Archive number: 2540
Preferred name: Ray
Date interviewed: 12 January, 2000
You are listening to the interview audio
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2007.
Tape begins with Memorabilia
Ray could you tell me where and when you were born?
I was born up in a little township called Poowong in South Gippsland, about one hundred miles from Melbourne really, six, no, not a hundred miles, a hundred kilometres, we didn’t have kilometres in those days. And
this, our farm was about five kilometres away from the township and when I say the township all it had was a general store and a hotel and three churches, and one state school, that’s about Poowong. And
I was born on this dairy farm. I started to go to this school at Poowong when I was about seven years old, seven and a half actually. And I went there ‘til I was about eleven I think, ten or eleven. And then I went, changed and went to a little place called Jeetho. Jeetho was no bigger than Poowong
but it was on the railway line there was a railway station, Jeetho Railway Station. Pretty close and a number of the pupils used to come by rail, as far as, oh down at Kooweerup.
What was life like on the farm?
Well I didn’t know of anything else. I think it was very nice, very good,
we were busy all the time, even when I was seven or eight years old I used to have to get up about six o’clock in the morning and help milk the cows. There was no milking machines it was all done by hands, at home. And I helped milked the cows till about eight o’clock then I’d go down and catch me horse and away I’d ride to school. And when school was over I had to rush
away as quick as I could, get back and help milk the cows on the evening milking again. And that was, every day was the same, except on weekends, when I had to do more. And then I had to do fern, cutting the ferns, with the, you know, a fern hook, trap rabbits and shoot rabbits and that was life generally on
the farm. But we didn’t know of anything else as I say and we found it quite enjoyable.
So can you tell me what it was, there was no electricity and no refrigeration and so forth, can you tell us about that?
Oh no, we didn’t, we didn’t know what that was, we didn’t have any idea about…electricity and we just had kerosene lamps.
And we didn’t have, the only music we had was the piano and my wife was pretty good on the piano. And we always used to gather around the piano especially on a Sunday when she’d play hymns and we’d all join in singing hymns, even the two men that worked on the farm for us they came, they came in and joined in the Sunday afternoon services.
So when did you, when you were at school did you learn about Empire, can you tell me about that?
We never know, we didn’t know of anything else, it was known as the Empire, British Empire to us and we were just part of it. We didn’t think of ourselves much as individual Australians, we were part of the British Empire and dependent entirely on England.
Did that, did that every, did you ever question that?
No, not at the time, we just took it as natural. Of course our parents or our grandparents, or my grandparents came out from England, they…my grandfather on my mother’s side he came from Whitstable in Kent you know. He was, he was a ship builder in Whitstable. And my father’s father he
came from Bristol. Incidentally just about half a dozen miles from Bristol there’s a little town called Durston, and I never really made…not real enquires about it, about the origin but I think it was, I think our name was probably related to it.
you tell me when you won a scholarship and went to Melbourne, how old were you and what happened?
How old was I? Well I went direct to school from when I was at Jeetho, in fact I won a scholarship to any public school of my choice I was the, I came third on the list of scholarship winners in the country, and it entitled me to a four
year course at any school of me choice. And I chose Scotch College, I chose Scotch because my elder brother Sid went to Scotch [College] and two of my uncle, formers, they went there also, so it was admirable. It was the obvious school to go to. And I went there; I was there for five years I left at the end of seven, the end of seventeen. I won a
scholarship actually, which entitled to me to a course at Ormond College but I didn’t avail meself of the scholarship because the war had come, and I enlisted in the war as I told you before. Went straight to the war from school.
Can you tell my why your family chose Scotch College in the first place?
I think probably because of my uncles, that was my mother’s two brothers. They went to Scotch. We never thought of any other schools as a matter of fact. Not that I’m Scotch or English but, that was it. And as I said my elder brother Sid he went there also,
so it was quite natural then that I should follow.
When you came from the country to Melbourne, what were your first impressions of Melbourne what was the difference between the town and the city? Was Melbourne a very prosperous place at the time, I mean as a country boy in a town with a general store and three churches it must have made a big impression on you?
