I was born in Numurkah in Victoria in 1924, on the 20th April 1924.
Tell us about your early childhood, what you remember.
My father was in the police force and he got posted to Swan Hill, that’s where I spent the first seven years of my life in Swan Hill. We got transferred to Melbourne; he got transferred in the police department down to Melbourne.
I lived in Kensington, Moonee Ponds, and then finished up in Camberwell, so we sort of climbed the tree slightly in the suburbs.
Where did you go to school in Melbourne?
In Kensington State School and I went to Moonee Ponds West State School and I went from there to Footscray Tech [Technical College] for eighteen months.
I was a bit disappointed in my technical school. I wanted to learn a trade and I didn’t know that when you went to school you had to do all your arithmetic, what you had learnt at state school you had to do it all over again. As far as the trade was concerned I was only doing one subject a week. I finished up leaving school when I was about
fourteen I think. Then I got a job at a service station, stopped there not quite until I joined the army.
I was at the service station and I was working for two bosses and I got out of that and went over to Polson Pistons at Footscray. From there I tried to join the air force but they wouldn’t release me because I was under manpower in those days. I then switched and tried to join the army and the bloke in the army
at Moonee Ponds and the bloke turned around and said, “Do you really want to join the army?” And I said “Yes.” He then he said, “Where did you work?” and I said “I did work at Polson Pistons.” and he said “When did you leave there?” and I said “Yesterday.” and he said “I’m sorry, you’re under the Manpower there, the protected industry there.” but he said, “Do you really want to get into the army?” and I said “Yes.” and he said, “I’ll see what I can do for you.” I didn’t go back to work, I just went bush
for about a month or so and then I got word that I had to report to Caulfield, and I was very happy about that.
I bet you were.
Because you were young were you initially in the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?
No, I was in the militia for the start and I had a militia number until I was nineteen. I couldn’t join the AIF until I was nineteen. I joined up
in the AIF and come through in Queensland at Canungra I think.
Did you do much training in Melbourne?
At the AIF I trained at Watsonia for a fair period, then I went from Watsonia to Canungra where I went up to Cairns to join up with my unit, that’s where I joined the unit.
Mainly all my training was done in Watsonia, and then the jungle of course at Canungra.
How was Canungra? I’ve heard some horror stories about that place.
Yes, it’s pretty tough. Good grounding I would say. We had a lieutenant who was an ex-policeman from Victoria and he was a tough guy. After we had done our course you couldn’t wish to meet a better bloke, but he was there for a purpose
and he made sure we carried out his orders. I got into a bit of strife there, I had my nineteenth birthday and I had a parcel at the post office to pickup. The post office was only opened the same time we were on parade. On my way back from the rifle range I said to the lieutenant, “Can I break off
and pickup a parcel?” and he said “No, wait till you get up to the lines and then break off.” I had my lunch and then snuck down to the post office and got my parcel and came back and joined the company down at the river crossing where I knew they were going. He barrelled me out about being late down there. He said, “See me afterwards.” and he gave me ten days pack drill. Not only had I done the jungle course, I also did ten days pack drill.
Joy of joys, it sounds like a lot of fun.
From Canungra where were you then?
Canungra I just went through staging camps until I got to the Charters Towers, I went through to Cairns. At Kuranda where I joined up with the actual unit, the 26th Infantry.
Did you embark pretty much straight away for
Yes, we sailed a bit after the Centaur went down, the hospital ship that got torpedoed. We got barrelled over that, they reckoned we talked too much, leave Australia and the Japs got the wrong ship. We were delayed on departure then when the Centaur was sunk.
We were about ten days behind that and that’s when we got on the Katoomba at Cairns and sailed up inside the reef up to Thursday Island and Horne Island.
Were you on both Thursday and Horne Islands?
I wasn’t on Thursday for a start and came back and I was on Thursday later on. I was on Horne Island when we
disembarked from the Katoomba, at Horne Island. From Horne Island A Company flew up to Tanah Merah in Dutch New Guinea.
How long were you there for?
About fourteen months.
What did you do there?
We had very good quarters, excellent quarters. We were in police quarters, it was
the political prison and they were very good quarters. We got air-raids on Sunday, every Sunday morning, not every Sunday morning. The first air-raid that we got I was caught in the loo, I’d got caught with my pants down
so to speak. I dived into a pit and I thought I was the only one in it. I said loudly I counted the planes “Eight, that seems strange why isn’t there nine?” And a bloke said to me, “That’s all there is.” Well I nearly jumped out of the pit, I thought I was the only one in there. We went on quite a few patrols from there down
in the Sepik River. The Tanah Merah is on the Digul River. We went down the Sepik and on one occasion stopped there for about five days. The idea there is to try and go out and contact the enemy and nick off, we were more or less a reconnaissance. I quite enjoyed Tanah Merah.
Did you contact any
enemy while you were there?
I didn’t, not our platoon or section, they wouldn’t contact anyone. There were others that did, mainly on the river. They were coming up the river on a boat and they were wiped out I think on that business.
There were a fair few Japanese in Dutch New Guinea, fifty-odd thousand all up, but they were mainly on the north coast. We were what they called a Merauke force, and the idea was we were building
an airstrip for the fighters to pick up the bombers, the bombers leaving Merauke and the fighters were leaving Tanah Merah then they’d go and bomb Hollandia. By the time we built an air strip by hand, that’s all we had, there were hundreds of natives. Day and night, nightshift wasn’t bad as long as you sat alongside the lieutenant,
you didn’t do any work then all he wanted to do was talk to you. By the time we had the air strip done well the Yanks had come up the top end and taken Hollandia so all our effort was for naught.
It gave us a strip to come home on, we flew out of there.
You were there for fourteen months?
Yes, around about.
From there where did you go?
I went on leave down to Tanah Merah to Higgins Field in Cape York and slowly work down on our leave. After leave we went back and joined up with the unit again. The A Company was separated from the unit for fourteen months, nearly two years altogether.
We then rejoined them in Proserpine I think it was in Queensland. From there we were headed for Bougainville.
From Brisbane we left Bougainville on the SS Mexico, it was the Yankee troop ship that took us over to Bougainville and landed at Torokina.
Where did you go from Torokina in Bougainville, or were you based there for a while?
We went up to the Numa Numa Trail, that’s where the Yanks were and that’s where the war
restarted on the Numa Numa. The Yanks were on one perimeter and the Japs were over the fence, they used the same waterhole to get their water. The Yanks would go down in the morning and the Japs would go down in the afternoon, getting their own supplies. Then the Aussies came along and threw a Yankee grenade over the fence and an Aussie grenade over the fence and said “It’s on again.” That’s how we restarted the war at Bougainville.
So the Yanks were hedge hopping [very low flying] then, and they were taking an island just enough to get an airstrip and head off to the next island and so forth. From Numa Numa we came out of there and then we went up to the Soraken Plantation
after we had a spell.
Was that when you first encountered real action with the Japanese?
Yes on Numa Numa.
That’s where we struck it first. We had a New Guinea Infantry, we had two of them with us and one of them got wounded and I dressed his wounds and I’d done a first aid course earlier
in my training, I was just a handy man on the first aid. I fixed a wound up on him or it saved his live anyway. We had a fair bit to do with the Japs there, not as much as on the northern plantation.
On the Numa Numa there was also a Japanese army and on the plantation there were the Japanese marines they were there and they were bigger men and better soldiers really.
How long were you at Soraken for? Were you there until the end of the war?
Yes, I saw the end of the war at Soraken, yes.
How was that being so far from home when that happened?
I think we celebrated a bit, there wasn’t a great deal, we didn’t have any grog to drink, so there wasn’t any great celebrations.
I’m sure there wasn’t then. From there where did you go, did you go straight back home?
No, I went up to New Britain,
up to Rabaul to round up the Japanese on New Britain and put them into prison camps and hold them there until they were able to go home. We went home and they were there for a fair while.
In Rabaul you said you were looking after Japanese prisoners?
Yes, we rounded up the Japanese there and put them into prison camps. I was in charge of the working party there and I just allocated the workers out.
Japanese working parties, were you there for very long?
Six months at least. I allocated all the workers, the hospital would ring up and ask for twenty-four labourers tomorrow and would see that they got the twenty-four labourers.
Another unit would ring up and want twenty-four or sixty or something like that or whatever they wanted, well that was my job there and it was quite good. I had a batman, I was only a buck private, or I might have been a lance corporal and this Japanese he couldn’t figure out why we burnt the bread, making our toast.
You had a Japanese batman?
We will have to come back to that, that’s a great story I’m sure.
He couldn’t work out why we burnt the bread.
From Rabaul was it then that you came back home?
Yes, I came back on the Westralia and I was sick for five days, I was glad to see the Brisbane River, I can tell you!
What were you doing back home, did you go straight back to civilian life or did you go back into the army for a while?
When I was in the army I went up to Murchison
at the POW [prisoner of war] camp, of German and Italian prisoners of war and I was at Murchison there for a while and I then got discharged, I came back to Royal Park and got discharged. There was a point system; you had to earn so many points to get your discharge. I had
one hundred and eighteen points, I don’t know how far down the list I was. That’s when I got discharged and I jumped out of the fire into the frying pan and I joined the fire brigade. I came out of the army into the fire brigade, I still wanted that discipline but I didn’t take that too good.
You didn’t stay as a fireman for very long.
What did you do after that?
I worked for many years as hardware and automotive supplier, wholesaler.
You stayed there for a while?
Yes, I was there for about seven years, I then left and about another four or five years I
came back there, I always left the door open when I left a job.
That’s good advice that. We will go back to the start now and go over
everything in more detail. Swan Hill do you have any memories of Swan Hill at all?
Yes, I learnt to swim at Swan Hill, in the floating baths on the Murray River. They rose and fell with the tide and they were good days when there was water in the river.
What years are we talking about?
I was only a whipper-snapper before that. I’ve got a scar on my right left, which I got in Swan Hill. My mate had a toy pedal car and I was acting like a policeman and I came to a corner and I directed him around the corner and the mudguard on the car had a bit of tin sticking out and ripped my leg open.
I went home to his place and he had a billy goat and the billy goat knocked me over, so that was a good day and I’ve still got the scar.
Did you sue him or was it too late?
No, not in those days.
What about the Murray River in those days, in those days it was quite a clean river, quite clear water?
Yes, you got good fish, Murray cod and perch, crayfish.
Did you go fishing in there?
I didn’t do any fishing there, I left Swan Hill when I was seven years old. I was only a kid knocking around up there. My eldest sister use to say that I use to swim out to the pylons and she’d have to rescue me.
Was it a big family, were there many children?
Yes, I’m one of six, my mother is one of eleven and my father is one of eight.
Good breeding stock.
Your dad was a policeman wasn’t he?
What was it like for a policeman in those days?
He didn’t do his job too well, because that’s how we come to live in Melbourne. They had a squad come through to see if the police were doing their job. This Sunday they found that all three pubs were opened so they got rid
of the sergeant, that’s fair enough he’s in charge. When the sergeant got through the ropes they finished up shifting the whole police and that’s how we came down to Melbourne and that was in 1930.
Whereabouts in Melbourne were you?
What was Kensington like in 1930?
Nothing like it is today; it’s a bit of a yuppie [‘young upwardly mobile professionals’] joint now.
I’d say it was the bottom rung of the suburbs really.
Was it hit hard by the Depression?
During the Depression the family split up. When we first shifted to Melbourne my brother wouldn’t come to Melbourne he stopped in Lake Boga with a friend of our family.
The eldest sister was going to Essendon High School and she stopped in Kensington with my father. The rest of us went back up to Katanga at my grandfather’s property. That was three kids and a baby I think.
Was it common for families to split up at that time for money reasons,
to make sure that everybody got fed?
I think so, big families I think really. I know when we went to Kensington Town Hall they were all putting their hands out for soup. At lunchtime there would be free soup on at the Kensington Town Hall, you’d get a hand out.
Who provided that, was it the Salvos [Salvation Army]?
I don’t know,
I’ve got not idea and it wasn’t the Salvation Army I don’t think, it was more of a Rotarian [Rotary] sort of thing.
Who would be going for the soup, would it just be school kids?
Yes, school kids.
Can you remember what sort of soup it was?
Veggie soup, no it wasn’t that.
What memories do you have of Kensington in the Depression era, that soup was a great one, any other memories like that?
Kensington Canal, which is the Moonee Ponds Creek today. You used to go up to the North Melbourne rail yards, and they are still there and we used to call them the jungle. We’d play tiggy through the trees, it was jungle then and you shouldn’t have been on the property.
That’s what kids do.
Up around the rail yards, were you ever picking up coal off coal trucks as they were going through?
Yes, we did that. The briquettes, when the briquettes were on, we used to go and collect the briquettes and burn it at home.
Would you actually wait for them to fall of the truck or would you help them off?
Sometimes, it depends on where the truck driver was.
Tell us about that, trying to sneak a few briquettes of the truck.
Any of those sorts of things, like the iceman, you’d always follow him around and you’d get a lump of ice to suck in the summer. We had milk delivered by horse and cart, you had ice delivered by horse and cart and all these things, and they weren’t travelling too fast.
The baker’s cart, you could always get on behind them and open the back door and grab a loaf of bread, it was the survival of the fittest really.
Of course, yes all of those works were essential. Your mother would have welcomed a few extra briquettes and extra loaf of bread.
As long as she didn’t know where it had come from. You all worked as a team,
the whole family.
That was the case then with everybody, to see if they could try and bring in something?
Yes, even if it was only horse manure after the horses had left, for the garden.
Did you grow things in the garden?
Dad did, Dad was always a good gardener, and he was a good gardener. He always had a good range of vegetables,
always. He was a farmer before he joined the police force. He came out of the army and had a soldier settlement, in the 1914 war. He had a soldiers’ settlement up near Cobram, then two or three droughts and that’s how he came to join the police force that was after the strike, the police strike in 1924.
part of the strike or did he join later?
No, he joined after the strike.
That would have been a wild day too that strike day?
Yes, so I believe, I don’t remember that much, it was the year that I was born.
I’m sure you don’t remember. Did they sack a lot of police after that strike, how did he come to join after that?
That’s right, I think they sacked everyone that was on strike.
That’s how come there was vacancy and it was pretty easy to join the force then.
Did he enjoy being a policeman do you reckon?
Yes. They had to retire at fifty-five in those days. He went from there to the taxation office. He was more or less with the taxation office beforehand, he retired.
He was on escort duties taking money up to the bank escorting the person to the bank. That’s how I think he came straight from the police force to the taxation office.
Tell us about your school days; what were the school days like then, because you went to about three schools then didn’t you?
Yes. As a matter of fact
my Kensington school teacher shifted from Kensington to Moonee Ponds at the same time as I did, so I had the same school teacher two years in a row at different schools.
Did you like him or her?
Yes I liked her, Miss Lennon and I can tell you her name.
She must have been alright then.
At Moonee Ponds West we had a McDonald; we used to get him in. Before he came to Moonee Ponds he taught up in northern Victoria at two
different schools and they had alternate days. The one teacher got two schools and he would ride the motor bike between the two schools. He would run in and give us a spelling test and as soon as the spelling test was over we’d ask, “Mr. McDonald, what about the time when you used to ride the motorbike?” And away he would go and he’d draw it on the blackboard and show you the detail of where he’d been.
Kids are very smart, aren’t they? You learn what the teacher liked and get them talking about it and there’s the day gone.
That’s amazing that they’d have school on alternate days, because you only had one teacher.
When we were at Katanga in the 1930s we only had one teacher for the full school and he taught from the bubs up to the eighth grade, they just sat in different rows, each class.
How would they do that?
You’d have the first class there, the second
class and then up to the eighth all in different rows.
What would the process be each day, how would he teach eight different grades?
I don’t know, I think he just sort of set the work for this grade and then set the work for the next grade and so forth. It’s very interesting really. Today I have a sister, one older than me
up there and there was the one younger than me, and the other one was a baby. He used to teach his class.
You said you were hoping to do a trade from school, what sort of a trade were you hoping to get into?
Sheet metal work.
Why sheet metal work?
Why that trade?
I don’t know. I’m the world’s worst carpenter, I can’t
saw a piece of wood, I’ve never been able to saw a piece of wood straight, but with a pair of tin snips I was pretty good. Even today it’s the same thing; I’d sooner be a plumber than a carpenter. I wasn’t bad on the motor mechanic, motor wise. I could name every part on
a motor car and I could put it all back together but I couldn’t guarantee it to go, so that’s how a mechanic came into it, I couldn’t get the timing right.
Then when you got to Footscray Tech, what was Footscray Tech like in those days; it’s a pretty wild place I hear?
The old Trivo was a pretty tough principal, FT – Frankie Trivo, Footscray Tech, see.
He had a very cruel way of belting you, if you were late for school. First of all you’d be on a push bike and you’d be coming and you’d have your backside off the saddle and you’d cop a stick across the bum then. Then he’d take you into his office and you’d bend over and put your head under the table and as he hits you across the backside you’d lift your head
and you copped it both ways.
Did you get many cuts [strokes]?
All six of the best?
I’ve done better than that.
What’s your record?
Twelve, and you’re only allowed to get six.
What do you do to get twelve?
Cheat. The bloke that was involved with me was with spelling, I am the world’s worst speller and I still am.
You had set one and set two; with an alternate person you’d mark the test. If I didn’t know a word I’d leave it blank. If Ivan Riley, who finished up being a cartoonist for the Age, because he was too busy drawing cartoons. If he didn’t know the word he’d leave it blank and of course we’d fill it in.
We always left it for one or two mistakes it couldn’t be perfect. This particular day the teacher was standing behind us watching us.
How the mighty fall.
I got fourteen cuts that day. Six on one hand and then ten minutes later six on the other hand, and then one on each hand.
Did you have any tricks to try and lesson the pain; did you pull your hand back?
worst thing that you can do, because the strap hits the teacher on the leg, then you’d get more.
Was it with a cane or a strap?
The different teachers had different ideas. One teacher had five straps and you had a choice.
Did they all have different ways to—?
There was ‘Ginger’ and ‘Ninja’ and that’s what they did, they gave them names. Ninja was a very soft strap, ‘Ginger’ was a very hard strap.
Which one did you get your first cut?
Nigger. If you tried to pull your hand away sometimes you’d get it on your wrist.
Ouch, that was pretty much par for the course then, getting six everyday or so?
The good old days. I did my schooling, I did enjoy school. I knew enough knocking around after school.
What would you do knocking around after school?
Knocking around the Waterloo Cup Hotel mainly.
At age fourteen, what did you have then, a nice cold glass of beer?
The two cousins, Ken Stag and Bob Stag, their parents owned the pub. The top story of that pub was it was empty and it had been for years and we used to play chaseys, tiggy [children’s game] around and
the two Stag kids had BMX bikes and we used to ride them around the billiard room, around the billiard table and then out on the tennis court riding around. I’ve got a photo down there of the Stag kids making a billy cart and going up every street and running down the hill. You just created your own entertainment.
It cost us seven pennies to go to a matinee and you had to go and earn that too.
How would you earn seven pennies?
I used to cart horse manure and I’d go and get three loads of horse manure for a thruppence [threepence] a time, that gave me sixpence and tuppence [twopence] for an ice block.
Was that the old cowboy series that would be on at the matinee?
Hi Ho Silver, I can’t think of any of those names now.
Were you one of those lads that thought cowboys came up the back of the cinema at the end of the show?
No, I wasn’t quite that way.
My Dad was that way, he used to wait for them up the back, but don’t tell him I said that. Were they mad matinees with kids throwing things?
Now and again. We used to go mainly up to Waratah, up Union Road, Ascot Vale and the bloke there was pretty strict on the kids, he’d chuck you out and send you home. My eldest sister had rheumatic fever, and she used to shout me to the pictures and I’d come home and tell her all about it.
That’s not a bad trade.
She was confined to bed, and I’d go up and watch the film then come home and tell her all about the film.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 02
Let’s go back to school for a minute, you said you were frustrated in your efforts to learn a trade at school. Can you explain a little bit more about that?
I had the wrong impression, I thought you went to a technical school to learn a trade, but that didn’t come into action until about five years later. When you were on full time trade, I couldn’t
put up with the rest of it. I did like solid geometry, just drawing articles. I wasn’t that wrapped in arithmetic or grammar or any of that stuff. Geography I didn’t mind, history I’m not interested in. This was where the big
disappointment came, I struggled through state school to put it that way. I was an extra year getting to tech, because I couldn’t get a pass. You have got to have a certain amount of marks to get to tech. I couldn’t make it there so I stopped for an extra year to get that. I was just mislead, no not mislead,
just the wrong impression that I had of the technical school really. I had mates that went to tech and they came out of tech and they were engineers they worked on a lathe.
