Robert Hooper
Archive number: 693
Preferred name: St Quentin
Date interviewed: 22 August, 2003

Served with:

Light Horse
2/7th Field Regiment
9th Division
POW of the Italians
POW of the Germans

Other images:

Robert Hooper 0693


Any access that you make of this website is undertaken at your own risk

You are listening to the interview audio


Tape 01


Alright, so do you want to start now Robert? Well, tell us about when you grew up.
Well actually my people, we all came from the north, Cooktown, in that area. My grandfather actually he was the


first member of the Legislative Assembly, for North Queensland, and he opened a station [cattle property] at Leura, called “Oliveale” and the first daughter, my mother’s sister was born in 1998, 1988 sorry, 1888, Olive who the station was called after and she only died at the age of two years.


And she’s buried up there now in the grave, the grave’s still in good condition, she’s buried on the station at Leura. And then cause I was born. My mother’s sister she died when she was giving birth to her daughter in New Guinea, and so they thought, well I was, my mother was pregnant and I was about to be born and they thought, well, it’s in the family, she’ll


bleed to death too and I was born, because I was a big baby, I was a fourteen pound baby, when I was born. And so I had to have the resident doctor there in the Toowong Hospital, where I was born. And they were afraid my mother was going to bleed to death too. Cause my mother always got sea sick, they said, on the wharf, before she even got on the boat, you only came by boat in those days, a boat, and it’s good I wasn’t born on the boat because she was


sea sick, so I was born in Brisbane and Toowong. And then, my father became a customs… actually at Thursday Island and he got a transfer then from there to Cooktown and then to Brisbane in the Taxation Office. Then we came to live in Brisbane,


with the Taxation Office and I was only young at that time. I was only three year old I think or something. And then I went to school, I went to school when I was about four and a half to Sherwood, my sister went to that school too. And because I wasn’t used to white kids, when I got to school I got train from Chilma to


Sherwood, they had to hold the train up for ten minutes when they got me from underneath the seat, I’d crawled under the seat I wasn’t going to get out and go to school with white kids. Then after a while I, about four years in that school, it was a great school and that was next to Chilma which was nearer the railway line where I lived,


It was most handier there then I went to Graceville school. And then from Graceville School I, well my father, I was more interested in sport than anything so he found out where there were good teachers at Taringa so I went to Taringa School then. And for a couple of years there,


state school. And then for some reason or other I had another, shifted me back to Sherwood and then I passed the scholarship there, no I didn’t pass the scholarship there I’m sorry. A friend, a war friend of his from the First World War, he wanted me to get high marks, a scholarship so I could get a job, so he sent to me to


Falls Terrace State School, that’s school’s still there but it’s not a school anymore, Falls Terrace, there was a tough teacher there that made me learn and he used to stand me against the wall all day, he’d stand me up against the wall, you’d walk past and would bump me under the chin and I’d hit the wall. Anyhow the local kids there, in those days that was before the war in about 1976 [?], it was a pretty tough area there


and the local kids at school used to pick on me, and that sort of thing cause I used to go in there well dressed and I can’t remember if my family had more money than they did. And they’d pick on me, so one morning I’ll get there early and I’ll fight the leader of the local gang there, and I asked who was the leader of the local gang, they pushed this bullet head forward, Morris Ford, so I fought him and gave him a hiding and the bell went and they all went into school


but I was still fighting him, I reckon that he wouldn’t get up again, teach him a lesson. Anyway we went into the class then and I got six cuts [strokes of the cane] and he only got four. Well I laughed and I got another six cuts. I did very well on scholarship there, and then I went to Brisbane Grammar School from there and I was in Brisbane Grammar School for three years and then my father, being well up in the Tax [Department]


got me a job at Dalgetys in Brisbane. And I was Dalgety there for about two years I suppose and, then the war started. I was, while I was at Dalgety’s I joined the Light Horse when I was seventeen year old in Brisbane, we’d have our own horses, two horses, and we went into camp and you got eight shillings a day for your horse and five bob [shillings] for yourself. Why you horse was


worth more. So we went into a couple of camps and the war looked like starting, we were in a camp at Beaudesert and the war looked like, had just started then and in late 1939 and they said you can join our outfit if you like. So I said to Burns O’Reilly, he was the fellow that found that plane that crashed into the mountains there in


Brisbane then, and he was [UNCLEAR] and he and I went and joined a Unit in the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], at that stage I tell them I was twenty-one, I wasn’t, I was only seventeen. And they wouldn’t let you out of the Light Horse then, so in 1940 February, March I think


1940 and at Dalgety’s I was getting twenty-seven and nine pence a week and I thought, I heard in the paper this war will finish, we’ll beat these Germans quickly, and I thought, well I’d better get a free trip overseas. And instead of getting twenty-seven and nine pence a week that I was getting at Dalgety’s I get thirty-five bob a week and keep, in the AIF. Anyway I put my, I was born on the 22nd March 1921 and I told them then I was


born on the 2nd March 1919 so that give me, I’d get in the army then without my parents’ permission, if you were twenty you had to get permission from your parents. Well then I went for the test then at Kelvin Grove Barracks, and you wouldn’t guess who I ran into, my own doctor, he knew how old I was but I had a urine test and he said there’s something wrong with the urine, so bring the test back tomorrow, but all he


wanted to do was tell my parents. Anyway mother said then, “You can’t go.” and I said, “Well I’ll leave home and join under another name.” My father said let him go, my father was in the First World War and he got shot through the lung, and his had one lung all his life. And actually he was an officer. And my godfather, Mickey Moon from Victoria


he had a VC [Victoria Cross] he got a VC in I think he said actually they thought your father, they thought your father was dead, shot through the lung and a stretcher bearer saw him move and picked him up and they revived him and he said he should have got the VC only they thought he was dead, he said, and he was being nice Mickey Moon was.


At that time when I was talking to him he came from New Guinea for a trip, we went and saw them then, he took us to dinner at Geelong, Geelong, he was the manager of [(UNCLEAR)]. Anyway then, after the war, well, of course, we went through to Tobruk and after we got over there we went


up to Benghazi and then the Germans chased us back to Tobruk and we were in Tobruk for eight months. And during the siege in Tobruk we had the only truce in the last war actually, we had a truce for an hour one day, a party was out swapping cigarettes with the Germans and picking up our dead and wounded for an hour. Had a truce with them. And


there was a lot of funny things happened with the Germans, they weren’t too bad, you know, one place where they had broken through when they had their evening meal they, there was no fighting for half an hour then after that they’d go and fight, and they throw one of those hand grenades over or something. “Are you there Aussie cop this!” they’d say, a lot of them could speak good English. A lot of the Germans had been in America or the


family moved to America and they came home to visit and they put them in the army. You know so there were, they were very, well spoken and that sort of thing. And of course we gave them a good hurry in Tobruk too; we were a bit good for them. They used to, we usually had to stand to an hour before daylight in the morning, they used to like attacking in the morning they didn’t like the dark.


And we’d attack at night. At one stage we were sneaking behind them and we would go out on fighting patrols and sneak in and attack them from the rear, sneak in behind. And they’d be racing around with searchlights looking for us in the end at night. But anyway then, November I think it was, 1941 we were relieved, the Polish Brigade came up


and some other, English soldiers came up, they reckoned we were getting too careless in Tobruk, the Australians were. Running into danger cause we were getting over confident and that sort of thing. So they took us out in destroyers, and took us back to Alexandria and then from there we went up to Syria for about three months, and then the Germans had broken through again or something


had wiped out the South Africans and they were all retreating, coming back to Alamein through there and they decided to take us up to… the 9th Division went up from Syria, to met the Germans head on and we were going up through Cairo, between Cairo and Alexandria and we met all the South Africans and that coming down with their red tanks and planes on the back of trucks and all that sort of thing and they yelled out, “You’re going the wrong way Aussies!”


We went up there anyhow and held the Germans for a while then we had to go out on a big fighting patrol, a couple of times and we took the position but they were already withdrawn because the British tanks couldn’t get through to help us or anything like that. And then on the 27th July they said well, General Morshead


he didn’t want to use us anymore he said it was too dangerous for us, the British couldn’t support us so we had, went in for the last time, I went in with the engineers, I was a field infantry engineer and we went in with the 28th Battalion [2/28th] and we broke through the German lines and let a thousand go and then we set up a position and held the place until the next


morning. Then we found out the tanks couldn’t get through to support us and battalions are supposed to come through and support us on both sides and they couldn’t get through. So we were surrounded by German tanks and armoured cars and that sort of thing, and they shot us up. Oh at one stage during the night actually about one o’clock in the morning the 28th Intelligence Officer


he took me with him, the engineer officer sent me with him back where we’d broken through to see what was happening. And we saw that the Germans moved again, and I said, “Come on.” there was about a dozen of us, “Let’s attack these Germans and knock them off, move in behind them so to keep the place open.” He said, “You fire at them and I’ll have you court martialled.” he said, “You’re here to protect me that’s all, and not to fire


at them.” So I went back to my officer and I said, “That fellow’s a clown, he wouldn’t let me take them, give me half a dozen men and I’ll go back and wipe these Germans out.” He said, “You get back in position Sapper Hooper, there be plenty of souvenirs tomorrow morning.” Because I had three prisoners early and I was taking the souvenirs off them and he said, “Give them there souvenirs back to them.” he said, German prisoners, and I said ,“Why, when they get back to base all the base wallahs [support troops] will get the souvenirs


off them, all the MPs and that sort of thing.” he said, “You give them back to them.” But anyway in the morning we got captured, we were out of ammunition, there was a German sniper had his eye on me every time I got up he tried to shoot me. He was, I don’t know whether it was to make me put my head down or he was definitely trying to kill me, but he put them into the dust in front of me and it was filling my eyes and mouth with dust,


whenever he shot. Anyway in the end I was in the trenches with two other fellows and one of them got up and was waving away at a handkerchief I said, “Put that f…ing thing down, we’re not surrendering.” And he said, “Everybody else has.” I said, “That’s a different matter.” but we had to surrender and the sniper was walking towards me smiling, he had a rifle with the sight


set on that, I don’t think he intended to kill me, but I wouldn’t put my hand up anyway. Then we went. I said to a mate of mine, Jim Jansen, I said, “Well, don’t worry, these bastards won’t hold us, we’ll escape tonight.” Anyway we were pretty tired and worn out and they put us in trucks. And the German general got up and apologised, he said, “You fought a good battle, and you’re unlucky but


this is Italian territory so I’ve got to hand you over to the Italians.” Well they handed us over to the Italians. I can’t remember much from then on until we got to Benghazi and in Benghazi we were put in a camp called The Palms and we weren’t given much food and I said to my sergeant I said, “We’ll escape from this place, there’s a


truck come in with our rations at night, cook out, we could crawl in under this truck and hang on and escape.” and I had no bread or anything, they used to give us little round rolls of bread everyday. And I said to my corporal, “How about giving me?’ he used to save his bread up, in case for rough days and that, I said, “Give me those two loaves of bread,” I said, “I’ll give you ten pound after the war.” so he gave it to me. And


that’s alright. Anyway all the fellows in the camp were telling their mates, look look, nudging their mates, look at the fellow under the truck there, and they caught us you see, they pulled us out and they took us outside and chained our hands behind our back and put the boots in and that was about it. The sergeant got the most of it, he was a big fellow and they kicked me a couple of times but I pretended I was


unconscious and I never complained, and they kicked and beat you up. They got no satisfaction, so they’d knock off if they weren’t getting any satisfaction. And then they took us up in chains, they bought some rope down, they chained us up each side of the iron gate with our feet off the ground and hands behind our back, and the Italian Royalist Guard they were alright, they put stones under our feet so that our feet were off the ground, see we were chained up like


that with our hands behind your back and your feet off the ground so they’d put stones under our feet, told us to kick them away if the Carabinieri [Italian soldiers] came back. So that was alright, and about eleven o’clock at night the commandant came back and they let us down, and the Royalist Guards had sent some cigarettes and some grapes inside for us for the other prisoners.


They were sympathetic towards us. The next morning I asked, I went up and asked this commandant for my two loaves of bread back, I was thinking of the ten pound I had to give him after the war. And he punched me in the cheek there, and he jumped back and he’d bruised his knuckles. Anyway after two weeks there they decided to ship us off to Italy and they divided us up and put us on two


ships. From Benghazi across to Italy. And halfway across one of the ships got torpedoed by a British submarine, and we found out later the submarine that torpedoed. I was lucky I was on the right ship we didn’t get torpedoed, the fellow that was on deck he said the torpedoes went just across in front of our bow, we were lucky. And hit the other ship, and they were anti battleship torpedos, battleships got bulges on them and they,


pierce the first wall and then explode against the next wall of the ship. Well they exploded inside the hull and killed a lot of fellows on the boat. Anyway, we were lucky, we went to Bari, and the torpedo I found out later that the submarine that torpedoed us, was Athenis[?] just before the war, Athenis was out on a trial run in England and sank and there was only


two, got away, the captain and his first mate got away with the air lock. But then they couldn’t get any more out. And when the war started they raised this submarine up and used it again in the war in the Mediterranean and that was the one that torpedoed the other ship. But it disappeared shortly afterwards. The captain realised that he had torpedoed a ship


full of prisoners, you know sacrificed himself, I don’t know. But we went to a camp, took us off the ship in Bari, in southern Italy and marched us through the town and through some fields of grapes and that sort of thing on the side of the road. And they said, “Any prisoner


leaves and touches the fruit and you’ll get shot.” But I couldn’t resist, you see I actually grabbed a few bunches of grapes every now and again and that night we got into a camp in the dark. They just put us in the camp there and all of a sudden my stomach realised that I had eaten all those grapes, and I got tangled in the barbed wire looking for a tree, made a mess in my pants.


After a while, about two weeks, they shifted us to a camp in northern Italy near Udine. This camp was called, what was the name of it, Gruppignano was the name of the camp. And when I got there they started to dig a tunnel from there, so they took me in with them, see I didn’t escape before and we dug this tunnel about seventy metre


long tunnel and, we intended to go further out through the cornfield there but rainy weather set in and we thought it might collapse so we, so we had to go early. Nineteen of us went through the tunnel and we all got caught in two or three days, I got caught in two days. As matter of fact I


hid in a barn, I was in the mountains and I came down from the mountains and crawled into a place I thought it was a barn and there was chooks [fowls] and pigs in there and they started squawking and an Italian fellow came along with a shotgun and he took me in, I was wet through and he took me into his room and then he rang the police and said he had a prisoner. And I had some coffee there


and bribed them with and they brewed that up and he roasted chestnuts and we had those, called the guard, and oh he bought in a priest to see if he’d let me go or not. And the priest said oh, it’s a bit risky, so the next morning they came and collected me and took me back to the camp in Gruppignano and put us in the cells there and took our boots of and jumped on our bare feet and that sort of thing, beat us up and put us in the cells


there for a month on bread and water. And after the war this fellow wrote to me, he wrote to the Australian Commissioner and they sent the letter to the repat [Repatriation Department] and he asked me to write to him, he wanted to know if I


was still alive. You know this fellow, escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp, in Italy. So I wrote to him a couple of times when I got back a couple of times but I couldn’t be bothered writing, you know nothing to write about and that sort of thing. So I didn’t, I dropped communication with him but he wrote to me after that once more but I never answered his letter. More things to do in business than that.


Can I ask do you think he felt guilty about that, why was he writing to you?
To see if I was still alive and he had good memories of this fellow that escaped from the concentration camp and the environment in his area. You’re right, anyway, yes he was just interest for his own memory I think he probably wanted


me to sponsor him out here probably. Cause he hadn’t done me any harm, he’d only captured me, actually he’d done me a good turn because I was wet through and sick from being in the rain all the time and a week from not having any food and, cause they used to, we usually got Red Cross baskets but I used to eat my food as soon as I got it in case someone stole it


off me. Had to be careful there, so we went back there after a month in the cells and they let us out again and they put the nineteen prisoners together in a hut and then after a while Italy capitulated and they took us to Germany and I went to a place with one of the fellows,


actually a sergeant major from Victoria, Archie Noble, he and I were in Germany, went to Stalag 18A in Austria and they sent us to work, two of us in a camp called Treating, working in a brick factory. And while we were working in the brick factory, we tied up with another fellow who’d been captured about the same time as us who was a


Israeli commando and the fellow had attacked, went into attack [Field Marshall] Rommel in the desert one night and Rommel had missed him by an hour, he’d gone away somewhere. Anyway the Germans chased them and he stripped to his undergear, so Archie Noble gave him an Australian number and name so he’d be


protected. So we working on loading trains, loading trains with bricks to go to France and we thought all these trains had little carriages, had little windows in the corner of them and so one of them was going to France so we didn’t lock them, you had to lock them from the inside, we didn’t lock three of them from the inside and the other one, jammed a bit of


wood in there so it looked as though it was locked. And we made up our mind we had to escape, so we escaped from the camp, crawled in through these windows, through the window of the wagon, the guards chasing us and they didn’t know where we’d gone. And this Eric Oliver, the Israeli fellow, he could understand what the Germans were saying outside. They got the stationmaster and wanted him to open the door, and he said no, it’s


sealed with wire and it’s sealed and the train’s leaving in an hour and a half and I’m not going to all that trouble, they couldn’t get in there, the windows are all locked and everything like that and we were freezing in there on these bricks, they were cold. And we were in the train for about a week I suppose, tripped around, cause all the railways were getting bombed in that time, in late 42,


early 43 I think it was. And we finished up say hello, going alongside of Switzerland near Lake Constance there. It was all lit up and I said instead of going to France and we tell them a lie, we tell the what’s the name, French Intelligence, they look after officers and airmen


only and if we tell them were officers they check with Britain radio and find out that we’re not, bloody privates, and they shot us because they can’t take any risks. So I said we’ll have a go for Yugoslavia, across the Switzerland border. So we got out of the train and walked across the snow and hid under a bridge until it was dark and when it was dark we


went to the Swiss border, we found a bridge, went across the bridge and they caught us with a dog watch [late night guard]. We were just unlucky, they took us back and put us in the jail and we got food and water. And the guard in the morning said, “You’re unlucky, if you’d have gone a mile further downstream,” he said, “You could have walked into Switzerland.” And I can


give you the name of those places they were in the, I even found them in the atlas there, if you just hang on a minute.
Maybe we can have a look in the break and you can talk about it a bit more.
And I can remember the name but just not thinking at the present time. Anyway we were held there and they took us to, well they took all prisoners to an interrogation centre, and it would be better if


I get this, I can give it to you in a second if you don’t mind. Well they put us in jail at Feldkirch there actually that was on the Swiss border and we could see the farmer ploughing the field the next morning it was so close, and the guard said


“So close, Switzerland was so close.” he said, “It was silly, if you’d gone a mile further down you’d have been right.” So from there they took us to Landeck. Landeck is an interrogation centre where they lock you in the cells there, all the escapees and that, to check if you were spies all that sort of thing. That’s why you always had to keep your prisoner of war number and my prisoner of war number was [(UNCLEAR)] six, 6376, I’ve never forgotten it. German was


‘rayn six six from seed six’ in English that’s 6376, and anyway took us to Landeck Interrogation Centre, they put you in little cells for about four days while they check you out and they get a pencil actually


and we had, air force had little button compasses about as big as your fingernail and you hide them under your tongue or somewhere else like. And they had handkerchiefs, silk handkerchiefs with maps on them; they’d be looking for those. And they make you, they’d strip you naked and they’d make you bend over and they’d get a pencil, they’d run it around inside your backside and then they’d make you open your mouth and use the same pencil and do the same thing, put it under your tongue and that sort of thing to see you had nothing hidden under your


tongue and that sort of thing. But they were dumb, cause you could hold things in your hand, hold your hands up like that, you know and they wouldn’t look in your hands. Anyway then they’d let you out of the cells and they’d put you in another part of the camp, where there might be three or four other escapees there. You’d spend a week there. Then they sent you back to Stalag and you went in a


disciplinary section at Stalag. That was in a section right off from the ordinary prisoners, you weren’t allowed to mix with the ordinary prisoners. And the commandant, he was in the First World War, he was very good like that, he said, “If I’d have had a battalion of men like you, the Germans might had have a chance of wining the First World War.”


