he come from Charters Towers. When I was the age of – I’ll have to guess this one – maybe four, five year old we come down to East Brisbane, over near Woolloongabba, what they call Woolloongabba at the present time. We were there for a little while. And from there we come to Ashgrove.
And from there I started school. Walked to Kelvin Grove school, which was a fair walk. I was about six year old. And there I went from there right up until I finished school Kelvin Grove Boys’ School which is now the Kelvin Grove High School. From there I
well, I finished school and then got a job. In those days there was Depression days, and you had to stay at school, because your parents couldn’t afford to keep you without employment. But you stayed then until you got a job, and more often than not, the parents used to skate around and get jobs. Well, when I was about 15,
14, 15, I think I got a job as a painter. Worst job I ever took in my life. He had me painting, crawling under the house, tarring stumps of houses in summer. And I didn’t like this and I walked off the job. I don’t even know if I got my last pay. But after that jobs were so hard.
My uncle was foreman of a printing place and he said to my mother – my mother’s sister was married to him – he said, “Well, I think there’s a job going for a message boy at where I am, if you’d like to take that on.” So a job’s a job irrespective. So I took a job. There was no vacancy for apprenticeships at all
so I ended up then melting metal for the linotypes and scrubbing forms with caustic soda and sweeping floors. I done this for two years, and I thought, “Well, I’ll wait and persevere and maybe a vacancy will come up.” Well, by the time I was 17, which is normal – not normal – because an apprenticeship come up and then which my indentures now show
was five years. I was what – 22 when I finished. From there I enlisted, but prior to that I joined the militia, those days when I was about 16. And you never got paid those days in the militia, till you was I think 18, because you were a cadet. And when you reached
18, well you come on strength and pay a fantastic sum of about your train fare, your bus fare, plus a couple of bob every three months. But it all mounted up to a few bob. So that’s up to, my abbreviation of that life. Well, in that time, too, when I was 12 year old – I forgot about that – I used to belong to the Kelvin Grove scouts.
I was always a great one for outside life. I liked the outside, and I suppose when you come to think back all of my life, we used to go bush and camp out bush even – God bless, if my mother was here today she’d tell you – with my brother and I, we’d go out and he’d catch snakes, and I’d trap birds. We’d stay overnight in the bush.
Swim in the nuddy [nude] in the creek and think it was great. We had a good life, but it didn’t cost us money. We slept under bridges, to stay away. But outside of that it was good clean fun. And I suppose I’ve been an active person and outdoor life has been my life. I feel even to this day, and
I often say to my wife today, I don’t think I should have lived in the city, I should have gone country. I feel that activity; I feel that I’m better fitted there. But outside of that I suppose there’s lots of other things I’ve done. One thing I could say if you wanted it on record, there’s one thing we did in our family. When I
come home from school I had to saw one block of wood every day. My father would never let us chop the wood because it was too dangerous for kids. So we sawed a block of wood and he used to chop it. And we used to take it upstairs, put it alongside the fire, it was all wood fires. I even remember to this day, my mother used to say, and we’d done it a couple of times and if ever we were talking to the old ladies, when
they’re making a sponge cake, “Don’t drop wood alongside the stove. It’ll flatten the cake.” So – which we did unfortunately. I got roused on. We got hidings. Very much so. If we wanted a bath we boiled it in the copper. We had a tin bath. Washing, boiling, the women in those days, the – you’d boil the cloth down there, you’d boil it in a copper.
I don’t know if you’ve seen coppers these days, but we had some mishaps. My uncle, my mother and father looked after my sister, my grandfather and my uncle besides keeping four kids. I humped corned beef every Saturday morning around to my auntie’s place, whose husband was on the Depression and only worked
a day and a half a week. And my father was a very good man that way. He never had much. But what little he did have he shared. Anyhow...
17 Ambulance. My father being in the army – he was in the 9/49th Battalion and he fought in the Somme, but the Somme was a great battle. He was what they call a runner. A runner in those days, in the days before they got telephones, but you might have seen old movies where
they dispatch riders and runners. Well, he was one of those. It was a very dangerous job. But he always said – he knew I was that way inclined. And he suggested, “Well, why don’t you join the 17th Ambulance?” They were down Counter Street, Brisbane there, Victoria Barracks. So I joined there and I joined when I was 16. I didn’t get paid, because
you have to be 18. You had cadets, I did that. And when I was 18, well then I was in the militia. Well, with the militia there, you sort of went one night a week – I forget now what night it was – and you done weekend bivouacs. And also on your holidays you went away with the army there. We were horse drawn. In my photographs you might notice we had
leggings. Horse and breeches. We had horses. And everything was drawn by horses, and it’s hard to visualise an ambulance, when the ambulance was drawn by horses. That was a fact. But we used to go, get a loan of the horses weekends sometimes. They used to have the remount section at Enoggera. And we used to go for rides on Sunday afternoons and Saturdays. And we thought that was terrific.
Big semi-Clydesdales they were. But that was all right. We used to run from Enoggera to Mt. Coot-tha and things like that. And that was joining the army and of course when the war broke out, bang, that was it. We were called up full time then, and I was with the 17th Ambulance for three months before the war. And we were stationed at Enoggera then. And from there we were dispatched all over
the place. Like running RAPs [Regimental Aid Posts] to different units and all that sort of thing. Till such time that they asked me would I like to sign up with the Forestry Unit. But, and they wanted to go to France, and that was 1939. And I said “No,’ I said, “I like to wait for me mates.” We wanted to go together. And so I just marked time then and I said, “No.” Well they
went to the Forestry Unit and later on – I’ll mention about that but then we joined the 2/2nd CCS [Casualty Clearing Station], which is a Queensland unit. A lot of the doctors who were in the 17th Ambulance , personnel and them, become part of the nucleus of the 2/2nd CCS. Plus a few people from Ipswich. So that’s basically up to my early in the militia days right
the blood testing and all that sort of business. But we were sworn in at Kelvin Grove Barracks. That’s where we were actually sworn in. And from then you had all your tests and different things. And then you went to Fraser’s Paddock where you had your x-rays and all, and then from there you had to go to Redbank. Now, Redbank was the big training camp. I don’t know whether you’re aware of it, but Redbank had thousands
of soldiers. And this is where we started to form. Now in the – while I was in the militia I held the rank of corporal. But they – when you enlisted you relinquished that and you go in as a private. From there I was with them in training and it wasn’t long before I was reinstated to corporal.
Well, from there we covered a lot of fields. Just to enlighten you a little bit, medical wise we all were trained personnel. You must realise this, and this is why they wanted us. But in our unit we had to be – being a mobile unit – it was a thing you’d say, “Right, we’re off today
with operation tonight.” That means to say that we had our own trucks. I think there was only about 120 personnel. And it wasn’t a matter – because you had rank, you didn’t work, you worked just as hard as if – you didn’t only give orders, you worked too. So away we’d go and we’d have to put up tents, full hospital, like for wards, for accommodation
for staff and all that. And then you’d have to pull them down again and go again the next day. So you had to be a very highly trained, and remember, everything we had we carried on our backs. As far as equipment goes, that was carried in trucks. Generators, we had our own generator, we had a chappie in charge of the generator. We had our own carpenter.
We had an engineer. We had truck drivers. So therefore we were self-contained. It wasn’t big. There as only one or two. And away we went. Well in that period I went in as, I suppose I had no ties, only my family, we…
the Exhibition Grounds in Brisbane. Now that was – we – they never kept us idle. You must remember they kept us busy all the time. Even though they run a temporary clearing station at the Exhibition Grounds, they used it. They couldn’t afford for the people to become stale. They had to keep them active. But then we had to go. And we went over to South Brisbane station in a train to go to Sydney.
I remember this day. They wouldn’t tell my brother I was going, because my brother’d get on the train with me. He would do that, because he and I were very, very close. Just diverting back, just to elaborate on that little bit, back in my school days when he was four year old when he went to school, he used to walk out of his class and come into my class with me. But I just diverted
because that’s how close we were. If we went to school and we had fights, we fought like hell with one another. My mother used the broom many a time on both of us, belting into us. But if anybody ever touched either of us, God help them. We’d just forget about it and we were into them. But anyhow, I just mention that because they knew this and they were frightened to tell him,
because he would jump on that train with me. I had to emphasise that little point. We got to Sydney, and on the Orcades, I think it was. I went on the Orcades. We went down the bottom of Tasmania and the Great Australian Bight. And believe me, I’ve been in rough weather, but
I was so sick and so did everybody. It was so rough. We went down into the Roaring Forties; we went from there right across and ended up at Fremantle, which we’d formed into a convoy outside Fremantle. And then we went to Colombo. From Colombo we went to Port Said, and from Port Said we were stationed at
Q89, and that was our staging camp.
able to lay out the tents. When we put up a tent or something like that, it wasn’t a matter of putting it up. We’d have to put them up in such a way that we’d join them all together in what we’d call brigade them together. Join them and all that. So we had to lay them out. This is part of my job. And we had this personnel to do it. It would be marked on the ground. Bang. Up it’d go. The faster you put them up they were in operation while you were putting them up. Now from there hygiene
was a big section too. These were things – you might smile at this one – during our stay in Palestine, we were camped there, one of the things we had to watch, we had problems with the Bedouins, that’s the Arabs, the nomads. If you weren’t careful they’d rip all the walls off your tent,
you wouldn’t even know. The Australians had blankets better than the other forces, and including America and England – they were wool. Australia being a wool country, all our blankets were wool. And what they wanted, they wanted our blankets. Because out of those blankets they could make dresses, they could make trousers, they could make shirts. And this is what they were trying to pinch. Rifles and things you had to be very careful,
they had to be bolted, because they’d pinch them. Many a time I’ve taken a party and gone over to the village and you had no chance of finding them. Some of the smart alecs – the women used to come to the well and draw water – and some of the smart alecs tried to grab the women. This is not our unit, but they did this, some of them.
And you mightn’t believe this. If the Arabs caught them, they’d castrate them. You mightn’t believe that, that’s a fact. I mean that’s not on record, but they did. But outside of that, getting back to the hygiene, the ground was so hard that you couldn’t dig, you couldn’t do anything. But everything was done by fairness and things like that.
My wife asks me to this day, and she still rubs it in, at that time the sisters were – we had half a dozen sisters on strength. They had joined us. Now the problem is how do you dispose of faeces when the ground is so hard you couldn’t have trenches? So the only way was by furnace and we got to the way with plenty of oil
a few drops of oil and agitate it with water on a hotplate to create a furnace. Basically we used to do it with hot… But then come the part when they said, “It’s all right for men. What about the women?” Well that was the day that I didn’t know what to do, so in the end I got a couple of kerosene tins and devices, so one went one way, one went the other way, and we solved the women’s problem. And it wasn’t long after that they promoted me to staff sergeant. Whether it was that or not I don’t know.
