Keith Hooper
Archive number: 654
Date interviewed: 03 September, 2003

Served with:

2/6th Infantry Battalion
Prisoner of the Germans

Other images:

Keith Hooper 0654


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Tape 01


Thanks for talking and thanks from the archives for doing this. It’s great to speak to you again, meet you. Perhaps if you could start by telling us a summary of your life.
Well, I was born in 1920. I was the


second of three sons. I’m a baby boomer, after the First [World] War, you know, people forget there were baby boomers after the First War. My elder brother died as an infant but then I had a second brother came two years after me and we both served in World War II. We were both taken prisoner of war and we both came home.
Was your dad in World War I?
Yeah, Dad was an Anzac. I’ve never found out what he, how he was injured but he was repatriated


from Gallipoli as was my mother’s brother. I know my mother’s brother was on the ship The Sutherland which was torpedoed. He was a 23rd Battalion reinforcement. Dad was in the 6th Battalion and oddly enough I finished up in the Second World War in the 2/6th Battalion but the, when Dad came home I always had a, I got an idea from Mum that there wasn’t something a little bit odd about him. I think he might have been hit in the head. I finished up with epilepsy because of being hit in the


head after the Second World War but then of course came the Depression and as you probably know the Depression knocked out a lot of World War I work fellows who had left their families to, you know, one less mouth to feed. There are 30 % depression in the war and I know, in the 1930s and I know that Dad went off and wandered around the country and he eventually died in a mental hospital, The Goodnow in Queensland as an


alcoholic. Most of the, you’d be surprised how many of the World War I fellows turned out, finished up as alcoholics. Very bad alcoholics you know.
Still on the summary if you could take us through?
Well, for school I went to a primary school at Hawksburn in Melbourne and then I managed to get a scholarship into a university high school. I had three jobs during the Depression supporting the family.


Selling papers, newspapers which gave me the idea to become a journalist originally.
Can I just pull you up there, selling newspapers?
Yeah, selling newspaper in South Yarra in Melbourne and then off to school, coming back I worked in a garage as a grease monkey.
Sorry, after school coming back
After school yeah. Worked as a grease monkey and then in the evening I worked at Hoyts theatres, the region theatre at South Yarra, which no longer exists I discovered this year, as a page boy, and after the cinema finished


helped to clean out the theatre. So, I finished up with oh, about five, five hours sleep a night but it went to support the family because the young brother couldn’t work and mother, Mum had lost her business. She used to make notions for dressing tables, little bowls with lavender in them and a cupee on top and of course when the Depression came along nobody wanted that. We used to sell them to Coles [department store] incidentally which became more or less connected with the 2/6th Battalion because the five Coles brothers


were in the original 6th Battalion and when we created the 2/6th Battalion the old sign used to be nothing over two and six you know, two stroke six and we were known as Cole’s Own and eventually our autobiography is Nothing Over Us. ‘Nothing over Two and Six’ you see, nothing over the second six but then I, in 1918 I became a copy boy at the Herald and Weekly Times in Melbourne and I was still there and in the meantime


my brother and I had both, my brother first and then I, had both joined the 14th Militia Battalion and when, on my 19th birthday we were called up to guard the Victoria Barracks because the war had just broken out then, this is August or 2/2nd or was about to break out you know and while I was there at the Victoria Barracks it was announced we’d gone to war on September the 3rd 1939 and then when we finished there I went to, up to Tatura


to the, to become one of the guards, actually I was in the, as a corporal then and in the headquarters room of the first internment camp at Tatura and then when we finished that I went straight in to the AIF [Australian Imperial Force – the army] on the second AIF on the 4th November 1939 so I was in uniform from my 19th birthday until I was demobbed [demobilised] on the 11th January 1946 which came up to about six and a half years.
Can you take us


through your war service in summary?
Well, when I joined the AIF we were the first people who established the Puckapunyal Camp it was just a bushland then and we put up the, put up the buildings there and we were there until April 1940 when we, April 14,1940 when we embarked for overseas. The 16th Brigade, we were the 17th Brigade, the 2/6 Battalion, 7th Battalion, 5th Battalion and 8th Battalion and later on


they formed the 19th Brigade. They dropped, when we were started we were in the original First World War establishment of four battalions to the brigade and then we went over the new establishment of three battalions to a brigade and they created the 19th Brigade out of the 2/4th Battalion, 2/8th and 2/11th.
Just stop you for a second. We’ve got a little problem with your mic. It’s rustling against your clothes. We’ll bring it off that if we can. Sit it


down. We’ll try that.
Alright, or would you rather I took the pullover off?
No, no, no, no. It’s fine.
So, we embarked


on April 14th 1940 and when we got to Palestine the 6th, the 16th Brigade had already established our camp for us at Beit Jirja so 16th were at a place called Julis, we were at Beit Jirja and the 19th Brigade were at [(UNCLEAR)] which, so there were three places along the coast there and Palestine was fantastic. Mind you we had a lot more time to get ready for battle than they had in the First World War because we didn’t go in to action


until January 1941, that was the Battle of the Bardia that was our first action. In the meantime we went down to Egypt in September and we trained again down there at a place called Helwan, which is below Cairo and below Heliopolis.
Sorry, what rank were you?
Oh, I was still a corporal then. I was made a sergeant after the Battle of Bardia


in between Bardia and the Battle of Tobruk. We took over from the 4th Indian division at Sollum and then we went and we were the first people to attack the Italians inside Libya, which was the Italian territory. The Indians withdraw and went down to Abyssinia and they took on the Abyssinian thing. It’s always amused me that [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill kept saying before [El] Alamein we never had a victory and after Alamein we


never had a defeat. He forgets that we took the whole of Abyssinia in 1941 and we took all Cyrenaica and Libya right down until Rommel came in and started to push the 7th Division and then the 9th Division back because we were already slotted to go over to Greece and a lot of people don’t know even now that there were Anzacs in World War II, the 1st ANZAC Corps comprised of the 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division


and we were the people that fought in Greece and Crete. That’s where we got badly chopped up you know, one corps against ten German divisions and the whole of, and two German air fleets when we had no air force at all.
Can you take us through your service in Libya and then on to Greece?
Oh, well it started at the, we were the reserve brigade and we were on the southeast


side to stop any Italian breakout there and you’ll see in the [Australian] War Memorial, Australian War Memorial there’s a famous painting by Hele [Ivor Hele] of post eleven at Bardia which was an attack, Arthur Godfrey who was our colonel, later became brigadier of the 24th Brigade and was killed at Tobruk. Killed just before Alamein. We did this attack for some reason which


was totally unnecessary it seemed later but we lost our, we had the heaviest casualties at Bardia because of this and I think it, I can remember going in to this post and helping to bring out the ten bodies of the fellows that were killed there, including two very good friends of mine. A chap named Lieutenant Bowen who came from Wonthaggi and a chap named Graham, Graham who was the


the son of one of our diplomats, both killed. He was a corporal. But after Bardia we then went on and in a fortnight later we attacked and took Tobruk and a lot of people forget that too. They think of the rest of Tobruk but they don’t know that it had to be taken in the first place and it was taken by the 6th Division. It was defended by the 9th Division plus one 18th Brigade Battalion, 13th Battalion I think it was


but in the meantime we’d gone and as far as just past Benghazi and then we’re pulled back which subsequently turned out to be possibly a mistake of some way but we were committed to Greece and Crete. If we’d have gone on we’d have probably driven out, driven the Italians out of Libya in 1941 but we went off to Greece and of course [German Field Marshall Erwin] Rommel and the Afrika Corps then came in and pushed us back and it took another two years to get rid of Rommel but in


the meantime we’re, Churchill and evidently this had been done without consulting [Australian General Thomas] Blamey who was the Australian commander or [General] Freyberg the New Zealand commander and we went in to Greece and Crete and of course immediately we arrived there, the Germans came in. Up until then the Greeks had been thrashing the hell out of the Italians you know
Without going in to too much details, we don’t want to, well we may feel like we’re skipping over details here but perhaps sticking specifically to


your role and where you were in the Crete and Greece campaigns.
Well, we arrived on April 13th at the port of Piraeus which had been partially destroyed the night before when an ammunition carrier, the Clanfreisure was hit by German aircraft and blew up and by that time the 19th Brigade which was the first brigade to engage, get in action with the Germans up on the Greek frontier were already falling back under this heavy pressure


so we got on the train and we got up as far as Larissa and that’s well, Larissa would be half way up Greece, halfway up the east side of Greece and then we were stopped and told, all right, well, you’ve got to retreat, so from then on it became a series of leap-frogging operations. First we the front line and then the 16th Brigade and then the 19th Brigade. All the way back to the coast but


one thing I discovered subsequently in some of the histories when we arrived in Greece, Blamey had the nous to send some of his staff down to already look for evacuation beaches. He had the nous and Freyberg had the nous to realise that we couldn’t possibly hold the Germans. They were in overwhelming strength so when we got down to the coast the


evacuation started to proceed quite easily although the 6th Battalion we copped it because we left two and a half battalions to guard the bridge over the Corinth Canal and we were the first people ever to meet up with German parachutists. First Australians that is and the Germans took Corinth and took the fellows there they didn’t kill, they took prisoner so we had lost


half the battalion there. But we were lucky. We, I was in the Bren gun carriers which is part of headquarters company so we’d already crossed the bridge and left Corinth and were on our way down to Kalamata which was a port on the western end of the Peloponnese and when we got there of course there must have been well over a thousand Australians and New Zealanders under the olive trees and strangely enough the German aircraft never there


hit us, hit us at Kalamata although subsequently there was fighting there and one of the American, one of the New Zealanders won the VC [Victoria Cross]. In the meantime we were taken off in destroyers to these transport ships lying off, they couldn’t get in to the harbour it was too shallow and I was one of the fellows that oh about oh, maybe nearly a thousand of us who were put on the ship to go to Costa Rica and we were already past Crete


when these Germans they attacked us from, we went on just before dawn and immediately the day I came the German aircraft were on to us and this one aircraft came down out of the sun and his bomb destroyed the propellers and the screws and the rudder at the back of the ship and he never came out of it because everybody who had a rifle or a Bren gun was up on the deck firing at them. I was one of the fellows collecting ammunition because I’d lost my Bren carrier


and everything in it and he never came out, came out the dive. He went straight into the water. Then they started to evacuate the ship and HMS Hereward came in on the starboard side and started to take fellows off but my two, my crew I had with me then John McCoam[?] and Bill Ward and I said, “Oh this is no good.” and we got a boat down on the port side and took this boat around


to another destroyer that just came in and was about maybe, maybe a hundred metres off to the port side of the Hero and rowed over to that ship and we did a silly thing. Instead of coming in on the leeward side where the sea was calm he rowed down the bow one moment we’re going up and down, up and the destroyer’s going down you know and finished up with the sailor saying, “Jump, grab the gun!” but the three of us got aboard and that’s,


that was the strange thing that I burst in to tears with the tension. It’s amazing what happened you know and this happened with my mate with whom I escaped. A man about ten years older than me, at the end, towards the end of the war but the Hero stood off and the Hero took everybody back to Crete. We were past Crete you see when this happened or just past Crete and Hero stood off and put two


torpedos in to the Costa Rica to sink her because she was taking water but very slowly and there were still ships coming out the side and this is, this is August, April 27 the evacuation began on Anzac Day 1941 which is 26 years after the landing. You have an evacuation from Greece, which is close to Turkey. So you’ve got these strange coincidences happening and


we set off a torpedo now of course Costa Rica would have been a danger to other liners coming out during the night which obviously were blacked out so they sank her and then when they dropped us off on Crete and then we were there this, we were then from April 27 until the battle started on May the 20th and we knew of course this has all come out subsequently, we got, we got all the warnings from ULTRA [codebreaking] but


nobody knew about that at the time. Freyberg was getting, Freyberg was then in charge of all the Anzacs on Crete, Blamey who was in charge in Greece, he’d already gone down to Alexandria you see so Freyberg was landed on Crete and he was put in charge of the whole operation there but we knew exactly to the hour when the Germans were going to attack us on May the 20th because of this ULTRA thing we know


about now. We didn’t know about it then no, so all the Australians on May 20th we saw all these, of course we were being bombed and machine gunned occasionally by German aircraft but on May 20th at 8 am came this big invasion of parachutists, all these German aircraft coming in an dropping these parachutists and it was a lot of fun.
Where were you at that time?
I was in Suda Bay. We were


there because there were two hundred and thirty four of us from the 17th Brigade and we were made in to the 17th Brigade Battalion and our job with the 1st Welsh Regiment was to stop any landing in Suda Bay by the Germans you see but they had decided to drop a their parachutists at Maleme, Retimo and Heraklion. Maleme was the big airport and that was well big airport,


the only airport really and that was defended by the New Zealanders primarily, the Australians were back further. The Australians defended Retimo and the 4th Battalion was with British troops at Heraklion but our job was to look after the Suda Bay area in case they came in by sea. They did attempt a sea landing later but the navy knew about it and was sweating on them and when they, in the middle of the night they caught


this whole convey of German ships and sank them and the Germans lost, they must have lost at least two regiments there. They were mostly mountain troops.
Were you aware of that at the time?
Yeah, yeah we knew about it. You could hear the gunfire from out at sea. It was quite close to Crete and gradually the word had come down well we’ve caught a convoy and we’ve sunk the convoy with all these fellows on. But the Germans


managed to get their hold on Maleme largely through we know now one mistake by one brigadier, New Zealand brigadier instead of, the Germans had evacuated a point and as soon as the New Zealanders going back to take it which would have controlled the airport they moved back which enabled the Germans to then start to land the aircraft even though the aircraft broke up they landed them and got the men out.
How much, how much were you


aware of that at the time?
Oh, well part of it. We eventually came in to when the Germans started pushing forward and the New Zealanders started falling back and the 2/7th Battalion and ourselves were brought in as reserves for the fighting through Galatas and under what was called 42nd Street. That was when they said finally, “We can’t hold the island.” We had no aircraft to support and the Royal Navy their ships were being sunk like


you know the story of the Kelly and Noel Coward [actor and writer] In Which We Serve [film] to, the navy took a tremendous pounding. They lost one third of the fleet mostly by air attacks you know, destroyers Gallosto Hereward was sunk, Kelly there was a whole string of them was sunk so we knew we couldn’t hold the island.
If possible we’ll come back to those details, but try and if you can


try and stick to your story and not sort of contextualise it by historical records because we can pick that up in books.
Yeah, but my story is part of it you see. I can’t divorce myself from it.
Yeah, I understand. I understand but if you can bring us just on the summary and we’ll come back to these later, and get back in to that but for us the Archive is aimed at really looking at your personal involvement in these things and we’ll pick, we’ll come back


and put them in to context but it’s important we don’t get too far off your story with those larger historical contexts that we can pick up on from books.
Well, actually, we two hundred and thirty four. We didn’t really do any fighting you know I didn’t do any fighting at all on Crete. It was just almost a matter of falling back and then you know and marching over this huge white mountains where you know I saw some quite incredible things. I remember going through a forest


and there was a group of New Zealanders there in this forest or a group of woods. There was a man sitting against a tree holding a cup and everyone one of them were dead. They’d been killed by bomb blasts you see and then we did a bit of fighting. We finally got over the top and we did the last rear guard and they told us we were not going off you know so there was a 2/7th Battalion which was, the 2/7th Battalion was great


tragedy really. They were you know sold down the drain. The 2/7th did the last rear guard plus a couple of units of American battalions, New Zealand battalions, a 27th Battalion and we were a post in the middle of this. We were attacked by air and that’s when I was wounded. These two German Messerschmitts came down and fired. I wasn’t actually hit by a bullet. It was a,


a reflection see. The main thing that hit me was being pounded. When the bullets hit the rock I got sprayed like being sprayed with sand. It sort of split all the rock and I tumbled off the rock and down on my right side so that everything that’s happened to me since has always been on my right side and I took a lot of it on my head. But you know it took 50 years for the doctors here to discover that I had


mild epilepsy because of that and evidently this happened to a number of soldiers that were hit in the head, that you’d end up with this mild epilepsy thing you know but when I came to I was a prisoner of war and here’s this German Württemberger and one of the mountain troops handing me a British biscuit with bully beef on it and an orange and here I am now a prisoner of war you see and I was taken back then in


in the back of a truck. I was roughly bandaged. I was bleeding from the head. I had a skin peeled back here. They eventually sewed it, a German doctor sewed it back, back to Maleme and then I was flown over to a hospital. It was first a German hospital in Athens and then I was transferred to the 2/5th AGH [Australian General Hospital] which was an Australian hospital which had been caught entire except for the nurses. They’d volunteered to stay home, stay behind to look after the wounded in Greece.


And I was there for the rest of June and then transferred, put on a train with other prisoners of war and we went up to a place to Salonika what was called a Dulag or through camp, transit camp [Durchgangslager - POW transit camp] where they had all these prisoners and we were there for over a month and that was pretty rough, pretty rough because it was okay dealing with front line Germans but when you got to these reserve soldiers you


found they started to get very rough with you and they starved us in the Salonika camp, which was just across the road incidentally from a new cemetery which was interesting, a few people, a few fellows died there but that was when I became, I’d attempted an escape in Athens from this block of flats where they held me, these wounded fellows until they put us on the train but I didn’t get far beyond the gate you


know because there was a German guard outside anyway. I tried another time, going up on the train, I ducked under the train and there was a rock wall about oh twenty meters away. I got over the wall and strangely enough, behind the wall was a German soldier having a pee and he saw me like and he grinned at me and I grinned at back, you know, there’s nothing I could do so


we just walked back to the train you know but the third time in Salonika was they, which was a famous attempt at, it’s been published where a whole group of us tried to get out of the camps through the sewer and oh there must have been about forty or fifty of us you know and the, some of the fellows got out but then one of the Cypriot fellows died at a turn in


the tunnel at an elbow in the tunnel and the rest of us piling in couldn’t do anything. So, I managed to get out and, I had to get out of the tunnel again and the Germans by this time had broke up, you know but there must be something going on and they were in there and I got a bayonet through the hand, just the tip of the bayonet but my mate Dudley Walsh was down there and he got really bashed up and I went up to see Dudley in hospital later and his face was just a great big purple


mash. But believe it or not after we were put on the train to Germany Dudley escaped and got back through Turkey and re-joined the battalion. He got Mentioned In Dispatches for that but we were put on this train for Germany would have been August 10th and taken to a camp called Hammelburg which is, oh became famous later in two ways. Firstly, there was a television show made called Stalag 13 which was based on that camp and the other thing about it was


that [American General] Patten’s son in law was in there and they attempted to escape, to rescue him but that was long after I’d left there because I’d made, when we got to Hammelburg they sent us out to work on farms which was a very good idea because we were pretty well starving, skin and bone sort of by the time we got to Hammelburg and it was a good idea to send us out to work on farms because then we got fed and clothed and so on. Though,


the interesting thing is of course we were caught on Crete in summer uniform and of course when we got up there they clothed us in the most incredible collection of clothing, Scottish bonnets, Belgium overcoats, in all sorts of things and I’ve got a picture of the group of fellows that I was in charge of, my [(UNCLEAR)] later commandos as we call them, [(UNCLEAR)] – commando, and we were sent out to this village that was called Bishops Farm.


which was in a mountain area on the border of Bavaria and Tyrolia [actually Tyrol] and they had a big army camp called Wilfricken which later become a big displaced persons camp and it was there that Tom Bennet of the 3rd Battalion, 2/3rd Battalion and I decided that well we’d shoot through. We didn’t get a chance at Bishop Farm but when they moved, they moved us to another place called Little Story because the German people of Bishops Farm liked us and we were getting on


so well with them you know and when we got to Little Story Tom and I went over the wall and we made this escape dressed in British uniforms, by this time we had British uniforms, got them through the Red Cross .
What’s the date of this?
Oh, this would have been August 1942.
We’ll come back to that. Can you take us through, how many more escape attempts did you have?
Oh, two more, made six altogether. We got


away on the last one. I can’t remember, I can’t remember the 5th one. I think the 5th one was, couldn’t have been very much anyway. But the last one was April 1945 Frank Bournside and Frank Born from the AASC [Australian Army Service Corps] and I decided to go because the Germans were marching us south towards what was supposed to be [(UNCLEAR)] the where the Germans were going to put all the prisoners of war in front of us


the and the Nazis would be, the SS would be behind and the Germans, the Americans would have to attack through the prisoners of war but Frank and I were decided well we weren’t going on this march and we cut the wire and went through the wire and a German guard nearby didn’t even try to stop us you know they knew that the thing was, that they had, had it anyway and Frank and I went off and we were going through a forest and we saw two tanks firing


at each other you know, well might have been oh about a half a kilometre apart and when we were taken prisoner, the Americans of course wore the same helmets as we did you know the shallow helmet. So, these fellows had on helmets like the Germans and at first we thought, ‘Oh, no they’re Germans!’ and then we thought, ‘What’s the white star on the tank? Oh, it must be one of ours.’ and we got down there and sure enough it was the advanced guard, a tank advanced guard


of the 85th Division, the American 85th Division and I always remember, what I was saying to the lieutenant who was in charge of attack, oh great this is, “Now, where do we go to get rescued and sent back to Britain?” you know and Frank has got this lieutenant’s hand in his two hands the lieutenant can’t get his hand away. Frank won’t let it go and Frank’s pouring tears. He’s trying to talk and he can’t you know because the emotion. It’s strange how these things come about this, this


emotion takes over you know. So, anyway Frank and I went back and the old lieutenant said, “Oh no, our fellows are way back you know maybe 50 kilometres.” you know. There’s Germans between us and them and we go back and sure enough we’re sitting on the side of a road and a German battalion is falling back and this German sergeant came up to us and we’re smoking you know and he says, “Can I have one of those cigarettes, who are you?” you know and, “Oh, we’re a couple of


escaped prisoners.” you know. “Can I have one of your cigarettes?” So, he’s having a cigarette and talking to us and we’re and you know “How are you going?” “Oh not so good.” “What are you going to do?” “Oh,” he says, “All my fellows will fade in to the bush you know, enter the forest, they’ll just disappear.” and he had a bicycle with a Panzerfaust [German anti-tank projectile, like a bazooka] through it, what we call a bazooka on a tank destroyer thing on it you know so they went their way and we went our way and we ran in to two girls who were carrying bags of flour,


they’d got it from some store and we had a couple of bars of chocolate and we thought, ‘Well if we carry their flour for them to their home and give them the chocolate, they’ll give us bread.’ and we were walking down this road and we were approaching an intersection and up this other road comes a German car with some generals in it. You can tell they’re generals because they’ve got the braid all down the legs and around the cap you know and the fellow sitting beside the driver spots


us, stands up, and he pulls out his pistol you know and he’s going to shoot us for sure you know. I’ve got no feeling, the feeling is going, I’m going dead from the feet up and Frank says, “Salute the bastard quick!” So, we gave him a magnificent salute each you know and just at the point two Mustangs came up from the south behind this car and this general’s aide in the car have pulled his trousers and he sat down and the car went one way and we and the girls went the other way you know


and that night we stayed in this girl’s place and during the night a American infantry battalion came up you know, knocked the door in you know, demanded food and all the rest of it and Frank decided next morning that he would go back with some of these Americans but I decided to stay with them so I became temporarily for the next, oh it must have been the next week, a member of the an American regiment down to, until he took Regensburg on the Danube which was the end of the war really.


I bring you back to that escape attempt in Bavaria if you could take us through the camps you were in after that before you escaped.
Just where they were and where and…
After Hammelburg, Hammelburg was close to Frankfurt on the Main. They, the Germans in late 1942 established three special camps, 357 which was at Thorn in Poland nowadays called Torun, 344 which was at Lamsdorf


and 383 which was at Hohenfels. We were taken, 25 of us who had been a lot of troublemakers at Hammelburg or in the camps around there. We were taken down to Hohenfels and Hohenfels was established to contain what the Germans considered the most troublesome prisoners, escaped, persistent escapers, saboteurs, you know putting razor blades in the cows’ food or whatever


and mutineers who refused to work and so on and we finished up with 4,529 of us in that camp and that’s when we were, we were wired in that for the rest of the war. We were not allowed out. 344, they had the same idea but it broke down because it was close to another camp.
Where were you after that camp you were in then?
No, we were in 383 until the end of the war but when we escaped we tried to escape, we escaped to the Americans and then went back


to Nuremberg and then on to Erlanger where we caught a plane to Brussels and then another plane to Britain. The interesting thing is that while I was with the Americans we ran into three of the fellows who’d been in 383 and one of the fellows had very bad dysentery. There was Ran Davy and Brad Miller of the 2/11th Battalion. I can’t remember who the 3rd bloke was and I said to the, I was then with two American


journalists at that stage, Tom Daley and Mitch Leonard and I said, “Look, can I have your jeep and your driver and take these fellows back to a casualty station?” So, that’s when, I’d left the Americans then and I thought I may as well stay with these fellows. We then went back to Erlanger and there were then 27 of us including one airman who’d been shot down over Yugoslavia and we were in, Erlanger was a big German Army camp and big permanent barracks and all the rest of it


and we were in one building and there were Frenchmen in the building next door and the most interesting thing there was that during the night a Negro soldier knocked in the windows of one the French building and just sprayed it with machine gun bullets and killed quite a few Frenchmen and in the morning they hanged the Negro but at that stage we were then told there was an aircraft at Dakota coming in to pick us up and take us to Brussels.


And up on the Erlanger Airfield and aircraft arrived and the aircraft that arrived would you believe this disembarked a group of what you call American US Aid people and one of them was Marlene Dietrich and one of the fellows, and I have a picture of this to prove it, one of the fellows dared me to ask her for a kiss and I finished up kissing her and we then got on the plane and flew to Brussels. We had two days in Brussels because of bad weather


Where were you at the end of the war?
At the end of the war, at the end of the war I would have been in Brussels. I would have been maybe eighth and that day I and about twenty five other blokes flew out in a Lancaster to Britain so I landed in Britain on V [Victory in Europe] Day after being in Brussels in V Day because it was a short flight


but the interesting thing there too.
How long did you stay in England before you were repatriated to Australia?
From May 8th until November 30th 1945.
And you flew back to Australia then or…
No came back in the Aquitania which, the Aquitania was really bringing back Royal Australian Air Force who’d been in the air force, the air fighting over there and again there were about 25 army fellows who’d been


working at various things. In Britain at that time well our army camp was at Eastbourne, the repatriation camp for us army fellows was at Eastbourne and the air force were at Brighton. Well, the army reintroduced a scheme they had in the First World War when they found it difficult to get ships to bring blokes back to Australia in a hurry so they said, “Alright you can work in Britain for four or five or six months at your trade.”


you know so they’d ease the burden on the shipping problem. So, they introduced that, re-introduced that in World War II I don’t think many of us took advantage of it but I did because I’d been cadet journalist and decided all right, I’d like to work in newspapers, so I took the six months thing and…
Sorry six month thing with which newspaper?
Well, I went to work on The Daily Express first and then the whole Daily Mail about a fortnight or a month on each one. The Isle of Man


Examiner, The Western Mail in Cardiff, BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Western Regional and then back to London to work on The Daily Mirror. I got married in between and then I finally decided in November oh, it’s about time I went home.
Where were you when the Japanese at the end of the war in the Pacific?
Oh, I was still in, at the end of the war I was still in Europe in Britain. They told us, they


told us you are not going to fight the Japanese, that no prisoner of war that came out of Germany was going to be sent back in to front line duty. We were permanent casualties as it were, we were out of it you know, so there was we knew that the Japanese were bringing it on but the interesting thing, I can remember going down to, down to my wife at Cardiff and buying The Evening News with the story of the atomic bomb and it was just a


small story you know. ‘Americans drop big bomb on Japanese city.’ That’s all it said you know but then the next couple of days, then you the story of what this bomb was doing. Initially, initially the atomic bomb took the British press by surprise you see so you know I read this story oh yeah unusual bomb and then of course a couple of days later they dropped the other one on Nagasaki and then we had the surrender.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 02


Keith what did your father tell you about the First World War? What are your memories of his stories?
Oh, I can’t, I can’t remember him because I was very, very small. He, understandably like a lot of World War I fellows did, you know left the family when I was about 9 or 10 you know. The strange thing is that when you’re a kid you’re not very much interested in what your parents do


you know, you’re more interested in playing and football and maybe later on you’re interested in girls so it, it was forty years before I started to find out interesting things about my family. It was when I moved from the Perth Daily news to the Sydney Morning Herald and I suddenly got interested enough to go up to the, I knew my father had been born in Sydney


so I went up to the registry office and discovered not only my father’s birth record but also that he had two brothers and a sister. I also discovered that their parents were New Zealanders. So, that encouraged me to think of going over to New Zealand. I went over there in 1961 and while I was there the Aunt was in New Zealand doing the exactly the same thing as I was. Trying to find out something about the family in Nelson.


And I found in Nelson that the family you know had been among the first migrants in New Zealand and they’d set up the first brewery in New Zealand. Incidentally, the cellar and the brewery still is there as part of the big hotel that’s now there named after the famous New Zealand scientist who discovered the Atom bomb or worked on the Atom bomb and


then I decided well I must try to catch up with this Aunt so I flew, went back, flew back to Wellington and left messages. I knew she’d gone to Wellington and left messages. If this woman turns up, hold her and sure enough I met my Aunt for the first time and she did not know that her eldest brother had married and had, had children you see so that was one thing about it and at the same time I discovered that my grandmother,


grandmother’s, maternal grandmother’s father had been Major General William Dallis Broughton who had been in charge of the engineers in New Zealand during the Maori wars, had built most of the roads, the military roads out of Auckland where, down to the Waikato and [(UNCLEAR)] and so on so this became quite fascinated and I ,I got even more interested when my Aunt told me that she and one brother, the second brother


were still living Perth. Now I had lived in Perth for 4 years and didn’t know about the, didn’t know these people existed. I lived about half a suburb away from them you know so I flew over to Perth to meet Uncle Richard who had finished up, he’d been a lieutenant in the 16th Battalion in World War I, Stanley the youngest brother had died. He finished up a lieutenant. He started 1918 as a private and finished up a lieutenant by the end of the war and he’d won a


DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] in the meanwhile. Anyway, because it was a bad night I stayed with, friends met me at the airport, I’d worked with at the Daily News and I said oh we won’t go around and see the old man now. The plane was late, we got in about 2am or something like that and those were the days when we still flew in DC 6s and you know Constellations and things. So, I said I’ll see the old man in the morning. So, when I went around in the morning his daughter had met me and Richard had died during the


night. I don’t know whether to meet his eldest brother’s son might have excited him or something but I knew he had a bottle of scotch whisky we were going to share so I ended up going to his funeral and oddly enough at the funeral was an old mate of mine named Hole who’d been a prisoner of war with me in Stalag 383 in Germany and strangely enough Hull knew Uncle Richard and they’d worked together in the AMP [Australian Mutual Provident] in Perth so


that, that’s where you know you don’t have, nowadays of course, my daughter Robin, my cousin that’s Richard’s daughter and my cousin in Melbourne Moyna I know that’s Uncle George’s daughter who was my brother’s, my uncle’s, my brother’s brother. They’re all interested genealogy you know and they’ve got some of them, some of it from me because I found some of these things you see but it’s really fascinating that you don’t realise


as a kid how important these things are you know so well that was that. But in the meantime of course when Dad left and he became just one of the 30 % of the unemployed in the Depression, wandering around the country looking for jobs and you know very seldom did these fellows have food and if they had any money they would spend it on wine you know having been wine drinkers in France or wherever they were, or Egypt during the war you


know they weren’t, most, that’s where the word Plonk comes from. It comes from the word Vin Blanc you see, white wine you know and plonk became a standard for the Australian Returned Serviceman and eventually of course Dad became an alcoholic and I discovered then a year later that he had died in Brisbane in a mental hospital with other alcoholics, you know some of these fellows became terribly alcoholic and they just, the Queensland government anyway and I don’t know about


other. State governments just put them straight in the mental hospitals. At least they were looked after and he eventually died there. I gather he finished up with cancer of the throat or something or other you know so he’s buried up there and so is the grandfather, the paternal grandfather. He had gone up there originally to establish himself in business and bring the family over from Perth and he died before he could do that so I’ve got the strange thing and now they have the third thing up


there. They established a remembrance, what do they call it? A National remembrance for Victory, a National Freedom wall in Brisbane in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and I’m on it with my young brother who died five years ago who was a prisoner of war, a prisoner of the Japanese plus two cousins, one of whom, Keith W Hooper, was also


a prisoner of the Japanese so they were both on the Burma Railway you see and they both finished up in Japan working in coal mines up there.
How well did you know your cousins when you were growing up?
Oh, again, again as a kid you don’t think much of these things and gradually as an adult I started to know them but as kid I, I suppose like all, like most kids I wasn’t very interested you know. They were just


people who lived here or there. I had a strange thing happen last year where suddenly one of the sons of my cousin George, the son of my Uncle George suddenly came up, came up here to see me. He works at Puckapunyal in the modern Puckapunyal in the, in the commissariat I suppose you’d call it nowadays and discovered that there are three other cousins down there


so we’re now in contact for the first time. I never knew they existed until last year so it’s strange how these things come about. It’s coming about rather late in my life. Of course now I’m 84 aren’t I? I could cark it tomorrow you know but you never think of this at the time, when you’re a kid you know.
What sort of kid were you?
Oh, well I was very interested in sport you know. I did finish up as a 17 year old playing two under 18 games for Hawthorn. I


started off barracking for St. Kilda when, we lived in South Yarra and Prahran, part of the South of Prahran and parts of South Yarra during the depression you know we’d move. A lot of families moved a lot during those days because you know things were always tight so I played a couple of under 18 games for Hawthorn but I originally barracked for St Kilda then I met this teacher in Prahran Mark Duffy who played


for Hawthorn and I became first for Mascot at the age of 14 and then when I was 17 I managed to get a couple of games you know. I think was one against Fitzroy and one was in against North Melbourne you know.
What was a game like at the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] in those days?
Oh, no I played, I played, Fitzroy was out in Smith, the oval was in Smith street Fitzroy and North Melbourne was out in North Melbourne. I think it’s called Arden street you know. I never played at the MCG.


