man who was a bit of a villain, I think he married her for her money really, he was a very clever man but anyway it didn’t last. The life on the property was typical of those days, the stockocracy around the area, my mother was sort of a part of it, but it was a smaller property, and as I say they didn’t own it. It was ten miles
to the nearest little town. In those days you’d either go by buggy or ride. I went to school and I had to board in the local town and I board there from about the age of six, and I had a very sketchy schooling and then the Depression came and we had to leave and the family split up then. My mother brought me and my sister and my brother to Melbourne
then, and we finished up in Heidelberg. I went to the Collingwood Technical School and I as I say I had a pretty short and sketchy schooling, but I’ve had a lot of education since of course. I started work when I was sixteen. It was hard to get work in those days during the Depression and I was fortunate enough to get a job in Collingwood in the
boot trade as it was called in those days. I liked it, and I sort of prospered in it really, and by the time I was eighteen I had quite a good job then the war came along and that was sort of the early part of my life.
and I remember the message coming through that we were at war and the years before had been a bit grim with the visits in Germany and we didn’t know a great deal about it but it was in the air. And when war was declared I felt that it was a bit grim and then they announced it that we were in it and Menzies
announced his famous saying as you may well know, “Great Britain is at war, and we are at war too,” then shortly after that they called for enlistments, to form a 2nd AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. I just went in, I felt that it was up to me and I went and enlisted at Booths on the Princes Bridge, just near Flinders Station.
I went there and enlisted and the chap said, “What do you want to be in?” I said, “I don’t know anything about it,” but I said, “I have a motor bike.” I had a motor bike then and he said, “I’ll put you down for signals,” and that’s how I came to go into signals.
British Empire, but that was only in my case because my mother being English she expected me, although she would miss me a lot and I was helping her a lot and that sort of thing, but she didn’t refuse. It was rather funny there because when I went for a medical I went down on my motorbike to have a medical
to South Melbourne the old signals depot there and when I lined up I could see a sergeant and he was saying, “No, you haven’t got your parents’ signature, your parents haven’t signed your papers for your enlistment” I was under twenty one you see in those days. So I said, “I’ll soon fix that,” and I remember hopping on my motorbike in South Melbourne and went roaring through as you could in those days to Heidelberg. Mum was doing
the washing in the little laundry and I said, “You haven’t signed my papers” and she said, “Well really I shouldn’t do this, but I will and I did expect you to join,” which she did, because it was the accepted thing to do.
but the 6th Division was made up of chaps who unemployed but that’s not it. But there were a lot of unemployed fellows and a lot of hard working fellows too, and they had been on the road and that sort of thing. They joined the army for various reasons, and maybe the same reasons I did but some because they were pretty down and out and as we know they turned out to be great soldiers.
The first training there was a force called the Darwin Force, they were the WOs [Warrant Officers]. And the Ones and Twos from Darwin, they were at Darwin but they were trained soldiers, regular soldiers and they came down and put us through the first, taught us how to form threes,
rifle drill and how to do those sorts of things, things that were pretty crude in those days. They were great, they were wonderful. They’d been trained how to handle men, they whipped us into shape and we quickly learned the quickest way to get from A to B was to form threes and march and get your tucker and get your pay and that sort of thing and that was the quickest way. They explained how to discipline, you’d could go and be
the first there and get the first run and that sort of thing. The conditions were pretty poor, I didn’t mind anyway, but the food was something bloody terrible and the people who mainly complained about the food were the ones that didn’t have much, but that’s the strange part about it, but that’s probably the commons of life. We were there until, later on they were building Puckapunyal at
the time and then we moved to Puckapunyal.
what they called the first flight… about half of the 6th Division went over to the Middle East but I wasn’t one of them, I didn’t got with that half, we remained behind. The first half that went up had the experience of the first action against the Italians, which you would know from history and they went up to the desert and they
and the British troops swept the Italians back beyond Benghazi and they took thousands of prisoners, you heard about that, but I wasn’t in that we were back in Australia. The second flight left about May we went on the Queen Mary we were, our group. There was a very big convoy, there was the Mary, the Britain,
the Japan the Andes that came from New Zealand and we joined up with the New Zealanders, the Mauritania I think and all the big liners. We left from Sydney and went around to Western Australia to Fremantle. We didn’t land at Fremantle because the Mary couldn’t dock it was too big to dock. Then we
went onwards to go to the Middle East, but we didn’t go there because Italy had come into the war and it was dangerous to go through the Red Sea so they diverted us and we finished up in Britain. We went around the Cape we stayed at False Bay because we couldn’t get into Cape Town in the Mary so she went to False Bay and we had leave there.
Then we went on around to Sierra Leone, oil there I think and then around and up Rhode Island and out into the Atlantic because of the amount of ships being sunk in those days. The convoy went around the island and the first glimpse we got of Britain was Isle Craig six up and then we went into Gourock
which is not far from down from Glasgow and the Clyde.
east coast of England and we finished up in Salisbury, Salisbury Plains where we were camped and of course the twilight… We hadn’t seen twilight like that and it was in the summer time was quite beautiful weather and it was light until about half past ten at night. If we were coming down the train the various people and workers were out and waving to us and that sort of thing,
and come up on your leave and we got a wonderful welcome. I suppose it was natural for the old diggers from the Antipodes coming over and that sort of thing, yes. We went down on the train, I remember one instance I said to the chap from the other interview, we pulled up at a station called Crew
and I walked along the platform and an old porter, railway porter an old man – all the younger men would have been in the services. I said to him, “Things look a bit grim.” And I remember him say, “There will never be dust digger, there will never be dust. We will fight them.” And that was the attitude of the Brits,
remarkable they really were.
and it was turned over and it had beautiful grounds it’s a real old country estate and it’s just out of Ainsbury, the main gate was and we established a headquarters signals there. Of course the communication was established with all the various units around the plains the infantry so on and so forth and we manned switchboards and did
the general run of line, I was an online operator in those days. I didn’t do a great deal of morse work, but quite a bit of phone work and switchboards and that sort of thing. We got to know the local girls on the local switch of course in Salisbury and we went out with a couple of them, nice girls with very young men, and we went to dances
and that sort of thing when we got our leave. We use to stand and watch the Battle of Britain go on and you could see it written in the skies. You know how you can see it in the skies high up, the trail in the air and the planes going across, and it was similar there. You could see it written in the sky and then you’d see bits and pieces falling down and that sort of thing across the plains and the Battle of Britain went on during while we were there.
The ‘greatest hour’ as they called it and it looked like Hitler was going to invade and he had intentions of invading apparently. We had one scare and we were all called up and it looked like the invasion was on but nothing became of it.
I believe in London, I got contacted and my mother had written to me and I contacted an uncle in London and he was a parson of all things and he’d been in a missionary in China for about thirty years and he was a very knowledgeable man and a hell of a good scout too. Then my aunt, my mother’s sister she said, “You must come up and stay.”
I did and they said to bring a friend and I did bring a friend and stayed and it was called Barnsby too which was not far from, you got a tram from around near Scotland Yard and you go past Cleopatra’s Needle. I remember that not far out something like Collingwood would be from the city, not far out and we stayed there for
just a couple of days and we went on, he planned a trip for us. He was an air raid warden then. I remember one night we went out and we came home because the air raid was on and we did manage to get home and it might be interesting to give an indication of the difference. We of course being Australian had a bit more money than the Pommy soldiers and exactly what had happened here
with the Americans later. There was an air raid on and the all clear came and we had to get home and we were down in the Strand somewhere and we hailed a taxi and the taxi pulled up and we said where we wanted to go and a voice said, “I say, do you mind if I share your taxi?” And he had a war parade on and he was some high
noble man and we said, “Certainly sir.” He said, “You’re going my way I hear, through Barnsby.” And away we went. He said, “You know it’s strange,” he said, “the taxis will pull up for you fellows but they won’t pull up for me.” And when we got to where we had to get off and pay our fare he said, “No, no this is on me boys,” and that was just an indication of later on
out here they were going crook on about with our girls and that sort of thing and we did the exactly same thing in damn England. We had more money then the average Pommy soldiers, and out here the average Yanks had more money they we did, those sort of clashes, and naturally they wanted to have a good time.
In a sense you had the same role, you were there to help as reinforcements?
We said to our uncle that night when we got home, and it was a three storey terrace house, and the aunt and the daughter was there staying, a niece of my was staying there and they were moving down to the cellar. We were on the second floor. Bill and I and my uncle was going out, he had his tin hat on and he was going out,
the night the East End was done over very badly and he said, “Will you go down to the cellar?” And I looked at Bill and then I said, “No uncle we will in our room.” I thought that it was the right thing, we were in uniform and we didn’t want to go down any bloody cellar. We said, “Could we help you?” And he said, “Not at the moment, but if we need you I will certainly call.” And they didn’t call and we didn’t get bombed there, a blast blew the blackout
curtain sort of screen and we put that up again and everything was remarkable, how they did it really. The East End was flattened that night, and everything went on that night more or less the same, everybody went on about their business. They go crook about the Brits, they are peculiar people
but they are wonderful people, they were then anyway. I think they still are personally, but that’s a personal thing.
where do you want to go?” We said, “Up north somewhere,” and he said, “Go to Manchester but you get the train and it’s in Pancreas, that train wonders around a bit and you can see the country.” So we did that and we went to Pancreas, and got the train. This was during the war and the Brits were on. There were three classes, first, second and
third. “Travel second class, that’s the way to travel,” so we did. Then I said to Bill, “What’s this button, press for service? What would happen today during the war if we pressed this button?” So we did just for fun and sure enough and old fellow with a bald head and I can see him now. “Yes sir, what can I do for you?” And this was during the bloody war but that stopped soon after that I believe. It was early, this was in 1940 in about
September I suppose, September 1940 and that sort of thing went on. We finished up at Blackpool, which was a watering place and we had a great time at Blackpool, it was still brown out there it was nearly blacked out. They use to all go on their wakes, what they used to call wakes, which is their holidays. The people up north, the northern people
used to have these wakes and they’d save up all through the year and they worked in mills and that sort of thing and they’d save up enough money during the year and then go and have a holiday at Blackpool. An example of that was we got into a boarding house, and old lady there and I can see her now, a tough looking old dame she was. We asked her, “Could we get a room?” And we said, “We’d be here for three or four days,” and we had this lovely room.
As we went down the stairs to go to the pub, it was on the corner of the Manchester Hotel at Blackpool with our gas masks on, because we had to lug this sort of stuff about the two lovely girls in the doorway, and we got talking to them and one of them was the daughter as it turned out of the old mother. I remember saying, “I suppose while we are here you can introduce us to a couple of nice girls?”
