eventually I went to high school. Both my parents died when I was very young. My mother died when I was thirteen and my father died nine months later on, and I was virtually an orphan. Then I went to live with one of my sisters and then another sister. So eventually in 1939 I joined the army, the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] and went away in the first convoy. I spent six years in the army in various theatres of the war. After that I went back to
work on the railway and I was told I didn’t have a job because I was a junior, and I had to fight my way there. Eventually after winning the fight I eventually left there because one of the chaps out of the regiment wanted me to go into business with him, in the hotel business, which I did. I wasn’t actually keen about it but my wife was in thrills about it. Then of course that’s puts us at about 1964. We
adopted four children and I was very happy with the fact of the children, and I always have been. My wife died about six years ago. Since then I live on my own. I retired from business in 1984, so I virtually don’t do much at all. I got blown up during the war with a bomb and my back is in such a way that I can’t do very much
but still I try to keep along, and try to keep contented. It’s a bit hard but still that’s it.
Thank you for an excellent summary, actually. That gives us enough highlights and main points to be able to focus on later but that’s great, excellent. Now we’ll go back for some detail, particularly of your early life before we look at the war years. Could you tell us where and when you were born?
I was born in the 2nd of June 1919
at 401 Illawarra Road, Marrickville. In those days it was a homebirth and my mother had the same midwife for her previous children. There were six of us in the family. I was the youngest. I often think that I was a mistake because there’s too many years between my sister above me and myself but then again, it was a very happy family, and a very happy home. My father
was one of the heads of the railway department. In those days the railway department used to employ 52,000 employees, different from today. My mother was very sick and she had been for some couple of years in and out of St Luke’s Hospital, and eventually she was at home, and we had a private nurse looking after her. Unfortunately she survived. She was unconscious for about three months but she eventually
choked to death with cancer. It was devastating for me. I don’t think I ever got over it. Then my father, he died. I came home from school one day for lunch and I said to my father, “What would you like for lunch, Father?” He said, “I’ll have a couple of boiled eggs.” I went out to cook two boiled eggs. I came in and he was dead. So it was very devastating for me.
I missed my mother so much. It was terrible and of course at the graveside at the burial of my father, I was told by half a dozen executives of the railway department that I was to leave school and I was to report next Monday to the railway employment officer to start work. I didn’t actually do any exam. They said, “Here’s the questions. There’s the answers.” Then I went to the medical officer
to be examined. Luckily for me I’m colour blind. I couldn’t pick the numbers in the Japanese confetti business. So then I was told to report to the Railways Institute and they created a job for me in the Railways Institute, the librarian had an assistant. He didn’t even know I was coming! I arrived there and he didn’t even know who I was, what I was or anything else but that was it.
I stayed there until 1939.
In fact we were comfortably off as far as the rest of the community was concerned and Marrickville in those days was a good middle class suburb. My mother used to send food parcels to various families and help people, both with money and food. She was very well liked in the whole area. My father was very strict.
He actually didn’t display any affection or love with the result that I was frightened of him. My father would get off the train from work and he came in the back gate, and I’d run out the front gate sort of thing. There was no actual love between he and I because I was frightened of him, and he didn’t show anything. He was such in those days that
he’d get off the train and the railway staff would come to attention. I think he ruled by fear.
When you say you were frightened of him, what was it that frightened you?
There was no affection, not that he ever hit me or anything at all. Once when we were on a holiday I gave him cheek and he chased, and I was faster than he was but I was frightened to come back again because I thought I’d get a belting, but
he didn’t, but that’s how it went on. My mother, well I was never keen about going to school and of course I’d drink salt water and everything to make myself bilious so I wouldn’t go to school, and things like that. As I say, when my mother died – well I didn’t start school until I was seven. By the time I was about eleven I was in high school and
then when my mother got sick, I started to wag school. I wagged it all right. I used to do it for six or seven months at a time, not for one or two days and of course eventually I got found out. There was no such thing as those truant inspectors in those days, but eventually the school – and of course they changed the school for me. I was put into another school
and eventually they put me in the Marist Brothers at Darlinghurst to try and put a bit of discipline in me but I was just as determined not to conform, as they were to make me conform. Then when my father died and I left school, I was happy to leave school but at the same time my life was turned upside down. I had firstly nothing and by this time
most of the money I think had been spent on hospital bills, and things on my mother, and so eventually everything collapsed. We moved from there. In those days it was sort of a tradition that if someone dies in the house you move. We moved from there to Kensington and that’s where my father died.
dead. Of course I found him. My second eldest sister used to be the secretary of Dutrebanne, The Sun newspaper director. I rang her up and I said, “Marjorie, Father’s dead,” and she collapsed. To me in those days being a young kid, I had no sensitivities about those types of things.
then it was decided what we were going to do and my eldest sister had married, and my eldest brother was married. My second sister and my brother decided to get a flat, and I tagged along, and they looked after me as best they could. Then my sister got married. That was the finish of that, so my eldest sister took me in and I lived with them but the
small amount of money I was getting, my brother in-law made sure I only had five bob left out of the money I was getting from work, and it was very hard. I only had my school uniform and that was knickerbockers [knee-length pants]. They used to call them poop catchers in those days. I wore those for two years. I never even had enough money to save up to buy a cash order. It took me two years to get a deposit on a cash order and I bought my first suit at Murdoch’s.
I gradually kept plugging along and saving, and saving, and when I eventually left, and joined the army, I had quite a few clothes, and everything else but my sister thought I wasn’t have been coming back because she gave everything away.
In what way was it humiliating?
Well all the others had long pants and I only had this school uniform thing, knickerbockers, you pull your socks up, and tuck them into the top of your socks, and all that kind of business. Well I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t have anything to do, so that was that.
Could you describe the experience of living with your eldest sister and her husband?
My eldest sister was a very lovely person. In fact she was something similar to my mother, soft and kind, and her husband, well he was a bit of a bully. In fact on one particular time he was belting her up and I happened to grab a poker, and I said, “If you don’t leave my sister alone, I’ll kill you,” not thinking that he could toss me out of the house or anything at all. He didn’t and
from then on he laid off but when I wasn’t around after I went into the army, he was still apparently belting her after that. Eventually that fixed itself up because she left him.
So you began work for the railways. What were your day to day duties there?
Taking the stock, new books and general helping around the place as far as books were concerned. The Railways Institute Library was the largest fictional library in the southern hemisphere, and they had branches in every different country town,
There was no such thing as television or things like that and most people used to read books, and people in the railway areas would send in their books that belonged to the library, and they’d return two books, and they were replaced with two fresh books for them to read. Reading in those days was more pronounced that what it is today because even though there are a lot of magazines on the market today here,
there most people used to read novels. Of course my sisters used to like reading the novels and I’d take them out for them to read, and of course I was in such a privileged position that I got all brand new books, which was good. I used to do a lot of reading myself and things like that
but that was the sort of general thing in those days.
What sorts of subjects were they teaching?
All kinds of subjects, engineering, mathematical, various business principles but there was technical schools. All the apprentices that were employed in the railway department had to go to school one day a week and there used to be thousands of them in all kinds
What was it about education both at school and the Railways Institute that was so off-putting for you?
It wasn’t the education part of the thing. I don’t know. I was sort of rebelling inside myself. I was deeply hurt. I can’t explain to you why. I can’t explain to you why I was wagging school but I did. I didn’t start school until I was seven and by – I think I was a little over ten, I was in high school. Unfortunately
for me I was the only one out of the class I was in – we went to West Marrickville Public School. I was the only one out of that class that got into the high school.
you didn’t think about it. It is only in later life I’ve thought of that part of it and of course I used to get all of the attention in the world. Whatever I needed my mother would give me and I was spoilt, as far as she was concerned. I was good at mathematics and everything else. In fact every Sunday night there was always a game of poker at our house. My father wouldn’t be in it.
My father was very aloof and he’d be in the front of the house. No one was allowed to disturb him. You couldn’t even go to the front lounge room because he was there and he’d be reading or things like that. We weren’t even allowed to go there and of course my sisters, and brothers, they had girlfriends, and boyfriends, and a couple of neighbours, we used to have a big poker school as far as we were concerned, every Sunday night. It was penny poker type of thing but
I was so good at it, I used to earn all my pocket money by playing cards and I’d have two or three pound a week. In those days two or three pound a week was a fortune. Of course when I wagged school I used to go to the pictures every day and I always had enough money to go to the pictures.
1932, ’33 sort of thing. Of course they didn’t have the truant inspectors around in those days like they’ve got today. Everything was cut down. If they could save money they’d save it and they cut out this, and cut out that, and in those school days you’d have 45 to 50 in a class, and all this kind of business, and I started to rebel.
If we’re talking about 1932, ’33, we’re also talking about the Depression era. What memories do you have of that time?
Fortunately the Depression didn’t actually affect our family. In fact we lived very, very well. In fact there was a choice of menu of a night time, what you needed. But my mother
was a very kind and loving person, and she used to give other people food, and packages, and supply different things to various people. In those days my father was on a fairly good wage or salary. I think he was getting over fifty pound a week in those days and that was a fortune but other people were very poorly off.
It was a terrible thing. My mother used to send parcels and give parcels to various people, and things like that. She was a lovely person.
what was called Leofrene Avenue, which was right alongside the railway station. Of course I used to spend a lot of time in the railway station with a book and they knew who my father was, and they put up with me I think. They’d say, “Here’s your father coming,” and I’d be out the window, and over the fence, and out because I wasn’t allowed to be there.
and they used to own this wool mills there. I don’t know whether it still exists or not but he eventually fell in a vat of boiling water and it scalded him to death. I didn’t know him at all. It was long before I knew anything about it. Anyway, my father started work in the railway department and he was a very clever man. He was smart
but he didn’t have the – to me, as far as I was concerned, any affection. He might have had. I don’t know but as I said before, I was the youngest. I think I was a mistake because there is too many years between me and my sister.
school children were all marched over the bridge a couple of days beforehand, to have a look at it sort of business. They had railway engines, old railway engines on both sides of the track. There were railway lines and tramlines on either side, and they had all these in there to test the strength of the bridge, and of course there was a great gala day. I went into the opening of the thing with
my eldest brother and his wife. My father was in the official dais for the opening but he didn’t include us in it.
and away it went but the whole thing was a real gala day. There were ferries tooting and hooting sort of business, and of course it changed the whole system because Circular Quay in yester years was a throng. The ferries went everywhere, people were coming there, everything seemed to start from there. The trams in those days, most of the trams used to terminate
at Rawson Place in town. There used to be a hotel there, the Prince of Wales Hotel and the trams used to circle around that section.
The way the traffic went. Instead of cars coming over in the punts, they used to call them, the cars, they used to travel across the bridge and they had toll gates at both ends, and from memory now it used to be sixpence across the bridge. Even the tram fares or train fares, there was a toll on those as well. You had to pay – I think it was a penny to go on the tram extra. You got a penny ticket for that and
then a tram ticket as well for the toll bridge, and all kinds of things but eventually it all ironed itself out, with the result that I think it costs about three dollars to go in a car over the bridge now.
But just getting back to the impact of your parent’s death on you, it seems that although you’d had friends up until that time, it seems to me that you became a much more solitary person after your parents died.
