Archive number: 513
Preferred name: Doc
Date interviewed: 21 August, 2003
British Commonwealth Occupational Forces [BCOF] Kangaroo Concert Party
You are listening to the interview audio
Henry, could we begin by giving us a quick summary of your life to date?
Yes, well I was born in Sydney, in Newtown in Sydney. Educated at various schools, mainly Earlwood and Canterbury High School. I
was apprenticed to an engineering firm, John Hine in Sydney. Went to Sydney Technical College, have a government certificate as a fitter. Met Horry Davey and went to his Mouth Organ School in 1937 and the war intervened. We had a
mouth organ group called the Rocking Reeds which the war intervened. I wasn’t allowed to enlist in the war because the industry was ‘reserved’, we were making machines to make ammunition and food stuff. After the war I met up with Horry again, we did a two week tour. He had a vocal group I was asked to join, did a Tivoli tour
of New Zealand, came back, did some concerts in Australia, then went to the UK [United Kingdom] as an act, as a quintet. We were five and a half years in Europe and the UK doing various things. We entertained the troops in the occupation forces in Germany and France and Italy.
And variety in the UK. We came back here, did some concerts then joined QTV9 [Queensland Television Nine] in 1959. From ’59 on, yes, we did a bit of television, some trade promotions. It’s too
long to explain the trade promotion angle.
We could probably go into a bit more of that later actually.
Fine. Yes, after that the group broke up, the original group, then we reformed, the three of us reformed with a girl lead. We did some more concerts and some television.
Then she was … met an American, married and of course that put paid to that. Then we went our separate ways, I was playing bass in Burns and in restaurants and the three of us met up again on the Gold Coast, about four or five years …
around ’72 to ’77 on the Gold Coast and Brisbane. And then I stayed on the Gold Coast, Horry came to Sydney and two of us, Bernie and I stayed on the Gold Coast and we were in a band there until about 1986 when I retired from playing
and came down to Sydney where I’ve been ever since. More or less retired, just enjoying life.
That’s great. Well look, thank you very much for that excellent summary. It’s good to have it so cohesive and yet with enough detail to give us, to give anyone actually, beginning to look at the interview a good idea of what trajectory your life and career has taken, that’s very good.
Just going back to look at things in more detail now, could you tell us when you were born and where you were born?
I was 2nd July, 1920, my Birth Certificate says Newtown Sydney. I don’t know whether there was a hospital there or something like that. I think there was at that time. And then I spent …
my earliest memories were living in Marrickville and we moved to Ashfield, then we moved to Concord West and then to Earlwood.
And can you tell me about your parents, can you tell me about your father first?
My father was a motor mechanic. He was married … he was nineteen when he was married.
Had he served in world war one?
No. He was too young, too young at that time. But I think he did join the army after and spent a little time in the army after the war. Cause he would have been … he was born in 1900 so he’d have only just been eighteen when the war ended.
Now, when you say he was a motor mechanic, was he working full time for a particular garage?
No, he … no, he worked for a firm called Kitchen J. Kitchen who were soap people. I don’t know whether … Kitchen and Son.
That’s right, they later became part of the Unilever Group.
Unilever, that’s right, I was trying to think of the name.
Yeah, he worked there for quite a while, until about 1933 or ’34. Then I think he joined the government … he was working on the government buses, so he worked there for quite a while until the mid ’50s.
And then he went … he was working for Anthony Horden, their fleet of trucks.
So what did his work as a motor mechanic actually entail?
Well it was maintenance, maintenance of the buses, you know, maintenance of trucks, keeping them running, repairing them, keeping them running and doing all that.
And if you were to describe your father as a person,
could you describe his personality for us?
He was a caring person because he joined the St. John’s Ambulance, he was in that as well, and used to attend sports functions and theatres. You know, they attended cinemas, picture shows and theatres
to be on hand as a first aid person, you know. So yeah, he was caring. Because my parents were divorced when I was about eight I think, eight or nine, when divorce was a big no, no.
That must have had a bit of an impact on you.
Yes. It was sort of
classed as a disgrace, you know, you didn’t talk about it at school because children, kids at school always talk about their parents and I’d sort of pass it off and say – oh yes, they’re … you know, my father’s so and so and my mother’s just sort of home duties.
So did any of the children at school ever get wind
of the fact that your parents were divorced?
No, I don’t think so. After they … I sort of probably satisfied them with that. And we used to go and play the usual school games during recess. And I had one particular friend when we lived at Earlwood and I lost track of him once
we went to … they call it year six now I think. The primary final before you went to high school. He went to a technical school and I went to a high school so we sort of lost track of one another then.
So could you describe your mother for us?
Yes, she worked for Arnott’s. She was quite a good …
quite good with figures, mathematics. I think she was in the office, I’m not quite sure what she did but I know she was always good with arithmetic and figures which I’ve inherited.
Was she working there even after you were born or was this prior to your birth?
This would be prior. I can’t remember … she may have worked there after …
a bit after I was born, I don’t know, it would be too early, that’d be too early for me to remember. The main … my first memories were … I’d be about three I suppose and we were in Marrickville and she was home then, she was doing duties. Because we had another … I have two sisters, younger, so
she was taking care of the house, home duties they call it.
Always a busy time with three children, I’m sure.
Oh yeah, yeah.
And could you describe the personality of your mother?
Yes, she was a happy person. She was quite a good singer actually. Well, she would be full Welsh because my grandparents
on her side were Welsh, from Wales, they came out from Wales. So she would be full Welsh.
Of course, the Welsh have a tradition of singing.
Tradition of singing, yes. Yes, I always remember her singing, say, things from the ‘Desert Song’ and those things, you know, the shows and pop tunes that were out in those days.
And did she sing any Welsh
No, I don’t think she spoke Welsh. Grandparents did, they had quite an accent from memory.
Now, did you ever discover why it was your parents got divorced?
I think it was a question of infidelity, as far as I remember.
But nobody talked about it much because it was classed as a, you know, as I say, a disgrace, something like that.
I mean, at those time when divorces were involved they usually made their way into the papers, did that kind of thing happen in the case of your parents?
It may have, it may have, I’m not quite sure about that. I know my father … we lived
with his parents, my grand parents on my father’s side, at Earlwood, once the break up occurred, we lived there mainly. Until my grand mother died.
So does that mean that your father had custody of you three children?
How much of your mother did you see after that?
Well, she was allowed, what they call visiting rights now. And
she would come on specific days, I can’t quite remember, I suppose I’ve blanked it out. But I remember seeing her a few times. In the park … there was a park quite near grandmother’s house. I think she was … I don’t know
who her husband … they never talked about him so there was some shady business there. Because her second husband was my … would be a step grandfather …
Are we talking about your mother?
No, this is my grandmother.
Grandmother, okay, so she had two husbands?
Yes. Yeah, she was married a second time. I don’t know whether the first one
died, he possibly did and then she was married a second time.
This is your father’s mother I presume.
Yes. Yes, where we lived at Earlwood.
You were beginning to talk about a park, where does the park fit in?
Oh, it was Earlwood Park, the house was quite close. You sort of looked out the front window and just over on the next corner the Earlwood Park was
there and she’d be waiting on a park bench.
So, she’d be waiting on a park bench and …
Well I’d know she was coming, I’d be looking out to see when she was there and I’d just go out and be with her for a while.
How much time did you spend with her?
Oh, I don’t know, half an hour or something like that.
Do you remember what her mood was when you met up with her?
No. Oh, she just talked to me I suppose, she probably asked questions, I can’t remember that.
And how often would this happen, I mean, was it once a week, once every couple of weeks?
Probably once a month or something like that, as far as I remember.
Did she live far away?
I don’t know, I don’t know where she was living at that time. I caught up
with her later, around … during … it was just after the war, I think, just after the war I caught up with her. I was working at a night club, the Roosevelt, in ‘the [Kings] Cross’ and she lived in Forbes Street which is quite close to the Cross.
Oh, Forbes Street. Darlinghurst?
Yes. Yes, so she was with her
second husband there.
Did she go on to have any more children?
So, either with your mother or with your father in … either then or probably more so in later years, did you ever discuss either the circumstances of the divorce or the affect it had on the family?
No, it was a closed book. I possibly should
have asked but I was busy with music and working in the engineering factory and learning music and playing music. But I was quite friendly with her, you know, after … and my father, he seemed to … he didn’t, you know, there was no acrimony there.
But I imagine that if she
was not able to come to your grandparent's house but had to wait in the park for you, there must have been a little bit of tension early on?
Yes. I don’t think … I was talking to my sister, I was rather startled to find out that it wasn’t my father that did it, it was the … my grandmother’s second husband, step grandfather, prohibited her from coming into the house. I don’t know why. But I
only learnt that a couple of months ago. So, you know, I’ll have to question her more about that when I next see her. But it was a rather of a shock to me because I’d always assumed that it was my parents or my father who … and his sisters,
he had one, two, three, three sisters. And they weren’t very complimentary about her, they said that she’d deserted us which … But I remember leaving the house in Concord, we were living in Concord at that time and I remember leaving the house, so I couldn’t equate the fact that she’d deserted us when we left. I remember my father taking us away.
Sound like a little bit of family propaganda.
Yeah, I think there was quite a bit of that went on in those days.
It also sounds as if, as far as your grandfather was concerned, there was a little bit of sort of very stern moral rectitude going on there.
Yes, yes. Yeah, he was a cabinet maker, carpenter by trade. And yeah, I suppose he was … because
he’d served in the army as well, served in the cavalry I think. And he was quite stern in his ideas so that could possibly be the reason.
I mean, as you’re saying these things I have a view of probably a Sydney of that time which was a lot more confined and parochial, would you agree with that?
Oh yes, yeah. Oh yeah, yeah.
Anything … I remember there was a murder in Frenchs Forest, a fellow called Moxley, around 1931 or ’32. And, you know, banner headlines … it was like war had been declared in the paper. A ‘murder’, what, a ‘murder’? Yeah, it was quite different from now days. Of course, the media, the communication
wasn’t there, you know. Because I remember ‘crystal sets’ and when we call it … not radio but wireless, it was wireless. And the first wireless was a ‘crystal set’ then we had a … one which ran on batteries, two dry cells and a, what we called, a wet cell which was like a car battery.
And that was the power for the radio.
And did you build your own crystal set?
I did build one, yes.
You did. How did it actually come to you in the first place, I mean, what did it … did it arrive in a box and you had to put the pieces together?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you had the crystal and a little holder and the old cat’s whisker and you … from memory, you
just move the cat’s whisker to various parts of the crystal until you picked up the station.
So can you … I’m just sort of struggling to understand how a crystal set worked, could you describe in a little more detail how a crystal set actually operated?
I don’t know. I just knew … followed the instructions and I think it was head phones from memory. And it was
connected to the crystal, this crystal. It wasn’t glass crystal, it was like a bit of shiny coke. You know what coke looks like? It wasn’t a smooth surface, it was a rough surface and you moved it over various things. You could probably find out from investigation,
there would probably be records of how a crystal set worked.
I think there were amateur radio magazines available at that time as well.
Yes. Yeah. Oh, yes. Yeah, it was a sort of hobby thing with a lot of children at that time, around my age.
And did a number of your friends also have crystal sets?
I think a couple of them did, yeah.
What sorts of programs would you listen to on a crystal set?
can’t remember but it was whatever was broadcasting at that time. There weren’t many stations, I think there were only a couple of stations. They were more experimental. It wasn’t until the late twenties, I think, that things like 2GB and 2UE came into being. The ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] was broadcasting,
2FC and 2BL. But I remember on the dial, the set we had, had three dials that connected to three condensers, what they call condensers which were in it and I remember it went down, 2FC, 2BL, 2GB, 2UE, 2KY, 2UW, 2SM.
And 2CH came into it a bit later on I think, from memory.
That’s interesting because I’d assumed that radio stations were broadcasting a fair range of programs from the beginning.
Yes. They were mainly records. There were some children’s programs, I remember that, there were children’s programs in the early thirties.
But they didn’t broadcast through the night, they shut down, they used to shut down about ten or eleven o’clock I think.
Just in the same way the TV stations did when they first started broadcasting.
Yes, yes, similar, yeah, yeah.
Now, just getting back to family life after your mother had left, I imagine that the absence of a mother from the family had a fair amount of impact on you three children. Would you say that was the case?
From memory, the two girls, my two sisters, younger sisters, were living somewhere else, they were living with somebody else. I was just in the house with my father and my grandparents and his sister, one of his sisters.
And compared to other children and families that you knew, did you consider that that set up constituted an adequate upbringing for you in terms of parenting?
Yes. Oh yeah. Yeah, my father was reasonably strict. His, you know, his … for want of a better word, his morals I suppose, he imparted them to me, you know, sort of do the right thing and you don’t get on the wrong side of the law, you respected the law and you respect the police
and you don’t … well, you don’t sort of engage in stealing, or in lying or all that sort of thing, you know.
What was the most important thing, do you think, he taught you?
That’s a hard question. Wait a minute. Well, I suppose
the treatment of other people. The treatment of whoever you meet, you know.
What did he emphasis there?
Well just treat people with integrity. Just, I suppose … at times he was a bit
cautious so he’d be on the lookout if anyone was trying to put one over you, you know, that sort of thing. But treat them with respect until you find out if they’re … if there’s any shady business going on, then he would say, you know, just don’t have anything further to do with them. Or just don’t become intimate with them or
something like that.
Sounds like very much an advice of follow your instincts.
Yes, I’d say so, yeah. Try to evaluate people, I suppose, it would be. Try to evaluate and find out what they’re trying to do, you know, whether they were sincere or … yeah,
their attitude to you. And, you know, if they were shady, any hint of scandal, you know … it’s not like it is now days. It was more black and white in those days, there were the underworld and the ordinary people.
Did you ever get an insight into
the underworld, such things as the ‘razor gangs’ and other areas?
He used to talk about the razor gang because, I think in the very early days … I can’t remember this but from his talk I think they lived in Paddington, round Underwood Street. Because he used to talk about Woolloomooloo and the razor gangs, he used to talk … I remember the razor gangs being
What would he say about them?
Oh, just that they were tough. But he said that they usually didn’t bother the normal population. It was a gang fight, a fight between gangs and that sort of thing. So that was interesting there.
I suppose … I worked for … I better not say it because I might be sued. But the night club that I worked for I think was run by shady characters.
It was quite a tradition that, in America and England and Australia certainly. I mean, you don’t have to mention names but could you … at what period was
This was in the ’40s.
Well keep that in mind and we’ll go back and talk about that later. I think there are ways in which you could talk about this without implicating yourself.
Without mentioning names, yeah.
Yeah, putting yourself at risk. So, now, I was interested to hear your reference to your father being involved as a first aid officer in theatres, can you tell me a little bit more about that and what kinds of theatres they were? You mentioned cinemas.
Yes, cinemas are picture shows, you know. We used to … well, we said theatre, Australia, theatre, covered picture shows and live theatre. But I got the distinction when we got to the UK because when you said theatre, it was live. If you went to the ‘pictures’ it was the cinema.
That was certainly in the UK, what about Australian terminology?
No, theatre or to the pictures, you know.
So ‘theatre’ in Australia
either meant the cinema or live theatre?
Yeah. Yeah, but you’d say … there weren’t that many live theatres in Sydney at that time. I think there was the Tivoli, the Theatre Royal and that was about it I think, as far as live theatre.
There were also vaudeville circuits, do you remember …
Yes, in the early days.
Well the Tivoli was classed as vaudeville, variety.
But there were also suburban vaudeville circuits.
There’s Clay’s Variety Theatre for instance and …
Yeah, yeah, I didn’t know much about those.
I just wondered if your father had any involvement in that side or whether it was purely with cinemas?
No. I think he possibly did go to some of those. This was in the … his
ambulance was in the thirties I think. This is St. John’s Ambulance. But he also used to work in casualty at Prince Alfred Hospital.
So he … correct me if I’m wrong but I get the impression that he’d made the transition from motor mechanic to first aid officer, or they were running in tandem were they?
In tandem, yeah. No, he worked. He was still motor mechanic
but it was sort of in the evenings he’d be going to the pictures or the … I don’t think there were many like that, they’d be picture shows mainly and say sporting, like football games and that sort of thing where the St. John’s Ambulance … I don’t know whether they attend now.
Oh, they do actually.
They do, do they?
They have it organised so that … my step mothers involved in that kind of activity and she’s
Oh, so they’re still going?
Definitely. As far as your father’s involvement in attending cinemas was concerned, was that … would he go to every performance of a screening or was it an on call situation?
No, I think it was a roster. Because he belonged to one group I should imagine, a group of them. And they’d probably be rostered on
at various places. It wasn’t every night, you know, maybe a couple of nights a week that he’d be rostered on.
And what sort of situations was he treating, do you remember, what sort of incidents was he having to deal with?
Oh, it would probably be people if they cut themselves or somebody faints or passes out or something like that. You know, he’d … I remember my
step grandfather making him a box, it was a wooden box and it was quite comprehensive, you know, he had one row where he had little jars with salve, iodine and or that sort of thing in. And there was another section for bandages and dressings and all that sort of thing.
And I imagine your father got to see a lot movies.
Yeah, he probably did, yeah.
I mean, I can’t imagine him sitting up the back with his back to the screen, presumably he got to see them.
Yeah, I think they’d have a seat for him like the usherettes or the ushers, they used to have a seat at the back for them so he’d be sitting there on call.
What about you when you were growing up, were you a keen film and or theatre goer?
Well I didn’t have
mch time for it. I remember … living at Earlwood, I remember we went to see films there. I remember the first ‘talkie’. It was fifty per cent music, it wasn’t all talkie. It was … when the first one came out the banner was – ‘ALL TALKIE, ALL TALKIE’. But one … I think the [Al] Jolson one we saw.
And there were a couple which said, ‘fifty per cent talking’, you know. And rather amusing, they used to match the film to, I think, it was a big record, it was a big long playing disc or something like that, and at times it would get out of ‘sync’. So you’d see somebody talking and the sound would come later on. And then, of course, the break downs, you know,
when the film broke down and it would just go blank. So it wasn’t going through fast enough and it would start to burn and there’d be darkness. And after about ten or fifteen seconds, you know, all the people stamping on the floor saying – ‘come on, come on’, you know.
You mentioned the ‘Jolson’ film, was this The Jazz Singer?
Now, presumably you’d seen
silent films before, can you recall the impact of seeing a talkie for the first time?
Yes. Yes, it was quite startling really because he were used to seeing the lips move and then the sub titles underneath. And I even remember … people think I’m telling a big tall tale, but I remember when the film, I suppose, wasn’t as fast
as it is now, and the old Westerns, the night time was indicated by a blue dye through the film. That was right, just a light blue dye. People think I’m telling a tall tale about that but it was actual fact, I remember that.
I haven’t seen enough silent films.
Yeah, because I can remember Lon Chaney. Not the son,
the original Lon Chaney.
What Lon Chaney film stands out in your mind?
Oh, he used to do films about vampires.