One of the girls looked me straight and said, “Good heavens man,” what’s the matter with us? And they were on the Jessie Matthews Show and they were two chorus girls from there, lovely girls. They showed us around the place and they went Dutch – they called it Dutch. We didn’t know what Dutch meant and they said, “We’ll go Dutch,” they said, “you’re earning money, we are earning money, we will share it.” And they showed us everything, they showed us around the place, and we had a ball with those girls. They were lovely.
Then when we were leaving I said to Momma, “What do we owe you, Momma?” And she said, “You don’t owe me anything boy.” I said, “Come on, what’s this about?” And she said, “My daughter and I are very close and she told me how you behaved with her, you didn’t pay anything.” So there you go.
They were good memories those and then of course we were moved off the plains and the winter came and on the plain we were in tents we weren’t in the billets up in Colchester.
they were very comfortable billets they were old houses taken over and each house had so many fellows in it and a cook in the kitchen, and we had a great cook. We did a little bit of training there in Colchester, we trained, a lot of marching and there was a signal office set-up and as I said we had to always had to do our… your duty on the switchboards and if necessary use a
bit of morse but very seldom; we didn’t use much morse really. The wireless fellows did, but I wasn’t on wireless then, I got on to wireless a bit later on. Colchester was very good to me. I went to a dance at the Red Light and I met a nurse… with all the local and we became very close and we had a good time together, Beth and I. She was about the same age as I or maybe just a bit older I think. She was a great person.
We were boy and girlfriend, not lovers but we were very fond of each other and we were thinking of coming to Australia at one stage. We were young and that sort of business and it was very pleasant. She was a nurse at the Colchester hospital and I used to get
the intro into there a bit because of her, go sit in the common room and that sort of thing, that was very very good. Colchester was good memories and the old English Road. We had an officer there who became our CO later on, called Clemenson and he was a Duntroon man and he was very good, he knew his caper and
he tried to keep us fit and that sort of thing and we use to do these route marches. Always when we broke off you’d march for fifty minutes and have a ten minute break that was an army regulation thing, and gradually building up the weight of stuff that you had to carry. Every time we stopped he’d stop just near a little pub and he’d planned out where we’d march and he’d say, “You’ve got ten minutes’ break,” and if wanted to and you had enough money we’d go and have
a beer. The whistle would blow and outs you’d come and away you’d go again. Then you’d go and then damn it you’d be outside another little pub. That was Clemo and we got a lot to do with Demo later on. He died a great soldier – he’s dead now of course. That was our experience there. Then we moved from Colchester. We had Christmas in Colchester and then in January we were disembarked
by train up north again to Glasgow and onto a boat called the Franconia to come back. We came in great convoy, a lot of castle ships and back around the cape again to the Middle East. We were very far north to avoid the things that were cold and we were almost right up to the
Arctic Circle diverted around down to the Atlantic I think and the first port of call was Durban. We got leave at Durban. Then you’d go through the Red Sea and from there to the Middle East. We weren’t the 6th Division any more, we reinforced and we became
the 9th Division, in the meantime they formed the 7th Division and they fought in Syria and the 8th Division of course we know what happened to them, they were the unfortunate ones at Singapore and prisoners of war; it must have been terrible for those poor fellows. We formed the 9th Division and we were in Palestine for a
time, then we moved up to Oleander to the 6th who was coming out of there and they went to Greece and we went up towards them with very little gear and equipment and we went up almost as far as Benghazi and then of course Rommel came into the act.
Let’s back track a little bit, how was that trip from Glasgow to the Middle East? The conditions?
We were on the boat for just on ten weeks, a long journey and the boat itself was very much a troop ship, the Franconia had been an Australian millionaire’s ship. The officers had really good conditions but the troops had shocking conditions on it,
it was really bad. There was almost a riot about food. I just happened to be in that, the mess, and they served us shocking stuff, you just couldn’t eat it, it was like green calf’s liver served cold and the food had been bad. This wasn’t due to the army it was due to the damn shipping companies. They were given so much each. I think we got more than the Pommies did and
the food allowances was a lot more than the Pommies and there were a lot of Pommies on the ship going to India and they’d take it, the poor old Poms, they’d take any discipline they were very strict, but we weren’t taking that sort of rubbish. I remember a group of us and there is always an officer in the mess, a little English officer, I can see him now this poor fellow.
This big burley and I said, “Sir, we consider this food unfit for human consumption,” and the office came along and he had a cane and he turned it over on the plate with his cane and he said, “That’s quite fit, that’s quite fit for human consumption.” I can see the chap now but I don’t remember his name. He said, “Righto, well you bloody well eat it,” and he gagged on it.
So then one of our officers came and they served us something else, but it was dreadful. They tried to get away with it and I have never forgotten it. That was on the Franconia. A part from that the trip was reasonable.
What were your expectations of the Middle East?
We knew that there had been the 6th Division and the Poms had beaten the Italians so we thought we’d go up and be sort of garrisoning there for a time, before we went on probably to somewhere else, that’s what we felt when we went up to the desert. As I said, we didn’t have that great
deal of equipment. We got up, in my case the infantry boys and some of the artillery men had gone forward of course up in that area, and for some reason or other I was picked to go up in a wireless truck. I wasn’t on ‘act sections’ they called it. I was picked out to go with the wireless truck and the sergeant and a couple of other fellows to get
communications back with this wireless in it, in the truck. We set off and away we went and we didn’t get as far as Benghazi. I don’t know exactly where but that’s when Rommel came into the act, He’d been down and they couldn’t stop him, they had nothing to stop him with really. He had tanks and we, when I say we I wasn’t in the front line or anything like that – I was in communications back behind the line.
Of course the next thing was we had to retreat, what they called the ‘Benghazi Handicap’, you probably read about it, it was not actually a panic but it was a run to get back and they couldn’t stop Rommel. It was interesting, the only time I’d been in real action was on the way back. It’s history now that
a couple of generals, I think Neil was one of them I’m not sure. There was O’Connor in the Berwick car they had, on the way back he and the convoy that we were following were diverted, and it was very bravely done by some Germans who had knocked off some Red Cap,
the army police – the British Army police we use to call them Red Cap. They offered to put on their uniforms and stood at a junction and diverted part of the convoy into a truck. We were one of the ones diverted but we were on the end of it and luckily we were stopped, we had run out of petrol – we had cans of petrol but we had stopped to top up the petrol and the convoy got ahead of us.
Later on it was getting dark and we went on to try and find it, when we got to the end of the convoy there was a convoy there with nobody in it. One group of fellows were there just ahead of us and they didn’t quite know what had happened. The rest of the convoy, there it was, and we just went along it in this Berwick car and nobody was there. What had actually happened, and we found out later, was they had entered this
trap and the Germans just came around the side of the trucks and taken them all as prisoners of war, and that was the end of it. We thought the best thing to do was to turn around – we knew that there was something wrong – but it was dark so we decided that we’d wait till first light so that we can get an idea of where we are and then go back the way we came because there was something wrong.
An officer came along, who I wish to be nameless and he said, “No, we will go forward, we want two fellows to volunteer.” We took our truck off the drove, it was sort of a road very rocky and rough and when we took if off it was dark of course, pitch dark, and we led the truck around to where all these trucks were to go. And of course we almost around and then a machine opened up on us, direct fired
right on top of us. Shot the truck up and luckily, and I don’t know why, luckily we kept our senses and you could see the trace of the bullets and they were all very low. So we got back behind the trucks and decided the best thing to do and the firing had stopped by that time and we lost the wireless set and that was shot up and two
boys that were in it, they were taken prisoner later on. I remember somebody singing out, “Does anybody know anything about a Lewis gun?” And I’d been on it for some reason but I don’t know why in England I been on a school of the Lewis gun and they had to get rid of me the truth be known, over the road. I’d handled guns a little bit so I said, “Yes I do.” So I took the gun and we got the truck turned around and we got into the back of the truck and we said that we will wait till first light.
I said to a chap called Jimmy Lesley, I said, “Jimmy, will somebody load for me, will you come over?” There is sort of a drum on the Lewis and you do it by hand and Jimmy said, “Yes, I’ll load.” If we needed to fire and just getting on daylight, a machine gun fired on us
again and I gave a burst just to see if the gun would work. I didn’t know what I was firing at and then a chap was yelling, “To the left, to the left,” and I looked to the left and you could just see where the machine gun was firing on us. Either foolishly I don’t know but I fired on it and of course all of the blokes got out of the truck as quickly as they could and Jimmy, he stayed to load for me and whether I did any good I don’t know. Their firing
stopped and we piled into the truck and it took off back to the way that we had come. Jimmy, who was lying behind me was shot but I didn’t know how but I didn’t have a mark on me. That was the only time in the war that I was under direct fire. And they say you panic, but all I remember was anger. I wasn’t brave, there’s nothing like that in it at all, I was just wild.
I would have killed anybody that was firing on us if I could have, that’s how I felt at the time. How I would have reacted later on I don’t know, I had never come under direct fire like that again but I was shelled and bombed. We got back and finished up with that adventure and ended up at Tobruk.
around there and they took up positions and improved the perimeter which was quite a few miles around Tobruk and made a garrison of it. Of course the Germans came in soon after we left in April, this was April 1942. We went in there in April and not long after Rommel came and had a sweet idea the tanks would come and take Tobruk.
The powers at be were thinking a bit ahead of him at that stage in what they called a cauldron really in Tobruk was a, up from the harbour and along and flat and a scarp with about a mile and a half or two miles back, up the escarpment and then flat desert out and then drop,
dropped of the escarpment into a flat plain and out there with the tank traps and barbed wire all set up with the infantry and the artillery between and so on and so forth. They thought he’d come through a certain area, and they told the infantry to allow the tanks to come through because they didn’t have many anti tank guns
at that time, they did have artillery and they concentrated the artillery on this certain area and the tanks did come as I thought they would and they allowed them to come through. I’m telling you this now from what I’ve read and been told over the years. I wasn’t there, I was back at headquarters on a wireless set at this time. Then the infantry attacked, the infantry that had passed
and the artillery opened up on the tanks in this area, and of course the tanks milled about and anyway to cut a long story short the tanks were defeated. A lot of prisoners were taken and that was really the first that defeated the Lip screen thing had and from then on, through the months we were there it was just the matter of the infantry patrolling, getting food in of course into Tobruk. They tried to
bomb Tobruk out of existence of course with the Stuka bombers but that didn’t work. We use to sit and watch the show, the bombing and that sort of thing, it was a remarkable experience really, but as far as I was concerned I stayed on wireless because I had been on wireless when I come back from Benghazi and I stayed on wireless for a time. It was only a matter of communication to keep in contact,
we didn’t use it a great deal but it was there if it was necessary to use it. I remember going out and there were machine guns taking a set out there for communication, setting up and you were getting communication with your headquarters but that’s about all you did. You had to maintain the set and every hour or so you’d be in communications
and as far as I was concerned it wasn’t used a great deal for communication, we had line communications.