But anyhow, we got over all that problem. Then we had to go up to Tobruk. This is early in the piece. They’d pushed the Italians back and we went up, I think it was to the Cape Rock. Now the Cape Rock was only a little ship, and I’ve never been sicker. I was sick down to Tasmania, but boy, I thought I was going to die
here. It was a ship with a stern up in the air and bridge and the midships in the bow. And all you saw of that ship as you were going along, was three points sticking out of the water. All the rest was underwater. They had ack-ack [anti aircraft] guns aboard and the gun crew, they were all sick because it was so rough. We lost some gear overboard. But eventually we got to Tobruk. Now in Tobruk it wasn’t so bad then because
they were all being pushed back. And so things weren’t too bad really. The only thing that you had to watch is that the Italians used to have the high level bombers, so high up in the sky, and they used to drop booby traps of a daytime. Now booby traps can be fountain pens, can be
thermos flasks, can be any little thing. Wouldn’t be there today, but they’d drop at night and when you go round, and they’d be explosives and many a person got injured that way. I went down to the wharf one day, and they strafed and I thought “Oh gee, I’ll have to learn how to get out of this one.” So when I used to see these big Italian diesel trucks
which they captured down there, and I thought, “I can get underneath there and they won’t hurt me.” Well I did and I thought I was all right, until one day I see them and what they did to one, they just blew it to smithereens. So no more I got underneath the diesel trucks. I was there for a while and then we started going up to Benghazi, to Barce where
we were stationed up near Benghazi. And at that time Rommel was given the job. Well he went down – I forget the name of the swamps down south of the coastline and he got around there. Well if you saw the war maps you can see where they used to leap over and leap over and leap over. It was a race between him and us.
well, before we moved, the CO [Commanding Officer] come along and he said to all us, “All married persons go.” They were to evacuate. The rest were to be rear guard. And then at the last minute he decided that no, all go. Now that was what they call the Benghazi Derby.
That means to say you left everything, took nothing at all, just yourself, hopped in what vehicles you got and the escarpment, you raced along. It was just a whole army, going for their lives, trying to beat them. And if you broke down they got pushed over the side. You kept going and going and going. We got back to Tobruk with nothing at all. We dug
in the ground. I ended up… before we went up on that push we were operating… we operated what they called the Docks, that’s right on the harbour, and I was stationed at Fort Palestrina, which was on the escarpment just behind the front line.
We were split in two units, heavy and light. So you can just imagine, with 120 people split in half, there’s not many of us. And I was out with what they call the heavy section, and then there was the light section. Weary Dunlop was in the harbour and this was where he was trying to form these other units. I was with the Transport Administration Headquarters. So from there we –
I might be a bit conflicting here – I’m trying to get the passage, because we went up to Benghazi, that’s right, and then we came back in the [UNCLEAR]. That’s right. And we got back to Tobruk. Now that’s where we stayed. Now I can get back. The problem was water was a necessity and there was a
distillery in Tobruk and they distilled salt water. Now the target was the distillery. Get the water – they got no water. And that was one of the biggest things. We had no air force – it was all gone, and we were issued a half a gallon of water a day. Now we – out of that half a gallon, the cook had to have so much to cook the meal.
That means to say that you didn’t bathe. If somebody shaved at all, you’d say, Don’t throw your water out, we’ll use it.” You’d grab what you could. But we all survived. It was rough. You slept out in the open. I mean I slept in one part. If they’d have hit, I mean, I didn’t care a damn in the end – you just had to forget it. And if you got hit that was the end of it.
The thing is, there is certain things you got to put up with. There was a hospital ship come in there and they just blew it to hell. Makes no difference. There was a hospital there. They just bombarded it. And all we were doing, we were all living in trenches, we lost nothing and to have nothing to run, we used to hop in a truck and go out and race up to the hospital
to give them a hand to put the tents up again and that’s where I’ve seen people in plaster run. I’m the best jumper outerer of a truck you’ve ever seen at 30 mile an hour. And I wasn’t the only one. But there’s one point I always said, your body is only nine inches high. To hit you lying on the ground, you had to be dead unlucky. But if they strafe you, you got no chance.
So then we lived in these trenches. And one part that I laugh to this day because our clothes, we couldn’t wash our clothes. I was camped from here to the other side of the building here, from the Mediterranean. I couldn’t go back any further, because there was no where to go.
And I saw all this water washing up against the rocks and I thought, “Gee, if you could agitate the water, I could throw my clothes in and then come down with a rope and let it bash all night.” But as I found out next morning, I had the greatest oily pair of clothes that you ever seen, forgetting that outside, not far away, there was a naval battle going on, and of course, the oil in the water was washing ashore. I learnt my lesson there. So that’s the only thing. But I laughed
from this day. Wasn’t it funny? One of the other things was we used to have bad sandstorms. Very bad. I mean I often hear them saying, “Sandstorms in the gulf…” I’m thinking, “I know those because it would rain mud.” We’d get the sandstorms off the Sahara Desert, and it’d rain like hell on the coast, which actually turns into mud.
And they used to fly over to pick us up on mess parade, for bombing purposes. So you must realise if you’ve got a dixie in one hand and a bit of tea in another, and you look up in the sky like this and they come over, if you ever try to run with a mug of water and a dixie, bloody hell, you throw the lot and go for your life. Dive into the slit trench
and go back and hope to Christ they didn’t blow up the cookhouse. Which did happen. But it’s all out in the open. There’s no shelter. I mean you just had to put up with that. And then eventually we were told we were going to be evacuated. And from there, we went to
Port Said. And then we were mucked around. We lost our gear; they had to get more gear. They had nothing. We had nothing. We only had what we stood up in. Had no clothes. In the desert, you mightn’t realise, it’s as hot as hell in the daytime and it’s freezing at night. So you had your greatcoat and you slept
in what you wore all day. Then we were at Port Said. I was to go to the troopship and I think it was three hours before I was due to go, the colonel in charge got a toothache and Jock Clark, who was a captain, he was the dentist.
So he said, “You go and look after the transport and the gear.” Like the trucks. They had the engineers and the carpenters and all those sorts of things. And the trucks. So I went there in charge of that. He went with the troopship. End of story. From now we go to a different place.
Well, we went… there was a night at Malta in the Mediterranean. The one sent out to us, we went in from Port Said, was the Cape Ross. It was only a little one. Don’t forget there was only 20 of us on it plus our gear and the ship’s crew. So that gives you an idea how big – I think it was only about 800 tons.
And boy, was it slow. It was so slow. No escort. And away we went. We ended up at Cochin. Now Cochin’s on the east side of India. And boy was there a lot of ships; you’ve got no idea how many ships. We were about five ships off the wharf and each ship was alongside one another. In other words, you had to go right across, but we weren’t allowed ashore.
And we were going to Sumatra. But that’s when we heard that all our unit had been captured. So we had to wait there and some of the ships’d go out and they’d send them back in again. The Japs [Japanese] are outside waiting for us. So eventually away we went, all on our lonesome. Whether we were too slow, or inconspicuous or so bloody small a boat it wasn’t worth wasting a torpedo on us.
So we ended up in Adelaide. Now, when we got to Adelaide, they called us a mob of drunken louts. And they said they felt ashamed by the way they carried on. And I think it was Auchinleck? – I forget now who was the chap in charge –
one of the big shots, he got stuck into the public and he said, “The boys that you’re condemning ,I’m proud of. It’s only for them you wouldn’t be where you are now.” He said, “I hope they get blind drunk.” And he said, “I’d join them.” Oh now, he was mad. They were in a hell of a mess. So they used to go along when you landed in Adelaide – oh, on the way out there was one bloke, for some reason or other he got on the
DTs [delirium tremens]. Where he got the grog from I don’t know. And you’ll find out in life if ever people get hostile your name is always prominent in their mind, you might be their best friend. “What’s your name!” And he turned on me for no reason at all. And we were only slung in hammocks and he fired .303 bullets in amongst the hammocks and never hit a person. He was locked up in the guardhouse for
the rest of the trip. I better not mention names. We got to Adelaide and Dr. Parkes, who used to live up Red Hill, he was the officer with us. He was running the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] and he used to say “Abandon ship!” I said, “Christ, Wolfie,” I said, “we’re parked at the bloody wharf!” He must have been on the grog too.
Oh, but that was funny. “Abandon ship!” when we were already tied up. So away we went. So now you must remember we landed in Adelaide with 20 men, plus a lot of other troops were shot there. Adelaide didn’t even know we were coming. And they went around to the houses and they say, “Who lives in this house?” and there’d be a husband and wife and, “Is there any daughters?” “Yes.” “Okay. There’s only you and the husband?” “Yes.” “Right, we’ll take your
room.” If a daughter was there, no dice. They wouldn’t touch a house that had a daughter. And they would commandeer the rooms. “Now,” he said, “we will pay you, but the staff must give you a hand to wash up,” and all this sort of business. You’ll have to do that. And then they formed us in, paraded in the street. Oh, we didn’t mind it there.
They used to have a lot of wine cellars, Adelaide had a lot of wine. We’d go and buy these demijohns of wine. And – but eventually we built up with South Australians. I was a senior NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] staff sergeant in those days. As I said, I got promoted in the Middle East, and I, we had to recruit and things like that.
And train and train and train. And then eventually we went to Tenterfield. All this time I’d met a girl when I was in Enoggera and we’d corresponded. And when we got to Adelaide, we trained and eventually we went to Tenterfield. Now Tenterfield
is a cold place. Very cold. We were formed up and started to train and it was all organising and things like this. And we had the – it was a big job, a big job for me because we had raw people who were reinforcements. New officers. But eventually we got it organised and
it was during these periods at Tenterfield that sort of new life had started. My mother came down. It was a sad time, too. We didn’t know, my mother come down and met me in Tenterfield and she said did I want to do something with her?
And I said, “What’s that, Mum?” “I’d like to sit in the gutter and have a pie.” I said, “Would you?” She said, “Yeah.” So we went downtown, we bought a pie and sat in the gutter in the middle of Tenterfield and had a pie. She went home, unbeknown, my brother had been killed in Milne Bay. We didn’t know, but she did.
That’s right out in front of everybody. You were there between the enemy and your troops. And from you, you sent back what the enemy was doing. And of course, if they know this, they’ll hit you with everything. Now, getting back to Tenterfield, that’s where – Jean was the girl, Jean Kemp her name was. And she came down and during this period we got
engaged. Because this is a couple of years afterwards we’re talking about now. And we worked it out we’d get married in October, I think it was. So that was a few months away. So we were there and training and training and training and then we
heard that we were going to move. And she come down and we thought, “Oh.” So we decided to get married in Tenterfield. So the padre, padre McLeod and a couple of others, they, we had a wedding ceremony there. She was a nurse in the
Greenslopes Hospital. And she was married in her uniform and I was married in my uniform. Now that was seven o’clock at night. By four o’clock in the morning they’d come and got me. And that was the last I saw of her. They sent me away. She went back
home. She went back to her unit. And then we were sent up to Port Moresby then. And that was when the Japanese were coming down the Owen Stanley Range. We were up there and then we asked how far we had to go inland and they said about 30 mile. Well you should have seen the harbour
at Port Moresby. They were throwing stuff over because we had to carry everything. And the only thing we took was the things we must take. This was personnel things. And we went to Koitake. Now Koitake was a rubber plantation at the beginning of the Kokoda Trail. We were stationed there for a long time. And they used to come back off the
Kokoda Trail to us and from us we used to send them back. It was pretty good. Well, good as far as you could call it good. You have to make your own fun. But we did. One thing you had to do, you had to make sure that when you put your boots on of a morning you had to make sure there was no spiders and snakes in it. Also that when you got into your blankets of a night time, you never left your bed made, you folded them up at night, because
snakes like warmth too and they’ll get into the blankets. Another thing, it used to rain a lot about three o’clock every afternoon. We’d think that was lovely. That was shower time for us. Out we’d get in the nuddy and have a good shower out in the rain. That was terrific.
