And these are very important, because if you get one of these, you can get free tuition at any primary, any public or private school in Victoria.” That was very important because high school charged fees in those days, and you had to be. Very few people went onto high school, because they couldn’t afford it. Well I went to this
examination, and low and behold I got one of these 50. It was the first time ever that anyone from that school had got such a scholarship. And it was great credit to the school. So then I had a decision to make. Where I would go to take out this scholarship.
I could have gone to Wesley or Scotch, or one of those public schools. But in the end I elected to go a high school. Are you a Victorian? No. I elected to go to the University High School. Now that was the top high school in Victoria, and it had some very good teachers, very good.
And so I had four years at this high school. And I had no trouble in getting through Intermediate and Leaving, Leaving Certificate. And Matriculation. That was important in those days. If you were going to the university you had to matriculate. And you had to sign the matriculation roll. And
pay your two guineas. Now this was a problem that I had immediately, because I didn’t have two guineas. My family I didn’t like to say, “Give me two guineas.” That was a lot of money. So I mentioned this to our minister, who was a wonderful man. He said, “Look here Rupert,” he said, “I think you’ve got a future ahead of you, I’ll pay the two guineas.” And there and then he paid the two guineas
for my Matriculation Certificate, which was wonderful. And at the end of four years at the University High School I was awarded a university scholarship. But again I had a particular problem. I had been living on the family for four years, in the Depression years, going to high school. And I thought, “Well I can’t
live on my family for another four years while I’m at the university. “What’ll I do?” So it just happened at that time, I received an invitation from the Victorian Education Department, to take up teaching. So there was no question about it, I had to take the teaching offer because it paid me a hundred and four pounds a year.
Two pounds a week. Now that was a fortune. So I said, “Yes, I’ll go teaching.” And that was a big decision to make in my lifestyle. So I had two years teaching as a student with other teachers, and then I was awarded a scholarship to the teachers college, so that I could
undertake a year of training in rural school teaching, which was another very interesting year that I had. And at the end of that time I passed that with great honours, and so I was sent out to one-teacher schools in Victoria. Now that is I had to go to a small school, perhaps 12 children, and I was the only
teacher, and I had to organise the school in different grades and teach these children. Probably the best years of my life when I was teaching out in those country schools. And I enjoyed it, and they enjoyed it too. I suppose one of the most interesting periods was when they took me home to the farm at weekends. And they thoroughly enjoyed the occasion
when they taught me to milk a cow. That was something new in my lifestyle, but that’s the sort of thing that went on very well. And in this meantime, I was picking up the odd subject on an arts course. Doing it myself, at night, and paying my own way. I picked up three or four subjects and
I was doing so well that the department then picked me up and sent me to secondary teaching. So I was shot off to high school, to teach in high schools. And it so happened that in 1939,1940, I was teaching at Box Hill High School. And then the war broke out, and that was
another big change in my lifestyle. Because I had to yes, make a big decision about war. And the staff, teachers staffroom, was a place where they were discussing the war, and many of these teachers were teachers from World War I. And when that war broke out in
1939, there wasn’t much doing for a while because it was a phoney war, not much war. And then when Hitler invaded the Low Countries and attacked France, and threatened to attack Britain, that is when the feeling in
Melbourne increased. There was patriotism everywhere. A great feeling that we should help the Mother Country. And then places like, well at school, the bugles of England were blowing all the sea. The Bugles of England and how could I stay. That sort of feeling went. And if you went past the Melbourne
Town Hall. It would be full with concerts. Patriotic concerts. And you couldn’t resist joining up as it were. So when 1940, I told the education department I was joining up. And
they didn’t have any say in it. Just went in joining up period. And that meant 1940 I was joining up. And that meant that I had to go through all the procedure. That procedure was all a bit complicated I suppose. You had to go through the medical examination and you had to
sign this and sign that. On the medical side, you were given what was called a ‘dead meat ticket’[identity disc]. That was something that you had to wear around your neck the whole of your period in the army. So that if you were killed, they’d look at this dead meat ticket it was called, and it had you name and your religion
and your blood group and a few other things on this ticket. On this, that you wore around your neck at all times. So you got that. Then you were sent to a place called Royal Park, which was a military establishment for training. And I didn’t know anything about the army. I’d never been in the militia.
I had no idea. So I was sent to this training camp for training. And there were two basic things that you had to learn. One was the rifle, and the other was the bayonet. And with the rifle you had to take it to bits, you had to put it together and you had to put it over your shoulders. And then they took you to the rifle
range. And they gave you one bullet. And they put the bullet in, and you had a shot at the rifle range to see how you were going. We had a old Scots sergeant major there. He didn’t think much of us at all. He said, “Oh, just as well it wasn’t the enemy.” He didn’t say that. Well anyway we then went back and we got the bayonet.
