Philip Loffman
Archive number: 571
Date interviewed: 11 August, 2003

Served with:

2/28th Battalion

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Philip Loffman 0571

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:42:00

So Phil if you could just give me a brief overview of your life in Perth?
In Perth. Well I was born on October the 14th 1920 in Woodville Street, North Perth, in a War Service home.

01:01:00:00

My father was in the 16th Infantry Battalion during World War I and won himself a Military Medal. From there on, my next experience with the army during the so called after the war period… the North Perth RSL [Returned and Services League] started a Son’s of Soldiers League which was a youth club.

01:01:30:00

They used to meet regularly and we used to play games. The RSL had parlour bowls, 22 shooting on a miniature range and that one seem to take our eye very nicely. When our coaches weren’t watching my friends and I used to hold matchboxes up and with the gun shoot the eye out of the swan on the matchbox. If our instructor had seen us he would have had a fit. They were only little bullets

01:02:00:00

but even if they had missed and hit your finger they wouldn’t have done much damage. I became a President of the Son’s of Soldiers League in those early days and at the North Perth Town Hall we ran big concerts and we did very well. Then from there on I was going to Perth Boys School and across the road was a big army barracks called Swan Barracks.

01:02:30:00

And that always seemed to get me in so I walked over there one day and I said to the bloke in charge, I wouldn’t mind joining your army. And he said, what’s your occupation son? And I said I’m over at the school over the road. And he said, scholar. And I said, yes that sounds pretty good, scholar. He said how old are you? I said 14. He said, you’re a bit young but when you’re 16 you can join the cadets. And I said, well if I have to be 16, I’m 16! And he said, right, you’re in the cadets.

01:03:00:00

So that was my introduction to the army and I spent several years with the cadets and once I turned…of course I gained a couple of years on the age side, so I decided I would join the Citizens…no, I think it was called the Militia in those days. And it was the 11th, 16th Infantry Battalion. And they said, what part of the army would you like to

01:03:30:00

get into son? And I said, intelligence. And I thought that sounded pretty good to me, so for a couple of years I was in the Intelligence Section and along the line I won the prize as the best scout. All my mates said that’s not much good that Intelligence Section Phil, come and join the horses. And in those days the army had horse and carts for transport. So I said, yeah, I’ll be in that.

01:04:00:00

So I transferred from the Intelligence section across to the Transport section. In those days to own a horse and go riding on the weekends and all paid for by the army, I thought was pretty good. So I stayed with the Transport and became a driver, then the war happened and all the CMF [Citizen’s Military Forces] went into a continuous camp for 3 months and

01:04:30:00

after the 3 month camp had finished I decided I wasn’t going back to work as a window dresser in Boans in Perth I wouldn’t mind joining the army and for a spirit of adventure going overseas. So the whole of us in Transport all joined up and went into the 2/28th Infantry Battalion. From there, that was in Melbourne and we went to Northam

01:05:00:00

and spent several months training as infantry men, then it was decided that we would go overseas. So we all went from the Northam station down to Fremantle and got on to the big convoy that was leaving and went out on little lighters and were put on the big four funnel Aquitania. A beautiful big boat. On its day it was on the Atlantic run. On the Aquitania, they took us as far as

01:05:30:00

Ceylon. In Ceylon we transferred onto smaller boats that were going to take us through the Suez Canal. So we went onto a Dutch boat called the New Zealand and we went up through the Suez Canal and we were offloaded at a port called El Kantara, which was a busy terminal on the canal.

01:06:00:00

And from there we went by train across the Sinai Desert into Palestine…it was called in those days, not Israel. We were at Khassa Camp. We had a nice time in Khassa. The oranges they grew in Jaffa couldn’t go to England because of the war and we could get kit bags full of oranges for about a shilling. I think the oranges were running out of our ears we had that many.

01:06:30:00

They also gave us leave and it was marvellous to go to places like Jerusalem and Bethlehem and look at all the …every relation I had was asking me to send rosary beads back from Jerusalem. We were buying rosary beads by the dozen and sending them back. Everybody wanted them. Then all of a sudden they said, you’re shifting out of Casa Camp and you’re going into the desert for desert training. We said this sounds wonderful. So back across the Sinai we went

01:07:00:00

to El Kantara across the canal and there we met some of the 11th coming back. We got about as far as Mersa Matruh and it was the first time the two West Australian battalions had met. I think we played football but I don’t know who won, but it was a good game. And some of our chaps who had relations in the 11th said they wanted transfers. One of my friends went to the 11th and the 11th went to Greece.

01:07:30:00

That was a bit of a shemozzle. In Greece it was not a very good campaign and we were done over completely. They were pushed off Greece and went to Crete and Crete was also a bit of a shambles. We didn’t do any good in Crete and the 11th Battalion was kaput [no good]. So we were lucky. I didn’t transfer back to the 11th Battalion

01:08:00:00

and we went up to a place called Tobruk which was only for training, but while we were there, there was a push on and Rommel was on his way down and we were left in Tobruk and surrounded. I think we had a chap, a German announcer we used to listen to called Lord Haw Haw [German propaganda broadcaster], and he was quite a personality. He would say, good morning Rats of Tobruk how deep have you dug yourselves in this morning? And how are

01:08:30:00

my self supporting prisoners of war going this morning? That’s all we were you know. We were surrounded completely and we were feeding ourselves. We won the Battle of Patrols. Between the two fronts was a no-man’s land. And each night we used to go out there and patrol and have fighting patrols, and we won the No-Man’s Land Battle. So we were quite confident and we had no fear about the people who were guarding us.

01:09:00:00

We would go there and take a few prisoners every now and again and stir them up. We lasted there for six months. Looking back on it you know, we had only one water bottle per day per man, and in the finish to make a cup of tea the blokes had to fill up a cup and put it into the billy to get the tea made, and they reckoned that by the time the tea was made they had lost about an eighth of it. And it was better to drink the water straight out instead of mucking around making tea.

01:09:30:00

We didn’t wash for six months. The desert talcum, it’s like a dust, like a talcum powder and it was quite comfortable. My socks I never washed for six months. The skirt stayed on my back for six months and at night you’d sleep in your overcoat. There were no blankets or anything like that, just overcoats. So we slept in the desert and we developed…like these bikies, they’ve got a kind of grease over your body, which protected you

01:10:00:00

and you didn’t worry about the smell of anybody because you smelt the same. I can often think of that, not washing for six months. Underclothes, I got rid of them because all I used to wear was a shirt and a pair of khaki shorts and boots and socks and gaiters. That lasted us until we were relieved and we went back to Palestine. For those lucky

01:10:30:00

people that had twenty English pounds in their pay book, they could go and have a seven day Cairo leave. That was our reward. Any of the married men that had to send money back to their families, after six months in the desert, and they couldn’t draw anything out of their pay book in Tobruk, they never had 20 pounds in their book. I was lucky I was single and we

01:11:00:00

all had the twenty quid and we all had good leave in Cairo which was a wonderful place for us. We went to the Khan el Khalili Bazaar. We climbed Cheops’s Pyramids. We rode on horses. We saw the houseboats in the Nile and in seven days we came back and we felt we were on top of the world. That didn’t last very long. They decided that they were going to go and send us to Syria. Now the 16th Battalion had done the Syrian Campaign

01:11:30:00

and we didn’t do any fighting in Syria. It was a complete holiday but we had to go up to the Turkish Frontier up to a place called Tripoli. It was called the Tripoli Box and I think they thought it was Tobruk and we put a ring around it and started to have a perimeter around it. If the Turks came into the war I would have been a prisoner of war much earlier because we were right on the Turkish Frontier, and if Rommel had broken through and taken Suez, I’ m quite certain Turkey would have

01:12:00:00

come in. So we were up on the Turkish Frontier. Then all of a sudden Rommel took Tobruk. He came back again and took all the South Africans who were holding it in those days. And we got orders, back to the desert. We were the whole 9th Division up there and I can remember them telling us, it was a secret move, and we had to kind of blacken our boots because you could pick the Australians. We all had tanned boots.

01:12:30:00

All the Poms [English] had black boots. And of course all the Arabs coming back, they knew we were all Australians because we all had tanned boots. So it was a full division. They took the 9th Division down and threw us into a place called Alamein. That was a big one. The Germans were doing very well in those days. We were first introduced to the 88 mm gun that the Germans had. We had never seen one

01:13:00:00

and all of a sudden this thing was bursting above our heads and showering us with air burst shrapnel and so on, and we thought my God, what’s this? And the sanctuary of the slit trench, which was our home as an infantry man was absolutely gone. We had to have sand bags put in a vee over the trench to stop the shrapnel coming down on our heads. In our second day there were 14 killed from flak from these jolly guns. We said

01:13:30:00

well this is a new war to us, we hadn’t struck this before. Then they gave us some British armour and we didn’t realise that the British armour was no bloody good until Alamein. This armour came along and it was called the 50th Royal Tank Regiment and they were Territorials or the kind of Militia from England. Their tanks didn’t even have desert livery on them. They all came out with this green colour against the desert sand

01:14:00:00

which all the Germans and all our stuff had. They decided on the 22nd of July we were going to attack Ruin Ridge, which was a strong point with a regiment of armour and a battalion. The morning of the

01:14:30:00

22nd, it was the afternoon actually, the late afternoon at about 3 o’clock they decided they’d go in, and under the cover of darkness we could occupy the position and make ourselves safe. Well everything was going alright. We had never liaised or done any rehearsal about going in with a regiment of tanks. The battalion was going in. Two companies forward and two companies back and we crossed the start line right on time and everybody was

01:15:00:00

waving at us and we were sitting on the back of tanks. Everyone was cheering and we were all waving back merrily. Then all of a sudden I thought, Jesus we’re going to make contact pretty quickly. Well we went through…on the right course. We were on the leading squadron. Now before we go too much further, these Valentines had just arrived from Alexandria the day before. They had just

01:15:30:00

come up the road. It was about 40 or 50ks [kilometres] from Alexandria up to the front and their tanks were in European livery and I said to the tank I was getting on, I said: do you know all about the war? He said, yes yes, we’ve trained well and we know we’ve only got two pounder guns. And I said: you know that? And he said, yes we know they’re only two pounder guns. We didn’t realise how crook they were until I did this action. Anyway

01:16:00:00

it didn’t take long to make contacts. The Germans let us get up until they could see the sergeant stripes and the officer’s pips and they opened fire. The forward squadron of tanks was blown to bits, and the following squadrons got into a lot of trouble.

01:16:30:00

Some of us got onto the ridge and we took sixty prisoners. The platoon commander was dead, the sergeant was dead, the section leader was dead and I was the only one left. The battalion never reached the objective.

01:17:00:00

The Regiment had lost most of its tanks. Night fell and I had these sixty bloody prisoners. I had one section left and so we decided we couldn’t let darkness come with all these prisoners, so I sent a Corporal Jack Streeter who was badly wounded and two other walking wounded and we marched

01:17:30:00

the prisoners back towards what we thought was the advancing battalion. Apparently they were picked up by the Regiment’s carriers and they were safely put back into the prisoners of war cage. Darkness fell and no battalion on the ridge. I thought, this is going to be no good. If morning comes and I’m still here, I’ll be gone. So I decided to pull what was left of us

01:18:00:00

off the ridge and we went back and eventually found the battalion who were about 2000 yards away. A long way back. They never ever reached the ridge. The Valentines lost most of their tanks. I think there were about 17 tanks of 50 after the attack. The battalion didn’t do too good either and in three days time they decided we’d do it again.

01:18:30:00

We had to take the ridge. So this time it was going to be a full battalion attack of what was left of them. We were going to be supported by 1000 field guns. Now this time was going to be a night time attack, not daylight, and away we went. It sounded marvellous. When the barrage started, there was one roar of 1000 guns.

01:19:00:00

They put a box of fire around us. As we advanced, the box went forward and I felt sorry for the Germans, because we actually got onto the ridge this time. The full battalion got onto the ridge and to lay an infantry battalion out in the dark is bloody impossible. The CO did the best he could by placing our…some of our anti tank guns

01:19:30:00

got through. I think there were six lost in the attack and I think only six anti tank guns got through, and that was our only defence against the attack we knew would come in the morning. They were Sydney guns. They were the 2/3rd Anti Tank Regiment. Dawn came and we knew what was going to happen. We’d have a counter attack thrown at us with armour.

01:20:00:00

And sure enough in they came like cockroaches. All over the hills and all towards us. Within the first hour they had taken out all the anti tank guns, and then they just picked us off piece meal by just running armour through…Vickers machine guns, mortars, all the weapons we had were useless against these Mk III tanks. They just don’t work. I thought, my God, I’m going to end up court martialled over this.

01:20:30:00

When the big bloke came beside me and said: Get out you Englander swine before they blast you out! I said, fellas, get out. So we put our hands up and I thought, Jesus, I’ll be court martialled over this. This is the finish of me. Anyway when I went over the rise I found out they had rounded up the whole bloody battalion or what was left of it. The whole lot was taken. So that was the 27th of July. They

01:21:00:00

lost a complete West Australian battalion and every one of them…nobody who got onto the ridge got off the ridge. There were a few, I made a mistake there. One bloke was badly wounded and a chap by the name of Bill Marr, he crawled into a German foxhole and apparently the next morning they found him and he was taken back to our lines. But he was the only one in the battalion that got off the ridge.

01:21:30:00

Before we got taken completely off the ridge, they decided to turn the bloody field guns onto us. Now I always had great respect for the 25 pounders but when they started mixing it all up with everybody, I think they were killing as many of our blokes as the…the Germans were all in armour, and if the shells go off and they’re in armour, it doesn’t make much difference if you get a direct hit. But the infantry cop it every way. But I noticed the 25 pounder shell

01:22:00:00

throw everything forward, so if the shell goes off in front of you, you cop it and it all comes forward onto you. But if it goes off in front of you, going that way, it throws everything forward and you can stand up ten yards away and not get hit. I only found that out through practice and I thought I would tell these 25 pounder blokes that it’s not that bloody good as they think it is. Anyway we were rounded up and put into big diesel trucks

01:22:30:00

as battalions, and we were taken to Benghazi. No, at Benghazi…there were only transit camps and the Italians used to get drunk at night, the guards…they were an undisciplined mob and shoot into the compounds. They’d all get full on Chianti [wine] and have a few shots into the prisoner of war compound to see what they could do. One of our blokes tried to

01:23:00:00

escape. He saw the ration truck come in and he very carefully got himself underneath it and as it went through the gates, the Eyeties [Italians] picked him up and caught him. And they put him up like Christ, like a crucifix on the gates. But we all got around the gates and started booing and they brought a machine gun out and put a few burst over our heads so we thought this wasn’t going to get anybody anywhere. Eventually some good Samaritan came out and put a stone under his

01:23:30:00

feet and took him off the gates. But that was just to let us know, don’t try and escape while you’re there. Now the next big adventure was we were going to be taken across the Mediterranean on transports. The Mediterranean was owned…the British had full control and they were knocking the supply boats off with submarines based at Malta.

01:24:00:00

Consequently the two transports, beautiful new Italian liners. We were put into the forward hold of one…and both boats…they were twin boats. Luckily the boat I was on, the torpedo missed it and went across the bow. I was down in the hold. I didn’t know any thing about it. Somebody told me that. But I heard the bang as they got the other boat and they put a torpedo into the forward hold of the other boat full of prisoners of war. Well of course there was blood and guts hanging on the wires. All the

01:24:30:00

forward hold blew up. I had one friend who had had his back against one of the bulwarks on the side of the boat, and the torpedo came in over his head, and as it came in, all the water came in like a giant swimming pool and protected him from the secondary blast which blew all the hatch covers up. He swam through and came out and survived after the torpedo going off a few yards from him.

01:25:00:00

The water that came in through the hole in the side of the boat protected him. The boat didn’t sink actually. It was towed by a destroyer to Navarino [now Pylos] in Greece and they sorted the mess out and sent the rest of the prisoners to Italy. I think there is about 29 of them in the Phaleron Cemetery with “Australian Soldier known only to God”. The boat I was on

01:25:30:00

he arrived in Brindisi in Italy which is on the Adriatic side opposite Yugoslavia. Then we were marched to Bari which was only…well it was a long way but it was a good march to a prisoner of war camp at Bari, and then we were eventually taken by train…they had nice electric trains in Italy. And we went in these cattle trucks of course. A couple of days

01:26:00:00

ride up to Udine which is not far from Trieste at the top of the gulf on the Adriatic side. It was a big camp. Mainly Australians and New Zealanders. I had a tough Colonel. I forget his name now, some Italian name. Above his door was a notice that said: “Cursed are the English, but more cursed are the Italians that treat them well”.

01:26:30:00

So that just gave us a sense of what kind of a chap he was. It was the most modern camp they had I believe. It looked like Gloucester Park. It had two fences with white stones between the two. They were highlighted at night so it was just floodlit. And his boost was that it was absolutely escape proof. Well it wasn’t escape proof because the boys dug a tunnel. It’s a big story and they…this jolly tunnel

01:27:00:00

went under the wire and got out the other side and they got about 30 or 40 of them. But they were only out for about a week and they were all back.
Let’s just jump back a little bit to

01:27:30:00

the beginning of the tunnel that these guys actually started. Just keep it brief.
Right oh. When we arrived at this…it was called PG57. Prigioniero di Guerra 57 [Prisoner of War Camp 57]. We didn’t organise the tunnel. When we came there it was a very well kept secret. I was in the hut next door to where the tunnel was

01:28:00:00

but some of the 28 chaps were actually in the hut and their beds were actually over the entrance to the tunnel. And it was a well kept secret and it was well organised by the previous people who were in the camp. It worked well. They all got through the tunnel and they got out but they were all captured. No one was killed and they were all brought back into the camp with a week. So it didn’t do them much good but it proved we could get out of his camp.

01:28:30:00

The next big story. The camp…a humorous story just to break the consequences. The latrines in Italy were the type where you had to sit down on your haunches you see over this cement pit with duckboards. And I had a very good friend who had false teeth. And while he was doing what he had to do he sneezed and dropped them down into the cesspit. Now he thought, without my false teeth

01:29:00:00

I’ll never eat these army biscuits, so he got undressed and jumped down and salvaged his teeth and boiled them for three days in a billy can and put them back in again. I was quite glad to get rid of Italy in the finish. When you got to German eventually, you could at least sit down in the latrine. Now back to…Italy had…I didn’t realise that the Italians

01:29:30:00

grew rice. On Anzac Day about 200 or 300 of us were marched out and we were sent to the rice fields in Vercelli. Now all the water that comes off the mountains and the Alps were put out into these big rice fields and it looked like jolly China. There’s an immense area of rice growing in Italy that I knew nothing about, and we were working in these rice fields.

01:30:00:00

It was better than being in the camp. You at least got out. We were doing physical work, which was healthy for us. The food was better because the farmer used to give us a bit of extra food on top of our army rations. The Italian guards were a bit sloppy. Most of the Italians were on our side. Nine out of ten of the Italians were on our side. There was only one percent…fascista barstardo as they were called

01:30:30:00

were on Mussolini’s side. They were spread out everywhere and everybody knew they were there, so everybody had to be a little careful. Eventually Italy capitulated. The Germans didn’t think they had capitulated. They carried on the war as if the Italians weren’t there. And our chappie…the Camp Commander that

01:31:00:00

I was with…in civvy street [civilian life], I think he was… the Metro in Rome, I think he was the theatre manager there of the Metro in Rome and he was a kind of CMF or a bit of a real sloppy…he wasn’t a real military man. And he came along and rounded us up on the day of the Armistice and he said: You soldaten…he said go back to your homes. You English, make your way to London, and he said the wife and I are going to

01:31:30:00

Switzerland and he got on his pushbike and he rode out of the camp. And I said, this is an opportunity. Everyone went and I thought, we might have a garage sale here and make a few bob. I didn’t have any money. We had to get…we were in Italy and I was in a British uniform. So all the civvies came and they got some very cheap bedding and kitchen equipment. We sold everything we could get our hands on and if they had caught me I think I would have got a court martial charge.

01:32:00:00

The only thing I didn’t like getting rid of was my overcoat. Anyway, we got rid of everything and I was dressed up like an Italian and I decided I would stay in the area with a few others. We had to break up into small groups otherwise you draw the crabs, and we started working on farms and they would pay us in food and give us a bit of money for Chianti at night. And life was very pleasant. And I thought

01:32:30:00

we’ll wait until the Yanks and the British catch up to us here and join them when they get here. But this didn’t happen. They bogged down at Casino for about six months and the Germans were rounding up prisoners by the day and people were getting shot, and some of my friends were actually captured. Tickernickle, a section leader in 10 Platoon. He was actually rounded up with a few others and when he realised one day that he was digging his own grave by the side of the road,

01:33:00:00

he opened his mouth and said something about it. And the story goes he had his tongue cut out and he was put in the bloody grave and left anyway. After the Germans were gone the local villages transferred him into the local cemetery and then when the allies came through he was later taken from the local cemetery and put into the Milan Cemetery where he is today. But this happened to several of our people. About 60 or 70 of them climbed the Alps and got through into Switzerland. I decided that climbing

01:33:30:00

was a little bit hazardous. I was right opposite Mount Rosa, which was a very high mountain and I thought I would make my way down to Como where it looked a bit flatter, and Como had a familiar kind of ring about it. We had a Como here and it sounded good and I said, Como’s the place for me. So in about two months I reached Como in civvies [civilian] clothes and I found out that the main fence there was electrified. There were two fences. There was an Italian fence and a Swiss fence and there were mines in between the two

01:34:00:00

and Alsatian dog patrols and the only way to get through was with bribery, so we got in with some family who said their cousin was the sergeant of the customs. They’ve got a name for customs…deguardia di finanziare. And anyway it was teed up that this day me and my mate were going to go through and when we got there he had a cold or something and somebody else was on the gate and he said, oh no I can’t let you through

01:34:30:00

you had better come up and see the tinanti [?]. So when we got to the tinanti, he said you bloody idiot, you should have let them through and he said what are we going to do with them. We can’t cope with holding prisoners in the bloody customs area. So they locked us up and when the Germans came through to inspect the area I noticed that they had hid us and I thought well that’s a good sign. Then the boss came up and said, look you can’t hold prisoners here take them to the army. So they took us down to the nearest army depot and the bloke

01:35:00:00

said get them out. We don’t want them. Get them away. So they bought us back to the customs, and then there was an argument and then they said, take them down to the Carabinieri…that’s the local police. Anyway in the finish I ended up in a prisoner cell with the Carabinieri and they brought the big head. The big Carabinieri bloke came up by himself and said, fellas the bloody idiot should have let you go through, now I’m left with the baby. I’ve got a wife and family and I can’t let you go, and he put us in his

01:35:30:00

car and he drove us down to Lake Como where the Germans were occupying a big fort. They’re always show ponies these Germans, they had these beautiful big swastikas hanging down from the building and a big platform with their guards on and their machine pistols. The old bloke in his car drove us in and handed us over and I think he was a little bit more upset than I was. It was still a big adventure to me at this stage of the game. I had been with the Germans before and I’m back with the Germans again now.

01:36:00:00

It was only about a platoon strength and they had a few very new looking halftracks in the village square. It was a well-equipped outfit for the Italians. There was an officer’s mess and a big clothing store. No one in it except this platoon of Germans and we were locked in the local cells. They used to get as pissed as rabbits at night, play bugles and beat drums

01:36:30:00

around the square. I remember one night someone had pinched a car and we were trying to start it, push it round in the car as he tried to get started. They were all half drunk and I said, you have to be very careful here Phil or you’re liable to get your bloody head blown off. Oh, interesting story. The first time I got there, one they handed me over, a big fellow came out. He was built like a brick dunny, a big bloke and he said: Englander? And I said, Englander. You didn’t bother about saying you were Australian

01:37:00:00

or explaining it. I looked him up and down and I could see he was the Oberfeldwabel, like the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major]. He said, Kommen si mit? And I said, Kommen si mit. So I walked behind him and I could see he was going to the ablution block and I thought I was going to get shot in the shit house, and he said come, come, come and he pointed to the broom and said sabel marken. And I knew that meant sweeping, sweeping. So I got the broom and I was sweeping, sweeping with the broom and then he said…hang the washing on the Siegfried line,

01:37:30:00

and he said, I will now write home to my mother and say ich now hab eine English sabel marken, meine schausenhausen. So I thought, he’s got a sense of humour anyway. I’m made. We lasted with them for about 2 or 3 weeks and then they got their orders to go to the Russian front. They were a happy go lucky mob. They

01:38:00:00

weren’t that good a soldier. They used to drink too much, but they treated us well. I ended up in a clothing store and I got rid of my old rags which made me look like an Italian labourer and I looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy because all the Italians who had joined up had put their clothes into this store and I had a Harrod’s tweed sports coat, a beautiful pair of pants, a pair of officer’s boots and I looked like nothing on earth. I said it’s the best I’ve ever been dressed in my life.