Well it was completely different as you say, completely different. But I adjusted to, meself almost immediately, I don’t, it just seemed to come natural enough. Adjusted meself to it because I’d heard a little bit about the city of course, when we were up on the farm. And
I didn’t find much difficulty in becoming adjusted, when I first came to Melbourne I went to live with my uncle and aunt who lived in Essendon, and just got the train from Essendon to Flinders Street, and walked from Flinders Street up to the school at Eastern Hill.
What was life like
at Scotch College, was it very disciplined was it regimented? Tell me what life was like at school?
It was fairly strict, but it was easy to accept because the discipline was, although it was fairly severe it was fair and reasonable, and fair, and therefore easily accepted by us all.
Was it compulsory to join the cadets when you were at Scotch College?
Tell me about those years as a cadet and what you had to do.
I don’t know, I can’t remember how many times a week we used to have to fall in line, and
go through the procedures, two or three, three, two or three times a week and it was, I was, as I said it was compulsory. But sometimes we used to, when the role was called someone else might call our names for us. But I remember that was the only time I got the cane when I was at school. One of the boys called my name and
they, the headmaster got to know about this so I got the cane. Not severely of course. So that was the cadets, and then before I left school, most of us joined the volunteers, what they called the Public Schools Unit and that was up at the University.
It wasn’t compulsory but most of us took part in it.
And what happened there? I mean it was, it was a special unit of boys from public schools what made that so different from, say, joining another unit?
Well actually when the war broke out they formed what was known as the Public Schools Unit, and all the members, pretty well all the members that enlisted,
voluntarily. And they included what was know as a Public Schools Unit, in the battalion that I joined, that was the 11th Reinforcements.
And were there, did a lot of those people become officers?
No not necessarily, I don’t think there was any more…
no I wouldn’t think so, it didn’t make any difference, we didn’t give it any thought of course.
Your brother, he went to Duntroon [Royal Military College] can you tell me why he went to Duntroon and when that was?
When he was up on the farm, his elder brother
Sid left the farm and he joined the Defence Department in its headquarters in St Kilda Road. He joined it because an old friend of my father was a, was in, pretty well in charge of it. And he suggested that Sid might, well it was a fairly good job actually, so that’s how he got there.
And therefore it seems natural that his second brother Norman should join him and he did that and then they formed, then they formed Duntroon Military College and the fellow in charge of the Defence Department said yes, that he might take on that as his career which he did. And
he was at Duntroon I think for four years when the World War I broke out, and the course was really a five year course but they terminated it after four years so that they could join up right away. So he was allotted to the 16th Battalion which had its headquarters in Perth actually. But,
so he joined and he was made a lieutenant and… they went to Egypt first to Cairo and they had a little bit of training there and then from Cairo straight on to Gallipoli. And he was at the landing on the 25th of April, was it? And he lasted only a week,
he was killed at the Battle of Lone Pine which was pretty well known. And… you know, we at home didn’t get any advice that he, about how he was killed or what happened to him. Firstly all we got a notice from the
Defence Department to say he’d been taken prisoner. A little later we got another notice to say he was killed. Then we got a third notice to say… say he was wounded I think, I might be, have it all in reverse but that’s it. So we didn’t get any information really that we could rely on and of course
it was quite distressing for me, particularly for me mother and father. And then, the funny thing about it was that the officer in charge of the, oh Gallipoli really was Colonel Pope. And years later, when I enlisted and went to, went
overseas on the troopship Beramba the officer in charge of the troop ship was Colonel Pope. And I approached Colonel Pope and asked him did he know anything about Norm’s death, he knew every detail, every detail. And that’s the first time we heard, and that was, how long, three years later.
And what did he tell you?
He told us that he was in a charge, leading a charge against the Turks and, he got shot, and he couldn’t walk so he crawled. And when he got shot, his regiment, the troops
started to fall back and retreat, so he called to them, he said “Will you follow me if I crawl?” So he started crawling, and then he was shot again, killed. That was the end of it. So then after, when he was killed the regiment they just, they gave it up they retreated. So Colonel Pope told me all this.
So back in Australia, the first Anzac Day, 1916, did you march on that day or mark that day in any way?
To tell you the truth I can’t remember. I did march on one or two occasions of Anzac
Day, but I don’t know whether I marched on the original one. Don’t remember.
