sort of like a life arc if you like. On some introductory statements from yourself. Where you were born essentially, where you grew up, which school you attended, how you came to join the armed forces, what you did in the war, like in terms of where you travelled, and what you did in the post war period? If you can start from where you were born and move from there. That would be great.
Ok. Well I was born in east Melbourne in 1914, which was the start of the First World War. Although I wasn’t a war baby the war was proceeding when I was born. I lived in east Melbourne as far as I know, perhaps one or two years and I was a, my people were
Presbyterian and we were at a church there called Cairns Memorial and they used to attend there and that’s where I was christened but unfortunately that church was burned down several years ago and all the records were destroyed, so that finished that sort of chapter. My father was born on the land, actually, his father was a
woolgrower from up near Echuca and he lost the property and they came back to Melbourne where my father was working with a company called Goldsbrough Mort, a wool broker. And the reason they stayed on there, was actually to start up, his father, my grandfather, sent him down to learn the other side of wool growing.
That is the selling side. And he was getting on all right until the old chap lost his property, so they lost interest in him and sent him into the office where he sat at accountancy and became an accountant. Anyway whilst he was working there he bought a property in Gardenvale, a suburb of Melbourne, now part of Brighton,
which is a well known suburb and I was brought up there. I went there when I was four years old. And then I attended the local state school. It was at Elsternwick. I walked a mile or so everyday to school, there and back. There were no cars in those days of course, to transport students and we seemed to either walk or run or both to school and home each day.
and his wife Carmen, I think it was Carmen [Charmian Clift], Anyway, they were famous. We had several teachers who played league football, at the time Australian Rules, and an English teacher. He used to teach me building construction, he was a tutor, and he played for England. I played soccer one year, at the school.
Anyway at seventeen I started to play Australian Rules and I went to the local Brighton side, amateur side, and I played there for about nine years. In the meantime a depression had caught up. That’s the Great Depression as they called it and in thirty-two my father said “We can’t keep you at school any longer, you’d better start work.” So he was able to get me a job
where he was in Goldsbrough Mort, the wool brokers. I started as an office boy and at that time I started playing football, senior football, and that was my main interest. I loved football and I played cricket too. Ross Gregory used to play in the team I played for. He became a test cricketer. But I was just fill-in man.
You know, twelfth man type. But I enjoyed cricket too but mainly I enjoyed swimming and football I was quite a good swimmer. I finished up life saving. I got the bronze medallion for life saving in those days. I carried on. Life went along pretty well even though we didn’t have any money really.
We weren’t poor. But it was an interesting life and we made our own fun really. Anyway, war started up. The team I was playing for, Brighton, disbanded in 1939. In 1940 I went down to the Sandringham, theirs was still going in the association but I was playing with the amateurs. They had two sides in those days.
A professional side and an amateur side. But then I went away in June and that finished the football. I didn’t play again, which was a disappointment. I had a very interesting life. I don’t know what prompted me to join up but there was a funny story I can tell you. When war broke out and
Robert Menzies was Prime Minister; it was the 3rd of September 1939. It was a Sunday afternoon when he announced that we were at war. I was with a few mates. We were having a few drinks and we had all decided to join up so we wrote to the Minister for Air, I can’t think of his name now, you know offering our services
in the air force and we didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and then we got this beautiful letter written back saying that you know that they weren’t doing anything. Almost as though they hadn’t considered that there was a war on. Thanking us for our loyalty to Australia but that they let us know in due course. But of course nothing happened.
We just gave up then and went on with our business. You know, enjoying ourselves as much as we could. I think it might have been just before the fall of France that things got pretty serious overseas; getting pushed back, the services. I think then we decided it was getting
serious. But I suppose underneath it all it was just a feeling of there’s a chance to really get somewhere. Hoping we’d get overseas and really see the rest of the world. And you know it was like a spirit of adventure, a bit of loyalty and perhaps we were bored with our jobs. It’s hard to say. I joined up the
army in the finish with another chap. He’d also written to the air force on this day and we went through in the Caulfield Town Hall and we were called up sometime later. On the 24th June 1940 I was drafted into the services. Then we went
out to Royal Park. They had a camp there and, where the inductees went and then distributed all over the place to different units that were being formed. And I trained a bit there and then I went up to Bendigo and camped on the Bendigo Racecourse. And the old horse stores and the stray and anything and
a flu epidemic, something like this thing that’s going on now, though probably less serious, and it really struck everybody down. Everyone had sore throats, flu, but there were no injections or anything in those days. You just got over it the best you could. We had a good time in Bendigo. The local people looked after us fairly well. It was mainly
training, route marching and all that sort of thing and from then they started to really form the units. For instance I was transferred to the 2/22nd Battalion. The ‘Second’ [AIF – Australian Imperial Force] battalions were volunteers of course, they had what
you call a VX number and they could be sent anywhere in the world. I was with the 2/22nd Battalion and was transferred to a camp in Barley, which was just out from Bacchus Marsh in Melbourne, and we trained pretty intensively there. Still with very little equipment. Just a rifle and bayonet mainly.
All the mechanised stuff came along much later. Anyway I was due to go to the 2/22nd but fortunately I didn’t because the unit I eventually finished up with had already gone to the Middle East, they had quite a lot of casualties in the first siege of Tobruk
And they transferred me onto their list for reinforcements. So I, then I….
Because I had done a bit of sailing when I was a youngster, coming from Brighton, you know, it’s on the sea. A lot of those kids in those days learned to sail dinghies. You know, 14 foot dinghies. I got pretty professional. I thought I’d have a go at the navy. Not that that makes any difference, I found out afterward that half the navy couldn’t swim anyway so it didn’t make any difference.
No, I was drafted into the infantry actually. You didn’t have much choice. I can remember the strange things they used to do. There were twins with me. Can’t remember their name now. They were timber jinker drivers. You know, those big timber jinkers that used to pull logs down from the mountains.
