Allan Herd
Archive number: 712
Date interviewed: 26 September, 2003

Served with:

2/6th Field Engineers
7th Division

Other images:

Allan Herd 0712


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

You are listening to the interview audio


Tape 01


Allan, could you give us a quick summary of the main points in your life to date?
When I was born, I was born in Grafton 16 July, 1917 and I – my mother


and father were both born in the district. There was two children and when I was five we moved down to the city, to Sydney and we moved to Auburn and that’s where I grew up to teenage days.


Now, in the city I was about 13 when the Depression hit and I became a child of the Depression. And I went to a state school then I went from state school, from the primary to a commercial


school. And from the commercial school I started work and I used to go to Parramatta Intermediate High at night, which was the normal way in them years. I was pulled out of the state commercial school when I was 15 to work. There was no work anywhere but I was offered a job


through a friend of my father’s. This motor smithing, it meant that I was a striker with a 10 pound sledge hammer, straightening bus axles by hand with a – The motor smith was a very clever man


but he started the business with a hundred pound lent by his brother-in-law and we started good business but he had two weaknesses, one was women and one was drink. And once we made a few pound he’d disappear until he’d spent it. And in the meantime I just had to


go to work open up, go and shut up at night go back home and in the end I got no pay so I left him eventually. I was only filling in really for a younger son of his. Then I went and worked at AWA [Amalgamated Wireless Australasia] for a short spell making mantle radios. They’d just came in. And that didn’t appeal


to me and I ended up getting apprenticed to shop and office fitter’s as a joiner. When war broke out I jumped into the army by then I’d just finished my apprenticeship and I enlisted at the showground, past the test for the


engineers as a joiner and went to Ingleburn camp now that would’ve been the 8th June 1940. We trained there with the 2/6th Field Engineers, a wonderful company. Their CO [Commanding Officer], the major was a Duntroon man,


a top man and only his 30s, late 30s and then after the training there we, with our sister companies, the 2/4th, 2/5th companies and us the 2/6th marched with the 2/13th and 2/17th


infantry battalions to Bathurst Camp. When we reached Bathurst Camp it was only into stage of half finished. We had no amenities, no nothing, and we were the furthest out of Bathurst, being at not Hayford. Anyway we were on a sheep station


where the camp was being actually built, one of St Clair and the Bathurst Camp was the only area the 7th Div [Division] moved to


that they did the march. They never marched in the city. The 6th and 8th Division marched through the city. 7th Div never got a march through the city, they marched through Bathurst. It’s got to be remembered that the population of Australia then was only around 7 million so they were really country towns. And after our training at


Bathurst we went on final leave. The 6th Division had already sailed and back from final leave we had a short stay to make out our wills and so forth at Bathurst and then we left to be embarked in Sydney.


We went on the Queen Mary and she was the only one in port near the sail, that’s the deepest water. We left on the Mary in a bad way, there was a mutiny. There was 10,000 troops plus crew


and she was 85,000 ton but she didn’t allow – she was built for a 3 day trip across the Atlantic. She wasn’t built for heat and the troops were shoulder to shoulder in hammocks down in the bowel of the ship. They mutinied to get back on the decks to sleep. Anyway, the got their way but


the Queen Mary had not be converted to a trooper [troop carrier], she was still the luxury ship. She had all the women’s hair salons and beauty parlours and she had everything and the officers and nurses of the 7th Div and the crew had two thirds of the ship and the ROs [Ranking Officers] had one third so


you can imagine things weren’t too happy.
Allan can I just stop you there, that’s going really but what’s happening is you’re going into much more detail at this point than we actually need. We just need a very, very brief summary at the beginning and I think what would be a good idea, because most of the interview is going to concern your war service, we leap over your war service now and if you just give me a very brief summary of what happened in your life after the war and then we can go back into all this wonderful


detail that is starting to emerge.
You want me to go back now.
No, no we will now – could you just tell us just very briefly about some of the main things in your life after the war including what you did work wise and family. That’s all we need then we’ll go back for the detail.
Well, after I came home from the war I was found medically unfit and told to stop


in and I stopped in the army for 8 or 9 months and got posted to the Women’s Army Hospital which hit me pretty hard and that was at Thomas Walker Home at the bottom of the 113th AGH [Australian General Hospital]


Hospital. That’s where the plan was worked out against me. They knew that I had no speaking to a women in virtually 4 years except my mother and family when I came home. So what chance did I have against a whole bunch of army girls


all looking for husbands? So that’s where I met my wife, Marie, and then we were married in 1947 on the 13th December. After that I worked for a short while, I worked as a clerk mainly, salesman and then clerk and then


virtually based my life outside of being a clerk I worked in a timber yard in the city as managing the hardware, the builders hardware department. That was my whole work life.
And that continued through until the time you retired?
That’s when I retired yes from there.
So when did you retire?
I retired on my 60th year,


And when was it that you moved to Port Macquarie?
And I believe Marie had family connections with Port Macquarie?
Oh, yes that’s why we come back here. All the family’s still here. What’s left of the family, the brothers and sisters in the District not all in Port Macquarie they’re everywhere around the District.


Allan, that’s a very good structure of the summary and, as I said, you were starting to go into some terrific details which I’d like to get us back to in a moment. And because you’ve already given us some of those details in the summary don’t be concerned that we might be going over the same ground particularly with the early years. There will be a little bit of repetition here and there but that’s not going to worry the people that are going to make use of this interview ultimately. They’ll be quite delighted with all the detail. All right,


let’s go right back to when you were telling us about when and where you were born.
In Grafton.
You were born in Grafton yeah, and what year was that once again?
The 16th July 1917.
And what can you tell us about your parents?
My mother and father were both born in the district, not in Grafton, my father in Almira, which is part of Grafton in them days, and my mother


And what can you tell us about the personalities of your parents? First your father, could you describe him as a person?
Well, he was only a short man. He was the biggest larrikin ever born.
In what way? In what way was he a larrikin?
Oh, he was a bad fella.
Can you give us a few more details here?
Well, he was a great footballer


the best the district’s ever seen and it went to his head. He was born – he started playing in the A Grade team at 14 years of age which was unheard of and he was red headed and later on caused me a lot of distress.
In what way?
With this repat [repatriated soldier]


oh you wouldn’t believe this.
This was after the war was it?
All right, well look we’ll get to that later. Talking about your formative years what sort of a father was he?
A good father, good father he worked hard he was a monumental mason. Hard worker but a pretty strict man. He never neglected his family. There were 4 more children born in the


city. So there were 7 in the family of children plus parents that’s 9. But no he, we thought he was hard the 3 eldest of us because we copped it but…
You copped it in what ways?
Discipline but the point was it was a good thing but you can’t tell a young person that.
How did you respond to that discipline?


Oh, just took it.
People often associate red heads with a quick temper would this have been your father as well?
Oh yes, he was pretty quick tempered but he was also very cocky. You see little people are cocky because big people won’t hit them. That’s true.
So can you give an example of how he was cocky and how he was a larrikin?


Well, to put it more bluntly I reckon he was a skite but that’s only my opinion.
What sort of things would he skite about?
Oh, well everybody was a mug bar him. You get it. Always a mug, it was his favourite saying. If you did anything wrong you were a mug. That applied to fellows he worked with or anybody they


were mugs. And that used to rib me.
How did you react to that?
Oh, I just took it.
But you just said it ribbed you, I mean would it…?
Oh no, just make me you know – I used to get disgusted with the saying ‘he’s a mug, you’re a mug’. I used to think, “Well, so are you,” and that was it, that finished. But I wouldn’t say it, it didn’t pay.
Sounds like he had a fairly


healthy ego. Sounds like he had a lot of self esteem?
Who me?
No, no, it sounds like you father had a very strong ego and a very strong opinion of himself.
Oh, he did. Yeah.
Can you describe your mother’s personality?
Mum, was a beautiful woman but she had a lot of tragedy in early life which she would never tell you. My mother never spoke. My mother never left the house.


Not at all? Who did the shopping?
Mum would rarely go out and that caused a bit of rift interfered with the family that my father loved to go dancing, he was a good dancer and he loved to go out Saturday night and she wouldn’t go out.


But my mother never went out.
You say there was a rift, what form did that rift take?
No that was a rift really, was the fact that he wanted to take her out but she wouldn’t go.
Did that cause problems between them?
Well, no I don’t suppose so because when you’ve got 7 kids, raising kids, you’ve got more problems raising the kids.


If it did, it didn’t show.
You said she never spoke? Does this, I mean…
Mum never ever spoke, it was a hell of a life. It’s a funny thing you talking about that it rose a point that my – we never knew who was who as far as


relatives went bar a couple. On my mother’s side, only knew one, an Aunt. As it turned out there was only the two girls on my father’s side, it was a mystery. The mystery goes back to my grandmother


and there was always – if you mentioned anything about who was so and so you got ‘what’. You daren’t ask questions.
Many families are proud of their family history, what seems to have been the problem here?
Well, the problem we found


out in later years, the problem found really in my opinion was with my grandmother on my father’s side. She was divorced in 189 – wait a minute – in 1896 I think it was which in


them days it was a no, no. And course the amazing part of it was our name was spelt H.E.A.R.D. to be clever they dropped the ‘E’ to hide it.


No not the ‘E’ the ‘A’ so you got H.E.R.D.
So from what you’re saying various members of the family were a little scandalised by the fact that there had been a divorce?
No, the ones that had been scandalised must have been just my mother and father to keep the secret. Because it was only through one of my nieces that got interested in it, that found these things out.


I’ve got copies up there. But the point was there was no family history. It was a terrible thing to mention who was who. Who was Aunt so and so, or who was – you daren’t open your mouth.
I was going to say, children inevitably want to know.
Course they do.
It’s part of wanting to grow up and feel part of a community.
Our place that was taboo.
Sorry go on…


whatever gated with my mother I don’t know because we only go back about a generation of her time.
Did you ever even get the slightest incline of what kept her in the house?
Don’t know. She just didn’t go out.
To what extent could she carry on a normal conversation?
Oh, over the back fence that’s all.


See, you’ve got to remember this, you didn’t see our day. In the Depression everybody spoke – in the Depression you had a level playing field, everybody was broke, there was no wealthy, no this or that you didn’t see that in the suburbs they were all out of work. When it was all out of work the blokes working had their wages cut in halves mostly public servants which they were just not much better off than those on the dole. And the result is,


you might laugh at me telling you this, I was a boy 13 – 14 – 15 growing up happiest times of my life was the Depression. But if the adults heard me saying that they’d hang me.
Why was that the happiest time of your life?
I was a happy kid. I liked school. I was just an ordinary scholar. I loved sport. I was a good cricketer. An A Grade cricketer


but no money.
Could you tell us about the school that you went to?
I went to Auburn Public then I went to Lidcombe Commercial and I seen the real Depression because they were putting through – everywhere you went you walked, there was no cars and the result was I seen them putting a canal through linking right up


Regents Park coming right down into Parramatta River. In them days the river was clean. Doctors, lawyers the whole damn lot worked pick and shovel. As I say the field was level.
Was this Depression relief work this canal?
Was this near Duck Creek?
Yes, Duck Creek, no, it was at Lidcombe just where Lidcombe Oval is.


Lidcombe Oval, I don’t know whether you know Lidcombe Oval?
No I don’t actually.
The train goes past. It crosses the bridge, this bridge I’m talking about. Now, they’ve got football fields oh they had everything there but in them days it originally belonged to the meat company, Riverstone Meat Company. The works they put in there were fantastic


really. It’s all pick and shovel.
There’s an enormous set of gardens at Auburn absolutely vast set of gardens. I wondered if that was…?
The Japanese gardens. No they weren’t there in my time.
That’s a separate area, yeah.
On the Clyde side this other is Lidcombe.
Just getting back to the Depression, you seemed quite keen to talk about the Depression can you, you were starting to give us some really good details there a moment ago. What did the Depression, apart


from the fact that you were happy, what are the main memories that stand out in your mind about the Depression?
Everybody was happy because we couldn’t do anything about it. Everybody spoke to everybody today nobody knows anybody only their intimate friends. But in them days everybody spoke to everybody, everybody helped everybody. There was no thieving, no crime not like now. You didn’t ever lock


your doors you could at night you still left your front door open in the summer because of the heat. You didn’t, life was so different. They talk of the hard times, they were hard, they were hard to work everything manual tough and hard but interacting they were happier than they are today. They didn’t have to chase money. Today they chase money.
How did people help each other?
Well, if somebody


had a bit of sugar for arguments sake at Christmas time all the neighbours around the place would get together and they would turn around and get a barrel of beer and that made the men happy. Anybody that had anybody would share it, everything was shared.
How did the Depression affect your family economically?
Well, we were lucky my


father owned his home outright no mortgages. In them days they didn’t have them things. You either had the money on board or did without. My father was lucky through his football career he owned a house at Grafton where we lived and also it was like a semi detached and he had it rented on the other side. And when we came to the city what we


got for the country house bought the city house.
Why was it that your father moved from the country to Auburn?
Well, he said that he, what he wrote, he said to better himself but I think he just got tired of Grafton or Grafton got tired of him. It was one or the other.
Why do you think Grafton would’ve got tired of him?


I suppose I shouldn’t have said that, I think it might’ve been more to do with – there mightn’t have been the work to keep on there see he didn’t have his own business and the crowd he was working for he served his apprenticeship with they mightn’t have had enough to keep him going. I think myself he had a


yearning for the city.
Now, of course Auburn’s not too far away from Rookwood Cemetery…
No, that’s why we went there. See he walked to work – actually he worked for Tommy Andrews the international cricketer, you wouldn’t know him but Tommy Andrews was one of the great cricketers of Australia. He played in the era before Bradman. T.J. Andrews he’s still got the funeral but Tommy’s been gone for many years and I think at


Petersham at the Oval there that they – T.J. Andrews Oval, that’s who he worked with.
So Tommy Andrews was an undertaker he ran a funeral business did he?
That’s right.
So it sounds like your father was an employee of Tommy Andrews?
He was for many years.
And you father was a monumental mason, now what – I mean the answer may be obvious but for the sake of the audience could you say what a monumental mason actually did?
He makes the headstones. He does the –


the bulk of the headstones were done by hand in them days. Everything was done by hand. The only things – he gets the raw stone. It might be Hawkesbury sandstone or it might be Italian marble and he makes the stone. And the letter cutter, he does the printing on it.


They use gold leaf, it’s pretty expensive or it was in them days.
Would each of these stones, would they be custom built?
No, no at that time I mean would a family say we want such a such a stone with such a such decoration or were their a stock model job that families would elect to go with?
Yeah, they built what the family wanted. I suppose, I’m only guessing but I’d T.J. Andrews himself would do the designs.


Somebody’d have to do the designs. I don’t think my father did. I didn’t see him do any design.
But I imagine there was quite a high level of craft required?
Oh yes, oh yes, it wouldn’t be easy. It’s like everything else it was a 5 year apprenticeship.
I mean to look around Rookwood it’s not – not only does the scale of the place awe inspire me anyway but there’s some very fine


examples of stonework out there
Oh yeah, yes well that Rookwood, I don’t know if you’re aware of it but it’s the largest cemetery in the world. Lot of people don’t know that here.
I wasn’t aware of that I thought it might be southern hemisphere but I wasn’t aware of the world.
The world I believe the largest known cemetery of the world.
So your father had guaranteed ongoing employment?
No he didn’t he


was out of work in the Depression even though people died. They had no money to pay for stones and that.
So what did this mean, I mean for how long was he employed by T.J. Andrews?
He went to T.J. Andrews as a guess about 1936. Prior to that he wasn’t –


a monumental mason and a mason, stone mason there is a bit of a difference but not great. He worked on the Queen Victoria buildings and he worked I think on David Jones’s big buildings originally with Hawkesbury Sandstone companies like doing them but not – when a job cut out he could go back to monumental.
So the period


of his unemployment was prior to starting with Tommy Andrews?
Yes it was.
It was, so he came to the city and was unemployed or he was unemployed in Grafton?
No, he soon got a job in Sydney and I think he worked for a chap named Larkham at first but I’m only guessing now. I don’t know much of them days because as a kid I didn’t know what he did.
So it sounds to me as though work had dried up in Grafton which had led him to come to the city to seek


work. Would that be a correct assumption?
Pretty close I’d say, yeah.
Getting back to you, you spoke a little bit about school, what were your favourite subjects?
Oh, maths, history, geography the usual run, mental arithmetic I liked.
And what could you see yourself doing after school, when you left school, what plans did you have for yourself as far as a


career was concerned?
Just to get a job because as I say I was at the wrong age when the Depression started you know the average boy of my age never ever worked he went to war that was the first time he got any money. I had chaps, mates in my street cause the average family then was 6, or 7, 8 kids and there was a hell of lot of kids in each street and the result was a lot of


them fellas came out they left school at 12 and 13 and 14, mostly left school at 14 mostly and they never ever got a job.
So what did they do?
Just nothing. If a family couldn’t keep you – in a lot of cases the family couldn’t keep them they had to get out so they jumped the rattler in other words the


goods train and it went all around and around and around. Now, as you jumped the rattler as they called it in them days if you reached Wauchope the police were waiting for you. The police always waited at every station in the country. They’d grab you and take you to the police station, you’d get a feed,


put in the cells and next morning leave town. You were allowed only to stop 24 hours in a town, that was the Depression. I was just lucky I was too young for that. I missed that.
That was quite a vivid description, I mean it wounds like the police were doing a welfare job here.
They had to. You see no town could support them. And


there was no – the only other alternative was the Federal Government or State Government one or the other would give you a pick and a shovel and a screen and you could go and look for gold. And a lot did that. A terrible lot did that otherwise you just carried a swag.
So the government was encouraging people to look for


That’s right.
How many actually found gold?
Oh, I suppose quite a few. That reminded me of when I went to Bathurst. That’s where they found gold.
That’s right that was one of the very first places of course.
Hargraves found it there.
You mentioned people getting as far as Wauchope would that pattern be repeated as they went on to different towns.
Everywhere, everywhere in the state. Don’t matter where


I only used Wauchope because Port Oak, no trains, Wauchope was a station.
And I mean did the police ever get nasty or brutal about this process?
No that I ever know of. You see I was really, wouldn’t really understand but not to my knowledge they didn’t. But they would just round them give them a feed, the policeman’s wife would do the cooking, sausage and eggs I would say and they were glad to get it.
So I guess that quite a few of the guys


that grew up with you did this process, went through this process of jumping the rattler. Where there any boys or young men in your street that you knew that had actually done this?
Not offhand, I couldn’t tell you, it was a long while ago.
But that’s really interesting because we have heard of other people talking about army service being the first job that people had, had.
That’s right.
You were very lucky to get the job at the age that you did? How did you land that job as a striker?


My father had two friends that were grave diggers in the Depression at the time. That wasn’t their trade, one was a blacksmith actually, the other fellow I couldn’t say for sure, but they were English fellows came over here and married


Australian girls and this chap, I worked for Ernie Holden, he was a Scotsman, and he was a brother-in-law of these two brothers, it was their sister that married Holden. Now, Holden – just a little bit off on the side, I got the job


I was too small they reckon and not strong enough but I was strong enough, but prior to coming to Australia he lived in Africa and his strikers there were Zulus and I became his Zulu.
Who was Holden? What was Holden’s full name? You said there was a man called Holden, what was his full name? Holden obviously being the surname?
Ernie, Ernie Holden.
Ernie Holden, yeah.


So could you just describe for me what Ernie Holden’s actual business was?
He was a motor smith, a blacksmith, a motor smith, see a blacksmith is a farrier with horses, we don’t have nothing to do with horses. You see what – he was clever it’s a funny thing with history things repeat themselves.
I might have to stop you there.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 02


You were saying Ernie Holden was clever in some way?
Oh, clever, a clever tradesman.
In what ways was he clever?
Oh, anything at all, he had the brain to invent anything. In fact it’s not only me saying that, travellers who used to sell the steel and that to us they all used to reckon they’d come to just watch him. And the funny thing about it,


as I say how history repeats the same thing in human life, where did Ernie finish up? At Homebush Abattoirs. How ended up a boss at Homebush Abattoirs my youngest brother knew him. What did he tell me? He said, “Holden was the best tradesmen the abattoirs ever knew.” And they employed in them days, they were big.
And you were saying


Holden had a problem with the drink?
Oh yes, he drank.
To what extent did that limit his abilities?
Didn’t limit it at all. As I say he was only a little man and he was not built for heavy work and yet it didn’t seem to worry him. He used to smoke two ounces of wild Woodbine which was about the lowest grade of tobacco of its day and he’d let it go right to the end


of his and it’d sit on the top of his lip. As he was using his hands see. You see all I did was have to bang the steel with a 10 pound hammer. It was hot in summer because it was right on a furnace, winter time well it was good.
Could you, you just mentioned a piece of iron, could you define for us what a striker actually did?
Well, when the steel becomes white hot,


he has the tongs, he’ll pull it out, he’s got a smallish hammer, I suppose weigh about 2 pound and he starts beating it into shape but he’s got to have something to really squash it and that’s the 10 pound slam. I’d be on the other side of the anvil and you’d bash it into shape you see. Well, to do bus axles they were big and heavy


and then once you straighten them or any of the steel you’ve got to harden it where you have a big fish tank and you drop it in with the tong you’re holding you just east it, lift it up and ease it down again. A couple of times and then they put it in the fish oil. Oh, the smell would knock you over. Well, it was a real fishy smell put it that way.


So you’re bending over and you’re getting the fumes straight up into your face. That was them days.
Where there dangers associated with this job?
There’s always dangers in jobs.
What were the dangers associated with this job?
Oh, steel flying off into the eye or anything, red hot or white hot. Or you’re hurting yourself some way or another. There’s many ways


with me striking that’s where he took the risk because I could strike him instead of the steel. Accidents could always happen. In them days there was no insurance and going on like they do today. Accidents happened.
Do any particular accidents stand out in your mind? That occurred to you or your boss?


did but not at that place.
What happened at this other place?
There was a young chap there he had no trade, funny think his name was Ernie too. He had part Aboriginal, he had a bit of Aboriginal blood in him. He’s a good fellow though, he’d only be about 22, married and


he was only a labourer around the place if you could see what I mean. Down below us, if you know Margaret Street at all in the city, it goes down the hill to the Street.


When you walked in at Sussex Street in that building, Broomfields was a big Chandlers there but most of them were Grain Merchants and when you walked in you walked across a bridge, a little bridge in the building. You, were three floors up from the street below you which was


I forget the name of it now it’ll come to me – but we had the two top floors and the bottom floor was Marine Engineers and they used to come and get timber off us, scrap timber, because there was a terrible waste of timber in them days, and they’d make there


whatever job they were on they’d make their patterns out of that time. And it appears this day one of the boys from down the Marine Engines came up and asked Ernie to put a bit of scrap timber he’d picked up through the planer and he did it. Now, there was only me there at the time, I was there, on the top


floor and Ernie on the second floor, all the rest were out at jobs. I was working on a piece of timber and this red splat hit it and then another one. I thought, “God, Ernie’s knocked the duco pot over.” We had a spraying outfit down below and I thought,


“That’s funny,” and then I realised it couldn’t be that because I was above him, hit me then. I ran down to see what was happening and Ernie had from right across he’d lost all his fingers, the whole lot. The timber had a knot in it and the blades


were blunt and when it hit the knot the blades dragged it down and his hand with it. It just struck it straight across. That ruined Ernie’s life but on top of that he gets nothing there was nothing. He shouldn’t have been using the machine and also they were responsible because they wouldn’t


use guards. The inspector used to come around from the government, he might make a round twice a year. Next door to us is a pub, when the Inspector comes around, there were two bosses, two partners, one the big fellow he’d grab him take him in shout him beer. While he shouted him


beer all the rest of us would have to put the guards on the machines. Soon as he went off came the guards.
It must’ve made quite a considerable impact on you because I gather you were the first on the scene?
I was, I didn’t know what to do.
What did you do?
Oh, I yelled out, some fellow from downstairs ended up coming up I yelled out till I got some people up. Ernie end up – as I say there was no compo [compensation], no nothing


them days.
What, how did that affect you in emotional terms, I mean you must’ve been in a state of shock for a start?
No, you didn’t get shock them days. See I was being worked as a cheap labour, I was apprenticed and was never taught. That’s what went on. This big fellow, the boss, Armour was his name,


he wouldn’t teach me. Him and his other partner hated one another and they never stopped fighting and all Armour did was go in and drink his head off all day in the pub next door.
Now, was this another job after the striker’s job?
I was an apprentice, indentured apprentice which was a tough one. I was taken away from my parents, as far as my parents had no say in what they did and they’d belt you up for anything.


Okay I just need to move this back on to the track of the chronology of what happened and when here, you’d worked for Ernie Holden for awhile?
What happened then?
I left him. Well, I wasn’t getting any money.
He’d reached the point where he couldn’t pay you?
No, he'd just go out and drink all the money. See we got a job with the abattoirs for 10,000 hooks, the


slide that they put the carcasses on. They had to be half round steel, it’s got to run along the slides, you’ve seen them, come down and then there’s the hook that hooks into the carcasses. We got a contract for 10,000 of them. Well, they used to pay him about every 1,000. We had only two of us working flat out but as soon as he got paid we wouldn’t see him again.
So for how long did you work for Ernie?
Oh, about


8 or 9 months I suppose a year.
So after that you became an indentured apprentice?
No, I went to AWA for awhile but I tossed them in pretty lively too.
What were you doing for AWA?
Only repetition work.
Repetition work?
Yeah, nothing, just like, they were making these radios, honest to goodness, I’d be down with a looking glass picking out steel filings that get in


the amplifier otherwise they cause noise.
It sounds a highly exciting job?
Well, they only get child labour. See I was still – at that time I would’ve been about 16 and a half. They use you cheap, they did it all the time. See in them days that was the normal thing, young people could get a job not older people. As soon as you turned 18 you got the sack and that was


AWA. Now, at AWA the common thing in them days, Christmas time, two weeks before Christmas – sack. If we want you back we’ll send a telegram.
So in what circumstances did you leave AWA?
Well, I got the telegram to come back and I told them what I thought of them.
In other words you got the sack for Christmas did you?
We all did. They’d lay of all


except staff the top bosses. No they laid the lot off, the whole lot off and those that they don’t want back don’t get a telegram.
So by the time you got the telegram inviting you back did you have another job by then?
No, actually, they don’t give you the sack they lay you off, put it that way. They lay you off on the surmise that you’ll get a telegraph if you’re wanted


back. I knew I was getting back because my boss told me. He said, “You’ll be coming back Allan,” he said “As soon as we can start up again.” But I turned around and it was about the middle of December when I went and others had gone a week or two before me they started. Well, when I went the bulk of them had been already laid off.


And the whole situation is so rotten. They didn’t have to pay you for 3 public holidays, that’s the way things worked.
So when you turned around and you told them that you weren’t going to go back, what happened then?
I just went around looking for a job and got a job. See in them days – where the big mistake’s made today – in them days you learnt to look for a job.


Now, I’d get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and walk into Sydney. I had no money so I walked in. Even when I worked I used to run home at night from central tech [technical college] in Maryanne Street, Ultimo. I’d run home from there, I’d have nothing to eat from dinner time when I had my lunch at the works and that night I’d have to go to tech I’d have to hang around for 2 hours from 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock and run


home at the finish.
It sounds like you had a very strong sense of personal motivation?
Well, I finished up that way. It’s certainly why I’m alive today. See I never give in. And the – really what happened I think is the fact is that wherever I had a chance I


took it. And I didn’t mind, as I say I loved sport and running home might take me an hour and half but that didn’t worry me. In fact I’d do it under the hour. In them days there was no what’s a name like today otherwise I’d been in money in marathons and that. See we lived a good kilometre I suppose ¾ of a mile from


Auburn shopping centre and the school. God, I’d run there in a couple of minutes, think nothing of it. See everything, that’s why I loved it as a kid all I wanted to do was get out. School holidays would come along and father would lay down what had to be done, so much timber cut for the stove was always fire burning


timber. So much gardening to do, everybody had gardens. No lawns you didn’t bother with that. Cutting grass that was a no, no. Does all help to survive, a family and…
Actually, if I can just sort of continue how you got the next job. So after AWA what was the next job you got?


the apprentice.
Now, what was that job?
Shop and office fittings in the city.
Now, you were starting to say before that they took over your life?
Well, they do. Cause you see an indentured apprentice you’ve got to go before a Court and your father signs rights away for you for 5 years – that’s in your indentureships


and there’s no such thing, the boss becomes your father insofar as that he can deal it out. If he wants he’ll give you a clip across the ears he does. If he wants to give you a kick in the backside he does. See what I mean, that’s what went on. That was life you knew no better because that’s how things were. Well, this crowd that I got entangled in they


turned around and had a good business really but everything had to be on the cheap as far as their labour was concerned. The boys – your wage was pitiful and they could not sack you without permission of


the Apprenticeship Council. And if you did anything wrong they’d have to go – you’d have to face the Apprenticeship Council which was like three Judges and they were in Grace Building and as I told you the – there was no love


lost between the partners. Now, to give you an idea, when I started there like all apprentices you start with a broom. You learn to clean up which is a wonderful thing though you don’t think of it at that time because the whole thing learns you a lesson that a good tradesman cannot work in dirt.


