Herbert Robey
Archive number: 585
Preferred name: Oly Erb or Ack
Date interviewed: 13 August, 2003

Served with:

2/6th Field Regiment

Other images:

Herbert Robey 0585

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:30:00

Thanks very much for talking to us this morning; it’s a pleasure to meet you. We could start with, like I said, a summary of your life and beginning by telling us where you were born and when?
I was born in London, England actually,

01:01:00:00

in December 1917, 28th December. Dad was a soldier in World War 1, an artillery man of course, and Mum chased him over to England so that’s how I came to be born there.
He was Australian?
He was Australian.
He was serving with which forces?
The AIF [Australian Imperial Force], he was in 45th Battery, 12th Army

01:01:30:00

Field Brigade and he was a gunner, on the guns.
How did you come to come back to Australia?
They were only over there for the war so we came back and I came back as an infant.
Where did you land in Australia?
Sydney.
Where did you grow up?
Essentially in Como

01:02:00:00

in the Sydney suburbs but essentially Como on the south of Sydney. Dad was a photo engraver and had a photo engraving business and he was interested in experimental work in colour production when that was still an experimental thing, partly because of that he rented places that were closer into the city,

01:02:30:00

but basically it was Como, which was on the outskirts of Sydney at that time.
Where did you do your schooling from the time you left school?
All the primary schooling with one little exception I think, I went to kindergarten school at Waverley, infant school rather, and because of that I went to the first anniversary of Henry Lawson’s funeral, I’d be about the only person alive

01:03:00:00

who did that, basically Como Public School, a two-teacher school. Secondary was Hurstville Tech [Technical School] because that was right in the middle of the Depression. Dad had a business and he said, “At sixteen you will be an apprentice so go and find yourself a job,” so I was kicked out into the world at fourteen to find a job and got a

01:03:30:00

job at Gadsden Canister Factory. It had a reputation of being the toughest factory in Sydney, I don’t know if they won the competition but they would have been on the short list I reckon. Then when I was sixteen Dad apprenticed me as a camera operator in photo engraving and I finished that in time to

01:04:00:00

join the 7th Division being formed in about March 1940.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I had three brothers and two sisters, my next brother down the line from me joined up the same time that I did and became a Tobruk Rat and while he was in Tobruk he shot down a stoker,

01:04:30:00

but he’s dead now. Another brother in the middle, he’s dead, and my two sisters and my youngest brother is still living.
Could you just summarise your major aspects of your war service and we will come back to these in detail?
I was actually on a weekend camp when war was declared, with the 18th Field Brigade Militia.

01:05:00:00

I think we did a one month camp and then a three month camp and when the 7th Division was formed I went into the 2/6th Regiment, most of the fellows from my brigade went into the 2/5th and I had a bit of an argument with the 2IC [Second in Command] and when I found there was a 2/6th I thought I’d go into it.

01:05:30:00

After joining the 2/6th, can you briefly talk us through the major areas you were deployed?
The first training was in Ingleburn when the regiment was formed, there until about August then Holsworthy and from there we were among the first troops that went into the newly built Bathurst camp.

01:06:00:00

In November we sailed on the Oran for the Middle East. One of the few trips that went right through and landed in Haifa, we sailed the east coast of the Mediterranean which was a bit dicey at that time and they put us into a camp. Most of the Australians were training in what’s now the Gaza Strip

01:06:30:00

and one of the camps that we went to was Desaneed, strangely enough I found out later that my uncle had been in there training just before I was there. Then in early 1941 we went up and across to Egypt, to the Egyptian border

01:07:00:00

being equipped on the way, we had virtually no equipment so we trained on ramshackled World War 1 stuff. We got new equipment out of packing cases at a place called Ikingi Mariut, and assembled and tried it out and we formed a defensive position in front of the Mersa Matruh. We were there through I think March and

01:07:30:00

April and the early part of May 1941. I think it would have been decided and they feared that the Germans were going to sweep across Turkey and down through Syria and Lebanon and across to Palestine as it was then. They used the 7th Division or the two brigades of the 7th Division,

01:08:00:00

including us, and moved across to attack, they used to call it Syria then but actually where we were was Lebanon and there were two brigades involved in that, there was one on the coast but we were in the Lebanese ranges the 25th Brigade and battalions and us as the artillery. We spent

01:08:30:00

about six or seven weeks at that campaign, went on and it was a pretty hard campaign actually, the division had about the same amount of casualties in six weeks as the crowd in Tobruk had in six months so it was pretty willing. Then we spent a few months then either training, we acted as a depot battery

01:09:00:00

for a British artillery, and then when the Japs came into the war at the end of January 1942 we came back down through Palestine and Egypt to come back to Australia. We very nearly landed in Java, first of all Java then

01:09:30:00

Burma, in fact our ship, an American armed troop ship called Mount Vernon, we got to Colombo and they were fiddling around and we found out later what they all were to do and the British authorities wanted to send us to Burma. We found later we actually

01:10:00:00

sailed a fair way toward Burma and came back. Because of that we were, as far as I know we were the first ship, it was a ship carrying most of the personnel from the 25th Brigade, we were the first ship to land from bringing Middle East troops back to Australia. We were in Woodside in South Australia while

01:10:30:00

they gathered the regiment together because the equipment was spread over about half a dozen troops and when they collected them all, and I think that took us through to about April 1942, they moved us across to Casino by train and just established a camp, someone’s dairy farm that had been commandeered. They gave us leave from there and I took the opportunity of that

01:11:00:00

for us to get married on a week’s leave. Then they moved us to Caboolture just north of Brisbane where I know our brigade, the three battalions and the artillery unit, and engineers were training and then around about the beginning of September I think it was we went to New Guinea. For a time we were

01:11:30:00

at the root of the very base of the Owen Stanleys because they couldn’t cart gunners, guns up the hill. Another regiment did get one gun man-handled up to the first plateau but we had a defensive position just at the base of the hill. Actually the Japs really were very frighteningly close to being within range of our guns when you look at it in retrospect.

01:12:00:00

We also had some of us doing a sort of coastal garrison duties, we moved some of the guns down to where they were pointing out to sea, because no one knew what was going to happen at that stage. The infantry of our brigade was actually the first one doing the offensive push back over the Kokoda Track but we were left

01:12:30:00

out. In the beginning of February 1943, when most of the fighting had finished, they had gone over the range through Kokoda and there was a terrible battle for the Burma, Gona, and Salamaua triangle.

01:13:00:00

They really decimated the infantry of the 7th Division and they had awful casualties. The 2/5th Regiment was involved and came up the coast, then they flew us over and we changed guns, we flew over and took over their guns but that was just for the mopping up, there was still disorganised bands of Japanese fighting, no man fighting, but disorganised

01:13:30:00

bands of Japanese, we even had our padre manage to take a Japanese prisoner of war going around to the various parts of the regiment.
What was your rank?
I was a bombardier which was understandable as corporal two stripes. I was a specialist because I had become a signaller,

01:14:00:00

but when we went to New Guinea, I was a signaller in the Middle East, when we went to New Guinea I became what officially they knew as a technical assistant. In typical army fashion we were axed. The trade qualification was a battery surveyor, because we did the sums to enable

01:14:30:00

the shells to go from the guns to the target with a fellow from the infantry or we were teamed up from the infantry doing the observation. I was a signaller through the Middle East and an ACT through New Guinea.
What does ACT stand for?
Just a technical assistant, A for ACT.

01:15:00:00

Where did you go after your garrison duty?
When we first flew over, it was for the tail end of the operations of the Burma, Gona and Salamaua and that went on for a while, then we virtually established a garrison there because it was still pretty likely the

01:15:30:00

Japs would counter-attack and in fact they did have a force heading to try and make another landing, and that’s where it was wiped out in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, so the air force really prevented that counter-attack from taking place, it was pretty well on the cards the garrison and the preparation

01:16:00:00

was necessary. That kept us going until July 1943. About three hundred kilometres up the coast towards Lae there was the 17th Brigade and the 15th Brigade

01:16:30:00

fighting from Wau through to Salamaua trying to recapture Salamaua they were in the ridges and they needed the artillery support. Some Yanks made a landing at a place called Massey Bay to enable some people and supplies to get in within walking distance

01:17:00:00

of another little inlet called Tambour Bay and when I say ‘we’ in this case it was our troop, the sort of smallest formation in an artillery regiment is a troop with four guns, one of the smallest fighting units. A troop moved up and I think we were closely followed by B Troop,

01:17:30:00

the other troop and our battery and moved to Nasat Bay in assault landing barges. The observation post parties and the guns control parties moved over land from there, in our case I was with the gun position team and we walked along the coast, about a day’s walk, with an

01:18:00:00

American infantry platoon that had to clear a beach in Tambour Bay so that we could bring some guns in there. We got into that on the day, in the evening of the day so that the guns could come in that night. They got two guns in that night and we were there for about

01:18:30:00

six weeks’ fighting. I know that our troops fired eighteen thousand rounds from there, the bay was only a little inlet, the beach might have been a kilometre long and in the first instance we owned the south part and the Japs owned the north part.

01:19:00:00

Then they were pushed up onto a ridge overlooking it. It wasn’t until early September that they were finally cleared off the ridge.
Where were you off to after there?
Finally the Japs were all wiped out or pushed into the sea at Salamaua, that was happening mid-September, meanwhile another battery or

01:19:30:00

two other batteries of our regiment that were involved in the Malay invasion. The Salamaua thing finished, about mid-September it might have been, we were camped on the beach for a month, then they moved some of us to Lae and we were camped in mud there. There was nothing else to be in, we had a holiday for a couple of

01:20:00:00

weeks, unloading ships, because as soon as the fighting finished in Lae they started to establish a base there and the ships were coming into the bay and being unloaded by the amphibious barges and we became wharfies for a couple of weeks. We were hoping that they might decide to send us home. One brigade had invaded

01:20:30:00

Finschhafen along the coast to the north, north east and they needed more guns and so we landed the job of being moved up to land at Finschhafen and put the guns into position in time to help support the capture of Sattelberg

01:21:00:00

which is a notable feature that held the things up at the Finschhafen campaign. It was a time we did a bit of chasing along the coast, I think we had five in a space of about from the beginning of November to the beginning of January, I think we had five or six gun positions progressively north along the coast.

01:21:30:00

We were starting to get roamers at Christmas, I think it was the 2nd January 1944 we got the good news that we were handing our guns over to someone else and going home, which we did. We started off from there by assault barges to Lae and then onto a ship, a liberty ship, a cargo ship back to Australia,

01:22:00:00

then some leave. I did a combined operations course down in Melbourne, at the Flinders Naval Training Depot and promptly got malaria there and they were forming what they call a naval bombardment group and some of our fellows went into it but I missed out because I got malaria at the wrong time.

01:22:30:00

They had the regiment reforming in Wallgrove camp and we moved up to establish a camp on a dairy farm out at Warwick, we were all going down like flies with malaria there. They considered disbanding the unit but they decided to keep it going.
Because of the malaria?
Because

01:23:00:00

of the general rundown in health, they were seriously considering they would just disband the unit, they finally decided that we could be reformed and reinforced and renewed. We moved to another camp that was established just in the bush at Toowoomba for a while and from there, I think it was around about

01:23:30:00

October, up into the Atherton Tablelands to actually rejoin the 7th Division for serious training again. We spent from November 1944, we heard they were going to use us in the Philippines

01:24:00:00

but they didn’t for some reason or another. We did not go out of Australia until the end of May 1945 and they decided that the 7th Division would invade Balikpapan and Borneo. We sailed to a place called Morotai

01:24:30:00

in the Halmahera group south of the Philippines, it was just an island of mud, blowflies, sandflies and mosquitoes and a big air base. The Yanks were using it as a big air base and of course the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] was there too. They formed us up there for the invasion of Balikpapan. Actually our brigade

01:25:00:00

was in reserve because they had two infantry brigades that did the assaults and the 25th Brigade was in reserve.
Did you go in?
It was finally the 14th July when we landed in Balikpapan and we went straight inland because the 25th Brigade was going straight inland and that’s where we went

01:25:30:00

only about twenty kilometres because I think the idea was not to use it as a base to re-concur Borneo but they wanted to establish a base to swarm at the Japs on their route to Singapore in what we now call Indonesia.

01:26:00:00

There was a fairly short period of fighting from, the fighting part of it for us was from the 14th July to the early part of August, and it was the 10th August that the war ended. We had a bit of rather unpleasant troubles just about three or four days before the war ended.

01:26:30:00

It happened right where I was because at this stage I was with the 11th Battery. Having spent Middle East and New Guinea with A troop to go to Borneo I’d gone onto the battery headquarters team on what they call the battery command post at Yak. At the battery command post

01:27:00:00

they had us well formed because they finished the main fighting and sending out heavy patrols and fighting patrols with the infantry and they wanted the guns as far forward as they could get them so we were right up with the infantry at that stage or the infantry

01:27:30:00

perimeters. There were two incidences that happened within a few days of each other, we only arrived at that final position when we were done over by two Spitfires and it was conjecturous to how it happened. One story was that one fellow got a Jap flag and was waving it about.

01:28:00:00

The official story was the air force had been sent out to strafe a particular track junction. The mapping was very inadequate there and they got the wrong junctions. The sum total was we got strafed and there was one fellow killed

01:28:30:00

and a couple of others wounded. It was on the 4th or 5th of August we had a Jap patrol come right through us looking for guns. Actually I was in the command post at the time, but one of the fellows in my section was the one whose picket post

01:29:00:00

they went past and he managed to stop them. I suppose there were eight in the group and he got four of them that night, and they got another four between us and the guns the next morning. That was about the 4th or 5th and the Japs surrendered on the 10th.
That must have made you very happy?

01:29:30:00

We were very fortunate, I was one of those among the group that were fortunate enough that they decided at that stage they were going to bring what they call ‘five by twos’ in the army, which meant five years in the army was at least two years overseas. We were in our fourth year of overseas service, and in a sense we had our seat booked

01:30:00:00

on the ship called the Kanimbla which was due to come into Balikpapan late in August whether the war had ended or not, and as it had happened the war ended and the ship arrived, we thought it would be diverted to getting POWs [Prisoners of War], selfishly we hoped that it didn’t.

01:30:30:00

We came back to Brisbane, back there about 7th, 8th September, about the 15th, 16th I was home and I was out on the 18th October.
We will go on just a little bit, perhaps tell us fairly condensed form your

01:31:00:00

post-war, what happened to you after the war and your career path up to today?
They wouldn’t let people be discharged until they had a job, Dad had lost his business because of the war but I got a job in my trade as a photo engraver that enabled me to get out.

01:31:30:00

Then early next year, early 1946, there was being developed something which had been in embryo at the start of the war, photogravure printing which is a belated form of printing, they were, Associated Newspapers and Consolidated Press were both looking for staff to retrain

01:32:00:00

for this new thing, so I got a job with them, with eighteen months of a sort of a conversion sort of an apprenticeship. I was actually with them for about seven and a half years. I had done some more studies, that time in management,

01:32:30:00

I was interested in that area. After one thing and another something caused me to be challenged about going into the Anglican Ministry. It was the beginning of 1954. I did a complete change from working in a newspaper. I had been doing some study privately, I did

01:33:00:00

a year at Oberon College while I was looking after a broken down parish because we had to find somewhere to live because by this time my wife and I had three delightful children. It was at St George’s, Glenmore Road, while I was in college at the beginning of my ministry. Then it went from there to Helensburgh, to Riverstone for a time

01:33:30:00

and I was invited by the Bishop of Grafton to come and work for him and went to the Tweed River, a completely rural parish which really suited us down to the ground. By this time the kids were getting into their teenagers’ years. Whereas in Sydney I was having to be out doing things every night, in the rural setting there were still night activities but they were of a different sort.

01:34:00:00

Anything that happened was family oriented so I was able to have the time, when the kids were in their teenagers’ years they were involved in Woolambah and the Tweed River. I spent five and a half years there and I had a couple of overtures to go to Brisbane and I finally went to Ipswich in the Brisbane area

01:34:30:00

and did quite a time there. Then I was asked when I was sixty to establish a new district in Ben Lee, which was growing. We didn’t have to retire at sixty five then but I felt that I shouldn’t be in charge of a parish when I was sixty five, so I retired at sixty five and had a pretty active time doing locum work

01:35:00:00

then I became an assistant part time at the Kenmore parish in Queensland. All the family moved down south here so in 1987 we decided to come and join them in Canberra and have had a pretty active time doing locum work of varying capacities. My wife and I do pottery as a hobby together

01:35:30:00

and we do things with the University of the Third Age together, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren and grandchildren of course.
How many great-grandchildren do you have?
We have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren so far and we are still counting. We know that there is another one due, and we have more possibilities.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 02

02:00:30:00

Now we will perhaps go back and go through some details especially of your earlier years, it sounds pretty interesting where you were born, can you provide a few more details on how you came to be born in England?
I suppose basically, in a nutshell, because of World War I, Dad going to the war.

02:01:00:00

He must have gone pretty early in the war, I did mean to check up on the date when he did go over there, but it was quite early, Mum chasing him over there.
Where had he met your mother?
He worked for the Evening News and my mother worked in a photo retouching business,

02:01:30:00

as far as I can gather they were both on the first floor on opposite sides of Castlereagh Street and used to sort of wave to each other, so that was where the acquaintances began.
Where did your dad grow up?
Dad grew up in Balmain and Rozelle.

02:02:00:00

His father died when he was very young, when he was about seven or eight. They were in Balmain and Rozelle and I’m not certain in which order but it was that locality. His family lived in both Balmain and Rozelle.
And your mum’s side of the family?

02:02:30:00

It was out in the Croydon Park area I think, yes I know my earliest recollection of my grandmother and grandfather was in Croydon Park and she was actually born in Stanmore.

02:03:00:00

Her father was a plumber on the railways, he had an itinerant job because he was a plumber on the railways. He was actually the chief plumber when the railways development work was going on so she complained about the cold in Blayney when she was an infant and the cold at Crookwell. Tracking

02:03:30:00

a few things down a few years ago, the line at Crookwell was built, she would have been about five years old, so she must have been there as a tiny infant. She was born in Stanmore and two of the places I know was Blayney out west, Crookwell on the southern highlands, then I think she grew up to maturity at Croydon Park.

02:04:00:00

Why did they not get married before he went away to England?
There is a long story on that one.
Go on?
I think I will skip that one if I can.
Is there a way you may be able to condense it or do you wish to not go into it?
All I can say is

02:04:30:00

parental opposition, I will put it that way.
You mum’s parents didn’t approve of your mother’s relationship with your father?
True.
Is there any particular reason?
Probably mainly religion.
What was the religion of your father?
Nominally he was the Church of England, Mum’s family was Salvation Army but

02:05:00:00

one was practising and the other not, and I think that was the perceived thing.
Do you know what motivated your father to join up and go over and fight with England?
Dad was a very patriotic person, he was a very zealous person

02:05:30:00

and he did everything pretty thoroughly actually. He was a good sportsman, cyclist, he acted in eighteen footer sailing and he was exceptionally good at his trade.

02:06:00:00

I think that same sort of zeal probably carried through into the attitude, not of sort of patriotism at that stage. I wasn’t around then but I think the patriotism about World War I was pretty intense, I think it would have been a sense of adventure, but I think

02:06:30:00

more the concept of patriotic duty really.
Your mum must have been very much in love with him to go all the way over to England?
There’s no doubt about that.
What happened, how did she come to go over to England?
If we were being brutally honest,

02:07:00:00

she married another man who the family approved of because she knew he was going to England to work at ammunitions, and she went over there with her husband, but had an absence when my father got leave.
She did

02:07:30:00

actually marry this other person so she could go to England to see your father?
Yes.
Extraordinary, that’s very romantic. Did your dad talk about those times, how you came to be born in England and how they got together over there?

02:08:00:00

Very little, in fact I didn’t know until very late in life about the sort of misadventure angle of it, if you could put it that way.
Seems to have turned out okay.
There was a divorce and a remarriage that I didn’t know about until quite late in life actually.

02:08:30:00

It was not unknown for that to happen but it’s unusual to go right through life and not to know that until late.
As you grew up how aware were you of how the First World War affected your dad?
He used to talk about

02:09:00:00

it to some degree, I think because he wanted us, myself and my brother particular to know how awful war was. One of my earliest memories I have was him showing me pictures of Pozières before the

02:09:30:00

war and around about 1917 and what had been a completely built up substantial town was just nothing, and he seemed very much affected by that, he was very much affected. Dad was a first-class cyclist

02:10:00:00

and I know he won one classic race in what they call the Spiegel 50 and I think he actually won a NSW State Championship, I can’t remember whether it was road or track. His good mate who was another champion cyclist, he was saying that they were together during one

02:10:30:00

pretty intensive round of incoming fire and there was a shell that burst just over them. He and his mate were as close as we are but the shell burst and he was unscathed but his mate had been blown to pieces.

02:11:00:00

I think that would have been the thing that would have affected him the most, something that he didn’t seem to want us to know about.
You remember him sitting you down and talking to you about it?
He talked about that on a number of occasions, it was one of the single things that he did.

02:11:30:00

Did he talk about his role in artillery?
Not his personal role in detail, except he was on one of the gun crew, I don’t know how much you know in detail about artillery. You have got twenty four guns in a regiment and while there are seven hundred men,

02:12:00:00

the number of actually gun crew members comes down to twenty four times six, being an elite mob, and he was one of them.
Did he serve right through from 1914 to 1918?
No, it would have been about 1916 when he got there, I think. He wasn’t there right at the beginning,

02:12:30:00

he didn’t enlist the day war was declared.
Do you know how you came to be brought back to Australia?
What you would describe as bride ships I suppose, wives and children came back on these

02:13:00:00

ships that were virtually loaded, they might have had some soldiers on. My wife was in the same position, she came out, she noticed she came out on the ship called the Austerleigh and I think Mum came back on the Kisa Eyehind. [?] I know that hers was completely loaded with

02:13:30:00

women and children. Quite a lot of diggers married English people, because Mum was Australian, so there were actually shiploads of women coming out to Australia.
What was your wife’s family?
Her father was in the AIF too.

