Archive number: 2543
Preferred name: Bert
Date interviewed: 02 May, 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 2008.
Can you tell me a bit about your early days?
What was it like then, can you describe some of the…?
I was born in Tea Tree Gully a way out in the country. A very small school and I had a religious life; I had to go to Sunday school and that. And my father was a councillor and my brother was clerk of the council at Tea Tree Gully.
And actually it was a fairly lonely life; my main object was to go out shooting rabbits up in the hills there, around the hills there. I left, and the school was only a very small school, and I left at a very early age. I was barely fourteen and I went, a chap living opposite us was looking
after a farm for someone else and he had a brother-in-law at Halton, who wanted an apprentice and he wanted to know would I take the job. So anyway I went to Halton as an apprentice bread and smallgoods baker. I went up there when I was fourteen. And…
Can I just go back to when you were at school? Do you remember anything about school? What did they,
do you remember was it very regimented, did you ever have to, do you remember any of the things they taught at school? Did you learn about the British Empire or anything like that?
Oh we had the flag, always saluted the flag of a morning. And I think schooling was quite different. And on our way to school we would observe birds, if the birds were nesting, the ants
are doing this and doing that and the trees was - and when you went to school they’d say to you, “What did you observe going to school this morning?” and if you ever said, “Nothing.” well you got a hitting in the knuckles and that. You had to observe everything and we, our schooling was a lot of observing, going out into the hills, we were right on the foot of the hills, we’d go up and see the creeks and the wash away. That was school, it was very interesting
yeah. But I wasn’t any much good at school except in figures. And so I didn’t carry on there.
So Bert, when you were at school I was just asking you a minute ago, did you learn much about the British Empire, could you explain a little bit of that to me?
Yes I’m glad, we were always taught about the British Empire and the flag and how it all, how the
flag was made up, that was a part of our curriculum. We had a, very, very loyal to the British Empire.
And did they ever show you the map, the pink map on the board
We had a map of the world and they used to show you where the British Empire was, the saying was – ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’
and was proved to us on the map where there was colonies practically everywhere.
My name is Whitmore, I was born in Tea Tree Gully on the 14th August 1899.
We’ve just got to do that one more time. We didn’t turn the camera on?
I was born in Tea Tree Gully…
Just start with your name, where you were born and when?
The 14th August 1899.
Now this time can you say your name and where you were born and your age, or your age and where you were born?
I was born in Tea Tree Gully and my…
My name’s Albert Ernst Whitmore I was born in Tea Tree Gully in 1899. And the distance from Adelaide was about eleven mile, or our home was about ten mile from there.
When you were young you learnt, they taught you about the British Empire, what did you think or know of the Empire, what did it mean to you?
It meant a lot to us, being British and of course Australia was all British at that time. Not like it is today.
And did your family, did you talk about it with, were you family very British Empire…?
Yeah well the family were very religious family and they were all British Empire, they’d all think about that at school.
Now as a young boy, you told us you used to go out in the fields catching rabbits and living like that?
That was one of our pastimes
to go up in the Adelaide Hills, seeing we was at the foot of the hills. And go up after rabbits and I’d go up gathering blackberries and things like that. But quite a different life to what the children have today. Of course I played football when I was at school.
How different is it today, was it a tougher life, a harder life?
Well we had to make our own
enjoyment in sport and things like that. Used to be a lot of picnics, like Sunday school picnics and things like that in different places nearby. And of course we’d all go and partake in them. And course there was no film, movies or anything like that.
Okay now, how did you hear
about the war, when did you first realise there was a war on?
Well I went to Halton, went up there when I, at Halton I was up there when I was fifteen, sixteen, and I remember the, they talked about the war. I served my apprentice and proved myself there and when I was about sixteen I
applied for a job as a second hand at Summer Town, I went to Summer Town and I was there on the baking and smallgoods as a second hand. Then when I turned seventeen is when, cause the war was on and all the chaps were all going away at the time. And
a couple of us, two or three of us young lads, I was seventeen and I put my age up to eighteen and we went down and enlisted. When I was so used to horses and being like that I joined the, went in as a reinforcement in the 9th Light Horse. And we were only there a short while training and we were transferred to
Victoria, up to Seymour and I trained up there for two or three months. And then we went overseas.
Interviewee: Albert Whitmore Archive ID 2543 Tape 322
You said you got into the Light Horse, but
how did you get involved with horses, when did you learn to ride?
