lived in Ballarat until I was two when the family moved from Ballarat to Ringwood. So I grew up in Ringwood, attended the Ringwood Primary School and eventually the Box Hill High Secondary School.
And of course at the time of the high school period was the Great Depression. So at the age of a bit more than fifteen I left school to obtain work. I originally worked for a firm that manufactured dairy machinery.
Separators that sort of thing, and was really a messenger boy. Each day the stores had orders from farmers who needed replacement separator parts and that sort of thing. And they were made up into parcels, addressed and I had to take them down to either Spencer Street Station or Flinders
Street Station, to be dispensed to their address. That was all done by rail. I was only there for about six months and then they changed, they kept people for about six months on those jobs. And I managed to then get another job for a firm of manufacturers’ agents and imported electrical equipment.
And I was there roughly from the age of sixteen until I went into the army. At the outbreak of war I was twenty years old, and at that time the
government had formed the 2nd AIF [Australian Imperial Force], the 6th Division of the 2nd AIF overseas. But being in the age group of twenties, twenty year olds were called up for service in what was then called the militia. Today it’s called the
Army Reserve. To do a three-month military camp, and with some of the people I actually used to go to school with, we went into camp in January 1940 and were there until the end of April 1940. And it was an infantry battalion. The
militia at that time was raised to serve within Australia only. At the end of the three months training, which was an infantry battalion, we had to report to the drill hall at least one night a week for further training. But shortly after we came out of that three-month
training camp, a very good friend of mine, who had been in the militia with us, came around to see me and he had heard of the formation of the 2/8th Field Company in the 2nd AIF. It was just taking place at that time. So the pair of us went to the local drill hall,
had medical examinations, were sent to Caulfield where we were interviewed by officers from that unit. And so on the 6th of June 1940 I was sworn in to the 2nd AIF. And
after two days at Caulfield, which was the receiving depot, we went to Puckapunyal and became part of the 2/8th Field Company. And we started to naturally train with them. The friend that I joined with, in Caulfield we found the third member of our close group
who had been with us in Charleville, in the compulsory training. And the three of us, when we finished the three of us were all in the same unit, but each one of us was in a different section of the unit. At Puckapunyal we trained from that date, the 6th of June.
And late in August we were sent on final leave, and on the 15th of September 1940 we sailed, as we thought at the time perhaps for England. But it turned out we were diverted to the Middle East, to replace an engineering unit
that had been diverted from the Middle East to England. And on the way over our first stop was at Perth, leaving Melbourne, Perth was our first stop. And then Colombo where we had shore leave. And then up the Red
Sea to the Suez Canal, and we off loaded at the Suez Canal at a place called El Kantara. In the middle of the night, because the Italians were bombing Alexandria. So we went from El
Kantara by train to a place called Kastina in Palestine, where we did further training. And at the same time we became at that stage the last unit to join the 6th Division, which was the first division sent overseas. They
had originally left Australia in April 1940. Do you want to ask me any questions?
No I don’t actually, this is your time to give us an understanding of what you have done, without elaborating with too much detail. You are doing fine.
At Kastina originally for about the first week we were engaged in really only marching around the various areas which were a mixture of Arab and Jewish settlements. It was rather
a strange time at that time. For instance we were housed of course in Indian Army tents, which were a big square tent that held about twelve, thirteen people. And the situation there was, for instance your rifle, the big thing there was you had to ensure your rifle wasn’t
stolen. So we removed the bolt. We chain locked to the centre pole of the tent, when we left the tent of a night. The rifles were all chained to the centre pole but the bolt you had to have with you.
And of course if you had lost the bolt or left the bolt in the rifle you were in trouble because they were very concerned about the stealing of arms, probably in the main by the Arabs. I was fortunate that, whilst the rest of the section that I was in were
taken around the old World War I battle area, Beersheba and so on, route marching around the country for about five or six days on end, I with a small group surveyed out an area
about a mile square that had been set aside for the provision of a camp for further troops that had come from Australia. So I had it easy there. And we were only a month all told in Palestine before we moved to Egypt. Back to El Kantara to train, across the canal to a waiting train
on the mainland of Egypt side, and sent all the way to a place called El Amiriya, which is several miles out of Alexandria. But officially we were in the war zone of the Western Desert at that stage. And the difference was if you went AWL [Absent Without Leave] from
there, it was a more serious offence actually then say if you had been AWL from the Alexandria area. And that was November 1940 we arrived there. And shortly before Christmas we moved up to an area just short of, just a little bit east of
Mersa Matruh. In the meantime the Italians at that time had advanced into Egypt, which was neutral; the country of Egypt remained neutral. But the Italians advanced and the Indian troops and English troops had
halted their advance. They took a place called Sollum on the Egyptian side of the border and their advance was stopped before they got to Mersa Matruh. And in actual fact that spot just east of Mersa Matruh, where we had come from El Amiriya
was originally inhabited, was the place where some English troops had been and had dug fox holes and dug outs and we actually occupied that area, because they had vacated it. And we were there for Christmas.
And it was a pretty desolate place really. And then after Christmas, at the very end of Christmas we moved up. In the meantime the Italians had been pushed back to Bardia, and the beginning of January
the 6th Division went into action to capture Bardia. But my section, well the entire bulk of the engineering section we were in, except for a few, never went into action at Bardia at all.
We moved up into a support line area. And with the exception of a bit of shelling that fell pretty short of our area, we were more or less spectators. When Bardia fell there were thousands of Italian prisoners that were marched out. But the minute that the battle at Bardia finished
we got in our trucks and we made a bolt for the outskirts of Tobruk. And actually several miles out from the town of Tobruk, the Italians had built a tank trap from the sea right around back to the sea. So we
were about a mile short from where the tank traps were where we pulled up. And the first instance we turned of f the road to the right, the seaside right. And we were about a mile or so back from the sea. A large number of Italians
who had escaped from Bardia were going along the beach, making their way to Tobruk. And then a couple of fellows who had gone down to have a dip in the sea raced back to say that these people were coming down the beach. And so they sent a patrol down
a group, and raked in about eight hundred or so Italian POWs [Prisoners of War] in the course of a day until the infantry battalions took over that area and we moved to a slightly different area. And in preparation for the eventual battle that
was going to be for Tobruk. We were going to have to bridge the tank trap so that the Bren carriers [lightly armoured tracked vehicles mounting Bren light machine guns] and the tanks could get over it. It was fairly deep, probably fifteen or twenty feet deep. With sloping walls.
And during, actually measurement was taken of the width from side to side during night patrols. The bridging equipment was brought up, it was wooden bridging equipment. The two beams that were to go across, and then they numbered the planks. This was all
prepared before any action was taken. And then a part of the unit, part of even the section I was in, their objective would be to blow a gap through the barbed wire entanglements, look after the minefields so that the infantry
would come through cleared areas and another section, inside the battalion lines they had erected, like a telephone pole about thirty, forty feet high. And they were artillery marking posts. You see, the artillery further back
could see, and they would range further back according these poles indicated. Well one part of the section of headquarter section, not my section, they had the job of knocking these down as quickly as possible. Anyway on
the morning of the assault, we were in, I was in the bridging group. The people who had been delegated to blow the wire and thing, they were going to arrive, they were going to get across that tank trap by a different method, and if the timing was right they
would be blowing the wire as we were laying the bridge down .Well it was about right too that they did. And so we in the dark, in our truck with all of the gear and the crew, waited virtually under the muzzles of the artillery. And the infantry already in open order had started walking
towards the Tobruk area. And at a given signal, the artillery of course opened up first, and the infantry moved. And the truck I was in moved off and we actually went through the infantry lines and we, with the bridging equipment, had the bridge up in about eight or nine minutes.
And then with the wire blown, the wire part took out of action any of the Italians that were in the immediate vicinity. So we then roared through the wire and turned right back towards the main road to help the team that was arriving with some more bridging equipment to bridge the tank trap.
And it was with Tobruk we lost our first casualty, death you know? And that had occurred a little before the actual attack had occurred because our quartermaster sergeant had missed the turn off sign and driven right up to where
the Italians opened fire and killed him, and wounded a couple of others. And so on that particular day that we went in, we were also looking to see if we could find any trace of him at all. We didn’t, but they took some Italian prisoners who had some of
his gear. But then of course the infantry and the Bren carriers and the tanks and so on came and the battle of Tobruk was over virtually in one day.
We, actually some of them got to a hundred and fifty mile past Benghazi, to a place called Agedabia. But we were turned back and we actually arrived outside Benghazi more or less at the head of the column. And the brigadier in charge of the 19th Brigade, Brigadier Robertson, who was later commander of
Allied [Commonwealth] troops in Korea. He actually went into Benghazi and talked them into surrendering the town. And so Benghazi, their own mayor was in charge of the town, they were responsible for their own law and order. And the only troops that
were only all through the week in Benghazi itself was our company who ran the electricity. See the Italians, they ran the thing but we made sure that everything was kept in order. There was, the water, the whole administration of the
town was the responsibility of the Italians but we had the company there to do various jobs that were needed to be. For instance, at the power station, which was right on the wharf area in the harbour, once they knew the Germans were coming into Africa, it was sandbagged all up. Used
Italian POWs to help sandbag up any areas that might help alleviate any bombing that might occur. So that you know the electricity supply was permanent while we were there.
And then we got ordered to return to Egypt, which took several days of course. Well we came back as far as Mersa Matruh eventually, where we were held there for a few days. And from there we came back to El Amiriya where we had originally
been. We were then told that we were going to Greece .Actually all of their transport people, the trucks and everything, about two weeks before the main bulk of the unit, they were off and they were shipped to Greece. At the time
they went, Germany was not at war with Greece. A few days later they arrived in Greece and the Germans then did start. We left Alexandria by ship on the 10th of April and we arrived at
the port of Piraeus in Greece, which had been bombed and wrecked. The Germans had hit an ammunition ship and it destroyed the port facilities. So that we were anchored off shore, and taken ashore by small boats, barges and that. And we arrived there on April the 13th 1941.
And we were transported to a camp just outside Athens. To put that in, if you understand that the camp that we went to in Athens was somewhat similar to the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] is to the city of Melbourne. So that
day we were granted leave to go into Athens, but you had to be three together. And as it happened the two people I joined with, Wal and Henry, the three of us managed to go on leave together. Came back that night.
And the following morning we left Athens, with the transport of course, and headed north. Actually the destination at that point would have been Salonica. The Germans had just crossed the border at that time. So we headed out over those
famous passes that you have talked about, and we headed north. But we didn’t get to Salonica we eventually got to a place called Elasson.
And then put on a train, which took seven days, which took us to Germany to a place about thirty or forty k [kilometres] north of Munich, Stalag 7A [German prison camp]. At a place called Moosburg, which in actual fact
was filled with French until we got there, but also had been extended because in the meantime the Germans had attacked Russia and they had a lot of Russian POWs, which they had extended this camp, big Stalag at Moosburg into a separate, a completely... The Russians were all separated from us.
We were in a compound all on ourselves, but the rest of the camp was French. From there, only being a sapper [private soldier in the engineers] and not an NCO [Non-commissioned Officer] of course we were sent out to work. And I worked in the first camp that I was sent out to, after about
three or four weeks in the Stalag, I was sent with a group of about sixty people to a place just outside Munich called Alach. But we were only there about a fortnight, and I have got details of it over there from proper records.
Then we moved to a nearby place that already housed some English prisoners who had been captured on Crete, a place called Langwein [?], which was a work camp. And that was in the first winter. The winter was just starting off
when we arrived and there had been heavy snow falls. And the first work that I was on was in the railways.
my grandfather, who also had a second orchard in South Warrandyte. So the one in Ringwood was not inhabited. And my father was a carpenter and built a house on the orchard and that’s where we lived. About thirty acres of fruit trees and about
five or six acres, a wooded area that ran through the property, with a creek. Now in regard to the Depression era, we were very lucky that for instance my father owned his own home. We lived on an orchard, which provided fruit and so on,
we had chooks [chickens] and things like that. We had firewood from the creek area. But my father of course had a hard time in that he was without work for about three years or more. But as far as the children
were concerned, I had a brother and a sister, we were very well looked after. And protected in many ways from the sort of tough life that a lot of people had at that time.
And it meant that me being at high school was costing them money for fees and uniforms and so on, that eventually the thing became too great a burden so that’s when I first left school. To go to work. To help out as much
as I could. And in fact the Depression wasn’t really over when the war broke out. But around about 1935, my father started to get some regular work again. Of course in those days the building industry was much different to today where
they were employed on an hourly basis, with no holiday pay or sick pay or anything of that nature. So although he was back in work and it helped immensely, there were times between jobs that life was a bit difficult for them.
But there again as I said, for us children we were sheltered from that. And the work I got was… because I hadn’t finished my education, or got my leaving certificate. They used to have, there was the Intermediate Certificate and
then the Leaving Certificate. So jobs as far as I was concerned I was very lucky with my second one I got, in that although I would have probably lost it at the age of twenty-one and they would have probably got another sixteen year old. But from about the age of sixteen until twenty when I did join the army I did have regular work.