We operated then as we should operate. But then the push was on. They started to push the Japanese back on the other side between Buna and Gona. So it was on again. So down to Port Moresby to fly over to Buna and Gona, and while we’re down there ready to board the plane, they sent a message and the padre come up to me and said we got a message for you. And he told me that Jean had died of meningitis. So that wasn’t so good. They said,
“I think you better go back on compassionate leave to sort out things.” So they flew me back home. I think I had about 10 days, to sort things out. I’d rather not talk about that. That was hard. Then eventually I went to Buna and Gona
up to Finschhafen, and from there we operated and then… eventually we come back to the Tablelands [Atherton Tablelands] again, to form a big invasion army which they were going to invade Borneo
at that time. But we didn’t know. So during this time there was special training then because they had us swimming in water with packs on and all this sort of thing. And training us all the time. And I remember one episode, there was a cricket match up in Tolga or Mareeba or somewhere… And they said, “Those who want to go to the cricket match, fall out.” So they said, “Righto, fall in and away you go.” They route marched us 15
miles. Only I think to get everybody out. You saw the cricket match but you had to walk home again. So 15 mile there, 15 back. But we didn’t mind. It was – they classified that as training. We been in Gona and Finschhafen, back to the tablelands and training, training, training, till one day the CO called me and Bernie
Schwabe was a staff sergeant also. But we had formed these advanced medical units by then. We’re all medical units and they used to go half a dozen, away they’d go and the main camp was where we were. See I was with the main all the time. And then from here I was made the warrant officer, the Regimental Sergeant Major. In other words that is the highest you can go outside a commissioned officer. You can take the place of an officer
and there you are responsible. You’re not allowed to sleep with the troops; you’ve got to sleep in a tent of your own. You have a batman. A batman is a man who looks after you, looks after your clothes, looks after everything. You get a mess allowance. And you wear, you are armed, you’re an armed personnel then. You’re not a [UNCLEAR], you are administration.
You are responsible for parading people on charges. You’re in charge of drawing up charges against personnel. You can – you’re supposed to know ARMOs [AMR&O – Australian Military Regulations and Orders]… which is the Army Medical Regulations…Australian Military Routine Orders, which is all charges come under that. And when you fall in parade,
you were in charge of the whole lot, the whole caboose, which you fall out the side. And if an officer has done something wrong, you go up to him slowly and say, “Sorry sir, you cannot do that.” You are power supreme. I’m not saying I’m like this, but it’s a big job, it’s a – you can say yay and nah to anybody going on leave. You’re only answerable to the CO and adjutant.
It’s a lonely life. You don’t fraternise; you can’t fraternise. You are – it’s true. I don’t know whether you’ve seen movies of sergeant majors and things. I think they call them master sergeants in the American Army I think. But anyhow, away we went into – where am I? Yeah we formed up and away we went
to Morotai. Now we went through, I’ve been all through the China Strait, all through there, all through the islands. And up to Morotai. Now from Morotai we’d reassemble and entered the biggest sea invasion they had in the South Pacific. Now you wouldn’t believe it, I couldn’t describe it. We were in what we call H plus 1. That means one hour
after the initial – that’s how close we are. H plus 1 is one hour after the initial landing. Well, if you seen the bombardment that was going on, it wasn’t funny at all. And you can be bloody lucky, I tell you. So eventually we went in. And the Dyaks – the Dyaks are the natives
in Borneo – what our blokes were doing, they were pushing them into the jungle. Now the Dyaks used to love this, because they have the poison darts. They were chasing the Japanese and of course the Dyaks – this would be – I reckon we know this was going on. And they used to hit them with the poison darts. Well, one thing they had to be careful too, our blokes, is they used to sleep in hammocks with mosquito nets.
And what was the problem is they could get and they could spin the hammock and you’d get all tangled up in it. Well they can just kill you in there if they wanted to. One day they released some Indian prisoners and they came with us and they stayed with us. And then they got some Japanese and they made them as a work party. And I think the worst thing we ever did
was put the Indian prisoners in charge of the Japanese prisoners. We had to take them off or they would have killed them. They just belted them, because it was reverse before and that wasn’t no good. I mean that was happening in our camp. They had to do that. Then they took them away. In fact they were so grateful, the Indians, they put on a dinner for us; I’ve never forgotten.
Where they got the stuff from I don’t know. And one invited me to India after the war. But I said, “No dice.” I saw what it was like when I called in to Cochin. Dirty streets, betel nut, dirty-looking mob they are. It’s a filthy place, India. A filthy place. So from there we sort of things were going, until one day they paraded us and the war was more or less over now. And they paraded us and asked me
whether I’d like to go into the Occupational Force and then I said, “No thank you, I’m too tired.” And then they sent me home. Now the war’s over, but there’s more. What do you want me to do now?
She said, “A girlfriend of mine is coming.” I said, “Oh yeah.” Well, what happened then I met Mary. That was Mary that I met. And oh gee, I mean I just didn’t know what to do. And I – and what I did do, in fact I went out a few times with Mary and I went over to see Jean’s mother and father, and I had a good talk to them.
I was like that, and I told them, you know, I said well, “What’ll I do?” And they advised me, “Look, you’ve got your life to lead. you’ve got to find what you’re looking for.” And they knew what I was looking for. See, my ambition was to get married and have a family, have my own home. And it was knocked from underneath me. Well,
eventually I got engaged to Mary. With the money I’d saved, as I’d pointed out, gave me something solid underneath me. And even she’ll admit today, she won’t say anything unless I say it, we got married.
Jean’s family were quite happy about it. I mean nothing was done underhanded to anybody. It’s a very hard thing to do this after what we went through. The medals of Jean’s was given to me, and I
had – my mother had them, that’s right for a while, because I was away. And I got them. And then we built this house. We had enough money. I had £250, which was a lot of money those days. And we bought this big piece of ground. And when we got married we couldn’t find anywhere to
stay. Anyhow we ended up in Red Hill with a room and kitchen. That was it. And we stayed there for a couple of years. In the interim, we managed to get a builder, but the day he put all our stuff on the ground he dropped dead. So therefore we couldn’t go ahead with the building because it was part of the estate. And that was two years wait then. So we laid up there and during that period
Gail, my daughter, was born. And she was there with us. And I remember one day Mary said to me, “Do you think you could ever get more money than what you’re getting?” At that time I was on big money, I was on six pound eleven. Which wasn’t very much. It cost you… 25 shillings a week for the place. There was a communal bath and everybody used the bath, there was only one bath
in the whole building. But anyhow, eventually we went out to near Fraser’s Paddock and we built this house eventually. So right, we’re in the house and I was working then. During that period, 1951, I had my own business,
I started my own business. But unfortunately it was the only thing I ever knew outside the army. I hated printing from the day I ever used it, because [UNCLEAR] I didn’t know. So I was running that for about five years. And we had one bad setback in that. We bought a machine that come from East Germany, a communist country.
It was supposed to be good, but it was no good at all. And we were practically out of production for three months. And just about bankrupted us. And that’s when Mary decides to get a job and she went to the Courier-Mail printing service, eventually to become a copy whole reader for a printing service. I – we continued to work.
I continued to work with various places… I won’t mention them all, different printing places, until such time as I retired. And then Mary retired with me, and from there we ended up selling the house and coming down here. So I’ll leave it at that for a while. I’m sorry about the other.
And he was a bit of a lady killer. I remember one day he got VD [venereal disease]. And he got that girl, put her on the tram, and carted her down to the clinic, down to Brisbane, and reported her. So I tell you what,
but anyhow, he was fixed up. That’s what he was like. But in our life we used to go out in the bush, camp out. When I say camp, no tent, we used to live under trees and things. My mother. We used to tell her where we used to go. But she didn’t mind, you know. And my father,
we’d have to get wood for the fire, and we’d have to go out and help him cut down trees and cut them up into logs and I used to have to cut one block. My brother was three years younger than me at the time; I think he helped me sometimes. And we used to trap birds. Go out and trap these lorikeets. We used to have a cage in our backyard catching those. And we used
to build cages and my father used to say, “Leave it, oh listen, I’ll do it.” And we always used to start something, but never finish it because we used to make a hash of it. But he used to make it good. And then we’d go to school and we’d make snares and we used to say to Mum, “Now, when they get in the traps will you take them out.” And my Mum would have to climb up a fence, and go in with gloves on and get the birds out of the traps. And she used to do that. And Merv and I – fortunately at this time we had a car –
and she used to take Merv and I and the traps out into the bush to catch birds. And then one day he caught a snake, a big carpet snake – on pushbikes, we had pushbikes – and just wrapped it around the handlebars and drove home with it like that. And he brought it home –
well, he brought the first one home dead, that was right. And somebody said, “Why did you bring it home? Why didn’t you take it to the exhibition? You could have sold it to the snake bloke.” He said, “I’ll get one next week.” So away he went next week. But now we had a house – all the houses were up on posts – at Bardon there, and the laundry went under the house. And he had this snake – we used to have a little birdcage made out of a kerosene case,
and he had the snake in there because he was going to take it to the exhibition and sell it. And we had the bikes leaning against the posts like that – my mother was over there washing. And one day they left the door open and here’s this snake. It got out, went along all the bikes, and reaching out to try and grab it, and my mother, because she yelled out. Anyhow, they came and killed it. But another time he – we were going to school and he brings home
a tortoise, in the lucerne paddock which we’d go through. And it’d lay eggs all the time. He’d do that, you know. Or he’d go along where the snake, and pull the snakes – he had no fear. But he had a girl, and when he got killed I went around and took his photo. And I’m pleased he’s never
never got onto to her, because she wasn’t worth two bob. She was already married to some other bloke. She’s in bed with his kids now. I knew of her before. But outside of that he – oh no – I used to do a lot of dancing, I used to dance four nights a week, I used to do a lot of ballroom dancing. I used to belong to Matt Lamingo’s Dancing Studio. You’d be surprised. Music, I like music.
That’s why you see there’s tapes on music here, there’s everything. And that’s what I miss with this leg, I can no more do that. That’s what makes it hard. With Merv, oh yeah, we used to buy – my mother bought a scooter in town. Now, when I say – this is Depression years – it was one
scooter between three of us. That was our present. It was in Finney’s and it had oh, some ridiculous figure on it and she thought, “Well I’ll buy that.” She said, “I’m sorry, it’s the wrong price.” She stood over them and said, “No, you’ve got that thing.” And she stood over them and made them pay her. Anyhow, she brought it home. Now I had another brother and a sister too. Now, the other brother was
six years younger than me and he was a little fella. We used to call him ‘the mascot’. Poor old Alan. And we’d get up at Red Hill police station and go down – Wilcox hill, that big hill that goes right down to the bottom – we’d get on the station there, and what was it – no, I was the brakes man. Alan would sit on the board, my brother would be the steerer, and three of us
would go down that hill. And that’s how we used to do it. And then we used to make go-carts. A go-cart is a box with a plank with four wheels and you’d sit there with a rope. Now we used to make these and we’d go down hills and a lot of them weren’t even bitumen those days. And we’d say, “Righto Alan,
your turn.” And he’d fall over. And we’d say, “Don’t you cry, you’re a mascot.” He wasn’t allowed to cry if he got hurt. And that’s how he was. No, Alan was a different bloke altogether. God bless his soul, he committed suicide about two years ago. But that’s not in the story. And Guy Fawkes night, which you don’t have now, we go around
chop down trees and let them die on somebody’s vacant allotment next to houses, put tyres on it to make it burn well. And we used to have Guy Fawkes night. And they won’t let you do it now. And then we’d, like these palms like you see down here, falling off, we used to call them sleighs, and we used to sit in them and slide down grass hills. This is how we were. We were very
They used to have kerosene cases one time. They were tins of kerosene which were two to a case. Now if you get one that side, one that side, and put one that way, it gives you a set in bookcase in your bedroom. That’s what you had. That was our furniture. We couldn’t afford to buy any and you know what she did? She went to the Polytech, my mother. Now the Polytech is like your…
Tech [Technical School]. Something similar to that. To learn carpentry. And they got her to a stage where she built a glass sideboard for her home. She went to learn it to build so she could build.