02:14:00:00

Her parents were both born in London or England and he had come out to Australia as a migrant about 1910. He was engaged to a girl in England and he joined the AIF quite early in the piece and went over to England fairly early.

02:14:30:00

He didn’t go to Gallipoli or Egypt, he did go straight to England and he was with the 13th Infantry Battalion and got pretty badly wounded or particularly gassed, he suffered severely. About 1916 or 1917, somewhere about that, after recovering he

02:15:00:00

was too ill and got graded B Class and he was in London then, he got a base job in the war. Strangely enough he was involved in photography for the army, they were married then.

02:15:30:00

Your wife came on a boat?
She came on a boat within a month of me actually. In both cases it was November 1919, I know she was November 1919 and my mother was November 1919, but different ships. We didn’t meet until 1938.

02:16:00:00

Then you discovered this coincidence?
Yes, well funny enough her father, I’ve got to correct myself, although he was badly knocked about in the 13th Battalion he had time in the artillery and then came back to London doing the photographic work.
You have a real photographic and artillery heritage?

02:16:30:00

We do.
Can you tell us a little bit about growing up and what your house was like, what your family was like when you were growing up, how do you remember that?
My earliest recollection of family life and house was, we went to Como in 1924, in a very ordinary weatherboard house

02:17:00:00

with excessive additions to it. The original part was evident because it was just a front veranda right across and two rooms with a hall, and a bit later another couple of rooms were added and it went down a step. Then later on Dad decided

02:17:30:00

to put two more rooms at the back and it went down the furthest because I think it began as a veranda. We had a weatherboard house with these three steps down it but it was a very basic house, reasonably comfortable. Around about 1938 our family was growing and Dad got sick of these extensions and demolished

02:18:00:00

the whole house and built a four bedroom house, again a very basic design that was common in those days. Of course he’d no sooner completed that and the war came and my brother and I left, soon after then my older sister married, the four bedroom house was too late.

02:18:30:00

At that stage in life four bedroom houses weren’t very common, it wasn’t an architectural masterpiece it was a sort of a rectangular with a long hall with rooms going off it at regular intervals.
Was it a happy home?
Yes.

02:19:00:00

There were six kids but we were in sort of two lots, not divided all that much by years, my brother was three years younger than me then my sister was four years so that three of us we were sort of a unit, we related to each other very well.

02:19:30:00

Brother number four was sick, he had a sickness in infancy . Mum used to have to go to the Sydney Hospital outpatients’ department, realise we were over a mile from the station and she had to walk.

02:20:00:00

Then it was fifteen miles into the city, and at that stage we were on the outskirts of Sydney. Then she had to walk with my brother across to where the outpatients’ department was, down towards Darling Harbour now or the back end of it. She had to do that three times a week.

02:20:30:00

The three older ones had to more or less be housekeepers which didn’t stop us from getting into lots of mischief. We were together and Mum spent a lot of time with child number four and there was a bit of a break in years so the two younger kids, they were a

02:21:00:00

unit together, they were very close. I went away to war and they had only just started school, they were at the stage when they were up to all sorts of high jinks together.
How did the Depression affect your family?
We were a lot more fortunate than some, in that Dad had established

02:21:30:00

a business in photo engraving. I think it was about 1927 he had work that maintained that business all through the Depression. Neither my brother or I had any choice of job, people

02:22:00:00

had to be an apprentice between sixteen and sixteen and nine months, it was very rigid rules, industrial rules in those days. Dad said, “When you turn sixteen you are going to be an apprentice,” and that was it. Dad had a business, he maintained the business and we had a job, not necessarily a job of our choice.

02:22:30:00

We were better off than ever so many people.
What mischief did you get up to?
One notable one, and I suppose this would be characteristic, because of Mum being away with my sick brother we used to do some

02:23:00:00

mad things in the yard. Our yard was a steeply sloping backyard and an old clothes line, pre-Hill’s Hoist days. The clothes line ran across the yard and there was an old home- made bench and I got some bright idea that if I stood on that bench

02:23:30:00

and if I jumped up into the air and caught the clothes line, either my brother or his mate rolled the box away, I could do a trapeze act. Which they did and I tried to but of course all that happened was I don’t know whether I caught the clothes line and it sagged or I missed the clothes

02:24:00:00

line but it had turned over and I managed to break my arm rather severely. I think they were the sorts of mischiefs we got up too. I was also my sister’s hero. Being on the fringe of Sydney, there

02:24:30:00

was a school where the kids used to get up to various capers and there was a group that would be pretty keen on amateur boxing, not bullying. My brother was pretty handy with his fists and he could beat a lot of them in a fight. On one occasion they decided that he was good

02:25:00:00

enough that two of them could take him on. My sister came racing home and mentioned a couple of names and they were both fighting Harry, so I went charging down and with some great struck of fortune I delivered a knockout to both of them so I’m still my sister’s great hero. I rested on the laurels of that.

02:25:30:00

Were you a tough kid?
I suppose we are all fairly tough.
What sort of religious upbringing were you getting at this time?
Spasmodic, Dad and I don’t know how much of it was due to the war but he decided to be

02:26:00:00

an atheist and he actually became a member of the Rationalist Society, sort of a fairly militant group, and I don’t know if they still run but at that time they were a fairly aggressive group. Mum of course had a Salvation background, I guess for one reason or another she was fairly casual about that.

02:26:30:00

Grandmother used to get on to her and I think she had the desire to make sure that we did the right thing so we were sent to Sunday school as often as possible, wherever one that was offering, and being on the outskirts of Como, someone started a Sunday school and it would fold up and so on. I guess

02:27:00:00

we had a fair bit of it but in irregular bursts.
Which way did you lean towards, to rational side or the Salvation Army side of it?
The Salvation Army for some reason, but mainly because of my grandmother.
Had there been a family reconciliation when they came back from England?
I think so, yes. I would think so because

02:27:30:00

we lived with grandmother and grandfather for a while before we went to Como, that would have been very early in the piece. I would say the relationships became pretty good because we saw Mum’s parents very often. Strangely enough Dad

02:28:00:00

and Mum’s parents were both living in Hurstville at this stage within a mile of each other. We used to see both Mum’s grandparents and Dad’s mother quite regularly, quite frequently, there

02:28:30:00

was certainly no animosity, it was good relations I’d say.
Were you a good student at school?
I started off being a very good student at Como, in fact I lost the dux of the two teachers school. Things like that were decided and the final decision, you did the exam, but finally

02:29:00:00

at the prize-giving they used to have a spelling bee, there must have been fifteen or sixteen in sixth class, the top class. Who was to be dux of the school was decided on the basis of a spelling bee and my mate went and beat me.
What word couldn’t you spell?
I don’t know, they used to have a list called

02:29:30:00

‘the one hundred demons’, they used to chase these around with breakneck speed, it was a lottery really because you’d only have to miss out on a word and that was it. I did efficiently well on high school entrance to get admission to Sydney High, which was a selective

02:30:00:00

school and it was an elite one and it actually was elite in those days. It was the only school outside private schools that featured in the rowing head of the river regatta, so it was a pretty choice school and I’d passed for it and I was, set my heart on to going there. It was just after that that Dad decided

02:30:30:00

I was going to do an apprenticeship with no alternative so I better go and, “Find yourself a job for a couple of years.” He decided that before I was fourteen and he said for that reason, “I’d be better suited if you went to a technical school instead of a high school,” so I went to a technical school

02:31:00:00

with rather bad grace. Because I sort of objected to it as much as one did in those days, I wasn’t there at the opening day and I got into the sort of odds and sods class in first year, I didn’t do too well from there on.
What did you want to be when you wanted to go to Sydney High School?
At that stage the only thing I could think about was something to do

02:31:30:00

with flying, I was mad keen about flying.
How did you become keen on flying?
My earliest memory of airplanes and my grandmother took me out to Mascot Aerodrome to see Amy Johnson arrived in Australia, we heard about

02:32:00:00

Kingsford Smith and Bert Hinkler and this wonderful women Amy Johnson. I don’t know whether I took my grandmother or she took me to the Mascot Aerodrome and that was quite an adventure because the only way, no buses or anything, no public transport to Mascot in those days. To see Amy Johnson arrive we caught a train at Sydenham

02:32:30:00

and walked across the goods railway line till we were pretty close to the Mascot Aerodrome. I don’t know which came first but I was extremely keen on flying early.
How aware were you of Australia or you being part of the British Empire?
Acutely aware of it, every day at school

02:33:00:00

we’d see the great map with the red everywhere, here there and everywhere and the empire in which the sun never sets, that was a major feature of our education.
Did you celebrate Empire Day?
Yes, I think we had a half a day off for Empire Day.

02:33:30:00

How did you celebrate Empire Day?
I know it was a feature at school, we had sort of patriotic songs and things, events going on at school. I forget now but I think we used to have someone

02:34:00:00

special come and say something at some sort of gathering and the speech-making and then we’d clear off about lunchtime.
Anything you did in the evening?
There wasn’t much anyone did in the evening in those days.
I was thinking of cracker night, did you get involved in that at all?
Yes we did, that’s right, that’s when we had our crackers.

02:34:30:00

Where it’s now the Queen’s Birthday, yes that was the time we had the crackers.
Did you get up to any mischief with the crackers?
Not much. Actually they were fairly sedate crackers, I think about the greatest degree of mischief was putting a banger under a tin,

02:35:00:00

so it flew up into the air or letting off a string of Tom Thumbs, a bit closer to someone than we would.
What sport did you become involved with?
Quite early in the piece I became a cyclist, I wasn’t very good at team sports,

02:35:30:00

the team aspect was ok but I wasn’t terribly good at co-ordination of the ball so I didn’t shine brilliantly at either cricket or football. Dad had been a very keen cyclist and I couldn’t wait until I could afford to get a bike,

02:36:00:00

so I managed to get a bike and that was it. I sort of endured sport at school and I went into sports because they were there and had to be partaken on. As soon as I got a bike I became really active in cycling.
What about social activities as

02:36:30:00

you were growing up as an adolescent?
At the outset there wasn’t much opportunity, because from fourteen to sixteen the only thing that went on would be a group of my mates just

02:37:00:00

knocking around in a very modest fashion. Then as soon as I turned sixteen there were two things we got involved with and one was you on occasion had some overtime and get some pocket money, whereas my pay was next to nothing. When I did some

02:37:30:00

overtime I got some tea money and some overtime and that would have doubled my pay. As soon as I started bike racing I was doing training. The other factor was, as an apprentice in those days

02:38:00:00

all the tech study the theoretical side of things was done at night, there was none being done during your working time. They’d do a day a week on a block or half a session on a block release, whatever approach it might be we had to do all our tech training in our time at night.

02:38:30:00

Between trying to get some overtime to try and get some pocket money and doing some bike racing training and going to tech that was the social life.
Were there girls involved at all in your social life?
Not at that stage no. It seemed to be mostly a male-only world at that stage.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 03

03:00:30:00

Tell us about how old you were when you first went to work in that factory?

03:01:00:00

What the tough factory?
The canister factory?
I can tell you exactly because my birthday is just after Christmas and I starting looking for jobs on the first working day the 2nd or 3rd of January and I knocked on doors and tramped and looked in the paper, I got a job on the 1st April,

03:01:30:00

I was frightened as it might have been an April Fools’ joke. I think I responded to a thousand enquiries or knocked on doors of factories, they didn’t have any sort of Centrelink or anything like that in those days, you looked in the paper or you knocked on doors. Dad briefed me on how to do that and then he took a checklist on me every day to see that I had done it.

03:02:00:00

Finally on the 1st April I got a job that someone in the district had a foreman in the factory who lived in the district too. I discovered afterwards that his name should have been Simon Le Gris. He was a tough bloke. I did get the job and I started on the 1st April when I was fourteen, that would have been

03:02:30:00

1931 or 1932 but I was fourteen.
Did you notice in that time when you were looking for work that there were a lot of people in the same boat?
There were thousands of them, every place you went looking for work if there had been an advertisement there were a string of applicants a mile long.

03:03:00:00

What other signs of the Depression were obvious on the streets of Sydney?
One of the most obvious local ones were people doing relief work, they had no proper dole as we know it now, or unemployment thing, I think they called it the dole, but they had where we lived they had people of all sorts

03:03:30:00

doing tough manual work, like swing a pick and shovel in Como where we lived. There was a little bay that was being completely reclaimed in front of the pub at Como which is well known. That bay was completely filled in by men digging rubble, shovelling it onto

03:04:00:00

wheelbarrows and wheeling it down to fill in that bay. Some of them were fellows who had never swung a pick in their life, professional people, and another feature was they, in getting relief payments they had to move from place to place looking for jobs.

03:04:30:00

Another aspect of it was while I was still at school I had a brief period in the city because Dad was doing some experimental work and he was very annoyed with me because near the school they operated a soup kitchen for needy people. I was a kid of thirteen and perpetually hungry even though

03:05:00:00

we were doing all right. I used to go along with the rest of the class to get soup from the soup kitchen.
Can you describe the scene at that soup kitchen?
I think at that time, the time we went there there were big kids in my class at school and we were a pretty happy-go-lucky mob, I think there would be some of the kids from homes

03:05:30:00

that were really doing it tough, this was at Crown Street.
Did you any time during your childhood get involved with that charity work, perhaps through the Salvation Army?
Not at that stage, that was when I was a child, no, the only thing I did do was on the receiving end when I shouldn’t have been.
Tell us a bit more about the roughest factory in Sydney, why was it the roughest factory in Sydney?

03:06:00:00

There were roughly I think about two hundred and fifty people working there and the personnel consisted of probably about a maximum of about fifteen or twenty men, who were sort of key personnel or skilled tradesmen or something of that sort. A lot of women because

03:06:30:00

the women only got half the pay of men and juniors. The juniors were from fourteen to nineteen, and they were comparatively well paid. I got one pound two and six a week and I when I became an apprentice I got sixteen shillings a week. I was two and a half years older so comparatively

03:07:00:00

good but the moment you turned nineteen you were sacked. They would only employ junior males or females who only got half the pay. The nature of the work was absolutely repetitive, my job was to sit at a bench

03:07:30:00

where I’d receive lids of tins and I had to use what was similar to an oil can, rub a solution around the gutter of the lid so when it was put on the canister and onto a machine it would be crimped on and it would become waterproof. Me and my colleagues

03:08:00:00

had to do six hundred an hour of those and you couldn’t allow, it had to be completely and continuously rub around the gutter, so you were going flat out and there was a pretty tough foreman, the fellow we just talked about, Simon Le Gris, who didn’t literally have a whip but he might as well have. We were there continuously

03:08:30:00

and the women were doing similar continuous sort of things sitting at a conveyer belt doing one function continuously. So the nature of the work was tough, it was only tough because it was dead boring and monotonous. It attracted people who couldn’t do any better,

03:09:00:00

some of them were pretty tough cookies. There were a lot of them who were pretty well behaved but there were some that use to verbally give the men and the boys where they could a pretty rough time.
What did that kind of environment teach you

03:09:30:00

as a young lad?
I think it taught me some of the facts of life in the verbal sense. Probably more than anything it taught me that you have to rub up shoulders with people, you have to put up with

03:10:00:00

all sorts of issues in life, you don’t find that things are easy and gentle like you’d like them to be.
Was that an experience that served you well later on when you joined the army?
I’m sure it did, there was nothing that I found in the army that I hadn’t found in the factory. It was a

03:10:30:00

good toughening-up exercise.
What were the circumstances then, this was a bit later than the factory you were talking about, but what were the circumstances that decided you to join the militia?
There was a double-barrel thing, there was the business with Hitler, domination with Europe was becoming, even as early as 1936/1937

03:11:00:00

it was becoming increasingly evident.
How was it evident to you in Australia?
From the news that we were getting, just by the media and the news. It seemed to become more evident as the years progress from about 1936 and certainly from

03:11:30:00

1937, it seemed to become more and more likely and it was only a matter of when we got involved in the war rather than if, I’d put it that way. I suppose it was a following on from World War I, it was the realisation that if such a thing happened, somehow or another we were all

03:12:00:00

going to be involved in it and certainly from 1938 that was very evident. I joined the militia at the beginning of 1938, partly because I wanted to learn Morse code but also partly because sooner or later it seem inevitably that I was going to be in something of that sort.

03:12:30:00

Why did you want to learn Morse code?
It started off because of my fascination with flying, but about that time I put in for some offer that was made through some group, I think it was called the Australian Air League, it wasn’t a government thing, it was like an air equivalent to the boy scouts.

03:13:00:00

I didn’t even get consideration and one of the things that knocked me out was I didn’t know the Morse code. I didn’t really know what that had to do with it, it had something to do with it so I thought I better learn the Morse code. I think that and the thought of the realisation that there was going to be a need to be involved in some way, they both ran parallel.

03:13:30:00

Were you still an apprentice at this stage?
Yes.
What did joining the militia mean?
Fundamentally militia at that stage, a weekend involvement about once a month, a night training, there was a compulsory night training once a fortnight and a voluntary one that virtually became compulsory.

03:14:00:00

I think it was on a Monday night, so one Monday night you had to be there the following Monday was voluntary compulsory sort of thing. I don’t think it was every month but I say roughly once a month or every six weeks or so there’d be a weekend activity and then there was a fortnight’s camp a year.
What were you father’s thoughts about you

03:14:30:00

joining the army?
I think he just regarded it as something that was also inevitable, I don’t think he was overwhelmingly happy but I think he thought it was one of the things that happened.
Was he politically active in anyway?
Not really no,

03:15:00:00

in fact Dad would not tell us how he voted, he used to say, “One of our most cherished rights is the secret ballot.” He said, “I don’t tell your mother what I vote and I don’t tell her what she ought to vote and I don’t know how she votes.” There were a few things that he was almost pedantic about.

03:15:30:00

The privilege of the secret ballot was one of the things that he cherished more than anything, I don’t really know what his political persuasions were. Except I know he was very much in favour of trade unions, he had his own business as I said,

03:16:00:00

his photo engraving business. He welcomed the trade union secretary who use to call every fortnight to get dues, the secretary was always most welcome to him and they had a great old yarn together, they knew each other personally and Dad actually himself had been a foundation member of that union. He

03:16:30:00

was sort of party politically identified.
Where do you think your patriotic sort of desire to join the army came from?
At that stage it was almost unthinkable to be otherwise. The patriotism was one of the things that was

03:17:00:00

like the three Rs and one P. I think reflecting back we saluted the flag and I don’t know if we did it every month, every week or every day but regularly, and as I say we constantly had

03:17:30:00

the fact of the British Empire into our curriculum. Australians’ geography was largely consistently knowing all the rivers by heart and all the railway stations and things like that, so we were more conscious of the physical Australia more than anything else I guess.
Was the militia what you expected it to be?

03:18:00:00

I don’t know whether I had a particular expectation of it, I went into it quite happily and quiet enthusiastically. In fact as I say, my initial motivation was Morse code and I must have gone into it fairly happily because I’d only gone into it for three months and

03:18:30:00

they doubled the size of the militia. Billy Hughes of World War I was involved and it was sort of regarded as his initiative that doubled the size of the militia. I remember going along one Monday night and I think it was the captain in charge and he said, “We are forming another battery here,

03:19:00:00

transferred to that battery, and you are going to be NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] in charge of signalers.” I said, “I don’t know a thing about signalling yet. I don’t even know the Morse code,” and he said, “You have a week to learn Morse code and then you can stay a week in front of every one else from there on.” He must’ve thought I was reasonably accepting of it and reasonably

03:19:30:00

happy.
Is that what you did?
I did.
So your role from then on in the militia was to do with signals?
All the time I was in the militia I was signals.
You were a horse holder at one stage?
Signallers rode horses, either to get them to where they were going or carry cable wire.

03:20:00:00

Signalling was laying out telephone wires along the ground and hooking up a portable telephone to them, so you had signallers and two of them were on observation posts and two of them at gun position, then a team of fellows who laid a line between one and the other and took it up again as required.

03:20:30:00

Each group of those had to have someone to hold the horse, that was me.
How did you practise these drills in the militia, this system of setting up signals?
After all the usual routine of pounding the square, standing to attention and all that sort of thing,

03:21:00:00

you’d go into small groups and have lessons, talks and practical application of laying out a signal wire, learning how to tie the knots to join the wires together and make sure the joint would carry the electrical impulse along

03:21:30:00

and how you operated the phones and how you passed the required messages. The signallers were only to serve the purpose of basically passing fire orders from the observation posts to the guns and things of that nature. We spent lots of time, or most of our time in, I suppose, little

03:22:00:00

lecture groups and talking about it and then actually trying it out. On the Monday nights the drill hall had a paddock outside and in whatever space there was you’d run signal wires around that area and learn how to keep them out of the road of horses and people if possible and

03:22:30:00

practise all the laying out, taking out, joining wire together and passing messages.
What can you tell us about the preparing and the professionalism of the militia before war had broken out?
Most of the fellows were fairly keen, for a variety of reasons.

03:23:00:00

In the artillery the horses were an attraction to the fellows. They had to be looked after, so people who went into the horses were pretty keen on that. I think the gun crews, they introduced a competitive element and people who were doing technical jobs like signalling. The trigonometry and

03:23:30:00

related things and learning where the triangle, where the observer is, where the target is and where the gun is. That would be an interesting enough proposition. I think a fair amount of keenness in it, you certainly got a bit of practice.