Did you feel any resentment or bitterness at all that, at your brother dying that way and not knowing anything about what happened to him?
Well it was very disturbing particularly for my mother. Very, very disturbing. I don’t think it did her any good.
Did she want you to go to war now that she’d lost one
No. She didn’t really, but she didn’t object to it. She sort of took it as natural you know. Because my oldest brother Sid he was already there, he’d gone, but he was in the headquarters in London, he was in a pretty safe position of course.
That’s the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] Headquarters at Horseferry Road. And he was there so my father thought probably I should go. So I didn’t, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t think anything else, never came anything else the thought seemed to be just the natural thing to do, to me.
So did it change your view, did Gallipoli change your view in any way about how the war was being fought?
No, not then it didn’t. Because we didn’t realise that it was such a mess. It was not till years later that we realised the whole thing was a calamity, a fiasco, it was badly planned, they even
landed at the wrong place you know, and they were doomed from, almost the start.
Do you blame anyone for that?
No, not openly. We know, no, no I won’t say. I won’t say.
How did you feel years later when you found out the details?
Pretty hard to accept it. You know the Turks were a good people. Years later, my daughter went, one of my daughters went for a holiday… in around, not far from Gallipoli, and she met a number of Turks and they were lovely people, lovely people.
And she got on very well with them, matter of fact they arranged to take her down to Gallipoli and she even went to my brother’s grave, he had a tombstone there, along with many others you know. And they pointed out this tombstone, she took photos of it, and they were nice people. Yet we fought against them, same as we fought against the Germans.
It’s hard to say what, how we originally become enemies, I think I’ve told you before that when I was in America many years later, I was working with the Westinghouse Air Brake Company and
another employee of the company was a German fellow, just about my age, maybe a year or two older. His father was in charge of a German air brake company called Kuntz Knorr [?], I think was the name of it, Kuntz Knorr. Anyway, we became great friends, and he fought for the Germans, and he had honestly
believed, his thoughts on behalf of Germany, they were just the same as ours for, you know, for Britain. And we could have been fighting against each other. But we were great friends, he came out to Australia later I took him around, met different girls and…. And actually, I think that
as a nation we’re closer to Germany than we were, then we are, are to France. The German people are closer to the English race. So what does war achieve? Generally very little.
Why do you think the Germans are closer to the English than the French?
The early English nation was more German than French that’s why. Of course I know that the origin it was from Italy, but after that it was more German than French.
Just taking you back to your…
Just going back to your school days you had a German headmaster who you were quite fond of, can you tell me what happened to him during
That was the headmaster we had at Jeetho School, Jeetho State School. All I can tell you that he was a really good headmaster, excellent headmaster and, I don’t know what happened to him really. When he left Jeetho he was interned,
the war broke out and he was interned, and I don’t know what happened to him ever since that time.
Why was he interned?
Because he was a German and the war was on.
Did you agree with that?
Yeah. We, it did seem to be the natural thing, we didn’t object to it. And yet he was quite a nice fellow, he was very good to us,
but we sort of took, yes we simply took it for granted that’s all. It was the right thing to do. Just because he was German that’s all.
So you didn’t feel any sorrow for him at all?
No. Doesn’t make sense does it?
I guess it’s wartime.
It’s was wartime yes. Actually
it wasn’t, war didn’t break out for four years after that. Oh yes it did didn’t it?
Can you tell me about the recruitment trips you went on if you could just tell me that you enlisted and that you went on these recruitment trips throughout Victoria? I wonder if we could just start that story.