He always has everything laid out and everything’s clean and an apprentices part was to do all that clean, always keep always keep the place clean. Well, the first job I got I’ll never forget it. The office boss came to me, he was a fellow named Shields, he came to me and said, “Get a bucket and get a packet of calcimine and


get a step ladder and go up to Grace Building to Room 450 and paint it.” I’d never painted in my life. Anyway, you did it. Now, you go up a hill, just imagine it, you’ve got a step ladder under one hand, a 6 foot ladder because you had to get


to the ceilings, you had a bucket, calcimine and a brush in the other hand and you went up Margaret Street which was steep, you went into the dock, not the tradesmen’s entrance, not the York Street entrance you went in the Kent Street entrance of Grace Building. Now, the repat wasn’t there then, in them days and you


could easy find where to go because whatever the first number was the floor. If it was 450 it meant the 4th floor, room number 50. Well you’d go up and you’d paint it. You’d walk in, and you’d look at it and it looked beautiful, empty, it’s empty see. Nothing wrong with that wall but I’ve got to paint it so you painted it. You know the story of it.


They’re charging painters’ rates for a kid, a kid on a couple of shillings a day. Not my vice, Grace Bros’ vice.
It sounds like exploitation on all fronts.
The Grace Bros’ boss went to the GPS [Greater Public Schools] school that my boss went to this is the elites. They go to them schools and they don’t live up to them.


I never found this out for some years but I found out eventually but that was only one of the goes. Once looks after the other. Well, to cut a long story short the man managing Grace Bros which was the biggest building in Sydney or New South Wales at the time he got 10 years hard labour for


embezzlement. It came on a stunt with every man, they’re all in for their cut. My Boss went to school with him he gets to do these jobs whatever he charged it’d be split up.
It hardly sounds fair? So for how many years were you in…?
Five years. Just over the five and the war broke out.
You’ve referred to painting, you’ve referred to sweeping, what were some of your other activities there as in…?
Oh out


labouring and working building offices and that. See all offices, it’s a big business, shop and office fitting but it’s a very complex...
I was going to say as exploitative as it sounds you must’ve learnt a lot during that time?
I could learn myself because I wasn’t taught. He just refused to teach any more apprentices.
So how did you teach yourself?
Just working with the other fellows. But I was


never – I would never hold a ticket because I just learnt as I could.
What do you mean by the term I would never hold a ticket?
Well, I would never go back to it. I’d have to be retained. But I’d had enough by then. I decided not for me.
It doesn’t sound like an especially happy period of your life?
It wasn’t cause I got belted around there. The –


you had no assistance, no come back, being Depression, you couldn’t got to a Union or anything you had nothing. We had the sympathy of everyone around. I used to have to go down to a furniture place, Tommy Taylor’s, at that time fairly big furniture place, making furniture and the fellows there used to


feel that damn sorry for me I used to even wonder why they used to feel so sorry that’s how it used to be. They knew what they were like this pair see.
Were you working with other apprentices?
Only one and he got the sack without the apprenticeship council ever finding out. If I’d wanted to be really rotten I could’ve got them sent to jail.
It sound like even by the standards of that time you could’ve tipped a


considerable bucket?
Oh yes. See what happened there is worth hearing. The other apprentice was a year ahead of me and one of the other tradesmen was training him, it wasn’t a big place, but they’d been putting them through for years because it’s cheap labour. It wasn’t this fellows fault, Bill Arnott was his name, came from Bankstown,


Bill was at the bad age, 19 years. He would’ve been around 19 – 20. Girls – right. In them days you had nothing to do with girls, girls had no money and you had no money. You’d go to dances with them but as far as – you just had very little to do with girls in the sense – boys kept to


boys, girls kept to girls. Well, the old thing of sex was a mystery. Lo and behold what’s coming to the Tivoli in Sydney the Marcus Show. You mightn’t heard of it but the Marcus Show wouldn’t believe it in Australia had nudes on the stage.


Now, this is true. They had to stand statuesque, not move, no movement. They all had to be at least 6 foot tall. And who was in that show as well was…
Bob Dwyer…
Bob Dwyer, yeah, he was one of the


dancing sea man. How did you know that?
Oh, I know a few things.
Anyway, the older man like the fellows in their mid 20s and that, running around with girls, and course they’re saying things to Bill and getting him all churned up about this Marcus Show. So Bill goes to the Marcus Show, told the Boss his


grandmother had died and she was being buried that afternoon. See that’s how simple everyone was in the boys. So Bill goes and sees the show. The boss looks in the death notices in the paper, next morning he called Bill up and he had to admit his grandmother didn’t die – sacked him


Now, he had no right to sack him but in them days you couldn’t – you got no backing from your parents, not your mother your father. Your father’s attitude was you deserved it. See always a child was wrong, a child’s word against an adult’s word. See in them days the greatest


crime you could commit is lie. You were brought up to never lie. No matter what it was you didn’t lie. And if an adult said something about – you swore at them or something the father’d believe her he’d never believe you. That was they way they thought them days even if he knows she was lying for arguments sake if it was the next door neighbour


he’d still wallop you.
So the fact that Bill had lied really was a bad thing in the eyes of the employer?
Yes, but that wasn’t a sacking offence. The courts would never have allowed it. The apprentice court would never have allowed.
But he was sacked nevertheless?
Yes, but see I don’t know Bill’s circumstances with family but nobody said a word he just went. If his father had’ve kicked it would’ve been different.


bet. Now, where were you when you heard that World War II had broken out?
I heard World War II had broken out at my best mate’s place. It was night-time when Menzies made the announcement. I used to go over to his house. He was a very clever engineer. And he was a couple of years older than me. And he –


Harry was a funny fella.
Harry was your best mate was he?
Yes, he was my best mate.
He was a funny fella?
He’d lay down – cause he’d be tired. He’d lay down but he wanted me to stop next to his bed talking to him till he went to sleep. I had to walk about a kilometre home then. But I used to go over to Harry’s a lot. His father treated me like a son. His father was blown up


in World War I at Metropolitan Vickers, I think it was, Armstrong Vickers, the arms people in England. His father was a clever engineer. And he used to take fits all the time from the bombing and they said he’d never do any good unless – they moved him over to Australia. Harry was only a


baby then.
He was blown up? You mean he was blown up in the war?
Yeah, zeppelin. The zeppelins.
There was a zeppelin raid in London was there and he was a victim of one of those raids?
Right, just getting back to the night that Menzies announced World War II, can you remember your reaction to that announcement? You were presumably at Harry’s place when you heard this?
How did you react and how to the other people react when you heard this announcement?
We could see it coming really.


As far as I was concerned I’m in.
In what way had you seen it coming?
Oh, well all the papers, the press the goings on. It had to come sooner or later. Hitler wasn’t going to stop it. So, it was no great surprise really. It had been hinted at for some time.
Were you still doing your apprenticeship at this stage?
No, I was out then.
You were out. Had you done,


were you doing other forms of work after the apprenticeship?
No, no, no, see what the – getting back to the apprenticeship, what the boss, what they were doing there as soon as you come out of your apprenticeship they’d haul you down to the council, apprentice council as say, “Oh, he’s not reached the standard yet.” They’d get permission to keep you employed as a –


they’ve got a name for it – like more learning, in other words they did it with them all. The chaps who I already worked with who were 25 –26 there were chaps coming in there who weren’t in the trade at all, they were getting them as…
Are we talking about some kind of trainee?
No, it was just what you’d already been doing all along.
So you were in that situation were


you? At this time?
So you said that you’re reaction to hearing the broadcast was ‘I’m in’ what was the next step as far as you were concerned in terms of enlistment?
I’m going – get out of that joint, can’t be any worse.
What did you actually want to do when you enlisted? Obviously you saw yourself becoming some kind of solider what did you have in mind for yourself?
Well, to be honest I believe in telling the truth on any of them,


I thought now which is the safest, they’re not going to let me be given a pip straight away so I decided to be a gunner, artillery. Now, I thought artillery is not right up in the mud. So when I went to the showground, they were up in one of the


pavilion parts, sitting on the seats, spectators seats tiered up and I see ‘Gunners – sign up Gunners’ so I went up. There were about 40 –50 blokes up there then. And I’m sitting there minding my own business and an officer comes along. I could tell by his cap and, see had the cap and uniform we were in civvies. He said, “What trade did you


do? Did you have a trade?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “What were you doing?” I said, “Joinery.” “Oh, you’re in the wrong part son, you’re in the engineers.” Best thing ever happened.
Oh, they’re far superior to any of the others. I’m not being a snob, no, a different life.
Well, we’ll probably cover that but I’ll remember this point and we might come back to it in various ways. So


this was your enlistment at the showground?
What was the next step for you?
Well, the next step was to go out to the camp.
Which camp was this?
At Ingleburn and that’s when I got posted to the 2/6th Field Engineers. Now, you got 3 companies to a division. Now, a division’s 20,000


men. You’ve got 3 companies of engineers, each company supports a brigade, a brigade is a 3rd. Three brigades to the division. Now, a field company is infantry only the work is a bit different but you’re still front line. You’re up the front and


each day one of your sections is supporting a battalion. There’s 3 battalions to a brigade. And when I joined up the 6th had been filled I became in the 7th and when I went – first of all you had to


pass a test at the showground that night you had to pass in my case a chips and the –
What do you mean a chips?
Carpentry? You had to pass a carpentry skill test?
Yeah well that’s joinery, it’s joinery, carpentry it’s all the same. Joinery’s more finer than carpentry, put it this way again I’m not being snobbish…
No it’s as well to define these things.
It’s more finer, the other’s a more rougher trade in comparison. Same as building, building’s mostly carpenters that’s rough carpentry compared to joinery. Joinery’s high polished.
So you passed this and then what was the next step?
Over to Ingleburn and then found out where – 2/6th Field Engineers and I became a SABER [Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements].
Now, could you define


what a field engineer actually was and what he did?
Well, a field engineer well the crux of his job is he’s got to do every type of work and scrounge and thieving you can think of. Nothings supplied, you’ve got to thief it. But if you get caught they won’t defend you.


Hold on, this is extraordinary – were the materials not supplied? Why not?
Because they didn’t have it. See an officer said, let me explain, this happened at Bathurst camp. An officer wanted, he was an architect, a good one. A young officer, only young, he wanted a little desk made to do some drawings


so muggins catches it. Nothing’s supplied bar tools, you have a tool kit but the camp was only half finished and there’s a timber yard about a mile away and nobody’s looking after it at night-time. So I get a couple of mates and we go over and thief what we can to try and make this thing for him.


Bring it back, made the best I could cause you just had to get what you could find. That’s what they call scrounging.
Right, so to go back to, actually we might continue that on the next tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 03


So you gave a fantastic definition of what an engineer and what your role was an engineer but could you tell us a bit more about the training that you did at Ingleburn?
Well, you train in explosives for a start, mostly the early training was route marching and normal infantry


training and you were – then the various trades see an engineer unit is made up of mostly tradesmen with some of the non trade fellows making up rifle, extra rifle power. What you really did outside of the normal infantry


training was fairly basic. One important one was the explosive, how to use and what power and so forth. But it wasn’t very successful that one at infantry, you shouldn’t have asked me that.
In what ways wasn’t it successful?
Well, the first lesson we got was an expert came in


an explosive man, he’d be army and they had the stunted – what’s the name trees there you see around the city – tea tree types and he was using gun powder and


what’s a name, gelignite. He’d show you the different powers because different explosives worked different as far as their power base goes and he’d demonstrated gun powder on a tree and how it blasted it from just above the base of the tree and then he done the gelignite


and he’s warning all the time that should it misfire the lead like leading to the detonator, should it misfire wait about 10 minutes don’t go over to it. Well, it did misfire, nobody went over to it, he didn’t go, course he had to go first, he didn’t


go. He went – he had about 10 minutes over he goes and bang up he went. That was our first lesson – got seriously injured. I don’t know whether he survived.
What happened to him?
Well, you got the, of what do the call you know the lead the fuses all the way till…
The fuse wire.
The fuse wire. The fuse wire


stopped and naturally he did the right thing he took the time about 5 or 10 minutes and just as he got to it up it went. The thing had obviously just smouldered. It must’ve been faulty, it smouldered itself till it burnt to a certain extent and then took off again and he just reached it as it exploded.
That must’ve


had quite an impact on you and your mates?
No it’s a funny thing when you say that – it’s not that you’re hardened it’s just that these things happen and you don’t seem to take much notice just as long as it don’t happen to you. That seemed to be the attitude. It didn’t, it didn’t one thing helped me I ended up in hospital, muggins it was a hot day –


on the ground is bits of gelignite that had not – blown off the stick – never exploded with it and it’s just like rosin, soft rosin, and while I’m watching and listening to him here I am crumbling it in my hands, I wasn’t to know it was the worst thing you could do. Skin absorbs it,


you’ll get the most terrible headache you’ll ever experience in your life. You can feel the top of your head going up and down.
So you ended up in hospital after this?
Yes, because I crumbled this stuff and I got – I didn’t know what caused it until those that knew explosives told me what I did. You shouldn’t ever crumble it up because it gets into the


Getting back to the demonstrating the bombs, what was it he was demonstrating?
Just blowing a tree up.
Blowing a tree up. What happened, what did you do when the bomb exploded? What happened next?
Well you really did nothing just got a shock. The point was


all you see was dust and leaves.
But, I mean I imagine people would’ve gone to his aid?
Oh yes, you’ve got to remember there was maybe a 100 of us there and the officers – they’d have officers and they’d have a first aid fella in attendance. Tough


see them days – nothing like today everything was so basic in them days. These things happened and you just took them in your stride.
So what, okay, that was one part of your training obviously not a very


happy part of your training…
It didn’t help us very much put it that way. See we didn’t touch the explosives. We weren’t to try we were just getting a lecture on various strengths and differences between different explosives but it got curtailed when he got blown up.
How common were accidents during training?
Oh, not too bad. See in your training you had no live ammunition


or anything. Your most common accident would be somebody spearing one another with a bayonet. Like pulling it out and sticking accidentally into themselves see accidents can happen so easily you wouldn’t credit they could happen. I can give you an idea, I seen it happen as a prisoner with the Japanese on the Burma Railroad. Swinging pick and shovels with 50 men


no bigger than this area, well what happens – one fella they’re not all experts, he swings it back and the point of the pick goes into the back of the fella behind him. See what I mean, you don’t think. That’s what happens. See it’s so easy nobody thinks that in a small area so many there swinging picks and


shovels somebody’s going to get hit cause you’ve got to allow room with anything.
Of course nowadays we have occupational health and safety.
Well, you’ve got everything now, they don’t use pick and shovels. If you show a fella pick and shovel he wouldn’t know what to do with it. You know, that’s one of the great disasters of today.
I imagine though, I mean I guess back then you would’ve appreciated some improvements


in the safety. I mean having seen someone blown up in training
Yes, but our job was to blow the other fellows up and when it all boils down it gets down to mines. See that was one of our main jobs.
Yes, now if we could back to that because you mentioned in your definition of engineering you did a lot of scrounging but I imagine that there was a hell of a lot more that


the engineers did. Can you tell us more about what the role of engineers…
Well, they do everything. They have to get the bridges across the river to get the tanks and the infantry across. You’ve got to do the roads in a mountainous country. When you blow the road, you’ve got a sheer mountain, you’ve got no road. You’ve got to get a road through, you’ve got to get the tanks and that through because there’s no time.


Everything is speed, well it don’t matter what you do in your civil life you become the labourer to the expert of whatever the job is at the time. In other words, if it’s a road, you’re pick and shovel. If it’s an explosive you’re doing mines or pulling up mines of the enemy. If it’s booby traps, for arguments sake, you’ve got to turn


around and learn to disarm one. If you make a mistake you kill yourself and your company mates with you. There was a film made many years it was well worth if they showed it today. It was a documentary in England of the mine, of the mine engineers of which the German unexploded bombs


they may be 6 foot, 8 foot under the ground, they came across an unexploded bomb. Well, these teams are trained but they’ve got to go in and learn to take the fuse off the bomb otherwise it could take a whole block of houses. They were huge bombs.
What was your speciality?
You’ve got no real speciality, a sabotage when he’s told. If you’re told


to go out to a minefield you went to it.
So, I mean I’m just trying to picture what your exact role was? As I’m understanding it you participated in all different types of activities that engineers do?
Everything oh yeah, that is a Sabo’s [SABER’s] job. He’s got to do everything. Now, in the fighting he doesn’t go over the top with the infantry he’s got to get in first.


The main reason there was you’ve got barbed wire. It’s the Sabo that’s got to go and put what they call a Bangalore torpedo. All it is a length of pipe oh about 4 or 5 foot long filled with explosives with a detonator in it and the fuse. He’s got to get up to that wire on his stomach, you don’t stick your head up otherwise you get it shot off, he’s got to try and get up


to that wire mostly at dawn or night and get the Bangalore torpedo through the wire. See when it’s fused and it explodes the wire parts and that gives just like a roadway through the barbed wire. Otherwise men can’t get over barbed wire.
And this is what you…
You have to do. I didn’t have to do it because we didn’t get called upon. 6th Div


had to do it in the desert.
But you were trained to do…
Oh, yes that’s all the training. An engineer’s life is pretty hectic as far as what you can be called upon to do.
Now, you mentioned that the engineer’s was the best job, why’s that?
Oh yes, well you’re not tied up a battalion


is a 1,000 men, it might be a bit more with reinforcements that’s full strength. But rarely you are at full strength. A company of engineers is approximately 250 odd. Now, of that 250 you’ve got about 30 or 40 would be transport. Your own trucks, your drivers and the other is 3 sections of engineers.


That makes up a company so you’re only a quarter of the size of the battalion. But also you finish up in all different countries. For arguments sake, one company could be in Palestine, one company could be up in Libya in the desert and one company could be Egypt. You’re moving away all the time. You’ve more freedom, you’re more on your own, you’re not tied up in –


you’re on different jobs all the time. Your routine doesn’t – you’re learning put it this way it’s like an apprentice. Your learning something all time.
Now, how are you enjoying the training after coming from the work life that you had?
Oh, I loved it. I really loved it.


What I mean, that company’s my second love, honest it is. That’s why I’ve become a prisoner in my own home. I lost the greatest love of the world as far as outside of my wife. You get bond somehow or other you can never explain it. Even with your mixture of blokes you’ve got to live with some are good, some are bad, some are murders and some are angels, God knows


what. You live and you miss them because you live so long with them. And you rely on each one for your life. Your life hedges on everybody.
How much of that love that you’re talking about, that bond, started to develop while you were training?
Well, with me I think it started pretty soon after I started in the army.


They’re good mates, everybody, the company was a beautiful company. It was in my opinion, the best company in the whole of the British Empire. It had good leaders, good officers. You had your good and bad amongst the men but they were still good as far as you were concerned. You overlooked the bad.
I’d like to talk more about the men and the officers but I guess that’ll


come out as we progress through your story cause I know there will be incidences along the way where that will probably be more obvious to talk about it then. So perhaps if we could go back to your training, I believe that you marched from Ingleburn to Bathurst.
Yes, that’s right.
Can you tell us about that?
Yes, the march took place I’d say around the end of July, it’s only a guess. We


did it in about a week. See you did it in stages and as you marched, everything’s so primitive in them days, you be attacked by little what’s a name aircraft, little planes, two wings…


Mosquito bites?
No, no, they’re modern, no just like these pip squeaks that come over from the aerodrome the real old…
Tiger Moths?
Tiger Moths, yeah, you’d have them diving down on you.
This was during the march?
Why were they diving down on you?
Training you, that’s how you’re going to get divided down on when you went overseas.


You know just getting you to dive for cover in the – you’d leave the road, you’d be on the road, you’d have to dive into the side into what ever the side of the road the gutter whatever. See you’re out in the country. It’s all country, you’re not anywhere near houses or anything.
So I believe that this march was quite a big momentous march that…
Oh, it was for them days. It was good, I enjoyed it.
How many men were involved


in the march?
There’d have to be all told I suppose 3,000. You see you’ve got two infantries 2/13, 2/17th and you had the 3 field companies, 4th 5th and 6th and I don’t know who else – that’s about all would’ve been in it I think. No the Gunners weren’t in it I don’t think. They were at a different camp.
How long did it take?


About a week, you had a day off. You had a day off on Sunday. The – we marched through – put a march on through Lithgow, Katoomba and Bathurst. Bathurst was the big one for us – no city.
What were the conditions like on the march?
Good, good. There was only one thing that


was wrong with it, was if you got picked on guard duty at night. You know why don’t you?
Because you had to stay up?
Tell us why?
Lithgow was notorious for Terry Beer. As soon as they get anywhere they’ve got to get into the hops. As soon as they get


into the hops they’ve got to fight one another. You’ve got 3 different companies they’re all the best and they’re all envious of one another and what do they do, some fellows go around deliberately picking the fights. The poor blokes put on guard getting bashed up trying to stop them. That’s what goes on. That’s true.
I imagine that this happened to you a couple of time?
Yes, I got on guard couple of times.


So what happened?
You’d just break up a fight and a fella would come running down there’s another one around the block. You’d run around the block stop that. There’s another one up the end – they were doing it deliberately half of them.
How did you stop them?
Well, you either got a hiding or they got it. You managed to break them apart. It was not a fair go to the blokes having to do the guard duty.


I mean they didn’t want it. They didn’t start the fight. But that does on all the time in the army.
Now, when you weren’t on duty would you participate in the fighting and drinking yourself?
No way, I was keeping the fighting for later on. No. No, there is a reason why, I wasn’t a drinking boy.
Why weren’t you a drinking boy?
I seen enough of it with my father.


He liked his drink at the weekend and he used to come home drunk, really drunk and cause trouble. Being a kid growing up I used to get that damn frightened. In them days the weapon was a cut-throat razor and he’d always say, “I’ll cut your bloody throat.” I used to have nightmares every time there was a creak in the house. See how it comes up,


little things like that how it’s your whole life you never forget it and it takes your life. In other words, it sticks with you.
Was your father a violent man towards his family?
No he wasn’t really. No, no, in his rights for them days he was a good father. But that’s the way a normal family was. When it was normal, you had your violent families and


your non-violent families but they were like that. In other words to put it bluntly, your drinking hours were short for them, they’d knock off say at 5 o’clock and the pub closed at 6. Well, you imagine today, you’d have the same thing happening today, they’re trying to drink so much in a short time. Whereas today they can take their time.
Would you say perhaps your father would be more verbally


aggressive rather than physically?
Oh yes, he was all bluff. But I didn’t know that at the time. But I mean when you’re small that started – goes right back to when I was only 6, 7 and 8. You don’t forget them things.
So clearly the fact that you father was a heavy drinker influenced your decision not to drink?
Oh yes.


And that’s interesting because I know that the army boys used to – there was a culture of drinking.
How were you seen by the other blokes that you didn’t drink?
Oh, I’d drink a bottle of beer. I mean I drink socially, don’t get me wrong, I reckon there’s nothing like a first glass of beer on a hot day but it’s all I’ll have. I don’t want any more. I’ve had my


drink, where others in the end you could be giving them a glass of water and they still think they’re drinking beer. That’s how bad they get. It’s so stupid and I come up with a culture as why send the publicans kids to the GPS school and have to send your own to the state school. You see the culture which is true. In other words why can’t your kids get the same education?


as the bloke you’re putting the money in to send his, which is right. Oh no, no, look I’ve got beer here now that lays there form Christmas to Christmas until my kids come. My boys are drinkers. My father wasn’t a heavy drinker he never drank Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, payday Friday, he’d come home drunk Friday night and he’d go out with his mates Saturday morning


about 10 o’clock, they usually go out to watch a football match or a cricket match. The big matches in town and stop at every pub on the way and stop at every pub on the way home. He took me a few times to the cricket back in Bradman’s days, the tests with a mate and I used to get tired of going, every pub they’d come to they’d go in, you see I was only about 12, sit outside waiting.


This was all through Surry Hills and that. And there’s a lot of pubs, there was in them days every street corner had them.
Yeah, I actually live in Surry Hills there’s a couple of pubs around the corner from me.
It’s up to the person themselves. My attitude was that I was better off leaving it alone. It didn’t appear to me. I liked a drink but only one. I’d had enough.


So what happened once you got to Bathurst?
Well, we had to help finish the camp. It was the same training virtually as we were doing before. We were still training you know flat out on whatever had to be done. You just, each day might be a route march today 7 or 8 mile, tomorrow might be something else. It didn’t


vary very much. The training was more hardening us up than anything. But it was at just before we left Ingleburn it was the first time we had a shoot, that was at the rifle range at Liverpool when we got live ammunition and the targets and they gave us, that’s the only time they gave us, we were


using .303 rifles with .22 ammunition and it was a real windy day. The flags were out straight from the blow but I lost all regard for country fellas that time.
Why was that?
They don’t know how to shoot at all. I was reasonably country but I was recognised as city slicker then. All I’d had


a fire on was a daisy air rifle that a friend, one of my school mates. I used to get a fire from it occasionally. Nobody had any money to buy the BBs [ball bearings] and or slugs so we used peppercorn berries. I got the memento until this day.
You’ve got them where, I’m sorry?
A memento…
Where’s that, oh your…?


A scar above your…?
I’ve got a brown scar – I was giving cheek to one of them. He had a gun flicking it up and down and I’m the other side of a 6 foot fence giving cheek to him and he pulled the trigger and it went right in my eye. It was a peppercorn berry, it left a mark.
So you got shot by a peppercorn?
Yeah, see you’ve got some things should be in the Guinness Book of Records but they don’t put it


No, gosh, well I’m glad to see that you recovered from your peppercorn shooting incident. Now, the Kelso camp at Bathurst could you describe that for us, what was it like?
The what?
Was it the Kelso camp at Bathurst? Is that what it was called?
It’d be Kelso that’s right. What did I say, Hayford? No, it’s Kelso. No that was the furthest one out from Bathurst the


infantry and the other two field companies a bit closer in. We were the furthest out. It was a sheep property. We had a mascot, an Irish Wolf Hound, and he took a liking to the sheep. He used to get out and kill some every night so we had to get rid of him. But mostly it was training in the


gullies and so on. I think about the only thing of note there was the two brown snakes.
What happened with the two brown snakes?
Well, we just had lunch, we’d been out in the morning and come in for lunch. Went out again we’d only just got across one of the paddocks when here we had two brown snakes and they were mating.


And in goes the country boys and oh awful, they picked up dry sticks and they tried to hit the snakes and the sticks just fall apart. Gee, I tell you what. Anyway, a city fella ended up getting with his rifle and when it and wailed them. Just under 6 foot both of them.


Oh, they were savage. Of course trying to hit them with dry sticks only made them more savage but they couldn’t separate and the result is because they wind around one another, and the result is they killed them. It made a little bit of a difference for awhile.
Now, you mentioned you had to get rid of the mascot?
I don’t know, I


think some lady might’ve got him. You know what an Irish wolf hound looked like?
I’ll show you one after. I’ve got a photo upstairs of it, of the march in Katoomba it’s only a little one, a little brownie but you’ll see him right out in front. We had a, the 2/6th had a Scots band, Scots pipers and we always led. We were the only ones had the band. And…


So what kind of instruments were in the band?
The bagpipes, yeah Scots pipes, bagpipes oh good. But they – the boys that took that on they got out of training. They used to get out in the back blocks blowing the pipes. They were that awful nobody else had to listen to them but they ended up good.


Now, how did you first hear that you’d be going abroad?
Oh, we went on final leave. Went on our final leave – a week and then railed down from Bathurst to Sydney. Had a week and then went back minus so many we never ever seen again. You always get that on final leave they just disappear.


Well, you get a lot of shrewd fellas. They getting looked after in the army, they get their meals and they’re getting things supplied, clothes supplied and that but they don’t want to go overseas. So they just disappeared.
So how many would’ve disappeared?
Oh, I don’t know, but I know you missed familiar faces put it that way. The original company I’ve got the


roll upstairs the whole roll of the original company when it was first formed. While the Major was trying to work it evenly between the sections of the various trades and everything, now in that roll I suppose the original crowd that went in on that roll at least a quarter of them never sailed.


a lot.
Well, you had some World War I fellas and they weren’t going to last they were too old. They weren’t getting them easy you know the 6th Div finished up quick but no division after that, no they were too wise the later ones they weren’t going to be in it. We were never at full strength.
So you had your final leave, what do you recall of your farewell from Australia?


Farewell from Australia?
Well, it was a funny thing, in them days everywhere you went it had more or less do not speak, keep your mouth shut, the walls have ears and the ears belong to the enemy. You got that blasted into you so much you were too scared stiff to speak to your best mate at


times. Well, it’s a secret, nobody knows 7th Div’s sailing. Everywhere we went the platforms are loaded with people. The bridges we passed under were full of people all the way from Bathurst to Sydney. The roads are lined with people. The enemies not supposed to know, I ask you. And of course when we hit Sydney


you went in via the goods entrance. You didn’t go to Circular Quay or anything, there was no Wynyard or that, you went to Central Station. You didn’t go to Central Station, you went around Glebe the goods yard and got on a ferry and was taken over to the Queen Mary. And she was as I say, the only place they could berth her was out in the steam just off the zoo, that’s the deepest part of


the harbour of course she’s 85,000 ton. She’s was big ship, but hell ship.
So the fact that this was supposed to be in secret, and the fact that it clearly wasn’t, what kind of mood did that place on this journey from Bathurst down to Sydney?
Oh, happy to think the people thought so much of you. You couldn’t have got a better farewell. They were cheering and waving.