I had a horse of my own and we used, it was nothing for us to ride down the North East Road and up Foam Road to the Plough and Arrow Stables and Hotel, which is now La Richmond. Or we’d ride to Paradise and catch the horse tram from there to Adelaide from there. And I’ve
always had been used to horses and of course I had to pass a riding test to go into the Light Horse, I had no trouble with that.
So did you join the army to go into the Light Horse, is that where you wanted to go?
I was wanted to go, when I wanted to go in.
Sorry I didn’t, what was that again. When you joined up did you plan to go into the Light Horse?
Yes that’s right I planned to go into the Light Horse.
What did you expect it to be like then as a young boy joining up? What was your feeling, what were you expecting the war to be and your journey?
I accepted it and I’m a, when I was a lad we was in the citizen forces so we were taught discipline. And so there was no trouble for me, I could take the discipline and it was quite easy. And I think that the
citizens’ cadets and things like that, which was on before the war, done a lot of good for us lads, kept us out of mischief and things like that.
Could you tell me a bit more about the citizens’ cadets. How did you join them and what things did you do and when did you join them?
We had to join them, had to join the citizen forces and we had parades every Tuesday, Thursday afternoon.
And then towards the end of the year you’d go and have a camp and things like that. And we learnt how to handle rifles and all that sort of stuff. I think the main thing would be learnt discipline and take orders, and which we accepted.
And can you tell me at what age did you join, at what age did you join the citizens and how did that come about?
I think it was somewhere about fifteen, but I can’t think exactly what age we were compelled to take it home.
when the war had broken out did you hear anything about it? Did you read newspapers or were you aware of what was going on at Gallipoli.
We knew what was going on at Gallipoli and of course we could follow it through.
And what did you think about it all. What did you make of it all, the whole Gallipoli campaign, do you recall?
Well I thought it was up to everybody to go there, to go, able to go to go. It’s all compulsory, but no it wasn’t compulsory it was non, all was voluntary. And I think there was two or three of us lads at Summer Town make up our mind, we would put our age up to eighteen and go, and we enlisted.
The recruiting officer used to come around in those days and get your names and then take you down for examination and make an appointment.
So when you joined the Light Horse, what did you expect the war would be like? Did you have a kind of,
what sort of view did you have of war before you went to it?
We couldn’t form much of an idea of it but you could really ask what it would be like. The conditions would have been terrible, but we accepted that. And I think everyone accepted it.
So you went training again in Victoria
and then you got on the boat I guess and you went off to Egypt is that correct?
Yes we… we got on a troop, not a troopship, a cargo ship, at Port Melbourne and had a terrible voyage to Fremantle. And then onto Port Suez.
And when you left were there many people at the, to see you off? When the ships left from?
No, well see all my people in South Australia, there was only a few there, few Victorian locals were there. We didn’t get a farewell. As a matter of fact we got in this, on the boat and we were only on there a little while and everyone had to get off, we were all marched out to Ascotvale and there was a case of meningitis found on board. And
so we had to be out there for about a week and we were brought back and got in a cargo boat.
And that sailed off to Egypt?
That was off to Egypt, six weeks to get to Port Suez.
And what was it like arriving in Egypt, was that the first foreign country you’d ever been in?
It was the first foreign country, we went by train to Damascus, that was the detail camp and went
along there. And whilst we were there we did marching in the desert country and that sort of thing. And then we went and trained and, when I went up to join the unit.
So what do you remember of Egypt, do you recall anything seeing that place for the first time, how did the people seem and all that?
Well as a matter of fact I was fortunate to see quite a bit of Egypt after the war.
I think that will probably come in a little later on, my three months up in Cairo.
So you trained in at Egypt then they sent you off to Palestine. This was the first time you’d been in your unit mounted and entering,
what was it like to ride for the first time in a mounted column, do you remember?
It was wonderful. As a matter of fact the horse they knew as much about it as what you did. First of all the horses when they’d go off a boat they would be, all go to a re-mount depot and they would be all trained and broken in properly. They wouldn’t go to the horses that just arrived, they’d all go through the
re-mount. And it was somewhere, the chaps in the re-mount were, they were buck jump riders and things like that. Banjo Patterson [Australian bush poet] was one of them there. When the horses would come to the regiment they were all well trained, very well trained. And after you’ve been with them for, been with them months,
or even years these horses knew as much about it as what you did.
So they became your mates to a sense, or your, you had a really strong bond with the horse?
A very strong bond with the horses. Yeah.
How did that affect you later in the war when you had to get rid of the horses?
we didn’t, we were all, everyone used to talk about it, as a matter of fact people out here in Australia, one woman wrote that the Light Horse over in Egypt and Palestine would shoot their, was going to shoot their horses sooner than them go to the Egyptians. And all the Arabs when they see the way that they treated their animals, but that wasn’t so.