They would have made pretty good money too, wouldn’t they?
I was getting more money at the service station than what my mates were getting as an engineer. One pound twelve
and sixpence, the apprentice he only got seven and sixpence, it just didn’t add up. The labourer got more money than the tradesman, until he was a tradesmen. It was a long while before he caught up to my money.
He caught up with me in the finish but it was a long while before he caught up, I was getting my money and he was getting a lot less.
What did your mum and dad say when you wanted to leave school at fourteen, do you remember that?
I was wagging [playing truant] it a bit. Dad didn’t have much to do with running the family, Mum was the one that ran the family.
She had pretty strict reins, she wasn’t afraid to belt you. I was the only one in the family that got a belting off the old man.
What was that for?
Going down to Williamstown for a swim, from Moonee Ponds I whipped behind the baker’s carts and I was all day there and getting back.
You didn’t tell him where you were going?
No. I don’t think I made up my mind then,
I might have only being going down to Maribyrnong and decided to go to Willy for a swim. When I got home my mother said “Your father wants to speak to you.” and he gave me a belting for going down to Williamstown without letting him know.
Fair enough I reckon. Your mum, you reckon she was alright with you leaving school at fourteen?
She was the one that got me the job really. There was an ad in the paper
for a service station hand, our grocer was in Maribyrnong Road and Mum rang up the grocer and said, “Do you know what Mashford Service Station is like, they are advertising for a kid?” so he went over and done the interview for me and he got me the job. I was very happy there.
Describe what the service station was like in those days because there weren’t many cars then were there?
No, we were the closest service station to the munitions works, flat-out until Friday five o’clock at night and we had eighteen petrol bowsers, nine different brands.
So it wasn’t owned by Esso or anything like that?
Listen boy, don’t start me on that business.
Why? Tell us about these different brands?
We had Shell, Mobil,
Golden Fleece, Atlantic, Ampol, Pax, that’s about it I think.
How did that work with six different brands?
You come in and got your brand, just like buying a packet of smokes, you go in and buy your own brand.
So you had six different tanks underneath the bowsers?
Would the petrol reps [representatives] come in and try and flog a bit of Ampol this week?
You got ration tickets too, I’m talking just pre-war.
About 1938 or 1939?
Yes 1939. There were T Model Fords.
Was it complete driveway service in those days?
Did you have a uniform?
We had overalls.
You don’t get much money out of petrol, but you do out of oil. Every time you served a bloke you’d say, “Do you mind if I dip your oil sir?” and up with the bonnet and dip the oil then turn and say, “You need a pint of oil.” and you’d put a pint of oil in as well as his four gallons of petrol.
Excellent selling there, top selling.
The boss when you came to the till, he’d ask “Did you ask him how his oil was?”
What else did service stations sell in those days?
Mainly fan belts, spark plugs, points, I don’t think you have them these days.
Did you wash their windows for them as a matter of cause?
No, we weren’t that keen, we weren’t that generous.
We used to have out the front of the service station ‘free air today, petrol tomorrow’.
He’d never come back to pick you up on that?
So he’d come back tomorrow and say, “It’s free today isn’t it.” and same tomorrow.
The question that everyone wants me to ask is did you put the petrol prices up on a Friday afternoon like they do now?
No, he taught me a lot.
I got into trouble over one of his sayings later on in life. ‘You had to do a job and leave it so an idiot could follow you.’ You’ve got to leave a job so that an idiot can understand it.
I reckon that’s good advice.
Yes, I stated that once.
Were you inferring that guy was the idiot coming back?
It was just when decimal currency came in and I was in a job where we were working on imperial sizes and decimal sizes. I sat down one night and wrote down all the conversions and then I got it photocopied and then sent it out to a lot of our customers. Mrs Butcher rang up Mr Block one day
and she gave the sizes in imperial, and I said, “As from today we are only taking it in metric.” and she said “I don’t know anything about metric.” so I said, “I’ll send you out a conversion chart that any idiot can understand.” So she rang up the boss and told him I called her an idiot.
That was one of his sayings, leave it for an idiot.
Some people are just looking for a chance.
I repaired punches and greased cars, done a bit of mechanics. This is one of the reasons why I left, the mechanic side there were two mechanics that left and went into the air force, that left only the boss on the mechanical side and I only had the boss on the petrol side and that left me between sixes and sevens
all the time, the pressure got to me and I told them to stick it.
So that’s when you went to the Pistons?
I went to Polson Pistons then, I wasn’t there very long.
What did that involve, who were they making pistons for?
Aircraft, that’s why you were restricted there.
Did you know it was a reserved occupation when you went into it?
When did it become reserved?
It was when I went into it, but I didn’t know that.
I even went up to Mr Nathan who was the chairman and asked him could I join the air force and he said “Oh no, if I let you in to any of the forces, it throws the factory open to a call up, and I can’t afford that.” And you know what I called him.
What did you call him for the record?
A German bastard.
They were still looking for me when I was in the army. I was over at the Footscray Drill Hall loading pens and two of the blokes came along and said, “Are you in the army, they think you’re in the air force, they’ve been looking for you in the air force.”
Let’s back track a bit, because that’s an interesting story. Let’s go back to
firstly, when did you decide to join the armed forces?
Before I was eighteen.
Were you following the build up of the war in Europe, what made you think that you wanted to join up?
Mostly all the blokes around me were going in. They were either getting called up or they were joining up. I just thought I was the one out, really. I always
knocked around with people older than myself, I don’t know why. Yet at school I was more king of the kids, I was the oldest one leading the bunch. When I went to work I sort of joined up with an older group. They all got into the services and I wasn’t.
You went to Polson’s and you called Mr Polson a German bastard because he wouldn’t let you join up?
Mr Nathan sorry. I hope Mr Polson’s not listening. Then obviously you were very disgruntled, what did you do
then to join the army, what was your next step?
As I said I went up to Moonee Ponds and went into the drill hall there and I turned around and said, “I want to join the army.” and the bloke nearly fell off his seat of course. I joined the army from there.
Tell us about what
he said to you, we talked briefly before about him saying “I’ll try and work something out for you.” tell us that again?
After talking, he could see that I was really interested and I wanted to get into the forces, I think that’s when he decided that he’d give me a little bit of a help along, I don’t know what he did, I was in the restricted industry, or the protected industry
and he must have pulled a few strings along the line, but I don’t know.
Did you hand in your notice or did you just disappear?
I just disappeared.
Where did you go?
I went bush, you’re not going to believe this I went to Mywee I went to, up near Tocumwal.
You’ve got family up there?
I’ve got relations and I went up to my aunties property at Mywee, that’s between Strathmerton and Tocumwal,
along the Goulburn Valley line.
Were you just working on the farm for a month?
Yes, rounding up the sheep doing a bit of drenching, I liked the old farm work.
Did you think after a month this wasn’t going to happen?
I didn’t care, I was quite happy up there.
Did your mum forward the letter up there for you?
Yes, she rang up.
How did you feel when you got the news?
She rang up and said “I’ve got a letter here from the army, they want you to report
to Caulfield on so and so date.” I couldn’t get back quickly enough then.
How old were you exactly at that time?
Eighteen years and one month.
What year are we talking about now 1941, or 1942?
I was born in 1924, you do the arithmetic.
1942, thank you boss. According to Caulfield,
did you definitely want to join, did you know if you wanted to be in the infantry, artillery or ambulance?
They were going to put me into transport, because of my service station business. When I got out to Watsonia that’s where they sent me, to a transport unit but it didn’t exist I don’t think. They put me into an infantry training camp but I did do a transport school whilst I was there.
What did that involve, transport school training?
Only driving really, to get your army licence. You went out on what they call a bivouac in trucks and all round Healesville and all that area. You were changing drivers every so often and you’d all sit in the back of the truck and hope to God that he doesn’t run off the road.
Were they big [(UNCLEAR)], what kind of trucks?
Four wheeled drive things, they weren’t a Jeep, they were bigger than that. There are a few of them knocking around even now. I can’t think of it, it was just a big four-wheeled drive truck [Blitz Buggy].
That’s all right.
You were then in the militia then, which unit was that in the militia?
I was only in a training camp in the militia, I was still in the militia all through my training. Once I got into the unit that’s when I got the AIF I think.
How did you get to transfer to the AIF, you were too young weren’t you?
When you’re nineteen you have got to reapply.
When I went in at eighteen I had to have my parents’ permission to even join at eighteen, which I had, then that carried through to the AIF then, and I joined the AIF with no problems, I only applied to join the AIF.
You mentioned something earlier about your militia number changed to an AIF number, what’s the difference
between the two numbers?
307788 to 144798.
Good memory. Did they have letters at the start?
V for the militia, and VX for the AIF.
Was that a great day when you got your AIF number?
It’s a funny thing really, you were able to go overseas once you were in the AIF. The militia we were only for garrison for Australia. When we were up in Dutch New Guinea I don’t think our unit was AIF then, but you had to have a percentage of fifty percent for your unit to be transferred to the AIF.
Therefore a lot of them went up there and were still in the militia.
In training, how long were you in training for in Melbourne, at Moonee Ponds or Watsonia?
I don’t know
how long over that period. Well, if I went in when I was eighteen and I was still in Canungra at nineteen, it’s near enough to twelve months.
Did you respond well to army disciple or did you get into trouble?
I got into plenty of trouble.
Tell us the trouble, give us the colourful bits?
I done twenty-eight days jail in Watsonia.
Having intentions for a drink at the Lower Plenty Hotel.
Having intentions for a drink?
It was the intentions of having a drink.
How did they know you were having intentions?
When our unit truck come along and just got off the bridge, the captain turned around and said, “Where are you off to?” And I said, “In for a drink.” so I had intentions of having a drink.
Was that classed as AWL [absent without leave]?
Yes, being absent in place of parade.
What did you think of that?
Out of bounds. The hotel was out of bounds between eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night, you couldn’t go to the hotel, or five thirty I think.
Where did you serve your time?
Did they have a jail there?
No, it was just compound. I’ve even done plenty of guard duty on the compound, and the blokes inside would turn around and say to me, “One of these days you’ll be in here.” When they’d be wanting a smoke
I’d be turning to the guard for a cigarette or something, because you weren’t allowed any cigarettes.
What were the conditions like in the compound jail?
They were all right, nothing like the big jails like Geelong, Bendigo and those places, nothing like that.
What were the quarters like that you were sleeping in the compound?
I only had a tent, it was the same as what you had in the lines. You were restricted,
there were no canteen facilities, you had to do pack drill all day and take up arms and it kept you going all day. You had your meals, you didn’t have any cigarettes, you didn’t have any entertainment what so ever.
Apart from not having cigarettes and not having entertainment, was it pretty much the same as normal army life?
Yes, that’s right.
So it wasn’t that bad?
No, it was all right. I got crook [angry with] on the bloke that put me there.
On the captain, I bet you would.
I’d argue, “You don’t know enough about the law.” When you front up you then had the intentions of having a drink, no sorry.
I was charged with having a drink at the Lower Plenty Hotel and I said, “I didn’t have a drink at the Lower Plenty Hotel!” And he said, “Well you had the intentions of having a drink.” so he altered the charge to ‘having the intention of having a drink’. So I was charged with the intentions of having a drink.
There were no appeals.
I’m sure there weren’t. You said that you got into lots of trouble, were there other incidences like that?
I went AWL,
you extend your own leave.
How long would you extend it for?
Like a day or a week?
A fortnight once.
You extended your leave for a fortnight, what happened?
This was when they were a bit silly. I was in hospital at Royal Park, and the unit was there at Royal Park on a working
party, loading the ships and all that sort of thing. One day I wanted to meet my brother-in-law so I went on sick parade. If you went on sick parade you missed out on the working party, you only cleaned up around the lines for the rest of the day, because the working party had already left. So I went to met the brother-in-law and I went on my sick parade
and I was only sort of conning the doctor and he put me into hospital so I didn’t meet my brother-in-law at all.
So I was in hospital for two days.
What did you tell him that you had?
Under observation, I don’t know what the complaint was, but I was under observation for two days. Then they gave me a return to unit, they gave me the piece of paper to hand in when I get back to the unit. It was quite easy to put the one in front of the two,
so I did it on my day that I returned, I returned to my unit about ten days later.
Did they pick you up on that?
If the provos [provosts: military police] had have picked me up I might have been gone. I went and drew my blankets out when I got back, but I didn’t get back until midnight. In the morning
I went on parade and they said “Block, hospital?” and I said, “No no, I’m still here.” They said “When did you come back?” and I said, “Last night.” and they said “Where’s your RTU [Returned to Unit]?” and I said “I’ve got it in the tent, I’ll go and get it.” I went and got it and just handed it in and they just wrote ‘back from hospital’ so I was right.
Was it easy to get away with things like that in training?
Some of them,
you learnt the ropes.
Many fellows do that kind of thing?
I don’t know if they had done what I did, go into hospital. That should have been sent through the dispatch mob instead of giving it to me to dispatch it. They picked the wrong bloke.
Lucky for you that they did. Was that it for your criminal activity?
What else did you get up to?
My wife said when we
went on my history she said, “If I’d known all of this I wouldn’t have married you.”
Was it while you were in Melbourne that you did that first aid course that you mentioned?
No, it was up in Proserpine I think.
We will come to that when we get to Proserpine. I’m still intrigued by your career in
Melbourne, are there any other highlights of that tour of duty that we should know about?
No. The day that I got transferred we had a major or a lieutenant colonel who lived in Healesville, or he came from Healesville. He was in charge of the Watsonia camp and he decided that we’d have a mock war.
We were to go and take Healesville and a fight the volunteer civilians that fought the war, the garrison, but anyway we had a fight with them. You crossed the river and went up
against the fence and got electrocuted and you were dead and so forth. We were going across the swamps there at the back of Healesville, and I still say that today, that’s the last time I saw Victoria. I ended up on a truck and was heading for a camp at Canungra, I didn’t even know what I was heading for.
They put you on a truck from there and boom, you were gone?
Yes they just picked us up. You, you and you and off you went.
I didn’t finish the war at Healesville, I don’t know if we took Healesville.
There’s probably still somebody looking for you at Healesville, with posters up ‘have you seen this man? Been missing for sixty years.’ They literally bundled you onto a truck and here-you-go son.
Yes up to Canungra.
Was it trucks all the way up?
No, there were trains.
Did you get a final leave then or not?
So your mum and dad didn’t know where you were going?
No they didn’t.
How did you feel about that?
That was not so bad when you were inside and weren’t censored, your mail wasn’t censored then, you were able to tell them where you were. That didn’t worry me really, I might have rang Mum up the night before or something
to tell her, I didn’t ring her up because she didn’t have a telephone.
From this truck did it take you up to Spencer Street to get the train?
Yes. We had to go back to the lines to get our gear and from Watsonia we were just transferred from there and had to get our gear and get signed off and we had to return our blankets and so forth to the store there, and then when you get up there you get your new ones.
Were you AIF at this stage?
So you were heading up to Canungra?
On a train, did you go via Sydney and Brisbane?
Anytime to get off there?
Yes. We went to Albury for sausages and mash, that’s Albury, you always had sausages and mash at Albury. I’ve got another story about coming home.
We will make sure we get to that when you are coming home.
On the train.
Any time off in Sydney or Brisbane?
What was the train journey like?
Did you have anything that you could do, any gambling or anything like that?
Tell us about that, what were you playing?
I only played cards really, I’m a pretty good poker player and I loved it and I still do, but I don’t play it now.
Make a quid [money] out of it?
Then I also ran a dice game.
You ran the dice game?
This criminal career of yours is pretty good.
I’ve still got the pennies from two-up.
Tell us, running a dice game in the army, that’s obviously illegal in the army?
Yes, but the officers do play it.
Tell us about the dice game,
running the dice game, who would play it and so on?
I only had the small game, so if you won, you then went over to the big game for big money.
What kind of stakes were they playing for in your game?
About five ten quid [pounds] a spin.
It’s still a fair whack in those days?
Yes. I’d get my ten percent anyway it didn’t matter
what they were playing for.
Excellent. Would officers who knew it was illegal come in and still play?
Yes, certain officers, we didn’t have too many lieutenant colonels or brigadiers or anything like that.
What sort of other shenanigans did you get up to on this train journey or around that time? We haven’t touched on women yet but we are getting to that, don’t think you’re escaping on that front.
I didn’t do too good with the women.
Was there any grog [alcohol] on the train?
Coming back from Tanah Merah, at Gympie there was a feeding point and there they turned around and we were offered meals at Gympie and they would turn around and tell us that the pub was opened.
We went over to the pub and the old girl there said, “Two pounds ten for a bottle, no matter what you want.”
That was for whisky or a beer?
Yes. So I brought a bottle of whisky.
Of course you did.
And I was a bit shrewd and I bought a bottle of dry ginger, a large bottle of dry ginger and we drank it out of a tin pannikin.
Luxury that would have been very welcomed I’m sure. Are there anymore shady highlights
of your trip up to Canungra or have we done the dark side already?
At Canungra they striked me out a bit.
We haven’t done your ten days boob [gaol] at Canungra yet, but we will get to it. I want to know between Melbourne and Sydney, and at Melbourne what about women, because you were all young lads.
Women, you were all young boys.
I had my girlfriend there,
she wasn’t my wife. I had my girlfriend from school days.
Right, so you were a good lad in that sense then.
I was sincere.
When you’ve got a girlfriend like that you know that you are going off to war, what arrangements, ‘we will see what happens when I get back’ or do you go off as sweethearts, how did that work?
We had a bit of a [(UNCLEAR)],
we both had maps, because the mail was censored.
You said that you had a sweetheart before you went away, what did you say when you knew that you were off?
I don’t know, I wouldn’t have a clue.
You said you had maps, what were you saying about that?
When I wrote a letter I’d number the letter with 3A, that’s page three, the letter number three and you’d look on page three and then A would be the area where it was squared off and that’s where I am, we could get to each other.
So you got past the censor?
Yes, to get past the censor, yes, the pin hole.
Did you write to her much?
No, I had a professional writer.
Who was that, a guy in your unit?
I couldn’t be running dice games and all that sort of thing and write her a letter.
Of course, a man has only got so much time. So who wrote the letters for you?
A bloke from South Australia.
What would you pay him to write a letter?
It might be a bottle of beer.
What would you tell him to put in there?
Would you say, ‘look I want, I love you, I miss you, blah blah’?
Yes, he’d do all that, the soppy stuff.
So you’d just give him a name and address?
Yes, and away he’d go, and sometimes you had a letter to answer. Even with the wife, she used to write and she didn’t know.
She will now.
A professional writer.
You had a professional writer because you were running the dice games, what other occupations were there in the army to do? He would write it in his handwriting, was he a better letter writer?
But didn’t they go ‘hang on, this is not his handwriting’?
I could have had a crook hand, or you’d say that your arm’s not right.
I had to turn around the other way when the wife was writing to me, she’d get two girlfriends talking to me in the letter, it was too much then—it was three letters that I had to write instead of one.
She might have had a professional writer at this end.
Oh dear me.
Could you make much money out of the dice game?
No I spent it.
But you made much though, would you make as much as your wages again?
Yes, but then I’d go and gamble it.
You’d go and gamble it at the big game?
Yes, at the big game.
What were the stakes in the big game?
Fifty, one hundred quid, they’ve evolved it today you know.
I’m sure they haven’t, and what was your pay then at that stage as a private?
Six bob a day, seven days a week.
You had no one to allot that to did you?
Yes, I gave a certain amount of money to Mum.
Of course, how much?
I don’t know how much she got, I wouldn’t have a clue.
How does a fellow come to be the guy who runs a dice
game, did you have a history of gambling before that?
Yes, I suppose, from school.
You ran the dice game at school?
No, cherry bobs [pips from the cherry], have you every played cherry bobs?
Dear me, you have a lot to learn.
Explain it to me.
You’d save the pips out of the cherry and you let them dry and you have a bookmaker
would have a hole in the ground and you go back so many feet and you throw the cherry into the hole, the cherry bob into the hole. He’d say, “I’ll bet you ten to one, one to one, six to one that you can’t get it into the hole.”
How do you get the capital to start these games up?
You brought some cherries,
but first you had to dig a hole. This was at Moonee Ponds West and the old headmaster turned around and he stopped it eventually. He said, “It’s like little Flemington here.”
What sort of bets would they be, would you be betting for a couple of—?
No, you were only playing for the cherry bobs, no money only playing for the cherry bobs, that’s all you’re playing for.
That’s where I started the gambling,
at the state school.
When you used to hang around the pub riding your BMX around the pool table, was there an SP [starting price bookmaker] there?
Was there an SP there, a bookie?
Were you running bets for those fellows as well?