So how excited were you about going overseas?
Oh, pretty excited, it’s something you know everybody seems to get excited they want to go overseas, looking forward to it. Like everything else it was going to be a change. Didn’t know what we were going to be heading into but at that age we didn’t care. I was 21,


21, no I’d turned 22 by then when we sailed.
Now, you mentioned in the summary that you were on the Queen Mary, can you describe in a bit more detail what the Queen Mary was like?
Well, she was still in her luxury state but it’s hard to answer your questing for one reason we only had –


every door had guards on it ‘no entry, no entry, no entry’ that’s officers and nurses only. In other words, it’s like this room, the doors are there but you couldn’t go in. You didn’t see the ship at all, only where we were in the dining room. It used to take you an hour and a half to get to the dining room. And by the time you had your breakfast it was time to line up again to go for your dinner.


So why did it take an hour and a half?
Well, 10,000 men all stuck in one little part of the ship and you had to go down oh from the deck you’d gone down maybe 6 or 8 flights of stairs. Lined up, standing there maybe moving an inch at a time just like lining up at the bank on a pension day. That’s


true and the food was rotten. It was – you see the Queen Mary was only built – her refrigeration was only for three days.
So what food were you being fed?
Oh, that’s a hard question now, but one was rotten eggs because they had beautiful murals in the dining rooms. Huge dining rooms


and the troops pelted them with these eggs. Oh, they did a lot of damage on the Mary.
Did you pelt a few eggs yourself?
No I didn’t. I wasn’t one of the – to me I admired good work. I didn’t like to see that happen really. No I didn’t but then again there was such a lot in the dining room, there might’ve been 3 or 4 hundred in the one sitting. Might only been about 20 throwing the egg


but that’s all you needed.
We’ll pick that up on the next tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 04


Okay, you mentioned that there was a bit of egg throwing what was the mood like on board the Queen Mary?
Mood – very bad, it was bad. See right in the bowels of the ship you got the hammocks and it’s shoulder to shoulder. It was unhealthy, it was hot because you see you were cramming men shoulder to shoulder


no air, everything stale. She carried too many. See 10,000 is a lot in one ship. You can imagine when there’s limited space for 10,000, if you’d put 5,000 it wouldn’t have been so bad. So what happened they mutinied to get on the decks. So they ended up they got on the decks, those that wanted to go on the decks see


and get the fresh air but the crew took their revenge. They used to come around at half past 4 in the morning with the hoses hosing the decks down. That’s what went on.
Now, tell me more about this mutiny because this sounds really interesting, what took place with the mutiny?
Oh, well the men just revolted.
How did they revolt?
Well, they went up on the decks and wouldn’t get off them. What I mean they just wouldn’t take it


any more see. And course the officers ended up having to back down. See very strange things happen. When you sail in war, you’re at war from the word go, an old saying was, that when you’re out at sea if you’re unpopular as an officer that you disappear


over the board, over the rail.
How often did that happen?
I don’t know, I don’t want to know. It can happen to anybody even the men if they don’t wash and have a bath – get rid of them. Whether it happens I can’t tell you but that used to be the whisper around – over the side.
No wonder the officers backed down.
They didn’t want to be seen.


I mean was there – I mean you called it a mutiny that the men refused to go back down under the decks, what conflict occurred between the officers and the men?
Oh, it only came to the officers – it come to the discussion that the fact that what the men said was right. The men were in the right, the officers by trying to force them all down below was in the wrong, they knew that. You see it’s like everything else


it doesn’t matter what it is you got it all through from your wealthy… What do the pollies [politicians] call it? All, always picking on – when the working class is picking on the wealthy class, what do they call it now there’s always a saying –
I’m not sure…
Oh, you’ve heard it often, it’s…
I’ve got the gist,


I’m sure it’ll come to you.
It will. The working person picking on the wealthy person put it that way, they’ve got a word they use for it.
You mentioned this mutiny and the egg throwing what else happened on board this ship?
There was nothing could happen on a ship with so many on her. She you only had the boxing then


that was the only entertainment. Your boxing and a bit of physical activity. There was nothing else, nothing you could do. There was no room, no where to move really. So they had a boxing ring, they always do have boxing rings set up and they just run the championships on it.
Where was the boxing ring set up?
Oh, I couldn’t tell you now.
Was it on deck or down below?
Oh, it’d have to be upstairs. It’d be on the deck I’d say. It’d be on the deck. It would have to be where most of them could see it.


You’re looking at so many men trying to see two fellas fighting in a boxing ring. But no they did it they got it fixed. Getting back to Bathurst, we had nothing at Bathurst. We didn’t have a canteen we had nothing because it wasn’t built. We just put the money in with the


officers and that, built ourselves a boxing ring and what happened just as we finished away we go. Next crowd coming in got a boxing ring, we didn’t get anything.
That’s a bit annoying.
Yeah, and there was no canteen. The canteen was miles away at the battalions.
So back on the Queen Mary there was obviously boxing for entertainment but how would you alleviate the boredom?


Well, I don’t think you had a chance to alleviate it as I tried to explain you got breakfast, lunch and dinner well that nearly took all your day up and down the stairs with a bit of physical exercise thrown in on the deck with your Sergeants you know at the time


but outside of that there was really no chance of getting bored just standing on the stairs if you fell asleep you’d fall down on the fella in front of you.
What sort of physical exercise would you do on board with the Sergeant?
Oh, just the usual push ups types of things and that. Just that, you used to get about only half an hour of it. You didn’t do much.
And what route


did this ship take?
She went to Melbourne outside Port Phillip Bay she picked up the Mauritania and Aquitania they had between them the other 10,000 troops. Now, the Mauritania was a beautiful ship. She was I think roughly about 40,000 tonner and the Aquitania was a


freight ship originally. She was four funnels. She had – she was much older but she was still a beautiful liner. She picked them up and we were escorted by the Sydney, HMAS Sydney to Fremantle and the Bight [Great Australian Bight] was rough and we had a lot of seasickness with lot of the men had never been to sea before. And to give you an idea the weight of them ships


when we went into Fremantle it was as smooth as a pond and she was still rocking from the Bight, because the Bight was fairly rough. In other words instead of getting into smooth water and righting herself she couldn’t she kept rocking backwards and forwards. That kept on for a couple of days. Why they pulled in there was to get the West Australian and South Australian


contingents. See, the Victorians had the Mauritania and Aquitania, Sydney had for the Mary, Queenslanders, New South Wales but you had West Australia’s and South Australia’s – well they went aboard – not the


Mary she couldn’t take any more – they went aboard the Aquitania and Mauritania. And then we set sail across the ocean, the Indian Ocean. This time the Sydney left us and HMAS Perth took over as escort. And they escorted us to Bombay. Now, the ships are that big, the Mary I’m talking of, was that big


you couldn’t even see India. You couldn’t even see there land you were that far out at sea. Couldn’t go in any closer it wasn’t deep enough.
So what happened after Bombay? Did you get to stop over at Bombay?
Oh yes. You see at that time it was the early part of the war we had no air superiority. And the superiority the Italians had it. And


you couldn’t risk the big ships with them. And the result was they’d only go as far as Bombay. Well, the water was dirty, filthy even that miles out to sea. No sanitation see from India. India’s filthy. We were taken aboard the Rohna,


R.O.N.A. she was a cargo boat and she’d take us, she’d be about 3,000 ton and she’d move you to Bombay to the wharves where you’d get out. She’d come back out and pick up another lot.
And how long did you get to stay in Bombay?
Oh, it’s a bit hard to remember that many years ago, 60 odd years, I’d say about 5 days


6 days you had to wait while another convoy formed to take you. Some of the troops were taken up into the mountains to where the British hierarchy used to go to Poona but I was in camp at Bombay about 3 mile out of Bombay. At Bombay


we used to – about 5 days I suppose there 5 or 6 days. But at Bombay the Indians had these big marquee tents, you slept in them and they did all the cooking. The Indian cooks, they’d be army, Indian army cooks. They’d cook sausages and so forth and you used to train in the morning, mad dogs and Englishmen they always copied that.


You’d do a route march of a few mile in the heat and then you’d have the rest of the day off at 6 o’clock but you weren’t allowed to stop in Indian at night. All the trip over you were filled to by the officers you were not to go to Grant Road. I don’t know where human nature starts and stops with their common sense.


What happens when you tell people not to go anywhere? The whole mob, nurses, generals right down all in Grant Road. Plus the troops.
Now, I’ve heard a bit about what went on at Grant Road, can you describe Grant Road for us?
Well, I didn’t hardly go to Grant Road to be quite honest with you I


was getting some fun elsewhere as far as Indian goes. Grant Road was the red light district and the women it appears, the girls and that were all in cages above about the first floor up and they’d be yelling o out to the troops and that down below see. Actually, from what I could see of Grant Road I had more fun


where I was. There were three of us we’re walking into Bombay and there’s a bloke stops us, an Indian stopped us with a basket and he’s got this little animal on his – like a squirrel on his arm. All right, he wanted 10 annas from the


each of us, 10 annas to see the mongoose fight the cobra. Right we paid him, he lifted up the lid and up shot the cobra, I don’t know how but I found myself from here to that door further away and I don’t remember moving. Honest – scared the living daylights out of me. The damn cobra shot straight up.


I gather they fought?
Oh yes. Oh yes, they fight. Mongoose always wins.
And the cobra was killed.
Killed yeah. India’s rotten with cobras. I forget how many thousands Indians die each year even to this day from cobra bites.
You mentioned you were getting your fun elsewhere?
Well, that was it. Seeing things like that, that


appealed to me more than going to Grant Road. I knew three quarters of the ship would finish up in Grant Road walking along but no. I went into town a day or so afterwards. I lost the greatest opportunity of my life. I was with two older men, one was attached to us all the


time permanently he was a first aid man he had the training see. He was from the Railways he was a first aid man in the Railways and the other chap he was an older fellow, a decent bloke but he was no soldier. He disappeared just after we got over there – the Middle East. They just leave, go home they send them back home. But the, you got the


cast in Indian and the high caste is Passé, now the Passé’s are on level with the British the others are down lower levels. The lowest of all is the Tamil. He’s the low caste, untouchable. Now, the British allowed us to use their canteens of course we’d go in there to have lunch


and Passé women help in there with the English ladies, all voluntary, they’re on the same footing. Anyway, this lady seemed to take a bit of a shine to me. And she wanted me to ask the major, perfect English, to come and stop with them


as their guests while we were in, while we were in Ankelet and of course the two older blokes are (UNCLEAR) me, you know, go on, see Major Calder. She’d had New Zealanders been there just before us. A crowd of New Zealanders, I believe they’d played up a fair bit but one of their chaps had stopped with her. And course, sticking in the back of my head don’t talk, don’t let –


your enemies listening, never tell who you belong to. Don’t tell your Companies who it is nor the division. No way I wouldn’t be in it. One thing I don’t think Major Calder thought enough of me to give me permission anyway.
So you didn’t follow through because you felt that she was potentially…
No, oh no, no, way at all, she wouldn’t be in the canteen


if she was anything like that. No, about one of the wealthiest women in Indian, in Indian one of the wealthiest families in Indian. I wasn’t to know that. She was going to send me parcels. I wasn’t to know that.
You might’ve missed out.
I might’ve even got a handful of diamonds.
You might’ve even been living in India now?
No way. No that’s true.
Things might’ve worked out.
No she came from a very high rank.


Oh no the Passé is a high rank. The English wouldn’t have them on level peg with them. I used to wonder why the English soldiers carried the baton stick, like the officers carry. I don’t know think you’d know what’s it’s like, do you?
Is it like…
A little stick and it’s only about that round and it’s like leather around it they


call it a baton. Usually high ranked officers carry them and it woke me up pretty quick. In India if you stop you’ve got beggars all over the place, begging you. You have mothers with dead babies in their arms holding the baby out to you begging and you have sights you don’t every want to see. And


the – I got side tracked then.
Okay, this is all very interesting and I’m keen to know what impact seeing all this in India had on you?
Oh, it’s just like touring it don’t have impact you just feel


a great sorrow for the people. And the carrying of the baton – when you stop you’re surrounded by about a 1,000 Indians within a second you’re surrounded and that’s why the have the batons the English soldiers to beat them off. Of course we never knew that ‘til we found out and of course we got cranky on the Pommies [English] for doing it. We reckon that’s a rotten thing to do our blokes’d got and fight them over


it. If they seen them hitting Indians to get out of it they’d go over and start fighting them. See we didn’t agree with the vast gulf between England and us, the system of the lord and squires to the common people that just doesn’t work with us. Doesn’t matter


what happened, the ideas good when you work it out because when you get about a thousand of them around you, you start to get a bit scared. Well, you can’t fight a thousand.
So what did you think of the British Empire?
British Empire?
Well, my idea of the British Empire, the British Empire was a great Empire in its day but like all empires, it gets riddled with rottenness, they all collapse.


That’s going to happen to America next. The systems never work, man gets too clever for himself and it just don’t work. See how did Britain came to go down? War. It doesn’t matter who started it, it’ll mean the end of the Empire


and that’s what happens.
Were you fighting for the British Empire or for Australia?
Well, according to the rules we were fighting for the British Empire. According to my rule I was fighting for myself. I wanted to see the world and I was seeing it. I had no chance otherwise. Once you see a Depression you’ve seen life. It’s the greatest lesson of all. A Depression


is a war. It’s no different. The tragedy is there. It’s every bit as tragic as a war but people don’t – you don’t know the word Depression they say Recession today that’s all jokes. A recession it’s nothing, a Depression its evil, terrible. What I mean, it’s like turning the clock back to the dark ages.


So what happened after Bombay?
Well, gain history comes in circles too, I was sent aboard a ship called – I’ll think of it in a minute – this ship was an old ship. She


was three funnel, she’d be about 15,000 ton, Slamat, now Slamat is Indonesian, it stands for ‘good luck’ and she was the flagship of the Netherlands East Indies and she’d been running for many, many years and she took our three companies,


our two companies the 4th were still behind, the 5th and 6th Company and other troops aboard her, oh I suppose with about 8 or 9 other ships. We had a convoy of about three destroyers I think and a cruiser that took us to the Suez. We got through all right there was no trouble.
So what happened when you arrived


in Palestine?
Well, when we arrived in Palestine, first of all we entered the Suez and we went – lighters had to take us ashore because there was no wharf where we were, we were at a place called El Kantara and we seen the Arab life before we even got off it with the kids. Awful,


and we taken ashore, we got on to trucks and we were taken across the Sinai Desert to an Engineer’s camp called Kostina. Now Kostina was in Palestine, it was purely


the engineer’s training camp there. And when we got there the tents were already been put up and we had to camouflage them with mud. You know throw all mud over it and harden it up and it gets a camouflage effect ad then we just went on with training there. And about a week after we were there we had to do a burial a British


engineer officer had died and they had nobody to do the burial at Gaza. The burial had to be a – what do they call the, you know, the slow march, death march with the pipes, the band. Oh, from here to nearly Port Macquarie. And


we had about two days to train in, it takes a hell of a strain on you because of the way it’s done. The formality of it is you’ve got to do everything so perfect. And we were the firing party the guns to fire the three shots, they’ve got to synchronise anyway we did that –


I never forgot that, that march fair rocked me and then we came back.
In what ways, tell me what you mean it moved you in a…?
Oh, well it something you don’t see, it’s not like a normal funeral. I don’t know what rank he was but it was just like for arguments sake you know Sydney with a state funeral for the governor or somebody that’s exactly the same thing.


But you do that slow march, where one foot’s slow in front then the other. You’ve got to shoot the foot toe forward and then down and so on. Well, we must’ve did 500 yards of it, that’s a long way with your rifle on the full and a bayonet and then to synchronise your shots. You’ve got three shots. You’ve got all fire as one. When you’ve got a firing group it’s not easy.


Anyway, it come off all right. I got commended for it, it must’ve worked. But to think a man had died you know. Anyway, we got back to camp and we carried on mostly route marching. We‘d have to go across ploughed paddocks, you’d see the poorer Palestinian or Jew or whatever he was.


They’d have a camel and a donkey and – camel, donkey and bullock pulling just a one bladed hose but you had to watch yourself because if you kicked a clump of – you know when they plough it’s in clumps the ground, the earth, it lifts the clump up you


kick one of them clumping up it would shoot an asp it was rotten with snakes. I’ll tell you what, no wonder nerves never last long.
You’ve had a few quite significant experiences with snakes haven’t you?
Oh, you haven’t heard any yet. Burma – they were just full of them. That Burma line was virgin country. White man


had hardly – had been the only surveyor mob that had ever surveyed it.
We’ll talk about that when we get to Burma. So what other training did you do at Kostina?
Well, the main training came then, we moved to Haifa. Haifa’s getting towards the Lebanese border. Now, in Haifa you’ve got a river and we did our bridging school there. And we went to Haifa and all we had to do


was building a bridge pull it down, build a bridge pull it down, day in day out oh you used to dream of it at night. The same, the same routine, everything until it got to a certain speed when you could do it. You had to throw that bridge across that river, get the bridge across the river. It’s a pontoon bridge, see there on floating – you have pontoons and you get one pontoon and you float it out that’s how you can move across the river


by each pontoon.
So how long would it take to build a bridge?
Oh, God, I couldn’t tell you now dear.
I mean would it take one day to build a bridge or?
Oh God no, you’d build it 50 times in a day. Oh no, I suppose…
And what materials would the bridge be made of?
Timber, timber and the pontoon boats, cause you carry them with you pontoon boats. They’re only light, they’re only three ply


type of things. But while we were there, there were a lot of British permanent soldiers there with their families. And one lot was a railway unit, I don’t know where the railway ran too, I don’t know of any railway there but they used to let us use their canteen and I got friends with a couple of young


English fellows there. They were poorly paid and I used to go to the canteen and shout them a beer. And they finished up on the Sunday, we had the Sunday off and they asked me would I like to go for a picnic. Oh yes, anything to get away from the camp. So went away to this picnic all these permanent soldiers and their families and that


and we went up to – some Mount, oh God I know it well –
It’ll come to you…
Anyway, but I didn’t have a happy day.
Why was that?
Well, even the


two chaps they were decent fellows they were younger than me really they knew it too. All day long, “Colonial, colonial did you do this, colonial this?” and I got tired of that. Never say Aussie – colonial, convict to put you in your place see that’s right, colonial – Mount of Olives.


There you go, it always comes.
I know it does.
It’s interesting isn’t it?
While I was there, with a full pack on I went up a mountain in Haifa – sheer – a real goat, you had to be a goat to get up there and right up the top of it was this beautiful church. It was built after World War I by Germany and


other nations. It’s called Church of All Nations and it was run by Catholic, they would be Catholic French, French priests and brothers. It was the most beautiful mosaic I’ve ever seen in my life, it was absolutely beautiful.
What did it look like?
The floor, it’s all – well it’s so hard to explain.


You’ve seen paintings of Michelangelo and that of that style of thing all the ceilings around all the floors mosaic a little tile all of colour and absolutely out of this world. And you looked out and you’re looking over hundreds of miles of land as flat as anything. I reckon that’s where the devil tempted Jesus


to overlook these lands and he could have them. If, he got down on his hands and knees. See what I mean, now don’t get me wrong, I came from a normal family and we went to Sunday school and that was it.
It sounds like though that this land was having some sort of impression on you in a spiritual way?
It had the greatest impression, not that,


I wasn’t to know that, it took me many more years before I found that out. I should never have come home and I can’t tell you why. There was at least 10 times I died, 10 times I come home. How do you work it out? I died when they dropped out the bomb, just before they dropped the bomb. You die but you’re not dead


you’re in the half way. In other words, you die when I died at the finish I mean it holy all of a sudden you get a peace not as we know peace it’s a peace you have no way of describing. You can’t describe it. You have no hatred you have no fear.


You don’t fear dying. You don’t care if you don’t see your father or mother or family again. You’ve got no inkling to see them. But it’s the perfect – this funny feeling you have of peace. It’s so great it presses on to you. If you speak to a doctor or nurse he’ll tell you what I’m telling you is true. But they don’t tell people you don’t want to frighten them


but that is true.
Well, I’d like to explore that further when your story progresses because it sounds remarkable actually.
It is.
Now, you mentioned this course that you were doing and what else was involved in that course?
No only the bridging. That’s purely bridging. See bridging is very important with engineers because of rivers or in the desert the waddy.


Now, the waddy is just a chasm a gold, a rain course put it that way and you’ve got to throw a bridge across that because to get your tanks or your transport of troops across. These waddies get fairly deep. Otherwise you’d have men climbing up and down. It’s really a deep gully put it that way.
So what happened after the bridging course?
Went back to Kostina and then about a week afterwards we crossed the Sinai across


the canal into Egypt. That night we were crossing roughly at about 7 or 8 o’clock at night. As we crossed we could hear the planes overhead and I didn’t actually see it so much I was dead beat, I was tired


cause it was a long drive and hot driver over the desert and some plane was flying around letting fly with machine guns. One of our officers got a bullet in the ankle. He belonged to what they called the Field Bath. They were also with the 2/27th with a field bath.
What was the field bath?


Mobile bath they call it. 2/27th Field Park and Mobile Bath, they’re engineers too but not field engineers, they’re job is a bit different. Actually, I don’t know to this day really what their full job is but the mobile bath would be for bathing set up I would say. Hygiene


and all that. Mostly they’re hygiene people and the field park itself, one’s attached to the other, I just don’t know it’s full purposes.
So they would go around setting up baths for the troops?
I’d say so, yes. They didn’t ever have to with us cause somehow or other we just didn’t need it. See, we only lasted 16 months. That was our full life


of action. We were gone by February 42, March 42.
Well, that’s actually a good place have a break and come back after lunch.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 05


Now, I believe not long after you arrived in Egypt you copped a 3 day sandstorm?
That’s right that was the following day. We had passed Alexandria from the port and we just got not far passed the pyramids when we ended up I suppose half way to the border when we copped the sandstorm. She was a beauty.


It’s not sand really, it’s grit and dirt and a bit of sand but you can’t see, can’t see an inch in front. You just forget, you lay down in a hole and forget you’re not going to eat or anything because you can’t find it, missed. If you get up you’re lost. Well, it’s a funny thing you get through it all right.
How did you cover yourself when you were lying there?
You don’t cover yourself you just put your hand


over your eyes and face.
You said you were lying there in a hole, so what sort of protection were you giving yourself?
You just held your hand up so you were talking about…
You cover your face but it being hot, it’s not steamy. The heat there is not as bad as what we had Monday, Tuesday, or Tuesday Wednesday, whatever the two days were because you had a bit of humidity. There it’s that dry it’s just like a hot summer’s day here.


So with the sandstorm, I mean were you lying there for three days immobile?
Well, the best part of three days.
What were you doing for food and…
You don’t worry about food you don’t worry you just snored your head off to put it bluntly.
You snored your head off?
Well, you just sleep and wake and sleep. What I mean the stuff is going to get in your eyes and hair and everything so what does it mean. It’s amazing the desert, the most


healthiest place in the world. On top of that if you stop in the desert too long you won’t leave it. That’s a fact. They used to call desert happiness you might’ve heard them mention it.
Haven’t heard that before, “If you stay in it too long you won’t leave it,” why…?
Well, you go desert happy, it’s beautiful.
What is desert happiness?
Well, it’s so healthy, so free, something about the desert gets you. In other words it’s just like people coming to Port Macquarie and say, “Oh, what a beautiful


place, Port Macquarie.” Well, the desert’s like that. In my opinion, but that’s only mine I reckon every hospital big hospital for serious illnesses should be in the desert – hot day, cold night but dry heat not humid heat. It is, you get that way, we’re right on the water, the ocean all the way the road always follows close to the water, the sea but…
So now I believe in February 1941 the


British 8th Army claimed your unit as corp engineers?
That’s right.
What did that actually mean?
Corps engineers are not fighting engineers. Corps engineers perform work well behind the line as the fighting moves up away they follow behind mostly you could be behind 10 or 15 miles from the fighting line but you have nothing to do with


the fighting your – unless of course you’ve got to but the point is, what I mean they’re not a fighting unit. It means that they repair and do everything that is essential to keep the army going.
So we’re talking about obviously bridges and roads?
Bridges, roads everything yes. You see when you’re a field engineer you can’t stop and complete a building you’ve got to move up with your battalions. They’re relying on you


for other things. Now, you start something but you might only get a quarter way or a third way through it half way through it and you’ve got to leave it. The corps come behind you, finish it.
Now, you were doing this for 18 months, sorry you were doing this for 8 months weren’t you? Were you attached to the British for 8 months doing this?
Oh, about 6 or 7 months 8 months, I couldn’t tell you exactly now it’s too long ago.
And how was the working relationship between the Brits and the Australians?
We had


nothing to do with the British. No we…
So you were with the British 8th Army, so you were following the 6th Division I think?
Yeah, we were following our own fellas and the British well they were on another flank. They might be, see we were on the coast they could be inland or that. I seen a few British now and then but not much. You only see your own.
So the corps engineers, as corps engineers were you attached to the 6th Division.
No you can’t be.


We drew English rations we didn’t draw Australian rations. Once you become attached to the English you’re only on loan because your own division needs you eventually and the 7th Division wasn’t involved. They’re back in Egypt or Palestine we were the only ones chosen to go, in to at that time to go in and…
So you were attached to the British and yet you didn’t have contact with them?


No, no.
How did that work? I mean who gave your Orders?
Our own officers. Where the Orders came from I don’t know. See what happened, the only way I can explain it British corps engineers, Britain had no, hardly any engineers over there and they had to borrow us. Now, the borrowed us as a field company and made us a corps just while they had a loan of us, they can’t take us because we belong to a


division. Corps engineers can be used by any division, in other words, if we were corps engineers it’s all right for the 6th Division to get us the 8th Division or the 9th Division it wouldn’t matter who the division but we’re not we’re field engineers – a big difference. See there’s mechanical engineers, there’s engineers in everything.
So during that 7 months are there any particular projects or sites that you worked on which stand out in your memory?
Oh God, yes,


first of all we had to put the oil fires out in Tobruk. We entered Tobruk about I suppose no more than 4 or 5 hours after the 6th Div had gone through it and captured it and the – we had to get the water works going, you see the Italians blew them all up. Now, your water is sea water, filtered. And the issue’s a pint a day a man


which went to the cook house so you got no water and it’s still as salty as drinking it from the sea but what we did we rounded up the Italian engineers who blew it up and we made them fix it because they knew more than we did about it. See there was about 10,000 or 20,000 of them just stuck in the desert just behind barbed wire. No shelter no nothing oh


they were there for days some of them and we had only about half a dozen 6th Div troops guarding them. They didn’t need guarding.
So you were able to get them out from behind wire?
Oh, yes.
And set them to work basically?
Oh, we had them working for us all the time.
How did you extinguish the oil fires?
Mostly sand where they were burning the ships –


you get so many jobs the – round the wharves had to be hurriedly repaired. The St George’s crew was on fire, that’s Italian cruiser she was on the beach. Some of our boys


was unloading ammunition ship and the oil ship come in – tanker. See, this was the time the magnetic mine come out. Now, the Germans and Italians were putting the magnetic mines in every night and they’d be dropping the mines in and at that time the British had no answer. The mines sank to the bottom when the ship passed over or near it the steel of the ship threw the mine up being magnetised


and up she went. I’ll just give you idea, I was up on the water, standing up on the bank one day, I was on some job there, some fiddly job and I see this tug come along, oh beautiful, she’s brand spanking new. It’d only just come in the night before. She was coming through and I was admiring her, just standing there admiring her and the next minute she wasn’t there. She went in a flash.


Magnetic bomb and that was only a tug.
You must’ve been quite shocked?
Well, I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe – you didn’t see her sink or anything she just wasn’t there any more. Being only small she blew to piece. And I must tell you this, two of our boys won the Military Medal, the George Medal there, when the ammunition ship – course there were wharf labourers and everything you got – Wally Barman was a World War –


Corporal Barman, Wally, he was an old digger of World War I but he worked on the wharves. And they were unloading the ammunition ship in the stream and the Cypriot labourers, Cypriots came in from Cyprus but they were all labourers under the British and Wally had them on board and the oil tanker came in and she got hit with the mine. The mine come up and she’s on fire an she rammed the


ammunition ship. Well, Wally and the boys that he had labouring with him they were on the winches and the Cypriots they panicked and dived into the burning water, the oil was all on fire. Well, our boys got in to them trying to save them, they started hitting them, trying to knock them out on the ship before they dived over and others got


the boats down and started pulling them out of the water, out of the flames. Well, Wally manoeuvred the, I don’t know how they did it because I’m not a ships man, they managed to manoeuvre it, their ship, through with the tide the other ship away and she drifted with the ammo and she drifted onto the shore. And they rescued a lot of the Cyprians.


