A pretty old suburb now, and my Dad, he owned a hansom cab, and horse of course, you know. And I went to Woollahra School at Fort Street. And then of course I was there until the Depression started and of course, with no money about,
I had to go and get a job. So he had friends, Dad had friends that had a little farm up at Smithfield. So, I went there and was living there for a while. And these people, they had this little farm, and they used to do a lot of running around in a truck. Like, all around that area were Chinamen’s gardens.
And they used to, just forget their name now, Rutledge I think was their name, and they used to collect the Chinamen’s wares, like all their cabbages and cauliflowers, and we used to take them at two o’clock in the morning, we’d go and load the truck. Then we’d sell all those vegetables, whatever we collected from the Chinamen’s gardens,
and then we used to buy all our own fruit and vegetables, and go out and sell them all out at Double Bay, Rose Bay. And that was started at two o’clock in the morning, and by the time we got back to Smithfield, it was seven o’clock. And we did this for five, six days, including. Well, then, I got a bit sick of it after a while, because I wasn’t very happy with it,
so I went back to Mum and Dad, and what year was that now. Oh, I can’t think of the year. Any rate, before that, I was telling you about Dad owning the hansom cab, any rate, I was about eight year old I think. It’s hard to sort of remember all this. Any rate my mate, Ronnie Owens, this is after school,
we were sitting down in the gutter just messing about, and Dad came along with the cab and I said, “Where are you going, Dad?” And he said, “I’m taking the horse down to get shod.” That means he’s going to have new shoes put on him. So any rate, I said, “Can Ronnie come?” and he said, “Oh, yes.” He said, “We won’t be long.” Any rate, Ron got in and smart me, I put my foot on this little tiny step.
As you know, there only about six inch diameter in those days. And he said, “You right?” and I said, “Yes.” And of course I wasn’t right. I fell off. Any rate, it run over me leg, took all the hair off, the rubber tyre took all the hair off one side of my head, and of course I was back home and in the cot for about a week. Not long after that, the brother came home from work
and he brought some smoked fish. And, of course, in those days we used to just boil it in a baking dish. So this particular day, he was inside cooking this, and I was up the yard. Big long yard we had. And of course, the horses and all that, you know. And I was making a kite. You know what a kite is. One of these strings that you run up. And I was tearing up and down
and I went in to show Mum and Dad, just as the brother was coming out with this hot, boiling water, it was. He said to Mum, “I’ll take it out and put it down the drain because if you put it through the sink it will smell.” You know, fish water. And do you know what happened? Of course, when he opened the door, I run right into it, my forehead hit the top of it, and all over it went. And I’ve got scars.
If you want to look at the scars, I’ve still got some of them here. Any rate, I went into shock. And Mum said I put my hands together like that (clasped), and I was like that for three days. And didn’t move. You know, I got over that, and of course, years went on, and I went to school and all that. And after that they brought in Conscription. Conscription, you know, like, you had to go and do three months in the army. And believe me, that was the best part of my life.
That army. I had three months up at a place called Ingleburn. It was sort of a satellite to Liverpool. And from then on I went back to work, I used to work, the wife and I, we worked in a brush factory. In the same street as I was born in. Elsie lived at Edgecliff,
and I just lived up the top half of Holdsworth Street, in the brush factory, which now, is an art gallery. I believe. I haven’t been there for years. But any rate, I used to, yeah, I did a bit of an engineer’s course, and I used to look after the machinery there, at the brush works. Make tooth brushes, shaving brushes, hair brushes. There’s still some of them about.
There the ones with the cushions type. You know. Anyhow, then the Conscription came up so I had to go into the army for three months. And as I said, that was great. I met some terrific fellows. And from what I’ve heard, after the war broke out, most of those fellows, they went up to the islands, and most of them were killed. But when my turn came up again,
I thought I’d go into the air force, which I did, and then so I joined up and went into the air force. In the meantime, Elsie and I got married, in ’41, and I left her pregnant when I… the day I was posted overseas, my Dad was very ill at the time, with cancer of course, and he was very ill,
and he died the day that I was posted overseas. I was posted to Melbourne to get on this boat. Any rate, Else and I had a pretty good life until I was posted away, and so I thought to myself, “Now, what’s going to happen?” And the brother said, I had seven brothers and sisters. Five brothers, ah, four brothers and two sisters.
There was seven of us. Anyhow I got posted to Melbourne. Just waiting a ship. And we got to Melbourne, (Interruption). Anyhow when I get to Melbourne. There was just the two of us.
A mate and I, I made friends with. They said, “You have to go back to Sydney. You can’t hang around down here, because the ship you were going on got sunk.” So I thought, “Good Lord, I could have been on that,” you know. Any rate, fortunately, I got back to Sydney and was able to bury Dad. Which he’s buried in Waverley cemetery. Any rate, so after that, I think I had a fortnight back home
with the wife and the family, and went off back down to Melbourne, and we got on this boat. Wasn’t much bigger than the bloody Manly ferry. You know, I thought, in those days. Anyhow, it was called the Denbershire. And we were about three weeks, and we get into the Red Sea, and I thought, “This is it.” They cut the engines down,
and there was this boat coming straight for us. And I thought, “We’ve had it,” you know. But any rate, it was a friendly ship, it was a British destroyer. Any rate, then we got to Cairo. We couldn’t go through the canal, the Grand canal, the Suez Canal, I’m sorry. The Suez Canal, because it was blocked with sunken ships. So they put us on this terrible train, and took us to Cairo.
And then we got to Cairo, and this camp, ah, you should have seen it. There was no sand. We were sleeping on stones, you know. I think it was a river bed. Sleeping on stones. Anyhow, we had a bit of a time there in Cairo. A terrible place it was in those days. You couldn’t trust anybody, you know. Any rate, finished up, they asked for volunteers.
Because we’d been posted to 3 Squadron. We knew where we’d be going, by then. When we left Melbourne we didn’t know where we were going. Any rate we got to Cairo. And then they asked for volunteers to take some trucks up. There was one, I had to take, I think fifteen fellows I took on my truck. We had two other trucks and one was for, on a semi-trailer,
and it had an aircraft in a case, in a box, you know. We were taking it up to the squadron. Any rate, we get up, you know, as far as, I think it was about Benghazi, or Tobruk. I just forget now. You can’t remember everything. Any rate. The first thing I saw, most of us saw, was these English fellows, transporting trucks, they were.
And apparently they stopped for, to make what we call a brew. Cup of tea, you see. And one of them must have stood on a landmine. And there was ten of them. That was the first thing we saw. It was terrible. Ten of them laying along the roadside, you know. All burnt up. Anyhow, we got over that all right. We thought, this is it, you know, we’re here to do a job. And that’s all there is about it..
Any rate, I’m going along in this truck, you know, and everybody’s quite happy and all of a sudden, right in front of us, this fighter was coming straight for us. At ground level. And I thought, “This is it.” Any rate, it got within about a hundred yards off us, and I panicked. I pulled off the side of the road, with these fifteen blokes.
Any rate, it was a Spitfire. It was one of ours. We didn’t know that, because you couldn’t see the cockades, as we call them, the markings. Only to come right up against a fence, which was a minefield. Another ten feet and we’d have all had it. Right up against the minefield. Any rate, we pushed the truck back. It was just over in a bit of a ditch. We got back up on our feet. And any rate, it was all right from then on. We got to the squadron,
and I used to do a lot of guard duties in those days, because of saboteurs, and things like that, you know. So anyhow, we shaved our hair. Had our hair shaved, you know. And they issued us with machine guns. Of course, we’ve got photos, if you want to look at them. And, so any rate, just to cut it short,
you don’t want me to cut it short, buy anyhow, it come up there, one afternoon we heard this gunfire. We were just about to have breakfast, and then all of a sudden we could hear this whistling. And I have been bombed, and I have been strafed, and I have been shelled, which I’ll tell you more about in a minute.