Well, yes, well our regiment, the 11th General Service Reinforcements, the Sportsman’s Thousand, we went to camp at Broadmeadows. And it was while we were at Broadmeadows it was decided to form
three recruiting parties to tour Victoria and conduct a recruiting drive. Each party consisted of, if I remember from, rightly, for about fifteen, fifteen members, fifteen soldiers. And in addition to which there was a Member of Parliament who was, more or less
in charge. A member of the press…and then a recruiting, a recruiting officer himself and just the rest of us. And
we made, they formed a concert party and of course the main thing what happened was, we would go to a certain city like, we started off I think, from memory, we started off at Wodonga. And, when we got to Wodonga we would assembled at the railway station and we’d marched down the street and we had a pretty good band and the band would play and all the locals
would all turn up and have a look at us. And we would put bit on, on a bit of a show and then at night we’d have this concert and then, and then the recruiting officer would make a speech and make an appeal for recruits and that’s the way it went on. And I think we achieved a pretty good, we did pretty well I think we got quite
a few recruits that way. I think I remember telling you before that one of the members of our concert party was Hanco the Handcuff King. And Hanco the Handcuff King, as you would know was really a real wizard; he used to perform at the Jubilee Theatre, and on,
his most noted feat, he was chained and leg-ironed and handcuffed and he jumped over the Princes Bridge into the Yarra [River] and he got out of all this paraphernalia, under water in about five or ten minutes. And we had this Hanco with us and, he was remarkable because he, when I was saying,
on the stage you know we were right up against him and he’d have his handcuffs on and I’d jolly well look and he’d just twist his arm and he’d be out of them! By just the movement of his wrists. Anyway that’s all that, that’s, that was about the strength of the concert party. And, to get into this concert party when
we were at camp you had to have some talent that you could perform on stage and, each one of us was asked to nominate somebody we were, who had some achievement and I nominated my friend Don, no, Stan Morrison, Stan, Private Morrison,
who was a pianist. He wasn’t an expert but he could play the piano. And so he, he turned round; he nominated me as a flautist. Course all I’d done was to play the tin whistle, I used to, never played the flute in me life. But however, I was picked to. So we got into the same party and I remember the first two we did we, our first stop was up in
Benzo[?] it was yes in Gippsland. And we got, when we got out of the train there were posters all over the place advertising, or promoting this concert party, and it had what it was all about and who the performers was, it has Private Stanley Morrison pianist, Private Ray Durston flautist. And so, when we got on the stage Stan would play the piano
alright but I only, all I did was turn, turn over the pages for him. Anyway, it all came off quite well. What else was there.
Could you just tell me that, Private Hanco he was a soldier was he?
Yes he was one of our division.
If you could just say Private Hanco was Private Sam Cook?
Private Cook was
If you could just say that like Private Hanco was Sam Cook.
Sam Cook yes, Private Cook, Private Sam Cook, Hanco the Handcuff King.
Can you tell me the story about, at Wangaratta when there was a air balloon, big balloon and I think one of the recruiting officers was in the balloon and as the balloon was going up …if you could just tell
me that story from the beginning? Mr Taylor I think it was?
Yes that’s right. When we were in camp, we were in this recruiting party that was at Wangaratta that’s right. And one of the features down on the recreation ground,
what was his name?
His name was Mr Taylor, VP Taylor.
VP Taylor. The balloon had to be inflated with hot air and, there was a channel built made under, just under the surface and a fire was lit and the,
it was blown into the balloon and it inflated the balloon with hot air you see. When it was completely inflated our private, what. Old VP Taylor he said, made a little speech, “Remember we want reinforcements. Let go of the ropes, let go of the ropes!” So we let go the ropes up the thing went
you know and we thought, my God he’s going he’ll finish up in Berlin or somewhere. Instead of that it went up about a few yards and ended, struck a damn tree and got caught in the tree, and he got caught too! That’s as far as it went. That was the end of that one.
So how long did you do these marches for? How long were these recruitment drives, how long did they go for?
From memory I think it was only about three or four weeks, something like that I think. May have been a little longer, not much.
Interviewee: Ray Durston Archive ID 2540 Tape 310
Ray I just want to talk to you about conscription. Did you have a view on conscription on the first referendum or the second referendum? What was your general view about conscription?
I wasn’t greatly
opposed to it, on the other hand I wasn’t entirely in favour of it because I thought that, it just seemed to be the natural and right thing to do to enlist if you were, were fit. It just seemed to be normal. To fight for our country. But on the other hand as I say I
just wasn’t opposed to, I thought it was fair enough. It’s necessary, that’s the point.
What did you think about people who refused to volunteer?
Didn’t think much of ‘em. I thought they were, well I’m going a bit far if I think, if I say I thought they were traitors but I thought they, it was up to them to do it that’s all.