The garage we had for the car, it was made out of pine boards and bales of paper. You couldn’t afford anything like that. But oh, she would – we would live on maize meal. Now maize meal is good – the lorikeets used to love maize meal. That was crushed corn. But that was
ours too. We had crushed corn. But it was good. We used to have bread and milk, just bread and milk. We didn’t mind. Couldn’t afford it. Bread and dripping was good. I remember coming home. And we used to have rolled oats. Used to soak the rolled oats of a night time and we’d have them for breakfast. But we used to call it ‘floaties’ I think it was.
She’d never throw out anything that was left over. There was an ice chest, and we used to come home from school and get the porridge that was left over, and it was cold and it used to float in milk. And we used to eat this when we come home. You know, we didn’t have much. I tell you,
my mother was a real goer. As Mary always says, ‘You take after your mother.” And my daughter takes after me. Very stubborn and very determined to get where they want to go. And I’ll be honest, it’s only through this, I would say, that I am where I am today. And it’s only through my mother she is that I am where I am today. My father was a very good man. He was a very
good man. He was a great helper. He helped a lot. When he was in the RSL [Returned and Services League]. He was secretary, and also what they called ‘the stress’, and he used to go around and make sure people had an adequate enough – you know, they could go to a doctor, or they had enough food, things like that. He used to look after them. Or go around asking people for things.
Did he ever tell you about his time in the First World War?
No. He was very proud of us. I can tell you that. And I think inwardly he thought it was our duty. He was a duty man himself. He was strict, he used to belt us, give us a hiding, till one day when he was using the razor strop,
the buckle slipped out of his hand and cut my brother’s leg. And he never give us a hiding after that day. That broke him. Oh not cruel, he wasn’t cruel. Oh boy, if you stepped out of – and one thing about it, when we sat down to dinner time you couldn’t speak. You only spoke when you were spoken to. And if we interfered we’d get a backhander. You understand why. Now there was four kids
all sitting down at the table, and he’d come home. I’ll never forget the day – he used to love gardening – and we used to have a high house, and we used to get out on the verandah see if pop’s coming home. And I wanted to do a wee. And I was doing it through the railings and, unbeknown to me, here he is down at the tap watering his garden. And I weed all over him. Boy, I really got a hiding then. I was only a little kid, you know.
Oh, these are only incidents now, I suppose. But he never spoke a lot in the army. When the war broke out, he joined the VDC [Voluntary Defence Corps]. He still, he had a captain, he was a captain then. They have the Voluntary Defence Corps. Like old ‘Dad’s Army’.
And they were used here to take over from troops who went away. They were the ones who more or less done guard duty around the central buildings and home front sort of thing, which they would be used in the case of home front. They were ex-trained soldiers and things like that.
work goes, as I’ve pointed out, work in whole – I’ll talk general on this – my mother comes into the forefront of this again. My mother was the instigator of all her family getting work. Now, this is a different story. She was determined that her family were going to get a job. They – my uncle
who was a foreman there – she approached them to see if there was a vacancy. There was no vacancy, but they would do, if he was prepared to do messages and clean type with caustic soda and melt metal for the linotypes, till such time as there was a vacancy. Well, I did this. Dirty, my nails were all brown and burnt and I used to get up at
five o’clock, four or five o’clock in the morning, and pushbike into Brisbane to light the gas under the…to melt the metal ready for the tradesmen to come in. Until eventually a vacancy occurred and I was two years – 17 now – and most of your apprentices were 15. Well that makes no difference. I still had to work for
apprenticeship wages. I didn’t get any rise. I was on a first year apprenticeship wage. Which I said was 14 and six [£14/6/-]. And then I was apprenticed. I topped the college the first year, but I remember I got one of these bags, Gladstone bags I think they called them, that was the prize. I didn’t mind that, because I needed something to
carry my lunch and things in. I went down, I went to the tech college, and I worked there and worked till midnight some nights, for sixpence an hour. Racing up to Adelaide Street to catch the last tram. I had no option. I mean a job’s a job. And one thing I would
say to everybody today, never work for relations, because they’re the hardest bosses of all. Especially family, because you’d like to call him everything, but you can’t. And he used to get me to stay at work and work, and I’m going to be honest, he had a girlfriend there, and he used to say, “Oh, don’t tell your auntie
about this.” He’d make me stay there and then he’d go possum shooting at night time and he’d say, “Oh you come too.” But he sort of semi blackmailed me. And it was no good, but I couldn’t do anything about it. But I kept going and kept going and then I bought a pushbike
to push to work. I cost me five shillings a week and I was only getting 15 and six [£15/6/-], and I gave the rest to my mother. I – we didn’t get many rises. As I say I never earnt enough money to keep myself. I mean it all went to my mother. But then, during the process, I know I hate it, but I couldn’t do a thing about it,
and eventually I got through it all and the army came. And that made a different life to me. But I must elaborate on this part of it, is I had my other brother, the one that got killed, he was working and he used to work in the butcher’s shop and he’d get up at 3 o’clock in the morning
push a bike in there to work in a butcher’s shop. He – my mother got hold of that one – he eventually give that away, and then eventually he was a plasterer, which he was going to start his own business when the war finished him off. My sister was a tailoress, my mother got that one too. She scrounged around and she got someone to take her on.
And then there was my smaller brother. He was a joiner for Storey’s. She got that one too, because she used to go round looking for places, and got that one. So my mother was one to go around until she found a job for her kids. She did. And then besides looking after her own family. So that’s how I spent printing. I mean
you had to watch, you couldn’t – inspectors used to come around at night time and look through the windows to make sure they, you weren’t using scrap labour as they called it. And there was a lot of that on. I mean in those Depression days, and that’s part of it.
You didn’t have much, but what you had you sort of shared it and you survived. But they were so good, my people, that I don’t think we would have got where we are today, only for them. And it’s through them that our jobs that we had, we stuck it out ourselves, I myself could have walked off any time. But it’s only through them.
There’s not a hell of a lot I can elaborate on my job. After the war, I worked for Lamson Paragon and I decided to start on my own, and I remember the foreman saying to me, “Syd,” he said, “I don’t blame you, you know more than I do.” But that machine today that I used to operate, it’s down on the corner Caxton Street
and Walker Street, down in the Valley [Fortitude Valley] there. There’s a café there now, and in this café is a machine, one of the machines I used to operate. But from there I went and started on my own, but I tell you there, bit of a misfortune there, I give it away in the end, it was too hard. Too hard and people didn’t pay for your work and it was – you couldn’t survive on that.
That’s about all I can say on that.
how will I put it – you take hospitals where it was all men. You had to be able to read a chart. You had to read blood pressures, you had to read pulses. All these sort of things, you had to know all this. And also you had to know how to
bandage a wound, how to treat a wound. All this, the whole thing basically what the ambulance here today is doing, you’d have to learn in the army. But then from there, you sort of specialised. Now you wouldn’t believe this; some of them even the anaesthetists, they gave anaesthetics. But not by the doctor.. I’m talking when they went forward
lines. Where there was nothing. I never come into that. My calling was greater in hygiene, which was a big thing. I went to a gas school. That’s a lecture in structure in gas. That’s a big subject on its own. Treatment of gas patients.
The remedies and precautions to take so you’re not gassed. Like where you live, about gas masks, the drill of gas masks. All that business. You would have to – that’s why I said you get away from the nursing side. That was the basic, and then you started to branch out
into things, and then hygiene. But I was not in charge. You must realise I was not in charge of anything. I was – see I was a sergeant, I was going up in rank. I was – now this is what they were doing to me, you know, I was being trained for this and then trained for that till eventually I ended up the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major], the whole lot. And from that you
had to be a master of many, not master of one. I think it was good training and you had to – like I got called up before the CO, and he said, “How come that there’s nobody being paraded before me?”
I mean, it’s all very well to say you parade people, but there’s always sometimes you have to be a diplomat or something. You got to – you can’t be a bastard altogether. You must see bloody reason. There could be a reason. But if it’s that hard to find, well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. So basically, from my
cadetship, I used the basics of first aid, the fundamentals of first aid, the treatment of patients, and accidents, up to where I sort of branched out further, and went into the sort of general running and administration.
So it’s a pretty early one. So from there we were asked what would we like and they offered this Forestry Unit to me in 1939. I said no. But anyhow they went and I didn’t. So I then was more or less asked what I could do and they said there’s a unit getting formed, and
from there they sent me to Redbank, where over time others kept coming and kept coming. And from there they drew personnel to form a unit. And then one of the things they did teach us at Redbank – you must remember that we done a lot of walking in this, and you had to be
trained. And they used to have, out on the road, they had long lines drawn on the road and that was 120 paces to the minute. That was one of our, had to learn to do. They trained us. And the reason for that was, it was equivalent to about three miles and hour. You had to learn that. So if you could do 120 paces to the minute within an hour, allowing you 50 minutes I think it was
50 minutes you could do three miles. And that was how long it would take you to go anywhere. This is what they call the basic training. And then comes the pack drill, carrying packs, fitting packs, weight, how to – there was no glamour. None of it. Your bedding –
of course your bedding was no such thing as good bedding. I slept on boards, I slept on anything, but the thing is the palatial stuff was gone. I mean then you had to custom yourself to live with what you had and sleep with what you had. Certain places there we had palliasses, which was hessian bags with straw in. You can put the groundsheet on
the ground, put that on. The thing is, another part was boards. Three boards, blanket on it, sleep on the boards. It was a bit hard, but all this to get you accustomed to this type of living. Food, you were sort of, you were on a different type of ration altogether. I was nine stone six when I was in the army, which was a good weight. And this is one of the things that they
I think when the dieticians worked all this out, this is part of the basic thing. Sport was a big thing in the army. It’s all to do with conditioning, and I think – see the basic part of the initial training in the army was conditioning, acclimatisation.
create ways of fitness which they do. It drives you mad. We had to do a lot of physical culture work, arm stretches. All this running and jogging up and down. General routine fitness training same as they do in any sporting fraternity. Well, you had to do that. And then there was always the boat drill, allocating boats.
Life jackets. You’ve always got these life jackets. They’d put on false alarms and you’d have to – oh they were doing this all the time and you’d have to race up. And they were always making sure that you got to your right place all the time. And also the boats for being torpedoed. Then
as far as mess time goes it was only routine, nothing marvellous about it. The only trouble is that I used – it was pretty hard. You’d be queued up walking along and especially when we went down south and everybody got sick. Nothing’s worse than going through the galley to get your food and somebody’s spewed up everywhere. And you’re walking through it and trying to – it’s pretty lousy. You can’t do a thing about it. Another thing too, is
water for bathing, I’ll do it in two ways this. I’ll jump ahead at the same time because it’s not far. One is a liner we went over. The Orion was an ocean liner. So it had certain facilities on it that they could do their own desalinating salt water. They had equipment and all
that to do it. And therefore your ablutions weren’t so bad. But then when sickness come – and that’s a thing too – when you’re sick you don’t eat, do you. You just curl up and hope to Christ you bloody die, don’t you. You ever been seasick? I tell you what if you’ve ever been seasick you’d understand what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t care if
the next day didn’t come. It’s horrible! Basically it’s a paid tourist, you might say, but the only trouble is you’ve got to do as they say and train as they say, and eat what they say. And sleep where they put you. Until you
get there. But something I’d like to bring in here which might help a little bit, unless you want to come back to going up into the islands. I can elaborate on a few things on that.