01:38:30:00

And anyway he said, fellas you’re going to go back to Germany. We can’t hold you here any longer, we’re leaving. And the cheek of these fellows. They put us on a truck. There were only about six of us. A couple of Dutchmen, a Frenchman and two Englishmen and we were put on a three tonner and he was told he had to take some machinists back to Germany with him. On the way back he went into a big factory. I don’t know whose factory it was. He walked in there and it was

01:39:00:00

place full of lathes, a machine shop. He was a lance corporal. That’s all his rank was. He walked in with a machine pistol and instead of blowing a whistle or announcing himself he put a burst through the roof and he said, the first 20 blokes on the lathes, get on the truck. And they just took the blokes in their blue overalls, they didn’t even take their little dinner bags with them. Don’t take anything. On the truck and they went to Germany as slave labourers.

01:39:30:00

And I thought my God, they’re villains these blokes.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 02

02:00:51:00

Well eventually the truck I was on with the stolen machinists from Italy were taken to the Brenner Pass

02:01:00:00

where you pass through into Germany or Austria and we were put onto a train, and I can remember distinctly we were given some apples which was the first bit of fresh fruit we had tasted for years. And they tasted so good. We were locked up in this cattle trucks and taken through to Lamsdorf which was a big centre or big camp which had 60,000

02:01:30:00

British prisoners of war. It was a shocking place. It was overcrowded. But as we got to the main gates we met some of our chaps in the 11th Battalion who were taken in Crete. When new prisoners marched in they’d all crowd around the main gate and I could see all my friends from the 11th Battalion and they said, well you eventually caught up with us. And I said, yes I’m here too. And they said, for God sake

02:02:00:00

give us your pay book and we’ll get you fixed up. They’re doing repatriation. They said, we’ll put you down as a stretcher bearer. A bloke by the name of Charlie Drake from the 11th. He said he was going to be repatriated, he was going to be a stretcher bearer. Anyway the buggers nearly got me shot because they got hold of my pay book and put this slip in on the camp typewriter…stretcher bearer or whatever had to be put in…they didn’t call them stretcher bearers…sanitisers.

02:02:30:00

It sounded a bit like a lavatory cart to me. But that was in my book and when I got before the Germans they said, this has been done on the camp typewriter. So I nearly got bloody shot on the bloody spot. A great one, you’re going to get me repatriated. I nearly got repatriated all right. I was nearly chucked out. Anyway I registered myself with the Germans and I was glad to get out of…

02:03:00:00

Oh, one funny story in that camp. It was good to get to Germany because they actually sat down when they go to the toilet. They had toilet seats but they were big outfits and there was 32 seaters in a row, so if you’re got any modesty at all, to sit there with 32 this way and 32 that way is quite funny. And I saw all these fellows coming into this big toilet block with these tins. And I said, what’s the score with these tins mate? And he

02:03:30:00

said well last night one of the blokes was sitting on one and a bloody great rat came and bit him on the testicles. And from now on they all sit there with their testicles in tins. My God, I took my tin the next time I went there. So that was my introduction to the German sanitary system. I was glad to get out of the place. They put me out to a work camp and I thought that would suit me because I’ve been out to one of these before. It’s much better than

02:04:00:00

the main camp. But little did I know what was in store for me this time. We got in the train and we chuffed down into Sudeten Land in Czechoslovakia into a town called Brux. Near the station I saw this big 24 feet poster, Hermann Goering’s Sudeten Land Treatment Works. It was the most modern of the

02:04:30:00

hydrogenation plants that was making petrol out of coal. It was a huge complex. It its full size I suppose there would have been two square kilometres of dormitory suburbs. Fifty thousand slave labourers worked in it. The middle complex was the factory itself and that was about two square kilometres and then the marshalling yards up the end and the tank farm would have been

02:05:00:00

another two…it was about six kilometres by six kilometres of factory. Forty thousand people worked in it. The slave labourers…and that’s not counting the Germans. I don’t know how many of those there were. There were Russians. There were French. There were Italian. There were Dutch. There were Czechs and there was a small percentage, there were three or four hundred English. I was in the English group,

02:05:30:00

and my first job there was called ‘Kleber Colony’. It was …in Kleber Colony, they actually went around to contaminated barracks and they were fixing up with fumigation. My job was to get into these old barracks which had quarantine stamps put on them and seal up all the cracks in the woodwork before they put the poisonous gas in. I noticed all the Germans were in very good gear with

02:06:00:00

respirators and god knows what and all the English blokes were in battle dress. And the first job we had to do was stick up all these things and let this poisonous gas in to kill cockroaches…well they told us it was to kill cockroaches and flies, but you don’t know what it was. We knew we had to get out when they let the gas go. I did that for a few months. Then I had given a bit of lip along the line and got unpopular somewhere and I was put into the Strafe Colony.

02:06:30:00

The Strafe Colony was a punishment kind of group. They had these big trucks with some waste from the factory and when I left West Australia a 19 tonnes general service wagon was a goods train. This thing carried 90 ton in one hit, and they had to hitch it up with steam to the engine and they could tip 90 ton out onto a face. I think the factory was built onto an old lake and this

02:07:00:00

waste that came out when to this rubbish dump as it was and they had the rail on an edge where they were throwing all this stuff in and filling the lake. They built it up about ten metres high than what it was. I lasted there for a while. German guards. Anyone who is a German guard, there’s something wrong with them. He’s either a lunatic or he’s got no arms or legs, because any of them who were any good was a soldier.

02:07:30:00

So you had to put up with some very funny types who were German guards. One of them if you looked him in the eye as he went past, you’d get the lugger in your teeth. I saw it happened a couple of times and I thought well I’ll get no dental work done, so when he comes past you lower your eyes and let him pass. He had a lugger like Two Gun Pete, one on either side. And they’d think nothing of shooting you on the spot and they wouldn’t get reprimanded for it. So there was a time to shut up. At certain times you just said nothing

02:08:00:00

and put your head down. On one of the big parades I had an example. The camp leader was up there and said something to the officer in charge and he pulled his pistol out and smashed it straight into his face, and then he said, a new camp leader! So you don’t argue with these people. We were in a precarious predicament. The work that was done there was vital to the war effort because in the finish

02:08:30:00

Germany lost the war because of no petrol. I think if they had had petrol they would have beaten the allies. They were a very big outfit. This was a very modern factory. They had machines there to lift 200 tons and put things on lathes. The size of Bau Eight [?], which was their big machine shop. It was a masterpiece. They were very clever in certain respects.

02:09:00:00

They were turning out the fuel for the V2 [rocket powered unguided missile] rockets there. That was made in the factory. They were making artificial rubber. They were turning out a myriad of products. It was the most modern of the hydrogenation plants. There were about five of them in Germany and up until just before the finish of the war they were beyond the bomb range of the

02:09:30:00

allied bombing. But I think it was about ’43 in May the Yank 8th Air Force sent over its first raid. Now these people had no flak guns and no defences up at all because they had never had an air raid. But the first raid was about 300 bombers and they came over and they flattened the joint. All the petrol lines were running. There was absolutely

02:10:00:00

no overhead flak to cover them, and the first raid just about knocked the factory out. Beautiful by the Yanks, the carpet bombed the lot. I think there were 5000 killed including about 4000 allied prisoners of war. The Germans were funny. It was the first time they had had a big raid like this. There was a big parade and we were all given free photographs of all the coffins and they were lined up 300,

02:10:30:00

400 of them. All with their national flags for what they belonged to. It was a big military parade. I’ve still got photographs given to us free by the Germans of all the coffins. That was raid number one. Well before the war finished, we had five raids at that plant and there was no petrol being made at all. It was just

02:11:00:00

completely devoid of petrol. There was not one drop coming out of the factory. And all the roads…if you can imagine the freeways here with no petrol and every car pushed to the side of the road, Mercedes Benz, trucks, armoured vehicles. No petrol, that’s what lost Germany the war. The big Tiger Tanks couldn’t move. We used to see guns going down the road with horse drawn vehicles.

02:11:30:00

That’s what lost them the war and the big factory I was in was one of the major contestants for keeping the war going and by April it was finished. We had something like…in the finish we had something like 200 88 millimetre guns around the factory to defend us. And these were manned by Ukrainians

02:12:00:00

with German NCOs. When the Russian Front started to get close…we could hear it in the distance coming, and when they diverted the 200 flak guns and started to put them into the anti tank positions, we thought this is going to be a mess here. I’ve seen one of these tanks fights before. And I decided it was time…I had never even attempted to escape because it would have been impossible

02:12:30:00

until then. But I knew it was getting close. No petrol. The roads were absolutely clogged with people walking with wheelbarrows and carts and horses. I thought bugger this. Escape wasn’t a difficult job. I could have gone at any time I wanted. It wasn’t about getting out of the camp, it was getting to where you wanted to go which was difficult. But I said, the roads are in confusion. The army’s in confusion, and within a few days the whole thing’s going to

02:13:00:00

fold up which it did. So I decided it was time to go and this time I said I’ll leave my battle dress on. My little cap, I left that on with my little Australian badges. So me and a friend went out and joined the throng of all the people. Everybody wanted to go to the Americans. They all wanted to go to the West. So I joined the throng and was marching happily along the road with all these thousands of refugees in my battle dress, and sleeping by the side of the

02:13:30:00

road I heard this clatter of armour on cobble stone. And for three hours on the road beside me I could hear this going through. And I thought Jesus, I’m behind the Russian Front, and I was. And all the people were going each side of the road and I thought oh God what have we got to be frightened of the Russians for. I’m in my battle dress. So I walked along and he had this bloody

02:14:00:00

anti tank thing astride the road. This big 7.62 [cannon], one of their best. Big iron wheels out and solid tyres, and I can’t speak one word of Russian and we get up to the guard. I pointed to my epaulets…you know take me to your leader and the bloke said, kom, kom and they took me up…he was only a young bloke, about 18, couldn’t speak a word of English. He looked at my badges and of course we used to make these Australia

02:14:30:00

things out of cigarette papers in moulds and they were moulded in old cigarette papers, and this Australia badge was on my collar, and he said Austrian. I rolled my eyes and thought oh Jesus and said hang on mate. And I got a map on the road and pointed to Russia and where Australia was and after about ten minutes it was agreed we were friendly. He knew my uniform wasn’t German and he said how long have you been a prisoner and I

02:15:00:00

said I had been a prisoner for three years. And he said, help yourself mate. And I said, well I don’t know about helping myself but what do you want to do? I said, do you want a hand? And he said you can stay with us for a while or I can send you back. I said, are you going west? And he said no, we’re staying here. And he was holding this little conference in a room they had occupied in some civvie’s house. And he had his platoon truck. He was in charge of anti tank guns. Some lunatic in the window opposite

02:15:30:00

got one of those shoulder propelled panzerfausts and hit his truck. The bloody wall went down and the truck went up in a ball of fire and there were crowds everywhere. He brushed himself down. I was under the table by that stage and I said, mate I’ve been here longer than you. Anyway I agreed I wasn’t going to stay with him. It was too bloody dangerous. I said, do you mind if I keep on going west, can I take a car?

02:16:00:00

No, no. You can’t. I said you’ve taken a whole convoy of horses and carts, can I have a horse and cart (because I could drive a horse and cart). So he said, yes you can have a horse and cart. So he gave us a horse and a cart and the pair of us got on the horse and I said, look they’re nice blokes but I wasn’t too sure. So as we went past…all the troops were in high spirits. They had won the war. They had trumpets.

02:16:30:00

They must have looted a warehouse of musical instruments. There were piano accordions, trumpets. One bloke had a kettle drum. I went passed their machine guns at the other end and they were all practicing brass trumpets. The bloke told them to let us go and so … the horse and cart went in front of their lines and I thought, “Christ, are they going to just let us go a 100 yards and then say, give it to them!” But they didn’t and as soon as we got out of gun range

02:17:00:00

we struck a bloke coming down the road. By this time I was loaded up with Christ knows what all around me, and a bloke was driving a ute. How he got the petrol for it I’ll never know, but anyway we stopped him with our guns pointed at him and told him to get out of the ute. He said it’s a company vehicle and I said well tell them they’ve now got a horse and cart. You water the horse and feed him tonight. So we gave him the horse and cart and pinched the ute. And I said, we’re made.

02:17:30:00

This is better than a horse and cart. So we’re going down the road and we come past a station and there’s a train in there being looted. There were people on it like bees on a honey pot. Old women out there cutting up parachutes on the bloody station and blokes going through boxes, and I said we’ll be on this too. Of course we were in uniform so they all spread out when we came down. They didn’t know what uniform it was. It was a bloody prisoner of war uniform. They didn’t know.

02:18:00:00

So we helped ourselves and had a good old time. We loaded up the truck full of loot. I said we’re made. We’ll take this thing through to bloody Paris or somewhere like that and we’ll have a good leave. We’re in. We’re going down the road you see and I’m thinking, this is getting bloody dangerous. I’m passing tanks and things and we hit Karlsbad, and the bloke said where are you blokes from? He said they’re the bloody enemy, and I said, no we’re prisoners of war, we’re coming home.

02:18:30:00

He said we’re going to take this and sell this rig and our loot. He said you’ll never get through on the roads mate. You’ve got no idea what the roads are like. But we said, we’ll give it a go. He was dead right. Because to come past a bloody great bank of Shermans and a German truck, I said we’ll get killed in a traffic accident before we’re finished here. We’ll get rid of this bloody truck or we’ll never get through. So we got as far as Nuremberg. There’s another Yank there and he came along and he said I can get you on a plane mate. I’ll take your truck and your gear and you can

02:19:00:00

carry on. I nearly got a hernia carrying my loot aboard the plane. We got on the plane and he said it was going to England and it ended up in bloody Belgium. Anyway we ended up with a Canadian outfit there. They deloused me and put this DDT [Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane - insecticide] up my trousers and under my shirt. They put me through…they took all my clothes off me and put me through a big bath outfit. All they do is give you a big block of soap and a towel and then you walk through this big supermarket

02:19:30:00

and fit yourself up. I’m walking around fitting myself up with a new battle dress and all that. Then they took me to England and the same thing happened there. They landed me in England and I said it’s all brand new, and they said, no you’re an Australian, dice all that, we’ve got Australian gear here for you. And they had a beautiful big reception centre. It was called Gowrie House in Eastbourne. We were all fitted up with our Australian uniforms and given good food

02:20:00:00

and free tickets to go everywhere. All the shows in London were for free. Everybody said they had an auntie in Inverness. That was the furthurest you could go in Scotland. If you had relations you got free train travel. They said, just say Inverness because that was at the top of Scotland. I never got to Inverness by the way. I got my train pass but I only got as far as Glasgow. No, I think I got to Edinburgh. We were having too good a time.

02:20:30:00

We had a great old time in England. Actually I had a shoulder gun in those days under my arm, loaded. In one pub one night, we had our Australian hats on and some bloke said, right ho cowboy, reach for your gun. And I said you’re on mate, and I reached for the gun and pulled it out in the bar. I never fired it but we moved then. Then we were selling Lugers [pistol]. We were getting only five English pounds for

02:21:00:00

Lugers. We had a few. And a chap by the name of Stan Ballinghall, he was a cocky down the bush, he and I were sharing what we had, and in those days I was a corporal. We were in Manchester on this particular night and some old darling came up to me and said, corporal, I believe one of your soldiers out the back are selling Lugers in the men’s lavatory. I said, are they? I’ll fix that madam. And I said, come on Stan, next pub. That was us.

02:21:30:00

We did very well. We were only getting five quid for them. I believe they’re worth a thousand now. But we got rid of our Lugers, they weren’t any good to us. I think we got through our English leave without spending anything in our pay book. Had a ball. When I got there they said: Would you like some educational courses? I said, yes. They said what would you like to do? I said: I’d like to Selfridges and work in their display department because that’s what I do.

02:22:00:00

And they had it all organised for me and after about being AWOL [Absent Without Leave] I reported back and I said I’m ready for my course, and they said, get on the next bloody boat, you’re home mate. It was very good. We came home to Australia and it was hard to settle down. Everybody just still wanted to go to pubs at this time and spend the day with my mates. But eventually I thought I had better go back and see if I can find myself a job.

02:22:30:00

So I went into Boans where I was before the war. I said I’ve come back, can you give me a job? They said, no problem. Go back to your old job. So I went back to my old job and after a few years I became the Display Manager, which wasn’t a bad job. We went from being just one store, then Frank Boan decided we would go into multiple stores. And in the finish we had ten stores

02:23:00:00

I was responsible for the layout of some of the new stores and the display in the new stores and the advertising and consequently I did a lot of trips overseas for new ideas and that, and I stayed with the company for….(phone ringing).

02:23:30:00

Can you imagine a film maker in the future just getting into that special thing about Boans and then ring ring…..

02:24:00:00

I think we’re ok again. So you were just saying about how long you spent with Boans.
Well I became the Display Manager and helped them with the building up of their ten stores, which was a wonderful experience. I got a lot of overseas trips. We went to America, France, Germany…back to Germany, and looked at all their stores. This time I saw it with different eyes.

02:24:30:00

I was looking at how they displayed merchandise but I could still remember the old Germany that I knew. It was educational. Then I decided…I saw an ad in the paper. They were going to start the army up again after the war you see. And I thought what’s the odds. So I went back and said, yeah I’ll be in it again. I joined up with the 11th, 44th I think it was

02:25:00:00

in Nicholson Road, then after a few years they said they were going to have another 28th, and I said I’ll be in that. So one of the CO’s came along and said Phil what do you want? And I said I would like to have a go at the anti tank guns. I said I know something about them. So he put me there and I had a lot of fun for a few years with anti tank guns, and then they gave me the

02:25:30:00

17 pounder anti tank gun which was the equivalent of the German 88, ten years afterwards. I believe it came out towards the end of the war in ’44 and they put it on a Sherman and it was the first time a Sherman could actually match one of the German tanks. And it took them to the invasion to get it put on.
Tell me about one of these guns that you specialised in?
They were anti tank guns and the little

02:26:00:00

six pounders were adequate for the time. The two pounders were bloody useless. All the British armour had two pounder guns. Churchill in an Act of Parliament I read about in one of the books later, he had 20,000 of them stockpiled in tunnels in the White Cliffs of Dover. And they knew the things were no good and that’s what bloody near lost Alamein for us. The two pounder guns were the armour

02:26:30:00

until Churchill got off his behind and went out there and said what’s the matter? They said, come here and we’ll show you what’s the matter. And he got rid of the bloody things and put Sherman’s in and put the British tank crews into American tanks. The Sherman’s weren’t that good but they were better than what they had. And they built 50,000 Shermans in the finish. Even speaking to the armoured blokes now.

02:27:00:00

In wartime they would have to put three Sherman’s against one Tiger. One would have to go down the middle and have one on the right and one on the left and he couldn’t get the three of them, but at least they would get him and it would cost them two or three tanks. And that’s the way. And they didn’t get decent guns on the tanks until about ’44. Then they put them on the Shermans, a 17 pounder and it was called a Firefly. At least they could match the German’s tank to tank.

02:27:30:00

How frustrating was it to not have the right equipment?
Well Churchill actually got off his behind and came to the Front at Alamein after we had lost the battalion and he said, what’s the matter, why are we losing the war? And he found out why we were losing the war. The British armour had all two pounder guns and they were inferior. They were bouncing off the Germans. I’m jumping a bit out of sequence here because …

02:28:00:00

I haven’t said much about the Russians…
We can go back…you’re back in Australia.
Back in Australia now. We were talking of guns. We were glad to see the 17 pounders. The first one I got one I was up at Yanchep you see, and I said to the instructor who was showing us the demonstration one, and I said why do you change number one after the first shot? And he said, Sir, have a shot.

02:28:30:00

So I jumped into the bucket seat and fired one and said Christ! The noise! And I said, where’s number two. Put him in. They are enormous. We went up…this is a good story. We went up to Yanchep and the barrel…it doesn’t fire up in the air like that, it fires straight. It has a muzzle break on the end that kind of stops some of the recoil, but when it fires it goes

02:29:00:00

out like a fiery cross on the break and it set all the salt bush alight, and we had a bush fire on our hands after the first shot. And they call it the signature of the gun and it creates that must dust after it went off and cloud. If you don’t hit your target on your first thing, you’re dead because it looks like a bush fire where you fired the shot from. They’re big guns. I’ve been trying to get one for the museum recently

02:29:30:00

but there’s none out there. They’re all gone. I don’t know who got them all. But I can’t find a 17 pounder and the hardest thing I ever tried to get was a 17 pounder empty shell just to do a projectile for the museum. But that was my experience with 17 pounder guns. I enjoyed them while we had them. But when you turn 47 I got a Dear Phil letter. Dear Phil, you’re now put on the reserve of officers because when you turn 47

02:30:00:00

you’re clapped out apparently and you’re retired so I was retired when I turned 47. But I would recommend any young bloke to try the army. It wouldn’t do them any harm and it mightn’t do them much good either. But it’s an adventure.
But you were pretty busy anyway with seven children to look after?
Yes after the war I found out what caused it, so we bought a television

02:30:30:00

and after that, that fixed it, we were right. We would watch telly after tea. Now we devote…we’re still army oriented. I’m the President of the 2/28th Battalion Association. We still run social events. We’ve still got three or four hundred members, financial members and a big support team.

02:31:00:00

And I’ve been the President of the Returned Soldiers League Sub Branch, which is a city branch one. And we’ve got two or three hundred financial members in that which is still pretty good. We march on Anzac Day with the unit, and we’ve just recently bought 21 drums

02:31:30:00

and 21 Australian flags for the 2,100 people from the 28th Battalion who are buried overseas. We marched over 100 on Anzac Day, which is still excellent, and they’re all getting pretty old. We had one bloke, he was 94 marching with us. And so when you’ve got 94 year olds marching you know your time’s getting

02:32:00:00

close to the end. The other hobby that I’ve had is gardening. I did a few stints on gardening. We built a place by the beach. When I came back from the war I said you can either build by the river or you can go up into the hills, or you can go to the beach. Well I went down to the river and the day I went there I could smell it, and then I went up into the hills one

02:32:30:00

day and there had been a decent bushfire through, and I thought no I don’t want to be up with that, so City Beach looked pretty good, the surf looked pretty good, so I thought I’ll buy a place at City Beach. And I’ve been here ever since in a War Service home. (Door sound).

