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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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”.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
And I thought my God, they’re villains these blokes.
Well eventually the truck I was on with the stolen machinists from Italy were taken to the Brenner Pass
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
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
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.
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…
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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!.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
…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,
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
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
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…
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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.