Which was – that’s Palestine. 89 was 89 kilos [kilometres]. Now I just don’t know. It’s 89 kilos from somewhere. It might have been Alexandria, I don’t know. But Kilo 89 was the name. I suppose they could have had Kilo 20 somewhere else, but ours was Kilo 89. So we were camped there,
and that was more or less a staging camp. And with staging camps you sort of, they relax a little bit, because we knew we were going to be moved and they didn’t sort of run much at all. More just physical work to keep them in good condition. Our biggest thing was you spent more time getting the people to guard the bloody stuff, rather than
doing anything, because the wogs were pinching it. And it might seem strange at that time we were in Gaza, Gaza Ridge. Some of the blokes went up there for a walk and they found old rifles from the First World War. You wouldn’t believe that, after all that time. It wasn’t so long, it was only 25 years. But outside of that it was more or less
well, they play. They went on leave. Went to Tel Aviv. I’ll just tell you – I might be talking out of turn here, but I’m going to say it because it’s true – when I was in Tel Aviv, it was the greatest hotspot. Because there were Nazi spies, everything in there. You wouldn’t know. And you had to be very careful
and outside was a ship full of Jews and they wouldn’t let them land. And they were all the refugee Jews. And they’re the ones today are causing a lot of trouble because – and it’s not only me speaking, other people would say that – they reckon Palestine was their home. It was not. It belongs to the Palestinians.
And when I were there, they wouldn’t let them land. It belonged to the Palestinians. Now what I’m saying is, we were there, we saw it, and I know what went on. And not only me, thousands more like me. So anyhow, we went on, and after that we all know what has happened since then. But I’m just saying that little part, that was true.
From there we went down to Port Said and then on to Tobruk then and the first time.
Back in Palestine, talking about what you were just mentioning to me, tell us about some of the cultural aspects you noticed.
Well, we’d go along, we used to love it, we’d go along to the bazaars. Now we used to have a 1936 two-bob [two shilling] piece. They’d love that, because 1939 two bob piece is worth more in silver than two bob. And nobody knew this, but the wogs did. And they used to belt these out and make filigree
jewellery out of them. And I got some – they’re beautiful work, and they’d belt and belt and belt these till they get it very thin. It’s silver, it’s nearly pure silver. And of course they took it out of circulation pretty quickly. But that was back here too, if you get a 1936 two bob, I think it’s about 75 per cent silver or something. But you’d go along to these places, and
they loved to barter and our blokes used to love doing it too. They’d turn around and they’d say, “How much?” and they’d say, they might say, “Five akkers [piastres].” “Here, I’ll give you two akkers.” So you’d end up getting it about three and a half akkers. They’re happy, you’re happy. But it was all the time, you had to barter. If you didn’t barter they’d think they’re not doing any good. And we used to send stuff home. No problem
at all. And I think – I don’t know whether Mary’s still got some or not – but some of it was very, very nice. There’s a thing here… I’ll show you. Well it came back and I thought it’s quite neat. It’s a little car. But outside of that
you’d stay at motels there and the owner of the hotel would say, “Do you want a woman?” “No, no.” “Very good, very clean, my wife.” They’d sell their wives. They wouldn’t care two hoots. And that’s how they lived then. Nothing, as long as it’s money. But they’re a low mob. They’re low, low. But none of us – I mean
it stinks. I would not go over there for a holiday. I wouldn’t go to India for a holiday. A mate of mine, he was a bit of an artist. Oh, he was good. And we were in Port Said there and he said, “I’m going down to so I can get somebody to model for me.” He come back and I said, “How did you go?” “How’d I go?”
He said, “She bloody well stripped me.” But you know, they’re like that. All they’re interested in is doing something to get money. That was their attitude. I mean they’d sell themselves. You want me to tell you some stories?
a mile. Things like that. They go daily and they’d go all day. It was just mainly for building up stamina. And physique. To make sure you don’t go to fat. But you’re in bloody good nick. I mean really you are. I was 21 around the waist and 9 stone six. You wouldn’t believe that I was. It knocks all the fat off you. Well, that’s what they wanted, anyhow. And then you had to
well, pack, you know, carry your own pack. Well the first time we went up – that was right – that was the night of Malta. I’m corrected. And that’s what I used to call it – the night of bloody hell. Because it was bloody hellish. You wouldn’t believe the Mediterranean could get so rough. But it was so rough that you couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything.
But there was no bunk, you slept on the deck. But you sort of left this morning and got there tomorrow sort of thing. You know, left overnight. It was patrolled by navy all the time and aircraft, but it wasn’t so bad the first time, because we’d pushed the Italians down. They had right down to the Egyptian border. At this time, old King Farouk,
he was king of Egypt, he was plying all the Australian Army with cigarettes. The little flat oval cigarettes. They were awful stuff. We used to chuck them away. It was only bribery to get on our side, more or less, because the Gyppo, you couldn’t trust him. He was on the winning side, we put it that way. If you’re winning, he’s on your side, if you’re losing you’re… And so he would,
that was in Egypt. And that’s getting into Alexandria. Well, I went to Alexandria a couple of times for leave. You might have seen me on a horse, driving a thing there. But we used to have a lot of fun there. We used to have those buggy sort of things. We’d get the driver and get him and say, “Here you are, here’s an extra bob. Now you get in the back seat, and we’ll do the driving.” Because our blokes used to have a lot of fun. They used to drive round and let him
be a passenger. And they used to think this was a lot of fun. They did the right thing. Outside of that – but you had to watch yourself all the time. You never went on your own. We kept with a couple of you, because it’s dynamite. It was a time bomb all the time. But outside of that, yes, it was mostly going on leave, having a look at the place. I couldn’t go to Cairo
because I didn’t have enough money. I was prepared to save my money, and you had to have so much money in your bank book before they’d let you go to Cairo. But I didn’t lose any sleep over that.
Tobruk, while we were there they – the Germans come down and they were trying to take us. We were only, I think it was about 30 mile around and ten miles deep. That’s approximately. Now that’s not very far. You might as well say from here to Coolangatta, or here to Southport, and where we are
is the Mediterranean. It’s 30 miles and I think there was about 30,000 personnel in that area. It was pretty well congested. Now out on the perimeter, they had the 18th Brigade, the Ghurkhas, oh gee there were tons of others, but
these cooks got hold of a field piece and in between cooking they had a bloke, one of the cooks used to go up and watch it, and they were firing this bloody gun into the Germans. And they were doing all right. They’re not supposed to do this. But this was initiative. You were talking about initiative. But they tell me, afterwards I was talking to a bloke and he said, “Yes,” and they were lost and he come home and he took over and he said, “But they stopped them doing that.” Now the other
part was, on Easter, Easter was where the breakthrough was on. And, oh you could hear it. What they did, the perimeter’s like that. Now the Australians dug trenches and they got in the trenches, slit trenches. And when the Germans come, they just went like that. They opened up and let them in. And when they went in, they went like that and they closed them out. But what happened
when they went through, these Australians used to get iron bars and as they’d run they’d put them in the tracks, and of course they’d throw their tracks and they couldn’t move. And they done a lot of that. And that really damaged the Germans a lot. And created a weakness, then closed. And that was one of the turning points. Rommel tried so hard to break through and he never could break through.
But all the bombing, and when I say bombing there was a lot. Oh gee whiz. You’ve got no idea at the bombing and strafing. But as I said, there was no front line, none at all. So outside of that, I mean they eventually held and held and held and held. One thing about the Ghurkhas – an argument with a bloke was telling me, one of the 18th Brigade, he said because they hated them,
they’re the worst people to have against you. The Ghurkhas. When they used to go down on patrol, they used to come back and say, we got them, what do they call it? I forget how they call them. They used to cut off their ears to prove that they got somebody. That’s the Ghurkhas. They bring back evidence to prove that they’d done it.
On the way up, they captured a lot of vehicles, Italian vehicles. They had a lot of desert equipment. See the Italians had been in the desert for a long time, many, many years. And for example, Abyssinia was part of Italy at one time and they had a lot of trouble. And there was a lot of equipment which they capped. Now at this stage – this is the early part of the war – Japan wasn’t in it or anything like that –
but Vichy French, they’re the ones who went over the side to Germany, they were in Syria. Now the 13th, 15th – anyhow, the 6th Divvy [Division], they were in the first push up and then they were taken out of there and sent back to Syria to fight the Vichy French. And also go to Greece and
Crete. Now this was where the 7th Division came in to take over from the 6th Division in North Africa. But doing that, they took a lot of equipment, captured Italian equipment over to what you call it, Syrian. But when Rommel came down to push us back, naturally we were lacking
equipment and transport, because more or less they were bled dry to a certain degree for other fronts. So therefore that was one, we understand, was one of the main deficiencies we had. And that’s where the stampede was on, was to get back, intact, with what we had of personnel as fast as we can without worrying about equipment. But as I say, on the way back, it was a matter of
breakdowns, you pushed it off the road. There was no time to try and repair or anything like that. Bang, finished, that’s it, goodbye. And then it as to a matter of how fast it was, well, we raced like hell. I was in all that, and like I said, we called it the Benghazi Derby. And it was a sight to behold, to see thousands and thousands of troops retreating so fast . But anyhow,
they beat the Germans to Tobruk. And that’s where we stopped.
I suppose they looked at it this way. We were running a field station there, therefore you can’t just go and leave them, can you? But actually, I think that’s what eventually did happen. I’m not sure of that. They asked for unmarried personnel to stay, all married personnel to leave. And at the time I wasn’t married, so I had to stay, but the point is this, that then
the powers that be have changed their mind, and they said, “Full evacuation.” So we just left all of our equipment. Now in that book you can pick up this information about the equipment and how they tried to get more equipment. You’d have to follow up on the book of Weary Dunlop’s. To fill in the bits of stopgaps. And it tells you how they had to scrounge equipment and how they’d do this. But anyhow,
by doing that, therefore it’s a matter of as you are, as you go. And then when we got to Tobruk, we didn’t even have a tent, nothing to sleep under. Nothing at all. We had a place, it was an old building with no roof on. I think it had a bit of a something on. That was a
cookhouse by daytime and it was sleeping quarters for the men at night time. And behind it there was two walls; the roofs had been blown off, that’s where I slept. So it’d be about as big as this here. And I used to say to myself, “You buggers, if you can bloody well hit me here, good luck to you.” I mean – so that’s where I slept. And so that’s how it was, a cookhouse by day time, sleeping quarters by night. And that’s until such time as we got down to the beach
and that’s when we dug slit trenches and we lived underground and that’s where the words ‘Rats of Tobruk’ come into operation.
I’ll have to guess this – it’s a very deep harbour. There was a naval base, and Italian naval base, originally. I suppose – oh it could be from about here to Burleigh wide, so roughly like a big bay would come in, and I suppose it would be about
from about here to Coolangatta deep. Visualise that. Now they had wharves this side, the docks, and then big open spaces. Up there there was a headland, I’m coming in say, and on my left was a big headland, and that’s where it had fortresses up there. That’s Bardia.
And all the way down to Alexandria, they had fortresses. Now you must remember, all evacuations from here were by navy. The navy done a terrific job. They were doing 40 knots running the gauntlet, and they used to leave at 2 o’clock in the morning, and they had to run the gauntlet of all these fortresses – and they had a few of them – on the mainland, and they were trying to get the destroyer as they go down.