Well I did to a certain extent. My brother and sister, they got a flat at Strathfield and she was more interested in
with other people. When I eventually got to work there were some other lads there at the same time. They were all a bit older than me but we sort of had a make our own fun and we’d go on a coastal trip up to the Hawkesbury River on a boat. One of them could drive and we hired a car, and went to Sussex Inlet for the night fishing, and
camping. Somebody said, “I’ve got a tent.” The tent had more holes in that tent that what you could put a – it was like a sieve. The water ran through and it poured while we were away. The fish we did catch, we cleaned them and put them on a rock, and the cats ate them. When you look back on it, it was a real funny day but it wasn’t at the time. We used to make our own sort of time. We’d hire bikes out to ride down to Wollongong and all
kinds of things to try and make our own life a bit better. We used to play football or sport but life was never real good in those days. You had to make your own fun. They don’t realise today how lucky they are with the sporting facilities they’ve got and the entertainment they’ve got.
of musicians in the street.
They weren’t actually musicians. They were husband and wife I think. They were singing and I can always still remember, even to this day, Home on the Range. That made a very deep impression on me, begging for money just to sort of live. Things were very, very hard in those days and there was no such thing as the Dole like they’ve got today. They got food coupons to live on. There was no provision of money to pay rent for
food around for people. There was no money about. I know during the time that I was living with my elder sister, I’d get off the bus a mile or two, a mile away to save a penny, just walk the other distance and a penny was a lot of money in those days. I think it’s wiped out all together now but in those days things were hard. Everyone realised
they were hard. Everybody worked as hard as they could and of course in those days the bosses had all the money. In fact at one stage during the Depression the banks closed and people were left with their bankbook, and no money. There were virtually people – they used to call them the Jews, whether they were or not I don’t know, would buy up these bankbooks
for a fraction of the amount that was in the book and of course eventually the banks did reopen up, and they had all the money, and the people lost all their money.
with him at the same time and at Marrickville used to have what was I think Holden or General Motors, had a big manufacturing thing that built cars and things there. We used to go there and of course I’d go with these kids, and go in these offices, and you’d get an entrance as though you were selling the papers. It was an entrance fee. We went down there this particular night and the next night we go down there, the place is locked up, and closed, finished,
no more people, no more cars.
working as the secretary to a man named Dutrebanne, who was the General Manager of the Sun Newspapers. She was his secretary. Other than that my other two sisters were not allowed to go to work. My elder sister was a too attractive person and she used to get accosted by very many men, and things like that, and my father decided she was not allowed to go to work because
of her beauty. She was a fantastic looking woman.
Moving the focus back to you in the 1930s, at a certain point you joined the militia. When was that?
It wasn’t until 1937. I joined the cadets. I was in the 9th Field Brigade Cadets. We used to meet one night a week. I joined there as a gunner. They usually became what they called a bombardier, a two striper, a corporal in the infantry type of thing. Then
eventually as I got older they put me into the militia but I wasn’t quite old enough. Then when the war started I was asked if I could do permanent work in the army then, “Could I get away from work?” I said, “Yes it’s easy.” By this time I’m a sergeant and they made me a recruiting sergeant at the 9th Field Brigade.
I was the sergeant and Lieutenant Thatcher was the recruiting officer, and that was started in September, and we were eventually sent out, and we were all set up to recruit for the Second World War. It was supposed to be a special force of 20,000 people. That was all they were going to enlist. Anyway, at the 9th Field Brigade we
selected them and those who came to the 9th Field Brigade for enlistment were to go into the artillery units. Eventually they started to recruit and they had to fill in these various forms. We had to get them examined by the doctor and fill in all these different things, measurements, and Christ knows, and they had to be in A1 condition.
There were quite a few people came along to join but a lot of them were knocked back. Eventually when they were issuing out the army numbers, when it came up to my number that I eventually took myself, they wanted to know – “Never mind, that’s mine.” My number in those days was NX3333, so I thought it was an easy enough number to remember, that’s why I grabbed it.
we had to take these horses down for them to be watered. I remember the sergeant, “Don’t gallop the horses!” Of course here we were coming back after the horses were watered, they knew they were going to get fed when they got back and I had no control of it. I’m on one horse and leading the other, and I got abused for racing, and galloping the horses, and I had no say in it. They horses, they used to know
what was going on. I had no control!
to enlistment? We’ve spoken to various people who talk about King and Country, and patriotism, and things of that nature. What was your attitude to enlisting?
I wasn’t thinking about the King and Country business. I was thinking about the adventure of it because we had been leading rather a dull sort of a life until that time and no one had much money, and we didn’t have any real holidays. The only holidays I ever went to, we would go to
my aunties. Most of them lived in the country and we would go to one of those but we thought it was an opportunity for adventure. It wasn’t a fact of King and Country, and all that kind of baloney [nonsense]. We were thinking about where we could have a reasonably good time. You had to be 21. The age of acceptance was 20 to 35 and if you were under 21
you had to have permission. My elder sister said, “I don’t think I’ll give you permission.” I said, “Don’t worry I’ll join under some other name, so it doesn’t worry but I’m going and I intend to have a good time.”
at the time. I don’t even recall now but it had to go back. I know that but I don’t remember it going back. I know that when they were singing out about the numbers and issuing the numbers out to each one, they wanted to know about my number that I had allocated to myself, I said, “Don’t worry, that’s mine.” So then I went and signed the papers, and that was it. Before that I was approached by
a lieutenant or captain it was at the time, Hans Anderson, his initials were JS Anderson. He was a permanent army officer. He came to me at the 9th Field Brigade at Victoria Barracks and said, “Are you going in the AIF?” I said, “Yes I am.” He said, “Well I’ve got a job for you.” So I said, “Righto!” That was it and the job turned out to be
the orderly room sergeant. Eventually we left Victoria Barracks, the last lot to go. They went in different drafts. Those with no experience whatsoever were put into Liverpool Camp for a couple of weeks, I think it was 21 days, I’m not quite certain now, training and then they were
to go over to the AIF. They were in the AIF when they signed up and they were to go over to Ingleburn. Ingleburn Camp in those days wasn’t even finished. In fact it was a marvellous bit of construction when you consider there were no electric power tools in those days. It was all manual had sawing and things like that. That camp was constructed, built, designed, built and
constructed in six weeks, and it consisted of enough accommodation at Ingleburn – they haven’t added anything on, in fact they’ve since taken a lot away, included huts, and kitchens to cook the meals, a hospital, and everything else like that. It was dusty old things, in fact a lot of people got infections from the dust up there at the time.
The hut that I eventually went into, they finished nailing the boards in the morning but we occupied the whole hut. We went to this camp at Ingleburn.
troops. They had private contractors cooking the meals at the time and things like that, and private contractors running the canteen, and they were making a fortune. Eventually two or three fires broke out amongst these so called canteens and the Fire Brigade was held up. They let them burn out
deliberately so that we could get rid of these private contractors and the army eventually started their own.
So at that point the army set up their own canteens? Did the food improve?
No that was private stuff, like you could buy chocolates, cigarettes, things like that but the army food, well we got the best quality, but we had the poorest cooks! They used to muck it all up but the quality of the food was very good.
October ’39, but it didn’t take long. They had people at various places recruiting and they allocated the numbers, the army numbers, and both New South Wales and Victoria reserved the numbers NX1 to 500 for officers only. The same thing happened in Victoria, VX1 to 500 in Victoria. The other states didn’t worry about it and
it didn’t make any difference if you were an officer who joined in December, you got a number between 1 and 500.
think, until about December. Of course there was a great space in the neck and General Blamey made a dramatic statement. He said, “With the good food and the training, they’ll fill those necks out.” I don’t think they’ve ever filled them out yet! When we got our uniforms we used to take them and get them altered, take the neck in, you could put a draft horse in the blinkin’ neck! That’s how it was.
We weren’t terribly welcome amongst the local population. They thought we were out of workers and murderers, and dole bludgers, and all kinds of things.
we weren’t all used to that type of living but that’s how it happened and I can remember I was in a hut, we were all sergeants and above in that hut. They separated us up like that. The gunners and bombardiers were put in one hut, and the sergeants in one hut, and the officers lived separately all together. This particular
time at Ingleburn there was a permanent army warrant officer came in and was throwing his weight around, and he was going to do this, and do that, and he was going out that night on leave. He was thinking he was still in the permanent army, so we fixed his palliasse for him. We put all the tins and God knows what inside the straw. When he came home he couldn’t sleep on the thing because it was full of bottles and tins, and God knows what. We thought,
“That will bring him down to tors [?UNCLEAR].”
Unfortunately, we had two batteries in our regiment. The first battery, that was headway and the artillery was formed. The OC [officer commanding] of first battery was a permanent army staff corps officer, thought he was going to build up the spirit of corps between his men and he wouldn’t allow them to associate with Second Battery. It was a silly thing because he was the one they didn’t
like in the end. When he got captured in Greece they were all happy about it.
and we knew we were going away. We didn’t know when or where and eventually some troops left the Ingleburn camp on the 9th of January. We didn’t know where we were going but everybody else, the general public seemed to know where we were going. Eventually we left on the 10th of January and we went down to Ingleburn Station, got on the train, those old
suburban steam trains with the carriages, and we went through as a matter of fact the railway line down near the bottom of my place now, through down into Darling Harbour that way, and there were people all along the lines cheering and whatnot. Of course I got very insulted, these two women, “Oh look at that little boy!” Of course I got cranky about that! I was most indignant!
have a girlfriend there that I used to – in those days you’d go walking because you couldn’t go spending money going anywhere. Money was a bit restricted and Saturday night you’d go to the pictures. Anyway, she went back to live – her father was the CPS [clerk of petty sessions] up at Casino, and
they invited me to go up there for a holiday. I went up there but by this time she’d picked up some other bloke, so I was on the outer and I wanted to come home, but the family induced me to stay there for the rest of the holiday, but it was difficult.
Ok so Os, what ship did you embark on?
We got the train down to Pyrmont and all right, now the artillery were supposed to be senior to the infantry in order of precedence, and everything else. There was the old saying, “Men of the infantry and gentlemen of the artillery.” Our CO [commanding officer],
Colonel Kelly, insisted that we go on the boat first prior to the infantry because we were first. It was one time for the poor old soldiers of the regiment, they fell in the soup because they ended up down in the bowels of the ship and the infantry on top! We went on this boat, his Majesty’s transport ship, the U5.
The actual name of the ship was the Orford. It had had passengers on it down to Melbourne and they took the passengers off, and sent the ship back to Sydney to embark the troops. Fortunately for me I was allocated a cabin to myself. I was a sergeant at the time
and I was given a cabin. I’d never been onboard a ship before in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a blinkin’ trip to Manly let alone go on a ship! Anyway, on this ship the steward used to bring me in hot water of a morning to have a shave. I said, “Forget that! I don’t shave.” You’d have a cup of tea and then we’d go down for breakfast, down to the dining room. We had a big menu every
morning and then for morning tea we’d have fresh cakes and scones for morning tea. We’d have lunch and we’d have a menu for that again, and afternoon tea, and another lot of fresh scones and goodies, and dinner at night. Each time it was a wide choice of menu. Of course we were all living very high in the hold as far as the food was concerned. It was fantastic!
The ship left Sydney on this day at about lunchtime. We passed under the Harbour Bridge. I thought to myself, “I wonder whether I’ll ever see the Harbour Bridge again,” which fortunately we did see it. We sailed and I think we must have gone down near the South Pole because this was on the 10th of January 1940, and it was a hot summers day, and eventually we ended up
with our great coats. We call them great coats, and army overcoat and it was cold, and big seas, and God knows what. Eventually we ended up in Fremantle. We were made very, very welcome when we got to Fremantle. The people over there couldn’t do enough for us and we were welcomed left, right and centre. By this time the convoy – I forgot to say we joined up with
a New Zealand convoy and of course the troops virtually went riot, not so much with bad – with behaviour. The people were taking us into their homes and everything else, and they couldn’t do enough for us, and of course silly soldiers, they were swapping hats, and uniforms. Half of them were dressed like New Zealanders and half Australian. Eventually they had to later on,
after we all got back to our ships there was a big parade. All these different things, different uniforms they had to take them off. They didn’t say to that but when we got to Colombo I think they swapped over the various uniforms again.