But the shelling is the worst. I don’t care what anybody said. A bomb you can see the aircraft, or you can roughly. And strafing, which we were strafed. I don’t know if I ought to tell you this or not. Can you cut it out if you don’t want it? Can you cut this out, this part that I’m telling you about?
Oh, that’s another thing I must tell you about, too, there’s some funny parts. Anyhow, that went on for three days, and our boss, Brian Eaton, he said, “I’ll get them.” So at dusk, you could see the flashes, you see. You had to wait till dusk to see the flashes of the guns. Any rate, sure enough he went up, and pinpointed it. And they were, we found out the next day,
that the Ghurkhas, that’s the Indian Ghurkhas, they’re terrific little fighters, wonderful little blokes, they went in and they finished up, they killed them all. And they had four guns. And they used to pull them back into the caves in the mountains. And that was eight miles away. And that’s why we were getting, any rate, from then on, you know, it was pretty quiet. We had our quiet moments.
But in other times, in parts of the desert, like when we first hit the squadron, I was allocated, you know, I was a fitter then. I used to do all the maintenance on the aircraft, and that. Anyhow, the boss said to us, he said, “The first thing you must do,” this is when we hit the squadron, he said, “you must dig a slit trench.” So, we’d seen in the early part of the war, the Jerries had pushed us right back to El Alamein.
Any rate, he said, “Dig a slit trench,” And of course, smart me, with the Jerries recently been on this strip, I found a slit trench already dug, you know. And I thought, “Oh, this’ll do me.” Any rate, that night, “whooom, whooom, whooom.” They started to come over, you see. Started dropping the bombs. Anyway, tore out of the tent, with all my other mates.
Do you think I could find that slit trench? No way. So I ended up lying on the deck. What we called the deck. Any rate. It was only about two foot away from me. I could have fallen into it. But I couldn’t find it. No way. I just hoped for the best, and that’s what you did. Any rate, it was all right. It’s, now what happened then. From then on. Oh, of course we moved up. I’ve got a map.
I can show you all the places we were at. Up through Benghazi, Tobruk and right up, and finished up in, where did we go. Up as far up as Tunisia, right up to Tunisia. And later on, as the war proceeded, we moved into Sicily, and we were bombed heavily at Sicily.
Because they wanted, the Jerries waned to get back across what we called the Messina Straits, and so we were stationed at Sicily there for a while, and they give us a bit of a pounding. Any rate, one particular time there, the fellows were going down with malaria. This was in Sicily, and the doctors said, he said,’ You better the move the boys,” he said, “up on the mountain.”
So there was a bit of a mountain. You see, we were right on the beach. I just forget where it was now. We moved, that day, up on the beach, ah, up on the mountain, pitched out little two-man bivvies [bivouacs] as we called them. There a little tiny tent. Any rate, that night, that’s when Jerry came over, and I think he killed a terrible lot of ack-ack fellows.
Terrible lot. I just forget the figures now. But any rate, the bombs, he tore up the strip. We couldn’t use the strip. We lost, I think we lost, in our squadron we lost about three air craft. And the bombs were going off three days after. They were cooking in the ground. Anyhow, I had to go back down
and maintain the aircraft, you know. Get in the truck and go down on the strip again, and look after the aircraft, Anyhow, I thought to myself, “Now, I better have a bit of a scrub up,” you know. We didn’t have any water. Just a little tiny bit. So what I did, the amount of water, I had a bit of a shower with, threw it all over me. And the next thing, up goes this sand spit.
You know, and me just being in all water, no clothes on, and I was just covered with sand. A bit of a sight, I believe. Any rate, I looks around and there’s this bit of shrapnel. It was bigger than that, it was about three feet long, and it was white hot. You know, if it had hit me, it would have cut me right in half. It was white hot and it was only about ten foot away, but my poor old aircraft, it was just like a colander.
I’ve got photos, and I’ll show you all these things. And it was just like a colander. Just riddled with holes, as though you got about fifty machine guns and, you know, and any rate that was just one of the air craft. We lost about three. But they lost a terrible lot of soldiers. Ack-ack fellows, you know. And any rate, what happened from then on? Oh, I know. The next couple of days, I’d been down to my aircraft.
Any rate I went back to the tent. This is late in the afternoon, getting on night time, just after tea, and I laid down on, all we had was this ground sheet. And I laid down on the ground, all we had was this ground sheet, and I thought to myself, “That’s funny. There’s something under my back.” You know, this is on the grass. Any rate, I lifted up the ground sheet, and there’s two snakes. Underneath me.
Anyway, they were about three feet long. But they were green ground snakes, they wouldn’t have hurt. But I had, then again, that next night. There used to be, there was a railroad track, just down below us, on the mountain. And, a Messerschmitt came in and strafed it, and you wouldn’t believe it, it was an ammo train. Oh, God. And there was, you know, shells going off and bombs going off,
and this went on for about two hours. Because they couldn’t do anything about it. But any rate, we got over that trouble. And, oh, another episode, this was another time. We were working on, this is when we moved into Italy. We were working on the Monastery. Do you remember about the Monastery, where the Jerries were held up in this Monastery? And they couldn’t shift them?
Any rate, we were working on that there, and finally got rid of them. But the whole town was just demolished. There was nothing left. They bombed the inside out of it. Any rate, I had to look after this aircraft. And we used to go up of a night, and cover it up, the cockpit, because of glass, the perspex and that you know. If anyone come over at night and the moon was shining,
you could see the silhouette of the aircraft, you know. So any rate, I went up this afternoon, and I started to cover it up, and I looked around the filler plug on the main plane, you know the big plug, and I thought to myself, “That’s a bit oily,” you know. “It doesn’t look right to me.” Because a hundred octane just dries out. You know, like petrol, doesn’t leave an oily substance.
Any rate. I went to the engineer officer, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t like the look of that.” And you know what had happened? The last three aircraft, when the tanker driver filled it up, there was something, we think there might have been a bit of sabotaging, because he took the, he was supposed to have taken the octane out of the drums and pump it straight into the aircraft. Any rate, he topped up the last three aircraft,
he’d filled them up with dieseline. Any rate, the engineer officer, he said, “That’s diesel.” Any rate, we saw the tanker driver, and he said, “That’s it. I must have picked on the wrong drums.” Or else. They’re coloured, they’re generally coloured, you see. Like red and blue and green. Things like that. Any rate, it finished up draining every one of the aircraft.
Thousands of gallons went all over, yeah. But any rate, There’s other times, we had it pretty bad, but a lot of us got out of it alive, fortunately. But there was another, yeah. I just forget now, isn’t it terrible. I forget a lot of things.
That’s all right. We’ll go into detail later. About the end of the war, exactly, what happened?
Oh, well. At the end, I, we were to go. Oh, I told you about these Americans. They strafed us. We were on the Adriatic side, and they’d been over to Yugoslavia. Any rate, what we call a gaggle. It’s a gaggle of about half a dozen air craft. They’d been over to Yugoslavia, and came across, and they strafed us. And they killed one English pilot.
Just cut him straight in half, I believe. And of course, the boss’s aircraft, that was cut in half. And didn’t he go crook about that. Any rate they apologised. Three of them out of six of them, just swooped down, and they said they thought we were a German air strip. You know. Any how, then we moved into, after that, where’d we got, oh,
up into Rome or somewhere, and then, oh God, it’s terrible. That’s just getting old, and you can’t think. Oh, I went into England, because, that’s right, yeah. They were having trouble in Yugoslavia then. They were supposed to go over to, you know, it was close support. Any rate, that fell through,
so we went to England, and they said, “Oh,” he said. The war had finished then. And they said, “Oh, we were thinking about sending you, the squadron, into Japan.” For occupation, you know. Any rate that fell through so he said, “Now you’re in England you may as well have a bit of a holiday,” you know. So we went to Elsie’s aunties, and we had a terrific time.
