Maxwell Parsons
Archive number: 298
Preferred name: Max
Date interviewed: 05 June, 2000

Served with:

6th Division
Maxwell Parsons 0298

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This interview was filmed for the television series Australians at War in 1999-2000.
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Transcript

Tape 465
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2007.

465:01:00:00

Max, I want to start by talking to you about growing up in Melbourne. Tell me where you grew up?
Well I was born in Caulfield and from there I only went to a state school, the Depression was on and my older, I had four older siblings. They were

465:01:30:00

working so I decided to leave school early and went to work. And I was at work when I was fourteen, as a grocer, and stayed in that until the beginning of the war. By that time I was assistant manager of the place, Crittendensin Glenferrie Road, Malvern, a very large grocer and a very good grocers too, at the time. But then when the

465:02:00:00

war broke out most of my friends were thinking of joining up and of course the early 6th Div [Division] fellows went away and then 1940 it became the right thing to do I suppose and it was certainly a lot better than being a grocer boy, so I joined up, joined the 2/12th Field Regiment, Artillery and trained at Puckapunyal and we sailed early in, late in 1940

465:02:30:00

and went to the Middle East.
Okay, I'll just slow you down a bit otherwise we'll finish the interview in five minutes! But I just want to go back to that pre-war period just to cover a couple of things… The First World War, had any member of your family been involved in that or do you have any specific recollections?
Only uncles. I had an uncle who,

465:03:00:00

you've seen how many died at Gallipoli but one other uncle came home alright. Really we weren't a military family. When I was seventeen, I joined the militia, then it voluntary and I rather liked the look of the uniforms and I joined the Medium Regiment at Argyle Street, South Yarra. That was the only military background that we had.
What was it

465:03:30:00

with you that suddenly made you join the militia?
The uniform I think. I was very tall and the artillery wore leggings and spurs and I was pretty naive so I enjoyed it and I'd go down every Tuesday night to Argyle Street and play with the big sixty pounders and six inch Howitzers there. When I turned eighteen, which was 1938, I felt that I had to join

465:04:00:00

up for three years and I had to be a, not a senior cadet but I hadn't actually joined the militia then for three years, but in 1938 I was quite sure there was never going to be a war so I didn't bother. Well I thought well, I wasn't very clever.
Those people who were training you in the militia and just perhaps neighbours but people generally around [(UNCLEAR)], what were you being told about what happened in the First World War, what did you know about that?
Only what we read,

465:04:30:00

schools of course, we were taught that it was a pretty big show and I read a lot, I was quite aware of the 14-18 war but also aware of the fellows that were still in hospital suffering from gas and all the after effects of gas, no I was quite aware.
But you wouldn't see these people around the place?
No, no.

465:05:00:00

What about life in Melbourne during the Depression years, how did that affect you directly?
Well it was difficult for people who were unemployed of course and, because social services of today weren't available then, they received what was called sustenance, it might have been a couple of loads of firewood for the winter and jars of jam or tins of jam from the town hall.

465:05:30:00

And we weren't in that trouble, my father was a builder and he was earning quite enough to look after us and we had no luxuries but we lived alright. At that, in those days I remember shopping as a kid because I was the youngest in the family and all the rest were working and I was still going to school so I had to go down this, doing the shopping and got twenty cents a day, two shillings a day to do the shopping for the five of us and I,

465:06:00:00

we did alright.
So working in the grocery as you did, how, did you get a sense of how tight things were for people?
Well not so much where I worked. I worked in Malvern which was a, you know, good class suburb. We had the carriage trade from Toorak and we had a high class grocery establishment. Had imported

465:06:30:00

foods even in those days, you know, and most of the product we sold were high class product and, no the people were managing fairly well. The employees had to work hard of course. There was no such thing as knock off time and when the work was finished you went home.
What about your own life, were there any luxuries, how did your family entertain themselves?
Well we, we entertained ourselves of course,

465:07:00:00

each of us played a musical instrument, not well, I didn't and the, we'd go to the cinema. In the holidays my father had an old '28 Chev [Chevrolet], which was a good Chev, a good car in those days, and we'd load up at school holidays, this is back in when I was at school, and we'd go down to Rosebud which is a beachside camping area

465:07:30:00

and we'd set up a tent and a bale of straw, break open the straw and we'd sleep on the straw and swim every day and it was quite good.
So was there any sense in your life, well clearly you said to me in 1938 you didn't sense there was war happening, why, how did you get this feeling that there wasn't going to be a war?
Well I suppose it's my, my feeling. The war had been, it's possible that

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to me, it, I was only eighteen, so of course I was probably the village idiot! But I didn't really think there was going to be a war very soon so I thought well I'm not going to join up, I couldn't get time off to go to camp and that sort of thing. It's very difficult, we worked hard. So, I didn't join up as a, as a senior militia man, only because it had to be for three years.
What about your beliefs at that stage,

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where were your loyalties?
I think we've all been asked why did we join up but we were loyal, I think. We believed in king and country, we believed in England being the motherland or the mother country although my family, my great grandfather wasn’t English but all the others were born here. The

465:09:00:00

Depression really didn't give you much excitement and the thought that when the war did come that travel and manly occupation, the uniform, I think that the travel was the main thing that I enjoyed. Also a couple of my friends joined up and I thought, ‘Well that's good enough for them, it’s good enough for me too’.
Can you

465:09:30:00

tell me about where you were when the war broke out?
I was, when the war broke out I was, when I learned about it I think was when, I suppose it was a special edition of The Sun [newspaper], it was published I think on a Sunday if I remember rightly. I think that’s when we learned less about it, you know

465:10:00:00

the actual declaration of war, and we heard it of course of radio, on wireless in those days, and where I was, I was just working and living in Caulfield.
Prior to that announcement of war, what were your ambitions for life?
Probably not be a grocer. I was, I was interested in developing

465:10:30:00

skills in mathematics and accountancy and management and, well I had reached assistant management when I was eighteen, nineteen and I was doing well in my job. And that's the only reason I think I stayed there because I was, I was getting, being successful in what I was doing. But I didn't care for it, not being a tradesman; I didn't care for that much.
So tell me how you

465:11:00:00

felt when you heard that news, that melancholy news, that Australia too was at war?
It was a bit unreal. I don't, I don’t think the Australian public, at that time, was so involved in war or war like feelings, it developed. Even the first

465:11:30:00

enlistments really didn't happen for some time after that. It was only when I, when I enlisted, it was when we were enlisting at a rate of I think something like twenty thousand a week because The Fall of Dunkirk started everybody being, becoming very, very loyal.
So that first period or, I guess what's called ‘the Phoney War’, why didn't you enlist then?
It didn't

465:12:00:00

seem to be necessary. There was a lot of feeling that it was going to be over in a few weeks sort of thing. The fellows who'd joined were the, well I'm being a bit cruel in saying that a lot of them were unemployed, a lot of them were unemployed, a lot of them were country fellows getting away from the job they didn't like and when they joined up they were in for the fun, the same that I was I think but they had less to hold them. They didn't have jobs that they wanted to keep or

465:12:30:00

well, that's unfair, most, a lot of them must have had jobs but quite a few didn't.
They later would describe you people as the slow thinkers?
That's right. We got lots of names and of course by the time we, we arrived at Puckapunyal there was all the heads out the window, “You'll be sorry, you'll be sorry!” but that's simply the old soldier’s way. The artillery of course, as you know, was called the Nine Mile Snipers

465:13:00:00

but we didn't, we didn’t actually stay nine miles away. In fact I remember one infantryman telling me that if you were another, what was it? If you were another hundred yards back you'd have been on leave! Yeah.
Tell me during that period, and especially you know the period immediately before the war was announced and then that learning period, what

465:13:30:00

were your feelings about a threat to Australia and specifically from Japan?
None, no feeling of threat to Australia at all. The feeling we had then was the threat to England, not to Australia. Australia was too far away for any problems, in my thinking of course.
Why then fight for England?
Well, it was

465:14:00:00

our country, our flag, our King. I think that there must have been, must have been some loyalty there. But don't forget once again, that was the war that was on so if you were going to the war, that was the one you went to whether it was for England or not.
Were you under any pressure,

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given your militia experience, to enlist earlier?
The fellows that were in the militia still, they were paraded and asked would they enlist in this, in the 2/12th Field Regiment which, which of course. Perhaps I'll take you back, the 2nd Medium Brigade which I was, was the militia unit I was in, became a 2/2nd Medium Regiment in April

465:15:00:00

1940. And at that time all the fellows that had been in the 2nd Medium Brigade were asked would they join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] and fight in the 2/2nd Medium Regiment, and at that same time I joined up and we became a Medium Regiment. But after the fall of the Dunkirk there were no guns, no medium guns available, no sixty pounders or six inch Howitzers, the guns that we were familiar with,

465:15:30:00

so we had to change to a field regiment. It was then we became the 2/1st Field Regiment. We were made up of militia men from the 2nd Medium Brigade and men from the Fort, Fort Nepean. They were the concrete soldiers, we called them.
Looking back on it now, what realistic idea did you have of what war would be like?

465:16:00:00

Oh, I don't think I had any idea. I had the idea that there was going to be risk but the risk was offset by the, by the excitement and enjoyment and the masculine male, maleness of the thing. Don't forget as a grocer boy, or grocer retailer, even as a grocer, as any sort of retailer serving the public it doesn't compare with

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being in male company all the time and enjoying a, you know sport and training and discipline and those things. I looked forward to that.
What was so appealing about being in male company?
Well I had three sisters, so that's enough. Well I had, I had male friends of course,

465:17:00:00

at school and we, in those days of course, you didn't worry too much about girls in the teenagers, the teen years.
Where had you travelled before this?
Ah to Tasmania and back and just around locally. No, no overseas travel.

465:17:30:00

So what were your expectations as you joined up, what were you looking forward to?
Travel of course and all the fellows in the regiment were anxious to get away after five or six months training, six months training, we were you know at, chafing at the bit to get away and it didn't matter where we went as long as we went overseas.
What did your parents think about you leaving?