They were most experienced, these two boys and they applied to actually, to go into the transport. And you would think they’d grab these two men because they had this special licence and they put them in the infantry and some fellow who had never driven a truck in his life was put in the transport. Another fellow that was with us had an A and B class flying licence and he was put into the infantry. He didn’t get into the air force.
It seemed strange to us but I suppose they wanted to train people their way rather than bringing in people who were already trained. Anyway, we were shipped off to the Middle East. I went from Melbourne to Sydney. Out in the harbour was the Queen Mary. She couldn’t come
under the bridge, too tall in the masts, so she stood out in the harbour. So we went out in barges and got on. Quite an experience it was about eighty-two, eighty-six thousand tons, the Queen Mary. It was one of the biggest ships that ever sailed.
carrying about thirty men, you know, and they’d all go and storm into the beach and get off on the sand and all that sort of training up round Cairns and Townsville. Now after all this training we were put on the [HMAS] Duntroon I think and we were shipped
to Milne Bay which had been taken by this time. The first time the Japanese had been halted actually. So they cleaned them up in Milne Bay. That was all in Allied hands. We got off there for a few days and we prepared to do a seaboard landing at Lae, which is further up the coast and this we
accomplished. It went off fairly well except we lost a lot of men unfortunately. Some Jap planes broke through the cover and bombed this landing craft. They were like a small destroyer. Had a ramp which you used to go down. Unfortunately they couldn’t get right into the shore line so sometimes you had to dive into about five foot of water
with a seventy pound pack on. It was a bit hard to manoeuvre. Anyway we seemed to get by. We were dragged out, but a strange thing happened. We still don’t know why. Two ships crossed over. And they crossed positions and this one that had crossed over got the bombs
We lost the colonel. We lost seven officers, two men wounded and about ten killed all in, just like that, and it took one company out of the assault. This was the first time we struck the Japs.
Yeah, he was a lieutenant, I think, and he was in the Middle East. And he got killed which prompted a Member of Parliament to say, “Well look, these men have been pushed into battle time and time again we have thousands of men at home who have never seen a shot fired.” The reason for that was you had to be a volunteer before they could send you away. These ones were in the militia.
The only militia who fought were in New Guinea and on the Kokoda Track and those places because New Guinea was under the protectorship of Australia you sea. It was an Australian Territory. But they started this five by two plan. If you had been in the army five years or if you had been overseas two years, home. Then it went down like married men with like fourteen kids and
then married men with no kids and then single and there was only thirty of us left.
So what was the 5th Battalion militia like?
Pretty good. We were actually called up in 1939. Which was interesting. We went down to Portsea, down on the peninsula at Port Phillip Bay there, digging holes and you know, gun emplacements and all sorts of things. I don’t know what they thought was going to happen but we done a lot of training there.
We wanted to join up as a unit. We were, you know, fairly well trained as training went in those days. They just didn’t want us so they picked one, they got the colonel, three officers, about two NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and about thirty ORs [Other Ranks]. That’s you know, ordinary. They formed the 2nd, no 5th Battalion and they
recruited into that and they went away in the first show with the 6th Division. That was in Greece and Crete.
fixed to the wings and they’d make a frightful scream. They’d put the wind up anybody. I don’t care who. They’d hear the scream and then the bombs would drop. Bombs come away, you know. We never got hit, you know, and then it got dark and of course they didn’t. It’s difficult to see but if the moon comes up
they can see the fire in the wake of the ship, you know because it’s belting along a bit and you know, the ship has a wake which is phosphorescent and at night when the moon’s up the planes could see this. That’s why we couldn’t go when the moon was up. Then into the harbour at Tobruk, which was full of sunken ships. I don’t
know how many they’d pull up at a wharf or an old sunken ship that they’d got a bit of a platform on and off you’d go down the side on a rope ladder and a barge would take you. And right on the tick of midnight she’d up anchor and out. It doesn’t matter who was on the dock. Procedure, you know. But some funny things
happened. I know when we pulled up; of course, we didn’t know where we were. We knew we were in Tobruk because the crew told us but an old Scottish Engineer, most engineers on ships were Scottish in those days and he started to blow out these flues. It was a diesel burner and all these sparks flew out and the captain blew
the tar out of him. Oh, you should have heard him come back at the captain. Cerik. The bloke could be in trouble and I said to one of the crew: “Gee, that’s no way to talk to the skipper.” He said “Oh God, he’s an old Scot and he’ll get away with it.”
Or Bomb Alley. There was a regimental sergeant major there. It was like a camp and he said, “You’ll have to sleep anywhere. Get yourself a hole somewhere.” which I didn’t. You wouldn’t read about it. That night he came along and dropped a five-hundred pound bomb in this valley. The German
air force. It woke me up and blew me out. I didn’t know where I was. All on my own, mind you. I thought: “God.” you know. It was like getting shoved on the moon. But anyway the next day I reported down to the sergeant and he said, “Oh, no you can’t go up in daylight.” He said,, “You were up on the salient.” Now that was the…Tobruk was defended by concrete.
Beautifully constructed concrete positions. The Italians had done it. It went from coast to coast and the township was in there. Previously the Germans had pushed in and we’d lost some of these posts so we had what was called a salient and we pushed in, further in and dug into the ground and no concrete positions had been and that was a real hotspot there. You were only about, at the nearest point
400 yards from the Germans, you know. So he said, “Tomorrow night, you’ll have to go up.” The units, they used to rest, and some would come out. A few blokes would come out for a swim and some would go back the next night.
platoons were in those days were in A company and they were in these dug out positions and to make matters worse you couldn’t dig down more than about…and you hit solid rock. The only way to get down further was with a hammer and chisel. And you know about that much every night and you know you’d get down about a foot a month digging in. It was horrible. So you used to build these
things up with sand bags and anything you could get hold of. You know, to get them deeper in effect. My first experience. We used to team up two fellows with a dougis[?], they called them and they were holes and if you could get a bit of protection over them they used to do that with a couple of old iron bars and some sand
bags stop shrapnel coming in. And they had one of these in this post. You know, there was almost thirty pillars there and they were all connected with a trench. And this was a sort of. I don’t know. It must have had a big gun in it of some sort. It was round, you know.
