Thank you very much, Peter, for this interview. I just wanted to start off with a three to four minute summary of you life to date?
I was born in Coonabarabran which is out in the north west of New South Wales. My father was a Presbyterian minister. He came out from Scotland as a missionary to bring Christ to the heathens. He said he’d do anything they wanted. When he arrived here they sent him to Broken Hill. He came from a small Scottish village. He was a wowser in our present terms. Against
alcohol, against smoking, against gambling. And they sent him to Broken Hill which must have had some sort of an impact. Anyhow, he moved to Coonabarabran, married my mother. We lived there for five or six years. He got pneumonia in the post 1918 time, 1919s, and he died in 1921. We moved to Strathfield. My brother brought the kids up.
I went to school in Strathfield and I went to Scots College. We didn’t have any money, but my father had made good friends in the country and they supported me at school, put me through school. Then I went from there to university. Did medicine. Went from there to the coast hospital. I was there for about 18 months when the war was reaching a peak and all my friends were joining up so I thought
I’d better join up. I joined up in June 41. Eighteen months in Australia sitting around wasting time, waiting for them. Went overseas on August 15th. From there we went to the war. We’ll talk about that later I guess. When I came back I went back straight to the hospital and continued on there doing my pathology. I got a job at Newcastle Hospital
as a clinical pathologist and I took up the position here to start the blood bank. I had a year’s appointment. I thought it might last 18 months. I’d be lucky. It was a terrible dump. I’ve been there ever since. I developed the blood bank. I went into private practice with a friend of mine. We established a bit private practice here which went from Gosford in the south to Coffs Harbour in the north with branches everywhere. Then I retired in 87.
Since then I’ve been just enjoying life. Is that enough summary for you?
in today’s terms he wouldn’t be tall, but he seemed tall to me as a boy. Thin man. I have very little recollection of him. He died when I was 9. I had big experiences with him as a kid. I used to go out with him to the stations. We were stationed in Coonabarabran. That’s the centre of a very big dairy. He used to go out all the different farming properties and be away for a month.
I’d go with him. The experiences of those were always wonderful experiences. Meeting people of the outback. They used to tease me as a little kid and I used to be frightened. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed these trips with him. I enjoyed the ponies and the horses that we had. Then the tremendous thing happened. He bought a Ford motor car. A little open car. I suppose that was about 1920.
That was another big impact. I remember that very well. My childhood – I don’t remember very much in Coonabarabran excepting I had gastroenteritis as a child and nearly died. I remember that. I can remember getting better and remember people giving me gifts and things. Little toys I used to play with. That was a pretty good period where I got over sickness. That’s about all I can remember about Coonabarabran. I can remember
the farewell. We had a little farewell party. The thing I can remember is that there were at this party balloons and they had hanging down from the wall a bit paper bag. They gave me a bat. I had to bash it. When I bashed it all toys fell out. That’s a vivid memory of that time. We moved to Berry and I was growing up there. Berry was a lovely little
country town. We were at the manse and the church was up on the top of a hill. It was a fairly big area. The things I remember about Berry was across the road there was a bullocker. I used to love to go over and see these big bullock wagons. But I wasn’t allowed to because they were swearing. Bullockers had terrible language. So it wasn’t to be, but I still used to sneak over there and enjoy myself. I remember seeing the first time
while I was there I remember seeing a bullock put to a cow. My big brothers had took me along and got up in the loft. It was all a great secret to watch the bull service the cow. I still don’t know what happened. I know everybody was excited, but I can’t remember what happened. But I remember the big excitement of being taken to see this. That’s growing up. Berry, we had good friends there.
I just remember the church. My father died while we were there. I can remember the funeral service very well of course. I can remember the hymns and so on. One hymn was played which stayed with me for the rest of my life was Lead, Kindly Light which apparently one of my father’s favourite hymns. Whenever I hear that now it brings back tears to my eyes after, what 80 years.
We moved to Strathfield. My mother didn’t know what to do. She had five kids and she’d never been on her own before. So she took advice from an old man in Strathfield. He used to be the bank manager in Coonabarabran. Old Mr Parker. I can remember him with his red droopy eyes and grey hair. He advised my mother. He bought a house for her in Strathfield.
We lived there. I went to school at the local school, the public school and then I went to a private school that was called Branxton. I remember the time there very well. Do you want me to expand on that? There was a girl there called Margaret Mulvey. Her father used to be a doctor in Orange years ago. Margaret Mulvey was the bright kid in the class. She had hair just like yours. Long curly hair.
Next thing I remember about Margaret Mulvey, she was a woman married and she married a Professor Fink who became a very well known obstetrician in Sydney. Margaret Mulvey. I remember the school teacher there. She used to walk around with the powder on her face and lipstick and a parasol so she wouldn’t get burnt in the sun. I remember her well. Then there were some of my friends there that grew up later on. The Buzzacotts were little boys.
They were a very well to do family and they – fencing or something like that later on in life. Girls, I don’t remember much girls in Strathfield. We went to church regularly and of course the girls at school. Or the girlfriends at Sunday school.
I went to Newington College as a day boy and that was a great experience for me. It was there that I learnt sport. I played cricket and I played football. I can remember playing football and then I’d taken up rowing as a kid. I remember that the school – Newington College was run in those days
by the head prefects. The master didn’t have much of a say. The head prefects ruled the school. There was an ex army man, the sergeant major, he was the authority that used to hand out the punishments but the master didn’t seem to have much at all. Lunchtime there was always the boxing ring and the head prefects ran the boxing ring. Any arguments with the fellas they’d fix it up in the boxing ring. Which is a good way of discipline.
We had an old school master there who used to teach us, but he had a terrible cough and he used to go to the window and spit out the window. I can remember him. So the boys used to every now and then when he wasn’t looking they’d close the window and next time he went to spit it’d be all over the window. Extraordinary the things you remember. I remember being initiated there by the other big boys in the school and made to run the
gauntlet and they all had towels and they flicked us and belted us as we went past. But of all the things that I remember most at that school was the sport. I loved the football. I loved watching the seniors playing GPS football [soccer]. After two years I went to board at Scots College. I got a scholarship at Scots. Once again I was supported there by some country friends of my father’s
who put me through. The Ellises I remember is one family who paid for my fees. That was a wonderful period. At Newington I was subjected to a bully. I had no support there. When I went to Scots he came shortly afterwards and started to bully again. But at this stage I rebelled. We had a terrible fight on the floor. I can remember wrestling around and fighting upon him. Finally he gave in and never any more bullying.
Periods in your life where you grow up.
as a boarder there. I loved it. We got into mischief. I stayed in Kirk House. First of all at Scots I was up in Aspinall House. That was a big old home – still there in Bellevue Hill. We used to live in the upstairs rooms in the dormitory. Of a night we’d climb out the window and there’s the corners like this of the building and there was little
steps – how we didn’t get killed I don’t know – we used to let ourselves down this and we’d go down to the bay from Scots College. Go down and have a drink at the local soft drink and then come home again. Real devils we were. In the middle of the night. I got pneumonia there. Was pretty sick for a while. That stopped me playing sport
I remember. We had some great teachers there. Latin was one of the problems I had. I had to get and do Latin to get into university and medicine. In the year before I got sick and the year before the Leaving [Leaving Certificate] I was doing the Latin and I wasn’t a very good student. So he divided the class into the sheep and the goats. One side of the class was the sheep.
The other side was the goats. I was amongst the goats. In the final year all the goats left except me and he made me stay on that side of the classroom on my own while the sheep stayed over here. Actually that was a good impetus to me and I got through my Latin. I used to get up at four o’clock in the morning and study it. So he had his reasons for doing it. That and French were necessary in order to get to do medicine so I was able to graduate. Other memories of Scots?
Mostly sport. I was elected as the stroke of the first four in the regatta and I remember the wonderful periods of training. We were the fastest crew on the – without any doubt – we used to sprint. We were really fit. But he never took us for long trips. When it came to the regatta we sprinted like mad and we were well ahead until the end and they overtook us. We got beaten in the heats.
That took me years to get over. Years. We trained for a whole year for that one race and we were good. But he didn’t give us the training for the long distance so we petered out towards the end and those that’d had long distance training just overtook us. It took me a year to get over that. Such a traumatic business. Yes, that was my Scots College.
Sydney University. I had a fairly good pass. Nothing brilliant, but enough to get me into medicine. In those days it wasn’t difficult to get into medicine. I think I had two As and three Bs or something like that in the Leaving which wouldn’t be nowhere near these days.
When I went in, the first thing that happened to me – if we could go back to my last year at school I wanted to change over and do physics and chemistry because that was part of a medical course and I’d been history and geography and my headmaster wouldn’t let me change. So when I got to university I had never done any chemistry and I’d never done any physics. I was thrown into those two first. The very first thing I did at university was to attend a practical class in physics.
I can remember the instructor getting out in front and saying, “We are now going to do Young’s Modulus.” I had no clue what she was talking about. I still didn’t know at the end of the session what it was all about. So I went up and said to her, “I haven’t got a clue what this is all – what are you all talking about?” So she says, “Haven’t you ever done any physics before?” “No.” “Come on, sit down. I’ll explain it to you.” That was my introduction to medicine. I thought, my God I’ll never get through this.
The same thing happened at chemistry. I had no knowledge of chemistry.
you had to walk ten minutes to the railway station, catch a steam train to Redfern, get out at Redfern and walk from Redfern up to the university. We used to do this together most of the time. It was usually a run. I can remember as he’d come out the front door his sister would be standing at the front door. She’d be saying “Wallet, keys, handkerchief, suit.” As he was running down.
Then we’d run down to the train together, jump on the train as it was leaving. By the time we got to university and the first lecture we used to go to sleep. All that exercise to get there was enough for us. Lectures were pretty boring. I don’t remember any lecture at the university that I enjoyed. They obviously had been doing it for time and time and they just went on with it. Monotonous.
The only way you could get anything decent was to get a coach and he’d explain it all to you. It was never different. Anatomy – we started off of course in the early days by doing physics and chemistry, botany and zoology. That was our first year. Never done any of those subjects before. So it was fascinating. The zoology and the botany
I found fascinating. Physics I took to after a while. Chemistry I was never much good at. But I took to physics. I was a good mathematician. First year we got through all those exams. I don’t know how. And second year we started on the anatomy and physiology. Cutting up bodies and doing physiological experiments. I enjoyed anatomy because there would be a group
of ten people working on one body. Two or three would be working on legs, another working on the abdomen and another one working on the head and neck. And there was a camaraderie and you could talk and yarn while we were cutting up. And an exciting experience too, cutting up the human body and detecting all the different nerves and displaying the different parts we had to learn about. I enjoyed my anatomy.
I wasn’t that interested in physiology, but I got very interested in the biochemistry and the haematology as we went through. They were my favourite subjects. Just trying to remember some of the early days of the … Let’s
move on then. Then we went to the hospital. At the fourth year we then entered medicine as such. I was posted to Sydney Hospital. That’s where we did all our clinical work. That’s where really we got interested in medicine. We really started to learn a bit about medicine then. We had some great teachers. We had Dr Ritchie who was a physician. And Howard Bullock was the surgeon.
Eddy, I’ve forgotten his name now – little tiny fella. There’s some very interesting experiences. I remember my first operation I was taken into as a student. We were allowed to assist. So Howard Bullock was operating. We were doing a big operation called abdomino perineal. We cut the abdomen and take the cancer out and go to the perineum and rectum
and so on and take out the whole of the bowel, the cancer. He was a pretty fast operator, but it usually took about an hour. I was then to assist. They’d all washed up and then the student was last. They’d all start and I washed up and got my gloves on and walked over. “Okay, we’ll sew up now.” That was my first operation. I took so long for me to get to – the operation was all over. I’ll never forget it. Howard Bullock.