And there was a model, in straw, down there and you had to run down and put the bayonet through this model. And the sergeant major was horrified. He said, “You girls will never kill anybody.” “Let me give you a demonstration.” And he went down and he was shouting and screaming and he gave us a demonstration of how you’ve got to put a bayonet through
somebody. Well we learnt that. And then they decided, in the army’s funny way, how they were going to sort all these people out. So they had a procedure, which said, “Look, tallest on the right, shortest on the left, form a line.” And they said, “Right, here to here, you’re in the infantry, here to here,
you’re in ack-ack [anti-aircraft]. Here to here, you’re in something or other.” And then he got a message. “I’ve got a message here,” he said. “They’re very short of staff at the hospital at Puckapunyal, so you 12 people over there, get your gear, and get in that bus, and you’re going to Puckapunyal.” So before knew where we were, we were at the hospital at Puckapunyal. At the 4th
Australian General Hospital. And we were training to be nurses, incredible as it may seem. We were under supervision of the nurse. We learnt how to make beds and how to give injections and all sorts of things that nurses have to know. We had to learn that. And before long
we got a CO [commanding officer]. The CO of the hospital was a gynaecologist by the way. As it may seem. He was a wonderful CO, as it turned out. Before we knew where we are, they called us up and said, “Look, we’re going overseas.” “So say goodbye to your parents and we’re going very soon.” And before
we knew where we were, we were in a train going down to Port Melbourne, and we were getting on a ship called the Mauritania. A big handsome ship it was. And it hadn’t been at all altered from its normal running, so that when we got on the Mauritania we had first class material. The best of china and cutlery, the best
of places to sleep. The Mauritania was a very big ship, an important ship. And we thought, “Oh well this is very nice way to go to war.” And we went down and through the heads. And when we went through the heads in Victoria we picked up then a whole convoy of big ships. The Awatia, the Aquitania,
various other ones. And also we had the Canberra regardless. So then we were going out, and the first night out the Captain called us up and said, “Look,” he said, “There are two very important things you must remember.” “Don’t throw anything overboard because that will be a track for the submarines, and there’ll
be no lights after dark.” “If you want to smoke go down stairs to your cabin. But you mustn’t show any lights upstairs. They could give a clue to a submarine.” Well we thought this was all very well, that’s very nice. So we had about four days at sea, and then we pulled into Fremantle for a day and picked up some
New Zealanders. It was very impressive. The New Zealanders were on a ship called the Awatere, and as we left Fremantle they were singing, “Now is the hour,” and they were going over. And we were singing, I forget now what we were singing, but we didn’t have anything like that. Probably Waltzing Matilda or something.
Now is the Hour was a tremendous thing, flowing across the water. Anyway, we then had a big convoy and away we went across the Indian Ocean. And before long we were at Colombo. And our ship, the Mauritania, could go into the harbour. Some of the other big ships had to go around to another
port, because they couldn’t get into the harbour. We were lucky, or I was lucky. We had a few hours off and a few. We got off the ship, and low and behold we were picked up by a boy. And I don’t mean, I mean one of the master’s lads was called a boy. And he took us
home to his master’s place. His master happened to be the harbourmaster. And the harbourmaster looked after us four very well. Said, “What do you want, a bath?” “Well you can have a bath in there.” “Come and have some good meal, and then I’ll take you around and show you Colombo.” He took us in the car and showed us all around Colombo, and it was a quite a
day before we got back. But we didn’t get back on the Mauritania. We changed ship to a smaller ship. The small ship that was called the Nevasa. And it was a dirty old tub that had been used by families for years, transporting them from the Middle East to the Far East.
And it was a terribly dirty tub. Oh dear, cockroaches in the porridge and that sort of thing. It was filthy. But we put up with that for a few days until we got to the Middle East. And there, suddenly, there was a sign, a symbol, the sound, action stations. We were
likely to be attacked by enemy aircraft, so we had to assemble in the, what was a big mess room. And we waited there in the dark. We heard some guns going off, but we waited and waited. And then all was clear, we raced up on deck and we saw one ship was ablaze further
on, but nothing for us. The rumour was that the Germans had laid mines in the Suez Canal, so we couldn’t go up the canal. It meant we had to get off the ship and get onto a dirty old train. And it was filthy. And that took us around to Cairo. Do you know this area at all?
