Archive number: 851
Preferred name: Mac
Date interviewed: 19 September, 2003
2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion Corps
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Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0851 Tape 01
If you just want to start by introducing yourself John?
I’m John Martin McNamara. I was born on the 7th January 1920. I suffered quite a bit of hardship in the very early days of my life. Unfortunately I was born too young.
I had a wonderful mother and father. A very, very happy childhood in a place called Blackwood in the Adelaide Hills. We were there til three. The only thing I can recall of Blackwood was the smell of the flowers in the garden. And as I’ve got older I’ve often wondered why those flowers smelt so strong. But of course they smell so strong as a child because you’re down so close to them.
That’s come to me over the years. My parents left Blackwood where my father was a manager for Downers on Cragburn which was a large property in those days but now it’s owned by Minda Homes. They bought Minda Homes from Downers, and quite a lot of it has been made into a residential area as Blackwood has been extended.
They bought…Downers bought a station at White (UNCLEAR). It’s now a station called Laurette, east of White (UNCLEAR) and my father managed that station and as well had a 500 acre property of his own. Things went very, very well from 1923 up t 1929 and of course the Depression
hit and my mother took ill for two or three years and they couldn’t diagnose what the problem was. She had pernicious anaemia and died in 1932 when I was 12. My father was a very, very strong man, a veterinary officer as well as owning his property and a station manager.
He did quite a lot of voluntary veterinary work around the district. Never charged anything for anything but you’d get a leg of ham or a cheese from the different people in appreciation. He was unfortunate in trying to remove a wool bale in a shed on top of the other bales with a iron hook. The hook pulled out through the seam of the bale
and hit him in the right eye and he damaged his right eye very severely to the extent that he had practically no sight in it, and unfortunately he had cataracts in the left eye. He was 42 years of age when I was born so he was getting on. He would have been well in his 50s. The Depression hit in 1929. We had sheep and cattle and he couldn’t even sell them, so as an alternative,
and unfortunately for the country, a very bad alternative, you could get one and eight pence a bushel for wheat, so they turned to wheat farming and unfortunately broke the top soil and killed all the perennial grasses and perennial flora, which has done a lot of damage from the years on from then. Things
weren’t going too good. Dad was having real problems with his eyes so we just walked off the property and went back to Coromandel Valley where they came from originally. His mother and father were pioneer settlers in Coromandal Valley. We worked at any sort of work we could get. Dad could do a few things. But we were on a property that belonged to my aunty
she had two houses and we were living in a home that was 100 years old and it was still quite habitable. We went wood cutting when I was about 13…yes when I was 13, and we were doing very nicely. The basic wage then was about 25 shillings and we were making over 7 pound a week
which was good, but the trees ran out, so that job finished. I got a job 4 days before I was 14 years old with a butcher by the name of Jackson in Blackwood and became an apprenticeship at five shillings a week. Out of that five shillings a week I had to buy my meat. So things weren’t plentiful
but we had wonderful spirit and wonderful love in the family. One just battled on. By the time I was 17 years of age I was a gun slaughterman, and in season which was always the spring of course, because there was only one lamb season in those days. Now they grow fat lambs the whole year round.
I used to go to the Port Adelaide first and then to Gepps Cross abattoirs in the lamb season as a slaughterman and I’d make approximately 12 pounds a week which was wonderful wages. Very hard work because the tally was 82 lambs but good money, very good money. But of course, that used to run out about late November early December.
And I would have to go back to butchering again. I kept working with Mr Jackson until I was 20 and during those years from 14 to 20 I played cricket. I played Australian Rules Football, tennis, any sport. A long distance runner. Socially,
a lot of dancing, wonderful friends. A totally different attitude then apparently to these days where groups of boys, a number of boys, four or five boys and four or five girls were all good mates and you went to dances, balls and all that sort of things. We were all good friends and good mates with wonderful respect for each other. I know my…people used to ring me up at work and say
are you going to so and so ball on Saturday night and I’d say yes, and they’d say well then can you take my daughter. Yes, does she want to go. Yes. Right. And it was done on that sort of basis. Not lovey dovey stuff. Just real friendship and real respect. And it’s a terrible tragedy I think that that’s gone out of our lives.
Unfortunately in 1939, on the 3rd of September 1939, World War II broke out. I was an eager beaver, my Dad being a military man. A Regimental Sergeant Major had a told us a lot of stories about the war and all the more funny ones and all that sort of thing, and we were enthusiastic my twin brother and I, my twin brother Richard.
We joined up. Dad didn’t want us to join up early because he knew what the war was like. He wanted us to wait until we were 21. But we were so eager and when France fell and the threat, such a very severe and dangerous threat to England…he said right, if you want to join up, join up. So we joined up on 23rd June 1941.
And they were forming the 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. My Dad was the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd Machine Gun Company in the First World War so that had a certain attraction, so we joined up with that at Wavell Showgrounds in South Australia. And
our first billets were in the Centennial Hall which is the main building on the Adelaide Show Grounds. It was a peculiar building in this respect in that the floor was built very high off the ground. It was a jarrah floor and the old military boot used to make a terrific din on it. So we were restricted from wearing our military boots in our billet.
A funny incident happened in respect to this. We had a sergeant major come from Duntroon, an absolute martinet. He lay down the orders that nobody was to enter our actual sleeping areas after lights out at night with their boots on.
He went out somewhere during the evening, came back and started marching down the middle of the hall with his military boots on making a terrific clatter. One of the bright boys picked up a boot and let fly with a boot, got the sergeant major fair in the head. So the lights were switched on very, very promptly and then there was a search to find out whose boot it was.
The boot was removed very quickly so they couldn’t determine whose boot it was. He finished up with a beautiful black eye and no punishment. Just one of the funny incidents that happen in military life. Some time after…I can’t remember how long we were there, we
went to Oakbank. We marched from there to Oakbank Racecourse in the Adelaide Hills. One of the famous race courses in the Adelaide Hills where the Great Eastern Steeple Chase is held each year, and still held these days. In the winter it was extremely cold. It would be white with frost, even the shrubs and bushes ten feet high would be absolutely covered with frost in the morning.
And we’d be out doing our exercises and our runs before breakfast. We’d come back and have breakfast and then do all the normal military training. We did a lot of route marching and a very, very happy time really because our CO [Commanding Officer], a First World War man, a Victoria Cross winner, A.S. Blackburn….Arthur Seaforth Blackburn.
We had a good bunch of officers. Wonderful NCOs [Non Commissioned Officer]. So even though the training was very hard, we were determined to get very fit. For instance there was a group of us in the hut where we were, we’d do weight lifting for about twenty minutes to twenty five minutes. Then we’d have three rounds with different fellas.
That took some time. Then we’d do the racecourse, around the racecourse and then into the cold showers. Then straight into the cot which was a haversack on the floor. And about eight blankets to keep warm. Once you got into bed you could hardly get up anyway because the blankets were that heavy. I’ll have to try
and think, I think it was about November, October or November, we moved to Warradale Camp in Adelaide which is in the south western suburbs of Adelaide. We continued our training there. They had formed the battalion of B Company in Victoria, C
Company in Tasmania, D Company in Western Australia, and Headquarters Company and A Company in South Australia. And that was the time they brought them all together at Warradale. In December we were told that we were going overseas. I don’t know what happened but we didn’t go. We were still there in January and we marched
to Woodside Military Camp in Adelaide Hills which is a large camp. Our CO, to toughen us up, decided that they would empty all the water bottles before we left Warradale. The temperature was 102 and we set off to march 308 miles in I think to Woodside Camp. The first
night we stopped in the National Park at Belair for the night and there was some trouble with some of the chaps because of the trauma of being without water and high temperatures. The next day was a real hard climb up the mountains and to my knowledge, out of 750 we got to Woodside Camp
with 52 men. The rest had collapsed on the way, and there were trucks moving everywhere to pick them up. And some were fairly inaccessible where they collapsed. It was a ridiculous exercise, achieved nothing and did a lot of damage to quite a lot of chaps. I got to Woodside myself. My twin brother he got there as well. It didn’t seem to affect us very much. We were hills born and hills bred
and we settled down in Woodside Camp and continued with our training there. We came back from one leave, a holiday weekend. I think it was the 26th of January. Chaps went home to Tasmania and Victoria but it was too far for the West Australians to go home. When we came back on the Monday
morning, as anybody who knows troops was aware, they had had a fair bit of liquid content on the way. I didn’t drink myself nor did my brother. The CO had a wonderful idea. There were five trig points on the tops of hills in sight of the camp and our job, pleasant job, was to run around those
five trig points and then back to camp as an exercise. We took off …I don’t know what time, about 8 in the morning I imagine. I was coming back down the road towards camp with a chap by the name of Campbell. I can’t remember his Christian name. I said, “I’ll race you to the gate.” The CO and the 2OC [Second Officer Commanding] were there and they grabbed hold of us and to our amazement said, “You’ve won son, you’ve won.”
I had never been able to run. I was never a fast runner, and I couldn’t believe this. Anyway, yes they were delighted. And then we suddenly realised, won! There were some wonderful athletes in the battalion and I didn’t think I was one of them for sure. Anyway the next morning, I think it was a sergeant from West Australia came and saw me, a chap by the name of Terry Deed who was a professional
runner. He said to me, “You won that yesterday didn’t you?” And I said, “Yes to my amazement.” And he said, “Would you like to be a long distance runner?” And I said, “I’ll give it a go.” So we trained for me to be a long distance runner and then I would run about nine, ten miles every morning. On the 8th of April we embarked on a train at Oakbank Station to go
go to Sydney to embark overseas. We got to Sydney on the 10th of April to board the Ile de France which was a French liner, pre-war. It was, when France collapsed, he had been in New York Harbour because the normal route was between Le Havre in France and New York.
And for some reason then it was taken to Singapore. In Singapore, it still had the French crew aboard and they tried to sabotage the ship….sabotage in this respect. They took fresh water pipes and joined them up with sewage pipes and made a complete mess of the thing.
It was an 8000 ton ship so it was a big ship. When we boarded it in Circular Quay in Sydney, the main ballroom which was a large ballroom, the floor of that ballroom was covered with about an inch of grease and God knows what. A shocking state. So before we could board the ship we had the job of cleaning the ballroom up and other areas.
On the morning of the 11th of April, it was Good Friday 1941, we sailed from Circular Quay. Also in the convoy was the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, New Amsterdam, Aquitania and Mauritania. It was a big convoy.
We headed quite a distance I believe south of Tasmania because it’s very hard to imagine it now but they were concerned about U-boats. I don’t think there were any U-boats near Australia, but that’s not the point. Anyway we went quite a way down south into very rough seas, across the Bight and that area heading towards Western Australia. It was extremely rough.
I was on a gun team right on the bows of the ship and on a 48,000 ton ship, that’s a long way out of the water, but the waves were breaking over the bow so it was very, very rough. It’s the only time I’ve been seasick in my life, and I was seasick. And I was also fighting in the boxing championships so being seasick didn’t help me very much. So instead of winning the final I was runner up.
It was all in a matter of keeping fit and enjoying it really. When we got to Western Australia our CO was so concerned about what was going on in the ship, with sewerage being on the floor and…we were down on E deck. Every morning the floor would be covered with urine and faeces and stink…it was shocking. He was going to take
us off the ship if they didn’t do something about it. So I think we were 10 days out in the roads at Fremantle while they did a considerable renovation of the ship. After they got things satisfactory anyway, we headed for Ceylon. I don’t recall how many days, whether it was a day or two days to get to Ceylon. But we got to Ceylon
and when we got to Ceylon there was a lot of turmoil in the Middle East. Greece was in…just about evacuating our troops from Greece and it was a terrific shemozzle there really. We were suppose to go to Greece when we originally left Australia. So they
held us in Colombo Harbour for, I think 7 days. In those 7 days we had day leave into Colombo, had a good look around the place. On one day, I don’t know if it was arrange through the CO of the ship or who it was arranged by, but it was the Red Cross ladies
and they had organised that anybody who wished could go to Candi up into the mountains by bus. Unfortunately the bus we were on nearly stopped more than it went. Eventually we got there but we were late getting back. My twin brother and I were hurrying to get back to Galle Face Green where we had to assemble to get back to the ship.
Two British military police saw us and stopped us and said, “You’re 2nd/3rd Machine Gunners?” We said, “Yes.” They said, “We’ve got one of your blokes down on Savo Island, he’s gone absolutely mad. We can’t do anything with him. Perhaps you can.” I said, “Yes, I have a fair idea who it is.” We went down and he was absolutely raving mad. He was one of the chaps in our platoon.
I tried to talk to him and get him to settle down, my brother did too. He would have none of it. So we quietened him down physically and then the police put a straight jacket on him. We got him onto the… we called them ‘bum boats’ [small local boats] to go back to the ship and the Brigadier,
OC Ships was on the bum boat, and said, “What are you doing with that man in a straight jacket? Get him out of the straight jacket.” And I said, “He’s been put in the straight jacket by the military police sir and I think we should keep it on him. He’s a very dangerous man.” He said, “Absolute rot. Get it off him. No man on my ship will be in a straight jacket.” So we carried out his directions. We were still sitting one on either side of him and the Brigadier
when went and lent over the fairly low rail on the other side of this boat. Our mate, Phil Stringer jumped up and grabbed him by the seat of the trousers and threw him straight in the harbour. And I began counting the days, 28 days, 56 days, ‘I wonder how many day’s I’ll be in the brig [holding cell]?’ We got him back on board and he lost his cap. When we got him back on board he stood there looking at us.
We expected a burst and he said, “You know, a man’s a bloody fool to interfere with other people’s business.” And that’s all he said. But there was another sequel to this because when we got on board we were late and our company commander put us on a charge for drunken and disorderly, and my twin brother and I had never had a drink of alcohol in our lives.
We were given punishment. We went up before him the next morning and I protested and he told me to shut up. We did the punishment which was runners on the ship. And if anybody’s got any idea how difficult it is to be a runner on a 48,000 ton ship, I know how difficult it is, it was amazing. So anyway we did our punishment and then I asked to be paraded before our
battalion commander, Brigadier Blackburn, and he said he wouldn’t parade me. Well my father being an ex Regimental Sergeant Major and having a full book of all King’s Rules and Regulations, I had done a lot of reading of it and had had a lot of instruction from him prior to the war and also he had presented that
King’s Rules and Regulations to the Regimental Sergeant Major of our battalion. So I quoted the regulation that said that if requested to be paraded before a senior officer, he couldn’t do anything about it. It had to be carried out. And he abused me and said, “Alright, you’re a smart so and so. You’ll be paraded tomorrow morning.”
So I went before our CO and told him the story and also got two witnesses, NCOs from the 16th Artillery Regiment, as witnesses to say that none of it was our fault. That the vehicle we had been allocated kept breaking down. So he was a very, very hard disciplinarian really, but a very fair man.
And he listened then he dismissed us and to our amazement the next morning there was an apology in the routine orders for being falsely charged. But that unfortunately didn’t endear me with my company commander. Not at all. Anyway we went from there and I can’t remember the
date actually (I’ll have to put my specs [spectacles] on.) On 15th May we arrive in Port Tewfik, a port in Egypt. We disembarked and boarded a train. We went up around the canals,
stopped at El Kantara and then had dinner at El Kantara and then we went on to Kantara I think it is where the train line crosses the Suez Canal towards Port Said. It was night time by the time we got there. The British soldiers had a staging camp there
and it was famous for the meal of bangers and mash. I went through there during my period in the Middle East I think four times, and every time we went through there it was bangers and mash. There was one peculiar thing that happened there. The boys were coming back from parts of Greece and I said to one of the chaps, “How did you get on?” And he said, “How did we get on?
Not too flaming good mate, it was a bad show. Badly organised, everything.” “And how did you get on for food.” “No good. When we were up in the mountains we had no food at all.” He said, “I’ll give you some idea how hungry we were. I wanted to go to the toilet and I went down into a little green patch and I was that bloody hungry when I squatted down my backside started eating grass.”
It broke up the gang that was there. That’s the wonderful sense of humour of the Australian soldier. When you put him under pressure and you think he’s had it and probably very down hearted, he comes out with the greatest humour you would ever hear in your life. That we
have because of the old Cockney…because we’re attached to Cockneys during the war in some very, very tough situations. They’re the funniest men I’ve ever been with in my life. The more pressure you put them under the funnier they are. That humour has spread through our population. The pioneers carried it onto us.
It’s an amazing thing to have. It’s one of the most wonderful things you can have during war time because you’re going to be put under great pressure at various times and that sense of humour comes out. It’s fantastic. Anyway, we travelled by train all night. Early next morning we went to Palestine and we went to Hill 95,
a camp just east of Gaza. We considered that the trucks we travelled in had square wheels. They were very rough. But anyway we arrived satisfactorily and we went into 6 man tents at Hill 95. We were there for some days and we immediately started our
training again and toughening up. Our CO to our amazement did one of his great feats again of doing a route march without water. The temperature was over 100 degrees and the NCOs in charge of our section made sure we emptied our water bottles by holding them upside own with the cork out before we left and we headed off on a 30 mile route
march in temperatures over 100 degrees and sand. There were only five of us got back to Hill 95. My twin brother; a great mate by the name of Bob Traddle; and Orb Gamble and Captain Jack Kennedy, ‘Bull’ Kennedy we used to call him. He carried our rifles, our four rifles. I don’t remember actually getting into the camp.
I remember being aware of what was going on when I was under a shower. So that was how close we were to being totally exhausted. It was absolute madness. A lot of the rest of the chaps were badly affected. Anyway that was part of our training. He said it was a toughening up exercise. I have grave doubts about that. About three days later we went on another route march
but we did have water with us at that time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know what it was but I had contracted dengue fever, and I had a high temperature and Doctor Dick Pallew said I wasn’t to go. But I wanted to go because if I didn’t go on that route march I wouldn’t go up into action in Syria with the boys. So I was determined I was going to go.
But I had to sign a declaration prior to going that if anything happened to me it was self inflicted. I went, I remember getting to Ashqelon which is one of the old original Roman towns on the Mediterranean. I felt absolutely dreadful. My temperature was very high and the only thing
I could take or eat or drink was very, very strong little cups of Arabic coffee. And that settled me down. So we headed back and my twin brother took my rifle which I didn’t want him to. I remember heading for camp but I don’t remember getting back to camp. But anyway, the consequence was that 3 days later we headed for Syria.
We went to Syria. They were hoping it would be a peaceful invasion because it was the Vichy French and they were hoping they wouldn’t fight. Why they went into Syria was because they had intelligence that the Germans were going to come down through Turkey and Turkey was a country that was neutral, and down through Syria, and they already had what they called advisors
in Iraq and getting down into Arabia so they were very concerned about the infiltration into the area. So that’s why we went into Syria, and as I said, they were hoping it would be a peaceful invasion. We just walked over the border with our rifles and our felt hats on, slouch hats on. I don’t think we were more than 200 yards over the border when they started to shell us with
75s. So we did a very rapid retreat back to get our tin hats, then we entered across the border in an invasion.
What did you actually know at the time when you were going in?
Nothing. We were just told what to do, you get all this afterwards. See in war you’re only a small section there. You know what’s going on in that section. You know what your instructions are for
that section. You’ve got no wide understanding of the general situation. So what you do, you know it’s like the old saying, you’re just there to do what you’re told. Not to make any great decision. So that’s what we did. We crossed the border on the eastern Syrian border into
a place called…on the Jordan River, and we attacked a fort, Fort Kiam. This Fort Kiam was on a high mountain. I don’t know the elevation. But it was high and it was a crusader fort with walls 12 foot thick, huge stones in them. How they ever got them to where they were is hard to say but they did.
Our guns, four six inch Howitzers [canons] and I think 48 25 pounders fired rapid fire on that fort for 24 hours and we didn’t even hurt it. But they did quite a lot of damage inside. So what we did then we got in our trucks across the Jordan River and went around the foot of the mountain to the left.
The engineers had blasted some tracks, a short cut up to the fort. The other road went right around the mountain and was under the Vichy [Vichy French] artillery. So we couldn’t go around there, so they made a short cut. The trucks could only go so far and then we went on foot from there. One funny incident happened. When we were going up, a plane flew past us out onto the plain to the left of us
and it had rondels on it, red white and blue rondels on it. We didn’t realise that it was the reverse of what ours are and it was French. It was a Hurricane that was captured at the fall of France in the year before. So we all waved to this guy as he went past, then he turned around and came back and came straight for us. We pulled up and dived off the road. But there was a truck
further up the road ahead of us. The driver got out and tore up the side of the mountain which was very rocky. Infantry walking up the road dived under the truck. Anyway after he made a couple of passes which he missed both times, either side of us, then he disappeared and an infantry man came down out of the rocks and was laughing like mad and said to these blokes, “What the hell are you doing under there?”
“A bit of cover mate.” He said, “Now you’ve had your cover, have a look it the back.” It was loaded explosives. He said, “What the hell do you think I was tearing up the mountain for?” That’s one of those funny things that happen. Anyway then we moved to a sunken garden. From the fort off the south west corner
was a sunken garden which was quite good protection. The sunken part of it was this very solid stone wall that was already built into stone. So it was good cover and what we did, we waited there with the Vickers machine gun, waiting to see someone to shoot up which there were none at the time, and the engineers had moved in during the night to mine the
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 02
Just start off with the story you were just about to start with.
Oh yes. The French had a peculiar grenade that wasn’t terribly powerful. It wouldn’t physically harm you but it used to explode five times, like a jumping jack. They dropped one of these at a corner where some chaps were working.
Of course they took off from it and it took off after them. I’ve never seen anybody get away, like a jockey going round a corner faster than I’ve seen in all my life. We were about 150, 200 yards from it and we were laughing our heads off. They weren’t I’m sure, but these are the little funny things that happen. Anyway we eventually took the fort and we went into it
There were quite a few killed inside, more from concussion than anything else because the explosion from the 25 pounders and six inch Howitzers in a fortified area like that, the concussion would be more effective than any shrapnel. There were tunnels down below. We started to head down the tunnels but we couldn’t get down. There was a shocking smell coming from them. Myself being an old slaughterman was immune to
this, so I tried to work further down and finished up putting my gas mask on and went down. It was a German officer who was dead there. He had been dead for some days but he had a good camera and a good pair of binoculars and a Luger pistol. So I got them and then shot out of it.
