So did he move from coaches to motor cars?
Well when I say a coach builder, coach builder was a description of a man who made motor bodies so I suppose it was a development of the old coach, horse carriage and then graduated to the motor bodies that were made in Australia in most cases and very high grade ones and then he
got into the motor trade as a result of that. He must have had a feeling for commercialism and he was offered an opportunity to buy into a motor distributorship in Hobart, Tasmania, so as quite a young child, I with my sister and mother, we moved over to
Hobart and lived there for a number of years.
with a motor car company, a big American company that is no longer in business today. They were called the REO Company. They had motor cars called the “Flying Cloud” and they had REO Speedwagon and such things which were very popular in those days and he came as a representative there and he was doing a lot of country work so
we had Miss Rooney looking after us 24 hours a day more or less while he was doing this job and then he came back to Melbourne for a while and joined General Motors and he was a fieldsman for General Motors. Yes, we had motor cars since we were very young.
and it was a lovely old school called “Friends”. It was a Quaker School. It was a boarding school, a day school and they were the kindest people. They were lovely but for some unknown reason I hated the thought of going to school and my mother would get me ready and
we’d be about to head off and I’d run away and hide. We had a big home and a big garden and she couldn’t get me to school. It was great trouble. In the end she’d ring my father and he’d have to send a car out with a driver and they’d get hold of me and drive me to school. Once I got to school I was all right but it was this getting to school and
I had a fear of the teachers or something. I must have been a shy kid and they were lovely ladies in this kindergarten. Anyhow my father was a wonderful father and he talked with the headmaster and the headmaster must have suggested that he invite the two teachers to dinner one night at our home and they
came and of course they made a fuss of me and it was in a different environment and we had a different feeling altogether about school after that. It was one of those stupid things that kids do.
were in Camberwell and I went to a state school in Camberwell but then with the thought of my mother’s death and what have you , for some unknown reason, we decided we’d change areas and we went over to South Camberwell. We were renting houses at that stage. My father had
lost a lot of money selling the business and there was no money to go to private schools so we then changed to the South Camberwell School. Then we were there for a few years and he decided to get married and we then went to
a boarding house, a private boarding house in Canterbury Road, Canterbury. Just up from the hospital where my mother died because my father wanted to take my mother with him. He was doing country work for General Motors and we lived in this small private boarding house at 42 Canterbury
Road. Lovely old home and there was another family there as well. Actually it was Sir Francis Bertle, the Australian explorer’s two children. He was out exploring and the children were put there and two ladies were running this boarding house and so we had to change school again and we went to the East Camberwell
School that had just opened and that was half state school to the sixth . grade and the other part was what they called the Domestic Science School for older girls and we went there for a few years. I suppose it was two years and them my stepmother must have thought it was time to settle
down into a home which we did at Canterbury and that meant another change of school so we went to the Canterbury School, so we chopped and changed quite a lot.
and when I came to sit in the class at the Camberwell School, everybody else was writing in normal writing script and I couldn’t write and I had to copy this and I didn’t know what to do. I can remember a couple of the kids – strange new boy – into the room called out to the teacher
“He can’t write!” and I couldn’t write. There was no specialised tuition and I just had to battle through and learn to write and in those days we had slates where you had a slate pencil and damp rag and you’d rub it off. Then you got into
exercise books with two fine blue lines and two outer red lines and you had to write between the two lines for the small letters and the larger letters you could go up and that was the thing. I just had to battle away and learn to write myself and today I suppose they’d have specialised tuition. I think in those days the class size was about forty students.
There were changes and some subjects you were a bit advanced on the other kids and in others you were possibly a bit behind.
elementary school called Mont Albert Central. You had to have a reasonably good report book before they’d accept you and I did quite well there and enjoyed it and the Depression came on and it was a very serious Depression. It affected many families and ours
in particular although my father was never unemployed but things were pretty tough because they were working on retainers and commission and things like this. I enlisted, or enrolled rather for the Box Hill High School and during the school vacation my father said, “Ron I’ve been thinking about it and I think that it’s going
to be very difficult to get a job and I think perhaps if we try during the school vacation to get a job if you can and then we’ll see what’s what because you can study at night and finish your education at night.” So my father was the main man and he knew everything. We worshiped him. He was a lovely
man. So we went and he looked up the paper and there was a job advertised and you had to apply at 10 o’clock. So he said “Right, we’ll get there early” and we got there at 8 o’clock and I was the second boy there. By the time 10 o’clock came there were 100 lads waiting to be interviewed for this job.
They asked for the first four boys to come upstairs and be interviewed and luckily I got the first job I ever applied for. So then he thought “Well that might be a good omen and we’ll give it a go. You won’t go back to school and we’ll let you settle in and then we’ll start studies for you.”
run to the dentists in Collins Street practically and then if you went to a suburban dentist you’d go by tram or bus or whatever it was. I know I used to love to go to the dentists at Coburg because I could get on a cable tram in Elizabeth Street and ride in the sunshine and get off – I think the cable tram terminus was at Moreland Road and you’d walk the rest
of the distance to the dentists at Coburg. I used to enjoy that. I did that for a while and then my father realised that I was racing around and working very hard 5½ days a week and he wondered about the future of the place so he went in and interviewed the manager of the place and wondered about the future. You know
it was only a small company and the other reason he went in, the person above me had reached 18 or 19 and he needed higher pay so he was told to leave and they were Depression conditions.
anyhow they agreed I could look for another job while I was still working which was very good of them. My father had had a candid talk with them. So I looked around for a while and had one or two interviews and I didn’t get the first job I applied for this time but they used to advertise
in the daily papers “Apply for this job to a number care of the newspaper office” because there were so many kids applying for jobs - young fellows that they didn’t want everybody hanging around their establishments. So we wrote to say, one, two, three care of the Argus office or the Age office and I got a letter
from a company by the name of Brash’s would I go for an interview and that company employed me, and I finished up before I retired as managing director so it was a good move and I studied right up to until time I enlisted and I got my
Diploma of Maths and English.
areas like that. Actually, my sister nursed him. He was a Wesley College boy and he was at a military cadet camp at Watsonia and they sent him home because he had a high fever and when he got home my sister more or less guessed what he might be in for and nursed him
right from the start and then my father got one of the finest specialists and kept him at home and nursed him right through. He didn’t have to go on a lung or anything so he may not have been quite as bad as that. But it’s strange in the one family, two cases of polio.
were growing up, what awareness of World War I you had. What you knew about World War I?
Well, I used to love Anzac Day at school. Of a morning on a Monday we would stand and salute the flag and take the pledge of honouring the flag, country, etc.
What was the pledge, can you tell me?
Oh, I (laughs). Cheerfully obey the honour and the law. Oh, I’ve forgotten it. I honour the flag, I honour the Queen, I cheerfully obey
we’d have a dance to raise funds for the Scout Troop and the Scouts were to be on duty and collect the tickets at the door and things like that. I wasn’t allowed to go because dances were a no-no. They might have had liquor or something at the dances so it was a no-no in the earlier days but of course when I was older I
went so I didn’t have a lot of experience in dancing but I’d met a girl and she wanted me to go dancing with her and I told her I couldn’t dance and she said “I can teach you” and well I thought to go to a dance and be a
galoot being taught amongst all these people. So I didn’t tell her but I went to the Johnny O’Lachlan School of Dance in Collins Street secretly and had a few lessons and then we went to our first dance together. I wasn’t too good for a start but she was very tolerant. She was an excellent dancer actually and the only one I really felt that I could dance
with so we started that way.
funny, we used to go to other dances that were run by, say, the Masonic Lodge or something and you’d have a progressive Pride of Erin and the older people were there, as we used to think older people were then in about their 50’s or 55 and they were so serious about their dancing
and they’d grab hold of you and rip you round but it was a little bit different to our other sort of dancing. But it was good and that was the main Saturday night entertainment – to dance. Occasionally you’d go to a picture show but dancing was the thing. You used to wear patent leather shoes and a dinner suit always, yes
and then the company balls were a very popular thing. The Banker’s Ball at the Palais Picture St Kilda was a wonderful thing but they were so expensive and we only ever got to one and that was because the company had bought tickets for it and they gave the tickets to me so I was
able to take a girlfriend to the Banker’s Ball and they were really big bands, Tommy Davidson, enormous orchestra and then you’d have supper and you’d have breakfast and I can remember they played a tune “Pennies from Heaven” and they had pennies up in the roof and they would be
dropping down them from the roof when they were playing the tune. It was a stupid thing to do, it could have hurt somebody but that happened at the Banker’s Ball but there were a lot of other big companies that had their balls but the prices were beyond young fellows working at that stage.
I was a bit of retiring nervous type but she brought me out quite a lot and taught me. I owe her a lot. In my life story which I’ve started and I’m about half way through I put in a little paragraph about her because I think she deserved it. Where she is today, I wouldn’t have clue. But yes, and
yes you did meet quite a few people. I met my wife, we both went to the same Sunday School and I played cricket and football for the church teams and her brothers played cricket and football as well and they used to have little social functions.
We went on a moonlight river cruise up the Yarra to the Hawthorn Tea Gardens and I was with a couple of friends and there were three girls kneeling on the seat looking out over the river, and we said, “Well there are three girls over there. They’ll do us. We’ll go and sit beside them”. So we just went up and sat beside them and then they realised someone was sitting and they turned round
and one of them happened to be my wife. So I met her on a boat and I haven’t been able to get her on a boat since so that’s a story.
developed a great interest in the piano industry. There weren’t any pianos being imported in those days. The Depression settled a lot of manufacturers. A lot of them went to the wall. There was quite an industry in Australia where GTV 9 is today was the Wertime Piano Factory and there were several others in Sydney,
also in Melbourne and I loved the history of them. I loved the construction of them. We had a big workshop that reconditioned them with French polishers and skilled cabinet makers and repairers and things and I used to love to watch them. I never worked in the area but I read a lot about them and the industry
there was a lot of competition. There were a lot of piano retailers in Melbourne at that time and it just had something that appealed to me. Alfred Brash, the son of the founder when I started, he was a World War I man and of course he wasn’t a youngster but he was when I started
I suppose he’d have been 45 or more and he was a piano man and I enjoyed it and after a while they let me have a go at selling them. Now, I couldn’t play a piano and I couldn’t read music but I found that
“Old Man Brash”, as we affectionately referred to him, couldn’t play the piano either but he had learnt to tune and the head salesman used to play “To the End of A Perfect Day”, an old ballad and that was his selling demonstration piece. So I thought “What am I going to do?” and you may be familiar with the old player piano or the
pianola with the rolls and you pump it and when the roll goes round and it plays the music the keys go down, so I picked out some rolls with some lovely sounding chords on them and I would stop the player piano at that stage by throwing back the tempo lever. I’d mark on a chart the notes that went down
and then a player piano has a transposing device that will move and change key of that particular chord or note so picking out several nice sounding rolls and marking the notes on charts, I developed a routine where I could run up and down the keyboard of a piano with some rather nice sounding chords and a
few arpeggios that I’d marked as well. It made the piano sound pretty well and I got away with it all my working life and a lot of people that would bring their children in to learn to play they’d say “Oh I hope my daughter can play like this when she’s learnt”. If they only knew, I didn’t tell them but I can remember
Channel 9 came in to buy a lovely grand piano that I wanted to sell them and two directors came in, I can’t remember their names. It was after Arthur Young had retired and Ronnie Rosenberg, the famous pianist was the musical director and head pianist and I think Norman Spencer. I’m sure he came in too.