The got the George’s Medal, two of them got it, should’ve been three of them.
So that was Wally who was the other person that got…?
I think his name was Graves I couldn’t tell you offhand now. He was from one of the other sections and I didn’t really know him much.
Now, you’ve given us quite a good description of this, did you actually see this happen?
No I didn’t, I was somewhere else on another job. Now, see the funny thing of it, I must tell you too, the Italians of a 100%.


What do you mean a 100%?
Good fellas. Turned around we used to get them to help us on work. You’d get a truck, you’d have a truck and a driver and one SABER, which would be like me. We’d go out, we’d want 4 or 5 Italians so we’d just go over to the compound we’d get them. We didn’t have to go looking they were already looking for us and they used to come over and as we drove through the town


by the time we were halfway through the town there was only the driver and me left.
What had happened to the rest?
You just sat there and waited for them, the world’s best scrounges. They knew where everything was. They just disappeared and next minute they’d come and they’d always offer you what they’ve come back with first. They don’t take it themselves they’ll offer it to you. You won’t believe it they howl like babies when we had to leave them


they wanted to come with us wherever we went they wanted to come.
That’s great…
And beautiful singers, they’d always sing, happy as anything they were.
Now, you said they offered you material they’d scrounged, did you ever take it?
No, no.
You never took it, no.
No, look the Australian as a whole you only get that odd one which is different. You know the type, you’ll always find it in several – any form of life but the


point was – no never, we never tried to take anything off them.
And you were talking about engineers doing scrounging in Australia?
I mean, this scrounging from what you were saying didn’t continue once you hit the Middle East?
Oh my word.
It did.
Worse? In what kinds of ways?
Well, if you were to speak to the English NAAFI [Navy, Army, Air Force Institute], that’s their canteen, and see what the Australians kept on doing – I can show you a bit up there of


what they were like, of our mob. A ship would come into the wharf loaded with canteen supplies, British ship. There’d be 10 or 15 trucks lined up. 4 or 5 of ours would sneak in and line up with them. People, stuff is being loaded onto the wharf and those helping on the wharf’d


just load the trucks. Away would go our trucks, cigarettes, beer you name it, it’s there. Biscuits, this is what you’re supposed to buy not get for nothing.
Wasn’t anyone keeping an eye on this?
Well, if they were they didn’t wake up. That happened several times.
It sounds like they were turning a blind eye?
No, oh no their military police, gee their strict, not like ours. Ours were bad enough but


nowhere near as bad as them. No, that’s true. I’ll just go a little bit further, I’ve got an article up there of one of the chaps come home, cause our transport come home with our trucks, they weren’t taken prisoner, our transport section there was abut 40 of them. That’s how they were able to reform the company again. Mate, if you lose the whole lot they can never reform it again. But if an officer or sergeant comes home with a half a dozen men it can be reformed. Well, this chap


he was a grazier, we were mostly country fellas not so many cities, country, he was a grazier and he’d been on leave from the Atherton Tablelands, they were back home from a bit of a spell in New Guinea. He had a week old son so he wrote him a letter. Week old –
This sounds very credible, go on…
“Please send


me a tenner [ten pound note]. Don’t let your mother know.” The tenner come. That’s what goes on. He got his tenner but that’s what he wrote, he wrote to this son, “Please send me a tenner, 10 pound. Don’t let your mother know.”
I’m sort of slightly mystified here, can you explain that?
The baby’s only a week old.
I know the


baby’s only a week old, how did he get the tenner? You said the tenner arrived?
Yeah, by mail, they were up in the Atherton Tablelands at the time, he was. He’s New South Wales he had his sheep station somewhere out west out Coonabarabran somewhere like that. Don’t you get it? Instead of writing to his wife he wrote to his son who was only a week old, more or less having a dig at his wife I suppose


by saying to his son, “Don’t tell your mother.”
So obviously the wife had sent the tenner?
Well, she had to, the baby couldn’t.
You never know, it may’ve been a clever baby.
No, this is the things they get up to though. They’re cunning.
You were referring to your work as a saber, as a saber with the – when you were there as a corps engineer what were your day-to-day activities as a SABER. What were your range of activities?


whatever you were ordered to do. It could be so many things, you could be in a party of 20 or 30 fellas or you’re running around with the Italian scrounging or trying to pinch whatever’s laying around.
Apart from that, if we look at a bridge across the waddy for instance, what would your role in construction of that bridge be?
If it wasn’t no timber in it I was a labourer. Don’t you get it? The role would be –


my mind goes a bit on me – you know before you put the cement in it what do you call it – now you see it on these buildings, formwork. I’d would have to be with a couple other chips cutting up the timber while the other carpenters are nailing it for the cement pour. Whereas if a bricklayer was doing something I’d be his labourer mixing the cement.
So literally were


a jack of all trades?
You had to be. When you weren’t doing anything in your own line you were a labourer to anyone else, don’t matter what he was.
So how often were you sent out on these scrounging parties?
Well, everyday was a scrounger if there was anything to be scrounged, you scrounged it.
What sort of things would you scrounge?
Oh, you never took anything – there were no civilians in Tobruk when we took it. The houses were all mainly wrecked and you were bombed


day and night.
So for whom were you scrounging?
Whatever the company needed.
No, no, but I mean what were the sources of the scrounging, were they private enterprise, were they other army units?
Oh no, it’d be mostly army stuff. Let me put it this way we lived on Italian rations. Why? Because they were better than British rations, we drew British rations. Now, British rations is about 8 packet of cigarette a day they give you. The cheap


Indian ones, navy cut. And there’s various ration of bully beef and hard tack biscuit. It was not much different to our only ours was a little bit better. But the point was, when we got the Italian stuff we ditched ours because they had jam, they had a softer biscuit than us. It was like a hard Sao [biscuit] where ours was you had to be like a dog you’d have to chew for two hours before it softened


enough to get it down. And their meat was horse meat, it wasn’t as fatty as beef because corn beef is all right if it’s cold but in desert it’s that hot that it just runs everywhere so it just turns you – you can’t be bothered with it day after day so we scrounged all


their tucker. The Italian tucker that got left.
In terms of building materials what sorts of things were you scrounging?
Not much because we haven’t got the room to cart it.
So it was mainly food was it?
Mainly food. Food and trying to keep the bloke of vodka – not vodka, instead of having tea they drink


cognac. Yeah, well when the got into Tobruk and as soon as we got the chance we went on the scrounge see. Souveniring as they call it. And a couple of mates and I we found our way down into a cellar. Oh, huge cellar and here’s bodies laying everywhere and I couldn’t make it out, they’re all Australians. They’re out and deathly


white. I said, “By God, it must’ve been a hard fight in here.” When into the next, there was different rooms, and there’s got about a 15 gallon keg and he’s got a bottle underneath with the tap turned on for cognac – for sixty blokes. If the Italians had’ve counterattacked they would’ve drove them right back out


because as soon as they hit Tobruk our blokes got stuck into the cognac. Now, our blokes don’t know how to drink cognac, they drink it like beer.
So could you describe the condition of these guys that you saw?
They looked all dead and some were. They weren’t the first to die like that.
They died from the cognac?
Or they went brain mad.
This was the effect of cognac?
Well, they were drinking it like beer. You can’t drink cognac like that.
No, I imagine not.
And there was thousands


of gallons of it there because that’s the Italian army issue and they hundreds of thousands of troops scattered throughout the desert.
The stuff sounds like furniture polish?
Wouldn’t know, I didn’t drink it.
So, now you mentioned that if the bridge wasn’t of oak timber you would be doing other things. Now, if it was of oak timber what would your role be?
Not oak timber, if it wasn’t timber.
If it wasn’t timber, okay,


I misinterpreted what you said. If it was timber would you work on it doing the joinery?
Oh no, they all work, everybody works on it. What I mean I would have to work with them but you’d have like. Usually there’s about 6 carpenters in a section well you’d have them 6 on it plus the other offsiders. Well, you’ve got brickies [bricklayers], you’ve got electricians, you’ve got plumbers, you’ve got all the rigmarole of trades and most of them know enough about carpentry. Each


gets to know the other’s trade a bit. You don’t become a tradesman but you know what to do.
So were you able to do any carpentry or joinery yourself as part of this if you were working on a timber bridge.
Oh yes,, you’d well…
Well, let’s put it this way if it was a timber bridge what would you own specific role be in that construction?
If it wasn’t?
If it was a timber bridge?
Whatever the job was, see it’s hard to explain because for a start


let me explain something to you, number 1 there’s no timber over there, there’s no jungle timber or anything in the desert. They have to import it. Well, even the houses have very little timber they’re all like mud brick. For a start your brickies never got a brick because there was no bricks, they don’t use bricks over there. Like in the desert I’m talking of, so you’re


in primitive – you’re not in a town or anything where you can get supplies.
So what would you use to construct the bridge?
Well, if it come to a point of no timber you’d use the steel. You have to get what they called a barbie bridge. Or if you couldn’t think of anything up you just left it to the other blokes to think it up. You’d have no choice you’d have to move on. See you’ve got to keep them moving on. And if you just can’t solve a problem you move on. Let the corps troops behind you – they’re in a position to get


stuff brought to them, we’re not. We’re just there to makeshift to get the troops through or to get the tanks over.
You mentioned Tobruk before what sort of state was Tobruk in when you arrived there?
Well, it was just wrecked. Tobruk wasn’t much of a town. It was all wrecked there was no Italians there. It was just wrecked.
Street after street of ruins?
Oh, a lot of ruins. See in Tobruk


actually it was a dirty with the ruins and so forth and not only that the monitor terror, she was right up. A monitor is a flat bottomed war ship and she carries two 15 inch guns that’s the biggest. That’s what the battleships carry. And she comes right up on to the land. You know right up to the land


and she lets fly you know it. The Stukas’d come over, German Stukas’d come over 3, 4, 5 a time, just depends how they felt. Down they’d dive let their bombs go and out over the desert. The Terror lays in wait, she’s got her guns lined up maybe 10 mile away and she lets them both go


when they get that distance. If any of them shells go off within a couple a hundred yards at least or more of them bombers the whole lot go down. The 15 inch.
So you’re talking about the monitor in this case?
Well, that monitor’s enough to wreck the town the noise of 15 inch guns is phenomenal. The Germans got her anyway, they were after her, and they got her.
Just to continue the sequence of what you were doing,


so you were with the corps engineers for 7 months…
What happened after that?
Well, we moved up, we started on a waddy around Barce, I suppose they called it or Barce, Beida or one of them, and we only got a little bit done when we had to move on further to Benghazi, that’s as far as the Australians went. And when we got to Benghazi the 6th Division had been pulled out. And they


were all Greece and Crete they were taken over there. Now, there was nothing else around us but us and the 2/1st Pioneers. Now, the 2/1st Pioneers Battalion is a fighting battalion but of older men and they – when they’re not fighting they’re doing road works and so forth. They’re not engineers but they’ve got to do engineers work. Now, this all sounds stupid, but that’s the way army is, they are stupid. The 2/1st Pioneers


really is a corps troop could be used by any division but they were mainly used for 6th Div. The 7th Div had 2/2nd, 8th Div 2/3rd, 9th Div of course that was formed overseas, wasn’t formed in Australia, they had their pioneers, their battalion. Well, the – nobody else was around and we got billeted in a farmhouse


a big farmhouse oh about 3 mile out of Benghazi. Now, I was in Benghazi but I never seen Benghazi. All I was, was as flat as this floor. Red dirt, no grass and this farmhouse was all that was there. As far as I understood at the time the Italian family still lived there but in another portion


locked off from us. Well, while I was there you want to know what I got to do, I become building the latrine for 50 men. That’s what I had to do with 3 others, 4 of us. We had a compressor, and you had to go down about 6 foot and about as long from, from here to that door or maybe a bit further…
You were jack hammering into rock were you?


Yeah, getting down into rocky ground and we had to build the seats out of some timber we had for use for our own sitting on when we were in the trucks going a distance you had seats both sides of the truck and that was my main job at the beginning. My other job was what I showed you in that photo of getting the lays and engineering for


the machines and we were looting and sending back for the British. You see each country loots all its machinery of the other country. It’s all loot. It’s all looting. No wonder we became thieves. The countries are thieves. This is a little point I want to tell you, while we were there, it’d be I suppose about 4 days on the job, it was a fairly big job,


we still had to make all the seats and cut them out. Oh, they had to be deluxe, engineers don’t take second class. It’s got to be first class. Everything’s got to be sanded. About the third day we were walking along, it was a beautiful day, the weather was beautiful there it was more their spring and all of a sudden I could hear this roar of engines and


turned around and looked and God I died there, here was a big Junkers 88 bomber, German bomber, only up about 80 feet coming straight at us. I thought, “That’s the finish,” because she’d have about 10 machines guns, machine guns big bombers and then flat on the ground we go – there was no where you could go everything was


flat all you did was throw yourself down and I looked around my shoulder and I spotted she was on fire.
Sorry what was on fire?
The bomber, she was shot down but she’s still coming in and all these figures jumping out, the crew, with their shoots too close to the ground they didn’t open but the pilot stopped on the deck he put here down oh


well I suppose a mile or so away from us. Of course they go that fast, he put her down, anyway the last we heard he got out, he got out but he was badly burn but they got him into hospital in Benghazi and like all army, army’s all rumours, they reckon that he was boasting to the Pommy fellas that were looking after him there must’ve been a


unit up there, about dropping the bombs on London and of course they reckon they got rid of him. That was a lie.
Now, when you said you died once there what was the effect on you?
Well, just like your heart stopped. What I mean it was, you’re going to die, whether you like it or not. It gave me such a fright because we didn’t have a clue, didn’t realise he was flying – the funny thing


he was shot down by a Frenchman in the Free French forces.
You must’ve felt so vulnerable?
Well, we were. Look if you’ve got a hole you’re safe. If you’ve got nowhere to hide a ditch or anything you’re gone. And knowing a big bomber amount she’d have a crew about 8. Anyway, a funny thing came out of it. About 4 or 5 years ago, I read an article in the


paper. He died in Germany.
The pilot of that Junkers?
What made me wake up to it was the fact that he was the first Luftwaffe pilot, German pilot in the war to be brought as a prisoner to Australia and he was imprisoned in Western Australia. How I knew, was the fact where he was shot down and the date and what happened. You wouldn’t read about it. That was only about 4 or 5 years ago I read that. Straight away, I knew.


Isn’t it.
Now, with the men that had jumped from the plane did you see any of their remains on the ground?
No, no, we don’t that’s not our job. What I mean they had no chance. The jumped at maybe 80 a 100 foot. See the planes coming in at a slow gradual decent because she’s burning and I suppose the pilot ordered them out. They were going to die either way so he ordered them out. But he ended up he stopped at the control and he lived.


He was lucky.
So, this was Benghazi and did you do any other work apart from constructing the toilet block?
And the engineering part, no that was about all. See the principal job of Benghazi was not what I was doing. As far as the men was concerned it was a vital job. As far as the army was concerned it was the lowest job.


Were they properly flushing toilets?
What in the desert? Anyway, there was nothing wrong with them. I bet you the Germans liked them because they had them in a week or two afterwards. The main job was to do to Benghazi what the Italians did to us in Tobruk. We mined the salt works, when I say we the company mined the salt works they mined


the waterworks and they mined every essential thing in the town that people need to live with because they knew this was only a matter of short time before the Germans were going to attack. Now, that was Rommel’s first attack. The first time the African Corps came into it was this one. Cause he would then have to fix up what we did and that could delay him because water. You can’t


live without water not in the desert.
Now, from Benghazi where did you move next?
Well, we ran faster than any racehorse or greyhound ever born. We ran for the lick of our lives. We wouldn’t go into Tobruk we left it alone. We went passed it that fast they never seen us until we reached the border. I’ll tell you why, we were lucky


another time we were let off. A team of British engineers turns off right on the death and took our place to let us go back to our division and that’s why. Now, a desert, in the desert your road is just bitumen poured on the sand, there’s no getting it ready, you just run the bitumen straight up and down the hills of sand and everything and


they had the planes we didn’t. There were hundreds of men got killed, only one road, straight as a die all the way. And when the fighters came you had no hope. There was nowhere to get off, you couldn’t. They’d just blast you. Well, we were lucky, some of the other boys they got blasted but our company got a clear run right through. It was just sheer luck.
Were you ever strafed or bombed yourself?
Oh, yes many times.
On this particular road?
Oh no, no.
Not on this occasion?


No, not on this occasion.
So just dealing with this occasion you were heading for the border, which border were you heading for?
Mersa Matruh, Egypt. Back to Egypt that was only really the one. That was the only one you could get to.
So once you got to Egypt what happened then?
We put the minefield down. Rommel had attacked and he drove our British 8th army and our fellows back because we didn’t have many up there. And he drove them back


and within a few days Tobruk was surrounded and soon as we hit Mersa Matruh we had to put anti personal mines down. Now, the anti personal mine was the biscuit tins. You wouldn’t know them. Years ago Arnott’s Biscuits used to make a Christmas cake and what was known as Christmas cake tin. Now, we packed that full of aminol, just like sausages, packed full of aminol is pretty powerful and


turned around and started putting the field down and we this was where your engineers come in as fast as we dig a hole the desert is rocky and hard, as fast as we dig a hole, it’d only be shallow, these mines were for men not for tanks – anti personnel.
I’ll just stop you there we’re at the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 06


Allan, at the end of the last tape you were saying the mines were for men not for tanks or other inanimate objects. So you were involved in the laying of these mines were you?
Oh, yes.
Can you describe how the mines were laid and put yourself in the picture in terms of describing what you did.
See well with the mines at that time – this what I’m telling you, we wrote the book


Military History for what happened, the mines were that way that if you breathed on them it blew up, they were that touchy. Now, first of all men had different jobs, different days you were always changed around but one day you might be digging the holes, now your hole would only be that deep but when your digging up that hole you’re digging up Egyptian mines big things


like that, Tank mines and if you pick went into one of them where were you going to be? But one thing saves us the Egyptians had put these mines down a year or two before but they didn’t cover them with Hessian and the sand got in under the land and stop the top from going down. In other words it rendered them useless. But it scared us because we


had to hit with pick and shovel and we couldn’t see the mine until we come across it. But anyway, nobody ended up getting blown up but we dug up quite a few mines. They never made a field. They should’ve made a field like every Country supposed to make them. Even the enemy is supposed to plot a field so that eventually they know where their mines are when war’s over they can take them up. So first of all we dug the hole


the tin was already loaded with the aminol the explosive. Then a fella came along and put the dets [detonators] in, detonator in each tin. Then another chap’d come along and he’d wrap the tin in a sandbag. In other words he’d cover it so the sand wouldn’t get under the lid of the tin. And then another chap’d come along and he’d put the earth back over it.


Now, as I say, the desert is very rocky, hard, it’s baked hard and what happened, we must’ve had over a period of about 3 days, 2 to 3 day going flat out we must’ve had the best part of 100 mines when one of the boys trod back on one and the whole lot went. See that learnt us a


lesson but somebody’s got to die for you to learn. It goes right through life cause I can tell you it happens so often. The rocky nature of the desert trembles, it’s like a thunder, it’ll rattle this house. That was enough to set the whole mines off.
When you said the rocky nature of the desert was enough to set them off, can you explain that a little further?
Well, the desert is so hard and the huge explosion of one


causes a vibration for the next one and the result is it ripped right through the whole lot.
So this one guy was killed was he?
No, there was about 4 or 5 killed. We lost about 20 I suppose with our eardrums and that busted they had to send them home.
This was on that same occasion?
Were you present on that occasion?
What did you actually see? Could you describe for us what you actually saw when this happened?
Didn’t see anything it was all dust.


It was like a dust storm from all the mines going up.
What did you see once the dust had cleared?
Oh, well we were pretty dazed and you’re panicky, you got out see. We didn’t know what really happened what caused anything. For all we knew it could’ve been a big German bomb had fell down in the middle of the minefield. We had no idea.


I don’t know, I can’t vouch for the truth of it but they tell me that one of the boys who died was the first Australian causality to reach Australian shores and he died as the ship came in Sydney Harbour. I believe that’s true, a chap from Newtown.
So what had actually happened in the first place, could you tell me what had happened to cause this minefield to explode?
The chap trod on it. He stepped back, he was


doing a mine here another row back here not thinking, funny thing was he was an older bloke not a young fella either he would’ve been a bloke I’d say in his 30s. And no, whatever he’s doing not thinking he’s turned to do something and that and went backwards and trod on the mine behind him that was already loaded. Out of that, the book now allows only about half a dozen men in a minefield at once instead of 40 or 50.
So you


were fairly dazed after this, once the dust had cleared and once you started to kind of process thoughts in a rational manner again, what was going through your mind about what had just happened?
You’re shocked for quite awhile I suppose. You see you’re asking me something that happened that long ago there were so many others things happened after it, it’s hard to realise when you mean how I felt.


It’s the company I feel for because they lost good men. And the company couldn’t afford to lose men like they lost. See they were so highly trained and good and it’s just one of these things that happened and what made it worse we had Rommel right on our heels but as luck’d have it he’d got too far away he had no water or that he couldn’t get any closer.
So where was the location of this


Mersa Matruh.
Mersa Matruh yes. For how long were you at Mersa Matruh?
Oh, I suppose at Mersa we might’ve been 5 or 6 weeks, might’ve been longer. Mersa Matruh outside of the planes we had not worries otherwise. It was only the – they had air superiority all the time. We had nothing as far as air went and the result was they still


did a bit of bombing on us every now and then. You never knew when they were going to come but in the desert you’re pretty safe. You’ve got holes and slit trenches and that everywhere.
Now, I expect that after that minefield had gone up you had to rework on it. The minefield would’ve had to be constructed again if it had been blown to smithereens in the first place. Were you in the group that…?
No, we didn’t do it again.
You didn’t do it again.
I think what they might’ve done – you’ve raised


a point I don’t know anything about. I wouldn’t be surprised if another unit wasn’t brought in to do it. You see in a thing like that, you’ve got to imagine it this way, if you had a motor car accident right, they’re not going to ask you to get in straight away and drive the car and say it’s your job. You had a bad accident you’re given a bit of time as a rule to recuperate from it. Well, that’s what


really happened. See some fellows are more affected than others.
I must say in my case I had a small accident but I was quite shaky for a couple of weeks.
That’s right. That’s what I mean see. But look what happened to me. But you can’t understand it and the kids have a shot at me the grandkids and all that, “Don’t drive a car? What’s wrong with you?’ I won’t get in a car if I can avoid it. That’s what the war did to me. If they had my experience they wouldn’t drive a car either. But you try and tell people


they haven’t got an idea.
So after Mersa Matruh what was the next Port of call for you?
Oh, no wait a minute there was one Port of call before, I must get this one in. I like to have a little go now and then. They gave us 2 nights and 3 days leave. Mersa Matruh was linked to Alexandria by rail. Why did they send us, the Sabos and ROs to Alexandria and send the officers to Cairo?


I’ve no idea you tell me?
Do you reckon there’d be a reason? Now, think bureaucrats. Does bureaucrats lower themselves to the stage of the ordinary person.
You’ll have to explain this to me I can imagine there may have been things resonated from World War I?
Graham [interviewer], there’s always a reason and we didn’t


know it you never find out until you go there. I’ll tell you the reason. It was sheer hell in Alexandria. Why was it hell in Alexandria? It was nice as far as we were concerned nice and peaceful at Mersa Matruh a few bombs once or twice a day didn’t worry us but Alexandria my word – home


of the British Mediterranean fleet, oh God.
What happened there?
What happened? The Germans and Italians at night never laid off dropping magnetic mines, the thunder of the guns, the battle ship War Spike was in there damaged but her big guns weren’t and all the Mediterranean fleets and the anti aircraft and that. God a man was that scared he had no hole to jump into,


everything was pitch black he was in amongst big building. Like big for them days of big stone and what could he do and sparks flying from the shrapnel falling all around him. The officers didn’t get it. Cairo wasn’t bombed. Don’t you see it. They’re cunning as –


if it had’ve been reversed and Cairo was the British Mediterranean Fleet’s Headquarters it would’ve been officers for Alexandria.
So why was it you weren’t sent to Cairo if it was a much more peaceful environment?
Because that was for officers.
Why was it only for officers?
officers don’t want to be where the men were.
Oh, they wanted to preserve that distinction?
Yes, the distinction stands out like the lords of England


against the commoner.
Other people we’ve spoken to have described Alexandria as well if not a paradise certainly an ancient and glorious looking city.
What was your first impression of Alexandria when you arrived?
Well, Alexandria is no different to most of the east and them – the big thing that they don’t tell you, we’re not welcome especially troops.


The only ones that are welcome to you are the girls in the red light district, that’s true. Now, in World War I they burnt down Sister Street. The World War I soldiers burnt it down the whole issue. You read it in the history – the disease. World War II it was lucky they didn’t burn it down again. But that’s the only place you’re welcome.


Did you go and have a sticky beak?
Yes, always have a sticky break. Yes, I did.
What did you see, can you describe Sister Street for us?
Well, Sister Street was the Street of brothels, as you understand. And naturally we heard enough about it before we got there to make us go and see and the girls there they used to amuse me. I could never tell the difference between the girl’s face and a cat’s


face. The way the can do their faces up. But no, it – Sister Street and the Arabs, filthy, absolutely filthy. You’ve got no idea. I can’t speak for today, I’m speaking 60 years ago. It was filthy.
Did any of the men in your unit avail themselves to the prostitutes


in Sister Street?
Oh God, 80% would’ve.
Did they talk of their experiences there?
No, no.
Do you know if any of them ended up with sexually transmitted diseases?
Oh, some of them would. Some of them would. There’s no two ways about it they’d have to. But a funny thing you talking about that. Did you know the army ran the brothels? You learning all the time, mate. Not Sister Street.


Not saying that one. I’ll get to another one that they ran.
This is later in the story is it?
Where you ever tempted yourself to go into any of those brothels?
I used to go in, I used to have to do guard duty on them.
You had to do guard duty on a brothel?
Yes, just the same as getting your head bashed fighting drunks.
How did you find yourself doing guard duty at a brothel?
Because you were ordered to do it.
Who ordered you?


Officers. Why? I can tell you why. The girls were under the command of the army. The army supplied the doctors. The girls were examined every day. The girls were sweet enough and new enough that if a bloke’s drunk he hurts them and


he’s no good to them. So what they did, you’d have 6 or 7 blokes lined up at a door now you might have 30 or 40 prostitutes working along the buildings. A chap comes out the door the next chap in line goes to the door the girl comes out and she smells his breath if she smells drink – out. She calls us.


And course we cop it.
What would you cop?
Well, if he’s drunk he wants to fight. Or let one fly at you and if you’re not quick enough to duck you get it. All because of a girl and the girl – I don’t blame the girl, I blame the bloke but that’s what it’s like. Well, you can bet your life they’ve been on the grog before they go to the brothel. It’s all right for the officers to give the orders – don’t you get it?
I get it now well and truly.


you understand I’m talking of Syria, a bit ahead of you now. It’s better to run your brothel with your medical side to keep it clean as to loose troops with disease.
So just going back to you’re facing up to these guys who were coming out and probably being a little, not only drunk but…
You’ll better miss it for a minute Graham, you’ve got ahead of yourself.
Just going back to the fact


that you were doing guard duty in the red light district, were you armed? I mean how were you expected to defend yourself?
Oh no, you’re supposed to have a pair off fists. You’ve got me, I think we might’ve had a baton. But we weren’t military police, mind you, you might only cop it once in 3 or 4 weeks. It depends where you were billeted well being in Syria at the time we were there for quite awhile after the Syrian campaign.
So would you have to hold a gun on a soldier?


You wouldn’t?
Oh God, no. That’s something you couldn’t do. You’d disobey an order on that one.
So how would you tell them to get going? And how would you enforce the fact that you wanted them to get moving?
Oh, well 3 or 4 of you would end up knocking him flat. You couldn’t do it on your own you had to keep on yelling for help. Or a couple of sober blokes would come and give you a hand. I mean you always would get out of it. You might get a few bruises and


a black eye or something occasionally but the point is what I’m getting at is somebody’s got to do it and the officers are not going to do it and the sergeants are not going to do it, not while you’ve got an OR [Other Ranks]. You always go to the smallest rank that’s where we should take a lesson from the Japanese. They had four privates, no star, 1 star, 2 star, 3 star.
Okay, so apart from guard


duty in Alexandria, what else were you doing there?
I did no guard duty in Alex, no, no.
Oh, that was in Syria?
Syria, no, as I say we got ahead of ourselves. No we’re in Alex, now Sister Street is Sister Street in Alex, nothing to do with the army. Now, after 2 and 3 nights we were that glad to get back home you’d never get us back to Alex again. It was worse than the front line.
So it was back to Mersa Matruh,


what happened after Mersa Matruh?
First of all, at Mersa Matruh just before we took the leave off I forget to mention, we were put on notice for Greece and it was only a couple of hours before we were due to go aboard ship it got cancelled. So we nearly copped Greece and Crete. But missing that, we left Mersa Matruh because the seizure of Tobruk was well on. Our 2/4th Company was caught there.


