Reginald Ballard
Archive number: 402
Preferred name: Reg
Date interviewed: 02 June, 2003

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6th Division Signals
9th Division Signals

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Reginald Ballard 0402


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Tape 01


Whereabouts were you born?
I was born in Hamilton Victoria and moved from there when I was one year old to the property at Harrow which my Mum and Dad leased. I thought that they owned it but they leased it. I lived there until I was about thirteen years old.
It was a farming property?
A farming, wool


property, sheep property. In those days I loved it and I still go back occasionally, the old house isn’t there any more. I loved it and I was shocked when we had to leave of course, but that’s a part of life.
Can you describe the situation that you were farming under?
My parents came from England, and my mother came from a very wealthy English family and she came out with the old


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.
What was your knowledge of the First World War growing up?
Very sketchy, my old man was


I believe they were in Allora then that was before they went to Dunmore and he was being an Englishman he was made the warden, there were a lot of German people around Allora and there still are. They are lovely people but in those days they thought they had to watch them and they made my old man the ward man of the area and of course I wasn’t born then. One of the biggest jokes was he had to go


around and collect all of the guns, in the little cottage near Allora and he knew all these people of course and they had to hand their guns in which they did quite readily. They were stored in the little cottage where they lived and then on a Sunday they use to all gather at the cottage and the guns would be handed out and they’d all go duck shooting and then they come home and the guns would be religiously handed in again and that went on during the Second World War. I remember


later in the early 1920s some of the returned soldiers coming back to Harrow and one chap, I remember working on the property, who was a returned soldier. But I didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about the war, but my mother was very patriotic, both my mother and father of course. They were English and that sort of thing.
Did you notice any effects of the war on those returned men?


No, later I did when I was in Heidelberg, during the Depression there was a chap coming around playing a trumpet or a cornet I think it was and he used to come and play in the streets, we was out of work and then come to the door and see if he could get a hand out, that’s how tough things were then. Some of them would come around to the door to see if they could chop a bit of wood or something to get a feed.


I can still see my mother now giving them food. We were fairly poor ourselves but my mother had a small income of her own, it had been sort of left to her from an inheritance, about two hundred and fifty pounds a year which wasn’t bad in those days. But she brought us up on it anyway and bought a house on it.
Was it the Depression that had driven you from the farm?
Yes really, that and


my old man who drank a bit too much and as I say they only leased the property, he was a very good farmer, but I think drink and the other, and the Depression and the wool dropped right out, the wool was almost valueless that time in the 1930s, 1931 and 1932. The people that survived were the ones that owned the land and friends of mine,


they’d been there since the 1850s and 1860s and that sort of thing. The squatters around the place and of course the people like the (UNCLEAR), and those people we knew them around that area, through that area.
Before getting onto your experience, you were telling us about your reaction to machinery around when you were a child?
I hadn’t seen any you see, I was only a little


fellow and when they got these little engines, they were only fairly small engines for the shearing shed when it started up I didn’t know and I was terrified of it, and I use to run I believe and hide under a safe in the kitchen. Later on of course somebody came along in a car, an old T Model Ford and I was terrified to ride in it, I believe I used to cry in it, mainly to association that I remembered that, the memory of it.
Before then it was all shearing by hand?


I can remember the blades, the blade shearing and then they got this plant, this small plant and the property was that big about three thousand acres I think, two thousand five hundred acres to three thousand acres which wasn’t a big property, comparatively in those days. It was quite a livable property but not big.
Moving up to the war years, were you working right up until


your enlistment?
Yes, I worked in the boot trade and shifted around a little big, as a pattern cutter they called it, through a friend and I liked it and I did fairly well at it. I finished up with a very good job at a place called the Merly Shoe Company which was in Preston in those days but it’s not there now, with very good people and when I was eighteen I was in charge of the patterns


with the measly sum of five pounds a week. But for a boy of eighteen years it was tremendous in those days because the basic wage in those days was under four pounds, so I was the little king of the realm in those days. I liked it too and I liked what I was doing.
Where were you when war was declared?
I remember I was at home


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.
Do you think you enlisted as an Australian or as part of a British Empire?
In my case as part of the


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.
What did she mean when she said that she shouldn’t do it?
She meant that she was sending me on an unknown thing but she felt


that in her British or English way that it was part of our duty, which I felt too.
What were you expectations at that time of what war would be like?
I felt that it would probably be a bit grim, there would be an adventure, I was young, and it would be an adventure and that was probably the main feeling was.


Did you even think that this was some way of getting overseas as well?
I suppose so, thinking of it, yes. I had relations in England but I didn’t have any idea that I would be going to England, I thought that we would be going to the Middle East, and then perhaps to France like in the First World War. I thought things would work out that way, I suppose that’s how we thought.
Can you describe your


training period for us please?
It was rather amusing some of it. We first went into Albert Park, and we then moved to the show grounds. We were only in civilian clothes and we took a cut lunch the first day, you were asked to take a cut lunch, that’s how it was. We went to the show grounds and of course there were a tremendous amount of fellows who had been out of work, not all of them by any means,


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.
Was it very different in Puckapunyal?
It was very dusty and dirty and we were in tin huts, the huts I think are still there now and we started a bit of training there, a bit of signal training and that sort of thing but it’s fairly sketchy. They had a thing called Pucka Throat. I didn’t get it, but through the dust and the conditions there it effected quite


a few of the blokes. We gradually got our uniforms together, which didn’t fit very well and that sort of thing, but still we survived.
What did signals training involve?
The first part was I had a motorbike. My first thing was I had to be a stretcher rider. The first bit of training was on motorbikes at Puckapunyal and that was


my main training during the Pucka bit but I knew morse code, I’d done a bit of that in scouts and that sort of thing, but I wasn’t very fast. But word got around that if you could do a certain speed you got an extra two and six a day specialist pay, which in those days you were only getting five shillings a day which was later six shillings, so the two and six was wonderful.


A few of us got our heads together and we practised and we moved from Puckapunyal to Ingleburn in New South Wales. During that period at Ingleburn I went for my test for the specialist’s pay and passed it and that’s how I became a specialist operator, Morse code man. When you did that it was about the end of it then because you became a bit


rare and promotion, although I never looked for it, it was always out of the question in a sense but you’re two and six extra a day you were quite happy with that, I was anyway.
How did you find the discipline in that training?
Quite good, quite good. Some of the people who trained us weren’t very efficient but generally speaking it was fair I think.


A bit silly and I’m looking back on it now but then it was quite fair I think and we had some good officers and some poor of course. We had a chap called Stevens who became the very famous General Stevens later on and he was in charge of us and he was a very good CO [Commanding Officer] and he was very strict and he knew his caper and was pretty strict but fair, that’s all you wanted.


If you had someone who was fair and knew how to handled orders, like an officer or an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer], if he knew how to handle order it was much better. Somebody who knew what he was doing then you would follow him.
What were the equipment levels like in that training?
Fairly poor in those days, we didn’t have a great deal of equipment but we made do with what we had.


In signals you were always doing some sort of communications, whether you were in camp and you gradually introduced to that sort of thing, they had to run a signal office, to get communications around the place and the lines were running here and there and the wireless came into the act a bit and that sort of thing, but that was early in the part.
You got use to machinery by this stage?
Yes of course,


but there wasn’t a great deal really, we didn’t have many trucks early in the bit. We marched everywhere just about but they gradually got equipment.
When did you get the call that you were going overseas?
The first flight went about March I think, if I’m right, roughly in March 1940 and they went across… that’s


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.
What were the conditions like on the Queen Mary?
Reasonably good, I was very fortunate a small group of us, the old thing in the army was you were told by the old diggers this and that and you never volunteered for anything which was quite right, because you were foolish if you did. They did ask for


volunteers for a particular job and nobody stepped forward but an officer I knew gave me the wink so I stepped forward and the six of us and we had the job, which was to help the signalers on the bridge of the Mary. Right from outside the heads in Sydney until we got to Gourack we were under naval and it was four on, six off I think


it was roughly, I could be wrong there. Our main job was to be lookouts because there was no signaling done when you were out in the sea, but in port there was. You’d hold the signals if necessary from other ships perhaps asking the captain to come across for dinner and that sort of thing in port, but mainly to keep a look out to see if you could see any


submarines and that sort of thing. We had a good run there we didn’t get any fatigues we just did that job and that was very fortunate. The old commodore of the Queen Mary he was a wonderful guy and he’d come along and say, “How are you going lads?” and have a little talk to you and you that was wonderful that the commander of this great ship would say various things to you, he was a very human man.


How was that leave time in…?
Some of the boys got into a bit of trouble in at Capetown, some of us had to go in and help to get them out, and that was the extent of my leave anyway. There were some South African policemen


and they got into some brothels with some of them and we got them out of that but I don’t get much leave there really.
Did they have to be forcibly removed?
They were pretty low places in those days and I’m afraid they still are. The South African police knew how to handle it and it was all done and no harm was done much, we got over it all right.


Were you excited to be heading to England?
In my case particularly because I had relations there, but I had never met them. We all were I suppose really, because Dunkirk was on and we landed in England just about the time they came back from Dunkirk but things were pretty grim, they didn’t look good at all, the old Dart was in real trouble so of course we were trained and when we came down the


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.
Where were you when moved to after Salisbury?
We went down to Titsworth which is on the Salisbury Plains, we trained and we established a signal office in a place called Ainsbury in the old Ainsbury Abbey a beautiful old building I don’t know who owned it then maybe one of the Lords I suppose


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.
You really had a sense of a danger of that period?
Yes, but as I say


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.
Did you see much of the effect of those bombing raids?
Not such a great deal, of course we saw them we were remote to a degree we were on leave and we went to the places where we weren’t needed to help, had we been needed to help they would have called on us that’s what my uncle said. But they knew what they were doing


and had we been needed of course we would have been asked, so we weren’t asked so we kept out of it, which was the sensible thing to do. You didn’t go poking, at least I didn’t. My mate didn’t but I don’t know if it was my influence or not. It’s like here I feel today and if you see a car accident, unless you can do some you don’t stop, you get out of the road and leave it don’t you, it’s the natural


thing to do. It was like that then and it was like that in the army in a sense, even when you were in action, if you weren’t needed, keep out of the bloody road, and keep your head down and that was my view.
What did you see on leave, did you see the sights?
Yes, it was wonderful, I remember my uncle saying, “Now listen boy,


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.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 02


Can you take us from Blackpool to your next posting?
We came back and as I said winter was coming on and so they moved us to a place called Colchester, which was a Garrison town, it’s north of something, Colchester. You have probably heard of it anyway… with billets,


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.
Did you have long leave in Durban?
Only an afternoon, or a day. There was a factory


that was connected to here in Durban, that’s how I came to get the job years before. I applied for a job in South Africa but that’s another story. Anyway I went to the factory, of course there was a part of the factory where the blacks worked, a part where the coloureds worked and another part where the whites worked. It was very much


segregation in those days, I think they called it apartheid, I think they called it in those days, didn’t they? It was that, and that’s how it worked in those days. They had the rickshaw boys working in Durban then, we had a ride on a rickshaw. That was quite different in those days.
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.
So you


didn’t panic there, how did you feel when you were being fired upon?
Luckily, I think any soldier would tell you that he didn’t panic until he actually came into his first situation. I didn’t, and I didn’t know how I would react. I often worried how would I react with my mates, not so much with myself, ‘how will I react’. I was very fortunate that I reacted how I’d hoped I would react I think.