Strathfield was the home of some very well to do people. Particularly Redmyre Road and The Boulevard. There are some lovely big homes there. We were on that side amongst these houses, but we were a smaller cottage. As you can imagine my mother wouldn’t have been able to afford much more. We lived in Strathfield, Brunswick Avenue.
A big back and centre place. It was just a little small suburban cottage. It had very happy memories for me though. A number of things. We kept chooks in the backyard. And little gardens we used to grow. My brother and I used to do the garden. He went off to school. He went off to Knox Grammar School as a boarder and stayed with some friends up in Hornsby.
Friends of the family. Before then we used to fight a fair bit – two boys growing up. I suppose much the same thing as at school. My brother and I had a big row one day. He used to bully me a bit, being the older brother. But we had our stand up row too and that was fixed from then on. No more bullying. That’s interesting isn’t it? When I look back on that. I’d forgotten that. My brother was
doing law, joined the army, went overseas in the 2/2nd battalion. Went all the way through the war from a lieutenant to a lieutenant colonel and died in the last days of the war, got killed in the last days of the war. He was married in the meantime during the war and had a little boy. He never saw his boy.
We didn’t feel a lot for each other, my brother and I because he went to the school up in Hornsby and I went to Scots. We used to see each other on holidays. Most of our growing up time we were separated. Once we got over the – when he went to the boarding school at that age – what’s that, 12, 13?
She used to run the ward, tell the sisters. She used to watch what they were doing. “No, Sister, that’s not Mrs So and So. That medicine belongs to that one. You’re giving them to the wrong person.” She’d run the place like that. They all loved her. She was there for many years. She was quite a personality. When she died she had money collected – her pension – in her bank account, which she never spent. So we took her money and erected
a big stained glass window, a memorial in the chapel at Cessnock for her with her name on it. We used to take her for a drive and Senta [his wife] said to me – my wife said to me – “We might go and take Nancy for a drive, what do you think?” “What a good idea.” So we rang up and said yes she’d love to come. When we got up there she said, “I don’t want to go for a drive, I don’t feel like it.” So we sat down and talked. The three of us.
And she talked away. “Geez I’m tired now.” I said, “We’ll leave.” We got home and the telephone rang to say she’d dropped dead. Extraordinary. We had no reason at all to decide to go up and see her. She wasn’t well. She didn’t crack on. She talked. She said, “I don’t want to go. I’m tired.” But after we left she suddenly just dropped dead. Extraordinary. Lovely sister.
That was the story of Nancy.
mother to all of us. After my father died she took the reins and she took us up to Strathfield and she sent us to different schools. She organised people who were friends of my father to help us put us through school. My other brother went to another minister up in Hornsby and he took over putting him through school and educated him. He lived there with them for the last few years. As I say I was into Scots and I was supported by people. My sisters by this time
were old enough. They were with the university and teachers’ college and they got jobs. My mother still had difficulty in making ends meet. So she took in boarders. I can remember student teachers used to come and stay. I can remember I was kicked out of my bedroom. My brother went off to school and I had to sleep on the front veranda. My room was taken over by two girls from the bush.
Their names are on the tip of my tongue but I’ve forgotten now. They were two lovely girls from Coolah. So that helped the income for my mother. At night she’d get up and write articles for the papers. She used to publish them under the name of Mary Magdalene I think or something like that. The church papers. She used to get paid two guineas for each one she wrote.
She put us all through education, made sure we were all educated, all went to university. She was a wonderful woman. She died at 92 years of age. She lived with my two sisters alternatively. She spent some time with my eldest sister in the country and then she spent more time with my other sister up in the city. Towards the end the girls couldn’t handle her any more. She was put into a home. I think she had enough there. She just got in to bed and went.
Died off. But she was a remarkable woman.
After the war started in quite a number of young doctors joined up. Royal North Shore hospital was a typical example. Quite a few of them went off with the first like my brother did. I was seconded with another senior doctor from Prince Henry hospital to go to Royal North Shore hospital to run the place. It was very much understaffed with doctors. It was a terrible busy time over there, I remember.
We used to get up at night and work all day. I was exhausted. I remember being called up one night to see a baby. The kid was – I can’t remember what was wrong with the kid – but anyway I gave it Dover’s powders. Dover’s powders contains morphia – opium, little bits, very small amounts. It was the thing you gave kids to settle them down.
I gave this kid Dover’s powder and sent the mother home with the kid. The next morning the superintendent said to me, “That bloody kid you saw nearly died here, did you know?” “No.” “You must have given it too much Dover’s powders because they brought the kid in unconscious. We fixed it up during the night.” I said, “Why didn’t you wake me?” “You’d done enough damage.” That was the one and only experience of my life where (UNCLEAR) and that was because of the amount
of pressure that was on us at that time. We worked far too long hours. I still don’t remember what happened. But I do know the kid had too much Dover’s powder. Whether the mother gave it too much or whether I ordered too much, I don’t remember.
At Prince Henry Hospital where I was a resident was an infectious disease hospital. They had a leprosy colony. They had venereal wards which were right out on the coast. We didn’t have any treatment for gonorrhoea or syphilis in those days. No penicillin. So they had wards full of these venereal cases. They had a ward set aside for diphtheria cases.
All diphtheria cases. And another one set aside for infantile paralysis. They were all the chronic illnesses. Then there were the wards for infectious diseases – the simple ones like mumps, measles, German measles and so on. There was another big ward. And then there were the general surgical wards and the medical wards. As junior residents at the hospital our job was to – apart from doing the ordinary
junior work – get up at night time when the ambulances came in with a sick patient. You had to look at the patient, decide which ward to send them and so on. The biggest problem was at night time if they came in with a sore throat and a rash. They either had German measles or they had measles or they had – you had to decide what was wrong with them. If you sent them to the wrong ward you were in really trouble the next day. If you sent a patient with German measles in with other measles, was an awful thing to do.
Diphtheria. If a bloke came in with a sore throat you didn’t know if it was diphtheria or whether it was just German measles. You had to make your mind up. You sent them to the wrong ward: you were in real trouble. We seemed to have lots of those infectious diseases at Coast hospital.
It was a fenced off area with a fence around it with a little cottage. And the lepers lived there with their families. It was the junior residents’ job to look after the lepers if they got a cold. Otherwise they just lived there apart from the rest of the community. The leprosy you didn’t treat that much. But you treated other illnesses. And a rather extraordinary story associated with it.
I was the resident looking after the lepers and I got a call over. A patient got a urinary tract infection. A woman. At that time sulphonamides had come in. It was a new antibiotic. Only been in a couple of years. Wasn’t used much. I thought, this is the ideal person so I ordered sulphonamides. The next morning the telephone rang and the superintendent’s on the phone. “What the hell were you doing in the leper colony? What do you mean by prescribing drugs like that
to those patients? You nearly killed her. She’s broken out in a rash, she’s had a terrible relapse. You’re off the ward.” Terribly guilty. Anyhow she survived all right. The upshot of that was, when I came back from the war I went out to visit the hospital. And I saw the big boss in charge and we’d yarned about the old days. He says, “Extraordinary thing happened while you were away at the war. Some young resident treated a patient over here with sulphonamides.
She went into relapse and then she was cured.” I said, “Yes. That was me.” What had happened was – nowadays of course that’s the treatment for leprosy – sulphonamides script, they use them. But I had no knowledge to what was happening. She got cured by the use of sulphonamides. That’s my story of the lepers. The leper colony. Lepers were regarded as highly infection contagious people. They were set aside
in a place like that on their own. If a patient died of leprosy, the law was that they had to be put into a zinc lined coffin full of formalin and taken in the dead of night from where they were to Rookwood Cemetery and buried in a special place. That’s how antiquated the rules were in those days. Leprosy is not nearly as infectious or contagious as
tuberculosis. But it was feared in those days.
We were allowed to go into Perth for the final leave. Had a day. I was in charge of the trainload of troops that went in. When we got together before the train I said to them, “I don’t care what you do in Perth, that’s your own business. But I want you back at six o’clock and I want you sober. The rest of the day you can do what you like. Anyone that doesn’t, if he causes problems he’ll be in real strife.”
So we got to the time about fifteen short. So I said to my sergeant, “Where the hell are they?” “They’ll be in Roe Street.” “What’s Roe Street?” “That’s where the brothels are.” “Let’s get round and round them up.” So I went round to the Roe Street area and there was one of my sergeants, bit tipsy. He’d been on the grog all day. He had a handful of money and he’s saying,
“You had a fuck yet son? Here, go and have a fuck. Here.” He was handing out money to these young boys and they were going to the brothels. And there’s these frowsy old sheilas [women] in there. So we rounded them all up. Got them all back and got them back to the thing. Embarked for Malaya. By the time we were nearing to Malaya ten days later on they were all turning up with their gonorrhoea. And telling me, “Oh gee, doc, what am I going to do? I just got married before I left home and look what I got.
I don’t know what I’m going to do.” So yeah, they got gonorrhoea at that stage. Also when they got to Singapore too the boys every now and then would come back with venereal disease. They got gonorrhoea all right from Roe Street in Perth.
circumstances. I was a bit nonplussed. I was out of my depth in that place. I was being taken there and these were things I’d never heard of, never seen before. I was impressed by the tough looking eggs standing around outside. We had a drink. I remember she gave us a drink to have while we were there. I don’t know how we got there. I don’t know why he took us there. But I do know we met Tilly Devine. Another famous place he took us was the coffin factory
where they made coffins. We went there. We met people there and we got on the grog there and we used to play Cardinal Puff. Do you know Cardinal Puff? It’s a game in which you had to do certain things and then have a drink. And do another, two drinks. Next time, three drinks. It’s no time before you’re all full [drunk]. Just a way of getting full. I can’t tell you exactly
how it was done. But Cardinal Puff was the game we played. We sat around the coffins drinking the grog. Extraordinary memories of those days. One of the fellas got pretty inebriated so they put him in a coffin. He was passed out. We took him to the hospital where he was a resident and put him in the coffin outside the front door and left him there.
They were wild days. We didn’t do anything naughty. We got on the grog and did things like that. That was the showground days. From then we went to Liverpool Camp and we joined as a unit and then we came under control of the CO [commanding officer] and then we became important people in charge of the troops. Our training started in Liverpool. A lot of marching
up and down and drill. Elementary training. From there we went to Dubbo. The unit was divided into two groups. A company went to Bathurst and B company went to Dubbo. We spent a long time in Dubbo. I can remember sitting out on the veranda of the Royal Hotel at night drinking grog and drinking beers and doing some field exercises and teaching the boys troops. But I can’t remember much more about it. We were there for I would think nearly six months.
I cannot remember much about it at all. Excepting I can remember going to the hotels and drinking and marching and drills. From there we went to Bathurst and joined the rest of the group. We were there for about another six months before we were on final leave. Final leave in Sydney. I took the troops down to their final leave. We had to meet again. Of course, it was just like any other one. Some of them didn’t turn up and
most of them turned up drunk. Drowning your sorrows in alcohol was the thing to do in those days. You didn’t ever even had to be sorry to get drunk. It was a way of getting away from the world. It was escape. Final leave I can remember they all came back, most of them, under the influence of alcohol. I can remember the sergeant picking up his bag, slung
it over his shoulders and down he went with the bag. So full. Another fella so drunk he fell down on the way to the railway station marching home and he was as sick as a dog in the gutter. We picked him up and they carried him. Alcohol seemed to be the important thing. Everybody drank alcohol as an escape. So we got onto the train and I can remember one of my staff sergeants saying to me –
all he could say was – he was under the influence. “I’m gonna have a baby. I’m gonna have a baby.” That’s all I can remember him saying. He obviously went home and found out his wife was pregnant.