I’ve got a map there. I can show you where we went to. To Cairo, and then we were taken over to a place where they were building a tented hospital. It was a out from Cairo, at a place called El Kantara, and we settled down into
this tented hospital, out in the sands. It was pretty filthy out there in the desert. And we were warned about the Arabs, and only too soon, because they were very clever. You know when you have a tent and you have a line in the middle of the tent on which you put your clothes. Well until
we realised it, the Arabs would come along at night. One would undo one end, the other would undo the other. They’d keep on walking and walk away with everything that was on the line. So we soon learnt how to be careful of the Arabs. While we were waiting there, events were happening up the African
Coast. That was the time when the 6th Division were attacking the Arabs in this area. And they were moving fast, and getting thousands of Arab prisoners. But the 6th Division had gone up through places called Derna and Tobruk, and right up the coast towards Benghazi. And they
had captured a lot of Arab prisoners, incredible. By the time they got to Benghazi they had established a hospital, the 2/7 Field ambulance I think it was, established a hospital and waiting for us. So the CO said, “Well we are going to get on a little ship, and go up
as far as Tobruk. And that will only take us a couple of days. So we went down to the Alexandria and got on this, another dirty little tub. It was called The Knight of Malta. It was a little ferry boat that had in peacetime, ran between Malta and some of the Italian ports. So we, four hundred of
us. There were no sisters. Four hundred of us got on this ship, and oh, it was terrible. We had to get down in the holds, and it was fifthly. And we set off and ran into a terrific storm. The ship went this way and that way and up there and down there. The water came over the thing. It was terrible for two days and two nights. We were
absolutely at a loss. And suddenly one morning there was a grinding sound, and the ship had run aground. The ferry had run aground. And it was tilting over. And the captain a, very light pistol to see where we were. And we were about 400 yards from the shore.
And the ship was hard fast, so then he gave the order, “Abandon Ship.” So we had then to get over as best we could. He said, “Get over and get to the shore as best you can.” And so there was no ship and no lifeboats on that side. But everything was being tossed
overboard. So we went overboard, and made our way as best we could to this little sandy cove. And low and behold we all got ashore safely. But then the problem arose, “Where were we?” We had no maps. The CO had no maps. He couldn’t tell us. We had
a light breakfast from our little rations that we always carried. And the cooks, bless their soul, were able to light a little fire and give us a cup of tea. So then the CO said, “Well look,” he said, “I think there is a road that Mussolini built out there beyond the desert, up and down.” He said, “We will
have to find that road.” “So I suggest that we break up into groups of ten or twelve, and walk as best we can over towards that side in the hope that we will pick up the road.” So we walked all day, about six hours, and suddenly we saw this road. And the CO in his wisdom said, “Look, get down.”
“Don’t move until we decide whether the vehicle coming is one of theirs or ours.” Because at that stage the war was going up and down. Fortunately it was one of ours, well it was a British wagon, and we got them in tow. We went back to a place called Bardia. Before that we had to leave a guard on the
ship. We left a group of people there to look after the ship. We went to Bardia and had a rest, clean up. And I always remember, the Padre gave a thanksgiving service for our rescue, and say that we came good, through that service. And then, he said, I remember this, he said,
“Now you must not tell in your writing home any reference to this event, because it will be cut out by the censors.” He said, “If you want to say anything to your parents, tell them to get the Bible down and to read the 27th chapter of Acts.” He said, “That was the event of Paul. Now Paul had the same sort of shipwreck in that period.
And if they take their Bible and read about the shipwreck of Saint Paul, they might get some idea of what we went through.” Well the parents then were a little bit worried because their men had never been used to reading the Bible. And for then to write back home and say “Get down and read the Bible” we thought was a terrible effort. Anyway we went back to the ship,
in a day or two, and the engineers had built a road and a causeway. And with various pieces of timber they had made a track through to the boat. The boat by this time had come close to the shore. And we got back into the ship to get our belongings. And
we got our belongings and we got a few souvenirs. I got a very valuable one. I’ll show it to you later on. I’ve still have it. In the captains cabin I found the Very light pistol that he used when he fired over to the shore. And I souvenired this, and I still have it. I’ll show you later on. But then we
had to get moving again. And so the CO arranged with trucks and ambulances and anything else that we could get on board, and go up the coast. We went through to Tobruk and through Derna and various places until we reached this Benghazi. And there we found the, a few nurses had gone up there by ship, and we found
a little hospital, still operating. So we took it over, the place called Barce. We took over the hospital and got moving. Meanwhile the 6th div had been over passed Benghazi. But this was a time when the Grecian campaign started, and the troops were evacuated across to
Greece. However, we didn’t take much notice of that. Our troops, the 7th Div, moved on past Benghazi. And all was going well until suddenly one morning the DDMS [Deputy Director of Medical Services], that’s the officer in charge of medical things said first in, “Look you’ve no right to
be here, the Germans are coming.” “Pack up and get out as fast as you can, and get back to Tobruk.” Well that was all very nice. We had to leave our goods behind us and get in the truck, and make our way back to Tobruk. And that was about a day and a half. But it was a tremendous exciting,
not exciting so much, as dangerous, because while we were going back to Tobruk, we could see the Germans out in the sand, about several miles out. They were also going towards Tobruk. And they were very clever. They got ahead of us at one stage. And they got hold of a uniform of a British
MP [Military police] and stripped off. And put one of their people in this uniform. And at a certain point on the way back, this German, in this British uniform, was directing traffic down a dead end. And that meant that he was able to get two Generals,
and a lot of troops, goods and what not. We were lucky. We went the other way, and didn’t get caught. But the others did. So we got back to Tobruk, and then we had to see that the other troops that were coming in were taking over old
Italian forts and slit trenches and what not. We had to push through, and low and behold we found a hospital there was being run by the sisters. So we made ourselves into that hospital and helped. And that was going pretty well for a couple of days while the fortifications
were being set up. And then the message came through, “it’s too dangerous for the nurses, the nurses have got to go.” So the nurses that night were evacuated on a hospital ship back to Alexandria. And the CO called us up and said, “Look chaps, we’ve got a hospital there. 600 patients. We’ve got no nurses.”