Anyway he sent me then, I was sent to a camp, a punishment camp, Grossrifeling, in Austria, they used to call it the toughest camp, they used to call it the Swaddee Front [?] that’s German for the second front like. Anyway, my mate,


I said, “We’ll escape from this camp.” and the commandant came in and he said, “Hooper, you don’t work on the railway line, you won’t work and you won’t polish your boots, you know if you work you polish your boots.” He said, “Borrow some polish off your mates.” I said, “I’m Australian, we don’t bludge [borrow] off our mates.” Anyway I said, “I’d going to escape from here.” you see. He said, “Oh Hooper


you’re always going to do something.” he said, “When you’re going let me know, I’ll give you an extra piece of wursten sausage like.” Anyway he doesn’t know that I’m digging a tunnel. And I’ve got a string tied to my big toe and my mate used to get up and we’d pull the floor board up at night and dig it at night, I’d dig it. And when it was all clear he’d give it one tug, and two tugs if it was risky.


The guards were around the place. So I dug this tunnel and he came in one night, they used to take your trousers off at night and lock them in another room inside the hut, but you could easily break the lock if you wanted to get in and get them. So one night he comes in, ready to lock the place up


and he says, “What’s this Hooper,” I’m polishing my boots see, he said, “I’m Farenger, I’m going to see if the moon’s right.” I said, “I’ll be able to see my way over the mountain.” so I said, “The moon’s nearly full.” I said “What about that extra wursten you promised me?” and that sort of thing. He said, “Oh always joking, you’ll be here for a long time, many moons yet.” he said. And he walked outside and he said, “Many moons


yet you’ll be here.” I said, “No I won’t, you don’t keep your promises.” So that night we went. And we climbed, they had a trip wire there about fifty yards outside the camp we didn’t know that, we got chased by a guard, who comes around the corner and fires a shot, fires in the air and we tripped over the trip wire and lost all our bags with our food in


and we climbed over this, we hid in a, they chased us and we hid in a bush, and they galloped past us, and then we climbed this mountain all night, three of us through the snow. We climbed around a big cliff and then my mate slipped down, and he looked like slipping to his death and we were up pretty high and I laughed, it was funny cause he’d wrapped himself around a bush just above the top of it. Anyway we kept on and just before daylight


we got to the other side and hid in a barn. And when daylight came we looked out through the cracks of the barn and here’s the camp about two hundred yards away. We’d gone up and down the same side of the mountain. And about seven o’clock that night, no more than seven, in the daytime, that’s right an old car breezed up and a girl and an old fellow talking in the car and they opened the barn door and she


came in with a pitchfork getting hay and throwing it onto the back of the wagon. And getting a bit close, so I leapt up and she let out a scream and jumped up and she said, “You’re the prisoners I heard about.” she said “Don’t worry,” she said, “My brother just came home from the Russian Front and his lost both his legs.” and she said, “We’re Austrians and not very happy about the war.”


She said, “The Germans have got guards everywhere on all the bridges.” she said. There's a lot of bridges and gully and that sort of thing in Austria, and hills. “And I’ll go down in the village tonight and see when they’re going to take the guards away and how long they’re going to keep them.” And we said, I said to this fellow Mike Hilton, “We can’t do anything about it,” I said


“She might give us up and she might not.” Anyway that night the barn door rattled about half past seven at night rattles the barn door, “Yo ho, it’s Ruth and I’m calling you.” And I said we’d better go out, she’s probably got the guards here, if she’s got some coffee and hot scones for us. And she said, “They’re going to remove the guards tonight, about seven o’clock just after dark.” so we said


right, thank you very much, and we took off that night at dark and got caught in the mountains, it was nearly daylight, different mountains than the one we climbed up and over the same one, it was nearly daylight and we got caught by a fellow out with his dogs chasing snow rabbits and he caught us and locked us in the cells and then he


got a guard, a guard came from the prison we escaped from, the prisoner-of-war camp we’d escaped from and took us back. And old fellow, we used to call him the general and he said, “Look, I’m going to put you in the local prison,” and he said, “I’ll look after you if you promise not to escape from me in the train going back,” he said, “You escape from there and I’ll get sent to the Russian


Front.” They were frightened of the Russian Front. We said, “Right oh, you look after us there and do some things for us.” He said, “I’ll do that as long as you don’t escape.” So we got back there and they put us in the cells and I’d hidden in a trough at night they used a big thing where you had to urinate in at night, so in there I’d hidden half a pack of hacksaw blades, pliers and a screwdriver


and so when he came down again, bought to food down to us in the cells the next night.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 02


The general gave me a bit of paper see, so I gave him a note to take up to the English fellow who was the head prisoner, who was it, someone, the head prisoner around the camp and to take this hacksaw and the screwdriver and the pliers out of the bin we had to urinate in, give them a good wash and put them in the dixie of sauerkraut


they used to bring down at night you see. So he did that and they bought the dixie down with the stuff in it and we got that, so there was five of us in the cell and, two of them were too sick they reckon to escape, and one, there was another


English fellow there, my mate that had escaped with me, Ron Hilton, his name, and this other English fellow. He said he’d come with us, he wrote to me after the war too, Bob someone his name was. And, he reckoned he was going to write a book about it but I never corresponded then because I couldn’t be bothered. And anyway all we had was a loaf of bread, when we escaped, I sprang to door on the cell and two of them as I said were too sick to


come, and then the main doors of the prison were great big oak doors and they had hooks on the outside of them and they used to put three bars across them too, to hold them as well. But they got careless; they only put one bar across the middle and nuts inside the main doors. They


hadn’t welded them over, so I undid the thirty-two nuts, I undid them and then we had to slide the door sideways, we couldn’t take the big doors down, just slid them aside just enough to get out. And we got out there the three of us and we started to climb the mountain and


this fellow said he was a bit sick, this English fellow so he said he didn’t think he could go through with it so we gave him half the bread and we kept going, Ron and I. And we lived on snow, when we crossed these mountains. And got down the other side and he was very sick, I think he ate too much snow. So getting down the other side of the mountain was harder than climbing up the side, cause


it was so steep like. Anyway finally got down and we came out near this [(UNCLEAR)] camp I’d escaped from in the train, before we got on this train from the brick factory and, got caught trying to get into Switzerland. So I hid him in a barn and I said, “I’ll go up to the factory at night and contact some of these fellows that were working in these… sneaking around in there


and ask for some food.” So I got one fellow and asked him for food and he said he’d go back to the camp see if he could get some. And, he said, “Come back tomorrow night and I’ll see what I can do.” And I went back the next night and he said they had a meeting and seeing as you escaped from here before, and they weren’t


allowed to play soccer, on a Sunday for six months as punishment, they won’t give you any food. And I said “You’re in big trouble after the war if they don’t give me some food.” And in the meantime he said, “Well come back tomorrow night and I’ll have another chat to them.” He said “I’ll give you some. All that I’ve got is half of some biscuits.” So he gave me half a dozen hard biscuits and then


I… A young Ukrainian fellow used to work in this factory and so I was hanging around outside, hiding and I saw him come out, they’d finished their shift and they were going home so I followed them home and, they gave me some food. So that’s alright I got some food, and they said, “Come back tomorrow night and we’ll give you some


more. We’ll ask the man in the camp to give you some more.” and they sent a note back to the camp, and, “Get out, you’ll get the girls into trouble if the Germans catch you.” So my mate was feeling a bit better and then I stole a push bike from the factory, people tried to work out. And doubled my mate down to the water


and a train used to pull up on the hill and take along water. And we hid in a train; all the freight trains had little cabins on the end of every, every second or third wagon. When they went through the mountains someone would get in and work on the brakes like, slow them down through the mountains like.


And we got to a place, what was the name…… anyway I don’t know, it was a big marshalling yard and so we got out there and headed for Yugoslavia, Grice and we went through Grice in the daytime


too. And there were prisoners there working in the street, went through Grice and across the bridge and we were, we were practically on the water there, Yugoslavia. And some American planes came over and bombed the forest we were in. And I don’t know why they bombed it, there was nothing in there, they must have thought it was an ammunition dump or something. And then the Germans came in to see what happened and grabbed us again, and


took us back of course. And went through the whole process, Landeck and everything again. So that was alright, back in a month in the cells, you know three days on bread and water and one day on good food. And then we went back into the disciplinary compound and the commandant


said to me he said, “Look, you’re not going out to work on the punishment camps any longer, we’re going to keep you in here and work in here because you’re escaping all the time.” And I said, “Well it’s my job to escape.” and he said, “It’s my job to keep you here.” he said. Anyway I thought, well he was away on a holiday for a week and then there were fellows going out to work, and I asked one of them if I could


swap names with him, so I could go out in his place. So I went out in his place on the train and I had another fellow with me and I said, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll escape from this train, we’ll jump out the window as it’s going along.” So we were going along and we go past that place at Treven in the train. I said, “Oh that’s Treven there, I escaped from there before.”


And we were going along in the train to other places and we’d get to another place, a big station called Rotterman, it was, I said, “Well we can’t do much here, we’ll wait until we get past here.” and I said, “Get ready to jump out of the train.” So we just get through Rotterman and I said, “Right let’s go.” and I jumped out the train window, land and rolled down the hill, I hurt my ankle a bit but you know. And waited


for him but he never arrived, I waited for a while. Don’t know whether one of the guards grabbed him probably when I… he didn’t follow. So I went up and hid in a wheat field and crawled up the wheat field up the side of a hill. After a while, I put my foot in a stream at night for a while, then I travelled around, you know looking for where I could get to and


I got in a train then, another …. big station, I got out of the train and they chased me, the guards, in one of those -wagons, and they came expecting, looking for escaped prisoners or something like that. They were probably looking for me probably, when I jumped off the train. And


they chased me and I crossed the railway line and ducked under the trains or anything like that, you know stationery ones, carriages and things like that. Then I find the stationmaster had a nice garden there with all green trees in it. Nice green trees in it so I hid in there for the rest of the night and the next day, when I got going again, I was hiding in a barn and a striker


fellow walking along the road, there was no one else in sight. On the dirt road it was, and I had no food and I asked him I said, “Can you give me any food?” and he said, “Are you a flieger?” a flyer like, downed pilot, he though I was a downed pilot. I think he was a Frenchman. And I said no, a soldier, an escaped prisoner,


and he said, “Well stop here.” and he bought me a loaf of bread. Anyway about two days later I got caught and after the next night I was caught and they took me back to Innsbruck Station and I see he was on the platform there too, but he wasn’t arrested or anything like that. And they took me to the


interrogation centre and asked me where I got the bread from and that sort of thing. And I said, “I was in the mountain.” I said, “And kids were there in the mountains and I asked one of them for bread and they gave it to me.” And they said, “What were you doing in the mountains, what looking for partisans and that sort of thing?” I was going to join the partisans. and I said “No.” I said, “As a matter of fact


I was looking for an edelweiss to take home to my mother.” Edelweiss only grow in the snow and the highest peaks, there in Austria and those places. And he said, “Oh Hooper escapes, Hooper escapes.” he said, “Go looking for edelweiss.” that’s what he said. I had some rising suns


I made, I showed the Russians, I was in a camp with the Russians once waiting to be picked up and taken to the interrogation centre, the rising sun we used to wear on our things here, and I told the Russians we made them out of an aluminium dixie. He said, “I’d like one of those.” and went to reach for it, and I said “nine [(UNCLEAR)]’, one of the guards on one side of me hit me in the back with his rifle and the other fellow hit me across the hand


here with the rifle and broke the bone in my hand and another fellow hit me in the back and I went down on my knees and I heard him yell out, “thirty” well that meant finish him off, thirty meant finish him off in German, you know. And I looked and he was going crook at me [displaying anger], then he offered me a cigarette, gave me a cigarette. Anyway I went back through the process again,


all the camps and that sort of thing and then I was going to have another escape and I went to a place, I swapped names with another fellow in the interrogation, in the punishment camp, and got on the train and went to a place called Steinack[?], or I think it was Steinack or Hithrow[?], I think I went to Steinack


Punishment Camp and that place there, they made us, they had picks and that, shovels digging, I said I thought we’d be shovelling, they were trying to make us work in the ammunition factory, it was illegal see, and I talked to a fellow and we went on strike so they locked us in the underground bunker, with the windows in the side of it with bars


on and they used to drop stones on the roof at night and say ‘waz a waz ‘a for two days, ‘waz a waza’ and run their bayonets across the iron bars and that sort of thing. And they let us out. So we went back to work anyway in the end, the workers decided to go back to work, and I said, “Well, I’m not going back to work.” and I pinched a piece of water pipe about a foot long,


iron water pipe about half inch or three-quarter inch water pipe, pinched that and I said to a fellow, “I’m going to break me toe.” And he said, “How are you going to do that.” and I said, “You’re going to do it, I’ll put the end of me little toe on here, on the floor like that.” and I said, “You whack it with that pipe.” So I put it there and he give a big lunge and I pulled me foot away and missed. I thought it was going to hurt


too much, and I said, “I’ll put I there again.” I said, “And I’ll put me sock on.” so it wouldn’t hurt that much. And he went whack again and through the sock and splintered it and I thought I was going to die, I crawled into my bed so I could lay there for half an hour there in pain. I went to the commandant and showed him and said I hit it with a hammer at work today. So he sent me with a


guard to [(UNCLEAR)] hospital, yes and the Polish doctor there put my leg in plaster up to the knee, so I was having a great time there until an air raid came over one day and the German guard called me a swine, and he kicked me and I went to thump him and one of the nurses grabbed hold of me to hold me back. And so they sent me back to Stalag then. They marched me, took me crutches off me and marched me through the


snow, my leg still in plaster and of course I got frostbitten too, there. And also had a dose of flu and in the meantime I found out afterwards, Ken Livingston heard I was having a great time at this hospital so he cut the top of one of his fingers, at the top joint, cut off one of his fingers. They had all sorts of


machines, they had finger breaking machines and everything, try and break your fingers. And he came, and they told me he went to the commandant and said, “I’ve cut me finger.” and he said, “How deep?” and he said, “About an inch.” and the commandant was having tea and pulled a bit off like. So ruined the hospital business. So I went back to Stalag and they bombed, and I was in hospital in Stalag then they bought me in with


TB [tuberculosis] fellows then and they were going to repatriate them and the Yanks [Americans] came over one day and bombed the Stalag. I was out in the open luckily, I wasn’t in the hospital, I was walking around. And they killed two of the doctors, they were operating at the time when they hit the hospital and they killed some of the TB patients too. And I got put in with the TB patients and was going to get repatriated.


And when I got to this camp at Germany they took us twelve of us to this camp to go through the repatriation process and they found out who I was and that there was nothing wrong with me, I didn’t have TB. And cause some of the TB patients got killed and I took their place see. And so they gave me, a job in the officers’ mess


there and I had to keep it clean, that sort of thing. And I found out they had some grog hidden there so I got the sack from that. I got on the grog and got drunk and collapsed in the snow all night, too right I was freezing to death and full of grog. And, from there, what happened, oh yeah, then they shifted us around from camp to camp, and then I struck up with this fella,


we were getting close to the end of the war. I said, "Well, I'm going to get back for my birthday, 22nd March", I said free by 22nd March. So this other fella, paratrooper he was ... you see that picture "A Bridge Too Far"? Those paratroopers were dropped at that wrong bridge? It was Bob ...


anyway he was a scotchman, he was wounded. He was in this hospital with me, same time. He was alright. He said, "Right, escape with me." And so we escaped from that hospital camp, and we joined up ... walking, and walking, and that. Shots, you know. We'd dodge wherever the fighting was going on. And we pulled up an American in a


Jeep, he was a dispatch rider. He took us to Charleroi in Belgium, and we joined up with the Americans there .. airport, Charleroi in Belgium. We stopped there for two weeks. The Belgians used to give us grog, and every now and then ... prisoner of war camp. We were drunk all the time, we'll finish up dying of alcohol poisoning, you know.


So, one of the American pilots wanted to get me ... these planes they had ...He said, "Come on, I'll get square with the Germans with you. In the plane, you can crouch down behind me. Crouch down with your legs crossed, and you'll be alright in position there. You'll take over Germany. We'll stir up a few German patrols." The next morning there's a flight of six of them


going out, I said no way in the world, I'm not going there. And they tried to get me to go. I said "No, I'm not getting in the plane." They said "Get in the seat and try, you'll find it's comfortable alright." I said "Yeah, planes will be warmed up ... I'm not getting in there." He came back with grass caught on the undercarriage. He said "I chased a German over the field. He lay down on the ground. I tried to get him." And he came back


with grass on his undercarriage, died of fright. Anyway then a couple of nights later they said well the railway line had been fixed and at seven o’clock tomorrow morning the first train going to Brussels, about seventy miles away and there’s an airport there, big airport. There were only fighter planes where I was see.


And so they put us up in a hotel there too, fifth floor, so we snuck down the fire escape, I suppose they wondered what happened to us. The next morning got on this train and went to Brussels and got on a British supply plane and they took us back to England. We arrived there, and we was home and they didn’t know what to do with us. And they put me with an English battalion, that was spelling just outside of London, we were at the


pub all day, and I thought, oh, this is nice. And then Lady Blamey arrived and England had taken over the whole of the South Coast and Highborn and around there like, taken over all the hotels and that sort of thing. So we, after a week or ten days they sent me down there. And they gave me a job; I was to tell the English chefs what the prisoners were like when they came home.


What they liked to eat and I said, “Give them steak.” and I used to bugger off then all day. And I had a great time there. In the end I was there for about five or six months there in the end for free and I used to go to Blackpool and lie down in the carriages, out on the side of the carriages there


like the conductors come along, ‘tickets, tickets’ and I was unconscious. Another drunk Australian I suppose he thought. I used to go to Blackpool for free. You go in the number one platform in London there where the train is. Also joined up to go through the luggage compartment there where the people booked their luggage in, you’d go through there and get on the number one platform there.


So I used to walk through there and get the number one platform. And in the end they said, “Well I’m afraid you’ll have to go home, we’re closing this down.” so went home, got on the Orion, the same ship I went overseas on and came back through the Panama Canal and Honolulu back to Australia. Arrived back in Australia the day before


Japan collapsed. Great trip through the Panama Canal, ever been through the Panama Canal? Oh it was fantastic you wouldn’t credit it. You’re up the top of a mountain there and you see down below, you know you’ve got to go there and come through all the lock, and gee if that lock bloke comes out he’ll scare you in there. They cut, the bottom of the mountain out and they’ve got to raise it all the time, this lever attached to the weight of


the mountain, each side pushes it up. Went to Honolulu, a week in Honolulu, then four days in New Zealand, on the way home, back to Sydney, then home. So from there they gave me three months leave and I came home and after that time, I went back to Dalgety. I got married,


and then I went back to Dalgety and I was getting four pound seven and six a week. I was a customs agent for them and Dalgety shipping in Brisbane and I thought, well that’s not much money, and then BP [British Petroleum] said to me, “Listen, how about going to New Guinea, Port Moresby for us, we want a Customs Agent there?” And


I said, “How much you going to pay me?” and they said ,“Twenty pound a week and keep.” and I said, “When’s the first plane leave?” you know. And they said, “Well, what about your wife, I heard she worked for them in Cairns, will she be going?” and I said, “Well we’ve only been married a couple of months, of course she’ll be going.” And they said, “Will she work for us?” and I said, “I suppose so, how much will you pay her?” and they said, “We’ll pay her the same.” so that will be alright, so we moved to New Guinea. I didn’t stop with BP for


long then I got into the civil aviation, I was their custom’s agent for BP in Port Moresby and I had a row with the accountant, one of the clients outside the plantation had complained that I hadn’t cleared their goods of the off the railway for them and I wrote back and said if you had enough brains how can I clear it when you haven’t sent your manifest


in, hadn’t sent your bills of lading in so I couldn’t clear it with Customs. And the accountant called me in and said, “You don’t talk to our good clients like that and I’m going to recommend to the director that at Christmas you don’t get a bonus.” I said, “Well good luck to you, I’ve got news for you too.” I said, “You can go and recommend that you caused them to lose your only good customs agent, cause I won’t be here and I leave at the end of the week.”


Anyway he didn’t want me to go and work for them. So I went to the civil aviation, the regional fellow he was a great fellow and went to work for civil aviation. Then I got a better job with oil search, Anglo Uranium Oil Company. I got a better job with then, then I built up a couple of trucks, you could build trucks there, out of the dumps there, what happened the


Yanks run all their equipment into the gullies, between two hills and then fired two bullets in and bulldozed over the top of them and covered them over, then the tropical rains came and washed all the dirt away and left this place so I had a couple of trucks and they wanted, Hornibrooks came up and then they wanted a powder monkey and I was a powder monkey in the engineers too and luckily


a fellow working for customs up there he was my sergeant, one of my sergeants and he said I was a qualified powder monkey so I got the job there.
What’s a powder monkey?
Powder monkey and tram operator. I can drive bulldozers and bank trenches and that. And I had my two trucks working there too and they were getting ten shillings for every load you took out,


two miles to the dump. Well I built a Chinaman there and loading them through the Chinaman and I’d only put a yard on mine instead. So I gave Hornibrooks away and did a twelve thousand yard excavation for them, they didn’t have much work. So then I went to work for housing, a mate of


mine, he was a mate, he was runner up to Errol Flynn before the war in the tennis championship, Roy Fields, and he owned a lot of land and he gave me a block of land at the four mile and I built a house on it there. And then I finished up selling that house, I thought, I’ll go home, been in New Guinea, been here long enough and earned enough money.