They couldn’t do enough for us. Reg and I. and any rate, in the meantime, Mum was very ill. Dad had died. I told you that. We buried him before we went away. And Mum was very ill. And they were trying to get me back home. The what’s-a-name of, Maurie O’Sullivan, he was the mayor
or something of Paddington in those days. He was a politician. So any rate, he finally succeeded in getting me home. So, any rate, I get back to the squadron. Incidentally, over there in England, during the war, everybody was issued with a bike. All the ground crew. Because the aircraft were dispersed, so far apart, you know.
You had to have a bike to get to them. Anyhow, I get back to the squadron, and the CO [Commanding Officer], he said, “Where the hell have you been?” he said. “We’ve been all over England looking for you.” He said, “Your Mum’s very ill,” he said. That was eleven o’clock when I got back, and he said, “You better go and have yourself a shower and have something to eat. There’s a train leaving at two o’clock.” Any rate,
the, I got dressed up and true enough, I got on the train to get down to Southampton. Got on the ship called the Andes, it was a big transport ship in those days, and a big liner, I mean, a big liner, and I think there was about four thousand getting on it. That was how I came home. But, you know, terrific day when I got home, of course, you know. But any rate, that’s just a scanty part of it, you know.
because we only had the one. But years after, the brother and I, when we grew up, the old man fixed up near the stable, next to the stable, a room for us, and Frank and I used to sleep there, right next to the horse. Anyhow, later on, when he got rid of the horse and the cab, he bought the taxi.
And as I told you, 631 was the number of it. And it was a big old Nash. And my brothers, they bought cabs. One lived in Montie street, and he had his cab there. A big Pontiac, beautiful car. And I got my licence from that. But Dad, he used to, he had this cab,
and the rank was down, there was one rank. When he had the cab the rank was at Darling Point. One at Darling Point. He used to operate from that one. And then the other one at Bondi Junction. I told you earlier in the piece. He used to take Mr Raine, the original Raine & Horne, after school. Mr Raine would ring up and he’d say, and he’d say, “Can Mr Brown…” Mum would take the phone call,
and, “…Mr Brown pick Mr Raine up at five o’clock.” And I used to get on my scooter, after school, and either got up to Bondi Junction. I don’t know if you know Bondi Junction and Woollahra, it’s quite a distance. I had to go up there and tell him that Mr Raine’s got to be picked up at five o’clock, and then he’d have to right in there, or else he’d have to go to Darling Point
and get him. And I used to do this on the scooter, after school. You know. Any how, that went on for a few years, and of course I grew up, and what was the other thing. Oh. When I left school, early, I went to work, no after school. That was it.
Sorry about that. Sometimes after school I got a job at the chemist shop in Queen Street. What was their names? Sullivan, Sullivan. And they brought out. Anyhow, I used to get on the tram and go, this was after school, mind you. This was at half past three, by the time I got the tram, go into town,
into O’Connell Street, pick up all the medicine in a great big bloody paper bag. And get back on the tram and come home. By that time it was getting dark. And of course, the trams in those days were chock a block full of people, you know, coming home from work. And I couldn’t get in. I used to have to get in the driver’s compartment, because those trams were both the same ends.
You see, you could either drive from one end or the other. You’ve seen the old trams. Anyway I used to get in the back, the driver’s compartment, with my big parcel. This went on two or three days a week. I’d get about two shillings for that, you know. People talk about hard, hardship these days. I say, you don’t know what hardship is. Any rate, getting back to the taxis. My brother had taxis.
Anyway, come the time they got too old to drive them, when I say too old, sixty two. They all passed on about, Dad passed on at sixty two. The number plates. They didn’t get anything for them. They handed them in. They’re worth thousands now. But the number plates were handed in. And that’s when, we went to Tuggerah then and built some more houses,
because he was retired, see. But he ended up losing the lot, here in the war, because you couldn’t get anything for a house during the war. You didn’t know if it was going to get blown away or not. So any rate, so he passed on and as I say, that’s when I went and from then on, when I came home from the war, and Else and I, we’ve had a wonderful life the two of us. Haven’t we?
Anyhow we had two more children. Got Terry, he’s the oldest, he’s just turned sixty. I think I told you we’ve been married for sixty two years. Three bachelors, these boys of ours. Terrific boys. And one works for Telecom, Terry works for a computer firm, and Warren’s up here. He cuts grass.
And good lad. No women. Not like me. I loved the women. Any rate, then after what’s-a-name. When I came back I was looking for work, you know. I put in, they had, they had a thing where you could put in a ballot, and you might have got a farming lot. Which I didn’t get. I was mad on going into the country and raising cattle.
Of course, I missed out. Anyway I went looking for work, and I thought, “I’ll go into the carpentry business.” In those days, when you come back, whatever trade you wanted to do, you could go to the government and get a chit and go to any hardware store and get all tools you wanted.
So I went to Anthony Hordern’s, and of course, by the time I got there they’d nearly run out of tools. So, anyhow, I got a few things, you know, managed, so then I went and advertised, and there was a display, they wanted a chap with carpentry to do the display for shop windows. So I went to, it was advertised, this Kevin Slattery.
He’s a terrific bloke. I don’t know whether he’s still alive or not. Anyway this was in O’Connell Street, not O’Connell, in Druitt Street in Sydney. And we used to build all displays for showgrounds. We used to go out the Showground and put up great displays and all sorts of things. Any rate, I got a bit sick of that, and I went to another place out at Leichhardt. Dick, Dick Cavenat.
Some of the names you can remember. It’s amazing, isn’t it. Any rate, he was a terrific bloke. But I’ll tell you one little episode about that. We used to every now and again, we used to have to take the rubbish out to Tempe Tip, see. Any rate, this, driving in there and I said to Dick, “Get on this bloke.” He had a bag of chips, we used to have them in the newspaper, remember? And we used to tear the top off
and just eat them. Here he was, he was picking up the rubbish with his left hand. Get a chip. Put it in his mouth. With the same hand. You know. Any rate, that was just one little episode. Any rate, we finished up, up at Toukley. I went up to lay the foundations. That was his offsider, there was Bill and Dick. Bill Cootes, that was the other fellow. Any rate, he said,
“Would you like to come up and lay the foundations?” any rate, I went up and lay the foundations down for the house, all the studs. Not the studs, the bearers and all that, any rate, I did that for him, but I suppose he’s pretty stubborn. Any rate, I left that joint and I said to Else, “Oh, I’m going to go into business for myself.” So all around Balgowlah, I went and asked people,
and it’s surprising the amount of work I got, you know, little bits here and bits there, make cupboards and things like that. Any rate, I survived and I got sick of that after a while and I thought, “Oh, I might go into the film business.” So not far from us at Balgowlah was a film studio called Artransa. There was one, there used to be one at Maroubra. Anyhow, I went up there and they were building the place,
so I got a job building it. So I used to put all the acoustic tiles up, you know. Any rate, that job fizzled out and I went back to the studio, and I said, “You don’t want a carpenter, do you?” and he said, they were making The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Now you’ve heard that haven’t you. With John Mills. I’ve got all their photos. And anyhow, what was the other girl’s name?
Angela. Oh, John Mills. I seen him the other night. Geez, he’s got old hasn’t he? They did that at this Artransa studios, so I went in there and I was starting to build the sets for them. I was there for, what about twenty odd years I think. Anyway, not so long back I went back for a reunion because they pulled the place down.