Generally the troops were getting a billy can full of beer for about threepence. That was a hell of a lot cheaper than anywhere else and I used to get the steward to put in my wardrobe, in the cabin I had, a couple of dozen bottles of Bass Ale. Every night some of my
friends from down below deck would come up and we’d drink the grog in my cabin, and of course they’d sneak their way back into their place. They weren’t supposed to be up there but that’s how it went! We enjoyed ourselves and we were well fed, and it was a sort of real happy time. After we left Fremantle we went to Colombo. We had some leave in Colombo.
I don’t think there were very many out of the whole convoy that had been away because in those days with the Depression period everyone was saving their pennies.
of about nine, which we didn’t want any more. Their services were no longer required. We sent them to Western Command Barracks to be discharged out of the army all together – unfit. We did have a high standard and didn’t want them. Some went absent without leave only because their enthusiasm of being away from where they should have been at the wrong time
and they didn’t join up with the unit again because they didn’t turn up to the ship to sail. I don’t think they deliberately went away but they sort of got too overenthusiastic with the grog or something or other. They missed out but we got rid of about nine people all together.
sailed into the Red Sea and of course we saw porpoises swimming in front of the ship, and diving in front of the ship. It was fantastic. Then there were all these different spires of stone sticking out in the Red Sea, all something new to us. We had escort of one of the aircraft carriers. I’ve forgotten the name. I think it was the HMAS Eagle. I’m not
certain. Of course they used to fly planes over and on one particular day one crashed into the sea but they rescued the pilot.
our fleet, and the English took over after that, and the Australia returned back to their area of patrol. Eventually we got to Port Taufiq and we got up the canal. I remember seeing some natives sitting on a camel up on the hillside there overlooking the canal.
When you think back, around that area was where the Australians were in the First War. We eventually got into what they call the Bitter Lakes of Ismalia. Then the next day we were up back in through the canal to a place called El Kantara. Then we got off in the middle of the canal. They lowered the gangplank down and the troops
trooped off the ship. There were about 5,000 Australians in those ships and the British army were there to do the catering. This was in the middle of the night at about two or three o’clock in the morning and we just lined up with our dixie [pot], and sausages and potato, and bread and butter, and a cup of tea sort of thing. They way it was organised I’ve never ever forgotten. The organization that must have gone into doing it because
it was no time and all the troops were fed, all on trains, and all away. What they did, these trains with wooden seats in them in carriages and those who had a rifle had to have their rifles ready in case of attack on the train, and they had what they call a ‘flat top’; in front of the engine with a couple of natives tied onto that as hostages
from the various villages in case of attack.
that, and we got into those old grey buses that used to fly around Palestine in those days. Eventually we went to our camp, which in those days was Quastina. The camp wasn’t full built and it was like a dust bowl. It was a terrible place but that’s where we went to first off. Of course the English were doing all the catering and settling us in, and looking after us. Of course we were on
English rations and I’ve never forgotten it. They had tinned bacon. Oh it was – you wouldn’t call it bacon. You’d call it tinned fat. It was awful stuff but the Poms used to love it.
as we know here but it was like a residential type of thing, and three of us to a room. Eventually we got organised for the records and things like that. Of course in those days you’d get leave every night and we’d go around exploring everywhere else, looking at this, and looking at that. I happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of the Easter time,
where they had the stations of the cross ceremony through the old city and we all joined in that. At that time I was saying to myself that I wish I had read the bible, understood the bible to be able to associate where we were with the bible.
all that time beforehand, the British army and the soldiers were not looked upon with any great admiration. Soldiers in those days to them were just the bottom end of the rung and of course we couldn’t work that out because we were all volunteers, and most of us all came from good families, and everything else, and that didn’t work
out. We used to go to these different cafes and they were there. There were no hotels like draught beer. You’d go into a café and you ordered a beer. You’d get a bottle of beer and a glass, and water in the bottom. I know myself I turned the glass upside down to drain the water out and before I knew where I was, I was surrounded by about a dozen blokes. To them with the British in
those days it was a sign that I was the best man in the house and I’d take on anybody. I had to do a hell of a lot of talking. I had no intention of anything like that. I’d only drained the water out of the glass so that I could pour the beer in! Anyway, that satisfied them and most of the police in those days in the British/Palestinian Force were ex-British soldiers. They still carried on in the same old silly
in Australia when the Americans came over. They got a hell of a lot more money than we got. Anyway, that’s how it went. We went to various places and sightseeing. At one stage a party of us went down to the Dead Sea. We had a taxi take us down to the Dead Sea. It’s off the River Jordan, in those days in between Palestine
and Jordan or Trans-Jordanian, as it was known in those days, and the town of Jericho. Of course in those days that’s where in the bible where they walked around the walls of Jericho blowing trumpets and noise, and the whole of the walls fell down. Well in this Jericho town there was two rows of water sort of things. One was for drinking and the other was
for toilet facilities. All these things were entirely different to us but this place, the Dead Sea, nothing lives there. We went for a swim and you can’t sink in it. You get in there and you can’t swim along like you normally swim. Your bottom sits into the water and your legs are up, and your heads are up, and it was terribly, terribly salty. Your eyes sting with the salt but that was
another sightseeing. We were like tourists.
there was always a tremendous lack of equipment and there was a shortage of ack ack regiments, anti-aircraft regiments, and they turned the Second 4th Battalion, the infantry battalion, and the Second 4th Field Regiment into X and Y Regiments to train, and act as anti-aircraft units. Anyway, the British were doing the instructing
and at one stage we here at Haifa at a placed called Mount Carmel, and Acra. That was X in Mount Carmel and Y was in Acra. Whilst they were getting all this training and things there they said, “What are these planes?” “Oh they’re Wellingtons.” They didn’t turn out to be Wellingtons at all! They turned out to be Eytie [Italian] bombers. They came over and bombed Haifa, and
they bombed, and destroyed the oil refinery there. Of course in the news report they bombed but no damage was done. They only blew the whole thing apart that’s all! They came back a couple of times after that but nothing very serious. The Italians I think made better lovers than fighters!
to Egypt. Before we first came there The Australians were put into Palestine and the New Zealanders were put into Egypt. The Egyptian Government didn’t want the Australians because they played up so much in the First War. Eventually we went over there in any case and the British army just exercised their control, and we went to a place outside of Cairo called Helwan.
By this time we had another new CO and eventually we got 25 pounder guns, and we were training, and eventually we went up to Alexandria. By this time it was around about December ’40 and the Eyties had been attacking the British, and
the British army were fighting them. One of the signals of the Coldstream Guard’s sent back to Headquarters was, “We have acres of prisoners,” so many acres of officer prisoners and so many acres of RR prisoners. They had that many they couldn’t count them all. They relieved the British unit and sent them down to Abyssinia, the British Indian Division I think, and
the Australians were sent there. Then of course General Wilson was asked about troops available, “Oh we’ve only got colonials! That’s all we’ve got left.” He didn’t have a very high opinion of the Australians but that expression of his went right the way through from the time we went to Greece and everything else.
and the attack on Bardia happened in January, about the 14th of January 1941. The Australians captured Bardia and then later went on to Tobruk, and everywhere else but we didn’t have a great deal of equipment, not that they didn’t want to give it to us. They didn’t have it to give to us because when you
think back on the war Britain had been disbanding their regular army, because of the Depression, and no money. Germany and Italy were building theirs up. It was the same with Australia. We didn’t have much equipment. If it hadn’t have been for the Italian food, petrol, trucks and everything else, I don’t think we could have carried on
as well as we did. They were using the Italian’s guns and using their trucks. They had enormous big trucks. We’d never seen trucks in Australia as they had, these big long things. They could fit about three railway sleepers end to end on them. That’s how big the trucks were.
light aid detachment of mechanical engineers and they used to maintain all our trucks. They had to improvise and luckily Australians were great improvisers of all the things that were necessary to be done, and through the determination of the infantry – we were artillery support then, and they did all the
work, and they captured it. The Italians, I don’t think they wanted to fight because most of them in there were conscripts and they didn’t want to be in it. Any Italians in Australia that went over there to Italy for a holiday, they were conscripted into the army. Some of them were singing out that they’d been in Melbourne or Sydney. Some fellas they even knew! So that’s how it was.
who actually captured his brother! So, “Hi!” How many Italians did you actually capture?
In the end I think it was 125,000 and they were surrendering long beforehand. The ordinary Italian soldier wasn’t very well dressed or equipped as far as their own personal equipment was concerned but the officers, a lot of them were just damn dandies and they used to use perfume, and God knows
of equipment were you able to gain from the Italians?
We gained everything. We gained petrol, food, oil, guns, like we used a lot of their Beretta machine guns but we were supposed to hand it all in and eventually it was handed in, but some of it got over to Greece, and was used for good effect over there.
a unit of quite a few hundred men and everything has to be done for them, like I didn’t have to organise any food. That was the quartermaster’s department but everything had to be found, organised, meals had to be prepared. They had cooks to do that and they had different organization. It was set to a timetable
and everything was done by organised times. If you bathed at a certain time you did it every day. If you had your meals at a certain time you did it every day the same. You knew where you were. There wasn’t any hop scotch around the place. It was all done to a timetable.
Were you able to capture any tanks?
Oh God yes! They captured tanks, brand new ones at times a lot of them. The 60th Cav [Cavalry] Regiment, that was their name, 60th Cav but they operated Bren gun carriers and tanks, and they were brand new tanks, and they just painted a kangaroo on the outside them, and they used them that way. They came across brand new trucks and God knows what. Eventually it
Was there any souveniring of other smaller more personal items from the Italians?
There were instructions issued out that we weren’t to take their watches or anything at all like that but they did take revolvers and things like that. Most of it, the fellas that did have revolvers, eventually they had to hand them in. They forced them to hand them in. At one stage the regiment was at a place called Bakri and
we were advancing on that, and the regiment actually captured Bakri. It’s unheard of for an artillery unit to actually capture a place but it was easy enough. All the civilians and everything else were still in the place and they fired one shot over the town, and they fired one before the town, and they dropped one in the middle, and they all surrendered. At the bank there they were just preparing the army pay for the Italians and
they cleared out leaving the bank open, and the vault open, and some of the fellas got heaps of money out of the place. They weren’t supposed to but eventually they did. It got hidden away, so they were getting away with sandbags full of Italian Lire. They were lighting cigarettes with it and everything else. They were big noting themselves like in the American movies. You see them lighting up a cigar with a big note sort of thing. These blokes were doing the same.
So Os, you were just about to tell us about a fella who got caught.
At Bakri everyone was getting money left, right and centre. Anyway, we lost about 12 fellas, captured as prisoners of war to the Italians.
I know one friend of mine, he was captured there and then he had a lot of Italian money inside his socks. When the Italians searched him they didn’t search in his socks and he was a prisoner of war – he got captured outside of Derna, so that’s between January and February.
He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war and for over two years the money he had in his socks kept him supplied with extras in the camp, in the prisoner of war camp.
they weren’t much chop. They were doing the surrendering without us asking them to surrender. The infantry fellas would fire onto some place and suddenly a white flag would go up, and about 20 or 30 would pop out of hole, and well and truly outnumber the number of Australians that were attacking them. One of our forward observation officers was
out in a Bren gun carrier. His name was Norman Vickery. The sergeant driving the carrier – the tractor belonged to the British army and we had two of our fellas in there. One was what was called an ack, an ack and the other one was a signaller. This carrier came up the back of these Italians, a field unit
with about six guns and quite a few troops. There were almost about 1,000 troops there and they took the surrender of all those. Norm Vickery was eventually awarded an MC [Military Cross] and the sergeant in the carrier was given an MM [Military Medal]. The two poor old Australian gunners got nothing.