Ten or twelve feet in the old engine diameter. It was absolutely quiet and there was nothing at all. It was pitch black so this chap, I said, “I’m going to have a smoke.” and that’s when I started smoking cigarettes. I’m going to have a smoke so we went down to this hole having a smoke and the second
in command of the battalion came round on an inspection and he wasn’t challenged. He just walked into the post and we were going to be court martialled of course for not being on duty. My platoon commander talked me out of that. That was my first experience. The next day. I thought, “Gee this is quiet.” and I put my head up to take a look and ‘zeee..’
bullet passed. The sniper on the you know, so you couldn’t move during the day. If you stood up you would be shot.
and two, you’d never get back because they were really strong. They had machine gun units and artillery and we were on the flat and of course they were on the high ground and they could see us. But the first patrol I did we went out and I thought I don’t like this because I reckoned they’d get lost, you know. Anyway, the
officer, he was a platoon commander came out. There was another fellow, myself and another corporal. The colonel wanted us to go and look under this water tower which was a feature in Tobruk. Concrete tower on stilts and no one had ever knocked it down because it was valuable to both sides to arrange their artillery on. If you can get a good
point like that it makes their artillery ranging very accurate. He reckoned there were machine guns underneath and there certainly were. Anyway we got up amongst the Germans. This fellow, he had been educated at Oxford. He had a real Oxford accent. In a hoarse whisper, you know, you could hear it a mile away. “Which way do you think we should go back?”
And the corporal he said, he points this way and I said, “I’m going back that way.” Because I had a cable in my hand that I’d picked up when we left the post and I thought I’m going to keep this with me all the way. I’m not going to get lost. Then they opened up on us. And they always said.
I’m talking in the old…fifty yards. They’d have two or three batteries firing maybe ten or fifteen shells and wham, you know. Way off and then they’d creep up. You could look out then because they don’t normally fire their machine guns while this is going on. Anyway, I had a peep out and the next one’s coming right into this trench and
I was out and the next lot went over our position and that would have blown the wall there and that was really solid. But the mortars used to worry us. They had good mortars and they could fire them about three thousand yards. Our range was only about two thousand. So they had a big advantage. We used to have to count them. We had seventeen hundred and fifty strikes in
one day, you know, around our position. They never got anybody. Incredible. Occasionally someone would get wounded.
attacked again. I think it was the patrolling that kept them out. They did try in May. They attacked. They came through the outer defensive. They had a tank ditch. You know, a big ditch dug so that tanks couldn’t manoeuvre. They bridged that in some way and came in. I wasn’t there at this stage.
and our bloke, [Lieutenant General] Morshead the divisional commander, he worked out a plan to let them in and the infantry came in after the tanks. And we were all down in the holes under the…and when they came down we just bobbed up and mowed them down. But the artillery took care of the tanks because they were all dug in waiting for it.
But that was the first time they had been really beaten. They lost a lot of men, the Germans, at that stage.
parts bend it back and then bend it over. A sort of handle, you see. Fill that up. We used to work it out. Fill that up with water and clean your teeth. And then we had to shave. Which seems strange but we did. Shave with a safety razor. Then we’d have
to tip a bit of water and wash as best we could. Then what you had left you’d tip over your head. That was the daily bath. Occasionally when we weren’t up on the salient they had what they called the “Blue Line.” It was the second line of defence and covered all the gaps in the first line. From there we used to go down and have a swim. Once every
two or three weeks and that was good. That helped a lot. It was heavily chlorinated. You could always stand a spoon up in it. Strangely enough there with all this vitamin business going on we used to get a ration of vitamin C there. Sixty odd years ago. So I don’t know whether, you know. All these
arguments against it. It must have helped us. Not getting scurvy. That’s what we would have got. No fresh fruit of vegetables.
That was with the British commandos up on the Turkish border. Just near the Turkish border. Whilst at the school. I was only there about a week I think. This hand started to swell up and look bad and they had no doctor there. We were up in a village, way up in the hills and there used to be a, what they call a RAP. That’s a regimental
aid post which used to go along with the unit. It was like a little portable hospital that every unit had. Well this fellow used to come round about once a week just to check up and see if everything was alright and he said, “I can’t do anything for this. You’ll have to go to hospital.” So they transferred me to a New Zealand field ambulance
and they opened up my thumb and had a bit of trouble there and then they transferred me to their hospital and they were called up to Alamein whilst I was there. I was only there one day and they had to pack up and move and go straight up to Alamein. As a hospital, you know. About eight hundred beds, you know. So I was just given a pass and I wended my way back to Palestine. And
I was in a bit of trouble on the way because my hand didn’t get any attention and it was up my arm. I thought I was going to lose my arm at one stage. I got back to our hospital, which was the [2/] 6th Australian General Hospital, and that was in Palestine and Gaza and they looked after me there. They treated it for about three weeks and didn’t get anywhere and they finished up taking
part of my thumb off which stopped it then. And then I recuperated and I went out to a convalescent depot. You know, they give you a few days break out of hospital and then straight up to Alamein.
just out of a place called Tel el Eisa which was the next rail station to Alamein. And they had a rail line along, which followed the coast mainly, right along, right through to Benghazi or somewhere like that I think, originally. It was all dysfunctional. You know, it had been bombed
and hadn’t been looked after and of course the sand moves so much there that it had been covered in feet of sand in places. Anyway, it wasn’t operational but our fellows had a pretty severe fight, a week before I got there, in the cutting.