“You’ve got to act as nurses.” “Go to it.” He said, “We’ll look after you, the medicos will look after you.” So there and then we suddenly found ourselves in charge of a ward, with the help of a medico. And that was alright for a day or so, and then one
morning when I was in a ward, suddenly the Germans bombed it. Bombed the hospital and various wards that I was in. I suddenly put a dish over my head, but there were about half a dozen bombs fell on that ward. The medico in charge of the ward was
shot to pieces immediately. We lost two of our staff and about 40 patients, all killed. And down at the wharf where we had another tented hospital. It was shot to pieces by machines guns. Lost a lot of patients and a couple of staff. And one of our favourite Medicos, who was an ophthalmologist,
tried to run about 20 yards into a slit trench, but he didn’t make it. He got cut to pieces. And so we then had to sort out this terrible mess. Some of those that were wounded we were able to send off to another section. Then we had to arrange to collect all the dead.
That’s when this dead meat ticket became valuable. We knew who they were. Made a list of those. And they had to be put on stretchers, and got prepared for the trip out to the cemetery. And we had to bury those. And this was a beginning of a terrible event. This was
in April, and we were there until October. And in that time we had a thousand air raids. We lost several wards at different times. But we had to learn to live with air raids. Night and day, particularly at night. And various events took place in that period,
I’m writing about it at the present time. But it was an incredible period. This is when the Germans set the siege for Tobruk. They wouldn’t let anybody out, and we couldn’t get them in, so the siege sat like that for the next eight months.
him Lord Haw Haw. This was William Joyce. William Joyce was an Englishman who had gone over to the Germans, and in the German radio he set up all the information about the war. It wasn’t accurate, but at least it was something about the war. And we called him
Lord Haw Haw [German propagandist], because he called us ‘The Rats’. He said, “Come on out of those holes you rats, we’re coming to get you tonight.” And he kept calling us ‘The rats’. And we didn’t mind, because we thought well it is a very good acronym, ‘The rats’. So we called ourselves ‘The rats’ and we’re quite proud of it. And this went around the world then as the Rats of Tobruk.
Well there were many events took place in that eight months. One of the interesting problems was that how were we going to get the wounded patients that needed care, back to Alexandria. Of course we tried the hospital ship first of all, but the Germans bombed the hospital ship. So we couldn’t used the hospital ship and we couldn’t use any
ship in the harbour. Tobruk harbour was a very good harbour. We couldn’t get any ship in the harbour in the daylight. So the navy came to the rescue. Fortunately while we didn’t have aircraft we had a very good navy. The Germans had no navy that they could use. So the navy worked out a scheme. They would use destroyers. And they would have a destroyer at
Alexandria, and it would sail up very fast in daylight, up to the Egyptian border. And in that period they would have protection from our Hurricanes. Our Hurricanes (UNCLEAR) and that was very good. And when the dark came they had to leave the protection of the Hurricanes, and go as fast as they could at the harbour of Tobruk.
And when they got to the harbour, they would drop the anchor. And on one side of the ship would be offloaded stores, ammunition, reinforcements, all the rest of it. On the other side of the ship would be taken on all the wounded. The captain would be looking at his watch, and at a certain time he would give the signal and up with
the anchor, and away the destroyer would go. It would have to get back to the border in time, at daylight, in order to get the protection from the Hurricanes [fighter aircraft]. And they used this technique all that period. We only lost one destroyer. We lost a few little ships, but by and large that was the way in which they carried the destroyer, carried the
wounded back to Alexandria. A wonderful job by the navy. That was a very, very important part of the proceedings, and of course they were able to bring in food and supplies. We had to remember we had no food
available in Tobruk, except tins of fruit and tins of meat and so on. But we had to rely on the navy to bring us in food from time to time. That was very important. The other important part that the navy played, was
in giving us protection from the Germans when the Germans were bombing the harbour, they had their very best Stuka [German dive bombers] pilots, and they were very good pilots. They were so good, that if there was a ship in the harbour, they could dive down and drop a bomb down the funnel. They were so good.
