby trap that minefield so

08:31:30:00

that nobody can interfere with it and then on your home side of it you put a trip wire on it, a trip wire, you know what a trip wire is? About this high from the ground, so anybody trips over it, if they try to walk through. And in this particular incident I was leading a patrol and it wasn’t till I hit the trip wire that I realised that I’d walked through a minefield,

08:32:00:00

purely luck, and I put that down to the fact that the estimate of the distance that I was to take the patrol before I hit it was incorrect. It might have been carried out by an officer previously who took shorter steps than I took, or something like that, but anyway I’d arrived there before I should have. That’s what it boiled down too and it was then that I

08:32:30:00

realised that I’d walked through a minefield and then of course, I had the men of the patrol, probably about eight of us I suppose, and I had a machine gunner out that side and a machine gunner out that side of me and I just had the compass for the bearing and there was a counter, not a counter but I had half a dozen pebbles in my hand, so that I wouldn’t

08:33:00:00

be a hundred yards, five hundred yards out when we got there. And it was then that I found that we had this fellow lying on the ground with this anti-personnel mine, one between his legs and one under his armpit, so I had to get him off that. The worry was that we first of all had to determine where the other anti-personnel mines were to be certain that somebody didn’t step on one. It was,

08:33:30:00

it was a little bit of a very slow job and that’s the way it worked. But this business of these anti-personnel mines, they were a curse because when we were, the second time we were on the point of the Salient, the Huns [Germans] had pulled back a bit. We didn’t fight them, they’d pulled back, and they’d deserted their trenches

08:34:00:00

but they’d planted these anti-personnel mines all round, you see. So I happened to be, we decided that we’d go forward, the company commander or the platoon commander decided we’d go forward and occupy this area, so I took out a couple of men with me to clear a passage way through to where it was. I had the white tape behind me, so

08:34:30:00

that the tape would be there for anybody to fall on and the three of us had to go like that, on ground level, for the whole distance to eliminate any of these things. If you came across one you stuck a nail in it and screwed it and that was that.
Could you describe the purpose of the white tape?
Well, that white tape you’d see at night so that

08:35:00:00

anybody moving who wanted to move up to that position, if they walked along the tape they knew they were safe because it’d been cleared. If they didn’t it was bad luck.
So you’re describing a night patrol here basically?
Really a night patrol, I suppose you’d call it. Well we did that and cleared the area and the following night when we moved forward all went well and we’d been backwards and forwards a couple of times

08:35:30:00

and then somebody coming up had apparently put his foot exactly where he shouldn’t have. Whether he’d got outside the area that we’d cleared, I don’t know, but he stepped on one of these things and killed himself and badly wounded the bloke behind him and in front of him. Just the luck of the game.
Were you there on that occasion?
I wasn’t there. I was in forward.

08:36:00:00

I’d cleared the minefield and I wasn’t part of the party, I was there when we had to rescue the blokes.
You were in advance, so you had to come back and rescue them?
Oh yes, we had to get them off, but that was just part of a day’s work.
Now the man that was lying there with the anti-personnel mines in those positions you described, how did you get him off the mines without any further

08:36:30:00

detonation?
Well we had to locate the other anti-personnel mines that were there and all we had to do then was roll him over, you see, because if the thing’s there and he’s lying there if you roll him, you’ll roll him clear of it and you can watch the thing between his legs and with the aid of another bloke and I, we got him off it without exploding the thing. As I say, we’d stuck a couple of nails through the hole that you see in them,

08:37:00:00

which is there for that purpose that I knew at that time and so it was just good luck that we were able to do it.
Was this man injured? Had he been injured?
No, he hadn’t been injured. He went to ground. We had a thing if a patrol stopped, it meant we stopped for a purpose and you just didn’t stand up there and expose yourself and some would just go down and kneel and others would lie flat.

