Okay Bill, we're right to go. I just want to start by talking to you about some of those days, I want you to take yourself back to the time before the war,
yourself as a young fella and tell me a bit about where you grew up?
Oh, well I mainly grew up, was around from Lakemba ‘round at Punchbowl, ‘round at Peakhurst and that was the end of the trail there. That was when I joined from there sort of thing. In Lakemba, like I say, we sort of started our roots from the 55th-53rd Battalion, my brothers
Wally and Arthur were in that. And I often remember them, I was only a little whipper snipper, marching along Canary Road on a route march, the whole battalion from Belmore. But as a kid growing up there I, there wasn’t much to be excited about; I mean it was just ordinary kids’ stuff. There was
not much, not much to talk about at all really. School days were normal, you know … oh I don’t know.
What was life like for you though, was it tough?
Oh well, it was very, very… For my parents it was tough because what I can remember sort of thing, the Depression had just hit, when I sort of started to memorise things
and going through that Depression, I mean, was an awful thing for a lot of people. And of course that’s one of the main reasons why I had to leave school early. I hadn’t even turned fourteen when I left school and went and got a job, got my first job. And from there on I didn’t lose a day’s pay because I knew that the parents depended on that, you know,
an income to keep the family going because it was, the relief work that was available to the older, or to the men, married men, they got so much work per fortnight, single men got so much work per fortnight but that didn’t keep the household going sort of thing. But it was a mainstay sort of thing.
What did your parents do?
Well my Dad started off, he was, he had a ham and beef shop in Abercrombie Street, that I can remember. Course I, we left Abercrombie Street when I was only about five year old. Then we moved to Belmore and had the ham and beef shop again, and from there
From what we paid in the early days, I think it was up around twenty five shillings a week. Well in the finish up we found a house, I mean [it] was out in Peakhurst, was only ten shillings a week. Well, that was about as much as we could get. It was a terrific house where we lived though, it was a little old weatherboard but we were on the crest of a hill and we could look right over to Katoomba of a night time and see the lights
of Katoomba, it was that good there, it’s a fair way.
What kind of country was Australia then?
Always out in the sticks you know. Along the main railway lines was all populated but once you got a sort of a half mile, three quarter mile radius off that railway line, it was all bush. Where I lived in Stoddard Street in Lakemba, there was only about four houses in the street and the rest
Had anyone in the family been to the First World War?
Oh yeah, my brother… my father’s brothers I should say. There was a couple of them went to the ‘14-‘18 war. My mother had three brothers and they all went to the ‘14-‘18 war and they all came back, same with my father’s family, they went, they all went and came back.
my eldest brother, he had died but my then eldest brother, he was in the Militia. My second brother, Ernie, he was in the Militia too. And of course when I turned eighteen, like an idiot, I joined up the Militia too. And, we were conscious of what was going on in the middle thirties of the movements in Europe
and, as a matter of fact, when I was, oh it was about April I s’pose, give or take a few months. When me and my friends, we had a bet one day, and I said, “I’ll bet ya the war starts before the end of August.” And they took me on. Anyway, I missed out by three days, and I had to pay my two shillings. Twenty cents, big deal, it was a lot of money in those days. Anyway!
It was just, just the way things were happening. Like you know, the papers were pushing it all the time. Radio was starting to come up, sort of thing. But mainly what was in the newspapers about and of course they were liking it back to the ‘14-‘18 war, what it was like and if another war happens now, sort of thing, what’s going to happen.
What about your memories of Anzac Day, was that something special?
No, I saw Anzac Day, but it didn’t register too much on me. The, the main, like I used to see them all going into the march and all this sort of thing. But the first Anzac Day that really struck
me was actually in 1940 when we were over near Gaza. And we went to the Dawn Service and, like the whole battalion, plus all the other units were there, and this always stays in my memory and will forever. We were all assembled at the Cenotaph there, or the memorial sort of thing, and the service was almost over
and the bugle was sounding the Last Post and the reconnaissance regiment started to march in, they were running late. And the marching men on the gravel was, Hollywood couldn’t have bettered it, sort of thing. It was the bugle sounding the Last Post and these marching men on the gravel coming up the drive was, was really forever, fantastic.
you’re amongst, actually, we went over the ground a lot where the fighting was in the ‘14-‘18 War with the Light Horse and all that and the trenches and that, that they’d dug were still there, well they were then, sort of thing. It gives you a wonderful feeling sort of thing. What could you say about them? That I mean you knew and you felt what they
went through because of the much harder conditions in those days than what we had. And of course we hadn’t struck any hard stuff then. April 1940, we were only in the Middle East three months then.
of chat to some of the veterans?
No I didn’t, no. They, well of course with my uncles, we, they used to talk and carry on like, this sort of thing but they’d never tell you anything what happened or anything of that on the serious side, we’ll say. It didn’t register so much, to me, like
Just taking yourself back to that period in the 30’s and also the period of schooling, what was the kind of message that was being taught to you about your values at school and raising the flag? Where were you loyalties, if you like?
Oh, I can go back, you can see it now even, was that I went to Penshurst, Peakhurst I’m sorry.
Peakhurst Public School and they used to have an assembly there of a, I think it was once a week or something like that, in the hall and on the wall was this big painting or big enlarged print or something, I couldn’t tell you what but is was very, very life like. Was this, The Landing at Anzac, it was a fantastic thing and that always sticks in my mind. And from there, I mean, sort
of wondering why, what was it or you know?
What did you think as a school boy looking at that landing?
Oh dear. It was just a matter of visualising or trying to visualise just, just what those men were doing, I mean why, was it all sort of thing? But oh it was a,
always sang like, you know, Advance Australia Fair and all this sort of thing, back in the early days, as far as I can remember at assemblies and this sort of thing. But no, no, you say propaganda business to push the loyalty of the country sort of thing, not like what you see in America.
Well, that was always very strong because, see like my Dad and Mother, they’re both born in England. My wife, her parents were both born in England and like in those day, I s’pose, ninety five percent of the population were English and the, always the loyalty was to England, the King and country and all this sort of
it, what would you say? It’s not, Australia was home alright and it was, that was our place, but that came naturally but it was, we were always taught that, you lived up to the Mother Country, to England. I don’t know why they called it the Mother Country ‘cause the King was in charge of it that day.
So, it’s interesting that you were kind of affected by that painting of the landing at Gallipoli. And you went on to kind of join up yourself, how did that happen?
Well, we knew that the, you know something had to happen
when the war broke out, we knew something had to happen sooner or later sort of thing. And I was called up to do guard duty sort of thing, they called vulnerable point duty and of course no sooner we were in camp doing this guard duty and they came round and said, “Who wants to join the AIF?” [Australian Imperial Force – the army] and I was half asleep, I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll be in that, what is it?” So
from there on I was sunk, I mean my battalion, then, we were just called up straight away sort of thing and they took us off the vulnerable point duty and choofed [sent] us off to Ingleburn in the AIF.
Before you actually joined up, at all, what idea did you have of war? Had you seen it in the movies or something?
Oh, a little bit, not much. There was only a few movies made in those days sort of thing, as far as what the ‘14-‘18 war was concerned. But mainly the movies were made of the Royal Air Force, you know, dog fights and all that sort of jazz going on. But no, I mean it’s
Tell me the story about your brothers and joining up and the Militia?
Yeah. That was last in, in the Militia. But I had already volunteered for the AIF and of course I went in, that was on the 3rd of November, ’39. And my eldest brother, Wal, he said oh, he can’t go in, I’ve gotta
go in, so he came in the week after me ‘cause he got a bigger number than me and then Ernie, he said, “Well they’re in, I can’t stay here without them.“ and so he joined up, so there was three of us went on the first convoy out of Sydney on the 10th of January, 1940. Oh, it was just a thing that happens. There was no, no
thought of glory or all that sort of jazz, you know. So far back for me to try and remember it all now.
I was thinking about, how come you got to join the Militia in the first place?
Oh that was because my silly brother, Ern, I mean, they were mad as meat axes, both of them like, you know. And Ern said like, you know, “You want to come in, get in the Militia.” Money was tight in those days
and you see they’d pay your fares to go to and from the drill, one night a week and you’d go and bivouac once a year for a couple of weeks and you’re on full pay for that too and you do this, that and the other. I said, yeah, alright, and so I joined up. I was only, I had just turned eighteen actually and like an idiot, I mean I just followed like a sheep to the slaughter, you might say.
It was just one of those things that happened.
At that time in your life, when you’re eighteen, the war hadn’t broken out yet, can you remember what ambitions you had for your life?
Not really. I mean there’s, as I said like, I had to leave school
early and it wasn’t until after the war actually I went back to school to get some education so I could get along, [I] woke up. There was more in life than just going to work as a, when I was doing all sorts of work, iron foundry, metal polishing shop, all this sort of thing. There was more in it than just that, there was more education required. But before then, I
mean there was, there was not much ambition as far as that was concerned, the main thing was to get to keep a job and keep the, you know, wages coming in without any loss sort of thing. And I think all of us, in those days, were sort of feeling the same way, it wasn’t a matter of what you did; it was a matter of keeping it going. Keep your money, you know, money was very, very tight and very valuable. You never wasted a shilling sort of thing,
it was too hard, too hard come by. When I was working at one stage there, I remember I was on just two pound six, which is like four dollars sixty a week and all I could get out of that is I used to ride the pushbike to work and I’d get two shillings a week for pocket money. So, but it did. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink or anything like that
and it was only the movie, go to the pictures on Saturday night was the entertainment of the week and the rest of the time you just made, just enjoyed yourself as best you could.
What job did you have then?
That was, I was working in mulabour [malleable?] castings in Marrickville, it was a grinder. Now all your tap fittings, elbows, tees and all that sort of thing were all moulded
old classics, I mean Bill Collins [television presenter] will tell you more about them than me. You know Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Errol Flynn [actors], Mickey Mouse, Popeye [cartoon characters]. And of course in those days you’ve got, you got your newsreels, into [(UNCLEAR)] [introduction?] cartoon, you get a support feature, interval, then you get the main feature and
there was a night’s entertainment from about half past seven, half past seven till eleven o’clock at night for your, we used to pay ninepence to go down the stalls, down the front like. Later on we got better, we got up to the back stalls and that was about a thruppence [threepence]. But the actors, I mean well you could recognise them today, I mean they’re all old very classical actors
and actresses. Thoroughly enjoyable because they were so, so real you know in their, in their acting, not like all this what you get today, all this violence and stuff. If it hasn’t got violence or sex in it, nobody wants to watch it. We never knew what that was in those days. They weren’t even allowed to get into bed together; I mean if they did, I believe they had to have one leg on the floor.
The March of Time and it bought you the news of the world in, what you might say like you on your program, like AM of the morning [radio current affairs program], you know we always listen to that and it reminds me of The March of Time. The only difference is you’ve got it in sound like today on 2BL [radio station] whereas in those days it was on the screen. It was very good; it showed you a lot of what was going on in Europe and in America
and England but it was a very informative newsreel really. The other one was the old Movietone movies, you know [newsreel company], Movietone news, they were very informative especially like local news.
I guess at that stage, you got that sense that the war was on the way from that sort of thing?
Oh yes. You know, that’s where they brought a lot of news, you know, where Hitler was marching through Europe and taking Czechoslovakia and marching into Austria. And of course the next step was to march into Poland and, of course, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now, just to sort of pick up a point you were talking about a minute ago before about the value of money and needing to hold onto jobs, you’re obviously probably well aware of the criticism that was levelled at some people who enlisted early on for the AIF, that they were of economic conscripts?