And in actual fact when we, as twenty year olds, had to do the three month training, the situation was that the people that you worked for had to re-employ you. But I only went back to work for a week or so before, with my friend, we decided to
Well at one stage, my father did a bit of work on the orchard for my grandfather, for his father. But when you say how did it affect them? Well I would say that my father was deeply concerned that this had happened and
he had a family you know, to provide for .And I think it would have left an impression on him for the rest of his life really. Because as I say, later, from about 1935, well in 1935 he was working on a theatre that was being built in Caulfield, and he had an industrial accident that
wrecked his elbow. And from then on, he couldn’t straighten his arm right out. It didn’t affect him in working, but it had that effect that he couldn’t straighten it. And it made it hard for him, for instance he never drove a car, never ever,
he bought a car in the good times before the Depression; he had saved a lot of money. Because work through ‘27, ‘28, ‘29 was… tons of work. Lot of theatres being built and that sort of thing, which he worked on. And eventually later on, he bought a second hand car, but the accident, and fortunately I
was getting up near the age where I could eventually get a licence and I used to drive them anywhere they wanted to go. And for that privilege, if I wanted to go out on a Saturday night to the pictures or something I had the use of the car. Which was very handy when I joined the army and came home on leave. But from about 1935 onwards he started to get reasonably steady work.
And then when the war broke out, he was a First World War fellow, he went into the department of, what eventually became housing and construction, but it was on war work. So that meant that he was, from virtually the time war broke out, and he went into this department of
construction, which was engaged in all sorts of war projects. He had permanent work then. And then after the war, the department became the Department of Housing and he remained with them, doing military work a lot of the time, until he retired.
At the age of sixty-five.
He went into the 7th Infantry Battalion and they were in the first convoy that went away to Egypt in the First World War. He did not land on Gallipoli on the first day. He landed on Gallipoli a little bit later on. I don’t know whether it was the second day or the fourth or fifth. He never ever elaborated much on those sorts of things.
But then eventually they went to France, and he was in some various very famous battles really, Passchendaele, Bullecourt among others. He was very badly wounded on a couple of occasions. He had machine gun bullet wounds in both legs; he had a piece of shrapnel
in his chest, which they never ever attempted to remove., Because it originally apparently lodged very close to his heart. But in later years it moved. He had a scar here in his chest. But in later years it moved a bit and you could feel it you know? If you put his hand…. But in all of those times
and all of those various battles, and in one of them he was gassed, but luckily escaped the full extent of it. And we, I did have photos of him in hospital in England from his wounds and so on. Eventually he married my mother, she was a war bride, she was an
English girl from London. And she came back to Australia a bit before he did. And he arrived back in 1919 at the height of the big flu pandemic that was then on. And they
steamed into Port Phillip Bay and went straight to the what's-i-name camp? You know the camp on the peninsula. They were put into camp for two or three weeks whilst my mother lived with my grandparents in South Warrandyte. And when
he, a lot of his friends came from the Ballarat area so immediately he was discharged my mother and he went to Ballarat and that’s where I was born in 1919 June. But the climate there was absolutely, the winter climate there affected his thing with the gas.
the same. So there were lots of humorous incidents. There was a stationmaster on a metropolitan station in Melbourne who was one of his colleagues. He had met this fellow, they were wounded and they were in England in hospital, and he used to say to me,
if we were coming to town on the train. And we would arrive on this station and always you know, he would yell out to this fellow to say hello and so on. And my father would tell me, this fellow when he got drunk first of all he would start singing, and then eventually he would break down and cry you know.
Whereas other fellows they would want to fight everybody, and things like this. And different things about when they used to have a bit of trouble with the military police when they went on leave in London and things like that you know. But as regards to the battles that took place in Passchendaele and [(UNCLEAR)] and various other places that he had been,
no never. Never. At home in the kitchen he had a photo of the River Clyde. It was a ship at Gallipoli and it ran itself virtually ashore and this was a picture but he would never, I had no idea about what he went through.
And we knew that the other thing was when we moved from Ballarat to Ringwood and the climate suited him, we also found out that he could go to the seaside for a day but it was impossible for him to go and stay for a week at the seaside because that affected him. But gradually
as the years went by that disappeared. He lived to be ninety-seven years and eight months old.
rang me up to say that he had became unwell, and that they had taken him to the Lilydale Hospital for observation and some tests. So I immediately took off, and I was at Rosebud of course at that time. And raced up to the hospital to see him and he
said to me that they had forgotten at the retirement place to pack a few things, he wanted some toothpaste and odds and ends. So eventually I went down and got these things .And we sat there, he was in bed and we had a chat. Later when I left and my brother was arriving to see him, and I went back home.
And later that night the doctor rang me up and he said to me that he had a cancer which was spreading, and he really, perhaps not these words, but he asked me what I wanted to do about it, I was his executor. What did I
want him as a doctor to do? And I said, “Well just make him comfortable. We don’t want him cut open or anything.” He wouldn’t have been able to stand that. And the doctor thanked me really for saying that, and said, “That would be what I recommended too.”
So I went back to see him the next day and he was a bit sleepy you know. And so on, I went back the following day and he was somewhat similar. Not, he was sort of, obviously they had given him painkillers, he was half asleep and half awake, and we went back on the third day
and he was dying. He was not able to talk to us anymore or anything. But he had said, my mother had died several years earlier and that devastated him, and he had said to me the first day I went to see him, we were talking about different things. And he said to me, “You know I think I have had about enough.”
He didn’t know at that stage what the doctor had said to me later that night. But in actual fact, because that is what he had said to me, that’s what I said to the doctor; he was just to be made comfortable. And that was it, I think it was about four days he was in hospital and that was it. I think really in the finish
he really, as he had said to me, he had had about enough. So you know, he had a good death really.
had been a very keen sportsman, and even when he came home from the war and he was in Ballarat and wasn’t in the best of health. Not himself, but he joined the local rowing club because our next door neighbour in Ballarat was a family called McPherson and one of the McPhersons was a world famous sculler.
But as a very young man before he even went to the war he was a very good footballer. You can’t tell these things, but I think had there not been a First War at that time he may well have played league football [Australian Rules football], you know. So as kids we
cricket, football you know. Because we had the backyard, we could kick a ball around you know. And, although I played school football and so on at high school and that. I would never have made big-time football, but my brother did. My brother
eventually played, after the war which he himself had been in, and was far too old really, although there again, if World War II had not occurred he would have been a league footballer by the time the war started. But he did play a few, he was with
Footscray [Australian Rules Football club] for about three seasons. But mainly as a reserve player, he played a few games when people were injured from one thing or another. And that was my father really, he encouraged and helped us to enjoy sports, you know.
Royal Australian Engineers; so in World War II there was a 2/8th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. You see? So that tradition actually carried over. So I suppose subconsciously even without thinking about it, you are imbued with that. And there is no doubt about that Anzac tradition amongst the First
World War fellows, they really did all, you know, they stuck together. And Anzac Day used to draw much bigger crowds then you would today. And those infantry battalions, well all of the battalions, the Light Horse and so on and so on. They were all very very close. So
you know, I suppose even subconsciously that was part of your feeling towards those people. You grew up with it. And later on in later life I have read so much about them, and they were supermen, there is no doubt about that. Those fellows at Gallipoli
you know they scaled a cliff. And in France the conditions, they were, some of them, they were supermen yes. Much more than we were. And it’s rather funny, I had to get their permission because I was only twenty, if you were under twenty-one you had to have your parents’
permission, written. They signed the thing. And when I was on final leave, I came into town very near the finish of my final leave, with my father, he was on his way to work and I came with him to see some friends, and I know that he was
really chuffed you know, that I had joined. Because he said to me, “You know,” he said, “In a way I wish I could come with you too.” which was impossible but I know what he meant. You know it was a bond that we had. And it
was a bond more particularly when I got home. After it was all over. So there was a very strong bond between him and I.
said, “But I don’t have to tell you, you would know what it was like.” And he did, he would. The funny part about it was that I think my mother was really pleased that I had joined the engineers; she thought that, not the infantry. But what she didn’t know, and my father would have known this,
in the engineers if you are advancing you are going to be right up there in front, and if you’re retreating, as we were in Greece, we were the last out. And he would have known all of those things. I didn’t have to tell him. And he was, I can remember
when there was the very first Royal Tour. And they had a thing on at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for all of the ex-servicemen. And I though, they said, “Wear your medals.” And I had never seen my father’s medals. And I am on my way to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and I run into him, he has got his medals on, and I said,
“Where are you going?” and he said, “The same place as you.” So you know, he, but I know from what he thought of his mates that had been with him.
and quite a few of the fellows from the ex-7th Battalion and so on that he had been with and that he had come home with, they worked there you see. And from time to time we would go back to Ballarat for two or three days. And there was his mates,
that was the reason he had gone back. And we had some very good friends: the people next door and there were other people just down the road that apparently used to baby-sit me and all of the rest of it. And when the original Parliament House was built in the 1920’s, ‘27 around about that.
A little bit before he went up to Canberra working on the Parliament House and was away for a month and then would come home, and then go back. And whilst he was away, we would go back for a couple of weeks to Ballarat to stay with these people who used to live next door to us. With my mother you see? And originally me,
and eventually my brother. I don’t think my sister ever went back, she was seven years younger than I. But there was a bond with those people and there was bond with the people that he knew in the city. He used to talk about Pompey Elliott a bit because he was a hard taskmaster, and when they were training in Egypt
doing these route marches to toughen them up. Apparently, Pompey Elliott used to ride his white horse, and he used to tell me things like this. He’d say, “The old bugger would be on his white horse and we were slogging it away.” And you know things like this, but never ever about what it was like in the trenches and that.
we didn’t have of course the facilities that the kids do today. So a lot of the things were very much simpler, some of the things even homemade. We had a football, which we had the room to kick around the back yard. We had the same
amount of room to have a game of cricket. And in actual fact in those days there was no sport on Sunday but with a couple of friends, and one who lived in East Ringwood, and he had a pretty decent paddock. There was a cricket pitch on it
we got some golf clubs and used to whack a ball around the big paddock. That was when I was a little bit older. But as young ones we, also of course I learnt to prune apple trees, I used to look after the horses when they were left ,feeding, I am talking about feeding
to elaborate a little on that, my grandfather’s orchard in South Warrandyte, and this one was in Ringwood about four and a half mile apart. My grandfather was physics master at Swinburne Tech [Technical College] as it was then. But my uncle worked fulltime running the orchards. My grandfather in his school holidays
also worked on the orchards during that time. So now in the picking season a lot of the apples of course were exported to England. And the exporting company would send in packers so as the fruit was picked, the fruit was graded, the export type fruit was packed and
sent away. And the rest of the stuff was on the local market. Now as a kid I was mixed up in all, even as a young kid. And the horses normally when they were working the Warrandyte orchards would be in Warrandyte and at least one would be on the Ringwood orchard when there was work being done there. Now
at the end of the day, we had stables, that horse was brought in and he would be stabled. And I would feed, and he would be watered and fed, and I’d do feeding. Feed him and so on. We had a big ex-army draught horse called Bill who I used to lead in. I fell in front of him once
and I rolled up you know and he put his foot, he didn’t put it on me. He somehow or other slid past, it was the same with his back foot, he didn’t tread on me. And yet I’ll swear he knew not to. I used to take him up from
the orchard, you know lead him up on the rope, put him up in the stable. Even at a fairly young age. So there was all those sort of things. As I say I learnt to prune apple trees and so on. We had apples. There was a ten acre part of the orchard that was all pears. And twenty acres of apples. With a small plot of
cherry trees. Really only about a dozen, they were only put there to attract the bees to pollinate. So as a young child I lived an outdoor life. There was plenty of things around, for instance, the firewood. We used to obtain our firewood from the creek area
which was all bush. So I used to help bring it up to the house. And for the light firewood that you would use to start the fire, you know the kindling wood. That was one of my jobs. I used to have to see there was kindling wood for my mother lighting the fire each day. As
my brother got a bit older he too used to, he had other, you know we had chooks, we used to have to go and collect the things. So we lived the life you know, all spread around there. The school was a mile and a half from where we lived; we used to walk to school. It was over the other side of the railway line, the Ringwood Primary School.
And we always walked to school, all the kids did. And you knew the neighbours around the area. And we used to, there were kids that you used to fight with and there were kids that you were mates with and played with. And a lot of
the kids, at the time that the fruit was on, you know, a little bit of fruit here and there spread around the place. And that was another thing, in the picking season there used to be kerosene cases that held originally sometimes two four gallon drums of kerosene, sometimes of petrol.
But those cases, you know when the apples were picked out of the bag into the case. Well at weekends and this is, I am talking about the height of the Depression; you would get people come in and jump one of the fences way down from where the house was. Well away from the house and perhaps nick a few apples, you know?
That was okay. But people who would damage the trees or try to take a case load that had been picked and was waiting to be picked up to fetch up to the packing shed. That was out of bounds you know. Most of the JPs [Justices of the Peace] around the district were all orchardists and they would frown
upon anyone who, so. And we had a dog that seemed to know when this was going on you know. And he would come and bark and my father would nick down with us following hot on his heels. And I can remember that, if a fellow had a case full you see, my father would say, “Well you have got two choices. You’re either put in for
stealing fruit or you can pay for the case full of apples plus the cost for the case.” And the price would be a bit higher than what you bought them for in the shop, but that was part of the what's-a-name you know. And most of them would in the finish rather than front the JPs who were all orchardists. And anyone who ever had
an orchard would be crooked on people who broke branches on a good apple tree or a good fruit tree or anything like that. So you know, we had a good life really. And with very few toys, except what we made ourselves. I can remember a friend
of my father made a model of a steamship out of wood. We were greatly delighted at this as a gift because the dam, we would float the thing in the dam. Kids with imaginations make up all sorts of games and things. I’d say my brother would similarly reckon the same. Even my sister.
not a church-goer. But we went to Sunday school until we were about fourteen when my father’s attitude was, “You’re old enough to make up your mind whether you want to go or not.” And of course we were living, times were very different then, as I mentioned
before no sports on a Sunday. Even in the middle of the summer, the baths, the local baths would not open on a Sunday. That was the way things were in those days. Saturday afternoon was sport. Sunday was church, nothing else. Nothing like, Anzac Day in those days
was the Anzac march in the afternoon. It was a closed day, no pubs open, not legally anyway. And things, so with regard to Sunday school, at the age of fourteen I decided I know I could go and see my mates rather than. So
no religion; with my grandfather, my uncle used to go to the Methodist Church and my grandmother. He was unmarried at that stage. But no, our family were not really church-goers. Although my mother apparently had been a
Sunday school teacher when, in her earlier days before she met my father.
a member of a lodge and the Chinese laundryman in Ringwood, I used to take his shirts to that fellow. His starched shirts to be done. And so that, he would have been a permanent resident of Ringwood. I don’t know if he had a family. I only ever saw him in the shop on Miranda Highway, where he had his little laundry.