Did you ever go to the MCG?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Can you tell us about the MCG?
Oh, yeah that’s right, between St Kilda and Hawthorn I barracked for Richmond and I remember going to Richmond in 1931 when Richmond scored what was then the highest score 30 goals 19 to Hawthorns 4, 7. I can remember, I remember figures. I can remember figures easily you know and I, it was you know, it’s strange. Nowadays I forget names until I see the face again but I,


I don’t seem to be able to forget figures. But that, the, at that time during the depression you know the family had to pitch in. The young brother couldn’t. Mother’s lost her business which is making notions for wedding tables or balls with lavender in it and a little Kewpie on top. She used to sell it at Coles but then of course nobody wanted those anymore


so she just had nothing to do and that was why I started to work at various things like selling newspapers.
What were those things your mum was making?
I, they called them notions. They were little glass balls filled with lavender with a little piece of cloth on top and a kewpie stuck in the middle a kewpie doll stuck in the middle. They were decorations for, they were big things in those days for women I suppose for their dressing tables and so on or you gave


a present to a child, a girl on her birthday or something like that and they sold for about, I think she made them for about sixpence and they sold for about a shilling in Coles or it might have been a bit it more, roundabout that because Coles in those days was a store that prided itself on selling nothing over two and six, nothing over two shillings and six pence you see which incidentally became connected with our battalion lately because we were the 2/6th Battalion so we were nothing over two and six.


What sort of mum was she?
Oh, all right but she started to get depressed, depressed during the Depression as I suppose most women did. I mean just imagine you’ve got bring up a family. You’ve got no husband to, and you’re out of work and we were on what you called sustenance at that day. You, at that time. Every week she had to go up to, I don’t know where it is, maybe the town council or somewhere and you got a


bag of food. You didn’t get money you got a bag of food, maybe a packet of tea, couple of loaves of bread, a tin of plum jam or whatever it was you see, anything above that came out of what money I earned selling newspapers and then later on when I, I was at school then at Hawthorn State school and young Garry started at South Yarra State school because we lived in South Yarra but I’d started at Hawthorn then and I stayed there


and then I, I, as well as selling newspapers the Sun, the Melbourne Sun, Age and Argus and again I did if for a while in the evening with the Herald but it became, I didn’t earn enough money in the evening so I went to work as a grease monkey at a nouveau garage at Chapel St. South Yarra and where I got a few, bit more money but at one stage and working as a page boy at the Regent theatre in Toorak road South Yarra I was earning two pounds ten a week which was


more than most men were getting but it was coming out of three jobs. So, that helped the family. At least we could pay the rent you know and could buy clothes so that went on. It started, people don’t seem to realise that the Depression went on, the Depression really didn’t end until the war started when the war industries provided jobs for unemployed and there was probably about


you could say the Depression really ended about 1942 when the Japanese came in to the war that’s, that’s probably the end of the Depression for Australia so it was rather a strange thing and talking about the unemployed. A lot of people thought that originally nearly all the second AIF were unemployed men. That’s not so. I would say that maybe about forty per cent could have been unemployed but then you had a lot of people that went in to the army


or navy, few more in the navy. The air force came a bit later really and we put down their occupation as something other than what they were. For instance by that time I’m a cadet journalist but instead of putting down cadet journalist I just put down clerk you know. If you put down what you were you might have been pulled out of the army for a reserved occupation. See, that’s where these types of things came in but as time went


on, by the time I’d finished High school I’d managed to get a job as a copy boy at the Herald and Weekly Times I tried to get one at the Melbourne Age first but they wouldn’t have me.
Where did that interest in journalism stem from?
Oh, I really believe it started with selling newspapers you know I think I decided at the age of ten, when I first started to sell newspapers. I decided then that I was going to be journalist. This was a big thing, newspapers you know.


In those days of course radio was still in its relative infancy. I just recently read a book about the history, history of the 3LO, the first station in Melbourne. It’s fascinating to go back and read the names of the people you used to listen to on radio you know and the programmes you listened to on radio but the thing is that I decided then that I would be a journalist and only a copy boy of course I was just running


copies for people you know. I met recently in Canberra, Sally White who was the daughter of Osmar White who was a famous Australian war correspondent in New Guinea you know Sally, Sally like me has been involved in teaching journalists and we both decided the same thing that going back to that period you know I was then a copy boy running copies for Osmar White you know they’d shout out “Copy boy,” and you’d have to pick up a piece of copy and take it over to the sub editors you know.


But it was just getting interesting and at that time my young brother Garry, by that time he’d turned 16 and he had joined the 14th Battalion which was then, what we call in those days, the Citizen’s Military Forces, the 14th Battalion had the drill hall at Prahran next to the Alfred hospital. So, I thought, and you got paid for it you see, you got paid for being in the army then. It wasn’t much you know, might have been about oh two pound a month or something like


that, ten bob a week something like that but it was a bit of extra money. You thought any way you could get extra money in those days you took you know so I decided I might as well join the army as well so I joined the 14th Battalion and from then on I was more or less committed to the army and so when war broke out, well just before war broke out on my 19th birthday on August 27 1939, we were called up the, to guard the Victoria


barracks on St Kilda road because evidently at that stage the government already saw, well the British and the Australia governments already saw that we were committed, going to be committed to the war. The Germans were already, I think they’d already started to invade Poland you know or were about to invade Poland.
How aware were you or how interested were you in world politics and these affairs in Europe?
Oh, to, to a certain


degree. I had two good friends. Gordon Parker who was later killed in the Air Force flying over South East Asia and Reg Mills who was also later in the Air Force but did come back and at that stage in 1936 I was a member of the young communist party or thought I was. I didn’t have a card but with a couple of, we had a thing in Melbourne called the Eureka club which was


run by the communists and again you know you’d go there and they’d give you a parcel of food to take home you see these things all counted so at that stage of course the war in Spain broke out and I always remember Reg, Gordon and I volunteered to go to Spain but the communists wouldn’t take us because we were too young you know we , but we did have a bit of an interest in politics


mainly for what the great things the Russians were doing you know and the Spanish Civil War and I suppose the, when King Edward quit, the 8th quit, the old Prince of Wales had quit the throne and King George took over. Those things you know but mainly of course we were interested in sport you know. Anything to do with sport.


How active were you specifically in the communist party?
Oh, no active at all really. I mean we went along to the, this club was at the top end of Swanston street in Melbourne, just before Lonsdale street but the thing is that they had you know had bigger tables in there and table tennis tables and so really when you went along there.


I mean you didn’t sit down and they didn’t harangue you with long talks about what communist was going to do. I don’t remember ever facing anything like that. You’ve got a bit of light there.
We’ll just keep going.
I don’t remember them ever haranguing us you know it was all very softly softly. If it was going to make anything of communists at all. The fellow who ran the club was a


twenty five year old fellow named Miller. I remember that and he was a very nice bloke but the thing, well the primary reason really why I went along, my brother didn’t, was to get that parcel of food you know. It was again a contribution to keeping going. If you lived in the country it was probably easier but living in the cities that was the hard part of the Depression.


It, it would probably not be as bad for us say in South Yarra, Prahran, Windsor area as it was say for people out in Fitzroy, Collingwood or Redfern or Newtown in Sydney where it would be, what were then called the slum suburbs. They aren’t now. My brother, my son rather when he comes over to Melbourne he goes out and stays in


Fitzroy because Fitzroy nowadays is probably the in suburb you know and Chapel street where I used to spend quite a bit of my time, Chapel St, South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor is now the in street in Melbourne. It’s a fantastic place. I went there last, a couple of years ago when I went down for Anzac Day and I was quite astonished what has happened to Chapel street. It’s full of coffee houses, the place was packed on Anzac Day with people and I remember walking back


towards the South Yarra station and on one corner there used to be a Baptist church and that Baptist church is now oh what was it? Ellie Orville’s Irish pub. The church has become an Irish pub which, people, people passing by must have wondered why I was laughing hysterically at this. I couldn’t think of something more funny than a Baptist church becoming an Irish, Irish pub you know but the


the difference, if I go down to Melbourne now I, I see big differences to what I saw during the Depression period you know. During the Depression of course there were few cars. People couldn’t afford a car. I do remember I worked for a time for a fellow who drove a horse and cart selling soft drinks at houses, knocking on the door. Louis soft drinks I think it


was. They were in Richmond and I would go to the doors and try to encourage people to buy Louis packets of teas or whatever and you know I’d get a commission on this. Again, a way of making money. Another time there was a chap that I knew who was a builder and now and again he’d get a job building a house, so the two, just on his own. He couldn’t afford anybody except me. I would go down and help him you know and I might get five bob


for working for him on the Sunday, five shillings which nowadays would be about, oh what would it be? Ten cents? Not a lot of money you know but again anyway you could think of to make money and I was then, actually I started to write and I used to sell, sell short little stories or paragraphs to the Bulletin and a paper called the Smith weekly which doesn’t exist anymore. The Smith Weekly had a lot of cartoonists and I’d think up


jokes for them to make a cartoon, a cartoon to fit the joke and I might get two and six from one paper and ten shillings from another paper but it all added up and I was astonished to work it out one day that at one stage my accumulation of jobs, it might have been three or five. There were 3 definitely. There could have been 4 or 5. I earned more money than the average man was able to earn at that time, you know,


two pounds and ten shillings a week which nowadays two pounds would have been it would be worth about two dollars now in modern money. Two pounds ten you know because the inflation of money but it was, it was interesting and at that time of course I had a girlfriend by that time you know and subsequently of course I got a Dear John letter during the war and she’d married, she married another fellow but it, I mean these


things work out in the long run because I finished up getting married after the war and it worked out quite well. But the, I, I don’t think I had an unhappy childhood. It was all right, even though Mum inclined to get depressed for a time and she started to drink quite a lot you know. Again, you found a lot of women became alcoholics at that period. This was all the cause of the Depression. People, people now don’t


seem to know what this Depression was. You had 30% unemployed you know, we get worried now if we have 5% unemployed. But you know there were thousands of men walking around the country and most of them were returned soldiers from World War I. You know people don’t seem to realise that but I think, I’m trying to think if I did any exciting thing at school. I think the most exciting thing I can remember from school was when


Jacka the first Australian VC in World War I died. He had been at that time, this was 1932, the mayor of the St. Kilda and all the schools in Prahran, Windsor, South Yarra, East St. Kilda and I think South Corfield lined Dandenong road which separates Windsor from East St. Kilda. Well, his cortège came up to the St. Kilda, East St. Kilda


cemetery you know which was something interesting because I had been born in the maternity home which was next door to the St. Kilda cemetery so I got, you know these things only come out later but I particularly remember that. The other time was before the Depression. I remember going with, going with my mother and I think my father might have been there and brother might have been with us too, when they


dedicated the building of the Melbourne shrine of Remembrance on, which later was finished during the Depression incidentally. It was finished during the Depression. It provided work during the Depression for some men and these planes, these old bi-planes flying over and two of them collided and I think the two planes fell in to Port Philip bay that’s another think I remember. I can remember


also occasionally going up weekends to Castlemaine where Mum’s brother, my uncle George lived and he had quite a big, he had four, three daughters and a son and I’ve only just recently met some of his grandchildren but Uncle George and I, he was a builder and he managed to subsist on a building and we used to go out looking for gold in,


in Campbell’s creek and occasionally finding it. I can remember finding little specks of gold which was exciting at that time you know and quite often I had a bike there and I’d bike up to Castlemaine. On other occasions I can remember going up to visit a cousin or an Aunt in Ferntree Gully and, and running all the way. It was about 22 miles from South Yarra to Ferntree Gully you know


but in those days I was in everything. I came second in a state race which I think I could have won if I’d made the effort but sport was the big thing, you know, sport kept you going.
We’ll have to stop this, we’ve got … I’d love to sit and talk about these years but perhaps we could go on to your training period and tell us about perhaps some of the


influential people in your army training. When you joined the army.
Oh, yeah well there were as a matter of fact. The 14th Battalion, again most of the fellows in the 14th Battalion were there, even the officers, to get a bit of extra money. I mean it didn’t matter where you were, there were no rich people in Toorak in those days you know or, or Seaforth in Sydney you know. The North shore of Sydney. Everybody was pretty, pretty poor


I mean businesses were still going but if you worked at all you got very meagre wages because companies had to keep wages, their costs down to the bare minimum but I was in the machine gun platoon in the 14th Battalion and we had two brothers named Wright were both there. One of them was the company commander and the other was the lieutenant. They went on later on with the 14th


Battalion, 2/14th Battalion. When the war broke out you know we had the option of, when the second AIF was formed a lot of fellows that could have gone in to the original battalions waited to go in with the battalions they had been in, the militia battalions they’d been you see, this is where they came in but I know a fellow named Phil Roden. Phil Roden was a lieutenant in one of the rifle companies at the 14th Battalion and


he subsequently became colonel of one of the battalions which did terrific things in New Guinea. I can’t think of the name in which, which one it was. It might have been the 2/14th Battalion but he’s now regarded as one of the best officers that they had in New Guinea. He was, he became the colonel.
What did he teach you that stuck with you during the war?
Oh, you


you did these things and I mean, first of all you learnt discipline you know this was quite important and you learnt to back your own judgment, even a corporal would be in charge maybe of a section of men maybe 9 men so that you had to use your judgement you know. You had to be able to say to these men, well do this and it well but not foul it up in such a way that you’d all get yourself killed you know, I


mean the responsibility starts with the first, first non commissioned officer and the farther up it gets, becomes more responsibility. Discipline and responsibility I think are the two things that came out of it. How do you handle your weapons. We used to go down to the Williamstown rifle range on Saturdays and we had competitions at that time, you know among the battalions, the 29th Battalion, the 46th Battalion and we’d compete for


prizes. Another thing too in the, the battalions were not just units to teach you army things. They started sporting teams. I can remember we had basketball team. The 14th Battalion basketball team, used to play basketball teams from other battalions so that, don’t forget that all the, all the kids in these battalions would be, well you’d have a few older men maybe twenty, twenty


three, twenty four, twenty five who were there, who were fellows who were unemployed and needed a bit of extra money and they’d come in and they’d have their, I don’t know how much we got now. It might have been oh, two pound a month or something like that. Which was a lot of money at that time you know so that, and I can remember our colonel, colonel Clive Steel become the head of the whole engineers of the second AIF in World War II.


He was, he’d been a practising engineer in Melbourne. I don’t know how his business was going at that time but he became an infantry battalion colonel but later on he went to the engineers which was his real forte and built the second AIF engineers up in to a very strong corp. They became a really, the engineers did a terrific job, well as,


as long as I can remember anyway you know particularly at Bardia and Tobruk where they went in a and they had to de-louse mines and things and put in Bangalore torpedos under the barbed wire to blow the barbed wire open for us you know so Clive Steel, the two Wright brothers I can remember, Phil Roden, some of the fellows like myself crossed over in to the AIF. We enlisted in the 14th Battalion drill hall


for the second and a period of the war and we were then committed you know but then were went up to Puckapunyal where the camp that was started here. I think Holsworthy in New South Wales was an existing army camp when the second AIF or the 16 Brigade of the second AIF went in there but Puckapunyal was something new. Originally, I think in World War I the camp for the World War I


battalions was at Broadmeadows but by this time Broadmeadows was a built up area. You had factories and houses and everything so they had to look for something else. So, they decided on Puckapunyal which was near Seymour in about, almost in the middle of Victoria and we had to go in there and put up the camps and everything. It’s a well established army establishment nowadays. It is a big area. But it


didn’t exist when the war broke out you know so when we did our training we went down to places like Summers on the Air peninsula, on the Mornington peninsula and we’d go through sort of mock battles and so on. One battalion fighting the other and so on you know, not with real bullets of course. The whole thing was fake. But it was you know that was, we had a fortnight a year


in camp which for kids like, unemployed kids of the unemployed like myself was a holiday you see and while we were there I think we got extra money. We got a weeks wages instead of a months wages so again it was extra money but again you, you enjoyed doing it you see.
Weapons training. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with weapons training? You were a city kid you couldn’t have had too


much time with…
Oh, well originally I was on a machine gun, a Vickers machine guns, so heavy machine guns.
This is in the AIF?
No, in the militia.
I’m thinking specifically of when you went to Puckapunyal and got your basic training for
No, when we went to Puckapunyal we were still in our original, I was still a machine gunner you see. At that stage the Australian, the second AIF was built on the,


the old World War I British establishment of four battalions to the brigade and you had a machine gun company. A machine gun platoon, you had a mortar platoon, you had a pioneer platoon and these were headquarters company. Then you had four rifle companies you see so we went out training there. I can remember being judged one night for a


an night exercise and going out on this night exercise, fortunately it was in the middle of Summer and falling asleep and waking up when the exercises were over. Now nobody ever knew. We had a rebellion there. There was a fellow in the platoon, an Englishman, a nasty little type. He’d been in the Royal Navy previously and we weren’t going to march and all the rest of it and when it came to the mutiny I was the only mutineer.


but we then changed our officer. George Worfall had been our original officer and subsequently became a famous commando and then the colonel of the 2/24th Battalion had given old way to Tim Riley. Tim was my officer, he was with us when we were captured so Tim got captured but they decided oh well one mutineer doesn’t make a total mutiny so they let me off and I didn’t lose my rank. I was a corporal, still a corporal then you


see so I didn’t lose my rank.
What was the basis for the mutiny?
Oh, no there was some march. We were supposed to do some march and this fellow McCullen decided oh we’re not going to do it you know and we should all stand up and say we will not do it you know and then when it came to the standing up and not doing it he was the first to go out and march you know and he was a bit of a nasty type. We never saw him


after the war. He, apparently he deserted in Britain, well by then it didn’t matter. Deserting you were out of it anyway. But he disappeared in Britain apparently and never came back to Australia. I don’t think he was Australian. I think we was probably British or Scottish in the first place although he didn’t have a Scottish accent. But the, that was the, the only


suspicious thing but the you know we did all this. Fortunately ever second Saturday, weekend we had off so we could always get down to Melbourne quite easily you know you could always get down on the, what is now the Hume highway I’m not sure if it was called that at that time and you could hitch a lift down to Melbourne in cars or trucks or whatever but then you had to come back Sunday night on the train. But I used to go down every second weekend you know and


you know you’d mess around, go to the movies or whatever. I then had a girlfriend and we’d go out somewhere, maybe go dancing or something you know. Oh, that was the time too, at one stage, I was just reading about this man the other day, Paul Jeekle in this book about 3LO in the history of 3LO his dance band used to play on the radio and at one stage I was singing for them, you know in those days I suppose every young bloke had the idea this was a


time when the first of the crooners, Bing Crosby, oh I can’t remember the others but Bing Crosby was the big one so everyone wanted to be a crooner and I can remember performing for a couple of bands. The other one was Charles Rainsford’s band at the Region theatre. You know if you put on a dinner suit and I think I got ten shillings for singing to the audience.
Can you give us your favourite song?
Favourite song at that time, suppose it would have been the Desert song.
Can you sing it for


No, I couldn’t now.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 03


I just want to go back to something we skipped over as a person with an interest in the news, as a newspaper seller or emergent journalist what was the news that you got of the war breaking out?
I was in Victorian barracks the night when we heard the broadcast by Menzies you know, Poland, it was something like Poland


has refused to accept, Germany has refused to accept the ultimum handed out by the British government and as a result Britain is now at war and so are we you know. I think, I think that came as a bit of a shock to us you know because we thought you know the thing would blow over and it was just another military exercise you know but at


that stage I had a feeling then that from then on I was going to be wearing uniform for the rest of the war which was true. From then on I was never out of uniform except when I’m, might have gone out with a girlfriend a couple of times you know.
You say you joined the CMF [Citizen Military Forces] to get a bit of extra cash but was there more to it than that? What did you feel about King and country and… ?
Oh, well I don’t, I think it was attacked forward a bit. People say “Why did you enlist in the second AIF?”


well I think, I think the basic thing that comes out with us that we had grown up as a generation of the fellows who’d been in World War I and I think generally a lot of us would be a bit hesitant at admitting this but we had a feeling that we had a job to do, a job to finish. It was Germany again. The job was unfinished. I can really understand having been a prisoner


of war in Germany why the Germans went to war because they got a very sour deal out of the Versailles treaty you know but that’s not to take it away from the fact that, I think Hitler had this idea in his head you know, we got a raw deal. I must, I must get a better deal for Germany but then again you see we felt well okay, we’ll have to finish the job Dad didn’t finish you see. I think that’s, that’s the main


thing. As I said people thought all right, well a lot of people joined the army, the AIF not the CMF to get a bit of, because they were unemployed. This was not so because a lot of those fellows were employed but they didn’t want to admit their real occupations in case they would say oh you can’t go you’re in a reserved occupation which did happen you know in a lot of cases and then you had a lot of fellows who stayed behind because


they wanted to join the battalions, the second AIF battalions which would correspond to the original battalion they were in now which were the First World War battalions. The CMF battalions were the original First War battalions just carrying on as the CMF. That’s why, when the Second [World] War started you had the two stroke, the two slash in front of it you know to distinguish them because up in New Guinea you had the 2/3rd Battalion and then you had the 3rd Battalion from the militia you know


what became known as the CMF but eventually they merged the whole thing together apparently but
How important was the British Empire to you?
Oh, at that time it was very important. It was. There was no doubt about it. I mean when we went away we were still British you know we were British but we just happened to be Australians you know and the British Empire was very important I mean this was sort of instilled in


us at school. I mean you always celebrated Anzac Day. You went in to every school and you’d find that every school had an honour role on the students from that school who had been killed in World War I you know and the books you had you know the books would be heroes of the empire and all the VCs. I became one of the first kids to join the first children’s library


established in Victoria and my photo appears on the front page of the Melbourne news Victoria on September the 3rd 1930 about ten days after my birthday and I’m carrying a big book about World War I. You know you read about these things. It didn’t strike you how horrible the thing was, all you were interested in was the heroic aspect of it. I can remember being very interested in the Air Force and getting books about


Waugh and Manic and these other great VCs of the Royal Air Force, the fighter pilots. Richthofen was a, was a well known name. We never heard of Goering strangely enough although he followed after Richthofen and took over the same squadron you know but it was, it was very important. Armistice day was very important as I and I remember when Jackaby died the mayor of St Kilda all the schools were called out to line the


route of the cortège to the St. Kilda cemetery. I mean this was a tribute to the first great Australian of World War I you know the how he should have won a second one at
What did you know about Jacka growing up?
Oh, he was in the books you know you read all about it, how he won the VC, how he should have won a second one at Pozières, you know instead of all he got a second time was a Military Cross I think it was.
And Bar.
Yeah, yeah but they were very


important. And of course you saw a lot of old soldiers. I mean they, I don’t say they absolutely flooded the cities, but they were all there with the returned soldiers badge on so you knew that man has been to the war and sometimes you’d see a one legged man or a one armed man and you’d known he’d been in the war and the thing is that the children all respected this you see. And you, you


out of the same respect you thought well you know if it came to it, came to the choice I would have to do my bit you know. I mean we were all little Britains then, little Britishers then you know well the Britain side were so we were Britishers.
What about the Eureka club? Were they little Britishers as well?
No, they, they were something else again. Don’t forget even returned soldiers became communists


see communism was looked upon as something that was going to save the world at that time you know, the equality of man you know. A lot of people don’t know that Marx died in England. He’s buried in Highgate cemetery and there were quite a lot of things good about communism just as there were lots of things bad about it you know I mean even now if you go to Russia,


I’ve been to Russia. I’ve been there when it was the old Soviet Union well only a couple of days on my way to Copenhagen but you’ll find even now today’s Russians will say bring back the Soviet Union. There were a lot of things good about it you know but the you had alternative you know the Labor party in Australia was not as trenchant as it became after the war with Curtin and Chiefly.


It may have fallen back a little bit on old times now but the communist party was seen as the third force you see but it didn’t really, it didn’t really much, I didn’t go around to all the kids at school saying you know “I’m a communist, I want you to be a communist too.” Communist was to me it was something that was, it was interesting club to be in at that time but two of my good friends Steve Murray Smith and


Jack Gott at Melbourne university where I was there only a short time, I had to drop out. They were, they were communists and I’m not sure if they still, I think Stephen was, Ken certainly was and subsequently Ken and I both did some work for the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] in Hong Kong you know and the CIA never knew about it. Shows how slow they can be. They didn’t check on us to find out had we ever been communists you


know but at that stage it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter very much.
What was the mix of people that were joining up when you joined up and went in to camp at Puckapunyal?
Oh, well it was a mixture as I said. There were some unemployed. I always say the unemployed component of a battalion would have been no more than 30%. The majority


were fellows who were in employment in one way or another and didn’t want, a lot of them didn’t want to make, didn’t want to make their real occupation known because they could have been pulled out as did happen later with the reserved occupations you know. I, my cousin in Melbourne, her husband was put in to the, he wasn’t allowed to enlist and he was put in to the, what they call the


oh, labour corp. that subsequently did a lot of the building of defences around Darwin after the Japanese attacks you know, a lot of fellows weren’t, and it’s always surprised that those fellows haven’t really been recognised as they should have you know. They were in the same capacities in some ways as the merchant seamen were. Well, the merchant seaman now have been recognised. I mean there were thousand of merchant seaman lost at sea


you know by submarine attacks and so on but without the merchant ships we could never have fought the war. We could never have got to the war for that matter you know. I think of the ships that I was on with a lot of affection you know. The ship that I was on when we left Port Melbourne for the Middle East was called the Neuralia and her sister ship was in the same convoy, the Nevasa, and they had both been hospital ships off Gallipoli in World War I. Taking


wounded away from Gallipoli to Limos which is quite an extraordinary thing. I only discovered that oh maybe two or three years ago and I was fascinated by it. I’m on a ship that was at Gallipoli you know so that you think about these things you know.
Just getting back to my question, apart from the unemployed who were the other people you found in the mix of people in camp?
Oh, very, well Tim Wiley our second lieutenant


had been working for the Cheetham salt company at Geelong. I don’t know what his job was there. George Walker an original commander who finished up, he rose from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. George had been, he’d been a builder or a carpenter. He’d been in the 29th CMF battalion and of course they were took I don’t know whether Tim was in a


CMF battalion at Geelong. I don’t think so I think he came straight off the street as it were. But Joe Gullet who was in my battalion. Joe was a journalist at the Herald and Weekly Times and he was the son of Henry Gullet who’d been the Australia in world war of the, the cavalry, the Light Horse in Palestine.


Oh, there’s, all sort of, the young blokes in particular. Some of us were straight out of school, you know, or straight out of high school or had been university people and so had just crossed straight over. The, in the 2/6th Battalion from the original 6th Battalion which was the Royal Melbourne regiment and also they had a


lot of uni, I’ve got an idea, I don’t think there was a uni, Melbourne university regiment. I think the Royal Melbourne regiment used to have the university people because Melbourne university’s so close to the city of Melbourne anyway, so you had quite a collection of people you know.
How did that mix work in? How did everyone work in together, the different backgrounds?
Oh, fairly, quite easily you know. I can’t remember any serious trouble ever occurring among


the battalions you know I don’t, I can’t remember there being any desertions from Puckapunyal, the fellows that quit. I think everybody stayed. I mean apart from the fact that we all felt that we had to do, finish off the job from World War I it just became increasingly obvious as the Germans started their, what they were doing in Poland you know it became obvious that we were up against something we’d got to finish now but then again


there was also a sense of, as there was in World War I, a bit of adventure and don’t forget the majority of us had never been out of Australia you know so we’re going off to something really good you know, we’re going off to, we felt we were all going to England and then over to France to join the British Empire, British Expeditionary force but of course by the time we got to Egypt


the Germans had already taken France you see. By the time my brigade got there, the 16th Brigade got there in January 1940. We didn’t get there though until June. Well, late May, late May at the end of June you see and the situation had changed. We were then stuck in the Middle East. We were not going, we, there was one, one group that did go to England. Their ship was diverted around the cape and that was where we lost


the 18th Brigade. They went in to the 17th 7th Division so originally they had been with us, there had been originally the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th, 18th Brigade then part of the 18th Brigade became the 19th Brigade you see and the 18th Brigade was 2/13th, 14th and 15th Battalions. The 16th Battalion were with, originally too the 2/16th of course but they, they went somewhere else again you see so it,


it, it was a time of change where we went over for the original World War [First World War] establishment to a new establishment but when we left Australia we had never heard about Bren carriers you know when we got to Egypt, to Palestine first we were then told all right there are no machine gun platoons anymore. The machine gun platoon becomes the Bren carrier platoon and we are starting machine gun battalions, you see


so you had two different establishments to start with. This was following the British establishment you see. We were well behind when we came to starting the war.
Can you tell us about the backwardness, about what the training was before you left Australia? At Puckapunyal what did you do?
Oh, the training was very much the same as what we had been doing in the CMF battalions before the war. We went out on exercises. You went shooting, how to shoot with real ammunition of course,


and a couple of times, we did a couple of special parades when the British, we had hired I assume hired from the British an inspector General named Squires and he had come out to Australia just before the war broke out. I think late 1938 and the idea was to reorganise the Australian


army such as it existed. But he died and the next thing we knew the 17th Brigade came down from Puckapunyal and we lined St. Kilda road for his funeral you see. All in uniform of course and the other incident happened while we were in Palestine when the plane hit the hill just out here by the airport


and Gullet, Street, Fairburn and one other fellow, four, four top people involved in the war were killed and it so happens Joe Gullet was, Henry Gullet’s son was one of my colleagues you see. We were fellow sergeants and he had to fly back to Australia for the funeral. That was 1940, before we’d gone in to action you see so that these were a couple of


outstanding things that had happened you know. Joe incidentally finished up a major and he was one of the Australians who was selected to go over and take part in the Normandy landing. Bill Haywood from Adelaide was another one whom I knew very well. The, but the training was generally oh pretty simple, pretty simple stuff you know it, it


wasn’t a great trouble you know. The food was all right. The accommodation was a bit rough at that stage because we were the first to establish that camp. It became much different later according to my nephew. Now they have beds and sheets and everything. We didn’t have that. We had straw palliasses on the floor you know so that you slept a bit rough.
How did you adapt to the living in barracks, disciplined lifestyle of that time?


I think I certainly didn’t find it any hardship and my brother Garry, my younger brother who enlisted after me and became first a member of the artillery and then as a 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and finished up on the Burma Railway. We adapted quite easily it was just like being in a club you know there was no, I mean you, you even look


forward to each day. That’s the thing about it. You didn’t worry about what was going to happen. You looked forward to each day. Alright, what are we going to do now? Alight, two mile each, okay we’ll go on a five mile route march today, okay great right, away we go and off we go on a five mile route march you know. Along the way you might pick a few flowers or something or other but you didn’t worry about it. Mind you we were all in peak condition. I mean you had gymnasiums and everything, you had boxing tournaments, you had athletics contests


so that you always had something you could do you know. “Alright, we’re going to have an athletics contest on Saturday who wants to go in the races?” “Alright, okay I will you know. I’ll go in the hundred yards or whatever” you see. So, you enjoyed it and then of course you had, you were quite free at the weekends to shoot down to Melbourne or go home for the weekend you know so it was no stress you know. Of course once we left Australia it was a bit different, you had to get official leave to go anywhere or something.