We then started to move further down the town which was a gradual grading going down towards the roads on the north western side of the mountain. Still pretty high and still fairly steep. Going down through the town we were advancing from house to house, fire and then ducking from house to house. One of our chaps, ‘Jimmy’ Mounsey [James Mounsey] was the ex lightweight [boxing] champion of Australia,
saw a fowl fly out from this alley and he pelted his tin hat at it and hit it and nearly took its head off. So we got that, found a galvanised pot and got a fire going. That was by evening. We had hardly got the water…well it was boiling…when we got word to move. So some of the guys pulled the chook
to pieces to eat it but it was uneatable. Anyway we moved further on. The next morning we were short of ammunition…we were short of ammunition all the time because things were so bad when it came to ammunition…the Vickers machine gun has a firing range of 600 rounds a minute and we would go into action with one belt of ammunition which was only 250
rounds. If you rapid fired it would only last for half a minute…in action in that situation. It was hopeless really, but we still took the country by other means and in all sorts of ways. A young chap by the name of…when I say young, I was only 21, he was 18, I think,
he and I were sent back to try and get some ammunition. So we went back down to the main road which was two and a half mile or more. Good going down but very steep going back and we were carrying 2000 rounds which was 8 belts on a pack on my back, and on one part of this strip was along a very narrow ledge, only about 5 or 6 feet wide and the drop over the side
was 1000 feet. It was afternoon by that time and a 105 shell came in and hit underneath the track by I don’t know what, 18 inches or something like that. It lifted me and the track up and I don’t know how many times I turned over and over but I landed on one foot, one knee and then went sprawling forward. And
that pack with 2000 rounds of ammunition in it hit me fair and square in the middle of my back. It hurt like hell at the time. I was young, fit, enthusiastic. Dougie Kline was the other chap who was with me, he had 200 rounds of ammunition as well. We got back up to where the company was, part of the company…a platoon. We handed over the ammo [ammunition]
and never said a word. But my back was hurting. I kept going anyway. We went then…we were supposed to have got there while we were still there, some donkeys or mules to carry our guns. The Vickers machine gun weighed 28 pound but the tripod weighed 50 pound. I was Number One Gunner so I was carrying the 50 pound tripod as well as my gear.
Our platoon commander selected ‘Dougie’ Kline to go to a place called Dayr az Zawr ahead of us to pick up…he had got word there were some mules over there. He didn’t want to go, so he said to ‘Nobbie’ Clark who was our lieutenant, a very nice chap,
he said to Nobbie, “I don’t want to go sir. I reckon if I go over there I’ll get killed. I’ve got a feeling.” So I said, “I’ll go, don’t worry about it.” But Nobbie said, “No Kline, you’re going.” He never came back with the mules. Next day we went over ourselves which was another two and half to three miles through the mountains. You have to realise we were up, by that stage about 4,500 to 5000 feet in the
mountains. We got over to the Dayr az Zawr and it was a sizeable little Arab village. There was a very high wall on the side of the footpath on the street and lying on the footpath face down was Dougie Kline. About five o’clock every evening they used to shell everything. We don’t know the real reason for it, but
we would suspect it was about the time we would have some grub [food] so it would upset our food time. Dougie had backed up to this wall which was about 8 feet high and the shell had hit right on the other side about head level and so the concussion through the wall had killed him. Anyway we picked him up and we buried him and then we went further up into the town. It was deserted
by the Arabs and there were very few troops there too and the fighting was just a little bit out in front of it. We selected a house, it looked a good looking house, as a matter of fact I’ve got a photo of it. It was a doctor’s home. We didn’t realise that for a start but we found there was all silvery cutlery, beautiful linen table cloths, gold rimmed plates, dishes. So we set ourselves up in the house.
We had to do our duty just the same. I caught a pig, slaughtered the pig, dressed the poultry. There were apricots and plums on the trees. So we got fruit as well as our normal rations. None of the other guys could cook but the fact that my father and brother and I had batched for so many years worked out quite well. So
I used to cook the tucker and do all my other duties as well as taking ration parties back to get rations which was about 6 miles there and back of a night through very rugged country. We were doing quite well. Our officer who I said was a very nice chap, was totally incompetent as a soldier and a leader and
he had no idea. For instance he put us in a position the first night we were there. He told us to take up these positions in front of the village. He gave us no information about the position of our own troops. No information whatsoever about the position of the enemy troops. The only thing he said was, “If you hear horses galloping on your right it’s probably the (UNCLEAR)cavalry.”
And they were considered to be one of the best cavalries in the world. And we were just dumped there. There was fighting going on in the middle of the night ahead of us. We couldn’t open fire on anything because we didn’t know where anybody was. Some of the chaps, including myself were getting very, very irate about this. He came back the next morning in day light and we had to disarm one of our mates. He was going to shoot him. We tried to
work it out with him and tell him what the situation was. He was back at headquarters and I don’t even know where the headquarters was but it certainly wasn’t at the front line. As I said, we set ourselves up very nicely in this house. He came down while we were doing other duties and knocked off half our pig and our chooks [chickens] and took them up to …we were attached to the British headquarters.
This didn’t endear him with the chaps at all although we still had plenty left. We were short of a few men because in the fighting ahead of that we had lost a few blokes wounded and killed. We were holding the line there because the main force had gone back down the valley. We were going to cut the attacks in the main valley, and all we had to do there was hold the French so they couldn’t advance back down and get behind them.
So we were in a holding position. But they wanted all guns manned so we got five or…can’t remember, chaps from the Border Regiment that we were attached to. I think it was a sergeant and five men. They came down towards evening and Nobbie Clark was there with us having tea. They walked into this room which was a beautiful big dining room and they came back to me and said,
“Can’t go in there.” I said, “Why what’s wrong?” They said, “There’s an officer in there. We can’t go and sit down with an officer.” I said, “Don’t worry about Nobbie, get in there.” But they wouldn’t go and Bill Davis who was our senior sergeant and who was a wonderful guy came out and said, “What’s going on Mac?” I said, “These fellas won’t go in because Nobbie’s in there.” He said, “I think we can solve that problem can’t we.” I said, “I don’t know, what are you going to do?”
He said, “I know what I’m going to do.” So he went in, picked up a rifle, shoved a round up the rifle and said to Nobbie. “Is that your gear over there?” He said, “Yes, you know it’s my gear.” He said, “Pick it up.” He said, “What!” He said, “Pick it up.” He said, “What for?” He said, “You’re going or staying permanent, your choice.” So he said, “Well I’m going then.” And he went. We thought there would be horrendous repercussions about this.
Apparently he went back to our battalion headquarters, complained to our commanding officer and he said, “Sorry mate, if you can’t handle your men you’re no bloody good to me. You’re on your way.” So that was the end of that. Anyway we didn’t have an officer and we just carried out our duties and just carried on.
We held that position for some time, I think another 2 or 3 days. There was a funny little incident one night. I was on duty, picket duty out from where we were, closer to the front line. I had a Thompson sub machine gun which we used to attack with at night. I was leaning back against this hay stack and I could hear the metal of an army boot clicking against stones.
So I waited until it got closer and I shouted out, “Who goes there?” And silence. “Who goes there?” Silence. And then a voice said, “Is that you Aussie?” I said, “Advance one and be recognised.” The voice said, “Is that you…” I said, “Shut up and advance.” Anyway he got up close and I said, “Yes it is an Aussie.
You’re lucky you’re not dead. You didn’t give a password. The password is not, ‘is that you Aussie’.” He said, “It’s Canterbury.” I said, “It’s not Canterbury, so you’re a very suspicious character aren’t you.” I knew he wasn’t. I knew he was a Scotsman. He said, “It is Canterbury.” I said, “No it’s not Canterbury.” He said, “Well what is it then?” I said, “It’s Canberra mate.”
Anyway we got together and they were from the Border Regiment but lost. Every night when we would go back for rations we find them lost in the mountains and guide them back again. They had no idea of where they were once it was dark. They were hopeless and we’d been reared in the country as kids
so without even realising it you gained a very good understanding of directions. Anyway we moved from there then and the whole advance had moved further up the coast and was going very well considering we were outnumbered about five to one by the Foreign Legion mostly. We
were sent around to the west coast on the Mediterranean to take Damour . We were some miles back from the Litani River and Damour. We camped for the night and we had the mules by then. The Cyprus mules and they were a cross between an English hunter and a very good sturdy donkey. They were very sturdy animals and very well trained.
With them was a Cyprus manager. He was a funny guy. I headed off with the first mule with my guns on it along this road with the sunken gardens on the beach side. There was an olive grove there and I was just passing this olive grove, I don’t know if it was deliberate…they were going to fire anyway, they had 6 inch Howitzers.
And a 6 inch Howitzer makes a hell of a bang. They were waiting until I was right in front of the guns but under the elevation and they opened fire with four six inch Howitzers. I don’t know who went the highest the mule or me but I was off the ground. Anyway we headed up the mountain then and we had to go cross country. We marched all of that night.
At daylight we were on the Litani River. We went down off the mountains down into the Litani River. We went back and saw some weeks later in day light and it’s still an absolute mystery to me how we got down there. It was only a goat track and on the goat track as well were the signal wires for the signallers criss-crossing the track too.
I realised that at the time because I got hooked up in it during the night. It was nearly sheer where we went down and everybody got down, our mules and all without incident. Well not without incident. There were some killed because of the 6 inch Howitzers had dropped short in and did kill some of the guys. We got down and crossed the Litani River on the wall of the dam,
and unfortunately some of the mules panicked. I don’t know why. We were crossing the wall of the dam and they jumped into the water. They were so heavily laden with the machine guns and ammunition that they went upside down. The only thing sticking out were their noses and their feet. So we jumped in and towed them across to the other side. But they were amazing animals. We had to climb the other side to a place called El Boom [?], a little village
and it was exceedingly steep, and like it was all ledges. We had a hell of a job getting them from one ledge to the other. What we’d do is get out shoulder behind one leg and heave and up they’d go. But even if they fell back down, up they’d get and have another go. They were amazing animals. Anyway, we got up to El Boom and we thought it was about time we had some tucker.
We boiled the billy which was boiling in a little dixie [pot]. And at that time, for the first time during the way, there was supposed to be a combined attack between the army, navy and the air force. The navy, I can’t remember how many ships. We could see them. I think there was about 14, including one 18 inch cruiser which was the Perth. The
scrap iron flotilla, quite a few of the scrap iron flotilla which were destroyers. They called them the scrap iron flotilla because in the invasion of Crete the Germans sent a lot of boats and barges in there and they just ploughed through them so they all had damaged bows. So they called them the Scrap Iron Flotilla. They pounded the place. But the air force
had a method which was quite inadequate. They had some air force chaps moving in with us with a great big tarpaulin with the rondels of the air force painted on it, and they had to lay that out at the front line so they knew where was the front line was.
Real high tech stuff you know. Unfortunately they were miles behind us. When I say miles…a good mile or more behind us. When they heard the planes coming they laid it out anyway. So they bombed us in El Boom. But we saw the bomb doors open and we got out of that little place real quick. So we weren’t bombed, but they bombed the place. From there we went on
and we started to move around to the left of the main top of the ridge. We were going in on a ridge between the two forces…the forces back in the mountains and the forces back on the coast, to divide the two forces. There weren’t many. It was the 3rd Infantry Battalion and one of our platoons which was four guns with a few other attached troops. So it wasn’t a very big force but it was a very mobile force.
We started to move around. They got us in the range of their 75’s, and started to pound that track. So we couldn’t go that track so we headed back and got closer to the mountain. Even though there was machine gun fire and artillery fire, the mules never panicked. They’d stand with fire. They were amazing. We got to what was called the Red House
along the top of the ridge above Damour which I would say was two miles back from the coast, maybe a little more. The French were dug in. It was very hard rocky ground. They had blasted trenches 7 foot deep right across the ridge to stop anyone from coming in. The infantry were having great trouble trying to rout them out.
The infantry Bren [machine] guns had been in Greece, they had been up the desert. They had been in Crete and then into Syria and they were worn so badly they couldn’t get the range properly. So we worked ourselves into position to infiltrate these trenches and we rooted them out very smartly. Unfortunately there were about…we captured 109 of these big black Senegalese that were wounded.
We could do nothing for them. We didn’t have any extra medical supplies other than the field bandages and we had no food. We were in there for 10 days with practically no food, fortunately we had water. There was a well at the house, but you ran a risk getting to that well. You had to run like hell and dive behind the wall. There was a wall around the top.
You’d throw your canvas bucket over the side and let it hit the water. When it felt like it was full, pull it up, coil up the rope, grab your bag and go like hell back to the house again or back past it to the rocks. We had another heavy firing sessions there. We got an attack from the ones in the mountains to the east of us
during the night. The infantry held them up most of the night but as it became daylight they were advancing much more quickly. That was fortunate because we couldn’t fire during the night because we couldn’t tell the difference between the flashes from their rifles or our rifles. So as soon as it started to become daylight we could see them moving and we could see our chaps moving back. It was very low sparse scrub
and coverage of quite big rocks. We were up on the other ridge looking down on it. So we opened up with the Vickers and we soon stopped the advance. In the afternoon, for some reason that I could never understand, they joined together behind the knoll then marched up a valley fully in view of us. I’d been firing off and on all day so I said to my number two who had
done a hell of a good job, “Do you want a go?” Well he had a go and he had a field shoot. Well I’m not kidding, it was stupidity. Anyway that quietened all that down. We were there for nearly the rest of that day and by that time unfortunately the Senegalese had died from their wounds. It was a sad situation. We couldn’t help them. And we couldn’t help ourselves.
We got our mules then, loaded them up and headed down to Damour. On the way down when we got onto the flat area, going into the town, there were huge grape vines against the walls with great big bunches, and I mean great big bunches. You could hardly lift them. I’ve got a big bunch of grapes holding it up in my left hand. It was on my left
and the mules on the other side. I’m having a feed on one side and the mules on the other side. I regretted a day later. Anyway we got further down. They moved us and wouldn’t let us go further into the town. They said we had to move on further which we did. Another infantry battalion supplied us with bread, jam, bully beef and clothes because our clothes
were a mess by that time. We got new boots, new clothes. The funny part of that was, the loaves of bread…we sliced off slices of bread and put bully beef on one and jam on another. We had big slices of bread with bully beef and jam. There was about a third of a loaf left and we handed it to the Cypriote with a big handle bar moustache. He pulled the centre out of the bread and then
plonked the tin of bully beef and rest of the jam in it and got stuck into it. So it was bully beef, jam and crumbs. God he was a character. The next morning we moved on to another area but things had all gone quiet. Very late in the afternoon we got called to the right into the mountains
and it was in a very heavily terraced area on our side, not on the other side where there were caves. What we didn’t realise was in these caves were artillery pieces. We set ourselves up on one of these terraces, dug our guns in. But when we got our guns dug in and were about to fire at a target that had been allocated, they opened up on us with the artillery.
They were very poor shots because nearly all the shots hit the terraces above us or below us. It went up and below us and over the top of us. Anyway we didn’t mess around, we got stuck into them with the Vickers and soon shut them up. Then the other target disappeared and some infantry guys told us they had shot through. We went back down the valley much closer to the coast and they told us there was a cease fire.
We again never had any supplies so we were out of tucker again, other than one of those large square dixies with rice, custard and prunes. The blokes said, “What the hell are we going to do with that?” I said, “Don’t worry about it, we can have a good feed.” So we got some rocks and set up the rocks. Got some dry pine limbs and made
a good fire and cooked them up a dixie full of custard, rice and prunes. It was a good feed. We were there for that day and then we were advised to move down to the road, the main coastal road. So we moved down to the main coastal road and they picked us up and took us into Beirut or to the outer suburbs of Beirut where there was still fighting even though they had said there was a cease fire.
There was no cease fire when we got there. They started to open up on us again. But it wasn’t a very big force I don’t think. It was mainly out of one house. So I shot up a street parallel to that street they were firing down and found another cross street and the cross street went right to their building. So I sneaked down the cross street and I had a couple of grenades. I got close to their place and got on my back and
slid along on my back underneath the window and pelted the grenades in the window which stopped that little fuss. That was the last of the fighting. We were then caught up with by the rest of the company and went back to Acker where they had set up a staging area for everybody to come together, the whole battalion. I don’t know how many days were there. We were there for some days and
we then went to Tripoli Barracks. From Beirut to Tripoli. We got there and they had been inhabited by French troops prior to us getting there and were they a mess. They were unbelievable. The toilets were faeces all up the walls and they were shocking. We had a hell of a job cleaning everything up before we’d even go into the barracks. The barracks were bug ridden,
fleas, lice, I don’t know how these people live like this you know. There was a real clean out I’ll tell you. We were only there for a week and we shifted to north of Tripoli and I can’t remember the name of the camp. Right opposite where the Iraq oil pipeline comes out
to the tanks on the coast, the depot. The area we were in overlooked a plain and they wanted to build fence which overlooked these hills or mountains overlooking the plain in case Jerry [the Germans] came down through Turkey, which was still suspected would happen. We were there from….I don’t know…
I suppose, up until November. From November it’s starting to get pretty cold. It gets cold up there. Then they shifted us from there to a place called Beqa’a Mazine .Beqa’a Mazine was situated about half way up the mountains, south of Beirut about…I don’t know for sure but I would think about 30 kilometres. Our headquarters
was at Fahiy [?] which was just up above us to the west. Then the mountains climbed away to the east up to the Cedars. Cedars was about 10,000 feet which was one of the highest resorts in the world at that stage. The highest road in the world. It was a ski lodge and a big hotel. We kept training there and
it was very cold. We were in a house at Beqa’a Mazine which had been occupied by the Australian Light Horse in the First World War. Some of the Arab people there…you may not realise it but in Lebanon there was great rapport between the Lebanon people and the Australian people. There was then and of course there has been more since. A lot of Lebanon people coming here and they’re Christians most of them of course.
They gave us a wonderful time really. And we just kept training there. We did one little sortie and the Germans were gradually getting more and more influence in Iraq…and the British had
airfields in Iraq, nothing else. They were getting more infiltration from Germans technicians. They weren’t army people. Unfortunately they stirred up the Iraqis to attack these air force guys. We were warned about it and we mounted a Vickers machine gun on the back of a 30 hundred weight utility which
was one of our section’s vehicles. So we had four of those and we headed for Iraq to try and help these guys but as normal in those circumstances, it’s always too late. We got there and oh god, what those Arab women had done to those British soldiers was totally unbelievable. I can’t tell you.
It was shocking. That didn’t endear us with the Arabs I can tell you that. We just realised what savages they are and how cruel. Anyhow we couldn’t help them. Some British forces arrived then to bury them and finally move out any of the equipment that was any good, and I don’t think there would have been anything.
We went back to Beqa’a Mazine. When we got back to Beqa’a Mazine, our best source of information was the Arab kids and they were telling us we were going back up to the desert. We knew we were on the move. Even though they don’t tell you anything, you can see the signs. And we thought, oh the desert, beauty, we don’t think. But anyway
on the (excuse me doing this), haven’t got it written down here. I think it was about the 10th of January we moved back down to Palestine to Hill 65.
Yes that’s right, Hill 65. The chaps were coming out of Tobruk by that time, the Australians. They were getting out of Tobruk and other forces were taking over their job there. They were at Kissoue just across from us, and I knew quite a few of the chaps in the 48th Battalion and the 43rd Battalion…and the …no, the 10th had gone.
So there was only the 43rd and the 48th. It was a beautiful moonlight evening so my brother and I, off we went. It was only about a mile across, dead flat. We got within, I don’t know how far from the camp, and no warning, no anything, no challenge and bang. A bullet went whizzing past our ears. “We’re Australians you so and sos.” Bang! “We’re Australians!…with what would you say, some embellishments.
Oh, oh come on in. They were so trigger happy. Anyway we met our mates and talked to them. But I believe that there during the day, there were sentry boxes at different, like 150 yards, 200 yards and another sentry box up the end at the corner of the camp. They wouldn’t yell out to attract their mates’ attention,
they’d fire through the top of the sentry box. God they were a trigger happy mob. So we went…no, before we left Hill 65 there was an incident that happened. Jim Gerald used to put on a male female show you know. And they were…hell they were good I tell you. I lined up at this place.
There were only two others in front of me. I’m lined up there and I turned around to speak to someone like this and a bloke gave me a hell of a whack on my shoulder and he said, “Are you McNamara?” And I said, “Yes, I’m McNamara.” He said, “You know me.” And I turned around and it was ‘Wilkie’. “Where the hell have you been?” He left us in Woodside and went on the overland road to Darwin.
And apparently when they came to the Middle East afterwards, he was with one of the other Battalions, an infantry battalion. Before he went on this trip on the road to Darwin, the morning they were going. We didn’t know, nobody was told. He borrowed ten shillings off me.
I never drank and I always had a bit of money. Others were drinking and smoking and I didn’t smoke either. So I always had some money and I said, yeah no worries mate. He shot through see, and I thought you mongrel. No one had every done that to me before. Anyway we were standing there for a while and I said, “Oh by the way mate. You owe me ten shillings don’t you?” He said, “Oh you can forget that.” And I said, “No way. No ones ever done me out of ten shilling.”
I knew he could use himself because we used to have the gloves on together and he was a bigger bloke than me. I said, “You either pay me mate or I’ll take it out of your hide.” So he said, “OK, down behind the theatre.” We get down there and we have a hell of a blue. He could fight like a thrashing machine. Anyway, we link arms together after and we’re back to the show together. That’s what it’s like in the army.
During the show both my eyes closed up and I couldn’t see a thing. After the show I had to get him to take me back to where we camped. He was just across the road in the 16th Battalion. I was on picket. The night before we left there I was on picket.
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 03
So where were we. I was on guard and it was a very moonlight night. It was nearly as bright as day. I was walking up to do the rounds of the guards and I hear this, “Mac you bastard. Is that you?” And it’s this Wilkie. And I say, “Yep, it’s me mate.”
Then he said, “You’re a little bastard.” I said, “Why, what have I done.” He said, “You told me you’d take that 10 shillings out of my hide. It’s cost me 25 shillings to get my teeth fixed up. You knocked two of my teeth out.” I said, “I told you mate, retribution.” So we finished like that. I never ever saw him again. When we went on guard that night we had an officer
who had come straight from Duntroon. We had had him for about a fortnight or 3 weeks prior to that. He was an absolute pain. He had no idea how to treat blokes who had been in action and these sort of things you know We had a totally different outlook on the army. We treated each other differently. We respected each other a lot more. Anyway he carried on and carried on with spit and polish.
He was driving us mad. We had bloke, ‘Clarrie’ Painter and Clarrie was a real tough guy. When you’re on picket and inspection of rifles with the officers inspecting the guard, it’s port rifles which is when you hold the rifle across your body with the barrel up in the air. You open the breech and he looks down the barrel. Then you bring the rifle forward and he looks down the barrel and inspects the rifle. Then you come back
to the port position . Then you put your thumb on the round so it won’t go up into the breech and close the bolt. This Painter pushed the round up into the breech. This officer stepped to inspect the next guys rifle and Painter fired the rifle straight though his hat. Not a word was said. He continued on with the inspection.
“What the hell!” “Accident sir.” There was an inquiry after of course, but it was an accident. He got the message loud and clear. He was a totally different guy. So anyway we went…I think it was 2 or 3 days after that we were entrained and went to Port Tewfik.