I went down there for a month and trained hard during the day on technical World War 1 stuff. We were all taught World War 1. We weren’t taught jungle training. We didn’t know anything about it. We were still doing bloody old pelliers and field ambulances and CCSs [casualty clearing stations] and when you look back on it, it was just crazy. However, we were officers’ training school. We learnt to troop. We had to learn how to teach our troops to march. We learnt all the drills and
things like that down at officers’ training school. I did very well down there. I had the ability to make my voice heard to the troops and I came back with the flying colours from that school. We also had a great time down there because there were a few mates of mine that were down that I made who lived in Victoria in Melbourne and they took us round to the different sights and we used to go to the beaches and go to their homes at night for dinners and it was a great three weeks period down there or month.
Another school I went to from Bathurst was the Gas School. We were taught there the use of various gases and I did well in that school too and came home with quite recommendations. Didn’t make any bloody difference to my unit though. I bought back a few demonstration things with me. In Bathurst Camp it was pretty cold up there at this time of the year
and we were getting ready to go overseas. It was June/July. I’d come back. And we had fires in the mess and so on. So I got a bit inebriated one night and I let off one of these tear gas things. I knew it would cause panic and it was great fun. Until – I forgot that damn stuff settled in the wards and settled in the building so every time you lit the fire at night it’d all come off and everybody had to get out of the mess with tears in their eyes.
I was the most unpopular person. We used to have to go to the sergeants’ mess to have a drink. Terrible. I enjoyed those schools because I was doing something, learning something and I was achieving something. So I enjoyed the schools. Neither of them were very much use to me afterwards. The great tragedy was that I came back from the officers’ training school with the best drill fellow in the school.
I drilled our troops. I produced a very good efficient marching group. Really good. I taught them pride in themselves and so on. The big day came for the marching in Bathurst. All these fellas cleaned themselves us and we were right at the peak. And the CO said to me, “You’re staying in camp to look after the camp. You won’t be in the march.” I couldn’t believe it. He said,
“Someone’s got to stay behind. You’ve had a good time with the army. You can stay behind.” And they went off to the march. I never saw the boys march. I couldn’t believe he could be so cruel to you. But I don’t think I was very popular with the CO. Probably from the tear gas. That’s what he probably still had going in his mind. Anyhow.
So what was your relationship like with the CO besides the tear gas?
That’s a good question. The other troops seemed to get on much better with the CO than I did. I was never an arse licker. I never went up to the CO and tried to make friends with him all the time. I kept my distance from him. My fella mates were my mates. So I never had a lot to do with the COs. But a lot of the other ones did. They used to go and visit with him and became fond of him. I was not very popular. I wasn’t unpopular I don’t think.
But I wasn’t one of his boys. I had an uncle wanted me to join masonry. He said, “When you get overseas in the army it’ll be good for you. If you be a mason you’ll have good comrades and you’ll have good contact and you’ll be able to go out and do this.” So I said, “Okay.” So I joined the masonry in Sydney. I don’t even know much about masonry. But there are three degrees of masonry. First degree, second degree, third degree. When you get to third degree you’re a master mason. So
you’re an apprentice for your first year so I got my apprentice one in Sydney and I wanted to do my second part. I was born in Coonabarabran. We were in Dubbo camp. So it was ideal. So it was all arranged for me to go to Coonabarabran and have my second degree year at the Masonic hall there. It was all fixed up. So I went to the bloke in charge of us then. It was the 2IC [second in command]. I said, “I want weekend leave.” “You can’t have weekend leave.” I said, “But I’m due for weekend leave.” “Well you’re not down for this weekend.” I said, “But it’s important for
me. It’s a big functions arranged up in Coonabarabran for me.” “I don’t care. Don’t you realise there’s a bloody war on?” This is peace time. Whole thing had to be cancelled. So I don’t think I was the popular person. Two things that I wasn’t allowed doing. but I don’t remember being unpopular. I think I was an achiever. I did well at all my classes, all the schools and things.
But I wasn’t a popular boy.
was the boat. I remember the food being good on the boat. I was never seasick. I remember the lovely – as we got up to the Sunda Straits and through the islands and passing through those areas there. The rest of the trip I don’t remember much excepting we did exercises and gave lessons and talks. I gave talks. A number of health talks. We got to know the troops and we got to know the sisters and the other people
on board the ship. I remember coming into Singapore. Coming through the islands and the tropical – seeing tropics for the first time and the vegetation and the heat and the humidity. We went from the snow to the middle of the heat. From great coats to shorts. It was a tremendous impact on the body to go from one to the other
so quickly. When we first arrived at Singapore we were all – couldn’t move around too much. We were all tried, exhausted from the heat. You’d drag yourself to the outpatients’ department to see the kids and to the first aid post and so on. That’s where the gonorrhoea became rife too. The boys turned up with the gonorrhoea that they’d
picked up in Singapore. Treated a lot of those kids. They were really promiscuous these fellas. Every opportunity they’d get they’d get out with these girls. One fella was found – we were at a big wire closed in area and a fella was making sex through the wire with a sheila on the other side. Just unbelievable. It’s another little thing of war.
Our biggest problem there was the gonorrhoea really, and the heat.
which is up on the north east area of the island. We were camped in a school there called – some Catholic school, boys’ school – we took over the school. There we did most of the intense training because we had pretty open space around us and we took our troops on marches and getting introduced to the jungle. it wasn’t really jungle but it was more tropical vegetation that the areas – getting the fellas acclimatized really
more than anything. There was a fair bit of leave. So the fellas were in town, Singapore a lot. A lot of them got themselves girlfriends and we went into Singapore a number of occasions. Raffles Hotel was the prime spot to go to. Fas as the local people of Singapore were concerned, there was no war on. Life went on as normal.
We used to go to Raffles Hotel. It was an absolutely magic place. Tropical nights under the palm trees, beautifully cut lawns and tables out on the lawns and army bands playing music and women all dressed up and fellas in their dress uniforms looking very smart and all these lovely women. We’re sitting there in our khaki outfits in the corner somewhere drinking Sing stingers
and really enjoying the wonderful life that they had in Singapore. Those are days that I’ll never forget. Beautiful days. Didn’t get into there a lot, but whenever we got a chance to get into Singapore we went to Raffles. Didn’t last long, as I say we were only there about a month or more, maybe two at the most. And then we went up camped up to Malaya to a place called Segamat which is a fairly big town. That’s
where we started more intense training. Marches and jungle training in the jungle. We had lots of lovely experiences there but always seemed to rain four o’clock in the afternoon. Came down with a terrible downpour. That cooled the air and then afterwards you went and played squash and did your exercise and had games and all sorts of things in the afternoon. The mornings were taken up with training. The evenings were free in the mess.
We’d play cards and can’t remember, must have had some other sorts of entertainment. While I was at Segamat I got dengue fever. The brigade major was a doctor, not practising medicine, but in the First World War. He came in to see me. I said, “I think I’ll be all right now.” He said, “You won’t bloody well be all right. You got dengue fever badly. It’ll be at least three weeks before you’ll be on your feet again.” I said
“I think I’m better than that.” He said, “Don’t argue with me. You go up to Fraser Mountain and recoup up there for a fortnight.” Fraser Mountain was hills outside up in Malaya up country a bit further. It was cool in the hills. It was beautiful nights, lovely nights. Golf course there. I recuperated quickly there. It was a lovely spot. I can remember the English people who were there.
I don’t know if it was typical, but the English public servant was a funny sort of a person. They obviously came from a poor background, most of them. But they were big bosses when they got to Singapore and they lorded over everybody. They were really intolerable with the natives and the local people there. Up on Fraser Mountain I came in contact with quite a number of these families and their attitude towards the local people was terrible. I
couldn’t understand it. I can remember one woman she used to always berating her kids she had there. She used to say, “Behave or not at all. Behave or not at all.” I can still hear her saying it. Anyhow that was a good recuperate. I played a bit of golf, and went back to the tropics again. That was my only break. The rest of the time we were jungle training.
Malacca. I don’t know why we moved there but I think it was in order to have better contact with the other troops, so we could have combined exercises. Because when we first went to Malacca we used to visit the AGH and visit the nurses in there. I can remember that towards the end of it. War broke out while we were in Jasin. We immediately went to our war post which was in Jemaluang. Jemaluang is on the east coast
over near Mersing. A lot of the 22nd Brigade was over there on that side, the 19th battalion and … where were we? Jemaluang? East coast, Mersing.
We had two brigades out there. The 27th Brigade and the 22nd Brigade. The 22nd Brigade was – the 29th, the 30th and the 26th. That was the 27th Brigade. The 22nd Brigade was the 19th, 18th and the 20th. That brigade was on the east coast
near Mersing – the 18th 19th 20th and we were camped up near there. We were sent to Jemaluang which was near the coast where we set up an advanced dressing station. War had started. We were in earnest. They had to dig out an area for a big tent about two or three feet deep. The tent was erected around that and then bags were put around the outside so that other words, the sand bags and the other three feet.
Anything going in there would be away from bomb bursts and so on. They built that and we set up our stations in the bush, set up our tents. We went ahead then with our board training. War footing training. That would have lasted us about six weeks I suppose. Then they decided to move back to Segamat. But we were moved back to where the Japanese were coming which was coming down the centre. They weren’t coming down the coast. They were in little
bits but their main strip was down the centre. So we all moved back. We moved back to a place called Pulang [This means ‘return’ in Bahasa] which was not far from Gemas where the first contact took place. Our company was separated into A companies and B companies. I was with B company. A company moved up close to Gemas where the 2/30th came into contact with the Japs on the first time. They had an ambush there and killed
many of the Japs. Quite a few of our fellas got hurt. They came back through the A company which was the other one. And that was our first contacts with the wounded. In the meantime we’d been moved to Pulang but one section, my section, was asked to go to Gahang Aerodrome in case there were some attacks there. So we went to Gahang Aerodrome and there was nothing there. There was a whole lot of wooden planes that looked like planes.
Obviously the Japs came over a couple of times, but they obviously knew what it was because they came right down low one day with a bomb and dropped their bombs in the little aerodrome next to these bloody wooden planes as if to say, “We know what it’s all about,” and disappeared. That’s the only time. So we had nothing to do there at all. We were there for at the most about a week I suppose. I remember learning how to cut hair. So I cut all the troops hair for them. Something to do. One of the senior officers from one of the other units come
out and said, “What are you doing here?” We said, “We were told to stay here.” “What the hell for? Get back to your bloody unit. You’re no use here.” So we went back and joined our unit. We still don’t know why we were left there. We were forgotten I think. Anyhow we went back and joined our main unit. That was back at Segamat, just outside Segamat. That’s as I say where the first troops started coming down. Gemas was the first contact with the troops and A company
groups. From B company we were sent to Iahitin [?] which was a crossroads. Over on the west coast was Muar where all the big battles took place. And the east coast was Mersing where the 19th battalion was and down the centre was where the Japs were coming in. We were at the crossroads. We were there to pick up casualties. We were there I suppose three or four days and all we experienced were bombings. There were
bombings all around us and machine gun fire all around us. We never saw anything. We just stuck there. We had some extraordinary experiences. They set up our – I left my batman behind back in the camp. Officers always bat for another – just a few stretcher bearers and a few ambulance drivers. And while I was away my batman was supposed to look after my gear. Someone stole my wallet with all my bloody money and all my pictures.