They were looking at this piano and Ronnie Rosenberg was a great jazz boy and he was sitting down at this lovely piano and he was going “tiddle liddle lee, tiddle liddle lee” on the treble and what have you and saw these two directors look at each other and I didn’t know what they were thinking or what they were doing and I knew Ronnie pretty well and I said “Well now Ronnie,
what about I have a go?” and I put in my chord routine on it and I thought it sounded pretty well better and I told him later I said “I made it sounded a darn side better that you did” but however we sold this lovely well known grand to GTV 9 with my phoney chord routine.
would read the newspapers and my father used to talk about it with me. We would go into town together in his car and yes, we were aware of it and we had a number of politicians that would speak on radio and warn you of it and we so much aware of it
that we were feeling that we had a duty to perform and two years before I enlisted in the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], I joined the militia forces because of that.
when I joined the militia forces but there I joined a transport company as well because of my love of transport and I also, I’m not chicken, but I never felt I could kill anybody and yet I wanted to support it. It was one of those things that I led men in action and what have you but when it,
I suppose if it was life or death I would but I couldn’t be a slaughterer. I’m that sort of make up so I went into a transport unit.
like this. We had to do a lot of spit and polish and you were examined. You had to polish the brass plate at the bottom of your rifle and the buckle on your belt and the buttons on your uniform and you were inspected every inch of you whether you’d shaved. You know it was pretty tough discipline and then our first camp was
at Mt Martha and we were under canvas, under there and of course we were pretty raw. We’d only been in the militia a few weeks when they put us into the 10 day camp and it was quite an experience. We went by train to Mornington in those days. The train went through and a truck was at the Mornington Railway Station and all
our gear went on that and then we had to march from Mornington to Mt Martha. I don’t know if we knew how to route march but we got there. Then it was lunchtime so we were told to get our mess gear and get down to the cookhouse for a meal. Of course we hadn’t packed the way we should have and our mess gear was in the wrong places so we got our first
abuse from the sergeant major of being nongs and no-hopers and we could go without lunch if we didn’t have our mess gear in the right place. So eventually he allowed us to find our mess gear and we pulled our gear to pieces to find it but that was the first experience.
he said to me “Ron, that doesn’t mean that we’re at war” and I said “Yes, but it will be only time before we will.” He said “Oh, we’ll just wait and see. That may be over very soon.” Well of course a couple of days later war was declared from England and we naturally followed. But it was
a Friday night at the office and I remember it very well.
we had our radio showroom. We had a very big radio business in those days and I can remember one of the staff running down and calling out to us. We were on the ground floor at that stage. We used to wait for our clients to come in and take them to the showroom. He told us and I can remember we raced up to the first floor and listened to the various
news items and what was happening and of course then we - everything went through our minds of Chamberlain who had been over earlier and thought that he’d poured oil on the waters but it just wasn’t to be and we’d been more or less misinformed of the right thing
but it was an unusual feeling but I don’t know that it was any more than that. We carried on as normal for quite a while. The militia went in and did a one month training at Seymour camp and then that was closely followed by a three month period earlier in 1940 and then after
three months we were so unsettled that I felt that I would enlist in the 7th Division that was being formed and so we enlisted with a group of friends in the 7th Division.
young fellows. They enlisted in the 6th Division and that was good because it gave them something to do. They were willing and they did a pretty good job the first push up the desert. Then the 7th Division was formed in May 1940
and we didn’t leave for the Middle East until about October, I think it was but the war, of course France had been occupied by the Nazis and our war was in the Middle East at that stage. We moved to the Middle East to back up the 6th Division.
Puckapunyal with the early stages of the 7th Division Supply Column we didn’t have any transport at all and it was mainly route marches, getting fit, discipline training and what have you. In the end, I suppose in the last month a couple of vehicles were introduced and those that could drive were tested
for military licenses and things like that but it wasn’t until we were in the Middle East that we were taught any ditching and un-ditching and things like that, and we did even more of that before we went to New Guinea. But I suppose you’d say we battled through and those that could drive had
spare drivers and those spare drivers gained experience that way. But there wasn’t a great concentration of driver training at that stage because in Palestine the roads were made. We were driving our normal vehicles, right hand drive vehicles on the left hand side of the road. That was a bit awkward but we got through.
I left home that morning in my nice little sports Roadster Vauxhall attired for business in what I thought was quite a smart suit and felt hat and gaberdine raincoat and I told you I went down to St Kilda Road and then I went out to Caulfield and they gave me
leave to go home that night. I went home in a gawky khaki uniform and came in the back door and the family were seated down at the dinner table and I just got gasps. Even my severe old stepmother had tears in her eyes so it was a bit of a cultural shock to them. Yes, they didn’t realise that it had happened and then when
I told them I had to go back to camp that night that was a bit of a shock. Yes, it was a shock to them I suppose. It was a bit of a shock to me to be in that sort of uniform and everything happened so quickly and then to be put in a horse stall to sleep the night it was quite an experience.
Ron, when you were working at Brash’s, I believe you were involved in importing the first washing machine? Could you tell me about that?
Yes, well I wasn’t involved with the importing but Old Man Brash, as we affectionately called him, was. That was Alfred Brash, son of the founder had wonderful foresight. He could look to the future and
judge what product would be on the market and he decided that washing machines were going to be something for the future so he imported a sample shipment from Canada, from the Canadian Fairgrieve Company of a very good quality washing machine. Not as we know them today. It was a tub on four castors, legs and four castors
and an electric wringer and this washing machine wasn’t quite as easy to market as we thought it was. We advertised it and got a lot of enquiries but the housewife used to do the washing with a copper boiling in the corner of the wash house which was usually an outdoor building and a couple of troughs and
the hand wringer and that’s the way the washing was done. So first of all we had to try and convince them that it wasn’t necessary to wash clothes and have them sterile by just boiling them. We used to tell them that they never ever boiled their underclothes and they had those closest to their skin, so therefore a
washing machine would thoroughly wash and the boiling action really forced the water through the fibre of the clothes and that was part of the boiling process, as the agitator would push the water through .So to sell them we had to cart the washing machine out to their home which I did and I think I must have sold the first washing machine in Victoria.
We certainly imported the first lot of washing machines to Victoria and I put it on the luggage carrier which was on the back of the car, wheel it into the wash house and set it up. We would do the washing for the lady and show her and we would bale the hot water out of the copper into the tub, put the washing machine through its paces
with the agitator then swing the wringer around so that it could feed the clothes from the washing machine into the wash trough, then into the bluing trough by swinging the wringer around then out into the wash basket. I jacked up at hanging the clothes on the line but I carried them out to the line. We would sell the washing machine for £49, just under £50
and usually sold it on time payment of about £3 down and 5 shillings a week. It was hard work and we didn’t sell a lot of them at that stage, I must admit. Very few.
go overseas” then something but it was all the excitement of going overseas rather than the feeling of war quite frankly. Yes. We were told later on in training, you know, some of the things we could expect but the people training us didn’t have the practical experience. It was just a matter of surmising what might happen. But no, there was no great serious
thoughts about war at that stage.
but that’s natural for a sergeant major. They had practically no sense of humour whatsoever and they were tough guys but I first enlisted as a private and I knew the officer who
was a militia man for the section that was going to look after the mechanical side of the vehicles which I enjoyed and having the background, my father and the industry I joined his section and I went in as a corporal clerk. So that was my first promotion as corporal and I, then
after a few months I was promoted to staff sergeant and in the mess the sergeant majors were always distant from the actual sergeants. They had a makeup that they were individualists and disciplinarians and so that was – look, some officers were
good fellows, others were different. They were men of all different types from all walks of life.
maybe they thought it was but I was given that promotion to go in and do that job so it was on, maybe, the reputation I had from the militia where I was a corporal and I suppose that was the reason. Then the staff sergeant job came I suppose for the job I was doing in the role of corporal but I also had
the mechanical knowledge to be able to do administration and supervise some of the other side of the business as well. I suppose I was a bit versatile because of my background connections with the motor trade.
and they were off the ground I suppose two or three feet with steps up to them. Palliasses on the floor and of course neatly folded up through the day with folded blankets and your Army gear neatly arranged on top. Unsewered facilities. No hot water in the shower facilities and
it was pretty rough. A little bit later on in the camp they introduced sewer and that was great and also the ablution areas had hot water and that improved things considerably, and they lined the roof of the galvanised iron hut which stopped the early morning drips
of condensation so it did improve things quite considerably. There was no Army canteen, licensed canteen in those early days. There was a canteen where you could buy cigarettes and chocolate or whatever you wanted. They were pretty rugged times and the ridiculous part about it all was reveille was before daylight.
The sergeant major would get us outside the hut in the freezing cold with a hurricane lamp so as he could see the roll list and call the roll then you were allowed to go back into your hut again. It was all so stupid but the Army always did that so that was the thing to do.
So how did the rest of your day go from there?