One of the first in one of the last out so that only left 2 of us now for the 7th Div, the 5th and 6th so we went to the border of Palestine and
Syria, no Syria, Lebanon we were on the coast, and Lebanon’s only a small country. And


we were put there on the border to attack the French. If you don’t mind I’d like a little think to explain to you first before I get into it. It’s always been hushed up. It was a hard fight. It was hushed up for one reason, French, they don’t want the people to ever know that we ever fought the French. The French have always been our


allies according to the average person’s mind. Anglos always fought the French virtually up to the last World War I. Sixty-five per cent of the French wanted England down, beat. That’s true.
Are you talking about the Vichy French?
Yeah. Now, when we went to the border they gave us a couple of tablets to take for malaria.


Now, you’re going to get a shock on this, why would you get malaria over there?
No idea.
Second worst area in the world, the Litani River in Lebanon. We didn’t know that. The tablets we took we didn’t know what they were because Atebrin hadn’t been born so we were on the border and we were told we were going in at dawn the following day but not to worry


the French might fire a few shots then toss it in. And didn’t have to put the steel hats on because they’re very uncomfortable just had to wear the slouch hat. So in we went. The company overrun the infantry and stuck out on its own and the French let us off. They let fly with the machine guns over our trucks into the sea, we were right on the sea.


I’ve just lost the point here, oh not lost the point but I find it hard to envisage what you’re describing. You said that you were cut off or somebody was cut off?
No, we overran the infantry, we were in with the infantry, we were out in front for the start. The infantry’s in front of us.
But you’re still there in an engineering role?
Yes, we’re on the trucks just behind them. Our drivers overran them they were on foot.
So what were the consequences of that overrunning?
We ran under their machine guns.


You ran under their machines guns, the Australian machine guns?
Under the French machine guns.
And what were the consequences of that?
They fired over our head – to turn us back. If they’d fired into the trucks they’d have wiped the lot of us out.
How did that feel?
You didn’t feel anything at all because it happened so sudden and you get such a damn shock and you’re stuck in a truck there’s about 10 of you in a truck, 5 either


side you’re just sitting ducks. Course, we flew out of the trucks and dived down into a bit of a gully not that that would’ve did us much good because they had the heights. But anyway, the infantry got on to them. But we were facing the French Foreign Legion, they had 3 battalions there, according to what I read, and they had their allies, the Arabs, the


African Singhalese, the native Africans in Africa and some Spanish set up was supposed to have been with them. It was a terrible hard fighting country, it’s all rock and mountain and the mountains virtually come right down to the Mediterranean to the water’s edge and your road


follows the water all the way. Well, anyway the infantry drove them back from near the border and forced them back beyond Tyre, T.Y.R.E. and we the company then rested that night and we lost our first man in the campaign


that night. He was a cook, an old shearer’s cook. Tommy Hehir, Tommy Hehir, H.E.H.I.R. and Tommy had drank that much in life they reckoned nothing could kill him – a snake bit him. He laid down on the ground and laid on a snake. By the time they


got him to hospital in Palestine he was dead. That was our first. Well, next day we were in reserve and another section went up. Each section, not the company, you go by sections, section is roughly 50 men full strength, well you’re never full strength your lucky if you’ve got 43 – 44. Anyway, we – the company fought


its way to the River Litani. Oh, the first day we were there the French had blown the road where the mountain came down. There’s a good photo I could show you in one of the war books of it, of us trying to repair it to get the tanks and men through . By blowing it on the slope you had no road


at all, you’ve got nothing to fill it. It was a job and a half it took us about 8 hours to get the first tank through.
How did you repair it?
Oh God, bits of concrete and stone and rubble, anything at all and gradually built her out till we were able to get the tanks and the 60 fellas through. You see by doing that, once you start getting them through, you leave it and let


the corps ones behind fix it.
So you built an additional road outside this landslide did you?
No, just carried on from the other side, just filled the gap but the gap was big. See on a slope, a mountain slope you’ve got a steep fall and the result is if you cut that fall there’s no way in the wide world you can’t throw a bridge or anything across because there’s no where to throw it. And what are you going to do, you’ve got to dig out the side of the earth and try and dig a bypass.


You know you see on main road where boards dump all their fill for a road, they dig around if it’s a hill or that they’ll dig an opening around to get around it before they lay the road.
So once you’ve done that repair work and moved on where did you head for next?
Litani River and there the bridge was blown. Now, the bridge here it was a


very vital bridge and we ended up we had to get a bridge across there. And we got it across, it took awhile but we got it across.
What sort of bridge was it?
I think from memory it was a pontoon, I might be wrong, it could’ve been a bailey [bridge] but I think it was a pontoon. I almost sure it was a pontoon.
Were you carrying all this equipment with you for pontoon bridges and bailey bridges?


I mean bailey bridge was a kit bridge wasn’t it?
Oh yes, no a bailey bridge you wouldn’t carry that. Your pontoon bridge you’d soon send up. See you’ve got relief mobs behind you. It might be 10 or 15 miles. The corps lots, they’re the ones carting it up the transport. See you can’t, it takes you all your time to carry your own personnel but it’s only the matter of a message going back to them and up comes the pontoons.
So they’d send the pontoons and you’d actually put them in place?
That’s right.


Well, we got them across the Litani, there was a lot of heavy fighting there. I’d like to give you a little bit of information on Syria if I can while we’re at it. The Syrian was mainly a 7th Division show we also had a remnant of the 6th Division that got out of Crete and Greece got thrown straight into Syria…
Sorry can I just have you to sit back a bit.
Yeah, and the –


we had the British troops, mostly the British troops are horse troops and we had the Indian Troops which were mule troops. That was country, it wasn’t country for mechanisation, it’s all mountains so we had to learn to use the mules, which we didn’t learn it was to hard. They were too swift kicking it. But what I was going to tell you, you want me to tell you, you know who long the Syrian campaign lasted?


Barely 6 weeks. Do you know what the 7th Div lost, 38 officers and I think it was 360 odd men, dead. They lost 1,100 all told wounded and the lost 3,000 sick malaria.
That was all in Syria?
You wouldn’t read about it would you. All told the allies lost


2,600 or 2,700 all told. Now, that only went on for 5½ weeks. Yet, it’s hushed up. You’ll never hear – you can go and talk to anybody that we fought the French and they’ll bet you anything we didn’t. You see what countries do, what governments do, they don’t want you to ever know the truth. The French fought tough, tough and hard.


So when was it that you got to Syria? In the sequence of events we’ve got you working on the pontoon bridge, that’s in Syria already?
Oh no, Syria and Lebanon are that close together, one minute you can be in Lebanon and the next minute you can be in Syria. See Lebanon’s very narrow.
So what were your first impressions of Syria?
Of Syria – it’s just mountains. And the Arabs, you didn’t see many Arabs except that they were


scavenging on the dead. Wherever a man fell or wherever a man was killed within a fraction of a second they popped out of the ground. You could never see them but they pop up out of the ground to get his boots or to get his clothes whatever it is it didn’t matter. You got to see them to believe them. They were better thieves than we were.
What are the first memories of Syria as far as you were concerned? What – the first things you saw were mountains,


what were the first things that made an impression in terms of action or activity on your part?
Oh, very harsh country and very harsh action. They fought every inch of the way and they had the 75s that was artillery which up till then we’d never experienced. The 6th Div had experienced it with the Italians but we hadn’t because we weren’t in the action there but the French had the artillery too.
So could you explain the Syrian campaign from your point of view?


tough. It…
Could you talk us through your involvement in the Syrian campaign?
Oh, a company involvement, my involvement is nothing. A SABER is the lowest.
Yes, but you were there, so…
Just making up the numbers.
Certainly the company’s involvement but from your point of view what you saw, if you can just talk us through the Syrian campaign from your point of view and obviously the company’s point of view?
Well, all I seen was dead


bodies, mostly the black men from Africa, French what’s a name, Africa.
French Guiana?
French Guiana isn’t it?
No, no, I told you the name, French – I can’t think of it now –
French – Singhalese.
So you saw the bodies of blacks, Singhalese?
And seen our fellas knocked – the infantry. But…


You saw our fellas knocked as well?
Oh, yes.
What stands out in your mind, are we talking about one particular conflict here?
Yes, but you coming on now to – I’ll get you in to what it was – I was standing at – we were held up by French tanks. They had solid little tanks and they were tough and our infantry was up on escarpment land


having a bit of a rest and I think it might have been my major, called 8 or 10 of us to get into the minefield that was at the side of the road that the French had abandoned and they’d also had two tanks at that minefield that they’d ran onto the mines. Now, they but them down that quick that they didn’t have them covered


properly. But they were a bit anti tank mine about that long, solid steel and two detonators. But they put them down that quick that half of them wouldn’t have gone off because the channel, an aluminium channel sat over the detonators and it couldn’t be forced down. So you’ve got to go and work it out yourself but after a little while and a bit of training you learn and we had to just disarm them.


And we’re doing it there, no problems, I was over near the road at the time, close to the road the other boys working back of about 20 yards further behind me near where the tanks were, you know, tracks blown and we heard the roar of engines and we looked up and we see a squadron of Tommyhawks [Kitty Hawks],


fighter planes, we had Tommyhawks they had Tommyhawks, our colours red, white and blue, their colours blue, white and red how do you tell. The most modern fighting plane fighter of the day. Looked up there ours, no worries. Next minute heard zoom and I couldn’t believe my arms. Staring up, I thought I was watching a film. I see


the first fella peel off just you like you see in a film and dive. Now, he’s about 1½ to 2 mile up the road, the road’s as straight as a die. And down he goes with his guns blazing. He circles out and the next fella follows and the whole 8 follow. 8 to a squadron. 8 or 9 I’m not sure, 9, 9 to a squadron. The whole 9 came down.
What did they do?


They shot to death their prisoners, their own prisoners. They didn’t know they thought they were our fellas getting off the trucks. Instead of that, the French prisoners we’d captured and were putting on the trucks to take back to Palestine. Now, where we were was a cornfield and the cornfield, the corn at that time would have been roughly about that high.


I remember the brigadier, it was Brigadier Stephens, standing up on the other side of the road jumping up and down for me to get down. I got down, I didn’t need him to tell me. Well, how the missed me and that I don’t know. I’d just taken one of the guards off a mine, and when I throw myself down, I went down with it and dropped it well that was drilled neatly but


they flashed over with the guns blazing and the British had just brought up a Bofors gun, that was their, at that time a main gun for anti aircraft, first shot he took his tail off the squadron leader, and he went as straight as a die passed the escarpment right through and they buried him about 3 or 4 mile up the road. They were only as high as the telegraph pole.
The Bofors


gun shot an allied aircraft?
No, shot the French fella the leader. Took his tail, I seen it from the side, I had my face side on and I see his tail go but the infantry in them days were good. They used to throw themselves on their back and just fire, and fire and fire straight up in the air no target but the plane had to go through that steel and


the pilots hate it. You get a thousand men firing a thousand rifles and machines guns straight above their head and you’ve got to go through it you’re not going to live. That’s what they do
And that’s what happened on this occasion?
Oh, the plane was edge to the sea the infantry was back a bit over from them but the infantry’s not to know which way they’re going to swing and course they’re firing straight above. Look, I heard John Howard say


something, very – not long ago, only in the last month which is so true today that people don’t realise. I’m not being political, I don’t agree with him, the point is what he said is so true. He said, “Never in the history of Australia will ever the men of the Second World War ever


be up to the standard of the men that fought in the Second World War,” he said, “Them men went through World War I as children, World War II, Depression – World War, 1930s as a huge Depression and then 1940s, the war.” That’s true, you won’t get them like that today. Why does the 7th Division never open its mouth, the silence seal, never say a word never does


anything for you. We came home worse than the Vietnamese boys. I got no welcome. Nobody told me anything, I was mental.
We can explore that a little later on we’ve come to the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 07


Okay, if you’d like to continue on with what you were just talking about.
Well, the next big problem was the French, you’re in 3 columns, you have the coastal column they call a sector, you have middle sector which is inland and you have the further


sector, they’re in Syria on the Damascus area going towards Damascus. Now, I was on the coast, the company was on the coast I should say and the French counter attacked, General Dense was the French general, a very cruel man I believe with the Arabs, they didn’t like him. But when he attacked he drove


the 2/2nd Pioneers back, this is our Pioneers, he drove them back and a bunch of them run out of ammunition and he took I’d say 40 or so prisoners. Well, there’s two sections to this I’ll give you the prisoners side first. They wiped them straight through over to Italy, went right through the Balkans


with the German what’s a name police…
Gestapo, with the Gestapo on the trains as well as the French. They didn’t do anything to the men. They went right through Germany back into France and they finished up at Marseilles. Now, the French treated them hard gave


them a bad time. In the meantime I got sent up with I think it was Corporal Ray Savage, up into the mountains where they mined the road, to blow the road if the French tanks cut across to cut us off at the coast and Ray and I were up there and we had the Scots Guards horsemen,


Permanent Horse Cavalry from Palestine were guarding us they were further up the mountain but they were looking down on us and if they see the French tanks winding their way they had to come down and hold them up while we blew the road. Well, as it happened it didn’t come about the centre lot threw the French


back and Ray and I were there maybe 6 or 7 days and I was sick.
What were you sick with?
I thought I had a touch of the sun there was no shade and it was hot and rocky and I used to crawl under a culvert at the side of the road but anyway we didn’t blow the road it wasn’t necessary then. By the way that’s when he


won his VC [Victoria Cross], Cutler, because he was artillery, he won the VC the time I’m talking about. Then I went back to the unit, the unit – all the Australians on the coast had been held up because of this which took a few days before it got sorted out and then we moved on and headed for Damur, Damur River.


And by the way, just a little thing, I lost my great moment of history when I got back. I was sitting down beside the road where the company was billeted the section in the trees and I had the Bren Gun, I was Bren Gunner that’s aircraft and


being fussy I decided to clean it. I turned around and pulled the gun to pieces just as I pulled it to pieces a roar of an aircraft and turned and looked up and only about as high as that telegraph pole outside is a French plane.


I didn’t know it was French for the time but I couldn’t do anything my gun was in pieces because it was meant for aircraft, it’s got 4 different types of bullets that you fire, arming piecing, training and normal, and explosive


anyway I could’ve taken him easy. It was only General Dempsey’s headquarters might have saved hundreds of lives, I’m not sorry but he took them all by surprise, he got this aircraft, it wasn’t a big one but it wasn’t a fighting plane and he flew only at tree level all the way


following the coast to get an idea where we were you see and swung out over the sea. I could’ve nearly shook hands with him.
Now, you mentioned at this time you weren’t feeling well, what were your symptoms?
I had malaria and I didn’t know it. I kept on going.
What were your symptoms?
Well, the malaria symptoms you get the shivers, you get terrible cold and then


get the fever you get terrible hot and then you start hallucinating to a certain extent after a while. When I first came in I seen the first aid chap, knew him well Doc Ryan, and he was giving me morphia tablets and of course I didn’t know I had malaria. And as the unit moved further up the coast –


before I go any further one thing I must tell you, at the Litani River or a bit up from the Litani River there was a French tank with its cogs blown off blocking the road and some of the boys


from another section was told to get it off the road, took a truck down to pull it off but the wheel that was blown off, they got down and scrapped the stone away from it and put the tie on and dragged it,


it was booby trapped there was another mine further down.
What happened?
It killed about 5 or 6 of the boys, some of the best.
Did you witness that event?
No, I was there but I wasn’t watching them at the time it happened. Another time, the French sent down a couple of their Sleeps, small war ships and shelled us from the coast because


we were only here from the other side of the road from the coast and shelled us. I mentioned that because they were some of the finest boys in the unit but they got killed by that booby trap. See bobby traps is something – you never know when you’re going to get caught with a booby trap. The Italians and Germans dropped them in the desert, I forgot to tell Graham that – the fountain pens, oh God what a beautiful fountain pen, I’ve never had a fountain


in my life, got to remember we were poor people through the Depression a fountain pen and a watch were unheard of. Undo the fountain pen and you blow your fingers off. See they use all these things we use them too. Our crowd thinks things like that.
Weren’t you a little bit suspicious though that they were dropping fountain pens and watches?
No, it doesn’t enter your head you do things instinctively. You’ve got to remember when you get old you get


wise when you’re young you’re silly. That’s true.
So how many of the men opened the fountain pen and had their hand blown their hand off?
I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. I suppose there was plenty. But the 6th Div had first go so they most likely lost most of their fingers. You see you only have to lose a finger and you can’t fire a rifle especially if you’re firing finger.


So at this time I gather you were getting quite ill with malaria, what happened to you?
I kept on going, I wasn’t going to give up. If I started I was going to finish so I kept on going. And we got to Damur, the Damur River and I’ll tell you the truth


I was sick. I was going blind and I was frightened, more frightened than I’d ever been in my life, because I was going blind. And I turned around and I was laying down on the ground and a chap came up to me, a good friend of mine, Ross Wild, he ended up a sergeant, he said, “What’s wrong, Allan?”


I said, “I don’t know Ross, I’m going blind.” You could see it. I could hardly open my eyelids and he got over and see Harper, the lieut [lieutenant]. Well, my lieut was a good officer but he was out to win a VC. Didn’t matter what it was he had to win that VC and he didn’t care how many died getting it either. He


was talking to some fella, I don’t know who it was. It wasn’t one of the unit and I went over and I told him. All he says was, “Looks as if we’re going to lose another one.” That’s it. That night, we had to go up under the French guns, the artillery we had to go up a mountain and the tanks couldn’t make it unless it could be levelled off towards the top,


it was that steep. So went up in the trucks around 10 o’clock and I was on fire I was burning. This is a miracle, got off the trucks – I was useless – the fever, God knows what temperature I was hitting, all I know is I was on fire and


believe it or not, the other men moved up further, I didn’t go. I couldn’t, and just from here to the window a spring came out of the mountain, about that high off the ground, and went down to a little bit past that post and disappeared again. Now, I’m not lying because that night I would’ve died.
A spring?


spring of water and all I did that night, all night, I’d no sooner drink and I’d lose it all, the heat the burning I just drank and drank and drank. I must’ve drank gallons and gallons and gallons. Well, they finished up the top and all I can remember was they come back down got in the trucks, the pulled me into the truck and I don’t think they missed me


either – that’s how much I rated – and took me back to where the camp was, they’d finished and the tanks had got up. The guns didn’t open up as luck’d have it. The French obviously didn’t realise or they’d pulled back. But I don’t remember anything after that except laying down. Some time afterwards, I woke


up and oh God I was thirsty. And I got my water bottle because you had all your clothes and that on, just dropped with exhaustion, like all of them because they’d work hard up the top of the mountain and I just drink the bottle in one go it made no difference. A minute or two I was on to the chap and woke him up and I said, “Give me your bottle, give your water


bottle I’m burning,” and he said, “What’s the matter, Allan?” I said, “Give me the water, give me the water,” I remember it well and he gave me the water bottle and I downed it the whole bottle see. “God,” he said, “What’s the matter with you?” He put his hand on my hand and the next thing he’s yelling for first aid fella. And all the others are yelling, “Shut up.” These are good mates, oh good mates in the army. “Shut up, go to sleep.”


what happened when the first aid officer came over?
I got very hazy from then on. I remember being taken down and put in a truck and then I knew nothing else. It appears, I only learnt this from fellow chaps being taken back you had to go to hospital in Palestine. But they reckon that I really let the place go when I reached the First Aid place, I was right off my head.


And all the morning they got the ambulance was the same and the got me to a hospital at Haifa. It was a French hospital, strange it might seem in peacetime, a French hospital with English nurses. I was put in there, well I knew nothing of that I was gone.


I woke up and the strange thing with malaria, when you wake up, you feel a 100%, in fact you feel 150%. I felt that good and I thought gee I wonder where the mob is? I’ve got to get back to the unit. I sat on the end of the bed, I was pretty weak and I looked, I was in a room


and I was at the bed right near the door, and these other beds, I seen all these fellows all laying in bed and I said to one of them, I said, “Hey mate,” I said, “I’ve been here 3 days haven’t I?” He said, “No, you only got brought in last night.” Well, “Be damned! I’ve been here 3 days!” Don’t know what made me think that. But I got up, I had to use the wall to get around to look for a toilet. I found a toilet right next door to me. But there’s fellas


all in the hallways, the hospital wasn’t big enough for wounded and malaria but I was put in – turned around and come in and found the toilet got back into the bed got my gear, my clothing, got into my clothing. I think somebody tipped the nurse off. One of the nurses – in come this English nurse, “What are you doing? Get back into bed immediately. I’ll fix


you.” She hit me with something and that was it.
What did she hit you with?
A needle I think. Next time I woke up I’m on a train. They took me off the train and put me in an ambulance and that hurt my pride because I reckoned I could walk. So they took me to the Australian hospital it was a big


huge marquee just concrete floor and this huge, like a circus tent. Oh beautiful, the air could get in, it was summer time like and air could get in and I was put in this and the doctor would come around and see me. I had a good nurse, a Victorian nurse, and the fellow next to me he said, “By gee,” he said, “you’ve had a bad time.” He said, “You’ve been causing trouble


since you’ve come in here.”
What did he tell you you’d been doing?
Oh, yelling off my head see. But I felt well, really well. Felt well enough to join back with the crowd.
So how long were you in hospital?
I was in there, oh a couple of days, when the nurse come to me and she said the doctor wants to have a word with you.


Mind you they were treating my eyes with steam. They used to put steam into my eyes. I hardly could see and you can’t stand light all right at night but if somebody strikes a match it’s just like somebody hitting you right between the eyes with a shut fist. And it turned around


the doctor came, a young doctor and he said to me, “How are you feeling?” “Oh,” I said, “oh, good. Never better.” “Well,” he said, “I’ve got some bad news for you.” He said, “I want you to do something for me.” He said, “Tonight you’re going to have a bad time. It’s crisis.” He said, “Fight as you’ve never fought before.” He said, “Fight and fight,” he said. He stressed it. I said, “I’m all right.”


“Nothing wrong with me,” I thought. Well, that night I either lived or died.
What happened?
I lived.
But what happened that night?
Oh, I went into the fever again with the shivers and the fever but it must’ve been the biggest of the lot. The chap next to me told me the nurse sat with me all night putting the cold compressors on my head. See


I had no hair because we used to shave our head off in the desert. In wartime it pays to have no hair unless you’re in snow. In army’s and that it’s very easy to pick up disease like lice and that. You only need one dirty person and you’re in trouble. But anyway I was in hospital for


awhile from what I understand I was one of the worst cases they ever brought in. They didn’t give me any chance but I lived and then I got sent to a convalescent depot.
Do you recall the nurse who nursed you?
No, I often wish’d I could.
Sounds like she helped to keep you going through that night.
She was very good. She fought with me. The funny thing is I think she might’ve been a bit of a society woman because


later on in a prison camp early in the piece I see a photo in a Women’s Weekly, you see a lot of the people at home would send the Women’s Weekly over to the men in their hampers and that you know. The photo was on the 3rd page, 1st page, 2nd page, 3rd page. Just turn the 1st page over.


Never seen her again. I got sent to a convalescent depot. I was there for quite a while. As usual the mateship came out with the army.
What happened at that convalescent home?
Well, the second day I was there you had to have a roll call in the morning and the 6th Division controlled it. There’s no love lost between divisions


and units. The 6th Division fellas had all the plumbed jobs there see and all the crowd convalescing there about 40 or 50 of us were all waiting to be checked off counted and dismissed for the day and they’re smoking and so am I. They wanted someone for the orderly room


to be a runner. Who was the runner – muggins. Blind as he was – that was for smoking and the whole damn mob was smoking.
So you were still partially blind at this point?
No, no I had a cataract only 12 months ago, this time 12 months ago off this eye. I had to go and see the doctor only this week on Wednesday the 24th


and I wouldn’t have this one done.
But back then, how long did it take for you to recover your eyesight?
I’d say it took me 6 to 8 months at least. See, you don’t go back to your unit unless


your CO required you. If he don’t want you, you don’t go back. So I was in Convalescent Depot maybe 2 or 3 weeks.
Now, where was the convalescent depot?
In Palestine. I had no money, I had nothing. My clothes and…
When you say you had no money you weren’t being paid at this point I take it?
I had no pay book.


The belly goats, that’s all they are, while I was on that mine road a Don R, despatch rider, my best mate comes up and gets our pay books to take back to the officer, they were going to pay us, they knew it was gong to come to an end eventually and they were getting in first. I never seen my pay book again and I reckon I got gibed too. Because I had about 35 pound in my pay book. I had no allotment


I was single. And that’s about 7 weeks wages. Never seen that pay book again and I turned around and I went back to the unit which took about 10 or 12 hours drive. They were up the back of Beirut in Ally, a place called Ally a beautiful place mountainous. Beautiful holiday – imagine it like Mediterranean.


holiday resort up there And when I – all the officers got decorated and when an officer’s decorated he’s got to leave and go to another unit. He’s not allowed to stay in that unit and I had a new officer. Only a young fella, only about 20 – 21, he made the big mistake trying to get friendly with the men. Officer never should


get friendly with the men. The smarties put it over. They always do. He was a cadet on the Sydney Water Board, cadet, like apprentice in the Water Board.
Why do the officers have to move on to another unit when they get decorated?
That applies always even to sergeants.
Why is that?
I don’t know for sure, I


suppose I should know. I think it might have a lot to do with jealousy in ranks and so on. See the little time we were in action we won quite a lot of medals. My Major Calder, he got the OBE [Order of the British Empire] that’s a unit medal. But there were quite a few MMs [Military Medals], and MCs, Military Crosses. See why is an officer a Military Cross and the men a


Military Medal? Same thing, why they do it. You’ve got top, you’ve got bottom.
So what was it like being back with the unit after being away so long.
It was good but the blindness worried me a long time. The day after I got back my mate Chuckie, that’s my mate in the hut, standing in that hut, he took me into


Beirut and I found a chemist shop which had dark glasses and I bought a pair of dark glasses. Now, where did I get the money from, I didn’t tell you that. A fella from another unit, nothing to do with us, he was from a back unit he was at the time depot and he found out I had no money and he went and gave me money. I told him I’d pay him back and I did too. It took me a long while to find him but I found him. I gave him back


with interest because I never had a penny.
So the fact that you’d lost your pay book what were the implications of that?
You wait about 3 months before you get another one. It’s got to come back to Australia and back and find you again. It’s got to come back here.
Do you get back paid?
Oh yes, but I don’t know whether they put that in the book because the average soldier like me couldn’t read his pay book. I’ll show you a pay book if you want to see one,


duplicate ones. No that’s true but…
That’s an extraordinary a very generous gesture of that man to do that for you?
It was. Only a little bloke a young fella he turned around and gave me the money he come from an engineering unit that replaces damaged tanks and that. You know, enemy tank you use there’s if you catch them


and so on and whatever damage if they can get them back on the road they use them or whatever it might be. I forget what – it’s a maintenance type of unit he belonged to but I don’t know what they call them a recovery unit I think they call them. There’s so many engineers. See engineers are even search lights. They’re engineers. Yet they don’t do any engineering. But no I had a funny kid coming back. I got put up on – my friend mate


he was a chips and a couple of other chaps they were repairing a roof a couple of stories up. Oh, first of all I got in late at night. Jack had a two man tent, this was my mate and naturally I was in with Jack and then in the morning he said I’ll introduce you to the new officer, Lieutenant


Flynn. Flynnie was a boy, come along boys and all that. Jack said, “Sabo Herd came in last night, sir.” “Shift this man back to hospital. He’s not fit.” He could see my eyes, see. See being in the light I couldn’t open them.


“No, I’m all right.” I wouldn’t go back to hospital. So Jack and them are working on this roof two stories high and up I get with the roofies [roof fixers] and just sitting down on top of the roof, I couldn’t do any work.
Why was it so important for you to be back with your unit? Despite the fact that you were clearly still quite ill with your eyesight?
I wasn’t ill. It was only my eyes.
Yes, but that’s still – some would regard


that as quite a serious…
Today, they would, in them days they didn’t. There’s a difference between today and then. What I mean is I never knew it at the time, but if I’d come home I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to New Guinea.
But your officer – I mean obviously lot of people around you noticed you weren’t a 100% with your health, why was it so important for you to be back with your unit?
Oh well, you’ve got the numbers there.


See, I had the experience that reinforcements was very slow in coming and the reinforcements weren’t the best calibre. Not all of them – not their fault. But they weren’t what you called, not all of them but quite a few were not over bright. Well, I mean we had one, who used to chat – dream at night and charge his tent with a bayonet.


Oh, you get a lot of funny things going on. Now, poor old I forget his name, Coulter, Ned now he couldn’t help it. He was the most hairiest man I’ve ever seen. Even the Japs [Japanese] were frightened of him because he was like an ape. He had black hair, absolutely covered in it back and front. Hair that long. They called him the Ape


Man. Poor old Ned, he was a big burly fella and he had a heart as big as a baby. Often that’s the way but see that’s the type of reinforcement we were getting.
And I gather that you felt you had to be back at the unit to support them?
They weren’t going to get rid of me – no way.


It sounds like what we were talking about before the mateship and the fact that your unit was rather like a family to you,
Oh, well it was.
was quite strong at this point.
It was.
Can you talk a bit more about your feelings about the unit and your mates?
Ever since I came home I’ve talked. I’ve never been afraid to talk to the family or anybody of what the war was like and what I went through.