However we had to – fellas were getting a bit demoralised. Nothing to do. So I made them play contract bridge. We started a team of contract bridge. We played bridge. There was a new rule we introduced called ‘Culberson Draw’ in which you were not allowed to move from the cards until a bomb dropped nearby. Anyone who got up when the bombs went off was in trouble. This was a great game. The fellas’d all be sitting around playing cards, contract bridge.
One night when the boys were in bed, we finally got a bomb in the bloody camp and the troops took off into the slit trenches. One fella got out of bed. He still had the mosquito net around him when he was landed in the slit trench. They sent us up food from the main camp and they sent up by mistake a big container for our food and it turned up and it was full of washing up water. The blokes had picked up
the wrong thing of water up to the front line. But the boys weren’t fools. They went and caught a duck from one of the local farm nearby and a goose and they plucked that and they had a spade and they roasted it on the spade over a fire. So we got some tucker. These country boys from Casino up in the bush, they knew what they were doing. The final to that story was when the fella went back many years later after he went back to that farm and he found the farmer
and he gave him twenty dollars for the goose he pinched during the war. Eased his conscience. We didn’t get any casualties. We nearly got casualties amongst our own troops. Finally a fella came into the camp, one of the troops and said, “What are you doing here?” “We’re here to pick up troops.” “Well you’re too bloody close. There’s Japs around us. They’ll be around you shortly so get out.” And we moved out. That was my first induction to the war.
We moved back to the camp. Then we got involved in a lot of the 2/26th Battalion had a lot of casualties. They put up a great resistance against the Japanese and held them up. 2/30th did the first one and 2/20th did this one. One the other west coast Bila and that place where the 2/29th and the 30th battalions they had the real casualties there. That was where they got surrounded and many of their troops were killed and – awful business. But we got the dregs of those coming through.
When we were further down we treated a lot of those chaps. Mostly patching them up and giving them a feed and sending them on their way.
You’re asking me how we got in and how we got these – we used to take over little cottages and so on. We moved back. We really got back to the last big contact we had was about 30 kilometres north of Singapore.
The 2/26th group involved in very heavy fighting. In the Japanese history of the war, they talked about this being one of the best resistance they came across, the cheeky Australians who held them up for so long. So it was – we got quite a few casualties from there. Then we moved back to Singapore Island. I was given a job to set up advanced station at Mandai which is about 20 kilometres from the causeway
onto Singapore Island. The camp came down there and they set up our camp down there. We came under pretty heavy fire there. There was an artillery unit somewhere near us. The Japs had focused on this and they were attacking the artillery unit and quite a number of things landed near us. One landed in our camp and killed several of our fellas and a number of casualties, local Chinese.
They got damaged during the attacks and they came to our hospital. Lots of them. We treated them. A woman came in with her thigh almost blown off. She had half a chook. She’d cut a chook down the middle and put the other half of the chook on there. The material from the chook stopped the bleeding coagulating. So there was a quite big hole and there was the chook sitting on it there. They were able to fix it up and send her off by ambulance
to the hospital. Never seen it before, never heard of it. Wonderful. It stopped all the bleeding.
troops to assist with English field ambulance which was on the causeway. The causeway is a big long cement area which is between Malay and Singapore Island. The idea was to blow the causeway up so the Japanese couldn’t get across. The troops did that. The only casualty they had, one of the fellas got his leg blown off. Anyhow we moved up to this camp and I went to see the field officer
in the big tent. I said, “We’ve come to join you. We’ve been sent up to help you in case any Australian casualties come through.” “Good. Have you had lunch yet?” I said, “Yeah.” We carried our tin of bully beef. “Yeah I’ve got my bully beef and biscuits with me.” He said, “No. I mean real lunch. Would you like some lunch?” I said, “What? Yes, sir.” So he clapped his hands and a young Indian boy came in white coat and all and he said, “Get lunch for the
officer.” But first of all he said, “Would you like to wash your hands?” “Yes.” He said, “Bring,” (in Hindustani) “soap and water.” So the boy brought in a bar soap and a glass of water. He said, “This is the problem we’ve got. Trying to make ourselves understood properly.” Anyhow so he said, “Come on,” and he took me to another tent and there was a big cedar table with chairs all around it and they served me chicken.
See, they didn’t know the war was on. The Japs were just the other side of the causeway. We’d been working in ADSs [advanced dressing stations] and bully beef and so on. Most extraordinary experience.
and volumes of troops were far in advance of our people. We lost a lot of casualties and had very thin ranks at this stage. They just overwhelmed them so eventually they had to move back and that was a series of moving back. And our field ambulance moved back at the same time. Our next move from Bukit Panjang was to the Swiss Club. We had a set up there, a small advance dressing station there for the wounded. But at that stage
there were two hospitals. There was one in the café building in town – the 10th AGH and the 13th AGH which was a bit further up on the coast. They had already arrived there. So any troops coming by ambulance were taken most to the hospitals. So we were at the Swiss Club until we got surrounded there. The Japs were coming and firing over the top of us and coming around us. We withdrew again back to the café, but the troops were out
helping the regimental doctors. We’d send an ambulance up with two or three fellas to work with these doctors then they’d take the stuff back to the main general hospitals. Last week or ten days of the war we were at Saint Andrews’ Cathedral. We set up a hospital there. We had lots of troops being brought back there. A lot of people
nerves had gone and they were nervous wrecks and they were crying and shouting and things like this. That was the worst feature of it. Of course we were under heavy bombing all the time we were there. Not actually on the cathedral itself, but in the surrounding areas the bombs were falling and the noise was terrific. That was our work. We did a fair bit of operating there on casualties that were brought in. And then suddenly,
boom, silence. War was over.
to unload the stuff onto ships and send it back to Japan. So the troops were sent in to work and they were housed in various places in the city. One of them, in which I was housed, was the Great World. The Great World was an amusement park like Luna Park. It had all those sort of features like restaurants and plenty of buildings. So the troops were all accommodated there. We set up a hospital in the restaurant
in the Great World. There were another doctor and myself and one of the companies of my field ambulance – about 10 or 15 fellas. We set up the hospital there. We looked after the fellas just like general practitioners. Looked after the place and the fellas went out and worked on the go downs, loading stuff on to the Japanese ships. They did a fair bit of thieving, bringing stuff
into the camps. Get belted up by the Japanese if they got found doing it. They weren’t supposed to. Thieving in the Japanese is a terrible thing, a terrible crime. They taught anyone who they found stealing – they just couldn’t understand it. Many a funny story is told about the stealing. One particular incident.
There’s a story told of a Japanese working one of the go downs who was very worried about this thieving. So he tried to explain to the troops that it was a very bad thing. So what he did, he got one of the boys hats and he put a tin of jam on the table. Then he walked by and put the hat on it.
What he was going to do was show that the soldier came back, picked up the hat with the jam in it and walked off. But when he went to come down and pick up the hat the tin of jam had gone. One of the boys had stolen it while he was doing his little (UNCLEAR). He got terribly angry about it. There’s all sorts of funny stories told about the go downs because they came under control then of the – not the fighting force Japanese, but the others.
Then later on the Koreans, the guards. Because the Japanese use their fighting troops in the front line and the people they put in charge of these go downs and loading stuff were their second rank troops. They were nice people. Probably university people. Not fighters. And they couldn’t understand this Australian attitude of thieving because the fellas got anything they could to get back to supplement their diet. They only stole food.
And plenty of it. They used to put it in their underpants under the crotch so they had nothing visible. They walked but between their legs they’d have a tin of jam. Brought quite a lot of stuff into camp. Occasionally they’d bring something into the hospital.
wards there. We had two or three fellas who got flu or something like that we’d bed them up instead of working. Or someone’d have an operation or cut, we kept them in a little hospital there. It was a time of teaching our troops too. I taught lots of fellas first aid, I taught them how to give anaesthetics and they gave anaesthetics for me. I taught them as much as I could about medicine.
Tropical diseases and so on. We played cards. 500 was the popular game of cards. We’d play that in the daytime. We’d play bridge. I remember I had a fair bit of influence in the hospital because I was the doctor and I was the senior and the merchants –
Indians and Malayans who wanted to sell stuff in the camp had to get permission from me before they could sell it. Food they used to sell. They wanted to sell all sorts of food to the troop and I wouldn’t let lots of it be sold because they’d only get dysentery or something out of it. But other things they could sell. So I was an important person as far as they were concerned. I was the one who let them do things. So they gave me a present of a bag of peanuts – a sugar bag full of peanuts. My mate and I
sat down and got stuck into these peanuts and we both got intestinal pains. Terrible. Blew up. Blew up. Peanuts do that to you – the carbohydrates, but not on the diet we’d been on for so long. And we blew up like this. I didn’t know what to do about it. Then I’d heard that charcoal was very good for that sort of flatulence. So we had some charcoal tablets and that was my first introduction into the use of charcoal tablets.
We took two tablets each and our tummies went down just like that. Charcoal tablets absorbed the gases. Unbelievable. And from terrible agony we were right. We stopped eating peanuts the way we did after a while. That’s a medical experience for me, and I never go anywhere without my charcoal tablets.
That was in April. You want to move on to F Force? Well the story’s been told many times about the troops were loaded into steel trucks overloaded so you could hardly move. Sit around. We had to journey up for five days, six days from Singapore up to Bangkok. We had very little food on the way to eat. We had meals
at Ipoh, we had meals at Kuala Lumpur. I can remember those two. I remember stopping at a number of places to rewater – get water or get fuel. Our fellas would get out and looked after their latrine matters while they were there. Or take a shower under the water of the – if we could, although the Japs’d chase us away. So that was just a horrible trip of people getting diarrhoea and dysentery and crowded in the trains under humid
and horrible conditions. Just terrible. Anyhow we finally got to Bam Pong, arrived up there which is supposed to be the land of milk and honey. We were going to have a convalescent camp. The camp was just stinking camp. Mud. There’d been heavy raining and there was mud everywhere. A lot of troops had gone, the first lot left their gear behind because they couldn’t carry it. The latrines were all overflowing. There was faeces everywhere. It was just a disgusting horrible camp.
We camped on the periphery there for that first night and then we went off the next night on a march. You know all about the march. The march went for about 25, 30 kilometres at night time. Rest and then go on the next day. After two days march you’d have 36 hours rest. You were supposed to wash your clothes and do everything like that you had to do. Most of the
time was spent looking after the sick because by this time the boys were getting dysentery. Eating from the food on the train going up was pretty awful and a lot of fellas got dysentery. We were treating those, treating blisters on their feet. That was repeated till we did the 283 kilometres which was about ten days. Might have been a fortnight before we got up there.
On the way our fellas got dysentery and my troops I remember one camp we had some camfloridine which is a bit like chlorodine, which is a draught. You only take ten drops or fifteen drops and it’s got morphine in it. I gave the job to one of the fellas to go round the fellas with diarrhoea and give them a small amount of this each. This idea of a small amount of mine was a teaspoonful. His idea was to do this into the fella’s
mug. So the next day we had blokes half asleep suffering from morphia overdoses and vomiting and god knows what on the march. Terrible business. That was the only bad incident we had on the way. The rest of the time we were dealing with blisters and so on and cases of dysentery. One of the ones that Michael mentioned to me was the fella called Adrian Curlewis. Adrian Curlewis was one of the fellas on the march. He and a padre from
Queensland – Patrick Michael Dolan – both had terrible blisters on their feet. I insisted on them stopping off at the camp and resting for two days and catching up with the next lot coming through. But neither of them would do so. They arrived up at the Nieke camp with their boots full of blood because they wouldn’t leave their troops. Two very fine people. We arrived in Nieke which was the first camp we came
to. They were building a bridge in Nieke. We were camped on the side of the river. That’s where really the conditions started badly. That’s where the fellas got beaten and made to work on the railway line even though they were sick. The worst job I had was the Japanese would demand 20 fellas. There’d only be about 10 that were fit. So if you didn’t give him the other ten he’d go and pick them out himself. So you had to pick out the least sick of the sick.