Could you describe that experience with us?
Not really. In my experience we went out in September I think and we had to wait until no moon, a pitch dark night, because the harbour was still being strafed with the Stukas and that sort of business. We had to line up on an old wreck which was used as a wharf and then the destroyers would come in with ammunition
and food and things like that, but ammunition would be mainly on the destroyers. On the old wreck they’d drop planks and would unload the ammunition and then load on the wounded people to go out and that was the routine. When they were taking us out and I was very near the front of the queue that was waiting on the wharf and it was
pitch dark. The first thing that I knew you could hear the propellers and this great destroyer would come in on its own steam with no tugs. They brought it in and pulled it up along the side of this wharf for twenty minutes and they dropped a plank down one end and we went on and then after twenty minutes the planks were pulled up and then it went out on it’s own stream out into the roads. Off down
weaving and waving but the efficiency of the navy was unbelievable there because we had to go down below with all the stench of the oil and that was pungent and some of use would have been sick. They had announced that they had put a safety rail up and those who had wished could go on deck and stay on deck, which I did and the majority of us did. There was a safety rail put around
because the thing was whispering around to avoid attacks and that sort of thing. Then they said the sailors had decided that we hadn’t had any fruit juice or that for ages and they opened their canteen for us and we had the first drink, we had fruit juice and that sort of thing
on that boat going down to Alex [Alexandria]. The next morning we pulled into Alex. It was remarkable how they did it, that was only one extreme, I was only one of thousands of blokes that they took off. Right through the Tobruk history the navy and how they kept us supplied that was remarkable, what they called the potato run and these little boats. There was this one bloke that had a tanker,
imagine coming into a harbour like that with a tanker full of petrol and that sort of thing, but they did it and it was remarkable.
was exposed to flies and God knows what, but they were used to it. Although Ron a mate of mine used to say, “If it didn’t kill them it wouldn’t kill us,” but I didn’t fancy it anyway, we didn’t indulge in it much at all. At one stage we did, we were in Lebanon and we wanted to befriend a lad and we got him a job on the railway, they were building a railway though,
the New Zealand railway company was connecting the railway from Beirut through to Tripoli and join up the line right around – there was a gap in it in those days and they built the railway. There were thousands and thousands of peasants that were employed on it, and they had to have people who could
control them, and things like that, like foremen. To get a job like that was wonderful and Ron was introducing this fellow who could speak English, an Arab lad, to his sergeant and the sergeant got him a job and it was a very good job in comparison. When we went back, at one stage he met the lad in Tripoli and he said his father wanted us to go and thank Ron. His father was
sort of a carrier, he had a couple of camels and he had a couple of wives and they lived in a stone house about the size of this room or a bit bigger. He took us there… the son and the old man gave us a little banquet, which consisted off mutton I think, and rice and we sat around a very low table and was served in a
bowl and you all helped yourself with your hands. We estimated that that little thanking Ron would have cost that man about one month’s of his income. He didn’t speak a bit of English, his wives didn’t… they served us and had the veil, they were Muslims and a couple of kiddies running around I remember. It was a remarkable experience of the kindness of
that old man and he wanted to thank Ron and me of course for what he had done. The lad, his lad interpreted and I remember making a remark that the old man of course took literally and this little girl, about twelve years old, and she went and got some cigarette papers which the old man insisted on paying for. I had run out of papers and she went to the village which was just near there.
I just happened to remark, “That’s a lovely little girl, I’d like to take her back to Australia,” and the old man asked the son and the son with tongue in check and must have said that it could be arranged. They took it literally that they could do that, it would have been a wonderful thing. The son had to explain that I meant it as a child not as a wife,
but still that was how it was.
We got a bit of good advice coming out from England, and old Indian army doctor and he had to give us lectures on VD [Venereal Disease] and this sort of thing. I remember it as though it was yesterday and he said, “Look, it’s no good me telling you fellows not to do it, young men aren’t supposed to tell you these things. Don’t you tell me that you won’t. But look, my advice is
when you come out of action the first thing you do, before you get on the grog a group of you go and see the brothels, then go and get drunk.” I remember when we came out of Tobruk and went on leave there was a group of us and we thought it would be great to get on the grog. One bloke said,
“Let’s go while we are sober and had a look.” We went sober and that was the end of it and we didn’t want it. Then you’d been, you’d seen and you didn’t bother about it. But then when you got on the grog, you got on the grog. In Beirut it was a little bit different, the set-up there was a bit nicer, a bit more
civilised and of course I didn’t do anything like that, I didn’t believe in that sort of thing.
How long were you in Lebanon for?
About five months I think if I remember rightly and these dates wont be clear, but we were there for sometime until Rommel broke through and came down. I’m just trying to think of the dates, we are right into 1941, into 1942. In about February
or March 1942 around about that time Rommel broke through and came right down almost to Cairo and he was stopped at Alamein. Then we were to came home, our government was screaming for us to come home. Then Churchill asked could we stay and of course when that happened they allowed us to stay and go to Alamein and we left Lebanon and went down by convoy.
We had vehicles of course by then, down right from Lebanon right down through Palestine straight into Alexandria and the infantry went straight into the line at Alamein. That was hell. At that time that was when Montgomery came into it and they had been messed around on the desert
and they had lost Tobruk over that period of time. How disgusted they were about Tobruk and then Montgomery made a remarkable difference. As soon as he came on the scene it was sort of a feeling, even to the little troops like me, even to the little fellows. He had that something, it was a remarkable thing, he took over and I’ve got his messages there they
may only be short. He sent a message to everybody, a radio thing, I’ve got them here and if I may?
with a wireless again, with a group called Air Support Control. The idea was to go up and give support to the 8th army when they drove along right back almost to Benghazi and we followed them up in sort of a strange business it was, about six of us under a sergeant, by Sergeant Ross and he was killed later. When we got up there, after going through staging camps and all that business,
then we weren’t needed so we had to get back again and we had no transport. We came back across the desert with a South African survey crowd, we happened to have striked them. We came back with them straight across the desert and that was an extra experience that I had of the desert. As I say, getting back we went back down right through to Alamein and the infantry went straight into the line
and we were back behind of course and set up communications and that sort of business went on. Then Monty came on, and the first message that he had sent to everybody, everybody got a copy of it, I did have the copies but I’ve lost them somewhere. This is how I think and I suppose everybody felt, nothing had changed. This is Monty’s special message
and there were two of them, the first one was from the first Alamein. “The enemy is now attempting to break through our positions in order to reach Cairo, Suez and Alexandria and to drive us from Egypt. The 8th army barged the way, it carries a great responsibility and the whole future
of the war will depend on how we will carry out our tasks. We will fight the enemy where we stand and there will be no withdrawal and no surrender. Every officer and man must continue to do his duty as long as he has breath in his body. If each one of you
does his duty, then it cannot fail. The opportunity will then occur to take defence of ourselves and to destroy once and for all the enemy that faces us in Egypt. To battle them with stout hearts with determination to do our duty
and may God give us the victory.” That was the first message. Then as I say we stopped Monty, when I say we the whole 8th Army with the South Africans, Australians, British the Indians the whole box and dice a great army. Then we waited and we saw from where we were
and we set up communications and saw the various battles going on but generally speaking he tried to break through and then stopped. The equipment started to arrive and there was a build up of equipment over the
various months, it was a stalemate. Then came the time when Montgomery thought that we would be ready. Here is the second personal message from the army commander. “When I assumed command of the 8th Army it was said that the mandate was to destroy Rommel and his army and that we were to be done as soon as we were ready.
We are ready now. The battle which is now about to begin will be one of the decisive battles of history and it will be determined for it of the war. The eyes of the world will be on us watching anxiously which way the battle will swing. We can tell them at once, it will swing our
way. We have first class equipment, good tanks, good anti tank guns, plenty of artillery and plenty of ammunition to see us through to fight and to kill and finally to win. If we all do this there can only be one result. We will hit the enemy for six right out of North Africa. The sooner we win this battle, which will be the turning point of
the war, the sooner we shall all get home to our families. Therefore that every officer and man enters the battle with a stout heart and the determination to do his duty so long as he has breath in his body and let no man surrender so long as he is unwounded and can fight. Let us all pray that the Lord almighty in battle will give us victory.”
You think you could imagine how that would inspire anybody, even the lowest level, which I was one of the lowest levels. I think that was the feeling right through the army. We did win the great battle and that was the turning point, the first time that the Germans had been turned.
one role was during one of the great barrages, there was a tremendous barrage, artillery barrage is the hook up and in order to do barrages properly each regiment has to be hooked up so as supply orders can be given by the commander which are CRAs [Commander Royal Artillery] as we called them. It was worked out that they would put barrages over
the front of the infantry as the infantry moved in. To insure that the firing orders and the way that they fire is all coordinated. My job on one of those was to be on the main switch and the job was simple enough. I was dug in and the important part was when the commander wanted to give firing orders
he would ring the board and tell you that the fire orders were coming and I would get in contact with each of the regiments that what were in my field or section, which was about five. You kept them and identified yourself and said that the fire orders were coming and then you’re job was to monitor to make sure those orders were going through and they were all in contact so that each one would know.
That was one of the main jobs that I felt that I did, I know that a girl could have done it, I’m not making a big thing about it, but you had to be sure of that. The interesting thing was at the side, in using the side was also on the board was our Morshead and he was on the board too, but during the fire order
the commander of the artillery had priority on that board and I was told, which was logical, “Keep your plug in to make sure that everybody was getting though.” During one of these fires the red light of one of the COs came on, and I didn’t answer it and I waited and waited and the fire order took some time.
During that time he must of got impatient the old boy and he must of got in touch with one of the officers and down they came into the dug out to see what was going on. When he saw what was going on the old boy knew that I had done the right thing. The officer said, “How long has this boy been on?” And I said, “I’ve been there for about five hours or so.” And the old general said,
“You see that he’s relieved soon,” so that was an interesting little aside that went on along the lines. Apart from that the other jobs were the boys were in contact with their other wireless sets and the linemen were out and preparing lines and making sure that was kept up, the whole thing was working.