So I came back to Brisbane and bought a shop at Greenslopes, three thousand pounds, shop with a residence, mixed business. And I was here eleven months and an agent came in with some people, I’d only paid three thousand pounds, well three thousand pounds was a lot of money in those days, so they wanted to buy it and I said, “No I don’t want to sell it.”


and he said, “If I ask them what would you want for it?” I said, “Six thousand pounds” and he went over and spoke to them and he said, “They’ll buy it.” and then I went and bought a taxi for a thousand pounds, and now they’re worth about three hundred thousand pounds now, a taxi in Brisbane, and I did that for a couple of years then I… what’d I do then? Oh I bought this house then too, when I sold the shop,


this brand new house, I bought this for three thousand pounds, and that was in 1952 or 1953. I had my taxi, I sold that and I, I think I started off as a salesman for a firm, Tommy Smith’s brother in law,


had a firm up there, I started off as a salesman there. I finished up sales manager and then I finished up manager of the place. But after about three years there I was fed up with that and I give that away and went into the used car game for change. I was in the used car game, and then about


1958 I think, there was a credit squeeze on and all the bottom fell out of cars overnight, so I gave it away. And then I went horse training, training horses, and just beside the point. I made favourite of one of the leading jockeys and he used to ride my horse. And in


a race I had three jockeys riding for me in the [(UNCLEAR)]. I used to pay the others to give him a bit of assistance like rather [(UNCLEAR)] and that all right for a while. I did alright at that, he got sick. And I went back in the car game again then; I started selling used cars and caravans, second-hand caravans and used cars out at


Clayfield. And then I also, I bought one of those, you know Mr Whippy ice cream vans and there was a new kind of one came out from England, and a mate of mine imported then and I got three of these, and jeez I made a lot of money, I had the right sort of homes, and weekends made plenty of money.


And I had them for a while and give the used cars away then and I think I retired. Became a punter and that sort of thing, and I gave that away, too because two of my jockey mates died. Then I got a job with the cricket. I went to England with the Australian Country team in 1978


as an assistant to the manager and the manager and the captain of them was John Buchanan who is now a coach of the Australian test team. And anyway we came back from England, I was twelfth man once in England, I wasn’t a very good player because I was fifty-seven you know. And you’re only suppose to be twenty-three at the most, anyway we came back through Hong Kong


and I had two games in Hong Kong and the second game in Hong Kong the boys wanted to go to town, a couple of them so they gave me a game, and with one over to go, there was two man going, one was thirty-two not out and the other was twenty-eight not out and they bought me on to bowl, with my experience I was a bouncy bowler. And I put


Brian Rude, wait a minute Queenslander, put him in the square leg and Buchanan he was the captain-coach of the Australian team I put him mid off, from about me to you away from the back and bowled the first one with plenty of bounce on the left side and the fellow hit it up in the air at square leg and behind the umpire and they ran through for a single but the fellow caught it at square leg and I yelled out, “Don’t you drop that!” he caught it and I said,


“I’m not bowling anymore.” cause I went with Greg Chappell [Australian cricket captain] once to New Zealand and I got one wicket for none and I said, “I’m not bowling anymore.” Anyway they said, “No, you haven’t broken down.” I bowled the next ball as a wide to prove I had. They said, “No you can’t, you’ve got an extra ball.” So when they were running they’d cross like, and the other fellow got up there was thrity-two not out and I bowled one in the air with plenty of bounce and he hit forward and it


crawled up his bat and Buchanan, a skinny fellow he is that Buchanan, and leaned forward and caught it. Two for one and I got the man of the match, so they wrote me up in the Hong Kong Times. We looked like winning the second game at Hong Kong and Hong Kong played up and they said the coach’s secret weapon, an old grey-headed fellow at the game and I got that there


the cutting I cut it out of the paper. And then I just did nothing, punter and that sort of thing, I came back from there. And I travelled around a bit too. And then I went to Sri Lanka, when the first game with Sri Lanka, the first test was played, and we played some,


Kim Hughes was captain then, no he wasn’t, Greg Chappell was, And we came home about six weeks after and then I went to England for the Prudential Cup that year with a couple of blokes and then I just give it all away.


What happened I had an operation in Greenslopes and I come out, I don’t know what happened but I was paraplegic, Gloria had to put me to bed and put me in the car and bathe me and everything. And the fellow told me, this is unofficial like, but he reckoned they dropped me off the… in those days they used to lift you onto the operating table,


but now they operate on you in the bed like. Take you in there and he reckoned they dropped you off the table, they dropped one fellow in the ambulance, taking him out of the ambulance, they dropped him in the street, and they dropped me off the bed, I wonder what the third thing would be. And I cracked two discs in the back of my neck. And the neurosurgeon wouldn’t operate on a paraplegic. Wouldn’t operate, I begged him to operate and he said


“Too close to the vein.” he said, “If we operate and it’s a failure it will kill you.” I said, “Well I can’t live like this.” I said, and he said, “I’m not prepared to operate like this, it’s too dangerous.” So I said to Gloria, “Two more weeks of this and I’m going of the nearest high bridge even if I’ve got to crawl.” She said, “Well don’t worry, I’ll drive you there and give you a bunk up.”


And she went and told a specialist mate of mine, and he said when he came here, “Don’t do anything silly.” he said he’d just come back from overseas in Scotland and he said, “Oh I’ve got something new” he said. And he put me on heavy doses of Pradiserone and doctors hated it, even for years after that. Doctors still hate it. And two weeks I came good,


you wouldn’t credit it. And I had to take about thirty a day but now, ever since, he’s got me down, he tried to get me down but they couldn’t got me down to seven at one stage, but I had to take eight, four in the morning and four at night. If I forget to take them I would just collapse. One night I forgot to take them and I came home here and said, “Quick give me my tablets!” and I just collapsed and took them on the table here and I came good again. So I have to take eight a day, four in the morning and four at night


and I’m right. Incredible isn’t it, you can be lucky.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 03


Tell us what your earliest memories of growing up in Brisbane were like?
What it was like as a child?
Yes well actually, as a child we used to play in wheelbarrows and that, wheel one another in wheelbarrows and that sort of thing, we used to


go crabbing down the river, you know and we’d play cricket matches in the backyard, football, and of course we always had a cow, being from the country, Beauty the cow, your father used to milk her every morning, and we’d have the best of milk. Pour the milk we didn’t use into a great big basin and my


mother used to scrape the cream off it later on, when it settled. And what else was there?
Was it common for a lot of people to be self sufficient with the Depression on and all that sort of thing?
The what?
Was it common for people to be self sufficient?
Oh yes, there were a lot of cows around the place. We used to let our cows wander the street, actually in the morning the cows used to form up in groups like. And I had a foxie [fox terrier dog]


and it used to go with the cows too, with out cow Beauty, and one day a lady said to us, cause Beauty was having a fight with another cow or something, head down and the foxie jumped up and put both paws on the cow’s horns, to stop them fighting. And I used to, a horse of mine, I worked first down at Dalgetys, I had to start work at eight o’clock. I had to be first in there and


get the mail out of the box and open it and then they’d read it and distribute it to different branches. Different shipping or whatever section or the stock and station section and that. And sometimes a horse of mine, Telltale, I’d be late for the train and I’d get a bit of string in his mouth and call Telltale and he’d come, and I’d jump on him with a bit of string in his mouth and


he’d open the gate with his nose, the latch that goes over the gate and we’d gallop down the road, and gallop down to beat the train ride. Don’t know how we didn’t get run over, and Telltale would race the train and I’d jump off and get the train, and he’d walk over to the shop and they’d give him a penny ice cream or something, he’d get in the shop and they’d give him ice cream. Then he’d render his way home, you know go home again. Telltale, he’d come and take up the hose, he’d


pick up the hose and turn to tap on to get a drink too.
Pretty clever horse.
So how did you normally go to work and whereabouts was Dalgetys?
Dalgetys was on the corner, near the fig tree there, corner of… Elizabeth and Creek Street there. Dalgetys, next door to it was this


Commercial’s Travellers Club in there. And behind him was James Campbell and Ernie Tubey one of our, cricket, baseball players, he was used to work at James Campbell, used to walk in the lane behind me when I was a kid. And his brother was a prisoner of war when the [HMAS] Perth was sunk.


Ernie Tubey. No, Ernie was in the Siege of Tobruk, he was an engineer, our sister engineer company, 13th Field Company, I was the 7th Field Company. And his brother Sid Tubey, I mean Sid Tubey was an engineer fellow, that’s right, and Ernie was the fellow that played cricket and baseball for Queensland. And he was,


how’d I get onto him, Tubey?
Ah, you were talking about where Dalgetys was in the city.
Oh yeh he used to walk up the road, and I used to yell out to him when he’d walk up in the lunch hour, I’d be out the back lane way and that. And, Dalgetys was, well it was a hoity toity mob [arrogant], that sort of thing. I had to run messages


and they’d give me a shilling to buy a book of stamps, a book of tram tickets. A penny a ticket or something. You’d get twelve tickets for a shilling but I used to, instead of buying that I used to buy myself lollies [candy] and walk and that sort of thing. They were probably glad to see the end of me when I went to New Guinea. And


I remember one of the fellows there when I was in charge of the stamp tin, the petty cash tin in the shipping department, one fellow there used to borrow, put in an IOU and borrow ten pounds out of it, and have a few beers, and pay it back on payday and that sort of thing. Money was funny in those days, yes.
So what sort of things did you get up to on the weekend say, when you finished work?
Well, just with our horses


and that sort of thing. A few of us had horses see and we’d ride our horses around the place and, and once a month we used to have to go to Enoggera Camp with our horse. On a Sunday go to Enoggera Army Camp there Grovely, at the back of Grovely with out horse for exercises and


that’s where we’d ride our horses, fellows from Corinda and Sherwood we’d all ride our horses there and through the back of Milton and those places, you know. And we always had our horse. We’d take them for a swim down the river, and they’d have a swim with us, the horses would. And what else did we do? Oh, when we went to the [UNCLEAR] we’d have tent pegging, you’d ride your horse and have a


sword and charge up to the pegs in the ground and pick them up, something like that. It was when we went into camp, at the end I used to take two horses in, never had the nose bags off them. That’s where I used to ride and race the train so I could catch the train, Telltale, he was a rear rouge[?] in the picket lines and the horse lines and that you couldn’t put a horse near it,


you had to leave a gap either side of it otherwise it would put that horse down on the ground and when you lead your horses to water, twice a day, you had to take you horse to water, you’re supposed to have two horses each side. With Telltale you could only have one horse that side. Whoever took him to water had two horses one side and only Telltale on the other side.
You were saying that your dad fought in the World War I, did he used to tell you stories? What sort of stories did he used to


tell you?
Well nothing actually, but, there’s a book there, he was written up in the First World War but see my Mum died and all that stuff was thrown out. He went and got married again too, she reckoned he’d get married again
You were pretty keen to join up, do you know why you were so keen?
Oh yes, cowboys and Indians, with live ammunition. They had a paper here


The Telegraph, and it said, I picked it up one day and it said, ‘this war will only last three months, we’ll beat the Germans.’ And I said, well I’d better go and get that trip overseas, before this finishes. Oh gee one day, one night in Tobruk we went in there with the 9th Battalion [2/9th] to recover part of the Salient. Have you ever seen that map of Tobruk where those Germans came in the Salient? We had to recover the right


side of the Salient from the Germans and we went in that night and that’s the biggest we got. Artillery firing at us and shells were hitting the ground and they were firing with open sights, the artillery, the shell were hitting the ground and they weren’t exploding they were flying past. At one stage they were going each side and here I thought, gee one of them is going to change direction and take me with it, I’ll die quickly. And the next morning when we came from out from that fight I walked past, a colonel came up


with his baton, I don’t know whether it was a colonel or general, there was three of us came out together, cause you had to, in the cold, in battle at night you had to wear your uniforms too, it was cold like. And he said “Geeze, smell the gunpowder on those men.” impregnated with a battle and we had to go in again nearly two weeks later with the 9th and the 11th and recover the front of it some of the front of it


and then they had to push them in some more of the front of it. See that map there. So that was the toughest fight in the night. These funny things happen, there was a German, when I was with the 15th Battalion once in the front line there, Freddy Black, he was had his eighteenth birthday there, I had some unexploded bombs,


so I had to pick some, cause when you’re an engineer attached to the infantry you were like a lieutenant. And I took him in to help me with unexploded bombs. And I said, “You fellows, you look a bit young fellow.” and he said, “Yes I’ll be eighteen next week.” I said, “Well, you do as I tell you and you’ll live to be at your eighteenth birthday. I’m not going to pull the fuse out of these bombs because generally when they do it, you’ve got one fellow about a hundred yards


away and you’ve got a microphone and they say, ‘I’m turning slowly to the left’ and I say, ‘I’m putting half a charge of gun on these three, five hundred pound bombs and gonna blow them up.” But I said, “Hang on to them cause if we move them it might start the clock work and they go off. So you do as I tell you and you live until your eighteenth Birthday.” and then the Germans broke through and Freddy got a rifle fired at him and the


bullet went through, a sniper shot him, went through the front of his helmet down the middle of his head, parted his hair, tore all the hair off and just left a little blood blister all the way down his head and out the back of the helmet and he came home. And I ring him up every year on his birthday, 18th March, April, I think it is. Freddy, he lives at Bowen now, he’s a lay minister now, but


he came home after Alamein, I got captured, he came home with the 15th Battalion and then I found out how he was and he stayed at Townsville the rest of the time cause he was a bit cut up. But he lost his wife recently and his only son, went to Vietnam and got killed in Vietnam, the Vietnam boys thought a lot of his son cause they’d take him to every reunion they have every year. And I rang him up ever other year for his birthday but he’s a


lay minister. Nice fellow. And what’s his name, so we he had no trouble with those bombs, what’s his name. And one night, we used to go out in front of the wire, the front line in some places, listening posts fellows out there, about a hundred and fifty yards out.


And you’d have them on a listening post listening for any enemies trying to sneak in or anything like that. And one night he was shot out there and we went out to have a look and the fellow said it was a donkey, he challenged it and it answered him in German, it was a donkey. And there used to be a fellow, German came over the front line nearly every day in a Storch plane, a reconnaissance plane it was and it could turn on us and he’d


fly over and have a look and he’d throw out hand grenades going over and going back he’d throw out the empty boxes, they were more dangerous than the hand grenades. And they set up three dummy ack ack guns, Bofors guns for him where he used to go and he didn’t see that they were dummies, they weren’t well done and they had them there for about three weeks and when he came over on day, they had the proper ones there, blew him out of the sky of course.


Then we had to build an aeroplane, we had no planes left in the end, and we built a dummy plane out on the air strip, made out of wooden canvas and that and the Germans came over and dropped a wooden bomb on it. That’s true. You wouldn’t credit it would you? And then when all the Germans broke through,


that first big battle when the tanks came through and they were coming through the wire, they had staff cars and they had trucks with there desk and chairs on and that they reckon, they were running our land, we were putting up anti tank lines. And there was a howling dust storm blowing, you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. And tanks came in and everything like


that, they run in the 25 pounders too, see blowing the turrets off and that sort of thing and in the end they were all trying to get out the gap in the wire they came through, in the end they were screaming. Because they let the tanks come through and only attack the infantry and behind them. A group of tanks mind you and the dust cleared and these tanks were about twenty yards away. I set one of them on fire and got into trouble, they wanted to capture it alive. So


they were all screaming, the Germans were yelling and they were all trying to get out all together through this gap together tanks, recovery mob and everything broken down tanks out and everything the Germans were running.
Going back can you remember when war was declared, when you were a young fellow?
How did you hear about that?
I didn’t. And then they sent for


volunteers that was all. First we heard of any volunteers was Bennet O’Reilly went up and joined, that was before the war in 39, when the war started. He said you can join the AIF. Of course they wouldn’t take anybody out of the Light Horse at the time. How I got in the engineers, well I told them I was a light horseman and I worked with the farriers, with a


few horses, and made horseshoes and that. And the major took me in cause he thought like the First World War they had horses and he’d have a real good horser with me to look after it.
So can you tell us about when you finally enlisted?
When I finally enlisted?
In Brisbane?
Yes well that’s when I put my age up, I went there and they wouldn’t, I enlisted


when I was in the Light Horse at camp, I enlisted at the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association], they had a place in, up in Edward Street there and they wouldn’t take me there. So I tried to join the air force and couldn’t join the air force so in the end I said “Bugger it” and getting near a


couple of days before my eighteenth birthday, I went to, there’s a post office there and I said well instead of the 22nd March, I said the 2nd March 1919, instead of 1921. So I went and joined up and that sort of thing and signed up there and they called me. Well actually the first my parents knew about it. I got home and mother said, “The


army’s called you and you’ve got to go to Calvin Grove Barracks for your test.” and she said, “I’m not going to let you go.” and I said, “I’ll leave home and change my name, you won’t know what’s happened to me.” I said. So that’s how I battled to get in, though I couldn’t get in the air force, no change of getting in the air force then in those days.
Did you have a preference of where you would have liked to have gone?
I’d go anywhere. I’ll tell you what, although, I probably thought of the air force, was


I had colitis. Colitis is, when I going to Grammar School I got it. And my doctor, our doctor was away and I got stomach-ache and another doctor I saw, and he told mother to give me a dose of Epsom Salts, and it took away colitis, you died in those days like it took the lining off your stomach. And I used to be sick at home and brother and sisters would


come home, if I’d have gone to hospital I would have died. My mother used to massage my stomach all night. I’d be, what do you call those things, imaginary things like, you know. I’d be in aeroplanes fighting, funny that isn’t it, fighting aeroplanes. And my sister would come home and brother and they’d eat cakes, hot drinks of cocoa in winter and eating biscuits with cheese and tomato on it and that and I


couldn’t have anything, all I could have was grated apples, grated apples. My uncle had an orchard and they used to get the best apples from him, you know delicious apples, real good one, they were real good. And even when I went back to school I had to take a bottle of grated apples for my meals to have at school, grated apples so you know terrific. Grated apples that’s what I lived on. And in the end the doctor said, “Well, you can have a cup of cocoa with no milk or sugar in it and


a dry Sao biscuit.” I thought I was made, took six months for…. We got the name Quinton, the eldest son gets the name Quinton. My grandfather’s, father’s brother was killed


in the Charge of the Light Brigade and he was engaged to a belle of Paris, Maria St Quinton right, and he got killed and everybody used to beat up to Maria St Quinton and she never married, she just mourned for him. And so the eldest son


of, his brother, like the eldest son of his brother, who turned out to be my grandfather, Sam Quinton Burns, give him the name St Quinton and then I got it see.
Going back, did you like school much, what did you think about school?
School, I didn’t like school, no. I wouldn’t study


at all. I’ll tell you something don’t put in on there, I was in third grade at school, at Grace School that’s where they, I lived across the line. I went to there from Sherwood. And I tore my pants and I wanted to go, and I stopped the teacher, and I wanted to go home and change my pants, he said “No.” I was sitting in the aisle half way up right, the centre aisles there and the teachers used to walk up and down there, and the girls sat at the back, and he said, “No you go and


sit with the girls at the back.” and I said, “No, no, I want to go home.” and he had cane like that and he said, belting it up and down and said, “You go and sit with the girls at the back.” I saw an opening and I drove a left into his solar plexus and knocked him down. And after that I got merits and exercises and everything until one night my father came home and he said, “I want to see you.” and he had the strap there and he said, “You’re going to get a hiding.” he said, “I was going to


work on the train this morning and a fellow said to me, ‘How did Bobby get away with it after knocking that teacher down?” He said, “I’d don’t know anything about knocking a teacher down.” and he said my daughter came home and told me he knocked a teacher down, and he said, “I’ll phone the school.” That’s how I finished up going to a tough school. But he used to give me merits for exercise and I was the worst writer in the world after that. He


belted me with this short cane.
So you reckon it might have been better if you had of stayed there then?
Yes, but I was right, he used to send me for the cuts. He caught me once and sent for the cuts, he wasn’t game to hit me himself after that, he sent me to the headmaster for the cuts. So I went under the house, the headmaster wasn’t in his room, so that was good, so I went under the house, the old schoolhouse, and hit my hands on the post to make them red and


come back holding my hands like that and arms around and the headmaster came in after that and he said, telling the teacher that he’d something had happened and he had to go away for an hour. He said, “I sent Hooper up to get the cuts.” so I had to go back and get another lot of cuts.