Well usually the morning was taken up in the bull ring as we called it with drill. Marching round, about turning, left wheel, right wheel, left turn, right turn and a lot of that. Round and round. Repetition went on for ages. The afternoon was taken up with a route march. Out
bush and all the tracks around were unmade tracks and there the things we used to walk along but we had a sergeant major of this particular workshop section who was not the old world drill master sergeant major. He was a lovely old fellow. His name was Alfred Kirkland and he had been a leading hand with the
Vacuum Oil Company in their vehicle maintenance section and he automatically came in as a warrant officer because of his experience. He used to take us on these route marches and he used to love to catch rabbits so he taught us how we could catch rabbits by using some fencing wire with hooks on the end of it and twists and we’d put them into the burrows of the rabbits and
get their fur caught up in the twist of the wire and we’d pull the rabbits out of the burrows. So we had more fun rabbiting that we did route marching but it was out in the fresh air and it was good. Look, whilst he wasn’t a disciplinarian he required a very high standard and the boys respected him and would do anything for him. The others, they demanded it and
it was a different feeling. They did it but there was a grudging attitude towards it. But this fellow, the boys would do anything for. Yes.
I know I felt a bit seedy next morning and the officer came in and he asked me how I was and I said “I’ve got a bit of a headache”, and he said “Well, you’ve got to get used to that, you’ve got to drink a lot more than you had last night in the Army” so I didn’t get a lot of sympathy. You know, I hadn’t drunk a lot. I’d been going to parties before
I enlisted but I wasn’t a pub crawler or anything like that but however we soon got into the swing of it and I had my little Sports Vauxhall Roadster in camp. Once we came up by train we went home back to Melbourne by bus for the first leave and then
I got permission to bring the car up and of course I used to drive home on leave and take fellows. It had a dickie seat in the back and I could put two fellows in the front with me and two fellows in the dickie seat and we used to go home and we’d sneak home on unofficial leave. We got official leave every second weekend and we’d go down on the Friday
night and be back on the Sunday night and the unofficial leave you could have from midday on the Saturday until the Sunday night so that was to go into Seymour or somewhere locally but I had my car and I used to sneak off to Melbourne. It was accepted but it wasn’t
Major Frank Watts came on to parade one morning. We had an official parade and he said “I’ve just come back from the latrines and there’s a pretty good rumour come around”. The old unsewered latrines were about 20 holes in a long row and of course all the rumours started there. The conversation was quite strong and yelling out
to somebody 2 or 3 holes down and what have you. The sewered ones were a little more civilised but that’s where the rumours started and he said “This rumour is true, you’re going on final leave”. We all cheered. Everybody cheered. That was fantastic. We were going overseas. It wasn’t the thought of going to war
it was just at least we are off. So we got seven days final leave. We went home and that was good. It was a little sad for our family but we did a lot of celebrating and got together and partied up and had a wonderful time. Then we went back to camp.
Just before I enlisted the wonderful girl that had taught me to dance and do everything we parted. Mainly because of her mother but that’s a long story and so on final leave I thought, I don’t know why, I thought I’d like to let her know I was going away
and I drove down to – she was a Sunday School teacher of little kids and I waited there and she came out and I drove her home and told her that I was going overseas. Would she write to me? But that was all at that stage and it wasn’t until
we were in Tobruk that I wrote to her for the first time. Then I had a couple of girlfriends when I came back from the Middle East, friend sort of girlfriends. Then we saw each other and I spent more time with Edna than the others, then it just went on from there.
my sister was married to a Country Roads water engineer and they lived in Stawell. He was an engineer for that area or assistant engineer and so I went up to see her to say goodbye and she was pregnant with her first child and I took up her husband’s sister
with two little kids. One in arms and the other a dear little kid about two who I sat on my knee – she was behind the steering wheel – and drove most of the distance that way – dear little kid with her mother and my stepmother was horrified. That I’d taken this married woman away to stay at my sister’s
place alone. I’d taken her alone. Bassinet strapped on the back of my little car for the baby to sleep in and she thought what people will think! That I’ve taken this married woman away up to my sister’s place but I still smirk at that. She gave me a piece of her mind when I got back.
So we visited her. That took a couple of days and the ladies of the town saw me walking down the street and came up to me and asked me was I on final leave and I told them that I was and they said “Oh look, we’re having a function, would you come to it tomorrow night?”
I said “Well look if you don’t mind this time is so precious to me I’d sooner spend it with my sister”. Yes, our uniforms were noticed and of course I suppose a lot of country boys were on final leave as well at that particular time. Yes, we had a lovely final leave. It was great.
but it was very very fast and it held the record between UK and New York so it was a very famous ship. Everybody knew about the Queen Mary. They’d had it in Singapore taking some of the fittings out of it to make it a troop ship but they hadn’t ripped a lot of it out and we
were taken on board and allocated a space and the section that I was in were in cabins. They were down pretty low in the ship I think, the water line or lower but they were cabins and they had a double bunk and all our section got cabins. Some of the boys weren’t as lucky and they were in other
areas that had been stripped out and they were in hammocks. I had a cabin to myself so I asked one of my Army corporal mates if he’d like to come and join me which he didn’t hesitate so he shared the cabin with me for the whole of the journey.
We all had life belts and we had to carry those on board and we were allocated to our life boats or rafts and we were inspected by the officers to make sure we were – the ship’s officers as well to make sure and we knew exactly what to do if the vehicle was attacked or sunk
or sinking. It has automatic closing bulkheads and they sounded the alarm and if you weren’t out by a certain time you were locked in and, you know, you couldn’t get up to your station. The discipline was very strong and that was it. Then the rest of the morning we would do PT [physical training] and things like that. I
had a bit of experience with PT. I attended the Bjelke-Petersen Fitness School in the city after work a couple of nights a week and so I was able to use some of their training with our boys and we got them pretty fit. We’d have a jog around the promenade deck and things like that. We’d have lectures
in the afternoon and there was a lot of free time as well. They organised a few events. They had boxing events and things like that. No, it was a pretty leisurely style of life.
from Sydney. There were rumours of a radar around and I believe that was confirmed so they did divert from the normal ship lane routes but we picked up another two ships that came out of Melbourne. One was the Aquatania and the other was the Mauritania and we sailed as a convoy of three. We went around to Fremantle
and the Aquatania and the Mauritania were able to pull into the dock but the Queen Mary was too big. The smaller ships got a day’s leave and we had to sit and watch them. Then we set off across the Indian Ocean escorted by warships and then the Australian warships left us
and we were taken over by the British Navy at that stage and taken on to Bombay.
enemy and they couldn’t risk such a ship so we were taken off the ship at Bombay and then we were taken up into the hills behind Bombay by troop train which were fantastic. They were wonderful trains. Wonderfully equipped with dining facilities and things like that. Well organised. Of course the British Army had been working in India for years and
we went to a little place called Deolali, a little village. It was very interesting for us. Our first experience and that sort of thing. We were in lovely Indian made tents – beautiful tents. We were on stretchers and we had a batman to each – that we employed.
They were approved by the Army but we had one dear old fellow and we’d employ him for a pittance but he was so conscientious. He’d clean our boots and would do everything. Make our beds and everybody, all ranks, employed their own batman.
cooks there were so different to ours. They were in lovely white uniforms and white hats and our fellows usually had a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, old army clothes so it was quite a contrast. One experience we had we carried our meal from where it was served to a table and they have a bird called a kite which is like a crow
that we didn’t have any experience with and they cooked us pancakes for our first meal and these blessed birds swooped down, a swarm of them and pinched these pancakes from many of the boys before they realised what was happening but that was a great memory that we remember quite well. Our first meal in India.
people and every station we went through, hundreds of people sleeping around. It was pathetic to see. The beggars were still around. The betel nut spitting on the footpath. Bright red was another thing that struck us. Then we came back from Deolali before we got other troop ships we did have a day’s leave. We got,
we slept on the train coming back from Deolali and had a day’s leave. We were able to wander round a little bit. We went to the Gateway Hotel for the experience which was famous. That was later blown up by a bit of sabotage later on in the war and we took in, got gharries
horse-drawn gharries. Four of us to a gharry or five to a gharry and went round to have a look at the sights that way. That was the best way to see it. But the crowds of people and the poverty was the part that got to us. That was sad to see the poor little kids begging and deformed people. It was sad. That part got to us. Yes.
the fellows in the Mess we meant quite well but I remember one night coming home some English military police stopped the gharry and wouldn’t let it go any further and we had one fellow with us and he thought he was a bit above everybody else and he had quite a tangle with the
English MP’s [Military Police] and we were, he foolishly put his hands on them. He didn’t punch them or anything but he grabbed at them – get out of the way sort of thing and the military police were going to take him in hand but we had to do a lot of talking but they saw our side of it and let him go.
We didn’t have a lot to do with the English Army that way other than being fed and there wasn’t any great association other than that. We met them later on in the desert, yes and got on very well with them but they were good fellows.
in Deolali, then you were back on board a new ship?
Yes, we got on the old British India troop ships. They had a number of them which used to bring the families and the troops out for a tour of duty and then take them home. They were run by P&O, I think and they were fitted out for that. We were on one coal burning ship called the Nevarssa and
that was full of cockroaches and weevils and things. It wasn’t terribly good for the troops but, then again, fortunately I didn’t have to live that way and they looked after the officers and sergeants in a different manner and it seemed all wrong but that’s the way of the Army. Some of the troops, some of the food
was dreadful. It had to be rejected. Just terrible.
seven troop ships and a big naval escort and we headed off and our first experience of what we thought might have been action. There was an eastern style vessel in the distance to the right and one of the escort destroyers just turned on a burst of
speed and raced over to it. We wondered what it was but it was just a normal trading thing but they weren’t taking any risks. Then we were into the Red Sea and it wasn’t long when we had our first air raid alert and emergency and the escort ships moved into different positions and
there were a few shots fired. It was an Italian reconnaissance bomber which was shot down in the distance but that was our first experience but it was something to talk about. We were quite excited about it really, that it had happened. Yes.
metal floors. They’d been cleaned out but they were smelly. They just had louvres for ventilation. We travelled overnight in these cattle trucks to our campsite in Palestine. The train stopped just near where we were to camp and we got out of the trains. It had been
raining heavily. There was mud up to our ankles. It was the most pathetic sight. It was horrible. Tents had been erected for us by somebody and we were drafted into tents and told to get a bit of sleep and when it was daylight we’d get ourselves organised but that was our first experience of
our campsite at Palestine. The administration huts were made of wood. They were well constructed. The messes were made of wood and what else? All the rest was under canvas. Everybody was living under canvas.
heavy. Actually it was quite amusing to get off the ship. To get off the Queen Mary we had a sea kit, our kit bag, our pack we had everything. We all vowed and declared we would restrict our luggage considerably so there was quite a bit of trading done with the Arabs of a lot of our surplus clothing and we whittled
our kit down considerably and the Arabs were a little bit warmer as the result of it and the boys were a little bit better off financially.