No, he used to put his betting sheet on our back fence and my father was a policeman. Mum stopped that eventually because the loo was right down the back fence, in the days when you
ate inside and went to the loo outside, and now you go into the loo inside and eat outside. She’d go down to the back fence and she got jack of [fed up with] all the punters down the back fence. One day Dad come off the tram and walked up the back lane and told them to put your boards over on that side, he didn’t arrest anybody, and changed it to some other back fence. I could do a bit of [(UNCLEAR)] keeping
at the pub. It was a Sunday morning and you’d be up on the top story and letting the bar know if there were any police around.
Even though your dad was a copper you were doing that?
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 03
Tell us in your own inimical style what Canungra was like; it’s a pretty shocking place isn’t it?
Yes. When you look back on it, it was the best thing that I ever did. It was really hard, you never got a let up at anytime, we went on strike there at one stage when we came back
from a route march and then they wanted to take us back out that night on another route march and we jacked up, we reckoned we’d just done twenty mile, we weren’t going to do another ten.
What happens then when you all say that in the army, don’t you all go on a charge?
Yes, we call them parades, we had to go on parade or otherwise you get charged with being absent in place of parade. We didn’t wear any hats, so we were regimentally undressed. He said, “Take
the names of those who haven’t got hats on.” Then he said, “Wait a minute, take the names of those who have hats on.” We had our argument and then he turned around and said, “We are not going out on a route march, there is a grass fire going on, we are going out to fight that.” So we all volunteered. We wouldn’t go out on a route march but we all went out and fought the grass fire.
than a dog on a route march?
That’s right yes.
What were you sleeping in at Canungra?
We slept in a tent, when you went out you only had your ground sheet and your blankets and you slept on the ground.
Is Canungra really hot?
When we were there it was that hot it was just humid, it is south of Brisbane,
this side of Brisbane. Mount Tambourine is one of them, you still go up there today and go through the whole area there. That’s were I got crook on lantana, it’s a plant and my wife wanted to plant
lantana in the garden and I said, “You can throw that right out, you’re not going to have that in my bedroom.” Down here they only grow miniatures but up there.
They are wild up there, you have to cut your way through there?
That’s right, big vines and you had to cut your way through.
What sort of rifle training had you been given by this stage?
I was no good at rifle training because my left hand was shot. I used to stir them all up,
and it’s the only thing I’m left-handed at is shooting.
Because I can only close my right eye, I can’t close my left eye.
You can’t close it at all?
No, never been able too. When you have to go down on the mound you have a certain routine you have to do and I’ve got to do it the other way around and then I have to put my hand over like that to bring the bolt over, put the bullet into the chamber and pull it back this way,
I don’t know why they never ever made a left-handed rifle.
In those days they didn’t want people to be left-handed did they?
Did they try and make you shoot right handed?
Did they try?
They fixed that up by giving me an Owen gun.
That’s better anyway isn’t it?
My oath. I preferred the Owen but the only thing attached to an Owen gun is that you were a forward scout.
There’s the rug.
You don’t get anything for nothing.
Describe for us the Owen gun, it was an Aussie gun wasn’t it?
imagine you are sitting here with an Owen gun on your lap, can you describe to me from the front to the back what it looks like and how it works and so forth as much as you can?
Yes. It’s about that size in length, the barrel would be about there and the magazine is
on top and then it holds twenty-nine rounds in the magazine. You’d put that in but it does hold thirty, you don’t want to overload the magazine—the pressure on the spring won’t allow the bullet to move in. It’s automatic, it is a repetition of an automatic and it fires on recalls
of gases that come back and you shoot your next one in.
What calibre of ammunition did it use?
Nine millimetre, that’s about all.
Is it a heavy gun, how much did it weigh?
No, it’s only about four pound, what’s that, two kilos.
That’s not much at all.
They altered the butt, because it used to be a closed-in butt, but they left it opened just to break the weight of it, then they complained about that getting caught on vines.
I’ve heard compared to the Tommy gun, it was streets better.
Yes. The Tommy gun was heavier, the Tommy gun always pulls to the right
when you are firing, I don’t know why but just always pulls to the right. There are two guns that if everyone had have had, the war would have been over in a month. That’s the Bren gun and the Owen gun. The Bren gun is a Pommy gun, the most accurate machine-gun that I’ve ever seen. Even closing one eye I can still shoot with it,
the Bren gun.
I’ve heard we didn’t have as many Bren guns as we should have had.
No. As I said, if everyone had have had a Bren gun. The Owen gun was fantastic and the bloke that invented it got nothing.
He sold it to Lysaghts; Lysaghts made the money they made on the gun, the bloke only invented it.
How did the Owen gun go in mud and water and
stuff like that?
It was just faultless; you just didn’t have to clean it, that was another good thing.
Would the barrel overheat if you were firing it rapidly?
I never struck that, I fired it rapidly a few times.
How did it compare to the American machine-guns, was it as good as the American sub-machine-gun?
The Tommy machine-gun was a Yank [American] – I don’t know what else they had. Today – I’m not up with the
ammunition of today. The rifles and that sort of thing are all different now to what they used to be, the old .303 of course, that was a Pommy [English] job originally.
Canungra, so you’ve got your Owen gun and you are a forward scout, how did that affect your training, what did you have to learn to be a forward scout in training?
To be observant number one, not to panic, if you panic they accrue panics.
It’s easy to say that, but how do you do it. It’s easy to say don’t panic but how do you do it?
I don’t know, I never panic. Only once
when I was caught out when I was a forward scout. I prefer to be first in, last out.
What did training involve at Canungra, lots of route marches obviously but did they teach you much jungle craft, could they teach you that there?
You got taught how to get water out of a vine, what fruit you can eat and what you can’t eat.
Tell us how to get water out of a vine, first.
That would have taken all of two minutes to teach you?
Cut the top and bottom and it would run out, but you don’t think of it. If you were dying of thirst you wouldn’t think of cutting a vine down, you’d look for a creek or a pool of water.
Any old vine or a particular vine?
I think they had lantana up there.
What’s the water like out of the vine, does it taste alright?
I don’t know about taste wise, I don’t think I was all that keen on it.
What sorts of fruits could you expect to find up there to eat?
Tamarillo, do you know?
I never ran into that until the other day down here.
Different berries and they do have different fruit up there to what we have down here. That’s all I can say there, I couldn’t name the fruit.
Water from lantana and other
vines and what sorts of fruit to eat, what sort of other jungle craft did you get?
You learnt how to cross a river; you learnt how to get your gear across the river without getting it wet.
How would you do both of those?
Wrap it up in a ground sheet that you’ve got with you and then float it across. You normally would wade through the water and get every bloody thing wet.
What are the tricks to crossing the river then?
We all had crossing up there and they were mainly flying foxes, or you were crossing on two ropes. Just handing on one rope whilst walking across on the other.
How do you do that without doing woo woo?
I can say that much.
Was there a trick to that balancing?
Lean forward really, you’ve got to lean forward and not lean backwards because you’ve got all your gear on the back and that’s going to pull you back over your centre of gravity, you’ve got to be forward when walking across on the two ropes on the flying fox, you have to hang on for grim death.
Any other jungle craft
skills that you were taught there?
I don’t know, I just can’t think of any. Mainly to get you fit when you go through the water. The coldest swim I had in my life was up there, I came through the jungle and I was camping the night alongside this pool, blue pool they call it,
so we stripped off and dived in and it was like a block of ice, it was ice water, it was the coldest thing I’ve ever struck. I didn’t stop in there long, you had to come out and whistle like.
You told us that you had your nineteenth birthday up there, obviously you seem like the fellow who didn’t like doing as he was told unless there was a good reason behind it.
Tell us about your trip to the post office again?
That was only just picking up a parcel, I couldn’t get the parcel out of the post office. The post office only opened the same time you were on parade, which was a bit ridiculous. I stopped a bit too long after lunch. I queued up down at the post office and I just waited until they opened up the door and I asked for my parcel and I did have a card to say that it was
to be picked up. I picked up the parcel and just went up and threw it on the tent and went straight back. I was only just trying to get what I wanted in my own time.
You got ten days pack drill for that?
Yes ten days pack drill.
What does pack drill involve?
He had a very good idea of the pack drill. The normal pack drill is that you get all your gear on your back, and your rifle
and away you go and you have to put your rifle down and you have to pick it up and walk around the quadroon, and he gave orders to ‘ground arms, pickup arms and jog’ and all this sort of thing. Our friend Mr Hagan, he turned around and said, “I don’t believe in all this sort of thing, I will give you a map reference and you will go to that reference and then
when you get there you will get a further map reference and that’s your full pack drill.” So away we go up on top of the knoll, that’s where we had to get too. There were six of us and we said we’d draw straws and see who can get the information. We all sat down, and one bloke went up and as he went up the stairs there was Mr Hagan waiting.
No, so what happened then?
Extension, more pack drill.
He saw you lot coming, didn’t he?
Yes, I think he done it before.
Is it the same routine everyday going up to get a map reference?
Yes. I didn’t mind map reading, it was pretty good, and I still do it.
That’s good fun map reading. You mentioned this lieutenant that you had, who was an ex-cop was this fellow Hagan?
You said that at the time you thought he was tough but you grew to appreciate that toughness.
He was a very, very fit man. We had one bloke who was struggling climbing up a greasy side of a mountain after the rain
and slipping and sliding, this poor guy was struggling and Hagan said, “Give us your gear.” So he put his pack up on to his pack and away he went. We all sat there with amazement, and he turned out to be a good bloke really. We were there for about three or four days after we’d done our twenty-eight days. He would give you a talking
to, just to quieten us down, and wished us all the best. You didn’t think that it was in him.
I guess he had to job to do.
That’s right, he did his job and carried it out very well, terrific.
This parcel that you got for your nineteenth, was it worth it?
No it was a cake, but it didn’t have any smokes in it I don’t think.
I don’t remember what was in it, but it was all done up very nicely, in calico and in a biscuit tin and the calico was all sown around it like you were sending a parcel overseas now.
Did they cut any slack at Canungra, did you get a day off anytime during that twenty-eight days?
On Sunday I don’t think we got church, I don’t think there was a church parade.
They worked you twenty-eight days straight?
Yes, I can’t remember Sundays, it couldn’t have been much.
Do you reckon you came out of that a different man, a different boy, in what way?
Fitter mainly. I reckon Canungra was really good—although I had done extra
duties—I’ve got nothing against Canungra, it was quite a good course.
Was it at that time that you got your AIF number through?
It was in my unit, it wasn’t at Canungra, it was after I joined up with the unit. Why I say that because
three of us that had numbers running one after the other, they weren’t in Canungra as the same time as me. I was 144798, he was 144799 and the other bloke was 144800, that was our numbers running in order.
From Canungra you
joined a unit then?
How does that work, where was it?
You just marched into a unit that’s all; I don’t think they even welcomed you. I don’t think they would have because we were Victorians.
It was a Queensland unit?
It was a Queensland unit.
Any blues [fights]?
Yes, a few arguments. The civilians weren’t wanted.
How did they get past that and unite you guys as a team?
One of our COs [commanding officers], he pulled them like a battalion parade and turned them around, didn’t want anymore bitching going on—we were going to be one unit. It was actually from the officers a bit, they were meeting in officers’ messes whereas
the privates were all piled into one heap. Of course you couldn’t play football, basketball and you would be arguing on. You were compelled to play rugby, I played rugby but I didn’t play any Aussie Rules, I played rugby
and I enjoyed it. There was definitely friction there for some time. We missed out on it, it might have carried on a bit at Horn Island but when we went up to Tanah Merah we were closer-knit there, there were about three hundred of us roughly,
we were a lot closer there. We didn’t have the big boys behind us; we only had the major in charge. He was a hell of a nice bloke.
How long were you there before you were sent overseas, from Canungra to joining a unit to go overseas?
No sooner joined the unit
and we were on our way really. I slept under the stars from the time that I joined the unit, at Kuranda when we got off the train. Then within two days we were down on the Baron River sleeping along there, it was a fair while along the river.
Just sleeping in tents?
Out under the stars, we had sand flies there.
You got nasty bites from the sand flies?
Yes, they are buggers. You can’t stop them, a mosquito that’s all right and you can get under a net, then they come along with a torch light, the flying flies but a mosquito with a torch.
You did mention you were in Charters Towers for a little while.
It was only on the way through.
Did you stop off there at all; I’ve heard some legion tales about what went on in Charters Towers?
Charters Towers, I used to do the guard duty there on the brothel.
That would have been an interesting job.
Yes, to see if there were not troubles.
You were a brothel picketer?
I was the brothel keeper I think.
Did you get paid extra for that?
No, but I got a bonus.
I’m sure you did. How does a young lad, one minute he is an eighteen-year-old boy living at home and then within a year he’s a brothel keeper—do you ever think to yourself was it just one big adventure, was it a roller coaster?
No, it was adventure.
Was everybody in the brothels or was it just a few guys that you sent from there?
A variety. The brothels in Queensland then were legal. In town and in Brisbane, every town had them set up and they were all legal.
How did you get to be a brothel picketer, how did that evolve?
It was only a job, I suppose I was nearly at the top of the list.
What, block A gets latrine duty? What happens, does the sergeant come in and say, ‘Fellows, we need someone to look after the brothel, block A – it’s yours’?
No, you take it in turn on being on guard duty, it might be ten or twelve of you and you don’t know what you might get.
The CO’s office, standing outside that with a fixed bayonet, or you might look after the brothel, or you might be down at transport looking after the trucks, you copped the job for the night and they just allocated you around the traps.
Does the army decided that they will put a guard on the brothel or does the brothel ask
the army for a guard?
I think it might have been the other way around, the brothel might ask to just keep things quiet.
Did you have any run-ins with drunk soldiers or guys that would cause trouble there?
No, not up there. I did have a fair amount of fights myself. I’d sooner have a fight than a sheila or a feed.
I didn’t have many run-ins, at Tanah Merah you didn’t get a drink, there wasn’t any liquor there. Fourteen months you were lucky to get a smoke—I smoked banana leaves, tea leaves, smoked biscuit paper.
You didn’t tell us that one, we will get to that one later.
Never run up against a drunk unless it was myself.
Was there much trouble with the venereal disease out of this Charter Towers’ brothels or were they pretty clean?
I think they were clean, it didn’t worry me.
You didn’t pick up a dose?
No, I didn’t pick up anything.
What were the girls like in these places?
I’m sure they were corkers. Did they just strike you as being just like ordinary girls?
Yes. I was running the dice game and they were running that game.
Did they tell you how or why they got into prostitution?
Did they have ambitions of getting out of it or anything?
You go back a fair bit them. I did strike one of them years and years ago and it was on the snow, on cocaine, they used to take it on the nail file and sniff it. I knew that sort pretty well.
Was there a bit of drug use in those days in the brothels?
Yes, there were drugs, I say that drugs were a go even then I think—
What, cocaine, marijuana or heroine?
Cocaine, that’s all I knew.
Did you ever have a snort?
When that came into the field, marijuana, it never ever worried me. I reckon it’s pretty harmless myself.
Did you have a snort off that nail file?
No. I wasn’t interested, but if it was a bottle of beer I might have been interested.
I reckon you get more fun.
I only had two types of drugs, that was beer and cigarettes but now I don’t have either.
You’re probably much better off for it.
For alcohol anyway.
One interesting thing you mentioned before
and I would like to get to it before embarkation, you said people were saying you guys were too vocal about the way you were going and that might have been why the Centaur was sunk?
They blamed us, we were ready for embarkation but there was a bit of a delay, but I’m not one of the higher-ups.
The Katoomba which was taking us up was in a wharf, that’s what we were going on. We didn’t know the privates—didn’t know anything but the officers knew because the day we left, whose wives were on the wharfs but the officers’ wives, not the privates’ wives. But mine would have had to come too far anyway. They reckoned we opened out mouths and told everyone in town
the news that we were sailing. Everybody in Cairns might have known we were going to sail, that’s why and that’s my own opinion, that’s why the Centaur got sunk. I’ve only just heard lately that the story goes that the Jap in the submarine that sunk it hadn’t sunk anything, so we decided to knock it off before we finished the war.
Where did you read that?
It was on TV.
Did you hear about the Centaur being sunk straight away?
Yes, near enough, but there was a big scream about it being a hospital ship.
That would have been shocking, what did you fellows feel about that?
The hate for the Japs, you are taught to kill or be killed, kill
or be killed, then this sort of thing gets a bit more into the brain washer.
What did they tell you about the Japanese because we have been told that they were little short guys that couldn’t see and that kind of thing?
I’ve never heard that.
Were you taught that sort of thing?
Some fellows said they were told that they were short-sighted and they all wore glass, the bullets were so small they couldn’t penetrate you, they would sort of stick you like a pin, you didn’t hear any
of that kind of stuff?
I don’t think their bullets were much good. There was a funny thing, they should have been terrific really because they were a nine millimetre slug charged by a .303 charge behind it, the lad should have been travelling a bit harder and faster than what ours did.
You get very high velocity then?
Yes, that’s right.
You reckon at that you could be.
The Centaur has just been sunk and you’ve heard all about that and you are upset and up-in-arms about that, you know you are about to go overseas very soon. What’s the feeling at that stage because the Japs had been in the war for six months, what’s the feeling about the war, is it ‘we will clean up in five minutes when we get there’ or—?
It was a bit of a mystery as far as I was concerned, I don’t know how I sort of felt really. We didn’t know where we were going, number one. You were just on board the ship then you get told later on while you were at sea where you were going.
When we were only going to an Australian territory again, I don’t think I was very worried. When I got on the Catalina and was heading to Tanah Merah that was a different thing.
I bet it was.
Especially when you had to sit down because they were short of a gunner, on the machine-gun behind the brown [?UNCLEAR] on the Cat [Catalina flying boat] while you were going up to Tanah Merah,
no the jungle.
With the Catalinas, was the gun just like in an open space in the fuselage, you’d be sitting with a machine-gun?
Yes, it had a blister on each side of it, that’s where the machine-guns were. There was one in the nose and that’s about all they had on. It was a beautiful plane though.
When you were travelling in the Katoomba, did you think you were going to the Middle East? Was that still an option?
No, I don’t think I ever thought of that, I did jungle school, I didn’t do open warfare. I often think I’d sooner been in the jungle than in the open warfare.
You have at least a palm tree to hide behind, whereas the other way you only have a heap of sand,
that’s my own feeling.
Better the devil you know as they say.
I’ve been through the jungle; I haven’t been through open warfare.
You arrived at Horn Island.
Yes, Horn Island.
And was it from there that you went by—?
There were two Dutch Catalinas taking us up there and one short Sutherland, but the short Sutherland didn’t
come up that much. One of the pilots of the Catalina lived in this village, one of the Dutch men, we often talked. I said, “You must have flown me up there.” And I told him the plane I went in was short of a gunner, he said, “He always had a full crew.” He said, “You weren’t in my plane.” That’s strange that, really.
How did you work that out that you were both in the same theatre of war at the same time?
Over at the happy hour here one time I got introduced to him and the bloke that lived down here knew that he’d been in Tanah Merah and I got chatting with him and one thing lead to another and I turned around. As you walk into his house he has a huge photo of a Catalina.
His Catalina finished at Broome, sunk at Broome.
They are a beautiful plane, they were a seaplane weren’t they the Catalina?
Yes, amphibious. When we left Horn Island, we left the sea. When we get up to Tanah Merah I’m looking out and they said, “Close all the hatches, we are going to land.”
I was looking out and all I could see was a little creek, I thought, “Where are we going to land?” So when I get down there the river is a quarter of a mile wide, no problems at all.
Was that your first flight?
No, not my first. I had a flight at Essendon privately just in a Cessna or something.
The same as my first big flight.
Was it a bit of a thrill?
Yes, I quite enjoyed it and there were only fourteen on board.
You were on the gun you said?
We took it in turns of sitting with the gun, then the other gunner would turn and say “I’ll give you a tip off when to pull the trigger.” but we didn’t see any.
Thank goodness for that.
Did you land at Tanah Merah or did you land somewhere else and get there?
No we landed at Tanah Merah, Horne Island to Tanah Merah.
How was that, your first impressions of that when you got off the plane, what did it look like?
It was a funny looking joint really, they had foreign language on the wharf, that stuck me.
Was that the first time that you had struck foreign languages really?
What were they speaking?
Dutch as well, or just Indonesian?
No just Indonesian,
very little Dutch. There would have been two or three Dutchmen there. One was a consular, one was a doctor, one was the radio bloke, then they had Indonesian crews under them. Our army doctor had to do the civilians,
which we didn’t want to do, he had to do midwifery, like births, he wanted to teach one of the Indonesians that but they said, “No, if he learns that he will be as clever as our doctor.”