So what happened then once you enlisted and the army said okay, what happened then?
I enlisted when I, this person, I went into the army, I told them at Dalgetys that I was going, joining the army, and he said, “Ha ha ha, you said that before. You’ve gone to camp with the Light Horse.”


And the pink slip arrived when I got home, mother said the pink slip had arrived in the mail, you’ve got to report. First of all I joined the anti-tank but that wasn’t much good, you only had one gun and about a thousand men and you never got to fire it, that was no good. The engineers were going away so I transferred to the engineers and that fellow accepted me cause


he wanted some more men.
What training did you do before you went overseas?
Well nothing much, I never bothered too for anything, when I was in that anti-tank, the sergeant major I never forgave him for what he did. One morning on parade they said, “We want one volunteer, volunteers who can ride a motor bike.” and I pushed about six fellows aside and got up there and got tripped and I


skidded on my feet in the gravel and stood up in front of him, “I can Sir.” He said, “Right you’re in charge of emptying the rubbish bins today.” I never forgave him for that. And I finished up at [UNCLEAR] in the retreat from Tobruk, the first retreat, I was a dispatch rider, the CRE put me in, the CRE, headquarters of the engineers. And I’d just


taken a dispatch from Benghazi down to Derna to tell them, they’d just finished building a concrete bridge and I had to take a dispatch to tell them to blow it up again. And the traffic was heavy, everybody going only one way, heading towards Tobruk and Egypt so I had to ride against all this traffic and coming back I had to take a dispatch up to the


front line, up to where they were drawn from and tell the engineers to blow the water points. And there were three lanes of traffic, I was riding in and all of a sudden there’s a fourth lane, and they’d run over me. So I didn’t remember anything, I remember them throwing me in the back of the truck and I came too about three or four days later in Tobruk like, and rejoined my unit there.
So what basic training did you do?


Did you do any basic training in Australia?
Not really, group marching that’s all. And some of them had to, in the engineers blokes were sent to make horseshoes, you had to make either a chain or a horseshoe or something, that’s all. In the engineers they didn’t worry, marching the rest of the time. The major wasn’t a bad fellow he’d take full packs, you had to march with full packs, and train and then


he’d buy us a beer at the nearest pub on the way back. It wasn’t that bad, he was a tough fellow he was.
So can you remember how long it was from the time you enlisted to the time you left Australia on the Orion?
Yes, from the time I went into camp, it should be on that yellow thing actually. I think I went to camp


in May I think, in May 1940 and went away in November, on the Orion, from Sydney, November 1940. Arrived in, we were in England for Christmas.
Can you tell me how you left Brisbane?
How we left Brisbane? Yes we left Brisbane in a train in South Brisbane, marched through Brisbane there and got on the train.


And one of my first mates was killed too, he got killed in Tobruk in that dust storm that time. He was a nutter, Herbie Morrie a blackfellow actually, I didn’t think he was that black though. And his mother came to see him off at the train; she was black as the ace of spades. And he got killed in Tobruk, it was


actually the first time we got bombed I was going to run away and dive into cover, dive in a hole somewhere, but he pulled me down on the ground he said, “Lie on the ground.” That’s the first time I ever got bombed, that was the other side of Benghazi. And Herbie, he bent down to pick up


a mine and a bullet went in there, he was alright, he was bleeding at bit. Got the field ambulance, him and another fellow, and one of our other mob, got wounded, a mine blew up, they were dangerous, the field ambulance took him away and it turned over on the way and he finished in front of Herbie and Herbie was supposed to go out on the


destroyer on the Sunday night and he died on the Sunday morning and this other fellow in the unit went out in his place, when the ambulance turned over he finished on top of Herbie. The ambulance fellow said Herbie would have probably been alright. But it’s a funny thing, talking about Herbie another fellow in our unit he got wounded and he went out in the destroyer to Alexandria Hospital, the badly wounded went out see, the not so badly wounded just went into hospital, local hospital


in Tobruk. And he jumped, he wouldn’t go into a resources camp. He jumped on a destroyer in Alexandria and came back to Tobruk and they were going to court martial him for firing on the King’s enemy without permission. Rules are funny aren’t they? What was… funny things that happened. Oh what’s his name. my


sergeant and I had a, we never got on he, there was a shit boss, he was a real tough fellow, had a few fights and we were told, engineers had to be able to march better than infantry, fight better than the infantry, move great distances faster then the infantry, dress better on leave than the


infantry. And all the engineers, it’s funny, when they went on leave, he was in the officers’ mess and they used to fight the MP officers, we used to fight the MP privates and that sort of thing.
Going back to leaving Brisbane did your parents come and see you off?
No, I don’t I can’t remember, I don’t think so.
Can you recall leaving home then when you were about to go?


I was at home; before I went I had leave at home. They gave us a week’s leave at home before we went.
Can you tell us about that last week at home before you left?
Well I don’t know, I wasn’t at home. We used to go to Empire City and fire three rounds for ten bob there, Tiger Lyons and I used to go there every week.


And I can’t remember, I remember I had a week. Oh yes wait on I did have, I had appendicitis, I had appendicitis and that’s where I collapsed with appendicitis and they didn’t have an army hospital and they put me in the Brisbane Hospital there and they took me


for this appendicitis operation with local anaesthetic. They took my appendicis out with a local anaesthetic but they made a mistake, they put hot water bottles under my heels and blistered all my heels and my mother. They told my mother and father that I was in hospital and they came up that night to see me and the Matron said, “Get away from that man, he’s just come off the operating table.” and my mother said, “You can’t operate on him, he’s not twenty-one.” and I said, “Shut up,


you’ll get me thrown out of the army, they’ve already operated on me.” Anyway I had a couple of weeks leave after that, when I got out and with the local anaesthetic I couldn’t go to the toilet, that’s right and they shifted me in and kept me in there and a nurse went crook at me. I wasn’t going to use a bed pan so I hopped on one leg, my


to the toilet, to the toilet and she caught me and yelled at me. Cause I had no pants on, I only had a sheet wrapped around me. Cause of the operation there. I did the same thing [(UNCLEAR)] I got, we were bridging the Sweetwater Canal practicing bridging the Sweetwater Canal in Egypt and they dropped a girder on my leg there and it cut through my leg there and


I got septicaemia, and went in the ambulance, gee shocking pain. Anyway they operated on my leg and they put a tube in to drain it, corrugated tube through, sticking out. And I did the same thing there, to go to the toilet one day, I wasn’t using a bed pan. And I was sitting on the toilet holding my leg up like that and I couldn’t hold it any longer and I had blood everywhere.


I got a blasting there too.
So can you recall saying goodbye to your mum and dad before you left?
I can’t actually, no I can’t. I saw my sister in Sydney, she got permission, she was at the gate, she got permission to get me off the ship down to the gate to say hello, say goodbye to me. And she met me there too. She was married to a naval


architect, he was a head engineer too at the time. On the, Mangoa, I think, and she got permission to get me off the ship and she met me when I came back too. When the ship arrived, she must have got word. But I can’t remember saying goodbye.
So what was it like leaving Sydney, did you know where you were headed?


We knew we were going overseas and the first thing we all did, Jackie Sculls was cutting, he was our barber, he was cutting everybody’s hair off, we were sitting in a pub and the first things he did after, when we retreated to Tobruk we were shifting. He made about four hundred pound, we were shifting battalion anti-tank


mines one side of the anti-tank bullets to the other side and he put one together wrongly and it blew up and blew him to bits. All we found, none of his money, a bit of his scalp, his chin and he was blown out of his boots and his boots were like shoes. Blown to bits he was Jackie Sculls, so he did no good out of that. I remember that he used to run the


crown and anchor [card game] and everything like that all that for nothing like. I thought there might have been a bit of his money floating around. It all disintegrated too and yes he was the first fellow we lost too. And then one night Sergeant Stewart. As a matter of fact he came from Cooktown; we went up to Cooktown after the war together, after they had their fifty year reunion


in Canberra. We went to that. I hadn’t seen him. And he said, “God, fancy seeing you I asked everybody.” He went to the 13th, he transferred to another engineering company up there when the captain transferred he went with him. And he and I used to argue all the time, once upon a time. Actually he was, I caught him cheating in Tobruk, we were


playing solo and he was cheating, he had marked cards and I said, “You’re cheating!” and he said, “Oh come out side and I’ll give you a hiding.” I said, “I’m not frightened of you.” And I beat a few of them and I had a red level hand grenades, I had these, I said, “I’ll pull the pin on this.” I said, “I’ll lose my hand and you’ll lose your head.” so he walked away. And when he heard he said, “Bob Hooper got captured, he wouldn’t last with the


Germans, they wouldn’t cope him for long, they’d shoot him.” He was telling everybody there, the Germans wouldn’t cope with him they’d shoot him. And he sent me out one night he said, “I want you to take out a compressor.” this is about nine o’clock at night. “Take out a compressor and another fellow with you and go out here to this position, so many miles there, and put down a gun emplacement.” So


I had the big compressor; we were told we had to take the compressor, the mechanic and me. And we set up the compressor in the position, and on the jackhammer putting, clearing the loose stuff of the rocks there and putting down holes to put the charges in, cut in. And all of a sudden there’s


bullets whistling there, bullets whistling around and I said, “They’re not ordinary bullets, they’re not making a noise like ordinary bullets, they must be bees, or hornets, fancy them being out a night in the desert.” And I was waving my hands around my head and that sort of thing. And a fellow came over, walked over, one of the infantry fellows walked over, no he was a corporal, he died recently, Bruce Gardner,


the fellow that gave me the two loaves of bread. He came over and said, “Do you know the Germans have been firing at you for half an hour” I said, “Well they don’t sound like ordinary bullets.” I woke up, armour piercing bullets, then they think I’ve got a tank here, see the big compressor making a noise like a tank, they were armour piercing bullets. They were firing at us.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 04


Can you tell me much about the ship going overseas from Australia?
Yes well we, the ship, actually I was a shipmate on deck. But they used to be below decks in the hold and they talk about people getting, asbestos poisoning, well we were sleeping in hammocks, we’d roll them up in the daytime and set them up at night, and your


nose was about six inches below the steam pipes. And that’s where the asbestos vaporised, the hot steam pipes, and breathed it in. Well I never got an asbestos trouble for it. But I used to smoke about a hundred cigarettes a day too like. So that’s strange, asbestos, I often think about that the people that have asbestos, they didn’t worry about it in the troopship where your nose was


swaying under it, in the hammocks.
Was there ever any fear of subs or anything like that or was it just excitement?
No, not worried about subs or anything like that. I was up on deck and, I came back on the Orion, it was the most people I’ve seen on a ship, it was after we, we were about,


oh about a hundred miles south of Honolulu, hundred miles south and I remember these hundred and thirty mile an hour gale blowing and the waves, they were all complaining, they waves were breaking over the bridge on the Orion. Marvellous how strong the ships are, aren’t they?
So what did the blokes get up to on a trip?
Gambling, playing cards and that sort of thing. Nothing you could do. And


reading or playing cards. I had a good run gambling, I had a lot of American dollars and everything. And I got on the grog at Wellington there and when I got out of the taxi one night to pay the taxi, I had pictures and everything too, in my wallet, and I dropped it on the wharf, big cracks in the wharf, those big gaps in the wharf,


it fell down between, well it couldn’t land on a plank it had to fall down between the cracks and, you’d get about a two inch crack, gap between the planks on the wharf.
So how long was the ship trip and how and whereabouts did you land?
On, in going overseas, we had a week in Fremantle, cause they reckoned there were raiders outside, German cruise ships or whatever they called them. Had a


week in Fremantle and then we went to Ceylon, Sri Lanka it was. Ceylon in those days, for week. And from there we went straight up through the [Suez] Canal to Ismailia, disembarked in Ismailia and got in trains then and went to Palestine.
Can you just continue with that where you went from there?


went to Palestine and then from Palestine, then we were there about a month and then we went to Egypt and followed the 6th Division up through Tobruk and we had, engineers, we had to clean up behind the 6th Division, where all the battles had been and that, clear the roads and that sort of thing. At one place


there a mate was wounded, I told you killed, Herbie Morrie, that black fellow too. And when he found out we were clearing the roads and we see a lot of movement over to the right about two miles, we said, there’s some Italians over there we’ll go over and capture them, and take their vehicles off them and that. We went over there and it was an English MP place with tents up and a wet canteen and we got on the


grog, drinking their grog and that. And we were going there every afternoon, nobody knew where we were, until one fellow found out they were MPs and he finished up having a fight with them, we got barred from there.
So what was life like when you first got there?
Oh dirty, dirty places they were shocking. They were selling oranges or something like that. It marvellous what the Israelis, they should let those Israelis into the centre of Australia. What they did in Palestine we saw, they built these compounds and


in the desert they added trees there and that sort of thing. Fruit trees and all that. And they put high fences around to guard them from, from the, what’s the name, the Arabs and that sort of thing. And when you went into Syria, went you went to Tel Aviv they were evil in those places. If you went into a


café they had beautiful girls there, the café owners, and they propositioned you to come home with them for the night. They attempted, they’d tell them to breed, to build up, must be like that all time breed. Build up their population, picking the best.
That’s why you were getting asked?
Oh yes, but I’d get too drunk.
What did the fellow get up to when they had


leave there?
Oh well some of them went around to the brothels and that sort of thing, that’s all they did. But no, we got drunk most of the time. Had a swim at Tel Aviv or something like that.
You went AWL [Absent Without Leave] there once didn’t you?
Can you tell us about that?
The time I went AWL, on Sunday I said I don’t go to church, no, they said, well you clean up around the camp. So I went down, got on the back of


this Arab truck, with the Arabs, with their skirts, and I went past the MPs’ post there, went in there and had a few drinks and that sort of thing. And got picked up by the MPs and locked in the back of their wagon. The same as a police van here, they had, and I was on the back of it, while they went in. They locked me in there while they went in the Naafi [canteen] to see if they could get any other fellows in there. And they hadn’t fixed the catch on the back of it properly and,


snapped the lock shut, thought they had. So I found that out and opened the door and got out and locked the place up again and fled back to camp. I was wondering, I suppose they’re still wondering what happened, how I got out of there. But I got caught of course, I got fined a week’s pay or something. Confined to Barracks, well I had no money I couldn’t go anywhere anyway.


So what was the general sort of work you were doing at that stage, just clearing roads and things like that?
Well when we first went across we were just having parades and some of us, but we didn’t do much at all actually, guard duty and lay on the ground, a lot of boys got sand fly fever. If an officer got it he’d, it was,


what’s it name, mosquitoes, you know he’d get a pension after the war. But there was no pension after the war for sand fly fever, cause you get over that. But then at night I got into… a fellow with us, an engraver fellow called Casey, and there was a machine gun mob near us had a wet canteen. And a lot of fellows had those


steel mirrors, you know and had them in their pocket, mothers had given to them to reflect bullets and that sort of thing. Well he used to engrave a map of Australia on it with a digger with a hat on top of it, it looked real good, for a bottle of beer for fellows. Well that was alright, I used to drink the beer while he was doing the engraving.
Were there any other sort of ways that you made a few extra bob?
No really, there was


nothing there. We captured things when we first went up the desert, there’s a lot of the Italian boys there were short of food, they had horse meat there the Italians. But they had ricorah water, it was good mineral water. And we had water even in Tobruk, they had to


mix salt with our water from the wells, they had to put sea water in it to make it drinkable. But we had to pull down, we once, we had to pull down a tubular steel building in the hospital grounds to build a hanger, we did


between two gullies out near the old airport so that our last plane could shelter in it and put sandbags on top of it. I see a motorbikes the MPs had there see, and I said, “When we leave here tonight,” I said, “I’ll jump on one of these motorbikes, follow the truck out on one of the motorbikes, on the motorbike see.” so I did that and pinched their motorbike. And I used to take two of the boys on the back down to the,


when we weren’t busy and had nothing on, down to the wharf and have a swim and get some fresh water from the water dispenser thing they had, fresh water, out of sea water, fill our water bottles with that. Cause you only got a bottle full of water a day. You had to wash and shave and everything in it.
So up to this stage how were you enjoying the war?
Well it was alright, I was sick of losing me


mates but, it was, see actually there was on, there was one company of engineers to a division in the infantry. We were split up a lot of the time, we didn’t know what happened. And unless you’re a special fighting patrol they’d


pull you back to go on this fighting patrol. And you’d do fighting patrols with the infantry but then it might be a special engineers’ fighting patrol, so you get pulled back. And a lot of the time you’d be split up. And I spent a lot time with different infantry battalions. Not much with the group.
Was it what you expected war to be like do you


Well I didn’t give it any thought actually. I knew you’d be shooting at different people. The biggest shock of my life was the first Germans that were killed, they had like a boy scout’s belt on them and on the buckle they’ve got middens[?]. I said, “Gee it’s on their side to as well ours.” Had the shock of me life, fancy Hitler having that on their belts.


Can you tell us about that first contact you had with the German soldiers?
What the battle?
We fought mostly at night, we didn’t, you didn’t see what they were like, except the prisoners. When you got the prisoners you’d see what they were like. A lot of them were young fellows.


A lot of them were really young fellows. They’d been training for years. Since they were knee high to a grasshopper and train them and brainwash them that sort of thing. They were frightened when we’d take them prisoners cause they knew what they did to prisoners they took, what happened to the prisoners they took.
What did the Australians think about the German soldiers?


What was their impression of them?
Well, actually, we got a different impression when you were a prisoner of war. They were different types; some of them were just like a friend. And others hated you, like the SS, the ordinary soldier, the young, he was alright but the SS fellows and that sort of thing,


they were the bad fellows. Same as the Ities [Italians], the Ities well they didn’t want to fight, but the Carabinieri and those ones, they were the bad ones. And they were cowards too when it came to the showdown. But the Germans


were, I don’t, you didn’t expect the Italians to fight, they’d get in the way. They were a nuisance, you had to get past them to get to the Germans, the Germans were cunning, they’d use them in front of them sometimes. Same as the Russians, they had people in front of them. They had their own crowd


in front of them. Whereas the Russians, the way they treated the Russians in Germany they called them untermensch, not man at all, they were just above animals, the way they treated the Russians, the Germans did. And they were terrible the way they treated them. Two of them would carry a dead one


between them to get the extra rations, soup and that sort of thing. But no as I said, the truce we had with the Germans, see it went alright, the only truce in the last war. And the mere fact that that German general


apologised to have to hand us over to the Italians. You know it’s incredible isn’t it, you wouldn’t think, you’d think they’d be glad to get rid of us. But even the Italians of course, they, when we landed at Bari they were spitting at us going through the street and that sort of thing.
Can you go back and tell us about your part in Tobruk?
My part? Well,


my part in Tobruk, I was a explosive’s lad, putting down trenches for the infantry and for explosives you know.
How did you construct the trenches?
Blow the trenches, yes and with gun emplacements and that sort of thing. How you


put a gun position in, you blow a hole, how you blow a hole you put a sandricut [?], there’s nine shot in a sandricut, you go around where you’re going to put, have the four corners, right, then in between the corners you put a shot and one in the middle. You blow the middle one first, then you blow the corners, and then you blow the ones between the corners and that straightens the face. You do that, clean that


out and then you do it again. That’s what you call a [UNCLEAR]. But sometimes had to mine roads and that sort of thing. The biggest shock the Germans ever got was when we got back to Tobruk and the Germans came in, they came in from the Derna road, the bitumen road, they came in. The German


patrol wagon and here was a German in it, pulled up on the bridge and looked ahead, with his binoculars, towards Tobruk and gave the signal, come on, and bang, we had it all wired and blew it up. Blew it up, it went alright.
Can you tell me what conditions were like there?
Oh pretty crook [bad].


Well we got once, we got a ration once, the non-combatants in the corps, troop supply column, saved the best of food. And they had them and they used to, if they were out on the other side where’s there’s no battles, not where, on the other side of Tobruk, just there out of the way.