We were at Port Tewfik and they selected four chaps to look after our gear while we boarded the vessel…got on these barges and went out to board the vessel. We boarded the Orcades in error. We should have gone on the Ile de France, the ship we went to the Middle East on which had been done up a lot more by then apparently. Our OC being the fire
brand that he was, when he was told at the gangplank that he wasn’t to come on that ship, he just marched on board…marched the Battalion on board. Of course that would have meant that who ever else was going to go on board would have had to go somewhere else. And we all thought that we were all going back to Australia so it didn’t matter too much I suppose. We headed from there, a single ship alone. We
got to Colombo. We were in Colombo for a day and provisioned with water and some stores. Headed south for Australia…you little beauty, home! We got as far as the Cocos Islands and turned back north east. At that time Churchill [Winston Churchill Prime Minister of Britain] and Ford, our Prime Minister were having a very, very heavy argument about whether
Australian troops would go into Burma. We thought, oh no, not Burma, not Burma. Because we didn’t want to go there. We wanted to go home. Anyway we kept going and we got to Sunda Straits and we were going to Ousthaven in Sumatra, to go and defend the airfields at Palembang in Sumatra. We went into this harbour in the dark…
of course no lights whatsoever in war time. There was this huge rock in the harbour. This was a 38,000 ton ship, the Orcades. We went into that harbour, round that rock and we got in close to the harbour and we went on small boats. However when we got there the Dutch harbour master was in a panic. “What are you doing here, what are you doing here?”
Palembang fell three days ago. Right, let’s go back. But the situation was we never had any of our arms from the Middle East. We were given old Canadian rifles that they found way down in the hold, and five rounds of ammunition. That was half the guys. The other half of the guys were given pick handles and they said to Blackburn,
“What the hell are we going to do with these pick handles?” He said, “Follow the bloke with the rifle, you’ll soon get one.” But that didn’t happen anyway. We didn’t have to do it because the place had already fallen. We got back on the ship and we went to Tanjong Priock which is the harbour to Batavia. Batavia then is now Jakarta. We disembarked there after a lot of
discussion between the Dutch, the Australians, General Wavell, the British Commander of the Far East, a Brigadier from Australia, can’t remember his name. They mucked us around and they mucked us around. Disembark. No wait, go back. Disembark. This went on for about five hours. In the end some of the Australian guys lined the rail of
the ship and said…Wavell had lost an eye in the First World War. “Wavell you one eyed pommy so and so, are we getting off this ship or aren’t we?” He said, “Off.” I have a feeling we may never have gone into Java if they had shut their faces. Anyway we were off. We went to
civil aerodrome which they were extending right out into a swamp. We were there to set up posts around the airfield to protect the airfield. The only attack we received was 27 Jap bombers. They bombed the place and it was funny in a way. We were way down, the furtherest
part of the airport, and there were some Americans down there. Some Americans had already arrived on Java. They were black Negroes. There was no cover down there whatsoever and we thought they’re going to come back and bomb this place so we’ll get somewhere where there’s some cover. Well I reckon I could run. I was a very good long distant runner. Well I’m pounding along and I’m running pretty fast. It was about a mile,
you know what airstrips are like, about a mile a mile and a half long. And I was moving real good and a big Negro ran passed me and he said, “Lord I’m putting them down and lifting them up!” And was he moving. He went past me like I had the handbrake on. I couldn’t run then because I was laughing that much. Anyway we get back there and we didn’t have to go back down there again. The mosquitoes were shocking down there. It was on a
swamp see And the Dutch…like KLM [Royal Dutch] Airlines had quite a few planes there and they were the first civil aeroplanes I’d see with a tricycle landing gear. A big plane for that time, small by comparison now of course. What were some of them were doing? They were loading them up with bombs. They had no bomb aiming device or anything.
They were getting volunteers to go out and fly with them to roll the bombs out the door. So I thought this will be some fun. So some of my mates and myself, we went out on some of these bombing runs. Night time. But the big danger was they used to load them up so heavily and at the end of the airfield there was a bund or an embankment and boy they used to just sneak over that. I tell you what, did you hold your breath
until you got over that. Anyway we went out in the night time and you could pick up the Jap war ships, the invasion vessels at night time. Well we rolled the bombs out the door but whether we ever hit anything I don’t know. We might have frightened somebody I don’t know. We might have hit somebody I don’t know. But anyway it was
a little bit of adventure, you know, a bit of fun. I went on four of those ships. Then we got shifted to way up in the mountain somewhere, I don’t know where to a …because it was a secret aerodrome. That’s where I didn’t know where it was. It was so secret that six hours after we got there the Japs came over and bombed us. We were up there for a short time…I don’t know, about a week or something.
Then we went back and joined the battalion again and headed for a place higher up in the mountains and about a third of the way down Java. Java’s an island 500 miles long from east to west. I don’t know how wide, an average of about 150, 200 I think. And we went this place….
it was a beautiful town. We camped in a rubber plantation outside the town and it poured with rain all night. A most delightful night. The next morning…there were three main roads which came in and joined each other. There was a track in the middle where they joined. They didn’t join like a normal cross roads, they crossed each other at a distance out and crossed each other at T sections.
And in the middle of that the Dutch had a truck there. The Dutch General or someone or other…he got up on the truck and said, “Together we will give them the big boom. We will boom the Japanese, and you will find the Japanese. And you will fight the Japanese, then we will come and win.” Oh yeah, we’ve heard all this before. So that was the orders that he carried on with. He went on
with more garbage. He got down off the truck and went and that was the only Dutchman other than an interpreter that we ever saw. We went to a place called Loleang where we contacted Japanese. We blew the bridge on the main road so they couldn’t get across there, and the bridge was across a ravine. But the river further to the west
…north west, broke into rapids and we didn’t know because we had no information and no help whatsoever from the Dutch or their intelligence if they had any. The Japs crossed down there which was about another 2 or 3 miles further down. We sent a patrol down into that area and they contacted the Japanese.
But as you may know, on patrol you don’t start any scraps. You just get information and you get back. They came back and our battalion commander had been made a brigadier by then, Brigadier Blackburn, in charge of Black Force which was 3000…part of our Battalion and the 2nd/2nd Pioneers and some stragglers from various places. Some advance parties
from other Middle East battalions. After they contacted the Japanese they came back and Colonel Black was our Field Commander, a very nice man too. He called the chaps together and said, “How many Japs did you see?” Well they never saw many. And he said, “There can’t be many across the river, what do
want to do. Have lunch now or go down and clean them up before lunch?” So we said, we’ll go down and clean them up and then come back and have lunch because they might start to spread if we don’t get down there. So down we go. We didn’t know there were 16,000 of them. So we didn’t get lunch. Anyway they never advanced much that day or the next day.
We were holding positions. This area was all paddy fields, irrigated from the river. As you would realise there was higher areas within this larger area and the higher areas were like islands in the middle of a muddy lake which paddy fields are. On those high islands there was usually a hut, or
something like that and very heavy jungle. We moved into…during the night, on the second night…yeah, the second night, into one of these heavily wooded…there was another road there. There was a bridge across a creek and heavily wooded area. We moved in there very, very quietly during the night and so did the Japs. And we were about 30
yards from each other. But everybody moved in so quietly that we didn’t hear each other. At about five o’clock in the morning, just ‘piccaninny’ light you know, just the dimmest light. One of our chaps challenged somebody and got himself nearly cut in half with a sword for the pleasure of it. One of the other chaps got shot and then it was on. We were thirty yards apart for about 36 hours.
The Japs never advanced one single inch. We slaughtered them because the clowns were trying to do bonsai charges. When we got to Java we had very little arms but there had been provisions made for the whole 7th Division in Java and it was all in stores there and the Dutch wouldn’t give it to us. Blackburn got
the five of us who had been trained especially while we were in the Middle East to go down between these big wharf hangars , or godowns that they call them over there…singing and carrying on and carrying on as though we were as drunk as Chloe and soon as we got close to the guard to disarm him and open up the godowns.
Well we opened up the godowns and we got just about everyone an automatic rifle with stacks and ammunition, cigarettes, tobacco, food and truck loads and truck loads. They supplied us with transport and we loaded up, really loaded up with stuff. So when we went into action we were armed to the teeth. For instance, I was armed with a Bren [light machine gun] gun, the Luger [pistol] that I had got in Syria,
and a 38 Colt [pistol], so I could look after myself. Anyway, during the day, the first day they were hitting us with…strafing us with aircraft, and also hitting us with 5 inch mortars and we had no artillery…we did have artillery. We had a Texas Artillery Regiment with us. The first rounds they fired they
killed their own observation officer. They had their angles so badly done and they never fired a shot after that. They were hopeless. So we had no…we only had small arms, that’s all we had. But we held the position for 36 hours. But in the meantime…you always had to watch the Japs [Japanese]. We had some information from Malaya that we got prior to Malaya falling, was that they would infiltrate around
you. So what our section did …no, our whole platoon, we moved onto the left flank and moved forward of that flank to stop them infiltrating around our force to the left. So we were a fair way from the road when they got word the Dutch had capitulated. One of our sergeant majors
and one of our officers…I can’t remember. I know the sergeant major was Charlie Shay. I don’t know who the officer was. They went to Dutch headquarters to try and contact the Dutch to advise them where we were and the fighting that was going on. They were having a ball. All the officers were in their dress uniforms, the ladies in their ball gowns. They were having a ball in the main hall in wherever it was
in Bandung where their headquarters was. And according to them there were no Japanese had landed on the island. Our sergeant major said, “Well someone’s got to do something about it because we’re killing some poor buggers and if they’re not Japanese, there’s trouble.” Anyway when we got word that they had capitulated we were advised to move back
and evacuate the area. When we got back to this road between this island, the bridge and Loleang town our officer said to us, “I want two volunteers to hold the bridge until 10:30 tonight.” And this was about 5 o’clock. Nobody was moving, so I said to my brother, “What about it mate. There looks like a job to do, let’s go and do it, ok?”
So we did. Well they gave us all their grenades and a pack each. We had packs full of grenades and I had five magazines of ammunition for the Bren gun as well as one magazine in it. My brother had a Thompson sub machine gun with five of those drums which was 50 rounds of ammunition in each gun. We went down to the bridge. It was dark by that time
and I said to him, “We will not fire a shot. If we hear anything or see anything we’ll use grenades. They don’t know where the grenades are coming from. If we fire a shot we give away our position. So unless they get right on top of us we don’t fire.” And there was three times during that time. We don’t know what it was, it was noise out there. So we landed into them with the grenades. Nothing else happened. I think we gave them such a pounding during the previous
36 hours that they were tending to their wounded and dead and everything else, and they weren’t looking for further strife. A truck was waiting for us about a mile on the other side of Loleang town. There was the driver and a few stragglers. A few chaps had been wounded somehow or other or had missed out on the moving out. It had caught up with him. When we got there he said to us, he was only a young bloke. He said to us, “I tell you what, you’re lucky mate.
If I had got bogged on the side of the road I would have been gone.” I said, “Yeah I know that mate, I know that.” Anyway we got in the truck and I didn’t know but I had been shot through the foot. I didn’t know until four days later that I had been shot through the foot. I took my boot up and my foot swelled up. Their rounds, they were only 22, 25 size. Just fractionally larger
than a 22. They were high powered and they had a charge behind them the same as a .303 [calibre round]. They were very high velocity and they would go through, if they didn’t hit bone, you wouldn’t know really. My mate got shot there, and it came out through the back of the elbow. He didn’t know he was shot until he went to use his Bren gun. He couldn’t lift his arm. But at the same time there were a hell of a lot of mortars crashing into the trees
up above and limbs falling and all sorts of things. So you could get hit when there was a mortar exploding but you wouldn’t know because of the concussion. Anyway the first night we camp in…there was an empty house in this little village and we stayed there and we got some sleep. I cleaned out my weapon and got every thing ready, spic and span.
I didn’t have to do anymore fighting. So we headed off. Well the fellas ahead of us had done that much damage to bridges, left vehicles blown up, vehicles on the road and all that sort of thing, we had a hell of a job getting through. Anyway we got through eventually and we got down close to the coast and went into
a tea plantation. Kampong Tea Plantation. At that time, sometime or other…I don’t know if it was in Bandung or where, they got Queen Wilhelmina [of Holland] had promised us a gilder a day, and they got our pay for the Dutch. And the stupid things that people do under pressure. They threw the money in the river so the Japs couldn’t get it.
So we did some diving and got some money. But it was very rapid water. So that’s where our pay went. But I still suspect it didn’t. It was only a token amount I reckon. I have grave suspicions that all my pay didn’t go in the river. It was a ploy by somebody. We had a quarter master pay sergeant. I wouldn’t trust the bloke if he was tied down.
Anyway we were there for some days and it was interesting to be there because we watched how they produced tea. I also found out that the tea plant is one of the camellias. It was interesting to see how they produced. Anyhow eventually the Japs arrived and
they treated us quite well. They were the guys we had been fighting against and apparently we had gained great respect. The only thing that happened, the Jap sergeant major said to one of our blokes, “You drive?” And he said, “Yes, yes.” Never driven a truck in his life. And it was our truck unfortunately. So he
gets in this truck to drive. He’s never driven a truck in his life. The road was very mountainous, very narrow and it was an exceedingly wet area. It used to pour with rain. They’d make tracks about this deep with the wheels of the trucks. And these tracks, for this purpose, tracks at least a foot deep.
He got the front wheels and the back wheels in one of these tracks, got on a slightly down hill grade and instead of changing down gears where he had control of the vehicle, he speeded it up and tried to get it out of the tracks by wrenching the wheel. He did! He jumped it out of the tracks and straight over the side of the road. And we went for a roll 13 times down this hill until we hit a big tree. As we went I
felt something hit me and I grabbed my mate’s thigh. And we were going over and over together. You know what the canopy of an army truck’s like? All steel pipes and the canvas. I think I hit every steel pipe in the truck and so did everybody else. Nobody was serious…two were injured. Bob Muir had a broken elbow which has affected him since. He was never able to straighten his arm again, and Rich
Ireland, one of his ribs pierced a lung. Well they weren’t too good. But nobody else had any injuries apart from bruising. We were black and blue. Anyway it stopped and we moved back up to the road. If it hadn’t hit that tree it would have dropped about 150 feet straight down into the rocks. But we got back, got on another truck and away we went. We went to a place called Lali. Lali was a small Indonesian
village and this was really the market place. Now the market place was a paved area with the…the constructions on it were similar to a tram stop. A small station. And we slept underneath those because as I say it was a very wet area. We were there for
I don’t know how long. I’ve got it written down somewhere. We got to Lali… Aron was the tea plantation on the south coast. Lali on the 9th March and left
there for Garut on the …it must have been earlier…the 14th March. I think we were there a fortnight. Unfortunately for me, I got dengue fever
and a couple of the other chaps were very bad with malaria. We all had malaria, and they put us on a train to go to Bandung, the Jap. When we got to Bandung there was no information with us. We had nothing written in Japanese. When we got there who picks us up off the train but the Kempei-tai [Japanese Military Police]. The Japanese Kempei-tai were the equivalent to the German Gestapo.
Only perhaps a little worse. They took us to a civil jail. The three of us, Halfpenny Gardiner, can’t remember the other guys name and myself. We all had dysentery as well. They sat us on a platform there and there was a big Dutchman.
He apparently had a shot of some description. And a Jap had gone in there to loot some of his gear. He belted the Jap and knocked a tooth out. They brought him into this jail and they were determined to knock his teeth out. But he wouldn’t open his mouth. So the Jap officer, the Kempei-tai officer pulled his sword out each time and threatened to cut one of our heads off
if he didn’t open his mouth. It was an ideal situation, because if he didn’t open his mouth the threat was getting stronger and stronger, and he’s swishing the sword around and you didn’t know which split second he was going to take your head off. Or try and take your head off. Then the Dutchman had realised that things were getting dangerous so he would open his mouth and they would knock another tooth out. Then he would get quite stubborn about it…about opening his mouth, which I can’t understand.
Anyway it would be on again. And it went on and on and on. Anyway eventually they must have reckoned they had knocked enough teeth out, so they didn’t threaten us anymore, and they took us to Bandung Prisoner of War Camp. Because our Battalion was still at Lali they then for some reason which was totally
beyond me, they sent us back to Lali. We were in a school room at Lali. That was when we first saw the way that the Japanese treated their own troops. Amazing. There was a sentry right opposite our room that we were in. He was standing there at attention. Well they stopped an old Indonesian…they were camped at the intersection
of the road which was a little park area, and also there was a ….what do they call them? I’ll think of it in a minute. And there was a sergeant situated there with a few troops. The guy was in the sentry box. I don’t know what he did that didn’t please the sergeant. But the sergeant jumped on the push bike and rode down there. The
sentry jumped to attention with his rifle. The Jap sergeant took the rifle off him, belted him over the head with it. Then slapped his face back and forward, back and forward, kicked him, hit him with rifle again and then got on the bike and rode off. I thought well, fairly strict discipline. This bloke was really suffering but he still stood there stiffly to attention. We thought boy, if they treat
them like that how are they going to treat us. Anyway I think it was a day or so after, one of the Japanese guards, he was the smallest of the guards, he came into our rooms. And I was the smallest guy in the room. So he picked on me and he was yelling something at me. I didn’t have a clue what he was yelling at me. I had no clue what he wanted me to do. He grabbed me by the arm and I don’t know if you know how they do a
flying mare, throw you over their head…up over their shoulder and then throw you over their head. He would have been belting me down on a concrete floor. As soon as he grabbed my wrist and swung around with his shoulder under my arm…I had done a lot of unarmed combat…I dropped with the full length of my arm stretched down and as he bent forward I kneed him. And he made a big grunt and was out the door still grunting and moaning
and my other mates in the room said, “Oh you’ve done it now Mac, they’ll be back.” And I said, “Yes I’m afraid they will.” But he didn’t come back and I thought I’ve got away with this. But every morning on parade after that, he’d come along in front of me and stare at my shirt button. You had to keep your eyes dead straight in front of you which we do in our army too.
And if you looked down there’s some retribution and a thumb came up and hit right on the end of the nose. He’d do that you see. Then when he got around behind me, he did the flying mare alright but back to front with his arm around my neck and it used to nearly take my head off, nearly break my neck. This went on for every morning for weeks.
We were there for all that time. We got things organised pretty well there. We used to pay basketball. There was a basketball court there across the road in another part of the school. We went across there and played basketball. No work and so it was pretty boring. One of the things that happened there was a most peculiar phenomena. We were first on rice but the guys didn’t know how to cook the rice and they made it far too watery
and it was what you called ‘pap’. Everyone was on this for…I don’t know how long, perhaps a fortnight. No one could use their bowels. I went 40 days and the record was 46 days without using the bowels. Whenever anyone did there would be cheering and, “Oh you’ve done it mate.” But
of course the consequences of that was that it went from you couldn’t use your bowels, very severe constipation to diarrhoea. So it was never steady. Anyway we at this place for this time and I being a Catholic…we had church parades. We had a padre with us and he was a wonderful bloke too.
But as I said earlier on, I crossed swords with our company commander and I was in trouble most of the time with him. Not with our platoon commander. He was good, a really good…well we sacked one but that was alright. Anyway he said you’ve got to go on church parade. And I said, “Sir, of course I’ll go on church parade,
but immediately you start the service I can leave that parade.” He said, “You will not.” I said, “Sir, under regulation so and so (which I could remember then but I can’t now), I must attend that parade as such, but immediately you start a service which is not of my denomination I can leave that parade.” “You will not.”
“Yes sir, I will.” “Oh, you going to defy me?” I said, “Yes sir I will defy you.” So I talked to some of the other guys and there were quite a few of them who didn’t want to go to a church service at all. They said, we’re joining. So they said, we’ll get up a petition. So we got up a petition and give it to him and he said, “That’s mutiny. Now you’re charged with mutiny.”
I said, “Well I’m terribly upset about it.” He said, “What!” I said, “I’m dreadfully upset about it. If you don’t kill me probably a bloody Jap will so I’m really afraid.” So he said, “Alright, alright forget it.” And we had one officer that was a Catholic go too. And they weren’t going to let him leave the parade. And he said, “I will leave the parade and I’ll take the other Catholics away.” But what they did then they gave us rotten duties to do.
But that wasn’t to worry us. But it didn’t endear him to me. And I forgot to tell you. I was in Syria and Mentioned In Despatches over one of the incidents that occurred up near Fort Kiam. And he knocked it back. My brother and I were both recommended for Military Medals for holding that bridge in Java and
he knocked them back. So we got nothing out of it. So he got his revenge. Where was I? We left Garut…did we go by train or truck? By train. Oh while we were at Garut the Japs had a 9.5 anti aircraft gun there
that they wanted to get to Japan for scrap iron. The tyres had been either shot, but anyway they were flat. The tyres were flat on them. They’re a hell of a flat. So we had to drag it over the mountains to the nearest railway station.
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 04
Syria 1941. July 15th. Marjayuon. Just north of Marjayoun was an old crusader fort, was a natural amphitheatre of
a mile and a half wide and I suppose 3 miles long. We were situated on just a slight rise in the middle of that in crop stubble. We were dug in. There were only two of our section. We dug in two of our machine guns as was normal. We had one belt of ammunition per gun.
We were there all night. A patrol came in close during the night. We could hear the movement through the stubble and when we were finishing off the gun pit for our Vickers, my twin brother Richard didn’t say a word to anybody, he just grabbed the bayonet out of the scabbard on his belt and went down into the grass and disappeared.
He was gone for some moment. Came back the same way and said, “The trouble’s gone.” That’s all he said. He wouldn’t say what he did. He just said, “The troubles gone.” I went off duty about 9 in the morning and I wouldn’t have to come back on again until about 1 o’clock.
I got into a slit trench and went sound asleep because it was difficult to get a lot of sleep during that period and under those circumstances. Apparently the French started shelling the area some time during the morning. The Sergeant Major who won a Military Medal, the King’s Commission, DSO [Distinguished Service Order] and (UNCLEAR) in the First World War when he was
eighteen years of age. And he was in the Somme and those areas of France and said it was the heaviest shelling he had ever seen. I slept through the whole lot of it because I wasn’t on duty. They came and woke me and said it’s on. I went back to the gun and I was the Number One on the gun and got prepared to repel. Repel was a word but it wasn’t a fact because there were 73 including the
Scotch Greys who were attached to us and ourselves holding this area. We believe we were counter attacked by a brigade of the Foreign Legion. The first movement that was seen, Bruce Simpson our range taker saw movement amongst rocks
at 1600 yards. He gave us a fire order. I opened fire on the area when he gave the fire order and there was no more movement from there. The next thing there were guys pouring over these rocks to the area where we were. Also through a gap through two hills in front of us were tanks moving in. The tanks were firing and gradually
coming on very slowly and we had run out of ammunition. We had scrounged a couple of boxes of ammunition. I think there were 1000 rounds in one of the boxes. We were hand filling the belts that we had so we could fire the guns. It was all hands on deck to fill these belts.
That was back where the trucks were. Then a shell cleaned up our Vickers machine gun. So we haven’t got a gun anymore. The others had a gun. It was a matter of just doing what we could with rifles. I don’t know where our tanks came from but two of our tanks came up behind us. We were then on a slight elevated ground between the two, right in the middle of a tank fight.