That’s true. I mean, like you know we got labelled the’ five bob a day butchers’. I mean like
[(UNCLEAR)] lights, unemployed anyone to get into the AIF to get away from you to pay like, well that was all wrong. When I joined the AIF in 1939, I was working at the Australian Glass Manufacturers as a moulder and I was on six pound two and six a week and that was good money.
I stuck with that until the, until I then just handed in the notice and said, “I’m going in.” and they said, “Alright, best of luck, tat ta.” and that was it. But no, my brother Wal was on good pay and brother Ern was the same way, we weren’t out of work. Most of the fellas weren’t out of work, I mean some were, no doubt about that but mostly they worked. I mean they, as the saying goes, if you want to work, there’s work around.
Even today, I mean, they tell you, you know how bad things are and all this but if you want to work you can get a job, there’s jobs around.
then. I think it was about eight o’clock at night. And that put an eerie feeling through the veins, sort of thing. It wasn’t a good feeling, you know, you know what’s involved with it because we’d been taught or told sorry and read the casualties the Australian troops suffered in the 14-18 war, I mean were enormous, per population. We lost more in the
14-18 war than what America lost in their, take the population of America compared to Australia was only something between four and five million people, depends where, the ratio is outstripped anybody.
went over to Manly I think it was, went over to Manly for the Sunday and I was a bit of a loner in the those days and I was on my way home Sunday night. Get home early so you could get to work the next day sort of thing ‘cause there was always like seven thirty start. You had to be up bright and early to, six o’clock rise so you could get to work on time ‘cause you’re never game to be late,
you’re late, you lose a job. You had to be very reliable.
they had was like I was put on duty. Soon after the war started and I was out at Moorebank and Moorebank was a big ordnance depot and they had all leftovers from the 14-18 war in there and guns, equipment, uniforms, the whole works and they never changed a thing, they just, we just got to put them on and away we went. They didn’t change our uniforms from 14-18
to the ’39 war. I think the Australian Army or the government, whichever was running the show sort of thing, I don’t think they realised, you know, until late, very late in the piece that actually there would be a war. And of course the, I s’pose money was very tight and of course
until something happened they couldn’t get any money to do anything.
Okay. Just taking you back again onto that period when you joined the Militia, what role did the Militia have, what was their
There was, what I can remember of it, was that like after the 14-18 war they kept a very big army reserve, you might say. It was very, a big strength, it was just in case the war broke out again, I think it was. But by the middle thirties that dwindled away to probably a quarter their size sort of thing,
So what was the role, was it just a training exercise?
That’s all, just do a bit of training, we used to go up the drill, I think our night was Wednesday night and we’d just slope arms and all that sort of jazz and drill up and down in the drill hall and a hell of a lot of noise and
oh it was terrible. And then towards the end of it we even got a bit of firing practice. What they were was .303 rifles where they, oh I forget the name they used to call it, it was a sleeve and was put in the rifle to reduce the bore from .303 [.303 calibre rifle] down to .22 [.22 calibre rifle]. And we used to get out in the back of the drill hall and fire
into a mound, like a gun practice or you know learning how to handle the rifle. And of course, there the last stage that we had was with the old Lewis gun [World War I light machine gun], how to handle them. Stripped them down, they were a cow of a gun, they continually jammed and all this sort of jazz. So you had to be very fast in stripping it down, clearing it and putting it back together again and being able to fire.
I don’t know why we ever had the darn silly things. And it wasn’t until after we got to the Middle East there, we weren’t in the Middle East very long and they took the Lewis guns off us and gave us the Bren [light machine gun], which was a much superior gun.
So how well equipped was the Militia, how well prepared were you?
Oh, we weren’t prepared at all really. We had rifles, I mean there were some machine gun units somewhere but I don’t know how many, but
mainly it was just rifles, that’s all. There was a naval reserve; there was a sort of a small amount of air force reserve, sort of thing. But very little, you saw the, seen films of the German army, what they were like, hundreds of divisions. It wasn’t like; we couldn’t even form or support one division group, let alone hundreds of divisions.
But our training was just purely rifle training and a bit of, as I say, Lewis guns, drilling. It’s all part of the discipline of course. It worked out alright.
gone into the service then, in the army, so I mean I was more or less to follow. I didn’t have the education to go into the air force for a start and I didn’t care for that much about going to sea, you know. Yeah, we just thought the army was the logical choice, sort of thing, and away we went.
about all these brothers joining up?
Not much. My Mother and Dad, they didn’t take much notice of it, sort of thing. Of course, that was in the early days and they, I think they got very worried about the idea when we were going overseas. That sort of smartened it up a bit, but up till then they weren’t concerned because, well my Mother wasn’t concerned because
What about the embarkation, can you remember that? Who came to see you off or anything?
Oh no, it was a complete secret like, you know, only an area half of Sydney knew about it. We, we got the trains from Ingleburn Station
and it took us right in over the old viaduct at Wentworth Park, you know you’ve seen that, and down onto Pyrmont [wharf] 13. And that’s where we embarked from there. And it went extremely careful, the Orcades that we sailed on, she was tied up there and we just went straight up out of the train, onto the plat… up the
gangway and into a cabin. I mean, it was very well, it’s the old Pier 13, it’s not like that now of course, that’s where the casino is, or was, the temporary casino. And of course, all the rail lines have gone now because of Darling Harbour’s been wiped. But that was all a goods yard, handling a lot of inward and outward cargo.
there some sort of farewell? Did you say goodbye to your family?
Oh no, no we weren’t allowed that. But as we came in along the train, I mean the line, the railway line itself was all covered with everybody and I mean, waving cheerio and all this sort of jazz. The last I saw of my family was actually Christmas, we were allowed home for Christmas day and I didn’t see them until I came back from the Middle East, two and a half years later.
What were your feelings as you sailed?
Well, not much really. I mean, I can remember, you know, going on board and this sort of thing but in the, after we’d loaded on they pulled us over and I think by the Taronga Park Zoo and we were anchored there until they loaded other ships. And when we started to move out in the
morning, the next morning, someone started it, we were singing the Maori Farewell and of course in the finish the whole ship was singing the Maori Farewell as we sailed up through the harbour, out through the heads. There were hundreds of little boats, launches, this sort of thing you know, for those days there was a lot of boats ‘cause not like today, I mean everybody’s got a boat sort of thing. But, it
was, it was sad in a way but not much by the time we’d got out of the Heads we forgotten all that was behind us and were looking forward to where we were going sort of thing and nobody knew that except the captain, the colonel I suppose.
do you think that’s a surprisingly small number given the seriousness of the circumstances?
Well, in New South Wales we recruited the 16th Brigade, which was four battalions, a hospital, transport company, engineering company. There was about, about five thousand of us in Ingleburn and I think the same
number was in Victoria in the 17th Brigade formed up. But they were the only troops that sailed in that convoy, the 16th and 17th Brigade. The 18th Brigade was formed up later and they went straight on to England. It was, well as far as we were concerned, I mean in the short time,
as I say like from the 3rd September ’39 till I joined, the 3rd of November, ’39 they’d built the complete barracks at Ingleburn for the whole brigade and then at the same time they’d not only set up with equipment and all that thing,
they were arranging for the transport and I mean on the 9th of January, we were on board. So, it was rather a quick move. It didn’t give you much time to think about what was going on anywhere else, I mean we were too busy looking after ourselves.
We didn’t get too many facts about what was being, what the numbers were joining up sort of thing. We knew the 18th Brigade’d gone on past us and going to England and this is what they are talking about, ‘the Phoney War’, I mean we were doing our training in Palestine and we were already packed in Palestine to go and join ships
and go to England because the war hadn’t really started in Europe then. This was in May 1940 and of course we were no sooner, just almost packed, when Italy came into the war and that ruined everything. We were very upset about that because we were all looking forward to going to England. The word had got out, of course, that’s why we were going.
When you left, Sydney, where were your allegiances, did you feel, you know, you’re going with a group of people from New South Wales, did you feel like a New South Welshman, did you feel like an Australian?
Oh yes, you felt New South Wales because we knew what was going on in Victoria and of course there was always this rivalry between New South Wales and Victoria. We thought we were always a lot better than Victoria
the First World War Veterans, were you kind of feeling as though you were in someone else’s footsteps here?
Oh yes, there was a lot of that. When this, I think we all thought that we had a lot to live up to. I mean they had set a path for us to go and I mean my, we just had to follow that. It was the expected thing. And was taken for granted
Where had you travelled before that?
Like, before the war you mean? As far as my pushbike’d go, you know. Down around Yates [?] swimming, down to East Hills swimming, down to Georges River, that’s about all as far. I never left Sydney. Hadn’t been outside of the metropolitan area of Sydney until I joined the army.
Talk to me a little bit about that, about kind of forging your friendships and sort of…?
Oh dear. Well, you were mainly like in a company of, and you had your own section and platoon sort of thing. And they were close knit ties sort of thing of the forming your friendships and your, forming your dependability
on your fellow men. We all knew that everybody, this is the way we were taught sort of thing, that we had to depend on your mate alongside you and the other ones aside them sort of thing and if you got into trouble, they’d help you and if they got into trouble, you help them. That’s the way we lived and very harmonious
group of men, I mean, all our battalion was like that. They were a fantastic crew. And they proved themselves several times like that. I said earlier that what you are taught, I mean even in your actions, you, if your mate fell, well you couldn’t stop for him,
not that you didn’t want to. I mean you couldn’t because if you stopped, you could get hit and you serve no purpose because the stretcher bearers are following you up and they… when it comes down. It seems cruel that, I mean, you can say that you could walk on past your mate and he maybe dying, he maybe, you know, wounded or whatever and to say you can walk past him and ignore the fact that he’s gone down, you’ve got to.
It’s part of life and part of what we were taught because if everybody stopped to help their mate, we’d all stop and that’s the end of that. You go nowhere. So, that’s why you had to keep going.
too numerous to mention, sort of thing in names because everybody was like, like one great big family. We, you’d talk to everyone like a brother, who were more than brothers, that was the point of it all. We learnt to be more than brothers and that’s why, today, I mean we still go to our battalion reunion; I still belong to the battalion
committee which goes to, you know meets every month to, you know organise things and that sort of thing because we are better than brothers ever could be, I think.
Porters, between Oberon and Jenolan Caves, you can get through that way to Jenolan Caves and they had a sheep farm there and he was, at that stage, I think he was about two months younger than me and we just became good friends, the best of mates as you might say. Well, he went and I didn’t.
that we were all together in the same boat and we had to look after one and other. That’s it, I mean it’s not a matter or saying ‘he’s better than me’ and ‘he’s better than him’ and all that sort of thing. It was a matter of the, the friendships you forged and we could talk to one and other so openly, it was amazing really.
You had bonded such a friendship, it was unbelievable.
Make those kind of friendships again?
I don’t think so. It only comes once. You don’t get that chance. I mean you take your Vietnam boys, I mean they are in the same boat, the blokes that went to Korea are in the same boat, it’s a bond you make up, it’s
a thing you can’t, you can’t sort of assimilate or, like you know, you can’t get it together without such a thing. War does one, you know, does some wonderful things with men. It has some bad sides of course, but there’s a lot of good sides, in that respect.
God. Well, we didn’t know what was coming, I mean we got issued with an issue of rum, a little nip, I mean it wouldn’t even curdle your hair sort of thing. We went, like what they did in the old days,
they used to form up and form a front and away you went. And you’re too busy looking for this and that, to worry about yourself. You’re looking where you’re going, you’re checking to see everybody’s alright on their sides and watching where the artillery’s going and just haven’t got time to think. The adrenalin starts to pump, as we found out since, I mean that’s what they call it, we didn’t know then.