465:18:00:00

Well my father, my mother died when I was nine, but my father gave permission. It didn't trouble him. I had to get permission at that age to, until you were twenty one, you had to get your parents permission. I was twenty, just turned twenty.
And he was, what was his response?
He was quite satisfied, quite happy.
What effect did,

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if any, did the kind of Anzac tradition have on you as a soldier?
The, when I became a soldier? I don't suppose the fact that the Anzac tradition was so much because the Anzac tradition of course is the culmination of Australian and New Zealand forces but from the point of view Anzac at Gallipoli, or Australian AIF, we were

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proud of what they'd done and had to as well, I'm sure.
Now there was a period of training clearly, what about the business of actually leaving the war? Can you describe that to me, taking your leave of Australia if you like?
Well, final leave was a seven day leave,

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I think from memory, back home, and we just had parties and things you know and showing off the uniform and still rather pleased that we were going of course, not, very few emotional experiences in my family. We are, we're pretty tough, and as I said my mother had died years before so my father was pretty down to earth and so are my

465:20:00:00

brothers and sisters or a single brother and sisters. So off we went and with lots of farewells and good cheer.
Did you know where you were going?
No, we had an idea we we'd be going to the Middle East because at that time the 6th Divvy was fighting in the Middle East, so we naturally thought we'd go there. And of course we did and went aboard the Strathaird

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liner, it hadn't been converted to a troopship, it was marvellous, we slept in bunks like beds, the orchestra was on board, it was wonderful menus, it was very lovely. Because of the military boots we had, they had steel heels, all the troops were issued with a pair of sandshoes and you had to wear those on board

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so it wouldn't damage the decks. After that it was stripped, in England, and became a troopship. So we were rather fortunate, we were lucky all along, really.
So how long did this kind of dream run last, in terms…?
It stopped as soon as we got to the Middle East then we were into cattle trucks and from Kantar to Kostina, in Palestine, where we set up a camp. It was a camp that had been occupied by 6th Divvy.

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so we.
What did you know about 6th Division’s achievements at that stage?
Only what we had read in the newspapers of course. There was, they'd had a dream run up, up the coast against the Italians, the Italians capitulated on the way. And it wasn't until the Germans actually landed at Tripoli and made their attack to come down that forced the troops back again. The,

465:22:00:00

really the fighting became rather more difficult than what the 6th Divvy experienced.
So what was the response, I mean you were split off from that artillery, you stayed behind in Alexandria.
No, well what happened was the, the 9th Division went up to support the troops that were up, like the British

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troops that were up at, beyond Tobruk. Then they were driven back with some rather severe battles and on the way back they decided, or the command decided that Tobruk would be held. So 9th Division and one brigade of 7th Division were diverted into Tobruk while the rest continued back along the coast. Meanwhile we'd been rushed from Palestine to Egypt with the idea of going up to Tobruk

465:23:00:00

to assist because they were short of artillerymen and by the time we got ready to go, Tobruk had been sealed off as a siege, under siege and we went round by destroyer.
What was the feeling, amongst those of you who weren't with the infantry, about the reverses that had been sustained?
Well these happened, and don't forget at that stage, the Germans hadn't been halted.

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The Italians had, but not the Germans, and so when the Germans arrived in the Middle East it was a foregone conclusion that they would continue their, their unchecked advance to the Suez. But in fact at Tobruk, was the first time that they'd actually been, they'd actually failed in taking a place that they intended to take.
So what were your feelings as you disembarked at

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Tobruk?
We went up and on the way we had to sort of sleep on deck of the destroyer, but you could only put about eighty fellows on each destroyer run and there were six hundred of us in the regiment, so we went up in bits and pieces. I went up in the second destroyer that went up, the second destroyer load, and when we arrived it was about one o'clock in the morning and it was black because they went up on moonless nights obviously and

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when we were going into Tobruk you could see the flashes and the rumbles and the sounds and the sounds of war, it was pretty quiet but it was rumbling and flashing and, very eerie. It was quite an unusual feeling coming into a war that was, was running, it was like you didn't, you didn't sneak up on it, you just thrust straight into it. And then we, as we arrived we, there was a lighter on one side and the destroyer, the [HMAS] Vendetta it was,

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came into the dock and the captain, or commanding officers whoever they were, were screaming “Off, off, off!” and they pushed us off and we jumped down, they slewed the supplies off the other side onto the lighter and they took up the wounded, what wounded were going, and they were out again in twenty minutes. It was the fastest turnaround I think of any ship in. But because of course it was in reach of the German artillery, the dock but,

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so they weren't delaying, they went off. Then we went into the shore and we were given a cup of tea, which was made with swamp water and sand I think, and we slept in a bit of a depression until morning and then went to our prearranged positions where we were going to set up our guns.
What was your feeling at this stage?
Oh,

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it was, I wasn't terrible scared until the first shelling I suppose because we had, we had two or three days when we weren't actually attacked so on the third or fourth night, I forget which, we'd created what we'd call sangers which were just a number of rocks and things round a, round where we could sleep, you know there were little, a little

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hole but built up above ground because it was very rocky where we were. So I thought, “put a few rocks around,” the others put a few rocks around, we laid down there and then of course during the night we were, we were plastered for about half an hour to an hour of artillery fire because we'd fired a couple of times and the Germans had actually picked up our position and they plastered us and all I could do was cling to the rocks and hear the shrap [shrapnel] hitting the sides of the rock and

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the next morning, of course, everybody raced around for many more rocks to build up their sangers. Only one was killed that night, which was very fortunate.
Describe to me that feeling of coming under artillery fire.
Well it was terror I suppose, then, to me, first experience. But really as we, we did get used to it. But the terror went away

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to sort of an uneasy feeling, I suppose eventually. And as long as we were laying down and we lived underground in Tobruk, we only came up to do duties and things and if the shells started we flew into the, into our trenches and took cover. No, we got used to it really, didn't like it but got used to it.
What about the day to day

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living conditions, the survival, food, water and that sort of thing and so on?
Food was mainly bully beef, biscuits and rice. The water was the worst probably, the worst problem. We had a pint of water per day for personal use, well that's what, a little over half a litre isn't it? Four cups. That was for drinking, washing, and

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everything. All purposes personal. There was another pint of water went to the cook house which was used for providing three cups of tea for the day and the cooking, the cook house used. So one pint of water to do all purposes, including washing, was pretty difficult. Had to shave every second day because that was for discipline purposes, they would put a tiny little bit of water in an enamel mug and

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I'd clean my teeth, you know rub them with a brush, then I'd use a little bit of water to shave with and then the little bit that was left in the cup I'd rub around where I needed it, perhaps round the crotch or somewhere, just, that was my bath. We never, we never actually washed clothes and I don't think we stunk really. Perhaps we were young and fit.

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But in the whole period I was in Tobruk, what four, five, nearly five months, I only went down to the sea twice on two occasions. When I got two days off to go to the sea, and then I had full body washes and washed everything that I had and, wonderful to be down the sea.
To the uninitiated, the dangers involved, in terms of the artillery, were you under regular fire, was it the infantry

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who were?
I was an observer and, so I used to spend two days up at the front line with the infantry, we were about what, eight or nine hundred yards away from the enemy, and my job was to direct the guns onto the infantry targets, the targets that were effecting our infantry. So the infantry were at the mercy of machine

465:30:30:00

guns and mortars, enemy machine guns and mortars, while they were in their trenches. But the gunners, who were back at the guns, they were, had to contend with enemy artillery and bombers, that’s dive bombers and… So they had a pretty equal ration, I suppose, of problems. But the infantry of course were the men that’d go out at night because, although we were under siege, the

465:31:00:00

infantry actually went out almost every night with the idea of harassing the Germans or taking prisoners or shooting up a post or and that, I wouldn't have liked to have done that. No.
Interviewee: Maxwell Parsons Archive ID 0298 Tape 466

466:01:00:00

You talked about washing and the minimum amount of water, what about toilet facilities?
In the observation post, in the front line with the infantry it was very difficult. We occupied posts built by the Italians and the Italians had created these concrete trenches

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but no toilet facilities. So there was a call trench leading out from the back of the post that I was in and, or the open trench that I was in, to a toilet area which was rather disgusting because you had to crawl out there and you couldn't even stand or sit there, you had to sort of use it in a crouched position, it was very horrible. And of course flies in Tobruk, well you know countless flies.

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But for urinating it was much simpler, we used to have a few tins in the trench and we used to use those during the day, stack them up at the back of the trench and at night empty them further off. But the lack of water was probably more, more a problem for wog sores, what we called wog sores, because the fellows came out with ulcers and things and they treated those with various paints and cures but they

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generally wore a lap-lap made of mosquito net to get air around their body and to try and get rid of these ulcers. But really it wasn't that bad, it sounds bad but it wasn't that bad.
What about engaging with enemy, was there any connection, did you ever see the enemy, what happened?
Yes we used to have quite a bit of fun. I had a particular

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officer that used to come up to the o-pip [OP - observation post] with me at times, a jockey, we'll call him jockey, he was jockey. And he used to, we had a rifle there and we'd jump up and he'd shoot a few shots or I'd shoot a few shots at Spandau Sam [German gunner], with the heavy machine gun was out and we could see the dust kicking up around his sandbags when we, if we got near him. And of course he'd fire back very quickly with a spray of bullets and

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one would be watching and the other’d be shooting and then as soon as you see the dust from his gun you'd say “duck” and the other fellow, other mate would go down. But the infantry stopped us from doing that after a while they said “you are only drawing crabs” [drawing fire]. But the machine gun bullets were constant, but at night for, there was a, what

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do we call it? A sort of an unofficial period for two hours at the end of each evening, just before, just after dark, when there was no shooting on either side, in the front line, when we changed over. We brought in rations and fellows went out and fellows came in, on both sides, so it was an unspoken rule that there was no shooting for about two hours and then after that when each side, they got finished,

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they started shooting up the other. And there was one, on one particular occasion of course there was a, there was a truce that I was present at, the 2/43rd I think it was, had a very disastrous attack. They went out, wounded lying everywhere. Next morning when they came back there were fellows still out there, there were dead out there, the dead Germans, there were wounded on both sides and a chap

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wrapped himself in a white flag and a red cross flag and walked out and eventually the Germans came out too and met him, or a couple of Germans come out and met him, and they asked, they’d agreed to have a truce to allow the wounded to be picked up, or the dead to be picked up. And so this happened, went from, from about nine o'clock in the morning or ten o'clock in the morning until six o'clock that

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night. The, it was quite a wonderful feeling to find the Germans were offering the wounded to either go back to their hospital or wait for our stretcher bearers to bring them in. They were exchanging lemonade or lemon flavoured water and cigarettes with our chaps that went out and it was really a wonderful feeling, the truce. One of those nice things that happened.