I think it worked out a bit like that. It’s hard to explain your reaction. It happens sometimes so suddenly you don’t have time to think about it. Of course there’s a dreadful din going on. It’s almost unreal, the noise. The smell of cordite from guns, you know, it’s almost suffocating, you know, and
dust, you know, that’s churned up from the shells bursting, you know, it’s a horrible feeling. It really is. But I missed most of that. Mostly patrolling again. But the Jerries [Germans] I think, they went so far off we ceased chasing them. We wouldn’t have been much good. If we’d been attacked I don’t think we could have stood more than a day or so.
People got the idea. . Some of their units were very good. They were first class gunners for a start, you know, heavy artillery. They were very good gunners. You know, they did a good job in the air. You know, their bombers were good. But the average Italian didn’t have his heart in it. They fought for a while but our blokes used to get stuck into them, as we say,
they would give up pretty easily. Except some of the units. I remember the Ariete unit they had a division. They were good fighters and the Bersagliere were good. They were another unit, division like ours was. Generally speaking, though, they were in a lower category. We could take a lot of prisoners.
And he was the first one I ever saw fire a heavy artillery piece. And I’ll tell you a funny story about him in Tobruk. He used to use these guns. Anyway this gun was in amongst A Company and the whole company would be 150 men I suppose and all in position. We weren’t up on the salient. And this gun was just in front of
them. D. K. as we called him, his Christian name was Donald Keith. He learned to fire this thing and he had a mate named Crummey. And Jack Crummey used to shin up one of those old telegraph poles. Tobruk was full of old telegraph poles and they had no wires stretched on them, anymore, you know, but they had those climbing spikes nailed on them
and he’d get up there with a pair of field glasses and spot for DK but DK would never trust this Italian gun that they’d captured. He used to tie a long rope to the firing mechanism and he dug a big hole. He used to get in the hole and Crummey would be up the pole. He’d be looking round two or three thousand yards or more and he’d say: “Give her a
go” and DK would push a shell in and they’d get in the hole and pull this thing and off she’d go and wham off she’d go and Crummey would shout: “Too short…up another hundred yards.” And DK would go back and wind it up and grab another shell and go back and bang and then one day they fired this round and wham, right in amongst the,
I think there they were Italians, right out, and that stirred them up and I think they got the Artillery back and a shell landed in A Company and they were screaming at my mate for firing this gun at…Anyway, this commanding officer who happened…A company in our unit was always commanded by a major and he was always second in command of the battalion. He came next to the,
and he was going to put DK on a charge sheet and DK was a bit outspoken and he said, “I think you’d better go and see the colonel about that.” And he said,said, “Don’t you talk to me like that.” “But I still think you should go and see him.” This major bloke. And he said,said, “What are you complaining about. I told them to do it. I’m right behind them. They’ll want plenty more of that too.” So this went on
for a while and then one day they fired back and this gun had wooden wheels. And the shell landed on it and the wheels caught on fire. Then the whole of A company cheered because they couldn’t fire it any more. You could imagine Tobruk had been fought over by the 6th Division and then our crowd coming back when they flopped into Tobruk.
and we sort of went in there for a rest and we sort of had to think out how we were going to stop them. That was how the siege started, you see, the Germans surrounded and that was the end. You couldn’t come out. So it was full of burned out trucks, tanks that had been, you know. Some of them weren’t badly smashed up.
The tanks might have just had their tracks blown off in a mine and the guns had been left so they sort of gathered up a lot of stuff which virtually provided the defences of Tobruk because we never had the full compliment of stuff all the time we were there. For instance we were supposed to have
a Bren gun for every section, they were about eight men, so you used to have to have at least three for a platoon. We had one for the platoon. We found out afterwards that there were ten thousand of these guns back in Cairo. They had them in storage, you know, waiting for if he ever broke through. They would be issued out then. Things like that went on, you know, they horrified us.
eight hundred killed. No, three hundred and eighty killed I think and about a thousand and eighty wounded. About three thousand two hundred through the unit for various reasons. Sick, wounded, killed, you know. Which included a hundred and seventy-seven officers.
And three officers and a hundred and twenty-three ORs that is privates, corporals, sergeants went through the whole bit and I was one of a hundred and twenty-three. We were in every campaign, more or less, fighting whatever.
It was a fairly big thing to look at. Like a small destroyer. I don’t know how many troops we had on board. They had a ramp down the side. The barges used to have a flat that would sort of go off down the front of it and stuck up like that as it ploughed through the sea. They were the barges but this thing had a steel ramp
down the side near the front of the craft and you’d plough down this. Anyway, we were on one of those and these bombers came over and hit the craft next to us because I remember shouting “Lookou!” and we all hit the deck. I can remember this too. This day there was a bloke on the deck who
had his rifle across his neck and we were all piled like sacks of spuds on the deck, you know, and you could hear this faint voice coming. “Get off you so and so, you’re breaking my neck.” I don’t know why that stuck in my mind because then the bomb struck the craft next to us and we had all the casualties then. We didn’t get anything. Well we got off the beach and
Of course we were always trying to get off the beach. Just in a flash. As fast as you can. The Yanks. I don’t know their training. They used to linger on the beach. They dug in and they suffered a lot of casualties like that.
hours and hours. You could get through but it would be an incredible journey and it would be impossible to really fight so we’d had to use the tracks to even get anywhere. And the scout. He’d have to have his wits about him so he’d pick them up before they picked us up. Often they surprised us but mainly we surprised them.
The first day…. The scout, he came from Cheltenham. Surname was Lappin. Some of the boys that play football now are related to him I think and he was marvellous. I reckon he could smell them half a mile away. He was just that good. We very rarely got caught.
when Rick was out in front. Well this day we struck them and immediately went off the track of course. And then you’d do an encircling movement if you could. Through the jungle, creeping through and we got a few if we could. There were only a few of them and that was the first time I’d ever.
these three half starving. I thought no, no they can’t be Japs but they looked like Japs. Growth on them. They were filthy. What they were after then was prisoners of war so they could get some information. See we barely knew where we were and they’d been there for months. You see, they knew every track and they built in placements.