I always remember, you used to always hear him coming from the back of the shop, his feet sliding along the. And the market gardener who used to come around the area intermittently was not a local. He didn’t live locally. But there
as regards to other church, neighbours I knew one group of neighbours who were members of the Methodist Church. And another family we knew very well were Church of Christ. There were people we knew who were members of, it was the Church of England in those days,
now it’s the Anglican Church. And of course we went to school; there was no Catholic School in my early days of primary school, so all of the Catholic kids were classmates. That, in fact you didn’t even worry. The Pratts and the Connells and so on and so on. Bakers, we all went to
school together. Des Lindsay and so on. But later on they got a parish, the Catholics got a parish school but that was after my time at the Ringwood Primary School. And the main group of the Australian population at that time consisted of
locally born people, English, Irish or Scottish. And that was the mix.
I am certain that she didn’t drink. I don’t know where that came from. I do not know where that part came from. I think in my father’s case that perhaps he was reinforced a bit by perhaps some of the things
about drink that went on in the army. But in actual fact in my case we just followed on. I do have a drink now. And in fact really when I got back to England from Germany and we got leave, I went to stay with my mother’s sister
and her husband in London for part of the time I was on leave in London. And Uncle Will, he used to have his happy hour in the evening. They had a business. He used to have his happy hour, in England it was quite different to what it was in Australia, no six o’clock close or things like that.
And he would say to me, “Come on we’re going down to the pub.” So to be sociable I would have a glass of beer. English beer, warm, terrible. Eventually afterwards, after I was home and that, I would have an odd beer. I still do. Or if we are out for a meal I will have a glass of wine. But I
have never been what you would call a drinker. All of the time I was in the army I stayed right away from it. And the very first drink I ever had on our way out to Luxembourg city we were off the road, we had to get off the road at nighttime. And we were
we pulled into an American air base, in Germany this is. And the officers there invited us, it was funny. There was a driver and an offsider American, two Americans. They had to go and eat in the mess with the men, but myself and the cobber [friend] that
was with me, we got invited to the officers’ mess and they gave us a bottle of champagne too, they said, “Now when you cross the Rhine, and you are on your way out, you know. Have a toast.” So we had these two bottles of champagne, and when we were on our way to Luxembourg city we opened them.
Well I had just a taste, didn’t like champagne, I still never. But I you know, we had a, “Here is to victory.” So I had a little taste.
Cheaper then you would from a normal shop. Incidentally too, they used to issue us a bottle of beer a day with the top taken off it, on the boat. Well I had no trouble; there were people there who really, I would just give my bottle away. But the cigarettes, and the bottle of beer, you would buy a bottle of beer
that would cost you about nine pence. I think it was only eleven pence. See we often, when we were in the three month militia, eventually after one month they allowed you the next weekend to go home. And we would get into Melbourne, around about lunch time. Used to nick across to the pub
opposite. And you would have potato and mash lunch on the bar. And I’d have a glass of lemon squash and you would have that meal. That would cost you about threepence for the meal and sixpence for the glass of lemon squash. So it was,
not then that I started smoking but later. But I can’t pinpoint, I couldn’t honestly say why I started. But I did. And for years afterwards I smoked a pipe. But in Germany and the prisoner of war camp, with the Red Cross parcel,
the English one had a couple of packets of Senior Service cigarettes in the parcel. The American one had fifty; they’d be like Chesterfields and so on. Or it would have a two-ounce packet of pipe tobacco. And that’s when I started on the pipe. Then
that’s much later though, you probably don’t want. But with the smoking I started in the army and I continued on in civilian life afterwards until I was forty. And I am glad I gave it away. I remember my doctor in Ringwood telling me once, he knew that I had given it away and he said to me, “I am pleased
to hear that, otherwise you would only end up with emphysema.” which a lot of them do of course. Anyway that was it.
it was night time. I am talking, not Australia, I am talking about when England. From memory I think it was a Friday night, I could check that because I have got the ‘39 calendar there. But I had deliberately, I had bad teeth. I had a fall of a push bike, and I had my four front teeth out and I had a partial plate
which was ruining the rest of my teeth. And knowing that I would eventually want to go into the army, I arranged to go into the dentist and have these teeth that were starting to decay removed, and it was all on the upper. And got a full plate. So when I went for the medical examination in the army
they couldn’t knock me back because I had bad teeth. See? Although I found out afterwards they would have fixed them up anyway. So, that was done the day England declared war on Germany. So I have got a very vivid memory of that. The other part of the vivid memory I have got, my mother broke
down and she was inconsolable. Because, this was after I got home. She had lived through London in World War I, she knew about bombing raids although it was much worse in World War II, and she knew it was going to be worse. And it was, the Zeppelins and that.
And of course she was thinking of her sister, and her two younger children. Or two children, one was the same age as I am and one was younger. So she was inconsolable. Actually to be honest I would say that myself and the mates that I eventually went to war with were all excited.
There had been Czechoslovakia twelve months earlier or several months earlier. And then it gradually got worse and it was declared you know. And we were excited really. Like we knew that we would go, we knew that obviously in all probability,
be going overseas. No way would any of the three of us ever have been able to afford in those years, to have an overseas trip. And for mine, when I joined even the militia, we got five shillings a day. And that caused friction between us and the people who had been in the
militia before us. Because a private in the militia got eight shillings a day. We got five and the 2nd AIF people got five. Now my father got five shillings a day in 1914. And the Australian pound was on par with the pound sterling. When we got five shillings a day, it
cost us twenty-five shillings to buy an English pound or an Egyptian pound or a Palestinian pound. So what they did, they gave somebody on five shillings a days an extra sixpence a day for exchange differences.
Because I got seven shillings a day I got nine pence. And corporals who paid more and sergeants got paid more. But the nine pence a day never really covered the difference. And the only country we were ever in where the Australian currency was worth more than the local currency was Greece.
In Greece, an Australian pound was worth a bit more than a local pound. But I was what fifteen days, aside from the one afternoon and one night in Athens we never had a chance to spend any money anyway. And had no chance of spending anything on Crete.
mother’s situation with worrying about her sister, they were very close and that. I thought I am going to have to wait until I am twenty-one, my old man won’t be in it. But eventually, and I found out this later, that originally I was physically examined by our own local doctor in the drill hall
in Ringwood. And my mother was not very keen at all on me going. But my father said, “Well look, it is not long before he is twenty-one; if he doesn’t wait until he was twenty-one and I wouldn’t sign,
he would only go off somewhere and put his age up anyway.” So my concern was that I might have to wait until I was twenty-one. In what happened later, you might say perhaps I should have. But had I done that, I would have finished up in
the 8th Division probably in Singapore. So I was always very pleased that he didn’t put any obstacles in the finish in the way. Because Wal, the mate that came to see me, he turned twenty-one in the
December so he would have had to only wait three months. Henry our other one, he was twenty-one in March and he would have had to wait until March if his parents hadn’t, and I was the following June, I used to say to them, “You are both oldies.” they were both older than me. By three months and six months. So
yeah from the time of Czechoslovakia when it became obvious, not at the time that Chamberlain went to Munich, but if you remember at the time of Czechoslovakia, he [Hitler] demanded the return of the Sudetenland. And that was agreed to at Munich, but a few months later, he grabbed all of Czechoslovakia, well we knew then.
It was at that stage that even Chamberlain was saying thus far and no further. So it was from that time that we were sitting there waiting for that overseas trip.
other carpentry bit was my second trade test. That was, they had a trenching system out the back of Puckapunyal and two of us were given a job to build a frame that would support the dugout [underground bunker]. After that, except for a little job we did in Benghazi, which wasn’t
it was only a couple of hours. Most of the time I was on explosive stuff. You know, either carting it, carrying it, helping to plug it into the bridges or whatever. And the army manual
provides that the detonators will be fixed upon the fuse with a special pair of crimping pliers, none of which we had. And we had a couple of coalminers, no one coalminer and two goldminers from Bendigo, who were the explosives people, you know.
And I well remember the fellow from Bendigo was named Goldie Drummond, and without the special crimping pliers he would push the detonator onto the fuse wire, put it in his mouth and bit it
to crimp the fuse onto the, I thought, “Wow! But you got used to doing those sorts of things you know. There weren’t some of the things available that you should have had, or if they were somebody else was using them and so on. But strangely enough I never saw anyone
accidentally hurt because of that. But yeah there was all sorts of strange different things to which you had never been used to, but it just naturally came to you as you saw other people, who were experienced in one thing or another. And so on.
is the shot because it cuts it like a saw. You can go along and put a slab on each rail, and that’s it, the rail’s neatly cut. Amatol is used for a different type of explosion, very handy under big culverts and things like that because it plucks things out you know.
And there is of course, which comes in sticks which you have probably seen somewhere along the track. And then there is the Bangalore torpedo, which is a three-inch water pipe, six feet long, and you pack the whole lot with amatol,
and you run an ordinary fuse in with a special one so that when the explosion occurs the flash at this end is instantaneous with a flash that end. And they were used for blowing a hole through barbed wire. The type of barbed wire, not like you use on fences,
was actually dammit [?] wire and it was very difficult to cut but these Bangalore torpedoes as they call them, they would make a big gap in it. So mainly it was dynamite, amatol or gun cotton, depending on what you were trying to destroy.
That was the sort of thing we used in Greece, in the desert we were doing other things. We were delousing mines. And the Italian mines, we got lots of high explosive out of the accumulation of lifting up mines. But
we were advancing and it wasn’t until Greece that we really got into destroying stuff with explosives in a really big way.
How did you adjust to the regimentation of the army?
Well to be honest I enjoyed it, I didn’t mind. It’s a funny thing, for instance in Puckapunyal we were in galvanised iron huts, no lining. Had a simple lattice door, at the end which you clipped together, a couple of steps down to ground level. Windows were a galvanised iron flap that you lifted out and you had a piece of wood you know.
And your equipment inside, you were on a palliasse which is a straw-filled hessian bag virtually [used as a bed]. Now that each day had to be folded a certain way, your blankets folded and put on top of it. And your kit. Now the army would decide whether you wore a greatcoat or
you didn’t. Usually it turned out you wore a greatcoat when it wasn’t going to rain. And the order was you don’t wear a raincoat when it would rain. That wasn’t always the way but it seemed that way at times. But that greatcoat had to be folded the proper way on your kit and so on. And there was your main pack and so on, depending on what they were ordering you to wear on the
given day. And if they made an inspection and they didn’t like the way you had folded things up, you had to do it again. There were all sorts of rules and regulations that they could apply. You could be fined in the army for not obeying a command to
take that smile of your face, things like that. But that didn’t worry me. There was a general rhythm to your day. I am talking about now when you are in a place like Puckapunyal, when you fell in [formed up] as a section to be counted. And the drill that you went through, you
marched into parade, you didn’t run. There is one fellow out there who is the marker and you call to fall in, well you march. And you line up and they dress to the right and all of this business. Everything is done by orders from an NCO and so on. And the final thing of falling in on a
parade, the sergeant who shouted the orders then reports to an officer on the salute and all the rest of it. But that didn’t worry me at all. There was a rhythm. And I suppose because we had that three months we knew exactly what to do when somebody said, “Fall in.” or “Fall out.” And so on. So
the food was good hard solid food, nothing fancy. You had regular hours of sleep and so on. And I actually, I blossomed on it physically; I meant I got hard and so on. And I know that by the time I was in the
Middle East I weighed about fourteen stone, and I wasn’t fat. I was really fit, fitter than I have even been in my life. So a lot of the things that might have upset people in the discipline and that didn’t ever worry me. I enjoyed it, I must admit that.
And on top of everything else, the pay I was getting and the fact that I was fed and clothed and had access to medical or dental, you know. I was better off then I had been in civilian life. So I really never ever looked back on that period of time and thought it was anything else but, you know
Puckapunyal, only one really. And a fellow that I could say I didn’t have any time for and I didn’t like him in any way. And in actual fact he was a bully, well fortunately anyway he didn’t stay with us right through. Greece finished him and he wasn’t with us
anymore, which was good. I had one real confrontation with him. He backed off so and from then on in, he was just somebody there. You know he was neither a worry or anything else as far as I was concerned.
It was over and done with, but that’s what you had to do and he was the only person. All of the other people in the section I got on pretty well with. Of course it continued on, I have been a member, we had the association started before we got back home,
and I have been a member of that right from the beginning of the time I came home. All the years and as I say I finished up president of that about ten years ago. And my association with all of those people over all of those years has been very good. I have enjoyed my company with them and so on.