03:24:00:00

I thought that those who had been in it before the start of World War II, would have been fairly enthusiastic and as we got closer to the war I think we got a fair bit of training. When I went into the AIF and we had been

03:24:30:00

trained for six months, I remember our troop commander, a fellow who was a highly respected bloke, he said, “Do you think you fellows are ready for war now?” He said, “In point of fact all we have done is knocked some of the civilian habits out and now we can start training you to be soldiers.” Bearing that in mind the comparativeness would have to be a relative thing but we thought

03:25:00:00

we were pretty well prepared.
What can you tell us about the day war broke out in 1939?
The first news I heard of it was at about half past six on a Friday night I was walking down a street in Sydney

03:25:30:00

and there was a special edition of the paper brought out, like the afternoon papers use to come out with a series of editions, from the cable edition at about ten o’clock in the morning, but the latest edition would be about four o’clock in the afternoon. There was a special edition came out at about half past six with a big placard in big letters with just ‘War’.

03:26:00:00

My first recollection of it was, I heard a women racing down the street from where I had heard it where Anthony Hordern’s used to be in Sydney in Goulburn Street and screaming that they had deliberately withheld the news and they had to bring out a special public edition and she was hysterical.
What was your reaction to hearing that news?

03:26:30:00

A great sorrow really, because I knew that I couldn’t avoid being involved. Dad hadn’t left me any illusions of what it was like.
Had you father talked to you much at that stage?
Yes, quite a bit, I suppose in the three or four years before the war he did.

03:27:00:00

A bit saddened, a bit despondent perhaps about war breaking out, you a few months later decided to join the AIF?
Soon after I joined the militia I became

03:27:30:00

aware of and a bit casual about anything to do with church, largely because of a bike racing accident and being off work for a while. Someone talked me into joining the youth group at the church, from that I entered into a pretty specific Christian faith on a personal level

03:28:00:00

and from there into a youth fellowship in this church. It must have been probably early in 1939 I think or somewhere during 1939, the youth group that I was involved in had a very serious discussion about what we ought to do, bearing in mind our

03:28:30:00

Christian faith before war came. It was interesting that of the group, particularly the males of the group, we ranged across from some people who said they couldn’t for any price and would go to jail, and one in fact did, to those that thought that no matter what you do

03:29:00:00

you can’t avoid involvement and you are going to be in it, you might as well be right in it. I don’t think I had anything idealistic or patriotic about it as such, I wasn’t sort of super patriotic. Actually I wouldn’t have regarded myself as being super patriotic at all by any means.

03:29:30:00

Even if I went to jail I’d have to make mail bags or blankets or something so I’ll only be firing bullets at second hand, I’d rather be personally and directly involved. From that I realised that it was inevitable that I was going to be in it.

03:30:00:00

There were two reasons why I didn’t join up when the 6th Division was being formed. One was when Mr Menzies said, “We will form a division, we will train them for a year,” they didn’t have any idea at that stage what they would do. On the face of it they weren’t going to do anything different to what we were doing in the militia.

03:30:30:00

The other thing that would be more practical, I wasn’t really free to do so at that moment because I was still an apprentice and I was getting training at any rate. My apprenticeship didn’t finish up until March 1940.
So that’s when you joined the AIF?

03:31:00:00

Yes, they formed the 6th Division, which comprised roughly twenty thousand men. There was no opportunity then for anyone else to join immediately and it was around about March, April, probably in March that they said they were going to form a 7th Division, and

03:31:30:00

that was the time when I was free too and that was the opportunity to, so they both coincided.
Can you tell us about going down to join up, did you join up with the militia unit you were with or on your own?
No, actually the militia units had a couple of bursts of training after war was declared and when

03:32:00:00

the 7th Division was formed and a training period had ended, it became evident that our brigade was going to form the nucleus of a regiment. I thought that I would go into that but I had a silly

03:32:30:00

row with the 2IC of the regiment about something to do with dress on parade or something, an inconsequential thing. I remember just a trivial thing and I thought, “Fancy having to go through a war with this bloke.” The enlistment point was out at Sydney Show Ground and I made up my mind that today was the day.

03:33:00:00

They were handling and processing as many people as they could every day so it must have been a couple of days after I had finished my apprenticeship or finished the training camp or whatever it was, I went into Sydney out to the show ground with the intention of putting my name down and the fellows were there

03:33:30:00

by the thousands. North Bench was out in the open air and they had clerks taking names. We were all queued up going down to the signing up point and because the units were being formed, each unit had body snatchers,

03:34:00:00

persuasive people saying, “Come and join our mob,” and as I was going up the line I heard this fellow who was later identified as a fellow by the name of Lofty Sky, a gun sergeant who was looking people over for the 2/6th Field Regiment. I knew our brigade was the nucleus of the 2/5th Regiment and when I heard

03:34:30:00

he was trying to get fellows for the 2/6th I thought, “This will do me,” so I said, “Yes, I’d like to join the 2/6th Regiment,” and it was purely on that basis.
This is an artillery regiment?
An artillery regiment, yes.
Your signalling in the militia had been based around being in an artillery unit?

03:35:00:00

I was an artillery signaller with an artillery brigade. In the militia set up following World War I patterns there was an artillery brigade which was made up of four batteries. I was in the 18th Brigade, I was first of all in the 60th Battery of that brigade then the 59th, so I was really just transferring from one to the other.

03:35:30:00

I knew I wanted to join an artillery regiment because that was what I knew, I thought inevitably there was going to be the 2/5th and then I found they were forming two regiments at that juncture and that’s why I went into the 2/6th.
After that day you signed up you were in the 2/6th and you were going overseas, what were you emotions to deal with that?

03:36:00:00

I think we just regarded it as to what we were going to do, we joined up with the view of the full expectation that we would be going to go overseas into war.
Were you excited, were there good emotions as well?
I guess so, I was fairly matter of fact I think.

03:36:30:00

I thought it out and thought, “It’s not what I wanted to do but it’s what I had to do.”
Your father didn’t object?
I’m sure he wished that it didn’t happen. I’m sure he was filled with

03:37:00:00

deep sorrow because in the event I remember my brother next down the line he was still an apprentice but he skipped an apprenticeship, and perhaps a day or two after me, but he went overseas before me. I remember when I got leave and I was with

03:37:30:00

the family and Dad, I think Dad prided himself as being a big tough Australian, and it was the only time I saw him in tears, he really broke down with emotion when he thought that no-one was looking and I could well image he did the same with me, he certainly did.
How did that affect you to see your father crying?

03:38:00:00

I think I was probably understanding of it, probably taught a bit the same way and you wouldn’t dare do so.
You never shed any tears yourself about leaving the country?
No not really, I was sorry to be leaving, especially if I was engaged.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 04

04:00:30:00

Tell us about your engagement, when did that happen?
The official engagement happened soon after I joined the AIF and went to Ingleburn. We would’ve actually become engaged as far as

04:01:00:00

reality is concerned, declaring our love for each other in February 1939. I remember I was trying to persuade my wife that I’d be a good companion for her, when I turned twenty one. We weren’t actually going together then

04:01:30:00

but we sort of declared our affections for each other, I think it was in the February of 1939, on the 28th December 1938 I’d be twenty one so it would have been sometime in February 1939. We were going together

04:02:00:00

during 1939. I think it would have been probably a year, some time during 1938 that I first became acquainted with her, sometime during that period but I just forget when.

04:02:30:00

Whether or not you were officially engaged you were very much together when you joined up?
As far as we were concerned we were, for ourselves we were engaged and eventually we’d get married.
Can you tell us about what kind of conversations you had with your fiancée about joining up and going overseas?

04:03:00:00

I suppose we would have been both fairly sombre because I think we both felt that it was a thing that had to happen. As things are now you’ve got sort of professional soldiers, in that situation.

04:03:30:00

It was everyone was involved, it was truly a world war, so you were either going to be involved first or second hand. Neither of us were terribly keen on the idea of it at all, neither of us would have been conscious of being flag-waving patriots.

04:04:00:00

I think we both felt that not losing our duty in a jingoistic sense, if we weren’t involved. I think we felt sooner or later we’d have to be involved.
It was the end of 1940 before you embarked to go overseas?

04:04:30:00

13th November.
Did you have leave before you left?
Yes. We had a pre-embarkation leave of a week, it probably would have been at the end of October I guess, by this time our camp was at Bathurst, for most people transport was by train

04:05:00:00

and for some of the privileged people, fortunate people who had a car, but most of us by train. It was a matter of getting from Bathurst to Sydney by leave train and then back and I think it was about a week after pre-embarkation leave finished before we actually sailed.
Where were you when you said goodbye to your family and

04:05:30:00

your wife to be?
That was in Sydney.
Tell us about that day?
I do know that because my wife and I were both committed

04:06:00:00

Christian people, we prayed about it and we thought about it in that context. I remember we both read a psalm together, psalm 91. It starts off, ‘Thousands you fought your right hand and ten thousand won’t come near you’.

04:06:30:00

We sort of took a bit of comfort from that but yet I never had a feeling like a sort of a talisman, we both thought if I don’t get knocked that means that someone else does, sort of a selfish thought.
Can you recite some of that psalm for us now?

04:07:00:00

I only remember that:
‘There were thousands go forward to a side;
Ten thousand right handed shall not come near you;
And something about being hidden under the shadows of his wings.’
A very sombre psalm to be reading

04:07:30:00

before you go off to war?
I don’t know why we read it but we did.
Did your faith give you comfort in those times?
Yes, I think it probably gave me strength too, I hope. Yes it was quite a real thing.
Was everything you were doing in the army consistent with your religious convictions?

04:08:00:00

I guess there was nothing much that was inconsistent. I think part of my religious beliefs is

04:08:30:00

I’ve got to live in what’s going on in life. If you are living in what’s going on in life then that’s where your faith has got to stand, it’s not some sort of exclusive separate things it’s part of ordinary living.
How prepared do

04:09:00:00

you think you were to take up arms and kill another man?
Not delighted to do so I guess, just the realisation that that had to be. Never thought that delighted

04:09:30:00

about it.
How close did you come to that during your service time?
I suppose because of the nature of the work and working with a team, I was never in a position of actually having to pull a trigger myself in that respect.

04:10:00:00

The arm I had was a Owen submachine gun, but I had a rifle before that because we only got Owens when we went to New Guinea. We were always with a team and my work, if I was at an observation post I was part of a team that was directing artillery fire,

04:10:30:00

I didn’t see artillery fire land among people and kill them. I think in that sense it became sort of impersonal really, I

04:11:00:00

don’t know this bloke but he’s the other side sort of thing and that’s the sad thing of it. I do remember in Lebanon where I had been at a gun position and I was going up to join the observation post team and as I was going up the track to near where the infantry were

04:11:30:00

there was a dead soldier, he was just enemy and a thought passed through my mind, “This poor bloke. He was alive just a few moments ago,” and I felt sort of sorrow at that.
Have you had an opportunity during your life after the war to try and reflect on the meaning on that sort of side of things?

04:12:00:00

Yes, I’ve thought in a general sense of just how futile it all is, I think I began to see the futility after the fighting what we called Syria but it was actually Lebanon because we unfortunately, our division fought against

04:12:30:00

the French. They fought bitterly against us and vice versa, you know, fiercely. After the fighting finished there I was on leave in Damascus with a couple of other fellows and we went into

04:13:00:00

what would be like the equivalent to a Greek café, this little café where you have little cubicles. There were some French blokes in the next cubicle and we found that some of the very fellows that had been along the ridge from us had been firing at us

04:13:30:00

and didn’t realise we were firing at them only a matter of three weeks or a month before. They were ordinary people like us and I think that made me start thinking at first how futile this all is.
How did they come to be sitting in the booth at the café in Damascus?

04:14:00:00

Unfortunately this is one of the things that doesn’t get much publicity. In early 1941 when Germany overran Greece and Crete and Rommel was doing very well up in the desert, the Germans began massing huge forces in Eastern Europe and it

04:14:30:00

seems hard to grasp these days because when anything happens you see it on TV and you hear all about it. The British intelligence, the only conclusion they could come to was the Germans were massing these enormous forces to strike across Turkey and across Syria and Lebanon and Palestine and down to the Suez Canal, that was a key objective.

04:15:00:00

The powers that be decided that it’s imperative that they’d be denied the land of Syria geographically. Because Syria and Lebanon was a French mandate it was occupied by French troops but France had surrendered

04:15:30:00

and they were, diplomatic measures were tried to get the people in Syria and Lebanon to allow British forces onto the ground there, but they wouldn’t actually. It was decided that the French might be better to stay than the Australians or anyone else so they pulled our division out of the desert

04:16:00:00

and sent us up to Syria. First of all to try and get them to hand over to us, and even on the 8th June they got some Free French volunteers to go with a white flag and a note to try and get them to let us through, but they refused so there was the invasion

04:16:30:00

of Lebanon and that went on for six weeks, very fiercely and we had many causalities in six weeks than they had in Tobruk in six months.
How much of that did you understand at the time, the big picture of the soldier on the ground?
What, about the massing of troops?

04:17:00:00

The French you were going to fight, and who would be there?
We knew they were going to be the French, we knew we were fighting the French.
What was your reaction to that?
We weren’t happy about it, to a point when the French refused, there was the first attack that was put in,

04:17:30:00

there was one brigade which included the 2/4th Regiment, we were in the Lebanese Ranges and about twenty five miles inland from the sea. After the first attack the infantry got bogged down before a place called Mersa Matruh and we were going to put a very heavy

04:18:00:00

barrage along the port of Mersa Matruh. Our CO [Commanding Officer] was so upset about it that he got permission to delay the attack for an hour and he went forward in a Bren carrier, a very primitive little armoured vehicle, with a white flag to try and

04:18:30:00

persuade the forces in the fort to surrender or let us through or whatever, which was quite a brave thing to do. It was without success. I think that would be the indication of the feelings from everyone, that was

04:19:00:00

abortive and so it went on.
What happened from your perspective when he came back unsuccessful, what then did happen?
I at that time, I as an individual wasn’t aware of that, all we knew was the barrage opened up and we moved forward from there and the fighting I don’t think there was any

04:19:30:00

attempt from there on for a few weeks there might have been the Hoovers going on behind the scenes but all we knew from the next few weeks was that the fighting was very, very fierce.
Was that the first moment that you’d seen action?
Yes it was actually, because in the desert we were in a defensive position and we’d come under aerial bombardment but we hadn’t actually come under ground combat,

04:20:00:00

so the first ground combat was against the French and it was among the fiercest we’d had for six weeks.
Can you describe from your perspective and memories of that what it’s like to be barraging, moving forward or being under barrage and what you were doing all that time?

04:20:30:00

Mostly you seem to be busy getting on with your job.
What was your job?
In that period I was a signaller, the official designation was a gun position signaller.

04:21:00:00

In the artillery you have two teams, the gun position team and the assistant or a couple of assistants and a couple of signallers. Then at the observation post which is with the infantry and they view the enemy a

04:21:30:00

similar sort of setup. They were interchangeable and through the Syrian campaign I probably was more with the gun than with the observation posts and it must have been close to fifty fifty, so I was either down on the gun position and passing messages. The messages were

04:22:00:00

where the fire and what range and what bearing and so on.
Can you describe the setup at that gun position?
In Syria we had six guns which proved to be unworkable, however four or six or two, but four was the best arrangement.

04:22:30:00

The guns would be on the ground thirty yards apart, they only put them thirty yards apart so that one burst of fire couldn’t get them all. Just behind there was a command post which had three or four men on the ground with a couple of signallers.

04:23:00:00

Another fellow with a board on a stand, they called an artillery board for a map or graphically plot what range and bearing had been put and also that he could work out sums. There is an officer who is in charge and giving orders there with

04:23:30:00

like an ice cream cone like a megaphone so as to carry his voice, not battery operated, just to direct his voice and just shouting orders to the guns. Each gun is manned by ideally six men but with a minimum of three,

04:24:00:00

the fellow sits on the gun and he’s the gun layer and he gives us his instruments to make sure it’s pointing in the right direction and then elevates it to the right degree to hit the target. At least one or two loading and unloading and then one fellow who is in charge of it, ideally a sergeant.

04:24:30:00

What type of guns were these?
They were twenty five pounders. The shell is about three inches in diameter roughly and the weight of it is twenty five pounds. Then there are other people involved, they tried to have a supply of a least fifty shells at any one time so there are obviously others running backwards and forwards

04:25:00:00

carrying shells.
What commands would they be yelling out?
First of all they’d say, “Number one gun,” if they recorded a target they’d identify it as Target A1 or A25, they’d have the guns laid out

04:25:30:00

on a bearing, like a compass bearing, when they come into a position they’d establish what they call a zero line which if you know that the enemy is generally over say due north then your zero would be north. Then they’d have a theodolite type of instrument

04:26:00:00

and they’d have an aiming point somewhere, something that they can train their sight onto and measure bearing so they’d measure at zero and the order would be given that you want such and such a gun to fire so you’d tell them that it’s zero

04:26:30:00

four degrees twenty five minutes so that’s the bearing, range two thousand yards or whatever it might be and then the third thing was the angle of sight taking into account like the difference the height above sea level and here is where the target is the angle of sight, whatever it might be. Then if all the troops were called to fire then

04:27:00:00

the order was given that brings the angle of the guns in a little so in theory where the shells arrive so they all arrive together. You’d say so many rounds gun fire, so many rounds at four shots to the minute or whatever, then

04:27:30:00

the order was given to fire, and the guns fire.
How would the command post receive all this information?
That’s where the signallers come in because the aim is of course to have the guns where they can’t be seen, because they attract a terrible amount of attention. The observer is usually

04:28:00:00

with the forward platoon of infantry so he can see and be told from the infantry commander what is required, or if the observation officer can see a target himself he might engage it on his own initiative and that happened quite a lot. So he and his assistant have to decide from what, their

04:28:30:00

estimation and where they are and their bearing to where the target is. Work out the difference between the hypotenuse of the triangle because there’s the target, there’s the observation posts and the guns are there, the hypotenuse of the triangle is the angle of the distance and that

04:29:00:00

is telephoned in that situation. We did have radios but the radios were cumbersome things that took at least three men to carry the bits and pieces so basically most of it was by the telephone, those orders were given and there were a standard sequence of them.
How would observation posts get a good view of where the targets were?

04:29:30:00

That would be his aim to get into a position to see and hopefully not be seen.
High ground or …?
I suppose one of the objectives of the infantry is to be in positions where they have got commanding grounds, so if he’s with the infantry section that’s got the commanding grounds

04:30:00:00

he hopefully can see something, see something of an enemy. Sometimes the observers had to do a lot of things to be able to try and get observation when it’s not easy. In fact in New Guinea there were quite

04:30:30:00

a few cases of the 2nd platoon regiment, they had a lot of misfortune with observers with the jungle and terrain, climbing trees to get a view and being picked off in the process.
What were the main dangers for a signaller doing this kind of work?
If you were at the observation

04:31:00:00

posts basically you would be infantry so you had all the hazards that are confronting the infantry with all sorts of fire, sniper fire, machine gun fire to mortar and artillery. On the gun position end it was more likely to be either enemy artillery or mortars or aerial bombardment or the enemy

04:31:30:00

patrols working their way through literally to try and destroy the guns. The fellows looking after the wiring between the gun positions and the observation posts, they were very often isolated with two or three of them or sometimes

04:32:00:00

even one and they can face a patrol of the enemy getting through and deliberately cutting the wire then putting themselves in sort of an ambush position, and that has happened a few times.
What were the most dangerous or frightening times during that Syrian campaign?

04:32:30:00

The two that I’d label that way, one was at the observation post and one was at the gun position.
Let’s talk about them both but what happened at the observation post?
If you’ve got your phone, you are obviously in a fixed position because it used to work on the principal of a single wire,

04:33:00:00

on what they call a earth return. You have a spike plugged into the ground and that sort of completes the circuit. You can’t readily pick it up and move, you are stuck there with your phone and you are not too anxious to move. I was at this particular observation post and

04:33:30:00

there was a machine gun post just in front of us and I suppose the section of the infantry just in the immediate vicinity and we thought afterwards that it was probably just our machine guns would have attracted the attention. The French opened up with

04:34:00:00

some very heavy mortar fire, and mortars are aerial bombs that the infantry use like a small projectile. The base of a good mortar man is that he can get ten bombs in the air before the first one lands and the Frenchmen proved to us that they were pretty good mortar

04:34:30:00

men because they started sending out the clusters of ten and you could hear the ‘pop, pop, pop’, the little cartridge sends it off and goes and you hear ‘pop, pop, pop’ and all of a sudden ten bombs landed in our immediate vicinity. I guess this shows training because I didn’t feel or think

04:35:00:00

of moving until the fellow in charge at the time was an ACT, they were changing over officers and the officers were going back so the post was commanded by the ACT and me. I didn’t even consider the idea of moving until he said, “You better move,” which I did and was glad to.

04:35:30:00

What could you see and hear when these bombs were landing around you?
It’s just a series of heavy explosions and scattering of shrapnel but very heavy explosions.
How close were they coming to your position?
Too close. They were literally right on us, as was proved by the

04:36:00:00

fact I went back to get the phone later on and one had landed precisely where I was sitting a few minutes before and as they were landing in clusters the others were around about. It got that hot that we had to move back perhaps fifty yards, when we moved back there was another section

04:36:30:00

of infantry there and all the fellows had been wounded and we were trying to put dressings on wounds and there were a couple more bursts and some of them were wounded again. My offsider, the ACT, he was hit too so I think I was the only one left that wasn’t wounded. As far as I know no one was killed in it but I was the only one not wounded in it.