All evacuation of wounded, all evacuation of personnel were on the decks of destroyers. Now in Tobruk we had our first casualty. He got hit by a 9.2 shell from Bardia. They used to bomb them over the harbour. And then there was a hospital ship come in there and just they bombed it and they beached it straight away and blew it up.
And we had a chap – Don Greer – if ever a man should have been decorated, that man should have been. They never did. What they used to do – we used to send the wounded down to the dock, and at 2 o’clock in the morning, they’d load them on to barges and take them out, tow them out to the bay and load them on a destroyer.
Now, this can be during bomb raids, strafing, all the time, but they got to – they were trying to pick times when – now this day it broke away from the towing boat and started to drift out. Now this chap dived into the harbour and swam out to grab the towline during an air raid to bring that line in so they could tow it, and he was never – now he was one of our unit. Now he was never, ever recognised. And he
that was a risky job to do that. So outside of that, as far as Tobruk goes, the first part of it was no problem. But the second part was a different kettle of fish. That was on the retreat. They bomb, they. The one thing I – what’s his name?
What was that photographer? Well known during the war years – I thought to myself, “You bloody liar.” He was just up the road from me. There was a plane crashed and he went and turned round, and they put some petrol on and took a photograph. He said they shot it down and he took it coming down in flames. He did not; it was there on the ground. Now I’m going to tell you something you mightn’t like.
I myself haven’t got much time for Red Cross. Now I know you got this on tape. Because I saw with my own eyes, in Tobruk, the staff of Red Cross, getting supplies and selling it. Now that’s a big statement. That was a fact. And most of it was fortified wine and I think it was brandy they used to use as stimulants.
And I think that’s stuck in my gizzard ever since. And this episode of Bali, and I thought to myself, I don’t blame – and I reckon they’ve done the same thing. Somebody’s got away with money in it somehow. Sorry I’ve got to say that, because that’s in my gizzard and I never forgot that. But that’s a little bit. So that’s what happens in wartime. The needy doesn’t always get it. I know somebody that will hit the
roof, but I tell you what, it’s true. Now I don’t say they did a lot, but this particular time they did. Outside of that, they worked hard. There was no pleasure. Water was a big premium. Water was a must. I mean water – it’s not much. I mean you didn’t bathe, you couldn’t, there was no facility, no water anyhow.
the Italians had inland from the harbour, and oh, there must have been big guns there because we saw some of the shells; they were big shells that they fired. Well they had caves in the mountains which we used to use as hospital bays, but we lived outside. But from there they used to send them down
the harbour, which was used as a despatching, holding there waiting for the destroyers to come in and take them away. See, you couldn’t send them down during the daytime, they’d send them down on dark, down there, hold them, in, out, by 2 o’clock in the morning. It wasn’t used as a I suppose you’d call it a transit hospital. Ours was more or less an
operating hospital. They did do some, but Weary Dunlop, at the time, he’d joined us up there. He come down from Greece through there and into us. He was forming this mobile surgical team. It was a system he was working on where instead of splitting the unit as we were, he was to make composite units, which would be, how we say,
they’d be up just behind the infantry and the field ambulances used to just bring them straight out to them. But they had to carry everything on their back. Everything. And then they would – if a chap say got shot, well they’d do whatever they could as quick as possible to get him transferred back quick into a bigger hospital. And that way the idea was to stop losing lives and also – which did do a good job.
That was the formation, that was his baby. And that’s what I’d like, one day, if you got nothing to do, read that book and you’ll read all about it. He was running the dock hospital. We call it the dock. Ours was out at Fort Palestrina. Our first, Colonel Wilson,
he was the first colonel we had there, and he died. He got consumption, sand in the lungs. He died there. It’s a place where disease was pretty – see I had dengue fever, I’ve had sandfly fever, I mean you get all these sort of things. And this is one of the big problems we had too. Disease was sometimes
worse than the actual bullets and things you might as well say. See they had to cover all this. But that’s why it was split in halves. But it stayed that way right until – well it didn’t get a chance to do anything else, because two-thirds of them went west and prisoners of war and only 20 of us got home. Which is a
pretty high casualty list. They were going to disband us completely there was so little. So anyhow that’s the story how they split. Started to form, embark, they went west and we went home.
No, it was very safe. No problem at all. Outside, we had wards out in the open too, that was what the trouble was. And we had more wards out there. You couldn’t fit them in. There weren’t many. They might only hold about 20 patients, that’s about all. But you got them outside. As I mentioned before, one chap, one of the orderlies, I was out there, I don’t know what we were doing, we were doing something, and this bloke, he started screaming. He started
running. And this bloke, one of these wards men raced up and he hit him. Knocked him out. Had to because with the other patients, the nervous strain of some of them, you don’t have to – see, because one will start panicking, and then you’d find another one and another one. And then you got bloody trouble on your hands. Of course he did this one day. But we had no trouble. See one of our other
biggest problems, they used to go in for a swim. And that was a danger. I mean what happens is, anybody done anything they had to have lookouts all the time. But what they did, even on the mess parades, they used to come across and photograph the times they’d be swimming or they’d be messing. And they would come over at that time – and this is what they had to watch –
oh gee, you’re game if you do that. Because they seemed way up high, so high you can’t see them and they drop bombs. But anyhow, but you – it was rough, but the point is this that, it’s a bit hard, you know, it’s a bit hard, to visualise it. There was no pleasure. None at all.
And you couldn’t. What it reminded me of, you know those little animals you see, they poke up and they look like this, you know the ones I mean? That’s more or less what it’s like. You come out of your slit trench and you’re looking around like this, and then duck down in again. And they just remind me of those little animals. You follow what I’m trying to get at. And one night there, they dropped them and
flares down, and one hit the end of a padre’s trench and he yells out to his batman to come and put it out and they all yelled out, and they said, “Put the bloody thing out yourself. Put it out yourself. It’s your trench, not ours.” Oh no, they’re pretty tough. Bugger that. Let them put their own out. And it was sitting on the edge of his trench, it happened to fall down and that’s where it went. And lit up all his blankets. But he had to go and put it out himself. It’s no fun.
and then they put lime in it and then they’ll bury it, yes. That’s basically the system. But don’t forget there is places where maybe you can’t do that. See, it’s all very well to say, yeah, you can do that, but sometimes it’s pretty hard. But that’s mainly what it is. And there’s no – how would you say – not so much there’s no pride – but we’re talking about all male personnel.
Ninety per cent of the time we never had women with us. Ninety per cent, because it just could not be. So therefore there was no privatisation as we would know privatisation. So outside of that, it went pretty well. But what used to make it hard for us is when you turn around
and got to help other people, on that retreat from Barce Benghazi, we had nothing so therefore we didn’t even have a tent. We had nothing. So therefore all we could do was – this hospital was caught there in Tobruk, which is rare, but it was. That’s the second AGH [Australian General Hospital]. It was – ah gee – and then we would
have to go up and restore tents or do things to get them back in operation again. I mean it wasn’t a matter of – well what you’d do, they’d just send you up and you can go and help them recover. And it was blown to pieces; a lot of our blokes got killed there too. No worries. But that’s the hard part. Sad part,
a lot of places. You know, one time I went up there, walked past a tent, and I went in the tent, and I said, “Oh no.” Old Lance Corporal Tombs, you know, when I looked at him I thought to myself – you know, I’d met his wife before I left and I thought little did she know he’s not any more, you know. These are little things that get you sometimes, but.
what, like the docks and things like that?…Weary Dunlop was very, very good in this way, that the function of a CCS is to receive patients direct from the front line, for patching them up or making them in a condition, or just try and help wherever we can for transportation back to ah…
hospital or a field hospital where further treatment can be carried out. Now, to do that you got to be up – very close to the lines. As I say, there’s no lines, I mean, they would patch it up and you couldn’t say, “No, we got a full house, we can’t take them.” No, that’s not the point. If you, once you’ve been say…
Well, just say for argument’s sake, a person lost his arm or something like that. Well they’d fix it – if they didn’t have these and had to get him back, he could most likely die before they got him back. So what they did, they would operate on that man and put him in such a condition that he could travel back. But they wouldn’t keep him in hospital and say, “Oh you can stay here till it heals.” No, they couldn’t do that. Longest maybe he’d be there, operated on today,
he might be there tomorrow and gone the next day. He’d be on his way. Or if it was serious, they’d get him back on his way that night. Do you follow what I’m trying to get at there? It’s not a convalescent hospital, so therefore you don’t sort of fill it up with patients and treat them as a normal – no, that’s not the point. But Weary Dunlop was going further than that. He was breaking that down,
instead of being one Casualty Clearance Station, they’d have a Casualty Clearance Station Headquarters, what you’d call the administration. And from there they’d send out surgical teams. There could be three. I don’t think they had any more than three. Which would comprise of a composite, say half a dozen personnel. Now on that, they would take all their equipment to do
what they had to do there. And that’d be a long way forward. And then they’d patch them up and they couldn’t hold them at all, because they had no wards at all. All they had was an operating theatre. So therefore they’d have to get them back and they would get them back to the main unit, which was us. And then we’d get them through and then they’d convoy them and things like that. They’d take them away to the – we wouldn’t hold them
either. We were the people to disperse to. I’m sort of getting a carried away a bit, because I know how it operates. You got your body like that, because when you’re not doing, then it goes out, fans out. They could be way over there and way over there. See, just for argument’s sake, they could be say one at Runaway Bay, one down at Ballina, and one up at [Mount] Tambourine.
You follow that? And here we are here. And they come in like that. And then outside there is the wharf waiting to put them on, away it goes, maybe down to Brisbane or something like that where the hospital is. Can you follow that now? I hope so. I try. Now you understand how his function was to basically do that. Up to that stage, we were only working with two units. One the heavy unit and one the light unit.
Because he hadn’t had a chance to put it in full operation before they were taken prisoners of war. But it did operate in the islands.
Tell me about some of the men who were in your unit who you were close to.
Oh yeah. Reg Brunner was a rogue. He’d take you down for two bob. He was – as far as his job goes, he’d do his job very well. He was a male nurse from Willaburn Hospital in Toowoomba. Jackie Upton was a male nurse from Willaburn. These are trained, proper,
highly qualified. They’re the ones that are trained even as much as a sister in a hospital here today. They’re male nurses. He was a good footballer and played for Australia against England. Who else do you want to know? Eric Cox was a bloke in the 17th Ambulance with me. He was bugler. I’m trying to think of odd ones.
The bloke – oh, I forget his name. He was… Johnno. He was a linesman for the electricity department. He was another one. Another one was – oh I can’t think of his name, but he was an ambulance bearer.
When I say ambulance bearer, he was like the ambulances, but they’re highly trained too. One of the sergeants, his parents owned the sugar mill up in Mackay. Cocky Grey. He was a coal miner in Ipswich.
I’m trying to remember. I’m trying to cross them up for you, but – Sandy Bales. He was a bloke, he wasn’t a bad bloke, Sandy. He abused me one day and I went and got temporarily demoted and I said, “Now abuse me, we’re having a proper fight,” and the CO said, “Righto, provided we’ve got a referee.” Anyhow I fell over a kitbag and I said to Toddy –
Toddy was a wharfie – he was a bit of pug too. He said, “I backed the other bloke,” he said, “He won Syd.” I said, “Hey, come off it.” He said, “Yeah, but I got better odds on you.” He backed the other bloke. I had to laugh after that. Anyhow that was in Tobruk. Oh, they come from all walks of life. But the doctors were really good. There was Murphy,
he was a physician, very top physician. Wolfie Parks, he was a surgeon. There was – you heard of the Centaur? Well he ended up, he was on the Centaur and he joined us when we come back from the Middle East. He bumped into us up Queensland. That was Altridge.