London After Midnight?
London After Midnight, I saw that, I remember that.
What impact did that have on you?
It was quite scary for a … you know, I’d have been what, about seven,
seven or eight.
I mean, that’s a lost film now, can you remember what you found particularly scary about it?
Well, I think it was London After Midnight. I remember seeing a mist, a mist coming along the corridor and going through the keyhole in the door and coming out on the other side and then Chaney appeared in one of his disguises, you know, as a vampire or as a …
so that was scary, seeing this mist, just a mist coming through the … and then going through the keyhole and coming out the other side.
So the mist transformed into …
Yeah. They did some quite spectacular things, I suppose, in those days. Because there was not the computer or the facilities which are available now.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 02
I believe you were fairly well aware of two particular underworld women?
Yes, yes. It was Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine. They were classed as underworld. From memory, they didn’t bother the
normal people, they weren’t sort of standover types I shouldn’t think. It’s just that there was a need there, I think one ran the … they’re known as call girls now, she was sort of associated with that. And the other one was associated with alcohol or liquor
because it was still in fairly short supply. In those days it wasn’t as readily available as it is now.
And yet the names of those two women are associated with a degree of violence, I mean, if the violence didn’t involve the general public, what was happening?
Well I think it was more or less … they both had their organisations and if somebody
strayed outside the guidelines then there’d be some sort of a ruckus going on. The media would pick it up and they would blow it up a little bit. But I never actually met either Kate Leigh or Tilly Devine but from people who have met them I believe they did quite a lot of
good work to less fortunate people, I’ve heard that. So if you didn’t cross them they didn’t bother you but if you crossed them then watch out.
Just moving back to silent movies, you were talking about the tinting of films and you were relating it to Lon Chaney films, would you have seen The Phantom
of the Opera for instance?
Yes, yes, the old Phantom, yeah.
What do you remember of that film?
I remember his makeup but he was a master of that, of the makeup. And you know, I think he was a contortionist, he could twist his body and the Phantom, he
had a mask on and then when it was taken off the makeup was … I remember, sort of, his face was scarred and he practically had no lips, all his teeth were exposed and the eyes were like to sockets, like a skull with just two sockets, two eyes peering out of these black sockets and practically no nose.
I don’t know how they managed that but …
Would such a film as The Phantom of the Opera, the Lon Chaney version, play at children’s sessions?
No, no. We had matinees for children. I remember we had particular matinees. I don’t think they would be admitted. They might.
So when you saw, or when an audience saw something like
the Phantom’s face being exposed, what would the reaction be?
Oh, it was quite a sort of a gasp, I suppose. There’d be a reaction, I can’t quite remember what the reaction was but it would … the people would be sitting just as though nothing had happened. There’s be a reaction of
sorts. Various reactions from different people.
Now, we’ve talked about going to the pictures, as you were growing up what other recreational pursuits did you have?
Well, at school, high school, going through high school, we wouldn’t
be going to pictures because you’d have homework and all that sort of thing. So you’d … just when you came home from school, there’d be … you’d probably have a couple of mates and you’d go out and play some games until tea time or you’d maybe do your homework, do an hour’s homework and then go out and have a play around for a while until dinner time and then …
well there’d be reading. We used to play cards quite a bit.
What about sports, were you keen on sport?
I played tennis in high school, tennis and a bit of cricket. And the weekends, we had some tennis courts near us and my father was a good,
he was a very good tennis player. In fact he played what they call the A Grade in that … they had three grades, A B and C and he was in the A Grade section of the tennis world. It was usually a Saturday afternoon social but quite serious competitions and all that sort of thing.
So what sort of courts would you be playing on?
hard courts, what they call clay courts, I think. They call them clay courts now I think.
I can remember the Edwards Courts at East Roseville used to be clay and sand. But I suppose what I mean is were you playing at a club, were you and your father playing at a club complex or would these be on tennis courts besides houses?
No, they weren’t the big complexes that they have now,
they’d be somewhere … near us at Earlwood there was a house which had two courts, it had enough room for two tennis courts. One was a night court, they had lights up. So we used to play there, I think they held competitions there. But I didn’t play alongside my father, I used to play just casual
What people refer to as social tennis I suppose.
Yes social tennis, yeah.
Now, one area we haven’t covered yet although we’ve referred to it a couple of times in passing is your schooling. Could you tell us about your schooling?
Yes. Well the earliest I remember was at Ashfield, Kindergarten. Then there was Rhodes School at Rhodes, Concord West, Rhodes.
That was kindergarten, first and second class. And then the break up came of course and we moved to Earlwood and I think I started third class at Earlwood Public School. Then went through there till sixth class and passed the Primary Final. And depending upon where you lived, I suppose, and the marks in the Primary Final you were allocated a school
by the government. So I was sent to Canterbury High School and the mate that I had, he was sent to a technical school, I’ve forgotten the name of it, it was Campsie Tech or one of those around that area.
So a technical school was what, a technical high school?
This is something that people …
You learnt sort of trades I suppose, you learnt
something which prepared you for a tradesman. The high school was … well Canterbury was known as the language school because they taught French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian and all that sort of thing. But we took mathematics and algebra, science, chemistry and physics. I learnt
French, can’t speak much now. Learnt French and history and English.
What were your favourite subjects?
I think mathematics, algebra and arithmetic.
Why was that?
I don’t know, it just made more sense to me, you know, history was a bit dry, although we had a history teacher who was a bit of a wag.
He used to paint pictures of the ancient history … we did ancient history and up to the present. Mainly English history, we didn’t learn much Australian history. It was addressed, I think, in the last couple of years. They said – it’s about time we taught some Australian history rather than overseas.
When you say your teacher painted pictures, was this up on the board, the black board?
word pictures, you know. He say, you know, the Syrians are coming down, there was skin, hair and bone flying and arrows flying and blood flying, you know, he’d be a bit lurid in that effect. And Latin, I learnt three years of Latin and French. Latin is still quite useful at times in the … there are a lot of English words which relate back
to Latin, to the Latin derivation.
Particularly if you’re interested in natural history or horticulture I imagine.
Yes, yes. Yeah, that obtains. But mathematics and algebra and arithmetic … English did contain some interest,
the construction of the language. What was the other … French, yeah French, we had a Frenchman, an actual Frenchman who taught us French. He was the main … if he was off there’d be other teachers who could teach French. But the French teacher went through the three years and if we felt particularly lazy …
there was some boys, if they didn’t sort of want the lesson to continue they’d say – “Tell us about the first world war sir.” And he’d delight in relating how he was firing ‘at the Hun’ through open sights, the thirty seven millimetre or seventy five mill [calibre] cannons, you know, he'd be painting pictures. It was quite
easy enough to set him off on that track.
So he’d been a war veteran on the French side?
On the French in the First World War, yes.
Did you know any other war veterans at that time?
Yeah, the tradesman that I was apprenticed to, you were apprenticed … as an apprentice you were assigned a tradesman, you know. So the tradesman I was
assigned to had been in the trenches in the First World War in France.
Did he talk much about that experience?
Not a great deal, not a great deal. I suppose, like the Second World War, you know, they don’t want to talk much about it. He talked a couple of times about the mud, you know, they were up
to their so and sos in mud. And a couple of times he talked about raids, how they went out on a raid to get prisoners for questioning. But he didn’t talk at length about it.
It sounds like he talked enough about it though, to give you a series of impressions.
Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, he said it wasn’t very nice.
And, you know, the … he was a good tradesman, good tradesman, he taught me well.
We’ll get back to him and that experience in a little while. I’m just wondering what impact do you think World War I had had on Australia?
World War I?
I mean, people called it the ‘Great War’
The ‘Great War’, yeah.
Which already meant it had a big impact on us.
Yes. I know it sort of cemented the Germans as the enemy, they were the enemy because I remember when we played games, we had some … there’d be children around, living around your area and you’d have a ‘war game’, so nobody wanted to be the German side, everybody wanted to be the English,
the English and French.
What sort of a deal would the Germans get in those games?
Oh, they’d be beaten of course, every time.
No, you know, you’d just be sort of … there was quite a lot of bush land where we were and you’d start off with the two sides and you’d try to creep up and take somebody prisoner, you know, or something
like that. And if they resisted, ‘bang’, you’re dead. That sort of thing. No, there was no actual physical violence.
It was basically role playing by the looks of it.
And during your formative years, how strong was the British Empire?
It was quite strong. I remember the … when Edward [V111] abdicated , he wanted to marry
Mrs. [Wallis] Simpson and there was … there were quite divisions out here. It wasn’t sort if, I don’t care, no I don’t care, I’m not interested. It was either, yes, they should let him do it or no, he should do his duty. And the do his duty part, they were in the majority. And I remember, you know, the
newspaper headlines and the government was quite adamant of what should happen.
I believe, Joe Lyons, the Prime Minister, was particularly hard lined?
He’d probably been fired up by the Populace, I believe a lot of people wrote to him actually.
And how strong a notion was the British Empire in terms of Australian loyalty to the Empire?
Well we were quite, you know, we considered ourselves
British, obviously, because there wasn’t the migration up to there, the population was … well you didn’t hear a foreign language, never heard a foreign language spoken. Only if you went to the Cross, there were a couple of … what we used to … in a derogatory way known as ‘refos’ [refugees]. You know, the refos
up the Cross.
What nationality would they be?
Oh, probably Italian or … usually Italian. But anybody who didn’t speak English or spoke with an accent was a refo.
Would they be discriminated against?
Sometimes I think, yeah, sometimes I think.
Sounds very much like an arm’s length relationship.
Yes. Not violently, if you understand what I mean but people would say … if you had two shops and one was sort of speaking with an accent, they’d go to the one that spoke Australian. That sort of thing, you know. Partly, I think, it wasn’t dislike it was just …
I can only put it into fear of the unknown, you know. Thinking that they’re different, the fear of different, people don’t like change usually.
So to what extent were you aware of Jewish refugees coming to Australian in the pre-war years?
Not to a great extent, I didn’t …
I believe that as things got tough in Germany, for instance, there were quite a few Jewish people came to Sydney.
Oh yes. Yes. There’s one case in particular I know, having joined Horry Davey’s Harmonica School, the
used (UNCLEAR) which Larry Adler uses … and I met first, because he was a friend of Horry’s, he was using ‘Hohner’, this Kurt Jacob who was … he was quite a big figure in the Hohner Factory … because he was obviously Jewish, you know, you couldn’t disguise it. And he came out with his parents,
he just escaped by the skin of his teeth, I believe. He got out just in time. But I didn’t, you know … there didn’t seem to be any discrimination against him, I couldn’t find any because he was a very intelligent man, pianist. He could read of symphonic scores and hear it, you know … as he’s sitting in a tram,
he could just read the symphony and hear it, and he was a pianist.
What a wonderful thing, to be so consumed and possessed by music.
But he was quite high up in the Hohner factory.
What was the Hohner factory?
That was … they made the mouth organs, they were in Germany, in Trussigun in Germany.
So how old was he when he migrated to Australia?
Oh, he was …
Kurt, he was quite mature. He’s only recently gone, in the last few years, the last … about four or five years ago, I think Kurt went. I went to his funeral actually. But he … oh, he’d have been … it was hard to judge at that time but he’d have been fairly matured.
Maybe his name will crop
up again later when we’re talking about the Horry Davey association. Now, just going by some of the research material that has been passed on to us, I gather that your grandparents had some musician friends, was that correct?
Yes, I remember at Ashfield, I remember musical evenings
when people would come. They’d have, sort of … somebody would be playing the piano or there’d be a violin or a banjo and singing and all that sort of thing, you know, musical evening. Because at that time, this would be … from memory around 1923, ’24. There was no wireless or radio then.
And the pictures were … ‘flickers’, we used to call them, go to the ‘flicks’, flickers. So there was a lot more, I would say, home entertainment, in the home.
So people would get together for soirees?
Yeah, they’d get together for a soiree and have a musical evening and maybe some … just some eats and things like that.
I imagine this had a bit of impression on … well I imagine this made a bit of impression on you.
Yes. Yeah, it made me aware of music. And I think one of the regulars was an acrobat, a fellow called Jack Storry, whose act was a table with four slots in it and a ladder which went up like that, quite high,
and he’d get up on the ladder and he’d have his assistant, it was a girl, she was trying to sort of catch him. And he’d be swaying on the ladder, back and forth, and it would finally come down but he was a tumbler and an acrobat, he’d do all that sort of thing. And I remember the act was called ‘Safety Last’.
By the sounds of t waas this Safety Last
act performed in your grandparent’s house?
Oh no. Oh no, it was on stage, on stage at the Tivoli actually. But I remember him practicing outside in the grounds of the house at Ashfield. He used to practise, practised there, practised various stunts.
So if we look at one of these soirees, how long would an evening of musical entertainment and performance continue at home.
Oh, it would go till late, a couple of hours I suppose, a couple of hours or so. Maybe three hours. And I just remember … I can’t remember what they played or anything like that but I can remember, you know, the violins and piano. We always had a piano for as far as I can remember. My grandmother,
there was always a piano in her house.
And were there other forms of musical instruments around the house?
No, this Safety Last fellow, the tumbler, played the banjo, he used to play the banjo. I remember my father saying that one time … it was fairly dicey business in those days, an entertainer because you weren’t
always employed. And I remember my father saying on time … my grandmother caught Jack taking the banjo out, he was going to hock it and she said, “No you don’t.” He said, “Hock it. I can’t pay the … can’t give you any money or pay, you know …”
Sorry, could you just re establish who Jack was? Oh, Jack was
Jack Storey. The Safety Last character, you know, the acrobat.
But why would your grandmother be concerned about
Jack wanting to hock the …
Well, she said – don’t worry about it, give me some money when you can, sort of thing.
Oh okay. So how was … I seemed to have missed a link here. How was it that he owed her money?
Well, he was staying at the place, it was quite a large place.
Oh, I see. So your grandparent’s house also had entertainers living there?
Yes, a couple of people. Yeah, we always seemed to have people staying. Because this was a …
quite a large house, it was … well, from memory, two stories and an attic which was room, still rooms up top. I remember the attic. So, you know, there was quite a few rooms.
The presence of these people must have made for quite a lively household.
Yes. Oh, yeah, there was
never any shortage of people around. Because it was … you know, they weren’t affluent days, sort of, in those times.
Yeah, I guess we’re talking about ‘Depression’ era as well, aren’t we?
Yeah. Well, pre Depression, it was coming on, the Great Depression, that was coming on.
So we’re talking about late 1920’s are we?
Yes. No, this Ashfield incident with Jack Storey, that would be before
we moved out to Concord.
So what … just moving forward slightly, what are your main memories of the Depression?
Main memories. Well I remember my step grandfather and my father both worked for the Unilever, the Kitchen J Kitchen, they were both working there.
And when the Depression started to bite, around ’27, ’28 I think, it started to get really bad. We were one of the lucky families because they had, I think, each of them had one week’s work in three. So they were working a sort of a third. One … they’d be on one week and off two weeks, each
So they’d be alternated basically. So there’d be an alternating income but always something coming from one of them?
Yeah, a little bit, yeah. Yeah, just enough to keep us afloat. Because I remember peoples having food hampers, like for relief, food hampers. And I think they cost ten shillings or something like that, or people were given ten shillings to buy food.
And I remember somebody was aghast once because one of the recipients … I only heard about it … one of the recipients used threepence or two threepences for the both of them to go to the pictures. And they said, “Why should they …” It would be obvious, there’d be a bit of relief from the weight of the Depression.
Yeah, I was going to say, the pictures meant a big relief for a lot of people during
Well yeah. And also the … there was what’s called ‘relief work’ which, I suppose, would entail having a pile of blue metal, fellows would be shovelling and they’d shovel from here to there. And then they’d get another lot and shovel from there and back again. And they were given just a bit of money, you know, to live on. I remember … I think there was a shanty
town around Maroubra somewhere.
Did you ever see that?
No. No, I only ever heard about that.
I think that was out at La Parouse.
Could have been, yeah. I know it was somewhere on the coast or around the coast, out that way somewhere.
La Perouse or Yarra Bay or one of those places.
Yes, yeah. Yeah, they had a lot of corrugated iron sheds and all this sort of thing. I remember it was a pretty desperate time. And people
got through somehow, I don’t know how but somehow got through.
You referred to food hampers and I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by that in terms of who was giving the food hampers to who.
Well they’d be given … the people would be given the money to buy food … I’m not quite sure of the lay out of it but they were called food hampers.
I suppose ten shillings, and they could buy food from shops I suppose, that’s what they meant.
So it was almost like a coupon system, was it?
Yeah, only it was money, you know, it was just actual money.
Do you consider that your own family suffered to any degree because of the Depression?
No. Well the house that we lived in at Earlwood had a back yard and I remember
we were growing vegetables and we had fowls down the back, a fowl run and a few fowls for eggs. And we grew potatoes and tomato bushes and there’d be lettuce and carrots and that type of thing. And we had, I think it was a peach tree, a peach tree, a lemon tree and an orange tree in the back yard.
So that sounds like a fairly self sufficient sort of situation.
Yeah, yeah. It was supplementary to the work, to buying food.
Now, I’m just interested, once again, in the notion of you being in a house that included entertainers. Is there any connection between that fact itself and the fact that you ended up as an entertainer yourself?
Well I suppose it could have had some bearing on it. But we’ve always had radio, you know, from memory. From the early battery sets to the first electric set. My father’s … one of his elder brothers was living with us at Earlwood, he bought
us this set, it was electric radio.
So you’ve mentioned radio, how important was radio as something to enthuse you about music?
Oh, well they played lots of records and there were plays and there were serials
from overseas, from UK mainly which they’d play. It was mainly recorded.
Oh, pre recorded drama serials?
Yeah, and things like that, yeah.
But how important was radio as I decider or an inspiration for you to go into show business ultimately, or at least to take an interest in music?
Well I suppose being exposed to music all the time. And
it was something which was natural, it was there, it wasn’t something which wasn’t fostered. Like I think in some families, probably music was regarded as a bit of a … you know, a flighty thing, a fiddly deedee, you know. The real world is
making things or being a banker or something like that.
So what was your family’s attitude to music?
Well they were always interested in it, always seemed to be interested in it. My father was a good whistler, he used to whistle quite a bit of the tunes of the day. Because they were played on the radio as well, you know, the
shows which came out, the musical shows, the American musical shows and the English musical shows. They’d be played on the radio and the wireless. So that, I should think, would have had quite an influence.
And you mentioned the Tivoli as well. At what age did you start going to the Tivoli?
When I was … after I had started work, when I was in
the late teens, eighteen, around eighteen. 1938, so something like that.
Okay, well we’ll get back to the Tivoli a little later then. So tell us about learning to play the mouth organ. How did that come about?
Well we heard on the radio, heard Larry Adler and couldn’t believe … said, no that can’t be a mouth … because it was an ‘old vamper’
up till then. Nobody’d ever heard of the one that could play sharps and flats, the slide one.
Now when you say the ‘old vamper’, I’m not sure what that means, could you explain that to me?