They’d say, “But doc I can’t work.” My job therefore – “You gotta go because if you don’t – he’s a lot sicker than you.” That went on for quite a while in that camp. The job was to sort the fellas out on the sick parade. But the Japs didn’t like it. They wanted everybody working. They just didn’t believe you could see the person was sick. They’d say, “No. He’s sick, send him off.” So a lot of sick people were sent out. That made their health worse. Nieke
we were there for a couple of months I suppose before they moved us on to Chungkai. Cholera broke out. I don’t think we had cholera in Nieke. No, it wasn’t. We got to Chungkai before cholera broke out. That was a terrible business. We had to put a special tent aside and I got two volunteers from my unit to look after the things.
We were at Chungkai for about two weeks when I was told to go and look after a hospital. There was two huts set aside away from the main camp which we set up as a hospital and I was put in charge of that hospital. So I had no more having to send the troops out on the line anymore. That was other people’s job. We had a number of English people. Chungkai when we arrived at it was – they welcomed us to the Death Camp.
It was known as the Death Camp because they lost so many people, so many people died there. The majority of those were English people. They didn’t have the same stamina that our people had. I don’t know why that is. I think they were recruited probably from Liverpool and Manchester and they were from the poorer people where a lot of our recruits were volunteers and they came from the land. Came from up country and they were all fit.
They survived where the British didn’t. They’d throw in the towel pretty quickly. They’d just die if they didn’t feel well. Lost a lot of British people there. Then cholera broke out. The two worst diseases apart from malaria were beri beri in which the body retains fluid and they get bloated up, everything’s swollen up full of fluid. The other one was cholera in which all fluid is removed.
So a person with beri beri would be lying there all blown up, get a dose of cholera and then overnight there’d be a skeleton. The fluid would be gone. What killed cholera patients was not so much the toxicity but the loss of fluid, diarrhoea, vomiting and loss of fluids. So you had to get the fluids up to them as best you could. There were all sorts of ingenious ways people did this.
There’s always clever people in the camps – Australians. Put their hand to anything. There’d be a plumber or a blacksmith or a boot maker or someone at the camp. All good at doing little things. This plumber got hold of some galvanised iron and some old tins and he was able to cut the tin and make a little spout on it and he put the
galvanised iron over a hot fire so that the galvanised belt and the solder from the galvanise fell down. He collected that at the end and he used that for soldering up these containers so that they were able to add water to the container and using rubber tubing sometimes doctors stethoscopes and cannulas made from little narrow bits of bamboo they were able to make needles and they were able to by the use of
kitchen salt mixed with creek water boiled and filtered through cotton wool they were able to give these people salt water and keep them alive. This didn’t happen in my camp. But it happened in many other camps. We didn’t have that sort of – we were up the top end of the line where most of the fellas were out working and we didn’t have these same sorts of people. So the only way we did it was to try and get the fluids by mouth as much as we could. Salty water by mouth.
And we had no treatment for beri beri so people either succumbed or they died. As far as cholera’s concerned Australians were all given cholera injections before they left home. Occasional one would have dodged it because they didn’t like their injections. They would be the people who died. There were very few Australians died. But the British, a lot of them dodged the cholera injection. They didn’t want a cholera injection. They all died
like flies. The ones that had cholera injections often got sick, but survived. So that’s why most of our Australians did survive the cholera. The other terrible disease of course was dysentery and a lot of them got dysentery. That’s very debilitating, because no sooner do you get back to your bunk and you’ve got to rush off to the toilet again and then you get back to your bunk. We had no treatment for it. We had no antibiotics where I was.
They had them further down the railway line. But we had a few malaria pills earlier on. And we had treatments like iodine and carbolic acid and things like that and bandages, but very few bandages. So my memory of treating the patients was mostly by scouring out their ulcers and so on, giving them water and salt to drink and trying to maintain
them by telling them the importance of going home. The other thing we did was to make them laugh. We used to have little concert parties. You might have saw that on the video. Those little concert parties where we had things like Panhandle Pete and His Poofters which was one group we used to sing cowboy songs for them. And Hawaiian Hettie and Her Harlots was one where we used to do
all the Hawaiian songs – To You Sweetheart, Hello – all those sort of things. One fella wrote in his book – he was dying, his mate had died and he’d left and he was lying down and he’s had enough. He wasn’t going to go any further. And I came along and woke him up. I said, “You’ve got to get up.” He said, “No. I’m not. I’m finished. I’m dying. I’m not going any more.” He insisted on taking me to the camp – anyhow we put on a concert that night. He said he started to laugh, he couldn’t help himself at the stupidity of it all.
From then on he never looked back. He said it was the best thing ever happened to him. I think that was happened to lots of fellas. I think we were able to keep them alive by making them laugh at life a bit. More about – there isn’t much more to tell you about the medical side. We lost some very nice people there. There was a fellow called Padre Foster who used to sing. He was a well known British tenor under the name of John Foster.
He was a great singer. He was also a padre. He used to go around amongst the troops and he’d sing for them. The popular thing was Holy City or The Road to Mandalay and these sort of things. He had a beautiful voice. The fellas all talk about him. If anybody was up at the camp they’d tell you what a wonderful person he was. Anyhow he got beri beri. Couldn’t do a thing for him. So he finally died. I had to send his bible home to his
family. A wonderful person. But the great tragedy was so many of these people’s lives could have been saved if we’d only had some sort of treatment. That was the last thing on the Japanese mind. It was just using those up that were there. They didn’t care what happened to the rest.
Is that a normal military practice?
No. I don’t think so. Normally you march for the day for eight hours and then you rest the night. And during the day, every hour, you have a ten minute halt. That was known as the ten to the hour. The boys would sing, “Ten to the hour. Let’s sit down. We’re bloody tired. Let’s sit down.”
That was normal in the army, military. But this was marching at night and there were all sorts of stories told. One of my boys in my unit told the story of he and his mate, he couldn’t see too well so he kept behind his mate all the time. Whenever the mate stopped he’d stopped and so it moved on. Unfortunately the fella came up against a tree. He thought it was the bloke in front of him so he stopped. All the rest of the troops were marching on. After a while someone got, “What’s happening up front? We’ll have to have a look,”
and he was standing behind a tree which he thought was a man. So they had to go round and catch up with the rest of the troops. Marching at night, tired and exhausted. Could easily happen. You’re half asleep anyhow. He thought it was a man in front of him. There are wonderful stories told of fellas getting sick and couldn’t go on and their mates would carry them and carry their packs and kept them alive. So much so that
they did so much extra work themselves helping their mates that they often undermined their own health and suffered later on for it. The great thing about the Australian army was mateship. Everybody had a mate or had mates. There’d be three or four fellas were all mates together. Or you’d have own particular mate. That’s what saved the Australians on this terrible railway line. They had a mate to look after them. If he felt sick his mate would look after him.
And vice versa. Mateship is something that’s talked about in Australia, but could never be better illustrated than it was on that Changi march. If you had a mate you survived. If you didn’t, you died.
which he was able to control without any trouble. He’d been a great horseman in Ireland which won him many good points with the local boys and they loved him. He was a real man among men. Bit of a gambler. He loved his grog. He and I became pretty good friends. Are you a Catholic yourself? Yeah. At one camp we were in when the railway line was
finished and before we went back we were in a camp with a doctor from north of Ireland and padre Duckworth and myself. This is back in Kanchanaburi. You could see him watching this fella. He’d say, “Listen to that north of Ireland basket.” He hated him. But
I got on with him. The fact that my father was a Presbyterian minister didn’t worry him. So we were great friends and priests come over from Saigon as it was in those days, Thailand, and they brought two bottles of brandy and about two or four dozen eggs and gave them to the padre. So we said, “Okay. We’ll go round and distribute these eggs and the whisky amongst the sick. So we went around together and he gave them each an egg
and poured a bit of whisky into their panniers. And he said, “We’ll keep this bastard for ourselves.” It was the other bottle. Did we get rotten that night. I can remember walking arm in arm with him towards the toilet so we could both be sick. We got on very well together and when he came home after the war he came to visit me and he came to see me on one Sunday. I think my neighbours were a little bit surprised to see me sitting in the front yard talking to a Roman Catholic priest. Great friends.
Wonderful person. He died eventually poor fellow.
head of the queue and the Japanese would say, “20 soldiers, 25 soldiers.” So I’d get 20 out and there’d be two or three more too sick to go. Then there’d be “More soldier!” “No no, bioki” “No. Two more.” “Bioki.” He’d go along and pick out two for himself. I gave them the quantity. I never stood up and got bashed.
If he wanted, I made sure he got the fittest of the ones that we had left. Saved the rest of them. Otherwise they just took them indiscriminately. That was my attitude. That’s the way I worked. I don’t think they all worked that way. Some of them would argue with the Japanese for a long time and get bashed up but they still took the ones they wanted. They still got their numbers. So whether standing up and arguing the point was worth while or not I don’t know, but as far as I was concerned I gave them the best because I knew they were going to take
them anyhow. They didn’t like me for it. The troops didn’t like me for it. “Oh, Doc how can you send me up there?” “I know I’m sick. I know I’ve got malaria.” “Well it’s either you or the one that’s worse than you.” That was one of the worst periods. I didn’t have a lot of that fortunately. That was only in Nieke. In Chungkai I had the hospital to look after. When I went in
the camp in Chungkai at the Death Camp it didn’t take me more than a couple of hours to realise that the camp was in a terrible state. It was dirty. It was filthy. No hygiene had been done. Demoralised camp people were dying everywhere. So I went to the senior officers and I said, “My fella’s the senior round here. He’s the staff sergeant. He’s the senior. I’d like him to take control.” He happened to be a private. But he was a great fellow, very well
controlled over his mates and he was very respected within the camp. So I promoted him from private to staff sergeant, put him in charge of the camp. Two or three of his mates were quite bright boys. They got into that camp and they organised it. They were a wonderful group of people. If I can go back to the showground – this fella by the name of Harry Williams, he was an optometrist so he joined the army,
he wanted to do his bit. So he got into his camp and there were three country boys there. They said, “Hey listen old man, you’re a bit older than us. Tell us all about what’s happening over here. So he tried to explain what was happening. Anyhow they became mates. There was about seven of them eventually. Country boys from up around Kyogle and Casino and those areas. And Harry Williams. And Harry was the boss. They were
in the prisoner of war camps in Singapore before we got up on the railway line. They used to go out of camp at night and steal things or get things from local natives and then sell them and make a bit more money and go out the next day and buy some more. They became known as the universal providers because they’d go out and scrounge all sorts of food. Buy it and then bring it back into the camp again. When I put him in charge of this camp in Chungkai, this group were there together I said to the colonel in charge, “These boys are pretty good at scrounging stuff
as well.” He said, “Well look send them to me.” So I sent Harry to him and he gave him a whole stack of money. Don’t know where he got it from. He said, “You go out to the local village, buy what you can and bring it back into camp.” So at night time these boys used to sneak out of the camp, go to the local villages there where they got well known, buy up eggs and all sorts of stuff with this money and bring it back into camp again. They were known
once again as the universal providers. There’s some very funny stories told how they nearly got caught by the Japs. One beautiful story was they were coming back with a load of goods and it started to rain. They could hear the Japs coming down the other side. They had to duck down. The only way they could get back was going across the river. So the fella went in with a bag of sugar over his head to cross the river. Halfway across he slipped. He got out about a hundred yards further down the river.