But there were a lot of ships of various kinds that didn’t make it, and they were left in the harbour. One of the ships that was left in the harbour was called the Ladybird, which was sunk, but left over about half of it was out of water, and it remained as
an aircraft signal. One of the problems that we had in the hospital from time to time, was when a ship was bombed in the harbour and all the crew came ashore, swam ashore, covered in oil. And then they had to be taken to the hospital and treated, with getting rid of all the oil. That was a terrible
job. We were lucky that we had some very good surgeons in the hospital, and they were able to keep things going. One of the ways in which they sorted out the people. I had a knowledge of German in my educational career, and so
I was put in charge of a ward of German wounded. And the medico who came along, Dr Ley, would give instructions and I could translate this to him for these Germans. Now the Germans themselves were very good, very interesting people.
I got to know them quite well. And at night time, for example, they would sing their songs and sing their hymns. And I got to know some of these. Well they were part of our own hymns were hymns like Nun Talla Alla Got; Now Thank We All Are God. And I would get
to know these hymns. Ein vestor Boog est Ein Shagot; A Strong Fortress is Our God. I got to know these, and a number of their German songs, and this was quite good. I appreciated it, and they appreciated it I think. They weren’t the wicked Germans. At least most of them weren’t, there were a few. There was one I recall
who was a blonde German, but he was burnt, incredibly most of him. He had been caught in a tank, but before he died he Hailed Hitler. That sort of thing. I suppose what kept the Germans at bay for the first time, was the initiative
of the Australian troops. Different altogether from the Germans. For example, when the Luftwaffe [German air force] had a technique called the ‘Blitzkrieg’ [lightning war], and that was their method of fighting all through Europe. The bombers would come in and bomb an area first of all, and then the tanks would
come in, follow that. And after the tanks, their infantry would follow, but the infantry by this stage had not much to do. Well this is a technique that they used against the Australians on the perimeter, on the border. And the bombing went on. The Australian troops, by this time, had long slit
trenches. And then came the tanks, and the Australian troops let the tanks go over. And when the tanks had gone, they got up with their bayonets, and fixed these German infantry. The German infantry had never seen anything like this before, and they turned and fled. And what about the tanks? Well the Germans had 330 tanks
to our 30. And there was a time when they were able to get through 30 tanks, and we were really in trouble, because we had no anti-tank guns of any sort. Our anti-tank guns were so miserable that they would bounce off the German armour. But when they had got through
to what they call the ‘Blue Line’, the 2/12 field regiment of twenty-five pounder’s [field guns], simply lowered their sights. They weren’t used to firing twenty-five pounder’s. But they lowered their sights, and fired twenty-five pounders, and blew 30 tanks to pieces. That was their initiative you see. This was an idea that they had. Some of
the other Australians, when they were seeing tanks up the other side of the boundary, used all sorts of techniques. For example, they could put an iron bar in the trailer underneath, and stop a car. Of course some of the more adventurous people
would climb up a tank, open the hatch, and drop a hand grenade down into it. Disabled everybody in the tank. These were showing the initiative of the Australian troops that the Germans didn’t have. Germans had to obey orders, and they didn’t have any initiative for doing something themselves.
And that really made the big difference between the two armies. This, I tell you, this doctor that I worked with in the German ward, and later on I was working with him in the theatre. He was quite a character, and I got to know him very well.
There was one occasion, for example, when we were in the theatre and he said to me, “Rupert,” he said, “I think this is coming fairly close, we’d better get down.” And he and I flattened ourselves on the floor, underneath the table. “Don’t worry about him,” he said, “He won’t know.” So the poor bloke up there who was anaesthetised didn’t know a thing as to what was happening. We were lying flat on the floor. He said, “It’s gone now, so were are alright.”
So we got up again and went on with the operation. He was that sort of character. An another occasion, he was operating when the patient vomited all over him. So what did he do. Dropped off all the offending garments, continued the operation, wearing his tin hat and his gloves
and his boots. The sisters would never have appreciated it, but it did the job. Well this Dr Ley, anyway, I got to know him well after the war. And strangely enough he had a place up there in Townsville. He used to go. He lived on Magnetic Island.
He used to go over to Townsville every day and back again. I used to see him quite a lot, because my work at the university took me up the coast. But there came a sad day, when while he was waiting at the wharf at Magnetic island, a man in a car up there had a heart attack, and he came down onto the wharf, went along and knocked this fella into the water and killed him.
After all his experiences in the war, he finished up like that. That’s incredible. But that’s the sort of thing that happened. I’ve been writing about the different times.