Not a good place to be. I’ve found a lot of better places. Because of us being on a slightly elevated area, all their fire was passing over our heads by inches. Orb Gamble and ourself were in two slit trenches practically alongside each other, and this tank kept advancing and firing and advancing and firing went straight over the top of us. So what we did we concentrated
on firing through the slit that the driver can see through. And when they got close enough, 30 or 40 yards or closer than that probably, we were both very good shots and we put some bullets through there and that upset their calculations and they swung away. The order came from our own sergeant who was a hell of a good bloke to get out. There was no good stopping here.
What was his name? Bob Fulton, our driver pulled the truck up just behind us and there were bullets hitting the truck and the doors were open and the bullets were flying through the doors. He was lying on the ground alongside the truck, he put his hands up to shut the door and got shot through the wrist. But the most amazing things about it was, when he got back to Nazareth Military Hospital and they went to probe the wound to see
if it had hit the bone, they couldn’t probe it. They found another bullet had entered the hole and stayed in there. The reason this had happened I think, it had come through the side of the bonnet of the car through the panel in front. It had cut the wire on the gear lever, the reverse wire that you pulled up. And by that time it was nearly spent and it stopped in his wrist. The truck finished up with 23 bullet holes in it.
But we got out with flat tyres, but we got it out. We got back to just south of Metulla where they had taken my brother and three other chaps who were wounded. We could see the French tanks up the road the other side across a valley, and I said to my mates, “I’m going back to get those guys.” They were in the police fort.
“I’m going back to make sure they get out.” I had no ammunition. All I had was a bayonet. I went back through the village with only bayonet and side arm. The natives were starting to get pretty hostile but I totally ignored them. I went back there and by the time I got there they were just loading some other wounded from the Scotch Grey’s as well onto a vehicle and were shooting
through. But they didn’t pick me up. I had to run all the way back to where we had left the truck. Quite a way. When we got back to our headquarters which was way back at Rusbina [?] on the Syrian border, our CO said to us, “You know when you were cut off like you were today at one stage, the guy who’s cut you off is more frightened of the situation than you are.”
I said, “I don’t agree with you sir.” And he said, “Why’s that McNamara?” I said, “Because if they were more frightened than what we were they would have been petrified.” And he just laughed. That was just a little episode that I had forgotten about.
When was it that you found out…on that previous fire order…how long was it you found out who you had actually fired upon?
Oh yes, I must tell that, yes.
When we fired upon the, what we thought were French, it was a Scotch patrol who had gone out without advising anybody that they were there. And accidentally we had fired on them. The sergeant of the Scotch patrol was a chap by the name of Jock Calder and he got shot through the knee.
Just afterwards when I was studying to become a meat inspector a chap from the Woodside Military Camp came to the class as well. And he had his uniform. He was in uniform. He had his ribbons on and he had the Africa Star on and he said he was from the Scotch Greys. And I said, “You weren’t in front of Merjayun on the 15th July 1941 were you?” And he said, “Yes I was and a bloody Australian shot me through the knee.”
And I said, “How do you know that?” And he said, “I was shot with a Vickers machine gun, it was the only thing that could reach us.” And I said, “That’s a funny thing.” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Because I was the bloke firing the machine gun.” He said, “You’ve got to be joking, I’ve been looking for you.” Anyway there was a little sequence to that. Our veterinary officer in charge of the department when I became a meat inspector,
heard about it one day. Someone had told him about it. He called me into the office and really got into me about this false story I was putting about. I really straightened him out about what the facts were about the whole thing and I got Jock to go in and see him too. I told him it was absolutely true. So that’s that little episode.
Where were we? Leaving Garut to go to Bandung. We went from Garut to Bandung by train. Bandung where we finished up was a large ex Dutch military camp with a lot of very good facilities. I’ve always remembered the day we arrived.
There was a shortage of rice. I don’t know if anyone has ever seen those Indian dried potatoes. They’re not particularly good gear. When you cook them up they go into a doughy clag. That was all there was but on the end of a trestle there looked like a white enamel bowl with tomato sauce in it. We went down and got a fair
ladle of it and whacked it on our potatoes. It was chillies. Had to eat it. There was nothing else to it. We cried about if our mother was ok and our relatives and cried about everybody for some time. The consequences of it was that being empty, we had had no lunch during that day. The potatoes caused a hell of a lot of wind.
And every time anybody passed wind, we wondered where that song the ‘Ring of Fire’ came from. We found out. Bandung was a good camp in this respect. I think there was about 2000 in the camp. We had some wonderful officers there. There were four professors.
One from Bristol, one from Edinburgh, one from Oxford and one from Cambridge. As well as them we had Laurens Vanderpost. Laurens Vanderpost is a very famous man. He was head of MI5 in the Far East and he was a brigadier but he made himself an Infantry Colonel for the Japs because if they had known he was MI5
he would have been in trouble. He was a remarkable man. He could speak 13 languages fluently. Speak Japanese fluently. A very nice man as well. There’s a book that was written called ‘Merry Christmas Mr Laurence’. It was made into a film and that was him. He used to come down to where we Aussies were
a lot because he seemed to have a great rapport with us. And he used to lecture of a night on all the cities of Europe. He knew them intimately. He was a wonderful man. When we left Bandung he remained there. We never saw him again. But it was there we had our first encounter with Weary Dunlop. He went with us
to Bekasi just outside of Batavia. We were there for Christmas and New Year 1942, New Year ’43. It was a good camp in some respects but we had some very bad guards. Bad guards. Why I think…the guards hadn’t been too bad up to that period.
When Brigadier Blackburn and an Air Force Squadron Leader went to surrender to the Japanese in Bandung. When they entered the place of surrender all the Japanese stood up and bowed to them which they were amazed. And Colonel Blackburn asked the interpreter why?
He said that was out of respect for the fight that the Australians put up. They just couldn’t believe there were so few Australians that absolutely just stopped them in their tracks. Well that was out of respect. And I think the Japanese troops who we were associated with up to that time were of that fighting group. They had a lot of respect for us and they treated us accordingly. They were very strict but they weren’t cruel. When we got down there it was a different
story altogether. We ran into a different group who were just absolutely stupidly cruel. I always recall a chap by the name of Gordon Whittle. We used to call him Flash Whittle because of a cartoon that was around in those days. Flash was in charge….they’d grab anybody to be in charge of a stretcher to take…to pick up all our rubbish in the camp and take
it to a disposal area. And when you were going out you had to give ‘eyes right’ in Japanese, and coming back ‘eyes left’. Eyes right was ‘koshira megi’ and eyes left was ‘koshira adashi’. We didn’t know that at that time. We hadn’t learnt much Japanese. We said to our old Sergeant Major who was a character, “What do we sing out when we go?” He said,
“Sing out ‘ishkabble’ when you’re going out,” and …something else when you’re coming in. So George did. Anyway the guard wasn’t happy about it. So he pulled us up. Never touched us but belted the hell out of George, and in the years gone by, when we were on the Burma Railroad and it didn’t look like we had much chance of getting out of it, I would say to George, “Think we’ll get out of this George?” And he’d said, “Oh we’ll get out of this, don’t worry.
I’ve got to go back to Java and find that so and so who belted me.” He wouldn’t be able to. But anyway we were there to …over Christmas. And two days before Christmas the Catholic padre and the Church of England padre,
he was a Welshman. He had a lovely choir. He got a real good choir going. They organised a concert and they went to the Jap commanders to see if they could get a piano for Christmas and they sung some terrific carols. Very good. Then all the Pommies in the camp started yelling out, ‘Lofty, Lofty. We want Lofty.’ Lofty turned out to be
a very tall Liverpudlian Irishmen. Very dark. One of those dark Irishmen. And they were demanding he sing ‘Gunga Din’. The words I can remember of ‘Gunga Din’ were ‘Din Din Din, where the bloody hell you bin. You slobbering black faced bastard Gunga Din.’ That’s how it started. At that stage the two padres found something else to do somewhere else.
Very prudently disappeared and the singing and the concert gradually deteriorated as the night wore on. But it was a lot of good stuff too. But we went straight from the concert to Mass with Father Elliott. Father Elliott and about 12 other mates
when we were in Bandung found a little cubby hole in between the huts where we used to go in the evening and say the Rosary. Father Elliott used to say to us, ‘love thy enemy.’ I was 22 years of age and still a pretty fiery Aussie and I could see no way I could ever love my enemy. But to my amazement I don’t know when, some time in that period
I lost all hatred of the Japanese. I lost all fear of them, and it totally changed my attitude. I love my faith and it completely changed my attitude. I think we left Bekasi and went to Mr Cornelius, the railway station
just outside Bekasi. We marched there, got on the train and went to Tanjong Priock to board a small vessel to go to Singapore, and that was on the 4th or 5th of January 1943. Unfortunately on the trip I got shingles and
the main thing was to try and prevent them being infected. If I could get some salt water…get one of the guys or myself if I could get there, a bucket of water and I kept bathing myself with sea water. And sea water’s wonderful stuff. It will cure skin and infection and skin rashes when most other stuff won’t touch it. I kept it under control. We arrived in Singapore on 7th of January 1943, my birthday,
my brother’s and my birthday. We were put on trucks and taken to Southern Changi. Southern Changi was a unique situation in that it was still the Military Barracks for the British forces prior to the conflict, and the Japanese didn’t go
in there at all. The outer perimeter was guarded by Sikhs who had gone over to the Japanese. We were only there for 13 days admittedly but I never saw a Jap the whole time I was there. We had no boots, very little clothes. The stores in Singapore were full of uniforms and everything.
But ‘Black’ Jack Gallagher, who was the Australian officer in charge of the troops in Singapore, wouldn’t give us a thing because he reckoned we were deserters from Singapore. And nobody could convince him that we had come from the Middle East. Our CO or Weary Dunlop. He just wouldn’t listen to him. He gave us absolutely nothing. We left there in the same state as we arrived. Equipment wise, very poor.
We got into closed iron rice trucks. I think they used them for goods trucks of some description. They put 28 men in a truck and there was enough room for 12, I would say. So the big problem was that not everybody could lie down to sleep. And even when you did you were sleeping half over each other.
We were four days on that trip. We got intervals of water, intervals of rice, varying qualities and varying amounts. But we were surviving. We had a guard in our truck and he wasn’t a happy person. I think he was very fearful of his situation. He needn’t have worried. We weren’t that stupid because
we knew that if you killed one Jap then 20 or 30 Australians at least would go off. That’s how they prevented you from doing anything. And we arrived at Ban pong. Ban pong as far as I’m aware was situated about 30 kilometres west of Bangkok. The railway then went to
Kanchanaburi which we used to call Canterbury, and that was where the Bridge over the River Kwai, the first one was built. It was a bridge, a steel bridge, not like in the film. A steel bridge that had been taken from Java. It was a British bridge. It had been taken from Java and built over the River Kwai. We were fed there and then put on trucks and
we headed up I think 108 kilometres north to Kinsaiyok. We were just put in the jungle, no camp or whatever. We were told that’s your camp. Of course we had to turn around and build a camp which we did. We built a camp and it was peculiar there. Funny things happened. Of a night time we used to have fairly big fires because of tigers and the Japs insisted we have fires.
Anyway, the Jap guard would move just outside against the trees, outside the illumination of the fires and then he would suddenly move in and because nobody had got up and bowed to him, he’d get a couple of the blokes to do each other over. Slap their faces and he’d make them slap them hard
or he’d whack them with a rifle. And the funny incident of this was that two big blokes, two big wood cutters from Western Australia, a bloke by the name of Middleton and…I’ve forgotten the other bloke’s name. They’re sitting at the fire and the Jap suddenly comes into view and points to them and yells at them and carries on…he wasn’t actually yelling but carrying on. We thought he wanted them to beat each other.
So they belted hell out of each other. And they were big blokes and they were really swinging them. The Jap’s saying, “Ni, ni, ni.” Which is ‘no’. And they stopped. And all he was wanting them to do was to pick up a big log that was there and take it over to their fire. So everybody burst out laughing. These sorts of things happened and they were most humorous. Anyway, I don’t know what date it was.
We were there for some time after we built the camp. One of the things that happened there, we were pulling big clumps of bamboo and the Japanese only had one rope. And they were big clumps. The were 70 or 80 feet high. Each bamboo would be 7 or 8 inches in diameter. A lot of them. They used to have to take turns using the rope. Someone needed the rope at the same time one day so
there’s a stoush over it. And when they had a fight, the Japs, it was a very dangerous situation because if there was a pick, a shovel, an axe, anything within reach they’d go for it. The sergeant major heard the start of this fight. A Jap sergeant major and he was known as ‘the Tiger’. Absolutely renowned as a hard man, a martinet. So he hammers the two of them with a bamboo pole and sends them down the river to get cleaned up.
One of the blokes came up from the river who was in the team who had to go down to get some water. They wanted to soften the ground around a particular hard bit of ground around some bamboo roots. He said those two Japs are down there trying to drown each other, beauty. Anyway someone must have gone and got the sergeant major because we saw him running down and these two blokes coming back with him behind them, wailing them with a piece of green bamboo about an inch and a half thick.
We were so happy about it. Another funny incident happened there. We were clearing part of the jungle and we were cutting down a big tree and there was a vine going up the tree and it wasn’t obvious from the outside but inside was full of hornets. One our guys whacked an axe through this vine and hornets came out in the thousands. We took off and the Jap guard
came running. He never had a shirt on. He came charging towards us, screeching and yelling to get past us and get back to work and he copped the lot of them. Weary had to treat him. He was in a bad way. Another incident happened there. We used to make charcoal for the fire in the blacksmith area for shaping tools and hardening the drills. We
did know then that we were going to do that Hellfire Pass [Halfaya Pass] cutting. The ‘Mad Mongrel’ we used to call him. I don’t know what his real name was. The Mad Mongrel had a team of us one day making pits to make this charcoal. You did a hole in the ground about 18 inches deep with nice clear sharp edges. Stack timber in two foot lengths leaning outwards so there’s a draft down the centre of it.
Then you cover it over with clay, wet clay and make it airtight. Set the fire going with an entry until the fire’s got well into it. Then you close it up and it just burns very slowly. It doesn’t burn away to ash. It’s all black charcoal. He was such a dill that when it was one big hot fire he jumped on the top to show us how strong a job he’d
done and went straight through. Well was he burnt, shockingly burnt. So we carried him back and handed him over to Weary and said, we don’t know what you can do with him. Also while we were there one of our chaps put an axe through all the tendons on the top of his foot. A young fella. George (UNCLEAR). He was the youngest man amongst us. Weary stitched those tendons up by bamboo fire at night.
Another chap by the name of Jones had a duodenal ulcer. He developed a duodenal ulcer and Weary operated on him and fixed that up by bamboo fire. He was …not only those things, he was a marvellous surgeon, but he was an absolutely remarkable man. Absolutely revered as a person, by us and even by the Japanese.
He treated them just the same. I can’t remember the date but we then went to a camp some 2 or 3 kilometres further up and right on top of the range. The other camp was down on the river. So it was on top of the range and it was from there that we worked on the railway and we worked on the Hellfire Pass cutting. I worked right through that.
I don’t know what the length of it is, I suppose 150 to 200 yards long and 30 metres deep. It was hard work, hammer and tap. Do you know what hammer and tap is? It’s a drill and a hammer. About a metre length drill with an 8 pound hammer. Two on a team. I was very fortunate.
I got with a chap by the name of Collette, Jim. Terrific guy and he’d done hammer and tap work before and I had done axe work and hammer and tap work before, so we were quite proficient at it. A lot of the poor devils had never picked up a hammer before in their lives. They were hopeless. Luckily for them and for us we
started off doing a meter a day. As the pressure came on and it became more urgent, more urgent to get the rail through, it was three metres a day. Very difficult. What Jim and I used to do, we’d finish a lot earlier than the other guys because we were good at it. Some of them weren’t too good and so each one of us would go to another team and help them out.
One day Jim and I both went to one team that were way behind. They had run in a bit of trouble, a crack in the rock as well which makes it very difficult, and I said, “Well I’ll turn the drill and you two double hammer.” I said, “I can turn the drill while you double hammer.” Unless you knew how to do it you couldn’t do it. You turn the drill a quarter or a half every time after the hammer hits it.
And this other guy missed the hammer and hit me fair inside my knee. So the drill went up in the air I tell you. Anyway things settled down and one afternoon another chap I was helping was turning the drill and had his other hand flat on the rock near it. He missed the drill and took his middle finger clean out with the edge of the hammer.
He held his hand up and said, “Bloody hell I think that’s gone.” Characters. Anyway we carried on until the pressure really came on. The Japanese were really being forced hard to get the railway finished and they were absolute total mongrels. They had far too many people working in there. You used to get in each other’s road and you’re trying to use picks and shovels after the firing. And also
the drilling…the drill holes they put in were far too close. They never used to tamp them either and they put in…as we got further along, there would be 150 fuses to light. The Japs used to light 50 fuses each and I was the only other one there who had any experience with explosives,
so I used to light the other 50. The fact that they had boots and I never had boots and it was all broken rock bottom, they took the furtherest ones. They were good in that respect. I was the nearest. To light the 50 fuses, we would split the ends of each fuse first, then the mosquito coil…light a mosquito coil and just dab each one on
and then run. One day it had been raining very heavily and it was slippery around the pass that went up around the cutting. I slipped and fell down and two Japs ran over the top of me. They weren’t stopping and I don’t blame them. But lucky for me there was a great big tree there so I got behind the tree and rock and everything fell all around me. But I was doing that work as well as working hard at the normal work like everybody else did.
One day we were clearing the cutting and we finished our little section. Cleaned it down to bedrock. The engineer who was with us said stop. “Mutti mutti,” rest. I looked up the top of the cutting which was then about 20 feet above us
and I could see the Jap counting heads and I could hear him saying, “(JAPANESE)” and I thought, somebody’s missing. So I thought if I could, “Benjo benjo.” Go to the toilet. And I ran up the hill and I found these guys. You have to realise they had malaria and dysentery and they weren’t well at all. They were working very hard and they were exhausted and they didn’t come back.
I said, “Get up and move out, move out fast. The Japs are coming up.” Well we weren’t fast enough and they caught us. They took us back to camp and belted us, kicked us, slapped us and all sorts of things like that until dusk. At dusk they put a long pole between two trees. There were 8 of us and they tied us up to the pole by our thumbs.
And hammered us all night. I don’t know if they did me or not because I don’t know how long…an hour and half or something like that. The amazing thing is when you’re getting beaten like that for some time you don’t feel anything. Shock sets in. You feel the impact but it doesn’t hurt. It’s amazing what shock can do. Anyway one of the guards belted me with the butt of a rifle
in the head, and I never knew anymore from there on. The next morning there were only two of us alive. Myself and the other chap. I don’t know anything, but they told me. They took us to the hospital. The other chap died with a heart attack and I survived. But I never knew anybody and I never knew anything for weeks and weeks. In the meantime I got beri beri
and then they shifted me down to…well all of us really, they shifted us down to the river camp, the Hintok River Camp. I don’t remember much about it. Just certain things. I do remember that a couple of blokes were sent back to Kanu where we landed originally, to get some cattle.
The Japs were very concerned about the condition of the blokes at that time because we still had work to do. So they went to get meat. Meat was wonderful as far as beri beri was concerned. On the way back, an officer from Kanu came back with them and they ran into cattle in the jungle. The Thai’s had cattle there and they rustled them. They brought back…instead of bringing back about 30 cattle I think they brought back over 200.
One hundred and seventy or whatever it was they put into a natural box canyon where the railway went around. Put bamboo poles across the trees and kept them there. Each night Bluey Stevenson who was a butcher the same as myself would kill one…we’d skin it then everybody would dive in and get meat and we wouldn’t even worry until they were all finished and then we’d open it up and get the fillets inside. We would get back to the fires, we had fires going
there too and put the fillet on the end of a stick and put it over the fire. I don’t know how long we cooked it for. And my beri beri absolutely disappeared practically. I started to urinate about ever ten minutes for I reckon two days, and I went down to I think about seven stone. I was over 16 stone. I went from a balloon to…
It was amazing the way it went. While I had beri beri I could kick me…you could only shuffle along because you were so unsteady, unbalance. You would kick your toe nails off and you wouldn’t even know. You couldn’t feel anything. It was an amazing feeling. You didn’t have any feeling in your fingers. But recovered. And then in August…
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 05
During the period May, June, July and into August ’44, and the most pressurised part of the railway, as well as the chaps being infected by dysentery, malaria, black water
fever, beri beri, pellagra, we also got hit with cholera. The cholera apparently was activated more at that time by… the Japanese were bringing quite a lot of labour from Malaya and occupied areas of civilians. The Asiatic had no
idea how to handle these diseases. No idea of hygiene and no other sources of treatment for diseases, the only thing that could save you was very good hygiene. Hygiene was never drink water that hadn’t been boiled. Never use your eating utensils without dipping them in boiling water, and wash your hands frequently.
Just sensible hygiene. Even so quite a lot of our chaps got cholera. It’s a devastating disease. A mate of mine Jessie James got cholera during working on the railway. Some little distance up from where I was working, and 25 minutes after they
detected he had cholera, they carried him past me on a stretcher and I never knew him. The body literally collapses. Their eyes sink right in. Their features are quite changed. They’re losing fluid so rapidly. It’s amazing. The cholera itself does not kill them. What kills them is the collapse of their kidneys and quite a lot died…good mates died with cholera.
Japanese panicked and brought in cholera injections which caused it to abate somewhat. But we were so poorly fed, and of course any person who was sick and couldn’t work, the Japanese wouldn’t feed them at all. The consequence of that was we had to then share our rations with them. So us working guys had our rations
diminished considerably because we were sharing them with the sick. So the sick became great in numbers and consequently our rations deteriorated even more, and quality as well. So it was a horrendous situation with only one end if it continued.
Did you know what they did for the men who had cholera?
Yes, I was just about to say.
A Major Moon and ‘Weary’ Dunlop [Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop] the doctor, Major Collette the other doctor were absolutely remarkable men. What they did, Major Moon based the distillery for distilling water, sterilising water on the water jacket of the machine gun
and used tubing the same as a water jacket uses tubing. You boil the water in the jacket and it goes into a container and condenses the steam into water and they made sterile water then added a certain percentage of salt, which I don’t know to make it into a saline. They had bamboo needles
which I’ve had one in that arm there, there’s a mark, and one in that arm. The marks are still there. They used tubing such as on a stethoscope. They would have a drip and retain the body liquid by a drip. So long as you can maintain the body liquid you can save lives.