That’s their big fault, 95% won’t open their mouth. By not opening their mouth they live it. By opening our mouth you get rid of it.
I guess what you’re talking about is your family post war but what I’m interested is talking about is your unit as a surrogate family and the mateship that you experienced especially in Beirut where you are now, can you talk a bit more about mateship and what it meant to you?
Oh God it


meant the world to me. Can I tell you something how much it meant to me.
Please do, yeah?
I jumped ship to be with them in Java. I was in second dose of malaria in ship’s hospital. They’d gone ashore those in hospital were coming home. They weren’t going to leave me there I didn’t have to be a prisoner. They call that a self inflicted wound. In other


words I wasn’t coming home.
Why? Why did you have these feelings?
I don’t know, it’s just something that’s that strong in you, you can’t do. Under no circumstances was I going to stay on that ship in hospital. I was over the worst of the malaria because they got it quicker and it didn’t have the effect like the first one. By the way, I finished up with 12 or 13 does of malaria before I reckon I become immune


to it. You’ve see photos, just off the track a little bit, you see photos of the African kiddies, what have they got pot belly. What’s the pot belly, malaria. They don’t get it, they become immune to it. But that spleen, the spleen is the cause, that’s where the malaria does the biggest damage


is in the spleen that causes the pot belly and over the generations of centuries the black people have become immune to the malaria and them little kids you see on TV or anything on telly or anything always got pot bellies – that’s why. It’s been caused originally in the generations past of malaria and just become immune.
Getting back to


Beirut when you had just rejoined back with the unit we were taking about mateship, can you tell me a bit more about your mate Jack?
Jack, Jack came from Lorne near Newcastle. He was a cocky little fella, a cocky bloke, I never knew until recent years that he was an Englishman.


Born in England I didn’t know that he only came here as a child you see. But he was a carpenter too. And Jack and I got friendly it started overseas more or less and he was a greatest grump in the world in the mornings. He liked his bed. He’d wake up you’d never talked to him for an hour. You had


to wait until he smiled. When he smiled you knew it was all right to talk even though I was his best mate then. No, he was a good mate but he’d get you into trouble. I remember when we were in the desert he – the black watch came up – the British the black watch and they had a bit of a canteen. And Jack’s over in the canteen


and the black watch comes up and Jack gets a few beers into him, I wasn’t there, and he started a blue. So he got under the table. Our 3 big fellas got up and they each got a black eye one after the other because they struck a champion fighter there see. Well, next day they paraded on the parade ground in front and the Lieutenant walks along and here’s the 3


biggest toughest fellas all sporting a big black eye and Jack laughing his head off. That was Jack. He started it, he got under the table so he didn’t get anything.
He sounds like a real character.
The others got up to defend him. Oh no, he was a good mate Jack but I had a lot of good mates in the army. You usually single yourself out with


maybe 4 or 5 fellas you stake to more than others but they’re all mates but like anything else they get a bit clannish. It’s born in you, I suppose.
Okay, we’ll go on, on that on another tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 08


Okay, so Allan what happened after Beirut?
Well, Beirut the company moved up to near the Turkish border. It was high in the mountains and they had to put in machine emplacements because we didn’t know which way Turkey would go. And that’s when we got snowed in. As I say, there’s not much to tell of there because it was coming Christmas


time and the fall was that heavy, I think I told you it went right across the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal. It was supposed to be the heaviest fall in a hundred years. And I seen it coming down they were as big as that. They talk about plates, it wasn’t a plate it was a plate and a half. Just floating down nice and gently.
The snowflakes were as big as a plate?


you serious?
Yeah, yeah.
No, a proper snowflake like that doesn’t fall like you see, most snow falls similar to rain to a certain extent. No, no, these just fluttered down nice and gently like a leaf off a tree. They were that big. No wonder we got buried.
It must’ve been quite beautiful?
Yeah, it might be beautiful but I’m not over of cold – I hate it.


So what happened when you got snowed in.
Well, we couldn’t do anything it stops like everything else. A sandstorm’ll stop a war and snow’ll stop a war while it’s snowing because you can’t see. You see it coming down but you couldn’t see far. You couldn’t shoot far or attack in it or anything. And everything’s buried all your trucks and that are buried all the tent main poles snaps. And down comes the tents.


Unless you’ve got the snow huts, you know round completely, igloo type huts that the only thing so that the snow can get off. But we were there over Christmas.
What was Christmas like that year?
Well, nothing seemed like Christmas to me any of them. Nothing about it much.
Was there any sort of celebration or special meal or something like that?
Oh, there was


a few – might’ve got an extra bottle of beer or something. There wasn’t much not in the place you’re right up in the mountains just your own crowd. They put on as good a Christmas they could in the circumstances. They’d find some food or that you know a bit of extra food but it didn’t mean much. Didn’t mean much to me somehow or other. I couldn’t care less.


When we were snowed in it virtually stopped everything, work and everything and it was cold. And Japan in the meantime had come into the war and things weren’t going too bright and the next thing we were ordered back to Kostina in Palestine. And 9th Division


Engineers took our place. See, the 9th Division was actually half the 7th Division. They went into Tobruk as the 7th Division and when they came out they were 9th Division. That’s the way army works. They were 7th Division the two lots that we marched at Bathurst with we lost them. And we got the 6th Division reinforcements that


went to England at Salisbury Plains when they were – when Germany was going to invade England. When they found out they couldn’t do the invasion they were released from over in England and come over and joined up with us at 7th Div. We got them to replace 7th Div we lost to the 9th Division.
So what happened once you arrived at Kostina?
No, everything


was a rush. We got to Kostina and we were only there a few days when we took off across the Sinai Desert back to the Suez and rushed on to the Orcades. Now, army don’t move fast but this time they did. We no sooner we were on the Orcades as it took off. Our baggage, our baggage


party about 5 or 6 chaps on the wharf. Left them, left everything and away she went. And she was fast. The Orcades was the 2nd Orcades she was built in I think 38 she was only a new ship but she was a greyhound and she hell for leather on her own. No escorting, no nothing she ran to Gibraltar – to Colombo. When we


got to Colombo, muggins was down with his second dose of malaria.
Muggins being yourself?
I had Weary Dunlop and Doctor Corlett, was the two, oh two good doctors. They were the doctors I had on ship’s hospital. There was other fellas sick too.
What was Weary Dunlop like?
Good, he Corlett looked after


me. He was a Macquarie Street specialist he was a good doctor too. Weary was going, like he always was – he just a few days before had operated on one of the pioneer’s chaps with appendicitis, he was pretty sick that boy. He’ll come into it as we tell you. Anyway, this is were the trouble come we


had nothing to fight with. See everything was left, the whole of the 6th and 7th Division was coming home in mass, in big convoys plus the slower ships the tramp steamers the freighters and that had all the gear. And what happened the landed the fellas one night in Sumatra at Oosthavn.


Now, I didn’t go because I was in hospital. But I know about it. And they had to get off the ship just on rope ladders. Now, she’s a 20,000 tonner. And if you fell you fell to your death. What gear they had, they borrowed ship’s rifles, carbides from the ship’s armoury and so forth and they only had a couple of rounds a man and on top of that we had


a battalion of machine gunners without a machine gun. That’s how bad it was. They’re specially trained. They’re trained as a team. There’s about six to a gun. They didn’t even have a gun. All their guns were back on the convoys on the slow steamers. Well, the boys got in through a minefield, they had a pilot I think he was part more Eurasians, part Dutch part


Indonesian but when he heard the Japs were on the Island he took off. And the Orcades left for Batavia and here they were stranded on the wharf of this East Harven it’s on the point of the top of Sumatra. The Japanese have already landed airborne division


on Palembang aerodrome. Singapore had fell, now listen to this because a school kid wouldn’t do what they did. Singapore had fell as luck would have it the Orcades went right out to sea but decided – something seemed to tell them to wait, and they waited and with the navy fellas,


they had an Aldis lamp I think the called it and they signalled and signalled and the Orcades managed to pick up the signal and come back. And when she come back, she couldn’t go it – there’s no wharf or that, she had to stand out to sea a bit but they had a lighter that this pilot had brought them in – a lighter – they’re all standing up in it and they had a captain


of this lighter, he knew the minefield but he didn’t know to be able to take the men through like the fellow that shot through. So he reached them, and he took them through the minefield and got through it and took them to the Orcades and they had to climb back up then.
So you were on board the Orcades?
Oh yes, I was on board because I was in the hospital.
So what happened to you next. If you could talk us through what you were doing and what happened to you then?
What happened


then the Orcades moved to Batavia. Now, when we were in Batavia we were stuck at the dock, it must’ve been 3 day, 2 or 3 days doing nothing. We were well within the bombing range of the Japanese. Just moored next to us is a Dutch


cruiser, damaged, she got back to Australia, the Trump – De Trump – De Trump and the Hobart was there, the cruiser, and she got back to Australia. And there was a hell of a lot of shipping in the harbour from what I could see when I got out of bed. But I was getting – I got taken to a Dutch hospital with this other


chap and they kicked us out. They wouldn’t take us.
Why was that?
The Dutch had no intention of fighting. We knew it. Every kid in Batavia knew it. The dogs were barking it on every street corner – the Dutch won’t fight. I can understand the Dutch point of view, the Dutch wanted to do what the French did in Indo China, in Vietnam as it is now,


Indo China it was then. They threw the Country open, they didn’t fight the Jap comes in and administers the country but there’s no loss of life to an extent. The Dutch wanted the same but that didn’t suit our bloke Churchill. But our belly goats, supposed to be generals, they’re with Wavell, now Wavell was our first leader in the British 8th


Army but Wavell had had it, they admit that and he was at Singapore, when Singapore fell and he got over and they made his Headquarters at Java at Batavia and he had a couple of our generals there, now they’re arguing whether we go ashore or not the


skipper of the Orcades, he’s going crook because his ship‘s in deadly danger. So to cut a long story short, they ended up mustering everybody on deck bar the hospital mob, that was me and the others in hospital and – see what happened, now we didn’t know at the time, Churchill 4 times


ordered the convoy of the 6th and 7th Divisions to go to Burma. When Curtin heard about it he ordered them back to come to Australia. If you went against Churchill you copped it. And we were the 4 guys, I don’t care what anyone says because nobody would send troops that are badly needed here – this is the


real thing you think this out – Syria the first time the British Empire and the Allies had won a land battle they’d lost everyone up till then. That was a great booster to the British Empire of their soldiers and that we won a battle we beat Syria. See the Germans were going to come through Syria from Greece and attack the Suez and Egypt from both ends.


They Libyan end the desert and the Syrian end. That was why they went in there – by the way you heard me mention it earlier while I think about it because it’s just come back to me in a flash – you remember me telling you about the pioneer prisoners that the French took when General Dempsey… The French turned around and


capitulated – this is the way they work without the public knowing – they offered the French, anybody that wanted to join the free French under De Gaulle could go and join them, they wouldn’t be prisoners but those that wanted to stop Vichy could go home to France providing they gave us our pioneers back. So we got


the 40 –50 odd pioneers back at the expense of all the Vichy French who went home to fight us again. Now, who’d believe it – nobody. You don’t work that way. The Japs didn’t offer that to us. But the point is, what I’m getting at now, getting back to the ship, Curtin – the Australian


War Ministry wanted the men back to Australia, they were badly wanted, so I told you that men had fought and won the first battle the British had won of the war. Now…
So was the Orcades actually moved back and forth 4 times, is that what you’re saying?
No, not the Orcades,


the 6th and 7th Division. See they’re about 3 days behind us. The Orcades was fast.
Can you, cause that’s a fantastic overview, and I really appreciate that cause I’ve got it clear in my head now what other people were doing but if I could get you to, just from this point tell us what you were doing and what was going on around you, and with the men around you?
No, I was in hospital


in Java.
So what happened you landed at Java and then what happened?
Well, I was just leading up to it – down below – this is the actual fact of what took place – down below on the wharf you’ve got 3 Australian generals, generals and major generals, lieutenant generals and you’ve got Wavell and


they’re arguing and you’ve got all the soldiers on the Orcades lined up on the deck with what little gear they had. There was 2,900 odd 920 I think the exact number – some of the others were anti aircraft and that they stopped there, they came home. They turned around and 4 times again this


4 comes in and why I say 4, 4 stands for death in Chinese and my number was, my prisoner of war number was 1444, so I died 4 times according to the Chinese – but they argued and they were in touch with England with Churchill and then the 4th time they got ordered ashore. When they got ordered ashore that was it.


The Orcades took on board a lot of civilians, women and children and Dutch and I reckon there was a fair few of the Dutch Hierarchies of the army got on. We didn’t see any Dutch army to be quite honest. And that night I was going, I knew it, I went over to the chappie he kept on looking at me his bed was about from here to the window away and I knew it and all you could


see was 2 nurses with their bums sticking up looking out the porthole now that went on for hours. But I couldn’t go in daytime because they’ve got guards on the gangplanks.
Sorry, I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, there was a guard, in the hospital on the ship?
No on, the wharf you’ve got to go down a gangplank off a big steamer off a big ship.
And he could see you?
Oh yes, I’ve got to get pass him. Now, his orders are; no one


Why did he have those orders?
Well, because all those who were going off the ship had already gone off it.
So I take it you’ve been left behind?
That’s right, I was to come home. They didn’t want me. You’ve got to understand this there’s nothing worse than a sick man. If you’ve got a sick man in your company he’s only a hindrance to you. You can’t look after yourself and look after him.


That’s it. So, that night when it got to about 7 o’clock – you always have baggage parties, there’s a lot of gear still got to be taken off the ship. And the units that went off detail, so many of their men to take it off and it might take 2 or 3 hours to take off and load on to trucks, so that’s when I made my move. The nurses knew we were moving so they kept


on looking out the porthole. There’s a lot of things going on around a wharf in wartime.
So the nurses were fine with you leaving? Are you saying the nurses supported you leaving the ship?
They knew we’d leave. I went over to this chap and spoke to him and he said, “I’m coming with you,” and I said “Gee you’re pretty crook,” and he said, “No, it don’t matter, I’ll be right.” So we both cleared out. I got up a deck or so when I ran slap


bang into Ross Wilde, one of my mates, a baggage party, I never seen him again but I got ashore and I got taken out to – they were at an aerodrome – nothing on the drome it, was just a joke and when I got out there I think Ross went and reported that I’d got off the ship and all the reply come back, “If he’s silly enough to do it


we’ll let him come because we need every man we can get.”
How sick were you at this point?
Not bad, I was over the worst of it. And I had quinine, I had the tablets.
So what happened once you arrived back with your unit? What happened to you next?
We couldn’t do much you know because we had nothing but we ended up taking up a position by


a fast flowing river. First of all, we ran around the island for about 3 or 4 days to make out as if the 6th and 7th Division had landed there. That was to throw them off to make out there were thousands of men and we had to take up a position where – the Dutch had blown the bridge across this river and it was coming from the high country and the result was it was pretty fast, the flow of it.


Well, we took up positions – where I was the 2/6th Company was, was on the right flank facing the river and further up we had the machine gunners. They didn’t have a machine gun they had a few rifles and further up we had the pioneers. A bunch of school boys could’ve beat us. That’s s how bad it was,


it was just murder suicide. Anyway, the Dutch reckoned there wasn’t a Jap on the Island. And of course the boys got out of the – they dug trenches along the river bank on the higher ground – and they got out and were laying around because there you get pretty humid weather and always plenty of rain. It comes down very suddenly and then only last a couple of minutes just enough to wet you. But anyhow,


they were laying around and in come the tanks, the Jap tanks. They couldn’t – stopped at the bridge because the bridge was blown in halves, they couldn’t get across. Come some of their high ranking officers and everything and a belly goat further up let fly instead of waiting for the order they could’ve got the lot of them, he goes and fires his rifle course they


backed around the bend again, there was a bend you see. He was one of the machine gunners I think. Now, the fella that got off the ship with me he was bad, he was sick, he was one of the first causalities. He got hit by a mortar bomb from the Japanese in the face. He got his jaw and his face badly


hit with shrapnel but he lived. They got him to hospital and who should fix him up, Weary Dunlop. How I know that, it was in Dunlop’s book otherwise I wouldn’t know it. It just happened to read it and I knew because he was the only bloke outside of me.
So what were you doing at this time when the Japanese tanks were close by?


I had the Bren gun. The only Bren gun and I had about 6 lots of, packs of ammunition with me but I was in a bit of a quandary really because under the Geneva Conference [actually Geneva Convention] they couldn’t use the gun because it was anti aircraft. You’re not allowed


to use on human beings, that carries the death penalty. So I knew I was dead both ways. See you’re not allowed to use tracers and that on human beings explosive bullets or anything like that. Well, if I had to use I was going to use it after all said and done I had no choice. It was the only weapon I had but to cut a long story short, they didn’t attack our end


all the fighting took part up where the pioneers and the machine gunners were and it didn’t’ last long because we had no ammo, we had very little and you can’t fight tanks and so forth – see they got over the river further up – it’s worth reading that book you seen on the table wrote by the company, The Gap is Bridge, that’s worth reading. That was wrote by the company.


Well, as far as I was concerned none of us fired a shot at our end cause they got up the top end, I suppose it wasn’t as deep and wasn’t as – you know they forwarded the river the Japs and of course the Dutch – we retreated back on Dutch orders, we were put under a Dutch general. See Australia is mad, whether we like it or not, the Australian people


if they don’t wake up 20 years, I give them, that’s all they’ve got to stop putting our men under foreign generals. What do you have Duntroon for, our blokes’ll buy and sell these overseas fellows and there’s only one reason why I say that, we’re volunteers and volunteers are worth 2 conscripts and all these other countries are conscripts, they never stop whingeing.


take me back to what was happening to you when the Japanese broke through where the pioneers were battling on the other side?
Oh, the Dutch threw it in straight away and we’re under their orders. See we came under Dutch orders, we had a Dutch general, the whole lot of us.
So what did you do, what happened?
Well, we just had to destroy our arms that was the order. See it was an unconditional surrender.


The Japs give the order then, not the Dutch. The Jap order was that all the men have to destroy their arms, you have to get rid of them.
What went through your mind when you were given that order?
Well, we cleared off, we went over the other side of the island to the sea depending on Dunkirk again but what we didn’t know was that our war ships had gone down. The Perth


and the Houston, the Houston was the American heavy cruiser and the Perth the Australian light cruiser. They were sunk at the Sunda Strait. We were hoping one of them would’ve turned up and took us off. The Jap didn’t come after us. See it foiled him this way that it held him up. He landed, it takes a lot, you’ve got to land a lot of men a lot of equipment and everything when you land that you’ve got to put it back on the ships again cause he was heading the


for – it would be New Guinea.
So what happened next you went to the other side the…?
Oh, we hung around for about 2 weeks. There were 2 plantations and forests and that and the Jap didn’t bother to chase us he had no reason to. He ended up, they rounded us


up eventually.
Who were you with this time?
Oh, different fellas. I mean there’s fellas everywhere wandering around. Nothing to do. Didn’t know what to do. I was very fortunate that we turned around and Jack and I came across this ravine and at the bottom of it was all cars and trucks and armoured


bag vehicles and God know what, ambulances, they’d all been tipped over the top by the Dutch see and our fellas. And when we were there a big Lincoln car came up and some high ranking Australian officer got out with his batman, the driver, and he gave Jack and I the Lincoln.


Why did he do that?
Well, you couldn’t go any further, so he told us you can either put it over the ravine or you can have it. Now, a Lincoln then was royalty. We never had enough money to buy a billy cart let alone a car.
So what did you do?
Put it over the gully. So we ended up going down the gully


and this is where the strange things come in – don’t get me wrong I was only an ordinary bloke I only had ordinary education. I was as green as grass when it come to life because our life is so different to what it is today, we’d be behind today by 30 years, anyway, Jack and I were out looking


looting whatever we can find. Now, we found the bank it was full of everything, I suppose gold and God knows what, that was no good to you, that don’t buy a feed. I went to the ambulance, I don’t know what guided me there because I wasn’t a thinker like that and I got a big bottle of quinine tablets, they were 500 but they were 5 grain and I kept it, otherwise I wouldn’t be


here. I went got those tablets and I had them while I was still in jail – I had in one of my pay books I can show you, the pay book at the time where I used to write in the malaria tax until a Jap threatened to behead anybody caught with a pencil or paper, of course that stopped me. They never took our pay books that’s why I’ve still got it. But the thing is, what I’m getting at is,


the – I got the quinine. We were mostly looking for tobacco and that but anyway when we got rounded up we got put in jail, criminals, Godok jail and the English were in there, there was a bunch of Londoners, I forget what they call them royal something, oh they were a bad bunch. But the started dying straight away, you wouldn’t believe it,


they die like flies the Europeans, English and that they start dying straight away – dysentery. If you’re stuck in with them you haven’t got any hope. It was just by sheer luck the Jap moved us after about 10 days or so there moved us out of there and put us in barracks, Dutch barracks down at the port of Tillage –


that’s in Batavia – and we were there for about 4 or 5 months I suppose. They were quite good billets but the usual – of course we had the Yanks with us. There was a handful of Yanks dumped like us, they were on their way to Guam. They were artillery, a show mob mainly, show ponies, nobody under 6 foot 6 [inches] and as thin as a rake,


quite a few of them had come from the hills, hillbillies. Oh, I could tell you stories of them but they were good fellas.
So what happened next, once you were rounded up and…?
They put us in the gaol and then to the Bicycle Camp as the called it, Dutch barracks. Now, we went to work from there on the roads and airport like working on repairing and so forth


and on the wharves. There was always work, it never finished but there again came the usual stunts. One night there’s a terrible hullabaloo. See if you get him rattled the guards will open fire. A work party come in of our gal [?] lieuts [lieutenants] and Americans and they’ve only smuggled in aviation fuel


and drank it. These alchos [alcoholics], there’s no doubt about them. Well, it kills about half a dozen of them and made another half dozen brain dead. You’ve got to be mad but that goes on all the time. Aviation fuel is about 80% pure alcohol. You could imagine what that did to the brain. And course the guards went mad and


anyway we ended up we got over that eventually I don’t know what happened to the ones that went off their head. I don’t know what happened to them but we were there for a good 4 to 5 months before we were put on a hell ship and sent to Singapore.
So what else happened during this time in Java as a POW [Prisoner of War]?
Well, I was up and down like a yo-yo with malaria in between work. Nothing


much happened.
And what type of work were you doing? I mean you mentioned you were repairing roads and stuff but what actually were you doing as part of that work?
Just pick and shovel. Just labouring, heavy work always heavy work.
What was the morale like amongst the men who’d been caught and were POWs?
The morale, as far as a man went but the trauma


you never get over it. The trauma was that great it got branded into me that I still won’t accept it. That’s the one big flaw I finished up with. I could not believe that I’d lost my freedom. I just could not believe that the company had lost its freedom and to this day I still find I can’t believe it.


The trauma, people’s got no idea the trauma that we suffered it actually and in them days they knew nothing about it they reckon the doctors. God – nothing. To this day that’s why I’ve been a prisoner all my life. The article I wrote was asked – Pat Reid asked me to write it. He was the only one who looked after us. He became an advocated repat. No pay


he did it voluntary and Pat asked me would I write something because another mate George was dying and they wouldn’t give him a TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Pension]. That’s how bad it was you got nothing.
At this time though like getting back to when you were in Java and you were in the early stages of being a POW


what was going through your mind, what was happening to you in terms of your mental and physical state there?
Oh, it was all right, see you had no time to think much of that as far as that you were always busy or trying to get something to eat. Everything – you did get a bit of food there. The difference, a big difference between it and jungle camps. But no,


my biggest trouble was malaria, see it was so consistent. I got the dates on that, I haven’t looked at it for years, I’ve got the dates ,you only have to look at the dates to see how consistent it was. Major Calder came in and seen me one day and he said to me, “How are you?” I said ,“I’m all right,” he felt my head, I was feverish but not top,


I was halfway to and he went out and he came back to me – how things come back to you – the first man to die would be me.
He said that to you?
Yes, because they had no way of giving me anything or nothing they could do for me. But what he didn’t know, I don’t think, that I had this bottle of quinine tablets.
So had you kept the fact that you had this bottle of quinine


a secret?
The Japs didn’t take them, they used to search us every second day.
How did you hide them? How did you hide the quinine tablets?
I didn’t hide them, just kept them in my kitbag. Don’t you see, the Japs left them alone, they could’ve taken them, they didn’t, Java’s full of quinine so they didn’t have to worry about quinine.
Well, lucky you had it.
I was terribly lucky but who took them –


Doctor Fisher 8th Division took them off me at Singapore.
Okay, we’ll continue that on the next tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 09


You mentioned you were put aboard a hell ship for Singapore, why do you call it a hell ship?
Well, it’s the only way you could describe a hell ship. It’s an old freight over the side of the ship, slung out


over the side of the ship, the latrines and you’ve got to turn around and take it in turns to go there. The tucker’s [food] awful, the ship’s slow. They were only ships that had been sold by England, Australia and America to be cut up they’d lived out their life. The treatment was wrong, you were treated worse than an animal. And the point was they got the name hell ship because


that’s what they were.
How did they treat you aboard the ship?
No good at all.
Can you give an example?
Oh, the guards and that you were always treated hard but there was worse to come. There’s more than one hell ship I’ve been on.
Okay so how long did the trip take to Singapore?
About 3 or 4 days I suppose. I’m only guessing now it’s too long.
What happened when you got to Singapore?
Got off the Dock at Singapore


and we were taken to Changi which – to the barracks, the Gordon Highlanders Barracks in what they call the Changi area the hospital’s also there but the Changi area well all the 8th Div mob was more or less stuck there and we got taken there and treated like lepers by the Australians of the 8th Division


not the men don’t get me wrong, not the SABERs and the privates and that – Brigadier Black Jack Callagher. You want proof, read a couple of the books up there wrote by a navy fella not an army fella.
Did you have any personal encounters with…
Yes, Black Jack – yes.
What happened?
Well, Jack and I we were in the barracks and we had to go over through


the Sikhs lines, now the Sikhs had deserted the British, the Indian Sikhs ,and the Japs were using them as guards so we had to bow and so on, and get their permission before we could pass through the gates, to get through the gates on the opposite side. We were going over to the hospital to look up some fellas we knew were in the 8th Div, if they were still alive or not, if we could find out


and after we’d been over there and we were coming back and just got through the Sikh lines and just got through the gate, on the same side as where our barracks were. And these three fellas came along and Jack says, “G’day mate,” and I said, “G’day mate,” to one of the other blokes and next


minutes there’s a roar. We kept on walking see they were coming the other way, there was a hell of a roar we turned around and here’s this fella with a baton waving it at us at our face – “Don’t you know who I am?” Jack said, “No, I’ve never seen you before in my life.” He was a cheeky bloke. “I’m Callagher, Black Jack Callagher.” No, ”Brigadier Callagher.” He didn’t say Black Jack, “Brigadier Callagher.”


It didn’t mean anything to us and Jack said to him, you know he, “That’s funny, our officers wear their pips on their shoulders.” The Jap had made them put their rank on their wrists. He went to town. Well, he really give it to us. See we should’ve saluted him. As Jack said, “We don’t know you, for a start,”


he said, and he said, “Blokes should at least salute you for a start. You don’t belong to our division.” That made it worse.
So how did he react from that point onwards?
Well, to cut a long story short it was a deadlock the other two were silent they were officers but they were his Adjutant and that I suppose. They never said a word they knew him see. I said to him, the only way to break him was I did it. I said, “All right,


I’ll salute you if that’s what you want,” so I saluted him. I said, “Jack, salute him,” and Jack saluted him and away we went. Now, he got on to our brig when our Brigadier Blackburn was a VC in the First World War, he was the head of the machine gunners. When he came over he was senior to this bloke and he got stuck into him of course this bloke reported us.
What did he say?