But you come oblivious in the finish, like in the first action when you become oblivious to everything except what’s in front of you and that’s, you go on madly like that. You don’t remember much of it. I don’t. From the time we started, you got to the point where everything
just went out, you know, you had the job in front of you and you just went and everything becomes a blank. You knew what you had to do, we did it but you can’t remember what you did. I can’t.
you were focused on this wholly and solely, there was no side business or anything like that, you finished up as a one track mind of what you had to do, what everyone had to do and we went ahead with that. You say, like some people say to me, “Were you frightened?” I mean virtually you haven’t got time to get frightened. Certainly at different times, you do
but you could stay focused on the position ahead of you, sort of thing, that you ignore any of your personal feelings. You think to yourself, you’re not going into [(UNCLEAR)], you’re right; you’re not going to get knocked over. That’s the way you go in.
Oh, well we always try to keep alive, I mean as far as that goes. But no, our main purpose was, like you know, was Australia and the British Empire because when, you might say with the propaganda you get, I mean it, there’s is the evil side and ours the good side. So we had to win.
So, what was that experience like for you, at that time, you’d got through it, you’d survived it, you know, suddenly you had been at war, was that what you kind of expected?
Well, I never worried about it really. I mean like it’s a funny thing, you see what I am saying is that you block everything out and you are
just on your objective and it’s amazing like over the period, I think it must have been over a period of three, three hours something, give or take a couple of hours, I don’t know. You finished up at the finish when they say, “Right, we’ll stop here.” you collapse in a heap and you’re just exhausted, even though you haven’t done much, you’re exhausted. I s’pose it is this build up inside you that pushes you on and on and on
that eventually you just have to collapse. Well, you don’t collapse, I mean you just slump in a heap and relax.
Oh yes, we were all forced, not forced. We were all told to make a will, they gave us a will form and you know, your next of kin. That was part of the routine, sort of thing. I’ve still got my original copy of my will at home, in the old tin
the idea of a premature death, that you’re not going to come back?
Oh, no, no, no, no. We all thought we’d survive, all of us. As a matter of fact, we, before we went in the first time we were taking odds that there was like in a section there was ten men and the possibility that two or three would get knocked in that so your odds was down to about seven to one or six to one, something like that. And of course the next time we went in,
for a while, but then as soon as they saw we were still coming on, they just dropped. They gave up very quickly. I mean we only had, was it two brigades and some English support troops and I think they took forty thousand prisoners out of Bardia. If they stood any
ground at all, I mean they would have wiped us off the face of the earth. What someone was telling us, the Italians, we had a leather jerkin, what you’d call a leather jerkin; it was a vest, a leather vest. And it was to keep out the cold, of course. The cold in the desert is something unreal; you talk about cold here, it’s nothing. This vest
was just to keep you warm. And the Italians thought we had armoured plating on because they were firing at us and none of us were going over. So that’s, I think, one of the big reasons they just got terribly frightened of the fact that they couldn’t shoot us. They were firing at us, but couldn’t kill us, so they tossed it in. And they, later they found, they said it was this vest that we were wearing,
that they thought they were armour plated and couldn’t hit us. But no. I don’t think they had the determination in them, because it was only a desert and who wants the darn desert. I mean they couldn’t see any point in that and I fully agree with them in that, it was a useless damn place, you couldn’t grow a blade of grass in it in a fit.
They, they just didn’t realise, you know, that they just didn’t want to fight for their, there was no fight for it, no cause for them to fight under such circumstances.
What was the cause you were fighting for, in terms of fighting in that desert?
Well, in the army, in our army anyway, you’re told to do something, you do it. I mean you don’t have to have a reason, you know, they tell you to do a thing, you do it. What else is there? We had to get rid of them. We had to protect, and make sure in that, like under our circumstances, was that the Suez
Canal was a very vital link and of course in those days there was an oil line that came through from Iraq and, Iraq and Iran. It was the main oil field line through to Haifa which supplied England with oil. Mainly, it was the stuff coming across the Atlantic, I mean it was,
mainly sunk and all this sort of thing. So they, England depended on that pipeline coming through to supply the oil for England. And we knew that we had to maintain that Suez Canal and that’s why we had to push them back there. And that’s one of the reasons why that as soon as we’d pushed them back out there and we had to stop Germany coming down through Greece. Well, we couldn’t do that so the next alternative was we had to
stop the Germans getting across into Syria. ‘Cause Syria in those days was French territory, under the Vichy French. And of course if England, if Germany had of got into Syria in any force, and with the Western Desert, they’d come in on a pincer movement and they would have taken Egypt, they would have taken the Suez Canal. They would have taken the lot because we had very little to stop them with. That’s the main reason
We didn’t worry about killing bit, you know, but it was to get him before he got you. Whether he died in the occasion or whether he surrendered, didn’t really matter much as long as you obtained your objective. Sometimes you went in with that force that you had to, you knew you had to kill or be killed yourself. That’s an infantryman’s lot.
We tried, always, to get out of, all ways and means of getting out of the infantry and do some cushy [easy] job somewhere but it never worked, they wouldn’t let you. We became very high skilled at that sort of thing, it was, we knew what we had to do, we did it and that was all.
encounter with death, with dead bodies, in your life?
Oh yes, yeah. Yeah that was our first encounter with the dead. Wasn’t a very pleasant sight by all means but when you see them, you realise what it was all about. But there it is, you’re stuck with it. I got frightened of death one day
by a dead one. I mean, I was in Bardia and was going through the Italian lines and clearing out sort of thing and all of a sudden I just turned around and I looked face to face with an Italian who was just about as close to you as I am. And he was dead and he was looking up with his starey eyes at you. He nearly bowled me over in fear. It was very frightening experience, you know.
And we often think, or I’ve often thought since like you know, it’s not only there but everywhere we went, but we knew we had to do what we did, but at the same time you always thought that like, “Oh, there goes some mother’s son, you’ve tried to kill some mother’s son.” and that’s not a good feeling. I don’t think so anyway. But you had to do what you had to do.
Was there any kind of souveniring of things?
Oh only, not off the dead sort of thing but off the equipment and stuff that they left behind. I’ve a bag at home, an old canary seed bag that’s full of Italian badges, of all their badging, insignias
and this sort of thing, and caps. I have a same beret sort of thing as Mussolini wore, I got it off one of the, out of the equipment they left behind. I’ve still got that at home. My wife said, “Oh I’d like to wear that to tennis, I’d like to wear that.” I mean in the first stages, I mean, I got quite a lot of souvenirs but unfortunately
we had to leave all our kitbags behind and that was where all my souvenirs were. Mainly my souvenirs because what stuff I’d gathered, say like in the desert, some I could send home but mostly I couldn’t because it was, you know, forbidden sort of thing. And before we went to Greece they told us like you know, put all your stuff aside, put it in your kitbag and we’ll store it in the Thomas Cook’s [Travel Agency]
warehouse. So alright, so we did that and I was glad that we didn’t have to carry it around. And then of course when, before we got back out of Greece they told us that the storehouse in Egypt, in Alexandria was hit by a bomb and all our kitbags were destroyed. Well that made me, you know, I got my dander up about that sort of thing. Not fair. Anyway.
I lost a lot of stuff there but, I mean, there was a lot of stuff I got back home just the same. But I’d lost all my cameras, I’d lost the revolvers I souvenired, not revolvers, automatic pistols, this sort of thing. Quite a bit of stuff.
how well suited were you for it?
Oh we were pretty well suited. The only complaint we had, you might say, is like being suited, was that we had inadequate clothing for the cold of the desert. It’s incredibly cold and anyone who’s been in Alice Springs or in the centre of Australia will tell you how cold the desert gets in the night time.
Like, it would have been alright if we’d had had suitable clothing for it. But it’s like the, sending men to snow country without their snow clothing, it was the same thing only snow is no where near as cold as the desert. You know some poet character he said, “When the sands of the desert grow cold.” [possibly referring to 1911 song of that title by George Graff Jr and Ernest R. Ball, although there was also a movie called that as well] there’s never a truer thing, God it gets cold. Unbelievable.
You just become numb. That’s the only thing, way we weren’t suited sort of thing because we just didn’t have the clothing for it.
fight sort of thing you know. But the desert was better as far as we were concerned because it was an open warfare and you can advance on a big front and you had your support with you, artillery, tanks we had, they weren’t much but they had some and that’s how we managed to overwhelm the enemy. Big difference of course when we were in Greece, we had no support,
no air support, had a little bit of artillery and of course they ran over us. The difference again was in New Guinea, we had no support whatever, we just had small arms, as we call it and rifles and machine guns and the enemy sitting there with automatic weapons ready to poor down on you and mounted guns and goodness knows what
not. Makes it very difficult. But the open warfare of the desert was a lot easier.
Sarung [Sollum?], that’s on the, going up west towards Bardia and we were travelling in a truck, it was the only means of transport sort of thing. And I s’pose we were doing about twenty mile an hour and along came, I’m not kidding you, an old Bristol Bomber, the 14-18 war vintage, which was only travelling just at the top of telegraph poles.
You could see the pilot wave to us, the poor devils; I mean in this damn vintage aircraft it was unbelievable. I think they used it as a messenger, courier service. Taking couriers from Alexandria up to the front and back again sort of thing. But this great big monster of an aircraft, well it looked like a monster to us then.
Well we had a little bit of Australian Air Force there, I think. 3Squadron was there and the RAAF, and the RAF [Royal Air Force], they gave us a lot of support and they had a, there was a, some Lysanders [British plane, Westland Lysander], aircraft single wing and they used to come over and circle over Bardia and as an observation for the
artillery. And of course the artillery used to bark like blazes while he was around, you know, shelling the Italian lines. And how that bloke didn’t get shot and killed, I don’t know because he, broad daylight, he’s only up a couple of thousand feet and they threw everything at him and he managed to hold his ground and keep going around and around. They reckon he was half loaded with whisky every time he went up but whether that was true or not I don’t know. But
he did wonders as far as the artillery was concerned to pinpoint their loca…, you know their range and all the rest of the jazz.
What about the RAN [Royal Australian Navy], the Navy?
Oh you couldn’t speak highly enough of them. They, they did a fantastic job in the Middle East bringing up supplies to us, taking back, see like the only way back was by truck and I mean like it wasn’t the best of
roads and they used to use the RAN and the RN [Royal Navy] to bring back, bring up supplies, take wounded back, all this sort of thing. I’ll say this much though, the big battle wagons they had in the Mediterranean, they had something like twelve inch, sixteen inch guns and when
we went into Tobruk there was these great big shell cases. The shells, the projectiles themselves which would be like a metre long and sixteen inch calibre, just opened up like a flower. They’d exploded alright but only burst out the back, they weren’t strong enough, the explosions weren’t strong enough to burst the shell and they were laying everywhere, useless.
So they weren’t much support that way but they did give us a lot of support from the sea, shelling our objectives, more than what the Italians got really. I suppose that’s one of the main reasons why they chucked in the towel [gave up] you might say.
and your general appearance at the end of all that and as a story about the Prime Minister coming, can you tell me all about that, about the state of your clothing?
Well this was the, like going back to supplies, you know. The uniforms that we stood in when we got on board the ship in Sydney was the same uniforms we went into the desert with. Well by the time we’d
finished our campaign our tunics were torn, our trousers were torn, we had nothing, boots were worn out. This is twelve months after we were issued with this stuff. And after we took Tobruk, Bob Menzies [Australian Prime Minister] came around for an interview to review the troops, and he stood in front of, just where I was standing, and he said to our Colonel England, he said,
“Why are these men dressed in these uniforms?” Some had Italian coats on, some had Italian trousers on, some had Italian boots on. And old Colonel England turned to him and he said “Because they’ve got no bloody other.” Bob Menzies just, very smartly, broke off and away he went and we never saw him again, yeah.