04:37:00:00

What kind of wounds were you having to deal with?
Various flesh wounds from shrapnel, they all seemed to be flesh wounds, it must have been good fragmentation and it was mainly ripped flesh.
Was that one of the first times that you had to deal with

04:37:30:00

wounded men up close like that?
Yes.
How did you deal with it?
We couldn’t deal with it very much because we were under fire. I think they must’ve all been walking because we managed to move back, and were only a few yards back to the

04:38:00:00

company headquarters and there seemed to be fellows there that took over.
What is the procedure for getting wounded men off the front line?
I think every infantry company had a least a stretcher somewhere

04:38:30:00

and you try and move them back by whatever means you could. You try and get someone on a stretcher as soon as possible.
Did you have a safe camp set up with dressing stations and such behind the lines?
Yes.

04:39:00:00

They were what they called RAP [Regimental Aid Post] orderlies, they would just have a pack, like a first aide pack. Fairly close is what we called the RAP, the Regimental Aid Post, and then not far away was the dressing stations

04:39:30:00

and it sort of progressed back from there.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 05

05:00:30:00

You mentioned two frightening experiences, one was at the observation post that we just talked about, what about the other one, what happened in this occasion?
I think it was before this actually,

05:01:00:00

because as I mentioned earlier about these six guns being difficult to manage, the British had changed things over to six guns immediately before we went to Syria but in Syria was so rugged that we couldn’t put two guns together at some time. We were stuck with a six gun troop, just before this incident

05:01:30:00

we got into a position where we, when I say ‘we’ I mean the battalion we were with was a long way forward of a situation behind us, back at a place that we had kicked the French out at Mersa Matruh and gone back into it again. We were on one ridge and there was a

05:02:00:00

gully almost like a canyon to the east and it was running north and south where the supply line was running back to this other place. We had an observation post established that could do damage on that road down the gauge. That had been established for a few days

05:02:30:00

and I’d gone over to relieve the signaller there and then they decided that we’d got to the stage where nothing much more could be done. The observation bloke and myself came back to the gun position and as we came onto the gun position, we could see it ahead of us, with all hell broken loose. The gun position

05:03:00:00

was under full observation by the French and they’d ranged onto it and they were just pouring as much fire into it as they could. He and I, from a position of safety, had to go onto this position that was under heavy fire, it was almost cold-blooded.

05:03:30:00

I think that was actually my first heavy experience of heavy enemy fire and we just had to walk into it almost you might say.
What happened, can you describe walking into that?
I didn’t see how we could avoid getting killed, specifically me of course, how we all couldn’t get killed.

05:04:00:00

That was my feeling and they were sending over artillery and perhaps ten rounds of gunfire from four guns and forty shells and a burst and then there’d be another. Every few minutes you were getting bursts of fire and the only thing I could think of was

05:04:30:00

how could we avoid getting killed in this. I remember I asked a fellow who had been in the 2/1st Regiment who had been under fire in the desert and I remember asking the question, “Can you live through this?” but we did.
What were you doing then when all this fire was going on all around you?

05:05:00:00

I didn’t have a specific job because I was just coming back onto the gun position from being at an observation post so I really didn’t have a specific task. What I do remember was that some of us, when there was another burst of fire came some of us hit the ground because that’s where you are best protected.

05:05:30:00

I remember the author of our history was our sergeant at the time, coming along and saying a few well chosen words in good Australian, wanting to know what our miserable hides were worth instead of the job we had to do. Because by this time one of the things that had happened was that the signal lines had been shot to pieces so what

05:06:00:00

he wanted to do was to get all signallers busy working repairing the lines. Our main interest was thinking that the ground wasn’t a bad place to be.
Obviously, and it makes perfect sense?
But the reason behind this, about the value of our hides by comparison with our job we had to do.
How do soldiers

05:06:30:00

in those circumstances overcome your instinct just to save your own hide?
I suppose that’s where the training comes in, you just realise you have to just get out or do something about it, get on with the job.
Were there many losses on that occasion?

05:07:00:00

There were a couple of fellows killed and several wounded, but surprising by the volume of fire there was how few the casualties were.
How close did you come to those casualties?
The evidence I had of it was

05:07:30:00

my pack getting shrapnel through it. I put my pack down, say where that seat is, and it had shrapnel through it, so a bit close for comfort.
Were you prepared to die, did your life flash before your eyes, what happens in that situation?

05:08:00:00

I suppose you must get a bit philosophical about it in some way, I don’t know if you are prepared to die but certainly I didn’t want to. I suppose the abuse of my friend John Warby, he was probably (UNCLEAR) and I suppose this is where the team business comes in

05:08:30:00

and showing fear in front of anyone else and you are frightened you might let the mob down or what, there is nothing else you can do about it, you are stuck with it.
Are there qualities, like a sense of humour or a sense of something, that comes through in that kind of situation?
There is always someone. As a matter of fact on that occasion I met someone after it had died down

05:09:00:00

and one of the blokes saying, “How time flies when you are having fun.”
What was the result, what did the guns hit?
We had to move, we had to move from that position only to get shelled in the next position, we moved to a third position before we could get any cover.

05:09:30:00

Who gets the blame for the guns being in a dangerous position like that?
I don’t think anyone gets blame, unless you have done something entirely wrong. You are working to try and do the best that you can and

05:10:00:00

very often you can only see with hindsight, you don’t know precisely what observation the enemy’s got. There are certain principles that you follow to try and make sure that you have get protection or security. You have got to weigh one against the other and you have got to be in a position to do the shooting.

05:10:30:00

Is there ever a situation where the rank and file men felt sort of anger towards the upper men who had put them into dangerous situations like this?
I guess so.
Did they ever come out in words or acts?

05:11:00:00

Very often in remarks one to another.
Back to that barrage, are the guns able to fire, is there any kind of self defence you can undertake in that situation?
There is very, very little, usually you

05:11:30:00

dig the guns in to a degree. When I say that, you might dig a bit of earth out about the depth of that table, you, ideally you’d have each man dig a slit trench in the proximity to the gun and very often you did. If it’s not

05:12:00:00

desperate for you to fire, if you are not directly supporting the infantry at that minute you can get into the slit trench and get whatever cover that might give. Then if it becomes a desperate position you need the guns, if you can move the guns you move them as soon as possible to an alternative position. One of the principles of a

05:12:30:00

gun position officer, the ground position officer, is trying to put the guns on the ground to an advantage and safety but he’s got to take what’s the best that’s available which isn’t much. Usually one of his tasks is to have an alternative position to which you can move, if it’s possible to do that and if it comes under fire like that,

05:13:00:00

well as soon as possible to make the move which is what we did in that situation. I remember, on this philosophical business, I remember a bloke moving in that situation, we had a tractor but they were four wheel drive vehicles, the bloke who was driving one was an old farmer and I remember he was chugging along with this thing with a gun

05:13:30:00

and getting more bursts of fire and he was sucking his pipe as though he was out ploughing his paddock, at least that was the impression he gave. I remember observing that fact.
You mentioned that sometimes the guns have to fire because the infantry needed them. Did you feel a responsibility towards the men whose lives you were protecting?
Do you mean like the infantry?

05:14:00:00

Did the gun replacement every think that much about those men?
Yes we did and we were very conscious of that, it was one of the things that was drilled into us at training of course. We had a tremendous respect for the infantry, because we were just supporters of the infantry and many of us that went to observation posts had that reinforced.

05:14:30:00

Our feeling was, it was one of the things we were there to support the infantry and you’d almost think that you were expendable for them. I don’t know whether it really got down to that but that was your basic training.
How much did you feel that responsibility when perhaps your fire fell short or your infantry got shelled

05:15:00:00

by opposing guns?
If anything happened in any way our fault, we were mortified about it.
Did that ever have an occasion to occur?
We had pretty good marks from the infantry that we worked with

05:15:30:00

because I know they expressed their grave doubts about what we might do for them and they called us all sorts of rude names about being ‘drop shorts’. I think after every campaign we were in, the infantry men were pretty loud in their praise of the accuracy of our shooting.

05:16:00:00

What would they say, what were some of the names that they called you?
They haven’t come and thanked me personally, it’s more on a CO to CO level.
Did the men call the bad artillery placement ‘drop shorts’?
The infantry were

05:16:30:00

always saying, “Here come the drop shorts, you’d better duck.”
Did you call them anything?
No I think we were pretty admiring of the infantry.
Did you have air cover during these operations in Syria?
Practically none, in fact in Syria

05:17:00:00

we struck a big disadvantage because the French colours were almost identical, at that stage the RAAF had red, white and blue and the French had those colours but in the reverse order to what we had. The French had a fighter called a Poté, which looked very much like the Hurricane. There was a rumour going around

05:17:30:00

that we had no air cover at all, and there was a rumour that we were going to get a squadron of Hurricanes, I think it was our third gun position and we saw fighter planes come over and we thought that we had the air cover at last. The next thing we knew they did a pass over our guns and they came around and come along again and they were strafing us.

05:18:00:00

We did get a squadron of Kitty Hawks later in the piece, but that was our first introduction to it, amazingly enough they didn’t get anyone. They flew so close you could virtually shake hands with them.
What was the army’s view of those air force men,

05:18:30:00

what was the relationship between the two forces like?
I think we called them ‘blue orchids’. We reckon they had what wasn’t there because the bombers had a particularly rough time and we thought they had the fancy uniforms and a bed

05:19:00:00

to go home to.
Were there any other names you called them, ‘blue orchids’ was one?
That was the common one, mainly a reference to their uniform. Also the fact that they could go home and go to bed at night,

05:19:30:00

whereas we were in the mud.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 06

06:00:30:00

If you could tell us about the tactics, especially that you were deploying on the guns in Syria in the campaign in those six weeks, were you providing close support to the infantry

06:01:00:00

as they advanced or opposition artillery pieces?
Basically we were supplying support for the infantry, when the actual invasion began we had predicted some firing

06:01:30:00

targets and we opened up a innocent firing on the fixed positions before the infantry began to move. Then our main job was to fire on targets that helped the infantry.

06:02:00:00

We did some work that was providing fire preliminary to advance by the infantry, there were few occasions in the course of it when they had in effect a creeping barrage worked out at intervals and lifted as the infantry advanced. I think

06:02:30:00

most of it was firing to help the infantry, firing it against something that had been observed and was troubling the infantry.
Did you ever get credited with some hits off your gun?
When you say my gun, it was a team of four guns. Yes there was pretty evident damage, a lot of damage done

06:03:00:00

that was quite apparent.
What did you hit?
I suppose enemy troops, enemy vehicles, enemy equipment. I suppose in an identifiable position, I mentioned about the two guns that we had firing east basically, the others were firing north,

06:03:30:00

the particular officer who was in charge of the obo [operation]. The road had a couple of hairpin bends in it that were almost strategically placed he registered the range and line to those two hairpin bends and he got to the stage that he could almost guarantee

06:04:00:00

that if he got the guns to fire and the vehicles were passing the first one, if they were going south you’d get them to fire on A1 or A2 as the case may be and the other way around if they were going north he did actually knock out several vehicles and a couple of tanks

06:04:30:00

to the point where, why the observation post became redundant, the French ceased putting traffic down that road in the daytime, from that point of view that was very effective. I suppose that would have been the classical one, they had quite a lot of occasions when the firing

06:05:00:00

was very effective, sadly. We heard after the fighting had finished in Syria the French were very much affected by our artillery fire, that the twenty five pounder shells were indeed very effective instruments.

06:05:30:00

Our fire had a very high degree of responsibility in causing them to pull back.
What sort of shells were you using on the French?
The twenty five pounders and they are high explosives, they were all twenty five pounders in weight, but they were fragmentation things.
Were you using any air burst shells?

06:06:00:00

I don’t recall us having anything in the way of air burst shells, they weren’t something that we used as far as I know.
What range of shells did you have in your arsenal?
We had high explosives with two different sorts of

06:06:30:00

fuses, 117 and the 119. The 119 could be fired with a cap on it with a slight gun delay up there, we had armour piercing shells, I don’t recall us ever using them in action, they would have been really if you were fighting against the tanks. We had smoke shells and

06:07:00:00

they were used a couple of times in barrages but not very often as I recall. They were used in New Guinea a bit by the marines because where you could see them and identify them more readily than by a shell bursting. Basically the

06:07:30:00

shell that we used for distance purposes was the AG, the high explosive. I don’t recall, I suppose they would have had air burst but I don’t think we ever used them.
How does a creeping barrage work?
It requires quite a bit of mathematics to work out so you would

06:08:00:00

plot out a box shape, like you took the area of a football field. Then you’d have to work out, this was one of the jobs for the ACT, to work out the corners of the box and then usually they’d go up a hundred

06:08:30:00

yard or a hundred metre, now that’s the standard procedures. It could be twenty or it could be two hundred, I think the standard one is one hundred. That had all been worked out mathematically, if possible they would fire some ranging shots on the corners of the box if the opportunity was offered so that they could verify

06:09:00:00

that and the rest would be done mathematically. There’d be a program worked out to enable every gun to fire correctly so that when the barrage began at zero, or whatever it was, the guns involved whether it be 2 or 24 or whatever would fire and the guns with the shells

06:09:30:00

spaced out along that starting line and they’d do fire at that for whatever the time nominated, let’s say ten minutes, and there’d be a prescribed range of fire. At the end of that time they’d lift the firing one hundred metres and fire again, the preliminary firing of

06:10:00:00

course would be to subdue the enemy as much as possible, to damage if it were possible principally to subdue things, and then the idea was when the first lift was to enable the infantry to move forward to the start line, then progressively

06:10:30:00

it would have to be worked out the speed at which you could estimate the infantry would advance. The firing would lift that hundred metres, say every so many minutes, whatever the prearranged time was.
Was there any occasion during that time when you hit your own troops?
We weren’t aware

06:11:00:00

of any and I think we had a pretty good rating, a pretty good record in that I know that in the years since the war our regimental associations had a very close and harmonious affiliation with the battalions that we supported and

06:11:30:00

we always had good marks from them.
Just getting back specifically to the twenty five pounder gun, they were a very famous artillery gun during the Second World War, can you describe the gun for us and tell us a little bit of its characteristics?
It was described as a quick firing twenty five pounder,

06:12:00:00

in terms of artillery fire it could fire rapidly.
How rapidly could it fire?
Officially the rate was, ten rounds a minute would be classed as rapid fire but we have had a few discussions in our regiment about firing, quite often as much

06:12:30:00

as thirty rounds a minute per gun. I actually physically observed a gun once fire twelve rounds in twenty eight seconds, that’s been contested by our rivals in the 2/5th as being a bit of a discussion gone on about that.

06:13:00:00

Someone in the 2/5th Regiment says that’s not possible but I’m comforted by the fact that the editor of our paper, our regimental paper, who was a gun layer reckons the gun he was on on one occasion fired five rounds in eleven and a half seconds.

06:13:30:00

The occasion when I observed a gun firing twelve rounds in twenty eight seconds, to try and uncover French artillery they sent one gun out on a patrol north to a place called Sazeen in Syria with just one gun with an

06:14:00:00

officer in charge and one signaller which was me, a short length of wire up to the top of the hill for another signaller and an observation post officer. He was firing to try and attract the attention of the enemy to get them to fire back, the idea was he was going to fire as rapidly as possible to try and simulate the idea that there was a

06:14:30:00

troop there, not just one gun. I remember passing the information on from the gun to the observation bloke that they had fired twelve rounds in twenty eight seconds, that’s how I got the time fixed in my mind. Officially rapid fire would be ten rounds a minutes, but quite a lot more than that

06:15:00:00

has been achieved.
Can you describe the twenty five pounder for us?
It’s a rapid firing gun, it’s mobile, there is a barrel for the gun and it’s mounted on two wheels.

06:15:30:00

It consists of merely a barrel and what they call a recuperator, a buffer and recuperator, because when a shot is fired, about force being applied in the opposite direction of something, the force of the shell firing forward, inevitably the barrel recoils so the

06:16:00:00

barrel will recoil in its frame, in its bed, probably about two feet. I think there is something like oil and compressed air or air that compresses and then the barrel is brought forward again.

06:16:30:00

There is a hole at the back that you have got the barrel as a shaft on the back end where the shell is loaded in, there is a block of metal which is opened, shell is placed in the barrel and in the twenty five pounder and the shell is put in at random in

06:17:00:00

and then the cartridge to propel the shell is separate and put in behind it, it’s not like a bullet where the shell and the cartridge is one piece. The cartridges are able to be varied, you can have one, two, three or super charge that enables it to fire at a greater or lesser distance with a higher range of the barrel

06:17:30:00

that can fire, either sort of a flat trajectory or elevated effect like a mortar effect, where it goes up and down. You have the barrel, the buff recuperator,

06:18:00:00

the bridge block, there is a very strong frame obviously to hold the whole works. It’s on two wheels with an axle and then the back of the gun has got a tail piece with

06:18:30:00

a plough like base on it that embeds in the ground and provides stability after the first shot. There’s a metal sheet in front that is called a shield and would provide some little bit of protection from anything in the front. To aim it,

06:19:00:00

it has on it what’s a dial sight which is similar in its function to a (UNCLEAR), basically works on the same principal as a sightings and bubbles. A gun can be fired and aimed like a rifle but that’s a desperate situation,

06:19:30:00

it’s a horrible situation and one that’s not going to last very long. The usual firing is what they call indirect fire where the sight that is set up is aimed at some definable object that the gun layer, who sits on the seat on the left, can look up at the eye piece and aim it, he’d not aiming at his target,

06:20:00:00

he is aiming at his aiming point. When he gets his instructions to aim it’s given to him in terms of so many degrees and minutes and zero line that is established down the general line of fire, the general direction of fire. Then there is an elevation handle that cocks the barrel up or brings it down to

06:20:30:00

establish a range of distance which the gun is going to fire. The gun also has underneath it a wheel, and when the gun has been put into position that wheel is dropped down onto the ground and then the gun is elevated of it and the wheel is used for transport

06:21:00:00

but it’s on a turntable base to enable it to be swung around and moved around in various directions with comparative ease. That’s got a handle out, like a broom handle or pick handle, inserted in the back and the person who is in charge of the gun who is usually a sergeant can pick the handle up and turn the tail

06:21:30:00

around for rough directions, then the gun layer can wind a little handle to bring in the fine adjustments at the end.
Is there someone sitting in that position?
The gun layer he sits on the left of the gun in a seat and it’s mounted on the gun frame and then there is another seat on

06:22:00:00

the right hand side where another fellow whose job it is to open and close the bridge, basically.
That’s a good description. Is that more or less it?
That’s more or less the technical requirements of it.
What did you do if you got a misfire in the twenty five pounder?

06:22:30:00

There is a hole drilled to go through, they start off trying to have another go and if that doesn’t work I think the last resort is that they put something down the barrel and try to knock it out and that has been done.

06:23:00:00

Sadly we have had the other where there has been a misfire and it has exploded as the gun has been loaded.
Can you describe that incident?
That was in New Guinea and it just wiped out the gun crew altogether.
What happened in that incident, were you there at the time?
Yes.

06:23:30:00

As it happened we had been firing a program all day and the infantry were advancing under very difficult conditions and it wasn’t quite that barrage thing but there was a continual program of firing to support an infantry advance and it had been going on for some hours actually,

06:24:00:00

a lot of shells had been fired. We were in a position where the guns were only described as thirty or thirty five yards apart because of the jungle position we were in and we couldn’t see. I was at the command post and we couldn’t see any of the guns. We had taken up at the command posts to each gun and the orders were given sight unseen.

06:24:30:00

One of the sigs that was on that gun position called for help and it was obvious that something overwhelming had happened and I suppose it would have been

06:25:00:00

an ammunition bloke would’ve run to the scene. I didn’t actually, I was stuck where I was doing the job I was doing, I think it was ammunition fellows that went to the poor fellows. There were four men on the gun and three of them were just wiped out.
Did you know them?
Yes.

06:25:30:00

That was one of the most devastating things that we ever had actually, it’s devastating when your mates get bowled over by the enemy but when it’s something like that it’s utterly unacceptable.
Who were the blokes that got killed?
The fellow

06:26:00:00

who was in charge of the gun was a bloke by the name of Luke Stethcows, there were three fellows killed and one wounded, Matthews, and

06:26:30:00

I just can’t remember their names now.
That’s okay. What did you do in that situation?
The show had to go on, those who were able cleaned up that area. That gun

06:27:00:00

couldn’t be taken up by somebody else, it was wrecked. The other three guns had to continue on firing, that was why I was stuck where I was too and I couldn’t take part in the clean up I was enabling the firing to go on which had to go on because we were supporting the infantry and that was it.

06:27:30:00

There were fellows around doing various jobs, particularly ammunitions, and they were fellows who had the terrible task of gathering up what they could.
How did that effect you, that incident?
It was pretty devastating, it was utterly devastating at the time.

06:28:00:00

There were two other fellows who were part of that gun crew and it was pretty awful for them. As a matter of fact I went to a funeral of one of them about two years ago and he lives down at Adaminaby, the

06:28:30:00

two of them felt terribly guilty because they were firing all day, they’d been trying to take shifts off and these two blokes happened to be off. This bloke whose funeral we went to, he had a sense of guilt all his life because he should have been there and he wasn’t.
He would have been killed?

06:29:00:00

Yes, it was like you’d say the luck of the draw.
I get the impression that in, the gun units are very close, the troops?
Yes. They are a team together and those actual gun crews were, and they used to have competitions to see who could fire and get going and firing quickly.

06:29:30:00

Your crew on A1 gun, can you describe the relationships you had with your fellow members on that gun?
I wasn’t on a gun crew so I can only imagine. It’s sort of a closely knit group.
How would you describe

06:30:00:00

that level of mateship, is it something that you’ve experienced prior to going into the army or after it?
I had an experience before, the nearest I could describe it afterwards would be at second hand when I had a parish in the coal mine area and the team of fellows

06:30:30:00

in the coal mine had that strong bond together which is sort of a bond that is closer than a lot of situations. It’s not quite like an infantry section I don’t think, like an infantry section has a very close bond because they knew that their life depended on each other.