They were really experienced in moving about the place. They could do it at night. We were hopeless. We didn’t know where we were, topographically. Anyway these three …I thought they were Japanese.
This one, we called him ‘Swozzle’ because his bottom used to wobble. He was a little short bloke and I said “Take them back to the cage.” The cage was a temporary cage, you know, wire cage, where they take prisoners and interrogate them straight away. They don’t give them any food or water. They don’t even give them a smoke until they get them talking you see. That was the psychology of it.
When they’d spilt their beans they’d give them a feed and they’d give them a cake of soap. They’d be given a, you know, one of those portable shower sort of things with a bucket, you know. Then they’d be finished. They’d be taken away to a POW camp somewhere. Anyway, I said “Take these fellows back to Swozzle” and he said “No, I’ll give them a grenade when they get round the corner.” He thought they were Japs too. I remember I said,said, “If they don’t get back I’m going to shoot you.
Of course I didn’t; mean it, you know.” Anyway we got a lot of information out of them. And they were, they had been forced into forced labour. Oh they came from way up in North China somewhere. They were starved to death and they were worked like navvies all this time. And they were. I’m glad they escaped. They gave them a lot of information because they had plenty of interpreters. Chinese and Japanese.
Because they had a machine gun there and it wasn’t firing. Anyway, the Japs came down. About five of them putting in this gun. It was right across the side of it. Anyway the grenade got them anyway. Though a lot of mistakes happened. You see that day I was acting Platoon commander and I had been for two or three
weeks. Officers had been killed or wounded and they had gone out so I’d taken over and I was a corporal I think. And I had a runner. In a battle an officer has a runner, you see, because they didn’t have telephones like today. If we had have had those it would have been a different experience.
You’d have to get a runner physically go back to headquarters and get whatever you wanted. And I wanted some fire brought down on them. But they said we were too close to them and they wouldn’t do it. Like gun fire or mortars. They wouldn’t do it so I said to Jack: “Get some grenades and we’ll stop them that way.” He brought up half a sack of grenades and they weren’t primed. I don’t know how many I threw, but none of them went off.
Oh, Gee. I’ve never been so disheartened in all my life. We had to get out then to save our skins. But we got the machine gun. That was non-operative by the time we left. That was as close as I came to a full frontal view.
Now last time we were talking about your experience in Lae in New Guinea in 1943 June. I would like to ask you if you would be able to explain to me, if you could tell us what it was like again. When you just got off the boat you said you encountered enemy resistance. Could you tell us about that? Landing on the beach?
Resistance was light because the place had been bombed. The beach head had been bombed and shelled too prior to us landing, shelled by the navy. Which allowed us to get ashore without much opposition. There were just a few, perhaps a few, pockets which the battalion cleaned out. Then to a set plan we started off and the plan was of course to get there as
fast as possible and take the town of Lae. Having in mind we were fifteen to twenty miles on the northern side of Lae when we landed. So we didn’t go straight into Lae. So we had a fair amount of country to traverse including a lot of rivers, some of them were flowing very quickly
and so on. That was the plan of attack. From there we went to … There were different manoeuvres that were made. I mean the battalion doesn’t go in on spec, one company might go to the left and another to the right. They had a lot of experiences on the way. We had a new company commander although he wasn’t new to the army. He was just new to the jungle fighting and
and he set off like a bat out of hell and we got right out in front of the unit. We were lost for a couple of days. They didn’t know where we were.
Anyway we had a lot of patrolling to do. We didn’t actually strike any Japs for quite some time but they were there. See, for instance one day, I had a patrol out. I was a section leader, a corporal, I had a section of eight men. Seven men and myself. And we were going along this track and I could see where they’d been along the track because you could see
the water filtering into their footprints. But we couldn’t see them. We looked for them everywhere and they had gone into the jungle and hidden away from us in some way. So this proceeded all the time until we finally made contact with our own unit by going down a river and I was out on a patrol with another corporal, which was unusual
two corporals out, although they had to do that sort of thing sometimes, so this chap walked down the middle of a river. He said,said, “Give us covering fire.” I had a light machine gun with me then.
And the way they did it, they went out into the sea, it was calm, and waded along just with their heads above water. Quite an experience it was interesting talking to them because from the shore, and especially when it was dark, they couldn’t be seen but in half light, say when dawn was breaking, they’d look like a couple of coconuts
A Jap had a look and they thought they’d been seen and they popped underneath the water and held their breath, you know. But he hadn’t seen them. He got past them and these two fellows warned the next company, which was A company, coming up in strength, coming up the track that these Japs were heading for them. And they formed what they called an ambush and they got off the track into
various positions and they annihilated the lot of them. And that was really the first big encounter we had at Lae.
at a time. Those sort of things but we didn’t strike very much except just outside Lae. We got a few there. And we walked into Lae. We weren’t the first there. Bruce Ruxton’s crowd got in before us,
so there was some rivalry there. Anyway we were left to clean it up and it wasn’t very nice at all. While we were there a little plane landed on the strip. Of course it had all been bombed out but they patched it up a bit. Not much bigger than a model plane but out popped this little American colonel
and major and he was after some gun sights. Well while we were approaching Lae we were being shelled by these huge guns. They had a range of about twelve miles. We couldn’t work this out. They were pretty accurate. Anyway we captured the guns and one of the fellows got these big sights. They were like a big telescope.