It was just a cold calculated doing what I thought was right thing to do, if wrong, I don’t know. Had I not fired I don’t know what would have happened and Jimmy would be alive today, but again perhaps it was just one of those things, and probably the right thing, but I don’t know, it was just one of those things.


You were very lucky?
Certainly I was very fortunate right through the war I was fortunate there is no doubt about that. When we got back into Tobruk I got very angry, I don’t know why, the thing was wrong there was something wrong I felt and this was how I felt personally. You could get paraded in the army, you could ask your senior to be


paraded for a particular purpose. They asked me why I wanted to be paraded and a chap called Frank Hayes, he died many years ago now, and Frank and I were great mates. He and I decided to get paraded. We thought we were getting messed around a little bit, we felt and we were paraded, and I asked the CO and he asked, “Why?” and we said, “We want to be transferred to the infantry,” but he wouldn’t let us go. He said, “No, we need


fellows that know Morse code we need you here.” He wouldn’t let us go, and probably did me a favour. If I had of gone I probably would have been killed anyway, I’m not saying that I would have been but I might not have been but I probably would have been a bit impetuous and I was young and that so I think he did me a favour.
Why did you want to be transferred?
I didn’t feel we were doing the proper job where I was at that time.


Later on I settled down to it, but the reaction of the handicap coming back and that sort of thing, I think that probably was what it was and I felt that I was better off with fellows who were doing, and I was what I was doing back there.
Did that CO explain to you the role of signals?


It was a necessary role. I don’t feel really, truthfully that I did a great deal in signals. I did my job and I did what I was told and I could do it, but I don’t feel in myself that I did a great deal, I did what I was told and kept out of trouble as best as I could.


Could you take us up to your trip to Tobruk then, you were heading to Tobruk after that?
No, coming back from that into Tobruk and as you know if you’ve read history, Morshead of course was put in charge and he was a great soldier and the Italians had a perimeter


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.
What sort of messages would come through the wireless?
In code, it had to be in code because headquarters they had decipher fellows and if it did come though it was in code and went off to the deciphered by fellows and so on. A lot of the communication of course from Cairo


to Tobruk was by wireless. It was a heavy wireless that came in but I wasn’t working on that but some of our boys did and they were wireless hams, young fellows who had been on, what we use to call hams. Chaps in their day and they were a pretty expert and there was Tommy that came with that big set,


came and it was set up what was used for the communication between Tobruk and Cairo. We would hear it but I wasn’t on it at all.
How well informed were you about what was going on?
Fairly well informed, we had our ear to the ground and we were told various things. We were pretty confident that we weren’t going to be taken and we thought that we could hold Tobruk


all right which we did. We were very disappointed later when it was taken. We were there then. We were there and quite prepared to have stayed longer. We existed all right but they were saying we were getting weak, it’s through the government and it was advised to take us out and it was a hell of a business to get us out – the navy did that.
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.
You were sent to Alexandria?
Yes, we got off the boat at Alexandria and then we went by train from there back to Palestine where we were camped. Not far


from Tel Aviv in Palestine were all the camps were. The camps were setup under canvas and it wasn’t too bad there.
What were you told about where you were going and what you were about to do?
When was that?
You said you were heading from Alexandria to Palestine, were you informed about what the plans were or..?
You get in trains and so on and so forth,


we knew we were getting out of Tobruk and we knew we’d be going back to Palestine and then through the various waters, what you could take out and what you couldn’t. The general army routine, which we were used to of course, it was no big deal really. You did things and if you were told that you did it, that was


the easiest way out.
How long were you in Palestine?
We stayed in Palestine, it was Christmas and we had leave after a time around the place and I went to Jerusalem on


leave which was quite good and then we came back and then (UNCLEAR) who had done the Syrian or Lebanese campaign they came back, then Japan had come into the war and then of course Singapore, and all that had gone on when we were messing around in Tobruk. The 7th Division went home and we went up


to garrison in Lebanon, the 9th Division went up to Tripoli and along the coast and it’s a very pretty place, and very pleasant really for us. It was a journey, we weren’t in action or anything. We had set up with communications as usual and I got a bit of a job down in Tripoli itself. A big group of us went down there to headquarters


and we manned the switchboards and all of that sort of business, despatch writing had to be done and the communications had to go off, that’s how signals worked.
Can you describe that trip to Jerusalem for leave?
Yes, we saw the sights there. My mate and I use to go together and pool our money.


We’d stayed at a red shield place, we got on the booze quite a lot, that was one of the things that we use to do. Those of us that drank we’d get on the grog and food and that sort of thing mainly, cycled out to various, out to the Garden of Assembly and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which we did of course and that was a must. It was very impressive


that sort of thing.
What was the local food and drink like?
The Fast Hotel was taken over, and we had Australian beer there so we’d all gather at the Fast and drink large quantities of Australian beer, the local beer was dreadful which we didn’t drink at all and the local wines were a bit expensive too. Bill a mate of mine he was a pretty clever sort of bloke


and knew French quite well and we used to go dining quite a bit and him being able to speak French got us to places quite a bit, it helped. We went down to the Dead Sea and that sort of thing. A group of you would get a taxi and away you’d go.
Did you learn much about the reputation of the First World War diggers in the Middle East?


I remember going to Beersheba and talking in a café to an old lady who remembered the horses, the beautiful horses that they were on. She remembered when they took Beersheba, the Light Horse in the First World War. This lady she spoke English very well


and she remembered them and she remember the beautiful horses and the soldiers coming there then.
You also had a bit of a reputation of running amok as well?
They did too, down in Cairo and that sort of thing, yes. We did nothing like that of course we were good boys.
How did you find the communication with the locals?
Quite reasonable,


you’d get by and most of them spoke a bit of English and we learned a little bit of Arabic but nothing much, just to say hello or something. We got on okay. When we went into some of the places you’d seem to get on quite well with them, it didn’t worry you very much you went about your business they went about theirs. The markets and the things they would sell you, it’s still the same today when I went over just recently,


it’s all the same it’s not much different really. They are only trying to make a quid.
Did you get the hang of bartering?
Yes, we always used to barter. I never liked bartering much, and you did because it was the accepted thing. You’d sit down and do a bit of bartering and come to a decision at the finish. The idea was you’d start low and he’d start high and you’d meet in the middle, that’s what it amounted to really.


Did you try to local foods, or were you able to get…?
No, but we did go to restaurants and that sort of thing, but the local or the native food we were told to keep away from, and I did, and most of us did because it was a bit dangerous and you could catch… you didn’t know what you’d catch it wasn’t too clean. We were advised not to eat the real native food in the markets and that sort of thing. It


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.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 03


Can you recount the story, particularly of the British officer asking you where you educated?
I went to this school, which was a bit over my head but anyway we went along with it.
This was in England?
In England, yes. He asked me, and I had to go in and have an interview with the old Colonel and he said to me,


“Where were you educated?” And I said, “Harrow, sir.” And that was all right. I went back after the interview was over (UNCLEAR) who I mentioned before they wanted to see me and he said, “What have you been up too?” and I said “nothing” and he said, “Well have a look at this.” On my report it said that ‘This man is definitely officer material’. The truth of the matter was, if I had been to school at Harrows, which is a little town that I’d told you about


earlier in Victoria, but he though of course that it was the Harrow. That was one of the amusing things.
That was good enough for him to make you an officer?
That’s what he thought. If it had been up to the English and if I had of gone to Harrows of course I would have had to been an officer. It’s as simple as that.
Did you see much about prejudice in your time?
A fair bit in England. The class distinction in England in those days is pretty distinct,


it’s very distinct. The private soldier he couldn’t go to many places and that sort of an idea. We got on pretty well generally speaking. Even to this day, but then class distinction is very much so in England. The higher you got though strangely enough the less it showed,


if you met the real ones. As I say, like the Lord that I described a while back, you got to the top, the top draw which I think it applies anywhere. In any society I think the real person is a lovely person. You go to an ordinary doctor he is all right, but you have got the real specialist and he’s a very humble person, so I think that goes right throughout life, don’t you?


In my limited experience, I think. What were the noticeable differences between the British and the Australian troops or officers?
I think we were much more easier going the Australians. You say generally speaking the Australians were a bit more inclined to work things out for himself I think, than the average British.


You never want anybody to rubbish the professional British soldiers, they were tops, the professionals. The called up fellows they had come from different backgrounds, but generally speaking they were all right, they were pretty good. The professionals were wonderful.
And in terms of discipline, was there much difference?


They were stricter, in some sense they were stupidly so, a bit overdone I felt and I think some of our blokes did too. Our discipline was fairly strict but not to the extent of the silly saluting and all that sort of business that went on, it was over done.
Did those differences cause much conflict between those different nationalities?


I didn’t notice anyway, we all got on pretty well as far as I’m concerned but I think that we got on pretty well generally. We fitted in and got on well.
You were telling us a story before about one officer who demanded that his trench be dug for him, can you tell us that one again?
Near Tobruk I think?
That was only a story, I didn’t see that. It was true, because Frank Hayes saw it when the reo [Reinforcement] officer came in and asked someone to dig him a


trench for him out on the front line, or near the front line. The old digger who had been there for some time said to him, “Here, dig your own trench.” He finished up starting to dig his own and then he was helped, but I wasn’t there but that was the typical of the story.