Well it was a straight … it didn’t have a button that you see, the mouth organs, the honer mouth organs or the ones that play sharps and flats, you know. That’s the slide, the slides goes in. They were just a straight mouth organ and you couldn’t get any
sharps or flats on them.
Okay, so you’re referring to these things as if we’ve got a little bit of knowledge about it, but I must say, from my point of view, I know nothing about mouth organs apart from something I might have been given as a child and played briefly. So could you give us more of a description of the range and types of mouth organs?
Well the mouth organ was regarded as a toy, more or less. Just something which you could carry around in your pocket and you’d get a sort of a
bit of a tune out of it. And it wasn’t regarded seriously. But this … when this came along we thought that can’t be a mouth organ because they can’t … it can’t have that range, it can’t play the sharps and flats and the tone of it.
Can I just have you rephrase that, you said when ‘this’ came along. Could you establish in your reply what you mean by ‘this’?
Well this slide, a slide, the Larry Adler,
the Larry Adler record that we heard, the first record, I think it was ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’, something like that. It’s still available. But we thought, it can’t be, from the tone, that’s not a mouth organ, it must be another instrument. But, you know, when we found out it was then I thought, oh, you know, mouth organ. Yeah, I don’t know what prompted me to go in and join the school but … well
I suppose it was the influence of Larry Adler on the mouth organ. And I heard Horry Davey on … he had a quarter session on [Radio] 2KY. And we tuned into that and I heard him playing and I thought, well it must be … so we’ll go in and investigate this.
How old were you at this
Eighteen, eighteen, seventeen, eighteen. See, yeah, just eighteen I would say.
Could you see this ultimately becoming a career for you?
No, not at that time, not at that time. Not when I went into … it was something which you would say was a hobby. It started off as a hobby but then …
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 03
Okay. So before the tape change we were talking about the Horry Davey Harmonica School that you went to, mouth organ school, where was the school situated?
It was in George Street, Sydney opposite the Queen Victoria building.
And how often would you go to lessons there?
Well it was once a week for a start and then after some
time we became proficient and Horry had the idea of forming a mouth organ band. There was an American one called Borrominavich, which once again, when you heard it you couldn’t believe it was a mouth organ band. But they were specialised instruments, in other words, there was the ordinary mouth organ, the slide mouth organ and there was what we called a ‘Veneata’
which was a chord instrument which is like the accordion. On their left hand they have buttons and they can play either a bass note or a chord, which is more than one note, it’s a … harmonies. So the Veneata was the harmony instrument and it had a bass mouth organ which was very low, low pitch. And they had various other ones which were called polyphonias, which
were a long straight mouth organ with single notes and you could get sort of effects from those. So Horry formed this band.
And what type of mouth organ did you specialise in at this point?
Well I was playing the ordinary twelve hole chromatic mouth organ. But then he …
I think one of the band was learning bass, we all decided to learn other instruments, so one of them was learning bass but he dropped out so Horry said, “I think you look like a bass player, so could you try the bass?” So I started learning string bass and went onto the bass mouth organ naturally from that.
Now what was Horry like as
Oh, he was very personable. He’d done … he was quite young when he did a tour with the ABC. And then he was on the Tivoli. He did a concert tour, I think, with the ABC with Jim Davidson and the band. The Jim Davidson who later formed
the Australian Army Entertainment Unit. He did an Australia wide tour with him. And he did a session on the Tivoli and he did a couple of shows … he’d sometimes put shows on in the cinemas, the State Theatre would have a stage … what we would call a stage presentation which was a band
and an act and then they’d show a film in the second half. So we saw him on that and from there it developed up to the war. And when he was inducted into the army … when Japan entered the war it became rather more serious.
It was sort of floating along until then, what they called the ‘Phoney’, so called Phoney War, it floated along but once Japan entered then it became serious and all the reserved industries came into it. But he wasn’t in a reserved industry so … and he was of the age, so they were all inducted into the army. So that put paid to the mouth organ group.
What was he like as a teacher?
Yeah, he was a good instructor. He could impart the knowledge and he had a system, he made out a little system of how you blow and what you play and reading music as well which was unheard of. Reading music for a mouth organ. So we were all taught to read music and to play it on the mouth organ.
tell me a bit more about the mouth organ group that was formed.
I had some pictures somewhere … yeah, I have some pictures of them. It was about six, it was a six piece group I think. And we went onto what was called the P and A, Professional and Amateur Parade which was on
radio. It was started in Melbourne, I think Horry … one of the ones in Melbourne, there was a prize of a hundred pounds I think which was quite a bit in those days, for the winners. So we went on the P and A Parade and we went through the heats and we eventually won the one in Sydney, the mouth organ group. So with the hundred pounds we said, “Well we’ll buy … we’ll
go on other …” because instruments were fairly pricey … so we’ll decide to go … take up other instruments and become an instrumental group as well as a mouth organ group. So that’s how the other instruments came into being.
And what was the name of the group?
The mouth organ group was the Rocking Reeds, that was the original mouth organ group. And
Horry took up clarinet and I took up the bass and we were the only two members, actually, of that group who were later in what was called the Horry Davey Quintet which was a local instrumental group. The other boys didn’t continue on with it, after the war they didn’t continue on.
Now of course, during this time, you’re also, I imagine working during the days …
Yes, oh yeah.
Can you describe what kind of work you were doing?
Well I was a fitter, I was apprenticed for a start. And I received the government certificate towards the end of 1941 and became a tradesman, known as a
mechanical fitter after three years of Tech and the five years at John Hine and Son in the engineering firm. So at that time I was considering joining the army but my father convinced me, he said – don’t join yet, he said – finish your trade first,
become a tradesman then, he said – you can think about it. So I abided by his decision … abided, is that they right word? Abided by his decision. I respected his advice and completed the training and was thinking about joining the army when Japan
entered the war. And then the ‘clamp’ came down and reserved industries became really reserved industries because the firm that I was in made machines to make the ammunition, bullets, they were .303s and the shells for the anti aircraft and can making machinery which canned the food. You know, all the bully beef and beans and all that sort of thing,
made those machines. So that became very necessary, essential. What they called essential reserved industry.
And we might come back to that in a little while. Just getting back to
the group that you were in, the … what were they called again? The Rocking Reeds. Now I believe that you also play in … apart from the competition that you played in, you played in live venues as well?
Yes, yes, we did some live shows with the Rocking Reeds and we also did some ABC shows,
radio, quarter hour shows with the group which was quite something. Because it was all, you know, it was … we played classical stuff, what was so called classical stuff as well as the more popular type and being able to read music.
And what were some of the venues that you did play at?
Well I remember the Albert Palais which was a dance hall in Petersham, that’s still there actually, the building. And I think Graham [interviewer] mentioned before, I wasn’t aware, but we played Leichhardt somewhere, there was a
picture show which they used for the live shows. There was comedian, I remember they put on a variety show there and there was comedian, Joe Lawman, you’ve probably never heard of him but he was well known then, Joe Lawman. And we did say a ten minute spot in the proceedings, there’d be
a comedian and there’d be a musical act and there’re probably be maybe a juggler or something like that, that’s variety.
And how often were you performing at these venues?
Oh, not very often in those days. I don’t remember very many at all. We did more radio for the ABC.
And how often would you
do the radio shows for the ABC?
Well you’d do a series of say six, they’d say we want six quarter hour shows. So we’d submit a program and they would say yea or nay to some of the numbers, we’d have a few in reserve and they’d swap them around. And then we’d rehearse those up and we’d do, say, it
would be once a week for six weeks. Something like that.
And what kind of reception did the group receive, public reception from these ABC radio shows?
Well, it was hard to judge. Of course, all our relatives, close relatives and their friends would be listening in.
But we had a few little bits saying, you know, this was sort of quite good entertainment.
Like revues or …
Yes. Yeah, the critics, the revues in the paper, yeah.
Oh, that must have been really something.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, well it wasn’t a lot before the war, as I say, we’d do a series
of say six programs and there’d be a gap for a while. But it wasn’t until … see, I only started learning in ’38, well it would be some time before I was proficient enough or the mouth organ group got proficient enough to perform. So it was just before the war actually, just before the war in ’39 that we’d be doing the shows.
So where were you when you heard that war had broken out?
Living in Dulwich Hill actually.
And what do you recall …
Okay, what do you recall of outbreak of war?
The outbreak? I remember hearing it on the radio. I think it was … Bob Menzies was Prime Minister and I remember hearing it. And I suppose there was a sense of excitement, you know,
because I think another depression was coming on actually. There was another down turn in the economy at that time. And it was a sort of excitement, I wonder what’s going to happen, you know, at war what will happen. And nothing seemed to happen for a while, there was just the preparation of people joining the army and there was the
usual publicity about joining the army. And I think there was quite an influx for that time because a lot of the younger people of working age, they weren’t working because of the Depression, so this was something to … you know, it was money and it was
a sort of an ordered type of existence.
So what kind of propaganda was happening to encourage enlistment at this time?
Well, I can’t quite remember that side of it. I know that,
you know … ‘the Empire’, it was your duty to … if you were able, able bodied, it was your duty to enlist and defend the country.
How much pressure was there from your social network to enlist?
Not so much in the early part. When Japan came in, of course, there was quite a … it was a shock. I remember hearing it on the radio and it sort of was a sense of unbelief, ‘Japan has attack America’, you know.
So what’s happening now? Because our … most of our army personnel had been sent overseas, they were in UK or in Africa. So we thought, what’s here to defend us now.
You mentioned before, of course, that you were working in a reserved industry at this time, could you define
for the record exactly what a reserved industry was?
Well it was something which was essential to the … essential in the conduct of hostilities in the war. A case in point was myself, when I made an agreement with my father, as I’ve
said before, not to try to enlist until I’d completed my training. And at that time I had completed it and I was thinking about going ‘in’, so I went on a … a couple of days I went to the enlistment places, the army and the air force and the navy and took a couple of days off. And
when I told them what … they knocked me back, said, “No, you’re not acceptable.” And I went back to work after a couple of days off and said to the industrial officer, “I’ve been sick Tom, I’ve been off sick for a couple of days.” And he just sort of said , “come here son,” he said, “You’ve been trying to join the air force, the army and the navy.” He said, “Now, you get
back to your bench.” I said, “Well I feel as though I want to do something.” He said, “If they don’t get the bullets they can’t fight can they.” Or, “If they don’t get the food, they can’t fight.” He said, “You’re more use here doing that, making these machines than if you took up a rifle and went up without any bullets to fire.” So he said, “Get back to your bench son or I’ll fine you a thousand pounds and put you in jail for six months.”
That’s pretty severe.
So that was what was called a reserved industry.
How frustrating was that for you to …
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I saw the sense of it then because of the way he put it, you know. He said … and I was personally working on … I had a whole line of twenty machines which were pumping out … which when
they were finished and sent to the arms factories would pump out the .303 bullets. And there were other big machines I did some work on as well which made the casing for the anti aircraft shells and also machines for canning food stuff.
you’ve given a … you’ve suggested the work that you were doing at the factory but could you give us … describe specifically what your role was within the company at this time?
In the engineering firm? Well I was a tradesman, working and building the machines.
So you were actually building …
Yeah, actually building the machines themselves.
Yeah, we’d get … it was a whole … unless you’ve been to an engineering factory, it’s hard to describe but it was complete … it was complete process from the fact that they brought pig iron in, what they call pig iron, which was raw iron and we had a foundry and they’d make moulds and patterns and they’d mould the iron
into various shapes and that would go through the process of machining, they’d be drilling and boring machines and all this sort of thing. And the whole lot of parts would come down to what we called the fitting shop which means all the parts were machined and you’d get nuts and bolts and screws and other various things from the store and they’d come in a box …
and all the parts and you’d take all those things and fit them together and tie them together. Like building … you’d say – what’s your position in building say the engine of a car. Well it would be like getting at the … like the pistons, the crank shaft and the what’s-a-name, everything that was … and then fitting it all on, filing where necessary and making them all fit
and making the machine run.
Quite a complicated job by the sounds of it.
Oh yeah. But it’s hard to describe unless you’ve been to a factory and seen the operation.
Well the description you gave then has made it a lot clearer in my mind, yeah. Thank you for that. So now, the fact that you were in a reserved industry, did you wear anything to indicate
that you were in a reserved industry?
And I imagine being a young man at this time that there must have been, I don’t know, some kind of pressure from people who didn’t realise that you were in a reserved industry, to enlist. I’m wondering was there ever any incidences where … that you came across that would have …
No. There were no
blatant, violent incidences I can recall but people used to sort of look at you and wonder. Because, as you say, being a young man and everybody that you saw, practically, was either soldier, sailor or airman in the air training corp. And everybody in civvies … the merchant
seamen had a little badge which said MN, Merchant Navy. So unless people actually asked you what … why weren’t you in the army, you’d just wear the glances or the …
How did you feel when you got a glance like that?
Well you couldn’t do … you couldn’t really do anything because if you sort of spoke up and said, “What are you looking at?” or, “Why are you looking at me like that?” You know, it promotes a confrontation sort of. And I wasn’t into that sort of thing.
Of course, some young men received
white feathers in the mail, did you ever receive a …
No, luckily, no I didn’t.
And I’m just going back to the Rocking Reeds for a second before we sort of move onto other things. Did the Rocking Reeds ever play at dances attended by servicemen?
So it was more ABC
radio and …
Yes. Well when the, I think … I can’t quite remember the actual sequence but I know it came down to four, there were four that it came down to. I think a couple of them did join up I think.
They weren’t in any sort of industry or anything like that.
But when the Rocking Reeds were actually performing at the venues that you used to perform at, did any servicemen attend the entertainment that you were providing?
They possibly did, yeah, possibly did. But there were so few, that’s why it hasn’t
made any great impact on the memory. They possibly did, it was before there was any great … it was quite some time after the declaration of war which was September, ’39, it was quite a few weeks after that before you really saw any impact of service personnel walking around.
Okay. Now what are your memories of the Japanese submarine raid on Sydney?
Well, as the war progressed … I think everybody thought it would be over in a few months because they said they can’t get through the Maginot Line and it was the French and British armies,
what are they thinking about. But in the ’40s when it looked as though it was dragging on, it started to become a bit more serious. We had here, what they call a brown out, in other words every second street light was taken out and the … all the neon signs were switched off
because you could see … even at that time, I believe out at sea, you could see it for about thirty or forty miles, you could see the glow from the lights and all that of Sydney. So they reduced that glow, so there was a ‘brown out’. And then we were living at Petersham at the time of the raid and I remember all of
a sudden all the lights went out and there was sirens screaming along Parramatta Road, we lived close to Parramatta Road, there were sirens screaming along there. And everybody wondered what had happened because the … all the street lights went out, you know. So what’s happening. It wasn’t until next morning that we’d heard. There were a couple of tradesmen that lived very close to the harbour
and they said there were explosions with the depth charges being dropped. And they said there were dead fish floating all over the place in the harbour. So it didn’t make a great impact until then, when they said that there’d been a raid. But I know, with the submarines, the big submarines, they started firing.
I think they were aiming for the flying boat base at Rose Bay, there was a flying boat base where the Sunderlands [Flying Boat] used to take off, so they were after that. But they lobbed a couple of shells somewhere in Rose Bay and I remember after that you could buy a house for a song in Rose Bay, nobody wanted to live there, they were all trying to get out. So that was the effect that that had.
what kind of … how did the submarine attack affect the mood of Sydney?
Well there was a bit of disquiet because most of our army was overseas and the navy,
they were also overseas so we were virtually defenceless in Australia. So there was quite a bit of nervousness going on. Until the … I’d say, the Americans started arriving but I think it was the … who was the Prime Minister, John Curtin, wasn’t it.
He had, I believe … it’s only just come out in recent years, he had a confrontation with Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minster of Great Britain] and wanted the ninth division [Australian Imperial Force] back here. Because they were in North Africa. So Churchill didn’t want to sent them, he said no, but I think he was … it would be documented in the war records, I
think they were actually on ships and they were destined for Singapore. But I think Curtin … I don’t know whether he just sent a message and diverted them back here. Luckily he did because they would have been impounded probably with … what was it, the sixth div[division], the ‘sixth’ was in Singapore. So he won that
battle and they got back here and they were part of the force that eventually pushed back with the Americans. And I remember, you know, the Americans came … all of a sudden there’s these planes buzzing around, so we thought ‘at least there’s some sort of a force here’.
But the other thing which contributed to the disquiet was the fact that MacArthur [General Douglas MacArthur] was left at Corregidor and we thought what’s happening, you know, they’re coming down, we thought they were going to be stopped. At Singapore, when Singapore fell [February, 1942] and then Corregidor [May, 1942] we thought, you know, “How far can they come?”
Well what was your personal reaction to the fall of Singapore?
Well, I sort of … I couldn’t believe it, it was disbelief because I thought Singapore was a big naval base, it was a British strong hold. And then when the kamikazes sank the two, they sank the two battleships,
that was a … something new. Because, you know, previously they thought, “Well battleships, you can’t sink those.” Only another battle ship in a naval fight could sink those. We thought, “Aircraft couldn’t do it,” but we were proven wrong.
So at this point how much did you know about the Japanese kamikaze pilots?
We didn’t know … not a great deal, we heard the word and we wondered what it was. And then when they said they carried a bomb and they just drove themselves into the target, we thought, you know, how can somebody go to their certain death. Because we didn’t know the Japanese ethos, you know, the ‘warrior caste’,
it was honourable to die for your country like that.
And at this point what did you think of the Japanese?
Well I hadn’t thought much. They were cartoonists figures of fun at times, you know, with the thick glasses and the cartoon faces. And
a lot of the toys are made in Japan and they were flimsy and they weren’t of good quality. So the old phrase, ‘made in Japan’ came up, which meant that anything which was flimsy or wasn’t reliable. But there again, we were proven wrong because the Zeros, which were their planes, we thought how can they stand up against at Spitfire,
which, you know, that was the plane which gave so much problem to the Luftwaffe, the German air force. But because we thought of the Zero, it’s made of … it’s wood and looks like it’s tied together with string. But it was so light and manoeuvrable, it ran rings around the heavier planes which couldn’t manoeuvre so quickly.
And what was your reaction to the news of the bombing of Darwin?
Well, we weren’t told that much in those days. And from the information we were given we thought it was just a couple of planes that dropped a couple of bombs and there were nineteen people killed and a couple of buildings damaged. That was the information we got. Of course
the real story was quite different. It was a bigger raid, more planes, actually, than raided Pearl Harbour, we’ve found out since. But, well communication … it would be hard for you to understand but communication in those days would look very primitive to you now. If you went straight back there and had the same communication, you’d think what’s this. Because
there were newspapers which were sometimes two days old, the information. Or it was held back for good reason, as it turns out, the information that was let out was nineteen killed and a couple of buildings damaged. And there were half a dozen planes that raided Darwin. Just as a gesture, we thought, that the Japanese were just making a gesture, that they could drop bombs on Australian soil.