I remember we went through the township of Hebron which you may have heard. We had a machine gun mounted on the back of one of the vehicles. That was we were warned a very hostile area. I don’t know what they would have done to us if they had – we had to have armed guard on all night while the boys were sleeping. That was pretty serious stuff. Actually in Palestine we had our rifles
chained to the centre pole of the tent and the bolt, the firing bolt taken out of that and put under our pillows because the Arabs had a reputation that he was a very thief and they valued the rifle very much and we had to take great care of it. Never heard of one being stolen but we had to take care.
sergeant major I told you about. He was taking one fellow for a driving licence test out of camp and into some sandy area and this fellow he was testing didn’t have the experience of handling a vehicle in sand and became bogged and they were fairly close to a village. Arabs came out, realised they were
stuck. Jumped on the running boards of the vehicle and on to the bonnet. In the end this sergeant major got out to try and push them off and he also took over the truck but then when he got back in the truck they realised they’d stolen his watch from his wrist. He had the experience to get the vehicle back out of the sand
that it was in and went to the Palestine Police who were stationed all over Palestine at that stage and reported it to them. They immediately took him back to that village nearby and raided a home and in the back of that home was a fellow with this sergeant major’s watch, filing the back off that was engraved with his name
that it was a gift. They had a mark on that guy. They knew who it was to do it. That watch was a talking point right up to the day he died and he still had it to that day. But that was a hostility. We had to be very careful at night and then again if you had people working for you. They had been checked
and they were very good. If we went on leave to Tel Aviv or to Jerusalem the people were very good. But it was just in the villages we struck a bit of hostility but also, you know, we deserved a bit of it because if we went route marching and they had a lot of orange groves we stopped for a smoko or a
spell, we’d raid an orange tree and of course they’d come out and want money for it and they didn’t get any so I suppose we brought a lot on ourselves.
I imagine you would have had to be very careful with respect to local families?
Oh, I would think so. They respected their – and we were told – we were disciplined very much to that, that they had to be respected, the women folk and the children especially and the boys did. They loved the children. They used to give them lollies and rations and things. There were
always kiddies around the campsite hoping that something would come their way. I never heard of a case of molestation or anything at all with the boys. Likewise the lads in our unit. I never head of any dishonesty at all. You could get your pay, leave it on your bed, forget about it and go away and never ever heard of anything
being taken from one another. But they’d go out and scrounge for anything for comfort from outside but not between themselves.
we finished up at Alexandria. There was all sorts of talk that we were going to Greece to try and hold Greece. That the Nazi pincer movement was going to come round and take Greece and they’d taken the 6th Division in the main out of Libya and moved over to Greece and we were going to follow them
when all of a sudden, Rommel came across the Mediterranean into Libya up around Tripoli and they got word that he was forming his Panzer Division there. There wasn’t a lot in Libya to hold him but there was a very famous artillery unit, the Royal Horse Artillery and there was also
the famous British Tank Armoured Division and they were the main forces but the artillery didn’t have any equipment but there was equipment in Alexandria and we had to go and get these 25 pounder artillery pieces and race them up the desert.
get as far as Benghazi because Rommel had started his move and had taken Benghazi and, as we call it, the Benghazi Handicap was on – the general retreat and we were the only convoy moving west and all the rest of the convoys were going east and they were calling to us “You’re going the wrong way. Turn round and come back.” And of course
we were given instructions we had to go on and there were Air Fforce, there were Army in retreat. There were even wingless fighter plane bodies being towed back to see if they could be salvaged. It was incredible. The roads were pretty rough. They were Italian made roads but they’d had a bit of knocking about and
the wreckage that was along the road from the first battle going up. We didn’t quite know what to expect but there wasn’t any fear. There was just “Well we’ve got to get there and we’ve got to do this”. Our first night we camped at a demolished village. I think it was Sidi Barrani and we spent
the night there then we went onto Salum and spent the night there at the bottom of the escarpment and then we went up onto the plateau and up the Hellfire Pass and we were the last convoy going up and the Tommy engineers were mining the pass and they called out to us
“You might be going up this way Aussie but you certainly won’t be coming back” and they blew it just after we got up there so that was our first experience that something really was happening and then we got
and ammunition as well. So we had the lot. But yes we got them all through. We got to Tobruk and it looked so lovely. The moon was shining on the water in the Tobruk Harbour and there were a few buildings left in the township which were white and oh it did look so lovely. We thought, oh this is a lovely resort we’ve come to and we got
through the town and out on the road towards Derna and there was the greatest traffic jam you’ve ever seen. Vehicles coming back. We didn’t know where we were going. We had to find a place to deliver these artillery pieces and there was great confusion and the English soldiers said “Don’t go any further
Jerry’s just over the rise.” So anyhow we turned round and came back and our officer in charge found the delivery point for the artillery pieces and the Royal Horse Artillery took them over and they got them set up and within 24 hours they were in operation and they fired practically continuously for 48 hours to
try and stop them. Of course Rommel couldn’t get in, couldn’t get in to us but he had moved round in behind and we were caught in a siege situation. So that was our first night in Tobruk. One of confusion but by morning things had sorted themselves out a bit but if Jerry had raided us that
night with the roads congested with machine guns and bombs he could have wiped out half the forces but that’s the luck of war. It didn’t happen.
And that drive must have really tested your driving skills. It sounds like a perilous drive?
Oh, yes it was a bit but the dust storm. The dust was terrible and the vehicles weren’t all that hot. They were 1940 pretty rough riding and we picked up a lot of vehicles in Alexandria or at an ordinance depot there. There were all makes and all types. There were Austin trucks and Comma trucks and all sorts
of things and we used to most of them.
Oh yes, we had a lot of problems. We had a tremendous amount of mechanical problems. First of all the dust in the air. The dust on some days was so heavy that there was no enemy action at all and the best way for you to breathe was to wrap yourself in a blanket and breathe through the blanket. You couldn’t see
and it was just terrible. Well now, vehicles trying to operate in those conditions, the air filters were useless and all the vents were taking in dust that got mixed with the oil. With the gritty oil it wore the engines out. Oh we had many many problems.
what to expect. The first thing we had to do was wear steel helmets. Put those on for the first time. It was a matter of wondering where we were going. We turned back and went up one road and the military police stopped us there. It was too dangerous to go any further
and so we had to turn back and they found that our artillery unit were looking for us and found us and we were able to deliver the guns to them and the artillery and then it was a matter of – of course it was very dark – in the middle of the night and no lights. So we went back and scattered our vehicles around the countryside on the edge of the
harbour and we spent the night there.
there was nothing happening. The vehicles were just scattered round. We weren’t organised. Actually we thought the war was pretty good. We found a couple of deserted Italian motorcycles and we had a bit of fun riding those round and just filled in time until we got organised and our party moved to a certain spot
and we were scattered over the area for safety and then we had to prepare our vehicles for conditions We had to kick the windscreens out of them so there wouldn’t be any sun reflection on them. We had to smear the vehicles with sump oil and then throw sand over them. That was the form of camouflage
we used and then we set about getting ready for our duties when the place was organised. That was basically the first thing we had to do.
because every ship that came into the harbour was sunk. Immediately a ship would come in there was a Stuka dive bombing attack usually about 8 to 10 Stukas, sometimes more, would come in and dive over the area and bomb them and they didn’t last very long. They sent, for about the first week,
they sent in the odd ship with supplies. Some were able to be unloaded and it was so dangerous for the unloading we called for volunteers from our boys to do it rather than detailing anybody and many of them volunteered and it was terribly risky but they
did the job and did it well. Very well.
and as they were diving they made an incredible sound, a whistling sound. It was an eerie frightening sound, really. You’d see them release their bombs then they’d go but a Stuka only operated at night – only operated in the daytime. They wouldn’t work at night. Apparently they were doing their bombing by normal sight and not scientifically
and it was the high level bombers that did the bombing at night. But yes, we used to watch them, as we called them Stuka parades. We did quite a lot of observing of those. We knew they wouldn’t drop the bombs on us or we hoped they wouldn’t but we watched them, yes.
by the Italians and the Germans had destroyed one section of the tank traps and got their tanks through but the Royal Horse Artillery got to them more or less at close range and opened fire and got them out and they didn’t have a very successful attack to get in. Then it was left with the infantry and the infantry
had to retreat. They had a couple of other goes later on in the siege and drove a wedge in but our artillery and infantry boys were very good. They gradually got this salient back into line and then the rest of the perimeter
were a series of night patrols going out on reconnaissance and doing small raids and then it was left for the Air Force to bomb us and there was one very long range artillery set up at Bardia that the Germans had. It was an enormous thing and it could reach our harbour and most parts
of the Tobruk area and that was something. It would open up and fire and you would never know when it was coming or where it was landing and that was a bit scary.
and then there was the blue line and there was the green line. So, as supply were you always behind the green line or did you move?
Oh, no we had to get the supplies right to the front and the infantry didn’t like us going and making too much noise. We’d stir up the dust, attract attention and they used to tell us we were drawing the crabs and
be a disaster so the drivers they were wonderful really. To be able to see in very dark conditions and some of the roads were quite difficult and they were working at night in the main because the destroyers used to – once the supply ships were knocked out
the destroyers used to sneak in of a night and bring supplies, ammunition and reinforcements if required and then take out the sick and the wounded. It was all pitch dark work and they had to be very careful and very wary. In a dust storm it was impossible to work –
and we had a wonderful anti-aircraft barrage that went up. This ship didn’t get a direct hit but they dropped bombs all round it and the shrapnel from the explosion of the bomb holed the ship so badly that it sank. That was the first one that got the attack.