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We didn't fire again that night actually, our guns, we didn't wait till, we couldn't, didn't want to break the truce although we were supposed, we decided we wouldn't fire till the next morning. We had a little holiday.
Once you’ve kind of broken that spell, if you like in warfare, when you’ve kind of engaged with the enemy, how hard it is then to hate them again?
Well I don't think we did hate the

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Germans terribly. We had a lot of time for General Rommel of course because we felt he was an ideal leader of the enemy. The Germans were good fighters, rather like Australians I suppose. We respected them and I think they respected us although they called us rats, no, I don't think we hated them, yet we shot them up, it's strange isn't it?

466:07:00:00

What about that first coming under fire again, I want to take you back to that and sense of terror which moderates to fear, what do you find about yourself under those conditions?
Well, I suppose the important thing for every man when he's in a situation like that, is that he

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doesn’t let go because he can't be looked upon by his mates as being a coward, so he has to pretend to be completely nonchalant about, about what's happening. And really I think that most of the fellows stuck to that principle, a few gave way under, they were obviously terrified and some of them were actually sent out because they were, couldn't cope. But generally speaking you

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didn't want to look a lesser person in your mates eyes, I think. You swallowed your fear, that's if you had it and most of the fellows did.
How hard was that though because presumably you would be desperate to talk to someone about the way you felt?
No, we had no counselling, not like today. No, there was no real attempt to, there would have been I suppose for the fellows that gave way, I

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think that they probably were talked to, by medical people perhaps. We had, perhaps I shouldn't say it, we had a couple of suicides, they were a pity because they were too distraught, but the less said about those the better, I suppose.
On the front line?
Mm. It would have been far better for them to go out and do something

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courageous wouldn't it, than to, however, they gave way. But generally speaking the fellows were marvellous, wherever you looked. And the infantry, I had nothing but admiration for them, they were wonderful. Signallers were too, they were, we had communication between the frontline and the guns was by telephone and of course telephone lines laying on the ground,

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on the desert ground, could get broken by shell fire and the signaller had to follow the wire until he found the break and repair it. Well of course he was away from any slit trench, he couldn't jump into a slit trench, he was out in the desert, so all he could do was lay flat on the ground which we all did if we were caught out in the open, but he was often on his own which is, was a bit more difficult than being with company.
What about sleep?

466:10:00:00

Sleep. Well we slept, the sleep of a twenty odd year old yes, once we had the chance. When we were back at the guns we slept in trenches. My trench was long but it was narrow and it had a ground sheet on the ground, and you'd clear the scorpions and things under that before you go to bed, and there was a of lot of those scratchy beetles,

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dung beetles there and there were asps [snakes] that used to come in and rats, so you had plenty of movement at night. But I slept comfortably, you'd wake of course with shell fire and things that happened, but generally speaking I slept well. Still do.
No fear?
Oh yes, plenty of fear.
How constant

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was combat?
In, in the frontline, like in, with the infantry, it would go for days and days with nothing happening except the machine guns and mortars firing at you and vice versa. But at night they went out, as I said, into the enemy lines to cause problems. Back at the guns they were firing

466:11:30:00

fairly constantly where we used captured Italian guns and we had plenty of ammunition for those, within the perimeter the Italians had huge dumps, so we had plenty of shells for the Italian guns that we were using. Because we'd gone into Tobruk without any guns and we just picked up what we could get there, and so they were firing pretty constantly. They were also

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being, receiving both sets of guns were receiving attention from Stukas [German aircraft], that was anything up to perhaps three or four raids a week, I suppose, and night raids as well. The British guns, we had 4.5 Howitzers and sixty pounders, had limited ammunition because there was only a certain amount of

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ammunition within the perimeter and they couldn't bring much in because all the rations had to come in by ship. So we didn't fire as many with those but generally speaking we, I think we fired something like about eighty five or ninety thousand shells during our period there, so they were kept active, the gunners.
What about the role of the navy, the Australian Navy in Tobruk?
Well they were, they

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were imperative of course. Without the navy we would have, we would’ve had to give up because they brought in the rations, they took out the wounded, they brought our regiment in completely. They took out the 9th Division at the end of the period, when the 9th Division was so run down, that it was relieved by the Carpathian Brigade and some British regiments. They took the whole division out, all bar the 2/13th Battalion were taken

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out by ship, they did a wonderful job.
What about the morale of all of you, under those extended and extenuating circumstances, a siege which went on for a long time, some months, how difficult was that to endure?
I think the morale was good. I think everywhere I saw

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the, the fellows were, they didn't expect to be relieved, you know they thought they'd be there until the relief came up from Alex [Alexandria]. There had been a couple of attempts for the army to come up and relieve Tobruk, but we were quite willing to stay there, or we had to stay there, and we never thought of being taken out until we actually received the orders to go out.

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And unfortunately, as far as my regiment was concerned, we'd started digging a gun pit, a new gun pit. We had to move quite a lot because when the Germans found our position, the gunners had to move somewhere else to try and get away from the attacks. But they were out; a group were out preparing a gun pit, on the way back they were picked up by the German observer above

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and they directed the artillery onto them and ten of them were killed in the one shell, and five days later the regiment was relieved from Tobruk, it was pretty unfortunate.
What about the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]?
We never saw those, saw the Australian or English, British planes. They couldn't reach Tobruk but they did give support to their navy on the way up, which

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helped immensely. We never saw them during the siege. We saw plenty of Germans.
How close did you get to the men you were fighting with?
Well as far as I was concerned, about eight hundred yards away, and that was close enough.
No, I was thinking about the men, sorry, your fellow men in the battalion.
Oh the regiment,

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the guns?
Yes.
Well, the 4.5 Howitzers only had a range of four miles, so they were set up about two miles back from the front, the sixty pounders, which would go up and back to reach further into the enemy lines, they moved more constantly. At night, if we had to fire at night, we took out a gun from each troop and,

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as a sniping gun, and move up as close as we could and fired to get further range. We, you could only fire at night for about ten or twelve minutes and then up wheels and go because the Germans were very quick in picking you up at night.
Thinking about the emotional bonds, the closeness that you developed with people in the regiment?
Between members?
Yeah?
Oh yes. Well that applies

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fifty years, sixty years later the, you just meet a man who was[in] the regiment and you immediately, whether you were with him in action or not, he might have been somewhere else, some other part but there is an immediate bond, it’s forged for life, no doubt about that.
What about your own response to, to being in battle for the first time, in combat and under fire,

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was there, what about your own sense or fear of premature death?
I suppose at Tobruk I felt that we were, having gone through Tobruk and coming out of Tobruk, when were, when we went to El Alamein, the next campaign, I felt that this time that I would cop it, I didn't think that I could do the two. I thought well I was very fortunate to

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have got through Tobruk. I didn't really feel that I'd survive the next one but I did. And once you are in it again of course you get the feeling that you are going to survive and you see mates killed, and you are saddened by it, but I'm sure somewhere inside each man is saying to himself, “Well, it's better that it was him and not me.” you know. There’s a feeling

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that although you've lost a mate, there must be a feeling inside each man to say, “Well, rather him than I.” So, you put up with it.
Is that, is that all, or is, in terms of the loss of someone close?
Well I lost a lot of close, close friends, not a lot but some close

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friends and, you know if you have, you have close mates and you have acquaintances in youth but I suppose that you get colder. My wife tells me now that I'm very unsympathetic, so I suppose that perhaps started it off. You lose, I suppose you've got to put up, put a front up and it becomes natural perhaps.

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Why did Tobruk become an Australian legend?
Two things I suppose. The fact was that it was the first time that the Germans couldn't take something they wanted to take, secondly it was the only siege of World War II the Australians we in and, as far as my regiment was concerned, we were the only Australian Field Regiment

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in Tobruk so we, we felt it was wonderful. And, the, it captured the imagination, particularly I suppose from our friend Lord Haw Haw [German propaganda radio announcer], you've probably read about him, when he used to talk about us being caught like rats in a trap and we lived like rats underground and it was a rather a special sort of a campaign.

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What is it that differentiates the men who can kind of handle this pressure and the ones who do eventually submit and crack?
Being single is a good thing. Being young is a good thing. Men who were thirty nine and over, as you remember thirty nine was supposedly

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the maximum age for enlisting but a lot of men put their age down, well they rather protected themselves a little more than the twenty years olds, the twenty two year olds, they were a bit more gung-ho I suppose. So to be young, to be single because then you didn't have the problems of worrying about a wife or anything like that. And country boys did

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well, rather than city I think. I was a city boy but people who, who were strong you know, axemen and country boys with an axe, they were good. I liked them when, later on, I was on the guns and was a gun sergeant, I enjoyed having a man that was good with an axe, particularly in the jungle. No, I think that youth

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and being single were important and being strong.
How did you feel towards the end of that Tobruk campaign because you talked about people being pretty exhausted, what’s the situation?
Well we were all really exhausted, there's no doubt about that. We were thin, we were underweight, we were

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tired, we were jaded. I used to dream of, of a tap running, the idea of being able to turn a tap on and see water gush out; it was a fantasy you know. But we just needed that change, we needed good rations, we needed a bit of rehabilitation I suppose.
What casualties had you suffered at that stage?
Artillery men didn't have the same

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casualties as infantry of course, so we'd only lost about, I think from memory, about eighteen or twenty men killed. Whereas the infantry, well the number went into thousands.
It was a big sacrifice?
Beg your pardon?
It was a big sacrifice?
Yes, well any single sacrifice I suppose, any single death is a,

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somebody's sacrifice and as far as Tobruk itself, a lot of, there were a lot of casualties in Tobruk.
How did you, under the stress of battle, counter tension? How did you deal with tension? What were ways that you could lessen it?
I don't know that I did. I think the tension stayed

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there. I think the tension stayed until there, until whatever action was happening, stopped. When you are under shellfire of course, it, you're just praying for them to stop and they did stop eventually. When you were in machine gun it was too exciting to think about anything else but to keep your head down. Mortars were, were different a

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thing because you'd keep, you’d keep sort of wondering when the next one is going to hit. They'd come closer and closer, in fact when I was at the observation post on one occasion we were, did have a direct hit. The post was made of concrete, the trench was made of concrete, because the Italians had built them prior to the action and on top of the sides. A trench from side to side were flooring boards and on top

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of the flooring boards were sandbags, sand. Then there was a round section where we observed from, which was clear, well as soon as the mortars came a bit close we dived under the sandbagged area but one of the mortars hit the sandbag top and cut the boards off, sharp on the edges of the concrete, all the way along there was just the ends of the boards on the concrete afterwards, and all the bags and that were blown in.