Then from then, they sold out and they said, “Oh, Channel Seven is going to take us over.” And they also did the videos, you know, and they said, “We’re going to make the films as well.” So, any rate, my boss, he said, “Oh, we’ll go over there’ he said, “and whichever staff wants to come with me, you’re welcome.”
Because a lot of them wouldn’t travel from Balgowlah from wherever they lived. But I said, “Oh, I’ll put up with it.” So I put up with it for about eight years. And so we went to Channel Seven at Epping, and that’s how I was building the sets there. Any rate, before that, we did, remember Ty Hardin? Ty Hardin,
he wasn’t a very good actor. Anyway, he did one with, an episode, anyway the other one we did was the coaches, with Cobb & Co. We built the coaches, built the coaches there at Artransa with Peter Graves, you know. And that was pretty good. Anyway I got,
I turned sixty, because you know with the service you were able to retire at 60. So, I retired there and, the boss said, “Look, we’re short of carpenters.” He said, “Do you want to come back and do some casual work?” To go back to do commercials. Build all the sets, kitchens, whatever they wanted, you know. And this young mate of mine. Terry Wicks is up. If you ever go up there ask for Terry Matson.
He runs the place, pretty well. He’s up there. So I more or less trained him. And any rate, I go back there this day. In the meantime we got this letter from the Queen, you know. Sealed, with a what’s-a-name stamp on it, and it’s a medal. And I thought,
‘Who the hell would send me this.” And I thought there’s only one fellow and that’s what’s-a-name, the Channel Seven manager. Can’t think of his, Ted, Ted something his name was. Lo and behold, he sent it. He nominated me for this medal for being a good worker. And I said, “Did you have anything to do with this Ted?” And he said, “Yeah, you’ve been pretty good to us’ and he said,
“And I thought I’d nominate you.” The medal’s hanging there if you want to take a photo of it later. And yeah, what happened then? I give it away because I was on the pension by then, you see. Any rate, we lived at Balgowlah in this house, and I used to do a bit of carpentry there now and then.
And then all of a sudden, Warren, the middle one, this letter came and he’d won a house. Won a house. RSL [Returned and Services League] house which he bought, he sent the tickets up there Ria Vista Boulevarde at Broadbeach. Won this house. And he said, “Oh, Mum and Dad. This is just the thing for you.”
He says, “You better go and live up there.” It’s on the canal. Any rate, we came up here, and that’s what brought us up here. And that’s how long ago, we’ve been here since ’88, getting on twenty years ago. It must be. More than twenty years ago. Anyhow, we had everything. We had a boat. He bought a boat. We had a pontoon. We had the lot.
And we stayed in it for eight years. Just fishing. That’s all. Anyhow, he said, “Oh, Mum I’m sick of this job in Sydney.” It was spray painting cars down in Sydney. He had a very good boss. And he said, “I think I’ll sell it.” So in ’88 I said to the young fellow,
“Do you want to buy our house in Sydney?” And he said, “Yeah, all right.” So any rate, Warren said, “Oh, I’ll sell this.” So he sold it I think for $170 000, mind you. That’s practically giving it away. On the water? With the canal and the lot. Any rate, Chris said, “I’ll buy the house down there.” So it was more or less an even swap.
So we bought, had this built. Elsie and I, we designed it. And built this, and it was more or less an even swap. So that put us here. And we’ve been happy here ever since. You know.
We just walked to school, and I remember this day. I used to walk through. It was a coal yard. What they called a coal yard. They used to sell coal and wood, you know blocks of wood for fires. And we used to walk through them. Instead of going round the road, they said, come up, so we used to walk up through the coal yards. And it was almost a stones throw from the house.
Any rate, Miss Brown was the name, and she was a big lady. Any rate, Friday we used to have writing lesson, you know. And they’d give you threepence, and I won that a couple of times. Because I was a pretty good writer in those days. You know, just a little composition or something. And she said, “Oh, yes, here’s your threepence.”
But what happened, Dad, he used to go scrounging. You’d go into the old things. You know, you’d find of give a shilling wherever you could. He used to go to the old theatres and all the backdrops in those days, were all linen. Beautiful material. And all the landscapes
and things were all drawn on linen. So, of course, they couldn’t clean them and paint over them so they used to just sell them. And he had this horse and cart, and he used to say to me, “Do you want to come with me, Stan, today?” And of course, silly me, I wouldn’t go to school, I went with him. To pick up these old screens from these theatres, see. And he used to
run the dances at the Paddington Town Hall, years ago. Anyway, I used to miss about, every month, I’d miss a day’s schooling. Any rate, the headmaster called me in one day, and he said, “Look,” you know, I was only a little bloke. “If you don’t come to school,” he said, “we’re going to send you to Siberia.” I didn’t know where the bloody hell Siberia was. I’ve since found out it was over in Russia.
He said, “If you don’t come to school.” And that frightened me. I used to go to school every day. And then, where I learnt my carpentry was at school. At school, every Friday afternoon, for about two or three hours, we used to go over to the, they had a proper room built, all the benches and things and tools. And his name was MacCurley. Nice bloke
and he taught us how to do carpentry. But then Elsie said, in her school, they would teach them sewing and all sorts of things. They don’t do that now, do they? No. All computers. Any rate, the, what happened then. Oh, that’s when I went to live up at Tuggerah, after that episode. But the schooling days, that was good. I used to chase all the girls and kiss them, you know. That’s all you did in those days.
it’s a bit vivid that now. I just forget what started that off. (Interruption) Yes, as I say it’s a bit vivid that part of it. I just forget how. I know they asked for volunteers
to take these trucks to go up, up as far as, up to the squadron anyway. And as I say, they asked for volunteers. And they always do ask for volunteers, in the air force. They just don’t tell you what to do. They ask you. And so I thought, “Oh, well, I might as well,” you know. Because I had, I think there were about fifteen fellows
I had to take up. Reliefs. And I think there was about five of us, five trucks. One was a semi with an aircraft still in the crate, and I said, “Oh, well, I’ll take all our fellows to go to the squadron.” So they all piled in the back, and off we go.
So, and then, as I say, we get up, up to about Benghazi, I think it was about that area, and I looks up and I could see this aircraft coming for us. At ground level. You know, it’s a bit unusual. But of course, it was a straight stretch of road, there was no obstacles in the road, you know. Any rate, right at that split second,
when he was about half a mile away I suppose, I thought, “He’s not going to get us.” So I whipped off the road. And all these fellows in the back, you know. And there’s three of us in the cabin. Jimmy, Harold and myself. And, any rate, he swoops over the top of us, I thought he was going to machine us, you see. That’s what the thought was. Any rate, I pulled right up on the fence,
and I looks up and it said, “Minefield.” If I went another ten feet, we’d have been into the minefield. We’d have been all blown up. That’s for sure. Any rate, I found out later, he’d reported this, and it was a Spitfire, English Spitfire. That was a bit of a relief.
There was one time when we stripped this, my aircraft was quite safe, but Harold, as I say, he got the bravery medal, because he saved his aircraft. They’d stripped it down, to do an eighty hourly on it, and for unknown reasons, she caught fire.
And it still had the bomb on it, the thousand pound bomb, which they should have taken off, you know, but you’ve got to try and prepare an aircraft ready for action. You know, you must get it ready as soon as you can. Anyway, they did this eighty hourly on it, and didn’t take the bomb off, and of course, up she goes, there was only little bits like that left of it. Any rate, right next door, we used to put, in our dispersal area,
we used to put two aircraft. The Yanks used to put them all together. That’s why they used to lose a lot. The, we in the dispersal area, and of course, Harold, my mate, could see what was happening, the fire, so he got into his aircraft, started it up, and taxied it off. This is just an ordinary mechanic, like myself. You know, we knew how to manipulate a cart,
the only thing we couldn’t do was to take it up off the strip. Anyhow, he got it out of the road, and all the boys run away from the aircraft, and up she went. And there was little pieces about as big as your head left. And that’s all that was left of it. Any rate, that’s, and then he finished up, the next thing, about three or four weeks, he had to go to London. He got the medal.