They used to come and unload ships and that and do a bit of guard duty. But conditions were shocking actually the best thing once we got a small tin of sliced peaches between the whole company of two hundred and fifty men. And anyway I found it; actually I finished up with them. I came back from


putting in a gun position one place, and I went out before tea [dinner] and I didn’t have anything to eat and I was searching round the cook-out and I found hidden under the stone this tin of peaches. So I opened it with a bayonet and ate it. There was a hell of a row about it afterwards.
So when you were, you’d be putting in your trenches and putting in gun pits and that sort of thing, were you getting shot at by the Germans while this is all happening?
Sometimes, yes shells would come over,


and sometimes they, they were illegal to use them actually, sometimes they used sky bursts too. They were not supposed to, not to be used in the last war, sky bursts. But the food was only… bully beef made in all different ways, stews and that sort of thing. But the 15th Battalion, I was with the 15th Battalion and they were mainly Queenslanders they came out of the Salient, they were


living on nothing in the Salient there, in front of the Salient there for two months. And where the foods supplies was, of course your supply column had all the food stored and they were living on the good food. Well these fellows camped near there so they jumped in their, what’s the name, gun carriers and run over the fence and they were jabbing tins of pineapple


with their bayonets and drinking the juice out and throwing them away, cause they had nothing. And good food was always held from them. The base fellows were living of the best of food.


What was the general feeling about that sort of thing?
Well nasty, they were talking about court martialling them for doing it but they were one of the best battalions, they couldn’t be doing that to them, cause they knew they were entitled to do it. The base fellows were living of the best of food.
Was there a general feeling of resentment amongst the army people there from the front line guys to the base guys?
Well as far as food goes there was, yes. And I suppose it had to be. But then, funny thing is when they came home from overseas, when the front line soldiers came home from overseas, after Alamein.


I was a prisoner then, I remember a meeting of the 9th Division, all the other troops came in, they marched with just slope rifles. But then one of the men from the base wireless, from the corps troops looked after food and that, he said, “Oh, we marched with fixed bayonets.” And I felt like saying, “You wouldn’t know how to use them.” They never fired a shot. They marched with fixed bayonets,


see that the way they were.
What about air raids, can you tell me anything about air raids?
Oh yes, you get used to air raids. About twenty air raids a day. I used to go down with a mate of mine to watch the air raids down where we used to get that water of an afternoon when there was nothing on. They’d come over and dive bomb us. The Italians would pull out of the planes,


what’s the name, the Germans would dive low, and I used to watch this gun, it used to fire about fourteen things in the air and they’d open up in parachutes and wires hanging down from them with explosives on the end of the wires. The German planes would crash into those and the wires would drag up until they hit the wings and blow the wings off them and


they’d crash on the other side of the, on the port.
Can you remember the first air raid that you ever experienced?
The first air raid I ever experienced was up the other side of a place called Agheila, up the other side of Benghazi. And that’s where the big battle was


and they cleaned up all the Italian tanks. And that’s where first at night, the planes came over and bombed us. They must have found out where we were in the daytime. I went to dash for the gully in the sand hills, dig in there and my mate the black fellow, Herbie Morrie pulled me down and said no, go flat on the ground. And lie on the ground.


Was there anything, more than say another thing?
They frightened hell out of me that first air raid, but after that you get used to it. Nothing, but that first air raid when it first came on you at night, that’s why I went to run and hide somewhere. And he had sense enough to know to lie flat of the ground was the best place.
What about the dust, can you tell me about the dust?
The which.
The dust. You know the


dust and the sand.
Oh, yes sand, well it wasn’t sand, it was dust. There was no sand there, it was dust. Terrible stuff, you’d put your respirator on, it would even get inside your respirator, incredible. We came across once from Cairo to Alexandria and boy, the dust storm there, all


dust like. When we first went up the desert actually Alexandria, we were eating eggs in Alexandria a lot of fellows got yellow jaundice. And I got it too, you’d feel a bit hungry and you’d got to get breakfast and you couldn’t walk and you’d have to go to the toilet. And some of the fellows reported sick but I didn’t report sick. Jeez I was crook, and I started to come good and I scrounged all the Italian


horse meat I could get, cans of horse meat and everything when I started to come good, I went yellow. And I thought gee, I was going to be crook here, seeing as I’d had that what’s the name with my stomach before, eating all the lining off my stomach, I thought gee, I’ll be crook over this, but, I’m not going to pull out, I’m going ahead. One of my fellows, mate of mine, Jackie Heland he went and reported it and he never got back to us until nearly the end of Tobruk.


How did you rate the Italian horse meat compared to the Aussie bully beef?
Well, it was wet and Aussie bully beef was dry. And it was naturally better meat I suppose, although I don’t know horse meat was more fulsome I suppose. It was more natural, bully beef was dry old stuff from the First World War same as the biscuits and that sort of thing. And the German bread, I had


some of the German bread out of the Germans tanks, it was dated 1914, old German black bread.
So was there much souveniring going on at this stage?
Well you’d souvenir whatever you could get, but in the end you had to be careful because the Germans had things like fountain pens that were explosives, and binoculars that were explosions, and that sort of thing. You’d pick them up and they’d explode.


The only watches I had was taking watches off prisoners. And when they got me they went to take mine off me and I said, “No, my mother gave me this.” I wouldn’t give it to them. They said [(UNCLEAR)] no way in the world, and soon after that I was swapping it for something. I wasn’t going to give it to the Germans though, but I used to take them off the prisoners. And one place we were at one night,


we, I tell you we had to go out with a certain Australian battalion that had never been in action before, a platoon of them, and we shifted the line, the German lines and blew them all up and the Germans over fired, and they run away and left us. And we took the position and the Germans ran away killed some of them the rest ran away


and there was one dead fellow there and, a mate of mine, I won’t tell you his name, he’s dead now. But he had a beautiful ring on and he was trying to cut his German finger off with a bayonet trying to get the ring off. I said “Cut it out, anyway the Germans will re-attack, we’d better get out of here.” And we got back and these fellows that had run away and left us they’d given them a rum ration and they were fighting amongst themselves.
Can you tell me about some of the night raids? Did you go on any of those?
Well the


Germans were very frightened at night that’s why we attacked at night. We’d sneak around in Tobruk, we’d sneak round behind them and attack them in the dark, and they’d run around with searchlights, out in no man’s land looking for us. See where we were coming from cause they weren’t used to it. See they’d gone all the way through France and everywhere in daylight no trouble. They said, the Germans said


as soon as they, the German tank driver said. The Germans used to ride on the back of the tanks see. German tanks would only travel 180 degrees; our tanks would go round the full 360 degrees. So the Germans used to ride on the front of those. Everywhere else, the Germans said, everywhere else the people threw up their hands and threw their rifles away as soon as they saw the tanks coming whereas you fellows let the tanks go and attack


the infantry behind. We had fellows, Northumberland and a few sailors said to me the machine gun, the Scottish Machine Gun Battalion, and whenever those tanks went through the engineer and infantry got steel pickets trying to run, trying to run the tracks off them. Dolly wheels and that, steel pickets and that sort of thing.
What about sleep, how often did


you get to go to sleep?
Well actually, you’d go to sleep, the shelling, the noise didn’t worry you; you’d go to sleep, unless you were on duty. And then you’d do your round of duty, two hours on or four hours on, or eight hours off or something. Two hours on or four hours off, and


you normally had to stand to an hour before daylight cause that’s when the Germans used to attack. But sleep, well, I was in a dug out one night in Tobruk and I had my rifle, you always had your rifle with you see and I looked up and here’s an ass standing up at me feet trying to get at me blanket, you had around three blankets, it was


very cold at night. And I had my rifle and I blew its head off with one shot, with a 303, a bloody ass standing up there. Another place when we were retreating, when we were retreating and the Germans pushed us back in Tobruk and in the hills above Benghazi there were pits there, with a hole in the top where they used to store grain I think in the old days and that.


So I said gee, that’s a good place to sleep, one night. I’ll pour some petrol in and throw a match in and blow it up and let it all burn and I’ll get down there. I had a rope there so I tied it onto one of the trucks and half way down the rope and I see this great big black mamba snake come out from a crack in the wall. I wasn’t sleeping in one of those. A big black


mamba snake, never seen one of those before.
I’m thinking the Australia troops attacking the Germans at night and the Germans are on the defensive and then during the day it’s the other way around, so when do you get time to rest?
Well it wasn’t attack, attack all the time. It was spasmodic. You might not, one time you might only have a


three man patrol or something, just reconnaissance, to see where they were. If you did a fighting patrol, a fighting patrol you’d have about thirty men in a fighting patrol.
So was it a case of volunteers for the…?
You had Tommy guns and rifles and grenades and that sort, stun grenades. But we had anti-tank,


things that would kill a tank, grenades that would stick to the side of the tank, you’d call them toffee apples, stick to the side and blow them and kill anybody inside the tank. Sometimes set them on fire. But the Germans, they had, what’s the name, we’d never dream of, they had


flame throwers, first time they scared hell out of you the first time you saw flame throwers. They lined up, the first in Tobruk they lined up about a hundred and fifty tanks along the front and try and bluff us. At the beginning. And it didn’t do any good, but the next day they lined up more and some of them were small tanks but some big tanks.


There guns were bigger than our tanks guns, in the early days. But we only had Crusaders [British medium tanks]. They had great big solid tanks and they lost a lot of tanks in Tobruk because of land mines and that.


What was the worst job you had to do there?
I don’t know, I suppose bringing in the dead I suppose. Although see if anyone got killed or wounded, you’d get their rifle and bayonets fixed and that and jammed the bayonet in the ground and the rifle sticking up so that the


field ambulance can pick them up. And knows there’s a wounded person. The worst part, when you got trapped in the gun placement and heavy, you are surrounded and you’ve, heavy German support outside and you couldn’t get out to fellows that are wounded calling our for help. They are gradually getting weaker and


bleeding to death and that sort of thing. That was the worst harrowing part. You couldn’t go out cause you’d get killed yourself. But one fellow, he died recently actually, he was an engineer from the 13th Battalion, he should have got a VC [Victoria Cross], he held a position there against, with a few infantry against,


a guy from Maryborough against about three hundred Germans, one of the forward posts, the 43rd Battalion he had about three prisoners and he had four slightly wounded with him. And he got captured in the end and as a matter of fact he was going to escape with us in that tunnel in Northern Italy,


only he saved up a lot of food in there and the Italians done a search and they found him with food, so he was under suspicion for escaping, so they were watching him. He had to fall out of the escape, but. He should have got a VC, he got an MM [Military Medal] was all he got. In the war see


so many MM and so many MC [Military Cross]. The infantry, the ordinary soldier would only get an MM, an officer would get an MC, why should he get an MC when there’s more chance of an officer getting an MC than an ordinary soldier getting an MM? You might get a mention in dispatches or something like that. I was, that was a bit annoying for


soldiers. A mate of mine from our engineering, he got captured and when Italy was liberated he escaped and he joined up with the partisan group, and he got to


Switzerland and he used to go back to England, and they made him a captain and he used to parachute into the paths of the gold[?] and that sort of thing he was, gold and that sort of thing joined up with the partisans and fight. And he had a grenade strapped to his chest so that if ever they were after him, they were going to boil him in oil if they ever caught him they reckon, he had a grenade so he could pull the pin and


kill himself. Butch, and after the war he was just a sapper [private] again they just wiped his captaincy. But he died, I went to see him, he wanted to see me before he died of cancer in Cairns Hospital, a friend of mine. And after the war they invited him back to Italy, and the President of Italy gave him a Medal Ora, medal of gold, the Italian


President gave, and the Italian people, the troops he had that were fighting with him they, they gave him a lot of old stuff over a hundred years old. His wife had it in his place there in Cairns, beautiful stuff. But he died about


five years ago. He was unlucky actually he had a thing on his head and the doctor took it off and didn’t get it tested, he got cancer right down his throat and everything. I was with him when he died he wanted to see me. But the doctor never went near him, his only family doctor


never went near him. And he got the Medal Ora, the Medal of Gold. Invited him back there, that was about five years before he died. And at one stage he was living in Bundaberg, he had a butcher shop, they used to call him Butch Chopper see, Frank Chopper was what his name was and


he used to kill the horses.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 05


If I could just get you to tell us a little bit more in detail about what happened when a truce was called between you guys and the Germans. Just what kind of interaction you had together?
Oh in Tobruk?
Oh yes, well it was arranged by the padre and the Germans and that, we had nothing to do with it. We were just told


no firing, we’ll have a truce like, you know. We were told that. And then the medics went in and picked up the wounded, our wounded, you know dead and wounded. The Germans picked up their dead and wounded, see. But they kept one of our fellows, one of our medics, he was helping the Germans, dead and wounded, helping the Germans with them and they kept him. He was a prisoner of war with then


since Northern Italy.
So they just kept him during one of those times where you went to get…?
Kept him prisoner yes, when we had the truce in Tobruk.
Could they see that he was a good medical officer or something?
Hmm, they kept him.
Is that against the rules?
He got repatriated later, but they kept him for the time being.
Are there certain rules when there’s a truce,


was that breaking a rule?
Well there’s no rules actually. There was no rules, it’s just a truce, no firing, just supervising I suppose. Everybody just goes back in their position and that and they start firing at one another again. They had it for the dead and wounded. That’s the only reason the truce was.
So how was it that they were able to take that man captive there if you were having a truce?
Oh well they just might not, it just happened


that was on their side of the line, they thought they were helping with them. But he got home again in the end. Once upon a time in Tobruk they had fellows come in, on a motorbike and sidecar, and asking us to surrender. You know with a sidecar with a white flag, holding up a white flag, asking us to surrender. We thought they were surrendering.


What happened?
Oh the general just told him to bugger off. Try and get us.
Where there words exchanged in those periods?
Yes, oh yes.
What did you talk about?
Oh well we didn’t talk to the Germans, we couldn’t speak German at that stage, it was only when we were prisoners we learnt German. But a lot of them could speak English. They’d yell out at tea time.


A lot of them could speak English and they’d yell out to you.
Can you sort of describe that a little bit more so I can get an understanding of what that was like?
Well they’d say, “Are you there Aussie, cop this!” or something like that, and throw a grenade over or something, those stick grenades. And we’d hold up a shovel or something, “Can’t bloody shoot!” Broom or a shovel,


mainly a shovel.
Can you tell me about the first time that you were captured? What your feeling was that very first time and what the camp was like, the conditions and so forth?
Yes, where I was captured, the regiment had surrendered I didn’t actually surrender, I never would have, I refused, I wouldn’t put my hands up, everybody else did though, but I wouldn’t put my hands up. I see our officer, issuing us, he had tins of


chocolate, bits of those tins of chocolate, so I ran to get hold of him to get some of that chocolate. We didn’t have any of it, rations you know, the rations they had in gold tins, hard chocolates and that. The officers kept it for themselves. But I didn’t know they were surrendering. Until that fellow, I was dodging that fellow that was trying to shoot me, shooting at him and he was shooting at me.


He had sights on his rifle. I thought, I’m not surrendering, but that fellow, the two brothers, I was in the slit trench with those two brothers, and all of a sudden, he just come to us and had a white handkerchief out and I said to him, I asked, “Where’d you get a bloody white handkerchief from?” I never had a handkerchief the whole time I was in Tobruk; I’d use a tally sheet or something. And bloody hands up with a white handkerchief all over it. “Put that f…. thing down!”


I said, “We’re not bloody surrendering!” He said, “Everyone’s gone.” I said, “That’s a different matter.” I was only worried about the German trying to shoot me.
So tell me about the first camp that you went to, what it looked like?
It was called the Palms in Benghazi, cause there was all palm trees around it. And it was just


a bit of a gully there and ridges around it.
How many buildings?
Well outside there was tents and I don’t think there were any buildings there at all. I think the commandant had a building inside I think, I walked up to him near the building when he punched me and bruised his knuckles.
So what conditions


were the prisoners in?
Pretty poor condition, they’d been hungry, no food.
What were the living conditions like?
Well you just lay on the ground with overcoats or something. At night we used to fight in our overcoats too, it was cold in the desert, bitterly cold at night.
But when you were a prisoner for the first time, what were the facilities


like in that camp for prisoners, were you in a building or you were in tent?
No, just out in the paddock on the ground. That’s all, and there was a cookhouse there which they bought food in and, I suppose the cookhouse was run by some of the prisoners that were there before us. There were a lot of prisoners there and a lot of New Zealanders were captured before we were captured. A couple of them had been there a fair while.


But, we weren’t there that long. We were only there a couple of weeks I suppose. So I was dead tired the whole time, I was looking for ways to escape until I got it worked out.
Tell me about that because you’d escaped many times so when you got to a camp you’d probably want to suss things out, so what would you do in order to get intelligence


about the best way to try and escape?
Well you wouldn’t tell anybody, you couldn’t trust people. There’s spies in there, people that went hungry would do funny things see, you can’t, not everybody, but a lot of them, for an extra slice or loaf of bread what people would do. And in that camp, in Italy, where I was punished after being escaped. When I went back to my hut


once, we were so weak at one stage we could hardly walk up a little slope, say the slope went from there to the height of that window sill there, it would take you about ten minutes to walk up that slope, you were so hungry. And if someone had beat you back from the parade, where they counted you on parade, they’d pinch your loaf of bread. And I remember mine was gone once when I got back I was so weak.


And an old bagman he said, “I’ve done without before so you can have mine.” You met that sort of people and you met the opposite. And also in the prisoner-of-war camps, the one with the highest, who’s looking after his job, he doesn’t want to go down to the next lowest place, or two places down he still wants to be the highest he can. The one in charge


he wants to be a boss, he doesn’t want to be downgraded at all. So you’ve got to be wary of them most of the time. Cause if you’re digging a tunnel you can’t tell them cause in Northern Italy, there were four thousand men in the camp and only about twenty-five knew about it, some of them helping with the tunnel, some of them pulled out of it. See twenty-three of us. Some pulled out,


some were repatriated some were medical fellows, and captains, and a couple of them get repatriated. There was some helpers we had who weren’t game to escape see, they helped us dig the tunnel, but they weren’t game to escape. Cause the tunnel, we dug the tunnel you know, I didn’t tell you how we dug the tunnel, have I?
We dug it with an old tin helmet and a pick that we had pinched from some workers,


a pick, a little part about that long on the end of it. When we finished the tunnel there was that much of it left. That much of it left. Now to get air we… at one stage we had rocks falling everywhere, and at one stage we weren’t going to get anymore, we couldn’t get anymore air, so we couldn’t go any further. And what we did do, we pulled down


the electric conduit, they used to run a heater in the old days, and I used to be in metal, with electric wires, used to go through the centre of it. We pulled that down and made bellows, but they broke down a lot. Then we couldn’t go any further, we couldn’t get anymore air. And one of our engineer sergeants, smart man that he is, he said you take another four inches off the floor of the tunnel and you’ll get more air. We took four inches and got more


air. You wouldn’t know about that would you unless you were a university engineer? You wouldn’t think that would be. And then they had volleyballs there, see and one day the fellows went to look for their volley balls and their volley balls were there but the bladders were gone. We used to fill them with air and take them up to the face of a night, and let the air go.


God sometimes it would fall on you. And some fellows would help, and they were in there for two seconds and they were screaming they wanted to get out, they had claustrophobia they couldn’t stand it see. You understand when you go sixty or seventy metres underground, head first and the only way out is to back out and if it falls on you you’re caught, well they can pull you by the legs and pull you out. But if it falls behind you, they’ve got to dig you out.


And there were big rocks there, we had to go around the big rocks and some of them you had to dig out and roll them back to the entrance. When you’ve got an entrance about three foot six by three foot, and you’re in seventy metres, it’s a long way in. That’s three-quarters of a football field. That’s from here, that’s


from here, or from outside there to the street up there. It’s a long way, especially if you’re fearful, frightened.
Where there accidents during the tunnelling?
Can you tell me about them?
Well no one got killed, the roof would fall in, tumble on them. We couldn’t use any, we couldn’t use anything to hold up the roof, and we’d get


rocks. We struck a river bed, an old river bed, and old creek bed see, and there’d be rocks in the roof and that sort of thing, we had to let them down and go round them. Or go over them
When that man died, when there was a cave-in, how did you explain his death?
We didn’t lose anybody in there. We never lost anybody in a death, we rescued them.
Sorry I thought you said before that one man died?