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I was tall, I'm still tall, and every time I'd get into trouble it was my legs that’d be in the wrong place and in this case the blast hit my feet and I thought that my feet had been chopped off. I couldn't see anything because there was the, the flame and the dust and I was stunned and anyway, when everything cleared they, when it cleared my feet were intact but

466:26:00:00

I had this trouble with my legs. I was in a hole in, when we were observing on the other sector, and we were using a shell hole as a, as a post and when they started attacking us with something I went back on my back but my knees came up above the hole, because I had to keep my head down, and my knees got, one leg got slightly

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flesh wound but. So I always had that trouble of being six foot four, I was too long, I was too long.
What about humour and the release that humour provided?
Oh we had lots of humour. We had some wonderful characters in the regiment. One, his name is well known so there's no reason why I shouldn’t say it, Earl ‘Anzac’ Starkey, his was, his name was even humorous. But

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he nicknamed, I think, every man in the regiment from the CO [Commanding Officer] down. He called the CO, Buddha, and these names actually stuck as soon as he, he said it. And a fellow had a rather snuffly laugh and he was called 'Nuf Nuf'. There was a fellow who enjoyed dehydrated cabbage so much that Earl called him 'Organ Arse', you can imagine why. And he had 'Bomb Head' for officer, there was one fellow

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he called ‘Bull Tosser’ and his brother came into the regiment later and so he was called 'Calf Tosser'. This happened, everyone stuck with those names and he called me 'Gulliver' and when I'd be walking along he'd say “India, China, Brazil” you know because I was so tall, and Gulliver among the pygmies, but that stuck for years. But he was a quite a humorous man. I remember when were at Puckapunyal when we were first training,

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we were feeding, we'd be at mess and on his tin plate he'd have a couple of sausages and he'd drill them, 'up on the left, down on the left, up on the right' and he'd drill these sausages before he'd eat them, quite a character. Soldier humour of course. But, quite fun.
How important was that humour?
Oh, very important, yeah. I can't remember, the type of things that we

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laughed at of course were perhaps not, not humorous to people today. It was really being unkind to other people, other members of the unit, particularly other officers, officers we'd have some comments about them, create a bit of laugh.
Can you remember any of them?
I can't for the moment no.
What about singing, were there songs, tell me about the songs?
Yes, we had, we he had some good singers too.

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In camp life, we had fellows that used to perform you know quite well, tenors and baritones so forth. People that used to play ukuleles and even in El Alamein, I can remember a fellow used to entertain the fellows with ukulele, one of our gunners, but the songs, I think the one that was most popular was

466:29:30:00

'Lilli Marlene' [German marching song from WWI] and we were both singing it weren't we? The Germans and the Australians. It was very, very popular. Do you remember that? ‘Lili Marlene?’
How does it go?
Oh, Underneath the lamp light by the village green, Or something like that! Anyway, that's enough.
Why was that popular, a German song?
It was a nice song I suppose

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and of course, we knew they were singing it I suppose and… but it was popular. I think, in city life 'Lili Marlene' was fairly, and I remember those things like 'Over the Rainbow' [From the film, The Wizard of Oz] and 'Hang Out Your Washing on the Siegfried Line' [British song poking fun at German defences] and I suppose these are all strange to you, but they were, I can't remember them all now, but they were popular.
Interviewee: Maxwell Parsons Archive ID 0298 Tape 467
Okay. What about the, in Tobruk, what about the times that you were relieved from the stress of that, were there times when you could get away and get time off?
There were only two occasions

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that I was able to get time off, mainly because in my troop we only had two acts. One act worked at the guns and the other act worked at the observation post so we, we changed places. On two occasions I got two days off down to the sea and that's as far as, as it, all you could have is time, to get down to the sea,

467:02:00:00

and there was no petrol allowance for trucks to be driven to the sea because there was very little, well petrol had to be brought in four gallon tins, so you could imagine that petrol trucks were mainly used for particular purposes relating to the defence of the, of the perimeter. So you'd have to walk to the beach, but sometimes the fellows got a whole, a whole troop was able to go to the beach and

467:02:30:00

there was a beach area called Happy Valley which was very nice. We used to fish with a grenade and plenty of silver foil, drop the grenade and the fish would come towards the silver, silver foil and boom, you'd catch stunned fish on the surface. The, there was a well there too so you could get a bit of water, very brackish water but that didn't matter, and so you could

467:03:00:00

get bodies, you know body wash, wash your clothes, have plenty of water to drink from the well and that went, lasted for a couple of days and you came back into action again. But as I say, unfortunately I only got two trips in the period I was there.
We talked about songs before. What about poems and poetry?
Well, I think there were more doggerel poets in the

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army than anywhere in the world. The fellows wrote poetry endlessly and you still see copies of it. I, I work on the [(UNCLEAR)] Regimental Magazine today and have done for years and I keep getting this awful poetry sent to me which never gets published mind you. But no, poetry was one of the worst features of the army I think.

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What is it about poetry that attracts the soldier?
I don't know. It never attracted me. No, it was, it was constant yeah, fellows had notebooks full of poetry. All, all you know sing song stuff. Some of it, I think, was probably good but I never saw the good stuff.
I wonder whether, are they feeling, is it they have time on their hands or are they feeling a little sentimental

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or?
Well I think you are right, time on the hands and how to fill it. There were so many occasions where you'd have nothing whatsoever to do for hours on end and, even the gunners, they'd be sitting around talking and waiting to be able to fire, with a shortage of ration, shortage of ammunition the British guns could only fire perhaps forty or fifty rounds a day, that's all they could afford to fire unless

467:05:00:00

there was a real need and, an attack or something like that or some particular purpose, so the fellows’d sit around the gun pits talking, playing cards or they'd be listening, of course, for shells. If, it was rather amusing, you'd be talking away comfortably to each other and then all of a sudden everyone would stop and they'd listen and then they all dive into the

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various trenches that were around. In fact trenches that were built in an L shape I think fellows could change direction in mid air. They'd go in the short end and turn in mid air and go up the long way, when they knew the shell was coming towards them, which you could tell a shell was passing overhead, it had a different sound to the bark of a gun that was coming at you. The only German gun that you couldn't work out was the eighty eight millimetre, which the shell arrived

467:06:00:00

before the sound, which was rather unfair. But the others you could tell.
What did you talk about during those lulls?
Well, I suppose what we could have been doing back in Australia. What we would be doing after the war, what the, I suppose we talked about the same things again and again. I can't recall.

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You had different people to talk to of course; as I said when I was in the observation post I had different people with me. I knew the area very well, so it was, it was easy to bring up strangers for experience and they used to come up and get the idea of what was going on.
At what stage were you starting to hear of

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Japan's advances?
Actually we, while we were in Tobruk we had leaflets dropped upon us by the Germans, “Surrender now and we will come out with,” you know, a white flag and “we look after you”, and the Japanese are, I think at that stage they were bombing Darwin or would they have been then? '41? But anyway, the Japanese were going

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to attack Australia and come out and all this sort of thing. In fact the leaflets caused quite a furore because when they came down everybody wanted one for a souvenir and they were racing all over the desert looking for these circulars but no one went out with a white flag.
So was the first inkling you had of Japan's advance?
Well, I suppose, oh we got news, we had, we had a paper that was published in, in

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Tobruk called 'Tobruk Truce' it was a ‘Grauniad’ [nickname for the British paper, The Guardian, referring to its reputation for typing errors] thing but that gave us an idea of the, what was happening in the world. I can't recall now when the Japanese, they attacked Pearl Harbor in '42 wasn't it?
December '41.
’41, oh well we would have been there, while we were in Tobruk we learned about the

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Japanese aims and their Co-prosperity Sphere [referring to the title the Japanese gave their expansionist plans].
So obviously if you can't remember that, you can't remember how you felt about it?
No, no, no...
Not much point asking you that!
No, I'm lucky to be able to remember what I can.
Okay.