What was the general sort of impression of him among the troops?
Wonderful, they had great confidence in him. A strange man and somebody thought that he was a homosexual, but that was rubbish but he was certainly homosocial, he loved his men. I’ve read his histories of course and everything I could read of him and I’m only quoting what I’ve read since the war but I didn’t know about it then.
He was a strange little man, like generals were to us then, or what I felt of him then. I didn’t meet the man of course, I saw him but I didn’t meet him actually. But in reading his life he was fully devoted to the army, and the army was his life. He was born in Tasmania, so he was really an Australian, born of British parents
and his father was a minister. He married, he had a happy marriage but a very tragic death of his wife and his son, who I met at Alamein this time, Viscount Montgomery, and I shook hands with him and had a bit of a yarn. He surrounded himself with young officers, very talented
young officers because he couldn’t stand, which wasn’t patriotic. He virtually loved those fellows, and he loved his troops and I think that was the homosocial of the man but to say that he was homosexual that was bloody rubbish. In any of the readings of him, or anything of the things that he did it just wasn’t there, but he was a strange man which men like that have to be I think.
Little martinets but he knew his caper.
and was first in action Churchill didn’t want him to have the command but the chap who was to take it was shot down by air on his way to take it. I can’t think of his name just off the cuff now. So Monty then got the job. I believe as the story goes, he was on his way and he said
to one of his aids, “A terrible thing, terrible to think all the work, all the years of study, notoriety and the power and to finish in defeat.” The chap said, “Hey Monty, it’s not as bad as that.” Monty said, “I’m not thinking of myself, I’m talking about Rommel.” He knew
he was that sort of fellow and he was better than Rommel and that was his attitude but of course a lot of people didn’t like him. Obviously from reading, a lot of people didn’t like him but he had that strange manner I suppose so there you go. We as troops, and as far as I know and I’ve never hear anybody actually in, and I know lots of people who weren’t always had something to say, the people that were actually there at Alamein
had anything to do with Monty. Later on I met some of them later, we were pulled out after Alamein as you know and we came home. They wanted us to go forward but of course they wanted us home here, which I suppose is the right thing but I don’t know. The generals went forward, and I haven’t heard one man that had anything to do with his army who would speak one word against Montgomery.
had their instructions to do certain things. If the linemen had laid there lines and they maintained them and they were cut to pieces and they had to go out and repair them and I’ve got an amusing story about that that happened at Tobruk that may be interesting. A chap called Murphy was a lineman, but in Tobruk there were tremendous dust storms terrific dust storms and you couldn’t see in front of you.
This particular night Murphy was sent out because a line was out and he had to find the break. What they use to do was go out with a handset and follow the line and try and find the break. Murphy got lost, but he found the line and plugged into the line and rung the hand and rang up on the switchboard and answered, “Who’s that?”
“Where am I?” And the bloke at the division said, “It’s division here, who’s that?” “It’s Murphy.” “Oh, where are you Murphy?” And he said, “I’m damned if I know. But what line is this one?” And we told him that line it was on the such and such line. Then came a voice, “I say, you’re interrupting my conversation, who’s that there interrupting my conversation?” Murphy said out in the dust storm lost
“And who might you be?” He said, “It’s Wing Commander Black.” We had no air force in Tobruk at that stage and Murphy quick as a flash said, “Oh, a Wing Commander and not a feather to fly with.” And Blacky told this story against himself quite often I believe, it was taken and it was so quick, “a wing commander with not a feather to fly with,” but that’s aside.
in the army at that time you don’t let your mates down. I think that would applied, I may be contradicted on this but I don’t think so, I think an infantryman would tell you the same thing. Right in the front, the infantry blokes and they would probably say the same thing, and the main thing was not to let your mates down and I do think they would say that but I maybe wrong. There may have been some infantrymen or you may have done so but I don’t know, but I think
that’s what they would say. I was attached to an infantry crowd at one stage of the game and that was the feeling. They in turn although I was only a headquarter bloke really and they were attached, their concern was for me, they thought I did a good job because I stayed on my set which they protected and they protected me really I keep the communications going and what a good job that was. Here I was and they were protecting
me, they were doing the damn fighting and exposing themselves but that was the way that it was looked upon, that was the way that you did the job generally speaking. You get views of different views but I think the blokes that are really in the thing would agree with that, with what I’m saying.
What did you know about the war up in the Islands and the Pacific at that stage?
Only what we’d been told and what we had read. You kept in touch pretty well, there were these various battles that went on and about Kokoda and we’d met some of the boys who had been on Kokoda and we met some of them coming back so the news went around. There was always the furphies of course with the different things that had gone on but there was a bit of a turn with the war since Alamein, the war had turned a bit in our favour.
Things had been terrible before with the loses and the defeats that had gone on and the loss of Singapore. Then of course the Yanks came into the war, that was a big thing. When we came home the Yanks were here and I had mentioned that before about the fellows being very crook on the Yanks, but we had done exactly the same with those who had been to England. I found the Yanks to be reasonably okay. They were here and they had been back from the Guadalcanal
and we came back from leave, they came back from the Guadalcanal and they were here at the show ground. They were around there with their lovely uniforms and we were in our old baggy stuff and I got engaged on that leave. One of the Yanks picked my girlfriend, fiancé, up at the Town Hall or attempted too, and he was a very nice lade he was. I remember this was my first wife
and she was waiting for me on the corner at the Town Hall and he just said “What was she doing?” Just saying the things that you would to try and pick up a nice girl. She said, “I’m waiting for my fiancé.” And he said, “I better get out of the road.” And she said, “No, if you want to stay I think he would like to meet you.”
He had the guts and he said “Oh,” and she said, “Don’t be like that,” and he was a soldier who had just come back from the Middle East. When I went there he was a big fellow and he didn’t know what to say and Roma said, “This American tried to pick me up and I’d like you to meet him.” I said to him, “I like your taste,” and I said, “you’ve given me a compliment.” And he said, “Why’s that digger?” And I said, “She’s not bad is she?”
And I said, “You’ve got good taste.” And we said, “What are you doing with yourself because we are going to have dinner, what about coming? I can’t afford to shout you but if you’d like to come you can.” So he came to dinner with us and he was nice, and as you say they are all different types. It was how you took it. I found them just like we were, I didn’t find the Yanks much different to us. We served with them later,
those jungle fighters in New Guinea they did a lot of equipment and they were used to all this equipment and it was different to what we had, and we did it much harder in a sense but they did it hard in the terrific losses they had later on up through the islands. When they did anything
we did one particular thing with them when we did a landing, they took us in the water transport group and they were great, they’d just land us were we had to go and they did their job, which we would have I think. We spoke the same language and I have a lot of time for the Yanks. I’ve always had a fair bit of time for them. They were just removed from us and it was unfortunate that we lost America back over
stupidity in the old days. Otherwise America would have been a part of the same thing, they were the same people and they came from the same places, a good majority of them.
Did you feel that this point that Australia itself was under threat?
By the time we got back I think that the threat was just about over, by the time that we got back from the Middle East. I wasn’t here during any of that time so I can’t really have an opinion on that. But I do feel that they did feel very threatened and only from reading now of course I know that they did. As far as I was concerned at that time we were out of it and we were over there. A lot of people thought that we shouldn’t have been there in a sense.
People would say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have been over there, you should have been here to protect your home.” Of course we didn’t know that when we joined up and that was different all together. People would say, “Britain let us down,” but what could they do? Churchill let us down but when you look at it logically you feel what the hell could they do? They were in that much trouble themselves and there had been some terrible
mistakes that were made. Singapore for argument’s sake, but still who was to know, it happened what was the good of two nations. I think that we were very lucky, I think that the Western world was very lucky to get out of it but of course that’s history.
We stand in the dark and we were to land at just about dawn and we had trained for this about how to get on and off these things and what gear to take on and what gear you take off, that was all trained. Then when the run in came fortunately the landing beaches were shelled by our destroyers
and the ships out at sea, and fortunately there was no resistance to the landing, only by air. Our particular landing craft was strafed by Zeros and a few blokes were killed. One barge was bombed and went astray a bit and that sort of thing. But generally speaking the landing was unopposed and then of course the infantry had gone ahead and established the
areas and we came behind to do our old job again but this time in a different way. We had to establish communications and that was all done on foot and of course the transport came later and the roads had to be put through. The roads, because we were down the coast and it was a different sort of a war altogether from the desert warfare, more of a closed sort of a thing.
As I say I wasn’t in the infantry, so I didn’t face any great dangers there, a bit of bombing and that sort of thing.
bad and as I said earlier they had difficulty getting them out, that was solved by some of these clever fellows. The dampness was a damn nuisance, the wet all the time, but later on they got the sig trucks up into areas and they got them off the things and then they operated mainly from these trucks. When the war was stable they got over the Owen Stanleys pretty well and I wasn’t on that session then
but I was there and all the boys use to send all the stuff in code and under very difficult receiving conditions because there was no lights and that in those days because it all bounced off the atmosphere. They did a good job though all this crackle and squeak and things and it was remarkable and I think they did a marvellous job. Of course they couldn’t stop, they
just had sets that could send and if they didn’t get some of it you just had to go back over it and stop it then or in flight as it were in those sets but later on with the heavy sets you could but not on those sets. You just gave in code and you could hear all the squeaks and crackle and that was it, but they got use to it in the end. The wireless people were used more in New Guinea than they were in the desert,
they were pretty busy boys the wireless boys and they survived it all right. Then of course we had to move then, the next move then was onto Finschhafen, which I wasn’t in, we had another landing which was Finschhafen. In that landing I was left behind again, not left behind I was
to do my job in the rear party of the advance party.
they had psychiatric officers and that sort of a thing too, I suppose for that purpose and they were around the place somewhere along the line. The officers were just the same as we were but the only difference was he was a good officer and he knew more about the caper if he was a good officer then that was what it was all about. If you were good at something and like in my case, and as I mentioned earlier I wasn’t particularly skilled. I had to leave school very
early due to the Depression and I had to get a job and I hadn’t been interested in the army, but I was good at morse I could read and send morse so I was fitted in there. Had I gone to the infantry I probably could have been made a corporal or a sergeant, because I knew a bit about rifles, I’d been brought up with
guns but that’s supposing but I was quite content with that. I wasn’t a potential officer, I don’t think I had the necessary education or schooling to do the certain things that an officer had to do, you had to be pretty good. If you were a good officer you had to learn things pretty quickly, learn about map reading and handling of men.