Poor old Harold. And he wasn’t home five minutes, we lived at Woollahra then, I knew him, he just lived up the road from me. Him, Harold, and Edmund Knight. Any rate, the next thing, he’s dead. He only lasted, come home about twelve months, and he had a heart attack and died. God, I don’t know what happened to his medal. I didn’t get it.
And we were right on the beach somewhere. Just forget where it was. In one of the little towns. And this Jim, Jimmy, he said we’re going to fish. I said, he said, “We’re going to have a fish.” I said, “We haven’t got any fishing gear.” He said, “Oh, I’ll make up something.” So he got a stick, and we had some cotton or something, or string or something.
Put the cotton reel, for the reel he had out of cotton reel, so he made that, see, and any rate, then, I don’t know, we had a bit of bread or something. So he went down, he was a real comedian this bloke. Anyhow, he throws it out like this, throws it out over the ocean, and he said, “Did you hear the squeal of the reel.” You know, this is his words. I said, “Yeah, that was terrific.” Oh, God.
And this same bloke, when we got into Sicily, we had to dig this trench. The boss said, “For God’s sake, dig the trenches.” So we dig this trench, and the next thing, along comes the ack-ack gun. And he parks right along, digs his trench to put his gun in, right alongside of us.
And I thought, “Christ, what’s going to happen here?” I said, “We’re going to get blown away.” Any rate, we dug this trench, and Reg, all you could see, you know, when he was in, you know, I got up, and all you could see was his eyes. You know, we were that deep down. They say, “Dig a six foot trench.” Any rate. That night, over come Jerry, and ‘whoomph, whoomph, whoomph.’
And he said to me, the sand was falling in, and he said, “Jesus,” he said, “they were close.” You know. We’d forgotten about the ack-ack gun was right alongside us. And the concussion from that was pushing the bloody sand in. And he said, “Jesus, that was close wasn’t it? He dropped them close, didn’t he?” This is Reg. I said, “No.”
I said, “It was from that ack-ack gun.” He was a real comedian. Reg, what was his name? Reg Griffin or something. Oh, God, I tell you.
poor old Fred McKay. He came, he went round, they’d been out on the gaggle. They didn’t use their bombs, they just used their guns, machine guns, and he circled around and around and around, trying to get rid of this thousand pound bomb. And it wouldn’t drop off. You see, they’re manually controlled. You know, none of this electronic business in those days. Manually controlled.
Two episodes. I’ll tell you another one. Any rate, he went around, and around and around. Terrific bloke, he was. And all of a sudden, the bloody bomb fell off. No, it didn’t fall off. That’s right. My mistake. He couldn’t get rid of it, so he said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. I’ll land with it.” He landed with it, but as soon as the tyres hit the ground, the bomb dropped off.
Whooof! That’s all we found, little pieces of him. Anyway. The padre said, said, “Well, we better bury him. I don’t know where we’re going to bury him.” He said, “There’s a nice little spot over there on the side of the road.” Probably still there, the poor devil. Anyway, the gathered him up in his groundsheet, and I can remember to this day, the blood was dripping through this groundsheet
when we were putting him down in the hole. Bloody blood. I tell you. He’s probably there today at this stage. Anyway, the Yanks are there, and the silly Yanks, they used to line their aircraft up. They didn’t put them in dispersal areas like we did. Because they had that many of them. And they used to line them up, and one came in one day and ploughed up half a dozen of them.
He got off the strip, run into the dispersal area, and chewed up about half a dozen aircraft. Oh, God. I tell you. They’re mad. They’re trigger happy, the Yanks, they were. Anyhow, what was the other time. Oh, the Yanks. The same thing happened. We were in a little village up in Farno, I think it was. Up where that Koala Casa is, I think I showed you. He did the same thing, this Yanks. He couldn’t get rid of the bomb.
And he went round, and around and around. And all of a sudden, he’s over the village, and it fell off. And killed about a hundred people. Right in the village, it fell off. Oh, God, I tell you.
we used to concentrate on a bit of washing, you know. We never had any water of course. The only water we got was when it rained, and what used to lodge in the tank traps, in the tank road, you know, where the, or else the ditches where the trucks had been running, and we used to get the water out of that and put it into these shells and let the sediment go to the bottom,
and then use the top part of the water. It was all right to drink. There was no germs in it. Or else, wash, clean your teeth. But we used to use that for washing. But, it’s a funny thing, we used to use, for washing our dirty clothes, we used to use petrol. Used to dip them in forty four gallon drums, you know, take the top off it, and dip them in that. Same way as we used to cool our beer in that.
But the food, aah, the food was all dehydrated. Little tiny dried up squares of potatoes, anything. It was all dried, you know. They used to soak it in the water, and then cook it. It was all right. Didn’t taste too bad. But we used to have porridge for breakfast. Very little fresh milk. All, mostly powdered milk, you know, and as I say,
we just used to spend the day wandering around, seeing what we could do, waiting until our aircraft came back, and do a bit of service on it. Making sure it was topped up for the next day. And the other thing, for the toilet, in the desert you had no cans or anything like that. Just used to take your shovel and go out into, into the boondie [boondocks] as we called it. And just dig a hole and do what you want to do.
I remember one day that Reg, he was a bit of a comedian this Reg. He was the one that went fishing and that. Anyhow he did his business and he looked around and there was nothing there. Any rate, he looks on a bit further, and you’ve heard about these beetles? We used to call them shit beetles. They used to chop it up and roll it and put it into their little holes.
That’s the only way he knew that he’d done his business. Because he’d seen that beetle, taking the last roll that they chopped up, it was that quick. And beetles, when I say beetles, they’re about three inches long. And that’s the only way he knew he’d done his business. Because he’d seen this beetle, and he’d dug his hole there, you could see the hole, and he’d push it down the hole, and that’s what he’d live on. But that’s just how we used to dispose of, you know.
But you always had to have that shovel with you, otherwise, you know. There was no other way.
some of them four, and then later, the spitfires had five blades. But we had three blades. And any rate, what they, it’s got what they call the variable pitch. Up in the nose cap, there’s a series of gear wheels. You’d have to see it to believe it. Whoever designed it, you know. Any rate, what the variable pitch was for,
was if it was going into a dive, he’d bring the pitch to face the wind direct, not like that. Because otherwise it slows his speed down. If it goes into a dive, he turns it like that, and he’s got no wind resistance. It’s just straight down. Like, for instance, when the Jerries done us over in Sicily,
they used, oh, I forget what they call them now. Any rate, to bomb, they used to go vertical. They wouldn’t go like this and drop a bomb. The, oh, what do you call them? I forget the name of them now. It’ll come to me in a minute. They used to, ordinary aircraft, like Halifaxes, and Lancasters,
and Liberators and all those, the, they Liberator was one of the biggest aircraft the Yanks made. Fantastic. Any rate, with this German Stukas, Stukas. They came in, if they seen a target there, they wouldn’t fly over it and drop the bomb, like that, they’d go straight down. And then when they get within distance, they think, target,
they’d pull out and drop their bomb that way. That’s why they called them Stukas. They were deadly. And they’re the ones that done us over in Sicily. And as I say, the day before, the fellows were going down with malaria, and so the doctor said, “You better move those characters,” he said, “up the hill.” That’s when they moved us on the hill, and that night, we were ready to go across to Italy,
and he wanted to stop us from getting cross the Messina Straits. The Messina Straits is the river, the ocean between Sicily and the toe of Italy. So, any rate, he came over that night, the night we moved up on the hill. Took all our gear with us. Slept up on the hill. And that’s I was telling you about the two snakes under my bed. Any rate, that night he come over, and killed a terrible lot of blokes.