But it is a fact that you get bonded with people, not so much in Puckapunyal and that but through your experience in Libya and Greece and that, and you are very reliant on one another.
your sub-sections you see? So you have got your section and your sub-section. So that means that the closest you ever get to anybody is within that group of twelve or thirteen people, one of them is a truck driver. You do everything with that group. You have got a corporal. The
set-up is, you have got one lieutenant, there’s one sergeant, two lance-sergeants, there’s about four corporals, and there would be one or two lance-corporals. And they are all in a group, like the two lance-sergeants, one is half of the full section and the other fellow is the other half.
The sergeant is in charge, the lance-sergeant is not the full sergeant. But a sergeant in charge, there is only one and he is the whole lot. And it spread down between these other lance-sergeants and corporals. And so within the group of thirteen, they were the
people you live with and eat with. If you are going to be sent out on a job, they’ll be the people, you might have some extras, you might have another section come with you, but that sub-section were the closest people that you live with. And they’re the closest people you work with. And there were times when it goes outside,
like there was a time in Greece where I was assigned to a truck driver and we were taking high explosives from a dump to where it was needed to destroy bridges and things. So we were two together, just the two of us and the rest were working with all of the compressors and doing the work
that we were bringing the explosives for. Things like that, so that’s the way it is. And there again it reinforces the situation of where you’re dependent on each other in the group.
they did have brothels that the army, it was okay to go to, where the medical officers examined the women and so on apparently. And there were places that were off-limits, that if you went to you were in trouble. Even on the way home through the Suez Canal, we stopped on the Atlantic side
and we were ashore in Panama City and you couldn’t get off the boat without getting one of these blue light get-ups. And I was a bit embarrassed, not then but later, because I put it in the inside pocket of the jacket. Fitted quite nicely in it. It was there one time when I arrived home and I was on leave
and it was still there, and I thought, “Well crikey, if my mother goes through, I better get rid of that.” Even the padre, when he came ashore, no one was exempt. Panama was a pretty dirty place and we got a bit of a lecture about it before we went ashore.
Everybody, everybody was issued, everyone from top to bottom. So there was those sort of briefings. And they point out, it was a self inflicted wound.
Can you describe it for us?
Well I got my mate out before he really got in. But I’ll tell you what they did. I told you about in Benghazi we were the only troops actually in the city. And at the weekend they used to bring up, there was a train ran from Barce to
Benghazi which was run by people in the 2/1st Field Company and I was a POW later on in the same camp with a fellow that used to drive it. And they would have the infantry people who were out in the outskirts brought in for a day’s recreation leave. And the army had, Italian women they were,
a brothel, an authorised brothel in Benghazi for these people coming from outlying areas. And the best two-up game in Benghazi used to be at the end of the queue of these fellows. You know there would be quite a few of them go through, and they had a group of Italian women in this place. The Italian Army had, incidentally, to our surprise
when we got into Tobruk, the Italian Army had women, they had brothels, field brothels they were for the Italian soldiers. And of course, when we got to Germany there were some of the fellows took up with German women
they were trading black market with. But I always felt that I didn’t go over there for that. Couldn’t stomach that. So anyway I am sorry but I really never indulged. In a way I suppose I was lucky because I was unmarried and I hadn’t had any real experience of sex.
it became a foursome. And this girl when we were overseas she used to write and so on. And she even wrote a couple of letters to me while I was a POW but she eventually
wrote me a letter asking me not to write to her again, that she was going to get married. But it was not a serious affair, you know, that we had. I mean we used to go to the pictures together, the four of us, and things like that. And of course prior to joining the army, I knew
a few of the local girls. Used to see them of a Friday night. But I had never had what you call a serious. I wasn’t engaged or anything. And the other thing is, you are going away, you don’t know how long you are going to be away,
you know all sorts of things. There is not much sense in having a real serious thing that would obligate say the person you had left behind. But anyway yes there was this lass that I knew, she wrote to me. I sent her once a
gift, I was on leave in Alexandria and I bought a little present, which I sent home for her. But eventually, and I knew it would end once I was a prisoner. You know, there were married fellows whose
wives shot through on them. There was a couple of unfortunate cases I knew of where the wife kept taking the allotment and the fellow found out because of relative who wrote to him. And then he had to write back to the army to tell them to stop the allotment.
So you know, that sort of involvement was better to be out of than in.
Palestine and the officer came down to see how we were getting on. And I said to him, “How long do you reckon this will be before we get home?” And he said, “I reckon eight to ten years.” because at that stage everything was going against us. The Italians, France, all the rest of Europe had fallen,
and the Italians were in. It did look like a long haul you know. But my own thoughts were that we would be very lucky if it wasn’t as long as the First World War and you couldn’t expect unattached people to hang around. And on top of that,
would you get home? You know you mightn’t get home. Or you mightn’t get home in one piece. And you wouldn’t want to burden anybody if you came home with no legs or you came home a TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pensioner], a wreck. You know, so that was all right.
This lass as I say wrote and she said she was getting married. And I could understand in those days that she wouldn’t want... And the other thing was of course that one month you got a fold-up letter folded into three and the next month you just got a postcard. So you know, you never had a lot, like in the army I could write five letters a week if I wanted to my family
and all my friends. But when I was a POW and my own family didn’t find out that I was a POW until after the event, they didn’t know if I was alive or dead or what. So that letter that I wrote home and the postcard that I wrote home was important to let my,
particularly my mother who was upset in the first instance. So on odd occasions I wrote to my sister, and on occasion, I didn’t write to my brother because my brother went into the army and he went up to the islands you see. So he wasn’t at home.
But my sister was at home, she was at school. So I wrote a letter to her I can remember on one occasion, but the rest of my letters were for my mother really. I remember that I did on one occasion too though, one month I wrote to my mother’s sister in London to tell her I was a POW you know, knowing that
she would write to my mother as she did. To tell her what I had written to her. So I had no, I was fancy free.
and people looking for their relatives for a moment as the train slowly went by. And the train of course rode right onto the pier itself, which was guarded by some unit who was responsible for security. And we
got out of the train. You might visualise the fact that we had kitbags, rifles, all of our webbing, everything virtually that we owned that needed to go on the ship with us. And we boarded the ship, which a forward team had gone aboard
a couple of days before and the ship was the Nieuw Holland which had been taken over as a transport, war transport. It was a Dutch ship that used to supply from Melbourne, Sydney and around to Indonesia, which
in those days was a Dutch colony. And the ‘new’ of the Holland was spelt as the Dutch would, N-I-E-U-W Holland. And it was a ship of about ten thousand tons that normally would have carried perhaps a hundred passengers. The rest would be cargo. The officers and the nurses
that came aboard occupied all of the cabins. And the rest of us were in the cargo area, mess decks. I was lucky I was only one deck down, which wasn’t too bad. But I believe further down it was, well we were all crowded, with the portholes screwed shut
against any light escaping at night time, it was not terribly comfortable for those who were down there. But fortunately too though they had a ship’s guard of, I think there was about twenty-four of us. And we did one day on, one day off.
In two hours on, two hours off mode. And the system was that me and my mate were down, I have forgotten whether it would be the starboard side or the port side, the poop deck at the back, looking out. And our duty was to spot for any floating mines that might be about, or the possible sighting of a periscope
of a submarine, or the wake of a torpedo if one was launched. I don’t know, well in the first instance all the way across we did not see anything of that nature. I don’t know whether we could have done anything much about it had there been, but we didn’t. We
left the Port of Melbourne very late in the morning, we sailed down to off Portsea where we anchored for the night off the quarantine station, because you couldn’t exit or enter Port Phillip Bay after dark. But the following morning though, when it was daylight we went out through the heads
and we joined three other ships and became a convoy. We were escorted by an old British warship; I think it was the Warspite [?] from memory, and a couple of destroyer type vessels. Every twenty minutes or so you would change course. And the
situation was that we went through Bass Strait and a fair way south actually, across where the Great Australian Bight is, and it was about six days and we arrived in Fremantle where
we were joined by some other units that had been raised in Western Australia. They went onto one of the other ships and after a twenty-four hour stay in Fremantle we were again off to sea. Rottnest Island was the last piece of Australian coast
we could see and in actual fact we were on our way to Colombo. The usual things happened when we crossed the line [equator], they had King Neptune and all of that sort of thing. And we arrived in Colombo, we were taken ashore, not from
the wharves but from barges offshore, to the Galle Face Green where we were paid some money and given, you know, “Away you go on leave for the moment.” And Wal and I and Henry were approached by this lady who turned out to be an Australian. She was the wife of the manager of a food importing firm in
Colombo. She invited us to spend the day at her home. We had a chauffeur-driven car, and this home was in the area where the racecourse is, which you probably know?
And at the back of the property was a golf course. We were looked after really well. In actual fact, this lady did something that I couldn’t do, she wrote to my mother to say that she had met us. And she actually knew the doctor at Ringwood that first medically examined me.
Later on when it appeared that Colombo might be taken over by the Japanese, they were taken to Australia, they were evacuated to Australia and she met my mother. And in actual fact she lived in Frankston, after the war of course they went back. Anyway after a very pleasant leave in Colombo
we set sail again. And by this time of course Italy had come into the war, so the south coastline [of Africa], like Eritrea and that was considered dangerous, but we never had any trouble. We went straight up to the Suez Canal, and at night time because of the Italians raiding Alexandria in bombing raids,
we left in daylight but arrived at El Kantara which about a good three quarters of the way up or a bit more.
gained the impression that what happened is that because of the war with Germany, the feeling against the British mandate from the Jewish side was on hold. So we weren’t unwelcome you know .And the Arabs of course they didn’t
cause us any trouble. Whether they caused the Jewish people any trouble I don’t know. I gathered they weren’t enamoured of the Jewish people even in those days. So it was a sort of a neutral thing there. Egypt was a bit different.
I think the First World War had wised them up to Australians. The reception there was a bit different in it seemed that they were more interested in trading, getting as much money out of us that they could. And some of it wasn’t that pleasant,
like little boys running up to you offering you their sister and things like this for money and so on. But I couldn’t say it was… it was a sort of a semi… they weren’t keen on us, I wouldn’t think, would be fair. Greece was entirely different, I could
say that it was the only country that we arrived in where everybody smiled and were happy to see us and so on. And of course it was the same, and that continues even though they knew we were going out if we could get out. It didn’t alter their fondness or their welcome or anything else,
they were terrific. And it was the same on Crete. We, although, we were deliberately kept out of Rethymnon, the main town that we eventually, because they didn’t want anyone to cause any trouble
between us and the Cretans. So we had a very good welcome in both of those areas, very good. And it was,
and of course they had expropriated their Arab lands and so on. So the Libyans were happy to see us although once again they were out to make the best of what they could for themselves. The Bedouins in the desert
on the other hand, you wouldn’t realise that they were anywhere within miles. If you offloaded empty petrol cans ten minutes later there would be Arabs there, you know the Bedouins, looking for to have them. Empty cans, they knew they wouldn’t be full. The Libyans, but even the Italians in Libya that we
came across, I think a lot of them were more or less in those places, they would have rather been in Italy you know. But part of Mussolini’s program was to colonise these other places. The
Italians behaved very badly actually to Arabs in Libya who opposed them. In fact they did things like take them for a flight and throw them out of the plane, things like that. And there was an extreme hostility between the Arabs there and the Italian prisoners of war sort of thing.
So we had to sort of, you had to protect really, give some protection to the prisoners that we had around Benghazi and that, from the Arabs.
if you had day leave and you went into Alexandria and you were running a bit late on your way back and you hired a taxi, you wouldn’t singly hire a taxi. We were warned that they had a bad habit of running into a village, a bit of a rundown village,
and the sole occupant of the taxi would be robbed. So you know there was always three or four of you that hired a taxi if you were going from Alexandria back to El Amiriya. Things like that. So in that sense you know, and the other thing
where it could get a bit rough, I told you I had a couple of days leave, and they had a hotel where the Australians stayed. And we were in this restaurant, when, and this fellow in my unit had had a bit to drink. And there was a fellow playing the piano, and this fellow in my unit who
had had a bit to drink, he called out and he wanted this fellow to play a particular tune on the piano. This was part of the restaurant of course, and he took no notice, and this fellow started to shout and in the end he threw a plate. And it erupted.
There was, of course the restaurant people called for the MPs [Military Police] very promptly. And the British MPs appeared on the scene pretty promptly and there was a lot of Australians in the place .And there was a bit of a dogfight there for a while because nobody had much time for military police, and nobody wanted to be
grabbed by the British military police in particular, so anyhow the best thing to do was to somehow work your way around until you got near the entrance and then run, which pretty much everybody did.
(UNCLEAR) sense of egalitarianism?
Well there was only one full-blooded aboriginal that ever got an army commission and that was Reg Saunders; and he didn’t get that at the beginning of the war, he got that later on in the war, and he was also in the Korean War. And I don’t think there was another
full-blooded aboriginal that was ever a commissioned officer. So I suppose I don’t know, you know, colonels and above I didn’t know any of those. Our commanding officer of the unit was a major, and his 2IC [Second in Command] was a captain, and
the rest of the officers were lieutenants. And the lieutenant we had in the section I was in, we couldn’t have had a better fellow. He led from the front, no one was ever asked to do anything that he himself wouldn’t do, when it came to the rough stuff.
All the officers I had to deal with, which were in the main in my own unit, were pretty reasonable people. Even the major, and the original 2IC we had, Captain Simons, he was a real good bloke.