And that’s what they did. My twin brother during my last time at Hintok River Camp, he was carrying these large glass bottles, jars with saline in it down to that camp from where they distilled it up at the road camp for the cholera chaps. And they saved a lot of them. If they could get onto it quick enough…some times they couldn’t because they Japs wouldn’t let them take them back
to camp. If they left them for hours they were dead, a very short time. They’d vomit, urinate, defecate practically continuous. The fluids just ran away from them and the consequence was the fluid would get to a certain level and the kidneys and heart would give out. When I left …no I think before…
oh yes, there was. There was one incident before I left the Hintok River Camp. The first time we got any mail. I received a letter from my father. Quite a lot of the chaps received two or three letters from their families. Some received none at all because the Japs were absolutely shocking with the mail. They couldn’t give a damn like they couldn’t about anything else.
One poor fella from West Australia got a letter from his wife and two children. He was so happy and so cheered about the whole thing. It was absolutely wonderful. His mate came around to me who knew he…he had got letter from his wife. He said, “What am I going to do Mac?” I said, “What do you mean.” I don’t know why they used to come to me. I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “I’ve just got a letter a month later
than his letter from home and his wife and two kids have been killed in an accident. Do you think I should tell him?” I said, “Mate don’t tell him while we’re under these circumstances.” I said, “Hang onto it. When you get somewhere where circumstances are better and he’s more settled down and not under so much pressure. It’s up to you then whether you disclose this or not. But he’s got to be told sometime.” Anyway he did tell him.
We had a hell of a time with him. He just wanted to…there were cliff’s further along and he just wanted to go up the cliffs and just jump off the cliffs. We said, no way mate. You’ve got to face it. You’ve got to work it out and beat it. You’re a good bloke. You’ve got a ton of guts you’ve proven that already. But it devastated him with everything else that happened.
Did that guy regret telling him them?
Yes and no, because how can you evaluate what is the right time. I don’t know. He had to know because he couldn’t go back to Australia, he would have hated us. Anyway I was improved considerably with my beri beri and I was able to get around fairly well again. So they decided to send a lot of us back to a place called Tarso which was
a hospital camp. A very poor type of hospital camp but it was a hospital camp. I don’t know how far down the river but a fair way. I was there for a fortnight and I was very glad to get out of the place. I didn’t like it at all. It was run by English doctors. It was run by British officers.
After being with blokes like Major Moon and Weary Dunlop and those guys. They just didn’t have a clue. And they didn’t care. They would express with the greatest determination that they were doing everything they possibly could and they were doing nowhere near what they possibly could. Anyway they put us on a train then to go up to
a place called Chungkai. That was another hospital camp with 10,000 men in it and out of that 10,000 men there were 150 Australians. We had no officers. The highest rank we had was a sergeant major. But we got absolutely left in the dark and blamed for everything by all these young Pommy [British] lieutenants, blokes who had just come out of officer’s training…
only a year or two before. They didn’t have a clue how to handle men or anything. They were just so arrogant. They were put in charge of us, except when we shifted to another area of the camp, a Colonel was put in charge of the Australians. He had been in the Indian Army in India and … “I come from Poona you know!” Poona was one of the hill stations in India.
There would always be someone who would upset him. “Don’t you know I come from Poona, you know”. We’d send him to Poona alright and he was as eccentric and as stupid as an owl. Of course the Australians used to lead him on which would make it worse. Anyway at Chungkai I got a job as a barber. Never cut hair in my life. The hair had to be cut as short as you could cut it. Anyway I cut my way around the skull. Also,
I was one of the few people who had a cut throat razor. So I took up, voluntarily on my own will, shaving any of the Australians in hospital, and carrying water in my haversack, which you can. It drips a bit. Wash them, give them a wash and shave them because they wouldn’t look after them. It was the RAMC, Royal Army Medical Corp
and we used to call them ‘Rob All My Comrades’ because they’d rob the poor devils when they were dying. Take rings off their fingers and stuff like that. They were horrible. The Jap there was strict, brutal…other than the officer himself. And the officer himself, I can’t remember his name had been a wool buyer in Australia and married an Australian girl. When the war started they flew her to the
Carol Islands so she could go to Japan and be with him. And he treated us…I was the only Australian I think he ever did over…for something I didn’t do either and that’s the point. But that camp had opportunities. I had a Conway Stewart pen. I sold the Conway Stewart pen for five tickle, and down behind the theatre…they built a theatre there and they used to put on some great shows, an
old Chinese lady used to come in there in a tiny little canoe and she used to sell bananas. So I’d go down and buy ten bananas, sell five and eat five. Then I got up to 20 bananas and I still sell the rest and eat five. I got just a few tickle behind me and I saw a chap with tobacco.
It’s called a lampang. It’s about a kilo of fine cut sun dried tobacco, pretty powerful stuff but it’s alright. I asked him where he got it from and he said you can get it down the back fence. The fence was a bamboo lattice fence and between the fence and the jungle was about ten feet cleared. You get down there of a morning and the Chinese would bring the tobacco and they’d throw the tobacco over the fence and
away you’d go. One morning we’re down there and a Jap charged through the jungle behind us and put a bayonet clean through one bloke. So there was a scatter and the Chinese had our money and they also had our tobacco. They were gone. So the next morning we snuck down to where we could see where they came in and sure enough they were there with our tobacco. So we got our tobacco and we got some chaps making cigarettes.
What we did. A piece of board about two and a half inches wide, seven inches long. Attach a piece of canvas to the bottom. It was loose up the top. Turn the top over with a stick through it. Put your tobacco papers and tobacco in it and roll it back and you had a cigarette. So I started with the chaps that had amputations, leg amputations. I employed them to
make cigarettes. Five cents for 100. We used to sell them for ten cents for 20, the cigarettes. We made like a chocolate board with armpits on them and they had three blokes going around the camp selling cigarettes. We couldn’t keep up with the tobacco on the method we were using so…and then this bloke got bayoneted, so I thought
I’ve got to go out. So I rigged up the fence so the Japs couldn’t detect that it had been rigged up. I could slide four of these lattices away far enough so that I could sneak through there. It was right where some animal tracks went out through the bamboo and low thorns and stuff in the bamboo at the bottom. So I used to crawl through on my hands and knees. I use to crawl to the road which was about 20 feet out and call out near the road
and listen. The Japs would wear steel type boots. Steel heel type of boot and leather, and they always clumped along. They didn’t walk, they stomped along. You could hear them coming. If there was a Jap about I would get up near him and throw stones up past him. So he would get his bayonet up and jumping up the road looking while I crossed the road.
I went out some distance through high elephant grass. The grass was about seven feet high with a track about four feet wide. I ran into an irrigation ditch. There was a foot bridge over the irrigation ditch. I went over the irrigation ditch and there was a road more or less where horses and carts would go along. So I went to the left up that for some distance and there were some kapok
trees there and I could see them in the bright moonlight. I passed the second kapok tree and something rammed into my back and it’s a Chinaman by the name of Pong with a 9 millimetre pistol. He rammed a 9 millimetre pistol into my back to find out who I was. After he found out who I was he said, “Ok Ok. Tobac, tobac. You have tobac.”
“Ok, tobac.” So we went to his place and I got some tobacco. I had a bag which would be classed here as a chafe bag. I bought what I could with the money I had. I think it was about 10 lampangs. A bundle you know. I took that back and I had these guys making the cigarettes and they said there was this terrific demand for them. And they said, can you keep the tobacco up. So I said I could get more tobacco yes.
Also the papers. And what we did with the papers, they were like an ordinary cigarette paper but no glue on them so what we made was a rice glue and we used to just tease the edge of the papers out so there was just a bit of the edge showing and paint them…we made a brush out of a stick and split the ends of the stick and made a little brush out of it and put it on the edge and then roll them over and they stuck.
This Pong was very abrupt…a bloke you wouldn’t want to cross at all. And I thought I don’t like dealing with this guy so I thought I would go up on my own and see if I could find someone else. So I said to him, I pointed further out and said, “Tobac, tobac?” He said, “Ok ok.” So I left that night and I never went back, and I went further and I found
a beautiful little family. A man and his woman, or wife, I don’t know what they were. And two little kids. And they were beautiful. When we got there, we used to get there at night and they were in…what do you call them….just a white gown, and I reckon three years of age and perhaps four and a half years of age
sitting up there smoking cigarettes. That got me. Anyway I could get any amount I wanted and I could get papers. And I could emetine there. He had a source of emetine which is…it’s the only thing they can treat amoebic dysentery with. And Weary Dunlop wanted any source of emetine we could possibly get and I knew that, so I could buy emetine there.
It was expensive but I could buy it. So we used to get emetine. Then an Englishman by the name of Mitchell came to me and said to me, “Where do you get your tobacco?” And I said, “You don’t expect me to tell you that do you.” And he said, “Want to get into some sort of racket with tobacco.” I said, “What are you talking about. Be a little bit more explicit mate because I don’t know anything about getting tobacco
outside. I just buy it in here.” He said, “Where do you get it?” I said, “I told you, I just buy it in here.” See, you never knew who you were talking to. I said, “You be a little bit more definite in what you’re doing and let me know you’re fair dinkum. Come up with the money.” And I said, “I’ll talk to you and I’ll put you onto who’s going out.” I said, “Do you want to go out now?”
He said, “Oh yeah, that will be good fun.” I said, “It’s not fun mate, it’s dangerous. But if you want to be in it…” And when he said he wanted to be in it I said, “I’m the guy who goes out. But I’ve got very strict rules, abide by them and if you don’t abide by them you’re out.” So I went with him, I don’t know, I think probably a month every night. What I used to do, I used to lead and I insisted that the bloke who was with me stayed at least 20 feet behind me.
If I got into trouble he had a chance of getting away. And this bloke used to sneak up behind me and say, “What was that, what was that?” And I’d say, “Mitchell shut up and get back into your position.” “But I heard something.” “So did I there’s animals in this elephant grass. Of course you’re going to hear things. But don’t make a noise. It’s your ears is what you’re using. Shut up.” Anyway
he kept at it and one night I never said a word. And I went around to him early the next morning and I said, “We’re going to settle up mate.” He said, “Aren’t we going out anymore?” I said, “I never said that, we’re going to settle up.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Work out what money we’ve made and we’ll share the lot. We’ll split it up. We’ll settle up.” He said, “Why?” I said, “You’re not coming with me anymore mate.
You’re driving me around the bend.” I said, “It’s hard enough on your nerves out there, then with you whispering in my lug ever 20 flaming minutes. You won’t shut up. You’re no good. You’ll bring disaster on us.” Anyway I settled up with him and that very afternoon into the camp came another group of Aussie’s.
And with that group of Aussie’s [Australians] was a bloke by the name of Bruce Simpson, the bloke who took the ranges in Syria on that…he was as game as you could ever hope a bloke to be. He was a cool customer and a beaut bloke. So when I saw him and when they came off the parade I went and grabbed him and I said, “Gee it’s good to see you mate.” He said, “You too.” I said, “I want to see you after. After you settle down I want to see you.”
He went to the hut where they put them in and I said, “I’ll be around.” Then I was talking to him and asking him about other blokes and asking where he had come from and what had happened to him. I said, “By the way are you interested in making a bit of money?” He said, “Yes I am, what are you doing?” So I laid it on the line and told him and he said, “Yeah I’ll be in that.” I said, “I was hoping you would. You’re the type of guy I want with me.”
So away we went and we kept going for some time and we went out one night and this is how familiarity breeds contempt. Just stupid. We used to always go to the house and it had bamboo slats you see for walls. We used to always go and look through the slats first and make sure it was clear and everything was clear. Then we’d go and knock on the door. You get so blasé and we just walked in.
We walked in this night and there’s a Jap officer, a Colonel with a pistol like this pointing straight at us. So he said, “Australian? English?” We said, “Australian.” He said, “Camp?” We said, “Chungkai. And I said that’s all, nothing else.” And he started to grin and we thought this is funny. He said, “Don’t worry about it
you’re ok.” He spoke perfect English. He said, “I’ll tell you who I am after, but I want some information first. You tell me what I want to know and I’ll tell you who I am.” Anyway he asked us all sorts of things about the railway. How many blokes died and that. And I said, “Don’t know, don’t know. Haven’t got a clue. In our little area about 3 or 4 kilometres, 12 died. Other than that I don’t know.”
He said, “That’s alright. But can you contact somebody to give you more information?” I said, “Yes I can.” He said, “Right. I am British intelligence from China.” I said, “Great, you can’t take me back can you?” He said, “No. I would take you back but you’ve got blue eyes. You haven’t got a hope in hell. As soon as someone sees you they’d know you were European.”
Anyway he left us there then and he said, “I’ll be back” And he gave us a date when he would be back. “Get me the information if you can.” And away we went. He came back on the date he mentioned. I can’t remember it now. Three weeks I think afterwards. We gave him the information…I said, “I don’t know about the accuracy of it.” He said, “Can you get me a Jap guard?”
I said, “Yes I think so.” It wasn’t our camp. Tamarkan was closer to where they were, and I said to Bruce, “I think there would be some guards around Tamarkan. We’ll go and get one.” So we went down and persuaded a Japanese guard to come back with us to see him. And I tell you what we never thought we could get a Jap guard to come back with us
if we knew what he was going to do with him. He questioned him and he wouldn’t answer him. And the things he did to that poor bloody soul to make him talk was unimaginable. As a matter of fact we killed him afterwards, we couldn’t let him go. Anyway we didn’t see him again, but the Japs…I don’t think they minded us getting the tobacco. But then some clowns started to go out and get palm whisky
and causing some strife, playing up you know. So they started to get concerned. So one afternoon …this is how cheeky we got. We went out one afternoon. On the way back the track just deviated from straight a little bit and you wouldn’t see the other guy. At different intervals Bruce wouldn’t be able to see me in front. I got nearly to where this…I think it was nearly 60 or 70 yards to
where this foot bridge was over the ditch and I saw this bloke coming some distance because it was more open up there. White topee, white trousers, white socks, long socks and black shoes. I thought he’s a Thai and when I nearly got up to him he pulled a pistol. He was a Jap. Belted me across my skull with it
and swore and carried on. And Bruce like a clown saw him talking to me and still kept coming. He got up there and he whacked Bruce with a pistol once and then said, “Campo!” (UNCLEAR) which meant go back to camp. So we went to go back to camp and he stepped in behind us. At this little foot bridge there were shots fired. Bruce looked at me, I looked at Bruce. We looked behind us and the Jap’s laying there. This Pong
the bloke who got the tobacco before , right on the edge of the bridge was a great big pampas grass, he was sitting in the pampas grass waiting for him to come back and shot him dead. He just kicked him into the irrigation ditch and away he went. Just the luck I’ve had. Anyway we got back to camp. And I said to Bruce, “It looks like these guys are getting serious. We’d have to be absolute idiots to go out.”
Oh, this was an incident I was going to tell you about before. On that day, alongside that day on the left hand side coming home and the right hand side going out was a crab apple hedge and that crab apple hedge came up to just nearly below my arm pit. It was that high and it was about two feet wide. Just prior to us running into this bloke,
we were coming home one night. We were loaded up. I’ve got the tobacco bag over my shoulder and cigarette papers under my left arm which is about as big as three cartons of cigarettes. And I got a torch shone in my face with a pistol sticking out in front of it. And I stopped. Not a word said. I don’t know how I did it. I jumped that crab apple hedge sideways, cleared it.
I took off across a cabbage patch with rows of cabbages about four or five feet apart and about that high. No, it would be about three feet apart and growing that high. I took off across that and ran about 50 or 60 yards and fell head first into a drainage ditch. It would be about 2 foot 6 deep and about 2 or 3 feet wide.
And in the bottom were beautiful round boulders. I heard barking and I went up around the crab apple hedge and around the corner were two blood hounds. Well, did I hammer them with those rocks. One of them broke his front leg. I could see them. It was moonlight nearly like daylight. And that frightened the other one too, and I hammered him in the ribs with numerous rocks and away they went.
I got out of there. Grabbed my stuff and the river was about half a mile, three quarters of a mile away I suppose and I went to the river and put the cigarette papers in the top of the tobacco bag and started to wade. It was dry season so even though it was five hundred yards wide, it was only about 50 or 60 yards. In the middle you had to swim.
When I had to swim I stuck the bag up on top of my head and side paddled. I got across. Walked up the side of the river opposite the camp and did the same thing to get back into the camp. I got home around about…I think it was about half past 12. Bruce is not there. Hell! I got some sleep.
About half past two I went over to Bruce’s hut. Not there. I don’t like it. Went back, couldn’t sleep. Went back just coming daylight and he’s there. I said, “Where the hell have you been mate?” He said, “Well that’s a big question. How big’s Siam?” “A big place mate”. “Well I reckon I ran every bit of it getting away from those dogs.”
I said, “What I was afraid of, when he fired at me that Jap, and I jumped that hedge, I was frightened that he would hit you further along the track.” “No,” he said. “It was just luck. I was running like hell through high grass and I fell straight over about a 20 foot bank into the river. So that’s how I got away from the dogs in the river.” He said, “There was only one dog.” I said, “What happened to the other one.
I’m sure I broke his front leg.” He said, “There was a lot of howling.” He said, “You just disappeared in the scrub.” I said, “I sure did mate.” You know I’ve got no idea how I jumped that hedge. No idea whatsoever. I thought if a bloke said here’s a million quid, you jump that hedge. I would have said, no way in the world. I wouldn’t have even attempted it. I had another incident like that with adrenaline.
It’s amazing. Anyway, I said to him. “That’s it, this is too risky. We’re giving it away.” I only went out once more after that. To my amazement an English officer came to me. This would have been about March ’44. This English officer came to me and said, “You get out
of the camp?” I said, “Don’t make stupid statements like that mate if you don’t mind. You’ve made a statement saying, you get out of the camp.” I said, “Let’s just talk about things and you ask me things. Don’t make statements, ok? And what’s more I want to know where you got that from?” He said, “I think it’s common knowledge.” I said, “Oh that’s very nice. I love that I don’t think.” “Anyway,” he said, “what
I’ve come to see you about. I’ve got a colt 6 shot, American colt with 6 rounds of ammunition.” I said, “What!” He said, “I’ve got a 6 shot American colt with 6 rounds of ammunition and I want to sell it.” I said, “Where the hell have you had that?” He said, “My suit case. They allow the officers to have a case. There’s a false bottom in that.
That’s where it’s been but I’ve got to get rid of it because they’re searching more diligently and they’re getting much more savage about it, if that’s possible. So I’ve got to get rid of it. So can you do it?” I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll see if I can sell it. I’ll give you no guarantee about what I can get for it because I don’t know.” He said, “Just get me something. Get rid of it is the main thing. You get what you can for it.” I said, “Ok.”
I put it in my pack like an idiot. A little haversack pack, whereas I should have hid it in the roof. As I said before you keep doing these things and you get blasé, and naïve. I put it in my pack. That afternoon was the first of the four engine bombers that started to come over. And some clown…do you know what a plumb bob’s like?
Just a round cylinder with a bolt through the middle for the cord to go through. He were out there with this looking at these planes. Now why he was doing that I don’t know. He probably thought it would enhance his sight looking at the planes. A guard saw him and thought it was binoculars. So a bloke by the name of…we used to call him AIF [Australian Imperial Force] Joe, a Jap come charging through the huts, “Searchy, searchy, searchy.” Running he was from hut to hut.
“Searchy, searchy, searchy.” I thought this bloke’s been done a number of times. What the hell’s going on. So before I could do anything about this pistol and ammunition, the Japs are there and it’s get out of the hut. All out on parade. And I thought there’s the gun and the ammunition in my pack. They would tip the packs out onto our sleeping platform.
I’m in trouble. Anyway nothing happens. This guard went through, and they were so one track minded. They were looking for binoculars and they never even saw the pistol. Wouldn’t register. Boy did I get rid of that fast that night. I went out to this Pong and I sold it for 350 tickle. I came back to this Englishmen and I said to him, “Mate.
It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, I could only get you 200.” I thought I’m taking the flaming risks. At that time I had over 15,000 tickle between Bruce and I. So we said, we’ll finish up. So we settled everything up and I had about 800 tickle. You couldn’t buy hardly anything. You couldn’t buy much but you could help blokes who couldn’t do anything work at all. Sick blokes and that you could help,
which I used to do. I used to shave them and look after them. But the Seram Sea mob used to go crook at me because I used to bring this haversack in and I used to drop a little bit of water on the floor. They were dirt floors. They never cleaned up anything. They were a filthy mob. They were shocking. This sergeant who was in charge was a real arrogant swine. I walked in with this bag one day and he said, “Get out.”
And I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “You’re bringing that dripping bag in here.” I said, “I know water’s very, very foreign to you. I don’t think you’ve seen any for some considerable time. It’s probably a shock to the flaming system. Don’t be silly enough to even try and get in my way. There will be another patient in the hospital if you do.” He still got silly but I didn’t belt him up. I just dropped him.
And then he changed his tune. I don’t know why. Something must have persuaded him that it was better to let me go. I used to wash these guys and shave them and try and look after them, and one day I go in there and I can hear a bloke protesting ….I thought what the hell’s going on. There were some partitions along the part and there were about four partitions along the length of it. And here he is trying to pull a gold ring off
this bloke’s finger. He’s very ill. Well he’s dying and here he is trying to pull this ring of the guy’s finger. He never even saw me. Boy did I slug him. So I was as popular as pork in a synagogue I can tell you. Anyway Weary Dunlop then came into the camp and boy did he clean that place up. There was an MP [Military Police]…
In some respects, a Major…what the hell was his name? Swartz, Major Swartz. He was a South Australian in the South Australian police, in the Military Police. He did a good job in some respects because when we first came down there, there was quite a lot of thieving amongst the huts and that. And he stamped on that, really stamped on it. He was such an arrogant man.
He also had English blokes who were police within the camp. No Australians would do it. And Bruce and I when we were going around selling tobacco caught them selling Quinine. It was that short, that short of supply. They had been pinching it out of the store room, the little bit they had they were selling it to the Chinese. The Chinese use it as a contraceptive.
And we caught them. There were four of them and two of us, but boy did we do them over. And of course they went back and reported to Swartz who came looking for us. I said to Bruce, “I tell you what we’ve got to do mate. We’ve got to write out a declaration, that if we’re caught by Swartz and anything happens to us, this letter will be put in the hands of Weary Dunlop.
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 06
Well we were under threat from these military police and Major Swartz. I thought the only way we could protect ourselves was to put all the details in somebody’s hands so they could get it to the authorities to take action if anything happened to us. I gave it to
this sergeant major who was a hell of a good bloke. I said, “If anything happens to us you put that in Weary’s hands because we know action will be taken.” Anyway we were coming one night about midnight or something like that and they had laid a trap for us, these military police inside the camp. They got Bruce first and I got away, and then they got me and they took
us to their little police headquarters. I knew this Swartz before the war. I knew his family. And I said, “What are you going to do?” And he said, “We’re going to lock you up.” And I said, “Where? I’m already locked up.” “We’re going to put you in the clink.” “Mate, I’ve got some news for you. I’ve got a very detailed letter written about all the little shenanigans that you’ve been up to
with your officers or your men selling Quinine [antimalarial drug] outside the camp. You’re pinching it from the store. You must know about it. You’d be in it. And there’s a lot of other things around the camp that we know about. It’s all been put in writing in the hands of a
very reliable person, and if anything happens to either of us, you cause us any problems in any way, it’s going to be put in the hands of Weary Dunlop.” And he said, “Weary Dunlop, who the hell do you think Weary Dunlop is.” I said, “Let me give you a little warning. Never get into a situation where he has to deal with you because you’ll regret it very, very much.” “Oh ok, well you can go. But just watch what you’re doing.”