02:33:00:00

Now we’ve broken off loose now and we’re just flying off into a tangent.
That’s ok, we can start right back at the beginning…
No, there’s an important part and we had better get it in now of when I got to Germany, I didn’t get straight into the big British camp, I went to Moosburg which is 7A and that’s where I got

02:33:30:00

put in with the American flyers. And that’s a good story.
Well you can tell me about that if you like. How did you get there in the first place?
After the Brenner Pass, the camp that I went to before I went to Lamsdorf was 7A. It’s out of Munich in the south of Germany, and being taken to the Germans there I was

02:34:00:00

only… I had been separated from my friend…you get a wonderful opportunity…the German’s separate partners and you just get used to being on your own, and I was separated and I was on my own and I was marched into this camp and I was confronted by…it was a sunny day and there was a little patch of green, not very big, and it was apparently morning tea time and all the German officers in the camp were sitting out there in

02:34:30:00

their easy chairs enjoying the sunlight and having morning tea. So I was marched up and the CO was amongst them all and of course I was in civvies clothes and this time I looked a little bit like Lord Fauntleroy. I had had my good clothes taken off me. And I was presented to them and they said, this peanut’s come in from Italy. And they said ah!, escaped from one of the local camps. I said, no I’ve come from Italy and

02:35:00:00

you blokes are being done like a dinner. And they didn’t like it. They were high on the hog and they were winning the war at this stage. And they said, yeah yeah yeah and they didn’t believe a thing I said. So anyway, all together they said Cooler! And that meant the jail. That was nothing to me. Cooler was seven day self confinement which I thought was marvellous anyway. I would be on my own. I got fed and I had a bed to sleep in.
What was the Cooler like?
The cooler

02:35:30:00

was like a little box like you see in Hogan’s Heroes. A little box like that where they put him back in on a little bunk and you’re just on your own. But seven days solitary confinement which didn’t worry me in the slightest. So I got fed well and washed and watered and it was a good spot. I thought it was about time I had a good sleep. So I was sent to the Cooler. Then when I was taken out of the cooler they took me up and they thought I was too well dressed and they

02:36:00:00

took me through a place and they said get rid of these clothes and I had to look through all these dirty looking old clothes around…old ladies boots and second hand stuff and they said fit yourself out. So I fitted myself out and I don’t know, I looked like a Hungarian or something. It was bottle green. But anyway by the look of me I looked like a Ruski so I was thrown into the bloody Russian compound. And I thought Christ, this is no good. I can’t be a Russian, I couldn’t speak a word.

02:36:30:00

So I was there for three or four days and the only one who came up to me…this bloke came up to me and he said, I’m a Major. And I thought yeah yeah, you don’t know who you’re talking too when you get into these things. So he spoke to me for a little while and he sussed me out. I was quite sure he would have been a German put in amongst them. Anyway the next day two guards came down and I was taken out of the Russian compound. By the way while I was in the Russian compound there was great drama. One of the bloody

02:37:00:00

guide dogs…the Germans had Alsatian dogs and the Russians had pinched one of the dogs and they had bloody shots being fired and the story was the Russians had got him and eaten him, a bloody dog. And I got mixed up in that for a start and I had nothing to do with the bloody dog. I didn’t know anything about the dog. So I was rounded up with them, but I didn’t last long there and I got on to the…I was taken out and put into another compound where

02:37:30:00

all the American flyers were. They were all airmen who had been shot out of the bombers and landed by parachute and there were 1200 of them in this camp. All Yanks.
Can you give me a little bit more detail about what the camp actually looked like?
A big outfit. Most of them were in huts, very much like you see on the movies. They had wooden roofs with tar paper on them.

02:38:00:00

You all sleep two or three on bunks high. That was just the common thing. But these blokes were all Americans and as soon as I walked into the gate you see in this bloody funny looking rig, some bloke came up beside me. He was my size and I could see him sizing me up. And he said, how would you like to be a lieutenant colonel? I said what for? He said, I want those bloody clothes you’re in. I’m going over the fence tonight. And I said, you’re on mate.

02:38:30:00

So I got myself a beautiful bloody outfit. The best boots I ever had. I brought them home from the war with me they were that comfortable. I always thought the Australians made good boots, but they were chicken feed. The yanks made better ones. So I got these beautiful boots and all this lovely gear. He was a character this bloke or so all his mates told me. I don’t know his name to this day or I would get on the Internet and try and find him. But he was a peculiar bloke. He had apparently been out once

02:39:00:00

before dressed as a Hitler youth and he got out for about four weeks and then he got caught and brought back in again. But he was one of these dare devil types. There was one old bloke I came across while I was in there and I said, you’re getting a bit old for this bloody business, what are doing in here? He said to me quite truthfully, he said, I was retired and I was ferrying the bombers across the Atlantic as a ferry service. He said I didn’t want to get mixed up in the war, but I was on a ferry service, retired officer

02:39:30:00

and when I got to England the bloody place is covered in fog, and all the tanks were empty and I landed in Orly. That’s the secondary airport in Paris. So he had a bloody brand new bomber and he gave it to the Germans. Oh you get some wonderful stories of how they come down in parachutes.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 03

03:00:43:00

Petrol out of coal. During the war there were many raids and they bombed dams and they bombed Messerschmitt ball bearing works. They bombed submarine pens, but some clever Yanks said, let them build all the tanks they want. Let them build

03:01:00:00

the submarines. Take away the petrol and you’ve got them, and he was right because it doesn’t matter how many you build. If you haven’t got fuel to fly them, you haven’t got planes. And of course with Germany in the finish only relying on its synthetic oil, it was bound to end up in the newer. I’ve got letters through the historical groups from Speer [Albert Speer – German architect],

03:01:30:00

repeatedly saying to the Fuhrer, if you do not stop the bombing of the synthetic plants you will lose the war. Now he must have written a dozen letters to Hitler telling him pull his 88 millimetre guns off the Front and put them at the factories. Because if you run out of fuel, you’re dead. And he was. Because the factory I was in was the most modern. It took five big

03:02:00:00

heavy raids to absolutely flattened it, but it was flattened. Now the experience of being under a bomb raid like this of this size…this factory was nearly six kilometres by 2 kilometres. It was big. The dormitory suburbs for the slave labourers was about 50,000, so it was a huge complex and whenever they dropped bombs, they had to hit something. The first raid was a win

03:02:30:00

for the Allies because the Germans didn’t think they could get in that far but they got that far, and …the 8th were operating from Great Britain, and then when they got up high in Italy they took over the big airport at Foggia and they put the big 15th American Air Force at Foggia and that was coming up from Foggia dropping bombs and the other one was coming up the other way from England

03:03:00:00

and the synthetic oil plants were number one targets with the Yanks. The Americans bombed by daylight. The losses were great. They persisted with their bombing and personally I think they won the war because if you’ve got no fuel, you’ve got no war.
What did you think of the Americans?
The Americans were courageous.

03:03:30:00

The would fly into the flak. They must have had…the British would bomb by night. They’d come over and put a Pathfinder over and put little fairy lights over where they thought the factory was, but the German’s no bush bunny. As soon as they put their box around, he’d get up there and put his own box round a few miles away and then put fires in their box, and then the big main raid, they’d be all bombing the wrong box. Then you know, all that bomb waste, all

03:04:00:00

the way in from England, all those bombers, there was no flak around them because they were away from the flak guns. Whereas the Yanks would come in by daylight and accept their losses. You’ve only got to be one slow learner as the squadron leader or what ever they had and he brings them in and they all follow him and they flew straight into the flak guns. While they’re flying in in formation they drop their bombs in formation and when they come down you can hear them

03:04:30:00

like a shower. Hundreds of bombs all coming down together. In finish there we were getting a 20 minute warning to get out of the factory. Now if you’re in the middle of the factory and it’s a two kilometre walk to say the nearest gate, well 20 minutes, if you’re a good runner you can do a little bit of a kilometre but then you’re only on the boundary of the factory and then you might be running

03:05:00:00

for 15 or 20 minutes and all of a sudden the first bomb comes down in front of you. They covered the area that well. In an open field I did measure it out. A stick of bombs came down in front of me and I said Phil, this is the closest you’ve ever been to one and I pushed all the dirt off myself, shrugged myself. I was buried and I passed 25 paces and looked into a crater you could have put a war service home into.

03:05:30:00

Twenty five paces away it would have hit me right fair and square. The few bodies I saw around, some of them had the clothes all blown off them. The head and the arm and the four limbs were all gone and it was just a funny looking carcass left, and that was someone who was closer to the bomb than me. I don’t know how high they would be blown in the air, but that was an open field. Now if you’re

03:06:00:00

in a town or a village and there’s masonry and that around you stand no chance. The bomb shelters in the finish became a big thing. The Germans are ingenious. They decided the bomb shelters after the first raid were inadequate so they designed the new ones. They were called Stollen, and they were three metres thick. That’s three meters high, three metre walls and a three metre base. Each of them could hold about 4 or 5000

03:06:30:00

people. You would need a pass to get into one. Of course the prisoners of war never got passes. They were only for the heavy gun Germans and the factory workers who were Nationals. We had to do our best and run. In those days it was winter and a lot of our boots had worn out. The Germans don’t give you new boots, they use your old leather tops and they have carpenters who give you wooden soles like clogs.

03:07:00:00

They’re functional to walk in but in the snow they’re quite warm on your feet. They don’t let the wet in and your feet feel warm in them, but running in them is hopeless. And even with a greatcoat on is hopeless. I used to hide my greatcoat in a pipe somewhere and kind of roll my pants up a bit and say here goes, and start running. Some of these things. It was quite adventurous. You could run and there was say 50,000 in the factory, and Bomber Command when I spoke to them after the war, some of them looked down and

03:07:30:00

they looked like an ant’s nest they said, with people running out like black ants, and I was one of the ants. The bombs would go off in the middle. But it was strange. If you had been running for 20 minutes and ran into the first stick, they were that cock-eyed some of these Yanks, they’d bomb everywhere. It wasn’t only the factory that got bombed. Anything around it for two or three kilometres was bombed. One example was on Christmas Day. Now I don’t know if it was done purposely or not, because the factory was kaput

03:08:00:00

by then and on Christmas Day they put about 20 bombs in our camp. And we only had little slit trenches and when the raid went, no one would stay in…this bit of England when the bombing was on and they all stayed in the theatre. That didn’t happen in Germany. If it was bombing you’d get out into a shelter if you had a shelter. I got out into the slit trench on this day and when I went back to my hut there was no hut. It was completely one big hole. That was

03:08:30:00

the prisoner of war compound clearly marked with a red cross on the roof. Consequently, I didn’t have much to carry when I decided to go because I had nothing. I only owned what clothes I was with. Anything I had in my little box or the kit bag had gone up with the hut. I had no shaving gear or anything, toiletries. Everything had gone and all I owned was what I was standing in.
What was going on with the Allies bombing a clearly marked POW [Prisoner of War] camp?

03:09:00:00

Do you think that was just because they were cockeyed?
You don’t know in these things. I don’t think we should have been officially working in a factory like that and subjected to the bombing. But what happened with the Red Cross, that was way over my head. All I was doing was just trying to keep out of trouble. It was only once or twice I ever got to the Orderly Room. A couple of times I gave some cheek to somebody

03:09:30:00

and they put me up on a charge and I ended up in a couple of Strafe Colonies. When you get into these prison camps, if a bloke goes for a lieutenant colonel, and he’s number 9 on a list of say 10 colonels, well all the good ones go to the Front and the crook ones end up as commanders of prisoner of war camps. The same with your guards. The guards are hopeless. Some of them are old men who can’t even stand up for the time

03:10:00:00

you’re suppose to work. Some of them are quite slow learners. And there was one poor young bloke there who turned up with an Iron Cross and he had his Luger strapped on and he had a leather glove on. He showed me, he had no hand. It was an artificial hand, with the Iron Cross and a Luger on. And the poor bugger was sick when he came to us. In the finish we were working what they called

03:10:30:00

the seiben-tagen-(UNCLEAR) [wochen]. That means seven days in one week. Six by six. That means you start at six in the morning and finish at six at night. Now to start at six in the morning and you’ve got to march 3 kilometres to the factory from your dormitory suburb and then you’ve got to march from your job from the gate in, it means that reveille was at half past four. Then you had to be marched through the gate.

03:11:00:00

Your number thing checked in and out at the gate and by the time you got to the factory, and the siren went and you were supposed to start at six on your shovel and not leave that job until six at night and then the same thing reversed. You’d get back to your hut at about eight o’clock at night. Then you’d have your one and only evening meal. There was no such thing as breakfast. Nobody ate any breakfast. No one had any lunch. One meal a day

03:11:30:00

and that meal was black bread. I think it was made of potatoes or something. It didn’t taste like it was made of flour. But it filled you up. And we used to get a round loaf that weighed a kilo and the boys made a template so it went into five equal portions, and no one would take one portion bigger than another. They were all put out on a bench and a pack of cards were given and the bloke who got the high card

03:12:00:00

got the first pick. And no one would dare take a section of that bread until…all the five in the loaf shared it and a pack of cards were brought out so no one got little slices and big slices.
How do you deal with that mental thing every day of getting up so early?
Well in the finish there…I shouldn’t say this, but they were causing self-inflicted wounds.

03:12:30:00

Some one would get a billy full of boiling water and throw it on his arm like that and scald himself, because there’s no use going to the doctor and saying you had a bloody headache. If you had a scalded arm like that he would put you in hospital. I’ve seen chaps get down with their leg and get a lump of rock and smash it on the shin bone and start scratching until it bled and then go back and say a sleeper fell on it at work. So the doctor could put you in hospital and you could get a bandage and you could get the day off. It was impossible

03:13:00:00

to keep up the work like that, six by six, and the Germans would work the same hours. Everybody worked six by six, seven days in one week. And they would say the only way we can do this is …what do they say, labour makes free or work makes free. They had it on the concentration camps.
What did you think about some of these blokes who would inflict themselves with wounds?
Well they couldn’t stand up in the finish. You just had to do it. If you were sick you would have to do it.

03:13:30:00

And they couldn’t do anything else, and the doctor couldn’t put you in hospital more than his percentage. They would just go and pull them out of beds and make them go. The worst treated people, worse than us, their own people and they were called E gang, and if they took you into the E gang and the day you were in whatever clothes you were wearing, they just got a big yellow paint brush and put a big E on your back like that. Then when your shoes wore

03:14:00:00

out, you would put cement bags around them and bind it in the snow. Women were in the E gang too. Your head was shaved and if you gave too much bounce to them and you got on the wrong side of them…this business of putting people in jail and watching television like we do, and mollycoddling them, that’s not on. Every one worked in Germany. And if you didn’t work you were made to work. If you didn’t work they’d shoot you. If you fell down at work they’d put an ankle chain on you and hook you out of the hole.

03:14:30:00

Tell me about some of the other …you know like the Americans that you were in the camp with. The other nationalities. What did you think of the other nationalities?
Most of the Americans…we weren’t with Americans in our camp. They usually kept you in blocks of your nation. The Americans were kept as Americans. We were classed not so much as Australians but British, and we’d be put in with… the Indians were in some of the camps with us. Canadians.

03:15:00:00

Anyone who wore a battle dress was British. The others had their own camps. We never mixed much with the Americans. And only…below the rank of corporal you worked. If you were a sergeant you got out of work, or a corporal. Luckily I registered myself as a lance corporal. I had worked in Italy and these Stalags to me, these big concentration

03:15:30:00

camps were no good at all. I would rather be out working and you had a better chance to escape. You got to know the people. You got to meet the Czechs and the French and the Holland people and you talked to them. So I was very happy to be put onto work rather than in the stalags. That was a terrible place to be. But the off-lags were a different kettle of fish altogether. Some of them had law degrees and they had

03:16:00:00

better circumstances than the work camps. But my choice was work camps and I was happy I did it because you could learn to speak a bit of German. A little bit about the country and you’d meet all the other people around. They were all interesting people.
What did you think about some of the countryside that you had seen?
Well in Italy the further south you go the more…it was a bit scruffy down south. The best part of Italy was in the north

03:16:30:00

…Milan, Turin, Vercelli. That was the better part around the Alps. And in Germany all the friendlier ones were the Austrians and the higher you get up there are the Prussians and all that...no sense of humour at all. The better the climate the better the person turns out. If you’ve got a chap living in happy valley, he’s happy. But if you’ve got a bloke living in the desert then he’s an Arab. I think

03:17:00:00

the Europeans I struck were a bit like that. In Italy, northern Italy was the best part and in Germany I think the best part was down south near Austria and Munich. The German people were not like the Italian people. The German people all thought Hitler was going to win the war and they were supreme. The Italians weren’t. They were a happy go lucky mob and they were glad to see Musso finished with and they were on our side.

03:17:30:00

A vast different between the nationals there. Escape in Germany was impossible because everyone would dob you in. Escape in Italy was a piece of cake. They were your friends. A vast difference. Except in the finish there in the war when the Russians came through, it was all over Red Rover and everybody wanted to go to the American side. There was a rush to be taken by the American.
What did you think about some of the Germans you came in contact with in the POW camp?

03:18:00:00

The German were our bosses in the Prisoner of War camps. Most of them didn’t want to be there. Nobody wants to work seven days a week, a twelve hour day for nothing. We got no pay and I don’t know if they got paid or not. I was there 18 months and I never got a cracker. They gave us paper money. I’ve got a receipt and I’ve still got it saying they owed me 160 marks

03:18:30:00

for my work. And I don’t know what that’s worth today but I’ve still got the receipt they gave me when I was on a charge for giving some bloke some lip. This bloke said here you may as well take this with you and I kept it. I’ve still got it. But in the finish I don’t think anybody got any pay. I don’t think the German army got any pay. It was a bit of a shemozzle in the finish.
Tell me about some of the mates you made when you were in the POW camp?

03:19:00:00

In a prisoner of war camp you start of in an army with a group of friends and the moment you get rank your friends kind of disappear. And the higher the rank is the less friends you’ve got. When you’re one of the mob you’re one of the boys but the moment you become a lance corporal everybody…they’re still accept you but they have some reservation about you. When you become the corporal, you’re not the enemy but you’re not one of the boys any more.

03:19:30:00

There’s a little difference and the higher you get the worse it seems to get. But once you’ve been a NCO for a while you can independently live on your own. Once upon a time I always had to have mates around me and in the finish there it doesn’t matter if you’ve got mates around you or not. It’s self survival. And you’ve got to get used to losing them because the Germans got that way of separating everybody up. Every time

03:20:00:00

you do something you get separated. I think it’s done purposely and they mix you up with all sorts of people. But you get used to that after a while and you became a self-contained unit. Even when I went out the main gate in uniform, I was basically on my own. Some of the others were going to stay there and risk being run over by the Russians, and I thought mate, I’ve seen this happen before. I saw it happen in Italy, I’m out. And I’m

03:20:30:00

a bloke on the road in battle dress and you don’t know who you meet on the road and this bloke was well educated and he said, call me sailor. I said, hi Sailor, we’re going the same way, we’ll lock up together. Now this Sailor, he had no badges of rank on. He spoke brilliant German. He spoke brilliant English and when we took the truck I didn’t even have a drivers licence. So he jumped into the truck and was a full bottle on driving German trucks, and I thought to myself, I don’t know who this

03:21:00:00

bloke is and he’s good company, and I’m with him at the moment and it suited me. And when I got separated and when one way and Sailor went the other, I don’t know who Sailor was to this day. I don’t know if he was some shrewd bugger who found himself a new uniform and…you wouldn’t know who’s who on those roads. You don’t know who you’re talking to or what you’re talking to.
What was the thing that kept you motivated throughout all this experience of being in POW camps. I mean every day would just change and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

03:21:30:00

What kept you motivated?
I think everybody wants to live. I mean to say I could have very easily got my head blown off in a prisoner of war camp. You’ve just got to use your head and there’s a time to speak up and there’s a time to shut up. And for many years the time to shut up is more important that the time to speak up because no one’s going to listen to you and you just

03:22:00:00

kind of exist because we all thought we were going to win the war and we did. To see the Americans and what they did to those cities. I got myself quite unpopular in London, with a few drinks in me, I said, you buggers here wouldn’t know what the word bombing means. I said you want to have a look at Leipzig or Chemnitz or Dresden, and I come to London and the taps are running, the police are going and the girls are all in the bars.

03:22:30:00

You had to push your way to the bar. Excuse me girls I want a drink. They wouldn’t know there had been a war on and to come through the places I had…Karlsbad was flat. Chemnitz was flat. Teplitz was flat. Just bulldozer tracks through masonry.
Can you walk me through one of these bombed areas?
If we have time, they’re all photographed on that DVD [Digital Video Disc]. There’s some excellent stuff there.

03:23:00:00

The towns were obliterated. When the bombing…I think it was called thunder clap. And if they put thunder clap as a raid, that meant no town. Now Dresden was no town. They flattened Dresden. I think there was two or three hundred thousand killed in 24 hours. That was murder. There was no flak guns around it and the yanks bombed it by day and the Brits [British] came over it by night and finished them off.

03:23:30:00

I can remember the headlines came out in the paper. The Germans said, Dresden ist kaput. And they were right.
Where did you see that headline?
One of the German papers of the day in the camp. The workers at the factory would always bring bits of news in from papers…the Holland blokes and the French blokes. But there was just three words on the banner. Dresden ist

03:24:00:00

kaput.
I know that the working was just all the time, 24x7. Did you have any time off where you could do anything else?
None. Six by six, seven days a week. That was for everybody, the whole of Germany. Not just the prisoner of war camps. The lot. The soldiers, all the technicians in the factory. Everybody worked

03:24:30:00

six by six. The Poliers or the bosses used to get…we used to get a 20 minute warning for the air raids, and the Poliers and the bosses and all the heads in the offices…you’d see them before the siren went get on their bikes and start riding out. And we’d say hey, hey wait a few minutes. And you’d wait about another ten minutes and wharrr off would go the siren and that would mean we could drop our shovels and run. Now in the running

03:25:00:00

the guards used to run for their lives and we’d run for ours. So just imagine the confusion with 50,000 people running. No guard could look after you and on all the raids I walked for country miles and the civvies would bring me in. I would just keep walking and say I was shell shocked, I don’t know where I am. And they would say come with me son and we’ll take you back to the camp. I just wanted to know how far I could walk and pinch a few apples and that on the way out. Everyone did the same thing and

03:25:30:00

there was very little control in the finish. The only reason you would go back to camp was because you had a bed to sleep in. But in the finish there was a time to come and a time to go, and I thought the time was right.
What made you think that the time was right?
Well the factory was kaput. We were doing nothing in the factory. The guards were on a thing like this…they were all expecting peace to be declared any minute

03:26:00:00

and you could see it falling apart. All the officers I think had buggered off and I thought well I’m not staying here and I was off. And because I had been in Italy and it was quite a lot of fun over there but this place, it was alright until I got behind the Russian front.
What was the general feeling in the camp when everybody started to realise that the war was going to be over?
Well the shrewd ones would stay in the camp. It was safer to stay in the camp.

03:26:30:00

There was no drama. I didn’t know if the whole camp was going to be taken to Russia, and I thought well I don’t want this because we were in the Russian zone. And I didn’t want that exactly and I thought I might like to make a run like all the Germans were running trying to get to the yanks. I wasn’t keen on getting into one of those Russians things and being swapped in the big swap. And I thought this is no good for Phil. It’s time to go.

03:27:00:00

So that’s when I went.
We went on a tangent there. I’m just thinking Phil if we could go back to pretty much the beginning and if you could tell me more about your earlier life. The fact you were telling me before about your military background. If you could just tell me a little bit about your parents?
Well before the war the …

03:27:30:00

going back very early, one of the things that attracted me to the army…when I joined up at Boans I think I was on twelve and tenpence a week. Now my mother died when I was 14 and my father died before I went to the war. So I was really an independent soul and twelve and tenpence a week, I had to pay ten shillings a week board

03:28:00:00

and I had three and tenpence to buy my lunches, clothe myself and get to work. I bought a bike and I used to ride to work on a pushbike, and the cadets didn’t pay much but they used to give you threepence tram fares into the barracks and threepence tram fares home again. So we got sixpence each parade. Me and my mates we used to go along and we used to walk in about three kilometres from North Perth and then walk back, so we got sixpence.

03:28:30:00

So on the way home we’d go to the local cake bloke and put our sixpences on the counter and ask him for a tray of stale cakes. We used to get the tray of stale cakes for a couple of bob and we’d sit out on the tram stop and knock our supper off. That was our supper. It didn’t go very far in those days. The Depression was still on. Another famous things, people will say, oh you’ll

03:29:00:00

never get thrown out of a war service home. Well that may be true but when I was 14 and my father was sick and I had a young brother, we were thrown out of a war service home because we didn’t have enough money to pay the rent. The old bloke was in hospital and they came to me and they said, you’re on twelve and ten a week can you pay the rent. I said, not really. I said I’ve got to live and I said I can’t pay any rent out of that.