What happened to people who refused to join, do you remember what happened to people who opposed enlisting?
No because it didn’t come off, it didn’t become compulsory. So they weren’t, they weren’t penalised in any way I don’t think.
Do you remember a white feather being given to people or sent in the mail or given to people who didn’t enlist?
White feathers were given to a few people yes. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because I thought it was their own decision, their own view and their own understanding.
The Catholic Church
was very much opposed to conscription, what did you think of their position?
I couldn’t tell you. Except that I, no I couldn’t tell you but I don’t think it,
I gave it much thought.
And what about say the trade unions as well they were opposed to conscription did you have an opinion on that?
Not in particular. Except that I’m not in favour of much of, of what trade union does
of anything. But, no not in particular. I was, I didn’t like the idea very much I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I thought, as I’ve said before I think it was, I felt it was up to the individual himself and if that was his, if his conscience felt that way that’s the way he should act. After all it wasn’t made compulsory was it?
And your family felt the same way?
I think so.
I’m just getting back to [General] John Monash went to Scotch College, do you, can you remember what sort of personality or figure or impression people had of him in the press?
Can you tell me your view of John Monash?
He was a very intellectual person; he was a very fair person. He was a likeable person as well as far as I can remember, or what I knew of him. And,
he did a wonderful job at everything. Not only in the war but in civil life, he was the, he started, he founded the early Electricity Commission [the State Electricity Commission of Victoria] you know? He was in charge of the power stations up at Morwell, started
it all off actually the whole scheme.
Do you think he was influential in getting, at Scotch College getting young boys to enlist?
Yes I think so.
Can you tell us about that?
No, it just seemed to be, we looked up to him as a, as a very great fellow and if he would have found it his duty and he thought it was right to enlist well, that was it. We
followed it normally. That’s about it.
Just getting back to conscription,
can you tell us how you heard about conscription, how did people get information about the debate and were there demonstrations in the street ? I just want to get a sense of whether there was a division in society. How did you hear about it?
Oh really I can’t remember.
Ray, you know we’re thinking about the media and how the only information people got was through the newspaper?
Through the newspapers then yes.
Yes I just wondered if you thought that the newspapers were telling you the truth and whether you thought later it was, it was
propaganda, perhaps you can tell…?
No, no we thought it was the truth. We, I think we’d, we all took what the newspapers were, had to tell us was truth, yes I think so. We were quite confident in their, in their attitude and everything. We found they were just generally reporting the general feelings the general sentiments,
Do you remember the writings of C. W. [Charles Woodrow] Bean, was he the most famous war correspondent?
I think he was. I think so. But as I say it’s so long ago that I just can’t remember. In detail.
I’m just thinking
about how you got information about the Western Front. We hear a lot about Gallipoli but how did people get, or how did you get information about how the war was progressing?
Only that, all we got, all, I mentioned from what we got from the newspapers that’s all. That was our only source of information.
When you went, you were on your way to the Western Front, what sort of war did you think you were going to fight at that stage?
A war just as it was. That’s how we knew it, that’s how we expected it. We didn’t expect anything else. Just war in the trenches,
mainly, in slops and mud.
Did your brother write any letters back, manage to write a letter back from Cairo at all or Gallipoli?
He wrote a couple from Cairo but not from Gallipoli. Nothing came from Gallipoli.
What were the letters from Cairo, what did he tell you?
Not very much, he
wasn’t allowed to, they were censored. Wasn’t allowed to say anything about the war at all. So it was just sort of personal, individual.
Do you remember what he told, what he wrote to you?
No. I don’t. Great help aren’t I?
do you remember if he wrote about visiting the pyramids, or you know being a bit of a tourist in a way, did he talk about that?
Oh he’d talk about, he’d talk about the, a little bit about life in Cairo and that sort of thing and he went for a couple of trips to the, to the pyramids and did, do things that like that he spoke about but that’s about all, that’s about all. He didn’t speak about the war or how it was going.
And what about your brother Sid, did he write letters back from London, what life was like in head office there?
Oh yes he’d just write back normally to his mother and father. Only news, nothing very, nothing very serious of course just local news, and how things were going with him personally.
So he had a pretty comfortable time during the war?
