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
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
join the 7th Division being formed in about March 1940.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
Then they were pushed up onto a ridge overlooking it. It wasn’t until early September that they were finally cleared off the ridge.
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
was in reserve because they had two infantry brigades that did the assaults and the 25th Brigade was in reserve.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
and we do things with the University of the Third Age together, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren and grandchildren of course.
And your mum’s side of the family?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
more the concept of patriotic duty really.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
We were better off than ever so many people.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
we had a fair bit of it but in irregular bursts.
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
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
was certainly no animosity, it was good relations I’d say.
‘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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
1931 or 1932 but I was fourteen.
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
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.
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
we were doing all right. I used to go along with the rest of the class to get soup from the soup kitchen.
Tell us a bit more about the roughest factory in Sydney, why was it the roughest factory in Sydney?
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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,
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
was sort of party politically identified.
Was the militia what you expected it to be?
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
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,
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
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
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
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
practise all the laying out, taking out, joining wire together and passing messages.
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
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.
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
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
we were pretty well prepared.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
that was the time when I was free too and that was the opportunity to, so they both coincided.
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.
Your signalling in the militia had been based around being in an artillery unit?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Can you tell us about what kind of conversations you had with your fiancée about joining up and going overseas?
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.
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.
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.
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,
I didn’t see artillery fire land among people and kill them. I think in that sense it became sort of impersonal really, I
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
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?
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
abortive and so it went on.
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
the order was given to fire, and the guns fire.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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 were you doing then when all this fire was going on all around you?
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.
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
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.
Were you prepared to die, did your life flash before your eyes, what happens in that situation?
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Our fire had a very high degree of responsibility in causing them to pull back.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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,
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,
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,
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
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
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
around for rough directions, then the gun layer can wind a little handle to bring in the fine adjustments at the end.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Was it familiar landscape to you, can you describe the landscape for us?
Where we were digging was on a hillside facing north and it was open country, fairly mountainous, when I say ‘fairly mountainous’, it
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.
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.
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,
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
opposed to the 2/31st Battalion with whom I was in an observation post only two or three weeks before.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
He had some sort of a service that varied according to circumstances most mostly just an informal thing.
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
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
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,
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
to Burma and as far as I know we were actually heading in the direction of Burma.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
Were you able to go on a honeymoon or take any time together?
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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
that troop of artillery and we might have been on our own in the world almost.
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
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.
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.
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
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
and there, so we were divided up with them.
What other differences were there between the way the US Army operation and Australian Army did the same thing?
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
to chop up into lengths to make corduroy roads.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
they gave the order for all guns to cease firing, which was quite good.
Are there any other from that period that have imprinted themselves on your mind that you remember for one reason or another?
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
usable as gun platforms and that took a few days to do that.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Can you tell us how the Finschhafen campaign proceeded for you?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
and on that occasion that was quite a sincere feeling, not any bitterness or anything just an observation.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
three o’clock reveille and out marching.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Tell us about the landing at Balikpapan, from your point of view?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
How do you feel about the war these days looking back such a long time ago?
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
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.
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.”
I don’t know how many fellows appreciated that at the time but I felt what he said was true.
For the better or the worse?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
began in 1962 until about 1971, I think was the period.
Could you tell us a little bit about those particular circumstances, those people you were counselling and coming back and you were burying?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
sort of moral policemen or political thought police.
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
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
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.