467:09:00:00

Max, how did you feel when the news came that you were going to be withdrawn from Tobruk?
Well it was a strange feeling because we

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felt a bit as though the job wasn't done and at the same time we felt that we deserved to go out, so it was a mixed feeling. I stayed on the rear guard anyway, so the fellows went out and I stayed to show the chaps, the 51st, 144th Field Regiment took over from our positions, so I stayed behind to show them the observation posts and what was,

467:10:00:00

what we were doing. And they were shocked of course because they were a fully equipped regiment back in Alex [Alexandria], that's fourteen, Abyssinia had come to Alex and they had full transport guns, twenty five pounders, marvellous guns, and they came up and they took over all the rubbish we'd picked up. No vehicles and we didn't even have artillery boards or things like that. We made up pieces of timber

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and everything was absolutely rubbish that we handed over to them. In fact one of the, my opposite number was a fellow named David Simm, a bombardier in the British Army, he said, “You might as well have my slide rule, you've taken everything else!” and he gave me a slide rule which I used from then on and, he had two, but they were nice fellows. So I left them there about a week later and came out and rejoined

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the regiment back in Alex and went to Palestine from there.
Palestine was a period of retraining?
Palestine was our base. From there we went up to Syria and became garrison troops there, the Syrian campaign had finished and we were preparing artillery positions and things in case the Germans came through Turkey. And it was from there that we were later called back to the desert

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when Rommel broke through again.
So describe that return to the desert, how were you feeling, what were your feelings then?
Well, you might recall that the South Africans lost Tobruk in the, whereas the Germans came back, they didn't hold Tobruk, they lost Tobruk. And we were disappointed because we had spent such a long time holding it and the Germans raced

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down to within sixty miles of Alexandria and we were rushed from, the 9th Division was rushed from Syria to the desert and managed to halt the Germans at El Alamein. The 8th Army was more or less in, well they were defeated, they were just scrambling through, we had to fight our way through the 8th Army to get to the El Alamein more or less to, to

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stop the Germans. Anyway, the Germans were stopped, they probably were at the end of their tether anyway coming all that way, and they were ready to stop, and the we fought what were called the ‘July Battles’, then, to, where the Germans tried to dislodge us and we kept them halted there. So once again the 9th Division had a first, we halted the Germans.
Just describe for me the preparations

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for the battle at El Alamein.
Well, the big battle which, in October, was a marvellous feat of preparation because the July battles, you might have considered were three battles. The July battles were stopping the Germans. Then we had a stalemate, we kept firing, we had artillery duels all the time, infantry went out and fought and back. My job

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then was forward observation, that's a little different from observation posts, I had to be on a Bren Gun carrier and I travelled with the infantry when they made a mobile attack and we wirelessed back the instruction for the guns. In fact at the Battle of Ruin Ridge, it was called the Battle of Ruin Ridge. We were out there and the attack failed and the infantry retired

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or withdrew, and we stayed out there directing our guns and, while the infantry passed through it, but after they passed through our carrier was hit by a tank shell and we were knocked out and we had to walk in on our own afterwards which was, wasn't too good. I was bent over double I think, you know, trying to keep my, my silhouette down. But we walked out alright and we brought out a couple of tragically

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wounded fellows and it was, anyway from then on, it was ordinary attack and counter attack but in a mild way, no real war but it was happening. Wonderful aerial duels between the air forces, the British and the RAF [Royal Air Force] and the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]and the Luftwaffe [German Air Force].

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Then the preparation came for the big battle, when Monty, [Field Marshall] Montgomery planned this battle. I think he must have approached every gunner and private in the 9th Div [Division] to get their idea of what they wanted and what they required, it was the first time, to my knowledge, that a battle was planned from the bottom up because they, they had everything that you would expect a gunner or a private to want.

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The, when the attack started, or prior to the attack starting, there were paths, tracks made and they had half moon signs and sun signs and star signs and they had candles in the back of them so that you could, they were shining towards the, our lines, but shining towards the, nothing shining towards the Germans. So you followed these illuminated little signs to get to the front. When

467:16:00:00

you were at the front they had, he had ack-ack gunners with their machine guns, lined up, so that at every boundary, say a two hundred yard wide corridor, there'd be a machine gun at the left, a machine gun at the right. The one on the left would fire white tracers, the one on the right would fire red tracers, so that the infantry knew they had to keep the white tracers on the left and the red tracers on right and they moved forward at that corridor, this was on the battle itself.

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Then at every two minute interval they fired a burst of different coloured tracers which told the infantry that it was the next, next move, they had to move up to the next two hundred yards while we, in the artillery, we were dropping shells in front of them as a sweeping barrage and the, the infantry would march up to the, walk or march or move up to the shells as closely as possible then the

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two hundred yard lift would come and those machine gun bullets would tell them that the list had started and we'd move our shells up another hundred or two hundred yards and they'd march up to those, and they advanced that way. While at the guns, as soon as we fired our first rounds at night, search, car lights came on poles that we'd already laid on during the day for our line, and so we had illuminated markers to,

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to, aim on. The searchlight cut the front in half so that the left hand side of the searchlight was the allies and the right hand of the searchlight was the enemy and the bombers came in and shelled that side, bombed that side. Very good, everything was so well planned.
What communication did you have from Montgomery?
Pardon?
What communication did you have from…?
Well we had the whole story placed, given to us

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beforehand what we were going to do and Monty with his wonderful idea, we're hitting them for six out of North Africa and so forth, and the whole plan was laid out, what we had to do. We actually dug our guns in, right up in the front line, in the infantry lines, in the two nights prior to the battle. So that we could move our guns up on the last night and fire from there, the night before, fire. That, the

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gun programs we had to work on were all predicted programs, in other words we had to work out by, by calculation the line range and angle of sight for the guns so that the targets could all be hit at night.
What about the amount of work that you had to do in those, tell me about the physical effort?
Well as far as digging was concerned, that was going on for, everyone had to be digging, at the same time we had to work out, my job was as battery commander,

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battery commander’s assistant, I had to work out the gun programs, the fire plans. So I actually worked, for the longest time I think I've ever worked awake, seventy hours without sleep. And I remember young Howard Smith, one of the assistants, he was standing in this gun, command post and as he was talking to me he just slid down and he was asleep, sitting on the

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floor in the dirt. But no, we worked very hard for that but it was a wonderful, you know. The thing started at twenty minutes to ten, the actual battle, nine hundred guns involved, this is the artillery side. And the guns in the rear, the big ones, the six inch and the one fifty five millimetres and the long range guns, they opened up early, first, and then the closer guns and then the closer

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guns but everyone had to fire so that their shells hit the target at twenty minutes to ten exactly and see how, so you had to have the time of flight deducted from your zero hour so that every shell hit at the same time. You could imagine the poor Germans, nine hundred shells landing simultaneously then continuing as fast a rate that the guns could fire for fifteen minutes and it was all directed on the enemy

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artillery and our maps, we had all the enemy artillery marked on the maps and they, we practically quietened the whole lot. Then at ten o'clock those sweeping barrages that I told you about, started.
Just describe for me, take yourself back to that night now and describe the sound and the vision of it.
Well it was, it was

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dark as you can imagine. It was quiet, there was no, no shooting, no sound, no noise, it was absolutely still, the night was wonderfully still. I came out and we all, we had nothing to do really at the command post because the guns were next to, had the next job so we stood out there and just watched what was going on and we could hear the counting down, you know

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ten, nine, eight, seven… three, two, one, fire and then all the guns flashing, the sound, then the enormous sound when the shells all burst, the horizon lit up and it was a tremendous thing, absolutely wonderful as far as experience is concerned, not so nice for the receivers.

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There were some posts though, Thompson's Post at El Alamein which was occupied by the Germans of course. They put up with three days of two regiments, right, our regiment and the 2/8th, firing on them constantly, the fellows in there put up with it for three days. We had two regiments firing on the one post and when our infantry eventually reached the post, the fellows

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just couldn’t, the Germans were absolutely dazed and almost unconscious but standing you know but, they were wonderful the Germans, they were really great fighters. To put up with that, to last until November 4, from October 23, with all the, all the stuff we were throwing at them, they were, they were good.
Describe on that night, the, you've given a great sense of the

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sound, you’ve got this dark sky, what happened to it when the guns started?
Well, the actual illumination coming off the desert could be seen, I believe, in Alexandria, sixty miles away. So that was the, the glow coming up from the, from the enemy territory and it was actually, where we were of course we could see all this glow, but it wasn't reflected on us, the guns themselves of course were flashing

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and, but they were flashing and stopping, flashing and stopping and...
So the night sky was lit up?
The horizon yes. It was almost like day. As far, wide too, as far as the eye could see it was, it was just ablaze with light. White light really. And of course at the same time the air force were bombing and

467:24:00:00

the navy were shelling. So we had, not only the nine hundred guns of the, of the field guns, but had the navy firing in there as well.
What was your role?
Then?
Mm.
At that time, I was battery commander’s assistant, so I was command post, not working under guns and I used to go out on, but although I used to go out on fort observation there was no fort observation that

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night because the observers are not required at night and that they started again first thing in the morning, the next morning. But I was involved the whole time in fire plan and defensive fire which we knocked back, I think, something like, average, we knocked back twenty eight major counter attacks by the Germans by firing just in front of our own troops. They all had to be worked out by calculation.
What about the air force above and dog fights and so on?
They

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were wonderful of course. We had a perfect view, being in the desert it was as flat as a board, and we, we could watch the fighters engaging each other. On one occasion a bomber, one of our bombers came back from a bombing raid and he was pursued by two Messerschmitts and our fellows, our ack-ack fellows were trying to hit the Messerschmits

467:25:30:00

without hitting our bomber, but the bomber was in trouble and he was flying at about a hundred and fifty, two hundred feet up in the air, and each time the, pardon me, each time the, the Messerschmitt got in position to shoot up the bomber, the pilot would push one member of the, his crew out and parachute down and the German Messerschmitt would veer off. The Germans were

467:26:00:00

gentlemen enough not to shoot parachutists, so each time the Messerschmitt got in line another member of the crew would jump out and he did this for about six or eight other members came out and by that time we'd shot, we'd forced away one of the Messerschmitts had gone off, the other Messerschmitt stayed around but the pilot turned the bomber out to sea and then jumped himself and the, a very clever manoeuvre.