So that was the … as far as I remember, that was the impression then. Because the radio was … well the censorship had come down, there was a blanket, you know. And the newspapers couldn’t print everything, they were subject to government and military censorship and that same with the radio.
also, that the grape vine and word of mouth must played a part in, you know, spreading rumours and stories about what was going on at this time.
Oh yeah, yes. We got rumours but them we were told, they said – don’t believe rumours, that’s the ‘fifth column’, which was a new phrase which was coined during the war, ‘the fifth column’. Which was enemy sympathisers placed
within the population who were designed to disrupt and do all that sort of thing. But I remember we couldn’t … once, after December ’41, travel was very difficult interstate. You weren’t allowed on trains, you couldn’t without a special authorisation, you couldn’t get on trains, only
troops. Because they were for troops and transporting materials. So the normal thing, you couldn’t just get on a train and go to Melbourne or to the country, that wasn’t possible.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 04
Just reverting again to the Rocking Reeds, I believe you had some connection with Palmolive Show?
Yes, that was a radio show.
Now for those that don’t know, could you describe for us was the Palmolive Show was?
Well I was obviously sponsored by Palmolive Soaps and it was a music and a
compare usually done in what they call a radio theatre. It was a small hall and say about fifty or so people and a little stage, like a mini theatre.
So there’d be a live audience, would there?
Oh yes, a live audience. And you’d have a comedian and a radio announcer, a compare and sometimes they’d have a quiz and
an act, a musical act and they’d be interspersed.
So can you remember when you first appeared on the Palmolive Show?
First time was, I think it was … it was either late … it was either 1939 or early 1940.
so how often would you appear on the show?
Oh, it was a weekly show.
Oh, so you were a regular fixture on the show?
Who were the other people you were appearing with, I mean, as other acts on the show? Would there have been Roy Reed for instance?
I’m just trying to equate this. I think, yes, I think it was the Rocking Reeds, I’m not quite sure about that.
Because when was the Rocking Reeds formed as a group?
or early ’39. Yeah, it wasn’t Roy Reed then and I don’t think it was the Rocking Reeds actually, I may have run you off the track a bit there, may have misguided you.
So there was an interim period where you were working with Horry Davey where there was another group that wasn’t called the Rocking Reeds, is that correct?
Yeah, well the Rocking Reeds was the mouth organ group
and then the war intervened and several of them were inducted into the army. And then afterwards, when the war finished, they didn’t come together again … but, if I can give you a time frame here. When the war finished people were being demobbed, demobilised and
Horry came to me and he said – they’re forming, Jim Davidson’s forming a group to go to Japan from the entertainers and the entertainer’s group which had been entertaining the troops during the war. He said, “Would you be interested in being in the band and playing bass?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, if I can get off.” So I went to see them and they said, “Yes, the industry’s no longer reserved because the war’s finished,” more or less.
So he said, “You’ll have to join the army for this.”
Well I think … let’s pick this up later because you’ve given us a good little statement there which anyone wanting to use, can use as a sort of lead into it. But I’d just … so I seemed to have missed a step here, so you’ve learnt the mouth organ from Horry Davey then the Rocking Reeds was formed …
Yes and concurrently I was doing bass
at the same time, I started … because we decided to pick up other instruments.
A bass being the large …
The large string bass that you often see used in jazz groups and …
Yeah, string bass. And as a consequence of that I went onto bass mouth organ in the group.
Could you tell us, and I’m not sure we’ve covered this before, correct me if I’m wrong, but could you tell us who the other members of the group were?
Yeah, well the was Horry Dargen, of course, the leader,
there was Ron Metcalf, Ted Nepard, Alec Loyce and Roy Shay.
And were you all playing the same instrument?
Oh, and George Williamson, yeah.
I mean, I gather from …
No, there were three played ordinary mouth organs and one was on the venetta
which I’ve described, which is a chord instrument which plays harmonies, like you play a chord on the piano, three or four notes together. And I was playing bass.
And so you didn’t play mouth organ with the Rocking Reeds, you remained on bass?
Mainly bass, yeah.
So just to establish where the Rocking Reeds came in to your radio appearance, it appears it
may not have been the Rocking Reeds that you appeared under the auspices of when you appeared on the Palmolive Show.
No. No, they didn’t … because those shows weren’t going at that time.
Palmolive Show, in other words, would have happened later?
Yes, it happened after the war. Yeah, that’s the time frame. Yeah, I should have … if I’d know this, before I came I’d have drawn a
graph out to where … you know, which would make it clearer. So the Rocking Reeds are pre war and in the early part of the war and when it became serious that … they were disbanded because, I think, all of them, all of them except myself were inducted into the army being of army … and they weren’t in reserved industries.
So for how long did the Rocking Reeds exist
as a group?
Late ’38, ’39, ’40, say two years, two and a bit years.
And what sort of venues did the group play in?
Well mainly … the main one was the ABC radio. And as I said, a couple of those variety shows where they took a picture theatre
and used the stage and the audience and had acts and a variety act. So we’d be one of them on that. And I think, as I said, we played the Albert Palais which was a dance hall. And I think we did a show, a club called the Savage Club which was a very exclusive
club in Sydney. It was in George Street opposite … just a little bit down from Martin Place in George Street, the Savage Club.
What was the Savage Club?
It was an exclusive … I think it was a men’s club, exclusive club. Well, same as the Pickwick Club. It
was … I’m not quite sure but I know that it was fairly exclusive. I don’t know whether they were an organisation like the Lions Club who …
The context in which I’ve heard of the Savage Club were men getting together to debate
and present papers and …
Yeah, that was probably it.
And there seemed to be, as you say, a bit of an exclusive edge to it as well.
Yes, there was.
I think the age of the old fashioned men’s club, ala the London Club is probably diminishing, has diminished a lot.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And to what extent was music important, do you think, for helping people escaping the
woes of the war?
Yes, it was a relief factor, the same as radio or any shows, the pictures as well. All that sort of thing. But a lot of the entertainers were inducted into the army and I think …
I’m not quite sure of the history of that, probably somebody else would know more of the history of it. But I know … I think it was Jim Davidson who was leader of the ABC dance band before the war. He … I think he conceived the idea and they were based at Pagewood, they had an area there where they were based. I think Pagewood was a film studio or film
area or something like that. But it was taken over by the army and used as the army entertainment’s base. He organised the groups to go out and entertain quite close to the front line, the forward areas. And the group that I went with to Japan was a large group, it was larger than the normal group. Normally they had
somebody … say they had a singer and maybe a comedian and another act and somebody … maybe an accordionist because that was portable. An accordion and maybe bass or accordion and trumpet or accordion and clarinet. A least five or six people, they would be just the group that could go out and do a
show for the troops fairly close to the front line.
Did you ever visit that complex at Pagewood?
You did. I saw it in much later years when it was a studio in ruins basically, what was the set up out there in terms of physical layout when you saw it?
I didn’t see it a lot because this was after the war and they were
demobilising all the entertainers. But I remember being paraded before Lieutenant Colonel Davidson, who was Jim Davidson. And he said, “All right, we’ll accept him for the Japanese force, good, send him away.” And then the edict came down that I had to go
through basic training. And he said, “Oh, maybe we could bypass that.” But he couldn’t, it was an edict. So I had to do what they call the basic training. I don’t know whether you know what that is, basic training?
Yes. I’d like to get back to that a little later if we could because we’ve got a few other things that I just sort of want to cover before we get to that.
Oh yes, this group,
before the Japanese thing, the group … the Palmolive Shows and all that?
Yeah. I’d like to cover that as well. But I mean, you must have some fairly vivid memories of life in war time Sydney.
Yes. It was fairly sparse, there was rationing. You know, people don’t realise that we were rationed with petrol
of course, it was very hard to get. Sugar and butter and quite a lot of those necessities were rationed. Fruit and various things, hard to come by. And with the petrol rationing there was a funny offshoot of that, I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard of gas producers on cars with the charcoal.
Could you describe it for us?
As far as I remember it was like a big forty four gallon drum on the back and some tubes and things which went round to the engine. And I think you fired up the charcoal and that produced a gas which went round and fed the engine and the car ran on that. Not as efficiently as on petrol of course but … But that was …
you weren’t restricted in the mileage that you could do with that. But with the petrol you had coupons, petrol coupons and I think private motorists were allowed … I can’t remember the actually amount but they were allowed a certain amount of coupons. And there again, there was a black market in petrol coupons as well.
Was there, I mean, how did that operate?
Well I don’t know whether somebody printed a few more
or somebody had access to coupons. But I know with a bit of ‘that’, you could get a few more coupons. And as I say, it was sparse and the brown out that I talked about before, the city was dark and the signs … with no neon signs or any outside signs going it was sort of
quite a dark city.
Sounds to have been transformed within a year or so into a fairly drab city as well.
Yes, yeah, oh yeah. But all the effort was going into the war effort as they say.
For yourself and for the people that you know, how long could you see the war lasting?
Well at the start we thought it’ll be over. You know, a lot of fellows thought, “Oh,
it’ll be over before I can get into it.” And I know a few that didn’t want to go, they joined the Empire Air Scheme which was to train for the air force and they thought, well if I get into that it’s about … I think it was six or nine months training and they thought by that time, you know, the war will be over. So … and they were sent over to Canada, a lot of them, they went to Canada. But of course
events have proved us wrong. But we always thought, oh, you know, it’ll be over shortly, they’ll put a second front out … everybody’s talking … they’ll just go over and push the Nazis back. But as I explained before, the media and the information that you were given, media was quite
archaic as far as today’s media and information is concerned. So mainly we relied on newspapers and radio news, the radio broadcasted news which were censored, of course. And as it kept dragging on then
we got Winston’s famous speech of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ … oh, we’re in for a long … how long is it going to last. And then we were sort of resigned to it, grinding on.
I presume as it got up to 1943, ’44, those early expectations that it would all be over by Christmas were thrown well and truly to the winds?
Yes, yes. And once the second front, everybody thought, “Oh,
it’s all over now.” But it wasn’t, it still went on. And then when Germany surrendered the Japanese didn’t, they were still going on. And it was the great things about the atom bomb, you know.
Well before we get to that, how much of a genuine fear was there in yourself and among the people that you knew that Japan would actually invade Australia?
We thought it was
a real possibility. Particularly, as I’ve said before, we had no forces here, they were all overseas. And when they made such sudden inroads down the peninsular and Corregidor and Singapore, there was quite a lot of unrest and disquiet, we thought, you know … And then the famous Mr. Menzies Brisbane Line, when he said, “We’ll
retreat back to as far as Brisbane and we’ll defend from Brisbane up.” We thought, “Oh, once they get a foothold, you know, who can tell how long it’ll be? Or maybe we will be overrun.”
Talking about being overrun, did you consider we were unduly overrun by Americans during world war two?
No, I think
we were … well we were rather glad they were here because we thought, well we don’t think we’re in any great danger now of being invaded, there were so many of them. The only thing which caused a bit of concern among some of us, they seemed to be … they were taking all the girls and you couldn’t get
a taxi for love nor money. If you had an American uniform on, you could get a cab like that but any other person, if you wanted a cab, if you could afford a cab at that time, there was no way. Well they had plenty of money and their uniforms were well dressed, they stacked up very well against our uniforms. But a lot of people, I think, made a profit out of them, they
really exploited them, you know.
In what kinds of areas?
Well, the underworld, say a bottle of scotch, the normal price would be four time what it was and they were prepared to pay because they had money, you know. And they didn’t understand our pounds, shillings and pence, they were dollars and cents.
So after they’d arrived in 1942 how visible were the Americans on the streets of Sydney?
visible, there were a lot, you know.
And do you remember any conflict or antipathy between, say, Australian soldiers and American soldiers?
Not in Sydney because they sort of outnumbered our home blokes, you know. And there didn’t seem to be any … not from memory. We didn’t hear about
the big confrontation up around … where was it … Rockhampton or up North Queensland somewhere. There was a famous one.
There was the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’. Battle of Brisbane were Australian troops were fought by American troops on the streets of Brisbane. It was a flash point situation, I think, fuelled by grog.
Yeah, yeah. I think it was blown up a bit out of all, it was
but I know there was a confrontation there.
Now you mentioned Americans and Australian women, did you have a girlfriend at this stage?
No. No. Most of them seemed to be taken up with the Americans, the available girls. And a lot of them, of course, were in the forces, you know, a lot went to the land army. The
farmers that had left, a lot went to the [Australian] Women’s Land Army. Which, you know, the contribution they made is only just coming out in recent years.
So … but obviously before the war when you’d been involved in tennis matches and general socialisation, I mean, I imagine there were women around and about.
Oh yeah, yeah. Well I was young … with the tennis, that was when I was quite a bit
younger, I was only up to about twelve or thirteen. And then after that we moved away from Earlwood and … I think I was just about fifteen when we moved away.
And in the factory that you worked in, were there women working there as well?
No. Oh, sorry, not in the actual fabrication
itself or in the foundry but there were in the office. They had offices and we had a drawing office which drew all the plans up. It was a complete operation.
How many employees did the foundry have?
The foundry? I don’t know how many but quite a few in the actual factory itself. The foundry, there wouldn’t
be hundreds, there’d be a couple of dozen possibly, in the foundry. But that was … the foundry was a couple of blast furnaces, you know, where they melted the pig iron down and poured it into the moulds to … and then the actual works itself, oh, I don’t know, a couple of hundred, two to three hundred
personnel, I suppose.
So, we were talking about the availability of women, I get the impression that quite a few women, literally, disappeared into the services or into other occupations.
So … you know, with the intensifying of the war, are you giving them impression that a lot of women simply disappears off, you know, out of your radar?
Yes, there didn’t seem to be a lot around. I suppose, there were a few around but at that time I was friendly with one of the Rocking Reeds who, before he went … he was sent to West Oz, Western Australia, he was in the army, he was one of the Rocking Reeds and a couple more, one went into the air force and
another one went into the army. And, Alec Boyce, I think, that I mentioned … no, I think he was working on the buses so he was regarded as essential I suppose, so he didn’t go. Only two of us, I think, didn’t go in to the army.
Now moving forward to when you
got involved in the Colgate Palmolive Shows, how did that come about because there’s a bit of a gap between, you know, the winding up of the Rocking Reeds and then this activity, how did that activity actually come about?
Well, I’ll have to move … as I say, I started on this entertainment unit and Horry said, “Would you like to come to Japan?” you know. And I said, “Yes.” In the band, right. The entertainment unit went to Japan so I was involved with them
again in the entertainment unit. We came back, the unit was disbanded but he kept some of the unit together, the band, the musicians and tried to form a big band for engagements, you know, to get some interest
in big bands. But that didn’t happen, he actually lost all of his deferred pay on that, it didn’t take on. So he left and went to Melbourne and I continued on with the bass playing in around the clubs. And then he came back again in a Tivoli Show, I saw his name in a Tivoli show or I think he contacted me somehow to say he was coming to Sydney.
So I re-established contact with him and in the Tivoli show they were a vocal group, they had a vocal group of five, there was a girl in the vocal group, five. And they were in the Tivoli show and they said – one of the group is leaving, would you be interested in joining us, you know, because they surreptitiously tried me out one night. They said,
“Just try this.” And they gave me a little line to sing and the five of us sang this thing. And I sort of saw them nod and he said, “Would you like to, you know, join the group because one of them’s leaving?” And I say, “Oh, yeah, that wouldn’t be bad.” And he said, “Well, after the Tivoli, after our contract with the Tivoli finishes, you can come down and join us.” So they went back to Melbourne and
all of a sudden I got a call from one of them and he said, “Would you like to come down? The other fellow’s left and we’re in a Tivoli show now and we want …” you know. So I went, drove down to Melbourne, that’s when I started in the four and then we went to New Zealand and during that time we perfected a lot of numbers. We’d got a repertoire of old numbers, vocal numbers and instruments as well.
Because Horry played clarinet and one of the boys played drums and the other one played … he played … he was a multi instrument, he could play tenor sax or trumpet or trombone and mouth organ as well. So that came on during New Zealand. We came back and we did some … did a bit more for the Tivoli and we ended the
Tivoli in 1950 end of 1951. And we added a pianist, we thought we’d add a pianist, we’ll try a pianist out. So we added a pianist, it became five. And then we started on what was known then as jazz concerts and we were … well they were supposedly pure jazz but we were an entertainment group
so we just played music but with vocal and with a bit of novelty thrown in. And that’s when we were approached and engaged for the Palmolive Show. There was another show called the Quizzo Show and there was another show called the Atlantic Show, Atlantic Petrol. And that’s the one we worked with Roy Reed,
worked with Roy Reed on that. The Palmolive Show, I’ve forgotten who was doing that. And the Quizzo Show, I can’t remember the format, I only know it was known as the Quizzo Show. And they were usually about half hour … radio shows and they had a band … with the Palmolive and the Atlantic show, they had
a band with them. The Quizzo Show we did on our own, I think it was something along the lines of a quiz, you know, interspersed with numbers for us and various novelty things.
So you would have regular spots on all of these shows?
Yes, yeah, weekly spots on those.
Now what was the name of your vocal group?
It was the Horry Dargen Quintet.
Actually we did some straight radio shows for the ABC, they were … I think they were half hour shows, quarter hour or half hour shows. And we’d be engaged to do say a series of six and they coined they name of the Harley Quintet.
Before there were five of you in the group what were you known as?
was the Horry Dargen Quintet.
But you said initially there were four of you.
There were four but we added a pianist after the Tivoli, we added a pianist and that’s when we started doing the jazz concerts and the pianist was with us for the Palmolive and the Atlantic and the ABC shows as well.
So when there were four of you were you known as the Horry Dargen Quartet?
And I seem to have a memory that you made recordings as well, didn’t you, the group made recordings?
Yes. The Rocking Reeds made recordings early. We did some recordings for Parlophone which was EMI out at Homebush. And we also did some at 2GB, 2UE, they had
a recording called Macquarie, Macquarie Recordings. We cut six sides for them I think of the old 78s.
How many copies were made of each recording?
I don’t know, I don’t know how many they made, we were never told. We just made the recordings for them.
were the recordings played on radio?
Yeah, yeah. We had to make sure when we made them that they were two … I think it was two minutes, fifty seconds. Because a lot of recordings in those days were three minutes … over three minutes, three minutes ten, or something. But they had to be two minutes fifty because of the commercials. If they were too long the radio … they wouldn’t played on radio, so they had to be two minutes forty five, two minutes fifty
seconds at top, two minutes fifty top.
How fascinating that that early on the sponsors were calling the tune. Were any of these records also sold commercially through shops?
I think so. I I’m quite sure on that. I know the Columbia ones were because Horry, he’d made a couple before with Jim Davidson, he’d recorded and he’d made a couple on mouth organ with Jim Davidson
for Columbia, so we recorded out there.
Now, what was … just moving back to sort of the end of the war period, did you lose any friends or relatives in the war?
No. Oh, friends, well people that I knew, yeah, yeah.
And what sort of impact did that have on you?