You were saying before something to the effect that officers that were a bit above their station were generally sorted out when in action?
Yes. You were either an officer or an ordinary soldier. He could be a danger to his mates so he got moved to a more suitable position, that’s all. All people are different and can stand


certain things and some chaps couldn’t. I don’t think it was every looked on as any chap’s being cowards, but there might have been some but I didn’t hear of any. Chaps were moved about the different... Some blokes could stand up to front line infantry work and some blokes just couldn’t, it’s as simple as that, I think that’s true, it’s quite true of human nature.
Were there any cases of men being brought into line


by men within the ranks. A bit wayward or a bit of a danger, were they brought in a bit by their mates?
No, but I think there would be and you’d help them as much as you could where we were most of the time not in the front line, not in so much but we had a few. I can remember a couple


of fellows who got the First [World] War ‘shell shock’, or we use to called it ‘bomb happy’ with their nerves. I think they would have been taken out, it was a sickness but it could of happened to anybody. They cracked under various reasons, a chap might be up there and have trouble at home here or anything like that, various things like that yes, a few but


not many, as far as I knew.
How would that show, being ‘bomb happy’?
Being scared to go about their general work and that sort of thing, trying to keep under cover all the time. When we got to New Guinea the troops here probably thought that we all were all bomb


happy I think. We had learnt that if anything went off, we’d hit the ground pretty quickly, but that was a matter of reaction that we had learnt at Tobruk and at Alamein. Tobruk mainly as far as we were concerned the fellows that weren’t on the front line, blokes like me, it wasn’t so bad at Alamein as it was at Tobruk, we got shelled and bombed but not to the extent that we did at Tobruk. At Alamein we


saw the action and we did our job, as far as I was concerned I wasn’t up with infantry fellows. So I was fortunately there in that sense.
Did the shells reach you where you were?
Yes, they could but they didn’t a great deal and not at Alamein. We got bombed a couple of times but not to any extent, we were a fair way behind the line. We had to go forward at times


and that sort of thing but that was our job.
What sort of fortifications would you have as a signaler let’s say at Tobruk, you said that you dug in a truck or something?
You would put your truck below ground if you could, with the sand bags around and that sort of thing. The switchboard would be dug in and you were protected by sand bags but not a great deal of fortification.


It was sensible protection from bombing mainly.
What about HQ, was that the same thing?
Similar, yes. Where the thing worked from and as you got out the brigade they were dug in and so that’s how it went.


I was wondering if we could pick up the run of the story, you were headed to Palestine, when we left of from the last tape.
Yes, in Lebanon we were at garrison there and we setup communications and I was set up down in Tripoli itself most of the time there. The communications were on and the messages had to be sent and received and all that sort of business.


We handled all that sort of thing, that was our job. The infantry were training out at the various parts.
Can you run me through the routine of arriving at a new location and setting up communications? How would that go about it?
Like you say if we had moved into a new area. In the case of Lebanon for argument sake


we moved in, and headquarters was established in Tripoli itself, a little town in Lebanon and they took over an area were the 7th Division were which was in an old convent it was right in the middle of Tripoli. We took over there communications virtually, we established communications from the same place


and that’s where the headquarters operated from. The general was there and the various 20th, 24th and 26th Brigades were scattered further out around in different villages or areas, and it was operated that way.
Would you have to establish lines?
Yes, all line communication


there were linesmen and signalers in a section that laid the lines. I wasn’t in the line section but that was their job to lay the lines. The first thing they did was lay the lines from the various area and they’d go out and bring lines in and they’d be all connected up into a communications system very much like a post office setup.
What would


be involved in establishing yourself on a wireless?
You set up and had a certain frequency and then get in touch with other areas on that frequency. There would be a set per division, or a couple of sets at a division and they would be in contact with two or three sets, perhaps with the artillery, or the artillery regiments or


the brigade and then back to the rear, back to army headquarters, corps headquarters and that sort of business. From there back to Australia or to England and that’s how the whole business worked. As I say I wasn’t on it, it was on wireless for a time but I was off wireless by the time I got to Lebanon, I was on line again and I was in


what they called ‘Don section’, only line work.
Which did you prefer?
It wouldn’t worry me much, whatever they wanted you to do you just did. By that time I had settled to the fact that that was what you were and that’s what you did, you just didn’t, well I didn’t just duck the system at all. I had one go which I had told you about but I just went


along with the tide.
Were you kept busy?
Yes. You’d have your time on duty perhaps on the switchboard or perhaps doing this or doing that and then you’d be off duty and you would get some leave and maybe go into town and you just kept moving.
How long would a shift last?


About four or five hours I think, depending on who was around and it might go a bit longer, you’d go on for a certain time then you’d be relieved. You use to have a mate, you were doing the same thing and then your mate would relieve you. In the field you always worked in pairs. You’d prepare your donga and that sort of thing while the other went and did what he had to do whatever his duty was.


Then he would come and take over and wake you up if it was night-time and you’d go and do your shift, that’s how it worked.
There were shifts around the clock?
Yes, you were getting communications all the time one way or another, yes it went on for twenty four hours a day.
What were the main problems with the wireless set that you might encounter?
The wireless in New Guinea


they had trouble getting communications over the mountains and out from the jungle, that was one of the main difficulties but we had some pretty clever boys. One chap called Andrew Welles who became a Justice in South Australia, I haven’t seen Andy for years he was very clever and a great scholar. He worked out systems of


aerials to get light sets over the Owen Stanleys and that sort of thing. We had these experts in the units, they were different fellows that knew about the wireless from A to Z and they could repair them and they could make them and we had those sorts of guys in signals.
What problems would you of had in the Middle East?
Not a great deal, they


weren’t used a lot. The lighter sets were used a lot, because they had line communication and the communications worked reasonably well in the Middle East, generally speaking. I think keeping the batteries up to them and that sort of a thing was a problem but they weren’t used to that extent as far as the actual division, they were used for long distance stuff and the heavy stuff particularly in Tobruk.


The communications in Tobruk and then of course in Alamein and down rear with heavier sets working back to Cairo and that sort of thing. A friend of mine called Matt Isaacs was on one of those more heavier sets but I’m not sure if Matt’s still alive now maybe but I haven’t seen him for years. He was in a group like that, a more heavier wireless set, a


war expert on wireless.
How many people were you working directly with?
In the unit?
A good number, I cant really give you actual numbers.
On a shift, how many people would be in signals or wireless?
It depends on where you were. It might be three or four or there might be five and there would be despatch riders coming and going, line men going out to


repair lines and that was there job, there was quite a few and it was quite a big unit. Then there were the blokes out at the brigade and they were there and it went on further out right out to the infantry signals. They weren’t part of the divisional signals they were the infantry fellows. We did a bit of training with them at times.


How did you find your leave time in Lebanon?
We went down to Beirut and there was a leave camp there and that was a very sensible idea and was later on when they were getting more organised. We could go down to the leave camp and you’d go to the camp and then when you went on leave they had trucks running into Beirut and you could go in and have the food setup at the camp and you’d just go into Beirut and


come back at about midnight on the trucks and you’d come home again. You were usually half whacked but Beirut was quite a nice place in those days. The main leave I had was there and that’s where the leave camp was in Beirut.
Could you get Australian beer there as well or local stuff?


I cant quite remember about that now, we drank a bit of wine there, but I don’t remember the beer, you probably could. Bill and I use to go to the restaurants a bit and that sort of thing.
This is Bill who could speak a bit of French?
Yes old Bill. He’s dead, he’s.. was dead years ago.
Did anyone have to be forcibly removed


from brothels in the Middle East?
Do what?
Did you have any problems with men in brothels getting into trouble, like you said in Capetown?
There were brothels of course in the Middle East. Montgomery was the one that insisted that they be there, believe it or not, it’s quite true. He said that the men must have the horizontal exercise. Yes, there were brothels in Cairo.


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.
Why am I reluctant to believe you?
There were very few blokes like me up there.
Was VD much of a problem for the men?
If they looked after themselves. The disease was a problem,


VD disease but the girls were inspected as best as they could. It was all under supervision, if you looked outside that you were looking for trouble. If you kept within the system you were reasonably safe. But if you got VD it was a self-inflicted wound and you didn’t get any pay until you were cured, so that was a bit of a stopper too, so you had to thing about those sorts of things.


I didn’t like hypocrites and I never did, we had a few hypocrites and they’d say, “The blokes that were married and having that sort of a thing and they’d be having a hell of a time,” and I’d say, “It’s all right for the goose, but what about the gander?” We use to have some fun, it was always just in fun.
What was their opinion about that theory?
I don’t know, they carried on the way that they wanted to, it’s all different types it takes a lot to make an army, with all different types of fellows.


Those brothels were army regulated?
Were they guards or manned or anything like that?
Yes they were under protection, they had medical people who handled all of that.
Did they take note of who went and who didn’t?
No, you’d just go if you wanted too. If you were in town and on leave


and you felt like some then you’d go and that was it. You were supposed to do set precautions and that sort of thing, if you were sensible you did that but if you weren’t it was up to you and you paid for it.
Did you buy anything when you were on leave?
Occasionally you’d send something home. I brought a very nice cigarette case for a girlfriend back here


and a few others things. You’d buy a few things and you’d go and so a bit of bargaining like you mentioned before, but not a great deal and we didn’t have much money anyway.
Were you sending any money home during that period?
You had to have a deferred pay, which was sent home and if you had dependants you had to pay. It just depended on your situation but in my case I had deferred pay that was


kept here for me and banked here for me, it went to my mother and she banked it for me. I forget the amount now, but it wasn’t a lot but it was a certain amount of your pay, a certain percentage of your pay was deferred. It was called deferred pay that you had there when you came back.
It must have been quite a sacrifice after you having made quite a lot of money before?
I didn’t look on it at that light,


at the time I was young, I was young and silly I suppose. You got by, the longer it went the more round off you became. You got a bit blasé about the whole business.
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?
Yes, sure.
Should I get it now or should I wait until another time? Then we had this sort of feeling because we had watched and heard what had been going on in the desert and we had been there. I had been up in the desert on an extra thing at one stage almost up the Benghazi again


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.
Can you describe your role during those two battles?
They were very mediocre really,


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.
Were you kept informed on how the battles were running?
If you were on the switchboard you knew pretty well because you listened


to what was being said by the officers and that, so we were pretty well informed. It would have been known to the boys around that “such and such are doing all right” or “such and such are in trouble” and so on and we were kept fairly well informed because we would listen in on what was going on.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 04


We were just talking about the battle of Alamein. Were there points during the battles when you thought you might not win?
No, as far as we were concerned or as far as I was concerned I never gave it a thought. We had great full confidence of what was going on. It was a bit touch and go there once or twice there. Montgomery, I didn’t know then


really, he waited, they used to reckon that he waited too long he wouldn’t put troops into battle but he had all the equipment that was needed and that was his strength. His strength was that he could talk to troops and he would go around and personally talk to me or our group. But with the infantry boys I think he would go around and try and let people know what


of his messages, let them know, let the troops know what’s going on and they will do the job. That was his life, if you’re interested in that sort of thing that you’ve read. There is a book out called ‘The Full Monty’, one episode of it is out and there is another episode to come and it’s well worth reading if you are interested in that sort of thing.
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.
Were there many homosexuals in the army?
Very few that I knew about, very few. I suppose there were, but in those days it wasn’t the thing that was spoken much about. I have one little amusing thing that Monty was, when he got the command


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.


Did you want to stay and go forward or were you keen to come back and defend Australia?
At that stage of the game I think we were just prepared to do what we were told. I think we were glad to come home I suppose but I think some of them would have liked to have gone on. As far as I was concerned we were just told that something was going to happen and you did it, you went along.