08:37:30:00

Well, he was one who lay flat, it was just good luck.
If you’re out on a night patrol, are you there with torches? How can you see?
Oh no, no.
Well how can you see? How can you navigate your way forward?
You compass is luminous and that’s what you go by. That’s why the patrol depends on the ability of the bloke who’s got the compass. For six months, I think I never took

08:38:00:00

my compass off my wrist. I had it with a leather thong and it was with me wherever I went.
Do you remember how many night patrols you went on in that six months?
I don’t know. I suppose we went out, see most of your patrols are officer led and you could just about bet if you didn’t go out tonight, you’d go out tomorrow night. Because

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it would be more dark from dark to midnight than midnight to dawn. And you had the area you were responsible for and the GOCs were determined that we should rule no man’s land and we did. I remember a funny, do you want to hear?
I just wanted to ask, what was the purpose of those patrols?

08:39:00:00

To gather information to make certain that the enemy was not also patrolling no-man’s land and occasionally you’d have a raid in an attempt to get a prisoner, particularly a German prisoner and

08:39:30:00

that generally was the idea. I learnt a lesson early in the piece. I went out on a, I took a patrol out one night and we unexpectedly came across a position and the shooting match started and I had a, I had shorts on and I had a 36 Mills grenade in each pocket. Now if you’ve ever tried to get a Mills grenade out of a trouser pants pocket in a hurry,

08:40:00:00

it was then that I learnt that there was only one way to carry it and that’s on your belt because it’s most frustrating when you’re under fire trying to get a grenade out of your pocket.
Interviewee: Garth Suthers Archive ID 0248 Tape 09

09:00:31:00

You have a story concerning the Royal Hussars Artillery, I believe?
Yes, they were in Tobruk, they did a marvellous job. They had twenty-five pounders there and on this particular occasion it was when the Battleaxe exercise, Battleaxe was the code name given early in the piece to the attempt by the British army to break out at Mersa Matruh

09:01:00:00

and relieve us in Tobruk. We were given a role of going out to join up with them at a place called El Duda and I was given the role, I was given a map reference of four squares which gave you an area of two thousand yards by two thousand yards.

09:01:30:00

My job was to locate an enemy battery in that square and destroy it. In the middle of the night it was not an easy task. So the first thing to do was to, I decided the route that I’d use and it took me right through a battery position of the RHA, so I thought I’d better first of all clear it with the battery

09:02:00:00

commander that he didn’t mind if I’m walking a platoon through his battery position at night-time. So I went over in the day time to this battery commander. A typical Pom, he came out and, “How do you do old mate?” Then I told him what I wanted to do and he said, “Wait a minute, I’ll have a look.” He disappeared back into probably

09:02:30:00

the only tent fly that was erected in Tobruk and he came out suitably dressed. He had his thongs on, he had a pair of shorts on and he had his little forage cap on. That was the way he was dressed the first time. The second time, he went back and said, “Just a minute.” He went back and he came out with his walking stick and a monocle.

09:03:00:00

Even though they put on these things because I think it’s purely, he did it just for effect but gee they were good gunners, they were great. But fortunately for me, I say for me, the Battleaxe show you will recall fell through. The British failed to make the German line, so we were never called to go out. The whole brigade

09:03:30:00

was booked to make this breakout, to join up with them when they got the show rolling properly.
Now earlier you mentioned in passing the bodies of Italians at Tobruk, now I believe you and your men were involved in having to collect or remove those bodies. Can you tell us a bit about what you actually had to do there?
Well these fellows had been dead then for about two or three months

09:04:00:00

and they were lying at various places around. They’d dug a great anti-tank ditch all around the perimeter, but the sands of the three months of sand storms and whatnot had largely filled these things. So the next morning after, the morning after we arrived there,

09:04:30:00

we got to and naturally the Italians had lots of phones and there was all this telephone wire around the top and we got the telephone wires and cut them into suitable lengths and used them to drag these decomposing bodies into the tank ditch, but not before we’d removed the

09:05:00:00

bottom half of their identity disc, which we handed, actually I remember we handed them onto Padre Steel, which there were quite a number of them, I forget how many but there must have been anything upward to about fifteen and they all had to be buried in this anti-tank ditch and their identity discs were taken off and handed in.