03:29:30:00

They said well right and they sold the house under the family and I was left standing with the clothes I had on. Somebody came and took all the clothes away, and a lot of people say they’ll never through you out of a war service home. And I say I can blow that one over mate. That’s easy fixed. And they did throw us out of a war service home.
What did you do about that?
Well my young brother went to some of the family.

03:30:00:00

He went up the country. My father went into hospital and I survived on twelve and tenpence a week. It made you very cautious about money. Good training. (That’s the gate).
Can you tell me about your father?
Before the war, when the old man came back from the war, he was a tailor by trade

03:30:30:00

and he had a tailor shop in Hay Street up that end near His Majesty’s Theatre. And he about a dozen girls working for him before the Depression and he did very well. But when the Depression hit nobody could afford to buy suits and everybody was feeling the pinch. He wasn’t well. He was in hospital more than he was out. He went to World War I and got some sort of pension out of it, but it wasn’t much in those days.

03:31:00:00

And he spent most of his time in hospital, so consequently he died when he was 49 or 50 before I went to the war. My mother died when I was 14 so I was an independent person at an early age. Survival was…you had to do what you could do for what you could earn. And the wages weren’t very high in those days.

03:31:30:00

(I can stop that, I’ll just shut the gate, it’s off the latch) Now, where were we? Pre war days.
Yes we were just talking about…maybe talk of why you wanted to get more involved in the Militia? So step me through that.
Well the Militia…being…I don’t know, the army

03:32:00:00

had a kind of friendly appeal. I don’t know why. Probably from the old man. He won a Military Medal. He reckoned he was a big gun and all his mates used to come round and see him. And I think one of my godfather’s was a Victoria Cross winner from the battalion and that kind of atmosphere prevailed. And everyone used to speak of the army with glowing…and the army can be a family too you know.

03:32:30:00

It can give you comradeship and it can be a home and it educates. That’s about it.
It sounds like you’ve actually had some wonderful experiences as part of being in the army?
Yes it’s something you couldn’t buy. It’s an

03:33:00:00

experience that is only given to a few, or many had it, but I think some can gain from it and I think some can lose by it. I would put down it would be a gain because I don’t think it would do any harm if National Service was put in and everybody had to do it. The other day a young chap came here from Germany and he said his father

03:33:30:00

was well off from an engineering company but he had to do National Service in Germany. It didn’t have to be military. He had a choice of going into the health system. He chose geriatric are. He could have gone into the engineering system and picked engineering. There were two or three others. He wasn’t allowed to take on his final educational university degree until

03:34:00:00

he had done his national service.
But we didn’t have that sort of situation here, so you went straight in from cadets, and did you lie about your age?
Yes, to get into cadets you had to put your age up a couple of years, but the bloke, he was…he said what’s your age son, you’ve got to be 16, how old are you? And I said, 16. And I don’t think it did me any harm. But I noticed just recently when the Veteran Affairs were putting histories out, my

03:34:30:00

age was two years out. I had to ring up and tell them they were wrong. So it’s been fixed up now on the computers. But I did put my age up and now it’s been adjusted. So finally my right age is correct with Veteran Affairs.
So your furphies [lies] caught up with you.
It caught up with me after all those years. It went through on my records all the way through.

03:35:00:00

But it was only until my daughter said, there’s your history on the thing and I said, they’ve got my birthday wrong!
If you could tell me a little bit about just before the outbreak of the war, what you were doing?
Well before the outbreak of the war I was a window dresser at Boans [department store] and we used to dress the windows on the Murray Street and Wellington Street ends. This is besides my army career,

03:35:30:00

this is the way I earned my living. I fitted into that roll pretty well. And when I got to Germany and before it started to get rough they said, what’s your trade and they were building this big Hermann Goering Sudeten Land one. They had a magnificent theatre built. This for when they had won the war and we’d be the slave labourers and they’d be the master race. And they had this theatre, and they said would you like to…and they showed me the back

03:36:00:00

the lighting and all the sound, and they said you’re a window dresser, do you want to be in this, and I said, yeah I’ll be in that. And of course when it got dinkum there was no theatres, and all this business of community singing. When you’re working the six by six seven days a week, there’s no concert, there’s no community singing, there’s no nothing. It’s just work. And the theatre was never used.

03:36:30:00

The lights were never turned on and the big recreation rooms they had and all that they were never used. It was all work, work, work. And as it became further into it and they were losing the war, the tougher it got. But they had wonderful views. The camp itself was a masterpiece. It was landscaped. There were bitumen roads. The huts were rather nicely built. There were all sorts of facilities, but we would have

03:37:00:00

been the serfs. And we would have been there purely as labourers. No education, no nothing. Just work on the shovels and the manual labour and the Germans would have run everything. And that’s where I could have ended up if it wasn’t for daylight American bombing. If those yanks hadn’t come in and smashed that bloody factory, they would have won the war. If they had had petrol I’m quite sure we wouldn’t have won. One show I saw was called the Battle of the Bulge

03:37:30:00

and they portrayed it well with all the chaps going in with the siphon hoses around their necks to siphon petrol and their aim was to get a petrol dump because they had none. And if they could have got the petrol all those bloody Tiger Tanks could have been on the loose. But they never had the juice.
How big a morale booster was it that the Americans were dropping bombs on you?
Excellent. Bomb them that’s what I said. Bomb me with it too, what’s the odds.

03:38:00:00

Rock it in Yank. Because they were blowing it to pieces and if they hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have controlled him. They’re bloody lunatics when they get to the top. He was nut. And even all his commanders, even Rommel, I think they shot him in the finish. He was one of their better commanders. Some of our blokes did meet Rommel you know. We had an outpost in Tobruk. It was called Outpost Jack. Absolute stupidity,

03:38:30:00

it was about three thousand yards in front of the front line. The front line went out in a triangle like this and Outpost Jack was…they had a platoon holding it. They had had a section in the post and another couple of sections around it. It was heavily mined. It was just a kind of thorn in his side. It just broke his line up by a mile, so this particular night they said they were going to straighten it out. And they did. It wouldn’t take much straightening out. They threw a company in

03:39:00:00

against a section and they killed the sergeant…about three got killed and about four were taken prisoner. Charlie Warburton, he’s dead now. He was on the Bren and of course the Bren gun was a good gun in daylight, but at night time if you let it go on automatic it looked like you had a four foot florescent tube at the end of the gun. So the moment you put the bloody,

03:39:30:00

on the automatic and this flame came out the end and it looked like a flame thrower, you were a target. So anybody who was on a Bren gun…I had one but I would never use it on automatic at night. You fire it on single shots, otherwise you’re dead. I did it once on one of the raids and I saw this bloody flame come out like that and the next thing I know, there’s a bang, I’m in the air and the gun I don’t know where it went. My number two’s gone and I said what happened? And he said I don’t know. They must have all got

03:40:00:00

together and thrown bloody grenades because the gun was thrown from me. I searched around and got the gun, I got hold of Curtis (he’s still alive today somewhere), and we got out of it. But to open it up at night is absolutely suicide. It’s like that florescent tube. And this particular Warburton, he got his shoulder all blown away and the others were taken and Rommel appeared. I was never there,

03:40:30:00

I was on the other side of it. Rommel put a tag on his shoulder to say this wounded soldier must be treated as a first class soldier.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 04

04:00:39:00

Phil, what we’ll do, we’ll just comb back through what you’ve discussed with us early this morning and if you like we could start with your training in Northam.
Yes, Northam camp we were put into…I think they were built years ago, iron shed. There was no glass

04:01:00:00

windows. There were wooden floors on them, but actually when I look back on them, we had better accommodation as prisoners of war. Those first tin huts that we had in Northam.
How did you arrive in Northam?
We went to Northam by train of course and by train then up to the station…we walked up from the station. They didn’t have enough buses. We marched up. When we were going down we were carrying all our embarkation stuff

04:01:30:00

with packs and that and it was rather heavy. The army didn’t have a lot of money in those days and buses and things weren’t heard of. And because we were infantry battalions we moved on foot. Everything was a bit primitive. The weapons we had were World War I. Accommodation up there was thought out in World War I. The whole thinking of the army was 40 years behind the day.

04:02:00:00

We were packaged up and sent away with what we had and what we had wasn’t any good.
How much time did you spend in Northam?
Oh three or four months all up. Northam was a good climate. There were fields and exercises and drills. It was just a matter of shaking the battalion out and getting into some shape and breaking up into sections and platoons and companies. Getting to know your NCOs. It was no stranger to me. I had been in the CMF for years before hand

04:02:30:00

and it was all part and parcel of the same deal. The sergeants had their own mess. The officers had their mess and what was left over the men had.
What about for a lot of the other men who were with you?
The which?
The other men who were with you there training?
Oh we were all mixed up together. There were gold miners. Chappies who were farmers, vegetable growers. It was a great big Irish stew of people mixed up together for the first time. You sort it

04:03:00:00

out and got into friendship groups and made little cliques and made your own friends and you developed the team spirit over a period of time and most of those people stayed together for quite a while.
Was the training tough on you?
The training was just old .303 rifles, World War I type and actually a bit boring to be quite candid. Mainly physical. We were all coming in fair soft from civilian occupations and

04:03:30:00

the idea of getting us out and making us sweat a bit and get into a team spirit was the point of the exercise.
Do you think the exercise was achieved?
Well it was the same as everybody. Half of our officers were only brand new to the job. Some of the sergeants were only elected new to the job. And everybody had to sort themselves out. It was only a rehearsal before the main event. The main event was a few months away

04:04:00:00

We didn’t realise it was that close, but it wasn’t that far away.
Let’s move onto your journey to the main event, boarding the Aquitania.
Well the Aquitania was too big to come into Fremantle and she had to stay out in Gauge Roads and we were put on by some of the local Lighters that went out there and all we saw were these huge port holes and big doorways

04:04:30:00

and we went up from our boat on gangplanks up onto this huge boat. It had four funnels. One of the few Cunard liners with four funnels. A beautiful boat in its day. It used to do the Atlantic run with all the millionaires on. But we were down in the bottom cabins and on the trip over most of us would like to get up on the deck at night and sleep. We had to get up early in the morning and the deck crews

04:05:00:00

would have big salt water hoses, and it was like getting aphids off a rose bush. All these blokes were sleeping in their little sleeping bags on the deck and they’d come with these huge pumps and it would soon shift the blokes off the deck. They were skirted with salt water.
Why did the blokes choose to sleep on the deck?
Well the ventilation in the cabins we were in wasn’t very good at all. I don’t think it was meant for…we weren’t in the passenger’s accommodation. We were in the lower class accommodation. And the fresh air didn’t get down there very much. It was nicer

04:05:30:00

to sleep on deck. And no one seemed to take offence of us sleeping on deck, so most of us slept on deck all night.
What were the weather conditions like on the voyage?
I didn’t really notice. It was the first time I had been on a big boat in all my life and everything was brand new. I was getting it all for free. A trip overseas for nothing.
What was the feeling like amongst the men?
They were all happy. The food was excellent. Better than we had in Northam. Better

04:06:00:00

kitchens and better served up. There was about four or five sittings in the dining room. You’d take your turn at having your sitting. There wasn’t enough to sit them all down. But I think the army or the government only paid about $35 a head for us, and in that time it was a lot of money.
What was your destination aboard the Aquitania?
We went as far as Ceylon at Colombo and then they…because the Aquitania couldn’t go through Suez. It was

04:06:30:00

too big, so they had to put us on smaller boats. It was a boat called Nieuw Zeeland. A Dutch boat. And we were transferred onto the Nieuw Zeeland. That was a bit primitive. It was like cattle conditions down stairs. Everybody started to bar like sheep…baarrr. Someone was shouting, stop that noise and they were al barring like sheep because we had been poured into the sheep holds.
How many men would board these smaller craft?
Well it took the full battalion as far as I know,

04:07:00:00

and I don’t know what they had in other holds. But we were all cramped up. And again if you could find a place on deck it was much better to sleep there. They had kind of canvas ventilator shafts that would blow air down and I think it was just from which way the wind was blowing. They’d point the funnel that way and get the air, and we were all in hammocks. And of course if you’re not used to sleeping in hammocks, it’s a terrible thing to sleep in because if you roll too much you’ll fall out. And you’re all one above the other and as the ship

04:07:30:00

rolls all the hammocks go the same way. It was the first time I had slept in a hammock.
How long were you aboard the Nieuw Zeeland?
Only a few days. It wasn’t long before we got into Suez Canal. Going up Suez Canal there was a bit of drama. Someone spotted a plane laying mines in the canal and the boats had to stop at Bitter Lakes, which was in the middle of the canal and sort out how many mines had been dropped and who was going shift them. We didn’t want to get blown up before we got to the war.

04:08:00:00

So we shifted up the canal and went to El Kantara. There was a canteen bloke and they tell me he was an Australian making something called Spinny Sausages. They were funny little things. I think they were made out of camels or donkeys. I never saw any beef. So we all had these spinny sausages for our meal. At El Kantara.
Sorry, how did you get rid of the mines?
It wasn’t anything to do with us. We were just on the boat and we were held up there a couple days and

04:08:30:00

then they said it’s all clear you can go on.
So a minesweeper would have…
Oh I don’t know what they would have used. It was out of our domain. We were just doing what we were told.
Can you describe what you saw when you arrive at El Kantara?
It was a busy little crossing there. There wasn’t much there at all. There was a catering place that had been set up. He’d been handling all these troops and they were famous these spinny sausages.

04:09:00:00

Then there was a train station there and from there you go across the Sinai. That’s the one…if you saw that picture of Lawrence of Arabia, that’s the one Lawrence crossed on foot. But we had the train ride, cattle trucks, no passenger trains, just ordinary trucks with sliding doors on them. You just slept on the floor. No latrines, no water, no food, no nothing until you got to your destination. It was only a few days trip or something.

04:09:30:00

What was your destination?
The destination was Palestine, Khassa Camp. And Khassa Camp was…the 16th Battalion erected our tents for us and we slept on little kind of cane beds that the locals made out of sticks or something. They weren’t very strong but they at least kept you off the floor with your palliasse and you were a bit off the deck. No, the canvas

04:10:00:00

tents were alright once you get used to them. They’re warm and cool. You can open them up. So we were all under canvas there. So at Khassa, no it was Cairo 89…later we went to Cairo. The biggest thing we got in Palestine, we got a few days leave on weekends and we could go and see all these marvellous sights. Bus tours would come and take us in and take us out and it was like a holiday there. The Jaffa oranges couldn’t

04:10:30:00

be exported to England and there was a glut of them in the market and you could go into the orchard there and see the orchard owner and give him the equivalent of twenty cents and fill a kit bag full of oranges. Of course we lived off oranges. They were marvellous oranges. You’d be paying a dollar each for them in England.
What were your service duties while you were at Khassa Camp?
Only drill, drill, drill all the time. One of the air force blokes was welcoming us in and he

04:11:00:00

had a modern Spitfire or Hurricane. He was showing us a victory roll or something and hit the bloody goal post and killed himself and crashed the plane. I remember that part.
How many days after your arrival did you witness that?
It was on our arrival in. He was giving us the salute and making us welcome to the Middle East and showing off and killed himself. Hit the bloody goal post and that was our introduction. A bad start for the air force.

04:11:30:00

Killed himself and wrecked the plane.
Can you describe the drills that you were involved in?
Well the duties were again rifle drill with World War I rifles. We never had a Bren gun. I never saw a Bren gun there. There was just the same 303 rifles. Our webbing equipment was old World War I stuff with about five pouches on. Then later on we got Bren guns when we got to the Western

04:12:00:00

Desert. We never saw a Bren gun in Palestine.
Some of us have never done a drill. Could you take us through step by step what would happen on a drill?
The 303 stuff, after a while it becomes very boring. I had been doing it for months on end. There isn’t much to it. Even a child could work the bolt and pull the trigger. There wasn’t much range firing. We did most of that in Northam on the range there. The gun had a bit of a kick. The accuracy

04:12:30:00

was up to the Diggers. If you were a Marksman you got a crossed rifles on your sleeve. If you were a Marksman with the…I think it was the Lewis gun that we had. A shocking thing. Air cooled. World War I and it had about 101 stoppages on it all the time. Absolute rubbish. We never took them away to the war with us, the Lewis guns. We took the 303 away.
Did you qualify to be a marksman?
Oh yes.

04:13:00:00

You had to get a certain amount of points. But the CMF [Citizen’s Military Forces] took more interest in that than what the AIF did. They never gave any badges of rank for being a Marksman.
So the drills would be spent learning how to operate the guns and firing the guns at targets?
It became boring after six months on the same gun. Very simple operation. Put the bullet in and pull the trigger. If you were crossed eyed you didn’t do any good.

04:13:30:00

So can you tell me what happened once you left the camp?
Well after we left Khassa Camp we were told we were going to do some desert training in Libya and at this stage…Wavell’s 30,000 men…before we got there the Italians had crossed over the Frontier and gone into Egypt and the 6th Division, that’s the 6th

04:14:00:00

Australian Division under Wavell had pushed them back and had taken Tobruk. We were sent up the desert to occupy Tobruk. We didn’t know it at the time, we thought Tobruk was a sea port. But when you look at the sea port there’s a big ring of fortifications that had been…I suppose they had been 20 years building the damn things. They were all concrete, anti tank traps and it was quite a fort on the outside perimeter.

04:14:30:00

We went up there and just occupied some of the posts and got used to the desert conditions. The things that we did see in Palestine were the dust storms, and the dust storms when they come through look like the Darling Ranges only they were coloured red and when they enveloped you, you could do nothing. Everything just shuts down. You just put a tee towel or a bag over your head, huddle yourself in the thing, wrap it around you and just get buried in the dust.

04:15:00:00

No one can operate in a dust storm. You would have a metre or half a metre of bloody dust on top of you and you would wriggle out of your hole, and get out and clean your weapons because dust gets in everything.
Well what was maintenance of your weapons like?
In the whole of Tobruk you can’t keep dust out of your weapons. They got dust in them all the time. I made covers for a Bren gun, which I was on, but the moment you put oil onto that gun to lubricate it, and the dust blows,

04:15:30:00

it just turns to grit. Maintenance on any of that stuff on smaller things like the Thompson sub machine gun we got issue with, they had a lot of stoppages. They weren’t much good in the desert at all. The dust would very easily stop them. The Bren gun was better than that and luckily we never took the Lewis guns away with us.
So how did you overcome the problems with the dust?
Just got used to it. As I say, in Tobruk, we were

04:16:00:00

issued one water bottle full, that’s about a litre or so, per day per man. Now you could do what you liked with it. If you wanted to have a bath with it you could have a bath with it. Then you had nothing to drink. And if you wanted to have a shave with it you used to use about half a cup on a shave and then you would think, bugger it, I’d rather drink the stuff then put it on my face and wash it around. Nobody seems to worry about whiskers. Half the time the blokes wouldn’t wear shirts. And every time a senior officer came: put that webbing equipment

04:16:30:00

on! Put your steel helmets on! Of course they were too bloody hot. And when it was quiet you took them off and put them on when you had to. We had one CO [Commanding Officer] come up there once. He was notorious for tucking his tin hat …he wouldn’t wear it himself. He would put it under his arm. ‘You men, you men, put your steel helmets on’. Some bloke yelled out, when you put your’s on mate I’ll put mine on.
What did the officer say to that?
I think that was

04:17:00:00

what you call king hit. He had no reply to that. He was the commanding officer too by the way.
So can we talk about Tobruk and the Siege of Tobruk?
The Siege of Tobruk. Well we didn’t know there was a Siege on until just after we got there. Someone said Rommel had come into the desert with a new Afrika Korps, and he was going through the forward British elements of British armour,

04:17:30:00

and British units like a packet of salts. And when he got down to Tobruk, the only reason I think we stayed in Tobruk was because we never had any trucks to get out. We were an infantry battalion and we never had any vehicles to move us around. They couldn’t march us out, we could never get out. And they couldn’t get us out with the destroyers because the German Air Force overpowered the British Air Force. And the German Air Force controlled the port. So whether we liked it or not we had to

04:18:00:00

make a stance which we did. Lord Haw Haw was the German chappie on the radio, the announcer, and he gave us the name, the Rats of Tobruk. It was he who formed that. And it was he who also gave the name as the Scrap Iron Flotilla, that’s the destroyers that served us, and he also called us Self Supporting Prisoners of War.

04:18:30:00

He had lots of fun with us but everyone kind of enjoyed it. It was all taken in a kind of slapstick kind of way. We all thought it was rather funny. It didn’t terrify us or anything.
They obviously didn’t know of the Australian sense of humour?
Then they dropped poster with Australians for God Sake Go Home! The Yanks have got all your girls and you, you silly buggers are going to get taken prisoners of war. Hand yourself over to us and you’ll get home earlier. All sorts of silly notices and all sorts of war went on in those days.

04:19:00:00

We lasted there for six months. We owned no-man’s land. We weren’t frightened. We owned the space in between. Every night we went on patrol and we slept during the day because there wasn’t much danger during the day. But at night time the no-man’s land had patrol on it going everywhere and you had to be careful you didn’t run into one of your own patrols. The Germans and the Italians didn’t patrol at all. And

04:19:30:00

we owned no-man’s land. We won the patrol battle.
What size area was no-man’s land?
Oh it was out of rifle range, two or three thousand yards. It was out…they set themselves back where our three inch mortars couldn’t reach them and the only thing that could reach them were the 25 pounders. And that zone in the middle was no-man’s land and at night time anyone could go out there. At one stage

04:20:00:00

they had dogs on stakes to warn him whether we were coming or not. At another stage he put big searchlights around the perimeter and the searchlight would span across. Of course you could see the searchlight come on and you’d all go down to ground. When it had passed you would all get up and walk again. Then he started firing flares up occasionally. Well when a flare goes up but if everybody goes to ground you can’t see much. But we owned no-man’s land and that wasn’t a problem.

04:20:30:00

And our morale was good.
Can you tell me where you were staying out in no-man’s land. What kind of shelter did you have?
Oh nothing. You would just go out about a thousand yards and patrol. You were told to go along about two thousand yards along the battalion front, back and forwards and then come in again at dawn. If anyone was out there we would have found them. We would have bumped into them, but they didn’t patrol. But they didn’t patrol. They just stayed in their bunkers so we won that battle.
I’ve seen images of the Rats of Tobruk coming out of small

04:21:00:00

rocky caves…
No, our own fortifications were beautifully built Italian bunkers with three or four metres of concrete on it. We could have lived in those. But if you get in a bunker for too long, you get what’s called cementosis, which means the moment you get out of the cement you feel naked, and you’ve got a complex about getting back into your bloody bunker, and once you get that you’re buggered. What they have to do is get

04:21:30:00

the blokes out of the concrete and get them into the open. And that gives the confidence to get out and accept a bit of artillery and that while they’re out. Because if we were in our concrete bunkers, all the artillery in the world couldn’t shift you. They were beautifully built. They were built in the 1930s or something. They were building this up for years, Mussolini. They all had post numbers on them, beautifully inscribed with numbers. The machine gun pits were beautifully built with

04:22:00:00

brackets to put your machine guns on. The anti tank gun pits were all designed to fit the anti tank guns. We had it all but we had no guns to put in them. I pulled the front bracket off a Bren and stitched it onto a post with a couple of Yankee twitches of wire, whereas they had all the big things built for it to fit on them. Big heavy machines and we just adapted them to our weapons. But we never fought from the positions because he didn’t…and we had a anti tank trap around us that would be deeper than this room.

04:22:30:00

If a tank had come along he couldn’t get across the anti tank trap. So he couldn’t run armour over us unless he put a bridge across the anti tank trap.
Can you describe an anti tank trap for me?
A big hole in the ground that a tank can’t get over. All he did, was he used to dig the big hole and then put wood over the top and if a tank ran over it, of course he would go clonk into it and it was built on such a straight angle that the tank couldn’t go out, it couldn’t go forward and it was just stuck there.