That’s what he was after. They must have heard about this. I don’t know what my blokes going to do to carry them around for the rest of the campaign. That would have been hopeless but they were great souvenir hunters the Australians.
from the dead or anything with value. Those gun sights. I’ll never know but they were probably why these guns were so accurate. And they were naval guns, twelve inch guns and the Japs had brought them ashore and put them in big emplacements. All their great emplacements were as big as this room. Anyway
the colonel got his gun sights and he said “How are you fellows going?” I said we were out of cigarettes. And that was a dreadful crime because we were all starting to eat one another. We all smoked all the time. And I remember these words and he said,said, “Don’t your fellows look after you blokes. It’s a disgrace.” And I remember he went to
the stores and he brought back this great stack of Camel. You know, have you seen in the cartons. “There you are.” he said. We were as happy as sand boys then. So we couldn’t bury the Japs then and there was lots of petrol on the drome so we rolled down all these forty-four gallon drums and pulled the bungs out of them. They were in huts and underneath,
we rolled all these drums in and dipped a rag in the fuel and lit it and gave them a funeral pyre. That’s the best we could do for them. You know, you feel sorry for dead people, no matter what they’ve done. You can’t be bitter
to go up the road as far as I could and when I was up there they gave me this Jap prisoner to take back, you know. And they, jokingly someone gave me a stick and they said, “Whack him over the head if he gives you any trouble.” Anyway, this fellow, by that time we had a lot of equipment and all that sort of thing, and his eyes popped out of his head
because he’d come up with his own crowd, been up there for months. Anyway I took him back to what we called the cage. That’s back behind headquarters, you know, right away from the fighting. It was just a temporary enclosure and a Japanese interpreter had a go at him and they found out
all they could from him. And I remember the chap in charge of the cage; I think he was a sergeant. He came out with this great big red cake of soap. Like laundry type soap and a towel and he handed it to him. Well you should have seen the look on this chap’s face. He probably hadn’t had a bath because they were naturally clean people. It was hard to realise the state they left their camps in when they cleared out. It was a disgusting state.
But you should have seen his face. The shower he had. You couldn’t see him for froth. So that’s the way he was treated. You couldn’t say he was treated badly.
Now, with the Jungle warfare, what was it like to be. Put it this way I’ve heard that insects were one of the biggest curses in jungle warfare. It’s a very hard kind of warfare. Probably one of the toughest. I’ve heard stories where trees
falling in monsoon weather caused quite a stir in casualties. What can you tell me about the environment? What is it about the jungle that makes things difficult?
Well, it’s oppressive. It’s a steamy climate for a start. Everything is damp or wet, you know, and after a few
don’t know about those so and so nips but.” What did he call them? “Gorillas” I think. “So what’s the matter with you? Have you gone crazy or something?.” he said,said, “Come and have a look” and we went round the corner and here’s a big chimpanzee. They weren’t chimpanzees but they were nasty. I don’t know what they were called.
They were a big monkey. They sat in the middle of the track looking at one another for about a minute. Anyway after this we went on and that gave our position away because we got attacked. Anyway, we overcame them. They shot through, as we called it. I don’t know whether we killed any of them but they certainly didn’t kill any of our fellows. I don’t know
whether they trained the monkeys to do that or not. We shot the monkey anyway, which was dreadful.
It got madder and madder as people had shots at it again and again. There were bits out of it where people had shot it. Anyway it was a real bugger. It would race up and bite people. But we had one in Tobruk, that reminds me, and it used to come round on the water cart.
We had two or three of them. They were called Furphies. They were manufactured in Maryborough in Victoria and Furphies was the manufacturer and in the First World War a ‘furphy’ was something someone said when they said we were going home next week. It wasn’t a furphy until it was proved. And in Tobruk it wasn’t a furphy water cart,
it was a big tank but carrying around water when we weren’t on the front line. But on it was this monkey; this chap that drove the water cart had made a pet of. It’s got nothing to do with New Guinea; it’s got to do with monkeys you see. Its hearing was so good; it could hear German planes before we could. It would start jumping up and down, getting really agitated.
We knew what to expect and we’d hop into our holes. But we weren’t allowed to bring him home. We left him in Tel Aviv Zoo. But that was monkeys. Then of course we struck them again at New Guinea.
kookaburra. But he didn’t laugh like a kookaburra. We missed that. Then they had some pythons but they were harmless. I think they were bigger in Queensland, the pythons. You could see them in the trees along a branch. They could be ten or twelve feet long some of them. But I can’t remember anyone ever being bitten by one.
Crocodiles we struck, only once. Just near the end of the New Guinea campaign at a place called Sio. Way up in New Guinea and we had a four day camp and we camped out there in tents.
The whole company went out and we had all the equipment out. We had a wireless which only worked once. A great big set that two boys carried on a pole. They were crude sorts of things in those days. And mainly didn’t work because the battery is always flat, you know. There were crocodile around there
somewhere because we saw there tracks the next morning but we never saw one. But they came in amongst the tents I think. Probably looking for food or so they said. Probably crocodile tracks, you know.
in battle and then we took a couple of villages on the way and prior to taking Sattelberg this, it was bigger than a patrol, this company of sixty men.
We were all hand picked to do this attack. The idea being to engage them. Because they were down all the way on the flat going right up to Sattelberg, which was the high feature. The idea of this attack was to get round behind these particular positions, which were beside a road which went straight up to Sattelberg and clean them out.
This would leave the way clear for the rest of the brigade to come in and take the rest of Sattelberg proper, which is a township on the mountain. But we had to go out a fair way and we got round behind them alright. There was a track running through. Which
we knew about and we had that for guidance. Which helps a lot in jungle warfare because you can get lost in direction because you can’t see the sky. You can’t get any bearings on anything. Except if you use a compass. That’s all you can use. But this track. We could go along and follow the track up. This is fate. The going was quiet. They don’t even know we’re there. We are all getting into position
to attack them and two of their cooks, you wouldn’t read about this, came down the track with a couple of dixies of rice or something and they saw one of our fellows and they give out a great yell. I know that fellow was killed shortly after this. He shot them and of course, then they knew we were there.
They met us with everything. Machine gun fire, rifle fire, grenades. We just couldn’t move. We couldn’t get forward. So I remember the first thing that happened. As we were going up, we were just starting off, and one of my chaps actually, said “Gee there’s a bloke badly
injured.” To this day I don’t know his name and he’d been shot just there and it split his head right open and I thought: “This bloke’s gone.” I’d never herd of this from that day to this. The night before the doctor called all the NCOs. Issued us with a steel case and in it was a syringe and about two or three
files of morphia. I mean it would be worth a fortune today, if, you know. He explained how to give an injection and I thought this was strange. I was a sticky beak and I said,said, “About how much?” And he said “About half of the phial.”