The next one that I told you about we called for volunteers from the boys that got a direct hit on the aft end of the ship and it got a beauty and it was only one string of bombs that went across it and there was quite an explosion and a sound and it wasn’t long before it went down and the harbour was
strewn with sunken ships. Shortly after that a hospital ship came in and it was sad to see and I didn’t think I’d ever see a hospital ship subject to a Stuka attack but it had come in take off wounded and it was also taking the nurses out. The authorities believed
Tobruk was no place for the nursing sisters and they had to be evacuated and it hadn’t quite finished loading when this Stuka parade arrived and bombed the hospital ship which was a dreadful thing. It was afternoon, I remember quite well. We were a reasonable way away from it but it did get a bomb but
it didn’t damage the ship sufficiently that it couldn’t sail out and it up anchored and got out of the harbour fairly quickly but quite severely damaged but they were very lucky.
With the others it was just a matter of abuse really and the term “You rotten bastards” was frequently used and that’s the way we regarded it. The next ship to come in that was attacked was a very shallow draft naval battleship
and it was a dear old thing called the Ladybird. I did hear that they used it in China. It was shallow draft so it would go up the Chinese rivers but they had it in the Mediterranean and they were using it close into the coast for bombardment to help the various Army units going up. This time it came into the Tobruk Harbour. It wasn’t in the Harbour for any more than
hours and over came a very big Stuka parade and sank it but it was right in the shallows and whilst it sank, its gun turrets were still above the water line and I believe it was never decommissioned because it could fly its flag and use its anti aircraft guns right throughout
the period of the siege so that was an interesting one but they gave that a hell of a pasting and they did manage to sink it. Poor old thing.
before they were attacked but the other ships. Yes, they were down but they weren’t completely under the water. Sometimes their funnels and what have you and as I told you I was in a maintenance area and some of our boys were quite ingenious and they rigged up a raft out of motor
tyres and tubes and things and they had a sort of a diving helmet they’d made out of a small drum and with a lifeline to a hand pump one of them dared to go down into the upper structure which was the crew’s cookhouse and got some of the supplies. I remember we had potato and carrots
and some reasonably fresh vegetables that we hadn’t seen for quite a while so they did two or three trips like that until I think it was the third trip, there was a bombing attack on the harbour and whilst it didn’t hit them it blew their raft over and that finished them. They weren’t game to do anymore.
That was one advantage and you asked the other day how we felt about the English soldiers. Well we got on very well with them and to share these potatoes and carrots, there was a nearby Army unit and we invited them to come and enjoy some of the rations so we got on very well with them.
not a Stuka parade but a bomber over to drop a stick across us and that was awful close. Yes that was a bit scary and we didn’t realise he was coming looking for us. We’d heard him and it wasn’t until we heard the whine of the bomb coming down that we dived flat. The fellow that I had told you about that had made the helmet
for the diving, he dived into his dug out and one of the pieces of the bomb shrapnel ripped his trousers off and just scratched his leg. He was so lucky. Very lucky. But that, I think, was one of those scary ones.
up you were an easy target but I only lost one boy from my section with that and that was sad. I’d sent him for water. We were able to get a ration of water from a wadi that had a well. It was really a soak it well. Water came in from
the Mediterranean and it was filtered through the rock and the sands and it was reasonably drinkable. It was brackish but I sent him to get some water for us and he jumped out of his truck and went flat but a bullet got him on the leg just near the ankle and word came back that he’d been taken to hospital. I was terribly upset. I felt guilty that I’d
made him do it and anyhow they told me they were taking him to surgery and I went to see him as soon as I could and he was lying there in this bed and I didn’t know where he had been hit or what happened and I thought “Thank God you’re alive” and what have you and he pulled the sheet that was over him and they had amputated his
leg just below the knee. Oh it gave me a horrible feeling. I felt so sad for him. He was a wonderful fellow. He played football for I think, North Melbourne seconds or something like that. He was a great sport, a great character and they evacuated him of course but that was machine gunning from the air.
because he was younger than me by 14 months and you had to be 21 before the Army would accept you in those days and he could join the Army if his parents signed a form that he could come. So his mother, she was a lovely old lady but a funny soul and she asked me to come
home and see her and she said “Ron” and she pointed her finger at me, “I’ll sign this form providing you promise me you’ll look after Ken”. She knew that he was coming into the section that I was in charge of and yes he was a close friend, but I enlisted with a number of friends as I told you
and we stuck together right through but they were in other sections so yes I did have close friends. But not inn my section, yes we were good friends but not close friends, put it that way.
newsy letters. He was a lovely man. A wonderful fella. My stepmother would sometimes put a note on the letter and I’d get letters from friends, a couple of girlfriends. Actually Edna started writing to me at Tobruk. I wrote to her first and I think I told you I
saw her before I left and told her I was going away just briefly. So we started corresponding at that time at Tobruk. We were terribly lonely at night and things like that. That’s all we had to do was write letters. The Navy brought in the mail. The Army were wonderful and I suppose that kept the morale up to have mail delivered to us
regularly but I believe there was a flying boat service to Palestine and it landed on the Sea of Galilee and they would collect the mail from that and put it on the destroyer that was coming up from Alexandria and that would get priority for all the troops. That was a wonderful service. It was a very good move. It helped us greatly.
I don’t think we knew anything about it. The Tobruk Echo – there was one fellow typed up a daily news sheet and he used to listen to the BBC and he would get news from that and we could get a sheet and pass it round and that was quite a good move and a couple of
nights we managed to go round to the dugout that he was in and we listened to the BBC. It was wonderful to hear the BBC come in and the news and then later on was a fellow, Lord Haw Haw and he was an Englishman that had gone over to the German side with a very sarcastic way used to broadcast to us
how we would be treated, telling us to surrender making fun of what we were doing and he was the one that christened us “Rats”. “Living in holes in the ground like rats. You’re just Rats of Tobruk” and it stuck and we’re not ashamed of that.
Yes. We had to. We first of all – the first couple of nights – it was pretty hard ground to get into. It was heavy shale and we used to dig a slit trench and just lie in that mainly on your back looking up at the anti-aircraft cover or something like that but they put up such a heavy anti-aircraft
barrage that the shrapnel would fall and it would zing down and it was red hot and very sharp and you had to be very careful so we had to dig holes in the ground. Maybe build it up a little way with rocks and then cover over the top with whatever material we could get with heavy rock from that then if we were strafed from the air you had a bit of protection with the rock cover.
Yes, you had to wear tin helmets all the time because of the shrapnel falling down from the terrific barrage. It was a wonderful cover. Really they did a great job.
our unit were the reinforcements for the Northumberland Fusilier Machine Gun Regiment and they mixed very well with them. In battle or in action I don’t think there was any ill feeling between any of the services. The Navy were our lifesavers.
The Air Force were non-existent because they only lasted a few days and all the other boys got on very well together but it was on leave when perhaps some of these feelings came about. Whether it was jealousies from boastings or what have you. I don’t know but I didn’t witness any of it but I believe there were a few battles
and there were quite a few battles with the South Africans and our boys but that was out of action and I don’t know what caused it. It’s almost like a fight between Collingwood and Carlton supporters I suppose. It was that sort of thing which I can’t tell you about because I didn’t witness any of it. I’d heard about it
but I certainly didn’t experience anything. I met some Tommy soldiers on leave in Jerusalem and we went out together and had a wonderful time.
like that and there were caves in these wadis and we used those quite a lot. We didn’t dig them but we did use them. But the fleas in them you would not believe. You’d go in and inspect them to see if they were alright and you’d come out and you’d be in shorts, army boots and socks and you’d roll your socks down
and there would be hundreds of fleas round your leg and you’d have to pull them off. So we still had to occupy these blessed caves and what we used to do was get high octane air force fuel which wasn’t needed any more because we didn’t have anymore aeroplanes and we’d splash all around the floor
and the walls and everywhere. Then we’d run a trail for about twenty yards away, set fire to the trail and it would run up and whoosh and the heat that was generated and with the fire and what have you killed the fleas. It was so hot you couldn’t occupy the cave until it cooled down but we did that. On the other
side when we were not in caves and we were on the flat where we were the first time. We went down as deep as we could with pick and shovel and I suppose we got down about 2’6” and there were a few rocks around and we could gather those and make the wall a little bit higher and fairly thick and then we’d scrounge around
and get a canopy or something from a broken or wrecked battalion vehicle, put that over the top of it and then put rocks over the top of that to have a natural sort of camouflage as well as a safety thing. You’d crawl in on your hands and knees and you’d be reasonably safe unless you got a direct hit of course.
that’s the strange part about it. I mean for a bit of modesty you’d walk a reasonable distance from where you were at and then you’d perform whatever you wanted to do but then the desert is infected with a beetle that lives off the faeces and they would appear from nowhere and gobble it up and it would be all gone
in no time. Horrible thing to talk about but it happened and it kept the place free of so many problems. Had it been any other way and we had to dispose of things and have cans and what have you, it could have been quite a problem but these beetles did the job for us and did a very good job.
And, again forgive me if this is a naïve question, but did you get any time off? Any time for recreation?
Yes. There were no parades or things. You did your job and when it was finished you didn’t have to do anymore until the next job came up. So we didn’t have any washing water and couldn’t wash our bodies very well and the sea was close handy and you no doubt have been overseas and on
the south side of the Mediterranean you’ve got lovely golden sand and on the south of France and those places, they’re pebbly old beaches. So we had some sandy beaches and we used to go and have a dip in the sea. You couldn’t get a soap lather or anything but at least you could have a good old wash and swim around until Jerry found out that
we were doing that and he used to pay us a bit of attention with the Messerschmidt fighter plane but we could get a dip between those attacks.
of this place”. Not a fear. It was incredible the feeling when you were in siege. There was a never a thought at any time that the Germans would come and get us. There was always a feeling that we would break out and it was going to be a movement from Egypt up to relieve us and that held fast all along but there was never a
low morale that way and when some of the boys got an “Alex” as we called it we envied them but no, the morale was not real bad. I think a lot of that was thanks to the Army getting letters through and also
him. I didn’t see our commanding officer the whole time we were in Tobruk, the lieutenant of our section. In the latter stages our officer changed a couple of times but he was with us. We didn’t see him but we respected him because we knew of his tactics and what he was doing but I think as I told you before, in those days in the Army
we were not told where we were going, what we had to do or what we should expect. It was only in the latter stages of the war that this happened and it was a big change and made a big difference to us to know what to expect but the Army was more or less “Well we’ve got it all planned, you just do as you’re told and you’ll be right and this is the job we’ve got to do”. But I think General
Montgomery changed all that with El Alamein. We didn’t do El Alamein, the 9th Division did that but I believe they were all thoroughly informed before they went in as to what to expect and what they were going to do.
one of our boys was wounded and they had patched him up and they weren’t able to evacuate him and our boys had gone out on another patrol or offensive the next night, nine times out of ten that wounded fellow would be there in the area that
he’d been taken with his wounds dressed and water beside him and whilst German fellows were our enemy they were respected in a funny sort of a way and Rommel was respected in a funny sort of a way and yes, we had a different feeling for the Germans that we had for the Japanese
That sounds very significant that they returned the wounded.