So anyway, we did get a bit of equipment or clothing when we got back to Alex [Alexandria], before we went to Greece, and then again by the time we got out of Greece we were threadbare again. It’s amazing how your uniforms, or your clothing, deteriorates in this sort of circumstances. That you eat in it, you sleep in it, you fight in it and very soon something’s got to give and we made sure it was the uniforms, not us!
Tell us the story about your boots.
Oh they were, that was a laugh. I got out of Greece and my boots were original issue boots and by the time I got to Crete I had no shoes, no boots left at all sort of thing. And, I, they managed to get a pair of boots for me but my shoes, Australian style,
So once you’d been taken out of the desert campaign, how did you feel about having to go to Greece? Did you know much about the circumstances?
No, nothing. No, no we had no idea, actually like we were just whipped back very quickly to Alexandria and
they reissued us with clothing, for the first time. And the next thing we, or it was only the next day, I mean we marched onto the English cruiser, the [HMS] Gloucester, and where we were headed for we didn’t know. The next morning, I mean we knew we were in Athens. It was a wonderful experience on that ship; I mean like to be on a cruiser
and doing thirty-three knots. The bow was out of the water and the stern’s down in, you go to the stern on the boat and the wake of the ship is about ten feet above your head. It’s hard to realise but I mean that’s what happens when they’re doing that sort of speed. Tremendous things. Thirty-three knots you know, for a cruiser. Anyway, that was English warships for you. We finished up,
in Port Piraeus and from there they took us to a camp called Daphne which was only a matter of a day or two days, we were there, and they arranged a train for us to take us up to Larissa. And we were only there a few days and of course time was starting to run a bit short apparently, and they got us onto trucks from Larissa and took us up to this
[UNCLEAR] up in the north of Greece and we knew then why we were in such a hurry because the next thing the Germans started to come across the border and chase us off.
there was no visual contact with them but we knew they were in the front of us in the trees and this sort of thing. And our battalion was held in reserve at that stage, then of course they came out of the trees at us and we had to fall back. We’d lost our, we had one New Zealand gun with us, and that got blown up so we had to retire back to the ridge to defend ourselves,
it was a bit of a skirmish sort of thing for a while. Then the next thing we knew, it was just getting dark and an almighty tank came up. Well, it looked almighty big, if you’re laying on the ground and that thing goes past you about three feet off, it’s as tall as a fourteen storey building like you know. It’s enormous. Anyway someone was bright enough,
he yelled out, “It’s a Hun!” So well of course everybody turned to it as one and they blasted that tank with all their rifles, all their peashooters and all that happened was that the, you know, the German tanks carry a section of men on them, and of course they just peeled off, that was the end of them. But the commander of the tank, he went, and the tank just did a U-turn and came back through us, sort of thing. And if you didn’t get out of the way,
he’d run over. So that was our skirmish with them. It was a bit more hectic than what I’m just saying, if you can understand. Things weren’t very comfortable, you might say. But when you’re young, I was only twenty then, ah, yeah twenty and no fears.
But we survived, come out of it.
and strong. But the big difference between them and us was the fact that they had equipment. They had all the support in the world, whereas we had our peashooters and of course it’s a bit hard to fight tanks and Stuka dive bombers with peashooters. But they, they were good fighters; I mean they wouldn’t give in. They just kept on coming. A chap named Egdumb [?], he wrote for The
Bulletin [Australian magazine] about that battle and he reckons there was something like ten thousand Germans went down the river that day. But they still kept coming. This the Pinios, along the Pinios River.
Germans and this must have been difficult after the….?
Oh yes it was, it was hard to take. We cursed our superiors for more or less getting us in the position that we were in, knowing full well that we, we couldn’t do anything about it but they still pushed us in. And I don’t know whether you can use this on your tape or not, but we all blamed Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain] for sending us in there
because it was a forlorn hope, a waste of a division’s equipment and the English equipment too. When we were going ashore in Port Piraeus, the English sailors said to us, “We’ll be back in six weeks to pick you up.” That’s how confident they were, that’s how much they knew over us. We didn’t know a darn thing. And they were right, they were back in six weeks to pick us up, take us home.
Well, and of course that’s where the navy became involved. I mean, without the navy, of course we would’ve all finished up prisoners of war. Oh, I came out on the [HMAS] Perth and they just raced us straight through to Crete and of course dumped us off at Crete, raced back again for another load, sort of thing, the next night.
That’s where we struck trouble again of course. We were there for; we had a holiday there for four weeks. And suddenly the realisation set in with the higher command that the Germans were going to take Crete and they hastily then, they had no supplies, no equipment but unified, we had to defend Crete.
No support, no air support at all. There were, the only English plane I saw was a Spitfire, I think it was either a Spit or a Hurricane, I’m not sure what. And he was going for his, one hell, hell of a time and he had three Messerschmitts [German planes] on his tail. So, where he finished up I don’t know but that’s the only, the only English aircraft or allied aircraft that we saw the whole time in Greece. The rest of the time was just Stukas,
Stukas and ME10’s, ME9’s, [Messerschmitts] they give you curry. They chase you from pillar to post. You might say one of the, the worst periods of the army career was these Stukas coming down and they put these screamers on and dive-bomb you and machine
gun. But it wasn’t the machine gunning or the bombing that worried you, it was the scream of the Stukas, I mean there was an ungodly scream and you felt as though they were coming straight into your back. They were the most formidable foe you might say, was the Stuka.
we stood it. It was, like, we whinged and cried and, you know, blew hell out of the English Government for it and we blamed the Germans for it, we blamed everybody but ourselves. But it wasn’t, wasn’t what you’d say was pleasant
but we never, we never chucked the towel in, that’s the main thing. You never say die. We, we managed to scramble our way back to a place called Kalamata, where we were taken off, come off by the [HMAS]Perth.
thinking about the Greek campaign and talking about Churchill, do you think Australians there were kind of sacrificed, were used as shock troops?
That’s right, we were the bunnies. There was no doubt about that. I mean there was, it was pointless sending us in really because there were, not only Australian troops but the English troops, the New Zealand troops, we were all sent in with no hope in the wide world of stopping
the German Army and as far as Churchill was concerned, he said it was a good war thing to send the troops to Greece to support the Greek Army. Well the Greek Army collapsed you know, straight up. And that was what started the rout, I mean we’d lost our support on the flanks, up in the mountains to our left and of course the Germans were coming through so that’s why we had to pull back to get away from being
cut off. So, it, it was a forlorn hope that they send the troops in. We lost, the 6th Division lost all its equipment bar a few rifles and machine guns, but they lost all their artillery, all their hospitals. The engineers lost all their equipment. Transport, all gone. Lost the lot. And that’s a lot of equipment, to equip a division.
It wasn’t too easy, you know, shots flying everywhere and all this sort of jazz. Got him on a truck and hopefully get him off to hospital, which he did, but he died soon after he arrived, got into hospital. Another fellow, doing the same sort of thing, and the tank ran over him,
ran over his legs between the knee and the shin, the ankle. And of course it was impossible for him to stand even. So I had to carry him out and I got him onto a New Zealand truck eventually and sent him off and I believed he died later on. Whether it was from those injuries he received from the tank or whether he got wounded again
when he was on his way to hospital or whatever, he died a week later. Going by this fellow, going by, when he was, we were talking, ‘cause he slept half the night when I was carrying him out, and going by his guts and determination, he wouldn’t have died through the shock of his legs, you know.
Not if he got to hospital in a week and died a week later sort of thing. But he died, that’s it. This, this is one of the reasons why when you’re making an attack, you can’t stop for the man that’s hit because half the time it’s a forlorn hope and you’re only risking your own life for nothing. Because your bearers and that are coming up behind you, will look after that.
But in the case, when you’re in the front and they’re all moving back, you’ve got to, someone’s got to do something. So it just automatically goes that you look after your mate.
They don’t sort of pick on who you are. Don’t say, we’ve got to get that one, not him. They just pick on the first bloke they see. But you’ve got to be lucky that’s all. I was very lucky many times during the war, missing being killed. I mean I was in a shell hole with my brother and the shell came in
but it didn’t explode. We should’ve been blown to pieces at that time. Next time when the, when these … ME10’s, machine gunners along the road and that leather jerkin I spoke about earlier, he stitched me from there, right down to the bottom of the coat. If it went an inch or two over, I mean it would have done this way. Next time was in Syria when,
I’m getting ahead of the story, but it cut the top of a hat off and that wasn’t very pleasant either. Anyway.
called into the hospital at a place called Lamia, where one of our hospitals were. And they were told then that he was dead, he’d died. He’d got a shot through the back, through the chest here right across through the other side, like a two pound shell went through him and he didn’t, virtually he didn’t have much hope from the word go. Broke his spine
and all the rest of it, you know. But we knew he’d died in good hands, sort of thing. Like a lot of them.
They dish ‘em out, they’re so unfair these awards. Men get them for doing little; men miss out doing a lot and where ever you go it’s the same, same sort of thing. If you’re not seen doing something by an officer, I mean you don’t get any recognition.
Doesn’t matter what you, what any one else saw, if an officer didn’t see it then you didn’t get anything.
When I left Wally on the New Zealand truck, the truck driver said to me, he said, “Well, Larissa’s fallen.” and there’s only the sea there about a few mile over, so I think I must have told Toyota, you know, I kept saying, “Oh, what a feeling.” I mean the German’s are there, the sea’s over here, Larissa’s gone, there’s only one
way out and that’s this way. And the rest of the day I walked over the hills into Volos and they were very good to us there and they gave us a feed, it was the first feed I’d had for two days. And, they got a fishing boat together and took us right down to a place called Khalkis, where the mainland and the island almost join; it’s only a matter of
twenty feet apart. And, one of our sergeants I met up with, Laurie O’Brien, he managed to, there was a train laying on the track or on the siding. And he stoked up the engine, he got it going so we all clambered on the steam train and we, he choofed off. How he got it through I don’t [know] because
no one knew where we were going or anything but apparently the Greeks on the railway must have known, you know woke up to what was going on and they sidetracked us all the way through. We missed Athens, and down to Corinth, over the Corinth, Canal of Corinth and down to Kalamata, right down almost to the beach head. So we all piled out there, by this time it was dark
and we walked off down to the beach, someone was telling us where to go and we just sat on the beach then until the early hours of the morning. And the next thing we knew there was an English naval officer, he did say his name, “I’m so and so and I am in charge.” It’s a funny thing how his voice sounded, it just straightened us all up, it
was, “Thank God someone’s in charge.” sort of thing. And he told us then what we were going to do and in a very short time we were all piling onto these barges and that and carting it off to the cruiser. It went so smoothly it was unbelievable really. No fuss, no bother. And of course as soon as he’d loaded everything on he could load and took off.
And the sailors from the Perth, they treated us like marvels. And where we, there was suddenly about three or four o’clock in the morning when we left Kalamata and we were in Crete around midday I think it was. And of course their job was to unload us as quick as they could and race back to Kalamata again for the next night.