You can’t have that.
No. They had a big store there with food and smokes, and we were on hard rations and you couldn’t get anything and they wouldn’t even sell you
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 04
We got to Tanah Merah and you told us a little bit about the Dutch there, I was wondering if you had any knowledge of the Dutch traders in Western New Guinea at that time?
The Dutch were trading and were based in Western New Guinea.
The Indonesians, the lonely Indonesians there, the Indonesian police, it was a political prison for anyone
who was against the Dutch. The other islands, they were just sent over there and locked up, and in a prison. It wasn’t a bad sort of a prison really, it was more of a compound. It still had good living quarters and that was the idea of the settlement that was there. As I said there were about three Dutch there,
mainly the consular, as they called him, the controller and he had all the say in the village. It didn’t matter what was going on you had to go through him, while they were defending his country.
How did the local Indonesians treat you new fellows turning up from Australia?
I think they were quite happy about us, really. I didn’t have any backlash at all.
We were quite welcomed, the army and eventually the air force came in. Another thing, we evacuated all the women, the police wives and children they got evacuated to Mackay in Queensland.
Did that happen soon after you got there?
One plane load for plane
load. We came in on the plane and they went out on the same plane.
Had there been much action in that particular part of the world before you got there?
No. The thing I think they were frightened of was they had an airstrip there and they were frightened that the Japs could have been moving in and taking up the airstrip.
You were talking about the evacuation of women.
They went out on planes. The natives, there were thousands of them there, head hunters and whatever in the native population. They only wore grass skirts and acorns I think.
The males had half a walnut shell I think and the women wore grass skirts, that was the native side. The Indonesians were quite happy to have us there I think. I didn’t have much to do with the women side until ten months later, well I didn’t anyway.
We are getting to that.
You said the Merauke force, is that the right way to say it?
What did that mean and what was that about?
The headquarters was in Merauke, that’s were we got our information from and we were controlled from. I think they had about two or three battalions down there,
they had a fair air force squadron but we didn’t have any air force at all with us, until later on when the airstrip was made airworthy. When the Yankee type came in there once the air force bloke said, “Do you know
this strip is the US?” And, “I only called in, I’m going to Australia and I wanted to know if anybody wants to go down?” He just popped in.
Did you put your hand up?
No. Then he turned around and said, “I came in the wrong way and I’m going out the wrong way too.” So that was the Yanks.
The point that you got there in 1942, things were getting pretty hairy all over the place
in the Pacific.
For the Australians, were you getting updated about the Japanese?
We got very little really, we listened to the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], we went down to the signallers to listen to the radio and listen to the news at the signals office every night. We had a bloke there who could remember
every bit of the news and he’d have our crew around, and this bloke would come back and just repeat the whole news, like from memory. That’s how we got any information and Tokyo Rose [Japanese propaganda broadcaster] every now and again
that was on.
Did you have any idea of what you were going to be doing here in Western New Guinea?
You had a pretty organised network of activities back in Australia, so did you have plans to reorganise your dice plans and poker games and the other scams that you had going?
Up there or back here?
When you landed there.
Did you look around and think ‘I’ll give this a week or so of settling in and then I’ll start getting things rolling’?
No, there I mainly played cards, it was too small a group.
Too many opportunities to offend people perhaps, get on the wrong side?
They’d play cards all night.
Take me through what you found
when you got there, what the area looks like and what buildings there are.
All concrete buildings, concrete water tanks, there was our first experience with an earth tremor. My back against the pillow on the house there and I said, “Something is moving here.” and the next thing the water started to splash out over
the water tank and I thought that the ground was going to open up and swallow us and that was the first thing that I thought of, but it only turned out to be a earth tremor so that was all right. We got used to them at a later date.
Did you wonder whether the Japs had come up with some new device to unsettle the Australians?
You didn’t know what was out beyond the clearing, you had a village in a
clearing, as soon as you stepped out of the clearing you were in the jungle—you didn’t know what was in there. When you went out looking for them, you still didn’t know what you were going to strike. As it turned out it turned out to be a really good holiday over the fourteen months. All we
got were the air-raids, they weren’t too good of a shot.
What time did you have the air-raids, was that when you were in the bog?
That’s when I got caught with my pants down, yes.
How long had you been there when the air-raid was in this particular area?
In the toilet?
No, not what part of your ablutions that you were up too,
once that had expired.
It would have been about two or three months I suppose before we got an air-raid. We had already dug trenches, slit tents in the fox holes. The trenches were cut about two feet wide and about three foot deep and they were just zig-zagged
around the parameter. The fox hole is dug square and then you put a roof over the top of it and you completely live in a fox hole. In the slit trench you are only there during the time of a raid. The first thing you done when you arrived at a site, if you were going to stop overnight you dug in,
that’s where they reckoned the name digger came from, you just keep digging all the time. You get dug in and all you do is dig a slit trench then. I quite enjoyed Tanah Merah then.
What sort of sleeping quarters did you get?
Very good, we had the police barracks.
Only two in a cubical and you each had a bed, we had slats with your bedding on top of that, so we had very good quarters.
The only thing—no amenities, and you had to make your own fun. We played shuttle cock and badminton, cards, rugby, football out on a soccer field
which is the same size as a rugby field anyway. We’d play our footy out there mainly on a Saturday.
Sounds like there wasn’t any difficulty in getting supplies sent over?
Supplies was the only thing, we were always on hard rations. Ninety percent of the time, the only thing I got when I was in with the Indonesians was going there for lunch and tea and that’s where I ate the flying fox.
I’ll ask you about that in a moment. Back at the barracks—supplies sent over, food sent over and shuttle cock and things to play with, so there was an idea that you were going to be there for some time?
I’m curious they didn’t send over some form of means of cooking.
No, you couldn’t get them in, you only had
two tugs up the river in the whole time, you couldn’t get a decent ship up, it was mainly canoes. The aircraft would come in and they were either be the old Walrus or Duck that used to be on the warships that they use to catapult off them, they were only single rear driven
propped motors on them. They did about eighty mile and hour.
Was your main job there to build this airstrip?
So what role did you play in that?
Pick and shovel, that’s all we had. I don’t know where they got all the picks and shovels from all of a sudden. We had pick and shovel and we used to get
natural gravel pit, it must have been under the sea some time or other the land there. You had a twenty foot face of gravel, and you’d just pick it down and put it onto a tray, which was a galvanised iron nailed onto two pieces of wood like a stretcher and you put the gravel on that
and you walked out and tipped it and somebody else would spread it. Then we got a jeep in but I don’t know how that got in. We had one jeep and that did a hell of a lot of work with a trailer, then all the rest was done by hand.
Who organises or orchestrates all of this, do you have sappers there?
Yes, we did have a sapper for a second, there were only about four blokes, but they were our ginger beers. They must have planned it all beforehand. It was an airstrip before we got there but it wasn’t suitable for fighter aircraft of bombers, it
was more or less a civilian airport. We finished up getting DC3s in on it, but that was the biggest plane I think that ever landed there. The only thing was when we had the strip near enough to finished, the Catalina used to sore us a bit. He was amphibious and he would make out that he was going to land on
the water, and then do the reverse to be a bit funny I think, to break the monotony.
Was it monotonous, did you find it quite hard-going in that respect?
You said it was a bit of a holiday?
I didn’t get home sick or anything like that, I was quite happy on the surface.
You said that you had a lieutenant who would want you to sit and talk with him as opposed to working,
while you were building the airstrip?
Randall, Uncle Randall yes. When you went out on night shift, the first thing he’d do was sit on the edge of the strip and as soon as he would sit down it was a battle to sit alongside of him, because all he’d do was talk all night to you and you didn’t have to do any work. If you sat in front of him he’d turn around and say, “Hey Blockie, you haven’t done anything for the last ten minutes, go and do something.” So you always kept alongside of him.
What sort of hours did they make you keep, were there watchers and guards and shifts?
We didn’t do much guard duty there, because the Indonesians used to do most of that, they had their crew. We didn’t do any guard duty but we did do patrols. You go out for a week and go out
patrolling somewhere up to Tanah Tinggi or some other place somewhere. Tanah Tinggi was high ground, when we went down on the river, we’d build our huts on top of a turkey’s nest so we’d be higher up so if the river was flooded we got down there.
We didn’t strike any Japs on the ground at all.
When you went out on patrol, is that when you began performing as a forward scout?
I was always a forward scout.
I’d like to talk about that too, I’d like to talk about learning Indonesian and the police officer’s daughter, but scouting—we’ll save the good bits for later—in an operation like that I’m wondering
if you feel reasonably safe that there weren’t too many Japanese patrols around?
You don’t know when you go out, you don’t know if you were going to fight one or one hundred really. I felt more secure being in front than behind somebody. I knew being out in front what was going on,
whereas if you were behind somebody they might go to ground then you’d get up, they heard something, as I said the panic. When the bloke’s panic you go to ground and when you come up you don’t know whether to move, or you don’t know, it’s so confusing.
So you think you had the physiological edge being able to—?
Yes, with me it was.
How far in advance would you travel?
Yes, from your unit?
From the rest of them?
You are within arms reach, you could touch each other.
Oh I see, I thought perhaps that you went on quite a bit further like on reconnaissance?
No, you have got a section of seven men and you are going out not more than six feet apart.
But they are following you, because you are picking the path being forward scout. Then before you start you have got a map reference and there had been a bit of briefing before hand in on where you were going and what you might or might not strike.
With the map references, do you have to memorise them, or are you allowed to take them with you?
No, you take them with you.
Do you have a lieutenant in your section, travelling with you?
No a sergeant, he was the section leader, or a corporal. You only have one lieutenant to a platoon, which is thirty-odd men.
So you are out with your section leader and four or five other men, are you responsible for leading with the signals, the forward signals or the stop
and be quiet signals?
Yes, they take notice of me.
How does that work in terms of your relationship with the section leader, because he’s the one with the orders to give, but you’re actually the one that knows the layout of the land and what’s going on?
He might come up and talk to you. When you stop he might come up to you and have a chat to you and say, “What do you think about that?” It didn’t just happen
in New Guinea. Kunai grass you get to a patch of kunai grass nothing else grows accept this grass it’s like razor grass and you turn and said, “Are we going to go in there or go around?” And that’s when you have a bit of a discussion. I’ve always described it going in, I’d always turn around and say that the section leader wants to go straight into it,
you’ve only got to blow the grass between you and the machine-gun, you’re better off going around to see if anything had been going in there. I mean you can always tell if it’s a pig or a human going into the grass, then you might consider about putting a bit of artillery down to bring it into play. It was a
reasonable responsibility being a forward scout.
You have got to have your wits about you don’t you?
A bit of bush craft helps, there’s no difference between a human stepping on it than a bird or something. It gets the other blokes so toey [nervy], I can’t work behind them.
Did you have any unusual encounters out on patrol, any wildlife that you stumbled over accidentally, or false alarms?
Yes, there were plenty of them. Cassowaries are one of the worst things. They are very rowdy going through the bush.
They are a big bird, an emu size and awkward but they are the ones that make your hair stand on end now and again, the cassowary.
Almost as big as a human?
Pigs never worried me, I’d knocked a couple off, I’ve eaten a wild pig but not again, it’s too salty.
That’s all there is really, you just listen and be observant and not be too trigger happy.
Any of the fellows fire off any rounds that caused a few accidents that were unnecessary?
Yes, there were a few accidents along the lines. I don’t think anybody shot at the other bloke,
not deliberately. Once in the base of a mortar sinking into the mud, and a mortar was like that and the elevation was shortening and it came right down our lines once.
It didn’t injury anybody really but it gave a couple a good frights.
I bet it did.
One got clipped in the ankle by a mortar.
Let’s talk about learning Indonesian, how long had you been learning?
My favourite race.
They are your favourite race are they?
How long had you’d been on Tanah Merah before and sort of thought, ‘I’ve got to start communicating a little bit’?
From the word go I was trying to learn the language,
my postmaster there came from Ambon and he spoke five languages I think. He was teaching me Indonesian but mainly market Malay it is, what they talk up there is the nearest, the hardest thing I had to do was put the
sentence back to front, as far as I was concerned it was back to front. You are trying to work things out, I finished up mastering it, but I wasn’t fluent with it. I struggled a lot with it. After the war I was talking to people down here. I used to go to the Indonesian turn outs down here
at South Yarra and go to the Indonesian dinners and that sort of thing. The sergeant of police up there he had a very nice daughter and I got introduced to her through the father.
You could speak a little to say “[(UNCLEAR)]”?
One foot in from the word go, because Dad agreed.
The postmaster was just a casual friendship that you made with him because you were able to get your mail through him, or was he the postmaster only for the Indonesians there?
He was the postmaster for the Indonesians but he came to Melbourne while we were up there and I gave him my home address and he went out to see my
family at Camberwell. He said it was all right walking around the city, he is black as the ace of spades.
Let’s cut to the chase here, what about this police officer’s daughter?
You are a police officer’s son, paint me the picture here. You are a soldier out in the middle of God knows where and you are defending a country.
You are a romantic figure to begin with and she just wanders up and you think—?
No no. I had more to do with the father because we used to play cards together, play their game.
Did you always let him win?
The Indonesian game.
Did you always let him win to get on his good side?
No, he had more money than me and I wanted to take it off him
if I could. As I said the women were in Australia, and eventually they came back and he introduced his daughter to me.
Ok, I’ve got to ask you a question there, so the women were being evacuated when you were arriving, did they send them to Darwin—you said the women were in Australia?
They were evacuated to Mackay in Queensland.
When did they start to bring them back and why, what made it
safe enough to bring them back?
I don’t know why they thought it was safe enough, it was ten months after we were there that they brought them back. They must have felt that nothing was doing and there was no action around there. I think Lae and Milne Bay
and all that sort of thing, they had knocked the nips over that side, what was happening up the north I don’t know whether it was the same Japanese troops that went through the top of the island or not. They must have had enough intelligence or information to turn around and say, “You can bring everybody back home.”
So they flew them in, that’s when the short Sutherlands were coming through.
Can you recall the reaction amongst the soldiers when all the women were flying back on the Sutherlands, is there a sense of elation?
What happened was, the best thing that ever happened as far as the women were concerned, a prisoner up there, an Indonesian prisoner was on with a
policeman’s wife before she went to Australia. When she came back he went to carry on and the old man stabbed him, so that was the best thing that happened to the women because it gave any Australian any idea that there was a knife at the other end. He got stabbed to death,
the prisoner that was trying to carry on where he left off.
Was that just local business and the army kept well away from anything to do with that, or did they have to intervene?
We went on patrol and went looking for the bloke. We were involved a little bit but not in the case
when he came back and the bloke just took to him and stabbed him to death, that was organised by the police. The husband was able to get into the same cell as the prisoner and he didn’t last long.
That would have given me a bit of a chill up the spine I think.
Murder yes, that’s right, that set
the boys back a bit.
Had you met Christine yet?
Did you have second thoughts about—?
No, I was a good boy then.
I guess you were on the right side of the law there being mates with her father?
I was keeping sweet with the sergeant.
Did he know you were the son of a cop?
He may have, I don’t know,
I don’t know how.
Tell me about getting to know Christine.
I’d go around there of a night time and just sit out the front of the house at the sheila’s place and chat away with her mother and her and her auntie, and another bloke would be there. We’d just talk about things in general.
Were they courting you as a potential son-in-law?
I don’t know.
Did they offer you food?
They offered me everything, they offered me bed before I left. There is a funny thing there, the day I was supposed to come home there was a farewell around there and she said,
“Terbung pergi gila.” which means “I hope that the plane goes silly.” and the bloody plane did go silly, it didn’t turn up for two days later.
She wanted a delay. Can you say that again?
Terbung, that’s ‘aeroplane’; piggy is ‘go’; gila is ‘silly’.
Gila, that’s what they call the crazy people?
When you were sitting there chatting and they’re bringing out little bits of food and so on, are the older women nodding and laughing amongst themselves?
Yes, they were jealous, I’d say.
Were they hoping to get one like you?
She’s an elderly, or elder.
Did they ask you to get them things or specials things, or other men?
We used to exchange food a bit, because they were wrapped in bully beef, they really like the bully beef.
What did you manage to swap it for?
I was quite happy to get a few bananas. I can’t think,
you get it all served in a banana leaf.
Did they have like palm sugary sweets that they made?
Yes. I’ve never been a sweet eater and I’m still not.
What about fish, were they able to get local fish?
No. We never got much fish out of the river, the crocodiles would knock them off I think, it was alive with crocodiles. It wasn’t there that I had my fruit bat or flying fox, it was at the postmaster’s place. He invited about six of us down there for
tea one night and I knew flying fox was going to be on but none of the other blokes did. When they found out two of them went outside and chucked up.
When you headed over to Christine’s place, was there any certain ritual that you had to follow, did you have to turn up with something as a gift?
Only myself. I don’t think
there is any ritual really.
There weren’t any offerings to the family first or anything?
I think they learnt a little bit with the ten months in Australia.
What percentage of English and Indonesian did you speak?
She was only nineteen.
Were you speaking a little bit of Indonesian and they were speaking a little bit of English?
Yes, we were doing a swap, we were exchanging languages, ‘what do you call this?’ and ‘what do you call that?’, you exchanged.
I learnt how to say, “Come darling, and sit on my knee.” and I learnt that part.
Did she understand?
That was important.
Did it work?
Yes it worked.
Were they happy to leave you alone with her?
Did you make the most of it?
Yes, I think that might have been the invitation.
I’m curious, because did they have any sense of what might happen to their daughter, did they image that you might stay there forever or take her when you left?
I think they thought, see they were Celebes, they are on the Chinese colour. I used to be able to tell what island the Indonesians came from by their colour.
The Ambonese are pretty black, the Borneo are on the tan side, the Javanese are on the—and the Celebes are on the Chinese side. I think they thought I’d be turning up in the Celebes after the war, I think that, I think they had that impression, but I think my wife had different. It was a standing joke though with that.
At my first reunion and my wife was with me, well Shirley was with me and I turned around and they said, “Blockie, where did you stay the last night in Tanah Merah?” and Shirley said, “With Christine Pollie I presume.” so the joke fell right flat, they were going to hound me to death.
She got them.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 05
The police officer, did he have to do much as a police officer in Tanah Merah?
He’d shoot a dog every Sunday.
Ok, did he not have to do much because the army was there, but if the army wasn’t there?
We were there to garrison the whole place, whereas the police were there to control the prisoners,
the political prisoners and there were a few of them.
About how many would have been locked up?
Two or three hundred.
It’s a strange situation to have all these political prisoners of German war.
It’s unbelievable, I’m all in favour of Indonesia getting their independence, but then I’m very sorry that they got their independence, because I don’t think they had—I’m talking about
the normal ordinary people who hadn’t been let off the dictatorship in their life.
Did you talk to the police officer, what was his position; was he like the local sergeant?
The sergeant, yes.
Did you talk to him about these political prisoners, what they had done to get locked up?
On occasion, they didn’t do much at all.
This postmaster he disappeared off the map after they got their independence. I think that he was a bit of a stirrer on both sides. I talked to him more about the independence than the sergeant of the police.
I don’t know, what I heard of them they had done very little to be able to get locked away.
Did you, being a young Australian in their country defending their own country, get a little bit caught up?
Afraid of speech—I had been brought up with that all my life—they are not allowed to say boo, against the Dutch.
Did you ever have arguments with the police officers, what was the police officer’s name?
Sergeant ‘Karbu’ we used to call him, Sergeant Pollie.
Did you talk to this sergeant about this business, this easy brandish way, did you say, “Come on what’s the deal here, why can’t these people—”?
No, I let them run their own political life,
I didn’t worry about that at all.
Also, I’m going to get a little bit personal here, in terms of let’s say deflowering young Christine Pollie, did that leave her in a slightly awkward situation when you did finally leave?
It could have, I never heard from her since. He did have my home address
but I never heard from her. Pete was the only one that I heard from after I left Tanah Merah and I heard quite a few years after, often she would always send us a Christmas card and that sort of thing. The last I heard from him he was in Bali and he was an interpreter for the tourists, because he spoke five languages
and that was the last time that I ever heard of him.
I will ask a bit more about him too, you weren’t worried with Christine that you might have left a little Ray Block behind in Tanah Merah?
No I didn’t ever have any worries about that.
Was she in love with you?
I think it was pretty mutual there,
I was fond of her and she was fond of me.
Without going gila?
Yes, without going gila. That’s all I could say, we were fond of each other. The rest of the boys were all jealous.
How did all the boys react?
I can tell you.
They had a shot at me every time they had an opportunity.
Did you ever say “Shira intercomoo Christine, [?UNCLEAR Saya cinta padamu, Christine?] ” I was testing you, that means ‘I love you Christine’.