We got rid of the horses, well we got rid of everything, but we’re chopping in half way through the story here.
So can you talk a little bit about riding for the first time in a column, going into the, into a battle. What was it like?
Of course the army saddle,
very, very comfortable saddle and of course you’re loaded up with everything. But by the time you mounted and dismounted a few times, I think the horse would help you to get up, he’s sort of lean forward to pick you up. And we’d travel in column anywhere and most of you, and you’re moving in column you’d be at night time and when you’d stop to have a rest, the horse
would be the length of a horse apart, you’d get off and just flop down on the ground and lay amongst the horses legs and they wouldn’t worry about you. They were tired the same as you were.
So that was what it was like. Cause the mounted column, unlike the Western Front you guys were always on the move weren’t you? Always moving, so how did that affect people, the constant moving?
Well I think that, cause the whole story is that the, they had, in fact nine months to capture Gaza and there was three battles at Gaza. The first and second were no good and then the nine, after nine months General Allenby took over and he refused to try again until he had better equipment and more men.
And they, I think the Light Horse did the flank movement, the infantry’s all on the coast but we, the flank movement, had to be flank movement out about thirty miles to Beersheeba. Now this Beersheba has been over there, and now they’re talking about making a film of it, but the, I’d have to get the region, how many miles. I
wasn’t in it but I joined when they, just after the third battle at Beersheba and there’s a, the story is that they charged down at Beersheba with just bayonets and they just strung it up, they chopped it in. But the most point about that action was the time when the horses
were out of water, they were nearly a day and a half had no drink of water and it was absolutely certain that they had to capture Beersheba. But that’s a story that you can get anywhere. And from Beersheba the Light Horse went, followed them through up to near the hills, over dreadful country
boggy and cold and all that. And we, the Light Horse always had transport following them because they carried our gear and that. And we were at the foot of the hills, the mountains and went through there for a couple of week… and of course they couldn’t get the transport through, they were bogged. And that’s how we spent Christmas day there. We
were waiting for our Christmas parcels and eventually they got some through in the night time and we had our Christmas parcels there.
So is that where you spent your, is that your first Christmas you spent?
The first Christmas there yeah. And of course then Jerusalem being taken over, when Jerusalem wasn’t captured there was no fight between Jerusalem, but the army occupied then in Jerusalem.
But after that, or sometime after that the whole 3rd Brigade, which I was command, moved right back through Gaza to a place called Beelaha. And we were there for a month recuperating, building us up and goodness knows what. And we got well, by the end of the month we were all fit, the horses were fit, away we went again. And we went
from there up, followed the coast up to Jaffa, incidentally we had a padre in our unit, Bartley Turner, and where we went through, he said, was in… referred to in the Bible, so we took quite an interest then. We went from Jaffa we went up to, up the mountains to Jerusalem.
We didn’t stop in Jerusalem we went through and around the [UNCLEAR] down to Jericho, down in to Deep Sea. The old, coming from the cold and wet down there into the Jordan Valley where the temperature’s a hundred and twenty practically all the time. And your a hundred and twenty, one thousand two hundred feet below sea level.
And just down there with no shade or anything like that, there was no trees, only along the River Jordan there was a, few bushes and that but you couldn’t get under them cause the water was very, very, running very steep and then stony places like that. But we, I think we about eight, eight months down there and it was pretty
hell for everybody, we had no, no shade or anything like that.
So the environment was a pretty hard part of the story for the soldiers. Just the conditions and the weather and the heat. The whole environment was really hard on everybody. But you were just talking about Beersheba before, did the soldiers, did anybody talk about it to you? Did you ever hear any stories about Beersheba?
It’s, there’s quite a lot of stories about it.
The… ABC printed, I’m talking about it. About these horses. I think you could get the story there.
No I’m just wondering whether you yourself heard anything from the troops at the time? That was a different unit wasn’t it?
Actually the 9th Light Horse, they were in reserve. It was only just a squadron or so went over the top. Of course there were hundreds and hundreds of mounted troops out on that
flank. But there was only a squadron went over the top and they just chucked it in. And some of the horses were able to get a drink and we got through, yeah.
First contact with the Turks, your first battle, was that later or did you ever have skirmishes with them
No there was no skirmishes, went up in the hills and we had trenches, they just had barricades of stone. But there’s very little fighting going on there. Course the bullets whizzing amongst the stones was about all there. But, now see in the Light Horse there’s four in the
section and one comes back with the horses, there’s only three the men up in there. And if you come back with the horses your back further and might miss them, some of them. And I had them at, also I was put onto machine guns section, Hoskins machine gun and I, a horse, pack horse, was loaded with ammunition, and of course I
was able to go back with him. And I had that horse right through until the Jordan Valley, until I on the pack horse. I was in the team of the Hoskins machine gun as the, leading the pack horse.