All that was left was a wet bag on his head. All the sugar had dissolved. That’s their funny story. They all talk about it. Bu they did wonderful work in the camp bringing back food for the sick. That was Harry Williams. He was the staff sergeant put in charge from private to staff sergeant. And I wish I could find my book because I wrote a reason why he should be decorated. There’s stories all about him in that book and I can’t find it.
It would eat away – great ulcers this size – right down to the bone. Unless you got them quickly inevitably the leg would have to be amputated. We used to treat these with carbolic. We’d scrape them out, get all the pus and paint them with carbolic which was a very painful business. But at least it stopped the growth of the organism. From then they’d start to heal.
Later on, I don’t know how it started, but someone went into the river to have a swim with a big ulcer on his leg. As he was sitting in the water fish started to come in and nibble away at his ulcer. He thought this was great because it felt all the rubbish was being taken away and it felt so good to have some sort of a feeling in the leg. He came back and told the medical officer in the camp about this and the camp said, “God what a great idea” so they started sending all these fellas off
in the water and it cleared them up. That helped a tremendous amount in cleaning up the ulcers. The other one was the one that got infected with flies – got maggots. The maggots ate away all the rubbish and they healed much better too. So that was one of the treatment. If a bloke got a tropical ulcer, you infected it with the flies and maggots. Even today that’s a world recognised treatment for those sort of ulcers. They were terribly cruel things.
We used to have to send them back down the river and they’d go down and get amputated down the river. They were the most horrible things. You seen pictures of them in the books at all? I doubt if I’ve got a book they were in. But they were the very bad thing and of course my troops used to have to dress these morning and night and they’d get these – we didn’t have bandages, but they had bits of old
pants and they’d wash them out and dry them, put them back on as a bandage next day. Then they’d wash them out, put another one on. And bathe them with carbolic. They’d slowly get better. If only they could have had a decent feed of course they’d get better quickly.
Okay. Would you share about Kanchanaburi with me?
Before we went to Kanchanaburi we went to Chungkai and I was there only a fortnight. Most of the time I was there I was looking after people in the wards. The same sort of stuff I’d been doing up country. Then we were transferred to Camp Kanchanaburi. I was in the same camp as Weary Dunlop, but I never saw him. I never saw the Canadian – Markovich – he was in the camp too.
I never got involved in that so I must have been in a different part of the camp than they were in. As I say we were only there for a fortnight then we were moved on to Camp Kanchanaburi. Camp Kanchanaburi was a convalescent camp. There was plenty of food there. You could buy food from the natives. We used to buy a dozen eggs and make omelettes. You could buy strawberries and have strawberry omelettes. I tell you it was a home away from home. All you needed was money and the universal providers seemed to have some of that.
They were able to get money. Fellas sold their clothes and shirts and things. I guess I had a bit of money. We used to – they tell me we got paid. I can’t remember. They used to get ten cents a day which wouldn’t buy much, but they used to save it up. So there was a little bit of money in the camp. The buying and selling stuff to the Thailands.
They’d buy a pig and the boys’d roast this pig and buy eggs and things like that so there was lots of food. I’m not too sure where the money came from. I know up in Chungkai they were given a lot of money by the colonel up there to buy food and they did. Whether they had some of that left over or not I don’t know . I don’t remember having any money myself, but the boys always seemed to have food and they shared it with us. Kanchanaburi was a camp where
everybody ate well and started to recuperate. Wasn’t long before we were allowed to go swimming. Used to have about a mile hike. A Japanese officer used to go and he’d swim well up the river from us above the river and the POWs would have a swim. They were allowed to swim and have races and things and then we’d come back again. Plenty of good food. So Kanchanaburi we were there for about three months. It was a period of rehabilitation. We all put on weight. We all looked much better, had
concert parties there. I don’t know whether I told this story before but – yes I did I told Claire I think about the Roman Catholic padre, the fellas came over from Saigon and brought the two bottles of whisky and lots of eggs. I told you that story. That was in Kanchanaburi.
to Kanchanaburi. There was a story I needed to tell you came into my mind. It’s gone again. It was about Kanchanaburi. Eventually it came to an end at Kanchanaburi and they decided to move us back to Singapore.
We had a problem. There were still lots of sick people there. Incidentally, while we were in Kanchanaburi I had an ulcer on my leg – a tropical ulcer began. It didn’t take long to get to about that size. But I was fortunate. Kevin Flag was in the camp and I went to see Kevin. He gave me an anaesthetic and reamed it out. Put bandages and stuff back on and it got healed. It didn’t get very far.
But while in Kanchanaburi there were a number of Dutch people, number of English people and at night time those beautiful clear balmy nights we used to go and stand up – I remember going down to the latrines one night and there was a Dutchman down there and there was another medical officer – his brother was a padre – from Sydney. They were standing and the Dutchman looked up at the
sky and he said, “Ah look, Mercure.” This Australian friend of mine says, “Nonsense man, that’s Mercury, an English star.” A great sense of humour. So that was Kanchanaburi. We went back by train and the trucks this time back to Singapore but I don’t remember it being anywhere near as bad as on the way up. Whether we were less people in it or whether they were open trucks I don’t remember.
We eventually arrived back in Singapore. Were taken by trucks to the camp back in at Changi. We were met there by a senior medical officer. A lot of the fellas went back from the up country with beri beri hearts and in a weakened condition and cardiac and they were told to look after themselves and not to over exercise themselves.
So as soon as we arrived this fella, Billy Bye put a stethoscope on the fella and said, “Run around the playground.” “I can’t. I’m not allowed to run.” “Do what you’re told. Run around the playground. You’re alright, you’ve got athlete’s heart.” I don’t know if you know about this, but it’s a condition where it stimulates as if you’ve got a heart attack but it really isn’t at all. It’s
a pseudo heart attack. So Bobby [Billy] Bye realised that this was a hangover from most of the prisoner of war camps, and it wasn’t a true beri beri at all. But he could pick the ones that did have a decent heart. He’d listen to their heart. Great to their consternation a lot of these cardiac beri beri hearts were back at work again before they knew were they were through Billy Bye. I grew a moustache
while I was on the railway line. That was one of the things you did. You’d do something. So I had one of those beautiful big English moustache, used to curl the mo sort of thing. I came back to Changi and was put in the medical ward and the senior officer of the camp came round and he said, “Where’s Hendry?.” Someone said, “That’s him.” “That’s Hendry?” Came over to me and he said, “Get that bloody moustache off your face.” Blackjack Gallagher, you may have heard of him.
So that was really Kanchanaburi. Kanchanaburi was really just a wonderful wonderful recuperation camp. We lost quite a few people there. One of our well known Australian lawyers was there and he’d been looked after by an Englishman. The fella come over to me and he said, “We’ve got one of your Australians over here that’s had a bad bellyache. I can’t find anything wrong with him.” I went over to see him, he obviously had an intestinal obstruction. So we put him into hospital and he was operated on immediately by an English surgeon. But they couldn’t save him. He lost him, he died.
The English medical officers were not as well trained as the Australian medical officers. They didn’t have that diagnostic ability that the Australians had. They seemed to work more by rote. Anyway I think our own doctors were better doctors as a whole than the medical officers from the British.
What happened during that time?
When I came back, I developed asthma. Not severe, but bad enough to restrict my breathing and I had a very bad time for a while. They couldn’t treat me there so the physician gave me morphia to stop my cough, but all that’d do was make me vomit. So I was – I can remember being pretty sick for about two months. The rest of the time in Changi was spent in – we used to go swimming, tending the gardens,
did a lot of reading, concert parties. I didn’t do any medical work – or very little medical work – when I got back to Changi. That was run by the hospital and the people who stayed back there. We did lots of reading. We had a great library. I was taught Pelmanism by one of the fellas who was there. Do you know what Pelmanism? It’s
a way of remembering things. By association of ideas you can remember anything. I could take a pack of cards, you could shuffle it and I’d go through it and you could shuffle it again and I’d put it back in the order in which it was before. I could remember the order of the cards. That’s 52 cards I could remember. So there were all sorts of things I learnt about Pelmanism. One of them was – I used to go down to the library and forget what I went down to get. So the fella who taught me
Pelmenism said, “I’ll tell you how to remember. Can you visualise the door down near the library?” “Of course I can. I see the damn thing all the time. He said, “Is it open on the left hand side or the right hand side?” “It’s open on the right hand side.” He said, “Okay. Standing behind that door as you go in there’s a bloke with an axe and as you walk in that door he’s going to slam the door and the axe on you as you get in the door. Can you visualise the door, can you visualise the door?” “Yes, I can.”
“Next time you go down and that happens, you remember what you wanted, because what you wanted was to get such and such a book, wasn’t it?” “Yes it was.” So I laughed this off, big joke. Anyway as I walked in the door I jumped about two feet in the air. Proved to me without any doubt the association of ideas can do it, you can remember whatever you want to do. So I got the book and I came back with it and I’ve always remembered ever since.
Pelmanism is a wonderful thing. I couldn’t put a pack of cards together now. I’ve forgotten all about it. But I did when I came back. That’s one of the sort of things we did. We did a fair bit of swimming. We had a surf lifesaver from Bondi was in the camp with us. He was an instructor. So he used to take a party of us down there and we were taught life saving. We learnt everything except to swim. Adrian Kellers was the president of the Surf Lifesaving
Association and he put us through an examination and he gave us all our medallions. Bronze medallions. All we had to do when we got home was to swim out two hundred metres and back and we got our medallions. That’s how we filled in our time. And I was keen to be a surgeon when I came home so I got hold of an anatomy book and I learnt from the anatomy in my head. Learnt all the anatomy up front. I was sitting there one day in the mess hut
reading my anatomy book and a grey haired old fellow with dirty baggy shorts came in. He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “What do you think I’m doing? I’m bloody well studying anatomy.” He said, “What are you doing that for?” “I’m going to become a surgeon.” He said, “That first part’s the primary, that’s the easy part. It’s the second part which is difficult.” I said, “How would you know?” “I’m chief examiner of the Royal College of Surgeons in England.” Lord
somebody or other. Extraordinary place. I did a lot of studying hoping that I’d continue on with my surgery when I got home. I’ve got a book full of anatomy drawings and things from lectures I took. I can’t find the book unfortunately. So that was a period of reading, learning,
swimming, exercising, concert parties. And time went by. We used most of the time. We were moved from the barracks up until at Changi at outside the jail. We lived outside the jail. I was moved to another area towards the end where the Dutch were. I was put into the Dutch camp to look after all these Dutchies. We called it the Pot For Doms. It’s a rude word. It’s Dutch for ‘goddammit’. And
I learnt a few things from the Dutch. I learnt that there was writing on the wall above the beds in the wards there. “Ed zippin ob der bedden is forboden.” “Sitting on the bed is forbidden.” I learnt to say “hoo is it morholler” which is “how is it possible.” I got to know a few good Dutch friends. And I was at that camp when the war finished.
There was a great big black tank outside the wards and someone had written on it “atomic bomb.” Someone had got the news on the radio. It wasn’t long after that war was capitulated.
Our families. That sort of thing. But when you get home, people talked about the last picture show that was on or the fashions that people were wearing and the last musical thing or and gossip about different people. It was trivia which I found very difficult to put up with. I’ll tell you an experience I had when I got back. This is my second wife. My first wife was an actress – Pat McDonald.