There is a difference I think that might explain it, there were two classes of officers. Regular Army [professional soldiers] people, say fellows that had come up through the militia and were regular, you might say citizen soldiers as
against people who made a career of it.
narrow, buildings right on top of one another, with different types of craftsman operating in almost niches. You know? Tinsmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths, jewellers, and then of course you get all of the people with the food. Meat hanging, and most of these in the old
city were in the main, particularly the craftsmen, were Arabs. And then there is the new part, which is fairly modern. I will always remember the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] building there; it was a big building. There was a hotel where Australians stayed called
The Hotel Fast. It’s very hilly, going in by bus you know its fairly rugged country, hilly, bit bare and so on. Barren type of country. And then there’s the tourist bits for the various
religious shrines: the nativity place, there’s the one place, I can’t remember all of the names. I have got some photos of the different ones supposed to be where the manger
was. And then you have got the people who are out to make the money. There is the Arab that will sell you the genuine hair of the beard of the prophet. And then on the other side, there’s payment to go
and see through the various. And there are some places you can’t go, the Dome of the Rock and…
just a little bit east of Mersa Matruh, we knew it was on. The British Indian Army, the Italians had pushed into Egypt and they were pushing them back .So we knew that it wasn’t going to be long before we were into it. And of course it wasn’t, it was right at the beginning of January
so we were only a short time from just before Christmas when we arrived in that area near Mersa Matruh and then by New Year we were into Libya, past Sollum and getting up almost to the outskirts of Bardia. And they knew, we
knew there was a big contingent of Italians in Bardia, we didn’t know how big. But we knew there was a lot of Italians there, and up to that stage nobody knew whether it would be a really tough nut to crack or whether it would be relatively easy.
And as far as us as normal ordinary soldiers, we weren’t briefed on the very latest of events. But then it started, and as I said my unit in the first instance was in reserve. Some of the people were used but the other two engineering companies of the division were involved and the 19th Brigade
was held back to enter the battle if needed or if it turned out that the battle was being won. As soon as it was, we moved up to the outskirts of Tobruk, which was another seventy miles further on. But in the case of Bardia, except for some shell fire which
fell well short of us, it wasn’t very much in the way. We weren’t concerned in the real battle. It was all over in four days, but our real battle experience came when the time arrived and we were all ready to invade Tobruk and take part in the fall of Tobruk.
that, before we left or as we were leaving, Britain was really copping it. And there were the Germans only twenty odd mile across the Channel, all of France was, well not all of France was gone then, but there was Vichy France and Occupied France. Belgium, Holland
Norway, Denmark, all gone. Poland had gone, you know. There was Czechoslovakia. Austria had gone. But only a couple of months later of course, in April the Germans were going to come down through the Balkans. So we knew things weren’t
very good other than where we were. And the Italians were getting cleaned up in Ethiopia because the South African Army went up into Ethiopia. So at least you know, it was one area where things were going well where other areas had gone bad.
And we were quite happy, things were going well. And you’d rush down there, you’d prop for a week or two and then virtually in thirty-six hours Tobruk was all gone and you were on your way to the next one. And where we started at the beginning of
January, by February we were in Benghazi, which was a long way, and the front had gone on to Agedabia which is a hundred and fifty mile past Benghazi. And that’s where it remained until the Germans, because the Germans came then.
The first we knew of the Germans, because we started getting bombed.
the Germans were more aggressive. And as a matter of fact they attacked this place in Benghazi, the Regima aerodrome, fortunately they never hit any of the buildings, but they hit just outside the walled fence. And it was a very severe air raid,
and it was decided immediately to move right into Benghazi. The next day after the raid we moved into Italian barracks right in the city itself in Benghazi. And we had raids, German raids on and off for the time we were in
Benghazi. And we had Italian raids, they were dropping timed, come down in a parachute go off ten or twelve hours after they landed you know. And that caused a bit of concern. And they found that they went off, they were apparently timed,
to go off around about ten or eleven hours after they had left the plane. So what happened, one of the other sections of the unit obtained a loan of a big English truck with a hoist, and
the next time one of these came down, they back the truck, got the hoist, got it up on the truck, took it out in the desert, took it to the outskirts, noted the time of course, and just let her go pop eventually. And that was so many hours, and they thought, well this is the way it is going to be. Because there had been one in the town,
hadn’t got moved, it went off in about that time. So from there on, any of these that came down they took them right out of town, and there was an English bomb disposal fellow came up, and apparently he was, there was one of them that they had taken out of the town, he
defused it. So then they knew the timing was right. But they only did three or four of those before we eventually, at the beginning of March, left Benghazi to come back to Egypt to go on then to Greece.
spread over a few mile. We weren’t all working in the one spot. The whole unit was spread over a few mile, preparing demolition sites over four or five mile, of anything that looked like impeding the progress of any transport at all.
Now what happened then of course was that the infantry people and artillery, everybody that was that side of the very first spot, gradually funnelled back through this area. And when everybody was through the one nearest the enemy, then arrangements,
that was blown, and then this one was blown and then this one was blown. And as the people concerned went through, they went back further to the next pass, and so on. And that’s how we did the pass of Thermopylae, Brallos and so on. So it was, you prepared all of your demolitions, the people funnelled through, You made sure that everybody
was through. And that was a different group of military police incidentally; they had mobile military police on motorbikes. And they were the people; he was to be the last one through before the demolitions. And those fellows, got to hand it to them. There were some of them that fell off their bikes asleep, you know,
through lack of sleep, they’d be on the bike and bingo. And we even, one of our truck drivers fell asleep at the wheel. Truck went over the side. But anyway that was the system, there was the first lot north of Lamia and then we came back and the process started all over again. There was the infantry and the artillery lined up to prevent any, and behind them
away we went to work. They funnelled out again. And of course in Greece the mountains run east and west, so the country is like this all the way up north, you know. Which in fact we felt when we first went there we would be able to really stick it into them, but the problem
was we never had an air force, they had all gone. Have you ever heard of a fellow named Roald Dahl, the author, he writes children’s books?
Blenheim bombers that were in Greece that were bombed the first day Germany crossed the border. So the Hurricanes and Spitfires were flown out. And the way it was, where we were working on these things, the Germans had a spotter plane called the Storch; it was a short take off, funny looking plane,
and they used to go spotting in this. And of course we would have a compressor on the side of the road, with the air pipes going under for the drill to be drilling into say a big culvert or bridge or whatever, and along would come this fellow and he would have a look and away he would go. And then shortly
afterwards, over would come the bombers. And they’re doing their best to trap everybody on the wrong side, you know, of any damage that they might do. We found out later that with their tanks, they had tanks with bridging equipment so this sat back here, and it wasn’t like the normal tank with a big gun and that. And they would come to a gap in the road, and this thing would come over uncouple,
and they’ve got a bridging set-up. But we didn’t know that at that stage. I didn’t know that until a long while after the war. Anyway, that’s where we went. We worked all day, so long as there was a glimmer of daylight work went on. So long as there was a glimmer of daylight you could hardly look in the sky without seeing a German plane.
And then, I think I might have told you that I was directed to go with this fellow as his spotter in the truck, a thirty-hundredweight truck, and they had this big dump on the top of Brallos Pass in the quarry. They had enough explosive in this quarry to blow up Mount Olympus I think, and anyhow
Garry Terry who was the driver, he had taken the driving door off and when it first happened, he would load and I would stand, I would be in the back of the truck right up near the cabin and as soon as I saw a plane I would bang on the cabin roof. And he would pull up and we would dive out of the truck and
originally the first couple of times a fair way from the truck you know. And anyway we found that we were getting nowhere you know. So we decided that we would just pull up, jump in the gutter by the side of the road and as soon as the plane had gone, get back in the truck. And we went
right down Brallos Pass as one of the infantry battalions was coming up you know. And one of the officers shouted at us, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” And we said, “We’re going back to where the engineers need the high explosives. And by the way old fellow, we have got thirty hundredweight of amatol, fuses, and detonators aboard.”
And everybody, they moved, the word passed right down you know and everybody moved over and away we went. And I can well remember the fellow saying, “Keep going.” Anyway, we did Thermopylae and Brallos that way.
And then the very last one, we were about forty k north of Athens, Thebes I think was the name of the place. I can’t think of the Greek name of this particular area, but it went up just the same way, but it wasn’t as severe a pass. And we were spread out and this was going to be our last one in Greece, after this
it was down through Athens, and originally it was over the Corinth Canal and come out on the east coast, be picked up from the east coast of Greece if we were lucky. And on that one I was on a party that was working,
where the hill came down on the high side the rain water would come down. And they had this big barrel drain, you could almost stand up in it, and we decided it would be a good one to blow. And we worked on that and then, that was about the third one up from the nearest to the enemy. We were about the third one up, about half way up the hill. And there was another three or four higher up the hill.
And we in actual fact got it ready to be blown on a certain day and we were to stay there for twenty-four hours longer. We had it wired up, everything ready to go, half a ton of explosives in this place. And I was
detailed off with a fellow named Jock Hennington, who was an Englishman and he had been in the regular army in England. And he in actual fact normally looked after our compressor, he was an engine artificer; and the compressor had been taken away and Jock and I were left there to make sure that nobody, by accident or design, did anything to
prematurely blow this. And that was the standard procedure. On every one through these there would be two people left on every, because they found that there was Germans posing as Serbian refugee troops coming through dressed as Serbs. And we never lost incidentally, although there was a lot of this going on, we never lost one
premature blow. But the orders were you weren’t allowed to shoot at any of the planes, but if anyone stopped on the middle of that and lit a cigarette, shoot them. Don’t mess about, just shoot them. Fortunately we never had that happen, Jock and I but,
was an air raid where we were on this ,we took the high side of the road and it was timbered country and about ten feet back from the lip of the cutting, there was an area of some bushes and some rocks. And we had a clear sight both ways from where we were behind these rocks, and yet
people wouldn’t know we were there until we showed ourselves. But whenever the planes come over and people would scramble up the bank, we would help them up the bank you know to get them off the road. And anyway we were there, and this
was one of the things that I really remember. This plane came along, and it is coming up the road, following the contour of the road up. And he wouldn’t have been more than a hundred feet up. Junkers bomber, you know twin-engine bomber. And we thought, “Oh he’s gone past. We’re right.” Anyhow he did, he went past half a mile or so, and we were right up in the high, and he turned down and he
went down into the valley and then he turned and he came back up dead in line with us. And I could even see fellows in it, I am looking down here you know. And I don’t know how Jock felt about this, but I know I started to get a bit worried. I thought there is three things can happen: he can perhaps drop it short, which will be all right;
if he drops it bang on, I am going to have a hell of a headache; but if he overshoots it, he will probably drop it right on top of us. Anyhow he came up, coming up, and he dropped it about fifty yards short. And of course all of the earth went up and you know, there
was stuff coming down. But what was in the culvert stayed there. And he went up and I thought he’ll know he’s missed and he’ll come back, but there had been a lot of stuff gone up, and apparently he though he had got it because he never came back. Anyhow it was
late in the day when the blowing party arrived, like if everything had come through and they let off, when the stage was up and we got in the truck and the blowing party were left to blow that, and it was all the fellows that had been below us, two in each group, in
the truck. And they said to us, my officer said to me before we left, he said, “You’ll be going through to a dispersement spot from where we will eventually get a ship out.” And that’s what happened, we travelled all of that night. We got down to Athens pretty quick,
and instead of going to the original appointed place, that had been cut off, that was on the west coast. So they picked a place on the east coast, a little fishing village called Porto Rafti. And
about fifteen miles from this place they had a dispersement spot for all of our trucks and compressors and all our engineering gear, which we promptly had to destroy, which was a shame because the Greek farmers and that could have used it.
But then, we slept that night and then the next morning we had to take off for this port. And they said, “Keep off the roads.” Well everybody was anxious, knowing that it was fifteen miles away, well the infantry put a protective line behind us, and some artillery.
And we headed off, and there was a little village about three or four mile before we got to the port, where the Greek people came out with drink, food, you know, and although they knew we were abandoning them, they were marvellous. They were thanking us, for one thing or another.
Anyway a little bit later, not very far from this village a whole, there must have been twenty, twenty-five German planes that had been out looking for navy ships and hadn’t found any and were coming back empty and they caught us. Well, they gave us a right
royal doing over I can tell you.
by strange co-incidence, the three of us stayed together. And then that night after dark, in actual fact it was before our turn came, it was about one o’clock in the morning of the 28th of April, we finally, the three of us together
and of course the rest of the Greek fishing boats we were aboard. We then chuffed out to sea, probably a mile or so. And there we pulled alongside an English destroyer, which happened to be HMS [His Majesty’s Ship] Kimberley.
And some rope, just plain ropes came down from the deck, tied to the railings. And I have got my rifle and a Bren gun and I had never climbed up a rope in my life and I went up that rope as if it was a staircase. And when I reached the rail he
got me on the back and pulled me over and I fell over the deck. I was aboard and so were my two mates. And at about 3 a.m. the boat fully laden with as many as they could hold, took off, and within a very short space of time they were going
full bore, which I believe was about thirty knots. In the meantime of course, we had gone below deck and the sailors were handing out mugs of cocoa. Most of the crew were very young, and we found out later that the skipper himself was below thirty. And at daylight they
asked for those people who had brought Bren guns aboard to get up on deck, in actual fact I got a place up near the bridge where we tied the Bren gun. The idea was if any aircraft did come over, and they came in low, and they would have had to come in low for the
Bren guns to be effective, although there would have been the best part of twenty or thirty, between twenty and thirty, tied up in different places around the ship. And it would have all helped their anti-aircraft fire, which was the pom-poms [quick-firing guns] and what they called Chicago Pianos [a group of multi-barrelled pom-pom guns].