POWs [prisoners of war] as they came in. But when I left the army, I should have gone back to teaching, but the commonwealth government took hold of me and said, “Just the man we want.” “We are going to set up a program in Melbourne,
of rehabilitating the wounded, the former wounded.” “So you will be the Educational Therapy Officer.” “You have to organise, in Melbourne, a program for the wounded, the blinded, the people who are incapacitated.” And I was
operating this for two years. But then the education department wanted me back. So they had an argument with the commonwealth, and eventually they took me back teaching. But they did the right thing in a way. They sent me back to the University High School as a teacher, and gave me
the opportunity then, of finishing my degrees. By going over to the University, getting my Arts Degree, getting my Diploma of Education, my Master of Education. I’d had the opportunity of doing all of these degrees while I was teaching at the University High. And the Professor of Education, Professor George Brown, was very good to me. He said, “Look Rupert,” he said,
“There’s an opportunity for a scholarship going at the Australian National University in Canberra.” “It’s the first one that any of the ex-service people have had, so I am nominating you for such a scholarship.” Again, low and behold, I was awarded the first PhD [Doctor of Philosophy] scholarship to the ANU [Australian National University] in Canberra. And so
we were married by that time. We had to pack up and go to Canberra, and live there for three years, and get a PhD. And that set me on the academic world of, with eventually, I finished up of the University of Queensland. Again with a similar sort of experience
because I was appointed to the external studies department, which in those days was very large, and it covered all of those students who were in the country and who couldn’t get to the university. And I would give them notes, all the rest of it. And we had 400 students in New Guinea at that time. I’d go to New Guinea.
And this for the rehabilitation work with the external studies department was a very big feature in my life. Anyway, will I go on from there?
1930, when I went there, was the first year of the new school. And the teachers were very good. Now I was lucky that I had such wonderful teachers, especially in English. I’ll tell you if you’ve got a minute, I’ll tell you.
Right, I was speaking about the University High School. And what a wonderful English teacher we had. Dear old soul, I can see her now. She introduced us to Macbeth. And we were only the first year there. There
would only have been about 15. Macbeth, it didn’t mean a thing to us. So she said, “We are going to have your first lesson on Macbeth.” And you had it arranged for one lad to pull down the blinds. We had blinds in that room. Another one to flick the light on; that was lightening. And somebody at the back was running a thing for the thunder. And then she
took the green cloth off the table. On the front we had a little table with a green cloth. And she put this over her head. And she came in. I can see her now, a shrill voice, “When shall we three meet again?” “In thunder, lightening or in rain.” And then we went through those ten lines of Macbeth, “Fair is fair and foul, is foul, hover through the fog and
the filthy air.” And we were just gaping at this. And then she started on Macbeth. On the story of what all this meant. But gee, it was a wonderful introduction. You can imagine it. And she was, kept us really interested for so long. And Macbeth is my favourite of Shakespeare. And I know whole streams of Macbeth, I could recite to you at great length.
And then we got into Hamlet, and that was also very good. But she was a wonderful teacher introducing you to Macbeth. But there were other aspects, other poems and poets, and there were some other teachers I had there. English teachers stand out for their wonderful
ability to convey to you the ideas behind poetry. It was very, very good. The other parts of the university high, of course you had four years there, and they were very good. Again you had things to learn and things to understand.
You learnt a little bit of French. A bit more German, and a little bit of science. You had to take some science, in order to matriculate and some mathematics. I think I took geology as a science. And I’ve got the certificate in there. You had to sign the roll and get
the certificate, before you could embark on any courses. So that it was very selective in those days, if you are going to the university. But it was a very good school, and I was very lucky to be in picking the University High School, for no reason. Well for one reason I had previously
sat for the entrance exam. You had to have an entrance exam, and I had an entrance exam, and then I didn’t have to pay any fees. You see every high school you had to pay fees, every quarter, unless you were on scholarship. This other, this scholarship that I won, I could have gone to Wesley or Scotch or any of those. But then there would have been other extras I couldn’t afford. So I decided to go
to the high school. And I did the right thing I think, in making that decision. But again I was going back. I was very lucky in the primary school, having a such a good grounding. See in those days, this, going back briefly. This teacher was so good. Well you had to. We only
had one teacher you see. Right, you had English, you had spelling, you had dictation, you had other English courses. And then you had arithmetic, and all those things. Everyone of those was important, and every one you had to,
you had to do well in. And he was a very good teacher. I suppose there was no suggestion in those days that you should have a course in driver education or something else education. You had to learn the basics, and they were there. And they stood you in good stead. And I can see the reason for them having been taught in primary school.
Things like dictation and grammar and composition. Now when I go through, in these books that I am reading, I go through and mark the mistakes. I’ll show you a book later on. Someone wrote a book on the ‘My Diary of Tobruk’.
But in big print it’s printed, ‘My Dairy in Tobruk’. And you wouldn’t believe that possible. My Dairy in Tobruk. But I’m always going through marking ‘i, t, and apostrophe s. All the mistakes that printers don’t even pick up. I can show you later on. It’s so important to have the grammatical side well.