He said,said, “Oh God, don’t give them too much, you’ll kill them, you see.” I thought this was another something to worry about. I didn’t think I’d ever use this but I saw this fellow and I thought I’ll do something for him and I filled this syringe up and gave him a dose of morphine. Anyway it must have saved his life because his skull was fractured and bleeding
badly but apparently the morphine settled him down. They told me afterwards. And that’s the first and only time I’ve ever given anybody an injection. You’re not supposed to do this, you know, you’re not supposed to stop. I thought these fellows are going down all around me so I got down behind this log with this fellow, the captain
in charge of the whole set-up and he said “What do you think?” And I said,said, “We’re gone.” And one of the rules of an attack like this is if you are held up like this and you can’t get through you get out because you are only going to suffer casualty after casualty. We tried them on the left flank and they lost more men and we tried them on the right but we couldn’t get up the front and I remember
a mate of mine stood up. He must have got hit in the shoulder and I can remember saying “Get down. Get down.” With that he got a burst in the chest. And a few yards away and he fell all over me and oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It was a terrible day that day. Anyway, I’d seen this in films and I’d never believed it until the day they went …with all the
bullets and they were chipping bits off this log and I was getting lower and lower. They’d have another go but we had to pull out in the finish. We left one chap. He was in a bad way. We couldn’t get him and they wouldn’t let us go after him anyway. We finally filtered out and got back to our
battalion headquarters and then we sorted it out and we lost twelve and twenty-four wounded.
Why I say I think they did it, well you wouldn’t read about this but the radio operated the patrol and they requested my return to battalion headquarters. Well, it was a two day march almost. So that was alright.
So they sent me a chap with a broken arm. He’d fallen over and broken his arm. Another chap with malaria. He had a temperature of 112 or something and two native carriers and a two inch mortar which is particularly heavy. Why they gave me that two inch mortar I’ll never know. They just wanted to get rid of it, you see. Well my instructions were
to go back to battalion headquarters. I had to report back. At that stage I didn’t know why. Anyway they said,said, “If you get lost the boys will take you home.” So we go up, we’re following this trail. We go about three thousand feet down on this track into this,
well it was more than a gully, ravine with a bit of a stream at the bottom which was quite full. Anyway we got over that. I couldn’t see anything on the other side of this stream so I thought oh God we’re lost. So it was no good staying down there. I thought we’ve got to get up high somewhere. So we struggled up again and it took about two hours to get to the top.
And they left the two inch mortar down in the sand. And I thought: “I’m not going to get court martialled about losing government property.” because they were very strict about things like that. So then I had to bargain with the two boys. I wasn’t going down to get it and the other two weren’t capable. So I bribed
the two boys with tobacco, all the tobacco I had, and cigarettes to go down and get this mortar and come back. We went up onto the high ground. It was very picturesque. It looked out over the sea. It was very beautiful really. We had time to admire the beauty and we wandered along and by instinct, by this time we used instinct to get around.
Of course we weren’t in jungle. We were up on the high ground. And then I struck a track and it seemed to be going in the right direction and I kept on that, kept walking along, and arrived back in the battalion. So I was lucky but I was lost, absolutely.
We were always doing schools or extensive training in something. This one was in aerial photograph interpretation. It seems like a long word but it was in interpreting aerial photos. That is identifying enemy positions, streams, tracks, you know.
It was an interesting school because part of the school was to go up in these Lightnings, which was a very fast American fighter aircraft really, the Lightnings and they were equipped for photography, some of them. And we actually took photographs for ourselves. I never got to that stage because, I think I mentioned before, we had to take Atebrin twice a day.
That suppressed the malaria. So I thought I think I’ll find out whether I’ve got malaria at the school so I stopped taking the Atebrin and that lasted about five days. I was absolutely brown in the eyes. You know, the whites of my eyes were brown, which was the Atebrin business and I went to hospital then. So that finished that campaign
I was in the hospital for some time. Well a field hospital, not a proper hospital.
pretty exhausted. But I remember in this class, they had different subjects. You had to get up and lecture, you know, which is a bit different than out in the field when you’re fighting as an infanteer, coming out and doing a lecture, because there were two or three colonels in the course. There were quite a few officers and that and I had to give a lecture on these particular
guns at Lae. They were most interested in that, so I got through. And that involved a fair bit of maths. They got quite technical these interpretations. The fellow with the blackboard, he’d keep disappearing and I’d shake my head and it’d be alright.
Anyway, I reported sick. I couldn’t stand it any longer and they said, “Oh no, you’ve got to go to hospital.” I’d gone all yellow and they found I had jaundice; they called it, which was a way of covering up for hepatitis. You see, sometimes the army never admitted to certain things you had. You see the sole purpose
of it was to keep you on your feet and it, hepatitis had appeared on any report sheet any doctor would have said, “Oh no, he’ll have to go out.” You couldn’t have hepatitis but you could have jaundice. I don’t know why. I was in hospital for a while and then we went to a convalescent camp. In the meantime they’d pulled the battalion out from Sio, down to the coast
and they put them on ships and they went home on leave. Home to Australia for the second time. And when I’d finished with all the convalescing and all that they’d all gone and they were almost on their way back so I still got my leave and I came home and then we went back into Queensland after that to train again and that’s when
Very lucky with the amphibious landings except at Lae. And they got ashore but the most courageous men were the engineers who went in before us. The day before. Went underneath and diffused all these mines they had laid in the approaches to the beach. They had all stakes stuck in the sand and all sorts of things. Barbed
wire underneath the water to stop people wading ashore. And they blew all this with explosives. I remember seeing one, of course it floated on oil, Tarakan. It was very rich oil. There was a big eight inch pipe that they had where they used to pump it up into tanks.