09:05:30:00

That must have been quite difficult and quite confronting from what you’re saying. Now look we have mentioned in passing a couple of times the Salvation Army padre. Can you tell us a bit more about him?
Well, he was a brigadier before the war in the Salvation Army and he joined us at

09:06:00:00

the outbreak of war and he endeared himself to everybody. He was a very likable sort of a bloke and I wasn’t one of his flock, but nevertheless he was greatly to be admired and he went about his business. He always had, he was really our, to a certain degree, our Protestant Minister,

09:06:30:00

ran a church parade. He never had any difficulty in getting men to go on church parade when he was speaking because he was so good. He was down-to-earth and he could talk the men’s language. Amongst other things that he did, when we were in Tobruk he had a gramophone and he used to go down to the 4th Field Ambulance Hospital

09:07:00:00

and play this gramophone to the blokes and that gramophone is in the [Australian] War Museum in Canberra today. I remember on one occasion when we were on the point of the Salient, he came up one night, with the party,

09:07:30:00

with the dixies of stew and whatnot and when he arrived at the headquarters he had a case of ammunition on his shoulder and I can hear the voice of this CSM now, he said to him, “You’re the sort of padre I like, a man with a case of ammunition on his shoulder and a bible in his pocket.” And a voice from the dark, and I don’t know

09:08:00:00

whether it was him or whether it was a fellow named Dixon, because their voices were very similar, and he said, I heard it come out of the dark, “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry.” And that was the sort of thing that he came up with.
That’s very nice.
The men thought so much of him, including 9th Div, that after the war, out

09:08:30:00

here at Hurstville, they built him a home, just a small private dwelling which had the sign out the front, Tobruk. He called it Tobruk, and the Rats of Tobruk built this home for him. When he died the army thought so much of him, because he was, continued a connection with the army and he was also a padre to Long Bay [Gaol], the army thought so much of him

09:09:00:00

they gave him a military funeral. This was many years after the war, which is a great tribute to him and I remember on the stage, two things. The fellow who conducted the service, this was at the Citadel in the city, the fellow on the stage was Jock Gedus. Now Jock was a welfare officer in Tobruk and he was also,

09:09:30:00

after the war he was also a captain in the Salvation Army in Townsville and I knew him well there because I was chairman of the branch of the Rats of Tobruk there and we made a presentation to Jock when he left there and at the, that’s another story, but at Padre McIlvine’s funeral Jock got up

09:10:00:00

and on the stage with him was Lady Morshead and Lady Wootten, Sir Victor Windier, that class of person. And Jock made a great address. He first of all took out writing gear, he had a haversack, an army haversack. He took out writing gear, he took out the various things, a water bottle and

09:10:30:00

he ran a little story round them. And then finally he took out an old pair of army boots, which were McIlvine’s army boots and he said, “I challenge everybody here, but particularly Salvationists, who is going to fill these boots?” Pretty powerful.
Pretty powerful. We’ve mentioned him as Padre McIlvine but for the purposes of the recording,

09:11:00:00

could you give his full name?
Sir Arthur, it was finally Sir Arthur McIlvine, I don’t know what his second name is.
Oh that’s fine, it’s just we had, I’d referred to him as the Salvation Army padre and then we were referring to him as “him” but we hadn’t actually mentioned his name at this point of the recording.
Sir Arthur, Brigadier Sir Arthur McIlvine, I suppose. He was a brigadier in the Salvation Army.

09:11:30:00

Now wasn’t there a story about some of the padres burying men in no-man’s- land while under fire in Tobruk? What was that occasion?
This was after we’d done this attack you see and these fellows were killed.