Well we found out how much trouble he could get into because he had the temerity to go into the hospital and take one of Weary’s patients out of the hospital without saying a word. We saw Weary marching through…he was six foot six and he marched absolutely straight through the camp and straight towards the police headquarters and we said, we’ve got to see this.
He hauled that bloke out of his little headquarters and oh hell did he hammer him, and in the end he said, “You will come to me and from now on…you could have asked me. The next time you want a man out of the hospital, I don’t care what you think you need him for, come to me and you’ll get down on one knee and ask me or I’ll kill ya!”
So that put an end to that. Anyway, I told you about the police dogs. So we gave it away. There was a funny incident there that I must tell you about. The English troops had a day off from work. The work was only maintenance work around the camp for Queen Elizabeth. The Dutch had one for
Queen Wilhelmina. And we Aussie’s have got nobody. I said to this Sergeant Major who was a hell of a good guy, “Jim, can’t we get a day off for Anzac Day?” And we were talking about it, and I said, “By the way, why not make Ned Kelly our king?” A day off for our King, Ned Kelly. He said, “You’ve got to be joking Mac.” I said, “No I’m going to give it a try and suffer the consequences.” So he said, “Let’s give it a go.”
So we went up and saw this Jap who had been an Australian wool buyer. We went and saw him and he said, “Oh Anzac Day. Big day Australia.” And we said, “That’s right, and our King’s Ned Kelly.” “Ned Kelly? I’ve never heard of Ned Kelly.” We said, “Well Ned Kelly is the King of Australia. We’ll combine the two.
Can we have a day off for Anzac Day and Ned Kelly?” “Yes, yes you can.” So we got a day off for King Ned Kelly. The Pommies were furious. Anyway it was only about a week or so…when I say I was one of the only Australians that he ever punished, one of these silly Scotchmen got some of this palm whisky. He gets just down behind our huts with his
bag pipes, two sticks on the ground dancing the sword dance. So a Jap guard comes along and gives a whack under the ear and tells him to get back to his hut. He’s hardly gone and he’s back down there again. That time two other guards come back with rifle and bayonet and made a charge at him. He took off and he dived under right under our hut, under the
bed platforms. He ran on his hands and knees under these platforms and out the other side and disappeared and the Jap didn’t know where he had gone. It was just dark or a little after dark at that time. So this silly old colonel I was telling you about calls everybody out and says, “Who’s the man? Step forward that man. Step forward that man.”
Nobody’s moving of course. “Don’t you know how to obey an order.” So some of the blokes said to him, “Do you know who it is sir?” “How the hell would I know.” And they said, “Well how the hell would we know who it is.” And he just pointed at me like that. And I said, “Why me sir?” He said, “You’ll do.” And he handed me over to the Japs. They took me up to the guard house,
belted me up, not severely. Embarrassingly but not severely. But one of the things they did they kept scraping the end of their bayonet down my legs and they broke the skin all the way down my leg. I didn’t like that too much. Anyway they kept me there until morning and the Jap sergeant major who was a shocking man came and said, “Go, go back.”
And that’s how I got out of it. I was the only bloke he did over. Another one. We used to guard the store for the Japs with a big waddy. One night one bloke had been across the river to get palm whisky or something over there. He came back full and wanted food. “Mishi, mishi.” “No I can’t, mishi no.
On your way.” I was put there by the Japs to guard and I thought I’m going to do this joker. Any second now he’s going to get done. So I whacked him. I didn’t do it hard but just whacked him enough across the backside and across the shoulders and on the top of the head and said, go. He went but went and made a complaint to the Jap officer.
We were called…Colonel Outram, the colonel in charge of the camp and myself were called to the Jap office and he was getting madder and madder and madder with this Jap. And we said to him, “Sir, we don’t believe in physical punishment. We’re the ones that have suffered the embarrassment and bit of inconvenience in this case,
but we don’t want any physical punishment, punish him in some other way.” “Ok, ok” he said. “I will agree to what you say.” We got out the way and then there’s a roar like a bull and he’s into this poor bludger. Did he bash him up. Then they put him in a cage about three foot square by about six foot long and just ….
All they gave anybody, our blokes or the Japs in those cages was salt…a very salty rice ball to make them thirsty and make them suffer. And he finished up killing this bloke. They beat their own up just as much as us. He killed him and I thought you mongrel. Anyway a few days after that we got word we were on the move. We went to a place called Tamuanang.
And Tamuanang was a transit camp for these work parties going to Japan. We were there, I don’t know how long, three weeks I suppose, and in June we entrained for Singapore. But prior to that they got all these uniforms, khaki, Scotch tartan trunes,
white underpants, undershirts, boots and all this stuff to fit out the parties to Japan. You never saw such a motley looking mob in all your life. You could have a white singlet, a white short sleeve singlet up top, tartan trunes at the bottom and split toe Japanese boots on his feet. Another bloke would have white underpants and a
green Dutch jacket. Oh mate. Anyway prior to this they’ve got this big shed they had built there with all these clothes in it. So I said to Bruce, “Opportunity. Like a bald headed man with a beard. You can only catch him coming not going. What about it. Shall we try and get some of those clothes.” He said, “Yes, why not.”
So we rigged up one of the sheets of iron on the side so we could lift it away and put it back without any sign of it being moved. We got some, not much but about three or four pairs of shorts each to take out and sell. We found out where we could sell them. We used to get them in the night, not go out that night. Keep them hidden during the day
and go out that night. There was a time factor you had to consider. We’ve got them there in the hut and a bloke comes tearing through, “Search, search.” And I said to Bruce, “Good god what are we going to do.” He said, “I know, all the Japs are on parade. Iky’s tent is just around the corner there.” Iky was the Jap interpreter and an absolute swine of a man.
Hated Australians that intensely…for good reason. When they were building the Bukatima Memorial in Singapore prior to the Japs going to the railway, they used to travel a fair way to bring the stone from another place in those closed steel trucks. He went up there to examine one of the trucks with the boys when they were knocking off and they shut the door on him and left him in there. And the next day was a ‘yasme’ day, a rest day
and he was in there. He nearly died. Nearly died they tell me. And of course he didn’t like the Australians at all. So, into his hut, he had a little hut there and part of it was a tent and part of it was a bamboo structure. In there and stick them under his bed. So we did and went on parade. They get off parade and the next thing we see Iky’s lined up and did they do him over.
“Hit him again you mongrel.” So we got some of our own back there. So we shifted from there . We got on the train, on the railway we had built. We went down as far as Ban pong and then we got on the main railway to Singapore. We got back to River Valley Camp in June and
it was only a fairly small camp, but there were some Ghurkhas [Regiment of Burmese soldiers fighting under the British Army] there. There were six Ghurkhas. Originally there had been over 300. They would never ever do anything that the Japs directed them to do. If the Japs went to belt them up they’d spit in the Japs face. There were only six of them left and they were still defying the Japs. You had to be…
…you had to respect them in some respects. You had to think how stupid it was in other respects. They weren’t gaining anything. All they were doing was annoying the hell out of the Japs but at the price of your life. So fair dinkum, which way are you going. Anyway we worked on the wharfs there for some time. I only went out on about three parties, I don’t know why. But
one party I was on, we were loading condensed milk, cartons of milk. So somebody would accidentally drop one carton and there’d be cans rolling around. We had just a pair of shorts but inside those shorts we had a strip about 18 inches wide of the bottom of a mosquito net. We had two tapes sewn on the end of it that you put around your stomach, pull it up the front and
drop the remainder down in front and you’d call them a ‘lap lap’. Well that was fairly tight into your groin and you could hide stuff in there see, and they’d feel around your shorts but feel nothing. This Jap was going to show us how smart he was. Nippon man, Japanese man, Nippon man ichi-ban, number one. He was only an ‘ichi-ten’.
No brains you know. He had a head made of concrete. He gets one of these cans from a broken carton, puts it on the floor, grabs one of the bloke’s slouch hats, covers the can, walks to the door, looks both ways to see if there’s any Jap about, walks back to the hat, picks up the hat and the can’s gone. He went over,
tore a piece of timber off a packing case and belted all of us over the head about 2 or 3 times. The bloke who’s hat he had said, “He could have put my hat back on my head before he bloody hit me.” Anyway we get back to camp and then the next thing we’re on the move. We got down to the wharf to the ship that was taking us to Japan and there was latex. The latex was in what was
more or less a lampang too. It was made into….I can’t really remember but I think they were …each bundle was 25 kilos, and they formed a hand grip on them. So you can pick them up. Each one of us had to carry one in each hand on board at the same time we took our gear and dropped it down the bottom hold.
Anyway while we were waiting to do this there were heaps of tins of biscuits. They weren’t a bad little biscuit either. A rice biscuit. There was a Jap guarding them. One of my silly mates said to me, “I’m going to get one of those tins.” I said, “You’ve got to be nuts.” He said, “No, I tell you what, I’ll lay you some money I’ll get one of those tins.” I thought, so bloody stupid. He did, he got one.
He saw a piece of paper. It looked like an official file, blowing across the wharf. He drew the Jap’s attention to it. He said, (what’s the word?)… “Hiroshi, hiroshi.” Documents, you know, hiroshi. And the Jap ran after it. He didn’t just get one tin, he got two tins.
That was the sort of thing they used to do. They were never beaten. And as I said, this little fella was…oh God I can’t think of his name…he was so ill with pneumonia, he should never have attempted to get to Japan. He got to Japan and the winter came. We got there on the 8th of September 1944 and
the winter came and started to get cold around about November. It was very, very cold. He got pneumonia this bad, he got out of the hut this night and out through the window when the Jap was watching him, and caring for him. He had to go to the toilet. He went up to the guards crying and asking for his mother. You know, a state of delirium.
We got him back down and Pearlman, the American corpsman said that’s finished him. We can’t save him now I don’t think. The rattles in his lungs are just absolutely hopeless. But he survived. Owen Ainsworth. Terrific little guy. Yes, he only died last year.
Anyway we started to head for Japan. We got across to Borneo, went to Brunei. The ship we were on was about 3, to 4000 tons. It was sold to Japan in 1915 for scrap iron. It was Clyde built, a riveted ship. It had no superstructure whatsoever. There was no bridge or anything like that. That had been bombed out of it. There was a hole in the middle where it had been bombed out they had 12 inch steel
beams welded across. It had an auxiliary bridge, wheelhouse right on the stern. It leaked like a sieve and it was headed for Japan with 14 other ships. We got to Japan with 4 ships. Between bombing, torpedoes, submarines
and a typhoon. We hit a typhoon in the China Sea and was it a ripper. Ray Parkin, a Chief Petty Officer off the Perth said the waves were 150 feet high and three quarters of a mile apart. We had no power whatsoever. It was an old coal burner. They couldn’t even get the coal down into the bunkers. We never had a hope. It was rolling that steeply and
throwing you around. He believes that the fact that we didn’t have any power saved us. We just went which ever way the sea pushed us. Towards the …three days we were in the typhoon…towards the latter end of the typhoon we got behind some islands in one of the island groups north of the Philippines. We had been
in the Philippines for five weeks in the harbour, in Philippine Bay and couldn’t get out. Every time we tried to get out we’d get blasted. The big joke about when we got blasted…this mad mongrel who had been such a bastard on the railway, one of but one of the worst. He got into a lifeboat and they couldn’t get him out of it. They hammered the hell out of him, the Jap’s themselves, to get him out of the lifeboat but they couldn’t get him out of the lifeboat.
That was fantastic. He had been such a thorough bastard and thrown his weight around so much. Torpedoes frightened the hell out of him. Well they sunk…in the first attack just out from the Philippines they sank four ships. They wouldn’t have touched ours because it was a hulk. And we were cheering and carrying on like idiots, and enjoying it. The Japs were absolutely furious.
But what was the best part of it. Everything quieted down when the planes came out from the Philippines and dropped depth charges and bombs all over the ocean. Killed a hell of a lot of fish I reckon. Anyway the line up in the line of convoy again. The escort goes right back to the stern gets in a nice position following behind, and the next thing the escort is in bits everywhere with a torpedo. They blew it to pieces.
We thought that was beautiful. We then went into Formosa. We were there resupplying with water and rice too I suppose. I don’t know. Anyway we left there and went into….what the hell is the name of it? It’s the southern part
of Japan…It’s a big bay and it’s got an extinct volcano in the middle of it. So that was our first contact in Japan. We were there for a night. Tied up to the wharf. Then we pulled out of there and went right to the northern tip of Kyushu in the Fukuoka region at a place called Moji.
It’s right on the tip between Honshu the main island and Kyushu. We disembarked there and I had a bit of misfortune there. We disembarked and we’ve got one of these lumps of latex either side of us and a pack on my back. We were up against each other working our way down the gangplank and the Japs jumping up and down going stone mad trying to get everybody to
hurry. It was awkward. Your latex would go between the lines of the gangplank and get caught and you’re pulling them and freeing them. I got nearly to the bottom and the bloke who was at the bottom went to step off the bottom, when the Jap lifted his rifle up in the air and drove it butt first straight at his head. He ducked. I’ve got a bloke hard up against me
and I’ve got this weight on my arms and he hit me fair in the sternum with the butt of the rifle. Hell it hurt. Anyway I just went on. We got on a smaller boat and went across to Ohama where we were to work in the mines. I had a real crook chest. For some time…we didn’t have to do any work in the mines for about a week, but I was just about all that week trying to recover. Years after, just 15 years ago, I
had three bypasses. And after the bypasses were done I went for x-rays to make sure everything was right and the Radiologist said to the doctor, that bloke’s had bypass surgery before. I could hear this. He said, “No he has not.” And he said, “Yes he has. He said his sternum’s been split right down the middle.” This flaming mongrel with the rifle must have split the sternum from top to bottom. No wonder it was sore.
Anyway we went down to the coal mines. The coal mines were about two and half miles out to sea and about 25 feet below the bed of the sea. The consequence of that was that it was like big drops of rain all the time. Not heavy rain but pat, pat, pat. Rain dripping down. But it wasn’t cold under ground like that. We had to walk in. There was what they called a drift. There were steps.
I forget how many. Hundreds and hundreds of steps to get in, hundreds of steps to get out. There were three shifts a day. Ten days on one shift and then ten days on another. We used to have to load…a group of five men would have to load 20 trucks in a shift, eight hours. We had to pull the coal and in some cases shovel it back
three times before you got to the end of the railway line before you could get a new rail in. So you working your butt off. Well we weren’t too bad I suppose. We weren’t in the best of condition I suppose but the old body was just about beaten by that time. Then the bombing started to intensify
about three months before the war ended. Prior to that in the winter time…it was very cold. One day the maximum temperature was minus 15 degrees. I had bronchial pneumonia because the air down the mine was shocking, and they sent me up top, to work up top. Like our blokes selected me to work up top of the mine because it was hard to breathe anytime down the mine. And
this was this day when it was minus 15 degrees. I had shorts on, those split toe boots and a shirt no thicker than this. That’s all you had on. It was freezing and there was a blizzard blowing. We worked on trucks that had broken down. Trying to put new boards on them and these bolts were that rusted they didn’t fit properly and you were banging your knuckles and
it really hurt. Anyway we had an old Jap who had been an old soldier in charge of us. It came lunch time and he said “UNCLEAR”, that was all the rest of the day off. So we got into a hut about ten foot square I suppose. A wooden hut. And in the middle of it was a 44 gallon drum to light. So we went over to the timber part, the saw mill part of the
mine and we got all the off-cuts. We got it going so good we burnt a hole through the top of the roof. And he laughed his head off. That’s all he did. No repercussions. He just laughed. He couldn’t have cared less. So long as the war finished. He hated the army and hated everything to do with it. And with good reason because they used to treat those people just as bad as they treated us. They were mongrels, the army. If one of those poor devils wasn’t too well and didn’t
come to work, they’d drag him to work and flog him. Women too. They were absolute bastards. Anyway we went on. The bombing got greater and greater and heavier and heavier. I’ve never seen anything anywhere…they put on these nights with fireworks here, you’re kidding. Nothing like the fireworks we could see at Moji straight across the water.
About ten miles and I tell you what the fireworks they put up here wouldn’t even light it up compared to that. It was absolutely amazing. But they bombed the hell out of the place. There would be a thousand bombers overhead. What we used to be very, very concerned about, we were on the Narrows….it was the Narrows across the other side, and they used to lay mines in there. The planes used to come over the high mountains
and you could hear their motors cutting back, motors slowing down, cutting back to drop these mines. And you’d hear these mines go down and then the parachute would burst when it hit the water. And we used to say, thanks…keep it up, keep it up, keep it up, we don’t want to cop one of them. We never did thank goodness. So it went on with the bombing and then one morning we were out at 7 o’clock in the morning to go down the mine
and at ten past seven to the north was this blast, a flash of light. It was unbelievable. I think that was about the 8th of August. And it was Hiroshima. We saw the cloud go up afterwards. And when we got down the mine the Japs were saying, “Tuksa bomba” Tuksa is ‘large’ bomb. Tuksa bomba.
What was it, what was it! They didn’t know. We thought, what the hell? They must have hit a great ammunition dump or oil tanks or something like that. They said, “No no. Tuksa bomba.” It was tuksa bomba alright. Anyway it was only a few days later and they hit Nagasaki. Nagasaki was just a bit further over the range. And the next we heard,
the whole guard, just everybody just changed their attitude towards us. They used to be that meticulous and belt blokes because you never said the number…how they wanted it. They just had to do somebody over. Then all of that stopped and they just about got on their knees to say, can you do it right. But they couldn’t say do it right. But you’d see they were anxious about
everything and they were no trouble. There was one incident. There was a bloke by the name of ‘Rocky’ McHail and Rocky was a big raw boned Victorian. Very tough man. We lined up in front of the guard house coming in to do a count. It used to be painful. They’d go over and over, different counts all the time. It would drive you nuts. You’d come out of the mine which was quite warm and all you’d have on was skimpy clothing.
You’d be wet through with perspiration. You’d get to the guard house and they’d muck you around for anything up to half an hour or more trying to count a few blokes, and you’d freeze. It was absolutely horrible. We were lined up and there was one of the blokes there who from malnutrition had gone stone deaf and he passed wind like a bugle call. Terrible. And Rocky was near him.
They wanted to know who it was and Rocky stepped forward and said, “It was me”, because this bloke was pretty sick too. Mentally and everything. Hell they belted him. They hammered the hell out of him for about 3 hours. The next morning we go to go down the mine and Rocky’s lining up and I said to him, “For god’s sake mate, go sick.” He said, “No, the bastards will never stop me.” That was Rocky. So we get up to the guard house and Tanika, the interpreter -
Tanika had been educated in America and couldn’t do much because they only had to step out of line and he would have been a dead duck. And he used to try and…he helped us in many little ways. Just relieved the pressure a bit. He came around…because Rocky was in the back line. He came around to Rocky and said, “Go back to your room. I’ll dismiss you and I’ll tell the guards what’s happened. You’re sick.”
“Bloody sick. You bastards make us sick. No, you’re never going to stop me. I’m going down the mine.” I was in front of Rocky in the middle line and I turned around to him and said, “For God’s sake shut your bloody mouth and get back to your room. You’re getting an opportunity. Don’t be stupid.” “No, no.” Tanika said to me, “Can you blokes persuade him because he won’t listen to him.” I said, “Well, we’ll have to
interrupt the parade that could be dangerous.” He said, “I’ll permit you do that. I’ll tell them what’s happened.” So quite a few of us said, “Come on Rocky, we’ll help you back.” And that’s what we did. We helped him back to the room. But he wasn’t going to give in. They were brilliant guys. Then the war came to an end in Japan after the bomb. We saw the Jap guards and the Jap officers…the Jap officers
could speak perfect English. He was an English school teacher and he was a poor mixed up sort of a guy. He didn’t want to hurt anybody but some of the guards were real bad. They called all the guards into the office and they came out and they were crying. We thought, you little beauty.
It’s over. It must be over. And this was about the 15th or 16th. The war had been over a day then, but we had no idea. Then, attitude…we were nearly the ‘golden-headed boys’. And we thought, there’s something going on here. Anyway on the 18th they advised us that the war had finished. We just took over. We mounted an official guard.
They mounted an official guard with arms and everything. They handed the arms across as you would from one guard to another. The Japanese flag was lowered and to our amazement a Welshman there produced a Union Jack. The Union Jack was flown. The Aussie’s said, “This is no bloody good, we’ve got to have a flag of Australia”. At that stage the Americans
were starting to drop red, white and blue parachutes with a lot of gear on it. So we got those and went down to where we knew there was a seamstress in the village. We went down there, drew the design of the flag and she made a flag for us. We went down to the workshops, got two lengths of two inch piping which put it about ten feet above the Union Jack.
We welded some guy ropes onto it, steel cable guy ropes onto it, and went back and put the flag up. Mounted a guard to fly the flag. A Petty Officer off the Perth unfurled the flag, then you draw it to the mast head and then unfurl it. We whacked on a terrific parade. We unfurled the flag and it was upside down. And a flag upside down is a distress signal.
Well the Pommies gave us hell. We laughed. But we were doing quite well by then. We were still in that same camp a month after the war because as well as everything else they couldn’t shift us. But they dropped tons of food. I reckon during the month we were there they dropped 12 months food. They were dropping it with parachutes
on pallets. But others with two 44 gallon drums welded together. It was far too heavy for the parachute and some of them used to break away. I remember two coming down one morning away from the camp towards the village. They came crashing down and they broke away from the parachute. We thought it was down near the lamp room where we used to get our lamps. So we came charging out the gate and down there.
It was the lamp room. It was a concrete floor and the contents of these two barrels was tomato puree. Well you never saw such a bloody mess and you never see so many red Japs in all your life. They ran out the door absolutely red with tomato puree. God it was funny.
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 07
I’ve got this out of the correct sequence because there were a couple of incidents that happened to us during our time in Japan. ‘Orrie’ Abbot, a Petty Officer off the Perth, a very funny man and a great guy, was allocated the job down the mine of driving one of the electric winches that they used. A very powerful electric winch. It would pull 40 trucks
of coal up a very steep incline at about 60 miles an hour. He drove one of those. There was a young Jap. He was known as the ‘Ako’ Boy. The Ako is a truck or box in Japanese and he was a little mongrel. I would imagine he would have been about 17 or 18, little swine he was. He went into a little cubicle
…the electric motors were off the main shaft in a sort of cubicle that they had cut out of the rock face. He went in there and grabbed Orrie by the privates. And Orrie took a very dim view of that so he bounced him out of the main drive way and belted the hell out of him and marched straight out of the mine, back to the camp and saw the Jap officer,
and he said, “You did the right thing. That is not permitted. You can kick a bloke but you must not grab him.” Anyway you mustn’t do that. That’s a different thing altogether. So when they came out of the mine, they did him over. That was one of those rare things that happened. What happened to myself on one occasion, it was our day off in between two shifts.