Did you ever have to get rid of your horses? Did you ever have to change horse or did you have the one horse all the way through?
No, well the horse I got was a,
chap by the name of Len Cravitz, from Gumeracha[?], was wounded and I got his horse. And I had that horse for a long time. And I changed horses, I think I went away, something like that, and that’s nothing. Some of them would have the same horse all the way through. But anyhow one horse is as good as the other as far as I was
Did a lot of horses get injured? Was it hard on the horses, were there a lot of horses killed or died during the war?
We, our horses were very, very lucky, they didn’t get much, hadn’t been in much fighting. All the time down the Jordan Valley, yeah they were shelling over but we were all, at that time all under a cliff and
the shells were just flying over the top of it. There was a, one there, the first air raid that we struck was after, must have been, had no air or anything like that. But there was an air raid. And on the Jordan Valley it was, it would have to be, I’d have to, if I can explain to you as it was, it was sort of level, there’s no growth, only just bushes.
And then you’d go down to your valley and, the Jordan, and if you’re down in that second layer, we were down in there on the, the shells would just come over the top. And this morning, when we were down there, cause we had no trenching tools or anything like that, we wanted to come through to dig funk holes, a funk hole’s enough to just for two to squeeze in. And of course all we had was
our bayonets and anything like that. And the next morning I see this mist, or sort of fog hanging over this second hill. And one single plane come out of it, and you could see him, just as plain as anything. And then he went back the next thing a colonel was singing out and telling us to, ‘Get down your funk holes, get down your funk holes!’ And the next
thing there’s about ten of them come through. But they were, you could see them as clear as anything, they were just looking at you like that. And the bombs they were dropping they could pick it up and just drop them over the side. That was the only air raid. But I think they were after the, on the River Jordan across there we had, on planks on boats, I think I’d call them boats, I don’t know what they are, they weren’t pontoons
anyhow. And four men can walk across on them, or two men mounted could cross on them because they were, I think that’s what they are worrying about was this, anyhow. There were a few horses hit that time, there was no men. Practically no men.
Okay so that was an air raid. So you survived that one okay?
that one alright.
Now you had another, there’s another story you tell about, I think later on you went up to Amman, you were involved in that?
Oh yes. First of all there they, the artillery were giving a bit of trouble back in there,
and four of us, well six of us were detailed to get up on top, up on the top of them and ride towards the… [UNCLEAR] And when they could fire on us. We were going along and we wished to God they’d fire, they didn’t fire, so we broke off it twos and went down a
[UNCLEAR]and crept up to a hut down the end and we were off, off like that. Then they opened up, well of course they had an observation balloon up there, see you didn’t know how many aircraft they could have going to take photos and that, had an observation balloon. And that’s where they located them. But when we went, you know I think it was after, I believe it was, Amman was the object, we didn’t
know, we do now. And all night long there’s traffic across the bridge, we were only just a little way up from the bridge and all night long there was artillery and goodness knows what crossing this bridge. And eventually we were all across there, of course it was pitch dark but we knew there was someone there and something going on, whether it might have been a tea party.
But we know now what had happened, there’s been a second brigade was to make an opening, well first of all the River, the Jordan Valley is like on a slant down to the Dead Sea, it’s sort of slip down like, and cliffs and all on the side. And you had to go up to get round the cliff. And about three o’clock in the morning hell broke loose up in the front,
and we moved off up the flat, and the next morning at daylight you could see all the, the whole place was moving with troops and the artillery had to come up the back, at the back over the top of the cliff. And we got to assault and that down there on, we struck a bit of trouble there and
one of our officers was shot. And then we were all surrounded, got surrounded, they closed this opening of ours to go back, it was closed up and we were in there. And there was no way out only down the cliff, and that’s where the horses again were absolutely marvellous. We were there for four days and the, whichever way you went you were in trouble. And
anyhow we had a, we had run out of rations and the horses were, of course they’d used up their spare rations of pill grain, which is in their, on their saddle. And they were after anything they could eat and chew. And we didn’t know how the hell to get out of this, how they were going to get out. Well of course it’s not into us, but with an officer down. But they evidently got word from some
of the natives there that there was a goat track goes apparently down the cliff. And we went down that single file and how the hell them horses stood up I don’t know, they were sliding and flipping down there. And of course if you went over you’d be gone. As a matter of fact one chap and his pack did go over the top. We went right down to the bottom and
got, and of course on our way down the English regiment were handing us out biscuits, so we were chewing these biscuits. We crossed the Jordan and went down about three mile to our transport and the horses were fed and we were given some bully and biscuits, I suppose it was. And we’re all settling down there and tired as blazes and the next thing
there’s an order come to re-mount, everyone had to re-mount again and go back hell to leather back to this crossing on the Jordan. We went back there and we stopped there. But we were, the object of going to [UNCLEAR] there’s a railway running down there and they were getting supplies down there. The idea was to blow it up or do
something about it, but we didn’t get there.