Anyway, that’s how it went on but to me for six field guns in the crew all with ammunition and a lot of troops, to turn around, and surrender to one lousy little Bren gun carrier, that just shows you what they were really like.
He didn’t think much of Australians. He termed us as just being old colonials and later on, further on in the war when Benghazi got captured – Australia captured Benghazi, and that was one of the good quality towns in the Libyan empire. They used to grow a lot of
gardens, vegetables and things like that, crops and stuff in the place. The Italian troops themselves rioted and cleaned up what they could. Then the Italian people looted what was left over and then the Arabs got in there beforehand, the Libyan Arabs, and they looted the stuff.
Eventually when the Australians moved in to occupy, to take over the place, the Australians got blamed for looting. The Poms maintained that it was the Australian troops who did all the looting and it wasn’t. Eventually after much trouble they agreed that it wasn’t.
We just had a technical difficulty. Could you continue on with the story, the denial of the looting?
Eventually the British MPs [military police] came up to investigate and everything else but they eventually accepted that the Australians didn’t do it, but they reluctantly did it. There was another incident up where some senior British Officers and I mean senior brigadiers, concocted a story that the Australian troops had assaulted him and his wife,
and took the wife’s wedding ring off, and everything else. There were great protests about that but eventually it turned out that it was just a furphy story made up by the British to sort of put us in bad light.
their own rules and regulations to associate with anybody. In fact at one stage in the early part of the war when a unit was doing ack ack around Taufiq, one of our officers and two or three of our fellas were in a café drinking together, socialising together, and the British MPs came in, and wanted to know who they were, and demanded the officer prove that he was an
officer, and took his name and number, and everything else. Eventually he got reported. They were going to report him and it eventually got reported back to the unit that he’d been there but we don’t have that rule or regulation. It wasn’t anyway. I don’t know whether it has been altered since but we don’t have that thing in our Army. The officers can associate with the men and that’s how it goes. They run in a different way all together.
But I think you’ll find the story I’m telling you about the looting thing and the other British officers, I think you’ll find it in the official history book.
Churchill wanted to send troops to help Greece. One minute it was on. The next minute it wasn’t on. What happened that changed about it was the fact that the Prime Minister in charge of Greece died and that altered the situation all round. Churchill was always talking about the soft underbelly of
the Balkans. All right now he promised to send to Greece three divisions of Australians, two armoured divisions of English, and a Polish Brigade, and some aeroplanes. Well they sent over 40 earlier in the piece. It might have been February, March when it was. They were up against the
Germans with 700 planes, so it didn’t last long. They never had the shipping facilities to send the troops to Greece. We went over in bits and pieces. They started to send them in March and they were still sending the same part of the 60th Australians in April.
The first troops went over in war ships as sort of deck cargo type of thing. They never had the shipping to do it. Britain was fighting the world against everybody or against the well organised Germans and the Italians, although the Italians had already attacked Greece, and were going helter skelter through Albania.
Eventually the Greeks tossed them back and the Italians had to retreat, and that’s when Germany decided to send their troops into Yugoslavia and Greece. All up there were about 26 divisions of Germans in against the Greek Army, when the Greek Army were very poorly equipped. They were worse than what
we ever were and their transport was mainly by mules. Their field commander – I’ve forgotten his name. I know it starts with a T, he’d made a secret peace with the Germans on the understanding that he would surrender the Greek army as long as he got made Military Governor of Athens. Unbeknown to the commander and chief of the Greeks, he did it. All
the Germans did was take their arms and let them go. Of course that’s when the big withdrawal of the Australians, the British and the New Zealanders happened.
Oh Ok, we’ll talk about that after Greece. What do you recall of your own personal journey to Greece?
We went away on a ship called the Pentland. All right, before we got to Athens they’d had a big air raid and there was a ship full of Amatol, and it blew up, and destroyed all the wharves in Piraeus
and devastated everything else. Eventually when we arrived there, there was no wharf to get off on and we had some nurses onboard as well. They took them off and then that night we moved out, and circled around in the dark, and came in the next day to take us off. We went ashore in
the ship’s lifeboats and small launches that came from the harbour side to take us off. We eventually landed in there and we went to a place called Daphni – that’s the anglicised name of it – I think it’s Glyfera or something like that – to this camp. We were there and we got a welcoming committee of an air raid
by the German Dornier planes.
were in. We were in a spot, which was sort of a bay between us and the mainland, and at that stage the aircraft factory I think it was, they were still connected by phone to Germany, and yet Germany was attacking us. It seemed a bit funny. Anyway, these Dornier planes
came in and attacked, and dropped bombs, and machine guns with fair sized bullets. Luckily I wasn’t a recipient of it. There was a fella lying on the ground with his head up against a tree and one of these large bullets hit the tree about an inch above his head. He was lucky he didn’t get killed with that but anyway the raids were there and that’s the way it went. We decided that
half the regiment could go – incidentally the regiment at that time didn’t consist of the full regiment. It was only RHQ [regimental headquarters], 1st Battery, 60th Section attached and the LAD attached. That was the first part because they couldn’t put it all on the one ship to take us over. Our guns had already gone by transport beforehand. Anyway, they decided we could have half of the
morning leave and half in the night leave. So I went with the afternoon leave and we went into Athens itself. Whilst we were there during the night there was an air raid and things like that. It was about the only part in the world where we made a profit in our money because the Drachma was worth about fourpence ha’penny to a Drachma and we were getting 512 [to the]
pound, so we were well and truly in front. Of course we went on leave and went in a café, and were looking around the place, and sightseeing, and everything else.
for future reference for sightseeing and things like that. Well it came in handy later on that map and we went around, looking around the place, and seeing the Acropolis, all the ruins around there. It didn’t interest me very much because it was old broken down stones sort of things. It had a lot of historical significance but it didn’t make much impression on me anyway.
Anyway, the night kept dragging on and we were over enjoying ourselves, and there was one sergeant, he used to work on the radio. He was a radio announcer in those days but he had a very deep pocket and very short arms, and he used to penny on looking for something all the time from somebody else. A friend of mine,
Leo Shorty and myself, we set him up with the restaurant to pay for the whole bill for the whole place. It wouldn’t have cost him much but we sort of got something back on him anyway. The air raid was going on and we were supposed to have been back in the camp before midnight, the old expression 23:59 [hours]. That’s when your leave pass is up, one minute to midnight. Anyway, we were out enjoying ourselves, so we had no
way of getting back to camp. So Leo Shorty and myself, we pinched a police motorbike and sidecar, and drove back to camp but we didn’t get back there until about five o’clock in the morning. Of course by this time we were supposed to have our tin hat and respirator, and that, and the adjutant spots me. We dumped the bike beforehand to get into the camp. I thought, “Oh I’ll be in trouble.” So I pretended that
air raid annoyed me and I was frightened about the air raid but it was only sort of a cover up to the thing. He said, “Sergeant, we’re moving out at six am. Pack up!” I said, “All right! Good!” So I didn’t have to worry about it. Anyway, we packed up and we moved out – what other gear we couldn’t take with us, only a side haversack and stuff, had to be sent away to stores.
wherever it was and we were lined up to get in these trucks. There was a carriage on the train for the officers and all the other ranks, warrant officers and sergeants had to be 40 to a truck, these cattle trucks. You’re in there and you sit down, and put your legs over somebody else’s shoulder, and you were sitting like that. When you wanted to go to the toilet, you said, “Move up!” And you had to move up
to the open door sort of business. Anyway we were on the train for a couple of days.
So during this train journey there was also a lot of bombing and attacking going on?
Oh yes attacking. The Germans had complete control of the sky and their dive bombers, the Stukas, well they have screamers on their bombs to terrify the troops, and they do do it. Anyway, that’s how it happened but eventually we got where we went.
for our guns. We hadn’t got our field guns at that stage and then the driver of the train disappeared. We ran out of water on the train. The engine ran out of water. We all had to line up with our water bottles and hand the water bottle in for them to pour into the tank of the engines. They intended to fill the water up because they needed water for the steam of the engine.
A couple of fellas out of the regiment ended up driving the train. Then we came across a train that had broken down and there were various people on the train that were packed into our train. Then we pulled into a station and the funny part about it, there was a woman standing on the platform there. She was very heavily pregnant and up on a chimney on top of the station was a
stork. We saw the humorous part of that of course! Then we were chasing around looking for food. We hadn’t had any food for a couple of days and went looking for food. Eventually they drive the down and came to a spot. I think from memory it was somewhere around Dominicus or somewhere like that.
The adjutant and the IO [intelligence officer] went off looking for our guns, and they got a couple of donkeys, and they were riding these donkeys around looking for them. Eventually they found the guns and they located our trucks, and guns. So then we were united there with them. Then of course the Germans were well and truly attacking and
you can imagine. They had all the planes. They had tanks. They had everything.
You forget about it but then when we got our guns, all right we were well and truly – getting back to General Blamey. In the first place we shouldn’t have gone to Greece. General Dill and Anthony Eden [British Prime Minister] spoke to Menzies, our Prime Minister, and said that
General Blamey had OK’d us to go to Greece. So he thought, “That’s all right,” and we go to Greece. They go to Blamey and tell him that Menzies had OK’d it. He hadn’t and they were working the same thing on Blamey. Blamey reported it to Australia but we ended up going there and if it hadn’t have been for General Blamey being in touch with Admiral Cunningham, who was in charge of the Mediterranean fleet,
we wouldn’t have got off as well as we did. One of the first things that General Blamey did was to reconnoitre where it would be possible for Australian troops to be evacuated from in Greece. It was through his co-operation with Admiral Cunningham and vice versa that as many troops got off there as did. There was the New Zealand
Division there. There wasn’t quite a full division of Australians and there was the British Armoured Division, the 7th Armoured Division there. It wasn’t a full division of them either. That was all plus a lot of base troops and that’s what, through Blamey and his forethought, happened. Now the British were trying to control
the fighting in Greece from Cairo, which was an impossible thing to do. It’s like trying to run a race in Sydney and organise it form Perth! Then that’s when they started – they reformed the ANZAC Corps in Greece and it was the one and only time during the Second World War that the ANZAC Corps was into being.
General Fryeburg with the New Zealanders, was the second in command. General Blamey was the commander and that’s what happened. We in the 6th Division are the only troops who served in Greece and called ourselves Anzacs in the Second World War. In fact it took me a while to get it done but it’s on the 6th Division banner. We were World War II Anzacs.
but anyway, getting back to up around Dominicus.
and really doing them over sort of business. Our CO said to us, “Don’t fire on them. They mightn’t see us.” Well in those days we had very little experience of being up in aeroplanes. Of course that was sort of unheard of as far as planes were concerned.
Anyway, these planes flew around and we had our Bren guns mounted up for ack ack defence of the unit. We could have got some of them they were that low. They were just above the treetops, couldn’t see us? Next thing we know around they came, a fresh lot of bombers and then they did us over, and we couldn’t move one way or the other. That’s why we ended up calling it the Petrified Forest. They did a lot of damage to us, our equipment and everything
else. Eventually we were able to get away and in Greece the roads seem to run in a straight line between the mountains. You’d leave this spot and then next thing it’s a straight road to the next mountain. Of course you had to run the gauntlet of getting from one spot to the other without the planes coming in and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of them.
Anyway, we got heavily bombed again. I think – I can’t remember the places now but luckily for my a bomb landed a few feet away from me, blew me up in the air higher than the treetops and I came flop on my back. I didn’t actually get any metal from the bomb or anything but I damaged all my vertebrae. In fact most of them have disintegrated in my back.