09:12:00:00

The Germans wouldn’t allow us to, because they’d almost made the German position. The Germans wouldn’t allow us to bury them because it was too close to their position. The Germans didn’t want us there. And when we went back to that position a month later these fellows were still there. And Bernie Berry had taken over

09:12:30:00

the company by then and I said to him, “This is no good, this is interfering with the morale of the men and

09:13:00:00

Do you want to?
No it’s all right.
Do you want us to continue?
Yes, I’ll tell you. These four blokes were there dead and after midnight I took, Padre Reynolds was our padre, he’d taken over from Steele, who’d gone as senior Catholic chaplain to Div Headquarters.

09:13:30:00

Although, I wasn’t one of his flock, gee I admired Reynolds. We had to bury these two blokes, you see and we did so by, we built sangers around them, stones

09:14:00:00

because you couldn’t dig round them. We’d dug down as far as possible, built the sangers around them and then he got up there, complete with his vestments and he gave them the full treatment. No sooner did he start but the Huns started firing

09:14:30:00

and he kept on going as though he was out in Rookwood [Cemetery]. I thought to myself there’s no point in my being killed here, so I just laid flat on the ground, but he just gave them the full treatment. McIlvine did exactly the same to the other two blokes further down the hill.

09:15:00:00

It wasn’t a hill, it was practically down the left flank and both of those blokes outstanding in their treatments. I’d say it was the calibre of these blokes that broke down all suggestion of bigotry or worrying about whether a bloke was a Catholic or a Callithumpian. It was great.

09:15:30:00

So that obviously had that impact on you, that very positive impact of changing your attitude?
Yes that’s right, yes. All for the better when you saw that sort of thing.
Before the war had there been, as far as you could see in your own mind a big distinction between Catholics and Protestants? I’m just looking at Australian society back in the 1930s.
Well, yes.

09:16:00:00

You see, and I don’t blame the Catholics for this, it was fifty- fifty whichever way you looked at it. In Queensland particularly, I think that Archbishop Jude had the right idea. He saw that

09:16:30:00

the legal side and the police force were mainly Irish and by doing that, it’s surprising how much he was able to sew up. I think the Protestants concentrated more on the business side of things and because of that there was always this, the legal and police carried more weight in

09:17:00:00

the community than the business side, you see and I think that this partly caused a certain amount of bigotry in it. The general manager of Dalgety’s, a fellow named Walsh, of all people, was a Protestant and it was common knowledge in our Company that on one occasion Archbishop Jude contacted him and said

09:17:30:00

“Can you tell me why it is that a Catholic boy can’t get a job in Dalgety’s?” And Walsh replied, “When you have a problem with your Catholic Church that you can’t solve, please consult me on that.” And that’s where it started and finished. That was just the way it was in those days and it was an incredible attitude when you consider it. We had many fine judges in

09:18:00:00

Queensland. We had Mr Justice Douglas. There’s a long line of Douglas’ who in, judges in Queensland and Jim Douglas was one of the last of them and he was an officer in the 2/12th Battalion. I knew Jim well before the war and that was just the way he was. Compared with that – you take after the war

09:18:30:00

the way this broke down. One fellow whom I knew well before the war was the priest named Tommy Guard. Now Tommy was in charge of St Mary’s in South Townsville and I was in the Commercial Tennis Club and we used to play St Mary’s and some times we were held up because Tommy hadn’t finished Mass. We thought that was pretty crook anyway.

09:19:00:00

But during the war Tommy got an OBE [Order of the British Empire] when the 2/43rd Battalion, which he was the priest or the padre. And then after the war Tommy was stationed at Proserpine. My brother Rod, who ended up as brigade major of our brigade, was a particular mate of

09:19:30:00

Tommy Guards and when Rod died in Proserpine, Tommy was in the pulpit in the Methodist Church there and he spoke. He and Rod were great mates. We have an expression here used in that kitchen many a time.