Well I suppose, you know, it was sort of accepted in those days because it wasn’t … they weren’t close, they were lost over there so it was … it didn’t have a great impact because it was like somebody … if you know somebody and they leave and go and live in England
or something like that, that was the sort of thing. We were, I suppose, saddened to hear it, we thought, oh, you know, never see him again or something like that. It was that affect. It wasn’t like seeing somebody and then all of a sudden they’re dead right in front on you or in close proximity. So that’s as far as I remember.
So the fact
that distance was involved cushion the blow a bit?
Yes, yeah, yeah. Well, one of them was the chap I started learning bass from, he was a very good bass player in Sydney. And he went into the air force and the same thing, in the Air Training Scheme because he thought it might be over by then, you know, then I can continue my musical career. But he was
gone. And another one was lost over Biscay, I think, he was in the air force as well. They’re the first two that come to mind.
Now, what was your response to the news that the war had ended?
Oh, it was great relief. And
in fact I went into the city with a couple of million other people. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen the film of the chap that was dancing, you know the chap that was dancing out, I was right in that group around there when he was doing that.
I think that was in Phillip Street, wasn’t it?
No, it was in … corner of Castlereagh and Market,
that corner, around DJs [David Jones department store], around that area. And the trams were running but nobody paid any fares, people were jumping on and off. There were no cars, they were barred from the city. Just people wandering around and jumping on and off trams and embracing and, you know, there was paper streamers and paper
coming from the buildings. General relief and great excitement.
I imagine you would be able to feel if not taste the relief.
Yes, yeah. Oh, it was, you know, it was … it was all over. It was like, I suppose, being tortured, you know, if suddenly it stops – oh, it’s all over, it’s finished.
What was your response to the news that atom
bombs had been dropped in Japan?
Well disbelief that one bomb could do such damage, you know. Couldn’t envisage a bomb wiping out … when I first saw it on the news reel, when they first released the picture of it … I think it was one they exploded in the Arizona
Desert, because obviously they couldn’t have a picture of the one that they dropped on Japan.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 05
So, at the end of the last tape before lunch we were talking about the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima, could you describe your reaction to hearing that news?
Well I think it was … the first time I saw it was, I think it was the test they did and showed it on a newsreel and it was
rather amazement I think. And there was a sort of a premonition, thinking, you know, what could this do to the world, a bomb of this magnitude. From memory, that’s what it was. I can still see it, the mushroom cloud or the bubble expanding and the mushroom
cloud coming up which was filmed in the States. And once the war was over we saw that. They didn’t show these, obviously, until the Japanese had surrendered.
What was your … how did you feel about the fact that this bomb that had caused such devastation in Japan had been dropped on
Well, I can’t remember thinking a great deal about the effect. It wasn’t until later years that they showed us the effect that it had. The first feeling was that it probably saved lots of lives by
ending the war so quickly. Because from all accounts and from later encounters with the Japanese men, they were prepared to fight to the death I think and it would have lost countless more lives trying to invade Japan and beat them that way. I think it would have
gone on for years, the war, after that.
What was your view of the Japanese before the dropping of the bomb?
Well we didn’t hear much, it was only subsequent to the peace and subsequent years when we learnt about Changi and the treatment there. Which …
well, I sort of thought, “What type of people are these that can do this? They don’t seem to value life at all.” I know they regarded anybody who surrendered … they just treated them with, well complete
contempt and would just rub them out. They thought they were worthless, you know, their ethos was ‘you fought to the death, you never surrendered’.
And what can you tell us about the world war two experiences of Horry, what Horry went through?
Well he …
when he was first inducted into the army he was in an armoured unit. And I don’t know, I can’t remember how long he was in that, it wasn’t for very long because it wasn’t long after that … he was inducted in after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour, after they’d entered the war. It wasn’t very long after that he was
seconded to the entertainment because Jim Davidson was combing the whole army for any entertainers, musicians, entertainers, anybody who could be of use to the entertainment unit. He did go to New Guinea with
groups, with small groups and was quite close to the front line. I think there was an accordion and himself and only a couple more, it was a small four or five man unit and they just entertained.
And while he was away did you keep in touch, was the communication, correspondence?
they wrote letters which were infrequently … they were lost quite a bit. As I say, the communication in those days was … well all the shipping was taken up with material and so there were infrequent letters coming from New Guinea.
So how did you come to
join the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces?
Well I was working, as I said, as a bass player around the night clubs of Sydney, dance halls and various parts. And Horry … I’ve forgotten whether he got in touch with me, I think I saw them advertised on the Tivoli and so
I … I think he rang me at home and said, you know, would you like to come and see us. So I went to see him and it was during this time that one of the quartet that they had was leaving. Or … it was five, four with a girl. One of the men was leaving and they said just come and see us. And
I think as I said to Graham [interviewer] before, they surreptitiously tried me out as a part singer in the group and then they said, “Right, would you like to join us when we finish the Tivoli, this session with the Tivoli?” It was the John Caliver Show, I think, they were in. And that finished in Melbourne quickly and they were engaged for another
Tivoli stint so they rang me and said, you know, “Could you come down.” So I said, “Yes. And I went down and started rehearsal with them and we went to New Zealand and polished up the act there, a vocal/instrumental. Horry played clarinet and Verns Usher played
a multi instrumentalist and Joe was a drummer and I played bass. And it was a vocal instrumental quartet with a bit of … well people classed us as comedy, it was sort of comedy, novelty thrown in.
So at this point were you a part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces or was that to come?
No, that was to come.
That was to come …
No, hang on,
no, this was after. This was after, yes, after we’d come back.
Okay. Perhaps if we could go back to when you were a part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan, how did you come to be a part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces?
as I say, at the end of the war when they were being demobbed, I think Jim Davidson called for volunteers to go to Japan. They were making up a big entertainment unit to go to Japan. They wanted a band and some performers, bigger than the usual small group. And
I think Horry … I think he knew Davidson well because he’d toured with him before the war. So most of the entertainers wanted to get out of there, the services and I don’t think there were many bass players in the services anyway so Horry, he just contacted me and said, “Would you like to go to Japan?” And I said, “Oh, yeah,” you know, entertainment group. So he said, “You’ll have to
join the army,” which I did and I was due to ship out with them, I think it was May of 1946. But word came through that I had to do basic training which was … I don’t know whether you’re aware of basic training? What they call basic training.
Perhaps if you could talk through what basic training is for people that might not know?
Well basic training
is training to be a soldier. You go and you’re formed into units and platoons and groups and all that sort of thing. And it was just the army and you’re given rifle drill, you’re given the … what they call the ‘bull ring’ which is charging with fixed bayonets, charging and bayoneting those bags
full of straw, learning how to twist the thing and how to fire a gun. If your bayonet gets stuck in somebody’s stomach, you’ve got a shell in the what’s a name and you fire it to release the … nice and gory. And doing the drills, the rifle drill, learning about grenade throwing and grenades and
Bren guns, learning about all that and going on route marches which were five miles, ten miles, fifteen and twenty five miles with full pack.
So knowing that you were going to be part of an entertainment unit, how seriously did you take your training?
Well you had to because you had to pass, you had to be qualified to pass and I couldn’t have gone unless I’d qualified. And
I believe the Australian entertainment force was the only group that were fully trained to be soldiers. The reason being, they worked so close to the front line that if a raid came on they wouldn’t be a burden on the rest of the … of who was around, the rest of the fighting force that was around. They could take care of themselves, so that was
Did you carry weapons when you were out entertaining, when you were part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces?
No, no, it wasn’t necessary. We had our rifles with us as equipment but no, we didn’t carry them around because the peace had sort of been … it was peace, only I don’t know when it was signed. But there were
other forces around, you know, the regular troops. We were classed as regular troops but we entertained the various garrisons around the place.
And how long did your training last for?
It was three months, three months training. And I left in August, I think it was …
no, end of July I think it was I left for Japan, arrived there in August.
And what was your understanding of what the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces was the purpose of, of the Force?
Well it was … I suppose it was to … just to disarm Japan, to make …
I remember in Kure, they were dismantling all the … they had big works there, engineering works and docks, they would be dismantled. And I think it was MacArthur who said, “We’ll have to bring democracy to this country,” because they were a feudal nation. And the women were beasts of burden
actually, they weren’t considered as equals of the male population, they used them as beasts of burden. And their function was to take care of the men and to be kind of servants really. So they weren’t too keen on the idea of democracy, the men I mean.
The women were fully in favour of it, once they learnt what it was like.
We might talk a bit more about that when we come to Japan. What do you recall of your farewell from Australia?
Well it wasn’t a big force, I went up on a small ship and there were four
army personnel, I think, on board. We had a prisoner on board as well, a Korean, he was being repatriated. But it was just a small cargo vessel, three and a half thousand tons which wasn’t large.
And what was the name of the ship?
The Merkur, M.E.R.K.U.R, the Merkur. And we actually, after we left Rabaul
en route, we broke down, one of the engines … they were two big diesel engines, one of them broke down so we were doing a nice four knots while they were repairing the other engine. And the first officer came down and gleefully told us that there was a typhoon
in the vicinity, it was just north or us, wind force 120 knots at the centre. And we were just … well semi broken down, just limping along with one engine. And he said – I hope it goes away.
So what happened?
It went, it went somewhere else.
Yes. Well a typhoon is, you know, is fairly fierce, it’s a fierce wind.
How excited were you to be travelling overseas?
Very much so. I’d always had an urge to travel. But during war, of course, you couldn’t, there was no way you could travel overseas. But after the war that was the first one, the first thing was going to Japan, that was
quite a nice experience, I was quite excited about that, looking forward to it. And I think we were a couple of weeks on the Merkur travelling up.
And what did you pack for the ship, for this journey?
Well army gear, it was army uniform, army uniforms. Just the army uniforms and the bass, you know, in a
case. The army supplied me with a case for it, a strong wooden case which cased around it and was locked down.
Did it have wheels?
No. No, it was manhandled all over the place. But when we were travelling between engagements
there was plenty of personnel to take it around, to lift it.
What were the conditions like on board the ship?
There were small cabins, we had two or three of us in a cabin, I think. And we just sort of did
a bit of exercise around the ship, played cards quite a bit and just looked at the scenery around. Whenever we came to islands or anything, which was infrequent because it was mainly ocean that we saw. Yeah, it was quite pleasant.
We saw the prisoner at times just being exercised on the back, just passed him and sort of nodded.
Was there ever any other interaction with the Korean POW?
No. Well he didn’t speak English so …
Did you know anything about his story, like how he’d come to be in Australia?
No, no. We were just told he was being repatriated I think.
I think we probably picked him up in Rabaul, we stopped off in Rabaul for a day.
So you mentioned Rabaul, what actual route did the ship take to get up to Japan?
Well it went out into the Coral Sea … I don’t think … we didn’t go inside the reef, we went through the Coral Sea. I remember that
because of the blue and the flying fish and we went up the Coral Sea and stopped off at Rabaul, just Rabaul and then it was straight onto Kure in Japan.
And when you did arrive in Kure, what was your first impression of the place?
Well I said, “It’s certainly foreign.” Because it was entirely different from our Australian landscapes because Japan
is quite mountainous and this was mountainous. Going through the inland sea you could see the mountains on either side. And then just docking and it was quite a foreign … we knew we were overseas because it was quite a foreign feel and a foreign look. And there was quite a bit of devastation around from the
bombing and all that sort of thing.
Could you give us a …
be a camera for us and describe your first impressions of the place, when you walked off the ship?
Well as I say, it was foreign and sort of a sense of anticipation that this is going to be a new experience and an interesting experience. And of course, the Japanese walking around having been used to seeing just
the Australian faces the, what do they say, the Caucasian, to see all these Oriental people. Obviously they far out numbered the army that was there. I was just collected and taken to our quarters which were, at that time, the first few weeks
that I was there, we were in the Theatre Royal, that’s where the unit was billeted.
And what was the Japanese initial reaction to you, how did they treat you?
Well, where we ate, in the mess, they had Japanese girls serving, there were no men. The men were very
solemn actually, they weren’t … they didn’t smile at you or … And I think they wished that we weren’t there actually. I suppose you’d say, “If looks could kill we’d have been dead.”
And what … obviously Japan was a defeated people by this time, how would you describe the morale, the mood of the Japanese as a people? I mean, you mentioned ‘if looks could kill’ but perhaps go into further depth about, you know, what the conditions were like for them.
They … well there were great shortages of
food because being a mountainous country, they’re not a great agricultural country, their agriculture is built up on mountain sides which is very difficult. So they relied a lot on fish and rice, what flat country they had, was
rice fields. And there wasn’t a great variety of food. But the … they were just … well, how can I describe it. Walking around, the men I think were walking around with a sense of resignation, that this is what it was. The women, as I say, were a lot brighter, they
were quite happy to be working in the services. They were working as, what they call, house girls. In other words, you know, they were cleaning and doing laundry and things like that.
And could you describe the accommodation that you stayed in?
The accommodation was … well it was a theatre
and they were sort of where the dressing rooms were. And we had … there was one big long room, it think it was above the stage, there were quite a lot of us billeted there. And the sergeants had a couple of other rooms. The officer, he stayed in officer’s
quarters somewhere, the officer in command. But that’s as far as I remember that. I remember more the … when we moved to Brit Comm Base, we were billeted in Nissen huts. We had two Nissen huts, one was for the NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and the other was for the ORs [Other Ranks].
Could you describe those huts?
Yes. They were … well a Nissen hut, you know, is semi circular with a couple of windows in it. And there were a couple of oil fired pot belly stoves in for heating which we didn’t need until towards the end of the year, November, December when it got cold. And it did get very cold.
But if it was winter when you arrived …
No, August was still the end of summer, it was the end of summer. The winter didn’t really come on until end of September, early November, it gradually got colder and the snow came. And cold overnight, we had a
forty four gallon drum of water, I suppose, for fire outside the hut and there was some ice on top so somebody, to test it, they broke it and there was a plate of ice that was about three or four inches thick, that’s how cold it got.
Was that your first experience of snow?
Of snow, yes.
What did you think
of the snow?
Well it was all very well when it was cold and it was snowing but when it warmed up and it melted then it was a mess. It was slush. I think anybody that’s been in snow will tell you what it’s like once it melts. It’s sort of slush, slushy and muddy and not very pleasant until it dries out.
The novelty wears off fairly quickly.
No, when it’s snowing it’s not so bad. In fact it doesn’t feel as cold when it’s snowing because … I didn’t believe it but I’d heard the expression, “It’s too cold to snow.” And sometimes it was too cold and it wouldn’t snow. But when it warmed up then you’d get the snow coming down.
Strange isn’t it. What was the name of … I believe that your unit had a particular name.
‘The Kangaroos’, yeah.
And could you describe the kind of performances that the Kangaroos used to do?
Yes. Well it was really a two hour show, see. It was built … if anybody knows, it was built along the lines of say a Tivoli show, a variety or a revue. You’d have a …
say a dance act for three or four minutes to open and then there’d be … a comedian would come on and then there’d be what we call a bit or a sketch or a gag which would last for a few minutes. Then you might have a, say a tumbling act, acrobatics, physical act. We had two ‘shipway twins’, they were
horizontal bars. There were two horizontal bars set up on stage and they did tricks around those. Like you see the gymnasts during the games, all those sort of things. And then you’d get … you’d have a singer maybe, a singer doing a couple of numbers. And a musical act maybe
and then the second half usually would open … the band opened the second half with say three or four numbers, five numbers, something like that. Along the styles of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, all those, the big band. And it would continue on from there, a ballet, what we call ‘Femmes’, they were female impersonators, men dressed up as
women. And it would continue on. You’d have what we call a ‘Finale’ which is the whole company doing a set piece, like something from a show.
How many people made up the company?
The company, eventually it ended up about thirty six or thirty seven I think. We were added to a couple of times, it
started off at about twenty eight I think.
So it was quite a large company?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Well we had a fourteen piece band in the finish.
And who was your audience?
The audience were all the occupation forces. We’d go to … we had two railway coaches assigned to us so if where we were going could be reached by rail, we’d
pack all our gear onto a baggage coach and there was a passenger coach for use by the personnel. And we’d travel to the place and our trucks would … we’d drive there. We had two … a jeep for the officer and two,
what they call, four by fours, two four tonners. And they would drive with … for transport to and from the train and take all the equipment, the scenery and the equipment, to the establishment where the troops were billeted.
And they usually had a hall of some sort where we’d set up and do a show.
What if there wasn’t a hall?
If there wasn’t one, we had what they call a stage truck which … the side which comprised some flaps and there was what we call runners. There were two sets of runners where a curtain
could be opened and shut and a front cloth which could be opened and shut. And some scenery. This was all stored on one truck and the sides came down and formed part of the platform for the stage. And then on each side there’d be a dressing room, a male and female dressing room. Or if you had no females they’d just be dressing
rooms for the performers.
And did you ever perform for the local population, the local Japanese?
No. Not as such. They possibly, possibly some of them, if they understood any English or any of the Western culture, they would probably be allowed in at the back.
Now you mentioned
in the make up of the company that there were men who would dress up as women called Femmes, why were Femmes used when there were obviously women available to perform?
Well there were no women allowed, obviously, when the war was on, in the forward areas. So I suppose it was the thinking of the …
this was the way it went until they suddenly woke up. And we had, for the second tour, we had four Tivoli girls assigned to us and they were brought up to Japan. Four of the Tivoli ballet. And there was also an English lady and her partner who was an actor. She was a
singer, a musical comedy artist. So she was assigned to the company as well. So that made quite a difference.
So for the first round, the first round of performing that you did there were only the Femmes?
And what kind of role would the Femmes play in the performances?
Well they’d be the female part of a sketch or a bit, you know, that went on.
Would they normally fill a comedic role?
No, not as such. They were mainly ... were that, they were in lieu of
female performers, that was the idea. I don’t know why they didn’t think of the ballet girls at the start, to take them up immediately, I don’t know why that was. Maybe it was because they weren’t sure what sort of reception we’d be getting up there. I suppose that was part of it.
what was your role in the Kangaroos?
Kangaroos. I was part of the band, bass player in the band and also did a mouth organ act with Horry, Horry Dargen, a duo, duo mouth organ. And also we had one of the musicians and one of the ballet
girls could sing a bit so we formed a little vocal quartet, we did a couple of numbers as well. So that sort of broke it up a wee bit.
And what are the names of some of the tunes you used to play?
Well they’d be Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, the band would be. And
the end of the second show, the finale which ran for quite some time was scenes from the ‘White Horse Inn’, that’s quite an old show. But that was the … all the songs from that, the White Horse Inn.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 06
Just exploring the Femmes a little more, what sort of people were the Femmes? I mean, people say, “Oh yes, we had the Femmes there,” but nobody has actually fleshed them out so to speak, to say what sort of people they were, what their attitude was to playing Femmes and whether any of those attitudes stayed with them off stage.
Yes, well the buzz word is ‘gay’,
isn’t it. Most were homosexual, most.
And how were they treated by other members of the unit?