You were always glad when a battle was over, or when the campaign was over. We were very fortunately, I think the 9th Division were fortunate in a sense that we had all victories. We considered Tobruk a victory we held Tobruk, the handicap back was sort of a shemozzle but it wasn’t a defeat, but something like the 8th Division must of been terrible to have been taken prisoner of war,


it would have been a terrible business. I got to know a lot of blokes who were taken prisoners of war and it must have been dreadful but we were fortunate in that sense.
What did you fear most in those battles?
As far as just your job, communications, communications had to be kept up as I explained a little while ago and the various people did their various thing. The chaps on the wireless had to do certain things and they did that. The officers


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.


What did you fear most in those battle situations, what were you most worried about?
I don’t think you worried a lot, to say that you were frightened would be silly, you were concerned, everybody is concerned about their life but the main concern was that you had to do what you had to do and you had to do it properly and not let your mates down. I think mainly


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.
Did you worry about being taken prisoner?
No. On the run back


I think we were with the experience I told you about, we didn’t think about that, we just wanted to get out, just to get somewhere and that was the main thing. Also to help each other, generally speaking that was the attitude of the comradeship in the army that was what it was all about.
Can you describe to us the


evacuation or the existing of Alamein, how did you get out of there?
The battle was over and they went forward. The various troops were order forward and so on and so forth but as far as the 9th Division was concerned the infantry fellows went so far and they did their job very well the 9th Division infantry they did their job remarkably well.


It’s a very hard fight and they lost a lot of men and the Division as a whole worked apparently very very well. But then when the break came we didn’t follow on, the 8th Army went forward but we were returned home. So we sort of just stopped where we were and the war had gone ahead of us and we just packed up our gear and moved back into Palestine.


Then from Palestine they had arranged, and it was a hell of a distance they had to arrange and the big ships came to take us home. We came home on an old boat called I think the Mauritania. We sailed for home and of course we were very glad to be sailing for home and you can image that, and it was an experience in itself. I remember the old Mauritania wasn’t much of a ship,


but she was a trooper and we were right down the bowels of the damn thing and it was hot as blazes and most of us got to sleep up on deck on the way home. We came back and landed at Sydney, with all the fanfare and all that sort of business when we got home.
Was that an emotional experience?
Yes that was very emotional that coming home. You had the bands playing and all this sort of business. You were home again


and we saw our loved ones. I went on leave and we had really long leave. Then the idea was that we had to train for jungle warfare, different altogether from the desert and we went up to the Tablelands for that.


Did you come back to Melbourne in your leave time?
Yes, I came back to Melbourne.
How long were you here for?
It wasn’t that long, a few weeks. Then we went to Seymour, we were camped at Seymour for a time and we went from Seymour


by train right up to the Tablelands, through Sydney and Brisbane and we were on the train for quite some time and we finished up at the Tablelands.
How was that training up at the Tablelands?
Fairly good, it was good training we had to adapt ourselves. We in turn like the old story we


had to get communications going there, so that was part of our training, we did our job again. They got communications going for the training, and got in touch with the various units, that was the caper of the signals in a place called Kerry where our headquarters were. We went out on stunts of course. I remember one particular stunt that we did with the 7th Division


and we tried out some new rations, they were dehydrated rations and they’d come in and we had to use those. They weren’t very successful I didn’t think but they were divvied up pretty quickly but they would leave you pretty quickly. You had tins of these various things and it was only out in the jungle. A tin of canned heat that you could light and that was the training there at one stage of the business.


Was there lots of physical training up at the Tablelands?
Not a lot, no, we didn’t do a lot of physical training, we did do some but not a lot we were pretty fit.
Were there any accidents or troubles in that training period up in the Tablelands?
Not many no, it all went pretty smoothly I think, as far as I was concerned and


our unit was concerned and we had our jobs to do and we went out on marches and we did those various things but we didn’t get much leave. You’d probably go down to Cairns but it wasn’t much point in that so we just trained and getting ready to go to New Guinea.
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 talk to the fellow that you met about the war and how it was going?
Not a great deal, just an evening and then we went our various ways. We didn’t associate a lot with the Yanks


on leave a lot, they were here and we were here and we went about our caper and they weren’t about there’s more or less, we joined up a bit occasionally but not as far as I knew, but we got on all right with them.
Did you hear any stories of any brawls between the Australians and the Yanks?
I reckon there was a bit thing in Brisbane during the time but I wasn’t in that, they were up there, they say that there was a lot fighting and some shots were fired but I doubt it. I don’t think that would have happened


I think there would have been more fisticuffs. I don’t know the truth about that at all but I think it was over-emphasised that’s my view because a lot of those things were over-emphasised. The papers get a hold of it and you know what the media’s like, you’re part of it and you know about that yourself. You know what the media’s like, they try to emphasise it a lot and make a mountain out of a molehill, but generally speaking we had no animosity.
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.
When were you told that you were heading off to New Guinea?
I’m trying to think of dates,


I’m not actually sure of the date but we trained at the Tablelands for sometime and then word came that we were heading somewhere, we embarked and we finished up at Milne Bay, that’s where we first landed, Milne Bay was the safe area and it had been taken over. We trained there a bit and then we consolidated. The battle that was


planned was to take Lae and Finschhafen and of course we know the story of that. The 7th Division they came down the Markham Valley and we landed north of Lae and landed and came down by land to take Lae that was the first landing that we did. We hadn’t done an amphibious landing before but


and we trained for that, the amphibious business and that was the campaign there.
Could you describe for us the processes of landing just north of Lae?
It comprised of the infantry going in on barges, they go in in infantry landing craft. We went in the third wave ourselves in what they call the LCI [Landing Craft Infantry], which is a landing craft ship.


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.
What was your feeling as you were landing?
All of us had the same thing, you knew what you had to do, and you knew that you had to land and you just went ahead and did it.


On our particular boat that got strafed you could hear the bullets coming off it and there were a few blokes that were wounded and a couple of people got killed. You just kept your head down as much as you could and the blokes in charge would say the words and you would drop where you were and they didn’t panic. They dropped the things and then you took off, in our case you were up to here in water from


the ramps and two of us would take the batteries in for the wireless sets. That was our job to take the batteries ashore and then you had an assembly point and you would assemble and there you were designated the various things that you had to do. We had to go forward Mr Smith and myself and a couple of us went forward to an area to setup where our headquarters was going to be, to get it ready.


Then we went forward but we were behind the infantry there, and we were behind that and it was clear going but pretty hard going. Through the slush and mud and all that business. But we were fit and you did it because it was part of the caper.
What equipment were you carrying?
Not a great deal, but coming ashore we took batteries ashore but going down we just had our


own gear then and I think we had a couple of phones if I remember rightly. We had to get down and establish this place on the lines, the lines had to be laid and the linesmen were there. They went forward and brought to lines out to the brigades. We had to go and establish where this place was and then they came with more equipment and we went and set up the little headquarters there.


Later they moved forward from us again and I was left behind there because the line got extended so long for supply and that so there had to be relays done and a group of us about four of us were left behind there. There were two who had to do the relays and the phones would work as far as we were but then you had to relay the messages through so it was extended for a time until they moved up further.


Did you dig in in those areas?
It’s the first thing that you did anywhere in the desert we did it and in the jungle. If you could the first thing was to find an area where you were going to stay and do what you had to do. The first thing that you did was prepare yourself some sort of a shelter, the elements and from the bombing, so if it’s automatic one of you would go and do your duty as we said you’d go and


do what had to be done, and the other would set up the little donga. You’d dig as far as you could but you couldn’t get very deep a few inches or a foot down would be the safest place if there’s shelling or anything like that. In our case we had to take a gas cape in with us, the gas masks which we didn’t use of course because they were a damn nonsense. A ground sheet


and half of a blanket and you always had a bit of sig wire and you would make a sort of a little hammock with your blanket just above the ground. To get out of the wet, because this place was wet all the time, but warm thank goodness and then you’d have your little trench which was probably filled with water. If anything cracked you could roll out into your little trench which was the safest spot. We didn’t have much trouble there as far as we were concerned.


The main trouble was with malaria and that sort of thing which turned out later, but then we had to take your Atebrin and that sort of thing which you did. With the food, you got use to getting things and knowing what to do so you had a few rations and things and you knew how to twig and you worked that our pretty well.


How long were you in that position for?
I think we were there for a couple of weeks if I remember rightly. I remember one incident when they got forward, well forward and they almost got to Lae we were still back there and a mate of mine, we got an issued meat, of frozen meat and he came down and David’s


been dead for some years now and he was only a little fellow. He came back from miles bringing this bloody meat to us and we by the time we got the meat it had gone off. They had a chap there called Harry Lloyd who had been in the Indian army, and he said, “No, no don’t throw it away, we will curry it,” and he found some curry and there is always a scrounger in your mob and he curried it and it was all right.


That was the idea with curry, the beef wasn’t that badly off but it had gone a bit black, but we ate it anyway. I remember David coming miles to bring it down to us.
Had you had curry before?
Yes at home. The curry camouflaged the meat pretty well. Which would be common in


India in the olden days, that’s probably what currying was all about. They didn’t have refrigeration in India in the olden days, and curries and the condiments were there to make the food taste a bit better.
What sort of food were you eating then besides that?
Mainly bully beef and biscuits. Then when they got settled down a bit the cooks got things going and there would be a cook-house, and the


cook would set up and they did a marvellous job the cooks with nothing. One of the silliest things they gave us was the bloody oatmeal and of course if you had porridge you’d come out in boils it was too heating. We had a cook who was pretty wise and he didn’t serve it, he kept it and would make hot biscuits out of the oatmeal and they were quite good, and he’d make


these out of the oatmeal and I cant think of his name now but I remember. They did a marvellous job some of the cooks, under terrible conditions wet and raining but they got there.
How did the conditions affect the signalers with the equipment and so on?
That’s a point. The wireless weren’t too


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.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 05


You were at Finschhafen and I want you to tell us about that experience?
The division moved up to Finschhafen but I was left behind as I mentioned as a rear party. They had a landing what they called a red beach there and they landed there and they had a quite a bit of opposition there on that landing. A little bit later on the


Japs tried to get back a further landing and they repelled after quite some extensive operation but I wasn’t there at that time, I was sent up later after that episode was over. I went up and joined them after Finschhafen had been taken and I joined them there and did some work around the area and went up almost as far as the division went and then


we had Christmas time. Then we withdraw and I came back to Australia with the advance party from there.
Just to understand a little bit more about there, where were you while Finschhafen was taken?
I was back at the old headquarters near Lae, not quite at Lae but back


this side of Lae at the Busu River. I was there just as a rear party as they did have in those days to just clean up. I missed that action, the main action at Finschhafen.
What were you hearing about the action during that time?
Not a great deal, just on how it was going and you’d hear though communications and that sort of thing. How things were going and what was needed and that sort of business.