So you got sick, you got malaria, is that right?
Yeah I went downhill, we were up, further up the valley a bit and we went, we had no trenches but there was sort of a series of mounds which were falling over. And they had,
the engineers had put barbed wire and joining them up there and we were up in there and I came back and I was with the quartermaster helping him sort out some stuff and I, away I went and after that I don’t remember very much, I got malaria. And I don’t know how they took me down, or how I got down to Jericho Clearing
Station. One of our chaps run past and said, “I see young Whit down there on a stretcher, he looks pretty crook.” But I couldn’t remember anything about it. And I went, was taken right down, up to Jerusalem and down to, onto the hospital ship and went to Port Sand, and I was there for three months with malaria.
And when I, after I recovered we were taken by boat up to Syria and I joined the unit again there, when they were getting up near the Turkish border. And, but beautiful country there, I remember getting up, up near the Turkish
border and the Armistice was signed. But we, so that was then that, we came back…
What did you think about that, what did everybody think about the Armistice? Did you know the war was going to end, and how did that happen?
We didn’t know what was going to happen but anyhow we, whether to cry or not. But anyhow we moved back and we, they took a
beautiful camp down at below Tripoli and we were all there camping on the beach. And we were there for quite a while and they started with sports to fix, who with football teams and who was going to play. In the end everything was taken from us, we were stripped of everything,
the horses were taken over. Now there’s all sorts of yarns about these horses, what become of them, they were taken over. We even, our rifles and everything was gotten, all we got was what we, what you march in. And the horses were taken away. I believe, I don’t know whether it’s true they were taken over by a division
from England and they were taken and the surgeon ran through them, selected out the sound yearlings and the sound mares, and those who weren’t were destroyed. Taken their mane and tail off first and then they were destroyed. Now that’s about all I can tell you about the horses. We got back, up to the Port of
Tripoli and we got on, the transport was out in the middle of the, just sitting like a duck in a pond. And we got onto lighters, those big platforms floating platforms, and that was going like blazes. Taken out to this transport. And they had ropes hanging over the side, and it was a work of art to
when the boat went up, when it went up you had to make sure you grabbed, if you didn’t you going down the bottom there. We were taken down to Port Suez and the Suez Canal and we were all on those, until we left that bank on the Suez Canal. And we were, thought well this is where we, ready for home. And we were going past… headquarters one day and
a bloke sang out, “Hey Whit, you been to Cairo?” and I said, “No.”
Interviewee: Albert Whitmore Archive ID 2543 Tape 323
… happening on the Western Front?
No you’d hear very little. See we had no wireless or anything like that, no radio. We wouldn’t hear very much about it.
How did you think the war was going? Did you have any idea what was,
how the war was progressing?
I think we were all of the feeling it was very grim.
What about your experience of the war, how did, what was the… when you look back on that war. Your experience of war, how do you remember it?
I remember I can,
I can go through in memory, right through the whole lot in my memory. Go where we were and what we were doing and everything else. Yeah I think we felt that we were doing, see after Gallipoli fell the next long victory would be the Suez Canal. And as a matter of fact the Turks came right down through Palestine and Egypt
to there, and their line of communication was so long. But we had to start off; our troops had to start off from scratch.
So to pushed them back up the Peninsula?
We pushed them back.
What was the hardest thing about that experience for you? What was the toughest thing about the war being in the Light Horse?
don’t know,I think you accepted all the conditions and accepted that, as a part of it. That’s what you enlisted for. You didn’t see, I think we’re very, very lucky that was about all.
Was it a bit of an adventure going over there?