Not so many air force, because we were away from it, you see. The Sappers, not the Sappers, the anti-aircraft blokes. They were (indicates all around).
And we looked up, and here’s these flares. One, right on the corner of the strip. Aerodrome. So as he could see everybody on the ground, all the aircraft, whatever was there. Just like day. And then of course he laid the bombs then, you see. And as I say, we didn’t do all right. We lost a couple of blokes. Lost a lot of our aircraft. Fortunately, we were up on the hill.
Why did the doctor say get them up on the hill that night? One of these things, you see. We’d have been dead. I’m sure we would have been. Because, my aircraft, we would have been sleeping right alongside it. It was peppered. You’ve seen the photo. Did I show you the photo? It was peppered. Any rate, one, two, and the strip, they couldn’t use the strip, because it was riddled with bomb craters.
We had to get the sappers and the army in, to patch that up. And every now and again, two or three days, the third day was the last day, these bombs were going off. They were cooking in the ground. And I was having this bit of a wash there, and all of a sudden, you know, I had no clothes on. I just threw the thing over my head, the tub I had, a little dish, threw that, and just as I did, this sand spit went up.
Because it was soft sand. We were right on this little beach, see. And here’s me covered with sand, just standing there. And I looks over, I said, “What’s that?” It was white hot. It was one of the bombs. Half the bomb. It was about three foot long. If I’d have been another ten feet, it would probably have chopped me right in half. Yeah. Any rate, those bombs. So we finished up, we did our job there,
and the next day, they said, “Oh, we’re going over to Italy now. Tomorrow.” So they bunged us on some landing barges, and we landed in a little cove called Taranto. That’s way down on the hill. And you know what they were doing? We were going in there in the landing barges. They were still getting the land mines, not the land mines. The sea mines, out of the harbour. And they were going off around us. You know.
Any rate, we got there all right. And the same thing happened in Rome. We went onto the landing strip in Rome, and we were operating. The pilots were taking off and they were still getting land mines out of the strip. But of course, the sappers pointed where they were, you know. But, oh. They’re shocking. In the desert, we used to have to, when we first went on to a strip, we used to have to follow the trucks,
or the tanks, until we knew the area, you know. Because you’d go along and you’d see three little bits of twig sticking out of the ground, you know. They were land mines. You know, you’d think it was a bit of grass. If you stood on them, that would be the end of you. And then our boss said to me, he said, “I know you Australians,” he said, “You love kicking cans.”
He said, “For God’s sake, don’t kick them.” They were bloody TNT [Trinitrotoluene – common explosive]. Just a bloody Coca Cola can or whatever it was. The Jerries used to drop them. Aah, I tell you.
Oh, yeah. That’s it. When we hit the squadron, there was fellows over there before me. They went early in the war. You know, the squadron was there pretty well, very early. Anyway, there was fitters and that, so when we got there, we more or less relieved some of the fellows. Any rate, we get into this tent, and these other fellows were ready to go the next couple of days.
Come back to Australia, see, because they’d done their time. So there were eight of us in a tent. Any rate, we were talking about what was happening, and the bombing and all that, you know. One fellow, he said, “Oh,” he said, “don’t worry,” he said. Any rate, that night, we got down, the eight of us got down, bunked down just sleeping on the deck, you know, with the tent.
All of a sudden, about midnight it was, we could hear this ‘whooong, whooong, whooong,’ see. All of a sudden he said, one of them woke up, and he said, “I can hear it,” he said, “don’t worry about it.” He said, “It’s one of ours.” Any rate, they start dropping the bombs. It was one of ours! He was the first bloke out of the tent into the slitty [slit trench], you know. And we piled him.
He said, “It’s one of ours. Don’t worry.” Meaning it was one of our bombers, it was safe. And he was the first out of the tent, and you ought to seen them. The next, we went and gathered up the blankets or what we had, and our clothes. And it was strewn all over, outside the tent, there was this clothes. There was that many of us the tent, see. And from then on we slept four in a tent. That was a funny,
that was one of the first things that happened. “Yes,’ he said, “It’s one of our. So don’t worry about it’.
as a matter of fact, I’ve got a photo of a woman and I. She was a welfare officer, sitting there in Florence. Anyway, they would line it up for you. And two or three would go out at a time, you know, just to have a break. They had to give you a break, Otherwise. I did finish up in the hospital for a while, because I had a bit of a breakdown. And, but, these Welfare Officers, they’d line it all up for you.
Like this Amalfi, we went there, and we stayed there for two or three days. The Italians, they’d look after you. You’ve got no idea how good they were. Yeah. Oh, the other, the episode was at Amalfi, that was right. Had a young bloke there. He made a souvenir for me. I’ve got it in there, it’s a little copper bracelet.
Young fellow, he made this, and gave it to me as a souvenir. And it’s a copper bracelet which you can wear. People wear copper bracelets now for arthritis. And that’s what he made it for. So, he knew, he must have known something about arthritis. Because it was made from copper, and it’s taken off, on the shell,
it’s brass, mostly brass on the shell, and there’s a copper band. He put the band. Now, you know what the band’s for? Well, in the barrel of a gun, it’s like that, it’s got a groove, got a groove like that. So when the shell goes in, the copper is softer than the brass,
and it’s softer than the casing of the barrel. You follow me? So, when the shell goes in and explodes, the copper gets soft because the grooving in the barrel cuts, and it makes the shell go like that. It acts as a corkscrew. So when the shell’s going, instead of a shell wobbling, going through the ground, through the air,
like that, it goes directly straight, because it’s spinning like a propeller. You follow me? So that’s why they put the copper around the shell. Because a barrel is not just a barrel. Just a hole. It’s got a groove in it, and when it explodes, the detonator charges it, it pushes the shell, the copper gets soft because it goes through, and it spins it.
Spins, spins, spins, spins. And then when it hits anything, it’s still spinning. So it goes in like a drill. Follow me? Now you’ve learned something.
My nerves packed up on me. So they bunged me into this, put me in this bloody ambulance, and took me to this little hospital in a place called Ruminy. You can look up these names if you can think of them. And this was on the coast of the Adriatic. Lovely little place. And there was nothing there, only the hospital. And when I looked out the window,
you could see these crates. You know what a craters like, where the bombs been, well, there was no more room for another bomb, there was that many crates, so they’d bombed this place that heavy, that the only thing that was left was the hospital. No bridges. The Italian women, I looked out the window on the other side, that’s the ocean, and bomb craters there, out here,
were women with baskets on their heads, full of rocks, building the bridges, little tiny stone bridges, and then, I thought to myself, “Look at him!” Here’s the husband, sitting out on the beach, here, on the other side. It was a beautiful spot, but there was nothing there. Only these bomb craters. Anyhow, I looks out there, and here’s this woman, up to here (Indicates up to the neck), in water.
They had a net. They didn’t have a net going around, the net was straight out, like this, and then the current was pushing the mussels, and she was out there gathering the mussels. The basket on her head, and here’s her husband, sitting on the beach, watching her. Then as I say, the others, here they are with the baskets on,
and he was the only man I seen. In the other part, was the women trying to build this bridge. Stones on their heads, you know, and a bit of cement or mud or whatever they had. And then over further, when you get up on the top of the hospital, there’s all these bomb craters. There wasn’t another hole for a bomb crater. It was like, have you ever seen these little ant, have you ever played with one of them? You’ve seen them. They’re perfectly cylindrical.
These little ant, and another. Inside that is a little wog, a little bug. And you put an ant in that, and he’ll come up and grab him. It’s like a little crab. I’ve dug him out. But that’s just exactly what it looked like. Not another place to drop another bomb.