You said previously that you said that you were feeling fairly confident at that stage?
We all did, I don’t think we felt at any time that we weren’t going to finish the job. I think the 9th Division, I think all the Australians had that sort of a feeling that we would carry out the task. I don’t think any army does that they are going to be defeated. I hope not anyway,


but you have to carry out your task.
It would be hard to keep going if you didn’t feel that way?
I would think so yes. As I say it must have been terrible, but we didn’t face any defeat, but to those who did face defeat it must have been a terrible feeling I feel, but I didn’t experience it myself.
Can you give me examples of what sort of messages you were receiving during that time?
Mainly in my case it was in regards to supplies, the supplies that were needed


and that sort of thing, that was mainly the sort of messages on line that you would sort of get and receive. Different people would be wanting different positions, general, nothing very startling really.
Was most of the stuff coming in code or..?
No, that was on line it just came by voice mainly. Morse was used when the communications were hard or the long distances but not a great deal. The wireless did most


of the morse work.
How was this wireless unit different to the ones that you had used previously?
No different really, they used the same sets, the same units, the same fellows. The ones that were on the desert they were on the section, the A section they use to call it, the same blokes they worked the wirelesses.
Virtually the same equipment?
Yes, very similar, very similar sets.
I have read a lot about


the shortages that were experienced in New Guinea, can you give me some examples of shortages or demands that were made?
We didn’t experience a great deal of shortages, we seemed to be equipped reasonably well. Our equipment was much less than what the Americans had but we managed all right, I don’t think we had a great deal of shortage because we always had enough food and we could handle


that pretty well, we were pretty adaptable by then, you could adapt yourself to almost anything.
How was the food, you mentioned that sometimes the meat was requiring?
We didn’t get much meat, but a lot of tinned stuff. One of the things that we could get a certain parts was the coconuts and the green coconut, the milk


from the coconut is a very refreshing drink. You just cut the top of and drink it, it’s just like lemonade and it’s quite a refreshing drink and we use to get that when we could. We got other things like paw paws or things like that occasionally.
Did many of you loose weight?
I suppose we did, I think we all did we lost a fair bit of weight, at least I did. You sweated


a lot and the heat was horrific and you were usually very hot and wet a lot of the time.
What were the rains like?
Very very heavy, very heavy rains usually a night. In that area along Lae and along the coast the rain use to come in at night, very very heavy but it didn’t rain very much during the day but the clouds would come over the mountains at night and it rained very very heavily, inches at a time.


You would be up to your knees in mud some of the times.
How did that affect your living conditions?
You got by and it depended a lot on how you conducted yourself, you got by and some people had trouble with their feet, but I didn’t. I didn’t have trouble with my feet but some did like the infantry I was very lucky. Some of the infantry boys found the going pretty tough. They were worse of than we were,


they had to do their fighting as well but they managed very very well.
What sorts of troubles were the people getting, particularly with their feet?
You’d get the dampness all the time and of course malaria came in then and started to effect people then but by that time it was starting to take effect. It lead right though the New Guinea campaign and most of the casualties were through malaria.


Malaria and scrub typhus and that sort of thing. They were very heavy the blokes that would go down with it, but I didn’t I fortunate then. I didn’t then, but I coped it later when I came home. It had a delayed effect on me I suppose and to others too but lots of them got it when they came home for leave.
Yes, we have heard that from other gentlemen.


Did you see much in the way of tropical ulcers or sores like had gone gangrenous?
I didn’t but in some of the chaps that was fairly ripe I believe, in our group we didn’t have a great deal of it.
How did you go about protecting your equipment particularly in the heavy rains?
You didn’t have much to protect in a sense, we had very little. One thing you had was your mess gear of course, you had your rifle,


you had a blanket a machete was a very handy piece of equipment, you could cut down in the bush to get through to certain areas and we nearly all acquired one of those, it’s just like a bush knife. Everything would get very wet, and your blankets would get wet and if you didn’t dry them out some of them would get fly blown,


the wool in the blankets the flies would blow them. You’d get maggots in your blankets but you’d hang them up if you could or get them dry as best as you could but you were usually wet most of the time, where I was then. Most of the time you were damp or wet and you accepted it but fortunately it wasn’t cold. Those that served up in the mountains I believe had trouble with the cold, and it got very cold up in the mountains but we didn’t serve up there and I didn’t anyway so I was fortunate in that way.


Were fires helpful for boots, blankets and that sort of thing for drying and getting rid of the flies?
No not a great deal, we didn’t use much fire. It was hard keeping a fire going, it was pretty hard with the damp. The cookhouses had the oil burners to cook the food. Everything was damp and wet.
How was the wireless equipment protected?
As I said earlier,


later they either put up a tent or shelter for it, and later they had the wireless trucks in pie carts, they use to call them, but they were not very good for the jungle terrain but they got them in in certain areas at headquarters they got a pie cart in. They set up in it and manned it.
Did you work in both environments?
I didn’t in


New Guinea. I didn’t work in wireless I was on line.
How was the location set up for that equipment, north of Lae?
The lines were Laid to a headquarters as it were, a station and you’d have a switchboard and a line to go out to the various places that it had to go out. It came to the switchboard to the various officers and they had to give it to the commanders.


The lines were Laid by the linesmen to the various areas that it needed to be in communication. To do communication it was very similar to what you use to do through the switchboard in those days they weren’t like mobile phones, it was all done through the lines, through the cable.


This may seem like a funny question, but can you take us through an average day from the time when you get up?
If you’re on duty, you might have been in duty say at midnight so at 0200 hours and in the army your mate would come along and wake you up and say, “You’re on,” and you’d go and do what


you were doing, like on the switchboard, or behind some other duty that you were doing. Then the time would come for you to go and get a meal, you would go and get that and then you might be off duty. In our case when you were behind the lines where we were most of the time you’d perhaps go for a swim, generally socialise around the place. Perhaps go and see a mate somewhere


and that sort of thing and then it would be time to come back and do what you had to do, do your duties. So we didn’t do too badly really.
You mentioned how long your shift was in the Middle East, was it the same in Lae… your shift in New Guinea?
No not really, no just general army routine.
Did you have a regular or did that shift change quite..?
No, it depended entirely on the situation. You fitted in and sometimes you had to work for a long time


and you’d do it because there might not have been anybody there. Circumstances because there generally was no real routine. There were general times when you’d get a feed, if you were out on a job and you’d use to come back and get a feed, and the cook would have wrapped something up for you if you had been out on something.
So the cook had to be pretty adaptable too?
They were good, generally the cooks were very good. The thing with the cooks was they did a very admirable job I feel.


We didn’t think so then but I do now.
They didn’t have much to work with?
No they didn’t, it’s true, but they did a marvellous job.
You mentioned the things that you had with you, can you tell me a few more things that you had in your pack, your personal belongings?
Writing gear usually if you could, a change of shirt, and in my case a change of socks. My mother used to knit woollen socks


and they were very handy in the jungle. They wore woolen socks and they got into more trouble with their feet not wearing socks. But I was lucky I had two pairs of woolen socks and one was on your feet and one was hanging somewhere to get dry if you could. If you were on a march you’d hang them on the back of your pack to get them dry. Wool was very good, anything that would absorb the perspiration was good. We had jungle greens, the jungle green


trousers and jungle green shirt and a couple of pairs of underpants inside the kit. But you had to take a gas cape and gas mask but you generally got rid of it later on but they weren’t needed but they were a damn nuisance we use to use them for other things.
You mentioned the jungle greens, those had been a change from earlier in the war from the Pacific and you tell me about that?
Earlier they had khaki


but then they had jungle green, the khaki didn’t blend in with the jungle so that was common sense.
It was thought that the long pants was much better in the jungle too?
Yes long pants and gaiters. The Yanks’ gaiters came up a bit higher up the leg and I got a pair and they were a bit better. The boots were good, but they weren’t


really suitable for jungle, they weren’t high enough the mud would get down through the ankles when you were in the wet. Now the combat boots go half way up the calf but then it didn’t. We did have the gaiters but the mud and that would get under the gaiters, the gaiters that we had. The gaiters the Yanks had were a bit better because they went under the foot as well, there was a strap it under the foot


and they came right up to your leg almost up to your knees. If you got a pair of those they were handy. There was always stuff laying about generally, you’d wait and go somewhere and you’d find something.
Did you every trade for things with the Yanks?
Yes, some of them did, you’d find something and you’d trade it for cigarettes, the Yanks always had plenty of cigarettes. There were no Yanks where we were


most of the time, there were no Yanks earlier in the time and there were no Yanks in the Lae campaign. The Finschhafen campaign there were no Yanks but later they were, when I went up the Yanks were there. They use to go in with the big equipment and built the ports, the equipment was heavy and some of the things that we’d never seen in our lives before. Stuff we’d never seen, great big trucks and stuff like that that they had.


They had tremendous equipment and they’d even take great big fridges in and we’d never ever seen them before, they were remarkable and the gear they took in was tremendous. That was one of the problems that they had of course then, with all the equipment in the early part of New Guinea, you just couldn’t take it in.
Did you buy anything from them or did they buy anything from you?
Not really no,


not in my case. Perhaps get some cigarettes of them for perhaps a hat or something like that, a souvenir or something that you might have. They always had plenty of cigarettes. I didn’t like the American cigarettes very much. They had Lucky Strikes and Camels mainly but they’d have cartons of them, where we use to roll our own mainly


if we could, that’s if you could get it.
How did you obtain the tobacco?
Sometimes you could buy it at the canteen, if we went into action and that sort of thing. Sometimes we’d get parcels and you might get a delivery and it was a parcel in a backward area and you’d send them on, the parcels would have perhaps some cigarettes in them or


tobacco, that was the main thing. The tobacco we used to get that we use to roll our cigarettes with was in a sealed case and that was good because it wouldn’t go mouldy, because everything would go mouldy even your boots went mouldy if you left on because of the dampness.
As you said before there wasn’t a lot that you do about the mould and the humidity.
Not a great deal, no, you just had to put up with it. You’d try and keep yourself as clean as you could


and take care.
You mentioned about going for a swim, did that seem to help with the skin?
Marvellous. When we were on the coast you could swim in the sea and that was great. You’d get a swim in the sea if you could any time, the swim in the sea was great, it was really good.
Any troubles with the diseases from the sea with your ears or your eyes?
I didn’t have any, I don’t think there was any but there might have been


but I don’t think so. There was a quite a bit of swimming that went on but I don’t think there was enough to cause any damage.
You mentioned the parcels, I was going to ask you more about what you received in the post over that time period in New Guinea?
The post would come occasionally, letters from home, they were a great thing right through the war, the letters and that were very important through the war. We used to write letters home and that sort of thing and it was a very important that


to keep in touch with what was going on with your loved ones. The postal service was very good, and they went to a great amount of trouble to get the troops’ mail through, mail and comforts if they could.
Going back to the Middle East, how often did you receive mail there?
Your regular times, depending.