I don’t know if you ever remember things like 96 and films and that. She was in all those things. Anyhow when I came back she’d been doing a fair bit of acting at the Minerva Theatre and everything so I met a number of her friends and I found it difficult to fit in with them. So she said, “We’ve got to go to the Australia Hotel, we’ll meet some of my friends there.” “Oh God.” “Come on, it’ll do you the world of good. Get you back into life. You got to get back into life.” So I went to the Australia Hotel. We ordered drinks.
I took my money out and I paid for the drinks. The fella came back with the drinks and change and I took my change. As I’d normally do. And obviously I’d left a sixpence behind on the thing. I didn’t know I had and I never knew anything about tipping. This fella drew himself up to his full height and he said, “I think you need that more than I do, sir.” Gave me the sixpence back. I was so incensed, so angry. There was nearly a brawl.
My friends held me back. I went out. That room was full of American soldiers and people in uniform and girls all dressed which was a new world for me from what I’d been used to. So that’s the sort of thing, the trauma we suffered when we came back trying to fit into a normal life.
once a month you had to be inspected to see if your troops had gonorrhoea. The way they do that, they would parade in front of you and you’d just sit down in this chair and the fellas would walk past and they’d demonstrate their penis, squeeze it, squeeze their penis out like that to make sure there’s any pus in it. A most degrading thing for the troops, but you got used to it, fortunately. But you could recognise and you’d sit here and say, “G’day Bill how’s everything going? G’day Titch, how are you?”
Titch was a very short bloke with a great big tool. “Oh g’day, how you doing Titch?” You’d recognise them all by their tools. It must have been a terribly degrading business for the troops. It wasn’t much fun for the medical officer either. But it got a good nickname, didn’t it? Short arm parade. I can’t remember
anyone getting gonorrhoea being detected that way. Fellas if they got gonorrhoea they’d come and see you. If they got something wrong with their tool they come and see you. They didn’t wait for these parades. It was a stupid business I think.
That was when we were told the war had finished. It was only within about two days of that the commando, Australian commando, led an attack from the aeroplane. Dropped parachutists into the camp. He was like a man from the moon as far as we were concerned because we’d never seen anything like it, you know, with the helmet on and the gear and everything. He arrived in the camp with his machine gun and – his Lewis, whatever it was – and took control of the camp.
Went straight to the office. Obviously the Japanese had heard what had happened and expected him to come and he went straight in and took command of the camp. The Japanese just disappeared. They got rid of them out of the camp. I suppose they rounded them up in another camp, somewhere else. But they disappeared from Changi and we never saw them again. Then the next thing started was parcels started to arrive from the air some of them and later on parcels came in by ship. Wasn’t long before ships came in
to the harbour. We all went on board the ships and they fed us and gave us – I can’t remember the name of the big ship – the Nelson I think. We went on board this magnificent Great War ship and everybody on there spic and span in white clothes in the officers’ mess and they sat down and fed us and gave us great meals and showed us over the ship. Terribly exciting. War was finished. I thought I was very fortunate
because most of my unit had been killed in Borneo. The 2/10th Field Ambulance they were on that death march and we lost most of our troops over there. And the ones that were up on the low line with me, those that come back were divided up into several camps. Some had been sent to Japan to work on the naval dockyards. Others got over to Thailand were kept up in Thailand working there so I only had about 20 to 30 troops left I suppose
at this stage out of 250. And I was the only officer in the camp in charge of this group. All the rest had gone. So the staff officer in charge of the brigade said to me, “Would you like to come back in the catalinas with us because the brigade headquarters is going back and we’ve got enough room for your troops if you want to come back.” “That’d be fantastic.” So we did. We flew. And on the first day we flew to Borneo.
What’s the island there? Can’t think of it. And we landed on this island there and we stayed there overnight and I heard that my brother was in Borneo, so I sent a message to him and he didn’t get the message till the next day. He was a colonel. So I had the chance – I finally got a message back the next day saying “Hang on, I’ll come over and see you.”
I was on the first plane out. And I was a fatalist. I wasn’t going to interfere. I was going to go. So I left a message said, “I’ll see you when I get home.” So I fled on the first plane. We flew on the way to Darwin and we got well on our way and a storm broke out, a severe storm. So the pilot was told to turn back.
But he sent a message saying, “We’re almost through the storm now, why turn back? Can we have permission to proceed?” They said, “Turn around and we’ll find out whether you can proceed.” So we turned around and flew back through the bloody storm again and he said, “Permission to proceed.” So the bugger turned around and flew back through the storm again. This plane was doing this, it was terrible experience. Anyhow the up side of this was we ran out of fuel. I’m sorry. We had no trouble getting to Darwin. We flew from
Singapore from Gen Lom – no, not Gen Lom. The name of this island in Borneo. We flew back to Darwin. That was only incidental. It was a great flight back. We stayed in Darwin overnight and they wanted to fly us back to Sydney. We were still in these damn catalinas we’d flown in and they insisted on giving us Mae West [inflatable life jacket]. But we said, “We’ve flown from here to Singapore without a bloody Mae West over the ocean, now we’re going over land, why have we got to wait?”
So we were held up while we got our Mae West and that’s when we flew through the storm and the permission to proceed. So we ran out of fuel and instead of getting to Sydney we had to stop at Brisbane. All the other planes had gone on ahead and they’d all gone to Sydney so we were the last plane to get from Brisbane after we refuelled to get to Sydney. We arrived via this catalina in Rose Bay and we truckered into the fourth
and there was the general waiting for us to welcome us. I said to the fellas, “Now hang on, we’ve got to go down here and get welcomed by the general.” They said, “Okay.” We got halfway down and they just disappeared. They could see their wives and things up on the – and zzzz. So the general was there to welcome us. He said, “Welcome to your troops. I see they’re a bit more anxious to get away. I hope you’re well and nice to see you back.” That was the end of our welcome. And that was our homecoming. My brother I never saw. He was killed two days
later in Borneo. Fate’s an extraordinary thing, isn’t it?
Then they came out on the ship. They were three weeks getting home. They were well fed and well rested and well indoctrinated. They were brought back into life. And when you get back this is what’s going to happen to you. I never had any of that. So when I got home I couldn’t get out quickly enough. They took me to the Concord Hospital Repatriation Hospital. They said, “You got to stay overnight.” I said, “I’m not going to stay overnight. I’m going home.” They said, “You’ve got to stay overnight, you’ve got to have malarial tests.”
I had a malarial test in Darwin. I was perfectly fit. There was nothing wrong with me. “You’ve still got to have a medical check.” I said, “I’m not having a medical check.” So they sent for the major. The major came down and said, “You got to stay.” I said, “Well I’ll see about that.” So I went home. And then I had to go back the next day and get checked. I tried to find out how to get out of the army. I had to go somewhere and had to get checked. Within three weeks I was out of the army, back at the hospital again.
Which was a stupid mistake. I should have gone and convalesced. I should have gone and got back into life, done it the easy way, but I didn’t. So I was determined to forget the war period. Shut it out of my life, which I did. I got back to the hospital again. I got back in and caught up with four years catching up with changes in medicine. Penicillin and all sorts of things had arrived since then. I got back into hospital again.
Went back into my pathology. I studied pathology and then this job came up in Newcastle as head pathologist in charge of the blood bank and I took it. As I said to you before, settling back into life was very difficult. I was invited out to parties, but I wouldn’t. My wife was very upset when I wouldn’t go to them, but I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t go. So friends who had been friends before I took a long time to get back into seeing them again, but
my work was the greatest thing that kept me going – getting back to the work. I was able to forget all my prisoner of war experiences and just get back into medicine again.
and study or you can stay in the army till you properly convalesce. They were rehabilitated. I wasn’t told anything like that. When I went to see the doctor being discharged from the army I finally – it didn’t take me long – and he happened to be a fellow out of my year at the university. He said, “You have anything wrong?.” I said, “No no nothing.” He said, “Don’t be bloody silly, course you have something wrong with you.” I said, “Well I don’t want to worry about it.” He said, “What do you mean you don’t want to worry about it? You got to worry about it! These have got to go down. You never know, in life later on you might get sick
and it’s never been recorded. What did you have?” “I had malaria.” “Did you have beri beri?” “Yes I did.” “Did you have dysentery?” “Yes I did.” “Did you have that…?” “ So yeah. So I put all these things down. He said, “That’s a bit more like it now. We’ve got a record and if anything happens to you in the future with any of these diseases or you’re affected by the diseases, then it’ll mean something.” I said, “Well I’m glad you told me. I wouldn’t have thought of it.” That’s what I meant by being counselled before I went in.
So yes, the repatriation stamps have stood in good stead.
the present emperor of Japan and I can remember on one occasion being asked something or other and I made the remark that I had been guest of the Japanese before, but I’d been treated much better on this occasion. I don’t know whether it got through to the Japanese, but it got through to the other people at the dinner. So have I got a thing against the Japanese? No I haven’t.
The people who are my age now were not at war, they were younger. I’ve outlived my generation. People, the doctors and pathologists that I deal with are all mostly ten years younger than me. So they were never in the war. They were kids. Had nothing to do with the war. And they’ve grown up quite independently. They are different people. I’ve always treated them as if they were just friends. I have nothing against them.
I’ll never forget the Japanese as a nation for what they did. They still never own up to it. They won’t own up to what they did. But that railway was just the most terrible thing, what the engineers did – the Japanese nation will always be held responsible for it. And the cruelty that they did in order to finish the railway and nothing was going to stop in their way of doing it, because the Emperor wanted it finished. They didn’t care what happened but they finished. And they did. A most remarkable engineering feat. To build
that railway, what they did in the time they did was absolutely remarkable. The fact that they killed millions of people – or thousands of people – in doing it is beside the point. And that was their object and they achieved it. But as a nation it was a terrible thing they did. But the present Japanese. No, I have Japanese friends I write to and they write to me. I’ve had them out here and had them in my home and I’ve been into their homes
in Japan. Highly intelligent people.
And he was one of the universal providers. The senior fellow, Harry, had died. That’s the sergeant that I put in charge. He died in the meantime. There were two others from the universal providers and Reggie said to me, “I’d like to go back to Thailand again. I’d like to go to Chungkai. What about coming with us?” I said, “Oh I don’t want to go back.”
Six months later he rang me, said, “I’ve made the whole arrangement. Got a bloke up there who organised it for us. He’ll take us round the place. Why don’t you come? I’m trying to talk John Llewellyn into coming and if you go, he’ll go.” So I spoke to my wife about it and we decided we would go. So we went back and we met a fellow called Rod Beattie. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Rod Beattie. Rod Beattie’s looking after the cemeteries up there. But he’s also taken a tremendous interest in prisoners of war.