Oh he didn’t have any trouble at all. As I say he was in London all the time, he would have liked to have got to France but it just wasn’t doing. He wasn’t allowed.
Now you set sail to go to the front, could you just tell me briefly about
that voyage. On the boat the Beramba?
Beramba. Well yes that’s the troopship we went on. And the troopship itself was an old German captured cargo boat, it only weighed about six thousand ton, and it was just about had it, as a matter of fact when we arrived at
London that was its last voyage, it was condemned and that was it. But, and its, as I say its engines used to break down occasionally and it couldn’t go very fast and with a result it took us about three or four months to get as far as England, where it should have only taken one. And
it wasn’t very comfortable, it had only the one deck, or well two decks, just the ordinary deck and then the lower deck which was, when it was a, it was a cargo boat, that was the cargo deck. And the cargo deck became the living quarters for all the thousand troops on board. And it was very cramped and we lived there,
well most and we slept in hammocks which were slung about the mess tables, the mess tables, I think they accommodated twelve, twelve each. And so you can imagine the thousand of them on these mess tables and with the hammocks strung above. And when we broke, when the
Spanish influenza broke out; I think you’ve heard about the Spanish flu, there were eight of the troops that caught this Spanish flu out of the thousand. And oh they were strewn, the hospital held, had accommodation for twenty, from memory. And all the rest were swirled out about, around the decks most of them, were confined to their hammocks.
And it was not uncommon at all for them to vomit over the edge of their hammocks onto our mess tables. Lovely. Lovely. And I think it was about twenty six of them died and were buried at sea. And when we got to Sierra Leone in South Africa some of them were put off and went to hospital and stayed there and in
Sierra Leone. We eventually got to England. We went were out, went out of our course down, quite a long way down south to dodge some German submarines. We weren’t altogether successful because well we were, attacked by a German torpedo a couple
of times at least I remember, but we were fortunate enough in missing them, they missed us. So eventually, oh, when we, when we got to South Africa, Sierra Leone, we were formed into convoys with about six ships in each convoy and the convoy was protected by a, by a…
British battleship. And the British battleship that took charge of us was the [HMS] Britannia, and incidentally that’s the other thing that caused our delay. When we, we were late in arriving at Sierra Leone and of course, so the convoy that we were supposed to join it couldn’t wait any longer, it went. We had to wait until they formed another one, which was
about three or four weeks I suppose. And why we, incidentally, while we were at Sierra Leone we weren’t allowed off the boat, and there we were within yards of the shore and God, we weren’t allowed off the boat.
So what happened because your boat was delayed, you missed the war is this right?
We missed the war. And the ship arrived at,
just opposite Gibraltar, and our battleship Britannia its place was taken by a couple of American destroyers. And the Britannia to go straight off to Gibraltar and all its, all the, its crew was to be paid off. An hour after it left us it was torpedoed by a German submarine, the last ship in the world to be sunk, all aboard
gone. Anyway we reached England the next day and the Armistice has been signed, so we arrived a day after, and they called us ‘the rainbows’, they reckoned we arrived after the storm. So that was it. I didn’t see any fighting.
How did you feel about that? Tell me about that?
Disappointed. Disappointed. It was like, we were lucky of course weren’t we but we were
disappointed. Anyway we…
Why were you disappointed?
Oh because well, what the devil did we, you enlist for, to fight, to serve our country. We didn’t. Anyway we arrived at England and we were, we went to camp in Salisbury Plain and they called our,
they called our camp, the Park House Camp [?], I think it was from memory. And then it was, the war was over as I said and there was talk of sending us straight back home. And we didn’t want any of that, our young fellows. And so as I said I had my brother Sidney, who was a warrant officer, warrant officer yes at headquarters in London, so we contacted him and arranged, he arranged for four of us to
join him. And that’s why, how we got to the AIF Headquarters in London.
So it’s good to have connections?
So we were lucky there weren’t we? Although there was a, when we were on [at] the headquarters there, the there was one of the girls,
she was just a clerk but she was looking after a lot of our affairs you know, and she had access to the theatres and she used to get theatre tickets. And I got a bit friendly with this girl and, designedly and, she used to get us theatre tickets and we used to, got tickets to the [UNCLEAR] or Palladium one at the Colosseum you know these
old, old places, it was quite good. Ever heard of Maurice Chevalier [French entertainer]? I saw Maurice Chevalier with his inevitable straw hat and his cane you know.