04:23:00:00

Can you tell me about the fighting that you saw at Tobruk?
Fighting yes, fighting patrols were out every night. The worst one I got…I had a Bren gun and the Bren gun is quite a good weapon in the day time. You can’t see much muzzle flash. The Bren gun is not designed to fire from the hip, which we all did on patrols. It’s a light machine gun, which is meant to be on a bipod.

04:23:30:00

But having no other weapons there, the only automatic weapon we had there was the Bren and we had to fire it from the hip. But the only thing in the night time, it had a big signature, a big light would come out like a flame thrower, and the moment you let the first burst go, everyone in the area could see where you were. And I physically had one blown off me. With my number two bloke, the pair of us, I was lifted off the ground and the gun was blown from me,

04:24:00:00

and I got a bit of an Italian grenade, a bit of aluminium in my backside for the trouble. The grenade must have gone over my head and been at the back of me when it exploded. There was more than one, there was a group of them. We must have come across a headquarters or something when the sergeant major must have said, all get your grenades ready and when the Bren opened fire, they all threw and I copped it.
How did you and your number two recover from that?
Very

04:24:30:00

frightened. First of all I thought I had lost the gun and he reckoned he was blinded and I said follow me, I’ve got to find the gun first. We found the gun and I said we’re getting out of this, we’re too close. So we got out.
So you returned towards your…
Well we picked up the rest of the patrol. So fighting patrols, we had those on all the time. We’d go and get a few prisoners and bring them in. But nothing dramatic. There were no great losses in Tobruk.

04:25:00:00

So most of the fighting was seen during the daytime?
No, most of the fighting was done during the night.
Did you see any heroism or cowardice during those fights?
Oh not really. Everybody’s…heroes come automatically. If you get in a position and you’ve got to get out of it quickly then you become a hero.

04:25:30:00

But the patrols went out. They nabbed a few prisoners which was …some of the Italians were quite happy to be taken prisoner. There were a few medals given out for patrols. But our battalion never won a Victoria Cross. In World War I we did, but in World War II we never got a Victoria Cross. We got several Military Medals. They were generally given out after

04:26:00:00

a successful raid. They weren’t given out after unsuccessful raids. And even if you were a hero on an unsuccessful raid, you wouldn’t get a medal. But if you were a hero on a successful raid, you’d get one. Nobody likes losers.
Is there anything further you’d like to add about your time at Tobruk before we move onto El Alamein?
No Tobruk was a adventure. It was quite a nice kind of war for what a war was. I never saw any acts

04:26:30:00

real cruelty or unnecessary shooting. We were soldiers fighting one another and we did what we had to do. We spent six months there. The graveyard’s still got a lot of …there were two cemeteries in Tobruk. There was one in the Tobruk Cemetery and if you were killed on our side of the wire, you were put in the cemetery in Tobruk, and the other cemetery was called Knightsbridge and that’s on the German

04:27:00:00

side. And if you were killed on the German side you were buried at Knightsbridge. So the dead were some on this side of the wire and some on that side of the wire.
So, can you tell me about leaving Tobruk?
Well we were fortunate enough to be taken out by destroyers. So we didn’t get a dusty ride home. I think I went out on a destroyer called the Kimberley that pulled into the wharf.

04:27:30:00

We were very cheeky in those days, by day they loaded us out, took us out, took us back to Palestine and this time we went to Kilo 89. This was just a mark on the road, a Kilo mark on the road. But it was a camp. And there, in Kilo 89 we were treated as kind of victors. We had just come out of Tobruk and we could get leave

04:28:00:00

if you had twenty pounds in your pay book. It was quite a thing to have 20 pounds in your pay book and the people who got leave were all the single blokes. The married man sent money home to his wife and kids, and he was in Tobruk for six months, he couldn’t draw a penny out of his pay book. He never had a glass of beer, I bought yourself a pie or block of chocolate or whatever your fetish was. There was none of that there. You couldn’t spend money in Tobruk and yet after six months, some of them didn’t

04:28:30:00

have 20 English pounds in their pay book. So they couldn’t have leave in Cairo, because if you had leave in Cairo you had to pay for accommodation. And if they were going to send blokes up there with nothing, they would be sleeping in the streets or sleeping in parks. So I thought that was quite unfair. I was alright. I was single.
Were any of the blokes accustomed to handing over a few bob to their mates who were short of cash?
No, no one had any dough.

04:29:00:00

No one had it. The only good deal was if you had a friend who was a non smoker he might have given you his cigarettes. But, no money was at a premium. And as I say, to come out and not have twenty quid after six months, not drawing a penny out of your book, I thought was rather rude.
So how did you spend that leave in Cairo?
Oh that was good. You got seven days, and if you look at the photos down there of the dancing girls…that’s where I first saw the belly dancers.

04:29:30:00

Sixty one years later ever year we have a belly dance show. We all go to lunch and have a team of belly dancers dance for us. We’ve carried on the tradition after sixty years. We had one last week actually. We called it…it started off as a night in Cairo at the Embassy Ballroom and in those days we used to get a 1000 people on the dance floor, but now we’re lucky to get 120.
How did the Australian Diggers get along with the

04:30:00:00

people there in Cairo?
Well the Egyptians tolerated us, none of them like us. We were tolerated, that’s all I can say. We weren’t friendly towards them, they weren’t friendly towards us. We were occupying their country. We were a foreign nation, and some of our blokes weren’t too polite to them. They tolerated us.
What about the belly dancers?
Oh the belly dancers were different. They were entertainers.

04:30:30:00

Did you blokes get to know them well?
Yes we went to the big club and saw the best of them there. I think it was called the Café Bardia. They put on some good shows. They were very talented people. Today we’ve still got some very talented ones who put on a show for us.
Can you tell me where you went to after you left Cairo?
After we left Cairo we went back to Kilo 89 and

04:31:00:00

there was some talk about…the boys were going home. The 6th and 7th Divisions pulled out. There was trouble in the South West Pacific. Darwin had been bombed and all the politicians were screaming blue murder. Send the troops home, we want them here. We’re going to lose Australia if they don’t come home. So they did a deal and they sent the 6th and the 7th home and the 9th were

04:31:30:00

secreted away up in Lebanon, up on the Turkish frontier, and if anything had happened we would have been in the war with Turkey right on the frontier. But Turkey kept neutral. Rommel didn’t take the Suez Canal and the 9th Division was rushed down to stop Rommel. Now years after the war, I worked at Boans and I heard an announcement

04:32:00:00

on the PA System and they said anyone who wants to go down to Anzac Club this afternoon, Montgomery was addressing anyone who was in the Middle East and Frank Boan said, anyone who was in the Middle East can have the afternoon off and go down and listen to Montgomery. So I said I was in the 9th Division so I took the afternoon off and went down to Anzac House. And it was Montgomery in his own words speaking. It was a ballroom in those days with a big stage and he got up there and said, if it wasn’t for

04:32:30:00

Australian 9th Division we would have lost the Suez Canal. And we would have. And they had a division up there that the Germans didn’t know were there and we were thrown in at the first Alamein and this was…we lost the battalion doing it, but one thing was done. They stopped Rommel. And if he had taken the Suez Canal it would have meant he would have taken the whole of the Middle East’s oil. They wouldn’t have had a problem with oil, and Turkey could have come in

04:33:00:00

because she would have been with the winners then, she was with the him last time. He never took the Canal and he never got the oil in the Middle East. And Montgomery himself said it was the Australian 9th Division that pulled the pin on that one.
That must have brought a great sense of pride.
Well we didn’t get shot up for nothing. Now, when we were at Alamein….I’ll just

04:33:30:00

go a little further. There were two big battalion attacks at Alamein, and a battalion attack is a major thing. That’s a 1000 men going in together in one heap. They usually go in with support. The first one we did was with the 50th Royal Tank Regiment and there was a good one here. We were put on the forward squadron of tanks. 10 Platoon I’m speaking of now. A particular platoon and I was in it as a section leader.

04:34:00:00

As we went forward lots of my friends, especially from the 3rd Anti Tank Company said they saw Damien Parr I think his name was. A very famous wartime photographer on top of a station wagon type vehicle with a tripod, taking films of the Australian infantry going in on tanks. Now many letters and many approaches have been made through film archives to find this film. And I would

04:34:30:00

love to know if it was out of bounds or not to be released or censored, and was it every taken and if so I would love to see it, because a lot of people don’t know that we rode in on the forward squadron of tanks which was quite dramatic. You can only fit a certain number of people on these Valentines and they were sent in with their little two pounder guns, completely outgunned against the enemy. We were driving in there

04:35:00:00

and I’m thinking this thing makes a lot of noise, and the bloody tracks make a lot of noise, and I lean over and I could see sparks going from all the boogies. And I thought it’s got an electrical bloody fault somewhere. And I looked over about ten feet and there’s some bugger with a machine gun trying to blow all the boogies off. A bloody German. And I thought well now, what am I going to do. Am I going to…my job as to get onto the ridge with my section

04:35:30:00

and hold the ridge. Now if I’m going to start jumping off the tank now and taking prisoners, by the time we get to the ridge there will be no one on the bloody tanks. And I thought Phil what will we do? And I thought well he’s missed me and it was too late to turn around, the guns were gone, there was another tank coming behind. He put his hands up when I turned around…I had a Bren gun and I pointed it at him and he put his hands up, and it was him firing at the bloody bogie tracks. I’m

04:36:00:00

still wondering today, if we’d jump off the tanks and taken…see we went through two or three lines of defences to get to the ridge. But if everyone had started to bail off and started taking prisoners on the way in, then there will be no one left on the bloody tanks when they get to the ridge. Communications are impossible. We belonged to a platoon and I had a section. My section was split up on three tanks. I had no control over them.

04:36:30:00

The platoon commander had no control over me. He’s on another tank of his own. So when you get mixed up like that on armour, you lose complete control of your communication. They’re all individuals on bloody vehicles. What happens to that vehicle happens to those people. I’ve often wondered you know. We got to the ridge, took prisoners, but if we had started taking prisoners on the way in, we would never have got tot he bloody ridge in the finish. And all those prisoners that we didn’t take, when we had gone

04:37:00:00

they could go back to their weapons and starting firing on the next one. There was no heavy artillery. We did pass two 88 guns and we took the crews of those. But artillery blokes are all the same. If you can get behind their gun they go all funny peculiar, like a chook when you stroke it. They’re not used to men being in amongst them. They like firing their big guns and if people get behind their guns they go all funny peculiar. We picked up about 60 of these

04:37:30:00

people in the finish. We had a swag of them. We’re sitting out there. We only had a section with about 10 men and we had 60 prisoners and 2000 yards in front of the battalion. I thought Christ, what are we going to do here? One of them started…I had them lined up in threes, and one of them started to break rank, and I said hey! And he didn’t take any notice and he ran, and everyone looked at me, and I said oh Christ here goes. Number Three Section, at the running target, bring him down in your own time!.

04:38:00:00

Fire! And they all opened fire. He ran about 100 yards before he dropped, and then when he dropped some bloke in English said to me, that was the bloody doctor! I said, he shouldn’t have bloody ran. Our blokes said shall we go and get him? And I said, no don’t you get him, let the Germans go and get him. So they went and got and I believe afterwards, two of them helped him back in. They didn’t kill him but they buggered the bottom part of his leg up. He would have been on a TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated] Pension.

04:38:30:00

They put him on one of the carriers I believe. I found out later, they said, yeah we got him. They said, did you get a bloke with a crook leg? I said yeah we got him. They said, he was the doctor. I said, we know. That’s the only prisoner I’ve ever shot.
What did you do with the rest of those prisoners?
Once we get them we pass them…we gave them to the carriers and they ran them back to the battalion, then they go into big prisoner of war cages and we see nothing more of them.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 05

05:00:42:00

Back to Alamein. The daylight attack with armour was unsuccessful. We took 60 prisoners but the battalion did not reach Ruin Ridge. Now….the second battalion attack

05:01:00:00

of Ruin Ridge was going to be on the 27th of July at midnight. At that time there would be no armour but we’d be supported by 1000 field guns. A different story, different show. It was a beautiful night. It was cool, there was a breeze blowing and in any tactical business, the tapes are laid out on the ground, big white tapes and before you go for attack, all the companies are lined up on the

05:01:30:00

white tape and everybody goes in in a fashion. The text books say the start lines as they’re called should be safe. Well I was lining my blokes up on the start line and bang the first one’s killed on the start line and I said, what are they doing here. In an attack your start line should be safe. Bang, the second one goes, and he’s killed on the start line before the thing had even started. And I thought oh God, this is going to be a good one. We’re laying there and then they put the barrage down and then nothing happened

05:02:00:00

because when the barrage goes down with a 1000 guns, it goes into what you call drum fire. You can’t hear one individual. It’s just a roar. Where it’s coming from looks like a bush fire, a glow in the sky, and where it’s landing looks like a wall of fire. So they had these 1000 guns hitting the bloody Ruin Ridge and I thought, God those poor bloody Germans. I wouldn’t like to be under that. We got the order to advance and as we advanced they

05:02:30:00

lifted the barrage forward and it wasn’t hurting us but we were just going into a wall of fire. You could hardly breathe the air there was that much oxygen gone. The attack went forward and we got onto the ridge that night. There was no problem. The big problem is if you ever get into a position at night and you’ve got to lay a battalion’s defences out with fields of fire, it’s impossible. Because there’s depressions in the ground at night that you can’t see.

05:03:00:00

There’s little mounds that you think you’ve got a sight through, because when you look you’ve got to lay on the ground, not stand up, because that’s where you’re firing from, the ground. He was only a new commander. He was only put in for this attack. He into the attack himself in the middle of the show. He had a company each side of him. Two at front and two in the back and he was in the middle. He said, right ho men follow me and forward we went, and we got onto to the ridge. A lot of people got hurt getting there.

05:03:30:00

The Germans did put up some resistance. But we got onto the ridge and we occupied the ridge. But the big thing was going to be in the morning. How were we going to wedge off the counter attack because the Germans are renowned for throwing armour. Our lines of communication through the minefield…they only made one track through and all our support weapons, there’s anti tank guns, there’s trucks coming up, there’s engineers,

05:04:00:00

and bang…there was one gun that didn’t…there was a 50 millimetre anti tank gun on the right flank, bang, sealed up the gap in the mine field exploded an ammunition truck and boom up she went. And of course it was daylight around that. Some of the others on either side said, we’ll have a go and see if we can run…one bloke ran to the right and ran over a mine, bang and up he went. Another bloke went the other side and bang up he went. You’ve got three of them all burning.

05:04:30:00

Blockage. It blocked up everything and nothing got through to us. No support. I think there were six anti tank guns allocated for the show, three got through and three got blown up in the way in, or knocked out by anti tank guns. All our support vehicles and that never got through. We were up the front with what we got through and that was what we had. We had to dig in,

05:05:00:00

and I can remember I was pretty well dug in. My section was in. I thought I had a good position. And all of a sudden out of the darkness, a three toner came in, no lights and I said where did you come from? He said, I just came through the minefield. I said, Jesus what have you got on? Loaded sandbags he said. I said look with no lights on, if you run over here you’re going to run over people. Because when you lay 1000 blokes out on the ground, it’s much bigger than a quarter acre block.

05:05:30:00

There were blokes everywhere with holes and you don’t have any lights. And I thought, give us the sand bags and see that bloody truck, run it three hundred yards in that direction, back into the mine field and then come back to us and I’ll give you a rifle and you stay with us. And he was the only truck that ever got through and he was a load of sandbags. I should have got him up to the anti tank guns but we didn’t have time to run him through blind and over people. He would be running over people and running over weapon pits.

05:06:00:00

You just couldn’t do it when it’s dark like that. But he was the only truck that ever got through. The morning came and it was expected. The counter attack had to come in. Now all our communications are lost. We’ve got no communication back to brigade. What’s happened? What’s happened? The crappy telephones we had didn’t work. Something was wrong with the crystals or something in those days. Sigs [signals] were supposed to be putting a landline through but there was that artillery and they had blown

05:06:30:00

the landline up. And so we had no connection with brigade and we were out like a shag on a rock on this bloody outcrop with two pincer movements coming around like buffalo horns and they shut the gate at the back. Now we’re in the middle…in the middle of a ring of armour. Well that’s the end of the story. They just came in and took us as they wanted us. First of all they stood off and took all the anti tank guns out, then once they take the anti tank guns out,

05:07:00:00

nothing can be done. Bren guns and Vickers machine guns just bounce off them. So they completely…and I thought I’ll get court martialled over this because I was in a little place on my own and I said to the fellows, this is impossible. We can’t fight those blokes with what we’ve got. I did have one little thing up my sleeve. Before we went in I had what they called an 85 grenade, which was six and three quarter pounds of nitro-glycerine.

05:07:30:00

Commonly known as a thermos. It was about the size of a thermos flask. No one in the section would carry it and I was frightened of it but I put it in my bag on my back…because nitro is a bit unstable at any price. And I thought if I get hit it will be good because it will be just one bang. And when I dug my little hole I said it’s not coming in the hole with me either. I said, we’ll put it at arms reach and I dug it out and put it in a hole over there. And I said, if this bastard’s

05:08:00:00

going to run me in with tracks. You could only throw it as far as you could throw it, say 15 or 20 feet, and a little cord comes off and the moment it hits it explodes. So you have to be really low down and below ground level when it goes off. I never used it and I put it in the little hole beside me, and this bugger came up and I said well I’ve got you mate. He was only a halftrack, a 47 millimetre. He wasn’t a big heavy tank. You won’t hurt me and I’ve got you. Then his mate came along

05:08:30:00

and I thought, oh Christ there’s two of them. I thought, if I pick that up his mate will get me and they’ll kill the whole bloody section. So I said, leave it where it is Phil, so I stood up, dropped my equipment and put my hands up. He said, get out you English Swine, Englander swine before I blast you out. And he went whoof, whoof, whoof and took all my sand bags away and I thought shit.

05:09:00:00

So I put my hands up and I said to the fellas, turn it in. And I thought, I’ll get court martialled over this for sure. I went over the ridge and the whole battalion were lined up in threes. They got the lot.
Sorry Phil, how did he take your sandbags away?
With a 47 millimetre. Just blew them away. Just to show me what he meant. He could have blown me away. And I thought, yeah, he’s dinkum. I thought Jesus. That will do. Court Martial for

05:09:30:00

me, up you get fellas. I’ll take responsibility. We got back there…and I had a nice camera, always had a nice camera. It was called a Zeiss Icona. A nice camera. And when the bloke got me he said…he went over me and he said, congratulations on your choice of cameras (in perfect English), I’ll give you a receipt for this. See me after the war. So I said, take the bloody thing. I had Lugers and cameras before off them.

05:10:00:00

So you win some and you lose some. But there was some good photos going in. I had some wonderful shots but I lost my camera. Then we went through the usual pattern of prisoner of war transit camps. Cross the Med and one of the boats got blown up and a lot of blokes got hurt on that. And then there was the big adventure of being a prisoner of war in a foreign land.
Excuse me Phil, before we continue can you tell me the events

05:10:30:00

that followed once you marched over the ridge to see the other guys in the battalion being taken prisoner?
Well we were marched over the ridge to what was called a transit camp. They go through and they’ve got clever blokes talking to you trying to find out your unit. All you’re supposed to do when you get captured is give them your name, number and rank. But when I got there he said, you’re another one of the 28th are you? I said how did you know that? And he said, we heard, we’ve got ways. And I said, well you work it out yourself.

05:11:00:00

I’ll give you my name number and rank and that’s all you’re getting out of me. He said, that’s alright. We know. He said you’ve come down from Syria. They knew who we were.
How were you questioned, individually?
Individually. You go past…there’s a bloke sitting at a little desk. He takes your name, number and rank and he said, unit? And I said, just a West Australian unit. Just put down Digger.

05:11:30:00

He said 28th Battalion? And I didn’t answer that. Just smiled and he smiled because they were all 28th. The whole bloody lot. They took the full battalion. They got everyone. The one’s who weren’t killed. One thousand went in and they took 400 prisoners. Everyone. There were big headlines in the papers. I’ve got it on DVD. The West Australian headlines. Full infantry battalion lost in Egyptian attack. We were all lined up and went through the various camps and

05:12:00:00

ended up in Bella Piese Italia. A beautiful place as prisoners of war.
Can I take you back once again? Before you reached the transit camp when you were being herded up with the rest of the battalion. What was the experience like for you and the rest of the battalion?
Well first of all when you get out of your trench, you’re not game to touch your webbing equipment because it’s full of bombs and bloody things. The only thing I …I didn’t even take my water bottle.

05:12:30:00

The bloke was from where you are…looking from an armoured car above me, like a big 4 wheel drive thing, and you just slipped your webbing off, the water bottle fell off, full of water. I dreamt about that for about a week later and I had a block of emergency chocolate, New Zealand in a tin. I had that for about a year. I left it in my pouch. Somebody else got it, I didn’t.

05:13:00:00

All you have on is a shirt. I had no singlet. Pants, a pair of khaki pants, a pair of socks, gaiters. They protected a bit of your leg. We lived in that, slept in it, freezing at night in those bloody transit camps. We all huddled together. And I still had my steel helmet. I used to use as a pillow, and you slept on the desert sand for about three weeks at night. Absolutely frozen. I mean, before, you had your overcoat, but in those transit

05:13:30:00

camps, all you had was the clothes you were in and we lived in those for about three months before we got Red Cross parcels. We didn’t get new uniforms until we got to Italy.
Once again Phil, before you got to the transit camps and you were being herded up, what was the morale like amongst the men?
Well we were taken prisoners. We were lucky to be alive. Half of our bloody crowd were dead and we thought we were the privileged one who had actually got through it and still be alive.

05:14:00:00

Because you can very easily get your head blown off in things like that you know. Nobody knows what goes on and when they…and the final thing to make it worse, when they were herding up, someone called out to bring the 25 pounders which they did and they put them on us. So we not only got the German stuff to contend with, we got the barrage put on us.
As you were being taken prisoner?
As we were being taken prisoners. When they were lining us up and then the bloody Brits put the guns on us. All the 25 pounders started laying into us

05:14:30:00

while we were marching out of the bloody place as prisoners.
So it wasn’t a quiet experience?
Oh no, not quiet. Bloody terrible. All the blokes in the armour were all right. All the Germans. They could sit in their bloody armoured cars as safe as houses, and if a shell did hit them it wouldn’t hurt them. But when there’s 25 pounders going off it’s a crook place to be.
How long were you being shelled for as you were being marched off?
For about two or three kilometres until we got out of the zone because somebody said put the guns in on it and blow

05:15:00:00

then to pieces but the only people they blew to pieces were us, we were the only infantry. No infantry coming against us at all. It was all armour. And the 25 pounders don’t hurt the armour. They’re all high explosive.
So how long was that march out of…
Two or three kilometres, and that takes a few minutes to get out. And they marched us out in threes behind armoured vehicles and they were peppering us with 25 pounders as we were marching out.

05:15:30:00

So you were in a formation of threes?
Yes as we were marching out behind armoured vehicles, halftracks, and we get shelled as we went out just to kind of hurry us up a little bit.
What kind of things were said about that?
Well they were all lucky to be alive. We were lucky to be there. When you see somebody killed beside you, you’re sorry for them, but there’s also a funny feeling you get that you’re still alive.

05:16:00:00

Which is more important than the sorrow you feel for the poor bugger who’s dead. When you see them being killed and you’re still there, you say why the hell am I still here. It’s a funny feeling but it’s there. A sense of still being alive.
A sense of good fortune.
Yes, that’s right, you’re surviving. You’re a survivor.
Can we move on then to the journey across the Mediterranean?

05:16:30:00

Well the Mediterranean. We were put onto two brand new Italian…what would you call them. I suppose you would say, cargo boats. They were brand new, like twin boats. One was the Nino Bixio, that was the one that was shelled. The other boat, there’s still a question about it’s name. We just call it the other boat. I was on the other boat. The submarine that was

05:17:00:00

based in Malta fired several torpedos. The one that was aimed at the boat I was on…I was told, I was deep in the cargo hold. I didn’t know what was going on. I was just buried deep in the hold. They say it missed the front of our boat by about six metres, but the one that was fired at the other boat…he got two hits. One in the forward hold and one in the engine room. But the boat didn’t sink.