I have great difficult in movement as a result but other fellas got metal in them. There was on particular sergeant Bert Stickles, he got some in and he was all the time saying about his wounds sort of business. We had one fella in our regiment that used to give everybody nicknames and he called him Glass Shirt. Bert Stickles, he eventually got a commission. They put him into the Second 1st
Battalion but that’s how it went. You were just lucky you didn’t get anything and these bombs were landing all around, and I’m saying to myself, “I’m going back to Australia! I’m going back to Australia!” I couldn’t get into the earth quick enough. My nose was in a hole in the ground sort of thing.
silly and dazey but I didn’t report it, and eventually to the next spot, and eventually that map that I bought came in very handy as far as the roads were concerned because I gave it to the adjutant, who was plotting out where we were going. The Germans were landing troops dressed in British army uniforms as MPs and directing people down dead ends, and all this kind of
business. There was a lot of fifth column going on. The Greeks sort of weren’t united against the Germans. There were two lots, for and against, and they’d put out your signal wires of communication. They were cutting them behind you and all kinds of things. We eventually – down through the Corinth Canal and the
Germans were landing paratroopers behind us and trying to block us off of course. We eventually got down through the Corinth Canal, down into our departure place, was Kalamata. That’s where all the Kalamata olives come from. Well we got down there and we had to sit on a beach waiting for the
destroyers to come in for picking us up. We were just sitting there on the beach and the next thing I notice, one of the sergeants out of the 2/3rd Battalion, his name was Bill Jenkins, he was a corporal in charge of a standing patrol. A standing patrol? He was marching through and he got ahead of all the rest of our troops. The destroyers had come in to pick us up. He marched his squad onto the destroyer. It was the Hero as a matter of fact and that was the destroyer I eventually got off
on. I’m standing on the deck there and I’m standing alongside the CO, and he saw the rest of the troops couldn’t get off, so he walked off. A couple of officers had big valises. They had enormous big bed rolls. The sailors said, “That would make room for two or three men!” They just kicked them into the water. Colonel Harlock, who was our new CO. He was a permanent staff corps
man and more valuable than a gunner but he turned around, and walked off. He’d have been better off if he’d have stayed with the troops but during these air raids and stuff, we all used to have to dig our own slit trench. On one of these particular raids we were getting heavily bombed and everything else. The 2IC [second in command] jumped into one of the
slit trenches of the sergeant cook, Frank Hay. He’s standing on the edge of the side of the slit trench abusing Flash Alf. Alf Young was his name. He was a major at this time and they used to call him Flash Alf, and he wouldn’t get out. Frank Hay was mouthing off like nobody’s business to him. Anyway, eventually
Frank Hay gets away. Alf Young gets away as well. They took us to a ship called the Dilwara. We got off in the dark and daylight comes along. Next thing we know, we’re attacked by Stuka dive bombers. They never let us alone and they sunk one of the ship, the Costa Rica. Our ship,
steel plates were peeling off the side of the ship and you could see the water. One of the signal sergeants, Dick Love, we had the 60th Signal Section attached to us, he’d bought a bottle of Daphni. He was going to keep this bottle of Daphni for a grim moment. The plates were peeling off the ship and we could see water, and he went “Wooooah.” He drank the full bottle in one go!
Anyway, luckily for us we eventually got to Alexandria and away we went back to Palestine again.
leading an attack on the Germans after we’d left Kalamata and after a day’s fighting there where they captured some German guns, eventually they got overwhelmed and captured. The Germans said to various people, “If
you don’t behave yourselves we’ll shoot your CO.” They eventually rounded them up and they marched them to Kalamata to put them on trains. They weren’t very well looked after and they were ill-treated, and everything else but they eventually got them back into prison camps. But they did ill-treat them.
I was recommended for in Greece was the fact of during an air raid some of the bombs landed near a gun in its trailer. In the trailer they carry the ammunition and the ammunition was exploding, and there was a possibility of that doing damage to the gun. So went to it and attempted to unhook the gun from the trailer whilst this ammunition was going off, and everything else. The gun was very important. This was
before we knew we were going to leave the country. Anyway, that happened.
I’d like to actually. Oh you’ve got the document there.
“In recognition of distinguished service in the Middle East during period of February ’41 to July ’41.” That was recommended by the adjutant, Captain J S Anderson and the CO, and the second one I got recommended for was, “In recognition of distinguished service in Greece April ’41 during
a very heavy air raid he did uncouple a gun member full of exploding ammunition from a 25 pounder.” That was the other one and then up in New Guinea I got recommended for an MBE [Member of the British Empire] for – the thing says, “Member of the British Empire; Warrant Officer Class One, O J Pearce, is recommended for the award in recognition of his
distinguished service and part played in helping to defeat the enemy of Japan during two years he served in New Guinea.”
So as a sergeant how many men did you have under you?
Well it wasn’t actually the number of men under me but the fact that the job I was doing, it happened to be at RHQ and that particular job – all right, I didn’t have to do any guard duty or any fatigues, or anything like that but I had to be there to see that all
your actions that felt that you well deserved these awards.
Well the adjutant, who was a permanent army officer, who later became a major general, thought so. After we got back from Greece, we got back to a place called Khassa and we didn’t have all of our full kits, and everything else, and all of the regiment had their kit bags in Alexandria kit store.
So they decided to send somebody over to Alexandria. So in recognition of behaving ourselves this fella called Ron Allpress, was a W02 [warrant officer, second class] and myself, and another chap, the driver of the truck was Fife Donald, we were given the job of going over to Alexandria, carte blanche, no particular time to come back or go, and everything else.
We were supplied with food and rations, and everything else before we left, and also money for subsistence, if we needed accommodation anywhere, which we did, and we took it liberally. We went to Cairo first and had a look around Cairo. We decided to go down to the Berka and have a look at the Berka from the First War. It was out of bounds and you weren’t supposed to go there. We
were trooping around looking at everything and next thing we know the gyppo police have got a shotgun at each of our backs, and marched us off to the police station, where we were interviewed by the plain clothes British police, military police. Eventually after we were there a few hours and you could hear all these screaming Egyptians in the cells in the cells singing out, and the desk sergeant said to somebody else in the thing to keep them quiet.
Of course it was a bit cold at the time and they opened up the cell doors, and they had mats, coiled mats on the floor, and they pulled all that out, and threw buckets of water over them, and they kept quiet after that. So after that we left there.
I think you’d gone to Alexandria first hadn’t you?
No, no we went to Cairo first and then we looked around there, and outside of Cairo we were camped at Giza near the pyramids. We had a sticky beak in the pyramids and got up inside of one of them, walked up into this steep incline of stone. Half the time these great things, you had to stretch your legs to get over from one stone to the other. We got up in there and there was this long passage that carried us up into this room, and it
Belonged to different soldiers?
Well out of the regiment. You see, you have your own kit bag, a long cylindrical bag in which you put your spare clothing and things in, and personal possessions, and stuff like that, which you weren’t allowed to take with you, and that’s all we got.
in your company, or your unit actually got some sexually transmitted diseases?
I don’t think they got any but you see VD is looked upon as a self-inflicted wound in the army and anybody who got it immediately lost their pay, and it was put on their record. The army seemed to make a real thing about it because that VD question pops up on all army documents, “Did you or did you not have VD?” It doesn’t
Syria to fight the Vichy French. We had advanced parties up there and the Second 3rd Battalion, and the 2/5th Battalion I think it was or 6th Battalion, went up to Syria as well. They called for volunteers that knew anything about skiing. They formed a ski patrol up there in the snow. After all this preparation and what
not they decided to send the 7th Div up there instead of the 6th Div, and we in turn had to hand over our guns, and equipment to the Second 5th Field Regiment.
and the game was up at Petka Tifka. Anyway, after the game – we had to play in our army boots. We never had any nice soft shoes or anything to play in, and I had mine, I had to kick mine off because I kept slipping over. I was playing centre forward. Unfortunately for me my feet got bashed around a fair bit with the hockey sticks. After that we went from there to a restaurant up in Petatikfer.
One of the daughters – the people that owned the restaurant were Germans. They were German Jews. We were there and they had a daughter there, and I got talking to her, and got to be very friendly with her, and she used to communicate with me, write to me, and things like that, and vice versa. Any leave that I ever got I used to go up there but Petatikfer was a
funny place. You had to carry side arms.
1936 onwards. In fact it got so bad that the British ended up bringing out a medal for service in there and they used to have what they called Police Forts. They’d have these great big built Police Forts within visual contact of one another because the communications in those days were not as advanced as they are today, and they could signal one another with a lamp. That’s what went on. I don’t know whether they’re still there or not now.
Anyway, in Petatikfer there used to be a lot of unrest, Jews fighting the Arabs. That was going on then and it is still going on.
and that’s the trouble. They won’t give it back even now. When the Jews fought the Egyptians in the Trans-Jordanian and the Syrians, they gave back to Egypt because all they took off them was sand, so they got it back easily but the best parts of Palestine, the Israelis are still hanging onto it. They won’t give it back and America
sponsors Israel. It’s a sight actually as a fort virtually. They supply them with money, billions all the years and every year they get all the latest equipment.
was virtually keeping company with her until her father tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Hannah has been promised to a good Jewish boy. Get lost.” Even though I had that going on I still communicated. As a matter of fact, I received a letter from her a few days before we were to embark to come home, to leave Palestine and I couldn’t communicate with her, and I never have since.
We weren’t allowed to reply or leave the camp, or do anything about anything, in case it gives our movements away.
ships there. We got on the Western Land I think it was and we had two cabin fulls of maps. We’d never had so many maps in our life. Of course maps were always a shortage and these maps were all Java, areas around there. Although the people thought we were going back to Australia, we weren’t because Churchill had extracted a promise out of Curtin [Australian Prime Minister] or something to that’s where we are going
to. The Orchades sailed the day before we did and that had a machine gun battalion on it, and they landed that machine gun battalion in Java, and then the Orchades withdrew out of the area, and hung about there. Then unfortunately for us or for the machine gun battalion, the Japanese captured them and they were all taken prisoners of war. The Orchades steamed off. We were about a day out of there and they turned
us around. They sent us back to Ceylon. We were in Ceylon about four or five months. We used to have to write home and say we were in the snow country, and it was stinking hot, and raining, and God knows what. It used to rain there every night at five o’clock.
there was a lot of trouble even in Ceylon in those days. Even the Tamils were against the other mob. I think they’re still having a go. Every shot that was fired we used to have to investigate, go through paddy fields and of course we were told elephantiasis is rampant here. It’s from the worms in the paddy fields. So we were out on this
patrol one day and of course I wanted to go to the toilet. I dropped the tweeds and went to the toilet, and I looked around, all these worms! God! I was petrified. I couldn’t get back to the RAP [regimental aid post] quick enough and they put me into hospital with worms, and of course all I could think about was elephantiasis. Anyway, that was it. They were string worms or some blinkin’ silly thing.
an attack of malaria in the hospital at the same time after that. When it was time to come out of hospital there was no vacancy in the convalescent camp, so they put me two weeks no duty back to the unit. I got back to the unit and the CO said, “How’s your pay book?” I said, “It’s all right.” So he provided a truck for me and a driver to take me up to Detwala up in the mountains, and I stayed up there in a hotel for two weeks, and came back by train.