No. No.
So how did you get those twenty-five men together, like you’ve got to be very secretive about it. How do you know which men are going to be useful?
Well, before I got there, I don’t know how they got to there, they’d tried a lot of places and they couldn’t dig a tunnel there, you had to try all the places, the ground had to be suitable to dig in with the equipment we had see. And this was the only place that was very…


where you could dig in the dirt. It got harder at the end too, run into rocks and that sort of thing. But because it was more viable there we could operate another place, it was too hard, we never had the equipment to dig into it with a tin hat and a little pick. And they had a wooden box, you’d put it in a wooden box, and as you dug in you’d push it back and follow the wooden box behind you, and


he’d have to drag it out and he had to go out backwards and drag it out with him. And then when we were finally going to go, we were going out to this cornfield, it started to rain and all this stuff, and a fellow went to see how we were going, he crawled up the face and, he poked a stick up through the ground, cause the point would come up towards the grass roots, to see where we were. Poked a


stick up, we couldn’t see where the stick was coming out, we were all looking around, stick it up higher. And all of a sudden we were off target from the field, we were over this way, we hadn’t gone straight that way, see when you get under there, you digging and you’d sway like. And we were going that way, and we saw we had to yell out pull it down quick like. Before the guard sees it, cause the guard tower was about thirty foot high and all around it was machine guns. Floodlight to


use at night and everything. And one of our fellows when we escaped, one fellow we put him back to last. He had a dream the night before we went that he was caught in the searchlight when he was escaping. And he was number five, he drew number five card and he had to go back to last because he had this dream. And you wouldn’t guess he was the last one out and he was caught in the search lighting. He was a New Zealander, but


being a well trained military man the searchlight hits you and you had a very light sky and you stand still and you don’t move, you don’t make a move and a shadow, cause they pick it up if you stand still and you don’t move they don’t notice you, they’re looking for moving shadows see. And the searchlights flick around.
So he got away?
So just going back to the men that were selected, how did you find each other, how did you know that someone would


be capable of helping?
Well this was before I got there.
But how did they find them?
I got into it because I said I was captured and tried to escape and they knew that I was the right man to be in the escape. I was lucky I got into it. I had no troubles too because it was built more of less, or half of it anyway, and they took me into it because I was determined to escape there.


What sort of men were the types that would do something risky like that?
Men that had bad luck after the war too. One of them, one of the leaders of it he was a sergeant in the army, 43rd Battalion, he came from South Australia, Adelaide and he bought a block of land at Kangaroo Island there, and to grow. I remember him saying


“When I go home I’m going to grow walnut trees or almond tree.” or something, going to grow them. Anyway he put a deposit on a block of land and lived with his wife in a tin shed for years and they were getting ready to expand properly and she died, she’d been sick for a while, and eventually he died too. I kept in touch with a lot of them, one of them,


Bill Williams, he rings me up. Quite a few of them were from the 43rd Battalion. See I’ve got another book; just take that off for a while, I’ll show you. They’d say to their wives, “Running with a Yank now, you love Hank when he come home.” Hank’s the husband, and I was ashamed of you being a prisoner of war, but you love Hank and the baby, and something like that and we’d laugh. That


was the letters they’d get when they got bad news, bring sorrow and that sort of thing.
I might get you to say that actually.
The bad news. Like the fellow they used to bring dogs to at night, sniffing the beds and that sort of thing. See when we escaped we had to make up dummy beds too so the dogs wouldn’t know. And one fellow one night they come through with the dog and the


dog sniffed and barked and he shouted at it and the dog yelled out, it’s screaming and dragged the guard out of the hut. Frightened the dog he did.
So when you were doing that tunnelling, I mean did the Germans do anything to try and prevent you from tunnelling?
Oh yes they were searching all the time. As I said that fellow that was caught with food, so they watched him all the time. He had to


pull out of the tunnel. That was the engineer actually, one of our engineering vets [veterans], that told us to take four inches off the bottom of the tunnel.
What about some other fellows, there’s a guy called Richard Head?
Yes Dick Head, well that’s the fellow I’m talking about, bought that almond farm and that, whose wife died and that sort of thing. He was a sergeant in the 43rd.


There was one fellow there, lucky Ryan, he fought with the [(UNCLEAR)] against the Germans there in the Spanish Civil War. Then he was on the ship, the New Zealand ship that sank, that German battleship, in Rio there or something, they went to shelter and that. One of those ships. He finished up getting captured


too. You know, warship was sunk.
Tell me about the lead up to when you were just about to you know choose what night to escape. What was the tension like and did people start to fight or anything like that?
No, no, we drew lots to see who went first, who went second, and that fellow, that was two night before, that fellow that had the dream that he was caught in the searchlight,


and so he went back to last. He was caught in the searchlight. But he had plenty of experience to stand still when he caught the searchlight, or the Verey light [flare], they used to fire Verey lights in the air if they think they hear movement at night, in a battle. And light up like, we use to have different


Verey lights, light one and it would illuminate others, used to signal, and we used to fire when we were attacking, we’d signal a red and a green, it means we’re going to go in now attack, or two greens to say we’d attack in ten minutes. We had a system all worked out see. Or three reds to call it off because they were too heavy we couldn’t beat them, and we’d go another night.


Or they suspect us tonight, it was a warning. When we got captured the Germans interrogated us and I wouldn’t tell them anything, they said we know everything anyway, I can show you where all your battalions are placed and that. He knew everything about us, now we’re, they’ve caught us amongst our troops. 15th Battalion there, the 11th Battalion’s there,


the 28th Battalion’s there. And that night when we got captured we didn’t move, we went out at eight o’clock at night and stopped still, there. Five hundred yards out in front of our line, stopped still. And then, the artillery opened up, about eleven o’clock at night the artillery opened up and we advanced


a hundred paces every five minutes and that’s all, the artillery would be picking up and going in front of us. Sometimes you’d get dropped shorts and you had your own artillery. Not every round is the same and there might be a bit more, shell might be heavier than the other, or less powder in the case, or something I don’t know. We always called out when they came, dropped shorts, they called them.


What were you in the war, Artillery, oh dropped shorts.
What were you wearing, were you just in your army clothes, or did…?
We fought at night mainly and we wore full army gear, we had to, we were so cold in the desert at night. Freezing at night. Hot in the daytime and freezing at night.


And fleas in the dugout of course. You could take everything out of your dugout, you’d dig some of them about, only about that high, and underground you’d go and put a bit of tin over the top and sandbags over that. And you’d throw petrol in and burn it and it would kill all the fleas, and five minutes later they’d all be back there again, you wouldn’t credit it in the desert, fleas would you?


What were some of the other things that made it hard to get by?
But as you say, digging tunnels, nobody knew of, we had never a signal, we had signallers, they were helping us in the tunnels. They were standing; they’d be a hundred yards away,


two hundred yards away and they’d just be standing there talking, they didn’t think, they’d signal another fellow that was nearer, put their hand across their head like that, two hands across their head, the guards are coming or something, close down. And what we did in the tunnel, they had a stove thing for winter, you’d put wood in it and heat it. We used to put poles under it and pick it up and take it away,


lift up the floorboards and go down into the tunnel. And if anything was happening or any thing like that you had to maybe shut, leave some of the men in the tunnel, and put the thing back and everything back to normal. Singing songs or something like that. The Germans used to sing, In we go then we go, and then we fire, England, then we drive on, we drive on, we


drive onto England, and then they called it off. So we used to sing to them, Then we go, then we go, we go in Berlin.
Can you tell me some more funny things like that, just that sort of teasing one another in a way?
Oh, oh yeah, we used to sing, es get on for leva, es get on for by [phonetic], my man is in Russia and my heart


is a yan’s fry, es get on for leva, es get on for by, my man’s in Russia, it’s levana fangana come kinda and my, do you know German? It all goes for love, it all goes for love, I love a prisoner of war and my heart is free, it all goes for love, it all goes for love, my


husband’s in Russia and I have a child in May, and we used to sing that at them. Some fellows there, some of the Pommy fellows had been there ever since France fell, but they went out working on a farm, and they impregnated the grandmother, the mother the daughter and everything. The Germans wouldn’t know


who the father was. That’s awful. Would never trust me getting out on a farm or anything like that I was in punishment camp where they checked you, counted you twenty times a day.
What sort of punishments were given out?
What were they giving out; well they’d lock you up for any excuse. Put


you in solitary. One day we had a New Zealand fellow, I was in the cells there once and he was caught for escaping, the commandants used to come around to the cells, they had a little peep hole in the, and you’d lift up the catch, and say “Bungger good for riley, chale’s good for riley.” [phonetic] One day he came in inspecting the cells and he left the door open and Geeson


jumps outside, slams the door and locks the door and lifts up the catch and says “ Bungger good.“ he’d locked the Commandant in there. He used to annoy people, he’d annoy the Germans and they’d stick their bayonets through the door, and he’d get the blanket and swing on their bayonet, when they’d stick it through the hole. And he finished up, he broke his arm, he put it on the back of a bucket we used to use at night and that, and


he got a fellow to jump on his arm. And the first time he pulled it away, and this other fellow pretended to jump and didn’t and he pulled it back and jumped and broke his arm there. And he kept punching a punching bag so it wouldn’t set, so that he’d get repatriated, the arm wouldn’t set. And this, camp we called the Swadi Front, the commandants there, young Pete, that’s the young fellow I said, many


moons that night and I said, “What about the bread you promised me?” and that sort of thing, well he knocked Geeson’s, he knocked his Kiwi hat off once, he knocked it off and he said, “These German bastards knocking my hat, that’s the worst insult you can offer an New Zealand soldier, pick it up and put it back on my head.” and Two Gun Pete, he had two guns, he pulled out one of them and went bang. I don’t know whether it was Russell or Geeson it was, and he put his hand to his


head like that got shot, he thought he was shot, he’s not dead. Pete had two guns, one was blanks, he pulled out the one and fired the blanks.
Gosh, do you have any more stories like that about men that just pushed the Germans a bit too far?
Oh well there was plenty of them I


forget them all. My memories goes out. They overdosed me when I had my shoulder operation there, see my arm they had to sew it together there. And they overdosed two of us on morphine, there at Greenslopes, the machines were


overdosing and the other fellow died unluckily and I went berserk and wrecked more than half thirty-two wards in Greenslopes and I knocked two guards down and broke my wrist and pulled the iron bar from off the bed, that you pull yourself up with, and they couldn’t catch me. And they got me once and I said, “Right you’ve had your victory, let me go, and I promise I won’t do anything.” They let me go and I fled again and


the last time they caught me, I said they were all druggies see, I reckon they were druggies, I said, “Call the police, they’re all druggies in here, they’ve drugged me.” I knew I’d been drugged, and I said, “Right oh, you got me the last time, right oh you can kill me now I can’t fight anymore, I’m all worn out.” And I broke a big mirror, actually, I tried to get the glass, I was going to fight them with the ripped up glass and kill them. And the doctor came in and I said,


“They’re going to kill you too.”, I said too. They were all druggies. They’re going to kill you. I heard someone say we’re going to kill his wife, ring up his wife, I said, the number’s so and so. I said, “Don’t you ring up my wife, don’t you, you’re not going kill her too.” I said, “Kill me now but you’re not going to kill her.” And they rang up Gloria, look don’t come up


for a couple of days, Rob’s covered in bruises and that sort of thing. He’s alright, he’ll be alright but he’s all roughed up with bruises, cuts and that sort of thing. I’d ripped the back out of my leg cause I’d shot out of bed and ripped it out of the thing on the bottom on bed. Ages I had a bad leg. They said, “Don’t come up, he’s black and blue in the face.” and that sort of thing.


Told Gloria not to come up. And the doctor, specialist came to see me, he said, “Look, I’m sorry that happened last night, it’s not my fault the anaesthetic is supposed to stop with it in, but as soon as you operate.” he said “The anaesthetic is supposed to stop when you’re recovered completely and that sort of thing.” See I was over drugged. And he said, “I know you’re pretty tough.” he said


“For what you’ve done after that.” he said “I’m operating on a woman at seven o’clock tonight and I’ll operate on you afterwards.” he said, “I know you can take it.” and he said, “Oh otherwise you have to wait six months, and you’ll be in a mess with your arm.” and I said, “Well ring up the wife and she what she says.” and she said “Oh go ahead with it.” I said, “Right oh.” so they


operated. Fixed it up.
You’ve had some close calls in your life. Do you ever think about that, how many close calls you’ve had?
I’ve been lucky, that what I said coming back. They don’t want me anywhere.
But it also seems that you’ve had this adventurer kind of spirit and always been kind of


trying to get away from something. Was that the same when you were a little kid?
Yes well being around, Cooktown people were like that, they were old miners and that sort of thing, and I was a kid and they trained it into me. You’d had things happen, like that blackfellow, Jimmy the blackfellow, Jimmy one leg, he had an old pig there asleep and he went to kill it with a tomahawk and the


handle was loose on the tomahawk, and the handle, the thing flew up and hit the ground and woke the pig and it gnawed him, but he kept going.
Was there anyone you really looked up to when you were a kid, sort of an adventurer like that?
Well my parents, my


grandparents were, see I mean they came out here. They were supposed to be, my grandfather, Samuel Quinton Burn, his brother was the first Lord Mayor of Parramatta, and his name’s engraved above the doorway there at Parramatta, when you go to Parramatta Council Chambers. Burns, he was the first


Lord Mayor of Parramatta. You know they were the first ones from Cooktown and around Laura and those places, he had a cattle property, with cows, cattle and that. And he lived to about seventy-four, or something, he had a rough go. Poor old Olive she had a baby for about twelve months like and then the baby died early and that.


And her sister’s mother, see my mother’s sister, she died in Port Moresby, bled to death, see when the older one was born, they had nothing to stop the blood in those days. Blood was running down the, the house is still there, blood was running down the front steps. That’s why I had to come and be born in Brisbane, cause I was a big baby, fourteen pound baby, I was. And my


mother used to be sick on the wharf before, she was seasick watching the boats, standing on the wharf, and I could have been born on the boat.
How were the Germans different to the Italians from your point of view, just the interaction that you had with them?


We had fun with the Germans, some of them. We couldn’t with the Italians. Guards were frightened that we were friendly with them, in Stalag 18A a fellow, the partisans killed him in the air, when Italy capitulated, got that on the records, I think you’ll find it that book. But he had


a thing on his wall and, ‘Curse be the British’ and more curse being an Italian, that had anything to do with them. That was the way he was, one fellow got shot there, they shot him trying to escape one of our fellows. And another fellow got shot,


there was a football game going on, they were having a bit of ball of soccer, and this strawberry-haired, we used to call him, anyway he was cheering and this fellow, just pulled up his gun, there were two guards marching around, and he just pulled out his gun and blew his chest out. And he said, “God, the bastard shot me.” and dropped dead like. And


then he died. In Tobruk, there was one place in Tobruk, the Ities had grenades, red grenades, red devils we used to call them, they were very dangerous, pull the thing out and they’d explode anytime, while we were around them. And the infantry had put them on, tied them to the fence, the front line fence, so if the Germans came they’d also explode or injure them and hear them coming, the Germans were attacking. Well we told them that was dangerous because our


own infantry we could get blown up going out, so we had to pull them all off the fence again. Had to be careful pulling them off. And one good mate of mine, his mother used to send me things, they used to send during the war, [(UNCLEAR)] you couldn’t send them on to Tobruk and he was pulling one of the fence like that, and it come loose quickly, it was


tied with a little bit of loose cotton like, and it come off and it hit him in the stomach there and he bent down to pick up his stomach and dropped dead. He though he could pick up his stomach and put in back in again.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 06


Can you just go back to what you were talking about, about how some of the blokes, when it was asked for a raiding group, how some of the fellows would react?
Well, a raiding party, occasionally fellows they’d cry, they couldn’t take them. They were game enough to be a soldier, they weren’t qualified to be a


fighting soldier. They were should have been in the Army Service Corps, sort of thing. You know a lot of these fellows that run like the reunions, they were non -combatants, and they’d go looking for credit, well it’s not due to them so much, although it has to be, a certain amount of


non-combatants, that don’t make out they were front line soldiers. See all your front line soldiers, all your engineers and infantry, infantry engineers, see we get a special medal, front line soldiers. But, as you see on the thing there. Front Line Soldier Medal. As General Strahan said when you read his… engineers and the infantry.


See in the attack we’d go in front of the infantry, we remove the mines and the booby traps and all that sort of thing. Then we’d blow the wire and, they’d run over the top of us. We’d lie down on it like. We used to have Cox bangers or torpedos, well water pipe like that, filled with explosives,


you’d cut the wire and you’d lie on the ground alongside and fire. And we did get injured. And now later on we invented another one, our mob, we had fire hose and we filled that with explosives, Bangalore torpedo. Instead of two men having to carry a Bangalore torpedo one man could carry it over his shoulder like that and tied at the bottom. And then you undo it and throw over the wire and there’s no metal, only the wire, or the


picket fences and bits of those might hit you. It was dangerous, you’d throw that and it exploded.
So because the engineers are going in front of infantry there must have been a lot of casualties and deaths to the engineers, because they’re really the front line aren’t they?
Yes, yes, if the enemy knew you were coming, yes. If the enemy knew you were coming, on your front line. See what you do, you would advance, the infantry would advance and you’d advance with


them. But you’d be behind them a bit and the infantry would go in front, advancing until they got into position where they struck the obstacles, the mines. And the artillery would be going ahead of you, they’d, move say sometimes, they would move the infantry, every three minutes or every five minutes, it would move fifty yards or something. See so you had to time yourself, to move behind them.


And otherwise they’d drop short and protect you sometimes, but if you went too fast well you’d walk into it. And so they’d stop where the obstacles, mines and booby traps, start, so they stop there then and they call the engineer forward, the engineers go forward then, and remove all the booby traps, and mines and jumping jacks, see some of those things, you’d be swimming like in the dirt, feel them with your hands. You’ve got to feel them cause those


jumping jacks used to jump in the air and then go, German jumping jacks, they’d jump in the air and then explode. See they’d jump that far in the air and then they’d explode and knock you about and that sort of thing. So we had to go ahead and you more or less were swimming through the sand feeling, fingertip to fingertip see, so you don’t miss anything. And remove all that, and you’ve got to delouse those, pull the fuses out of them, detonators and things. And then the infantry follow up,


there over the top of you and if they run into barbed wire we’ve got to blow the barbed wire. And lay there and they’d run over the top of you too.
So would you call out?
Sometimes they’d run the other way, when the Germans opened fire.
Was it slow work doing that?
Oh yes but you had to do it quick, but that’s the trouble.
And how much harder was it made by the fact that you’re doing it in the dark?
Yes, well you can only


feel, it doesn’t matter. You’d only go by touch, feel, by touch sort of thing.
So you were receiving I imagine fire support from the infantry and the artillery, were there any occasions where you had to man your own weapon and fight your way out of a situation?
Oh yes.
Can you tell us about those sorts of things?
Well that’s what happened, when I told you about we got back and they were,


given a rum issue and they were fighting amongst themselves. I could name the battalion, it happened twice. But I wouldn’t, it’s just something that happened and so it happened. And if anyone ever took me to court I could prove it happened too….. I mean they were probably brave, they enlisted to fight, but they were first in it so I thought, Christ, first experience, I think


of enemy fire. Well when the first bombs were dropped I got a fright too. That mate of mine, that aboriginal mate of mine pulled me down instead of standing up. The spray would have got me but he pulled me down. The first time they ran into fire, they ran away, it was safer to go the other way. So that’s why they pulled us out of Tobruk in the end cause they think we got too careless, they reckon we couldn’t get hurt. We were getting


casual, too casual about things. We’d been in there too long. Winning all the time, laughing at the Germans, they had us out numbered six to one but they couldn’t beat us.
What was the feeling among the fellows when they were told they were going to be pulled out of Tobruk?
Well we were happy. But then we had to run the gauntlet, getting torpedoed going out


so they could only take us out when there was no moon. See if there was a moon they couldn’t take us out, on the destroyers, cause the wake of the destroyers show up in the moonlight, reflecting off it like lights. The bombers could track us, get us and the submarines could get us. And we used to head from Tobruk; the destroyers would head for Crete or something like that. They’d leave Alexandria and head for Crete. They wouldn’t let them know they were coming into one of those places.


Wouldn’t let them know when they came into Tobruk. And there was Pete used to have a trading boat along there, Peddler Pete, and he used to take prisoners back for us sometimes. If the Germans come over to bomb him in the daytime and he’d chase all the prisoners up on deck, and they’d wave to the German planes.


When you were told you were leaving Tobruk for that reason, cause they thought you were getting careless, were the Australian troops insulted by that allegation, or were they just happy to get out of there?
Oh no, well we were due for a break. You’d only be in the line for a month or so and they give you a break. Were we’d been there eight months, seven or eight months. And after living on nothing, living like


bloody rats…… that’s the way it was I suppose. But they, see the other divisions…. were not very happy about the 9th going out, they suppose to be the best division, the key division. They were all jealous of us because we’d get mentioned that we held Tobruk and we were the first ones to beat the Germans, we held


Tobruk and when …. the British and everything got chased away well we reversed it see. We beat the Germans again. That’s why, we had a bit to do with it. They’d have done the same thing; the other divisions probably would have too. But we did it.