Yeah. Oh, and now, that’s another story. I’m getting backwards and forwards. Is that all right?
What they call a Douglas. Any rate, we pile in, you know. No seat belt, no nothing. Not even, you know, parachute. In we get. Any rate, we get up to this place, and the airstrip, no airstrip, don’t know where the airstrip was. And I said to the pilot, I said, “Where are we going to land?” And he said, “You see that bloke down there ploughing up that field?”
I said, “Yeah.” ‘Well’ he said, “We’re going to land there.” And we did. And you never, oh, talk about a rough ride. And this bloke’s ploughing. Ended up he had to get out of the road, and we landed there. And do you know, these Dakotas were the best aeroplane ever built. There’s still a few of them around. They used to transport the bombs.
They’d load them up with bombs and petrol, forty four gallon drums of petrol. I’m not telling you a lie. They’d just used to put the forty four gallon drums, they’d roll about, you know, no seats of course, only when we had to be transported. These forty four gallon drums would roll about, inside this aircraft, and that aircraft would take off and land without any trouble. No trouble whatsoever.
Absolutely wonderful. And then another episode. When we wanted bombs, we had to send the truck back to the bomb depot, to get these thousand pounders, see. And, what’s his name. I forget his name. Anyway, there’d be nothing, he’d come back to the airstrip, and there’d be a dozen or two dozen thousand pound bombs on the back of the truck. Now, you know how he used to unload them? He used to drive up there,
we’d say, “Put them down there.” We’d want them there, see. And then he’d drive up, undo the back, let the flap down, back, as quick as he could, put the bloody foot on the brakes, and all the bombs would drop off. And do you know, one cracked open one day, and exposed all the powder. They didn’t go off, because they didn’t have any detonators.
See, you have a detonator in the front, which, when it hits the ground it goes, explodes. So that wasn’t worrying him. And all these bombs. This went on day after day. Nothing ever happened. Only one cracked open one day. The casing cracked open, and all the powder and that fell out.
You would, you know, automatically go and try and put the flames out and all that. But any rate, we’d all be up the end of the strip, depending which end he was going to land, and then the pilot would stop his plane, and you would have to get, crawl up, as quick as you could. Dodge the propeller. You know, some people had their bloody heads cut off, and get up on the main plane. That’s the wing. Right on the tip.
And it’s to guide him in. As I said, he can’t see behind him. It’s the same as these blokes you see out the airport now, with these two things. Those pilots can’t see. They have to go where he said. He points it there. So we used to do the same. We’d use our both hands. And we’d say there, and he’d come off the strip and go down the track into the dispersal area. We’d have to guide him.
Otherwise he couldn’t see where he was going, because he’s got the wing tips to get over, he can’t see behind him, and he’s high up, you know. And the plane is not like that (indicates flat), only when it’s flying, it’s up (indicates forty- five degree angle). So he relies on you, so you’ve got to be on the end of that strip when he comes to land. Doesn’t matter what time. This might, could be bloody midnight. Although they don’t fly at midnight. You’d have to be there, waiting for him.
And then, sometimes, he’d come in and you’d get a horrible look on your face. Because you’d be there, half an hour, an hour, and that’s the end you’d say to yourself, “He’s only got so much petrol. We’ve lost him.” And that’d put bloody tears in your eyes, because you made good friends with your pilot, and he’s not with you any more.
He’s either had to bail out, which you might know in a couple of days, he’s all right. Like Bobby Gibbs, for instance. He rescued, in front of the Germans. One of the pilots went down. Crashed. Bobby Gibbs went in, and the pilot was there waiting, he picked him up and hung onto the wing, and brought him back to our squadron. Now that was wonderful.
He was one of the, he was the CO. He lives up here, somewhere. Anyhow, that’s what I say, you’ve got to be there when that pilot brings that plane in. And hoping to God he does it every time, you put the thumbs up for him to go. Other than that, you know, it’s a sad day for you. And you lose your precious aircraft. Which is like a baby to you. Strange, you know. But it’s like your motor car.
Now my motor car, I say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night’ to my motor car every day. Stupid. But I do. I even named it. I said, “Hello, Fred, how are you.” I said, “I’m sorry we’re not going out today.” If people heard me, out there, with my car, they’d go and lock me up. Just one of those things that you, you know. And I said, like when I lock up of a night, I said, “I’m sorry we haven’t been out today.”
And do you know, I pat it, as though it’s a pet. It is a pet. That car, when you go out on the street, that’s your life. It’s saving your life. It’s the same with the aircraft. When you get to a squadron, you’ve got, look at me (wipes tears from his eyes). Good blimey, man. The aircraft becomes a pet, and then, if you lose a pilot and an aircraft, God help you man, you know.
It takes you days to get over it. Because you’ve made such good mates. And we’re all young fellows, you know. An old fellow would be worse. But, you know, these fitters, and air force, even the army, doesn’t matter. In the army, you’re attached to your gun. You think your gun’s wonderful. Know what I mean?
Because it could save your life. So things, material things become pets. If you want to, you know, your life to be substantial, as you would say. You know. Make the things your pets. Even your wife. Make her a pet, too. No, but that’s the way I feel about things.
When we moved in there, it was still in flames. The railway station was burning and there was very few buildings, and we were still looking for paper, like books. So, any rate, we went into this stationery shop. And it was flattened. But to walk on the floor, it was two foot deep, nearly, in books.
You know, typewriters and things like that. Any rate, Jim, he got hold of a typewriter. This is looting, which we shouldn’t have been doing. But what we were looking for, I was always interested, you know, like you make little things, or you buy little things, like that aircraft. But I had to have a white sheet, you know.
We were always looking for a bit of white calico, you know, because you can write on that, and stitch it up, and write on it. You’ve always got it. It wouldn’t get lost, because you could print on it. Any rate, we went into this shop, and Jim, he picked up a typewriter, and I got some magazines, not magazines, some papers to write on. Any rate, the MPs [Military Police] chased us.
I got away with my books, but Jim got caught with the typewriter, because he couldn’t run fast enough. And then, another place I went into, and it was units, and the whole side of the building was sheered away. So, you know, we took a hell of a risk, because we walked up the stairway and the whole thing could have collapsed. But, you don’t think about those things.
You just go, oh, I don’t know if you get greedy, or if you just like to see strange things. Certainly there were a lot of strange things there. Anyway, we get up there, and I go into this room, must have been a lounge room, I think. And there’s a couch like that, see, just like that, and there was a doll sitting on it. I’ve got, the doll’s in the photo there.
A doll sitting on it. Beautiful big doll. You know, one of these big ones. Not a little doll. Sitting there, it was the most pathetic sight I’ve ever seen. The hair was all down, like this, and it was full of plaster, which had come from the ceiling. It was the most pathetic thing I’d ever seen in my life. Any rate, I thought, I’m not going to leave you here. No way.
So I took it back to the squadron. And I’ll show you a photo of that little girl, later on. And Bob said, I knew that I had a boy, so it was no good to me. So Bob Jay, he’s since dead, the poor bugger. He said, “Can I have it?” And I said, “Of course you can have it.” So I give it to him, and I’ve got a photo of him and the little girl. But if you’d have seen that doll,
you know, the doll, I think, personally, if I’d have got closer, I’m sure that doll would have had tears in its eyes. It was, ooh. The plaster. You know, the hair had all fallen down. Because the plaster had hit the head. Didn’t break it. Just filled the hair with bloody plaster, and it was all hanging down here, like this. And of course I took home and washed the hair, you know.
Took it back to the squadron and give it to him. That was in a place called Foggia. I’ll never forget that. But as I say, the railway station was burning, and this was burning, and the streets were cluttered with debris. And, I showed you the other one with the piano, stuck straight, oh God.
we’d be able to get shelter in the home. You see, the air strips, there is always an air strip near a little town, and they used to organise us with shelter, in the winter, in the cold months, in these little towns, little houses, which the Italians had fled, you know. A lot of them. They’d gone way up North or somewhere.