In some places we didn’t get any for some time. You’d go back to headquarters and you’d have a lot of mail waiting for you, it had been kept there for you for when you got back. The communications was quite good with the mail they kept it going right throughout the war.
Who did you hear from while you were in the Middle East?
I used to write to a couple of girls back at home here. My mother of course


and I had a couple of chaps who I knew, you’d write to them like you do now. People don’t write too many letters today but I still correspond with people, but a lot of people ring up or get on the mobile, so I don’t have a mobile and I don’t wont one.
Did people ever read their letters out loud to one another?
Yes sometimes, you’d say,


“This is something that had happened somewhere.” Yes, sure you did. You’d write when you could and then get it away.
Some chaps have told us that occasionally there were people who didn’t get any letters.
Yes, that could happen. There were some lonely people like everywhere else,


some people didn’t have much family. People who had sadness, on occasions chaps would get a letter from perhaps their wife and that they were leaving them, dreadful things like that. It would cause some of the problems with the chaps who would go right off. You might have a girlfriend that you were engaged to and she’d write a letter to say that she was going to marry a Yank or something like that, and a bit of that went on and probably ever since there have been wars,


but that’s human life.
When someone did get upset like that, what kind of things did they do or say?
The odd one or two went off a bit, but not to a great degree, most of them handled it. Some of them went off and get very despondent and perhaps got a bit bomb happy; they


would breakdown, that’s a better word. Some people under strain break, some did but it was very rare, but it did happen.
What sort of treatment did they receive?
They usually would be sent back to a hospital and blah blah blah. In those days there was certainly psychiatric treatment and that sort of a thing. There were


fellows that did crack altogether and they finished up back here and I think there are still some blokes in places like that that never really recovered, I suppose most of them are dead by now. There is a place up here near Preston but I just cant think of the name of it, where psychiatric people were, they went off one way or another, and they were there for years and years some of them, for the rest of their lives, they had


something happen and they’d break.
There certainly wasn’t there now what we refer to as counseling or something like that?
They talk a lot about counseling now and even the letter that you sent me. “If you find this a traumatic situation we have got counseling for you.” I don’t know but I’m skeptic about that sort of thing. What the hell could a counselor do but perhaps I’m completely wrong.


People have been into a bit of strife in the paper but they will counsel them. I play golf with a bloke who is a counsellor and he’s sillier than I am, so that’s how it goes. But I don’t know, I don’t quite understand those things I suppose. You see too much of it today I think, counseling and all that sort of crap.
Did you see blokes talking to other blokes


trying to help them through those stressful situations?
A mate would help a mate of course, you’d talk to a mate and they’d help you and that sort of a thing. You’d do the same thing now with your mates, you’d help each other, everybody tried to help. Particularly in those situations that’s what it was all about, trying to keep the whole thing as a going concern and that you helped each other that’s what it was all about really.


The companionship of a campaign is remarkable. It was something that you missed a bit when you came back into civil life. I felt that the trust that some fellows had with each other was great.
I wondered if officers ever did that for their men?


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.


What did you think of your officers in particular in New Guinea?
Some of them were very good, the majority were good. There were some poor ones of course, which would happen anywhere, but generally speaking they were quite good and quite efficient in doing their job, generally speaking.
What sorts of decisions did the poorer or not sort of good officers make that lead you to that conclusion?
Usually if they made bad decisions, but by that time we knew enough to


virtually do it our way in a sense if you know what I mean, that would happen anywhere. It would have been more important of course where the infantry were which I don’t know about, but in that case those fellows that weren’t up to it would have been very quickly removed, and I think that I mentioned that before. I think that it wouldn’t take long for a man that wasn’t


efficient to stay right through, right through the army, right from a private right up to the general if he was inefficient. Not necessarily sacked but removed to something else that he could perhaps handle it better. In some cases those in the rear and in some cases those in the rear would be better forward. I think the wise heads that saw it would see to it that they were moved to those positions but it wasn’t always done efficiently but tried to be done for the


benefits of the troops as a whole.
I wonder if you had any nicknames for the officers?
Yes, there were quite a few of those but we won’t go into those. There were quite a few nicknames in the army but I didn’t acquire one, I never got a nickname, I was just Ballard or Reg. The big tall fellow usually became tiny, and so it went the various nicknames that went on.


A bloke called Holland, of course became Dutchy and that sort of thing. The nicknames are great and it was their characters of course, there are great characters in every unit.
What were some of their nicknames?
As I said in our unit there was a Dutchy, there was


Lofty this little fellow, and a Tiny and so it went, they acquired those over a period of time.
You can tell us some of the officer ones if you want too. It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to tell us the name of the officer.
We didn’t have many but there were a few, Woof Head was one and I remember he was a woof head too. He was a blundering sort of a bloke


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.


I was going to ask a bit about the padres and their role.
They did a very good job and their sad role of the job was they had to do the burials that was their thing, to do the burials and it must have been a big job for them.
Can you describe to me what the funeral process was like?
I can in a way,


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.
So you didn’t have a padre in that instance, you just had to say some thoughts and prayers


on your own?
You would take your hat off and somebody might say a little prayer. I didn’t see a lot of that but the infantry fellows saw more of it during the war than I did, but I didn’t see a great deal and I was fairly fortunate.
That must have been quite hard, he was a good mate?
Yes, you lost mates


but still you went on, it’s the same that you do in civilian life, it’s the same with you or anybody else. People see it and there’s no big deal about it, it was done and we were men and we had to face it. As I say if you didn’t face it you then became a casualty yourself I suppose. Those that couldn’t face it, it was inevitable, particularly in that sort of a war but with this day and age they have wars with much less casualties thank goodness,


now as the recent wars have shown and the Gulf War has shown there are much less casualties than in our day. In our day the war that was done virtually hand to hand fighting, very close proximity fighting they didn’t have all the remarkable things that they have today. The shelling and that they can almost pin point areas now, much different.


Were deaths handled any differently from New Guinea to how you saw them handled in the Middle East?
It would have been almost the same manner. But in the jungle it was harder to get the men out, they had to be brought out very often by carriers, native carriers that you’ve read about of course. They were used a lot, but in my case we saw them


and we had a bit to do with them, and we gave them a hand with them but we couldn’t speak to them. We weren’t supplied by them so much because we were further back and we were able to be supplied more directly like in my particular case. In the case of those back at headquarters or in the more rear areas but if you got forward sometimes you were sent forward. I was sent forward at times with another chap who had died just recently we were sent forward to establish a


spot where there was going to be headquarters and they made a mistake in the map reading and we finished up in front of the damn infantry, but that was nothing it was no big deal. We met the infantry blokes and we compared our map readings and the map reading was right but it was forward from where they were. What they told us to do was they thought there might be a raid tonight because the Japs weren’t far away but they knew where we were


and where we were dug in and they said if anything does crack just keep your heads down, which we did of course. There was a fire fight that night around about that area and we heard it and we did what exactly what we were told to do and it was the sensible thing and we weren’t in the fight, but the infantry men were there to handle it. We kept our heads down and they carried out their business knowing where we were so there was no danger


to us getting in the crossfire. They were very remote in my long history of the war.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 06


I will get you to clarify your final period of time at Finschhafen?
I got engaged on my leave from the Middle East and all the boys knew this and a couple of the officers knew it and I was to get married on my next leave if I got back. They had to form an advance party whenever they went anywhere and the division was moved or something there was always an advance party to do certain things. Through me being


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 was still before the official end of the war?
During that period the war was over in Europe but the Japanese wasn’t. The Japanese were in when I was back out of the army, when they dropped the atomic bomb.
Can you clarify, that


expression is for a signaler to break, does that mean that the hand got shaky?
Yes. When you were sending by key you were sending by dots and dashes with your hand and when you’re broke you’d get a bit funny about it, instead of sending four dots you might send five, it’s a funny sort of a situation. It never happened to a great many but it did happen to some.
Do you know what


caused it?
Probably over exposure to it, nerves, probably malaria I’d been in and out of hospital. I was wanting to get out of the army, I’d had enough. Particularly when you got back the further you got back the more messed around you got in the army, you got tangled up back here with all the experts, so called that had never done much


or been away, it could be pretty unsettling. They’d use you a bit, you got pushed about, you can put it that way but fortunately as I say, I got out.
They didn’t seem to understand what you’d been through?
I suppose they did, but that’s human nature, they’re like that. I could have been anything, but there it was.
You got your discharge,


was that around the middle of 1945 then just before?
Yes, a bit before, yes around about the middle of 1945. I went back to my old job.
Do you remember where you were when you found out about the atomic bomb?
I was working at the factory, when that came. Of course we all knocked off


and went to town everybody went mad, and you’ve seen the photographs of it, the bosses closed the factory and we all went into town. I did anyway, I went into town and all the celebrations, people throwing their hats in the air and all that sort of business, it was quite a day to see it all over, it had gone on for a long time.
People went down the pub?
Yes, there were all sorts and different ways of


celebrating. You’ve seen it on film some of it, how the crowds went mad and this was in Melbourne and the same in Sydney and this was all over the world, all over the western world anyway.
I remember one women that we talk to said when the news came on they all just got up and walked out of work.
In our case it was a good company, they announced over the


PA [public address] system that the war had finished and they’d close the factory for the day.
This was when the war had officially finished, rather than the dropping of the bomb?
When Japan had capitulated.
Yes. Just going back a few days prior what did you know about the atomic bomb?
Only what was in the papers, only what the papers had published


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.
Were you surprised by the news of the atomic bombs?
We didn’t know at that time anything about it. It was just a great relief that the damn thing was over because our boys went again over to Borneo which I didn’t go to, but they need not


have gone, but they went and people were killed, they could of let them ‘whither on the vines’ as they say but that was after this business. We didn’t know anything about that then, we didn’t even know that they had atomic energy here. The average person didn’t know about that sort of thing. It was all very secret. Now of cause we have read all about


it and how they did it by the sergeant of course but I didn’t know then.
What was your opinion of that at the time?
The right thing to do, it finished the war. The Japanese were a dreadful enemy, they were different to the Germans. The Germans were bad enough but as far as the desert warfare it was fairly conducted in a very civilised manner, if you can call war


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.
But at the time you had a lot less information that came out later on, far less.
We knew that the prisoners had been


taken at Singapore, we’d heard that there were terrible things, and we heard about some of the atrocities. Some of the boys that came back, some of the boys coming back from New Guinea had been there on the Kokoda Trail, we heard the stories there. When we were confronted with it, and when I say we, we were confronted with it we discovered what it was like, and what they were like.


It was a very traumatic experience in a sense. Fortunately our blokes that did the actual fighting were now and we know, and we knew then of course we had great confidence in our units in the divisions and they did a remarkable job, with what equipment that they had. They adapted themselves to jungle warfare very very well.