We proved it could be done.
Did you say anything to the relieving troops, the Polish and the British troops, as they were coming in and you were going out. What were the conversations between soldiers?
No, the Polish, some of those Polish troops they came through Russia, China and everywhere to get there. And the first thing they did when they got off the boat, where’s the nearest Germans, they wanted to know. See


one lot got sunk outside Tobruk, the boat got sunk, torpedoed, and they lost eleven hundred men. And there was a mate of a mate, some sailors, there about seven of them, and they were all sailing into Tobruk, when the destroyers were coming in at night they’d have to go out in a rowing boat and watermark a pole outside Tobruk. They had to row out with a lantern and put it on there to mark the passageway or where the channel


was to come in. They had to go out with a lantern and have it lit and they used to have it hidden, go out in the rowing boat. Hidden covered over they go out and hang it up and then row like hell to the shore again. Cause the German artillery would open up. They had a big gun that you could fire into the harbour and they’d row like hell to get out of the way. And then sometimes they had a launch, they’d go out and


they’d throw explosives over the side just in case there was a submarine out there or something.
Can you tell us what you thought about this new intelligence officer that got you in trouble?
The which?
The Intelligence Officer that got you into trouble at Alamein?
The which?
The Intelligence Officer?
Oh yes the 28th Battalion.
Yes how did he turn up, how did he come about?
Well he was in the 28th


Battalion, they always had intelligence officers. And by the time we got to Alamein we’d lost a lot of officers, they’d been everything from lieutenant, major and so on and captain and that. And we got a lot of infantry….. To be an officer in the engineers we had fellows left the engineers sergeants to become


a lieutenant officer in the infantry, because they couldn’t get an officer in the engineers unless you had a university degree, now it could be in music, singing or anything, but you had to have a university, to be an officer, which was hopeless because they were all miners and they knew nothing about it. They told me when the war started and they used to go to, in Brisbane, they used to at


Doonside, a place at Doonside, they used to have a month there educating them as officers. And they told them if they had any trouble with the troops threaten them with being court martialled. Now if you got court martialled, say that I’d have fired on those Germans, that fellow would have had me court martialled, I’d have finished up in Jerusalem, with the MPs in Jerusalem where the screws [prison warders] were and that was, well in there they were shocking those fellows. Once you got in there, they’d


aggravate you until you knocked one of them down. That would be the end; they’d beat you up every night. And the same mob they came when all the troops, the 9th Division and everything, when they were withdrawing from there, and they came back to Australia, those fellows were still, they come back to Ennogerra, the same fellows still had the same job there. I mean with me, if that’d happened to me, and they’d have done that to me I’d escape from the what’s it name, and I’d have gone back with a machine gun, I’d have blown all those


MPs outright. I’d have killed them if they done that to me. Why should I let them do that to me? Because you’re being a good soldier you’d cop that, not right.
So what did you think about him?
Well he was a coward. He was a coward. I would have got killed, he saved my life. I said to my officer there in the end, that friend of yours,


he finished up dying of cancer I found out. I was around, wrote and told me he said “Cause that night,” he said, “I had to lose a weapon.” he said, “I had amanol around my waist.” Rolls of amanol, lead-covered high explosives, which you use for getting a charge to your gun which would be a lie, you wouldn’t have that around anyway. Anyone with any


education, it only has to get a bullet head and it would blow him to pieces, chop him in two. And my mate Freddy Davis had the explosives packed for guns that night, for blowing the big cannons that we captured and that. And there was one there we captured and he wanted, Freddy said “We’ll blow this up.” and he said, “Oh no, it’s too nice a weapon.” he said to him, “Leave that there, don’t blow it up.” And the next thing they turned it on us, they came back and


retook the position. And that fellow, the intelligence officer, as I said to this Bradshaw who was our reinforcement officer, when we were in Syria my mate Jimmy Jilston, he was a day younger than me, he said “I’m twenty-one, I’m twenty-one next week can I have a leave pass to go into Beirut?” and he told me and I said, he said, “Put in for one.” so I put in for one and


he said “No, you’re not having one, you won’t be twenty-one.” and I said, “I will be twenty-one.” he said, “You’ll be twenty-four.” I said “I put up my age to join the bloody army, why didn’t you do the same thing.” I said “I’m twenty-one.” he said “You’re not getting it, you’re not twenty-one according to the army.” And I, when he wrote to me after the war, I said “You knew that I did go on that leave pass too.” Cause I was out with the infantry at the time, they were


putting dow, fortifications in case they came through Turkey, there. See after we came out of Tobruk. And I went in, I had to go in when anyone wanted explosives, I used to have to go back to the unit and get the explosives and the detonators, and I see the leave pass book in there and there was only one fellow in there, Bluey Funnel, and he was the same fellow that turned up in New Guinea in the Customs House and got me my powder monkey set up there. And I,


when he wasn’t looking, the book, I knew all the pages were signed, when he issued them before they were all signed, before. And I tore two out of the back and I told him. And I said, “I went to Beirut and I had a good time there.” I ran the dice game too and stopped there for a week. He thought I was up in the bush there with the 15th Battalion or something I might have been up


there and I told them what to do. Cause I had to put down explosives cause we had no compressors then, and they hammer and gouge. A fellow had to hit it with a hammer and drill the hole like that. I had the infantry doing that. And I said, “I’ll be back in a week and blow …….” Then they had, you got three detonators for a case of gelignite, now that’s ridiculous. You couldn’t, so I used to have to burn some of the geli, gelignite


so I could get more detonators to do the job right. See no equipment at all. The equipment those Germans had those when we first struck in Tobruk, those flame throwers. There’s nothing more frightening than the flame throwers. They had flame throwers on their tanks too. And we pulled asbestos cladding out of the buildings in town, out of the building and put that up to try,


a fence. But they knocked off using them after a while, I don’t know why; they used to get too close I think, too dangerous.
So that night you went out there with that intelligence officer and you saw the enemy, how many enemy do you estimate you saw there?
Half track. What we call a half track, they had wheels in the front and tracks in the back. There must have been a dozen men on them. And then an officer giving directions and they were at the


entrance to where they’d captured us before and wiped us out. The entrance to it and the men were getting out and he was giving instructions, you go up there with that gun and watch that corner or something like that. And they didn’t know we were there, and we were about twenty yards away. And I said, “Come on, they don’t know we’re here.” I had the officer lined up, all I had was me rifle and bayonet but I had the officer lined up and I thought, well if I knock him off and the others will panic and all he had was a revolver,


we’d have been killed probably, we’d have killed a few of them, so I reckon he saved my life by not letting me go. And I said to my officer in the end I wanted to attack them, I said if we could have cleared the place and when I went back and asked him for half a dozen men to go back and knock them off we’d have probably been killed cause they would have been strengthened up all around the place, and they’d have got us. But we were lying on the ground, and they didn’t know we were there. One o’clock in the morning, and…..


so he probably saved my life, I would have probably got killed. He’d have been no good to me, he’d have run away probably anyway, cause he said, “You’re only here to guard me as my escort.”
But when you were keen to have a chop at the Germans did you know that there was a good chance that if you had a go, you would have copped it?
I didn’t think about it then. I think you thought about it afterwards.


I didn’t think of it until years afterwards, I was so dirty on him, he was going to court martial me, I couldn’t get that out of my mind. I’m going to court martial you, I’d finish up there fighting my own men, the MPs and that in Jerusalem Compound.
So can you tell us about the next morning then?
Well the next morning, I was firing at the Germans,


you’d see tanks around the place and there’s some armoured cars come in and the 28th Battalion major, he left home as a lance corporal, there was only five of them and he finished up he was a major in the Australian Infantry, 28th Battalion that night. And then he said, “I want someone to go out to see if they’re ours.” There were


some armoured cars and that around. And young Jimmy said, “I’ll go and have a look Sir.” and Jimmy got half way down there and we could see they had swastikas on them and turned around and came running back and they knocked him off, killed him, he staggered a few paces and died. He should never have been let go to see what was happening, silly it was. Anyway, I was concentrating, this fellow was concentrating. I don’t know, I don’t think he wanted to kill


me, I think he wanted me to keep my head down. He must have seen I was a young fellow and I don’t feel like shooting him, cause he was a young fellow too, and he walked towards me then with his sight. But this other fellow, this fellow jumps up, the younger of the two brothers, jumped up with a white hankie, it’s all over. ‘Put that f… thing down, we’re not surrendering,’ but everybody else has, and I looked up.
Have you thought about that German soldier,


the German sniper a lot since then?
Oh well he hasn’t. I thought afterwards, I thought well he could have shot me when I got up, didn’t surrender even, I wouldn’t put me hand up.
And who did you blame for the surrender, did you blame anybody?
Who did I blame?
Well I thought, well we lost a few men, the infantry, I thought we should have, earlier we should have, we knew we weren’t getting our support, we should have tried to fight our way out.


I was prepared to do it, before daylight. See there was two battalions placed, one each side of us, and, they wanted to come about four o’clock in the morning they wanted to come, they knew we were in trouble they wanted to come at four o’clock. And their general wouldn’t let them go, and then just on daylight, he said, “You can go now.” They said, “We’re not going now, it’s suicide if we go now, we’ll be


killed too.” We’ll all be wiped out. There’d be three battalions get lost, instead of one.
So did you lose faith in your superiors at that stage?
Well, I always lost faith. There was no one superior to me in the army, you know, I….. I was a smart-aleck.


Can you tell us the different between the royalist Italians and the other Italians that were there?
Oh, yes, yes, they were like the Gestapo [German secret police], the ordinary German soldier in the Gestapo. The real fascists, they were real fascists like.
And did it ever occur to you just play along, play the game, or was it always, ‘I’ve got to get out of here’?


Get out of here, yes.
So where did you get the inspiration from, to hang on to the underneath of the truck to escape the Italian prisoner-of-war camp?
Well the funny thing is after I thought, well that’s a way of getting out of it, or a way out. And afterwards I found out that two New Zealanders had escaped that way, in another section of the camp about three months before, cause we were still fighting and we didn’t know about that. But they stowed away and they were


out for four or five days. So it was useless, I suppose they inspected every truck that went out like that. We were gone before we started, sort of thing. But we blamed our own men for giving us away, even today the fellow said everybody pointing to us, showing their mates and the guard wondered what they were looking at. Hid underneath the truck.
What did you think when


Italy capitulated and you were being moved to Germany, was that conceded to be a good thing or a bad thing by the Australian prisoners?
Oh, we thought, we were told to stop in the camp, that they’d be arriving and take us away, the British would be arriving. We were told that. And the next thing the Germans arrived and of course they had big guns and everything, lining the streets,


trains and tanks and everything they had, so we had no chance.
When you were in the German camps were they all, run by the German army, cause I know the German air force used to run one of them?
No, a station was run by the air force. They were very good to them actually, they treated them, you know


when they shot down they used to go and protect them too. There’s one station I think it was Innsbruck, a German fighter shot down a British plane, American plane and he went to talk to them they were in Innsbruck station and the people, the Germans were going, reckon they should release the British, the German pilot for going and


talking to the British prisoner, British pilot. They were killed by their own. And also there was a story going round that a German pilot told me, that they, what’s his name, the big fat fellow that was in charge of the air force?
Goebbels? [Actually the propaganda minister. Herman Goering headed the Luftwaffe]
Goebbels, yes said to them, “Why can’t you beat those England swines in the air force in London and those places?” and they said, “You get us


some Spitfires and we might.” They said to Goebbels.
How friendly did that relationship get between guards and prisoners in some of these camps?
Oh well, they’d swap cigarettes. I’d swapped a, my twenty-first birthday I swapped


three hundred British cigarette for a bottle of schnapps. But they had, the camp commandant did the job for me and he said to me, “If you can drink that in ten minutes,” he said, “I will give you your cigarettes back.” So I drank half of it and then I drank the rest of it and I came to three days later, two or three days later, it’s a wonder I didn’t die. And I was sleeping in


black stuff in my bed, and it was blood I’d vomited up. It’s a wonder I didn’t die, I didn’t die, I was lucky wasn’t I?
The Italians were pretty brutal weren’t they? Can you tell us about the way they used to treat you?
The Italians? Oh yes the fascist boys, those Italians. But the Royalists didn’t want to fight, they just, they got in your way. You capture twenty Royalist soldiers


and you’d take them back, or send them back and they’d ask if they could carry your rifle for you.
So what sort of treatment would you expect from the fascists?
Oh they were the ones that chained up each side of the gate. With your hands behind your back and your feet off the ground. They were Carabinieri like our military chief. Carabinieri they were, the military police.


I read stories about them stringing blokes up in trees. Do you know about that?
Do you know anything about that sort of behaviour?
No. There weren’t any trees around in Northern Italy, anyway or any part of Italy I suppose.
So on each escape; were you confident that you’d get away?
Very hard to escape in a foreign country, when you haven’t got maps or


assistance of any kind. It’s very hard to escape although in the book that the fellow reviewed, that book. He said the funny thing is that all the British that escaped from Europe but no German got back across the [English] Channel from Germany, ah from England.


None of them got back.
Did you sometimes think that it was fairly easy to escape from some of these prisoner-of-war camps?
Oh well everybody could have escaped I reckon. Although I’m disappointed a lot of my mates never escaped, they worked for them. I wouldn’t work for the Germans. I said to that German commandant, he said, “Well no shoe polish, you won’t be able to polish your shoes.” I said, “Look if you’re not


satisfied, open the gate and let me go.” I said, “That’s the only way to solve a problem.” I said, “I’m not going to bloody work for you.” They can give you three in solitary for refusing to work as a prisoner of war.
Can you tell us about how you used to work slowly at some of the camps?
Oh yes, hmm.
Can you tell us about that?
Yes, well on the railway lines, the fellows they used to they wanted us to do twenty or thirty sleepers a day. All the fellows wouldn’t do it, they said we’ll do four or


five and they’d say well you’ll stop there until you finish them. And the guard would get cranky then, see the guards were kept there too, the guards you see. And in the end they were alright, you’d only get four or five done, right oh, and you’d do them in about two hours or so and then we’d knock off for the day. The guards would be happy, and everybody was happy


except the bosses running the railway line. So we’d back to the twenty sleepers a day about. And we’d be all day doing one and they reckon it was better to get four or five done than one so they didn’t worry about the twenty. And we used to put, a lot of the trains would pull up, going to the front with tanks on there and ammunition and that sort


of thing, and we’d just grab it and get it off the side and put in the grease box, so you’d get a hot box. Anyway anything to annoy them.
They tried to get you to work in an ammunition factory at one stage didn’t they?
Well that’s what I reckon it was. I organised a strike there and they shut us down in the dungeon and it was


level with the floor, the roof was floor level, and in the side it had some angle things like that with bars in it. That was to let a bit of air in. And then at night they’d run their bayonets over the metal bars saying,’ waz a waz a’, see’ no water. They wouldn’t give us any water or anything. And in the end, we weren’t going to let them win and I tried to


burn the place down, I got some cigarettes, I had some cigarettes, and I got matches and tied them round the cigarettes with cotton like that half way down, I’d smoke a bit of the cigarette and throw it burning and those tailor-made cigarettes we used to get through the Red Cross cause they’d keep burning, and I’d throw them into this matting. But then I realised that it must have been blast matting and had been treated and it wouldn’t catch on


Can you explain why you couldn’t work at an ammunition factory?
Well we were international, certain prisoners couldn’t be made work in an international prison factory or any sort of factory like that. So.
Can you tell me how you felt when you escaped and you were so close to making the


Switzerland border, how did you feel?
Heartbreaking, yes. We didn’t get shot, that was the main thing. I had so much clothes on it was so cold, and he said to me, one of the guards said to me, “Hands up or I’ll shoot them, put your hands right up or I’ll shoot you.” And I couldn’t get my hands up cause I had jumpers on and everything I owned on and I could only get me hands up only that far, couldn’t get them up any further.


And what did you think when the German guard was giving you a ribbing about it?
Oh yes, well I didn’t think. We were hungry and cold and that sort of thing. And I was thinking well here is Lake Bergkranz, a big lake and I thought well get out there and pinch a boat and we might get across the other side and into Switzerland. And we were so tired. The Rhine River comes along here and we could swim


the Rhine or something like that. And if they found out down further, it broke into two smaller tributaries and we could have walked across and been in Switzerland. Where he said. But these days I look at it there, there it is in the map see there, and there’s the Swiss border there. And we could


have walked down there and got into Switzerland. And the next morning we see a farmer ploughing a field. I looked out through the cell and there’s a farmer out there ploughing the field in Switzerland.
When you look back do you think, do you wish you had planned it a bit more carefully?
It didn’t have made any difference to me, I might have been killed. I would have finished up in the [Pacific] islands and probably been killed in the islands or something. That’s what happens.


But as soon as you were caught you were already thinking about escaping?
Is that what kept you going do you think?
I suppose so, yes.
So when do you ….
We were with a good mob all the time. With the disciplinary see, not with the junk, you were with the tough fellows, the good fellows. Made a difference.
That time you escaped and you went back to the


prison factory and asked for food and they didn’t want to give you any, can you recall what you said to them about that?
Yes I said plenty. I told them I said, well after the war, they’d be court martialled after the war, for refusing food. Mob of bastards they were, that’s all.


And that was it.
At a later stage you did mention that to someone didn’t you?
Can you tell us about that?
Well I did mention it. I mentioned in that book, and I told the [Department of] Veterans’ Affairs about it. But also you know a lot of things are not known and I struck one of them. One of the fellows here in Brisbane, there was a lot, a few went to Berlin, and they’d come around the camps getting fellows


and things like that. Went to Berlin and dressed in German uniforms with a British flag on them and they came to one of our camps and we told them to get out or we’d kill them. There was a few of them there and they wandered around Berlin and they were allowed to wear those German uniforms, with a British flag on them, on the pocket and also in civilian clothes, in Berlin they had. And there was nothing said about it after the war.
What was all that about?


Well they tried to get the British against the Russians and everything like that. British Free Unit they were trying to form. British prisoners against the Germans. I suppose they were trying to get them to spy and things educate them as spies.
Also with that gentleman that you bought the two loaves of bread off in that Italian prisoner-of-war camp?
No I didn’t buy it off a


No you bought…
I bought it off my unit.
How did…..
He died a month ago. Bruce Gardner, died a month ago. From Greenslopes.
Can you tell us about the story when you met him all those years later?
Yes, well I had a fellow that worked for me actually told me that my used car yard, was about half a mile away from where he lived. Joey Andrews. he was a prisoner,


in Italy too, with the 15th Battalion and when I found out where he lived I said, and Joey wasn’t with me, he was dead by them I think or something. And I found Bruce Gardner and I went around with a hundred dollar note and a bottle of beer and that sort of thing. And he said, “Well I knew where you were all that time, I knew where you were.” but he said, “Joey said you had no money.” and


people were chasing me for money and that sort of thing, “Joey said it was protecting you. He said you’re not making any money and everybody was chasing you for money, you owed everybody money and that.” So he said “I never went near you.”
But you settled the debt?
Yes, well I had the money, but Joey was keeping him away. Joey Andrews.
Interviewee: Robert Hooper Archive ID 0693 Tape 07


I was captured on the 27th July, 1942 at Alamein, at the last battle of the battle of Ruin Ridge [Miteiriya Ridge] with the 28th Battalion and, we were taken to Germany and I escaped from Germany to Belgium in the middle of March. I swore I’d be free


by my birthday that year. Got to Chamaroi[?] and Belgium, and in England at the end of March I think. They must have know, the Yanks must have told them, so they sent a letter to my parents that people in England knew.


Can you just go back and tell me a little bit more, one of the camps you were in, there was brick factory?
A what?
A brick factory, did you say?
A brick factory, yes that’s where I escaped in the train to Switzerland that time, loaded the bricks in the carriage and boxed one of the little widows up, in this corner so that we could push it in and escape. And that’s where we got caught crossing into Switzerland.


And that’s where I escaped from that second front, second front camp, punishment camp, across the mountains and my mate was sick and then we, of course the first time we got caught went up and down the same side of the mountain at night. And the next time we crossed the mountain, a four hundred metre high mountain, and difficulty getting down the other side. That was, harder than climbing


up. And you had to go down backwards, cause you couldn’t walk down it, it was too slopey. I climbed down a rock face at one stage of it and I though now there’s a beautiful slide down if I sit there, I’ll be able to slide all the way down. But I’d probably be going a thousand miles an hour by the time I get to the bottom, and kill myself. So I had to climb back up that rock wall,


mate, I had my sick mate with me, he was at the top. I knew he couldn’t crawl down there. And there was a big gap between the rock face and where I had to step onto the glacier thing and I thought, gee, if I’d slipped down there they would have found me in about ten thousand years time. There’s a man, body, he was one of the first men or something. They’d find me body. And I climbed up this rock wall, and be very careful.