Just accepted, you know. Because very often they had quite an off beat sense of humour, you know, they could make comments, you know.
Yeah, you know, just off the cuff they could … they seemed to be able to colour a phrase or a retort out of something, you know. Don’t try to engage in smart aleck repertoire with them because they’ve got good come backs.
I’ll beat. They probably sent a few away with their ears sticking …
they’ve been used to it all their lives, they’ve been sort of … I suppose, quite a few of them at school, they’re used to taunts and the general population picking on them so they’ve learned to cope with that.
And I imagine some of this repertoire stood them in good stead on stage?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Was there much adlibbing on stage?
At times. You have set … we had rejoinders or set ‘come backs’ to somebody in the audience, you know. Usually you don’t try to engage with an old performer that knows their business, you don’t try to get over them or to ‘out
smart’ them because they’ve got all the come backs. You know, strange, we had a funny episode with one of the … Teddy Clavier, Doug Bailey, as I say, there was one of these bits that you do. And Bailey, he started to do his act and Teddy Clavier, Teddy Morgan would … he’d chime in with something, you know, “What do you think you’re doing?” And blow it, “I
suppose you’re one of your father’s gags … what are you, one of your mother’s,” you know.
So Ted Morgan was one of the Femmes?
But this was …
I can’t remember all the rejoinders but they were smart. But he’d only done a couple and there was a big MP [Military Police] in the audience. You know, they always had a couple of MPs around and he came round and started to, you know, say –
“Be quiet, be quiet.” And of course, he had to do this because Bailey would die on stage if the ‘come back’ wasn’t coming, you know. It was just an act, so you’d be cutting part of the act out. And Teddy was trying to tell him – I’m part of the, you know, blah, blah, blah. Look, he’s going to say this next and I’ll say this, trying to tell him.
Could you explain this to me again, I seem to have lost one or
two steps here. What was actually going on, was the MP a plant or a stooge?
He wasn’t. So could you just explain to me again what was happening?
Well he thought that Teddy … you see, they did it so well that he thought Teddy was interfering with the fellow on stage, heckling him, he thought he was a heckler.
And who was Teddy?
Teddy was the … he was the stooge in the audience. You’ve heard of the phrase, ‘a stooge in the audience’. When sometimes acts, you know, they get
what we call a ‘stooge’. When they ask for somebody from the audience to come up and be stabbed or something like that, they say, “What about you,” you know. And if anybody else gets up … the stooge usually gets up, beats them to it.
Now if there was smart repertoire coming from the audience, would it always be the stooge?
So what sort of other comments would be coming from the audience, from other members of the audience?
you could get, you know, people that are maybe a bit worse for wear or who thought they’d be smart and try to take a rise out of the performer or something like that. You know, just generally. It didn’t happen often, but this was a plant, this was part of an act, you know, part of the act that was going on.
So woe be tide anyone that tried to throw a barbed comment at a Femme.
Oh yeah. Well see Moe used to do things like that, he’d come on, Roy Reed. I saw him in a Tiv show before the war and he starts off a little slow, you know. And a poem, he says, “This is a poem, Little Flow.” And from the box somebody, “ How little?” You know.
Oh, about this. And he’d bark at him, so ‘Little Flow’. And he’d start and get another line out and it would be something and this fellow would make a comment. You know, it was that type of thing, what we call interruptions.
And the interruptions were from a plant or a stooge?
Yeah, as part of the routine.
So how many of the Femmes had actually had a show business background?
I don’t know, I don’t know much about their history. Oh, they’d probably been in amateur productions and things like that. But they were inclined in that direction, you know.
And so what was the attitude from the general community towards homosexuality at that time?
good, not very good at all.
Can you be more specific as to what that attitude was?
Well they … I suppose some people were frightened of them because they were different. Some used to use them as a butt … try to use them as a butt of humour, you know, or put them down. Some tried to bash them I suppose.
Different. But it wasn’t as lenient as it is now days, it’s sort of quite accepted, isn’t it. The old … or the new phrase – ‘coming out’, ‘coming out of the wardrobe’ or something or the cupboard.
Now I’ve heard it said that gay people at that time were more likely the be accepted within show business than within the general community.
Oh, yes. Show
business, they were just accepted, you know.
And did you hear what happened to any of these Femmes that were in the Kangaroos after the war?
No, no. Not … we had, what, about four or five I think.
Bill, the pianist, Bill Donaldson, he ended … I saw him in later years, he was manager of Chapel’s Music in Sydney. I don’t know whether he was married or not, Bill. Because there is the ones who are … you’ve heard this, bisexual, you’ve heard that.
That’s right. Michael Pate's spoken about a couple of Femmes who were actually absolutely straight.
I mean, I think there was a man called Frank Gann or Frank McGann or something like that who was a straight man.
So … but what … you mentioned Bill, who were the other Femmes within the company?
There was Freddy Bean, Eric Wright, Freddy Bean, Eric Wright … I’ve got a picture of them, Stan Nelson. Who was the other one? There was
Bill Donaldson, he was our pianist. There was one other, I can’t think of it at the moment.
Now obviously you had an officer in charge of the unit, who was that?
Yes. Lieutenant Dunn, Lieutenant Ernie Dunn.
And what was his background?
Well believe it or not, he was a tram driver in Melbourne before the war. But he
went into the army, I think he rose through the ranks actually.
Was he an entertainer himself?
No. Well he did little walk on bits, if there was an extra needed, what we call an extra, he’d be there. But he wasn’t one person, he wasn’t, you know, a regular entertainer.
And so what was his
role, can you be specific about what he actually did in connection with the company?
Well he was the head of the unit, you know, you had to have somebody … where the ‘buck stops’ as Reagan [Ronald Reagan, President of the United States] used to say, stops here. He’d be the one referred to if any misdemeanours occurred or anything like that, you know. A decision maker and contacting other units
and all that sort of thing.
So it was very much a kind of executive producer stroke ….
Exactly, executive, yeah.
Like a production manager or something like that. Now what did you wear as part of your routine on stage? I mean, you played bass in a thirteen piece band, what did the band actually wear?
I think I have a picture somewhere.
We had, I think they were light blue coats, I’m not quite sure about that. And trousers, civvy type dress with a shirt and tie and trousers and all that sort of thing.
Sounds quite smart.
Oh yeah, yeah.
Now I believe you played at a place called the ‘Golden Dragon’.
us about that place.
Well it was basically a club for black Americans. Because at that time, from memory, they weren’t integrated units, they were just separate units. And the Golden Dragon, we were assigned … I don’t know whether it was goodwill because of our visit to Tokyo or …
I think we agreed to do it so we could get to Tokyo, you know, because the Americans were in charge of the Tokyo area. So we agreed to play, I think it was one show at the … Ernie Pile which was the To-Ho and one show at the Golden Dragon, a show for the white Americans at the Ernie Pile and the black Americans at the Golden Dragon.
And they were quite appreciative of the first half because, you know, entertainment. But once we started … we had a good band, it was a very good band actually and once we started on the Benny Goodman, Arty Shaw type things, Glen Miller, they went crazy. They were dancing in the isles actually with
one another, ‘jitter bugging’, you know, and throwing one another over their heads and all that.
These are black males?
Yeah. And they wouldn’t let us off. We just did the band bracket and they tried to … I think the compare came on and said – that’s what’s a name. And they shouted him down, and they wouldn’t let the show go on. So we had to do two or three more numbers for them. But they
were jumping around like crazy.
That’s fantastic. How long did it take them to settle down?
Oh, they settled down a bit, they were still a bit restive but they settled down for the rest of the show. We sort of curtailed the second bit of the show much to the annoyance of some of the performers, you know, there was a little bit of acrimony went on there.
Why did you curtail it?
Well we went on a bit longer and we
thought, you know, … I think we cut a couple of things and we thought that won’t go, that won’t go, you know, the producer … I think it was Doug Bailey, a couple of the performers were sort of conferring with Ernie Dunn and they sort of had a knowledge because they’d been in shows and they said, “This won’t go, and that won’t go and that won’t go so we’ll chop that and go from that to that to that to that.”
had an instinct from the audience response as to what would actually work presumably.
Now you mentioned a producer, who actually was the creative head of the show?
Well Horry did a lot of it and Doug Bailey that I’ve mentioned and a couple of the others. There was an input from several and they had all their own acts and they’d make out a program and they’d think, no, no, I don’t think …
that wouldn’t go there, that would fit better here. And try to make it sort of cohesive and progress, you know.
And you mentioned Doug, was it …
Doug Bailey, I don’t think we’ve mentioned him before have we?
No. Tell us a bit more about Doug Bailey.
was the ventriloquist event and a magic act, did magic and he did … he was a bit of a comic, you know, he could tell a gag like a comedian does. And work in bits as well, his sketches. So yeah, he was quite useful, he was a performer, quite a good performer.
Now you did mention the segregation between black
and white Americans, do you have any more specific recollections of that segregation?
No. Just that they didn’t integrate. They didn’t do any … there were no fighting on the streets. If there were black and white Americans but they just didn’t integrate them into units. I don’t know when then happened, it happened sometime afterwards.
Because I think they are integrated now into, you know, just whatever their specialty is.
I imagine it had probably happened by the end of the civil rights era.
Oh yes, yes. I think even before then it was happening, it was a gradual process. But at that time they weren’t integrated
Now I just have to check something here. You mentioned during one of our breaks, you mentioned the Ernie Pile theatre, now I believe that it was a fairly special theatre, could you describe that place for us?
Well it was a large … it was a very, very big Japanese … they called it the To-Ho, that was their name. But Ernie Pyle was the name that the Americans gave for it
in remembrance of one of their war correspondents. I think he was killed, a fellow called Ernie Pyle. P.Y.L.E. So that was … they named that theatre but it was large, it had an eighty foot opening, the precarium was eighty feet. Plus a big walkway around to under the circle. And there were two hundred what we call lines, which are back drops, they could drop two hundred …
they could load two hundred different back drops onto the lines. So it was rather large. And they had five loading points which were run by the … the Americans ran the theatre but they had to have the Japanese run the lighting because they didn’t know where it was so they had to have the Japanese technicians that ran the lighting plots.
When you say lighting plots, what do you actually mean
Well lighting plot is, for a show which we did indoors, say a show like the Tivoli. You get an act which has it’s own particular brand of lights. In other words … it’s hard unless you’re versed in theatre. You’ve got
sort of the coloured lights and a general mix of these, whatever it is, produces a different effect on stage. Which, you know, sometimes … if you have one colour like a deep red, it produces an effect. Or a blue produces an effect on stage. But when you mix them up you get different effects.
Sounds like they’ve settled in.
Can you give me some idea of where the concert party travelled in Japan?
Yes. It was quite extensive, wherever the … I can’t remember all the names but wherever the units were stationed. There was an air force unit on the West Coast I think, at Iwakuni, that was a fighter base. And there was
Tokyo of course where we did a show for … two shows for the British and two shows for the Americans. And there was Fukuyama, Bepu and Cho-fu, which were … I think they were on Shikoku Island which … I think it was the southern most island.
And Nagasaki, Yokohama. Quite extensively from Tokyo down to the southern most island.
I image Nagasaki would have been a particularly memorable place to visit?
Could you tell us about that?
similar to … it was similar to Hiroshima. Quite a lot of devastation and didn’t seem to be as much as Hiroshima. But that was the second one that was dropped, that was when … that convinced them that there wasn’t any use continuing
with the fighting.
Could you describe for us the devastation you saw in Nagasaki?
Now hang on, Nagasaki, I may have … you may have to wipe that. I don’t know whether we did go to …
You’ve got a photograph …
I have a photograph of Nagasaki. I think we went to a club … I think where we went was sort of outside the city proper. It was Nagasaki area but it wasn’t in the actual city
area obviously, if there was a unit stationed there, it would be where they were stationed and they’d have to have some substantial buildings around. So that was the area we travelled, so I didn’t actually see the city area of Nagasaki just Hiroshima which was enough.
And what can you describe of Hiroshima as you saw it?
It was just nothing there.
Tell us about the devastation
you saw in Hiroshima?
Hiroshima? All you could say was there was nothing there. Just .. the population was wandering around, they were sort of numb I suppose. Well, there was nothing, there was no buildings or anything it was just flat, flattened. Just the one … that dome, the
iron dome where point zero was. But apart from that there was just roadways and some telegraph poles leaning at odd angles and just people wandering around.
It sounds like the people were still in a deep state of shock at this point.
Yes, I think so. Because it was … well, you know, I don’t know how long after all those blisters appeared,
I don’t know whether they’d come up by then but that radiation sickness sort of started afterwards. And we now know that radiation lasts a lot longer. Because they thought that once the bomb was dropped, they thought everything was clear, but it obviously wasn’t.
Have you ever had any concerns that you spent some time there?
No. It didn’t occur to me until recently. But
I thought, “Well if anything’s going to happen well it would have happened by now.”
I imagine so. So you didn’t see any severely injured people?
No, no. They’d all been hospitalised by then or taken away somewhere.
Now, I gather you met up with some further black Americans when the concert party left Tokyo by train.
Yes. Yes we
picked a few of them up on … I think it was the first stop after Tokyo, it was a little way down the track. And I don’t know how they … they just saw the … I suppose they saw the ballet girls there and they sort of came … while we were stopped they came into the carriage, from what I remember. And instead of asking, you know, “What’s all this about?” we just said, “We’re a concert party.” And
they said, “Oh well, can we travel a way down with you?” you know. “Have you got any instruments?” So we went into the baggage car and had a ‘jam session’ on the way down. And then came back into the passenger car and they’d had a few of our Australian beers by then and I don’t think they knew where they were when they got off at the … the next time the train stopped. So I think they’re still wandering
around Japan somewhere.
What an image, with kit bag swung. Now, did you have any interaction with the Japanese people?
Yes. Firstly with the … what were called the house girls that served meals in the mess and cleaned and did laundry and that. And then through an accident with one of … I think it was Doug Bailey actually,
fell into a … or fell over somewhere, probably a bit the worse for a couple of beers. And this family took him home and sort of looked after him until he sobered up. And then … I think he took Horry there first and then he stopped going and I used to go there with
Horry, to this family, the Kondo family. They had … there was a father and a mother and three daughters.
Can you describe this family for us?
Well, we used to go there, obviously after the work was finished in the camp in the day time. Once … five
o’clock, knock off time, used to be. And we’d go there and Horry would be … he was a WO two, warrant officer two, had access to the sergeant’s mess, of course and could buy, at a reasonable price, ‘Scotch’. So we’d take Scotch to the father and he’d be quite happy about it, he’d go off to his club. He was still in the
old school where the women were down there and he’d the master of the house, so he’d just go off to the club. And we’d just stay and talk to them. I think I mentioned in the telephone interview, there was no funny business went on. Because they were interested in film, they were interested in American film. Their favourite film was Casablanca, actually.
And we talked about various things. I think one of them played the piano and just general talk about things. They were a bit interested in Australia, where we came from. And they didn’t seem to know much about anywhere … well they knew Sydney, that’s all they knew. They didn’t know anything much about the other parts.
So what was it, do you think, that interested both parties
about each other? The Japanese family on the one hand and yourself and Horry on the other, what was the common ground there that caused that friendship?
Well I suppose an interest in music. They were probably interested in shows and … because they knew films and other musical films. So knowing that we’re
an entertainment unit, they were interested in that. Because there was a radio station there for the English speaking … for the soldiers, the British and Australian soldiers, ‘WVTV’ was the call sign of the radio, and they played a lot of music and gave the calls, birthday calls and all that sort of thing. So I know they listened to that because that sort of
taught them a bit more English too. They spoke quite a reasonable amount of English. With sign language and various things, we could communicate.
So I image that part of the appeal for them of you was the ability to practice their English.
Yes. Yeah. And also we’d have … they’d make an evening meal, you know, and … A couple of times it got too late and we stayed there in the
house, actually, they made a bed up for us, for Horry and I. It was cold and they used … they had big … it’s the first time I’d seen those eiderdown type things, you know, for warmth. Yeah, doona for warmth. But what they actually did too, they put a fire in the middle of the bed. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? But what it was, it was one of those very slow burning
briquette type things in an earthenware pot. And it just smouldered, it just burned and that was heat.
Sounds like a similar principle to the old fashioned bed pan. The bed pan would be filled with coals.
And I believe the daughters themselves were interesting characters, particularly with their dealings with their father. I’d heard it
said, and once again, this is from the research, that they girls were giving their father a bit of a hard time, is that so?
Yes. Well, not a hard time so much but they previously … like fathers’ word was law. Whereas now, they would question things a bit. Or they’d sort of answer back, which wasn’t down under the feudal system that they had.
What do you think
gave them the confidence to do that?
Well, I suppose they way that we treated them. They probably got a bit from … I think I’ve seen before, I think it was MacArthur who said – ‘ we have to bring democracy in, bring Japan into the twentieth century and stop this feudal business because they’ll just
‘rise’ again’. And so I think he was the prime mover at the start of it and it was carried on. Although I did hear it say ‘that we weren’t supposed to fraternise’ but it wasn’t policed. So it was probably covertly encouraged to break the barriers down.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised. So how old were these daughters?
One was twelve,
fourteen and sixteen, I think it was.
So they were just at an age where if parental authority was going to be challenged, they were going to challenge it.
How did the father react to this?
Well, he didn’t seem to mind so much when we kept him supplied with the Scotch and he’d, you know, travel off to his club. Because they still do a bit, the men in Tokyo. You’ve seen those programs
where they go off for a night and they stay in these hotels … they’re hotels with little slots in them, they just sleep in there like in beds. They go to their club and they spend a night on the town and instead of travelling home, they stay overnight.
I imagine a fair amount of saki is consumed as well.
Did you ever take to the local drink at all,
No, not much. It’s a rice wine but not very nice because we had enough beer. Of course, the Japs made beer as well but we had some imported Australian beer and the Jap beer so … If you had a bottle of Australian beer and you had plenty of Jap beer, you’d say to someone – have you got any Australian beer. And they say – oh yeah, got quite a bit. Oh well, I’ll give you two
Jap beers for one Flag Ale, you know.
So the Flag Ale was worth much more value?
Oh yeah, yeah.
What did the Jap beer taste like?
It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good as the beer we’d been used to, the Australian beer.
Was it a question of flavour or kick?
Flavour I think, more than anything, flavour. But there was one place we
went to, it was an air force base at Meho, I think it was, Meho. And they had a big sign up, evidently they probably had some spirit drinkers and they had some who didn’t drink so they had lots of beer. So they had a big signs up all over the place – ‘Drink More Beer, Beer’s Good for You. Drink More Beer’.
Now you said that the family’s favourite film was Casablanca. What did they say to you about Casablanca?
Well they liked the number, you know,
‘As Time Goes By’. And well, I think they just liked the actors, Bergman and Bogart. And I suppose the ending, you know, the sad ending appealed to them a bit.
Had they seen the film more than once?
I think so, yeah, yeah.
Did they recite any of the dialogue to you?