Now one of the books that I had previously printed. Wyn and I went through, and sent it off to the printers. And it went through the system. When it came back, we went through it again, and there were a thousand errors, a thousand errors incredible as it may seem. So I’m
very, very keen on grammatical literature, English, that was my field. And I have every high regards for those teachers that gave me that grounding.
take records of them and move them out to the cemetery. Others that were, we had to of course reorganise the ward. Take away all the beds and so on, that were dissembled, and get new beds in from other wards, and start again. We
had lost one of our senior medical officers, and had to get another medical officer to take over from him. We’d lost two of our orderly’s. We had to get two more staff in. Re-staff the hospital. And down at the beach hospital, which was part of the hospital, we lost a lot of people down there. A lot of staff, a lot of patients. We had to get another
ophthalmologist. See this hospital, they were very lucky in a way, that because the hospital was cut off, it had all the facilities of a modern hospital. The x-ray, a pathology, dental. All of those departments were part of the hospital. And that was very important, because patients requiring this type of treatment had treatment
on the spot, before they went to surgery. So for example, the x-ray department was there. It could x-ray a patient coming in and see where the shrapnel was, mark it, and give it to the surgeon. And that saved a lot of time going to Alexandria. And the same, a very important was pathology. We had a lot
of problems with ticks and so on, in the wards. And they had left their mark on patients, and we had to take samples, blood samples, and send this to pathology, and they had to examine the pathology,
examine the blood samples, and send those back to the surgeons. And the same with dysentery. Samples had to be taken, and sent to the pathology, and then brought back to the surgeon or medico, so the treatment could be given straight away. So from that point of view it was a complete modern hospital, stuck in the middle of an air raid situation.
What was your feeling or attitude towards the bombing raids? Were you frightened?
Oh well I was pretty busy most of the time. I didn’t have time to do much. But we had a very interesting question. We had to, often have the discussion about what you should do when you hear an air raid coming. Should you take the optimistic view or pessimistic view, and say, “Well if my names on it, I’ll get it”?
Or should you take the obvious, and get a shelter and get out and protect yourself? Now I always took the view that as far as possible I would protect myself, and get away from the bomb. If there was a shelter handy, to get into the shelter. And did I tell you the story about my
comments to the CO? No, well that was a very interesting story, and in the end it appeared in all the major books. There was an occasion, one night, when there was a terrible air raid. An ambulance caught fire and had to be moved out of the square. There was stuff going up, there was stuff coming down. And I was standing behind the pillar and watching
all this coming and going. And there was, across the square, there was an air raid shelter. And I thought to myself, “Well it’s silly standing here. If there’s a chance of getting across the square into that shelter, you ought to take it.” So there came a time when there was a bit of a lull, and I set out across the square. And then I heard a loud voice saying, “Stop
running, that man.” I looked around, and there was the CO, up there, bald head, directing traffic. He didn’t have any fears at all. And I’m alleged to have said, as I turned my head, “It’s all right for you, you baldy headed old so and so, you’ve only got five years to live.” “I’ve got fifty,” and kept running. Well
he didn’t hold this against me. After the war he used to tell this story in the pubs around Melbourne, and shout a drink. But as it happened, well he only had five years to live, and I’ve had fifty.
it, or another shelter that’s got some of the surgeons in it. Or another one that’s got so and so.” He said, “Spread out, and its no use being around here, get out into the sand.” “Dig yourself an air raid shelter and stay in that, and keep it away from the hospital.” So everybody then
dug out little trenches all around the place. And those were, as I said, in that photo. You would dig a trench about four foot long and four foot wide. Sand bag it up, and then you would get a piece of tin from down in the city. Put that over the top and then put sand bags over that.
And then put some plants on top of that, so that it would be camouflaged. And then you would live in that hole. That’s why they called us ‘rats’. You would live in that hole all the time, until you were on duty. And one of the problems was that you had to be careful because of a lot of those holes had
ticks in them. There were little animals and things in them, and you had to be careful not to get bitten by a tick. But they served their purpose. Nobody got hurt, or hit, while living in those sand bagged pits. Occasionally
we’d have near misses. There’s one lad there. I’ve told his story. We had decided to give him a 21st birthday party for his birthday. And we had one of these trenches. We had two of them together, and covered over. And we were just getting
ready for this party when an air raid started. And bombs were falling all around the place, but nothing hit ours fortunately. But we did eventually have, and we had a hurricane lamp inside. And eventually we were able to have a birthday party, and above
all, wish him many happy returns. But occasionally when it was serious, they gave us a tot of rum. That was a small amount. A couple of nights running. So we kept, some of us kept the rum, and used it for priming the primer stove. See the primer stove was our
life blood there, because the stove in your dug out, you could light it and boil the primer stove, and make a cup of tea. So we were lucky, some of the people who had the rum, they snored their head off. I’ve got an account there of a kind of snores that you would
hear across the various pits of people who had taken their rum internally. And didn’t hear anything from them.