Anyway we never had any trouble; they did sight a plane which they thought was a sighter, which meant that they weaved around a bit. But we kept going and we steamed into Suda Bay that afternoon and offloaded. And there were British officers on shore,
directing the traffic, and they said, “That direction all of you for the next couple of miles.” Well it turned out to be a bit further than that but we finished up in a valley with a stream, a very nice stream. At a place that became known as Kalives, which is
away from Suda Bay, and there we gradually sorted ourselves out. And the section I was in gathered together, and each of the sections gathered under the olive trees. And we took stock of what we had and what we didn’t have. We didn’t have any
engineering equipment. We had our rifles, in my case I had a Bren gun which I had handed in. And then sometime later, and I always remember it was just before dark, from somewhere there came an issue of blankets, and it was one to every two fellows.
There was very little food about and in actual fact we didn’t get any kind of real meal until the following morning. We were short of absolutely everything; we were like a group of people who had walked out of a house fire in the clothes we stood up in. And all of our
gear that had gone to Greece, kit bags and so on, that had been offloaded when we arrived, it had gone into store somewhere in Athens and we never ever saw it again. So that’s the situation we were in, what we stood up in plus what we carried out. And everyone in our group had carried at least his rifle out,
which was good. Anyhow a few days later, there was a ship called, this happened just before we arrived in Crete, there was a ship called the Costa Rica, which had the 2/7th Infantry Battalion on board, had suffered a near miss, enough to spring all of the plates and make the ship leak like a sieve,
and British destroyers had come alongside, and people just manually walked from one ship to the other, just walked across. They got everybody off the Costa Rica, the whole battalion, and they returned them of course to Crete, and so the 2/7th Battalion remained on Crete. Our major told us that
he had volunteered on our behalf to stay on Crete, and that was good of him. But we, the 2/7th Infantry Battalion having lost quite a number of rifles in the sinking of the Costa Rica, they took our Lee Enfields [rifles] off us
and our ammunition and issued the company American rifles that had been assigned to the Greek government and it was all First World War stuff.
a smaller carrying capacity of bullets in the canisters: one up the spout and about five in the magazine, and they had different sights on them. But they had been laying in these wooden boxes for years and were absolutely full
of grease. And it took us, oh it took us days to get them really into proper use. But the real killer was that there was only thirty rounds a man for, they were 0.3 [calibre] the others were .303. So anyway we gradually reached the stage at Kalives where we were getting one
decent meal a day. We eventually got a blanket per man; we had no transport and no engineering equipment. And on the 12th of May 1941, number 8 section of which I was a member and at this stage there was thirty-four of us,
were ordered to march to Rethymnon, which was on the north coast. It is approximately the second sized city on Crete at that time. To be put under the command of the 2/1st Infantry Battalion commanded by Colonel Ian Campbell
who was the commander of that area. We also had the 2/11th Battalion, some Greek battalion people, some Cretan infantry people, and there was the Rethymnon police force. Now, the Australians were all taken to
an airstrip that was about five kilometres I suppose out of the city of Rethymnon. There was the sea, certain amount of low land, ordinary land, the main road from Rethymnon to Iraklion, which was also on the north shore but further east, then the airstrip. From the airstrip there
was a rising hill, which was where, and it was on the seaside near the summit, below the summit but not far from the summit of this hill, was the headquarters of the 2/1st Battalion and Ian Campbell’s headquarters. Now my unit was given an area on the back side of the hill, in
case the eventual parachutists came at us from the rear. They couldn’t see, for me to get to them I had to go over the hill and down. And I was assigned to Campbell’s headquarters as what they called a runner [messenger]. There was no telephone equipment available to us. The only people
who had any telephone equipment was some 2/3rd Artillery people, and they had a battery of Italian guns captured, they didn’t have twenty-five pounders ,they had gone in Greece. They had some Italian artillery that had been captured in Greece and sent over to Crete and they never had any sights or elevation equipment on them at all.
They could elevate them but they didn’t know how far because that part of the equipment had gone, so what they would do, they would sight through the barrel and judge how far up they would have to elevate. There was a lieutenant at that time, Lieutenant Kelly and he was a Western Australian. And he
was in an adjacent foxhole to me and he was their spotter and he directed their fire. Anyhow we got there on the 12th and the first thing the unit had to do was I had to report back and they had to make the airstrip unusable for any aircraft that might attempt to land, which they did. And we also
had strict orders, we were among the olive trees and you dug your foxhole but you never ever walked to and from that to make a track so you walked along here; and the Germans were sending aircraft across to photograph the situation. And one
of them who had been over a place called Georgiopolis which was to the west of us, and there was a machine gun group there and they fired at this twin-engined Messerschmitt. And apparently they had wounded the pilot in the neck, he wobbled on, and he got to our area and he
went over our area and he circled around to try and land on the actual airstrip in fact we presume but instead of that he went into the hill. Not the hill we were on but a hill away to the right. And anyhow from the wreckage they found photographs of the area that had been taken, and none of our, you couldn’t have told where any of our fellows were. So they
were pretty pleased about that. And then on the morning of the 20th we heard the anti-aircraft fire at Suda Bay which was about forty mile away to our west, and the paratroopers had landed in that area, Maleme Aerodrome, Maleme. And they had been bombing Suda Bay.
And they had some English anti-aircraft guns covering Suda Bay and they were out on the peninsula, and they were dead ducks because they got cut off very quickly that morning, so we knew something was on. We had no communication with any other part of the island or anything, we were there,
an Australian-led group with some Greeks and so on, and no knowledge of what was actually happening on the other end of the island except that we knew something was happening because the anti-aircraft had got really tremendous that day. Four o’clock in the afternoon, a bit before four o’clock in the afternoon at least in come the Stukas [German dive bombers] and the bombers. And they bombed the whole area.
But they didn’t land a bomb anywhere near where the troops were; they concentrated on the flat down between us and the beach. On the flat area, and after about a half hour of severe bombing nothing of importance what so ever, we could see the Junkers, the
tri-motor Junkers coming. And they came in off the sea, a bit further east and they turned and they were running along in front of us really, and of course out starts to come the parachutists. And everybody is blazing away full bore. Anyhow I get ordered, I have got to get back to
my unit to warn them because from the area that they were covering they wouldn’t see this. They would have heard the bombing and everything, but unless by chance somebody was up near the brow of the hill they wouldn’t have. So I was ordered to get back and alert them that this was on and they were to watch and make sure nobody came in the back of us.
Anyhow, the big trick was getting over the hill because you’re a bit exposed on the top of it; so I really bolted you know down. And I found the unit quite easily and I reported to Wes what was happening, and I always remember there was this stupid lance-sergeant who looked at me and said, “You are a bloody liar.” I invited him back up to come over the hill and have a look,
for himself. But anyway Wes, the officer believed me and so did the other fellows, they could hear what was going on but they couldn’t see. They weren’t what's-a-name. My view of it, when I get back over the hill, it is like something out of Jules Verne you know? So anyhow I get back to my what's-a-name and I expended my thirty rounds, I probably never hit anything.
But anyway they landed, they landed all disjointed, and we found out actually their commanding officer, who was a major, in landing he twisted his ankle. He was laying down and a couple of 2/11th Battalion people found him lying on the ground, didn’t know who he was
and they were having a bit of a discussion, these were people I was POW with later, about whether they should fix him up for all time then and there or would they take him prisoner, and of course he understood English perfectly. And fortunately, very fortunately actually
they decided to take him prisoner. And they brought him back to headquarters and he was taken over the hill and our fellows were told to form a party up to make a prison compound, POW compound, which they did in a hurry. And we finished up with some three hundred paratroopers, who we took prisoner and they went into this cage.
We put them in this cage.
But yeah, they didn’t appreciate that. But anyway there was some of them got into an olive oil factory to one side of us, and there was a group of about seventy of them got into a little village. The people in the olive oil factory
got blasted out fairly quickly. Although they had an officer who came out, under a white flag and demanded that we surrender. And Campbell sent him back with an ultimatum to come out of the oil factory within an hour or else. Well it took a little bit more than an hour but they eventually got these fellows out of the olive oil factory.
But the group that got in the village and, strangely enough their officer was named Weiderman. And they stuck it out for the whole ten days. It got to the point, where there were quite a few of the 2/11th people had a real ding-dong go to get them out.
But they killed quite… most of the casualties that were incurred on the Australian side at Rethymnon was caused by that group, and the 11th Battalion copped it rather badly there. So they managed to hold out. What we didn’t know, was that General Freyberg who was a New Zealander, he was the commanding officer.
Unfortunately he was not up to it, and Maleme where the New Zealanders were, was where the parachutists got a foothold on the aerodrome and they were then able to fly in troops to land them on the, not parachutists but normal land troops.
And unfortunately there was a couple of boatloads. The navy seen quite a few of the boats coming across from Greece with German soldiers on them, and they had tanks in the boats that got ashore. So eventually, we were going fine you know. We had three hundred prisoners. We had this group that was Weiderman’s group
he couldn’t go anywhere and we couldn’t get into him, it was a stand off. But the rest of the island was collapsing from Maleme. And the 2/7th Battalion that was at Georgiopolis, they moved up to the Candia area, which is the capital of Crete
to where, that was not far from where this Maleme was. And they got stuck straight into the Germans at a place called Forty-fifth Street. And they chased them out of town really. And it had reached a point at that end
of the island that the Germans felt unless something dramatic happened then they would have to surrender. Their general, a fellow named Studen, he was a parachutist, and he was in charge of the Germans on Crete, and they were seriously considering, thinking that they were done you know.
But something happened, and nobody has ever been able to fathom this out really, it appears that Freyberg panicked and pulled some of the vital troops back instead of getting them to go forward. I believe the Maori Battalion were absolutely ropable about it because they were more than holding their own.
And the 2/7th Battalion of course had just done a lot of damage to the Germans. And in a book that I have read, written by a Cretan who is a professor of history at Harvard, he wrote this book about Crete. And he maintained in this book that
Freyberg’s staff prevailed upon him not to let the Australians pull him out of the fire, you know. And he wavered, whereas there were people who said, “Tell them to advance.” there were other people telling him, “It’s a hopeless position.” And he took the position
that they should evacuate. So their plan for the evacuation was to cross the island from the north shore to a place called Sfakia on the south shore. It’s an ancient place that’s even mentioned in the Bible. And that’s what happened.
And the next town up from us was called Iraklion, very famous place where there is the ancient ruins, the Bull of Minas and all of that sort of stuff. And there was a mixed group of Australians and Englishmen there, and they had cleaned up most of the paratroopers in their area. But they got word
eventually that there was an evacuation and to go to the south coast. So they just walked out, and that meant that the Germans then commanded the Iraklion area, the few that were left. And they were supposed, Freyberg’s headquarters was supposed, to have put one of their officers on the boat
from Suda Bay to Rethymnon to let us know what was happening The official history of the battle says that unfortunately the officer missed the boat. And we missed the news of what was happening.
on the flat, that side of the road. Not a live one of them ever laid a foot on the airstrip, except for those that were taken prisoner and were escorted up. Now, what happened, there were groups of them here and there, and their planes would come over and they would fire a Very light [flare fired from a pistol]. And some of the supplies that were dropped, dropped into our lines,
and I remember there was one officer there had a German Very pistol and the whole lot of flares, and if they sent up a red one in this direction, he would send a red one in that direction. You see? And in the meantime the planes up here are circling to find out where they have really got to bomb. So there were times when there was utter confusion, we were
able to create utter confusion. There was another thing, we found out that the paratroopers were running around bare headed which the people in the planes could see so we doffed the tin hats [steel helmets] you know. And things like this. Some of their supplies were dropped in our lines. We got rye bread and that sort of stuff. We even on a couple of occasions got mortars, German
mortars which they dropped behind our lines instead of their own. And this was all because of these confusing flares, until he ran out.
Now when you were working on the explosives truck on the retreat in Greece, you mentioned that a bloke actually came out and stopped the truck. Why was he doing this and what was he doing?
Well, no, in Greece the roads weren’t terribly wide, especially down those mountain passes. And here was a group of infantry; they were infantry at that stage. They had been ordered to move back through the various demolition sites that we were working on. And here they were, three quarters of the way up a steep mountain pass, and here’s
us going in the opposite direction. He was an officer and we were going down very cautiously because it was narrow, and you don’t want to go over the edge with thirty hundredweight of that stuff on board. So he stopped us and he asked us, “Where the hell did [we] think we were going?” or
words to that effect. I might have cleaned it up a bit even. And we explained to him the reason we were going the way we were and what we had on board, and it was essential that we get down to where the work was being done on the previous pass, we were going to come back and do that one next. And we really needed to go
through, and we guessed that both he and his group that he was leading out wouldn’t want to be stopped in close proximity to thirty hundredweight of high explosives if a bomber came over. And words to that effect we spoke to him. And he
decided that you know the best thing was that everybody pull over and we get the hell out of it and they can get on with it before they are attacked by any aircraft anyway. And so the word was passed down the hill, from truck to truck, and as I say as we passed a truck fellows would say, “Keep going mate.”
And we were very pleased to keep going to the bottom and off to where we needed to be. It’s a bit difficult to explain the sort of feeling we had in a situation like that. When we were first pulled up, you don’t know whether to blow your top or what. It seemed perfectly logical to
Garry and I that we should get down that hill as fast as possible. And here was this fellow, true there was no other traffic going the way we were, except other people that would load up after us and come back to lay down supplies for the actual part that we were pulled up on.
Now you mentioned at one point, and I am not sure if it was this truck, but the driver fell asleep?
Yeah that was my mate that I joined up with. He was a truck driver, and you can imagine, they were driving all day with a full load of both fellows and fuel aboard, very little sleep and in actual fact that’s what happened, he went to sleep.