09:20:00:00

If you’re in a hurry and you’re washing up, it all harks back to the 2/14th AGH on Ross River in Townsville. I was admitted there with malaria and so was Tommy Guard and we were in a ward together and on this particular night an aircraft load of casualties from Wau arrived and the sisters worked all

09:20:30:00

night and the next morning Tommy and I got up early and we served the dishes to the officer ward. After we collected the dishes, washed them and Tommy did the washing and I did the wiping up. And I said, “Hey Tom, look you’re not cleaning these dishes properly,” and Tom said to me, “What doesn’t come off in the water will come off on the towel,” so whenever we wash

09:21:00:00

up in a hurry we refer to, “Doing a Tommy Guard.” That’s the way it is.
That’s great, that’s great. Yes, I was going to ask you about those prejudices and that sectarianisms breaking down after the war and from what you’re saying it certainly did.
Yes, that was just. Before the war I would say it wouldn’t have happened. We just objected to Tommy being late because he was a priest but if the same thing happened today we’d just say, “Oh well, it’s part of his job,” and that was that.

09:21:30:00

This is run by the Hibernian Society this, set up but there are more non-Hibernians in this establishment than there are Hibernians.
And you can’t imagine that happening before the war either. No, it’s a real sign of the times. Now I wanted to ask you, you mentioned these mentally handicapped, or fairly slow people being part of the

09:22:00:00

13th Platoon, how could this have possibly happened?
That was what we asked. That’s what we were always asking and we’re still asking Legacy. When you get a summary, which says that this bloke is not mentally capable of coping with the situation and he’s sent overseas to fight. You couldn’t believe it.
What sort of problems did these individuals in the platoon have?

09:22:30:00

I had a mate who was in Legacy in Albury, a fellow named Alan Hogan. He was a doctor and he ended up as superintendent of the Albury Base Hospital and he told a story that when he qualified during the war, he joined the AIF and he was sent to a recruiting depot. He was allowed to accept anybody but he wasn’t allowed to reject anybody.

09:23:00:00

But he said on this particular occasion, a fellow presented himself and he had everything. He had flat feet and he had this, that and the other and he ran through a whole great line, long string of disadvantages. And he said, he was obviously not fit. And he said, “As I wasn’t allowed to reject anybody, I called the senior medical officer in, and the

09:23:30:00

senior medical officer walked up to this fellow, put his hand on him and said, “What’s the matter with him, he’s still warm,” and he said, “That fellow was accepted into the army.” That was the same with those fellows. They should never have been sent overseas. We get these summaries, I’ll show you one when we’re finished here, we get these summaries of the man’s history and it shows that he’s

09:24:00:00

mentally not quite all there.
So what sort of handicaps did these people have?
We’d call them mentally retarded today, mentally disadvantaged I think is the term we’ve got to use today. Their mentally disadvantaged, and yet they were sent overseas. Fellows who couldn’t march in time, they had all sorts

09:24:30:00

of small things that showed that they weren’t all there with it. It was a tragedy to see them and we see them today here in Legacy and they’ll show that they’re what, the expression they use, mentally incompatible, mentally unstable, something like that.
I think the term these days is ‘disabled’ and there are varying…

09:25:00:00

There are things you can’t say about a bloke today of course.
I think today it’s defined in varying degrees of disability, either mildly disabled or profoundly.
But to digress for half a minute, I went up to north Queensland last month, last year rather and I contacted a bloke I’d shared a home with and

09:25:30:00

a house with before the war, and I knew that he’d settled up there. I knew he’d done very well and I wanted to contact one of our people and they were staying at the Woodwood Retirement Village, so I rang to see if he was there and I got onto the girls and said, “Can you tell me if this Woodwood Retirement Village is named after Jack Woodwood?” And she said, “As a matter of fact it is.”