stations of the cross, and so on. We would be looking at those and having long arguments about. And buying up any books that had references to them. It was a wonderful education. But that didn’t last forever. There came a time in a few weeks after that, where we were
told to pack up, and go down to the wharf at Tel Aviv. And down to the wharf, to get ready for onward movement. And that’s when all the rumours began to start. “Where were we going?” And this is after the period of the Japanese invasion. We had just learnt the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor
and bombed Darwin. We were getting very excited. And when we were told we were going to get on board and go somewhere, then the rumours started; “Where were we going?” And we all hoped that we were going home. So eventually we got on board the ship. At least most of us. The
unit got on board the ship, which was taking them towards Colombo. I was a bit unlucky in a way that I and three others and the captain were put on board a little old ship called The Gogra, G.O.G.R.A. It was terrible. It was so slow; it couldn’t do more than eight knots. And it was so slow it didn’t join the convoy. The convoy
went on. And this was a terrible, one of the worst times of my years. We just didn’t know what was going to happen to us. And we were watching all the time we used to see occasional smoke in the distance. Occasionally we would see a wreckage of a ship we’d pass. And
when we had the medico with us. When he’d asked the captain, “What about some lifeboats on this thing, there’s no lifeboats?” And the old captain said, “Don’t you worry about lifeboats. If anything hits this ship, you go over the side and swim as far away from it as you can.” And then the captain said, “Look,” he said.
We were there to help the staff. It was a ship full of ammunition and armed troops. So he said, “I don’t see any field dressings on this ship.” And the captain said, he was a nice old English captain, “If anything hits this ship, you won’t need field dressings.” Anyway we went slowly, slowly. And eventually we made
Colombo. And we got into the harbour there, and it was incredible. That harbour was full of ships. You could walk from ship to ship to go ashore.
we all went back into the harbour, and it was an incredible sight. The Japanese had bombed the whole of the harbour front, and created havoc in that area. But they didn’t get any ships, because there were none there. And then the aircraft had come down from Bombay and they dealt severely
with the Japanese aircraft. Well then the problem was what to do with these ships. So they got to work and decided, against all rumours, that the next convoy would go to Australia. And away it
went. But about half way to Australia, the rumours said that we would go to Burma. So the convoy turned around. And as it happened, for various reasons beyond our knowledge, we went back to Colombo. And we disembarked at Colombo.
And we were taken off shore, taken off to a hospital. There was a hospital there, the 2/12th Hospital [2/12th Australian General Hospital]. But we were taken to an area where there was a school, and we took over the school, and established a hospital. And the rest of the convoy went off somewhere else. Didn’t go to Australia. Anyway we were
stuck in this school, and then the CO said, “Well look, we think the Japanese might invade Colombo.” “We’re going to establish a field dressing station along the coastline, at this point.” “And we want you, and you and you and you.” And I was one of the unlucky ones again. We got about twenty of us and he said, “You going up
to a place called Welasara.” It was a tea plantation. And he said, “You will prepare a field dressing station there, ready for any eventualities.” So we set up a field dressing station on this field, on this tea plantation. It was fascinating really. We saw the tea plantation was still at work. And there
was a mountain of tea there. And the women wogs were there, picking out the leaves, out this mountain of tea. Throwing it over board. And there was also a laboratory where these tea people were checking the tea, as it was made, to make sure that it was the right. You’ve seen these people
with wine testing. Well this was like tea testing. Anyway we were there for two months I suppose.
was a problem of helping the sisters when it came to turning a patient over. Some of them would be impossible for a nurse to do it, and they required some help. And turning a patient over, and washing him, and attending to bedsores and things like that. And they appreciated having a male to do that sort of work. The CO,
at this stage, was still very concerned when they decided to send a lot of his best, North, and to other areas. He insisted that they wouldn’t send important people. Now he said the important people that he had were in the wood heap. You
needed first class axeman, to do the chopping up of wood. See, at that stage, we didn’t have a lot of electricity. And there is a story I can tell you. We had coppers, and they had to be fed. And on one occasion we had a copper, which was used for the boiling of bedpans and things like that, to
sterilise them. And other copper was for tea. And there was an occasion one night, when a sister saw one of these troops, from a nearby camp, rushing in and helping himself to boiled water. But it was the wrong tank. Yes so we had to
use the best that we could. Well all of that slowed down after a while, as we beat the Jap’s back up north. Things down south became slower and slower. And they appointed me as Education Rehabilitation Officer, to attend to the needs
of people coming down and who would be discharged, and what they might do when they are discharged. And also to set up some education facilitates, to overcome the boredom that some troops and staff might have. And that was a big commitment. And we got a lot of help, and a lot of people sent south
after they had had some advice and treatment from us. But then there, moving quickly, that was the end of 1944. By then, the Japanese were well up in north, and being well beaten. It was decided to send the 2/4th up to Labuan.
And they were sent up there to set up a hospital, to meet the oncoming POWs.