So you had a good time in London?
And then we went to Albert Hall. Ever heard of Albert Hall? Albert Hall’s quite
celebrated, but from the outside it doesn’t look too good at all, as a matter of fact I remember the story in London was that, on the other side, on the, in the gardens, was a statue to Prince Albert. Prince Albert you ever heard of him? And there was a
party, a touring party on a bus, the bus was going along there and the chap says, “Well now ladies and gentlemen, I’d like you to have a look,” and he said, “On your right is the statue erected in celebrating…” oh no, oh yes, “Celebrating a great,
Albert Hall, and on our left we have the Kensington Gasworks.” The Kensington Gasworks was the Albert Hall.
He got that mixed up? That’s a good story. I thought I’d just get back to Anzac Day. And just thinking…?
I feel it’s quite nice
now to celebrate it and bring back our memory. I think so.
What do you think it means, what does Anzac Day mean to you?
Because after all, Anzac Day and the Anzac, it was really the, almost the start of Australia as a nation.
And I think that that’s a lot of the way the people sort of looked at it and they think that’s it’s something that should be always remembered and celebrated. That’s the view of Anzac Day.
Why do you think Anzac Day is part of that idea of a nation?
as I mentioned before I think that the, in going to the first war in defence of the country, and in support of Great Britain at whom we felt completely… obedient we felt completely a part of Great Britain in those days. And we thought Anzac Day
celebrated it. Because as I said before we thought that, that was really the start of Australian history.
When did you think we actually became Australians and not, saw ourselves as part of the Empire?
Just gradually over the years as we developed as a country itself, as the nation and our population and our, and our fortunes and our general attitude,
it’s just ordinary development.
What sort of place. Just looking back to those early years, what sort of, if you had to describe Australia, what sort of country was it at that time?
Mostly rural. Most of the life was in the country rather than in the cities and therefore it was more rural than industrial. That’s the main change in development that’s taken place.
So if you, in those days if you had to describe Australia to somebody who was not from here, how would you describe
what it was like to be an Australian, in the early 1900’s.
I don’t know exactly.
That’s okay. I’m just wondering what do you think World War I achieved? What did the war achieve in your view?
Nothing. No I’m not right there. I think the main thing that it achieved was it probably, it did make us into a nation and somebody worthwhile, and a country that was, that was
loyal and knew what it was up to. That’s all.
Do you think, what about the sacrifice, do you think that that was a big price to pay?
Yes I do.
Could you tell me about that?
No. I don’t want to talk about it. Because I’m not sure meself, whether it achieved, or it,
what it achieved but as I said before, it just seemed to be the natural thing to do that’s all. What else could we have done, what else? That’s all.
Do you still feel angry about some aspects of the war? Do you still feel angry about some aspects of the war?
No, oh no. The only thing I think
we regret really is Gallipoli itself because as that was, as I say before, Gallipoli was a total failure. It was badly planned.
Some people might say, why do you we remember a failure, why do, in Anzac Day do we remember a failure. What do you say to that?
Well we didn’t expect it to be a failure when we landed otherwise we wouldn’t have jolly well done it. We
expected to win, we expected to achieve something. But we didn’t. It wasn’t our fault we did our best but it wasn’t our fault, because it was, the bad planning.
Whose fault was that do you think?
I won’t say. It was the British Government. That’s all; I’m not going to say any more. I know but I’m not going to say. No you won’t
entice me in that one.
That’s okay Ray, that’s fine. I just wondered, just one final thing, oh actually two things I’m sorry, just going back to Billy [William] Hughes, because he was prime minister during the war. I’m just wondering what you thought of Billy Hughes and his approach to the war?
I thought quite a lot of Billy Hughes. And I think he was just
an ordinary, well I shouldn’t say ordinary Australian that’s wrong ordinary Australian, he was a good Australian, Billy Hughes, a natural Australian. And he thought of his country and he did what he thought was right for his country. Good old Billy.