I went on leave, remember going on leave at Tel Aviv at one stage and we were in this bus and you could smell burning you know and somebody says something is on fire and then I looked down and the whole of my shorts, the front of my shorts were on fire. Somebody’s thrown a but out the window and it came back through the window and fell on me and fortunately I met a military policeman I knew in Tel Aviv and he lent me another pair of shorts you know but, the, these types of things you know eventually


you remember them.
You’ve been on fire on a bus in Tel Aviv. That’s something not many people could say.
Oh, well I was always hot stuff.
Tell us about the boat trip. This was your first ship journey. You first time outside the country. It must have been very exciting can you take us through that trip?
Well, the Neuralia and Nevasa the ships in our convey, we had the Neuralia that’s our ship, the 6th Battalion, the Massa had the 2/5th Battalion,


2/7th were on the Strathhead, then I think the engineers were on the Ethrick and then we had the ship that became infamous later the Dunera, that brought out Germany turned East for Britain became a bit of a hell ship apparently and the artillery were on that and we sailed in convoy.
What were conditions like on your ship?
Oh, not bad. We had hammocks so that we had to sleep in hammocks


because this was a regular trip. The, between the two wars after being a hospital ship in the First World War Neuralia and Nevasa were regular troopers between Britain and India so depending on the situation but they had hammocks and it was a bit of fun.
You were in hammocks, can you go through the other conditions you experienced on board the Neuralia?
Oh, yeah we had to line up


and you know at mealtimes and you went through and you got your meal in your little rectangular tin you know we got these, part of your army equipment was a little rectangular tin and a top that fell on top of it which gave you two dishes you know and you had a knife and fork of course and a spoon and the food was very good. It was


because he was a regular trooper to India the crew were trained to deal with army people so that everything was on the army establishment, probably British army establishment but the food was good. I can’t ever recall anybody ever complaining about the food and there was plenty of it. You could go back for seconds if you wanted to as far as I can remember and you had a sweet. I don’t know that we


had soups. It was usually two dishes, well the main meal plus a sweet of some kind and of course you had plenty of tea and coffee you know. It was, no tea we had tea. I can’t recall ever having coffee and we, one, we pulled in at Perth, at Fremantle and we were allowed to have leave of the ship at Fremantle and we went up to, you could go up to Perth you see and again for most of us


we’d never been to Western Australia. I mean in those, at that time if you lived interstate you didn’t travel much outside your own state, I mean other than the trains there was no airlines at that time and a lot of people didn’t have cars so you travelled by train. A lot of people, a lot people probably couldn’t afford to travel anyway okay. So, being in Perth and Fremantle was an exciting thing in itself. I’m seeing the other side of Australia


and everybody went around and enjoyed themselves. I don’t recall, there were later on when I lived in Perth there was a street of brothels, officially, an official street of brothels. I don’t know whether anybody ever found the street you know certainly for kids like me, 19 year olds we weren’t very interested you know so it was quite exciting and went back on the ship


and then we get out and we pull in at Colombo.
Just before we go to Colombo, what was the reaction of these soldiers to being in rough seas?
Oh, I was very seasick going through Port Phillip heads. We did strike some bad weather going out through the Port Philip Heads out through the bay you know but it didn’t last long. Once we were on the course to Perth it was for Fremantle it was quite all right. You know I’ve


been on a lot of ships since then and have been in some rough seas and even some rough air travel and I’ve never been sick since. That’s the only time I’ve been seasick, that first time. The, we had a good, when we went over to Fremantle we then joined up with a New Zealand contingent. I don’t know whether, it probably would be only one brigade of New Zealand, the New Zealand division, similarly to us. One New Zealand division, brigade


had gone over earlier than the other. Actually, I think theirs was the first New Zealand brigade that we went with. You see they were the 2nd New Zealand expeditionary force. The 1st Division New Zealand stayed in New Zealand just the same as the militia stayed in Australia. So, everything was, they started off with a number 16 Battalion, the number 17 Battalion you see. 16 Battalion stayed, the first 16 Battalion stayed in New Zealand and they


later fought of course in the Solomons. So, we linked up with them and then of course in Perth we picked up the 11th Battalion which was a New Zealand battalion and so we joined them. We didn’t pick up the South Australian battalion. The 10th Battalion had joined us, no they joined us in Perth. They went over to Perth and we picked up those two battalions in Perth.
What did you pack for this journey?


Oh, well the army gave you what? Two shirts, two or three singlets, all khaki of course, briefs the same. We had a hussif, what they called a hussif was, which translates as housewife and it’s got a cotton reel in it, needles and sewing things and then you had your own personal


things whatever they were, whatever you wanted to take with you, you know. I don’t know what I ever had because later on of course when I was taken prisoner on Crete, I never saw my kit bag again, although strangely enough a parcel I sent back from Libya which included few souvenirs in it and an Italian flag had quite a few souvenirs turned up at an auction in Hobart. Somebody recognised my name and found my mother in Victoria and sent it over to her you know.


The, and of course you picked up souvenirs along the way which was rather silly because when you stopped to think of it, what were you going to do with all these bloody things when you get in to battle? You know, you’ve got to leave your kit bag behind and you used to go off in your light pack you know.
What particular souvenirs did you pick up at any time in the desert or anywhere else?
Oh, I think I probably got taken in as much as anybody else and buying fake jewellery you know or something like that. I


remember in Colombo we went to a place called the Galafase hotel which was quite an attractive hotel on the East coast and subsequently the 2nd Battalion spent some time in Ceylon when they thought it was going to be invaded by the Japanese and had a nice dinner there or a nice lunch. I think it was lunch, that’s right, lunch and then back in to town and I went in to a department store and I always remember this particular girl serving behind the counter who was very attractive


and she was a what they called a Burger, a mixture of what was then Ceylon, now it’s Sri Lanka, a mixture of Ceylonese and Dutch and British because at one time or another the Dutch had owned Ceylon and we’d owned Ceylon you know while it was changing over. The same that happened with Malaysia and all around there, the islands that are now Indonesia so and this was an attractive girl you know and


I seem to remember I would have thought oh I’d like to take you out tonight but I couldn’t. I had to go back to the ship. We only had a day ashore you see. I think half of us went ashore for one day and then the other half had to go you see and then we took off.
What were your impressions of this first foreign land that you encountered?
Oh, look it was beautiful. Oh, greenery everywhere you know. Tea plantations down to the sea. It was


so green, you know, when you stopped to, well Perth wasn’t so bad but compared to Perth, Perth was almost desert, brown desert compared to Ceylon and don’t forget Ceylon was just about above the equator you know about the opposite to what we’d have say Rockhampton you know so that it was so green and that comes in later too. I mean this is a feeling we had when we went to Greece after the desert. Greece was paradise after the desert


you know but we then went on and when we went in to the Red Sea, yeah the Italians had come in to the war. This was June 10th 1940 so we then had to mount a guard on all the ships you know and I can remember getting my platoon up and we installed a couple of machine guns, Rigus machine guns, took the bottoms off and tilted them up so we could use them for firing up in the air and I


can remember spending my time at the machine gun one day and I got burnt, almost black in the sun and strangely enough I don’t remember feeling any pain about it but might have been a particular type of sun or whatever it was but we were then very wary about the convoy being attacked by the Italian air force although they didn’t as it so happened.


but then we went in the Suez canal and at El Kantara we got off the ships there and we were put on the trains and take up to these new camps.
Can you tell us a bit more about this guard you had to set on the ship? What were you looking for and what did you set up?
Well, the Italians in the war, we expected that the Italians might bomb the convoy if they had knowledge of it so you needed machine guns to fire fire at the aircraft when they came over. I mean that’s, the biggest weapon we had was the Vickers machine gun,


of course, we didn’t have any anti-aircraft gun. I doubt very much whether the Dunera, the Adira which had the artillery people they could have mounted anything. I don’t think we had any anti-aircraft guns then. I think we got the anti-aircraft guns later. See, the anti-aircraft guns were new to the Australian army. We didn’t have any in Australia at that time you know because nobody ever thought of the Australian army being attacked from the air because it was all ground action it seemed to


us but now of course the bombing by the Germans of Belgium of France and Britain and the Italians are now in and they’ve got a big air force you’ve got to think about this you see. So, you’ve got to have guns to fire at the aircraft. If you can’t hit them at least scare them off.
Can you describe a Vickers machine gun for us?
Oh, it was a the barrel was about that long. It was the standard machine gun introduced in to the British


army in to World War I. There were two machine guns, one was the Vickers machine gun which was on a tripod and you had to sit behind it. You had a crew of at least two men and it had a cartridge belt. The belt went through the gun you see and you pressed the triggers behind. The other one was a Lewis gun which you could carry and fire, you could fire even from your shoulder although it would give you a bit of a bolt which


had a round, what would you call it? A round thing in and the bullets were on top in the round container and it was lighter but the Vickers machine gun was a, sort of the artillery of the machine gun battalions. The machine gun battalions were all equipped with Vickers machine guns and they would come out and they would, you’d have maybe two or three machine guns to a unit


and they were your protection. In World War I it was the machine gun that killed the men, not the artillery. You know the machine gun was the, oh the machine gun was a terrible weapon. I mean I can remember even going through at Bardia you know, we got shelled by artillery and you didn’t think about it but immediately a machine gun opened up on you, you went to ground you know because the machine gun would be sweeping low. It’d catch you, most often it would catch you across the, across the stomach you see but the


Vickers machine gun was a very good weapon. A lot of civil Australians won the VC for either operating machine guns or attacking the German machine gun which was much bigger than the Australian one and much more cumbersome and it was harder to move. You could move the Vickers machine gun very quickly. You just took the barrel off the top and you got it in two pieces and you could get away very quickly with that if you were attacked by the enemy.


But the German one was a fixed machine gun, much bigger barrel on a much bigger tripod and it stood higher and to move it they would have to pick up the whole lot you see and that’s why so many Australians were able to destroy the machine gunners, they couldn’t get away quickly you see. But our people could.
How did you carry a Vickers machine gun?
Oh, you could carry it in two parts. One of you would carry the tripod say over the shoulder and the other one would carry the barrel over the shoulder. It wasn’t, it wasn’t


very heavy. There was weight in it but it wasn’t very heavy. The Lewis gun was easier. It was much lighter. The Lewis guns, you never had more Lewis guns in battalions. The Lewis guns were always in the infantry battalions. Every infantry platoon had a Lewis gun. The Lewis gun became a much more useful weapon in the long run because you could run with it as I said you could even hold it up and fire it in your hands and
What was your role and the role of your platoon when you


Well, when we arrived we were then told, “Right you’re not Vickers machine gunner anymore.”
You were Vickers machine gunners? Can you explain how you became Vickers machine gunners in the ?
Yeah, well every battalion at that stage, the old establishment which we had back in Australia which we were now leaving in Palestine had a Vickers machine gun platoon you see. They had disbanded the machine gun battalions of World War I and created


machine gun platoons in the CMF infantry battalions but now, now when they started the AIF they took away part of the machine gun platoons and made them platoons of the machine gun battalions and the remainder of the machine gun platoon, they said to us before we left Australia, what do you want to be, what do you want to be? Do you want to stay a machine gunner or do you want to become a Bren carrier man? So, when we got to Palestine they said right you are no longer


machine gunners you are now in the Bren carriers you see they said, with the open top tanks you know. They were actually mobile machine gun platforms which used the Lewis gun, which then used the Bren gun you know. We didn’t have Lewis guns in World War II initially, they may have later. I don’t know when they were short of weapons but we now had what was even newer and even later what we called the Bren gun you see and these were mounted on the Bren carriers


so they became mobile machine guns. You could move them anywhere you see.
Can you describe the first time you saw a Bren carrier?
The first time I saw a Bren carrier was in Egypt. I’ve got a photo of one, of my three Bren carriers if you want to see it. I was by then, by then I’m in charge, oh by then I’d been promoted to sergeant. I must have been promoted to sergeant before I left


Egypt. Anyhow, I was then in charge of 3 Bren carriers. A Bren carrier platoon had 10 Bren carriers. In other words 10 Bren guns on mobile platforms. The 10th one was for the officer in charge of the whole platoon, then there were 3 sections and there were 3 Bren carriers and 3 sergeants and I was the junior sergeant. The senior sergeant was a chap named McKay who came from the 46th Battalion CMF, the second one was Frank Kelly. I don’t know


where Frank Kelly came from and I came of course from the 14th Battalion. The first time we saw Bren carriers was when we arrived in Egypt and we got Bren carriers, had been handed over from a British battalion you know they were already half knocked, whacked out. They should have been rejects but we got them you know because when we arrived in Egypt you know the


army in Egypt had hardly any weapons. It was in a terrible state. It’s amazing that we did so much, in getting, knocking off the Italians. It shows how bad the Italians. they were you know but I think we got, we were supposed to get 10 Bren carriers, I think we got 5 and we took it turns to learn how to run these things. Each Bren carrier had a corporal or a sergeant


a driver and a gunner. Three men to a carrier you see so that you could park your carrier behind a hillock or something and jump out, take the Bren gun out and set up a stationary position you see or you could stay, you could fire it as you were moving you see but the main thing was quickly to get a machine gun in to some position to harass the enemy and the quickest one was on these little carriers and we could do 50 oh what’s it say, 50 kilometres and hour in these things you know they were


fast you know.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 04


You these Bren carriers and you had to learn to use them. Can you describe how you operated these machines?
Yeah, now the British ones had a stick, like you know, like a joy stick, like an aeroplane. The Australian ones had the wheel but it was interesting. We all had to take a turn on how to drive it and of course you had a repair kit


thing aboard so that if the track thing came off you had to learn how to put the things back in to the track to get your new track on. You had to learn how to, we did some exercises going out and firing at moving targets and so on. The thing, the thing about the Bren carrier. I always liked the Bren carried because at least if you got attacked as I was eventually you could get out. But if you’re in a tank you’ve got no hope,


you just burn up and finish up a heap of charcoal you know but with a carrier you had some way of getting out and you had your speed to compensate for you. A tank couldn’t move as quick as a Bren carrier. A Bren carrier was quicker. At least, at least at 50ks. There was one case where we still had George Wharf at this stage as lieutenant and we did some exercises going over hillocks and Hugh McKay in front of me


his carrier and stalled and my carrier was already down and there’s moving sand under the tracks. I can’t stop and I landed on top of his carrier and I finished up in hospital in the casualty, clearing station with a ricked neck. I think I’ve still have some of it left.
Was that in training? Can you explain where the accident was?
That was in Egypt now we’d go out in to the desert, the nearby desert and practise you know. I


suppose, well not as far up as El Alamein but the first place we went to was called Ikingi and the second word Mariut [Ikingi Maryut] and that was right on the edge of the Western Desert and we practised there you know, first the battalions then the Brigades. I think we may have done long Divisional exercises with all three Brigades by now we’re three Brigades not four


where we would have done a Divisional exercise and they’re still there and then of course the Indians, the Italians attacked Egypt you know, sort of attacked. They didn’t go very far. They decided to sit down and wait for us and then the Indians went in and the Indians captured the first town and took forty thousand prisoners and then the Indians were called on to go down and take Abyssinia back from the Italians


and we took over from them and we looked forward to it, right this was, at last we’re going to have a fight you know this is the beginning of January you see and we were looking forward to it you see but before then of course when we were at Helwan down in Cairo, after moving down from Ikingi we had leave and I can remember going in to


Cairo and enjoying ourselves in there you know. I remember one of my drivers and I went in one night and of course Egyptian shops are open at night and I can remember we went into a department store and this fellow Darky Keen, he got killed later on the way to Greece, decided he would like a souvenir of this department store. So, you know these things that you put stockings on, you know this leg thing. He decided to take one of those and this


store had a huge Nubian commissioner, this huge black man decided to take us on. By this time of course we’d had a few drinks and we were pretty well drunk and so we get out and we’re arguing with him and then the British military police came along, the Red Caps decided to take us on and I remember, the fight started. I get knocked out almost the first blow and when I go coming too, I’m on the ground and Darky


Keen has got one leg both sides of me and he’s punching this policeman. He was a big boy from Warrnambool, a potato farmer and he’s punching this military policeman over and over but we didn’t get into trouble. They let us off, Australians you know, what do you expect? You can’t expect anything else of them.
How aware were you of the Australian reputation in Cairo? Dating back to the first AIF?
Oh, I think we heard a bit of it but we didn’t play it


but the trouble this time were the New Zealanders in Durbin on the way to England. They were the troublemakers in the Second World War. Durbin still remembers the New Zealanders but
Not being fair to the troublemakers in Cairo, there would have been a few of them though?
No, I can’t remember but they, the funniest thing I can remember there was we had a little bloke named Bluey Sixston and when we were in Jerusalem one day on leave he


got hold of himself a horse somewhere and he galloped this horse down and he’s got policemen chasing him you know but that’s the that’s the only bit of trouble, no, no strangely enough, when I think back on it I think we were probably a lot more serious than the soldiers in the First War. I think we were inclined to be more serious. You know, I think we were very conscious, somebody’s going to get


killed, is it going to be me? Am I going to lose a leg or am I … you know. We, because of course we knew about the, we were very conscious of what happened in World War I. By this time of course we’re thinking more of World War I than when we were in the CMF. We’re in it now you know we’re not going to get out of it. We’re going to have to fight you know. We’re wondering what are the Italians like? Well, it so happened the Italian infantry weren’t very good but their


artillery was and the casualties we mostly suffered were from Italian artillery. They were very good shots you know. Going through the wire at Tobruk you know we’re being shelled by Italian artillery and I had a pair of spectacles. An Italian officer’s spectacles, binoculars, binoculars hanging around my neck which I’d souvenired at Bardia and I got through the wire. It was gone. Piece of shell just took the binoculars away and I


just had the things, strings hanging around my neck.
We’ll get on to Bardia and Tobruk in just a moment but while we’re still talking about Cairo what dealings did you have with the local populations in any of these places you went on leave?
Oh, not very much you know you’d, I, you know, you’d go in and you’d sit in a coffee shop and you’d have a coffee or it was mostly lemonade I think you know. The Arabs were very keen on lemonade


you know we were advised to drink and we did drink some of the Egyptian beer which wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as good as Australian beer but it wasn’t bad. It had a slightly acidy taste about it. More as though it was made out of, again made out of lemons rather than made out of hops you know but I, oh, you’d pass these people. We caught a train


into from Helwan in to Cairo. It was a suburban route, Helwan’s the end, was the end station and we’d go in for a day you know but you get to the point where it becomes a bit boring after a while. If you’ve done it once great. If you do it second time it’s boring you know. I’d just as soon be back in the camp reading a book or writing a letter you know and so that and we didn’t mix much with the, with the


Egyptians at all.
What particular places did the troops seek out when they were on leave?
Oh, there were a couple of cinemas you know, you’d probably you’d finish up in the cinema you know. The, after a while I think most people, most of the fellows would find that they didn’t like the Egyptian beer anyway. They’d just as soon enjoy the British beer hand out back in the camp you know which was probably a bit of British, they


served us British beer there of course so that, I think in some ways Cairo was a bit of a bore you know. A bit of, really a bit of a bore. Alexandria was much more interesting. When we came back out of the desert.
What about Alexandria? What was the key places in Alexandria you went go?
Oh, Alexandria was a much more attractive town. A much more cosmopolitan town because


Alexandria originally of course was created by the Greeks, you had a big Greek population there and of course we were going, well I remember a funny thing. Five of us sergeants went on leave in Alexandria and we stayed in the Bristol hotel and we eat in this Greek restaurant downstairs and here were these Greeks, mind you nobody’s supposed to know we’re going to Greece and the Greek people downstairs are telling us what to see when we get to Greece you know


we, so I mean obviously in Greece at this time before the Germans came in to the action, the German ambassador and his staff were down watching the Australians get off the ships at Piraeus you know it was a little bit of a, you know, farcical comedy but Alexandria was much more attractive. The cinemas were better, there were more things to see, they had a fantastic museum


there which I remember going in and it was something that really attracted me, they had all the stuff was very old and there was a thing there and a plaque on it which said that in the year 2050 oh no, in the year a thousand, yeah in the year 2050 the capital of the world will be in the South Pacific


and it gave you the latitude and the longitude. Where do you think that capital is? Right here. Canberra. You know it’s going to be the capital of the world according to the Egyptians you know and you know what liars they are.
I wait for that with baited breath.
That was the, it was a very interesting museum. It was our first time we’d seen mummys and things like that you know and that became, that became a very popular place. Going to the museum you know ..
Just stop you for, just a


second … getting back to your camp then, the one outside Cairo what were the conditions like there?
Oh, I was finding it quite a good camp. I think, I think British troops or Indian troops had been there before hand. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Indian troops, you know the 4th Indian Division who incidentally, their general later became Indian’s ambassador to Canberra. He is the man that used to go around Australia and clean up all the


all the grubby stuff around war memorials. Every town he went in to he and his chauffeur used to clean up the local war memorial. He was an extraordinary man, very but it was the, it was a good camp. But that was the year I had to go in to the casualty clearing station but I was only in there for a couple of days and then they sent me back you know.
What’s the atmosphere like amongst the troops at this stage? You’re not going to England anymore. What’s happening in your minds?
Oh, we know the Egyptian, we know the Italians


are in it now. We know they are attacking Egypt. We know that. We know that sooner or later we’re going to go up. It’s a matter of time. We’re there from September until the beginning of January, we’re there for 4 months. It became a little bit boring part of the time you know, oh why don’t they send us off now you know, you got a bit keen to go up but we heard the Indians were doing very well so we knew that sooner or later we’d be taking over from the 4th Indian Division which eventually


we did. So, some of us got up there and right away you know we decided all right we’re going to attack Bardia. The Italians had three fortified towns where they had these rings of forts around the town. Bardia was the port. It was the only port at that point where you could get ships in. Bardia was more or less a frontier, a frontier


station. Derna a bit further in, Derna I think Derna had an airport where they could land planes you know but they all had these rings of concrete forts around them or concrete, the forts were, the dugouts in to the ground you know so we’re up there and we know all right we’re going to attack Bardia, right who’s going to do the attacking?
Just before that came through how were you dealing with the boredom as you mentioned?
Oh, well what else can you do? I mean you just have to


tolerate it you see. I mean there’s nothing much you can do but no you know we got mail and you could get the papers every day, the Egyptian Mail and the Egyptian Gazette you know and they, a couple of concerts were staged for us you know where people like, I think they were actually British entertainers living in Egypt or Palestine who, they weren’t people brought out from Britain or people brought out from Australia you know at that stage it would have been a bit difficulty to


do that but I mean it was quite, and of course you had your daily, still had to do the training thing so that took away some of the boredom.
What entertainment did you see? Did ?
Oh, you know the type of things that I suppose you would see were singers and dancers. There might have been a couple of comedians although I can’t remember any of their jokes you know but it was, was, it wasn’t too


bad maybe I’m being a bit harsh in saying boredom. It wasn’t boredom all the time, eventually something would turn up. You might get bored part of the day and then something would turn up you know or people would play, of course play card games and maybe you know and people playing bridge. I think there were a couple of bridge competitions and things like that you know. There’d be two up. There’d be gambling of course you know, quite a few fellows won or lost a lot of money gambling on two up, you know, back in


Palestine we actually had a race meeting at a place called Barba and all the horses were given Australian names, you know, Melbourne cup winners and so on and that went down very well but that was the only one occasion that, that something like happened. I think they did that actually to stop the troops getting bored but of course in Palestine we could go swimming too, down for instance we used to go down and swim at Escalon which was an old Roman beachside resort you know


and digging trenches in Palestine and Egypt too we could give up, we dug up the Roman coins you know. Amazing. Roman coins various things like that and little pieces of cutlery or crockery or whatever and of course in Palestine we had the orange groves where you could help yourself to oranges you see but you couldn’t do that, there were no orange groves in Egypt you know. Egypt perhaps was, was a bit boring. Palestine was not really boring.


Palestine was always interesting you know .
Apart from the ocean what did Palestine have that Egypt didn’t?
Oh, well you had the, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem you had, well Jerusalem to start with, if you were a Christian obviously you’re going to be interested in, everyone went to Jerusalem to see the sepulchre you know and Calvary where Christ was crucified that type of thing and they had a big club there too. The Australian Comforts Club. They had another


one in Tel Aviv but it wasn’t as big. The big one, the biggest attraction was Jerusalem and then of course we went down on a couple of occasions down to Jericho and tried to swim in the Dead Sea where you just floated on the surface, you couldn’t sink you know and the bridge which now is West Jordan at the time it was still part of Palestine but in Egypt you know, living on the fringe of the desert other than


Helwan and Cairo and Saint Aikindi living on the desert there, there wasn’t much you could do, you know.
What was the landscape like?
Oh, Palestine was rather strange and if you compare the two. Palestine was rather strange. Once you got above Gaza you sort of came in to sort of semi- settled country which was not unlike Australia in a lot of respects.


It could be green one day and brown the next you know depending on the climate. But you see down in Cairo, down in Egypt rather, outside the Nile delta and we didn’t see much of that. We weren’t allowed much to go there it was, you know, sand desert most of the time you see. So, that, it was you know the boring probably comes in not


being able to see anything interesting. That’s probably where it comes in.
What problems did you have with the weather?
Strangely, enough I can’t recall us ever having too many wet days. I think we might have had a couple of wet days in Palestine but I don’t ever recall it raining in Egypt you know. As a matter of fact I don’t recall it ever raining all the time we were in North Africa, you know. On the other hand when we got to Greece we got in to


What about the sun? Did that cause any problems for you?
No, it’s a very dry heat so that it, you don’t have a humidity. Which, it’s the humidity which makes you feel uncomfortable. But the fact is that we, I don’t recall seeing many fellows getting sunburnt, you might have had a bit of red around the face but not on the body. As a matter of fact the only


time I really got sunburnt was doing that guard on the Neuralia going over to Palestine where I asked for it by leaving my shirt off during the middle of the day on a couple of very hot days you know. So, I asked for it that time.
What about wind and sand?
Oh, that’s a different thing. Now we didn’t have any problems with the sand in Palestine but in Egypt you have what is called the Khamsin. This is a sandstorm which blows in right across the


continent, right across from Chad. And once it starts you’ve just got to go to ground and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. I was in one outside Tobruk in which lasted for 2 days and I’m just huddled down in this hole. You can’t do anything but keep your face down because it really could hurt your eyes to be caught in this thing. This sand storm that goes on and on and on you know and you can’t see anything. Now this was a bit of trouble later on


for the, for the Germans and for the fellows, the British during battles. A sandstorm used to come up and they’d have to stop fighting. You couldn’t do anything.
What would that do to your equipment?
Oh, well yeah well you’d have to clean your equipment up. If it got in to the barrels you’d have to get in there and clean it out with a lot of oil and so on. I don’t think it would do any scarring. It might have, might have done a bit of damage say to artillery


or anti-aircraft guns where you, if you’d get some sand in there consistently it start maybe start to wear the barrels a bit but it wouldn’t effect the infantry man’s weapons so much. As long as you kept, you kept, you tried to keep it covered you know.
What covers and precautions did you take against the sand?
Oh, you know you’d cover it up with whatever piece of cloth you had, anything like that. Mainly around the entrance to the barrel and around the


trigger. Trigger area where you know. Otherwise the 303 rifle is pretty much timber covered and it’s pretty all right. Your other weapon, of course if the officer’s revolver would be in a pouch so that you’d be all right there. Other things, no, the main thing was, the main problem I think would have been for the artillery fellows and then to us.
What about the carriers?


the carriers. No, the carriers were able to stand up to it pretty well because they’re all steel so you can’t do much damage to them. The, there’s a good one, there’s one up in the [Australian] War Memorial, Australian War Memorial that’s a Japanese captured. That’s one of the Australians ones incidentally and you can see how, they were very tough, steely little vehicles you know it took a lot to damage them. I can remember when we were at Bardia and I was trying to attack this, this


Bardia thing the carrier, the carrier alongside me went over a mine and the mine blew up underneath the carrier. You just touched the end of it and set off the charge and he was a 5th Battalion carrier and it just cut the, cut the driver in two and damaged the other. I think those two boys died. I think the officer Greg Greener, he must have survived because his biography is up in the [Australian] War Memorial but they were pretty tough you know.
What fuel did they run on?
Ordinary petrol.


You know we carried, we carried, we had in those days the old tin can, you know. The trouble with those though is that they could quite easily get perforated by a rock or a not just a bullet but rocks anything like that so you had to be very careful how you stacked them otherwise you’d soon lose your petrol. Later on of course they had those jerry cans which were a tougher type of container and held the petrol much better and much harder to damaged.
How were you re-supplied with these things


out in the field?
Oh, well we got the, apart from the three infantry battalions and the two artillery regiments and the CCS [Casualty Clearing Station] and the hospital we had the AASC, the Australian, Army, Service Corp. and they did a terrific job. These are the fellows in the four tonne trucks and they would run up everything to you and you, you know, ammunition company which would only carry ammunition and then you’d have food company which only carried food


oh, there was probably something else. I forget, oh petrol company which only carried the petrol you see and everything came up to you from the AASC and they, I admire those fellows because they were always at danger of being bombed you know because the first thing the enemy would do was attack the supply lines, you know, knock out the supply so you can’t get supplies you know.
Can you tell us about Bardia, can you lead up to what word you got that you would be going in to action


and what happened next?
Well, we went through the 4th Indian Division and we know right, if we’re going through them obviously we are becoming the front. It’s now our turn to do the fighting and when we got to Bardia and I had my carrier. I remember going out. I went out on a couple of scouting parties and just sitting behind hills and getting up on a hill and look over you see what’s going you know.


See if any Italians are around but we were on the South East side of the thing you see. We weren’t supposed to do any attacking at all. We were just supposed to stay there, make sure they don’t do a break out. If they’re going to break out you know this is the way they might come you see. Because the other two Brigades went in, in the centre to attack through the barbed wire but alright we’re told okay we’re going in to action and to target this party. It’s a sort of a funny term


and the first people on the job of course were the engineers, they had to go out and remove any mines that were there to stop the, we had the 7th Division British tank, tanks with us you see. So, the tanks could get us through and then you had to put, get rid of the barbed wire by putting what they call Bangalore torpedoes through the barbed wire and you set those off and they split the wire open so you could march through it.


Can you decided a Bangalore torpedo for us?
Oh, they’re long and not unlike a torpedo you see on a submarine except shorter, shorter and narrower and they had a fuse in it which they would set off. I’m not sure whether they set it off by wire. I think it must have been wire because I don’t think there was remote control in those days. I think they must have set a, they’d run a wire back and they’d press the button and that would set off the Bangalore


torpedos. But the, the engineers were the fellows that took the first brunt of it you know. They had to go in and clear the way and then the infantry went in. We went in standing up and quite easily you know. I’m talking about Bardia there because but I assume the 19th and the 16th Brigade did the same thing. I think the, I think the 19th Brigade, the West Australians, the South Australians and Tasmanians


did the first thing and then the 16th Brigade, New South Wales went in next and we’re the Victorians on the right you know. But Bardia, you would have thought that we would have had a very hard time taking Bardia. Bardia was not like Sollum or Sidi Barrani which the Indians captured. They didn’t have big fortifications around them because they were in Egypt anyway. They were outside you know and they were easy to take. As a matter of fact they


caught most of the Italians at Sidi Barrani having breakfast you know they were not aware the Indians were going to attack but we thought we were going to have a bit of a hard time because you had all these concrete dug out things you see where they had machine guns and light aircraft guns which could be pulled down and used as light artillery. But when it came to the, came to the punch it was over, oh before the end of the day


you know. We had a bit of a harder time taking Tobruk where they fought a bit harder there. Where it took us, I think it took us two days to get Tobruk but very much, Tobruk is much the same only bigger you know.
That day at Bardia how did it unfold for you? You were taken around the side in your carriers to mind the flank? What were you doing all day?
Well, I still cannot understand what we were supposed to be doing. I mean while we had to rush at the wire with the carriers seemed to me unnecessary when, when we could have


just stood up somewhere with the machine guns you know. We lost a carrier unnecessarily it seemed to me.
Can you explain what your orders were? To rush at the wire. Where was the wire and what were you rushing at?
Well, Arthur Godfrey, got this, our colonel, he’d been a First World War man. He was a decorated soldier. I think he had the feeling well the other fellows are having fun. We can’t leave the 2/6th Battalion out of it.


We’ve got to do our show too. We’ve got to have a big of this. And we did this thing and this is where we got this post eleven thing this famous painting in which Joe Gullet is the centre piece, where he’s been wounded and then the dead Australians, the Dam brothers lying around him and the other boys that were killed but Bob and the other boy that I knew very well was one of the great grandson of the first Australian ambassador to Japan.


But you know it seemed unnecessary. Subsequent history shows that what we did was unnecessary. All we had to do was just sit there and just keep quiet.
So you were sitting keeping quiet but you were rushing at the wire?
We should have been keeping quiet, just sitting there you know but then Godfrey decided alright, we should have bit of this action too. Right you go and take this post eleven, you go and take the carriers over


there and attack the wire you know which seemed, which is proven now to have been unnecessary in the later history.
Can you take us through moment where you, your colleagues carrier hit the mine? What was going on?
Oh, I was already past there. There was another carrier too, a 3rd carrier. I don’t know what happened to them but it happened, happened behind me you


see, happened behind me and then we were just pulled back anyway and they went in and took out the blokes, the carrier that got hit you know. At that stage you see we had so few carriers that what we were doing, we were merging the carriers of each battalion so instead of, you see of instance we had say three carriers. 5th Battalion and three carriers 6th, 7th Battalion and 3 carriers so instead of each battalion having 10


carriers we took the 9 carriers together to make one carrier platoon, merged them together you see. It was only temporary like as in the picture there you see 7th Battalion and 6th Battalion carriers you know we’re still, we’re down to numbers. We never did have enough carriers in the Western desert. We were always short.
How did things change for you after this moment of action?
Well, I’ve sometimes wondered.