06:31:00:00

The gun crew team didn’t depend on each other quite in that way, they knew that they all depended on each other if that gun was going to fire. I suppose they had to depend on blokes like us who were sigs or the ACTs, what I became when I went to New Guinea, but there is a different sort of dependence.

06:31:30:00

Did you see any of the casualties or the results of your gun fire amongst the French?
Not directly in terms of human beings, observation posts only from a distance.
Can you tell us how that

06:32:00:00

campaign wrapped up, was it a quick end or was it a big surrender or capitulation or an annihilation?
It happened as it should’ve begun. About three weeks of the show we weren’t moving but then we did eventually get to the stage of moving forward and I think

06:32:30:00

the French had us literally bogged down, I’d say for at least three weeks of the campaign, but we must’ve started to get the better of them and there was a significant move forward. I don’t know how the details of it came about but the French somehow, must have been some communication and there was a truce.

06:33:00:00

You’d have to say that it was a honourable truce in which the agreement was that we just stop firing. These French had been troops away from France when France had surrendered so they weren’t divided into Vichy or

06:33:30:00

Free French, they were just French. The arrangement of the truce was that there was no recuperations, they had to be given the opportunity without any pressure or coercion in any way to be either repatriated to Vichy France or to join the Free French. There was a time frame, whether it was

06:34:00:00

three weeks or whatever, it was around about three weeks or a month. During that time the fellows that I was with, but I can’t speak for the rest of them, we were camped along the French coast, the coast north of Beirut to an alternate camps of

06:34:30:00

Aussie and French. When I say camps we weren’t in tents we had an area we were sleeping and living under grape vines and they were doing the same thing, there would be a group of Australians then a group of French and so on. We didn’t sort of fraternise as such, I think the idea of that was more or less to show that no-one had won or lost, I guess that was the way

06:35:00:00

that it was. It’s interesting that in the final wrap up of it, I think and as far as I know, that about fifty per cent of them decided to get repatriated to France and fifty per cent decided to join the Free French. I’ve always understood that that was about the proportions.
How did you feel about the French that you were fighting?

06:35:30:00

At the time of the fighting we didn’t feel very friendly because it was pretty willing but afterwards we didn’t have any bitterness towards them. I think we felt it was all unnecessary and, as I said

06:36:00:00

earlier, it was that that made me think how futile war is.
Six hundred people killed, how do you look back on that now that it might have gone differently?
Half way through the war we got the absolute proof how unnecessary it was. I was in an observation

06:36:30:00

post, I had to pass on the message that came up on the sig wire to my troop commander, he was observation post officer at the time, and I had to pass him the message that Germany had invaded Russia. We then had the answer as to why the Germans were massing in east Europe which we didn’t know before.

06:37:00:00

At the time did you feel that you may be faced up with overwhelming German forces or maybe also fighting the Germans at some time?
I think we had no reason to believe anything else other than it was terribly likely that the Germans would sweep across and it was quite on the cards that we’d be in the same position

06:37:30:00

as the fellows in Greece with overwhelming German forces bearing down on them. We had every reason to suspect that something like that could happen. I don’t know whether we thought about it, I don’t think we thought it was immediately likely as it happened in Greece. After the

06:38:00:00

fighting had finished and after we were settled in the camp, from then and until we left, not quite until we left but for a couple of months, the first thing we had to do was to dig a complete defence line east, west, north of Tripoli, and we were quite happy to do that labouring job.

06:38:30:00

I was on part of a team that was to be an observation post looking on a north facing hill slope and the observation post which we dug out would have been, was as high as this area here.

06:39:00:00

Can you describe that area because the camera can’t see the area around us?
It would have been three by three by three metres, we did that with picks and shovels and we were quite willing to do it, the infantry were

06:39:30:00

building long continuous ditch-like trenches east, west as far as you would see.
How far over to Syria did they go east?
I don’t know really, as far as we were concerned, the line that was allotted to the 25th Brigade

06:40:00:00

and that was the three infantry battalions and three units, I don’t know how many kilometres that would’ve extended, I’m guessing very wildly on that one, it was a pretty long continuous ditch when you are digging it with pick and shovel.
Was it familiar landscape to you, can you describe the landscape for us?

06:40:30:00

Where we were digging was on a hillside facing north and it was open country, fairly mountainous, when I say ‘fairly mountainous’, it

06:41:00:00

was opening out onto plain country to the north. We were on the edge of a ridge line I think more or less around east, west, it was north of where we had been and I think it opened out into sort of rolling country, undulating country to the north of us.

06:41:30:00

I guess that was probably why the defensive line was being built there, because there was this vast and extending undulating country and we were onto a hilly place where if the Germans came through they’d be going up hill and I suppose that would be a good place to try and spot them.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 07

07:01:00:00

Why is it that there is not much information or, known about the Syrian campaign that the Australians fought in?
I rather think that the authorities would like to pretend that it didn’t happen because we have always been friendly with the French and we have always been led to believe

07:01:30:00

that they admire and yet we fought against them. Our brigade had the doubtful distinction of fighting against the French Foreign Legion and beating them. There is no joy in it really, it’s there.
Was there, do you think, a

07:02:00:00

victory or was there any sense of victory when the fighting stopped?
No, we had no victory at all and I don’t think that we wanted there to be. I think we had achieved what was wanted in the first place that we had, in effect, had denied the ground to the Germans and they didn’t want it at any rate as we had discovered.

07:02:30:00

The purpose of what we were doing was to prevent the Germans from being able to sweep across it, and now we know that they didn’t want to and weren’t going to, when the French were persuaded to stop and then had the opportunity of either returning to France or joining the Free French

07:03:00:00

which they did about fifty per cent, as far as I know. That was all that you would’ve wanted.
Did you lose any mates in that battle?
Yes I did lose some mates.
At the time how did you feel towards the French, given this outcome was not very satisfactory from a fighting person’s point of view I’d imagine?
I shared the feelings with the rest of my mates,

07:03:30:00

that we weren’t very happy with the French at all during that campaign. I don’t think we felt any hatred or bitterness but we thought during the fighting, “We have got to beat them or they will beat us,” and very easily they could’ve,

07:04:00:00

we didn’t feel kindly towards them during the fighting at all. Strangely enough or reasonably enough, we didn’t feel any bitterness afterwards. I think I said earlier about meeting some French in a café in Damascus about three weeks after the fighting had ended and they had belonged to a battalion that was

07:04:30:00

opposed to the 2/31st Battalion with whom I was in an observation post only two or three weeks before.
Extraordinary.
Yet I don’t feel bitterness towards them and I don’t think they did towards us I hope, but they seemed friendly enough talking over the cubicle.

07:05:00:00

Can you tell us a little bit about the leave you went on and the places that you saw?
I was very fortunate in that we got into our camp, what is now the Gaza Strip, about mid December and I was one of six people nominated to get leave

07:05:30:00

on Christmas Day in Jerusalem so I had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and I think Boxing Day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and that was quite an experience because of Christian commitment and I was able to see a few places.

07:06:00:00

I was a bit disappointed in some places like the Holy Sepulchre where it seems to be lots of jewels and precious things and countless worth. I remember sharing feelings with people, “Fancy all this stuff being locked up here when so much good can be done with it and so much need everywhere.” One of the greatest experiences there was some of us went

07:06:30:00

just outside Bethlehem to a church service that was out in the open in a blackout and there were people from quite a few different nationalities and that was quite a pleasant experience. On the afternoon of Christmas Day a couple of us got a taxi and it went as far as Jericho

07:07:00:00

and that was quite an interesting thing. I didn’t get much leave in the Middle East all told, I remember having a day leave to Tel Aviv and the most enjoyable experience of that was a couple of us, and I don’t know how, we

07:07:30:00

found some people who were tea planters and they were English people, must have been somebody’s connections anyway. They let us come to their place and we had afternoon tea there, and it was good to be in a civilised place.
Did you feel that you were in an uncivilised part of the world, did you feel that the hostile

07:08:00:00

locals were fairly friendly towards you?
No we didn’t have any sense of hostility. Where we were camped we had to have double manned guards all night, forty eight guard posts around our camp. Each one was double manned and that was only because of people wanting to steal things and I don’t know how much of that

07:08:30:00

happened because of shortages or what. The local villagers would steal anything they could lift if they got half the chance, but there was no bitterness at all, they were quite friendly. I found that both Arab and Jews, Palestinians and Jews would be the term, were there too and we were in our ignorance in those days.
Did you know much about the Muslim faith at that time?

07:09:00:00

Practically nothing actually.
How were you able to practise your own faith especially during the fighting?
As opportunity offered I remember notably when we were in Mersa Matruh, which was a place that was absolutely flattened, we found that a padre

07:09:30:00

was conducting a communion service on the concrete floor of what had been a Greek Orthodox Church and I hadn’t been to communion for about eighteen months I don’t think, so I took advantage of that and it was quite a pleasant experience to think that situation.

07:10:00:00

Because we were in the army regimental setup we had the Roman Catholic padre with us all the time and we also had a Salvation Army bloke who came to us as a welfare officer but he became our chaplain for the non-Romans.

07:10:30:00

He joined us in the Middle East and he was with us right through until the end of the war. He would have been about the most esteemed bloke in our regiment and he was known as Wild Bill Nudson and he use to give us the opportunity of having some sort of a

07:11:00:00

church service wherever possible. The first one I remember was in a vicinity of a little village called Kapahun in Lebanon and he took a service for those who could be spared and wanted to just a bit back from the guns and that was a very noticeable thing.

07:11:30:00

When we went to New Guinea our regiment was split up into small segments and we didn’t actually function as a regiment and he was really getting around to every group of the regiment every week, whether it was an outpost with half a dozen blokes or a whole troop.

07:12:00:00

He had some sort of a service that varied according to circumstances most mostly just an informal thing.
Did you have services in Syria for people who were killed?
They only happened as things were going on, they were buried.

07:12:30:00

The Australian army all through World War II, and we weren’t exceptions to that, buried fellows where they, almost literally where they fell.
Was there any sort of ceremony to mark a burial?
Yes there was one that I remember at Tambour Bay

07:13:00:00

where, as well as the fact that we stood around, a couple of fellows were being buried, as well as being wringing wet from the rain coming down the padre had to knock it off halfway through the service because we were getting fired on, and we had to come back and finish it.

07:13:30:00

Always it was something that was very informal and brief generally.
How did you feel about those first losses that you encountered with friends in Syria?

07:14:00:00

I don’t know if devastated is the right word because we knew it was going to happen but it was a bit of a rude shock when it does happen.
When did that first happen for you?
I think in that village of Kapahun was the first one,

07:14:30:00

that was where I was saying before when we got shelled pretty heavily. There wasn’t much time to sort of sit and read about it.
What happened in that particular incident?

07:15:00:00

It was during heavy bursts of shell fire, us and on our troop position.

07:15:30:00

The way that we sort of thought about it was he dived into the slit trench and a shell dived in with him almost, if that is literally true or not. That was the feeling that all of us had.
What feeling was that?
That he dived into the slit trench and the shell dived in with him.
I don’t quite understand?

07:16:00:00

Slit trenches were dug in a hurry and they were only about nine inches deep. If there was fire and someone was shooting at you and you got a chance you got into a slit trench, there was a lot of firing going on and if it was literally true or not but it seemed as though when he went into the trench so

07:16:30:00

did the shell arrived at the trench too.
Did you know him well?
He wouldn’t have been one of my most intimate mates, I knew all the blokes. There were about sixty fellows in a troop roughly and he was one of sixty. Because of the work that I was doing and he was a

07:17:00:00

gun crew member, he wasn’t a fellow that I knew as closely as the fellow who was in that incident with the gun shell burst in New Guinea. I knew him well, we all thought of ourselves as mates.

07:17:30:00

When did you first hear, can you tell us about moving from Lebanon to New Guinea or back to Australia?
We were in this area that I mentioned, north of Tripoli, when we heard about the Japs bombing Pearl Harbour and various other places.

07:18:00:00

I think we were all starting to think pretty quickly that this was going to bring great changes to us and I think we perhaps hoped it did. Certainly before Christmas, it happened at the beginning of December, before Christmas we realised we were going to be moved. We came down from

07:18:30:00

the Gaza Strip first of all and we realised and that was just a staging camp situation. I think it was about the 9th or 10th of January that we embarked at Port Tewfik, which is on the east of the canal. We were on a

07:19:00:00

American armoured transport called the USS Mount Vernon our first acquaintances with Americans incidentally. It held basically the whole of our brigade, about five thousand people, except that all our equipment was spread out over other ships, I’d say about ninety per cent of our regiment was on the ship,

07:19:30:00

the rest were scattered over ships with equipment here and there. We went straight to Colombo and then there was a halt there because the things were moving very quickly and there was a lot of uncertainty. We only found out quite a lot later that they were really thinking of sending us to Java but pretty rapidly that was changed

07:20:00:00

to Burma and as far as I know we were actually heading in the direction of Burma.
Were you ever going to land in Singapore?
No, that was never in the offering at all. I think when we left the Middle East there was panic stations and they didn’t know where we were going.
You got back to Australia

07:20:30:00

and caught up with your fiancée again, can you tell us about that?
We landed first of all in Adelaide, we got off the ship in Adelaide and we were camped first of all in Woodside at the hills outside Adelaide.

07:21:00:00

I realised now that my wife didn’t have really good telephone access and in the camp that you were in you were fighting for a public telephone, the communications weren’t all that easy. We were engaged soon after I went into the army officially, then by what telephone communications we had and we decided that if we did get leave which was by no means certain.

07:21:30:00

We were at Woodside and I think we were there, about a month there. It was getting pretty late in April when they moved us from Woodside across to Casino by train. We just camped in a commandeered dairy

07:22:00:00

farm area outside Casino. We almost immediately we got there, and I don’t know whether it was wishful thinking or what, but we heard rumours about leave passed around and on a particular Friday there was a rumour we were going to go on leave on Saturday and I got a message to the wife to that effect.

07:22:30:00

On Saturday it became a reality and on Sunday we arrived home and we were married on the Tuesday. We knew if I got leave it would only be short.
How long had it been since you’d seen your fiancée?
At least eighteen months, eighteen to twenty months.
And you got married within two days after seeing her?
We arranged the wedding on the strength of a rumour,

07:23:00:00

we only arranged it on the strength of the rumour on the Friday, we actually met on the Sunday morning and we got married on the Tuesday evening.
Was any of your family able to attend?
Yes. All my family was present including my brother who became my best man and I didn’t know whether

07:23:30:00

he would be present because he’d come back from the Middle East also and he was the bloke that I mentioned who went to Tobruk. I lined up a couple of fellows as possible groomsmen, we were married at quarter to seven and at sixteen to seven I didn’t have any but at fourteen minutes to seven I had a surplus,

07:24:00:00

so I had to draw lots almost to see who was going to look after me. I had a very representative gathering because I had two fellows from my unit who could have been in the event and my brother was my best man and the other groomsmen were men that I had been good friends with, had gone into the 6th Division.

07:24:30:00

We were all well represented from the Middle East fighting because they first pushed up the desert to Greece and Crete and my brother Harry had been in Tobruk and I’d been to Syria.
Did you find Australia changed when you came back from Syria?
I didn’t have much of a time to

07:25:00:00

look at Australia really, but I suppose it had changed. Whereas when we went away the war was something that was on the other side of the world, now we were in a position with the war on our doorstep. The situation when we went away was all volunteers, at the time when we came back there were quite

07:25:30:00

a lot of people who were called up. There was quite a change to the wartime circumstances on that basis. The things like the clothing coupons didn’t bother me but it did to my wife and things like that.
Were you able to go on a honeymoon or take any time together?

07:26:00:00

As I said I was married at quarter to seven at night and one of the advantages of going to church was that the church folk rallied around and at two days’ notice they arranged this wedding celebration, a breakfast sort of a thing. One of the fellows there had a taxi driving business and he said, “My wedding present will be to drive

07:26:30:00

you to Strathfield Station.” My wife had managed to arrange a house up at Blackheath and we went over to Strathfield Station after the reception and caught a passing train up to the Blue Mountains. We got there at about one o’clock in the morning

07:27:00:00

and because we were on the wrong end of the train and we saw the taxi disappear as we got to the place where you catch a taxi at Blackheath Station and we had to walk about a mile to where this place was that we were spending a few days. The next morning we were greeted with the headline about the Battle of the Coral Sea and I thought

07:27:30:00

while I was laying low that they’d call us all back but they didn’t. We had from Tuesday until the following Sunday and then had to report back, and that was the extend of it.
You mentioned you heard about the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

07:28:00:00

on your short honeymoon?
No, the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Your reaction was they were going to find you and call you back, when did that actually happen?
What when did?
When did you get the call that you were going back?
We knew that we were going back overseas, we took it for granted that that would be it. We weren’t called back in an emergency

07:28:30:00

situation we were given a week’s leave. Having got the week’s leave, the first thing to do was to go back to where we were camped at Casino and that was obviously just a temporary thing. We’d had, only been there for a matter of a week or two and we were moved from there to an area north of Brisbane

07:29:00:00

in the Caboolture area where they were forming up the 25th Brigade. I don’t know where the rest of the 7th Division was, they were probably in the same general area. I know that we were all with the 25th Brigade and they all made camps, it was just out in the bush. Some of the fellows who liked their grog a bit reckoned they’d never fight their way back.

07:29:30:00

What training did you undergo there?
It was sort of ‘learn as you go’ training because we were well experienced, I suppose you’d say, in desert warfare and mountain warfare. The jungle warfare was a new thing that no one knew anything about.

07:30:00:00

I think we did a lot of teaching yourself. I remember one of our officers, and he was a very good officer, incurred the wrath of the more mechanically minded blokes because he tried to take some truck through swampy creek and got it well and truly bogged.

07:30:30:00

I think they were gradually sort of accumulating information, what information they might be about to, and using it and using their imagination, trying to work through jungle terrain to try and simulate jungle conditions on the basis of a sort of do it yourself sort of thing.
What new equipment,

07:31:00:00

if any, were you issued with at this stage?
Not artillery equipment really but that’s where we picked up the Owen machine gun for general issue to troops. We dyed, our khaki uniforms we dyed green and I think that would have been about the extent of any equipment change.

07:31:30:00

There was certainly no particular jungle equipment that we would have even known, I think. Mosquito nets came somewhere in the piece.
Were you given any medicines or any other special things for the place that you were going to?
Not at that stage. I don’t

07:32:00:00

think it was until we got to New Guinea that we started to get Atebrin, I don’t recall any special medications if there were, I don’t think so.
What were you hearing about New Guinea at this stage, about Kokoda?
Kokoda hadn’t happened at that stage.
Where are you when you are in Caboolture?

07:32:30:00

We are in June 1942.
Mid 1942, okay.
Yes.
So what did you know about New Guinea and where you were going?
We assumed we were going to New Guinea, we knew next to nothing about it. I forget when the first

07:33:00:00

Japs landed there but we were up in New Guinea in September.
What were your impressions then, having very little information to go on, what did you think when you arrived?
At New Guinea?
Yes.
We knew that there was a lot of bombing that had been going on,

07:33:30:00

that was one thing that we did know. We got off the ship at New Guinea and got in at Port Moresby and we started to move north and it was like a frontier area with quite a lot of damage

07:34:00:00

from bombs. Immediately we got out of Port Moresby there was a big Yank airstrip, a very busy but extremely rough and it was known then as Jackson Airstrip and I think it still is. The conditions were such that the only road,

07:34:30:00

and I think it had become a dirt track before we got to Jacksons and it went across the middle of the airstrip. The first introduction we had with life in New Guinea was to see the truck in front of what I was in, it started to go across the airstrip and a bomber was coming in to land,

07:35:00:00

I’m not sure if he was landing or taking off but he was going flat out. The pilot was close to the position of leapfrogging the truck and we were aware of the fact that there were drums of petrol as we went along, there were drums of petrol here and there in the bush, just scattered around so it didn’t make a dump.

07:35:30:00

We were straight out from there to really about the foothills of New Guinea, we didn’t get much of a change to get an impression of it except that it was hot and insects galore.
Was there an atmosphere of tension at that time?
Atmosphere of great

07:36:00:00

uncertainly really. I think by that stage, I don’t know if it was when we got there or immediately after the Japs, they must’ve landed by then I think, on the north side and the gun they were moving, I think that had and we were wondering how soon we would meet up. Alternatively there was the thought that they might come around and try and do something by sea

07:36:30:00

but we were wondering whether we would meet up with them and when would we be in a position to meet up with them.
What did you know about the Japanese as an enemy?
At the start of things we knew very, very little. I think we got a great shock really when we realised that the Japs were just carrying

07:37:00:00

all before them because anything that we heard about the Japs we all had this idea they were just people who could imitate and make cheap replicas of what other people had already done and I think we all shared that same view. I think

07:37:30:00

there was a feeling that it would only be a matter of time before the Japs came into the war. I don’t think any of us were very much worried about it really, we weren’t surprised when they did the suddenness of this opening thing. Straight after that the biggest shock would have been

07:38:00:00

when the British warships were sunk off the coast of Singapore and I think that stopped us all in our tracks.
Was there a moment when all those illusions about the Japs and how easy it was to fight were shattered for once and for all?
By the time we got to New Guinea we realised that wasn’t on,

07:38:30:00

that had been changed. I think the fact that seeing what happened in Singapore really brought us back to earth on that one. I don’t think we had any doubt that we’d beat them eventually, any idea of an easy victory had been dispelled.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 08

08:00:30:00

I imagine the foothills of the Owen Stanleys to be a difficult place to operate artillery, how did you move around there?
The foothills were impossible, we left the heart of Moresby and went out to the foot of the ranges but, not unlike some of the Australian situations, there wasn’t a

08:01:00:00

place where you could start going up a incline and get really rugged, it was really rugged right from the start. I would image that our only real purpose in being there in that way was had they come a little bit further than they had we were there ready to start engaging them as soon as they came into range. There was no illusion

08:01:30:00

that we were going to take the guns any further forward than that. We had to be there and I guess that’s the reason why they had us there, was in case they did get into range.
In the desert the guns are protecting a whole battalion of infantry, it’s not the way that it works in the jungle, what are the different tactics you would be using?