467:26:30:00

He was in our lines of course.
What about the toll on your own, the physical toll on your own body through all of, through this bombardment?
Well at Alamein, you must remember we'd had the Tobruk experience and this was preferable to Tobruk because we were getting rations, we were getting water, we could have a bath in half a kerosene tin of water. We,

467:27:00:00

rations were good, we could even get things sent up from Alex, Alexandria, sixty miles away. And so really it was very much, well more enjoyable you might say. There were some rather nasty moments but the, we felt better for it and although I felt that, as I said before, that I felt when I was going there, that it might be my last

467:27:30:00

campaign and I wouldn't survive another one, I realised after a while that it was possible and I did survive it, so.
I was thinking about even on that night of the main battle, you know, the noise must have been deafening?
It was. It was, you could imagine shell fire, guns firing anyway, they are very noise that's why all us old artillery

467:28:00:00

men are deaf or half deaf. The, all that added wonderful, well magnified the wonder of the night. As well as that we used to fire, we did fire, a certain amount of smoke in among the shells that we fired to create a nasty feeling of battle at the other end, you know the, they didn't do any damage, the smoke, unless you got

467:28:30:00

hit by the empty smoke canister. But the, we mixed smoke with it to make, just to give a nasty feeling to the, for the Germans at the other end with the shells. So everything was thought about psychologically and, and it just shows a strength.
War by its very nature is an impersonal business…
Very, mm.
But what were your feelings about the people you inevitably were involved in killing?

467:29:00:00

I suppose I ignored that, the fact that I was actually causing peoples’ deaths. In fact at times we used to, we used to sort of joke about it, sending back messages to the guns that you know you just hit a, saying we heard the screams of sirens of ambulances and all sorts of nonsense you know, tell the fellows they were pretty good. But really it was impersonal; we had nothing against the people we were shooting at.

467:29:30:00

We, naturally, wanted to destroy the enemy’s ability to fight but I don't think we looked upon it as fact that we had to actually kill people but we did, of course. And there were some horrifying deaths particularly with the tank fellows. Alamein were a lot of tank battles and they were shocking. You can imagine a tank being hit by a solid shot, a solid shot enters the tank, ricochets right around,

467:30:00:00

turns the whole thing in like a mix master, everybody in it and the ammunition inside the tank explodes and everything burns and shocking, to see them afterwards, awful. They had the worst death of all.
Any remorse on your part?
Now? No, I think that I was rather,

467:30:30:00

I'm glad that I went and I, no I have no remorse. I'd do it again, I think.
Can you just describe the desert for me and then the, what were the conditions like?
The, in Tobruk it was rocky with a coating of sand, you might say.

467:31:00:00

Course most of the sand had been blown away over the years. There were areas where it was soft enough to dig and, well what we called the flat. In Alamein it was, we could mostly dig in some areas we had to blast out the gun pits with, by the engineers you had to blow it from rock but generally we could dig. The gun pits were very large, for a twenty five pounder, ‘cause you had to have a three hundred and sixty degree circle, because it was a

467:31:30:00

very mobile war at Alamein. You had to be able shoot forwards, backwards, sideways and everywhere, And so as far as the gunners, had to dig a lot of, lot of soil. They couldn't throw it from the centre of the gun pit, it was so big they had to bag it in the centre and carry it to the side and stack it round. The area that we were fighting in was sort of grubby, low growth, nothing that cast a shadow was

467:32:00:00

there. The bit of tumble weedy type of stuff. Then near the coast there was a road and a railway line running out to the Western Desert. There were a few little high rise areas there, you know a hundred feet high or something like that, where we used to go and create observation posts. The whole area was overlooked by Sidi Abd Rahman, which was a

467:32:30:00

hill, a rather a large hill and under German control and from there they could see right over the area where we were and we were there for what, four and a half five months. And they could see right over the whole area. ‘Cause I went back there in 1989 and had a look, it was remarkable, the view they had of the area we lived and fought for.
Interviewee: Maxwell Parsons Archive ID 0298 Tape 468

468:01:00:00

Could you describe for me the scene on the battle field the next day, after the main battle at El Alamein?
The first time I actually went out on the battle field, after the commencement of the October 23 battle, was November 5 because we were constantly

468:01:30:00

firing from this one position until then. And then the Germans fled, really, on November 5. So after that we went out to have a look and we saw such things as the position of an eighty eight millimetre gun which the Germans, was the Germans best field gun, it was dual purpose, it could be used as ack-ack, anti-tank or field gun. The gun would be in position

468:02:00:00

and all around it, in almost a circle, would be British tanks blown out by the eighty eight millimetre during the tank battles. We lost an enormous number of tanks, also of course a lot of German tanks. There were still, naturally, dead to be picked up, there was, the detritus of war I suppose you might call it, the bits of everything that were scattered all over the desert, tins,

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gear, uniforms, trucks, tanks, guns. The, it was, it was unbelievable really to see what was there and in fact for years afterwards the, the local Arabs collected metal

468:03:00:00

from around Alamein and they had huge Avery scales at their, on their, outside their camps, you know great big Avery scales to measure the, to weigh the waste metal they picked up. A lot of them lost their lives of course treading on mines and things.
So what effect did that, that sight have on you as you made your way through it, what was the impact of it?
Wonder I suppose, that such a thing could have happened

468:03:30:00

and also remember we were, we were pumped up by the fact that the Germans had retreated, once again, a first because the Germans were, from then on they retreated until then prior to that they hadn't, and for, from then they retreated until the end of the war, didn't they? So, it was good.
What about the treatment of casualties during the battle, how did that happen?
Well that was, it had to be

468:04:00:00

done on a personal basis where we were because although there were stretcher bearers following up, one stage on the Battle of Ruin Ridge, my carrier was seconded, I suppose you might call it, by a staff officer. I didn't really know what staff officers did until this fellow came up and said, “Well, we want your carrier.” and apparently he had the right because I left the sig [signalman] and my battery commander in the position

468:04:30:00

where he was and took the driver, and myself, went back with a wounded soldier. He had his arm blown off at the shoulder but the bone was sticking out, rather ugly, but what amazed me and I still remember it, as he was climbing up into the carrier, I was helping him up into the carrier, this bone came up as though it was going to grasp the top of the carrier as a memory, an unusual

468:05:00:00

memory but he was, we took him back but as I went back to where we thought was a casualty clearing area, we ran into an actual battle between a group of infantrymen and another group and as we came up the fellow said, “Get out of here, get out of here, we've got our own bloody wounded to get out, don't you cads keep bringing him in here!” flew off again. And as we got further on,

468:05:30:00

I ran into a group of Italians. What had happened was that the, when the Italians surrendered they were sent back under their own, their own escort and they were, about forty or fifty of them, they tried to surrender to me but of course they'd already surrendered so I had nothing to do with them, so anyway finally we got, we found a place that was receiving casualties. And, I, when I passed a casualty

468:06:00:00

down I can still remember the words of the fellow, he said, “What have they been doing to you laddie, what have they been doing to you laddie?” and I thought, “Well what a lovely thing to say.” you know to the poor bugger, he was just about to it but he was, he hadn't complained. And when I got back, we got back to the, passing the same Italian prisoners on the way back, there was one, there were four of them were

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holding a blanket and on the blanket was a wounded Italian, but the Germans started shelling them because the Germans didn't like the Italians surrendering so when there were occasions like this they actually shelled them because they'd given up you see and the Germans wouldn't, they did. And a shell landed near the blanket, near enough anyway for them to look one look at the blanket, they dropped it and then went off,

468:07:00:00

left the poor Italian there. But, and we were too busy anyway, we went on and got back to where I'd left battery commander and the sig and we'd, there was a South African observation officer there too in that carrier, but his carrier had been hit by a tank shell and he'd been hit, with a wound, with a very large wound in the side of his head and he was holding a towel to his head

468:07:30:00

and still trying to send messages back to his guns so we were passing his messages back alternately with our own, to our own guns. Finally when we came to go out, our tank was, our carrier was hit and so we had to walk out including the poor chap with the hole in his head, but by the time, everything was so confused it didn't matter much.
There was a point,

468:08:00:00

was there not where the German doctors and Allied doctors were working together, can you tell me about that?
Oh that was in Tobruk during a truce where the, where the stretcher bearers were offering our German, the, our casualties to wait for our stretcher bearers or to go back to the German hospitals with their, they were offered the choice.
I thought there was another time, at Alamein, where, where German doctors had been captured

468:08:30:00

No.
…but they were actually working in the field hospitals...
Not to my, not to my experience, they would have of course, they would have if men were lost and, you know the German hospitals would have looked after them.
Were you aware, at the time, about Alamein that this was, you know, how aware were you that this was a turning point in the war?
Well Monty of course was very confident of that, and he had built up an enormous

468:09:00:00

army. The 8th Army at the end was a very strong army and we had other troops, Free French and even Greek and we had all sorts of people there and it was, it, we felt confident, yes. What we were, perhaps, a little worried about was the fact that we had the major position, 9th Division had the major position on the right flank where the road was

468:09:30:00

and although they made a, a feint attack down on the left, deeper into the desert, the Germans had to split their forces a little bit, but we had the major job in the 9th Division up on the right, the infantry had the major job and they handled it very well.
What about, tell me about the victory parade that was held?
When we got

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back to Palestine, it was a victory parade on one of the air fields, I forget. It was magnificent, can you imagine twenty thousand men, or roughly twenty thousand men, on parade on this aerodrome and they marched, a regiment marched, three ranks abreast so you can imagine

468:10:30:00

only three ranks wide, so you can imagine how wide the groups were. And, well the batteries, I mean, not the regiment, the batteries. Then when the regiment came to, the division came to attention they had to have a flag on a pole and they whacked the flag down when they said “ATTENTION!” you know twenty thousand heels clicked it was quite impressive, wonderful, mm.
And what was said at that victory parade?
Oh it was

468:11:00:00

General Alexander wasn't it, who told us how wonderful we were and of course we agreed. And I can't recall the actual words but it was a thank you speech for what we'd, what we'd done.
At this point in the war, how concerned were you about wanting to get back to Australian given the developments with Japan?
Well from the point of view of the Japanese, the reason for the Japanese attacking, we were, we were

468:11:30:00

comfortable fighting at Alamein because we knew that the 6th and 7th and 8th Divisions were involved. The 8th Division unfortunately of course were lost but, and we knew the Americans were coming there so we, we knew that there was, one division wasn't that necessary. So we were not terribly troubled about that but on the other hand we were glad to come home of course and join in the fight against the Japs.

468:12:00:00

There was even a rumour that white feathers [symbol of cowardice] were sent to some people?
Yes, as a matter of fact I got a notice from some authority that unless I appeared at, in court in fourteen days I'd be fined for not enrolling in the militia or something, while I was in Tobruk.