05:17:30:00

It was towed into Naverina in Greece by one of the destroyers, which was escorting us, and the bodies were sorted out. I think there’s about 29 of our blokes buried in Phaleron, that’s a cemetery in Greece, a war cemetery. On it there’s no names because you wouldn’t know who the blokes were. They were just blown to pieces. So it says, Australian Soldier Known Only to God. They’re in Phaleron. There’s about 29 or 30 of them.

05:18:00:00

We don’t know who they are or who they belong to but we know the ones who were missing. Their names are commemorated on the War Memorial in Alamein, under the heading, unknown grave. But they were buried in Phaleron in Greece.
What were your expectations of being a POW having just been taken prisoner and landing in Greece?
I never went to Greece. I was in the other boat and we went Brindisi in Italy.

05:18:30:00

We were marched through the streets of Italy, like on show and of course we looked pretty scruffy. We had all been in desert compounds for three weeks. None of us had razors or anything like that. They all had kind of beards. We were filthy, covered in lice and we were marched through the streets there and the people were throwing things at us. But they were throwing food.

05:19:00:00

And we were eating it. They were throwing tomatoes and things like that. Food. Which was marvellous because they knew we were all starving. We got nothing on the boats to eat. All the time we were on the boats there was no food, no water, no nothing. You just go down there like sheep into the cargo hold, and for a urinal and lavatories they had a big 44 gallon drum hoist up on a winch and they just tipped it over the side. And if you were in the boat for three days you got no water, no food, no sleep. There wasn’t enough room to lay down at night.

05:19:30:00

You were just about standing packed to get across the Med [Mediterranean]. And just imagine a torpedo in amongst that mob. We were quite happy to get off the bloody boats. They were hell ships. No food because they weren’t equipped to carry food or kitchens or anything.
How did the soldiers escorting you react to the civilians throwing you food?
Oh they got into a bit themselves. Some of them were throwing packs of cigarettes. Some of the bloody

05:20:00:00

Eyetie soldiers were pinching them. They were pretty sloppy some of the Eyeties. They weren’t dedicated to the war you know. They didn’t want the war. I thought they were a revengeful mob but when I found out it was food they were throwing I thought Jesus you can feel the atmosphere here. They’re not all against us.
How long was it before you arrived at the first POW camp?
We had to march from Brindisi to

05:20:30:00

Bari, which was a long march, two or three days. And as we…I noticed one night we marched through a field of rock melons and I believe there was a hell of a row about it. The bloke marching us through…the blokes were down knocking off the rock melons you see as they were going through and the farmer put in for compensation. I believe there was a hell of a row. It ruined his crop. But they took a short cut or something and everyone could see these melons on the ground in the night time, so the boys

05:21:00:00

were knocking off the melons. We eventually got to Bari. That was a proper camp. It was a nice camp. There was hot water and everything was wanted. But no clothing or gear or ablution or razors. We never got that until we got to Lamsdorf…or rather PG57 was the next one. That was at the top of the gulf on the Adriatic Sea.

05:21:30:00

That was a big one for Australians and New Zealanders. We were issued with battle dresses, shaving gear and Red Cross parcels. It wasn’t so bad when you got there.
How were you transported to Udine?
Once you got onto the Italian railways, they were all electric, and they’re very efficient railways. I think it’s called ferrovia, which means Iron Way, and it’s

05:22:00:00

all electric and we were on electric trains. But they were still cattle trucks.
Had you seen an electric train before?
No not too many. We had trolley buses here before the war I think or just after. But they were a very efficient railway. But everyone got taken around in cattle trucks, about 40 or 20 horses was written on the side of them, and you just get there…on those there was hardly enough room to lie down.

05:22:30:00

They had no windows in them and a tin in the corner for ablutions. And you might be on the thing for three days. No food on them at all.
Sorry Phil. I just wonder if you could describe these electric trains for me. I’m imagining them to be a bit like a tram.
Yes that’s right. Wire on the top to get them going in the right direction. Italy had a lot of hydro power from apparently the water on the Alps comes down and they have

05:23:00:00

a lot of electricity. They had very efficient railway. Most of the camps we were at, were close to railway stations. Ours was…the one at Udine was called Cividale. It was only a few kilometres away. It was a pretty spot. It was right on the corner of where Yugoslavia meets Italy on the Dalmatian Mountains…

05:23:30:00

which were right around us. A pretty spot but the Camp Commandant was a dyed in the wool Fascist. A notice over his door said, “Cursed are the English but more cursed are the Italians who treat them well.” That was the big sign over his door.
Can you explain about the reunion you had with the 11th Battalion?
Well

05:24:00:00

…PG57 was Udine and it was decided…it was done well before we got there, they were building a tunnel. There’s a very good illustration of it in the Fremantle War Museum Prisoner of War Gallery. I got a friend of mine to do a big three metre mural. It shows you the tunnel and the diagram of the tunnel and everything. It was about 90 metres and it went from a hut

05:24:30:00

adjoining the wire, underneath the wire to the outside and an escape was made and everybody got out satisfactorily, and they were only out for about a week. Then they woke up to it and they all got put back in. All their names are available. All the ones who got out in the tunnel and they had a tunneller’s dinner afterward and no one got killed. It was a dent in the Colonel’s escape proof camp.

05:25:00:00

This camp wasn’t as escape proof as he thought it was.
Did you learn how they went about digging the tunnel without being detected?
It was very secretive. I was in the hut next door to it. I didn’t know it was being dug. They had a wonderful…all the people in the hut were friends of mine and none of them told me it was on. It was very secret. They had cockatoos on the door watching. They used to put the sand that came out under the floorboards. They would lift up

05:25:30:00

floorboards…all the huts had sand underneath them when they were empty, before they got in. Then they had to fill up their hut, and when they found out what had happened, in the middle of winter he made us pull up every floorboard so they could be examined as to whether any fresh soil had been put under them. So we all stood out in the snow and the rain while they went in and lifted all the floorboards in all the huts and then put them back again. That’s the punishment everybody got.
What happened to the tunnel after they were recaptured?
They had to fill it in, yes.

05:26:00:00

But there’s a good illustration of it in the Prisoner of War Gallery in Fremantle in Burt Street. A three foot mural. A three metre mural, nine foot.
Were there further plans of escape after that attempt?
No. That was the climax of them all. That was the biggest escape they made. Then we all went out into work camps in the area. I didn’t mind that. The work camp gave

05:26:30:00

you a chance to meet the Italian peasantry and the people. You got to know them. You got to know the farmer, his family. You learnt to speak a bit of Italian You do nothing like that in the camps. Because if you want to learn to speak Italian you’ve got to get out with the people who speak it. You read it in a book but…and everyone I was with we all spoke with a Piedmont dialect because someone said you’re in Piedmont, that’s the area.

05:27:00:00

It’s like certain dialects in England, you can tell where they come from, because of the way they speak. Well all our blokes were in Piedmont and they’ve got funny ways of saying different things. Anyone who’s a real Italian can pick you up a mile. But I only learnt it…I’m just a cockatoo. I just know a few phrases…how old are you; have you seen the Pope; and expressions I’ve got like a cocky.
Can you tell me how you went about learning those phrases?
Yes,

05:27:30:00

they made me the camp interpreter. I didn’t know one word of Italian. He was the District Comandatori, Luigi Bonjovani, which means Lewis Goodjohn in English. And he had a young son, and the young son said, I’ve brought you a book on Italian and he said, you’ll be the interpreter and you’ll learn Italian. I said thankyou for the book, and I could only say the phrases that were in the book.

05:28:00:00

They were tourist phrases of course, how much is this and things like that. After a while you pick up a few words and you can understand what they want.
Did you develop your languages skills any further once you were working with the peasants?
Oh you could talk with the Italians (ITALIAN) …I speak a little Italian.
What was that like when you were working with the Italian people and developing your language skills,

05:28:30:00

what kind of rapport did you develop?
Oh it was good. They would tell you when you were speaking it badly. Correct with your spelling and pronunciation. It’s the only way to learn it is to get with them and work with them and you’ll learn it but you’ll talk like they do. If they’ve got an access, you’ll speak with an accent.
Did you form any close relationships with them?
I wrote to the young son after the war but seeing his dad was a fascistico bastardo,

05:29:00:00

he said things didn’t go too well for the family after the war as you can imagine. I think he might have lost his house. He wasn’t very cooperative. He said he was going through a very bad period. Then I gave the way away. He wasn’t that keen about carrying it on so neither was I and we had other things to do. But I did write to him. I used to go down to the local green grocer who was an Italian

05:29:30:00

I’d write my letter out and he’d go along and correct all my spelling. But they were a Fascist family. His dad was the District Commander, like the Lord Mayor of the district. They were a very wealthy family. They had a nice house. He used to even serve us up wine for morning tea. We used to have a break for morning tea and he’d bring back a little bloke like a St Bernard dog with a barrel around his chest, and he’d pour a little keg out

05:30:00:00

and give us all a nip for morning tea and then move onto the next one. He had some bloody good wine there too that we were having.
What sort of activities were you occupied on?
It was …we were levelling out fields for rice paddies. When the harvest came we used to…everything’s controlled. The bloke that owns the farm doesn’t own the crop. On the good old side business, if you could

05:30:30:00

pinch a few bags for the boss he’d give us a bit of a reward for it later on. We’d say, this is one for Mussolini, this is one for Mr Goodjohn. And he’s say what’s my pile like and we’d say, there it is and he’d say ohhh! Officially the don’t own anything. The whole rice crop is owned by the government and they can only get from the rice crop what’s pinched from it. And if he’s got the prisoners of war on side because they won’t let their blokes do it, and he’s got a good padroni and he gives you a few

05:31:00:00

bottles of wine, well you look after him too. He gets a bit of his rice back. He grew it. We used to do all those jobs. A good job actually. But the war…what was it, Mussolini…the Italian government turned it in and an armistice was declared. The lieutenant that ran the camp…he was a little stout bloke. He had a good Italian

05:31:30:00

tenor voice and he had funny habits. He would wake up in the morning and he was on a first floor kind of balcony and it was a rural farmyard kind of place. He would get up in the morning and urinate over the bloody side of the balcony, and if you were underneath then god help you, and sing (UNCLEAR) in his dressing gown. It was very rural and he was a rural bloke. And when the war finished and they turned it in,

05:32:00:00

I think he called us all up and he said to the soldiers, Italian soldatos all go back to your homes, we’re finished. Make your own way back and good luck. You Englanders make your way to London. Me and the wife, we’re off to Switzerland and he got on his pushbike and that’s the last I saw of him. There we were stuck in the middle of the camp, and I thought oh this will be alright too. We’re in no hurry to go

05:32:30:00

and I thought this bloody uniform’s not going to get me very far …a British uniform and a British great coat and a British hat. So we sold our uniforms and swapped it. And then we had a garage sale as you’d call it today. There was a lot of good cooking utensils in the kitchen, a lot of good bedding and sheets and beds and things like that. Well we had no money and if you wanted to escape you had to be able to buy yourself a bit of food without pinching it all the time. So I ended up with a bankroll like that. I was selling sheets

05:33:00:00

and everything I could lay my hands on at give away prices. Make your own price and give me some money. If the Italian army had caught me I would have been shot because it was all the Italian camp stuff we gave away.
You were selling this stuff to local civilians?
Yes, local civilians. They were coming around and we raided the camp. I was in the middle of it all getting money for it. It was good and I got a few bob. I didn’t like parting with

05:33:30:00

my overcoat. I looked at the snow line on the bloody Alps and I said to myself…Phil! But you can’t get around Italy in a British bloody overcoat. Anyway I was done up like one of the peasants. One old lady said you don’t were those good boots. You take those off and you keep them for Sundays. I said I can’t walk around here with no bloody boots on. I said I’m putting them on now. She said, you’ll wear them out and you won’t get another pair. They’re very careful, very frugal people.

05:34:00:00

Were all your mates in on the racket?
No, most of them went like bloody wasps. Like a hornet’s nest, gone. So I thought we’ve got a bit of time to think about this. No one’s going to …it’s going to be ages before they catch up with us. So we settled down and we thought, well we need some money. If you get loose there you have to go to a shop and buy things. No one’s going to give you anything. So we said we have to make a few bob. So I looked at all the cooking pots and everything I could lay

05:34:30:00

my hands on and said tell the locals around here there’s going to be a garage sale with reasonable prices. We knew everybody and they were all happy to give us money to see us through. But we gave them our uniforms and any spare clothing we had. I mean, you couldn’t go around with a case or anything. You could only move with what you could carry. And then you were liable to get bloody shot once you got out of your uniform. But I did keep my pay book. I think I had the pay book and my

05:35:00:00

dog tag just in case. But you stood a good chance that once you were a civilian you could be a spy or anything. Once you get rid of that uniform you’re giving away an armoured layer because there’s a bit of protection with the uniform on, but once you go as a civvies [civilian] you’re anybody. But it was two months before I got to Como and got recaught.
So what was the environment in Italy at that time?
Oh magnificent.

05:35:30:00

You could go there. If I saw the Germans there, I’d go into the cantinas and buy my misura litri of rosso and if I saw the Germans walk in and they were at the other end, I thought no way. I’d drink my rosso and off. A lot of them would say, do you know the way to…and I would say, I’m a stranger in these parts (UNCLEAR). They couldn’t speak Italian as much as I could.

05:36:00:00

Most Germans can’t speak Italian. But I looked like a bloody Eyetie with a bit of scruffy growth on, and we were only 20s in those days you know. We looked like Eyeties. They couldn’t tell the difference. I never had the courage to drink in the cantinas with them. Once they moved into the bars, I moved out.
So you were running amok dressed as a civilian talking to the Germans?
Oh yes. For a start I said I’m going to work as a civilian and

05:36:30:00

I’m not going to do any running. I’m going to wait until the front comes up and goes over me. But the front bogged down at Casino, Monte Casino. It bogged down for months and our blokes were getting caught and they were sending patrols out to get us all. Christ. And the boss said I could stay as long as I wanted. And I said, if I stay here and they catch me here, they’ll take this farm off you. And I said, they’ll shoot you and your family. It’s not worth the risk. I’m not going to put myself in that position.

05:37:00:00

I’m going, and I was off. And I said, I’m going to Como. I had never seen Como in my life and I’m not climbing the Alps. They’re too bloody high. A lot of our blokes did climb them.
Did you go solo to Como?
No. A bloke by the name of Jock who I had teamed up with, a Scotchman. He was a good mate. I kept up with him for a few years later, but I think he’s dead now. He was from Scotland.

05:37:30:00

We made our way down to Como and around Como, the fence was electrified. There were two fences. There was an Italian fence, a Swiss fence and the zone of (UNCLEAR) of whatever it is in the middle. That was full of booby traps, Alsatian dogs and patrols. So first of all I had to get through the electric fence on the Italian side and the electric fence on the Swiss side then I had to go through the minefield and dodge the dogs in the middle.

05:38:00:00

And I thought, I’m getting too old for that bullshit. I’m not going through that again. I said, we’ll do it another way. So we got in with a family that said they had a sergeant who was on guard on a certain day and he’d let me through. So I went there on this certain day and he had the mumps or the flu or something and some silly bugger took us prisoner, me and Jock and took us back to the guard house and the lieutenant in the guard house said,

05:38:30:00

you shouldn’t be …you should have let them through. What are we going to do with them. We can’t keep prisoners of war here…bloody idiot. He said, take them down to the army, so he made the bloke who caught us take us down to the army, and the army said we don’t want anything to do with it. They said, you got him you take him. Out. Away. We don’t want anything to do with you. It was like we had fleas or something. Anyway in the finish someone said, take them to the Carabinieri, the local police.

05:39:00:00

So I ended up in the local cop shop. And the sergeant said, we’re not equipped to handle you either mate. I’ll put you in one of the cells and I’ll get the boss. And the old colonel came down in his car with his Dalmatian dogs and he apologised, I’d let you go but I can’t trust half of these coppers I’ve got here. He said, see them out there, I couldn’t trust any of them. And he said, I’ve got family, wife and kids, and if I let you go

05:39:30:00

they’ll shoot me, they will. There were big notices. Anyone found harbouring escaped prisoners of war will be shot and their lands confiscated to the Deutsch Reich. And I said, no I’m not putting up with that bullshit. I’ve been caught by the Germans before. They’re not that bloody bad. And he said, well I’ve got to do it and I said, ok. So he put us in the back of his car, personal car with his dogs and took us to the …it was a fort in the middle of the town. A beautiful old building. Heritage

05:40:00:00

listed it would have been like Swan Barracks. A big arch that the tanks could go through. The big red banners with the swastika on either side. And it was occupied with a regiment…they must have been from Austria. They had Adolf Hitler as a sleeve badge and the edelweiss flower on their collar. And I thought oh Christ, you couldn’t have got a worse bloody unit than this mob. They lined us up and reported to

05:40:30:00

Oberfeldwabel. He was a big boy and he smiled and he said, Englander? You don’t try and say you’re Australian. So I said yes Englander. I told him my story and he said come with him. I followed him there and he took me to the Ablution Block and he pointed to a broom and he said, sabel marken, and I knew

05:41:00:00

that meant start sweeping. So I got the broom and started sweeping and then he burst out with the song, Hang the Washing on the Siegfried Line in English and in German he said, I’ll now write home to my mother and tell you, ich now haben eine sabel marken meine schausen hausen. That was me.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 06

06:00:44:00

So we’ve returned to Brux?
Yes we’ll go back to the big Hermann Goering Sudeten Land Works. A huge complex. I had several jobs I did there. I did the de-lousing of the

06:01:00:00

international compounds for contagious diseases, fleas and cockroaches and then from that job I got into a bit of strife and was put on a Strafe Colony at the Ashen Kip. It was where we were tipping all this waste and filling in wasteland. From there I was put onto another job in the,

06:01:30:00

it was called the Tar Cellar. There were these great big steel structures that continually dripped tar onto this yellow sand base. I suppose it would have taken an acre up with these tanks and they were continually dripping tar. The floor was covered by yellow sand and I had to go around with this box lined with yellow sand with a shovel and keep the floor clean. So that was classed as a Strafe Colony

06:02:00:00

for something…I think I laughed at a guard and told him he was a nut or something and I was paraded for it and put into the Tar Cellar. So I spent a few weeks there, and I thought Phil, if you don’t use your head here, you’ll end up losing this war. So the people there were looking for staff to work their diesel compressors, and this Dutchman came up to me and said, do you want to get out of this job, I can get you a job on diesel compressors.

06:02:30:00

He said, yes, I’ve got qualifications. I’ve been to the University of Western Australia. I’ve got a ticket for diesel. I had no such ticket, and he said, where was it again? And I said Perth, Western Australia, a degree on diesel engines. Anyway he got me through and then my first job was given to me. Oh shit I can remember it. He took me down to the job and there was this great bloody compressor they’d pinched from Russia. It was Russian.

06:03:00:00

It must have come out of a boat. It was an enormous bloody thing with great iron wheels and solid tyres on it. I met it…they were pulling it down the road. They had about 100 blokes with ropes and these winders getting it into position for me. And he said, that’s it. And I said, Christ, how am I going to start that? He said, I’ll show you how. It’s not hard. And they’ve got a big handle on the side like a winder. (You better keep that in the fridge Mother, or will we have it now)
You can have a beer.

06:03:30:00

We’ll have to wait thanks. But you can have a beer if you like Phil while we finish this.
No it’s alright. And I said, what’s that? And they said, that’s your compressor. I said how does it start? And there’s a big flywheel on it. The bloke said, now to start it you have to spin the flywheel around and around and when it’s going fast enough, there’s this lever you pull down and you put these charges…they’re called cigarettes. They have no spark plugs,

06:04:00:00

diesels. And I had to unscrew these four big cylinders in it and I had to put these cigarettes… they were little explosive charges where the spark plug is, and as it gets compression, you turn it on and it goes bang, bang and away she starts. But the only people who could start it…the Russians didn’t have the energy to turn the wheel. The British could…I could get British…I couldn’t turn it myself. It needed four men. They had a handle and a bar and two got each side and we had four blokes like that

06:04:30:00

just to turn around, and when they got it going fast enough I had to put the pressure on to get it to fire. It serviced about a dozen forges and a dozen rivet guns for all these riveting teams. And I said, this will get frozen. Anyway, with a few English cigarettes I got a hut built around it when it went into location. A little wooden hut and I was in with it and when it was going it was quite warm. I got to use this thing and I was on that for several months and I had to go

06:05:00:00

down to the petrol station… I had a special voucher…I had to fill it up with diesel. Fuel was dynamite. And I was there and I made a little sled because they didn’t give you anything to carry the bloody thing. In the winter time I used to have this sled with a harness around me and you used to see me going down the road with this sled and a half 44 gallon drum on it, and I used to get the petrol and pull it back on the sled to the compressor. One day I was in the

06:05:30:00

bloody petrol station and a truck pulled up. They were servicing everybody there at the petrol station, and I looked in the back of it and he had a truck full of bloody bodies all with grey blankets over them. And there was a bloke sitting on the top and he looked like a body but he was still alive. And I thought, Christ what’s this. I was horrified and it was from one of these camps, and they had this three ton load of bodies.

06:06:00:00

I’ve got a photograph there in one of my things, with this bloke sitting on top. It was from one of these camps just before the Russians came through. But I was very popular. Some of them would come up to me and I’d knock a little bit off in a bottle and I had bits of bread given to me and everything. Flogging of petrol. If they had checked my log book. I would say, she’s getting a bit old and is taking a lot of diesel. People were flogging little bottles off me and everything. I was doing a roaring trade while I had the compressor.

06:06:30:00

One of the big bomb raids came and blew it to pieces. I lost my compressor. And then they gave me a little one which wasn’t bad, and that was blown over three or four times during the war and lost a wheel, but it still kept going the whole bloody war. And I was working on this little compressor and I had no more idea of diesels than what you’d have. I just thought, I’ve got to get off this bloody shovel and find a sitting down job somewhere. Because this shovel and picking up tar in buckets and all that, it’s going to wear

06:07:00:00

me out. A twelve-hour day. And I got the twelve-hour day just nursing the compressor. It wasn’t a bad job. It was in the middle of winter and they said, if you let the water freeze in the radiator, shoot…because it would stuff the compressor. You see, so each night I had to turn the water off. It was warm water so it would flow out easily into a 44 gallon drum. That would be frozen over night,

06:07:30:00

and in the morning I had to come in and light a fuel fire under the compressor, wait until I could hear the oil in the sump bubble like a fish and chip shop, to melt my frozen block of ice down and pour it in so it would start again in the morning. Hell of a job to keep it going without getting shot. Then I was taken off that and we were loading bricks on this occasion and the…the Germans don’t do like we do with bobcats.

06:08:00:00

It was all done by hand. A truck comes up and just tips the bricks out and then the prisoners had to stack them. So we were making this big stack and we made a hole in this stack and we had a kind of little rest room in the middle. We had about 20 blokes on the job and then would go off and have a rest while the other ten worked and we were all sitting in our little room and instead of working a 12 hour day we were working a six hour day. And this was going fine until a bloody blue uniform and a Gestapo [German internal security police] bloke’s at the doorway with a gun.

06:08:30:00

We’re on a charge, sabotage. And the poor old German guard ran back and said they’ve taken half his blokes off him and they’ve taken them down the road and they marched us down to these SS [Schutzstaffel] headquarters. It was frightening because these buggers will shoot you as quick as look at you. No word was spoken in English and this bastard got behind us and every now and again he would fire a shot into the air. We couldn’t see what he was doing and I thought Christ, he’s shooting us.

06:09:00:00

But then he got out the front and got his revolver like this…close bloody shave. And by Jesus it was. It frightened Christ out of us. He walked down the black of the line, fired a few shots in the air, nothing was spoken in English, and the bastard was a lunatic. And I thought Christ, that was the finish. We wrecked the little house after that. That was the only man…we really could have got shot, because these buggers would do it. They had no compunction about that.