Late in the day I thought I had better go down and have a shave…when I say late in the day, say 3 o’clock or something like that. I’m down shaving and I’m about half way through my shave with my cut throat razor and the siren went. The first warning, which was just a warning for an air raid. Before I had hardly gone any further there was a
different sound on the alarm. It was a full raid. And I thought, ‘hell I’m not going to finish my shave’. So I washed my face, dived across and up the stairs to my room which was on the second floor. I was standing in the doorway as I turned around and grabbed an overcoat which they had supplied us with, a book and went to run to the air raid shelter. Standing in the door way was the Jap sergeant major with a sword.
He had the sword out up above his head. Well halfway across the room was timber, which the two sliding doors are abutted onto . I carefully watched which side he was going to go around this timber. He went one side and I went the other. I went along the passage way, down the stairs and I had to run about 50 yards or more for shelter. He
couldn’t catch me. His sword was swishing behind me which was adding speed to my feet, I can tell you. In the doorway…the doorway went in like an L shape and then a double L shape so that light or blast from the bombs or that couldn’t come into the shelter, or light out of the shelter. And one of the guards used to stand there and hand everybody a little ticket. Well this silly idiot’s standing there with
hand out, with this ticket as I’m trying to go in, so I took him with me. We landed inside. I whacked the overcoat on. The other blokes grabbed me, grabbed the book, sat me down between some of them and I’m puffing like a train. By the time the guards got there…the other chap went and got some other guards. By the time they came back we were settled down and there was no way they could pick out who it was.
So they carried on and made a lot of noise and that was the end of that. It was a fast trip up that lane. I tell you what. That swishing really added speed to the feet. But in the end when the war actually finished and we had to …We went from Ohama which is on the
right up on the tip of Kyushu, right around the inland sea to a place called Wakayama by train. It was a most interesting trip because it was very mountainous. It’s a very mountainous country Japan. A beautiful country mind you and particularly in the autumn, and this was autumn. The autumn tints there are just absolutely beautiful. The only position I had to sit…there were a few fellas who had died
and they had little boxes with the ashes in them. That was my seat. I had to sit on my mates on the trips. That didn’t worry me. Little Paddy, when we were in Chungkai, Paddy and I used to work in the morgue. Paddy worked in the morgue all the time. When they were dying at the rate of 18 a day, during August, September and October, he wanted some assistance, so I went in with him.
Paddy and I used to sing hymns and Irish songs all the time and we came out one night and one of the blokes stopped us and said, “How the hell can you work in the there and sing?” Paddy said, “Have you ever tried to be working when you’re bloody crying mate? You can work a hell of a lot better when you’re laughing.” And he said, “Those poor buggers in there, they’re not going to hurt anybody. It’s these bastard out here who will get you.” He was a funny man. So that’s just about death.
So we got to Wakayama and a funny thing occurred. We hadn’t seen any white women for three and a half years, and on the wharf were Australian sisters off…I can’t think of the name of it. It was a destroyer. We stop at the station and pull into the platform and the guys are all at the windows, anxious and everything
else, and they see these…oh Australian sisters! Jumped through the windows to go to the Australian sisters and they got within about ten feet of them and then they turn straight around and ran straight back into the carriage. They couldn’t handle it. They couldn’t. And the Sisters laughed their heads off. They were upset really but they laughed their heads off. You know the situation. They said, you cheeky buggers, that sorted you out didn’t it. Anyway we get on trucks and
we’re standing up all hanging onto each other in these trucks. And there were big Negro drivers. A bloke by the name of Jack Heath, one of our guys, a good bloke. We’re going at a fair pace on beautiful big wide roads and Jack Heath leant around to the driver and said, “Hey mate, there’s a bloke going to pass you on a pushbike.” Well he never should have said it because did we take off. Anyway we got
there, going around these bends and corners and that, we’re all standing up and were we battling to hang on. So we got there. When we got there we were handed over to American doctors and they took all of our gear, every bit of our gear. They stripped us in one section then we had to go through doors into another section. They never let us have any of that gear afterwards. We had things that we had had with us, of very little value
but of great sentiment. For instance I had a beautiful leather belt, horse leather that was a Foreign Legion belt that I got in Syria and I didn’t want to lose that but I never saw it again. So that was one thing. Razors that we carried all the way through. They were gone. Everything like that. The only things they let us keep
were…oh very, very little. Really nothing.
Do you know why they wouldn’t let you keep it?
I think contamination. Our stuff was riddled with lice and all that sort of thing. They just wouldn’t let us take anything through. Anyway they did the medical examination and I still had a little bit of oedema in the legs. I’d had that all the time ever since I had my beri beri.
The doctor was very concerned about that, and also my liver. He said, “Have you had hepatitis?” I said, “I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had hepatitis. I think I’ve had it three but I might have had it more.” He said, “That’s going to kill you isn’t it.” And I said, “Well something is some time. So long as it’s not a bloody Jap.” Anyway we went on and
we got onto a hospital ship, the Constellation. It was a hospital ship in Wakayama harbour. I got into a bed and I think it was the second time in five and a half years that I got into a bed and I went to sleep. I slept like a log. Made a real blue, called one of the American nurses ‘sister’. You mustn’t call them sister because sister in the States is a derogatory statement.
“How you doing sister,” you know. Sort of a rude statement, derogatory, slang. Oh she gave me the works. And I apologised and told her that our qualified nurses are Sisters. She said, “We have nothing to do with Australia.” So anyway I go to sleep and slept like a log. That night, during the night a typhoon hit
Wakayama. I get up in the morning and go out with the rest of the blokes and we say, what the hell are those ships doing up on the shore. They said, “You’ve got to be joking Mac.” I said, “Why, what have I done?” They said, “You’re not to going to tell us you never felt that cyclone.” No I never felt a thing. I slept like a log. I had done that sort of thing before when we were under heavy shelling and that. If it was my time to sleep, I slept
like a log and never heard it. Anyway we headed off from there and we went to Okinawa. Got to Okinawa and we were camped on the side of chalk cliffs flattened out down the bottom. The Americans were marvellous there. We could go to the canteen as long as we kept an orderly line because we had no money. But we could have anything we liked so long as it was an orderly line of people.
They couldn’t do enough for us. A funny incident happened there. We had a bloke who was a real hard case and he should have been dead flaming years before, the things he had done. He should have been dead years before. The toilets were right up the top. Right up the top of…what would you call it? It wasn’t an embankment…
words as you get older. It was a cliff but not a sheer cliff, a sloping cliff down and made out of white chalk stone. And this silly looking Radcliffe comes charging down. There was an American Master Sergeant. He used to watch us like a hawk. He comes charging down to this American Master Sergeant yelling, “Sergeant, sergeant!” He said, “What’s wrong?”
He said, “There’s a bloke up the top there with a belt round his neck.” He goes up and there’s a bloke sitting on the toilet with a belt around his neck. He got the message to leave these jokers alone. They’re not psycho, they’re just mad. Anyway they flew us from Okinawa to the Philippines but we had bad luck. They had…
It was absolutely remarkable. When we got up to where the airfields were, as far as you could see along the top of this range was an airfield and there were B29 bombers lined up about 7 or 8 deep the whole way of that airfield. What they were there for was if Japan had have resisted they were going to blow it off the face of the earth.
We got in one of these B29 bombers to fly to Mitchell Field in Manila, and right at the end of this long runway that went for miles was a high bluff, and there the tarmac had been cut through it and there were high cliffs on either side. We got up to I believe 104 miles an hour,
and blew a tyre and was heading straight into this cliff. Well lucky for me I was on the right hand side of the fuselage in a gun turret. Four of our other blokes were in two gun turrets. They got wiped out and killed. All I got was a broken nose because I held onto the machine gun like that when I felt it go to steady myself. And when it hit and stopped I butted myself against the gun and it was
harder than my nose. So all they did, you know, they put a bit of plaster on my nose and said, you’re right guy, you’re right. Then they put us in an old DC2 [DC2 Douglas bomber, light transport aircraft] and flew us from there to the Philippines. We then were there for some days and from Manila to Sydney, we were then on the aircraft carrier, the converted cargo vessel made into an aircraft carrier.
A funny little incident happened on that too. I don’t know what these guys had done wrong. They were English airmen. You could see right down from the flight deck right down into the…what’s the jail called…the brig. And we could hear singing and we looked down there and they were singing, ‘Don’t fence me in.’
But they looked after us well there too. We stayed at Manus Islands just north of New Guinea and they painted the ship there. While they were painting the ship somebody did the wrong thing and threw a lot of food scraps from the kitchen to the sharks and there were hundreds. So the bosun on the ship came to we Australians and
said to us, “Can you fire an Oerlikon gun?” They’re a heavy machine gun against aircraft. We said, “We sure can, can fire anything mate.” He said, “Right ho, get stuck into those sharks.” So we had a field shoot of sharks up at Manus Island. We went from there the next day and we sailed for Sydney. Now the captain of that ship advised
us when we left the Philippines what minute, not what hour, but what minute he would be sailing through Sydney Heads. And he sailed through Sydney Heads the exact minute that he stated. We had a fantastic reception at Sydney Harbour. There were a lot of war ships in there. Australian, British and American. And they lined the decks and cheered us all the way into the harbour.
That was a fantastic thrill. We got to the wharf and they put down the gangplank and they were letting everyone down. When I went down and got to the bottom of the gangplank, I dropped to my hands and knees and kissed the earth. I said, “Beautiful Australia, God bless you.” I had a friend there to meet me who had come from Blackwood where I had been before the war. He was
there to meet us, and we went to Liverpool Military Camp. That night we were given leave into Sydney and I went in and met George. George Fairly was this chap’s name. We went to a dance and we were shy. Our hair was cropped right back like the Jap’s had it. I was bloated like a blimp then because I went from about 7 stone 3, I think
when the war finished and I went up to about 12 and a half stone and it was all sort blubber you know, because we used to eat our heads off. As a matter of fact we used to eat that much we would make ourselves sick for a start and then we’d have another go. You couldn’t stop. We’d been starved for so long. But we had a good time there and I think it was the next day that we went by train by Melbourne where we had a Government reception. We got on the train the next day
and got back to Wavell…no, Goodwood Station which is next door to the showgrounds. We went back to the Wavell Showgrounds and they gave us 28 days leave and I went home. Because of what had happened to me on the railway line, I had lost my memory altogether for some time. But memory was badly affected and the only ones I could…I had a big family
of relations. I could only remember my father and one cousin. None of the others at all. So I used to have a very enjoyable time there because I would be walking down the street and some lovely lady, a young lady and elder ladies would rush up and grab me and kissed me, and I didn’t know if she was a relative or I was just having good luck. Anyway I improved
considerably and after 28 days we went back into hospital and it was a mad house. It was all ex POW’s out at this place at Northfield. Mate they were clowns the way they used to carry on. I was into all sorts of bother at different times. We couldn’t…I suppose that’s the correct thing to say…we could not
stick this crap authority that they used to try and slam onto us. We couldn’t take it at all and we used to run into trouble with the authorities, especially a big sergeant major there. We used to call him the ‘Beast of Belsen’. Belsen was one of the notorious German prisoner camps…concentration camps. And they used to call him the Beast of Belsen.
He didn’t like it. And he used to try and really stand over us and we used to give him hell.
Can you give us a couple of funny stories about him?
Well one of the things was, you can’t make a sick person stand to attention. Stand at ease and speak and with respect and that sort of thing. We were rushing into our long Nissen hut and he roared for everybody to stand to attention. We’d ignore him down here and all the blokes up the other end, would be saying, “What did you say
Sergeant Major?” “Stand to attention!” “What did you say, can’t hear you?” So he’d go rushing up there to tell them to stand to attention, and we’d be down here going, “What was that Sergeant Major?” So we’d run him up and down, up and down. It took him a long time…he wouldn’t wake up to it, that was the funny bit. Anyway after he had enough of it he’d go and then he’d bring an officer back. And we’d give the officer the works up and down.
They gave us away and they wouldn’t come near us. All we wanted was the medical people. We didn’t want all these idiots trying to make us act like soldiers. Anyway this Beast of Belsen we used to have to go to him to get a leave pass and he absolutely insisted that you wore hospital blues. And these hospital blues that they’d give you, the sleeve would be up to there. The trousers would be up to here.
They were shocking. I think they used to do it deliberately to try and embarrass you, I don’t know. So Bill Steiglitz was about six foot seven, a big bloke, shoulders like this. He and I went over to get a leave pass and this Beast of Belsen is behind the counter and he said, “You’re not getting a leave pass, you’re not
wearing hospital blues.” And I said, “I absolutely refuse to wear them.” And Bill said, “And so do I. We’ve been made to look like total idiots by the bloody Japanese for years so we’re not going to be made total idiots by you.” “So you won’t get a leave pass.” And big Bill leant over and grabbed by the front of the shirt and pulled him up on the counter and said, “Is it better to be half dead or better to give a bloke his
leave pass, because that’s what’s going to happen to you.” We got the leave passes. And he said, “You’ll be charged when you get back.” We said, “Do that. We’re terrified of what you might do to us.” Anyway we got up to where we were discharged. Two days before we were discharged we went for pensions to a pension tribunal.
We went for assessment for what was suitable work for us. I’d worked in butcher shops, but most of my work had been outside, and after I did aptitude tests, the chap that I went to see said I was an ideal person to be secretary to a politician.
I said, “Well I don’t know how versed you are in your job, but that would be the last thing I’d ever be, pencil boy or a penman. I’m an active person. I’ve worked outside, worked with animals and all that sort of thing all my life. That would bore me to death doing pencil work so I think I’ll make my own judgements.” Anyway they discharged
me as physically fit. Two days later I got a 20% pension. So how they worked these two things out…the medical people are saying I’m on a 20% disability pension and the army’s saying I’m medically fit. So I didn’t take any notice at the time. I was just anxious to get the hell out of it. So we got paid out
and out of the army…you little beauty. Then I took ill. I was up in the army hospital, I was then, at Dawes Road in South Australia. It was my liver. I never got out of hospital for six months. I was pretty crook. Also I was having a lot of trouble with my back. When I got blown up those times in the Middle East, I didn’t know it then but what I had done
I had fractured three vertebrae and they hadn’t healed straight. One disc was ruptured and another one was badly damaged. I was working back in the butcher shop at Blackwood again, for Jackson, went back to the same guy, and I saw with one of my mates who I used to play football with. He had just come back from New Guinea and I raced out
of the shop. I was talking to him and I sneezed and went down on my hands and knees and there was no way I could get up. Oh this is lovely. So they took me to Dawes Road and did all sorts of tests, and they said. “We think we’ll have to do a laminectomy but we won’t do it. Should do a laminectomy but we won’t do it”. We’ve done two and they’ve been a failure. So we won’t do them. What was his name? Linden,
Doctor Linden was the surgeon. He didn’t want to do it. The other bloke was a terrific guy, Doctor Thornton. He said to me, “How do you feel about it.” And I said, “I’ll tell you how I feel about it. I feel with your skill and my faith it will be ok, no worries.” So they said they’ll do. This was in Easter 1947
They did a laminectomy and I’ve had no trouble with it really. I was very fortunate. They told me I was never to lift more than 20 pound again. I went back to lumping quarters of beef, no trouble. I’ve never had hardly any trouble with it really. I went back to the butchering business. Worked in that for…I don’t know how long…
Oh when I had my laminectomy I was sent from Dawes Road Hospital to Compara Convalescent Home. Before I went down there, Terry Fitzgerald a chap I met in hospital said to me, “I’ve been down to Compara for a few days and they sent me back for some more treatment, but I’m going back because there’s a lovely nurse down there. I reckoned she’d suit you fine.” So I thought I’ll have to have a look at this nurse. I go down there
I met this nurse. She was out ironing, ironing handkerchiefs and doilies. She had to go and do something so I ironed her handkerchiefs and doilies while she was away. She came back. She was a singer. I was a singer and we were singing at the Red Cross concerts and all that. That’s my darling next door. That’s where I met her. And I’ve told her that many times, it was a terrible situation because I was that weak. I had no resistance and you got me before I could resist.
Boy am I glad it happened. That’s my darling mate that I’ve had with me all that time, 55 years in January. And I tell you what God was good to me, he really was. Anyway I left that place in Blackwood because I wanted to learn smallgoods as well. No, I came out of hospital but I was crook again a few months later.
I forget what that was, some problem. I was in there for about 3 months. I came out of hospital and I couldn’t get back to Jacksons. Another bloke had taken my place. I told them to get somebody else and not wait for me. I didn’t know how long I’d be. I went back…I couldn’t get back into the butchering game so I went and worked for S.E. Isles who were a wholesale grocery distributor.
I got some experience with them and had some fun. I got up to driving semi trailers. Driving it there and also interstate. One funny incident happened there. I used to work on…what was it? Some oats…a brand of something. It was like rolled oats. It was put through a mill to make it into a finer mixture.
It used to be put through twice to make this cream-oats, and sometimes this old guy I worked with would whip it through once and that was enough. He was stone deaf but he had a hearing aid but the controller was inside his shirt. As soon as he saw the boss coming he’d switch the hearing aid off, and he’d go crook as hell at him
and after he had gone he’d say, “What did he say?” and I’d tell him. One day I saw Bill Collins the boss come through the door and down this passage and the old bloke saw him and he said, “Don’t you switch that hearing aid off you old bugger. I’m not going to talk to you if you can’t hear me.” Anyway I finished up there and I got a chance to go managing a butcher shop
in Woodville which is down towards Port Adelaide. I went down managing this shop for a bloke by the name of Mitchell. He was a absolute first grade butcher. I thought I was a good butcher but that boy, boy did he teach me some things. An excellent standard of butchering. I worked there and at that time I was courting Fran,
and I was staying with some cousins at Ironmarsh. Fran was at Campara and at the weekends we used to for drives all through the hills with some of the other sick patients. We’d take the patients with us and that sort of thing. We had a wonderful time. We went to pictures and balls and this sort of thing. On January the 8th 1948 we got married.
Didn’t we Nana…it’s the best thing that ever happened in my life.
Can you tell us about your wedding day?
Well my brother was best man and I only had my father as the only other family. My sister was in New Zealand. She was a nun with the Little Convent of Mary. So she couldn’t come over of
course. Fran’s parents were there. It was a wonderful day. We were married in the Cathedral in Adelaide and had a wonderful reception. We stayed in Adelaide that night. Went to Phillip Island, off Port Philip down in Melbourne for our honeymoon. There was a funny incident happened there too.
This place was in the bushes in those days. It wasn’t much of a town, just Cowes on Phillip Island. We were going through the ti-trees and we can’t find the damn place. I said to a bloke where’s such and such a place and he said it’s round the corner there. Just push through there. We found it. The room was ok. Just ok. The bed…the mattress on it was that damn thin, the next morning I went around to the bloke
and said, “That’s not much of a bed mate.” He said, “Oh, it’s alright.” I said, “Look it’s that bloody thin there was a penny under the mattress and I could tell if it was heads or tails.” And there was a penny under the mattress. That’s what brought it to mind. He was a bit upset about it. But he never did anything about it. How long were we there Nana? About a week wasn’t it? Two weeks. Two weeks we were there. We had a lovely
time. We met some people there. Tongs, and they were a lovely couple with a little fella. We had a lovely time with them. Then it was back to Blackwood and back to work. I worked with Jackson then for…I don’t know how long. Oh and then I went to Woodville. I was at Woodville sorry. I was at Woodville. I stayed with this guy, I don’t know, a couple of
years I suppose, and Jackson got on to me because I still lived up at Coromandel Valley. He got onto me and said, “I want you come back. I’m opening up a new shop at Blair. I want you to manage it.” And I said, “Well I’ll tell you what. You’ve got to treat me a lot better with wages than you have. You have to pay me right up to scratch or I’m not the slightest bit interested.” “Yes we’ll do that. I know we haven’t treated you right with wages for the years you were with me up to then.”
I said, “You sure haven’t mate. You owe me thousands.” Anyway I went to this shop which was a brand new shop and very well set up. I worked there. By that time, when I left Mitchell at Woodville, we had a son and a daughter. Fran was expecting our third child
and I’m working up there. The boss’s son worked with me and that was a bad setup. The manager working with the son. And he was a real pain in the backside this bloke. He knew he was the boss’s son and he used to throw his weight around. Mostly I ignored it. I was anxious to get home because I knew Fran was likely to go to hospital.
I cleaned the place up and had it all set up ready to leave, and a woman knocks on the door and she wants a pound of mince. A pound of blade steak minced. I said, “The mincers been washed and everything’s clean.” I want mince, I won’t buy the other mince and carried on. So I whipped it through but I never washed it again because I was anxious to get home. I jumped on my bike which is all down hill and tore down the hill,
down to where I lived at Edwardstown at that time. I come back the next morning and he’s there putting on a turn. I told him what happened. I said, “Now come on, be sensible.” He nearly ran across the room and pushed me. That was a very silly thing to do. I belted him right back across the room. I packed up my gear and walked out the door.
I went down to the Blackwood to where…the bloke who owned the butcher shop lived in Blackwood, and I demanded my pay and money and everything. He said he never had it ready and I would have to come back the next day. So I got on my pushbike and rode down to Edwardstown where we were, got in the car and drove to Blackwood. And the guy came out and abused me. And I belted him through the wire door and he took the wire door out with him.
He paid me. Oh he was upset but he paid me. He paid me a pound too much. So when I got home and found out he had paid me a pound too much I rang him up and thanked him for the extra pound. And he went….on the phone. I shouldn’t have done it I know. But I was young in those days and I was hot headed. Anyway that afternoon I had another job managing a butcher shop in the city. But I told the guy I wasn’t
interested in staying there because I was studying meat inspection and I wanted to go to the abattoir where I could study a lot more diseases because of the number of animals and that. And the slaughtering because there was no slaughtering back up in the hills. All the meat came from the Metropolitan Abattoirs. I wanted to be with slaughtering where I could actually see these diseases and study them. So I went as a slaughterman to
the abattoirs which is very hard work. I’ll tell you what. That encouraged me to study more. So I studied hard and got my meat inspectors ticket, and I started as a meat inspector in 1955. I worked at (UNCLEAR) at various times. I worked at Port Lincoln,
Townsville, Rockhampton….what’s the other place. Can’t think of it. I can’t think of another place in South Australia. And I was always on the move. And I would be away from home for as long as 10 months in a year. It was terrible. Terrible for Fran but she did a fantastic job with the kids and everything.
I got the opportunity through something that I did to go in charge…they were starting in the Northern Territory, starting the Department of Primary Industry up there. So I got the opportunity to go up there and start the Department of Primary Industry up there. I was up there for 8 years. It was a very interesting period.