It was an adventure alright. But
the last three months of the, of it down there, when the regiment came back, after we were, landed on the Suez Canal and they asked me if I was going, ever been to Cairo and they sent me up to Cairo the next day. Mind you I was to go in an orderly room then they, at Cairo, beautiful place down the [UNCLEAR]
And anyone who hasn’t been to Cairo going to give them seven days leave and they were to report to me there. And the next day the riot broke out and the, our troops of the 9th Light Horse were issued with horses again and they moved up to [UNCLEAR] there they
sent up patrols all up the Suez Canal, the riot was going there. Mind you I was packed out to Jazira, Jazira’s a beautiful place it’s on the, one of the big ilands on the Nile [River] the Cairo Showgrounds are there. There was also a racecourse and there was all beautiful things over the Castlehill Bridge. And mind you I was on the quarter master’s store, I had a room
and a bed, at last I’d been over two years without a bed. And I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning and one of the English wagons would come in and pick me up and go out to draw the rations for the, for the Lebo [Lebanese] there was three hundred Turkish prisoners of war there in a compound, and we’d
draw their rations. My job would be finish about eight o’clock and I had nothing much to do. And I went in my room on, have a lie down and things like that. One of the Turkish chaps would sing out, sit down at the door and say, “[UNCLEAR] Cairo?”, they reckon I was going out. But once I was there I didn’t,
see the army educational there, I done three months on double entry bookkeeping, things have done me life steed, particularly in my civilian life up here. And I was, heard that the 9th Horse was a, getting ready to leave as I got paraded, Captain Hampton, but he said, “You belong to the staff
here now.” I said, “No I’d like to go back to the unit.” So they packed me off and I went down, joined the unit and we got aboard the Oxfordshire and arrived back in Adelaide four days before my twentieth birthday. That was my trip overseas.
What was it like coming back to Australia?
It was marvellous. I think
I quoted before the finest thing I’ve ever seen is the sun rising over the Mount Lofty Ranges when we were out in the peninsula there, on board the boat. That was the finest thing I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the happiest thing I’ve experienced was we would all have a reception and that down at the harbour but it was…
and the army man trains and the reception was down in the Adelaide Railway Station, my happy relations were to be met by the family and driven by horse and buggy back to Tea Tree Gully. The proudest moment of my life was the next day marching through the streets of Adelaide, held by a band, that was one of my proudest days, moments.
And my very saddest day was we was put on trains heading down to Keswick Barracks, on the parade ground they had a few speeches. The sergeant major, all stood us to attention, we went up to the major, saluted… attention. All he said was, “Men of the 9th Australian
Light Horse dismissed”. Well you don’t… dismissed, we just stood there dumbfounded. Some with tears running down their eyes and getting hold of each other, just terrible. To think after they’d been there all this months and months together and just a few minutes we’ve been scattered never to get together again. That was the saddest time
of my life.
So the regiment and the group, the men had come to mean a lot to each other? The, your unit of the Light Horse had become very close together, people meant a lot to each other, they’d been through so much together?
All cobbers [mates], there was no rows, no fighting amongst them. One thing about
the, what I found in the army and in camps there you pick an argument with someone and go to hit, right come on you two get up in there and have it out here. Yeah. I was home for four weeks and there was this huge scheme going
on up here.
Okay we’ll come to that in a minute I think. Did you ever meet any of the Turks, what did you think of the Turks?
The Turks were, I don’t know they were, the Turks we had them down, there was three of them there, they were alright. But oh I don’t know, I, sort of Armenian, they murdered all the Armenians except some got to go, they had them in a camp, I saw the Armenian
camp and oh God, they were cruel. And even threw them into Syria, see they threw, Syria there, I think they gave them a terrible time there. But the men, I think they were good soldiers and anything like that. And the ones we had down at the,
out of the depot there are quite good.
So after that experience of war what did the war mean to you? What did you get from the war, your experience in the war?
I think I got a lot of experience and I’m well proud about the war. I know we used to, one chap particularly I think he, he started off down at Mitcham Camp
he was a, a chap had been way up in the bush shooting kangaroos and whatnot and he was getting up and he was over thirty and he probably got word that they wanted some men down in there. And of course he came down and enlisted and when he come down the camp he said we were just a lot of bloody kids. And that’s what, he used that term all
the time he went, he went into the 9th Light Horse on the boat. He was, you silly bloody kids, and of course we gave him as good as he gave him. And that night we were surrounded up at assault, he’s lying on the bank crying there, “You silly bloody kids, you don’t know what danger you’re in.” Of course he’s no good, not worth anything.
Did you know what danger you were in or did you just…?
We knew what danger because the, it didn’t matter which way you went you were in trouble.
What are your feelings about, towards [General] Chauvel, do you remember him?
No we wouldn’t have anything to do with him, would we?
No I just don’t know whether you had any views of him,
the men talk about him or anything, Chauvel or [General] Allenby? Did the soldiers ever talk about them?