The strange things is to see your dead friends all of a sudden. You think what will that do to you? I don’t know. It just didn’t have an impact at all. I think inside you said to yourself well we had to expect this you know. It’s bound to happen. Next time it might be me. I think you get to accept it,


you know. Unless it’s a very close friend. You hear some harrowing, horrible tales of World War I of men who had great friends who were killed you know Murray and Black in one battalion at Bullecourt [Harry Murray and Percy Black, 13th Battalion]. Where men actually wept at the loss of their friend because don’t forget when you’re in battle you’re all men. They’re no women or anything like that and, but you’re there and the possibility of


death is always with you so gradually you get to accept the idea. Right, I’m going to be killed tomorrow alright. Or he’s going to be killed tomorrow. You just accept these things. What you don’t want to be is to wounded because wounds can be terrible you know. You might get a head wound or lose a limb or something you know but you accept death. Death is the end of it. It’s the same thing, you’d never accept to be taken prisoner of


war. See, when you joined the army they didn’t say to you right one of these days you might be taken prisoner of war and this is what you should do when you’re taken prisoner of war. They don’t tell you, you know, and suddenly you find yourself a prisoner of war. Right, now what’s going to happen right? But at least you say to yourself, I can’t be killed anymore. I can’t be wounded anymore. Well, I actually was wounded anyway but it didn’t matter but you see. You’re over two of the hurdles


but they don’t tell you about the third one, the third one is still a mystery. Still a mystery you know.
You must have seen thousands of Italian prisoners of war at Bardia. What happened to them?
Oh, yeah. Oh, they, some of them came out here. I think most were taken to India.
At the time what did you do with the columns of prisoners that were coming back?
Oh, they were all brought back and they were held I think at Sidi Barrani or Mersa Matruh but we finished up taking the 6th Division ended up taking 70 thousand prisoners. We took,


the Indians took 40 thousand and we took 70 thousand. Most of those were Bardia and Tobruk. Few more at Derna and a few more probably at Benghazi but most of the prisoners were taken at Tobruk and Bardia by the Australians.
What did you see of these men?
Oh, you saw them going back. We had a funny incident. We had an Italian Australian in our battalion named Cardana and at Bardia our battalion was


given the job of allotting men to escort the prisoners back to the cage or wherever it was they had to go to. So, Cardana is put on this and this is, the fighting is still going on. I don’t know how many prisoners he had, maybe two thousand or three thousand you see. So, he’s marching along, one Australian soldier were with these 3 thousand prisoners you know and then, the Italians, the Italians were inclined. The early Italians were inclined to give it away. I don’t think they really like


the fascist regime. They didn’t like Mussolini and they thought well this is a way out of it. But they’re going along anyway. The artillery starts shelling and the shells are coming down near the column of prisoners. So, Cardana started to run and all the prisoners run after him. They think well he’s going to safety we might as well follow him you see which was, we laughed, we thought it that was a great joke you know. Here’s an Italian Australian goes for his life to safety and all the Italians are running after him. But the


oh the columns stretched for a hell of a long way at one stage and the oh, two or three miles you know, 70 thousand men and they’re all marching along say about six abreast. You can imagine how long the column was you know but the majority I think finished up in India for the rest of the war though quite a few came out here and they seemed to have been very popular out here, the prisoners. They, quite a few of them, I’ve met a couple of them actually


there used to be one living here, just near here who came back to Australia as immigrants, you know they liked Australia and came back here.
What happened next? You went on to Tobruk after Bardia?
Oh, well we had a, it was a fortnight. January 3rd was when we attacked Bardia. January 23rd I think it was when we attacked Tobruk so roughly a couple of weeks in between that


of course we had one, well as far as I’m concerned we had one funny incident. We found a lot of Italian supplies of course in Bardia. You know all sorts of things, foods, tuna. We lived on tins of tuna for quite a while and this was a variation from a standard Australian, standard British rations. Tuna, bottles of, I can remember getting very drunk on a bottle of Montalonte which was a


very purple, rich purple wine, Italian wine and we were in this Gully about half way between Bardia and Tobruk and I get this, get this very drunk and then of course I’ve had to surrender my carrier to somebody else you know. I can only, you know we had to swap carriers around. That’s how few we had you know. Alright, you can have it today, you can have it tomorrow. You can have it the next day you know but I’m without a carrier and I’m drunk so I’ve got to travel


in the back of the Four tonner and he hits every bloody rock on the way to Tobruk and I’m shuddering. Oh, this, oh my head. The brain’s going up through the top of my head you know. I’m suffering agony from this drunkenness in this truck you know but then we got outside.
What did you do when you didn’t have a carrier?
Oh, you just reverted to ordinary infantry. See, at Tobruk I just went in as ordinary infantry. I marched through the wire you know


with the rifle tort you know.
Can you tell us about that experience? Of marching through the wire at Tobruk?
Yeah, well this was, it was very much, almost the same, an almost duplication of the operation at Bardia you know. Whoever did the planning, I’ve read about it somewhere, he did a tremendous job. Our general at the time was Major General Ivan Mackay.


He was the Divisional commander. He subsequently came back and he was in charge of all Australian land forces. He’d been a soldier in the First World War and decorated in the First World War. We were very lucky in that respect, that the majority of our officers had been in the First World War but they were still young enough to take senior positions. The only colonel that I know of who wasn’t in the First World War was Walker who commanded the 2/7th Battalion and


he did a fantastic job even though he was taken prisoner, the whole of 7th but that comes back to Crete again you see but Mackay and his staff planned this and it was a duplicate of the, almost a duplicate of the first operation you know. We go through the centre of the wire and you have battalion sitting down there or on this case on both sides because Tobruk was bigger. There were more Italians in there. We have one battalion up


there and one battalion to the South. One to the North. One to the South to stop the break outs. We want to keep them inside the wire. Capture the lot of them, or kill the lot of them. So, the engineers go in and do the usual thing. Blow the Bangalores and so on and then we start to march through the wire, just, we just walk calmly through you know we don’t hurry or anything. You just walk calmly through, holding your rifle at the port you know and there’s this artillery shells bursting all around us. I suppose some, some fellows got killed


but I didn’t see anybody fall down but once inside the wire my job was, each battalion had a job to do. One battalion went to the left, one straight ahead and my battalion had the job to go to the right, see? And my particular group had to go right along all the posts and clear out the posts, if there were any Italians in the posts you know. So, we went along and I did a silly thing then. We decided to have a look inside one of these posts


and we get in there and it’s got one of these anti-aircraft guns come, little artillery pieces so we’re playing around with this and I don’t know whether it was the Italian artillery or the Australian artillery, sees this gun going up and down, they started to shell us you see and we were in this concrete thing you know and we just had to wait until it stopped and for the rest of the day I was deaf. Concussion you know, the shells bursting around and being in this concrete thing you know


so we go on and go over and join the rest of the battalion and the rest of the company and you know I’m completely deaf you know. George Walker’s still our commander at that stage. He talks to me and I can’t hear him and I, just point out I was deaf you know.
We’ll talk about the rest of that day
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 05


Tobruk, it all right. Yeah, he’s rolling. How were things when you came in to Tobruk?
Oh, again, again you know we, I think in some ways we were getting a bit surprised that we weren’t being forced to protect ourselves in a way. It sort of a,


to expect a counter battalion attack. I think the Italians over, over did themselves by thinking well we’re inside this big fortress, we’re protected you know which is the opposite of what happened. When the Australians came, the rest of Tobruk, same situation but they kept the Germans out.
How did you prepare Tobruk for possible future battle?


Well, by that time we were in Greece you know
Yeah, but when you were there what preparations were made for a possible siege which did eventuate?
Well, actually we didn’t really do anything because at that stage we were anticipating chasing the Italians out of Libya altogether you see but where it went wrong was when we got up to Benghazi then Churchill suddenly remembered oh I made this promise to Greece. That we would help Greece, you


know. The worst thing we did was go to Greece because it brought the Germans in.
If you can keep to the specifics on your engagement. So in Tobruk were you involved or how were you involved in creating fortifications for the defence of Tobruk?
No, nothing.
So, what did you do in Tobruk?
Well, we went to, we weren’t there, we weren’t all there


all that long. I think oh maybe a week at most and that’s when we got this Khamsin which held us down for a couple of days you know this terrible sand storm that held us down for a couple of days and then we were on the road again, going up to Derna only this time we’re now in the middle of Cyrenaica and we’re coming in to the green part of Cyrenaica, the are that had been settled by Italian farm


emigrant farmers with wheat fields and all this type of thing so at that stage the division divided in to two.
Where were you?
The 6th Division divided in to two and the 7th Brigade we went South through a place called Giovanni Berta and Lekiwi and the others kept along the coast you see. And we, fortunately we didn’t hit any trouble but


the 19th Brigade had to do some fighting at Derna but the interesting part about it was is that I hadn’t mentioned that we had a machine gun battalion with us which was not Australian strangely enough. It was the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers I think it was, a regular British machine gun battalion and they were pretty


good although I don’t know. I don’t know that they really had much to do because it, by the end Tobruk turned out to be a rather easy conquest in a way but the Italians packed it in so quickly. Each battle was over in a day. I think Tobruk took a little bit, about two days. I think they lasted over night.
Were you involved in any engagements on your way right up to Derna?


No, no we went South through Giovanni Berta and Mechili.
Were you involved in any engagements down there?
No, no we never struck, we never struck, it was easy going. We didn’t strike anybody you see. I remember when, outside Giovanni Berta oh wait I think there was an Italian garrison there but they’d cleared out and again we got all their supplies, again stacks of wine and food. They’d left it all behind.
What were you doing with this wine and food that you got from these?
Oh, we supplemented our stuff you know. We packed the


packed the carriers and the trucks and everything with it and divided it amongst, amongst everybody. I mean there wasn’t enough for a whole battalion. There was enough maybe for a company but you divided it around you know. Maybe I got a tin of tunny and a bottle of wine or something like that you know that’s all.
Did the officers get first pick and then sent it down the line?
No, no, no, no they didn’t. They just help yourselves, you know. There was never any,


any attempt by the Italians, by the, by the, by our officers to put themselves ahead of the men.
What sort of leader were you?
Oh, me? Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t have any complaints so I must have been all right. Certainly, that was reflected on in other ways but
What was your nickname?


well having been a journalist I was known as Scoop so but the thing is, at that point the interesting thing is about the Bren carrier section of the 6th Battalion is that we hadn’t lost a man you know but 5th Battalion they’d lost a couple. I don’t know that the 7th lost, up until then our casualties were very light. They were a bit


heavy for the battalion at Bardia but they were the infantry men they were the rifle men you know. They were the people who got killed you so see so up to that stage, the whole of the 6th Division we were doing very well. We were getting through without, very few casualties you know. So, then we went around and we joined, joined up again with the other two Brigades at a place called Barce which was a sort of, a


fairly substantial country town you could call it with flats for, houses, more flats than anything for these immigrant farmers most of who had cleared out and we finally caught up with some of these Italian immigrant farmers and you know they were like soldiers anywhere, like Germans did and anybody else, we tried to be a bit friendly with them you know. They weren’t fighting people


they were just ordinary civilian people, just like my brother found Tommy found in Japan. They got to like the Japanese civilians you know so we tried to, and some of them were hungry and we tried to supplement their food ration with some of ours. But Bardia was an interesting place. The bit of trouble there was, I can’t recall what they call these Arabs that live in the Western desert. They’re a particular


type of tribe. They’re not Bedouin they’re something else again and they started, now we were there. They started to harass these Italian farmers, you know, fighting to get their own back on the way the farmers had treated them so part of our job was trying to keep these Arab people, these Muslims away from the Italians which wasn’t easy because a couple of them,


were shot by our fellows. I didn’t, I didn’t do any shooting of them. I don’t recall seeing any of them. I finally, for a moment, had a carrier back. So I was back on wheels again so, well tracks again. So, and that’s as far as we went but the 19th Brigade went on in to Benghazi and then the British tanks and I think the 6th infantry Brigade went on down a bit further and that’s where


we stopped and started to come back and the first of the 7th Division then the 9th Division came in behind us and started to take over from us. You know these 9th Battalions, these were the battalions or the soldiers, the Australians who had been in Britain you know they’d come around the Cape, in a convoy. They came back now and took over from us and we started to, started to pull back. I had a carrier now so I could ride back towards Egypt for a while. I think I rode back as far as Tobruk


and then I had to surrender the carrier again.
What can you see from your Bren Carrier as you’re driving through the deserts of Libya?
Oh, well it started off, it’s Cyrenaica there was this part that was, it had you know, I wouldn’t say forest of trees but they had copses of trees and wheat fields and a few things like that. That was quite pleasant. It was green you know and every time we could see anything green it was


pleasant but once you get beyond there you start to get back in to the desert again, in to the sand country, in to the stone country and the [(UNCLEAR)] country you know and there’s nothing to see. You’re just driving along and there’s nothing on either side of the horizon you know. We’re too far inland from the sea to see the sea. It’s not until we get to Tobruk that we see the sea again. So, when we get there we just kept going until we got back to oh not


Ikemo no it was Amiriya, a place called Amiriya which was close to, close to Ikemo. These are places on the railway line that ran up as far as Mersa Matruh and we just set up camp again there and we were there maybe oh a week or a fortnight and that’s when they gave us leave to go in to Alexandria you know if you wanted to. I think we took it, actually the, no actually I didn’t get leave to go to Alexandria. I was one of two


sergeants who was sent in to Alexandria to bring back blokes who’d gone in there without leave you know but when we got in there we stayed in there ourselves anyway.
The Australians were a little bit notorious reputation of the cities of
No, strangely enough. Not this time. Not this time. I think it’s, the interesting thing is the Australians this time, certainly with, in my case, in my battalion’s case


and in my period, the period I’m talking about. We’re inclined to be well behaved you know. Reasonably well behaved anyway. I did have this one [(UNCLEAR)] temps one time in Alexandria with Darky Keen where we tried to pinch a souvenir from this department store and we had this fight with these English wig caps and they didn’t charge us. They just let us go. Darky had a black eye and I had a split lip or something or other. They just let us go. I think the,


I think the Red Caps, the British Red Caps, the British military people didn’t want to have trouble with more Australians. I mean if they arrested us, maybe then you would have seen a whole battalion coming in to start a fight you know but nothing like that happened this time you see. So, that you know and also we had by then, had been told we were going to Greece so we were looking forward to this. This is something, you know. Going to Greece, you know


a sort of cradle of civilisation. What is it like over there you know? What are we going to do? We’re going over there to help the Greeks fight the Italians, you see. That’s what we were told. We were going over there to help the Greeks fight the Italians and the Greeks were already pushing the Italians back in Albania anyway. They’re beating the Italians so we’re looking forward to this you know so be on your best behaviour. You don’t want to be left behind, you see. And at this stage


Hughie, Mackay, Ned and I each in turn were offered the chance to go to Octu. Joe Gullet had gone back to Australia and came back a lieutenant but we knocked it back because we all wanted to go to Greece you see. I mean there’s always the idea well later on you’ll probably get to get promoted in the field anyway. Why bother to go to Octu, which is a British thing anyway. You’re going to get all this British crap hurled at you. So, we decided we’d


rather go to Greece and stayed on our best behaviour. There was one incident in January though. We had a little bit of trouble now and again with these Arabs. I can’t recall them. They’ve got a particular name. I can’t recall it. But apparently one of the boys Harold Brockley came in to his tent which he shared. I think there were about six or seven blokes in each tent and saw one of these Arabs trying to steal the rifles in the centre you know, the rifles stacked


up. And he tacked him and the Arab must have had a pistol or something and he shot Brockley in the stomach and Brockly died. That was only incident we had at Amiriya where Brockly died.
How well did you know Brockly?
Oh, quite well. You know we, well I mean if you had a battalion you get to know most people there. Harold Brockly came from Carlton in Victoria you know. He was a great mate of two fellows that I knew quite well. Plunger Pumfrey


and a chap called Sullivan, Danny, Danny Sullivan who also came from Carlton so he used to come over, come over to the carriers occasionally to talk to them. He was an infantry man on the carrier.
What did the Australians call the Arabs?
Oh, I don’t know. We might have used the term wog which was a carry on from World War I and meant wiry, oriental gentleman originally you know. I don’t know. Oh, you know


we might have, oh those bastards again you know but I don’t think we ever used the term black bastards. I don’t think I ever heard that.
What about the Italians?
Oh, they were generally described as just Dages, not Dagos, Dages. Again, you got the Australians, we seemed to make us these words as we go along you know but the, the Italians prisoners


we didn’t have much to do with them because they were marched off to these camps where they held until they were shipped off to India or to Australia. I, I thin the bulk of them went to India.
And can you lead us, take us on your particular journey across to Greece when you finally embarked for Greece.
Well, yeah this is interesting. This is when we lost men for the first time. There was a ship called the Divas which was a carrier oh by now we’d got a few more carriers. I think


we had six now instead of three. We got more carriers. I don’t know whether they came from the Indian division or a ship had arrived with Bren carriers on it you know and they shipped us over to. We put all these carriers on to the brigade. A whole lot of brigade’s carriers went on to this ship called the Divas and each battalion supplied from it’s carrier platoon a number of men to look after it. There was one of my


drivers, Howl, Darky Keen, Carroll, maybe three, might have been four fellows anyway. So, the Divas went off with all the carriers. That went first and then the battalion followed in a liner called the Catalonia. I think there were about, I think they managed to get two of the battalions on there. They might have even got the whole brigade on there. That would have been about seventeen hundred, eighteen hundred men. Two thousand, about two thousand men at the most but on the way over


the Divas got bombed by the Italians and four, these fellows of ours I think only one survived. The others were killed. I heard a story later that Darky Keen really enjoyed it. Here he was firing this machine gun at these carriers and really enjoying the fight you know. He was a real Irishman from Caroyte. They’ll were all Irish down there. But they all got killed, these boys got killed.


I think they were buried at sea. I think it happened about halfway between Crete and Piraeus the port of Piraeus in Athens.
When did you find out that your friends had been killed?
Oh, when we got to Piraeus they told us then you know. I think we lost, we lost two of the carriers too, they were damaged by the bombs and they had to be tipped overboard. So, I think we were back to about 4 carriers. But


The Bren carrier was a heavily armoured vehicle. There must have been fairly vulnerable to ground fire and everything else. What sort of reputation did they have as a fighting vehicle.
Oh, very good reputation. The reputation came from its speed, you know. We could travel so fast. We were well armour plated in front but not on the sides so if you got hit on the side well that could put the carrier out of action. But most of the time you know you’d be facing the enemy


anyway, you know so
Can I just stop you for a minute. Greece, landing in Greece. Can you describe your personal first vision of ?
Oh, well we were on the ship the Camaronious. I don’t what ever happened to her afterwards. I could find out what happened to some of the other ships but not the Camaronious funnily enough. The other one in the convoy was the Petlant. I think there might have been three ships taking us over.


But we arrived off Piraeus. Now here’s the silly thing about it. If we had not gone in to Greece the Germans wouldn’t have gone in. The Germans didn’t want to come in to Greece because they were already committed to the invasion of Russia and because of Greece they had to put the Russian invasion back one month.
This is something that’s come to light following that. Can we stick to your personal reflections


at the time of the Greek campaign and how you moved in there?
Yeah, well anyway we arrived at Piraeus the night after the air force bombed it and blew up the Vanfasia and half the town and so we had to get off the ship in Litis instead of going straight in to the port you know so we get in to the port and then we’re on trucks and taken up to a suburb called Daphni I think it was North, North


of Athens and it was in a pine forest. I remember pine forests, really nice pine forest and of course we’re delighted oh look at, this is a beautiful country you know and here’s the Greeks are waving to us as we go through the turn and the German, German legation is still there and they’re waving too, counting us as we go up which is again, part of the ridiculous part of it. Anyway at Daphni we waited there I think oh twenty


four hours and then they put us on a train but by this time you know the, our first brigade is being smashed by the Germans who brought in ten Divisions to drive us out and two air fleets and they were falling back so we go up as far as Larissa which is about half way up Greece, oh might have been about three quarters of the way and there they put a, we got off the trains. The train and


then we waited there and it was night there and I remember there was a, a German plane came over and they must have spotted some lights or something or other and he started to machine gun us. We could see his, his lights quite easily. He’s only up about five hundred, six hundred feet and everybody started looking for cover and I remember Plunger Pumfrey this friend of mine. He’s lying alongside the railway station. The rail station’s there and


his head is about there and somebody came down with his big boot right on his face. Oh, boy should have, and this German who finally having expended his machine gun ammunition flew off.
Were you able to return fire at him? How were you able to defend yourselves?
Oh, well I suppose we could have but it was a bit ridiculous because it’s a pitch black night and it’s a bit hard, hard to see the aircraft you know and anyway if you stop to think of it maybe it would have been worse


if we’d fired. He might have had a bomb aboard and dropped the bomb. We didn’t know, you know so it was probably but it was one of these sudden things and it didn’t last more than oh two or three minutes you know. He just flew around machine gunning. He must have spotted somebody smoking a cigarette or something and just fired a gun haphazardly. He, almost certainly he didn’t know we were there. He didn’t expect to find us there. It was something that just happened you see.


So, the next day we’ve got trouble. The train crew refused, we’re told right you’ve got to start falling back, right fall back to Donacos.
What was the order that you specifically received? Or how did you specifically receive that order?
Oh, it had filtered down from the top you know. Eventually it had come down and right we’ve got the orders from the colonel we’ve got to fall back. That’s all we know. I mean they don’t specifically give us orders you know. I mean the colonel decides you know he’s got it from


brigade, brigade’s got it from division so anyway right we’re going back. We’ve got to go back to those hills we see in the distance, Donicos but we can’t get the train to start because the Greek crew refused to move the train you know. No, we’ve had it you know, the Germans will come along, bomb the train you see so they take off so we searched around and we finally found two fellows in one of the battalions I don’t know who had


experience driving trains. They’d worked for the Victorian Railways. So, we get back on the train and we go back and we get off this train below this big hillside and we have to march up there and we get on top of that and start to prepare our defensive positions you see. And it’s snowing incidentally. There’s still snow. This is only oh just late April. It’s not the end of Winter up there at this point. So, the snow is


coming down and Jesus it was bloody cold. And we set up things but we can’t dig in because we’re on rock. So, you’ve just got to do the best you can. Get rocks up and pile rocks up in front of you, there’s a little sangar or something to protect you. And we’re on one side of the road, this is the main road from Salonika everybody has to fall back along this. And the 7th Battalion’s on the other side of the road, see. And while we’re there the 19th Brigade


falls back. We’re taking over now as the front line. The 16th has gone on through and the 19th Brigade are coming back and I saw some of the most beautiful flying you ever saw. Here’s these two Stukas and they’re bombing the road. Two Stukas you see and this one Stuka comes down. He goes down like that and this fellow lets his bomb go and the bomb’s landed, passed between the two planes you know. Oh, those German fighters were good. So, they’re bombing the road you know


so we stay there and nothing happens until they said oh look this is enough of this side. This is an untenable position. We can do better further back. So, all right we’re going back further. By this time I’ve got a carrier back again you see and they’ve got two fellows, so I’ve got Tufty Butter’s driver and Trigg I forget his first name, gunner. So, we start off independently. The battalion going in trucks and the carriers following behind. The carriers are staying behind because


in case we have to turn around and start fighting and I get in to a little town called Lamir and just then the bombers come over again you see. So, we pile out of the carrier and take shelter behind some of the walls you see and the bomber goes on for a little while and machine gunning you know and I came back to the carrier. No Tufty Butters, no Trigg. I don’t know what happened, I never ever saw them again but they certainly will never take a prisoner so they must have got


away you know and here’s the carrier and it’s a colander, you know a colander? It’s all, he just machine gunned and he, I mean it was impossible to move you know. I tried to move it. Just couldn’t get it to move you know. So, that’s, oh I’m on my own now.
What’s it like being under that air attack?
Oh, I don’t think, no I’ve never minded the bombs. It’s the machine gunning that worries you. You know machine, if they’re machine gunning they’re


closer to you and they’ve got a better bead on you. You could see, most times you could see the bomb coming down and go in the opposite direction but you can’t do that with machine gun bullets. You can’t see the bullets to start with. All you just see is the gun pointing at you and you know so it’s the same as going through the wire at Tobruk. You don’t mind the shelling but it’s the machine guns you know. You can see the shells coming over and you can see them landing you know. So, it’s always machine gunning.


This was the same in World War I.
When did you fear specifically?
Oh, oh I don’t know. I suppose being shot through the stomach you know. I was, I did get a hit in the groin but fortunately, nothing, didn’t hit anything seriously though. I think yeah I think you get a picture of your intestines hanging out things like that you know. That’s probably the


most terrible wound because you can see, you can see you’re dying you know but then again you don’t have time to think about it, you know. You’re more inclined to think well if I’m going to hit I hope I’m dead, I’m killed you know. I hope I’m killed.
What did you do next after you found your Bren carrier had been turned in to a colander?
Oh, this becomes the funny part. I start off down the road anyway. Along comes a truck and


I think it was the 11th Battalion fellows on it. So I wave it down and so I get up on the sideboard, the footboard on the left hand side you see and the truck’s full of guys. So, we start off down the road and here comes the bloody bombers again just as we get on to this plane and this plane leads up to the next lot of hills which is Brallos Pass you see. So, right the fellow on the other side of the truck and


me on this side and we’re both looking back. Right, here they come again they see. So, the truck stops. Everybody piles out and would you believe it. He hit the bloody truck, blew it up you know. Nobody was hit because we were all out of it you see but I started off across the plane because we’re all walking now and came to a creek. And I got across the creek and I kept walking. Oh, must have taken me well over an hour to walk across this plain, oh at least an hour or two hours you know.
How much, how much are you still


part of a fighting force. Or are you operating individually at this time?
No, we’re still a force but it just so happens that I’m, the battalion’s way ahead of me. I’ve been left behind because I got hit you see but fortunately I got away. Tufty and Trigger, they were a couple of, Tufty was a smart cunning plan anyway. He could get away anyway but I tried to cross and here’s these Brallos hills and the road going up the middle and suddenly I get, I get


a warning you know. Who are you, you know and then I get myself captured by the 5th Battalion. The 2/5th Battalion are on this side of the road and I’m captured and I never say I could be captured in all my life and after I said well where’s the 2/6th? They said they’re the other side of the road. The 2/7th is in reserve. So, I had a meal with these fellows. This is just on oh tea time you know, meal time about six o clock at night you know


and I had a meal with them and then I crossed to my own battalion you see and but before I left there. I saw something fantastic. The Germans started to come down. We could see the Germans coming down the road and they started, they used the plane to land a plane and get fellows out of it. They were great at carrying fellows by air in these oh, special transport plane they had, especially built to


carry troops and this artillery regiment the 2/2nd had two guns on this spur and they fired and they put a nice bit of shooting. They put one bit of shell behind the plane, one in front of the plane and the third one right on the plane. Oh, beautiful. And they had to leave the guns behind when we fell back. The Germans finished up getting the guns. They sparked them of course. They were no good anymore.
How do you spark a field gun?
Oh, they take out the bridge then and probably put something in there, a


charge of some kind. It splits the bowl. It makes the bowl useless.
What weapon were you carrying at this time?
I haven’t got anything. I’ve lost it all again in the carrier. So, so anyway I get back and I finally, as a matter of fact I didn’t have a rifle. I didn’t have a weapon again until I got to Crete you see. So, anyway we get back and we fall back again to Thermopylae you know where Leonidas and those Spartans did their bit and we’re fighting


all the way back despite what the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] said on one occasion. We’re not running away we’re fighting all the way back you know.
How, can you give us, where you ever the last man left behind facing the Germans? How does that work?
Only when I lost that carrier. Oh, I got worried then. I got worried then, I’m on my own you know can’t find Tufty, can’t find Trigg. There’s nothing between me now except the Germans. The


Germans were right behind me. But the Germans didn’t rush down. They, we kept holding them up and we’d fight a while maybe about half a day or something, then we’d start to fall back again you see. So, we kept delaying them you know making it, making their progress slow. So, anyway we fall back to Thermopylae and we do it again. This time we’re in reserve and I think the 17th Brigade was in the front of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions. They did the


fighting in front. So, then we have cross the Corinth canal and at the Corinth canal we dropped half of our battalion. Two and a half companies, I think it was A, B and half of C company to go up the canal because that was the only way now. Although some fellows, some battalion units had gone down to a place called Argos most of us, most of the Australians and New Zealanders had to go down to Kalamata because that was the only big


port outside Athens where you could get ships reasonably close, a big passenger ships to take the people off you see and the destroyers could come in. There was a pier there where the destroyers could come in. The destroyers would take you up and put you on these transports so anyway we dropped these boys at Corinth Canal and headquarters company. I think there were altogether about two hundred of us. We went on down to


Kalamata and as we got down to Kalamata the Germans for the first time landed parachutists on Australians and they finished up cleaning up the 6th Battalion. We’ve lost half the battalion you know and strangely enough the bridge was mined and the Germans themselves accidentally let of the charge that blew the bridge up, which held them up more. Because they then had to find a way around to get down to Kalamata.
What were your intentions personally as you crossed the


Corinth canal?
Oh, I had no, I had no intentions. I just had to do what I was told. Like I’ve got no carrier, no crew. I’m just with a, I don’t know whether I was with carrier people. I think I might have been with a mixture of mortar, mortar men. Cess Berry he’s mortars, might have been some signallers. We’re just a bit of hotch potch. The other part of the battalion that is Joe Gallat and his men managed to get off at Argos. So, there was a bit of a


part of the battalion’s got off at Argos. The bit that I’m with we go on down to Kalamata.
How are you navigating through the Greek countryside.
Oh, I think it was more, oh no the maps were reasonably good and I mean there was no loss of communications from the top. I mean this was the thing that worked well, you know, the bridges, the evacuation bridges had been found by


Blamey’s staff beforehand because when we landed they could see we weren’t getting to stand a chance against the Germans so they could see an evacuation coming which turned out to be even bigger than Dunkirk because we had to go all the way to Alexandria you see. They were, oh about 150ks of water, you know, so we get down to Kalamata and I’m with these other 6th Battalion fellows and we’re under the olive trees and there’s German planes over us all the time. The astonishing thing is that the Germans didn’t fire at


us. They didn’t drop bombs, they didn’t drop machine gun, didn’t machine gun and they must have known that there are British soldiers beneath the trees but they didn’t you know. So, we’re there with
How big a group were you?
Oh, there must have been something like two thousand men at least you know. New Zealanders and Australians. A mixture. So, anyway, we’re there I suppose it must have been a good 24 hours


while they arranged the evacuation of all the people there to the ships you see.
How are they feeding you or how are you being fed at this time?
Well, I think we managed to get food. You might get a tin of M&V, meat and vegetables to two men or three men you know. There was, there was, there was food stuffs, food around but not much so you were down to pretty limited amount, you know. It


wasn’t a full meal.
Did you still have your tin hat with you?
Did you still have your tin hat with you at that time?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Just as an aside …yeah I’m just interested in the tin hat and its practicality. How practical was the Australian issued tin helmet?
Oh, oh I don’t know. If you got a glancing


blow you, it would come off the helmet but I’ve seen a lot of helmet with holes through them. But on the other hand I’m inclined to think that the old British helmet was probably better than the ones they wear now which incidentally is modelled on the German helmet because the bullet will go straight through you know so I think, I think it was a little bit of protection. Funny,


funny little thing and I’ll tell you about the helmet a little bit later. So, anyway we’re there and they’ve arranged the evacuation. There were about 4 or 5 passenger ships came in. The Costa Rica, which I’m going on, the City of London, I’m not sure whether the Canamonia came back.
Did, how were you aware of the ships names out there or were they just an anonymous flotilla of ships?
Oh, at that time they were anonymous at that time. They were,


you know …
If you could keep to those original impressions because
Well, we know when we get on a ship it’s the Costa Rica because you can see the name on the ship you see and the thing is we got on destroyers first. The destroyers could come in to the pier, the ships couldn’t because of the shallow water, you know, these ships were mostly passenger liner. The Costa Rica was a passenger liner that had had run between Europe and Central America and South America before the war you see.