I found in civilian life the handling of men very easy because I ran a factory for years, but in the army I was younger and I don’t think that I was quite equipped for that. I don’t think I was a born leader but I got on all right, I didn’t have any problems, but I was quite content on going along doing what I did.
that didn’t know his job very well but he was a good bloke. There were some very popular officers that could take it of course. An example, there was this chap going along, but this didn’t happen to me but a mate of mine told me they were stationed at (UNCLEAR) for years at Milne Bay and Jeff became my partner in business later and one of the jokes he used to say was there was this chap going
past the officers’ quarters and holding forth about this so and so officer and he said the so and so said so and so and the officer was up on a sort of on a balcony place and he sang out and said, “Mr so and so to you governor.” He was popular, he had that sense of humour, instead of reporting him for swearing you can image what he had said it wasn’t Mr so and so.
The priest that said, “I want you all to come to church…” he was very Irish… “I want you all to come to church and come to my services on a Sunday and I want all you Protestants to come too because if you don’t come there will be no bastard there,” and things like that amused you.
“I hear this dreadful word…” when he was giving his sermon… “I hear this dreadful word all the time everywhere I go I hear this dreadful word, it’s a four letter word and it annoys me and if some of you buggers would go and do it occasionally I wouldn’t mind so much but it’s the potential hearing of it that’s getting me down.” They were the funny sides, there was a lot of humour.
depending on where you were. A lot of chaps were buried in the case of the handicap and Jimmy and we took him to the nearest infantry unit taking up positions as we were withdrawing, they were taking up positions to hold at a point. The officer came and they dug a shallow grave and we wrapped him in a blanket and we put him down but there was no padre there to give a service.
We took his identification discs off and we have them, the officers takes one and we take the other one and you make some sort of an indication of where you are going to bury him and you get two pieces of wood and make a bit of a cross, so for later on when the war is over or that area is cleared the graves department unit they come and removed those graves into an area.
Like in the case of my mate’s, his grave is in Tobruk now, at the Tobruk cemetery but much later on they go and find all those areas, where they can and of course a lot of them weren’t found, a lot of them weren’t found but a lot were. That was another job that the blokes did, or that they had to do.
the boy that intended on getting married they got me on the advance party. So we came down through various… the Liberty ship to one of the ports along the way and down by train. We came down by train to Melbourne and I got married on that leave. The division came down and came
on leave and during my honeymoon I came down with malaria. Then I was in Heidelberg hospital. With malaria you were violently sick almost until you were unconscious but then you came good and they gave you treatment in about twelve or fourteen days you were right again.
In my case, and in lots of other cases too, you would go out and continue your leave and then you’d go over again and this went on in my case for about eight weeks, that’s why I never went away again, I was fortunate. The division went away then and did the Borneo show but I didn’t go to that, I was just in and out of hospital.
The division came down on leave and I met the boys down here and then my leave had finished and I had to go through staging camps, which were things that you would avoid if you could. There was no division up north to go back to, so I would have just messed around in staging camps. I thought I was in Royal Park, which is a depot here
but I happened to meet an officer there and he heard my name and he said to me, “Ballard do you have a brother?” And I said, “Yes.” My brother had, much later, had been up in New Guinea and he was older than me and he was also an officer. He said, “He had done me a great favour and what can I do to help you?” And I said, “If you can give half a day’s leave
it would be a great favour.” He said, “Why,” and I said, “Because I think I can meet some officers in Melbourne and I might be able to get a note to stay here in Melbourne and then go by to my division,” which took place. He had arranged for me to get a pass and I went down to Melbourne and I met one of the officers down at the Old Sydney Club Hotel where we used to eat and drink. He wrote a note recommending that I remain here
until the division went up and he got me another extra week’s leave to stay, and that worked. During that time I went down with malaria again and was in Heidelberg again and everybody was there then, half of the 7th Division was there hundreds of them were down with malaria. The hospital was too full so they sent a hospital train into the station here and I remember it coming into Heidelberg
and we all went from there to Bonegilla. During that period at Bonegilla I was pretty crook at this time and I think that a lot of us were, we had a stomach-full of it really, and the war looks like running out. I was ready to march out and then an old officer, and old doctor came out inspecting some of us and he said to me, “How do you feel?” I said, “I’m not as good as
what I was, sir.” We had service severance on us and he said, “You’ve had a lot of service, young fellow,” he said, “all the best,” and away he went. A bit later on there was a very officious sergeant major there, that had never been away but they were like that, they liked to order us about.
My name was called out and I answered and he said, “You’re wanted at the board, why aren’t you down there?” And I said, “I didn’t ask for any board.” And he said, “Well your name’s down so get down there.” To cut a long story short I was marched in and there was this old doctor sitting there at his desk he said “take your coat off,” so I took my coat off and he said “put your hands out.” He said, “You don’t feel to good?” And I said,
“not as good as I should be.” He said, “Could you get yourself placed in Melbourne?” And I said, “Certainly I could, I could go to a place on heavy wireless, I know a Colonel Hooker.” He had been one of our officers and he was down here on one of our wirelesses. He said, “Right, B Class for six months,” and he grinned and he said, “I wish I could do that for all of you boys, but I cant you’re the lucky ones.” I came down and I was in and out
of hospital and I was still crook but I went to heavy wireless and we worked very successfully there for some time. I got living at home allowance, but I never went away again. The heavy wireless was quite interesting really, we used to work real work then. It was on the code stuff the heavy wireless and they use to transmit us out to Rockbank and the receivers were at Diggers Rest or vice versa.
Very powerful sets, we used to leave our earphones, or at least I did on the desk and most of the transmitting was done through what they called ‘ticker tape’, a very fast automatic morse and anybody could read it but it was recorded on a ticker tape machine and that was pasted and then transcribed. In those days there were no satellites and it was all off the atmosphere and at certain times the communications was that bad that
the automatic stuff wouldn’t work, it was just a blur, so then we would work it manually. For some time I worked Washington manually at night and we use to shift a lot of traffic that way, all in code. It was easy, because you could stop the bloke, if you missed something you could stop him but you couldn’t on those wirelesses that we had. I was there until I broke, which is what they call signalers when
your nerves go and you couldn’t send properly, instead of sending four dots you’d send five. On this particular night I was there and I’d been crook with the malaria again and I was a bit browned off, and I broke a bit. But fortunately there was one of our officers and he was up, a bloke called Mitchell of fairly high rank, a captain I think. The sergeant in charge reckoned I was putting something on
but I wasn’t. So I said, “Get Captain Mitchell,” and Mitchell came down and had me removed and I didn’t go on wireless again. I did a little bit on record for a while. I then met a chap in Melbourne and he was on the manpower thing and he said, “How are you going?” And I said, “The war’s nearly over and I’ve had it, could you get a claim in for me, a Manpower
claim?” Which he did and I went back to my old job and that came through after a while and I got out of the army.
that they’d dropped the bomb, the two bombs. Then publishing that Japan had capitulated just in the newspaper. I was out of the army then. In the army then I guess the same thing would apply. Though had I been on communications I would have known more, through it. You get quite a bit of information of the cipher boys. The cipher boys were down to strict secrecy of course, particularly at Grosvenor, two of the cipher boys would have been in our division.
Down at Grosvenor at the times I was there. They had been there and you’d be on duty, taking these dozens of messages time after time and they’d be deciphering them and you’d hear someone say, “How am I going on Washington?” And they’d reply, “Oh good, no worries.” If you weren’t receiving it well then you’d problems, the signals would be wrong and they’d have problems to
decipher it, but generally speaking in my case, “Goodo, no worries.” You’d know then and go back after a break with confidence and you almost got to know the fellow at the other end by his signals. All beautiful equipment down here in Melbourne, you were sitting at a desk and the signals were so clear,
but some of them reckoned it wasn’t. We were so used to trying, so that was it.
civilised. They were civilised men, Rommel’s men, and Rommel himself. It was fought in a very decent sort of a way. The blokes that were taken prisoner from the front area, they were looked after on both sides.
As they got back further things got more difficult I believe, blokes were taken and some of my mates were taken to Germany. The Japs were different all together, they were human. They believed, of course as you very well know to die in battle was a glorious thing, which you can’t but that was how they were brought up. They wouldn’t give in, they were fanatics,
so you could image what it was like, but not in my case personally because I didn’t have to front up to it. Those fellows who did, my mates in these units you dared go near a Jap that was wounded because he might blow you and himself up if you got near him, it was a different sort of set-up altogether. And the terrible things they did of course to prisoners,
it was dreadful. We didn’t know much about that, we did know about the prisoners to a degree but we hated them for that reason. But then again you have got to look at the other side. The Japs did terrible things, now we know what the terrible things that the Hitler regime did, the Polish and that sort of thing, we didn’t know about that, it was a terrible thing. We knew
and that’s why we thought that we did the right thing, and we’d do it again. But in the Japanese case it was a different story, he was just a dreadful enemy. Unfortunately I still feel a little bit that way towards them, but the Japanese people today are different, thank goodness, through common sense I feel.
They didn’t hound, they built Japan up and they didn’t do the mistake that German made after the First World War, they didn’t put them down. They brought them up and I think that was a wise thing to do. Otherwise they would have been enemies forever. I don’t think they are now, I think they are a westernised nation. I haven’t been to Japan, I know people who have been,
trade with them and that sort of thing but I think that feeling that they had is dying out. I’m not sure and we can’t be sure. We just hope that there’s no confrontation and I don’t think there will be, but who knows.
there was a different attitude. I didn’t stay very long in that job, I stayed a while. Fortunately I got offered a much better job and I came back worse off then when I had left. I was on very good wages comparatively, but when I came back the wages had gone up during the war, comparatively I
wasn’t much better off then the ordinary fellow at all. I got an offer to another job which I took, that was a very big lift and I remember my hair standing up on end when I got the offer. I got the drum, it was in the trade, it was in the same trade, but a different category, I was in charge of a lot of women as a matter of fact on big machinery and
it was very very good. I didn’t like it, it was like a driver’s job and I wasn’t sort of made that way, I was a foremen of about one hundred women. The management was very tough and they expected a pound for a pound and that sort of thing which I wasn’t use too. I lasted nearly three years in it and I made a success of it but then I had the opportunity to get out into a management job which I did
and that was all right for a time until one of the cartels which I wish to be nameless in this. Then that became almost unbearable, the jealousy and God knows what. Then a mate and I who was running this plant decided to have a go at our own. We did and on a shoestring we started our own plant and we were successfully
there for a good number of years. It was much different, I always felt and the attitude today is much different. I felt to employ people it should be looked upon it as a privilege. It’s all good enough to employ people I felt and it’s very old fashioned and it doesn’t work today I know. I felt that you were sort of responsible for those people. The people that worked to us in our factory we felt that way, we
conducted them that way. I felt responsible for them, and of course the unions were difficult too. The unions are very necessary, no doubt about that, we know that. But in our case they use to get a bit unreasonable. After about sixteen years we manufactured and then we decided that things were getting tougher and the wages were getting so high we decided
to wind the business up. My partner went with another friend of ours to a firm and I took some plant and went on my own in the business that I was in for the following thirty five years. I employed one fellow doing patterns for footwear and I was in that and I was happy there doing it on my own, and I did quite well, reasonably well.