I’d never really, it started off you might say, till the time we got into Palestine but from there on the grind got harder and harder and harder sort of thing. Because I mean there was no leniency with this, there was training and discipline the whole time. And as it went on,
there was no more an adventure or a holiday as we thought it might have been. It was getting down to the old nitty gritty and we, I think it was because of our very basic training that we got, it was very disciplined training and it was that that carried us right through. I think we acquitted ourselves very well,
even though I say so myself!
the English Navy were on guard sort of thing. They were patrolling everywhere and the next thing that we knew was that the rumble of naval gunfire off Crete. And it wasn’t too far off when you can hear the rumble and gunfire. And of course the word came through that the Germans were sending their kites and all launchers and all this,
to invade Crete. Well fortunately for us, the Royal Navy did a wonderful job. They reckon they got, virtually got the lot of them and they say at least a division was coming, tried to get ashore to man the attack. The next thing was when they’d failed sort of thing, they brought in the paratroopers. And there was one time
where we were getting down to the nitty gritty then, really making an account of ourselves because once again we had no support, no aircraft, no artillery. And it’s a bit hard to fight people without support, I can tell you. If you’ve got the real support, I mean it’s easy, well comparatively speaking. But there, I mean we just had
our peashooters and we did the best we could. It was, the fighting only lasted about a week but it was enough time, we were out-numbered, out-gunned, everything. The only thing was then, what was left of us was to pull us off and get us back to Alex. Our 2/1st Battalion was the one that got off Greece virtually intact.
Well when I say intact, to a certain degree sort of thing. And, but they took the final brunt of the German attack on Crete. A few of us managed to support and do a bit. But once again, it was a forlorn hope, we lost our 2/1st Battalion in that engagement. What weren’t killed and wounded were taken prisoner, they were wiped out. So
there was some pretty stiff going there for a while. How I got out I don’t know. I mean why I got out, I know how I got out, but I don’t know why I got out because I was just damn, extremely lucky, that’s all I can say. I really earned my first pay in Crete, made an account of myself.
Long while coming but I got there.
everybody but ourselves of course, only natural. As soon as, well my battalion got out from Greece comparatively intact, there was only a small amount of us who were left diverted and of course they were very quickly re-armed, re equipped sort of thing. And I was only, I got out of Crete and I spent the night in Alex and the next day I was on the train
and went straight back to our old camp in Palestine, home from home. And I was only there a day. The next night I was driving a truck up to Syria and I didn’t know what the hell was going on but there I was. And of course the attack on Syria. What had happened in the meantime was that the battalion had been re equipped and all this sort of thing and unfortunately because the 2/1st Battalion had been nearly wiped out there was only a few of them left.
And they’d taken a company out of the 2/2nd Battalion and a company out of the 2/3rd Battalion to build up the 2/1st [Battalion] and then with reinforcements we were up to strength. But we were the silly bunnies, they just called on the 2/3rd Battalion to help the 7th Divvy [Division] up in the Syrian campaign and that’s why very quickly I was back in it again … aw gee ... it never rains but
it pours they say. But you, it’s a funny thing how you get used to it. This is the way to go, there’s nothing else to do.
Bill, I wanted to ask you a bit about your brothers because
they were very much involved in the war as well and as we’ve just been talking about Crete, tell me what happened to Ernie?
Well, he was in the 2/1st Field Regiment, the artillery and we didn’t have much contact with him at all. Like in the Middle East, because he was camped so far away from us and of course being artillery and we were infantry, never the twain shall meet sort of thing, as far as that goes. But
we didn’t know about it of course, that he was taken prisoner until we got back to Palestine, it was, back to Egypt. And we were told, we were told Ernie had been taken prisoner. What took place, we didn’t find out until later on, was that the, the pull back to Kalamata, with the guns and all this but then, they had to spike their guns and all their equipment sort of thing, before it could fall into German hands.
But he managed to go alright I think as far as a POW [Prisoner of War] was concerned. But towards the end he got a bit fed up with it and he tried to escape. And in trying to escape he got shot. Well, he served the rest of the war in the POW camp, after receiving his treatment.
And it wasn’t until he was going, when he got back to England, or got to England, he was going from London up to Scotland, to have a look at Scotland and he just passed out in the train. And the wound that he had in his temple, just here, had shifted, the bullet had shifted and of course he blacked out.
They got him into hospital and treated him and of course he was alright again, and finally finished his bit of a trip in England and Scotland, came back home. That was him. Why he was prisoner was that he was working on a farm which was a, he said was a pretty good life because they were treated well and plenty of food,
they worked hard, I mean but it was a much better than living in barracks sort of thing. It was, didn’t get too much of a picture of what happened to him as far as the POW was concerned but it must have been a hell of a blow to him because he was a very big freelancer, he liked to roam and of course being tied up like that
was no way for him. That’s one of the reasons why he tried to escape.
you hear a lot of stories about Germans but the Germans who, army Germans were all very good soldiers and they treated everyone very well. It was only when they got back into, into camps, that the SS and all this prison crew that they had to deal with and they were the hard ones, according to Ern.
They gave no quarter and no beg pardoners, nothing. I think with our people who treated POWs, I mean they were treated with all the respect and they had a good life. But I’m darn sure our blokes didn’t get such a good life. Not what you hear from them. One of our fellows, he was taken prisoner and
just because he wasn’t behaving himself or anything, he got a bayonet in the back, and that’s not nice. You don’t expect that sort of thing. But he survived it.
The first time we were split up was at the, we had this engagement with the Germans at Pinios Gorge. He got out and went down through Lamia and I went out through Volos and we came together again on Crete. He was unlucky, or lucky whichever way you look at it. They were on the Costa Rica, coming out of Greece, and got dive bombed and the boat was sunk. Now Costa Rica,
they did lose one man out of that engagement, there was one of the crew I believe, but the rest of them were all transferred onto Naval ships and choofed ‘em off to Crete. So, that’s where he spent his time then with me, or both of us together. And, he was a pretty good soldier; he [was] very well liked, except me.
We could never see eye to eye and I think that goes for a lot of brothers. He, more or less, he went his way, I went my way, well he couldn’t miss a movement because he was a major and I was only a private so, we were just at that point where you, I had to go my way, he went his way. That’s all.
being together in combat like that?
No we had, we had the Boyd twins. We had brothers Koorey, they were from Canberra. That was just in our company that I can think of, of the originals. The other company, the same thing, one or two
pairs of brothers, sort of thing. But we were the only, I think the only two out of B Company we were in, that went right through the war and it wasn’t until Aitape, in the finish, that he got wounded, I went out sick and we finished up in the same hospital. They couldn’t separate us, one way or the other.
your future wife, Kathleen?
Well I, strange as it may seem, I’d just, oh, a week before, no more, I get a letter from my girlfriend, then, saying it was all off, you know, she’d got tired of waiting for me, a couple of years. I mean like she was only eighteen I suppose, same as me,
and of course, see one of the big difficulties was that we couldn’t say where we were, what we were doing, how we were getting on, you could say yes I’m alright but there was nothing to talk about. It was very hard to try and communicate with someone two years away down the track and, I mean, they’re getting very dim in the past. Anyway, shortly after I got that letter, I got another letter and this was from this Kathleen Legget [?]. And, she introduced
herself and what she was about and all this sort of thing. And of course I communicated with her backwards and forwards, with letters. And in the finish when we’d got back from the Middle East, of course I went and looked her up and it was on from there and on sort of thing. She seemed to agree with what I was doing, how I was and I, she agreed to me, and
How did she get to write to you?
Oh, oh that’s right, it was her sister, used to work at the old Civic Theatre in Hurstville. And my father, he used to do his shopping in Hurstville and he, somehow or other, he got to meet her, Kathleen’s sister, who’s working in the theatre. And of course, my Dad was a boaster
and he telling her all about these three sons of his and all this sort of jazz. So, my wife’s sister said, “Well give me Bill’s address and I’ll write to him, get my sister to write to him.” And that’s how she got my name, through my father, through her sister. So, that was about it.
Describe when you first met.
Oh well that was strange. I rang her on the telephone. I knew her address of course. But I rang her up when I got into Sydney and I said, “I’ll meet you, you know, when you knock off in town.” it was the MLC [office building and shopping centre] and I said, “I’ll meet you at a certain spot at the GPO [General Post Office]. And we’ll, we’ll have a night out.” She said,
“Well, how will I know you?” and I said, “Well it’s easy, I’ll be in uniform.” and she said, “Oh.” And I said, “How will I know you?” She said, “Oh, I’ll be wearing a bouquet of violets.” on her. And I said okay and sure enough, I mean it was easy as anything, we met right on the spot on five o’clock and we went out and had a bit of dinner and we went to the movies.
Unfortunately it didn’t last very long because we were supposed to have two weeks leave but, in effect, I mean they called us back after ten days, you’re needed . So that was Sydney for you. So we choofed off a train up to Brisbane then.
I’ll ask you that again…tell me how you felt?
Well as a girlfriend, and you see I don’t mean anything by this, I mean but we’d been through so much over in the Middle East, all our emotions had been killed, we had no emotion left, we couldn’t even laugh anymore. And
we just took life as it came and that was it for the day. I mean it was, tomorrow was another day. And it wasn’t until, you know, I came back from New Guinea that I saw a lot of my wife, or saw a lot of Kathleen, and of course we got very attached and that sort of thing, which lead to our marriage.
But why was it that you couldn’t commit earlier on?
I knew, I mean well we all felt the same way sort of thing, that you, we knew what we had to do and we knew our, well as you might say, we knew our number could come up anytime and we didn’t want to involve anyone with that. It was, you couldn’t involve a young girl with it,
come back, took a long while. Because it, we didn’t, couldn’t feel any compassion for anybody, outside of our own, what we were doing, it was just one of those things. We had no, you’ve got to look at it this way, we had no future, most of us had no future. And we knew it and that’s why we couldn’t involve anyone else’s,
anyone to any extent, you might say.
this the other day, try and think of something. Well the, the thing is that you’re, you don’t have any fear, you’re young and fear doesn’t come into your vocabulary really. I went through quite a few harrowing experiences, you might say, but to nail it down to one particular time would be when we were up in New
Guinea, the second time, and we were out. I had a section out on patrol and I was leading the patrol at the time and going across the creek and coming up out of the creek, coming up, climbing up the bank, if you know what I mean. And I looked up, and from about six feet away, was a Japanese officer with his sword raised up above his head, ready to part my hair. And instinct,
straightaway, I just lifted the gun and I shot him, I mean I had no alternative, I just blasted him. And of course that saved my hair. I got his sword though. That wasn’t too nice, that one. It was, you don’t think of it at the time, but later on you think, God, I could’ve been killed there, it’s dangerous this game. So!
counter tension? How do you work against it? How do you prevent yourself from getting too tense?
Oh well, that’s another thing we’re taught. You’re taught to keep relaxed as far and as much as possible. Because the more tense you are, the less responsive you are, to any immediate danger or anything like that. You must keep relaxed but attentive. And you’re reflexes
One of, this is in Tobruk, or after Tobruk like you know, we’re just waiting to go further on and Tard [?] King who was in the 6th broke his false teeth set, busted somehow or other, and of course, was it… John Fletcher I think it was,
he had a set of false teeth. And of course Tard would just sit there waiting for Roy to finish his breakfast, finish his dinner or whatever it was, and say, “Come on Roy hurry up, I’m getting hungry in here.” and he’d have to swap the false teeth over so he could eat, eat his dinner. Oh dear, funny man. But that’s how it went.
What about like sheer physical exhaustion, that must have made it hard to fight?
No, well see there’s different things. When you, when an action is complete, you relax completely. Like you know, you collapse in a heap, you might say. But you can go days without any worry at all, no sleep, just keep going. That
before, prior to that Pinios Gorge engagement, had, had no sleep the night before, no food the night, the day before and we came in there with no sleep, no food and it wasn’t, no sleep the next night after the engagement, walked all day, it wasn’t until that night that I got a sandwich
and a cup of coffee. But it didn’t matter, you didn’t, didn’t worry you.
no, no. It was just set, there was no anger. You’d get upset, because you got to go and do this, that or the other. But not anger. Not, not like you, we didn’t hike ourselves up, you might say, like they do in the football matches and this sort of thing, before the match. I mean you don’t hike yourself up like that, I mean you’re just told we’re going in and you go in. I mean that’s it, that. There’s no anger, no hiking up, just knew what you had
to do. What may be in front of you, that’s all.