06:09:30:00

How did your mates react during that incident?
As I say, you don’t get mixed up with those people. The Germans were frightened of them. The army was frightened of them. They’re in a black uniform and they’re Gestapo. Special police. And in the factory we were in in the finish, they had the Werkschutz [German Factory Security Police], that’s the work police. We had our guards. And then there were the work police, that the police of the factory, and the final thing was when they

06:10:00:00

brought these buggers in, they were to just see that the…see the Yanks were dropping notes and saying, your factory was raided last night with delayed fused bombs. Keep out of the factory because they will be exploding every hour for the next 12 hours. Now the Germans would make us go into the factory to work, and you’d be working in one street and wham! Number 6 Street, the one next door and they’d say 6 killed.

06:10:30:00

Unexploded time fuse blown up. And then wham over there, and you wouldn’t know where you were. You were like this. You wouldn’t know if you were working over one. And they forced everyone to go back into that factory with all those delayed action bombs, and notices sent down. These are not meant to be dropped in a back garden. Keep out of the factory, and the made us go back into the factory and worked.
How many occasions were they dropped?
On several occasion because they would leaf drop the whole area. We’re

06:11:00:00

dropping time fused bombs in the area, keep out of the factory. But the Germans would say, Christ, what’s the odds. They’re only bloody prisoners of war. Everybody worked, Germans and all. The soldiers had to go down there and work with them going off.
You were regularly faced with those conditions?
Oh, well that was towards the very end of the war that happened, otherwise people wouldn’t have gone into the factory to work. And the Germans wouldn’t allow that.

06:11:30:00

They were trying to repair a machine that was irreparable. The tank farms had gone. The big cracker plant. The beautiful big machinery all blown to pieces and fanatically they just go down there and work for the sake of working.
Can you tell what other kind of duties there were in those plants?
Everything they wanted. Welders, they needed…mainly it was shovel work, but they had magnificent machinery for handling the coal. Trainloads coming in and

06:12:00:00

trainloads of fuel going out. They were very well organised people. Their machine shop, that was Bay 8, had a complete…in the northern hemisphere everybody likes the north light whereas we like the south light because it doesn’t get the sun. This Bay 8 was a beautiful big buildings about four or five stories high. They had all their lathes and machine shops in it. It took over acres. There was a great wall of glass facing north.

06:12:30:00

After the first raid there was no glass in it. And for the next six months the wind blew in it and all the machines got wet. There were railway lines running down the middle of all their factories. All their streets were named, ABCDEFG and all the other ones went 12345678910. All the buildings were numbered and railway lines were in every factory. Everything was rail and all these…

06:13:00:00

where they filled up with the hydrogen for the V2 rockets, they’d fill up train loads of the stuff with these great rail tankers. You could see all the hoses frozen and the blokes had special gloves on, and that was the special fuel for the V2 rockets. We were building that. Av gas was of course finished. All the petrol had gone. The tank farm, every tank was blown to pieces. And from April onwards I don’t think there was any petrol.

06:13:30:00

I don’t know where they were getting it from, but they weren’t getting it from ours and we were the biggest.
Were there ammunitions being produced in any of these plants?
No, there was no ammunition there that I know of. They were making margarine out of coal. They were making rubber out of coal. They were making saccharine. There was a whole list of products they were making.

06:14:00:00

Treib [?] is power stuff works. All sorts of stuff coming out. Tar. An enormous bloody factory. And it was the very latest. It was only finished I think in ’44. There were bigger ones. Leiner Works [?] was bigger. Bigger output than us. Leiner, and there were two or three other big ones. I never saw the others but I knew they were around. And

06:14:30:00

later on after the war, I went over there and studied the German output on synthetic fuel, and there’s some marvellous books been put out by the War Office of their production of synthetic fuel. I see today they’re taking about putting sugar cane juice into the petrol under some name, and I thought if this bugger can put coal into the petrol, surely we could…but I think it must have been very expensive to do. There was a huge amount of labour

06:15:00:00

but nobody got paid any money for it. So his labour didn’t cost him much, but they were turning out a lot of petrol at one stage.
Did you see a reduction of trains of coal arriving indicating…
Oh yes. They had a big machine there…the coal would be coming in on 90 ton trucks and they had a turnaround machine that would just tip the truck out and tip it into a hopper and then tip it back again. They did this by the trainload.

06:15:30:00

The coal mines in the area. I think there were 40 coalmines and the open cut at Teplitz, (I was up there once and saw it), it was circular like Bondy’s big cut up in Kalgoorlie now with train lines running round in circles to take the coal out by steam trains. And it was an open cut mine and I hadn’t seen an open cut in my life before until I got to Teplitz, and it looked like the Grand Canyon.

06:16:00:00

And it was all solid brown coal. It’s a funny kind of colour. It’s not black, it’s brown. Apparently it’s useful for certain things and the Germans had worked out what it was useful for. Besides that there were 20 or 30 big coal mine pits…Columbus was one of the biggest, and I forget the names of the others now. Doctor Ler Swift had a prisoner of war camp at one of them. I’ve spoken to him and he was the doctor at one

06:16:30:00

of those camps that serviced the factory and from our camp on a clear day on the mountain range you could see the big prison camp at Colditz, the castle, and I had a friend who was in the castle up there, and he said on a clear day they could see our factory being bombed. From the mountains they could hear the noise and see the great plumes of smoke rising up.

06:17:00:00

The coal mines were used extensively for air raid shelters when they were bombing heavily. They opened up the coal mines and if you ran to a coal mine you could get onto the big lifts there and go down. I went down on several occasions but their underground coal mines and big gear…big coal mines and mighty output. They’d been going for years I believe.
How did you manage to venture down the coal mine?

06:17:30:00

When the air raids go everybody’s out to save their own skin. The soldier who’s guarding you couldn’t care a stuff about his working party, he was going to save him. And you couldn’t care a bugger about anybody else. You’re in it to save you. Everybody just runs and you might south or south east, nobody cares. That was going on for months. It was a shambles in the finish. You’d go anywhere. But if you were near one of the coal mines on that side of the factory,

06:18:00:00

you could go there and get in the lift and they’d put you in the big lifts and let you go down. In the finish there they built these three metre concrete bunkers and I saw one that a 1000 American bomb had hit and it took out a lump about the size of a soup plate. And that was a 1000 pounder. They couldn’t penetrate a three metre concrete bunker. I never saw one penetrated.
Did they treat you as valuable labour?

06:18:30:00

We were only slave labour and we were supposed to be paid. I’ve got a receipt somewhere. Eighteen months in Germany for 100 marks or something. We were supposed to have Red Cross parcels. Now if the Red Cross parcels got through you were lucky. But we were nearer Russia than what we were nearer France. We got a few parcels in those camps, but not many.

06:19:00:00

But if you were in a camp and you were getting regular Red Cross parcels you were king. They gave you cigarettes and food and …you were supposed to get one a week. If we got one every three months we thought we were lucky.
During those raids, the fact that the Germans would allow you to shelter along side them…or…
Well once the air raid started they didn’t care who was who. You could beside Ukrainians, Russians, Dutch, they were all just out to save

06:19:30:00

their own lives.
And would you be sheltering alongside the German soldiers?
The German soldiers would be with you too.
So you would shelter…
I believe …I didn’t know, I can’t vouch for this story, but one of our prisoners of war saved a very senior German officer’s wife from a burning house and he was recommended for an Iron Cross. I don’t know if he got one or not. But the house was on fire during a bomb raid and he went in and salvaged Mum and one of the kids. The story was

06:20:00:00

he was he was put up for a German decoration. I don’t know how true that story is but it was going around. Another one I haven’t mentioned…in some of the camps we got notices round to…the Germans called it the British Free Corps where you could wear your British battle dress and you could have a Union Jack colour patch on your sleeve and you didn’t have to fight the Americans but you volunteered to fight the Russians.

06:20:30:00

And for that you could join the German Army, wear a British battle dress and a Union Jack colour patch and fight the Ruskies [Russians]. No one I ever knew joined it but the pamphlet was around and I’ve got one in one of my books.
So they were distributed amongst the POWs were they?
Yes they were given to everybody. I think they got a few lunatics to join it but I think they were bloody shot after the war. I don’t know the final

06:21:00:00

story. You would have had to be a slow learner to be apart of that lot. A little bit more than normal.
With the First Aid parcels arriving, was that very often or…
Well the Red Cross parcels officially were supposed to be issued out regularly. It wasn’t the fault of the system. The road system in Germany was stuffed. And in the finish the Red Cross had to do what they called

06:21:30:00

The White Angels. And they had all this big yank six toners, or six by sixes with white canopies with big red crosses on them in convoy. And they were trying to run them through from Switzerland themselves to the camps. They were called the White Angels. They never got as far as us. We were too far in. The other big thing was, as the Russian front progressed west, the prisoner

06:22:00:00

of war camps that were in the path of the advance, were shifted and in the middle of winter had to go on route marches hundreds of kilometres every night just marching away from the Russian front. So on the roads they had these battalions of guards and thousands of prisoners of war being shifted. As the front came in they were moving in front of the front. And they had thousands there in the middle of winter on these roads.

06:22:30:00

The Red Cross parcels that reached you, were they air delivered?
Well the Red Cross parcels came in and they were put in a store, and if there were 5000 in the camp and they only got 1000, then it would be one parcel between five or something. So you very rarely got a full parcel to yourself. What ever they got they’d split up equally amongst the blokes who were there. And there was a big exchange board like a stock exchange and everything we had was priced against American

06:23:00:00

cigarettes. A block of Cadbury’s [chocolate] was worth 40 American cigarettes. A tin of Spam was worth 30 American cigarettes. A tin of jam was worth 10 American cigarettes. So you’d look at the stock exchange and go down with what you didn’t like and look at the board and say oh yes I’ll have one of those, I’ll swap you. So it was like a stock exchange all on a black board. Everything was valued in American cigarettes. That was currency.

06:23:30:00

In your own phrase, what did you have a fetish for?
Well I was a non smoker and I would go down there and trade my cigarettes for food. A lot of the blokes who were committed smokers would give their food away for cigarettes. A strange thing but it’s something that some people can’t resist.
We can either stop there

06:24:00:00

or…
We’ll have a beer what do you reckon.
Philip when you were taken as a POW, what were your expectations of a POW? And was it different to what you expected?
I never ever dreamed I would be a POW. I said…when I joined the services, one bloke said, what’s your

06:24:30:00

ambition now? I said to wear a Returned Soldiers Badge. And I got that, I got my Returned Soldiers Badge and that was all I wanted. As for being a prisoner of war. It didn’t even enter my head. I had no idea of what it entailed or what would happen or anything like that. Not the slightest idea. They put you through a kind of mould when they get you and you’re like Britain’s little lead soldiers. You’re all from the same mould.

06:25:00:00

The POW thing doesn’t even enter into the equation. I never even thought of it until it arrived and this loud voice said, get out. So I got out.
With the…because it sounds like you quite enjoyed your time in Italy?
It’s all…well you’re there and all you have to do is make the best of what you’ve got at the time. Italy was to me a holiday, especially when I was on the loose. Italy is a beautiful

06:25:30:00

country. The people are friendly. They were on our side and they were helpful.
How about the girls there?
The girls were helpful and friendly and everybody wanted to help us and feed us and do what they could. One girl actually gave us a ride on her bicycle. We had to go somewhere around Como and she said it’s a long way, and she said hop on the front here and she double dinked me. She went down a mountain that looked like that. It frightened Christ out of me.

06:26:00:00

And I said, I don’t want a lift off you again love. She double dinked me on the bike and she said, I’ll get you there in no time. Everybody wanted to help.
Have you ever been back to any of these places that you were a part of?
No, only during my adventures as a display manager of a retail chain, I was privileged to go to Italy

06:26:30:00

to bring back and Italian show for the stores we had, and I had to go over there and liaise with their government about subsidising the thing you see. I got over there at one of the fancy hotels in Rome. If you ever want to drive a car in Rome don’t. They’re lunatics. They park on the footpaths, they park everywhere. And to get to my pub, the coach couldn’t get me there, he couldn’t get down the street and I had to carry my case down to the hotel and

06:27:00:00

I got a message from the Italian government that they were going to pick me at six o’clock that evening. So I thought, at six o’clock everybody’s knocked off. I didn’t realise they had this siesta business. Anyway an Italian limo came around to pick me up at six o’clock, and it drove me down to the Via Christopher Columbus I think. It’s the autostrada that runs from Rome to the beach. Partly along the way is all these wonderful federal

06:27:30:00

buildings built my Mussolini. Beautiful buildings. They took me to this big boardroom and everybody was there around the table, and I was brought in, a kind of a stranger. And not many people speak Italian but when I got up and had something to say and I explained to them that I had been a prisoner of war for 18 months in Italy, and I had a good boss and I thought they had a very beautiful country, it brought the house down.

06:28:00:00

When I got back they said, how did you go with the Eyeties Phil? And I said, have you ever done business with them? Jeff said, yes. And I said, look I wouldn’t have a bloody clue. They were all talking Italian and I didn’t know what happened. But later on I found out they gave us $75,000 to help us. And that was only part of the story. Later on a customs bloke came down to my office and he said, did you have anything to do with that Italian business. I said, yep. He said, those containers that came in. I said, yep. He said, there were six containers that came in.

06:28:30:00

He said where did they go? I said all the stuff came here. He said what happened to it? I said as far as I know it all went back. He said, we know nothing about it. And I said, well that’s not my responsibility mate, I got it off the Federal Government and they supplied all the stuff. He said, where did the Lamborghini go? I said I haven’t a clue. I said, they bought one in. They were very good. They gave us a very big car. I don’t know who got it or where it went in the finish, but they’re very good operators

06:29:00:00

the Italians. They’re very good commercially. I enjoyed myself while I was there. They’re very good hosts and the government, I found was very easy to get along with. But you wouldn’t know what was happening until it happened. You can’t plan for anything, you just don’t know. They know what’s going on but it never gets through. So that was the only time I went back to Italy, and I did a similar trip to Germany. We had a German show on and

06:29:30:00

I had to go…see in Germany I was mainly in Sudetenland, way down south. And all this other stuff was up near the Belgium side near Dusseldorf. There was a brand new store being opened up there and I had to go around and have a look at that. I didn’t like some of their lifts there. They have them going all day and you have to jump into them as they go past. I thought I was going to get caught in one. I wasn’t very good about that.

06:30:00:00

In Italy we had to do some stores there too. I noticed when I went there, all the escalators took you up but you had to walk down the stairs, there was nothing to take you down when I was there. There’s no big decent stores like we’ve got. Again, luckily I went to New York for the company. I had a look at all the stores there. They’re very good retail stores. They do things very well

06:30:30:00

the yanks with their openings…one of the big ones was Alexandra’s at Queens and they had a marina built into the side of it. This was years ago. I’m talking the 70s now. It’s all changed since then. They were good trips. And Japan…I was never a prisoner of war of the Japanese, but I didn’t actually go to Japan and we had a Japanese show.

06:31:00:00

They were good hosts. I said I’ve got a weekend here and I said where’s the best place to go and spend a weekend and they said at the Shinto Shrine at Nikko, but you’ll never get there on your own so they gave me one of their staff to look after you and fix everything for you. You just walk in there and they treated us very well. And they were our enemies too.
With you being a POW and also you were in charge of POWs from the Axis side, can you…

06:31:30:00

I was never…the only ones I was in charge of, was on the daylight show with the tanks when we had to shoot some bugger. But when you hand them over they’re gone. You don’t have any to do with them after that. I had them for two hours at the most. I was a bit terrified. There was only ten of us and there was sixty of them. If they had wanted to get aggressive, but as I say a lot of them were artillery blokes and you’ve got no problem with them.

06:32:00:00

Behind the guns they go funny. So I was never in charge of prisoners of war. When you look back on it, any soldier who was in charge of a prisoner of war camp, he wasn’t much of a bloody soldier. All the good ones you were dead. If you’re a good soldier in any army you’re dead. It’s only the ones who aren’t so good that get through. They just say charge and you just charge and whether you’re killed or not it’s just good luck, not good management.

06:32:30:00

It’s good nothing to do with good management or good training or getting number 10 or number 1 out of class of ten. It’s nothing to do with it.
Now I know throughout your experiences, even though you spent a lot of your experiences quite alone, you are a living example of the Anzac Tradition in the way Australia went and fought the war.
Well I went away with a spirit of adventure. That was bloody all.

06:33:00:00

It was a trip. I was orphaned at the time. I didn’t have a family. I had no responsibilities and it was a trip and you’ve heard all about these wonderful stories about wars and it was the spirit of adventure. Solely that’s all the tradition and all that bit of hooray hooray, but it was a way of life, which suited me at the time. I fitted in well. I enjoyed it.

06:33:30:00

Even when I look back on the prisoner of war side. It wasn’t that bloody bad. I’m still alive.
Who were some of the favourite people that you met throughout your experience?
Well you…as I say, in the army you start off as a private and everyone’s your friend. And then as you climb up the ladder you get command given to you that you wouldn’t normally do. You’ve got to be true to one master.

06:34:00:00

You find out in the finish that you can be very lonely. But there’s always meet up with someone. Always a kindred spirit, even on the road in Germany there’s kindred spirits and you can always find one. It doesn’t take one to talk to them and you can find out whether you can get along with them. That’s very easily done. You just keep looking.

06:34:30:00

You seem to have quite a few good friends at Alamein.
Yes…but as time goes on now. You see they’re all getting older and they’ve got their own families. They have their own way of doing things. The army style disappears after a while and you go into another orbit. While you’re all together at a certain age, there’s a certain camaraderie. You go on leave together and all that. But when the war finishes you still stay friends and you join associations

06:35:00:00

and take an active role in ex-servicemen’s associations. I’ve had a prisoner of war association to look after for awhile, and I’ve had different associations, and even next Wednesday we’ve got a committee meeting on again and I’ll be there discussing what we’re going to do next year or what we’re going to run for the association.
Tell me what it was like to come back to Australia after all your extraordinary experiences?

06:35:30:00

Well the first thing I noticed after being away for four or five years, was that the colours here are drab. I thought the greens aren’t green they’re grey. The girl’s voices sounded like a pin on tin. I would listen to these Australian voices and I thought God what have I struck. Squeaky tinny voices. And the colours of England and Europe are different.

06:36:00:00

England’s colours are bright and the Italian colours are bright. The sky seemed bluer. All our bush…we came back into Sydney was the first place we got and in Sydney the bush looked grey like it had a dust cover on it. Then we came to Adelaide and of course when we went through Adelaide all those parklands were dry all around it. And that looked dry. And then we crossed the Nullarbor and I thought my God, what’s this. Libya.

06:36:30:00

So I noticed the colours were different and sounds were different. The girl’s voices sounded tinny to me. I hadn’t seen or spoken to English people for such a long time. I had three years listening to Italian and German voices. It was different. I noticed that straight away. In England it surprised me. You had to push your way through the girls to get to the bar.

06:37:00:00

The public bar at that too. Excuse me girls, excuse me girls and you had to push your way through. I couldn’t understand that for a start. That just wasn’t on in Australia when we left. All the girls drinking in the public bars. A lot of strange things we learnt over there. The Italians were the most friendly and the Germans were not friendly at all. They really believed in Hitler

06:37:30:00

and the Italians weren’t so keen on Mussolini. But Hitler reigned with a certain fear, and over there it was called angst. Everyone was frightened. So thank Christ we got rid of that. The last thing we need is a dictator.
How long did it take you to get back from England

06:38:00:00

to Australia?
Well we were lucky. I was supposed to have done an educational course. They did everything for us. I was supposed to done a work course but I was well over my time free in England. It was too good. So they put me on the Stirling Castle, which was a beautiful big South African…a long thin boat and of course they wouldn’t let us go through the Indian Ocean, we had to go home through the Panama Canal. So it was

06:38:30:00

my first glimpse of the Panama Canal going up in the locks. We had never seen that before. And when you get to the middle of the Panama Canal there’s a big lake. And of course on those trooper boats they’ve got plenty of water but it’s all salt water. If you have a bath or shower it’s in salt water and you feel stickier than when you got under it. And they give you salt water soap which is useless. But once we got into the big lake in the middle that feeds the canals, all the blokes were jumping over the side of the boat.

06:39:00:00

And Captain’s on the fog horn. Get back on the bloody boat! And there’s blokes doing honey pots and running and jumping starkers all into the water. And of course when you swim in fresh water you go down a fair bit before there’s no salt in it. And it’s pure fresh water the whole lake. That was quite an experience to see everybody jumping off the side of the boat into the fresh water. And you could turn on the taps and have a hot shower in fresh water. It was marvellous. But that only happens while it’s in the middle. They tell me during

06:39:30:00

the war if they would have bombed that lake and lost the water the canal would have been useless. And then coming home we went well down south to New Zealand because they wanted to keep clear of submarines or something. We went in to Wellington and spent the day in Windy Wellington. It’s the first time I’d seen hand rails on the street corners and I said, what are those for mate? And he said well when the wind’s blowing mate you’ve got to hang onto them.

06:40:00:00

I never saw that anywhere else in the world.
Interviewee: Philip Loffman Archive ID 0571 Tape 07

07:00:44:00

The 22nd was it?
The 22nd of July ’42.
Ok Phil, on the 22nd of July 1942 at El Alamein during the first attack on Ruin Ridge, we talked earlier about riding on the tanks.

07:01:00:00

To the defences of the enemy. Can you go into some more details for us?
Yes. The armour belonged to the 50th Royal Tank Regiment. It was English. They were Territorials. They had just come from England. They got to Alexandria the day before. The next day they were on… the road from Alex

07:01:30:00

to Alamein is only a couple of hour’s run and they were in the front line ready to attack some well prepared German positions. We were allocated…10 Platoon was allocated to ride on the forward squadron. We met them in plenty of time. We had never worked with armour before.

07:02:00:00

Fitting people onto tanks is quite an ordeal. The Valentine is not a big tank. No one can sit forward of the main armament because if they swing it round the gun will just skittle you off to the side and bowl you over. You’ve got to sit behind the main armament. Now, at the back of the main armament it’s all engine and all the engine, and a lot of heat comes from those engines. It was red hot. And there’s kind of

07:02:30:00

exhaust pipes and hot areas absolutely boiling. You can’t touch the back of the tank because the engine’s under it. So you can only at a squeeze put four people on, two people one each side, and these people have got to sit behind the main armament. Now they’re a happy go lucky crowd. The tanks weren’t painted with desert livery. That’s the sand colour of the desert. It had dark green livery that stood out like

07:03:00:00

…remarkably unhappily and very badly. They were very visible. They didn’t blend in with the landscape. This was one of their first actions and they realised the capacity of their gun which was only a two pounder…just recently Churchill…it had gone up in parliament and somebody questioned him about how he had 20,000 two pounders stored in the White Cliffs of Dover in tunnels,

07:03:30:00

and why was he still storing them when they were no…and everybody knew they were no good. These poor fellas had their guns and every bit of British armour in the Western Desert had two pounders on. So they were hopelessly outclassed for a start. They were taken into action by bloody heroes. We were allocated a tank. Our platoon commander, a chap by the name of Bully Beames had just come back from an officer’s school in

07:04:00:00

Cairo. He had only just come back with his brand new officers. He was the platoon sergeant. Straight from the officer’s course. He had just been given his brand shiny new pips and his cap and he was taken straight off a truck and put on one of these jolly tanks to go into attack. I never saw him since he came back. Bruce Hill, his sergeant was on the …first of all, the Platoon Headquarters’ tank, two friends of mine were on it. They were the mortar

07:04:30:00

crew and when Buller turned up from nowhere, it wasn’t expected and they said you blokes, there’s not enough room on this tank, go somewhere else. There wasn’t another tank. And he and the sergeant got on and there was a mystery man got on with him. I believe there were three actually killed on that tank, and we can only account for two. And everyone’s presuming that Buller brought his Batman up with him when he became an officer. Later on, this questions been going…

07:05:00:00

there was a body there we couldn’t account for. And I presuming this bloke wasn’t even on our nominal roll. He wasn’t there officially and he was the batman [servant] that was attached to Buller. A lot of them came up to us with their Batman. The poor jolly Batman came up with Buller and sat on the tank with him and of course going into the attack, it didn’t take long to make contact, and the Germans were well trained, although they weren’t trigger-happy people.