08:02:00:00

Anywhere in the jungle until right up until the end of the war at Balikpapan, and that was a different sort of jungle to New Guinea, we were almost limited in New Guinea to the places where we could take guns a certain way along the coast and drop the guns off and perhaps bring them into

08:02:30:00

the bush or into the jungle behind the beach, perhaps maybe a kilometre. It was a little bit different to that around the Buna and Gona area because there was quite an area of flat there but you went straight from the rugged ranges on the north side straight into swamp so you had the other problem.

08:03:00:00

In neither case could the guns be moved around very much, by whatever means you could get them into position they were in that position and there they were to stay.
What about the teams that you worked in, were they smaller or different in some way?
Apart from the area around Burma, Gona where it became more

08:03:30:00

or less defensive situations but when we got into action, really offensive action, and the heaviest campaign we did in New Guinea was the Salamaua campaign, the biggest unit we worked in was a troop, as far as

08:04:00:00

Syria was concerned I personally was involved with a troop, but you’re conscious of that fact that the troop is part of the rest of the regiment. In the Tambour Bay area our troop, although our sister troop was around the next inlet we were quite isolated from them. Our essential functioning unit was just

08:04:30:00

that troop of artillery and we might have been on our own in the world almost.
We will talk about how, that function in Salamaua in a minute but first, when you arrived how did you adapt to the weather and the difficulties of the terrain in New Guinea?
I adapted, I think we all adapted.

08:05:00:00

I suppose the business we were doing in Queensland introduced us to wet and soggy to a degree because it became wetter and soggier.
What were the conditions you were sleeping in and working in in New Guinea?
Mud,

08:05:30:00

rain, I suppose the general picture of that would be mud and rain because I think it rained almost everyday, that might not be literally true but that was the impression you were left with and there was no shortage of mud. Mostly without any transport.

08:06:00:00

At one stage the whole regiment our transport strength was one jeep, anything we did was either by barrage or on foot and in mud.
Obviously, as you mentioned, that makes the guns very difficult to move, what other difficulties does it involved in your position as a signaller

08:06:30:00

in an artillery regiment with the mud and rain?
Personally when I went to New Guinea I moved from being a signaller to being an ACT. The sigs had a terrible time because where in the Middle East they were able to lay signal wires from the back of a truck, in New Guinea they

08:07:00:00

had murderous conditions of having to carry the cable in one mile drums and either carry it through mud or up steep hills. It was bad enough trying to lug yourself up, let alone a rifle and a bit of personal gear and a mile of cable, it was a horrendous task really.

08:07:30:00

It was also equally difficult to maintain the stuff from the ACT’s point of view, that probably everything that you handled was wet and was getting wetter and if you have got to handle things like maps or bits of paper at all and that’s an impossibility. Visibility of course

08:08:00:00

is almost non-existent.
What were your sleeping conditions like?
Very often it was a groundsheet on the mud and our basic supply was to have a groundsheet and then another groundsheet, and this was before we got two man tents, and the idea was

08:08:30:00

the groundsheet had button holes with buttons and you teamed up with another bloke and you buttoned your second groundsheet to his second groundsheet and that made a two man tent. With Australian ingenuity, the Yanks generally managed to get hold of some sort of stretcher,

08:09:00:00

we weren’t supplied with stretchers but we sort of acquired very often if we could American stretchers. It was either that or mud.
How closely were you working with the Americans during your time in New Guinea?
Sometimes quite closely in that I got

08:09:30:00

mixed up with the actual first American infantry battalion that came to New Guinea, I think they were a battalion of 126th US Regiment. They initially were given the task of trying to find an alternative path over the Owen Stanleys

08:10:00:00

to the Kokoda Track. I was one of a small party that went with them because they had no artillery at that stage, they had no artillery up there. If perchance any artillery could have been used we were providing the information to enable that to take place.

08:10:30:00

It was probably only a couple of weeks, but a short time, and they were the very first American infantry to go to New Guinea and they were quite raw to warfare as well as being raw to the jungle. The poor blokes, they were sent up with every bit of gear that they ever owned and you could follow their track as they progressively discarded it.

08:11:00:00

When the north side of New Guinea to Gona, Buna and Sanananda area had been captured essentially the Australian, the first Australian forces, it was essentially the 7th Division infantry, they were just about run into the ground and they were run to the point of annihilation

08:11:30:00

for the time being. They put an American division in the 41st Division and they had no artillery with them at that stage. Our first job there was to become artillery for the Americans. They were only doing four or five patrol duties, they were picking up bands of Japs and individual Japs here

08:12:00:00

and there, so we were divided up with them.
What did you think of the American army?
We thought they were amateurs which they were I guess at that stage, but we were more frightened of them than we were of the Japs. If a leaf rustled they’d open up with the fire power of the battalion almost. You could say we were

08:12:30:00

more scared of them at that stage than we were of the Japs. They are very friendly and very generous but we didn’t think a great deal of them as soldiers at that stage.
What other differences were there between the way the US Army operation and Australian Army did the same thing?

08:13:00:00

They seemed to make a lot of noise getting around anywhere where we were quite as possible. It seemed as though they couldn’t operate without all sorts of material backup whereas

08:13:30:00

we were pretty lean and self sufficient. When we did move along to Salamaua there was a American battalion to the north of us on one ridge and we were horrified to learn that they used to pull their soldiers off the ridge at night and virtually surrender the ground that they had gained.

08:14:00:00

We also felt one of the peculiar features was they blaze away with everything under the sun and with the general thought that if they fired enough ammunition in the general direction of the enemy they’d be sure to hit something.
Was there much jealousy at all about how they were supplied?

08:14:30:00

All of us thought that they had a lot of stuff laid on but we also thought that our stuff was better than theirs, even as far as food was concerned. The much despised bully beef, we reckoned that would keep body and soul together.

08:15:00:00

There is a classical example going back to when we were on the American ship, we had been on very short rations and we thought it was wonderful when we got on with all the luxuries of the Yanks but after a couple of weeks we were nearly starving. I found that when we broke up camp on the Gaza Strip on a place called Christina

08:15:30:00

any rations that were left around were shared amongst the fellows and I got a tin of bully beef and I’d stuck it in my pack and I’d forgotten about it. I sorted through my pack after we’d been on the ship for a while and I found this tin of bully beef and my mate and I shared it and we thought that it was wonderful. The American food and as lavish as it was, it

08:16:00:00

wasn’t sustaining. When we went to New Guinea and we saw the American rations that was our feeling about it. They had an automatic rifle, the old Lindfield, I think they called it an M6 and the only trouble was that it wasn’t given for jungle conditions and almost unbearably jammed.

08:16:30:00

What else was in your rations apart from bully beef, anything?
We did a bit better than that, the basic things was the bully beef and hard biscuits, we would get tinned vegetables.
Was there anything that you particularly liked or despised?

08:17:00:00

I accepted whatever was offered and I think that was the general feeling after a while, whatever tucker was on.
Lets talk about the Buna, Gona and Sanananda action, there was some very hard fighting in that region, how much of it did you see?
I saw very little of it, our regiment saw very little of it

08:17:30:00

because we were literally at the tail end of things and the main fighting had been done.
Could you see the results of what had happened?
Yes.
Can you describe a bit about that?
I suppose one of the most vivid recollections was when I was with a party that was going to establish an observation post on the beach,

08:18:00:00

it was in Buna because we went up what was called the old Buna airstrip. I was talking about fellows being buried where they fell and it seemed as though you went up the Buna airstrip, there was a rough cross literally at every step and most of them were 2/9th and 2/10th Battalion.

08:18:30:00

Half way along there was a burnt-out Stuart tank, light tank, and I found out that we had landed about half a dozen of them, Australian tanks during that fighting, there was one of them burnt out. Coincidentally, when I went to work after the war

08:19:00:00

my foremen was a fellow who had two artificial legs, one above the knee and one below the knee, and he was the sole survivor of that tank.
A burnt-out tank doesn’t strike me as an easy thing to survive?
He did tell me how he got out of it, basically

08:19:30:00

he jumped out but how he was able to jump out I don’t know.
Were there evidence of Japanese bodies as well?
Yes there were.
How were they dealt with, were they buried in the same way?
I don’t think they had any sort of identification. The cross

08:20:00:00

seemed to be a universal thing for Australian troops. There was an identification as to that there were some bodies buried there but I think it was just some sort of a stick in the ground.
Were there any prisoners or anything like that?
You could almost say

08:20:30:00

literally there that they almost fought to the last man, but there were a few prisoners and our padre, the Salvo bloke, he had the distinction of collecting one of them who I think sort of staggered out of the bush and surrendered to him. There were, but I

08:21:00:00

wouldn’t know how many there were finally but I think in this last stage, where people, singles and clusters were being rounded up, I don’t think any of them were in a position to fight much but it would be almost literally true to say that they fought to the last man than rather say they surrendered. Obviously there were these ones somehow or other who took to the bush, or were too sick

08:21:30:00

or what, I don’t know and I wouldn’t know how many there were, whether there were a dozen or one hundred or what but there were a few.
What was your regiment’s role in that mop-up operation?
Not a terribly active one really, because I suppose our

08:22:00:00

main purpose for being there, apart from giving support to the infantry if they found any real fighting, there was still the expectancy that the Japs could’ve made another attack. The fact that they were theoretically capable of doing that and the fact that there was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea at that time and

08:22:30:00

that was carrying quite a lot of troop transports, there was at least the theoretical possibility that they could’ve had another go and we were there primarily I guess for that purpose. We weren’t left slack and idol because apart from getting the guns firmly in place, what we did there was to

08:23:00:00

chop down trees, endless coconut trees, and build sort of sangers around the guns to protect them. When we got tired of that they got us chopping down endless trees and making corduroy roads because there was no facilities for trucks to move anywhere and the only way that that was facilitated

08:23:30:00

was for someone to make roads, there was no metal there. When we arrived we were flown over to that north side and we landed where they were developing that airstrip called Bobaderra. We came over on the old C3, the biscuit bomber things, and they were flying an endless procession of

08:24:00:00

biscuit bombers over from Moresby to that strip loaded with blue metal. That would have been the most expensive blue metal in the world being delivered by air from one part of Papua New Guinea to the other. We had the job, they were using that for the airstrip and the road was a lot further down the priority, so we had the job of chopping trees down

08:24:30:00

to chop up into lengths to make corduroy roads.
How do you make a corduroy road?
Basically, without being a technical engineer, laying log after log side by side endlessly and you have to use a log that diameter and you don’t get that far very quickly. They are laid side by side and secured together

08:25:00:00

by whatever means, either by driving big stakes into the ground or trying to knock them together somehow.
How did your regiment feel about doing this kind of work, was there any sort of frustration, what was it like?
I think we had been in the army long enough to know that that was a typical army rest.

08:25:30:00

I think we were philosophical, I estimated that I personally chopped down three hundred and sixty trees.
You were setting up guns though for a possible invasion, was that a real threat in your eyes at the time?
It was quite on the cards. I don’t know how high a rating

08:26:00:00

but we were always optimistic, I think we were probably incurably optimistic. When we recognised the fact that it could happen and in fact one of our observation posts prided themselves on the fact that they spotted a little dingy getting along the coast

08:26:30:00

with a couple of Japs in it. They never discovered where they had escaped from or where they were heading to but the fellows prided themselves on the fact that they didn’t get past.
Given this time to sort of rest if you like or stop and think, did you start to miss home?
We missed home all the time. As a matter

08:27:00:00

of fact I think the chief occupation really was to cultivate rumours and spread rumours about when we were going to get leave, when they were going to take us all home on leave. I suppose that would have been the number one topic of conversation at any given one time.
What were you hearing from home, from news or letters?

08:27:30:00

“When are you coming home?” That was the main theme of the letters. “Lots of other fellows have had leave, when are you going to get leave?”
How much more difficult was it for you that you were a married man, did that change things for you a little bit?
It certainly did to a degree I guess,

08:28:00:00

yes I’m sure it did, well I know it did.
How did it change you?
I suppose just that much more anxious to get home.
Were you anxious to make sure that you got home as well, was there some sort of self-protection?
I don’t think so, no I don’t think so.

08:28:30:00

There wasn’t much you could do to be self-protective. I don’t think there was any real desire to really, and not in that sense. I know that when we got the news that we were going to go into a fight, a real fight, we felt happy

08:29:00:00

about it, I think we would have been quite happy to go home, I’m quite sure of that but we thought that by going into a fight we were justifying the fact that we were up there. I think we all felt, and I know I share that and [am] not using the royal pronoun there, but we had let the side down by not being in it.

08:29:30:00

We were particularly conscious of the belting of the three battalions that we supported that had had, that we were there to support them in it. When we were going up to be in it we felt that we were sort of justifying our existence.
Was boredom a big enemy as well in action?
Yes.

08:30:00:00

How did you deal with that, how did you deal with long periods in action?
I suppose philosophically, if you’ve got a religious faith you have always got a little bit of back-up.

08:30:30:00

There used to be a few of us that used to try and get together when we could in some way, to have sort of a Bible study together or something like that, that’s just a little thing.
Was there any other things that you used to do to pass time when you weren’t working?
Yes, one notable thing, and

08:31:00:00

this was done on the regimental level, there was a regimental sports day organised. Being an old bike rider they dug up a few Japanese bikes that were very rough and very heavy, they weren’t racing

08:31:30:00

bikes or the modern bikes, they were designed purely for utility and so they wouldn’t fall to bits but they weighed about a ton. There were also some horses that the Japs had used and captured. There was a sports day organised in which we had everything, I rode in a bike race but I didn’t win.

08:32:00:00

They organised a couple of horse races and one they called the Dobadurra Cup and they made up a cup from something and presented the winner with this magnificent cup. A couple of the blokes on the side established a bookies’ ring, they had the whole lot with nothing.

08:32:30:00

They captured bikes and captured horses, or abandoned bikes and abandoned horses, and they had foot races and various other things, it was a real picnic day.
Was the Australian soldier inclined to gamble a lot in New Guinea?
Not as badly as the Yanks, the Yanks were terrible. They

08:33:00:00

were paid in full in cash, even in New Guinea, you couldn’t go anywhere to spend it, we didn’t even have an army canteen. We went for months without being paid, it was just stored up in the pay book, we had nothing to spend it on and nowhere to spend it. We had our

08:33:30:00

SP bookies [Starting Price bookmakers] in the unit.
What would they do when there wasn’t a horse race on the SP bookies?
I don’t know, I guess they found something.
Were there two-up rings?
I’m sure there were but I wasn’t terribly conscious of them in New Guinea.

08:34:00:00

Some time later on when I was conscious of that was when we were training to go to Borneo, there use to be a two-up ring just outside our tent.
Was this in Queensland?
Yes up on the Tablelands. I wasn’t acutely conscious of where they were playing two-up, I’m sure it would have been on.

08:34:30:00

After that period, and after Salamaua had been captured, where were you after that?
About the 15th September I think it was that the fighting had ended the Salamaua campaign.

08:35:00:00

I’ve got something that I was pleased about and I had forgotten about, in that regimental history our troop sergeant major, that was the troop sergeant major of a troop, pointed out that when a campaign ends the order is, “Cease firing.” They give the order to cease fire after any particular shot that

08:35:30:00

has been going on, but at the end of the end of a campaign the order is, “Cease firing,” and he recorded something that I’d completely forgotten about. He said that at the end of the Salamaua campaign it was Bombardier Herb Robey who had the privilege of giving the order to a troop to cease firing, I must have been giving out the orders at the command post at that time. A message had come from wherever it came from and

08:36:00:00

they gave the order for all guns to cease firing, which was quite good.
Are there any notable things that stand in your mind, not your mind but in somebody else mind?
Strangely enough the old troop major, Harry Taylor, it imprinted itself on his mind.
Are there any other from that period that have imprinted themselves on your mind that you remember for one reason or another?

08:36:30:00

There is one notable thing. As far as we were concerned it was a small show, the beach was about a kilometre long at the most, and it was flat for a kilometre and then you went straight up hills and it was all jungle and tucked away there were the guns. There was a track up to where the infantry were and they were using that beach

08:37:00:00

to bring supplies and reinforcements in for the infantry night after night and it could only come in the night-time because the beach was under fire all day. They had a ordnance depot with a captain and a private who used to take delivery of any ammunition that had arrived. They used to be doing that all

08:37:30:00

night or whenever the barrages came in. Because they had nowhere to live they would come up to our troop position with the guns for most of the day. One day the ordnance bloke came up and he was turning the air blue, it’s a wonder the Japs didn’t pack up and go home because of the language he was using or the remnants of it.

08:38:00:00

He’d sent requisitions for the ammunition back to Buna which was the base area then. Then in typical bureaucratical fashion, instead of sending ammunition and some requisition forms they sent him up a great stack of requisition forms and no ammunition, and said, “Fill these in.”

08:38:30:00

It could have been the survival or the ruination not only to us but all the infantries up on the hill, so he wasn’t amused.
Are there many great stories that you must’ve heard about the inefficiency of the warfare?
Yes, I think that would be one of the classic ones that

08:39:00:00

I personally experienced, because there it was right on our doorstep.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 09

09:00:30:00

You mentioned you had a few nicknames, can you tell us about those, or the one in particular that stuck with you throughout the war?
If anything it would be ‘Holy Herb’ as the case may be. I think I acquired that first, early in the piece.

09:01:00:00

Where did you get that?
I can’t remember how early but it was fairly early, maybe not until I went over to the Middle East. When we were doing square bashing and route marching and all the rest of it in Ingleburn and Bathurst and Holsworthy. We hadn’t probably settled down onto being as

09:01:30:00

intimate, I’m not certain where it was first acquired but I certainly had it by the time I went to the Middle East.
Why did they call you Holy Herb?
I suppose because I was a bit religious.
Did you mind being called Holy Herb?
No.

09:02:00:00

You can call me anything as long as you don’t call me late for breakfast.
Perhaps you could tell us about the Finschhafen landings and the Sattelberg campaign?
It was more mud, because we were only called in as back-up.

09:02:30:00

It was felt that Finschhafen would be sort of a pushover but it was anything but. They found out since the war that MacArthur was always rather disparaging at the Australians, for what reason I don’t know. He wanted the Finschhafen captured but

09:03:00:00

he didn’t want to provide for all to do with it, mainly landing barges, and he reckoned a brigade would do it nicely and the brigade was very nearly pushed back into the sea and they decided reluctantly to send some troops up so that’s how we became involved in it

09:03:30:00

at the end of October, early November 1943. It was only the second time that we operated as a regiment together, the regiment was sent to Finschhafen. Because I was part of the

09:04:00:00

staff team there was a small group that went up to try and find more suitable places where guns could be operated. I remember we landed at a place called Tedam Point or a beach near there and we had a few moves around trying to find places that would be

09:04:30:00

usable as gun platforms and that took a few days to do that.
Can you take us through that landing at Tedam Beach, and describe that for us?
As far as I was personally concerned it was just arriving there on a little assault barge and going

09:05:00:00

ashore, there wasn’t a gung-ho running ashore thing. We just landed there and there had been some troops there before us, wherever we landed with the assault barges they ran the things up onto the beach and there was a flap at the front that dropped down and off you went.

09:05:30:00

Our main purpose was to go ashore, because we were on foot and self contained, but trying to find somewhere where the guns could be brought.
What happened after that, what happened after you located the position for the guns?
The guns were brought in a couple of days later and

09:06:00:00

of course the observation post teams came in and they were teamed up with the infantry. As soon as the gun position was established they started firing, registering areas that could be fired on that could support the attack on Sattelberg.

09:06:30:00

What are registering?
If you are starting off raw with some artillery you have to have some sort of a starting point on it. I suppose the first thing that a gun position team would do, or the troop commander

09:07:00:00

or the regimental commander, would be to establish the main direct which you were going to fire, so that’s established and that’s called your zero line. Then you have to get some idea of how far it is from the guns to the areas of engagement. One of the ways to do that

09:07:30:00

is to pick an identifiable location and register that as a target by working out what they estimate is the bearing from the gun to it and the distance. Hopefully the estimate would be somewhat reasonably close but having seen a shot land

09:08:00:00

then the usual method is if the shot goes beyond it you don’t try and edge back towards it by feet. If you reckoned it was four hundred yards plus of it, you reduce the range by, let’s say, six hundred yards and if there was room you’d reduce it then by

09:08:30:00

eight hundred yards. In theory you have got that thing in the middle, then again if you have room, you can only do that if you have room. You can see with the second shot, with the two shots you have got some idea of the exact line on which the shells are firing. You have got some idea of the

09:09:00:00

range, the correction you have got to make for the range. In theory you should be able to get the third shot onto the target. It’s that process of working out what is an identifiable target and they call that as registering. You might from a map or from whatever other means

09:09:30:00

and had an idea of the range and the bearing but once you can actually and physically test it on the ground you can say that I know that that particular point over there is such and such a bearing and so many yards from the guns. So you have a fixed point from which you can estimate distance and range and bearing to other targets.