I don’t think, the only one they’d talk about would be Allenby who was our commander, and then of course we had our own colonels, Colonel Scott and Colonel Todd.
So was it a very disciplined unit, how did you get on with the officers,
They got on very well with them, I did anyhow. I think I was very, very lucky to get the, when the boys came back from Gallipoli I got six of them, and they were decent chaps, or troops, decent fellows. And seeing you do the right thing, they’d, “Don’t do that that’s silly.” and all that sort of thing. And you’d, they protected you, oh it was marvellous, yeah.
So you had some of the Gallipoli boys in your unit?
Oh the, see the 9th Light Horse went to Gallipoli, not with horses, only the horse holder, that’s three out of every four on Gallipoli.
Did they talk much about it at all?
No not a great deal, no doesn’t talk very much.
Now do you remember before, I think before you went they would have had the first, in Australia they were going to change the laws about whether volunteers should go to the army? And they were going to have conscription? Do you remember anything about that and do you remember whether you voted?
We voted no, I think all the volunteers voted no, we were all voluntary.
But do you recall how that happened? Did you have to vote at the front or did it happen at home before you left?
There was two votes I think. One when I was away. Cause I remember, I can’t really remember much about it.
What about the first one, were you at home?
The first one I probably be home, I’m not too sure.
Do you remember much opposition to the war?
No we didn’t get much.
opposition because they’d interned a lot of the chaps were against it, like with the Germans and things like that they were all interned.
Do you know much about that, I think you do don’t you, some of the German internment?
What did you think about that, the Germans being interned during the war?
They had been interned because of, well they seemed to be very, very bitter now and one man I know from Renmark, and one day he come down there and he yelled about it. And of course he was interned, picked up. But yeah none of the boys that,
young Germans that would come out here like the boy Loxton and all those boys, some of those boys enlisted, they were German names but they weren’t really German. We didn’t have many of the real Germans here, I don’t think.
So I wonder why they locked them all up. I wonder why they interned...
Well they had to lock them up because they couldn’t interrogate them one at a time, they’d just
take the lot and then interrogate them afterwards.
Well I mean what else could they do with them, yeah. See I was five and a half years out of England when the internment came and I know all about them.
That’s in the second war?
The Second World War.
You were involved in a soldier settlement scheme?
When I came back I…
What were you going to do? What did you think was going to happen to you then?
When I got back I thought, ‘Now what am I going to do to rehabilitate myself?’ And I didn’t know what to do and I heard about this huge scheme up here, what it was, and I got in touch with the department, they called it the Irrigation Department
then. And a chap, nearly seventy he was from Western Australia, a surveyor. And I came up here with him, at his, to, we lobbed up here on the 10th of July 1919, cause there was nothing here. And we camped in bell tents for a while. But then they established
and they have survey camp and quite a lot of surveyors. Well this chap he had nowhere to go at night and I used to go down to his tent and he’s teach me surveying all the time. And went out in the field with two staff man and he’d say, “Go on Bert, you get on the instrument and I’ll take the chain.” and that’s how I worked on for six months. And I got my appointment
and I was given, on the instruments and I was given two staff man and I worked here.
So how many people came up here in those early days, what was it like here, how many people came up?
Well you see there was all World War One and there was all this work going on and all around the Lake Bonny there was, when it got going there was just miles
of, not miles but dozens of rise afters, camps, all sorts of things. And they camped in anything. And eventually at one time estimated there was three thousand men working up on the scheme. And they estimated about a thousand horses with eight hundred on the collar. And it was all done by horses, all this clearing and
the, with manpower, with no tractors, there was no trucks or anything else like that. And they, there was horses on tip trays, three horses a tip tray, and thousands of tons of wood was carted down here to the pumping place on Lake Bonny, of course it’s all gone now. I think thousands of tons of timber and roots was carted out to Loveday.
Out there. And the men and the horses done the whole lot of it.
And what was the idea of this scheme, what were they going to do?
It was to settle the soldiers, they were all WWI soldiers, every one of them. And the, there were, they were, I think
they were, yeah they were all, they were ex-serviceman, really would be the correct word. Cause anyone in the navy could buy a block, and there were a lot of these blocks. And they were granted two hundred and fifty pounds for a house, if you had any other money you put it to it and they’d alter the house to that affect. But a lot of these chaps that come up here, a lot of them were single
and any retired nurse or schoolteachers, female come up here, they were soon gone. But these women on these, up on these blocks they had a terrible time, they had no ice, no lights, no electricity and no [UNCLEAR] because all the timber was scrub and the dust storms and everything.