And I crawled under a big rock there, and cause there, wolf paw marks I didn’t know there’d be wolves there, wolf paw marks, everywhere I crawled in there, what a stupid thing to do. The wolf would be in there looking for food, could be in there and had pups in there or anything like and killed me. And I heard them crying. Marvellous


isn’t it, early in the morning, see it could have pups in there and gone out to get food, he could have made food of me.
Can you just talk a bit more about that journey, maybe each day and what were some of the obstacles that you came across?
When you were trying to get to Switzerland.
On the train?
Well the train we were in, actually it took us a long while


to get there, to get a little distance from Trevan to the Swiss border, at Feldkirch there, its not very far, as the crow flies, you go through the Landeck Operations Interrogation Centre, that goes, that’s on the way to Feldkirch where we tried to cross the border. Lake Constance, not


very far at all, actually you can see the distance there in the map. Just from there to there. And it’s not very far, but we had to go to Munich, where one station, one time we were stranded and disconnected and stranded in Munich Station, so the lines must have been blown up by bombers or something. They’d bomb it. At that stage there were a thousand bomber a day raids,


in Austria. And we used to, and the ground would be shaking an hour before the planes would appear, it’s marvellous, a thousand bomber raids, and then the groups of planes there’d be with the fighter planes over the top of them. And they’re dropping that silver paper, throw the sheets of silver paper, they throw the German what’s the name out,


what do they call that stuff that that tracks the plane down and that? That, the radar, to fix the radar. And the grounds would be shaking an hour before those planes would come there. Terrific noise. Cause a lot of those valleys in Austria, cause you don’t see the sun till very long in the winter, in the day. Cause the high mountains, close together.


Anyway we watched them come and we’d think one day we could be up there in those planes going home. Now in that brick factory, some people used to open the kilns, brick kilns, they’d fish the bricks out and put them in the…. See my job I had to,


stuff would come down from the mountains which they put in hoppers and I had to load it into a hopper again and it would go in to make the bricks. Well I got into trouble once, I turned the hose on while they were trying to make bricks and the water was pouring out of it and they couldn’t make the bricks. I said, “I was trying to help you.” I said. And a German fellow he knew about that.


And sabotage the work, he knew I had to load the stuff, cause they had heaps in it, you just put the hopper up against it. You’d put the shovel in and fill it up. And they insisted on getting a big brazier there in the winter with coke, boxes of coke in the brazier so that you got the heat. I had another fellow helping me,


but he’d do the same. But anyway they, I mean some of them had been prisoners there since the start of the war. Like permanent staff.
What was there morale like, the ones that had been there for too long, like had they got to the stage where they just couldn’t try and escape? Did that happen?
Well they didn’t want to escape. You could walk out of the place, those places. Trevan you could walk


out of the place cause we used to walk out the gate and walk to work about a hundred yards away to the factory. There was no border around the factory to stop you walking out. You could have walked out anytime.
Why do you think more men didn’t try to escape?
I suppose they didn’t want get shot or killed I suppose. I suppose they thought there was a risk in getting killed.


So why were you able to look at that risk and still do it time after time? Did you ever feel like your luck was going to run out?
Well there was a risk of getting killed if you’d lose the war, couldn’t you? You don’t know what would happen. Well like Italy, at one stage you could get ,all the time they’d bargain about the prisoners whether they


killed them or they let Germany go, let Hitler go. And they said he was going to, so right oh, we’ll kill a thousand prisoners if you don’t, every week until you let him go. Until you let him go, let these Germans go home. What are they going to do? I thought oh well, I’ll get away. Not only that but the Japs, we wanted to get home and protect our own country too.


So probably if I hadn’t been taken prisoner I probably wouldn’t be here now, I’d be dead. Because I seemed to fall for all the fighting patrols and that sort of thing. Every fighting patrol picked me, I had to go along with everyone. I was with the infantry, and I had to go out with them. I was attached to the infantry.


I would have probably, been killed during the Japs or come home or something. Where if I hadn’t been well I could have been killed at Alamein quite easily. But cause the last battle was a horrific battle. They were desperate the Germans were, cause they wanted to get into Egypt, if they’d get into


Egypt they could have come through Turkey and taken over all the oil wells in Iraq and those places and we’d have had no oil and Germany would have had plenty of oil. That would have been the end to everything I suppose. They generally made the mistake. I said to our CRE actually, the colonel of the Royal Engineers 9th Division,


brigadier colonel I said to him after the war, I said, “You know we didn’t win the war.” I said “Germany lost it, Germany lost it.” Germany made the mistake of attacking Russia. If they’d have left Russia alone, they had us on our knees. We were the only ones to beat them. The 9th Division at Alamein in Tobruk we were the only ones that could beat em. So what was going to happen, there was no, unless we gave them half.


Gave them a fight. England was fighting them alone but what could England do? It was fighting to survive. Those Germans they were certain they were going to take England, looked easy for them, but they left it too late to attack, if they’d have followed their troops home from France they’d have landed in England and they couldn’t have stopped them, they’d…


England had no tanks or anything any good aeroplanes, that sort of thing. And Churchill, if Churchill hadn’t been Prime Minister I think England would have surrendered actually, the Government would have surrendered I think. But Germany promised to protect the Royalty and that sort of thing, which they probably wouldn’t have done anyway, they’d break the rule. They always do,


people break their word. But I don’t know what would have happened, anyway I’m not dead. I showed Peter [interviewer] where I fell out of the ceiling where I built that trap door up the top of the stairs. I fell out and landed on the TV and a big nail ripped out from behind the TV and I was on the floor,


big nail ripped out behind the TV there, but I was alright. I thought I was dead on the way down the whole lot fell out. I had big heavy trap door up there, and I thought well I’ll pull that down and put a light one, lighter ply, like a five ply. I got on top of it not thinking about it and it collapsed.
So when you were a prisoner of war in the different camps how much


information did you get about how the war was going?
Plenty, you always had radios. Secret radios and you’d hear them every night. What’s her name would sing, Blue Birds over the…. And she used to sing, she used to sing to….. the


French Resistance. And they were told where the attack was going. And they started, the French Resistance started the war in France three weeks before it started, before the landings even. It was marvellous how they landed and how they got away with it isn’t it?


I thought it would be tough, but Germany was weak and when the Germans were away they thought they wouldn’t attack, they were all on leave. Cause that’s how they attracted, tricked the Germans at Alamein when they decided to attack too, the British and the Yanks they had a lot of the


troops were, let them go leave to Alexandria. Up till bang the night of the attack. They got back and as soon as it was dark they all went in position until midnight and they ready to launch then bang, guns started firing. So anyway it’s too late for us, we were gone.
Can I just ask you a bit more about those


radios, like where did people hide them and can you just describe some of the more ingenious ones…..?
In the ceiling and that sort of thing. Different places. I don’t know where they, I never had a radio, but they used to at every camp they had radios. And they were well protected, and once I listened to it and the news. They’d even get the German


news. And one fellow told me, Bill Williams, that fellow, they’re probably doing him on this, Bill Williams that wrote that book for his family, the tunnelling fellow, book about a prisoner-of-war camp . He said his mother kept every paper that was from the war, before all the time through the war,


every paper and he said the lies that were told in the paper. When he read them after the war about the victories we had and that, and we’d get a belting. The lies that were told. So, people insist on good news, not bad news. I never had a letter from home I can’t even…….


A letter was sent and I went back into the, I told them I was escaped and I said the bastards beat me up but I’m alright in Germany. And after that I weren’t allowed to write home, all the letters were censored, they only let me write one letter and I said, “On my mother’s birthday can I write to the Red Cross in London and ask them to send her a dozen roses and


charge my pay book?” and they said “Okay.” and I did that and she got them. And eventually they didn’t charge me for anything. So they let her know that I was still alive. But then I was taken prisoner of war, see they said anything you know prisoner of war, they think you’re


When you got home did you ask, did your family think that that you were dead for a period of time because they hadn’t heard from you?
No they know. They knew that you went missing; missing in action they send first of all. Then they say missing, could be prisoner of war. And then they get the


records from Germany, if you’re a prisoner in Germany there and they know then that you’re alright for the time being.
What was some of the first things that you did when you got home? The things that made you realise that you were home?
Got drunk I suppose.
Do you remember the first time that you came


home to your family, how they greeted you?
When I came home from Germany. No I wasn’t in any trouble to get home; I stopped in England where I should have been home six months before. I stopped in England. I thought well I’ll never get back to England again so I’ll have a good look around England, Ireland.
Did you have a good welcome home?
I don’t know, I suppose I would have.


Now you said that there was more than dancing in the streets at the end of the war, what do you mean by that?
I never said that.
Didn’t you?
No, I’m not a dancer.
What sort of celebrations were happening?
Well I don’t know actually I don’t know actually, cause Japan


capitulated the day after I arrived home from Sydney and then I went to Rosemount Hospital, they put me in Rosemount Hospital they put you there to inspect you to see how fit you were in Brisbane there, and all they wanted to do, I said, “There’s nothing wrong with me.” I had shrapnel on the head and that sort of thing that I fixed up myself and shrapnel on the head that


festered and came out again. Some of it came out and I’m alright. I wanted to get out, I’m alright, so they said “Right you’ve got to down to… Currumbin Creek, place down there for a month.” I thought, well that’s nice, I went down. And they discharged me from Rosemount as a fit young man, with ten per cent pension. I said how can I be a very fit young man


with ten per cent pension, ten per cent incapacitated? Anyway I had a few days and Artie Fadden was the acting Prime Minister, and what's his name, Curtin or whatever it was the Prime Minister [Chifley] was away somewhere and he was a friend of my fathers. I said to my father, “You get onto you mate Fadden and tell him I want to get home, I want to get out of the army.” So I got a letter


there from the Minister of the Army, a letter reply to Mr Fadden to say that they’ll look into the matter and arrange it. And another one of them to say that I could get out straightaway, go back and be discharged straightaway. So I got out.
That must have made your day.
Artie Fadden, depends on who you know.
That must have made your day, to get out?
Oh yes, I’d been


in the army. There’s no war on, no point in being in the army if there was no war on is there? See I didn’t want to be, see when I, in Fremantle when we got as far as Fremantle going overseas the sergeant major said to me “Sapper Hooper, I’m making you a lance corporal and your in charge of the picquet


there tonight too.” I said “I don’t want to be a lance corporal, I just want to be a sapper like me mates, I don’t want to be a boss, I just want to be the same as my mates, a sapper that’s all I want to be.” And he said, “Well, okay, you can stop as a sapper.” And then I’ll have probably been a sergeant by the time I got captured, sergeant or sergeant major or something. But I wouldn’t be with all me mates.


Did mateship get you through, can you tell me some examples?
Oh yes well see I lost one fellow, the fellow with two loaves of bread that I got, I lost him, he died a month ago, two months ago. I lost a couple more recently, I lost one, two


weeks ago and then I…. you know they’re all getting old now they are. How old am I, I changed me age so much, I must be eighty-one mustn’t I? I must be eighty-one now, born in 21 yes born on the 22nd March 1921.


Can you tell me how sappers came to be know as sappers?
Yes, an English sapper, in the English engineers is a lieutenant, a sapper was a lieutenant and they called engineers lieutenants, cause they were supposed to be a cut above the ordinary soldier. And so a few of the infantry were classed as sapper, when we were with the infantry. But English Army, a


sapper is a lieutenant, English engineers.
You had a lot of personal challenges during the war, with trying to escape and so forth. When you came back to Australia did you crave just a very simple quite life or were you still looking for a bit of adventure?
I reckon I had about ten different jobs, I never got sacked, I sacked myself from a job and went to another job. Get fed up with them.


That’s like with Tommy Smith’s brother in law, I started off as a salesman with them and anyhow in a fortnight I was sales manager, and in another fortnight I was Queensland manager. In those days that was, I was getting a hundred pound a week, there and I left that job, I said I’ll go with a couple of mates, we’ll go in the used car game,


one hundred pound a week, that was a lot of money in 1950, what was it 1953 I think it was, 1954, a hundred pound a week.
Can you tell me how you came to meet your wife?
Yes I met her, well when I was a customs agent at Dalgety’s in the shipping,


she was a secretary for the boss, and I’d buy a lot of food off them, fresh food like and I met her there . Then she landed in my safe arms, unfortunately for her.
I image you would have been a pretty persistent, charming guy?


And…..thanks for the compliment but I don’t think that would be so true.
I think it would be.
But I used to work, I used to work long hours, when I worked in the car game and other things, I used to work twenty-four hours straight. One night


I had to be at work to sell something at 5.30 the next morning and I had terrific pain and I thought I was having a heart attack, pains in the arms and that sort of thing, at midnight Gloria called the local doctor and he said I was having a heart attack. And I said, “Don’t put me in hospital,” I said “No!” and she called the ambulance three times and I said, “I’ve got be at work at half past five tomorrow morning.”


He said, “You won’t be at half past five tomorrow morning you won’t be at work.” I said,“Yes I will.” and I was there at half past five. And they found out I passed a stone in my kidneys. But I was at work at half past five in the morning. Oh gee I was crook that night, I thought I was dying. I often thought I was dying since and I picked up again. I thought gee, this is it, I’m going this time.


The pacemaker missed a beat or something like that.
When you got back did you ever talk to your dad about your experiences?
He wanted to write a book about it but I wouldn’t. I wasn’t interested. As far as I was concerned the war was over and I wanted to forget about it.


And my mates got married and I went to the wedding, best man at the weddings. Different places I’d go to.
What about your own son, do you talk to him about your time during the war?
No, no. I taught him boxing I thought I’d teach him how to. So I got some


small mitts made for him and floor to ceiling punching ball and I taught him how to fight, box. I said, “You’ll always be able to defend yourself.” and I had to stop that then, cause he used wait till his mother was getting out of bed and putting her slippers on and he’d hook her with an upper cut. Became aggressive like me.
Actually can you tell us a little bit more about you, cause you used to box, box


sometimes for money and stuff, can you tell me a bit more about your boxing adventures?
Bit more about them. I was patron of the Amateur Boxing Club and Con Williams, he fought Graham Lamont for the Middle Weight Championships of Australia and I went six rounds with him at a demonstration one night.


At the end of it I was pretty tired, I said “Right oh I’ll come and train.” And in about two hours I took off fourteen pounds I was punching the bag and everything like that and then I went six rounds with him. And afterwards, at the end of the six rounds that was it, he hit me in the side of the [(UNCLEAR)]. And I took another fellow there he was going to learn to box but after that he said no, he didn’t want to do it.


So I went back to the pub and had about ten pots of beer and put them away.
Can I ask you before you said something about a priest that you asked to help you when you were trying to get away and he said “No it’s a bit risky” can you tell me about that?
No, no that was when I escaped out of that big tunnel we dug in Northern Italy. A farmer called in the local priest.


And they reckoned it was risky, they had ten divisions of us, or something, five divisions or something like that that were exercising in the place chasing and looking for us had planes flying around everywhere looking for us so that escapee, dangerous Australianoes. Lock up your wives,


your children, dangerous escape, nineteen dangerous Australiano. And the only place I could find to hide out of that rain was where they stacked their cheese and corn, like a wigwam in Northern Italy. Have you seen one? Anyway I crawled into one of those and slept in there and it was raining and pouring. And I’d been up in the mountains and I nearly got washed off the mountain,


Dolomites there were pretty high, and I thought, I’ll get in out of here and rocks falling on me and everything. And I said I’ll get in this barn and I got to this river and I couldn’t cross this river it was flooded and I went back and found this place that looked like a bit of a barn on the end near a house, and I crawled in there but the chooks started cackling and the pigs started snorting and this fellow came with his shotgun.


And he said he found me in the passageway of his wife’s bedroom there. I got a letter from him after the war he traced me through the what’s it name. He said he had a good memory of this honest Australian or something that escaped from the concentration camp in Northern Italy.
What was your toughest time


during the whole war experience, do you think?
Well the toughest times, the horriblest experience was the night we went in with the 9th Division, the 9th Battalion I mean, to take the left flank of the Salient in Tobruk where the Germans had broken through. And put the Salient in to… have you seen the map where they came in, well facing Tobruk, we went in on the right flank to push it back,


and we pushed it back. But that was the toughest time, I think. Our own guns were firing, shells were landing on us, shells were hitting the ground they were firing with open sights the Germans were, and the shells were hitting the ground flat like, and they’d skid along the ground, and in the desert, see it was all rocky in this part. And all desert, or all sand, or no sand and dust and the rocks there and sparks flying from the shells as they


hit on the ground and bounce along, going each side of me. I thought, gees, they can’t keep still going each side of me, one’s going to come dead centre and push me back about a hundred yards, that will be the end. And it never came to that. I was caught in the barbed wire and tangled up in the barbed wire trying to advance. I didn’t know where I was and in the end I got disoriented. And I was tangled in the barbed wire, cause I had my hands full, and I couldn’t get


loose from the barbed wire, and I thought, this is nice, I’ll get shot here, tangled in the barbed wire. And the next morning, there was three of us came out together and the colonel or someone came past with his aides and his aide said as we were going back out to our position, and he said, “Gee, smell the gunpowder on those men.” We were just soaked


with gunpowder.
And some of the up side of that, is there a moment that stands out with you mates that was sort of a highlight in a good way?
In a good way, like with your mates, was there one time?
Yes well we got out of it, we were alive. And we got back then and then


I went over, I had a cousin, sergeant in the 9th Battalion Infantry. And I went to see him at Fort Pilastrino where we were camped in Fort Pilastrino, the Germans had dropped bombs on it only a little place in Tobruk. And I saw him there, and I was talking to him about Sunday night, that was the night before, and this was Monday morning, and they


come over and bombed us, he was sharpening his bayonet again, it was all dirty covered in blood and he was cleaning and sharpening his bayonet and I found him. And I dived under the truck, and the dive bombers came over again see I was under the truck and I thought, gee, that’s no good, they’d bomb the truck. So there was a big heap of barbed wire we had there, a great big heap as big as this house,


so I lay alongside the roles of barbed wire, it’s the silliest thing you could have done, if they hit that like and blow it away and it would have cut me to pieces. And then I thought roles of barbed wire, as big as that stool there. A few of them rolling along wouldn’t do you any good. Wouldn’t rejuvenate you, you wouldn’t be able to run very


And just finally what are your thoughts on Anzac Day?
What are my thoughts on Anzac Day? Well I don’t know, it’s nothing to celebrate, it was a loss, a hiding, Anzac Day, wasn’t it. It was a no no, it should never had been on. And there was a hiding and we got beaten on Anzac Day.
So have you ever marched?


celebrating a defeat. Why celebrate a defeat?
So have you ever marched?
And anyway they reckon it was the first victory they were in but it wasn’t, it was 1901, the Aboriginal Victory that should have been. Why celebrate, cause why do we celebrate it, I’d say the same reason they celebrate anything, the


non-combatants probably wanted to celebrate. Parliamentarians and non-combatants and that are probably the ones who celebrate. That’s who you find mainly celebrating the war things now, because most of the dinky-di [real] diggers have died. How many death notices do you see in the paper now of soldiers, very seldom, do you, there’s not many of us left. There was two hundred and sixty of us and


there’s only about eight of us alive. There’s not enough to keep them going, they should all join and try and organise that but they won’t do it ,you organise the RSL [Returned and Services League] to be the one representative to get something done. See the funny thing is they, what’s his name,


prisoners of the Japs, they were, like reasonable, they had twelve months ago and the widows got twenty-five thousand dollars they reckon cause they were roughly treated. Well we won every battle we were in and we got nothing, prisoner of war and yet we got nothing and I was badly treated, as they were I suppose. Not that I wanted anything, I got a TPI pension.


But I don’t, the reason I went a couple of times cause I had a lot of our unit come from up there, miners and things like that and the time they asked me to go up there. But now I marched once there and the engineers out of our six ex-engineers I picked up a colonel,


and me, and some women and children wanted someone to march with them. A real gang like, engineers yes. And I don’t know it’s, why celebrate it? Against putting it into the schools


going into the schools the Rats of Tobruk going into the schools, and educating them about the war. You can’t tell them about a war, they want me to go and do it but I said what can I tell them about the war? You can’t, you can’t tell them about people getting killed or anything like that. I said, “What, can I tell them about the fellow that pulled the grenades off the


wire and blows his stomach out? “Oh no, you’ll upset them you can’t tell them about that.” Then why tell them about the war? I think the reason you tell them about the war, is so that there be no more wars, isn’t it? So anyway everybody’s got their opinion about it and my father only marched once cause they asked him to march and I marched with him and I said, “Never again Dad.”


Cause I was out of step all the time and the fellows…….


0 Comments You must to sign in to add a comment Add a comment