No, I don’t think I ever said that.
So now we have the real picture here. Did any of the guys, any of the Australian boys ever
have a go at you for this, did they have opportunities themselves or were they a bit scared of getting stabbed?
A couple of them did, and I have a photo of one of the women but I don’t have a photo of Christine.
That is a pity. Let’s talk about this postmaster to know five languages, was he educated?
Yes he was educated.
What was he doing, it sounds like a nowhere place Tanah Merah, and it doesn’t sound very important?
He was the postmaster, and there was a post office there and he ran that. He would get a fair amount of correspondence from Indonesia, from all the different islands and the police were there. The poor prisoners would not be getting much correspondence I don’t think. He would have a bit of mail transferring there and I think he handled money, and I think he had to do banking and that sort of thing,
he had a bit to do with that. Whether the police money came through the post office or what I don’t know. He had a little bit to do with money, I know that much. Handling money either as a banker or as a paymaster, I don’t know but he had a bit to do with it.
The Dutch themselves,
they wouldn’t trade anything with you, would they cut you any slack or give you any quarter?
I didn’t have much time for the Dutch.
It sounds like they didn’t have much time for the Australians.
Well, that’s fair enough too really. They were worrying about their own interests.
What about their relations with the locals, did they treat them as second-class citizens?
Yes, they have always been second-class citizens.
I didn’t want to use the word racist but I guess that was probably why.
A fair bit of that going on there.
Of course they weren’t educated or anything like that, the other Dutchman was the priest.
A Dutch priest?
Did he have much to do with the troops?
No, nothing to do with the troops, I don’t think there was anyone
going to the mass down there. The only thing we had to do with him was we pinched his communion wine once.
Did it do the trick?
To build on our own home brew that was all.
I see, which leads me to my next question which is I understand you are working to build airstrips and you are going on patrols and you are spending your evenings visiting the postmaster or the Pollies, but what
other tricks did you get up to while you were there, what other tedium breakers did you have?
I didn’t have much, I only supplied the goods at times, making the home brew.
Tell me how that was set up and who owned the still?
Who owned the still, I think it was a community effort I think.
Did the officers know about that and just turn a blind eye?
They were there.
They were contributors as well were they?
They supplied the bottles I think.
The picture that you are painting sounds like it was necessary but not overly onerous, the time that you spent there?
Were there opportunities for men to display various talents, in say concerts or special performances at Christmas time?
We had one concert there, we made it up ourselves. I told Brad [Archive researcher] the story.
What did you do?
One sketch has always stuck in my mind and still does. There was one woman in the bar and two men at the bar. The two men at the bar were talking and they found out they were both illegitimate, and she came up to the men and said, “Could one of you bastards give me a match?” and the curtain fell.
Was it a big response?
I reckon it was terrific.
What part did you play?
None, I was in the audience, I wasn’t even collecting the tickets.
What about musicians in the concerts, did musicians spring up out of the sections or the unit?
Did you suddenly find out that you had talented men?
In Java, I’ve got a photo of them,
the Indonesians had a fair orchestra and they were invited, because otherwise we wouldn’t have had any music. Our cook was a very good singer, baritone, a Victorian bloke—he was a very good female impersonator.
Whose job was it to organise the concert parties?
I don’t know who organised this one up there, I don’t have a clue, I don’t know who organised that but it was a reasonable concert.
They were all just A Company blokes in it
plus the Indonesians. We sang a few Indonesians songs.
At this stage were you getting much mail from home, or was it having trouble getting through?
We had troubles. The biggest point there was our supply line; I don’t know why I can’t work it out. We had biscuit bombers come over and drop the stuff off
on the strip. I used to have a tobacco tin that was a quarter of an inch high—boom, flattened like that. We got supplies dropped in, not too often. That was the only trouble, was food and that sort of thing.
It was a little bit difficult.
There was plenty of chooks [chickens] around, you could knock off a chook there. Now and again we’d supply the cook with poultry and we’d turn around and say, “We’ll have a roast chook on Sunday.” It was a bit hot the stuff that we’d pinched. That was how our life was really.
There wasn’t any danger there as it turned out, we didn’t know what was there at first but when you find out that’s when we sort of—
What about messing with the local customs, if you nicked a chook here and there, would there be any reprieves for that, would the officers come down hard on you for taking the locals’ stuff or didn’t they care?
The consular might have a bit of a whine to the captain but that’s where it would stop
I think. He wouldn’t give us anything. We couldn’t get anything out of the shop and we were willing to pay for it.
That’s very frustrating. What about getting mail back at home, were you able to do that?
Yes, I don’t know how we got it out; there was a stack of mail coming in. You’d drop the mail coming in but you
couldn’t pick it up. We had to rely on these celebrations when we heard a plane come over and making a hell of a noise. It would obviously be a Duck or a Walrus bringing our mail in because that’s about all it could bring because it was only a single cockpit little aircraft, by plane.
Who were you writing to at this stage, which one of your girlfriends were you writing to while you were at Tanah Merah?
I don’t know, I think I was writing to Betty then. It was, I was definitely writing to Betty.
Did you mention young Christine Pollie in your notes?
No, not to Betty, and Shirley didn’t find out until after the war.
What are you missing about back home while you
were on red soil?
Missing back home? I don’t think I was missing much at all, food that’s all mainly.
Tell me about the last couple of days there.
Because we were in and out of hospital with malaria.
While you were at Tanah Merah you had malaria?
Tanah Merah was the second worst place for malaria,
the gold coast of Africa is the worst and Tanah Merah is next.
When was the first time that you got hit with it?
I had it about eight times, worse than the others at each time. I had benign tertiary as they call it.
I had it once after the war.
What was the medical condition like there, were they able to treat you properly?
There was Atebrin and quinine that’s all, I still take quinine for cramps.
Still directly linked back to the malaria?
Atebrin wasn’t much good after you got malaria was it I don’t think?
Quinine was the thing but you couldn’t get quinine. We used to have quinine in liquid, and it was bitter and a hell of a thing to take, but that was about the only thing that you could get on top of it with.
Did you take anything that the locals recommended?
I don’t think they had a cure for it at all.
Were you ever sick when you were around the
Pollie family, did they take a little bit of care with you and try and look after you?
They used to give you a bit of dope, I don’t think they had any cure for malaria.
When you say that you got a bit of dope off them, what sort of stuff, did they have some herbal
bark remedies or herbal stuff?
Some weirdo herbal stuff or something like that. “Chew this and it will do you good.”
I don’t know, I think I might have spat it out, it probably wasn’t lovely.
What about getting home again, did you get much notice that you would be bulking out of there?
Yes, about three days notice, that would have been about all we got. We had the strip in order enough to get DC3s in then, they flew us out from there to Cape York, to Higgins Field.
Was it good news that you were leaving or did you want to stay?
No, I was pleased to come home, I was happy to be heading home.
Now tell me your farewells to the postmaster and the Pollie family and in particular to the young and sweet Christine?
I think I went down and had dinner with him and his family, his wife and three kids he had. He
definitely followed me up after we came home, whereas my girlfriend didn’t follow up at all, perhaps that might have been why she didn’t. I haven’t been back up there since.
What did your company have to do in terms of packing up, up there; did you have special orders, did you have to destroy anything?
No, I wasn’t involved in it, it was just packing up my own gear and getting onboard the plane and coming home.
Ever given it a second glance and saying goodbye to that part of the world?
Yes, the plane went gila so it gave me another day, which I didn’t think I was going to get.
When it did go pergi gila, did you think?
That was the night that I disappeared.
That’s when the troops couldn’t work out where I was.
They didn’t guess?
I didn’t sleep in my bed.
They must have known where you were.
Did somebody cover for you under those circumstances?
No, they didn’t have to, no.
Why didn’t they have to?
I was there for parade; I was only missing at night time when I should have been asleep. If I wasn’t there I would be sitting up playing cards I mean, so there you are.
I’m a bit frustrated obviously because I would quite like to know a bit more about that final night there, and you’re not giving it to me, Ray.
So you can tell my wife.
She’s not here. Was it romantic, was it tragic,
was it hard to say goodbye?
Yes, it was fairly romantic yes.
Did you take her some flowers?
Very good. Duck tail.
Is that what the Balinese say? The Balinese have an expression, sin can can [?UNCLEAR].
(UNCLEAR) means shut up doesn’t it?
Sin can can means ‘no worries’. So you’re out of there and you had a pretty good time there and you came away without any responsibilities.
You were a lucky man in the war I suppose. When you got back to Cape York, were you given any leave?
We boarded the Canberra,
we went over to the other side of Cape York and boarded the Canberra. On the way back to Thursday Island we struck a reef and it ripped out seven plates, so the ship’s like this, that was worse than [(UNCLEAR)] I can tell you, we felt like we were going down.
We abandoned ship and we got on barges and we spent hours and hours and hours on the barges getting back to Thursday Island. Because the water was running out or the tide had turned or something, but anyway we got back there. We got the Katoomba back home
to Brisbane and then we got leave from Brisbane and went home and that was when I was going out to see Betty on the tram and I knew Shirley worked and she was writing to me. I was going out with Betty and I got off the tram to see Shirley
in between time and I didn’t get any further.
You seem to have a bit of a gamblers knack of how to conduct yourself in all aspects of life.
I guess you decided to play those cards and keep the rest close to your chest.
Like a gambler.
Double or nothing.
Double or nothing, that’s right.
You are still with Shirley so it looks like you made the right bet.
That’s right, fifty-four years.
You were just sweethearts at this time, Shirley probably didn’t know where she stood with you, did she tell you to square it at this point while you were on leave and make up your mind?
About which way I’m going?
She just had to swim with the rest of them; I hadn’t made up my mind then.
How much leave did they give you?
About eighteen days or twenty days, something like that.
That’s a fair amount of time.
A bit more than that, you get two days a month.
Was it a good experience to catch up with your family?
Were they all together at this point?
No, I had my two older sisters, they were married, both to air force blokes.
One was living at Moonee Ponds and the other was living at Fairfield. Mum was living at Camberwell at this time.
And your dad?
He was there at Camberwell.
Were they delighted to see their beamish boy back again?
I don’t know if it was that trip or the one after. For my twenty-first birthday
we were having a surprise party for Ray, and where do you think Ray was? He was in Sydney.
In the arms of a beloved?
No, I got left—something went wrong with the trains or something or other, but I missed out and I arrived at my twenty-first a day later.
That’s not here though, because I’ve done the numbers and you’re only about twenty as far
as I can tell.
It might have been after Bougainville.
It might have been. On leave in Melbourne did you get up to any trouble, because we anticipate that you are going to be in trouble again on your leave?
No I wasn’t in trouble on leave.
Did you go down to the races?
I had enough trouble.
How did you spend time back in Australia, the reason I ask is unlike a lot of other fellows who came back really
bomb-happy or wounded or messed up—?
I didn’t then, because I wasn’t under fire. I did eventually come home that way. I used to be at work and the kids would blow up a paper bag and burst the bag and I’d nearly jump over the table, they thought it was a hell of a joke, but it wasn’t a good joke to me. That was after
Bougainville, that was after the war that I was that way. Coming back from Tanah Merah I was only broken hearted.
Were you? So she really did mean something to you?
You didn’t waste much time checking out Shirley, and I want to ask you if Betty was dark on you for having not come back?
I got into trouble there too.
I reckon we might leave you in trouble.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 06
I think the time has come to talk about leaving Brisbane; Bougainville was late in the piece wasn’t it?
Yes, very late and an unnecessary war to me.
I have heard it been called the forgotten war.
I call it the political war, I reckon.
When did you first get wind that you were going to Bougainville?
I think we were told before we left camp, I went over on the Mexico, I think we were warned before that that we were definitely going to Bougainville.
Ever heard of it before?
No, I didn’t know where it was.
Or the flower, the Bougainvillea, the tropical flower
Never mind. Leaving this time, leaving Melbourne this time did you have a sense about you that you would be back and all would be well?
When I left Melbourne I wouldn’t have known I was going away. They might have called it the final leave but I don’t remember telling them down here that I was going, but you wouldn’t have been able to really. We wouldn’t have been told
until we left the camp, or back into the staging camp at Proserpine or where ever it was up there somewhere.
When you were leaving your family after this bit of leave, did you have a sense that you would see them again and you would come home unharmed?
Yes, I couldn’t see anything different to the war that I had just been in.
Were you looking forward to getting back with your unit
and taking off again?
Did you take anything special with you this time?
No, I didn’t have anything special.
You learnt a few tricks of the trade by being in the army for so long, perhaps you thought there were a few things that you could bring with you that might help ease the load a bit further down the track?
Take with you or bring home?
Tell me about departing on the USS Mexico, was it a troop ship?
Yes, that was a troop ship, an American troop ship and not very big. It had been converted to a troop ship completely earlier on like the Katoomba it was just a passenger liner and we were doing luxury there.
The Mexico it only took days to go over there.
Leaving Brisbane, Brisbane must have been a pretty interesting place at that point?
Did you have a bit of fun in Brisbane before you left?
No, other than drinking a bit of slops I suppose, drinking a bit of beer, that was what we were doing.
It was six o’clock closing in those days. I didn’t do anything spectacular in Brisbane at all.
The trip to Bougainville, that’s not too far from Brisbane to Bougainville?
They usually took an alternative route?
The trip over there wasn’t bad really, I enjoyed that. I sailed on the Katoomba,
Mexico, the Canberra it was all right but the final trip wasn’t too good, as from coming home all together.
What did your senior officers have to say to you on a short trip like that on the Mexico, did they talk to you?
We had in the theatre on board the ship the big briefing, who was there and that we were relieving the Americans, we knew all that before
we actually stepped onto the land. What was to follow, they didn’t know themselves. We could only just tell you what was on the program. It wasn’t until we got there that we were shifted to Numa Numa, that’s the first time we struck any trouble, or any enemies, that was the first time we were actually
under fire, put it that way.
Having been in Western New Guinea all that time, arriving in Bougainville at Torokina did that look very different to you?
Yes, it was absolutely a military setup, the whole thing, it was just a large military camp at Torokina. There was no civilian population and I hardly saw a native
in Torokina, I don’t think I actually saw a native. We had the New Guinea infantry and they were all native, being trained in New Guinea and they came across there, they were a good bunch of blokes. The natives and their leaders and we had a bit to do with them
afterwards. On arrival it was just a big army camp really, as far as I was concerned.
How did you get along with the Yanks at Torokina?
I got on alright with them, we didn’t have anything to do with them other than the markets on the weekends. They had all these markets set up, Paddy’s Market.
I didn’t have much to do with them really, the only thing I reckon was that they were always trigger happy, they’d shoot at anything—and I think they still do—that moves and have a pop shot. I didn’t worry much about the Yanks.
Were you surprised to find them with their hands on so much equipment?
Surprised for them to have so much equipment? I think the whole war really, if it wasn’t for the Yankee equipment, they were loaded with that they have everything at their fingertips, where as we were struggling with a .303 or something.
Someone like yourself with an eye for
making the most of a situation, did you size the Yanks up fairly quickly as people you could do a few good trades with, or setup a few games with?
Yes, you could always get grog, you could always get a beer, we done a bit of trade in that way. I sold the Yanks a Jap rifle that I got off a Jap that I got the flag off and I sold that for ten quid.
They are alright to trade with because they had more money than us.
They had more of everything.
More of everything. You said when you got there the Yanks and the Japs were using the same water supply, was that at Torokina or was that further north?
That was at Numa Numa.
Up on the mountain.
Before we get there, back at Torokina how long did they make you
sit around at a stage camp?
Not long at all, we were up the front there within a week. There was one mob ahead of us, another unit went in I think before us, and we followed them and relieved them, six weeks by the time we got there. It’s a hell of a trip to
get up to the top of the mountain.
About how many feet high were the mountains up to the Numa Numa trail?
I don’t know, I’m not too good of a judge at that, I suppose about three thousand feet. It’s all slippery and slimy; it was only foot traffic going up there.
You had steps that criss-crossed up the side of the mountain, and it was a bugger of a trip really, it was better coming down.
Did they give you any idea of how many Japanese they thought were on the island?
No, didn’t have a clue.
Did you get a shock when you found out afterwards?
Yes, when I found out afterwards, it was well after the war when I found out how many were there. It was only just lately that
the figures came out of there. There were more there than what we thought and sort of run up against, and if they had come in force I don’t think we could have stood much of a chance.
How were you sort of working out at this point as a soldier, you had a long time in the army and you had a lot of training, but this is years down the track before you’d seen any action?
Do you still feel that your training put you in good stead for this?
Yes, definitely. You couldn’t go in there with a raw-boned soldier without any real side trail.
Were there any reinforcements with you?
There was a full division there altogether; they sort of switched us around,
we sort of swapped over all the time. We weren’t in it very long, if you were there for one month you were unlucky really in the actual action, when the lead was flying. Then you’d come out of there and had a break and then you went back in again.
You were at Torokina for just a few days, who gives you the message that you are on the move and that you are going to have to start taking the trip up to Numa Numa?
Your company commander, your Major mainly. He’d brief the other officers and they’d sort of pass it down the lines. Now and again there’d be a full battalion on parade, you’d be told by the CO.
Our CO had been in wartime for two years being chased by the nips and he said, “They chased me for two years, now I’ll chase them for two years.” that’s how he worked.
Now everybody knows what happened in Bougainville and how it was something that maybe they shouldn’t have sent the Australians to go and fight, but at the time are you faced with the idea that you have to dispatch the Japanese that
are at Bougainville?
Kill or be killed, there is no doubt about that. They could turn around and say, “Let me pass and I’ll let you pass.” and that sort of thing. I know you met them and you did your best to knock them over.
What did they tell you that you could take with you on this trip up to Numa Numa, can you take your whole kit or did you have to leave it behind?
You’ve got to take your whole kit, wherever you go.
They didn’t at Kokoda.
They told them to put them over there and they could come back in a couple of days and they never saw them again.
But they were coming back again, but we weren’t—we were going further forward. Numa Numa wasn’t we would cross the island there, but later on we were going north straight through as far as Buka.
Numa Numa was the first time that we were actually shot at. It woke you up a bit and you’d turn around and say, “Well they’re fair dinkum and so are we.”
Had the war been a real thing to you at this point, and I don’t mean to be facetious, but if you hadn’t sort of faced terrible casualties or being shot at yourself I was wondering if it was still—?
No, I quite enjoyed it really.
Until Bougainville had you experience any tragedies as a result of the war or have any of your friends or your family been affected?
No. In Tanah Merah we had one drowned and one killed by a fallen tree, that’s about all that we lost up there I think.
You can’t really get angry about accidents I suppose.
Yes, that right. It wasn’t until we went north that we
got belted a bit. When we ran into the quality soldier I call them, the Japanese marines. I think they were Koreans mainly, they were a different kettle of fish to what was on Numa Numa.
Take me through this trail across the Numa Numa, you must have passed rivers and up over ridges, was it just hard yakka,
everyday just climbing?
Really that’s all you were doing—climbing, and this comes back to Canungra that’s all you were doing, climb mountains and that’s what we had to do up there at Nooma. It was just absolutely mountainous, I don’t know what Kokoda was like, it was just absolute mountainous country. To go to the toilet you’d have to go up a hill.
It was just endless, just one after the other. If we’d struck a bit of flat country we’d have thrown a party I think.
Was it beautiful?
If you were a tourist I guess you, suppose you’d say yes. It’s a nice country yes.
What about the climate, was that a bit punishing?
tossed me all the time, even since the war and I go up to Rockhampton and I nearly melt. There again you’ve got plenty of rain so you have got quite a few baths in the rain. Tropical heat is just steamy.
My old school days back at Swan Hill, dry heat, one hundred degrees but you get under a peppercorn tree and you were cool, but over there it just didn’t matter where you were, it got a bit cool at night but during the day it was just a lather of sweat all day.
Your first objective up towards Numa Numa, what were you there to do?
Clean up the Japs.
Was there a certain area that you had to take and hold?
They’d have a mole up in front of you where they were occupying and you’d try and get in and around behind him, that’s what we did mainly, we’d get behind him. On a reconnaissance you didn’t have to stand there and have a fight
you just had to find out where they were, and bring the artillery in. We had better equipment there than what they had.
To what the Japanese had?
What did you have, what equipment did you have?
We had to use mortars and we used them as artillery which are nine mile snipers, they could shoot you from nine mile away, that was what our equipment was, it was better. They
had artillery, no that was up north they had artillery, but at Numa Numa I don’t think they had any artillery at all.
They just had rifles?
Yes, only small arms, they fought with machine-guns and that sort of a thing.