His truck went half over the edge and they were fortunate that, then was towed, from memory they told me later that they had towed him because his brakes had gone from coming down these great big hills with a load on. And eventually his truck was abandoned and they pushed it over the edge. But he actually fell asleep
and he wasn’t the only, well I think I mentioned the MPs on the motorbikes, the mobile MPs that were directing the traffic. You see, and that’s why too, this other fellow that stopped us going down the hill, he couldn’t understand because he was under the impression that the military police had given him the
go ahead to bolt in that direction. And there shouldn’t have been anyone coming opposite him. But yeah. To be perfectly honest too you didn’t have to be driving a truck to fall asleep. I had reached the stage at one stage where we were working on an excavation on a site that we were going
to blow. And I can remember leaning against a tree, and suddenly, you know, oh hell, what's going on? But because we were, everyone was the same you know. And in fact I think I have told you about how we took the trucks when we were at the last to a dispersal
area and then we walked. Well a fellow named Keith Pawn [?] who is then, he was the clerk really, he kept all of the records and everything else. Well Keith was at a truck that arrived at the dispersal point, and he fell asleep in this truck. And everyone else had gone,
and some Greek people come and woke him up. People were that tired you know. And I know when we eventually got to Crete and we got to that place called Kalives, in the valley. And we laid down and went to sleep, you know. Well the whole German Army could have dropped in that time and there wouldn’t have been anyone awake.
You know, just dog tired.
apparently there was some people dropped by parachute, German people dropped by parachute down near the Corinth Canal and were directing people away from the destination that they should have been going to. And these things, passed back by word of mouth might have been true might not have been. But even the last night,
this last day at least, when we took off to this place that they had allotted to us to be evacuated from, and you see there were our own MPs in Athens. Because we went back through Athens, and they were directing us back to the road to where we were going. And people were edgy about these people in our own uniforms,
let alone any other uniforms. You know, could you be sure that these people? Rumours had got to the point that you believed pretty well anything. It was a scary sort of a situation. When they told us that the paratroopers had captured the bridge, which was fact, over the
Corinth Canal, and therefore prevented any more evacuations from the west coast, the Peloponnese, have you ever seen a map of Greece? There’s the big western part comes down much further into the Mediterranean than the Athens area. So word of mouth spread
like wild fire about some of these things. And we had, that’s the other thing that I didn’t mention, but in that situation where we bolted back to Athens from our last job. Now the sergeant major and his crew were the people that blew the last of the arrangements. And so they were, our trucks had gone and they
were trailing by miles. And they got down to a railway crossing just north of Athens, a few miles out of Athens, a railway crossing right across the road and they had to pull up. And when they have a real good look there are German soldiers on the train heading into, and they’re on the wrong side of
the level crossing. But I suppose, we will never know but there would have been Germans in the train perhaps who looked out and saw, wondered what this group was? You know. But the train went and they caught us up and dispersed with the rest of us. Accidents of things that happened.
of what was happening on the beach. The rest of my section were on the back side of this hill and they were to cover any eventuality if the Germans came around the back. So they couldn’t see what I could see on the front side of the hill. They could hear the fact that there was bombing and they would have
heard shooting but they didn’t know what was happening, they couldn’t see what was happening. And so I as runner got ordered to get back there and make sure that they had their area covered against any possible move, you know there might have been a plane load who got out of what's-a-name and dropped his load at the back of the hill or something like that. So anyway I got back
and the first person I went to was my officer, Wes Dennis, and I said, “It’s on” to him you see. I said, “The paratroopers are landing. It’s really on, and Campbell had told me to come back and let you know, make sure that nothing happens over this side of the hill that will allow anyone in the back door.”
And while I am saying this, this Englishman, he had been a First World War fellow and he has lined up for his second, said to me, “You reckon it’s on?” And I said, “Of course it is.” And he said, “Oh you’re a bloody liar!” So I invited him to come back over the hill with me and have a look. So he accepted my advice that it really
was on. I had to go back but he was to stay there in case anything happened in this area. And the next set of messages when they had captured a few people; I had to get back over to see Wes to tell him that among his other duties he had to erect a compound to hold prisoners
of war. And I always remember he had a wry sense of humour, he said, “I wonder with what?” Anyhow they managed to get some wire from somewhere, and they built a perimeter thing, they got more as time went by. And in actual fact there was three hundred people finished up
And they’re coming along, some of them a bit higher than others, but all about two hundred feet. And from these planes out come, and they are multi-coloured parachutes. And there’s the little figure in the thing. And so there is colour, although the
parachutes to be camouflaged when they hit the ground, but in the sky and in the sunlight there is colour. There is planes. There is noise, there is fellows belting away you know. There is people running in different directions.
This is from up on top of the hill, but further down near the landing field, there is people who have charged at where they estimated groups of parachutists landing. And it was from these groups that they filtered back prisoners of war. Some of them wounded.
As I said, the German doctor was quickly captured and he was put to work in our field station with old Doc Ryan. I think his name was Ryan, 2/11th fellow anyway. And they worked together, whether German wounded fellows came in or our fellows or Greeks or Cretans. So and then, we never got much
but the police from Rethymnon also put on a big show you know. But they were on the other side of us. Like the Germans were in the middle here, but they did a very big, they were a great help really and they paid dearly for it afterwards of course, very dearly.
I don’t want you to go too much into history, just from your point of view.
Yeah well it appears that once they had pushed back the perimeter from the airfield, they were able to land, not paratroopers, they were able to land troops on the strip. And this caused some, no cost at all of course of casualties, and they were able to build up strength that way. They even landed, they towed gliders across and the gliders landed.
And then the planes landed, and then eventually there had been a big battle at sea where the British Navy destroyed quite a few boats, I couldn’t tell you the numbers but there was quite a few boatloads of land troops that were on the way. And like everything else, there is always some survivors who manage to land.
And amongst the lot that landed of course, there was the tanks. And the tanks were our final downfall where we were. Apart from the fact that we never had any, we were out of ammunition, out of food, no relief at all of any description. It was a hopeless position. So Campbell took it upon himself to
call us in and he told us to report back, there was several runners you know. In my case I had to report back to my officer to tell him that Campbell was going down under a white flag to surrender. There had been a lot of fighting going on that morning they arrived, but the position became hopeless so he decided,
so I then had to go back over that hill. Tanks and mortars and everything hammering away at the hill by this time. So I had a very quick trip over the hill and down .And I had to tell Wes Dennis that the game was up. And Wes
gave the fellows the option of clearing out if they could. But we all decided that we, it would be his duty to go and tell the Germans that they were no longer POW, and we weren’t going to leave him on his own in those circumstances because we didn’t know what would happen, you know, which way they would take it.
And in actual fact he went in, he saw the major and a couple of other officers that were junior to the major and he told them what was happening and the major got the three hundred of them outside the what's-a-name, and that’s the first time I heard the great ‘Sieg Heil.’ They all roared as one. And then what happened of course we were rounded up and we actually
first taken down to Rethymnon itself into, there was a school and they had a big wall around this school and we were all assembled in the school yard.
he took the attitude particularly because he knew the engineers’ colour patch, he decided that we had fed them one meal a day as we were getting and so on, we had looked after their wounded. We had even buried some of their dead, and that was
the infantry fellows in the main. We had not mistreated any of their prisoners, there was, once again this was rumour on their side that people had been, bodies of German paratroopers had been dismembered and that. He told them
that that was nothing to do with the Australians. So the paratroopers that escorted us down to Rethymnon, they were okay. The mountaineers, the mountain troops who we were handed over to, they were a different kettle of fish
and in actual fact a couple of days later they marched us back to Suda Bay, that’s all of us you know. Engineers, the artillery, the infantry, the lot. And he passed on the, because they got a car for him from somewhere, and when we was on the road,
he pulled up in the car. And he asked, had things been, had we been looked after, sort of thing. And then eventually we went to Suda Bay first, spent a couple of days there, and then they took us on to Maleme where all these crashed aircraft were and that, which they were salvaging and they put us to work there. And
then a bit later on I told you we went back by ship first to Athens, and we transferred from this ship onto another old ship. And we had paratroopers who were going back, these fellows had all been released, and a lot of them had been on Rethymnon, and they allowed us to stay on deck. Some of the other ships that were in the convoy coming back, everybody was locked down.
If there had been any subs around and they had torpedoed the fellows, would have been goners. But we were all right. But when we got to Salonica of course they were gone and we were, there was another group of Austrians who were not frontline soldiers and they were tough. We went into the big compound
and they were tough. But we got off the boat and we were lined up on the wharf, and this big German officer stood out in front of us, after we had been counted and they were sure everybody was there and so on. He stood up and he said, “Fall out the Jews.” And that
finished me as far as Germans were concerned. Nobody budged of course. I can remember one of the blokes saying later on, “We should have told him about Monash.” because Monash, you know General Monash First World War, he was Jewish. And he was the general who
orchestrated the Battle of Hamel in 1918 where the Australians went through the Hindenburg Line. Of that battle, the head of the German Army, Ludendorff it was that said, “That was the blackest day in Germany’s history [this actually refers to a later occasion than the Battle of Hamel].” And we would have loved to have told that big sod
that General Monash was a Jew. And had he asked, “Who was General Monash?” we would have been very pleased to have told him. But it would have been a risky proposition I suppose at that time. But that was that.
put into a big transit camp and we were there until about the beginning, well I was. Some of them had been moved out earlier. But me and Henry, Wal he was caught in a different place on Crete and he in fact was in hospital in Athens. But Henry, [and]
I am in that transit camp one day, and there is a group of Australians arrived, put through the gates and I heard his voice. So Henry and I were together there in Salonica, and he and I went to Germany on the same train. And
it was the beginning of August or a few days into August, because we were seven days in the train, we were only out once at Belgrade in Yugoslavia and the American Red Cross was there. The Americans at that stage were not in the war. The Russians were but the Americans weren’t.
When we got on the train in the first place, we got a tin of Greek bully beef and a pack of three army biscuits. And I fortunately had a water bottle which was full of water. And on the first night out on that train trip, we were thirty-two in a cattle truck.
And the truck immediately in front of us, they got to work as soon as it was dark and cut a hole in the door, slid the door back and twenty-four of the thirty-two in the dark jumped off the train. And there were eight people
left. In the daylight, when they came along and inspected and of course there is the hole in the door, swing back the door and there is eight fellows left. For whatever reason, whether they had left it too late or whatever. Because it took them a long
while to get the door open and they couldn’t get out in daylight because there were guards half way along the train, the back of the train and front of the train. Anyway there were eight of them left. Next minute we hear a hell of a blue and our sliding door is opened. And eight badly beaten
colleagues get in. We were thirty-two, we were then forty. Well it meant for the next six days, we were not all able to lay down and sleep, we had eight extra people, we were seven days on the journey. And the only time we got out was at Belgrade.
And we arrived in Moosburg on August the 13th and you know, we were, our carriage was in a pretty bad way really, with the extra people. And you might imagine living for almost six whole days with forty fellows
in an enclosed space and all the things that happen in the course of a day you know. And I was very lucky at Belgrade to refill my water bottle, and a couple of other fellows’. And at Belgrade too we got another tin of bully beef and some biscuits and some cigarettes
of all things. But yeah, and that was our, we finished up at Moosburg about forty k north of Munich in Bavaria. And that’s where the big Stalag was.
Moosburg was in separate compounds; they would have a couple of hundred people in a compound. Roll call early in the morning, out, line up, and I don’t know whether you have, Germans count backwards to us. My prison number that they issued me with, they never used your name they always used your number,
I was ninety two thousand and sixty nine; ninety two nil sixty nine. But they say in German, two and ninety thousand, nil, nine and sixty. So you had to listen when they were yelling out numbers you know. So there we were two hundred or so of us in the compound. And there was a big square in the centre of the Stalag
where people at certain times of the day you could all congregate. But about four o’clock in the afternoon you had to be back in your compound and then you were counted again. You were dismissed and then you had to go into your barracks. Indoors. And they used to loose the Alsatian dogs. Now if you got out
of your barracks, that’s for an hour they would let them roam, and those dogs would bring you down if you tried to get out of the barracks and into the compound. They were trained you know. We saw them later on being trained outside the Stalag, on dummies with British uniforms on.
And that was, the entrance to that camp incidentally, they had an arch, you know Germans are great on wood work carvings? Well they had prisoners all locked together by linked chains and on the top they had ‘Nach Berlin’: ‘To Berlin’. Their sense of humour. On a
concentration camp they had ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’: ‘Work makes you free’, which was a shocking thing to put on a concentration camp.
You mentioned before that you were asked for the Jews to step forward. What knowledge did you have of the concentration camps and did you have any contact with them?