09:26:00:00

Well I said, “Can you give me his phone number? I’d like to speak to him.” “Oh no,” she said, “I can’t do that. That’s against the Privacy Act.” But she said, “His number is so and so.” Well that was a typical way to treat the Act. The Act said she wasn’t allowed to tell me, it’s against the Privacy Act but she used her commonsense and she told me what his number was, so I spoke to him. Fair enough, incredible.
That is incredible actually.

09:26:30:00

You mentioned the brothels in Alexandria and we’ve interviewed other people who’ve spoken about the way the brothels in various places were supervised by the military, now I believe there was a way in which the brothels worked according to rank and who was allowed in first and who was allowed in last. Can you describe the situation?
Who told you that?
Well it actually came out of the research notes

09:27:00:00

from the conversation that our researcher had had with you.
Oh, did I tell him? God.
Apparently, it slipped out somehow, so is there anything you’re prepared to say about that?
No.
Okay.
You can’t repeat what I told him there.
Well I don’t have any?
I’m assuming I told him.
I don’t have any details actually, it was just there as a small subject heading.

09:27:30:00

However, can you tell us to what extent the brothels were supervised by the military and on what basis?
Oh they were supervised pretty well. Now my mind’s gone blank. My brother, the eldest brother of the four of us, he was DAQMG in Townsville and there was a brothel

09:28:00:00

in Townsville at Herod Street. This will come to me, I’ll have to come back onto that. But what was your question?
It basically said on what basis or you know how in practical terms were the military authorities supervising the brothels?
Oh they supervised them pretty well.

09:28:30:00

The, to what degree they supervised them I’m not in a very good position to answer that question. The only time that I worried them was when I was sent on picket.
I suppose the basic question is in what ways did they supervise the brothels?

09:29:00:00

Well they kicked out, in Alexandria, they kicked out all the men at midnight I know that and I didn’t have a lot of experience with their activities but I don’t know.

09:29:30:00

I know, you see it was in the interest of the military to see that they were supervised fairly well because otherwise we’d finish up with a hospital, a special hospital full of men. There’s not much future in having all your digs in hospital.
So obviously there was a fair amount of control or screening of people for

09:30:00:00

sexually transmitted diseases?
No doubt there was but that would be purely a medical show. I’m trying to recall, my mind’s gone blank for the moment.
You were mentioning your brother and you said that a story would come to you concerning, was it Townsville, and a particular street in Townsville?

09:30:30:00

Yes, Herod Street was the street of brothels in Townsville and there was another one, oh dear. I’ll have to come back to that.
We might come back to that one in a moment.
My mind’s gone blank.
No, that’s all right. We’ve been working very hard anyway. I just had a couple of other questions to put to you.

09:31:00:00

One concerned the importance of mateship in the army and the importance of mateship, particularly during World War II, how important was mateship to the experience of soldiers in World War II?
Oh, it was very important there was no doubt about it. Some of the things that fellows would do for one another and

09:31:30:00

if a unit lacked that mateship, first of all there was your close mates and then you regarded yourself as part of the section and the section was very important. And then you went onto a platoon and so you went up and your battalion was the best battalion in the AIF.

09:32:00:00

And that was all bound round mateship and fellows, where mateship was concerned you’d see some incredible things done from time to time. Where men would do actions that you’d think that they weren’t capable of doing but because they were doing it for a mate

09:32:30:00

or to protect a mate then they’d happily do it.
Can you give an example of that?
Yes, I’m just trying to think of a worthwhile one.

09:33:00:00

I’ll try to think of that while I’m thinking of something else then.
You mentioned before that the memories that usually come back these days in conversations at reunions and talk among old friends and colleagues are the humorous stories and you mentioned that Beryl quite often comes up with humorous stories and has in the past. What are some of the notable humorous stories that you haven’t mentioned so far which spring immediately to mind or would spring to mind on those occasions?