It was about three quarters of a mile long. This jetty with the pipe on it. Ships used to pull in and they used to pump this oil straight into their bunkers and use it for fuel without any refining. That’s how good it was. I remember watching this engineer. He had been down clearing a few things before the wave
went in. You know, he attacking wave. And he was walking down this long jetty and he was covered in oil. Everything was covered in oil in Tarakan. It was so close, you see. You’d dig a hole about three or four feet and it would fill up with beautiful, what did they call it, Texas T, oil. And these pumps were going. Grotesque
Have you ever seen them, those big pumps? They were everywhere and they were working. They got them working quickly.
B company went up to Tank Knoll, as this hill was called, with tanks on it. They got up there. There were a few Japs and they cleaned them out and they got up there. They got a good landing and the other landings were unopposed I think. So they got a good beach head
as we called it. Right off the beach, you know. Because I can remember this German LST. Well it wasn’t German we called him American. “So, by God.” he said. “I’ve never seen guys go up a beach so fast.” “Where were you?” “Guadalcanal” he said, “And they flopped on the beach and all got slaughtered.” And he was telling me about the Guadalcanal landing.
Because he must have been in that. He was experienced. I said “You’d never stay on the beach.” That’s where you get all your casualties. That was interesting. Then he told me that he had been in the German Navy as a kid. Fifteen, I think he said he was.
As I say I wasn’t up with the forward troops. But then I had to do a lot of patrolling. I didn’t sit down. You know. I patrolled every day, you know. Poking about everywhere. Trying to pick up any sign of the enemy. And there was one patrol we did. This was after we had got a bit advanced into Tarakan. It wasn’t a big island. It was only
eleven miles, I think, the island. It was fairly hilly. You know. It was very undulating country. Once they’d got established they had a hospital going, the Australians, and there were a lot of huts. They were built out over the
sea on stilts. Quite unusual but very comfortable. Native huts. But in their lounge room there’d be a trapdoor and there’d be a canoe underneath and you’d go out and catch fish. Of course they’d all been taken away. And we used to go down there every day on a patrol and I remember I’d got hold of an American automatic
rifle, a carbine. And it was very accurate so I used to shoot pigeons while we were out on this patrol and take them home and make pigeon pie. Not too many. They couldn’t depend on me for feeding the battalion. Anyway, we were down there day after day, week after week and then the 2/24th took over and we moved up further
and the next day, they did the same patrol and I think there were seven of them killed. We couldn’t find them. I don’t know where they were hidden to this day.
straight across with black hair. They were very small. About five foot. They had blowpipes they used to use. Long blowpipes and fire poison darts. They used to come over at night time in a canoe and they’d have to come up this track into our headquarters to be interviewed by our interpreter because they used to give us all sorts of information
from the Japs in Borneo, you see. Send it back to headquarters. And you used to have to go down the track and take up all the booby traps so these little fellows could come up at night time without any casualties. You’d have to send a patrol down to let them up and as soon as they’d gone back again into their canoe, it was only a few miles across to Borneo. We’d put the booby traps
back and then we’d have to stay the rest of the night there. You know. Two hours on and four off and that sort of thing. So I was sick of standing round in the black and nothing to do so I got a chair from one of the huts, it was like a kitchen chair. Anyway this rustling started and this chap I was with, we were always in twos
He said “Come here! It’s Nips!”
And I said, “Go to sleep. They don’t make a noise like that” or something. “No come on.” he said and he started shooting into the grass. “Shut up.” I said. “You’ll wake the whole camp up.” He said, “There’s Nips there. Give us a hand.” So I fired a magazine into the air. There was nothing there of course.
Anyway, that was alright but the camp woke up. “What’s going on? Disturbing a man’s sleep.” They couldn’t care whether there were Nips or not coming along. So in the morning the cooks came up, this was unlike cooks. “Why didn’t you let us know you’d shot a cow? We could have had fresh meat.” I said, “What, half past two in the morning waking you?”
I said, “I’d rather leave a cow there at half past two rather than face you cooks. Wake you up to go out and skin a cow.” So that got round the battalion. I never lived that down. I can tell you. The poor old cow. How I hit it I don’t know.
So we were camped up fairly high in Samoan Dutch Barracks and then they were out patrolling and they’d get a few Japs and finally that sort of petered out. The last time I saw any Japs I’d had a party down to the Yankee depot
to pick up a truckload of Australian beer. We were being rationed with beer by this time. I think we had about a hundred cases of it and forty-eight bottles in a case. Big ten ton truck. I was sergeant and I would sit beside the driver of course and the other blokes were up on the load. We got very tired and careless.
We were supposed to be armed whenever we left the camp but we hadn’t bothered to take anything. We didn’t have a pocket knife amongst us, you know. And we were going up this hill. And he was down to his last gear, about two miles an hour going up this hill with a ten ton truck, back to the camp. And a Jap patrol came along side the road. About fifteen of them. All armed and.
I didn’t see them but my old mate Tubby banged on the roof and I thought we were all going to be shot. We didn’t even have a chance but they just stood and looked at us. They were carrying rifles and everything. I don’t understand it to this day. And we went on
took him back to the cage and this Anzac Highway. It was just a dirt road and the Japs had mined it with all sorts of things. Naval shells and all sorts of things. We had to shave it off the bulldozer and keep it and it was gradually getting wider as the days went by.
All these buildings went up. Yanks, you know. They put buildings up overnight. They were all prefabricated things. And we took him down this road from way up in the hills and he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t speak English of course but he just couldn’t believe where he was.
So that was progress. A couple of nasty things happened there. I was down there one day and a Jeep came along and it blew up. It went right up in the air and it had four fellows in it. They were all American correspondence, I found out later. They were all killed. And this shaving with the bulldozer,
hadn’t defused this shell and the jeep had gone over it after all that time. So that sort of thing popped up now and again.