And the only means of coming in to the town was by horse and cart, and that was the time the women put in there, and the men of course were out working. But the scheme went on here quite a long while and I, in the survey, and I went into business.
Yeah just going back, when all the men came out what were they like? Were a lot of the men
upset by the war, was it a rough time in those days? Was there a lot drinking and stuff?
No the only was to get a drink was to go to Berri, and the only way to get there was to go by horse and cart or something. But Bert Rogers was a, owned the Berri Hotel and was just like a double fronted house, with a wall cut out of it. And he
had a truck, they called it the Red Ranger, and he’d be loaded up with beer to come down here on a weekend and he’d have a list of names and he got my, got my dozen of beer, yes your name’s Joe Blow, he’d cross the name off. But you had to have an order for it.
But the drinking wasn’t bad here, until we got the hotel, and the hotel came in 1930.
So was the soldier’s settlers scheme successful do you think? Or what happened to it in the end, did it work out or not?
The soldiers settlers scheme was a, is a big story. See the went onto these blocks and some of them were in Berri and, coming into Berri, they didn’t know what their
capital costs would be. Because they had to wait til, there’d be all this preparation, all the bookwork and plans in Adelaide, pumping station and all that would be bopped together to get the capital cost of the scheme. About five years afterward it come out, and it was just damn ridiculous because they could,
too much for what they could do with it. And that’s where the RSL [Returned & Services League], they fought and fought over this cost of blocks and they didn’t have it cut down. But the chaps, chaps that were on some of these blocks well they didn’t know whether grapes grew on gum trees or under the ground
like spuds. And they were given blocks. And so it took a while to get the goats separated from the sheep and the, they went off but they didn’t do any good.
But some stuck it out and did okay in the end, is that right?
They stuck it out and they, all this was wonderful. When we got children like Johnny and Billy we’ve got land for them oh it’ll be wonderful, just what we wanted
a block of land, they were very, very happy, and working like mad. But when Billy and that got up bigger, very few of them stop at the block, they see old dad had to work and so quite a lot of them didn’t, came, there’s very few of the original sons, the original block. Cause there’s none of them left and I’m the only WWI
in the Riverland.
… originally up here when they came?
When they come they allotted two hundred and fifty pounds
for a house, which was two rooms, built of concrete. First of all there was remember that there was no railway here, everything had to come by rails and wagon, by ship to [UNCLEAR] and then by horse to here. So anything that could be made here was, like cement blocks and things like that, or cement. There were two rooms
side by side, call them what you like, then they’d put a wall out the back and enclose that with, could be[UNCLEAR] or anything like that. On one end they had the stove, and this is one block I’m talking about. But some of them brought their wives up and they lived under these conditions. But if you could add a hundred pound to it you could get quite a decent home built here.
they built these thing call block houses, those little wooden, is that right, little cubicles, little wooden?
Oh the little cubicles, the ten by ten cubicle they were here, there was hundred of them. Some of them made houses of them, but not on the blocks. I think as a matter of fact down around the lake or out here. These ten by ten cubicles, some of them were made of hessian; some of them were made of weatherboard.
And they were used for the camping, about three miles from here, out into the scrub country, the department built a four walls of a dwelling, which was to be used as a boarding house, and they had cubicles and tents and what have you like for workman working out there, cause the only way of getting in and out was horse
and buggy, horse and cart.
I just want to take you back to when you first heard about this development as a soldiers’ development settlement. What was it called and how did you hear about it? Was it called Berrima, what was it called in those days?
Well the soldiers settlement, they called it the soldiers’ settlement.
But where how did it appear?
Well of course this was all called Upper Murray. The Riverland had only just, was very young,
it was all Upper Murray. The Riverland was all, called Riverland was a bit of a competition by the Murray Pioneer, naming the area. If you travel, when you, if you ended up at Upper Murray you got here, you’ve still got a Murray up further.
Can you tell us the name of this town, was it called Berrima when you came
No it wasn’t, it was nothing. No we didn’t know, just Lake Bonny.
Sorry it was called what?
Lake Bonny, see the yachts weren’t in either, see the lake was just a, just a shallow, the water was water grass and water birds by the million. And the beach wasn’t much bigger than it is now and of course when the lake, the rocks were put in
it raised the water level. And all the beautiful gums and box trees on the flats were all drowned. And it all…
And it was called Lake, sorry what was it called?
Bert can you just tell us what the name of the town is, we just don’t know, just tell us the name of the town, this town?
Can you just say, can you just say…?
Something to do with an aborigine troop that used to be here or something, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say anything about it.