09:10:00:00

Did you know the size and the forces you were facing there and where they were?
By that stage there was a pretty rough idea of where they were because Sattelberg was sort of a plateau, I suppose you could describe it as, you wouldn’t

09:10:30:00

call it a fortress but it was an established settlement on a plateau. It had the protection of being elevated in a pretty rugged terrain getting up onto it. By that time there was some reasonable estimation of the

09:11:00:00

size of the Jap force and an appreciation. It was the infantry mainly who were working and they were on the ground and they were trying to, by observation and by sending out patrols, and getting some idea of how or where it was and where the points of difficulty were.
How would you

09:11:30:00

describe that battle in terms of scale or intensity or velocity compared to the other battles you’d seen up until that time?
The other thing was going back more to the thing you’ve got in the Syrian

09:12:00:00

campaign. Whereas the Salamaua thing was fellows working along ridges and almost hand to hand and not quite solo efforts but they were in small pockets, this was quite a big force comparatively.

09:12:30:00

Was this the worst fighting that you’d seen?
I would think of the Syrian campaign as being the worst I think, I think of Salamaua as the most arduous,

09:13:00:00

not from my personal point of view because the gun position area there was not under assault so much, on the personal level it wasn’t, from the point of view of the infantry it was pretty rugged and I think it would compare with the others, but for the time,

09:13:30:00

a personal level, it was more comfortable.
Can you tell us your living conditions there at Finschhafen?
There was plenty of mud and plenty of rain. I had not had malaria in all the time we were in New Guinea strangely enough, we’d been

09:14:00:00

in New Guinea since September the previous year and now we are up into November of the following year and it wasn’t until half way through the Finschhafen campaign that I had my first attack of malaria. The living conditions would have been more comfortable than they were in the Salamaua

09:14:30:00

but my general state of well-being wasn’t so good, but that was only a comparative thing. I had four days away from the troop with malaria and then back again.
Can you tell us how the Finschhafen campaign proceeded for you?

09:15:00:00

I think it was just after Sattelberg finished that I got malaria. I know that I came back to the troop at a place called Hellbark Plantation, and that was our second gun position in the Finschhafen fight. As soon as

09:15:30:00

Sattelberg fell, the Japs started then to pull back generally along the coast which was around north for a while and then started to go north-west. We were in a position where we had the guns on the Hellbark Plantation, coconut plantation.

09:16:00:00

It was only a few days after that, the Japs had started to move rapidly and after that we moved to a gun position near a place called Fortification Point. It was on what they call the Song River. From there I had a turn on an observation post

09:16:30:00

just north of Fortification Point but it wasn’t a very exciting one because the Japs were starting to pull back and I don’t think we did much at that stage. There had been a lot of shooting when we were in the first two positions and there was some there. When I was at the observation post we did very little.

09:17:00:00

Then I think it must have been getting up pretty close to Christmas Day when we moved the guns again around the corner north of Fortification Point to a place called Wandokai and over there on Christmas Day.

09:17:30:00

There were rumours flying thick and fast that we were going to get leave then. I think it might have been around about my birthday, which is the 28th December, I went with a couple of officers

09:18:00:00

to make a reconnaissance to take up a gun position that was at a place called Blucher Point and that was where things came to an end for us. I know that where we landed at Blucher Point the day before we moved there that had been occupied by the Japanese and we were firing on it,

09:18:30:00

there had been quite a bit of fighting just at that point. Then we were able to move the guns to there and it was at that point that we handed it over to the 2/14th Regiment.
Just a bit before, as you were chasing the Japanese up the coast how often were you moving the guns?

09:19:00:00

It was nearly two months, I think we had six different moves. Each time we had to move by the assault landing barge, it might have only been a few thousand metres, or yards as it was then but basically we’d be moving

09:19:30:00

about ten thousand yards at a time and I think there were six moves.
How much effort was each move?
It was quite a bit really because we had no real transport provision, we had a couple of jeeps but they wouldn’t really

09:20:00:00

pull the guns in those circumstances. The engineers, I think it was, were trying to bulldoze a supply path from one beach head to another as the infantry were advancing and the Japanese were pulling back. Basically

09:20:30:00

the best way we had of moving the guns was to do a deal with the engineers and get them to pull the guns into a position by the bulldozer, in its other role as a tractor.
What sort of opposition were you facing from the Japanese, in terms of artillery or patrols?
Nothing really at that stage. By that stage

09:21:00:00

they had got to the stage where they weren’t doing much, but certainly they were aggressive patrolling.
Of that fight how did you feel strategically the value of those actions?
We thought they were contributing because they were pushing the Japs backwards.

09:21:30:00

How did you feel about the Japanese compared with the French that you had fought in Syria?
I really didn’t think very highly of them. I remember at one stage seeing some dead Japanese and

09:22:00:00

passing a remark which I think is highly out of order now but it seemed right at the time. I said to someone else, “Do you really feel that these people are really human beings?” and whoever it was that I said it to said, “Yes that’s the way that I feel too.”

09:22:30:00

Why do you think the troops and yourself felt that way?
I think possibly it was because partly of the way that they lived, they seemed to be living pretty primitively, I have realise they were having an even rougher time than we were,

09:23:00:00

but they seemed to be extremely primitive. There were a couple of things that happened in the Salamaua campaign where I remember one occasion, I suppose there would have been a company of Japs putting on an attack and they were just sort of blown away and lo and behold about half an hour later they did exactly the same thing.

09:23:30:00

They were doing the re-run of something, the same thing in the same way. I remember a couple of us saying that that was a pretty dumb thing to do. Especially the way that they lived that was more than anything else. At that time

09:24:00:00

and on that occasion that was quite a sincere feeling, not any bitterness or anything just an observation.
Do you think that that contributed to the fact that there weren’t many Japanese prisoners taken by the Australians?
I don’t think the Japs wanted to be taken prisoner.
How was your own morale at this time when you were

09:24:30:00

chasing the Japanese up the coast?
I think it was pretty good, I think it was boosted by the fact that we thought surely we were going to get leave soon and the rumours were becoming more prevalent. I guess the feeling was we were winning and we have got the Japs on the run

09:25:00:00

so things are going to get better. The morale was exemplified by the fact that when I got malaria for four days, I wanted to get back, I didn’t want to go further back.
When you were in these campaigns up there how were you dealing with any

09:25:30:00

time that you had to rest, what did you do in your down time?
There was nowhere to go, we were just there. The nearest we got to anything was just before the Salamaua campaign started we must have been all feeling a bit bored

09:26:00:00

because our troop commander set about the idea of trying to establish something that you might call a rest camp on one of the beaches nearby, it never eventuated actually. There was no time during our time in New Guinea when we had a break away,

09:26:30:00

there was no what you might call western recreation.
What did you do when you weren’t actively looking after the guns, even though you can’t go away you must’ve done something?
The army made sure that there was always something to do. The corduroy roads, some of us went to Lae and we were properly put onto unloading ships.

09:27:00:00

The only time that was being really an unadulterated loaf was after the Salamaua campaign finished and I think we might have had three weeks. We sort of sat around on the beach

09:27:30:00

and we found that there was a native garden nearby and pawpaws were ripe and we had pawpaws until they nearly ran out of our ears. I remember I established a great liking for pawpaws, all of us sat and loafed and the padre organised a sort of a singing group,

09:28:00:00

and he told me I had a weak and tender voice.
Had you tasted pawpaw before?
No. I suppose I might have but not seriously and these were beautiful. I suppose the flavour was enhanced, they were just fresh from the trees and we’d been on tinned food for a long,

09:28:30:00

long time, that would’ve enhanced the flavour no doubt. It was the nearest we got to a proper loaf and tropical paradise sort of thing. That was the one time we had a really western recuperation and I was there just lying around on the beach.

09:29:00:00

You were evacuated with malaria, were you then given leave and sent back to Australia or what happened next?
We were on the gun position below Sattelberg somewhere and I got malaria and I went back to the first stage evacuation which is, if you have seen the MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] type of thing

09:29:30:00

with the twenty by thirty marquee, well it was an American, I think they called it a Casualty Clearing Station or an Advanced Dressing Station. It was about a mile from our guns and in the mud and wet and soggy with about twenty beds in it. I remember there was a slit trench full of water and the Japs used to

09:30:00:00

send a plane around every night and I think they used to call it ‘Chaff Cutter Charlie’, a particular clatter and occasionally he use to drop a bomb somewhere, just to annoy people and try and keep you awake. There was an American Negro eyeing off a slit trench and I wondered if a bomb really dropped whether

09:30:30:00

I’d race into the slit trench or whether it be worth it. I only had one night in that place and then they moved me to what they called a rest camp, that was at Almanac Bay just another couple of kilometres down the coast, where we had the V of a basic army tent and had a few of those and the beds were

09:31:00:00

army first aid stretchers. I had a couple of days there and then it was back to the guns. That was the extent of my time away, I didn’t even go back further than that, there was no Australian leave.
Were there any other times when you were under bombardment at this period?

09:31:30:00

I had a couple of half-hearted aerial attacks there but not much.
You were eventually sent back for leave, eventually back in Australia?

09:32:00:00

The whole regiment came back together, we all came back as a body and we all went on leave together.
How was that?
Wonderful. We had a great leave. I think I had about three weeks and then I had to go on a combined

09:32:30:00

operations course down at Flinders Naval Depot.
At that time you came down with malaria again?
I did. I distinguished myself by getting malaria and I think it was the first malaria attack after we got back and it was a really bad one and I finished up in Heidelberg Military Hospital and got back in time to come back from the course.

09:33:00:00

I went back and at the end of the course but I hadn’t really completed it so I didn’t get into the naval bombardment group, but some of my mates did. I went back to my regiment.
Perhaps you can tell us a bit about the preparations for going back to New Guinea and that trip back?
Back to Borneo?
Yes.

09:33:30:00

When we got onto the Atherton Tablelands we were in Warwick and then Toowoomba and we were doing routine training there and we did a depot regiment training, just letting people, officers, to have training practice. Then we all moved up onto

09:34:00:00

the Atherton Tablelands and reformed us as a division there, and the rigorous training started there. One of the notable features of that was as well as all the tactical training of artillery, simulated exercises and things, the army

09:34:30:00

decided that everyone had to be able to march one hundred miles in four days. To achieve it every week we had a route march, all on consecutive days we had forty kilometre or twenty five mile route marches. That had to be without avoiding ordinary duties and ordinary training so for four days a week we would have

09:35:00:00

three o’clock reveille and out marching.
Full kit?
Yes full kit.
How much did a full kit weigh?
I think about fifty pounds roughly, twenty five kilos. That went on every day and then all the other training as well which was all the simulated

09:35:30:00

actions, bring guns into action and pretending to fire them and sometimes going to places where you could actually fire them. Those who were doing the job I was doing would be having to do the work of calculating ranges and bearings to targets and all the

09:36:00:00

arithmetic and giving the orders to guns and so on.
What was your role at this time?
I was what they called an ACT.
You were still an ACT, you hadn’t changed?
Yes, I had at this stage, I think instead of being the gun position ACT, I’d gone to what they called the Battery Command Post ACT

09:36:30:00

so that we didn’t work directly to guns. In our battery we had two troops, A and B, and the battery headquarters command post would be coordinating the activities of the two and at any time being ready to get them both to fire together.
What were you being trained for at this time?

09:37:00:00

They didn’t specifically tell us where we were going of course at any time but we had pretty definite information that there had been the idea that we would be involved along with the other two divisions and landing at Lusong which never eventuated. Then we knew that there was going to be some sort of amphibious landing

09:37:30:00

but we didn’t know where it would be.
How did you feel about this going back to New Guinea again?
We thought that it was inevitable, we weren’t going to New Guinea we were going to Borneo.
You were going back to that theatre of war, were you keen to go back?
I think we were keen to get the war finished, I think that was more the way of it really.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 10

10:00:30:00

We talked about when you heard you were going back overseas, during this time in this start of 1945 did it feel like the war was being won?
We had no doubt that the war was being won. We

10:01:00:00

didn’t envisage the time frame. I think most people would have felt that it was going to be necessary for someone to invade Japan before it ended, I think we were still at that stage of thinking,

10:01:30:00

generally.
Was that something that perhaps worried you a little bit, the prospect that the Australian troops might be involved in that?
Yes. I think the view I had was shared by most people that to invade Japan would have been a terribly costly business, in terms of

10:02:00:00

lives and everything. We didn’t envisage the Japanese giving in as it were, we thought the Japanese would continue to fight, virtually you might say to the end.
Before you moved to Borneo you went to Morotai, can you tell us what was going on there?
Morotai is

10:02:30:00

only a small island to start. As far as the army or the forces were concerned it was only a convenient base, I think it must have been a very convenient base from the point of view of the air force, I know that there was a very big air force base there. We saw it personally

10:03:00:00

and we were aware that there was a tremendous amount of aerial activity. As far as my point of view or our point of view generally was, it was just a swamp that was likely to disappear under water and it wouldn’t be much of a loss, because I think everyone shared the same view, that there wasn’t a

10:03:30:00

dry bit of soil on Morotai. It was all wet and soggy and it was even wetter and soggier than anything that we had seen in New Guinea, it just to be all swamp that was my impression.
There was still a section of the island controlled by the Japanese, was there not?
Yes there was. We were only vaguely aware of that fact because we weren’t

10:04:00:00

there all that long. I think it could’ve only been a couple of weeks, two or three weeks. We were just vaguely aware that part of it was controlled by the Japs.
What did you know as troops on the ground about MacArthur and his island hopping strategies that you were taking part in?
We weren’t very keen on MacArthur

10:04:30:00

at all, he didn’t rate very highly in our estimation. I think as far as the island hopping thing is concerned the general idea as far as anyone that I discussed it with was probably the only way to go, that you couldn’t do anything much else.

10:05:00:00

We didn’t know enough to know that he picked the right islands but we would have thought that there was no other real way much that you could go.
Why did you and obviously the other Australian troops not completely trust MacArthur?
Partly because he was so disparaging of the Australians, I suppose mostly for

10:05:30:00

that reason. We generally I think thought that our generals were pretty good and certainly knew what they were doing and we did despise him particularly because of some of the unjust things that he said about the Australian soldiers, that were utterly unfounded.

10:06:00:00

We knew, from what had been publicised, his idea was that it didn’t matter how many of us that you killed off as long as you got to a certain point by a certain time. I don’t think there was anything even cautious on the part of our leaders but the idea was to try and make progress as quickly as you could, but

10:06:30:00

not at the cost of any more lives than you had to. You could capture a place with a minimal loss of lives much better than doing it in a flamboyant fashion and not caring how many thousands of blokes were killed in the process.
What effect did that preserved lack of respect from the higher echelon have on your

10:07:00:00

willingness to do your job?
As far as myself and my colleagues, virtually he had nothing to do with it, we weren’t answerable to him and he wasn’t our boss, there was no sense at all that he was our boss.
You didn’t feel like you were being used as pawns to a certain extent

10:07:30:00

in the greater war against Japan?
I don’t think we got around to thinking that particularly.
It’s not a very well phrased question but since the campaigns that took part in the islands and the Borneo campaigns have been judged as not having to have been completely necessary, what do you say to that?
The thing I think about that

10:08:00:00

is that you could argue that this battle or that battle wasn’t necessary but that’s arguing with hindsight. The atomic bomb of course was the thing that made all the difference and my feeling was that really right until the last minute they didn’t know whether they were finally going to dare to use the atomic bomb

10:08:30:00

and they didn’t really know if they used it whether it would work in fact. I think, in view of that, all fighting on all fronts had to be engaged in really right up until the end.
Tell us about the landing at Balikpapan, from your point of view?

10:09:00:00

First of all, I think it was from the soldiers’ point of view generally, we were better informed about what was going to happen or what was likely to happen on this occasion. As far as an ordinary soldier was concerned you could say that we were fully briefed because

10:09:30:00

on Morotai we were told, and in some cases saw, dioramas of what Balikpapan looked like on the ground, what beaches we were going to land on and what the lottery opposition was. There were no punches

10:10:00:00

pulled on it because I think I remember the figure of a possible total casualties of three thousand being mentioned, and fortunately they were nothing like that. We weren’t sort of led up the garden path on it.
Was the reality of the landing then what you had been led to expect?
Again we were in the reserve on this landing

10:10:30:00

so we weren’t really involved in the first assault. It was that things went ever so much more smoothly than anyone would’ve thought I think in the most optimistic expectations.
When you say you were in the reserve, were you off the coast when the others were landing or were you not even on the seas?
We weren’t actually at sea,

10:11:00:00

part of our brigade were at sea, the infantry battalions were at sea but we were just leaving Morotai, so we were well back.
What was the scene then when you arrived?
It was just a mess, everything was you might

10:11:30:00

say in ruins to what there was. An individual soldier doesn’t see much in that because you come off a landing barge on a beach and you start pressing forward to where you are going, you don’t even see what’s really around the corner. There must have been buildings somewhere in Balikpapan but I didn’t see any.

10:12:00:00

Was the town still being shelled when you arrived?
No, the Japanese didn’t do much artillery counter attacking then and I don’t know really how much artillery they really had. Their air force was really non-existent. After the initial landing the two assault brigades

10:12:30:00

one went in one direction from the landing point and one went the other after the town had been secured and the 25th Brigade went inland so we very quickly went inland.
There were some Japanese guns that continued on the hill at Balikpapan?
That was just in the first day or two.

10:13:00:00

They were knocked out in day one or two and it was very quick to get them.
What were you being told you were to do when you were going inland?
We were again supporting the 25th Brigade infantry, the 2/25th and 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions so we were just

10:13:30:00

supplying support fire for them and for a commando squadron.
How much resistance did that meet going in?
In the early stages they did get resistance but a lot of it was that which was on what was

10:14:00:00

called the Northward Highway which was only just a timber track or a bit of a glorified timber track. The Japs had pretty heavily mined it and they did have sort of ambush positions but I think it would be true to say that the big bulk of

10:14:30:00

the casualties came from the effects of mines and booby traps and things like that. As I say there were sort of ambush positions too, but I think it would be fair to say that the mining did more damage than the hold up position, although

10:15:00:00

they certainly existed.
Was it around this time that the war in Europe ended?
The war in Europe had ended before we embarked for Balikpapan, I think it was early in May that it finished, somewhere about the 9th of May from memory. At the end of May or the beginning of June when we actually

10:15:30:00

embarked for Balikpapan. It was the 25th May, it was five years after I had enlisted, I knew there was some reason for me to remember it.
Did that give you a greater confidence or did you think it was kind of futile what you were doing?
We knew that the Japs had to be finished

10:16:00:00

before the war finished as far as we were concerned. I’m sure we all shared the sense that the end of the war in Europe made the end of the war as a whole enviable, so I think we were buoyed by that but we knew that there was a lot of unfinished business.

10:16:30:00

Apart from being attacked by one of your own Spitfires, what else of note happened to the regiment in Balikpapan?
I had the misfortune of that Spitfire attack, happened right at the headquarters where I was and I literally saw the dust like you see in the cowboy pictures so I was right where that happened.

10:17:00:00

Then a few days later, about the 4th or 5th of August, all of the Australian troops had reached a certain point inland, it wouldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty kilometres inland from the landing place.

10:17:30:00

That was as far as we were going, we weren’t aiming to pursue the Japs to wherever they might be, they had established a perimeter around the city or town or whatever and there was aggressive patrolling going on and for that reason they brought our guns forward, right amongst the infantry because we were all manning the established perimeter.

10:18:00:00

On the 4th or 5th of August, or whatever it was, we heard some bursts of firing further along the line and we were in a position. Personally this would have been repeated by all the other groups but our little headquarters command post was a pretty

10:18:30:00

tight situation with just a little circle with picket points every thirty yards or so. I was on duty at the command post which would have been about thirty yards or less, probably less than that behind, the pickets were sort of in a circle in the middle of the command post and I was on duty in there.

10:19:00:00

I heard the picket on the end closest to the 2/31st Battalion lines start firing pretty rapidly and I knew that there was something going on but everyone was lying very quiet. We found out later that there was a patrol of Japs coming through, I think there were eight or nine

10:19:30:00

of them and we discovered later they were carrying explosives, heading for the guns. I think both A and B troop guns would have been about two hundred metres away from the battery command post so they were getting fairly close to it. The fellow on that picket, the way that the picket posts were established was you’d have

10:20:00:00

two fellows together and one would sleep and wake an hour on and an hour off. I had the variation because of being at the command post that one night out of three and you might be on duty all night awake on the command post but the other two shared that with the two officers there. They’d do it one night and then another one night and then I’d do the third night. It happened the night, I wasn’t on the picket

10:20:30:00

post that night, I was just a little bit away from there. This fellow by the name of Sandy Betts, actually he got four Japs and the other four as we discovered later had escaped but they were picked up the next day closer to the guns.

10:21:00:00

Less than a week after that the news of the atom bomb had arrived?
I think it was the 6th that the Hiroshima bomb dropped, it was either the 6th or the 7th.
It might have been the 9th I’m not sure exactly, the dates we can fix up in the transcripts.

10:21:30:00

I thought I registered on my mind somewhere that the emperor indicated to surrender on the 10th.
There were two separate occasions. Do you remember where you were when you heard about the bomb?
I was at this particular spot.

10:22:00:00

Soon after we landed at Balikpapan we heard some rumours that something was going to happen that would end the war, we didn’t have a clue of what it was and I certainly didn’t image anything like the atomic bomb, it must have been a very closely guarded secret. There were rumours getting around that something

10:22:30:00

dramatic was going to happen.
Where were those rumours coming from, do you have any idea?
Pretty soon after the landing the Americans started to set up a port base sort of thing, I think that’s the only way that you can describe it, they had their engineers come ashore

10:23:00:00

and they established the nucleus of a base. I think we generally feel that that’s where it’s coming from, but where do rumours start?
How much of a shock was it to have those rumours confirmed in such a dramatic way?
It was a pleasant surprise, we didn’t know actually

10:23:30:00

what had happened, we knew that an atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, that didn’t convey anything to us at all, except that it was something terrible and devastating, I think that was all we knew. It seemed as though it was something that it was so horrendous that it had to bring the war to an end.