Oh, he pulled rank on this other fella but I’ll give you a minutes reading of something you should read up there of the way they went on. Do you know, the hide of the them, the top officers of the 8th Div blamed us for the loss of Singapore when we’re on the high seas. Do you know that?
I had no idea. Now, look you mentioned


Brigadier Arthur Blackburn a moment ago did you actually meet Blackburn?
Oh, I see Blackburn a few times, Blackburn, not Callagher don’t mix them up.
No, no, I’m talking about Arthur Blackburn and I’m aware of Blackburn’s story,
Oh, he’s a good soldier.
Can you describe Blackburn for me?
Oh God, well Blackburn was World War I. He was a solid built fella from memory. But…
What sort of a person was he?
Oh, a good soldier,


a good man from what I know, see nothing to do with me the machine gunners, they fought in the middle sector, I never fought with them, we fought on the coastal sector. I had different brigadiers, he was a brigadier then, Blackburn.
He seems to have a great sense of fair play though?
Oh yes, definitely, Blackburn was a – most World War I fellows were good men. They were good officers, see they’d been through it. They knew


the differences and what goes on in the ranks because they’d come home they’d experienced overseas in France or Gallipoli. They came home and they seen the desolation of ’21 when there was a recession and men out of work and hell of a lot of fellas died through the epidemic…
Oh, the Spanish Influenza Epidemic, yeah,
Yeah all that, see these fellas had a different attitude to the younger


So he had a very broad world view in other words?
Oh yes, yes.
Now, could you describe conditions at Changi?
Oh, Changi was quite good, the barracks were good. And they had – the 8th Div had a lot of food – Red Cross, but they wouldn’t give us any. Where’s the Australian mateship, we ended up getting some,


ordered to give it more or less. But that was there attitude, greed, they wanted to keep it. Give nothing to them fellas. See we were ragged, everything we had we destroyed before the Jap could get it. They destroyed nothing. They had all their clothing, kit bags, everything. The result was, they had everything we had nothing. Callagher said, “The ragged ruffian mob from Java.” That’s what he called us,


give them nothing.
Now, I believe you had a Christmas at Changi?
Can you describe what happened on that Christmas Day/
Oh, Changi’s only a memory, blurred memory to me now. See I was in Singapore twice after the line and before in different places. But Changi, Christmas time, I think we had a pretty good Christmas. All I remember is playing football,


but no we’d had a fair Christmas because they had a lot of food at that time, like tin food and that which you didn’t see again.
Now, how long were you at Changi?
We’d been about I said at a guess, I’m only guessing about 5 or 6 weeks.
And after Changi where did you go?
Went to Burma. We went


over land to Penang and caught the ship from Penang. There was one ship, the biggest ship had locomotives and a lot of Japanese in it an about 1,000 Indonesian and Dutch and our ship she was only a rust bucket. She had about 500 of us


that included the survivors of the Perth and the Houston the Yanks, plus the Yanks from the artillery mob. There was only 300 or 400 of them and us.
That was aboard the ship to Penang?
We had all told about 1,000 too in the ship in the holds. Well, one day the sea was just like a pond smooth as anything when two Liberators got us.


And they’d come in from Indian, it turned out and American squadron and the Dutch ship took the first hit she went straight down didn’t take much went through her and then they attacked us. Bombs fell either side we could only do about 7 knots an hour the rust, the whole rust that would


come off in sheets as big as them tiles, just full of rust. And the shrapnel went right through the ship. One minute you’re in darkness and the next minutes there’s streams of light both sides coming through. The bombs fell either side of her and she’s on fire and anything up deck got wiped out. The Jap gun crew they got wiped out straight away but


we lost a few blokes especially a couple of Perth fellas, off the Perth. And I suppose there might have been a dozen or more wounded a few dead but taken all round we got off lightly.
What was your own personal reaction to that attack?
God I was that frightened I had no reaction. I never heard bombs come down like they come down because they make a different noise


on water. It’s just like a locomotive coming right over you. You could hear it coming and you swear it’s coming right over you. I never had them come like that before. I heard the Stukas drop – screamers they scream at you and come and screaming right at your head. You swear they’re falling on top of you too. But not the noise at sea, God it frightened me. Not only that, fellas had dived in the hold who were up


on deck and all dived on top of us in the bottom of the hold.
Were they injured?
Oh yes, some broke their ankles. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill us they landed on top of us, yes.
So what happened after that attack?
Well, the Jap – we couldn’t run for Indian, we had the ship and she was on fire but we had the Houston and the Perth survivors


and they knew what to do. Where we wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t know first thing about a ship. And they went up and put the fire out. But we couldn’t run to Indian because they had an armed trawler she had wireless. So, we could do nothing and the ship – we were hauling the Dutch in, and as we were hauling the Dutch in they’re standing on the Japs heads drowning them from the same wreck. Oh, that’s what goes on.
Hold on, when you say you were


hauling the Dutch in…
The survivors.
The survivors from?
The Dutch ship she went straight down, she took the first – the bombs went straight through her. And course the survivors they’re in the water and the Jap survivors well whenever the got the chance, they pushed the Jap down – stand on him. Well, if you ever want to try pulling human beings up a side of ship you’ve got know idea, they weight tons they don’t weight a few stone.


And the sea’s alive with snakes. Good never seen so many snakes in my life. Sea snakes, they’re the most deadly in the world. You don’t recover from the bite of a sea snake.
Were the snakes attacking the Dutch survivors?
No they couldn’t, they were all unconscious dazed the bombs when they hit go into the water fish and everything comes to the surface. They just float around on top the snakes still wriggling but no,


it was alive with them. Course we weren’t that far from land. We might’ve only been a couple of mile from land. We could see land.
So you hauled the survivors on board and then what happened after that?
Then we went to Moulmein in Java, the port, but the Japs wouldn’t do anything for the boys and a few more died from gangrene from their wounds. See they lost quite a few men on that ship, they don’t forget it. And then when we got to Moulmein they put us in gaol another gaol.


That’s two criminal offences I’ve got against me and we were in gaol at Moulmein before we got shipped up to start on the line. We start the beginning of the Burma Line in Burma.
Were you among the first prisoners to work on it?
No, there was about – several parties before me. One party was from Java but another party worked in a


different section, Tavoy or something, they were 8th Div fellas. They’d be the first I’d say.
So whereabouts did you join the Burma Railway?
Oh, virtually near the beginning of it. About – I find it hard to remember the kilo numbers but I’ve got some wrote upstairs, I should’ve brought it down with me.
So for how long did you work on the line?
About 18 months.
And what was the work you were doing?
Oh God,


pick and shovel, stone breaking in to you know fine stone for the ballast for the line. Putting the line down, sleeper hauling, elephant boy, we could go on all day working on the line.
Could you describe an average day for us working on the line?
Well, it’s very hard to describe because of the cunningness of the


Japanese, the cleverness. You could near swing the lead.
What do you mean by that?
Well, you couldn’t put it over them. You couldn’t get a chap who could do nothing because everybody had a measure and you didn’t go home until your measure was done. So many metres per man. So if there’s 50,


just make it simple, if there’s 50 men in a team, which it was, which it started off, that means you did 50 metres of land. It started off on flat land and gradually went into the mountain. Now, the Japanese do not count trees or rock or anything any different to loose soil. So, if you struck anything like that you were up against it. They had no mechanisation whatsoever.


The only mechanisation you had was elephants and they were wild. And when you had, which you had to do, become an elephant boy for a day you were scared stiff all day.
What did you do as an elephant boy?
You just walked behind the elephant, who used to have march flies as big as that on his belly all day long and when they swished his tail they’d come on to you.


What scared you most about the elephants?
They were wild they used to take off. The kids, elephant drivers they used to hit them with this hooked thing and blood’d always be running down their forehead from their forehead down. All the time everyday.
Who were the kids?
So there were Burmese children driving the elephants as well?
Burmese kids about 18, 17 – 18.
So they were elephant boys


and you were also an elephant boy from time to time?
Why there was an elephant boy, see the elephant boy got the job if you had to get a tree stump out, you had the chain and you had to put it around the stump, well any job that had to have a chain attached to it that was your job. But it wasn’t doing that, so it was hard enough it was the fact that that elephant screaming and throwing his trunk up and scaring the


daylights out of you all the time and the march flies coming off him. It takes a lot of putting up with because I’ve seen men go mad with them things. I’ve seen men go mad with the butterflies, with the bees. They couldn’t take them. They’re after the salt, you had no clothes bar your G-string, the salt on your back and that you’d be covered in them. The march – what’s-a-name – flies…
The march flies?


No, the little fellas – the sandflies, God, they drove you mad. You could hit a fella on his back and the whole of your fingers and that would show in blood. They never left you alone.
Because they basically were feasting on…
They feasted on the body, mm. That’s true…
And why would the butterflies drive men mad?
Oh, tickling. See some fellas can’t take it. Butterflies didn’t worry me and the bees didn’t worry me


except for one thing. When you swinging a pick, you’re up and down aren’t you. The bee gets under here, what happens? Down comes the arm and in goes the string. But I had a fella, Cec Hopwood, Cec was an older man than most of us. This way he might’ve been 8 or 10 years older than me but Cec used to go mad, he couldn’t stand them.
He couldn’t stand bees?
Wild bees, they wouldn’t bite you unless you looked for it.


any of the men driven absolutely permanently insane by this?
Oh, yes.
They were?
Yes, they would’ve been.
How would that manifest itself?
I don’t know, you’d never see them really they’d be, if anything I suppose they’d have to put them in a hospital and then they’d die. Some of them lived, the way Cec used to go on was enough to convince me.
Now, I asked you before to describe an average day now this is quite apart from the days in which you were driving the elephants.


I’m just trying to get a sense of what you were doing on the line and the kinds of condition you were working under?
Well, on the line you’ve got two big things that you must know. On a line you’ve got embankments and you’ve got flat ground. Now, there’s no allowance made on your measure and everyday they put it up. And as the men started


dying and getting sick it didn’t alter it kept on going up. Because if you got down to 40 men they wanted 50 men’s work and so on and it kept on going and going. That’s why so many died. They got worked to death but the average day work was now if you’re doing a cutting. Now, that cutting might be 15 foot deep. You’re cutting it with


just pick and shovel. All these things were left for them by the British government, must’ve known what was going on. What you did you either swung the pick or the shovel or in the case of an embankment two of you would do the coolie, like a Chinese coolie, you’d have a bamboo pole because it’s all bamboo there with the sling


underneath it of which the dirt was put for you to cart. Now, when you got up embankment, not embankment…
The cutting…
…the cutting, you had to cut foot holes to get the dirt out because you might be 15–20 feet from the ground. And two of


you would be getting up with your feet into the foot holes in the cutting to get the dirt up the top of the embankment. It was all mountainous country after first, I’d say after about 30 kilometres we got into the highland from then on it was high ground.
Now, how much of the line did you work on in your time on the Burma Railway line?
Well, I went to about I suppose 5 camps.


There was Kilo 105, Kilo 90, Kilo 75, I think there was Kilo 17 and I think there was Kilo 55. I couldn’t be sure of the lot of them. The last two I remember well because they were the last two. By then I was cutting timber for the train. See the train ran on timber.
So what was you state of health during this


Oh, I didn’t do too bad, see again I was so fortunate, I got ulcers on the legs but they didn’t break they just went and healed up. Well, I put that down to one thing, but I could be wrong I’m not a doctor, but when I was in Java


in the Bicycle Camp they got the brainwave, the doctors, to give me an arsenic injection. So I had to line up with the bulk, a lot of the Houston’s crew cause they had gonorrhoea and they used to give them arsenic. Now, arsenic never leaves the body and I reckon that killed


the ulcers. I honestly do, that’s the way I looked at it. The other fellas, look railway operations in the camp I was none of them survived. We lost the lot including the doctor. We lost our doctor.
This was in all the camps that you were in?
You were the only survivor?
No, no.
Of all the operations?
Of all the operations, there was no, not one success. They never got beyond the 8th day.


You have to get over the 8th day.
You’re talking about operations for ulcers are you?
Legs coming off, hands coming off just with the saw from the cookhouse.
Did you see any of those operations being performed?
No, I didn’t want to see any of them. No, but they were performed. We lost everyone. The boys used to go out and risk their lives because you got executed if you got caught out because they thought you were escaping. They’d get out to try and get food. To try and


build their strength up to get over the 8th day. Never got over it. If it was me, I would say in the camp there would be 200 or more operations at least. Those that were sent back to Thailand there were all right they had the big hospital they had gear there we had nothing in ours. See they operated – no anaesthetic or that you know that.
What was your own state of mind throughout this period?
You had no mind.


See this again is where they don’t seem to understanding, they don’t want to understand in this country. The doctors wouldn’t even take notice of the Dutch doctors. They looked down on the Dutch doctors. Now, the Dutch doctors knew how to treat tropical diseases but our doctors are too snobbish to listen to the Dutch doctors. That’s true otherwise there would’ve been a lot of those fellas alive today or would’ve lived.
But looking back at your state of mind, you said you had no mind?
You had no mind, the Jap


took your mind. You did nothing you just did what he told you. What could you think of, there was nothing to think of. If you did what he said you knew nothing. There was plenty of rumours but they died out after 12 months. You’re stuck in virgin country in a jungle. You had no food the food was rotten what you did have and you had little of it and you’re working anything up to 20 hours. It was nothing to be out 20 hours.


Go home 4 hours and back out again. See your mind blanked. The human mind, the human brain must think when it stops thinking it dies and that’s what was happening. It was like you were brain dead. You could talk to somebody or that but your talk was nothing it was only of what was around you.
Where any of your mates still with you at this stage from the unit?
Oh yes, most of the unit.
Most of the unit was still together?


Was there…
Some left in Java, some left in Singapore, sick and that. No, but still at that time when we started in Burma, oh there’d been I suppose 2 parties went, I suppose there could be 80–90–100-odd to the company.
To what extent was there a collective spirit still among the men of your unit in terms of supporting each other helping each other?
You couldn’t help one another. There’s no way you could


help. There’s nothing, you had nothing to help.
Was there anyway the men could mentally sustain each other?
Well, you could talk, you’d talk about – yes there was – I’ll give you a good example. This fella couldn’t stand the bees, Cec Hopwood. Cec ran an SP [starting price bookmaker] in a pub in Sydney before the war. He’s


a clever bloke, Cec. Well, him and I would be working together carting the soil out say of the cutting so Cec like his beer. So I’d get talking to Cec what pubs did he knock around in Sydney. And of course he could rattle off a 100 pubs. That’s how you spoke but as far as using the brain


you had nothing. And after awhile, see 3½ years is a long while. See what’s not realised in this country, when they dumped us here – I know what the big mistake they made you don’t tell them. They don’t want to listen to blokes like me.
Just looking further at the Burma Thailand Railway, how was the treatment of the Japanese on that railway? How was the treatment by the Japanese of the prisoners?


Japanese were not the guards. The guards were Koreans and the Koreans are the worst torturers in the world. Their reputation and the biggest cowards in the world and they love to torture and they love to trash you and that’s what they did.
Did you see any of that happening?
That happened all the time, that happened to me.
What sort of things would happen?
The slightest little thing, only the littlest excuse’d give


them the excuse to belt you up but the ones that were never given credit and this is again things that I told, the really ones that deserved the greatest recommendation were the sergeants the corporals and the lance sergeants, why, because the officers wouldn’t work. And the officers wouldn’t come out and whenever, the Japanese principle is very clear,


for arguments sake if I did something that’d a Jap, the Korean guard didn’t like he’d bash me but also he bashes who is in charge of the party. That applied in the camp and that’s when the major, my major, Major Robinson then and Colonel Carpenter, Yanks they got it. Now, I got belted up one day it was a –


actually in Saigon, no it wasn’t it was on the line – it was the Emperor’s birthday and you always got a holiday the Emperor’s birthday and of course the guards celebrate. They celebrate the Emperor’s birthday in a big way. Of course they were all rotten drunk and they must’ve been teasing this big gal lieut. He was a real backwards boy but he was a


huge fella, Korean guard. Anyway, he caught me over at the cookhouse and I didn’t see him it was just on dusk. The first I heard was this bellow from him and I turned around and my heart sunk, I knew I was gone a million. Hadn’t saluted him see, hadn’t bowed to him. The least little thing.


He also got poor old the batman, Nick Russell. He bashed Nick up and he bashed me up. And while he’s bashing me up Nick shot through. That didn’t worry him. You know what they did, I reckon and to this day I reckon I’m right. He was having a go at him because he never killed anybody. So he decided he’s drunk enough he’s going to kill me.


What was he using to beat you up?
His rifle. He used to swing that rifle. I had a rifle butt branded on me right above the heart where I didn’t get out of the way quick enough at one stage. But he belted me from one end of that ground to the other. He was trying to get me into the jungle. Once you got me over the boundary of thing he would shoot me or bayonet me. Well, he done his best to get me


over there and I was trying – I was really in trouble. Nobody’d make a move it was dark then. The Yank hut was quiet, the Australian huts were quiet, they were all watching not a word. He bashed me down passed the Yank hut slope down in a gully the cemetery was the other side of the gully and he let fly again with his


rifle – he used to point the rifle with the bayonet into my throat and I could see his finger starting to pull on the trigger but a funny thing you have no fear of death when you’re facing death. That’s true. Many a time I was frightened I wasn’t facing death. This time I wasn’t. Used to seem – just accept it.
So what happened?
Well, he let fly with the rifle and slipped out of his hand and flew down the gully. He


flew after it and I flew to the Yank hut. See right through one side and out the other and I went over into the Australian hut and I thought now I’m in trouble so I went up to where the officers were sitting and I sat down there it was dark. Not a word said they didn’t see me. I knew it’d only be a matter of time and the guard house’d blow up and which they did.


Down the come looking for me, Nick and the two officers, the two commanding officers. The American, the Australian. Well, they carted us both up and they bashed us up there put the boot into us. Bashed the two officers up and then let us go. About a week after


we all got paraded out in front of the Jap officer and our two officers again had to go up to him and he walloped them. The Jap officer did that. Unbeknown to me and again scared me because I didn’t want any more at the time I’d had a big enough thrashing that had gone on for an hour or more – they sent


a letter of protest to this –they were supposed to have a Swiss what’s a name – diplomat seeing that the camps were controlled like cause the Jap always filled them up make the food and that look – get their own food and make out it was our food. Of course the letter got down there and this Jap officer would’ve got blown up by the Colonel down in


wherever he was at Moulmein or Rangoon and of course he bashed the two officers. They didn’t touch me or Nick.
You said the Koreans tortured peopled how would they torture them?
The Koreans torture everything. The Koreans would get a butterfly take one wing off then they’d take a leg off. They’d play all day like that. Or they’d use their bayonet, the tip of their bayonet to torment didn’t matter what it was.


Burma’s full of big centipedes big what’s the other fella, centipedes and …
No, the fella about that long, huge – no – the one that curls up at the back…
Scorpions, and full of them, and snakes and they’d torch all the time they can’t help themselves.
So how would they torture the prisoners?
Oh, they’d bash them up.


Mostly bash or putting heavy weights – making them lift heavy weights, stone and run so far with it and back again. All them things. They were always, if they weren’t sleeping or nodding off they were always looking for somebody to bash up.
Where were the Japanese all this time? What was the position of the Japanese?
The Japanese had no control over the guards. A Japanese officer


could not stop a guard sergeant what he did. I didn’t know that at the time.
So what was the role of the Japanese at this time?
Japanese were the engineers and their engineers couldn’t interfere. Now, their engineers they did – very clever – they built everything out of bamboo including the cuttings and the embankments. In the embankment they’d use bamboo for their measures. Every this was dead level


dead straight always bamboo. You could look right along the line where they hadn’t got to and all you’d see already the bamboos all in place. If it was a cutting or an embankment the bamboos were set, especially embankments. Very clever but they were hard on the prisoners, they drove the prisoners the engineers. They’d send the guards onto you.


See now the guard after he’d been out 10 –12 or 14 hours he wanted to get back in so he’d get stuck in to you worse than ever. That’s the way things worked and they made the measures that big in the finish that you couldn’t do them.
All right, let’s change the tape.
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 10


Now, I gather you were taken to some camps in Thailand for a few weeks?
That’s right.
At what stage of the game was that?
As soon as the line was finished the locos [locomotives] were running cause we were cutting timber for the locos after the line was finished and after that we were taken to – we only went to the border through the Kokoda Pass, we didn’t go beyond it, not our crowd. Practically, all the bulk of them were withdrawn to


Tarakan or to the two big main camps that were there that had been there for the years while we were doing the line. We didn’t do any of the line in Thailand, Weary Dunlop and all that lot copped that. They copped more cholera than we did, we got a bit of it but the cholera


wipe out all the civilian on the line. There were hundreds of thousands of civilians slaves they won’t tell you the truth of mostly Tamil Indians and the poor Malayans and all that. The first wet season – see your wet seasons were deadly. If I were to put my mouth up and take a drink of the rain pouring down I’d get bayoneted. The Japs feared it that much.


They always wore what the called a cholera belt. That’s that flannel around the ribs, kidneys.
So if you put your head up to drink why would the Japs want to bayonet you for having a drink of water?
Well, water was the killer and I don’t know why to this day I’m not a medical man they say cholera comes from no


hygiene. People further up the river or up a stream washing and all impurities in the water, but I don’t go along with that. My I, is that cholera comes from up above because the jungle swelters in the hot season and that comes down in the wet season. Now, you’ve got to remember this, it rains non stop


there’s no stop once it starts. You get a few storms but when the rains starts it never stops for nearly 3 months. It rains 400 inches at once when it stops it doesn’t rain again till the next 9 months time. The locals could tell you for arguments sake, when it’s going to start and when it’s going to stop. So could the Arabs over in Palestine and that. They could tell you when it was going to start


See it’s all what’s-a-name rain the same as Darwin it only comes on a…
On a seasonal basis.
Now, I believe after the Burma Thailand Railway experience you were chosen to go to Japan.
I’ll leave it to you to tell us about the journey to Japan and what actually happened when you got there including the work you did?
Well, what happened they wanted a 1,000 of fittest men. So all they did the


guards just walked along and went you, you, you, you know attitude and I couldn’t duck quick enough and I was one. Well, we’d only been in the camp about 3 weeks when that happened. The next thing we were on our way in cattle trucks, not the 1,000 of us, so many each time was taken in these cattle trucks till we reached the Mekong River. Now, we’d been a couple of days on them trains and we’d been squeezed in


that tight you couldn’t sit down or stand up hardly. And when we reached the Mekong River we went aboard a ship, a boat and she shipped us down through Laos, the Mekong’s a terrific river, huge, down to Saigon and that’s where we got – went ashore there.
And what happened in Saigon?
Well, Saigon was a godsend to us.


This way the rice was good rice, see before the rice we had was rotten rice it’d – it was years old and it was full of weevils and rice grub and if you picked the weevils and the grub out you had no rice.
So why was Saigon good to you?
Good rice, beautiful rice. See you learn to live on rice. And Saigon,


I can’t tell you much about Saigon any more than these others because you never ever got near the population. The Jap was very clever – let me tell you this, in 3 ½ years I was never within about 500 metres of a woman. All I could see would be a woman in the distance. I


never spoke to a woman. They don’t understand this here, when we come home we run away from a girl. We just couldn’t come near them.
So for how long were you in Saigon?
About oh I suppose at a guess, about 4 months, 3 months, 4 months.
And what did you do there?
Mostly aerodrome, on the aerodrome, or roads or on the wharves.


And Saigon was a hell of a place. The humidity you can cut it with a knife and our luck ran as usual the French fellas used to help us a bit – the interpreter fella with the Japs he was well up with the Japs. And of course they didn’t hamper the Japs and the Japs didn’t touch them.
Because they were Vichy French no doubt?
Oh yes.
Who were on the side of the Japanese?
Oh, well they couldn’t have stopped it.


I don’t blame the Dutch, the Dutch couldn’t have stopped them but it was what happened throwing away men that was urgently needed here men that’d been in campaigns not new men that had never faced…
So you were starting to talk about conditions in Saigon, how were those conditions?
Terrible with humidity but outside of that the work and the heat taken all round it wasn’t too bad. You could put up with it. It was no luxury but you could put up with it.
So from Saigon where did you


Went back to Singapore. Same way.
And once you got to Singapore what happened then?
See what happened the American Subs, the wolf packs, bottled up Singapore Harbour so that’s why we got taken to Saigon. When we got to Saigon the wolf pack has got Saigon bottled up. No ship could survive so they took us back to Singapore. That’s – this time we were taken and put in River Valley


Road a Ghurkha camp. Now, the Ghurkhas, the Japs never interfered with. They were left on their own in the camp. They were a bit scared of the Ghurkha.
Why were they scared of the Ghurkhas?
Good fighter the Ghurkha. And the Ghurkha he didn’t turn over to them not to my knowledge cause he was with the 8th Div the British mob in Singapore. But the Ghurkhas used to play them soccer because the Jap loved


soccer. The guards and that. Oh, good they used to give them hell. The Ghurkhas, the dirtiest players in the world as far as the Jap was concerned. See they took it out on the Jap. They played dirty but they always let him win.
So what were you doing at River Valley Camp?
What sort of work were you doing?
Wharves, on the wharves and in the roads, whatever worked they could dig up. They always could dig up work.


The looted – this was what I was doing, really doing, because by then I was getting weaker and weaker. We loaded the Tin Ingots that they looted from Malaya. Now, the Ingot Tins were only about that long and he weighs about 80 pound he’s got no perches on your shoulder. We load truck load and truck load – railway trucks of these. Next day we were on rubber. The rubber would be a huge lump of


rubber maybe that high and that wide and you had to haul that and put it on rail trucks. Then there come a bit of a Godsend we loaded copra and as we loaded we ate it. And I reckoned that helped us. Wasn’t nice eating, it was pretty oily but at least it filled a stomach.
So what was your state of mind at this time had it changed


substantially from the way you felt when you working on the Burma Thailand Railway?
You were just a robot. That’s all you were. You had no mind you had no life. See the Japanese told us from the word go they – Eaton, Harrow and the big Yale and all that educated officers you are never going home you’ll work till you die. Now, he doesn’t break his word. I’ve got nothing against Americans but the Americans are all blah,


all blow but not the Jap. If he says you’re not going home, you’re not going home. So you had nothing to look forward to he told you we would die working. We had to work till we died.
What was your opinion of the Japanese by this time?
Well, to be quite honest with you I could never understand how Singapore fell. That’s what gets me cranky. Singapore had a 100 odd thousand men,


soldiers there’s something wrong. The Jap landed 60,000. Singapore lasted 7 weeks. The British had been there over a 100 years. They knew every inch of Singapore and Malaya.
That’s the historical side but how did you personally feel about the Japanese?
Well, I really hated him because you couldn’t feel any other way. The only good Jap was a dead Jap.


But when I was released I had no feeling against him at all. I got to give credit, he was smart, he wasn’t afraid to die, he was not as good a soldier as the Australian or the British. But he was a good soldier all the same he was no slouch but a strange


thing come out of it which I’ve got to say, our boys never turned on them. No matter how that hatred was our boys never turned on them. When it was over, it was over. They just walked away from them. The Jap guards just disappeared left us to starve. That’s when you see the aeroplanes dropping the food. We had to be found by war correspondents. But no we had no hatred in that


sense, the hatred was in a lot of the men definitely but it wasn’t to get even.
Now, Allan we’re as far as River Valley Camp there’s obviously still an enormous story for you to tell to take us to the end of the war but we seem to be running out of time. And I’m wondering if you could start to condense the story for us so that we have, and if you could for us if you can give us a condensed version of the story bringing us up to the end of the war. And if we need to go back


and look at any highlights we will. So I’m just wondering, without going into too much detail, if you could give me a condensed version of where you went, and what you did between say River Valley Camp and the end of the war?
Well, we only got to Japan by a fluke. No ships could get to Japan but at that time MacArthur made his drive back to the Philippines and a big naval battle


took place there between the American and Australian navies and the Jap. That drew all the subs and that back. And that’s all we got through. We got there in the middle of winter and snow and ice. Now, we’d been in the tropics the best part of 4 years and now we were going to freeze to death. We had no clothes hardly and I was taken to this mine camp now I’m cutting things out to get to it.


Went to this camp, Camp Seventeen, the most notorious in Japan. It was a camp of sadists, Japanese now, forget the Koreans, we’re into Japanese. And the mines were awful. They went right under the sea bed opposite Nagasaki we were roughly about 30 mile from Nagasaki straight across the bay as the crow flies. It was on


a peninsula by train you’d have to come right down and do a big U and go back just like being at Rose Bay and you’re going round to Manly. You can see what I mean there’s a difference in mileage to straight across. It rained ice, not snow, a sleet ice under your feet was always ice and it was absolutely terrible and you lived on millet, no rice.


Did you work in the mines?
Could you describe the mines for us?
Well, the mines were terrible hard. You were on, everything’s on a measure, so many skips of coal per man from the word go to the finish – two different stages you blew the first face – you’d have 4 more or you


could have 40 depending on how big the face was. He was cunning that he put 2 Australians with 2 Yanks. Now, the Yanks were mainly Mexican or Spanish blood, they were hopeless they wouldn’t work. So the poor 2 Australians copped all the work, ore or less, they did nothing. And when I got to the camp I couldn’t believe it


everywhere I looked there’s 1 legged men and 1 armed men. What they did they put their arms and legs under the skip and got them cut off so to stop them going doing the Yanks – they came from Corregidor and Patan and they were the lowest form of white man I’ve ever met. Now, I’m not having a shot at the Americans I’m only telling you what the truth is. They’d been at the mines over there for a few years.


And what happened really as I found out later on, America, when 18, 17 to 18 years say to 25 got into trouble with the law maybe the 2nd 3rd or 4th time they got the choice of gaol or 4 or 5 years in Hawaii or the Philippines, that was their army.
Hence the expression, ‘lowest form of


humanity’? And you were meeting with and dealing with these people everyday.
Yeah. The American only trades. I’m speaking for all Americans now. The Americans – the Australians are led to believe if we got into trouble say Indonesian or Indian, the Americans would rush to help us. The Americans will never ever come to our aid unless we can pay for it.