Yes, well that’s so. I didn’t personally experience it but I’ve had association with infantrymen since the war and also stories that got round in Tobruk of this happening so I believe it was true. Yes. But some, of course, were taken were prisoner as well that weren’t wounded.
Could you tell me a bit about them? You don’t have to name them.
Well, yes there were. Sadly in the main they were fellows that we realised now were too old for war. They were in their late 30’s and could have been in their 40’s and wound the clock back a bit to be accepted and it was sad to see them.
I remember walking in to the headquarters of the particular section that I was at and one of the NCOs. He was a senior technician and we were subject to a bit of an attack and he was virtually trying to climb the wall, climbing the wall. Why he was doing that I
don’t know but it was sad to see. He had to be evacuated. It was too cruel to keep him there. Others were rather frightened and didn’t want to come out of their fox holes. Yes there were a percentage and you were sensitive to that. You could encourage them. You could work with them and then if an air raid
siren came as a warning you could say “Well now I think if you go for cover now might be the best way” and that was one way of helping some of those that were a bit nervous but yes there were a few. They call them bomb happy.
we got him and raced him to hospital and I stayed with him while they – he was just in a pair of shorts and boots and he was in a bit of a mess and I helped them get his trousers off and they said “Well, we’ll have to take him now into theatre” but they didn’t have the equipment
in Tobruk to handle that. There was no saline bath or anything. He was so badly burned he only lasted 2 or 3 days and he died and that’s the closest I had. He didn’t die in my presence but he died. I went to see him and he was in a net and
gone but there weren’t many in my section. But some of them would but the Catholic priest that was in the Tobruk General Hospital he was such a busy boy and a wonderful boy, wonderful fellow, that he was busy enough where he was. You were asking did I ever see anybody. I attended
the funerals of any of my boys that had to be buried and that was pathetic. That worried me. They put them in the shallow grave because it was so hard to dig and they didn’t have pneumatic tools and things and they buried them in an Army blanket and it was,
they were wrapped in an Army blanket and I think there were safety pins pinning the blanket up and then they’d lower them down into the gravesite and they would sag, you know one at the head and the body would sag as they lowered them in and the Padre would be there and offer a prayer and that was hard to part with them.
our naval ship from reconnaissance and what have you and they’d come every night to try and bomb this naval ship but it was all perfectly dark. It was very hard for them to find out exactly where it was and with the anti-aircraft barrage coming up they would come across and just drop bombs at random hoping that they might hit it. Well this particular night
instead of dropping bombs they dropped a very large mine that they were hoping would float around in the sea and the naval ship would collect it and be blown up. Unfortunately for our boys this naval mine landed on the land and made one hell of a mess. Destroyed a lot
and there were quite a lot of casualties. One of my fellows who was on duty that night and again I felt so guilty. My best friend Ken Dunne, that I told you about was my corporal and he had taken the section that night because I was having a spell. I’d been on the night before and he came back
and told me that this fellow had been killed. Ron Barassi the famous Melbourne footballer was in our unit and he was killed the same night. So that land mine did a lot of damage on land but didn’t get the naval ship.
the hospital to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] centre and I said to the medical officer, I feel terrible and told him the symptoms and how I felt and what I was doing and he pulled down my eyelids and he said “You’ve got an Alex. You report to the hospital immediately and we’ll put you to bed”. So I had a
form of hepatitis from the excessive cordite in the air. It had got into my liver and I was pretty crook for a long time. They put me in a hospital in Alexandria and then I got word through that the unit had followed me out two days later. The Poles had come in
and relieved them so I was pleased that I hadn’t deserted them for ever.
on the lighter that put me on the destroyer and made sure I got on safely which was a lovely act for him and he needn’t have done it but he did. I was a stretcher case at Alexandria and taken to an English military hospital and I was pretty sick and I don’t know what happened to me
but I was in a bath and I can remember being bathed by some beautifully dressed English nurses. I thought that I’d died and they were angels or something. I was just all confused. Anyhow they put me to bed and we were in the British hospital for
I suppose a week and after I’d been in bed two or three days I had to stand beside my bed while the English Army medical officer came round and the matron and I couldn’t stand. I had to sit on the bed and the matron said “Stand up” and I said “I can’t”. So then I was paraded because I didn’t accept the discipline and
was told we Australians were a bad influence on their boys and we were going to be moved from the hospital and there was a vacancy in our AGH[Australian General Hospital] in Alex and we were transferred there.
the Australian voices and a feeling of understanding and of course they’d had such a busy time with the evacuation of Greece and Crete and it was all coming in through Alexandria and they’d been very busy girls but yes it was wonderful. They’d come in and talk to you and it was so different.
I enjoyed it. I was getting better quite quickly. I was up and walking around after about a week in that hospital and I was kept there for another fortnight and the Germans put on an air raid for us while we were there. Of course there was a lot of naval activity in the Alexandria Harbour
and they were flying around and it was quite interesting. I wanted to compare the ack ack barrage compared with Tobruk and I was heading on my way up the stairs to get on the roof of the hospital and one of the nurses was there with a lantern and made me go back to bed. I wasn’t allowed up there to see it.
recognise any. It’s just that they told me they were in that particular ward. It was a special area and I don’t know how they were treated quite frankly. Same as one of the troop ships we came on. They had a ward of nerve cases and an old school pal of mine I met on
board this particular troop ship, the New Amsterdam and I was surprised to see him and I asked him a bit and he said “Oh, I’m in the bomb happy ward. My nerves are shot.” But he was very trembly. His hands were very trembly. It’s a shame to see them go that way.
there that we used to drive past every day. Magnificent old building. I think the Romans had built it or one of those. They had an enormous cave out of the town a little bit which was used for ammunition storage and that was more or less camouflaged by a cemetery that was over the top
of the cave so it was a natural camouflage. There were trams running through the city and we used to go in. We’d go to the pictures and they’d have text messages in languages. One across the bottom, Arabic on one side and another language coming down the other side and we’d go and see different films and
have coffee at a little coffee house before we came home. I couldn’t handle the Syrian meat. It was a lamb type of thing but it was a rank horrible meat and the smell of it put me off and I think having had the illness that affected my liver helped to put me off this and I couldn’t eat the meat but the boys
in the mess were all waiting on my plate to be brought in so they could hop in and eat it. I’d eat the vegetables but I just couldn’t eat the meat. They used to sell lovely little cooked chickens. Very small chickens and when we went to the pictures or went into the town, I’d buy a chicken and they kept me alive. I lived on this lovely chicken and I think it helped my health
an old factory. A textile factory of some description and had been stripped out where we had our digs and these kids use to wash our boots then clean them for us for a few pence or akers as they were. Then the barber would cut our hair. We got quite friendly with the barber and he took us home
one night for drinks and some of their food. The drinks were arak and that’s pretty strong stuff and they’d pour one lot to you and then you’d keep adding water to it. It would go cloudy and you’d drink that. He introduced us to his family and what have you. That was the only occasion we went into the home
of anybody. I enjoyed that. We had a lovely canteen and you could buy beer quite reasonably well.
think they’d be allowed to dance the way we would dance. No, I didn’t experience that. There was one place we used to go to for coffee after the pictures, nearby the picture theatre. They used to have lovely cakes and we loved that. I remember for Christmas the proprietor turned on supper for us
free of charge with cakes. We thought he was pretty good too. But then there were other out of bounds areas that they policed quite rigidly. Some places we were not welcome but they were classed out of bounds anyhow. There were restricted areas.
to keep the troops out of those areas and some of the boys that would get a bit unruly at night would sometimes try and get in these places and then there’d be a little bit of a fracas and military police would come in immediately and close them down. Told them they had to stay closed for a week or whatever it is they had command. Also Aleppo
had an area where there must have been hundreds of brothels and that was out of bounds to the troops. The various units had to make up pickets and we’d go through, if it was your turn to go on duty to go through this area with military police who were familiar with the area to make sure none of the troops were there.
You’d go through all these brothels and what have you and honestly it was an education and some of the prostitutes were old enough to be your grandmother. Horrible sights and what have you but it seems dreadful to say but it was a duty we didn’t mind doing. There was a bit of fun in observing it, these dirty places but it was an experience.
for them to tow them down. Everything had to go and go in a hurry. I remember that very well and we set off in shocking weather because we’d had a white Christmas in Aleppo, our first white Christmas and we headed off to the coast through the township of
Syrian Tripoli. There were two Tripolis in the Middle East and then we took the coast road through Beirut and down to Palestine but it was a fairly quick convoy and I can remember I was given control of a section of vehicles. They transported in sections
and I had to ride an English Matchless motorbike. That was the brand of it. In this pouring rain. Had gloves and the rain was hitting me in the face. It was terrible and it was raining but when the weather improved it was quite pleasant.
So you really went from one extreme to the other, from the desert to the snow?
Yes, that’s right. We had one mishap on the way down. One of our maintenance vehicles which was a workshop vehicle was stacked with a lot of stuff and it had equipment and something must have shorted on a battery and it caught fire and it was ablaze very quickly and we had to get a chain
bucket line and put it out. We thought we might lose it but we saved it before it burnt down to the tyres but the front of it wasn’t burnt so we got it home. That was just before Beirut but other than that it was incident free.