You can do things. I can play golf occasionally, there were none of these pressures. The way that the industry is I don’t think that I could stand it today, the way they carry on and you don’t know who’s up who and who’s your aunty from what I hear. As it went on in my case they
gradually took tariffs off, through Button, remember me talking about the level playing field? All a lot of damn rot of course but as soon as they took tariffs off how can you compete with employing people here against people over in Indonesia with their traveling so quickly today on a shoestring, but that’s what’s happening. The industry
is just about non-existent really. All the manufacturing is just about done off shore, because off shore is a popular word. The clothing industry is the same, those industries employ a tremendous amount of people, but they are virtually non-existent now. What happens in the future, if they sub it again and these countries that are doing the work and we go to war with them, who’s going to make…
have the knowledge of making these things. Perhaps the world is a different place, which it is. I got out when I was eighty only a few years ago, and there was no room for two of us, I employed a chap for about thirty five years and he was with me. I thought this was no good, there was hardly enough work for the both of us, so I handed the plant over
to him and I got out. I was old enough to get the pension and I had a bit of money, and here I am now just enjoying my final years.
few beers and talk about old times. Yes, I always went to those sorts of things but I wasn’t a great one of this old soldier business, I don’t believe in that. To a degree I’m quite proud of what I’ve done in a sense and I did what I’d thought I’d do but I think some of them carry on a bit too much and they haven’t gotten over it. The old Colonel Jessie he’s never got over the war, that’s fair enough I suppose,
but it’s over, it’s finished, it’s a thing of the past. There’s been other wars and other things. The experience was great, I think that experience was good. I don’t regret it at all. Those that got injured badly of course that’s a sadness, those that got sick and injured and killed it’s a sadness. My best mate, my first wife’s brother, he wanted to join up with me
but his father, bless him, wouldn’t sign his papers so he waited and it’s through him that I married Roma. He said to me when I was going away, “I’ll be joining later, but if anything every happens to me look after Sis because she’s very fond of you.” We used to go out together, he and I used to muck around together a lot. He joined the air force later when he could
and got into Number 2 Squadron and was shot down over Admiral, killed, so that’s fate. Had he joined me, he might be sitting here with me today, he may not of been who knows but he didn’t and of course the old man always regretted not signing his papers earlier. I used to say
to him, “That’s fate,” and he joined the air force in the Number 2 Squadron in the old Hudsons that knocked the hell out of you up in Darwin. He’s one of those, Brian. Funny enough his brother just died recently and he had his medals and I still see my first wife, and my son lives with her and I still see her every Sunday. Bob had his medals, so I had them mounted under his
photograph, under Brian’s photograph.
of our association. We have an association the 9th Division Association, that kept going but not through me – but if it had to have been left for me it would never had happened. It was very good and kept in touch, every unit association kept going and they marched every year and we have a reunion every year and that sort of thing. I got a ring from Stan who is the secretary now, he was interested in this business of returning to Alamein
after sixty years. I said, “No, Stan I couldn’t go, I couldn’t even afford it.” He said, “No, this is on the house. I’ve got a letter asking to nominate somebody to go,” and I said, “If you can nominate and you wish,” but not thinking for a moment I’d be picked out and neither did they I think. There were two from our unit, an ex-officer chap who is our president now and
I were picked out. In the selection committee I was picked and I went for a medical and I flew though that, and that’s how I came to go, it was just out of the blue, I didn’t have any idea. It was a very very great trip, it was wonderful really a bit rushed. Everything was top class and we traveled in the best of accommodation. We traveled
with Singapore Airlines in business class in top hotels and our ex Governor General was there with us. We met Cosgrove at the dinner at the mess in Sydney, it was very well conducted up to Alamein where it had all happened. It is quite a bit different
today from back then of course, but the desert is still the same. It had been built on right up from Alexandria almost right up to where Alamein was and right along the coast. Buildings and holiday homes, and of course Cairo is a tremendous noisy place now, it was even in our day there are sixteen million people in Cairo and the noise and that is terrific. We were conducted around the place by bus,
Major General Paul Stevens, and he was a great guy, he was in charge of it and he’s a DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs], he’s now in charge of the DVA now Stevens and he was great. We had a nurse with us, she was a wonderful nurse.
A doctor, and she was a female doctor with us, a nurse, a doctor and an administration lady who was marvellous and she handled everything, all the passports and everything was handled and they were remarkable. They did a remarkable job.
was in the machine gun battalion and we went to the graves at Alamein and they are all beautifully kept and that now. He found the graves of thirty five from his unit and I only found a couple because there weren’t that many casualties in the signals. I found one from
Alexandria, there is a cemetery there too, the Oloptus I think they call it. We went there and we went up and went to the services and we went to the Italian memorial, a big service there. We also
went to the German memorial, there is a little note there that I have mentioned before and which I think is worth mentioning. Paul said to us, “Would you like to go to the German memorial?” We said, “We’ve got a bit of time,” so we got into the bus and it was a few miles up the road. I’m going up to the steps to it, it’s something like the shrine and I’m walking up the steps and coming down there was an old chap about the same age as me,
I suppose with the cap on with Afrika Korps on it. He said, “Australian, welcome.” We had a bit of a weep. To silly old buggers, who in a sense had been trying to kill each sixty years ago and meeting on the steps.
What for? It was good, it was symbolic of what that was about, we had nothing against the Germans, those fellows but we had to fight them because of their regime and I think that was the general feeling. I think that would go with people that you interview I think they would go
that way. A different feeling altogether to what we had for the Japanese. I don’t think they even knew those Afrikan Korps blokes or most of them would have known what was going on with the Jews, they must have seen some of it, but I don’t think they would have known what their country was doing then.
You can’t understand, but thank goodness I say, and I mean it, thank goodness that they were stopped. People argue now and it’s various views about the Americans. I’m a great believer in stop them on their own dung hill. They say, “It’s a wrong war, it’s an evil war against Iraq.” Well it’s an evil
regime. Perhaps the Yanks are too strong, and thank the Lord that we do have a strong nation. Britain, but Britain isn’t as strong as it was, it’s on side with American. Nature is like that I feel and I know it would be argued against and a lot of people will argue against this, I may be wrong. But nature is like that, the very thing of nature, the strong will survive, the weak go under.
Just survive and I think to agree, not all Britain’s attitude over the centuries if we read history, certainly it used countries, certainly it conquered half the world. So did the Roman Empire – half of their world. The Egyptian regime if you read history you will read that any regime
has conquered someone else. The animals do the exactly the same thing I feel. You get a group of animals and only the strong survive, and the weak go under, that’s the law of nature. I don’t think we are so far removed from that yet, I don’t think that we have learned enough about living together, that is what happens. Is it better? In my view to wait until these
people perhaps attack us or is it better to get in first. I think it’s better to
I think in the earlier stages particularly we were and that’s not saying anything against the Yanks at all. They were wonderful, it was a different situation. They went in with everything in a very very big way, we didn’t have that sort of equipment. Thank goodness the Yanks were going in in a big way. Then of course MacArthur would have no doubt preferred in his situation and I think that had borne out by
future reading, preferred to do those invasions with his own troops. They were dreadful some of them, the casualties were horrific and they did it and they were remarkable how they did it. The GIs [General Issue – US soldiers], they suffered badly for it. From what little experience they had and as I say the water transport blokes that took us in,
they were great, they were all Aussie, they were all were mates and they took us where we wanted to go. They supplied us and I believe, but I didn’t experience it of course, that in the actual jungle campaigning the Aussies in that situation, in that heavy jungle were much better troops, because of the way that they were
officered I presume. I think had there been some Yanks for argument’s sake attached, which they probably were at the time but I wasn’t aware of it, they would have been as good an individual as everywhere else. It works that way, it depends who’s behind it, who’s organising it. It’s very important in an army. If you’ve got good officers behind you and feel confident,
it’s a much different thing. I think in some cases and it’s been proved and I’ve got the books on them, the offences, and it’s here in New Guinea. There were some instances there were they had the Americans, they didn’t have the confidence, they weren’t prepared for certain situations at that time, it’s as simple as that,
but we were. Getting back earlier in the bit, the Kokoda business, the untrained lads up there they didn’t have the equipment but they stuck it out it must have been terrible.
we thought a fair deal of him, he stuck up for us in the Middle East there is no doubt about that. He maintained that we should work as a division or divisions, he insisted on that. The Brits would have liked to split us up, here and there and everything as individual groups. Our government and Blamey himself, and he had the power,
insisted that we act as an Australian Division under an Australian guidance in Australian offices. So we thank him for that. As far as seeing him I don’t think I ever saw him, I suppose I don’t think that I ever saw him. He had quite a good job.
There were some jealousy and bitterness but we didn’t come to that at all that came from reading afterwards, but at the time he was Blamey and that was it we didn’t have much to do with him of course. We had Morshead, we all loved Morshead, then we had Whitman. Whitman did quite a good job in the Lae-Finschhafen show. The two generals, the 7th
Division had Blamey of course and they thought the world of. I don’t know too much about the 6th, they had great success in the desert the 6th, they had a disaster, Greece of course, which was a pity they had to come out of Greece the 6th Division. Some of them went up on to the Kokoda and that area and they had a pretty torrid time and the 6th boys, some of my old mates that I see occasionally now and there are still a few of them left.
help us, a lot of people blame Britain for that, I don’t I don’t think they could have helped us. There’s various views about that and our government today, they more or less just turn to America for help and America gave it, and I think we are very fortunate that they did. We couldn’t have stopped the Japs, I don’t know. There’s no doubt about that speaking as from today and speaking as from then we knew it, we couldn’t have.