I came back by train and of course on the way back I got off at the wrong spot. It was somewhere or other, I don’t even know and I was getting a bit panicky. Anyway, I eventually went to the police station and of course they have police barracks where they all sleep in, and I demanded accommodation, not asked for it! I demanded it. Anyway, they put me up for the night in this hut with all these other Ceylonese
policemen and eventually in the daytime I eventually got back to the camp, which was at Horana.
there was a Catalina plane out on patrol and sighted this invasion force coming towards there of war ships, and troop ships, and what not. He got a message back to Colombo before he got shot down, which saved us because there was a lot of planes there, which were going to Rangoon or coming from Rangoon. They’d lost Rangoon already and these planes
ended up attacking the Japanese. Now we were very short of arms. We had one rifle between 20 men in the artillery, that’s not too many rifles and the rest of us were given pick handles to repel these Japanese that were supposed to land. We were also given instructions to go to the ordinance depot in Colombo and draw 18 pounder guns because they make shrapnel
for 18 pounders but not for 25s, to mount the guns on these defences, and set them in. It happened to be Easter holiday time. They said, “Come back next week. We’re closed for the holidays.” The Poms – this is 1942 at Easter and they were still working on peacetime footing.
What about breaking up fights and things?
No that was for the invasion of the Japs. As I said, the Air Force, luckily for us destroyed the convoy. Even though we’d had a couple of air raids – there was one on Trincomalee, a naval base further up and a couple in Colombo, they sunk most of the troops ships, with the result the Japanese withdrew.
The Japanese Navy were very, very active around there. In fact the third convoy that came in to pick us up, the previous two had all been destroyed and we got on as I said, the Western Land, and we came from Colombo to Sydney – not Sydney, to Australia. It took us over a month and it’s only few days trip really
in reality but we lived in life jackets, we ran out of food, there was riots onboard the ship. One of our fellas went up to the cookhouse and one of the Dutch cooks threw a meat cleaver at him. It caused a hell of a lot of trouble.
I volunteered, about the only time I ever volunteered for anything in my life in the army, to go on the rear party because the ships had to be unloaded with all our guns and equipment, and trucks, and everything else. The other fellas all went off on leave. Of course we were at a place called Seymour [Victoria]. That’s not far out of Melbourne and of course we used to get a train and go down to Melbourne sightseeing, and all around having a good time. We had
a camp there and there was a lot of young militia fellas in the place. The day we arrived they were waiting on us with our meals and stuff. Someone said something and someone pulled out a revolver, and fired a couple of shots through the roof, and they all scattered. They were just being sort of show offs and nasty to frighten these poor young fellas.
We used to go off into Melbourne. We had plenty of time to ourselves, so that was the idea of volunteering for it. They eventually loaded the guns and trucks onto these flat tops. It took a while for it to happen, virtually almost two weeks I think. It could have been closer to three. We went up around through Tocumwal and eventually we arrived
in Flemington. They said that we were supposed to be going to Narellan. Anyway, we arrived in Flemington and we pulled up in there, and there was a hold up, and, “We won’t be leaving here for two or three hours.” So I said, “I’ve got a sister in Strathfield. I’m going off to see her.” So I churned off there to see her and I came back in time, and we were waiting to see what was happening. In the meantime the war had been sort of going bad and we didn’t know anything about it,
and they sent us to Greta. Instead of Narellan we ended up in Greta in the middle of the night. We had to knock down all the fence from the Greta railway station to unload the trucks and the guns. We got them off and the next day I go off on leave. The unit was back and it was my turn to go on leave with the rest of us. So we were off all right. I had three days leave and was recalled.
So I got back to the unit. In the meantime they said to me, “You’ve got to go to Major General Clowes for an interview.” “What for?” “You’ve got to go there and report straight away.” So I go up to see Major General Clowes and he’s interviewing me to become the divisional artillery sergeant major of the 6th Division. I didn’t want the job.
unit. I could have gone before if I wanted to. I didn’t want to. So anyway, I wanted to be paraded at the CO. “It can’t be done. It’s all signed and sealed. You’ve been selected. You’re the one.” “I don’t want to.” Anyway, that was it. They went and 6th Division had been disbanded because part of them came back in February ’42
and we went to Ceylon. They were going to reform the 6th Division because in those days artillery was made up of our original adjutant, Anderson, and the original RSM [regimental sergeant major] was the DASM [divisional artillery sergeant major], and the staff captain was Ken James, and everything out of our regiment there, and they disbanded it all. That was all changed and they
were going to reform it, and I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want the job. Anyway, I got it and I didn’t want it. We had to start it all afresh and we had a month or so before – we were up in Maitland at a place outside of Maitland. I’ve forgotten the name of the place. They took over some big farmhouse and we were there.
we wanted and everything else that had to be. It was made up of the CRA, the commander and the brigadier, and then you have a brigade major, then you have a staff captain, and then there was the DASM, that was myself, and other sergeant draftsmen, and technical map readers, and makers, and all kinds of things like that. That’s how it started off.
and you knew exactly – like in Khassa, we used to call Khassa Camp the Siege of Khassa because we were there for so long. Anyway, scheming and what – we used to have a tent and there was a room vacant at the end of Regimental Headquarters, which was a building. So we put our heads together and we occupied that hut. There was six of us in that hut. All right, we used to all sleep
in there. We used to make our own supper of a night time and readily enjoy ourselves, and the company of one another. All right, when we went to Ceylon it was a bit different but we still had it. As a matter of fact, in Ceylon we sergeants, probably the officers did too, we got issued with a bottle of grog every week, a bottle of Gin it was as a matter of fact.
Who had been your other good mates would you say?
There was another fellow called Norm Gibson and there was another fellow, Fife Donald. As a matter of fact, when we came back to Australia Norm Gibson got married and Fife was his best man, and I went to his wedding,
alongside what was known as Ward’s Drome and we established the Headquarters there. We met our CRA there, Brigadier Daley. He was out of the Second 6th Field Regiment and whilst we were there, the CO, my old CO, and the adjutant came up there to impress the CRA to let me come back to the regiment
because the administrative part wasn’t working too well. He wouldn’t let me go and I was pretty annoyed about it. He thought he’d probably teach me a lesson and he sent me off on a course to the 2/6th Field Regiment. When I got to the 2/6th Field Regiment for this course he was sending me to, I said, “I’m not up here for a course. I’m not going to do the course.” So I sulked like a little boy in a tent.
anyway, I got back to the 6th Div, and it comes back I’d qualified. I hadn’t done a bloody thing but I still qualified. Anyway, then we moved. Daley still stopped in Moresby because they moved him from 6th Div to New Guinea Force. We flew over to Buna.
The regiment already had guns at Saputa and Sanananda, and they also had guns brought in by sea at Buna. In fact the fellow in charge of the guns there, Kenny Kell, they had the guns on the barges and they just pushed, and they got caught on the reef. So they just pushed the guns into the sea and dragged them into the shore by drag ropes.
He got the guns in there that way.
the other guns that the regiment had, they took them into pieces and put them on the planes, and flew them to Dobodura, and put them together again, and manhandled them through the jungle, and that was the first artillery that had been fired over the other side of the
Kokoda. Of course when the infantry heard it they all stood up and cheered.
Brigadier Kitto, and that was around about December ’42. The action all round that way was nearly all finished. I think it finished early in January. Then what was left of the fellows, who marched
and walked over the Kokoda Trail, they sent back to Australia. They were all full of disease and sickness, and everything else. There was more died from scrub typhus and dysentery than what the Japs shot.
As far as – take for instance in at Sanananda; we had 511 Battery there. There were two troops, E and F troops were there. There were eight guns. At Sanananda the Japs was about nine thousand more Japs there. Incidentally, the American intelligence, I don’t think they ever got over a
thousand and I don’t think they could count. They always underestimated what was there and Macarthur [US General Douglas Macarthur] said, “Blow the Gap!” The Gap was only about 20 miles difference between one point to another and all this kind of business.
artillery fellas, ammunition was dropped about 800 yards behind their guns. They in turn, the gunners had to go in the night time and physically carry all that ammunition to the guns for firing. Now for instance, there was four guns there at Sanananda. One of the gun sergeants was Steve
Jack, a great tall fellow and Vasey spoke to him about maintaining constant gunfire to put up a good show for them because of the ammunition. I think they ended up firing about 17,000 rounds. They had to physically carry all that ammunition down to their guns and this particular time at Sanananda the
GPO, that’s the gun position officer, set the guns in a dried up creek, which was silly but that’s what happened. During this attack at Sanananda it rained. It rains nearly all the time up there, worse than Ceylon. Steve Jack’s gun after two days was so deep in the mud it took them a couple of
days to dig the gun out of it. He reported his gun out of action because it was all lopsided and he couldn’t do anything with it. He couldn’t do anything more about it.
Sounds pretty momentous. You’ve given us a very clear and at times vivid, and dramatic description of what you were doing in the Middle East, and in Greece, so I’ve suddenly lost a clear sense of what you were doing in New Guinea.
Well I was virtually doing the same up in New Guinea as what I was doing in the Middle East. I just had to co-ordinate the reports
I’m not quite certain. They were looking for him and they found him all right. His bottom had been carved off and the Japan was cooking him in the pot. They were doing it and they in turn, their food was dropped in the wrong spots for them. They were starved. At Buna they had well dug positions for them.
What they used to do is they’d dig a hole, put the Jap in there with his food and everything else, and then roof him in. He couldn’t get out.
How much did you hear at that time and we’re looking at later 1942, early 1943?
We’d heard that they’d been captured and as a matter of fact, most of the blame for their capture went back to the British Lieutenant General Percival, a permanent British officer, like most of them that didn’t know anything at all. He wouldn’t even allow them to dig any trenches and stuff. “You can’t lose face in front of the natives,” and all this kind of
a matter of a mile or two sort of business. Eventually all the battle ceased around that way. Gona fell first and then Buna, and then all the fighting troops that were in there were physically exhausted. This particular fellow I was referring to, Steve Jack, he and another fellow Larry O’Rourke, after the battle they were so
exhausted they just both collapsed, and there were not enough planes to take them back to Moresby, and they were still there a couple of days after.
What about runners? Were there any runners?
Not so much. They did have runners through parts of the thing but not that much as far as – it progressed a bit from the First War with runners here, there and everywhere. It was like that picture you see in Gallipoli, the bloke running up and down the hill in Gallipoli but it wasn’t so much as that in those days, but they did have bits of communication. In Greece they did have a lot of
infantry battalions, all right back up in Buna after they all came walking over that Kokoda Trail, they were badly mauled about. You might get 15 to 20 out of a whole battalion left and they’d all amalgamate with somebody else. They had a horrible time. Apart from the diseases and dysentery, and lack of food, and everything else, it was absolutely shocking.
What do you understand of what happened at Buna and Gona?
We knew what was going on and everything else, and the fact that the Japs were killing us, and we were killing Japs, and the sickness, and everything else. At one stage there the Japs knew that the artillery was there and they were purposefully trying to blow the guns up.
In fact on several occasions they attacked them trying to put dynamite down. In fact they did put one lot of dynamite down one gun and peeled off like a banana. I think the gun it still up at Saputa. They did try and repel them all the time. At one stage the Japs did get in amongst their lines, the gun lines.
This friend of mine Steve Jack, he said, “There’s a Japan there! Kill him! Shoot him!” The other bloke said, “Oh we can’t kill him. He’s wounded!” “Be buggered! Kill him!” But they didn’t. As a matter of fact, they got a lot of information out of that fellow because he wouldn’t talk. He was starved and drink, and he wouldn’t talk to them, and some intelligence officer out of the infantry battalion said, “Cook up some
rice and make it all nice, and smelly.” They waved it under his nose and he eventually did talk, and gave them a lot of information but that’s a rarity because they’d rather die than tell you anything.