They’d all be requisitioned to carry troops. I don’t know where they got them from. When the evacuation of Crete, of Greece, began how they got these ships together. The order must have gone out, look we’ve got to get all these blokes off, you , know.
Can you describe the sight of those ships for us when you first got to there, that point?
Oh, no it’s dark when we get aboard the Costa Rica.
But prior to embarking and getting out there to the Costa Rica.
Oh, the sight of the


destroyers were marvellous you know. When you see the navy you know you’re right you know. The navy’s going to save us you know. We’ve got no time for the air force we never see them but we do see the navy.
How, how did you feel about the lack of air cover at that time?
Oh, well again, again we were never with enough supplies and equipment you know. I think they had two squadrons of hurricanes in Greece.
But how did, at


the time, how did you feel about the air cover or were you only, became aware of this
No we were, we were without it. We were not very happy about it but I mean we weren’t doing any screaming because we knew damn well that the air force were having just as much trouble with supplies as we were. So, if there weren’t enough aircraft it was too bad. They’re not there. They’re all over in England fighting the Germans you see and


this was the whole trouble we were in the Middle East you know. We never had enough. It was only later on at the end of 1942 with Alamein that they had enough.
But you’re right this is your only experience of war maybe you got to think that this was how wars were fought?
No, no, no you, no we, I suppose we were surprised that we didn’t see our aircraft you know but you know the interesting thing is we get on the destroyers and


then we get on the Costa Rica and it’s just becoming daylight so we’re sailing off for Alexandria and the astonishing thing is we’re the only ship. You can’t see any other ship you know, all right and we’re taken off but immediately daylight came the bombers came you know. And they started to harass us all the way and then we’re just passed. I think we’d passed Crete. It was about half past two in the afternoon and this one


bomber came down out of the sun, after the others had cleared off. He must have been lurking up there you know. You can’t see in to the sun with aircraft. He came down, let this bomb go and it went under the stern and hit the screws and the rudder and it broke them off in some way and She started to take water slowly but he never came out because
How did you get out to the ship from the shore?
In the destroyers.
Yeah, but how did you get out to the


Yeah, well the destroyers could come in alongside the pier you see. The water was, the water was deep enough for destroyers to come in but no-where near deep enough to take a huge liner you know so we’d pile on to the destroyers and then the destroyers ran a ferry service back and forward to the ships you see.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 06


Can you explain the scene around Kalamata as you’re being put on to the Costa Rica?
Well, where we were in the olive groves it was a bit different. Up in the town there was still fighting going on. As a matter of fact a New Zealander named Pigeon won the VC there by stopping the Germans coming in. But we didn’t take part in any action. We were there to be taken off by the destroyers and the


destroyers took us out to the various ships and in my case it was the Costa Rica and we went up gangways, each way of the ship. I think there two destroyers, one each side of the ship and eventually they got about, oh I suppose it must have been about a thousand men aboard the Costa Rica. Then we took off and
How were all these men fitting on board the ship. Where were you?
Oh, a lot you just, a lot of them just stayed on, just stayed on the top deck. The interesting thing


is they kept, they kept on the top deck every man who had a weapon well I didn’t so I had to go downstairs and when the shooting occurred in the aircraft I was collecting ammunition and I was one of a group of fellows collecting ammunition as a matter of fact but yeah you can just imagine the fire power that these aircraft with all these rifles and Bren gun, every weapon was firing at these aircraft.
Can you explain what that sounded like from down below?
Oh, down below it was, oh it was all right.


The ship was in its normal state you know. Lights were on and all the rest of it but when the bomb hit under the stern suddenly the lights, no the lights in our particular gangway were still on but they started to go out but you know it was, strangely enough when the bomb hit it was just sort of short, well how would you call it, short, a short halt. I mean the ship didn’t sink


much at all you know. We just thought oh, it’s just like hitting an obstacle, hitting a log in the water you know and we went on collecting, oh there was a, there was starting to be a bit of panic but there was a big Maori sergeant with us and he said don’t panic fellows let’s get this ammunition upstairs you know. So, we then, we proceeded to file upstairs you see and there was never any danger at that stage of the Costa Rica sinking you see because she was taking the water very slowly and so


you know it just knocked off the rudders and the screws. So, it wasn’t a big hole you see and then they decided to evacuate and the Hereward came in on the starboard side and started and fellows just started to take fellows off. Some jumped. I think that’s where one man fell between the two ships as they just came together and he went in under the water. I believe he got his legs crushed but a lieutenant from the 2/1st Battalion dived in and saved him and of course the other fellows aboard Hereward pulled them out.


But I didn’t see any of this. I just heard about this later when we got to Crete but I was around on the Port side with two of my fellows from the carrier platoon, John McCome who died last year and Bill Ward who died some years ago. And we decided well, it was a funny thing. First of all John McCome had got hold of a loaf of bread and a tin or a jar of apricot jam and we were having, hacking the bread off with a bayonet. We


still had a bayonet and we were still eating and we just carried on there and this is about mid afternoon and then we thought well we’d better get off. So, we lowered a boat on the port side and got down in to the boat and started to row out. There was another destroyer out from us about maybe, oh a hundred and fifty meters. HMS Hero which incidentally survived the whole war and became a ship in the Canadian navy and but instead of coming in on the leeward side where the water was calm.


I can’t understand why, we rode around where the water was rough so at one stage we’re going up and the destroyer’s going down and it’s a balancing up and the sailors aboard, they could see us you know and they said when it comes again, jump for the gunwale and we all did and we got aboard and the strange thing when we got aboard. I suddenly burst in to tears you know. I think it must have been the tension of the whole thing and the odd thing about it too that when we got in the boat I took my boots


off and threw them overseas, overboard and kept my helmet on. I had this funny idea in any contact with machine gunning the helmet will save me, the boots won’t. So, we’re aboard the destroyer and we went downstairs and the sailors started to give us bread and cocoa you know cup of cocoa and one of the sailors was an Australian and I remember we were talking there and we said oh, how glad we are to be aboard here and you know if they come again. He said look if it comes again,


they drop a bomb. The bomb will go right through this thing you know so we couldn’t get up on deck quick enough. So, when we got up on deck there was no sign of the Hereward but the Costa Rica was still there and then the captain must have, lieutenant commander of whatever it was he must have got some instruction. Figured it out later that apparently the Costa Rica was not going to sink immediately. It would take a long time to sink and there were still ships coming out. This


was on August the 27th, two days after Anzac Day when the evacuation started. So, they thought well She’d be a danger with the other fellows coming out because they’d have to come at pitch black you know particularly if they’re coming out at night so the HMS Hero put two of these torpedos in to the Costa Rica to sink her you know and she was, oh she was still pretty much above the water line when we left but she was obviously going down. You could see she was starting to go down. So, he just


then took us over and dropped us off at Suda Bay. And we, I mean the three of us got on that destroyer. They, said eight of the Hero picked up a lot by getting mixed up with Hereward no, we were the only three that were on the Hero.
Back on the Costa Rica, how did you get the order to evacuate? What was going on?
Oh, somewhere along the line they must have had a talk to the, whoever was the senior army officer aboard and so they said all right we better get them off. And at that stage


when these destroyers came over the horizon, boy were they quick you know. You’re looking out and then suddenly there’s nothing, you couldn’t see anything. The next thing there’s these two ships coming at you, you see and they must have got instructions from the, possibly from the destroyer to the Costa Rica saying get your men off. We’ve got it, we want to, she’s sinking you know. She’s, you’ve got to get her out of the way you know. She’s a danger to the other ships coming out. So, that it was, but the thing is it was a very orderly


quitting of the ship you know. There was no panic whatsoever. Everybody went over quite calmly, few fellows instead of waiting for the gangway they jumped on to the Hereward but she was, I think they waited until the Hereward came up with a swell and then they cut down the, just as they had to jump you know. But there was only man injured as far as I know. Never heard of any more being injured.
Who were you taking orders from at that stage?
Nobody. We were just. At that, at that


point. I mean I was just looking, we were just acting as individuals. I had offcourse John McCoam and Bill Ward you know. The three of together because John was a gunner and Bill was a driver in the carriers so when we got ashore though we were still lost. There was nobody sort of organising things ashore. So, the first night the three of us slept together and I slept in the nettle because I had no shoes and somehow.


got to keep my feet warm and every now and again you know I’d tap the bloke and we’d turn over you know and in the morning, so I got a pair of boots and we then discovered some of the other fellows and we made up a unit and then took up this post above Suda Bay on the heights.
How did that, you’re all these individuals, you’ve just been evacuated in chaos from Greece. How does the organisation start to happen again at that point?
Well, it, strangely, if you’re in the army. I suppose it’s the same with the


navy if you’re off a ship or the air force if you’re off a plane, but particularly in the army you’ve got this instinct to immediately start looking for your unit you know. You want to get back in some cohesive whole. And this in this case we finished up with I think it was about two hundred and thirty four, two hundred and forty men and then they Freyberg who had been ordered then to take command in Crete. Mind you this is just at the end of April so we’re still the,


the invasion and the battle of Crete are still someway off and they started to then organise in to Brigades and units. For instance the 2/1st Battalion and the 2/11th Battalion, the Australian battalions were sent to Retimo where there was a still airfield. So, they were, that was their job protect that area. The 4th Battalion, 2/4th Battalion was sent to Heraklion which was the old capital I think of Crete and they joined up with a couple of British battalions and


they made a unit there. Then up the other end you’ve got all the New Zealanders. I think there were pretty well two Brigades of New Zealanders plus the 2/7th Battalion Australian battalion. So, there we had, it was pretty well set up and then we started to make defensive positions you see.
Who did you form up with though? Your unit wasn’t all there were they?
Yeah, no we, we, we became. There was some 5th Battalion, a few 8th and 6th Battalion and we became the


17th Brigade composite battalion. A sort of an ex-officio unit was created out of that, out of the remnants you see. And they said well all right that’s your job there. We set up machine gun posts you know on these heights above Suda Bay. Our job with the Welsh regiment was to protect Suda Bay in case of a sea landing. We didn’t know at that stage how the Germans were, we knew the Germans were probably going to invade you know because


evidently we learnt of course after the war what was ULTRA was. Already ULTRA was sending information to Freyberg about what was likely to happen you know, what the Germans were doing at this stage and so on and what they might do so
How did you know that Freyberg had taken control?
Oh, we were told.
So you were effectively under New Zealand command?
Yeah. In Greece Freyberg had been under Blamey’s command and Blamey was then one Anzac Corps. commander


you see. It reversed on Crete because Blamey had gone through to Alexandria in the evacuation.
What did the troops think about Blamey just to change the subject slightly.
Oh, look honestly I’ve got the greatest admiration for him. Particularly because he did the one thing that was necessary. When we landed in Greece he evidently said “This is hell we’re not going to have any chance here,” so he immediately ordered inspection. Look for beaches for evacuation. I mean by the time we landed the


Germans were already well in to Greece you know. We were being pushed back very rapidly.
What was morale like in Suda Bay then after this evacuation?
Oh, very good. Very good yeah. I mean you’ve got the, the proof is in the pudding as it were that we killed something like five thousand Germans in the battle of Crete.
They also stuffed up.
The Germans were not very happy I can tell you that because particularly with the Maori battalion. The Maori’s


did, did some tremendous jobs. They did one attack just holding a bayonet. No rifles, just bayonets in their hands which they used as swords. They carved up the Germans badly.
You mentioned a Maori chap on ship. How many Maoris did you come in to contact with in that time?
Oh, oh quite, quite a few. I mean they had a whole battalion you know, nine hundred Maoris you know make up a battalion you know. They had a regular Maori battalion you see, the 28th Battalion. It was the 28th


Maori battalion, and all Maori battalion.
Were they, what sort of soldiers were they?
Oh, very good. Oh, no, no everybody’s got a high regard for Maoris because they’re natural warriors you know. They love fighting you know but some of them, some of them finally were taken prisoner. They were, the Germans were very happy. They claim they’re a few atrocities committed by the Maoris.


How true it is or not I don’t know but I remember seeing one Maori who had several German ears on his belt. Hanging off his belt. I suppose there were a couple of fellows that you know naturally get around to that.
What was the first you saw of an air-borne German invasion in Crete?
Oh, well it’s the only time I know definitely that I killed a man. This fellows was coming down at me and it was either him or me


and I shot him in the air.
Can you lead us up to this situation? Where were you and what was happening?
Oh, this is. This is after we, were called down to fill in behind the 2/7th Battalion. This would be around about a place called 42nd Street and another wave of Germans came in and this was a couple of days later. They, the Germans had taken initially oh a hell of a lot of casualties you know


and New Zealanders really got stuck in to them and but we hadn’t done any fighting but the Australians were doing very well up at Retimo. They were, they had at one big battle at Retimo. The Germans had packed it in there. There was no fighting and it was almost the same at Heraklion. Where it was bad is where we were. That’s why they needed us. But even then we didn’t actually do any fighting. It’s just that these


few parachutists came down and we captured them and I shot this bloke because he would have shot me, you know. It was even Stephen you know.
So what did you see of these parachutists coming down from the beginning. Where were you and what was happening?
Oh, it’s hard to describe you know. I think the better example might have been our fellow, our the half of our battalion who were at Kind where the first time we ever had parachutists attacking us you know. They could


probably give a better description but on Crete it was fairly widespread. A lot of the parachutists, some drowned. The biggest casualties probably came in the fellows who came in later in the plane and the plane that tried to land. Planes crashed or burst in to flame over these transport planes. Or the artillery, the New Zealand artillery caught them but I didn’t apart from that one


incident. I didn’t do any fighting you know. Might at the end. At the end at the bottom, the South end of Crete when we were doing a rear guard, I got hit before I could do any fighting anyway.
In this one occasion were you on the lookout for parachutists? How did you see them?
Oh, yeah oh well you couldn’t help but see them.
What did they look like?
Oh, well just great big umbrellas you know. If you knew


of course we didn’t know at the time. Some parachutes were different colours. There might be the officers or there might be ammunition or they used parachutes for bringing down the arms. They did a silly thing which was probably why so many of them got killed. They came down without their weapons. Their weapons were, some units their weapons were dropped separately. And by the time the Germans tried to get to their weapons they were


killed you know. I think that accounted for quite some, they’d had it so easy in, in Belgium and probably Corinth they probably felt well you know they didn’t worry so much about it.
What colour was the parachute on this gentleman?
Oh, there’d be different ones, the majority of them were just plain white of course. The others, you’d have blue and there was a green. There’s was probably a red but I couldn’t tell you


So, this one time that you say you positively killed someone. Can you tell me about that? What happened?
Oh, well, well he’s coming down at me and I’ve got my rifle and I’ve fired at him and I killed him in the air. He was dead when he hit the ground.
What did you see of how far, where he was and what the results of your shots were?
Oh, oh not far. Oh, be less than a hundred yards. Less than a hundred yards you know. But the thing is the parachutists, we’d be,


he doesn’t come down fast. He’s floating down so. The advantage as we now know is with the man on the ground. No parachute attack has succeeded look what happened at Arnhem. We copped it that time. The same thing happened only this time the Germans caught the British you see. You, the parachute doesn’t bring you down fast enough to be able to obviate the possibility of being killed by the defender on the ground.
What does that feel like to be the defender


on the ground faced with this ducks in a barrel?
Well, you, you don’t have any damn time to think about it you know. It’s all sort of instant reaction. You react to the time. The immediacy you know. I mean I just acted very quickly otherwise, once he’s down he’s got an advantage over me. Or he could have an advantage over me you know. So, you’ve got to react


At what point did it occur to you that this was the first time you’d killed someone?
Well, it’s the only time I had a chance to, knowingly, knowingly that is. I, I might have killed and Italians but been unaware of it you know. With a Bren carrier you’re shooting at a target. You don’t know what’s behind the target, how many men there are if they’re any men at all you know but it’s the only time that I definitely saw the person being killed.


I was definitely saw myself killing a person you know. Most time you, you see the, this is the thing about warfare, often you don’t see yourself doing these things you know. I mean, it might have been different in World War I where a fellow rushes in and destroys your machine gun nest and bayonets so many soldiers and so on. But we didn’t get, initially anyway, in North Africa, Greece or Crete that never happened you know.


It may have happened later on in North Africa but it didn’t happen then.
When you look back at that incident now, what does it make you feel?
Oh, I don’t have any feeling either way. It was him or me you know. That’s all it is and it’s so long ago now anyway. You know we’re talking about 1941 you know. Sixty two years ago. It’s a long time. I


suppose any German would feel the same way. I watched a programme recently about Stalingrad and you get a totally different you know these men, they’re all in my age now. All in their eighties and we’re talking about the battle and the reactions are different you know.
What happened after that, how did you come to be injured?
Oh, well we then had to, something went wrong in the New Zealand section where a New Zealand brigadier evidently had a chance


of retaking the Maleme air field which was the crucial thing, the crucial point of the battle and instead of moving forward he moved back and this swung the Germans to the, the Germans way you know and then we started to fall back but even then they had a lot of trouble because they sent over a seaborne convey during the night when they would have come to see the bay. It was at our end of the island anyway, the Western end and during the night the navy


what there was of it. The navy lost about a third of its ships in the battle of Greece and Crete was sitting off there in a whole and caught the whole convoy and shot them up and that seaborne convoy never got to us. So, they went back to flying them in and mountain troops were flown in after that but when this New Zealand brigadier made his error and the New Zealanders started to fall back that’s when the Germans started pressing but even then they hadn’t


totally won the victory because there was this great fight in Galatas and that’s where the 7th Battalion re-came in to it. Again, we’re just backing up the 7th Battalion. The 7th Battalion actually did fight and they had a sort of temporary victory and we had a couple of tanks there which did a bit of damage but it was mainly the Maoris that held off the Germans which again gave us a bit of time to walk over the white mountains. This meant climbing up on this huge mountain range and over the top


to the South coast where finally they had set up an evacuation point at a village called Sfakia. was just a fishing village and we got over the top of that anyway. By this time I’ve got a weapon this time and we got down to Sfakia where we set up a defence, a perimeter with the 2/7th Battalion, one of the New Zealand battalions, the 2/2nd I think, a company of the


Maoris and the composite, 17th Brigade composite battalion was in the centre so we could be switched to any side and so it was at that stage oh 30th May, 29th, 30th May and we were still being strafed from the air by the Germans because there’s no, we don’t have any British aircraft there. And these two Messerschmitts came over and I don’t know whether they particularly selected me as a target but the next thing I know is that the bullets are whizzing around, these 505s


and I’m being splattered with little fragments of rock you know, the bullets hit the rock. And one of them ricocheted and hit me in the leg, another one in the groin. Fortunately, they were ricochets so they couldn’t do, they couldn’t do the damage they could have done if they’d hit me directly but it was the, this rock spray that did the damage because I caught that all in the face and that made me fall off the hillside you know and down and that’s where I got most of my damage


and I was unconscious and when I came to I was a prisoner because the war, the battle was over. This, when I came to it was the 1st June, morning of the 1st of June and somebody must have found me and carried me up because I was in this small area where the Germans were and one of these Germans, young bloke from Wartenberg he told me where he came from


and he was giving me a British biscuit with bully beef on it and an orange and that’s, I mean for me the war was over.
Just before that, we’ll come to when you woke up. Just before that attack happened you were on the White mountains or you’d come over the White mountains.
No, we were over the White mountain.
On the trip over the White Mountains, what could you see of what was going on in Crete from that vantage point?
Oh, you couldn’t see anything you know


you just kept going. I mean we kept getting strafed from the air and so you’d dive off the track and that’s all it was, just a track you know maybe about a yard and a half yard and wait until the had planes gone and then you kept walking again you know and by this, some of the fellows were in horrible shape by then and it was quite a climb, it was quite a climb and some of them, some of them fell out.


A few of them got killed from the air. I mean it wasn’t the German troops who were doing the damage then it was the aircraft you see. We were far enough and oh, oh you know it was a couple of thousand men strung out over this track. All along it you know. How far the whole line went, I remember going through a wood and there were, what I thought was a group of New Zealanders just sitting down having a rest and one fellow had a


cup in his hand and he’s leaning against a tree. And these fellows were all dead. They’d been killed by a blasts from a bomb that must have dropped nearby somewhere. I couldn’t see where the bomb fell. But they were dead you know incredible. It was like looking at a group of statues you know, but I’ll never forget this fellow with his hand up holding a cup in front of his mouth and he’s dead. Like that. Incredible you know. Just shows you what a blast could do, burst the ear drums you know.
It’s hard to imagine the


horror of that scene to a young man like yourself at the time.
Well, in one way it is horror and in another way it’s, I don’t know how you’d describe it. You couldn’t say beautiful but it’s not horror. It’s somewhat surprising. It’s somewhat amazing you know to see, and the other fellows you know and another fellow


like, just with his hand on, an elbow on his knee and his hand on his chin. And he’s dead. You know you can’t, you’ve got to see it to imagine it, to, you can’t imagine it. You’ve got to see it to believe it. Put it that way.
Were you amazed on a regular basis during your time on active service during the war?
No, not really it’s a, no, no I don’t think so. You


might, there might have been a few surprise but not something amazing.
What other images stand out like this New Zealander with his cup or leaning on his hands?
Well, without naming the officer, I saw an Australian officer shoot an Italian officer but on the other hand I’ve wondered whether the


shooting might have been justified. It’s possible that the Italian officer might have been hiding a grenade behind his back or something like that. It, it at the time it just seemed to me wrong. I, nothing ever happened to our officer but it just happened you know and these things can happen you know. I mean it’s surprisingly how many times


you can be killed by your own people you know. That happened in Germany later with the prisoners, Australians or British prisoners being marched along away from the camps where British aircraft came down and fired at the column thinking they were German you know so but you, you say to yourself well this is going to happen. All these things are likely to happen in war.
No need to mention names but can you tell us about where that incident was with the


Italian officer?
And what was the situation there? Where were you and how did you come to see
Well, oh I just came long and this Italian officer and a couple of other men came out of the, I suppose it might have been, you could call it a cave or a dugout or something. They could have been hiding there. As I say I mean the situation was fluid there, I mean there was still fighting going


on. I mean it’s quite possible that these Italians might have, might have fired at us you know but and our men got in first you see. It’s a, you can’t, you can’t hold it as an incrimination you know. It’s very hard to say. You can understand some of the things maybe the Germans did or Italians did or Japanese did. I mean


in every army it’s likely to happen.
Did that have a particular effect on you at the time? How did, how did seeing this Italian officer get shot effect you.
No, as I said. It just seemed a surprise you know. You know I say to myself well I didn’t see what the Italian officer was doing you know. For all I know he might have been reaching for his revolver or something you see. I just happened to see our man


fire his revolver and see the Japanese, the Italian fall.
Getting back to Crete, you were under constant attack from the air.
Oh, yeah.
How do you deal with being under attack from the air? What can you do against that?
Well, what can you do against that?
Well, that’s what I mean you’re defenceless in a way.
As you say we’re going up this, crossing the White mountain. All you can is dive off the track. Or


when I lost my carrier in Lumea all we can is jump out of the carrier and hide behind a wall until he goes you know and then hope you can move on. In that case I couldn’t. The carrier had had it you know.
How frightening is that? To have a plane coming above you?
It’s not, it’s not as frightening as you might think except that if he’s a bomber it’s all right. You say to yourself right if he drops his bomb I’ll just look at which way it’s going


and I’ll go the other way. Fighter planes it’s different. They’ve got machine guns and that is scary you know and it’s scary, if they’re coming at you they’re coming at you with machine guns and that can be very terrifying because it doesn’t matter where, unless you’ve got ready made shelter nearby, something you can dive in to, you’re gone you know. He’s got you in the open and he’s going to hit you with machine gun bullets.
I know it all happened very quickly but


I’d like to go through the moment where you got injured again and talk about what you saw and heard. Were you conscious that this was a fighter plane coming and shooting at you at the time? What did you think?
Oh, no, no, you, you don’t always have time to think of these things. All I see are two planes you know. Now I don’t know whether they’re bombers or fighters but presumably they must have been fighters because they used


machine guns. They’d be Messerschmitts, 109s probably. But it happens so quickly you know. You haven’t got time to stop and think ah, I’m being attacked by two, two fighter planes you know. It’s so quick. It happens in a matter of seconds because don’t forget these fighter planes they’re over you and away in a couple of seconds too you know.
How was the feeling when you came to and this German’s offering you an orange and


what was going through your mind at that moment?
I don’t know. I was a bit stunned. As I said they never tell you when you join the army you might be taken prisoner and what you do as a prisoner. I suddenly find I’m a prisoner of war. Now what the hell does this mean you know? This is my enemy feeding me you know? What am I supposed to do? Shake his hand you know. Kiss him or what? You


know it’s a, I think initially you are left a little numb you know. You’re not quite with it you know. I mean if you’re taken prisoner and you’re alive, good. But don’t forget a lot of prisoners are not taken prisoner. They’re shot immediately they’re taken prisoner you know. I mean you don’t know whether you’re going to be shot or not


you know. The, it depends on the circumstances. In some circumstances you may not be able to take prisoners or if you read about the fellows that were taken up to Japan, that were in the water you know when their ships were sunk and then the ships come back and machine gun them in the water you know and


this happened a lot you know. Submarines used to do that in the Atlantic so you don’t
With that in mind you’re alive. You’re being offered an orange by a German soldier. What’s going through your mind? Is it confusing, relief fear? What are some of the mixed emotions.
No, as I said you’re just numb at that moment. You know you’ve got no feeling anyway you know. It’s completely blank situation. Here, I’m here he’s there. He’s feeding me. That’s it. It’s a


it is probably an extraordinary situation. I can readily understand, put it an other way. When we came out of the prison camps we had a number of men suicide at Eastbourne army camp and at Brighton the left camp and I was as a cadet journalist who knew shorthand was called in on the inquests on some of these things. And on an other occasion walking along the street, three of us we saw two girls coming towards us and we crossed


the other side. We didn’t want to speak to them. I can readily understand why a man comes out of jail and then commits a crime to get back in to jail. After three and a half years as a prisoner of war you’re psychologically attuned in some special way you know or if you’re a jailbird your mind is working in some ways you know. You’ve seen old fellows who gone and committed a crime to go back. They want to die in jail you know but


it’s a peculiar thing with being a prisoner anywhere. The way the mind works you get attuned to a certain way of thinking, a certain way of living and when you leave that you feel lost that’s about the easiest way to say it. You feel lost.
How does that process of attuning begin? After the


numbness what replaces the numbness?
Oh, well it begins to weaken but then you see after the numbness you come back to normality. That’s when I started escaping you see. I’ve come back to normality. Oh, now I must escape you see. You start to think in a different direction. That’s why I finished up with these six escapes and finally getting away at the last one a month before the war ended you know but you’re there for three, three and a half years you know. On the other hand you take fellows from Japanese


hands and they escape when they were recaptured the Japanese executed them you see. Fortunately the Germans, well the Germans did do it. There’s the incident from the Great Escape where they did execute 56 British and Australian’s who’d, after they’d escaped. And they did issue an order later in 1944 that in future no escapes will be tolerated. Any escaped prisoner will be shot. So,


but it doesn’t stop you.
You’ve been told nothing about how you’d be treated as a prisoner of war or even what to do so how long did it take you to come to terms with the fact that this is what you were? And how did that process take place?
Well, you go through, you go through a phase you know. We were taken, I was in a hospital in Athens first after being treated for the head wound and the other couple of things and then


discharged from there I was taken up to what they call a Dulag or transit camp in Salonika and this is where you’re up against the sort of back unit men. A front line soldier is always a friend to the other soldier in the front line even though they’re enemies you know. If you’re caught or wounded you would look after each other but when you’re getting to the back line you’re getting to these reservists, the fellows that, oh yeah I haven’t been in the front line but I


hate you fellows. You’re the enemy. So, you get a different type of treatment you know. So we get through to this treatment at the camp in Salonika and that’s where there was one big escape. I think it was the third attempt I’d made where we tried to get out through a sewer you know. Some fellows did get out but then a Cypriot prisoner asphyxiated in the sewer where it had an elbow and of course there’s still fellows piling in on top and then the Germans disturbed


by the row that’s going on around this man hole came in and started to gather us in you know and I got, I got a bayonet partly through the hand and a fellow’s got bashed up altogether you know. But they could have shot us you see but then you start to, then they take us up to Germany and that’s where you really begin to change. You begin to accept I’m a prisoner until the end of war. You go through another mind change you see. It’s a strange thing.


You’re going through these mind changes.
How much does that relieve the stress of being a frontline soldier? Are there good things about being, coming to that realisation as well?
Well, the only good thing is you say to yourself when we were at Stalag 383 at Hohenfels this is the camp where we were wired in for the rest of the war. All the troublesome prisoners like me four thousand of us


were in there. We conditioned ourselves to yes, the war’s going to end in four years time. Well, it went a bit longer than that actually. The only time we ever sort of dropped our bundle or began to worry was when the Germans started the Battle the Bulge and we thought oh god it’s going to go on for another whole year unless the Russians get to us first you see. So, that otherwise at that stage you say oh


I’m or we’ll sit out the war you know. Most of it. But it didn’t stop us escaping. It was, you get some incredible, the only man who’d ever escaped fully from Stalag 383 that I know of was a Polish flight sergeant in the Royal Air Force. He got to France and he became a lackey. But there were some incredibly attempts. There were two guys who went out, tried to get into Yugoslavia dressed as man and wife and they, you know why they got caught? They got caught on the boarder because the


fellow dressed as a wife was wearing lipstick. You couldn’t buy lipstick in Germany then. Lipstick was out you see. So, he couldn’t be a real German women but when Frank Bourne and I got away near the end in April 1945 we were in British uniform and it was quite easy to get away you know but the most interesting attempt we made
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 07


You arrived an Australian an AGH in Athens which had been taken over by the Germans.
I was a, well it was still staffed by Australian officers. One of them was a chap named Moore who was the later doctor in Bathurst and he was also became the doctor in 383’s prison camp you know. He was our doctor there.
Can you describe that hospital for us


or what you saw of it?
Oh, it’s hard to describe now. I was only there for a couple of days because I, I’ve got to commend the German doctors and they were very good. They, I mean I suppose they had to be particularly later in the war but they were very good. They did look after the prisoners. But again we’re up near the front line so you would expect that. I don’t know about further back you know but I was only there a couple of days and then


I was moved out of the, a group of us, I don’t, I can’t recall how many. Might have been a dozen or fifteen and we were held in this block of flats where I tried to jump the wall and couldn’t because there were German guards parading outside anyway but then we were put on a train up to Salonika.
In this block of flats was there any Greek population around still at this stage? What was the situation?
Oh, there could have been but I mean we had no chance of seeing them you know.


It was a block of flats just by the railway line where they just held people I suppose until they put them on the train but going up in the train we had to get out at one stage where the line had been cut on a river and they had a platoon bridge and that’s when I tried my, I think that was my second or third attempt to escape and jumped a rock wall and over the other wall, the other side of the wall was a German the other side of the wall having a pee and he looked at me and grinned and I looked at


him and grinned and we just walked back to the train together. I mean there was, it was still affable then. The nastiness started when we got in to this transit camp in Salonika where I suppose again the Germans psychology, let’s break them down, break their spirit type of thing. Where the food was low. I mean most of the time we just lived on lentil soup and you slept on the concrete floor of these huts. It was an old Greek barracks


actually, right opposite the cemetery on the road that leads up to Sofia and Bulgaria. But then in the beginning of August they decided to ship us to Germany or train us to Germany. So, we went up to Germany in parties. I remember we left Salonika, my group left Salonika on August 10th and we arrived at a town called Hammelburg or a prison camp near the town of Hammelburg on August 17th. It took us a week to get up there.


happened in Salonika? Can you go in to a bit more detail what the conditions were like and why they were so much worse?
Oh, well, well to start with it’s a malarial area or it was then. I don’t know about now. So, a number of fellows contracted malaria. I think I might have had a taste of it, a bit of it at one time but the thing is that we’re poorly fed. We’re in this compound. It’s very hot


and if you didn’t anything out, untoward the Germans would come in and bash you around you know. So, we had a bit of a hospital there and my mate Ivan Welsh out of the 6th Battalion he was caught in a drain and they really took to him and when I saw him in the hospital his face was just a purple, a purple mass you know and he was still there when we train and believe it or not he got away, got back through Turkey and


re-joined the battalion and got himself a Mentioned In Dispatches you know.
Was Salonika the first time you were with other prisoners in a group? How were you, were you separated? What was the organisation?
Oh, when we arrived up in Salonika, I don’t know how many of us would have been on the train. There would have been a thousand prisoners in this camp. It wasn’t a big camp you know. It was just an area, Greek barracks surrounded by a barbed wire fence. So it was pretty


crowded. See that was another one of the complications and don’t forget we’re still in the uniform shorts and shirt we were captured on Crete so the nights were cold and you had to put up with the cold nights and the very hot days. The food was scarce and if you tried anything. It was almost impossible to escape really then you got bashed up you see.
What did they feed you?
Lentil soup mainly. Oh,


no it was mainly, mainly soups, lentil soup, a pea soup, potato soup something like that you know. And you only got it about twice a day so we started to lose weight very rapidly you know. By the time we got on the trains we were starting to look a little bit skeletal you know and we were there for, let me see, six weeks in this camp before we were moved on to Germany.
What did you tell each other when you were


grouped together in this camp?
Oh, I don’t know that we, that we talked much about things at all because most of us had the same experience so there wasn’t much in the way of saying oh yeah I did this and I did that you know. There were a few there from say Retimo well you might have said, well what happened at Retimo you know. By that time we learned that we had won the battle at Retimo but


the poor 2/11th Battalion 2/1st Battalion they’d never received the order to evacuate. Radio communicator had fallen down or something. So they just had to put down their weapons and surrender you see which, and the tragedy of Crete was we lost three total Australian battalions. The 2/7th, the 2/11th and 2/1st and in the evacuation nearly half the 2/4th were killed because they were


on the Hereward when the Hereward this time was bombed and sunk you know so we lost, we lost oh a round about three thousand men on Crete on top of the, at least two and a half thousand we’d lost in Crete, in Greece you see so it was a big. I mean the, it was virtually half, almost half the 6th Division had been lost which is a lot of men.