Colombo on that and then we stopped in Colombo for quite a while. Again we didn’t know where we were going but we knew the Japanese were in the war and we had to surmise that we were going somewhere and after a number of ships had arrived in Colombo we were marshalled into
a convoy and we set off with the heaviest flotilla of naval ships I’ve ever seen. There were naval ships all round these troop ships. Even the Ramillies, the HMS battleship Ramillies was there and it was so impressive and we felt so safe. We knew we were going into a danger zone. We didn’t know what to expect but we thought
“My God, with this escort we’re going somewhere hot” and we headed off. We went to sleep that night and we came to next morning and the convoy had changed direction.
who were in the 8th Division and I wanted to have a look at the cemetery. Fortunately none of them were in that particular cemetery but I wandered around and it was a lovely day and it’s a beautiful cemetery. Beautifully kept. It’s very impressive. I said to Edna “Look, I just want you to go and sit
down in the sun and leave me alone”. I wandered around through the graves looking at the ages of them and their numbers and the units they were in and I found myself talking quietly to them and I didn’t feel ashamed that I was doing it. I just felt that I was communicating with them, telling them well done, they’d done a great job and what a shame it was to
finish this way. It’s stupid I know, but I’ve got to admit, I did it and that’s the story. When I came back and told my wife, she gave a second look at me but that’s me.
up through Albury and Goulburn, Gundagai and we finally ended in a town in northern NSW called Tenterfield and made a campsite at Tenterfield and it was from there we were given leave to go to Melbourne after all this time, we got seven days leave and that was pretty tough.
We made the most of it and by the time we came back from leave, the unit had moved further north to a little town west of, slightly northwest of Brisbane called Kilcoy. Lovely town, beautiful country.
and again they got news of us arriving. We didn’t contact them but they seemed to know and my father and my stepmother came in to meet me and of course he had his wonderful flash motorcar that he always had that I told you about and plenty of room. I think we took two or three
of the boys home with me because they lived nearby. They were all our pals and they lived locally. I’ll never forget the first port of call was to a Geoff Dunne’s place. Not my best friend – there were two Dunne friends of mine and his mother was out the front of his house with his two sisters and of course we all embraced each other, kissed each other and hugged each other.
I’ll never forget when I got back in the car my stepmother said “You shouldn’t have done that, Ron. That’s not the right thing to do.”
and I spent a bit of time at home and by then I’d done a lot of communication with Edna. I think I told you before the war I’d taken her to a dance or two and we’d met on this cruise but apart from that I hadn’t seen her other than to say goodbye. We’d been corresponding and we’d got to know
each other a little bit so I said to my Dad, “Look, I think I’d like to pop down and see Edna”. No that’s not quite true. It was another leave. It was a weekday and she was working and I rang home and her mother told me that she was working but I could ring her at the office.
It was then night time and she’d been working back so I said “Well, I’ll ring her”. I rang her and told her I was in Melbourne. I had sent her a telegram from Perth. We were allowed to send two telegrams when we arrived free of charge and so she was more or less expecting me home sometime.
Then she came out on the train from the city to Camberwell and I took her home. That was really the first time we were together as a friendship, although I had a couple of other friendship letter girls but I spent more time with her and it looked as though she was the one.
So when did you pop the question?
Oh, well that wasn’t for a while later. We spent that time together and then we went back to Kilcoy and from Kilcoy we sailed from Brisbane to Milne Bay and after the action in Milne Bay and things settled down
I was directed to attend a school in Geelong. The Australian Army were to get new vehicles and with my expertise and what have you we were going to check these vehicles mechanically and every other way to make sure we were familiar with them and the way they operated and this was a six week course which was a long course
at Osborne House, Geelong. I came out just before Christmas of 1942 on a Qantas Camilla Flying Boat. It had the inside stripped out of it and it had, I suppose, about 20 fellows in it. It was flown by Qantas pilots, not Air Force and
we took off from Milne Bay with a load of mail and a few other things with great difficulty because the sea was so smooth they couldn’t break the suction but we eventually got off. We only went as far as Townsville on that. It was a lovely trip flying over the Barrier Reef. It was beautiful.
Your first time in an aeroplane?
Yes, it was. First time in an aeroplane. Yes. So I quite enjoyed it. A bit bumpy because they didn’t fly very high. I got used to that. No seatbelts or anything. You just sat on the floor. Anyhow we landed and then we went by train south. It’s a long way from Townsville. We landed in,
I had one Army mate with me who was going on to Perth. He was taking up a posting with his brother in Perth and we arrived in Sydney on Christmas morning and here we were in Sydney. We didn’t know a soul. We didn’t know what to do. So we decided we’d get on a ferry boat and go
over to Manly and the only shop open in Manly on Christmas day was a fish and chip shop so we went in and had fish and chips for Christmas dinner in 1942. We celebrated Christmas that way.
each other fairly well. You realise really we knew each other for five weeks and a few days. Apart from that it was correspondence. After about five weeks, about a week before I went. I didn’t ask her would she marry me, I told her I wanted her to marry me. So that was it, yes.
Then I went back to New Guinea.
in the one spot. But the roads were shocking. Our vehicles were not equipped for the conditions. We brought the vehicles from the Middle East. They were new vehicles – wonderful but they had sand tyres on them for the desert conditions and of course we arrived in the mud. Communication was dreadful. We had to get ammunition from the wharf. We had to get fuel
from the wharf and other supplies and take them to the various base depots and the vehicles, the roads were formed but they weren’t sealed and they had high crowns on them and if you got off the top of the crown and slid to the side of the road, you just couldn’t get out even though they were four wheel drives. The tyres had no grip. We were in quite a lot of bother for a long
in New Guinea and yet we had lovely fresh water all the time. We could shower. We could heat water and have showers. Had plenty to drink and that contrast was wonderful. But when you got inland we felt we couldn’t breathe. It was very oppressive and if we possibly could of a night if we were a bit free we would go down near
the coast somewhere just to get fresh air but it was dreadful. The action moved on from Milne Bay and the story is told, we had a wonderful brigade commander. Brigadier Wootten and we are told that when he got to New Guinea for the briefing he was shown on the map the track of retreat
through to Port Moresby and he said “I’m not interested in the track of retreat. Show me the track north to Buna, Sanananda and Saputa”. That was his attitude and the boys respected him. A bit like Morshead in Tobruk he was a great leader of men. An aggressive man and the land
battle in Milne Bay was the first defeat of the Japanese of the war. So it was a great morale builder for all the Australian troops in New Guinea. They knew it could be done and then with difficulty the boys in the Owen Stanleys had a victory and then it was tough but it was victorious from then on.
That was so repulsive to us that we hated them. Then we heard of other things that had filtered through and the Burma rail and all sorts of things like that we knew nothing about. Yes we developed a hate for the Japanese because of those things. That they were ruthless in their attitude rightly
or wrongly but that was the feeling but we had no respect for them and treated them, I suppose, rather badly. But they would have done the same to us.
And that feeling of hatred for the Japanese, was that encouraged by your superior officers, do you think?
Well, when you say encouraged, they had no respect for them. The way they talked about them so I suppose it does filter through.
hard and I thought that I’d got the ‘flu or a wog or something. I didn’t realise what malaria was and I said to the boys “I’m going to have a lie down for a little while” and there were a few jobs to be done and the next thing I know they must have called an ambulance and they came and took me away.
It was so dramatic I suppose that I should be sick after such a short period. The conditions were shocking. We were in an old cow shed because the hospitals were crowded and this was a sort of RAP station with a few primitive beds up
and nets and they were trying to look after us and treat us. They couldn’t wait to test to see what type of malaria it was. They didn’t have the facilities for that. They started treating immediately with quinine at that stage. It was still available. Later on because the source of quinine had been captured by the Japanese we had to use other drugs
so my first bout I didn’t know what type of malaria I had. I had it a couple of occasions after that and had it treated. More pleasant stay in hospital the next time. It was more under control. They had done a wonderful job on the area as well. They sprayed the area with diesoline. There was a lot of stagnant water around and kept the mosquitos
reasonably under control and it wasn’t nearly as bad.
Did you think it was beautiful? Was it scary? Was it relaxing?
Very very thick. To get into it to get the timber, the timber was quite brittle, we would use a four wheel drive vehicle with chains on and drive into it, pushing the scrub or the jungle down until we got to the piece of timber that we wanted. Then chop it down and bring it out.
was entirely different from base line troops and front line troops are not subject to a lot of air attacks. So it was an entirely – but sadly we, from those few attacks, we lost people. We had people killed, badly wounded they were after our particular area and knew we were doing no doubt
supply jobs and dropped a bomb in our midst and did a bit of damage.
it was unexciting. We’d get a picture show, outdoor picture show. They had a wonderful vehicle fitted up with twin projectors. They’d put a screen up under a coconut tree and show, I can remember seeing Mrs Miniver. They’d have quite modern films. We’d sit in the rain in our
gas capes. We’d use them for rain capes and hats and watch in the rain sometimes. We’d possibly get a movie once every six weeks or something like that. But we couldn’t get out of Milne Bay. There was no feeling about that place when we left. I had no desire to go back. The boys went back to Tobruk
but nobody in their right senses would go back to Milne Bay.
the Atherton Tablelands. We were landed in Cairns and we were kept on the Atherton Tablelands for quite a while before they let us get back to Melbourne. I suppose it was to rehabilitate us. Fatten us up a bit. We were all pretty skinny and get us fit before they released us down south and we came down
then. A troop train all the way and that was a pretty rough old trip. It took so long to get down. You knew where you were going. The traffic on the railway lines was so heavy. You had periods of waiting and waiting for another train to come through or something
like that. It was dreadful.
Moratai and we went into a campsite there. A staging type of campsite and for the first time we were called in, all the sergeants were called in and we were briefed by the CO [Commanding Officer] at that time, a Major Hardy. He told us in detail where we were going,
what to expect, what the softening up process was going to be before we went in and told us that there’d be, possibly the Japanese had radar controlled guns and all sorts of things. Said the Navy was going in first, the Air Force, the Australian Air Force and the American Air Force were going to soften up the place.
Give it a good pasting. Warned that it was an oil port and they felt from their information that the Japanese were going to pour the tanks of oil on the water and set it on fire. That we might have a fiery arrival but we were prepared and it was the first time it happened. We were able to go back and tell our boys the story
again and they knew, so everybody was in the picture. It gave us an entirely different feel. We felt more important. We felt we knew exactly what it was instead of “Oh we’re doing as we’re told” and it was a great feeling.
the bigger LST to go on the journey. In the meantime the Air Force had done quite a lot of softening up and we had by-passed some of these occupation islands on the way and we could see some of the bombers going in and dropping the odd bomb on those, perhaps on their way home. They may not have dropped them all at Balikpapan.
We were told of the area and how it was constructed and it was a reasonably important base. By the time we got there, there wasn’t a very important base. The Air Force had done a pretty good job on it and smashed most of the oil tanks and buildings and things but the Japanese were still quite active. They put on quite a show for us.