468:12:30:00

But still that was only a bit of a mix up, a paper mix up. I heard stories about white feathers, yes, but I didn't know of any particular ones, I thought, I hoped the relations of artillery men were more sensible.
You went back to Australia, eventually?
We came back on the Ile de France and we had

468:13:00:00

twenty one days home leave, which was good, after we'd been away nearly three years. And then we went up to Queensland and trained, jungle training, and became the best equipped, I remember best equipped jungle troops because they dyed our uniforms green so that was the only change from the desert, we became the best equipped jungle troop because we had green uniforms.

468:13:30:00

Then we went off to New Guinea, so.
In Australia what changes did you notice while you were there?
Mainly the number of American servicemen of course. It was, at that time, there was a bit of bad blood between the AIF and the Americans. And I can remember they had a function at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that

468:14:00:00

had a concert and Tivoli performers and, a wonderful show, plenty of grog [alcohol] and so forth, put on by the Americans to welcome the 9th Division so it was an attempt to make us happy with the fact that the Americans were apparently taking our sweethearts or something, some such. But in Queensland there were a few little arguments too, between the Americans and

468:14:30:00

Australians on leave, but they were not that terribly important.
How concerned were you about these things?
I wasn't concerned at all, really. I was just glad to be back in Australia.
Why?
Well it was just wonderful to be home again. The, seeing the family for, you know a few days and, and

468:15:00:00

gum trees, marvellous the gum trees after you've been away, in the desert, and water, no it was good.
What did people know about what you'd been doing and what was really happening over there?
Well of course most of the letters were censored; we weren't able to tell where we were but common sense, if we were in action,

468:15:30:00

we had to be in, in the action that was going on with the Australian troops so that they placed us where we were really. My family were, as I think I said earlier, they're not, they weren't concerned, we were pretty, they're all older than I was, so that, they were sensible.
You had survived Tobruk and then El Alamein,

468:16:00:00

what were your feelings now about the prospect of going into battle again?
Well I was quite convinced now that it was the end, you know that once we got into action again that I couldn't, I couldn't do a third, I couldn't see that. But as it turned out it, I was three times lucky but, we had three long campaigns really, with Tobruk, Alamein and New Guinea, they were five,

468:16:30:00

five to six months campaigns each one and see without, without breaks which are were quite, quite rigorous.
What was the difference for you now in terms of going to battle so close to Australia? Was there a different feeling that you, in your heart at this stage?
Well there was because we, we felt that there

468:17:00:00

was every chance of the Japs getting closer to Australia or actually landing in Australia. So although the Kokoda Track had happened, when we got to New Guinea, there was still the chance of, you know naval attacks coming around. We were concerned for Australia's point of view and we were determined to do our best to, you know to beat the Japs. And we thought we could, actually, we felt that

468:17:30:00

with our experience we would make some difference, we were confident.
And what was your response once you got there? Describe to me the conditions after you first landed.
We first went to Morotai for a short period and, beg your pardon, not Morotai, Milne Bay. And then we attacked Lae,

468:18:00:00

pardon me, it was the first assault landing by Australian troops since Gallipoli actually, and it was the first time that artillery had landed with infantry. Normally there was a feeling that artillery couldn't operate well in the jungle. A few guns had been carted up the Kokoda Track and of course it was terribly hard work, very difficult and that sort of fixed in the minds of the people that

468:18:30:00

artillery wasn't easy to use in the jungle. However, we landed at Lae and I, by this time I was on the guns, I'd given up the ack work because I found it didn't give me enough promotion and I was a bit greedy for a shilling, so I wanted to become a sergeant. I knew I could become a sergeant if I went back to the guns and I'd started on the guns, so, I went back to my old troop and the guns and became a gun sergeant.

468:19:00:00

So we landed on, at Lae on about the third or fourth wave with the infantry and we were in action within about thirty minutes. And we stayed, no, now wait a minute, in Lae, we had actually moved towards Lae, we, we landed north of Lae and we moved down through some very strong rivers, to Burep and

468:19:30:00

Busu and so forth and it was pretty tough going. At that time we had short twenty five pounders, which were guns that, where they'd taken the shield off the old British twenty five pounder, they'd shortened the barrel and they'd really made a mess of it because the all burnt position of the cordite, in the gun, was about three feet outside the muzzle, so when the blast of the shell going off still, the blast was still happening

468:20:00:00

after the shell left and it hit the gunners in the chest and eyes and mouth and it was pretty bad. After gunfire, sustained gunfire, the crew were just about a wreck, anyway. Lae happened, we finally got to Lae. The 7th Div [Division] got to Lae before us and it was the, it was the 7th Div that my gun was shelling

468:20:30:00

when we were at, we were near the Busu River, I think. And we were shelling Lae when the message came from the 7th Div saying something like, “Thank you for your help but you're blowing our shithouse down.” So we stopped but it was the only time I think I shelled our own troops intentionally, or unintentionally. But the, after Lae had fallen,

468:21:00:00

the, a brigade of the division went to Finschhafen and the 2/12th, my regiment, went with them and the Finschhafen campaign turned out to be much more difficult than the Lae one actually.
What were the conditions like fighting in the jungle, can you describe that for me and was it a contrast to what you had come from?
It was quite different of course. You, you had the problems from an artillery point of

468:21:30:00

view of crest clearance, of what we call crest clearance, you had to get your gun, you get your shell out of the jungle and land on the enemy and not get hit by trees on either going or coming. We had to drag our guns through very poor tracks, we had to cut tracks through the jungle in many cases, we had poor equipment to haul the guns, in many cases we had to travel around by coast on a barge to bring the gun round into position.

468:22:00:00

The spectacle of the war was gone because you couldn't see very much; you couldn't see those lovely dog fights happening. The Japs were an unpleasant enemy, I didn't like them. We might have liked the Germans, we didn't like the Japs. The, they didn't like us either so, in fact, at Finschhafen when we were,

468:22:30:00

when we were shooting up Sattelberg, the Japanese General, General Adashi, later said that, that their troops had more casualties from 2/12th guns and they feared the guns more than they feared the United States Air Force, which was bombing them quite frequently. Once again, of course, they could tell when the, when the bombers were bombing and they couldn't tell when we were shelling them. It's understandable,

468:23:00:00

artillery was more feared than bombs. So anyway they sent an attacking force down to Sepik Creek, where we were, to destroy our guns. Unfortunately I was the gun that, that was closest to the attack but I had the pleasure of shooting over open sites at the Japanese as they were shooting at us, they were shooting with rifles and machine guns at us,

468:23:30:00

but we were shooting with twenty five pound shell back at them, so it was rather incredible. A twenty five pounder has four, what shall I say? It can be fired as a, with charge one which has a high elevation, low range. Charge two has a lesser elevation, a longer range. Charge three, more flat. Charge

468:24:00:00

super is a long range. So of course, in this case, we were using charge one, the lowest charge. So you could watch the shell like a, like a ball playing cricket, you could watch the ball all the way to the wicket and then it would burst in a big flower at the other end. And, anyway we turned the Japs back quite comfortably and they didn't destroy our guns, although they did claim, later on, that they did, but they didn't.
What,

468:24:30:00

was it that you disliked about the Japanese?
We followed them up from Finch [Finschhafen] Harbour and up to Seo [Salamaua?], up the coast, up along the Huon Peninsula, and following them of course meant that we actually had to bivouac in the areas where they had been and, and they were, it was disgusting, the smell was horrible. The, I'll probably offend Japanese because they are

468:25:00:00

considered to be very clean people but there was a smell, a stench that I couldn't stand, most of us couldn’t. We couldn't actually stop in the areas where they'd been camping, we had to move somewhere else. That was the main distasteful thing about the Japs. The other thing was, later on of course, when we learnt, when we went to Borneo, that made us dislike them even more, in Borneo.
What did you learn?
Well, when we learned about the death marches and things like that,

468:25:30:00

from Sandakan to Ranau and so forth.
To what extent did you feel, here, that you were fighting to save Australia?
I don't think we sort of had that gung-ho experience. We just were fighting really. We were getting the Japs out of New Guinea. That was our, defeating the Japs I s’pose. I don't think, I don't think I ever felt I was doing a wonderful

468:26:00:00

for Australia. I was thinking I was fighting for Max.
Fighting to save your own life?
Probably. Not so much to save my own, no, it was, it was a joint effort we were fighting. I don't think we, I don't think any of us had a feeling that we were wonderful characters. We weren't.

468:26:30:00

Why not?
Well we were just ordinary soldiers, weren't we?
Some of those later campaigns were criticised both by the people who took part in them and by others later, as being unnecessary, that they were kind of mopping up operations just to keep the troops happy or to satisfy their political masters?
Yeah I think, I think they were correct to a degree. After New Guinea when we'd had ninety

468:27:00:00

percent casualties from malaria, we had a lot of casualties from, everyone had casualties from, you know like the war, but malaria was our biggest sickness casualty, ninety per cent. And we were held up in Queensland for nearly eleven months. Rehabilitating, reinforcing, retraining the reinforcements and we were bored stiff, you know being in no action for eleven months, almost

468:27:30:00

eleven months. In fact there was almost, the men were almost mutinous with the idea that they weren't being used, so finally we went to Borneo and, so although it was jungle hopping, island hopping, we were still very glad to go into action again because otherwise we should have been, you know discharged if we weren’t going to be used. So when we went

468:28:00:00

to Borneo, I think that Borneo was a little different to the others, it meant that we were trying to save the British prisoners of war, the allied prisoners of war, that were there and in fact if we had of gone earlier we would have saved quite a number but, but the idea of jungle, island hopping seemed, to me, to have been wrong. In fact when we went to Morotai, on the way to Borneo, half the island was

468:28:30:00

still in Japanese hands, the other half was a huge air force base and the Yanks just ignored the Japanese altogether. If they came they'd shoot em, but they didn't, they stayed where they were. And that was the attitude they should have perhaps adopted more in the islands, left them to rot, then go on further.
There were many casualties of course in those dying months of the war, were you?
Borneo wasn’t,

468:29:00:00

didn't have the casualties that we had in New Guinea. I'm speaking about Borneo; there were big casualties with the Americans fighting in Guadalcanal and those places. But in Borneo, the Japs were almost defeated by then. The, we had a number of casualties, but not many. We were overwhelmingly in charge.
What about yourself, did you get wounded yourself?
Only in Tobruk and Alamein.