You use the word tragedy. How tragic was it to be in this group of prisoners after this had occurred? After you’d
Well, only the tragedy was that you know the division was so decimated, decimated would probably be the best word to use because you know it would be one man in ten had been either killed or taken prisoner. But, and it put the 6th Division out of action for nearly eighteen months.


They didn’t get back in to action in New Guinea until 1943 for a whole year while they had to rebuild all, every unit you see so that was it but the, the thing was that I suppose we felt a little bit sad in a way that, a little bit disgusted with ourselves I suppose by being in prisoners in some respects you know. When you, when you,


you’re a soldier you start to think in terms of not self but units. You think of yourself as the battalion or as the platoon first, as the company and then the battalion and then the brigade and then the division. You start to think in multiples you see. Because you are the man next door you know. You can’t divorce yourself from him because you’re relying on him and he’s relying on you. So, you’re stuck together whether you like it or not you know.
What sort of organisation did you have


amongst yourselves as prisoners in those early days at Cyrenaica?
Oh, early on there was no organisation. That came later you know when we started to get in to established camps then you started to organise yourselves you know. I think well, I think one good thing is when we arrived at Hammelburg we’re still in shorts and shirts and they had to cloth us because you know


they’re going to send us out as working parties. We are now becoming labour for Germany and I remember the most incredible life. There’s a book about this up in the [Australian] War Memorial and it’s got a picture of it in it and they cloth us in the most incredible things, most of which they probably found when they, after Dunkirk when they got stocks of British things. Some of fellows had Scottish bonnets, we had Belgium coats and we


finished up wearing wooden clogs you know so we were the most incredibly looking, oh look you’ve never seen anything so funny.
It’s funny now. But was it funny at the time?
Well, we didn’t think it was funny. We were very grateful to have the clothes. I’ll say that. But then they sent out on work parties which was a good thing too because when we went out on work parties we were allotted to you know, a farmer. I found myself working for the village baker


and we’re being fed which is what we needed you know and at that time the Germans weren’t short of food. They had plenty of food but you know I was delighted to be working for the baker. I was assured of plenty of bread and they had us in this, this was a place called [(UNCLEAR)] in the, near a big army camp and they had us in this house with one German guard looking after us. He’d open the door in the morning and we’d go up to work


but we had some funny things happen there. Two of the boys worked for the local inns McDowell and Tom Bennet and Tom was always being chased by the daughter of the family you know because there was no young German men there. They were all, all off drafted in to the army. The eldest son of the family I worked with was in the air force you know and then there was McDowell who one day found where


the, the German innkeeper had hidden his stocks of wine so that the Nazi Party wouldn’t confiscate it you know. So, he found this wine and then he and a couple of the other fellows nearby, I was never invited incidentally, got these bottles out, drank this wine and kept filling the bottles up with water and putting them back, right. So, that’s, but you know I used to look after three or four cows and went out


you know ploughing the fields and cutting the, mowing the lawn and all the rest of it. But then apparently we started to get too friendly with this village. They took to us, they liked us you know. I mean the old man I worked for had been a soldier in the first war so he knew what it was like to be a soldier. His, his oldest, second son was a bit of a nasty character who kept trying it on me. I nearly


I nearly clocked him one hit him], one day and I got in to trouble over that. But his father turned around and abused his son, don’t ever do that again you know. In other words antagonise me, you know.
What, these people were speaking German, what was your, how did you
Oh, I did German at school.
How was your German?
Oh, not bad, not bad. I got along you know. I spoke like Barisha – Im a [(UNCLEAR)] ever so slowly. It was slowly all right. But


the, but theses friends, these people got to like us so much that we got shifted. The commandant at Hammelburg shifted us and we sent to another village which was by the main railway from Berlin to Munich and quite the opposite I got a nasty old woman to look, I was allotted to a nasty old woman and that wasn’t so good so Tom and I decided to escape.
Before we get


there. I just want to go back. There’s so many things we’ve skipped over at Hammelburg.
Hammelburg. At Hammelburg you arrived after the escape attempt earlier on. You arrived at Hammelburg, how was the information imparted to you that you would then be used as labour and you would be going out in to the villages, how did they
Oh, I forget exactly how they did it but they just one day started to allot people


segregate people in to groups you know and say right you go, you’d have a German guy and he’d say right come with me and you’d go in a truck to a certain village you know. The interesting thing about Hammelburg is that at one stage I was in trouble and I was put into a, for trying to escape, put in to a punishment company. And this punishment company. I was with another Australian.


I forget who it was now and there were a couple of Scots there, an Englishman about ten French Foreign Legion fellows and about two hundred Russians and among the Russians was the elder son of Stalin. Now the Germans knew they had Stalin’s eldest son prisoner but they could never find him and these Russians wouldn’t tell where he was and he was in this camp. He’s now buried in the common grave or the mass grave behind Hammelburg where they used to


bury the Russians. He was an artillery officer and the interesting thing about these Russians was the Germans really, oh they gave those fellows hell. They used to starve them and every day you’d seen another Russian being carried down to the mass grave area, on a board, stark naked. They’d already taken his clothes off because somebody needed the clothes. And as they came past this punishment


compound. We’d throw bread or cigarettes over and they’d drop the body and scramble for the cigarettes and bread you know but sometimes I feel that whatever the Germans got from the Russians they deserved it because they didn’t regard the Russians as being human. They were called untermensch , less than human. So they were pretty rough


on them you know, but getting back to Tom and I deciding to escape.
No, how did that racial segregation work?
What among us?
Among the Russians and the English, how did the Germans, what did they do…
Oh, we didn’t feel any different. We just, we just mixed, we were quite, we weren’t supposed to speak to the Russians but we did and the Russians used to speak to us. We didn’t feel any segregation really of, of nationhoods,


nationals you know. I mean they’re soldiers, we’re soldiers. We’re all together. The Germans were the common enemy.
And yet the Germans felt differently towards the Russians than towards you.
Oh, yeah, yeah.
How did you…
Well, that’s a strange thing that the Germans, I mean Hitler very much at one stage, it’s always been dubious whether they wanted to invade England because he regarded the English as being Germanic the same as the Germans you know


and he got annoyed, annoyed that we kept fighting him you know. And the Australians, what are you, the Australians doing there you know. You’re not British. You’re not English you know so that we used to confound them and I tell you what when they found that we had been on Crete they did have some respect. They thought the Australians and New Zealanders who fought on Crete were very good soldiers


because we didn’t, we didn’t give in like the French you know. We fought right to the end.
What dealings did you start to have with the Germans when you moved in to the camp at Hammelburg?
Oh, we didn’t have much chance to deal with the Germans in Hammelburg because we were out on working parties but when Tom and I made the escape. It was an interesting escape in that by then we had British uniforms, the Red Cross through the Red Cross had


brought in British uniforms so we’d got rid of all that Belgium stuff and Scottish stuff and what not. So, we were all dressed in British uniforms, short tunics and so on. So when Tom and I escaped we were in British uniforms, we had Nazi brassards around our arms, little Nazi flags we made into brassards and we had German packs and we put our caps underneath our epaulettes so we looked like the German arbeit dienst, labour corps. They dressed in khaki you see


so we walked through big towns, nobody stopped us and then we’re going through this village, we’re trying to make for Switzerland we did about a 100 Ks [kilometres] I suppose, we’re going through this village in the middle of the night and the air raid warden caught us you know. He shouted out, we kept walking and then we heard the rattle of a bolt and Tom said, “I think he’s going to fire at us!” so we stopped and we waited there and he


came up to us and he said “Who are you fellows?” “We’re escaped prisoners of war.” And honestly he burst out laughing, here he is an air raid warden, there’s an air raid going on. This is a village near, nowhere you know and he’s caught two prisoners of war. He took us back, got his wife out of bed. She made us, made us oh some food and we sat talking and he said, “You know I’ve got to turn you over to the commandant.” and the next morning two


German soldiers came and took us off, back to the camp you know. So, we then got a month in solitary confinement each.
This is at the next camp you were at?
No this is Hammelburg.
This is Hammelburg.
Yeah, this is at Hammelburg.
And so where were, where was Hammelburg in relation to all these villages?
Hammelburg, well Hammelburg is oh I’d say maybe about 50 kilometres southwest of Frankfurt on the Main. There are two Frankfurts, Frankfurt Oder, Frankfurt


Main. Frankfurt on the Main you see.
And where was the camp in relation to the towns and stuff around it?
It was on a hill. The town was in a valley and the camp was on a hillside or at the top of a hill you know but it, we, there were only nine hundred Australians there and they split the Australians up when they brought us up from Greece. Some went to Austria, Stalag 20A, Stalag 21A, some them went to


Lamsdorf which was Stalag 8B and some went to Moosburg which is near Munich, 7A but we for some reason finished up in 13C which was the, later the subject of a television thing you know Stalag 13. The fellow who wrote that was obviously an American prisoner. They had Americans there later on you see and it’s also the camp where Patton tried to recuse his son in law and finished up losing another 48 men dead you know but…


can you describe the camp to us?
Oh, it was not a very, where we were our section was not very big. In front of it too was a cabbage patch and I remember the early parts of the time we were there we were supposed to knock the caterpillars off the cabbages. We used to knock them in to the centre of the cabbages and then discovered of course the cabbages were for our feed so we defeated ourselves. But


the Russian camp was much bigger. I always think, at this stage the Germans had taken something well over a million Russian prisoners in the early part of the fighting on the Western, on the Eastern Front and I suppose there would have been oh, anything up to five thousand Russians there. They had the bigger part of the camp.
How was the camp divided?
We were the only British prisoners there. We were the only non Russian prisoners. There’d been a lot of


French prisoners there but they’d been repatriated except for some strange reason, this group, this foreign group of foreign legionnaires some of whom could have been German for all I know. And a few Serbs, again only a very small group.
Can you take us through it? Can you walk us through your section of the camp and how it was laid out?
Oh, we weren’t there all that long. I suppose it was a bit like Puckapunyal Australian Army Camp.


Just huts, long huts and you had these double tiered bunks you slept on but we were only there, I suppose a couple of weeks except the time I came back for the punishment camp, before they sent us out to the farm. They seemed to, for some reason, want to get the nine hundred Australians out of that camp very quickly and on to farms.
Was it, at that stage you mentioned there were some organisation amongst the prisoners?
Oh, yeah


by this time.
What happened?
By that time we’ve appointed an Australian as the head Australian for the group or whatever you know and each, [(UNCLEAR)] commando would have a sergeant in charge. Like the charge I was in, charge of an [(UNCLEAR)] commando and I had 12 men you know yeah all Australians yeah, they were all Australians although some of the Australians had, were British originally. They’d migrated to Australia.


you know. A fellow named Tom Twyford was one. There were a couple of others. Larklam was a West Australian. They, he was from the [UNCLEAR] battalion. There were engineers you know. McDowell was one of them, he was from Victoria, Montmorency. And we went out, we worked in this village but we saw each other every night.
How did you meet up every night?
Well, we just walked back to this house where we were supposed to stay. I mean at that stage


I wasn’t thinking of escaping you know. You know you get to the point where you say to yourself, well I must settle down and think about this, take my time about it you know and get a acclimatised and you, and if you’re going to escape anyway you’ve got to try and get a map so that when Tom Bennet and I escaped I had a map and when I was recaptured the map was inside my epaulette and they never found it you see


and when we got back to this, after they’d escaped, I remember the German officer who interrogated us. You always got interrogated after an escape, as saying you Australians are a damned nuisance you know. There’s nine hundred of you, you haven’t been here a year yet and now, and so far almost everybody’s escaped at least once you know. Some of the escapes weren’t genuine; some of the fellows would just say, “Oh I’m sick of working. I’ll take a couple of days off.” and they’d go wandering around the countryside and then come back.
Once, once you had been organised with an


officer in command and with different roles, was there not an organised escape committee or some sort of
Oh, yeah well that comes where you’ve got an established camp like 303. If it’s not a well established camp, Hammelburg was a sort of temporary thing just to get these 9 hundred fellows out to work, that’s all it was. Moosburg was different, near Munich. That was a well organised camp you know. That had several thousand men in it you know.
We’ll get on to the next camp but while we’re talking about it your work


experience in Germany is fascinating from a historical perspective. What were you doing in this village in the bakery there?
Oh, well, I was the, I was the farm labour. You see in a German village it doesn’t matter whether you’re the baker or the innkeeper you have your, they have a peculiar system in, I don’t know whether it applies in France but certainly in Germany where you had your plots of land. You might have one acre that way, you might have another acre that way you see. That acre you might be growing barley.


That acre you might be cutting the food, the grass off it to feed the cows which were kept inside, penned inside. Or you might have a couple of sheep. I finished up being a midwife one day to a ewe and I got this one lamb out and I’m so proud of myself and I’m going down to tell old Beck about it and the next thing I find I’ve got twins you see. But you know that was a nice thing. I tell you what his wife was a


lovely woman you know.
Who was…?
They treated me like one of the family.
Can you tell me about the family? Each of them?
The family, old Beck had been a POW [Prisoner of War] in the First War. He’d come from, in Germany you know if you’re a villager. I suppose this would happen in England too. You sort of live in that village all your life and you finish up marrying the daughter of the neighbour next door type of thing and these two, Beck and his wife they were two very nice people. They had an


elder daughter who was not bad and a younger daughter who used to think it great fun to have a prisoner of war working for them. There were two sons at home, the elder one was a bit of a nuisance, the younger one was a bit of a clown and then the eldest one was away in the air force you see so it was, I think, I think at that stage I would not have escaped from Oberweissenbraun because I was with a family


who appreciated me for what I was, without saying, ‘Oh we’re going to be hard on him because he’s a prisoner of war.’ and this was the same with the other fellows in the village you know we all were quite happy at Oberweissenbraun. It was when we were moved to another village where they’d had some men killed on the Russian Front you know or killed I don’t know might have been killed in Veisel Creek that we started to find the


attitude of the German employer if you want to call it that way, different.
What would you talk to this family about?
Oh, they were interested in what was Australia like. They were a bit surprised to find that Australians were white because they had, they had the idea that all British colonials were black you know. As far as they were concerned Australia was probably Africa you see.


So, that was a big surprise. But when they heard that we’d all fought on Crete, the Germans had a great respect for bravery you know. When we said you know where did you fight, where were you taken prisoner, oh on Crete. Oh, the attitude changed immediately you know. You got this respect. Even in the village at Mittlestroy which was the village we didn’t like you got this same respect. The attitude changed slightly, you’d find oh you know these are


soldiers you see.
How much had the Nazi ideals permeated the village you were in?
Oh, well interestingly enough the Nazis weren’t all, not all Germans liked the Nazis you know. There was a great antipathy but they were very, I saw a German villager taken away from Oberweissenbraun for speaking out against the Nazis.


You didn’t dare say anything against them because every village would have the Nazi Gauleiter as they call him, you know a sort of substitute mayor who represented the party there and if you said something out of turn and it got back to him you were very quickly taken away to be re-educated in Dachau [concentration camp] or somewhere else you know and there were just as many Germans in some of these, ordinary Germans, not Jewish people but ordinary Germans


particularly Dachau, Dachau was the original internment camp you know. So, you had to be very careful you know. It didn’t matter; we’d say what we liked. All Nazis are bastards you know. And we’d even say that to Germans and they’d look at you and they wouldn’t say anything but they’d grin.
What about the war? Did it come up and how did it come up when you were discussing things with these people?
Oh, well don’t forget at that stage they were winning.


There was a big map of, in the Beck’s house there were, in the kitchen there was a big map of Eastern Europe and Russia on the wall and this elder son, he was going to be a great soldier one of these days, would be putting pins in where we are today and this is what started the argument with him.” Oh, we’re going to be in Moscow tomorrow.” I said, “Like hell you are.” so he then turned around and started to be abusive you know. So, that got me into trouble.
What did you think?


You, taking your mind back how confident were you that they wouldn’t be in Moscow tomorrow?
Well, I don’t know. I don’t know, at no time did we ever think we were going to be beaten. It was a matter of time, how long it would take to beat them. Knowing, don’t forget we’re the generation that knows about World War I so we know it took so many years to beat them and how hard it was. So, we’ve got the


confidence, got the confidence to know it’s going to take time and it’ll be, the one thing we always thought it would be the Russians would get to us first and even now I am convinced that the Russians won the war. The Americans and the British could have stayed out of it. The Russians would have won it you know. They just couldn’t beat the Russians. See, this is the incredible thing. Russia is such an enormous place and the deeper you go in there


the more you get sucked in. This is, and don’t forget in 1941,42 was the worse winter in Europe since Napoleon retreated in 1812 and you see that, I don’t know whether you saw a documentary on recently, of all these German dead in Russia. Three hundred thousand Germans froze to death in that winter because they had gone in, in summer clothing. They expected the war against Russia to be over by


October, before winter started. General winters, I mean the same thing you can say to China. You will never defeat China because of the sheer depth of the country you see.
How did it affect your role in the war as an anti-German soldier to be in a village with Germans that you quite liked?
Oh, I don’t, I don’t think it makes any, as I said, take my brother,


he’s off the Burma Railway. He’s on his way to Japan. He’s on a ship that’s sunk. He’s rescued by a Japanese destroyer from the water and then he gets up to Japan and he works in a coalmine and then he, Tom Uren, you know the ex-politician, Tom Uren will say the same thing. Suddenly, they get to Japan and they find there are Japanese civilians. Ordinary Japanese people, children and so on who start to be kind to them, give them


a bit of food of some kind and suddenly they, ‘Oh gee not all Japanese are bad.’ And my brother had a television in Adelaide when we had our final POW reunion over there. He and another fellow was on and the other fellow was saying, ‘I hate Japanese.’ The Japanese used to do a lot of, Gary said, “Obviously you’ve never been to Japan mate.” See the difference you see. He used to say,


he didn’t, he didn’t hate the Japanese soldier. He thought the Japanese soldier was stupid. The soldier he hated was the Korean because the Japanese used to bash the Korean
You talked about your brother. He was on the other side of the world not yet but he would be taken prisoner of war later on. How much contact did you have with the outside world once you were a POW?
Oh, well …
There it is again. How much contact did you


have with the outside world once you became a POW?
Oh, well that came with Hohenfels you know. In August 1942 the Germans they had a lot of fellows like me as persistent escapers, mutineers, refusing to work or saboteurs, fellows putting razor blades in the cows’ food and so on. They set up these three special camps. 357


at Thorn which is now Torun I think in Poland, 344 at Lamsdorf and 383 and 383 was the one that held the, all the senior NCOs, sergeants and above, warrant officers because they could persuade other prisoners to revolt or whatever you see. Lamsdorf and Thorn had private soldiers who were nuisances and so on but they were never as prominent but


they could still, they eventually sent those out, some of those out to work. We were never allowed out of 383 once we were in there. We were wired in for the rest of the war which would be oh roughly two, just over two years, two and a half years you know but the thing about 383 it suddenly became like, we were the equivalent to Colditz with the officers you see. But suddenly we became


a quieter camp because we were organised and we organised ourselves you know. We had a man of confidence, the head man who was a, who was a Scot and the interpreter was an Australian, Coskiff [?] from Mildura and we had four thousand five hundred and twenty nine men. I counted at one stage because we had our own little newspaper which we used to send a man, a man used to go down to Ravensburg and have it printed down there, called Time. I gave a copy once to the [Australian] War Memorial. And


we also had radios. It’s amazing what you could buy from the Germans with a tin of cigarettes which was the currency then. But we had this big room we made underneath the gymnasium where every night we used to get the nine o clock news from the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] and I was one of the reporters who took it down and then we’d write it out on sheets and it would go around the camp you see. Every row, there were five


five streets, about four streets. And it would go right along that street you see but at the same time this is a big camp, there’s a lot of wire around it. So we could run a wire out to the wire fence and broadcast to London and we did. As a matter of fact if you look in the official history you’ll find in the history about the, where it’s got the POW camp we brought a Spitfire that way. It was called Unshackled Spirit. Whether it ever got


into action I don’t know.
How do you buy a Spitfire from a prisoner of war camp?
By having our money transferred from our accounts in London to Duncan Sandies, Churchill’s son in law. But we used to send stuff to London. We used to have fellows deliberately escape to go out and see what the damage was done by the air force, on instructions from London and then come back to us and we’d transfer that money to London. It was, finished up quite an extraordinary camp you know. We had


This would have been terribly against the regulations. The penalties for this kind of thing would have been extreme I’m sure.
Yeah, but we had one big advantage. The commandant of the camp. A Colonel Alfheimmer had been a prisoner of the British in World War I and his attitude was, give all the prisoners as much leeway as possible and they will be content and they won’t have to deal with as much escapes. So, there were very


few escapes from the camps for some very good reasons, very deliberate escapes I mean. But at one stage we had the Nazi minister of labour come down when, this was towards the end of 1944 when Germany was getting very short of labour and he wanted to get more of us out there and Alfheimmer stood up to him and said you can’t. These are senior, senior non-commissioned officers. They are protected by the Geneva Convention and none of us have gone out of it.


He just shoved him off which was pretty brave of him because he could have been in a lot of trouble. But there was one occasion where one of the huts had a fairly sizeable radio confiscated. You could hide these radios in beams of the bunk or beams of the roof or if they were small ones in the back of a broom and so on and this one was taken up to the office. Alfheimmer’s office and he


called up McKenzie and Kosky and said and here’s all the parts of the radio, all separated on his desk and he went on, a rigmarole you know. I’ve warned your fellows about this. You should not have these radios and so on. Now I’m going to give you five minutes to think about it while I go and have a cup of coffee. He went and had a cup of coffee and when he came back every part on the table was in the uniforms of Kosky and McKenzie and it went back in the camp. And he said go away. I don’t want to hear any more about this. See.
Just before we finish this tape. Just in one


minute. Was there a moment when you were able to receive news from home or give news out to your family that you were a prisoner of war?
Oh, yeah.
What was the first time you were able to do that?
Oh, we got regular mail and we had…
But there must have been a period that you were missing in action or no-one knew about where you were.
Yeah, that was before we got to Germany. Once we got to Germany, it was when we got to Germany we were officially recognised on the Red Cross rolls. Before that we were missing. The


Red Cross had no knowledge of us until we got to Germany.
And that’s when word would have got to your family as well.
Yeah. Yeah. So, officially I was missing for about, oh nearly a year.
Must have given you cause to worry for your mother or for your family’s sake.
Oh, would have worried the family but for yourself you know you’re not missing you know.
There’s not much you can do about it.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 08


What sort of radio, we might go back there and I’ll pick up the radio story again but the solitary confinement seems to be something that sends fear in to all prisoner’s mind and especially I can imagine it would be rather terrible but can you tell us about your stint in solitary confinement?
Well, when you’re a prisoner of war you learn to accept


things as they happen so if you’re going to get solitary confinement well that’s it. You accept it you know. A worse condition is say Bill Lamar of my battalion who was taken to the tall guard military prison because of his disruptive behaviour or something and he was finally shot there. And he’s on the [Australian] War Memorial honour roll. But you know you, you


can adjust to it you know. You’re allowed out in a short period in the day to walk around the compound and then taken back in again. It’s only a short compound around the cells you know but it’s probably a little bit boring because, unless your mates you can through something over the wire to you, a book or something to read, it’s a little bit boring but you tolerate it you. You say to yourself that’s two days gone I’ve only got to do another 28 now you know.


How did you fill your time in there?
Oh, most of the time sleeping or dozing you know. That’s probably the reason why I can stay up all night without feeling tired nowadays. I slept so much in solitary confinement.
What sort of sleep do you get in solitary confinement?
Oh, well you, all you can do is just go to sleep you know. Try


to dream about something, the last football match you saw or something or other. So there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve just got to tolerate it and work it out.
You’re an extremely active person and also you know you like writing. How are you dealing with this? How are you keeping your mind active during this punishment?
Oh, I might have been, might have been dreaming up some stories you know or something like that.


It’s hard to say now but, but I often compare myself to the ordinary citizen who’s sent to jail you know. You condition yourself to your mind that you’ve got to tolerate these type of things you know.
Were there any people that you knew that didn’t cope so well with?
Oh, yeah we had, we had, I would say


oh maybe a handful of fellows that went round the bend, went mad. If they went mad they were sent off to a hospital somewhere. But then again it’s hard to say whether there was genuine madness or just feigned madness to get out of the place, you know. Some prisoners of war used to do extraordinary things to get out of things you know. But then again it’s like


these fellows that used to go out to sea. There was a, the Germans had what they called a rest camp at Graudenz up near Berlin which was supposed to be for prisoners and where they hoped to convert the prisoners, the British prisoners in to a small unit they had called the British Frei Korps which was part of the SS. I don’t know whether you’ve heard about it. Oh, a lot of SS units, you’d have a Norwegian unit, a Dutch unit. These were all Dutch Nazis or Norwegian Nazis and then you had these British


Nazis. I think they were no more than about a dozen of them. What happened to them after the war, I think they were all sent to jail. I don’t think any of them were executed for being traitors but you’d get these fellows who’d go out to, oh yeah I’m going to holiday camp but what they were doing when they went up there was looking. What happened in Nuremberg last night? How much damage did, or what happened at Schweinfurt? You’d get things like this. Tom Bennet and I are in the forest outside Schweinfurt one


afternoon when the Americans came over and bombed Schweinfurt when there had the big ball bearing factory. And we’re watching these bombs come down you know. Come down. Alright, the bombing’s over, we just kept on walking you know. So, a POW life is a life unto itself you know. You’re thinking of all sorts of things you can do and get away with it. That’s the best way of saying it.


And get away with it you know. You’re competing against the German. You’re competing against not being recaptured or if you’re being recaptured how can I get out of being sent in to solitary confinement. Alright? It’s a, it has its funny side. I can see it as a funny side now I suppose. I may not have done so then.
Some people didn’t cope so well as you said.
Oh, yeah. But very few of them. Very few of them.


Were there any extreme incidences of suicide?
Oddly enough that happened after the war, when we were repatriated. The Australian repatriation camp was at Eastbourne on the south coast of England and the air force one was at Brighton just along the way. And we had a number of suicides. I can’t recall how many. Again it might have been ten at the most. And I was called in.


My original company commander was then the colonel in charge of the camp and because I’d been a cadet journalist and knew shorthand I was called in as the court recorder of some of these suicides which were very sad. All the fellows that did suicide. They were treated as killed in action or killed on active service. They were never listed as suicide. Including a very good friend of mine, a journalist


who got himself discharged in London as you could and for some reason went around to the home of a woman journalist one night, a famous woman journalist of a big magazine and he suddenly, they’re having a glass of wine, he suddenly pulls out a whole bottle of pills and swallows the lot. Suicides in front of her. I have an idea why he did it but it’s hard to say with some of these fellows. Some of these


fellows just couldn’t cope with being free again. That’s why I say I can always understand why a man comes out of jail and commits a crime not because he wants but because he wants to get back to jail. He’s become conditioned to living in jail and that’s the life he wants and he’ll go back to it time and time again. Recidivist, time and time again. It’s


an incredible thing and no different to being a prisoner of war you see. The only thing about being a prisoner of war you know that the war’s going to end some time and you’re going to come out. But not everybody will feel that way. And then we had some very unfortunate deaths in there. We had a couple of deaths from meningitis, see? And a couple of fellows died that I knew very well. One had a heart attack you know. They’re the sad things, sad ones you know when you have


these funerals of fellows that look forward to going home and they don’t. They die in a prison camp you know. Or they’re shot for escaping or something like that. They’re the ones you feel sorry for.
Can you tell us about the funeral that you attended of your friend?
Oh, one was a chap called Pascoe out of 2/5th Battalion. Bob Pascoe had been an actor before the war.


He did a lot of radio work for Melbourne’s 3LO, 3AR, in the theatres down there. And one night the fellows in his hut woke up one morning. We were fourteen in a hut in Stalag 383, woke up in the morning and found he’d died during the night. He’d had a heart attack. And it was quite sad and all the Australians turned


out. There were five hundred Australians in Stalag 383 and we all turned out for the funeral and he’s, I don’t know, I think there’s only one Commonwealth war cemetery in Germany. I think that’s up near Berlin now and they probably buried him close to the camp in the, in some local cemetery and then after the war transferred the body up to this war cemetery. He would have a war


war cemetery grave. Mick McDonald out of the 2/2nd Battalion, he is the one that got this meningitis which is surprising because he was a big man and then suddenly got this and for a time there his hut was quarantined because the risk of it might spread but he was a surprising death. You wouldn’t have expected it. How he got the thing, it never, nobody else ever got it. How he got meningitis


suddenly like that, surprised everybody. How did it happen? We couldn’t understand it. He was such a big man and very popular.
How important was it to have a close cohort of friends or even just one mate?
Oh, I, I think by the time we got, when we had one mate. I think we always had more than one mate


really but you know at one stage Tom Bennett was probably the, the fellow I escaped with. Frank Bourne was another one I escaped with but then Frank was in a hut where I had other friends. A couple of whom I’ve seen, a New Zealander I met after the war. See, Tom and the other fellows in that [(UNCLEAR)] commando you had one mate in yet you had more than one mate. It’s a bit


hard to describe. You didn’t single out and say I only want to know about him as a mate. I don’t want to know you. You’d always mix with everybody. Again, this comes back to the unit. You speak, in the army you think more as a unit. If I think of the [(UNCLEAR)] commando I’m thinking I’m thinking of all 16 men not just one. If I’m thinking of Stalag 383 I’m thinking of all 14 fellows in the hut not just one.


You know, the 15 fellows in the hut what did I have? We had a London dustman, garbageman. Also in the hut we had who’d been captured in the same unit as him an Eton school, an old Etonian who refused a commission. We had one of the top musicians of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, we had a Welsh sergeant major. There was me.


We had, oh we had a Canadian fighter pilot who’d been shot down and was very badly burnt. You had this incredible collection of fellows and as I say 383 was a remarkable camp for the remarkable collection of people you had. We started a university there, linked with the London University. We had professors there. Professors who were ordinary sergeants, who were corporals. If


you came in as a corporal you’d call yourself a sergeant.
I’d like to talk to you about that and also the radio which I also haven’t got back to, but the hut. Can you tell us about the atmosphere in your hut after lights out and…
Oh, it was very, very good. We did communal cooking. Any parcels that came in to the camp, food parcels particularly. The Red Cross parcels used to come about once a month except that last winter when we got none when the bombing of the


railways was so severe and we’d pool everything in you see and one man would generally do the cooking. He was the, in some huts one man might volunteer to be cook all the time on the other hand it might be shared around. You’d play chess and cards, used to play chess with the Palestinian or he’d be an Israeli now if he’s still alive and then


you’d play cards. Oh, there’s was all sorts of things you could do. We had a swimming pool. Originally 383 had been a French officers’ camp and when the French were moved out they moved us in but the swimming pool was still there and in winter the swimming pool became an ice rink. And we had this football ground up the back where we played Australian Rules and played soccer. We had Anzac Day sports you know. Athletics, concerts and everything you know. We had a symphony orchestra. We had a


library with oh at least a thousand books donated from London. Some of them from the Bodlean library you know. We had dance orchestras, theatre, an Australian theatre, general theatre. It was amazing here’s a, on just there, on the front of that CD ROM there’s a picture of a fellow dressed as


Yum Yum in the Mikado you know. Some of these things were quite incredible. On that CD ROM you, it’s the most incredible collection of things about 383. I did two exams there. I’m a fellow of the Advertising Association and I’m a fellow of the Royal Society Rights. I passed both exams. I’ve never practised advertising but they didn’t have an advertising course there at the time you see. So I did those.
What was the name of your


One hundred and seven. 107.
And where was your bunk in the hut?
Right by the door.
How was it heated?
Oh, we had these, they’ve got one in the [Australian] War Memorial, round pot belly stove type of thing, they’ve got a small replica of the inside of two bunks and the replica


of the pot belly stove.
I’ve seen it yeah, I’m just wondering if…
That’s exact. It’s exact. And that big picture that you see in there of Anzac Avenue that’s the main avenue of the camp. It was called Anzac Avenue because at one end were the New Zealanders and at the other end were the Australians and the British had the rest of the camp. Then we got Americans later in the piece but the Americans could never look after themselves.
Your personal possessions, imagining that little room as it is in the War Memorial.