It was raw boned, tough guys, rough as bags but I never had much trouble with them at all. We started there with no exports. I had been there 8 years and we had been exporting over two million dollars of product a year. I had a lot of trouble on the wharves with the wharfies but could always handle them.
I done them every time they started something because I had the ability with my export permits to take their jobs off them. And I never hesitated to do if they absolutely wouldn’t budge. After I did that a couple of times they were much more amenable to suggestions that I made. But I left there in September ’72.
Interviewee: John McNamara Archive ID 0852 Tape 08
Yes, I left the Northern Territory in September 1972 and unfortunately the people that took over from me could not handle the problems with the wharfies, and it got so that there was no ship that would come in and pick up any export at all. They just wouldn’t come in the harbour. They missed Darwin all the time because the wharfies caused that much trouble.
As I said earlier I never had any…I had plenty of trouble with them but I beat them every time. You have to be tough enough not to give in and don’t let them upset you at all. I tell you what, they’re thorough bastards. They’ve caused this country millions of dollars of stuff that should have gone overseas that hasn’t gone. Utter stupidity. And it’s not the
ordinary wharfie. The ordinary wharfie is like everybody else, he’s a good bloke. It’s the union bosses and they’re stupidly indoctrinated with some rubbish. I don’t know what it is. But anyway that’s what happened. While I was in the Territory the Australian and the Japanese started a joint venture prawning industry. That was Japanese ships, Japanese crews
and Australian companies owners of the other part of the joint venture. When I first went on the Japanese ships which were long line tuna boats which had to be converted to trawlers, they’re equipment was rusted black iron equipment, quite unfit for any food stuff to go onto even though they were treating tuna.
I was saying to John Hickman the Australian owner…I can’t even think of the name of the company now. Get rid of that, get rid of something else, and I could hear the gunsa, the captain of the Japanese ship, saying something in Japanese.
he is saying bad things. And I never took any notice whatsoever. I went through and inspected the whole ship and then I asked the Japanese captain to come to me, pointed to where he should stand right in front of me, and blew the hell out of him in Japanese. It had a remarkable effect
to this end. There were 52 Japanese vessels, and I think it was four and a half years that I worked with them before I left there, and I never heard a derogatory Japanese comment behind me. The message went out loud and clear. The next morning the interpreter, I can’t remember his name, he came to me and he said, “Jack, how did you learn Japanese?”
I said, “I was a tourist with your blokes for years.” “As a tourist?” I said, “Yes, didn’t you know we Australians toured with you blokes for three and a half years.” He said, “Not as a prisoner of war?” I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” He said, “Jack, I hope you won’t be too hard on them.” I said, “That’s gone. That bloke stepped out of line. He’s back in line and I’m sure the message will go around.” I have never worked with anybody better than those crews on those boats for four and a half years. They were
great. And the remarkable part of it was that every one of them had at least one university degree and some had three university degrees and couldn’t get jobs in Japan, and they were prawn trawler crews. I found them terrific workers. They competed all the time with each other.
The wonderful understanding between themselves for getting the work done. As far as I was concerned, to be corrected on anything was to lose face, and once you put them right on anything you never had to tell them again. They were good to work with. We used to go on board when the ships came in. The main mother ship would come in to Darwin
and they’d give you lunch of butterfly prawns and boy can those blokes cook prawns. I’ve never had prawns like them. Absolutely wonderful. One day I went down….there is a prawn off the Northern Territory in the Gulf and it’s called a Panda Prawn. One prawn weighed three quarters of a pound. Huge. And they’re apparently one of the prawns
that they grow commercially in the Philippines. Sometimes they drift down onto the Australian coast but very, very few. They were beautiful. Yes, I had a wonderful time with them. We developed into a big industry. But once the shipping failed there…that discontinued, so I don’t know what methods they use now to ship the stuff out. There was a big buffalo meat industry
too. The Australian Meat Board wouldn’t permit us to sell meat to Borneo because they reckoned it would effect future beef trade which was absolute rubbish. How would they buy our meat in Borneo? It’s far too dear. Anyway they sent representatives to Darwin
and they saw me, and even though we had been directed forcibly by the Australian Meat Board that the meat wasn’t to go there, they were clambering for buffalo meat. I thought this is too silly for words. We’ve got the product here. The companies want to sell it, I’m going to do something about it. So I went to the
Bank of New South Wales who were the ones who used to establish the finance for these companies. I saw them as regards their ability to pay and they said, there’s no problem. They’ve got a very good credit. And I thought, I’m going to ship a full ship load of meat to Borneo, to Sarawak, Sabah, what’s the other one, the other state…
Brunei. So I did. The next thing I get a phone call. “Is that you Mac?” It was the boss from Adelaide. “Yes, speaking.” “What is your designation?” “Meat Inspector Grade Four.” “Meat Inspector Grade Four, you sure about that. Are you sure you’re not the senior meat inspector officer in charge of Australia?” I said, “No I’m quite sure.
I don’t want to be him.” “Who the hell gave you permission to send meat to Borneo?” “Nobody, other than my common sense. We’ve got tons of buffalo meat here in store, quite fit to go. These people are clambering for buffalo meat and we, like idiots, are letting it sit in the stores.
Well I couldn’t see any sense in that. And if there’s any repercussions, ok. Let me know what they are. Other than that I don’t want to hear about it.” And hung up. I never heard any more about it. Other than when I got to Adelaide on leave, he said to me, “If you were walking across that bloody road, and a tram came down you’d push it off the bloody road wouldn’t you?” I said, “No. I do what I know
I can do. I don’t attempt things I know I can’t do.” But that’s how things went. But generally things went pretty well. But there’s always their silly little regulations with people sitting on their posteriors in comfortable chairs in offices with no…not the slightest idea of what the real situation is. Anyway I was transferred
then to Melbourne. Fran was pretty crook, pretty ill, and she had to get out of Darwin. I sent her to Melbourne and I got a transfer to Melbourne. While we had only been down there for a few months and we still had our home in Darwin. You couldn’t sell it. It was under an agreement that was made when it was allocated. You had to be allocated a home
up there in a lottery. So once you got it you couldn’t sell it for five years. We were up there for two years or more before we could get a home, then when we got it we still had about two or two and a half years to go. Then they could…they wouldn’t buy it back because I had done a lot of work in the yard. It was on the escarpment…that was what I was trying to think of in Okinawa, escarpment.
And I had terraced this escarpment with a wheelbarrow and pick and shovel and that, and had put all concrete in the garage and I had put concrete right out to the road and done quite a lot of work. And once you did that they wouldn’t buy them back. Inside this…I had to sell it outside the government, therefore I had to wait five years. That was caused by people getting transferred to the Northern Territory , getting allocated a home
and then leaving there and seeking a higher position in Sydney or somewhere. Leaving there after two years and selling their home at a great profit. They did that to stop that because that’s what was happening. The consequences were that our home was pretty well blown away by Tracey while we still owned it. Our son completely lost his home. Our daughter
did and we did. They got paid out by their insurance company. We were with another insurance company that the government had set up when we bought the place, and by the time they got around to our place they were broke. We got the price of the block of land which was $19,000. The home and the land together prior to the cyclone was worth $54,000. And what made it worse
during that time, the three years that they messed us around getting something done about it, homes in Melbourne had gone from $12,000 to $38,000. So we did about $24,000 down there in price and $30,000 up there. So we done about $52,000 in the deal. So we had to start again and we did. We made it. What happens in this life you’ve got to get up,
butt your head against the wall and have another go. And we’ve made it, so it wasn’t of much consequence. Anyway I carried on there for a couple of years and then we went to Bendigo for a fortnight. I liked Bendigo that much we stayed there. We were there four years until I retired. I retired, our eldest daughter and her husband shifted to Bribie Island up here, so
we shifted to Bribie Island. We’ve been on Bribie Island for 23 years and we decided to retire and came here. We had a wonderful time on Bribie really, but the situation on Bribie was as you get older you need medical care and that sort of thing and hospitalisation is very, very difficult. They send you to Redcliff. Fran
had got cataracts and couldn’t drive. It took her to get to…on Bribie Island to Redcliff Hospital and back home, four hours travel. And I said, this is no good because I never know when I’ve got to go to hospital because of my ticker, and I said let’s get out of this. So we started looking at this place here. We couldn’t sell our place. It’s ironical. We got a $100,000 for our place
and we were scratching to get that. Our daughter was up to… her husband’s family on Bribie Island last week and one room units up there now are selling for $250,000. But it doesn’t matter. We’re here. All you want is a roof over your head don’t you. A roof over your head that doesn’t leak. Some tucker in the kitchen to
keep your body supplied with tucker. The best mate you could ever have, you’re laughing all the way. That’s about it.
You have to have a very positive outlook on life? How did you deal with what you had to when you went through…
Well one of the greatest things I suppose is faith. I absolutely believe in my
faith. I have no doubt whatsoever. I pray to Our Lady who is a wonderful benefactor …I don’t know what it is. Look at it this way. Even if it’s an absolute myth, it’s a fantastic myth to have. I don’t think it is. I really believe. It’s a wonderful…both Fran and I we’ve got great faith. That’s what helps us have such wonderful love for each other. Love for our family.
One of our grand daughters rang from London yesterday and was talking about different things. And she said, “You know what papa, what makes me so I can handle things is that I just absolutely have the greatest faith in you and you’ve passed that on to us.” And I said, “My darling it’s a wonderful pleasure because we love you too, so much.”
That’s how we’ve been. We’ve had times in your life. There’s times you think, hell where are we going and what’s going to happen. But you’ve got that…it’s like an anchor, you hang on. Last year in September I was in hospital and I had three heart attacks in the one afternoon.
They gave me a hell of a lot of stuff to take. They couldn’t give me anymore and it hadn’t abated at all. They rush me down to the theatre and they put in the angiogram. You can’t feel that at all you know, other than where they give you an injection in the thigh to stop you feeling the cut they put in the femoral artery. You cannot feel that angiogram going right up the artery into your heart.
You can’t feel it at all, no sensation. They had a look and couldn’t find it for a start, but after the x-ray right around…it’s only about that big, the x-ray, they found I had a collapsed left bypass because I had a bypass 14 years ago. That was causing the problem. So they pulled that out, put in a balloon, then dilated it and that didn’t help.
They pulled that out…and they push it in at this speed, you know. You can feel their hand hitting your thigh like that. Anyway, so they said to put in a stent. So they put in one stent and nothing happened. You’re watching it on…they had two monitors so you’re watching it up there. They pulled it out and put in another one and nothing happened. Then they started to get really concerned. All the time I’ve got my hands up above my head hanging on two
grips that are there. I was just talking to them. They were asking me questions and I was talking to them. They put the third one in and I thought, hey beauty there she goes. You could see the blood flowing through. I went then back down to Intensive Care and Professor West who was overseeing it. He was up higher above us. I didn’t know he was even there, and he’s the loveliest man. He came down and sat down alongside me, put his arm around my shoulders
and said, “You’re one of the most remarkable guys I’ve ever seen in my life.” I said, “What the hell have I done.” He said, “You were in agony weren’t you?” I said, “Well…it wasn’t pleasant.” He said, “You see those three male nurses that were there, they were there to hold you down. You never batted an eye.” I said, “Why would I. I had great faith in your team, and my own faith.
And I’ve had an ability all my life that I can take no credit for whatsoever, that in an emergency I’m as cool as a cucumber.” And I am. I can think as sharp as a razor and I’m as cool as a cucumber. Always have been and it’s saved me many times. So I can take no credit for these things at all. You’ve either got it or you haven’t got it.
And fortunately for me I’ve got it. I can sleep through shell fire, typhoon, anything at all because when I go to sleep I ask God and Our Lady to look after me and I can sleep in peace. And as I said, if it’s a myth then it’s a damn good myth.
But you also
seemed to have approached the rest of your life with…’I survived’. So there’s no point in dwelling about that. Can you tell us about that? Can you explain that?
No. You just go on. When we were on that railway the pressure was so intense, the brutality was so bad that all you could set yourself
was five minutes…to live another five minutes. You couldn’t look further than that. And that’s what you did. I’m going to make this five minutes, and then the next one, and that’s how you went on. You see this is one of the problems with people who have psychiatric problems. They try to set them goals that are literally unattainable. When things are tough in this life
set yourself manageable goals. Something you can achieve. If you set yourself a goal you can’t achieve, you’re lost before you start. That’s all you’ve got to do. I can remember coming off the railway one night. My back was real bad at that time from the injuries I had received in the Middle East. I was walking on two sticks up a track, water worn and curved down into the middle. Pouring rain.
There was a log on the side of the track and there as a little English bloke sitting there crying his eyes out. And I thought you poor bugger, let me see if I can get you going, so I sat down alongside him and had a hell of a good cry myself. I said, “Do you feel any better mate?” He said, “Yes I think I do.” So I said, “So do I, let’s go.” Now this is how things went. But really and truly that’s what we did. We guys that made it
set ourselves manageable goals. In your mind you set manageable goals. If you make that goal not only have you got there but you have a sense of achieving it. It’s minute, but it’s that little anchor…on again, on again. If you’ve got circumstances like where a bloke’s been beaten up, something completely outside your control, I don’t know what keeps you going then.
I don’t know. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what had happened to me. It was only others told me. Then it’s something that’s built into your original being that just carries on. It’s stupidity, stubbornness, God knows what it is, but it’s there.
You told us about the one incident where
you and that young fellow were carrying ammunition and you finished up on your spine from the artillery. There was another occasion you said where you got blown up as well…
Oh, didn’t I tell you about that? I was blown up about 3 or 4 times with mortars during the next afternoon because they were mortoring us pretty heavy and we weren’t firing our machine gun because we had lost ours. But the other blokes were in a triangle walled
garden. The mortars were hammering us, and boy they did hammer us, and it was driving us mad really. It would go real quiet and just back up on the range behind us were some infantry blokes and a colonel and a major. They were both higher ranking officers. And they
had a two inch mortar there which is just about as good as beating a bloke to death with a powder puff. Every time it went quiet they’d fire this silly bloody mortar and down would come the mortars, 3 inch mortars from the other side again. They’d hammer hell out of us. And that’s how I got recommended for Mention In Despatches. A couple of the guys who were shell shocked went to try and get away.
And I stopped them. They couldn’t see from where they were…out there, they couldn’t see out on the valley. Where I was up higher on a terrace up above them I could see down into the valley and there was no one coming. But an infantry bloke came back and was yelling out, “Get out, get out they’re coming in the thousands.” He was shell shocked, wounded and I don’t know what. Two of the blokes who had already been shell shocked…no names…
they tried to get up through like a gate way in the wall. So I stopped them with my rifle and sent them back. I didn’t know this officer up above me was watching me, so he recommended me for mention in despatches which was stupid. I didn’t do anything that anybody else wouldn’t do. And the next afternoon we were very short of water
because you’ve got to have water, because you have to have water for the Vickers machine gun because they’re water cooled. And we had to walk back to where the nearest trucks were. Sergeant Major, the driver who was Bartlett, Jack Oxson and David Fife and myself. Oxson, David Fife and myself were sitting on the tailboard of the truck and we went down to go to the Jordan River to get water.
We’re backing down to the Jordan River from where we started from originally and we backed onto a landmine. Well it blew the off back off the utility and I reckon what saved us, we were sitting on the tailboard, a hinged tailboard and the blast threw us above it. I don’t know how long we were knocked out. I came round and Oxson was moaning about his feet. He was always growling about his feet so I thought he’s pretty normal. I had a look at David and he’s
not moving. He’s out cold and I felt for his pulse and yes there was a pulse there. So I thought we’ll wait for a while and the next thing he sits up and says, “Bloody hell what was that?” We got back up to where the boys were at Fort Kiam and the old Sergeant Major…no he was sergeant. He wasn’t sergeant major then.
“Bloody sergeant’s black.” Someone said, “He was always black.” And I thought things are normal.
Can you tell us how you felt when you were told that you were going to have to surrender to the Japanese?
I don’t know how far your gut can drop before you lose it, but it was a terrible sinking feeling. Frustration,
wild, very cross about the Dutch. Extremely mad with the Dutch because they had 180,000 men under arms, mostly natives admittedly, but they never fired a shot. We never saw them. They never came near. And we were extremely upset about that. I was a single man so I wasn’t terribly upset about anything at home, only my father and my sister in New Zealand.
I knew it would worry them but we couldn’t communicate. I wasn’t worried about my brother because he was with me. But just so disappointed and so frustrated. And as I said in my memoirs, at the time it was the worst day of my life, but little did I know what was coming.
How were you told about it?
Well Brigadier Blackburn told us personally. We were told to lay down…they couldn’t communicate with Australia. Australia couldn’t supply us and the Dutch certainly weren’t going to supply us. They to a degree turned on us. And certainly the Indonesians did, they turned on us.
You know, there was no alternative. We just had to hope for the best and that’s what we did. And being, as you said, I sound a pretty optimistic guy. I’ve always had my cup half full not half empty. So I could think to myself, now I wonder what opportunities there are in this. With diversity there’s always opportunity too.
Earlier on you had actually been told that the
machine gun company was going to be motorised…?
Yes, they were. What would be the word…officially. They were officially a motorised unit. Now for anyone to make a statement that someone is motorised in jungle or in mountains, it’s a little bit spurious isn’t it.
And that’s what happened. Motorised…that’s what, to an extent what attracted us to the battalion, this motorised infantry. In the First World War they were Light Horse [Australian Light Horse Brigade] originally. And just about all our officers in the battalion that was formed in the Second World War were all Light Horse officers. They were going to ride their trucks instead of their horses.
The trucks weren’t quite as mobile in some territory as their horses were. But you know, really and truly, it probably seems a funny thing to you for me to say, but really and truly it was a great experience. It really was. It set me up for anything further in life. Things didn’t worry me at all.
Things that normal people, blokes I worked with would get really upset with, and what are we going to do? And I would say, “Well I’m not going to do nothing about it. Nothing about it because it will come to nothing.” I said, “I’ve got a saying, never cross your bridges until you get to them because they probably haven’t been built.” Which happened so many times.
Can you talk to us a bit about being with your brother? The advantages and disadvantages of that. What strengths you each had?
There were advantages because he was a pretty solid guy too. A worrier unlike me, but a real solid bloke. You could absolutely rely on.
And in that we supported each other. Neither of us drank or smoked. Fitness fanatics, runners, boxers, whatever was on, footballers, cricketers. Anything on was on, have a go. I was never a champion at anything but I had a hell of a lot of fun. I suppose the best thing I was ever at was boxing and bowls. Oh table tennis, I won a state championship in table tennis
against weakened opponents I think. But I just enjoyed life.
In regards to your brother was it ever a disadvantage to have to look out for him or …
No, I don’t think because him being a worrier he was always looking out for me, and he has ever since we were tiny little blokes.
He was a much bigger bloke than me, powerful. Hellishly powerful guy. He just has that mentality that he looks after me. He’s even said to me now. “Don’t you die, I’ve got to die before you do.” And I say, “Well I mightn’t have much say in that mate.”
Did he ever look after you in any way while you were in the camps together?
After that incident when I was badly done over up in Hintok, yeah,
he helped me a hell of a lot. He helped me physically by doing things for me, but he couldn’t do much anyway because he was just about at the end of his tether as regards to physical strength was going, or time to do anything. But he helped me a lot and he kept quoting telephone numbers that we knew, relatives and all that sort of thing. Do you remember so and so? No. So he helped
me a lot to get my memory back which it did to a certain extent then. But I don’t remember much about it because it’s a long time ago. The stylus wasn’t working. It was printing some, missing others.
You certainly talked today with a lot of humour and that’s
the way I guess a lot of guys dealt with it then. Is that the way you deal with it now, and do you think you sometimes brush over the terrible things with humour…with remembering the good things?
No, I don’t know. I suppose we do. I suppose I’ve got accustomed to telling the funny things to people who want to know rather than dwelling on the brutality.
Because the brutality was shocking. Like for instance. You’re working in those cuttings and the cuttings are getting higher so it would hit you harder. Because of the work you were doing and you had to straighten up from there to there, you would have to watch it because they would hit you with a lump of rock that big right between the shoulders or anywhere, just because you straightened up. Oh yeah, they were shocking. And beat blokes…
they enjoyed it. They were sadists. They were real sadists. But you see they did the same to their own, that’s what you’ve got to realise. They were just as brutal on their own. There were three classes of private. A third class private, a second and a first class private, and then NCO, the same as our structure. That second class private had the power of life and death over the third class private. If he did something that annoyed him, he could kill him.
No questions asked. The same with the first class over the second class. Corporal over the first class, sergeant over the corporal and so on. And they would. Their discipline was absolutely shocking, and they seemed to enjoy it. There was a madness or something about it. They were indoctrinated with this samurai and bushido class and they had
been indoctrinated with it because at times you could be working somewhere with one Jap and he’d offer you cigarettes and he’d be quite pleasant until he saw another Jap somewhere and then straight away he had to whack somebody or kick somebody or do something. He couldn’t be natural. It’s what they had drummed into them. They were really brainwashed with this brutality. It was the same in Japan
with their own people. They treated them like dogs, dreadful. But the Japanese I’ve met since the war and worked with since the war are a different person altogether. Their characters…and great workers. They made a hell of a mistake in Darwin. The mother ship that was taking the prawns back to Japan
had been one of Onassis’s pleasure yachts, it had been and they had gutted it and made it into a transport. A beautiful ship. What was I going to say about it?
You said something about a mistake they made up in Darwin…
You really enjoyed your trip from Australia overseas the first time…
When was that?
When you first left Australia.
Oh yes, a big adventure you see. We were young, naïve, with your mates, a big adventure. Of course. And it was a big adventure, and even when we got into action. I never found any traumatic situation being in action at all. It was a great adventure. I didn’t quite agree with the blowing up.
I thought they were playing a bit too serious then. But the rest of it…in my mind and I think in a lot of minds of Australians. You know, you play football and you go out and do your absolute best, but you don’t hate the guy but you’ve got to beat him. That was more of our mental attitude towards the war. We have to beat this bugger see, so you go out and beat him. We didn’t dislike him unnecessarily.
We had to go out and beat him and we did. As far as the blokes I was with, they were all good sportsmen and that was more or less…I’d talk to them seriously at different times. When we were on picket or on our own and that was more or less the attitude. We had to beat this guy. The method we were using was war but we still had to beat him.
And don’t get unnecessarily upset about it or uptight about it. There were some wonderful incidences of deep emotion in war. I remember at Metulla, we had moved right around from the other side. We got to Metulla and it was pitch dark and there’s an infantry battalion marching in up the bitumen road. We could not see one single bloke
but those boots were in time…bump, bump, bump. I tell you what, that was so moving. The fact that they would be in action in perhaps another 20 minutes. And those boots, the rhythm of those boots. It may not have affected others like it did me but to me it was a deep
patriotic emotion. Very deep patriotic emotion.