Lieutenant General Vasey, I think he ended up getting killed in a plane crash. Most of the early Australian leaders who were actual – Alan, he was the brigade commander of the 16th Brigade. He became a major general and because Macarthur thought there weren’t enough casualties happening, it was no good.
So they sacked him. Macarthur made Blamey sack him. It wasn’t that at all. You don’t throw men away like sawdust sort of business. He was looking after his men and everything else but Macarthur had no idea. He thought he knew everything. There was another fella, Brigadier Potts. He was in charge of the 30th Brigade and the Militia battalions. There was the 39th Battalion and 3rd Battalion, and
fight and retreat from Buna back to Moresby in the early part of the war, and because he retreated over there Macarthur had him sacked. Even though it was a strategic withdrawal it was extending the Japs’ lines and shortening ours. In those days they couldn’t get food and things, supplies to them but no Macarthur knew all. He sacked him.
Not a great deal, not personally with them, but we know what went on with them. All right, like everything else, there’s good and bad. We depended on their planes, because we didn’t have any, hardly. We didn’t depend on their soldiers, because most of the fighting done in New Guinea was done by Australians, even though we didn’t get the credit for it.
the fighting component of 6th Div all went back to Australia. The Headquarters was changed into 11 Div. Then the 1st Battery of the Second 1st Field Regiment was sent to Wau because the Japs were coming through an old track up in Wau around there. The 17th Brigade was kept at Milne Bay,
not over the Kokoda. They were kept at Milne Bay by General Blamey and he had them transferred up into Wau. Before that there were a couple of independent companies there and they landed in dribs and drabs in Wau because they couldn’t fly in. They might come in with them and they’d have to return to Moresby because they couldn’t get over the gap, through all that fog,
and low cloud. You could run into a mountain and you wouldn’t know where you were. The 2/1st Field Regiments once again took their guns apart and put them in the Douglas planes, like the DC3s and they put them all together again on Wau aerodrome. The Japs owned the bottom part. We owned the top part. Wau Aerodrome is like running up a hill and they used to have to come in from the low part of the hill
and run up the hill of the thing. The Japs owned the bottom part and they were shooting at the planes, and killing people off on the aerodrome. Anyway, after the guns were assembled there they eventually got eight guns up there and they did a tremendous amount of damage to the Japanese. In fact they put over a few shells and there was one particular smoke shell they put over, and set the grass alight, the kunai grass alight,
and it set off a big ammunition dump, and killed quite a few hundreds of Japs up there. They were there for some time but they couldn’t go much further ahead because with the way the mountains were. I think the guns are still there up in Wau. They weren’t recovered anyway after the war.
Now the divisions – that was round about the end of January and eventually they were withdrawn, and sent back to Australia but we, at the Headquarters Popendetta, the RAA 6th Div was now known as RAA 11th Div, and the same with 6th Div. They were known as Headquarters 11th Div and
a lot of the troops thought they were strangers, and most of the people in the headquarters had been in the army for four or five years. They thought they were just straight out ‘chocos’ [chocolate soldiers- militia] and things like that. We were getting annoyed about it. That’s what happened.
Even though you didn’t have much interaction with the local population, how were they regarded by the Australian soldiers?
Well ANGAU [Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit] used to control the natives and they used to have native carriers. They carried the Australian wounded and they used to carry supplies, and things like that. We never had any actual dealings with the natives but if you wanted some kunai grass cut down, they’d bring in a quad
the fact that we’d been changed over to the 11th Div but you just accepted it and you stayed there. It got a bit boring after a while, monotonous and stuff. As I say, we went over to Madang and then we went from there down to I think it was Oro Bay. I’m not certain but our new CRA, he used to like souvenirs and
there was a Japanese Mountain Battery up in Madang, and he wanted the cartridge case. They used to have a cartridge case about two inches high with a brass plate on the back of it was all this Japanese writing. He sent me and a sergeant from the Second 6th Field Regiment up to this Japanese Mountain position. Luckily for us they’d moved out but he wanted –
I had to take a couple of sandbags full of these blinkin’ cartridge cases. He wanted them as souvenirs for ashtrays. See what you can do when you’re a brigadier?
with the Americans and the Americans even had ice cream up in New Guinea. They had their PX [American canteen unit] thing up there. Anyway, he bought from them six refrigerators, like a domestic refrigerator, big tall things and he had the forestry unit cut great lengths of cedar trees down, long planks. Now you just imagine two of those, end on end,
there was a cedar box built around those. There was three of those boxes with six refrigerators and I had to see that they were built, and made, and shipped off back to Australia. That happened at Oro Bay. Then he wasn’t happy with that. He commandeered a yacht and had that sent back on the Westralia but things were starting to catch up with him, and he got
Would it be a weeks or months?
I’d only be guessing. I can’t remember but I know that after I’d been up there two years we had movements to come back to Australia and all right, the Brigadier, the only thing he did good for me, he said, “You’ve had enough overseas service.” By this time I’d had more than four and a half years overseas service. He said, “How would you like
mentioned that it was quite boring and there was a lot of monotony. How did you alleviate the boredom?
You just couldn’t. All right, you weren’t fighting and doing all those things every day of week at nine o’clock and knock off at five or anything at all. This dragged on and on, and on, and on. You could
not for the ordinary troops anyway. The Americans used to fly it in. I know that a lot of these general officers used to skive off about the amount of grog they used to drink. We never got any. Blokes used to make jungle juice when they could. I know one of my brother in-laws, who was a chemist.
He was in an ammunition company. Eventually they transferred him to the hospital unit to utilise his expertise as a chemist and they used to make grog out of the distilled spirit up there, and put a dash of this, and a dash of that in it, and they used to have all the drink they wanted.
go into more detail when we get to the end of the war because that’s a very important part of your wartime experience. When you were moving from these different places, you know the Markham Valley and Shaggy Ridge, and Oro Bay, would the headquarters move together?
You’d get your movement orders. You had to move by such and such a way of transport, and to go from Wau to Markham Valley we went
by plane, and the planes were strictly loaded according to so much weight. You couldn’t have an ounce over because for instance, Dumpu, the landing strip there was on an angle. You come down and then they’ve got to make a sharp right hand turn to pull up. Some of the planes would come down there and they would lose their wing to make the turn. The American
pilots were sort of learning on the job and it didn’t make it any easier but that’s how it went on.
Would you be moving from place to place with the same personnel the whole time or would there be a change each time you moved?
Oh no. If you’re posted to a unit, you move with that unit all the time, unless you were transferred out to somewhere else or you got sick, or something like that but you remained with the same people all the time.
took over his job. Graham Scarlet after the war – he was original Second 1st Field Regiment and to me that was important. After the war he became the Registrar of Sydney University, a very popular officer in the regiment and well thought of.
There was another fellow, who was the staff captain of the RAA 6th Div, Ken James. He was another fella out of the Second 1st Field Regiment. After the war he became the secretary of Unilever. They’re both dead now. As I said, the original regiment, there’s only 41 of those original ones
One of the more relaxed, as far as temperature was concerned was Wau. It was a nice cold climate at the time up there but I never want to go back there. I could have had a free trip some years ago. I wasn’t at all interested and never will be. One of my nieces’ husbands, he was in
ANGAU, and Australian-New Guinea Civil Association, after the war. His father before him was in ANGAU before that. He went up around Buna when the Japanese ships with little tin boxes or steel boxes to take home the remains of the dead Japanese bodies. He had to direct the natives to put the parts of
Japanese bodies into these things and his instructions to the natives was, “Make certain you don’t put two heads in the one box.” Of course Buna was so badly – so much ammunition, explosives and stuff, unexploded explosives in Buna, they moved the actual town or village, or whatever you like to call it, of Buna to another spot. They relocated the whole thing.
They closed the old Buna down.
Were there any moments of humour or mischief that you – ?
I cannot recall any good moments at any time. We were there and that was it. You can’t pick and choose where you go. The same as they say about the militia and all that kind of – they had no say in where they went, and a lot of these militia units put up a very good performance. You take one like the 39th Battalion,
they performed in an excellent manner and everything else, and what did they do to them? When they sent them back to Victoria they disbanded the whole battalion and put the remainder of what was left of the battalion out as reinforcement to all these different other units.
I didn’t have the movement like that. I had all kinds of malaria at times, like there was sand fly fever and dengue fever, and all those kinds of things. I ended up with malaria. I think my weight was down to about seven stone. We didn’t have real good food. It wasn’t
the fact that supplies couldn’t get through but there wasn’t anything. There was nothing sort of exciting to say, “We’re going to have a nice night tonight.” There was nothing like that at all. It was just a – you could say it was boring.
quite a neutral reaction to it.
Well my health wasn’t in a very good state but probably in a backhanded way the CRA was getting rid of me sort of business because my health was deteriorating and he offered me a transfer. All right, I accepted that and as I say, I went to the 2nd Army Headquarters Popendetta, and they were at Burnside Homes, and I lived in one of the
November ’44 and then all right, I was doing various odd things there, installing new guns at Middle Head and I arranged special ammunition. They put in twin guns there, twin 5.25s [5.25 inch guns].
Then in February our original RSM, who was at that stage – I think he was a major, he had a feeler out to find out where I was and he came to interview me. He said he had been told to form a special unit and he wanted me to be his 2IC, and we were to go – he wouldn’t say where they were
going or what they were going to do but it turned out to be M Special Unit to go to Borneo, and reconnoitre behind Japanese lines for the landing at Balikpapan. I was supposed to go but I had been downgraded to B Class, therefore I was not allowed to serve outside of Australia.
railways. When it was time to finish and get out of the army I went back to the report. The director of the Institute said, “There’s no job here for you.” Of course that upset me a bit, so I bounced back again, the fight in me again and he said, “We’ll put you down to Darling Harbour and you can work there.” I said, “Mr Funnel, unfortunately my war injuries
preclude me from doing that and I just won’t. I’m having a job here.” Of course they put me temporarily doing this and one day or week or so I’m working for one section, then I’m doing another. By this time letters started to arrive between he and I, and the commissioner of the railways, and of course all the staff were on my side against him because it turned out that
he was sort of an enemy of my father, and he was taking it out on me. Eventually after much time, letters to the commissioner and everything else, they transferred me out of the secretariat branch of the railways into the financial branch of the railways. Within six months I’d received three promotions and marked down for further progression.
By this time a fella I had been in the army with, he was in the hotel business. He wanted me to go into pubs. I wasn’t terribly keen but my wife was. Anyway, I thought I’d give it a go. Well I did and went into the pub with him. He was at the same hotel teaching me the business. Eventually I went off in a hotel of my own.
He still owned part of the hotel and I eventually bought into a share of the hotel. I concentrated on the hotel.
managing the Civic Hotel in Canberra. I went down there for a while and then this army friend of mine came forth with an offer of becoming the licensee of a hotel in Scone, in which I eventually bought a third share in, which I took it over. All right, it was very difficult. Scone is
a funny place. They resent you coming into the place and they don’t like you leaving but I was up there for two and a half years or so. It was hard going first off but in the end there were six hotels in Scone and I managed to build the trade up to the fact that I was doing as much as the rest of the six hotels in the town all together.
At this point had you and your wife parted ways?
No, we were still there and of course I was devoting myself to the business more so. I was probably neglecting her more than anything else. Then again the trouble is that country hotels after hour trading goes on just as much as anything else and anyway at that time – I think it was ’54, ’55 or something like that,
Sydney hotel. This fellow owned another hotel in Sydney, The Rawson and the six o’clock closing business had stopped, and they were open till ten o’clock. They also had another time of opening in the morning. You could open at six o’clock, close at six o’clock. That was the finish for the day. You didn’t have to open the trade of a night time. So
I thought, “That’ll do me.” So we transferred down to Sydney. Well of course my wife was going out of a night time supposedly with her girlfriend. In the meantime she’d met up with one of the boarders in the hotel in town. I didn’t take any notice of it and I thought she was doing that but we were there,
and one Friday night prior to that her mother lived at Maitland, and she got flooded out, and lost her house. The whole house disappeared in the flood and at Scone we had two floods up there at Scone, one year after another, never had it before in their lives. They haven’t got a river in Scone, so we got flooded out. That’s my usual run of luck. So her mother came down to live with us.