Yes. I can’t remember much of it. I know they used to like the’ As Time Goes
By’. They were always singing that.
Must have made for an interesting musical evening?
Now was there much conversation with this family about the war that had just been?
No, not a great amount. I think they were just glad that it was over and it was finished, you know, and that the occupation force wasn’t as bad
as they probably first thought.
And just staying on the subject of people who were able to speak English, how good was the English of the Japanese community generally?
It wasn’t a widely practiced language.
So those that knew English, how had they actually learnt it?
I don’t know. I suppose
by the time we got there the troops had been there a few months. And they probably had books on the subject or went to school, went to pains to learn the basics. And then the radio station broadcasting would give them a bit of an insight as well.
And I presume that quite a few of them saw English language American films?
Yeah. There’d be Japanese subtitles but they’d be … yeah, they saw a lot of American films.
Now just returning to this attitude shown towards the BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Forces] personnel by the Japanese men, why do you think there was this kind of lurking inherent hostility in the looks that you quite often got from men of military age?
Well I should imagine they thought that they … that their government should never have surrendered. And I suppose they thought with the surrender that the … our blokes had got it easy, if you like.
It’s the only phrase I can think about, you know, they didn’t have to fight to be the occupiers of the country. That’s the only reason I can think.
So from what you’re saying, the looks of a number of these Japanese men indicated within themselves, within their …
They were probably resent
But many of them, I’m sure, deep within their hearts hadn’t surrendered.
No. no they hadn’t.
But by now, of course, most of the have gone.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 07
Just following on from this business of the innate hostility that you could see in the eyes of a number of Japanese men, did this attitude restrict your ability to go out at night and move freely?
Yes, well we were advised not to go
out singularly or in twos. They said to go out in a group, three or four, five of you or something like that, just in case. I didn’t hear of any incidents but at the start we were advised that it would be best to go out in a group, you know.
You may have mentioned this before but when was it that you actually arrived
I arrived there, I think it was early August. I think it was the 2nd August or something like that, 2nd or 3rd of August.
In ’46 was it?
’46, yes. So that’s just over a year since the surrender and I imagine there were still quite a few emotions buried below the surface there.
Yes, yeah. A lot of them
would take some time to get over. In fact some of them probably would never get over it, you know. But they didn’t … it didn’t result in any action or anything like that, it was just pure resentment, a deep resentment, you know.
Now you’ve mentioned going out in twos and threes and so forth, if you would go out for a bit of R and R [Rest and Recreation], what sort of places
would you go to?
Well there weren’t many places. We usually stayed in our own … in the camp. Probably have a few beers or something like that and go to bed. Because we were moving quite a lot, you know, we weren’t just sort of static so there were quite times when we
were travelling and then you’d get to a place and you’d have a show to do or you might be in a place two or three days and have two or three shows depending on the size of the garrison or the establishment. So, no, I don’t remember going out much, we stayed in. When we were in Kure we stayed in quite a bit except for the times I mentioned, we went to the
Condo’s place. But the rest of the blokes would stay in.
And the Kondo’s, did you keep in touch with them after the war or after your return to Australia?
You didn’t? They were just purely and simply people that you had contact with then and there?
And then … Were you ever tempted to write to them, to find out how they went?
I’ve thought about them quite a bit here and there, just wondering what they’re doing, whether they’re still
alive. Because they were, you know, quite intelligent … they were intelligent girls.
The daughters were intelligent girls?
Do you remember their names?
Yes. There was Kyoko, Raoko and Uko.
And did they talk about what they
expected to do in life? I mean, did they want to be … did they want to go into any kind of profession or could they see themselves as marrying or what was the story there?
I can’t quite remember. I remember we did talk a couple of times. Raoko was … I think she worked somewhere, I think she was … she worked in a hospital or something like that, the middle one.
Kyoko, I don’t know, she was the elder, eldest of the three of them. I can’t recall having spoken at length about that.
And how many times would you have gone to visit this family?
Oh, quite a number of times. Whenever we were in Kure
back from a trip, we’d usually contact them. I think it was Raoko that used to contact because she’d know when we were back by the … by our huts in the camp, you know, she’d know if we were back or if we were away.
What, she’d see the lights on or …
Yeah, well she’d see people moving around, she’d know that we were back.
Particularly when we were in the Theatre Royal, Kure, and she’d know by the people moving around. I think we’d probably know when we’d be back, we’d give her an idea that we’d be back on a certain day, we’re going away and this date we’ll be back.
So how would she make contact?
She’d just come to the camp.
like a really nice friendship, actually.
Yes, oh yeah. It was quite … it was quite interesting. The recall isn’t the best for that, certain events just stick out, like knowing the films and …
But it must have been really nice to have got to know a little bit of Japanese society
and get an insight into Japanese society through that friendship.
Oh, yes, yes, yes. Oh yes, the … well, there was a change. As I say, the … previously they were very much subservient, the women, females were very subservient to the male population. But that was in the process of changing while we were there. And it changed right round, so I think it’s a … I
think there’s still a little bit of it left, just a slight touch of it left in places.
But in the case of you and Horry, I mean I’m sure you would have done just a little bit to bring them out of their shells and improve their confidence and sent them along the road to being self determining people.
Oh yes, yeah, yes.
That’s good. Now,
just getting back to, you know, Japanese at war, did you understand how it was that the Japanese had done so many extreme things during the war, by mixing and moving among the Japanese while you were there as part of the concert party, could you understand how it was that they’d gone to the extremities that they had?
Yeah, possibly. I think it was in their attitude.
The male dominated attitude, they were sort of a ‘warrior class’. And I think they looked down on us for surrendering at Singapore, I think they felt that if we were any sort of worthy people we’d have fought to the death
rather than surrender. That’s the only thing I can think. And their … the Bushido, or the religion, what do they call it? The Samurai, it’s a warrior class, isn’t it, fighting’s in their ethos, in their consciousness.
There are quite a lot, of course, of Australian servicemen
who’ve never forgiven or forgotten the Japanese and yet it seems to me you gained an insight into a bit of this while you were there.
Yeah. I don’t know … if I’d been in Changi, I don’t know how I’d have reacted. Probably the same way that most do. It’s very difficult to forgive somebody that treats you like that.
It takes somebody very strong to do that because, you know, I’m quite sure … I would have reacted the same way that most fellows do. You know, I’ve known a couple, a fellow called Frank Rich in Melbourne, he couldn’t even stand to hear any Japanese language
or the slightest hint of anything Japanese he’d be off, he’d be … didn’t want to know.
When you say ‘he’d be off’, what would happen?
Well he’d go out or he’d cut you short or, you know, he’d never buy anything Japanese or have anything to do with anything slightly Japanese.
What had happened to him during the war?
I think he
was in Changi, he was in Changi. In fact I think he was part of … he was a comedian, Frank, and I think he was part of a group that Ronald Searle was. You know, Ronald Searle, Slim DeGrey, do you know …
Slim DeGray, yes, he was later a stand up comedian.
And Ronald Searle, the cartoonist.
Ronald Searle, yeah, yeah.
I think they were in Changi and I think that’s where Slim gets some of his off beat material from. You know, his funny sense of the … well he’s got a sense of the ridiculous, I suppose, at times because coming through … he probably didn’t expect to come through it all. But coming through … he’s still going
actually, he’s still on the Gold Coast.
He’s still performing is he?
I think so. Well I don’t know whether he’s performing but he’s still alive on the Gold Coast, I know that, Slim. In fact I thought he probably would have been interviewed.
Yeah, look, perhaps so. I’ll find out actually, that would be interesting because I think he’s a logical one to be interviewed. Were there any of your BCOF …
well, were there any people in BCOF generally that you knew or that you met who had actually fought against the Japanese or had been prisoners of the Japanese during the war?
Not prisoners but … they hadn’t actually fought hand to hand but they’d been in raids, been in air raids and things like that, some of the concert party.
So did their attitude
towards the Japanese in any way change by the experience of being part of BCOF?
Yes I think so. Well, they weren’t subjected to any violence of anything so that, you know, that … I suppose if they’d been hand to hand or seen any of the things that happened it would have affected
them. But they … no, we were mainly interested in entertaining, show business and all that sort of thing. That took up the time.
Fair enough. Now, before you went to Japan, I mean, you must have had a bit of a medical pep talk, did the doctor talk to you about such things as sexually transmitted diseases?
was emphasised in that talk?
Well, oh, just precautions to take, you know, if you did feel the need. The usual precautions that were available at that time. There are much more now. But it’s still around, ‘the
Various curses, actually.
Yeah, various ones. They’re still around. No, it’s just the usual talk and say, you know, be careful and know … try to know what you’re getting into before you … I’m not sure, I don’t know whether they had any regulated …
I can’t remember any regulated … any of the regulated establishments there.
Did you or any of your mates go and visit those brothels, even for a bit of a sticky beak?
I didn’t. I know a couple of them that did. I know of few in the unit that did and also they were infected.
So they went to the brothels as customers?
And what happened to them?
Well I don’t know whether they got it from a brothel or whether they … it was casual with somebody else and they … a couple of them contracted syphilis, more than once I might add.
And that was a pretty severe thing to have at that time.
But that wasn’t as bad as the supposed lesser one, the lesser one is harder to cure … harder to control than the syphilis evidently.
What is the lesser one?
Gonorrhea. But that was harder. But the other one was treated with penicillin I think and sulphur drugs and it responded to that but the Gonorrhea didn’t evidently.
men were intending to visit a brothel, were they encouraged they the doctor or the military authorities generally to use condoms?
So that was part of the pep talk, was it, that if you went there you used a condom?
Yeah, yeah. Take precaution.
So it seemed that these men hadn’t actually done that.
Well they might have had a few beers or something
and not been quite aware of, you know. I don’t know what the situation was but I thought, you know, once you’d had the thing once, I thought that would have been enough.
Wasn’t … weren’t some people saying that Japan had a particular secret weapon when it came to sexually transmitted diseases?
Well that was booted around. They said …
whether it was done in a ‘gag’ or not, I don’t know. Whether it was said as a sort of a ‘jolly’.
So could you tell me what they actually said?
Well they said … possibly they thought it might have been the Japanese secret weapon. Seeing as they lost the war, they’re going to kill us off by this method.
And what was this?
transmitted diseases. But whether that’s true or not, I couldn’t say. But I’d heard it mooted about that that was what somebody thought.
I believe you were in Tokyo when it was hit by an earthquake?
What are your memories of that event?
Well we were sitting
in the foyer of the Ernie Pyle at To-Ho, that was at Christmas time, and there was this large tree in the foyer. And it was cold outside so the windows and doors were shut and I thought, “That’s funny, there must be a wind in here or something,” because the tree was waving back and forth. And then all of a sudden, when I put
my hands sort of on the chair that I was sitting in, I could feel the rocking motion. And the whole building was just rocking. So I thought, “What’s this?” And it wasn’t as bad in Tokyo but I think we left there the next day and we travelled south the Shikoku Island on the train, right through. That’s when the
American Negroes saga happened after that. We travelled south on the train to Shikoku and when we got there we were having after shocks. And I remember just lying in bed, on the stretcher and all of a sudden somebody said it’s on again. And I felt this stretcher move and I hung onto the sides
of the camp bed, the stretcher bed that I was on and it was bounced across the floor.
I mean, if it were me, it would probably change my way of looking at the world for a while.
How did you react to this?
Well you felt disoriented because you thought, you know, this is solid earth but when all of a sudden when it jumps up and the whole thing starts moving you think where … you seem to lose your sense of balance, you know.
Nothing sort of computes. But just bouncing around … a couple of blokes were diving out the window. Somebody yelled, “It’s on again.” And they were diving out the window. Luckily we were on the ground floor.
It must have had you worried for a while that I would happen again?
Yeah. Well we kept getting after shocks. I think we were doing a concert that night
and … in an old auditorium and doing a concert for the troops and all of a sudden there was an almighty ‘bang’. It was like somebody had hit the earth with a huge hammer. Just the one bang, like that. And everybody was like … and it just settled down again. But it’s a … we had a few small ones when we were going through New Zealand for the
Tivoli. They were sort of small, we just saw the lights started to sway and things rattle on the shelves. And also the … I was at Bondi when the Newcastle one happened and I didn’t know it was an earthquake until later, I thought there was a high wind because the television aerial on the place opposite us … talking to
a couple of the … garbage truck was there and I said, “It’s a high wind.” Because it’s roaring, but it was the sound of the earthquake, it was a roar and this television aerial was going.
I haven’t heard of that before in relation to …
Oh well I’ve certainly heard of Newcastle. But I haven’t heard of the after effects in Sydney.
Oh yeah. In our units, a couple of people came out suddenly and
they said some of the crockery smashed off the shelf.
What a secure feeling. Now, I believe some of the Japanese sold souvenirs to the BCOF people.
What did those souvenirs consist of?
Well they were sort of little doilies, you know, they’re very … not fragile but they were …
what’s the word? Fragile but … I can’t think of the word. The art, you know, it was like a gauze doily for putting, say a vase on. And it was … the art work was, you know, something.
Would the word be delicate?
Delicate, delicate, that’s the words I was trying to think of. Nice delicate articles and
oh, paintings on … the usual painting you see of the Japanese. And oh, vases, Satsuma ware vases which is valuable. And I suppose swords, officer’s swords.
They were on sale as well to the BCOF?
Did … let me see. I believe the Japanese, at one stage, processed some photos for you.
Yes. Oh yes, I used to take the photos to a Japanese shop, they’d process them.
And these were some of the photos we were seeing today in your album of Japan?
You had your own camera there?
What sort of camera were you using?
A thirty five millimetre.
And what, a little pocket Leica or something like that?
It was called a Wergan, or Fergan, it was German. Warwigan. It had quite a big … a good lens on in.
Now I believe you had more than one tour of Japan, was that the case? You referred to going back on a second occasion and the Femmes had been replaced by women.
Oh yes. Well they were still with
us, the Femmes, strangely enough, because they insisted on it.
They insisted on remaining part of the troop?
Oh yes. I have a picture of the White Horse Inn and you can see them there with the girls as well.
So at what stage … how … let me put it another way. How long after you started to tour did the women arrive?
Not very long. August, September, about October I think.
And then we started on the second round of the tour, the second tour.
So what did the second tour involve?
Well that was when we went to Tokyo and it was from Tokyo right down south to Shikoku.
So did you entirely retrace your steps with the second tour or were you going to different places?
Yeah, we went to most of the garrisons that were there. You know, army and air force, both.
So to what extent was the show modified for the second tour?
Just different. A change of program.
Different tunes for a start?
Yeah, oh yeah, different tunes and a different act and different gags.
So why did the Femmes want to remain aboard?
I don’t know why they still wanted to dress up. We thought it funny but we thought, well if they want to do it. I suppose it’s what they did and they wouldn’t feel comfortable in anything else.
I mean, I’m sure they were having a wow of a time.
Oh yes. Yeah,
yeah. One of them, actually, was in the orderly room, he was the staff sergeant that did most of the work that was done in the orderly room.
Oh, so he had an admin role as well as this very noticeable role on stage?
Yes, oh yeah.
how popular were the Femmes with the troops?
Oh yeah, they … well I suppose … I wasn’t in New Guinea during the war, during the … when they were … so I suppose it was going to be something to take their mind off or remind them. You know, I didn’t … I think they were accepted.
Did any of them form liaisons either with each other or with troops, do you know?
No, I don’t remember. They were circumspect if they did.
Now when was it that you left Japan?
We left in … I think it was sometime in February. Early February I think it was.
Early February …
1947. Had you communicated much with your family back home while you’d been in Japan?
Yes. I was … I sent things back and wrote letters back. And I think I actually … I don’t know whether I got through on the phone or sent a telegram to my father when the
earthquake was, said we were okay, you know. It was either a telephone call or a telegram. I think it was probably a telegram to say that we were okay, we weren’t injured or anything. Because it was the biggest one since 1923 or something. It was bigger than the Yokohama one which killed thousands of Japanese.
They were momentous actually, I’ve seen footage and they were just totally devastating.
And I mean, of course this was your first time on the road in a fairly extensive way, did you ever get sick of touring?
No, not … well I hadn’t been touring much at that time because that was the first time away, you know. I’d been travelling the Sydney area most of my life.
It must have been such an incredible contrast to what you’d been doing during the war?
Mmm. Oh yeah. It was interesting
and exciting and you know, quite, yeah, quite adventurous.
And I imagine there would have been quite a lot of fulfilment there as well.
What was the most fulfilling part of it do you think?
Well the entertaining … the entertaining troops, you know. Backing the acts and
playing in the band and seeing the reaction from the troops.
What was the best kind of reaction from the troops?
Well the whole show pretty well. I suppose certain things would appeal to some more than others and then the ones that didn’t appeal
to them, well we wouldn’t like that. So it evened out to a good average, you know, a good average. I think they appreciated most of the things. Some, they possibly didn’t like as well as some other. Like some would like, I’d say, would possibly like a comedian, some others wouldn’t be that keen on a sight act, what we call a sight act, a physical act, you know, acrobatics
or a tumbler or something like that.
So the show literally, was something for everyone?
Yeah. Yeah, it was a big variety, a good variety.
So what happened after you returned to Australia? You may have covered some of this before but when you returned to Australia what was the sequence of events for you?
Well the unit was disbanded obviously because I think they were sending
civilian units up there then, small civilian units. And well I didn’t want to remain in the army so I was demobbed.
Why didn’t you want to remain with the army?
Well the unit had been disbanded and Horry was getting out, so I thought … and he said he was going to
try and form a big band and do some big band concerts. And I thought that would be good, so it was the reason. I thought, well I can work in that and if that, you know … and do other work as well.
So from what you were saying before, it was a bit of a struggle for Horry to get a big band both together and accepted.
Yes, yes. It wasn’t so much a struggle
to get them together because there were plenty … like plenty of army personnel. They were practically all army personnel and it would be hard for them to get back into the jobs because the positions had been taken by other up and coming people, you know. So it was a hard profession to make a living in, in those days, music.
So this opportunity of being in a big band, we thought, oh, make a good go of this, you know, “It’ll be a success because people like big bands.” But they didn’t. It didn’t take off for some reason.
Have you ever analysed why it didn’t take off?
No, we couldn’t find any particular reason. Just that … well the scene had changed I suppose, it had changed to small groups, you know, they way
music changes around, the fashions change. But it just didn’t work so we had to disband.
So you then went to the … into the quartet followed by the quintet, was that the sequence of events at that time?
No. I went back into casual music.
And what did casual music involve for you?
Well I’d joined the musicians’ club by then
and you used to go there and often people would come in and say – I want a bass player or I want … do you know a bass player or do you know this or something like that. And I’d already … I’d worked for a trombone player who had a small group together and he did quite a lot of work about golf clubs and universities and all that. Like golf clubs and
we played Wimbledon, the White City several times. The university, the various faculties, the engineering and the architects and the doctors and all those sort of things.
So this was for a series of balls was it?