09:33:30:00

These are the questions you should have asked me at nine o’clock. Typical one that, we didn’t finish that thing

09:34:00:00

where I was talking about Beryl.
I’m not sure whether we did or not.
She was nursing in this ward and the fellows, she was working at one end and the fellow at the other end, it wasn’t, you started at two or three o’clock in the morning in order to get them all washed by reveille

09:34:30:00

and anyway she got involved with this argument with these two fellows, and I think we mentioned this and she was working in where they kept all the linen and whatnot and they locked the door on her. And the fellow responsible for it wouldn’t let

09:35:00:00

her out until she sang, “There’ll Always Be An England”. That was typical of what went on.
There must have been some real wags, some real cards that you knew and would crack jokes with, particularly in difficult circumstances where someone would alleviate the tension with a

09:35:30:00

joke or a wisecrack?
Yes. I’m really sorry you didn’t ask me these questions earlier when I was fresher and could think of them. I’m sorry.

09:36:00:00

That’s all right. We’ve already covered a fair amount of humour in our account of the story anyway. I suppose in many respects unless we can think of any other angles to cover, we’re almost there, I mean, we’ve certainly covered the story in very great detail.
Yes, I’m very sorry that I can’t give you some concrete examples of these things, because there were many funny things that I should

09:36:30:00

have been able to recall.
Well look, we’ve basically got quite a few of them already. I was just trying to think of the kinds of exchanges that might happen when old friends get together and funny incidents are recalled. Well look, we are almost there and just before we finish the interview, is there anything else that’s sprung to mind that you’d like to mention?

09:37:00:00

Things that you’ve been wanting to say but because the conversation’s moved on way or another…?
No but tonight there will be a thousand things, I’ll think we should have covered. No, I don’t think that there’s.

09:37:30:00

My memory’s not as fresh as it used to be in recalling things like that until something jogs your memory.
Your memory has worked fairly well today.
I just want to see if I’ve got anything there that will jog my memory.
I’ll tell you what, we’ve got actually about four minutes left on the tape, so what we can do, we can finish recording now, if there’s anything else that springs to mind

09:38:00:00

in the next couple of minutes we can probably add something else. Look, we’ve certainly recorded a very detailed, very comprehensive interview. On behalf of Rebecca and myself, I wanted to thank you very much.
Oh, not at all. I’m only sorry that I haven’t been able to fit more in that suits the occasion.
Well you have done fantastically well.

09:38:30:00

I bet tonight there’ll be a thousand things that I should think about.

09:39:00:00

I think, I don’t know that there’s anything particularly, I’ll bet if I have a look on that table there, there’s many things that I should have mentioned.
Well look, we might actually, we’ll stop recording now anyway and if there’s anything else that springs to mind we discuss, we’ll talk about it in the next few minutes. We’ve got to do a couple of other things with photographs and so forth. So look

09:39:30:00

on behalf of Rebecca and myself and indeed the entire project, thank you.
Thank you very much. As you said earlier, this is probably the first time that I’ve been continuously and in detail as to what happened in six years.
It’s been a great privilege for us to hear it.
And I do appreciate the very understanding way you’ve tackled it all and

09:40:00:00

I only hope that your project succeeds well. It’s in the interests of the Australian Army and the Australian people that you should get this into the archives because it’s surprising just how much you’re getting that hasn’t been recorded in the past.
We’re finding that every day, we’re working on the project actually.
Well, I congratulate you on what you’re doing and I’d like to thank

09:40:30:00

you for the sympathetic way in which you handle the whole thing, because emotionally this shouldn’t be so, after all these years, it shouldn’t be an emotional occasion for the person who’s taking part and for some unknown reason it is. And I’ve never been, normally I can talk about it without, it may be because of the continuous operation that we’ve done,

09:41:00:00

that we’ve been through that things have come back. I’m normally able to put them at the back of my mind and not bring them forward. But thank you very much for your understanding and help to get through it.
Thank you.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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