Where are you hiding your secret possessions?
I don’t know if I ever had any secret possessions. I mean most of us, it was just what, we were what we lived in. The only thing I brought out of the camp strangely enough was that painting by Adrian Heath which my daughter, eldest daughter now has. I carried it out rolled up and in my hip pocket. That’s the only thing I brought out of


the camp. It was the only thing I wanted. But she wants, I’ve suggested giving it giving it to the War Memorial and she won’t agree to it.
And you take us through an average day in the camp from say the time you get up and what you do?
Oh, you’d get up at
What time would you get up?
Oh, you’d get up at six you know and then generally you’d all have breakfast. The Germans used to supply food you know it wasn’t much. It would be potatoes or


soup with some meat in it. Probably horse. But then you’d supplement that with the stuff you’d saved out of the Red Cross parcels. And then after some of the fellows, oh we’d have to have a parade up on the showground, up on the playground first which was rather funny. We five hundred Australians used to terrorise a German officer who had look after this apparel. The whole four


thousand had to line up and be counted to be sure nobody was missing. This German fellow he had bifocal glasses obviously he’d been kept out of the war in Russia. He wouldn’t have done much. He was a captain but he was a funny little man. He had some funny expressions. We used to annoy him so much, keep the parade waiting and he’d get more and more angry. On


one occasion he pulled out his rifle and he said, “Look you Australia, you get in to line or I will shit myself!” Another time he said, “I am being told about you Australia. You think you know fuck all but you know fuck nothing!” Anyway that time from then on we obeyed him because he spoke our language. And after that you’d go down and if it was the summer you might go for a swim in the


pool or you’d go to the library and get books and we had some gramophones there and you could play music but there was an infinite variety of things to do which was good in a camp because we were wired in and we weren’t going anywhere. We couldn’t go anywhere unless you decided to go out and escape and have a look at these other things that were happening, the bombing and so on. But the thing is, one thing that did worry us was the possibility of being bombed.


There were two occasions in particular the night … the night of the Dresden bombing. One of the bombers came back over us. The planes would go in on one route and they’d come back by a circular route to avoid being caught by the night fighters


and this one plane came over the top of the camp and it’s a pitch black night. This is March 1945 and we’re looking up and he’s not very, he must have been hit, he must have been hurt in some way because he couldn’t have been more than say five hundred feet above us and the ground is shaking like an earthquake just from the throbbing of these engines. And there was not a light in the camp. If there’d been a light and then he went on and


about oh maybe five minutes later either he dropped a bomb that he must have had or he exploded because there was this tremendous explosion. We couldn’t see the plane, whether he’d come down he might have crashed. Another time, we were close to Nuremberg you see. We could see the Nuremberg bombing at night. We couldn’t see Nuremberg but we could see the planes bombing it and the other night I can remember there was a plane came over. I don’t know whether you, have you ever


seen that scene of the Carmen opera where you’ve got this huge rose, beautiful big rose opening up? Well, this plane must have been hit, he must have been fully loaded and he just exploded and it just opened up like a great big red rose in the air. The other time was Americans bombing, attacking Lagensberg which is below us. See we’re in a triangle. Nuremberg, Piljan and Lagensberg. We’re in this triangle and


the Americans are bombing Lagensberg and this was again, this would be again about March 1945. These things were quite close together towards the end of the war and for the first time we saw one of these German rocket planes attack the Americans. We saw him go straight up, over the top of the Americans, and of course when he got to the top and his motor cut out he had to come down you know he had no other control. And he just comes, came right through the


Americans and the Americans fired at him and we’re all out in the streets watching this and there’s bullets whizzing around us. They’re bullets firing in the door and in a loaf of bread and this plane came down and he came past us and we wondered how the hell he was firing, he had no propeller. But he came down and he landed oh about 200 yards away on skids. They had skids underneath. There’s one of these planes up in the, it’s not up here it’s


over in the annexe. But those were the, you were always in fear that you might be bombed. Wolfsberg 13A in Austria was bombed and some of the fellows were killed there but possibly because the Wolfsberg camp was right next to the Volkswagen camp, factory you see and they were probably aiming at the factory and the bombs fell in the prison of war camp.


Getting back to life in the camp and your average day. How do you count off the four thousand five hundred men and do you remember your number?
Oh, no, no, no that’s a, a toll count you know. At one stage we decided to see how many men there were in the camp and just did a camp. It’s not, my number was 10504 parenthesis 228, un-parenthesis that’s my POW number


but that’s got nothing to do with the 4529 that’s just a count of how many men are there in the camp now. We finished up with six thousand because we got a lot of Americans and Brits came up after the fighting in, after Italy capitulated they started to move fellows up in to Germany you see.
How do you do a roll call every morning for this number of people?
Oh, well it’s, well I don’t know how the Germans did it. They had fellows; the Germans would never get it right because


everybody would muck them around. They’d count two fellows and then those two fellows would step back and go at the end of the line and they’d count them again. That kind of thing. But this was a genuine British count for the record of how many camp fellows were in the camp at the time. Quite easy we’d just around the, all the huts and count the number in the huts.
But on an average morning how often are they counting you?
Oh, the Germans? Oh, once every morning. It’s called arpelle. It’s the same, same as


the Australian Army or the British Army. You’d have your morning roll call of your company or your platoon or your battalion. They did it, the Germans did it every morning. It was to see how many fellows might have escaped during the night probably.
What did you do after the roll call?
Oh, there’s various things as I said you could go to the library, borrow a book or you might decide to play cards with somebody or play chess or something. We, we used to have


have some fun things like we had this imaginary train. Where a group of, we used to amaze the Germans. They could never figure this out. They thought we were all starkers, where a group of fellows would get together and they’d go around the camp like a train, pulling bells choo choo. They’re a train. So, it is a, we used to amuse the Germans or amaze them.
Why did you do that?
Oh, just, just


somebody just did it for fun you know.
What was the thing you enjoyed doing most on a routine basis?
Oh, well I was involved with the camp newspaper Time which we used to get published once a month down in Regensburg. Alfheimmer, again this camp commander he was a great man. He used to let our editor a chap names Dave Lewis of


Cavalcade Magazine, London, go down to Regensburg with a German guard and get the paper printed down in a printery in Regensburg. In addition we used to have our camp newspapers. The Australian Journal and there were a couple of others like that. And I’d be writing for some of these things or editing some of these things.
What were some of the articles you were writing in there?
Oh, I had a copy of one. One was about


the clock that travels far about this fellow. This British fellow he had a clock. On every station where he’d served including Shanghai and I wrote this story about the clock and I got one of the cartoonists, I think it was Jim Davis or Eric Walsh the New Zealander to do drawing of a clock. You know the ordinary alarm clock. It’s got a top on it like a helmet, a helmet and there’s the clock carrying two bags you see.


The clock that, time never stood still. I can remember the title of it and you’ll find it in the last edition of the volume As You Were which was a series of books published by the War Memorial. I think this was As You Were in 1950. It’s the last one they published. Oh, and there were other things, sports results. I used to send stuff back home to the Australian newspapers believe it or not by bribing the censor with a can of, a tin of Player cigarettes and sent it to


London to The Melbourne Herald cable service and they’d send it back to the Sun News, Victorian Herald in Melbourne. It was used there and also used The Courier Mail in Brisbane, The Advertiser in Adelaide and The Western Australian. Mostly stories about sport you know. We had a test cricket series there where we played the English. We had rugby there where we played the English and the South Africans.
Can you tell us about this test match?
Oh, there was a


a series of three. The sport was interesting. The cricket we could play. We played every summer except that Summer of 1940, the winter except 1944. 1944 became a bad time. That’s when we were going in to the Battle of the Bulge and so on but 1942 and 1943 mainly 1943 because 1942 was only


about three or four months. I think we had summer there, 42, 43, 43, 44. We had two series of cricket matches and we played cricket. And we had a couple of good players there too. Couple of players who had actually played state cricket. There was Johnny Wakeman who’d played for Victoria. Victorian juniors I think.
Who was the Australian captain?
The Australian captain was, oh Moet, he came


from Mildura, he came from Mildura. Murray Stone something like that. I know his first name was Murray.
How did you get the gear for the cricket match?
Oh, the Red Cross. If you wanted something, if you put a request in to the Red Cross they would try to get it out to you. It might take a while, you know you might have to wait a year for it but eventually you might get it. Or we could make things


ourselves. For the football series we made our own shirts. The old t-shirts and just dyed them you know. One team had green shirts, one team had red shirts, one team had blue shirts. You could make the dye up quite easily out of various things. It’s amazing the number of men we had there. We had chemists, all sorts of professions. Anything you wanted we could make. If you look in that window up there you’ll see that things that were made out of silver paper. Even false teeth


you know. It’s incredible. Dentists there and all sorts of people.
What sport did you play at?
Oh, I played, took part in the athletics and umpired a couple of the Australian football games.
Can you tell us
I was more interested in reporting you see. I was more interested in reporting the games.
Can you tell us about the organisation of the newspaper? How many people were involved in that?


we had I think about ten journalists in the camp. There was me, Rollie Hoffman from the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Pollack from the Johannesburg Star, his nephew played cricket for South Africa after the war. Willy Kent from the Perth Advertiser, Kerwin Clage from the Isle of Mann Examiner.


I think there, I’m missing a few but those five I can remember. And they, not all of them worked on the newspaper but they had various things. Rollie Hoffman wrote a book while he was there called George and Margaret which was published by Shakespeare Head after the war. A group of us including me published a book called


Barbed Wire, the funny side of POW life which was published and we gave all the proceeds to the British Red Cross.
Was this written during your time in the camp?
Some of it yes. The final part of Barbed Wire I wrote after the war. It was about the escape that Frank and I did. But that book was edited by Marcus McKinnon who’d worked on the London Daily Express and strangely enough I came out, went to


work on the Advertiser in Adelaide, I met his brother and his son used to be here and his son died a couple of years ago, had a stroke and died a couple of years ago and that book, oh we sold 25 thousand copies so the, and I forget how much we charged for it but the Red Cross did very, quite well out of it.
How are you, were there any Americans in the camp with you?
Oh, the Americans came in


after the Italians capitulated. That’s when we started to get the Americans. The Americans were not popular mainly because they had a peculiar attitude. They were the reverse, don’t forget when we arrived in 383 we met up with a lot of the fellows who’d been captured at Dunkirk. Now British soldiers always look after themselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re a prisoner of war or not. You have your buttons polished, you have your


shoes black and polished you know. So, we can’t let the Brits get away with that so we’ve got to look after ourselves too. But the Americans would never do that. They were lazy. A lot of huts wouldn’t have an American. We don’t want them. They’re dirty. They don’t look after themselves. They might whinge all the time. They weren’t at all popular.
What about a new bloke in your hut. How would you treat him?


Well, it depends. Oh, now and again you’d find people switching around huts, you know you might have a bloke had a falling out with a bloke in another hut so he decided to change huts you know. “Can I come and live with you?” you know. “Oh, yeah there’s a spare bed. Alright you can come in.”
What about spies?
No, no we never had, you mean spies for the Germans?
Yeah, a plant someone who’s going to inform on you if you have something?
No, no, no we never had any of that. I can’t


ever recall that. I can recall the Germans sending in stooges to search the camps and the one incident when we had to handcuff him. This was after the, after Dieppe when the Germans claim that they’d found some dead Germans with handcuffs by the Canadians so they immediately began to handcuff us but it became a joke because the handcuffs they gave us were a sort of long chained


things and immediately they left the hut we’d take the handcuffs off. You know, hang them behind the door. It became so farcical that the German guard would come in, in the morning, hang the handcuffs behind the door and come back at night and take them down off the hook again. It became a farce so finally they dropped it.
Sorry what were they doing?
Well, the Germans claimed that after Dieppe they found some bodies of dead Germans who had been handcuffed by the Canadians


so they decided as punishment they would handcuff prisoners of war.
What do you mean handcuff, all day or…?
Oh, yeah you were supposed to be handcuffed or day. Yeah, and they would take the handcuffs away at night you know. You were to be handcuffed all day but it became a farce you see because we took the handcuffs off and just hung them up behind the door so being 383 the German guards started to become more British than German the way, because of the behaviour of the prisoners.


It, it’s, you had to be there to see some of the funny things that happened with the, I can remember one of my mates in that picture there. He got blind drunk. We used to make our own liquor. You’d save up all the orange peels and various things and then you’d make this, make this pure alcohol it was. I remember I saved a bottle of it. The German bottles have a sort of rubber, rubber


cap, clip on cap. China and rubber seal and I saved a bottle of this for my 21st birthday and when I took the cap off the cap, the rubber seal had been eaten away by the alcohol. But we used to drink this stuff. Oh, potent! Anyway this Tucker gets drunk on this one night and goes up to the gates with the barbed wire and he pulls the wire apart and says to the German guard up there, “I’m going to kill you, you bastard!” And the German guard ran away.


.He really thought he meant it.
Can you tell us about your 21st birthday in the camp?
Oh, I don’t know anything special happened. I don’t know if, whether I drank that bottle of grog or not because I think the rubber seal being eaten might have scared me off it. To think what, this stuff was pure alcohol, one hundred


per cent alcohol but people drank it. Oh, it’s, I suppose some of them might have mixed it something else, tomato juice or something to tone it down a bit but it was still very potent.
The radio, I’m still interested in how the radio was run. Especially this is


not just a receiving radio. This is a transmitting radio.
Yeah, we had a transmitter as well. Again, we had the people who could do this, who could make these things. Make them.
The Germans, they had fairly sophisticated, were they not, I mean I’m really surprised that you weren’t caught. How was it that this thing wasn’t found, this sophisticated transmitting radio was not…?
More by luck than anything I think. And again, again because we had this commandant.


His attitude, as I said earlier, was give the prisoners as much leeway as possible and I won’t have any massive trouble. He didn’t want a massive break out of prisoners or anything like that. So, he was very tolerant man plus the fact he had been a prisoner himself in the first war and he knew you know.
Who was in charge of the radio and who had access to it?
The fellow in charge of the radio was a Melbourne man who’d been in, Ivan Stephens. He’d been


an assistant commissioner or something in the Boys’ Scouts in Victoria. He was in the 2/2nd Anti-Aircraft Regiment and it was he that started it and the, we never got caught. As a matter of fact for all I know if the camp still exists today it’s still there. But the thing is too, that being under the gym to cloak


any sound we had fellows upstairs doing weight lifting and various things. Dougie Thwaites used to be at the Victorian Railway Institute and was a junior weight lifting champion on the side, he was in the 7th Battalion. He used to conduct weight lifting classes and they had Judo classes up there you see. They’d make a lot of noise to cloak the radio down below in what was really a cellar. We dug in the ground a shallow cellar you know.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 09


Slow down and relax a little bit yeah so don’t feel you have to rush. We can stay a bit longer. So, it’s better that we get a, so the university, can you tell us about say a day going to the university. Where the classes were held and how were you marked and what was the structure of it?
Well, university was set up in conjunction with the London University. See, the London University how would you


say, was the mentor you know. We’d contacted them and they said yes, if you want to set up some faculties of various things, we’ll supply the type of stuff you need to study and the examination papers when it comes around to examinations and it worked very well. I’m


amazed when I saw the ROM played, my brother in law played the ROM for me, how many courses we had. There’s about fifty courses and oh an incredible number of things, jewellery making and you can imagine any courses you get at the university now we had then except journalism which was missing. Some might have been missing except the very esoteric ones.


Let’s see, what would be an esoteric one? Oh, might have been a spin off from some current media planning or something like that which is the type of things we have had now we would not have had then. But they were largely based on the current courses that were being run at the London university and they’d set the exam paper and then the exam papers would be sent back to London and they would mark them there, you see. And then eventually.


you would. In a couple of month’s time you’d hear how you went. Did I get my degree or did I get a pass or whatever. But it was, to me the university was the really the outstanding thing of Hohenfels, the most outstanding thing. Anything else was, you know the type of thing that you would expect to set up in a prison of war camp but no other prison of war camp ever thought of having its own university but


we had the numbers to make it work. See, out of four thousand five hundred and twenty nine men you’d probably get maybe eight hundred would want to do a university course which made it really worth while for the London University. I don’t know whether they, we didn’t pay anything. The London University might have been subsidised by the British Department of Defence. They might have made an honorarium to them for the work you’re carrying out for these prisoners of


war. It’s possible. I don’t know but I think that’s possible but we certainly, it didn’t cost us anything. Anyway, we had no money anyway.
How did the class work. How was it?
Oh, you’d have a class just like anywhere. You’d have your, let’s call him a professor, come in and you might have your 12 fellows there. They’re all learning astronomy for instance. He’d have these books from London


showing you all the things in the star sky and you’d discuss these things you know and then you might be set an exercise. ‘Tell us about the last time Mars was closest to earth and what is Mars trajectory’ and all of these things. They’d set a paper. It might only be a five hundred word essay but it would be worthwhile so I think music was a


popular one because you had a lot of fellows who had the opportunity for the first time to study some form of music and we had instruments there. We made instruments, you know. I don’t know about pianos but violins and guitars and things like that. They made them there. They may not have been extremely good but you got music out of them you know. This is the incredible thing and you had music. I remember one fellow who composed songs


and became quite famous in England after the war. His name was Norry Jage. He wrote music subsequently after the war for quite a few BBC shows. I’m trying to think of one. What was the show that Dick Bentley was in? What was that one? And Edwards, Joy Nicholls, the two Australians? They were in the show in, oh I forget the name of the show now


but he did quite well out of it you know. He wrote this music you know. He found a publisher in England. He sent some of them away while he was a POW apparently. I think one or two of them were published while he was a POW but that’s the type of thing you see. You did everything. I sent one of my stories about the test cricket was published in the London Daily Express in the Hickey column because I thought oh well we’re playing the Englishmen maybe I can sell this thing in England.


When I got to England I went around to the Melbourne Herald cable office and there were two things there for me, one was a letter from Sir Keith Murdoch. My original boss, Rupert’s father, congratulating me on being out of the prison of war camp and I got a cheque from Trevor Smith, the London manager for one hundred pounds which was a lot of money then. Yeah, “The boss asked me to give you a cheque for one hundred pounds.”


You know a lot of fellows probably found that when they went home they had little nest eggs that built up you know. If you sent home maybe things through an aunt or an uncle and they’d put it away in the bank for you. And don’t forget too while we were a POW normal army pay was mounting up, you know. I found myself with quite a bit of money when I got to England, something around about oh, five hundred pounds anyway which was a lot of


money. I spent it practically all in England in the six months I was there but that was a lot of money in those days you know. It enabled me to see quite a lot of England.
Can you tell us about the escape committee?
We had an escape committee but they were always supposed to be anonymous. You weren’t allowed but they would set up things if you, I.


mentioned earlier about that couple. The two fellows that went out as man and wife. They would arrange all the clothes for them. They arranged one thing too much but the reason they got caught because the man who was the woman was wearing lipstick which you couldn’t get in Germany then. There was, I don’t know, I think Hitler was a bit anti lipstick then and they abolished all lipstick in Germany at that time. But he had lipstick on he couldn’t be a German woman you know.


And they’d arranged passports and various things. False photos and all the rest of it. But there weren’t all that many escapes from Stalag 383. To start with it was difficult. In, in World War I it was possible to escape fairly easily and get away. In World War II it was very hard if you were in Germany. If you were shot down in


France you could get away fairly quickly on an escape line. But in Germany where were you going to go? You could go to Switzerland or you could go to Sweden. You go to Switzerland what do you see? You see it in The Great Escape [movie], these great big wire fences and Steve McQueen trying to jump them on a motorcycle. Sweden, you had to get across the water. And where were you going to get ship? You’d have to get to Rostock, a German port or you’d have to get to Gdansk, a Polish port, very hard.
How good was your German?


Was it passable to a German speaker to know that you were not a foreigner?
Oh, I suppose so. (GERMAN) I haven’t spoken German for a while but you know but. The interesting thing and this applies I find in any language but if you are in a country and you find you have, this is why I have this Japanese student


staying with me. We have Japanese, Chinese students. They come down to learn English an intensive course and they stay with one of the staff you know so he must speak English while he’s here you see. So, he starts off. He doesn’t know what I’m saying but in 16 days time he’ll understand everything I’m talking about. So, the same applies to anybody. You got to Germany and you find that you’re there and very soon you’re picking up the


language. Every day you get to know more, one, more and more words and very soon you start to talk like a native you know. The same thing with France, that’s why a lot of people go to France and nowadays a lot of people go to Spain.
Things got worse after D day for you. Can you explain how things changed in the camp?
Yeah, it was, with, the beginning of the autumn


it started to get very bad mainly because the bombing of Germany, particularly by the Americans, intensified where they concentrated on the railways and particularly the marshalling yards so suddenly we found that instead of getting one Red Cross parcel a month whether British or Canadian, it wasn’t arriving. I suppose the parcels got


so far and that’s all. Then they were either destroyed by the bombing or they disappeared among the Germans. But that was the start of it. But then you see we got this horrifying winter and we weren’t getting the fuel that we used to have you know for our pot belly stove. We’d get a bucket of coal a week and then we just started to get a few pieces of


wood and the German ration fell down. Suddenly, the Germans were and ourselves were on the same rations which were half of what we had the previous winter from the Germans? And then the Germans push in to the Battle of the Bulge. Suddenly, it looked as though the war’s going to go on for another year instead of, as we thought, being over by Christmas 1944.
Why were you under the


impression it might be over by Christmas 1944?
Well, it’s just the thing we’d built up in our minds. Okay, right the last war took four years okay. Right, I’ve been taken prisoner now, right four years from now the war will be over. I mean again it’s this conditioning of the mind you get as a POW.
Can you tell us about that Christmas 1944 when the war wasn’t over? What did you do on Christmas day?
Oh, I tell you what it was, it was pretty grim. It was cold. Instead of going out for


walks everybody would get in to their bunks and put everything on. Your greatcoat and what blankets we had and most people decided to hibernate. It was very grim because and the news wasn’t good either because the news from the Western Front. We weren’t worried about the Eastern Front but we just wondered, thought the Germans, the Russians probably had more


further away to go to reach us than the Americans did you see. Or the British, well in our case the Americans. I think it was the 5th Army that had to get to us and the army that finally I got mixed up with was the 85th Division of the 5th Army but it, it was a combination of things. The bombing, the cessation of the parcel delivery,


fall off in the German ration, the pressure on the Bulge. People started to get depressed. For the first time, for the first time we started to get depressed. Oh, look the war’s going to go on and on and on.
Back to that Christmas day. How did you celebrate that Christmas? Was there a general Christmas celebration? Or it was curtailed that year?
Oh, I think it was curtailed. I don’t remember


any celebrations.
What about a previous Christmas celebration?
Oh, the previous Christmases we’d probably had, had some sort of celebration. We had our homemade liquor which helped and generally you’d save things up from the parcel. Occasionally you might have got a, I think November might have been a special Red Cross parcel which would have something extra in it like a Christmas pudding or something for everybody. A little Christmas


pudding. It might have custard so you could make custard and things like that. And of course you’d get a bit of mail from home. Letters you know. So, it wouldn’t have been so bad. The 1943 Christmas, 1942 was a bit odd because we’d just moved in to Stalag 383 in August so we were still more or less settling in. I think there were also still fellows coming in from the other camps you know. The


recalcitrants from the other camps from Duisburg for instance or 383, 357 you know but Christmas 1943 was probably a good Christmas, probably the only good Christmas of that period.
Was there anything specific that you did? Was there a church service or did you sing carols or…?
Oh, yeah we had church services. We had, we


didn’t actually have any real priests or ministers. I think they were mostly laymen or had been in one church or the another and they would take the services you know. There were fellows that went to services every Sunday. I’d say about a third anyway, a third of the fellows there would go to, go to church services of one


kind or the other. And the church services we held in our, what we call our Fladium which was one of our theatres. The theatre would be transferred, transformed in to a church for that day. That’s another thing about the theatre, on one occasion our main theatre group did a series of Shakespeare and would you believe the Germans, when we did the Merchant of Venice through Alfheimmer


we got original costumes from Berlin from the Merchant of Venice probably because it was all about Shylock the Jew you know. The Germans used to come to the shows and sit in the front row and clap. We didn’t play; I don’t recall us ever playing God Save the Queen, the King or anything like that.
What part did you play?
I never took part in the theatre you know. No I’m a journalist. I concentrated on reporting about these things you see. And we,


some of these reports went back Australia you know about so and so and I’ve got an article somewhere upstairs about the theatre.
As a journalist how would you describe an average news day in the camp? Was there sufficient news? Slow news days? Always had there plenty of things to discuss?
Oh, it would be quite incredible. There was, there was always something going on you know, something to do you know, the swimming,


people swimming. Oh, we had a life saving club, the surf life saving club. That fellow up there, the second fellow from the right, he was in charge of it. Yes, Sergeant Major Win Healey was in charge of it. He used to be in London, a Manly life saving bloke and taught surf life saving in the camp. I mean you could think of dozens of things that you could do and were done,


fellows would be…
I must say possibly one of the last things I would have thought would be possible to do in a prison of war camp was to teach surf life saving. How did he do that?
We had the swimming pool. So, you taught it alongside the swimming pool. You had a person go in as drowning and then you had a man go in. The pool was oh about twice as long as this room, these two rooms and you’d have a person go in and supposedly drowning and one of the fellows from this end would go in to rescue


him and he’d have a rope tied to the other man on the other end of the pool you see. I mean quite incredible and they repeated that at Eastbourne after the war. He was teaching surf life saving down at Eastbourne. On the Eastbourne beach.
Getting back to your grim Christmas of ’44. What were


the news that you were getting from the front on the radio that was not filling you full of hope?
Oh, well you see we had to combine the two. We’d get news from the American side forget about the British, we’re talking about the Battle of the Bulge there, which would be we are holding and so on but then we’d be getting German newspapers and


we would read the German accounts and the Germans would say oh we are progressing, we have captured so and so. So, you had to balance the thing, but knowing the Germans and knowing the Germans were bloody good soldiers you know you’d be inclined to lean towards the German side rather than the American. It was obvious that the Americans must be having a hard time no matter how good they said it was. They must be having some sort of hard time so the advantage


lay slightly towards the German side until finally the Battle of the Bulge ended and then there was a sort of sigh, big sigh of relief you know. At least we’ve held them all right but in the meantime you were more interested in how the Russians were doing. The Russians were coming on and they were nearly in Berlin. Once they got in Berlin then it’s not so bad. But we had a worry on our minds then that


of this, there was a big report at the time. Whether, I’ve never been able to find out all the authorities have, I’m not sure about this all this that the Nazi, the SS, all the SS were going to be taken down to Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his area and so on whether he’d there it didn’t matter but the idea was that all the prisoners were to be marched down and held in front of the SS so


if the Americans wanted to break through them they had to go through the prisoner of war first. The prisoners would be sacrificed. Whether it was true or not, but the Germans were marching all the prisoners down from the various camps as the camps became close to the Russians particularly they marched all the prisoners out and towards the south and finally they got down and to us and they started to march our fellows out you know but our fellows never got very far. The march seemed to peter out somewhere


round about Munich. That’s about almost when the war ended.
Getting back to your time in the camp about this time. How important are rumours in keeping morale or depressing you?
Oh, well you get all sorts of rumours. You get optimistic rumours and you get pessimistic rumours. Some people are going to believe one or the other but you try to work it out. We had people in the camp and I was among them where you would analyse


these things and try to reach a logical conclusion of what appeared to be happening but a logical idea of what appeared to be happening without reaching a conclusion because you couldn’t get a conclusion you know. The thing is fluid. The fire, the battle is raging. You don’t know who is going to win or lose at this stage. It’s fluid. But it appears as though it may go this way or that


way. The thing against the Germans is that they had such a hell of a job to get to the coast to cut off the British and the American armies. It was a big task and you’d say it’s going to take some doing and we don’t think they will make it. But they’re going to create a big nuisance. It’s going to cost Australian, American and British lives to stop them and a lost of them.


Can you tell us about your departure from camp 383 and your final saying goodbye to the commandant or was there any official ceremony or were there any guards that particularly you’d formed relationships with that…?
No, we did get the word that we were going to be marched out to join this big march south in which quite a few fellows were killed by machine gunning by our people because


they didn’t know it was POWs. They must have thought it was Germans marching you see. So, my mate Frank Bourne and I, Frank is my new mate because I’ve got to know him quite well. We could have said oh yeah how about us going through, shooting through. Alright, I don’t want to go on this march. Neither do I, alright okay. So he came,


we came down to my end of the camp and we just cut the wire with a pair of wire cutters that we had and just walked through the wire and there’s a German guard just up from us around about oh ten yards or so and he just looked at us and turned away. At this stage the Germans seemed to be reconciling themselves that they were going to lose the war. This was April the 13th 1945 and by this


time most of the German soldiers, they’d had it, particularly the fellows who’d been on the Russian Front. They I’ve seen German soldiers cry, guards who were with us, cry when they were told they were being sent to the Eastern Front. It was almost certain death.
Can you describe one of those moments?
Oh, yeah well, yeah when we were at Mittlestroy this guard there. He was told he was going to the Eastern Front


and he was only a small man, maybe about five six at the most and he’d already been wounded. I think he was wounded in France early in the piece and then he was told he was going to the Eastern Front and he didn’t say anything but he just broke in to tears. We saw him in his room breaking into tears, he had this note in front of him, instructions, order. You’re going to the Eastern Front


and it probably said, I don’t know whether he ever went home to see his family first, but it would have been you know, the Germans were really, the German Army was really hard on their people you know. The Germans executed fifteen thousand men for desertion. Mostly in the last year of the war. This is on the record and we really


felt sorry for this guy. I mean we got to the stage of being sorry for any German who was being ordered to the Eastern Front because it was, as I said, almost certain death. It didn’t matter how many of you there were there would always be more Russians and it didn’t matter how many Russians you killed. There’d always be more Russians. This is what it was like. I mean the Eastern Front was absolutely horrifying. I think the death toll was something like 50 million,


really horrifying figures. So, you know we felt sorry for this little guy but off he went and whether he survived I don’t know.
Did you have to go to the escape committee or how did you organise your escape at that time?
No, no, no well the escapes that I made were not from the camp. Not until the last one when Frank and I just walked out. At this stage the camp was in a bit of a


turmoil. There were fellows; they were packing their gear for the march. There were fellows trying to get in to the hospital to say they were officially sick you know Frank and I just walked out as we were. No packs or anything. Just a couple of bars of chocolate in our pockets.
How were relationships with the American prisoners at this time?
Oh, I think it pretty much got to the stage where everybody ignored the Americans, you know. They just didn’t count


anymore. They, they just didn’t have the ability to look after themselves you know. A lot of them didn’t appear to want to even wash themselves, wash themselves in the morning you know that’s why I say a lot of the huts just didn’t want them. But you see this is where you’ve got this contrast with the, the British army had always had this tradition you know. You were always well dressed, buttons clean and you know


incredible and that’s why I say it washed out on us, off on us. We weren’t going to say, have the Brits say, “Look at those dirty bloody Australians.” It wouldn’t do.
How important is leadership even in a prison of war camp, then?
Oh, very important. Oh, very important. Not so much leadership I’d say more example. The example of other people encourages you to emulate those people. I don’t mean in the


bad things but I mean more in the way you behave, the way you dress, the way you eat. All those things. I mean you’ve got those fellows and homosexuality. We had only two instances that I know of it out of four thousand men and those two fellows were looked down on you know. They were beyond the pale you know. This


this is the kind of thing you see.
How are you dealing with the absence of women and obviously yearnings for the opposite sex then?
The interesting thing is when you’re a prisoner of war food comes first, second, third, fourth, fifth, six, seventh right up to tenth and you don’t think of women other than you know you write to them and you’re going to see them one of these days but you


just don’t think of it you know.
You just don’t have any feelings at all?
No, you don’t, you don’t. You let it go. It’s a, I don’t know. It’s not the same as in jails perhaps but you know in a prison of war camp you’ve got this feeling. The war is going to end on the day I have decided. I have decided in my mind. I am going to walk out of here on December 31st you see.


You, it’s all a mind thing. The whole thing of being a prisoner of war. It’s a mind thing all the way. You’ve got the, whatever you’re thinking about.
How important is that to keep your hope up?
Very, very important. Very important. You talk to any of the fellows who were in Japanese hands. Even more so with them than with us you know because we didn’t have to put up with the brutality that they put up with. In


yet they had the same idea you know. I’m going to walk out of here some day you know. Except towards the end in, I believe from my brother, the last few days of the war where apparently there was some talk that the Japanese were going to execute all prisoners of war before the surrender particularly in Japan where apparently there were big holes dug and they were, they


suspected. They were never told that this was to be their communal grave. But it’s very important that you keep up hope and this was, this was one of the things that I admire about my young brother’s battalion, the 2/2nd Battalion. 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion which has the best record of the Burma Railway that no 2/2nd man ever died without a 2/2nd man being beside him you know.