I never took much time for him, he was the one that paraded me when I was a warrant officer – “How come I didn’t have people on a charge?” But the point is this, you don’t charge people for the sake of charging them. They’ve got to do something wrong before they’re charged. But outside of that, oh no, they were all pretty skilled people. Oh, we had one doctor went back and committed suicide. And another bloke was sent back
sick, pretty sick. It was a big strain on some of them, very much.
unit. One a Catholic, one a Presbyterian… Church of England. And the Catholic priest used to say to me, “Syd, I treat all the same. The only thing,“ he said, “I have different from anybody else,” he said, “I do confession. Outside of that,”
he said, “my services are available to everybody.” Now, to answer your question, I can be a little bit upsetting in this one. First of all, to answer your question is if you have a problem like that, you try as far as possible to find out what religion he is and call on a padre to carry out that answer that you just give me. Which would be part of my job to designate – and this is answering some of your questions.
And it’s not for every Tom, Dick and Harry to do it. I’m there to cover a lot of aspects. Now the other thing is I was asked to pass the padre one day – “We have some people to bury. Would you mind organising?” And he told me they weren’t of his religion. And it’d be better for him to find somebody else. Now that hurt me. And that was in Finschhafen. The other thing is
another one is while we were in the islands there, there was a Salvation Army bloke. He used to have the greatest gathering of all of a night time. Irrespective of who you were, he used to fill the tent right up. Anyhow, that’s as near as I can answer. Does that answer? I’m trying to give you an idea. And they’re the only people that can do what you said.
I myself, I’m not a counsellor. They are more in a position, and their job is such is to do that. They’re not people who wait on, like to help patch up people. They can be used as a stretcher bearer, they can be used as a counsellor. They can be used as a minister of religion or whatever they want to. But they can be called upon to do those sort of things.
all plonked in together. All mixed up and that’s it. And one tea and a dixie. And when they come they go, zonk, like that. It’s a stinking hot day, there’s a bloody sandstorm blowing, you’re trying to chew it and you’re chewing grit. And look at your tea, there’s a bloody – you see on a beach where you see all the ripples on the sand – that’s what your tea’s like, all the ripples of the sand in the bottom of the tea. And if you don’t eat it or drink it, you don’t bloody well get any more.
So you say food, there’s no variety. But we didn’t complain. I can tell you stories on the islands a lot different. But the thing is this, I have done two sides of this war which I think is a little bit different to a lot of people; they’ve either done the Middle East or they’ve done the islands.
I don’t want you to get too confused. But as far as that goes, we never had any right. We used to have these bloody biscuits. They were bloody awful. I don’t know what they are, they were as hard as hell. You could break your teeth on them. But no, no variety, nothing. But we think we were grateful. Oh, yes, I’m sorry, we used to have vegetables.
They come along the line, and they give you ascorbic tablets. Now ascorbic tablets are to stop scurvy and things like that, we’d substitute vegetables, and the vegetables would be a tablet. And we used to joke, and say, “What is it today, cauliflower or lettuce?” That was this stuff plus a tablet. That’s your meal for the day. I mean that’s the vegetables for the day.
So there was no vegetables. No bread, no butter, no nothing. But at least we were better off than the Poms [British], they got a raw deal. We used to feed them, we used to ask the cook not to throw anything out. We’ll give it to the Poms. Because the officers used to take the best and the sergeants used to take the rest and the ORs get whatever’s left. And oh,
gee, it was crook stuff there. So we used to ask them not to throw it out. They used to come down at night time and we used to give it to them. And it awful you know, and they used to think it was beautiful.
I’d like to quote an episode and refer to this book again, because I want you to do this, because I want you to do this, because in my records there is two blank lines which are the finish and the starting of a new era. Now to fill that one in, give me here and I’ll give it to you later where the pages are marked, which fills in this gap which you were just asking to get me on my voyage on the ship. I cannot answer. I’m best to leave it till you read that.
That’ll give you the correct thing. Now I’m on the ship, which is the Cape Wrath. It’s a little Scottish vessel. I palled up with the engineer, who was a Scottish bloke, and we wallowed – oh no, we got to Cochin, that was right, and we learnt that the rest of our unit had been taken POWs. This was not a very nice thing to know.
Here we were. And I thought, “Well I’ve only got one option, which is the RAP officer and myself,” about three trucks, gear, maybe I think we had a couple of carpenters, engineers and electricians, all those. These are the key personnel for – you know what I mean for setting up a hospital. And here we are,
and on our way and Major Parks, who was acing as ROP officer on the ship. We got to Cochin where we knew everything that I said – POW sitting there, didn’t know what the hell’s going on. No shore leave, just stuck on this bloody tub. Quarters were lousy, just swinging in hammocks on the deck. No quarters.
Basically our meals were more or less iron rations, not cooked rations. Iron rations are sort of biscuits, tinned bully beef, nothing cooked, just stuff like that. And then after that we got word we’re moving, and when we went outside we were just like a lame duck in the middle
of the ocean. No one around, no ships around, no escorts around, I thought, “Oh boy.” And on that ocean, I still remember to this day, up in the sky if you look, have you ever seen the Saucepan in the sky? What they call the Saucepan. I used to lie in the hatch of a night time, just looking at that hatch and looked at that Saucepan. Every time I looked at that Saucepan in the sky it means we’re coming across the Indian Ocean.
And we’re there, and I tell you what, nothing to do, just sit there and you’ve just got your fingers crossed that a sub[marine] doesn’t get us. Remember, at this time, the Japanese had come into the war. So we had the Germans not out of the war yet, but Japan’s coming into it. And I amused myself watching the Portuguese Man o’ War sailing by the ship and flying fish. First time I ever seen flying fish. And one day I was talking
to the engineer, and I said, “Gee we’re going fast.” And he said, “Ah son, no you’re wrong. That’s the tide going past us.” We were doing four knots. It’s not very fast. So we wallowed along and wallowed along, and fortunately eventually we pulled up and I said, “Where are we?” And he said, “Oh, we’re going to call into Adelaide.” And it went right down the south and then – and I thought, “Well, this is lovely.” So we pulled in to Adelaide, and
I thought to myself, “This is lovely now.” I’ve got Wolfie Parks and he’s yelling out. “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” And I said, “Wolfie, we’re pulled up at the wharf.” And it’d got him down too. I mean he being the medico, maybe he hit the drugs there a bit, I don’t know. Eventually we got to shore. But before we did they went around commandeering houses, or bedrooms, in
houses to house us, plus many more. Which we got billeted in these houses.
I won’t be going home for a while now. If we are going to there, it’ll be a long while before I get home.” So anyhow, oh I don’t know, but I think the biggest shock came is when we got to Adelaide. When we really discovered here we are and this is all there is of us. And they said they were going to disband us because we didn’t have a nucleus. And
that really upset us, because what was I going to do? What where they going to do with me? You get yourself into a unit of running a show and then something takes you, could end up… but as it turned out they decided then to build up the unit again. So from 100 per cent Queensland unit, it was made up with the majority of South Australians.
And then they built it up and built it up and built it up. But then come the job, which was bigger for me. Now don’t forget, the RSM had gone, so it was my job then to take his place till such time as they got another person to take, and through that, I had to, with what I could – now Wolfie Parks – were the only ones of the original.
So between us, we had to beg, borrow or steal you might as well say, till we can build something – and then we had to train people to do a job. Now the biggest trouble of this was, I’ve had the experience and you’ve got new blood into it, and they all know what to do. They’ve been trained to do something back home, but that’s no good. I mean what you learned here, boy, you can forget.
We’re going to a different type of war now. Now this is going to make it double hard. So we built up and built up and built up, till such time as we had a full strength. Then they shifted us up to Tenterfield to set up a training hospital of these new personnel. This time the sisters joined us again. Don’t forget
we hardly ever saw the sisters. Once in Tobruk, once on the mainland. We only saw them three times, right, through the whole of the five and a half years. Because we were never in a position where we could accommodate them, nor would it be safe for them to be there. So we trained there and trained there, and an RSM turned up.
Yeah, he was with us, that’s right. And at that time a lot of them could bring, the ones who were there, their wives could come and stay at houses around where we were, and they had their families there. But then my mother came down to me and that what I told you, she said she only wanted one thing in life to do, was to sit down in the middle of the street and eat a pie in the gutter. Which the two of us, we did do and that fulfilled her.
But on the way back she was to discover that my brother had been killed in Milne Bay. But in the interim, I’d met this girl before I went away to the Middle East, but when I come back and up to Tenterfield, she come down and we got engaged there. But we decided after that we were going to get married in October. Now, just side tracking that, that was that.
But oh, it was settling down now. It was more or less just routine work and, I mean, Des Cameron, who was the CO, he left us then and he more or less left me on my own. There was another chap who was a Staff Sergeant, but he belonged to this special surgical unit which Weary Dunlop was building. He was part of that. And so he
had jobs to do and I had my to do. He had it with the surgical unit, I had it with the main administration. So that was all right. We went to New Guinea then.
And we still had the – we didn’t have an RSM at that time. He’d left down in Tenterfield. Where am I? Up at Koitake. We come back then, we were going to go over the other side of Owen Stanley and they were going to fly over there with all their equipment. And we went back to Port Moresby, and that’s what I was
saying, when I got back to Port Moresby, I received news that my wife had died of meningitis while nursing in a hospital. Now, they said I better go home. They give me 10 days leave and they flew me straight home. I was lucky there, because we had been all packed up and of course the rest went over to Buna and Gona, and I picked them up again at Finschhafen on the other side.
And when I got to Finschhafen, we were there for some weeks, set up a place there and that was more or less looking after the northern part of New Guinea, north-west part of New Guinea, looking after them and evacuating from there. It’s a different set up there to what it was in the desert. I mean that was a dead end, that was bang, that’s as far as you go. And then from there they were sent back. A lot of them were flown back.
They’re flying them back this time. Unless a hospital ship was there and they could put them on the hospital ship. But they were getting them back to Port Moresby and from Port Moresby they’d go by hospital ship back. Now we were there, and then they said we got to go back to Australia. And we went back to Australia and we went up to north Queensland. Now up in north Queensland the first army
– oh gee, it was thousands and thousands of troops up there. In fact, if you went up there now they’ve still got certain parts of the place say this was so-and-so. We set up camp there. Now that was being trained for the big invasion up further. We were going to hit Borneo. Whilst I was there I was promoted to warrant officer and I was given the job as RSM. Now this brings in that side now.
Now my job took on a different role altogether. Now we were full time responsible. No fraternisation with troops, no sleeping in the same quarters as troops. Have to know all the administration. Had to know the army rules and regulations. Had to know the correct procedures. How to make a charge sheet too. Answerable only to the CO and Adjutant. And also advise officers.
Being medical officers, although they take parades, they are very naïve as far as what they can do or what they can’t do. And my job was to tell them. Or they’d ask me, “Is this correct?” or, “Is that correct?” Or no. Which is part of the job.