Yeah, they had their … I suppose their … they’d have a night sort of end of the year, a break up night or some other celebration
that they’d have and they’d get him, see. We had a … there was Harry on trombone and there was Iva … there were two others on saxophones and there was a drummer and a pianist and myself on bass. About a six piece group.
What was the group called?
Oh, he didn’t have … it was
Harry Berry, was his name and it was just Harry Berry Group. And we did quite a lot, did a few golf clubs for their sort of … they’d have a dance or some function and he had quite a good connection, you know, through the music business.
So it was essentially a dance band, it was like a miniaturised version of the big
Yes, yeah. We’d play for dancing and play anything they wanted, ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and all those sort of things. And do dances, if anybody came up with requests we’d do them if we knew the request.
Now much earlier in the interview you referred to playing at a certain establishment which was run by a gentleman with a particularly iron grip over certain other individuals,
and this was an inner city place. Can you talk a little bit more about this place and what it consisted of?
Oh this is the
This is a particular night club, yeah.
Yes, the ‘Roosevelt’. Yeah, the Roosevelt was … it was … well a lot of people said it was the best night club in the world. It was made specifically as a night club. I think it was
alongside the ‘Minerva’ which was a theatre at Kings Cross. And yes, he was what I suppose the papers would call a shady character. We were always treated well.
What sort of people came along to the Roosevelt?
Oh a cross section of Sydey
social life I suppose. People with a bit of money, there were doctors and … yeah, a cross section of people who inhabited night clubs, you know. There are some people that have never gone to a night club and some people sort of inhabit them. Like the ‘races’, you get a crowd that goes to the races and somebody else would say – no I wouldn’t
be seen dead at the races, it doesn’t interest me. But this was a night club because they put on a floor show, dancing and a floor show and alcohol of course. When it was reasonably difficult to get, the alcohol.
Why was it difficult to get at that time?
Well it was in short supply. This was … yeah, it was after the war, it was ’47, ’48 … ’48. I don’t know why
it was still in short supply for some reason or other.
And you said that various people regarded it as the best night club, I mean, did you agree with that opinion?
Yes, it was … the way it was formed, the way it was set out, you know, with a band under here and there was a balcony around the top and it sort of felt like a night club, you know.
We had a few good ones in Sydney at that time.
Interviewee: Henry Bertram Archive ID 0513 Tape 08
Okay. So Henry, how did you return to Australia from your time in Japan?
We returned on the Manoora which was a troop ship. It took thirteen days I think to come back.
And what route did the ship take?
It came straight back, straight from Japan straight … the Pacific down to Sydney.
And what was the … could you describe your home coming when you arrived back in Sydney?
Yeah, a sense of anticipation to be back. We’d, you know, we’d entertained, we’d seen everything that we thought was worthwhile in Japan so we were just anxious to get back and to see our relatives and friends. And there were quite a few on the dock to greet us.
But it wasn’t just sort of straight home with them because we had to go back to camp and for roll call and all that sort of thing. And they had a tribe of double-decker buses to take the troops. There were troops beside ourselves on the thing so there was quite a fleet of buses to take us out to the various places.
And, yeah, we had to … well I said for roll call and I think we were allowed leave straight away from memory.
And how long was it before you were discharged?
Oh it was only a couple of weeks I think after we landed back.
And how was it, having been in Japan and have this life changing experience, how was it settling back into normal Australian life?
It was a wee bit strange for a while but it didn’t take long to drop back into the … what we’d been doing.
Casual work, casual bass playing and I think I’ve covered Horry’s attempt for the big band. That sort of didn’t eventuate so I dropped back into the casual work until he contacted me again when he
came up with the Tivoli.
And when you first arrived back in Australia, how curious were people in terms of, like, asking questions about what Japan was like and your experience there?
Yeah. I can’t recall much of that. I think that father was glad to have us back in one piece.
Oh, he was married so my step mother, you might say … they were a bit interested that I’d been around but they were interested in some of the things I brought back. I bought a vase back and some of that delicate … the doilies and things that I was talking about. They
were interested in those, so I put those into the house.
And how do you think your time in Japan, your experiences there changed you as a person?
Well it gave me a broader view of life I suppose. Previously I’d just known life in Sydney, I’d never
been out of Sydney actually. So it was a broadening experience I’d say, broadening experience. And well, just seeing a different culture, yeah it was I’d say broadening, that would be the word. It just
made you more open to change.
And how did your time in Japan change, if it did change, your opinion of the Japanese as a people?
was much more, I suppose, inclined to be a bit more lenient towards them. Because, you know, the country was devastated. I hadn’t realised that there was so much devastation there. And I suppose more,
yeah, tolerant, more tolerant of different cultures I’d say. More tolerant of them. So well, they’re different from us but it’s not to say that they’re completely wrong.
And you mentioned that when you came back you were doing casual bass playing, what were you doing to support yourself?
Did you have other full-time work?
Yeah, I went back to the factory for a while, went to see if there was any work and there was so they took me back on to that factory. And then I actually started work at the Roosevelt, the night club
and while I was there, there was a bass player on a boat, the Oranje, which travelled between Australia and Canada, Vancouver. He came up with a suggestion, he said – would you like to do a trip on the Oranje as ships band, as bass. I said – yes. So he said I can come in a play and take your place at the Roosevelt if it’s agreeable
to the management. So we approached the management and they said they didn’t mind … and the band leader, as long as they were in agreement. So that’s when I went to Canada on the Oranje, did a trip as ship’s band.
So what was that trip like?
That was very interesting. Playing for dances, we play dinner music for the first class
dining room and we played several dances for the ship. A dance for first class and a dance for the second class passengers. And that was quite an experience.
In what way?
Well there again, it was travel. It was a broadening … another broadening
effect because … well we went to … we travelled to New Zealand. We didn’t stay there, we just travelled to Auckland, we were there for a day and then we travelled up to Honolulu and that was a different culture again, the American. And then to Fiji and then on to Vancouver. We stayed there a week while the ship was turned around and came back.
It was a passenger liner so there were people travelling back and forth. Of course, at that time the air travel wasn’t as prevalent. But it’s not … the air travel’s knocked the ship travel out quite a bit. What the ships do now is just cruisers mainly.
So how long did that return route take?
That was about three weeks I think.
Gosh, that’s quite quick.
About three or four weeks, yeah, three or four weeks. That’s one way.
So upon your arrival back in Sydney what did you do next?
Well I was contacted while I was on the ship by
the tradesman that I’d served as an apprentice in John Hine, he was an engineer at a food factory, food processing factory. And he contacted me and asked would I be interested in joining him at the food factory. So I went to see him when I got back and
I said – yeah, I’ll join you. So we were doing the food factory, processing food, keeping the plant running, you know. It was canning, bottling, labelling and …
And what was your specific role within that company?
To keep the machines running, maintenance, you know, if they break down
you fix them, but quick because when they’re idle the owner or the plant is not making money. So it’s a maintenance job like … similar to a mechanic that keeps a car running or any motor vehicle or anything that’s maintenance which keeps an
establishment going. And this was keeping the production lines going. We canned food, we canned beans and soup and various things. And they preserved pickles, gherkins and pickles and pickled cucumbers and sauces, bottled sauces and bottled jams and all those things.
And during this time at the
food packing company were you able to continue your music?
Yes, at night, yeah. Just casual music at night.
You are certainly a man of many different talents. This very kind of technical, mechanical side and this very creative and, you know, free bohemian life at the same time, it’s quite an eclectic mix.
Now I believe at some point you did a tour of the army bases, post war in Europe.
How long after the food factory did you move, did you go on to do that?
Oh, that was about three or four years I think. Because in between times that’s when I rejoined Horry and we did the Tivoli. He did the Tivoli and
rehearsed and got an act together and then did three months in Colombo, Ceylon, which is Sri Lanka now. And then on to the UK.
And what was this new act that you’d come up with?
Oh, it was a vocal, instrumental, novelty. Mouth organs, instrumental, novelty act.
And what was the group called?
Quintet. And it was shortened, because of the billboards in England where you get the billing, we cut out the Horry and it became the Dargen Quintet so you could get a bigger billing, a bigger billing space. Or bigger letters if you like, in the same space. You’d be able to catch … the more words you had, the less large would be the type
And how did the Quintet come to be chosen to go to the bases in Europe?
I think it was through our agents and the Americans contacted … would contact the agents and they’d ask for
an entertainment group. And it was a small group, there was a comedian, two girl dancers and our act. And we did an hour straight off, an hour show straight through, no interval. We did three tours for the Americans and a tour for the British forces.
So you actually visited America as well as Europe?
No, no. The American
bases in Germany and France.
Right, of course. So what were some of the bases that you did visit in Europe, the ones that stand out in your mind?
They were located in towns. The Rhine Maine, you’ve probably heard of Rhine
Maine … I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it. Rhine Maine, the air force base in Germany where the … I think people have been flown there from Iraq and that so it must still be an American presence there in Germany. The Rhine Main, that was a big air force base. And oh, we did a lot of the towns in Germany, Stuttgart, Hanover, Munich,
Vienna and a couple in Italy. And we did a show in … a couple of shows in Paris at NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] Headquarters and SHAPE. SHAPE is Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, this was SHAPE, the SHAPE Headquarters and NATO, the NATO Headquarters.
And during this tour were you able to see much of the towns that you were visiting?
Yes, oh yes. Yeah, we didn’t do consecutive shows. Sometimes we’d have a couple of days off and we’d have time to tour and look around.
What are some of the places that stand out in your mind?
A place called
Ulm, U.L.M which had the highest church spire in Europe. It was a huge … a big famous church. The famous stadium at Nuremberg in Germany where Hitler had his rallies. You know that huge stadium where he used to march? That, and we saw the
Siegfried Line and Maginot Line. Oh, a place from the First World War, Verdun where we saw what they call the ‘Trench of Bayonets’ where there was a small squad of French soldiers were standing to in a trench, the forward line. And the Germans put a barrage down and they just buried the trench. Just,
you know, the gun fire buried them all and they’re still there. They bayonets … you can see the bayonets sticking up out of the soil. And there was what they call a ‘Noose Whale’ which was a bonery … which … they’re still picking up bones from the First World War. And they’ve got compartments … it’s a huge building like a big …
well like a big museum and there are compartments in it. And wherever they find the bones, from what part of the battle field, they put it in this compartment and it’s just filled with bones. And we saw some cemeteries where, you know, thousands of graves. There were a million men killed in the one battle there.
This is from World War I
World War I.
What kind of impact did that have on you, I mean, just from your description it’s a very powerful …
Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, the … you know, it’s just … you think, unbelievable because it’s just for the sake of a few yards of earth. But that’s where they were stopped in the First World War.
They stopped … that was sort of the ‘gateway to Paris’. And the famous French phrase – ‘they shall not pass’. At Verdun, ‘they shall not pass’. Yeah, had quite a good look around, the entertainment has taken me around a bit. And sometimes
you get on entrée to something unusual, you know, because of that.
And for instance?
Oh well … difficult to recall. We I suppose things like visiting the Japanese Diet, we visited the Japanese Parliament. And
well things like the Maginot Line, that was a closed area, we had to have a special pass to go there. And various other things I can’t recall at the moment. But I just made to comment that at time you have an opportunity to visit a certain place.
Now you performed for both
British troops and American troops, was there much difference in the response that you’d get from the different nationalities?
Yes, yes. Yes, we had a different … well there was a different escort officer obviously. But the Americans are …
I don’t know, they’re a different sense of humour. The British are more … I don’t know, not rougher, what can I say? Like we had one chap … one place we visited and he was tap
dancing on top of the bus, when we came out there was this sergeant and he was doing a tap dance on the top of our bus. It was snowing at the time. But one of the others … the, I suppose, the … not entertainment but the … afterwards … we’d do a show on an American base, we’d just do the show and leave. And we were billeted in German hotels,
we’d go back there to the German hotels. But in the British … they would entertain us with a meal or something like that, you know. One of the units we went to, they had their coat of arms set out on the table with the cutlery. The cutlery was all set out, beautifully laid out the way their coat of arms, you know. And then one of the high jinx was …
one of our group, they said something, “I think we’ll walk him across the top.” So they got a hold of him and walked him up the wall and across the … and down the other side and marked his foot prints around as they were going, you know. Crazy at times.
Sorry, can you explain that again, like they actually got …
Well two or three of them or four of them, you know, picked him up and just walked him up the wall.
Of course this was after quite a few of these. Walked him up and drew around his feet as they walked him up the wall because the ceiling was low enough to walk him up and across and then down. Did some funny things like that.
Yeah. So how long were you on tour doing the European
It was about three months at a time. About twelve or fourteen weeks.
And you’d go back … you went back several times?
Yes. We did three tours for the Americans and one tour for the British.
Now I believe you met your wife in England?
Could you tell us about meeting her and your subsequent family life?
Yes. She was in the show, the quintet was doing a variety show. And it was at Nottingham actually and I met here there and we sort of hit it off. And we had to go in different directions the next week, it was a weekly variety thing. You might not have the same acts at your next engagement. So we went somewhere and she went somewhere else with a
dancing act. And I thought, oh, you know, I can’t lose touch. So I sort of rang up and said we’ll meet up in Birmingham. And we met up in Birmingham and I sort of popped the question, said, you know, “What about becoming engaged,
see how we feel about it?” So that was in Birmingham and then …
And that was only one week, you’d only been … you’d only known her for approximately …
About a week, yeah.
That’s very quick.
Yeah. And then we sort of met and travelled to various … you know, it’s hard to explain if you’d never seen
the variety scene in England. It’s not there any longer but it was a weekly event. You’d do a variety show, you’d be an act on a variety show and then next weeks you’d be somewhere else, in another town. But not necessarily with all the same people in the … they were made up show, you know. So we just … we hit it off then and we met a few times,
we were on the same bill a few times. And any weeks that we had out … if we had them out, if she was working, I’d go to where she was working, you know. And that was in 1954, I think it was May ’54. And then we were married next April, ’55.
at what point did you come back home to Australia?
In … we landed back here in April, 1958.
So you were over there for quite a considerable time?
Oh yes, about five and a half years, nearly five and a half years.
And all that time you were performing?
Yes most of the time, most of the time. Most of the time performing. You had times, you had weeks out at times but
the good weeks would make up for the bad weeks, you know, the … we’d be doing … sometimes if you had a week out you’d be doing a television show, so that made up for it, you know, television or radio show.
Because, of course, you were doing television as well as the touring variety shows, can you talk a bit about
the television shows that you were working on?
Yeah, yes. Television, yes. Well they were sort of a variety type show on television, the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation]. The first one we did was in 1953, I think. Yes, we went away in November ’52, yeah.
I’d have to look at the scrap book or something to know when the first … but it was during ’53 we did the first one. And we did some radio broadcasts, several radio shows. And we worked on variety with a few … I don’t know whether … you probably wouldn’t know the names if I mentioned them. Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, John Mills, Cecil Courtney.
I can’t remember any of the others.
What was Spike Milligan like?
He was a very intelligent man. Very funny man but very serious off stage but very intelligent as well. Oh yeah, very intelligent.
Yeah, it’s interesting how a lot of great comedians are often serious in their own personal lives.
Serious? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Well it’s a serious business, comedy, it’s a very serious business.
Now what was your job … I think it was a TV, a GN9?
GTV9, what was your job there?
Well we were an act as the Dargen Quintet, we were an act. And we were on the Graham Kennedy Show quite a bit. And oh, variety shows, we did some
theatrical work and charity work, again as an act, you know, as a variety act.
Now what was … of course this was back in Australia, so what was Graham Kennedy like?
He was very clever, very clever compare and a host of a show, very clever at that. And he worked well with Bert Newton
as well, they complimented one another very much.
Yeah, a good team. I’ve seen some of their early antics that they used to get up to, they were hysterically funny at some points.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, a lot of it was quite ‘off the cuff’, quite adlib as we say, ‘off the cuff’. And you know, they were very clever, very clever.
Now by this time had you started your family?
Yes. Zoe was … she was born in London, she was born in 1956, in February 1956 in London. So she was just on two when she came out. We came back by ship.
And did you, you know, once you were back in Australia and after your
experiences with the BCOF, did you join any veterans associations or an RSL [Returned and Services League] at all?
No I didn’t. I don’t know why because … I suppose I was moving around a bit, you know. I don’t know why I didn’t. I probably should have joined an RSL or something like that.
what about keeping in touch with your mates from your time with the BCOF or with the entertainment unit, with the Kangaroos?
Well I don’t know how many of them are left. I only know of two or three. One of them comes … or two of them come to our reunion, two of the band, they come to our dinners.
What dinner is that?
Well that’s the Christmas dinner, it’s usually in December and we have a
mid year, round about end of July or August we have a … what’s called a ‘ladies dinner’ but everybody still comes, the fellows come.
This is the entertainment unit’s reunion is it?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, not particularly the Kangaroos but anybody who was in the Australian Army Entertainment Unit.
And how important is it to you to have these reunions?
Well it’s good to see them, you know, see the people again. And we have a lunch and a couple of drinks and tell the stories and see who’s still left.
And have you ever been back to Japan?
No, it would be vastly changed now to when we were there, vastly changed I would say.
And what about Anzac Day, what does Anzac Day mean to you?
Ah, Anzac Day. Well I sort of … I think it’s a very important day for Australia because … well,
as I say, the tradesman that I was apprenticed to at the factory was … he was an … I don’t know whether he was at Anzac Cove but he was in one of the troops in the First World War, so he could be classed as an ANZAC [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps]. I don’t know … I don’t think he was of the original landing at Gallipoli. But I think all the … they’re all, from memory, they’re all classed as ANZACS from the First World War.
Do you march with the entertainment unit on Anzac Day?
No I don’t. I am entitled to but I just felt as I wasn’t in the shooting war, I felt a bit out of place previously. But the organisers
said, “Yes you’re entitled to march, you can come and march if you want to.” But no, I just haven’t been marching.
What about your other mates from the entertainment unit, do they march?
Oh yes, most that are able. There are some that can’t make the distance now. Because, you know,
infirmities, age and infirmities and various problems creep up. So they just feel they couldn’t make the distance. Even though it’s been shortened a bit, I believe.
I think they also provide taxis now for a lot of them.
Yes. Yeah. They’re for the real veterans the … I think they’re the first
war ones, they’re the ones from the First War. But the entertainment unit, if they can’t march they don’t seem to want to be in it. They want to march with the unit if they can, you know.
Well we’re probably coming to the end of the interview now and I was wondering before we do finish if you have anything else that you might want to add or say?
I can’t … off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. I probably will think of something later on which should have been mentioned. But I think from the questions, it’s been covered pretty thoroughly. If you can make sense of the time frame because I’ve jumped about a wee bit in the
No. Look, it’s exactly, you know, like I was saying before, there’s the chronological time line and also the thematic as well. And I think it will be clear to most people.
Yeah. So, well on behalf of myself and Graham [interviewer] and the Australian War Archive, I would like to thank you very much for sharing your story.
Yeah, thank you for your patience and your time. Really appreciate it and you did a great job.
Thank you for the opportunity.