You mentioned that period just after the war when you left the army and you were readjusting back into your old job, it was a bit strange, a bit funny. There were things that you missed.
Things were different, everything was different altogether. I left a very happy lad and came back to a different thing altogether. It was very very disappointing.
In what way?
Things had changed, the management had changed,


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.
I wondered what you missed after you got out of the army and went back into civilian life?
I was married, and I just concentrated on trying to get on in business


trying to make a quid, that’s what it amounts too. I did that for the rest of my life, which I did quite well, and you had to get down to tin tacks and make a living. I am a great believer in my day of course, the women didn’t go to work like they do now. My first wife didn’t and I didn’t expect her too and she didn’t go to work. She looked after the house and brought up my son and


it wasn’t a very successful marriage but we stuck at it for about thirty years but it wasn’t very successful but that’s another story of course. In that time we had the factory and went through all those stages of getting on, getting up earning more money and establishing yourself, buying a home and those sorts of things that everybody does. You forgot about the army, but I’ve joined the RSL [Returned and Services League].


It was necessary and I use to go there and I was president of the local RSL on a couple of occasions but I wasn’t really wrapped up in the old soldier business.
What do you think other men gained from that or enjoyed about that?
The war?
No the reunions?
It was good fun, you’d meet and have a


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.
So you felt a certain obligation to look after Roma under those circumstances?
I was very much a young man and I was very much in love, but it wasn’t a successful marriage. She was a very good women, very good women and there’s no argument about that at all and she still is. It just didn’t work, for various reasons and I wont come into that here,


it’s not necessary.
We parted after about thirty years, Roma divorced me and I’ve married again and I had a short and pretty torrid, but it’s the sort of marriage that I wanted. That’s the mother of my step daughter there and she died about three years ago.


She got four beautiful kids Liz and they’re my grand kids now in a sense but that’s life.
You mentioned about how some blokes never sort of finished their war. why do you think that is?
I don’t know I suppose some blokes are made like that, they what to soldier on


and that sort of thing. A lot of those fellows didn’t do much anyway and I’ll leave it at that.
I’m quite interested in your trip. You got the opportunity to go back to your service areas?
It came out of the blue, I got a ring here on the phone from Stan. Stan Snowden who is the secretary


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,


and very well organised.


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.
What was it like seeing those locations again?
Rather sad, particularly for some. One chap who


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
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 07


I will just take you back to New Guinea if that’s all right, I’d like to ask you a few questions about that time. I was wondering if there were differences in how prepared you felt for battle in the Middle East versus the battle in the Pacific?
We were certainly much better prepared in the Pacific
You were better prepared?
Yes, we were better trained, we’d been through in action


on two occasions, action in Tobruk and action at Alamein so we were pretty seasoned troops and our equipment was improved too. When we first went in we virtually had nothing at Tobruk at the earlier stages, but gradually it improved. Yes of course, it was much better.
Was there equipment specific to your role in signals that had gotten better?
Yes, some of the sets were improved


and a general improvement in our knowledge of them, not in my case because I wasn’t in wireless and in general with our equipment and we were generally seasoned troops by that time. We’d been through a couple of years almost. We’d been through two big campaigns like Tobruk, Alamein and particularly and the garrisoning and… I’m talking about the 9th Division


in Syria, which was experienced. We were fairly confident in the fact that we had victories, and had been fortunate enough to have had these victories.
When you say that you had those improvements in your particular equipment, what were some of those improvements?
The wireless sets were better as far as I know, I didn’t operate those to any extent.


Even our boots were a bit better, they were the same boots but they were a little bit better but they weren’t as good as they could have been. The clothing was better, the jungle equipment was better. The medication, the Atebrin, that was good and it helped to suppress malaria. The general knowledge


of our officers of course had improved. The sorting out of the good from the bad in that period, some of them had gone and others had come in, a general improvement for sure.
You felt like you were operating better as a team, as a line?
We were pretty efficient division, and we considered ourselves a crack division.


They still refer to that, but it might sound a little bit high-falutin’ but we were a pretty confident mob.
I guess you spoke to us earlier about the fighting alongside and in some cases in conjunction with the American troops?
If there were particularly perceptions


of their role in the Pacific… how you perceived their role in the Pacific?
Those of us that saw them, they had the power and the equipment, they were the big army. We were depending on them virtually to finish to job off, that’s what it amounted to I feel. As individual troops I think we thought at that time we were better.


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.
Along those lines I wonder what your perceptions were of Blamey, General Blamey.
As far as I was concerned


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.


Likewise what were your perceptions of General MacArthur?
He was the Yanks in a sense, they were there they were here they were the power. We were glad they were here and the people the population came back on leave. Britain couldn’t


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.


I will just ask a few more questions about New Guinea if I may. What was your sense of the strength of the Japanese when you were in New Guinea?
In New Guinea itself we thought we had them beaten. It was a hard task, but in the


actual jungle warfare itself the divisions, the 7th the 9th and the 6th Divisions, all the Aussies in the jungle they had him beat. The supply line was so long we didn’t quiet know that then but I think generally, sure we did that we felt confident that we could beat him in New Guinea. But broadly speaking we didn’t think much further, that day and the next day. We were young men and we didn’t


have the knowledge then that we have now. We felt that going in we were quite confident that we would take these places which we did, through our officers and that sort of thing, that feeling.
You said a little bit about this already but were you privy to a bit more information than the average serviceman?
As a signaler you did get a little bit more, yes. We


read messages and we got even some of the coded stuff that wasn’t absolutely top secret but was part… We were fairly close to the decipher boys and I think more than the average infantry fellow we were a bit better informed and quite naturally we were because we heard the communications and we heard what was going on so we had


a pretty fair idea as we were conducting and listening in on the lines if you were on the switchboard or if you had to take a message. You took a message and had to transcribe it or write a message. You were sort of in contact that way, yes.
I wondered if you felt that being in signals, including the


decipher boys, that you felt that was a higher stress position to be in than others?
No. I think that we were much better off than the boys in the infantry for argument’s sake, those lads I don’t know how I would react like I have mentioned many of times. I only know that one reaction when I was under fire. The boys in the infantry, they copped it, we had great admiration for them,


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.
Yet you felt that they appreciated what you did?
Of course they did, and there was a little thing there too I suppose, the way the system


worked was I suppose was those that could perhaps specialise in a certain thing, or be a bit good a something and got put there. If I was in the infantry I could have been good at the machine guns, I would have been a machine gunner. There were certain blokes that were good with rifles, they were riflemen and so it went in the infantry. They had to have very very good officers, and a lot of the officers were promoted from


the rank, as time went on. A lot of the good officers came from the ranks in the infantry.
I wondered if you could describe a little bit more about the strafing attack that you came under during landing, I’m a little bit (UNCLEAR) about which landing that might have been the one that was slightly north of Lae?
Yes, that was north of Lae.
At Lae.
The beach at Lae.
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.
Were there any casualties from..?
Yes there were a few. It was very fortunate really but these things happen.
Did you see


many of those casualties that occurred?
No. You went about your business, there were people there to see to that sort of thing, we went about our job, so you didn’t see much of that.
As you expressed, you felt slightly more isolated from those events more than the other servicemen did, protected from those events?
Yes I suppose so. Naturally there weren’t the casualties behind the lines


up in the front the casualties were, and they had to get the wounded out. We didn’t come in contact with a great deal of that at all.
You had some contact with the local people, can you tell me about that?
Nothing very spectacular. When they landed the natives had gone bush, gone out of their villages and up into the hills and they sent people that had been to New Guinea, ANGAU [Australia and New Guinea Administration Unit] people who spoke the language.


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.
Did you experience any of the local ceremonies or food?


No. Some of the gardens had been destroyed, they had these little gardens and that sort of thing, but no I didn’t experience that. They just seemed to be just ordinary native people.
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.
Any entertainment?
At Finschhafen they brought a


film unit in, films. I think it was Finschhafen they had films. At Milne Bay there was a picture place too, and I remember at one stage I think it was at Finschhafen later on Bob Hope had a show, he came in for the Yanks but I didn’t go to see it or anything but I believe he did the show at Finschhafen. Bob Hope and the women,


they flew them in. The Yanks could do all of this, but we couldn’t. I suppose some of us when to it but I don’t remember going to it, I didn’t get the opportunity to go to that show. They brought these entertainment people in later on when the thing was being built up. They had great build up and they built great harbours and things to bring in the equipment, after the enemy had been driven out. They had to get ready to make airfields,


to go further. They were taking these areas to make airfields, and various islands and that was the reason for trying to get the Japs out of it.
What pictures did you see?
I don’t recall the actual... They were the films of the day, whoever they might be, Clark Gable…


but I can’t remember the names of the films. I remember seeing Gone with the Wind. I think we saw that in Syria, it was somewhere in the Middle East I think. A couple of the films we went to in Milne Bay, I don’t remember what the films were.
Was that outdoors?
Yes. They had a screen up, it’s something like the drive-ins here now. You sat on


logs or something and up the front they had a few seats for the officers. If there was a picture on you’d go, that’s one of the things that they did. The Salvation Army were remarkable of course.
Tell me about them?
They were everywhere, you’d go up forward somewhere and there’d be a


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.


We definitely have heard that from other people as well.
Great. You’d hear that from everybody who was up there.
You mentioned that you had a Christmas in..?
We had a Christmas at Finschhafen. We got a bit of turkey for dinner I think. They got us a turkey I think we had, it was a bit of a special feed that we got, that was all. They got they right forward as far as they could. Everybody got a bit of something,


they got something up there special. I think they got it right to the front line troops, I’m pretty sure they did. They got something up there, something a bit special, if they could.
Was the meal served differently?
In some backward areas some of the officers would serve the dinner, that was sort of a traditional thing, but they just went along normally.


Did you have special entertainment on that day?
No, not where we were at that time. We got this extra bit of food, that was the main thing, the extra bit of tucker and it was quite good.
What about Red Cross comfort parcels?
Yes, we got those from time to time they got them up there. Very often in New Guinea if you got a cake if it wasn’t well sealed it would be mouldy when you got it. If it was sealed up well,


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.
What did you receive from your mum, letters still?
Letters and as I said she did these socks that were great, and I suppose other things but I cant quite remember. Not a great lot, but there was this group


the Whybrow Boot Company and they sent parcels and they selected someone, and they would have a group of them in a factory, and I was somebody from the boot trade. In the case of the Whybrow Company one of my friends was one of the managers there and he put my name in and I got some comforts through the war from them. I had the pleasure of going in after the war and


thanking them. When I came out from the Middle East I went there and thanked them for sending these parcels. That went on all over the place, different groups sending parcels, they’d gather a few bob, in a group of people six pence of a shilling and gather stuff and then send a parcel it to some particular person.