He’s been all over the railway line and he’s mapped. He’s been dedicated to it. He was responsible for most of the cleaning of the railway that’s now in Hellfire Pass. He cleaned all that himself. So he took us in his car and he drove us up to the different camp sites that we knew and where we went to and the three of us and our wives and we visited all the camps and we came to the areas where we lost some of our mates and where our camps were and we had some
little crosses which we erected in there. Had a little ceremony at each of the occasions and particularly at the main Chungkai Camp. So it was a rather very interesting experience for us. Wonderful experience. I took a video camera with me and recorded very amateurly a lot of the parts of the trip. So we did
go back and it was a great trip. Then a year later I got a phone call from the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] or BBC’s representative saying they were doing a video and they wanted a doctor, would I come over? So I didn’t want to go. However, I had a talk to my wife about it and she said we ought to go to complete the film. So we did. We went back and we made that film and it was quite a different story this time. Everything was paid for and looked after and
well accommodated and well fed and cars at our disposal. That was a very enjoyable trip, because they were doing a documentary and wherever they went they took the videos and they brought out what they wanted us to talk about and so on and so forth. That was a great experience. Did you see the video? Yeah. So we, that’s how – there’s a fellow who now runs
trips up every year. Twice a year. John Carruthers. He’s so anxious for me to go back again with him. I can’t see me doing it again. I don’t think I’d bother. I’ve been up twice, that’s enough.
medical officers – I met him on the first part of the railway line somewhere there and it was down in – I can’t remember – but he had this gramophone and he had several records one of which was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, his Fifth – and another one was
The Silken Ladder by – I’ve forgotten it now. He had two or three records and a gramophone. And he was moved off to another camp. He said, “I don’t want to take this with me. Do you want it?” “Of course I want it. I’d love it.” So we kept this in our camp then. We played, I think it must have been in Nieke that we had this because … And we played it and played it and played it. We used to get bamboo and make fine bamboo needles
so we could get them to play when we ran out of other needles. And Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto got played to the death. Whenever I hear Emperor Concerto I’m taken back to those days. I know it backwards. The Silken Ladder – I don’t know whatever happened to that record, but we lost that. I didn’t seem to play that so much. So that was the story. We moved on and I had to give it away. I left it behind with
whoever was there. There’s a funny sequel to that. Last year the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] Classics FM ran a program on your favourite piece of classical music. A fellow put in the Emperor Concerto and he was asked why and his reason was that on the prisoner of war
he had a gramophone with the Emperor Concerto record and he played it so much that he’d never forgotten it. I got in touch with him. I rang him up. I said, “That’s an extraordinary story. Where’d you get the gramophone?” He said, “I don’t remember.” I said, “Well you must have got it from somewhere. You must have held on to that gramophone.” “No, it was my mate got it.” I said, “Where were you when you got it?” “I can’t remember.”
I said, “What did you do with it?” “I don’t remember. All I remember is we had it.” Now I don’t know whether this fella ever got the gramophone or whether he was in the same camp as I was when I was playing it or what, I don’t know. But he was awarded the third prize by the ABC for his story. So I wrote to the ABC and I said, “That’s the most extraordinary story, because
let me tell you my story.” And I told them my story. That ABC weekly they produce or that ABC monthly, that magazine, they put my letter in there and I got the letter of the week and I got a Parker fountain pen given to me for my folly. I still don’t know what is the truth of the other fella’s story. I’ve got no idea. But it is extraordinary, isn’t it?
So yes and then in the video they play the Emperor’s Concerto all the way through in the background music. And the gramophone they showed on the video was exactly the same sort of gramophone as we had. Where they got it from, I don’t know.
involved in pathology. I wasn’t mixing well with people. I was a bit of a recluse and from that point of view I didn’t like events. I couldn’t see myself in the future. So I enjoyed the pathology. I might have just kept going with the pathology and developed myself in the pathology. I went to London and got a diploma and then came back and at the hospital I worked in the hospital and
we were at the hospital, a lot of innovative ideas. I got very much closely involved with quality control and I carried out a quality control programme in Australia here. And found that the results from different laboratories varied so much that it was a disgrace. You went to one laboratory you got one result, another laboratory you’d get a different result. The control was terrible. So I went to
Madrid to an international conference and they had a standards’ committee. They’d been trying to get some standards worked out through the different countries and weren’t successful. They were about to disband the committee. So I told them the story of the quality control and how important it was and how we should be able to get quality control between the different countries. So I was given the job – the decision was made
that each of the countries would go back, introduce the quality control program and come back and report the results at the next meeting. I came back and I did another quality control program which was a bit improved. We improved our program too and I sent samples to two laboratories in America and two laboratories in Britain. They were all in the one survey.
The upshot of that was most of our results of our top laboratories here and the British laboratories coincided. Except the biggest laboratory at the post graduate hospital in London. Glucoses was way out compared to the other ones. The professor wrote to me and said he was so very grateful I had introduced him to this, because he had no idea that his glucoses were out. He was writing a book and in the book he detailed the importance of quality
control, the importance of standardising and paid tribute to the world for our survey. I went on with the survey and got a reputation in the World Association because of that. As a standards on the standards committee we improved things. I went up the ranks. I finally became vice president and finally president. In that year we had the first international congress of pathology in Australia. It was a great success. One of the big congresses. And our
guest speaker was the Governor General – the alcoholic – what’s his name? He was the one who sacked Whitlam. Anyhow his name will come back to me in a minute. He was the one that Whitlam said
abused him because he was Whitlam’s friend. He put him in as Governor General. He let him down at the last moment. What’s his name? Doesn’t matter. So that’s all part of the story.
That’s fantastic. Just a few sum up questions. How did war change you? What were you like as a man before you left, well when you returned, compared to when you left? How did war …?
I think before I went to the war I was a bit insular. Bloody dagoes and bloody Greeks and bloody Poms. That sort of attitude. The Australian attitude in those days. That’s the way we grew up as kids. We were very important people, we Australians and the rest were just Froggies or whatever they were. That completely changed my attitude in that regard. There’s no more. We are wonderful people but …
I became much more a universal person rather than an insular person as I was before. I think the other thing that happened to me was that I realised the tremendous value of friendship. I had an uncle who was chief commissioner for the meat industry in the Homebush Abattoirs. During the school holidays he gave me a job when I got old enough
working in the abattoirs. I met the roughest toughest people in the world you could meet there. My first job was driving pigs up to have their throats cut amongst the slaughtermen. You can imagine the sort of people there. They were foul mouthed, but despite all that I found them as pretty genuine good friends. They were good people and I got to know my in second year others and I realised that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are you can be just as decent a person as anybody else.
And that carried through. That was a great thing for me in the army because I treated everybody as equals in the army. I realised this. That’s how I found out so many of these good people and I was able to promote them because I able to discern the good from the not so good because of my experience, I think. My work at the abattoirs was one of the great turning points in that view. So as far as the war was concerned I think that consolidated it.
I grew up to be more of a man than a boy. I think I was still wet behind the ears as a young doctor when I went to the war, but I came back much more mature. And I valued friendship and I valued men and I valued the quality that’s in all of us.
I think it was Reggie Jarman. He’s still alive. I wrote these recommendations because these fellows – a recommendation goes to anyone who does something way beyond his duty. And these fellas did. They put their lives on the line. They worked long hours. They slaved to look after the sick. They had no problem going to the – oh that was the other one. It wasn’t Reggie Jarman, it was
Brent who ran the cholera wards in Chungkai. He volunteered and he looked after all these cholera patients – he and his mates. It was such an unselfish thing to do. He put his body on the line. And he looked after these blokes like a woman would look after them. So he really deserved his. Ray Connelly,
I had a soft spot for Ray Connelly. We went to Bathurst camp in the early days when I first came in and I went into the pub to meet one of my colleagues in there and I went through the public bar to get to the saloon bar where the officers were and a bloody great big fella came across. One of my unit – transport unit –
unit – big transport driver. “What the bloody hell are you doing in here? You shouldn’t. This is for the privates, not for bloody officers, get out of here and get into your own place.” Ray Connelly was not quite as big as him. But he came across and he picked him up and he held him against the wall about two feet from the ground. “You speak to my officer like that, I’ll break your bloody neck.” And dumped him on the ground. That was Ray Connelly.
Ray Connelly taught me how to protect myself if anyone attacked me. He had a number of … One was if you’re grabbed by the throat if you bring this arm down and you bring your knee up into his crotch. He taught me a number of these things. His father was a union representative on the wharfies [wharf workers]. He was brought up in the wharfies himself. He was a tough egg. Very intelligent fellow, but he’d had no schooling at all. And during the war he
did what Harry Williams did in other camps – he went out there and he looked after the sick and he ran the camps and he was just that sort of fellow who took control. So he was also with me at the Great World and he was the fellow who stole a lot of the other medical supplies and got them back to the other camp. So he was an outstanding – so I recommended him. I can tell you another
story about Ray Connelly. What was it? When he came back from the war he’d bee pretty sick during the war period and he became a TPI – totally and permanently incapacitated. He wasn’t really totally and permanently incapacitated at all. He bought an old bus and he turned it into a caravan. He took his family over to Perth and back. He
did a fair bit of plumbing on the sideline. I said, “You’re a bit of a bugger. You’re not bloody permanently incapacitated.” He said, “I am as far as the army’s concerned. I give them my four years over there and that’s something that I’ll never forget. They owe me something. That’s his attitude.” I said, “You’re a bugger. You’re a villain. You shouldn’t be doing this.” “They owe me and I’m going to let them look after me for the rest of my life.”
He did get sick. He got quite ill with things that he’d picked up in the prisoner of war camp and he never got over an attack of beri beri early on, and he never really recovered from that. So he wasn’t a well man, but he wasn’t a TPI. So he died a couple of years ago. He became an alcoholic when he got back. Difficult to settle back into life again. Drank a lot.
But he was a good Catholic and he went to a few monasteries and had his sessions there with them and he’d recover and then he’d be right for another year or two then he’d relapse again. But I have tremendous regard for him. When he came back from the war they’d shaved him a bit because he wasn’t much of a student. So he went to the Newcastle University
as a mature age student. They get in under some I forget what. He did first year at the university in arts and he specialised in history and he topped the year in history. He never even got through the intermediate examination and they wanted him to stay on and do an honours degree. He said, “No way. I’ve had a year of you stupid bastards. I couldn’t put up with another year.” But that’s how bright he was. He topped the year.
With no other previous education. He put together several books – very well done indeed about the war. One of them – he hated the British because when they came back from the war Wayville’s 2IC [Second in Command] wrote up – blamed the Australians for the way the war finished because the Australians weren’t there and they got out and they wouldn’t fight which is all bloody nonsense of course because the Australians – what was left of them –
were at the very forefront of the battle of Singapore Island. So he wrote this book. He wrote a book called – gave it a word in fact which renounced everything this fella had said. He called the book, Cruel Britannia, Britannia Waives the Rules. I’ve got a copy in my desk there somewhere. Very clever. So he was
a brave boy. That’s one of the things that the war brought out – the experience with these sorts of fellas. You met different sorts of fellas. Uneducated and yet only uneducated because they never had the opportunity. Had they been good students and had the opportunity as kids they probably would have been brilliant students and finished up as a bloody barrister. He would have been a great
barrister. Are we still on air?
So Peter, what’s the story about the mug?
I should have told you this story earlier on because it involved the railway line. When we left Changi to go to this land of milk and honey, we took all our gear with us. When we got to Bam Pong we realised it was impossible. I had a steel trunk full of all sorts of gear. I just left it. I picked out a few things to carry that I felt I could carry. And back in Changi on Empire Day,
the 24th of May I had a pewter mug which I h ad brought before I became a prisoner of war. One of the fellas said, “I’d like to engrave it for you.” So he engraved this pewter mug with the 24th of May, Empire Day, 1942, and he had some nice engravings on it of fern trees. It was a lovely mug. I carried it with me. And when I got up there to Bam Pong I had to go on the march I had a lovely look at the mug and said, “There’s no way I’m going to carry that up. I’ve got enough that I have to carry.”
So I left it behind. Up in the Chungkai Camp a fella died of cholera and one of the chaps who was burying the patients said, “Look what I found amongst this fella’s gear. This is your mug.” This fella had picked it up, found it down there and he carried it all the way up to Chungkai. He died of cholera. He was an Englishman. My mug was there. I brought the mug back.
I still have it and I’ve got the mug here. And I wanted to show you the picture of the mug. It’s here somewhere.