She was a lovely woman. She started her own business in the hotel providing snack food. Of course in those days, the AHA [Australian Hotels Association] frowned on anything like that. In fact several of the boys came up to see me to tell me to stop it. I said, “Get lost! I’m going to keep it going.” Anyway she, my mother in-law in those days, was running it herself and running a profitable little business. This
one particular Friday night we go upstairs, my wife had cleared out, lock, stock and barrel. Her mother didn’t have the slightest inkling of it and neither did I. So it turned out she cleared out with one of the boarders in the hotel.
looking everywhere. I couldn’t find a trace and eventually I found out about it through my sister, who happened to find out about it. She told me about it and she said, “You’ll find her in a car of an afternoon down at Narrabeen.” I’ve forgotten the name of the pub down there now – The Sands Hotel. “This fella, Jimmy Hilder drinks there of an afternoon.”
Of course I drove down there and I had a go at him. I had an old bayonet knife I had from the army days and I had it up against his stomach. I was going to stick him with it and oh – it’s not worth it. I didn’t. I went and took the keys out of the car, so I ruined them there. I went back home and went back to
the hotel. Anyway, I was pretty annoyed and I threw the keys down the sump pit down in the cellar, and next thing I know, the next day a detective calls on me. He said, “They’re going to take a summons out on you for pinching the keys. You threw those keys in disgust underneath the car didn’t you?” I said, “Yes I did.” And that was the answer. It turns out this Jimmy
Hilder’s, she used to be a madam in a brothel business. She was pretty well in with one set of detectives and the other set against them came to warn me about it. So I eventually got divorced from her and that was it. Then I met my other wife to be and eventually we got married in about 1963,
and we adopted the four children, and that’s how I ended up buying this house, so they had somewhere permanent for them to go to. I was still in the hotel business, from one pub to another and all that kind of business. So that’s how it happened. I wasn’t terribly happy with hotels but I’d committed myself to it and I had to keep going. We ended up pretty well. It ended up
we each had a third share. Unfortunately I never had enough money to have a third. I had a sixth share with another fellow and two others, they had a third each. In the end though unfortunately, the fellow I was in the army with was cheating us too. He was working on money he shouldn’t have had. We should have had it and I told the others about it, and they didn’t believe me. I said, “All right.”
And I ended up selling my interest in the various hotels to him. I didn’t get all the full money I got to it but he promised to pay me later on, but he never did and he died, so that was it. I was never happy about being in pubs but as I say, I was committed to it and there was not much I could do about it.
Down at The Rawson Hotel down at Haymarket, the markets were all down there and we had early trading on there. In fact we used to have to close two till three and by doing that you lost all your customers, so I used to put a lot down the bottom, and I got pinched for trading after hours. I got the hours altered seven till six, which was straight through and you didn’t have to worry about things
but we used to get a lot of people in there, who were drunk, playing up, and abusive, and all kinds of things. The only one to do the throwing out was myself and I wasn’t frightened of anybody. So I used to wear old clothes until lunchtime and afternoon I’d have a shower, about two o’clock in the afternoon, get dressed because up until then I was the boxer.
There used to be regular people. One particular fellow used to come in there, he’d put a handkerchief around his neck and he’d order a grog. It would be a whiskey or a brandy I think he had. He had one hand around the handkerchief and the other one around the glass, and he’d pull it over, half up to his mouth, and it went all over the place. After three or four he’d put the handkerchief away. Oh you’ve got no idea! The
things that used to go on early in the morning with people drinking and that.
place, there were SP [starting price] betting syndicates that used to operate in Sydney and this particular crowd used to run the SP information on all the horses, and the prices, and everything else. Well I said, “You can use the lounge upstairs to sort your mail out.” They used to post mail to all – that was on a Thursday and they’d post that to all over Australia, and then Friday night all the operators of the telephones used to operate out of the markets. They had the use of
that through their own negotiations and they’d all report to where they were working. That was the Friday night. Of course it boosted the takings up a fair bit and then Saturday they’d come back after their job. They’d all come back to the hotel to get paid for the day and away they went. So I used to be full of a Saturday and the markets were closed, and I used to be full in the hotel, and the other places round the place were all empty. Of course
I used to cash their cheques for them, like the betting syndicate had paid for their service. They’d give me a foolscap full of envelopes full of cheques. One week I’d bank them all, clear the money and then pay them the following Friday. It was so lucrative the taxation department got onto them and I had to go and front the quiz room down at the taxation department on two occasions.
They said, “Who are they?” I said, “I don’t know their names.” “Don’t tell me you cash cheques for people you don’t know?” I said, “Well I cash them, bank them, clear the money and then I give it to them.” I said, “All I was interested in was how many drinks they were buying. I wasn’t interested in anything about them.” I wouldn’t tell them how they were. I knew who they were but I wouldn’t let onto them.
must have seen a lot of ex-servicemen coming in for a drink?
Oh yes, Anzac Day most of the regiment – you’re supposed to open at 12 o’clock on Anzac Day. All right, you could get a drink at The Rawson Hotel at six o’clock. Then after that I’d say, “I’m going out for the day,” and I used to go. They all know. The staff knew where I was going and they all behaved. Anyway,
one particular day a bloke across the road potted me to the 21 Squad and they were waiting outside the door for me to open the doors. Anyway, I knew they were out there and I didn’t open, and the fella opened before me across the road. So then I thought, “He’s opening. I’m opening.” They weren’t worried about that and they come in, and pinched me. I said, “I thought you could open at quarter to 12.” I said, “I thought I was running late.”
Anyway, it was Sergeant Walsh of the 21 Squad and I had to go and front Liverpool Street Court. He got up and said, “He opened at quarter to 12!” I said, “He’s a liar! I did not!” Anyway, I got fined ten pound plus court costs, pay before you leave.
Was alcoholism or the over indulgence in alcohol a problem in ex-servicemen?
I don’t think so. I probably looked at it in a different light. I was accustomed to people coming in to drink but then again anybody that had had sufficient, they wouldn’t get any more service because under the Liquor Act you were allowed to refuse to serve anybody. You don’t have to give them a reason or anything at all and also if you serve a drunk, you’re
liable for prosecution. I used to patrol around that hotel all day long, every day and watch the service, and everything else. Anyone that misbehaved I’d tell them to go and if they didn’t, I’d throw them out. The staff knew their situation. I stood by the staff. Whatever they said, was law and that way by enforcing the regulations, and keeping it right, my trade built up because
other pubs they’d go into – I wouldn’t allow anybody to hawk things around. In those days there would be a hell of a lot of hawkers and so forth. If you wanted a match, go and buy a box.
the hotel experience, it broadened my outlook tremendously, and I think the fact of my army experience helped me in the hotel business because I had learned to deal with men, size them up. I remember one time on a troop ship, we were going around and we used to play cards a lot to while away the time. I got to the stage I was dreaming, “He’s worth a King, not he’s only a Two and he’s an Ace,” and all this kind of business. I ended up stopping playing cards for a while because
it was getting me down. But the experience with the men in the army and the types I think was a good education for the hotel business.
very wobbly on my feet, mainly through that stroke on the brain but at the same time I can’t bend down. I can’t bend down to tie up my shoelace or take my shoes off. I’ve got to use a stool to lift my foot up and then I’ve got to drag my leg up to put it on the stool to be able to undo my shoes. But you learn to live with it and you make provisions. You know you can’t do this, so you do something else.
It’s no good saying I can’t do this because I’ve got this or that, you’ll soon fall by the wayside.
How important has it been for you to maintain contact with your mates?
It’s a funny thing about the army and things, you form a different bond with people out of the unit, different than what you would by going to work somewhere. Now you could be working in a big firm. You could be working with a half a dozen people. You wouldn’t be as friendly with them as what you would be with half a dozen fellas you knew in a unit. It’s a different sort of friendship.
It’s a different sense of bonding. You rely on them more than you would on the others and you learnt to trust them, and know their weakness, and their strengths. You don’t go around with your eyes closed. You do it subconsciously. You sum them all up and know what they’re worth, and what they’re like, and whether you can rely on them or not. That’s how it goes.
How important is Anzac Day to you?
It’s a form of meeting place. We hold ours every year. All right when I was in the country hotels I never attended but I couldn’t. Down here all right, I endeavour to make it every year. I can’t march. I can’t physically walk around that’s all but I go to where we have our function. We used to have it – to start off the
first one I think we had at ‘Paddington Town Hall’ and that was a drunken orgy but nowadays we have a couple of orange juices. Up until three or four years ago we used to have it at the Graphic Arts [Hotel]. We were debating about the fact that we were all having trouble climbing the stairs. Anyway, they settled it for us. They went bankrupt and they closed their place down in Regent
Street, and they had to amalgamate with somebody out at Botany. Of course then we had to find another place and we found the Town and Country Comfort Hotel in Sydney, in George Street there on the corner of George and Quay Street I think. We’ve been going there for the last four years. It’s cost us a lot more money. It’s a different set up all together. The other one, we had draught
beer. This place is little stubbies of beer and imported stuff, and all that kind of business. In fact we had a meeting recently about the fact that we’ve had to put the price of our ticket up. Last time we had about 78 or 80 people there. Half of those were visitors. Chaps would bring along their nephews or sons, or whoever it might be and they were drinking us
out of house and home. We ended up the last Anzac Day, apart from donations of about 1,800 dollars, we had to pay 20 dollars a ticket for the tickets, we ended up losing about 3,000 dollars on the day because we weren’t doing the drinking, the visitors were. The wine bill alone was 800 dollars. Apart from the grog it was about 2,500 dollars and we lost money. So we’ve never
put the ticket up for many years, 20 dollars for the whole day and drink what you like, eat what you like the whole time. We’ve had to put the tickets up to about 30 dollars for our men and we’re going to charge the visitors not the same price as we charge our own members now. We’re going to charge them 45 dollars. If they don’t come we won’t lose them. After all the Anzac Day is for our own unit members, not the visitors.
back to New Guinea for short periods. They finished the war in ’45 in New Guinea up around Aitape. Many say it was unnecessary. The Japs could have been weathered away on the fine but that’s how it happened. They fought – they went to the Middle East, in Greece, Crete. A couple of battalions got wiped
out completely in Crete. It was the 2/1st Battalion and the 2/11th Battalion. They got capture there because they ran out of food and ammunition, and they had to surrender. They reformed the whole of those units, reformed and rebuilt in Khassa in Palestine. All right, we went to Ceylon. There wasn’t any real fighting or anything like that there. We came home
to Australia, so the 2/5th Battalion and the 2/3rd Battalion fought all the King’s enemies; the Italians, the Germans, the Vichy French, and then back home in Australia the Japanese. They didn’t receive the recognition that they should have deserved. If you examine the amount of medals and decorations they got, it was nowhere near
as much as the other divisions. The 9th Div seemed to be the only division that was ever there. One of my brothers was in it. He was part of the 7th Div and they took the whole 20th Brigade, and put them in the 9th Div. Of course I often used to say to him, “We won it, but you blokes lost it.” It was only friendly banter between us but that’s how it went on. That’s how
I personally and I think a lot of other 6th Division feel the same. We weren’t looking for any decorations personally but it didn’t seem they gave the 6th Division the accolades they should have.