07:05:30:00

They waited until they could read the badges of rank with the commanders on it. And the Platoon Headquarter was the first casualty I heard. I looked over and I thought they had thrown a red ensign off the tank, but that was Buller. He was just blown to pieces with an anti tank shell. Bruce had both legs taken off at the hip. He was on the ground bleeding profusely. He died a few minutes later. He didn’t

07:06:00:00

last very long. He was trying to get a Mills grenade out of his thing and blow himself up and they took it off him. But he died anyway. And the third casualty we presume was Buller’s Batman. We don’t know to this day what his name was or who he was. That’s still a mystery. Some of the other tanks copped it. We had a lot wounded and a lot killed. Eventually

07:06:30:00

we got onto Ruin Ridge. I was the only Section Commander that got on in one piece. I got in with only half a section, and Jack Streeter the other bloke came up and he was bleeding profusely from the head and so we got my field dressing and his field dressing and wrapped it around his bloody head. All we could do was stop the bleeding. He was walking and he said I’m alright. And I said, no you’re not alright. By that time we had rounded up about 60 prisoners.

07:07:00:00

These people were mainly I think artillery people. Once you get them from behind their guns, they’re quite friendly. They go funny. So we lined them all up and we had them ready to march back. We were waiting for the battalion to arrive. And by the way the battalion didn’t arrive. And I got these Diggers. I must have had six blokes at the most in the section and we had 60 prisoners. And we had them in threes and all of a sudden one bugger started to run.

07:07:30:00

And I said hey! Everyone looked at me and I said, Number Three Section, at the running target in your own time, have a shot. He ran about 100 yards before we brought him down. Everyone was watching the whole show. Somebody yelled out, he was the doctor. I said, he shouldn’t have bloody run. His fault. Our blokes said, we’ll go and…and I said, no you won’t. Let the Germans go and get him. But apparently we buggered

07:08:00:00

his leg up a bit. He got hit in the ankle and I believe…later on I was talking to one of the carrier drivers who picked them up marching back towards the advancing battalion, and they said yeah they had put a bloke on with a crook leg. We did that. He was the doctor. We don’t advertise it. He ran and he shouldn’t have. If one broke they would have all broke and we had no chance of holding them in. And the Germans like to see strength rather than

07:08:30:00

weakness. And it’s better to shoot one and keep them all in one bunch than have them all running around. They could have overpowered us like steam if they had wanted. It was a great opportunity for me. I had always wanted a Luger so I went along the line and picked the cleanest looking Luger but I couldn’t put it on my belt. So I got hold of my bayonet (I shouldn’t say this now) and threw the bayonet away and thought bullshit to that bayonet, I’d rather have the Luger. I could go like that and get a bloke at five yards away rather than wait until I stick him with the bayonet.

07:09:00:00

And half the time I’ve always got a Tommy gun or a bloody Bren gun and the bayonet was surplus weight, so I put my Luger on and that was my first Luger. I was very pleased with that. Eventually we decided, it was darkness coming. No battalion had arrived and we had the responsibility of retreating from the Ridge. We couldn’t hold it with the six of us there. I said, in the morning, the German’s renowned for his counter attack and we’d be like…they’d run in behind us and we’d be gone.

07:09:30:00

I said, bugger this, we’re going back to find the battalion. So I said, section follow me. And we went back the way we came, and eventually I found a Major Tom Stenhouse, who was my company commander. And I said to Tom: Tom there’s no one on the Ridge. We were up there for half an hour. It’s all ours. We’ve got 60 prisoners we’ve sent back, go forward? He said no, no Phil. We’re on a forward slope and the intelligence officer said

07:10:00:00

if we get up there…everybody talks about slopes. If you get on a forward slope it means the enemy can see them. If they get on a reverse slope they can’t see them. I said I couldn’t care less, but the Ridge is up there, all you have to do is take it. I just got in and joined the mob. The responsibility wasn’t mine any more. We got a few black marks over that. We should have taken the Ridge so we were told politely that we would take it on the 27th.

07:10:30:00

Can I just ask you a bit more? Can I ask you about that terrain? Can you describe that a bit more? The terrain leading up to the ridge and the scale of the ridge.
The scale of the ridge. You see in the desert everything’s got to do with the slope of the land. If you get on the reverse slope then you’re protected from the enemy sight and fire. They can’t see where you are. But if you get on the forward slope you’re

07:11:00:00

a target. And there was something about slopes and I said, look I’m not worried about that. I said if you want the ridge it’s up there. There’s no one on it. We’ve taken 60 prisoners on it and there’s a hole there. But I said, God help you in the morning if you don’t put the right gear there.
Can I ask you in a bit more detail Phil, what was the scale of the ridge? How wide across was it? How high was it?
It was a ridge of several thousand yards across. It was a ridge right along

07:11:30:00

and it was an identifying feature.
There was a building ruin on it wasn’t there?
Nothing there. Just wrecks. Ruins. It was called Ruin Ridge just for a name. I don’t even know the full name of it.
Were they building ruins?
The buildings were flattened and a few weapon pits. And in the area were two 88 guns which I had never seen one in my life before. And when I saw the

07:12:00:00

size of the brute it gave me quite a shock. They had made no attempt to dig it in. It just stood on the desert and it looked to me like two or three metres high. And it was huge and this was the gun that was causing us such a lot of trouble. It was blowing our armour to pieces, and the air burst shells, with one day I think we had about 14 killed with it. We’d never seen air burst shells until we got to Alamein.

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Never heard of one. They’re quite dramatic. We’re talking about Subiaco Football ground where the lights are. If they put over four shots and burst them like where those light towers are, everybody in the arena would share some shrapnel. The fragmentation was magnificent. They’d throw it everywhere and it would all come down red hot and it would come down in big splinters. They were big enough to really do some damage. It meant that even in your slit trench, you weren’t safe

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in your slit trench any longer. You had to put sand bags over the top like that to protect you from it coming over the top. We’d never seen it before. The whole of Tobruk we never saw anything like this. But it was new to us, and it gave us a bit of a shock. It was the wonder gun of the Western Deserts.
When you retreated from the ridge how far did you retreat?
Oh a thousand of yards, kilos. We went back to just about…the brigade told us that we had only advanced

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a few hundred yards from our previous position. I think the CO, or the acting CO for the time got the bowler hat [dismissed] or something. I don’t know the full strength of what went on, but after that a new CO appeared. And he was only with us for a few days and they decided we were going to do another attack on the ridge on the 27th. This again would be a full battalion attack and they were going to use no

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armour this time, but they were going to support us reputedly with a thousand field pieces. Someone said it was about 820 but a thousand sounded good and it boost morale up. So they were the guns who were going to support us.
During that first attack, how much ground had the allies advanced across?
Well we again had to advance another two or three thousand yards, but when the battalion spread out, it takes a lot

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of room. You don’t all bunch together. For an attack like that all white tapes are put out and everyone’s put onto start lines. They’re called start line positions and everything’s laid out by the I section and they lay these white tapes, and guides come along and say right B Company, this is your area here. 9 Platoon, 10 Platoon, on these tape lines, line up on the lines. And all the good textbooks say

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that the lines should be safe. But on the 27th we were accepting casualties on the start line before we even moved off. We thought, God, in the book this doesn’t happen. The start line should be safe. I said, fellas you’re alright here. It’s when you get up there a few thousand yards, that’s when you’ve got to look out. But we were coming under small arms fire on the start line.
I think you mentioned earlier which was on the 27th,

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behind the German army were allied ambulances?
Yes, during the attack itself, he got through into position…this show was put on at midnight. And it was a beautiful night. It was cool and the air was clean and the fire started before midnight. They knew we were there because we’d been there the day before and

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when the barrage started it became quite safe, because when the guns started there was no individual sound. It was just called drum fire. All the guns fired simultaneously and they put up this big box around us and we advanced with the box going in. I actually felt sorry for the Germans. Our morale was high. We said God all mighty, who could put up with a barrage like this. The enemy must have thought, how are we going to get past a gun line like that.

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when they heard it. Anyway we got onto the ridge this time. There was no problem. A lot of people got hurt and we accepted the casualties, which you’ve got to accept in war. We got onto the position and to layout a position at night, and to lay a full battalion out in a defensive position is a very difficult job. Anyway it was achieved and everybody knew that the morning’s counter attack would be the winner or

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the loser and in the meantime our line of supply through the mine field had been closed. A gun on the right flank, a 50 millimetre anti tank gun had blown up an ammunition truck that was ablaze and was blocking the track through. It was only a one track. That was a mistake. There was only one lane of traffic coming through the minefield for all our support vehicles. You only had to throw one on fire

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in the middle of the track and blocking it up and exploding…and the ones behind him, one tried to go to the left, one to the right and both of them went up. So now you’ve got three trucks on fire with the anti tank gun stoking them up with shots every now and again just to make them feel happy. And before we know what happened, no trucks are getting through. We’re completely cut off from our supply lines. We’re there like shags on a rock waiting for an armoured counter attack in the morning. It came in the morning

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and we were all taken. The surprising thing was, when the South Africans lost Tobruk, all the stores there were captured. They must have captured lots of armour and British ambulances because as the German armour was coming through they were all followed up by British ambulances driven by Germans. For infantry the only target we had

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was the ambulances. One of my blokes said, can I shoot the ambulances? I said, no don’t shoot the ambulances. I know they’re driven by bloody Germans. They’re not armed. I said you might be in one of those before this morning’s over. They’ll pick up anybody who’s wounded. I said leave the ambulances alone. And I said, don’t waste your ammunition because you’re only wasting bullets. We have no chance of stopping any of that armour with .303 bullets. And the Bren will bounce off them and the Vickers will

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bounce off them. So we were absolutely at the mercy of the German Afrika Korps. Six guns of the twelve got through. I think he got through three six pounders and three two pounders, but within the first hour of the attack they were all silenced. The tanks could just lay off and pick them off one at a time. They blew them to pieces. So we just had to watch

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these armoured things coming in slowly. All the time getting closer and closer. No British armour came through, that was blocked. We weren’t supported in any way and I must have been…they came in for me and I must have been one of the first to turn it in because they were on top of me and I thought, oh God, I’m going to be court martialled over this. I said fellas, it’s no good. You’re wasting your ammunition. Put your hands up. You’re gone, we’re finished. And I thought God,

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this is my prerogative. I’m the bloody corporal. When I got over the ridge the whole bloody battalion’s lined up in threes, and some silly blighter called for artillery fire. The artillery fire did more damage to us than what it did to the Germans because all they did was turn the 25 pounders on to us. I learned a lot about 25 pounders that day. There are certain parts. When a 25 pounder goes off, all the fragmentation goes forward.

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Nothing comes back. So if you’re on the wrong side of it you’ll die. But if you’re on the other side of it you’ll just watch it all. I learned that in that day. I didn’t know that before. I’ve been telling the 25 pounder blokes for years. The stuff’s not as good as they think it is.
Did you mention earlier that the German tank teams included British tanks?
Yes. Amongst of the…

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I’ve got a series of photographs, which points this all out. At the beginning…when the tanks started coming in, there was an incident where our Adjutant decided…or the CO said look, there’s armour coming down there and they said it’s British armour, and someone said no, no they’re firing at us. It’s German armour. And Jimmy Allen who was the Adjutant at the time said…he went

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to the anti tank platoon who had a transit vehicle there, an artillery vehicle to pull their gun, and he said will you drive me out to have a look at the armour. Well it looked British but it was German armour and he was killed. He went out there and his driver was taken prisoner. But they did amongst their squadrons have Valentines, British armour,

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marked with German crosses, and they had Matildas which are Iti [Italian] tanks and they were marked with German crosses on them. They must have taken a swag of them in Tobruk. They were just using them as round up vehicles and using their own armour…because they only had two pounder guns on them too. So it would be alright for mopping prisoners of war up. They wouldn’t be any good for fighting Mark 3’s or Mark 4’s.
So they had a swag of British armour and ambulances from Tobruk?
Well I

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didn’t physically see the tanks with the crosses on them but I have photographs of them and I know people who saw them. But I physically saw the British ambulances and we could have shot them. But I refrained from doing so. I said it’s not good business. A sanitator or a stretcher-bearer hasn’t got any guns. They’re only there to pick up the bloody wounded. So leave them alone. Don’t shoot them.
Do you think it was a bit cheeky?
Oh it was war.

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It was still a gentleman’s war as far as I was concerned. I wouldn’t shoot a stretcher-bearer even if he did have a rifle. They’re not there to kill anybody, they’re only there to pick up the pieces. These blokes only do what they’re told to do. The same as the doctor. I know we got one, but you’re not supposed to shoot doctors you know. He didn’t have a weapon but he tried to run and he shouldn’t have done that. But I often think

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of that and I often think I’d like to find out what happened to the poor bugger afterwards. He would be on a TPI pension. He might have been better off with his wounded leg.
Well thanks Phil. I’ll leave it there and I’ll put Denise [interviewer] back on.
…but if you’ve got a work camp out there and you’re working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, community singing was …they were going to try it but no one would sing. Prisoners of war didn’t

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sing.
Any sort of limericks in the trenches?
No, no poems. I’m not a great poem teller.
What did you think of the other services, in the air and on the sea?
The other services we didn’t see much of. We had the …oh a good story. While we were in Kilo 89, this AW,

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the Woman’s Army kind of, came in to camp beside us you see. They were right beside us in the camp next to us. They were all wired up with wire and we had to…our platoon, the Assault Pioneers dug their latrines and made all their dunnies and put their showers up before they marched in. They all marched in to a band and halted. And of course we had a couple of comedians amongst the crowd in the sigs, and they

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went down there and wired up some speakers in the dunnies [toilets]. And when the head girl said dismiss, they all ran to the wee wee house, a big loud voice said, not ready yet, we’re still digging girls. So of course we’re all lined up waiting for them to go and they came out of the lavatories like that. That was the welcome to the Ladies Services in Palestine when we had speakers down the dunny. That was a good joke. We all

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thought it was very funny at the time.
This must have been good to have women so close?
It didn’t make any difference. The barbed wire fence was up and there was all sorts of special things there. They had a special hospital there for venereal disease. I was the corporal of the Guard there and if any bloke tried to get in we were told to shoot them. We were told to shoot. Our orders to the guard were if any buggers are climbing the wire, shoot. They’re in there and wired off. That was the order.

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A special order and we came out and it was one of the jobs I got as Guard Commander on the wire, and the strict instructions were, they stay in that hospital until they’re cleared.
Good job.
There you are. The other services you wanted to know about.
Anybody have any relationships even across the wire?
No, we were a funny kind of a mob in those days. That was them

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and we were us kind of thing. The officers, I don’t know what went on. But when you got down to the Digger’s level we were a self-contained unit.
I just want to bring you a little bit forward to coming back to Australia and how you felt that the colours were less bright over here. But there was a bit of a bright part of your life. This was meeting your now wife of 50 years Betty.
Oh yes. I met Betty at…

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After the war we used to run what we used to call the Night in Cairo Ball at the Embassy Ballroom. I didn’t take much part in any of these activities. I just wanted out, but they knew I was a window dresser before the war, and when the committee came along I said, look I don’t want to be on the committee. I’ve just got a job to do, but they said will you give us a hand. So I said I will give you a hand with your Night in Cairo Ball. So I said I’ll be in that. Now I used to run big flower days and

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call for volunteers, and so we had a …so I said your working party’s not good, I want a working party who will work. I said I’ll get my own working party. And Betty? When did you start doing the Night in Cairo? That’s right.

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So we started to calling for volunteers and Betty said, I’ll be in it. So we used to go there and help decorate the Embassy Ballroom. And Betty was one of the workers. She was a good worker then.
Do you remember what she was wearing?
Couldn’t tell you. She was a tailoress and she used to make Frank Boan’s suits. We met probably

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at the working parties (background conversation). So from thereon we met…
Just go back a little bit. When do you clearly remember meeting Betty?
She used to give us a hand on our big shows, but…(when did we go down? Sunday mornings

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or something) Anyway we met while working for the battalion. Then we got married six years later. We had to get a house built. We had to buy a block of land and I didn’t know where to buy a block. I didn’t know whether to go up to the hills or go to the river or come to the beach. We picked the beach and it was a good pick. And for couple of hundred dollars we bought a block of land in City Beach

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which was a bargain in those days. And since then we’ve raised seven kids, and what have we got? Fourteen or fifteen grand children. Fifteen grandchildren. And then we found out what was causing it all and we bought a television and we’re right now.
That’s good. So how old were you when you met Betty?
Well I was born in 1920 and I met Betty

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I suppose in 1945. The year I came back from the war. And then I was engaged five years and I was married by the time I was 30. That would be about it.
So did you go back to working at Boans, and also…
I went back and I said I was a window dresser here before the war, and they said we know you were. I said are you looking for window dressers? And they said, yes we are. And I said I’m in. And what was it, within four or five years

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I was the boss. That suited me and I stayed with them for 47 years. It was the only job I ever had, although I was working for the Germans and the Italians. I did very well. I got a few world trips over them and overseas trips and brought in a few international shows. We all parted good friends and I got a good wheelbarrow full of money when I retired.

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So that was it. I said I’m over 60 and I’m getting out. I was 62 when I retired. I said I don’t want to die on the bloody job. I’d like to get out while I’m still going, and I did. And we’re still going.
But you still kept up your connection with the military though?
Oh yes. I soldiered on. When they started the CMF after the war I went back in again to the 11th 44th at Nicholson Road. Then when they said they were going to start the

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28th, the Commanding Officer came along and said what about coming over with me? I said, where to? And he said Lord Street. They’re forming the 28th Battalion again and I said I’ll be in that. And he said, what do you want? And I said, give me anti tank guns. And he said, you can have the anti tank guns. So I started off with anti tank guns and ended up with a rifle company. I stayed with them until I turned…I think you turn 47 in the army and you get a nice letter to say you’re retired,

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and I’ve been retired. And since then I’ve written a few army books and they’ve given me a OAM [Order of Australia Medal].
Did you keep in touch with any of your other Perth mates?
We have a strong association with the 28th Battalion Association. We’re still running that. I’ve been a President of that and on committee for that running their Cairo show for the last 60 years. I’ve been associated with the Night in Cairo one. It’s still running comfortably, and the

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hall only holds 100 and we put 120 in. We can still pack the joint out, and we still all get together with families now. I might say there’s more families now than what there are Diggers because the Diggers are just about an endangered species now. They’re wearing out.
With your incredible experience of World War II, if you could tell the future

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generations of Australia something that you learnt about life and war…
Well I think there’s a motto on Anzac House wall carved…Freedom belongs to those who are prepared to fight for it. And if you’re not prepared to fight for it, you’re not prepared to have freedom. You don’t get it for free, and it’s written into the walls in Anzac House.

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And that’s about the strength of it. We want a free nation. It costs.
If you could have your life again, would there be anything you would change about what you did in the war?
Oh yes, I would have liked to have won charities. Lotto would have been very nice. So apart from that, no. But I would have liked to have won charities.

07:34:00:00

Well you don’t get that choice do you. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
No, once you get to my age, all you want is your health. And Mum’s health. And that’s…money is not that important later on. You can die a millionaire and you can die a terrible death, but you can die a pauper and have good health.

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Well you certainly have that?
That’s right. Touch wood.
I’m just trying to think if there was anything else that I wanted to ask you. You said that…it was from the age of 14 and it was just you and your brother, how important was the army

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when it became your family. Do you see it like that?
Well yes the army in my case…when I joined up I only had a young brother and he was in the services, so I had no responsibilities what so ever which gave me a very free hand. And the army…it’s like a big family. You meet friends. It educates you. I think most of the learning I’ve ever got

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was through the army. They do schools and courses, which can only really do you good. A lot of stuff they say isn’t very correct but so long as they think it is, it’s important, and you’ll get along. You don’t have to follow it exactly. When they say charge, you’ve jut got to charge. You can’t think of any other consequence. And if they give you a rotten job and you say certainly Sir I’ll do it.

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You can say shit to yourself, but you’ve still got to do it. It teaches you discipline. I think if most of the youth today could spend…it hasn’t got to be military service. They could do national service of some description. In the hospitals…I see they’re screaming for nurses. I don’t know why girls couldn’t be made to do two years in a health system, even if they liked it or not before they did their university

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time. Make them do two or three years in a hospital. Teach them a little bit of compassion and get them out of some of the habits they get. Some of the blokes could do engineering. They could do all sorts of things in national service and build the nation up. We’re short of all sorts of people and yet half these people are on the doll getting paid for doing nothing. And I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t do some sort of

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National Service. It does not have to be military.
You were saying just a little moment ago that war teaches you some lessons, and clearly you’ve been through a few life threatening experiences for a consistent amount of time, over years, like back to back.
Well after the first one, you say well I should have been killed in Tobruk. I should have been killed at

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Alamein quite easily. I should have been killed in Germany under the bombs quite easily. I could have been killed when I went with the Russians quite easily. So what’s the odds? You all have to die sometime.
Was the pressure too much for some people?
Well I don’t think… I think it’s just the way the cards fall. Some people are lucky and some are unlucky. When you take these risks

07:38:00:00

I shouldn’t really be here now. It’s all luck, not good management.
I’m just trying to think of anything else here. Oh yes, as a last question, this actually goes back to the tunnel. How were the people who dug people who

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dug the tunnel, how were they discovered?
Well they were never discovered. The tunnel wasn’t dug by 28th’s members. Some of them took part in it, but the tunnel was started before we got to the camp. It was a very good security system. I was in the hut next door to it and I had good friends in there and they never told me there was a tunnel being built. Their security was excellent. The

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tunnel was executed and all the people got out and until they got out the Italians didn’t know the tunnel was there.
How did they get busted?
They’ve got a charge seat, a historic document. The higher in rank you were, the worse the punishment was, and the lower your rank, the least the punishment was. If a warrant officer got out he got a lot of fines or bad points. The sergeants came next. The corporals

07:39:30:00

next and the privates got off light as all. The Italian way of doing business. There is an historic document noting all the people and what punishment they received for escaping through the tunnel. None of them were killed. The tunnel was filled in by the Italians and if you go to the War Museum in Fremantle there’s a mural painted by a very good friend of mine showing the tunnel and the hut that it came from and the length of it. It’s a good story the tunnel.

07:40:00:00

How were they discovered?
Oh they were discovered running loose amongst the fields out there. I think you’ve got some prisoners out one of the farmers said. There’s a group of them moving here and all the local army was called out and rounded them all up.
So it was actually a success the escape?
Oh it was a complete success but I knew they wouldn’t get very far. Not in those days but after Italy had capitulated it was a different story. See, in Italy again,

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one in ten were Fascista [Fascist] and you don’t know who he was and you could get into trouble. There was a certain amount of fear even there. After the Armistice was called the people took over and the fascist were pretty light. I think they hung Mussolini up in Como on one of the street poles or something, and that was about the time I was there.
How long did it actually take you in between actually knowing that the war was over and getting

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back to Australia?
When the war was over, where in Europe? Well the war ended in Europe sometime in June and they send us back to the Eastbourne Reception Camp, which was a Red Cross Operation operating out of Gowrie House in Eastbourne. It was a very fashionable mansion and it was the first time I ever went to a bathroom and saw a bidet. I went there to clean my teeth and got squirted in my eye.

07:41:30:00

I said, this is a funny wash basin. I’ve never seen one of them before and I said come and have a look at this George. You could turn the tap on and you could hit the roof. I had never seen one. It was that fashionable a house. I was a beautiful place. We had excellent meals. They announced the turkeys that were given to us were from the Geelong branch of the Australian Red Cross Society and the next meal some meal someone else had supplied a cow for a barbeque or something. It was a ball there. And we were all equipped with

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new uniforms and given free passes.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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