468:29:30:00

Just flesh wounds. I had malaria and dengue [fever] in New Guinea, but no, I was fortunate.
Interviewee: Maxwell Parsons Archive ID 0298 Tape 469

469:00:30:00

Max, I want you to just give me a kind of vivid description, if you like, of the difference between fighting in the desert and fighting in the jungle, these two remarkably different kind of terrains, so to speak, can you give me a

469:01:00:00

description of that and how that change felt to you, how you accommodated to that?
I suppose the major difference would be the fact that there was no front line in the jungle. In the desert there always appeared to be a front line, we knew where the infantry were, we knew where we were and only in very difficult circumstances, it was the FDL, forward defence line not defined. But in the jungle,

469:01:30:00

one never knew whether the infantry were in front, behind, left or right and it was very difficult from and artillery point of view because we had to fire into areas where we thought the enemy was and then trust in the fact that the infantry were not there, our infantry were not there. There were occasions when mistakes occurred, and because of the jungle growth, it

469:02:00:00

was difficult to get the shells into the area we wanted, even with ranging the guns you could lose a shell, you could fire a shell and you'd say, “Where the hell was that?” “Where did it land?” you know. Finally you'd see the shell and you'd range that one, you'd range a left one, you'd range a plus one, you'd range a minus one and you'd know where you were. The infantry would have been far worse off than we were because

469:02:30:00

they didn't know who they were going to meet around the next path or next bend in the track. Our signallers, as I said before, in the Middle East when I was in the observation post, we had one signaller and a signaller halfway between the guns and the, the observation post. In New Guinea we had twenty five signallers in each observation crew because of the difficulty of wiring between the guns

469:03:00:00

and the observation post. The, it was very much more difficult to move in the jungle, it was very much more, it was very easy, much easier for the enemy to infiltrate. And snipers, we never had snipers before, in the desert, and we had them in the jungle, enemy snipers. The transport of

469:03:30:00

ammunition, rations was difficult. We had water transport that used to come on barges and when we were in Borneo we had to move by rivers, we had no roads. We had, the, there was a rail in the mainland of Borneo but we had no rolling stock so we had to use jeeps as trains but, big differences between the jungle and the desert.

469:04:00:00

What affect did this have, this lack of a front line, the fact that you could be encircled by the enemy without realising it, what did this do to your nerves?
Well in Borneo, at a place called Lumart [Lumag?],

469:04:30:00

we were about twenty miles into the, my troop, was about twenty miles into the Japanese territory, the infantry were about another twenty five miles further up and about another twenty miles back, so we were in an island more or less, but the Japs hadn't found us so we had to be very quiet at night, very, very quiet. We fired, a few

469:05:00:00

days, and then got out of there and went back. So, it was better in Borneo from the point of view that, as I said before, the Japanese were almost defeated by then. They weren't as kamikaze as they had been in New Guinea. It wasn't as tough a campaign. There were some

469:05:30:00

moments though when you got a bit, a bit scared. I remember one occasion we were, well this was in New Guinea, but we used to place picquets [guards] out at night, around the guns, because as I say before, you didn't know where the infantry were, you didn't know where the Japs were, whether they were infiltrating or not. So, you used to post picquets out about say fifty or sixty or eighty yards into the jungle, on their own, but

469:06:00:00

they'd sit out there and of course if they were, if the Japanese were coming, they'd raise an alarm and everyone back at the guns and in the area where the guns were, would be alerted. But it was a pretty trying experience being out there on your own for two hours and of course there were animals in the jungle and the noises and I remember my, one occasion when I was a sergeant at the gun, I couldn't depend on

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one of the fellows, I thought, ‘That blighter will be asleep out there.’ and so my turn came and I was out there and I sat on a log and all of a sudden I looked in front of me and there was a rifle pointing straight between my eyes, you imagine the shock I got. But I'd fallen asleep and it was my own rifle that my head was looking at. So after that I didn't really

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complain too much about the fellow who I thought would have gone to sleep!
I want to take you back now to the time of your enlistment, just something I wanted to pick up from there and a story involving your hairdresser?
Oh yes.
Tell me that story.
Well it was that period when I wasn't sure

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whether I should enlist. I felt I should and then my hairdresser was a young chap, about a bit older than I was, and I went to get my hair done and he said, “I'm enlisting.” and he said, “I won't be here after Monday next.’ or something, so I thought, ‘’Oh well if it's good enough for him, I'll enlist.’ So it was really my hairdresser that was the turning point in, in making me enlist.

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Never saw him again. Oh well.
Wonder what happened to him?
Probably became a hero I suppose, we hope.
Now just to take you, fast forward again, to the end of the war, can you tell me where you were when you heard that the war had ended?
Yes, we had, we'd

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finished on Lagoon Island, taken Lagoon Island, we'd gone over the mainland and we'd gone up the, up the river to Beaufort and then as I, we went to that place called Lumart [Lamag?] which I’ve talked about, then we went around and made a landing at Papar, on the north coast of Borneo, and we were in action there from an air field, an air strip, and it was there, while we were at Papar, that the

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atomic bomb was dropped and we heard about it there. The Japanese didn't believe that the war had ended, of course in those areas, they had to be told, so leaflets were dropped but they didn't believe those either, so we tried not to, the idea was we would stop shooting, so we stopped shooting. We

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believed the Japanese knew the war was over but when an infantryman was killed, in a bit of a skirmish, everyone decided, ‘Well blow the war, we'll start again.’ you know so they wanted to start again, but anyway. About five or six days of war after that the Japanese capitulated in Borneo, so the war ended there. So we set our guns up and aimed them to where the last time we saw the Japanese territory and fired

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flares up, you know the illuminating flares, and all the Malays were out there and going “ahhh, ahhh” just like in Australia watching the fireworks, they, so we fired flare shells and that was the end of the war. We fired a 21 gun salute and then of course the Japs came in, I remember the general,

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I think he was a general, the commander anyway, walked into Papar and spoke to General Witten and said, they made their arrangements for bringing their prisoners in and so forth, and asked if he could have a jeep train to take him back, and Witten said, “You walked in here, you can bloody well walk back.’ you know so they

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walked back. Then we, when the war ended I stayed on with, for a while, as a sergeant in charge of prison compounds, you know prisoner compounds and so I had the blighters under me for a while.
What about the homecoming, what was that like?
Well that was wonderful. Once again, we came by

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train from Queensland and all the way down, there was people shouting and waving sheets and things you know from their houses. And I think that the most moving thing, that I felt, were once again the gum trees and the burnt countryside, you know the dryness, the brownness of the countryside against the greenness of the jungle. But the gum trees, they are marvellous.

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And of course we came to Royal Park in Melbourne and from there it was only onto the tram and home and… home.
Can you remember that time you saw your family for the first time again?
Walking down the street to home, a marvellous feeling. I was bubbling, you know when we were coming towards the house but, yes it was a great

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feeling.
And they were waiting for you there?
My, my brother and sister-in-law were occupying the family home, the rest of the family had spread around, so yeah they were waiting I think, yeah I think I was there, mm, long time ago.
And your father?
No, he was in the country at the moment, he was up at Albury.
What did

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people back home understand about what you'd been through?
Oh I don't think, we didn't talk much then, certainly didn't talk like I'm talking now. We, we kept quiet about it. We met each other, you know the members of the regiment, we had a lot of accumulated leave, as you could imagine, only forty two days leave since I left, sailed away in 1940.

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So I had plenty of leave due and, so I didn't go back to work for about two months. But during that time we kept meeting all the old army mates and trying to keep the war going I think, just for fun.
What effect did this bottling up of the stories have on you do you think?
Well, I don't think I'm

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a character that sort of gets too troubled about those sort of things. I certainly didn't need counselling or anything of that nature. You remember we were young and, even when the war ended, I was only twenty five, so I had a few you know, I was young and stupid.
How had you changed

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from the person who’d left from the war, for the war?
Well before the war I was, I was skinny, naive, certainly not a good sportsman, I played tennis but I wasn't a, I think I only weighed ten stone or something, twelve stone, you know I was very light weight for six foot four. And, so in fact I don't think I did a press up during my whole six years in the army,

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or didn't succeed more than two or three times. And the, but I think I'd grown in stature. I became more, what shall we say? I was more confident. I was able to command more, I was in management jobs from then on, always, and no problems there. Made a big difference to me.
What about forgiveness?

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I don't forgive the Japanese, even now, they. When I learned about they did in the Sandakan death march for eight hundred fellows, I saw three of them while I was at Papar, three prisoners, it was three out of the six that survived out of that eight hundred, and they were so thin they couldn't stand up. The, looking between their legs, you could,

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you could put a suitcase between their legs with their, they were two sticks of legs, you know and they seemed to be about eighteen inches apart because they were so thin. And that was bad enough and then when I heard about what they did to the Malays in Borneo, the villagers, where they cut the arms off men because they’d burnt the rubber stocks and things like that, they were savage what they did. So I never forgave them.

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In fact, when I was married later, people would give toys to my children and if they had, I'd look at the bottom and if they were made in Japan, I'd give them back. I wouldn't, allow the children to have them but now of course that's gone, everything you buy is made in Japan or a component is. No, I, I didn't forgive them for years and years and years, I don't think I've ever forgiven them for that.

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For Australia was what you did, what you all did, worth the effort, the sacrifice?
Oh I think it was necessary yes. And don't forget that I was very fortunate, my regiment was never in trouble, we were never taken prisoner, we were, we never had to retreat, we,

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and I came out of it with just a couple of flesh wounds. So my war was very different from the fellows that were taken prisoner or were still in hospital suffering or died, the young fellows you know twenty, twenty one, twenty two, died. No, my war was a very easy war compared to some.
Thanks Max.
Good.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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