10:24:00:00

And sure enough it did?
And sure enough it did. I don’t think any of us thought of any of the rights or wrongs the advisability or whatever we just felt glad that the war had been brought to an end, by whatever means.
What happened when news of the surrender came though?

10:24:30:00

I had moved from the battery command post to A troop gun position and one of the gun sergeants said, and it’s one of the things that has registered on my mind, he said, “You bet now we can all go home,” it was just as a matter of fact as that.

10:25:00:00

Were there celebrations?
Not really. There was no way by which we could do any celebrating, we were just there with our guns and nothing else.
Were there still Japanese on the outside of the line?
Yes.
What was the situation then, did they turn themselves in

10:25:30:00

or did it take a while?
It didn’t take long, I’m not certain of just how long. They didn’t come out of the bushes as it were, I’m not precisely certain when it happened. The

10:26:00:00

CO of the 2/31st Battalion, a bloke by the name of Murray Robson, he, by some means or another, he was appointed the person to officially accept the surrender from the Japs. So I think they must have all waited where they were until they got the message from their authorities, so they didn’t come out of the bushes in dribs and drabs.

10:26:30:00

There is a classic picture of Murray Robson and he was pretty embedded because he had gone over the Kokoda Track, the first group that was able to push the Japs back, and it was his battalion that got the brunt of these mines on the road. He was

10:27:00:00

pretty bitter I think and he had the task of accepting this surrender. Of course it was all supposed to be done in very gentlemanly fashion, with equal rights for all of them. He couldn’t make the Japs bow and grovel but what he did was that he insisted that the Japanese general place his sword at Murray’s feet about

10:27:30:00

a yard in front of him with sort of bowing the knee to put his sword on the ground, so that’s what he had to do.
A very symbolic minded man?
Yes. Murray Robson I think did that great and he didn’t say you have got to bow to me,

10:28:00:00

in effect he made him do so, I think it was a bit of quick thinking on his part.
Almost to say that face was saved on both sides?
Yes I think so, but he let them know who was boss.
Your regiment was very lucky in a way that you didn’t have to wait around to be repatriated home?
I didn’t have to, not the whole regiment.
How many?

10:28:30:00

It was into 1946 before the final.
Did you know how lucky you were at the time to get home?
I was on a ship, I saw a war out and I was on a ship a fortnight before the war had ended.
That’s not a very common story?
The present president of our regiment association can say that he was literally the last man in our

10:29:00:00

regiment, he was the junior officer so they were sending fellows back according to their time of service and being junior he was last. I didn’t know until a few years ago that most of our equipment and guns was actually handed over to the Dutch Army,

10:29:30:00

to the Dutch colonial forces coming back. He had the task of doing that and it eventually got to the stage where there was one gunner and himself left. He signed the piece of paper for the gunner to go home and then signed himself off, so he was literally the last man in the regiment so it’s an honour that no one can take from him.
I’m sure he wasn’t very happy about it at the time?

10:30:00:00

I think he was philosophical, he was younger.
What was the atmosphere when you did get home so soon after the end of the war?
Great joy.
How did that joy express itself in the people?
We didn’t have the pleasure of coming into Sydney, unfortunately. On the ship there was quite a bunch of us from our regiment

10:30:30:00

and I don’t know how many it would have been in terms of numbers but it was quite a few of my close colleagues. We landed at Brisbane and I think it was about a week before we got back to Sydney by train, we filtered back in ones and twos I guess. We arrived home and it was rather an anticlimax

10:31:00:00

in one respect because there were no flags waving and great crowds out to see us marching down the street or anything like that. We arrived in Sydney on a train and went home.
Can you tell us about your reunion with your parents and your wife?
We had married of course and as a result of being able to

10:31:30:00

be together in the Toowoomba area when my wife went home and we went to the Tablelands she was pregnant. So just before we went to Borneo the young son was born so I had to come home first of all to where my wife was with her parents in Hurstville. Actually the first person to meet me

10:32:00:00

was her father. My wife said that he was pacing up and down all day and came up to Hurstville Station to meet me and grabbed my bag and insisted on carrying it down to their place. So I met my wife and my son that I hadn’t met before.
What was that moment like?

10:32:30:00

It was wonderful.
What did your wife do when she saw you for the first time, knowing that you weren’t going back?
You’d better ask her for yourself.
(Wife’s response: “I couldn’t believe that he would be there forever.”)
You were out of the army then by October, so quickly?
Yes, almost too

10:33:00:00

quickly really. I must have had about a fortnight’s leave I guess, I think it was eighteen days’ leave for some reason, and then went back. They wanted to say, “Yes you are okay,” because we had been given a cursory check by a doctor when we came off the ship at Brisbane. I understood that that was just to

10:33:30:00

make sure that we were all ok for going on leave. My Dad when he came back from World War I, they pulled a swifty on fellows then and said, “You can have a thorough examination if you like but you might be in camp for a month but if you are all ok you can sign your bit of paper and away you go now.” After World War I

10:34:00:00

a lot of people did that. When I went back from leave the discharge procedures began. One of the officers, the clerk fellow, said, “You are marked A1 medically.” I said, “I feel okay but I’ve had no medical examination, and I’m not

10:34:30:00

going out of the army until I’ve had a medical exam,” and they said, “You might have to wait around a week for a board,” and I said, “That’s fair enough, I’ll do that,” and I did. I got a 10% pension.
Due to malaria, what was the main problem?
No anxiety state with stomach symptoms.

10:35:00:00

What lingering effects did the war have for you when you came home?
When I got back there was all the elation of being back and the fact that you were wanting to get everything established and it was probably about two years afterwards I had what I would guess a nervous breakdown but it wasn’t described as that, but looking back on it that’s what it would have been.

10:35:30:00

What happened to you then?
I was as silly as could be for a couple of months, I couldn’t make any decisions about anything, it’s sort of futile almost.
What were the main images or memories from your war service that stuck with you in perhaps a

10:36:00:00

traumatic way after the war?
I suppose the enduring thing is that I keep on dreaming I’m going to be sent away yet again or I’m somewhere and I’m under attack under fire, even now that seems to keep on going.
What happens when you have those dreams?
They are sort of a funny sorts of dreams because I always seem to have a detachment

10:36:30:00

from them and, “I better get through this because I have to get home.” It’s as if I’m watching a movie. I am the dream and I’m always there, “I know that I’ll get home all right,” is rather peculiar.
How do you feel about the war these days looking back such a long time ago?

10:37:00:00

I think that wars in general are not the solution to any problem. I don’t think given the circumstances we had then and the abilities or the disabilities we had I don’t know what else we could’ve done, letting things get to the stage

10:37:30:00

that they were, I don’t know really how we would’ve prevented it. I always remember just before the infantry of our brigade went to start pushing the Japs back over the Kokoda Track, we had a brigade parade and the general gave us what was supposed to be a pep talk.

10:38:00:00

It was really a sermon, he was an Anglican reader and he said, “The fact that we were in this war was the fault of all the ordinary people between World War I and World War II, not just the Germans but us who were also complacent. If we can get this war over we have got to be involved in making the world and keeping it a peaceful place.”

10:38:30:00

I don’t know how many fellows appreciated that at the time but I felt what he said was true.
Having looked back after the war and seeing that the world hasn’t necessarily been a peaceful place since the Second World War how do you feel about that, do you feel that it was worth it?
I think that it was worth it in the sense that we the ordinary people

10:39:00:00

at that stage had no alternative and I think it’s like when there’s a bushfire and the only thing that you can do is put the thing out on a grand scale. It was worth it in that sense, that the fire was put out, and really I don’t know what alternative we had unless all the people of the world unitedly said, “We are not going

10:39:30:00

to this war,” on both sides.
What do you think about the country that you went away to fight for, how has Australia changed in your lifetime?
I know it’s changed tremendously but I think it’s just the way that society has changed.
For the better or the worse?

10:40:00:00

I wouldn’t say it’s for the worse, I hope not, I’m a bit of an optimist, it’s different and there are some things that I would prefer not. I haven’t got any illusions that we lived in a grand situation. I remember too much about the Depression to think that.

10:40:30:00

I know how awful the Depression was, even though my family fared reasonably well out of it, but my wife’s family had a terrible time. I know that so many other people had a very awful time, even people who think the sixties were the golden era

10:41:00:00

I think suffer from selective amnesia. I think it’s up to all people to try and live responsibly and I suppose that is one of my reasons for my Christian faith and my optimism in it, that we have got to live responsibly and

10:41:30:00

compassionately and cooperatively and helpfully. I think we ought to very seriously question our involvement in any sort of war, particularly the sorts that have been voiced over the last memorable period.
Interviewee: Herbert Robey Archive ID 0585 Tape 11

11:00:30:00

We were just talking about Canungra but first I want to ask you that during that period you said that you had a nervous breakdown can you tell us a bit about what got you through that?
I would say basically my Christian faith and my wife.
Yet it lasted for some time?
I would say three months roughly.

11:01:00:00

I didn’t get much medical help I went to a doctor and he seemed to think that it would all settle itself down, which it did.
Was there any counselling available to you when you came back?
Not one iota, it’s sad to say that my church there wasn’t any counselling, I don’t think they’d ever heard of the term,

11:01:30:00

it’s one of the things that we got out of Vietnam really, was that they started counselling fellows.
Would that have helped you do you think?
I’m sure it would have because I don’t know why, or I didn’t know at that time, why I was such a wreck and I felt guilty because I was such a wreck.

11:02:00:00

I could easily see that if I’d had a partiality to drink I would have become an utter alcoholic.
When you say you didn’t know why you were such a wreck, how did the people around you react?
I think about the only one around me who reacted was my wife.

11:02:30:00

I don’t think anyone else really knew what such a mess I was in.
Was it difficult for you to talk to other people who hadn’t been involved in what you had been involved in?
Yes I think it was. I think I even felt guilty in

11:03:00:00

feeling upset about things, it was like a vicious circle. There was no one really much outside, apart from my wife there wasn’t really anyone that I could talk too.

11:03:30:00

Was there any friends from your war days that you could turn too?
I think the trouble is that those of us that had been in the war together we were all busy trying to establish our own lives in one way or another, at that stage we were all probably fighting our own battle alone.

11:04:00:00

That, in retrospect, that would probably be the wrong thing to have done but I don’t think that any of us knew that then.
How much did you miss the mateship and the close relationship that you had formed?
I think probably very much really, looking back

11:04:30:00

I suppose, along with feeling as I did, there was the overwhelming desire to try and get my life going and it was pretty hard doing that because not only was I learning a new aspect at work, but we were trying desperately to build a house

11:05:00:00

and the difficulty of doing that was incredible in those days. It was hard to find a builder, we had a block of land thanks to my wife’s foresight. But having got a builder and permission to start building we could order a certain number of bricks and then get to a certain stage

11:05:30:00

and order some more and when it got up to the ceiling level we could then order the tiles. Life itself was unbelievably difficult from the present perspective and all my wartime mates were in the same boat, fighting their own little battles where they were.

11:06:00:00

We’d been dispersed in that way and I don’t think we really had time to think much about it or talk to each other really. Communications weren’t as good then, only a few of us had telephones on.
How much have you talked about the war since then?

11:06:30:00

In the last number of years quite a bit, not at first but more recently I’ve talked to different folk and I’ve had about two or three different opportunities to do so in the last few years. One, because our regimental

11:07:00:00

association has become pretty strong. I’ve started seeing some of the fellows, particularly in the last twenty years or so, and there have been opportunities from that.
Did you talk to your children as they were growing up?
In patches I guess,

11:07:30:00

probably not as much as I should.
You mentioned before that you went into the church, was that something that helped solved those issues for you or did it give you something to focus your energies on?

11:08:00:00

I suppose in retrospect it might have, because I didn’t go into that for that reason. Fundamentally what led me into that direction was a few of us shared the feeling that, having managed to get through the war,

11:08:30:00

I know a group of us felt the same way and we wanted our life to count in some way. I never, ever envisaged going into the church as an occupation, or a minister, I thought of the idea of being involved in things like Sunday school teaching and talking to people wherever I might be able to, particularly the young people.

11:09:00:00

After I got over this breakdown thing, I took on some management training and I was offered a management role in the firm I was working for, the Associated Newspapers, and I was challenged about going into the ministry as a full-time thing. It was a challenge

11:09:30:00

more than anything else. I felt that it was a calling of God to do. That was how I came into the church, although it would have been a help because of the fact that in doing that as even like a part-time thing before that stage, I was working with other people and working for

11:10:00:00

other people. I think that in itself, the fact you are focusing your life on working for other people and trying to convey something that you think is meaningful to them in terms of like the Christian faith, the very fact that that would be a helpful thing although that was not what I was doing it for, when you asked me that question.

11:10:30:00

You were able to do that in a professional capacity as the chaplain at Canungra?
Yes. Soon after I was ordained I forget how I was invited first to consider the idea of a chaplaincy by appointment but it came about, I know it was in 1960.

11:11:00:00

One of our officers, our observation post officers the time I was ordained, he got into the militia and commanded a regiment and wanted me to come and be a chaplain with him. I was too sort of preoccupied to do it then but I became a chaplain in 1960 and actually I had the best of both worlds because I was ever only what they then called

11:11:30:00

a CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] chaplain, I think they call them reserve chaplains now. After a brief stint with school cadets for a while I was invited to become chaplain at the Canungra Jungle Training Centre and I did that for I think eight or nine years. I think it

11:12:00:00

began in 1962 until about 1971, I think was the period.
Which was almost precisely the time of the Australian involvement with the Vietnam War?
Soon after I first went there the first fellows were what they called the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

11:12:30:00

and they went to Vietnam. I think there were thirty two of them at first then they doubled it to sixty four. Sadly I buried some of those who were killed.
Could you tell us a little bit about those particular circumstances, those people you were counselling and coming back and you were burying?

11:13:00:00

My involvement with Canungra went over that period that I’d mentioned. Basically my work was to go to Canungra for twenty four hours a week, that was midday Monday until midday Tuesday. I had sort of a roving commission and I had to

11:13:30:00

be the chaplain to the staff personnel there but I also had to provide chaplaincy services to anyone that came through Canungra for whatever purpose that it might have been. I became aware of the fellows going to Vietnam early in the piece, the training team fellows.

11:14:00:00

They were rather a special bunch of fellows because I think the very first of them were fellows who had been instructors at Canungra and they were in a sense the elite. So I only knew them in the main at second hand although I did meet quite a few of them, later on of course when some of them were killed

11:14:30:00

and some of them came back to be buried at Canungra. The reason for that was that right from the beginning, where it had been in the custom in all previous wars that Australian soldiers were buried where they died and even after the war they were relocated in a war cemetery

11:15:00:00

which was generally in the field of battle where they were, and that’s where war cemeteries were established. The Yanks always had the custom of bringing their soldiers home and I think from quite early in the piece that that should be so regarding Vietnam and it very quickly became a fact.

11:15:30:00

For practical reasons they couldn’t bury them in Vietnam because of the circumstances. I think there were in the first instance, and as far as I can recollect, they took the bodies to the war cemetery in Singapore. I think quite early in the piece they thought if they had to move them from Vietnam,

11:16:00:00

and the philosophy of people has become that they naturally want their people to come home, why not bring them home. From memory and from second hand that was the reasoning of it. Because I was involved in Canungra I suppose I would’ve taken as many

11:16:30:00

funerals of Vietnam casualties as anyone else, I can’t even tell you what number it was now. There were quite a few that were buried at Canungra and quite a few buried at other places. One I recollect is on Brobie Island, just out of Brisbane.

11:17:00:00

When it got to the stage that larger numbers were going to Vietnam they developed what they called ‘battle efficiency courses’ at Canungra for groups of fellows who were going out to join the battalions.

11:17:30:00

They used to go through Canungra on a three week battle training cycle and somewhere along that three week course they had the lecture from the padres, there were three of us the Roman Catholic, the Anglican and the Protestant

11:18:00:00

denomination in the army division of things. We had a set piece worked out that two of us would work it together, working about a minute each on a set piece, because these fellows had been out all day training since about four o’clock in the morning and the third bloke was handling the overhead projector with whatever material we had on it.

11:18:30:00

Then after the spiel we were open for questions and discussions and anything that they wanted to throw at us which they did. That happened to the fellows on the way to Vietnam and I don’t know what effect that had on them. We were also available for counselling fellows. My recollection from that would be

11:19:00:00

the fellows who finally went to Vietnam via Canungra Jungle Training Centre, if they really didn’t want to go at all costs they would have been able to be counselled and be diverted in another direction. That wasn’t shouted from the hilltops of course,

11:19:30:00

and that was my evaluation of the situation. Over a period there would be quite a number of fellows who would quietly and individually came to me and I assumed they did to the other chaplains as well. We advised that they could move into another direction other than being absolutely compelled to go to Vietnam,

11:20:00:00

I suppose the other side of the coin, although it wasn’t politically correct to in any way question our involvement in Vietnam. In my weekly visit up there I’d do my rounds where the fellows were and late at night I’d come into the officers’ mess. It was very interesting

11:20:30:00

how night after night I’d get one or another bloke who’d been to Vietnam and was back there for some reason and he’d sort of pour out his heart to me at great lengths, I suppose knowing that he could just let his hair down.
Did the stories that they were telling you, did they sound familiar with your experiences with war?

11:21:00:00

I would say yes. Mostly yes and sometimes they were concerned about the validity of our involvement, so it was both of those factors.
Given your sort of understanding of the futility of the war what counselling did you give to people who were heading off to war?

11:21:30:00

I felt that I was counselling them and I wasn’t conducting an anti-war campaign or anything like that. I was counselling them as soldiers and not giving them a pep talk, just counselling them as soldiers with the particular needs that soldiers might have because of the circumstances in

11:22:00:00

which they find themselves.
What in particular did you counsel the people in who were going to Vietnam, what counselling specifically did you tell them? For instance pretend I’m a Vietnam soldier and I’m heading off to Vietnam. “Tell me padre what should I expect?” if you could cast your mind back?
I don’t think my counselling ever went along those lines

11:22:30:00

in particular but rather talk with the person and at the person and seeking to see what their particular needs were.
Is there any common thing in those needs?
I suppose if there was such a thing

11:23:00:00

it would be, I don’t know how representative these people would be, but they were people who perhaps felt that they didn’t want to go for whatever reason. I think that would be the common denominator and I’m not suggesting that there were lots and lots of them, there were some of them.

11:23:30:00

Those ones obviously had a need, I wouldn’t like to have suggested that they represented all the blokes that were there hiding a secret burden, that would be quite wrong. The chaplain was there to try and meet the needs of a particular fellow at the time.

11:24:00:00

What was your particular role?
As a chaplain?
Yes.
There were no restrictions or qualifications put on me by the army. I was there to provide basically spiritual counselling and guidance for those who wished to receive it,

11:24:30:00

to provide worship facilities to those who wished to receive it. If there were any welfare or social, family needs, to try and direct them to the people who could meet that need.

11:25:00:00

The army didn’t give us any particular agenda at all, we had nothing that was sort of politically correct or desirable. Except for one thing, it was felt it

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was desirable for all fellows, regardless of religious beliefs, to have something as what they regarded as character training. That was done on a very general basis to try and make people fit into community life.

11:26:00:00

It was done on a common basis with army chaplains from all denominations, with social welfare people coming into it too, and we worked together as a team on that one. People had to attend that, it used to be established at Kapooka and for all I know it probably

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still is, that there was a session on what they described as character training course as part of rookie training. What was established there was built up by a team of chaplains working together and producing a program for what was described as character training and submitted

11:27:00:00

it to the army for approval and the army didn’t say, “You will do this, this and this.” It was broadly based on the principles of the ten commandments, something that everyone recognises as a sort of underpinning of our society generally, religious or unreligious. That was the only thing that we were actually pinned down to do, we weren’t there to be

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sort of moral policemen or political thought police.
One of the commands is ‘thou shall not kill’, this is a difficult term to say to a soldier.
I think you can only do it in the context of realising that a soldier is not killing off his own bat,

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he is doing it in the service of his country in the basis of irresponsibility on the part of other people.
That is quite a big area and we didn’t expect to go there with this interview and it’s fascinating for Chris [interviewer] and I. Perhaps we might think about winding up because we have kept you for quite a while.

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We will note this to the archive too about this and let them know you have also got some experience but what I would like to give you the opportunity perhaps for a message for the future generations who may be watching this in fifty or one hundred years time, to give you an opportunity to sort of round off this particular discussion we are having with you to say any final words that you would like to say to

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people who might be watching this sometime in the future indefinitely?
I guess I wanted to first of all say that my own personal belief is not that a faith is important but personal faith and commitment to Jesus Christ the savior Our Lord. I feel a vital thing for life but including that

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and beyond that and bearing in mind that people have all sorts of personal beliefs, I think it’s important for us to have a belief and a commitment. I don’t believe in the idea of my country right or wrong but I think it’s important for us to realise that we are part of

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humanity and part of a particular segment of humanity and our country. If we live with a sense of responsibility to God, responsibility to our fellow human beings and to realise that we have a purpose in life for ourselves

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and for others, and I believe we all have destiny and I think we have a hope. Life is worth living and it’s worth trying to leave our part of the world and the people of our part of the world better for our having been with them, and having been part of it.

11:31:00:00

That’s great Herb, thanks very much.

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