Compared to the patrols that you were doing back in the West Indies, did you have that sickening sense that this was the real deal now?
I don’t suppose there was that much difference really. That’s when you found out that you could nearly get your head shot off in Bougainville and not in Dutch New Guinea. You’d go out on patrol there and it was a bit different. It was a lot hotter, the enemy were there at your feet.
When was the first time that you came across the enemy face to face?
I don’t exactly know, the day a New Guinea broke the shot, but I can’t sort of pinpoint it, I don’t know if we were on Smiths or artillery, no we weren’t on artillery there, the artillery ridge they used to call it, the Smiths and Noll and Chambers they’re names, all these places. I think I could have been
on Smiths when I first ran into them. Only a short encounter but they knocked off one of our blokes, it didn’t kill him, he was the only one that got knocked around a bit.
How did he get knocked around, in what way?
He got shot like through
chest and out the back, that was the first time that I’d seen a real bullet wound, the first time that I’d seen the result of a wound. From where it enters and from where it comes out that ten times the hole.
What was that like to see?
I’d always been a bit on the coloured side really.
It didn’t worry me much, all I did was get the bloke fixed up by putting the field dressing on him and sealed him up and got him back to the lines as soon as possible, back to the RAP [regimental aid post].
Were you talking to him while you were doing this, do you recall telling him that everything was going to be ok?
Yes, I tried to quieten him down a bit. Being a native,
he didn’t even know I think why he was there. He’d been a soldier in New Guinea and I think that was more an honour and a glory running around with a uniform and a gun was more important and running around with a bow and arrow.
Had you done your first aid course at this stage?
I had, yes.
I forgot to ask, where did you manage to do that, was it back in Australia?
I think it must have been at Proserpine, before we left to out. I always put my hand up to volunteer for anything because if you didn’t they’d just say ‘you and you’ anyway. The first thing in that
field I did was give a cholera needle so that was before we left to go over. The bloke I gave a cholera needle to he will never ever get cholera, because I gave him too much and I read the needle back to front. That was a lieutenant, it was.
That setup was done before we went to Bougainville. That’s when the cholera injections were given out before we went over there.
Did you feel confident in first aid situations, to attend to somebody’s needs?
I did, I still feel I could cope with that in a crisis, although I failed once in my civilian life. I had a guy die in my arms
but I couldn’t get enough help—I couldn’t get any help. It was just the two of us and he was there and he had a heart attack and I’m trying to give him R&R [rescue and resuscitation] and I couldn’t get to a phone because I didn’t want to leave him. Then I saw a film in New Zealand
with a kid in the same situation as I was on a beach and I broke down at the pictures, I turned to my daughter and said “I’m very sorry.” That failed me then, but I’m still confident enough
to handle the situation if it comes along. That was in my civilian days.
I’m sorry to drag you back to your army days back at Numa Numa, you said you had to go up and take over the Yank pill-boxes up there on the ridge?
The Yanks had a reputation for just sorting the place out as much as it suited them and then just moving on again and leaving it for the Australians to mop up. In what shape were these pill-boxes that you got to?
Very good, they were pretty good solid construction, very good I think. I was glad to see them really.
What were your instructions once you got up there?
Keep your head down mainly. I don’t think we had any instructions. The only thing is that you had to wait for your job to go and do a patrol and come back and have a bit of a spell inside the parameter, and you’ve got other people guarding
you then, looking after your interests. I don’t think there was any ‘we go out and go bang bang bang’, and then come home, and you have to feel your way all the time, even coming home.
I was wondering if you could give me a little bit more insight into going out into patrol and how you readied yourself, did you wear any camouflage gear?
At different times, and I think I told Brad that one time I had the Joe Brits as we called them, I was frightened this particular day. I stopped in my trench until they got all the patrol all lined up and I was the only one missing and they yelled out ‘where in the hell are you Blockie?” and I said “I’ll be out.” and they said, “Well hurry up, we are waiting for you
to be forward scout.” I was trying to be the last bloke instead of being the first one on that particular day. I finished up going out there and that’s where we were having problems with another bloke on the way back. I got out to where we had to go and we didn’t run into any trouble and coming home I was still frightened and I turned around and said to this bloke, “How about taking over from me?” and he said “Oh, I can’t do that.”
and I said, “It’s not a professional job.” and he said, “Oh yeah, but I’m a married man.” I could have shot him on the spot. He was a married man and he was going to use that to dodge it, so it was a bit of a responsibility.
What was it that gave you the spooks that day?
I don’t know, I think I’d heard a couple of stories and I’d gobbled them up, and a rumour about what was out there
and I wasn’t too keen on going out there but as it turned out everything was alright, you just don’t know.
It sounds as though it is worth trusting those instincts.
It’s like when you know you are going to step on a snake or something.
Intuition we call it.
That’s kept a lot of people alive over the years I guess.
Yes. Most times or ninety nine percent of the time I didn’t worry about it. It was only this day really, I was really uptight but other times I just took it in my stride.
We got counter-attacked quite a few times. You dig in and they wait till you settle in and they come and move you. You could turn around and say, “How many did you get?” and you’d say, “One.” “Well how many did you get?” “One.” “How many did you get?” “One.”
You’d expect to go out and find three but there would only be one, so the three of you could have all shot the one bloke. I was nearly always on the burial party, I’d make a good undertaker I think, I’ve had a few burials.
I want to keep talking about patrols for a whole, how many of you would go out in one patrol together?
Just a section, seven or eight of you?
Seven or eight, yes.
You had the Owen gun, would they have Owens as well?
All rifles bar one, that would be a Bren gun, we had one Bren gun.
Whose job was it to carry the Bren?
One Owen gun, one Bren gun and the rest would be rifles. If you had an officer with you he’d have a pistol on his hip.
I heard those pistols weren’t
much chop, they had a nasty kick back?
Apparently you had to aim down and right because they’d kick up.
That’s right. It was nothing like what they used in the pictures.
You were out in patrols from anywhere between one to a couple of days at a time?
Would you be out on patrol for more than a couple of days?
You’d only be out for a day up there, it was different
to New Guinea where you were out for a week or so, up there you’d be out all in the one day. Sometimes I’d do two patrols in the one day, the reason being was at night time we had to have one every hour, you were paired off. My mate was old Charlie, he’d be pushing me
all night saying, “Are you awake, are you awake?.” I got to the stage when I said, “Look Charlie I’ll do your patrol and you do my nightshift.” So he’d sleep all day in the pit and I’d be out doing his patrol, he worked on a different patrol to where I was so I could do his work in the day, and he done my work at the night time, because I couldn’t keep awake, so it didn’t matter what happened because I just had to go to sleep.
I guess you just wanted to do day patrols.
Yes, that’s mainly, I couldn’t stop at home and sit in the pit and keep awake, that’s what was supposed to be done. I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t keep awake, and I’m still the same today. Once the sun rises I’m up and once the sun sets I’m in bed,
I’m still the same today.
So out on patrol, would you have an occasion to talk to each other very much apart from messages or signals that were going on?
You used to give a whisper. The natives were excellent, they could even put their ear on the ground and could hear someone coming and they’d say, “Japan man come, masta.” and you’d
set up an ambush, not only one of them and they were fantastic and that’s why I loved to work with them.
I wonder how they could tell if it was a Japanese or an Australian coming?
Only from the direction really, that’s all it is. They knew that north were the Nips and down south were the Aussies, that’s the only thing. But then again
the footprints could be coming from the other end. They did that time and time again.
Did you set up any ambushes?
Tell me about those and listen please don’t be concerned if it’s a bit difficult to hear about.
An ambush on the track you’d set up your machine-guns at one end and the other end and then you’d have it all worked out that when they get to certain
position, that’s when you fire—the lot of you, you all fire at one time. You were as quiet as a mouse until such times as all the blood runs loose.
Was there ever a need to actually take a man silently, I’m meaning times when you might have not wanted the Japanese to know
of your location and you didn’t want to take a soldier prisoner, did you ever set up commando ambushes where someone would have to leap out and dispatch the man quietly?
Yes, that was done plenty of times. Some of them wore white flags. You couldn’t afford to take a prisoner because it took three or four men from the front-line to take them back
and you just couldn’t afford the men, it was cruel thing but that’s what’s on at the time really.
War, isn’t it – you can’t get more cruel than that.
Yes that’s it. It’s unbelievable really, both sides— I’m not saying the Aussies
were angels and the others were the devils, we had it on both sides. It was a lot different over there from when we had the holiday at the other place.
Well I guess that’s why I’m curious because you get thrown from the sublime to the ridiculous and you’re a soldier doing a soldier’s job and you just had to do that. I’m wondering how you steeled your nerves to cope with that sort of activity.
That’s were it comes back to your early training,
right back the first time you put the army boots on, it’s kill or be killed, kill or be killed, kill or be killed, and that’s all you get until such time that it comes up killed or be killed, that’s how it is. You’ve been built up to it, you’ve been brainwashed into it all your career, and it’s just like shooting rabbits, that’s exactly what it is. When you go out shooting rabbits you don’t have to have
nerves of steel, just up with the rifle and go bang, that’s exactly what happens there. That’s how it happened to me, I didn’t care what it was. That’s how it is; it’s a war and a war.
This flag that you souvenired for example, would you have grabbed that off
a Japanese soldier under those sorts of circumstances out on patrol?
Actually that bloke we were down, and I was a lazy soldier we were down at the water hole or the creek getting water and I was there as a guard to protect about six blokes down with water bottles, with all the troops and they’d be there filling them up one at a time.
I was up on the bank just as a guard and I stopped on the bank and I saw this head that came up the creek in a uniform and I thought it was one of the B Company blokes that got left behind. Until I saw what sort of camouflage he had, he wasn’t camouflaged like our blokes at all, then he upped with the rifle and was going to shoot
one of the blokes filling the water bottles, so I upped the Owen gun. But I had the Owen gun on repetition which we have got to have when you are in the parameter, because you don’t want to let the enemy know where the machine-guns are. I had it on repetition so I always say I put twenty-nine rounds in or about him. I done a shot there and I got a splash of water well I was out about that much,
and if I got no splash of water then it was that much so that’s how I went, bang bang bang bang. He was no longer with us so I went down and stripped him of his money belt and that’s where the flag was, in his money belt and I took his rifle and I sold that, what happened to him I’ve got no worries and I don’t know.
It’s interesting, it’s a hero’s action and it’s also
one of those casualties of war I suppose.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 07
I just want to go back to Tanah Merah and just do a couple more things then come back to Bougainville. A Company went to Tanah Merah, where did B, C & D Companies go?
They were at Thursday Island and Horne Island and Cape York, split up around there the garrison.
You said while you were at Tanah Merah you were building an airstrip, was that an airstrip that was made out of those metal—?
No, it was made out of gravel, pure shell grit.
Sorry, that’s my mistake we covered that. Air-raids every Sunday?
Not every Sunday, but that’s when they came over on a Sunday, you’d go to church then they’d come over and belt you.
Was it the same time on a Sunday when they’d come?
Do you think it was a concerted effort or just token to just let you know that they were there?
Just a token, they couldn’t even hit it, we had four or five raids, they never hit a building.
Were they pretty high bombers?
Did you have much air defence around there, much ack ack [anti aircraft guns] or anything around?
I can tell you a story about the ack ack.
The battery of ack ack were coming up there and we dug a hole to put the guns in, the troops arrived, the ammunition arrived and the guns were still on the wharf at Brisbane. The bloke that lives down in number 8 he was one of the troops.
How did the army ever get anything done, I wonder if the Japanese were as disorganised as our lot was?
Did you feel that a lot of the time in the army was a constant frustration?
At times. The movement control, Epsom salts we used to call them, all movement and no control.
That’s great. You said that Tokyo Rose would come across on the air-raids, what would she be saying to you?
When she was coming and when they were going to raid you,
so you’d turn and say to the others, “Be ready for an air-raid on Sunday.” it was unbelievable.
Would they be broadcasting details of Japanese victories and so forth?
Well, they never had a failure.
The Tokyo Rose, she was one-eyed.
Did they say things like ‘Go home and look after your women’, what would they say?
That’s a trend.
I didn’t hear it that much because you had to go down to signals office, that’s where I was when the tremor took place. I only heard it a couple of times and I didn’t take much notice of it, it’s only propaganda.
You were doing patrols around the Sepik River area?
Where did you get that?
Because you mentioned it before.
Yes, we went down the Sepik River.
What was that like terrain-wise?
We were at the junction of the Sepik and the Digul, the tidal rivers that rise pretty fast, so be built our huts on top of a Bush
Turkey’s nest so we could be up that much higher off the ground, but the water still came up and slapped underneath our bums. The terrain, it was a pretty heavy jungle, very heavy. We went down by canoe, and then
we come home by motor boat, one of the Indonesians little poof poof, two engine outboard motor ones.
What sort of visibility did you have in that jungle?
What sort of distance could you see?
You couldn’t see ten or twelve feet, and at other times
you could walk straight through, it’s very hard to explain that. At times it was pretty dark and dense and other times you’d walk into an opening with a bit of a clearance.
You said your patrols didn’t contact any Japs at that time, but other patrols did?
The ones from Merauke, anyone that came out from Merauke,
their area was along the south coast, we were back this side a bit, down towards Merauke, we also sent patrols north up into the mountain and as I was saying, Tanah Tinggi.
They had more sense than us because they didn’t both go into the middle of the jungle, they sat on the beaches and had their troops around the beaches. One battalion knocked off a boat load coming up the Digul but that’s right down at the mouth of the Digul they were. They must have come around the coast
and then snuck into the river, and ran smack bang into a group of Aussies, and they didn’t last long.
With you being there for fourteen months and not encountering any enemy, did the tension build every time you went out like ‘it’s got to be our turn soon’?
Yes, a little bit yes. Then again the natives were worse than that, because they had
blues with their tribes, then if you wanted a decent load of carriers you might have fifty or sixty carriers with you gone on say a week, when they found out where you were going all of a sudden you’d have about two hundred carriers, because all they wanted to do is have a fight with the next tribe with the Aussie support with the guns.
Did they try to get you to shoot other tribe members?
there were tribal blues up there all the time and I still think there is.
Were there ever any instances where you had groups of carriers working for you, who would be attacked as they were carrying by other tribes?
Only once, our mob won because the Aussies opened fire on the enemy and they took off when they heard a shot gun.
Were they just with spears and bows?
That’s right, bow and arrow with spears.
I’ve got some photos of them.
The Sepik River was pretty much crocodile territory isn’t it?
Did you ever lose any men to crocodiles?
No. I suppose if anyone should have been taken by a crocodile, it’s me.
I used to go and swim in the Digul with no problems at all, and dive in and swim across, but not right across.
Didn’t you think about the crocodiles at all?
No, they didn’t worry me, they were on the other side of the bank.
Of course crocodiles can’t swim.
So you didn’t lose any men to crocs?
We got a croc, because we used to go out and go crocodile shooting, the only enemies we had were the crocs. The doctor, he got a croc and dressed it all and skinned it, they are a stinking coot of a thing they are.
Were they saltwater crocs?
Yes, they would have been saltwater crocs.
What would have been the biggest one that you saw up there then?
Eighteen, twenty foot.
That’s big enough.
About two, three or four foot across.
Huge. They make a good flipper when you knock them off.
They make a good what?
They flip over when you shoot them, if you get them in the right place.
I bet you that they do. I think we are done with Tanah Merah.
It sounds like you enjoyed your time there.
Yes I did.
Very much so. Bougainville again, this is your first time really mixing with the Americans, wasn’t it, to any great degree?
What did you think of them as soldiers?
As I said earlier, they were trigger happy. I’m a bit crook at them really,
the flame-throwers they had who carried them, the red Indians. Mortars who carried them, the blacks. The white American is one-way traffic really, as far as the whole set up. I didn’t have anything to do with them and neither did the Yanks talking about, their set up was all
anti-colour, not anti-colour. Their coloured men had to do all the hard yakka. The first time I ran into them was just after the Guadalcanal, down there at the side of Frankston.
A bit further on, in Mount Martha around there.
They shifted in from Guadalcanal into there and we were there doing the working party and getting the camp ready for them, just like at Watsonia. Any mosquitoes there or any malaria that sort of thing, they weren’t a bad bunch of blokes but they had just come out of the front-line. That’s where I clobbered up with one of the Red Indians,
and had a bit of a talk.
What was he like to talk to?
Very good really, interesting.
Tell us a bit, what was his name?
I wouldn’t have a clue about his name, you’re going back.
Tell us a bit about him then, meeting an American soldier.
His name wasn’t Chief Little Wolf, I know that much.
He was an ordinary sort of a bloke, but he was a Red Indian. I didn’t talk to him about his race or anything on that, just that he was a Red Indian and he was a flame-thrower, and he carried the flame-thrower. He’s got to carry all his gear plus that, that’s a fair bit of
luggage you’ve got. I’m a bit the other way, I’ve always being on the dark side, I’ve always had the trouble in my civilian life and I ran up against a few racists, even my own brother on one occasion, and that was a Filipino that I was involved with and I still am.
The same with the New Guinea natives and the natives in Tanah Merah, I always lean for the darkie [dark skinned person] I don’t know why, it’s in me or not because I have a bit of olive [skin] in me.
You mentioned something earlier on today when you were at Torokina, the Aussies restarted the war.
Tell us what you mean by that?
We weren’t actually in that, but it was an Aussie unit that went up and the Yankee threw a grenade over the fence then an Aussie grenade over the fence and the poor Japs didn’t know what happened getting grenades thrown at them. After I don’t know how many months the Yanks were just sitting there.
Explain what you meant when you said the Yanks were sitting there and the Japs were sitting there, what was not going on?
A barbed wire fence between the two of them, I don’t know who put it up, I suppose the Yanks.
Then let the Japs come back as far as the barbed wire fence.
How far away was the barbed wire fence from the—?
All the Yanks were interested in was the airport, once they get a lump of land and build an airstrip and their facilities, so that’s all they did at Torokina. They just built the airstrip and they had to keep a parameter about three mile out from the airport or from the airstrip
to build a fence so that nobody comes in.
Could you see the Jap operations from that parameter?
And the Japs could see in as far as they wanted?
Yes, they were quite happy.
Why didn’t the Japanese storm in?
They got a belting last time so they probably thought that they’d sit here and wait for orders.
Did that strike you as very strange when you got there?
Yes, that’s where the whole thing
was unnecessary, the Japs were quite happy to sit there and so were the Yanks, but then the Aussies had to go in and clean up the joint.
Did you find that uneasy doing that job at the actual time ‘what are they doing this for?’
That’s right, yes.
Who up the chain of command does the buck stop with for that sort of operation?
The politicians back home, not only them but they were under pressure from the public and
so they have got seven divisions sitting doing nothing, and there’s Japanese at our back door, you better go over and clean them up, that’s what it all boiled down to really. We will just go back to New Guinea, we were building an airstrip to take fighters to take Hollandia and the Yanks went around the top, by this time when we were in Bougainville they were over at the Philippines. I
couldn’t see any sense in that whatsoever.
Was that the general feeling amongst the Aussie men at that time thinking we are losing friends for no reason?
I couldn’t speak for the others, but that’s how I was. I still carried out my chores; I still cannot see why we were there. In the Middle East
or New Guinea you had to keep them from the back door. The Japs once they came through Singapore he went the wrong way, if he had have come this side, down through Indonesia there and then hopped into Australia, they could have come in the back door quite easy, we had no idea. We had a fair few troops but they only had
broom handles to fight them with. It’s just unbelievable, they went the wrong way and they went too fast and they lost their lines of communication. That’s exactly how our officer worked right through our fighting period, was to cut their lines of communication.
Who was your officer, who was your CO?
Graham Searles from Queensland, he passed on last year.
He was a terrific tactician, he knew how to fight the jungle warfare, and yet he came from the middle of nowhere at Longreach.
Did the Yanks think you were mad for coming in and stirring up the Japs as well?
Never got around to talking about that. I don’t know what they thought, they were making a quid on selling
all perspex, and souvenirs and so forth.
Lets talk about souvenirs, you got a flag, what other sort of souvenirs were popular?
They’d get the perspex out of the windscreens of the aircraft, and make all different things out of them like jewellery. I sent home to Shirley a heart with a volcano on it
and it’s all inscribed on it, the metal chain wasn’t too good a quality but it looked gold and it’s pretty rusty now. They used their workshops to make souvenirs, that’s what they were doing.
What else were they doing, shell casings and—?
They used shells, what do they call it, cases of bullets
to make metal things.
What about souvenirs from the Japanese, what would they take?
I don’t know. I only had the flag and the rifle, that’s all I got. Paper work, but you handed that in. All I brought home was the flag.
What about Japanese cap badges and things like that?
A few of them might of.