I guess the other thing about warfare is that there are periods of intense battle and a lot of periods of boredom in between. Describe the boredom?
Well, they wouldn’t allow you to get bored, sort of thing. Because you, they’d give you a period of relaxation of a day or something like that, but then
straightaway, I mean you were, some would have to be pulled on straight away to, to be security and all this sort of thing. But the rest were allowed to relax, but only for a day. And then they would be pulling on you to go over what they did, what went wrong, what didn’t go wrong and training, more training, always more training. It was to solidify yourself really as to what was going on.
What about the kind of Australian sense of humour, how did that prevail in difficult times?
If it hadn’t have been for the Australian sense of humour, I think we’d have all died. Yeah, the Australian sense of humour is really a remarkable and when you get amongst a lot of fellows, like we were, the, the humour that came out was unbelievable really. Things they would say, things they would do. Yeah, more or less anything to relieve their own boredom sort of
thing. But, no fights, that’s the strange part about it, no fights. Even ‘though, although I did see one fight, one day on Crete. The 2/1st Battalion was parked over on our left and we, my brother Wal was in charge of our remnants and he said, “Right, I want a couple of fellows, we’re going to dig a toilet.” So, righto,
up goes a couple of blokes up there and they picked on a spot behind the 2/1st Battalion. And of course one of the 2/1st battalion blokes come up and he says, “What are you doing here?” “We’re just gonna dig a toilet.” He said, “No you’re not.” He said, “Yes I am.” “Over my dead body!” and brother Wal said, “Oh yeah, I can fix that up too.” he says. So they had a hell of a ding-dong fight and the mob all joined around, all gathered around, having a ding-dong fight over where
this toilet would go. The toilet went in a different place. They both, they both won, they were that exhausted they just collapsed in a heap, you might say. But it was a matter of pride and pride on one bloke and one bloke wouldn’t give in. That’s all it is.
that you came up against?
Oh, well this is it. They, they could laugh at the silliest things and they’d make a joke out of the silliest things, in the most serious places. Like we had a fellow shot, he got shot in the rump, across the cheeks of his bottom. And we said to Bumble, “Where’d you get shot Bumble?” that was his nickname, Bumble Woods, and he said,
as they’re told and they went whichever way they were told. They were good troops. But in a way they were too disciplined, if you know what I mean. The Australian’s have that laxity, that if they’re told to do something, and to them it sounds stupid, they wouldn’t do it, they’d go another way. Whereas an English soldier, if he’s told to do something, he would do it, no matter how stupid
it was. But as for the Australian, it’s always been that way, not only in, in any one particular man, or anything like that, as a whole. The Australian would say, “To hell with you, we’re going around this way.” And that’s what they would do. And they’d come out, strange as it may seem.
like our time the Australian was made up, at least ninety five percent by English blood, and where it took place or how it took place, I haven’t the faintest idea. Because the Englishman hasn’t got anywhere near the humour an Australian soldier’s got or English people and Australian people. How it came about, Lord only knows. It’s just one of those mixtures.
Different conditions, different country. Glad to get away from the ties of England, see.
line. We all, sort of, when we were in training, when we first got over there, “Blow this walking bit, we’ll get into the artillery or we’ll get to the engineers or join the air force, we’ll do anything to get out of this marching bit.” But no, there, well they weren’t successful anyway but they, no one tried after they got their training and they were ready to go, well we moved across to Egypt, that was the end of it.
They knew they were stuck and that’s where they’ll stay.
But men aren’t very good at confessing their kind of fears to each other?
No. No, they’re very good at hiding that. They won’t say, “God I’m frightened!” or anything like that. I mean, they wouldn’t tell their mate that they’re frightened. But mostly, we, well we were all young, mainly young, and when you’re young you’ve got no
What about this thing that we talk a lot about but, perhaps, understand very little about, this sense of mateship. What’s at the heart of that, in the army?
Oh it’s just the fact that, particularly in the infantry, like I was in, that
you all know that you depend on him and he depends on you. That’s the whole crux of it. And, if you don’t do your bit, he’ll go down or could go down, sort of thing. And if he doesn’t do his bit, you could go down. And that’s what binds you so much. They know one another depends on one another. More so than any, any other time in life you might say.
Thing is, I don’t know if I made myself clear or not but, that’s how it goes.
Bill, we were talking about mateship a minute ago. I just want to go over something that you talked about before that we didn’t quite get the full story, when you were in Greece and one of your colleagues, fellows got run over by
a tank, can you tell us that story and how that went on for a couple of days?
Well, it didn’t go on for a couple of days, that night of the tank attack, our trucks were behind us at the time and, well out of sight of the tanks and that, and when this tank came
through us, Molly [?] Webb called out for help. So I went to him and he told me what it was, that the tank had run over his legs. He’d jumped sideways but he hadn’t jumped enough. Otherwise if he hadn’t of jumped, I mean it would’ve run right over the middle. But he’d jumped sideways and anyway, I picked him up, put him over my shoulders
and I thought, ‘Oh I’ll get him back to the trucks.’ But by the time I got back to the trucks, there were no trucks, they’d all disappeared on me. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I thought, ‘God, this is lovely, this is.’ So I carried him out from there, all that night until daylight the next day and when I picked up this New Zealand truck who took him off me and he said, “We’ll look after him.” and
carted him off. That was about it. It’s brief I know but you couldn’t expand on it, for all the rest of it.
I don’t know but I did find out from the army, the 1st Battalion, the 2/1st, he was wounded and he, the stretcher cases were all being put on the hospital ship in Port Piraeus and the walking wounded were coming next. And the air raid came on and of course hospital ship’s lit up like Luna Park. What happened was the bombers just made straight for it,
a beacon to go onto. Well it blew the ship out of the water, no trouble whatever. And it was only the walking wounded that could be saved, they got away from it. But in that ship, I believe there was something like seven hundred men lost their lives. So the army won’t say whether he died there, died on the road or died in a hospital. All they know is he died on the 25th April. They won’t say where or
how or what caused it. I asked them in letters, “Did he die from wounds received on the 19th April or did he die of subsequent wounds or did he die in hospital?” They said, they wrote back and they said, “Who said he died in hospital?” They wouldn’t admit that he’d died in hospital, sort of thing, or he died on the road or he died in the hospital ship.
And the next day they were, we were on our way up to Damascus, up through the Golan Heights which is so prominent in the last few years. And we picked up there, trucks which took us through there up through there to Damascus. And, the first taste of fire that we got there was, we were, oh I s’pose about four or five mile
south of Damascus, when the French artillery opened up on us from the forts along the mountain range. And they were giving us a bit of curry at the time, I mean like. That’s where I had the top of my hat cut off, so that wasn’t very pleasing. So we spent a few, oh sometime, taking the French forts, getting them cleaned out of the French. They fought very well.
They didn’t like giving them up, believe me. So we tried to go from there across the Damascus-Beirut Road to Beirut but they had other ideas and of course they were well situated in the mountain range and they picked us off like flies. So we had to back tail it out of it and go right down south and back around again, come up through Haifa, up to a place called Merdjayoun and
it was there that we struck the French again and we were fighting our way up through to Beirut there. And just as we were just, you know you’ve heard of Cutler [Sir Arthur Roden Cutler] got his VC [Victoria Cross] there at, oh, what was the name of that place? I forget the name of the place where he got hit, anyway we got to there and the French capitulated.
This is all taken a few weeks, like it wasn’t a matter of overnight or anything like that. But, Damour was the place where Cutler got hit. Anyway, the French capitulated and we just then took, went north as far as, well over Syria, to occupy the area so that there was no fear of the Germans coming in on to it.
suddenly finding yourselves fighting the French, not something you would have imagined when you …?
You wouldn’t think of it. I mean like we never thought of it, the French were our allies, staunch allies you might say. But then we could see that these weren’t French soldiers, they were the Vichy French. And a lot of them were legionnaires. In my album there is photographs of them, of the French Foreign Legion fellows.
And you ended up back in Beirut?
No, north of that. We were camped just out the side of, well we went up as far as Latakia, which is north of Tripoli and, just west of Aleppo and we, I was sent with a truck load of men to Aleppo to see if anything was wrong there or anything needed looking into or anything. And, yeah everything was clear and after a few days I choofed off back to the
battalion, tell them everything was alright.
At this stage, I’m interested to know how you felt when you’re over in that part of the world, when you’d heard that Japan had entered the war?
Well it wasn’t good because we got the, you know, the very sad news that I mean, like they’d come down through, through Indo-China as it was
called then, through Malaya, the 8th Division was lost and they were occupying all the islands about the place and there we were, stranded in the Middle East. Well, that’s where we were, we were stranded. And, it took John Curtin [Prime Minister of Australia] a hell of a lot of persuasion, to persuade the English troops or the English Government, to let us out of the Middle East to go back to defend our own country. Well of course eventually he won,
There were rumours, I’ve heard, in Australia that people were saying that the troops in the Middle East, who’d stayed in the Middle East, had volunteered to stay. Had you heard anything like that?
No. No, well the 7th Division was the first ones back and we didn’t find out that until after we’d came back. But the 9th Divvy I mean they had no alternative, I mean they just stayed, well they were told to stay
and they stayed, well they were the mob that defended Tobruk in the Siege of Tobruk. And then they were back to Alamein, where they defended El Alamein and we fully expected one of us, either the 7th or the 6th [Division] would have been sent up to relieve them, but because we were called back, they had to stay. And it wasn’t a matter of volunteering or anything like that, they stayed because they were told to stay, that was it,
a soldier can’t tell the general where he’s going to go, it’s a bit hard. Especially [Field Marshall] Montgomery, he wouldn’t like it all.
There was even talk of white feathers being sent. Did you hear about that?
Oh, that might’ve happened at home. I don’t know anything about that, could’ve done, you hear all sorts of stories. Like where we were, the way we were situated, we just took it all with a grain of salt. ‘Cause
So you were feeling anxious, clearly, about what was happening in Australia? What was your worst fear?
Well, our worst fears were that I mean like, you know, that Australia could be occupied because they’d just lost Malaya. And we were still in the Middle East. And, we’d lost the 8th Division, and
more or less we couldn’t get back quick enough. Well, we were on our way back, or we thought we were, and we got around towards India and they changed course. They said, “You’re going to Java.” We’re going to Java? And we said, “Oh no!” So, anyway, the news came through then, alright we’re not going to Java, we’re going to Ceylon, Sri Lanka. And
Java is fallen, so there’s no use wasting you there, so we went to Ceylon. And we had a three month period there which was very fortunate, and very useful because we learnt part of our jungle warfare there because of the, Ceylon is very heavy timbered and jungle like country. And we had three months there to more or less acclimatise ourselves to jungle and sweat and rain and all
this sort of jazz. They were good to their word, three months later I mean they had a ship there for us and brought us back home. Well of course they could only bring us as far as Melbourne because I mean the American, the Japanese submarines were active along our coast. So we got off the ship in Melbourne and then a day next we were on a train and we were up to Sydney. So we got a couple of weeks leave
and we were only, only on it ten days and we got called back. And the next thing we were on a train up to Brisbane. And from Brisbane we were on a ship straight up to Port Moresby, oh lovely, a nice how do you do!
Sydney, I knew it all. But there was no change, the people hadn’t changed, the country was the same. No. My mother said to me when I come on leave, I said to her, “I’m going over to see Aunty Alice.” she says, “What, in Manly?” I said yes. “Oh, how ya going?” I said, “I’ll go over by the ferry.” “Oh don’t go by the ferry, don’t go by the ferry!” I said, “Why, what’s wrong?” She said, “The submarines come into the harbour, they’ll blow you up!”