You mentioned in the Middle East you occasionally had a stray dog that you used to feed?
In the desert there were stray dogs around and they had been wog dogs we called them, and the dog would come along. I remember at Alamein there were a few and at Tobruk there were some, these pie dogs, that black one in the photograph is one of them. He might come along, the poor thing and he got pardoned from


their Arabs they had been with, perhaps in Tobruk or somewhere. In the case of Tobruk out in the desert and there had been bombing and they would come along and see one and give it a feed and it would attach itself to a certain group of fellows it would hang around. There were quite a few of those around the place, the old dogs.
Did you give them names?
I didn’t, but there were some that did get names,


but in my case he wasn’t with me long but he was around the camp for a while. We called him something but I don’t remember now exactly what his name was. There were a few stray things around the place out further. I remember going out to a infantry unit but I cant remember which one now one of the battalions. They had found a sheep, but they made a bit of a sanger out of


the sheep, but ate it later of course but they found this sheep straying out there and they caught it and it became food.
Did you have any pets in New Guinea?
No, not that I know of, although some did somewhere along the line but not in our case. No pets.


You mentioned in particular the expertise of the navy in the Middle East?
I was wondering what your impressions were of the other services, particularly the air force?
In the Middle East in Tobruk there were only about eight Hurricanes, when we first went into Tobruk in April, we had eight Hurricanes I think there. The power of the Germans was just too great for them.


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.


In New Guinea the air coverage and the air support you had…
The air support was quite good, but we didn’t see a lot of it because of the jungle and yes, the air force did quite a good job there. They had the Beaufighters there, the ‘whispering death’ we use to call them, they did a great job. They had the Japs


just about under control by the end of the desert in the air in that area. Yes, the air force did quite a lot of work, it was very nasty work no doubt, the conditions were shocking, their business I believe. Very high mountains at the Owen Stanley Mountains and they had to come over them,


we got the air support yes.
How did the Beaufighters get that name?
Whispering death. They flew very fast and they were fairly silent, I think that’s why.
Interviewee: Reginald Ballard Archive ID 0402 Tape 08


I would like to ask what role sport played in your service years. Did you have a chance for sport in the Middle East?
We had a bit of boxing that went on. There is the story about the boxing but I used to do a bit of amateur boxing but I wasn’t a fighter by any means. I boxed a bit and I could handle myself that way but I had a glass jaw and I didn’t have a very heavy punch. I was fairly lightweight and I could really


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?”
Did you do boxing in the Middle East as well?
I was a bit light on but as I say I didn’t participate in it a great deal. There were always gloves around somewhere and you and I let’s say might put the gloves on, and have a tussle just for the fun of it. As I say on


the boats they’d have these competitions with a prize and some of the blokes would go into it. We had one lad in our 6th Division unit was very good, little Ross and he’s still alive. He’s a member of the Thirty-Niners Association and he’s the Secretary or the Treasurer or something. He’s a great little boxer and he’s partly Japanese. He


was a very good boxer and he did a bit of boxing in his day.
Did he ever get sort of ribbing or teasing from the men for being partly Japanese?
No, he was very well respected and he was a lovely sportsman, he was highly respected and he still is and he’s a good guy. I think his father was Japanese, but I’m not sure, but he was a great guy.
Did you have many people with German or Italian parents?
Charlie Shultz,


his parents were German but they’d been out here for years and others from different parentage but they were just Australians. There was no discrimination at all, as far as that was concerned. Blokes were just taken for what they were and there were some drongos and some clever guys and the ordinary run of the mill fellows, we all sorted ourselves out along the way.


That’s the army way.
Do you think your war experience changed your sense of nationality of being Australian or British?
Not in my case, I’m not stupidly so. I’m proud of my British parentage and I still am. I’m still quite loyal to Britain, I think it’s a… good systems should the test of time.


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?
Only exerts, yes.
You know his English was splendid. Lovely English and he reckoned you only needed a vocabulary of about eight hundred words, and he was a great writer. Reading the history of the English people is a fascinating reading, it goes through all that business of how


they evolved.
Did you have faith in Churchill as a leader?
I still reckon he was a great leader, he had his faults of course, who hasn’t? He was a man of his time, but without Churchill I think they would have capitulated. I think, who looks like being Prime Minister, damn it I just can’t recall it. I think he would


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.
What do you think has drawn you to read so extensively about the war?
I beg your pardon?
You read very extensively about the war since your experience.


What has brought you too that or compelled you to dream so much?
As a young fellow I was interested in reading, I was interested in history and I think you have to read to expand, I would prefer to read than watch TV even to this day. I’m not a great student by any means. I like reading history


with good writers and of course having been in the army during the war naturally I feel I’d turn to trying to find out afterwards what it was all about. We didn’t know much about it during the time we just did our job, I wanted to find out what went on, and that’s why I think, yes.
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.


Did you at the time have a sense of being part of a major historical event?
Yes I think we did, I think I did. The world was in trouble and things were bad. Britain was being attacked, threaten, that’s the way a simple lad had felt. From my parentage and being brought up


English, Britain was virtually my mother’s home, and she used to think about home and it was that sort of way that I was brought up. I suppose others would feel altogether different but that was my particular personal view, and I virtually still have the same views. I think


they were right, they should have gone in before but they didn’t. They had an alliance of course with Poland and they kept it up, but it was a pretty poor sort of an effort in a sense, but it was too late.
How do you think the war had changed you?
If I have any wisdom it gave me more wisdom,


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.
Do you feel they were reinforced by your experiences or perhaps diffused?
I think so, it certainly did more good than harm, sure it did. I met some wonderful people,


some of the most wonderful mates, which is something that you wouldn’t find in civilian life ever. The comradeship that we had and particularly in action or near action in my case, all those boys. We’d meet the boys from infantry on leave and you were one, it didn’t make a damn if you were back at headquarters or whether you


were a VC [Victoria Cross] up front, you just had this respect one for the other. We all came from different backgrounds, and we all reacted certainly in different manners but we were all that one lovely Aussie group of fellows that stuck together. There were some stupid things done, and some arrogant things done with the Australians, very arrogant people at times but that was it.


Did you feel that you missed out on anything by spending about six years at war?
Perhaps a bit of wealth. Now in my eyes I don’t think it really matters much. I suppose if I had stayed back I may have, like a lot of them did made a fortune but what good is that, it was just part of the caper.
Do you regret it?
No, I don’t regret it at all, I think I gained. I go into the city today and it proves that point I think


in a sense that it’s an honour to be asked these questions and I feel that way, and it’s was an honour to be asked to go back to Alamein and you can think back about the old mates that you had and the things that we did. No, I think that it did me a lot of good.
Do you think there was enough recognition of peoples’ role in the war?


Yes, I think so. There is more recognition now than there was of lately, I don’t know what it is. We get more receptions at the march on Anzac Day than we did before. It seems to be a growing thing, whether it’s because of this multiculturalism I don’t know. I’m not altogether in favour of multiculturalism in a sense. I think we should have a culture of our own and it be more emphasised but they say no.


I don’t think we will lose much blood, I think we will gain and I think that the culture that we had will win. In a sense it will vary, and it is varied and I think there will be an Australian culture, I hope so anyway.
Do you think Australia as a country was changed by the war?
Yes, greatly so I think, greatly so I think.
In what way?


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.


We were talking about sport before, in what other ways was morale helped or boosted do you think?
I don’t think it had to be a great deal. We had our job to do, we were getting letters from home, being in touch and knowing what was going on was a great thing. Of course the comradeship with the fellows was a thing that went on.


There were fights and arguments, collectively I think that kept the morale up. You seemed to be reasonable and I don’t think it was quite as good so I hear, it was not quite such a good morale here at one stage, but we were away then so I don’t know. There was a little bit of panic apparently


but naturally it looked like Japan was going to invade Australia, not until America came in I think it wouldn’t have been very pleasant anyway. We didn’t like it when we were away and we didn’t hear that much about it, we were pretty busy ourselves.
Did you have faith in the Australian war effort?
Yes I think that they did the right thing. Later on they had to do the right thing, they had to protect themselves and I think the


effort they made in the manufacturing, I think they did quite a good job. There was a lot of profiteering and that going on, we now that was going on but that goes on anywhere and it’s a natural and unfortunate thing. They did the job quite well as a country.
I was wondering if you could also describe returning to Australia, I think twice in between the Middle East and New Guinea and also just after the war.


What was the reunion like for you?
Coming home?
In the first instance coming from the Middle East was great, we had a great reception in Sydney, the boats went into the Sydney Harbour and people were there waving things and they were welcoming us home. That was great. Then we came home and went on leave, that was quite a business. I got pretty crook on that leave


and I don’t know what it was. I got a bit ill but never mind I survived it okay. I think it was a change of a diet and that sort of thing, I got boils, I got damn boils everywhere, but it was good to be home sort of thing.
Do you remember seeing your mother again?


you’d been away and come home and a lot of the boys didn’t come home, so to come home was a wonderful thing. You were there, you had survived that part of it, you had to go off again and in the end you felt that of course.
You met your wife to be on that leave?
I’d known her before the war, she was a sister of a great mate of mine, the mate who was killed, Brian


he was killed in the air force. I met Sis as we used to call her then in those days and I use to take her to the theatre and that sort of thing we were sort of friendly, we were boyfriend and girlfriend and then I went away. We didn’t correspond a great deal, we did correspond a bit but not a great deal. Brian had given me the sort of thing when he left. The last words that he said,


“If anything happens you have to look after Sis.” When I got back I looked her up and that’s when the romance really started. That was on my leave before I went to New Guinea.
During that leave did you talk much about your war experience?
No, not a great deal.
Were people interested?
I suppose they would have been, but I don’t know, we didn’t seem to be asked too much about it. We were on leave and we were


getting around and seeing people and getting on the grog. It’s a fairly short period of time, then you were back in camp and you’re sort of on the move all the time so you didn’t discuss it much in those days.
Do you think that you changed much in your mother’s eyes in that period?
I’d grown up a bit I suppose, I was more mature, I suppose that was the strength of it.


I was also wondering about your final return home, did you talk much about your experience in the years?
Not really, no. I came back I got married and I had malaria and it didn’t go away again. The next thing was I was out in the hurly burly of industry and trying to get a home, which was very difficult in those days.


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.
We haven’t talked about your brother’s experience. When did he leave for the war?
He’d gone to Tasmania and he was older than I, and he came back to Victoria later in the 1940s, maybe 1941, he’d married in Tasmania and came


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.
Do you think the war was a significant event in his life?
Not to the extent that it was in mine, for some reason I don’t know why. He didn’t campaign, you can put it that way. That was fortunate, but whether that was his planning


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.
If was wondering if you can remind us of that story of being


caught in the back of a truck with cocoa you told us earlier off tape?
We were attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers, we took the van in and there was a place prepared for us, with sand in it and we put the truck in and that was the system. We got on there and nobody came near us and we had nowhere else to go. We’d report in to somebody, a corporal or somebody somewhere where we were and we got on in communications.


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


of the fusiliers.
Thanks for that.


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