At our Anzac Day, I didn’t see anybody else whose got anything really, my flags been flying around up in Queensland and Rockhampton.
Where does it get flown?
I’ve been up to the Rockies twice and so has the flag—it’s been up there twice, you get your flag and hang it up and
you think you’ve got the Japs there.
You said before that you were a lazy soldier, what did you mean by that?
When I went down into this water business I should have put it over the creek, and been on the other side of the creek but I couldn’t see any sense in going another ten yards so I stopped up here. As it turned out I
was in the right position. If I could find a shortcut I’d do that, it didn’t matter what I was doing. That’s why you always give the hardest job to the laziest bloke, he’d give you the quickest way home.
That’s the way to do it. As a forward scout, did you have hand signals or other ways of signalling
what your intentions were?
What signals would they have been?
This means come here, down for down if you had to drop to the ground. You’d come and you’d just call the signal for forward.
Is there a signal to say that you’ve seen the enemy?
I don’t know, I don’t think there—no you’ve got me there. I don’t know of anything for the command there. There definitely must have been but I can’t think of it. It didn’t matter, we didn’t see them often enough.
On patrol, were you silent?
On patrol, yes. If you wanted to discuss you’d do it at a whisper and there’d only been two or three of you that might be involved in it, and word would go back a bit to the others. You had to be silent, after all, they’ve got the same thing in the opposition,
and they were doing the same as what you are.
You said that you went out on contact patrols?
If you see the enemy there are you shooting them or just coming back and reporting?
No. When on reconnaissance you only seek and see and that’s it. We might have the phone line running behind you, we didn’t have mobiles
in those days. You’d get on the phone and bring in the artillery. You’d give them a map reference then you’d turn around and put down a smoke, they’d put two smoke bombs down, reading from there which way say two degrees right or two degrees left, I done a bit of that, open pit, observation post. You’d get the artillery down onto them if
there’s any, but only twice that happened as far as I was concerned and we went in from behind and the first thing that I spotted was banana leaves cut, I’m coming at the butt end of them, not the floppy end, I stopped everyone there’s something underneath the banana leaves, we went around the side and saw that it was a
strong post or a pill-box. Then we got the artillery down onto them and blew them to pieces.
What sort of signs, other than actually seeing them, like that banana plant is a good example, what sort of signs are you looking for as a forward scout in the jungle to tell you that somebody else has been here?
A bit like the Abo [Aboriginal person] really, you’re looking for broken twigs
along the ground when you are walking, you were always taught in the army never look at the ground because there won’t be any money down there. When you are up in the jungle you want to be looking at the ground to see if there has been any movements through there. It’s just different things really, not exactly looking for but ‘boom’
it just jumped out at you in the jungle. Then you’d think ‘that’s strange’, and then they start looking around but you don’t go walking in there, you’d do a wide circle.
What about booby traps, did you ever come across any Japanese booby traps?
I never struck any booby traps
but we set booby traps up for them and they stung them pretty often.
Tell us about those then.
Hand grenade with a bit of signal wire, copper wire running across or between the trees where they were going to trip over it, as long as they hit it and pulled the pin of the grenade and that would go off.
That’s about all we had was hand grenades loaded up, it doesn’t matter if they don’t get killed but just let them go off and you know where they are.
Was that done at night around the parameter?
Yes, during the day you were on the move then you’d start to dig in.
I’ve always said that Bougainville was only a floating island, you only have to dig about two feet and you are in the water and we’d sit there in the pit at night time with water up around your bum all night.
You’d be in these pits all night and it would be like sitting in water or mud?
Yes, quite often but you would always looked for a bit of
high ground and dig into them, and so was the enemy—they were always looking for high ground too.
If they tripped your booby trap at night, would you go out and have a look or would you just leave it?
Leave it for the morning and then see?
Yes, then go out later.
Would you have a case where it would be a pig setting it off instead?
Yes, a monkey—there were different animals that would set them off.
When it goes off you all stay, hang on. You’d just call the station and be ready for anything but if nothing happens then it must have been an animal, but we didn’t think the Japs were that smart to send one off and just wait.
I’ve heard fellows saying that the Japanese would kind of go
“Hey Aussie boy.” did you ever hear them calling out?
They are a rowdy lot when they are attacking, it’s unbelievable. We’d attack and not say a word but the only thing you’d hear was rifle shots, they’d go berserk and they are yapping to each other and yelling out, all in Japanese of course, no I never had any insults
thrown at me from the other side of the fence.
You would think them shouting out would surely tell you exactly where they were?
Exactly. I can’t work it out, I think it’s to excite you or to get you worried about how many is coming.
You’d just hear it and then just give it to them?
It’s no good shooting unless you saw it,
if you didn’t see a thing there’s no good just shooting—not like an Arab that’s shooting up in the air just to make a noise. If you can’t see your target, and that’s how I was then there’s no good shooting.
What if you are in the jungle on patrol and you know that there are some Japs out there and you see movement like through a bush, do you shot that movement because it could shoot you back?
I’d freeze until I thought it was time to shoot the enemy,
once I saw the target. That’s what I say about the Yanks if there’s any Cassowaries—and they are the worst in the world, because they are that rowdy—as soon as there is any movement the Yank will pull his trigger but we didn’t, we just waited until, the idea is to hold your fire as long as possible.
That’s what you were taught, wait until your opportunity comes.
I can’t imagine what that feels like having never been in war, but it seems to me, tell me if I’m wrong but war is like fourteen months where there is nothing going on then all of a sudden you are up to here in ‘shit’—pardon the word—and you’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ Was it like that, do you go berserk?
That’s right, we had a couple of blokes that went troppo [unstable from war experience].
What happens when a bloke goes troppo?
His brain just goes click, I don’t know exactly but we had one bloke and he went off with his temper and you couldn’t control him.
His father was a bookmaker in Melbourne and that broke them. The other bloke but he didn’t go off until the war was over and he finished up in a padded cell. I can see really in a way that you can sort of lose your marbles if you wanted to get it that way.
How did you stop that happening to yourself, what did you do?
I didn’t do anything in particular. Shirley will tell you that I had nightmares. I never ever watched war pictures when I came home, never.
Do you watch them even now?
A little bit.
Why wouldn’t you watch war pictures, obviously because it upset you but what about them did upset you?
I’ve been to war pictures like The Life of Ryan or whatever it is.
Saving Private Ryan?
Yes, and there were two of them around about the same time, one was very good and the other one was shocking. I said to Shirley, “The Yanks have no idea of how to fight a war” – even the film makers.
Which one was rotten?
I forget now, what was the other one?
Was it the Thin Red Line?
Yes, that’s it.
That was good or bad?
That was good.
And Private Ryan was rubbish?
Why was the Thin Red Line good?
Because of the tactics used through the story. Private Ryan the bung bungs going off here there and everywhere, you only would hear a noise I think.
The Thin Red Line that was better than the other. I didn’t go around and look at them now; I avoided watching any war pictures after the war.
Well, that’s understandable.
I had a few nightmares with yelling out
and whatever and the poor old madam didn’t know what was going on.
Would it be the same nightmare all the time?
Same sort of situation?
It could have been a little bit of the same situation, it’s like falling of a cliff and you wake before you hit the bottom.
What sort of situation would it be?
I just can’t pinpoint it really, it was really just different things.
Were you on patrol?
Just general wartime, I’d be in amongst the enemy and that sort of thing. I wasn’t having a beer or anything like that.
That’s how I finished up after the war for quite some time really.
Did that hit you all of a sudden when you got back or did it sort of gradually creep up on you?
It just crept up really. I don’t think I had much trouble earlier in the piece, the longer it went the worse I got.
When did it get really bad for you, when was it?
I was married,
I think my first kid could have been born. About three years after the war it happened. Much longer than that because—I didn’t get discharged until 1946, and the war had finished in 1945 so it’s longer than that and I was married in 1948.
We had our son nine months later, that tricked you didn’t it.
What month in 1948 were you married?
Eight months and so many days, I shaved the bacon by one day. Nine months and one day she had a baby.
Now, jokes aside, we will talk about the nightmares again, during war you just went ‘I’m not going to thing about that again’,
boom put it in the back of your head, and after a couple of years it just crept back through?
You don’t deliberately do that, I think the old brain has taken the picture and put it in a pigeon hole and on certain occasions it just comes back out, I don’t think you deliberately file it yourself, I think the brain files it and
it just comes back. I don’t know I might have just eaten too much cheese or something like that and then had the nightmare.
The brain is an amazing thing isn’t it?
You think you’re over something and then ‘ping’?
We have been about four hours talking about fifty years ago and the old brain is ticking it over, you can’t do anything about it, when you start to pump it out.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 08
Superstition, we touched on it lightly before when you said you had that day when you just didn’t want to be the forward scout for the day, but the other guy wouldn’t fill in, and you got through it which means either that your intuition was wrong or it was right and you were on guard so nothing happened and you had extra support during that day within yourself. I bet there were a lot of fellows who were superstitious about certain things
Yes, I suppose so. I wasn’t superstitious and I’m not superstitious now. I don’t worry about Friday 13th or anything like that, not like the football player who throws a piece of grass up in the air, until he kicks it.
You didn’t have anything special that you did before you went out on patrol to hope and pray that you’d be coming back?
No, I might have now and again given myself a little bit of a prayer.
You said you could go either way Presbyterian or Uniting Church?
When it got down to it though, when it got down to tin tacks, and it was you and the big guy upstairs, did you fall back on something?
I will tell you something, I have sitting up on the what’s the name—I don’t know whether you noticed it, Pinocchio, and that’s how I build my life, not on Pinocchio
but Jiminy Cricket—let your conscience be your guard and that’s how I operate. If I think I’m doing the right thing, fair enough, I don’t care what everyone else thinks, it’s my conscience.
How did that steer you through your services?
I don’t know,
I’ve been that way nearly all my life.
I’m interested to know if you acted out of good conscience and how do you reconcile that out in the battlefield?
That’s a fair enough question
I suppose. That’s my belief but yet it’s been knocked on the head, kill or be killed. My conscience wouldn’t allow that, yet I’ve said through being brained-washed that way you turn around
and like I said earlier ‘just shoot them like rabbits’, but now I wouldn’t think of going out in the street today and lifting a weapon to anybody.
I’m sure you wouldn’t.
That’s when my conscience comes into it now, but apparently I didn’t have any conscience then. I didn’t have any superstition.
No. Did you have any religion?
Yes, Presbyterian by trade and the Uniting Church now.
That’s actually where this conversation came from, I asked were you religious and you said you’d just let your conscience serve you.
Yes, I remember that.
Did you see other fellows?
I’m very involved with the church today, well church activity—that was Care Australia ringing up on the phone before, which is a Uniting Church group—and I do a hell of a lot of work for Orana, they are another church organisation.
I do the garden up at the actual church, but I’m not that involved with the religious side of it.
We met a fellow who had an excellent turn of phrase who said, ‘Some people are religious and some people are church goers’.
I quite enjoyed that. What about some other chaps, it sounds like you had your wits about you most of the time, did you ever have to deal with some fellows
that did their blocks, that’s a stupid pun under the current circumstances, did lose it at the point, become paralysed with fear, wanted their mothers starting to become hysterical in the fox holes or in the trenches or the jungle?
As I said earlier we had two that went troppo like in the unit, they went off their heads but I didn’t have anything to do with them. I didn’t do any counselling or that sort of thing, with anybody
not to my knowledge. I might have done some good and not even known it.
I might even pick you up on that, counselling has become a very contemporary—?
They often turn around and say, ‘Look at that, somebody has been killed outside a school so all the kids have got to be counselled’, but we didn’t get any counselling in our day.
Do you think you could have done with it?
I don’t know whether it would have done any good or not. Perhaps I might not have had any nightmares, I can’t see why you have to be counselled, I’ve had a death on my hands, I’ve had my own father and I
just got over them. It doesn’t worry me at all really. I don’t know whether counselling would have helped me at all. What I’m getting at, the counselling that is done now for anything, yet we went right
through the war and not anybody unless they complained about some mental complaint they didn’t get any counselling.
The ones that did complain or did need to talk, would someone talk back to them, would someone sit down and listen to what they had to say? If you’d come out of patrol and a man had been really—?
No, they wouldn’t be worrying about you. You’re back and that’s it, I don’t think anybody worried about that.
You were very sick with malaria in Tanah Merah, did that come back and give you a go again over in Bougainville?
I don’t think I had malaria in Bougainville, I had malaria back here in Victoria when I was a [(UNCLEAR)], before I got discharged. I had two goes of it up there, I had
one close to turning over I was, then I had another attack when I was at work in my civilian life. That’s a funny thing now that you mention it, I don’t remember getting any malaria in Bougainville. I must have had a belly full of it.
I must check that one out, I don’t think I did.
Well, that’s the end of my questions in that particular category. In the business of Numa Numa you were re-sent to the Soraken plantation which I think you said earlier today that was where you were at the end of the war.
What did you find at Soraken, was it any different to the rest of Bougainville?
Yes, it was different all together.
What made it different?
Ninety percent of it was coconut plantation, which is cleared land with coconut palms on the outskirts and you come back at the jungle. We had to move, we had to move around there to get to the top, you couldn’t walk through the plantation because we only had palm trees to hide behind.
It was a different terrain, you dug in up in the hills, you were alright once you dug in on the flat, all of a sudden you was into water, that was the
big difference really. You had to be looking for the high ground all the time at Soraken, to just stop overnight. Whereas up in the centre you would just dig in anywhere, no water no nothing.
Was Soraken a bit more, shall I call it traditional
in that you knew where your enemy position was, and you had to advance on them?
Yes, I’d say that. You knew practically all the time, you knew within one hundred yards or something like that to where the enemy was. I suppose they knew where we were too.
Was it a twenty-four hour campaign going on there and I don’t just mean twenty-four hours, I mean continuous?
We weren’t stuck to union rules.
What I mean was it continuous warfare there or did you have time off to get some kip or to get something to eat?
You always got relieved, you are in a forward position for a certain time then you are dragged out and then somebody else goes in, it would be another battalion or brigade would come over and take over. You are either coming in or going out,
you weren’t sitting up there for say twelve months you weren’t in the bang bangs all the time. You come out and have a bit of a break and you’d go down to the beach and set up camp down there and relax and get ready for the next onslaught.
What does a forward scout do in a position like that?
You are normally a forward scout,
what’s your normal role in a position like that, when there is no need for a forward scout?
You are just one of the troops. In the lines and when you are out of action you are all just one big bunch of soldiers.
There is no distinction about anyone.
When you do get this opportunity to relax down at the beach, are you one of the soldiers that could sleep standing up if you could.
Yes, I can quite easily, I can still do that.
Is it a case of having worked so hard to stay alive and keep the rest of the troops alive, when you get a little time for R&R [rest and recreation] do you also play as hard as you can, understandably there may not be any alcohol around or any women to enjoy yourselves with?
Yes, you would be looking for grog
a bit of rations, you’d do a bit of swapping. A non-drinker has got a chocolate and you’ve got a bottle of beer.
How were your supplies getting to you at this point in Soraken?
Very good. At Bougainville it was different all together, we had good supplies all the time.
I don’t think I saw a tin of bully beef in Bougainville.
What were you getting instead?
It must have been meat and beans, beef and vegetables.
If its not one it’s the other isn’t it?
Yes, but that’s better than bully beef.
I suppose it depends on how much you loathed them. I understood that Bougainville was abandoned for a period of time and nothing was getting through, no rations, no supplies of any kind, did you not experience any of that?
that was the Japs trouble, they couldn’t get any supplies in, they got a sub in once.
Did you ever come across starving Japanese who just couldn’t fight anymore and just wanted food?
No, I didn’t see any starving Japanese, I don’t know what they ate, I think they grew a fair bit of stuff and further back from where we were they must have been. I don’t know,
I wouldn’t say there were any starving, and none of them asked for a feed.
What about the villages, you said that you didn’t see any of the locals they had been evacuated, but did you come across any of their abandoned villages?
From the time that I landed at Torokina and went up the Numa Numa and come back I hadn’t seen a native, but when we went up north we ran into quite a few natives, mainly from Buka, they were from the island that’s north of Bougainville. They are a lot blacker than the
Bougainvillians but we ran into quite a few and they were all on our side fortunately, they didn’t dope us into the enemy, they doped the enemy into us. They told us where there was any movement on. The island off there—and they went out and took over that, and I think there were only
about nine or ten Japs on it but they were causing a bit of trouble.
Were these fellows from Buka, I’m assuming they were men and not women?
Men, yes, I didn’t see a woman I don’t think.
Were they part of the police unit or were they part of the infantry of any description or were they?
I think they were up there police boys, I think they were now that you mentioned it. I think they wore a sarong,
I think they were police boys.
Also earlier today when you mentioned Soraken said it was really quite a tough battle, was it to date the most difficult action you’d seen?
Where, in Soraken?
Was it aerial bombardment as well?
The Yanks didn’t come in overhead?
No, we had a New Zealand air force
supporting us with Corsairs and I know that for a fact because one of our blokes turned around and said, “Did you get detected by a Corsair?”
Were they not a very good shot, the New Zealanders?
They were all right, I’ve got to say that, because my son-in-law is a New Zealander.
If they are coming in overhead, how close did they get to the Australian troop lines?
They sort of hit their targets ahead of us alright I think, the artillery did the same thing. The Jap artillery we always said the ones you hear [(UNCLEAR)] you know it’s ours and bump you know it’s theirs.
There was plenty of artillery at night time. We didn’t have much air force, and they didn’t have any air force themselves, they only had one airplane on Bougainville, and that was for the big chief to escape in.
Did that happen while you were there?
No. I don’t know what happened to the aircraft.
That’s kind of
a supposed story.
I don’t know, they rounded up everyone after the war and they were dropping leaflets and that’s about all.
I wanted to ask about the end of your time at Bougainville, because I don’t know what happened there when things cooled off, but I believe you were on the island when they declared peace, that’s what you said this morning?
So what happens, I’m sure you might have had a bit of a party at the time,
but there is still work to be done, is there not?
That’s right. I can’t sort of remember, I mustn’t have been that drunk that I couldn’t remember, no I wasn’t that drunk.
Can you recall exactly where you were when someone let you know?
No, I don’t exactly know where I was when peace was declared, I’ve got no idea.
Do you recall seeing a plane flying over saying ‘it’s over’?
we got word that it was over, the planes went over the Japs and dropped leaflets over there to tell them that it was all over, but they wouldn’t believe it.
Did you see any of those leaflets?
No I didn’t, but some of our mob did, I think [Robert] Gaudion’s got one. I did have a few souvenirs a bit from and I got rid of them and I just threw them out, paperwork and that sort of thing.
When you shift, what you can’t sell in a garage sale you throw out.
So no recollection of where you were when the big news came through?
I can’t pinpoint it at all to where I was, I know I was on Bougainville whether I was in Torokina but I think I could still have been up in the plantation.
Was there any time while you were there at Soraken when you thought your number was up, you weren’t going to get out of there, were you ever put in a position where the odds were stacked against you?
I think it might have happened a couple of times. I was sort of glad to get out of the tussle; it would be up north I suppose.
The biggest battle we had was up at Soraken plantation and that’s where we lost the most troops. We killed more of them and they killed more of us.
Were you in a situation where you saw any of the men near you or next to you that were shot dead,
or were wounded?
Yes, the same bloke Sorensen, he got shot in my pit. When you are going out you sort of hop from one pit to another ready to get out into the scrub, but as he got up he just got bang. It upset Norm because Norm was the one that detailed the guy
and it upset him. When he was writing the book he rang up he didn’t want to talk to me he just wanted to talk to Shirley. I dragged him in and we buried him the next day. That was our own mortar that came back along the lines because the elevation, this base
bloke was sinking into the mud and the elevation was altering and instead of hitting the Japs over there it was coming down through out lines and this bloke got lifted up about four foot in the air and he never got a scratch. He got pretty sick on them but he came all right. Shirley married him off so.
May I ask you about Sorensen when he got hit?
I just wanted to ask if he hit and you had to go back up and pull him back in, is that what happened?
No, actually his feet were still in the pit and I just pulled him back from there, I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive, but I only knew that he was hit, whether he was wounded or
dead I didn’t know. He would have been the closest I suppose, the enemy we had and the deaths that I had around me.
Were you present when Sergeant Oldfield was hit, do you know Sergeant Oldfield, Ian Oldfield?
No, don’t know him, not guilty.
I realise the questions that I’m asking you are not particularly
pretty to hear about, I guess for a man like yourself who made the most of the best of the times I’m curious how you dealt with the worst of the time?
I dealt with the worst of the times just the same as I dealt with the best of the times. I think I controlled myself pretty well, I managed the situation.