This is true what I’m telling you now. The Americans are traders…
Allan, I’m afraid this is getting is getting us of the track – I’m concerned…
They traded the food your own food of everyone starving, when you go in to have your meal when you come back from the mine or before you left there’d been 12, 15 or 20 of them, I’ll give you one now and one next Tuesday for yours


now. And that was going on all the time. The greed factor and in there their officers had put a big board of all the bankrupts. We weren’t to know it cause the raw ones coming through. They were trading food that they didn’t have. Some of them owe a 100 meals. That’s what I’m trying to say our men would never think of that


but they think of it everything is money or trade. They have no mates, with their mate if he was dying if they had an egg he’s got to buy it from him they don’t give an Australian will give they won’t.
So what about you, were you working with any of your mates? Had any of your mates come this far to still be working with you?
Oh, yes about 30 of us.
And was Jack still with you at this point?
Oh no, Jack didn’t, Jack got kept in Burma. He was


felling timber I think or no Jack didn’t come.
So there were about 30 of you from your unit?
Yeah from my unit.
Was there any kind of solidarity among you?
No not then only amongst the couple you were with because you had 2 parties. You had one party left say to do a shift of 12 hours down the mine. See you had the


miner, which I was. They called it Seitan now. The miner, he did the mining when the side got blasted down you shovelled it in the skips. And then you drilled for the next – gelignite or dynamite put in – the other man where we were filthy they were clean compared to us, they had to build up the walls at night to stop it from collapsing. See she was under


the ocean bed, Mitsubishi owned it and they’ve never given me a car, they still never paid me, but it went for miles under the ocean and it was the oldest mine in Japan and the coal was a poor quality that’s why they rely on Australian coal to mix with it for steel and that like…
And can you describe the working conditions you faced?
Oh, they were awful, you never straightened your


back. See you had to prop up with timber the ceiling while you worked and in parts the water’d be pouring in from the ocean, you might be a mile or two down but it was getting through the faults. There were a lot of faults. And the mine actually collapsed in 1958 and too about 800


Were you ever afraid that the mine would collapse at that time?
Oh, I was in a sense but you weren’t afraid any more you were dead. You had no more fear.
Was there adequate ventilation?
No, didn’t have any trouble really with it but it was ‘Rafferty rules’ [chance], there was no safety precautions like here. See the jackhammers and so forth they’d bring a ceiling down, we used jackhammers.
So to what extent


was there adequate ventilation.
Well, I didn’t find anything wrong with the ventilation at that time I was a sick boy, really sick.
In what why were you sick?
Well, believe it or not my lungs had collapsed. It killed a good mate of mine, Ross Wilde, Ross come from Moree, he was a lance sergeant it killed him he died. He was a great fella. But


I don’t know how I survived but what used to happen I couldn’t walk fast enough and I had no strength. And by the time I got to the skips to take you out the electric like train type of thing, the Yanks used to go like mad and they’d throw you aside to get on these skips to get out you see. And I was


always last out and I was getting belted up by the guards for being late because they’re waiting 5 minutes up there and I haven’t shown up.
You were saying your lungs had collapsed, why had your lungs collapsed?
Because I couldn’t hardly breathe, had to be, that’s when I knew I was dying and in the finish I just got left out at the camp. I couldn’t go down the mine. That was just before the bomb. That’s when I told you I


Could you describe for me how you died?
No, all I can describe is a tremendous peace. You can’t explain there’s no explanation. There’s no such thing as floating around in the air or anything like that it was such a peace that you loved the Jap, you loved your guards, you loved everything. There was nothing, no sorrow, no


wishing anything you have no regrets. It’s uncanny, I’m telling you now. I only hope when I go I go the same way again.
Would you describe it as a near death experience?
Would you describe it as – people talk about a near death experience?
It was, it is near death, it is near death you know when you’re dying. You know when you’re dying.
How did you pull through?
How did you survive?
I don’t know.


happened to turn you around?
Don’t know, all I know is the war finished that’s all I know.
So you’re saying it’s not a near death experience, how was it if you felt you were dying what do you think it was that brought you back to the land of the living?
I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to say these things, you don’t know. There’s no explanation for it because it’s


something you’ve never experienced before it your life. It’s just that in my own heart I knew the war was over. I don’t know why I knew. I remember saying in the room the war’s over. “Oh, shut up you goat,” you know all this. See that’s – the men had become animals, your own men,


you’d worked – you were that dead as far as on your feet all they did was snarl at the finish. There was no cheers when the war was over nothing. Nobody cheers, nobody cared.
How did you feel when you knew it was over?
I knew it was over before it was over. The planes stopped coming. The American planes. They used to come over that much you used to think you were in an earthquake. I’ve seen them come over


fighters and bombers that the sky was black with them. And that’s where I really got – the most terrible thing I think I’ve ever experienced. They come in that quick one day from the ocean the fighters cause they’re low and fast. The bombers were up there


in a big ‘V’ formation and I don’t know how I come to be at the back of the dining room. It’s not high and wooden, wooden structure, and a fighter came through we were right on the cliffs, just like on the Gap, if you’ve been on the Gap, you know and this fighter come flying through the cliff and all I know is I spread


eagled me hands across the wood my back to him then and I could feel the bullets going through me. Absolutely riddled me, there was no bullets but that’s what happened. Don’t ask me why or how but I could feel them because they used explosive tracer and all that, I could feel them tearing through me flesh


at the back. He didn’t fire at all. That’s how far the brain had gone over the top of the hill. That’s true because I think that’s when I reached the peak all I could do was go downhill after that. Now, how they got there and that I don’t know.
Was it after that that you began to feel as if you were dying?
No, it was just before


So this particular occasion where you thought you’d been shot was just before your near death situation?
It was. At what point did you start to feel better?
Well, it’s a funny thing, it’s just 3 or 4 days after things started to pick up gradually when the food started coming down.


And on top of that there was no guards, they’d gone shot through and the Yanks were in charge. See the Yanks were the biggest number there. There was a big lot of them there. Oh, it gradually started, sleeping a lot. All you did was sleep, everybody did, they couldn’t stop sleeping. They’d wake up have something to eat and


go back to sleep this went on for days and day. But to me I got no answer for a lot of these things. They’re just not in this world they didn’t belong in this world. In so far as there’s no answer.
Did you have anyone, any of your mates helping to get you through this process or was it very much a solitary thing?
No solitary, because everybody was just as bad. They were all on their last


and another thing we were to die at 6 o’clock on a certain date.
How did you know that?
The Emperor, the Emperor Hirohito, gave the order because the pressure got put on him from the Americans that any prisoner got harmed the – Japan would be blasted


to smithereens and the Emperor would die. The Emperor Hirohito gave a message at 12 o’clock on a date, I can’t tell you now, I think it was around near the finish. It was after the first Atom Bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and they’d already lined up machine guns and that but another rumour I heard was they were going to put us up in the snow and the ice up in the mountains let us freeze to


death to save the ammunition see for the invasion, cause they were sure they were going to fight to the end. That was the argument but Hirohito told at 12 o’clock, 6 o’clock that day that all prisoners no matter where they were Singapore, Burma, Java everywhere they were, were to be massacred. They’d already dug big tunnels in hills in the likes of some of these other countries where


they were going to put them in and bomb the front down – suffocate them. All prisoners were to die, there was to be no one left.
So what stopped that?
It was Hirohito when he made the announcement that Japan had surrendered and no prisoner was to be harmed. That’s where it ended, by then the second bomb had fell on Nagasaki.
Now, do you have any memories of the Nagasaki event?


Well, the Nagasaki event meant nothing to us because we knew nothing about it. We didn’t know anything about an Atom Bomb. All this we knew nothing until we seen it. We seen it when we went into Nagasaki.
So could you summaries for us what happened to you at the end of the war and that would include going into Nagasaki and your journey back to Australia?
Well, the food was dropped to us regular. Virtually every day by the bombers.


They come in and instead of bombs they carried food. They dropped it just like I showed you in that photo. Then the Americans mustered us up, got all our particulars and that and it was radioed back home I believe to the people the survivors and we went on a train to Nagasaki. Now, the train was the best in Japan,


they gave, to make the Japs lose face, two seats to a man that’s full seats both sides facing one another and the train just stopped and started all night it’d only go a 100 yards and it’d stop for half an hour. Then we wondered what was wrong until the reason come out that they wanted us to see Nagasaki. We come into Nagasaki there was nothing to see.


Everything was just rubble. The only thing standing was chimney stacks, funny thing they didn’t fall but they were cut through not across way but diagonally down. Cut right through severed top but they didn’t topple. Nagasaki was a big industrial town and naturally, and big boat building steel and the rest of it nothing. It was just


nothing, just rubble. We don’t know where the city was because we’d have come through the valley. It was just the Valley of Death right through.
What was your reaction when you saw that?
Not much, you had no reaction. See your brain didn’t work. There was nothing you still didn’t realise you were free. That didn’t work. And when we reached – the only thing we seen was left was a wharf


and at the wharf was the hospital ship and on the wharf was about three bands and women in the navy and the army and men all cheering and whistling. And here we are full of lice and God knows what, no hair, coal dust in all our scalps were, see we shaved


had no hair, all could – you could’ve bounced a sledge hammer off my head. And eyes were all full of dust. See you had no soap or anything. You used to wash every day in a bath, hot bath, like a big communal bath but all you could do was just splash yourself, it was that hot but you got nothing to wash the grime and dirt of you. We were rotten with lice we’d had lice for years.
So what


happened once you reached the hospital ship?
Well, they deloused us, destroyed everything we had and we were in our birthday suits. They put us through all these hoses that came down and Americans, they wouldn’t come near you, they’d stand from about here to that chair away and they’d hurl detergents on you and soaps and various things and you’d go through all these showers.


And by the time you went through them, there was hundreds of them, well you’re half drowned and on top of that you were clean and you came to the doctors. Two rows, one row this side and one row that you went through the middle. And each doctor would be looking at some part of your body from the head to the toe and if you could get passed them doctors you went on to the wharf and boarded a ship most likely


heading for either Okinawa or the Philippines, Manila. Nobody got passed. But then we got just the ship slippers and pyjamas put aboard ship.
Could you summarise for me and once again this is quite a compelling story and I’m so tempted to go into further details or have you go into further details, but could you summarise for me how it was then you got back to Australia?


after that chap died next to me and I couldn’t stand down in the hospital part I pestered their executive officer to let me go. He wouldn’t but in the end I won it and he let me go but I had to sign.
This is aboard a ship?
Aboard ship.
We haven’t recorded how this chap had died. If you could just mention that briefly?
Through eating the food, having a meal.
So he ate too much


did he?
Well, he had solid – no, he had solid food and our stomachs were only as big as a baby’s. He couldn’t take solid food. He most likely had a steak. Your body wouldn’t take it.
So he died aboard the ship?
Beside you?
Yes, yes they tried to save him but they couldn’t.
So after that what happened to you?
Well, I started pestering the exec officer to let me go. What I didn’t know and what these gal lieuts


didn’t want to tell me or didn’t know at repat and that I’d actually got, what’s a name when you can’t travel, you can’t get in a car and that…
Yeah, yeah, well I couldn’t stand down where I was. I didn’t know, I wasn’t a medical man. And the point was I argued with him for about 3 days and anyway he let me go but I had to


sign a release. Release them of any – you know for letting me go I had to sign a release to the Americans to absolve them of any blame.
So what did you want to do?
Get away from the place. I’d seen my officer and a couple of the boys all dressed up like the Americans heading down the wharf


when I happened to see them through a porthole where I was and I thought I’m after them if they can get away I’m getting away.
So how did you get back to Australia and once again I do asked if we could summarise this?
Right, I went aboard an aircraft carrier only a medium size, she took off and she went to Okinawa, I was in Okinawa under the Red Cross for about, I wasn’t the only one there was about 30 or 40 of us on the aircraft carriers coming from different camps, these fellas.


From Okinawa I was flown in a Dakota plane with some Yanks to Manila and I was put in a big camp what they call a staging camp and the Yanks guarded us we were never allowed out. And we were kept there until they fattened us up a bit gradually with soft foods and then a


little bit of chicken and so forth and gradually we started to be able to eat these and also they used to give us 3 bottles of beer a day a pack of chewing tobacco every 3 days and 3 cartons of cigarettes a day. As much coca cola as you could drink all this going on. Nobody drank any of the beer because they couldn’t.
We’re going to have to change a tape because we’re right…
Interviewee: Allan Herd Archive ID 0712 Tape 11


Okay, now the Philippines, how long were you in the Philippines before you travelled further south?
Oh, I suppose about 3 weeks might’ve been longer I just couldn’t say. From the Philippines, when you number, name’s called out you’re on your way again. I went in the Catalina flying boats, in the Cats, in the Bombays.


Now, in the Bombays you have to have 4 blankets and they have to fly low cause you’d freeze to death otherwise and we went all day and landed at Morotai Island, Australian held. Spent the night at Morotai, next day in the Catalina again and we went to Darwin. And Darwin Hospital checked us over we were kept there we weren’t allowed out in the


camp. Then after being in Darwin I suppose a week or 10 days so I was called out and I went into a Liberator Bomber in the Bombays. And the Bomber took about 30 of us I suppose and gave us 4 blankets and she flew low over the desert


and we hit an eagle because we were low and she smashed one of the engines. Absolutely smashed it to smithereens and the propeller and engine both went but being a 4 engine we still had 3 and we had a tail wind otherwise we’d had to go to Brisbane but she got through to Sydney in the one hop. We landed at Mascot on a dirty night,


wet, about 7 or 8 o’clock and we just missed hitting the hence. I wouldn’t have known but the crew knew. Wondered why they white faced nearly touched the fence coming in. Anyway, that’s by the way, then we were taken up into one of the pavilions where they had all these desks laid


out and that’s were they – weren’t allowed near the people – people and parents and wives were all standing away plus people with Red Cross cars. They did voluntary, they were given the petrol and they’d come and pick yo up and take you home. Pick your father or mother up and family whatever it would be. And they gave us all these


things we knew nothing about. Money meant nothing to us I just give it all to my mother and this woman drove me home.
A woman drove you home?
Yes, with the family with my mother and father, none of the kids came, couldn’t come see, they were all at home. And…
So it must’ve been a considerable relief to see your family again?
Yes, it was and it wasn’t I suppose it might seem silly but or


crueller. It was nice to get home but then I didn’t fit in.
So you said it was and it wasn’t, what was you state of mind at this time?
Because you weren’t used to it and it was all so strange and the kids come in and I never forget


it, the youngest one, “Who’s this?” “Oh, that’s the little girl used to live two doors up.” It was only my younger sister. God, see, see a couple of my family were still at school, the kids and…
So how long did it take you to adjust to suddenly being back in Australia?
Didn’t adjust, couldn’t adjust, couldn’t adjust.


You couldn’t adjust and yet you married and you had children?
No, when I say couldn’t adjust, for a start you can’t lay on a bed. Another thing, I heard my mother and father saying to my mother a week or two after I was sent home, we were sent home for a month actually, saying,


“Did you hear Allan last night speaking in foreign languages and that?” I didn’t hear it. There was no place for me at home because the house wasn’t big enough to be blunt. See I left – there was a gap of 8 years between the third child and the last child and that gap made some working and some still at school and I was


the second eldest, the eldest boy second eldest of the family and…
So once you left home what did you do?
Well, I didn’t, after a month home they gave the 50 pound, took it out of your book, didn’t give it to you and I gave it to my mother that’s all I know what happened to it. It didn’t mean anything to me it was only a scrap of paper. But the point was 50 pound was 10 weeks wages. They gave me a month the I had to report back


to the showground. I reported back to the showground, in the tram going to the showground I met a chap his face was familiar to me and I couldn’t place him and I though you know from a unit and in the end he’s looking at me all the time, of course he’s got the purple patch on. He’s got back into uniform. He said, “What unit were you in?” I said, “The 2/6th Field


Engineers.” He said, “Did you know a boy, a soldier, Billy Jacobs?” I said, “Yes, Bill was in my unit.” He said “What happened to him?” It was only his brother. I didn’t know but Bill was in the death march in Borneo. See the 2/6th represented everything. Wherever any man went they left some of their men in their graves there. Even to Borneo we left 3 men there but


what I’m trying to – this is a key I wanted to tell you. Now, this is truth I don’t lie. I went to Hearne Bay, they sent us to Hearne Bay, all prisoners went to – Hearne Bay at that time was an ex-Yank Hospital. Now, the Yanks were gone, I never seen the Yanks. The Yanks had gone before I got home. But you had to go and see a different doctor everyday for examinations


and at the end you go through for discharge. Well, I’d seen about three doctors, on the fourth day you’d wait for hours to see a doctor because there’d be a line up. On the fourth day I went into this doctor, now most of the doctors were around the middle age. I’d say a fair few World War Is and they didn’t have much love for World War IIs. I don’t know


what the Vietnam boys grumble about because we got worse than them as far as reception. I got no reception for 5 years. Now, this doctor he was only a youngish doctor I’d say around 30, and he told me to strip off and lay on the bed. Now, he’s in one corner at his desk,


the room had nothing else bar the bed diagonally across in the other corner. I had to lay on that bed facing the wall head down on my stomach and face the wall so I couldn’t see him. He’d stand up to examine me – no way, I couldn’t stop myself I used to fly up to the ceiling,


three times he tried.
How was he trying to examine you?
I had the senses of an animal I could sense him. It’s true. We’d got to be we were animal. I could sense him as soon as he made a move I was up. So he ended up he said to me, “Get dressed, I want to have a talk to you.” So I got dressed, went over and sat down in the chair opposite


him and he said to me, “I want you to listen very careful what I’m doing to tell you.” He said, “You’re in a bad way.” He said, “There’s no way you can work for at least 2 years.” Now, he said, “You joined this army in good health.” He said, “You make them get you well before you get your discharge.” He said, now listen to this, “The government, to the government


you fellas are just a nuisance. They want you out. Our orders are get rid of youse.” Five years’ service, couldn’t believe it because I was half mental, things like that I just couldn’t believe. That was his very words. I had enough intelligence to do what he told me. He said, “They want you out, don’t let them. They can’t


make you get out, you’re a member of the army.”
So what did you do?
I didn’t sign on, I just said, “I’m stopping in.” Yes, so they sent me to Liverpool camp. It was a Friday, weekend, I hit the camp and straight away army mateship come out. Out of the blue I become corporal of the guard and the fellow who was corporal of the guard gets a long weekend.


I’m away 5 years, the chances are he never went away at all, but he got the weekend I got the guard. See what I mean, it runs right through the whole lot and it runs through in civil time. You see little bits creeping into the paper now at once wouldn’t be published about brutality or anything that goes on in the army, years ago you’d never hear that. But the point that I’m getting at is, I was in the army, I was the guard, it didn’t worry me what the matter did, anyway


corporal of the guards. On the Monday, sergeant addressed about 12 of us in a room that we were to front the major and you were only allowed – he would ask you where would you like to go, you were only allowed one – whatever you said if he could send you there or near there he would. What was happening was they were bringing the boys


home with the highest points scores form the islands. And if your points score was going to be up in a month or two they’d bring you home and, for arguments sake, if you lived at Port Macquarie and the nearest barracks was Kempsey they’d send you to Kempsey. Of course, with me that didn’t apply.
So I’m just wondering if we could encapsulate what happened because we can’t this sounds like it’s quite a considerable process that you went through, I mean


how long before you went to Concord from here?
Well, that’s where I went.
That’s where you went?
That’s what I was going to tell you then. He asks me, he has your record, he looks at it and he says, he said, “God, you’ve had a bad time.” He said, “Look, anything I can do, I’ll do for you.” He said, “What would you like me to do?” I said, “I don’t care.” He said, “You’ve got to face up you’ve got to get back into civilian life sooner or later.” He said, “Isn’t there something I


could help you?” And I said, “I don’t care.” So he said to me, “Well you’re not going to like what I’m going to do for you,” he said, “but one day you’ll thank me.” He was right. He said, “I’m going to send you to the 3rd Women’s Hospital.” I nearly fainted. I thought, “God, after all these years I’m posted to a Women’s Hospital.” I hadn’t spoken to women for years bar my mother, and the girls


are sisters. So I finished up at the 3rd Women’s Hospital.
For how long were you there?
About 5 months, 6 months when they were closing the hospital I got moved to Merrilands Hospital to close it too. But the women’s hospital had to be given back to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, they were the trustees.
So in the meantime you’d met Marie?
And you met her at the Concord?


So when were you actually married?
In the 13th December 1947. I got out of the army in ‘46 because they tried to pull a swift on me. They put me on – send me to Darwin, well I couldn’t, no way. I didn’t mind going to Darwin, didn’t worry me that part but being


being malarial port, you’re not supposed to go to them places and they knew it. And Victoria Barracks who I come under, engineers, at Victoria Barracks they blamed Melbourne. Melbourne blamed Sydney and the lieut. I had was only a young fella. He said to me, he said, “Allan,” he said, “clear out, shoot through. I’ll leave word.” He had one of the boys, only young fellas he lived just up the road from me, in fact his brother was one of my best mates.


So you managed to get out of it?
Well, they more or less put me out on, oh what do they call it? What’s its name?
Compassionate grounds?
Compassionate, yes. It was a sell out. Some bloke wanted his boy home from the Islands whose time wasn’t up and he was getting him out by pushing me up there, pushing me up to Darwin.
So you got out on compassionate grounds?
You were discharged from the army?
Yeah. Now,


how strongly has the war remained with you in the years since World War II?
Never finished, but it never worries me. I can talk about it to anybody, always have. That’s why people have nightmares if you don’t let it out you’ll have nightmares.
Have you had nightmares?
Oh yes, I’ve had two beauties but after that one when I was strangling Marie – they frightened me more than any war did. The other one I had in Manila and that frightened the whole of the Yank


division that was guarding us they thought the war had broken out again. Oh, that was a terrible one.
Did they tell you what you had done to give them such a fright?
All I heard was did you hear that bloke last night. Oh, did you hear the row. And I put me head down and…
You’ve said on a couple of occasions that you’ve become a prisoner of the house. That


once you went into Japanese captivity you remained a prisoner.
Why is this?
Because that’s all I ever knew and all I stood for and I’m still a prisoner. And I’ve even wrote that, Pat Read when he got his OAM [Order of Australia Medal]. Now, Pat asked me to write that other article to help our fellas because the repat [Repatriation Department] give our blokes a bad go because we had no mouth piece. The 8th Division had all the mouth piece and they


ran the repat. They’ll deny it but they ran it.
So, here you were you went out you had a career. You moved among the community at what point did you feel that you wanted to stay close to home? At what point did you suddenly feel that you didn’t want to go out any more?
When I got married. So I already owned my home. Now, in them days that’s a big thing. See I never


seen my money. My money came through to the bank to a house. I bought a house in Concord straight away. Without seeing any of my money.
Here you are in Port Macquarie, I understand there was a certain point in time where you decided you didn’t want to go out very much at all. When was that? How long ago was that?
Oh, I never ever wanted to go out much. We’d go out at times earlier in the piece but when


the kids come along I got to the stage I didn’t want to go out and we didn’t have a car. I didn’t drive and we were more or less quite happy the way we were to be quite honest. Everybody was more or less in the same boat. See it’s not like today, you know that. The 1950s and 1960s are not like they are now. They’re made today. Them days people were more homely. People didn’t run around. They didn’t have the money like they’ve got now.


Money’s the greatest ruination of all. They chase the money, it’s not worth it. Your health’s the greatest thing.
Here you are in Port Macquarie, it’s scenically one of the most spectacular places on the New South Wales coast, do you ever go out and walk along the beach and enjoy the view?
No, never ever swam at Flynn’s Beach yet. Don’t appeal to me any more.
That’s extraordinary.
Yeah, I was going to go fishing, I bought a fishing line and it’s still hanging out there, never used it.
So how much of your time do you spend at


All. The only time I go out is on a Tuesday morning when nobody’s got any money and we can get a parking place with no trouble and shopping and then come home. The club, I used to go to the club a bit and the bowling club. I belonged to about three clubs ,all I do is pay the fees and forget them. I don’t go out. See, don’t get me wrong, I know what you’re aiming for, it seems unfair and selfish for me,


I can stop home, what about Marie. But I come up here I give away my family to come up here to her family because she didn’t want to come here, just quietly, she won’t admit it but she didn’t. Her family come from the hills, Mount Seaview they were back in the days where times were hard and tough. Now, all the girls


in the country head for the city, one big reason is the jobs which are not available here. But another big reason is the gay lights which they don’t do here. They do, do it a certain extent today but in our day they didn’t. See Marie and them were stuck on a property, the nearest neighbour might be 20 mile away.
So from what you’re saying Marie would be much happier in a big city?
I would think so. All country girls love the city as a rule.


It seems to me that what has happened to you may also have been influenced by what happened to your mother?
Could’ve been. Could’ve been. See I was quite happy to come home. To me it was a second life. Now, who gets a second life. I’m not the first one found that out. I remember reading a women writing from New Zealand and her son


was a prisoner. An Australian women gone to New Zealand and he joined in Australia. He died, it was her husband who died not her son and she remarked in a letter to the Herald, this was many years ago when I lived in Concord but she referred to the same thing we were always grateful for the second life he was granted, it is a second life, there was


too many reasons why you shouldn’t have survived no way in the wide world it didn’t come out of this world.
Where did you think it came from the fact that you did survive?
Only Almighty God, it had to be, there’s no reason. Who else I can’t say Adam and Eve or anybody, it had to be.
To what extent are you a religious man?
Well, I say I’m not a


religious man but in a way I am. I owe a debt, and I believe we were brought up you paid your debt and I paid my debt since I come home. I paid my debt in religion and I paid my debt in giving. See, with my war pension, I don’t want money, never did want money. Money, I found out how rotten and useless


it is. I’ve seen the day where a 100 pound sterling couldn’t buy a bowl rice. The traders would just look at you, the Indian traders and just smile, no good, no good. A 100 pound sterling then would’ve bought you a house. And then it hit home how useless money was. If you had a dirty pair of socks you could get a bowl of rice.


This was while you were in captivity?
Yes, yes, if you had salt it’d buy you anything.
Well, Allan, I suppose finally after a day of very intensive and from your point of view very involved interviewing and from our point of view an absolutely electrifying and enthralling interview, I suppose the interview is coming towards an end. And before we finish recording


I just wonder if there are any aspects we haven’t covered that you feel should definitely be covered?
Well, do you want to cover the repat?
I’m not against the repat, don’t get me wrong.
Yeah, well I mean…
It’s where they made their mistake.
Look if you want to say something about the repat, certainly.
Well, the repat doctors were under orders. Well they’ll deny it. It’s not the repat I’m picking on. The government will deny it of the days.


And all them doctors were given, “Get rid of them.” That was true, what he said. Now, I’ll just give you my first experience, of repat, I’ll say it quick. I got a doctor for psychiatrist, I think he was he was an old doctor his brother was a leading politician in Australia right to the top. He was a doctor


at Rydalmere Mental Home and when I went in and see him all he did was ask me questions about my family. Was my mother alive, how was she. Your father had ginger hair didn’t he? And of course muggins, thinking, “God I didn’t know these fellas were that good.” And he told me all about my family and I was that staggered by it. I went out, I thought I was dreaming. He did


nothing to me, he didn’t ask me a question, he didn’t look at me or anything. He just asked me about the whole of my family. How many children now? Are they all alive? How, what does your mother do? Was you father still a stone mason, yes. I thought that’s strange, and he finished up he said to me do you think your father could give me a piece of marble? And I thought, “Oh, God.” I went home and I didn’t say anything


for a day or two because I couldn’t believe it. I said to my father then I said, “Hey listen, Dad.” I said, “A doctor said to me could you get him a piece of marble.” I said, “His name was Doctor Page, Earl Page’s brother.” And father laughed, “Oh, God,” he said cause my father as I say was a larrikin he said


the Pages were wealthy, Grafton was poor but the Pages were the wealthy people. Mrs Page used to feel sorry for the poor kids in the paddock at the back so she’d send this big fat boy out with the cakes or biscuits she made and as soon as he gave it to them they’d pelt him back with cow manure all the way back to the house. This was the doctor.
Allan, we should actually finish recording soon, is there any concise point you want to make about the


The repat should never have left the men out. They should’ve did exactly what was done in Manila for at least 6 months. Now, the bulk of them men died in the first 10 years but I seen a few of them die in the gutter, my mob.
And in what way did they leave them out?
Shouldn’t have let them out, they had plenty of camps because the camps were all the


American and our own camps.
Oh, you’re talking about right at the end of the war.
They should’ve kept them in for about 6 months after until they gradually rehabilitated but they threw them out on the street.
So in other words what happened to you was very fortunate…
Oh, I was the luckiest fella in the world, I’m the only bloke that I knew was served on but the same thing it come against me. When I was crook and go to the repat mustn’t have been much wrong with him he served on. So it’s a double


edged sword.
Well, Allan we are now actually at the end of the interview and I wanted to thank you very much on behalf of Rebecca [interviewer] and myself and indeed the Australians at War Film Archive.
If there’s anything they can learn from it I hope there is. I’ve got no envy, no hatred, no nothing against anything, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against the 8th Division all them things they don’t mean anything to me. As I say, there’s nothing wrong with the men, it’s only the top


brass gets me rattled because if anybody got betrayed we did. Now, Mrs Richards’s got these forms. I sent them to her. And she must’ve read that article that come out that said who gave the orders for Black Force to be dumped ashore, and if you read it you’ll find Churchill.
Yeah, well I’ll read it as well. So…
I’ll give you one if you want one.
Yeah okay. We’ll take a look in a moment anyway.


So I guess we should finish recording at this point.
That’s all right. That’s all right.
All right, thanks Allan.
You run the show.


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