Well they had Sydney scared, you know there was a period where the three Japanese submarines got into Sydney Harbour, three midgets, and that’s where they sunk the [HMAS] Kuttabul, it was in the harbour at the time, well she was sort of a go-between ferry between Garden Island naval ships and from Farm Cove. And they lost, I think it was twelve, something like that, on the Kuttabul, it was torpedoed.
They got two of the Japanese submarines but they don’t know what happened to the third one, never been seen from that day to this.
What about people’s attitudes. Can you remember?
Well, as a matter of fact, I mean I think everybody knew who we were. Our colour patch was a 6th Divvy and more or less. They just treated us, oh he’s just been over, for a couple of weeks, over the Middle East, he’s alright, take no
notice of him. Just ignored us you might say, it was strange. Of course we got no welcoming home committee sort of thing or any march past or anything like that but, so we were just accepted as, oh, more Australian soldiers around, that’s all. Because the place was lousy with American soldiers at that time, all American servicemen. So having us around was only more or less
an embarrassment to a lot of people. We were cutting out the Americans.
What did you feel about the Americans?
Well, we weren’t very pleased with them. The way they carried on. Because see, Americans are very boastful, very talkative. And the Australian is not boastful, more or less; there are some in circumstances,
but he’s not very boastful. And he’s not very talkative. And of course, we didn’t take to them too kindly. And of course they were, they were getting hold of every woman they could get hold of at the time and of course, what we were saying I mean they’re here, and we’re over there, I mean it’s not very good that. There was a hell of a fight up in Brisbane, I
believe, I wasn’t there so I can’t be held responsible for it. But a fight broke out, with the Americans and the Australian troops, and there was a big fight I believe. That was shortly after we came home.
Tell me a bit more about that, I’m not quite sure what you mean?
Well, it’s hard to describe, the attitude between the American troops and our troops. Because we tried to be even with them sort of thing,
but after we’d had engagements with them up in New Guinea all our fears sort of thing, had come really home to roost. They more or less, they showed themselves for what they were. And we had no, no business with them at all after that, couldn’t, couldn’t go near them. We ignored the American soldiers.
what happened in New Guinea?
Well we had two occasions. The first one was that when we came down out of the Owen Stanley Range, over the Kokoda Track, and we had struck the Japanese for the second, our battalion had struck the Japanese for the second time and we cleared the Japanese out of Wewak and we were on our way
then to chase him up. And out of the bush came these American troops. And they’d come over the Owen Stanleys on a different track to us but they hadn’t struck any of the Japanese. And they were supposed to be there before us, to cut off the Japanese retreat. Well they got there about a week late and caused a lot of our casualties. And of course, I’ll
always remember one Yank said to me, he said “Where are these goddamn Japs?” I said “Well.” he said, “We’ve come a long way without burning any powder.” and I just said to him, I said, “Well if you want to burn some powder mate, you just gotta go up there and you’ll pick ‘em up, they’re there.” Oh, useless lot! The next time was when we were down at Sanananda, and by this time we’re whittled
to nothing sort of thing, and, they’d got this American regiment to come up through us, and make an attack on Sanananda. And what happened they got, for the first time, they got artillery barrage support, mortars, mortars thrown in and really something we hadn’t of seen for ages, the artillery support,
not since the Western Desert campaign. And these Americans made an advance through us and they were gone for a short while and then they started to roll back again. We said “How’d ya go Yank?” “Oh, guess we got about ten.” And every soldier we asked, “How’d ya go Yank?” he’d say, “Guess we got about ten.” They all got ten! I mean if that was the case, I mean the Japanese would’ve been in deficit,
they’d have owed us lives. They were useless. They didn’t get further than fifty yards in front of us and went down.
So, let’s talk now about arriving in Moresby. Presumably you didn’t even realise when you left Australia that you were going to Port Moresby?
No, we didn’t know where we were going but, of course, once we were out at sea they told us, where we were going. And, but we didn’t realise the gravity of the situation. We landed in Moresby on the 22nd of September and the 3rd of October, after re equipping ourselves with jungle greens, dying our
uniforms, all this thing, clothing and it was on the 3rd of October we started across the Owen Stanleys, over the Kokoda Track. That was, we were in Sydney in August, middle of August, we were on the Kokoda Track the 3rd of October so, in those days it was all by train or ship to move, and it takes time.
How long did you expect to be there?
Well, our old Brigadier Allen, he said to us, he called us on parade sort of thing, we were in Murray Barracks and he said, “Now you clear the Kokoda Track for us and we’ll have you home for Christmas dinner.” We thought well yeah, fair enough, that’s not a bad proposition sort of thing. We couldn’t do it as easy as we thought; it took us well to get right down to
the coast of the Japanese, it was just towards the end of December, about the 28th of December I think I came out. And after we’d regrouped in Moresby, they sailed us back and they did very, I’ll tell you he was true to his word. On the 9th of, no the 8th of January we landed back in Brisbane, at a camp called Yeerongpilly
and they gave us Christmas dinner and we couldn’t eat it! We were all pretty sick at the time and we just couldn’t eat this big roast dinner they’d dished up for us. Anyway they gave us new clothing and the next day we were on the train to Sydney. And I was only in Sydney a few days and I finished up in Concord, in Yaralla Hospital as it was then,
and I was in and out of there like I was the laundry man or something. So.
very religiously but when, we got our little taste of jungle warfare when we went to Ceylon. Well of course that’s not fighting an enemy. So when you, when we did get on the Kokoda Track, it’s, extremely nerve racking. You know full well that the enemy’s there in the trees and you can’t see more than
fifty feet in front of you, the trees are that thick. You’re lucky if you can see fifty feet. And you know that forward scouts, their life wasn’t worth a peanut. The next thing you know, they’d dropped. But it got so back that as far as a forward scout was concerned, ten minutes was the most he could stand, well they reckon this, and he would drop out and come to the back. And the next man would take over, and then he would
come back because you gotta move so extremely careful and every nerve in your body is tense. There’s no humour around anywhere, it’s just this deadly silence and you had to keep that deadly silence too and you just have your eyes in every position at the same time trying to find whatever’s in front there.
Then of course when you struck him, a few would go down, and of course then a, the skirmish would start. And it wasn’t until then that you could sort of relax a certain amount, you knew where he was and you knew how you could go about getting him. But up till then it was a very nervous, well your nerves were so taut that it didn’t matter, you could hear a pin drop in the jungle it was that,
Before the war, when you thought about Japan, what did you think?
You want that? Well before the war we considered that, we disliked the Japanese immensely. And of course the Prime Minister at the time, Bob Menzies,
he sold scrap iron to Japan. And of course he got his nickname from there of ‘Pig Iron Bob’. And virtually, I think, as far as the ordinary people in the street was concerned, they agreed with everybody that was the wrong thing to do. Selling metal to the Japanese when there was so much rumbling going on, that they knew that they were going to turn it around and
send it at us. So anyway, nobody liked Japanese. Or you know, there wasn’t that much talk about them but everybody disliked them. Well I did anyway. And of course once the Japanese entered the war, well of course you’ve got a lot of propaganda, before we got there,
before we went into New Guinea, but once we got into New Guinea we realised that it wasn’t the propaganda, wasn’t anything like what you were dished out, it was far worse. They’d only told us the good side of it, if you know what I mean. The things that they did to our troops was unbelievable really.
They’re a soldier obsessed, they died for their Emperor who was their God and they, they gave no consequence at all for their own body. To die for the Emperor was a good thing. Which I don’t know whether I covered it right or not?
Bill, we were talking earlier about peoples’ attitudes towards the Japanese before the war,
why was it that they, what was the reasoning behind people not liking the Japanese?
I think it all stemmed from the fact that, I’ve no relationship with diplomacy and all that sort of thing, but the Japanese were manufacturing things so cheaply with their child labour and all this sort of jazz and, very cheap labour, and of course they were undercutting all
Australian made things and English. And of course in that was also Hong Kong. Hong Kong was selling the things made in the UK, well they weren’t made in the UK, they were made in English industries in Hong Kong. But the Japanese were the master of copying; they even had stuff made in USA. It was USA (‘yoosa’), no stops in it,
but it looked like as though it was made in USA. But, the whole thing, we hadn’t had much business about the Japanese because actually in the ‘14-‘18 War Japan was on our side and to have ‘em turn around and fight against us it was something new. Where it all started I don’t know, it was just
that the only thing we got a dislike of the Japanese was because of their industrial might, the way it was just overtaking everything, that’s all we knew about it.
And very dogged determination with them. I mean the, everything, life had no meaning as far as they were concerned. They had to just fight for their Emperor. Their Emperor was their God, in their Shinto religion. Well they were very fanatical fighters. They had no regard whatever for anything,
just what they had to do.
What were the tactics that they would use?
Oh well they were artists at pincer movements. They’d let you come up the middle, and then they’d close in behind you. And, that proved a big problem because I mean your countryside is so, so mountainous and the ridges so sharp,
and you couldn’t see very far, that they could get almost up on you before you knew they were there. But they were lightly equipped and could move very quickly. Where our fellows, we had to carry everything but the kitchen sink. And it wasn’t so easy to run around like the way they could. They used to run around everywhere, I mean I don’t know whether they were more
athletic than us, but they could, they could out-manoeuvre us without any trouble at all, that way. Come around, come around the side of you, all in a jog, and then come up along side of you or behind you, this sort of thing.
If there is any glamour in war, presumably there wasn’t much left by now?
No glamour in war, there’s no glamour in war. Anytime there’s any glamour in war is when you get a day’s leave and you go into town, and get a couple of beers. There’s no, there’s no women that you can associate with. Like for instance when I said goodbye to the family, the girlfriend, that was the last time I kissed a woman
until August ’42. As far as that was concerned, I mean as far as infantrymen were concerned, I mean we were always stationed out in the hills somewhere in the back blocks and it was a rare treat to get a day’s leave to go into Tel Aviv or… One time we were very lucky, we got a week’s guard duty in Jerusalem, garrison of
the town, I don’t know what for because we couldn’t fight anybody but anyway. There was no glamour in it. The only glamour in, not in war, but it’s the parades after the war or before the war. England was the exponent of this, she had her regiments all in dress uniform and they were trained to the
minute, they were a site to see when they were on parade. Whereas the Australian soldier’s very seldom seen on parade and when he is, he’s not that very good anyway. Special occasions he’s good but there’s no glamour.
Oh yes, that’s right. I mean we, we weren’t allowed any laxity at all. From the time we got to the Middle East we were in serious training the whole time. And, once we started there was no stopping, sort of thing, until this thing was cleared up. So, you’d get breaks,
on the Kokoda Track, they had the defensive and it is always much easier if you’re on the defensive in these places, where you’re defending something, than it is to make an attack. You make an attack, I mean, it’s mainly frontal. And it’s easier to fend against that sort of thing and especially in hilly country, you’ve got to get up the hill and they’re on top of the hill looking down at you.
And the difference was when we were over on the northern coastline, it was more, although it was jungle, it was flatter. And we had much better chance at them, sort of thing, and we proved ourselves better there than we had done on the Kokoda Track. The Kokoda Track was a slog, not only physically, mentally
and then through sickness. With this we didn’t have the sickness, we didn’t have the up hill slogs and we could track our enemy better. And we proved ourselves better in this way than we’d pushed the Japanese from Aitape through to Wewak. And we had him cornered there and the next thing was to wipe him out there,
get the war finished and of course that saved them and saved us.
Just going back to the start, when you went into Kokoda, how well equipped were you in terms of your uniforms?