You said you
did more burying more than a undertaker would in his life?
I don’t know why, I was always on the burial party, “Blockie, we have three out here to bury.”
“We have seven out here, Blockie.”
Did you sort of develop a sort of gallows humour, were you assigned to the particular duty with more than one other person?
Yes, as I said I was the undertaker.
That wouldn’t of made you dig the holes yourself?
No, I had other people with me.
This is awkward, I would like to know what the soldiers talked about?
What fascinates me now is where and how did they get, not the enemy but our bodies out. Now was there
a map reference made where they were buried, some of them you just had to dig a hole and put them in and go on your way. Or whether they are still there and they only have a tomb stone at New Guinea or what? This is the sort of thing I would like to know, whether all those bodies came out with the enemy
or our own, but I don’t think the enemy would have been.
What did you do after you dug the hole, did you make a marker where there was an Australian body?
Yes, I done a cross, just like a little wooden cross, their dog tags were taken off them.
Right, how would there be identification of who had been buried?
I don’t know who got buried.
For example, and this may not have been your role to do this but
they have marked the grave to say that somebody’s there, an Australian soldier, but when do they exhume them to take them home after the war?
That’s what I’m saying.
I was just wondering did they put one of the dog tags in there or did they leave some identification in there?
I don’t know, I don’t exactly know what happened after that. If you look at it the other way we get buried now, cremated and your ashes go so and so but there.
I don’t know, I would like to know what happens, I mean I buried them and I didn’t give any map reference. Whether the officer in charge did I don’t know, did that go back to Australian headquarters where Sorensen was buried, or with three or seven Japs that we buried side by side,
did they go back to Japan? They were just left in the scrub and turned around and said, “Sorensen was killed, so right oh we will put a tombstone there.” Is the big cemetery place in New Guinea?
I don’t know but there is one at Port Moresby.
I don’t know and I would just like to
know what they did.
I’ve got another awkward question to ask you, but if you are detailed to bury Japanese, did you ever encounter Australian soldiers who were angry or grief ridden by what the Japanese had done that they would take it out on their dead bodies?
Yes, I know of them yes.
Would they get
punished for that?
I wouldn’t dob them in [inform on them] because they could be up for being a war criminal.
I don’t want you to mention their names but I’m curious to know, did that happen?
Yes, it did happen.
I guess it is a war crime even if it is post-mortem.
And even up until today.
Would you care to enlighten me
to what used to be done?
No, not really, in fear of incrimination.
I understand, I guess we are trying to get as best a comprehensive record as we can.
It was done. The same thing when they came in with the white flag, what does that mean? It means surrender and you ignore the surrender sign,
there again. The reason we did that was it took too many to take them back and you couldn’t afford to lose the troops up the front.
And you talked about souveniring before too, I was just assuming that was just par for course—you are burying Japanese soldiers, there’d be a bit of looting going on.
Yes, plenty of that.
I think I will just
try and wrap up your last days in Bougainville, I know you were sent to Rabaul and I will leave that for John [interviewer] to talk to you about. For some reason you can’t remember where you were when the war had finished.
I can’t remember.
Maybe you got wind of it before it happened and got drunk before everybody else?
I might have done. I can’t remember where I was, I can’t remember celebrating.
I can’t believe that you didn’t though.
There wasn’t any home brew [home made beer].
Did you have any long term bets going, was there a book going as to when the war would end?
Everybody thought it was going to end before Christmas.
I never thought of that, I could have run that.
You could have run that and nobody would have known, no one would have been close. What happened in the last days at Bougainville, for example how soon after the end of
the war in the Pacific were you given your postings to push off?
It would have been a month. Why we went to New Britain or Rabaul was because our Major Searles, he tossed up to see whether we would go to Nauru and then home, or to Rabaul and stop there until we got of all the Japs home.
We lost and went to Rabaul.
So you were in Bougainville for a month, what are you supposed to do after a war in a war zone, what’s your job?
We had to clean up the mess I suppose, pack up all your things and pack up this and pack up that.
Who, for example gets
control of the Japanese troops then, are they are just left to their own devices or do they become instantaneous?
They become instantaneous prisoners of war, but who organised it or who brings them in I don’t know.
So you didn’t have anything to do with that?
What kind of mopping up or cleaning up did you have to do?
By the time we got to New Britain, the
compound had already been built, it might have been an old compound I don’t know. It was already there for the prisoners to be put in. They’d take them from Bougainville across to there.
What about the Yank gear that they had left behind, was that a bit open slather?
Open slather, yes.
What did you get your hands on?
What was wrong?
I wasn’t very interested really, you had to carry it around,
you didn’t have a truck.
I guess you can’t carry a refrigerator can you? Did you like their K rations [American rations]?
Yes, very much thanks.
I heard tales that they were sick to death of them because they were too sweet and they like the Australians?
We would swap them that to get the chocolate.
Oh, the chocolate?
Dark chocolate they had.
The (UNCLEAR) of the food kingdom.
The Yankee stuff was very good really, they lived like lords compared to us. They were in a five star motel and we were in a two star.
What else was going on in Bougainville, were you getting anti, were you wanting to get out of there and wondering why they weren’t sending you home?
I was a bit interested in going home, I’ll say that much.
When we lost the raffle and took them over to New Britain and that sort of stuffed us up a bit.
Did you have to start saying goodbye to a lot of chaps, who were either wounded or had more points or where getting sent home for other reasons?
At Rabaul that was when we started to get sent home.
Right. What about little parties, what about the fact that you
all have to still keep working, but it’s all over so you know that you are going to get through this, was there spontaneous—?
It’s not a boom and skittle, you are still under the control of the hierarchies and you still have to do what they want you to do.
Accidents post-war, do you know any man that didn’t make it back after they declared a surrender?
I didn’t but in our unit there was
one bloke where a ammunition dump blew up and he got killed in that, another bloke got injured, but I wasn’t there then when at that place. I don’t know when all the Japs left up there, I left before then. I came home on the Westralia.
Before then how did you get from, and I think you told us earlier, Bougainville to Rabaul?
Was this the cattle barge that you mentioned before?
It could have been, what it was was a barge. A big barge, the LST [landing ship tank] or the LSD [dock landing ship] or something they used to call it, it took a day and a half to two days, but I don’t remember sleeping on it. We were chuffing along and went over to Rabaul. That was a place that I would not have liked to have landed at,
Rabaul, they had some ammunition there to fire back at you. There was a big naval base there the Japs. I didn’t mind New Britain at all from Rabaul, I had a good sweet job there. You talked earlier about taking it out on, one of our blokes was in charge of the
bamboo party and they had a working party, the Japanese would go out and chop down the bamboo and cut and cart it in to make buildings out of it. Because he lost a brother at Burma, he fired guns at those Japs and made them run everywhere and they had to pick up the bamboo and it didn’t matter how big the piece of bamboo was there was only one man allowed to do it.
He was red hot. He was just taking it out on them because of his brother getting killed. I quite enjoyed New Britain.
After all your service and training etc., and you look around A Company
are there still a lot of faces there or were you missing too many?
There were a hell of a lot missing, and after all they were all over the hill.
I don’t mean now I’m sorry, I mean at the end of Bougainville, all the guys you went to Tanah Merah with?
I think they were pretty well intact, we didn’t lose that many I don’t think.
I’d have to sit down and work it out but I suppose it could have been a fair whack, I suppose I’d have to have a look in the book. There was Beattie, Cotton, Sorensen, there could be quite a bit I suppose when I stop and think of it.
Who had been your friends all the way through?
The blokes that Shirley had married off. Norm Donaldson, Wally Rogers, Kenny Flakemore.
Did you all go to Rabaul together?
No Flakey went to Japan with the Occupational Force, the rest of us went to Rabaul. Wally Rogers was my best mate, Tally Bowerbird we used to call him, he used to pick up anything that used to shine, he come from Coonabarabran,
in the Warrumbungle Ranges and he was my mate in the pits, that was the bloke that I done his patrol while he done my night shift. I went looking for him after the war but they turned around and said that they hadn’t seen him since the war had ended, after the war had ended he just went walkabout. I haven’t caught up with him and I don’t think I will now.
I enjoy my Anzac Day, and meeting up with all the boys, what is left.
Interviewee: William Block Archive ID 0416 Tape 09
Rabaul you said looking after Japanese POW [Prisoner of War] working parties, was there any instructions from the officers like, ‘Look fellows I know some of you have had brothers or friends that have been dealt by harshly by the Japanese, but you can’t behave that way to them’?
No, they didn’t interfere in that way.
I had a sweet job, I was allocating the working parties, I didn’t go out on the working parties, I only knew what one bloke did with the bamboo party. The hospital would ring up and they’d want twenty four, for the working party tomorrow. The 26th Battalion would ring up and want forty eight,
the divisional headquarters would want ten and so forth and I would have to find out then from the Japs how many bodies I’ve got, how many sick, how many is on parade ready to work. On the bamboo party they were all nearly sick. I’d then take the parade in the morning and stand up in the whatsisname
and they would all bow to them and ‘siano’ [respectful greeting], I’d then allocate them to the trucks that were there to pick them up. Then they’d turn around and say, “Right the 6th Battalion, you’ve got forty-two.” and put them on board and away they’d go. The next party would go and you kept going and that’s all that we did with them. The officers, they didn’t work.
It’s the same in all prisoner of war camps isn’t it?
What did the officers do all day?
They just sat around and played cards I think.
Tell me, at this stage you knew about Thai-Burma didn’t you? You knew what had happened by this stage?
So you knew that our boys had been absolutely treated like rubbish up there?
Did the Japanese know that as well?
I don’t know. I had a batman, I had to get a bloke that spoke English and that sort of thing,
‘Sucker-too’. I talked to him and he was a married man and a truck driver in civilian life. He was a married man with two kids and he didn’t want to be at the war any more than I did. So we decided in the next future we would put the leaders in a boxing ring so that they can fight it out.
That must have been quite bizarre to have a Japanese batman I reckon,
because did you have many long conversations with him?
Not long, but it was over a period and we got to know his wife’s name and his children’s names and all that sort of thing. He was more fascinated in our tucker than he was in his.
Tell us what they thought about our food, what did they think about our food, you talked about bread earlier on?
He couldn’t work out why you burnt the bread.
He had to make our beds and clean our boots and any chores that you needed done. We’d get him to make the toast while we opened a can of baked beans. While I was out on parade out getting the working parties going he’d be busy getting me my breakfast, there were two of us in the tent.
What would they have to eat, the Japanese
Rice with prunes in it. Ninety percent rice and just a few different fillings each day, they might have a bit of canned fished and they’d eat that with their chop sticks and
that was their rations for the day, one bowl would be for the day. I don’t know if they got a feed when they came home, they must have got a feed when they came home. They didn’t seem to each much at all really.
Did you ever say to your batman “What were your guys doing, what were the fellows doing in Thai-Burma?” Did you never mention that to him?
No, he didn’t know nothing about that, but I did get that well and truly after the war, at Daylesford, I was in Hepburn and a young Japanese said to my wife, “Was your husband in the war?” And she said “Yes.” and she said, “I’d like to apologise for my father.” So he came over and apologised for what his father did to
the Australians during the war. I said, “That’s got nothing to do with me mate.”
Did that strike you as a very decent gesture or sincere?
It did strike me as a decent gesture, he was up at Ballarat doing a course at the uni at Ballarat and they were down at Daylesford and saw me. I don’t know why he picked on me, being an ex-serviceman, it might have been the RSL [Returned and Services League] badge on or something.
When you went to Daylesford, were they still looking for you?
From the war at Daylesford, no that was Healesville wasn’t it? Back to the serious stuff, I find it fascinating that you were looking after all these Japanese POWs and anything could have gone on. I know you said one bloke just worked them hard in the bamboo field,
you could have gotten away with murder if you had a hatred for the Japs—then was the time to do it. Do you think you could have done something?
Yes, but I didn’t have anything against them really, they were sent away to war just as the same as we were.
When your batman said he didn’t want to go away to war but he got sent, did he talk about the process over there?
No, I don’t know whether they had a voluntary or compulsory turn out.
I had him for about four, five six months perhaps I had him. I didn’t get into any detail, it sort of didn’t worry me. I was more concerned about us getting home.
Worried about my points, whether I had enough.
Did you guys know much about the atomic bombs?
No, I think that we didn’t know what it was,
they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and that was the end of the war, that’s about all I knew really.
Do you think the prisoners had been told about that as well?
I doubt it, they didn’t tell them and they still hadn’t told them for a long time. They are just starting to find out that they were at war.
That’s quite bizarre isn’t it? How does that strike you as someone who fought in that war, the fact that it hasn’t really been publicised there?
I can’t work it out,
all right they kept a lot of things from the Australian civilian population when Darwin got bombed, they didn’t let them know that. You’d think if you had a war and your country was at war and they don’t know anything about it, well that tossed me.
Very strange. You were there for about six months at Rabaul with these Japanese working parties?
When did you find out you were going back, was it just a point thing or did someone say, ‘You’re going home, Blockie’?
If you had one hundred and twenty points well I knew I had one hundred and eighteen points then I knew I was going home before you, you kept your score once the point system come out.
Apart from the flag did you bring any other souvenirs back with you?
The trip back on the Westralia,
how was it?
I was sick all the way, every inch of it. I was on top of the deck and they said, “There’s no point stopping up here and go down to the galley and get something into your guts.” So I’d get down there and the pepper and salt is going from one end of the table to the other. I sat up on top of the deck. What
set me off there was where we were positioned when we first got onboard the ship. We were put down the hull and there was all that oily smell and everything and I thought ‘I’ve got to get out of here’. It just triggered my sickness off and from then on I never recovered. I’ve been back on a boat since.
You are alright now on a boat?
No on the Westralia, I used to call them the ships in my civilian life,
I told him that I got sick on it for five days but you can keep it now I’m not interested and we were tied up at the wharf then.
You got off where, was it Murchison where you disembarked?
I got off at Brisbane and then sent home on leave and then I had to report back to Royal Park and they shot me up to Murchison.
What did you think of that?
I didn’t mind that but I got very sick with malaria up there. I nearly got wiped off I think and that was the closest I’d been to death, having malaria up there.
How long did you have it for up there?
I had two doses in a very short time,
in a month I had malaria. Malignant tertian, I think they call it, it’s one of the worst malaria.
Can you remember the symptoms, what it felt like?
Yes, I remember the symptoms alright, you sweat and get home and have a temperature of about one hundred and ten, one hundred and four actually—I think you’re dead at that aren’t you?
At one hundred and ten you pretty much boil alive I think. Are you sweating but feeling cold?
Yes, fever, I had it after the army and had it in civilian life and I was standing in front of an oil heater with an overcoat on, freezing, absolutely freezing. I got sent home from work of course.
Did the army give you any treatment for that?
No, they don’t recognise malaria.
That’s crazy isn’t it?
They don’t recognize it.
When you got discharged from the army in the end, were you discharged A1?
Does that mean you have no comeback to the government if you develop something later on?
No, you still fight your battle, on a EDA [Extreme Disability Allowance]. That’s mainly with emphysema, I’ve got diabetes
which was all to do with my smoking, you can get diabetes from smoking, you could with their rules and regulations. I’ve got emphysema and of course from smoking. I’ve got about five complaints and they are all from smoking. I haven’t had a smoke now since 1990
I think, and I haven’t had a drink since 1936 .
What happened in 1936?
I was like a camel, I’d had my share. The decimal currency started and the pubs were open at ten pm, it was ten o’clock opening that worried me, not the ten o’clock closing.
Let’s go back to you’ve just been demobbed [demobilised], do you remember that feeling when you walked out of there and thought ‘that’s it’?
What did it feel like?
Terrific, I couldn’t get to a pub quick enough, it was over the road.
Were you demobbed in your uniform or did they give you a suit or something?
No, they gave me a suit.
Was it a good suit?
It done me for a while.
What do they say to you when you get demobbed,
is it like a little ceremony?
Good luck and I’ll see you again.
Is it like what they say to prisoners ‘you’ll be back’?
You’ll be back, yes.
Did you like that?
I don’t know. I think I shook hands with him and turned around and wished the best, that’s all they give you.
Did you have trouble settling back into civilian life?
A little bit, I had itchy
feet but I virtually went straight back into the fire brigade. I was still under discipline that’s the thing that perhaps I wanted, I don’t know. I only lasted eleven months, because after eleven months you get one month free leave.
I think I was doing seventy hours a week, for six quid, so I was well paid.
What do you think it is about men who come out of the army apart from the fact that they have been troubled by the experiences of the war, which would certainly trouble anybody but that yearning for discipline, what is it that need for discipline?
Your comradeship, after all you’re only living back at home with your Mum and the sisters
or something like that. You’re lacking all your mates around you. I said discipline perhaps that’s why I jumped into the fire brigade, because I was still looking for discipline. I don’t think
it’s anything else really.
Did you find it easy to settle back into things like having a girlfriend, going out and being gentle and nice?
I did find that I had that, a bit of trouble.
It was a bit more than that though really.
In my heavy drinking days I was a bit of a beast for a couple of years, that’s why I got help on that and that’s why I haven’t drank. I think I took a while to settle down really, one way or the other.
My mother, she kept me on my toes for a while.
Yes. She gave me a lot of help early in the piece. In my troubled days on the grog she still gave me plenty of help, and that’s why I’m still with her.
I’ve got my good married life and my good kids and so forth.
It must have been a real thrill then after coming out of the army where Shirley told you three months after your wedding day that she was pregnant?
After I got married?
Sorry three weeks. She said, ‘I’m pregnant and we better get married’?
She didn’t say that.
I’m only kidding. Was having kids a real change, you thought that maybe I can start living really I suppose after the war?
Yes, after I left the fire brigade and got a job in the hardware and
motor trade, motor spare parts and I was pretty well stable there. I got married when I was working there. I went out on the road for them as a traveller, I stopped the travelling mainly all for thirty or fourteen years. From there I
got married while I was there then we had one kid, a son that was born, I think about two years later my daughter was born, we were all pretty stable then. Then I started to hit the slops a bit too heavy so that was when
the trouble started but we overcame that. I’ve been pretty happy ever since, we have our ups and downs of course.
This is a difference of opinion.
You’ve done plenty of downs so you know what the ups are like.
Tell me after the war, say the Korean War starts
to happen, ‘gee are they going to call me up again’?
No, I didn’t think that. Again they get me in these wars and things, what they are over, there again we shouldn’t have poked our nose in there. Vietnam War we shouldn’t have been in that, the latest one we shouldn’t be there.
It’s different if the blokes were coming in your back door, take over your country well that’s fair enough, stand up and have a go, I can’t fathom it. I reckon the Vietnam boys didn’t get a fair go anywhere. That’s because number one the RSL reckons that was political, I’m a bit with them
but we went in 1945 and that was still political, I can’t have that. They don’t recognise them when they come home. Today, you can join the RSL, as long as you have a relation that’s way back you can come and join. Yet they didn’t want them. I’m in the RSL.
Who made those decisions in the 1970s that they couldn’t join?
I don’t know. There must have been a state conference and a commonwealth conference I suppose, they iron out all their problems there I think.
Looking back on your time in the army, are you glad isn’t the right word, I’m not saying that you were glad to be in the army, do you look back and say that’s something that I’m pleased to have done or proud to have done?
Yes. I even look back on it with the ups and downs and I still enjoyed
the whole career, of my army career.
Does it seem like a million years ago now?
Yes, it feels a million years ago too.
I’m only in my late thirties and I look back into my early childhood now and it feels like almost it was someone else’s childhood. Looking back sixty years you must be thinking, ‘was that really me?’
That’s right, look you took me right back to when I was born,
back seventy-nine years. I did enjoy my army life, with all the pros and cons and I got into trouble. I knew a bloke who hated the army because when he came out he said I was out of step and I’ve never got into step since.
When you think about the Second World War,
what are the things for you that are important for other generations to remember, what do you want people to carry away from that war?
We went along to hold the freedom of the country,
the democracy that we have got here, but they haven’t got in ninety-nine percent of other countries, and this is what we should fight for. I’d say that we held on to, that we could have been under dictatorship if we lost, but we held on to our democratic rights by
having the blue, that’s one thing that the younger generation has got to realise. You put your life on the line to contain that and I think that we have done. I’m glad I joined the army, I’m glad I went through everything that I went through and I went in as a boy
and I came out as a man. You go in at eighteen and come out at twenty-four. You are looking for—it’s quite a good experience and I’d recommend it to anybody. I’d recommend it to anybody and I’d do it to my grandsons.
Well, thank you Ray.
Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 90384015 bytes) in /var/www/sites/aaw_prod/sites/all/modules/contrib/memcache/dmemcache.inc on line 64