We would have fought them but they were too big and too fast for us because the Americans were so powerful and thank goodness that Japan did go to Pearl Harbour. If they had not, what would of happened I don’t know, I don’t think Britain may have with the equipment, may have if American had kept on supplying them but I don’t think they could
have survived. I don’t think so but that’s only a personal thing. I think that’s sort of history, the industrial power of the United States was tremendous and they supplied the various things that were needed at the end of the war, they were supplying us. Pearl Harbour came and they were kicked out of the Philippines so they came here, and used us as a base and thank goodness they did.
and they had great admiration for us, those of us that had to do. To me that was always rather strange, here they were out there actually killing and facing them and here we were always to a degree protected, even if we were attached to a unit to do a particular thing. I think it’s very natural that they would protect you because you worked in communications,
but you did your job and they would say, “I couldn’t have done that, I couldn’t have sat there while that was going on.” We were all one group really, but if anyone says that we were better off, there were certain stresses and strains of course, but generally speaking the infantry had the crook job.
Even when they were out of action they had the crook job, they built the roads and all that sort of business. It was a pretty tough business to be in I feel.
Can you describe to me that particular day when that occurred?
The convoy goes out to a certain area, and then at a certain time it’s the time to run in, and in this particular case the destroyers would bombard this area in case there’s enemies there. We didn’t know that it was going to be unopposed as it was. The infantry go in first of course
and off their ships and into their infantry landing barges and they go in first, that’s the first wave, they go in and they’re dropped. If they can get the exact spot, but sometimes they drift and they don’t get quite the right spot. Anyway the infantry go in first and after that there is a second wave of infantry then perhaps the machine gunners and things like that. In our particular case we were in the third wave.
During that third wave going in we got machine gunned from the air by Zero fighters. It didn’t do a great deal of damage, one barge was almost sunk. In our particular barge we were fired upon, you could hear the bullets and they were ricocheting about of the steel of the boat but you just kept your head down and they kept going in and they finished their business and we
went off onto the beach into the jungle to where your meeting point was and from there you sorted yourselves out and went and did your various jobs. There was no opposition at that particular landing from the Japs, the opposition came further down the coast when the infantry went down towards Lae, they had opposition there. The only opposition I say was that strafing and then
some Lightnings came in. We had our own aircraft come in and drove them off. That was all that had happened there.
They went out to tell them to come down and there was no danger and recruit them for various jobs and they came back down to their villages. Our little section there was one little village, which we were near to that village. We didn’t worry them at all and they didn’t worry us. I mentioned that we were on an outstation for a time, and during that period they had come down along the coast
and would trap little fish in the stream, small fish and they’d come back with the fish and Ron Newdale, he was a friend of mine, and he would do a bit of trading with them. We had tins of butter which was ransom, ransom butters and it was dreadful stuff, tinned butter. That was a good trading point, they liked that. They would give us some fish for
a couple of tins of that. I believe they used the butter to rub in their hair, I believe so. They didn’t worry us at all and we didn’t worry them. Those people, the ANGAU people, had been in New Guinea and could speak pidgin English they were just there and that was it. No many of them in that
case, they came to this village just near us, I can’t remember the name of it now, and they went along to Finschhafen later on too, back in and they were employed. The villages they could come back in. When the Japanese were there generally speaking they had been a bit misused and they got out of the way if they could.
I was wondering what activities you got up to for fun in New Guinea, obviously you couldn’t go anywhere?
We did get a change to go down for a swim, our action was along the coast, the 9th Division action. All of us, at different times got a chance to swim, we swam in the sea that was the main thing that went on nothing else to do. Not there, back in the rear areas of course, there was two up but we didn’t
do much of that. There was a big two up school at Milne Bay and we went there, it was run by fellows who had been there for a long time, perhaps that were stationed there, but we didn’t see much of that at all. We were too busy doing our business at that time.
Salvation Army bloke with his little donga and brewing up some coffee to give you or some comforts, they were remarkable, the Salvos. Right up to where the action was they went. The non-combatants, Christians but they certainly did the job, we loved the Salvos.
After the war, women use to come around to the hotels, collecting but they were against drink. They come into the hotels and collect money off the sinners. We use to always put our hand into our pockets for the Salvos the old diggers, always. The same with the First World War diggers too I believe. They did a wonderful job.
In a slightly backward area they would have huts set up for recreational things where you could write letters, get some writing paper and perhaps play some records, they would have some records there and that sort of thing, but that went on all over the place. The Salvos mainly but there were others too, the Red Cross, but the Salvos stood out.
soldered into the tin and soldered up and it might get there okay, but a lot of the cakes got there mouldy. One of the tricks was to send a bottle of wine or beer up in a loaf of bread. You’d hollow out a loaf of bread and put the wine bottle in it and wrap it up and sew it up and send it, that was one of the tricks of the trade. I didn’t get any but some of them did that way. I got a cake, I remember my mate who has since past on,
the bloke that brought the meat up that I mentioned. He got very ill, he was flown out with dysentery. A cake arrived from his aunties, I didn’t know them then and I didn’t know what to do with this bloody cake so we decided there’s no good sending it on because he’s gone back to Moresby or somewhere sick so I thought that I’d take it onto my self and I’ll write to the aunts
and tell that what has happened. We opened the cake, it was perfect and a beautiful cake and it was well sealed. So I shared it out amongst our group and I wrote to the aunts and told them and when I got back from the war they thought it was marvellous they still had the letter, they probably had it until they died. The letter that I’d written that David was ill and had been sent out and it was my decision to open his cake and share it amongst our boys. Two old spinsters and they were living in
Sorrento, Miss Edwards, wealthy old girls and they thought that was marvellous this business about the cake.
As they came to raid the Hurricanes would take off and shoot a few down and that and perhaps get shot down, they were all shot down bar I think two. Then they decided that those two could fly out and we had no air force then, no air cover at all from the air force, during the period that we went to Tobruk. They’d come over and just bombed us as they wished, apart from the very heavy ack-ack [anti aircraft fire], they did a wonderful job and they had heavy ack-ack
fire around Tobruk and they sent up a hell of a barrage but it didn’t stop them bombing the harbour. Most of the bombs were on the harbour were trying to stop the ships from getting in, that was the idea to try and cut off our supplies they thought they could starve us out, they didn’t of course but that’s what they thought that they could do. Then in Alamein the air support was terrific. The air force had been built up
and as Rommel said we would get the equipment and they’d come across in the big push, they’d come across, Boston Bombers. And the formations were about forty or fifty flying like that and then they just pattern bombed an area. We had tremendous air support there at Alamein and all the equipment was tremendous there.
Of course a lot of them got shot down. The one particular incident and it was a very said one, they’d gone across, we’d seen them go over and we heard them drop their bombs and then they were returning with very heavy ack-ack fire from the Germans and from fighter planes. We were on a bit of an escarpment watching this show a bit and this plane was coming back,
and there was a lot of smoke coming out of it. The engine had been damaged in some way and it was going to land – there was a great expanse of desert, just where you could land an airplane. We knew that it was a minefield, obviously the pilot of the aircraft wouldn’t have known. Well he had to land anyway because he was shot down and he was doing quite well.
He was coming down to do this landing and he was doing quite well, we watched it come and we knew damn well he was landing in a minefield. Of course it landed and just disintegrated, it was very sad that. There they were they would have been ok, except for that bloody minefield. The minefields were miles around the Alamein area, but that was a very sad thing to watch.
move fairly well. The joke about this is we were on this boat as I said, the Franconia, coming from England around the Cape and we were on it for about ten weeks and they had quite a few boxing contests on but I didn’t enter. I used to spar with some of the blokes that were, and a great friend of mine Charlie Shultz, big man, a timber cutter, and he had a farm up around Beechworth for years.
He was a great guy and he was going to enter into the heavyweight section in the boxing, he could box and he was a big man. He said to me, “Will you work me out?” We were great mates and I said, “Yes Charlie I will work you out but don’t you drop a punch on me.” I had the reach and I could get anybody to sweat so this became quite a thing, we’d have this workout every day for about two or three or four rounds. I’d get Charlie really
sweating, I’d lay them on him and everywhere and keep my guard up. He’d hit me but no but he wouldn’t go for my face. This went on for some days, and it became quite an event the Ballard and Shultz having their workout. This particular day I’m going at him and the next thing I wake up. I’m flat on my back and they said I was out for about four minutes, they were over me and they said, “Are you all right?”
And I said, “What happened?” Charlie said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it, you dropped your guard and I forgot.” I must have dropped my guard a bit and that’s the only time I’ve been knocked out in my life. I can understand how guys get punched, Charlie only hit me once and he was a big man and he hit me right on the spot, they reckoned I only traveled about that far. I had bells ringing in my head for about three days. It’s just a funny incident and it was all done in good fun. We used to always laugh about it. At every reunion we’d
say, “Do you remember Charlie, in those days when Charlie knocked me out?”
A lot of people say that we are going to be a republic and probably we will one day. It’s a pity, the royal family have done some stupid things. It’s a symbol, and I think we need a symbol beyond elections and having a hereditary thing to me, and I think lots of other people too, and it’s a good thing. It’s only a symbol, the queen really hasn’t got
any great say in the system. The system is through the test of time, and as you say you’ve studied history and you will know how through the test of time. They’ve tried it, and Oliver Cromwell’s time, it didn’t work so well and I don’t think we have thought of a better system, it seems to work. Even up to this day we have had this trouble, we have had troubles before with the Governor-
General or argument’s sake, it’s a great shame in a sense but it’s over. There will be another Governor-General and he’ll do his job that he’s got to do, he’s got to sign a few papers and he’s virtually told by the Parliament anyway. But it’s a system that’s worked. Have you read Churchill’s histories of the English speaking
people? It’s about five volumes and damn good reading. Churchill was a wonderful author and easy to read, have you read any of his stuff?
have come to an agreement with Germany and the King wanted him too, but luckily it happened that the only people that the Labor Party would work with at the time was Churchill, I’ve read everything that I can of Churchill. He made some mistakes of course, but he was a symbol and his speeches of course were remarkable.
We were on the boat and we heard them when we were on the beaches when Dunkirk was on. Yes I’m a Churchill man and I’ve read everything I can of Churchill. I saw him a couple of times in England, I didn’t actually speak to him but I saw him getting about his business. Remarkable
set-up really, he was a man that probably had never been on a bus, he was from the upper crust. But he had that sort of drive that was needed at that time. I’m not saying that it would work now, it probably wouldn’t. He personified the thinking I felt of the English speaking people and America too.
He worked on Roosevelt to get them in the act, he worked with Stalin of all people. As he said in one of his books, they said “working with Stalin” because he was dead against anything that was communist. He said, “If it meant defeating Hitler and the devil he would cooperate with the devil,” which you’d say.