– where we were there wasn’t. In fact I wish I had my photos… I’ve got photos of up there when we were in the desert. And then from there we went on the biggest invasion fleet of the war. You wouldn’t credit how big it was. We went on an LST –
a Landing Ship Tank – slept on an iron deck with just a little tarpaulin thing over. That was us. No walls, no nothing. And all you had was a groundsheet on the deck. And bloody hot as hell. No fresh water. The only fresh water they had was what you were allocated, which wasn’t much. Now for ablutions you used ordinary
salt water and you used salt water soap. And I tell you what, it’s not so bloody wonderful. And then we sat there, and then we used to line up for rations – and this was run by the American army . First up in the desert, it was the British Army. In the islands, it was American army. And they used to have a meal at 9 o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the afternoon. And if you’ve ever seen a mob of Australians rebel, you should have seen what they did.
They all started to eat their iron rations. And they went berserk. Anyhow, the Yanks had to give them three meals a day, because they were used to it. And the iron rations was a no-no. You always carried iron rations. Iron rations is a tin about that long and about that wide and about that thick. And in it, it would have prunes a couple of biscuits, things like that. Survival things. And also they had about three cigarettes. Which makes me laugh
today. So we were eating those. And of course they said that’s a no-no. So we landed at Morotai. Now Morotai was an assembly base for the whole force. We was there and then it was on. We were on H plus 1
which was one hour after landing. Of the invasion. Like the assault troops go in and we go in one hour after. But we sat out there, oh, I don’t know how long it was, it would be fascinating and you saw fireworks. Some of the best fireworks I’ve seen in my life and ever seen since is there. There were these Yankee ships that would come in broadside in like that and run along the beach and fire 20 rockets at one time each one. And there were dozens of them.
They were retaliating with mortar fire, but they didn’t do much harm. So eventually they landed and we landed and then we set up camp at… Balikpapan. So we were there and then we set up a proper place then, and of course then things were getting pushed back a bit then. And things were getting a bit more docile
now, and people were having a game of cards at night. And just doing the essential things. And more or less looking after people who were sick, but it wasn’t so desperate as to what it was before. Until one day the war was over, and they approached me, “Would I like to be in the Occupation Force?” And I said, “I’m very sorry, I’m very tired. I want to go home.”
they used to scrounge up some things from the nurses to do up as women, you know. They never got the women, it was all done themselves. But it was entertaining. Just one other part I just might mention here. I was one of the head brewers, making grog for the army. You wouldn’t believe this. But on Sunday when they’re not using the cookhouse, we’d – first of all we’d make jungle juice out of fermented apples, you know, it makes pretty good brew.
But then I done better than that. You’re talking, this is part of the entertainment. My mother used to send hops up, but the only trouble is, we’d bottle it all but you’d have to put a raincoat on when you opened it because there was so much gas in it; it used to blow everywhere. But in the end we done better than all this, my mother got past muster,
they’d used to have the Yanks come out and stay at our place a bit and she used to get grog off them. And to get a loaf of bread, pull all the stuffing out of it, and then push it in back into the bread, and then push all the bread back into the packet. And she used to send it up to us, I thought that was pretty smart; it didn’t break. Outside of that, no, not much, play cards, things like that. It wasn’t so bad
in the islands as what it was in the desert. The desert was more edgy I think. I thought so. I’m not condemning, it wasn’t any worse or better, the only trouble with the islands, you could be well today and sick tomorrow. And that was bad, and not only, if you’d seen my chap, I had dengue fever, I didn’t have malaria thank goodness.
And I got tropical ear, see I had a bad ear, I got half deaf in this ear. That was from the wogs in the water. You never got that in the other place. You had to fight two enemies, the real enemy and the native enemy. Well that’s about that, I’ve answered that one.
condole her mother for a start. Spend time with her family. It wasn’t so much my family, it was her family. Oh dear, it was more over there than our place. Till such times, and the final decision came from her mother,
not by me. She could see the problem, it was pretty hard. I shouldn’t say this but I feel that my own family couldn’t give me a better consideration than what they gave me. I felt like hell, but, although there was sympathy, I never go the understanding that I wanted.
So it hit me pretty hard. So outside of that, took me a couple of years to get over it. But sometimes I hate to say it, you still don’t forget. You can’t. But luckily for Mary, here she is, writing letters to send to people, saying, “Where’s that plaque?”
And all the person says was, “Its got nothing to do with me.” But she did. I met Mary; she’s my late wife’s sister. This is where the condolences come through, they were trying to fill a gap, but that I don’t know how far you want to go here, but there’s a tale.
I can go, this part of it. My whole ambition was, as I said earlier in the thing, to save enough money to establish me when I come out of the army. To give me a home and children and sent me back to a normal life. I come back with a discharge, with an empty world,
with an empty world, with no potential. All I had was my ambition to have enough money to get what I want. All I had that. And I felt there was no answer to it. It was just an unnecessary venture to do, because there was no answer to it. And that was very hard.
And I spent many a lonely hour working this one out. Here I stood, all ready to go, to give me what I wanted, and the thing was cut down when I was up the tree. Well, eventually we got over this but, through her family, not my family, I’m not running my family down, don’t think this,
that I met Mary and with this, she was able to give me what I tried to get before by a home, by a family. And just to, I’m repeating a little bit that’s on the tape.
But as a coincidence, that’s where I started my army career, in Fraser’s Paddock, I ended up living in Fraser’s Paddock. With no, I hadn’t arrange for this at all, it’s the way the thing went. And I was able to buy a piece of ground, put a house on it, and my two children,
which was the answer to what I started to do in 1939. Now if you were, if you can understand that, what I’m getting at, well anybody can, that’s a hard thing. I think I summarised up on that tape, at the end, as best I could, where I ended up, where I got, and where I am now.
Tell us about what you were thinking as you were sent back?
Here’s. They would only give me 10 days’ compassionate leave, for a start. I walked home, I was sent home, and I walked up the back stairs of my home, of my mother’s place and she was there, and she didn’t know I was coming, and when she saw me she got a hell of a shock. And I said, “Yes, I’m here on compassionate leave.” So that was good, everything
was all right. But oh no, it was very hard for me explain that. If you ever know what an empty room is like, to walk in, no matter who was there, nobody was there. My mother was there, I’m not condemning her. There was a friend of ours was there too, but there was that missing
link, all the time. It was a long while after that. But when I went back on compassionate leave, I devised the policy to carry on, I have a job to do, and I done it. I kept going until such time that they didn’t want me any more. I feel, I,
wished I had done it. I wished I stayed in the army. I had the opportunity to do it. I think I would have been better off. Because I was in an environment I was comfortable with. Do you understand? Because this was my life; this had been for 5½ years. I had a life waiting for me, but I lost it,
and what am I going out of the army for, to what? This is cruel, saying this. And I did this and I’ve been sorry ever since. Not because I married Mary; that had nothing to do with it. She gave me, fulfilled the obligation and gave me, and I respect her for it. And I think the world of her too, don’t worry about that, so that is a little part of it,
which you wouldn’t know about it there, unless I told it to you.
Balikpapan is in Borneo. It’s on the east coast of Borneo. It’s a major city, as far as major coastal city. Brunei is not far, as the crow flies;
it’s mostly oil. A lot of oil. It is controlled by the one party. Still, it was in the limelight then. Well it’s mainly… It’s all natives. more or less. I don’t know what it would be like in peace time, I would say it would
be a resort. Because, I think what we did at one stage at Balikpapan, there was one chap we had, he come from Western Australia, and he done a bit of sailing outside and we didn’t have much to do, so we scrounged around, and we got a bit of timber, and we got tied up with army
work, and they cut this timber down and we made a sailing boat, a proper sailing boat. Not a little one, a big one, you go in. And we made it in such then we scrounged up, and we used to, it wasn’t the best of boats, but we used to sail it in the water, just for, I don’t think it was so good, I think it struck a lot of leaks in the end, but then the time we did have a bit of fun, that’s why I think…
But I think what you’d have to watch too. There would be a lot of sharks and stuff around too. You’d had to watch that sort of thing. Swimming, there was no such thing. I don’t think they worried about those sorts of things; those things weren’t even thought of. I don’t think it would be such a marvellous place to live, myself. We went there,
it’s not a place where you can say, “Oh, we’ve got to move this here or there,” there’s none of that – purely a native, overgrown native village.
“Well, blow this, the war is nearly over. I’m not going to put myself out.” If they wanted to have a bit of fun, let them go. But as long as they didn’t overstep their mark. They used to have a two-up school there. They used to play two-up dice at the night time there. I never worried about that. Gee whiz, it was tough enough as it is. So,
therefore, nothing very much, I would say in Koitake and Port Moresby side, I think we created our entertainment. I feel overall, I’m not running anybody down, but I think the war was easier in the islands, than it was in the desert. And I was in both, but I’m not saying I was in hardship.
But if you look at the casualties, you’ll notice there was more in desert than what there was in the islands. And the islands, when I say casualties, I’m not talking ships sunk, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about on the land. I feel that, as I said, sickness was our biggest enemy.
I know they had a rough old trot, as far as the jungle and the things like that, I don’t deny that. But don’t forget that it wasn’t always the enemy fire, a lot of it. The sickness was bad, it was really bad. Which I think is a different outlook and all.
And one thing about it. You can get sick up there and when they come out of the army, that can kill you in the end. But you got a rifle bullet, they’ll fix you up, you’ll be good as new in a few days. That’s the main thing. New Guinea, no, I mean it was only in actual with those in contact. If
he saw you first or you saw him first. A lot of it was sniper work; a lot of it was tree work. There was no such thing as tanks in the jungle, put it that way. There was small few pieces, mortar fire and things like that. But I’m not rubbishing them at all; they all had their problems. But as far as the islands,
even with the Japanese. Island hopping, see you went from one island to the other island. Lines of communication were a different factor altogether. I think in sickness wise, and comfort wise, I think the islands were worse, but
as far as, how would you say, injury wise or comfort wise, I don’t know. I mean, the desert, it’s a horrible place. The only thing is, in the warfare, its open plains and you’re open slaughter.
What they, they haven’t got the sickness, that you had in the jungle so you’ve got to weigh one against the other. And that’s what makes it hard so I just don’t know which I’d rather. I feel, I would rather be in the desert than in the jungle, although the casualty list in the desert was greater.
In the jungle part, you didn’t know what was around, what mite was around the corner. You could be well today and a cot case tomorrow. I feel its an unknown enemy in the jungle, more so than what was in the desert. I hope that answers your question.
Is he still here? I wonder what so-and-so’s family’s doing know.” You do; you do. Like I was down the coast and when we first come down the coast, we met a few of them, and they said, “We must get together.” But it was only a matter of time, 12, 2 years, they weren’t here any more. See, it takes it’s toll afterwards. And this is why
I can’t understand. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve lasted this long, and there’s not many of us left. I’ve only found one of us in the last two years. I don’t know where they are now. Just one point, my wife asked me to mention this. Not so long ago we held a world reunion for the Rats of Tobruk in Brisbane. You might have seen that one time. You would
have been around; it was only 2 or 3 years ago. We were sitting at the table, and lo and behold, the people we sat with were people from the Panzer division of the Rommel’s Army. Now that’s a rare one. And also some Polish people. And she said to the woman, she could speak English, “It’s a big thing for you to join us out here,
in a world reunion of the Rats of Tobruk, we being the victors, and you being the defeated.” And she said her words were, “I think it was a victory for the world, not for individuals.” That was her answer for it. A victory for civilisation she was more or less saying. But I’m sorry, it never turned out that way; this is a war.
That what she thought by doing away with one evil, it might make it better world. I think that’s what she was getting at. And she was very happy and it was a big thing to come all the way from Germany. To Brisbane here. In this reunion. There was a couple of others. I think that was a big thing, to have to do that. But she was thankful
that it ended up, not as a victory, not as a defeat, but actually as she said, a victory for civilisation.