This is tremendous and they still have this fellowship among them, even today you know and this flowed on to their wives and widows and children. It’s quite an incredible thing. It’s the only battalion, the only other battalion where you might find this kind of feeling was the 39th Battalion, the militia battalion that stopped the Japanese in New Guinea, that fought the Japanese all the back, all the way back down the Kokoda Trail. They’re the two


battalions I think were the greatest battalions in World War II, you know.
After you got out through the wire what happened?
Oh, we, we went on and finally pushed through the wood and then we saw two tanks blazing away at each other you know. One might have been a mile in that direction, a mile in that direction.
How far out of the camp or how many days out of the camp was this?
Oh, no this was same day. Same, and we got out of the camp about midday and this would be about three o clock in the afternoon


but the funny thing is we’re going down a hill and you know when we were taken prisoner the Americans wore the same helmets we did, the fellows in the Philippines for instance but we had never seen the new American helmet which is like the German helmet. The coal scuttle type you see and Frank said “They’re bloody Germans, look at the helmet!” and I said, “Yeah but what’s the white star on the tank? They can’t be Germans. What’s the white star mean?” So we get


down there and you know sure enough it’s the tank from the 85th Division spear heading the 5th Army and Frank gets this lieutenant, the lieutenant in charge of the tank, only the one tank strangely enough. You’d have thought there might have been two or three of them and he’s got the lieutenant’s hand in both his hands and he won’t let the lieutenant’s go and at the same time he’s crying. The tears are streaming down his face and he’s trying to get a word out and he can’t you


see. I managed to say to the lieutenant, “Oh right now, where do we go to get back to England?” “Oh,” he said, “Our mob we’re about 50 Ks ahead of the rest of the army. We’re the spearhead.” Oh, yeah, yeah right. Oh, there’s Germans between us and the rest of it. And sure enough that afternoon, about an hour later we ran in to this German battalion or the remnants of it. It might have just been the remnants of the company and


this German sergeant pulls up aside us and we couldn’t escape. We had to, you know we had to stay there. There was no use running away or anything so we just sat down on the side of the road, took out our cigarettes and lit a cigarette each and he’s got a panzerfaust what we called a bazooka on his bicycle you know for destroyed tanks and he stops and he says “Who are you fellows?” “Oh, we’re a couple of escaped prisoners of war.” “Yeah?” “Can you spare one of those cigarettes?” “Yeah,” so we give him a cigarette and


“How are things going?” “Oh, not good at all.” “Where are the Americans.” “Oh, right behind us.” “What about your fellows? What are you going to do?” “Oh, as soon as night falls all my fellows are going to disappear in to the countryside.” So, that was the feeling. And they looked exactly as we did on Crete and on Greece you know. We’re being beaten. You can tell a beaten man by the way the soldiers are going


passed and their heads are down you know. A couple of them are dragging their rifles on the ground. That kind of thing. You could see they were beaten men.
Is that what you looked like in Crete?
Yeah, well I suppose so. Some of them, some of them definitely. We mightn’t have been dragging rifles because some of us didn’t have rifles anyway. But you see the heads down. Once the head goes down it’s despair.


What’s the look in the eyes?
Well, if the heads down you can’t look in their eyes, much very well can you?
You were in the midst of these retreating German troops, sitting on the side having a smoke. What happened?
Well, they eventually went off and we just continued on our way down the road you see and ran into two girls that were carrying a couple of bags of flour. They’d obviously ratted [looted] some store somewhere, American


military store or something and we thought, ‘Alright, if we go with them we’ll give them a chocolate and they’ll give each a loaf of bread or something.’ you see. So, we decided to carry their bags for them and they were quite happy to let us carry. We came to an intersection just leading in to their village and this car came along and in this car there’s four blokes. One of them’s obviously a general. He’s got red around his cap. Red all down his trousers and he sights us and stands up and pulls his


pistol out and he starts shouting at us and I remember Frank saying, ‘Salute the bastard quick!” And we threw a couple of beautiful salutes and at the same time I could feel myself going numb from the feet up and I’m numb up about the waist when just then two Mustangs, American Mustangs came up the road behind the car and the general’s aide pulled his trousers, he sat down, looked up saw the planes, sat down and the car went


for the hell of its life with the planes after it. So we went the other way just as fast with the two girls. We got to their house and we finished up staying the night there and family, they’re just an ordinary peasant German peasant family, gave us a meal. And during the night round about, oh must have been midnight or so, suddenly the door’s knocked in and in come a herd of American soldiers. And, “Who are you people?”


“Oh, we’re a couple of Australian prisoners. We just escaped from prison camp up the road.” “Right, tell these people we want a meal. Lots of eggs.” So they start throwing their weight around you see. So, the old lady and the daughters got the meals ready for them and I think sometime during the night one of the daughters was raped because I ran into her in the kitchen and she was crying like anything but the next morning Frank said “I think I’ll go back.” There were some Americans


going back wounded and maybe sick so Frank went back with them and I didn’t see him again until I got to Sydney after the war. But I said, “No I’ll stay on.” So, I stayed there and I happened to run in to two American newspapermen. Tom Daley from Time Magazine and Mitch Leonard who, I don’t know who he was with then but he later became a top screenwriter in Hollywood and I stayed with them and eventually went on


down to the Battle of Regensburg and I found myself with a battalion in a house and these American boys were a bit surprised to find an Australian there and they produced a bottle of brandy and I had a drink of brandy and then I sort of waited for them and they said, “No, the whole brandy bottle’s for you.” so I proceeded to get stuck into this brandy and sometime I must have passed out and found myself on the officer’s… what would you


call it, sort of stretcher upstairs in this German house of course would be two, I’m in the barn section where they used to throw the hay up in to the top of the barn and in the morning there seemed to be a lot of gunfire and there’s Germans shelling us with 88 millimetres which were their big guns. Really big guns. And suddenly all these Americans are packing up and retreating, getting ready to retreat and I’m leaning out the window


half drunk and saying, “Stay and fight you bastards, stay and fight!” But then we went on a bit further. A went back with them and maybe a couple of miles back ran in to these three Australians from 383, Ren Davy and Brad Miller from the 2/11th Battalion and a fellow who was very badly hit by dysentery and I said to, I’d gone over to Tom Daley and Mitch again and I said to Tom, “Can I borrow your


jeep and driver to take these fellows back to a casualty clearing station?” So we went back to this CCS they and gave this bloke some, I think they kept him because of the dysentery and Ren Davy, Miller and I went on to a place called Erlanger which was a German military barracks and we stayed the night there and then got a lift in a Dakota that arrived the next morning and dropped off a USO [United Services Organisation] party with Marlene Dietrich [actress and singer] and one of the blokes


one of the Australians with us. We were about 20 of us by this time including a Spitfire pilot who’d been shot down over Yugoslavia and they dared me to ask Marlene Dietrich for a kiss and I did kiss her and I’ve got a picture to prove it and anyway we got in to the Dakota and we flew to Brussels, out over Cologne and saw some of the damage in Cologne and so on and it was very cold and the plane is waddling around you know which, it’s got ice on the wings and the only person sick in the


plane was the Spitfire pilot. So we got to Brussels and we met up then with an Australian lawyer from Melbourne who was then with the Red Cross and he got us outfitted again in new uniforms because our uniforms were looking a bit tattered by this time and I remember he gave me two hundred francs and he said, “Well, the two of you can’t get off today.” It was


bad weather and, “Go out and enjoy yourself.” So we found a big club, oh it must have been full of British soldiers and girls and all the rest of it and finished up having a good time there and spent the night there and the next day were taken by a Lancaster to Britain and then finished up in Eastbourne camp.
Interviewee: Keith Hooper Archive ID 0654 Tape 10


Do you want to the … you’re in Brussels with two hundred francs in your pocket. Suddenly free after being a prisoner for so long. What’s the first thing you wanted to do?
Oh, it’s hard to say, look around. We went to this; I think it was called the Achy[?] club. It was huge club which obviously had been set up for the British Army, was full of


Brits and girls and I don’t know we, we I think we got a bit bored there for some reason. It’s a, I think again it was a bit of a carry over. While these fellows are enjoying themselves you know like this. I have a feeling that, I had a feeling of resentment about the club


for some reason or other. I can’t, I can’t recall what it is but of being angry at these, all these guys, men enjoying themselves. I think it was that, at that stage too where you wanted to sort of sound off about, what a bad time you’d had maybe. Maybe that was it. Strangely enough it seemed to work off


fairly quickly because I don’t recall that ever happening again in Britain when we got there. But the interesting thing is that when we took off in the Lancaster the Lancs were going back to Britain. They’d finished their, finished their job so they filled them up with POWs and we were sitting on the floor and part of the way along one of the boys came down and said, “Would you like to have a look at the company sights.” so he got up in the cupola in the middle and had a look but there were two interesting things about that. The Lanc that took off


in front of us and the weather was still bad, hit a hill in France and killed everybody aboard including POWs but we flew out over Holland and, as I said, this was V Day and the message about the cessation of hostilities evidently had not reached German anti-air craft gunners there and they fired their anti aircraft guns at, they might have been just oh let’s off,


let’s off the last the last of the ammunition for fun you know. But here we are and we’re watching this at the side of the plane, looking out where the gunners are and watching this ammunition come up and it’s all colours, red, green, blue and so on and it’s and for some reason or another it goes out in a tangent like that. I don’t know whether they were trying to hit us or not but that was something. But we landed then in a place called Aylesbury


in England and a truck was waiting to pick us up to take us down to Eastbourne and as we were going through London it so happened we went through Fleet Street and I thought, ‘Oh this is for me.’ so I jumped off the truck and went around as I said to see The Melbourne Herald cable office and collect the cheque for a hundred dollars and a letter from Sir Keith Murdoch and then I went around, I found there was a bar behind this Reuters building and went in there and met a cousin of mine, another cousin named Keith who’d


been a war correspondent, Keithy Hooper. He’d been a war correspondent for Truth and the Sydney Daily Mirror and we’re having drinks there and round about six or seven o clock I decided, ‘Oh well, I suppose I better get down to Eastbourne.’ and went down to, where do you catch the train to Eastbourne? Victoria Station. Okay, went down to Victoria Station caught the train down to Eastbourne and then booked myself in to the repatriation camp where I found my old company commander was the colonel in


charge. “Oh, right oh hello Hooper.” you know. But the interesting thing there as I said, we had a series of suicides and George pulled me in as the reporter, recorder of these suicide things. The army type, they had some over at the air force too at Brighton and another thing there. There was a woman named Stella Bowen who was a war artist and she did a sketch of me which is probably somewhere up in the War Memorial there’s a


whole group of her paintings up there. She did some tremendous paintings. There’s one there I know of an aircraft crew that she did of all of these boys in the morning and they went out that night and they were all killed, except one. One was, I think a chap named Lynch who lost his leg. He was the only one out of the crew that survived. But then alright, what do we do? Alright you can have as much leave as you want. So I thought all right.


They devised a scheme they’d had in the First War when they were waiting for ships to take the soldiers home from World War I. They weren’t enough ships where you could have a certain period to work at your trade in Britain or profession or whatever so I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll go and work in newspapers in Britain.’ So I took six months and started off. I bought myself some civvies [civilian clothes] at Harrods [department store] I think it was and went to work at The Daily Express


and then I’d made out a plan. I would work out a fortnight or a month in each newspaper going, and make my way around the country. So, I went from London Daily Express to the whole Daily Mail over to the Isle of Mann Examiner which where my friend Kerwood Claig had come from as POW and then down to The Western Mail where I met my future wife and then to the BBC regional Bristol and then back to London


on The Mirror. I think there were a couple of other smaller papers. Oh, I went to Oxford too for some reason or another. Oh, there was a magazine published in Oxford called The Countryman by a dear old man. I’d been getting copies of it in Germany because somebody sent me these copies. I think it was Morrick’s wife. She sent me these copies, nice little green magazine about things in Britain and spent some time there.
We’ll talk about your visions of Britain working in those places. I just want to go


back to a few things immediately after you came back. When you arrived in London on that day and went to pick up your cheque and see your cousin. What was London like? What was going on in London at the time?
I don’t, I don’t recall seeing anything special. You mean in the way of, well I suppose all the celebration would have been down Trafalgar Square.


Fleet Street was pretty well empty. There might have been a couple of people there but, reporters from the papers and so on but at that time most of the newspapers weren’t at Fleet Street. There are none there now. So, I suppose all the celebration was down the other end at Trafalgar Square.
Did you feel like celebrating? What were your emotions about the end of the war?
It’s finished. That’s it you know.


It didn’t mean much, much to, I mean the Japanese, the Japanese war was still going on you know and initially we thought, ‘Well we’re now going back to fight the Japanese.’ but then George Smith, Colonel George Smith said, “No, none of your fellows are going back in to combat. You’re finished all right?”
What contact were you able to have with Australia when you immediately arrived back in England?
With what?
With the people in Australia. What, how did you make contact with them?


I didn’t. Oh, I must have sometime but it wasn’t immediately. It have been, might have been a few days later. It was a matter initially of sort of getting your bearings. The camp at Eastbourne was a collection of beautiful mansion houses where we, we had our own bedrooms oh, beautiful bathrooms. The bathroom


I was in, at my place was as big as this room and so for the first couple of, and of course we were being outfitted with Australian uniforms and you had to go through all the procedure with the pay book you know. How much pay you’ve now got and what do you want to do? Have you got relatives in Perth Scotland or Cardiff, Wales? Do you want rail cheques to go down there and all the rest of it? So, that took about


couple of, two or three days to get through all these things you know and you had to have a medical check you know. And as I say Stella Bowen was down there. We had a club there which was another mansion house where you went in and it had everything like pool tables and coffee lounge and everything like that and I think we took the first few days to sort of just settle down you know.


To become sort of human beings again if you want to put it that way. This was more relevant than say the Brussels thing which was a transit thing you see. So, after a few days then I just started to go off and do my thing with newspapers you know which I rather enjoyed.
When did you find out about your brother? You must have been anxious to get news of him.
Well, I knew he was a prisoner but I didn’t


know where. I don’t think my mother ever knew where until he came home. There was a lot of confusion over the fellows in Japanese hands because they were moved around from the Burma Railway then up to Japan and the Japanese were very slow or very unreliable in a lot of ways. There was a Major Cousins


who did some broadcasts from Tokyo and I believe he managed to get through a bit of information. He was tried later on for, for being a traitor but he wasn’t apparently. But Garry at this time was in Japan and working in a coalmine under the sea at Figueroa and he told me later that it was very, very dangerous. They never knew when the sea was going to pour in on them and all the rest of it and he told me one incident


which was amusing because I knew this man’s wife. Where he had a fight with a Dutchman. The Dutch weren’t very popular apparently with the Australians. And he had this fight with this Dutchman in the coalmine and of course they’re both weak and they both finished up leaning on each other and laughing. And this Dutchman’s wife was Gwen Plum, a Sydney radio announcer and I met the man


himself in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong when I was up there and he said, he recalled it and he said, “Yeah, Garry and I didn’t have another blow in us.” He said, “I don’t think we even hurt, hit each other!”
How did discussing, later on when you finally came and met up again. How did discussing your respective prisoner of war experiences …
We didn’t. We didn’t really you know. We’d both been prisoners of war. Alright, I’d been in Germany, you’d been in


Japanese hands. I think in a way and this is interesting. We fellows who were in German hands and there were seven thousand eight hundred of us were always reluctant early in the piece to talk about our experiences after we’d learnt what had happened to the fellows in Japanese hands. And there were twenty two thousand. And a third of them died so it made a big difference. No, no, no


no, no.
How did that make you feel about your own experience?
Well, it didn’t seem to be very bad you know so I don’t think we ever did talk about our experiences Garry and I. He died about five years ago of cancer. He became a heavy smoker. was in hospital twenty years and I knocked off smoking


immediately and if I hadn’t I’m sure I’d be dead now. We both became smokers in the army you see. Inevitably you would you know. But the one thing about Garry is he could never ever afterwards, he couldn’t go back to his profession. He’s an expert furniture maker. He made that thing up there for me. It was the only present I ever had from him you know. So he became a wharf


labourer. He had to be in the open. He couldn’t stand being, probably something to do with the coalmine you know. He couldn’t stand being inside. But he finished up when our parent, mother died. I made him come over to Adelaide. I was in Adelaide then on The Advertiser and he wasn’t long in Adelaide when he met the girl he married and they finished up having four terrific children and you know


those photos of the memorial in Brisbane were taken mainly to give to May the widow, the fact that Garry is on a memorial up there was taken by my nephew. But he finished up quite well, bought a couple of houses.
Were there any effects that you suffered yourself like that?
No, the odd thing is


I had for a while there, occasional blackouts and collapses which I don’t recall ever happening in the POW camp and it was only five years ago they discovered I had a mild form of epilepsy caused by the bash on the head on Crete. I had three collapses in one day at the University of Canberra. And I went to the doctor. I told him about it and he said


“Oh I think I better send you down to a head surgeon.” and that’s when we discovered it. But evidently I’d had this epilepsy for fifty years and nobody well I wouldn’t have thought myself, thought about it. It’s only mild. I have medication for it but since I’ve been taking the medication I get occasionally fussy, slight fuzziness in the head that’s all. But otherwise I’m


apart from arthritis or something like that. But the odd thing is that people refuse to believe I’m 84.
You don’t look it. How did that effect your inter-personal relationships immediately after you came back in to the world of people, of women, of civilians again?
I don’t think, because I didn’t know about it really you know. As


far as I’m concerned. I’m out of the prison camp. I’m healthy. I’m going to go on. I’ve got married. I came back to Australia. I came home in the Aquitania which brought home a lot of air force fellows and there were maybe a couple of dozen of us Australian Army blokes who’d stayed on like me but because the Aquitania couldn’t get in to Port Philip. Incidentally there’s another ship that had served the in the First World War. She was a


trooper in the First World War, the Aquitania so that’s two ships that had been in the First World War that I was on and she sailed in to Sydney so I thought, ‘Oh hell, seeing that I’m here I’ll see if I can get a job at The Daily Telegraph.’ And I did and then went down to, the funny thing that happened before I went down. I was, I wanted to stay in Sydney to arrange the job you know and there was no accom [odation], I couldn’t get in to any hotel or anything and we were in the showgrounds. They shoved us in the


showgrounds. And I ran in to a fellow who’d been a POW with me in 383 a chap named Matthews. And he said, “Don’t worry Keith.” he said, “Mum runs a boarding house in town. I’ll take you in there.” So, he took me in and I met his mother. 154 Castlereagh Street and a lovely lady she said “Yeah any, any boy who’s a mate of my son can stay here as long as you like, no charge.” So I’ve got a bedroom


alright. So, I go down I get my job fine. Go down and go out to the movies or something or other you know I decide to stay in town for a couple of days and I’m in this bedroom you know and I’m awake all night with the bloody feet going up and down the stairs all the time. What I didn’t know until I came back to Sydney later and brought The Truth and in the middle, ‘It’s time the City Council shut down all these disorderly houses.’ I’d slept three nights in a brothel and didn’t know it you know so that was my introduction to Sydney.


So, I went back and got discharged and went back and worked on The Telly. Then one day Sir Frank Packer [proprietor of the newspaper] came in and said, “Oh, too many, sack them.” and I’m the last on so I’m the first off. So, that’s how I came to be in Orange. I went back to Melbourne I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do for a job?’ and I went back to Sydney again and said to the secretary of the Journalists’ Association, “Where are there some jobs?” And he said, “Oh, rural newspapers, Molong actually are looking for somebody.” So, I went up to


Molong and instead of finding myself a reporter, found myself an editor of four papers and I kicked on from there and then we started the paper in Orange and The Western Stock and Station Journal and I travelled all round New South Wales and then The Advertiser in Adelaide asked me to join them and at that time my wife and young daughter, the eldest daughter arrived and it just fitted in nicely and kicked on from there.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you had to do surrounding


the suicides in Eastbourne?
No, all I had to do was to take down the evidence, court reporter. Just take down all the evidence that was given and as I said all these fellows were treated as killed on active service. They were never treated as suicides. As far as their, as far as their relations are concerned they died on active service you know. They’ve come out of the POW camp and they’ve suddenly died of an illness


that, an illness or something like that. We never reported them as suicides. That would have been a bit too hard on the families.
Was the main thing that drove these men to suicide do you think?
Oh, it’s so hard to say you know. Like my particular friend that took the bottle of pills in front of this woman journalist you know. He suddenly says, suddenly says, “I’m going to kill myself.” I have an idea why it might have happened.


He had a mistaken impression that his wife had been carrying on with some man while he was away. What he didn’t know was that his wife had become a very bad consumptive and the man who looked after her was only doing the essential things that she needed to help her in the time that she was


out of hospital. She, apparently I think she went in to hospital, out of hospital at various times depending on the progress of her tuberculosis you see and he had this mistaken impression that his wife had been doing all this. I think that’s what drove him out. He was so wrong. He was so wrong. He was an absolutely brilliant journalist and a good soldier too you know so. But with the others it’s hard to say what,


what may have been. Well, it might have been a fear of going home for some reason or another you know a …
As your life unfolded after the war, was there anything you missed or looked back fondly at to do with your time as a prisoner of war?
No, only the satisfaction of seeing our book published. The book that we did the group of journalists, Barbed Wire which we had


published in the, gave all the. We sold I think it was something like twenty-five thousand copies all together. Every POW bought a dozen copies to start with. Something like that and gave all the money we made to the Red Cross Society of Britain as a sort of payback for what they had done for us. I think that’s the only thing. I did have a copy. It’s up in the War Memorial somewhere at the moment. You know they produced a thing recently, The Stolen Years which is an exhibition


and they wanted some things and I said, “Oh well, maybe this might help you.” So, they’ve got it up there and they’ve got a copy of that portrait that was made, that was done by Adrian Heath.
We actually saw that exhibition. It just flashed in to my mind. I think I saw what you were talking about just then. Sorry, that’s not to do with the Archive. But I just lost my train of thought … the last question was there anything you missed. What about the


mateship that you experienced in the time?
Oh, well that was kept up but of course we were spread around. But the interesting thing is now there are only, out of the seven thousand seven hundred Australians in Europe there are now only about five hundred of us still alive. So, you know people hear about the old Anzacs of World War I dying off but they don’t realise that the


Anzacs of others, of World War II are also now very old men you know. This is what delighted me when the Australian, the AFL record this year found this trophy we gave to a football we ran in 383 and then produced this special memorial edition of a record listing all the VFL [Victorian Football League] footballers killed in both world wars and the story about our football competition in the


camp. And the man who wrote it found eight of us still alive. Which means that he’s put us in connection with each other. We now know the eight of us are alive which is extraordinary. The oldest one, the Wen Davy I mentioned earlier, he’s still alive. He’s eighty nine. And then there’s Bruce Tulloch, eighty four who lived in the same street as me just as I was finishing primary school he’d started high school you see. Which is


quite extraordinary and there’s one fellow you took sitting beside me Laurie West. I met Laurie for the first time in sixty years last Anzac Day. None of us had been in contact with each other for sixty years which is quite extraordinary when you stop to think of it. I thought this chap who did the article, a chap named Gore did an extraordinary thing. It didn’t matter if the article was good or bad he found eight or I think there were was, I think there were eight of us


who had not seen each other or heard of each other for sixty years. We now know each of us is alive you know and if need be we can all be contacted one way or another you know. I think that’s quite an extraordinary thing at this time.
Was that kind of friendship a special thing that you experienced in the war? Was it something that you were able to capture in your post war life?


Well, very hard really because you know we were from all parts of Australia and New Zealand you know and unless something like the AFL [Australian Football League] record comes along you’ve lost contact you know. You don’t know what those fellows were, whether they’re alive or dead or you know and it’s amazing you know to talk to Laurie West and he might say, “Oh look, I’ve got ten


grandchildren now.” You say, “Golly, how does that happen? When you were sitting alongside me, you too were only twenty two.” you know. But
I guess what I’m asking is regardless of distance, regardless of age, regardless of the fact these blokes are now dying off, is there a bond that never goes away?
I think there probably is. When Laurie and I met for the first time in sixty years on Anzac, this Anzac Day in Melbourne you know we hugged each other. We were surprised. Last year for


instance the chap, John McCombe who was with me on the boat, on the Costa Rica came up here with his wife and we had coffee together and soon afterwards he died. And again the Anzac Day before when I met him you know, you hugged each other. I mean it’s, there is something that doesn’t go away but it’s got to be renewed somehow by meeting the person that you’re talking about. Whether it’s a POW


or a person in the battalion. Now in the battalion when I went down this Anzac Day the 17th Brigade, the total number of marches was about one hundred you know so that it’s quite extraordinary. One of them is Sir David Hay. David was up here and he’s the author of our book and I was one of the people that helped him do it. But he’s still alive. He’s eighty seven now. He’s just recently lost his wife but you know


he’ll always be a friend, a close friend you know. He was a fellow sergeant when we were together. I was unlucky to be taken a prisoner. He went on to become a major just like Joe Gullet also a sergeant went on and became a major. But then I say to myself I’m lucky being taken a POW. I could have been one of the fellows that was killed in New Guinea so


you get a compensation you see. I don’t regret it anymore, not being commissioned. I’m alive you know, I survived. Some of the fellows that got commissioned like Bill Shiller they died in New Guinea, were killed in New Guinea.
That brings it to another point you’d missed another formative time in Australia’s national history by the time you came back from England. What was the country that you came back to like and how had it changed?


I don’t know that I noticed much of it change. I think, I think I was, I was anxious to get back to work and that was the primary consideration. I don’t think I went around Melbourne saying, “Oh yeah I remember when that was there or that was there.” I did that last Anzac Day or the Anzac Day before when I went down there you know in finding that a Baptist church that I used to


know in Chapel street has now become an Irish pub you know. Now I notice these changes. The Regent Theatre where I was a page boy in the 1930s is gone. I notice these things. I didn’t, I don’t think I noticed them then because I was concerned on one thing. On getting back in to work and I had a wife and a child to bring out from England.
Was there a sense that Australia had grown up though? Not so much in the way


that buildings have changed but in the way that peoples attitude had changed towards the rest of the world and towards anything in particular?
Well, I think people ignored, ignored the fellows that came out of Germany and understandably when they saw what had happened to the fellows in Japanese hands. I think that’s the only thing that I noticed and I don’t think, I’m sure it didn’t worry we fellows in German hands.


because a lot of us had brothers or cousins or aunts or uncles or you know fathers who’d been a prisoner in Japanese hands. I’ve never been jealous of my brother for whatever kudos he may have got subsequently or praise from crowds or whatever because he suffered for it you know. Certainly I didn’t


suffer anywhere as much for what I’ve got you know.
Had you changed? How had your war time experience changed you?
Oh, I’m sure I was, I think it makes you an adult very quickly. It makes you start to appreciate a lot of things that you wouldn’t probably as a, if you hadn’t been a soldier to start with. If you’d just been a civilian you’d take things for granted.


I don’t take things for granted. I find that whatever you have one way or another you earn them, you may not deserve them. I’ve done some things now that I’m ashamed of but I’ve been married three times you know and each time I’ve been divorced and each time I’ve lost something more to the ex wife. She’s always got something you know. And I’ve had to start building up again. But I’m, I’m a…


when I stop to think of it, well, it was good while it lasted. There’s a, sort of a, a bit of an odd philosophy in having been a POW and having been a soldier. That you think of these things you know and I get a bit of the attitude of say some of the fellows of the Vietnam War who I think do little


bit of whingeing. You don’t hear as much about the fellows who were in World War II turning around and saying we’re neglected and all the rest of it you know even though some of them might be worse of than the fellows in Vietnam has. I’ve sometimes thought to, I notice perhaps it’s going a bit far but you know the big word Vietnam in front of the Vietnam War Memorial on Anzac Parade I think is a bit ostentatious, overdoing it but I see now there’s one in front of the


Korean War Memorial so that sort of softens it down a bit. Well if our boys have got it why shouldn’t the Korean boys have it you know? In fact it’s a Korean War Memorial. You take a strange attitude in some ways that, you, I think it’s, I think it’s tolerance. I think it’s something that you learn from being a POW is tolerance. I don’t hate the Germans. I


find that when I think back on the Germans that the Germans were misled. It wasn’t totally the Germans’ fault even though they might have rushed out and put their hands out. That didn’t apply to all Germans you know. There were a lot of Germans that were badly taken in by Hitler who did some good things in some ways. He created the Volkswagen car. He created


these marvellous autobahns that all other countries are doing now you know but then he goes off and suddenly goes mad and does some mad things you know. I don’t think Stalin is totally at fault because Stalin did some great things you know. You look at Russian today and some of the things there wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for Stalin.
When you look back at the war now, with this great amount of hindsight. What do you think of it, the different, the very different


parts of it that you experienced?
Largely, that it was so unnecessary that it was necessary for us to have to take on the task of fighting the Germans and then fighting the Japanese. I think the Japanese have now realised


that it was foolish for them to, they have lost. They lost a lot but they have gained more now by having changed their whole attitude. The same can apply to the Germans. The problem we have now is the Americans appear to be going the way of the Germans. I watch the American live news every night at five o clock and you’d be amazed to hear the number of top Americans now who are very angry with [President George W.] Bush


whose stocks are going down very rapidly you know. There were other ways of dealing with Saddam [Hussein] than the way they went about it. In lying to create a war you know. It seems so silly you know. When you look back on Bush’s career. Texas is the most polluted state in the United States. It has the worst educational record in the United States. Bush signed more execution orders for men on


death row, one hundred and thirty four than any other American governor in history. And then you say to yourself how the hell did he become president? In yet I’m not anti-American. As a matter of fact I, I don’t think I’d want to go there. A friend of mine was telling me she recently came back and Los Angeles is the most polluted city she’s ever been in you know but you’ve got to say well some time or other they’re going to wake


up you know.
There’s been a lot of talk about the current war and whether or not it was just. Was the Second World War a just war?
Yes, I think it had to be a just war ultimately because after all the Nazis did start it. Having broken promises that they would, I think on the other hand we needed time to be prepare to be able to


fight them which was probably one of the reasons for the, the signing of the, the handing over of Czechoslovakia which was a bit of a stain on the British character for a long while. Yeah, I could say it was a just war. It’s certainly justified in the case of the Russian side too. After all Hitler broke his promise to the Russians. I mean they were incredible people these Nazis you


know. Absolutely, incredible. Then you’ve got Mussolini. As I say I feel a lot, the Italians who surrendered to us in North Africa did so because they didn’t like Mussolini, for no other reason. It didn’t mean they didn’t like their country. They didn’t like Mussolini. So, you know
How much have you talked about the war in your life since?


World War II?
The war you took part in yeah World War II.
Oh, not a great deal.
Why not do you think?
Well, it’s so long ago now. It’s history. You can read about it. There’s dozens of ways of reading about it.
What do you feel about young people today taking an interest in what you’ve done and…
It’s not so


much in what we’ve done. It’s, it’s a delight. And incredulous in a way. The way they’ve taken to Anzac Day you know. A few years back that wouldn’t have happened but now this and the Turks, the Turkish relationship now with Australians. The way they, they


themselves have taken part in Anzac Day celebrations and so on. It’s quite, it’s something to be admired. I mean when it comes to say the Battle of Crete it doesn’t mean anything to Australians but go to New Zealand and you see what the Battle of Crete means in New Zealand you know. It’s a,


it’s a philosophical thing you know. I don’t believe in religion as religion but I believe in religion as philosophy. If you take religion that way you see there is sense in that instead of some fellow going around cross dressing in a long gown and funny hat. That doesn’t mean a thing to me. I think that’s ridiculous. But when I think about some of the things that they say then that makes sense.
Looking back on your life with all your great life


experience how do you feel about the future?
Oh, I’m optimistic. I’ve got to be optimistic haven’t I? I’ve got grandchildren. I mean if I was not optimistic there’s no sense in those children being, even existing.
The very last question but with that in mind, that optimism is great. If this Archive is kept for a fifty or hundred years and people are watching it then, is there any


comment or anything you could say from your own experience that might be a message to someone watching it in the future at that time?
Well, let me put it another way. A while back, I’m an organ donor and a while back I wrote in to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and said look I want to give my body to the John Curtin School of Medical Research but I want a grave in the ex serviceman’s section up in the Goon Gullen cemetery. And they said


no. We can’t have an empty grave. Now, I said in that case I can’t give my body to the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Now my brother was cremated and my uncles were cremated. I don’t want to be cremated. I want to have a gravestone so that the kids can come out there and say, “That’s Grandad.” I think there’s a difference there you know. It’s not what I want it’s what they should have. That’s the difference.


Thank you very much for doing this I hope in a way this is a gravestone of sorts, people can look at you and access your life in the future and I’m sure they’ll be very interested in doing so. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.


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