He was a Labor Party man but I understand that you in later years became quite involved with the Liberal Party. But …?
Yes I’m not Labor at all but I’m not opposed to it, I thought you couldn’t get a better man than Billy Hughes no matter what party he belonged to. But as I’ve always been anti-Labor, not dogmatically, but naturally, you’ve got to be a one side or the other, and I’m anti-Labor. But I’ve been interested in the Liberal Party ever since it was formed,
still am. I joined, I was one of the first to join the Black Rock branch, in fact it was the first night when the Black Rock branch was formed. And how long ago was this, oh about sixty years ago now. I’ll tell you a couple of the chaps that joined with me at the same night, one was
Bill Fry, Sir William, the Honourable Sir William Fry he joined the same night. Another one was Murray Porter[?], I don’t know whether you remember them and, as I say we found ourselves on the committee right away and I had been for years after that I was, had office on the committee I was the president
and the, or different thing, auditor.
So, But that was formed well after World War I. What do you think about the Australian troops being in East
Not very much impressed with it. I’m not, I’m not radically anti, but I don’t, I don’t really think that we should be there, that we need be there. In fact I don’t know enough about it
to express an honest reasonable opinion. I don’t know enough about it.
That’s fine, I was just wondering if there’s a sense of duty, like you had a sense of duty to go to?
Well no I didn’t, I don’t. No. But no I don’t know enough about it.
I’m just going to ask you about World War II, quite a few decades
later we go back to, Australia involved in World War II. What was your feeling about our involvements? Do you think that we needed to be fighting the Germans again?
I felt we were more, bound to oppose the Japs at the time. The Japanese.
They were the biggest threat to Australia in World War II. In fact they attacked, got to Australia, didn’t they?
Just one thing on the Japanese just going back to the early 1900s, what was Australia’s view to race, like for the Chinese and Japanese. I think there was, if you could tell me a little bit about that and whether that influenced a lot of peoples’
decision about the war?
I don’t think so. I don’t think we were radicals you know. As a matter of fact I joined the Australia Japan Society [society for people with an interest in Australia Japan relations] and I was a member of the Royal Society of St George [non-political society for people with a love of England and Englishness] that’s British, isn’t it? To the fingertips and I joined the Australian Japan
Society. As a matter of fact after the war we had a Japanese girl living with us, she was working for a company, she came from Japan she was working for a company, and she was living with a couple of girlfriends and these two girls, other girlfriends they weren’t altogether, very, a bit strict in their morals you know
and, she didn’t like the idea of being with them and we invited her to live with us and she came and lived with us. My goodness she was a, she sort of had similar views to us you know, and she thought in every way, quite honestly and civilly.
There wasn’t much difference there?
And she was, I thought my goodness if that’s a Japanese, typical Japanese,
what’s wrong with them?
Do you think….
And I went to Japan a couple of times after that, just on touring with the wife and we met Japanese people we found them quite a natural people.
Just thinking back to the war, do you think, how did the war change, did the war change you in any way?
Did the war change any of your values or what you believed in?
No, but generally speaking, over the centuries it doesn’t seem to me that war has ever achieved very much. No wars. That’s my view. It’s just my way I feel I don’t, I don’t
say that’s correct but that’s the way I feel about it. Waste of time. Unpatriotic hey?
No, not at all. Do think there was any sort of lesson for us in World War I?
Was there anything we learnt as a nation from World War I, about how we should, how we see ourselves or should we follow or should we lead? Was there anything there for us that we learnt out of that do you think?
I don’t know it’s hard to describe my feelings, generally, generally I think it just
probably made us feel a bit more adult, so to speak. I thought we, made us feel more of a nation ourselves. That’s about all.
If you, this is you know hypothetical, if, knowing what you know now, you’re one hundred
years old, if this, if you had a son in this sort of situation would you want him to go to war knowing what you know now?
Yes. Seems damn silly doesn’t it? But I just feel that way. Although as I say I don’t think war has achieved very much. If the country decided it was the thing to do, it’s right.
So why would you want your son to go to war
now, why, if the situation arose?
Patriotism. I suppose that’s the only way you can describe it. If that’s the countries wish it’s our wish. We’ll buy it. That’s all