He got on with Stalin to degree, he kept Stalin a little bit on side but that of course, the stupidity of Hitler attacking Russia and the story would have been different again for God’s sake.
Were you particularly surprised about any aspects of places that you actually served that you didn’t know about?
No I don’t thing so really. Before the war we knew this business with Hitler was wrong, we read the papers and everybody was weak, Britain was as weak as blazes and getting back to what I said earlier, it’s better to get in first, Churchill was one of them although he wasn’t in Parliament then but he wanted them to stop Hitler. They could have easily,
although they reckoned that Britain wasn’t armed well. Britain couldn’t stop France before and he then got so powerful, he didn’t do it. The leading nations didn’t have any teeth and they were weak as water. What happened? We saw what happened. Now people will say you should do this or you shouldn’t do that but as I said before if we don’t react to this thing, and
America has the power now, but Britain had the power then they should have reacted long before and the war and the holocaust and all that sort of thing would not have happened. But they didn’t, they sat there and they said “No, we will be pacifist.” It’s all very well being a pacifist, the other bloke throws the first punch you can be in trouble. That’s my view and probably a lot will argue against it, but I believe in it and I will die believing in it.
if I had that. The experiences were good I think and I think if you have an experience like that it made you more tolerant. You realise how small the individual is, really in this scheme of things and that you’re not very important after all, you perhaps thought that you were at one stage of the business. But really you were only just a little person in the whole big scheme. But you try
your best and I think that the same applies to business. Getting back to the old thing that my mother used to say, “You try and do the right thing.” She use to say, “do the right thing,” but if you say that to the kids today they look at you, which I do to my grandkids and I say “do the right thing.” They’d say, “What do you mean do the right thing, what does that mean grandfather?” But to me it meant something, we did the right thing and it was done. That thing was done and it sounds very snobbish but if wasn’t snobbish at all you just
knew that you did those sorts of things. You behaved yourself properly and it was done. I was fortunate in that way to have my mother that way, my father was a clever man in other ways, but my mother had that belief, a very strong believer. The old Victorian idea it was of course, and it still applies
to a degree. If people did that and had this belief and a lot of people have and you’ve probably got it. You have got a set of ideals that you think is right and wrong, well if you’ve got that well good show.
Mainly I think because of the migrants that came here after the war, one of the main big chances. We needed migrants and we got them from mainly the influence of the Italians and the Greeks and others from the islands, Malta and so on, all these people coming and I think that’s had
an effect, and yes it has had an effect on our attitudes. Earlier the attitude was probably that we were against these people coming, particularly the Greeks and Italians but they were great workers and would assimilate well. The Greeks don’t seem to assimilate quite as well as the Italians did. The Maltese were half British anyway in a sense,
and they were very Maltese people and they spoke a different language but they had the experience of getting the hell blown out of them during the war in Malta. They have the George Cross Islands we call them, and the whole island was given the George Cross for the fortitude of that, and it’s a talking point today amongst some of our Maltese friends and all the tricking goes on and all that. I think it is a better country now.
Prices were going up all the time but we survived we did it all right and we managed. We lived with my wife’s parents for a time and then we went into a flat and then I got in the world a bit and finally acquired a home in Heidelberg through the banks and it’s a lovely home and we got it through the War Service [Home Loan scheme]. That was a great thing the War Service Homes scheme. You got interest at
three quarter per cent to get a home. You get a home and in those days up to about two thousand pounds and I managed to swing it through the banks and a friend of mine helped me. A great friend of mine helped me acquire that place, it was already built and then we transferred it from the bank to the War Service one, the three and three quarter,
the bank interest was about six per cent. Three and three quarter you just didn’t bother paying it off. The three and three quarter per cent you just went on and on and on because why pay if off, you could do better with your money than three and three quarter per cent. So you paid your interest which gradually built it down and that was the scheme. It was a wonderful scheme, it was one of the great things that we had coming back with that chance of buying a home with that interest,
the War Service Home Scheme that was great for us, that was one of the greatest things that we got.
over and joined the army, and joined up at headquarters here, that were he went to the headquarters at the Victoria barracks. He was great at administration, he was a sergeant when I came back from the Middle East at Victoria Barracks. Looking after printing and stationery and that sort of business that had to be done. He carried on there, towards the end of the war
and I was back, he did get a turn and he went up to Port Moresby, they gave him a return soldier base at Port Moresby in his administration business. Then he got a commission in New Guinea, a Lieutenant he was when he came back, and he got discharged with the normal scheme of things.
He stayed in the public service, he joined the Repatriation Department for a start I think and then he got a bit of a glue, and he was unglued from there and was transferred to the Transport Shipping Department and that developed and he went pretty high and he did pretty well in the public service. He got up to a fat cat position and that was his
situation. Ted died about five or six years ago now, let me think yes about six years ago.
I don’t know. He did his job and he did quite well out of it in a sense, through that he got to join the Repatriation Department, but it was a much slower thing. I remember I was in the hurly burly of manufacturing and that sort of thing. Ted got an offer for a job, he had done accountancy, he was offered the job with much bigger money than he was getting. In some firm in some timber company
and I remember him coming to me and said, “What do you think about it?” And I said, “Well you’ve got two choices.” In my case I’ve got a very good job and getting good money in a big organisation then it was but I could be put off tomorrow just like that. The public service in those days you could go on unless you did some very very wrong you had a job for life in the public service in those days. He talked about it I suppose with his wife and he decided to stay
where he was. Gradually through the years he went up the ladder, time by time. Where I, it wasn’t long after that that I departed from the crowd I was with and went out on my own. With this messing around they used to do in these cartels, I hate the cartels, I hate these big organisations. They kill people virtually, they just use you and they
still do to this day and age. I don’t know how the young blokes get on today, but it didn’t suit me. I had a job where they’d ring me up at about eleven o’clock at night and they’d say, “We want you on a plane to Sydney tomorrow,” and that sort of crap, that’s fair enough I suppose but it wasn’t necessary in my opinion, big noting themselves, pushing you around the place. It’s very good to be up there, lonely dinners, and telling people what to do,
and sacking people. When I had my own factory I didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a big factory we only employed about twenty people. But I didn’t work that way, I didn’t believe in it that way. I believe in those people as I said earlier, if they were part of you, if they were loyal to you and they were doing their job properly you keep them there.
What lessons do you think that you learnt from all that helped you with management?
Tolerance would be the main thing, tolerance and respect for your fellow man. No matter what his area was you had great respect for him. If you have a bloke working for you, he is good enough to work for you then he’s good enough to have your respect and your support if he’s in trouble, but that doesn’t apply today which I think is a great pity. It doesn’t mean anything today and they tell the young kids are prepared
and they don’t expect to have a job for life today, do you? I don’t know how you look at the angle. The people that employ you I don’t know what you relationships are, but generally speaking in industry today they don’t give a damn and can have a board meeting and say, “Right, we will get right of that area,” and that happened to me and I was fairly high in the organisation and they closed down a factory that I was managing. I went to headquarters and I said,
“What’s the story?” I said to them, “I can get myself another job,” and they said “No, no, no, we want our young executives to stay.” Three months later they called me in and said, “We don’t need you any more.” That sort of thing, that knocked me right over and that’s when I started my own business, and they did me a favour in that sense. That to me was a terrible attitude, one moment they’re saying they need you. Had I done something wrong and not been able to do my job that would have been a different thing,
but I did know my job and I was successful and they said, “No, we are trying to close that factory down.” All the people that I employed as a manager they had to go too, the whole thing was just overnight just over a board meeting.
I was just wondering if you noticed any examples of people whose lives were perhaps ruined or badly effected by their war experience?
Yes, I did have a couple of mates. There was one particular fellow who shall be nameless of course, he cracked for some reason, and went gaga and ruined his life. My father-in-law was hurt very badly by his son being killed. There must have been thousands of cases like that, people that are still mending. Young Jimmy Leslie, the fellow who was killed by me, his sister,
I wrote to her and she was very gracious but I don’t suppose she is alive now. He was a lovely fellow and there were thousands of those cases, yes that would of affected them for the rest of their lives, and still would no doubt missed and will never come back, they are gone. My ex-wife she still talks about her brother Brian. He was a great guy, he was a much better man than myself Brian, he was a good man
but there you go. There were hundreds of people that that happened to and they were killed. It was the tragedy of war, you can say there is some glory in it, but the tragedy of that is the people, not only the fellows in the army that were killed but there were thousands of civilians that were killed and there were thousands killed in Britain of course with the bombing and that sort of a thing, a dreadful business.
It was getting night and we decided to brew up with one of these little stoves, the primus stove, and we were brewing up some cocoa and we heard these footsteps coming across the stones, it was very stony in the eastern section of Tobruk. We heard a tap on the
truck, we had pulled that down for blackout. We looked out and there was this Lieutenant. We thought, we’re gone. And he said, “I’m glad to see you fellows, it’s frightfully good of you to come you know, and I’m Lieutenant Lloyd in charge of this mob here. What’s that? Is that cocoa?” We said, “Yes sir.”
He said, “I don’t suppose there’d be a cup for me would there?” And we said, “Come in sir and we will give you a mug.” He crawled in and there wasn’t much room in these vans and we were all sort of curled up in the corner and we gave him a mug and he said, “It’s lovely. I don’t suppose you would have another mug for my sergeant, I’d like you to meet him, he’s a very interesting fellow my sergeant.” And we said,
“Certainly,” and he said, “I’ll go and get him.” He didn’t send us to go. Away he goes out in the dark and a little bit later back he comes and I can see him now a great big miner type from Northumberland in England. “This is sergeant so and so,” I forget now and he said, “I’d like you to meet these boys.” And we said, “G’day .” We gave him a drink
and very diplomatically he said, “I must go now, thank you for the cocoa and it’s good to see you fellows and keep it up, keep up the good work and we will be in touch.” Off he goes and this other sergeant said, “I’d die for that bugger,” and he meant it. “He is the greatest officer we’ve ever had, and I’ve been on the desert for near eight
years with Lloyd.” We were there with them for some time, we didn’t go into action with them, but they did do a shoot while we were there and they were wonderful. That was the attitude of the real top officer type and he was an aristocrat this Lloyd. They knew it but they were wonderful and you could always work with this sort of people, the top draw,
right up even if you happened to, which I didn’t, but if you happened to be speaking for some reason as a little private to a general and you were what you should have been he would treat you like a gentleman. Also the middle ones some of them, on both sides, not only the English but also the Australians, you’d get them in all walks of life, you know what I mean. That was the history of some