Oh I said, we were equipped with ‘14-‘18 War equipment. It was all in stored there at Moorebank, ready for the next war. And it was old hat. The only thing we got new was rifles.
They were still packed in their grease from the manufacturer. And of course that was one of our first jobs, was actually to clean our rifles down so we could use them. They were smothered in grease; the barrels were blocked with it and all this sort of thing. But clothing wise, I mean, I always think of the damn stupid overcoats we had. They were designed for the Light Horse, that you could put
the greatcoat over your pack and over your horse as well like. It was the most stupid thing you ever saw. But we were very, very poorly equipped, put it that way. We had very little support. No encouragement to get any better support sort of thing. Our government was really as mean as they can come, to spending a
Going into Kokoda, what about the uniforms there?
Well we had shirt and slacks and we, we had to spend a couple of days over the boiling fire to dye our clothes, green from khaki. Had no preparation for the jungle at all. The, our boots were ordinary boots,
so the boot maker had to come along and he put straps across the sole of our boots so that we wouldn’t have slipped so much. So, that’s the way we went in. We carried nothing, I mean like there was no, we carried three day supply of food and a whack of ammunition. But of course the three day supply lasted into a week, sort of thing, before we
got fresh supplies. But, we survived.
Now, what about the Japanese in terms of their behaviour during the war? I mean you said they did some pretty terrible things?
Well as I say, we were always up in the front and what took place behind the lines, you know, is another different matter altogether. And, usually the front line soldiers on both sides,
on either side, they stick to the proper way of life sort of thing, or the proper way of warfare. But it’s the troops behind the lines are the ones that get them a bad name, either their side or our side or whoever. They, from what we can gather, they were very, like in New Guinea in the second part, they were starving and of course they were
living off what they called sago palms. And anything that looked like meat they would kill and they would eat. I suppose it’s a matter of the survival.
and those who were all left there, and we came up again and there they were with parts missing, rumps, off their thighs and of course we, we could never forgive the Japanese for that sort of thing because I think I’d rather go hungry than I’d cut up somebody’s body. I went hungry many times, but there was never a thought of that.
But, I suppose circumstances alter cases.
was with hand grenades or shell fire because the Japanese believe if they get killed by a bullet that’s an honourable way to day, that’s an honourable death. But to be disfigured, you know, like an arm missing or a leg missing or you know body mutilated, they wouldn’t go to heaven. So therefore they wouldn’t combat
that sort of stuff. They’d pull out, which as far as we were concerned, was quite good. But they couldn’t stand the shellfire or grenades, that sort of thing. That’s where we beat him in the finish.
How many men did you lose up there?
Oh, gee whiz, well the first time we went over the Kokoda Track, we lost the best part of six hundred men. Killed, wounded and sick. There were all sorts of sickness. We got re-enforced and got re-trained and the next time we went in, in Aitape, before we got through to
What did you know about [General Douglas] McArthur at this stage and his attitude towards the Australians?
Well what we got back, like we didn’t like. We saw him on the Ower’s Corner with General Blamey the day we went down past Ower’s Corner, on the track. Like they were all there in their nice clean uniforms and all this sort of jazz, ‘cause they’d been driven up there.
But we heard stories back that Blamey had told, sorry McArthur had told Blamey, get those men moving. I mean they were taking too long to get across the Kokoda Track. And there was all sorts of stories going about that we weren’t good enough and we couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that.
I told Sarah to read that book, Those Bloody Ragged Heroes and that will give you some idea what went on. About fighting, rear gun actions in fighting, in advance. So, I don’t know what to.
We, well put it this way, none of us liked McArthur. We didn’t even like Blamey. Blamey was a, he wasn’t the man he was supposed to be. And McArthur I mean riding on the, you know, being about I shall return vet, you know. He flogged everyone to death to get his way. And of course he had
unlimited power. He, more or less he didn’t have to answer to anyone, more or less, except the President. And whatever he asked for he got, in the way of equipment, men, supplies, all of it you know, Blamey.
did you know, actually, at the time?
Well a lot of it we got through, you know, during the war, what the situation was with them and all this sort of thing and of course we’ve read a lot since the war, of different versions and all this sort of thing. But none of it contradicted the ideas that we had, or we’d told. It only enlightened us, sort of thing, a bit.
So what were the views, of all of you, about McArthur?
That he wasn’t worth two bob. I mean like, he was sort of, fighting the war on the old western days of cowboys and Indians. You go in and you clean ‘em out or don’t come back. That was one of his
instructions we had up at there at Verno [?]. He told his brigadier, or whatever they called them in those, the American, “You clean out the Japanese or don’t come back.” Well I mean, I don’t think in these days or even in those days I mean, that you can tell a brigadier that sort of thing. Do your best, I mean that’s all you can do. And a brigadier is only as good as the men he’s got under him. He’s no use, or a generals no use, if he hasn’t got
good troops. We had some very fine officers, but they were sacrificed. One of our colonels, well he wasn’t then, he was only a major…our colonel was wounded, slightly wounded, because he went out. And when we got down to Sanananda, he took over
again and because of the story that our colonel, or our acting colonel, had sent back about our colonel, I won’t mention any names because, but he said, he put Hutchison, this is at Sanananda, he put Hutchison under a close arrest, in his tent, for saying things about him that he shouldn’t have.
What kind of battle was The Battle of Sanananda?
Well, it, we didn’t have much to do with it really because it, by the time we got to Sanananda and we got knocked down, we couldn’t go any further. There was, in our company, we were down to a platoon. And, we were all sick.
I might come back to some of that a little later but I just want to, now, go to the period of the … Did you feel or did you hear that it was all over?... What stage did you hear
about the end of the war?
Well I’d just come out of Wewak, and I got flown back to Sydney, to Brisbane and a train back to Sydney and I was in Sydney I think about two days, when the war ended. I’d come out about a fortnight before the war ended, up there in Wewak and I was sitting by the radio in the lounge room sort of thing.
and eventually I got a, I was in the Ingleburn Convalescent Depot at the time, and we decided to get married. It wasn’t a wholehearted thing, but we thought it might be beneficial if I was. So I went and got married and went back to the, well, I didn’t get
married straight up. I told the officer in charge at Ingleburn that I was going to get married, and he said “Oh, very good.” he said, “How would you like a week’s leave?” I said, “That’d be good.” So I got a week’s leave from the convalescent depot and went and got married. We went down to Kiama for our honeymoon and of course that was over in no time flat. And shortly afterwards, of course, I went back to the unit.
You said you were sort of half hearted but it might be beneficial. What did you mean by that?
Oh financial wise because, I mean, we’re both from poor families sort of thing, working class. And if like, you know, I’d be on more pay and if I did get kicked over, well she’d be on an army war pension sort of thing. So I was thinking
see the thing is that the press releases all the time about where the fighting was and this and that, and one thing and another. By the time the war was over, they were just glad it was over and they could go back to their normal lives. Nobody ever seemed to worry about, what have you been through or what have you done and all that sort of thing. There was nothing to it really, it was just, it was over
and that was the end of it, like you know, let’s forget about it.
Did you want to talk about it?
No. No not at all. I mean it was, it was years before I could pull myself around to talk about it. Even about, like amongst our own men or especially, it wasn’t so bad we could talk to one and other about it, I mean but to our families and that, we never talked about
pretty hard on them, when you look back at it. They, I think they tried to understand, but I mean because we wouldn’t open up with them, they just let it go and let it be. Sooner or later you’d come out of your shell. Sooner or later you’d tell about it. We have since, I mean like years roll by and you mellow and you can talk about it.
Bill, when you got married, Kathleen in 1944 and you had to turn around and go back up to New Guinea for the second time, how did you feel about up there yet again?
Well as I said before, we knew, what had be done and there was no good thinking of your personal life, sort of thing. You were part of their services and whatever had to be done you did. I mean this is why we just went up there with no qualms, no saying, “Oh I’m not doing it again.” like you know, “I’ve had it, I’m not doing anymore.” There was never that suggestion, sort of thing. They wanted us up there, we went up there.
As it turned out that last campaign we did, we nearly complete washout as far as the 6th Division was concerned, they used up a lot of lives and got nothing. That hurt our fellows a lot. We thought we were gone with them to the Philippines, to recapture the Philippines, but McArthur didn’t want us there. He didn’t want any glory
taken away from the American troops. No Australians there. So, we were left with that campaign to clean up, the soldiers sat on their backsides from the time they took Aitape and they established a base there and we believe that it was of a night time, when the Americans put their movies on, the Japanese would come out of the hills and have a look at the movies, in Aitape. They,
hadn’t, you know, gone out and cleared the area at all, they were still, still there but it was up to us to come up and clean it out for them. We cleaned a lot out, I mean there’s no doubt about that but we suffered a lot of losses. Not in casualties so much as sickness. The dysentery, the scrub typhus, the malaria. I finished up with two types of malaria,
busted knees, anyway. Really we didn’t achieve a thing, and the Japanese, in Wewak, were still in force there but we found out later that the Japanese general, who was in charge of the South West Pacific area there, he committed hari-kari [suicide] because he lost a quarter of a
million men in that area. And he couldn’t face his people.
a soldier can’t think of it. I mean it’d be useless. You’d be useless to yourself, to your mates, everybody. He went down and that was it, it was a good job. That’s the only way you could look at it. Yes I’ve killed. Nowadays it’s not something to be proud of or anything like that, but it was a thing we had to do and do it the best way you could. But there was no such, not then at the time, there was
no thought that that’s a mother’s son, you know, someone’s wife or that sort of thing. You couldn’t entertain that idea. I mean you would be an enemy to yourself if you did. You must not be there.
stuff was left behind and I just souvenired some photographs and postcards. I had a Japanese sword from the bloke I told you about. Few odds and ends. Notes, some currency notes. But that’s about all. See like up there it’s raining, you know, virtually everyday it rains and if you’re not wet with rain, you’re wet with sweat.
If you want a shower you just took your clothes off and had a shower and just dried yourself off and you’re still wet anyway, so it didn’t make any difference.
you just don’t have no trucking with them, no business with them at all and no comments at all. They had their way of life and we had our way of life and the two never met, couldn’t. We disliked them because we disliked them. They disgusted us at times, what they did and we just tried not
to dwell on those circumstances, sort of thing.
for everybody but myself, I mean like, I couldn’t say I could ever forgive that period of Japanese, that era, sort of thing. It’s the way they lived or it dates back to the Japanese Siam…what do they call it (interviewer – Samurai). Well they lived by the Samurai,
the code of the Samurai but the China Japanese War that started in 1934.I mean they maimed and crippled and slaughtered people right, left and centre. They killed millions and I saw one fellow, a Chinaman, who was running through the streets, a Japanese officer after him and he just made one awful mighty sweep with his sword and cut his head off.
You see his body running without a head for a few paces and of course he collapsed. That sort of thing, I mean I don’t think it’s called for in any stage of war, not these days. Might have been in Robin Hood’s days but not in our war, in our time, it was uncalled for. But they, I think they looked on beheading as a making a man of themselves. They were made a man.
Until then they knew, they had nothing. That’s why they carried those big Samurai swords. Wasn’t like the old cavalry days, chasing Indians around with them.
in life, to a stage, you get to a stage in life, my son met up with a Japanese girl and of course he wanted to marry her. And of course I had no connection with it at all. My wife said, “If you go ahead with this marriage, what’ll you do?” He said, “Oh, we’ll work here and live here.” and she said, “What if I say
no to the wedding?” he said, “I’ll get married anyway.” Anyway, they married and she’s turned out to be a very nice woman. She’s very affectionate with her family and all this sort of thing, good worker. You couldn’t fault her really. But it took a long while for me to accept her, which I think is only natural.