Yes because we after about three weeks or so in Moosburg we were assigned to go to work. And they had a work camp in a place called Alach, which was a suburb of Munich. It was on the main Munich to Berlin rail line. But we were only there for about a fortnight
and they moved us about three mile over to another camp that already had some British prisoners in it., a camp called Ang Wei. Now the nearest rail station to that, there was a railway station called Lechhausen a couple of mile that way, a bit less than two miles. And about a mile and a half this way was a railway
station, Dachau, and almost along side of that railway station was the Dachau concentration camp. And we went to work on the railways first, and in that situation they had work parties that would come out of Dachau, and you have seen the sort of pyjama suits, and you can
imagine how that was in the wintertime for them. And they worked them’ of course it turned out that they literally worked them to death. They didn’t really feed them. All of our good gear of course had been stripped off us and we had old French uniforms and all sorts of things. All of our good boots were taken. I had a pair of boots that
had wooden slats for the sole. And of course in the wintertime they would just leak like a sieve. They had even taken our socks and they would give us a piece of rag to tie around your foot. And we were well dressed compared with these people and every effort was made to stop us having anything to do with them,
because by that work camp we were getting one Red Cross parcel per person per week. And people were trying to find out ways that we could perhaps pass a bit of food over. Because with this parcel a week,
by a group of you sharing together, it worked out one meal a day for one man for seven days. And so by pooling resources, you could have a little bit over, which could be traded as we found later, on the black market. Cigarettes were currency for the black market
and so on. So where we worked, not so much there but later on when we were in Poland and they were bringing the prisoners from Auschwitz to work on a big marshalling yard that we worked on that, in Gliewitz. Well the name of the place was Piscratchem [?] actually
it was a suburb of Gliewitz and they were extending a big marshalling yard. And our job there was, they bringing in the trucks loaded with the ballast that lays the bed of, so you would empty all of this stuff out, and eventually they would lay sleepers and rails. And they were gradually making a fairly big marshalling yard
into a very big one because they were using this area to bring the hospital trains and that back from Russia and even stuff going up, you know. Supplies going up. In that area we were working offloading this balas, it was only a small camp. There were twenty Australians and twenty Englishmen
who had been captured at Dunkirk. So the work force going down the line of trucks, eventually there was a couple of truckloads of these Jewish prisoners. So we were able to on occasion to smuggle a little bit of bread or something to them, but it was very very difficult.
Could you tell that they were starving by their appearance?
Well you know, there you were, they were terribly poorly dressed, not very well fed. I mean we knew they were in trouble. When you see a big fellow who was originally big and strong and you see them wasting away
you know that, well we knew that they weren’t getting fed and all the rest of it. We knew that they were being ill-treated. Eventually on this same subject in January 1945 I was in a coal mine in Poland, I was a coal miner and the Russian advance had started in a big way.
I was in Munich when Stalingrad fell, and here we were up in this area when the big main push started that followed on really from Stalingrad, only this time they were heading for Berlin. The Germans decided, they told us they were going to march
us back to the big Stalag 8B which was our Stalag at that time having been changed around from the one in Munich to the one in Silesia. And our estimation that undoubtedly the Russians would have been told, and we found out this later they were, that that big Stalag was there, and arrangements would have been made between the Allies and the Russians that any prisoners
that were in that Stalag you know the Russians would look after them and they had agreed to this. So when they came and said to us that we were moving out of the coal mines and that we would be marched back to Stalag 8B, which was not far from Breslau at a place called Landsdorf
We decided almost unanimously, there was a couple of fellows that went over the fence and tried to escape, decided they could escape to the Russians before, and we were told it would take us about three days. Now it was January, the middle of winter, a yard of snow on the ground you know. But we decided, the great majority of us, that the sensible thing to do would be to go back to the Stalag. But they
didn’t take us to the Stalag. We took off in an easterly direction through southern Silesia, Poland, into German Silesia, we turned, and in four days they got us past the River Elbe, which they felt was a very detectable position.
And we turned south from southern Silesia, through a place called Radeburg into Czechoslovakia and in Czechoslovakia we then turned east, went through Prague, kept going east through Pilsen and we finished up back in
Bavaria, near, you have heard of Bayreuth where they have the passion plays? They are famous plays every x number of years. And from there we turned south to Nuremburg and from there further south to Regensburg. And this was over a period of three months.
It was now the beginning of April and it had turned to spring really, so all of the snow had melted and everything had turned to slush and muck. And when we, we finished up in a little hamlet about five k out of Regensburg, onto a farmer’s property with a big barn where we slept of a night.
And we were put to work of a daytime, taken back into Regensburg to keep the railway open, because the Americans and the British of course were bombing the railways. But on that trek down, something I saw about the concentration camps,
is something I have never forgotten. For some reason or another, and I don’t know which camp they were from, it could have been a week after we left, it could have been a fortnight after we left that camp. And there were prisoners of war from all sorts of work camps on the roads. There was German refugees heading east, there was the German Army reinforcements going the other way.
And this particular time we came across a group of concentration camp inmates who were also out of the road, similarly dressed. This was wintertime and they had ropes, from somewhere they got ropes which went down, and apparently the strong ones were on the front and the weak ones were on the back so that they were attempting
to prevent anyone falling by the wayside which would have been fatal. And I saw these people and that was something that stayed with me, you know in a way it still stays with me, and we saw them again for a few days later for the second and last time. And there weren’t as many of them there then as there had been the first time
and they still had this business with the ropes wherever they got them. And then we never sort of came across them ever again. I don’t know where they finished, but the fact that they roped together, it was really something you know.
and as we passed, each man was handed a British Red Cross parcel, which was a life saver really. That was about half way through the journey. In our official history they say six hundred mile, I think it was probably less than that, perhaps six or seven
hundred k from where we were in Poland to where we finished south of Regensburg. We were nearly back to Moosburg when the Americans came through and liberated us. And that was about the last couple of days in April 45. And I managed to get to England before
VE [Victory in Europe] Day, which was about May the 6th, or 7th. And I had beaten that, I got to England around about the 1st or 2nd of May. But from where, that area south of Regensburg we got
well in the first instance we liberated a tractor with a trailer, a four-wheel trailer and the Americans told us not to attempt to travel at night because there was a curfew. So in the evening we pulled up in a little village and we took over what had been a hotel
and slept the night there. And the next morning the damn tractor wouldn’t start so we abandoned the tractor and groups of us, a couple of mates and myself we thumbed lifts. We got a lift back to Nuremberg where the war was still raging.
And we got into this American military post and we stayed the night there in safety and the next day there was an English sergeant who came in and said, “Don’t let them take you back to Regensburg because the planes, instead of taking POWs back out are taking loot.”
And see the American orders were for everyone to go back to Regensburg to this aerodrome. So anyhow very early in the morning myself, a fellow named Jim Andrew out of my unit and this sergeant, we snuck out of the post early and we went down to a control point
and the American MPs there, we told this American MP that we had been told that he would put us on the first truck that was going east, and he did. This truck was going back to Luxemburg city. So we were put in the truck with the
American driver and his offsider. We didn’t get to Luxemburg city; once again we had to pull up overnight. We got to Luxemburg city the next day and we went to the Red Cross, got a rail pass to Reims. Had to front the security people to prove, like my mother maiden name, where we lived,
my father’s name and so on. And he was an air force security fellow, had filing cabinets, tell him my name. Gets the folder out and says, “What’s your mothers maiden name? Where were you born? What was the date?” and when you get a clearance from him, the following day we were flown to England.
Stayed overnight in an English Army camp near Oxford really, a place called Wing. And the Australian contingent we were all to finish up at Eastbourne so we got on a train there down to London. And we had to change stations a couple of mile apart from where the train went to Brighton and Eastbourne. So while we were waiting
for the train to go to Eastbourne I was able to ring my aunt in London and tell her I had arrived and that when I got leave I would come back and see her. Incidentally though when we landed in England at that camp, the
English camp they took us to, they gave us five pound, and from there we were able to draft a cable that we were able to send to our parents that we had arrived and were safe. I have got it there actually. And I was able to tell them that we would be going to Eastbourne at that stage. And they cabled me back and I have got that cable
and they said, “We always knew you would make it.” I believe my mother when the cable arrived at the Ringwood Post Office, there was a bit of competition for which of the telegram boys would deliver the cable. And I remember my mother giving the kid that brought it up, she told me later, a pretty decent tip you know.
So anyway they wouldn’t let us send a cable from Reims in France, you had to get to England, it was an incentive to make sure you weren’t roaming around you know.
So anyway the upshot of all of this was that he demanded to know which of the guards had let us through to get the potatoes, and he stood us on parade and we stood all night on parade, wouldn’t dob the fellow in.
So the next night incidentally, Regensburg started to come under actual artillery fire from the Americans. They knew they couldn’t move us in the daytime because the planes were over completely all day long. So they waited until the following night and they moved us out.
They moved us, about ten or twelve k on the main road to Munich. And then they took us off a side road to another, there was another little hamlet on this. And then they took us from this hamlet, across some paddocks to a little group of farms that were probably a mile away from this other little village.
And they put us in a farmer’s barn there and they told us that we would be moved out south again the next night. Well our man of confidence who was a sergeant, he told them no way, this was it you know. Within forty-eight hours or so you blokes, the position is going to be reversed.
The Americans will be here and the game is over. So among themselves apparently they had a conflab [conference] about the situation, at first they were very belligerent about it. But then they left a sergeant and the rest of them disappeared. And they left this sergeant to hand us over to the Americans when the Americans would arrive.
It happened to be that the Americans who did arrive had been in the Battle of the Bulge. And they weren’t very partial to the Germans. Anyway the following morning when it got daylight, eventually a spotter plane came over and we signalled it, and
they went and landed you know in this paddock not very far away to find out what was going on. And we told them, the fellow took off again. And the fellow said, “We will have the tanks down here in a few hours for you.” And the tanks came down to the village about a mile away. So we went over to the village and the
Americans they just said virtually, “The country is yours fellows, do what you will. You know what can we do to help you?” And whilst we were there with them the people who had been guards were being brought in, and that control officer he was brought in and we had great delight in telling him
that, “Yeah one of your guards did let the people through to get the potatoes. And they will be looked after separately from you old fellow.” And they were, there were two of them and they had been with us in this mining camp in Poland, they had come all the way.
And they were two, one was a big fat fellow and one was a skinny fellow looked as though he had been half starved and we called them Laurel and Hardy and we told the Americans that they were a couple of goodies and that particular officer you have got there, he was a nasty. So they had separate arrangements for the goodies,
and the baddies, it was funny. They would load about thirty of them up on the back of a truck and they would take off. And about a couple of hundred yards further up the road there would be another fellow standing there with about another ten or fifteen. And the truck would roar up to this point and jam on the brakes and of course everybody in the back would all come forward and they would put another ten or fifteen in the back, all standing up.
And away they’d go. So we presumed that seeing that a fellow got the two goodies, that they got put on separate trucks. I am sure that they would have been looked after because they were separated out.
Apart from the potatoes was this guy particularly bad?
Yeah they had been pretty tough. You see the penalty for escaping early in the war was you would get seven days in the cooler [isolation] the first time, up to about twenty-eight days in the third time. But at that point in the war, after the invasion of Europe started they said, “Anyone who escapes
will be shot.” And he was the person who would have shot people; there is no doubt about that. Because there was a couple of instances, they put us in a barn, the farmer’s barn with the straw bales and whatever and of course some of the fellows used to burrow into the straw a little bit. I mean there is a yard of snow on the ground, you’ve come in, everything’s wet,
you take your boots and socks off and you wring your socks out, and you put your socks back on again and you put your boots back on and you lace them up again. Because if you left them off all night they would ice up, they would stick, you would never get them back on. So some of the fellows would burrow into the straw a bit to get
a bit of warmth and there was a couple of times where he accused people of trying to escape you know. And he would have shot them I am sure if they hadn’t have been able to convince him that they were using the straw for warmth.
No we never ever saw paratroopers again. Most of the guards, initially most of the guards were people who had been too young for World War I and they were a bit too old for World War II. Sometimes you got a fellow come in as a guard who was a convalescent from Russia, perhaps wounded in Russia
and back convalescing, not quite fit to go back to the front. Some of those fellows were all right. Sometimes you would get a nasty among them. The thought of going back to the Russian front was something none of them wanted to do. So it varied you
know. As the war went on the guards got older and got older as they drafted even fairly elderly fellows into the army. Most of those were reasonable you know. I mean they were, they had what was for Germans a cushy [easy] job. Like it was no good being sent to Russia,
they knew that they were going to cop it when the Russians caught up with them. And the Russians made it very clear, I don’t know whether you knew but in the early part of World War II, the
French were still behind the Maginot Line, the Germans were on the Siegfried Line, that was before the Blitz of England. And England was sending planes over Germany dropping leaflets, saying , “Our argument is not with the German people it is your nasty leaders.” Now the Germans of course had just cleaned up Poland
and were in the process about to clean up France and all of the other countries and they were quite cocky, you know it didn’t worry them at all. But in this period I am talking about when we were coming out from Silesia, they started dropping some leaflets on the Germans and it was just
a blood red sheet of paper with two words on it: ‘Wir Kommen’, ‘We are coming’. And the panic that generated amongst the Germans civilians was absolute. As I said we were on the road going west, and so were thousands of civilians, farmers with their carts and whatever possessions they could put on a cart.
And women, children, you know, thousands of prisoners going that way, and the German Army sending up reinforcements that way. You know there was a lot of chaos and from the German civilians of course, there was tremendous fear of the Russians. And then apart from all of that there were tremendous bombing raids going on.
I remember once when we were in Czechoslovakia, and we could hear them coming before we could ever see them. And this is a daylight raid and there is hundreds up there, there could have been five hundred four engine bombers churning south over, they had dropped their load wherever, north in Germany,
over Czechoslovakia heading and they were going to turn and go home. And there they were, and every one of those with four motors, the old radials were all roaring. And as I say you could hear them coming before you could see them and then when you did see them they filled the sky. Well that was a very very touchy
time with the guards that we had because they knew. They could see what their families and friends, what it must have been like for them you know. They were only seeing them go over, but somewhere in Germany someone had copped a hell of a hiding you know. And some of these guards could have had family in that area you know.
So it was a touchy thing you know. There were very few people who were prepared to shout, “Hallelujah.” You felt this is good but I won’t say anything. You know.