And so they used to organise for the crews to sleep in these little huts, houses like, you know. Like in one part of the desert there. We were sleeping in huts. Nothing there, no furniture. Just a roof over your head, that’s all. Because we had our beds and that, in the truck. But we managed, managed there. And of course the locals used to give us a bit of strange food every now and then. Oh, we, when we were at Naples there,
we went, Bob and I, he said, “Do you want to come into Naples with me?” and I said, “Oh, yeah.” So, no, Bob Jay, that’s right. Anyhow, I was, before, in a little hall, they put us in a little hall there. That’s when Vesuvius erupted. Just down the road from us, I went down there one day,
and there was a bit of a restaurant right on the edge of the water there. And I looks up the back lane there, and he’d just brought out the garbage tin. And there was an old, a couple of old ladies and kids. They’d tipped over the garbage. And they were fighting, the pair of them, they’d tipped over the garbage, old ladies and kids, and they were fighting over this food.
Because there was no food about much, you know, and they were fighting over this food. Any rate, what could we do. We couldn’t do anything. And there was another episode. Bob said, “We’ll go into Naples and have a look around if you like.” So, what we did, we always tried to get a bit of chocolate. See, in our what’s-a-name, our supplies, they always tried to sent us a bit of chocolate or some sweets.
Now and then, you know. And we used to save it up so when we went into the cities, you could do what they called barter, if you wanted a trinket, the bloke over the counter, he’d give you anything for a bar of chocolate. But unfortunately, what we did wrong, we went into the town with a haversack. And as soon as we got into town, the kids got onto us.
And we had about a hundred kids chasing us. And do you know what we had to do? We had to run into a church. And the kids wouldn’t follow us into the church, because it was wicked. So we stood there until the old priest, he pacified the kids and got rid of them. Because they knew we had chocolates in the haversack. And we did too.
it’s hard, because you miss so much at home, friendship and that, and when you get into a town you think to yourself, “I’d like to go and talk to a girl.” But some of the blokes went a bit further than that. You know, some of them would become a bit friendly with you. But others, oh, I don’t know, went haywire. But I used to go in, like when I went to,
had those photos taken in Florence. I went to a couple of the operas, just to pass the time away, because we were on. See, we used to get quite a bit of leave, you know. When things were a bit lullish. I used to go in, I went into what’s-a-name twice, to the opera. And what’s-a-name, because the Yanks were well into the war then. And Frank Sinatra was entertaining.
And I thought, “Oh, I’ll go and see him.” So I went into this place, and sure enough, he was on stage. But he was a skinny little rat. You know. And at that time, he was suffering with blood pressure or something. Or lack of blood. So he was singing away there, you know, and I’m way up there in this balcony, and I think, “That’s Frank Sinatra,” see. And he said it was Frank Sinatra.
And anyway, he’s singing away there, and all of a sudden a bloke comes out, with him having blood trouble, a bloke comes out, huge syringe. You know, huge it was. It was just a gimmick, you know, to make the soldiers laugh you see. It was full of Yankee soldiers. And this bloke’s pumping him up with this blood while he’s singing. God. If I ever seen Frank Sinatra I’d have to remind him of it. But he was a skinny little rate.
Oh, God, blimey. But that’s how we used to, come into town and try and see a show or something. That was one thing about the Italians. The music was always there, you know. If they could entertain you to get away from bloody war conditions, they would. They’d invite you out to their house. Or else, they’d say, there’s a nice show on in Venice or Florence, or wherever you are, go and see it. And that’s how I used to fill my time in.
But a lot of the fellows they used to go and try and date up the girls. Because a lot of the girls were very friendly, as you know. But it didn’t worry me much.
And each time, they were the same people who were travelling, because they were going home to Hereford. They were old ladies and a couple of old men. Any rate. Every now and then the bus got held up, see, and these people were getting anxious on the bus, because they wanted to get home. Any rate, the conductor got off, and she said, rang the next depot,
and said, “We’re held up.” Because something happened. We missed the bus or something. That was it. On one part. And he said, “We can’t go’ he said, “because on the other bus’ he said, “there’s two Australians.” See. And he said, “They haven’t arrived yet.”
And, when we got to the bus, they cheered us. They sat on that bus for nearly an hour, these old girls and they all clapped and went on something. You know. Talk about a feeling. And this bus was held up for hours, but that didn’t deter them at all. They thought it was wonderful. Any rate, we get to Elsie’s auntie’s, and we stayed there, and had a good look around Hereford. They couldn’t do enough for us.
The people up, the next door neighbour. They had us in and fed us one bloody cakes and lollies and drinks, and what have you. We had a terrific time down there. And as I say, we went down to the depot. Bournemouth, that was the name of the, and the boss down there, he said, “God’s sake,” he said, “Stan, where have you been.” He said, “We’ve been all over London looking for you.
All over England looking for you. Where’ve you been?” And I told him. And he said, “Your Mum’s very sick. You’ve got to get home to Australia.” And he said, “Look, you’ve got time to have a shower and something to eat,” he said, “And you be on that train.” He emphasised, he said, “There a train at two o’clock. You be on that train at two o’clock,” he said, “and get home.”
Which I did. And I was filthy, because I’d been travelling for three days. I was dirty and my clothes. Any rate, I got on the train and then got on the boat, and as I said, we had a beautiful…
Just before we talk about the time on the boat, I want to ask some questions. Can you tell me how it felt being split up from your squadron?
Well, you meet new fellows on the boat, and you meet new fellows on the boat, and everybody got split up, see, you just had to persevere with it. You lost friends, as I say, we lost a lot of pilots, and other fellows, but you got used to a new lot of mates. The thing was, you didn’t care much, because you were on your way home. You were going home to see your wife and your kids
and you forgot about everything, even forgot about the war. When you’re on that boat, it’s a strange thing, but you forget about everything. All you’ve got up here is, “I’m going home to Australia, and I’m going home to my wife and my baby.” And everybody. You talk to any of the pilots, and that’s all. They didn’t care, they lost their mates, but it didn’t enter their head. They said, that’s all about it.
And that was the feeling on the boat. And as I said, I had a beautiful lounge to sleep on. And it was pretty rough coming home, and we were right up the rear of the boat and it was pretty round coming home in the boat, and every now and again she’d come up on a wave, and whooomph! And I’d nearly get tossed out of bed, because the propeller would hit the water, the propeller used to come right out of the ground,
with this feeling, and all of a sudden it’d hit the water and you’d get this jar, you know, because the propeller would start to take the water up. It didn’t worry me, because all these other fellows, they were down in hammocks, swimming. You know, you know what a hammock’s like. You’re like caught up. And here’s me, spread out on a beautiful lounge, and good meals. Jonesy. What was his name? Tom Jones, or something.
And he used to cook beautiful meals. And I was getting an extra six dollars a day. Isn’t that terrible. No, six bob, six shillings, not six dollars. Six bob a day. And while this boat was rolling, I was going in the corridor somewhere, I might have been going to the toilet or something. And the door, when the boat was rolling, the door was slamming and carrying on,
and before I could hook it, I put my thumb in and it ripped all the bloody skin right off there. So I had to have first aid there on the boat. But it ripped, it jammed my finger, in the door, that one, took all that skin right off. So I had to have first aid with that. But any rate, we got to Melbourne and unloaded a couple of thousand blokes there, I think there was about four thousand in this boat,
because they’d all crammed down in the hold. Anyhow. We got to Melbourne and then we got back to Pyrmont. No, Woolloomooloo. That’s Sydney, you know, Woolloomooloo. l got back there, and there’s all these relations.