They didn’t want us there it was quite obvious and they had some fairly heavy armoury and they did have the heavier guns but the Navy kept at them. There was quite a lot of fireworks.
the area was not suitable for the big LST’s to go right into shore and they had to bring landing vehicles. They’d still take, half a dozen vehicles or more and the ramp for the LST would go down and the ramp for the smaller landing barge would come down and they’d have to
secure the two ships together and the vehicles would move from one to the other. With the panic of the landing and everything going on, on one particular occasion whether it was the panic of the American crew or not but the landing barge wasn’t quite secure and the
vehicle that we had the Brigade switchboard on was halfway across when the vessels parted and this vehicle went down to the bottom and fortunately the driver came up spitting bubbles but with rather a surprised look on his face but he lost his truck and we lost the switchboard. That was the only vehicle we lost in the landing.
there were the shell bursts overhead. The Air Force were still operating and doing a wonderful job. There was a lot of – and everybody was so busy. You were concentrating, you had to do it. You had to get to shore because you had supplies and things that would be needed. Apart from that one incident,
things moved reasonably well and the boys on the invasion barges operating them must have done a few other invasions. They must have been experienced because they were so calm. They’d say “Good luck digger”. It operated so well. Then the organisation on the beachhead was fantastic. Supplies were dumped here.
Dumps were made. Vehicles were dispersed and then the organisation took over and distributed them. The infantry had gone well ahead of us of course. They were chasing the Japanese who were in retreat at that stage. They didn’t put up much of a fight apart from the barrage when we were coming in. There was a bit of fighting but not a lot.
On the smaller stuff. What about you and your men? Did you feel calm or did you have butterflies going?
Well, I mean you were on edge, put it that way, but you were wondering what was going to happen next. Yet you had to achieve something so I suppose the sense of achievement and having to do a job. It wasn’t as though you were watching something
very dangerous time. It was. Some of the boys were at a picture show. I was in camp and word came through and it travelled through the area like wildfire that the war was over, peace had been declared and the troops went crazy. They were firing rifles, they were shouting.
They were so excited and quite frankly that was the only time that I was really frightened in the war. It had been a beer night as well. They’d had a ration of beer – not that they got a lot. But it was frightening the carrying on. They just went crazy. I don’t say they all did it but a hell of a lot of them and I
didn’t feel very comfortable but fortunately it quietened down after a while. Some of the boys that were at the concert. They had rifles there. If you went out you carried your rifle with you and the firing went on there. They felt rather uncomfortable. It was an unusual thing.
prisoners of war in an area somewhere nearby and they had great pleasure in making them work. Made them work from daylight to dark cleaning up the area. But not hitting them, just making them work. We heard that the Indians were treated like dirt by the Japanese.
There is great ill feeling between the Indians and the Japanese even post-war there was. I struck that in my post-war period in Japan and these fellows would make them drink dirty water and things like that if you’d call it punishment but didn’t treat them royally. I can understand their feeling. Yes.
So Ron, after you learnt of the Japanese surrender, did you also hear about the atomic bombs being dropped?
Yes we did, but we didn’t know it was an atomic bomb. News had filtered through that they had dropped this amazing bomb. That it destroyed so much around it. We heard a few stories of how it got there. The amazing work the Americans
I saw them and broke ranks and joined them. They drove me home. It took four or five days to be discharged. You had to go through a process of medical examinations and all sorts of things. It was slow. There were a lot of troops, a lot of hanging around. I finally got my discharge and one of the most unusual feelings
I’ve ever had in my life came across me at that stage. I walked down the driveway from the de-mob [de-mobolisation] centre to go down and catch a tram and all of sudden it hit me. That I was now a civilian, had a wife and I had a responsibility for a life. The Army had kept me
for five years. I was a young fellow without a care in the world and here I was now exposed to the wide wide world and it was a most unusual feeling to hit me. But it did and it sobered me up quite a bit and I thought “This is a new life you’ve got to lead. The old one’s behind you”. I still remember it so vividly. It was quite something.
I had. Before I went to Balikpapan, Old Man Brash, who I’ve mentioned before, wrote to me and he said he had a feeling that the war would be over before very long and he wanted to write and say that if I would come back and join this organisation he would make me manager
of their very big and famous piano department. Pianos were a very popular instrument in those days. There was no TV and it was something. So I wrote to my father and had a word with him because I had intended going into the motor trade. My life was in that and I wanted to know what he thought about
it. Little did I know Old Man Brash had been up to talk with my father and this was all organised and he knew about the letter coming to me. He wrote back with every encouragement that I should acknowledge the letter. He also promised that if I could, what he thought I could do, he would make me a director of the company in time.
So I had a job to go to and I took Edna for a holiday back to Tasmania to show her where I spent my early days and then we had a holiday together, I’d had one small bout of malaria, I went back to work.
Look it was strange in many ways. A number of the old timers had kept the business going and they’d developed a very independent attitude. Supplies were not there and they didn’t seem to worry a great deal about the customer and I remember we usually met our customer on the ground floor
and took them. We had showrooms on five floors of various departments. I was the first volunteer from Brash’s and I was there, I think it was the first or second morning and a lady came in. I went up to her and smiled at her and welcomed her, “Good morning”. She looked at me and said “I don’t believe this”
and she’d been through the war experience of retailing where it was rather casual and off handed. I said “Well things are going to change around here and there are a lot of young fellows are going to make a change to Melbourne”. So it was an experience and if you put in the effort you could find the stock and we got the business going pretty rapidly again which was good.
Her father was a retail merchant as well so she was used to the long hours of retailing just as my family were. Fortunately she was quite tolerant and I’d acquired a little weatherboard house in Balwyn during the war. I think I told you I
had rather a nice little sports motorcar and my father sold that and the money that came from that he put as a deposit on a house. A State Savings Bank house and put tenants in it and they paid off in rent quite a lot of the house and then they gave returned servicemen the right to claim their home when they came out so we claimed this house and that was our first home together.
We got on pretty well although I disciplined myself again. A lot of the boys, the Army boys wanted to meet after work and get to the pub and it was 6 o’clock closing and you’d buy up great rounds of drinks before 6 o’clock and swill it down. Well, I didn’t do that and I went home and I think that helped a lot. Some of the
boys ran into trouble but I disciplined myself a little bit stronger than that.
must be my feeling of killing. I just can’t understand that. I think I told you I spent quite a lot of time in Japan on commercial business and I had on my retirement I had more farewell dinners in Japan than anywhere else
in the world. The company gave Edna and I a deluxe trip around the world to say goodbye. Magnificent trip. I first went to Japan and Edna said “You go there alone”. She doesn’t like Japanese and I’d spent a lot of time with them and I had far more farewell dinners and sincere dinners
and friendly dinners than any other country of the world including the United States, England, Germany, France.
and Old Man Brash got hold of me. You know he was a dreadful fellow in a way the assignments he gave me. He got hold of me and said “I’m going to send you to Japan. The first Osaka Trade Fair of post-war is on and I want you to go and get some agencies. We’re not going to breathe a word that you’re going. We’re not going to tell the staff.
We’re not going to tell the trade. We’ve got you an air ticket. We’re not even going to a travel agent to book you a hotel. You’re going to fly to Tokyo. You’ll be able to get a hotel quite easily and go to Osaka and see what you can do.” Well he had no idea of the difficulties. The English spoken
was very rare and as for finding a hotel thank goodness the Qantas staff in Tokyo airport were on the ball and they found me a hotel.
First of all, the welcome, the courtesy shown as we came off the aeroplane. The bowing Japanese. It was a much smaller airport in those days and the treatment. No English spoken except with the Qantas staff that were there. They got me a taxi and if you wanted to go anywhere you had to get a
matchbox of the hotel and carry it with you so you could show a taxi driver and he could read where to take you back to. Things like that. The hotels usually had some English speaking people at the desk and my first hotel was an enormous place, the Diechi Hotel. The foyer was like the
Flinders Street railway station. I eventually got down to Osaka and one of the hotels I was staying at in Tokyo booked me a hotel in Osaka and that’s where I started my first business relationship and that wasn’t easy. The Japanese
on the stands didn’t speak English and the only way I could establish a relationship they had a little box on each stand where you put a business card and after wandering around and being totally frustrated the Japanese were following me around looking at me because I had a leather briefcase and I had leather shoes. They were all
in plastic shoes and I was a novelty to them. The men all had the same coloured suits on and they were funny little tailored suits with short coats and I was a novelty for them to see and I wondered what they were looking at at first but they were looking at my lovely leather briefcase and things like that.
and I wanted to ask you something else. It’s quite a big question and I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer it. Maybe you can’t but have a go anyway. I was just thinking, you’ve experienced a lot of all the Japanese courtesy, politeness and hospitality over the years as you’ve said and yet you saw when you were in New Guinea and Balikpapan you saw this kind of very ferocious,
ruthless part of the Japanese. How do you explain that contrast?
That’s a very difficult question because the Japanese race is a very unusual race and quite confusing. The Japanese did those things because they were told but instinctively a lot of them are a cruel race deep down
from what I’ve read. I remember reading a book before the war or during the early part of the war called the Three Bamboos by Robert Standish and that was an experience of civilian life with the Japanese and some of the things that they did. Also there are some lovely genuine delightful people
and I still correspond with them and I like them very much. I trust them and they’ve trusted me in business and in the agencies I developed from those very early days, I never had a signed agreement, it was all a handshake and there was no varying from that agreement.
They were honoured right to the – and if there was any hesitancy or that they might have to make a slight variation to it, they wouldn’t do it by letter, they’d come out and personally talk to me. I found them very honourable in business and very trustworthy in the businesses that I was dealing with.
I was out one night after being in an industry just out from Nagoya which was flattened when I was there. There wasn’t a building except one hotel they’d recently built. We were visiting a lot of musical instrument manufacturers and we got together one night and the Japanese don’t drink very well and of course they get a bit
talkative after a while and one fellow was a Kamikaze trained pilot and he had a little English but the other boys told me. But I said “You can’t be Kamikaze pilot, you’re still here!” He laughed and said “Yes, but I didn’t get a job to do” and he was a comical fellow. He was amusing
yet he was doing something for the Emperor or something like that but he was a remarkable fellow. I mixed with all these people, I’ve got great friends. I enjoyed going to Japan.